Tag: oddworld

On Baby Driver and Crash Bandicoot

I’ve got nothing bad to say about 4-day weekends.  We had a wonderful time – plenty of quality poolside time, plenty of quality family time, and on Monday, with the kid at day care, the wife and I went to see Baby Driver in the theater.

I’d have to think about it for a little while to come up with a definitive list, but I think I can say that Baby Driver is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in the theater in many, many years.  Now, it’s true that since the kid was born we haven’t been able to go to the movies as much as we used to – especially when we were living in Astoria and could take a nice leisurely stroll to the local cineplex – but that being said, I’d still be hard-pressed to think of another film that was that much fun.

I admit that I’m biased; I’ve been a huge fan of Edgar Wright ever since Spaced and I’ll see anything and everything he’s involved with.  But even with these impossibly high expectations, I wasn’t prepared to lose myself so thoroughly inside it.  It’s the best movie he’s made, and I sincerely hope that it makes enough money to let him keep making the films he wants to make.

The plot of Baby Driver is paper-thin, and if you think about it for more than 30 seconds you’ll find a whole bunch of nonsense.  But that’s not the point.  The point of this movie isn’t its story, or even its characters – the point of this movie is the experience that the movie creates for you.  It is exciting and moving and spectacular and quiet and every single frame of film serves a purpose – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie with this much self-contained momentum before.  (Possibly Mad Max: Fury Road, though that’s a different sort of experience.)  This film exists to entertain all the corners of your mind.


Not all nostalgia is created equally.  This is especially true when it comes to old video games.  Very often the memories we have of something – a game, a book, a film, a friend – obscure the true nature of what those things actually were.

I’ve said here before that I went through two big video game phases in my life; the first was from age 5 to 17, when I was still living at home and had access to my Atari 2600 and my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and the second was after I’d graduated college and was hanging out at my co-worker’s apartment almost every night after work, getting smashed and playing Oddworld and Crash Bandicoot on his PS1.

The Oddworld remake that came out last year is a wonderful thing.  It keeps what made the original game so entertaining – the puzzles, the sound design, the characters – and the graphical improvements simply make the game better.  The game still fundamentally works, though, is the key – for a 2.5D platformer/side scroller, it did what it did remarkably well and it still holds up because it’s still a unique experience.

The Crash Bandicoot games?  That’s a different story altogether.  I loved the experience of playing these games back in 1998-2000, but that could very well have been to the company, the music, and the relative levels of sobriety.  I am very grateful to have these remakes back in my life, and I can say that they are… hmm… faithful to the originals, and certainly the graphics are much improved, but… um… I’m not so sure these games are as great as I thought they were.  They’re certainly a lot harder than I remember them being; I can barely get through the very first level without wiping out a dozen times.  A number of people asked a variation of the same question on Twitter:  Were these games always this hard, or do we just suck at playing them now?  (As it turns out, it’s a little bit of both.)

Truth be told, the appeal of these games doesn’t really translate as well as I’d hoped.  My 4-year-old was excited to try these games out, and I gleefully handed him the controller and watched him die, and die, and die again, and as he got frustrated I’d take over for him and I’d die, and die, and die again, and we both got frustrated and decided to do something else.  It’s a bit of a bummer, I’m afraid.

The First Few Hours: Ratchet and Clank (ps4)

[Note:  I will be on vacation next week, but unlike last week this is a for-real vacation, in a warm and sunny climate with beach access and a full Kindle and nothing on my to-do list.]

After dozens and dozens of hours in The Division‘s freezing wasteland of post-apocalyptic NYC, and a few more hours in the sci-fi nonsense of Quantum Break, I can’t help but note how refreshing it is to be playing the new Ratchet and Clank, a game where there’s more color in one scene than there is in both of those other games combined.

