Gaming, bitparade

bitparade: R-Type Dimensions (PlayStation 3)

I’ve got a bit of an odd relationship with scrolling shooters, be they horizontal or vertical, I genuinely enjoy playing them, but by and large I’m ridiculously rubbish at them and often find myself covering the same area over and over again with no progression and thus end up tossing them aside. This doesn’t stop me playing them however, over the years I’ve done this with a few different releases of R-Type, Ikaruga and a few releases of Tecmo Classics, plus others, and when the opportunity arises, I usually come back for more only to leave them discarded for the reasons mentioned above. Why do I do this? Its one of life’s little mysteries, and yet here I am, with a R-Type Dimensions on PlayStation 3, sat on pause whilst I type out these thoughts and opinions in order for me to stick a number on the bottom of the screen that I feel somehow matches my undoubtedly frustrated experience of ineptitude on my behalf.

If you aren’t aware then, R-Type Dimension is a “HD re-release” of the absolute stone cold classics: R-Type and R-Type II. The bundle was originally released way back in 2009 on the XBox 360 and has, for some reason, taken 5 years to head over to Sony’s equivalent console.

R-Type challenges you with the task of navigating a set of auto-scrolling levels, shooting at anything that gets in your way and dodging anything fired in return. By rights, its not a “Bullet Hell” shooter, which means that in theory its not difficult to avoid getting shot. I say in theory for a reason, because as you have probably guessed, I’m not particularly good at R-Type or R-Type II and thus I’ve been shot down a fair number of times, despite the levels being fairly short by the standards of other similar more contemporary titles. Thats not technically true, as whilst the levels don’t fill the screen with bostacles that you can only dodge (although there are always a fair number of enemies to take down), boss fights do like to throw projectiles at you, usually whilst you try and concentrate your attention on hitting a rather small weak spot, something that my ageing brain and fingers seem to be getting even worse at that they were before.

As this is a HD pack, the visuals have been updated to include non-pixelated artwork. This, in my personal opinion, is to the detriment of the gameplay experience. Now, R-Type has never been a quick shooter, but it feels much slower when being played with its updated visuals, I thought I was imagining it at first but after getting others to play it whilst I watched we were all in agreement. Its not hugely different, but it is noticeable. The sluggish-ness doesn’t display in a kind of “slowdown” manner where the frame rate chugs along, nor does it feel less responsive, and if you were coming to R-Type completely fresh then you probably wouldn’t notice it. However, when you switch to either titles “Classic Mode”, its becomes more noticeable and I found myself pretty much sticking with the old pixelated visuals for this very reason, which to me at least, kind of defies the point of such an update.

This is Dimensions’ only real issue, the core concept of the game remains in tact and everything feels incredibly faithful. The updated visuals do make things look more interesting and colourful and its nice to see a developer giving such loving attention to classics such as this, however, the drop in speed kind of hurts it and it does throw you off your game a little if you have experience of these titles from prior versions, which if its enough for me to complain about, must be more noticeable to someone who’s really into this series and wanted the exact same game they know and love just with a new lick of paint, which in theory is the kind of customer these games are marketed at. If thats you, then you’ll find dissappointment in R-Type Dimensions, however, if you want the old game, just on a platform that you can have sat under your TV in the lounge, the Classic Mode is a very faithful version of Irems classic shooter, I just find it difficult to say “yeah, go buy this” purely because, on a whole, the full title doesn’t quite meets its brief.

Gaming, review

Curious Expedition

You can’t move for retro looking Roguelikes these days. It often feels like almost every other game carries with it the mechanics of earning abilities as you progress but losing equipment and progress, having to start your playthrough essentially from scratch, but with the idea that each time you start over the game is a little easier than the last attempt. Most tie this to a Metroidvania style game, getting you to explore a large 2D environment. This is where Curious Expedition differs.

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Curious Expedition isn’t a side scrolling platform action game, no, its developers Maschinen-Mensch, style it as an “expedition” game wherein the player is tasked with becoming a notable person from the 19th Century who embarks on an expedition to find hidden pyramids, return home with treasures and become the worlds most famous explorer, this is all played out with a Civilization Revolution style map that you move your crew across, clearing fog of war, finding villagers, causing volcanic eruptions and running out of Sanity as you “progress”. Games take maybe an hour to ninety minutes to get from your first expedition to your last, provided you get that far, meaning its quite fun to just switch on and not have to really focus on what you’re doing, its fairly light as far as Roguelikes go.

