Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A few thoughts on the three games I finished in April, May, and June 2020

Based on the headline of this post, some of you probably are thinking I played fewer games in April, May, and June than I did in January, February, and March.

After all, I only finished three games between April and June, while I finished six games between January and March.

The thing is, I devoted nearly as much time to the trio of titles I beat during the April-to-June quarter as I did to the sextet I conquered during the January-to-March one.

And then there's the fact that I also put more than 20 hours into the original Animal Crossing and about 95 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons while tackling the games discussed below.

Even if all of the above weren't true, though, I'd still be happy with my gaming accomplishments (if they can be described as such) of the last few months.

Why? Because I'm pretty sure the three titles I managed to complete between the beginning of April and the end of June will stick with me far beyond this challenging year--something I hope to make clear in the text that follows.  

Deadly Premonition Origins (Switch)

I don't think I've ever developed as strong a love-hate relationship with a game as I did during the nearly 30 hours I spent playing Deadly Premonition Origins recently.

On the one hand, I adored its characters, setting, soundtrack, and overarching story. On the other hand, I abhorred its nightmarish, claustrophobic "Other World" segments that forced me to fight never-ending hordes of groaning zombies. And I absolutely loathed the cumbersome, QTE-centric encounters with the game's Raincoat Killer that occasionally popped up during those same passages.

Although part of me thinks I would've enjoyed Deadly Premonition Origins a whole lot more if it had eschewed combat altogether, another part of me thinks it's an integral component of the game. Or at least I think it's integral to the game's off-kilter vibe. As in, I just can't fathom it being quite so breathtakingly bizarre without the aforementioned forays into its bleak and tension-filled alternate reality.

In the end, Deadly Premonition Origins' positive attributes outweighed its negative ones for me. I can't help but feel that won't be true for everybody, though--especially folks who fail to track down the game's more powerful weapons as early on as possible.

That's a real shame, as this janky, surreal jaunt to, through, and around the fictional--and fucked up, if you'll excuse my French--town of Greenvale, Washington, is surprisingly riveting if you can will yourself past its plethora of niggles and nuisances.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (Switch)

Although I pre-ordered a physical copy of Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories the moment I was able to do so, I nearly canceled it a couple of times between then and when the game finally came out in early April. The reason? It quickly became clear to me (via online chatter) that the Switch port of this catastrophe-themed adventure was more than a bit rough in both the graphics and frame-rate departments.

I stuck to my guns, though, and now that I've played, finished (after putting about 17 hours into it), and thoroughly enjoyed Disaster Report 4, I'm patting myself on the back for my prescience.

Here's the thing: this Granzella-made, NIS America-published title is rough. There are times when its frame rate slows to a crawl--or worse. And its resolution veers wildly from acceptable to muddy to "did someone smear Vaseline on the screen when I wasn't looking?" and back again. Its localization is iffy, too--as in, it's not always easy to understand what the game's text is trying to convey. (Which is a problem when said text is your only hope--outside of a guide--of figuring out what to do or where to go next.)

So far, so terrible, right? Well, somehow Disaster Report 4 manages to compel, and even impress, despite its multitude of issues. I was especially wowed by how it was able to depict life during and after a disaster--an earthquake, in particular. Or maybe I should say I was wowed by how it seemed to depict life during and after a disaster? I (thankfully) have zero experience with such situations, after all.

Disaster Report 4 sure made me feel like I've experienced them, though. And not just in the obvious ways--like making me worry the ground could collapse beneath my feet or a building might crash down upon my head at any moment. It also regularly pushed me to consider what I would do if I encountered someone in peril, as well as how I might help them--or not--in such a situation. It forced me to deal with the ramifications of my decisions in those circumstances, too.

Another notable and sizable feather in the cap of this admittedly flawed release, as far as I'm concerned: I'm already itching to replay it. If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (Switch)

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions
is my cup of tea in so many ways. And yet I dragged my feet in terms of both buying and playing it. Its aesthetic was a big part of the problem, I'm embarrassed to admit. Before I started through its adventure myself, I thought it looked rather hideous. Most of the rest of this title was of questionable appeal, too--like its lack of towns and dungeons.

Well, I'm here to tell you all of those misgivings vanished into the ether shortly after I began playing through SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions this past May.

In particular, the game's lack of explorable towns and dungeons proved to be such a positive component that I now wish other JRPGs would take the idea for a spin. It sounds strange--not to mention limiting and boring and just plain wrong--for this type of game, but SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions makes it clear that nixing these role-playing staples is not only an acceptable alternative to the norm, but a preferable one if implemented thoughtfully and with care.

