New Super Mario Bros. U

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Good thing I had this image to go by… Otherwise I really would’ve messed up the title.

Another Nintendo system, another Mario game. Don’t take that statement as a complaint. Mario Bros. on the NES was my first video game ever. I don’t care that they’re still making Mario games over 20 years later. I always enjoy them, and even though it’s a lot of “same old,” they always manage to throw in one or two different elements to make it feel fresh and (almost always) fun.

Did you play the Wii Super Mario Bros. game? If you did, this game is quite similar. Unfortunately the non-intuitive “Shake the Wiimote to do 5 different things” is still present. I hated it then, I hated it in Donkey Kong Country Returns, and I hate it here. ESPECIALLY when you’re playing co-op… We always managed to pick each other up when we meant to do something else. And there’s no graceful way to put your friend down. You always have to throw them into a pit when they aren’t looking so they can’t bubble in time. It’s an unwritten law, I swear.

Another feature I wish they would’ve altered during co-op is the stupid “bouncing off of your cohort’s head” thing. In later levels that require landing on small platforms while dodging spiky enemies and fireballs and continuously jumping so the platform doesn’t fall out from beneath you, it’s so frustrating you just won’t bother. One person will choose to stay dead and let the other one traverse the stage uninterrupted. Why couldn’t you manually press a button if, for some godforsaken reason, you actually wanted to bounce on top Toad’s head over and over and over until he jumped and sent you careening into a pit? Instead, I automatically did it all the time when I actually never wanted to!

mariobrosujumping

This would be chaos. Pure, unmitigated chaos.

The above image clearly illustrates some of the game’s new features. Utilizing the GamePad, another player can create colorful platforms. On the world map you’ll sometimes see a pink or blue chibi Yoshi. You can bring them into the level to assist you (AKA- Get hidden stuff). To compile your annoyance, these cute little guys won’t just WAIT if you need to put them down for any reason. They’ll turn around and waste no time in finding the quickest way to commit suicide. Then you’re screwed out of whatever you were trying to get for a few attempts. When you die and pop back out on the map, the Yoshi won’t be waiting for you to go for another round. Apparently regeneration for Yoshis takes a little longer than Mario brothers and Toads.

There’s also a sweet new acorn power-up (See yellow Toad in above image) that allows you to glide. With a shake of the Wiimote, it will also give you some more air. Worried this will make the game too easy? Don’t worry, they put a lot of tricky hidden pipes and star coins in spots where you absolutely need the squirrely suit. Just to add to your frustration a little.

Granted, most of the misery was self-inflicted on our part. We wanted to collect every single star coin to unlock the secret world, then get all the star coins there, too. While playing this game, I got the impression Nintendo was responding to negative feedback from gamers claiming the games have become “too easy.” There is nothing easy about this game if you’re aiming to collect every star coin. The first couple of worlds lure you into a false sense of security. But before you know it, you’re pounding your head against the wall trying to make it to that one hidden pipe without losing your necessary power-up. One particular example that comes to mind: Steve-O and I (with the assistance of my hubby when he got home from work) spent the better part of a night trying to make it halfway through a boss castle without losing the one mini mushroom we were given way at the beginning to be able to enter a small pipe leading to a star coin. That level was pretty unforgiving and difficult. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to erase it from my mind.

Or how about on Superstar Road? There’s a level on this special world that requires precise timing and perfect jump maneuvers to complete. It has to be one of, if not the, most difficult Mario stage ever. Can’t play the “easy”  card on this game. Really, the only way it could be called “easy” is if you scale difficulty with repetition. The older games would start you all over at world 1 with a Game Over. Nowadays that isn’t the case, of course. We’re saved time and boredom from doing the same levels so many times we could do them blindfolded. Even I can still almost perfectly execute those World 1 stages in the NES Mario games. It makes them more annoying and frustrating, not necessarily harder. Maybe some expert gamers might find this game easy, but I’d  bet they’re the same people who think the NES games are easy too. Personally, there were levels that challenged me just as much as the 8-bit Mario adventures did oh so many years ago.

