Sunday, 25 November 2012

Adventure Time review in progress

  Sorry for the incomplete posts last night.  They’ve been updated today.  The second post has the images from my unboxing, while the first post has been updated with the link to the theme song, posted online by D3Publisher and hosted by Song Cloud. 

  Today I follow up on the mission to review Adventure Time, or the piece that I’ve seen through last night.  As ever, I try to avoid spoilers.

  Visuals and music convey a strong sense of whimsy.  I’ve read reviewers online refer positively to the 8-bit tunes; the developer Wayforward definitely brought their A game to the music department, even if they are not strictly chiptune tracks.  The melodies are strong and memorable, the instrumentation varied, and several tracks overlap each other to make each song.  The overall emotion delivered, of playfulness in a land of fun and goofy characters, stands out strongly and is reinforced with each new character introduced.

  As a reminder, I have no prior acquaintance with Adventure Time in any other form, but distinct personalities are coming across well, showing a certain amount of care went into personification.  The dialog is mostly drole humor and wordplay, and I can imagine a dozen or so references to the show zooming over my head.  The best compliment I can pay here is that familiarity with the source is not a requirement, and fanatical Zelda nerds like myself can still have a fun time with the game despite it.

  Judged in terms of gameplay, the mechanics are simple, adding up to some well-wrought dynamics.  Items are navigated thanks to BMO, the game console partner acting as the lower screen.  He also pauses the game, but critically, he switches between the two.  The system looks deliberate, and adds a nice slice of tension to the game; you must look down to select items in real time, giving enemies a chance to sneak up on you.  The touch interface is perfectly calibrated, and I haven’t yet had need of the sword stylus in the box; my finger has proven most comfortable.  Condiments are a welcome addition, recalling Earthbound brilliantly.  They can make food items more or less effective at healing (or hurting) Finn, and requiring logical experimentation to find the best combos.

  Navigation is done on the overworld map, displayed on the top screen, while BMO optionally displays a map on the bottom screen.  Backtracking is frequent, but Wayforward once again masters the concept by keeping it sparse and uncommon; I’ve never caught myself expecting the need to backtrack, until I enter the dungeons.  Random monsters keep Finn and Jake alert to their changing surroundings, and a small number of items are doled out in battle that can give the player new options on the map.  Jake (the dog) also learns powers that open new sections of the map, and these are always accessed with a minimalist, but always effective press of the A button.

  Towns and social interaction are mostly a game of memorizing where the inhabitants of the Land of Ooo are.  Their professions are mostly evident from their costumes, and when unclear they always tip off their role in the story with the text dialog.  Though not immensely new, it is a system that works, and keeps the player focused on their objectives almost at all times without the need for bossy partner characters or interrupting the flow of the game.  “Hey!” “Look!”  Such annoyances are thankfully gone from Adventure Time.  I have gotten myself lost once or twice, and been stymied for a few long minutes, but got myself back on track just by reading the comments on my quest items.  All and all, I consider this perfect, if a little short (more on that latter).

  Combat is a brilliant return-to-form beat’em up.  Finn sallies into battle against multiple enemies at a go without missing a beat.  Injuries follow carelessness, and the sword will not work when Finn is low on health.  Gameover, a fate I only saw once (stop laughing!), is quick, and reloads the game from the last save point with all your gear intact.  Items increase damage dealt and taken, jump height, restore and sacrifice health, and add fire element to attacks, but as discussed above, you need to look down to use them, raising the tension for those who don’t plan ahead.  The 3D effect remains a beautiful gimmick, the game plays exactly the same in 2D but looks so much better with the depth of field.

  For the most part, the game is a treat for classic gamers, and I predict dozens of “Best references to classic games in Adventure Time” articles to appear on the net in the years to come (but not from me, I promise!).  The one thing that causes me to fear, though, is the length.  I’ve already beaten two of the world dungeons last night, ostensibly the easy half of the game, but still half.  The 3DS records that I’ve been playing for 2 hours and 51 minutes.  I’ve got my hopes up for some kind of twist or extra, hard mode quest, but that’s just speculation at this point.  10 hours is a comfortable minimum for adventure games, but I confess enjoying greatly games with longer play times like Pok√©mon White (150 hours), or games with a lot of replay, such as Kid Icarus Uprising (34 hours total).

