Return of the Subway Gamer: War Tortoise

I’ve never claimed to understand the appeal of game streaming; why would anyone watch other people play games, when they could be playing the same game themselves?  Even if the streamer is funny or insightful or entertaining, it seems like a perverse way to spend one’s time.

But by the same token, I’m one of those weirdos who is fascinated and compelled by auto-clickers; games which, eventually, play themselves.  I still have an active Clicker Heroes save, which I’ve actually checked on several times today.  I’ve been heavily invested in Cookie Clicker – twice.  I had been playing Mucho Taco on my iPhone, but then put it aside to play Doomsday.   I’ve spent actual money on these games.

So who am I to judge?

Point being:  in the last few days I have become rather enamored of War Tortoise, which is a strange and uniquely compelling hybrid of auto-clicker and tower defense, with an RPG-lite skill levelling system, a strikingly gorgeous presentation (for the iPhone, at least), and the ingeniously designed option to jump in and play, rather than just watch.

This isn’t just an auto-clicker – the gameplay is that of an endless turret sequence.  You can usually just let it run while you tap on various currency drops, but if there’s a tough bullet-sponge enemy bearing down on you, you can reclaim the turret and use some of the heavy weaponry to help take it down.  It’s not necessarily difficult, but there is a strategy involved in terms of how to best spend your money and build up your defenses, and that’s where the fun (for me, at least) lies.

It’s a strange game, don’t get me wrong – I don’t know why I’m on a tortoise, or why I am some sort of field mouse facing off against hordes of armored iguanas and beetles and such – but I don’t care.  The game doesn’t explain any of this, nor does it really need to.  Nobody plays these types of games for any sort of narrative sustenance.

It’s weird, and I’m weird, and I get it, and I accept it.  War Tortoise is awesome.


I’m in a bit of a holding pattern as far as my game playing is concerned right now; supposedly the review embargo for Uncharted 4 drops tomorrow, and while I’m nearly positive I’ll be buying it, I’m still curious as to how it reviews.  I worry it’ll be too combat heavy, but I’ve said that about all the Uncharted games, and by and large they are still enjoyable games.

I bought SUPERHOT for the Xbox One this morning, even though as a Kickstarter backer I already had it on my PC; my PC is basically busted, though, and I never got a chance to finish the game.  It looks absolutely fantastic on the XB1, for whatever that’s worth, and it plays just as well as I remember it playing on the PC, so that’s really all that matters.

I’m close to the end of Ratchet & Clank, which has remained a very pleasant action platformer which eventually gets a little tedious and exhausting.  I’d like to finish it, but I won’t necessarily kill myself to get there.

Most of my gaming has been on the iPhone.  Before War Tortoise came along, I was heavily invested in Marvel Avengers Alliance 2, which is a free-to-play turn-based RPG with impressive production values and a rather enjoyable combat system.  I’ve also been addicted to Loop Mania, a rather deceptively simple arcade game that is easier seen than described.

2015: My Year in Games

It’s December 28 as I write these particular words, which means I’m beyond late in terms of getting this thing out the door.  And if I’m being honest, I should admit that I’ve barely started it.  Usually at this point I at least have my GoogleDoc template filled out with rough ideas of what I want to say, nominees for categories, etc., but it’s practically empty.  Indeed, it’s only because I’ve had to make some Top 10 lists for other people that I have even the slightest idea of what I might write here at all.

It’s hard for me to come to grips with this, but here it is:  my apathy towards games is starting to become less of an abstract threat and more like a very real thing.  I feel like I have more or less checked out in terms of keeping tabs on the “scene” as far as things like Twitter.  Nothing in my to-play pile is holding my interest.  I look at what I played this year and can only identify one true masterpiece, two better-than-expected games, two out-of-nowhere surprises, and the rest of my Top 10 is really just me scraping the barrel.  I look ahead to 2016 and while there’s certainly more than a few games I’m looking forward to, I can’t necessarily pick any that would cause me to call in sick.*


* For the record, the announced-for-2016 games that I’m looking forward to are as follows:

  • The Witness
  • XCOM 2 (especially if it eventually comes to consoles, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t)
  • Far Cry Primal (maybe?)
  • Uncharted 4 (though I worry that this game’s emphasis will be far more focused on action than exploration)
  • Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda (50/50 this comes out in 2016)
  • Crackdown 3 (see ME:A)
  • Dishonored 2
  • FF15 (50/50 for a 2016 release is very optimistic, I think)
  • Gears of War 4 (if only to give my Xbox One something to do)

What would I like to see in 2016?  I don’t even know.  I’d love to hear something about Red Dead Redemption 2, if only that it exists.  I’d obviously love to hear something about Portal 3, though that seems even less likely than Half Life 3.  I’m curious to know if the new Mass Effect will incorporate any save data from the original trilogy – if only in terms of the end-of-game state.  (This would also impact what platform I play it on, as I played the original trilogy twice on Xbox 360.)


In previous editions of this post, this would be the point where I’d spend a few thousand words recapping all the games I didn’t finish, all the games I barely started, all the games I consciously ignored; my favorite gameplay mechanic, my most irksome glitch.  But it’s too depressing to revisit some of that stuff, and in any event if I went through all the disappointments this post would be 10,000 words long, and not even I can bother with that sort of nonsense.  So I’m cutting to the chase.

I give 2015 a big fat “meh”, but – as with many things these days – I don’t know if that “meh” is directed at the games I played, or at myself for not getting into them.   In any event,  I humbly present my Top 10 Games of 2015.

10.  You Must Build A Boat (iOS)
An expansion on, and an excellent refinement of, the sliding-tile-based 10000000 from a few years back.  The recent addition of a new daily dungeon has brought this one back into my daily rotation.

9.  Alto’s Adventure (iOS)
I can’t speak for anyone else’s apathy as far as endless runners/scrollers go, but I’m still a fan of ’em; there’s a bunch more that came out this year that I still play regularly that didn’t make this list, actually.  Alto’s Adventure is a side-scrolling skiing game with an absolutely gorgeous graphical style and atmosphere, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten so terribly stuck on two of the three level goals at level 38; there’s still more to see and do, and I simply never got there.

8.  The Room Three (iOS)
I love the Room games; they’re magnificent showpieces for what mobile games are capable of.  More to the point, though, the puzzles are almost always fair; they might be tricky and obscure, but they ultimately make logical sense in order to proceed.  This edition is bigger and more complex than the previous two combined; I’ve only been able to solve one of the four endings, and the only reason why I’ve not been able to continue is that my iPhone’s low on available hard drive space.

7.  Lara Croft GO (iOS)
Yes, you read that correctly; this is the 4th iPhone game to appear in my top 10.  This is a puzzle game in the vein of Hitman GO, except that it’s a bit less frustrating to solve, and the art style is actually quite complementary to the Tomb Raider aesthetic.  I’m currently picking my way through the recently released DLC episode; it’s much trickier, but no less fun to work through.

6.  Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)
If this is the end of Rocksteady’s Batman run, they certainly did a bang-up job.  I’m not sure that anything will ever top their first one (Asylum), but I still had a great deal of fun with this one; I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I recall the common critical consensus indicated I would.  The introduction of the Batmobile was surprisingly great, even if I still preferred to grapple/wingsuit my way around the city.  And it looked absolutely stunning; the decision to stay current-gen only was clearly a good one.  (Well, maybe not as far as the PC was concerned, but that’s a different story.)  It was exhausting, eventually – I can’t claim to have come anywhere close to solving all of Riddler’s challenges, nor did I feel any desire to try – but everything else was quite satisfying.

5.  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4)
Here’s maybe the feel-good story of the year, as far as AAA development goes; fresh off the utter disaster of last year’s Unity, Syndicate turned out to be one of the best games in the whole franchise – and starred my favorite protagonist yet.  Evie Frye is a bad-ass, and more than redeemed her douchebag of a brother.  I should probably go back and check out that newly released Jack the Ripper DLC, actually…

4.  The Beginner’s Guide (PC)
I absolutely adored Davey Wedren’s Stanley Parable, and found this a uniquely compelling and emotionally involving follow-up.  To say more would spoil it; the game itself only takes about an hour or so to experience, and so I’d simply suggest you run out and pick it up.  (I’d also very strongly recommend picking up “Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist“, which is free and 20-minutes long and works as a very interesting companion piece to Beginner’s Guide, as it was created by one of the Stanley Parable’s other developers.  It too has quite a lot to say about game development, but from a much different angle.  Literally.)