The presentation its quite quirky, every discovery, trade and decision is played out using diary entries that provide the game with its character, sommetimes they really portray the seriousness of any particular predicament (I had someone break a leg and I had to decide whether to leave them or try to heal it, I had to go with the former as I didn’t have the equipment to do the latter, thus making my inventory space smaller so I had to also leave some other items behind) or adding humour at times. It’s a lovely way to portray what looks like quite a static game and each entry is really well written, which gives it the feel of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the Eighties and Nineties.

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There are a few things that confused me though, I can’t say the game doesn’t try to teach you its mechanics, maybe I just didn’t grasp things well enough. As you explore the map your Sanity meter depletes, this can be replenished by eating consumable items such as chocolate or by sleeping at any villages you find, but both of these can be hard to come by. When the meter reaches 0 you’re crew begin to make mistakes (such as the aforementioned broken leg or they drop items from your inventory, making the rest of the journey even harder) and you’re encouraged to try and make your time walking as long as possible, fewer longer trips results in less Sanity being lost than more frequent but shorter trips.

I couldn’t really grasp the battle system either, its turn based and relies upon dice rolls, but beyond that I didn’t really get on with what the games tutorial was telling me to do, these battles take place against things like wild animals that are patrolling area’s you are walking through or villagers that happened to take offence at your presence (as not everyone is always pleased to see you). It was these moments that led me to getting my Game Over’s as I just didnt have the correct members in my expedition to have the correct dice in order to fight anything off.

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The games biggest disapointment however is that, currently at least, its missing a multiplayer mode. From what I can tell the developer has been working on one, at least they have been for the PC version thats been out since 2016, but when playing it, there was no sense of competition or urgency to beat the other Explorers and I couldn’t escape the feeling that a turn based game, with players starting at different points on the same map, racing to find the pyramid first, finding ways to make progress harder for the other competitors, would have made this game an essential couch co-op title rather than a fun little distraction.

Formats: PC (Steam), XBox One (version tested), PS4 and Switch
Release Date: 2016 (PC), April 2 2020 (Consoles)
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Developer: Maschinen-Mensch
Code provided by Thundeful Publishing for review purposes.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 24

In Lindblum Cid is overseeing the reconstruction of his kingdom after Queen Brahnes attack. He’s also started building a third airship, with engineers from the Industrial District having volunteered their services. Baku interupts Cid’s conversation and asks how Zidane is doing, it seems he ahs been recovering form the events in Alexandria within the walls of Lindblums castle. Baku send Blank to visit him.

At the castle Zidane is just waking up, his immediate concern is for Dagger and Eiko, though he’s also confused to how he got to Lindblum in the first place. In a chest near to Zidanes bed is an Egosits Armlet, which teaches the Beast Killer and Level Up abilities, another chest nearby contains an Elixer. Mogki, who is also in the Guest Quarters, wants me to deliver a letter to Mudoon.

As Zidane goes to leave the bed room, Blank rushes up the stairs to ask how he is. Zidane tells him he’s okay and asks where Dagger is, Blank thinks she’s upstairs by the telescope and before the conversation can continue, Zidane barges past to see the Princess, en route a guard instructs Zidane that Cid wants to see him in the Royal Chambers, though I think I’ll try and see Garnet first.

Up on the roof of the castle Zidane does indeed find Garnet looking out over Lindblum, Zidane literally talks at her, the poor thing, but she only seems to be replying by nodding or shaking her head. He tries to play it cool, stating she loves him so much that she’s speechless that he’s okay, but he’s quietly worried that he’s done something wrong. When he outright asks her this, she still doesn’t answer. He tries to cheer her up by offering to take her out but when she still doesn’t talk to him he decides that maybe she wants to be alone.

After that Zidane heads back down to see what Cid wanted from him.

In the Royal Chamber Cid greets Zidane as a hero, he’s discovered something about the attack in Alexandria and escorts Zidane to the conference room so everyone can learn what hes found out all at the same time.

Everybody bar Dagger is waiting, Eiko runs out to fetch her, triggering an ATE which shows Dagger deep in thought, she reveals that Alexandria is gone, leaving many dead and others homeless, she blames herself for everything, if only she hadnt run away (at the beginning of the game) then none of this would have happened.

