kjorteo: Teary Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Teary)
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the best Lilo and Stitch/Super Meat Boy/Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest crossover fanfic I've ever-- wait hold on let me start that again.

So, once upon a time in IM, [personal profile] xyzzysqrl sent me this recommendation:

"As far as I know, you enjoy:
Difficult platformers.
Nonlinear Metroidvania style games.
Cute things.
Crying.

Have you seen this game?

http://store.steampowered.com/app/387290/Ori_and_the_Blind_Forest_Definitive_Edition/"


Never let it be said that Sqrl doesn't know exactly how to pitch a game to me.

Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania-style action platformer that the developers themselves claim was inspired by Super Meat Boy, which I can maybe sort of see in the gameplay. Death comes fast and frequently if you're not careful, but is cheap and relatively painless. You can save almost wherever you want (there are unlockable tech tree abilities specifically to facilitate this) and the death/reload/respawn process is quick and seamless.

The main difference, of course, is that Super Meat Boy is pure carnage played for laughs, whereas Ori's violence is more bloodless and its presentation is that of a more serious and stunningly beautiful game. That trailer should give you a good idea of what this game both looks and sounds like, but I'll also add the Sorrow Pass theme because it's my personal favorite. Definitely get a version that includes the soundtrack if you get this.

Anyway, you play as Unico Ori, and adorable little fluffball with a huge and loving heart and the power to bring light to the darkness, tragically orphaned and put through increasingly intense levels of DOES NOT DESERVE THIS. At first glance the basic plot is almost comparable to an early ZZT purple keys collectathon--the forest is in ruins because the elements need to be restored, do the chain of [Go to area A to find the mystic Thing that unlocks the door to the temple in area B, clear out the inner temple proper which is big enough in its own right to count as area C] a total of three times and restore the three elements and you're done. However, oversimplifying it to this extent does a gross disservice to the emotional impact of the plot in the fine-details level and the characters living through it. Sqrl managed to cry for every single cutscene in the game, and while I didn't quite hit perfect 100% cry completion the way she did, boy I sure got punched in the heart by a lot of them anyway.

Exploration is controlled through a combination of hard and soft gates--things like the door to the temple (or almost any locked door, really) are more or less impassable barriers until the plot lets you through, but there are also collectibles and even entire areas that open up as you gain new powers. The latter is almost just like any Metroidvania, only (with one or two exceptions) rather than needing a new beam or missile or other sort of offensive weapon to blast through a wall, it's mostly just treacherous high jumps that require Ori to get increasingly more mobile in the air, like some kind of speedy high-flying luchador. The game has a very good learning curve and pace to distributing its enhancements, though, so you never really feel overwhelmed by all the moves you're expected to keep track of, even as you go through a series of triple jump-glide-air dash-fire an energy ball and ricochet off your own shot-air dash (again, because the ricochet resets all your jump options) shenanigans near the end.

I have very spoileriffic thoughts about this game which I will hide below the warning, but for now, suffice it to say that this is an exceptional top quality product. Everything from graphics and sound to gameplay are all finely tuned and outstanding, and if Sqrl's recommendation sounds as good to you as it did to me, then definitely check it out. Also check out Sqrl's review when she beat it, which can be found here.

UNMARKED SPOILERS BELOW )
kjorteo: Screenshot from Cho Aniki, of a macho-camp bodybuilder with fairy wings and antennae. (Cho Aniki)
[personal profile] xyzzysqrl is a precious gift and every conversation with her is an adventure.

Celine Kalante:
http://voidseapickle.tumblr.com/post/162203601001/tiergan-vashir-fttarlach-bioandrunaway

XyzzySqrl:
Yeah uhm.

Notice that tiger also has a dorsal ridge?

I can't explain Eorzean wildlife.

Celine Kalante:
... Eorzea is weird.

XyzzySqrl:
Tigersaurus.

Celine Kalante:
Beefy Tigersaurus.

I think there were a couple of those in Zootopia.

XyzzySqrl:
Beefy Tigersaurus is my favorite discontinued Chef Boyardee line.

Celine Kalante:
Beefy Tigersaurus was around when Power Rangers started to get weird.

XyzzySqrl:
oh god

BEEF-Y TIGER-SAUR-USSSSSS
*nyow-NYOOWWW-nyow-nyownyow*
BEEFY TIGERSAURUSSSSS
IT'S A BIG OL' RIPPED OUT TIGER SAUR-UUHHHUUSSS

Celine Kalante:
I would still be watching that show RIGHT NOW if it did that and you know it.

Also thank you for getting that stuck in my head forever.

XyzzySqrl:
I mean... yeah. Yeah, basically.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Hatoful Boyfriend, of Miru & Kaku looking excited and triumphant in the seat of their tank. (Hatoful: Miru & Kaku)
Hi, can you still tell I'm still on my "short, light, and fluffy indie game" kick after recovering from the unexpected marathon that was the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers postgame? This should be the last one before I work my way back to the big stuff, but we'll see.

It was in an IndieGala bundle recently and it just looked too cute not to try, and I'm glad I did! It was indeed very cute and charming.

I've long had a complicated history with games like Seiklus and Endless Ocean. They promise gentle stress-free exploration, no combat or anything, just explore around and have fun. On paper, that sounds like something that really should appeal to me. It's at least interesting as a game concept, and I really want it to work out and have fun with it. In practice, though, neither Seiklus nor Endless Ocean particularly did it for me. The former is easy to get lost and, well, kind of boring honestly, and the latter starts out strong but is a bit too long, wears out its welcome, and kind of runs out of things to do. Which is a shame, because I really want to like these kinds of games!

Enter Marvin's Mittens, which at best looked like it could finally be what I was looking for, and at worst was like a couple dollars as part of a bundle so it's not like I'd really be out anything if it was another failure. The trailer looked very promising, like a sort of Seiklus-alike but with a "child playing in the snow" theme.



