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Games of 2013: Rogue Legacy07:38 PM -- Tue January 21, 2014

Rogue Legacy

Oops, I was so busying playing Marvel Heroes, I forgot to tell you about the other games I played last year. Rogue Legacy is a Castlevania-like. It's a side-scrolling action platformer where you level up and kill stuff and try to find the bosses and slay them. The big twist this time around is reflected in the game's name: Rogue is trying to tell you that when you die, it's permanent (also that the game world is randomly generated), while Legacy is there to tell you that it's okay that you are dead - your children will carry on in your name!

The legacy feature is actually fairly dumb to me - theoretically, the 3 characters you get to choose from each time are the 3 children of the last character you played, but first of all, why does every person in this family always have exactly 3 children, and second of all, why are they completely random instead of related in some way to their parent? What's fun is that they have random traits, including things like Near-Sighted (the edges of the screen are blurred, only the center is clear) or Insane (occasionally you'll encounter enemies that you are imagining!), so it's fun stuff, and often a very interesting choice to be making, but I'm just not sure how "legacy" it is.

But there is one big thing that is very legacy about it, and it's the way you progress in the game: your family owns a giant castle, and you use the gold you manage to get out (not sure how your people who die in the middle of the dungeon get their cash out, but they seem to send it by Western Union in their death throes) to upgrade the castle, which upgrades all your guys in various ways, or unlocks new character classes or special abilities. It's pretty enjoyable to upgrade this, knowing that even though you begin each run from scratch, you're a little more powerful each time anyway. It's also fun to find blueprints for new gear and runes in the dungeon which you can apply to your descendants.

The progress is very well balanced here, where I can push forward a little bit more each time, and gradually upgrade. Eventually you beat a boss, and that boss remains dead for good, which is a pretty big let-down actually, since the bosses give huge piles of money when killed, and it'd be quite satisfying to re-slay them with your more powerful descendants.

But this game is very hard. You die a lot. It always feels pretty well-earned, and even if it doesn't, no big deal - you get to go again, and probably buy an upgrade first! It doesn't feel frustrating despite the challenge.

So I highly recommend Rogue Legacy. Just a great game for people like me who love Castlevania (Symphony of the Night, that is)! Which by the way this game is full of homages to - from the skeletons that toss bones in an arc to the really annoying wolves.
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Games of 2013: Marvel Heroes12:22 PM -- Wed January 15, 2014

Marvel Heroes

Yo! Let me start right out saying that Marvel Heroes is free-to-play (and quite playable for free), and so everybody should play it. It is a Diablo clone, only instead of Warriors and Wizards, you play as Wolverines, Captains America, Squirrel Girls, and Spidermen. It's got all the Diablo stuff, with the random loot (why superheroes collect random gear and wear it is not important, because it is fun), the skill trees and leveling up, and even a story you are supposed to repeat 3 times on your way to maximum level. It's actually made by the guys who made Diablo 2, and it shows. It really is more like Diablo 2 than Diablo 3 is (I won't complain about Diablo 3 too much, I like it quite a bit, and I have high hopes for the big flaws it has to be resolved with the expansion... most of them). Technically, it's an MMO rather than just an ARPG, but it's not super MMOey, you mostly just Diablo along smashing things by yourself or in small groups (they do say raids are coming soon, though).

Like any "Free to play" game such as the awe-inspiringly great Growtopia, you can play this game for free, but you can also dump endless hundreds of dollars into it to buy your way into everything. Unlike Growtopia, there are some things in this game that can only be obtained by paying real money. I have spent $10 total on this game, buying 2 extra pages of stash for all my hoarded items. I felt like that was worthwhile, given the 158 hours of play I've put into the game. You can also of course buy heroes, special costumes, experience boosts, rare-item-finding boosts, cosmetic pets, and so on.

Some of those things can be obtained for free as well. There's a system in the game where you find Eternity Splinters as you play (they drop randomly with incredible rarity, but a hidden timer guarantees at least one every 8 minutes or so), and you can spend those on getting heroes (and a couple other things). The cheapest option is to buy a Random Hero Box (poor guys, there aren't even air holes), but all heroes are equally likely in the box, including ones you already have. My very first random box, when I owned 2 of the 25 or so heroes available at the time, gave me one of the two I already had. It was quite demoralizing, but I'm now about 5 random boxes past that with no more repeats and lots of cool people I was excited to get. A repeat is not technically wasted, it gives you +1 rank to your "Ultimate Power", but that is pretty close to worthless. It's a gamble for sure! You can also just buy the hero you want, for many more Splinters, but I honestly prefer the random box, despite the horrible risk of failure. I don't even know which one I'd buy if I had to choose. If they offered random boxes for real money, I'd be awfully tempted to buy some!