I have a very soft spot for action platformers, is the thing.  Even in the absence of a Nintendo-filled childhood, I am an avid fan of the genre.  Give me your Crash Bandicoot, your Rayman (2), even your Voodoo Vince.  There is a lack of self-seriousness in these games that is so goddamned refreshing; yes, you might have to kill some monsters here and there, but it’s never upsetting in the way that shooting is.  In R&C, I can fire up a disco ball that gets all my enemies dancing, and then I can blast them with my Pixelator gun, turning them all into dozens of 8-bit sprites that brilliantly explode into hundreds of nuts and bolts upon a solid whack of Ratchet’s wrench.  It is endlessly satisfying.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played an R&C game before, to be honest.  I think there might’ve been a PS3 title that I rented for a few hours, but I might be confusing that with a Jak and Daxter game:  in any event, I am given to understand that this new R&C game is a complete re-building/re-booting of the original, much in the same way that Oddworld rebuilt Abe’s Oddysee into New & Tasty.  As such, I suppose I can see that there are certain elements of the game’s design that might feel a bit antiquated, but I can forgive those sorts of things very easily; beyond the game’s ridiculous good looks (I’ve heard R&C games feel like “playing a Pixar movie”, and even after only a few hours I totally get it), it’s just a joy to play.  And it does feel very much like “play”; it does not feel like “work”.  Even going back to earlier areas to find hidden stuff with newly-acquired gadgetry doesn’t feel like grinding; I’m just happy to be out and about.

 

The First Few Hours: Oddworld New n’ Tasty

The Oddworld franchise holds a very special place in my heart, if only for the fact that it’s what got me back into gaming after a very lengthy hiatus.  I probably wouldn’t be writing these very words on this very website if I hadn’t gotten so obsessed with it, to be honest.  The Oddworld franchise is why I bought an Xbox instead of a PS2, and this New & Tasty HD remake of the original Abe’s Oddysee is one of the primary reasons why I currently own a PS4.

I’m going to be writing a longer appreciation of the Oddworld franchise for next Monday’s Gamemoir column; this post is, instead, about how this thing actually plays.

While I knew that I was buying it from the moment it was first announced, I can’t honestly say I knew what to expect.  And quite frankly, I was more than a bit nervous about playing it again.  This is a game that I haven’t stopped thinking about – or played – since 1998, and I was worried that my overly fond memories would obscure the quality of the game itself.

Let me say, right off the bat, that this HD remake is, as far as I’m concerned, the gold standard in terms of what I want in an HD remake.  This is no mere up-res with cleaner textures; the whole goddamned thing has been rebuilt in a new engine.   The game is no longer a panel-by-panel experience, but rather a free-flowing one.  There’s new voice work, there’s new animation, there’s new everything.  Even the cutscenes – which were rivaled maybe only by Final Fantasy VII in terms of sheer visual splendor – have been remade, and for the better.

And yet:  this is still Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, through and through.  This is still a maddeningly difficult puzzler, requiring a mastery of both physical and verbal dexterity, and even with the many added improvements (including the much-needed quicksave), it is a game where you will repeatedly and endlessly fail, often in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

It is very pleasing to see that my love of the game is not misplaced.

My only real gripe is that of the aforementioned quicksave.  It’s a necessary feature that is somewhat clumsily designed.  On the PS4, you tap the touchpad to Save, and you hold it to Load.  That being said, even if you quicksave during a particularly tricky platforming sequence, you will automatically respawn at the last checkpoint, not at the last manual quicksave; you will then need to hold the touchpad in order to spawn where you actually intended.  Not only that, but there were numerous times last night where I’d get to a safe place in a particularly tricky gauntlet and so I’d emphatically press the touchpad, thinking I’d quicksaved, only to see that I held the pad down just long enough to actually quickload, meaning I’d have to do the whole thing over again.

The aforementioned difficulty, by the way, is no joke.  It starts hard and only gets harder, and it’s somewhat selective in terms of the information that it doles out.  For example, I’d completely forgotten that I could possess enemies by chanting until I was midway through the second chapter; this very well might be why I somehow missed a bunch of secret rooms and thus sending 42 of Abe’s buddies to their doom when I inadvertently started Chapter 2.

That’s the part of the game that’s still very pleasantly intact, though.   This game encourages empathy like no other game I’ve ever played.  I wanted to save all 299 Mudokons when I played it back in the day, and I want to save them all now; they’re sweet and charming and I felt terrible seeing how many I’d missed, realizing that I’d somehow failed to check every nook and cranny in that opening chapter.  (For the record, back in the day I also tried doing the true negative karma thing and get them all killed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I’m sure there’s a Trophy/Achievement for it now, but it’s something I have no intention of pursuing.)

I’m really just grateful to have Abe back in my life.  (And I’m really looking forward to the Vita version, because this game is an absolutely perfect fit for it.)  And I’m also glad to see that my son is taken by Abe as well.

Weekend Recap: Destiny, Sword & Poker

Firstly, some housekeeping:  I wrote an essay for the most recent issue of Unwinnable Weekly.  I’m a big fan of Unwinnable, and I helped to fund their Kickstarter, and to be featured in their pages is kind of a dream come true.  It’s not available for free, so I can’t pass out any links, but it’s a great magazine and worth your $$ if you’re into terrific writing about games and comics and such.

