April Showers Bring May Backlogs and June Tears
For the months of April, May and June, I can finally start to breathe and ease back into my ever-growing backlog. With my busy season at work coming to an end in April, I get the opportunity to return to a seemingly normal schedule/routine comprised mostly of gaming, going to the gym and writing about games (until I have to do this all over again). The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has come and gone and 2019 continues to be a busy year on the gaming front with new and interesting games releasing nearly every week. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with it all and for someone who has a variety of interests, my attention is constantly being pulled in a 100 different directions. With that said, here’s what I’ve managed to play for the months of April through June.
The Boys are Back in Town
Capcom’s legendary action game franchise is back, baby! It’s been eleven years since a proper Devil May Cry (DMC) game from Capcom’s internal studios. The boys are back in town, so to speak, as the franchise is no longer in Ninja Theory’s hands. Hideaki Itsuno (director of previous DMC titles and Dragon’s Dogma fame), cinematic & action coordinator extraordinaire, Yuji Shimomura, and actors Reuben Langdon & Johnny Yong Bosch round out the development team and cast, respectively, bringing fans what is arguably the most passionate DMC title to date. Devil May Cry V is very much a return-to-form in many respects yet it somehow manages to progress the series/genre ever so slightly forward with its new playable character, impressive new visuals and passive online multiplayer features.
DMC5 takes place after the events of DMC4 and is also considered the latest in the franchise’s timeline. Dante and Nero have returned from the previous games and perform similarly to their counterparts from previous titles. In addition to Nero’s Exceed system from DMC4, his Devil Bringer has been replaced by interchangeable/expendable mechanical arms, which allow for more options and nuance in combat. Finally, Dante returns with his signature styles and arsenal of weapons. It’s easily the most overwhelming entry to day, at least in terms of learning all of the mechanics and combat options available at any given time. Of the twenty or so missions, each character has their designated stages, but unlike DMC4 (which had Dante repeating Nero’s levels backwards), most missions tread new grounds. One could argue that the mission design and flow feels safe/dated, but the game looks phenomenal (due in part to the new & shiny RE Engine).
One of the most impressive aspects of DMC5, however, is the fact that most, if not all of the missions introduce either a new enemy type or culminate with a unique boss battle, but this comes with a caveat, however. One thing I particularly loved about Bayonetta (which is arguably the spiritual successor/evolution to DMC) was its bestiary and how each enemy (angel) had both a rich lore and a sense of place within the game’s universe. To further showcase the angels in Bayonetta, each enemy would receive its own introduction sequence. After a stylish cinematic, each monster would then be enclosed by a bible-like book, encapsulating the angel’s artwork and description for the player to read at their discretion. It was an extra little detail that made each encounter feel unique and special and no other character-driven action game has aped Platinum Games in this category since.
While most DMC games have traditionally introduced monsters/demons in a similar fashion, they’re often cinematically represented with the accompanying witty banter between said monster and protagonist. Ninja Theory’s DmC followed suit and although the cut-scenes weren’t as stylish or well-shot as Capcom’s previous titles and the sarcastic commentary was always hit/miss, the team made a conscious decision to implement splash screens which displayed the enemy’s name. For me personally, this stylistic choice felt like something you would have seen out of a sixth generation 3rd-person action-adventure title like Midway’s The Suffering. DMC5 seems to strike a balance between the older games and Ninja Theory’s title by incorporating similar splash screens, but they’re not as impactful/interesting as Bayonetta (and the first game is nearly a decade old now!).
What sets DMC5 apart from the rest of the franchise, most importantly, is both the newcomer “V” and the game’s asynchronous online multiplayer features. The new poetry-reading character, V, and his trio of summons (which also happen to be callbacks to enemies and boss characters from DMC1) provides a new/interesting way to engage with the denizens of the underworld. Unlike Dante and Nero’s close-quarters combat styles, V is a long-ranger character who commands familiars to do his bidding from afar. In addition to a new playable character, DMC5 integrates online player’s mission data into the single-player experience that’s certainly a first for the genre. In certain instances throughout specific missions, Dante, Nero and V will sometimes cross paths both in & out of cut-scenes. The big difference here, however, is that when the player is seeing one of these characters perform actions in the background or on an alternate path, it’s actually data that’s been recorded by a real player. It’s a novel idea that feels like a half-step towards a true multiplayer experience.