Back in the conference room, Steiner is clearly very upset, he says he gave his all but it wasn’t enough and he doesn’t know what happened to Beatrix either. Freya wonders what Kuja is trying to accomplish as he’s already suceeded in destroying the four kingdoms (Alexandria, Burmecia, Cleyra and Lindblum). Zidane doesn’t care, his emotions have gotten the better of him, he just wants to “go and get” Kuja. However, Amarant of all people, state its not that easy because Kuja’s powers are far beyond theirs.

Cid reveals he witnessed Kuja escape from Alexandria aboard the stolen Hilda Garde I and that he had Black Mages on board, though these were able to “talk normally” unlike the ones he’d previously enslaved, this upsets Vivi and he becomes concerned about the friends he made in the Black Mage Village.

Eiko interupts the meeting and tells everyone that Dagger has lost her voice (tut tut Zidane, now you should feel like a dick). Quite rightly Zidane and Doctor Tot then visit Dagger in the Guest Quarters, with Steiner also tagging along. Eiko leads the way. The three guys obviously don’t understand and all try and get Dagger to talk to them. Doctor Tot explains that the trauma and grief she has suffered has led to her losing her voice, he believes it could take months or even years to recover, though in the typical fasion of a Doctor, he speaks about Dagger like she isn’t there, directing all of this at Zidane rather than his poor patient.

Zidane immediately comes up with a plan, first he needs to cure Cid so he can build him an airship, then he’ll go and “beat the crap out of Kuja”, Tot tells him to calm down before the two of them visit Cid to discuss this plan and fill him in on Dagger’s condition. Doctor Tot also thinks he has a cure for Cid, though he’s not sure about the reliability of its source. We need to find three ingredients, mix them together and then apply them to the Regents body, the items we need to find are “Unusual Potion”, “Beautiful Potion” and “Strange Potion”, then mix them in a 5:2:3 ratio. Apparently these aren’t common items, but rather handily Zidane believes Cinna may have some Unusual Potion.

I immediately head to the cab and go and visit Cinna in the Theatre Distrct where he is busy helping repair the Tantalus hideout.

An ATE fills us in on the state of Burmecia, most of its citizens took refuge in Lindblum after the destruction of both their home and Cleyra, but they’re not sitting back and taking advantage of Lindblum’s generosity, instead they’re rallying as many of their own people together as they can and plan on rebuilding their city.

At the hideout, Zidane just out right asks Cinna if he can “borrow” the Unusual Potion, Cinna agrees, no questions asked and and its over. That’s great, thats one of the three items gained rather easily. I’ve no idea where to start with the others, and thats only if I don’t have to collect enough to fit the ratio’s mentioned previously. I start by asking around outside the cab station and head into the Artists studio. He says he’s never heard of any of these items, nor the potion we want to create, but says if I find anything in his studio I’m welcome to keep it. Thankfully I do indeed find a Strange Potion in the corner by the stairs. No one else knows anything in the Theatre District, so its off to the Business District, though as soon as I arrive there I head for the inn to save my game and give Moodon a letter:

“From Mogki to Moodon

Alexandria is in a horrible state right now…
I wonder if Kupo and Mosh are okay?

Let me know when you have more info!
I heard that Stiltzkin was also in
Alexandria! Kupo!”

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Asterix in Britain – René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

When Close Encounters posted on the Books With Pictures Facebook group page that we were going to be reading an Asterix book, I’m not going to lie, I had two thoughts, the first was “but isn’t that a kids book”, then it was “wow, I’ve not read one of those since Year 8” and it was at that point I became genuinely excited to read it. You see I loved Asterix as a kid. I was never big into comics back then, but on visits to the library I’d always check if any Asterix books had been added to their kids section, usually though it was the same three or four titles, but it was those plus comic adaptations of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and Stingray that were my introduction to comic books. Friends would by the Dandy and Beano and I’d had a read of those, I’d also flick through them whilst waiting for my Dad to make his picks on library visits, but they never really grabbed me.

