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Messages - lolmonade

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TalkBack / The Long Dark (Switch) Review
« on: October 06, 2020, 09:52:16 AM »

Oh no, not I, I will Survive

The Long Dark, a survival game released on Switch by developer Hinterland Studios, elicits the feel of Hatchet, one of my favorite books growing up.  A lone survivor who’s dropped into the wild without hardly any supplies has to cobble together the resources from nature to sustain themselves, find shelter from the harsh elements, and build tools to keep predators at bay.  There’s something inherently relatable to the setting, and although The Long Dark explicitly warns in the first loading screen that it is not an accurate depiction of real-life survival skills, its world feels natural and understandable.

The name of the game here is managing meters, the four of which are hunger, thirst, body temperature, and rest.  The cold is oppressive, with rolling blizzards on and off throughout, requiring that you find or make shelters to insulate and build fires for a heat source to recover.  Hunger pangs are persistent, and food sources are scarce.  Thirst is a more manageable necessity; a can of snow boiled into water or more unsavory methods like harvesting toilet water will do.  Scavenging for canned food and drinks gives an essential but scarce resource that doesn’t spoil, so it should be saved in case of emergency while hunting wildlife like rabbits for meat where possible.  Eventually you’ll tire out, so while in that shelter a bedroll will come in handy to get some sleep in, or a bed in an abandoned home might suffice.

In order to meet those needs, the raw materials & resources must be gathered and crafted into the necessary tools.  That fire I needed?  Better have tinder, fuel, and an accelerant like lighter fluid, if you want it done quick.  Cloth sewn onto clothes to keep you warmer or wrapped around sticks to build a torch.  Whether by falling too high or being attacked by wildlife, fashioning that same cloth into bandages is necessary to mend injuries and blunt damage taken.

There are three modes—Survival, Challenges, and Wintermute.  The first two are pretty straightforward: Challenges are scenarios created to overcome, and survival is an open-ended mode to test your mettle by surviving as long as possible.  For my money, Wintermute, the episodic story mode is the best starting point for new players.  Through three episodes so far, it tells the tale of Will Mackenzie, a pilot in the remote Canadian wilderness, whom an implied former love interest, Astrid Greenwood, commissions to make a delivery gone wrong with a plane crash.  Upon waking, Astrid has gone missing and Will explores the dark winter wild to uncover the mystery of where she went.

The narrative focus was the driver I needed to really learn the mechanics of The Long Dark.  No matter what mode you choose, you’re just sort of dropped-in.  Wintermute’s story isn’t dense, but it is engaging enough to make me want to see what would unfold.  What fate befalls Will and Astrid?  What events led the small town of Milton to become destitute, with only a feeble woman who calls herself the Grey Mother the sole resident stoking the town’s dying embers?  These questions and more were compelling and an adequate driver for me to go through trial and error, stopping and starting a handful of times so I could get the hang of the cause-and-effect of using scarce resources and the most optimal way to keep each meter appropriately filled while exploring.  A liberal use of save scumming was my friend, and what felt insurmountable at first eventually enabled me to be self-sufficient in a way that was really, really satisfying.  It’s worth noting that only three of five episodes are currently released, so you won’t get quite the full story, but what’s there feels like a solid underpinning for what will unfold.  Hinterland Studios has let us know that future episodes are scheduled for 2021 and will be included in the base cost of the game.

In the end, The Long Dark won me over through the same war of attrition it demanded of me during playing.  What starts as an oppressive wilderness and battle of the elements eventually unfolds into a gratifying progression as I learned how to survive efficiently through trial and error.  They say that adversity builds character, and if you can grow some thicker skin, there’s a lot of character in The Long Dark to discover.

ARE YOU CHAOS? / Re: Safe Words 16 - Next-Gen Edition
« on: October 05, 2020, 09:50:19 AM »

Windyman, more like Winning Man amirite!? MASB completes a single well and safely clears the screen for the first time!

Next up: lolmonade! Which Day One patch are you installing first?
-   Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
-   Bugsnax
-   Destruction AllStars
-   Dirt 5
-   Gears Tactics
-   Godfall
-   The Medium
-   Sackboy: A Big Adventure

How has anyone not chosen Bugsnax?!? I choose Bugsnax!

ARE YOU CHAOS? / Re: Safe Words 16 - Next-Gen Edition
« on: October 05, 2020, 09:50:01 AM »

Windyman, more like Winning Man amirite!? MASB completes a single well and safely clears the screen for the first time!

Next up: lolmonade! Which Day One patch are you installing first?
-   Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
-   Bugsnax
-   Destruction AllStars
-   Dirt 5
-   Gears Tactics
-   Godfall
-   The Medium
-   Sackboy: A Big Adventure

How has anyone not chosen Bugsnax?!? I choose Bugsnax!

Super Mario Sunshine isn't as bad as some (including me) have made it out to be.

Super Mario Sunshine isn't as good as some contrarians make it out to be, either.

It's a fine game, my problem is that FLUDD makes it not feel like a Mario game.

I think Minecraft Steve is a perfect choice if you see Smash Bros as not just a fighting/party game but a gathering of some of the most influential characters in gaming.  Minecraft is prolific, has been for almost a decade.  Steve might just be an avatar, but he's widely featured in advertising and toys too. 

Whether or not we feel happy about the slot being used this way, it makes sense and IMO will help the fighter pack sell like hotcakes.

General Chat / Re: The COVID-19 Virus is Coming For Us All Thread
« on: October 02, 2020, 09:43:33 AM »
Welp, Hope Hicks, President & FLOTUS, and the RNC chair have now all been confirmed to have COVID-19.  The internet has handled this about as well as you can expect. 

It does kind of feel like a "you played with fire, no wonder you got burnt" moment though.

TalkBack / Atom RPG (Switch) Review
« on: September 28, 2020, 06:46:33 AM »

Fallout of a different flavor

Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs) such as the Fallout series, to me, are often tedious, bloated-feeling experiences with punishingly difficult restrictions.  Such restrictions include being encumbered and not allowed to move for holding too many items, making resources so scarce that calling each decision hand-to-mouth is generous, or skills and attributes that only work by min-maxing them to make you a powerhouse in one or two areas only.  This is a forewarning for anyone like me—ATOM RPG falls squarely within that category, even more so since it appears to line-up more with the first few Fallout titles in format & style, swapping the post-Apocalyptic Americana with a radiated Soviet Russia motif instead.

The story is straightforward: Mutually Assured Destruction happened in the mid-80s, bringing with it the advent of a post-apocalyptic world of scant towns, decrepit abandoned facilities, and scrap—so much scrap.  As a member of the secret society A.T.O.M., you are sent out to find a missing search party (ironically), and are shortly afterward mugged by bandits and left with nothing.  Combat is turn-based, using an isometric view with tile square movements and action points; offense and defense are affected not just by stats/perks chosen at level up, but weapons and armor you find along the way.  Different points of interest like towns and vacant facilities are identified on the map, and as you walk from point A to B, random encounters will occur such as traveling caravans to buy and sell goods from (with Rubles as currency) or bandits looking to kill you and pick your corpse clean.  For those sensitive to load times, know that ATOM RPG is rife with them: twenty seconds at a time every time you enter or leave a town or dungeon, have a random encounter, or explore some outpost.  It was excruciating how much it broke up the action for me.

