Monday, 8 December 2014

Pullblox Review

Pullblox manages to be both simple and confusing at the same time. As you stand at the top of the level, looking back on the intricate series of platforms you used to get there, one question comes to mind. The constantly changing, immensely complicated arrays of blocks makes you both fear for and fear the sort of deranged minds that could put them together in the first place. Sure, some of the (arguably better) stages clearly have some sort of concept or idea that can be conveyed with words but other stages are just pictures that some maniac has managed to hide a path to a lost child in. What's more, those words tend to be something like "build a tower so that you can jump to the other one and pull out that bit, but not in such a way that you can't climb the first tower again so that you can jump onto the block you pulled out" so even then it's hardly simple.

What the block?

In a way, Pullblox is a difficult game to describe or review, because, get ready for a bombshell, Pullblox is Pullblox. The game is one core concept well executed by people who obviously put a lot of thought and time into it, but whether or not you enjoy it is probably a personal preference. I can't think of a game it resembles so we'll have to do this the long way. You play as Mallow on a mission to save children. Children trapped in blocks due to Jurassic Park level ineptitude on the part of theme park owners. To rescue them, you must pull out that block and hop on top. These blocks have the same properties as the blocks which you traverse to reach the goal block. Block. They can be pulled out from the wall three times, either from the front or from the side. Later on, switches to extend blocks and tunnels are introduced. In addition, creative types can use these tools to create their own puzzles to share with others.

crap, that's only two paragraphs
In the interest of making this review seem bigger and more important I've come up with some complaints about the game. The introduction appears to have been made immediately after a harrowing testing period, the elderly tutorial character might as well scream "REMEMBER THIS" and "YOU CAN PULL BLOCKS COMPLETELY OUT IF YOU DRAG THEM FROM THE SIDE, DON'T FORGET THIS LIKE THE LAST GUY". At times it can be difficult to tell if Mallow can make a jump, especially when he's jumping into the screen, but this is rarely a serious problem thanks to rewind button. By holding the L button you can rewind back a surprising amount of time, so progress isn't lost if you miss a jump or move the wrong block. It's possible to stop the clock to pan around the level and give you time to think without cutting into rewind time by pressing R. This requires a little effort and is the worst thing I could think of in Pullblox.
When a game's biggest flaw is that if you choose to pause the game to preserve rewind then you must hold a button down, it gives you some idea of how well put together the rest of the game is. As is the case with puzzles, sometimes, try as you might, you get stuck, at which point the game offers you the chance to skip that stage and return to it later. For the small child compressed in a two dimensional square, seeing Mallow (if indeed someone in such an abstract environment would be able to "see") saunter off to the next puzzle means the nightmare is not yet over, but for the player it means there's always a fresh challenge to attempt and the good times can continue.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fire Emblem Awakening Review

Before playing Fire Emblem Awakening, I had only played one Fire Emblem game, the Fire Emblem Awakening demo. Played on insane mode, that game so nearly had it all: challenge, the ecstasy of success, the agony of defeat, a sense of accomplishment and heart in mouth moments of pure tension. All it lacked was more than two levels and a save function and so eventually I had to buy the real deal. Let me tell you, if you liked the Fire Emblem Awakening demo, you'll love Fire Emblem Awakening!

After a confusing vision of a possible future the game begins in the Halidom (?) of Ylisse. A mysterious person called Al Pacino (or whatever you chose to call them) awakens in a field with no memories (by which I mean Al Pacino has no memories, as a rule you can assume a field has no memories) and is greeted by Prince Chrom, who almost immediately welcomes him into his army, the Shepherds, as their tactician, as Al Pacino shows quite the aptitude for strategy. They soon encounter enemies from the neighbouring country of Plegia as well as the Risen, a mysterious, zombie-like foe. Throughout the story they encounter a masked gentleman (no not that one) called Marth, who if the mask wasn't a giveaway, has some secrets.
Throughout the story, more members join your ranks, and these distinct characters provide the key difference between the Fire Emblem series and its sister series Advance Wars. These characters are the actual units you'll lead into battle, no forgettable mooks under your command here (except Kellam!1)! Each character belongs to a different class (eg healer type roles, axe guy, mounted archer) and has a wide host of stats that are improved with experience. Once they reach a certain level, they can be upgraded to a different class with different weapons available, which keeps things varied. As you may be aware, on classic mode, if a character is defeated in battle, they can never be used in battle again, unless you restart (with the exceptions of Chrom and Al Pacino who when they die pack up their toys and leave you at the game over screen). However, some characters are necessary for plot reasons later on, so they simply retire forever rather than die, which kind of robs it of the impact, but then again, it may be asking too much of the game to have scenarios and cutscenes prepared for every combination of dead allies.
It's been four hundred words, so I should probably mention the game is a turn based strategy one in which you're presented with a grid on which your units can move and must defeat all the enemies or in some cases just their commanders. Weapons obtained from fallen enemies, special spots on the map, or purchased from merchants on the world map can be equipped to applicable units. The weapons follow a simple rock paper scissors formula: lances beat swords which beat axes which beat lances. A similar triangle exists for spells but in practice I found this one harder to make use of. In addition, certain weapons are effective against certain types of units for example the Beast Killer lance makes short work of enemies on horseback (as well as Kelsey Grammer and Nicholas Hoult) and wind spells are lethal against flying enemies. Units also have particular skills that are unlocked as they level up for example increased likelihood of double attacks. This level of complexity makes picking the right team to cut through the combination of enemies you face all the more satisfying, however this leads into one of my major complaints about the game. While it's easy to remember details about your allies, identifying what type of weapons your enemies wield gets trickier to do by sight as the game goes on. This means you must hover over every enemy in turn to find out who's got what.
The other major difference between this game and Advance Wars and as far as I know all previous Fire Emblem games is the ability of units to partner up during battles for stat boosts and the occasional double attack. Units that are paired up frequently develop stronger relationships and make a more effective team; this can be done either by partnering up units so that they occupy a single square or by placing units on adjoining squares. This second rule can sometimes allow the most well liked units to provide to support to multiple allies if you’re canny/desperate. The stronger relationships are also represented by support conversations, dialogues between units. Without wishing to spoil the surprise, the relationships between some units can become quite complex. The writing in this game is generally quite good and sometimes very entertaining. That said some of the support conversations can be dull and predictable, and most characters, most notably Chrom with his damn friendships speeches, are prone to grand monologues on what are intended to be serious topics that come across as unrealistic.

