Tag Archives: platformer

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

I still don’t understand why games that are roguelike are named after the original game of that style, Rogue, while games that are Metroid-like (ie, exploration-platformers with boss fights and power-ups) are named after more than a decade later when Castlevania did the same thing, and someone decided they were equivalent and everyone else agreed. It’s just not right.

All of that to say, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania in which you play a silent[1] protagonist come to the dying city of Dirtmouth above the dead-but-treasured-filled kingdom of Hallownest, and also everyone is bugs. And that’s it, that’s the whole plot as presented. Everything else you learn on the way. Questions like “why do I have such a shitty weapon? why are some of the bugs cool and chill and want to sell me things or discuss philosophy, but some of the bugs just run at me to kill me, but some bugs do both? why is this referred to as a platformer when I can barely jump at all?”

There are three important things to know about this game. The first is that, if you are okay with the genre, with having to go back and forth and remember where you left things to do later and explore until you find places you can’t go but trust that you’ll be able to later and until you find fights that you cannot win but trust the same thing about that, if you’re okay with these things: this is a spectacular game. Arguably the best one of its kind ever made.

The second is that it’s incredibly long. I played for 83 hours to get the credits, and there are still a number of things that I know are left undone, not counting that there are probably things I don’t know also.

The third is a corollary to the second. It is 97% melancholy, with only the briefest of divergences from this theme, and those countered by moments of much stronger sadness to still balance out at 100% adjusted melancholies. And there’s nothing wrong with a melancholy game! Most walking sims are, and I play lots of those. But here’s the thing: 83 hours of melancholy is a lot to get through, even for a truly amazing game.

Oh, and also Voidheart Edition is because there were eventually several small expansions, and all of them are included in the Game Pass version. According to the meter, I got 106% completion out of an implied possible 112%. Almost all of what’s left are harder versions of things I’ve already done, which makes it hard to feel like I should practice my ass off to accomplish them. Plus the melancholy.

In the unlikely event that I do more, and that the more I’ve done changes my impressions significantly, I’ll report back.

[1] I mean, yes, most video game protagonists outside of dialogue-tree RPGs and shooter cutscenes are silent. But the other characters in this game make a point of noticing your silence.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

First completed video game in ages! Moving and getting married are hard, distracting work. Anyway, knowledge of this game’s release was exciting, because I’ve played the rest of the series in part as a bonding experience with my father. Then it took long enough post-release for me to get him to my house[1] that I probably should not have pre-ordered after all? Whatever, the price is only like $20 less even now.

Last Nathan Drake game, I said the series needed some kind of plot shake-up to avoid the trap of “these are all the same game”. Because, I mean, they are. You climb around on walls, you shoot people who are guaranteed to shoot at you if you don’t (and probably even if you do), and you seek a really big treasure of some kind. It is known.

My point is this: A Thief’s End provided the shake-up I wanted. Good job, game designers of the previous future / current past! See, it starts with a flashback to an unguessed at childhood, then proceeds through some things that I would definitely consider spoilers, resulting in yet another treasure hurt, of course, but in a way that pre-empts at least some amount of the currently in vogue backlash against how Nathan Drake and so many other video game avatars are “murder hobos”, willing to slaughter dozens or hundreds of foes standing in the way of said treasure. And then the epilogue provides a whole new kind of shake-up, to boot!

The title indicates that this is the last game in the series. If it is, I think it went out on a really good note. If it isn’t, I’ll get the next one, because how could I not? I definitely liked it, which is not a shock considering my previous reviews on the series. But most of all, I appreciated the new depth to, well, every part of the game.

Huh. No. That’s not true. The depth of the fighting and climbing is basically identical. But there were some new and improved aspects of how to move around the map and solve the puzzles, and mostly I meant the plot. Which you probably already knew. Jerk.

[1] I have a PS4, he does not. His possession of a PS3 is why the other series entries were played at the Ranch, you see.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

91jwO5PCReL._SL1500_A quote from my review of the first Uncharted game, lo these many years ago: Pretty much, it’s a Tomb Raider game where they reduced the budget on breast motion physics and invested that money into storyline and dialogue. It was, I think, a good trade.

I have a feeling that someone paid attention to that sentiment, because just a few years later Eidos rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with exactly those modifications to the bottom line. And while I like the Uncharted series quite a lot, Lara Croft is a character I’ve been following for decades. Seeing her in the game she’s deserved ever since her inception was a pure joy.

Tomb Raider charts her progress from young archaeologist on her first big historical search to seasoned fighter of enraged beasts and evil men, not to mention world-class gymnast, expert mountaineer, and well, tomb raider. Which is to say, yes, it’s kind of silly if you don’t willingly blind yourself to that kind of thing. But the game solidly scratched my exploration and collection itches, redeemed a character that had always deserved better, and told a really good story along the way. I look forward to snagging the sequel.


