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“E” for “Effort”

September 26, 2014

tme_mahjong_title

I haven’t played a mahjong game in a while, because proper mahjong games don’t get localized, I’ve played all the ones I already owned, and I hadn’t been to Japan to restock for a few years.

So, I made sure to buy some PSN point cards while I was visiting.  This hasn’t translated into many actual GAME purchases, because I have a monster backlog as is and frankly Japanese game prices are kuh-RAAAAAZY when you’re not buying used.  Since I tend to only buy used, looking at full-priced games has been a serious case of sticker shock.

Fortunately, mahjong titles also tend towards the budget end of the spectrum, and that brings us to Tottemo E Mahjong, which set me back all of Y1543 including two extra DLC characters.

Since the glory days of the Sega Saturn, with its infamous red-label games, are long since behind us, this is not a strip mahjong game.  You do play against an all-woman cast of opponents, and your rewards for victory are unlocked pages in an image gallery, but there’s no nudity involved.

You do get your pick of all the popular stereotypical opponents.  There’s five in total, including a couple of imouto types, a genki athletic type, and an ojousama who’s so far over the top that I half expect her to break out into B-ko-style laughter every time she wins.  I haven’t started the fifth character’s challenges yet so I don’t know her personality yet.

The writing is really fun – your opponents are really melodramatic when they lose and gloat unabashedly when they win, and even a crushing defeat is met with a threat that NEXT time they’re not going to let you off so easily.

tme_mahjong_imouto tme_mahjong_genki tme_mahjong_ojou

So, that aside, presumably the next question is “but how does it play?”

Well, it’s four-player mahjong (you, your chosen opponent, and two nameless NPCs), it’s well-drawn, the sound effects are very mahjongy, it does a good job of pointing out when you can pon or kan or chi or richi, it handles all the scoring for you, it is in general a very competent mahjong game.  It gets extra points in my book for not having “meld” be the default action when it shows you a potential meld, because I almost never want to meld unless I’m doing it for a pon of dragons or the seat / prevailing wind.  I’m lousy at setting up high point value hands and I go for the guaranteed 1-yaku win of having a closed hand.

This originally meant that I lost a LOT.  See, most mahjong games go off straight wins – you come in first and that’s all that matters.  It’s actually theoretically possible to “win” a game of mahjong without winning a single one of the eight hands you play, as long as you pick up enough points from draws and your opponents beat each other up in a more-or-less balanced faction.

Tottemo E Mahjong has more of a mission structure, with (usually) multiple objectives per mission.  Your first game against any character will have a simple objective of “come in first”, then maybe “come in first AND be more than 30,000 points ahead of your opponent”, or “come in first AND only win by tsumo” or, well, something like this:

tme_mahjong_objectives

Which is “come in first AND have 30,000 points more than your opponent AND your opponent must go bust AND you must have a total score of 60,000 or more AND the dealer must win at least two games in a row, or at least draw”

It gets quite frustrating when you have a results screen like this:

tme_mahjong_fail

It’s very difficult to meet these sorts of win conditions through straight mahjong, which leads to the part of the game that I’ve become less and less fond of – the item shop, where various cheat items are sold to help you complete your missions.

Fortunately, this is not a real money item shop.  You buy your nefarious tools using currency earned in-game, and you rack up this currency even when you’re failing missions, which is something of a comfort when you’re beating your head against one of the trickier challenges.

Unfortunately, it’s really imbalanced.  It’s very cheap to buy, say, the following combination:

1) An item that gives you a guaranteed pon of dragons and generally gives you an extra KAN of dragons.

2) Another item that allows you to review your hand before you start, and throw back any pieces you don’t like.

3) An item that lets you interrupt an opponent’s ron or tsumo, which is even nastier if you interrupt their tsumo because it forces them to discard their winning tile and go furiten.

Oh, and just for kicks,

4) An item that guarantees that your needed wait WILL appear when you call richi, as long as the tile isn’t already in an opponent’s hand or in a discard pile.

Or, if you are absolutely stuck on a particular challenge, there IS an item which you can buy which will simply auto-complete the mission for you.  This isn’t a cheap option by any means, but it’s there.

