Taking Home The Bronze

I’m a bit of a comics nerd, though a lapsed one.  My favorite era is what’s called the Bronze Age, the years just before everything got grim and gritty.  It was a little more grounded than the comics of the 50s and 60s – comics were starting to address more serious topics, and both DC and Marvel had taken the bold step of publishing comics without the Comics Code Authority Seal Of Approval – but heroes were pretty much always The Good Guys and the laws of physics and common sense weren’t allowed to get in the way of telling a story.

This brings me to my evening’s movie-going experience.

Yes, I got suckered into the IMAX EXPERIENCE, mostly because I wanted to be able to reserve my seat and you can’t get reserved seats from the normal showings.  At least it was blissfully 2D and I didn’t need to try to make the theater glasses work on top of my regular glasses.

Justice League had a lot of the good feeling of a bronze age comic.  It had a moderately ridiculous bad guy planning to Destroy The World, it had a bunch of guys (and one gal) who showed up to stop his evil plans with a lot of punching and not a lot of brooding, and the characters were actually allowed to look like they were having FUN being heroes.

Quips were quipped, even!

Thinking about it like a 70s comics even lets me almost overlook the ridiculous thing they put Barry Allen in – I mean, EVERYONE was getting silly costume revamps in the 70s.

I rest my case.

I mean, some of the point-A-to-point-B travel made me wonder just how close all the different parts of the world were to each other, and I’m sure that I will find a million tiny nitpicks to pick nits at after I mull it over some, but at this precise moment in time I still have a smile on my face thinking about it, and I have not been able to say that for any of the DC movies in the last, hmm, Batman Begins was in 2005 so… it’s been a dozen years?  Wow.

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This is why I’m becoming more of a dirty console peasant

Woke up early this morning and decided to see if I could sneak in some gaming time without waking up my wife – and, since I have a really loud mechanical keyboard, that meant trying to find something in my Steam Library that I could play with mouse-only controls.

I love my really loud mechanical keyboard, by the way, and strongly recommend owning one if you do any significant amount of typing, but they do have some drawbacks.

Anyway, I first decided on 1C’s “King’s Bounty: Armored Princess”, which lets you play as a princess with a pet dragon.  Seriously, that was all the incentive I needed to pick it up in a Steam sale a few years back, but it’s taken a while to bubble to the top of the queue.

…apparently too long, because launching it just resulted in the screen flickering a few times and the game crashing.  I went to the Steam forums, found a few other people had a similar problem, tried the fixes they’d had work for them… it wasn’t working for me.

OK, sure, that’s a game from 2009.  8 years old.  Lots of stuff has changed in 8 years, and it’s not too weird that a game from then might glitch out on a fully-updated modern OS.

Next up was The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, which I bought a little more recently.  No princesses in this one, but it looked like an interesting Diablo-alike loot-heavy action RPG, and it’s from 2013.  Practically new, especially since I’m bad at playing games at release.

Launching THAT resulted in the computer just locking up, mouse pointer frozen in place.  No memory dump, no error message, just a complete freeze of the sort I haven’t had in years and a realization that I didn’t actually know what I might have had running with documents open.

A hard power off and on got me back up and running, I went off to the forums and found someone who’d had similar issues, implemented their fix for it, made sure nothing was running, and hit the Play button again.

Results were unchanged.

I may have… well, I didn’t shout at the monitor because, again, sleeping wife, but I sure thought “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?” in very large capital letters in my head.

So those two are off the backlog in disgrace.

The solution is probably “Keep a Windows 7 PC around”, which is the equivalent of keeping a PS3 around in case I ever want to play Demon’s Souls again, but right now I am too annoyed to think about this clearly.

Also dropped from the backlog recently: Lucy – The Eternity She Wished For, because I got about an hour into it before realizing that, while I’d loved Planetarian and Chobits and Mahoramatic, I was just a little too burned out on Sad-Sack-Falls-In-Love-With-Android stories, and HuniePop, just because there was way too much talking and not enough actual playing of the fun Match-3 game.

But neither of those actually, you know, crashed.  So they get some points there.

