Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: July 2020

~ Game Over ~

KIDS (PC) – Art (non-)game. Weirdly satisfying, except when it becomes tedious. You can only appreciate milking people through a digestive tract so many times. But it’s only like 20 minutes long, so.

LOVE (PC) – Retro platformer built for speedruns. Tense and occasionally frustrating, but not quite masocore. Interesting in that it allows you to plop down a respawn point just about anywhere. Very fun, but super short and of limited value if you’re not planning to learn and master it.

A Hat in Time (Switch) – Achieved 100% by clearing the DLC chapters. Seal the Deal was fun and super cute, but tragically short. I was less enthused by Nyakuza Metro’s massive, confusing, maze of a world. Didn’t play past the first two Death Wish challenges because ehhhhh I only have so much time, and I don’t really want harder remixes of all the things I’ve already done.

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On The Topic of Horror in Video Games

It’s become something of a Friday night tradition for me to browse the Switch eShop in search of an interesting-looking horror game for under five bucks. I don’t find something every week -not even every month- but I am delighted by the times when I do, because I surely do enjoy me a good spook-’em-up.

It’s also worthy of note that I am a complete baby when it comes to such things. When it’s late at night and I’ve got all the lights off, a horror game that builds tension effectively will absolutely scare the pants off of me. It’s not uncommon that I will creep through them at a rate of one checkpoint per session, because I simply cannot bear the terror of what spooks may be hiding around the next bend. Also I have a crazy overactive imagination and pretty much anything that frightens me will invade my mind for weeks, keeping me in constant fear of what lies around a dark corner or over the edge of my bed at night. This is despite me being a grown man who knows perfectly well that ghosts and monsters aren’t real.

Now, when I say “builds tension effectively”, that generally means that the game in question will hold off on throwing any actual monsters or whatever at you. It’ll drop objects to create a clatter, give you blurred glimpses of unexpected movement, work in creepy sounds like growls or scratching, and make you think that you’re being threatened by something. At that part, that’s when I’m scared the most. When I know that there’s a threat, but I don’t know what it is, when it’s going to show up, or how I’m expected to deal with it. The unknown is the most frightening thing.

Among the Sleep is the most recent spooky game that I’ve played, and it does a pretty good job of keeping that tension at a very high level. I want to say that it’s a fairly generic survival horror game, but it really does do a good job of standing out from the crowd. At least in the spectrum of games that I’ve experienced. This is largely owed to the fact that you play as a baby, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It gives the player a unique viewpoint both literally and narratively, and makes for some interesting gameplay elements, like having crawling be your ideal mode of locomotion.

What Among the Sleep did right was to reserve any actual monsters for the second half of the game. In the first two and a half stages, you’re actually completely safe, but you never really know that. The darkness is overwhelming, doors close by themselves, you hear oppressive footsteps thumping around every now and then, large objects move around just past the point where you can see clearly. It’s impeccably designed, from a horror perspective.

But then you get into the second half of the third stage, and there’s an actual monster tromping around, and the tension dissolves completely. It wanders around in the open, chases you if you’re spotted, and can spawn in and out of the map wherever it likes. From there, it becomes about learning how the monster moves and how to avoid it. It becomes a game mechanic, and game mechanics aren’t scary. They’re problems to be solved.

Stage four reigns it back a little, by resigning the monster to popping out as a jumpscare or quickly whooshing by on the opposite side of a chasm. The only time that it’s a threat is -again- boiled down to another gameplay mechanic. In this stage, instead of avoiding a patrolling foe, you come across a hallway replete with glass bottles perched atop small towers of blocks. It’s painfully obvious that knocking over a bottle will summon the beast, but there is plenty of cover to hide underneath. So you quickly learn that the ideal way to stay safe is to pick up a stray block, run under a table, and then chuck the block at a bottle. It will crash to the ground and the monster will float by harmlessly. Repeat as necessary until you get to the end. So much for that section.

And so, it’s unfortunate that Among the Sleep’s horror element completely fizzles out halfway through the game, but I did appreciate the time when it kept me on the absolute edge of my seat. I had a lot of fun with it regardless, and I’d say that it’s easily one of the better horror games that I’ve played recently (note that it was originally released in 2015). But it does make me wonder if there are, or even can be, any video games that remain scary from beginning to end. If you happen to know of any strong candidates, by all means, please share. I’m constantly on the hunt for the next thing that will keep me from being able to sleep.

Duke Nukem 3D is a weird video game

I purchased Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour on Switch last weekend on a whim. Partly because it had a 50% launch discount, and partly because nostalgia. Unlike most games I buy, I wasn’t even sure I was going to play it. I mostly just wanted to know that I could play it.

Truly, I live a life of six-dollar luxuries.

But then I did start playing the game, and so many things started jumping out at me as weird. Immediately I was taken aback to learn that the first episode only has five levels. Like, what? I guess it came as a surprise because no version of the game I’ve played before let you choose any stage you want right from the word go (which is a really cool feature, actually).

