Assassin’s Creed III Remastered: A Second Chance to Make a Good Impression.

So, some open spoilers in this post, hopefully people will not be too upset as I’m talking about a game from 2012.

I originally played Assassin’s Creed III over the course of a weekend, shortly after release, skipping all of the side content because I wanted to push through all of the tedious bits where you’re playing as the world’s most boring assassin in the least interesting setting possible in order to finally find out what was going to happen with Desmond.

Then, when I finally found out what was going to happen with Desmond, I was in denial for a bit until ACIV came out and made it clear that, no, they were not going to do a AC game with him as the full-time protagonist and that the overarching story from the first five games was being binned in favor of games that leaned very hard into the historical tourism aspect and more-or-less ignored the modern day conflict.

So I have had something of a negative opinion of the game.

On the other hand, over the years I have heard several people say that the main story is bad, but that the side content makes up for it, and there’s always been a little bit of curiosity there.  Not enough to go back to the 20-frames-per-second make-some-tea-during-the-loading-screens PS3 version, but enough that when I got AC3 Remastered as part of a bundle I decided to give it a second go.

For comparison, back in 2013 it was 46 hours between my first and last trophy, and my in-game save said I’d been playing for 13:39.  On my replay, taking things a little slower, I played for 27:41 over 8 days.

For the record: The “angry Native American avenges his mother’s death while coincidentally being a major figure in every pivotal moment of the American Revolution” story is still roughly as bad as I’d remembered.

The side content, on the other hand, is more enjoyable.

There’s a quest chain where you collect doohickies for a guy who then gives you letters sent to Captain Kidd’s crew, and you follow those letters to find clues to eventually get a Cool Piece Of Gear.  I had not done this on my initial play through and was stunned to find out that there is a Mayan temple level in this game.

What in the hell.

There’s also a level that takes you to Edinburgh Castle.  Not THAT Edinburgh Castle, but the one in Jamaica.

There are over twenty missions that revolve around Connor building up a small town of colonists, making sure that the town has all the resources it needs to be independent and even helping with domestic issues like delivering a baby and helping a clueless dude woo his intended, because that’s the sort of thing you DO when you are hell-bent for revenge.

There are another set of missions built around naval combat, because being a ship’s captain just comes naturally to every dude raised in the woods.

Look, these just don’t make a damn bit of sense, and that’s largely why I ignored them on the first pass.  Knuckling down and doing all of them on the second pass made me realize:

This is the WEIRDEST damn game I have ever played.

Let me give you an example.

In other Assassin’s Creed games up to this point, you’d mostly purchased upgrades (bigger pouches, etc) from shops, so the acquisition process was (a) stab mans until you had money (b) exchange money for goods and services.

In Assassin’s Creed III, to upgrade one of your pouches: 

You need a pelt and some sewing thread. 

The pelt is easy. Find animal, stab animal, skin animal. Be sure that you don’t shoot it because using a firearm instantly ruins the pelt of anything you shoot. Alternately, if you have recruited a hunter for your homestead, you can buy the pelt from them.

To get the thread, you need to recruit a farmer and do farming missions to level them up so you can get wool. 

Then you need to find the recipe for sewing thread, in a specific chest in New York, which is inaccessible until late in the game. 

Then you need to recruit a tailor, who can make thread, and do tailoring missions to get them to the level where they can combine the thread and the pelt for you. 

OK, so that’s a convoluted way to upgrade your gear, but then it goes completely off the rails into should-I-have-a-spreadsheet?-land. 

Your homestead can product a huge range of various products, and you can ship these off to different markets and different shopkeepers and choose where you will sell them, and the different markets and shopkeepers all have different risk levels and tax rates assigned to them.  If you wanted, you could sit around for hours doing nothing but selling belts and buttons and plows and stomachache cures to Boston, or New York, or the Bahamas, depending on where they were in the most demand.  I did a little of this between missions and finished the game staggeringly rich.

There are also a bunch of British military forts scattered around the map, and Naval missions that you can run, and taking over these forts and doing these side missions gives you no direct reward, but lowers the taxes you will pay on your shipment and reduces the risk of your shipment being intercepted.  Because you may be a mass murderer but you are VERY concerned about taxes.

At this point, you might be forgiven for checking the front of the box to make sure that it says “Assassin’s Creed III” and that you didn’t bring the wrong thing home from the store.

