Follow-up: Blaster Master Zero

I wrote many, many nice words about Blaster Master Zero a few months ago. Between then and now, Inti Creates has released a Hard Mode update and three DLC characters, with at least one more on the way. I think you can see where this is going; I’ve been playing Blaster Master Zero again.

The nicest thing about the DLC characters is that while they are paid content ($2 a pop), they were all free for the first two weeks that they were available. Nice! The three currently available characters are Gunvolt (from Azure Striker Gunvolt), Eiko (from Gal*Gun) and Shantae (from Shantae), and coming next month is… Shovel Knight! (From Shovel Knight.) That’s a pretty outstanding lineup of crossover characters!

I’m not going to lie, what I hope most is that this means that Shantae and Shovel Knight will also be DLC characters for Mighty Gunvolt Burst. But that’s besides the point.

I am still a little bit afraid of Hard Mode, but I recently took up the challenge of playing through BMZ as Gunvolt. I didn’t quite get how he was supposed to play at first, and was getting awfully fed up that his dart gun took twenty shots or so to take down monsters. And then by chance I realized that the dart gun is for tagging enemies, not causing damage. Once you’ve tagged a foe, you can use your Flashfield ability to blast them with lightning. And if you’ve got the energy, Gunvolt’s prevasion skill will have him automatically avoid taking hits. Of course, I would have known all this already if I’d bothered to play either of the Azure Striker Gunvolt games.

And that’s just in the top-down sections. Where Gunvolt really amazes is in the side-scrolling areas. For one, he doesn’t take fall damage. That’s already reason enough to never play as Jason again. Gunvolt also has a better jump in general, and can wall-jump infinitely, which can be a major sequence breaker on its own. Lastly, you can trigger the Flashfield mid-air to have Gunvolt drift more slowly to the ground, making tricky landings much easier to pull off. Of course, the dart/Flashfield combo is also your offensive bread-and-butter here, but I don’t think prevasion works on the overworld. Needless to say, Gunvolt’s amazing extra mobility makes him an absolute blast to play as, and the dart/Flashfield combat style is very cool and makes you feel like a real badass. The only drawback, really, is that the darts don’t piece through walls. Boo.

In the final areas, Gunvolt begins to feel a little bit out of his league, but it was a nice challenge bump, as his unique abilities completely broke the bulk of the game. In the end, I think that playing as Gunvolt actually made the game more fun than playing as Jason, and I’d consider that the mark of some really great DLC!

I haven’t bothered to try our Ekoro yet, but I was chomping at the bit to try out Shantae, so I started a new run with her next. My impressions so far (I’ve only played through the first area) are that Shantae is going to require a lot more finesse than either Jason or Gunvolt. For one, her main attack is still the hair whip, and you can imagine that a short-range melee attack isn’t especially great in a game designed for a character with a gun. Shantae has a slew of magic attacks and transformations to round out her arsenal, though, and so far the Elephant transformation has been my go-to when I need to muscle my way through a stage. I’ll likely have a more detailed write-up when I’ve finished the game again, and when I finally bother to give Ekoro a chance.

Vania Mania

Last weekend, I went a little Castlevania crazy. Firstly, I read that Nintendo had put up some discounts for the Virtual Console versions of the original NES Castlevania trilogy on My Nintendo. Having nothing better to do with all the My Nintendo coins or tokens or whatever that had been piling up in my account, I got myself a nice 40% discount on Castlevania III and loaded ‘er up on my 3DS. Then, because I often forget about things even when I am incredibly excited for them, I read that the Netflix Castlevania series went live on Friday. So I watched all of that in a single sitting.

It all turned out to be a beautiful coincidence, because the animated Castlevania series is loosely based on Castlevania III. I had no idea!

So let’s talk about the show first. Straight up, I loved it. It’s got plenty of flaws, but I thought that it was still a fairly strong show. It was cool, violent, and sometimes funny, though truth be told, a lot of the humour was a little more adolescent than it probably should have been. Trevor Belmot is a massive jackass that I expect we’re supposed to eventually like, but he hasn’t quite gotten to that point yet. Maybe in season 2. Sypha and Alucard are awesome right from the word go, and it’s a massive tragedy that the season ends just as things are really getting good.

