Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Super Mario Party (Switch) - First Impression and Thoughts

It's weird that I consider myself a Mario Party fan when all I've really played is Mario Part 2 on the N64. So I've played that for hundreds and hundreds of hours, but I am curiously lacking in experience in almost all the other Mario Parties. I played a bit of Mario Party (1) and some of that one that's on the Wii, but honestly I can barely remember anything about them. Mario Party 2 however, is probably one of my favourite games ever, and I love that so much that I was hyped about Super Mario Party for the Switch. Because I never owned a GameCube (until much, much later), Wii or WiiU I considered this my first proper opportunity (because who wants to play Mario Party on a handheld?) to get back into the franchise.

This image hints at everything you'll need to know.

This was especially well timed as I had just introduced the son (then just under 5 yo) to Mario Party 2, before I even knew there was one just about to be released for the Switch. I had been looking for multiplayer games to play with him suitable for the age, and found that Mario Party 2 seemed like it could work. It did, he loved it and we had loads of fun. Thus I went and bought Super Mario Party almost immediately on release and as we haven't had time to play that much yet (I mean we do actually do other things than play video games around here!) here are just some quick thoughts I've gathered so far;

When I got it I had planned for it to be our Sunday Gaming Fun. Sundays is usually the day we use to play some multiplayer games together and we were all excited to try our new game. Then came a big blow to those plans. We have the two joy-cons that come with the Switch and a pro controller and had planned to be three people playing (mommy, daddy and son). We were sitting there like idiots not understanding what was wrong with the pro controller until I googled it and found out that, no, you can't use the pro controller on Super Mario Party. One of us would have to sit out. Ohh, I was so angry about this at first.

Then I played the game and I thought I could sort of understand Nintendo's reasoning behind it, that the pro controller isn't optimal to use with the minigames, but considering the price tag of that thing... Yeah, I am still sore about that, especially since Super Mario Party isn't even the only game where you can't use the pro controller. Pro my behind, more like schmoe.

But then we finally decided who had to sit out (it weren't going to be me and it weren't going to be the kid, so... bye bye daddy) and started playing the game.

Ok, we can't choose who the Computer Characters are going to be? Minor issue I guess, although I distinctly remember loving to kick Peaches rear in the mini-games as a kid, I've obviously outgrown such childish behaviour.

Then we get into the boards (into… or onto?). Ok, so we can only roll up to 6 now? Makes sense I guess since that is how an actual die works. When did they change that? And why was it up to 10 to begin with?

Oh ok I realize why it was up to 10 to begin with - because now everything moves endlessly slow! I keep rolling 1 and my son who is the luckiest s.o.b (wait did I just call myself a....) this side of the equator keeps rolling exactly what he needs to get to the damn star!

Wait?! The star only costs 10 coins now? Oh no... this was the only thing keeping my son from getting any stars. Because he never won any mini-games (I might love my kid, but I ain't losing on purpose when it's about Mario Party-dignity) he never used to have money for any stars. But now he gets enough money just from walking around the board and he. IS. WINNING!

So yeah, I've played this game four times with my kid and he has - legitimately - won every time. I don't mind, in fact I find this to be one of the good things about Super Mario Party. I mean it's a good thing if you're in the position where you want your 5 yo son to have a winning chance without bending over backwards trying to lose every mini-game. Now I am still winning every mini-game and it just doesn't matter. I can sit there with my 100+ coins all I like because if I never get to the star first, I will never have a star. Although there are other ways to get stars, and soon I find they are my only options, they are not enough for me to win. At least not yet.

So I do have a couple of issues with the game so far, but bear in mind that I have really barely touched it and I might've just been really unlucky. Firstly, if I haven't just been really unlucky and the game is actually designed this way, it sort of points towards that it doesn't matter how good you are at the mini-games, because all that matters is what you hit with the die. While this has always been true in the Mario Party games (and remember I am really only comparing to Mario Party 2, but talking like I know stuff), I feel that Super Mario Party is more down to luck than ever before. Because let's face it, my 5 yo is probably not some video game Mozart.