So, in summary:  On a second run through AC3, knowing in advance that it was going to do the opposite of sticking the landing when it came to the Desmond story, I found myself actually enjoying it.  It made the bits where you are doing awesome parkour on skyscrapers even more disappointing, but I was able to push that down in my mind and focus on what the game DID have to offer.

I am also convinced that someone in a very important position at Ubisoft took the opportunity to make the crafting and trading game that they had always wanted to make, and had enough clout that they could get it done whether or not it belonged in a historical stabbing mans simulator.

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment

The Dark Souls of relaxing games

Played through Dark Souls again, which makes a sixth playthrough.  With the possible exception of the original Genesis/MegaDrive version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I think it’s the game that I have finished the most times.

Previously, I’ve played the original releases on PC and PS3 (once each), the PS4 remaster 2 and a half times to get the platinum trophy and the Switch version to see what handheld Souls would be like.  I really didn’t have a reason to play through the PC remaster, other than that I’d gotten it for free as an owner of the original release, but it has kind of become a game that I can just chill out and play from opening to end credits as a way to relax.

I skip most of the optional bosses, summon NPC helpers for the fights where I can, and I don’t stop to farm at any point except when I need to get a bunch of humanity to save Solaire from going insane.

I was going a little TOO fast this time, actually, and I wound up in the Duke’s Archives with a +7 Zweihander and a realization that everything takes more hits to kill when you only have a +7 weapon in the Duke’s Archives.

At that point, I did have to stop and kill the Tower Knight on the top of Sen’s Fortress a few times.  The difference between a +7 weapon and a +10 is huge, and a quick run through New Londo Ruins got that up to a +14, and things went much smoother for the rest of the back end of the game:

It took me nearly 11 hours in the Switch version, 15 hours in the PS3 version, 60 hours to clear the PC version the first time I played it and 65 hours for the Platinum trophy on PS4.  So I am getting my playtime down!

Still not going to be speed running any time soon.

And yes, my Chosen Undead was named Karen because the image of a knight in full plate armor with a massive 2-handed sword storming the parapets of Anor Londo and WANTING TO SEE THE MANAGER RIGHT NOW just made me giggle.

I only died to three bosses on this run – the Centipede Demon, Smough, and Ceaseless Discharge – and only once each.  I had several embarrassing deaths trying to run through the Catacombs to get to Pinwheel, but that’s what I get for trying to rush things.

Apart from that, I died a few times in the Duke’s Archives and once in the Crystal Caves because of a slippery path and a bottomless pit.  I also got invaded once, by someone who stopped and waved politely before proving that he was much better at PVP.  So really I didn’t see YOU DIED all that many times.

OK, OK, there were some deaths to the Anor Londo archers.  That’s rather embarrassing because I was used to just charging up the ramp and pancaking them with the Zweihander and I fell off the ledge three times before I remembered the trick to it.

I don’t think I could do this sort of relaxed run on any of the other games in the series.  Maybe DS2, though I don’t remember if it had many NPC summons you could call on and I always get bogged down farming a set of armor from the Iron Keep knights.  Certainly not 3.  Dark Souls 3 is not a mellow game.

Posted in PC Gaming, Souls | Leave a comment

I finished “Love Live: School Idol Festival” and survived

To get things out of the way:  Love Live: School Idol Festival is a free-to-play rhythm game with Gacha elements where you can tap your way through many cheery songs from the Love Live! and Love Live! Sunshine!! franchise, while collecting trading cards featuring the members of the various school idol groups and using them to build your own perfect team of idols.  It gates your playtime behind an energy mechanic, and collecting the best trading cards involves spending premium currency which you buy with real money.

I’ve played a few games like this, and LLSIF is by far the most casual-friendly of the lot.  I’ve been playing for nearly two years and have only spent six dollars in their shop – and that was because, after a year or so, I figured I should give them SOME sort of payment and bought the “welcome new player!” pack.

If all you want to do in the game is open it up on your commute and lose yourself in tapping icons rhythmically while the bus or train does the driving, it is perfect for that.  There are dozens of songs in the game, and I would put it WELL above the Vita Love Live! rhythm games that cost Y4800 each for a paltry song selection.

On the other hand, it also has a story mode, and a collectathon aspect, and that is where the game gets into grind and grind with a side order of grind and grind for dessert.  I don’t recommend you follow me down this rabbit hole.