And I think that’s my biggest gripe with Castlevania: season one is only four 30-minute episodes, and only tells about a third of the story. Which, I suppose is right on target, as the upcoming second season is going to be eight episodes. Don’t get me wrong, they wrote in a lot of great supplemental material to flesh out the world and characters, but it still feels like this was just a test to see if there would be interest enough for the real story. Imagine if season two hadn’t been given the green light! We’d be left with nothing but an elongated prologue! Forever wondering what could have been!

The absolute best parts of the show were in fact the opening and closing scenes. The series begins with a very long cold open that serves to give Dracula personality and motivation. It’s a bit misleading because this part of the story is pulled more or less from Symphony of the Night, so I was double-surprised that the rest of the series followed Castlevania III instead. It makes perfect sense, though, as they’re telling the story in chronological order (though they did skip right past Lament of Innocence). The final scene is a -and I hesitate to use this word- epic battle between Trevor and Alucard. It was brilliant and incredibly cool. It also served to increase my hype levels to maximum and then slapped me right in the face with the hard truth that I would be left waiting for an indeterminate amount of time for this series to continue.

In a stunning turn of events, I enjoyed playing Castlevania III much less than I did watching it. I am fairly certain that it’s one of only two Castlevania titles that I hadn’t ever played (the other being Lords of Shadow 2). All the classic-style Castlevania are tough as balls, but none of them have ever felt quite as insurmountable as Castlevania III. It’s ridiculous how hard it is. So difficult, in fact, that I got frustrated to the point where I would put down a save state after every monster I defeated. It didn’t even feel that cheap, because you basically need a full life bar to have any hope at all against the bosses in the last few stages.

I’ve done a little reading up on the game in the meantime, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I should not have played the North American version. Apparently, in a stunning reversal of the usual “dumbing-down for Americans” trope, the Japanese version of Castlevania III is significantly less difficult. Fewer monsters, more generous checkpoints, and at least one character that has a useful long-range attack.

The biggest, and what I believe is the most important change, is the way your characters take damage. In the Japanese version, every monster deals a set amount of damage. So a medusa head that hits you for 1 HP in the second stage will still hit you for 1 HP in the ninth stage. However, in the North American version, all monsters hit for the same amount of damage based on how far you are in the game. So in the first stage, you’ll take 1 HP damage from every hit, while in the final stage, you’ll take 4 HP damage from every hit, regardless of monster type. This is crazy and significantly upsets the difficulty balance.

I can’t in good conscience say that the game is bad, because it’s mostly just that the difficulty level is broken. If the game was just a little friendlier, I probably would have really liked it. I found myself on more than one occasion amazed by the visuals (it’s a beautiful NES game), and it retains the tight, methodical Castlevania gameplay that made the series so popular in the first place. Let’s not forget the incredible soundtrack! It’s a huge game with ten stages and a number of alternate paths, and you can pick up several partner characters along the way that can tag in for Trevor at any time. The only game design part that I thought was actively terrible is one section where you have to climb a tower of falling blocks. It’s incredibly slow and long, easy to get killed on, and is boring as all heck. Plus there’s no checkpoint after it, so if you get killed by monsters afterward… enjoy slogging up that section again. It must have been my seventh or eight climb up that tower that I decided to start abusing save states.

And so ends my Castlevania craziness for now. I actually find myself wanting to play Lords of Shadow again for some reason, but I just can’t be bothered to unpack and hook up my Xbox 360 right now. Perhaps in a month’s time when I’m moved and settled into my new home. But hey, by that point, my Castlevania fever might have already subsided.

The Vaccines are at War

Vaccine War is very much unlike the bulk of indie PC games I play. See, it has an actual story that someone put time and effort into writing. Maybe not a whole lot of time and effort, but it shows that someone was actually interested in telling a story in this one.

As the tale goes, The Great War has ended, and your veteran main character (Daniel) moves his family from Prussia to Spain so that they can live a quiet life on a farm. But then a band of rogues bomb the nearby town, killing Daniel’s wife and abducting his daughter. You are then sent on a zig-zagging tour of the game world, hunting down the leaders of assorted military/paramilitary groups to find said missing daughter. Turns out the whole thing was because some secret society planted a “cure” for human cruelty into Daniel, and they wanted to extract the refined version of it form his daughter.