Secondly, today’s Gamemoir column is about something I’ve talked about at great length here – about hoping that games will find a way to evolve past the act of shooting things.  And I say all this as someone who played the hell out of the Destiny beta this weekend, too.

Speaking of which: my understanding is that the Destiny beta is temporarily offline for the next few days while they clean up some stuff and get it ready for the Xbox side of things.  This is fine; I could probably use a break.  (Especially since Oddworld: New & Tasty comes out on Tuesday!)

I got my lady Titan to level 8, and got a dude Warlock up to level 3.  Dabbled a little bit in the Crucible (aka the multiplayer), but I am profoundly terrible at online shooting; all I’m really good for is to help neutralize/capture control points and maybe wheedle off someone’s health a little bit before getting destroyed.

The singleplayer, though, is fantastic.  Narrative quibbles and Peter Dinklage’s lackluster performance aside, I am totally, utterly hooked.  And running through difficult gauntlets with strangers is surprisingly easy and fun, and those massive player events (where an overpowered enemy suddenly appears in an open-access area) can be exhilarating to pull off; it makes me wish there was an option for giving high-fives.  (As of now, you can dance, point and wave.)

I don’t know that they’re going to be adding any more single-player content to the beta; I wish they would, but I understand why they wouldn’t.  I suspect most people will be playing the Crucible stuff long after they finish the game (or, rather, before they even start it), and making sure the Crucible works is more than likely the beta’s primary reason for existing, so… I may take the opportunity to get all three classes fully leveled, because it’s still fun to go through that stuff, and I think that there’ll be some tangible benefit in doing so when the final retail version is available in September.

In other news, Sword & Poker is back in a big way on iOS.  On the one hand, this is terrific news; I was (and still am) a huge fan of the first two games.  And why not?  An RPG where the combat mechanic is to make the best 5-card poker hand?  Absolutely.  Those first two games have been in and out of the iTunes store over the last few years, leading some of us to wonder if they’d ever return with a sequel; now our wishes have been granted.  Retina graphics, all new weapons and enemies and a customizable magic system!  This is all great, right?

Except… it’s a free-to-play model, and the in-game purchases are gross, and grossly overpriced, and the customizable magic system is a sham, and the whole thing is depressing as hell.  I’m still addicted to it, and I even paid to get rid of the energy timer (because OF COURSE there’s an energy timer, because when I get going with S&P I can’t put it down), and so I feel tremendous shame.  It’s hard to recommend unless you are a true and depraved addict like me.

This week:  Oddworld on Tuesday!  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

The Summer Doldrums Continue

At the end of my last post (has it really been 8 days since the last one?) I’d said that I was going away for the long weekend, and that I didn’t know how much gaming I’d be doing.  As it turns out, I’ve played almost nothing.

(I’ve been reading a lot, though!  I think I’m finally at that stage of parenting where I’m not totally exhausted all of the time, and so I’ve been plowing through books lately.  Finished the first 2 books of Carsten Stroud’s Niceville trilogy (pretty good), and am currently about halfway through Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box which is freaking me the fuck out.  He is very much an apple that has not fallen far from the tree, and that is one fucked-up tree.)  

I had hoped to finish A Story About My Uncle before leaving, but I got stuck in a particularly tricky section towards the end.  I tried picking it back up when we got back, though, and I made literally no progress, and instead just got more and more frustrated, and now I think I’m done with it.  Looking at certain Steam comment threads, I’m clearly not the only one who got stuck in this particular area, and so while there is obviously a light at the end of this tunnel, I’m not at all inclined to find my way out.  I’m stuck because this particular puzzle represents a rather sharp difficulty spike requiring mastery of a skill I’ve just been introduced to (i.e., swinging from falling stalagmites), and the incredibly dark lighting makes it very difficult to pick up targets – plus there’s a feeling of inconsistency in terms of how far away a target is.  The short version is that this particular platforming gauntlet is frustrating for all the wrong reasons, and that’s annoying, and now I don’t care if I finish the game or not.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at my backlog and feeling wholly unmotivated to go through it.  And there’s a bunch of stuff that I really ought to get back into, considering the current release drought we’re in – Transistor and Valiant Hearts immediately come to mind as PS4 titles I’ve picked up and put down.  Given that Oddworld: New & Tasty comes out in 2 weeks, I really ought to finish at least one of those before getting wrapped back up in Abe’s Oddysee.  As for my Steam Sale purchases, I may give the Ada chapter of Resident Evil 6 a look.

