I See You Nintendo (Tetris 99)

In September of last year, I wrote a post calling for a boycott of Nintendo Switch Online. Actually many people were and still are on board. I won’t claim that it was solely because of my blog post because many people posted similar sentiments on various platforms, but the point is that the service Nintendo released at cost was, and still mostly is, a bad service that isn’t worth the money. Even if it is the cheapest online console service currently, that doesn’t somehow magically justify the cost, though many fanboys would make that argument. I’m still boycotting Nintendo Switch Online. I love my Switch. Since that post I’ve purchased Smash Bros Ultimate, Super Mario Party, Pokemon Let’s GO – Eevee, and though I received a review copy and thus didn’t pay for it, I also got Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Every single one of those games is excellent. I would recommend purchasing every one of them. None of them are flawless. But I don’t regret buying/playing any of them. And there are more games on the way that I can’t wait to play.

Nintendo just released a demo for Yoshi’s Crafted World. It’s amazing. It’s exactly what I wanted from the next Yoshi game. I will absolutely be buying it. The point is that I in no way regret purchasing a Switch. There are numerous amazing games to play on it and I have a decent sized backlog of unfinished titles to play. And honestly though it does affect me occasionally, for the most part I’m fine not having access to online PVP. Currently there are only two games that I really want to play online against other people, not counting Super Mario Party, which I absolutely do want to play online against other people, but they don’t have the full board game mode available for online PVP and that’s what I want to play against others. So currently the only argument that can be made for why I should pay Nintendo $20 a year for online multiplayer is Smash Bros. Ultimate and after the latest Nintendo Direct, Tetris 99.

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Tetris 99 is the combination of probably the closest thing to a perfect game ever made and the current battle royale craze. Now personally I hate this BR bullshit. I hate PUBG. I hate Fortnite. I hate Blackout. For many reasons I hate this entire trend and concept. I don’t like the idea that developers can release games with no story and they become super popular and make billions of dollars in loot boxes and skins. That’s everything wrong with the gaming industry and community today. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to projects like Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s not OK. But Nintendo, being Nintendo, took the concept and made it not suck, innovative, not a cash grab, and for once worth my time . . . maybe?

Tetris 99 is the first BR game I’ve ever had an interest in. For starters, it’s the only BR game to date that can justify not having a story. It’s a simple puzzle game that’s been around since 1984. The game is so old, many games couldn’t have stories back then. It’s justified. It has no loot boxes, microtransactions, or DLC. You download the game and you have the whole game. It’s free. Well it’s not free, but it comes as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription so it’s free-ish in the same way that we describe PlayStation Plus games and XBOX Games with Gold games. I haven’t personally played it, because again I’m not a subscriber, but this the first time since the service went live that I really wish I had a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Or more accurately, I really wish the service was good enough to warrant me subscribing. Tetris 99 is the first step in the right direction. This is the kind of content and release model that I need to see coming from Nintendo consistently, as in on a monthly to bi-monthly basis, for me to consider the service worth my money. What’s important here is that they were able to create a game that I actively want to play. I think about it a lot. I’ve been watching Tetris 99 videos, something I never do. I do not normally just watch other people play games without some specific reason tied to it like I’m stuck in a game or I know the person playing personally. And yet I’ve taken the time on more than one occasion to watch videos of people playing Tetris 99. As a side note, most of you apparently such at Tetris. I’ve been appalled by some of the low quality performances people felt were appropriate to post online. And I know that sounds arrogant and hypocritical considering many of the lackluster gaming performances I’ve posted to my Twitch and/or YouTube channels, but Tetris is not that hard. Granted I have been playing it semi-actively for more than 20 years so maybe I’m just at a level of experience that makes me unable to relate to new players. But I digress.

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This is the kind of content that I want to see from Nintendo Switch Online. This is how you sell me this service. And you don’t touch the current price point. It stays where it’s at or gets lower. So my point with this post is to tip my hat to Nintendo. I see you making moves trying to add value to your online service. I respect that. That’s what I want to see, not just from Nintendo, but from XBOX and PlayStation as well. Make online subscriptions great again. And I’m fine with Nintendo focusing on old games. They said they were gonna do that from the beginning. But this is the first time since the service started that they did it in a way that’s actually interesting and worth my time. I don’t want to take turns playing old NES and SNES titles. I can do that with my SNES Classic without paying a subscription fee. Tetris 99 justifies the need for online PVP access. Now I’m not gonna pay $20 a year just to play Tetris. I wanted to get Tetris Effect, but that won’t happen till that price goes way down. I am not paying $40 to play Tetris. But if every month we got another Tetris 99 style game free as part of the service, I’d definitely sign up. So hopefully this is the beginning of Nintendo Switch Online actually being worth the money. And if and when that’s confirmed, I’ll definitely sign up. So the next question is what’s the next Tetris 99?

