What I’ve Been Playing: February 2019 Edition
Impressions and thoughts on the games I’ve played during the month of February, 2019.
Just a friendly bear who works in financial reporting that would rather be playing, writing or talking about video games. https://twitch.tv/unexpectedenemy
Impressions and thoughts on the games I’ve played during the month of February, 2019.
While February is a short month, it’s also an extremely busy time of the year for me. As I mentioned in my January post, due to my field of work, the first quarter of the year severely hampers my ability to play games. February is when my season hits its stride, so it’s probably the one month out of the year where I barely accomplish anything gaming-related (next to March). With that said, despite my reservations and general resistance to mobile gaming, I’ve found that playing certain games on my phone during my downtime at work is the only opportunity I have to even attempt to finish a game from my backlog. I’m also going to rate each mobile game based on how well suited they are for discreet work-play (please don’t tell my boss!). So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve been playing!
Monument Valley, developed by Ustwo Games, is an isometric, minimalist puzzle game for mobile devices. Players must guide a nondescript figure through a series of monuments in order to reach their goal. To accomplish this, one must manipulate each object by twisting and turning certain pieces in order to solve perception-based puzzles. At times, Monument Valley feels like an interactive, abstract painting due to its colorful palate and mysterious undertones. There’s a light story being told here as well, but it’s delivered in cryptic messages between levels, which drives the little narrative that’s there forward. While I completed the game a year or two ago, I never did finish its DLC, the Forgotten Shores and IDA’s Dream. I decided to replay the original content in addition to the DLC and after a few short sessions at work, I completed everything there was to do and unlocked all of the achievements, too.
Its sequel, Monument Valley 2 (MV2), feels like more of the same, yet it presents a much stronger narrative this time around. MV2 appears to be telling the story of a parental figure and a child as they explore the monuments that lie before them. There’s a more cinematic approach to the stage design, as well as a few dramatic set-pieces sprinkled throughout the levels. In general, both MV titles have been the perfect games to play at work. In-between my work responsibilities, I would find myself looking down at my phone, studying the landscape, making a few moves and pondering the next solution to the stage, all the while listening to its relaxing, ambient music (composed by the wonderful Todd Baker). Both MV titles have quickly become some of my favorite mobile games and I’d pick-up ports of these two classics on the Nintendo Switch in a heartbeat!
Monument Valley 1 & 2 / On-the-Job \ Recommended!
Both Monument Valley 1 & 2 are the perfect games to play at work, especially if you have an office/desk job (like me!). Put some headphones on (if you’re allowed) and drown at the noise of your co-workers while you listen to relaxing, ambient music. I was able to manage my daily responsibilities while occasionally looking down at my phone to make my next move. Whether it was a simple rotation to change the perspective of the monument or a tap of the screen to move the little-guy towards its next destination, MV 1 & 2 are quintessential at-work games!
The Room, developed by Fireproof Games, is a single-screen, point & tap puzzle game where the goal is to unlock the secrets to a Jigsaw-like box. The game takes place in an undisclosed location and the box you’re trying to unlock sits suspiciously in the attic of what appears to be an abandoned house. Who you are playing as is unclear at first, however, the game slowly unfolds its story as the player progresses. While there’s an extremely light narrative told through the usage of notes scattered about the box, the core of the game is that of an extremely dense puzzle-simulator. Players can swipe the screen to rotate their perspective while zooming in/out of the box in order to solve the various puzzles that lie before them. I liken the whole experience to one big Resident Evil (RE) puzzle. Similar to the classic RE games, the player can examine, inspect and rotate keys and other objects to solve riddles. I’ve attempted to complete the game for a few years now and I always get stuck/sidetracked, but I’m determined to see it to its conclusion this time.
The Room / On-the-Job \ Recommended!
Not to be mistaken by the best/worst movie of all time (The Room), The Room is well-suited for the day-to-day office-life doldrums. Similar to both Monument Valley games, The Room is also a low-key, idle-at-my-desk phone application. I found myself looking down at my phone, studying the box and its contraptions (while listening to the ambient sounds and creepy floor squeaks) only to find myself becoming lost in my work while thinking of the next solution. Highly recommended if you consider yourself an expert ponderer of things!
