rymdkapsel [Android] – Review

Currently available for a variety of mobile platforms, rymdkapsel is a minimalist RTS.
Currently available for a variety of mobile platforms, rymdkapsel is a minimalist RTS.

The third game from the Humble Mobile Bundle 3 that really clicked with me was rymdkapsel. I enjoyed SpellTower and Ridiculous Fishing a great deal, but I was engrossed with this game – more so than those two. I found the minimalistic design philosophies behind each aspect of the game to be quite interesting and executed wonderfully. As was the case with Ridiculous Fishing, I have had my fill of the game currently, but I imagine I’ll return to rymdkapsel before I return to Ridiculous Fishing.

Confrontation was simple, but I had to plan my approach out before things got to serious.
Confrontation was simple, but I had to plan my approach out before things got to serious.

rymdkapsel is a real-time strategy game with few elements. Initially, I started off on a miniscule space station with two minions and a handful of the game’s three resource types. I commanded the minions and expanded the space station using an intuitive and simple user interface. I dragged and dropped the tetromino rooms and hallways, aiming to develop the space station as efficiently as possible. Enemies attacked in increasingly larger waves as I attempted to complete the game’s three distinct objectives. Success was defined as researching all four monoliths, doing so in less than 45 minutes, and surviving 28 waves.

The different colored rooms indicated their purpose. The green outline is a room being built.
The different colored rooms indicated their purpose. The green outline is a room being built.

My gameplay sessions lasted forty minutes to an hour and it took me a few to even accomplish one objective. Now, as I discussed earlier this year, I’m not the most strategically inclined, so others mileage with rymdkapsel may vary. That said, when I failed I wasn’t distraught. I took my experience into the next session and applied a concept that made itself apparent to me or increased my management efficiency. Of the three games I’ve discussed recently, this was my favorite. The accolades it’s earning from Apple and Google are well-deserved.

Ridiculous Fishing [Andoid] – Review

Vlambeer's most popular game?
Vlambeer’s most popular game?

So another game from the Humble Mobile Bundle 3 that gave me a lot of enjoyment was Ridiculous Fishing. I was aware of the positive press it received when it was released for iOS earlier this year, but I didn’t feel like playing it on my ancient iPod Touch. Luckily, this particular Humble Bundle marked its debut on Android; meaning I had a chance to play it on my tablet. Its gameplay was simple and the feedback loop implemented was rewarding enough to keep me playing until the end.

At first you want get as deep as possible.
At first you want get as deep as possible.

There is a story behind why the avatar, Billy, is fishing although it’s scant and really only consists of a slightly humorous intro and outro. It’s beside the point. The point of Ridiculous Fishing (and its Flash-based predecessor Radical Fishing) is a simple feedback loop. As discussed in this Gamasutra article, the entire premise of the game is based on a feedback loop that keeps the player in the game.

I didn’t think about it until I read the article, but performing well in one of the game’s three distinct sections, leads to better performance in the next. At first, Billy casts his line and attempts to get as deep as possible. Once his lure reaches the bottom or snags a fish, the goal switches to catching as many as possible. Finally, once he’s reeled them in, he thrusts them into the air and blows them into smithereens, getting money. This money can then be spent on various upgrades suited to increasing each cast’s payload. Then rinse and repeat until one finds satisfaction.

Then once once you've reeled a lot in, shoot them for money!
Then once once you’ve reeled a lot in, shoot them for money!

For me, I was satisfied with completing the four stages and reaching the ending. It took me a few hours split amongst multiple bedtime gameplay sessions. I still have a good amount of unlockables and a scant few fish to catch, but I’ve had my fill. The visual style and soundtrack were both unique enough to warrant interest and the faux-Twitter app, Brydr was worthy of a few retweets but above all, the feedback loop and simple gameplay kept me hooked.

SpellTower [Android] – Review

SpellTowerI’ve gotten a kick out of the games I’ve purchased through Humble Bundle. One of the better bundles in recent memory was the Mobile Bundle 3. I’ll highlight a few games from it starting with SpellTower. It’s a word-making game that I’ve been playing on my Google Nexus 7. There are a few gameplay modes, leaderboards, and even a multiplayer mode that I haven’t had the opportunity to test. I’ve found it to be a fun diversionary game at bedtime.

Each of the four modes is centered on high scores. By swiping together adjacent letters (even diagonally) and making words, I scored points. Longer words or ones using uncommon letters would net me more points. In Tower Mode, I did so using a set number of letters. What I found more enjoyable were the Puzzle, Extreme Puzzle, and Rush Modes. The puzzle modes started with a few rows of letters. Every time I completed a word a new row would be added. I could take as long as I wanted and this was a good exercise in crafting worthy words. Rush Mode also started with a few rows of letters. However, more were added over time. This was more an exercise in quick word making.

An example of word creation. Or an homage to Fleetwood Mac's most popular album.
An example of word creation. Or an homage to Fleetwood Mac’s most popular album.

SpellTower isn’t a game designed for extended gameplay sessions. When played in small chunks, I imagine it’ll remain in ones queue for many weeks. Especially if one has friends who also have it. The Twitter hooks are in this game and it’s hard not to boast about a new high score. I overloaded early so I’m a little burned out on it at this point. However, from time to time, I get the urge and pop it on for a round or two to see if I can top my best score. Can you top my best word?

Best word: jillets – 616 points. Definition: giddy or flirtatious girls or young women.

