Monday, 9 February 2015

Not Defending This Crown

Crown is a very, very weird game. It's essentially six variants of the same thing, jumping over obstacles and catching things. You can pick any of the six minigames from the start - a process which is a game in itself, as the menu is constantly revolving and you have to hit fire when it's on the level you want. Each level is themed around a country, so for the British level you play a dog in knight's armour jousting, in the Russian level you play a bear doing Cossack dancing (the only level that strays from the run and jump formula), on the Indian level you play a sword-wielding elephant, and so on. The levels are all linear scrolling screens where you have to collect a certain number of items before the timer runs out. For the Indian level (the only one I managed to progress on) your elephant is avoiding bananas and sucking up parrots through his trunk (you'd think it would be the other way around!). If you manage to collect 10 or so parrots before the time runs out then you proceed to the next level. It's as simple as that...if only it weren't for the sluggish controls and exact timing requirements. Once you finish the first running level you have a fight level where you square off against one of the characters from the other levels and have to swing your sword at them until they keel over, while they do the same to you. You can jump, duck, and parry, but the best thing seemed to be to wildly swing and hope for the best. I managed to finish the first of these fights, but the next level was more of the same running and parrot sucking followed by a fight against another of the animals, so I presume it would go on until you defeat all of the other animals and then, who knows, maybe you get to eat their flesh in a bizarre victory ceremony, too. As you can imagine, the levels get progressively harder, and it was hard enough to complete the first one, so I'm not going to take it any further. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Super Meat Boy! Well, that'll be interesting. It's one of the most well known indie games of the last few years and I've owned a copy for years. Never actually played it though. It's renowned for being ridiculously hard...so that'll be fun!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Nightmare

Well, it turns out that it was indeed the Konami shoot-em-up from 1986, and it also turns out that I am indeed rubbish at shoot-em-ups. No idea how many stages this one has, but I managed to get to stage 3, which felt pretty impressive for me! Your character is a knight rather than some kind of spaceship (hence the title), but otherwise this is very standard shoot-em-up fare - enemies that zoom down the screen at you firing like crazy, power-ups that you can grab, the usual. One slight difference was that in this game there are obstructions on the playing field that you can shoot. These are actual obstructions that will push you off the bottom of the screen and kill you if you're not careful. Most of the time these contain bonus points when destroyed, but sometimes they will contain smart bombs or time-stops, and other times they will contain solid walls that you can't destroy. In later levels, these walls become more common and the designers use them as a level feature, designing mazes around them where you have to destroy the blocks in order to find a way through. I have to admit, it does feel a little bit obnoxious when you've got hundreds of enemies swarming around also firing at you, but these games were never made to be easy! I don't think I'll be able to get much further in it, so that's enough for me. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Crown! Absolutely never heard of it. Should be fun.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

