Merry Belated Xmas?

I guess I’m a little late on this one. But I have an… excuse. Not really a good reason, because while I was otherwise occupied for all the waking hours of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of December, I didn’t do jack squat yesterday. I could have mashed together some kind of holiday greeting-type post.

But I didn’t, so now it’s two days past Christmas and I just feel like it’s too late to bother backdating anything. Not that anyone would know. But I would know, and that’s enough. The shame would be too great.

What I can backdate, however, is the long overdue Top Ten Video Games of 2018 article that I fully wrote and never posted earlier this year because of the possibility of website doom. But it’s there now! Another reason I had delayed posting it is because I wanted to do illustrations and never made the time. So I just ended up throwing some doodles in there instead. Maybe the Top Ten of 2019 will fare better! (I doubt it.)

Rogue Legacy and why I don’t like roguelikes

Nintendo – and every other seller of goods in the world – had a big ol’ Black Friday sale recently, which naturally included a whole bunch of eShop titles. But I didn’t buy any of Nintendo’s games. No, I spent my money on a couple of indie games, and finally purchased Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which I’ve been putting off since it came out. I only now cracked because the complete edition (with all DLC) was marked down ridiculously low.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about today. I want to talk about one of the previously mentioned indie games: Rogue Legacy. This game came out ages ago on PC, and I tried playing it a little, but my system just couldn’t bear the weight of its… 16-bit graphics. So I really was only able to get a tiny taste of what it was like, which did manage to stick it in my brain, prompting me to wishlist the Switch version when it was released many years later. And then I bought it once it hit an appropriately low sale price.

Playing Rogue Legacy again has really reminded me of why I gave up on roguelikes so long ago. There was a time when I was into them, mostly because Jeremy Parish said I should be, and I was more than happy to pour hours into game like Shiren the Wanderer, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, and Spelunky. Over time, though, I realized that I don’t much care for this style of game. Now, that’s not to say that I can’t appreciate a game that has roguelike elements, but at the end of the day, it’s just not a genre that I have much fun with.

I think it’s worth examining exactly why it is that I don’t care for these games, so let’s start with the most obvious point: Permadeath. This means that when you die, you start the game over again. No checkpoints, no saves. Back to the beginning for you. Better luck next time. This is nothing special, since this “feature” has been around since the days of Space Invaders. The difference, of course, is that roguelikes are typically adventures that have a set ending point, rather than just having you chase high scores. And I don’t mind it. It seems like a lot of roguelikes are actually very short to accommodate this rule, since it would suck hard to get 10 hours into a game only to die and lose it all. So we’re just going to scratch permadeath off the list of things that I dislike about the roguelike genre.

Digging a little deeper, we get to the next really big one: random world generation. Or at the very least, random dungeon generation. Also known as procedural generation, this tactic of letting the game design the levels for you have been every indie developer’s go-to design philosophy for the last few years. And in some cases, it’s fine. Minecraft would lose a vast majority of its magic if it were the same world for every player, every time. When developers design rooms and then let the game string them together, that’s not too bad either. I fell hard for Chasm last year, going to far as to declare it one of my favourite games of 2018.

But when the whole game is created by a random number generator with a questionable amount of logic to work with, things can go horribly awry. The premise of a different game layout every time you play can certainly seem appealing, but then you realize that it’s more likely to screw you over than anything. Maybe you don’t get any helpful items for like 5 floors/levels. Maybe the whole floor is spikes and there’s nothing to jump on so you can get across. Maybe there’s an invisible instant-death trap right next to your starting point and it’s just over. Nothing feels like more of a waste of time than losing runs to simple bad luck. I don’t mind losing because my skill isn’t up to snuff, or I made a stupid mistake. But losing because my hunger meter was empty and the game didn’t give me any apples to replenish it is very close to infuriating.

All that is to say that I will always prefer playing a game with human-designed levels. I want every tile or polygon to be there for a reason. I want to know that I have been allowed the proper resources to deal with the challenges I’m going to face. If I squander those resources irresponsibly? That’s on me. And I get that it takes more time and resources to hand-craft levels and dungeons, but I truly think the final product is consistently better when you don’t leave it up to a computer.