You play as Marvin, a cute little overly-bundled up kid with suspiciously good voice acting. (Seriously, did they find an actually-good actual-child actor for this? Or is that just the best impression of one I've ever heard?) One day, while playing in the snow, a cute but fast little blur of a fuzzy thing steals one of his mittens. In the nearby elf village (this game plays fast and loose with the laws of realism) the elves reveal that they, too, have had their mittens stolen, and give Marvin the special power of that sort of double-jump-hover-thing you see in the trailer, where the second jump has him float upwards. The kind of height he gets on that depends directly on how many snowflakes he's collected; it barely improves his mobility at all at first, but the kid can basically fly by the time you get them all.

There is a daily time limit, where eventually the sun goes down and the voice of Marvin's mom calls out that it's time to come home, at which point the day is over and the game cuts back to Marvin's home. It autosaves and continues over a screen of Marvin sleeping in bed with a gentle lullaby playing, complete with a dream thought bubble cycling through images of things he's seen so far on his adventure like an early Windows screensaver. Then Marvin sets out again from his home the next day. Progress is made by expanding your range and how far you can go before it's time to head home, which you accomplish mostly by Etrian Odyssey-like shortcuts that have to be opened from the other side first. On day 1, I barely made it to the Elf Village before mom called me home. By day 3, after collecting just enough snowflakes to boost my jump, retrieving my sled for quicker downhill travel, and opening a well-placed shortcut tunnel, I could get there in about fifteen seconds, and of course then I had the rest of the day to keep exploring from there.

This game was everything I wanted it to be, and I was delighted with it from start to finish. The graphics are adorable, the music is so cozy that I might put the soundtrack on next time my anxiety issues start acting up, and the game is just the right length (about three hours) to feel like something "real" and not some Flash game or something while still being light and breezy. The only "difficulty" comes from trying to find everything (1,000 snowflakes total split up over about 30-50 per room on average, plus 11 animals you can sketch and get a picture of if you walk up slowly enough to not scare them away) and even those are perfectly balanced--just barely hidden enough that I felt clever and like an explorer for finding them all, but nowhere even close to FAQ-requiring "where the fuck is the last bullshit snowflake" frustration. Basically, if you're even moderately thorough then you'll be fine.

I'm still a little confused about this genre, because truth be told, I don't know why I loved this game after hating Seiklus. Marvin's Mittens has a gentle and loving aesthetic, far better graphics and sound, and the daily reset gives you a nice overall feeling of progression, I guess, but is that really what was holding Seiklus back? Or was it that Seiklus was a little too labyrinthine and Marvin's Mittens felt easier to me? Or something else entirely? I don't know.

But I do know that I adored Marvin's Mittens and I highly recommend it.
kjorteo: Glitched screenshot from Pokémon Yellow, of Pikachu's portrait with scrambled graphics. (Pikachu: Glitch)
As I said in my Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers entry, my original plan had been to cross a few more light and fluffy one- or two-hour popcorn games off the backlog before starting on my next big project, and I had very mistakenly assumed PMD:E was one of those. (All I had to do was the postgame! I should just breeze through that, right?)

After what was supposed to be a light and fluffy popcorn game instead turned into a marathon, I needed another light and fluffy popcorn game just so I could remember what those were like. I wasn't sure I could handle jumping from PMD straight to another full-length game. Enter Thomas Was Alone, possibly the poster child of one-hour indie jaunts.

I will try not to textwall because otherwise I would stand a very real chance of spending longer writing this entry than I did actually playing the game, and also because... like... everyone knows about this one already, right? I mean, PewDiePie has a fetish for it. It's not exactly something I have to explain...

okay fine real quick this is an indie platformer about a bunch of squares and rectangles with different jumping abilities and miscellaneous powers and they have to help each other get to the goal. The thing that sets it apart is the cozy British narration of Danny Wallace, who personifies everyone in a way that is surprisingly effective and thoughtful for such simple gameplay. Like, you'll be controlling a long flat rectangle who serves as a trampoline, and then the narrator will helpfully inform you that her name is Laura and she has always been insecure about her ability and even tries to hide it from new people she meets, because she's afraid of people who just use her to reach high places and then abandon her. It works really well!

My favorite character is probably Claire, the big massive square with the power of being the only character in the game who doesn't instantly die in water. This makes her the game's Surf HM for the rest of the party, but the way the narrator spins her personality as a depressed insecure wreck who suddenly fancies herself a superhero is instantly endearing. Like, I can easily imagine this big massive (heavyset?) slow square throwing herself into the superhero role because it beats the alternative of feeling like a failure at everything else. I just want to give her a hug and cheer for her. You are definitely my hero, Claire.

So yeah. Good game. Even better palate cleanser.
kjorteo: Teary Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Teary)
The original plan, way back when I had finished 999, was to complete a few more quick things from my backlog before venturing into my next big "start a full-length game from scratch" project. I had a ton of games on the list that were either one-hour indie romps or something I'd already 90% finished years ago, and just needed to dust off and do the final stuff. I like cheap easy victories to pad the "number of games I've completed this year" and blog post counts. So it was that I nibbled my way through shorter games like AM2R and "I was almost done anyway" games like TIS-100. While I was at it, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness had been haunting my to-do list basically since it came out, and I'd already beat the main game, so I just needed to do the postgame content and be done with it.

I vastly underestimated just how much postgame content there was.

It's only fitting, I suppose; the sunk cost fallacy is basically what pulled me through a good chunk of the game, even down to the fact that it was this version I was playing. Honestly, if you're going to play PMD: Explorers, play Explorers of Sky instead. It is literally the same game but better, a later enhanced rerelease with extra dungeons and side stories and generally more and better everything. There is no downside to Sky and no reason whatsoever to pick Time/Darkness, unless you're like me and were already 35 hours into Darkness when Sky first came out and you just didn't want to start over. (In retrospect, with how much of a marathon the final few acts of this game became, not having to play it twice was absolutely the correct decision.) But even then, for the love of Arceus, make sure you still find a way to catch Sky's side stories and content--maybe in a YouTube Let's Play or something. They are easily as good as, if not better than anything in the main game.