There are two different long stories in LLSIF – 47 stories for μ’s and 36 for Aquors, each split into 4 chapters each.  Unlocking the Aquors story mode is trivial and largely consists of making sure that you have at least one Aquors character in each of your idol groups while playing songs, so I won’t go into it.

Unlocking the μ’s story mode is done by player level, which increases as you complete songs in the rhythm mode.  Playing songs at higher difficulty levels gives you more player xp.

The song difficulty levels are Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert and Master.  I generally do all right with Hard difficulty.

You need to reach level 155 to unlock the final μ’s story chapter.  If you started the game today and played exclusively “Hard” songs, it would take about 6000 songs to reach level 155.  They’re short songs, mind you, but even at three minutes or less there is a certain time commitment.

Fortunately, there are occasional 5x or even 10x XP events.  Of course, if you want to spam a lot of songs during these XP events, you will be running out of energy very quickly and spending premium currency to recover.  This could get expensive, if the game didn’t give you a persistent drip-feed of the premium currency for just opening the application and claiming your daily rewards every day.

So finishing the μ’s and Aquors story modes, like I did this week, really represents possibly the most time I’ve sunk into any game that wasn’t an MMO.  It doesn’t FEEL like it, though. Most days I spent less than a minute in the app, with occasional binges where I’d knock out 30 or 40 songs in a day.  Airports, in particular, were great occasions to just completely zone out and tap the screen to the accompaniment of cheerful tunes.

These two jpegs represent a staggering time commitment.

What elevates the game above the traditional predatory gacha nonsense is the fact that you don’t need to get the best cards to get to this point.  As long as you are hitting notes, you can complete every song using a team of the 9 most common free cards, and you would hit level 155 at the same speed as a whale who had spent hundreds of dollars to deck out their group in all the best Ultra Rare cards

Still, those common cards wouldn’t LOOK as pretty… and that’s where they hook the whales.

Here’s a typical rare card.  Despite the name, “Rares” are quite common and you can get these with non-premium currency.  The “1360”, “3040” and “1000” values on this card represent its strengths, which translate to the score you will get when hitting notes when using this card as one of your team members in the rhythm game.

If you get a duplicate of the same card, you can “idolize” the card by mashing the two together and getting an idol version of the same character.  The numbers don’t get any bigger, though.

Much cuter!  Now let’s take a look at an idolized Ultra Rare card.

OH MAH GOD IT’S SO SHINY.  AND THE NUMBERS ARE SO MUCH BIGGER.

Side note: this was an event UR, which means that I got it basically by logging in on the right day and playing the game, rather than spending money to get it from a random draw.  Actual random draw URs have numbers that are EVEN BIGGER.  If you want to chase the high scores, you want those big numbers.

Note also the “Level” and “Bond” here.  “Level” is the card level, which you increase by feeding other cards to this card.  So to get a level 100 UR card, I have shoveled an endless supply of lesser idols into Honoka’s gaping maw.

“Bond” is increased by using the card in your team, and the higher level cards have a higher bond cap.  When you both idolize a card AND reach its bond cap, it unlocks a side story, some of which are pretty hilarious.

EVERY CARD HAS A SIDE STORY.

THERE ARE OVER TWO THOUSAND CARDS.

When I said “grind, grind, and more grind”, this is what I was talking about.

If you wanted to build up a team of the absolute rarest and prettiest versions of your Love Live! waifus,  and get them to max level so their numbers were the highest possible, and just completely give up on life in general… you absolutely could!

To be clear, I do not recommend this.

Also, please do not lewd the Love Live! girls as they are in high school and you should have SOME standards.

You can lewd the third years if you must.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in iOS, videogames | 1 Comment

I am weak to cute things

I did not need a second Switch.

Technically, yes, I had a launch model that was hackable and I had no intentions of ever actually hacking it and so I can probably sell it for a decent sum, and even if I don’t do that my wife would probably like to have her own Switch to play her Otome games on without having to wade through my disturbing collection of strip Mahjong games, and I DO play a fair amount in handheld mode so the extended battery life in the new model is probably a good thing, but…

I really did not need this.  I haven’t even ever played an Animal Crossing game!

On the other hand, the pastel joycons are really cute.  And the white dock with the Tanuki on it is also cute.  And I am weak to cute things.

Besides, I just got my tax refund.  If I’m being honest, I had NOT received my tax refund at the point where I bought this but we will not go into that.