  For those fans of the show, looking for an adaptation of the show to their game system, I’m afraid that I have to leave the job of comparing the materials to their source to others.  I’ll chime in again when I’ve beaten the game, but I intend to take my time with it, so expect other content from me in the near future.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Adventure Time

The main box art

Book of Beasts

Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage? for the Nintendo 3DS

  This is going to be less of a review and more of an experience log.  I’ve rewritten this log a couple of times, looking for the best writing style, so bear with me as this is fully experimental.

  I first heard of this game from IGN’s review by Lucas M. Thomas, and it grabbed my attention when he described it as Zelda-like.  I am a consummate Zelda fan, as if you couldn’t tell by the screen name The Legend of Mii.  I’ve also long had complicated feelings of love and hate for Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, enjoying the two dimensional jumping combat alternating with 2D overhead map, but finding its themes and difficulty curve uncommonly dark and brutal.  I always wanted to see it tried again, but understood why Nintendo might feel the push into full Ocarina of Time style 3D might be the method of choice for Zelda going forward. 

  One could say that I’ve also dug up as many Zelda clones as the recent gaming market could make, including Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy and Beyond Good and Evil, both for the Gamecube.  I have a lot of patience for game developers that copy the formula and try their own takes on the subject matter.  This meant that I was quite prepared to take a risk on a new property in the old style.

  I should clarify something first though.  My knowledge of the source material, Adventure Time, is patently weak.  I decided not to remedy this situation, the better to judge the content as a video game without knowing how it works as a trans-media property.  It seemed a useful experiment after Retro City Rampage, a game I purchased almost exclusively for the abundant references that I was sure to catch.

  I checked a few other review sites, to make sure it wasn`t just online hype, and then traveled to Microplay to get a copy.  I had uncommon luck, for not only did they have a Collector’s Edition of Adventure Time in stock, but they had a copy of the old Gameboy Advance version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords!  Score!

  The Collector’s Edition sold for $40 Canadian, about what I expected the normal version to cost.  I snapped it up, thinking I would be out the same money whether I liked it or not, but the Collector’s Version could be liquidated on Amazon more easily.  Turns out, I might not need that extra security, but I am getting ahead of myself.

  The box includes the typical game, a custom premium “SteelBook” case, which feels cool to the touch as metal would, a fold out map of the Land of Ooo, a Book of Beasts guide, and a limited edition replica of Finn’s sword stylus.  I am trying to include pictures of all of them.  And hey, as icing on the cake, a code for Club Nintendo.  For the uninitiated, this means registering your code with Club Nintendo earns coins, which can be redeemed for cool stuff, including a choice of downloadable games on either Wiiware or Nintendo 3DS eShop.  I wasn`t expecting this in a game published by WayForward rather than Nintendo, but it is welcome indeed.  With all of this stuff, it is hard to consider the value wasted.

  Tomorrow, I will be back with first impressions of the game.  For now, just take my word for it that my money seems well spent just listening to the opening theme.

Undercroft iOS quick review

  I’ve recently downloaded Undercroft to my iPod.  Designed by Jagex software, and laden with ads for the online game Runescape, Undercroft is a return to form classic role playing game shown from the first person.  For those unfamiliar with this design, it stands as one of the old DOS classics, made famous (if such a thing can be said of any early video game) by the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons games, games that I have a sore need to play again.
  The world does not appear very noteworthy, a judgement I reach after some five hours played.  The overworld is lush and filled with treasures, berries, fruits and wild animals.  There are also many crypts filled with traps and dangerous monsters.  Common video game tropes like magical transporters abound. 

  A reasonable volume of character class options are available for building your party – I’ve seen better, and there is little enough detail about the world given during character creation to give them proper imaginary backstories, and no means in game to record them.  Still, leveling characters is a simple choice between well designed incomparable class benefits and spells.  Reading and understanding the options is quick, and the font looks good on the iOS screen, while there remains tons of potential options for building the characters progressively over time.

  The game moves turn by turn, allowing the player ample time to plan for monsters, and punishing recklessness.  The bias is, therefore, tactical, and it works here as well as it ever did.  Choices are deep, like equipping one character with a ranged crossbow could make encounters easier, but all characters require a round action to equip another weapon when in melee, allowing monsters to score a few free hits while one of your characters fumbles with his inventory.

  The touch interface is excellent, making the game very approachable.  It downloads quickly, suggesting to me that it is a suitably small file size, a detail important to me while I am abutting against my storage limit.  For the budget conscious, the following detail is very important; the game is free!  Free as in download and play without needing a credit card or iOS card.  Free as in free beer!  I might enjoy a bit more variety in my dungeon crawling games, but there is no arguing with the value for dollar!