This is the most updated game I've ever played. Every week there's a big update for it, which often includes a new hero (about one of those a month), a complete revamp of an existing hero (they're going through every character one by one, updating their skills and adding new ones to make them more fun), a new section to the story, a new gameplay mode like one week they added PvP battles (bleh), or just a total overhaul to a game system. If you tried this game when it first came out, I highly recommend you check it out again, because it literally doesn't even look like the same game anymore. The interface has been all redone, and they just constantly polish and refine. Now, to be fair, this is happening because the game was released in a very broken beta-like state, but I enjoyed it then, and I enjoy it a lot more now. They really do keep improving it dramatically, and that's a really nice thing to see instead of the usual fire-and-forget that most games have.

If you like Diabloey stuff, this is a great game for you. It's ridiculous how packed with enemies the areas are, and almost every ability of almost every hero is some kind of big AOE explosion, so you can easily be mowing down 50 guys in the space of 5 seconds. This is not a complex strategic battle simulation, it's just an endless slaughter of poor innocent mafia guys. That's a lot of fun, and has yet to get old for me (though it's the kind of mindless thing I listen to podcasts while doing, of course). I am just really addicted to slowly building up my team of heroes in this game. It's truly a game for altoholics and I am the most anonymous of altoholics. I gotta catch em all.

So, highly recommended, totally free, so come hang out with me, "Hamumu", in the game! It is only on PC right now (through Steam or on their website), though they say a Mac version is coming around March or so.
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Games of 2013: Just Cause 205:24 PM -- Thu January 9, 2014

Just Cause 2

Now here's a game that's not very current! But this year is when I got it (for $2.99 in a Steam sale) and played it. Too be honest, I haven't played it a lot. Wow, well actually, Steam says I've played 6 hours which was kind of a surprise to me! I thought I had barely touched it, and that may be true, but I guess I touched for a while.

Just Cause is a "GTA-Like" - a game that takes place in an open world where you can steal cars and cause trouble in a 3rd-person perspective with a lot of guns and explosives. It bears many of the trademark elements of these games, but it has a sheen of respectability since in this game, the authorities are actually a totalitarian regime of some sort, so when you are breaking laws and killing cops, you're doing... good? Well, not as bad. You're supposedly fighting for the people.

I gave Just Cause 1 a try (also on PC - except for Borderlands 2, all of my Games of 2013 were played on PC. Borderlands 2 was on PS3), but it is a terrible PC port of a console game. It's virtually unplayable, and I quit very quickly. Just Cause 2 on the other hand is a blast. The big 'hook' to Just Cause is in fact a grappling hook, combined with a parachute. Using those two tools, which you have from the very first instant of the game, you can do an amazing array of ridiculous physics-defying things. I rarely steal cars because it's usually faster to just grapple the ground in front of me, pop the parachute open and launch myself skyward with that (if that doesn't make sense to you, that's because it's not possible but you can do it!). Then you can re-grapple the ground over and over to sort of sky-crawl along. You can even climb mountains that way.

If you want to be more violent about it, you can grapple enemies to pull them off of towers, grapple helicopters to jump aboard and throw the pilot out of them, or least plausible of all, grapple a helicopter and then disconnect the grapple from yourself (yet somehow keep it for future use anyway) and grapple the other end of your rope to a tank, either airlifting the tank or crashing the helicopter. Or possibly both.

I can't really tell you much about this game, despite 6 hours of experience. It feels like I hardly have any idea how it works. It seems like a really hard game, with guys gunning you down left and right, but you have a lot of tricks you can employ to escape and beat them... if you're good enough to pull them off. The game world is utterly enormous (it's famous for it: See?), and it's pretty daunting to even think about that. I don't know if I will play more of this game in the future. In my old age, such a huge game is just more than I have time to deal with. I've been playing Batman: Arkham Origins and the city feels small, and I actually really like it. Nothing is really too far away, and everything is always interesting. I don't know that a giant world is all that great a feature!