Transferring user data was pretty slick.  I have to give Nintendo credit there.  I understand that it doesn’t work for every title, but I don’t own any of the ones that it doesn’t work for.  I’m having to re-download all of my games because it deleted all of the ones that were on the SD card when I moved it from Switch A to Switch B, but right now Comcast has removed the bandwidth cap for residential customers so I don’t really mind all that much.

Anyway, now I can go back to playing the exact same games I was playing on the existing Switch.

Just slightly cuter.

 

 

Posted in Switch, videogames | 1 Comment

Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom

Social distancing continues.  From scrolling through social media, some of my friends and extended family are handling it better than others.

From the perspective of a Gen-Xer, however, it really hasn’t been that weird.  We grew up convinced that we were going to get blown up by nuclear war – or, worse, survive the war and need to live though the aftermath – and then after THAT seemed fairly unlikely we had the panic of wondering whether Bush was going to turn on the draft again and send us off to parts foreign to shoot at persons foreign.

Oh, then we had 9/11 right when my career should have been kicking into career mode, and the 2008 crash right when I had decided to go back to school to become a translator.

I also grew up making my own food from about the age of… I think I was trusted to work the oven at about 10 years old?  So a lot of my meals were “peel back corner of foil to expose tater tots” and the idea that you can get bored of eating the same thing every day is a little alien to me.

So, really, the last couple of months have been “oh, we’re having a global pandemic now? I haven’t seen one of those before.  Well, whatever.”

I really wanted an excuse to use this image.

My biggest source of stress, really, is that I work in – I hate this word – “cybersecurity”, which is a profession that is extremely busy right now.  Job security is nice and all, but I do occasionally wish that I could reach through the internet and throttle the people I work with.

After one particularly throttle-inspiring day, my wife suggested that I should sit down and play something familiar to relax me, which seemed like a great plan and which lead me to boot up Half-Life 2 for at least my fifth playthrough.  I originally played the astonishingly-good 2005 Xbox port and have gone through it twice in Windows and once on a Mac since then.

This time, I decided to give the Xbox 360 release a try – I wanted to see how the Xbox One X upscaling worked and it seemed like an easy way to rack up some cheap gamerscore.

I do like seeing numbers get bigger.

I’ve never pulled off the “Play through Ravenholm with the gravity gun” achievement, so I decided to give that a go this time.  It took a couple of retries on some of the bits where you are swarmed with fast zombies and don’t have a lot of convenient saw blades lying around, but I can mark this off the list:

I did NOT manage to get the Keep Off The Sand achievement, and I am mildly vexed by that.  Something for the future, there.

As for the upscaling, that turned out decently.  You get edges sharp enough to cut yourself on, albeit with some jaggies, and it’s really obvious what parts of the game are vintage 2004 bitmaps.  This is not a dsfix-for-Dark-Souls sort of revelation where it turns out that the low resolution was masking really nice textures, but it gets rid of the softness you’d see when running a 720p game on a modern 4k set and that’s really all I had hoped for.

You should be able to click on this to get the full 4k image, please excuse me for the 1.6 MB file.

A scripted event like this is probably the worst-case scenario for showcasing the upscale, since you’re just standing around listening to Eli and Alyx talk and have plenty of time to look at control panels.  When the game is in motion and you are trying to insert Bullet A into Combine Soldier B, you don’t really have time for that.

For comparison’s sake, I loaded up the Steam version and set it to 4k.  It looked pretty much identical, which was surprising.  I would have expected higher-resolution textures on the PC side of things.

There’s probably a mod for that.

Anyway, on a fifth playthrough, I have come to the conclusion that the game peaks with the “Sandtraps” level and that the Nova Prospekt / Entanglement / Anticitizen One / Follow Freeman! levels could stand to be about half as long as they are.  The Big Damn Climactic battle with all of the Striders in Follow Freeman!, especially, just seemed to drag on and on.  I do not remember the Striders needing seven rockets EACH to take down, nor do I remember there being FIVE of them in that fight.

If I ever go for a sixth run, I will probably just play up through Sandtraps, level-skip to Our Benefactors, and call it good.

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment

Duncatchin’

A few years back, with some long plane flights looming, I decided to dip a toe into the murky waters of the Pokémon franchise, and bought Pokémon Moon.