2015: Mystery Solved

1893: A World's Fair Mystery is a strange breed of game. It's very much a traditional text adventure, but the real-world setting and photos for every location give it an educational air, too. It's never forced down your throat, but you do find yourself wanting to look things up all the time for a bit more info - it may just be me, but I find that whole World's Fair thing fascinating. Apparently there's another one taking place in Milan this year...I'm intrigued! Anyway, back to the game. You're a detective brought in to find 8 diamonds that have been stolen from the show. You're left a note from the perpetrator giving you a riddle about the location of the diamonds and it's down to you to find them. Along the way, you also have to track down a few criminals involved, but they feel almost like a side note to the diamonds themselves (although the aim of the game is to catch the mastermind behind it all). The main character in the game, though, is the exhibition itself. It's a huge space. I tried to do a couple of maps on paper, but both times I rapidly ran out of paper and got in a horrible mapping mess. It is huge. The game gives you a map, and it's the actual map of the exhibition that was given out at the time. As you can imagine from 1893, it's not the most accurate of maps, but it's enough to give you a general idea of locations. What it doesn't give you is any idea what's inside any of the buildings, and the buildings are (you guessed it) huge. Some of them will have 20-odd locations within them, and there are a lot of buildings. Without a map you will be completely lost. After you've been playing for a while you'll have more of an idea of where you are and you'll be able to run around the place at a better speed, but at the beginning it takes a long time to find your feet. There are a few slightly annoying timing issues here as well - you only have a week to catch the criminal, but that should be plenty of time - but, more annoyingly, every day you need to eat three meals a day at set times and get back to bed at set times. It's not so much that the timings themselves are an issue, it's that at the beginning you have absolutely no idea where the places are to eat, so you can spend a long time wandering about trying to find a cafe while the parser is shouting how hungry you are. I don't think it really adds much to the game, and it would have been kinder to the player to just let them focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about the busy-work. Sleeping's not so much of an issue because it's always done in the same place back at your home base. Even there, though, there's a niggling parser issue where the game forces you to sit in your bed before you can sleep, and then makes you stand up before you can leave the room. It's such a tiny thing, but it was a constant irritation every time. But the exhibition itself is wonderful, the photos and the descriptions create a wonderful atmosphere, and sometimes you're left slack-jawed at the amazing stuff that was there. It's hard to imagine something like that taking place now. The puzzle itself is tricky, with a lot of exploration and logic needed to gather the clues and find the gems. It's a toss-up whether it would be better to model something like this in 3D or to have it as a text adventure. Personally, I think this one's better left to the imagination. The game is what it is - a series of puzzles  - it's the setting that really makes this one something special.

Next up on the randometer is...Knightmare! I'm not entirely sure if this is the Konami shooter or the game based on the amazing TV show...guess I'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Vikings Attacked

I finished When Vikings Attack on the PS3 at lunch time. It's a bit of an odd game - a very simple concept strung out to a full campaign mode. I don't know how long it took me, but it felt like it dragged on a little. The basic premise is that you control a crowd of people and have to run around picking up a variety of objects and hurling them at the enemy crowds of vikings who are doing exactly the same thing to you. That's basically it - you pick something up and throw it, pick something up and throw it, pick something up and throw it, ad infinitum. The only tactical variety is that you have a dash move that can also be used to catch objects in mid-air or steal objects from enemies when you dash into them. It's the kind of chaotic set-up that's aimed at multiplayer (preferably, same-room post-pub multiplayer), and it doesn't transfer brilliantly to a single-player experience. The campaign mode is basically just a bunch of different levels with different themes but essentially the same experience. The only real difference comes with the boss fights at the end of each level. This is usually with some kind of enemy who's immune to your standard attacks so you have to do something like bounce projectiles off the scenery to strike their unprotected areas. They're an interesting diversion, but are often exercises in frustration rather than enjoyment. When Vikings Attack isn't a game of skill, it's a game of frenetic chaos, so making precision shots like that is often impossible to do properly, and they usually end up being lucky strikes rather than what you intended. There are also issues with some very small playfields where smoke from explosions completely conceals the action meaning you'll die without being able to see what happened. It's only an issue on those small maps, but it cropped up on every single one of them and was very annoying. I'm sounding more down than I feel. It was a fun game, it just overstayed its welcome. There are numerous trophies and collectibles for it, but I'm done for now.

Next up on the PS list is Grandia. It's an RPG for the original PlayStation. I played through the second game in the series on my Dreamcast years ago and really enjoyed it. I don't think the two are connected in any way, but I'm looking forward to playing through this. I did play through the first few hours of this a while back, but lost my save game when my last PS3 died, so I'll be starting from fresh again.