Since the game’s launch, I’ve been tackling a mission or two a week. I completed the game on Devil Hunter difficulty, which is the hardest mode that’s available from the start, unfortunately, as the game’s default difficulty is rather easy. While the mission design is arguably dated and not as varied thematically as say Ninja Theory’s DmC, there’s something refreshing about its stubbornness to progress beyond its well-trodden legacy. In an age where a lot of “AAA” developers/publishers are striving to release the biggest, busiest, chore-filled open worlds, having a very focused and linear character-based action game is a delight, especially when there’s not a whole lot of competition at the moment. With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice having just released and games like Bayonetta 3 & Nioh 2 looming on the horizon, it’s a wonderful time to be a fan of character-driven action games.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, From Software’s latest “Souls-like” and spiritual successor to the Tenchu franchise, snuck its way out to a very crowded market in March. As someone who’s been playing From Software titles since the 90s (King’s Field was my very first exposure to their games), Sekiro, in more ways than one, feels like the culmination of a lot From’s previous efforts. Part Souls, part Tenchu and a whole lot of pain & suffering, Sekiro manages to break away from the successful formula that’s rooted itself since Demon’s Soul while still maintaining that distinct hook & feel From Software titles are known for today. First and foremost, character builds, traditional leveling mechanics and stat distribution have been dialed back, even further more than Bloodborne’s “limited” options. You’re a shinobi with nothing but a sword and you’re on a rescue mission fueled by revenge (or so I’ve gathered). Oh, and you’ve got a prosthetic arm, not unlike Nero’s amalgamation of tools from DMC5.
As someone who grew-up playing and loving the early Tenchu games, its legacy is clearly notable at a first-glance. The player assumes the role of Wolf who can perform stealth kills from behind, from above or even when hanging from a ledge. To even the odds (as the game is very challenging) consumables aplenty can be discovered/used and there are skill and ability-trees, which grant the shinobi new techniques. A simple experience system is in place in addition to a Black World Tendency-like mechanic (events and characters can change depending on how many deaths the player endures), for those who are familiar with Demon’s Souls. While I’ve only defeated a handful of the major bosses in Sekiro, I’m still too early in the game to discuss my experience in finer detail. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far (despite banging my head up against a wall during a few boss encounters), but I just haven’t committed myself to what it’s offering beyond a session or two or three…
Saturday Morning Cartoons
To round out my experience with both the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy, respectively, I’ve been playing a level or two each week over the past few months in both Crash Bandicoot: Warped and Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon. I completed Spyro 3 with the Platinum Trophy and all Skill Points, but I did not 100% Crash Bandicoot 3, as I’m in no rush to complete the time trials. I played these two franchises extensively back in the day and even managed to 100% them back on the original PlayStation. It’s been fun revisiting these iconic platformers and despite some entries holding-up better than others, I think I have the most nostalgia for the first title from each respective franchise. With that said, the second games are my personal favorite entries and I’d like to think they encapsulate what each series does best.
Replaying the third entries in these two franchises reminded me of what typically happened to the Sony era of 3D mascot platformers from their respective generations. While Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank more or less stayed true to its roots over the years (excluding the Deadlocked, Full Frontal Assault and All 4 One’s of the universe), both Naughty Dog’s and Sucker Punch’s Jak & Daxter and Sly Cooper, respectively, eventually veered off the proverbial platformer road. It’s no surprise what happened to a lot of these platformers from the PS2 era considering both Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon ultimately deluded into a cacophony of genre types, including jet ski, motorbike, skateboarding, biplane stages and the like. At the end of the day, I enjoyed revisiting these two franchises with a fresh coat of paint and I’m hoping they sold well enough to warrant new entries moving forward.
