So, remember earlier this year when I began my Xenoblade Chronicles review talking about how I no longer had the time for lengthy RPGs? Well… apparently I do. Three months and 125 hours later, I’m finally done playing that game’s sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X. Originally published in Japan by Nintendo on April 29, 2015, Monolith Soft’s Wii U follow-up arrived in the west half a year later, on December 4, 2015. Featuring no narrative continuity with its predecessor, this entry recounted humanity’s survival on an alien planet following the destruction of Earth. In nearly every way, the developer’s improved upon and expanded the systems they introduced in the previous game, making for an incredibly deep, and fulfilling experience. Continue reading Xenoblade Chronicles X [Wii U] – Review→
The last week or so of my video game time was devoted mostly to Godzilla on the PlayStation 4. The dozen or so hours I spent playing it were enjoyable despite the lackluster quality of the game. I thought it was feature-rich and a solid compendium of Godzilla related information but found it to be highly repetitious and devoid of much inspiration. Instead, my enjoyment stemmed from unlocking the game’s trophies. Some look at achievements and trophies with disinterest and even disdain, but for me they can be compelling motivators and a source of satisfaction akin to completing a checklist. While I’d like to think I’m past the point of playing a game solely because of these competitive barometers, this period consumed by Godzilla makes me wonder, am I?
Time Clickers is an incremental game, a newish term for a genre that’s perhaps better known to host idle and clicker games, that is, games like Cookie Clicker, Progress Quest, and Candy Box. These games generally have no end objective and offer the player little avenue for input, but are wildly addictive. I’d like to think these games are best experienced passively with a routine check-in, but that hasn’t stopped me from spending elongated sessions with them or alt-tabbing to one of them every 30 seconds. The endless grind for improved effectiveness results in short-term satisfaction and long-term emptiness that usually sees me dropping off.
The basic, never-ending objective of Time Clickers is to destroy waves of assembled cubes. Doing so generates cubes to spend towards weapons, abilities, and upgrades. It starts off innocuously enough with a measly handgun but after a minute, the player has accumulated enough cubes to hire some additional weapons. Altogether, the player can eventually hire five other weapons that dropped out of Unreal Tournament, not to mention the ability to unlock idle mode for the handgun so they don’t have to actively destroy cubes themselves; a slew of abilities are also available for purchase. At this point, progress is based around increasing the DPS, thereby increasing the revenue intake. Each of the weapons can be endlessly upgraded and for the first run or two, that was my singular motivation.
The time aspect of the game comes into play in the form of Time Warps (as well as spending time “playing” the game, I suppose). After wave 100, a new type of cube begins appearing, one which can be spent on a variety of upgrades in the game’s skill trees. To spend these however, one needs to Time Warp back to wave 1. With each successive Time Warp, waves go by quicker, upgrades come faster, and Time Cubes, this new form of currency, are accumulated well, more rapidly. The “wall” one hits where enemies are too tough keeps extending into ever higher waves and progression somewhat resembles a roguelike in this way. This currency and these skill trees are now motivating me although I can still look forward to Weapon Cubes which begin appearing after wave 1,000. I haven’t gotten that far but the related unlockables don’t seem as clutch as the ones I’m dealing with now.
At this point, after about two weeks with the game, I don’t see a window for when I’ll be satisfied or done with it. I’d like to treat this game more as a timewaster, but I routinely find myself glued to it when there’s no time to waste. It’s a very addictive game and indicative of what so many of its contemporaries do so well: take a barebones approach to progression and ratchet up the feedback and reward loop. Time Clickers in particular is a prime example of this and with mobile and Steam versions that support a unified cloud-save system plus leaderboards it’s an easy sell for a free game. Shoot, the mobile version incentivized watching ads well enough that I did nearly every opportunity they came along! It’s inevitable that my focus will eventually turn away from Time Clickers, but for the time being I’ll keep alt-tabbing and wasting my lunch hour away with it.
I’m disappointed with Pokémon Picross. Or rather, I’m disappointed in my expectations for the game. When it was announced in a recent Nintendo Direct, it was fully detailed as a “free-to-start” title: a game I’d be able to download and play for free. Presumably, there’d be some reason to coerce me to input money, but I didn’t ruminate on that or the potential pitfalls associated with the game’s payment model further. My lust for a new Picross game caused blinders to go up, especially considering this was a new one thematically designed around Pokémon. A peanut butter and jelly combination if I’d ever heard one! Having spent some time with the game, I’ve come back down and am firmly grounded in reality.
