Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: March 2020

Murder by Numbers (Switch) – I was sold on this as a mash up of detectivin’ and picrossin’. It only really delivered on the nonograms, and all the detective work was done by the story. That said, the story was charming and the dialogue was generally very well-written. I still think I’d rather just have the puzzles without all the text boxes in-between.

Mega Man Zero (GBA) – Via the Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. Still adore it all these years later. Played the vanilla mode because I like it rough. Busted my butt to get an A rank on every mission, even though it means nothing, just makes me feel like a big man. Not the biggest man, because S ranks are a thing, but they’re basically impossible for an old fart like me to achieve. Besides, I already did a perfect S run back in high school when I was stubborn enough to do something like that.

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A jorb well done

I don’ t type much about work here, mostly because I like to keep work life and blog life separate. But also because my job isn’t especially exciting, at least from a “stories to tell on the internet” perspective.

But today I want to write a very small blurb about work, because I had a really great day today. I completed two smallish (half-day each) analysis projects that earned big kudos from my bosses, so I’m really, really happy right now.

I usually think of myself as the kind of person who doesn’t really need or want recognition. I prefer to keep behind the scenes. But damned if it doesn’t feel really nice to be told that you’ve done a good job. Especially since I also suffer from crazy-low self esteem, so I’m always very concerned when I turn in work that I’m going to have completely missed the mark and wasted a buttload of time. I actually get super bad anxiety about it and it causes me all sorts of issues.

But today, I did good! Hooray me! Take this moment to feel a little pride, Ryan. You’ve earned it.

Live reactions! – Nintendo Direct Mini 3.26.20

Hey so Nintendo dropped a Nintendo Direct this morning out of nowhere. I don’t know, maybe they said it was coming and I’ve just been so far up my own ass lately that I didn’t notice. Nevertheless! They called it a “Mini” but it’s still almost half an hour long. Time for me to type up my knee-jerk reactions to all the announcements as I try to eat lunch at the same time! Here’s an embed so you can watch along!

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition – Release date is May 29. I am PUMPED. That is perfect timing, leading right into summer and vacation season. Looks like I know how I’m going to be spending at least a couple of my weeks off this year. Not sure how I feel about the idea of re-recorded music, as Xenoblade has maybe my favourite video game soundtrack of all time. But I’m choosing to be optimistic about it! And of course, I cannot wait to dive into the new epilogue, as more Xenoblade is only a good thing.

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Migraine Watch: Mar 16, 2020

You know, my last recorded migraine was in September 2018. That’s really good! A year and a half free of horrible cranium pain? I’ll take it!

But the good times never last. Monday was just another day at work. I was doing my thing, and had just come back from a lunch hour study sesh. I sat down at my workstation, intending to get at ‘er, and then suddenly I noticed that the letters and numbers on the screen were becoming hard to read.

“Oh dammit. I remember this.”

A fun twist to this particular migraine is that I tried to sit through a conversation with my boss as the auras were coming on, and I almost wish that I could have recorded myself trying to explain what was happening to me. I could tell that the words coming out of my mouth weren’t quite right, and so we ended up wrapping up and I went to sit at my desk until it was time to go home.

It was about 2:30 when the auras started to appear, and I think maybe about 4:30 once they had dissipated enough to become functional again. So I got in a solid half-hour of work that afternoon. Not that I could do much about it. I’ll have to refer to my previous notes, but I seem to recall that the aura, in whatever shape it takes, generally hasn’t persisted for two hours. I thought they went away faster, but it’s been so long that I’m not sure.

On the other side of the coin, the actual headache portion wasn’t nearly as bad as I’m used to. I was actually up and functional throughout the rest of the evening, as opposed to getting home and going straight to bed for the night. I made dinner, I played video games, I watched TV. I didn’t dare try to work out, because jostling my head was still a source of major pain.