No, it doesn’t make much sense. But at least the developer tried. The developer whose name I didn’t bother to learn and probably will not bother looking up. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

This weird story is told through many cutscenes, which are slow and not skippable. You can mash the button to speed the text along, but when every cutscene is placed right after a save point, you begin to yearn to be able to skip them completely. Also there are at least a couple typos in the walls of dialogue, which are semi-forgivable because based on the credits, I’m reasonably certain that English is not the developer’s native language.

So what else does Vaccine War have to offer? Well, the visual style is certainly… unique. It sort of reminds me of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, but not quite as stylized. I didn’t think it looked very good at all in screenshots, but when the game is in motion, it really does come together. The illustrations for the cutscenes are fairly horrible, though.

Okay, so. Gameplay. How does it stack up? It’s fun enough, I’d say. It’s a left-to-right kind of affair, but the game uses its 2.5D visual style to let you move along the depth axis as well. So, I guess it’s technically 3D then? But you aren’t allowed full 3D movement. You’re entirely restricted to the game’s set paths. Still, it’s a nice touch that both literally and figuratively gives the world a little more depth. The drawback here is that because of the way the combat works, level design is otherwise very flat and samey throughout the duration of the game.

Speaking of which, the combat seems at first blush to be of the typical run-and-shoot variety. You start with only a knife, but quickly get a gun and are thoroughly taught to use cover to keep from being shot. Because you can’t see enemy shots to jump over them like in the average side-scrolling action game, it essentially becomes a side-scrolling cover-based shooter. Which renders it slow and underwhelming.

That is, until you realize that in almost every case, it’s much easier, faster, and more effective to just rush every bad guy and stab him to death. You’ll take plenty of hits, but enemies drop enough healing items to keep you alive, and the save point mailboxes also heal you fully. This strategy is also the best way to deal with bosses, the only difference being that you will occasionally have to stop stabbing them for a moment to dodge their attacks. That said, the final boss is terribly cheap, and it’s not at all clear how you’re supposed to deal with him. It’s such a bad fight, in fact, that I nearly gave up. But stubborn as I am, I banged my head against that brick wall long enough to figure it out and claim victory.

Should you play Vaccine War? Not really. It’s decent enough that I finally feel justified in my purchase of the bundle it came in, and it’s nice to look at in motion for a while. But it’s so simplistic that it never offers anything new or exciting besides the boss fights, and even they’re not that great. Although if you are interested in seeing the whole game, you will need to play it yourself, as the two Let’s Plays on YouTube petered out halfway and four-fifths of the way through, respectively. Still, I wouldn’t really recommend it, unless you absolutely need to burn two hours by stabbing fools that you are supposed to be shooting. And even then, Resident Evil 4 is much more satisfying way to get that fix.

*NB: This game costs a whopping $8.79 CAD on Steam. I paid $5 for the 10-game Indie Gala bundle it came in. $5 is closer to the “correct” price for this one.

What is happening in my head?

Stockholm syndrome is real.

Do you want to know how I know this? I miss ArcaniA. That buggy hot mess of a game that I played for roughly a month to help justify buying yet another Humble Bundle. I was so glad when it was over, because it was not very good, and I didn’t care at all about the plot or characters, and it was grating on my nerves because I had to play on the Very Hard mode to get the platinum trophy. My weekends were once again free to play whatever the heck I wanted instead of being chained to this trainwreck “project” game!

But now I miss it. When I sit down to pick out a game to play in my free time, my mind often wanders to ArcaniA and then I feel an emptiness inside because it is no longer a part of my life.

How in the sweet, crispy Hell did this happen?

On another note, the fact that I will doggedly play games I don’t like because I feel obligated to “finish” them (whatever that might mean) is a completely separate mental illness.