Nintendo’s Picrossgames are logic-based puzzlers that task players with filling in a gridded square using numerical hints on each row and column, ultimately revealing a picture. The numbers bordering each row and column indicate how many squares are to be filled in and if they’re connected or contain an unknown space of unmarked squares between them. Using deductive reasoning, one can determine that if a row of 10 squares has a hint of 8, a certain number of squares must be filled in, regardless of where the filled in section begins and ends. Extrapolating this thinking across the entire grid and utilizing squares that have already been filled in is an addictive process with a satisfying sense of completion when complete, especially on the larger puzzles.
Pokémon Picross takes that standard concept and applies some of the mechanics from the Pokémonseries. The puzzles themselves are representative of individual Pokémon that when complete, result in catching said creature. They each have an ability that aids in the completion of puzzles by filling in squares, slowing time, etc. This mechanic ties into another new addition, rewards for completing specific objectives for each puzzle. Each puzzle has a set of unique objectives, such as set Pokémon X or use ability Y. Rewards for completing these were generally Picrites, the in-game currency.
Mega Puzzles make a return after their debut in the digital only Picross e titles, although they’re completely foreign to me. I skipped out on those digital titles not thinking they contained much content (I was wrong, rectifying that mistake… now) but they make total sense in a Pokémonthemed game, considering Mega Evolutions are the new “thing” for that series. Basically, they screw with the hints given and instead combine two rows/columns. Even after going through the tutorial a time or two, I had to wrack my brain to comprehend them. They add a nice change of pace, but are nowhere near as progressive as Picross 3D.
Progression is also portrayed differently, although is structurally similar to previous Picross games. Players navigate the game from puzzle to puzzle as if navigating the varying routes in a Pokémongame, complete with branching paths and different creatures. The difficulty pacing is all over the place, which for a veteran like me is appreciated. While it could be a hindrance for someone unfamiliar with the series (and I could see many newcomers coming for the Pokémonside of the equation), it also further replicates the progression of a standard Pokémongame, e.g. having to return to some cave with stronger Pokémon. Reaching new areas is no small feat and the barriers are twofold: energy and Picrites.
I originally wanted to start this section off discussing one of these mechanics as the lesser of two evils, but they’re both pretty mischievous, but ultimately boil down to one annoyance. Like many free-to-play games, this one utilizes an energy meter. As squares of puzzles are filled in, that meter depletes until it’s empty, halting progress until it’s refilled. The easiest way is to wait for it to refill; this can take a couple of hours and for the player in need of a fix, the quickest way is to refill it (or extend it altogether) with Picrites. As mentioned, Picrites are the in-game currency and are awarded for the completion of puzzles and the completion of objectives. They are doled out in laughable quantities in relation to the amount needed to unlock additional areas and upgrades, heck even an alternate set of puzzles are gated behind a hefty sum of Picrites. The only logical solution is to pony up real money.
This is a free-to-play game (and the core game is damn fine!) but convincing myself to plug in more than a couple of bucks is a tough sell. Admittedly, I’m still one of those luddites who prefer physical media and getting something I can hold in my hands in return. And I understand that many individuals worked on this game and there are plenty of stakeholders who deserve a cut. But, the portrayal of this game as free-to-play is somewhat devious. The amount of Picrites awarded in relation to the tally needed to unlock additional stages is prohibitively high and at some point, progression is gated behind a measly few puzzles that can be farmed each day.
Labels and payment models shouldn’t conjure this much ill will, and I’m perhaps going overboard here, but I would’ve rather seen Nintendo strip away the free-to-play elements and just market a full-price digital title. Obviously they didn’t go that route and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’d reach more players, and ultimately yield more revenue by adopting the model they went with. And with that “realization” this article has devolved into a codgerly rant about the evolving sales pitch of video games. The kicker is that if you pump in about thirty bucks, all of these elements I’ve whined about go away. I don’t think I’m going to though because I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder on how they marketed this game! The more I write, the more I’m coming off as an entitled asshole, even to myself. So while I’d fit in great in an internet comments section, I’m going to wrap things up here! This is a great game, just go into it with better expectations than me.
