If you think Mahjong ain’t happening, get down with the midnight fever.

OK.  So I am probably one of about ten people who still remembers Super Zugan, a Kitty Films / Studio Dean production from the early 90s, but the damn theme song keeps getting stuck in my head whenever I buy a new mahjong game and I feel like inflicting it on you.

Not that I bought a NEW mahjong game, mind you.  Rather, I just paid a princely Y1980 for a very old mahjong game that just happened to get a Switch port, from MightyCraft.  We were originally supposed to get this back in January, but the release got pulled at the very last minute for some “discussions” with Nintendo.  I half expected that it would never resurface, but apparently those discussions were fruitful.

I’ve owned the Saturn version of the game for well over 20 years at this point, so rebuying it on Switch was half for the novelty and half for the nostalgia and maybe a little bit for the convenience factor.  It takes some time to hook up a Saturn whenever I feel like raging at how insufferable of a cheater Akira is, after all, but now I will be able to think very unkind thoughts about her wherever I go!  We are truly in a gilded age.

On that topic, however, this release does have a difficulty setting.  I don’t recall the Saturn version having any difficulty settings, or maybe I just never checked.  Akira may be slightly less vicious if you crank the difficulty down a bit.

SRMPV is a pretty good example of mid-90s slightly-naughty mahjong games, though not up to the production values of something like the Suchie-Pai Series.  You only have three opponents to play against and it doesn’t have the huge cast of famous voice actresses or Kenichi Sonoda character designs.

It DOES have Sakura Tange’s first role, though.  That’s an actress who went on to do much bigger and better things.

To further compare it to that series, it’s more of a pure mahjong game, which is a strong selling point.  There aren’t any power-ups or any mini games that you can use to defeat your opponent.  If you want to win, you need to mahjong the bejesus out of her.  It’s a fine game, and I recommend it to one and all.

So, let’s talk about the port.

It may annoy the super purists, but MightyCraft did some tweaking to fit it to the Switch screen.  They didn’t mess with the aspect ratio of any of the FMVs, fortunately.  You get a lovely pillar boxed version, like so…

..but they did change the title screen and play field to fit the wider screen.  I suspect they did some cropping at the top and bottom, but it’s not anything offensive.

(Though, guys, the Switch does not have a “Start” button, and pressing the + button does nothing.  You could have edited out the “St” and “rt” there.)

I kind of wish it had a faux-scanline filter that you could turn on, but that is a super minor quibble.

SRMPV is especially good if you are new to the game and need prompting for when you can meld off your opponent’s hand.  You will be prompted for every single chi and pon as they discard tiles, notified when you can call riichi, all very convenient stuff.

One other thing of note – the Saturn original of this game was one of the notorious red label 18+ games, featuring some low-resolution nudity once you managed to play well enough to completely run your opponent out of clothing, and I suspect that is WHY it disappeared at the 11th hour and just now managed to get a release.  I haven’t played enough to confirm this, but I suspect the art went through a little bit of editing to conform to 2019 standards.

Well, technically, the last red label game was released over 20 years ago.  So “edited to conform to 1997 standards” is maybe more accurate.

Followup: Yup, the original FMVs have been visited by the Mysterious Light Rays Of Decency, blotting out all offensive bits.

Anyway.  I have occasionally made fun of the Switch for its wide variety of The Hottest Games Of 2011, but I am not going to deny that it makes me giddy to see publishers dig DEEP into the back catalog and unearth some long-buried gems.  They’re even talking about bringing out PVI and P7, presumably if enough of us old weirdos buy PV.

Hopefully we never get Mahou no Janshi Poe Poe Poemy, though.  Digging THAT deep, that’s how you get balrogs.

Posted in mahjong, Saturn, Switch, videogames | 5 Comments

Ubiquity

Well, my February ended with a genuinely unpleasant experience.  My little corner of the US had 19 inches of snow dumped on us in just over 24 hours, and the result was thousands of people out of power and a completely overloaded local utility company.  It took five days before our lights came back on, and there were some very chilly times in there.