Having finally played through and enjoyed Onion Game’s Black Bird last month, I immediately looked-up their prior releases to see what they may have worked on before. Little did I know that they were responsible for two of the most quirky, yet irresistibly charming mobile games I’ve ever played. Both Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada & Million Onion Hotel (along with Black Bird) appear to be a part of some strange unofficial onion-verse (a term I have coined, thank you), as reoccurring characters, sprites and strange undertones appear and are present throughout all three games.
Dandy Dungeon is one-half game-dev simulator, another half dungeon crawler and one big existential crisis! The game portrays the life of an up & coming programmer who, in his spare time, codes his very own indie game (alone in his apartment dressed in nothing but a pair of boxers mind you) in order to win the affection of his neighbor. It’s quirky, weird, yet extremely charming. The game itself is a pseudo rouge-like RPG in the same vein as say Spike Chunsoft’s Shiren the Wanderer or Namco’s Tower of Druaga. Based on the experiences Yamada has with his friends, neighbors and co-workers, he will implement new ideas into his game, which bring about new gameplay mechanics when venturing into the game’s numerous dungeons. There are also extremely funny, well-written scenes between each stage that pushes the charming, yet sometimes creepy story forward.
The dungeons are comprised of single-screen floors, which must be navigated by tracing a line and creating a path across the tiles with your finger. If the player manages to route a path through the floor in one-fell swoop, they’ll receive a bonus at the end of the dungeon, too. Combat is also turn-based and the player can arm themselves with equipment (of which can be upgraded with materials) and items they procure from each level. For a simple mobile game, there’s a surprising amount of depth and given that its online functionalities have been disabled at the time of writing this, the game’s kind of beginning to be ported to a new platform. Well, we’re in luck! Dandy Dungeon is coming to the Nintendo Switch (presumably with all of its online functionality in tact), so there’s no excuse not to support Yamada and his humble journey for love, recognition and fortune.
Onion Hotel, on the other hand, is a very hard game to describe. Although I’m relatively unfamiliar with the sub-genre, glorified tapper-games (or what are commonly known as “clickers”), have been prevalent on the mobile scene for quite some time. Onion Hotel is another point & tap game where the goal is to clear screens in a timely manner while maximizing your score. It sounds simple at first, but there’s actually a ton of nuance and depth available for those who choose to play the game beyond a few quick sessions. Each stage is comprised of a series of increasingly difficult levels played on a 5×5 grid. Players must tap onions and other strange creatures that pop-up to earn points. When a square on the grid is tapped, it turns red and when a line is formed, the player earns a time bonus. Clear two lines at once and yell “BINGO!” Actually, that’s not the case. Instead, the player enters a special state and the opportunity to earn even more time, points and special onion knights (which are used during the boss phase) presents itself.
Onion Hotel, at times, feels like some strange variant of whack-a-mole. As bosses are defeated, new enemies are introduced (which take additional taps to remove) and other traps and oddities spring-up from the grid. These obstacles prevent the player from creating those much sought-after single/double line-clears, too. In addition to these new variables, there’s also a handful of silent vignettes sprinkled between the stages. There’s an attempt at a story here, but it’s weird, mature and surprisingly graphic. One minute a man and a woman are having dinner at a classy joint (presumably the hotel), the next minute they’re sleeping together only to be interrupted by some turf-war between the military and FBI. Shots are fired, there’s blood and failing heart-beats trigger remote rocket ships that destroy the very same hotel you’re presumably managing. Need I remind you this is a mobile game? I’ve nearly completed the game (I think…), but the final boss is extremely difficult and I’ve only managed to reach him once so far!
Dandy Dungeon On-the-Job: Recommended!
Million Onion Hotel On-the-Job: Not Recommended!
Dandy Dungeon is another perfect game to play at the office. Similar to the aforementioned titles, Dandy lends itself to idle busy-work at the office. You can easily enter a dungeon, plan a path in your head and take things at your own pace without risking getting caught by your peers. Onion Hotel, however, is NOT a good game to play at work. As you reach the higher levels of the hotel, the game becomes a frantic double-tapping mess of an experience that will surely raise eye-brows from your fellow co-workers. If you need to play the game at work (as I completely understand its appeal), take it to the bathroom/break-room if you must!