So much fun to explore!

Secondly, I feel like having you roll 6 instead of 10 is only there to mask how tiny the boards are. It also means I am 1/6 likely to roll a 1 instead of 1/10 likely and omg I roll so many 1... Compared to the sprawling headaches mazes that the boards are in Mario Party 2, you will walk in your tiny loop over and over and over like a goldfish in a bowl in Super Mario Party. It's just not exciting and doesn't offer much exploration, but grows repetitive quickly (and we all know I hate repetitiveness, mostly because I can't spell that dang word).

On the bright side however, the mini-games are fun, they have a good variety and make good use of the joy-con.

I do like the concept of having different die to choose from when you roll, although this seems to me some would be decidedly more useful than others.

And this game has so many other options to play with that I haven't even checked out yet. I am definitely looking forward to playing more, but I really wish I could have a 1-10 die again.

Friday, November 30, 2018

VGM Highlights - November 2018

As you might've noticed if you've read one or two of my blog posts, I play a lot of video games. What I mention a lot less however is that I also listen to quite a lot of video game music (VGM). But I thought it was time to change that! I sat thinking of some good way for me to get to talk about good VGM while also promote some of the great VGM podcasts I listen to. "Hey, I have a blog after all, that's what that is for right?". Right?

So my plan is to make a round-up of some of the great tunes I've heard in the podcasts I've listened to throughout a month, and what better month to start than dreary old November. It should be noted that I am far from up to date on most podcasts I listen to, I simply don't have the time. This means a lot of the episodes I listen to are not recent and in some cases even years have passed since they were released. But I figured that shouldn't really matter since good VGM doesn't age anyway. The idea is both for me to be able to talk a bit about VGM that I enjoy, but also to give a shout-out to the podcast that featured it. It's not intended to be a ranking of any kind and the same podcast can be featured more than once (or no time) in a month if I've happened to hear several, or no, particularly good tunes from that podcast within a month - which with my listening habits is a pretty random variable. This isn't to say that this was the only music I enjoyed, in fact I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I've heard a VGM track in a podcast I felt like skipping. These are simply tunes that stood out a little extra to me.

You are always very welcome to comment with tunes you enjoy, I absolutely love finding new things to listen to!

We'll see how long I remember to and feel like keeping this up, but let's get started at least.

My first featured track comes from the VGMpire Podcast, episode 64, "Blast Corps Gemini" which was a highlight of the music in the games Jet Force Gemini and Blast Corps. Those are two games I remember seeing back in the day but know absolutely nothing about. I didn't even know they were made by Rare. This is by the way an example of a podcast that aired several years ago, as this was posted in February 2014. While most of the tracks were good, nothing really stood out to me, except this little gem from Blast Corps called "Angel City".

The N64 isn't exactly known for its stand-out soundtracks or sound, at least not to me. There are of course notable exceptions like Rare's GoldenEye and most of the Mario-games. And Turok 2, that stuff is awesome. And normally I am not a fan of a rock-style tune, but something about this spoke to me. I found it pretty cool.

Secondly we have a double-whammy from the Forever Sound Version podcast. First episode 52 in which the show celebrates its 2nd year with its own highlight of tracks that he's played over the last year. I guess this could be called cheating since the track in question technically is from an earlier episode, but eh *shrug*. The track is "In Game 7" from Colin McRae Rally 2.0. Even though I have listened to almost every episode of Forever Sound Version I can't remember when this was played so I am glad he played it again because I love it! While I don't play many racing games they often feature exactly the type of floaty, swirly electronica that I am personally very fond of.

The other track is from episode 54 which was the 4th VGM Battle. The entire episode was absolutely awesome and filled with so many good tracks it was difficult to choose just one, like "6:24" from Furi, "Slipstream" from Motorstorm Apocalypse and "Filmore" from Actraiser (which is one of my all-time favorite VGM tracks, but it's Yuzo Koshiro so of course). I strongly recommend listening to the entire episode. The track I've chosen to highlight though is "Theme of Exchanger" from Money Puzzler Exchanger because of its bouncy, happy style.