Citadale

You want to know something that I’m not done talking about yet? Wii U games. I probably should be, because there is basically nothing but garbage-lookin’ indie games coming out on it anymore. Maybe a Virtual console release here and there, and I guess there was that remastered version of Darksiders that came out last month (which I would love to purchase again on something more… portable). But mostly garbage-lookin’ indie games.

All that aside, today I have a whole lot of things to say about a garbage-lookin’ indie game that came out several months ago. And to be completely honest, it doesn’t actually look that bad if you’re just checking out screenshots. This game is Citadale: Gate of Souls, and I had literally zero interest in puchasing it until I heard about it on a podcast which I very much enjoy. It sounded like a miraculous garbage fire, and we all know how strongly I feel about garbage fires.

So I went right ahead and I plopped down my $5 or whatever it was, and I got me some Citadale. Much against my better judgement, but I think I may have been drunk at the time. I think I bought Wario: Master of Disguise at the same time, which is something I never would have done sober. That’s just a straight-up Bad Video Game. Citadale is, fortunately, entertainingly bad.

Okay, take a moment now and scroll back up a bit. Take a good, long gander at that logo. Remind you of anything? No? For shame. Citadale’s logo looks suspiciously like the logos of most of the Castlevania games on GBA/DS. Like, it’s just a font and differently stylized C away from being a complete rip-off. That’s a little bit gutsy, I’ve got to say. Wearing your inspiration on your sleeve is one thing, but copying it wholesale and then charging money for it is a whole different ballgame. Congratulations on your hubris, Nitrolic Games.

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Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up – June 2017

It seems like I’m in one of those phases where I spend a little bit of time with lot of different games. This usually happens when I don’t have a “major” game to focus my time on. Though Ever Oasis was nearly the only thing I played for the final week of the month…

~ Game Over ~

Life is Strange (PS4) – The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. But that doesn’t make the choice any easier. Sorry, Chloe 🙁

Zoo Rampage (PC) – Barf.

ArcaniA (PS4) – By the end, I’d gotten so accustomed to the game’s jankiness that I think I was genuinely enjoying it. But man, is it ever broken. Almost Bethesda-like, to be honest.

Spooky Cats (PC) – It’s a thing, alright.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst (Switch) – A very good Mega Man successor.

Chrono Trigger (SNES) – I usually have trouble with Lavos on a NG playthrough of Chrono Trigger, but I won pretty handily this time around, despite feeling like I was ill-prepared for it.

Team Kirby Clash Deluxe (3DS) – I’ve rolled the credits, but there’s still so much more to accomplish. Is it worth the time and effort, though? I’m not really smart enough to say.

Anna: Extended Edition (PS3) – A free PS+ spook-em-up that sounded great on paper, but was more than a little lacking in practice. And yet it still lingers in my mind… how apropos.

Ape Escape 2 (PS4) – Finally completed the slog of a replay to earn the final trophy. I don’t know why I did this to myself, to be perfectly honest. Ape Escape is NO FUN.

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Happy Tomorrow!

On account of my silly Monthend posts running on the first of every month, I’d like to extend to all my fine readers a Happy Canada Day! today, in lieu of tomorrow.

I probably won’t be doing much. Maybe go see Wonder Woman with my dad. Drink a few beers. Basically, act as if it’s any other Saturday.

The beloved Ryan’s Canada Day Tradition is dead and buried. I feel like I cannot bear to go out to Lac Du Bonnet any more, as I really don’t want to have to put up with my ex-laws for even a minute. And we all know that my ex-mother-in-law would not simply let me go if she caught a glimpse of me. Oh, if only it were so easy as to just ignore them.

I suppose I could try to go in disguise, but it’s really not worth the effort. Doing the exact same thing every year kind of killed it for me, anyhow. The fireworks are always set to the exact same soundtrack, the Bargain Shop hasn’t had anything that sparked my interest in years, and I just don’t think I’d enjoy spending the day out there as much as I used to without a ladyfriend.

Sorry if this comes off as a bit depressing. It’s a long weekend! Be happy! Have a great time! Eat something maple-flavoured! Yay, Canada!

