No Man’s Sky

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There a lot you can say about this game. Most of it is being said already, all over the internet. This was a game that had enormous expectations placed upon it. I am not interested in talking about what is wrong with it. There are plenty of people who will not enjoy this game because it is simply not something everyone will enjoy. I will say this:

When I finally repaired my spaceship and broke through the atmosphere, I was overwhelmed by the shear scope of the space that stretched before me. When I first hit the thrusters and hurtled to another planet, I felt a rush of emotion that I was unprepared for. I wanted to both laugh and cry with joy.

This is because I was taken back to a moment, when I was very young, and I played an Atari 2600 game for the first time called Star Raiders. I barely understood how to play and was too ignorant to know whether the game was good or bad. But I was in awe of the notion of charting a course through outer space and the thrilling and frightening possibility of the unknown. No Man’s Sky fulfills, at last, the promise and wonder of my 6 year old imagination and for that I am truly grateful.

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Shovel Knight – 3DS

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I was breathlessly awaiting the release of Shovel Knight since I first saw tidbits about it online. And while I was not a kickstarter backer (too slow on the draw), I knew this game would have my money day one. See, I’m a sucker for any NES-centric retro throwback and I’ll forgive a lot of flaws if I think the game’s heart is in the right place. And this game was checking off all the right boxes on the NES platformer checklist.

Main character sprite colored Megaman blue: tumblr_n8gv8grtEW1s9oln7o1_500 b2c6825417109f32d054ff8140e0bfa1_large

 

CHECK

World-map reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3:

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CHECK

Cool bosses a-la Dr. Wiley’s robot masters:

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CHECK

Pogo attack with shovel a-la Scrooge McDuck’s cane:

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SO VERY CHECK

But even though all these things were in place, what I didn’t know was this game would be so thoroughly, wonderfully, absolutely excellent.  From the graphics, to the music, to the tight controls, to the level design, this game has everything you want in a NES platformer. Shovel Knight really is the best NES that never was. I could go on and on about everything that makes this game truly a triple A production, but I will just say that the attention to detail is stunning. It very quickly becomes clear that the creative team behind this game was not satisfied with “good enough” and nothing feels rushed or unpolished.

Some might complain that the game is fairly short, but this is no flaw. Clocking in at about 6 hours to play completely through, Shovel Knight has as much or more content as the 8-bit classics it emulates. Shovel Knight never wears out its welcome, offering a concise and crafted platforming game with just enough hidden secrets and upgrades to keep you curious but never leaving you wandering about aimlessly. If I had one complaint, it might be that the game is a little on the easy side if you use all the health upgrades and recovery items that are available over the course of the game. But wait, the good people at Yacht Club Games thought of everything and offer a harder new game+ mode after completing the game. Oh Shovel Knight, I knew you wouldn’t let me down!

Unfortunately, some may pass on this game because it carries a price tag slightly higher than some other downloadable titles on the 3DS. But in terms of value, this game is worth a dozen of the cheaper downloads that are current crowding your SD card. So please, if you enjoy 2D platforming, NES action games, or just want to experience all that is right and good about “retro” throwbacks, buy Shovel Knight!

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As I said, the music in Shovel Knight is excellent. At times, it is very reminiscent of the NES compositions of Tim Follin (Solstice, et. al), which is always good. It was largely composed by Jake Kaufman with some additional tracks by Manami Matsumae of Mega Man fame! Here are some sample selections:

 

You can download the entire soundtrack (with pay-what-you-like pricing) HERE

 

 

 

Soul Sacrifice Delta

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Full disclosure: I don’t enjoy Monster Hunter any more; I love Soul Sacrifice.

Now before I go too far, let me say this: there are things I really love about Monster Hunter: the monster design, the environments, the hunting horn. But as much as I really want to love Monster Hunter, I just don’t have fun playing it. I could go on about the finer points of what I think is wrong with the Monster Hunter series, but it comes down to basically this:

Monster Hunter is not a focused gaming experience and is simply not enjoyable single-player. Battles often drag on far too long, in environments that are too sprawling for the action, with a battle system that lacks variety. The many weapon types could add variety, but acquiring these weapons in flavors that won’t leave you woefully underpowered means extensive grinding: the same bosses, the same missions, the same locales, looking for those rare drops to make those elusive items you so desperately want. And this, of course, undercuts any variety they could provide. None of this would be a problem if the core gameplay was fun, but the combat is simply not enjoyable in large doses, especially by oneself. You can always go online. Right? Not if you’re playing a handheld. At least not in North America.

I mention these things because I want to highlight what I think Soul Sacrifice Delta does right, why you don’t need to love Monster Hunter or its clones to enjoy it and might just like it more, and why it’s the one Vita game you should be playing but probably aren’t.

orfghgfgfiginalSoul Sacrifice delivers a deeply satisfying single player experience, something that Monster Hunter has always lacked. The game opens with the player’s character, a nameless prisoner, alone in a macabre cell of slime and bone. Or, rather, not quite alone. He is quickly greeted by a talking book, complete with rolling eyes and toothy grin. But as frightening as this creature looks, you soon come to realize he is here to help. By reading the magical book, the journal of a nameless sorcerer, you can relive moments of his life, and in doing so, begin to gain his power. Read enough, the book tells you, and you may soon be able to challenge your captor for your freedom.

The player if forced to play through a portion of the journal before he or she can venture online, and in doing so, you are quickly caught up in the tale of the nameless sorcerer, even more so than the main character’s plight.