Then in Year 7 and 8 my form tutor, who happened to look like a cross between Henry VIII and Obelix, was also my languages teacher and in order to help us learn sentence structure for French he’d often photocopy pages from his French language editions of Asterix comics and give us panels to translate (as best as we could for students in one of the worst schools in that area), funnily enough, during that time, French was one of my strongest subjects. However I changed schools (to a much better school) for year 9, found myself behind on everything and I struggled with my French teachers teaching methods from then on, plus hormones intervened and she happened to be a very attractive blonde woman who had a preference for fitted blouses (hell, on a fundraising day she wore a French Maid’s outfit). My marks should have gone up, in hindsight, but, well, I was 13…

As you can imagine, once I picked up my copy of Asterix in Britain, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, all of the above came flooding back to me. If I’d actually read this volume before then it didn’t feel like it, but my immediate reaction was delight at just how colourful and detailed each and every panel was. When compared to something from the big American comic houses in the 60s and even its competitors in the form of the Beano and Dandy, every panel is lovingly created and doesn’t feel like Albert Uderzo has skimped at all.

Characters are full of life, colour and detail, and I’m not just talking the key cast here, but side characters too are given plenty of attention. Of course these being caricatures there are things that tie them all together, every Englishman here has an extravagant moustache and prominent nose, but these make the artwork endearing more than anything else.

The story is full of amusing moments, culminating in a rather violent game of Rugby, though my favourite moment takes part towards the end of the book when the potion Asterix and Obelix had supposed to have provided for the British to help them fight off the Roman’s, actually ends up in a river, an unsuspecting angler thinks he’s caught a big fish, only for it to pull him off the banks of the river due to the added strength it has received from the Gaul’s special potion.

 

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Deception IV: Blood Ties

Way, way back in 2007 we reviewed a game called TrapT. TrapT and Deception IV: Blood Ties just happen to be from the same franchise, although Blood Ties is the first of the numbered releases to make it to Europe. Thats something we dont see particularly often anymore (with the highest profile releases done in such a manner being the Final Fantasy games way back when), but then when the previous release is that 7 year old game that was met with a rather disinterested reception (it was also the last release in its native Japan), then its not really surprising that Deception IV: Blood Ties has only really been the focus of sites that pay attention to Japanese oddities.

And it really is an oddity. The entire premise of the game is that a group of heroes are trying to gain access to a variety of different locations to obtain a rare item that they feel has fallen into the wrong hands. When a group of these rare items are collected together, the devil can be released from hell. Stupidly, they carry the items that are currently within their possession into said locations with them, where you, the daughter of the devil, lie in wait with your minions and a bunch of traps that you lay down in order to bring about death and destruction and take possession of the sacred artifacts.

So Deception IV gives you the opportunity to actually play as the bad guy, couple this with some of the tools on offer and what we have here is a rather devilishly amusing little title that provides a wealth of experimentation and entertainment.

So, as the �heroes� invade your castle, manufacturing plant or any of the other locations you inhabit, you can lead them around from room to room, placing a variety of traps or trying to take advantage of the environmental elements such as trains entering stations or vats of molten steel. The beauty is that you can either lure them onto a single trap and chip at their health bit by bit or pause the action and spend time plotting out a twisted and delightful combination of devices, and as you progress through the game your options increase further.

The traps you can lay range from the humiliating (pumpkins being dropped onto heads, garden rakes on the floor) to the Sadistic wherein the idea is to inflict as much pain as possible in one go, through the Elaborate (which you can use to help bring the environmental traps into play). Thie general idea is that you try and combine all of these elements together to get as large a score for each of your victims as possible, the larger the score, the bigger your reward at the end of each chapter and the more new traps you can purchase to add to your arsenal.

The theory behind all of this is excellent and incredibly appealing. However, its the manner in which its all realised thats ultimately frustrating. There are times when you are sat through overly long conversations between characters, a problem with alot of recent games on the system, and at the beginning of each Act you are introduced to each of your potential victims, thus allowing you to find out their strengths and weaknesses. However, if you die, you have to sit through all of this again, and its certainly possible to find yourself in a position where you will have to restart thanks to the games rather claustrophic camera angles and locations which make it difficult to avoid being attacked or indeed on occassion fall victim of your own traps in some manner. This is all made even worse by the frequency at which you can save, which isn’t particularly often, what with it being at the end of each chapter, most of which last about an hour in total. Some will argue it makes the incentive to be more cautious even more important but its easy to make a mistake and for that mistake to make things harder overall and even a save state kind of save system would allowed for the freedom to experiment even further and play about in the games setting to get the most out of it.

