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1st May 2021: Attack The Block

It's been quite a while since I last had a go at a good puzzle game, so to get the brain juices flowing again I have just played through the sequel to a game I played a few years back, in the shape of Q.U.B.E. 2.

Like its predecessor before it, this game sees you using special gloves to manipulate coloured blocks in your surroundings, using them to open up new paths and to make progress.

Now my memory is a bit sketchy, but I don't remember the last game having so many other environmental interactions as this one does. In this game, in addition to the coloured cubes, you also harness other powers such as wind, fire and magnetism. In addition, there are lots of other switches and turny wotsits that let you move or change things in the puzzles. This does make it feel quite different to the original game, which I'm pretty sure (not that I can remember very well) only let you use the cubes and the occasional ball.

The original game also had quite a clean, minimalist look, which to be honest, I preferred to the more natural environments found in this one.

It also seems like they put a bit more forethought into the story of the game, rather than tacking it on at the end like in the original. Still, it does seem like more of the same, with you playing as a character who wakes up with amnesia, before pushing out into the maze of puzzles to try and figure out what is going on.

All in all, I feel about this one very much like I felt about the first game, in that it's a pleasant enough puzzle game, that challenges but never seems too hard. And doesn't outstay its welcome. That's very important.

Delving deeper into the puzzles

Delving deeper into the puzzles

Spin, you spinny thing

Spin, you spinny thing

Burning my way through a door

Burning my way through a door

Well, this is not gonna be easy

Well, this is not gonna be easy

Just what am I doing?

Just what am I doing?

21st April 2021: Getting My Weeb On

Over the Christmas period I realised I was starting to build up a bit of a collection of quite anime-inspired games, so I gave a couple of them a go. The first one completely failed to convince me to keep playing it more than a few hours. But this game here, while failing to keep me interested back in January when I first tried it, did at least warrant a second look. Though it has been a bit of a slog, especially nearer the end of the game, I have now managed to complete the main story. So while there are other things I could work towards in the game, I'm going to consider it done so I can move onto other things.

This game is Trials Of Mana, a game that came out on the PS4 last year.

I didn't really know anything about this game before playing it other than knowing that it was a remake of an old JRPG from the early 90s. I didn't even read anything about it or the Mana series until I was well into the last half of the game. Turns out that this is a remake of the third game in the series, but luckily knowledge of those other games is not really required.

From what I can gather, they have been very respectful to the original when making this new version, something which, in my opinion, is a double edged sword. While fans of the original probably appreciate what has been done here, the sheer levels of early 90s Nintendo cheesiness are at sky high levels, and the story and dialogue are at times laughably bad. It really wouldn't surprise me to discover these things are direct from the original, as it seems no work has been done to improve or modernise them. Things are not helped at all by the fact that the new voice acting is also fairly lacklustre for the most part.

Compare this to the FF7 remake from last year. While quite a lot of effort was put into paying respect to the original story (at least for now - who knows what will happen in the future), the characters and their dialogue were dramatically improved, plus the voice acting was really good.

So forward I stepped into this franchise for the first time ever, picking the amazon Riesz as my main character, Angela the sorceress as companion number one, and the beastman Kevin as companion number two.

Wait. Did you just say Kevin? Kevin... the beastman?

Why yes.

Yes I did.

What's with these eyebrows?

What's with these eyebrows?

Merchants get their groove on<br /><span class='skye'>(video)</span>

Merchants get their groove on
(video)

I'm not distracted.<br />Honest.<br />Nothing distracting here.<br />What was I saying again?

I'm not distracted.
Honest.
Nothing distracting here.
What was I saying again?

Angela gets zappy

Angela gets zappy

Good job there's no fall damage in this game<br /><span class='skye'>(video)</span>

Good job there's no fall damage in this game
(video)

Wow, this gigantic bird-turtle-thing sure can swim<br /><span class='skye'>(video)</span>

Wow, this gigantic bird-turtle-thing sure can swim
(video)

As it turns out, the remarkably stupid name of one of the characters was far from the worst thing about my team. Riesz turned out to be an absolute bore, and as dumb as a bag of rocks to boot. Kevin was just as stupid as Riesz, with his only character trait being "me hungry". Angela was the most interesting of the trio, and the one I ended up preferring to control in battle, but even she was mainly just an irritating, entitled little princess who only seemed to get excited about going shopping.
Urgh. Not good.