This game is definitely a Wii U staple. I think it’s nearly impossible to own a Wii U without this game, but if you happen to be one of the few, grab this game and a couple of friends (Or don’t, depending on how much longer you want to be friends) and have at it!

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Lightning Returns Rant

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My husband doesn’t know this but I’m trading this into GameStop as soon as I get a chance.

Hubby and I finally saw the credits roll on Lightning Returns last night. We clocked in at around 55 hours spent and accomplished pretty much everything you can do without starting a New Game +. Steve-O already did a technical review of this game, so I can delve right into why I think this is the worst console Final Fantasy game, like, EVER. Some handheld ones were pretty bad, but in the main FF line-up and sequels this has to take the cake.

In fact, I think I’d even rate this as lower than FFX-2. I put FFX-2 on my “Most Disappointing Games” list. It was the worst FF game I’d played at the time. It took everything that was beautiful and amazing about FFX (My FAVORITE) and stomped it into the ground after taking a big dump on it. But you know what? At least in X-2 you could explore the world, actually enjoy a good battle system, and expect some RPG game play elements that actually make sense. Playing Lightning Returns was unnecessarily stressful, thanks in part to the stupid time constraints and juggling your one resource with having enough time to do everything you need to do in one day, getting to where you need to go, and getting a leg-up in battles. Due to the fact that we wanted to do all the side quests (There’s one that can’t even be turned in until New Game +), we carefully managed all of our time and stressed to follow the guidelines laid out in the official walkthrough. It was a chore, is what it was.

The side quests were boring fetch and/or kill quests. And most of the NPCs giving the quests would go on vomit-inducing tangents for about 15 minutes trying to find a meaning to their pointless 500-year existence. The dialogue was so bad even Lightning would often say things like, “You can’t be serious,” or, “Let me guess,  you want me to go get it for you,” or, “You can’t possibly be that stupid.” It was almost like she was inside of my head and giving voice to my own thoughts about the game. This was supposed to be the writer’s idea of reflecting her having “no feelings” even though she constantly pines over her sister and is quite capable of being annoyed. If this were a better game, I’d say Lightning’s jabs at the NPC’s poor dialogue would have been the game poking fun at itself, but alas… the writers do NOT have that level of self-awareness, I can promise you that. I hope this isn’t a true reflection of what humans would be like if they couldn’t die of natural causes. I’d completely lose the little faith in humanity I’ve got left. After 500 years on Pulse, humans are just as selfish, ignorant and stupid as ever.

So why did we suffer through about 60 painful side quests? Well, unlike pretty much every other RPG in history, Lightning does not receive any type of experience for defeating enemies. The ONLY ways to get any substantial stat increases are to do the 5 main story quests and to do the run-around side quests. The whole “Leveling up” thing in 99% of RPGs is nonexistent here. Plus you need to do like, 40-something quests to unlock the Ultimate Lair and fight every Last One to get amazing equipment. I don’t want to get myself started on the whole “making monsters extinct thing.” I’ll just say that, while it is a neat concept in a couple of ways, it has more cons than anything else.

A strange coincidence between LR and my other most-hated Final Fantasy is the dress-up feature. In FFX-2 you change “dresspheres” to change the girl’s class, essentially. Except Lightning gets the star treatment with jewelry, accessories, and breaking down her schemata down to each ability she can use in combat. You’ll spend a bulk of the game micro-managing her outfits to best suit your play style. And by “play style” I mean what specific elements or abilities you need in order to stagger and kill a mob. I didn’t mind this too much, except while in the heat of battle I often had a hell of a time remembering what I equipped on each of the 3 schematas I was using. There’s a pointless “adornment” you can equip as well. It only offers aesthetic value. I feel weird saying “aesthetic” since half the time they look absolutely RIDICULOUS. I made the best of it and equipped the most obnoxious ones I could find to get a reaction out of Hubby. Case in point: we beat the game with Lightning wearing an effing CHRISTMAS TREE on one schemata, and a super afro with a red chocobo chick sticking out of it on another. Eat your heart out, Sazh.