I’ve given this only a little bit of thought so far but I do have some ideas that I think would be equally successful, if not more so. The entire concept of Tetris 99 is take an old game that’s simple to understand but, apparently, hard to master that has an indefinite amount of play time and apply some sort of mechanic that allows multiple players to play single player rounds of the game at the same time where a certain occurrence negatively affects the other players in the lobby. Here are just three of the ideas I came up with in a matter of minutes.

Switch Online cover

Dr. Mario

This seems fairly obvious. Really it’s just a variation of the Tetris concept with different rules of engagement. Just apply the same multiplayer mechanics and it’s good to go.

Pac-Man

My idea would be exactly the same as Tetris 99 where all 99 players are playing their own game of Pac-Man, still with three lives and the ability to earn more, but it’s only one map/stage. There are no regular pellets. Instead the only task for the player is to survive. More specifically, don’t get eaten by ghosts. Power pellets would still be present and reappear over time, possibly tied to eating a certain number of pieces of fruit. When you use a power pellet and eat ghosts, you send those ghosts to other players’ games. It would work just like Tetris 99 where you can send ghosts to randoms, attackers, those soon to die, and badges, which I haven’t put a lot of time into conceptualizing yet.

Galaga

Similar to my Pac-Man idea, everyone would be playing their own game of Galaga concurrently. When you kill an enemy, you can send it to other players’ games. There would probably need to be some limitations set upon it like the number of enemies that can actually get sent and some sort of limit to how many enemies can be sent to the same player at the same time.

Have you played Tetris 99 yet? What do you think of it? What other games would like to see this concept applied to? Let me know in the comments.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Nintendo Switch) Early Impressions Review

I was unsure about Starlink: Battle for Atlas going into it. The marketing was good but kind of vague. I was getting some No Man’s Sky vibes from it, which isn’t a compliment, but I was also getting some solid story based gameplay vibes from it as well, which is the greatest of gaming compliments. If I’m honest I have to say that the main selling point for me was that Star Fox is in the Switch version. You have to understand how much I love Star Fox and how long I’ve been waiting for a good Star Fox game. Having played every home console Star Fox game on its original release console, including Star Fox Guard and Star Fox 2, it’s my opinion that a good Star Fox game hasn’t been made since 2005. Star Fox 2 is good, but that was made in 1996. I hated Star Fox Zero. It had some good ideas but the controls were terrible to the point where I struggled just to finish the base game and haven’t played it since. So the prospect of a good Star Fox game was very appealing, but not enough to get me to buy Starlink day one, because this wasn’t made in house by Nintendo. Thankfully I received a review copy and I’m glad I did.

Let me be very clear in saying that I’m only about three hours into Starlink: Battle for Atlas at this point. I plan on playing it a lot more and after the three hours I have played, I can already say that I will absolutely finish this game and possibly go for a 100% completion. But I wanted to write something about it now while it’s new so people who are on the fence can get a better understanding of it so they can make a more informed purchasing decision. That’s why I’m leaving this review unscored and I put “Early Impressions” in the title of the post. I also want to make clear that I haven’t looked at the non-Switch versions of the game at all. I don’t even know how they compare graphically so be aware that this review is only talking about the Switch version unless otherwise stated.

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Before getting into the finer details of the game, there are two main things that need to be said about Starlink before anything else. The first is that this game essentially took all the good ideas from No Man’s Sky, layered them over a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild foundation, and then decorated it with Star Fox paint. That’s what this game is in a nut shell. They took the No Man’s Sky open world, resource management, space exploration concept, added an actual story, dialed back the map to that of large, but not infinite, and allowed players the ability to play an open galaxy space fighter game as Fox McCloud with his crew along for the ride. In other words, they did what people actually wanted rather than try to be overly experimental for the sake of grandeur.

The second thing that needs to be said is that this is not a Star Fox game. The PS4 and XB1 versions of the game don’t contain the Star Fox team. They were added into the Switch version similarly to how Link was added into Soul Calibur II (2002) on the Gamecube version of the game. The difference though is that Fox and crew have been added into Starlink with great care and effort. It’s not lazily done last minute. It’s not a few added cutscenes and no direct interactions. From what I’ve seen so far, Ubisoft took the time to weave Fox, Peppy, Slippy, Falco, and it seems Wolf directly into the plot of the story. There are cutscenes where the Starlink regular characters and the Star Fox team interact directly. Fox and crew enter the Starlink team’s ship during cutscenes and interact with them in dialog during normal gameplay. The point is that while this is not a Star Fox game, you’re able to play the Switch version like it is one, and that’s intentionally how I’ve been playing it so far. In a lot of ways, that might be the future of Nintendo games and if so, I’m looking forward to it.

