Undertale (Not a) Review- PC

It’s hard to review a game like Undertale.

You see, I don’t even want to write a review. I don’t want to weigh the pros and cons, and I certainly don’t want to give it a score. I’ll admit I have an ulterior motive here.

Really, I just want you to play it.

But if I go through an item-by-item description of what makes it special, I will spoil the experience of playing the game. And this is a game that has to be played to be experienced. This is not some game you can just spectate.

Let’s be honest, there are plenty of modern games you can fully experience just by watching a playthrough, narrated by your favorite flavor of YouTube personality. You don’t really have to play those games. But this game needs to be played.

Now, you may look at the game’s screenshots, or see the trailer, and not be impressed. You may already know, in your heart, that this is overhyped indie game of the year #1,345. And that’s fine. You’re right to think that.

Maybe you’re tired of the politics in gaming, the viral marketing, the lightly interactive Unity engine indies, or bloated AAA rehash after rehash. When you see a game get this kind of response, this universal acclaim, you probably should be suspicious.

But why then, how then, in this world of 100+ games in the backlog, achievement hunting, and million-dollar advertising budgets, does a modest-looking RPG largely created by just one person with no advertising whatsoever, get this kind of hype?

Well this game, it touches people. It makes them feel things. Maybe it’s the innocence of the game, or the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game is whimsical, cheesy, pun-filled, and has a soundtrack filled with tunes that are somehow already nostalgic on the first encounter. Oh, and it’s full of surprises.

Toby Fox has worked within some very basic limits in a very creative way, to create a game that is more than the sum of its parts.

You’ve probably heard the comparisons to Earthbound, Wario Ware, bullet hells, and other indie RPGs. None of those comparisons are wrong, but none are completely right.

The pacing, the humor, the characters, the messages, the little touches, and the basic game mechanics all work together to create something that many people feel is very special. At times subtle, at times goofy, at times loving, and at times frightening, this game manages to effortlessly excel at being itself.

If you like traditional RPGs, a good story, clever dialogue, dogs, interesting mechanics, or the chance to play a game that understands the value of life, rather than simply rewarding the destruction of it, you should probably give it a shot.

I’ll be honest—you know what’s the hardest part of talking about this game? I’m afraid. I’m afraid that you’ll play it and you won’t have the same feelings I had playing it. Not because that will devalue my experience, but because I so desperately want everyone in the world to play this game and have a similar experience. And that may not happen. What one person adores, another may not. That’s just how it works.

But the idea that someone out there is playing this game for the first time, and feeling something they haven’t felt in a long time?

It fills me with determination.

-Bearshaman.

The Bloodborne Review

chatterdank2

I’ve been wanting to post a review of Bloodborne for quite some time to kick off my gaming sub-site.

But it just ain’t that simple.

See, it would be impossible to talk about Bloodborne without first talking about the Souls games. Bloodborne is, in every way but its name, a Souls game. Mechanics and elements have been tweaked and refined, but it is still very much a Souls game.

But does it live up to its predecessors, the critical praise, and the hype?

Read on for the next five pages you will have to click individually that are filled with fifteen pop-up ads each to find out!

Just kidding. I fucking hate that shit.

If you’d like to know my opinion on the matter, I will tell you straight out that I think Bloodborne is another masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Demon’s and Dark (the first). And, like its predecessors, it must also be acknowledged that it is a flawed masterpiece.

But, just like relationships, what it really comes down to is how you feel about various flaws and whether or not you believe you can overlook them and enjoy the game/lover for who they are.

Bloodborne inherits many of its joys and its problems from its Miyazakiborne predecessors. And considering the unique nature of these games, the best way to describe the newest is to start by examining the way the others work as a basis for comparison. So, just like Vizzini told Inigo, we must first go back to the beginning.

I’m currently working on a retrospective covering each of the Souls games, starting with Demon’s. And admittedly, it’s getting a bit out of hand. I’ve got a rough draft for part one of the first game finished that nearly breaks 3,000 words. This is ending up more of a novella than a simple game review.

But if you’re interested in that kind of long-read discussion of the underpinnings of games, I think you might enjoy it.

More to come very soon.

-Bearshaman

They Said

I could be anything
when I grew up,
so I decided to
be Disney’s Aladdin
for the Sega Genesis.

Every now and then
I look back on that
memory and I laugh
mighty thunder dragon
bleats out of my YM2612
FM synthesizer.

And I recall those quaint
years before the custom
spritework from real
Disney animators, my
faithfully adapted hit
soundtrack, and this
bitchin’ scimitar–too
cool for the movies.

-Bearshaman

The Witcher (PC game) review

 When I first started playing The Witcher, my favorite aspect of the game was being able to pick through people’s wardrobes without fear of getting NPCs angry. I could go through their digital closets and house-barrels without fear, permanently borrowing one-to-four pieces of in-game currency worth of weak beer, omnipresent flint, or ham sandwiches with inventory pictures that looked like evidence exhibits at a murder trial. I could then fence the goods at my leisure—or until my inventory filled up. Which happened quite often. And, since there are limited weapon slots on our witcher friend, I had to leave behind more torches and Temerian iron daggers than I would care to admit.