3.  Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Like a lot of people I was initially irked that this was an Xbox-only release, especially since at the time of that announcement I hadn’t yet bought one.  All that said, I’ve grown to appreciate that the decision to concentrate development on one console was the correct decision; this game looks fantastic and runs incredibly smooth, and is an excellent showcase for what the Xbox One is capable of… even if I have no doubts that the eventual PS4 release will look even better.  Deeper analyses of the game’s narrative might reveal some unfortunate developments in terms of Lara’s character arc, but as far as the moment-to-moment experience of playing it I found it quite wonderful.  It’s got everything I like in these sorts of 3rd person action/adventure/exploration games, especially with regards to the exploration/combat ratio; I spent far more time exploring than killing, which is exactly how I like it.  (And which, as noted earlier, is why I’m more than a little nervous about Uncharted 4.)

2.  Rocket League (PS4)
The feel-good story of the year, bar none; this little indie game came out of nowhere and became one of the most addictive multiplayer experiences I’ve had since the days of Burnout 3.  There was a stretch earlier this summer when I could do nothing but play Rocket League; it didn’t matter whether I was good or not, even just touching the ball was fun in and of itself.  It’s been so long since I picked it up that I’m probably too rusty to be an effective teammate… but a lack of skill didn’t stop me from having a blast earlier this summer, either, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go back as soon as possible.

1.  The Witcher 3 (PS4)
This was hands down the best game I played in 2015, and maybe one of the best games I’ve played in years.  Hell, I should probably revisit my all-time top 10 and see if I can’t fit this one in somewhere.  I’d dallied about in the first two Witchers but wasn’t at all familiar with the world or the lore, and it hardly mattered; each and every character was incredibly well-written and presented, and nearly every mission and side-quest was interesting, no matter how small or trivial; the attention to detail is second to none.  This game scratched all the itches I had from Red Dead Redemption, and so if we’re not getting Red Dead Redemption 2 any time soon, this is as worthy a substitute as we’re likely to get; and if anything I might’ve enjoyed this one even more.  An absolute masterpiece, and without a doubt my favorite game of 2015.

 

Weekend Recap: Trials and Tribulations

This was an absolutely perfect weekend, weather-wise; it’s true that I’d settle for anything after the winter we’ve had, but this was a beauty, and we were able to enjoy it to its fullest.

Of course, now it’s Monday and I’m utterly exhausted.  But I’ll still consider the weekend a win.

There’s not a lot of gaming happening these days, though; the Vita’s (finally) in the shop, I’d already gotten 100% completion in Infamous Second Son, and my attempts at playing side missions in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes immediately reminded me why I kinda hate that series.  I’m kinda plugging away at Rayman Legends on the PS4, and it’s fun and charming and also frustratingly difficult – though at least it’s not as intolerable as, say, Dark Souls II.

The one thing I’m playing with any sort of intensity is Trials Frontier for iOS, which I’ve been playing pretty much non-stop since its release last week.  I’m a huge Trials fan anyway, and I’ve already pre-ordered Trials Fusion for the PS4 (which I think comes out tomorrow?), and I’m pleased to report that Trials works about as well as you can hope for on an iPhone.  New to the Trials experience is an actual narrative, which (surprisingly) isn’t terrible.  It looks gorgeous and feels pretty good – I mean, I do wish I was playing it with a controller, and I must admit that my thumbs are kinda mushed from pressing them so tightly against the iPhone screen, but it definitely works, and you can more or less do the things you need to do without too much difficulty.  That being said, I think I’ve started to reach that inevitable point in any Trials game where the things I need to do are just beyond my abilities, so… there’s that.

Other than that, it’s quiet.  I’m getting my iPad loaded up for my upcoming vacation, which is at the end of this week; I’ve got FTL ready to go, and Shadowrun, and a very cute and charming puzzler called CLARC, which I’ve played a few levels of on the iPhone already but which I’d like to see on the bigger screen.