In a vacuum, Fallout Shelter can become tedious and boring. In the weeks since its Android debut, I’ve played it a few times a day. Early on it served as the highlight of my work break and bedtime gaming session whereas nowadays it triggers the forgetful “oh yeah, that game!” response. With others playing concurrently though, the experience promotes healthy “watercooler conversations” about each individual’s vault. Ultimately, this is a marketing vehicle disguised as a free-to-play game; one that provides ample enjoyment upfront but has little incentive for long-term attachment.
I’ll preface any further exposition with the acknowledgment that I’ve not played a Fallout game in any material way. I did play a smidgen of Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel – arguably the worst title to play in the series – but that doesn’t color the otherwise rosy impression I’ve developed of the series from word-of-mouth.
Fallout Shelter is a resource management game portrayed like an ant farm. On startup, I was introduced to a barren vault which a few wasteland wanderers wished to call home. With them safely inside I was then taught about the three core resources that promote everyday vault life: power, food, and water. I quickly expanded my vault size with the addition of rooms that generated these resources and with a little more education, I was on my way.
New room types were unlocked after meeting certain dweller requirements (20 inhabitants, 30 inhabitants, etc.) and the existing rooms could be added on to and upgraded to yield more resources or skill experience. Each dweller had seven skills that could be increased via their outfit, skill training, or just leveling up. Assigning them to rooms and having them produce resources, babies, or focus on skill training helped them increase levels, as did sending them out to the wasteland. Accordingly, I could also equip them with weapons which came in handy during exploration, enemy raids, or radroach infestations.
There’s no traditional story to the game and there’s not one end-game objective to shoot for. There are always three minor objectives to work towards at any time (collect x amount of resource y, assign x amount of dwellers to the right room, etc.) and these yield rewards for completion. The most coveted are lunchboxes which contain four gifts, one of them guaranteed to be rare. Ideally the rare gift is a special dweller, outfit, or weapon. Personally, I received a rare weapon early on and I was set for wasteland exploration afterwards and thanks to the bottle caps I began generating, my vault expansion took off.
Expanding the vault entails burrowing deeper underground and in total, there are about two hundred spaces to make use of. My current vault occupies about forty spaces and I’ve got a population nearing seventy dwellers. Having gone through a tumultuous period where I was under producing vital resources and not generating enough bottle caps, I’ve slowed progression considerably. I’ve got a couple steadily having children, a far cry from the two or three I had previously. I’ve also focused on equipping everyone with outfits conducive to the rooms they occupy, maximizing resource production, or skill advancement. I’m not overburdening any one resource and by expanding slowly but surely as I now am, I’m more confident in my growing layout.
Still, I’m struggling to find incentive to play as much as I once was, which is natural. After all, the newness has worn off and I’m no longer being introduced to new concepts. I find the lack of an end-game objective to be a double-edged sword. The upside is the ability play relatively endlessly with little hindrance. The downside being the lack of an incentive for someone like me who isn’t chomping at the bit to play anything Fallout related and only finds this game marginally enjoyable. Wanting to feel like I accomplished a definitive objective, I’ve set a personal goal of unlocking the final room – it requires 100 dwellers in the vault. I’ll probably play for a brief span of time afterwards, but I’ll eventually delete it, and life will go on.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is more engrossing when playing alongside others. I learned through this game that one of my coworkers is a major fan of the series and he was able to provide many solid pointers as his vault remained way more developed than mine. Having conversations with others drove me to continue expanding my vault and compete in a sense. The actual game lacks any sort of involvement or connection with others however, outside of the Google Play Games functionality. I could imagine trying to steal resources, gear, or dwellers from other vaults could be fun, in a Clash of Clans sort of way. Even being able to view other players’ vaults to get ideas or compare/contrast layout would’ve been cool. As it stands, I’ve got little incentive to continue on other than my self-imposed endgame.
I’d still recommend downloading Fallout Shelter though. It’s free after all, and it is the opening act for what will undoubtedly be one of the year’s defining games. Be warned though–you may begin booting the game up and finding yourself with little to do often. You may even forget about the game for a day or two and then boot it up to find a few dead dwellers. Asking the question “why am I still playing this?” could become common. Friends playing as well will invariably enhance the experience. Then, like me, you may keep the vault in the forefront of your thoughts and want to continue checking in on your dwellers. Heck, you may even want to purchase Fallout 4 this year.