I didn’t particularly grow-up with Disney and I’m still rather lukewarm to their cartoons, characters, stories and movies (despite being somewhat of a Kingdom Hearts fan, too). Capcom, Mega Man and 2D platformers, however, were a huge part of my childhood and despite my best efforts to play as many games as I could get my hands on, I was never exposed to the licensed titles developed by Capcom. Over the past month or so, I’ve been spending a good portion of my Saturday mornings playing a single game from The Disney Afternoon Collection. I’ve managed to complete all of the games from this collection, including Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 1 & 2, TaleSpin, DuckTales 1 & 2 and Darkwing Duck without having to resort to save states or using the collection’s internal rewind feature.
Chip ‘n Dale 1 & 2 are competent 2D platformers for their time with the former having a somewhat nonlinear approach to stage selection and the later being much more straightforward. Each level from both games provided short & breezy romps filled with enemies, traps and hazards to avoid. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about either game, to be honest. Aside from having the ability to pick-up crates and launch them while crouching (and the occasional verticality to some of the stages), there’s not a whole lot to write home about. Each stage ultimately lead to relatively easy boss encounters, too. TaleSpin on the other hand was an inoffensive arcade shooter with unresponsive controls (which could have been due to the emulation/port), strange half-horizontal, half-vertical stages and some truly frustrating boss fights. While there are some novel ideas in TaleSpin (such as the ability to fly backwards in a stage and a shop to purchase upgrades in-between levels), the off-screen spawn-rate of enemies and some of the design decisions around the edges left a sour impression on me once I saw the credits roll.
DuckTales and Darkwing Duck are both notorious for their novelty and difficulty, respectively. DuckTales holds a special place in the hearts of many old-school gamers and its quality/competency is still apparent today. Although stages can be attempted in any order, there’s a light Metroid-like element to its overall structure (such as a key that must be found in one stage before accessing another). Players can exit the level mid-stage (if they happen to find their pilot buddy) and essentially bank the money/gems they’ve earned thus far. In the first game, money collected impacted the ending, but in the sequel, cash could be used to purchase items/upgrades. Controls were tight, bouncing up & down on the pogo-stick felt satisfying and although stages were relatively short, they were packed with hidden gems and secret passageways. Oh, and there’s that Moon theme, too.
The sequel is more or less structured similarly, although I found it to be a much easier experience. DuckTales 2 also had multiple endings, which were based on, once again, money collected. There were also hidden map pieces in each stage, which seemed tucked away relatively well because I only found two of them. At the end of my first play-through, I only managed to see the normal credits roll, but perhaps I’ll go back by the end of the year and seek out those remaining map pieces for the best ending. Another surprising thing to note about both games is the fact that there’s difficulty options (similar to Capcom’s very own Mega Man 2, there’s an Easy, Normal and Difficult setting). I played and completed both games on Normal, but I’m curious just how much more frustrating this “Difficult” setting is.
Darkwing Duck is mostly known for its difficulty, but outside of the spawn-rate of off-screen enemies (which nearly every NES game is guilty of) and a few annoying platforming sections, I didn’t think it was any more challenging than some of its contemporaries. Similar to DuckTales, there’s a stage-select screen, which allows the player to tackle three levels in any particular order. After these first three stages are completed, three more can be conquered, which ultimately leads to the final few levels. Darkwing Duck can run, jump, shoot and even deflect projectiles with his cape (which is honestly the coolest mechanic/ability out of all the Capcom Disney games I’ve played). While there are sub-weapons (such as a lightning gun), they’re not exactly useful from my experience. Finally, similar to the other games on this collection, there’s an abundance of opportunities to earn extra lives/continues (or what the digital manuals refer to as “chances”… cute.), so if this isn’t your first rodeo with games from this era, I can’t imagine the difficulty being an issue for most players.
End of Days
In post-apocalyptic gaming news, over the past month or so, I started playing Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us: Remastered, Bend Studio’s Days Gone, id Software’s DOOM (2016) and id Software and Avalanche Studio’s RAGE 2. As someone who’s surprisingly completed the original RAGE at 100% completion (including the DLC), I was actually rather excited to get my hands on what was presumably going to be both a better game and a more competent sequel. I mean, we’re talking about a collaboration between one of the most well-known and highly respected first-person shooter developers in the business and a studio that’s rooted in open-world shenanigans. While the first RAGE was known for its visuals (remember “mega textures”?) and its novel approach to open-world car combat, id’s first foray into the wasteland was perhaps a bit premature for its time.
