Recovery and a short review of Gravity Rush Remastered

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As you can tell from my last post, like many of my fellow Americans I had something of a meltdown for a few days last week inside my brain.  The new reality is so unbelievable to me and to about 100 to 150 million other people here that massive protests and/or riots depending on who you ask and where you look broke out starting on Wednesday last week.  I still think President-elect Trump is at least 50 percent likely to be an absolute disaster, both in terms of social and economic policy, and I’m starting to get ready for the second recession just in case he really steps on the gas pedal of extreme deregulation – the kind of dumb bullshit that very much was a part of the cause of the first recession starting in 2008.  Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s obvious to everyone now that my country is more divided than it has been for over a hundred years.  That would have been obvious no matter who had won.

But fuck me – I can’t do anything to change the future on a large scale.  I can, however, buy a PS4 and copies of a few new games including the new Atelier game and Gravity Rush Remastered, which is an HD port of the Vita original.  Playing the redone Gravity Rush was how I coped with things last week.  There’s perhaps no better game to escape reality with than this one in which you play a young woman who has the ability to shift gravity in any direction, allowing her to fly through the air and run around on walls and ceilings.  The heroine of the game, Kat, has to use her powers to defend the city she lives in from strange monsters called Nevi who seem to have the power to drag people, and even whole pieces of the city, into a different dimension.

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I’m not going to get too deep into analyzing this game.  It’s been out for four years now, and the remastered version for close to a year, and I just now bought it because I recently had the money to buy a PS4.  What I will say is that this version is even better than the original on the Vita and that it’s well worth playing.  It’s amazing playing Gravity Rush on a far larger screen in HD.  Moreover, all the DLC side stories that you had to buy in addition to the original game are included in Remastered.  They’re also fun, and they open up new costumes for Kat that have no extra functionality at all, aside from getting to see Kat in a maid outfit or a tight catsuit with cat ears and a tail.  Yeah, it’s fanservice.  If you don’t like it, you can avoid those side stories.  They don’t add anything to the central game anyway.

The publishers even went with the nice understated cover instead of throwing together a horrible mash of images and faces and bullshit like they usually do for North American game covers!  What more can you ask for?

The publishers even went with the nice understated cover instead of throwing together a horrible mash of images and faces and bullshit like they usually do for North American game covers!  Amazing.

I don’t want to give away anything else about the game, so my review is this: buy it.  And don’t listen to the naysayers.  While this game generally got good reviews, a few people complain about the “cheap controls”.  This is one game to which that old gripe doesn’t apply.  None of the fights in this game are especially cheap if you’ve learned the controls and the different moves well.  And honestly, if every single attack in this game were to connect with enemies easily, it would be far too easy.  People also complain about the plot, but they’re wrong too.  Gravity Rush isn’t a masterpiece of storytelling, but it has enough of a story to drive the action.  And it’s fun.  What more do you want?

There’s another reason I’m writing this piece now – Gravity Rush 2 is coming out on January 20 for the PS4.  I’ve got it preordered and I’m really looking forward to it.  If it simply maintains the quality of the first title, it will be an A-level game.

Update #3 of ?

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Hello readers.  I was planning to make an update post about how I’m still still not dead, even after my last two long absences.  There’s been a lot going on with me.  I passed the bar and have been working for a judge for a few months now assisting with research and sitting in on trials.  It’s been interesting and occasionally crazy, and I could write a whole post about how despite that it’s still not nearly as exciting as a Phoenix Wright game or even a Law & Order episode, or about how you really really shouldn’t go to law school.

But now that we’ve elected a god damn Caligula as our president, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point doing that now.  I still can’t believe this happened.  All you folks who voted for Trump and are deliriously happy right now – I don’t bear any ill will against you.  But I will ask you one or two years from now if you feel the same way you do now.  You’ve put a con man into the White House.  Hillary might have been a typically corrupt politician, but she wasn’t really any different in that case from any of the other typically corrupt politicians we’ve had in office in the past.  Trump is different – and not in a good way.  Mark my words and remember them years from now.  If we’re still around, that is.  I’m sorry for the off-topic post this morning but I had to say something about this.  As a Muslim (sort of lapsed, but still) with a lot of Arab family who was born and raised American, I honestly feel kind of like a Jew in Europe in the 1930s now.

Okay, so maybe that’s too dramatic.  But after all the poisonous rhetoric that’s come out this election cycle, can you blame me?  In any case, I’m not going anywhere, and I plan to get back onto a regular writing schedule here, if only to help distract myself from what’s going on right now.  I did just buy a PS4.  What better way to distract myself from reality?

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse to be released 9/20

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Just a quick one today, to alert my multitudes of readers to the fact that Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is being released in three days.  This spinoff of SMT4 is getting excellent reviews all over the place.  I’m reading as little as I can about the story of Apocalypse in order to go in fresh, but the general consensus about the game’s quality seems to be that it’s not merely a spinoff, but a full game in itself, and that it corrects some of the shortcomings that the good but somewhat flawed SMT4 suffered from (see here for more on my opinions regarding the original.)  So needless to say, I’m excited as fuck about this development and have preordered a copy.  I encourage any and all fans of the Megaten series or of stupidly difficult JRPGs in general to do so if you haven’t already.