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Visually speaking, Starlink is very good, but it’s still a Nintendo game. I do believe it could look better on a more powerful machine. That being said, in true Nintendo style they’ve crafted a game that isn’t trying to look realistic so it’s fine that it doesn’t have super PC Master Race 4K graphics. The graphics are by no means bad though. The landscapes are beautiful and fairly well detailed. Fox and crew look great as far as finer details go, but they don’t really fit into the art style of the rest of the game. And the game runs very smoothly. The cutscenes look surprisingly good. Or at least the present day ones do. There are also some flash back cutscenes that are hand drawn comic strip style art. They look good for what they are, but they don’t match the rest of the game, that I’ve seen so far, in tone. Mostly though it’s one of the better looking games I’ve seen on Switch. It’s up there with Xenoblade Chronicles games. There are definitely some things that I believe are scaled down from what they would look like in the PS4 version, but not so much so that I feel like I’m being cheated playing on this platform.

What’s nice about this galaxy is that it’s both diverse and lived in. There are a lot of different settings and landscapes, even on individual planets. It’s not just dessert planet, lava planet, water planet. One planet, of which there are several, has multiple habitats. Wild life is native to certain regions and not others on any given planet. There are abandoned cities, skeletons littered across deserts, active settlements, roving bands of outlaws, and ancient ruins. It’s not a world(s) that exists for you. They just exist and you happen to be there.

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There’s a lot going on in the full HUD. I haven’t turned anything off yet, but I’ve already considered it. It’s all useful information, but it just takes up so much of the screen. Depending on what’s happening, there are times when like 50% or more of the screen is covered in HUD data. Thankfully, you have the ability to toggle off and on each individual part of the HUD and two of the options can be set to appear only at specific times. I like the menus. They’re very simple and easy to understand. They have a very space age tone to them but they still come off very Nintendo. Smooth edges, interactive pictures, and easy to read text. I also really appreciated that you can set the subtitle text size, language, and backing opacity. You can even set the temperature readout to Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin. I don’t know if I’ve played any other games that have Kelvin as an option. Enemies, target objects, and bases all have floating life bars as well, so you can always see the status of things. This is really helpful and I’m glad it’s there, but it also adds even more HUD to the screen. I guess the best way to describe Starlink overall is that it looks the way it’s supposed to. I don’t think I’d change anything about it visually other than giving it more power so the details could be even crisper in the landscapes.

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The sound is solid. The effects are limited to user interactions, which is a bit of a disappointment, but you don’t usually notice it during normal gameplay. What I mean is everything you do has a sound effect, but only certain things you do things to have a reaction sound. For example, if you shoot a canister that’s meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire and you will hear the canister explode. But if you shoot a wall, that’s not meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire, but the wall won’t make a sound. Essentially there are a limited number of sound profiles and interactions in the game. But again, most of the time you won’t notice this unless you’re actively shooting things you aren’t meant to shoot. Your ship has sounds for everything from boosting and jumping to changing out weapons. And the things you’re supposed to interact with all make sounds as well. The quality is clean and mostly clear, but it can get drowned out by your weapons fire. You do have the ability to set separate volume levels 1 – 100 for speech, SFX, music, and ambient sounds as well as change the audio mix between three sound profile options.

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The dialog audio is good. There are many different characters that speak in this game and they all have their own voices. That includes NPCs like shop keepers and outlaws. All speaking characters, including outlaws, have individual names and their talking avatar shows up on your screen during dialog. You will never see any characters walking around though. Every sentient being is in a ship at all times. Only wildlife and enemies are just walking around the landscapes. The wildlife have their own sound profiles as well, which is always a nice touch.

The gameplay takes some getting used to. It’s essentially an all-range mode fighter plane game that takes place both in space and on the ground. You have the option to free fly between space, the sky within a planet’s atmosphere, and at ground level. You are always in your ship, but the way you move is determined by the flight mode/space you’re in. In general, the controls are fairly straight forward. You have up to two weapons mounted at any time, which you control with the triggers. You can boost, shield, jump, and interact with the four buttons (A,B,X,Y) on the right joy-con and you use the shoulders and arrow buttons for special commands. When in ground flight mode, you have a lot more control and don’t have to worry about altitude. But you also have limits to how high up you can jump. What is interesting though is that the game seems to have dynamic jumping, meaning it tends to make you jump as high as you need to go rather than having a limited jump height. There is a max limit though before you have to change to flight mode, which you do by holding the right shoulder. My biggest complaint is that the buttons aren’t customizable. I wish I could swap the boost and jump buttons and make the shield a different button as well. I pretty much never shield during combat because of where the button is placed.