Finally, my first post over at Gamemoir should be going up later today, which is pretty exciting.  More about that in a bit.

weekend recap: thrills and pills and headcolds

Not a lot of game-time this weekend; I caught a vicious headcold while in the middle of a double-feature at the movies on Saturday, and so I spent most of Sunday and Monday horizontal, with intermittent breaks for sneezing.

That being said, a few gaming-related items are worth mentioning:

1.  Before the movies on Saturday, I was more or less forced into buying an iPhone 5.  I tried as long as I could to wait until Apple announced the new model, but I couldn’t – not only were my apps struggling to work, but my 4 was missing calls and texts left and right.  (In fact, when my 5 was finally set up with my phone number, a flurry of voicemails appeared that I’d never seen before.)   The 5 has been around awhile, so this is probably old news  for most of you, but WOW – the difference between the 4 and the 5 is staggering.  Apps take almost no time at all to load, and the apps that are optimized for the 5 really show it.  On my 4, Temple Run 2 could barely hold a steady frame rate, but on the 5 it runs as smooth as silk and with lush textures and shadows and details that the 4 only hinted at.  (As I’m a fan of the endless runner genre, it’s very much appreciated to be able to play and know that any deaths are my own fault and not the fault of the phone.)

2.  Picked up The Swapper at some point over the weekend.  My cold kinda kept me from playing anything for more than 10 minutes at a time, but that worked out OK for the Swapper – I’d do a few puzzles and then switch it off.  It has a beautiful aesthetic – it actually reminds me a little bit of Little Big Planet – and the puzzle mechanics are novel and interesting.  Very eager to spend more time with it once my brain is up to the task.

3.  Played a few more missions of Call of Juarez Gunslinger.  As above, I could only really handle one mission at a time, but since most missions are around 10-20 minutes long, that was fine.  I’d stopped paying attention to the story and really just focused on getting through the levels, and that was fun enough.  Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek had called it a game for people who were sick of shooters, and I agree with that assessment – it mixes up the shooting formula enough to feel fresh and different.  I think he also mentioned that it reminded him of Bulletstorm, at least in terms of the scoring mechanic, and that’s absolutely spot-on.

4.  I succumbed to the Steam Sale and picked up Devil May Cry for 40% off.  I’d already beaten it on the 360 earlier this year, but I’d been finding myself thinking about it lately, and I was curious to see what it looked like on the PC.  It looks FANTASTIC on the PC, as it turns out, and it’s still as batshit crazy as I thought it was.  I made it to the beginning of the Upside-Down level, which I remember as being one of my favorites.

5.  I played about 10 minutes of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for the 3DS, and hated it.  Controls were floaty and imprecise, the difficulty was surprisingly high, and the graphics were a bit jaggy and ugly.  As this was one of the 3DS games I was most looking forward to this year, I’m calling this one a big disappointment.

hacked!

I haven’t been doing very much gaming lately – no, not even in Old Republic – so it took me a while to notice that my Gamerscore looked a little off.  I did a little poking around and, lo and behold, my Xbox Live account got hacked, and someone bought almost 3000 Points worth of FIFA12 DLC.  Spoke with customer service this morning, and the short version is that my account will be suspended for around 2 weeks while Microsoft conducts an investigation; when that’s over, my account will be reinstated and I’ll hopefully get my Points refunded.

Kind of a bummer, right?  Not that I’ve been doing a lot of online gaming ever, but still – that’s kind of messed up.

In the meantime, yeah – not a lot of gaming happening.  I’m stuck on a boss in TOR and haven’t felt inclined to grind my way past it.  I’ve mostly been playing the shit out of two iPhone games:  Muffin Knight and Run Roo Run, and if I had the time I’d devote some Subway Gamer columns to them.   They’re both fun, though, is the thing.