As for causes? I’m going to pin this one squarely on COVID-19. Mostly because I’ve been uncharacteristically stressed out and worried about it. It’s just… kind of a huge deal. I’ve already detailed many of my thoughts on the pandemic panic, and they haven’t changed appreciably since last week. I did wake up at 1:30 AM on Wednesday morning to a single cough, and then proceeded to freak out for the next two hours over possibly having caught the virus. Mostly because the idea of unintentionally missing two weeks of work gives me serious anxiety. I’m not the kind of person who would typically prescribe myself a chill pill, but these are trying times. Oh and I have a tough final coming up on Monday so that’s not helping any.

I don’t think there’s much else to note here. Aura was aphasia with blurred vision and a little bit of travelling tingliness. Cause was stress almost without a doubt. Aura was extended, but the headache afterward was mild and was mostly gone by the next morning. Overall, not a bad migraine. A little embarrassing, but not bad.

Nonograms for Days

I’ve been playing two picross games lately. Well, I guess that’s a lie because Pixel Puzzle Collection is still a thing.

I’ve been playing two picross games on my Switch lately. One, PICROSS: LORD OF THE NAZARICK is by nonogram verterans Jupiter, and is based on an obscure anime. An obscure anime that they never once name in this game. The other is Murder by Numbers, which is by Mediatonic, a video games company that I’ve never heard of. This one blends puzzle solving with story about solving murders and robot amnesia.

Both of these games have one major trait in common: they both mash a whole lot of text boxes into a puzzle game, which is the last place where a whole lot of text boxes should be. And maybe you can tell by my glib descriptions in the paragraph above, but only one manages to do so with any measure of success.

Picross: Lord of the Nazarick (I refuse to bend to the all-caps nonsense) is one of very few video games in which I’ve mashed past most of the text on my first playthrough. I tried to be courteous and listen to the story that they wanted to tell, but it was complete gibberish to me. And while it’s true that this particular edition of Picross was not intended for me, I still think that Jupiter failed utterly, because they should have made it somewhat accessible to non-fans. The first problem here is that, as I mentioned above, they never once use the name of the anime that this game is based on. It’s Overlord, by the way. I shouldn’t have had to do research to know that.

The other big problem is that it just assumes that you, the player, have a strong working knowledge of the plot and characters of Overlord. There are no introductions of any sort, and I found myself completely lost at every turn. It was baffling, and do nothing to make me want to learn more about this franchise. I never came to care about any of the characters, what their motivations were or what trials they’d been through, despite the fact that Jupiter so obviously wanted me to. Lastly, I’m working on an assumption that the story scenes in Picross: LotN are structured to sort of recap some highlights of Overlord’s story. Like a clip show, but told entirely through text. Which is a terrible way to do a clip show. ‘Nuff said.

So Picross: Lord of the Nazarick flops completely for someone like me, who has absolutely zero knowledge about its theme. Which is really too bad, because it’s another solid Jupiter-made Picross game, and they do the best nonograms in town. I just got so lost in the anime nonsense that I gave up on even trying to understand what all the text boxes wanted to tell me, and took it entirely as a puzzle game with a bunch of weird fantasy goobers and anime characters as puzzle solutions. And you know what, that’s exactly how one should play Picross. Intrusive text boxes have no place here. At least, that’s what I thought until I played Murder By Numbers…

Now this – this is how you make a puzzle game besieged by text boxes. Assuming you think that such a thing is necessary. Murder By Numbers splits the difference between visual novel and nonogram puzzles, and the two are interwoven in a way that creates a fun, unique product. This is the story of a young lady and her robot pal solving murders with the power of picross. How could it lose?