"I'm the Prince of the Halidom of Ylisse"

Another frustrating thing about the dialogue, that is most noticeable in the support conversations (which the game has no control over at what time you’ll get to see them, which means they have to be general enough to fit in anywhere) is the characters odd inability to focus on what are obviously the big issues of the plot. Al Pacino’s amnesia is barely mentioned and more gallingly, a new character introduced in chapter thirteen whose very existence poses questions to which even the most conservative answers are bombshells is hardly discussed. One of the reasons I liked the character of Marth in this game so much is that they seem to be the only one with their eyes on their big picture.

Staying with problems, another one is the lack of restart button. Playing on classic mode, most players will be eager to keep everyone alive, which means they have to restart anytime a character dies. To do this, you must start the game up again. This is frustrating and I suspect the lack of a quick restart is supposed to encourage you to play well or live with your mistakes, but damn it, that’s just not how I play games. Another issue is that in practice, the most effective strategy in most cases is to not attack on your turns, but wait for the enemy to come to you which doesn’t feel all that adventurous.
But in spite of these issues, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a fantastic addictive game for those who like turn based combat. I would definitely recommend that anyone who enjoyed the demo buy the real thing.


1: Good luck getting that joke people who are reading this review to see if they should buy the game.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Miister X's adventure in [redacted] part 3

A message from the editor
When Miister X sent me the copy for the second part of what we had promised the readers would be an epic tale of adventure in a foreign land, I had some concerns. There was only one day left in the story, and I was worried that having learnt the secret to enormous wealth (back breaking manual labour as it turned out, who'd have guessed) that it seemed unlikely that anything tense or exciting could happen during that time. I received the copy for the final part a few days ago and found my fears realised. I'll give you the abridged version of what happens: our now very wealthy hero buys some nice clothes, gives a speech and goes to a nightclub. That's it. I called him and attempted to explain how this might be an issue but this proved pointless. At one point, in an attempt to explain the problem I mentioned the notion of a three act structure, which he saw as a reason to segway into talking about when he used to perform three stand-up comedy gigs a night.
Timeless stuff.
 Several hours later I managed to steer the conversation back on track but when I tried to be tough and say that he'd have to rewrite the previous entries so that the finale could have some kind of climax, he giggled, then in a serious tone explained that he wasn't contracted to do re-writes of any kind. He also explained how he had long since lost interest in the project because the whole concept was as he put it "lame as hell".
On that it was hard to disagree.
So without further ado I give you the concluding part to the trilogy. When we last left our hero he was fabulously wealthy, despite what his attire might suggest.

As I awoke, I felt happier than I'd felt since I got here, knowing that my time in this town was almost up. It might also have had something to do with the bright summer colors of the room, they were just so positive! I made a mental note to have at least one room in my house decorated with this "carrot monster" theme when I got home.
I occurred to me that my one day of labor may well have made me the richest man in town, but that money would be of little use to me in the outside world. I had taken lots of money out of the town, and who knows if this bunch of idiots could deal with a sudden dependence on importing. Clearly, there was one decent, honorable thing to do....


This spree didn't exactly last long, the town only has four places to buy things and I wound up buying an awful lot of horrible wallpapers, carpets and museum fixtures but I like to think I shared the wealth.

"Oh... someone to weed, right, see, thought you said some... although that might have explained a lot"

I knew the villagers didn't recognize me, and probably wouldn't be that enthusiastic if that unshaven, sweaty homeless guy who'd spent the previous day shaking down trees tried to open the lighthouse so I stopped by the beauty parlor to get cleaned up, and managed to perfectly describe, from memory, the dimensions and design of my favorite suit to a local tailor.
The result. You're welcome, ladies.