Thats pretty much Deception IV: Blood Ties biggest issue. As a whole, the game means well, it tries to encourage you to act out some pretty dark torture based fantasies, but ultimately, due to some of the developers design decisions you often find yourself playing it a little too safe and this leads the gameplay to ultimately become a little repetetive and boring. All told then, Deception IV has some nifty idea’s and deserves more attention than it will ever gain, but its far from perfect and its flaws become frustratingly noticeable far too easily.

Gaming, Mental Health

Co-operentine

Hah! Do you like that title? Punnerific, right? Because we’re all in some form of quarantine and, well, we have to do things with our loved ones now, right? Right. Well, this is a post about that and how we’re doing things.

Firstly, you’re all aware by now that I’m a family man, I have a partner and we have three children, ages ranging from 5 through to 15. This is tough, the ranges make doing a lot of activities quite difficult as either our youngest is a little too young or our eldest finds it too boring. We’ve tried not to be too forceful with the homeschooling, phasing in spelling, writing, reading and maths into general activities they can do such as gardening, cooking, sending messages to school friends via Skype (monitored, obviously) and they’re writing to one friend who lives on the route that the dog is walked on, and that’s posted through their door and they do the same in return. Mixed in with lots and lots of handwashing, PE with Joe Wicks (though as I write this an alternative may need to be found as he’s gotten into bed with The Sun) and other activities such as today they got to watch the Red Panda’s at Chester Zoo being fed via a Facebook stream.

As for the oldest, unfortunately, she has to do quite a lot of school work. She’s a GCSE student and they’ve cancelled her exams (she has the option of sitting them in September/October if the schools are back then), her school are working with the examination board and their own teachers to “give the students the grades they deserve” based upon work they’ve already done, how much they apply themselves and work that’s set for them over the next twelve weeks or so, and as her grades have slipped since her Year 10 mocks through the two sets of mocks she’s sat in Year 11, well, she needs to put in the graft to get to the grades her teachers were forecasting for her as she entered Year 11.

How is this relevant for Bar Harukiya, well, anything is relevant, that’s what meeting up at a bar is like is it not? You chat about stuff with your mates, get things off your chest, share advice, or at least that’s the way it should be if the culture over here wasn’t “let’s go and get pissed” (I’m not much of a drinker, but will drink socially as an excuse to have a good chat and a laugh).

Moving on though, how are my other half and I doing in all of this? What are we doing to stop ourselves going mad?

Well, we’ve bought second controllers for both our PS4 and our Xbox One and have been playing some “couch co-op”.

First up is we’ve spent a lot of time in Minecraft, digging holes, running away from Endermen, I often have to come to her rescue when she goes off adventuring, but mostly she’s been gathering resources and I’ve been building stuff “for her”. It started with us building a raised castle together, nicking stuff from any villages we found. Then we found a Mine, but it involved lots of jumping, climbing and swimming to get to, so I built a bridge from the castle that led to it. Said bridge now has a Redstone railway and a couple of staircases, one of which leads to our farm.

On the farm, I’ve built a couple of vegetable plots, an ornamental bridge, a greenhouse, plus a stable, an arbour, a chicken coop and a pig pen and now we’ve begun gathering the animals required to house in them. I need to build a barn for the sheep, cows and llamas too.

We’ve made a Spotify playlist that we listen to whilst playing Minecraft, its full of stuff we both know each other doesn’t mind listening to (we have fairly different tastes in music but there are some overlaps, she likes he 80’s bands like Bon Jovi plus some modern country music, I’m more of a fan of punk, metal, 90s alternative rock and grunge).

We’ve also been playing a lot of LEGO Marvel Avengers, I know a lot see them as kids games, but with Charly still physically and mentally recovering from her battle with cancer (she had her very last round of treatment this week, so at least we don’t have to worry about her attending hospital for a while), it’s a perfect game for us to just do something calming and simple that still requires a bit of communication from time to time (“I need you to be Cap” etc), plus I get to HULK SMASH on a semi-regular basis. She’s played other games in the series before, but aside from me dropping in a few times on Pirates of the Caribbean or the Harry Potter titles, this is the first one we’ve played fully co-op, she’s now asked for DC Super-Villains for her birthday, which is two weeks away has resulted in me having to change a fair few of the things I had planned to buy/do because of closures or stocking issues.