Now, nearly eight years later and with more experience and wisdom behind the wheel, the developers responsible for RAGE 2 have somehow managed to create one of the most inoffensive, slightly subdued, not-so-crazy (as the trailers and promotional materials would have otherwise suggested) sequels imaginable. I have logged around 10 hours on Nightmare difficulty (which is honestly the preferred way to play) and it’s mostly a fine game. RAGE 2’s story can be summarized in a sentence or two; a meteor hit the Earth and laid waste to the world. Some righteous “authority” has been driven underground and you, the only remaining ranger, must put an end to their uprising. Oh, and there’s mutants, thugs and other cyberpunk-like happenings to sink your neon-colored nails into. The narrative wasn’t the first game’s finest point and neither is the sequel from what I’ve seen. The moment-to-moment gameplay, however, is where RAGE 2 excels.
As someone who’s never finished DOOM 2016 (but restarted a campaign recently on Nightmare difficulty in tandem with RAGE 2), it’s been interesting to compare the differences between the two games, at least in terms of their gunplay and overall design. DOOM is an extremely fast-paced first-person shooter which takes place in relatively linear, semi-open environments with lots of verticality, hordes of demons/monsters to kill and tons of nooks & crannies to explore. RAGE 2, however, is a mildly-tempered, open-world first-person shooter with, what I like to call, “pockets of DOOM 2016”. RAGE 2 is at its best when it channels the energy of its hell-bent brethren and the player stumbles upon the numerous bandit camps littered across the wasteland and embraces all of the tools, options and abilities at their disposal.
Everything else around the edges leaves a lot to be desired, however. The first two major towns I visited (one of which was from the original RAGE) felt too similar architecturally and was missing the personality and charm found (surprisingly) in the first game’s establishments. The emergent gameplay opportunities and activities outside of these encampments/main missions (meteors crashing, races to complete, convoys to destroy, etc.) aren’t very exciting either, but perhaps I’m still too early to judge. I’m enjoying my time with the game, but outside of ticking those open-world checklists (that I’m relatively fond of) and the satisfying/rewarding combat encounters, RAGE 2 can feel surprisingly dull/uninspired.
Finally, I restarted a play-through of The Last of Us: Remastered (again) and picked-up Days Gone on release. The Last of Us is considered one of the greatest games of all time and Days Gone has the unfortunate reality of living up to imaginary standards unknowingly set by the community at large. For those who are unfamiliar, both The Last of Us and Days Gone are post-apocalyptic, 3rd-person action-adventure games. While the both games are cinematic, character-driven experiences that are heavy on the narrative, the former is more linear while the later is a traditional open-world game… with a bike. Starting these two games back to back, it was clear to me that while on the surface, The Last of Us and Days Gone may share some commonalities, the two couldn’t be further from each other in terms of overall presentation, delivery and pacing.
Take the introduction sequence in both games, for example. The Last of Us begins with a suspenseful opening that’s extremely well paced which culminates in a heart-wrenching moment between a father and daughter. Days Gone, however, removes any amount of suspense or slice of life moment that could have been there and presents the player with two characters who presumably love each other in a dire situation with no proper buildup. Who are these characters and why should I care that they’re immediately in danger? This is not to say that the later isn’t a stylistic choice that could work, but in Days Gone’s case, it’s definitely jarring and the emotional impact is not earned unlike The Last of Us. From the little I played of Days Gone so far, it appears to be a well-made, competent open-world affair. It’s visually impressive and the Portland, Oregon setting paints a beautiful yet dreary landscape with dense forests, lush vegetation and dynamic weather effects. I’m curious to play more down the road, but its first few hours did not impress.