In other news, I’ve been going back and forth about getting an Xbox One.  I keep turning on my 360 every morning hoping to see this message about receiving a $75 credit if I upgrade, because I almost certainly would upgrade with that kind of incentive.  And yet it must be noted that I – a loyal, happy original Xbox and Xbox 360 customer – shouldn’t need to be so blatantly bribed in order to upgrade; and even if I went out and bought one today, I’m still not sure what I’d play on it (besides maybe Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection, none of which are available right this very minute).

And that’s basically that, folks.  I’ll have a new Gamemoir column up on Monday, and I need to get cracking on my piece for Videodame that got put on the shelf back in May.  I’ll also have an essay in an upcoming issue of Unwinnable Weekly that I’m pretty happy about; more details on that as they emerge.

weekend recap – a much better ending

The big news is that I finished the Borderlands 2 campaign.  Ended at  level 33; put in approximately 40 hours.  Did a lot of the sidequests, but not all of them; it’s a little exhausting, frankly.   And yet, it must be said that it’s a tremendous game, vastly improved over the first – and especially as far as the ending is concerned.  I am torn between starting over in True Vault Hunter mode (which makes the game harder, but where you get much better loot), or starting over with a new character (I’m intrigued by the Siren and the Gunzerker).  I may very well decide to take a break from it, however – it’s a lot of fun in short bursts, but over the course of a long marathon it becomes a little tedious and I end up running to my next objective instead of shooting my way through.

I’ve been struggling to determine the game’s pleasure loop – the thing that keeps me so engaged and eager to press on.  Yes, there’s tons of loot, and there isn’t a single empty crate in the game, and I’d easily say that the ratio of usable loot to trash was far better than the year’s other loot-heavy game, Diablo 3, where I’d spend literally dozens of hours before finding something worth swapping out (although it should be noted that the Auction House played a large factor in that particular instance – I found far better stuff in the AH than I ever did in the game).  But loot is, ultimately, junk – there’s so much of it that it ceases to mean anything after a while, and money eventually becomes no object.  (Which is handy, since I died repeatedly during the final gauntlet – the one right before the final boss, the one that ends with a gigantic Constructor bot – so much so that I ended up losing over $20,000 in resurrection fees.)  The actual shooting itself is fun, although reloading is still a bitch.  The story isn’t terribly engrossing, though it should be noted that the characters are really well written and acted.   I suppose I’m drawn to the exploration of the world – and what a huge and varied world it is – although the game threw so many enemies at me that I never felt that I had the time to truly savor every nook and cranny.

(Honestly?  I’m kinda wanting to go back and re-explore Skyrim on my PC, now that it’s been almost a year since I last played it and don’t really remember everything about it.)

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I also dabbled a little more in Torchlight 2.  It’s… OK.  It’s very hard to not constantly compare it to Diablo 3.  And while I had my problems with D3 – especially in terms of how choppy and laggy that game could be – it can’t be denied that D3 looked fantastic, and (when it ran smoothly) it felt fantastic.  T2 is a far smoother experience than D3, which is very much to its credit, but… well… left/right clicking doesn’t seem to pack the same sort of punch.  It also – and I hate saying this – looks cheap.  Like a top-down World of Warcraft, except somehow with less clarity.  (My PC isn’t a screaming graphics machine, but it’s not shabby, either, and I’m running it with everything turned way, way up.)  I’m not doubting the game’s credentials, or diminishing the work that went into it – Lord knows I loved the hell out of the first game and was eagerly awaiting the sequel – but it feels like a budget title (which, lo and behold, is how it’s priced).  I need (and want) to spend more time with it, of course, both offline and on, before making up my mind; it just makes an underwhelming first impression, I guess, which is a little disappointing.

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Also finally tried the XCOM Enemy Unknown demo; oh man.  OH MAN.   Did the very first mission – the ultra-tutorial – and didn’t even do the base stuff before logging off and keeping the rest unspoiled.  I am READY.  (I played it with a 360 controller instead of mouse/keyboard; still felt like a true, solid experience, and it looked great on my PC.)