But, that’s scarcely relevant to what I wanted to talk about today.  I just needed to vent a little, and I’ve accomplished that.  What I really wanted to talk about was how I appear to be turning into an Ubisoft fanboy and how weird that is.

I took a quick look through my backlog progress page, and it turns out that I didn’t play any Ubi games from 2014-2017.  Before that point, I’d consumed a regular diet of Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia and Tom Clancy’s “Go To Exotic Places And Shoot Bad People” games, but I fell quite out of love with the publisher after forcing myself to get through Assassin’s Creed III.

Last year, I played six Ubi games, and I just wrapped up the main storyline of The Division for my first Ubi game of THIS year.  (Side note: The Division looks crazy good on the Xbonks in 4k) I also bought “Ghost Recon: We Are Sorry That We Insulted Bolivia” on a friend’s recommendation and have several other Ubi games on the “play these soonish” stack.  They just keep turning out comfort-food games, where you have a massive map full of things to accomplish and a lot of leeway in how you get them done, and their games tend to get comfortable discounts after they’ve been out for a while.  Ghost Recon was fifteen bucks, and I picked up the Ezio collection for ten a few months back as well.

That’s not the thing that inspired me to rave about them, though.  Rather, it stems from their “Ubisoft Club” program, which is a loyalty program where you earn Ubisoft Coins by playing their games and can then spend these coins on cosmetics and minor in-game boosts.  (And assorted PC extras, like wallpapers and soundtracks.  Purely fluff, but for “free” they’re not bad.)

Anyway, they recently changed the Ubisoft coins to expire two years after earning them, so I logged on to their club site to spend some of the older ones.  Then I noticed that I hadn’t actually launched several of their games, so they weren’t appearing in my list of games and I couldn’t spend coins on rewards for them.

What followed was a few minutes of starting games and making sure they registered in the Ubisoft Club app before getting back to spending coins, and that lead to a very pleasant little surprise:

The Ezio collection is, of course, a much prettier version of the three 15th-century-based Assassin’s Creed games, all of which I’d played through on PS3.  I’d spent quite a few Ubisoft coins unlocking stuff at the time, but I absolutely did not expect those unlocks to carry over to the remastered versions of the games nearly a decade later.

I may be easily impressed – I AM easily impressed – but that just made me want to give them credit for a loyalty program Done Right.

Of course, it meant that I had to find other things to spend my expiring coins on. 🙂 That took a little while to sort out.

 

Posted in ps3, PS4, videogames, Xbox One | 3 Comments

A Mercy Killing

Normally, if I stop regularly blogging, it’s because I’ve gotten hooked on a new MMO, and I am always fairly disappointed in myself when this happens.

I am happy to report that this is not the case.  Woo!

I’m dealing with a lot of work stress, however, and my way of handling it has been to basically get off work and then play video games until I am too exhausted to keep my eyes open, then repeat it the next day.  I also did a lot of Deep Cleaning and Organizing, which was at least productive.

Oh, and I’ve broken two teeth from grinding them.  My dentist has a daughter that is entering college next year, so at least I’m helping her tuition fund a bit.

Helping somewhat with my stress levels is sticking to getting at least a half hour on the exercise bike nightly, generally playing Overwatch.  It really is the perfect exercise bike game – you can get into matches quickly and the random cycle of king-of-the-hill to push-the-cart to assault-mode games gives a little variety.  When I am feeling really unambitious, I play the “Vs. Ai” mode on easy and just mash hapless computer opponents for a few minutes.  When I’m feeling a little more masochistic, I play Ranked mode.

That leads me to the reason I’m actually remembering to post on here, because I managed to hit a milestone that I honestly thought was completely out of reach:

I have officially graduated from “silver rank scrub” to “GOLD rank scrub” and now I will stop playing Ranked for the rest of the season so as not to lose any matches and fall back into the Silver Pit.

One very unexpected thing about playing in ranked on Xbox Live is that the people on the team who are talkative are generally positive.  I had rather assumed that it would be, you know, hive of scum and villainy and all that.  Maybe the scum and villainy are playing Apex Legends now that Overwatch is three years old.