51baP9k+ubLAnd then, the first and last game of the weekend[1], Braid. The downside of which is that I am obligated to find a way to review Braid. (The upside, obviously, is that it was a fantastic game, full of challenging and rewarding puzzles and a truly incredible (and incredibly presented!) climax to its story.)

The thing is, I don’t really want to say anything about it, because it is to be played, not told. So I’ll give you what you can see and what you can begin to intuit from the first two minutes of play, and then I’ll nod to myself and consider my job done[5]. Have you ever played Super Mario Bros.? The one for the original Nintendo (also there was a somewhat different arcade version) with the walking mushroom people and the giant lizard who kidnapped Princess Peach? Along every meaningful angle from which you could consider SMB, this game is the response to that game. </wise nod>

[1] I had played a great deal of it before[2], and I also took a break in the middle before coming back to wrestle with the last few, ultra-hard levels. Ultimately, there were seven such that a walkthrough was involved in[4], and of those, I only felt like I should have figured out two of them. The rest involved knowledge I had somehow missed having or ideas that would never have crossed my mind to attempt.
[2] Annoyingly, on the XBox 360. Will I go back for my gamerscore? Probably not![3]
[3] I mean because I’m pretty lazy, but honestly, going back for gamerscore feels like missing 100% of the point of the game, too.
[4] Awesomely, my host had the walkthrough and doled out the hints gradually, so sometimes it really was just a hint.
[5] If this sounds like a candyass way to conduct my affairs, well, a) maybe it is at that, but b) it doesn’t change the fact that I would be robbing you of an experience you owe yourself. If you play video games and people don’t sidle away from you because of things you say at social gatherings, then trust me. Just play the game. The five or ten bucks that it will cost you is worth it, as is the hour or three of time you’ll spend.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

I like that the Uncharted games are end-of-year releases. My parents enjoy the seamless cinematic feel, I like having something to do out at the Ranch at Christmastime that is commercial-free; pretty much everyone wins. (Well, sometimes it’s a little too seamless, and I end up with my dad giving me good but unimplementable advice during a cutscene. Still, as complaints go, this is a pretty minor one.)

Drake’s Deception is, for the most part, exactly the same game as the other two, though I understand there may be co-op campaign play that I did not see any part of, and which I suppose could plausibly change things? Probably it just turns a previously unkillable NPC into a new excuse to restart from last autosave, though. Anyway, my point is, there’s not much to say that I haven’t already said about one of the previous games. If you like a mix of platforming[1], shooting with the occasional pinch of stealth or dash of fisticuffs, and all kinds of Indiana Jones style treasure-hunting and clue-divining that also has a subdued romance plot, over-the-top action sequences, and a pretty hilarious ongoing exploration of the mentor relationship, this is an oddly precise match for what you seek!

I wonder if, novelty of the first game aside, any of them are better than the others? I’m pleased, I think, to note that while they all flow from one to the next with continuity and such, there’s nothing like a trilogy feel here. I guess they could keep making them forever, though I should say that getting much deeper into Nathan Drake’s life without some kind of real change (a marriage, a break-up, a death, something to shake up the status quo) will start to feel cheap pretty soon. Maybe even by during this game, but certainly by the next one. So past writers of half of the current game or at the very least future writers of the next one? This was your warning!

Oh, and I should warn you about the [spoiler elided, or else presented in Sabean script if you prefer], but nobody warned me, so, you pays your money and you takes your chances.

[1] That, okay, is not as good by a long shot as what you get in the Assassin’s Creed series, but what is?

Mirror’s Edge

So, it is celebration time here at Wit’s End[1], because I finished another videogame. Woohoo! Mirror’s Edge is a light, breezy even, rush of a game. You are a runner, tasked with moving information along the rooftops of The City at blinding speeds, using native instinct to know when you can make a jump between buildings or clear an obstacle. What exactly the information is, or why it needs to be moved discretely, or why the cops usually don’t bother the runners, these questions are never really addressed. The only thing that matters is, things have changed, times are suddenly far more dangerous, and it’s up to you to unravel the mystery!

Luckily, the gameplay, which consists of a constant barrage of running, jumping, ducking, dodging and weaving that optimally should never involve gunplay[2], is more than exciting enough to make up for the tragically thin plot. It’s not so bad that the information above is missing, except that it quickly becomes central everything you’re doing, and I feel like I might have gotten more engaged in the story if I’d known why the bad guys wanted to wipe out the runners, or even what [else] exactly they had done to become the bad guys in the first place. I kind of started to get distracted during the cutscenes, because they weren’t really making enough sense to me. Or else the distraction caused me to miss something vital? Yeah, I just don’t know. But the game itself, divorced from all these concerns? I say again: pretty good stuff.

Man, I really need to play an RPG now, though. If only I actually had a new one in my house. Maybe next month!