As for how I’m doing, I’m trying to find room amongst all this for reading, I’ve recently finished an Asterix book that I’ll be posting about, am grinding my way through A Feast for Crows and have a few Manga from NetGalley I plan to write about. I’m spending some quiet moments fishing in Final Fantasy XIV, though my enjoyment of that has been hampered a little as everyone seems to have suddenly started fishing thanks to the recent changes and additions to it. But on a last note, I’d like to add that despite all the above, I’m still very very stressed and very worried about the whole situation and the effect it could have on my family, and whilst the above makes it sound like I’ve got everything planned out, I most definitely haven’t and in all honesty, we do quite often just let the kids play on their tablets (though we have begun encouraging them to play games they’ll learn something from rather than just watch YouTube Kids all day long).

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Monster Monpiece (Vita)

Few games feel as confused about their identity as Monster Monpiece, a game that is, for the most part, fairly innocent. The core concept of the game that you actually play is an intriguing mish-mash of Card Collecting Game (think Magic or Pokemon…) and Tower Defence. However, and those of you who know anything about the title will already be aware of this, it does have a dark, seedy underbelly that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of what is present.

So then, throughout Monster Monpiece, you are placed in the position of May, a girl who attends an Academy where they learn to control “Monster Girls” (I’ll point out here that the entire cast is female), these Girls then used in battle and summoned via the use of cards, a series of events unfold that mean you have to travel from town to town collecting a special item that a hidden evil also wants to get its hands upon. This is all played out over text based dialogue sequences that go to alot of effort to flesh out each of the individual characters, and surprisingly for a game of its type, does try to make some element of groundwork on developing relationships between each of the key players that dont feel forced or out of place.

What does feel out of place, and I feel this is the perfect place to discuss the gameplay, is how you level up the Monster Girls. Now ordinarily, the artwork on the cards is fairly small and whilst it is pushing the boundaries of what is tasteful, the pictures are miniscule enough on the Vita’s screen that its easy to get away with. When summoned into battle they look nothing like they do on the cards, instead they take on the appearance of one of four types (Sword user, Archer, Healer and another type of magic using avatar). The more battles you win, the more “Rub P” you earn, this is then spent in the “First Crush Rub” area of the game in order to improve each card within your deck. From here you choose a card that you want to spend points on, the artwork is blown up to the width of the Vita’s screen which you have to turn around so the screen is in a portrait position. From here you have to fill a bar within a particular amount of time by rubbing hidden spots on each girl, which illicits various moans and groans of pleasure, until said bar is either full or you run out of time. Once the bar is full you then have to rub both the front and back screen simultaneously as quickly as possible to finish the whole process off and make that particular girl stronger.

The feels ridiculous out of context to how the rest of the game is presented. The discussion and artwork for the main cast of characters wouldn’t really look out of place in most JRPG’s (regardless of their content) and there’s no other reliance on any sexual overtones, and as for the card battles themselves, the above kind of damages what is an excellent and challengingly entertaining game.

Onto the positive. I’ve mentioned above that the battle system is rather good. What you have is a 7×3 grid split into the colours. 3×3 of Blue and Red with a 1×3 strip seperating them as a no-mans land. At each end of the grid is a building, the left side of the screen is yours, the right side your opponents. You then have different types of cards with characters that use different weapons (sword, bow, staff and wand). The sword users are close combat, archers ranged, staffs provide buffs and lastly the wands act as healers. Then there are different coloured cards and this is where the strategy comes into play. By placing down 3 cards, you gain an extra buff to your attack, Mana and health, the idea here is to keep doing this and allow the draw of your cards to stack as to allow you to take advantage of doing so. Each time you place a card on the grid, your drawn characters will auto attack and auto move until they’re either defeated by the opponent directly opposite them or you defeat them overall. Its the constant pushing forward that makes the battle system completely engaging and one false or intellgent move can easily result in the weight shifting in the opposite direction at any given time, and as the challenge increases the further you get through Monster Monpiece, the more entertaining the entire system becomes.