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The fact that you’re always in your ship is a good thing. It makes for a more streamlined experience. You travel around planets and mine for resources, among other tasks, but things don’t require as much nitty gritty work. Boxes are scattered around the worlds that contain Electrum, the equivalent of gold/money, mods, and other useful things. You just have to shoot or blow them up to open them. The items contained within the boxes are automatically collected. This saves you so much time. At first I didn’t realize collecting was automatic so I went up to every box and manually collected things. But once I realized I didn’t have to I started sniping boxes from far away and saving tons of time farming. There are also resources that need to be mined from nature like plants and metal ore. These do need to be picked up manually. They can be sold at outposts for Electrum. NPCs will often task you with collecting things for them as well a number of other types of tasks like deliveries, scouting/exploring missions, and hunts for enemies and objects. You use Electrum and special resources to upgrade the main ship, your general skills/perks, and outposts. Your weapons and fighter ships are upgraded through perks rather than individually. But each weapon, ship, and pilot has their own experience gauge and leveling, so it pays to play with various loadouts so you’re developing your entire crew as opposed to just one set. I will admit though that I haven’t been good about that myself just yet. I’m pretty much only playing as Fox in the Arwing and I tend to use the same two guns a majority of the time. In the long run though I will change them once I max them out, otherwise it’s just a waste of XP.

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The game lets you change your loadouts, including ships and pilots, on command. At any time, including in mid-battle, you can just go to the menu screen and change your load outs. Ships and weapons also have mod slots, which matter a lot. Mods can affect a number of things like base damage, elemental damage, healing speed, movement, and so on. You have a limited number of slots for each piece of gear, but these can be expanded a finite amount with general upgrades. The ability to change loadouts in real time is useful because you can create loadouts for multiple scenarios and hot swap them based on the situation rather than having to re-spec your ship for every encounter. Loadouts matter because different mods and weapons work in tandem for the best results. For example, using fire and ice weapons concurrently results in a “Thermal Shock” damage scenario. You freeze enemies susceptible to ice damage, causing them to literally freeze in place and sometimes fall over. Then you burn them with fire ammo. The resulting reaction between the two types of ammo causes additional damage and effects to enemies. There are several types of weapons combinations that have special effects. This is why preparing multiple layouts is so useful.

The Ubisoft Club rewards for Starlink are some of the most useful I’ve seen in any Ubisoft game. The four rewards give you a collection of strong mods that will greatly enhance your performance. I don’t know if these mods will be that useful down the road once you’ve started finding higher level stuff and creating your own via mod merging/crafting, but early on the rewards mods are extremely valuable. I recommend buying them right off the bat if you have the Ubi coins to spare. And since the game has more coins to earn than to spend, you still make a net gain if you complete all the rewards tasks, many of which are pretty easy.

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The game, at least at this point, is not too difficult. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but more that it’s fair and rewards you for playing both smart and dynamically. If you just sit in one spot and fire away you might win, depending on the difficulty, but chances are you will struggle. To master the game you need to understand how weapons combinations work, which enemies require which weapons, which the game helps you with, which mod combinations work the best for your play style, and you need to master maneuvering. You also need to pick the right pilot for you. Each pilot, of which there are at least 10, some of which I found later in the game, has their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves. Fox, for example, summons Peppy, Slippy, and/or Falco to battle. They only stay for the duration of the battle, but it’s a useful technique. You can do this at ground level or in space. Once you get the hang of the game, you will push yourself to harder challenges. I started at normal, but after only two hours in I changed it to hard. I haven’t tried very hard yet. You can also turn friendly fire on or off. I keep it off though personally.

Enemies have levels and you aren’t aware of how big a difference those levels can be until you challenge something way out of your league. My Fox is level four and I haven’t struggled much, but I have had a ship blow up a few times in the normal course of play. But when I discovered a level 16 special enemy, it whipped my ass. Something to come back to later. That’s the nice thing about the game. There are things you know you’ll want to come back to later. The death system is interesting in Starlink. I think it works well for the type of game it is. Your ship has a life bar that heals automatically after a certain amount of time without taking damage, but if you take too much damage too quickly your ship will blow up, but this isn’t game over. You have a total of at least six ships. Each one has its own stats as one of four classes that I’ve seen so far. When you lose a ship, you can just swap out another one and use that one for as long as you want or until it also blows up. Then the next time you get to a repair shop you can spend Electrum to repair all your damaged ships. This system is really convenient because it means you rarely have to stop play even if you got a ship blown up. This also means that there is no stoppage in normal play. You can get hit with multiple battles back to back. Outlaws can attack at any time. You can fly into a nest accidentally. When you go to the menu the game is paused so you don’t have to worry about dying while trying to re-spec. But you never truly know what you need to be prepared for.

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There are also a number of mini-game and puzzle mechanics scattered throughout the game. Some are quite simple like pulling/plucking things. When you want to harvest plants or open doors, you have to grab them with your ship’s cable and then pull. But you have to pull the right amount. There’s a meter that you need to fill with enough pull pressure before the object will release. You aren’t allowed to over pull it though. It has to be properly measured or the object will remain attached. It’s hard to explain in text form, but as you find more important items, the pull min-game becomes harder. Some puzzles involve shooting targets with certain types of ammo or in a certain order. There are door puzzles that require you to figure out a sequence of locks in a specific order. I also really enjoy the ways you can interact with wildlife. You have to scan them to add to your database and learn more about them. Scanning one isn’t enough though. You need to find and scan three or four of the same species to get full data about it. You can also help animals, which I really like. Sometimes you find animals that have infections and you can help remove them. This will make that particular animal act friendlier towards you. To be honest I have yet to see any wildlife act with hostility towards me unprovoked, but I have had them show fear. The game is so much more than just flying around, collecting, and shooting.