Speaking of a staple character, none of them have had ANY character growth in 500 years either. Snow is still moping about Serah. Same for Noel and Yuel. Sazh’s kid still won’t wake up, and Fang is still awesome. Hope is still annoying as ever. Don’t even get me started on Vanille. I’ve always disliked her and her stupid voice. I’m glad the scenes when she speaks were relatively limited. Thankfully there’s an option to skip cutscenes and mash a button to get through the crappy dialogue as quickly as possible. But the load screens are so long I found myself opting to mash X instead.

I don’t know how much longer my Final Fantasy fandom loyalty is going to last. With the exception of Crisis Core and Dissidia (which still had gag worthy and downright confusing writing) I haven’t genuinely enjoyed a Final Fantasy since FFX all those years ago. I look at games like this and the recent slew of Kingdom Hearts spin-offs and wonder how anyone can be perplexed about JRPGs falling to the wayside. I’m hoping Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xilia will elevate JRPGs somewhat closer to the pedestal I used to hold them to. When I finally get around to playing them, that is. But I won’t hold my breath. As for the Final Fantasy series itself, I solemnly vow to wait and buy the next installment used.

(Sort of) Retro Review: Lone Survivor

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Okay, so this review will be a retro review in the same vein that a review for Megaman 10 would have been a retro review a few years back; new game made in old format. Lone Survivor is a game we recently plowed through, available on the PSN. For Playstation Plus users it was free at the time, although for a game its length, the pricetag it otherwise totes would be modest at best. My co-blogger caught this one in an issue of Game Informer, and it had me sold from the ground up. Survival horror? Check. Retro style gameplay? Check. Ambient and atmospheric? Check.

Lone Survivor makes a bit of a hypocrite out of me, I’ll admit. While I would call other games that borrow heavily from another series a “rip-off,” it’s tough to throw this game in the same ring. It’s more a tribute than a rip-off, and maybe the relatively short investment period helps make that differentiation. From the enemy designs, the environment, and right down to the music, I found myself thinking, “Yep. This is what Silent Hill would be like on the SNES.” The soundtrack sounds like it’s torn directly from Yamaoka’s early mixer, and the creature designs would be right at home in a low-res Silent Hill. The bulk of your plot is told through conversations with people you aren’t entirely convinced are actually there.

Lone Survivor also engages in minimalist storytelling, which leaves quite a bit open to interpretation. I don’t want to spoil anything that is revealed, but suffice it to say we scratched our heads a few times throughout the course of the game. On the one hand, you get to draw your own conclusions and interpretations on scenes and the endings. On the other hand, we found that certain elements of the endings seemed bizarre and out-of-place, due to missing the breadcrumbs that gave them context. However, it’s difficult to be critical of this fact because Lone Survivor is designed to be a multi-playthrough experience. With a firmer grasp on the sanity mechanic and knowledge of the game layout, you can take better care of your character, get through the game quicker and get the better ending. I’ve no doubt that if our character were in optimal mental health, his conversations would reveal “a-ha!” moments, and aspects of the game would be clearer. Some things would be still be open to interpretation, sure, but in the day where the gaming industry tells stories with the subtlety of a cinder block I have difficulty faulting the game for that.

The game takes a spin on survival horror that you don’t see terribly often; you have to eat and sleep. While our adventure never left us starved to death or collapsed from exhaustion, we did have to scramble to salvage food and go back to the main characters’ apartment to sleep (and save). What it did take a toll on, however, is the main characters’ mental health. The mental health system isn’t unknown to survival horror, but this game tackled it in a sort of interesting manner. It isn’t a simple stat that affects your ability to survive. Varying degrees of mental health open dialogue options that shed light on what may be going on. Our mental health was largely middle-of-the-road, so our dialogue options were minimal, if available at all. Watching a video of the good ending had the character pouring his soul out to his adopted cat, Sunny (yeah, this was the “not-crazy” health path. Suuuure). Eating and sleeping on time promote good health, starving and being overtired negatively effect mental health. Furthermore, your mental health improves when you water and talk to a fern outside your building, you talk to a stuffed cat that you carry around with you, and talk to your adopted cat.