I thought it was pretty fun, though the main “go beat up small children and their pets until you become the league champion” plot kind of dragged on and didn’t hook me.  I really enjoyed the story of Lillie and her little escape artist, and even wound up buying some merch since I happened to be in Japan where there are many stores that sell Pokémerch.

And only Pokémerch.  The amount of money you could drop on crap with Pikachu’s smiling face plastered on it is just astounding.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons, I decided to go back a few years and try out Pokémon Black 2.

This was a mistake.

I managed to slog my way to the end of it, and I even started enjoying things after about the 7th gym, but there are just so many quality-of-life features from Moon that apparently weren’t around in Ye Olden Days of 2012, like being able to see whether an opponent will be completely 100% immune to the move you are about to throw at it or being able to see at a glance what items each of your team members has equipped, and the plot – as it was – completely failed to hook me.

I will put it this way:  I finished the game less than 2 hours ago, and the only thing I can really remember about the story is that my rival was intensely upset at the bad guys because they had stolen his sister’s pet kitten.

I did need to cheat a bit and look up what my opponents were weak to in order to make it through the final boss gauntlet.  In some cases, this didn’t help because my selection process for team members more-or-less began and ended with “does this guy look cool?” and that is a bad plan in a game that is based largely around exploiting elemental weaknesses in a crazy 18-direction game of rock/paper/scissors.

So when a guide says “all of the opponents in this fight are weak to Ghost, Dark, and Bug”, and I realized that I did not have a single Pokémon that was either Ghost or Dark OR Bug… well, I kind of had to brute force my way through that.

I lucked out a bit because I had caught a Magnemite in an early zone and evolved it all the way to its final form and gotten it fairly high level, and this is important because it’s one of the few Pokémon that cannot be killed in one shot.  As long as you have sufficient healing items on hand, it’s effectively immortal, and I managed to beat one of the “Final Four” simply by using it to soak hits until my opponent could no longer use its more powerful moves.

Put another way, I won that fight by getting punched in the face until my enemy wore himself out punching.  Bards will not sing of my victory this day.

At this point, I understand that I can move all of my virtual critters from the older game into the newer game that I already own, and that if I feel like buying one of the Switch games I will likewise be able to move them over to that game.  I think this is where I’m supposed to start complaining because not all of the old monsters are present in the new games?  When I bought the Black 2 cartridge, the guy who sold it to me seemed to feel very strongly about this, and I didn’t quite know how to respond to his quest for a kindred soul.

Wait, no.  I’m actually supposed to pick a Favorite Generation of game and find Intensely Personal And Valid Reasons why my Favorite Generation was the best ever.

Damnit.  This is going to get complicated.

Posted in nds, videogames | Leave a comment

OK, I finished Ori and the Blind Forest. Then I finished the sequel.

Final stats:

77% completion, 9:45:15 played, 478 deaths.  That’s one death every 73 seconds, which means that I started dying even faster towards the end.

I put off playing Ori for a long time, because it had a reputation for extreme difficulty and because its fan base was very vocal about how it was intentionally hard and how you weren’t entitled to finish every game and git gud and all that.

Fortunately, the developers decided that people who were not all that good at games ALSO liked to buy games, and that money was good, so the “Definitive Edition” adds an Easy mode. Not that it’s terribly easy, but apparently it adds some checkpoints in the middle of sequences that previously needed to be done in a single stretch.

Anyway, I’m not sure I could have made it through if it had been any harder, but it was a stunningly pretty game and I am glad that they put the mode for older gamers in.

The sequel came with an Easy mode from the get-go, and it was appreciated.  If I am to believe the in-game counter, I only died 138 times in the 14-and-a-bit hours it took me to finish the story and reach 80% completion.

I don’t actually believe the in-game counter.

Anyway, Ori 2 was even prettier than Ori the first, and had some really nice quality-of-life changes, like having checkpoints roughly every five seconds and much-improved fast travel.

Much like the first game, it revels in throwing crazy platforming challenges at you, to the point where you start thinking that you are obviously pulling off moves that are SO brilliant and SO inspired that you MUST be jumping and dashing and climbing your way into an optional secret area and then you discover that, no, it’s the way you were supposed to go and the optional secret area is actually on the other side of the screen behind the whirling flame blades.

That’s actually kind of fun!  Except for the bits when you get stuck somewhere for ages because you’re sure that you are getting closer to figuring out a tricky platforming bit and eventually you realize that the issue isn’t your platforming skills at all and that actually you needed to hit a switch or something.