I’ve had a lot of fun with mahjong games that have occasional cheat items in the past.  I love the Suchi-pai series, for example, and that’s a mahjong game where you frequently win by playing a panel match game instead of actually defeating your opponent with your leet mahjong skills.  Still, something about the particular way this one is implemented is, well, it doesn’t feel very sporting.

I’m abusing the heck out of it, don’t get me wrong, because I went through at least one stretch of fifteen straight mission failures BEFORE I broke down and started hitting the item shop, and that sort of thing could break a man.

So I’m a little negative on the game, in the final analysis.  I’ll probably stick with it at least until I finish all of the character paths, because it’s been fun having a mahjong game to play after a long drought, but I wish that the developers had done a better job of setting the difficulty from the beginning, rather than leaving it in the hands of the player via the shop.

About the most positive thing I can say is that the mission structure has made me think a lot more about HOW to win as opposed to just trying for the fastest win possible, and I’m starting to recognize situations where letting  another player win is beneficial to me, which is a completely new skill.

 

Jumping Bayle

September 17, 2014

cotf

With the end of summer, the Everquest progression guild I’m a member of has revved back up and we’re currently beating our heads against the brick wall that is the “Underfoot” expansion, originally released back in December of 2009 and somewhat notorious for being a monstrous guild-killer of an expansion.

We’re not doing too badly, but it’s definitely a step up from anything we’ve done before.

Underfoot, however, isn’t where I’m spending most of my time.  Level-locked progression raids represent three evenings a week, leaving plenty of time to run around Norrath at level 100, and I have been dividing my time before I inevitably burn out again between stomping old content and exploring the very latest stuff, with an eye towards actually seeing most of it BEFORE the next expansion comes out, which will be something of a first.

One particular bit of this had me up until 2 AM (on a work night, no less), which is not normally the sort of thing you want to be doing after you leave your 20s, much less your 30s, but which was so thoroughly satisfying that I feel very little guilt about the whole thing.

This most recent expansion has revolved around the Everquest and Everquest 2 universes, which exist generally as parallel universes, merging due to some sort of giant cosmic rift thing, with the role of the players being to collect four artifacts necessary to close the rift.  Naturally, the current owners of these artifacts generally don’t want to relinquish their toys, so a certain amount of hitting them over the head is required.

This leads to Lord Kyle Bayle, a chap with one of these four artifacts, and who REALLY doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s a long and seriously unforgiving fight, and I’ve been beating my head against it – along with five other complete strangers, of course – for a good three days now.

To give a short description of the event:  You fight four bosses, each of which has some pretty nasty abilities.  During these fights, they summon minions both as they lose health AND at predetermined time intervals – so, if you burn them down fast you get overwhelmed by the health-based adds, while taking too long to kill them results in getting stomped by the time-based adds piling up.

Fun!

Even this wouldn’t be too bad, except for one particular boss who summons adds of two different types, with one type having the ability to stun up to four random characters for a solid 18 seconds, taking a six-person EQ group down to two people.

This is rough, but survivable.  It means that anyone who is NOT stunned suddenly needs to learn how to use all of those abilities that you get but don’t need to worry about because, honestly, how often is a DPS class going to really NEED to keep a tank alive using your pathetic heals, or tank themselves?

Even this is big fun and really rewards knowing the ins-and-outs of your character class.

What gets a little trickier is when you get a health-based add AND a time-based add at the same time, both of which have this ability, and suddenly most of the group is unable to move, heal, fight, defend themselves, and so on and so forth.  NPCs won’t attack a PC in this state, which isn’t much comfort because anyone who managed not to get stunned is suddenly the sole focus of the boss AND both adds and, well, things go poorly all around.

Most of the first several times we tried this fight, this is as far as we got.

The first time we got past it, we weren’t ready for the NEXT boss and he ripped us apart while we were still in a state of shock from having actually gotten past the nasty bit.

The next couple of times, we got past the nasty bit and just kept getting further and further before something went just a little bit wrong with predictable results.