I did finish a couple of short fun visual novels, however, “Space Live – Advent of the Net Idols” and “Highway Blossoms”

Space Live has a bizarre premise involving anthropomorphized web browsers facing off in an idol competition to determine which is the best, and your reaction to that premise will probably tell you whether it is your sort of game or not.  It’s got an interesting quirk in that the character sprites actually seem to live on multiple planes and have different view angles, so you get characters on a background plane being talked to by characters in the foreground, who you see from the back.  Also, there’s no first person narrator… this may, in fact, be the first entirely third-person VN I’ve ever played/read.

Highway Blossoms has a much less weird premise, being a romantic comedy involving a road trip across the American Southwest, a smidgen of angst, some wacky characters met along the way and treasure hunting for lost prospector gold.  I liked it a lot – it didn’t overstay its welcome, it had some really memorable characters, and it had really good music to go with the sweet-but-not-cloying story.

And, I guess, neither of those is available for consoles.  So I won’t be completely turning in my mouse and keyboard… just glaring at them a little bit as I walk past the computer to turn on the PS4.


Posted in PC Gaming, videogames, visual novels | 2 Comments

Hell Girls: Not Just a Clever Name

No sugar coating here, I got my arse handed to me by a Match-3 game tonight.

Specifically, Hell Girls, which is yet another budget title ($1.99) from SakuraGame.  Most of their games can be summed up as “It’s a <genre>, with cute girls”, so you have Dragonia, which is a twin-stick shooter, with cute girls, Super Star, which is an idol management sim with… well, actually, I guess just “it’s an idol management sim” is enough… and so on.

So now I’ve played Hell Girls, which is a Match-3 game with cute girls fighting assorted fantasy critters as they um.  I didn’t actually pay attention to why I was doing this.  There WAS a plot, something about being recruited to fight demons maybe?  I just wanted some fluffy fun matching colorful shapes and making them explode, and that’s what I got for the first, mmm, 30 levels or so.

Normally I’d actually make my own screenshots, but I am lazy and this is just taken from the game’s Steam page.  You have three characters, each is element-themed, this is the ice-themed character facing off against a fire demon which seems like good strategic thinking.

The various blocks on the playfield represent offensive and defensive skills, so you match purple stars for a magical attack, hearts to refill your health, shields for armor, etc.  As you match longer chains, you drop “spellbooks” on to the playfield, and using those in chains tends to have good effects for you and bad effects for your opponent.

I don’t THINK this is anything particularly revolutionary.  I don’t play a ton of Match-3s, but I think this is all normal stuff for the genre.

Anyway, I played it over two nights, and the first night was all pretty breezy.

The second night, I got to the bit of the game where it gets nasty, when the opponents start dropping blocks on the field that put damage-over-time effects on your character, or that freeze blocks so they can’t be used in chains, or that lock you out of using your special abilities and so on.  You always know WHAT attack is coming, and you always know how long it will be until it gets to you, but I spent a lot of time in the last few levels frantically recovering from the last round of debuffs and DOTs just in time to get socked with the next set.

You also face off against multiple opponents in sequence, so you frequently start a fight with a new guy while you’re still poisoned or on fire from the last guy. Die on the fifth fight in the encounter? You get a paltry bit of XP and have to start all over from the first enemy. I will not deny a certain amount of teeth clenching, which will probably make my dentist happy the next time he is fitting me for another crown.

Still, I persevered:

This is one of the weirder accomplishments to be proud of, but it made me EARN those cheevos.

Two dollars well spent.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 3 Comments

Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero.

This is turning out to be quite a year for me and Nintendo’s flagship mascot – I’ve finished more Mario titles in the last few months than I did in the previous four decades of gaming.

Granted, that’s still only three.  Maybe I’ll get crazy and track down the WiiU game, since it’s one of the few games Nintendo actually dropped the price on.  Maybe I shouldn’t tempt burnout, though.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I finished Super Mario Odyssey tonight, and it was a lot of fun.  I am, as I’ve pointed out several times in the past, absolutely awful at platforming games, but Odyssey doesn’t actually have a ton of platforming in it – at least not during the main part of the game, where you go from opening cinematic to saving Peach and then the end credits roll.  I understand that there is a postgame section with tons of really difficult fiddly jumping bits, and I will leave that for the diehards.

Without a lot of challenge, Odyssey falls firmly into Caillois‘ “vertigo” category of play.  It’s split up into a little over a dozen separate “kingdoms”, each with a distinct and frequently surreal visual style, and the possession mechanic means that your tools to achieve any given goal can be absolutely nuts, in the best possible way.  One boss fight has you possessing a fireball so you can fight a monstrous bird, with your arena being a massive pot of stew boiling away on the top of an erupting volcano, another is… well, I absolutely will not spoil it, but it screams “We heard you liked Dark Souls, so we thought we’d put a Souls boss in a Mario game”.

