Monday, September 25, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Episode 1 & 2

The Vulcan Hello

I just finished watching the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery and here are some thoughts off the top of my head (BTW THIS WILL HAVE SPOILERS!);

I am a pretty big fan of the entire Star Trek series. That's not to say I speak fluent Klingon and can name the middle name of every character in Next Generation but I've seen almost every episode (not the last three seasons or so of Deep Space Nine, but otherwise). And I genuinely like, love, every Star Trek Series. I think they all bring something to the table. Voyager is probably my favorite because that is where I started out and it got me into the whole thing, but I find them all very enjoyable. Needless to say, I was really hoping Discovery wouldn't break the spell for me.

I thought Sonequa Martin-Green was great as Michael Burnham. I think they struck a good balance there between someone who is trying to be logical and emotional about their decisions and she felt realistic to me. Unlike some other things, but I'll get to that.

Eventhough I had read almost nothing about this series in advance I knew that Jason Isaacs and Michelle Yeoh were both going to play captains. Hmm, how is that going to work, I wondered. Then in the opening I read that Yeoh is a "special guest star". Oh ok, so that's how it is. Thanks for spoiling her dying for me, CBS.

I didn't mind the new take on Klingons too much. I mean technically they've been changed already before. I did find them a bit too costume-y however, if that's a thing. They looked stiff and a bit unresponsive. In fact the reminded me a lot of the Xindi from Star Trek Enterprise. I can't really give a good verdict for this direction of the Klingons yet, but I didn't hate it at least.

I am a sucker for space battles too. Overall I thought the series looked really good and I am hoping that wasn't just a pilot-episode syndrome thing, where they press all the production value into the first episode and make the rest look way less good or interesting.

Eventhough the story arch with the Federation battle against the Klingons could be an interesting one, I really hope there will be more to the series than that. Like I said, I fear it would be Star Trek Enterprise all over again otherwise. Don't get me wrong, I think STE is a great series too, I loved it. But we've had that story already, don't repeat but with Klingons instead of Romulans and Xindi. I find Voyager probably struck the best balance between story arch and stand-alone episodes and I hope Discovery can repeat that.

Nice touch with the Klingon subs!

There were some plot holes that bothered me a bit. I am no expert on radiation, but Hollywood has a thing for going "you'll die after x amount radiation but be fine up until that second". Pretty sure radiation doesn't work that way. Even if you help the story writers out and explain it by the fact that they have done the maths and accounted for everything, having the characters acknowledging that would take it a long way to sounding less stupid. Another thing that bothered me was when they blew up T'Kuvmas ship at the end. They had no way of knowing where he was or what effect the explosion would have on the ship. They were extremely lucky he wasn't just killed in the blast or that the blast didn't just hit some insignificant part of the ship but rather the exact point they needed to render it useless. Luck is writer laziness.

I always thought Sarek was the second best Vulcan in the series (second only to Spock. Kim Cattralls Valeris is a good one too) and this one seems alright. Nothing on the original of course, RIP Mark Lenard.

Since I am assuming Michael will now end up in a new setting, I really hope they introduce some good side-characters for the series. Sura was a good start, but there was no one else. And Star Trek has always relied heavily on side-characters. Personally I thought almost everyone in STNG were boring (except Data) and so I enjoy that series a lot less. Whereas Voyager had so many good side characters like the Holo-Doctor, Seven-of-Nine and Tuvok. Yeah I am a Voyager fan girl, I know.

I've been stoked for this since I first heard about it and it didn't disappoint. That's not to say I was thrilled with every second of it but in general I think the series is off to a very good start and I am very interested to see where it goes from here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Top 10 Best Games I've Played the Last 5 Years (Part 1)

One of the few things, possibly the only thing, I regretted about putting so much time into WoW was knowing I was missing out on a lot of other good games. Not just games being released while I was playing, but also games I had missed out on earlier before I got properly into gaming. One of the contributing factors of me quitting WoW was that I finally felt like I wanted to give all the other awesome experiences I had neglected so far a chance, and I feel it is one of the best decisions I have made. It should be noted however that I firmly believe that WoW was the main contributing factor to making me feel like I could handle any kind of game. Although I loved gaming before I started playing WoW, my confidence in my abilities were low and there were many games I never got into trying simply because I didn't think I could get very far anyway - games like Diablo and Half-life. By playing WoW I proved to myself that I could deal with very stressful and difficult situations in games just fine, and have hellova lot of fun doing it too. In the end I probably needed all that time in WoW to realize that I play games for my own sake and I'm pretty good at it too.