I’d also like to make an aside about those invisible traps I mentioned before. What kind of garbage is that? You step on the wrong tile and then suddenly you’re poisoned or seventeen monsters spawn around you? That’s just mean. Not fun. Nothing about that is fun. Nuts to you, any developer that uses invisible traps.

Another thing that drives me up the wall is “unidentified” items. Basically, you pick up this question mark item, and you need another item to identify it. Or maybe sometimes your character has to have a certain intelligence stat or something. I think that in a roguelike setting, these are really aggravating, mostly because they seem to be super common (or maybe it’s just my bad luck). It’s not so bad when you can go to a town and restock on magnifying glasses or whatever bauble it is that identifies things. But when you’re stuck hoping that these things will randomly spawn somewhere? Nuts to that. Just… all the nuts to it. Then when you finally identify the thing, it turns out to be a “scroll that causes paralysis to the user”.

Seriously, why do people like roguelikes so much?

Anyway, I guess those are my main gripes with the genre. So what was that one game that made me think about it in the first place? Oh right, Rogue Legacy. I generally do like Rogue Legacy, despite its lineage. But mostly for the things that separate it from the standard roguelike. For one, it’s a Castlevania-inspired platformer instead of a turn-based-RPG. That’s already a big win in my book. Not that I have a problem with RPGs, but platformers are my jam.

Rogue Legacy does make use of a lot of the usual roguelike elements. The castle you’re adventuring through is randomly generated every time you enter, and you lose all progress whenever you die. It doesn’t throw in any mystery items, which is nice, but items are barely even a thing here anyway. What sort of makes up for that randomness is that every time you die, you have to choose from three randomly-generated characters for your next run. Each one has a name, class, trait, and subweapon assigned… randomly. I feel like once I’m done writing this, I’m going to hate the word “random” more than ever.

Your guy/gal’s name is inconsequential. Their class determines their stat distribution and special ability. The subweapon is picked from a pool of maybe half a dozen, mostly based on classic Castlevania subweapons. Lastly, and most importantly, is the trait. Your character is given a trait (or sometimes two or sometimes none) that acts as a modifier for that particular run. If your guy is “nostalgic”, the screen will get a sepia overlay. If they suffer from gigantism, their sprite will be larger than usual. If they have vertigo, the entire game will be flipped upside-down. If they’re gay… I don’t think it actually changes anything. It’s a weird inclusion, but I think it’s an awkward way of trying to say that it’s perfectly normal to be gay?

The thing I like about this system is that you can always choose from a pool of three characters. You’re never stuck with a bad trait, and even if all three have traits you don’t like, you can choose the one that’s least offensive. It’s a way to include an element of randomness while letting the player still feel like they have a little say in how their experience unfolds. The game even tells you what each trait does before you pick it, and I really appreciate that transparency. Though in all honesty, some of the descriptions are less helpful than others. And it seems that sometimes you get a trait that isn’t listed on the character sheet… but usually it it’s one of the more benign, “funny” ones, like IBS or Coprolalia.

The major thing that Rogue Legacy does to deviate from a traditional roguelike is the fact that it lets you make permanent progress. While you lose your progress in the castle every time you die, you get to keep all the money you found, and that can be spent on permanent character upgrades. There are some that boost your base stats, some that unlock class upgrades, and some that do other things, like hiring NPCs that can give you even more power-ups.

While this may sound like it could be a little broken, Cellar Door Games did a really good job of balancing it. You lose all unspent money upon entering the castle, which keeps it from becoming a money grind to afford the next power-up. No, you’ve actually got to have a good enough run to collect all that gold in one go. So while you do gain passive bonuses over time, there’ s still an incentive to actually get better at playing the game. Even if you don’t collect a lot of money, there are permanent upgrades hidden in chests. So maybe all your run amounted to was finding a blueprint for a new set of boots, but at least you got that cool thing, and you get to keep it! Celebrate the small victories!