That said, I did my best to take ATOM RPG through its paces and give it the fairest shakes possible for someone predisposed to not enjoy it.  I have for you a tale of two A.T.O.M. agents – Maria and Beavis (yes, Beavis was a custom name).  Maria had Sex Appeal and was a Slick Dealer, two distinctions that made her a sliver-tongued devil (especially with men), but in exchange weakened her and reduced her carrying capacity.  After the ceremonial mugging of the game’s introduction, she trekked to the closest town of Otradnoye, speaking to several locals, most of them with an understandingly myopic view of their plight and way of life.  After picking crops for an old hunter and being given a shotgun without any ammo, she took on a job to get a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” for the bartender from the distant town of Krasnozamenny.

Her walking across the wasteland was a slog.  Slow, plodding movement in the overworld made the trek from town to other areas of interest an exercise in frustration.  The wastelands were rife with random encounters, which coupled with the aforementioned oppressive load screens & times hard to swallow.  The separate locations for points of interest or random encounters were smaller slices of map which felt more interactive like the towns, but they similarly were often a plodding event, having to wander that map with no indication of where people or buildings were.  It may be more true to form for a wasteland, but it cuts into the fun.

Maria encountered a trio of men at a campfire, all three frozen in a stand-off.  The first one after some coaxing let her in on a secret: the other two men had been panicking about a tall tale of a worm that would burrow its way into the victim’s head, controlling its mind and rendering them unable to adequately recall all their memories.  They had feared each other had been infested with them.  Maria agreed to talk with the other two and report back, but all those conversations yielded was that each man was terrified of the other.  Maria in a cunning act informed the first man that they were both indeed paranoid and plotting against him, planting the seed for them to turn on each other, but she didn’t return to see the fruit of her labor.

The travel was plodding, and hunger clawed at her health until remembering she could set-camp and eat a can of pre-war meat that somehow didn’t go bad.  While checking the wastes for supplies, she encountered toxic waste that infected her with radiation poisoning.  In spite of that, she eventually stumbled onto Krasnozamenny.  While trying to find the bookkeeper, she noticed all the locals started speaking in strange reverse language, or worse, repeating that this existence isn’t real—she had contracted radiation poisoning!  Without being able to find a doctor, she was left the only choice to trek back to Otradnoye, which she did but only with a sliver of life left.  While still radiated, she was given treatment for the sickness and stocked up on food to regain her senses.

After being told of an abandoned Bunker 317 with possible treasures, she made her way there, encountering a trio of men who made a deal: if you explore and clear-out any wild animals or monsters, you can have whatever you can walk out with.  It was too good a deal for Maria to pass up, and after clearing out huge nuclear ants that were scarier to look at than to battle, her physical weakness suddenly became clear—all those treasures she amassed were too heavy for her!  She decided to drop everything except the most valuable items, figuring she could collect the remainder after finding a barterer.  

Upon leaving, she was accused by the group of hiding the best goods to be found later, and was ambushed.  The trio were well-armed, with guns and knives.  Maria was equipped with a brick.  This is a common issue - if you make the wrong turn or get the wrong random encounter battle, suddenly you’re surrounded with several men armed to the teeth.  The power imbalances are palpable.  Maria didn’t have a chance, and the three enemies made short work of her.  Because I saved prior to leaving the bunker, I was stuck in an impossible situation.  Thus, ended the story of Maria.

Beavis, on the other hand, is a physically imposing man, a martial arts enthusiast with an aversion to tinkering with technology.  He too helped the old hunter gather corn, but took the shotgun and sold it in exchange for a shovel and some canned meat rations.  While also encountering radiation, he benefited from the inherited knowledge of Maria’s prior life and kept himself well-fed, allowing him to stave-off the worse side effects.  He found a fortress where militiamen had set-up their own encampment.  There he asked around of the soldiers who were all mum on details to a stranger, except for one who had been smoking a bit too much of the devil’s weed.  Using this knowledge, Beavis told the fortress leader who then ran to reprimand him, and let Beavis ransack the office space for goods before taking his leave.

After making it to Krasnozamenny, he spoke the secret A.T.O.M. code to the bartender, who walked him back behind closed doors and confirmed his association with the organization, and agreed to group with you and assist in finding the missing expedition.  They encountered a group of acolytes of a strange sect, led by a charismatic leader named Devi Christu, who questioned Beavis’ faith and showed to be incredulous at his indecision.  After leaving, a member of a group called the Mushroom Cult asked him to track them back to Otradnoye, offering rewards for doing so and reporting back their plans.  While Beavis saw the Mushroom cult as equally questionable in motive, he wasn’t about to turn down riches in such a barren wasteland, so he and his new partner started the trek back to Otradnoye.

In my two saves, I spent enough time to acquaint myself with the systems, understand the way the world works, and became a better survivor in the world of ATOM RPG.  What makes it special is the world building through the character dialogue, learning how to play characters against each other to meet your needs, and leaning into your character strengths to uncover the outcomes you’re looking for.  ATOM RPG isn’t going to make you a cult follower in the church of CRPG, but those who are already ordained there can likely overlook its dated look and flaws to find an enjoyable experience on the Nintendo Switch.

ARE YOU CHAOS? / Re: Safe Words 16 - Next-Gen [SIGN UPS NOW OPEN]
« on: September 24, 2020, 08:50:55 PM »
Count me in.

TalkBack / #Funtime (Switch) Review
« on: September 23, 2020, 07:07:01 AM »

For a #goodtime, you can do worse than #Funtime.

Kudos to Developer One Guy Games for the naming convention of #Funtime.  Beyond being what I imagine is an SEO dream naming convention, it’s somehow indicative of the game without describing anything about it.  #Funtime is a top-down, twin-stick shooter, a genre well represented on the Nintendo Switch by now.  With that in mind, it might be fair to ask—what distinctions does this one have that makes it worth checking it out?

Starting with controls, #Funtime has a silky-smooth, blistering speed that is unmatched in recent games of this type, at least that I’ve played.  The speed creeps right up to the border of too fast without crossing it, making zipping in-and-out of tight spots between projectiles and hazards feel so, so good.  Regarding gameplay, the main distinction between #Funtime and its peers is a color-swap mechanic, mapped to the directional buttons on the left Joy-Con.  Shooting enemies often yields collectables that increase a score multiplier, a critical task to get high scores, but the multiplier ends when you get hit.  The four primary colors red, blue, green, and yellow match enemies and hazards, and timing it right can allow you to pass-through them without blowing up.  It’s a clever idea that is easy to understand, but hard to master—not only because of the coordination it took, but also the awkward positioning I had to take to both move and switch colors.  If you don’t have a thumb that can both move the stick and hit the buttons below it with its side, then you’re going to have a #badtime.

