Category Archives: Updates

December Update: Pokemon Picross and Nintendo Badge Arcade

 

Honestly, I’m a fiend for Picross.  Picross DS was a major time suck in my life many years ago.  I’ve actually considered a lot whether that game was an unhealthy obsession.  I would turn on the game expecting to kill maybe ~10-15 minutes solving one or two puzzles, but I would get caught in a loop where after beating a puzzle, I would think to myself “just one more!”  Suddenly, entire hours of my afternoon would disappear, and I would wonder how I let the time go.  The term “addictive” gameplay is often considered a positive remark toward a game, but sometimes I’m not so sure it should be.  After Picross DS, I tried to attack the sequels with a little more moderation.  Picross 3D came out when I was busy writing my dissertation, and I went “Nope! Not touching that!” out of fear that it would be too much of a distraction.  I have played the first Picross e game released on 3DS, however.

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For those unfamiliar with the Picross series, the games are collections of a type of logic puzzle called nonograms.  Nonograms are kind of like crosswords or sudoku in that they were originally printed puzzles found in things like newspapers and booklets.  The game is played on a square grid where the numbers attached to each column and row are used to deduce which squares of the grid should be filled in by the player.  The idea is that, when all the correct square spaces are filled in, they should form a crude picture.  There’s something about nonogram puzzles that make them more suited for video game form than its counterparts like sudoku, and that’s something Nintendo realized a long time ago as the Picross series started on Game Boy in 1995.

Pokemon Picross introduces its own wrinkle into the series.  The puzzles form pictures of pokemon monster and upon completion that pokemon becomes a part of the player’s collection.  Collected pokemon can then be added to the player’s “party” and can be used to help solve other puzzles with their hint abilities.  These abilities include , for instance, revealing the correct squares for a given column or auto correcting a mistake made by the player.  As far as I can tell,  use of the abilities is entirely optional.  Hardcore players who want to tackle the game with pure logic need not use their pokemon.  The monsters are differentiated by which ability they can use as well as the number of times the ability can be used during a given puzzle and the length of the subsequent cooldown timer.

This game is advertised by Nintendo as “free to start,” and features an in-game currency called picrites and an energy meter which depletes as squares are filled in so that each time the player fills in a square (correctly or incorrectly) the meter goes down by 1.  The meter will slowly recharge over a period of a few hours, meaning that if you run out of energy in the middle of a puzzle, you’re going to have to give up on it.  Mercifully, each puzzle says upfront the minimum amount of energy required to reach the solution assuming the player makes no mistakes.  Picrites can be spent to refill the meter with no wait or upgrade its length.

Picrites are really how Nintendo intends to make money off the game.  The puzzles are divided into stages called “areas,” and after beating the puzzles in a given area, the player must spend a fairly hefty amount of picrites to unlock the next one.  The player will receive a few hundred picrites for completing the tutorials, but afterwards earning picrites in-game slows to a trickle.  A small amount of picrites can be earned once each puzzle by completing certain special objectives such as solving it within a certain time limit.  There’s also a daily challenge that can be completed once per day for a small amount of picrites.

Unfortunately, I think most players will hit a wall at around area 5 where they will need to buy picrites to progress, because the trickle they’ll receive from the normal levels and daily challenges just aren’t enough.  Mercifully though, there’s a spending limit on how many picrites you can buy which is about $30.  After you spend that amount, it is my understanding you’ll be able to withdraw unlimited picrites for free from the shop.  

For as much of a fiend as I am for Picross, I don’t think I’m going to go much farther with Pokemon Picross.  I don’t really know if the Pokemon hook really creates a meaningful enhancement to the game, and there are several Picross e games available on the eshop for much less than $30.  And like I said, in the past I’ve had a bit of an unhealthy fixation with Picross, and I find it somewhat of a mercy that Nintendo created such a convoluted paywall as it deters my temptation.  Nonetheless, if you like Pokemon and are curious about Picross, I would at least give the game a shot as it’s free-to-start.  I will also say that there does appear to be a ton of content here as there are a total of 31 areas that have about 5-10 puzzles each plus various types of special puzzles, so I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who ends up spending money on the game.