There’s plenty of fun to be had online, and there are plenty of items, abilities, and adornments to grind for if you are so inclined. But for those turned off to Monster Hunter because of the emphasis on multiplayer and repetitive grinding, know there is a compelling solo experience to enjoy.

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Part of what makes Soul Sacrifice so engrossing is the wonderfully dark and thoroughly imagined fantasy word in which it takes place. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that these proceedings will be morally ambiguous. Sorcerers are not simply heroes, despite ridding the land of monsters. As they sacrifice the men and women who have become monsters, their right arms are twisted and disfigured as they must now struggle to contain within themselves the souls they have purged. And monsters are not simply mindless evil creatures, but are transformed humans whose forms now reflect a weakness of character or moral failing specific to them. There is an amazing amount of supplemental lore that details the origins of each monster, the different sorcerer factions, and the world in which it takes place.

But my favorite aspect of the dark fantasy of Soul Sacrifice, is the “dark rites” sorcerers can perform. By sacrificing a part of the body and suffering the consequences, you can execute a unique type of attack against the enemy. The cost varies, ranging from an eye (which darkens the screen), the brain (which removes the names and information from all your items), the heart (which result in constant health loss thereafter), and so on.

Playing into this concept of sacrifice is also the fact that players do not have “lives” but instead are dependent upon other players to revive them (at the cost of a portion of their own health). Of course, other players also have the option to sacrifice their fallen comrades and attack the enemy with unique sacrificial rites. Too many mistakes may mean your friends decide you would be better serving as rainstorm of thorny barbs than a walking, talking teammate.

Soul-Sacrifice-WallpaperUnfortunately, many people including myself missed Soul Sacrifice when it original debuted. It doesn’t help that it is exclusive to the Playstation Vita, whose library was even more bare when Soul Sacrifice was released. Many also passed because it was described in many reviews as simply a high quality Monster Hunter clone. But while Soul Sacrifice is firmly in the “hunting” genre that Monster Hunter forged, it does enough different to stand as a solid alternative. From the radically different approach to single player through its expansive storytelling, to the details of gameplay like smaller, more focused arenas and the the addition on a “lock-on targeting” button (thank you!), Soul Sacrifice is its own game.

With the release of Delta, the expanded version of 2013’s Soul Sacrifice, there is even more reason to pick up this game. Delta is less a sequel and more an expanded edition, but the amount of content is staggering and the attention to detail is remarkable. However, the decision to release the Delta version of Soul Sacrifice as a digital download only in the US will undoubtedly mean even less people take a chance on a game that has a full retail release price and hogs nearly 4 GB of precious Vita memory. In a world where there are plenty of phenomenal games and the only thing tighter than money is time, there’s often nothing that can be said to encourage someone to take a chance on a new title. But, many sleepless nights, countless dark rites, and 1000+ sacrifices later, all I can say is, “it’s worth it.”

Trailers:

Soul Sacrifice Delta – US Release Trailer

Soul Sacrifice Delta – Japanese Animated Trailer

Soundtrack Highlights: Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda (of Chrono Trigger fame)

A Certain Magician’s Life – Soul Sacrifice OST

The Earth Echoes Resentment – Soul Sacrifice OST

 

 

Soul Sacrifice Starter tips via Destructoid

These tips are pretty good although a few things are different in Delta (for example, bringing allies does not affect boss encounter difficulty)

 

 

1001 Spikes

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My PC doesn’t get used for gaming very often, so often I’m late to the indie game party. Such was the case with 1001 Spikes. But, thank goodness, publisher Nicilas saw fit to bring this game to a host of other platforms [3ds, wiiU, vita, ps4, et.al.]. I picked it up for Vita as I have been enjoying that system quite a bit lately despite the shortage of A+ software I care about. It looks great on the Vita display but, unfortunately, is missing the multiplayer features of its console cousins.
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Regardless, it’s an amazing game for all those who love 8-bit era platformers. At first glance it reminded me of Spelunker, but all it really has in common is a similar setting and a crushing difficulty. But in the case of 1001 Spikes, that difficulty isn’t the result of wonky controls and unintelligible design. It’s that delicious variety of hard that seems just short of possible but increasingly within reach after each attempt. The game pulls no punches, but the short levels and ability to skip over areas and attempt them later kept me from every giving up in frustration.
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A world map tracks your progress, or lack thereof. I desperately wanted to reach the end of the game as soon as possible to see what might lie in store; but, as I saw my journey reaching an end I was sad because I knew that whatever waited there, the best was behind me. I arrived. I saw. I conquered. But just when I was starting to get my dick all hard for being a winner-take-all explorer, 1001 spikes dropped a bomb that shriveled my shrimp: Antarctica.
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YEP. The additional end game content, “Antarctica” is so expansive it’s like a second game. So despite my best efforts, I’m stuck just short of my frozen goal in the dreaded wasteland of Vostok, i.e. 10-4.

Vostok – How I wish I Could Play

1001 Spikes is a great game. It’s not reinventing anything, but it does its thing with such intense aplomb that it stands clearly apart in an ocean of retro-throwback fish. The sheer difficulty may put some people off, but that really is part of the appeal. It scratches the same itch for me as some of my other favorite ball-busters: Gimmick; ActRaiser 2; Ghosts n’ Goblins; Contra Hard Corps and so on.  These games don’t lead you by the hand for long and ask a lot of the player, but it makes for the invigorating gaming.

So I’m not giving up yet. After 100+ deaths in Vostok I have to take a breather, but I intent to grab a winter coat or two and hit the ice again soon.