You Must Build a Boat had me addicted like no other for the better part of a month. The puzzle/role-playing game is the sequel to 10000000, which I knew much of but unfortunately, ignored. In hindsight, that may have been a boon as this game only amplifies the concepts of that game, and may have worn out its welcome if I just played 10000000. Both games are match-three style puzzlers designed around brief gameplay sessions. However, they incorporate RPG mechanics coaxing long-term play and activating acute pleasure centers in my brain.
When I first started the game, my avatar was on a raft looking vessel with a couple other dudes. Very quickly, they informed my character that his mission was to, yep, build a boat! At this point the game transitioned to what would become a very familiar screen over the next half-dozen hours. The top twenty percent featured my explorer in a dungeon. He would run through dungeons encountering enemies, traps, and treasure chests. The bottom twenty percent consisted of the tiles that I would match by swiping columns up or down and rows left and right. Matched icons would cause my adventurer to react correspondingly. If I matched key tiles, he’d unlock a treasure chest. Likewise, if I matched swords or staves, he’d attack physically or with magic.
Each run of a dungeon would end when my character reached the edge of the screen. I had to react quickly enough to his obstacles as the screen never stopped scrolling, even if he did. When it eventually did, I would arrive back on the ever-expanding boat with a constantly growing staff. Back here, I could spend the coin I’d accumulated and increase the effectiveness of the tiles, recruit monsters for permanent stat boosts, and much more. The tile-matching was very responsive to my touch and fun in itself, but coupled with the sort of gameplay loop found in an RPG and then consolidated into a six hour experience instead of a sixty-hour experience and this wound up being a game I could hardly put down.
Now that I’ve completed it though, I don’t feel like going back. Or rather, I have and don’t want to repeat the cycle from square one. Upon completion it prompts to start at the beginning albeit with a stiffer challenge. I haven’t found that sufficient motivation to begin anew, although I am picking it every now and then; I’m just putting it down much easier. Nonetheless, I spent roughly seven hours with it on my first go-around and I could’ve probably done that all at once. Excluding the grinding I did at the very end. That grew tedious. Other than that fact, this game is well-worth the paltry asking price.
It’s no surprise that my playthrough of Her Story was unique. After all, it’s the type of game that walks the tightrope between video games and more generally, an interactive experience. In my case, it was a cooperative playthrough with a friend. We had returned from a local independent theatre after watching Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a riotous Japanese language film. (Wowzidukes! This article is going to earn me so much hipster cred!) I rarely play PC games so this was somewhat unusual but I’d heard much of it through social media word of mouth and gaming sites last week, plus it was only five bucks. It was a good plunge to take too, as the game provided a fun cooperative experience.
Her Story revolves around a series of interviews that the police conducted with a British woman whose husband was found dead in 1994. These were filmed at the time but for whatever reason, are no longer able to view in their entirety. Instead the player can interact with a police computer and search a database that retrieves clips based on search terms or phrases. The corresponding video clips seemed to average about thirty seconds in length. It’s unclear what ever became of the woman and the police’s investigation, but it’s implied that’s what the player’s character is after and serves as motivation for the player.
The way the game is presented is nostalgic. The police computer that the player interacts with appears to be running a dated version of Windows on an equally ancient CRT monitor. When a search is conducted, it takes a second for the computer to produce the results and the work it performs is audible. The player isn’t locked to a single program however as there are a few .txt documents and a “rubbish bin” with a minigame on the desktop. Crucially, all of the video footage is rendered as full-motion video. FMV tends to be a divisive issue in terms of video games, but the execution of it here is perhaps the best example I’ve seen, even beating out the Mad Dog McCree trilogy!
I’ll save any sort of plot spoilers or ruminations for another article. The way everything played out led to a lot of discussion between my friend and I. After our initial playthrough, there were two obvious ways everything could’ve happened, but I think we’re still undecided on the truth. I’m looking forward to replaying it with him so we can take detailed notes and reach a verdict. That in itself is hardy praise for Her Story. I feel confident enough with my theory on what happened that I’d be satisfied enough to move on, but I want to fire it up again, and definitely will this weekend. It’s well worth a look.
E3 2014 kicked off with Microsoft leading the charge. From their conference you could pick up the vibe that Microsoft (and it’s publishing partners) strongly believe in the future of cooperative player…who knew gamers like playing together. A few standouts were,
Scalebound (pictured at top)
Phantom Dust (remaking or sequel to late PS2 generation game from Majesco)
Project Spark, which now features 100% more Conker!
Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac Games’ first Xbox exclusive and it simply looks amazing.