I’ve also finished over half a dozen games since my last post and my backlog is firmly under the fifty game mark and trending downwards.  The one I’m happiest to finally knock off the shelf of shame is The Last Guardian, which I just HAD to preorder and just HAD to buy the Extra Special Version With The Statue, and which I originally got about two hours into and then stopped playing.

That probably deserves its own post.

Right now, I’m grinding my way through Tom Clancy’s The Division, which is the sort of gritty military mans-shooting game that I usually don’t find myself getting into.  It turns out that the comfortable Ubisoft formula of running around an icon-cluttered map and doing chores to clean up the map works pretty well for me, even if it’s not in one of my normal genres.

Posted in Overwatch, videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment

In which, stuff does not spark joy.

The last few weeks have been great weeks for cleaning out my space, both in terms of physical space and in terms of the game backlog. Both have involved a lot of throwing things out and taking things to charity shops. I can walk anywhere in our house now, and the only cardboard boxes lying around are ones we put out so that the cats can have temporary forts in their endless game of king-of-the-hill.

I have closet space, too, and that’s a minor miracle considering I used to have one of those secondary rails that you hang from your main closet rail because you have too many t-shirts.

I didn’t QUITE go all KonMari, but I feel a great deal freer.

I took nine games off the backlog recently as well, though admittedly only two of those were by actually finishing them. I have been going through the stacks of “this was on sale” or “people rave about this game so I should try it”, and I wound up cutting a lot of stuff after a couple hours of play because it just wasn’t sticking.

I did finish Senran Kagura: Reflexions, which was a weird little Switch game about massaging Asuka from the Senran Kagura series.  There’s a story around this, but it’s hard to describe without getting too into spoilers.  It’s not as pervy as you would think – this is on a Nintendo system, after all – but it still tweaks the blue hair brigade pretty well.  It’s a game that’s Banned From Discussion on resetera, and that’s usually a sign that a game is worth checking out.  Apart from the Asuka story, you can download stories for Yomi, Murasaki, Ryona and Yumi. I will judge you very hard if you do not rank the characters in roughly that order yourself.

Along that same vein, I also played through Lucy Got Problems, a visual novel about a succubus who knows that she’s been sent on a terribly important mission but can’t quite remember exactly what she was supposed to do. We’re not talking high art, here, but it makes fun of a lot of fantasy tropes and is actually enhanced by all of the failure states that you can run into.  Personally, any game where I can be killed by murderous squirrels within five minutes of starting is a game worth playing.

By default, it is NOT a porny VN, but there is a patch available on the dev’s Patreon if that’s your sort of thing.

Games I dropped, and reasons:

The Surge:
A reasonably good Souls-like, but it turns out that I don’t really like Souls in a sci-fi setting. The expansion, A Walk In The Park, is a little more fun, but not enough to make me want to keep going.

Yakuza Kiwami:
Running around a tiny slice of 2005 Tokyo is awesome. Seriously. For pure atmosphere, this is a fantastic game. Sadly it’s bogged down by really tedious boss fights and by the fact that I really don’t enjoy playing “tough guy” characters.

Sleeping Dogs:
This came with a video card and I’ve never even started it, but after bouncing off Yakuza because I didn’t like playing the tough guy, I think I am completely done with the gritty Asian underworld genre.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
I loved the original Mass Effect trilogy, but after 3 or 4 hours of this I realized that the most joy I was getting was when I reached a save point and could stop playing. Again, I think I’m just not a big sci-fi settings guy.

Code of Princess EX
A remake of the 3DS game, which was great, but now with higher resolution graphics and no English dub – what could go wrong?
Well, it turns out that the developers decided that the original game was too easy and they needed to tweak some of the boss AI. The original game had a great difficulty curve, the remake has a brick wall halfway through that I got tired of beating my head against. It also keeps the old subtitles, so there are some jarring differences between what the characters are saying and what the subtitles say.

Heroine Anthem: Episode 1
I thought this was a platforming action sort of game, and it is… if you don’t mind your platforming action regularly being broken up by talking-head pixel dramas and crazy-long loading times between screens. It would almost have been better as a visual novel.

