Tag Archives: adventure

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Someone, who I am married to, likes to scavenge the lists of what is leaving Game Pass when, and then freaking out taking special notice of what is about to leave that she’d like to play. Which is how I ended up doing a shared speed run[1] of the first volume of the Plague Tale series[2], Innocence.

Of course, this also means that unless it comes back to Game Pass, this review does nobody any good, since while it was more than good enough to play, it was less than good enough to spend forty dollars on. (Unless you are suddenly really concerned about the sequel I suppose, which I then hope for your sake is worth more than sixty dollars. …or it will be on Game Pass as a day one release, so.)

The game is a probably faithful (in tone if not in detail) romp across Middle Ages western France, wherein a fifteen year-old daughter of nobility along with her five year-old brother become refugees fleeing the Inquisition, and the English invaders, and the omnipresent plague-ridden rats, most of whom are more than they seem. It starts as a sneaking and hiding game, but as the siblings continue to survive (thanks, checkpoints!), they gradually learn the skills needed to survive at a better than “on the run” level.

Too bad, then, about Hugo’s unresolved chronic disease.

[1] When I say “speed run”, I don’t mean a seventeen minute glitch fest, I mean like 20 hours because we both want to find all the things in an otherwise 12-15 hour game and are only so skilled on top of that, but also we can only play violent games at night, in our limited sleep time, so that was a lot to deal with in like a week. I’m still exhausted.
[2] Was there a planned Plague Tale series? I have absolutely no idea. But there’s the name scheme for it, and also there’s a sequel coming out in October, so, signs point to yes.

Uncharted (2022)

I really like the Uncharted game series; for a while, it was probably what kept me buying new Playstations, and you can see that they have not released one lately by my lack of a PS5.

So when they made a movie based on the series, and starring Peter Parker in the role of Nathan Drake, I naturally ran right out and was skeptical, because video game movies are always bad. Always.[1] Also, for a variety of reasons it has been difficult for me to go to movie theaters of late. But Uncharted (the movie this time) landed on Netflix just a few months after release, unexpectedly, and here we are.

So, how was it? The thing about the Uncharted games is, most of gameplay is shooting (or maybe sneaking past, but it’s basically not possible) bad guys or navigating tombs and cliffs and things that involve narrow ledges and contorting jumps and indescribable upper body strength. All of the treasure hunting and decoding and knowledge and the like comes in dialogue while the game is being played or else in cutscenes. Which means that the series is in fact eminently suited to a movie adaptation.

And… they did alright, you know? It was weird seeing someone quite so young in the role[2], but all the treasures and legends and maps and weird secret keys and the like just work for me, you know? I watched National Treasure, for god’s sake, and this is maybe less over the top insane than that, but also more sincere, mostly on the (surprisingly buff!) shoulders of Tom Holland playing a young, not yet entirely jaded Drake. I had fun, and if there’s a sequel as the movie strongly, strongly implied there will be, I will make a point of watching it too. Maybe sooner, even.

[1] Not always.
[2] The movie character Nathan Drake was 25, whereas the game character has always coded as mid-30s to me.

Beasts of Maravilla Island

I find that a combination of “this looks like I could play it when Malcolm is in the room” and “this came free with XBox Live Gold this month[1]” makes for compelling game downloads. I mean… sort of?

Beasts of Maravilla Island is maybe a step past a walking sim, in that there are puzzles[2] to solve. But basically, armed only with your camera and your grandfather’s journal, you arrive on Maravilla Island to see what he was talking about when he mentioned all those magic hybrid animals and plants and insects. And then you take pictures of them, and of the things they do.

Later, you do the same thing, only now you’re on a different part of the island, with a different ecosystem. Later still, you… well, I think you get the idea. If I had paid ten dollars for it, I think I’d be pretty meh here, but as a cost-free way to spend a couple of hours while the boy was absolutely enchanted by the banana-shaped birds and gem-shaped beetles and crocodile-shaped otters, that’s a thing I can get behind.

[1] And as of this writing, still does. No promises about tomorrow.
[2] Well. “Puzzles”.