So to come back to my original point, Monster Monpiece really does feel confused. On its own, the battle system and the characterisation makes this a fine game for a handheld system. However, I, personally, found the “First Crush Rub” aspect a little too uncomfortable and I’m not of the persuasion that its anything to do with differences between Japanese and European cultures. If anything, Monster Monpiece doesn’t feel sure of its own strengths and I kind of get the impression the “First Crush Rub” stuff was included for the Japanese market which is becoming increasingly littered with titles that pander to the Otaku sub-culture, and whilst I can happily consume certain elements of that type of culture, the elements of Monster Monpiece in question take things a little too far I feel, but overall, it really shouldnt detract from a really entertaining game and its unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to have been an alternative system that was considered.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: OlliOlli 2 (Vita)

It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of OlliOlli back when it was originally released on the Vita last year. It had a few problems, which by their own admission, took developers Roll7 far too long to address (a crashing glitch being the worst culprit and a lack of leaderboards was a killer for some, although I felt sharing screengrabs on Twitter or forums felt like a return to the “olden days”), but overall, the gameplay was sharp and highly addictive. My one major gripe with it was that I could never ever figure out how some people were getting the scores they were getting, but thats high scores in general as far as my ability is concerned.

Just over a year later and Roll7 have already released OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood, which aims to add a whole slew of new bits and bobs whilst having things like online leaderboards available from day one. I was never really against having Leaderboards in OlliOlli but found their eventual addition took away a kind of communal discussion on the game, with players prefering just to check out the scores that way rather than resort to other means and actually engross in an element of rivalry and, for want of a better word, banter. Their immeidate inclusion here does make sense, its a bit of a no-no not to include them in modern day high score game, but its still a pity that that communal discussion will not take place quite so much for OlliOlli 2.

The other additions to OlliOlli2 come in the forms of methods of navigating each level, previously the only way to link tricks was to hit a grind, but now you have the option of landing in a manual so that even being on the land allows you to keep a combo going. You can also perform reverts, grind switches and initiate stance changes before you begin your combo, allowing you to find and customise your combinations when taking on others via the leaderboards or entering the now traditional Daily Grinds (which are still an absolute bastard!). Thankfully, none of this requires mastering any of the other buttons on your Vita as everything is still done via the use of the left stick + X and shoulder buttons, but as with before, different results are achieved by differing your input combinations and perfecting the timing.

Theres very little to accuse OlliOlli 2 of in regards to faults, its still as punishing as ever and whilst its perfect for short bursts of play via the Vita I’m not wholy convinced that the systems small analogue sticks are perfect for it, unfortunately I don’t have the hardware required to try it on something with a bigger analogue stick. This often makes performing a variety of tricks, or indeed the tricks sometimes set out in a levels completion goals, rather inaccurate, which does take away from some of the enjoyment of OlliOlli2 but overall, its still an excellent title that, I feel at least, is as essential for Vita owners as the first one was!

Books, Uncategorized

The Colony – Nicolas Debon

When we think of Anarchism in the world of comics (or graphic novels, whichever you prefer), we often turn to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and tales of attempts to overthrow those in power due to corruption, however, theres actually alot more to the ideals behind anarchism than explosions, aggression and sticking ones finger up at politicians and its this other side that Nicolas Debon tries to teach us as he tells of the true story of Fortune Henry and the colony of L’Essai he founded, for a brief period of time, in the early 1900’s before the world fell into chaos as the Great War fell upon us.

The book opens with a man taking ownership of a plot of land, thought to be inhabitable and unworkable, he begins to transform it. The locals treat him with suspicion, often talking of the devil or wild man in the woods. But before long a small handful of people begin to take an interest in what he is doing and ultimately join him, as the colony grows, the workload also increases, they build settlements, work the land and sell produce at local markets.

However, its not enough for Henry, he strives for change, people believe in what they feel he is trying to do and his ideals of breaking down social constructs, promoting communism (or socialism, though its definetly the former that he says he is trying to bring to fruition, even to the extent of his first born having “no known parents” on his birth certificate as he “belongs to the colony”). He sets up a printing press, first selling flyers to promote the colony and the ideals it was founded upon, though as ever with such things he begins to take ownership, of his responsibility within the colony and also of his partner, acting jealous when she is around other men and resorting to violence when she questions his motives.

As his message spreads, his views become more damaging to the establishment and he is ultimately imprisoned, once free he finds that, without him, L’Essai has fallen apart and the colonists have moved on.

At around 80 pages, this is a short tale, covering the basics, additional information about Fortune Henry is provided at the back of the book, but you’re given a sort of one sided, almost diary like telling of the foundation and falling of L’Essai, albeit told alongside some beautiful art work that looks hand-painted, the earthy tones used give the impression of the book being hand-crafted and fit in perfectly with both the tale being told and the time period it is taken from and Debon does a wonderful job of just allowing the story to work towards its natural end, picking the exact moments to tell, be it the work and turmoil the colonists go through as the seasons and years progress, or the emotional challenges Henry faces. We’re never forced to endure anything particularly long, instead being given a snippet of the tale of L’Essai told in simple panels, though when Debon does give us a full page panel its always a wonderful piece of art work.