That is not to say that Murder By Numbers necessarily excels at either of its component genres. The nonogram puzzles, at least for an addict like me, are far too easy and lack any sort of alternate modes. It’s all stock-standard puzzles, and it’s exceedingly rare that they reach past 15×15 grids. The story part is actually really engaging, and I thought that most, if not all of the characters were really well-developed. However, the mystery part isn’t all that mysterious, as I had figured the killer within the first five minutes of three of the four cases. There is another big issue, but this one may be more on me…

See, when I saw the promotional material for Murder By Numbers, I got the impression that you’d get to do some actual sleuthing as you try to solve these crimes. People kept presumptively calling it “Ace Attorney meets Picross.” But no, it’s not like that at all. It’s just a straight visual novel and you have exactly zero input on how it unfolds. You don’t really get to search for clues, there are no red herrings, and there are certainly no courtroom scenes. The few decisions you do get to make are just window dressing, and will just say “nah, try another option” if you don’t choose correctly. While being completely removed from the plot was a bit of a bummer, I got over it because again, it’s a really good story! Of course it ends with a sequel hook, and I can’t wait to see the further adventures of this wacky crew.

And, you know, the picross was still fun. Even if it could have used a little more challenge or variety.

I suppose the lesson here is that you shouldn’t just ham-fistedly try to mash plot into a game where it doesn’t belong. If you’re going to try to shake up a genre, make sure that you’re designing the game from the ground up to make the best use of all the components. At least get them to a place where they harmonize with each other well enough to make the final product greater than the sum of its parts.

Serious Time

Okay, so it’s not really this blog’s place to talk about Real Issues, it’s a place to talk about fun things. But I think that for posterity, I should take a few moments to discuss my thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic. Best case scenario, it’ll be fun for Future Me to look back on how terribly misinformed I was. Worst case… I’m dead and it’ll be fun for you to look back on how terribly misinformed I was.

COVID-19, as I’ve learned, is a totally new virus that the world was understandably unprepared for. To a degree, I guess. While obviously it’s going to take time to study, understand, and come up with a vaccine, a few news articles/tweets I’ve read have suggested that the infrastructure to get out ahead of something like this just doesn’t exist. Or we reacted too late? I really don’t know. I’m not going to claim to be an expert. It just seems to me that maaaybe this is a good opportunity for governments the world over to be more ready for this kind of catastrohpe.

And I don’t think that catastrophe is hyperbole. While a huge percentage of people who contract the virus do recover, it’s still killed thousands, and those numbers are just going to keep going up. Schools are shutting down, offices are issuing work-from-home mandates, major sports leagues have suspended their seasons, the stock market is crumbling to pieces. The entire country of Italy is closed for business. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like the backstory to a dystopian movie or something. I’m actually a little frightened of how much worse it’s going to get, and what that’s going to mean for human society.

And that’s my main fear. I’ve made it no secret that I’m not terribly fond of the human race, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it suffer like this. And maybe it really won’t be all that bad. Maybe everything I know is just a product of the overreacting that the internet is no fond of. Entirely possible! After all, I’ve only been keeping up with the goings-on from news reports and Twitter. Only one of those is even semi-credible.

But the other thing I worry about is that someone I care about will be afflicted. Myself? Not so much. I’m young(ish), I’m in the best shape of my adult life, and I have no existing medical issues. I’m near the bottom of COVID-19’s hit list. I beat pneumonia as a weak little 9-year-old, I can beat a beefed-up version of it now. (Of course now that I say that, I’m as good as doomed.) But I have a lot of family members who are up in that 65+ range, many with existing health issues. And I genuinely worry for them. I’m hoping for the best, and am ready to help out in any way that I can, but I’m still deeply concerned about all of this.

Anyway, it sounds like this is really all just getting started. Like, it’s going to keep seriously affecting the world for months to come. I’ll admit that I didn’t take it very seriously at first, thinking it would pass fairly quickly and that it was just media blowing something out of proportion. But now “experts” (I put experts in scare quotes because I haven’t investigated the source of these claims) are projecting a death toll of over a million in the United States alone, so… yeah. Maybe it’s time to stop joking about people hoarding toilet paper, and start being one of the people hoarding toilet paper.

Legendary Update: Volume 1

As I continue to slowly plod my way through Mega Man Legends 2, I find myself wondering more and more “Do I genuinely enjoy the first game, or is it just nostalgia?” Because MML2 really isn’t doing much for me, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why.

