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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:42 am

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (ArtPlay / 505 Games, 2019)

REVIEW

---

Playing this game has been the worst part of 2020 for me.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Thu Oct 15, 2020 10:09 am

Well, now you've got our attention. :D
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Thu Oct 15, 2020 2:44 pm

Honestly, anything else I could say about that game would be giving it too much credit. It's every bit as bland, uninteresting and uninspiring as I should have expected from a game designed exclusively to pander to the nostalgic. It's so busy trying to play up to the expectations of the rabid fans of a specific genre that it forgets to be, well, a game. And I find it baffling to realise that, in 2019, a game could forget that even in the original Castlevania bosses had life meters.

I'm seriously tempted to blacklist every single "homage" and every single "spiritual successor" ever made in this goddamn industry.

(I'm also tempted to reconsider piracy as an option. I'm tired of financing an industry that hates me.)
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by gkscotty » Thu Oct 15, 2020 4:39 pm

I suspect I may like it when I get around to it, but unfortunately the switch version I got off the kickstarter is just impossible to look at, they really turned in a terrible port. Once it gets cheap enough on Steam I'll probably give it a shot.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Thu Oct 15, 2020 6:29 pm

Haven't played it myself (though it's on my "kind of interested" list), so maybe I'll get to see whether I agree with Fernie or not. Its entire marketing does seem to be "hey, wasn't Castlevania great?", but like Steve, I'm still kind of interested. Because Castlevania was great.

@Steve: really sad to hear about the porting issue. You'd think that in Current Year they would have figured out how to port a game to another system and made it not suck...
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Thu Oct 15, 2020 9:49 pm

gkscotty wrote: Thu Oct 15, 2020 4:39 pm but unfortunately the switch version I got off the kickstarter is just impossible to look at, they really turned in a terrible port.
Oh, as if I needed a reason to dislike this game even more!

You know, I really should just stop playing a game when I reach the point I'm no longer having fun; but then again, after having sunk real money into the thing, I feel downright ripped off. If I paid for a torture session, at least make me feel some decent pain.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Fri Oct 16, 2020 3:19 pm

Okay, I guess I'm gonna make a few ponderings here based not only on the experience of this game, but on other games as well.

One thing that bothers me, not just in Bloodstained (god, this title is so tacky) but in other similarly pandering games, is that they don't seem to make an effort to captivate the player. All the choices made by the game are fundamentally based on the notion that the player is going to love the game by default. See, because this game was made specifically to please fans of Symphony of the Night, all it has to do is be identical to Symphony of the Night, and that's it. No further effort required. That to me is the explanation why this game was so uncharismatic, bland and artificial--the visual style, the animations, the music, the settings, everything. And you see, I never played Symphony of the Night. I decided to try out this game exactly because I never played Symphony of the Night, and I wanted to have an experience that was worthy of that game. Instead, I got a piece of fanfiction--and a pretty boring one, with an unappealing, uninteresting story delivered in colourless, stereotypical dialogue.

I feel like this is a particular plague of games whose job is to stick to a specific genre or formula--or hell, even a previous game. Yet, it seems to work. The people who are predisposed to like the game will like it regardless of anything; the game must suck real bad in order to break away from mindless praise into harsh criticism, and very often this sucking is not even in the game itself. If it weren't for the development problems, the Kickstarted mess up and the advertising idiocy, I wonder if Mighty No. 9 would be so reviled. Yes, I went there.

Also, is it just me, or there seems to be a certain obsession with boss fights? I mean, I remember really enjoying Super Metroid, and, if memory doesn't fail me, a crushing majority of my playtime consisted of regular exploration, with a few bosses here and there. I think there are only four obligatory bosses, and about four optional ones, am I right? Either way, what I remember the most about that game was how dynamic and diverse the actual level design was. There was plenty to do, and plenty of surprises along the way. And honestly, to be perfectly frank, I think I dislike the concept of the "boss fight": it's the place where the entire game grinds to a screeching halt, and you're forced to spend an inordinate amount of time draining the lifebar a single enemy, being left either to the whim of randomness or to the mindless memorisation of attack patterns and movement. Bloodstained had loads of boss fights, and most of them painfully boring. But what's worse is that the exploration itself quickly became a boring slog from boss to boss; and of course, this being a "metroidvania" (a genre name that's still stupid, no matter what people say), means you'll have to backtrack and revisit the same areas plenty of times.