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Your mental health deteriorates if you opt for free supplies while sleeping, although the dream sequences are pretty bizarre and should be experienced at least a few times.  While taking care of food and weariness adds a splash of realism to the game, the rate at which he gets tired and hungry quickly becomes tedious, and nothing yanks you out of the mindset to explore a foreboding basement faster than your main character whining about being hungry, even though he just ate literally five minutes ago. On the subject of food, I’d be remiss if I didn’t criticize how ridiculously picky  your character was about what he cooked his food in. “Yeah, I’m starving to death and half-insane but I’ll be DAMNED if cut and cook this ham in a saucepan!” Really, game? With an apparent monstrous outbreak, you’d think he’d be a little less finicky.

The gameplay is, like the plot, fairly minimal. The game takes place shifting between backround and foreground of a side-scroller. You are most often given chances to shift into the backround and sneak by enemies undetected. You are fairly fragile, and can’t withstand more than a handful of attacks. Early in the game, you are given a single pistol and, spoiler alert, that’s it. Your character even outright refuses to upgrade his arsenal at a gun shop, because his gun is “cooler.” I can’t imagine this was put in as anything other than snark. Pistol ammo is limited, and you face a few unpleasant decisions to supply yourself with more, or simply do without.  Thankfully, the game is designed to be able to be completed without firing a single shot (seriously, there’s even a trophy for it), so you can manage. You get a handful of disposable diversions in the way of rotting meat and flares, so if you’re certain you won’t be backtracking they’ll clear the way nicely.

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At first, your mission straightforward; to escape and survive. As you explore your building and the surrounding areas, you’re introduced to the occasional repeat sidequest, building quasi-relationships as you continue your search. Wall mirrors serve a unique two-part purpose in Lone Survivor; your window to your apartment to sleep/save, and as an indicator of how your mental health is doing. As the events of the game take their toll on your psyche, your character comments on his reflection differently. I think this is an underused method of outlining the characters mental weariness, and would like to see larger franchises take something similar into consideration.

All in all, this game was a fun and interesting diversion, especially for the (nonexistent) price. The retro look and control scheme really created a “what if” scenario when the content and delivery was so dripping of Silent Hill it borders on copyright infringement. I would feel content up to a price of $10.00, considering the potential for multiple playthroughs and speed-runs. If you’re a fan of the survival horror genre and catch it on the Playstation Network, it was definitely worth the ~5 hours we threw into it.

Vaklyrie Profile

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Valkyrie’s left leg looks broken…

Yet again, I’ve finally seen a game through to the end after starting and stopping it at least twice. If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may recall my “10 Most Disappointing Games” list which featured this game. I mainly added it because it couldn’t keep my interest and often frustrated me. With the hype and price tag attached to this game, it was a big disappointment.

With Steve-O’s help, we were able to trudge through it. It’s hard explaining why I restarted this game over and over without understanding the game’s strange mechanics. Valkyrie Profile has a lot of hidden elements which can potentially make or break your experience with it. For starters, there are multiple endings. In order to get the best ending, known as the A ending, you must be playing on a certain difficulty level. That was one of my previous restarts.

**As a short aside, when the game says “Difficulty level” it really means “CONTENT PERCENTAGE.” The only way to explore ALL of the dungeons is to play on Hard mode. If you play on Easy or Normal mode you’ll blow off a lot of extra time because there’s literally nothing else to do.**

Anyway… I don’t remember exactly why I quit the other time, but I’m sure it had something to do with not fulfilling the arbitrary A ending requirements. When the game was re-released for the PSP I got a strategy guide and didn’t pick it back up again until now. I am happy to report Steve-O and I did get the A ending, but unfortunately the Brady  Games guide is about as clear as the game when it comes to explaining what is going in.