While Starlink is a story driven game, it’s also an Assassin’s Creed style open world game. There are tons of side activities, special requests, hidden treasures, and random encounters you can seek out. You can spend a seemingly unlimited amount of time developing your team and resources without touching the main quest. It’s like No Man’s Sky with the option of meaningful gameplay. Overall, I’m very happy with the gameplay experience. There are some control issues you have to get used to and as with all resource games, mining will most likely get old. But as a whole, this is a great experience that I’ve only scratched the surface of.

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As I said, I’m not super far into this game yet. Less than four hours total. So my understanding of the story is still very limited, but I can say that unlike with No Man’s Sky, this is a narrative driven open world(s) game. And that includes Star Fox’s role in the game. You are actively pursuing narrative based goals. You meet characters and develop relationships with them. Outlaws have grudges against you and/or members of your team that they’ve had past interactions with. You’re not just flying around space collecting resources so you can build better ships. The game does have lots of mining opportunities and developing/upgrading your ships and other things in the game are a core part of the gameplay, but this is a single player, story driven experience with a finite amount of content. That more than anything is why I like this game and was almost completely disinterested in No Man’s Sky at release. The story is what makes the game worth playing.

The writing works. It’s not Naughty Dog level storytelling, but it’s a fairly large cast of characters, real social interactions between them, developing relationships, villains, heroes, mysteries, and side characters that you grow fond of. Now again, I’m still very early in. It’s quite possible that this is all just strong foundation to hook the player in early and then it will eventually devolve into a boring mining collectathon with little story. But it doesn’t seem to be going in that direction at this point in the game. So far I’m happy with the characters, I’m happy with the plot, and I’m especially happy with the fact that all the Star Fox team members are an active part of the story, even though they were added in later.

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I’m not gonna speak much on the replay value of a game I’m only three hours into of this seemingly high amount of content. What I will say is that there appears to be quite a bit of content and I assume there will be some future DLC as well. Because of the way the game is structured, there are multiple ways to play and approach things, which means there is the potential to want to replay the game using different pilots, load outs, and tactics. You also have four different difficulty levels. But because you can change difficulty, loadout, ship, and even pilot at a whim, I see no reason to replay the entire game at this point. It makes more sense to just change things around as you play your first playthrough fairly often and make the most out of a well-rounded experience. So at this point, I can’t say whether or not the game makes sense to replay, but in general there appears to be a lot of content anyway so that’s fine for me.

I’m really happy that I’m playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I’m not far in yet, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far. I’ll admit that my bias towards Star Fox plays a factor. It’s the game that I think many people wanted No Man’s Sky to be with the tradeoff of a finite amount of content. Finite doesn’t mean lacking amount though. A game doesn’t have to be infinite and in my opinion shouldn’t be. I enjoy the fact that the game has a lot to do but still has defined end goals. As I said, I’m not going to score this game so early in my experience with it, but I do recommend it for people who like open worlds, space fighters, and customization options in games. You can also check out some gameplay on my YouTube channel. I’ll be streaming the game via Twitch on weekends as well.

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Game of Groans (The Telltale GoT Experience)

I’m a fairly big fan of TellTale Games. They make excellent games and more importantly they make games that play differently than just about everything else on the mainstream market today. I don’t own all their games, but I own quite a few. Currently I have all the Sam & Max titles, Tales of Monkey Island, Back to the Future: The Game, Jurassic Park: The Game, The Walking Dead Season One, Poker Night 2, The Wolf Among Us, Batman: The TellTale Series, Guardians of the Galaxy: The TellTale Series, and currently I’m playing Game of Thrones. Now I have to admit that I have not yet completed all these games. In fact I’ve only completed a few of them. But I purchased them because I really like the studio and I enjoy their work, for the most part.

The first Telltale Games title I ever played to completion was The Wolf Among Us (TWAU). This is also the game that made this studio memorable to me. Before then it was just a name I may have heard from time to time but never took to heart. TWAU changed all that. That game is spectacular. It’s one of the most memorable point and clicks, if it can be called that, I’ve ever played. In my opinion, it is perfect in every way except for the inconclusive ending, which was intentional according to the studio. I am so glad they are finally making a season two and I will absolutely be buying it.