  Check out this game if you have a need to explore tons of character options, a deep tactical combat system and inventory management.  I like a few deep challenges, but Undercroft is less valuable there, including a (thankfully optional) list of quests and full walkthrough available in the options menu, making this an approachable game for newer players.

Changes to the Blog Design


  I haven’t done much for the blog in the last couple of days, but I’ve made enough changes to the layout to explain what I’ve been doing.    I’m aware that I’ve been remise with new content.  I now have three old blogs that are still not ready for publication.  Complex topics needing source verification and whatnot.  I’m going to make a pledge to keep flogging the horse until I can get a new blog post up.  Things will be rocky through the next few days, so expect more trouble.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Nintendo Loading Content, Please Wait...

  Ladies and Gentlemen.  Please clear the next ten minutes of your life, as I shall now demonstrate to you why Nintendo has found themselves too busy to make new games for the Wii in its last year.

  The video is posted by RawMeat Cowboy over at GoNintendo with credits to Rodriguez.  It is hosted by Youtube.  Thanks all.  Now, for our feature presentation, one Nintendo fan shall proceed to froth his anger at Nintendo.  Don’t forget to get popcorn.

  Okay, all kidding aside, my first reaction to this video was probably what Nintendo intended.  I sat down to watch a tedious and overlong process about data transferring between computers and thought – Pikmin!   Cute!   And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against, and many things for, Pikmin.  But as I watched, my mind could not help but appreciate the stage design.  Stages – the rocket in between is a logical break point between the two.  I started to imagine all of the great games you could play on those stages: Super Mario, Kirby, Metroid, and hey look, Pikmin. 

  But this isn’t game footage.  This is a video about data transferring.  A slightly more Spartan effort in the data transfer footage, which you’d be hard pressed to ever find reason to watch again, might have freed up those stages, and other assets beyond, for more games.  We’ve had a spectacular dearth of good games last year, folks; maybe I’m just angry at the man sloshing water in a desert here, but am I the only one who feels Nintendo needed more content on the Wii in its last year?  I can’t be!
Now in fairness, I complain while decidedly not rushing out to buy a WiiU.  I have my reasons, among them cost and Christmas deciding in favour of delay.  There’s a lot of options today, and I don’t want to be mistaken for complaining about a lack of content today.

  I’m talking about a lack of content all of last year, in the very midst of the Operation Rainfall fiasco, which, lest we forget, is nothing new.  Adding New Play Control Pikmin 2 to the North American marketplace was a reasonable move by Nintendo, but is literally a drop in the bucket, and represents appeasement rather than genuine dialog.  They did bring one of the Operation Rainfall titles to us, the already localized for UK audiences Xenoblade Chronicles, and that should count for something.  Then again, we haven’t yet seen or heard anything of Pandora’s Tower, and it was XSeed who snapped up the English version of The Last Story to bring to us.  Nintendo hasn’t won many favours for this, and I have loudly asked before what Nintendo of America, the primary agency for distribution for the console, was doing during this drought.  Should I just let it go?  I fear with Nintendo purchasing so many Japanese studios, they may find it economical to do it again!

  It made sense at the time to appeal to patience.  I could find games without breaking the bank (yeah, Retro City Rampage), whether they be on Nintendo platforms or not.  And I have saved just about every disk I ever bought, giving me a good bit of fat to live on while Nintendo decided whether they wanted more money or not.  And it kind of made sense then, that Nintendo was working on launching two new consoles, the 3DS with a slow and stymied run (as demonstrated by the early price drop), and the WiiU, just now out of the gates.  These events have traditionally been rare, necessitating all hands on deck and promising more titles later, when the hardware is secure.  This can be seen on the timeline online, with examples like the Gameboy lasting seven years, and a stable recurring five year pattern for the home consoles. 

  It is, however, hard to appeal for calm based on this argument; things don’t have to get better later.  As of six months ago, Nintendo was already commenting on the next bit of hardware coming down the pipe.  I might be overreacting, but it seems like a new and disturbing pattern is developing, one where Nintendo buys the original content from others, and focuses more and more of their in-house staff hours specifically to hardware development, or to apps like this loading video.

  And that’s a problem for me.  The reason I back Nintendo over other, more powerful (PS3, Xbox) or cheaper (iOS) alternatives, is because I want to see more Nintendo games.

  At least I get to see Pikmin…