That happened a few times.

It DOES have some performance issues, at least on console and even though I was playing on a One X.  Most of the issues seemed to come from the constant data streaming, so I recommend that you install it to your Xbox’s internal hard drive or to an external SSD.  It also crashed occasionally while loading the game, and it has some problems with achievements unlocking.

On the other hand, the cloud save syncing worked flawlessly and I was able to go back and forth between the Windows 10 version of the game and the Xbox version of the game seamlessly.

So.  Two games down, both quite fun, both maybe just a LITTLE harder than they really needed to be, I have a sense of accomplishment, AND I didn’t have to actually buy either because they’re both on Xbox Game Pass, which is turning out to be one of the best deals in recent memory.

 

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment

Oh, Pies

No video game post today.  I have been playing “Ori and the Blind Forest”.  I am not good at platform games, which is something I’ve mentioned here quite often, so I really should not be playing a platform game that was designed for people who ARE good at them.

I have played, thus far, for 5 hours, 31 minutes, and 35 seconds.  I am at 49% completion.  I have died two hundred and fifty-two times, or on average once every 78 seconds.

I am playing on Easy.

So let’s not talk about that.  Let’s talk about this terrifying piece of snack food, the “Birthday Cake Pie”, an incredibly cheap (50 cents) and yet incredibly fattening (410 calories) piece of confectionery:

Normally I avoid the Hostess-and-Hostess-Adjacent section of the grocery store, but this thing caught my eye.  I knew it was going to be disappointing, of course, but I needed to know HOW disappointing.

Despite the difference between how this looks in reality and how it looks on the box, I think there may actually have been sprinkles used in the making of this pie.  They’ve all sort of turned into mush in the filling, but the ingredients list on the back swears that there WERE sprinkles and the weirdly-colored filling sort of backs that up.

It also looks rather like something that might show up on Infernal Monkey on a slow post day.  If I only had some googly eyes, I would have slapped them on there to complete the experience.

The taste?

Well, to my surprise, it actually pulled off the “birthday cake” taste fairly well, assuming that”Birthday Cake” is white sheet cake covered with tons of frosting.

OK, really it was just the taste of frosting, like the entire cake has already been eaten but there’s a little wall of frosting stuck to the side of the cake box and you have decided to scrape the entire mess up with a fork and stick it in your face.  It’s that sort of taste.

I may be revealing a little too much about myself and my relationship with frosting here.

So, to put into a very few words something that I have spent several paragraphs getting to, it’s basically a Hostess fruit pie, only full of cake frosting.  I’m cool with that.

I’m not ever going to eat a second one, mind you.

I MAY get one for the next person I know who is having a birthday and carefully fill out the “to” and “from” on the box and hand it to them and make them eat it.

Posted in food | Leave a comment

Man Bites Troll

Well, the dreaded Wu-Han Flu Clan has been spotted in our neck of the woods and we are all being encouraged to, I think the term is, “socially isolate” which appears to be a code phrase for working from home and filling our other waking hours with video games and binging TV and just not ever going outside unless you absolutely have to.

I HAVE TRAINED FOR THIS MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Anyway, prep work for some glorious hermitage included spray-painting “DON’T DEAD OPEN INSIDE” on the garage door and then a quick trip to the grocer to pick up some essentials that we didn’t have in the house, like bananas and sour cream and  paper towels and eight twelve packs of diet soda.

Food?  I think we have some of that already.  There’s a couple frozen pizzas anyway, last I looked.  And some instant noodles that probably haven’t passed their expiration dates.  We’re good.

The lines at checkout were, as you may imagine, fairly long.  A mild inconvenience, of the sort that has you randomly browsing the carefully-arranged shelves of impulse purchases.

And that’s when my wife said, half to herself, “I wonder what flavor ‘Troll’ is?”

Following her gaze, I found her looking at a display of officially-licensed “Trolls: World Tour” Oreos, and picked up a package to see if I could answer her.

There was no answer to be found on the packaging.  It emphasized the pinkness and the glitteryness of the contents, but yielded no clues on the actual taste experience.

Naturally this bore further study, and a package made its way from the impulse-buy shelves into our cart, proving yet again that I am very susceptible to things that are bright and shiny.

Opening this package and extracting some of the contents.  Apparently the movie has some sort of musical theme to it.  I vaguely remember seeing a trailer.  It may have been in front of Frozen II?