It’s about as far from “run to the right, and jump on turtles” as you can get, and I have to say that it’s nice seeing Nintendo go wild.  It even has an ending that rivals Portal 2’s “Shoot the Moon” in sheer unexpectedness.

Also, someone on the design team may have been a big Halo fan. I may be stretching to make that connection, but if it’s not a deliberate homage it sure brought back good memories.

For bonus points, it managed to hit my nostalgia button HARD in its “New Donk City” world, because I dropped a ton of quarters into Donkey Kong in my misspent youth and there’s a sequence there that is straight-up designed to pander to us old guys.

As far as downsides… well, I switched from portable mode to docked TV play after a few hours, because I was getting quite the sore neck from hunching over, and seeing the game on a TV set really pointed out the lack of anti-aliasing.  To be fair, I didn’t notice the jaggies while the game was in motion – they only really pop out on static screens and during the “you found another moon” celebration sequence.

That’s literally the only thing I can complain about, though.  I needed to have SOMETHING to complain about.

Posted in Switch, videogames | 1 Comment

Switch First Impressions

Frantically burning through short games to get my backlog count down meant that I didn’t actually crack open the box of my new Switch until this Saturday – and then, of course, I spent way too long getting a screen protector installed on it.  I do love glass screen protectors, as an aside – they can be finicky to get on but the feel of them is so much nicer than plastic.

Speaking of feel, let’s start there because it’s one place where the Switch really knocks it out of the park.  I’ve been a fan of Nintendo’s design philosophy since the SNES days, where every connector port had a definitive “snap” when you insert cables, so you knew they were in right.  The Switch carries on this tradition, and the act of popping the controllers on and off is just a tactile joy.  I’m still not quite used to where the release buttons are, but that will come with time.

The controllers also feel very good – the short analog sticks have a good bit of resistance to them, which is a heck of a trick to pull off, and the primary buttons have a nice pop.  I’m much less of a fan of the + and – buttons, but those don’t get a lot of use during play so I’ll deal with them.  Nintendo also continues to stick with the “confirm on right, cancel on bottom” layout they had during the SNES days, which is always a little frustrating when going to a Nintendo console from a more mainstream console.  I’m sure Nintendo fans have exactly the same reaction whenever they step outside their comfort zone as well, so I won’t gripe too much about it.

That’s all backed up with some really good use of rumble and sounds to let you know when you’ve done something right.  The console practically purrs at you.

I haven’t taken the dock out of the package, as my plan is to use this primarily as a handheld.  I had some initial misgivings about that plan when I first got the thing out of the box and the controllers fitted – it just looked HUGE – but those worries quickly went away once I started using it.  It IS big, but it doesn’t feel like it – it’s solid, and has a heft to it, but it doesn’t weigh your hands down too much.  It’s just heavy enough that I find myself holding it like an Xbox controller, with index fingers on the triggers, so it may take a little extra time to acclimate if games use the bumpers frequently.

The initial setup was very polished, and uses a Nintendo Account login instead of an NNID.  I still have reservations about Nintendo’s account system, but they keep seeming to get closer and closer to a modern setup.  I would have liked a “reveal password” checkbox when entering any passwords or my WPA key, but after a couple of typos I managed to get online and connected.  It even let me browse the eShop without forcing a system update, which is a nice touch – usually, the first thing you get slapped with on setting up a new console is a mandatory update, just when you’ve finally gotten to the main screen for the first time.

Mind you, downloading the bundled copy of Super Mario Odyssey DID need a system update, followed by a rather long download session to get the game installed.  Big points to Nintendo for dropping the cutesy little Pikmin animation in favor of just having a progress bar, btw.

I’ve only put about 45 minutes into Odyssey, but it does have the same sense of playfulness that just kept bringing smiles to my face when I was playing through 3D Land a couple of months back.  I’m still absolute rubbish at platform games, mind you, so that playfulness and joy may not be a permanent thing.  Some more points to Nintendo for having a tutorial bit that was just long enough to get the game rolling.

