Monday, July 30, 2012

Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die!

I probably should have done this ages ago, seeing as I played these games ages ago. But no matter! Orcs Must Die! 2 has just come out, so let's celebrate by talking about old irrelevant material. Whee! The main reason I want to talk about Orcs Must Die! and Dungeon Defenders together is because they both are part of a new breed of tower defense games, that pulls you out of your tower planting perch in the sky and throws you smack into the middle of the action (Sanctum is another similar game, I think, and I don't know what else there is). Now, the main point of this: I think Orcs Must Die! did this right, and Dungeon Defenders did it wrong. And now I'll explain why.
Now, don't misunderstand. I don't think that Dungeon Defenders is a bad game, and on top of that it's been quite a while since I've played it, so for all I know they've fixed all the problems I had. It's definitely a ton of fun. The aesthetics are ridiculously bright, colorful, and cheery. The characters are all very distinct (well, at least the original 4), and are reasonably balanced. The constant earning of new loot and unlocking of new abilities/towers is extremely addictive. And most of all, there's 4 player co-op. All of that is pretty great. But what's not so great is the general feel of the gameplay. Character movement is slow and floaty, and attacks feel worthless and bland. There's just a general lack of oomph. You get used to it, and it doesn't impede play, but your character will hack and slash through hordes of enemies and it will feel absolutely boring and insubstantial. The insubstantial feeling is only compounded by the hordes of enemies, as higher difficulties and more players will result in more enemies. Speaking of difficulty, the last I played the game the difficulty was extremely out of whack. With only two players, we were able to quite easily beat all of the early stages, but when our party got upped to three, we consistently got wiped out on probably the 3rd level.

Another much more significant problem is the aiming system. Your character is only capable of damaging the enemy that you're locked on to. And you have to be reasonably close to an enemy to lock onto it. And this is just all kinds of problematic. For one, what about the characters with ranged attacks? The huntress and ranger both use crossbows to fight, and their secondary 'attack' merely zooms in a scope for them. But unless the game thinks you're targeting something, you're only shooting blanks, so sniping is a no go. You'd think it wouldn't be a big deal for the more melee based characters, but it still is. Simply put, enemy hordes are big. And it's quite annoying when you charge in swinging, but only deal damage to a single enemy at a time. Thankfully, hordes also tend to be comprised of the weaker enemies, so after a few swings you'll just move on to the next enemy, and I think that hitting enemies you're not locked onto will knock them back slightly. And again, I want to restate that Dungeon Defenders is by no means a bad game. If you're looking for a game that you and a couple of friends can play together, definitely try it out.
But then, there's Orcs Must Die!. In my opinion, Orcs Must Die! absolutely nails the gameplay. It's hard to describe it, but movement and combat all simply feel good. It's all fast and fluid, which is good because combat will get extremely chaotic. In Dungeon Defenders, things were fairly slow paced. Although your movement was slow and floaty, enemies also moved at a crawl, so things only really got hectic when you had enemies breaching your defenses on multiple fronts. In Orcs Must Die! on the other hand, you move quickly but so do your enemies. Unlike Dungeon Defenders, which will have enemies coming from a half dozen paths, in Orcs Must Die! there are only a few options for the enemy approach. It's very easy to place traps in the way of the enemies (and each trap is amazingly fun), but each trap has a cooldown after activating, and there are always enough enemies that a trap taking out one is inactive long enough to let by ten. Things get crazy very fast as you try to hold back the flood of enemies long enough for your traps to reactivate, and it's fantastic. And now that they've added in two player co-op, you get to do it all with a friend. And now I don't have anything else to say about it. Whoosh I'm off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Saints Row felt like a book of punchlines slapping my face repeatedly. Yes, I see the comedic content. I just don't care."

Alright, so. I played Just Cause 2 GTA: Japan Saints Row: The Third the other day on my brother's computer, and I have to say: points for style, but your game is one of the shallowest interactive experiences I've had since Scribblenauts. The game started out strong, with an entertaining intro cutscene and mission. After that it just... got really boring. The whole game gave off a very strong vibe of trying for Refuge in Audacity, and it only half-worked. They got the audacity part right, but it gets old fast. After the intro mission, it just felt... Done. Finished. Like there's nothing else to do. It has the sandbox problem in abundance. Just Cause 2 did sandboxing right - in both games my character was absurdly overpowered, with ready supplies of weapons and vehicles to plow through whatever enemies I faced. The worst-case scenario: I might have to take cover once or twice.
But in Just Cause 2 I only had to wander around and find some interesting terrain and suddenly there was an enemy camp in sight, ripe for the picking. It was hard to escape things to do. In Saints Row, on the other hand, the landscape is uninspired, there's no challenge in grinding for cash (regular paychecks, woohoo!), and the few 'story' missions I played were long, boring, and unrewarding.

As for the "wackiness" of Saints Row, it just failed to deliver. Sure, it had silly things. I can fire mind-control octopi at whoever I want, and yes, you can run around hitting people with a dildo, and at one point I saw a van with a giant mascot head on the front with a flamethrower in its mouth. Saints Row felt like a book of punchlines slapping my face repeatedly. Yes, I see the comedic content. I just don't care.

And now, before the end of this short review, I want to mention the sexual content in Saints Row. The immaturity of putting people in bondage gear for no reason isn't what bothers me - what bothers me is that bondage gear is apparently hilarious. Apparently giant dildos are hilarious. It's cheap and offensive. I don't mind the bondage gear or the dildos - I just mind the fact that they apparently count as "humor". Saints Row takes immaturity as a form of humor way too far, to the point that it loses all its shock value and just becomes alternately boring and offensive.