Despite only logging on during seasonal events, I continue to play Blizzard’s Overwatch, perhaps against my better judgment. The Winter Wonderland 2018 and The Lunar New Year 2019 events launched late last year and in January of this year, respectively. Along with the most recent event came the “Year of the Pig”, which included a slew of new skins, emotes and the like (of which nothing of interest was unlocked, thanks to the dreaded RNG). I played as much of the game as I could despite having other ongoing game obligations and had just as much fun as I’ve had in previous events. I did walk away from the latest event with a new appreciation for the game, however. A weekly arcade mode, 8 Player Mystery Heroes FFA, was in rotation and it was specifically where I found myself playing the most.
While I typically try to play/focus on a few specific characters, I wanted to see if this mode would be a quick opportunity to earn some easy loot boxes. What I quickly realized was how fun and easy it is to pick-up & play the majority of the roster. This death-match mode essentially forces you to play/try other characters at random upon death, which makes you learn whether or not one character or the other is built for your play-style. I went from exclusively playing as Soldier 76, Reaper and Pharah to wanting to potentially main Bastion, Ashe, Junkrat and possibly even Symmetra. Although I didn’t get any fancy new skins or emotes, I did come away from the past two events with a newfound appreciation for the game as a whole.
I also continue to play Bungie’s Destiny 2: Forsaken (begrudgingly mind you). Since the last time I wrote about my adventures with the Traveler, two major seasonal events have passed and I happened to participate in both of them. First, there was The Dawning, which had players collecting special ingredients in order to bake holiday-themed snacks & goodies for your fellow Guardians. Last month, we were gifted the glory that is Crimson Days, otherwise known as the yearly reminder that no one wants to play Crucible with you. I played Destiny 2 extensively during these two events and got all of the exclusive rewards/triumphs, too. The other major content update since last year has been the Black Armory and its accompanying Season of the Forge, which in retrospect, appeared to be divisive among fans. The Black Armory/Season of the Forge brought about new activities (specifically, the Forges), unique gear, a raid lair, a handful of triumphs and other quest-like pursuits.
From a story/lore perspective, I didn’t find the whole ordeal very captivating. At the same time, I’m not the most lore-invested Destiny player out there and I’ve yet to read beyond a couple of the lore entries I’ve unlocked since Forsaken (although I do plan on taking an afternoon to dive deeper one of these days). The forges themselves were horde-like/wave-based encounters where the objective was to dunk orbs dropped by powerful enemies into a central location. Various loot (with somewhat ridiculous drop rates) were gifted upon completion and the entire affair had players accepting/completing new bounties from the social space’s new debbie-downer, Ada-1. I came around to the forge activity itself and had my fun with it, but outside of that, the annual pass content continues to be another reason to login/grind towards an end-game I’m not sure I’ll ever experience. More thoughts on Destiny 2 and its current sixth season (Season of the Drifter) in the coming month…
Finally, I continue to play Capcom’s best-selling Monster Hunter: World. At this point, I feel relatively invested in the game and will likely shoot for the Platinum trophy (what’s another 150 hours?). The new expansion, Iceborne, is on its way too, which gives me plenty of time to work towards any remaining end-game quests/goals. Around the new year, Capcom released a quest or two to celebrate the arrival of 2019. In addition to this, the Appreciation Festival launched a month or so ago, which brought about new layered armor and other unique quests. I managed to score a handful of the exclusive gear during this event, but there’s still a bunch of end-game content I’m just not ready for. The recently announced Witcher 3 crossover event launched earlier this year too and it was much better than what most fans were expecting (complete with unique cut-scenes, quests and dialogue voiced by the original voice actor who played Geralt). More Monster Hunter: Stories (get it?) to come…
It blows my mind that the original Shadow of the Colossus released back in 2005. It was such an ambitious game for its time and it still holds up today. The 2018 remaster is a sight to behold, too. The animators at Japan Studio/Team ICO are some of the best in the business and the folks over at Bluepoint Games did wonders with this release. I am currently playing the game on Hard difficulty and I’ve downed about 12 out of the 16 colossi. One colossi in particular was a giant walking (enemy) crab-like monstrosity. The way this colossi tumbles over and shuts its eyes on impact, how it contorts on its back, you can really feel the anguish of the beast. It’s beautifully tragic and mesmerizing, to say the least. I’ve played this game to death back on the PlayStation 2 (PS2), but I’m just now revisiting the remake as of 2019 and I can’t get enough of it!