The first two stages didn’t hold anything particularly new or exciting for me. Those are the ones I’ve played the most and am mostly familiar with. I used to play Duke 3D all the time when I’d go over to my uncle’s house, and apparently saving was not a thing I would do, because I barely remember anything past level two. Or maybe someone deleted my saves? I don’t know. I don’t remember ever playing it at home, either, so I have this feeling that my mom wouldn’t allow it in the house. Did my dad have a secret copy? Couldn’t tell you. But probably yes.

Anyway, the thing I’m trying to get to here is that the second level ends with Duke being captured by aliens, and the third level begins with him being zapped in an electric chair. This is troublesome since if you end level two with less than about 30 health, you’ll die immediately upon entering level three with absolutely no recourse. So then you have to start the stage with no weapons or items, which is a real problem because the first two monsters are pig-cops, and their shotguns can kill you real fast while you try to kick them to death. While I appreciate the setpiece, it really works against the gameplay. I was stuck retrying that first room for like 20 minutes before I was able to play it well enough to survive to the point where I could locate a few health pickups.

So, I lied before. There actually is something that blew my mind in the first level. Throughout the game, you can find women trapped in alien goo, who whisper “Kill me…” if you interact with them. I found one of said ladies in level one, and tried and tried to save her from her sticky prison, but to no avail. As it turns out, you can’t save them. You either leave them to their fate, or honour their wishes and murder them. I think that this confused me because I played the Nintendo 64 version a lot in my youth, and apparently that is the only version where you can free the trapped babes. Weird!

The one other thing that has thrown me for a loop is that Duke 3D is hard. I chose to play on the “Let’s Rock” difficulty level, which is the default and presumably the counterpart to “normal” in other games. And in the first three levels, I died a lot. I know I’m not very good at these old-school shooters, but wow do enemy shots ever hurt a lot! A mid-range shotgun blast from a pig-cop can knock off over 20 of Duke’s health points. The scrub aliens don’t hit quite as hard, but they usually come in groups and have a higher rate of fire, so they can pile it on pretty quick. Also they often have jetpacks, and those guys… man, those guys.

On the other hand, the Switch port has motion control aiming, which is nice. Really good for fine-tuning your aim when the control sticks just aren’t giving you the fine control you need. Also I was playing it during my lunch hour at work and man was that weird. It almost felt like I was doing something wrong, what with all the strippers in level two. I can only imagine what might have happened if someone took a peek at my screen at the wrong moment. Perhaps I ought to stick with A Hat in Time during lunch break.

Aside from my few little quibbles, it has been fun to dip back into Duke 3D for a bit. I’m sure that I’ll have to knock down the difficulty level to easy before I’ll have any hope of finishing it, but… I don’t know that I’ll even play it that much. Even with the intent of playing it through to the end, I have a feeling that this is going to be a “finish the first episode then completely forget about it” kind of game. A fun, nostalgic distraction, but nothing more.

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: June 2020

~ Game Over ~

Nirvana Pilot Yume (PC) – Part visual novel, part high-speed space racing. Except the “racing” was actually just straight-line obstacle courses where the camera was too close to the ground to see half the obstacles (holes and very short barriers) until it was too late. It became more of a frustrating memorization challenge than a test of reflexes and/or skill. Soundtrack was bumpin’ though.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens (Switch) – After the last couple of Shantae games deviating from the formula a bit, it’s nice to see the series go back to a more standard Metroidvania setup. I really liked that the transformations are all button presses now, instead of powers you have to turn on and off with dances. Music was a step down because it wasn’t done by virt. I’d like to play it at least once more in NG+ mode, but… I don’t think there’s time.

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On the Subject of Taters

I slept in a little bit today, just enough that I had to axe something from my morning routine. It was breakfast. It’s always breakfast. Because I get a second chance at breakfast when I pass the Tim Horton’s between the bus stop and work.

It’s been a while since I’ve purchased food there, and as I bit into my hashbrown, I was delightfully surprised by how much it tasted like potatoes.

See, I’ve been getting breakfast from McDonald’s too often lately, and their hashbrowns basically just taste like butter and grease. I go for the coffee, and put up with the hashbrowns because said coffee is just so good.

So anyway, that’s my spiel for today. Tim Horton’s has a way better hashbrown than McDonald’s. It’s about all they’ve got going for ’em these days, but at least it’s something.

Star Wars Binge Week 2020: The Last Jedi

If there’s one perfect word to describe The Last Jedi, it’s divisive. More than any other entry in the saga, people squabbled about whether The Last Jedi was a good movie or not. Whether it saved or ruined Star Wars. I tended to ignore the bulk of those who sided against it, because quite often their arguments were more focused on the gender and racial diversity of the cast than anything. However, a lot of sane individuals also brought up perfectly legitimate reasons why this film fell flat. I had a great time watching it upon it theatrical release, and today’s revisit… Made me think a lot about it.

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