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Finally, I must pass along this pre-alpha footage, released over the weekend, of the forthcoming HD remake of Abe’s Oddysee.  I don’t know that I’ve written all that much about the Oddworld games recently, but the short version is that while I’d always been into videogames, I more or less stopped playing altogether between 1993 and, say, 1998 or so – the college years.  I grew up with an Atari 2600, and then played a lot of my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and that was pretty much it for me until a work colleague bought a PS1 and the Oddworld games (alongside Crash Bandicoot and a Cool Boarders game, I think).  The Oddworld games immediately brought me back into the fold – they were intelligent, they were funny, they were absolutely gorgeous, and they were fun to play with a friend – tossing the controller back and forth after each death, trying to figure out each new dastardly puzzle.  And so looking at this remake – the developers would call it a reimagining, anyway – is making me all sorts of giddy.  Those first two Oddworld games hold a very special place in my heart, and seeing them get this sort of loving treatment for a new audience makes me very happy indeed.  I’m especially intrigued at the change of getting rid of the screen-by-screen design in lieu of a fluid, continual level – back in the old days, one of the ways of fixing a tricky puzzle was simply to step back into the last screen, thereby resetting the next one.  What they’ve done here is changed the enemy AI so that if they’re alarmed, they’ll go on a short alert, then go back to their predefined state, rather than simply resetting (since that’s now impossible).   Anyway, check out the footage – it looks fantastic.

>R&C; Duke; Tiger

>1. My wife was out of town this weekend, which gave me full reign over the living room and all the creature comforts therein, and so I had my first real gaming marathon in quite some time. It was as good an opportunity as any to milk the Fable II Pub Games exploit for all it’s worth before it got fixed (and, honestly, after several hours with it, that’s pretty much all it’s good for), and I finally got to finish Braid. (I did end up using a walkthrough for 2 or 3 puzzle pieces, mostly to confirm that I was on the right track – only one puzzle really, truly stumped me.)

But the bulk of my time was actually spent reminding my PS3 that it can play games, and thus taking care of some unfinished business with respect to Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction; and by “unfinished business”, I mean I’d barely started it before I put it down in lieu of… oh, I don’t know, it was so long ago -probably MGS4.

Having never played an R&C title before (aside from a few minutes with the PSP iteration), I was pretty well satisfied with the whole experience; it’s actually genuinely amusing in places (although it does try awfully hard), and the gameplay is pretty solid. I do recall, when I’d put it down the first time, being a bit overwhelmed with all the weapons and gadgets – I think most of my initial combat time was simply spent hitting enemies with my wrench, which shows you how little I know. But soon I was getting the hang of it, and the game was easy enough that I eventually just concentrated on upgrading and levelling up 3 or 4 main weapons, and throwing out a disco ball every so often. Graphically, it’s pretty fantastic, although it’s still obviously a first-generation PS3 game; I am very curious to try out the new downloadable episode to see if there’s a discernable difference. And I may even continue through a second playthrough in the Challenge Mode, just to see if I can get to some of the places I was unable to get to earlier.

2. In an earlier post, I talked a bit about the Oddworld series and how it got me back into console gaming. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention my extreme love of Duke Nukem 3D, which I was obsessed with whenever I was home from college and I could get my younger brother’s computer to work. My brother had gotten the shareware version of DN3D from our brother-in-law-to-be, so I’m not even sure I’ve seen the whole single-player game, but what I have seen, I’ve seen A LOT. Anyway, it looks like it’s arriving on XBLA a lot sooner than I’d anticipated, and I’m very, very, very excited.

3. Tiger Woods 09 comes out today, and after playing the demo, I’m fully on board this time around. The franchise peaked for me with either ’03 or ’04, and every game since then has been more and more depressingly mediocre. Tiger 08 was incredibly annoying, with glitchy controls and the same goddamned courses I’ve already played a zillion times, and I swore I’d stay away from the franchise forever, but the improvements that are featured in the demo specifically address all the things that drove me crazy in the past. You no longer enhance your attributes by arbitrary clothing choices; you get better by getting better, which is an innovation that maybe should’ve been picked up on a little sooner than this. For experienced Tiger players (like me), you are only as good as you actually are, so you can start the game without having gimped stats as in years past. The challenge, then, is not to max up your stats, but to keep them maxed by playing at a consistently excellent level, which is (1) a well-intentioned shift in philosophy, and (2) a great incentive to keep playing. Even better is the club tuner feature, which (hopefully) will correct the problems in last year’s game with respect to the controls; you can auto-correct problems in your swing with reasonable trade-offs in performance (i.e., you can increase the size of the sweet spot at the expense of distance). I was waiting for reviews to come in before picking this up, but I already have over $100 in credit at Gamestop and so I might as well take the plunge.