Version differences aside, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers has all the things you would expect, including:
  • Pokemon!
  • Mystery Dungeons!
  • Explorers!
  • Having your feelings crushed like a grape!

I have no idea how it came to pass that a series whose entire premise is "You know those cute collectible monsters kids love? Put them in a slightly-friendlified Roguelike" also became synonymous with having among the highest amount of sobbing per capita in Nintendo game history. Neither Pokemon games nor Roguelikes are typically known for their plot, but mix the two and it somehow explodes in a geyser of tears. It's like Professor "Stock brainteasers and crying" Layton in that regard, I guess. Everyone who's played any PMD or even has heard of its reputation knows what they're in for at this point, but if you were somehow unaware, there's a reason this is the series where this icon (along with all my other emotional Bulbasaur icons) came from.

The gameplay of Explorers can get a bit repetitive. (Do you like exploring mysterious dungeons? Do you like exploring mysterious dungeons to the point of it almost being a fetish even within the game itself, with characters revering it the way people in the Laytonverse talk about Puzzles? Good, because here's fifty hours of it.) Furthermore, not every story element worked. The main, non-postgame ending is almost identical to that of the earlier PMD: Rescue Team, with slightly different explanations for why the same things are happening, and overall I feel like Rescue Team did it better. Granted, some of that could be because I'd played Rescue Team first and it doesn't hit quite as hard the second time you see the same thing, but Explorers' take on it did ruin some of its own impact with some clumsy fridge logic which I might get into at another time (ask me in PM or something.) The postgame had a ton of padding, with entire plot arcs that go nowhere and gratuitous abuse of the "Go out and do random bulletin board missions to pass a few days before you wake up one morning and suddenly..." method of plot advancement. The game has more endings than Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, with me at various times thinking I was finally done with it when I had:

  • Completed the main story
  • Completed the first postgame story arc
  • Oh no that was just one arc and it turns out there are five entire arcs according to this walkthrough
  • Completed all five postgame story arcs and defeated the postgame endboss
  • "After a few more filler days, you'll wake up to find there's a commotion on the beach..." (I was done with dungeons after the postgame endboss, so at this point I tried passing the days via the sentry duty foot-identification minigame because I didn't want to go out anymore. It didn't work, so instead I found a password generator and gave myself a bunch of Wonder Mail passwords to go arrest a low-level Pachirisu on B1F of Beach Cave.)
  • Recruited a certain Pokemon after a few filler days, who told me about the existence of a dungeon after a few more filler days. I didn't care. But hey, that was officially where the story events stopped happening which means technically...
  • Wait no you can still go complete Spacial Rift again to unlock the ability for you and your partner to evolve Don't care.
  • Watched an LP of all the Sky side stories (Obviously yes to this one)
  • Recruit all the Legendaries, max your levels and IQ, unlock the extra dungeons, do all the plotless hardcore 99-floor Zero Isle South type bonus nonsense No.

In short, a lot of this could be because I'd underestimated the postgame and expected it to be over sooner, but the main story ending fell flat and a lot of the postgame was kind of a slog.

However.

What Explorers does do well, it does really well. Explorers is, above all else, a story about its characters, and this is where it differentiates itself from Rescue Team and really shines. The cast is full of personality, especially after you've lived in Treasure Town for a while and really gotten to know everyone. These personalities become a huge part of the game's draw. Even if they had the same main story ending (and Rescue Team's was better), Rescue Team didn't have Wigglytuff, Chatot, Bidoof, Sunflora, and all the others in Wigglytuff's Guild, who bond with each other and with you over the course of the game. They all have their quirks, some you invariably end up liking more than others, but together they're a family. That family includes you, by the way. Toward the end of the postgame there is an entire dialogue to that effect. On one hand, it is so Stock Heartwarming Speech that I swear it came straight from 80s Ending, but on the other it worked and it was moving and, yes, I choked up for that too. (I expect this part in particular will hit [personal profile] xyzzysqrl even harder if/when she ever plays it. She is 100% okay with "yeah it's a little cheesy BUT" and, well, given how much she likes Summer Wars....)

And wow, does Explorers live up to the series' reputation of punching you in the feelings, the Sky content in particular. People warned me that Bidoof's Wish was the destroyer of emotions, and they were largely correct. I expected In the Future of Darkness to be pretty devastating just given who/what it was about, and braced myself accordingly, even if that bracing was kind of like remembering to close the screen door before a hurricane. No one warned me about Igglybuff the Prodigy, though.

So, even though I was really starting to get tired of how many different ways I had to complete this game before it was actually completed, I absolutely loved it in retrospect. In fact, even though I'm free now, a part of me really wants to do Super Pokemon Mystery Dungeon next. I probably won't, if only because I have a lot of other games that kind of have dibs as far as what I need to play next. Someday, though. As grateful as I am that Explorers is finally over for real this time, it did leave a very good impression, such that "okay but this is technically a new and different game" is apparently all it takes to make me want to jump right back in.

But for now, it's onto the next game for me, and I guess a certain Bulbasaur in Wigglytuff's guild will just have retire to a quiet life of staring at Pokemon feet all day. I'm sure that's what she would have wanted.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
I picked this up from the Humble Voxatron Bundle ages ago. The point of the bundle was obviously to promote Voxatron (but not PICO-8, sadly; this was before they came out with that one.) Voxatron didn't interest me at all, but the bundle also came with three other Lexaloffle games: Jasper's Journeys, Chocolate Castle, and Zen Puzzle Garden. The latter two caught my eye enough to push the bundle into "Eh, why not" territory, and now here we are.

In Zen Puzzle Garden, you are a monk raking the sand in a giant... well, zen garden. The gameplay is a combination "paint every tile" quest with "you can only change direction when you hit something" controls straight out of every ice skating room puzzle ever. Eventually it introduces further complexities in statues can be pushed and leaves must be collected in a certain order and act as walls until it's their turn. Still, the goal is always to rake every square of the garden and then get back out safely without trapping yourself.