Which is to say, not very clear at all.

Valkyrie Profile is a different bird, so to speak. The player controls Valkyrie Lenneth; a Death Goddess who recruits the souls of the dead to become soldiers to fight on Asgard, known as Einherjar. After the prologue and until the conclusion, VP follows a pretty basic formula with random elements thrown in: Start Chapter, recruit soldiers, level soldiers, send 1 or 2 to Valhalla. Rinse and repeat. The soldiers available for recruitment is based on a random game pattern (1-4) that you have no control over or way of knowing without consulting a guide.

There’s an interesting sort of time restriction in place. There’s a war going on, after all. Valkyrie can’t be blowing time partying it up with her new undead friends. Each Chapter (There are 8 in total) has 24 periods. When 24 periods are up, the chapter automatically ends and Valkyrie must endure a performance review from Freya and you get the opportunity to see how the Einherjar you sent up are faring in the war.

Valkyrie Flying

On the world map Valkyrie flies around, searching for areas with abominations to destroy and towns to recruit soldiers in. With the press of a button she will detect either a village or a dungeon. For a character recruitment event, you’re treated to some dialogue (which you’ll see in a cut-scene when you recruit the person) and a white dot pops up on the map. When you go to the village Valkyrie’s search directs you to, you are treated to the recruitment event for a new playable character!

One or two exemptions aside, recruiting new characters is as simple as watching someone die! That’s right. You get a splash of the person’s background and personality, then they get killed, then Valkyrie shows up and the dead person goes, “Of course I’ll fight for Odin, its not like I have much of a choice!” Like I said, its different and kind of weird. The plus side is that through leveling soldiers and sending them to Valhalla, the game encourages you to experiment and use different people. I’m guilty of sticking with the same core group in RPGs. This is nearly impossible in VP. I like it. The game makes it super easy to catch up characters you haven’t been actively using. No, they don’t get EXP when they aren’t with you. Instead, you’re rewarded Event Experience for traversing obstacles and completing dungeons. Which is a whole other can of worms.

VP is one of those games that tries (rather unsuccessfully) to meld RPG and action elements. Dungeon layouts are non-traditional as well. Instead of having an overhead or behind view of the character, it is done laterally. Valkyrie moves left and right. When prompted, you can also move up or down to go to a new room or section. The concept is simple, but the larger areas are very easy to get lost in and the map is nearly impossible to interpret in any helpful or meaningful way. There are obstacles to jump over and sometimes scenery to interact with. More annoying is this strange crystal-creating nonsense. Looks something like this:

Valkyrie Crystal

These crystals serve many functions. They can freeze enemies, be used as jumping platforms, create temporary floating platforms, and be broken down into small building blocks. Unfortunately, the game does little to really explain how to use them. We were probably about halfway through the game when we accidentally realized we could make temporary (almost invisible) shimmery platforms to climb to new areas. Incredibly precise maneuvering with frustrating and poorly responsive controls is required in some of the latter dungeons. The jump delay is a particular nuisance. And for a loot ho like myself who can’t stand the chance of missing out on a good weapon or spell book, the combination of poor platforming and nonnegotiable maps made for many annoying moments. To find out I spent 20 minutes trying to reach a treasure chest that ended up being a low level spell I already had 3 tomes for… I can’t put the fury into words.

The game’s complete disregard for transparency goes well beyond game layout and dungeon crawling into the equipment and inventory management process as well. I’m not completely against figuring stuff out as I go along, but this game is ridiculous. In VP you can turn items into other items, or you can turn them into MP (Materialize Points) and make your own healing items and equipment. We were able to figure that part out. But God help you if you’re trying to make sense of half the stats or descriptions on weapons, equipment and consumable items. Weapons had “Attack Trust” and “Hit Trust” numbers attached to them. Being something I’d never heard of before, I did a quick Google search to find that, according to the gaming community, they didn’t mean anything at all. Nothing noticeable, anyway. Even the skills characters learned in battle had ambiguous descriptions. Figuring out how to execute the abilities in battle didn’t clear our confusion up half the time.