Talk about "metroidvania", that to me was one of the worst aspects of the game. The unlocking of new skills didn't seem to open as many possibilities for level traversal and secret discover as games of this kind seem to promise. In the vast majority of the time, a new skill simply meant you can overcome a previously impenetrable obstacle and that's it. It's not like the whole game is dynamically changing as you progress, like in Super Metroid. Not only that, but the game early on presented me with places that seemed to be overcome by double jumping, but nope! No dice. Double jumping turned out to be a massive disappointment, and it turns out I had to go fishing for the one place where double jumping allowed me to progress. There's the same linearity that we expect to get from old school platformers, but ooh, you get to revisit the same places over and over again, therefore it's cool, right? Yeah, it seems the concept of "metroidvania" became pretty much a caricature by now, a term that's dropped to make the game earn instant cred, whether it's well implemented or not; i.e. boring backtracking is to "metroidvanias" the same as careless randomness and inconsequential permadeath is to "rogue-likes". Just like the corporate word is contaminated by empty buzzwords, the gaming scenario seems contaminated by empty buzzconcepts, so to speak. It's the same thing with crafting, really. Oooh, this game has a huge, massive "crafting system", but all the possibilities of crafting are a lot worse than the options you get by basic exploration of the levels! You get a million options, and all of them suck. You know, going back and forth around a dozen menus to turn a number of one thing into a number of another thing is not exciting on its own. Y'know, as much as I was underwhelmed by Fallout 4 (now there's a review I never got to make), at least it got the fun of crafting right.

Overall, I seem to have a very high expectation of games--which, I think, it's fair, since I'm spending money into this thing. If the game doesn't make an effort to captivate me and win me over, I'm not going to bother trying my best to overcome its challenges just because I'm "A Gamer". It's the game's job to break my defences, not the other way around--and I don't feel at all at fault for having this attitude. If the game doesn't please me, it's the game's fault. They are getting paid to please me, not the other way around. ... I guess I'm relieved not to be a professional streamer, after all...

By the way, I'm making all this criticism about buzzconcepts and "spiritual successors", and I'm still remembering that I really enjoyed Stardew Valley. Somehow that game seemed to evade all the trappings of that kind of game; and it's not like I'm particularly nostalgic over Harvest Moon or was desperately craving for more of the same. The game just... caught me. Somehow it just worked, and I was perfectly fine playing the game on its own terms. So I guess it's possible to be a successful "spiritual successor" after all.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Fri Oct 16, 2020 8:29 pm

Now that is a good essay on games and how (not) to make them! By the way, I hope you didn't think we were baiting you into writing a long review: that certainly wasn't my intention. But this resonated with me a lot.
i.e. boring backtracking is to "metroidvanias" the same as careless randomness and inconsequential permadeath is to "rogue-likes".
This, exactly this.

Also, I never really thought about this until you put words on it, but I don't particularly like boss fights either: like you, I find them boring, and unless they involve some thinking or an unusual mechanic they tend to be just grindfests. I wouldn't say I care enough to hate them. They're just... a convention of early video games that keeps getting in virtually everything, whether or not the plot requires it. (And sometimes the convention can be detrimental to game writing; i.e., if a game is even remotely an action game, the ultimate threat *has* to be something that can be disposed of with good old fisticuffs. Space whale, white-haired pretty guy with five wings, whatever.)

So yes, I'd say you're totally in the right. Sounds like the creators of this game just made a series of bad decisions that resulted in the most boring game mechanics and least actual wonder of exploration. While I haven't played Stardew Valley (not really my genre), I suspect the reason it won you over is that it was actually a well-designed game in addition to being a shameless nostalgia-fest.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Mon Oct 19, 2020 5:33 pm

c_nordlander wrote: Fri Oct 16, 2020 8:29 pm Sounds like the creators of this game just made a series of bad decisions that resulted in the most boring game mechanics and least actual wonder of exploration.
Well, keep in mind that I'm kinda alone in that assessment, since the game's reviews are overwhelmingly positive. But that's very much how I felt, yes.

