Friday, August 3, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Vessel, VVVVVV and Mystery Game

            So because I’m terribly, horribly bad a pacing myself, my guilt overdrive has exploded at the lack of posts and after weeks of zero/sparse content I’m going to throw two articles at you at once. I’ve been playing a lot of games lately, as you’ll no doubt be so surprised to know. Basically take that huge list of games I was playing this summer a while back. Then add 8 games from the Steam Summer sale. Then lightly sprinkle on a few old games that I decided to add to the list of those I’m revisiting. Oh, and drop in a handheld game I bought before going on vacation. Mix together lightly and put in an oven pre-heated to 375 degrees for 15 minutes. After, let cool for several minutes before glazing on a layer of honey. Sorry, what was I talking about?

Orcs Must Die 2 is apparently delicious with a pinch of nutmeg

            It just so happens that an event rarely seen has occurred with some of these games, and that’s me playing enough of them to feel fine writing about them. Since they’re all smaller games I don’t have as much to say about, however, I’m going to cram them all together into one article. Without further ado, allow me to introduce today’s appetizing buffet of games:


            I actually got this game a while back, and although I haven’t beaten it or played too much lately I think I’ve played enough to voice my opinions on it. Vessel is an indie game I found on Steam that is, to the shock of absolutely no one who plays indie games, a puzzle platformer. Don’t get me wrong though, I love me a good puzzle platformer and am fine with the indie scene proliferating the genre. The game stars an inventor named Arkwright who has created a device that animates liquid into basic constructs called Fluros, who can perform simple tasks like movement, hitting switches and more. However, the Fluros act autonomously and therefore are causing problems in various locales due to their actions leading them to self-replicate. After assembling a backpack and hose to suck and shoot liquid, Arkwright set out to fix the problems his inventions are causing.

Shorter version: You use a liquid backpack and machines made of liquid to solve puzzles.

            I like the game a fair bit, but not enough to be shouting its praises from the rooftops. The visuals are nice, clean and colorful. Though you see a bit much of indoor environs early on there is eventually a bit of variety in the level design. The sound is good too, with sound effects having an acoustic, homemade kind of sound. This fits well with the music, which is generally passive, understated and subtle. The controls are fine, though I had experienced some trouble aiming I’m almost positive that’s due to my usb controller’s faulty right stick. The story, mentioned above, isn’t really the focus but is perfectly serviceable. That just leaves us with the gameplay.

            The gameplay of Vessel is a prime example of puzzle platforming. You go from room to room and are presented with huge mechanisms that you need to unravel to progress past. As with most games of its type, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction to be found in the eureka moment when every part of a big puzzle clicks into place. However, as is also typical of these games, the rare occasion with a less than stellar puzzle may leave you feeling like you’re awkwardly cobbling together an ad hoc solution when it’s really what you’re supposed to do. The moments are pretty uncommon in Vessel, but they can lead to some frustration or confusion.

This puzzle where you run by dousing lava chaser Fluros is fairly straightforward. Some are not.

            The other potential trouble spot in this game lies in its most unique mechanic. There are Fluros of various types that do various things, and your own actions melded with their autonomous ones can lead to a fairly unique experience that often looks cool as well. However, the fact that the Fluros move on their own can make it fairly difficult to make them perform precise actions, which is sometimes necessary to proceed.

            There’s a collectible in the game you can use for nozzle upgrades to your hose, but the feature is kind of superfluous. Of course the issue is that none of them have to be necessary to gameplay given that they’re optional, but I still feel some upgrades are inconsequential even given that. Since the game is a generally slow paced puzzle platformer I can understand that it’s hard to give you upgrades that are cool without breaking the game, but the complaint stands nonetheless.

            Though this may seem like a lot of complaints, they’re all relatively minor and the game is still well designed and a good deal of fun for those who like puzzle platformers. It came out on Steam this year in March, at a full price of $15, and I’m sure the developers would love your support. How much you’ll like it may vary depending on your tastes but I can give it a mild recommendation for the price.

