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Wednesday, 22 August 2012 22:35

Quantum Conundrum'

This game's aesthetic is annoying. I mean, alright, it's cute enough at first - you play a kid going to visit his mad scientist uncle, who has managed to trap himself in some kind of pocket dimension in his eccentric mansion and is unable to remember how. At least it's the narrator that has amnesia this time, you might think cleverly. It becomes less cute when it degenerates into puzzle room, hallway with jokey dialogue, puzzle room (around hour two). Then the jokes start grating. Listen to the uncle make a crack about these kids and their crazy texting ('is English truly that difficult?'); wonder who the hell is laughing.

The puzzles are littered with sloppy decisions. I have a bunch written down, though they're in the Million Dollar Google Doc, and that's the kind of thing I only quote from in job interviews. Safe for work version: After the initial novelty of the dimension shifting wears off (45 minutes if you've never played a videogame before; 10 minutes if you've ever played 'Portal'), each puzzle is just a room full of locks and keys that you've stuck into each other before.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:25

Spelunky'

'Spelunky' is a 2D jump-and-punch with randomly generated stages. You jump high enough that you can land one block higher than you started or grab onto an edge that's two blocks up. Your whip attack spans the length of a single block in front of you, and it doesn't hit above or below. Bombs and ropes, which must be stumbled upon and collected, allow you to twist the stage's layout to let you get where you want to go. The game is inspired by 1985's nail-hard 'Spelunker,' though the characters here move with a momentum much more like Mario's. Sprinting around with a rock and hucking it at an enemy is a kind of mechanic homage to shell-throwing in 'Super Mario World.'

That 'randomly generated stages' part is The Thing About 'Spelunky,' though. The game is about the precision with which each of its obstacles is designed, and the smooth way all of these obstacles click together in each stage. Every screen is a new puzzle, and the complexity that you can comfortably handle goes up as you learn the ways that the enemies and items all interact together.

Published in Tekk

'Monster World IV' is a beautiful little 2D platformer. At the beginning of the game you leave the village that you grew up in. A bunch of townspeople stand around wishing you well. You walk from left to right, headed towards a magical forest.

When you enter the forest you move through about a dozen screens of beautiful, achingly simple level design. Sections of the ground are raised up; you have to jump up over them. Soon little slime guys show up. You hit them with your sword, they make a couple nice sounds, and coins pop out.

I'd talk through these screens jump for jump, if I had the space. They're perfect. After fighting single slimes and then pairs of slimes you reach a fire slime; it takes two hits. That moment when you hit the first fire slime and it doesn't die - man, that's game design. The first fire slime is the heart on 'Monster World IV's' sleeve.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 17:09

Bastion of Storytelling

The Kid wrote an article...

It's a long-accepted fact that I have a thinly-spread attention span when it comes to gaming. I'm constantly bouncing between four or five games at any one time, so when you can actually lock me down with one game for more than an hour or two, you've accomplished a feat that few can actually lay claim to. In 2011, two games did this: one was the open-world opus known as 'Skyrim,' and number two was a little indie number called 'Bastion.'

Easily one of the most beautiful games I've ever had the privilege to play, 'Bastion' has a bright, light palette that disguises one of the most deeply-narrated stories you will ever be involved in. You're dropped into a world that has literally fallen out of the sky, with no backstory or driving force other than to move forward and seek out shelter and supplies.

Published in Tekk

This is a true story from when I was a kid: After months of playing the game, my best friend's brother came to town and showed us how to get the Magic Flute in the first fortress in 'Super Mario Bros. 3.' Then he showed us how to get the P-Wing in 1-4, and then how to drop through the white blocks. That last one, in particular, clung like putty, adding to the surface area of my brain.

I was smart enough to know that 'Super Mario World's' ghost houses were designed by jerks pretty much from day one, but they still fascinated me - almost as much as those parts of the Star Road that I could see but couldn't reach. As a child-adult I can comprehend, mathematically, that 'Super Mario Bros. 3' is a better video game, and that its mystique lies in the opportunities for virtuosity in every one of its stages instead of in its 'secrets;' as an adult-child, though, I mostly preferred to try and jump up to the secret exit of Donut Plains 1 without hitting the Green Switch Palace first.

'Fez' is the videogame that the world's biggest 'Super Mario World' fan would make with two million dollars and three years. It's littered with weird little secrets, with opportunities to unlock new rooms by pressing the right buttons in the right order or to collect gold stars for looking underneath the right platforms from the right angles. Many of these secrets - like those Star Road levels - even seem to be hiding more enormous secrets behind them. 'Fez' even takes the next step once in awhile, hiding strange images in its soundtrack and hiding in-game items that the collective internet seems to be unable to uncover.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 15:51

Sine Mora: Latin for something

Sine Mora is Latin for... something! Something about furries and shmups, I bet. I'm just kidding: I'm pretty sure it has something to do with time, which ostensibly is at the core of the 'Sine Mora' experience. It's a fly-from-left-to-right 2D bullet-hell shooter, with the prerequisite floating gun upgrades and shield power-ups, but the mechanic hook is that in place of a health bar is a constantly-ticking timer. When it hits zero your ship explodes; if you get hit, you lose a couple seconds on the spot.

It sounds nice on paper, but when you're playing 'Sine Mora's' more challenging modes you simply can't get hit much, which would be just as true even without the fatal countdown. Time is also a major factor of the game's hilariously convoluted plot, which sees a group of rebels located throughout time fighting against... well, I don't know, to be honest. It's hard to follow, outside of a few hot little details: A father is trying to avenge his son's death while also going back in time to save his life; some kind of robot dude is being maybe-manipulated to go on a probably-suicide mission; some half-fox half-human rape victim is now being blackmailed into... uh, flying around and blowing up Megazords, I guess.

On the half-fox part: All the characters are half-animal, except maybe the robot guy. There's a handicapped buffalo guy, a lizard guy, a maybe-bear guy, and a couple kind of ambiguous fox-cat chicks. The game never specifically mentions the fact that the characters are all anthropomorphic, which is weird; it does specifically mention that one of them was raped, which is weird. I don't know. At least it doesn't dwell on it too long.

Published in Tekk

'Alan Wake's American Nightmare' is about escaping meaningless fires to pop songs. It's not as cool as it sounds. Limp-wristed QTEs get in between you and the switches you need to hit; every time you pick up a plot-related item it will leave its watermark on the corner of your screen until you figure out how to use it; there is always at least 10 times the ammunition you could ever need scattered about your immediate vicinity. These and other face-against-wall ideas are scattered all throughout this little game like tiny, chewy raisins in an otherwise just-OK bagel or surprise walnuts in what you already thought was a too-cakey brownie.

Alan finds himself wandering around a dreamlike ghost town where his own personal Dark Tobey Maguire is wreaking havoc on the local townspeople (three women). Alan tries to save them, fails and gets returned to the beginning of the game to try again. Things change each time - the dumb women Alan is trying to help start to get a clue - until Alan ultimately, uh, does whatever. On the way you'll get to experience the revolutionary game mechanics of Pistol, Shotgun, Grenade, and Third-Person Shoot. To be fair, another major mechanic is that you have to blast enemies with your battery-draining flashlight before they're vulnerable to traditional gunfire, and this is almost cool. Except! You're constantly equipped with enough batteries and backup flares to stop an army of shadow-zombies dead in its tracks at any moment.

Published in Tekk

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