C
ANA
DACANAD
A         CANAD         A
CANA      DACAN      ADAC
ANADACANADACANADA
CANADACANADAC
ANADACANADACANADA
C
A

[I didn’t already have an image of a maple leaf and couldn’t be bothered to steal one from Google]

Gotta go somewhat hastily

Last summer, I decided that “running” was a thing that I was going to do. I came up with a specific course, and my goal was to decrease the time it took me to get around it. While I did not achieve my target time, I did get my time down quite a bit from the initial run. So that’s good! Something to be proud of!

This year, I’ve gotten a late start on the actual running thing, but I have been getting out for long walks every weekend, so it’s not a complete wash. And since I’ve been displaced from my course, I have to come up with a new one. Or maybe not. I might not set a clear goal this year. For whatever reason, having goals is more likely to dissuade me from doing things. It’s weird. I’m weird. I much prefer to just go with the flow. Like a hedonist but with more body image issues.

Going out for a run is so hard at first. Even with a little stretching and a glass of water to prep, I get done with that first burst of energy, and then things just go to pot. I puff and I wheeze and my mouth gets all full of that sticky saliva that makes everything worse. I’ll walk for a bit, then try to run some more, but can’t get nearly as far. Rinse an repeat until I get back home, but with the walk cycle getting longer and the run cycle getting shorter each time.

Then I get back home, have a nice glass of water and sit for five minutes. I’m absolutely dead when I get back, but after a short rest and rehydration, I feel as though I could conquer the world. So I go back out, and that’s where the bulk of my time is spent. The second “leg” of my journey is always so much easier. I still puff and wheeze, but I feel that it’s a lot easier to push myself at this point than on the first part of the run. Also, much less of the sticky saliva, so it no longer feels like my throat is closing off from the goo.

I am not a runner, or an athlete of any capacity. So I have no idea why it’s so much easier to run more after pooping myself out and taking a short break. I don’t think it’s the runner’s high, but maybe it is? I thought that was more of a “during the run” kind of thing.

Either way, I’m going to do my best to keep it up this year. The main sticking point is going to be getting out more than once a week. I just feel so emotionally drained after a day at the office that it’s difficult to summon the will to do anything, never mind a physically taxing exercises session. And I’m not doing two weekend days in a row. No, sir! I mean, I could, but there is only so much weekend to go around. If I spend it all running and recovering from running, where am I going to fit in all my lazy time?

A weekend of games and stuff

I hate to admit it, because I’ve been trying to diversify the ways I waste time lately, but I spent pretty much the whole weekend playing video games. Well, the time during the weekend that I was conscious. I spent way too much time sleeping in and napping, but I slept terribly last week, so I suppose that I needed it. Anyway, for some reason I feel the need to write about all the nothing I did over the weekend. Really Live Journal it.

Friday night was a blur. Because it’s already so far away, you see. But I do recall that after a long Friday at work, I decided that it was in my best interest to get some physical activity, I opted to take a short walk. Partly because I wanted to do something good for my body, and partly because I wanted to listen to the Talk Nintendo podcast special on Ever Oasis. And by golly, did Casey and Neal ever do a good job of selling that game. I was planning on skipping it, but their gushing praise started to make me reconsider my stance…

Upon returning home, I finally set aside a little time to play ARMS, which I am desperately in love with in theory, but I need a lot more practice because I am awful at it. I managed to get through the easiest level of the single-player mode, but not without some struggles. Also I need to get online and get in on that party mode. Once I was done with that, I cracked and bought Ever Oasis. In retrospect, I should have played the demo first to make sure, but in the end it wouldn’t have dissuaded me anyhow. Although the game was surprisingly small (just over 6200 blocks), the download was slow and would not finish until early the next morning.

Finally, I began playing what might be the only free PS+ game that I’ve been at all interested in since I’ve had the service: Anna: Extended Edition. It is pitched on the store as a psychological horror game wherein you explore an abandoned sawmill to discover its spooky secrets. Late Friday night is like the only good time I get to play horror games, so I was pumped. And then the game turns out to be something of a janky mess. I was so befuddled by the odd control scheme and got stuck on a stupid(ly simple) puzzle that I only played up through the first “stage” before calling it quits and turning in for the night.