You can't please 'em all I suppose.
Two things caught me by surprise when I arrived to give my speech.
1: That a few people had actually shown up
2: That the lighthouse was there at all, because I swear to myself it was a construction site eight hours ago

I had taken the time to write my speech on a scrap of one of the carpets I bought earlier (no sense letting it go to waste). As I recall, it went something like this:
Citizens of [redacted]
When I arrived I was a success but your country ways made me feel like a failure. And yet here I am, the richest man in town, who unlike the rest of you, has the power to leave. My time here proves what I have always known, that winners always win because they're winners, and losers like you always lose. I cannot think of a better public work for this town than a lighthouse. A lighthouse stands tall giving the message, "you don't want to come here" a fitting description of this dump. NOW WHO WANTS TO PARTY IT UP WITH A WINNER?
Unsurprisingly only one (guy called Static) of these losers had the nerve to meet my challenge to party it up and to be honest, I'm not sure he heard me... you'll see.
I'm bald you idiot.
Like I said: a few pieces of fruit short of a stack. Sorry, local humor.
So I partied all night long. All night long. ALL NIGHT LONG, except for when I was asleep. I wasn't keen on taking the train with a hangover but in the morning, when he woke me up, the club owner explained how I'd been drinking fruit juice all night, and that my drunkeness may have been half placebo effect and half mental fatigue. 
As the train sped away from New Wangsburg, I reflected on my time there. What I learned from the experience was that a winner
Wait, I said all that in the speech. Just read that again, but this time picture me on a train as you do so. I think I was drinking a latte. That's it. This is the end of the story.

See what I mean. Bought loads of stuff, makeover, speech and party. That's all. What a waste of internets.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask Review

There's a puzzle that faces the developers of the Professor Layton games (and apparently the creators of Mad Men), how you can build on and improve a series whose first installment arguably achieved everything it set out to do, that would tax even the Professor's puzzle solving skills1. The Curious Village may have had some slight issues with the interface that were ironed out in later games, but it had a charming story that (slight spoilers) actually ties in with the concept of everyone asking Layton to solve puzzles. The other great advantage The Curious Village had was that as the first in what would be a series, it had its pick of the puzzle library of Akira Tago. With the spectre of the dissapointing Spectre's Call hanging over the series, there was a lot of pressure on Miracle Mask to deliver a game that would keep me interested in the series and on this it delivered.

What really elevated this game above some of the others in the series was the plot and its sense of pace. The story concerns a recently founded city in the desert called Monte d'Or that is being terrorised by the miracle's of a rather camp individual calling himself the Masked Gentleman. The Gentleman wears the Mask of Chaos, an archaeological artifact that was once the symbol of the city and ties in from an important event in the Professor's teenage years. Throughout the course of the game there are flashbacks to these events and multiple performances by the Gentleman. Crucially all but a few of the objectives clearly tie into the investigation. Gone is the rambling narrative of Spectre's Call with it's obvious fetch quests. While on the one hand, this does mean that many of the tasks in the game boil down to "go to the city hall", "return to the crime scene" "go accuse Henry again" these tasks all result in a fresh twist or plot point whose significance is clear to the player.

England is of course famous for its deserts.
That the player can understand the importance of these twists rather than simply coming along for the ride and waiting for Layton to tie and the strings together at the end reflects another difference between this game and those that came before. The plot of this game is arguably the most guessable yet, with only one or two instances of classic "Layton logic" (where solutions involve outlandish, needlessly complex and incredibly expensive schemes or twists no rational mind could see coming). This allows for an entertaining section about mid way through the game where Layton is asked to explain how many of the Gentleman's miracles were done (is it really a spoiler to say that they don't involve magic?) and the player must choose his answers. It's not possible to get wrong, but is still a nice inclusion. That being said, the game does fall back on old habits later on when Layton disappears for a while to gather crucial evidence in private but it's hard to say if this trick for setting up a dramatic reveal is a bad thing (might not want to admit that as a reviewer you're sometimes unable to form opinions ~ed). One final thought on the pacing: while Monte d'Or is the first true city seen in a Layton game (London doesn't count), it actually feels smaller, with only a few key locations and minimal filler streets. In addition, with the exception of an utterly forgettable bunch of clowns, the cast feels quite small. Again this works out for the best, as I found myself better able to remember character name and traits.
With the plot talk out of the way, it's time to discuss mechanics. The move to 3DS and the desire to take advantage of the new screen has brought in several changes, the most obvious of which is that the city is now a 3D space viewed on the top screen, while the cursor is moved by dragging the stylus over the top screen, a change which reduces the amount of screen tapping to find hint coins. Another, more contestable change is that during puzzles, the puzzle question is not displayed on the top screen by default, but appears on a tile that can be positioned on either screen. In some puzzles this is quite useful, in others it just slows things down.