Anyway, the final conclusion on this one is that it's a real fun experience - the ridiculous things you can do make you laugh, and it's just fun run n' gun. Not a lot of variety though - this island of hundreds of little villages is kind of all the same. I mean, some of them are mud huts while others are big cities of glass and steel, but either way, you're just running around shooting the same people over and over and yanking them off of walls. Which is fun but not enough to fill hundreds of hours, which is probably what it takes to 'complete' all the cities on the map.

For $2.99 though? Pick it up!
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Games of 2013: Symphony03:32 PM -- Wed January 8, 2014

Symphony

Symphony is one of those "play the music you own" games. In this case, it generates a Space Invaders type of experience, with spaceships coming at you on the beat, and you gunning them down mercilessly, because that's what music is all about.

I've put some time into this game this year, though I wouldn't say it's really a great game by any means. What it is is zen. After a day of really working out my brain with code, and draining my creativity with art, and then exhausting my braincupines (spiny things that live inside your head) with more significant video games, my wife will finally text me to say she's coming home. She works until fairly late, and it takes about an hour for her to get home. So I'm sitting there, all drained out, with nothing but time to kill until she comes home. I could watch TV, but I can't watch anything good, because then she won't have seen it, so why bother? So for a while during the middle of the year, I had an unplanned nightly ritual of blasting through a few songs on Symphony.

The game is not hard at all - the challenge is in getting a perfect run and picking up combo bonuses before the combo expires. There's no challenge to getting through the song successfully, even on really high difficulties (at least the highest I've unlocked anyway). I'm not even sure if it's possible to "die" in the game, other than brief explosions that just cost you some points. It also of course is set to the backdrop of whatever music you want to be listening to (loudly), and perhaps singing along to, but nobody needs to know about that. And you can even rig up your spaceship to autofire, so all you do is slide the mouse around to aim at enemies and pick up bonuses. My eyes just glaze over as the colors slip and slide, and I find myself in a flow state, set free to think about life and game ideas and whatever else as my musicotonal cortexuli (something made of braincupines) processes the onscreen action for me.

One thing I like about rhythm games in general is that they give you a new way to appreciate music. Rock Band (drumming) taught me to really notice the drumbeats in music and appreciate interesting rhythms. This game doesn't tie to the music that strongly, but it gives you the mindspace to just appreciate it as it plays. Usually when I listen to music, I'm doing ten other things, so this game forces me to focus in on the music.

So yeah, there's nothing fantastic about this game, if I must be honest. The menus and such are really bad with some really awkward ways of interacting with your collected weapons, and finding the song you want is a trial. You upgrade your ship with various weapons (each different song earns you a new weapon, Monster Rancher style!), but there are very few different weapons (that I've found. Maybe I just need different music?), so that ends up not being very interesting at all. I found the 2 I like, loaded up, and just blast away. It's mainly just a vehicle for zoning out and appreciating some music while you wait for your TV-watching partner to come home. And at that, it excels. Pure mindless psychedelia. Almost like watching the WinAmp visualizer, just slightly more interactive.
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Games of 2013: Borderlands 203:23 PM -- Mon January 6, 2014

Hey all! I am back on the blog, with a new year full of punch and judy (whatever). Actually, for the entirety of 2014, I have been sick. That's pretty lame. A whole year. Well, sorta. I still feel quite tired and bluggy, but I'm going to start off a short series today.

Games of 2013 is where I'm going to throw out some sort of info about the video games that I played in 2013. Not all of them, of course, or even necessarily the ones I played most. But probably the ones I played most, because the ones I'm going to talk about are the ones I remember. And I think that's the best criteria anyway - there's gotta be a reason it sticks in your head, right? This isn't gonna be a review, just more of some different thoughts about the games and thoughts they have given me in general.

Borderlands 2

So to start off with, the game I may have put more total hours into than any game ever, with the possible exception of Diablo 2. Borderlands 2 is the sequel to another game (you'll never guess what it was called!) which I spent hundreds of hours on as well, and my experience with it is similar. The Borderlands series is an RPG-FPS. It's Diablo, but in first-person with guns. And with a really rough sense of humor and a lot of visual style.