In the meantime, I’ll be playing Hyper Light Drifter, a 3D isometric action game released earlier this year that looks and sounds amazing so far.  Between these two games, I should be able to distract myself from my crushing depression when I’m not busy with work to think about it.  That’s something to celebrate, isn’t it?

Demo mode: CrossCode

Demo Mode is a new feature in which I’ll be looking at demos of upcoming games.  Not that my site needs a new feature, or any features at all, but why not?  The demo we’re considering today is…

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It’s extremely rare that I consider buying a game that’s still in early access on Steam.  The reasons for my reluctance are that I don’t want to spoil myself for the final, completed experience once the game is finished, and also that I’m cheap as hell and hope that the price of the game might drop a few dollars upon its final release.  However, after playing the demo of CrossCode, I’m sorely tempted to buy into it right away.

CrossCode is a cyberpunk-ish 2D top-down action title with graphics reminiscent of early 90s games.  It’s so cyberpunk-ish that it reminds me a little bit of VA-11 HALL-A, a visual novel that I recently played about cyberpunk bartending action.  The soundtrack has a similar feel and the opening screen even looks almost identical in layout to that of Valhalla.  A lone girl, her hair flying in the wind, her back turned to us as she gazes at a the skyline of a futuristic city.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

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Otherwise, though, CrossCode is an entirely different experience.  The game is centered around a top-down beat-em-up mechanic in which the player can use melee attacks, projectile attacks, dodges, and guards to battle enemies.  The player can move around with WASD and use the mouse to attack.  Combat plays nicely, but standing alone, it’s nothing special.

However, CrossCode throws in a possibly intriguing story and nice graphic design and pure style into the mix, making this game a lot more attractive than it might otherwise be.  Animation is nice and fluid, the characters look interesting, and the game doesn’t seem to be afraid to inject some humor as well (not that the humor might always work, but it’s better than a game that takes itself deadly seriously, isn’t it?  Well, maybe it isn’t.)  It also has a few scenes that can easily be exploited for cheap laughs when taken out of context.

Sorry.

Sorry.

The demo only takes about 45 minutes to get through, depending upon your battle competence and projectile puzzle-solving skills, but there’s enough here to interest me and to make me feel like the finished CrossCode will be well worth a play.  The question now is whether I’ll drop 20 dollars to get it in early access (the developer, Radical Fish Games, has set down a final release for the beginning of 2017, so we have at least four months before that can be expected.)

I guess it’s good that I have the luxury to wonder about whether to buy this game in early access.  Then again, it is a dilemma.  If you also want to debate with yourself about whether to get into this game during its early access period, try the demo here or here.

A review of Reigns (PC/iOS/Android)

The King is dead, long live the King

I’m not usually interested in mobile games.  Angry Birds and Candy Crush can go to hell for all I care (especially the latter, after developer King was put in the media spotlight for its bullshit legal shenanigans directed against far less successful game developers in 2014.  And yes, I’m positive they would not have backed down if so much public pressure hadn’t been put on them.  Their “haha no, we’re not an evil company! We were just kidding!!!” open letter was just a reaction to the public outcry.)

But occasionally there’s a mobile game that really interests me.  One of these is Reigns, a game developed for iOS and Android and most recently released for PC.  Reigns is described everywhere as “Tinder for medieval monarchs”, and that description is sort of true, if kind of misleading.  Because yes, the game does use a “swipe left or right” mechanic, but that mechanic is used almost entirely for choosing between different social, military, religious, and economic policies to maintain the balance in the kingdom that is essential to the monarch’s survival.  (Though there is an extremely Tinder-esque choice buried in the game’s many cards – you’ll probably find it at some point if you play long enough.)

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Reigns is a card game that allows you to build your deck as you unlock new paths.  Each card contains a proposal made by one of dozens of characters – one of your subjects or courtiers, along with a handful of more interesting people – and each proposal requires a yes or no answer (though it’s not always strictly yes or no) that will will either increase or decrease the happiness/size/effectiveness of your population, coffers, religious organization, and/or military.  The level of each of the four factors is measured by the bar above the main screen, where the curiously origami-looking characters appear.

Therein lies the danger.  If your king’s policy choice ends up driving one of the four factors too low or too high, he is is horribly killed and his heir (or whoever is most convenient) takes the throne after him.  Yes, even having too much money will kill you.  Therefore, the standard goal is to live as long as possible by balancing all four factors, which takes a steady hand and some good luck.  Sometimes, the cards you draw will help you perfectly balance the factors – for a while, anyway.  At other times, your king will start out with a miserable set of cards that will drive him to a very early grave.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

It’s hard to talk too much about this game without spoiling parts of it.  Your line of monarchs has a list of achievements to fulfill, and many of these are story-related.  Even though each king is replaced immediately after dying and the game continues from there, the decisions of previous kings can affect future outcomes – the game (and particular characters) will remember the choices of past monarchs.  The process of uncovering the mysteries in Reigns makes it somewhat more than just a simple kingdom-maintenance game.