I definitely quit WoW in early 2013 - 4,5 years ago now - and decided to take a look back at the games I've played during that time, which ones stood out to me, affected me most and turned out to be as classic to me as they've been deemed by the masses. It wasn't an entirely easy list to compose. I had some given top spots, but looking at them I wasn't sure whether to rank them by what games I was more likely to replay, more likely to recommend or had the greatest impact on me at the time of playing. In the end I went with the latter. Note that the five year time frame only marks when they were first played by me, not release date.

So here is my top 10 favorite games I've played the last 5 years.

10. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
I loved the idea of Shantae when I first heard about her GameBoy adventure. Maybe I was looking for more games with female protagonists, who knows, I can't really say what intrigued me so much about it otherwise than it looked like a fun platforming adventure. Unfortunately the game turned out to be difficult to find and expensive when I did, rather than emulating the experience I put it on hold. 

Not long after however I find out that a sequel had been released on the 3DS. I bought it pretty much immediately and had so much fun playing through the game. The characters, the level design, the humour - everything just clicked with me. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is probably the best platformer I have ever played. The thing is, I am not normally very fond of platformers. To be honest I am not very good at them (yes I am looking at you every Mario-game ever) and so they frustrate me too much. I think the redeeming quality to Shantae was that it introduced a sort of leveling system, healing and combat items, which allowed you to improve your character throughout the game - giving hope for dunces to me. There were definitely difficult parts in Shantae too, but a fair placement of saves around the levels meant you never had to replay entire stages to get to where you were. There were interesting gimmicks, a fun story with the aforementioned hilarious characters (the Squid Boss being one of my favorites) and a well designed difficulty curve to make sure you'd never give up entirely. WayForward did an amazing job with this game and I couldn't recommend it enough, even if you don't normally enjoy platformers.

(Then I found out Pirate's Curse was actually the second sequel, and also played Risky's Revenge. I didn't like it as much as they had added some Quality of Life changes to PC that I would've liked in RR too, but it's still a fun game. I have yet to play Half-Genie Hero, but don't doubt that I really want to!).

9. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
I had been a big fan of the Castlevania series for ages, without ever even having played any of the games. How is that even possible, you might ask? Mostly through a fondness of the music but also a respect for the series influence on gaming in general. Then one fated evening I decided it was time to get in on actually playing the games - and decided to start with Circle of the Moon. An odd place to start perhaps, why not Castlevania on the NES or Symphony of the Night? I didn't choose Castlevania on the NES because I thought it would be too difficult for me (and it was, as I found out later) and quite frankly I wanted the metroidvania experience. I didn't choose Symphony of the Night however because that game is much harder (and expensive!) to get hold of, even emulated, than the GBA ones. So Circle of the Moon it was.

This fight made my blood boil.

I am glad I didn't know at the time that CotM is supposed to be pretty hard, because I overall didn't think so, possibly because I had no expectations and nothing to compare it with. In hindsight I can't even say if I do think it is harder than SotN, but if I were to replay it now maybe I'd think so too. At the time however I was just having so much fun with it I probably didn't even notice when I got stuck somewhere. The first time I played it I did emulate it and would get horrible lag occasionally (like on the Zombie Dragon pitured above) but that didn't make me enjoy the game any less (I have bought the game since). Just like I had hoped when hearing about the metroidvania concept, I loved it. Yet again I think one of the key elements to me enjoying it so much is the fact that you can level up and use healing/combat items to ease certain parts if you are having trouble. As it turns out I also often get lost in metroidvania games, meaning my characters often ends up outleveling the areas I am supposed to be in, while I try to find my way around the castle. 

After having finished CotM, which is pretty much like any of the other entries in the handheld metroidvania series - cliché story and characters, great gameplay and music - I realized I wanted more and was happy there were so many more Castlevanias ready for me to be played. I got through all of the handheld ones in quick succession after that (didn't complete Order of Ecclesia though, because it's so damn hard), finishing up with the grand finale of Symphony of the Night.

CotM cemented my love for Castlevania though. It could've made me think that even though I respect the series, I don't enjoy playing them - much like Metroid Zero Mission did for me with the Metroid games - instead it only made me wonder why I hadn't gotten in on them much sooner.