On the subject of puzzles, there's a pleasant variety in this installment, without the usual reliance on block moving conundrums but on the opposite side of the (hint) coin this means many of the early puzzles need tutorial screens. With every new Layton game, the puzzle of whether the games get easier is posed (no doubt prompted by the Professor looking at something unrelated like a cracked window2). Personally I believe that while the puzzles may indeed be getting easier, bigger problems are that seasoned players become adept at spotting trick questions (I guessed the trick to one puzzle without reading the riddle) and a certain amount of repetition (see the King Arthur Sword puzzle).

As mentioned earlier the 2D environments of the previous game have now been replaced with livelier 3D spaces, packed with non-interactable NPCs who make Monte d'Or feel more like a city. Another visual change is that all character models are now 3D. These models are capable of more movement than the old ones but oddly enough Level 5 don't seem to have made much use of this potential. Layton, Emmy and Luke are still stuck with a limited number of movements which are repeated endlessly and Layton still sports that dopey smile in sometimes inappropriately serious conversations. 
Others have praised a section reasonably late in the game section in which the young Layton and his friend Randall (whose hammy Shatner-esque arm movements justify 3D character models all on their own) explore a top-down maze section. While the section was enjoyable and well done, it perhaps wasted time slowly introducing concepts that many will recognise as strength puzzles from Pokemon. One of the puzzle's in this section uses the gyroscope, but while this was a nice idea, it turned out to bequite frustrating to use.
As always there are three mini games. The first is similar to the hamster, toy car and train puzzles in earlier games, the second is an interesting one where items must be arranged in a way that triggers uncontrollable spending sprees in unsuspecting customers. These mini games are by far the greatest challenge the main game has to offer. The final minigame is a Nintendogs-esque rabbit training thing that no amount of unlockable puzzles could convince me to care about. The game is also sold as having 365 downloadable puzzles, but this number is split up into a number of sections of similar puzzles of increasing difficulty.


Miracle Mask represents a return to form for the Layton series. It boasts nicely paced plot that held my interest throughtout with a varied (albeit quite easy at times) selection of puzzles and an interesting top down exploration section later on. The graphics have been updated for the 3DS but this update arguably didn't go far enough.


1:This is perhaps the most cliche opening I will ever write and for that I am sorry.
2: Actually, the old trope of absolutely everything reminding Layton of puzzles is underplayed in Miracle Mask.... sadly.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Next Generation Specs Explained

A feature by Ivan

I have it on good authority (from a guy who works at Gamestop  no less) that the next generation of consoles that I've been hearing so much about has become the current  generation of consoles. You may well be thinking "gee, I sure would like to buy one of these machines, but all the talk of specs and performance confuses me. Nintendo already sold me a console that was designed to give puny Westerners headaches so now I don't know who to trust". Fear not for I was once like you until I was inspired by the following quote from winter yoga pioneer and Eye Moustaches mascot Miister X's autobiography. My inclusion of an extract from a book has nothing to do with our licensing deal. I repeat, NOTHING AT ALL.
Many other titles were continued, but this pun was deemed "least tenuous"

Inspirational stuff

After all, if I can learn html, I can do <i>anything<i>
Let's start with the Wii U.

The first thing that should jump out at you is that the computer power unit (known in the trade as the CPU) is made by IBM. This is all you need to know. IBM have in the past worked with Microsoft, who produced Windows Vista, which as even the briefest web search will confirm was one of the worst things ever created. Vista has forever tainted the name of Microsoft to such an extent that companies that work with companies that work with Microsoft are smeared by the taint. It is this connection to Microsoft that makes the Wii U inferior to the X-Box One and PS4.
The Wii U has only 2GB of RAM (random accident memory). This memory is only accessed if the ROM (regular operations memory) the memory allocated to system functions and games, is compromised. This lack of RAM indicates Nintendo's confidence that the ROM won't fail.

It's difficult to find a clear victor in the all important USB race. The WiiU has four 2.0 slots to the PS4's two 3.0 slots. According to noted game site NBC news the X-box One has only... one. To put it in more visual terms the Wii U can run two times as many miniature USB fans as the PS4, but the PS4 is capable of transferring data to those miniature USB fans at a quicker rate. I'm going to call this a draw.

I must confess, that even with Miister X's inspiring words ringing in my ears, I was unable to understand what the role of the GPU is. For example, when examining the X-Box One and PS4 specs, I was frequently confronted by the term Tflops. I'm not entirely sure what Tflops are but I think there's medication for it.
The X box one is reported by IGN to:
"communicate with servers in the cloud to increase the computational power of the system".
For those that don't know, the cloud is a "computer localised on user's desktop" an optional plug-in which in a rare display of humour by infamously anti-fun makers of the X-Box is shaped like noted meteorologist John Dalton.

The PS4 utilises a Radon based graphics engine. Personally I'm fascinated to see if the graphics it delivers will be good enough to justify the use of radioactive components. 