Shenmue II [Xbox] – Review

The box art itself is epic!
The box art itself is epic!

I could go into excruciating detail about the narrative and highlight all of the major plot points of Shenmue II, but I won’t. Actually, I can’t say that I won’t because I did and I’m just not publishing it. What I wrote was a two page article that read more like a set of game notes. I dove fairly deep into explaining the three major sections of the game and even then, I barely scratched the surface. What you as someone who is unfamiliar with this game needs to know is that Shenmue II is narratively rich, yet ultimately unfulfilling. Narratively speaking, that is. It’s still a joy to play.

In short, the game picks up directly where the original left off. Ryo Hazuki has travelled to Hong Kong to exact revenge on the mysterious Chinese man who murdered his father. Ryo investigates the Wan Chai and Kowloon areas of Hong Kong in a similar manner as he did in Yokosuka. He follows up on leads by asking residents, gets into street fights and other scuffles, and finds odd jobs to pay his bills. All this eventually culminates in a trip to a remote village where an event that has been foreshadowed since the beginning occurs. The beginning of this sequence had my friend and I sit straight up as we knew what would follow was very important. However, eleven years after its original American release, the cliffhanger ending is still unresolved and the current stopping point for this ill-fated trilogy.

The various quarters of Wan Chai and Kowloon are each large and distinct.
The various quarters of Wan Chai and Kowloon are each large and distinct.

As I mentioned, the structure of the game is identical to its predecessor, although elements have been improved. The primary emphasis was still on investigation and completing odd tasks and I found their resolutions very rewarding. Brawls and QTEs were still a large part too, but they seemed less prevalent. I find it peculiar that the fighting system appears to have such depth and yet it was hardly utilized. This made it a little tough for my friend and me towards the end as the rising action and climax consists of dozens of easy and tough fights. Needless to say, we relied very heavily on simple punches and combos.

And what a climax! These last few hours were simultaneously tumultuous to play and epic to witness. Kicked off by a stressful quest to raise money, my friend and I spent a solid hour gambling and resetting the game when things didn’t go our way. This was followed up by a convoluted trek through 18 floors of a massive 40 floor building. The dozens of fights Ryo had provided closure for the events that took place in Kowloon and they eventually led to a climactic scene where Ryo caught up with Lan Di. Although nothing transpired between the two, he now knows that Ryo is after him. Afterwards, the chance encounter that had my friend and I sit at attention was drawn out, torturous, and a great opportunity for two characters to become acquainted before finding out their destinies lie with each other.

The cast of characters is ridiculous. So many interesting individuals.
The cast of characters is ridiculous. So many interesting individuals.

I’m doing it again. I’m trying to delve into the narrative and I just need to stop. There’s a reason this series has such a zealous fan base. Shenmue and Shenmue II are fantastic examples of the narrative-driven single player video game. An epic coming of age tale coupled with exploration, investigation, and action. The blend of gameplay elements kept the game fresh and despite a few tumultuous sequences and the occasional camera or control issues, Shenmue II was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The passion of Yu Suzuki and his development team shines through in this game as it did in the original. Now, what about Shenmue III?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Boss Fights

Lots of goldish hues in this game.
Lots of goldish hues in this game.

I didn’t touch on this in my review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I really didn’t like the structure of the boss fights. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the boss fights were universally panned when the game was originally released. So much so that Square Enix actually revealed that they were outsourced, as if to shield Eidos Montreal or the otherwise stellar game from negative press. I didn’t care for them for one very specific reason – they didn’t coalesce with the way I role-played the game.

Yep, the bosses had Adam on his knees most of the time.
Yep, the bosses had Adam on his knees most of the time.

As I mentioned in my review, I played through the game attempting to go unseen. I also approached confrontations with the goal of non-lethally taking enemies out or bypassing them entirely. Neither of those play styles were options when it came to the bosses. Adam Jensen eventually came across these antagonists as the narrative unfolded, and he confronted them head on. The only resolution was to kill them very bluntly – guns blazing.

Since I role-played Adam in a different way, I was generally lacking in the hardware required to take the antagonists out. That made these fights difficult for me. The first fight was horrendously difficult as I had to get accustomed to a different play style. Meanwhile, Adam would die in a scant few hits from this initial boss. It was tough not to rage quit. I was more prepared with the later boss battles as I began always keeping a select few lethal weapons in my inventory. I didn’t find these as tough, but they weren’t easy.

For narrative purposes, these antagonists had to die. Adam talking them down or converting them to a different way of thinking would’ve stripped away the intensity and sense of threat posed by these baddies. After all, if Adam could talk everyone down, who are the ideologues leading his opposition? In that scenario, no one would believe that their point of view is the “correct” one. There wouldn’t be any honest opposition or nefarious individuals.

Oh, goodie.
Oh, goodie.

How should this be remedied? I don’t know. This has reportedly been addressed with the Director’s Cut so I’m curious what their resolution was. In conversations with friends, I’ve forwarded the thought that Adam could’ve found a way to sneak up on these enemies. That solves one of my qualms but he, or someone else, still needs to take them out. If Batman has taught us one thing, it’s futile locking the Joker up. One way or the other, he’s going to escape. In the end, it boils down to me role-playing Adam Jensen in a way not consistent with the narrative. However, Eidos Montreal sent mixed signals. The gameplay is open-ended, but the narrative doesn’t completely gel with any play style. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that touts multiple paths but perhaps there’s only one true way.