The Hex
A new game from the Pony Island guy? SIGN ME RIGHT UP… except it turns out to be a bunch of kinda tedious mini-games and a plot that wasn’t going anywhere fast. Pony Island telegraphed the “we’re on a one-way train to crazy town” plot from basically minute one, but after two hours I was still wondering when The Hex was going to get moving.

So, after all that, I’m down under the 50 game mark in my endless war against the backlog. Right now, I’m playing through the Mortal Kombat X story mode and it’s actually keeping my interest despite, or perhaps because of, how just pants-on-head bizarre the Mortal Kombat lore seems to be.

Also I really thought they had Nathan Fillion playing Johnny Cage, which I thought was a great casting choice. It turns out that it’s just a guy who kinda sounds like Nathan Fillion but he is still fun to listen to.

Posted in organization, Switch, videogames | 3 Comments

Donecharted

I wrapped up the Uncharted remaster collection tonight.  The ratio of “shooting hordes of men in the head” to “solving puzzles and climbing on things” in Uncharted 3 was a little more weighted towards the puzzles and climbing side of things, which was nice.  Still a ton of combat, of course, and I’m not a huge fan of that side of these games, but I get the whole combat-as-a-puzzle gimmick they’re going for now and that makes it a little more tolerable.

Side note: I only found one waterfall that I could actually get to, and there wasn’t any way to get behind it.  I will give them a pass.  This time.

Uncharted 3 is definitely a roller coaster of a game.  I say that because it’s very thrilling but requires the player to sort of buy in to the way you’re supposed to play it in order to get the most enjoyment from it, and if you try to go against the designer’s intentions, you are going to wind up off the tracks and dying in a crumpled mess very quickly.  There are some sequences that are almost Dragon’s Lair levels of trial-and-error gameplay, where you WILL run down a corridor chased by a wall of water, dying over and over again until you know every possible turn and jump… and once you have mastered that, then it’s a beautiful, action-movie-like sequence as Drake dashes effortlessly down the hallway and jumps to safety at the last possible moment.  It’s an adrenaline-pumping moment that …well, that honestly felt like the director REALLY wanted a cutscene here but was told that he couldn’t have a budget for a cutscene, so you get to die over and over again until you play it the Right Way.

I play a lot of games where the enjoyment comes out of having an adversarial relationship with the game and its rules.  The Uncharted games have been games where the enjoyment is heightened once you are submissive to the game’s story-line, and where trying to play against the designer’s intentions is a quick trip to Frustration City.  If you let yourself go, then they are brilliant adventure stories with a quick-witted and charming (if somewhat homicidal) protagonist on a quest to save a) The World, b) The Girl, and c) His Best Friend, not necessarily in any particular order of importance.

It also helps if you don’t try to make any particular sense out of the world.  Let’s completely ignore all of the Awesome Ancient Puzzle Contraptions that are in sealed rooms that you can only get into because one of the walls has collapsed, and instead talk about Bob.

Bob is the name I gave to an NPC who stands on a little ledge on one of the ribs of a rusted-out wreck of a container ship that serves as one of the game’s platforming challenges, and he is there solely to be facing away from the player when you climb up to the ledge and push the Awesome Stealth Attack button to yank him down off the ledge to his death, with mandatory scream.

Once I got up on Bob’s ledge, I looked around.  There wasn’t any bridge to the ledge, or any other way to safely get to it, and the only way OFF the platform was to make a jump across a gaping chasm of instant death.

Look, I’m not going to demand realism from one of these games, but it wouldn’t have hurt to give Bob a little rope ladder to explain how he got there and how he planned to leave.

Also they should not have put so many spiders in the game.

I still had a lot of fun with the series, and actually thought that they got better with each installment.  I will probably pick up 4 the next time it gets priced down during one of Sony’s regular digital sales.

On an entirely personal note, I have a trip to Belgium coming up in a few months, where they apparently speak French? And I don’t know a word of French and honestly when I hear it spoken it all comes out as a solid blurrrrrrrrr of noise where Ican’ttellwhereonewordstopsandthenextbegins.  One side benefit to these games is that they let the player chose the spoken and subtitle languages, so I got to set them to French audio and English subtitles.