If nothing else, it’s kind of cool to see lots of Fluros moving around hitting switches at once


            This oddly named indie platformer was one I had heard of some time ago but only decided to pick up this Steam Summer sale. It’s a decidedly retro platformer with difficulty levels sometimes approaching that of Super Meat Boy. For those who don’t know, that’s what is technically described as the “super freaking hard” level of difficulty. Despite this, it also shares the thing Super Meat Boy had that made that difficulty level manageable, and that’s checkpoints literally almost every several seconds of play. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going in-depth about the difficulty and you don’t even know what it looks like yet.

It looks like this

            You may notice that the pixelated gentleman in the picture above is standing on the ceiling. This is perfectly normal, because in VVVVVV you can flip the direction of gravity. In fact, apart from being able to move left and right this is your only ability, and is used in place of jumping. The key factor that keeps this from breaking the game is that you cannot reverse gravity when falling, only when standing on a surface. The game isn’t really a puzzle platformer because the focus is still on acrobatic feats with expert timing but there is certainly a puzzle element into initially figuring out how it’s possible to navigate some rooms.

            The visuals are decidedly old-school, and the game even opens with the Commodore 64 loading screen. As someone with no artistic talent who occasionally tries to make games, I appreciate that some finesse is certainly needed to have bad graphics that don’t actually look, well, bad. The game definitely isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve seen lately, but the graphics are old-school well still being palatable and offering some variety between the different areas of the game.

Different backgrounds and different colors! Wow!

            The game also offers a fair level of variety in its mechanics. Despite the fact that you only have one ability, the levels themselves have a fair amount of features that keep things interesting. Apart from spikes and other…things that damage you, the game also features moving platforms, disappearing platforms, lines that switch your gravity automatically, stages where exiting one side of the screen places you on the opposite side, scrolling segments, and one or two other set pieces. This may not seem like much, but for better or worse the game is very short. It’s a good thing because the game stays fresh and doesn’t overstay its welcome, and a bad thing because there’s not very much of it.

            I beat the game in a little over two hours and probably could’ve done it faster had I not explored a bit. To be fair I only discovered 60% of the collectible items and what game you get is good fun while it lasts. Exploring space is amusing and the games bag of tricks is more than enough to entertain, even if the game isn’t outright fantastic. As I said earlier the game is very hard and you’ll probably get frustrated at a point or two, especially if you aren’t great at platformers and especially if you try to get all the extra stuff. However, as I also said earlier, checkpoints are ridiculously numerous to keep things from getting too rage-inducing.

Notice those two C’s? Those are checkpoints, mere seconds apart from each other on opposite sides of a room. You’re returned to them instantaneously when you die.

            And that more or less covers all I have to say about VVVVVV except for one thing…the music. Dear god the music. VVVVVV has a retro soundtrack and I’m a sucker for those, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but VVVVVV’s soundtrack is totally the greatest thing in the universe ever. Okay not that good, but I do find it pretty damn great. Rather than continuing to flail my arms and prose about trying to describe the music, just have a couple songs.

Passion for Exploring is the song that normally plays when you’re out in space, uh, exploring, and is, in my opinion, really excellent music.

Positive Force is the tune that you hear on the final levels of the game, and it is, in my opinion, really super excellent music.

            So that’s VVVVVV. If you’re interested in challenging or retro platformers (or awesome music) then there are a couple places you can pick it up. It’s available on Steam for $5 full price, but also on the 3DS store for $8 full price. My review was of the PC version.

Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi

            Okay, hang on, don’t be like that. You stop running away from your computer this instant. Okay, now stop booing your monitor. Okay, now stop mailing me death threats while punching your computer screens with brass knuckles. In the event that you’re not doing any of that, you probably haven’t heard of the many, many Dragonball Z fighting games. Either that or you actually like them, which I’m about to explain isn’t that odd.

Some may be confused as to how super-powered flying people punching and firing lasers at each other could possibly be a bad thing. I’ll get into that.