Yoshi’s Crafted World is the fourth collaboration between Nintendo and Good-Feel. It’s also the third entry in their now long-running arts & crafts affairs (first being Kirby’s Epic Yarn, second being Yoshi’s Woolly World). I am currently at the point of the game where the world map branches and stages can be tackled in a somewhat nonlinear fashion. If you’re familiar with the more recent Yoshi titles (or even the classic SNES game, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island), Crafted World doesn’t stay too far from its tried & true formula. Yoshi can run, jump, flutter, and toss collected eggs like he/she could do in previous games. This time around, however, Yoshi can target objects and enemies in the background/foreground. Although Crafted World’s stages are 2D, the game incorporates 3D elements (such as paths that go inward/outward) and dynamic camera perspectives, which creates an illusion of a much larger more tactile space.
Crafted World’s aesthetic isn’t entirely new to the scene. Games such as Media Molecule’s Tearaway or even Nintendo’s very own Paper Mario franchise have experimented with the arts & crafts-look before. Stages feel like, for the lack of a better term, hand-crafted, and each level has dozens of unique art assets on display. A variety of colorful fabrics and creative materials provide a tangible backdrop begging to be played with. The diorama effect is strong with Crafted World, as it feels like the developers physically placed their creations on a big slab of cardboard and we’re simply looking down upon and interacting with their set. It’s also interesting there isn’t some sort of Nintendo Labo VR integration as not only is there an unlockable Labo costume for Yoshi, but the dollhouse-like nature of the game’s presentation would lend itself to such a feature. My only gripes with the game, albeit minor, is the soundtrack and some of the design decisions that were made around specific collectibles.
Tomoya Tomita (who’s worked on Woolly World and previous Good-Feel titles) did not contribute to the game’s OST and it clearly shows. The music isn’t offensive, but similar to one of the more recent portable Yoshi games, the same theme or two is used throughout the majority of the game with little variation. Also, after each stage in a world is completed, the player can replay levels in search of hidden objects scattered about the foregrounds/backgrounds. The problem here is the fact that you can only accept one of these requests at a time and some worlds can have up to nearly a dozen or so to complete. While you can exit the stage as soon as you find the hidden objects, it would have been nice to stack the requests so the player wouldn’t have to restart the stage numerous times.
I completed the game with mostly everything collected from the main worlds, but there’s a ton of post-game content I’ll return to in order to complete the game at 100% once I clear my plate of other games that have been in-progress for awhile. I also couldn’t help but to think about Skip Ltd.’s Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash while I played Crafted World, particularly due to its fictional advertisements and fake product placement. While Nintendo’s very own Pikmin franchise has been known for its placement of Skippy’s peanut butter, Duracell batteries and Chapsticks, Chibi-Robo is no stranger to the lords of brands with its inclusion of utz Natural Potato Chips, Tootsie Pops and Cheese Okaki (whatever that is!). Chibi-Robo! has had many strange adventures over the years. It’s arguably Nintendo’s longest running IP with the biggest identity crisis, too. From a 3D adventure game on the Nintendo Gamecube to a real-life photo-finder and now a traditional 2D platformer both on the Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo has been around the block and then-some.
I’ve been playing Zip Lash off and on since its release, but I started a new file earlier this year in an effort to see it to its conclusion. I love 2D platformers, especially those from Nintendo and their partner studios. While Skip’s craftsmanship isn’t on the same level as say Good-Feel, they’re still a relatively competent developer worth discussing. I’m up to the 3rd or 4th world in Zip Lash and it’s simply an inoffensive 2D platformer starring everyone’s favorite extension chord. If there’s anything to fault Zip Lash for, however, is its incessant need to speak to or message the player and its over abundance of unique animations. While I appreciate the efforts made in both categories, the over-tutorialization of some of Nintendo’s games has put many players off from playing some of their games. While I’ve been told I have the patience of a saint, Chibi-Robo has tested my willingness to persevere beyond its wall-o-texts and dance moves for even the simplest of occasions. I’ll finish this game at some point while eating Mortiz Esikonfekt, if I must!