[1] That is what I call my home. There is even a sign!
[2] Although I acknowledged my lack of utility against the heavy gunners early on and started blasting away at need; but you’re just so slow-moving with a gun, they clearly intend you to have avoided them, and I always felt like I was letting the game down a little bit whenever I pulled a trigger.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I visited my parents over the weekend, since my schedule is about to be in flux and it seemed like a good time before the flux takes hold, plus the holidays and all. So I spent just about the whole of Thanksgiving break with them, except that I worked on Friday. That’s nice! While there, I inadvertently treated them to a full-length, multi-hour cinematic extravaganza in the form of a Playstation 3 game. After the success of my recommending Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when he bought the system and wanted something to play on it (not that he actually plays much of anything, but, you know)[1], he picked up the sequel a few weeks ago. And what began as a way to pass a few hours Saturday night quickly turned into a full weekend obsession during which I played the last third of the game for four hours past when I had planned originally to leave, because I was just sure that the climax was right around the corner, and I didn’t want to make them wait weeks for the conclusion and have time to forget what was going on.[2]

If you’re picking up on an undercurrent of admiration for the game’s writing and seamless graphics in that description of my weekend, well, you’re not imagining it. As to the latter, the only real difference between playing the game and watching its gorgeous cutscenes is that the game-play has fewer close-ups. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves picks up explorer Nathan Drake some brief years after the events of the previous game, convinced by shady friends to join in a search for Marco Polo’s lost expedition, a journey that will take him from the jungles of Borneo to the dizzying heights of Tibet and Nepal, not to mention deep into the legends surrounding Kublai Khan. Along the way he’ll crack wise, make lots of new enemies, and see lots of new ancient ruins! It’s good stuff. But on top of that, the writing is not merely good in and of itself, as it was last time; it actually takes note of the past and uses it. If I had been on the fence about the loss of meaningful breast-motion physics from the Lara Croft games to the Uncharted series, I no longer would be in any measure. I care about these people, and want to know what’s going to happen next. That I also get to play a video game along the way? It justifies the expense, but other than that, it’s purely bonus.

[1] V nz chggvat guvf va ebg13 fb ur pna’g frr vg, ohg V cerqvpg V trg n pbzzrag sebz uvz gung ur qbrf fb lhu-uhu cynl Unyb fbzrgvzrf. (Nyfb, vs V’z evtug nobhg gung pbzzrag bppheevat, vg vf yvxryl gb nfx jung guvf tvoorevfu vf nf jryy.)
[2] To be fair, this applies to me as well.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

91B0KvHV0UL._SL1500_Check me out, I finished my second PS3 game! This was more of an ongoing thing, since it is not at my house and I don’t own it. But still! Definite fun times. In Drake’s Fortune, we follow the adventures of Nathan Drake, descendant of the explorer Sir Francis Drake, as he follows his predecessor’s footsteps in search of El Dorado, the famed lost city of gold. Standing in his way are rival hunters, a shady partner, a documentary filmmaker, Nazis, more barely navigable rock walls than you can shake a pointed stick at, and a semi-ancient curse. But in the plus column, hey, treasure! Right?

The game is an extremely pretty 3D platformer / cover-based third-person shooter in the vein of Gears of War if the latter were less focused on warfare and had a jump button. And lots of rock walls to climb. Pretty much, it’s a Tomb Raider game where they reduced the budget on breast motion physics and invested that money into storyline and dialogue. It was, I think, a good trade.

Starfox Adventures

512EC3HYF1LAt about the same time I was playing Wario World, I also tried out Starfox Adventures. It got a whole lot more play. Then, I got distracted by all the life stuff going on, and then Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came out. This was a good game, and all, but you just can’t compete with that. I mean, yes, Metroid Prime 2 probably could, but that’s why I haven’t bought it yet. And Half Life 2 probably *will*, if I can ever get my desktop back into working trim.

Anyway, none of that is big on the relevance. The latest Starfox is a weird hybrid thingummy, in that it’s about 65% platformer, 20% RPG, and 15% space shooter. There’s this planet full of dinosaurs, and stompy old T-Rex has taken over, just as you’d expect. With no Utahraptor to hold him in check, it’s up to some blue-furred chick and later our hero, Fox McCloud, to step in and save all the peace-loving Dromiceiomimi, Triceratopses, Woolly Mammoths, and other reptilian species from having all the minerals in their planet exploited.

Like you’d expect, you gradually gather money to buy maps and more sophisticated items, plus bomb plants, magical staff power-ups, vine seeds, and lots of other types of items I haven’t gotten around to yet. Basically a cheap knockoff of Zelda or Banjo Kazooie, but if you have lots of time to play that kind of game, it’s not so cheap a knockoff as to make it pointless. Also, though it shames me to utter such a furry thought, the blue-skinned chick was kinda hot.