Side note: I was quite sure that the homicidal horse in Frozen II was a kelpie and I was very happy about that, since kelpies are one of the things from the Monster Manual that rarely feature in fiction.

OK, so kelpies weren’t IN the Monster Manual but WERE in the Field Folio but were represented as women rather than horses.

Erm. I appear to have gotten off track.  Anyway, the horse from Frozen II seems to have been a Ceffyl Dŵr, or Water Horse, which isn’t actually a kelpie but is like the Welsh equivalent.

I should get back to the cookies, huh. Let’s do that.

The filling is not particularly glittery but it IS pink.  Not a pleasant pink, either.  I am very fond of the sort of coral pink that Nintendo used for its pink handhelds.  This is not that.  It’s an aggressive pink, the sort that screams that these cookies are NOT FOR LADS.

I’m not particularly GOOD at being a lad, mind you.  I have never changed my own oil or butchered a deer or opened a bottle of beer with my teeth, so I figured I could go ahead and eat the pinkness.

After the first cookie, I was not entirely sure they had a flavor.  There was a sweetness, and a sort of unpleasant aftertaste that suggested that eating a second cookie might be a good idea to drown that aftertaste out, so I did that and still wasn’t able to pinpoint just exactly what it tasted like.

A third cookie likewise failed to assist in reaching a conclusion, at which point I realized that I had eaten 225 calories of Troll-themed Oreos in roughly 30 seconds and that I should probably stop.

So, if I had to put a name to the flavor of Troll, I would have to go with “regret”.

 

 

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13 Years Blog

Remembered an anniversary post this year for a change.

So.  Thirteen years of mostly talking about how bad I am at video games and occasionally flying to Japan and making fun of signs.  I still get a few readers every day, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping on. 🙂

February wasn’t the greatest month on a personal level.  We lost our third cat in the last three years, this time to kidney disease, and I will come right out and say that if there were some dark rituals that could be performed involving human sacrifice to prolong pet life, I would be warming up the altar and buying some chloroform and an unmarked and unremarkable white van.

That’s probably not the best conversational topic, though, so let’s talk about vidya.

It’s been pretty obvious that the last couple of years have been the slow years we always get before the launch of new consoles.  It’s been less obvious this generation, thanks in part to the mid-cycle refresh consoles both Microsoft and Sony put out and to the general doldrums around PC GPUs, but there just hasn’t been a ton of capital-H Hype since 2017.

Well, except from the Nintendo camp.  But that’s a group of fans who can work themselves into a frothing mass of all-caps HYPE over the reveal of a new Smash character, so it’s best to just not make eye contact.

One of the side benefits of being just a little checked-out of the gaming industry is that I’m not spending a ton of cash on games.  I still manage to look at my bank statement every month and wonder what happened, but at least it’s mostly going to life essentials.

So this month, I’ll talk about three recent games that I played for free-or-mostly-free.

One of my most happy discoveries last year was that our local library system is now checking out video games.  As you might expect, this is quite popular and the chance of finding any given game on the shelf is fairly slim, but it meant that I got to see “Control” on the shelf and check it out despite knowing absolutely nothing about it.

A few days later, I’d finished the story and gone back to clear up all of the optional bits to get the 1000/1000 gamer score.  I generally don’t DO that, so you may infer that (a) I liked it quite a bit and (b) getting 1000/1000 gamer score is fairly easy.  Both of these things are true.

Control reminded me a lot of The Secret World or Men In Black, in that the gist of it is that Weird Shit Is Actually Real and that you are part of an organization devoted to keeping the Weird Shit under control while also making sure that humanity in general doesn’t learn about the eldritch horrors lurking just outside the window.  It’s also a really enjoyable third-person shooter where your character gets all kinds of nifty psychic powers to go along with the Power of Gun, and in the end the actual shooting eldritch horrors kind of becomes this thing you do while all of your nifty psychic powers are recharging.

To expand on that, firefights in Control tend to play out with your character taking flight, telekinetically throwing a vending machine at something, knocking it over and weakening it enough that you can then mind control it and turn it into your loyal thrall, ripping concrete and rebar out of the floor to make a shield so you can advance on another enemy and finally throwing all of that concrete and rebar at them before remembering that you can go pew pew with a gun that can morph into one of five forms as indicated by the needs of the current situation.  It’s a very BUSY game, but not overwhelmingly-so.