And finally a track from The Battle Bards podcast, which is the worlds only MMO VGM podcast and I amazed every single episode that they manage to make so much good material from that premise. There are clearly a lot more MMO's out there than you'd think. This track is from their episode 114 highlight of tracks on the move, aptly named "Vroom vroom". One of the hosts, Syp, plays the track unromantically named "Smuggler Track S Two" from GTA Online and it... is... AMAZING.

To me it perfectly evokes the feeling of driving on an empty desert road in the middle of the night, with no one to hold you company but the darkness and your own thoughts (possibly something smugglers do a lot). It does what all excellent music does and whisks me away to a completely different place, I zone out when I listen to this. It's like it's written note by note for me. I don't want to call favorites in my first ever VGM highlights post but yeah... this is probably one of the best VGM I've heard all year.

That's it for this month so stay tuned for whatever December will churn out!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Borderlands (PC) - Review

In the Borderlands of fun.

I've been on a streak of completing games that have been high on my "to-play"-list for many years, and I must say it feels good. Borderlands is no different, I've been meaning to play it ever since I first saw my now-ex bf play it back when it was released in 2009. Back then I was neck-deep into WoW though and had little time for any other game, something I've mentioned many times before and basically what I've been trying to rectify since.

Watching over the shoulder of my ex, I liked the way Borderlands looked. While I thought the intro gavethe impression of the game being a bit try-hard, it looked like it had some fun shooting and looting going for it. Having tried it now though, nine years later, I can say that whether you have any fun in Borderlands really depends on how you play it.

Borderlands is essentially the simplest kind of shooter. Ever heard of Space Invaders? Yeah, it's actually not many steps removed from that. You can pick from four different classes - Soldier, Sniper, Siren and Berserker. Note that I've only played the game as a Soldier so obviously this review is limited to that viewpoint. I have a tendency to choose what many say to be the most "boring" class, so maybe I should reroll and give it another go. Unfortunately what I experienced as a soldier gives me no desire to do so.

Graphics have changed a bit though.

Not that Borderlands is an awful game, even if I am really making it sound that way right now. It's just very... meh. It was difficult not to compare it to Fallout 3 and New Vegas, because they both take place in a post-apocalyptic setting with a lot of different gear, wonky characters to meet and zany enemies to fight. While Fallout 3 and New Vegas definitely also has its flaws, that's a whole 'nother post, suffice to say that a lot of the things they have got in common mostly work in Fallout and not so much in Borderlands.

What kind of things for instance?

Well, Borderlands is loot-heavy. A lot revolves around gathering or purchasing new gear and comparing it to already existing gear. Unfortunately you rarely get excited about any of it because they all feel pretty same-y. Maybe this is where the different classes come in? As a soldier I was pretty much limited to just using arms (not the ones you flail with, the ones you shoot with) but as I understood it it's not much different with the other classes, just which weapons you choose to use. In Fallout, I often use pretty much every weapon I come across at some point, giving me a lot of variety in how I choose to tackle an enemy. Here, I found that there was really only two types worth using - one spray and pray for close combat and one sniper gun for far away. The only time I swapped was because I ran out of ammo.

It's raining guns.

There are skills to put points in, but they don't feel like they make much of a difference really. Some of them are even specifically for multiplayer, and therefore pointless (pun intended) if you're playing at it alone. This says a lot about the game actually, and I will get back to this.

You'll meet NPC's, most notably probably the Claptraps (who along with the guy who seems to threaten to kill himself, because that's cool, are the faces of the game), and fight a lot of monsters, but the game is really struggling to make me care. There are also little details that just doesn't make me feel like the world is real (which is obviously a tricky word to use with something that is technically not actually real). While some things I do have a permanent effect on the surrounding, they are few and far between. Most locations are only available through teleports and so feel more like stages than actual sites. Most places in Fallout are seamlessly connected, you open a door to the subways or a vault and you are there without a loading screen in between that teleports you to a new location. It makes a world of difference for immersion, at least for me. Borderlands is just a whole bunch of disconnected areas for you to do quests in and that makes everything you meet and fight in them feel disconnected as well.