In other news, I'm slowly making my way through 1893. The game is huge, but very interesting - I didn't know anything about the Chicago World's Fair before. I've also made a bit of headway in Ultima 6, but it's slow going to start with.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Star War: Realm of Omens

Two completely meaningless titles combine to form another! There was a Humble Bundle for computer card games recently, and I'm a complete sucker for card games so I instantly snapped it up. What I've played so far have been interesting, but nothing compared to the strategy and variety of Magic. A few of the games are in early access, so will doubtless have many more cards to come, and many of them are 'free to play' where you can pay to buy more cards, which obviously I'm not going to do! There's also the issue of how do you complete a card game? Obviously you could carry on playing forever, but the two I've listed here have campaign modes that I've finished (one on my phone and one in the browser), so I'm going to count them as complete for the time being. If they get picked by the randometer further down the line then I'll possibly revisit them to see what's changed, but my time with them is essentially done.

Both of these games, Star Realms and War of Omens are 'deckbuilder' style games - very similar to Dominion (which was also in the bundle) - where you start with a few basic cards/resources in your deck and buy more and more cards to add to it as the game goes on. You're constantly cycling through and reshuffling your library, so new cards you buy will be drawn as the game progresses. It's an interesting system, but I feel like it doesn't have the strategy of something like Magic where you build the deck beforehand so you can't build card combos or control the flow of the game anywhere near as much. It also feels a lot more random and restrictive. Obviously it's not supposed to feel like Magic, it's a completely different game, but that's my nearest comparison point.

Star Realms is the most traditional deckbuilding game of the two, where cards are dealt into a central pool and new cards are added as soon as old ones are purchased. Both players are buying from the same pool, so part of the strategy is denying the other player good cards while strengthening your own deck. The game's fine, but there's a very limited pool of cards - about 20 or 30 - so it doesn't take long to see them all. There are different factions with different flavours, but essentially resources are so limited that you're really buying cards based on cost rather than sticking to one faction. As far as I could tell, there are two key strategies here. The first is to get cards that allow you to scrap other cards in your deck - that way you can remove all the dead wood base cards that you started with and focus on drawing the good new cards you're purchasing. The second thing is to grab as many cards as you can that allow you to draw more cards. They're essentially free and will allow you to rapidly burn through your deck. The other thing I noticed is that you can essentially forget all about your opponent and just focus on building your own deck. Don't worry about attacking him or the cards he's got, that will essentially automatically be taken care of as your own deck evolves. Oh, and don't blindly hit 'play all' as I was doing to start with. The order you play your cards can actually make a big difference. Anyway, it was fun, but that's essentially it for strategy. There's no other variety because there's such a limited card pool. New cards would make a difference to the game, but as it is, I'm done. Apparently, it's based on a proper card version which has just received an expansion, so maybe there'll be an update to the app down the line.

The other game was War of Omens, which I played in the browser. This game follows the deckbuilding concept, but instead of a joint card pool, each player has their own card pool, so you also get a bit of deck construction strategy. This one is free to play, so you do have to purchase new cards. You do earn points by winning matches, so you can grab extra boosters every now and then, but it's clear they'd prefer you to be fronting real cash. This one again has different factions, but this time because you're building your own draw-deck to begin with, it means you do get to appreciate the different flavours of each faction much more, and they do feel quite different. The base two factions each focus on a single resource - one on food and one on money - so aren't too exciting (though they do have some good synergy cards), but the other two factions are mechanically much more interesting. The first focuses on one-off spells rather than getting permanents in play, which is what the base factions are all about. This feels very different because normally you're buying cards to add to your deck, but here they're scrapped as soon as you buy them. It totally changes the way you think about the game. The final faction (currently) is another game changer. Normally you want to play cards as soon as they come into your hand, but this faction's cards increase in power the longer you keep them in your hand. This not only slows down the rate you play cards, but also - because you have a limited hand size - slows down the rate at which you draw new cards and gain resources. It's a lot of juggling, but it does mean you have the potential of some super powerful cards later in the game. Overall, I really enjoyed War of Omens. There's a lot more strategic depth and variety in the factions, and I'm definitely interested in revisiting it later on. The game's still pretty early - for example, they've only created half a campaign for one of the factions so far - so there's a lot more to come. I look forward to seeing where it goes. Anyway, normal service will now be resumed.