This game started out strong for me, with a charming aesthetic and beautiful sand graphics. Yeah, the little monk dude looks like he came straight out of an early newbie RPG Maker game, but the sand, both raked and unraked, is more gorgeous than it has any right to be. The soothing riffs as you make moves and the "Puzzle Complete" tune are suitably... well, zen. In the earlier parts of the game, this was something I could not only enjoy, but relax while figuring out the solution. For someone with anxiety issues, this is always a nice bonus.

Those last few rows of puzzles, though. Whoof.

Remember when I played Splice and then had that problem that I needed a better word to describe? I never really found a term that jumped out at me but... that issue. (Here's someone complaining about it happening in Cosmic Express, for reference, which kind of makes me feel better knowing it's not just me.) It happened in Splice, and unfortunately, Zen Puzzle Garden ended up going in that direction toward the end as well.

I was talking with [personal profile] xyzzysqrl about this the other night, and I think the best way to explain it is that I get overwhelmed and can't keep up when puzzles become too open. Puzzles can still be hard, but as long as they give you some sort of clue what you're supposed to do, I'm okay. I can work with that. Hell, it's actually pretty fun to work with that! For example, take this later level from Hanano Puzzle 2:



(For reference: blocks bloom flowers when they touch same-colored existing flowers. They bloom in the direction printed on them, so that red block with an upward arrow on it, once it touches a red flower, would turn into a 1x2 piece consisting of a block on bottom and another red flower on top. Movement is sort of Yoshi-style swapping controls; adjacent blocks can swap places with each other, or you can move one block along by continuously "swapping" it with the empty space in front of it. The goal in each stage is to make every colored block bloom.)

Once you have a good handle of the rules and how these puzzles work, you can look at this screenshot and sort of work backwards. The only way to get that blue block to bloom is to move it one space over to touch the flower next to it, which means that there needs to be some sort of solid surface plugging that hole so it won't just fall off the ledge when you move it. Given the layout of that area, it looks like the only way to do that is to have the upward-pointing red block slide underneath that low ceiling and then bloom upward when it touches the flower on the ground. That, in turn, means that you need to find a way to move the upward-pointing red block from its perch in the upper left corner there all the way over to that lower-right area, clearing that gap in the middle (blocks can't exactly fly and, short of blooming shenanigans, there isn't an easy or convenient way to lift them again once they're on the ground,) all without having it touch any other red flower and blooming prematurely before it reaches the one below the blue block.

It's a tall order, and it's definitely a tricky puzzle (this is a Qrostar game we're talking about) but you at least have that goal, you know? You can see what you're supposed to do, so the trick is just figuring out how.

Compared to that, Zen Puzzle Garden is far more open, and ultimately I do not think that is a good thing. I didn't mind or even notice this at first, because the earlier puzzles are easy enough...





Push the statue down just enough that it's between the rocks, turn the movement from that into sectioning off the top and sides. The only real trick is remembering the "previously-raked areas count as walls" rule so you can bump against your own work to get that dip in the bottom center there.

That's fine. That's all well and good. It works, and it's even pretty fun! But then later on you get things like...



What in the everfuck.

What... I can't... I'm sorry but there are just too many directions this puzzle could possibly go for my mind even to process where to start. Every one of those statues can be moved somewhere (they can be, but maybe some of them are fine where they are, who knows) and the only real overall goal you have is to come up with some sort of configuration that lets you rake every square. This makes it next to impossible to tell whether any given solution is on the right track.

Let's say you push that statue in the lower right corner up and then to the left, to slide it in between the two stones in the upper right corner. Then, later, you seemingly paint yourself into a corner and run out of valid moves. Is that because you're just not seeing the right solution for that last part? Or is it because there is no solution, your very first move was a fatal mistake, and you've been searching fruitlessly in a doomed timeline this entire time?

For the record, I'm pretty sure this is the kind of puzzle design logic that turns Roberta Williams on.

It's that lack of confidence when puzzles get too big and open and out of control that regrettably kills the final portion of this game for me. I don't mind difficult puzzles--I like difficult puzzles, even--but I have to at least know I'm on the right track. Otherwise, I tend to miss things because I assume getting stuck later on means I must have messed up earlier (even when I actually haven't) which is far more frustrating than fun.

Fortunately, Lexaloffle has hints and solutions on their own site, and needless to say I started relying on those pretty heavily toward the end. As it turns out, the very last puzzle ended up having a perfect example of the exact point I'm making: Four hints in, the board looks like this. Once I got that far, filling in the sectioned-off areas on the top were easy enough, but something very interesting happened in that three-tile-tall strip along the bottom there.

There is, of course, a trick to winding yourself around those rocks and putting that statue somewhere less in the way, all without creating any dead ends. It is somewhat sneaky and not immediately obvious. I was stuck for a while even after getting the board to this state, just trying to figure out how fill in that bottom part. And you know what? At that point, it was fine! I knew for a fact that there was a way to do it, because the hint said right there that the board was in fact supposed to look like this, so anything beyond that was just some hidden answer I wasn't seeing. Eventually, I found it. I actually felt pretty clever and proud of myself when I did. This is, in fact, what puzzles are supposed to feel like.

Meanwhile, with how stuck I got just on that one section, I know for an absolute fact that, had I tried this level unaided, I would have assumed that getting the board to this state was obviously wrong. I would have fiddled with the bottom for a bit, concluded it was clearly impossible if you make the top look like that, and then I'd be stuck forever trying something else from the very beginning, never knowing I incorrectly wrote off the right track as a dead end.