The problem with it is that since such a big part of the game is building your character up, there’s basically no way that you’ll be able to have a winning run early on. Bosses are much too strong, and even some of the regular enemies can ruin your day real fast if you haven’t made any significant HP gains. Absolutely there are crazy people out there who can do low-level runs, but that’s not for the common man. No, we’ll have to get in at least thirty or forty losses before a win even becomes viable. But I’m fine with that. I like the number-go-up of RPGs, and having to actually earn those numbers-ups with skillful play feels very satisfying.

The other thing that’s permanent is that when you kill a boss, it stays dead. This is a wonderful boon, as the bosses are already crazy hard, and trying to kill them all in a single run would drive me mad. Bosses give out a massive amount of money (and a fistful of permanent stat boosts) when you kill them, and while it would be handy to be able to farm them for that big payday, that’s probably exactly why they stay dead in the first place.

With all that said, I think that the permanent progression mechanics are what keep me playing Rogue Legacy when I would have quit any other roguelike long ago. Sure, you can have a really garbage run where you die before you can collect a useful amount of coin, but generally speaking, every run will provide you with a tangible reward. Maybe it’s something as small as a +10 HP boost, or maybe you just unlocked a new piece of armor that you can’t afford, but you still get to feel like you walked away with something. I know that enthusiasts of true roguelikes like to spout the “you learn something with every run” line, but that’s only a half-truth, because if you get killed by an invisible instant death trap 25 minutes into a run, you don’t learn anything. You can’t learn to avoid invisible, random trap. You could have done everything right and died because the RNG hates you. RNG never kills you in Rogue Legacy. It can stack a room against you by spawning a dozen projectile-shooting monsters, but you’ll never die because of something you could not have possibly accounted for.

I don’t know if any of this what I’ve just written makes any sense, but that’s the general gist of how I feel. I tried my darnedest to get into roguelikes, but for the most part, they just don’t gel with me. I need structure and dependability. A little bit of randomness can spice things up, but when an entire game leans on it, that’s just not for me. I’m glad roguelikes exist, because I think it’s an interesting genre, and I actually really like watching others play them on YouTube or what-have-you, but I just don’t have very much fun when I play them. Fortunately, we have games like Rogue Legacy that reign in the randomness enough to make something palatable to me.

A pointless catch-up

I still have a number of blog posts to catch up on from my almost-year of not blogging. I have a bunch of assorted things written up in Google Docs, and more or less just need to review them and then mash them into WordPress. Should be quick and easy, right? Yes. Yes it should.

But I’m lazy, and can’t be bothered to get it all done in one fell swoop. So today, we only take a few strides towards post-dating all those dated posts. I’ve gone and transferred over a few “liveblogs” of a number of Nintendo Direct presentations from this year. Was it all of them? I don’t know. It’s all of the ones I cared enough to record my thoughts on.

Seeing as these are mostly knee-jerk reactions to new game announcements, it’s kind of a pointless thing to go back and look at for anyone who isn’t me. For me, I find it kind of neat to look back at these lists of games to compare how interested I was in the reveals at the time versus how interested I ended up being in the final products.

I guess what I’m saying here, is that I probably didn’t need to bother highlighting that I’ve added these posts to the archive. But here we are.

Nintendo Direct – Feb 13/19

Nindies Spotlight – Mar 20/19

Nintendo @ E3 2019

Nintendo Direct – Sept 4/19

Tablet life, v1.00001

I won a new tablet at a social a couple weekends ago, a Samsung Galaxy Tab E Lite. What a mouthful. I really haven’t used it for much yet besides learning that mobile games are still garbage even on a bigger screen.

I’m currently toying with the concept of using it for blogging (I wrote this and the previous post on it), though I’m legitimately surprised at just how bad I am at typing on the thing. I’ve needed to go back and correct at least every second word, often more than once. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot lf tkme to get usdd to it, but I dkn’t type nearly as pooorly on my tkny pjkne.

I purposely didn’t correct that last sentence, in hopes of really driving home my point.

I was likewise shocked to learn how terrible this tablet’s camera is. That was what finally got me to do the research and learn that this is a tablet originally released in 2014, so it’s barely newer than my piece of garbage Kobo Arc 7. It came at the right price, but man… I was hoping for a slightly more pronounced upgrade.

Ah, I shouldn’t complain. The thing works, and that alone puts it miles ahead of the Kobo. But I still don’t think I can reasonably use this for blogging.