I’m going to take this opportunity to mention that this game either has really bad translations or the writers at Enix have some pretty messed up ideas about what heroic personality traits are. Going along with character skills, there are personality traits you can level or de-level to increase your Einherjar’s Hero Value. Many of the personality traits were downright hilarious. There were many character-specific ones, such as the noteworthy “Hates Men” and “Voluptuous” traits. I’ll let you try to figure out which one is considered a positive or negative hero trait.

Sadly, the mismanagement runs into the battle system as well. There are a couple different types of melee characters (Good luck figuring out who can wear what type of sword and armor after you spend the MP to make them, by the way), archers, and also mages. Each character is assigned a button on the Playstation controller. When you press their corresponding button, they attack with their weapon. Each weapon has a different amount of hits for a total of 3 possible attacks. You can interchange who attacks when. So one character can waste their three attacks breaking the enemy’s Guard, which is an annoyance I won’t get into, and the other three can take turns pummeling the enemy. Certain weapons can launch enemies into the air or put them on the ground. Hitting enemies while they’re in the air yields extra experience.

Mages will cast the corresponding spell you’ve assigned to their “attack” slot. You’ll hardly ever want mages to do that. Why? Well, because if you spend extra time accessing the battle menu to cast the same spell, it will be an AoE spell instead of a single target spell (not all of them, you get the pleasure of figuring it out yourself) and chances are the mage will one-shot or nearly one-shot everything. Yeah, the game wants you using mages, in case you couldn’t tell. Steve-O found that little tidbit out by browsing online. No in-game tutorials told us that life-saving fact. I can’t imagine completing some of the late-game dungeons without abusing this feature.

If your mage doesn’t happen to end the battle in one stroke, they then get to sit on their thumbs for about 6 turns because their wait time is super long. This means you don’t get to use them as item dispensers or anything… they just get to waste space. Wait-time reducing skills notwithstanding, that is. By the end of the game we still couldn’t understand why certain characters couldn’t take their turns when we thought they could, and vice versa. About halfway through the game we stopped trying to figure out the minor details. Coincidentally, this was also when dungeons started featuring random encounter enemies with no weaknesses, mountains of hit points, and AoE attacks that can do more damage than your characters have for hit points. Or, God forbid, the only weapon they can actually be touched with (Beast Slayer, Dragon Slayer, etc.) broke and you have NO other options for whittling down their HP for more than 1 point at a time. I am NOT exaggerating.

This is an original Playstation game. I won’t comment on the graphics except to say they’re about standard for the generation and there are a handful of anime-style cut-scenes. The character designs aren’t particularly good. In fact, the character images displayed when they speak are laughable. Half of the time they’re cross-eyed and the colors don’t match what their sprites look like. It is almost as hilariously awful as the voice acting and dialogue! Most of the music isn’t outstanding, but I do like the battle theme. And you’ll be sick to death of the character recruitment music by the end of the game.

The end of the game… Yeah. As I said, we got the “best ending” which, of course, was a nonsensical, contrived happy ending. I almost feel obliged to say the extra precautions we took to ensure we got the best ending were worth it, but I don’t. I don’t want my happy ending if it is uninspired and predictable. However, I did like the Norse Mythology the story relied very heavily on. I think Norse lore is severely under utilized compared to Greek Mythology. While I don’t feel that the writing, or actually the entire game, was uninspired, I do think it doesn’t quite accomplish what it hoped to. VP is one of those games that suffers an identity crisis. In this case it happens to be “Am I an RPG or am I an action game?” Yes, there are examples of excellent games that manage to merge two different genres together splendidly. This is not one of those examples.