Not only that, you interact with the areas in the exact same way every time you return. Enemies come charging at you in the exact same way every time you turn the same corner. If you play this game often enough I am sure you could play it blind-folded, because there will be literally no surprises.

The DLC I tried were just more of the same.

And the quests themselves are never particularly inspired, at least not the lot I came across during my total of 14 hours played. While in Fallout you can find some really weird and memorable quest chains, in the eight hours I managed to get myself to play singleplayer of Borderlands I can't recall a single quest I did except for "kill named supermob X". It really wasn't much different in multiplayer either. Also, something I sort of have mentioned already, the quests seem to have little effect on the surroundings. Killing off a tribe of bandits or the beforementioned supermob doesn't mean the tribe or the moblings will be gone or changed in any meaningful way. They will still be there the next time you pass through, as if you hadn't done anything to them.

Even if I might be exaggerating reality a bit, this is exactly how it feels when you play the game - as if everything is just a giant Sisyphos project and you are struggling without a purpose. What is the goal of the game anyway? I have no idea actually. If there was a main quest chain in there somewhere, it completely failed to catch my interest.

Graphically I was happy to see what felt like a fresh take with the cel-shading, and I am sure the game would've only felt even more dull without it. While it only emphasizes the promise that Borderlands makes and can never deliver, because the game definitely looks like it could be a lot of fun, it's still one of the better components of the game. I mostly enjoyed the enemy designs as well, both gameplay wise and aesthethically. It's interesting then that combat still manages to be overall quite boring, but that wasn't down to the enemies or how they acted as such. Instead I put it down to the beforementioned issue of repetitiveness. While a fight with a group of enemies could be fun the first and second time, when you ran into them the tenth time and knew exactly what was coming, the fun had definitely worn off. And to show that the circle always is complete, I read reviews of Fallout 76 and find that a lot of the critique of that game reminds me of the problems with this game, at least regarding world-building.

Overall Borderlands left me with a feeling of almost wanting to be mindless. And maybe this isn't trying to be a memorable or awe-inspiring experience, it's supposed to just be some thoughtless run and gun fun! In many ways that takes me back to my comment about Space Invaders. You'll see and fight the same enemies over and over and maybe that is supposed to be the fun - you're simply not supposed to have to think much about what you do. And I would never have realized that might be the case if it wasn't for a funny coincidence.

The graphics are pretty much the only thing that makes the world come alive, at least a little bit.

After having played Borderlands for eight hours on my own, I decided to give it another couple of hours to wow me before I uninstalled it and moved on. As I was playing that final push, one of my oldest and best friends asked me on Steam if he could join me. Sure thing, I thought, it can only make the game better, surely.

And I was correct. The multiplayer skills in singleplayer mode had already given me the hint that this game didn't seem designed for singleplayer experiences at all. Running around with someone you enjoy playing with, allowing you to heroically save each other from gunfire or death and discuss which loot should go to which person really made all the difference. Most games are made better when played with a friend but that doesn't necessarily mean a game can't have a fun singleplayer mode, like Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and 3. Here I'd say the difference between singleplayer and multiplayer fun is almost as profound as in a Mario Party game.

But in the end Borderlands still suffers from a great lack of depth. It seems to try to mask this by showering you in loot like some sort of Diablo-clone and let you talk to wonky characters that still manage to leave no impression. Throughout my game time with Borderlands I never once thought "oh I just need to do this" or "I wonder what happens next" or even "huh, that's cool". When I play a game like Pokémon I'll look at the time and wonder what happened to the last two hours. With this I look at the time and wonder how it's only been twenty minutes.

In before someone chimes in "you should use this and that mod though"; firstly I am against a game needing mods to even be fun and secondly I really don't think mods could've fixed the issues that made the game tedious in the first place.

If you happen to have a buddy and you're looking for a game you haven't played together yet and you can find this cheap, then sure, I think it could provide you with a decent amount of fun for a decent amount of time. Otherwise, there is a lot better things you can do with your time. Play Borderlands 2 maybe?