The 13th, on a Friday!

It wasn’t until just today that it occurred to me, that of the 11 Friday the 13th films, not one of them is set at Christmastime. And while that’s fine, it seems like a missed opportunity. Doing the usual thing, but with a holiday theme, would be a easy sequel gimmick.

So I just picked one randomly to watch tonight, and ended up going with part 9: Jason Goes to Hell. Well, maybe not entirely randomly. I partly chose this one because it’s my least-watched entry in the series. I’m reasonably sure I’ve only seen it the one time. Twice at the very most.

There are lots of things to say about Jason Goes to Hell, but the important one is that it’s probably the most creative sequel of the bunch, narratively (I’d listen to arguments in favour of Part 5, though). This film posits that Jason is not, in fact, an immortal zombie who is back again, but rather a demonic being that can hop between bodies as necessary. They don’t use the body-hopping conceit as effectively as they could have (there’s never even an attempt at hiding Jason’s identity), but at least it gives a slightly less flimsy excuse than usual as to why he’s always back again.

The film kicks off in an unorthodox fashion, with the FBI trapping and exploding Jason into itty-bitty giblets. This is interesting, because it goes against the tried-and-true horror trope of nobody but the protagonist believing that the monster is real. This suggests that Jason’s rampage in the previous film (Jason Takes Manhattan) was severe and public enough that the government was forced to acknowledge it and take action. And I find that fascinating. Because I love overthinking silly horror movie plots.

Then it goes into some voodoo malarkey about how Jason had a secret sister, and that only someone from his bloodline can kill him for real. And now that the audience knows this, Jason does a hard pivot after a decade of random murder and starts homing in on his sister and niece. It’s also noteworthy that Jason has never been quite this smart before, as he uses his new body-snatching ability to strategically get himself close to his prey without drawing too much attention.

The body-swap is also very bad news for whoever is on the recieving end. Getting posessed by a murder-zombie is bad enough, but when he moves into a new person, the previous host regains consciousness for a minute before slowly and painfully melting into a puddle of goop. But it should be no surprise thag having an evil spirit take up temporary residence inside you will take a real toll on your body.

Anyway, Jason Goes to Hell might actually be one of the best Friday the 13th films just by virtue of having an actual plot. It’s not a great plot by any metric, but it gives the characters real motivation. This in turn means that there’s more to this movie than just waiting to see what creative way Jason uses to kill the next hapless teen. This may be the only sequel in the series where the plot doesn’t just get in the way of escalating kill scenes. I was hoping to exclaim that it also has character development, but no, that doesn’t happen. The main guy has a soft arc where he learns to stop being a coward, but that’s really it.

If I have to level one complaint at Jason Goes to Hell, it’s going to be that the final scene straight up doesn’t work anymore, due to the ravages of time. At the end, our heroes walk away into the sunrise as the wind blows dust and debris over Jason’s mask – all that is left of him after he’s pulled down to Hell by a throng of It From The Pit hands (amazing scene BTW). It’s at this point that the canny horror fan will expect Jason’s hand to rise from the earth and reclaim the mask, assuring audiences that another sequel is on the way. But we get a curveball when instead it’s Freddy Krueger’s hand that emerges and pulls the mask into the ground with his signature cackle. No doubt this was a major surprise back in 1989, but now that Freddy vs Jason has happened (and how long it took to happen), there’s no shock value and you’re just left thinking about how it doesn’t make any GD sense from a lore perspective.

There actually was something else that I thought warranted criticizm, but I forgot what it was while writing the previous paragraph, so I it couldn’t have been especially bad. There’s a ridiculous scene near the end where Jason is reborn with a fresh, new… decaying zombie body… but I actually like that scene because of how stupid it is.

At the end of the day, the important thing is that I’ve gained a new appeciation for this film. I may be one of the few, though, as Jason Goes to Hell was not well-received by critics (obvi) or regular filmgoers. They called the plot incoherent and didn’t like the supernatural angle, but I think that as the ninth entry in a series with little in the way of innovation, it was a noble attempt to try to add a little freshness. Maybe they didn’t stick the landing, or a lot of what came before the landing, but I like that someone cared enough to try.