Stardew Valley was very well designed, for my tastes, and I feel it was made with the intention of being a better game than those it was paying "homage" to. Also, because it was made by a developer that had no relationship with the original games, it's not like the designer could rely on the power of their name alone to carry all the hype: they had to prove their worth through the game design itself.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Mon Oct 19, 2020 8:10 pm

^Good points! Especially the part about wanting to *improve* on Harvest Moon. Why settle on being just as good as something?

I remember (since we're talking about homages to nostalgic games), Jimquisition's review of Yooka-Laylee, where they said that it reproduced a bunch of the control and camera issues of the 90s 3D platformers it emulates, as if those were a positive feature of the genre rather than problems that should be eliminated.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by SirMustapha » Mon Oct 19, 2020 11:01 pm

You mentioned the Yooka-Laylee review, and I bumped into the Zero Punctuation review of it, which features one of the greatest quotes I ever heard about the kind of "self-aware", "4th-wall-breaking", "ironic", "post-modern", "too kool for skool" humour those games have:
It's like farting in your own face and sarcastically rolling your eyes at the smell.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Sat Jul 31, 2021 11:17 pm

*casts Phoenix Down on the thread*

Infested (GrahfMetal Games)

First, some background. Back in the mid-to-late '80s, ICOM Simulations made a trio of point-and-click adventure games: Shadowgate (high fantasy), Déjà Vu (noir detective mystery), and Uninvited (urban fantasy/horror). They were originally made for the MacVenture engine, though I only ever encountered them in the NES ports. I can safely say I'm a fan: they were stupid hard, with tons of unnecessary deaths, and utterly captivating when you were twelve. (Oh, Shadowgate and Déjà Vu got a number of sequels I've never really played.)

So when I found that there was an unofficial tribute to the ICOM games, titled Infested and made in 2016, I jumped at it. Infested is abandoned-spaceship/infection horror, filling a niche not covered by the original ICOM series. It's also free to download, though quite frankly I would have paid.

So, having played it, it's... kind of adequate.

It starts off pretty nice and atmospheric: you're an astronaut who's taken ill after a mission to a planet, and you've just woken up in a stasis chamber after an unknown amount of time. Now, you need to get out and see what's going on in the spaceship.

Then, on the second screen, I find some green slime that has dropped onto the floor from a leaking pipe. This being an adventure game, my first reaction is to try to touch the slime, and I get the following death message:
You reach down and touch the slime on the floor. It takes seconds for it to cover your body and kill you painfully.
OK, if you played any of the ICOM series, you know that those games loved their long textboxes of purple prose, especially for character death. This... is kind of bare-bones. It's a bit of an extreme example, since other death scenes and events get more description, but in general, the prose in the game is on the sparse side. Plus, as I said, this is the second screen. Where's the build-up?

The original ICOM games had good graphics for their era, even if really static. Infested has pretty nice graphics, though the spaceship setting isn't really in favour of a varied environment. Slightly annoyingly, the main monster you're going to encounter is kind of blobby and more ugly-cute than scary. This isn't the rule: you encounter some better-designed monsters and enemies, but this is the one you'll be seeing the most. I'm not going to lie: it is a bit unsettling, since early in the game you cannot outright kill it and instead have to pacify it, and I was never sure whether sticking around in the same room as it was a good idea, but that's about it. In general, the game didn't scare me; "slightly tense" was the worst it managed. This isn't even about it having to stick to some NES requirement of family-friendliness, since it contains both blood (which you have to interact with) and visible corpses. (Leaving aside the fact that it's possible to create something insanely disturbing without any trace of blood or corpses.) I may have been more susceptible to the horror if I were twelve.
Spoiler
The death screen is very nicely drawn. Which is good, because you're gonna be seeing it a lot, haha.