There is a challenge mode and five different arcade modes.  Challenge mode is a series of levels with different objectives and a 3-star rating system using the different level types from the arcade mode.  Survival and Large Survival provide an endless barrage of hazards to shoot and avoid until you’ve run out of lives.  Open survival is the same concept, except with an endless space to navigate.  Waves plops you in a constrained space, and metes out enemies in, well, waves.  Escape mode had me navigating a maze, avoiding traps, enemies, and hazards to reach the end point.  There are even more quirky ones like Wrecking Ball, where a colored ball is tethered to the end of your ship and hitting enemies with it is the only way to score points.  The challenge mode provides a nice set of goals to reach while teaching you the ropes, and the arcade mode feeds that need to reach for the stars with high scores.

The simple, clean aesthetic of black background with white or grey gridlines pairs nicely with the neon colors, although I can’t help but think that style has become a bit overplayed.  It’s not #Funtime’s fault—it is a look that stands-out, and I imagine that it’s tough to stand out as a twin-stick shooter, but over the past few years I’ve seen several games that use it.  The music’s techno sound and upbeat tempo similarly match well with the style.  

All that said, I can’t fault #Funtime for being overly familiar within the twin-stick shooter genre when the core of the game feels so good to play.  Not only that, but the diverse level types and modes make it so that once I beat the levels, I found myself having just as much fun going back to them, attempting to earn three stars on as many as possible before giving up in frustration at my own lack of coordination.  Some clumsy button placement with color swaps and an overplayed style isn’t enough to keep me from giving a solid recommendation to this game with a silly name.

TalkBack / Raji: An Ancient Epic (Switch) Review
« on: September 16, 2020, 09:22:00 AM »

Technical hiccups can't sink this Hindu-inspired odyssey

A festival’s reenactment of an ancient war between gods and demons acts as a prelude to a new demon uprising.  A young Indian girl’s brother, Golu, is kidnapped by the demons, starting a pursuit to save him and, in the process, the world.  Raji: An Ancient Epic has you embodying the eponymous character as she takes on a bevy of demons, towering beasts, and the lord of demons Mahabalasura.  This journey is reinforced by the gods that bestow ancient and powerful weapons and abilities in your journey to save Golu.

Gameplay is largely inspired by the likes of early entries in the God of War series.  Combating waves of enemies with light and heavy attacks coupled with a dodge feels right at home to anyone familiar with the genre.  It’s easy to get in the groove of chaining moves together in a combination that stuns an enemy, dodging a different enemy’s attack in the nick of time, then returning the favor to them.  In between each battle arena are various types of platforming challenges that are fairly rudimentary.  The puzzles, rotating segments of trees or circular tiles to put together a painting of Raji’s key memories with Golu, are simple but break up the action sequences nicely.  The staff Raji sets out with has a heavy damage focus, but as you proceed, additional weapons are doled out (such as a bow & arrow and sword & shield) that provide a wider set of combat options that feel distinct despite limited button inputs.

The story, setting, and style are the peak experience in Raji: An Ancient Epic.  The front and center tale of Raji chasing after Golu itself can seem rote, but the way it’s told, how it’s intertwined with a lesson in Hindu mythology, and its distinct art style makes it shine.  Cutscenes highlight key story sequences with a flat cut-out style; characters appear in silhouettes with tethers to their arms as if part of a puppet theatre.  As Raji walks along different paths, the gods tell tales of epic battles in history, using gorgeous mosaics in the background to tell their story.  The architecture of each environment is ornate, and lighting is used to great effect in producing appealing contrasts in color.

Regretfully, the game’s technical performance is where it falters.  Nearly any battle with more than a handful of enemies’ results in combat animation feeling like it’s moving in slow motion.   While Raji features an array of beautifully composed music, several tracks are split in a way that isn’t seamless, making the stop of the old loop and start of the new one produce a stutter that’s jarring.  Worst of all, certain bugs require a restart entirely.  A notable example for me was when I was climbing a structure to the top of a building and Raji got caught near the top and then was stuck air walking without being able to get unstuck.  While the free roaming allowed me to explore some of the infrastructure a bit, it’s never fun having to close a game because of a bug.  It’s worth noting the developer announced a bugfix update is in the works, but tread with caution if you decide to buy-in beforehand.  

But all that said, those demerits weren’t enough to sour my experience with Raji: An Ancient Epic.  The well-worn game structure is adorned with a decorative style that’s wholly unique in video games; a striking soundtrack with heavy sitar notes and an ancient Hindu history lesson compel you to see this personal story of sister and brother to its conclusion.  Even with performance caveats in mind, there’s a lot of beauty to uncover here if you give it a chance.

I've read the graphic novels, but never played this.  I thought it was supposed to be good, but you guys are suggesting otherwise.  I may still check it out.

Also, props for the sub-header.

I love this game, and don't have much affinity for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World's story.  Definitely the pixel art and soundtrack are what truly stand out here, but I love how zippy and powerful you get as you get more upgrades. 

Maybe nothing special for most, but as a beat-em-up fan, I love it.

TalkBack / Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break (Switch) Review
« on: August 17, 2020, 12:23:52 PM »


Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break might be one of the strangest mish-mashes of genres and styles I’ve ever encountered. Or, at least, me coming into it completely blind meant I couldn’t prepare myself for a grab bag that’s less eclectic than erratic, more schizophrenic than eccentric.  Ace Team brings us this fever dream of a game, the apparent third in the series which makes me wonder: Has the series become more or less abstract and strange over time?  I don’t think I want to know.

Focusing on this effort, for those like me who have no prior experience with the series, Rock of Ages 3’s gameplay is primarily focused on rolling a giant boulder through a set of checkered narrow courses, which consist of pathways with obstacles to derail your route to the also-checkered finish line.  These obstacles do different things: spring-trap platforms send you flying in the air and often off the ledge, catapults shoot at you, and giant buffalo-like beasts freeze the boulder in place for several seconds.  This base gameplay is used in a handful of game modes that all play out like some sort of race, either against the clock, against an opposing boulder to the finish line, or amusingly as a race to the end where a Skee-ball set-up awaits you.  A robust level editor toolkit is also included.  I found it easy enough to navigate the menu items and construct a crude level, but the core game doesn’t excite me quite enough to really put it past its paces other than to say it feels like it’d be a bit better served with a mouse and keyboard.

The most unique levels in the single player campaign are a blend of boulder rolling and tower defense.  Pre-match, I got to select a boulder type as well as a handful of traps and abilities.  Both my opponent and I each had an individual track and castle with an HP bar you’re tasked with defending with the aforementioned traps.  As I laid down the traps, a meter in the image of two men constructing the boulder slowly builds.  When complete, I was able to pause and start rolling on their track, which was rife with whatever bad intentions they had for me.  If either of us could roll to the castle door at the end before our boulders broke, it’d shave off HP based on how much damage we took on our trip, and then it was back to trap scheming.  The first to lose all their HP is defeated.  These levels can be exciting and dynamic, but as the game wears on they start to drag.  Rock of Ages 3’s best impressions are made when levels are short and sweet, and enough levels go against that grain in a really unpleasant way.