The story was odd. An absolute multitude of different evil factions are all fighting against each other to claim something called the Sword of Mana, which will give the wielder insane power over the entire world, and you are obviously out to stop them. To do this, various magical elemental stones must be visited and activated, and their imprisoned monsters battled. I got a bit lost trying to keep up with who was who in all of the different factions. Each enemy force had leaders, and goons, and ultimate evils they were trying to raise, and I mostly just tuned out, preferring to run around twonking things.
I do give the game credit for having the enemy factions going against each other in the story, though. Indeed at one point, there is a large battle between three factions at the location of the mana sword, and its a shame we as the player don't actually get to see it.

So what is the actual gameplay like? Hmm. I'd say it was mostly pretty good and sometimes pretty bad. It's a third person combat game, which allows you to pause in order to use magic or items. So in this regard, it's quite like the FF7 remake, but more simple. And like that other game, there are similar things that annoyed me. For example, there is a delay in performing an action such as dodge if another animation is playing out. It's a problem with games that I keep rattling on about, but it's something that narks me. The other thing is that it's one of those games where the characters step forward, or sometimes even jump forward when they attack, meaning they can sometimes just step right passed their target and miss entirely.

The other main thing about the gameplay that annoyed me was only in certain locations. See, you often get indicators on the floor a second or two in advanced whenever an enemy is going to do a big attack, giving you the time needed to run or dodge out of it. However, I found that in sand or snow environments, these indicators were really hard to see, making battles here more difficult.

In truth, the main problem with the game was the slow load screens, of which there were many. So freaking many. This, as well as constantly re-visiting the same areas on the map, and constantly fighting the same enemies, made the game drag on for far too long. So while it was a perfectly fine game to play through, if it was shorter by a quarter or even a third, I'd have had a far better and more enjoyable time. As it was, I really had to knuckle down and wade through the last parts of the game.

Kevin gets scrappy<br /><span class='skye'>(video)</span>

Kevin gets scrappy
(video)

Goremand looks like he's taking a dump

Goremand looks like he's taking a dump

Some fancy harpy hovering skills<br /><span class='skye'>(video)</span>

Some fancy harpy hovering skills
(video)

What the fook is this thing?

What the fook is this thing?

That's some bad breath there my dude

That's some bad breath there my dude

Angela goes for the big twonk

Angela goes for the big twonk

4th April 2021: My Balls Are On Fire

Up next in the completion list is the 2017 game Pyre, by the same people who made Bastion and Transistor. With those first two games, I had kind-of opposite experiences. I really liked Bastion at first, but it started to drag as I got further into it. And I really struggled to get into Transistor at first, but then started to enjoy it more once I'd unlocked more skills.

This game has been a different experience yet again. Though unfortunately, the experience was one of very little enjoyment from start to finish. I guess I really should have stopped playing it soon after the half way mark, as I was getting frustrated. But the end of the game did at least earn it a little bit of redemption, so I was at least a little glad I stuck with it.

So just what is the game, and why did I not get on with it very well?

The game is mostly delivered in two very different ways. The story sections are all in a visual novel style, with no voice acting and lots of text to read, and occasional choices to make that will have an effect on your characters stats or equipment.
The meat of the gameplay comes across like a fantasy version of basketball, where two teams of 3 players fight in out in real time, and try to throw or dunk a celestial orb into the opposing team's pyre, in order to reduce its flame to nothing and win the contest.

The massive amounts of text in the game quickly became boring, especially as a lot of the world's history and lore is delivered in the form of a book, with dozens of pages that you are expected to read. Let's just say I barely touched all that shit.

Synchronous banishment

Synchronous banishment

His name's Barker. 'Cause he's a dog. Get it?

His name's Barker. 'Cause he's a dog. Get it?