In both Borderlandses, I enjoyed them from the get-go - give me random loot, and I am happy. But they both have you leveling very slowly compared to almost any RPG I've ever played, which really puts a damper on my interest. So I kind of lost interest, both times, after an initial burst. Like with any game, I began by making one of every character and trying them out. That's an absolute rule with me, not one I have to enforce, more of a rule like gravity is a rule. It happens. And in both games, I ended up latching onto the guy who drops a turret as my initial hero of choice! I do like pets. So I'd get a ways into the game, basically into the beginning of the second "area" of each game, and then I kind of lost interest and went to other games and other parts of life. Were that the whole story, these games would not be memorable at all.

But it's not! In fact, in both games, I ended up coming back to them months later when my friend talked about his experience playing them, and I said "Yeah, that was fun, I'm gonna catch up to you and play online with you!" only to promptly surpass him by a dozen levels because he has more of a life than me. I find it nearly impossible to play any game online with non-random people, even ones where you can just drop in and out. Our schedules just don't align. In Borderlands 1, the story ends about there. I gradually battled my way to the end of the game, won it, and kinda quit. I still liked it, I wanted to do more, but I did have better things to do.

Then Borderlands 2 came out, all that stuff above happened with it, only it didn't stop there. No sir. Once I got back into it after the long break, I stuck in hard. I have all 6 character classes (2 of which were DLC) in Borderlands 2 leveled to varying points between 30 and 50 (there's kind of a nasty cut-off at 50. You can level higher, but only if you like pain or play with friends). I've also grinded for various legendary weapons (that Bee shield is amazing), and completed all 4 of the big DLC adventures a bare minimum of twice each. Other than a couple extra character slots way back in Guild Wars 1, it's the first game I've ever bought DLC for. So yes, hundreds of hours invested. Too bad it doesn't show a number, because it would be a shockingly large one.

Now, I haven't played it in about two months, I'd say, and I may be free of its grasp at last. But I do kind of wish I could go back. It's just that there are so many other games out there, how can I justify eking out bits of joy from one game when hundreds of others demand my love? So what kept me going for all those hours anyway? Well, it's the formula that works on me: action-RPG gameplay, leveling up, randomized loot to compare and choose from, cartoonish graphics, and humor. Which by the way is the best I've seen in a game. Borderlands 2 is legitimately laugh-out-loud funny, and consistently so, for large stretches, even on multiple playthroughs. And like Futurama, the funny is full of heart too. Maybe not FULL of it. There's a little heart and pathos buried in there. It's much much funnier than Borderlands 1. Handsome Jack is the best villain in a video game ever, and Tiny Tina is the best character in a video game ever. And Mr. Torgue is the best whatever-he-is too.

What more could you want out of a game? These things:

1. Faster leveling. It simply takes too long per level in this game. At reasonably high levels (not tippy top, but like 20+), it's easily an hour of gameplay to gain a single level. I want to be picking my skill points often! It's fun to pick skill points.

2. Less of a brick wall when you hit the third difficulty. Not just a brick wall - it's a brick wall that grows taller the stronger you get. If you level up past level 50 before trying the third difficulty, you will actually have a harder time, and could easily reach a point where it becomes impossible to do. I tried it for about 10 minutes and called it impossible enough for me when I was 50.

3. Less repetition in the repeating. Like Diablo before it, Borderlands has a structure where you play the story through once, reaching around level 30, and then you start it over for level 30-50, and a third time for 50+. This is fine with me, but games (ahem, Diablo 3) need to learn to make concessions for this and let you skip story nonsense for the repeats. There's an odd element in this game where you get to skip the beginner bit of the game which is pure tutorial (literally beginning with "Hold the stick forward to walk forward")... but only on the third runthrough. Why you don't skip this on the second time is unfathomable. Or skip it anytime you choose - With 6 characters, I've played through this entire story nearly 12 times at this point. Of course I also like/prefer/love when you have alternate ways to advance instead of just repeating the story ad nauseum - Marvel Heroes is amazing in this regard. It contains the repeat-3-times structure, but you can skip it entirely with alternate arcadey modes instead, or mix and match as you please.

So I don't know what all I said in there, but that's basically my experience with Borderlands 2. I highly recommend it, I love it, and I am greatly looking forward to Borderlands 3, whenever that happens. I'm tired.
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