Stylistically, it leans very heavy into cribbing the Monty Python style.  Vignettes with paper doll like figures against a flat backdrop are the preamble to each segment of levels, themed with a period of history (caveman, times of Caesar, India Empire) that at times has clever humor and wonderful timing; at other times, it leans so heavily into grunts and fart noises that its off-putting.  Each segment of history represented has one primary piece of music, presumably from that era.  This isn’t a problem in and of itself, except that how much this game is focused on repetition to get the best possible score to progress means you’ll hear those tracks over and over before you’re done.

Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is what I’d guess is a refinement more than a revolution of their ongoing series of paper cut out, boulder racing, and tower defense game using historical figures and public domain music.  My disappointment isn’t that it’s a bad game, more that I see the potential for a really special indie title that could have a diverse array of level types, well-crafted humor, and a well-defined creator tool to build a more evergreen creator community around.  I enjoyed my time well enough with it, but the decision to buy will depend on whether the drawbacks hit enough of your personal pet peeves.

TalkBack / Letting Go With Animal Crossing: New Horizons
« on: August 03, 2020, 06:08:41 AM »

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the moment.

2020 has been a hard year for all of us.  Whether it’s losing loved ones, your livelihood, or a friendship, or fear of losing your way of life, even simply grieving for others, COVID-19 has stripped us all bare like a tree with its bark ripped off.  Society has reached a tipping point in its struggle for equality and the pursuit of happiness, boiling over into persistent protests in the streets of the U.S.’ largest cities, and clashes between protestors and police that evoke the most grim parts of our nation’s past.

Personally, 2020 has brought a reckoning with unhealthy ways such that I’ve avoided rather than coped with changes in my life, in small part thanks to Animal Crossing: New Horizons.  At its release, a common sentiment was that it came at just the right time—what better game to sink your teeth into when we’re all stuck at home with no place to go than a charming life simulator?  What better time to have a game that gives small, attainable goals each day and gradually lets you develop your ideal house, ideal personal island town, and ideal set of friendly neighbors with persistent positive encouragement?  

I poured one-to-two hours a night into New Horizons, picking away at the landscape to squeeze in fruit trees of every variety, becoming a beast of burden for Tom Nook to fast-track island development, maxing out my purchases of turnips every Sunday and then leveraging every tool and acquaintance available to sell high and pad my bank account.  I used my scant work breaks to do quick meet-ups with friends to trade for items I need.  I did all of this while my wife & I spun plates of teaching our two young sons, improving our diet & exercise, learning how to cook, staying on top of chores, and attempting to work from home while being on top of each other in the same space nearly all the time.

Then my 8-year-old son wanted to play.  For those unfamiliar, Nintendo decided that all accounts on one Switch have to share an island.  Suddenly, the one space that was still all mine was being occupied by a small agent of chaos.  Fruit shaken off trees and left there, all the resources picked clean before I could get to any of them, and hundreds of questions on how to play the game in the middle of my work day.  I had reached my limit—the kids needed their own Switch so they could get off my virtual lawn (my wife & I had discussed rewarding their good work dealing with homeschooling anyway; this was just extra incentive).  

After transferring my account to the new Switch, to my horror I learned Animal Crossing: New Horizon doesn’t let you transfer your island with you.  I begrudgingly bequeathed the land I tilled to my sons, spending a few hours one evening having both switches on my lap, making visits between my former home and the new, untamed landscape I’d have to start over on, not wanting to start completely from scratch.  

Then something incredible happened—the space between my son & me in-game allowed our relationship to flourish.  Not being stuck on the same island gave him and his brother autonomy to build their ideal world.  Visiting each other’s islands became a special experience of receiving a tour: he shared with me all he wanted to accomplish along with what materials or bells he needed, and me being grateful I could share with him the fruits of my virtual labor to give him a leg-up in accomplishing those goals.  The special notes he’d mail me didn’t hurt, either.

I realized this mirrored unhealthy coping mechanisms in my life.  My fear of losing what matters most compelled me to exert control over my relationships instead of making them what they should be—a partnership.  My fear of losing my wife, kids, parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends manifests into controlling how much I share with them—what I allow them to know about my life, interests, aspirations, and struggles.  These are things I’m actively working to correct in baby steps.

So yes, for me, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the right game at the right moment of my life.  Not because it provided mental shelter from the world outside my front door,  nor because it gave me the little hits of feigned accomplishment I felt I was missing in real life.  It gave me an experience with my oldest son that allowed me to better contextualize my broader life struggles, and how my fear of losing control was consuming me.  I hardly touch it anymore, but I will always be grateful to Animal Crossing for expanding my own horizons.

General Chat / Re: The COVID-19 Virus is Coming For Us All Thread
« on: July 30, 2020, 09:02:08 PM »
I just came in here to say I hope you're all doing well in spite of world events right now.  This community has been great for me through the last decade or so.

While I hate to see everyone struggling with what's happening, selfishly it's a little reassuring seeing I'm not alone in this.  I lost my head for a bit the last few months, just finally starting to get to a level mindset.  Make sure you're taking care of your mental health as well as your physical health, everyone. 

TalkBack / Superliminal (Switch) Review
« on: July 07, 2020, 10:01:45 AM »

See things from a different point of view

Superliminal is an indie first person-puzzle platformer originally released on PC in 2019 by developer Pillow Castle.  Stop me if this sounds familiar – you are a test subject at an institute where a series of increasingly more difficult and abstract puzzles must be overcome while proceeding through a story told in breadcrumbs of dialogue.  As the test subject, your purpose for completing those puzzles remains unclear until enough of those pieces of dialogue paint the larger picture and doesn’t become clear til the experience has been completed.

It’s the type of puzzles that Superliminal employs that make it stand-out amongst a crowded field. Your tools are the environment itself, jumping, and grabbing/rotating items that can be picked up. But what’s novel about this concept is how you use those tools by altering your perspective, which allows you to interact with these background objects differently. .  I pick up a block and raise it above my head.  When I let go, it falls from the sky, but upon landing it’s now double its size.  I repeat this until the block is as large as me, making a helpful stepping stool to a door slightly out of reach.  Holding an item and lowering your view to the ground before

Each cascading level builds beautifully on what you learned in the prior one.  Where you first learn about the height of drop changing the size of held items, the following level will teach you about background pictures being grabbable.  For example, one room has a wall with a black and white checkered block painted on a wall and beam.  From one view, it clearly is painted on the wall, but if I lined my sight up just right until it formed the perfect shape of the block, I could pick it up off the backdrop and it materialized into a whole 3D block that could be used.  I obliquely referenced Portal above, but it’s exactly that type of inventive mechanic that’s ingrained in the entire experience that I’m almost afraid of divulging too many types of puzzles.  So much of what’s fun in Superliminal are the surprises and “aha!” moments of figuring out how to view a new puzzle.

