Broken Age Act 2 Mini-Review

brokenageact24It’s been over two years since the first Broken Age act released, and I really enjoyed the short little romp through Double Fine’s point-and-click adventure. They magically brought together two stories that seemed to have nothing to do with one another, and revealed their relations in a rather shocking cliffhanger of a twist. Now that it’s been several months later, I can finally see how this all comes together and these two protagonists band together and make the world right again.

I most certainly did, and while I absolutely loved how the story came together, I learned to be careful what I wish for. I had said in my original review of the first act that it was rather short at 4 hours and I was ready for something meatier. They gave me a meaty experience at over double the hours of game time, but the meatiness was a facade covering up hours of frustrating back-and-forth traveling over the same areas and obfuscated puzzles that are anything but whimsical and fun.

The puzzles in act one were obscure, as Double Fine has been wont to do, but in act two, they were downright bizarre. In addition, act two required the player to jump back and forth between the two characters in order to solve puzzles. For example, each character would come across a Hexipal they would have to rewire in order to get the Hexipal to perform certain tasks. The clues to how to rewire the little guys could only be found in their counterpart’s story. I have a feeling that the thought process was to get players to play until they were stuck to trigger them to switch to the next character, find that wayward clue, and then jump back. That would have worked really well if you had to do that with the first act, but you did not. I wasted so much time running back and forth between the different areas and re-talking to people and presenting them with different objects at different times in hopes the clue would come to light before I finally gave up and switched to the other character. Oh so something Vella and only Vella sees will clue Shay in on how to wire his Hexipal? Makes complete sense since they’re in two completely different parts of the world.

The puzzles are also far more complex this time than they were in the first act, which makes sense, yet it adds to the frustration I experienced jumping into act two fifteen months after the first act. Tim Schaefer did recommend that all players play act one immediately before act two, and I think that would have alleviated the “jumping in feet first” feeling I had within the first five minutes. However, using act one as a warm-up would not have prepared me for the insanely obtuse logic required to solve many of the puzzles. I realize that this is part of the appeal of these games ala Monkey Island, but the charm wears off rather quickly. Yes, yes, it’s adorable that I need to use a fork and some yarn to get the spaceship’s navigation system up and running, but after the fifth absolutely insane and obfuscated puzzle solution, it’s no longer adorable. It’s an utter beating, and all you want is for the madness to end and end quickly.

I hated being so down on the game when so much else is incredibly charming, but these are not the types of point-and-click adventures I want to see return to the mainstream. A new King’s Quest game is supposed to release rather soon, and I hope they stick to their formula, which was always outside of the box but never overly obtuse.

You can read the rest of my review on Action Trip.

Mortal Kombat X Mini-Review

Mortal Kombat X_20150420222616

If you listened to this past week’s Coffee Break, then you undoubtedly heard Chris and I talk a lot about Mortal Kombat X. I’ve had MKX on the brain a lot lately, and only half of that is because of work. Yes, I did review the game and then wrote a feature about it, but the big reason why it’s been on my mind is because it’s totally brought me back into the fighting genre. Will I ever be good enough to stream my mad skills? Ha! Highly doubtful. However, I’m having a ton of fun, and I completely admit that I’d be interested in watching e-sports streams of MKX tournaments and even streamers who are far more talented than I am. If I don’t see someone land that 10-hit kombo after kombo, how will I ever know it is possible?

Regardless, as much fun as MKX is, it’s not without its flaws to be sure. The Faction section seems rather thrown together, and the Krypt system is a bit of a beating for unlockables. But it’s the story that put this game over the top for me. Here’s a bit of my review from Action Trip:

The story is set 25 years after the last Mortal Kombat tournament, and the familiar characters I grew up with are significantly older and very very gray. Most of them even have children, such as Cassie Cage, daughter of Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, and Jacqui Briggs, Jax Briggs’ daughter. Kung Lao’s descendent, Kung Jin, is part of the gang as well as Kenshi’s son, Takeda Takahashi. It’s all one big happy family trying to save all of the realms from Quan Chi, his undead army of Smoke, Kitana, Sareena, Kung Lao, and Liu Kang, and Quan Chi’s attempts to releasing Elder God Shinnok from his prison. At least, it would be one big happy family if they could agree on how to save their worlds from NetherRealm attacking, but hey, that’s what makes the inner strifes so interesting.