Ryan’s Bizarre Blog Post

Bear with me a moment here, this is a difficult thing to talk about… I’ve… been watching a lot of anime this year. “A lot” for me, of course, is basically just any value higher than zero. Still, it’s a thing that’s been happening with an alarming frequency. And it’s all Netflix’s fault.

First I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion and its two film follow-ups, which I kind of hated. I don’t know. I guess you had to be there. Then I watched Devilman Crybaby, which was unbearably dull until the last three episodes where it went bonkers and I really got into it. Now I’m going through JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. This seems to be currently “in” with the internet nerds everywhere, but it’s not really landing for me.

I want to like JoJo. I really do. The premise – generations of heroes carrying on an eternal battle against immortal foes – is certainly interesting to me. It smacks of Castlevania, but without the gothic theme and Universal Monsters. Jojo‘s battles are usually cool, with neat twists and flashy magic powers and all that stuff you’d expect. Plus, the art! It’s a little weird, but I think that’s what I appreciate about it. Great visual style. Lots of panache. And the ending theme is “Roundabout” by Yes, which is an excellent way to make sure your show always ends on a good note.

But then there’s the exposition. I kid you not, Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure is roughly 90% exposition by volume. You could probably condense and entire story arc into a single episode if you cut out every instance of a character over-describing what’s happening. It’s bad. It’s really bad. And it’s making the show so hard for me to really get into. I’m a couple episodes into the second story arc (with the pillar man), but I don’t know if I care enough to keep putting up with it. Word on the reddit is that it gets better, but my time is precious and I’d prefer to squander it on something I can really dig.

Looking at the bigger picture, the exposition problem is one of the major things that’s kept me disinterested in anime in general. I think it generally stems from Dragon Ball Z, which was hot when I was younger, and I wanted to like it, but got annoyed because it was mostly just the characters endlessly describing whatever was going on. Or endlessly grunting as they charged up special moves. To be honest, I don’t know if this really is a problem with anime in general, but it seems like it gets parodied a lot, so maybe I’m not just making things up? I remember Shaman King having the same problem, but I can’t be sure. If it did, I somehow managed to get over it because I was completely fascinated by the lore of that one.

Anyway, I think my point stands: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure sure seems like the kind of show that I would like, but in practice, it’s got one major flaw that really turns me off. I wish I could push past it, but every time friggin’ Speedwagon opens his mouth, I shout at the screen “Show, don’t tell!”

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: November 2019

~ Game Over ~

Star Fox (SNES) – Ran the easy route. A good way to burn half an hour.

Pixel Puzzle Collection (iOS) – Wrote this. Still playing for 200%.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch) – Having come fresh off Dark Moon, which I felt was a little lacking in certain areas, Luigi’s Mansion 3 looks like a damn masterpiece. It’s obviously not perfect, but I’m willing to suggest that it may even be better than the original. If absolutely nothing else, the cutscenes may very well be the best that Nintendo’s ever produced. LM3 is a wonderful cartoon of a game, and if it weren’t like 17 hours long I’d jump right back in for a replay.

Continue reading

Spooktober 2019 – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Yes, I know that Spooktober is over. But I’ve been crazy busy with other things over the last couple weeks and haven’t had a chance to finish up this review, so… gimme a break?

Also I just finished playing Luigi’s Mansion 3, which is the most recent game in the series. But before I talk about that, I feel like it’s necessary to chronicle the previous game, which I completed merely a day before LM3’s release.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is the second game in the series, a direct sequel to the original GameCube launch title. While Dark Moon was released in 2013, I didn’t actually get a copy until 2015. And even then, I didn’t start playing it until halfway through this very month. Perfect timing!

If you aren’t familiar with the series, Luigi’s Mansion puts… Luigi in a… mansion and has him hunt down and capture oodles of ghosts with a modified vacuum cleaner. Also you’re encouraged to try sucking up everything in sight to see if it shoots out a bunch of money. While the first game more or less gave you free run of a single, gigantic mansion, Dark Moon breaks it up into five smaller locations whose classification as mansions varies from “definitely a mansion” to “a mine with a small chalet above it”.