TWAU

Currently I’m playing Game of Thrones for the first time. I’m only past Episode 3. A few things to note right away are that I don’t love the art style but I’m ok with it. I love the writing, as per usual with modern TellTale Games titles. The story is weaved into the canon of Game of Thrones, the TV show, perfectly. But I am not happy with the way things seem to be playing out overall. There’s always a question of agency in games that let you make decisions. Whether it’s something epic like Mass Effect or Fable or something smaller like titles by TellTale Games, the ability to make choices must be executed properly or the whole experience is destroyed. In fact, I think that’s why so few games let you make decisions. It’s hard to manage the experience when the player gets to take the reins.

With all the TellTale titles I’ve played in the past that offered plot contingent choices, it always felt real. The decisions and their repercussions were executed correctly. Here correctly shall be defined as giving you an outcome that makes sense to the player based on the decisions they made that doesn’t appear to be the only possible outcome. That last bit is extremely important. Many games that have decisions are actually on rails. This is common knowledge. You make decisions and things branch out but ultimately they weave right back into the same path as everyone else’s choices. But the true art of making a game with decisions is making it seem like your choices actually mattered and led to the outcome you got. Mass Effect does this very well. TWAU does an equally good job considering the scale of the game. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much and why I took the time to platinum it, which required multiple (at least two) playthroughs. Game of Thrones however does not have this same effect when it comes to making decisions.

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I like playing Game of Thrones but I rarely feel like my choices matter that much in the grand scheme of things. I noticed this at the end of Episode 1. If you haven’t played the game please be aware of spoilers ahead. The game centers on House Forrester. This is a house loyal to the Starks that have been plunged into turmoil after the Red Wedding, which is where the game starts. You play as multiple characters who are all members of House Forrester. One of them is the young Lord Ethon. He becomes Lord of the House after his father and oldest brother die at the Red Wedding. When playing as him you are tasked with making serious decisions about the future of the House and its struggles with House Whitehill, a rival house that been in conflict with House Forrester for generations. The Whitehills have the support of the Boltons so they now get to walk all over House Forrester. You make a number of choices and at the end of the episode Ramsay Bolton murders Ethon with no warning. It’s a shocking moment and was perfectly placed for that classic Game of Thrones shock value. But what I didn’t like was that I felt like I didn’t deserve that outcome. I made very conservative and politically minded decisions. Not the decisions I wanted to make but the ones I believed were the best way to prevent violence from breaking out and House Forrester being driven into a war they couldn’t win at that moment. Even with all my eggshell walking, Ethon still got stabbed in the neck.

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I usually don’t look these sorts of things up because I do replay TellTale Games titles when I feel like I could get vastly different outcomes. But in this case, the death felt so undeserved that I had to look it up. To my surprise and disappointment, it turns out you can’t save Ethon. No matter what you do he will be murdered by Ramsay Bolton at that meeting. For a TellTale title that’s a load of crap, and it feels like it. When you play TWAU everything feels authentic. You always feel like bad outcomes are your fault. Even when I played it a second time, making all different decisions, things felt authentic and different. That’s the way it should feel. With each episode of Game of Thrones I have continued to feel like I was trapped within a locked narrative and that my decisions were of little consequence. That’s not how these games are supposed to feel.

Sadly this seems to have become par for the course for TellTale Games in recent years. Upon doing more research, I found out that you get a platinum trophy on PS3/4 just for completing all the episodes in Game of Thrones. The same is apparently true for Batman: The TellTale Series, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Tales From the Borderlands, and Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series. In all these games you get a platinum just for reaching the end of the game no matter what you do. This is not the case for TWAU and it leads me to believe that not much difference occurs from playthrough to playthrough. Why else would it be so easy to get a platinum? The only logical explanation is that you won’t gain much or possibly any additional plotlines if you replay these games. That’s a shame and goes directly against why I originally became a TellTale Games fan.

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Now I can understand why things like this might occur. All these titles are based on currently existing film and/or game properties. This means that the story has to follow certain paths in order to stay within the canon of the work. For instance, they could never have a scenario in Game of Thrones where Ramsay Bolton dies at the hands of House Forrester because he dies at the hands of Sansa Stark after the Battle of the Bastards. This is show canon. Now that might excuse the more set in stone plot(s), but it doesn’t excuse the execution of them. Even if my choices don’t really matter, they still need to make me feel like they do. Otherwise this is just an ugly, fairly uneventful as far as gameplay is concerned, rails story game. While that might be fine in a game with great gameplay, it’s not ok in what is for the most part a glorified point and click.

I am very much saddened by what seems to be the current and future state of TellTale Games titles. This is especially disappointing if it ends up ruining The Wolf Among Us Season Two. If this change in style is the result of all these big franchise adaptations then that’s terrible news because that’s basically all the studio is doing these days. I’d like to see a return to true form and I hope that one day in the near future they make authentic stories that don’t feel hollow once again.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Same World, Different Games

*This is a piece I wrote several years ago (2014), but for some reason never published. What I think is interesting is that some of the things I’ve called for here have been implemented into modern gaming via patches for certain games (GTAV) and also some modern games are finally allowing perspective choice, such as Star Wars: Battlefront (2015). But in general the industry still has a way to go on this topic.