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions proves a few other points, too. Like RPGs don't need inns--or even healing items or spells--if they automatically heal party members between battles. Also, a bit of strategic tweaking can go a long way toward making turn-based combat intriguing instead of tedious.

The latter is especially important to SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, or at least it was in my experience. Although battles are a key element of any role-playing game worth its salt, they're particularly vital to this one. Thankfully, the tussles you're tossed into here are deep and thrilling and tough (though not cheaply so), and I never tired of them--or any other aspect of this title, truth be told--during my 97-hour playthrough.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Manual Stimulation: Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World (Famicom)

No joke, the English version of Taito's Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World, called Panic Restaurant,  is one of my favorite side-scrolling platformers around.

Which isn't to suggest it's one of the best side-scrolling platformers around. It's not. It's probably not even one of the best platformers released for the Famicom or NES.

Still, I adore it. Why? For starters, I've never been shy about admitting I love games that feature food. Well, that's pretty much all you encounter while playing Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World, which is set in and around a restaurant ("Eaten").

Food's about all you encounter while flipping through the Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World instruction manual, too. Food and people who make food (like the cute chef showcased on the manual's cover and on pretty much every interior page), I mean.

Thankfully, the Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World manual follows in the glorious footsteps of many other old Taito game manuals and depicts all of the above-mentioned food and food-making with the most brilliant of illustrations.

The illustration that serves as the backdrop of this booklet's "story" page (see above) is a perfect example.

None of the other drawings that fill the Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World booklet are as massive as the one that sits behind its story text, but most are just as adorable.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Manual Stimulation: Don Doko Don 2 (Famicom)

At the end of my post about the Don Doko Don Famicom instruction manual, I mentioned that the manual you see here makes its predecessor "look like something that was pulled from the gutter."

Harsh, I know, but I stand by it. I mean, just look at the cover of the Don Doko Don 2 manual, below. It alone is more stupendous than anything you'll find in the first Don Doko Don manual.

Don't take any of this to mean I think the original Don Doko Don manual is a stinker. I think it's pretty snazzy, actually.

Maybe not as snazzy as, say, the manuals publisher Taito created for the Famicom Disk System version of Bubble Bobble, or the PC Engine ports of The New Zealand Story or Mizubaku Daibouken, but still worth the occasional ogle.

I say without hesitation, however, that the Don Doko Don 2 instruction manual is snazzier than all of the above-mentioned booklets--perhaps combined.

Every page of the Don Doko Don 2 booklet features something fabulous, usually in the form of a stunning drawing.

OK, so they're not all as jaw-dropping as the gigantic one that opens the Don Doko Don 2 manual. But, really, not every illustration can be of a huge, crying, king-turned-into-a-frog, right?

At any rate, the pages that follow shine a light on the game's story. Besides all of the art they produced, I also love how the designers who worked on this booklet used pops of red and pink to add drama and interest to the proceedings.

The spread above educates readers on how to play Don Doko Don 2. There's not much to tell them, however; as is the case in the original Don Doko Don, in part two, you dispatch enemies by smacking them with your mallet, picking up their squished bodies, and then tossing their corpses at oncoming clueless baddies.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Manual Stimulation: Don Doko Don (Famicom)

Don Doko Don is one of those old games that avoided pinging my radar for a lot longer than it should've done.

Granted, this series hardly is a household name outside of Japan--despite the fact that Taito, the company responsible for developing and publishing it, previously gave the world Space Invaders, Qix, Chack'n Pop, and Bubble Bobble, among other classics.

At any rate, I remained blissfully unaware of Don Doko Don's existence until sometime after I became obsessed with the PC Engine.

You see, Taito ported this single-screen platformer, which stars a pair of mallet-wielding dwarves, to NEC's diminutive console less than a year after its original arcade release in 1989, and just two months after the Famicom port that's the subject of this post.

Why didn't I hear about Don Doko Don for the Famicom before I heard about its PC Engine iteration? I haven't the slightest idea.

At any rate, and as you might suspect, the instruction manual that came packed inside copies of the Famicom port of Don Doko Don is quite similar to the PC Engine port's manual.

The two booklets aren't identical, however. Take the spread above. The pair of illustrations you see here are completely different from the ones you see on the corresponding pages of Don Doko Don's PC Engine booklet.