I still don’t know a word of French, but 30 hours of listening to Nate make wisecracks in French and be threatened in French has at least gotten me to the point where I’m starting to understand where the words start and end.  So at least I’ll probably be able to pick train station names out of the blur.  Totes educational.

 

Posted in PS4, videogames | 4 Comments

The Old Man and Mercy

It’s mid-January and I am still playing Overwatch for between 30 and 60 minutes every night while making the pedals of our exercise bike go ’round.  As far as exercise routines go, it’s pretty low impact… but it does make me feel better about myself so I’m going to stick with it.

I mostly play in the “Quick Play” mode, which is no-expectations-low-stress gaming that fills up an experience bar that occasionally goes “Ding!” and spits out a box of random cosmetics for characters that I do not play.  The important thing is that I am filling a bar, and then it empties so I can fill it again.

A few months ago, I decided to dip into Overwatch’s “competitive play” mode for just long enough to run the 10 placement matches to receive a rank.  I did not have high expectations, so I was positively giddy when the game ranked me at 1530SR, which is just barely into silver and which meant that, even though I’m dealing with all of the assorted annoyances of getting older, there was still a rank below me.

You take the small victories where you find them.

Anyway, it’s a new season of competitive Overwatch and I figured I would run through the placement matches again now that I had been playing Mercy for about six weeks and thought I’d gotten at least a little better.

I did better on the matches!  The first time around, I went 3-and-7, but this time, WOO BOY WATCH OUT. 

OK, not hugely better but surely better enough to place a little higher…

Nope!  Apparently I had somehow gotten considerably worse.

I like to say that I don’t have a competitive personality, but that’s not entirely true.  I am fiercely competitive when it comes to myself.  I want to be getting better at things, not worse, and this vexed me.

Some degree of reading Overwatch forums led me to a somewhat ego-salving explanation. According to the collective wisdom, placement matches are only really “placement matches” the very first time you run them.  After that, they’re basically just playing more competitive games at your current SR level, and it’s pretty common for people to drop a couple hundred points of ranking.

I liked this explanation a lot, but when I am being told something that I want to hear I always have a tendency to want to confirm it for myself.  Fortunately, I actually own Overwatch on the Xbox as well as the PC, thanks to the recent Winter sale, so in theory I could just run the placement matches there…

…except you need to be level 25.  And I was level 8.  And that was a grind that was going to be hard to do from the bike, even at an hour a night.

So for the first time in months, I actually sat my butt down in a comfortable chair to play Overwatch.  And play Overwatch.  And play Overwatch.  It took about 12 hours of “match time”, plus way too much time spent waiting on queues or stuck in the Skirmish mode, but I did eventually hit level 25.

There were some highlights along the way, like this entirely implausible four-gold-medals match:

I’m sorry, is it wrong of me to be extra gleeful about getting the #1 spot for both damage output and heals?

And a ton of endorsements.  Not many people play support classes in quick play on the Xbox, so if you feel like farming endorsements I heartily recommend doing that:

I hit endorsement level 3 at level 24, by the way.

Oh, and I got an achievement that I hadn’t managed on the PC version of the game.

To get this, you need to resurrect six people in one match without dying.  I was in a match that was going just stunningly well and realized that I had rezzed four people already and there were like two minutes left and if I just derped a couple of heals here and there I could make sure that I had a couple of bodies lying around to resurrect…

I’m not a good person.

Still, eventually I hit level 25 and went happily off to the competitive play mode to see if I was REALLY a 1350SR Mercy.

My first match did not go well.  The matchmaking algorithm dropped me into a game against a nearly-full group of coordinated players, and they just steamrollered us all the way to the finish line, then did it again in reverse when it was our turn on attack.

The only notable result was that I got my first salty Xbox Live message in 17 years of owning an Xbox.

I mean, it wasn’t that salty.  There’s no references to my mother or anything.  Still, I got told to Git Gud by an internet stranger, and I feel like a Real Gamer(tm) now.