While it's curiously not mentioned very often in the gaming press, an even briefer web search makes it clear that there is another console on the market that really has the forums talking. I speak of course, of the Xbone. The following specs come from prolific interenet commenter fLame_and_go420:
"xbone is an overpriced blok taht watches u while u sleep and reports it to Obama and the NASA. But dont worry, it makes up for it with all its Leet xclusive games. WAIT NO SYCH #legaliseit"
Only time will tell how the Xbone's, who's processor is reported by sources to be "a large turd" from "your moms butt (software)" performs in the market, but as they say, any publicity is good publicity.
One thing's for sure, this looks to be a tightly fought console war, with no competitor that's obviously lost already. I repeat, NO OBVIOUS LOSER.
On an unrelated note, tune in next week month when I'll be reviewing some 3DS game or old Wii game I found in a bargain bin.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Miister X's adventure in [redacted] Part 2

I kept myself warm throughout the night by thinking really hard about fire but in spite of that, my stay in the museum bathroom was hardly comfortable. I was more than ready to leave this dump of a town, but I'd given my word, and as I said to Johnnii Knoxville "when I say I'll do something, there's no turning back" (I ended up with a broken arm that night).
The museum didn't have a bathroom, what was I supposed to do?
I felt in need of some coffii (this is getting out of hand ~ Ed) so I stopped into a cafe I'd seen yesterday called the Roost. I watched the bird brain behind the counter badger one of his customers (an actual badger) into downing his coffee while it was still boiling, and considered leaving, but my craving for coffee was too much.
I placed my order and then the owner asked me for 200 bells. This threw me. Did bells mean dollars? Cents? I pulled out a twenty dollar note and asked if this would cover it. He looked at me with utter confusion and then said "we don't take that sir". I did a little prying and learned that [redacted] was part of a network of similar towns which used the bell as their only currency. Another wonderful surprise from the Moustaches! The hipster dog who told me this then started raving about how all these towns were the same, right down to the owners of the shops and how in every town, a young boy or girl is made the mayor against their will, as part of some kind of elaborate experiment into how children deal with responsibility. I pretended to have to answer a phone call and left.
I've heard my fair share of conspiracy theories in my time, most of which are clearly wild fantasies (except the ones about Sean Connerii's attic, those theories are actually less crazy than reality) but  I had to admit that there was something about [redacted] that put me ill at ease.
Like this guy, I don't know what drugs he must have taken-
-or what his "school desk" referred to but I gave him a wide berth.
There's just something not right with these villagers. I would later learn that their town was one that rewarded any and all work with ludicrous amount of money, but none of them seemed to be aware of this. Are they all trust fund kids for whom money is not an issue? Take Lily the frog for instance. I was really stuck, having learned that the post office refused to deal in anything other than bells, when Lily approached me and asked if I could bring her some fruit, specifically a perfect cherry, specifically a perfect cherry just like the ones hanging from a tree right behind her! Not wanting to disagree with her (I was at this point convinced that the entire village was on drugs) I fetched a cherry, and in return she gave me a washing machine. An entire washing machine! I'm not even sure where she got it from and I was looking right at her as she somehow pulled it out of her pocket.
This was my chance, I thought. I'd find a buyer for the machine, and use that money to find a place to stay. I found a local shop willing to buy the machine, but what was more surprising was that they were willing to buy a cherry I hadn't given to Lily for 600 "bells". What's more, they said they'd gladly pay the same price for more fruit. My eyes were opened to how easy it was to make money in this oddly fruit based economy. The money was out there, if I picked it up it was mine. I ran to the nearest orchard and started shaking (both the trees and myself as it was very cold).
I think I broke some of them.

Before long I had run out of room in my pockets for money (bells are not a portable currency) and the fire of capitalism wasn't doing much to keep me warm so I invested in some warmer clothes.

I think Charlii Sheen once told me about a very similar dream.
What does that even... Wait are they code words? Is "badges" what these people are on?
Eventually, the shops closed (at the time I suspected they were closing forever having just realized that they had traded all their liquid assets for perishable goods) so I had to find a place to stay. A quick inspection revealed that [redacted] had no places for outsiders to stay at except for the still occupied campsite. Fortunately, I'd come up with an alternative to squatting in the museum store room - squatting in the show houses!
Fortunately security was lax

"Sleeping on a pineapple bed with a painting of a yellow carrot man beside me in a show house, how did it come to this? Also, I've seen no sign of this lighthouse, but it's supposed to be opening tomorrow"

Will the village ecosystem be able to recover from such a thorough harvesting of its resources? Will the local store smell of rotten cherries for years to come? For answers to these and other questions you're out of luck because those questions can only be answered after a lot of time has passed and  the protagonist of our tale has long since left the village!

Tune in whenever is convenient to you (this is the internet after all) to see if money brings Miister X true happiness in the concluding part of this series!