Quite often there are games released (I’m talking AAA almost exclusively) that I really want to play at first announcement. They have the story, or the graphics, or sometimes even just the right looking character. It’s no secret that marketing can be the difference between record sales and a failed project. Sometimes I even do buy without taking the time to properly do my research. But then once I actually get a look at the gameplay, I’m totally disinterested in playing it. In the moments where I learn this after I’ve already purchased I play the game anyway because I’m not one to just throw money away. But in the times where I’m given advanced notice I simply let out a long sigh of disappointment and never purchase or play the game except in the rare occurrence where I get  a chance to play it for free either because a friend has it or PS+ tosses it out one month. And even then sometimes I still pass on it.

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I don’t know if other gamers have this issue, but I seem to be dealing with it constantly. There are certain aspects to the way a game is made that I often think are just wrong and would have been better if done differently. I’m not super picky about certain aspects of a game while I’m a complete stickler about others. My biggest pet peeve is when a game that should have clearly been made in third person is produced in first person. This is obviously a subjective opinion. I prefer third person games to first person just like there are plenty of gamers who prefer first person over third person. The main difference is that first person games are tied directly to esports now so they tend to get a lot more support than third person. This is especially true when it comes to PVP for some reason. I do play games in first person and there are certain first person titles that I really love like Mirror’s Edge (2008). But more often than not games are announced that I’m totally ready to buy and then later on found out it’s in first person and then I don’t even bother. Sometimes I’m on the fence about it like with the upcoming Destiny (here I’m referencing the first one because this was written early 2014), but other times I never consider it again.

Destiny limited ed

*I ultimately did purchase the limited edition of Destiny and if you read my blog regularly then you are already aware that I deeply regret it but not because it’s in first person.

Now obviously some games are meant to be in first person and they wouldn’t be any better in third. Call of Duty is a great example of this. It’s a first person shooter that would be no better in any aspect or even possibly be worse than it already is were it to be made in third person. The same is true for certain third person games such as Sly Cooper. That would be a horrible experience in first person, except for maybe in a very well made VR scenario. But quite often some games are produced in one POV when they would be so much “better” and sensible in another other POV.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

For me, there is no better example than Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011). You give me a super slick looking cyborg with inlaid blades, robo shades, and enough tech to make Raiden (MGS not MK for all you noobs) jealous and then you tell me I’m not going to be able to see him for most of the game. That makes absolutely no sense. That game should without a doubt have been in third person. We know this to be true because of the many moments where the game switches to third person when you do cool stuff like stealth kills or even just climb ladders. And no I don’t care if the past titles in the series were in first person. Clearly that was the wrong decision, at least for this title, and should have been changed. I was ready to pre-order it after watching the reveal trailers, but when I found out it was in first person I passed. Tried a friend’s copy for about 5 minutes and put it down never to play it again. Even passed on it when it was available for free on PS+. It should have been in third with the option to switch to first for more precise gun use.

There are also games that are in the middle that could be very good in either first or third person. Mass Effect is a great example of this. It’s in third person over the shoulder, which works great. But it also could have easily been a first person shooter and been just as good. It would only have needed to switch to third person for cut scenes which is a common practice in first person games. Between games that could go either way and be fun and games that should have gone the opposite way, I have to ask the question “why not?”

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Mass Effect First Person Mod

Why don’t we ever see games remade in different gameplay styles? It wouldn’t even be that hard in comparison to making a brand new game. You already have your plot, graphics, level design, and voice acting. You need only remake the gameplay and you have a brand new and sometimes better gaming experience in a fraction of the time. Then you can ship it out quicker and charge less for it without taking a loss so everybody wins.

Obviously I’m not saying this is a practice that should be done with every or even most games. I would absolutely never consider playing a first person God of War game. The thought of that just makes me cringe. But there are clearly titles that can and sometimes should be remade in a different POV or with other gameplay focused changes. Wouldn’t you like to try something like Tomb Raider (2013) in first person? It may not be better, but it could also end up being a much more dramatic gameplay experience.

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The only time in the series I preferred first person. God of War III (2010)

I think a great example is Thief (2014). I was so excited to play it that my girlfriend pre-ordered it for me. But it was actually a pretty boring experience (read about it here). I understand why Thief was made in first person and what it was trying to accomplish. But I truly believe that it would be more enjoyable and less annoying to play in a third person view. Especially when it comes to combat, which is pretty sloppy in that game when not landing exclusively stealth knock outs. Now I can admit that it happens to be a game where stealth knockouts should be your go to means of dealing with enemies, but if you played the game then you know that it’s not made well enough to accomplish that in any practical amount of time. Especially for inexperienced to average level stealth players.