Aesthetically, the look of the game varies between unremarkable and stunning.  A lot of the environments are drab bedrooms, hallways, and large rooms with very basic looking furniture, doors, wall décor, and signage.  A bland kind of muzak fills many of these spaces with the kind of tunes you’d expect from a waiting room, which has its own charm but can get grating after hearing it for too long.  It's the later parts of the game where things seem to be unraveling when Superliminal treats you with the most memorable visuals and environments.  In a way, it reminded me of the later hours of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Jim Carrey’s character is rapidly losing his memories but they’re being taken from him in segmented parts rather than vanishing one at a time.  This unraveling weaves well into the storytelling, although it also comes with occasional performance hiccups and stutters, which undercut the impressiveness at times.

Superliminal is a breath of fresh air, the kind of game you want other people to play but don’t want to talk with them about until you’ve both experienced it.  An unassuming package on its face that as you peel back the layers, will be filled with surprises and gratification as you find out what point of view it wants you to see the puzzle from.  With a moral to its story that is uplifting during a time which we could all use a new perspective, Superliminal is one of the more inventive games on a Nintendo platform today.

TalkBack / Invisible, Inc. (Switch) Review
« on: June 23, 2020, 05:11:00 AM »

This tactical strategy game should be seen.

In the fictional year 2074, governmental order has been upended by megacorporations.  In response to attacks, Invisible, Inc., the espionage agency under your direction, takes on a series of missions to acquire resources in preparation for a final confrontation with those encroaching forces.  As their chief tactician, to achieve this goal will require sending two of your premiere secret agents into various spots on the world map with a limited number of hours before having to deploy for that final mission.

If you’re new to the genre, turn-based tactical strategy games play out in, well, turns.  Each agent has action points spendable as a shared resource - either by moving across tile spaces of the level or using character abilities.  After ending your turn, the enemy team gets their turn to do the same.  Each level has two primary objectives – one example would be accessing a terminal or rescuing an imprisoned agent, and the other objective is to find the escape elevator of the building you’re infiltrating.   Scattered throughout are side missions, such as collecting credits via hacking terminals with the assistance of Incognita, the AI assistant who also can reprogram scouting bots, disable laser barriers or surveillance cameras, and other neat tools as long as you have power, a resource that you can gain in-between each turn as well as collect on-site.  

An alarm level is displayed in the corner, segmented in five pieces.  Each passing turn, if a guard is alerted of your presence, or hacking of a fixture that has daemons (think malware) fills a segment, and once it’s been filled completely, the alarm level increases, bringing with it additional obstacles to navigate such as increased guard presence or re-engaging cameras that were taken out earlier.  It creates this great tension knowing that every extra turn taken will result in more danger.  Using action points each turn effectively, rationing power to hack terminals via Incognita, and deciding when to engage with enemies versus trying to sneak around them evokes similar feelings I had of Into the Breach.  Every choice is important, and ultimately sets the stage for victory, or sets up a trap of your own making.  Also like Into the Breach, each round brings a limited-use rewind feature, pulling back one turn in case you’ve realized what a catastrophic mistake was made.

But it’s downplaying the lethal options that allows other features of this genre to shine.  Most tactical turn-based games I’ve played have combat as a core function – you don’t want to engage with enemies without a plan, and it’s critical to get the jump on enemies, but often part of the win condition is to lethally remove enemy pieces from the battlefield.  In Invisible, Inc., stealth is your north star, with combat meant to disarm, not deal in death.  Enemies have a vision cone that stops agents in their tracks if seen.  If you’re close enough to a blind spot, an agent can duck under cover and set-up an ambush attack.  Using hacking to disable cameras and open new avenues to get around enemy patrols is satisfying.  Walking up to a door, using a peek ability to see a patrol across the other room, and gauging whether you have enough action points to disarm and knock them out for a few turns is essential.  If your agent is caught with no moves left to make, they can go out like a cool-guy action hero with a quippy last word before being gunned down, left to wither unless another agent can reach and carry them to the end goal.

Between missions, credits you’ve accumulated can be spent to upgrade stat categories that boost things like how an agent’s total action points, amount of items that can be carried, or number of modifiers that can be installed.  Additional agents unlock the more you play Invisible, Inc., each with their own unique backgrounds outlined in profiles as well as special attributes to their character.  Level structure is randomly generated, which in a lesser game would feel like a lazy way to extend game length.  Here, the core gameplay is so structurally sound that it adds just the right amount of variation in each playthrough that can keep it fresh as you try another run with a different set of agents.

All that said, there are a few minor quibbles worth addressing.  Firstly, while the premise is well established at the start with well-written dialogue throughout, there isn’t much story being told beyond setting-up that premise.  In between missions the same prefabricated back-and forth between the agency head, tech specialist, and Incognita are repeated – which works well enough, but feels perfunctory in a way that made me feel more like I was listening to someone else’s story secondhand rather than it being mine.  Also, in a few instances where I got into the fourth or fifth alarm level, there were regular instances of stuttering framerate when the enemy turns initiated.  I haven’t played this game on another console or PC, so I can’t tell if it’s Switch specific, but it’s reminiscent of playing a Civilization game in the later hours of a match when your computer is struggling to make the moves of all these pieces of the game board.  Maybe something I wouldn’t have noticed if I were a better super-secret spy soldier.

Invisible, Inc., the stealthy turn-based tactics game originally released on PC in 2015, may have suddenly become my favorite release on the Nintendo Switch in 2020.  Eschewing direct combat for a nearly purely stealth focus helps simplify without dumbing down the essential structure of what makes this genre great, and the efficiency that it demands for success is challenging but rewarding in ways that make me want to replay it over and over until I’ve scraped all the meat off the bone.  If you find the Xcom’s of the world alluring but lament the random percentage chances of success combat that comes along with it, this is the game you’ve been looking for.

TalkBack / Huntdown (Switch) Review
« on: June 15, 2020, 09:55:01 AM »

Justice for hire with style to spare.

Huntdown is a 2D side-scrolling arcade shooter with a swagger in its step.  There’s self-assuredness in the preamble, which describes a dim future of gang rule and chaos where the only solution is to bring in one of a trio of bounty hunters to root-out the rival gangs in their own turf.  Large splash screens with detailed pixel art profiles of each bounty hunter and rival gangs are on display throughout.  The bounty hunters look bold, powerful, and determined.  The rival gangs have cartoonish, devious faces and bosses that are larger than life in both stature and personality.  It all leaves a hell of a first impression.