Brought to you by McGarnagle's cleansing dental liquid!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Steam World Dig

Steam World Dig: A Fistful of Dirt isn't the game I thought I'd be playing. In my head I'd envisioned a game about finding your way through the environment and creating well structured mines. Confusingly, it doesn't seem to be the game its creators still think it is, judging by this interview with Image & Form's CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson. Mr I'm-not-even-going-to-try-to-spell-that-again seemed very interested in talking about the story which never felt like the focus of the game. You step into the shoes foot pieces of Rusty, a steambot/graverobber who arrives in the ghost town of Tumbleton to claim his uncle's mine. Exactly how steambots can have families is never expanded upon. It turns out that Joe's died in the mine. In the middle of an empty room. Which, truth be told seems a little suspicious. Since Tumbleton's entire economy seems to be built around the mine, you take over the head mining duties. As the game progresses, Rusty explores the increasingly technologically advanced layers deep in the mine, uncovering what's left of the human population as well as powerful technology that is suspiciously easy to find. While the story and setting is engaging enough I would never call it the focus of the game and it can easily be ignored. In my opinion, the real story of the game is not Rusty's character development (which there is precisely none of) but Rusty's power development. What new weapon or ability you'll unlock next and how it will change the game are the twists that keep you playing. 
The bulk of the game involves steaming, wait, no .... digging, I knew it was one of the words in the title I couldn't remember which , working your way up and down the shaft to see what stuff you can bring to the surface hang on.... Along the way you encounter what I'm calling challenge mines which either contain one of the necessary powerups or valuable resources such as orbs. Unlike the main shaft, these rooms aren't randomly generated. These chambers often challenge you to get to a certain point without fencing yourself in and a closely resemble the game I thought I'd be playing. Steam World Dig is a game about exploring, speedruns and going from a relatively weak robot to a force of destruction in the space of seven hours.
While seven hours may seem short, the game is clearly geared towards repeat plays and that seven hours is expertly paced. The time spent between obtaining each new power is just long enough to get the fun out of the previous one as well as suck your mind (bear with me on this one) so that it can later be blown when you unlock the new power. Even something as simple as the steam jump (a charge jump) feels like a revelation after working without it for so long. The one misstep is the TNT ability which I found to be of little use. I suspect it was intended to be used to kill enemies, but in practice its throwing arc was too slow and short. This brings me onto my first problem with the game, the enemies.
The games assortment of armadillos and Golllums reminded me of the enemies in classic Zelda games, which I've never been able to see the appeal of. Defeating most of them involved twatting them with the pickaxe until one of you dies. The challenge mines sometimes provide you with a clever way to defeat enemies, and later enemies can influence their environment in ways that can benefit crafty players, but in general they're a frustrating drain on your health. Of particular annoyance are the Creeper-esque enemies that show up later in the game. Once they see you, they fly toward you and explode soon after, in a way that seems hard to escape.

These enemies are quite easy to deal with using the powerups obtained as the game goes on, but these tools are constrained by a water meter that even with upgrades feels a little to small. This constraint frustratingly limits your ability to act as the force of destruction I mentioned earlier. This is odd considering that the games other attempts at resource management all work quite well.
As I've alluded a number of times earlier, but am only getting around to discussing now because of a lack of planning the game is clearly designed with repeat plays and speedruns in mind. Tutorials or long dialogue sections are never forced on you and the game tells you how long it took you at the end of the credits. Sadly, all this thought seems to have been wasted, as the only way to do a speedrun seems to be by (would you believe it) doing everything quickly, rather than approach the game from a different mindset. After my first thorough play I decided to try to prioritise dig speed over other traits and quickly dug myself into a hole (literally). If you don't take the time to collect the orbs, the game becomes very difficult very fast.
This relationship between patience and difficulty is another miner geddit? concern with the game.If you take your time, dig around enemies and make frequent returns to the surface deaths become extremely rare but the game becomes quite monotonous.
One of the game's critics is the site God is a Geek, who rightly call out the game's wall jump as being an overpowered tool that discourages careful digging in all but the challenge mines. He and others have said that they really like the graphics, and while I thought they were nice they seemed oddly blurry whenever Rusty wasn't in motion. They also rightly praise the soundtrack and 3D effect.
Now let's take a look at what other detractors said. From WiiUbrasil:

A picareta é a sua ferramenta inicial e usá-la é instantaneamente recompensador. O som do instrumento batendo na rocha e as rachaduras que vão se propagando pelo material até que ele se quebre propocionam um retorno imediato e satisfatório para a ação realizada. Da mesma forma, quando Rusty tem acesso a uma perfuratriz, o ronco do motor é fundamental para que a ação de cavar seja atrativa e se mantenha assim durante o jogo. 
I'll be honest, I don't know what that means, but I know their score of 60 is wrong.
SWD is good, the main shaft lets you see how powerful you've become, the challenge areas provide puzzles, though it must be said the former wears out its welcome at times.


Why would they advertise their low population?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Miister X's adventure in [redacted] Part 1

For part two click here.
Hey, it's mii, Miister X. You may remember from such roles the King, the Prince and the Princess in Streetpass quest. I don't need to tell you, I'm a pretty big name in the Miiverse. So when Ivan and the other one were putting together their plan for a games blog, they'd the right idea asking mii to be their mascot. In the negotiations they insisted I do promotional work for them and write at least one piece, because when you're both a champion tennis player and an ace pilot, people want to know what's it like in your head. That's why I wrote my book, "Miiverse-us the World". I was in a bad way financially at the time because of my skiiing injury, so I couldn't say no. I did manage to talk them into letting me do the article about the promotional junket mind. With the contract signed, the Moustache guys said they'd be in touch when they had the junket arranged. Four months later, the other one remembered that he was the mayor of a small town called [redacted] (I didn't call my town [redacted], by how I wish I did. ~Ed) which thanks to a lack of checks and balances he could pretty do what he wanted with. He arranged for mii to spend a few days there promoting the blog, culminating in a speech at the opening of the the town's lighthouse. This is that story. A story of making the best of a bad situation, of fixing problems when no one will help you and absolutely terrifying snowmen.