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion

The first thing that happens in Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is… well, it’s rather predictable, is what it is. You wake up one morning and have a letter from the mayor that you owe property taxes, and you[1] rip up the letter, and boom: you, sir, are a tax evader.

And now, you are on an epic quest to… well, honestly, even saying what the quest is for feels a little bit like a spoiler, but what you are for sure on is an epic quest to do whatever Mayor Onion tells you, since he owns your greenhouse through the powers of lien-holding or whatever. Along the way, you will fight vegetarians, learn your backstory[2], and live out what is, ultimately, a love letter to anarchy.

It’s silly, short, and if not exactly easy, also not exactly hard. My only regret is that the XBox version apparently has bugs preventing me from get the last 100 gamerscores. Lame.

[1] I should pause here to note that you are one Turnip Boy, esquire
[2] Why don’t you already know your own backstory? Listen, don’t think about it too much.

The Gunk

For the first time in probably literally ever, I have played a new game, to completion, within a fortnight of its release[3]. Even accounting for its being a relatively short game, my counterpoint is that I didn’t play it for about a week in the middle, what with Christmas and having a child and all that this entails. My points are a) wow and b) look for this to never happen again, like, ever.

The Gunk is the story of a pair of… long haul truckers? junk traders? if I’m being real, what they actually do is not perfectly laid out, except that they for sure do it in space and in the future. But then they pick up an energy reading from an otherwise dead planet, and the idealistic exploratory character (as opposed to the hard-bitten cynical character or the helpful, low-vocabulary character) insists on checking things out. What follows is an exploration platformer game where you quickly discover that there are these piles of purple, bulbous, well, gunk all over the place, and that if you hoover it up using your power glove[1], all of the plant life recovers from a dormant state, and weird pools of energy that are for sure some portion of what the readings were and which have additional uses in the moment are also revealed.

And then you explore around, trying to figure out why and what everything is, and not incidentally make some money along the way, due to your semi-apparent day job overlapping with this kind of discovery. Later still, there are conflicts.[2]

As this kind of game goes, it is clearly not as good as your Marios and your Banjos-Kazooie for the fact of the game play and collectiony bits. But it has probably a better, more engrossing plot than those have, and also only plays for like six to eight hours rather than sixty to eighty. Those facts may be related, come to think of it. But also, they don’t handhold you. I thought I explored everywhere, and I certainly tried to, but even though I got the scan everything achievement, I could not manage the build everything achievement.

I’d play a sequel game with these characters, though, so.

[1] Where it ends up is not particularly a topic of interest to the game writers, who, to make two points in one footnote, were clearly enamored of but never owned a certain late ’80s NES accessory.
[2] What??? I know, right.
[3] And then forgot to post for nearly another week. *sigh*

A Way Out

I found it difficult to classify A Way Out. It’s nearly a walking simulator, but too interactive for that. (It does frequently occupy the same story-telling space, though.) It’s on occasion a shooter. It’s definitely a light puzzle solver, going back almost to the middle days of your Kings’ Quests. I guess the best way to describe it is as a two player split screen[1] interactive movie, about breaking out of prison.

It’s also about more than that, in much the way that the TV series Prison Break was. I think it is fair to say that between watching all five(?) seasons of that, consuming two versions of Shawshank, and playing this game to completion, I will have no problems if I ever find myself in, er, diminished circumstances.

Downsides: antihero types. You are, after all, playing one of two people who wants to escape from prison, seeking revenge. But it’s rarely a dark take; mostly, in fact, it is kind and humanizing of everyone involved. It’s like, some people in prison are a danger to society and need to never come back. But some people in prison just, y’know, do crimes sometimes, and that doesn’t automatically make them bad people, even though probably you don’t want to have a crime done to you.

I bet that doesn’t make sense.