Complete and utter randomness; from what characters you will be able to recruit to dungeons you can access, compiled with terrible descriptions for items and equipment, topped with bizarre enemy weaknesses and difficulty, lent to a pretty bad taste in my mouth when all was said and done. For the price my husband paid to bag a copy of this somewhat rare game at the time, I’d say it isn’t really worth it. You’d have to be a complete RPG enthusiast or video game collector to shell out more than $20 to play this. Besides, it got a PSP port only a handful of people bothered to play. Of all the classic over-hyped RPGs to try scrounging up and playing, I wouldn’t put this one on the top of my list. Which is a shame, because I found the concept and Norse Mythology base unique and interesting. From a game play standpoint, I found it tiresome and annoying more often than I’d hoped.

thomas was alone

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As you can see, Thomas was NOT alone for long.

March was a great month for Playstation Network Indie freebies. Both thomas was alone AND The Lone Survivor were free last month. Two totally different types of games. Both totally worth playing.

I downloaded thomas was alone to my Vita and played it over the course of a couple of weeks. It is a puzzle-platformer with 100 levels. 100 levels sounds like a lot, but many of them are short and sweet. Rest assured, the time passes quickly.

thomas was alone has a unique premise. The “characters” in the game are AI personalities breaking free of a program that went haywire, essentially giving the AIs self-awareness. Each “character” has a different color, shape, and “ability.” To traverse the 2D levels, the AIs mostly jump over chasms and a water-like substance that most of them “drown” in. Each AI jumps different lengths and heights. One of them acts as a trampoline, allowing the others to jump on it and reach higher. One of my favorite characters, named Claire, has delusions of being a super hero. She does feel like a super hero at first because she can float in the water and help other AIs across the gap. Another favorite is a green AI (I don’t remember his name) who “has a unique disregard for Newtonian laws” because he defies gravity and is upside down the whole game.

To keep things fresh, new characters are introduced throughout the game. I believe Grey wasn’t introduced until around level 80. Then there was Team Jump, which was cute and quirky. Most of the cute and quirky comes from the narration. Danny Wallace (Shaun in the Assassin’s Creed series!) gives great voice and character to the AIs in a cheeky British tone. I looked forward to his narration at the start of every level.

The music is fittingly ambient as well. A soothing, fitting BGM that isn’t distracting. When I play games on the Vita it’s typically in the car or another setting where I can’t have the music too loud so it worked out. I didn’t play The Lone Survivor on my Vita for that very reason.

thomas was alone is still free, I believe, so hurry and download it before it’s too late. It is the perfect platformer to have available on the go when you’ve got 15-20 minutes of downtime.

Mass Effect Talking Points

 MassEffect

My Shepard had nicer thighs.

I’ve done it! I’ve finally finished a play through of Mass Effect after restarting it a couple times over the last five years or so. First I started playing it on our 360. I stopped, for whatever reason. Then Hubby and I started playing it together but stopped somewhere along the way due to time constraints (and me not having the patience to sit there while he explored every. single. planet.)

This game is new enough to still be fresh in the minds of those who played it upon release, and not old enough to need a thorough reminding of why I think you should or shouldn’t dedicate the time to play it. So I’m just going to highlight the pros and cons that stuck with me after the credits rolled.

The Mass Effect trilogy is a critically-acclaimed science fiction RPG/shooter hybrid. Yes, I liked the first installment. Yes, so far I believe it deserves a lot of the positive buzz it received. And, yes, there are flaws. The inventory management system is a mess. If you don’t routinely flesh out all of the armor upgrades and such you aren’t using, you’ll hit the 150 item max capacity pretty quickly. As punishmentfor your negligence, the next 20 minutes of your life will be dedicated to turning everything into omni-gel. Especially if you’re a loot whore like me and almost always keep a squad member with Decryption in your active party. The reason it takes an unreasonable amount of time to turn worthless items into omni-gel (Which can be used to repair the Mako) is because during the development process, apparently no one had the foresight to find grouping multiples of the same item into one inventory slot a good idea. You know how, in most smart RPGs, your inventory menu looks like “Potion x5” instead of sifting through “Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion,” separately? In case you’re a sadist who was thinking the latter system might be preferably, it isn’t. It takes forever to individually turn everything into omni-gel (I guess it’d be the equivalent of individually selling 20 of the same item to a vendor instead of all at once). AND you can’t hit Up on the D-pad or stick at the top of the list to quickly get to the bottom where the weaker crap you want to get rid of is. Tedious and annoying.