Reigns is also interesting because it depicts the king not as an all-powerful ruler, but rather as the one who everyone else in the kingdom places their hopes and expectations on – the one who has to try to hold the state together and to defend against invasion, rebellion, hunger, and discontent.  Every game of Reigns is a frantic balancing act, and far from feeling powerful while playing the game, I felt vulnerable and nervous.  Whole strings of monarchs only managed to survive for a few years before being murdered or dying of awful diseases, and even the long-reigning kings eventually met terrible ends.  Many historical kings also met terrible ends – just look at how many of them were murdered or executed.  And those are just the monarchs – plenty of dictators also left this world in a brutal fashion.  It really makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to be a ruler.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Reigns is only three dollars on the Steam store.  I don’t know its price in mobile form, but it’s probably the same.  For a few hours of bloody royal choose-your-own-adventure action, Reigns is well worth its price.

Games for broke people: Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt

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My first impression of the free game Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt was that the creators thought of the title first and then came up with the concept to fit around it.  Being “in a world of hurt”, if you’re not familiar with the term, means that you’re either getting physically beaten or you’re just generally in serious trouble.  In Princess Remedy, you play as the title character, a magical nurse princess who literally goes to a “world of hurt” where all the citizens suffer from horrible ailments.  Your task is to defeat their illnesses by shooting manifestations of those illnesses with medicine while they chase you and shoot back at you.  (What all that means is that Princess Remedy is a kind of bullet hell game, although one that looks like an adventure game or an RPG at first.)

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The look of the game is interesting.  I guess it’s trying to evoke memories of 8-bit games on the NES and Master System, though the graphics look simplistic even for that period.  That aside, Princess Remedy is pretty fun.  The shooting sections scale up from stupidly simple to fairly difficult, but the game offers health, regeneration and shot power-ups to help the player.  Eventually, though, you’ll have to rely totally upon your dodging and aiming skills to win.  One unusual point about this game is that Princess Remedy can’t seem to control her shot – she’ll simply continue firing her medicine capsules or sparkly bullet things (not sure what those are supposed to represent) in whatever direction she’s facing, which can cause otherwise dormant enemies to fire back at her.

Princess Remedy is worth a play.  It only takes about an hour to beat, but it’s a solid option if you’re looking for a reasonably good free game.

Games for broke people (8/6/2016)

The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

The above statement is as true now as it was when Melville wrote it over 160 years ago.  Paying for things is terrible, and it’s especially terrible when you don’t have a steady job or a consistent source of income.  So while I look for a job and wait the three months it takes the state bar to grade exams, I’ll also be looking at some free and free-to-play games on Steam.  I can’t expect anything amazing from a free title – what I’m looking for is not necessarily a full meal, but more of an hors d’oeuvre.  And since you don’t pay to eat hors d’oeuvres, that analogy really works, doesn’t it?

Today, we’ll look at two puzzle-platformers featuring blocky protagonists.  But these two games are totally different in every other way.

Mandagon

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The things I know about Tibetan Buddhism can be counted on no hands, because I don’t know anything about it.  So I may be missing a lot of meaning in Mandagon, a very short game whose developers claim is inspired by Tibetan theology.  However, I don’t think you have to be an expert in that field to appreciate this game.  Mandagon tells the story of a sacrifice, and the player has to explore what seems to be a large temple sitting on a mountaintop to make that sacrifice.  The one puzzle in the game is extremely easy to figure out – it hardly even counts as a puzzle, and the whole experience only lasts about half an hour, or an hour at the very longest.  But the point of Mandagon seems to be in the exploration itself rather than in finding the goal.  The art is good, and some of the visual touches are very nice (the flags and chimes that flutter in the wind, for example.)  Together with the background music (really more like ambient sound) the atmosphere created is both ominous and strangely relaxing.  The mention of theology in the game’s description put me on my guard, but Mandagon isn’t preachy or heavy-handed either, so don’t let that scare you away.  It’s well worth a play.

You Have 10 Seconds

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The simply and honestly titled You Have 10 Seconds could not be less like Mandagon.  Where the focus in Mandagon was on exploration and relaxation, the focus in 10 Seconds is get to the goal NOW.  YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TIME TO SIT AROUND AND LOOK AT SHIT.  GET MOVING!

10 Seconds requires the player to take his nameless block of a protagonist to the goal on every map within ten seconds.  If he fails to do this (if time runs out or the player runs into a hazard) one life is lost.  While extra lives can be gotten in some levels, the combination of time pressure and obstacle-dodging makes 10 Seconds a fair challenge.  It’s very simply animated, and the music can get annoying, but the game is basically effective at what it tries to do.  For a total cost of $0.00 and at a tiny 33 MB, it’s worth at least downloading if you have any interest in games of this sort.