For the record, I prefer the unique illustrations in the PC Engine release's manual to the ones used in the Famicom release's manual.

All that said, most of the drawings in these two manuals are the same. Generally speaking, though, the ones in the Famicom manual are given a bit more space to breathe than are the ones in the PC Engine manual.

The drawings highlighted on the last few pages demonstrate to readers Don Doko Don's main gameplay loop, which involves whacking enemies with your trusty hammer, picking up their smooshed bodies, and then tossing them at other unsuspecting foes.

The next handful of spreads focus on educating players about the particulars of each Don Doko Don stage. For example, the first world is forested, contains trees that spit out baddies, and features a multi-jack-o'-lanterned boss.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A few thoughts on the six games I've finished so far in 2020

I came up with what I thought was a brilliant (if also unoriginal) idea for this blog about six months ago: I'd write and publish micro-reviews of all the games I finished in 2019.

Coming up with the idea proved a lot easier than following through with it, though, as I finished 19 games last year. Producing the pair of posts I just linked to took loads of work despite the fact that I limited each write-up to just a handful of sentences.

So, I'm doing things a little differently in 2020. Rather than cram all of these pithy critiques into the last few weeks of November or December, I'm spacing them out a bit.

As such, here are some thoughts on the six games I've managed to beat in the first three months of this year. Look for a similar post to appear in late June or early July--assuming I complete at least a couple more titles between now and then. (That's not a given considering Animal Crossing: New Horizons is doing its darndest to take over my life.)

Alice in Wonderland (DS)--Every single time I ask people to recommend DS games, a handful of them implore me to play this 2010 release. Did their vociferous advice prove accurate in the end? I'd say so. Although this iteration of Alice in Wonderland has its fair share of flaws, overall it's a gem. Truth be told, I'm not sure what my favorite aspect of it is: its Tim-Burton-by-way-of-Okamiden aesthetic, its Metroidvania-plus gameplay, or its near-perfect length. Regardless, I'm glad I finally got off my lazy butt and gave it a try.

Detective Pikachu (3DS)--Here's another game I dragged my feet on playing for far too long. Per the usual, I can't really tell you why. I guess I assumed it would be so "kiddie" it would be boring? Well, it's definitely aimed at a younger audience, but that didn't keep me from having a blast with it. I especially liked how it tweaked the adventure-detective genre in some surprising and intriguing ways. Oh, and it gets bonus points from me for looking great and not overstaying its welcome. (I finished it in less than 20 hours.)

Heroland (Switch)--I don't know about you, but I often have a better time with games I begin with low expectations than I do with games I dig into after anticipating them for months or years. Heroland fits into the latter category. Given that, I shouldn't have been surprised when I didn't immediately love it. It did surprise me, though--probably because the bulk of it (including its adorbs graphics, its jaunty OST, and its quirky gameplay) is my cup of tea. I came around to this weird mashup of a board game and an RPG in the end, but I'd still have a hard time recommending it to others--particularly at full price.

Hey! Pikmin (3DS)--I know everybody and their brother seemingly loves to shit on this portable Pikmin spinoff, but I'm not one of them. On the contrary, I adored the nearly 13 hours I devoted to Hey! Pikmin early this year. Oh, it's far from perfect, that's true, but it's also true that its pros far outweigh its cons--or at least they did for me. Chief among the former, by the way, are Hey! Pikmin's painterly art style and the puzzle-heavy nature of its side-scrolling action.

Pokémon Shield (Switch)--I've had a real hit-and-miss history with the world-conquering Pokémon series. After adoring, and finishing, the very first game way back when, I responded to almost every subsequent release with a shrug and a yawn. Or I did until I played, and beat, Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! in late 2018. As much I as loved that remake, I loved Pokémon Shield even more--so much so I've already put over 80 hours into it. The highlight for me: the thrilling and endlessly explorable "Wild Area." No joke: probably half of my Shield playthrough has been spent in this sprawling region thus far.

Raging Loop (Switch)--Although I had a feeling I'd enjoy this horror-tinged visual novel, I never dreamed I'd fall head over heels for it. What changed between when I first became aware of it and when it dug its claws into me? I got pulled into its Groundhog Day-esque story, for starters. I also got to know its curious cast of characters. Even its initially off-putting art eventually grew on me. Still not convinced? How about this: despite the fact that it took me about 30 hours to reach its end credits, I'm already looking forward to playing through Raging Loop again. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Have you finished any games this year? If so, which ones? And what did you think of them? Let me know in the comments section of this post.