The next-to-last time, and this was the attempt that STARTED after I should have been in bed for a half hour, resulted in us getting so close to the end as to be able to taste victory.

And then we died.

And nobody wanted to give up.

So we tried again, and absolutely stomped it, without a single player death.

And THEN I crashed, and still somehow managed to get up at six in the morning to get ready for work, and I really should be ashamed of myself, as a grown man, letting myself get this sucked into a videogame…

…and I probably will be, once I’ve had some time to properly put it in perspective.

But, today at least, I feel awfully good about myself.

For sale: Crowbar, used only once.

September 16, 2014

nightmares

hhotelWhile my wife and I are both pretty avid gamers, we don’t have a lot of similar tastes.  We can both get thoroughly hooked on MMOs for months at a time, but rarely the same ones – I go back and forth between Everquest and TERA, with occasional side jaunts into questionable free-to-play Korean PvP-focused grindfests, while she has a long-standing LoTRO habit and the occasional fling with Ragnarok Online 2.

We agreed on EQ2 and Rift, to be fair, and we both quite liked DAoC.  So, come to think of it, we’ve probably agreed on MMOs more than we’ve disagreed.

But setting that aside, she doesn’t play a lot of the manshooty games, or many rhythm games, or mahjong or 3rd-person adventure types, and I don’t play many match-3s or adventure games.

But, we have recently found common ground – and a new tradition for Saturday afternoons together on the couch – in the HOPA (“Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure”) genre, which are basically digital popcorn.  They combine your traditional adventure gamey traits, like picking up random objects off the ground and touching them to everything else you find in hopes that they will interact, with logic puzzles and hidden object scenes, where you stare at piles of random junk and try to find the SPECIFIC random junk that the game is asking you to find.

Oh, and to explain the title, you tend to use each inventory object exactly once and then throw it away, which is particularly funny if you pick up, say, three separate crowbars or crowbar-equivalent tools over the course of a single game with each only being useful in one very specific location for one very specific purpose.

While Steam (praise the GabeN!) has recently started dabbling in offering more of these for sale, the Big Name in the HOPA business is Big Fish Games, a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year pumping out games that fly under the radar – or beneath the notice, if I’m being more judgmental – of the “gaming industry” as represented by Ye Auld AAA publishers and the press which republishes their press releases as news articles.

There may have been a little editorial content in that last sentence.  I am allowed to be snarky.

Anyway, when I say “digital popcorn”, I mean that these things are generally inexpensive, can be consumed in a single sitting (7 hours is a very long HOPA), and make you want another one not long after finishing.  They also tend to keep their content at a G or PG level, though that doesn’t mean that they don’t have some seriously creepy stories from time to time.

It’s also fun to play these things because, let’s be honest, they make you feel smarter.  Solving puzzles is fun, and staring at a shelf covered with macabre knickknacks trying to figure out whether the “bow” the game is asking you to find is a hair bow, an archery bow, or a violin bow, or whether it’s a completely different type of bow you’ve never heard of makes for a great feeling of accomplishment when you realize that it’s the violin bow and it’s peeking out from behind the glass jar of eyeballs.

It should also be noted that these things get a little weird from time to time.  Just putting that right out there.

They also tend to be really pretty, even when they trend towards the dark. Some of these have a lot of lovingly-hand-drawn rotting corpses.

Anyway, these are great games to play as a couple because there are certain kinds of puzzles that I’m pretty good at, and certain kinds of puzzles that my wife is crazy good at, and we both enjoy trying to figure out where stuff is in the hidden object bits, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon…

…especially when, as in the case of “Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart”, they’re on Steam and I can use them to pump up my cheevo count.

There’s two more in that series, but we elected to play through the Lovecraft-themed “Haunted Hotel: Charles Dexter Ward” after the first one and we have something about a haunted carnival on the plate for this Saturday.

The only exception to the general enjoyability of the genre so far has been the Wii version of Mystery Case Files: Musgrave Manor, which was honestly kind of a pain due to the Wii’s low resolution.  Hidden object scenes in 480P are not great, to put it gently, and we had to resort to in-game hints far more often than either of us liked.