I didn’t like the game much then, if at all. The voice acting was just tolerable, only occasionally dipping into Tales-series levels of badness. The prologue wasn’t all that engaging. The combat was bizarre, and poorly explained. The horrid amnesiac protagonist trope played heavily. Strangefully, a sorceress decided to sleep with me after I made her drink a magic potion, thus allowing me to collect her sex-card. And there was lots of you’re-the-chosen-errand-boy action.

And yet, 60 hours later, I’m glad I decided to play The Witcher. Pretty sure I’m glad.

I’d been interested in the game for years, possibly since before its release. I recall walking by it several times at big box stores, admiring the out-of-place metal wolf head on the box’s cover, always standing out among the latest WoW expansions and shovelware Diner Dash releases. The metal promo vid was nice too. At that time, I’d more-or-less disowned modern gaming, but that’s another rant entirely.

So, let’s get down to business. I purchased The Witcher, eventually, and some time later, finally played it. I finished it yesterday. Was it a good game?

Is anything truly good or bad? Isn’t everything in life simply a catalyst for tomorrow’s memories? Why am I bringing up this drek?

Well, because I think I truly started to enjoy the game when I began to have to make tough decisions. Not the right decisions—there really are no such things in the game—I began to have to make choices which would probably help one person I liked while destroying a different person I liked.

I know that is not a unique concept, and companies such as Bioware are famous for this sort of thing. I also remember attempting to play Dragon Age: Origins, and laughing at the moral options.

 

 

Approximation of an average DA:O moral dilemma:

 

You have encountered humans in the forest.

 

A.)Slay them and drink their blood dry, in no particular order.

B.)Throw them a party to celebrate their arrival in your secret elven village.

C.)Pretend they aren’t there until they leave.

 

 

The morality in The Witcher is more ambiguous. There are no good/evil/neutral choices, there are paths to help some, paths to help others, and a path where you can furiously attempt to maintain a witcher’s neutrality. Forced morality is not inserted into every single conversation, so when you do have to make a big choice, it actually feels like a big choice.

 

And this is pretty true to the books. Yep, the world was fascinating enough for me to pick up the two translated American releases by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

 

The Last Wish, essentially a collection of short stories about witcher Geralt of Rivia, is pretty damn good. In it, Geralt moves from town to town in a dark fantasy world, fighting monsters and solving peasant problems. However, little is as it first seems, and he is constantly forced to make tough decisions.

 

The other book, Blood of Elves, is more of a straightforward fantasy novel. I didn’t enjoy the pacing at all, but the characters were still…

 

Oh yeah! I’m supposed to be reviewing the game! Which means getting sidetracked is plenty appropriate. The game has way too many random side-quests, most involving your running across town, and they constantly interrupt the supposedly important main quests. It adds a ton of time onto the game, and I didn’t enjoy it.

 

But the dark fantasy world is pretty good, and the translation of characters and ideas from book-to-game is pretty fantastic (although Dandelion’s voice was awful). Geralt gets more interesting the more you play, although I think the damn amnesia idea was kind of unnecessary. So what if we don’t know the every detail of the dark fantasy world? That doesn’t mean you have to sever the character’s connections to it too. Just feels a bit unnecessary.

 

And the weapons system is a bit silly. There is no real reason to use anything but Witcher weapons, even though you keep finding other weapons. Kind of feels like a waste.

 

Anyhow, let’s talk about some more of the positives. The combat, as bad as it is initially, becomes something of a strength later in the game. Once you get more swords and techniques, you’re able to do some really neat stuff. If anything, it got too easy on normal mode, especially after obtaining the Igni sign, not to mention the insanely powerful potions.

 

There is some very nice ambiance. Some country areas feel downright spooky after dusk, there’s a swamp that feels massive and slimy, and some cities become old friends after HOURS OF RUNNING BACK AND FORTH THROUGH THEM.

 

There are some optional pointless things, like sexing up randoms or fistfighting or Yahtzee betting. Leaving them as optional was a good call.

 

The fact the game was made in Poland by a Polish team based on a Polish author’s book full of Polish medieval myths is pretty badass. A lot of love and knowledge of the subject matter went into the game, and it shows.

 

So yeah, The Witcher is a dark fantasy PC game. It’s not the pinnacle of PC gaming I hear the sequel heralded as, but it’s not terrible. The story is decent, and the gray approach to morality is nice. Some of the mechanics are poorly explained, but they mostly work well in the end (I had to look up a bit online, although a physical instruction manual may have fixed this). The inventory setup is a pain for any sort of compulsive item gatherer, and the game suffers slightly from Offline-MMO Syndrome, though not as bad as Skyrim. The voice acting ranges from mediocre to acceptable. Also, you cannot use a gamepad with this game.

 

On the other hand, the Last Wish is a fine collection of short stories, and I definitely recommend checking it out.