In contrast to Pokemon Picross, Nintendo Badge Arcade is a game I feel like one can enjoy pretty easily if they choose not to spend any money or perhaps only a few dollars.  Badge Arcade allows 3DS owners to win virtual “badges” for their systems, which are icons of various Nintendo properties that can be used to decorate the 3DS home screen.  These badges are won via 2D crane games (sort of like UFO Catchers) where the goal is to get the badges to fall into pits at the bottom of the screen.  The player scrolls a pincer across the top of the screen that is used to grab onto badges, but it’s not necessary to actually grab anything with them pincer, you just merely need to get the badges to fall into the bottom of the screen.  So, for instance, if the badges are stacked on a slope, grabbing one of the badges at the base of the slope can cause a chain reaction that lets the others slide off.

The game is free-to-play with it costing $1 for the player to get five tries.  However, each day you get five free tries on the “practice” catcher.  You don’t get to keep the badges you win during practice, but if you do well enough you can win free plays on the real catchers.  I can pretty reliably get at least one free play a day, often two or three.

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The badges that are available to win are changed out every few days and are often sprites or artwork from popular games like Mario Maker, Mario Kart, Kirby, Zelda, Animal Crossing, etc.  I appreciate that they also have had badges from lesser known Nintendo series like Pushmo and Box Boy.  My favorite badges have so far been the 8-bit sprites from various NES games that they put up to promote NES Remix.  The weirdest badges I’ve seen were a set of pixelated tropical birds that, as far as I could tell, had nothing to do with any Nintendo franchise.

Weird as it is, I really enjoy this game.  It’s something I usually spend a few minutes playing each day (really as much as I can do with the free plays).  I’ve only actually bothered to spend a few bucks on it to get all of the Super Mario Bros. 2 badges that were a part of the aforementioned NES Remix promotion.  Otherwise, I just try to get as many badges as I can with the free plays.  There’s very little pressure to spend any money.

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Holiday Travels Gaming: Mario & Luigi Partners in Time and Rayman Legends

Thanksgiving and Christmas always mean handheld gaming for me, as I have to make a long arduous journey southward to visit my parents house where I grew up.  I always stress out over which few games I’m going to carry along with me.  I have no idea why I do this.  I don’t put nearly as much time into thinking about clothing or the other things I need to pack. 

I’ve often mentioned my love of the Mario RPG series here on the blog.  I’m excited for the release of Paper Jam, but it’s still over a month away here.  It’s already out in Europe and Japan, but I suppose Nintendo of America feels that Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon just came out and releasing any more games for this holiday shopping season would be just a little too generous to its fans.

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Anyway, during the break I decided to player Partners in Time which is the second Mario and Luigi RPG game.  This is the only Mario and Luigi game I’ve never played.  I didn’t get to play it when it was originally released on the DS, and, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever saw a copy of the game on store shelves.  I can only assume it was a very limited release.  I had to ebay the copy I’m playing on now.  

The plot of this game begins with Professor E. Gadd (of Luigi’s Mansion and Mario Sunshine fame) demonstrating his new time machine at Peach’s castle.  An excited Peach travels alone to the past to when she was an infant, but when the time machine returns to the present, Peach is missing, and in her place an alien monster jumps from the machine and attacks the castle before being neutralized by Mario and Luigi.  The brothers, E. Gadd and Toadsworth learn that Peach has been kidnapped by alien invaders who are running amok in the Mushroom Kingdom of the past.   Why no one in the present remembers this alien invasion that took place in the past is never explained…….

As a result of damage to the time machine, time holes to the past begin appearing across Peach’s castle which the brothers to search the past for the princess.  There they meet up with the baby versions of themselves that were first seen in Yoshi’s Island.  For most of the adventure, the babies ride piggyback on their adult counterparts, but they can also detach and head off on their own.  This is important as they are capable of reaching areas that the big bros can’t such as by crawling through tiny holes in the walls or being lofted up onto high ledges by the adults.  This is used to create some interesting mechanics in the dungeons.

There are two pillars of M+L that I think are the critical factors in making the games so special.  The first are the turn-based battle systems which incorporate timing and reaction-based elements which makes enemy encounters quite a bit more stimulating to me than what is encountered in typical Japanese turn-based RPGs.  The second is the humor and offbeat imagination found throughout the series.  There are just so many funny and clever characters and situations found in these games.  