So, yeah. In the end, Zen Puzzle Garden is the kind of game where the bottom third of the final puzzle is a fun and appropriate challenge.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Hatoful Boyfriend, of Miru & Kaku looking excited and triumphant in the seat of their tank. (Hatoful: Miru & Kaku)
I am massively bending if not outright breaking my own rules to count this one as something I completed this year. I actually played through it with [personal profile] davidn and Elijah last November and the only thing I "completed" now was finally getting around to editing and posting the video we took. I was planning on doing some sort of award roundup thing around the end of the year, and I wanted this one to be included. It deserves it. It may not actually win anything (the categories I'm thinking for it have some very fierce competition) but if nothing else, it deserves a shot.

Plus, this way I get to gush about A Bird Story in blog entry form. I know a couple of my friends have hangups about YouTube videos with our real-life voices and whatnot (and mine really isn't all that great anyway,) so here's your chance to hear how much I love this game even if you didn't watch our Team Hatoful play-through and hear how much I love this game.

A Bird Story is a game by Freebird Games, which usually means several things:
  • It's an RPG Maker game, though there's no combat and it's basically a story-driven walking sim.
  • It has gorgeous high-quality custom assets (sprites, tilesets, music) that make it both visually and musically beautiful.
  • It will punch you in the feelings. Frequently and hard.

In this game's case, I think all you have to do is check out the title theme and its cover art and you can pretty much tell this one's going to be a great big check for all three.

Also, this one is sort of related to the Sigmund series, so if you're going to play it, probably best to do so after To the Moon and its two minisodes (but before Finding Paradise, if you're reading this in the future and Finding Paradise is out.) There aren't any To the Moon spoilers or anything, and this isn't even directly related, nor does it any of To the Moon's characters, but... it's sort of a side story in the same universe. The boy from this game will apparently have an upcoming role in Finding Paradise, if that counts for anything.

Anyway, A Bird Story is very short and... honestly, kind of weird until you get used to it. There is no textual dialogue--some rebus bubbles every now and then, but even those are rare--and the entire story is told through visuals, gestures and expressions, etc. Our protagonist is a somewhat neglected latchkey kid whose primary communication with his parents consists of notes that would probably say something like "Working late, dinner's in the fridge" if there were text in this game. He's kind of a ghost at school, too; not exactly picked on or anything but no one really notices him either. He goes through the routine every day, but it's a gray and lonely-feeling existence, until one day he happens to encounter and save an injured bird in the forest. Hilarity Feel trips ensue.

The presentation is incredibly surreal. The game will signify walking home after school by just sending you down a hallway that starts out in a school with tiles and lockers and and then slowly blends into dirt and trees and then an apartment building. The journey is always exactly as long as it needs to be for the narrative--if the point the game is currently trying to make is "He grabbed his umbrella before heading out the door, and at school there was a...." then his classroom might be just across the street about ten feet away from his bedroom, because we're taking the trip there for granted. Of course, him walking through the woods is very important on the day he finds that bird, so there it's shown and extended. Also, the trees literally move and change configurations as he approaches them to signify him going a different way home than usual. And that's not even getting into his ability to turn an entire book's worth of pages into a giant paper airplane and back. The whole game is made of effects like that, and I still don't claim to understand a lot of them. It all feels like traversing a dream... or a memory, which could be very important given the potential Finding Paradise connections.

Either way, there's hardly any gameplay to be had here. With the exception of a few "press space to splash in the puddle" type playing-around moments, it's literally just walking from one cutscene to the next as the narrative unfolds. But it's a really good narrative so this is fine.

I mentioned this in the Team Hatoful run, but here it is again for people who don't want to watch that: It is hard to tell a story visually. Words are cheap, but it takes skill to show the plot, what the story even is to the protagonist's emotional reactions to it, just by the way a character walks or runs or looks up or down or breaks into a wide-eyed O_O face. It is also hard to pull off effective dreamlike visuals with wildly differing settings melting into each other. Freebird Games not only was able to do both in one game, but it did both in one game in RPG Maker. I really want you all to stop and think about how impressive that is. How much work must have went into the tilesets, the boy's sprites, the cutscene scripting.... Freebird plays RPG Maker like an experienced old master plays a priceless artisan-crafted musical instrument, to just as beautiful results.

So yeah, this one was so good I worked around my own rules to include it.
kjorteo: Scan from an old Super Mario Bros. comic, of King Koopa facing the camera and looking at his wits' end. (Koopa: Fed up)
Because apparently people are actually using Dreamwidth now that we're all here. And I'm a writer. And I have a couple situations where the word I always use for them is wrong, but these are situations that come up a lot and it'd be really nice to have a word for them. Maybe you can help!

1) Basically the mood of this icon. Been dealing with too much for too long, at wits' end. The full context of the panel this crop is from: King Koopa and Lemmy are having a "Are you sure you know where this water main is?" conversation, the exact dialogue is responding to the previous panel's assurances with "You said that the last ten times!" (Lemmy in the background: "But since I've blown away all the other sections, this has to be it! I'll use four bombs on this one!") I originally entitled this icon "Exasperation" but later found that implies more annoyance and irritation over whatever they'll apparently never stop having to deal with, whereas I'm looking for more of a vague stressed "oh God" reaction.

2) My Splice post reminded me of this, because its later levels definitely induced it in me and that was one of the problems I had with that game. Is there a word for when there's just too much to process on the screen at once and you get overwhelmed? Think Tohou-style bullet hell games or those impossibly fast endgame DDR songs. "I can't play that game; once it get to the point where there were hundreds of arrows on the screen I just get _____ and kind of go o_o and my brain shuts down." I'm used to saying snow-blind but that's clearly wrong. Other metaphors/references like that welcome, if there's a good one.
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
This one was next in line in the "smartphone game to poke at while waiting for the bus" slot after Solar 2 finally fell. It didn't torment me for nearly as long, but it was a good solid romp while it lasted.

Splice is a puzzle game based on binary trees and cell division. You have a starting shape, an outline of a target finished shape, and X moves to get there from here. Later levels introduce cells that split/extend/disappear/etc. as a special power when you poke the cell in the center (which critically does not cost a move to do.) There are seven "sequences" of seven levels each, then you get a credit sequence, then four more "Epilogue" sequences with the truly brain-breaking ones.