The music is good and professional. Not as memorable as the best of the Shadowgate soundtrack, but that's a high bar to clear. It occurs to me that the title theme, while it has a good sci-fi vibe, sounds more like an action game than a horror adventure game. Not a negative, just a bit of an oddity. In space. Come to think of it, the theme of the original Metroid sounds more like a horror game than an action game. Maybe they should switch.

The controls use a set of commands you click on to interact with the stuff on screen, like the ICOM games, but the controls are a little bit streamlined (for example, closing a container in your inventory just requires right-clicking). One thing that bothers me a little is that there is no TALK command. Now, those of you who played Shadowgate probably remember that the TALK command was completely useless: the few sapients in the castle who weren't trying to kill you would just talk to you automatically, and it wasn't even necessary to cast spells since you could just use USE. I mean, having dabbled in game development myself I get why the GrahfMetal developers wouldn't want to code a bunch of responses to a command you don't actually need, but it still rankles me. It feels like an obvious tell that you're not going to meet any friendly or sapient characters.

The puzzles are actually pretty logical, though nothing stood out to me as particularly memorable. Which is okay; I prefer a logical-but-boring puzzle over a moon-logic one. Some felt a bit "gamey": you come across a hint that a certain item can be shattered by sounds in a specific frequency, you also come across a device that can be set to make sounds in different frequencies, OH GEE I WONDER WHAT WE'RE SUPPOSED TO DO HERE. Again, I've played a lot of adventure games, so I may be a bit jaded. My favourite puzzle is probably one where you need to switch off the ship's power, then find an alternative way to get where you need to go since all the sliding doors have become unopenable. It's a nice bit of holistic design. One thing I noticed is that examining some items will give you blatant hints on what to do with them. I'm in two minds about this: it feels a bit patronising, but it did also save me the frustration of banging my head against the completely wrong area.

In general, the game has a nice focus: once you've explored a decent part of the ship, you figure out what you need to do to get to safety, and then it's only a matter of collecting everything you need. I like that; it feels more proactive than the "do everything to everything in the hope of getting some vaguely useful item" that's very common in adventure games, even in good ones.

Again, there is a corresponding downside: once you figure out how to get off the ship, the game throws very few curve-balls at you. I like games with a few more twists in your progress to the end goal. Again, this game is meant to be a throwback. With late '80s/early '90s games like the ICOM ones, you'd be lucky if they had any plot other than "get out" or "defeat the bad guy," let alone any plot twists. But I'm a spoilt millennial!

So yeah, the plot is "get off the ship and don't die." At one point, I think it was implied that the monsters you face are fellow crew members who have been mutated by the infection. Big if true. But since the game never puts any emotional weight on that fact, why should I care?

I wouldn't call it a hard game, though it's no walk in the park. A bit annoyingly, the thing that had me stumped for the longest time wasn't a puzzle, but not figuring out I could walk through a badly marked exit on the side of one screen.

There are some in-jokes for fans of the ICOM series. They're fairly nice and unobtrusive: for example, the space exploration agency you belong to is named ICOM, and your commander is named Lakmir, after the druid in the intro of the original Shadowgate. Actually, the Lakmir reference wasn't my favourite: it comes very early, and was such an obvious in-joke that it threw me out of the immersion. But that's just me, plus it's obviously dependent on having played Shadowgate and remembering the intro. There may be more subtle references as well: for example, the dragon-like monster (and how you defeat it) reminded me of the wyvern in Shadowgate.

The game's page makes a pretty big deal of the "infection horror" genre, but that's a big con. You find a cure for your infection within the first ten minutes of play, after which it becomes irrelevant as a gameplay element. Given that both Déjà Vu and Uninvited created some tension by having a timed element caused by drugs or supernatural influence, I was expecting it to play more of a part in the plot.
Spoiler
So that was a bit of a disappointment. I wanted a good infection horror! Where am I gonna findI just realised what the hell I'm typing.

It feels like I've been hard on the game. Like I said, it has very good music, good (if a bit dull) graphics, a pretty tense atmosphere, and the puzzles are less frustrating and unfocused than is common in this genre. It's just that none of it wowed me. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

I found out that the developers made another game in the same format, a fantasy game named Spectacle. I'm probably gonna check it out, so they did something right.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by gkscotty » Fri Sep 03, 2021 10:42 pm

Psychonauts 2 is a real joy.