That said, if you want to go around hitting people with a giant dildo, fine. Go do it. Saints Row is your game. Just don't be surprised when it doesn't have the universal entertainment value you might think.

Oh, and for the other side of the review: The driving controls are pretty tight, although the flying is slow and pretty meh. Character customization was surprisingly lacking given how much time I spent and how many options it gives you (I don't know why we need fifty different mascot heads to choose from). Graphics are good, technically speaking, although there's not much interesting to see - the city is boring and repetitive. The shooting was pretty good, although uninspired. The high points, gameplay-wise, were the driving (I'm a sucker for any game with a handbrake) and the fact that whenever you want you can do a randomly-chosen special melee attack which varies from pro wrestling suplexes to flying punches to, uh, the ol' punch-in-the-nuts. I liked that functionality.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sequence, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Splice, and Auditorium

It's been a while since any of us have written, oops. Summer is unexpectedly busy. However, to celebrate me getting a shiny new computer to play games on, and the Steam summer sale, I'm going to talk about three games today! As you may have guessed, these games are Sequence, Splice, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Let's make this fast, I want to get back to playing asap.

Sequence I actually got quite a while ago, and I could have sworn I had already written something about it. But then I searched through our post archives and couldn't find anything, and was immensely disappointed in my past self. For some reason I still feel like I've written about this before though, so in case I missed it in my search forgive me if I'm rehashing old territory. Sequence has you playing as Ky, who wakes up in a strange tower filled with dangerous monsters. You are led through the tower by Naia, striving to make it to the top and escape. Along the way, you'll level up, learn new tricks, and all that typical RPG jazz. What spices things up though, is how the battles work. These are far from the standard turn based battles, and are instead rhythm based. Each battle has three screens, each of which has its own set of falling notes a la DDR and those similar games. One screen dictates enemy attacks, another is where you activate spells, and the third allows you to regenerate mana. Miss a note in the enemy attack screen and you'll take damage, or activate a spell and then miss a note on the spell screen and the spell is wasted (thankfully, no penalty for missing anything in the last screen).
Every battle becomes a frantic juggling act balancing defending yourself from enemy attacks, gathering the resources to counterattack, and finding the time to actually counterattack. You've activated a basic spell, but the enemy is making an attack at the same time! Do you sacrifice the mana to defend yourself (and spend some time on the mana screen later earning it back), or do you take the hit and focus on casting the spell? In addition, you only have a limited number of spells you can bring with you into battle. Do you want to bring only attack spells, and end the battle as soon as you can? Or do you just take the most basic ones, and bring mostly healing spells for when things get out of hand? Sequence is practically the only game I can think of that brings me to a state of 'flow' like how Shoofle's mentioned before. When it's going good, I am easily juggling the three screens of falling notes, easily blocking enemy attacks and countering with my own. But all it takes is a single fumble, and suddenly everything falls apart. And it's absolutely amazing. Even though the story and art didn't grab me (not to mention everything is just a static sprite anyway), gameplay is king. The battle system alone was more than enough to keep me playing this game for hours.

Next up, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet! This one's a strange one. I've gotten to a point where I'm entering some water, and was instantly reminded of Aquaria. And it's pretty easy to see why, too. Both are Metroidvania style games that forgo the usual platformer aspect of the game, with Aquaria taking place entirely underwater, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet having the player be a free flying UFO. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (I'm just going to call it ITSP from now on) plays essentially like a dual stick shooter, though the player has to constantly juggle their abilities to select the best one (or the required one) for the situation. The game has a very unique aesthetic, but honestly that's all I really have to say in favor about the game. It follows the Metroidvania style of blocking off passages and forcing you one way until you have the prerequisite item that allows you to pass the other way, but I didn't find it as fun as I usually do other Metroidvania games. Fighting felt dull and boring. The upgrades didn't feel like they were granting me very much power, and the environments felt too constrained. While there were aspects of exploration involved, there are few of them and the rewards for venturing off the path are meager. The aesthetic is interesting, but not enough to hold the game up on its own, and pales in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous aesthetics of Aquaria. I don't know. I really wanted to like this game, and it sat near the top of my wishlist for a while, but honestly I'm disappointed.

This is Auditorium
Thankfully, I saved Splice and Auditorium for last. Splice and Auditorium are by Cipher Prime. I played Auditorium quite a while ago and absolutely loved it, and it looks like Cipher Prime has managed to duplicate the magic with Splice. But first, I want to talk a bit about Auditorium. Auditorium is a very simple puzzle game (originally a Flash game, now available on mobile devices and Steam), where you use manipulators to direct a flow through some containers. Early levels are extremely simple, but later levels add multiple colors and get deviously difficult. But the main reason I loved Auditorium is the music. The game is silent at the start of each level, but as you redirect the flow to pass through the containers, the music starts to build up, one part at a time. The music is slightly repetitive, but I think the tracks are absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend this one (and they're working on a sequel!)
This is Splice
Ok. Now for Splice. Splice is a cell based puzzle game of sorts. You start with a tree of cells, and have a limited number of splices to make in order to reach a target tree that has a certain configuration. The game itself is also extremely simple: activate a cell 'mutation' by clicking on the cell, splice by dragging cells around. But like Auditorium, this game also absolutely fantastic music. Actually, as we speak (er, as I write this), I'm searching for where I can download the entire damn thing, because I want it now. And actually, I don't have much else to say about Splice. I've never seen puzzle mechanics quite like Splice before, so the novelty is extremely appreciated. I haven't played enough of the game yet to say for sure, but the puzzle mechanics seem extremely solid, and the game feels like it's going to ramp up in difficulty fairly soon. I'm excited, so I'm going to end this post now so I can go play. Peace!