Baba Is You. You Is Baba. Baba Is Smart And Clever. Baba Is Cute. Undo. Undo. Undo. Baba Is Difficult And Rewarding. Baba Is Dead. Restart. Baba Is Frustrating. Baba Is Fun. Undo. Undo. Addicting And Confusing Is Baba. Baba Is Switch And PC. Dark And Depressing Is You. Indie Is Baba. Baba Is Indie. Baba Is Value. Undo. Undo. Undo. Undo. You Is Enamored. Enamored Is You. Undo. Baba Is Gem. Gem Is Hidden. Undo. Undo. Undo. Baba Is Game. Heartache Is Baba. Baba Is Repetition. Undo. Undo. Undo. Undo. Baba Is Love. Baba Is Respect. Baba Is You. Restart.
While Destiny 2: Forsaken, Monster Hunter: World and Overwatch continue to be my primary games that are consistently in-rotation (in due part to their special events; The Revelry, Spring Blossom Festival and Storm Rising Archives/Anniversary events, respectively), I’ve started over (yet again) in the original Tom Clancy’s: The Division in hopes of at least completing the main campaign before the end of the year. I’m currently Level 11 mopping-up a few side missions and activities before I tackle the next main objective. I’ve also dipped my toes into a few matches of EA’s/Respawn’s Apex Legends, but I haven’t played enough of the game to make any sort of significant progress towards its Season 1 Wild Frontier Battle Pass unlocks. I did manage to win a single game, but with Season 2 around the corner, I think I’ll take a wait & see approach before I invest any more of my time. Finally, I started Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (against my better judgment), created a character, chose a server where a few friends play, got to Level 5 and logged-off.
Destiny 2’s Season of the Drifter and The Revelry have come and gone and I managed to complete all of the unique seasonal and event-related triumphs, respectively. With this past season, many changes were made to Gambit (and for the better), including new bounties for level 50 characters (which incentivized guardians to hit a higher power level much quicker), new pursuits, exotic quests and unique game modes called Gambit Prime and The Reckoning. Gambit Prime was essentially a consolidation of the original Gambit mode; a single-round comprised of everything you’re already familiar with, but with a twist. New armor pieces, which when equipped as a set, could provide passive bonuses to the player based on their preferred role (invader, collector, sentry and reaper, to be specific).
Since Destiny 2 is an ongoing affair with seemingly no end in sight, I’ve had to set mini-goals for myself each season in order to stay focused. For season 6, I was committed to earning the coveted Dredgen title and its respective seal. In order to accomplish this task, the player had to complete a certain amount of Gambit-related triumphs (in-game achievements) as well as completing its corresponding collection’s tab (which meant collecting at least one of every unique Gambit-related item). Resetting your Infamy rank and defeating the rare “meatball” enemy during a match three times (among other tasks) was on my to-do list at the start of the season. Fortunately, as far as I know, restting your Infamy rank three times can be completed across individual seasons, although there is an emblem for resetting three times within a single season (which I also managed to accomplish!).
After many, many rounds of both Gambit and Gambit Prime as well as taking advantage of a x2 Infamy week (thanks Bungie), I managed to score the Dredgen title and its respective seal during the Season of the Drifter! While I’ve pumped the breaks, so to speak, in the weeks preceding the Season of Opulence, my next course of action is to either raid more regularly in the coming summer months or catch-up with my alt-characters (Hunter and Warlock), or some combination of the two. I’m more willing to grind-out triumphs and seals I can do either on my own or with randoms as its been difficult to schedule cooperative tasks with my clan as of late. Regardless, I’m looking forward to (hopefully) a summer of raiding and the Shadowkeep expansion in the Fall!
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.
- Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition
- Ratchet & Clank (Ratchet & Clank Collection)
- Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
- Castlevania (Castlevania Anniversary Collection)
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
- Sonic Mania Plus
- Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
- Super Mario Maker 2
- Mechstermination Force
- Katana ZERO
- Blaster Master Zero
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- Mom Hid My Game!
- Lightning Force: Quest for the Darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2
- Octopath Traveler
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
- Super Mario Maker for the Nintendo 3DS
- Ever Oasis
- Pokemon Sun
- Fluidity: Spin Cycle
- Crackdown 3
- Forza Horizon 4
- Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
- Void Bastards
- Outer Wilds
Until next quarter!