Initial Impressions: Don’t Starve (PC Game)

I weathered through the winter. Good goddamn.

When I started playing Don’t Starve, I had no idea what exactly I was in for. Very few games wrangle me in the way this game did, and my obsessive playing in the last week or so is downright terrifying.

 

From humble beginnings

From humble beginnings

 

I don’t even want to admit how many times I restarted my save files, and not because of the easily-attained character deaths. I love starting games over; all the opportunities and chances fresh for the taking, the joy/art of customizing your character and min/maxing their meager starter gears. When I would play Might and Magic 2 for the Sega Genesis as a kid, I would just sit there and re-roll stats for hours and hours. When the game finally began for real, I had already moved on.

Not so with Don’t Starve. The game pulls you in immediately with a real sense of urgency in this randomly generated (and somewhat customizable, though I always hit “default” on everything) map filled with adventure. And yet, the game is deceptively not-difficult in so many ways. In fact, the most challenging part I’ve encountered in the game is trying to do anything in combat, since my little dude always seems to want to walk around behind the enemy and give the foe a free shot before swinging at them. That, and the fact that I never seem to get the right pig parts to drop so’s I can build anything useful out of my ham-beast buds.

 

These spiders were meant for squashing, and that's what you should do

These spiders were meant for squashing, and that’s what you should do

 

But the game isn’t about combat—Don’t Starve is all strategy, and knowing what to do, and what order to do it in. Which can be exceedingly difficult, considering that the game tells you nothing. And I love it for that.

Mechanically, it’s very simple. A single-player game, you control a little man (initially Wilson, gentleman scientist) on a massive isometric map. You click around or use WASD to move, and you can interact with objects in the world by clicking or hitting spacebar when within proper operating distance of the thing you’re trying to make do stuff. You have three life stats: hunger, sanity, and health. Here, the strategy is to attempt a proper manipulation of resources. By creating, consuming, and conserving properly, you keep these statistics up. Fail, and you start over again (unless you have the proper random-object-of-resurrection doing things for you).

 

The game designers let you in on some programming secrets during initial loadings

The game designers let you in on some programming secrets during initial loadings

 

At a time when B-movie-quality exposition, dialogue, and plot lines dominate the AAA titles, it’s nice to play a game which generates an actual desire to continue playing and a true sense of joy simply through (surprise) actually playing the game. And yet, it somehow does this through mostly mundane tasks. True, you’ve got some killing, evading, and building, but that all mostly takes a backseat to the gathering.

 

Kill rocks, get loots

Kill rocks, get loots

 

You gather food, materials, followers, and enough courage to press forward even in the face of the super-spooky. And yes, gathering itself, and what you then do with what you’ve gathered,  is one of the biggest, strategy-consuming parts of the game. You could spend all day gathering berries to make sure you follow the initial suggestion offered to you by the developers in this game’s title, but will those tasty berries help you fight off a random monster, or stay warm through the night? You think you can just sleep on a pile of delicious jam?!

 

Get the stuff, click the tab, build the things

Get the stuff, click the tab, build the things

 

You even gather new characters to play through with, unlocked by making it through enough days (with, or without dying. Just days played overall). The game is frustrating at times, but it knows how to carrot-on-a-stick you through the toughest parts, and each death is really just the beginning of a new grand strategy; that elusive attempt that will make it—all the way.

 

Happymanwithaxe.jpg

Unlock fresh faces by not dying for a bit

 

The game’s unique style and atmosphere is to be addressed in this paragraph. It’s old-timey and big-liney and cartooney and kind of steampunkish. I like it. Also, characters talk in English-subtitled trumpet blasts and oboe wails. Watch a single trailer and you’ll know what you’re in for.

 

Top-tier canadian South Park hobo sim

Realistic depiction of male user after repeated exposure to this game

 

If you’ve got a bunch of free time or a life partner you’re trying to lose, and fifteen bucks lying around, you should get this game and give it a go. It’s simple enough have been released on an iPad, but difficult enough to make you want to bookmark the Wiki with a left-right glance and a shame-faced look. Games such as these are an experience, which you continue to unlock by continuing to play, not by looking up the answers (though at times you kind of have to because the game doesn’t reveal too much). And you may find yourself continuing, for hours and hours on end, measuring in your mind how much further you can get before real life kicks back in.

And there’s something joyful in that. Don’t Starve is a great way to remind yourself that you CAN still focus on one thing, intensely. While playing, everything outside of the game’s window becomes a distraction to be avoided if at all possible. It’s pure escapism ironically rooted in our oldest primal survival tendencies, and it kicks a lot of ass.

What it is:

  • Strategic resource and response-to-stimuli management and survival simulator
  • Quirky Canadian independent game simulator
  • Full of gathering
  • Occasionally frustrating and deathful
  • Easy to pick up, difficult to yadda yadda
  • Timesink
  • Addictive
  • Stylized isometric steampunk science-magic

What it isn’t:

  • Very good at combat
  • Straightforward with its intricacies
  • Easy to turn off
  • Big budget AAA title

-Bearshaman