The city is broken-out into four zones where the rival gangs have drawn out their turf.  I started by selecting my bounty hunter—Anna Conda, a leather-clad, eyepatch-wearing badass with an attitude to match.  I made my way through a series of levels in the zone, littered with a variety of enemies to dispatch, boxes or cars to use as cover, various other kinds of light platforming challenges, and thankfully an abundance of save points throughout.  The end of each level is capped with a boss, usually double Anna’s size and evenly matched in bravado.  The bosses all have a unique movement pattern (or in some cases, two or three) which usually meant at least a couple of attempts before conquering them.

There’s a real “approach however you like” feel to each level where either running and gunning like a John Wick acolyte or taking a more cautious approach seems like a viable strategy depending on your abilities.  For the most part, my skill set doesn’t lend itself well to action hero theatrics, so I duck behind cars and step into the background in garage door openings to dodge bullets, countering with a methodically planned shot or two to take the nearest opponent down or lobbing a badly-aimed grenade and hoping it at least distracts enemies long enough to find a closer cover spot to take the remaining foes down with pot shots. On the rare occasion when my best laid plans went belly-up, I was able to improvise and eliminate enemies with an efficiency that I felt good enough to record for posterity—something I rarely do.

A grimy film seems to stain the world of Huntdown.  The style of the gangs adds an additional flavor to each segment of the city you bring your one-person army to.  Whether it’s the neon punk look of the first area, or the industrial elements of later zones, the theme coupled with that lived-in world provides variety in scenery while also keeping everything tonally consistent.  Oddly enough, when speaking to a friend about the game and sending him video clips, he and I both brought up the NES Robocop game when trying to find a good point of reference to compare its aesthetic, and it suits the premise perfectly.

Huntdown should be lauded for how a clear vision was deliberately and consistently executed on throughout.  The gameplay alone is rewarding, but its marriage and devotion to the tone of a grungy, anarchic city and a vision of the future that feels ripped from the ‘80s both feels retro in its sensibilities and contemporary with the incoming swell of cyberpunk-inspired titles.  Huntdown had the foresight to get-in on that trend early with the understanding of how to make a gratifying shooter, making it one of the more complete feeling indie titles to date on the Switch.

General Chat / Re: The COVID-19 Virus is Coming For Us All Thread
« on: May 21, 2020, 10:23:54 AM »
I recall reading that story about her being fired, truthfully my biases had me mentally taking her side, but I'm trying to work on not coming to conclusions with incomplete information, especially as the news seems to be flying at the speed of light.

I will say too that there's been aritcles with data showing that the PEOPLE of the US broadly started social distancing before the state orders came into place, so I'd be more inclined to credit the people of Florida moreso than the state & local government.  Again, my biases might be partially at play with that conclusion.

TalkBack / Jet Lancer (Switch) Review
« on: May 12, 2020, 04:23:14 AM »

Top Gun Meets Knight Rider

Jet Lancer is a fast-paced shoot-’em-up from Armor Games Studios.  It’s not simply “fast”, but blisteringly fast.  As the ace pilot/freelance mercenary dogfight job taker Ash Leguinn, I assumed ownership of a prototype jet fighter plane which rivals the most technologically advanced aerial flight vehicles in service.  Along with the commander of an aircraft carrier, I ping-ponged my way along a string of contracts that unveiled larger forces at play and a world-ending threat only I could defeat.  

Each mission is constrained to a somewhat limited piece of aerial real estate on a 2D plane, with sky in the North, Ocean or ground in the South, and east/West having invisible barriers that’ll turn you back around automatically in-flight.  Objectives vary mission-by-mission: one might simply be downing all enemy fighter pilots; another might be hovering around a satellite tower long enough for a meter to fill, signifying it’s been disabled.  Every mission is littered with air combatants, a volley of huge bullets filling the sky like the fourth of July, and heat-seeking missiles that can only be avoided by sharp pivots and dodge rolling just as they’re about to knock you out of the sky.  In-between missions, optional loadout changes of weapons and vehicle perks allow new opportunities to try different strategies if you get stuck.  Is that missile barrage super move not hitting the submarine hard enough?  Swap over to the giant charging laser to obliterate it in one shot.

Every five or six missions are capped with a boss battle level that has one primary objective to take down and is commonly littered with secondary enemies and hazards.  The first one was a hose-like mechanical flying dragon, weaving in-and-out of the water at awkward angles that made it challenging to dip down-and-up after striking without crashing into it.  The second battle was a less-inspired giant submarine, slowly lumbering along, shooting a flurry of bullets and huge missiles that rocket into the sky and then come tumbling down toward the water again.  Each boss has several phases and attack patterns that take patience to learn, which can be aggravating when truly stuck but provides a great deal of satisfaction once you get over the hurdle.

The act of flying itself feels fantastic.  They nailed the sense of speed, with a weight to the aircraft itself that has an appropriate amount of drag when trying to turn on a dime or swerve at the last moment away from danger.  Beyond the boss battles, enemies feel appropriately challenging, making each takedown of an enemy pilot feel like a small victory.  Visually, while navigating from mission-to-mission has a clunky appearance, the missions themselves highlight a multilayering of colors in the backdrop and illusion of depth-of-field via something that looks like the original F-Zero’s space underneath the track.  It’s a nice touch that under scrutiny would look overly simplistic, but in the act of playing works perfectly well since it was almost never the focus of what I was looking at.

Jet Lancer’s positives aren’t novel⁠—plenty of games where you control a plane nail the feeling of flying at the speed of sound.  Lots of shoot-’em-ups provide the exhilaration of narrowly dodging a flurry of projectiles then tagging the enemy.  Multi-wave bosses with clever, varied patterns are almost cliche at this point.  But this is the first time in recent memory I’ve seen those elements married to elevate the experience to something that might be both my favorite indie so far this year and in a rare club of games I’ll keep playing for some time to come.

TalkBack / Hyperparasite (Switch) Review
« on: May 07, 2020, 09:33:22 AM »

Invasion of the bodies snatcher

Hyperparasite is a twin-stick, top-down, roguelike shooter.  If that combination of words didn’t sound like a bot spat it out, maybe the theme will pique your interest.  You play a symbiote-like creature whose survival depends on possessing a mixture of different human combatants with varying abilities, navigating various levels, and fighting off waves of enemies.  I was greeted upon launch with an absurd introduction video message from the President⁠—a bunker-occupying, eyepatch wearing, foul-mouthed leader who looks like a mixture of Ronald Reagan and Big Boss—who has sent out a call-to-arms to the citizenry worldwide for the noble cause of protecting him from the amorphous enemy.

Every run starts with a different human avatar, each of which has a unique move set consisting of a regular and special attack, a dodge, and the ability to detach from the host and take the natural parasitic form.  A police officer has a gun-based attack with a special move that makes bullets travel farther.  A homeless man has a more melee-based kit, using a shopping cart as a battering ram.  Once the host’s life bar is depleted, I shed my human skin and was relegated back to my blobular form—a weak, ill-defined body which has modest offense and a fragility that incentivizes finding a new host quickly.  Get destroyed in that state, and your game over is accompanied with a clever little newspaper article highlighting which human was the hero in that timeline.