First off, this game has an amazing soundtrack. It has a very strong and clear acoustic piano motif throughout, but within that framework it takes you to so many different moods along the way. Note the theme to the last sequence in the main game, which really does have a sort of "last level, this is it, invading Dr. Wily's fortress now, everything has led up to this decisive final battle" feel to it despite remaining a pure acoustic piano piece like all the rest. The last Epilogue sequence has a good feeling of finality to it as well, at least when it gets to the... chorus? Is that what it's still called in an instrumental piano piece? Refrain? Big main part?

As far as the actual gameplay, the basic premise works fine once you get used to how it works, though it was easy to get overwhelmed in some of the Epilogue levels where the shapes get a bit too complex for me to follow in my head. At that point, I tended to rely on accidentally surprising myself by just throwing a piece somewhere out of desperation and... oh... hey... that... actually almost lines up? Huh. (And if it doesn't, Epilogue sequences 3 and 4 are where I finally started to use hints with more regularity. Not all the levels in either, mind, but a good few.) I want to call this a complaint, and say maybe this game was about one or two Epilogue sequences too long and some of those final puzzles are a bit much, but... well, I'm kind of hesitant to play the "this game is bullshit" card just because I personally couldn't keep up. Especially because it was great until then! So maybe that one's just me.

No, if I have to lodge any actual complaint, it's that the menu is rather clunky to navigate. See the end of the gameplay trailer, where it sort of zooms back out past all the old levels counting all the way back down to the Splice logo? That's how you exit the game. The "Back" button brings you back one sequence, so keep pressing it to count all the way down until you're back to the logo. Back again on that brings up a "Terminate? Y/N" prompt, but Back again on that cancels the prompt and returns you to the Splice logo. So, basically, you have to spam Back until you get to the logo, then carefully hit it one more time and select Y at the prompt to exit. That's... there had to have been a better way to do that, guys. Come on.

Also, I don't know if it was just me, but my phone could barely handle the credit sequence after finishing the main game for whatever reason. Like, it ran at about one frame every 1-2 seconds. Still, it looked like it was just a scroll through all the puzzles you'd completed, and the music still worked fine, so whatever. It didn't crash and my progress counted so I'm good.
kjorteo: Screenshot of the snake from Snake, Rattle & Roll looking excited, with the caption "Hooray for video games!" (Hooray for video games!)
When I moved from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth, I expected it to be the same thing but just in a different location because I wanted to make a point about which organization I supported. Instead, even without expanding my friend circle and adding too many random people just yet, Dreamwidth's end-user activity feels more alive than LiveJournal's had for the past several years. Granted, LJ still has artists_beware and the furry drama communities, but its communities (and maybe George R. R. Martin posts) were the only things in my feed. Here, my actual friends are making actual posts in their actual personal blogs! I was not expecting this, but I am delighted.

And not all, but admittedly most of that is because [personal profile] xyzzysqrl seems to have somehow kicked off a gameblogging movement which is spreading from her friend circle to mine. She regularly posts record-keeping book report-style entries when she finishes or officially abandons games, and her journal is therefore full of those. Very fun to read, I always enjoy her commentary on everything.

I, of course, blatantly stole this idea and that's what you'll find on the vast majority (again, not all, but most) of my blog now. I love it, for several reasons. I'm actively writing posts again, and I feel good about doing my part to support this whole local "hey Dreamwidth actually seems to have a pulse so far" thing. I also just like talking about stuff I've been playing, it helps me keep track of which games I beat when and in what order (if I ever get curious about that,) and the "okay but if I finish this I can write it up and then it's off the list" incentive is already doing more than I ever dreamed it would to help me tackle my backlog.

Other Sqrl friends such as [personal profile] swordianmaster and probably a couple others I'm forgetting/am not familiar with are getting in on the act as well! Definitely worth checking out if you just can't get enough gameblogging. Even [personal profile] xaq_the_aereon posted a few updates as he was going through a Random+ AM2R run, though I'm not sure if that was just a special occasion.

[personal profile] davidn hasn't adopted this movement in general, but he did just do an amazing multi-part Let's Play of The Colonel's Bequest that I highly recommend. I'd been looking forward to someone doing that for ages, and it was everything I dreamed.

And if Sqrl's regular gameblogging wasn't enough, she also dips into the extended play runs with an already-impressive and still-growing collection of Nancy Drew titles, including a run of Danger on Deception Island she just started. Please check those out as well.

So in conclusion... uh. Well, to be honest, I started this post because I really owed David a plug for finally doing Colonel's Bequest for me :) but there's just so much gameblogging and therefore so much life in Dreamwidth so far that I really had to take a step back and celebrate the whole thing while I was at it.
kjorteo: Crop from Action Replay box art, of a very cheap imitation bootleg Charizard with a hippo-like giant nose and ear tufts.  Text on the bottom reads "NOT FAKE" (PARizard: NOT FAKE)
I thought I was done with this game, but much like Mega Man Unlimited, I sort of fell into the bonus content and one thing led to another and somehow> I ended up doing a 100% RG+ run on hard mode.

My first completion of this game was on the original version 1.0 of it. Since 1.0 came out and was immediately C&D'd/DMCA'd by Nintendo and the original author backed down without releasing the source code, other fans have reconstructed it and updated it with new modes and features. I grabbed version 1.2.6 out of curiosity over how far it had come. Since 1.2.6 is therefore an unauthorized fan reproduction of an unauthorized fan reproduction, that officially makes it the most bootleg ass thing I've ever seen, and [NSFW!] I've commissioned porn of that Action Replay Charizard from this icon. [NSFW!]

Anyway, version 1.2.6 has a few new modes compared to 1.0. In addition to every mode having Easy/Normal/Difficult settings through a separate unrelated menu, there's now a somewhat poorly-named New Game Plus feature that actually has nothing to do with starting over again and doesn't require a clear file, and is basically just "fuck your earthquakes, bruh" mode. It lowers the lava level down to just before the sequence with the first Omega Metroid, meaning you have to go around killing all 30-something other Metroids in the game to unlock the actual last level and it proceeds normally from there, but until then it's much more open and limited only by your ability to navigate around and not die horribly in areas you shouldn't be in yet.