The next morning, I woke up late because I had opted not to set any alarms. Then I chose to relive a ritual of Saturday mornings from last summer: watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 series) while playing Tap My Katamari. I had four episodes left to watch from season four’s “lost episodes” (not on DVD) and burned through those right quick. Afterwards, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do and curled up in bed for a quick nap.

It was after I woke that I realized that Ever Oasis was probably done downloading, and then most of my afternoon just vanished into it. Ever Oasis is a really good game. What Casey and Neal neglected to mention is that it is very slow to start because holy crap does it ever like to take its time explaining everything to you. Also, it is just as hand-holdy as the Zelda series is infamous for being. At least for the first few hours. Eventually it gives you a little more freedom, but the beginning of the game is a slow, unskippable slog. This will undoubtedly discourage replays.

I then decided that it was my mission for the rest of the afternoon to finish Anna, and so I booted the ol’ PS3 back up and jumped back into that mess. The game does have its charms once you let yourself get into it, but I maintain that it could have used a lot more polish. At least have a few of the rougher edges sanded down. Case in point: I was not interested in the game enough to care about solving its obtuse puzzles, and it didn’t take me long to pull up a walkthrough for consultation whenever I felt stuck. I cleared the game, and am weakly considering a quick second playthrough to round up the leftover trophies. On one hand, it’ll be a very easy task that should take no more than half an hour. On the other hand, I don’t really care about this game and should probably just delete it and forget it forever.

Saturday night was the usual board games party. The major difference is that when my brother and I made a trip to the liquor store, we found something highly unexpected: Freedom 35 lager! It’s the Trailer Park Boys branded beer! We were so excited that we each filled up an 8-can carrier and merrily went on our way. The checkout guy must have thought we were nuts.

Many beers led to a hearty sleep-in on Sunday morning. Sort of. I got up at 8:30, had breakfast, watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers, and played some Mighty Gunvolt Burst to grab a few screenshots for the article I wrote on it. Then I passed out again and slept until after noon.

To round out my activities, I went out for an extra-long walk/run after waking up. I was out for two and a half hours, which I think is my longest journey on record so far. Especially since it was only my second outing that included running this year. And yet it was still not long enough to listen to the regular weekly episode of the Talk Nintendo. When I got back, my legs were so done that I showered off and flopped onto bed to nap for an hour, then watched several more episodes of Bob’s Burgers. And then I ate a metric ton of food for dinner and way too much in the way of ice cream treats, completely invalidating all the exercise I’d done earlier.

Finally, I ended the evening the same way that every Sunday evening ends: laundry. In between throwing dirty clothes in the machines and putting away the clean laundry, I tacked a few more hours onto Ever Oasis. Turns out that it’s quite difficult! Monsters hit really, really hard and you can’t dodge-cancel out of attack animations, so you’ve got to be careful. It’s still limiting how far off-course I can explore, but at least it’s not pushing me along the intended route quite as sternly any more.

Alas, eventually the laundry was all done, and that’s my cue to stop whatever fun I’m having and go to bed. I think that’s probably why I hate doing laundry so much. It heralds the end of the freedom of the weekend, and the return of the dreadful work week. Ugh. So disheartening. At least I had a lot of fun over the weekend. And when put into words, it almost seems like I accomplished much more than I actually did. Hurray!

Mighty Gunvolt Burst

Are you aware of Mighty No. 9? That game that blew up (the good way) on Kickstarter and then blew up (the bad way) during its development cycle? The knock-off Mega Man that ended up being so much less than Mega Man? I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but you have probably forgotten about it, like the entire world did shortly after it actually released.

Although Beck’s first major outing flopped hard, it’s actually not the only game he’s starred in. Long before the Mighty No. 9 debacle, co-developer Inti Creates had made their own little Mega Man-esque title on 3DS called Azure Striker Gunvolt. I haven’t played that game, but it came bundled with a free retraux game that was even more in the vein of classic Mega Man, Mighty Gunvolt.

Mighty Gunvolt was a neat little crossover that let you play as either Beck, Gunvolt, or some girl from a game that I still don’t know what it is. It was only five or so stages long, but it was tightly designed, tough as nails, and the three playable characters all had their own style and unique abilities. Needless to say, I liked it a lot.

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