8. Faster Than Light
To me Faster Than Light was one of, if not the first, indie game that really got my attention. A massive Kickstarter success, and proof of all the good that could come out of that concept, it got a lot of attention right around the time when I started considering quitting WoW and trying out other games. I didn't get around to it however before the Advanced Edition had been released, but that was probably for the better.

Faster Than Light is otherwise one of those really difficult, and sometimes unfair-feeling games that usually don't interest me. Maybe the sci-fi setting is what got me to give a try anyway, either way I am glad that I did because I ended up spending so many hours with it (over 50 actually). I only ever managed to beat it on easy, but I'm damn proud at that. The luck-factor to it could give it that feeling of sometimes being unfair to you, but it was easy enough to just play another round, and fun enough to tinker with different playstyles and approaches that I never minded being vanquished. In that way it reminded me a lot of all the nights I spent wiping on difficult raid bosses in WoW. Rather than getting angry and frustrated about it like I probably normally would have, I got right back up feeling like there was something I could've done a little bit better to maybe make it work the next time.

As did this fight.

Maybe I needed more weapons? Or more crew. Or less crew! Or hard-hitting crew. Or maybe the teleporter? Maybe I shouldn't check out that weird looking planet the next time I encounter it? 

The pause function also allowed it to shift expertly between a mellow space-floating experience and a stressful full-on space-battle experience. The strength of the game was in the battles however, and the immense satisfaction it gave you when you managed to pull off some crafty scheme or it turned out you had invested in the right equipment. The final boss fight was the exact amount of hellish, requiring every ounce of your attention and quick thinking. FTL has one of the best and most satisfying feedback loops on your decisions in a game of this style, and is definitely the best rogue-like I've ever played.

7. The Witcher
I had just finished Dragon Age: Origin and Mass Effect and been pretty disappointed with both. While ME was good enough for me to at least get through it and consider checking out the other entries in the series, DAO felt like a slog from beginning to the end. I didn't feel like an important part of the world nor did most of the characters elicit much feeling from me other than annoyance. Then I decided to try The Witcher and was thoroughly hoping it wouldn't just be another let down. It definitely wasn't, at all.

Instead I found all the elements I had been missing from the other two games - like an immersive world, well-designed characters and a mostly interesting story. The Witcher has flaws, don't get me wrong, the sexual encounter TCG being one of the biggest (I mean what the hell was up with that? I tried to ignore that part of the game as best I could). The other ones like outdated graphics, even for the time, I could easily set aside when it did so many other, more crucial things, right.

The swamp area made my blood boil.

I liked the linearity for instance, because it gave a sense of focus and purpose to my actions. One of the worst things ME did was telling me the world, nay THE UNIVERSE, was about to be obliterated - but why don't you go off and do this unrelated side-quest, I'm sure the bad guys will wait. The Witcher also had one of the best realized choice-systems in a game I've played, where the player gets to make choices that will affect the entire game, choices with genuine grey areas rather than the thinly veiled moral choices in some other games I've played (I chose Shani and Siegfried btw).

It also made me realize I definitely prefer a game with a strongly defined and active protagonist rather than the stupid-faced character you play in DAO that just stares at everyone who talks to them. Geralt is one of the best characters in a game I've played in a long time, exactly because he feels like a person and not a puppet.

6. Pokemon X&Y
For a long time I thought the Pokémon franchise could do no wrong. All the way from R/B/Y up to X&Y I felt like all they did were improve on the concept, while at the same time each individual entry is till worth playing. I recently replayed Red and it is still an absolutely amazing game. Pokémon Sun & Moon broke that winning streak however. I bought it on launch date and have yet to get through it. But this isn't about what I dislike about Sun & Moon - however it made me think about how much better I felt X&Y was, and in many ways the best Pokémon game to date. I think I might've even taken X&Y a bit for granted, and S&M really made me see all the effort and good design choices that went into it.

Froakie ftw

Like I mentioned all it really does is exactly the same thing as the previous entries in the series, so there isn't much for me to add since I assume everyone who has any interest in gaming knows at least the basics to Pokémon by now. But what an underwhelming way to describe this gaming experience that is. Pokémon X&Y brings new high-notes in regards to gameplay, overall balance, replayability and connectivity. And Pokémon was basically perfect already from R/B/Y! If I were to recommend a newcomer to the series to play any entry in the game, it would most likely be this one.

And that's it for the first part of this list!

Any thoughts on the games on the list? And what would be your top games list of the last couple of years?