It’s also a high-budget entirely single-player affair.  In 2019!  What a crazy concept.

Technically, I guess I pay for the library system with a tiny portion of my taxes so it wasn’t FREE free, but that’s a theme we’re going to see more of as we get to…

…Call of Cthulhu, which was “Free” in that it was a Games with Gold title for the month, so I got to play it as part of my Xbox Live subscription.  Still sorta free.

Several months back, I talked about Uncharted as the perfect “7/10” game, in that it was a game with mass-market appeal that did everything competently enough to be worth playing but didn’t really distinguish itself.

So let me go one notch below that and say that Call of Cthulhu is the perfect “6/10” game, in that it has some technical problems and can turn into a bit of a slog while you are trying to work through puzzles and has an annoying stealth segment that should frankly die in a fire and has a comical number of spelling errors.

It also tries to mix some RPG elements into the puzzle solving bits, with results that are occasionally less-than-stellar.  It’s nice to get different conversation options based on how you’ve built up your character stats, but it’s another thing to try to lift a grate, fail the strength check and fail to lift the grate, get a random critical failure that breaks the lever that you would need to use to lift the grate so you can’t try again, and later discover that you were locked out of some bits of the story because you never went down under the grate.

… and yet, if you’re a fan of the material that it’s based on you will probably like it quite a bit.  Most Lovecraftian stories do not end well for their protagonists, and the happiest ending you can expect from them is that the timetable for the inevitable destruction of mankind at the hands of uncaring celestial nightmares is pushed back slightly. Godawful stealth bit aside, Call of Cthulhu gets that right.

And, finally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which REALLY stretches the definition of free in that it was “free” with the purchase of a game console.

Of these three games, it’s the one I was most predisposed to like based on my fondness for earlier entries, and it did give me a good dozen hours of climbing over ruins and deciphering centuries-old Rube Goldberg machines and murdering a lot of copy-and-pasted goons, mostly* in self defense.  I loved the environments and the traversal, and they came together in an absolutely breathtaking final sequence, so really you can stop reading here if you just want to avoid me complaining about things.

* Mostly.  There’s one cutscene where one of the goons is scrambling back in a feeble attempt to escape from Lara and she stabs him to death with all the emotion of someone flicking an ant off the edge of their picnic table.  I think it was probably intended as a Super Badass Moment, but it came off a little serial-killer.

I didn’t much get on with the setting.  It’s hard to get excited for the exploits of a wealthy British girl when she’s plundering the tombs and temples of a place that actually has people living in it still.  It’s a little more defensible if you’re doing your Tomb Raiding somewhere where everyone has been dead for ages, or if you are sticking it to the English.

I always endorse sticking it to the English.

Also, and this is a personal issue, there’s too much swimming through underwater tunnels.  You don’t get a breathing apparatus, so there are conveniently-spaced air pockets where you can surface for a breath, and it feels a little TOO much like a video game when your focus is on “swim forward until you see an air pocket, take breath, repeat, eventually you will reach goal”.

Another especially video-gamy sequence comes after a daring escape separates Lara from her arsenal and she must navigate an enemy camp armed only with her wits and a knife and stealth on her side… and she dispatches at least a dozen mooks without ever even THINKING about taking one of their guns.  Apparently their guns had some kind of Bad Guy Cooties on them that she didn’t want to become infected by?  She then finds a bow and uses it to kill a bunch more guys, again completely ignoring all of the guns they drop.

I may be overthinking this a bit, but COME ON NOW.

The previous game – Rise of the Tomb Raider – had me absolutely hooked.  I put off finishing it for AGES in favor of cleaning up the map clutter that represented artifacts and secrets, and even spent some time with the optional time trials just to get More Game out of the game.  Shadow of the Tomb Raider was never going to live up to that, and all of my grousing should probably be looked at with that caveat firmly understood.

So that’s given me some things to play while we all wait for the Next Generation Of Consoles, which will offer UNPARALLELED GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCES except of course we all know that launch titles are generally a bit crap so really we’re looking at 2021, maybe 2022 until we get our next really exciting year.  Hmm.  That’s a bit of a downer when I look at it like that.

Maybe we’ll finally get that Demon’s Souls remaster they’ve been teasing?

Maybe I’ll still be writing this thing?

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last 13 years, anyway.  I like seeing the views and the occasional comments.  🙂

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | 1 Comment