I touched on this before in regards to the plot, but I think the bigger world also hurts the gameplay, in a sense. In MML2, the story has you go through a handful of elemental-themed dungeons to collect the four sacred macguffins. This makes it feel a lot like Zelda, which should be a good thing, but I don’t want Mega Man Legends to be Zelda. The original game had a collection of underground tunnels and ruins that seem segregated at first, but as you collect various weapons and power-ups, you slowly discover that most of them are actually smaller sections of one gigantic interconnected maze. It was amazing! Now that I think about it, MML might have been the first 3D metroidvania. MML2 has no such reveal, as each dungeon is located on a separate island.

Plus, the conceit for exploring the ruins in MML is “maybe this one will have the legendary treasure!”, which is significantly less video game tropey, and just more fun in my opinion. I’m way more excited to keep adventuring when I don’t know what’s at the end of the next ruins. Knowing that the goal is just to check another goober off the list isn’t nearly as compelling. (Though the compulsive part of my brain begs to differ.)

At this point, I’m probably about three-fifths of the way through the game, and I’m desperately hoping that the worst is behind me. See, the second dungeon is the Water Temple equivalent, which allows you to flood or drain each level as required. Only you need each floor to be flooded at pretty much all times to get anywhere, so it’s basically 90% underwater. And Mega Man moves SO SLOW underwater. Easily half-speed, and it is so impossibly tedious. I think I spent two hours in this dungeon, and I’d bet that I could have shaved off at least half of that if I’d been able to move at a reasonable speed. Maybe it’s my fault and I missed the Gravity Suit upgrade, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that it’s just a really poor design decision.

Now let’s talk about a greasy anime trope that made me sigh in contempt. MML has a scene where you walk in on Roll while she’s changing, which is like… ugh, really? But it’s a very quick scene and I think it’s even optional. You’ll miss it completely unless you go into the wrong door at the wrong time. MML2 has a similar scene, where you walk in on Roll in the bathtub. It’s not long either, but this one is forced. You literally cannot move the story forward without seeing it. I suppose that the bathtub scene does get replaced with a “depressed Roll” scene if you treat her like garbage, but why would you do that? Who would do that to Roll? So yeah, the bathtub thing is completely unavoidable.

MML2 doubles down on this, though. About halfway through the game, you’re pitted against Tron in a boss battle. Once you win, the robot she’ piloting explodes, and the camera switches to a blushing Mega Man. A couple of Tron’s servbot cronies then sheepishly explain to her that her clothes were burned off in the explosion, and that she is now buck naked. In what other medium besides anime do characters completely fail to notice that their clothes are no longer present? It’s ridiculous in the worst way, and it just sits on this reaction shot of Mega Man for what seems like ages as Tron admonishes him for staring and being a big ol’ pervert. Yikes.

So that’s that for this update on my Mega Man Legends 2 playthrough. It’s possible that the rest of the game could really turn it all around and amaze me, but I’m thinking that’s probably not going to happen. I think what’s going to happen is that I’m going to get to the end, finally beat it, and then never play it again. I’m having a hard time coming to grips with this concept, but I think that I might legitimately dislike Mega Man Legends 2. Is that kind of thing even possible?

Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: February 2020

Turok (Switch) – A real bait-and-switch, since I grew up knowing the N64 subtitle “Dinosaur Hunter”, but really you’re mostly killing people and the occasional velociraptor. Aside from that, I really liked this game. It’s a lot like DOOM, but in 3D and has lots of platforming. The biggest failing is that the first boss (and only the first boss) is almost impossibly difficult. I burned through seven of my nine lives in that fight.

Timesplitters 2 (GC) – Co-oped the story mode, and it was a wonderful nostalgia trip. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like big studios don’t really make shooters like this any more. Specifically, ones with big maze-like levels, varied objectives, and a willingness to be unapologetically weird. And it’s the last one that matters the most to me. I’m less turned off by murdering hundreds of people when they’re over-the-top cartoons.