Jodariel goes for the big dunk

Jodariel goes for the big dunk

The competitions themselves, which are called "Rites", were also frustrating to play. Partly this was because I was using keyboard and mouse, which I chose so I could aim my attacks better. But this choice gave me some trouble seeing as my characters only then had 8 directions of movement with WASD.
All that I could deal with for the most part, but the main problem was that the enemy players just seemed to be more responsive somehow, like they could move faster, and jump better, and their auras would return faster. That kind of thing.

The story and characters were quite interesting, even though it did feel like it took forever for it to go anywhere and to get any pay off. But this feeds into the main double-edged sword of this game. See, when participating in the Rites, occasionally you will have the opportunity to free one of your characters from the exile you have all found yourselves in. Because I quite liked many of the characters, I wanted to free as many of them as possible. Problem is, when they are free, there is no longer any way to use them when competing in the Rites. And as all the characters have different skills, once my favourites were free, I was left with a bunch of players I didn't really like using all that much, making the Rites even more frustrating.

The little bit of redemption I mentioned earlier comes at the end of the game, where you are presented with information about all of the characters in the game, both on your team and on others, and learn what happened to them after all is said and done. I imagine the information here can be quite different depending on which players go free, and what other choices you make during the game, and this was the only time I was really into reading every last little word.

Concerning the characters, my fave was easily Jodariel, and I selfishly regret freeing her so early in the game. But I also really liked several other characters, including Ti'zo, Sir Gilman and Pamitha.

With so many games to play, it's unlikely I'll play Bastion or Transistor ever again, but at least there's a chance. This one however, has no chance at all. I mean, I'm glad it's done, but oof, I could have done without it.

Bertrude unleashes hell at our opponents

Bertrude unleashes hell at our opponents

Sir Gilman was fun

Sir Gilman was fun

Interception!

Interception!

10th January 2021: Adventures In Arkham

I've taken the chance to revisit one of my favourite game franchises after GOG released the Batman: Arkham series. This was pretty damn awesome as it had been a long time since I had played any of them, and I'd never played Arkham Knight at all.

I scooped up Knight, and also added City, as City was the best of the ones I had already played, and it also came with the stuff I had not played like the Harley DLC. I figured I could always fire up the old PS3 if I ever wanted to play Asylum or Origins again. Not that I would ever want to play Origins again, but whatever.

So it was into Arkham City first, to act as a refresher before tackling Knight.

Drop kick to the nards

Drop kick to the nards

Smell my feet

Smell my feet

Figure whippin' good

Figure whippin' good

I will catch you my friend

I will catch you my friend

I can scan all the dead bodies in this water but can't see a massive freaking shark?!?

I can scan all the dead bodies in this water but can't see a massive freaking shark?!?

Still my fave part of the game

Still my fave part of the game

There's no doubt about it. This is still an awesome game, even more than 8 years later. Though I must admit, it took a little longer to get into it than I would have thought. It was also a little harder in some of the fights. I'm chalking that all up to me being older and slower now. Sad but true. Though somewhat interestingly, the stealth missions were pretty much a breeze this time round. I can't explain that, because I've certainly not become more patient in my old age.

I spent my time fairly evenly between pushing through the story and doing all the bonus stuff. When I got to the end of the story, I first decided to fully wipe the map like I did back in 2012, but only worked my way through the western half of the map before deciding to move on. After all, this was only an appetiser before the main course.

I also tackled Harley's Revenge for the first time. In this, you play as Robin for most of it, as Batman has been captured by Harley. For such a small new mission, this thing had some serious sneaking around, and Robin doesn't come with all the tools to take out gun-toting creeps like Batman does. Yet it only took a couple of hours at most to punch my way through it, and unsurprisingly, it's more of the same. Can't whinge at that.

Tiger Knee! Well, she <i>is</i> Catwoman.

Tiger Knee! Well, she is Catwoman.

Tiger Uppercut! Well, he <i>is</i>... erm... Batman.

Tiger Uppercut! Well, he is... erm... Batman.