            Dragonball Z is an extremely popular anime that you’ve probably already heard of (and if you haven’t, what planet have you been chained inside all these years?), and given that the series is known for and almost entirely revolves around its explosive fight scenes, it makes sense to make a fighting game about it. However, though the fast-paced, high octane fights show a great potential for an awesome fighting game, fights that take place at super high speeds in a matter of seconds are really hard to balance properly. The other problem is one of quality versus quantity.

            Though there were many Dragonball Z games prior to when I was around, particularly in Japan, the Budokai fighting series that I’m familiar with was first released in 2002. The next year, in 2003, they came out with Dragonball Z: Budokai 2. The next year they came out with DBZ: Budokai 3, the next year they came out with DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi, the next year DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, the next year DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, the next year they came out with the fighting game of the same style DBZ: Burst Limit, the next year DBZ: Infinite World, the next DBZ: Raging Blast, the next DBZ: Raging Blast 2, and the next DBZ: Ultimate Tenkaichi. The only reason we stopped is because we are now up to date in terms of years.

            You can see how this can be something of a problem in terms of game development, and the one year turnaround of the games shows little new content each time, probably keeps from radical changes or methodically polished balance, and makes people who don’t play the games heap disdain on them. To be fair, I’m sure the games earn some of this and that the yearly installments change so little you probably don’t need to update that often. I know the game has some problems, like poorly balanced AI, similar move sets and a subpar camera. From what I’ve played of this entry though, it may be flawed but also has its charm.

For example, the game provides a fair amount of color and variety in both the characters you punch and where you punch them in.

            Matches take place in large 3D arenas filled with destructible scenery, where you can move in any direction, jump, or fly up and down. You can lock onto your opponent or refrain from doing so in order to better run away, which is often a perfectly viable tactic. You see in addition to a health gauge you have a Ki gauge for using Ki blasts (small energy bursts that do little damage but work well as distractions) or larger special attacks. You have a dedicated charge button that causes you to pause and do the same shout-y action power-up so often seen in the show, which fills your Ki gauge. The battles are fast paced and you can move at high speeds, so you need to use quick regular punches, Ki blasts and running away in order to charge up for higher level techniques and power ups. You can also block and perform may other more complex techniques (like various advanced hitting/blocking attacks, recovering from heavy hits, and laser duels that occur when two connect), but that’s the general flow of combat.

            There are generally three things that happen when you start up a match. The first is that a computer or opponent completely wipes the floor you before you even have a chance to react and the match ends quickly and frustratingly. The second is that one of you wins by spamming the same techniques or combination of techniques over and over again, because this game isn’t perfectly balanced and its fast pace means there are a lot of things that are really hard to counter without serious skill. The third, and most uncommon, is that it actually works. However, when it does work, the game is a blast (literally!) to watch and play.

Y’see, it’s fun because you get to punch people in the face at high speeds. Also lasers. Have I made that clear?

            You’ve just dashed out of the way of a giant laser and leap over a small mountain into the water, where you start charging an attack. Your opponent chases you out and you expertly deflect his Ki blasts and block his flurry of attacks, dodge to the side, and start your own combo. Punch punch, medium punch to break his guard, punch punch punch, heavy charged punch that sends him rocketing backwards through a now exploding mountain. You shoot up into the air to get a better vantage point, fire off a few Ki blasts to keep him busy and unleash a Death Beam to finish him off with a giant explosion!

            This is something that mostly passed me by when I was a kid, but if you actually bother to learn what you’re doing and play enough to get the hang of things occurrences like the above become fairly common, and they’re as fun as they sound. They feel like everything a Dragonball Z fight should be, and I can’t ask for much more than that. The game is a bit shallow, imperfectly balanced and I wouldn’t say it’s a classic or anything. But if you see the game lying around for cheap somewhere and don’t mind a bit of a learning curve I’d say it’s worth picking up, if only to bust some people’s heads into mountains in between giant laser duels.

Pew Pew Pew!!!

1 comment:

  1. I would just like to point out that I'm liking the new background pattern and that OMD2 goes better with a healthy dash of paprika.