Most people are either still playing Kingdom Hearts III (KH III) or they’ve gotten it out of their system. I’m in neither camp. As someone who’s only ever finished the original game back on PS2 and Birth By Sleep on PSP, I’ve been taking this opportunity to catch-up on the “essential” entries in order to appreciate KH III for all of its convoluted-ness and then-some. I re-played the original KH last year from the KH HD 1.5+2.5 Remix collection on PS4, so I decided to start the next game in the franchise. As of February, I finally completed Sora’s campaign in Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (KH Re: CoM). After 20+ hours on Proud difficulty, I can say that it was an interesting experience (arguably more enjoyable than revisiting the first KH), but not something I would consider replaying anytime soon (outside of going for 100% on my current save or checking-out Riku’s side of the story).
KH Re: CoM is a 3D remake of the original sprite-based Game Boy Advance (GBA) game that heavily borrows/utilizes assets from the original PS2 KH game. Each world from the original KH game has been distilled into a series of rooms comprised of enemy encounters, traps and other goodies. Instead of being a straight-up action-RPG, CoM also utilizes an active card-based battle system. Cards can be used both in battle and outside of combat, too. Players can form decks based on their max “CP” limit (which can be increased at level-ups). Certain card combinations can also create sleights, which are more powerful abilities that can cause devastating results. Finally, special “room” cards are used to navigate each world, as new rooms are gated by a specific cards and their numerical value/color. Since all combat/room cards are numbered, each room requires a number equal or greater than a particular value, which are also divided into three distinct colors (red, green and blue).
Room cards are interesting because not only are they assigned a value/color, but their descriptions dictate the type of room that you’re going to create. Room cards come in all types/sizes too, including ones that can be comprised of overly aggressive heartless, encounters where enemies are sleeping at the start of battle and others that can even be beneficial like save-points or treasure rooms. It’s all rather overwhelming at first, but after a few hours, the various gameplay systems become easier to grasp. The one thing that stood out to me the most about CoM is the progression through each world. Compared to the original game (where players had to run back and forth, talking to NPCs in order to trigger events/sequences that weren’t particularly clear to the player), CoM was relatively down-to-business. I will likely go back and finish Riku’s side of the story over the summer. There’s only 3.8 games keeping me from starting Kingdom Hearts III now…
Although I’ve written about my experience with Yakuza games before, there was a time when I was up-to-date with the franchise. The western localization was agonizing between Yakuza 4 and 5 and the time between Yakuza 5 and Zero was rather significant, too. That’s not the case today, as both Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have been releasing the games in the west at a steady pace. I finally got around to finishing Yakuza 0 last year, so I decided to start Yakuza Kiwami in 2019. I’m currently playing on Hard difficulty and I’m up to Chapter 4 at the moment. I’ve generally been following the main story quests (because I really want to start Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6), but it’s hard to keep myself from all of the goofy sub-stories and side-activities, even if they’re largely the same as they’ve always been in previous games.
As someone who’s played the original PS2 version of Yakuza, Kiwami has been an interesting experience so far, for a variety of reasons. While the game is more or less a retelling of the story from the original game, the developers have released a prequel title since. Certain scenes and story beats have been re-written to take Yakuza 0 into consideration, which makes it almost feel like a new game even from a veteran’s perspective. This re-crafting of Kamurocho even extends to the game’s sub-stories, as some of the non-playable characters (NPCs), funny side-characters and their corresponding quests make their appearances from Yakuza 0. Although I know how the story unfolds from here, it’s been fun revisiting the game that started it all with a fresh coat of paint. If I’m being honest, though, I’m kind of ready to dip my toes into the latest entries, but I’ll be there soon enough!
Here is a list of games I’ve started, stopped or checked-out since the new year. I don’t quite have the words ready for the games below, but you can look forward to reading my thoughts in the coming months.
See you all in the next post, which will be my quarterly (Q1) summary of 2019!
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