Those future human husks are acquired by defeating those that haven’t been unlocked yet.  If a brain drops from their body, you can make it back to the hub area and pay the necessary monetary fee to unlock them as a possessable form moving forward.  In practice, this felt like one requirement too far to unlock new forms, or at least it’s too punitive with how cash-tight things can seem throughout.  There are also perks that can be intermittently unlocked with experience such as HP boosts or attack power.  Admittedly, I hadn’t noticed an appreciable improvement in ability after investing in these power-ups, so it became a rote exercise of spreading it across the different options as I played.

For me, the success of a roguelike is how good the core game feels.  A game like Dead Cells feels so fluid and crisp that the randomness of the level layouts, enemy placement, and item/ability drops bolster that solid foundation well and provide variety.  The worst type of roguelike has a core gameplay that doesn’t stand out from its peers, which then highlights how uncurated the RNG level generation and item drops are, therefore making the entire game feel like chance. .  Hyperparasite is somewhere in the middle—it’s best when I find a new human that has a toolset that empowers me; at its worst, I get a bad draw of a host and encounter enemy types that are bullet sponges.  Oddly enough as well, I noticed a slightly less smooth movement rate when in handheld mode than docked.  It didn’t affect my ability to progress but was sometimes distracting that lessened my enjoyment.

Hyperparasite leans heavily on its setting to stand-out from other top-down shooters, and in that sense, it succeeds in having a great, dark, B-movie tone that feels distinct and engaging.  There’s a real variety to the different host bodies you vulture off-of, which would provide a great flow of hoping from body-to-body if some of them didn’t just feel like they will set you behind by doing so.  If you have a craving for a twin-stick shooter that’ll keep you engaged for a while with an interesting premise, Hyperparasite can provide some brief fun, but be prepared for some grind to unlock new flesh suits and a better experience on the TV.

General Chat / Re: The COVID-19 Virus is Coming For Us All Thread
« on: April 17, 2020, 09:36:04 AM »
Illinois and surrounding states joining up to "govern" their own economic reopening in absence of a federal plan or assistance.

This could be a bad trend depending on how things progress.

As an Illinoisian, I think it's a good thing.  The Northeast with NY already started their own consortium.  The concerns I have are more around the long-term effect when it comes to the health of the country....tough to feel like we're all part of one nation if it ends up being 5-6 regions of the US basically competing and fighting each other for resources.

I sincerely worry about what is done to bring us back together after this is all said and done.

TalkBack / In Other Waters (Switch) Review
« on: April 14, 2020, 08:57:56 AM »

Let this sea wash over you.

After an error and a hard reboot, a garbled cryptic warning of what lay ahead scrolled across my screen.  I awoke to a clinical, sterile topography map with a Dr. Ellery Vas explaining that she was stuck underwater in her personal exploration suit, calling for assistance or any sort of response.  As I acknowledged her pleas, an overlay of dials and buttons covered the map, and she explained to me our dire circumstances—I am an AI (but not her suit’s original AI) that’s attached to her exploration suit stuck in alien waters, and the nearest explorers are too far away to discover us before it’s too late. Therefore, she and I must work together to move and find our way through.  Those are the stakes of In Other Waters, a recently released title announced as part of Nintendo’s latest Indie World presentation.

There isn’t much in terms of gameplay here, at least in the traditional sense.  Progression means interacting with the control panel, an array of stick movement inputs or button selections that correspond to an action that’ll take place on screen.  Hitting B will enact a doppler radar kind of ripple that highlights markers in the area, which take the form triangles for different waypoints to progress to and other symbols indicating possible underwater life.  Selecting the triangle markers moves the map along to that spot, where I was able to once again hit B to highlight new points of interest within the current zone in the reticle.  Each point of interest is accompanied with text describing the area being traveled to, or if yellow dots are strewn around it, I could see what kind of underwater flora or fauna exist there.  In those spots, the sea life can be extracted and retained in inventory.  Eventually, a terminal is reached where larger stores of samples can be kept, inspected, and then details recorded in an encyclopedic-like record.  I was impressed with the amount of thought put into minute details of each living creature and plant. I don’t know whether it’s because of how involved the controls feel in action, but the dry act of scanning an area, using the right stick to highlight waypoints and sea life, collecting samples, and exploring further is oddly meditative.  It’s also likely because of an accompanying dream-like soundtrack, filled with a melody that is as alien sounding as the game it’s based on.  The swelling and waning of its dulcet tones evoke the sense of natural flow of water or an erratic heartbeat, swishing back and forth.  What also lends to this mood is the dialogue; Dr. Ellery Vas’ conversations with you remain largely clinical, rarely showing fear or anxiety, and the glimpses of excitement appear mostly when discovering a new plant life or underwater discovery.  Her perspective provides the framework through which I viewed the story, and her sterile mindset when navigating a harrowing situation is refreshing and suits the theme well.

Sometimes that subtle approach can detract from progress if you don’t pay enough attention.  At the start of being able to control the game, Dr. Vas gave very little direction on how to get moving.  The ensuing hour was filled with confusion as I fumbled with different levers, learning through trial-and-error how to interact with the environment, and worrying whether I was overlooking important details or actions I should be taking.  In a particular section of my playthrough, Dr. Vas began speaking to me in a region where there was a quicker-paced flow of water blocking progress to the next waypoints.  My eyes glazed over for a brief moment as it was later in the evening at a time where I was already tired, and I missed a key clue that was meant to provide direction on how to overcome that obstacle.  Patience is a virtue, especially when such information is given so seldom. Other than that, I came away from In Other Waters so pleased with the experience.   While the action of playing the game is threadbare, the tone being set between the repetitive motions of exploration, your doctoral companion’s calm demeanor, a serene and mysterious accompaniment, and the satisfaction of each new discovery makes for a divine experience.  If you’re looking for an interactive balm for your spare time or something to sate a sense of discovery without needing action-packed stimulation, sink into these waters and let them wash over you.

General Chat / Re: The COVID-19 Virus is Coming For Us All Thread
« on: April 14, 2020, 10:51:58 AM »
What is the real US infection rate though? The John Hopkins Map says you've only tested around 3,000,000 people for 500,000+ positives. Or a 18% positivity rate.
In Australia, only about 1% of people tested come back positive. Eitehr you guys have been really good at not wasting tests or really bad at testing enough people.

We have no idea.  What's scarier is there could be untold number of people who have died from COVID-19 but we'd have no clue for sure because they never got tested either due to dying before being able to receive attention or because they didn't show severe enough symptoms before it was too late, and testing is too precious of a commodity to waste one on a post-mortem test.

There's still a shortage of testing, no antibody testing, no plan.  It's almost all been ad hoc with the states being told to get supplies themselves, but then there's also been various news stories about states getting a purchase in with a manufacturer only then for FEMA to come in and take them away.  One of the few times i've been grateful to live in Illinois as Chicago has forced the Governor's hand early and it should mean we will be in a better position than some states to start gradually easing some of the restrictions.