That's some fancy footwear you got there Catwoman

That's some fancy footwear you got there Catwoman

Alright guys, let's hug this out

Alright guys, let's hug this out

Robin leaps into battle

Robin leaps into battle

Putting Harley on her ass

Putting Harley on her ass

I never played Arkham Knight when it first released, as I didn't have a PS4, and on PC it was a buggy mess and Steam only. I guess I should have thought of the game when I finally bought a PS4 just over a year ago, but it slipped through my large mental gaps. Never mind. It was meant to be, it seems.

Before playing the game I assumed I would still get some performance and bug problems, considering the state of the game at launch, and the fact that my computer is nearly as old as the game, and was not exactly a powerhouse even back then. The performance wasn't too bad, even with the better graphics in this. The majority of the time I was running around as Batman I was able to keep a stable 60, and only a few times did it drop. Hell, even Arkham City did that at times on my machine. However, driving around in the Batmobile did cause a lot more stuttering, and it's pretty much convinced me I need a new computer some time this year. Urgh, Windows 10 at last. Not looking forward to that.

The game definitely still has its bugs though, that's for sure. I faced some doozies, such as when I went down an elevator, and when it got to the bottom I somehow clipped up and through the ceiling, trapping me in the elevator shaft. In another session, every time I entered combat, the enemies would not attack me, and the camera would constantly rubber-band to look in one particular direction as if fixated on something. But it's far improved from the shoddy state it launched in.

The gameplay, as Batman at least, was more of the same, just more refined and with even more options than before. Overall, I liked the combat a bit more than the other games, but found it harder. I just found there to be a little less time to react, and there were more enemy types to deal with. Though I loved, and greatly appreciated, the new fear takedowns, making it much faster to take out groups of gunmen, and making the stealth missions a little more bearable.

Dude looks scared of getting punched

Dude looks scared of getting punched

Batman kicks the electricity out of this guy

Batman kicks the electricity out of this guy

Investigating a crime scene

Investigating a crime scene

Batman hugs a Man-Bat

Batman hugs a Man-Bat

Making stuff blow up

Making stuff blow up

Some of the stealth missions sucked as usual

Some of the stealth missions sucked as usual

Batman's mostly enjoyable gameplay was balanced out by something though, and if you've played the game you know what it is - simply the worst thing about this entire game, and that is the Batmobile. I would gladly take more bugs and stealth missions if it meant I could play this game without this stupid vehicle. Simply put, I hated it. I hated the way it controlled. I hated its combat sections. I hated how you had to use it for Riddler challenges. And most of all I hated how it felt like I was in the Batmobile for nearly as much time as I was running around as Batman.
I am so very glad I did not think of playing this game on console. On PC, at least I could quickly switch to mouse and keyboard for the Batmobile combat sections, so that I could aim straight, and then switch back to controller for the driving and Batman sections. So much more comfortable that way.

As of yet, I have not reached a full 100% completion like I did for Asylum and City. Don't get me wrong, I've put a lot of work into the side content, but it turns out this game is so freaking huge that it's taking forever. Some of the side content is also a bit of a drag, so I'm still not sure if I'll ever be fully motivated to get that full 100. But for now it's going to stay on my computer, and I'll dip in and out now and again in between playing other games. I think I owe it, and myself, a good try at least.

Speaking of the side content, some of the DLC missions were odd, and threw up some contradictions with the base game. For example, I used the hacking tool early on in the Mad Hatter's DLC mission, but it would not let me use it elsewhere until I unlocked it in the main story. In another instance, I'd already tackled Firefly in his DLC mission several times, but later on in the base game mission where Batman has to save a bunch of firemen, it came as a shock to everyone involved that Firefly was even around at all.

Overall though, barring the Batmobile sections, and a few crappy boss fights against the Arkham Knight, the game is pretty good. I wouldn't put it above City, which remains my favourite, but this still has a lot of good things going for it, like better graphics, slightly better combat, and much better Batman traversal. Well worth the play through I reckon.

Tiresome tank combat

Tiresome tank combat

Look at this guy, just hanging around

Look at this guy, just hanging around

Double team machine

Double team machine

I hated all this racing crap

I hated all this racing crap

Well this went to hell in a handbasket

Well this went to hell in a handbasket

Kicking Joker in the face

Kicking Joker in the face

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