The other one recommended I explore the town and check out the sights on my first day there, so I had a wander around. The first thing I noticed was weeds, lots and lots of weeds.
Also, tropical fruits.

Not funny. At all
One of the sights I'd been encouraged to check out was the local museum. This proved to be another mystery. The place had a number of extremely valuable paintings (the Mona Lisa to name but one) but clearly no security, seeing as most of the exhibits had been stripped bare.

My leg had healed nicely, so for the first time in weeks I was ready to shake what my Miimaker gave me. I rolled up to club lol (or is it club 101, I couldn't tell), told them who I was and.... nothing. I was pretty mad at the Moustaches for this, how the hell am I meant to promote their duff blog if no-one in the town's heard of me. But this wouldn't be their only mistake.

A frosty reception

Disappointed, I made my way to the other one's house where I'd be staying. At one point, a talking wolf asked me to sign a petition to ban anchovies. I tried to make a "get stuffed" "stuffed anchovies" based pun. I failed and then awkwardly continued on my way. Then I encountered this...
Something about it gave me a feeling of unease,so I kept my distance.
The other one had told me that he'd hide a key under the mat. With that in mind, can you see what's wrong with this picture?
The red light district.
Finding myself without a place to sleep, I headed straight for the mayor's office to see if the other one had made other arrangements.

This bitch was no help
The mayor's assistant seemed to have some repressed rage towards her "blow in, absentee boss" (something to do with having the same uncompleted paperwork on his desk for 6 months)which she took out on me. She told me to try the campsite and then threatened to release the hounds (her cousins). Sadly, the facilities at the camp site proved to be.... lacking

Who leaves a perfectly good picnic go to waste like this. These people are animals. ANIMALS!

You know what mate? Go quack yourself!

Night at the Museum

Things looked bad. It was winter time and I needed a place to sleep. As I wandered the high street looking for shelter, an idea occurred to me. The museum was open all night, and with such lax security I could probably find a quiet exhibit or store room and sleep there. 

Sure enough one of the store rooms was unlocked.

I wasn't too keen on the totem pole, but I once slept in Sean Connerii's attic, and, well, 'nuff said.

Will Miister X get a good night sleep? Will the petition to ban anchovies be a success? Will he ever forget the things he saw in Sean Connerii's attic? And what of the sinister snow gentlemen? For the answers to these and other question tune in next week whenever this blog gets updated to find out!

QR Codes

Hey you! Do you long for style? The kind of style that says "yeah, I'm the face of a games blog that's read almost as infrequently as it's updated". The kind of style that starts to look disheveled over time because you only packed one set of clothes. The kind of style claims to resemble that of Gordon Gecko just because of the suspenders. The kind of style that isn't sure if the previous three sentences should have ended with question marks.....?
Well now you can have that style!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Waaa, blogging is hard

It's been about month since I started writing this blog and so I've been reflecting on the experience. The first thought to spring to mind is how moronic it was to start blogging in the middle of exams, the second is that it turned out to be easier than I thought, and yet at the same time, much harder. These conflicting feelings are best explained by describing my goals for the blog. I'm going to leave out the standard "lack of fulfillement" and "desire to prove I'm good at writing" reasons that I suspect are at the heart of why many start blogging and focus on my initial ideas of what the blog was going to be about. Like Batman, the Eyemoustaches origin story begins during childhood. 
When I was younger, I loved games magazines, arguably more than I liked games. Magazines such as Nintendo Official Magazine and the sadly closed down NGamer provided me with hours of informative coverage, and much more importantly genuine laughs. These magazines had the perfect mix of humour, creativity and journalism and when I was younger, the notion of becoming a games journalist did pop into my head. I never pursued, possibly because the Sunday Times already had a games review guy and I knew of no other Irish jobs in the business.
This changed when I stumbled upon the website Old Man Murray. Old Man Murray was and still is well regarded for its occasional genuinely insightful discussion of videogames but to me is first and foremost a humour site built around the topic of games. Their reviews were hilariously vicious but also inventive, such as when in the Rune review they refer to Timothy Gerritsen from the games development team as being responsible for the game's sound throughout the review, a job title they randomly conferred on him early on. For the last couple of years, I've had these illusions of becoming a comedy writer ("I gonna make the best damn sitcom about talking chess pieces the world has ever seen!" ~ Me circa 2010) When I read the line ""What if we get rich slow", I told Mark, "only we do it really fast" I saw the kind of crazy, character driven, narratives that could be achieved within the framework of a videogame website.