While I’ve been focusing on POV, that’s not necessarily the only change in a remake that could lead to a great gaming experience. There are also contextual gameplay changes that could help certain titles a lot. What if we were to see certain games recreated with an entirely different combat system? Now personally I like Final Fantasy XII (2006) and while I don’t consider it to be the best of the franchise, I was not unhappy with the battle system. It was innovative and attempting to change the experience to something other than the basic turn time which had existed for several years. Whether or not it succeeded in creating a good battle system is up for debate, but I do know that many people were unhappy with it as well as the newer systems in more recent games such as Final Fantasy XIII (2009/10). Why couldn’t we see these games recreated or better yet originally released with the ability to play in the classic turn time style? (Some of them actually do include the choice of turn time, but it’s disappearing with each new title.)

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That would be my ideal scenario, if I’m honest. A game comes out where multiple styles of play and POV would make sense and be enjoyable and they are all included in the release copy. But that’s asking a lot for some games. There’s also the possibility of releasing multiple versions of a game or including other gameplay style options as DLC. If given the opportunity, I would totally play Deus Ex: Human Revolution fully in third person. When it was new, I would have even been willing to pay extra for the privilege.

Again, I’m not saying that this is something that should be done for every game. But there are definitely certain titles where it could be quite enjoyable, profitable, and in some cases useful. I bet certain games would even sell more copies and garner more positive response in an alternate version than in the original. While such a policy does go against the current system of video game development in many ways and may even be insulting to developers, I say “so what?” Gaming is about entertaining the player while trying to make a profit. It’s pretty obvious that such a move to create alternate versions of certain games would do just that. And since credibility is kind of a dead thing anyway what with all the HD remakes and paid DLC for unfinished releases, would this really be such a disgusting practice in the current gaming industry?

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Here’s a list of some of the games that I would love to play in remade versions. Note that I’m not saying all these games weren’t great the way they were made. I’m just saying that I believe they would be fun to play in an alternate version.

  • Elder Scrolls – Third Person
  • Brink (2011) – Third Person
  • Uncharted – First Person
  • Kingdom Hearts – Turn Time RPG
  • Demon’s Souls (2009) – First Person
  • Prince of Persia – First Person
  • Minecraft (2011) – Third Person
  • Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (2004) – Real Time Action RPG
  • Dragon Age: Origins (2009) – Turn Time RPG
  • Metroid: Other M (2010) – First Person

I’m curious to know if other gamers have similar pet peeves with games and how you feel about the idea of developers releasing alternate versions so please leave a comment below.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey Review – 8/10

It has been a busy few weeks with Mass Effect: Andromeda among other games, but I wanted to make sure to take the time to post about this particular game review. I had the pleasure of reviewing a turn based, open world JRPG from Koei Tecmo called Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey. This game hadn’t even crossed my radar, but I was asked to review it and I’m so glad I did. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a casual level JRPG. I published this review on Brash Games, but here’s the introduction:

Atelier Firis

Tackling an RPG is always a daunting task. And other than in the case of games like Dark Souls, the JRPG is always the most intimidating of the genre. The highest levels of concentration, character development, patience, and ultimately time are required to best these beastly games. As a person who has played and reviewed my fair share of Koei Tecmo titles, I went into the recently released (3/7/17) Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey expecting a harsh uphill battle. While this is still a JRPG, I was surprised to discover that this is much different from just about every other game I’ve played in the genre.

You can read the rest of the review here. For this and other reviews by me on Brash Games you can also check out my Author’s Archive page.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Linelight Review – 6/10

This week I reviewed a fun little puzzle game on the PS4 call Linelight. It’s a short, but sweet little experience that I highly recommend and it’s also available on PC. I published this review on Brash Games, but here is the introduction:

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In my opinion, the best puzzle games are either really complicated to the point of making you pull your hair out, or elegantly simple and require a fair amount of thought, but not too much else to be satisfying. The recently released (1/31/2017) Linelight by Brett Taylor Interactive LLC falls into the latter category. This simple puzzle game does just about everything right to give you a fulfilling gameplay experience without asking for too much in return.

You can read the rest of the review here. For this and other reviews by me on Brash Games you can also check out my Author’s Archive page.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Let Players Play Their Way on Gaming Rebellion

This week I published an article about how developers seem to be putting their own opinion based priorities about how their games should be played above those of the consumers at the expense of players’ enjoyment. I focused a lot on Activision and Destiny in this post, but many other developers today are just as guilty. I published this article on Gaming Rebellion but here’s the introduction:

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I know a number of the ideas put forth in this post are controversial in today’s world of constantly evolving games. I also know that many trolls will chalk the whole thing up to me just crying about things being too hard and that’s fine. What would the internet be without haters? But the general idea is one that I believe resonates with all gamers, both casual and hardcore. Players should be given the ability to enjoy games the way they want to enjoy them regardless of how others feel, as long as those others aren’t seriously affected by it.

You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.