While many of the chapters are rather fascinating as they teach and refresh memories of the characters’ backstories as well as climb upward toward the big finale, none are as captivating as the chapter starring Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Or rather, since both have forsaken those monikers, Kuai Liang and Hanzo Hisashi (Seriously, this settles it for me. I’m buying the damn thing. – Ed. Vader). If there are any questions about the history between these two, all will be cleared up and answered. Even if the entire story was awful, this one chapter would have made it all worth it.

And now thanks to this game, I’m researching how to emulate my Game Gear cartridges of Mortal Kombat games so I can relive my teenage days. I hate to resort to emulation, but no retro consoles will play Game Gear carts (at least none I’ve found), and I’ve been told repeatedly that emulating isn’t theft if you physically own the carts. I still feel dirty.

Axiom Verge Mini-Review

Axiom Verge_20150408153558After ordering my boss to play Ori and the Blind Forest since it’s a hot topic of a game and a platformer, I couldn’t escape the platforming realm for long. I thought I was safe, but then Axiom Verge released with really glowing reviews, making me realize that SOMEONE should review this retro-styled platformer. I couldn’t escape this time.

To say I was nervous is a gross understatement. I was freaking out. It’s well known that I do not like platformers, have little patience for them, and am prone to rage-quitting them within minutes. Oh yeah, this is going to go oh so well. Even Chris laughed at the idea of it. I think he really wanted me to stream it so he could eat popcorn for two minutes and point and laugh at me.

Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed my time in this Metroid-esque crazy town.

Axiom Verge does not have state-of-the-art graphics or even a soundtrack performed by a symphony orchestra. Instead it proves that you don’t need either of these things if you have solid gameplay. The story behind it is simple, albeit a little overdone. The protagonist, Trace, is a scientist who died in a horrific lab accident, only to wake up in a strange world where nothing makes sense. A voice tells him to get a gun in the next room, and the rest is up to him to figure out. Like Metroid, the alien world is very straight forward and linear and is simple enough to burn straight through from boss to boss to boss. However, also like Metroid, it is only by exploration that Trace can find all of the upgrades to his weapon and health. It’s also the only way Trace can unlock all of the secrets about his strange circumstances.

It’s almost too easy to compare the game to Metroid as it has the labyrinth-shaped rooms connected by various tubes and portals, an emphasis on verticality, an upgradeable gun, and the need to revisit rooms after obtaining new powers and abilities. It even uses the classic “Justin Bailey” password to dress up Trace in a bikini and heels. It doesn’t help that it looks like Metroid and even sounds like Metroid. However, Axiom Verge takes it all a few steps further with weapons and abilities that do more than kill pixelated enemies in nasty ways; the various powers also affect and change the world surrounding Trace. For example, early on, Trace will find a drill attachment for his gun, allowing him to drill through certain bricks and thus previously impassable areas. Much later, he’ll find a coat that will allow him to pass through walls, opening up even more zones for exploration. It doesn’t take long for the game to suddenly become about unlocking every area on the maps instead of finding the next boss. I only went after the map’s boss after I was sure I had exhausted every pathway I could with my current abilities. Doing so caused me to often forget what I was originally tasked to do, even though it was vague to begin with, and the hours to slip away without feeling like I had progressed the storyline, a/k/a defeating the next boss on the roster.

And that’s just a little piece of my thoughts on Axiom Verge. I know I’ve talked about it on the podcast as well, but I really can’t recommend Axiom Verge enough for those who have that retro itch and really like Metroid-style games. But note that it isn’t perfect. I do get into that in my review.