I’ve also been continuing to build the hell out of my Tiny Tower; I’m up to 126 floors and the other day I went a little OCD-insane and renamed each business to include the floor number and its number of happy employees.  I did this because, well, when you have 126 floors, finding things is very tedious, and I’ve basically removed the endless searching from the equation.  Now, whenever I move a new bitizen into the building, I can immediately tell if their dream job is available.  I can also tell if I’m able to complete a mission just from seeing the names of the necessary companies.  Again, this is kind of insane, and I’m well aware of that, but, I mean, if you’re similarly addicted to Tiny Tower you would definitely appreciate this kind of insanity.

iPhone’d

I finally bought an iPhone this weekend.

I had been hoping to wait until the iPhone 5’s inevitable launch this summer, but I couldn’t; my Droid, already on its last legs, started acting up to an even more unusual degree towards the end of last week, and so my want of the iPhone turned into a sincerely genuine need for a working phone.

I’d already been rocking an iPod Touch for the last 6 months, thought, so I already knew what I was getting into, more or less – hell, I’d accumulated over 10 gigs of apps and the Touch itself was only an 8 gig machine.  As you can well imagine, the Touch was on a steady rotation of apps and music, and so when I plugged my iPhone up to my Mac yesterday, it was a nice surprise to see all these apps that I’d forgotten about (or just put to the side).

In any event, the iPhone 4 is, as everyone already knows, a remarkable device, and it’s something of a relief for me to finally be reduced to just one gadget for walking around – my phone, my music, my camera and my games are all in one pocket.

And I should also say that having an iPhone has pretty much killed any and all curiosity that I might have had for the 3DS, my last post’s skepticism notwithstanding.

>feast or famine

>I can’t remember the last time I had so much good stuff to play, all at the same time.  It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m not complaining.  AT ALL.

We covered Rock Band 3 and Fable 3 on Friday; RB3 is still excellent, and F3 is maybe not as excellent but certainly absorbing.  It’s very easy to get sidetracked, which is sort of the point, and even though it feels incredibly artificial and “game-y”, it’s the sort of thing where you get used to that feeling pretty quickly, and it ceases being a concern.

I finished the first mission or two in the Red Dead Redemption Zombie DLC; man, that game continues to be awesome.  I’ve had RDR flip-flopping with Mass Effect 2 as my Game of the Year pretty much since the get-go, but RDR seems like it’s the more complete package, at this point.  Every time I fire it up I’m immediately back in the swing of things.

My Gamefly copy of Kirby’s Big Yarn finally arrived, and it’s as charming and adorable as can be.  My wife is very much into crafting, and she took a shine to the art design immediately; I’m hoping I can get her to play it.
 
Your mileage will vary depending on your predilection towards video pinball, but if you’re in any way inclined towards it, I would highly recommend FXPinball 2, which took up a number of idle hours this weekend.  For my money, it’s the best home pinball solution outside of actually owning a machine.

And I finally caved and bought Game Dev Story for my iPod Touch.  I’m generally not one for these kinds of simulation games, or really any kind of sim game, but I’d heard too much good stuff about this one to ignore, and lo and behold, it’s totally sucked me in.  VosstonVisions is about 4 years in, now, and while we’d like to get beyond ninja adventure games, we’re starting to make some money.  Highly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

>so much candy

>Here, let me blow the dust off of this blog and see if it’s still working.

/kicks tires

OK!

Has it really been a month since the last update?  That’s just wrong.  I’m trying to recall where the time went, exactly, or if there was some pressing reason why I’ve not been over here.  Truth is, it’s felt a little slow, games-wise.  I’ve played several games to completion, and acquired an iPod Touch, and yet there hasn’t really been anything that’s made me say, “That does it, I’m blogging today.”  I’m writing today because, well, why not.

If my GoogleDoc is to be believed, here’s what I’ve played since the last post, wherein I was obsessed with Civilization V.