Each mansion is also further broken down into several missions and capped off with a boss stage. This is where I think Dark Moon suffers a bit. In the original game, you would end up backtracking a bit, but that’s because you needed to explore one huge location, similar to early Resident Evil games. The mission structure in Dark Moon has you revisiting the same rooms over and over again, often having to clear the rooms of ghosts or solve puzzles on each pass. Not always, but often enough that it starts to feel repetitious by the end of the first mansion. This tedium is really what kept me from truly getting into the game, and why I generally stuck to playing one mission per play session.

Oh! And the first boss is a garbage fire, but the rest of them range from inoffensive to pretty good, so I won’t come down on it too hard.

On the bright side, those are really the only things that I didn’t like about Dark Moon. Other that that, it was pretty much on par with the precedent set by the first game. Which is to say that it was a fun experience, but not one that you’d ever have to feel like you’r missing out on. The basic gameplay of “battling” ghosts is still exciting enough, even after you’ve sucked up hundreds of ghosts. Each mansion also has its own theme, and while they do fall into the standard video game environments (forest, desert, ice, etc..), there’s enough of a twist to each that they feel fresh and unique.

The puzzles within the mansions don’t really ever get all that difficult. Most of them involve rotating a fan or sucking up a false wall. Occasionally you’ll have to deal with something a little more complex, but I never once got hung up trying to figure something out. Really, I think the puzzles are just there to give you something else to do besides sucking up ghosts, so I can’t really fault them for never going past the point of ‘tricky’. Something that really stood out to me is that there are a number of missions that require you to escort a Toad around, and they are surprisingly the least tedious parts of the game. The Toads are cute and squeaky, and it’s always fun to suck them up and then blast them across the room. The whole “escort mission” thing doesn’t ever really get in the way, either, as the Toads will just follow you around as you do your thing and never cause any sort of troubles with combat.

Where the real challenge lies are in finding all of Dark Moon’s vairous collectibles. Each mansion has like… a dozen sparkly gems that are hidden away, and they’re generally behind the game’s true puzzles. So if you’re itching for a brain-bender, you may want to make it your goal to find all the gems. The reward is a little statue for each set that you complete, so it’s really more about the journey than the destination for these. Every mission also has a single Boo hidden somewhere, and capturing all the Boos in a mansion unlocks a time attack stage. Lastly, you’re ranked on your performance during each mission, on a very mobile one-to-three-stars scale. This seems like the most arduous task that Dark Moon gives you, and your effort for a perfect three-star file gets you… nothing but bragging rights.

What really shines above all else in Dark Moon is, well, Luigi. He’s so elaborately animated and full of character that it’s simply a pleasure to see all of his various reactions to whatever’s going on around him. He’s also got more voice lines than he or Mario have ever had before, and I feel that it goes a long way to giving him just that much more personality. Professor E. Gadd and all the various ghosts are fairly charming in their own ways as well, but Luigi absolutely steals the show. As he should.

At the end of the day, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a game that is definitely worth playing. It’s fun, charming, and will absolutely scratch that OCD itch for vacuuming up every piece of the environment to see how it reacts. While the only major flaw is that it feels too segmented and repetitive because of the mission structure, I feel like that one problem really does get in the way. It really did make Dark Moon feel more like work than it should have. I think the game would have been better off just making each mansion a self-contained chapter. Yes, it would have cut down playtime by probably a third, but all that time is just spent re-clearing rooms you’ve already been through anyway. Still, I’m happy that I played it. If absolutely nothing else, it thoroughly prepared me for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

Let’s Talk About Pixel Puzzles

And by pixel puzzles, I mean off-brand Picross, of course. Because I guess Ninendo has copyrighted the Picross name? I’d never really given it any consideration before now. I always kind of assumed the puzzle style was called picross, rather than it being the brand name for Nintendo’s “nonogram” games specifically. Now I’ve done the research and know better.