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Turtles all the way down

I’ve been listening to the soundtracks from TMNT III: The Manhattan Project and TMNT IV: Turtles in Time all week. If you’re not overly familiar with theses games (why are you here?), many of the songs are remixes of the theme song from the 1987 TV series. If they don’t feature the full theme in some way, they absolutely take pains to include the “heroes in a half shell” and/or “Turtle power!” beats.

Taking it another level down, I’ve also been playing lot of remixes of these songs. Many through OC Remix, others from random YouTubers. But the point remains that in many cases, we’re looking at remixes of remixes here, and the idea of that is making my head spin. At this point, I’m kind of hoping to stumble upon a remix of a remix of a remix, because I think that will probably be the key to finding the meaning of life.

If you really stop to think about it though, this isn’t a terribly strange phenomenon, especially at this point in time. There are probably a lot of franchise-based games that have the same kind of thing going on. Many modern entries in long-lived video game franchises (Mario, Kirby, etc) use official remixes of tunes from older games. I don’t have an example on-hand, but I’m sure those remixes are being remixed by unofficial musicians all the time.

So yeah, it’s not really an unusual thing. I’ve just never stopped to think about it before, and I decided it would be an interesting thought to share.

Not impressed? Fine. Listen to this. It’s fun.

Chasing a Legend

I replay Mega Man Legends fairly often. Probably every other year, at least. I could likely even squeeze in more replays, as it’s a pretty short game. It’s an all-time favourite of mine, even as its age becomes more and more apparent with each subsequent run.

Despite this, I’ve only ever played the sequel once, and I didn’t even finish it, at that. The final boss was just too tough for me, and I guess I must have been distracted by some other shiny thing before I could work up the skill to finally conquer it. I’ve been in a very PS1 kind of headspace lately, so I decided last weekend that it’s time to right this long-standing wrong.

Mega Man Legends 2 just isn’t landing with me the same way the first game does. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the same nostalgia for it that I do for the original. I don’t know. It’s certainly a better game, in technical terms. The graphics are considerably better, the controls are less terrible, the world is bigger, the dungeons are more impressive, the voice acting is even wackier. I could go on.

What bothers me are just a few little things. Most of all, that the lock-on feature is a friggin’ idiot, quite commonly locking onto the enemy farthest from Mega Man, sometimes refusing to switch to closer threats. A lot of the time, it shows a strong preference to lock on to enemies that are around corners, which is never helpful. The solution, of course, would be to not bother using the lock-on, but it’s way too hard to aim manually at anything that isn’t stationary. So that’s a bit of a frustration.

I’m also not super crazy about the bigger scope of the story. Yes, of course it was going to build up to that, and it’s not that the plot really suffers for it. I just have a personal preference for the story of the first game, which focused on a single island and its many mysteries. In MML2, you’re hopping between all these islands, and the fate of the world is at stake, so on and so forth. That’s all fine, but Kattleox island had so much personality, whereas the smaller locales in MML2 haven’t been developed enough to have that same level of charm.

Lastly, the first dungeon boss was just insanely annoying. This stupid frog boss took me four tries to beat, mostly because the room is constantly flooded with things trying to kill you. For one, there are spike traps zipping around the perimeter of the room, and these little tadpole guys flopping about in the center, between the raised platforms that the boss jumps around on. The boss itself is constantly spewing out bubbles that track you until they hit a wall or you shoot them, and there’s a respawning dragonfly flitting around above the arena that exists solely to screw up your lock-on. You might have to see it to get a good idea of how badly this fight is stacked against you, but trust me. It’s rough.

But I’m only like a quarter of the way though as of this writing, so who knows? Maybe it’ll really start to click with me once I get a little farther in. I hope so. I feel giddy every time I play the original game, and it would be awfully nice if I found even half as much enjoyment in the sequel.