It's easy to be cynical about the chances of a sequel to a sixteen year old cult classic. The original Psychonauts was a mixed bag - truly fantastic imagination and writing paired with mediocre to really bad platforming gameplay. As much as the incredible worlds in it were extremely memorable, the action within them ranged from okay to teeth-destroying hard in the infamous Meat Circus, one of the worst difficulty spikes in any game.

So it's incredibly satisfying to experience Psychonauts 2 and encounter such a charming and accessible game.

Psychonauts 2 tells a great tale.

The story is great. The original kind of hung together, the overarching story just a thin string between dream scenarios. The sequel directly follows it and the VR game Rhombus of Ruin, but has much more lore, much more intrigue, and is a much more personal journey for all the characters. The non-linear section in the middle gets a little muddled about what story points you should know, but otherwise it's beautifully done, just twisty enough without becoming convoluted. It goes to some dark emotional places, and there's real pathos, guilt and love here. The characters are engaging and funny. I just wish the other campers showed up, I miss those weird kids.

Psychonauts 2 looks stunning

The visual design is phenomenal. Virtually every area is gorgeous in some way, crammed with deft touches and arresting vistas. The brains Raz visits are creative, pushing their aesthetics as far as possible without becoming muddled or hard to navigate. They're crammed full of unique mechanics and interesting platforming challenges, whether it be acting as a pachinko ball, operating a giant gas stove, or going bowling in an unconventional way. Special mention should be made of the levels that are constructed of realistic and quite gross teeth and hair, though a warning might be warranted for the former if you have any kind of dental phobia. The music is also varied, and very high quality. Much of it draws on motifs from the original in delightful ways (including daring to bring back the Meat Circus theme, you bastards.) Voice acting is perfect, virtually all of the original actors reprise their roles and do a great job.

Psychonauts 2... is trying to have good combat

The gameplay is... good enough. Personally combat never really clicked with me, being too frantic and requiring too much power swapping in the menu to get the most out of it. Platforming was fun and felt fluid. It's better than the original, but not THAT big an improvement. There are interesting new powers, the most useful being the incredible Time Bubble. There's also a good amount of customisation, with you spending rank points to upgrade your powers with new perks and purchasing pins that alter how they function - from doing more damage to removing downsides to completely inverting the function of the ability. There's a wide variety of useful pins, though I never felt extremely compelled to try them all out. The most interesting aspect of combat for me was how the game lets you use several powers simultaneously - say, charging up a pyromancy ball while riding your levitation ball and shooting psi blasts all at the same time. Finally, thankfully the game never pulls a Meat Circus style difficulty spike. It is, overall, fairly easy and exceedingly generous in its checkpointing, and should you not want to deal with the combat there are options to make things easier, make Raz invincible, or just totally remove minor battles.

But mediocre gameplay can't douse my love of this game. This is a world and characters that I felt reasonably positive about but wasn't clamouring for more, until now. Now I want to see much more of what they can bring to the table. This is a game made my people who loved the original, who care to explain things like the inconsistency in how people pronounced Milla and cheekily wink back at the worst platforming challenge you can remember. It's a very funny game that takes its characters heartbreak and pain seriously. It's a beautiful exploration of how characters tie themselves in knots and sink into despair, and how they can lift themselves out if you show them how. I really enjoyed it, and can't wait to explore more of its world. And so it comes highly recommended.

Psychonauts 2 is a delight.
Image

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do bad things. - Jingo, Terry Pratchett
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by c_nordlander » Fri Sep 03, 2021 11:16 pm

Sounds amazing! Though I'll miss the other campers, too, their personalities and stories were such an excellent part of the first game.
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Re: Game Reviews

Post by gkscotty » Sat Sep 11, 2021 12:03 am

A nice figment in Psychonauts 2
ec02c73ezxj71.png
Image

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do bad things. - Jingo, Terry Pratchett
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