Part of me wanted to append "you know, like Metroid should be" to that, but on second thought, there is a such thing as too open if you're a brand new player. You shouldn't have heavy-handed forcing where the plot itself issues stringent demands where to go next, but neither should you leave a wide-open crossroads with zero indication where the "next area" is and punish the player for being somewhere they didn't know they weren't supposed to be yet. I don't like Metroid Fusion, but I don't like Final Fantasy 2, either. Still, if you've been through the game before and have a rough idea of the sequence and can be trusted to more or less get there on your own, New Game Plus is a fantastic addition and I love that it lets you do it.

Also, there's Random Game Plus, which is New Game Plus with an item semi-randomizer. (It makes sure certain categories of items are kept to themselves so you won't get a missile tank instead of the Spider Ball, it makes sure you at least have either Bombs or Power Bombs before you get to the point where you need to blow walls up to proceed further, etc.) Supposedly the randomization logic was redone from the ground up for 1.2.6 and beyond, and people were leaving comments praising it, so I thought I'd just poke my head in for five minutes just to have a simple curious peek.

Then the very first item I got was the Screw Attack.

Then the second was the Plasma Beam, followed by the Ice Beam (which is redesigned in AM2R to be less freeze-things-for-platforms utility since you already have the Space Jump anyway and more just an endgame SUPER DAMAGE INCREASE deal.)

Well okay, I guess I'm doing this run after all, then.

Then I noticed a very interesting shift in gameplay style. I was also playing this run on Hard, and the combination of that plus getting the best weapons in the game first felt a lot like Dante Must Die mode from Devil May Cry. I could slice through just about anything in the game without even slowing down, but if I hit anything that fought back (like the first boss or anything immune to the Screw Attack, or just about anything in the endgame areas,) they could cut through my Power Suit/No-Energy-Tanks ass in one hit as well.

The beginning of the game was a mixture of feeling omnipotent and helpless at the same time because of that, and also because of how my draw went as far as utilities. I had the Screw Attack, Plasma Beam, and Ice Beam, and later even Super Missiles, but I didn't have the High or Space Jump, Spider or even Spring Ball, or even Bombs. I did get one Power Bomb (expansions give you 1 each instead of 2 on Hard,) which basically let me into the front door of a lot of places, but it's actually very easy to softlock yourself in a run like that if you use your one single Power Bomb to get into a screen, there aren't enemy drops or anything, and the bomb block respawns when you try to go back out. This tormented me, especially because--fun fact--early Screw Attack means you can access the teleport hub in the Distribution Center as soon as you get to the Golden Temple. Even more fun fact: the Gravity Suit is still unchanged location-wise, because it's a machine you step into and get that cutscene and isn't just a thing on a Chozo statue. Funnest fact: you can get to it with the Screw Attack and a single Power Bomb. Least fun fact: you can't get back out until you have either a second Power Bomb or, you know, Bombs. :(

So, with no lava and even early access to the teleport room, but none of the basic utilities you'd need to get around anywhere once you got there, (and of course since the loot is semi-randomized anyway,) the early game involved a lot of trial and error. I'd save before using my one Power Bomb to go down a certain passage, see if I could possibly make progress and get anything from there, and if the answer is no and I got stuck or died, reload. Eventually I broke through, though. One of the areas I tried had the Space Jump, and from there... well, there was a lot of gradual rebuilding my arsenal from there. You know, like a Metroid game, only the sequence is random, which I guess is literally what a randomized Metroid run. Wow, I'm smart.

Anyway, the random element sort of fades to the background the closer you get to the endgame, because once you have basically everything anyway, does the path you took to get there really matter? Still, even the endgame had a surprise or two because holy crap they weren't kidding about having rebalanced (and dramatically improved) the Omega Metroid battles since 1.0. You know how one of my complaints in the last COMPLETE entry was that they were too much of a damage sponge with "you can figure out all the patterns and everything but they still take like 20 Super Missiles to kill" fake difficulty? Never mind.

I did notice a bug, though: When you get 100% completion, you should have 118 Missiles, 10 Super Missiles, and 10 Power Bombs (because 2 Missiles/1 Super Missile/1 Power Bomb per expansion on Hard, rather than 5/2/2) plus 10 Energy tanks. I got every item in the game, I did in fact get 100%... but I still only had 9 Energy Tanks. I did, however, have 120 Missiles. Clearly one of the Energy Tanks became an extra Missile expansion instead. Oops. Still, that's minor, and my 100% still counted.

I'm glad I did this run, because I got to experience what was definitely a new play style and new feel to this game, and also because getting to write another COMPLETE entry gives me a chance to point out some things I missed last time. Specifically, did you know how awesome the music is in this remake? Seriously, whoever turned this into this is a miracle worker.

Also, one criticism I've noticed of the AM2R remake specifically is that it makes the caverns feel less oppressive. Yes, the original Game Boy music is terrible, but people in comments report that it gives you a sort of sense of gloom, being lost and utterly alone in this environment (which is technically true in any Metroid game but this one makes you feel like it,) and they regret that that feeling is missing in the new version with the improved music. To which I say... not really? Actually, if anything, this game does a better job making you feel lonely just by repeatedly teasing the possibility that you might not be, except oops never mind you totally are. You can stumble across not one but two instances of wrecked and deserted research outposts where maybe there were people here about a month ago but there are very obviously no survivors now. The one time you do find actual living people, they're mid-battle with the first Omega Metroid, who promptly slaughters them all. Like, I knew you weren't going to find a living NPC and have a conversation or any sort of text with anyone because it's Metroid, so obviously none of those leads were going to pan out, but I would argue that getting your hopes up like that does a lot more to make you feel isolated than having to listen to this.