  • DeathSpank 2: Thong of Virtue.  In spite of the first game’s faults (repetitive, mindless item fetching), I loved the hell out of it, and was eagerly looking forward to more.  Sadly, this sequel suffers from a lot of I’ve been seeing this year, where it’s basically more of the same, but it’s no longer fresh or exciting.  I finished it, but whereas I played the first game to 100% completion, I’ve still got a ton of side quests to do, and I don’t care enough to do them.
  • Dead Rising 2.  I was hoping that the game had changed enough so that I could try to get through it; alas, I died about 20 minutes in and knew that I didn’t have it in me.  I understand why someone might get really into this franchise; the game is designed in a very specific, deliberate way that seems completely insane unless you submit to it, and I know that I don’t have the patience to bother.
  • Enslaved.  This came out of nowhere to become one of my favorite titles of the year.  I had a vicious headcold when this came out, and ended up spending my day of sick leave huddled up on my couch, plowing through it more or less in one go.  Definitely reminded me of Uncharted 2, which is a great thing.  Probably the best and most convincing facial animation I’ve ever seen – the relationship between the 2 lead characters is totally believable and real and palpable.  
  • Castlevania: LoS.  Fuck this game.  I’m not necessarily a Castlevania fanboy; I like the games, when they’re good, but that’s more or less it.  That being said, there’s nothing about this game (at least as far as I got) that has ANYTHING to do with the Castlevania franchise as I understand it.  It is a God of War clone through and through, with frustrating controls and combat.  It’s true that it has a gorgeous graphics engine, but it’s 2010 – if I can’t have complete control over the camera, I get angry.  Especially since the camera is, generally speaking, miles away from the action, making it difficult to see my dude; also, it’s incredibly annoying when my dude gets hit by enemies that are off-screen, “under” the camera.  I stopped midway through the “Lycan” area, and I’ll tell you why:  there’s this one section where you have to tame this giant rat beast, which enables you to ride it and jump over huge gaps.  I tamed the rat, jumped it over the gaps, and then got to this weird ledge area and couldn’t seem to find anywhere to go, so I killed the rat.  ONLY THEN did the game tell me that I needed the rat to climb up the suddenly-blinking vine.  Which meant that I had to go back to the rat-taming arena, which was suddenly easy to do since all the gaps were jumpable by my puny human legs.  This means that the game specifically intended me to have to do this fucking thing twice.  Fuck this game.
  • Costume Quest.  I just finished this over the weekend, actually.  It pains me to say this, but Double Fine has not yet made a truly great game.  They make incredible worlds, with great characters speaking hilarious dialogue, and they tell great stories, but the game part is the part that can feel like the last thing they thought of.  CQ gets past this by at least being relatively short, which makes the repetitive RPG-lite combat not terribly annoying.  And the rest of the game is relentlessly charming and adorable and laugh-out-loud funny.  I especially loved the Arrested Development reference in the 3rd act.
  • Super Meat Boy.  It is doubtful that I will ever finish this game, as it is beastly difficult.  But it’s also fiendishly addictive.

As mentioned above, I also bought one of the new models of iPod Touch.  I’ve been coveting the iPhone for years now, but as a Verizon customer I’ve had to bite the bullet and find other ways of having touchscreen smartphone goodness.  I’ve enjoyed my Droid, but it’s getting old and slow and the battery drains alarmingly quickly, even if I don’t use it; but I need my apps!  So I got one of the 8gb models and I’ve already gone nuts; I’ve got 32 games, plus a ton of camera apps.  Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are fun, sure, but the two games that have sucked the majority of my time are Sword & Poker 2 and Helsing’s Fire.  S&P2 is kinda like Puzzle Quest in that it’s an RPG fought over puzzles, but instead of being a Bejeweled clone it’s got a poker theme.  And Helsing’s Fire… I don’t know how to describe it, except that it uses the touch screen in an ingenious way, and it’s awesome.

I feel like I ought to start prepping for my year-end recap, although there are some notable titles left on my to-play list.  I accidentally ordered the PS3 version of Fallout: New Vegas, and so I sent it back; I’d like to play it eventually, but I can wait until it gets patched.  (And, frankly, I played a little Fallout 3 a few weeks ago just to check it out again, and that game feels positively ancient.)  Fable 3 arrives tomorrow.  I’m feeling aggressively ambivalent about Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, although I felt the same about AC2 and that game ended up being incredible.  I need to play Kirby.  I am curious about Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2, and I am unusually jazzed about the 360 version of NBA Jam.  And I’d like to hope for the best for Epic Mickey

And then I suppose I can get on with the recap.