I’ve heard more than a few people call this the most boring and uneventful game in the M+L series.  Now I’m only a handful of hours into the game so far, but I’m having a hard time understanding that position.  In terms of the pillars I’ve outlined above (humor and battle system), I would put it (so far) on the same level as Superstar Saga (the first game), which isn’t too far behind Bowser’s Inside Story.  The babies don’t really add much to the battle system, but they don’t really detract anything from it either.   And one thing I really appreciate is that the game packs a lot more references to the various Mario spinoff games than other titles in the M+L series.  Professor E. Gadd is one of my favorite Mario spinoff characters, and he plays a fairly important role in guiding the brothers in this game.  I’ve also seen references to other “deep cut” games like Yoshi’s Cookie and both the Japanese and American versions of Super Mario Bros. 2.  Kamek also has a funny little “ohhhh….. it’s you kids again” moment when he first encounters the baby brothers for the first time after trying to kidnap them in Yoshi’s Island.

So far, I’m looking forward to completing this game.  Also during my break a few weeks ago, I got into Rayman Legends on Vita.  I really enjoyed Rayman Origins, but I think Legends may actually top it.  I think the art is a significant step up as it features a level of embellishment that wasn’t present in Origins.  But more importantly, there’s just something about the level design in Legends that is more “fast and free” than Origins.  I’m afraid I have a hard time articulating my feelings on what I mean by that.  I think it’s because I always felt a little bogged down searching for the caged electoons in Origins, while their counterparts in Legends, the captured Teensies, are significantly easier to find.  The result is that you can move through the levels at a faster pace that results in more satisfying platforming.  Also, there’s not as many swimming levels which I found to be a huge relief.

I’ve let too many weeds grow in this blog for the past month, but I hope to get back on a (semi)regular posting schedule soon.  Thanks to you all for reading!

November Update: Fallout 4, Tri Force Heroes, and Blue Stinger

Now that we’re out of Daylight Savings, the days have become way too short.  I only have about an hour of sunlight available when I come home from work, and the darkness and the chilling weather have sapped my desire to go out.  The plus side is that I find myself having a lot more time for gaming!  And that’s way better than basking in sunlight and physical activity, right??  Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to lately……

Fallout 4

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I’ve been playing Fallout 4!  But chances are if you’re reading a gaming blog, you have been too, judging by the rest of the attention I’ve seen this game get on WordPress.  I just started it last Saturday morning on PC.  I’ve been playing for ~15 hours, but I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.  

So far, I’ve only had one serious bug to contend with, but I was able to fix that pretty easily after some snooping on the Steam forums.  When I started the game, I experienced some pretty severe stuttering whenever I moved the camera.  It actually started to make me motion sick, which never happens to me in games.  I found out that if I ran the game in windowed mode as opposed to fullscreen, the issue went away completely.  I now run the game in a *borderless window* that takes up the full resolution of my monitor…..i.e. exactly the same thing as full screen…. and it is a silky smooth experience for me.  What an absurd fix to an absurd problem.

Otherwise, I haven’t encountered any serious bugs.  I’ve clipped through a door into an area that I don’t think I was meant to go into, and I’ve seen things like a radscorpion freeze mid-animation when popping up out of the ground.  All these bugs are just the goofy kind.  I fortunately haven’t encountered anything game breaking, yet.

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I’ve heard some people say this game looks just like Fallout 3 on a technical level, which I find utterly absurd.  I think we’ve reached a point where many people are forgetting what 360/PS3 games actually looked like.  But I will say, it’s not the most visually impressive game of the last year or so, but it’s nowhere near Fallout 3-level visuals.  

Tri Force Heroes

A lot of people were very down on this game when it launched, but since this hasn’t been a particularly good year for 3DS releases, I decided to pick it up so I would have something to play on the handheld.  I was actually quite surprised.  With all the negativity surrounding the game, I was impressed that I took to the game as quickly as I did.

For those that don’t know, Tri Force Heroes is a 3-player co-op top-down Zelda game.  And by 3-player co-op, I mean 3 player co-op.  Notice the game is called Tri Force with a space.  It’s not possible to play with only two players.  If a member of your trio drops out mid-game, then both of the remaining players are kicked back to the game’s matchmaking lobby.  It’s possible to play it single-player, but in this mode the player has to swap control between the 3 characters.  The ones the player isn’t in control of have no AI whatsoever and just stand in place.  I only messed around a little bit with the single player mode and felt that it was rather tedious, so I stuck with online co-op.