ALL the tiles

September 4, 2014

Even though I dropped AT&T like a hot rock a few months ago, I still have a phone with AT&T baseband and am thus beholden to their rather pokey release schedule.

So, while the rest of the world has been cheerfully running Windows phone 8.1 for MONTHS now, I’ve been staring mournfully at two miserable rows of tiles wondering what I’d done wrong.

I was starting to quite lose faith, if I’m honest.

Today, therefore, it came as quite a shock to actually get an update notification. 30 minutes of staring at progress bars later, my start screen now looks like this beauty:

And life is good.

Deathsmiles

August 26, 2014

Well, a couple of days after that last post, I wrapped up Deathsmiles.  I never quite managed to 1cc it, which is a little embarrassing, but my best run consisted of me getting to the very last level without taking a single hit, derping, and losing two lives in roughly 10 seconds to enemies that I’d never had any trouble dodging before.  I finished that run with only one continue, so I’m just going to call it good.  I played through enough times to see all 10 (!) endings and wound up with about 700 of 1000 gamerscore.  Considering my past record with bullet-hell shooters, I’m pretty happy.

I have Deathsmiles IIDX sitting on the shelf, and I’m tempted to dive right in to it, but on the other hand I have an awful lot of Suda51 games still and I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything he’s put his mark on.

 

Special Edition Swag

August 15, 2014

DeathsmilesI needed to fill a couple of hours before bed last night, but didn’t want to jump into any game where I might still be stuck in the tutorial when I needed to wind it down for the evening.

It turned out that “Deathsmiles”, Cave’s goth-loli-themed bullet-hell shooter from a few years back, was just what I needed. If you don’t mind hitting the continue button when you die, you can blow through it in 45 minutes or less, which means that I actually played through all four main characters’ stories and will go back tonight to play through them a second time to see their other endings. I may even try to 1cc it, because I felt like I was actually getting better on each run.

I did find a little bit of shame on what was in the big Special Edition box along with the game, because, well, it’s a replacement Xbox360 faceplate, covered in cute anime-style girls, that only fits an old-style 360. This thing is probably the least-useful swag I’ve gotten in an SE ever, and I pray that I didn’t include it in my purchasing decision back in 2010, because that would just be embarrassing.

National Pride

August 14, 2014

So, it doesn’t take very much anime and manga to realize that your average Perfectly Ordinary Japanese Schoolgirl is, honestly, a force to be reckoned with.  As a class, they live one dimensional portal or talking cat away from being forced to take up arms, put on some high heels, and start fighting demons, overthrowing kingdoms, defending the universe from aliens or just generally kicking arse.

They’re the world’s equivalent of special forces, with frilly skirts.

Silent Hill 3, then, represents the western world’s best response, despite being a Japanese game.

Heather Mason is 100% not Japanese.  You could not get a less Japanese person.  And, while technically maybe a little old to be called a schoolgirl – she’s 17 – she could maybe still be a senior in high school so I’m going to say that she counts.

Within minutes of starting Silent Hill 3, Heather finds a pistol – and not a girly pistol, a Beretta 92FS, made popular throughout the world by Mel Gibson’s characters in the Lethal Weapon movies – and uses it to put six bullets into a nearby monster.  Over the next few hours, ignoring the whole bouncing back-and-forth-between-hell-dimensions thing, she puts together an arsenal of the aforementioned pistol, a shotgun, a submachine gun that looks rather like an Uzi but which IMFDB assures me is a Mac 10, a katana, a 2-handed mace thingy, a switchblade, and – for good measure – a three-foot length of steel pipe, all of which she uses to brutal effect as she slaughters her way through hordes of bizarre flesh-eating monsters on her way to kill a god.  And she doesn’t even need to put on high heels in the process.

There is a skirt.  It’s not frilly, though.

Now, her dad DID have some inkling that Heather MIGHT have some rough times in life, so it’s possible that he, you know, took her to the range a couple of times as a kid or something.

But, still, as the toughest ever fictional representation of a Perfectly Ordinary American Schoolgirl, I think we should take some pride in being able to call her our own.

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