This is why it would have been nice to have a federal government that understood that while, no, you don't have direct control over when states decide to "reopen the economy" (lol), that a competent administration would have been able to coordinate with all the states, be the singular purchaser of goods for the entire country, and then collaborate WITH the states as a group regarding which states get supplies when in order to respond to peaks which each of them will have happen at different times.

TalkBack / My Hero Academia (Season 4) Review
« on: April 01, 2020, 11:38:23 AM »

This season can be one enjoyed for all.


I’m not a natural fan of anime, which made it surprising that I fell in love with My Hero Academia. This series takes place in a world where a fraction of the population started developing superpowers (known as “quirks”) and developed a society of superheroes and villains. The protagonist, Izuku Midoriya (Superhero Name “Deku”), is a child born without a quirk who’s obsessed with becoming a hero in spite of it. He gains his opportunity by encountering All Might, the world’s number-one hero who selects him to inherit his transferrable super strength named One-for-All, and teach him how to utilize this power with his classmates in class 1-A at U.A. High School – Japan’s premiere superhero academy. Using the power at the start breaks his body with each use, and the series up to Season three has been a fantastic arc of watching his character use his intelligence to work-around this limitation and gradually understand how to harness bits and pieces of this power.

Season 4’s story arc of My Hero Academia in some ways is a natural progression of Deku’s coming of age story, but also a tectonic shift in tone and focus from the dynamic personalities and tensions between members of Class 1-A. We start in a state which includes All Might now having completely depleted what was left of his reservoir of One-for-All after his epic showdown against his arch nemesis All-for-One, having now left a vacuum of superhero leadership that factions of villains have scrambled to fill the void with. While the League of Villains (sans All-for-One) has continued working on building a formidable force on the back of the inspiration of Stain the Hero Killer, Kai Chisaki (Villain name “Overhaul”) and the Yakuza have formed an unsteady alliance with them to develop a serum that negates quirks drawn from the blood of a captive girl Eri and her quirk “Rewind”, which lets her reverse someone’s body back to a prior state.

This primary narrative focuses on Deku in his internship with All Might’s former sidekick and one of the top senior students (Hero Name “Lemillion”) as they investigate the Yakuza and the whereabouts of the missing girl. Deku struggles with not only trying to better learn his power (at which he can currently only control a small fraction of), but also coming to terms with a internship boss who actively dislikes him, a partner in Lemillion who he sees himself comparably inferior to, and not having the security of All Might to come in and save him when things get dire. This results in a less manic, more grounded in serious stakes than prior seasons. While I enjoy the lighthearted, day-in-the-life segments, the sharp turn into the students being active heroes jumping into the fray provides a welcome turn into stakes that feel more real than they have at other points in the series. Not only that, but Deku gets some spectacular screen time as a thoughtful and powerful superhero in his own right.

What I also appreciate this season is how the focus of the class 1-A has taken a turn toward highlighting some of the team who up to this point had been less developed or more bit players. Katsuki Bakugo, who fills the role as Deku’s rival, takes a backseat as he’s held-behind from being able to participate in internships. Eijiro Kirishima, Bakugo’s best friend in class instead gets a heavy amount of focus as a B-plot throughout the season. His exploits as an intern intersect with Deku’s as their separate investigations coalesce into the main arcs’ narrative wraps, and includes great character development as he shows doubt in himself and his abilities compared to his peers, resolve to protect those with him, and a range of personality that had otherwise been absent to this point.

My Hero Academia: Season 4 picks-up the baton from Season 3 and deftly navigates telling a compelling season narrative that not only shows maturity from Deku and class 1-A, but also carries them to a point by the end of the season that feels like a natural progression of their character and qualities while also offering surprises along the way. There are some pacing issues toward the end, but if you can accept that as an epilogue arc rather than a continuation of the same story, then this season is a thrilling watch throughout.



  • High-stakes arc feels earned
  • Underdeveloped characters given center stage
  • I don’t love the closing credits song
  • Not enough All Might



TalkBack / Langrisser 1 & 2 (Switch) Review
« on: March 31, 2020, 08:13:14 AM »

This legendary weapon has some rust.

The Langrisser 1 & 2 collection, a re-release and remaster of two tactical RPGs originally released in the 90s, was a complete gap in my gaming experience.  Both entries included in this pack are centered around protagonists and medieval fantasy stories and settings that see you needing to obtain the Langrisser, a legendary weapon.  While Switch owners are blessed with a bounty of tactical RPGs, as a fan of the genre I’m always interested in finding new franchises to see how they stack up.

Missions play out how you’d expect from something like Fire Emblem, with some minor but meaningful differences.  The party is comprised of several heroes, the primary characters of the story.  Each of them has special moves and/or magic, with attributes that are strong or weak depending on the enemy you’re encountering.  Hero characters (other than the protagonist) are not subject to permadeath; rather, they simply exit the battle until the next round.  Prior to combat start, up to four support units are hirable.  You select and utilize these units similarly to how you control the heroes, except without the benefit of the special moves or magic spells the heroes can employ.  Additionally, these mercenary units are considerably weaker than their hero counterparts, so while they are strategically useful when chipping away at an enemy’s health or blocking-off a path, they’ll rarely be used for more than cannon fodder.

Langrisser 1 & 2 differentiate themselves from others in the genre with mixed results.  Most missions are practically impossible without paying for mercenary troops, but this turns every battle into a war of attrition, with you as a commander of dozens of units.  Heroes have job class progressions which can be earned via points you gain by the number of generals who are downed by that character, offering nice ways to branch-out their core competencies.  One quirk I found strange is that you can only use magic spells if the character hasn’t yet moved in the turn, and once you do, that uses up the turn.  It became a unique wrinkle on how I strategized each turn that felt positively distinct, even if I didn’t appreciate it at first.

As a remaster, this collection is stylistically all over the place.  There have been visual updates in the map backdrops, character models, and character portraits.  Being able to swap the new maps and character portraits with the original versions on the fly is a welcome feature, but the character models are not changeable.  These units, which have a very simple, clean, inoffensive look generally end up clashing hard with the more classic, pixelated original backdrop.  The portrait swap option only dictates a choice between whether you prefer the more 90s or current anime style and is largely inconsequential except for one or two that haven’t aged well to a hilarious extent.  The soundtrack has some good musical pieces, but the tone is similarly disjointed.  Some tracks have a more typical medieval fantasy vibe; others are flush with a variety of guitar riffs and a sweeping stringed instrument section which feels haphazard when put together.

That disjointed nature was inherent throughout my time with this collection, and while distracting at times, it was never enough to sour the entire experience.  The Langrisser 1 & 2 collection is a pleasant tactical RPG collection with some gameplay quirks that range between novel and grating, and audiovisual stylistic choices that at times suit it well and at others are baffling.  Overall, the core experience in this collection is sound enough to overlook the wild swings in presentation quality.

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