And so, a dream was born. I would start a gaming blog, reviewing "games that came out years ago" as a skeleton to add joke muscles and character based organs to. I would emulate the style of NGamer and perhaps one day get a job in one of its Future Publishing affiliates, this blog would be step one on my quest to NGamer Towers to slay the evil corporate overlords! If you're wondering why I use footnotes, its because of the good work NGamer did with them, natch. Alternatively, my career would follow the path of Erik Wolpaw or Chet Faliszek of Old Man Murray, whereby after a few years writing and making games about  alien psychic child predators who are also astronauts I would get a job working at Valve (my knowledge of their pre-Valve careers may not be entirely correct). There, I would write Meet the Team videos and Portal (it would probably have to be some kind of gritty Christopher Nolan-esque reboot, where GLaDOS is the head nurse of an insane asylum and the portal gun is powered by dead kittens).  Hell, by the time I joined the company, they'd probably be ready to start work on Episode 3! *reclines back in chair and prepares to bask in the warm glow of the internet gaming community for making a "Golly isn't Episode 3 taking a long time" joke* I found a post on another website that I disagreed with and I was on my way.

No sooner had I set foot on the yellow brick road to Gabe Newell's emerald city then I was blinded by the glare and fell over. The article that inspired my first one no longer seems to exist. Part of me is tempted to claim that the writer was so convinced by my arguments that he removed his in fear of shame, but I know that's not the case. You see, one of the first things I realised as I wrote the piece was that I hadn't the stomach to be genuinely vicious. This is even more clear from the apology in the footnotes of the Star Fox review. I've since come to wonder whether this is actually a bad thing, while they're very funny, some Old Man Murray reviews resort to personal attacks and insults and I have to wonder if that's taking it too far. At the moment I'm genuinely considering not publishing this for fear of invoking their wrath. A whole month's worth of hindsight has also led me to wonder if they are perhaps dependent on the shock factor. The realisation that "moustaches" probably looks wrong to an American  (as does "realisation") didn't help my confidence. The difficulty with saying mean things doesn't just come from my being a wuss however.
The games I play are another factor. As I've said elsewhere my choice of Star Fox 4D 36 as my first review may have been a mistake. The best Old Man Murray reviews and some of the better NGamer reviews were fueled by rage and spite. But as an avid reader of games magazines, most of the games I play have received positive reviews. Without any major flaws, there's nothing to get fired up about. I'm considering buying games on eshop without researching them in the hopes that it will give me some material.
Another problem is with the idea of reviewing "games that came out years ago". Put simply, I'm not sure I can remember them well enough to do a thorough review. For example, I had planned to tear into Paper Mario Sticker Star for being such a letdown compared to the rest of the series, but only a year later I can barely remember it (that sentence is arguably harshest thing ever written on this blog). I'm thinking of doing a roundup of mini reviews to get around this.

But to return to the problem I alluded to in the introduction, my major finding is that reviewing games is actually much easier than I thought, the humour is the hard part. For every post I've made, I've had a moment where I finish a paragraph and then realise that I've just given a sincere, factual opinion of the game. That's not what I set out to do, let other people who know more about what makes a game good do that, I'm supposed to be cracking wise, not talking wise. A good example of this is the Mario 3D Land review which has three lines I was really proud of.
 But it's not just the use of the 3D that impresses me about this game. I also like it's use of the third dimension! I've always found the recent two dimensional Mario games (the New series) to be kind of flat.
What I like about these lines is that they're amusing, but they also contribute to the structure of the review, they're not a Family Guy-esque humour tangent. The rest of the review's fine, but it's a little dry.
That being said, I find one part of reviews to be especially hard to write — the introduction. For some reason, the only one's I can think of seem to involve stating an obvious fact, and the sentence usually starts with the game's name (or it's doppelganger: "This game..."). This is a problem I've noticed on the games review subreddit also. The introductions I'd like to write would be like the cold opens on Breaking Bad. These openings are often strange and it can be difficult to see how it'll feed into the episode/review to come, but you know that somehow, they will.
As I mentioned when I talked about Old Man Murray, I found their use of fictional and semi fictional characters to be inspiring. I especially like how the writers often depicted each other and their lives. I had planned to write this blog as if it were the work of two people to facilitate this kind of humour. In practice however, thinking up two distinct voices to write as proved harder than I thought and that idea may have to shelved. I do intend to create some stories about Miister X, Eye Moustache's miiverse celebrity mascot.
To conclude, writing this blog has proven challenging in ways I had not foreseen.
Edit: Some appalling grammar errors

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Hey Blogger.
Listen you're great and all, but, God this is difficult, I'm not ready to settle down just yet. I still want to play the field, you know. See what's out there. For all I know posts on other blogs might be able to get hits without posting links on reddit. I'm not sure how that fits my dating analogy. The point is, remember that time I posted on Wordpress? That wasn't just a one time thing (although with Wordpress it might be, my post obviously didn't matter to Wordpress,stupid Wordpress thinking it's too good for me), no please don't cry! It's just I'm young, not ready to be tied down. I know your seeing loads of other people, and I mean, some of those guys? What do you see in them? Do you just have a thing for the really religious people? The point is, I've posted the Super Mario 3D Land review on tumblr. It's happened, you have to accept this.