Right, so my point of focus today is, strangely enough, a mobile app. At some point in the distant past (last year?), Konami released a nonogram game for smartphones called Pixel Puzzle Collection. As you may assume from the title, it’s a collection of nonogram puzzles that, when solved, form images of sprites and whatnot from classic Konami games. You’ve got elements from huge franchises like Gradius, Castlevania, Bomberman, and Tokimeki Memorial, as well as many others. It’s a real nostalgia trip, and I appreciate the theme. I always like it when these games have a binding theme, or at least themed sets of puzzles.

Something very important to note here, is that this is one of the least greasy mobile games I’ve ever played. It’s completely free-to-play and never once will ask you for money. That’s great! The catch is that after every puzzle, they show you an ad. But it’s just an image, and you can dismiss it right away, none of this unskippable 15-second video crap that other apps love to use. The ads in Pixel Puzzle Collection are all for other Konami apps anyway, so they even sort of make sense in the context of the game. It’s the least intrusive in-app advertising I’ve ever experienced.

There are two classifications of puzzles in Pixel Puzzle Collection. The regular puzzles range from 5×5 to 15×15 grids, and are generally pretty easy to complete. They mostly reveal sprites ripped directly from Konami’s classic games, and some are parts of bigger images made of 4 panels. The other kind of puzzle is the “boss” puzzle. These are always 15×15 grids, and are typically require a little more thought. The other thing about these ones is that they’re where the free-to-play timer comes in: there’s a three-hour cooldown timer to sit through after each one you complete. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise here, as it kept me from just burning through the entire game in a week. It really made it -and excuse my crudeness- the perfect pooping game.

You’d be hard-pressed to actually finish this game in a week though, as there are a whopping 500 puzzles to solve. I don’t know what percentage of that is stuck behind the Boss Timer, but it’s probably at least 25%. It took me months to finally work my way to 100% completion. And then… it turns out that was just normal mode. WHAAAA?

Yeah, once you finish all the puzzles, you get to play in Expert mode, where you aren’t allowed to use Xs to cross off squares that definitely aren’t supposed to be filled in. (Aside: I’m just going to keep assuming you know how picross is played.) It’s not the worst problem, as there’s a feature that auto-Xs all empty squares in a row or column when you meet the number requirements on the side. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you filled them in correctly, but it’s still super helpful to have, as completing a 15×15 puzzle with no Xs would be a pain. I initially toyed around with the idea of not bothering with Expert mode, but it turns out that there are a handful of new puzzles exclusive to Expert, so off I went on my quest to 200%! It’s not like I could just cherry-pick the new ones either, because puzzles are handed out in a completely random order.

Oh and also the Boss puzzles are all free in Expert mode. No waiting three hours between them any more!

To touch on the one thing I strongly dislike about Pixel Puzzle Collection, which applies to literally every smartphone-based nonogram game: I hate playing picross on a touchscreen. The 5×5 and 10×10 puzzles aren’t so bad because they have nice, big squares to accommodate my sausage fingers. when you get to those 15x15s though, the squares are tiny and I would have gotten intensely frustrated if there hadn’t been a life-saving undo button.

At the end of the day, I really liked everything about Pixel Puzzle Collection besides its choice of platform. Finger-style touch controls just don’t work well for me, and honestly I don’t even like playing Nintendo’s Picross games with stylus touch controls. My point being that I would happily pay money to play this again if Konami released it on Switch or whatever. Touch control aside, it’s an excellent nonogram game, easily one of the best I’ve played. The fact that it’s 100% free and is also a mobile app that isn’t engineered to soak as much money as possible out of players is just the cherry on top. This one definitely put my respect for Konami up a few notches.

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: October 2019

~ Game Over ~

Link’s Awakening (Switch) – A wonderful shot-for-shot remake of my favourite Zelda game. Honestly, I think I would have liked to see a little more changed/added to it, to really justify the choice to remake it. The new presentation and quality-of-life tweaks were great though, so I really shouldn’t complain. Excellent game. Had a strong urge to dive right into a replay after finishing it, but there’s so much else to do!

Transistor (Switch) – Transistor is clearly the follow-up to Bastion, and it was better than Bastion in nearly every way. The story was more complex and interesting, the characters were more than mechanical puppets, the gameplay was deeper but never overwhelming. I wasn’t a huge fan of the more sterile visual style, but I suppose that was kind of the point.

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