[1] Even if you play it online[2]! I found this at first pretty annoying but ultimately it grew on me. Thanks to illness in the house, we weren’t going to play couch co-op anyway. But at least it affirmatively worked, so now we can play Borderlands not on the couch, which means I won’t hate everything while trying to play it.
[2] Which is why even though I finally got a Series X, I played this on the XBox One. Mary, on the other hand, got the fancy treatment.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)

Two milestones! Surprisingly to me, I’ve never finished a Switch game before. Like, I kind of finished the Mario game from one perspective, but from another I was barely halfway through it. Regardless, no review! So, oops. (Or not. It’s hard to know.) But also, I’ve never played a game that required specifying a year for version control. Link’s Awakening has had three versions, two on various GamesBoy in the ’90s, plus this one on the Switch.

As for what it is, it’s a mostly 2D game[1] set at a 3D angle, a la Link to the Past[2], where you[3] have shipwrecked onto a small island where nobody has heard of the concept of an outside world, where there’s a giant egg housing a Wind Fish (whatever that is), and where (surprise!) the monsters have started getting restless just lately. Also, the art is an adorably almost claymation thing, and every time I paused to actually look at it, it just… made me happy. You know?

There’s item / powerup collection, there’s dungeons, there’s secrets (not all of which I found)… it’s a Zelda game, is what I’m saying, and those are good on their own merits in the vast majority of instances. On top of that, there’s a surprisingly emotional core to the thing, where the act of playing the game as intended leaves you wondering whether you should do so. I dug it.

Also, weirdly, I played the whole game handheld. Bad for my neck, good for my ability to actually finish. This is a problematic realization, to be clear. Especially if you happen to be my neck.

[1] You can jump and dive, so it’s 2D with an extra two layers beyond the one you mostly exist in? Approximately.
[2] Arguably the best Zelda game ever made, Breath of the Wild notwithstanding. Inarguably the best 2D Zelda game ever made.
[3] by which I mean Link, the boy in the green tunic who acquired his first sword under, at best, suspicious circumstances

Donut County

The thing about Donut County is, it’s barely a game at all[1].

But if you can get past that, it’s pretty fun and funny. It’s approximately a knockoff of Katamari Damacy, but instead of rolling things up, you are a hole in the ground, and you are swallowing said things. Donut County is a county somewhere near alternate Los Angeles I guess?, inhabited by all manner of sentient animals and also for some reason this one girl. The only problem is that everyone and everything keeps disappearing into holes in the ground.

Who could be causing this? And why? And will you ever get to fly the sweet quadcopter that you can unlock if you reach level 10?

Anyway: as two hour games go, I definitely got my money and time investment’s worth.

[1] This is not entirely true. The last third adds more game elements, such that by the end, there’s some game there.

The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

Mulan (1998)

Upon request, I have also watched OD[1] Mulan, and I have thoughts. Sort of.

One thing I think is that I’m missing a lot of context. Not only did I just watch the live-action remake, but I also live in a post-Frozen world, where Disney is going out of their way to be empowering, or at least egalitarian, in their gender politics. So Mulan marching off to war to [spoilers upcoming for a 20+ year old movie] become a war hero who at no point needs anyone to rescue her is pretty groundbreaking for a Disney who started off with main character “princesses” who never even took actions, much less actions to improve their own lives. My point is, context matters and this was probably a bigger deal of a movie in 1998 than it seems to me now. Which is good! I would be much less happy if it felt groundbreaking today.

Another thing I thing is, man, Disney musicals are hit or miss. And this one, musically? Mostly missed for me. Some of the songs were really bad, and almost none of them made any lasting impact on me. The two that rose above that included one that was also cringeworthy. I mean, it was supposed to be, but that didn’t really help? Oh well. That said, the further into the story I got, the fewer songs there were. So that part was helpful!

Lastly, I have comparative thoughts, which are these: I’m really grateful to this movie for existing, because the remake took every good thing about the original, processed and refined it into something that was purely better. The problems I had with the live-action version were directly a result of the movie feeling like a real historical document, as opposed to the animated Disney version of a folk legend. In folk legends, you can believe in people doing the right thing, just because it’s right. It’s harder in real life, and my point is, the remake felt real. I’m not sure Disney could have pulled that off without their own template to pull from. It’s not just “What if one of our old movies, but live action?” that Beauty and the Beast was. It really is its own new thing.

As for this? It’s alright, you know? And I like it when Ming-Na Wen is a badass, even if I can only hear her.

[1] Original Disney