The Order: 1886 Mini-Review

The Order: 1886_20150222221725I was on board that The Order: 1886 hype train from day one. It’s a shooter, it’s steampunk alternate history in Victorian London, and it looks absolutely beautiful. I dismissed all of the previews that said the game wasn’t great, because they were mostly talking about the gameplay. As a story gamer, I can forgive so-so gameplay if the story is riveting. Case in point, Spec Ops: The Line had fairly boring shooter mechanics, nothing innovative there, but the story had me from the first minute and held me there until the end. The Order: 1886 sadly suffers from a weird mix of shooter and forced interactive gameplay and an okay story.

Here’s a bit of what I wrote about it on Action Trip:

The best way I can describe the game is a mix between Gears of War and Heavy Rain. On the one hand, you have the third-person shooter with chest-high walls, a vast array of technological weaponry, and big, clunky characters who have trouble escaping much faster yet larger monsters. On the other, you have Heavy Rain’s need to make every little piece of the game interactive, requiring button presses in the middle of cut-scenes or for the most random of actions while moving through areas. So Tesla made me a new weapon. Do I really need to pick it up and rotate it and look at it? Oh wait, I guess I do as the game won’t progress until I look over every inch of this damn crossbow.

If The Order: 1886 released at the PS4’s launch, we would have a far different view on this game. As it is now, it’s a glorified tech demo of the PS4 that released 18 months too late. It’s more than obvious that Ready at Dawn had a story they wanted to tell, and they forced gameplay around their story, including shoe-horning in all of the new features that the PlayStation 4 has to offer; you know, like a launch game of a new system often does.

The Order: 1886 absolutely broke my heart and shattered my expectations. I’m honestly surprised there is a strategy guide for this at all, but as there is one, I’m replaying the game on Easy so I can 1) burn through it and 2) make sure the guide tells me where all of the collectibles are.

Life is Strange Episode 1 Mini-Review

Life Is Strange™_20150205144214I am really digging all of the episodic, point-and-click games that have suddenly become so popular. We all definitely have Telltale Games to thank for this trend, and of course, one of the biggest questions that comes into play with the popularity is how many copycats will we have? DONTNOD has their own episodic series, Life is Strange, of which the first episode released last week. Thankfully, DONTNOD has their own unique gameplay spin, separating it from any other would-be copycats: the ability to rewind time.

This ability is the game’s lifesaving feature, because otherwise, aside from the beautiful art direction, the game would be rather trite and stale. Here’s snippet from my review over on Action Trip:

Of course, as this is a story about high school, one must bring on the angst and drama. Nothing goes the way Max envisioned it. She has a lot of trouble making friends, despite the fact that this one rather cute boy quite obviously has a crush on her that she doesn’t see, she feels like she’s floundering in class even though her teacher hero says she has a rare gift, and the popular, rich kids go out of their way to make fun of her. In so many ways, it seemed like Twilight merged a bit with Mean Girls. I could feel my eyes rolling hard to the back of my head as it became apparent the developer really wanted ME to connect with Max. Look at her; she’s a self-proclaimed geeky girl who isn’t popular and has no confidence in herself. Wasn’t that YOU in high school, dear gamer? While yes, that was me in high school, too many books/movies/games have tried that heartstring to relate to me in the past. Let’s pick a new schtick, mmmkay?

Thankfully, there is a twist beyond the teenage angst. While Max is trying to recover from a troubling dream she had whilst awake, two other kids barrel into the bathroom and one ends up getting killed. During her shock at witnessing such a horrific event, she somehow develops the ability to rewind time, which then allows her to change events. In this case, she was able to save one of her classmates.

Max can rewind time at nearly any point in the game, save a few cut scenes, but then she can rewind time after the cut scene completes. The only times Max cannot rewind time are after leaving scenes, which suggests she can only rewind a few minutes at a time. Rewinding time serves two purposes throughout the game: solving puzzles and making decisions.

Want to read more? Please go check out the rest of the review and find out if Life is Strange is worth your investment. I recommend at least giving the first episode a try, if you like this genre.