This strict 3 player requirement makes sense in light of the game’s heavy puzzle emphasis.  The game is divided into 8 worlds (of course) and each world is divided into 4 levels.  At the start of a level, the players must each pick up one of the three items (i.e., boomerang, grappling hook, etc.) that are needed to complete the level.  Each player can only carry one item, and teamwork is required to solve the many puzzles that fill each level.  If there were only 2 players giving it a go, then the most of the puzzles would be unsolvable.  I was actually a bit surprised that they went for such a heavy emphasis on puzzles, when they could have went the easy route and made it a combat-focused game that wouldn’t have required as much teamwork.

This is where I thought the magic of the game really shined through.  Right off the bat, I was having a great time figuring out how to work with my team to use our items to progress.  I got a really glowing feeling each time everything finally clicked between us, and we worked out how each of our items figured into the obstacle at hand..  I’m surprised so many other people whose thoughts I’ve read on the game didn’t feel the same way.

Also, I fortunately didn’t encounter as many troll players as I feared.  I encountered one player who immediately began picking me and the other player up and would throw us off cliffs.  I disconnected from that quickly.  Fortunately, he started trolling us right away at the beginning of the level.  If he had waited until we were deeper into the level to show his true colors, he would have wasted a lot more of my time, because when you disconnect from a game, you have to start the whole level over again (and these levels can take ~30 minutes to beat sometimes).  There was one other player who I think might have been a troll, but I couldn’t say for certain.  If he was, he was impressively subtle.  He kept walking off ledges into pits, which is a problem since all players share the same life bar.  But he would only walk into a pit when he had “plausible deniability”.  He wouldn’t just walk off at random times.  For instance, when a moving platform was coming, he would *always* walk off the ledge toward it just a moment too early or too late.  And he did this *a lot*.  I eventually decided that no one could be this bad at the game and disconnected since the team was down to one heart and on our last life anyway.

Regrettably, the magic of the game didn’t last.  I was really enjoying Tri Force Heroes for the first five worlds, but the final three are really hard.  At a certain point, it became more tedious than joyful.  The levels are fairly time consuming, and if your team loses all four lives they’ve been granted, then the entire level must be redone from square one.  Considering the difficulty of the final stretch of the game, it ended up becoming a very repetitive affair for me, as I had to give several levels multiple attempts.  I honestly don’t think such repetition suits the game considering it causes the player to have to grind on the same puzzles they’ve already solved in previous attempts.

I don’t think I’ll ever really beat Tri Force Heroes, unfortunately.  After several attempts with multiple teams, I only managed to reach the final boss once in the final level.  And I didn’t even get to fight the boss because a connection error popped up almost as soon as the fight started.  As you can imagine, I was quite frustrated.  I soldiered on afterwards, but none of my subsequent teams even got close to the boss.  Eventually, I relented to my annoyance with the whole thing, and I’ve put the game away.  It’s been quite a disappointment in light of the blast I was having during the first half of the game.

Blue Stinger

Bluestinger

Some of you who read my blog regularly may remember that I bought a Dreamcast over the summer.  For my run of horror games that I played over October, I wanted to include a Dreamcast title and decided on playing a somewhat obscure game called Blue Stinger.  Actually, I had wanted to play Ill Bleed, but that game was way too expensive on ebay.  I decided on Blue Stinger instead, as it’s by the same producer and I vaguely recall reading about it around the the time of the Dreamcast’s launch.

Long story short, I didn’t make a post about Blue Stinger since I found that it wasn’t much of a horror game.  I’ve found out that some people categorize it as such, but others don’t, and I find myself agreeing more with the latter group.  The enemies certainly look like something out of a survival horror title, but that’s as far as it goes.  There is no real atmosphere to this game, as I’m not sure if it’s even supposed to be a scary.  The game’s environments are rather brightly colored and punctuated by this very jaunty and orchestral background music.

Anyway, I only bring this up on the off-chance someone who reads this may have played the game.  I’m not sure if I’m going to play much further than I have already (about an hour in), and I wanted to know if the game is worth completing.


Well, that’s all I have to discuss for now.  Thanks everybody for reading.

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