That said, this isn’t for every one. I can easily see people wanting some real history feeling like there’s not enough here, likewise, there’s not alot of incident or action to speak of to excite, its not that kind of tale. But if you want to read something that tells a true story that you hadn’t known of, The Colony will fit that brief absolutely perfectly.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowbackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 23

It’s been a while, for reasons, some of them I discussed here, but also because I really got put off this for a while, which I’ll come to later. So let’s get to it, though you might want to read my last update to remind yourself where I’m at.

Kuja watches on as the Invincible disappears, he accuses Garland of being reponsible, though he questions why he would come to Gaia in the first place, I presume this garland is the mystery man we were inroduced to in my last update.

Zidane arrives at the castle with Cid, Vivi, Freya and Amarant, they immediately decide to search for #dagger and Eiko. In the library Zidane hears a voice, “Challenge me if you dare!” it says. When I accept the challenge I’m thrown into a battle against Tantarian that I’m not prepared for. Tantaraian initially appears to be a huge book which opens on random pages. It’s defence is very high as I’m barely scratching it, with attacks only resulting in taking off double figures of HP. Eventually though, it opens on a page and inside is a blue spherical monster, which when attacked does take alot more damage. Vivi is the strongest here, his Blizarra deals damage somewhere in the region of 1500HP, however I spend most of the fight healing and ultimately I’m defeated.

It’s here where the game tests my resolve, I hadn’t saved in a while, in fact I hadn’t saved since the final round of the card tournament so I have to do all of that again, sit through all the talky sections again and play out Steiner and Beatrix’s last stand just to get back to this point. I do a little research and I could have saved in one of the rooms in the castle once I had control of Zidane, I’d just not done so as I went straight into the library, it being the closest room to where you have this party and ended up in the battle with Tantarian.

I also decide to Google some tactics on how to defeat this optional boss, its something I’ve refrained from doing up until now, but then most of the fights I’ve been able to brute force my way through.

This time out I stick everyone in the back row, Optimise their equipment and also equip the Devil Killer, Counter, Auto-Potion and Antibody abilities for those characters who have them. Once the battle begins I have Zidane stick to using Steal, with Freya casting Reis’ Wind to give provide all of the party with Regen, she also takes over duties of using Phoenix Downs and Ether’s when the need arises. Amarant, usually used for just hitting stuff, now uses his Chakra ability to heal a party members HP and MP, Vivi is the only one who can actually attack Tantarian, with the suggestion being that I use Bio whenever the book opens up on the pages that reveal the creature hidden inside, until that point the party just Defend unless healing is required.

Vivi’s Bio ability allows him to deal out around 1800 damage, though I also start to use Focus when the book is closed, which when I can attack again, increases his damage output to 3800, and so the fight actually becomes a walk in the park despite only one party member actually dealing out any punishment.

Once the fight is over I’m rewarded with a pair of Running Shoes, which allow the wearer to learn Auto-Haste, unfortunately Zidane only manages to steal a few Ether’s and a couple of Elixers. I save again and head in the direction that Dagger originally took, finding my way to the roof where Zidane tells the others to leave him to rescue her and escape from the castle before Kuja destroys it. The rest are reluctant to leave him, but he tells them this is important to him and he needs them to go, Freya resigns herself to leaving her friend behind, though she does so on the condition that Zidane doesn’t confront Kuja alone, he just gets Dagger and Eiko and flee’s the castle with them.

As he climbs the staircase, Alexander covers the castle with its wings in order to try and protect it, though it does so too late, allowing the Invincinble to unleash a pillar of light, blowing up parts of the castle in the process. As Dagger and Eiko are thrown from the balcony they were previously stood on, Zidane arrives in the nick of time to rescue them, using some bunting to swing them to safety. Once on some slightly more solid ground, Zidane apologises to Dagger for not being truthful about his feelings for her, but they’re not out of the woods yet as the remains of the castle begin to shake. The Invincible unleashes another attack, this one more powerful than the last and a huge shockwave spreads throughout the kingdom. On board the ship Garland talks of souls “returning” and states that in time, they will no longer belong to Gaia.