The screen is, well, it’s a 6.2″ 720p screen when I’m used to looking at a 5″ 1080p cell phone screen.  There are definitely some jagged edges, by comparison.  That said, it’s a good match for the under-the-hood hardware, and I’d much rather have a 720P screen at a good frame rate than a 1080P slide show.

Overall, I have really positive feelings about the Switch.  With the slow decline of Vita support over the last few years, I’ve been worried that portable gaming was going to be relegated to virtual D-pads and on-screen buttons, but this makes a great Vita successor.  It’s also got Koei Tecmo and Marvelous on-board, so I’m pretty confident that my tastes in gaming will be well-served.

Now then, time to get back to possessing innocent, unsuspecting woodland creatures with my demonic hat.


Posted in Switch, videogames | 1 Comment

One more Movies Anywhere post

So, for a service that launched only a few weeks ago, Movies Anywhere has been… well, it borders on Just Working, which is amazing considering all the normal drama that comes out whenever the motion picture industry intersects with the internet.

I still have a couple of films refusing to move from my iTunes library TO Movies Anywhere, but I have a ticket open with the MA support team and they’ve said that their mysterious “Tier 2” support group will get those taken care of for me, and Blade Runner: The Final Cut finally synced over from MA to iTunes on Thursday, so really the only outstanding issue that’s all that confusing is Superman: The Movie.

Of course, one of the biggest things helping my digital movie library expand is that Vudu is one of the partners.  It turns out that they have a couple of programs that are really very consumer friendly, and now that they’re no longer tied to Ultraviolet I can take advantage of them.

I’ve already raved a bit about Disc to Digital, which has let me upgrade a bunch of films that were only ever released on DVD to high definition versions, but I decided to give their Instawatch program a try as well.  Instawatch is a service where you buy a movie from Walmart – not every movie, mind you, it’s limited – scan your receipt with the Walmart mobile phone application, and you get a Vudu license for that movie.  This then ports to Movies Anywhere etc.

So, I bought this thing for $9.96:

Then I scanned the receipt while I was putting the rest of the groceries in the trunk of my car, drove home, and checked the various movie services to see what exactly I’d wound up with and where.

My Vudu library just had this sort of generic placeholder art.  Not very exciting:

…but, expanding it showed that I now owned the three Mad Max movies worth mentioning (OK, I’ve never actually seen the first film in its entirety, so I shouldn’t be too flippant about that), but only in SD quality.  I could upgrade each to HDX, but at about 15 bucks a movie I wasn’t likely to do that.

Likewise, streaming Fury Road from the Movies Anywhere app also played back at SD quality.

On the other hand, when I brought up my iTunes purchase library, all three movies showed up with HD versions available, and I was able to download nice 1080P versions.  Since my primary media library just happens to be iTunes, this is the most desirable result.

Mind you, even if I hadn’t gotten the upgrade during the push from MA to iTunes, this still would have been a deal, and the ability to just scan a store receipt and get the licenses automatically pushed to digital movie lockers is pretty futuristic, but the bonus upgrade to HD?  Two thumbs up.



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Neunundneunzig Rückstandspiel

So, a couple of weeks ago, I did another pass through my backlog to eliminate games, and that got me under the hundred mark for the first time in… well, probably since the first time I fell prey to the siren call of the Steam sale.

It was a pretty neat feeling!

Then, I realized that I wasn’t REALLY under the hundred mark, because I’d never entered any of the games I’d brought home from Japan, and there were a couple of cheap bundles that I’d picked up, and I decided that I was going to be honest and put those in.

This pushed the backlog number right back up to a little over 120.  And there was great despair.

Still… I had an awful lot of short hidden-object games and visual novels in that number.  Surely it couldn’t take me too long to knock out a few of those?

Anyway, long story short, I have gone through a LOT of single-use crowbars recently.  I also want to share one of the weirder things I’ve ever seen in a hidden-object scene, from Brave Giant’s “Ghost Files: The Face of Guilt”:

That there on the bottom right is a Commodore 1530 Datasette, and it gave me a super warm fuzzy feeling to see it showing up in one of these jumbles of random crap.  Whoever was responsible for the art here, kudos for giving me a happy flashback to my misspent youth.

So!  Only 99 games left in the backlog, that should take virtually no time at all… well, it wouldn’t if they were all similarly sized single-serving affairs.  Sadly, I’m completely out of HOGs, so this may take a little longer.


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