I’d be lying if I said that the next nine matches went TOO much better, but at least I didn’t drop below my baseline:

3-and-7 in October, 3-and-7 today.  Eh, I’ll take it.

The end result, though?

BAM, I say.  BAM.  No being condemned to bronze-level scrubdom for THIS guy, no sir.  That is a high-SILVER level of scrubdom.  Practically gold scrubdom.  I am completely vindicated.

Anyway, I guess the message here is that if you really want to get a… slightly more complimentary measurement of your skill at Overwatch, all you really need to do is… uh… buy a second copy of the game and then spend about twenty hours of your life grinding up to level 25 again and uh…

I may have played myself.

 

Posted in Overwatch, videogames, Xbox One | 1 Comment

What’s the opposite of a “Sophomore Slump”?

Yeah.  Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front.  Uncharted 2: Among Thieves commits the same unforgivable sin as its predecessor, in that it has multiple waterfalls with absolutely nothing cool hidden behind them.  I checked.  Not all of them, mind you – there are a lot of waterfalls! – but enough of them to be profoundly disappointed.  There was even one waterfall that had an enticing little tunnel that led behind it and… wound up in a dead end.  What’s even the point, really?

So there’s no way that this game could ever get a ten out of ten in my book.

Still, it’s an amazing improvement over the first game, and I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten around to playing it, even if it did take me a decade.  It’s right up there with the Assassin’s Creed series for Best Improvement In A Sequel.  The opening train sequence – the tutorial level, for crying out loud! – is one of the best set pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing through, and I didn’t even mind needing to repeat it about five hours later.

On the other hand, Uncharted 2 does represent some of the worst aspects of early-gen-7 game design, in that there are a lot of places where it’s not sure whether it wants to be a game or a movie, and the camera whips around and locks into the perfect angle to spotlight whatever the director thought you should be looking at at this precise moment in time rather than trusting the player with control.  Usually it’s pointing the way you SHOULD be going, which is maybe a little easier than designing levels that naturally draw the player towards the objective.  On the plus side, this lets some of the platforming be legitimately challenging – there were a lot of places where I would try and fail a particular jump over and over and would probably have given up on if the camera hadn’t been insistently saying “no, really, you CAN go this way.”

Then there’s the combat, which initially bugged me with the number of times I’d wind up repeating an arena segment over and over.  It took me quite a while to stop thinking of the firefight sequences as though I was playing a traditional 3rd-person-shooter and start thinking of them as puzzles, where figuring out the right order to fight enemies was way more important than any actual skill at aiming.  Once that happened, I discovered that I quite liked the shooty bits, and I’m looking forward to playing the next game in the series with that understanding already in place.

The final boss fight suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks, though, and I do not often type over a dozen consecutive “u”s so you may take that as extreme emphasis on the degree of awfulness represented by the last boss.  Also, I am astonished by the sheer amount of punishment that the opponents in this game can absorb.  In one particularly egregious case, I had a HUMAN opponent absorb seven .45 caliber bullets to his unarmored head from point-blank range before finally giving up the ghost.

I have never been shot, but I’m reasonably sure that it would be quite difficult to survive the first bullet, much less the first six.

Hmm, that’s been a couple of paragraphs of me whining.  Let’s offset that a bit by praising the story, because it’s a great pulpy adventure.  I went through a Doc Savage phase in my youth, and Uncharted 2 pushed all of my happy buttons.  I also liked the return of familiar characters who weren’t forced into the exact roles they played in the original game, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them and of Chloe in the future.

So, huge improvement, but let’s take off a half point for the bullet sponginess of the enemies and the final boss and another point for the continuing waterfall disappointment.

Not that I give points.  I don’t do that kind of thing.

Next up is NOT Uncharted 3, because I have a ridiculously pretentious post title that is stuck in my head and won’t let me do anything else until I’ve written the post to go with it. That has me working on an Overwatch project, the details of which are probably left in the crazier parts of my brain until I’ve actually finished it.

Posted in PS4, videogames | 6 Comments