I know AM2R is kind of all the rage these days in my friend circle--[personal profile] xyzzysqrl just did her own complete entry on it, and [personal profile] xaq_the_aereon has been all over it for some time now--but Sqrl's entry is right: this is a fully professional grade release, even surpassing the actually-official and professional Zero Mission, and you really owe it to yourself to check it out. Of course, you legally can't after Nintendo shut the project down, but... well, my morals are more or less in line with the Extra Credits stance on game piracy, where availability is the one true above-all-else threshold for determining whether it's okay. If Nintendo somehow changed their minds, reached out to and worked with the developers, and either partnered for an official release or even just let them make an official release, you'd better believe I'd be the first in line to give them money for this because holy hell do they deserve it. But obviously that's never going to happen, so, you know, fine, go play this really outstanding game by the one means you actually can.
kjorteo: Ukiyo-e woodcut-style portrait of a Skarmory. (Skarmory: Ukiyo-e)
Oh thank God that one's done. My clear file only has about 10 hours on it, but don't let that deceive you; this one has been plaguing me for years due to a combination of me treating it like a low-priority smartphone time-waster that never ends (think PathPix) and because it's absurdly hard whenever I do get around to poking at it.

Solar 2 is... uh... kind of hard to describe, honestly, but it's more or less an infinite galactic sandbox, with missions. You are anything from a lowly asteroid to a small planet to a life-bearing planet to a star to several stars and/or bigger star(s) to a black hole. The higher forms are achieved by gaining mass, but once you become something once, you can respawn as that from the menu at any time. That alien-looking guy there is... well, he's never referred to by name in game but external sources such as walkthroughs call him The Entity, so let's go with that. The Entity has a bunch of errands for you to run at your leisure depending on what you are at the time, and most of them are incredibly tricky bouts of dexterity. (Example: one of the Planet missions is to go to a nearby solar system and knock all the orbiting asteroids off each individual planet--done by getting just close enough to let them smash into you--without touching the planets themselves. With gravity physics factoring in, like everything in this game, this is much harder than it sounds.)

The save feature doesn't keep track of a state or snapshot or anything; rather, it auto-saves the list of which missions you've cleared, and you can manually save your solar system once you reach star level and have one. So, if I'm a medium-size star and have two planets orbiting me, and just finished getting enough mass for one that it evolved to a life planet, I can save that system. When I go to reload it, I'll just lose control of whatever I was controlling at the time, the camera will zoom over a bit, and land on what is suddenly and conveniently an exact replica of whatever I saved (in this case, a medium star with two planets, one of which has life. It even keeps track of exact mass and how close you are to the next phase!)

All in all, it's a fun little fly-around-and-do-whatever sim, or it would be if anything involving the Entity wasn't so hard.

The earlier missions are impossible feats of dexterity, as previously mentioned. The later missions, once you're a solar system, are... well... grindy. When the mission is to go fight and destroy a system that has a medium-sized star and four life planets (life planets spawn ships loyal to that system that fire on their enemies, and also give the central star(s) shields) then all you can really do to make that fight winnable is fly around and absorb stuff until you are a large-sized star with six life planets. (You'll probably lose most of them in the fight anyway, but at least if you win it will save the achievement and then you can respawn as your saved system to get everything back such back.)

By the time I actually cleared the final mission, I was a connected system of nine stars (three medium, six large) with eight planets, all of which had life, thus shielding my entire system. And getting to that point... ugh. At least you can sometimes be lucky and catch a free-floating life planet if you encounter one and you have room, but the only way to gain additional stars in the same system is to evolve orbiting life planets into them, which means flying around carefully enough near asteroid fields that that particular planet catches a few in its orbit, so you can absorb them for mass. I wasn't going for the Grind Star achievement (a forty star system!? haha fuck you) but even getting to the nine-star/eight-planet one to beat the last mission still involved a lot of play that looked like this.

There are tons of achievements and such to get even after clearing the game, and you can always just work on building up your system for the fun of it, but... no, I've grinded enough in this game thank you.
kjorteo: Scan from an old Super Mario Bros. comic,, of King Koopa explaining something to his son with an 8U facial expression. (Koopa: 8U)
This is mostly just behind-the-scenes recordkeeping, but technically I officially crossed something off the list which means it gets a post.

Last Dream is a fine game--in fact, [personal profile] xyzzysqrl just beat it and did a lovely writeup of it. I concur that it's great, and I'm not even abandoning it for anything it did wrong, but....

Actually, I may as well take the time to coin/explain a term while I'm here, since I expect this will not be the last time this happens.

When Style Savvy: Trendsetters for Nintendo DS came out, I was in love. I hadn't played that series before but it was just so me in every way. I got a good ways into it... then other games came out, I got sidetracked, and it sort of faded back into the background with a half-done save file, as is usually the case for most things I play. I always wanted to go back to it someday....

Then Style Savvy: Fashion Forward for 3DS came out.

Style Savvy isn't exactly Final Fantasy: (with the exception that I actually kind of am embarrasingly into where Fashion Forward's story is going,) you generally don't play a Style Savvy game for the riveting plot specific to that particular game. Moreover, a game is going to look much like the older ones except with some improvements. Trendsetters was a fine game, I had a blast with it while it lasted, and my abandoning it was through no fault of its own... but I knew I would never touch it again, because if I really wanted to play Style Savvy, I could and probably should just play Fashion Forward instead. You know, get the new and improved version if I'm going to be playing more or less the same thing anyway.

There are some series I will zealously and perhaps irrationally insist on doing in order--I won't play Wright v. Layton until I finish Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, which I won't even start until I finish Professor Layton and the Last Specter, which I won't even start until I finally dust off and get through my half-done file for Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. I stuck to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness even when Explorers of Sky came out because I was already like a million hours in and didn't want to start over. Sometimes, though... sometimes you see something like Last Dream: World Unknown coming out soon, and you just have to give the original Last Dream the Trendsetters treatment.
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