Mass Effect’s exploration spreads across the entire galaxy, allowing the player to explore uncharted planets on an all-terrain vehicle called the Mako. Seems like lots of people disliked the Mako. I’m kind of on the fence about it. Its controls are pretty crappy, I agree there. And traversing with it did get old after an hour or so at a time. But that’s usually voluntary time spent with side quests and scouring for goodies. I did heave a couple of sighs when I took a break from exploring uncharted planets on the Mako to do a main story quest only to be put back in the damn thing. When I was ready for main mission quests, it was because I wanted to shoot humanoid lifeforms, not drive a crappy car. As soon as I found out you get more experience for killing enemies on foot than in the Mako I got out of it at every opportunity to shoot everything– even the over-sized enemies that clearly wanted to be killed with the Mako’s superior fire power.

The Playstation 3 port I played was also glitchy. Granted, I can blame some of the system crashing (It happened three times, total) on my fat, backwards-compatible 60-gig PS3. But after browsing forums online it looks like I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Even with auto-save on I had to do more backtracking than expected when it happened to me. I actually had to do the final boss fight over because during the predictable cut-scene-between-final-boss-transformations the game froze up. Not cool. I’m legitimately worried my used and abused PS3 won’t survive the entire trilogy.

Shooters aren’t typically my game style of choice, so I tend to shy away from making too many comments about their design or difficulty. (Did I mention I played this game on Casual mode?) But Mass Effect’s style did come across as clunky and annoying. Usually when trying to implement the duck and cover routine. I knew I wanted to snipe, it’s my thing, even when a game’s style makes it less than ideal. In ME, that means your proficiencies are Assaults and Snipers. I like shotties too, but I shrugged it off because I used Wrex. He was a great compliment and the AI was probably better at it than me. Wrex could certainly take more hits than my Soldier Shepard. Most of the game’s combat takes place in narrow corridors so when I couldn’t manage to snipe I went all balls-to-the-walls with my Assault Rifle. I still managed to have a lot of fun during battles, even when Shepard wouldn’t cooperate when I wanted  her to use certain barriers as cover.

The RPG leveling system is standard fare. Killing enemies, performing side quests, and exploring the Mass Effect universe award the party with experience. Get enough EXP, you level. When you level you get skill points to assign to abilities. Advancing certain abilities unlocks other ones (Hence having to level Assault Rifles to unlock the Sniper Rifle proficiency). ME is one of those jerk games that makes you spend skill points to unlock dialogue options and to get the best loot. I’m a loot whore, so naturally that was the first thing I did. Thankfully, levels and skill points go to non-active party members as well. I love it when games do that. I find it encourages the player to experiment with different comrades. BUT certain characters don’t have the proper skills to open, um, “treasure chests.” And I refused to take Wrex out of the party. So I was still limiting myself. In the beginning of the game my main party included Wrex and Garrus. Garrus got boring, and when he suggested I trade in Liara for plot purposes I did. I enjoyed her Lift and Warp abilities, but I COULDN’T OPEN STUFF. To keep magicky stuff and get all the loot I didn’t need, I settled with a party of Shepard, Wrex and Tali.

Seriously, you don’t need all the loot the game throws at you. Okay, in Casual mode you don’t. But really… the inventory management system is so tedious I probably should have shrugged off the unnecessary loot and saved myself the time. However… I just can’t. I have a gaming loot complex or something.

Now. Mass Effect’s real shine comes in the universe Bioware created. When it comes to story, worlds and characters, I’ve become jaded. Final Fantasy X set the bar so high that I found myself constantly disappointed with video game writing and worlds to the point where I stopped caring. In fact, games that take themselves too seriously tend to be a turn off for me nowadays. Last/current gen had a few exceptions to the rule (The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, and The Walking Dead are examples at the forefront of my mind). I’m happy to add Mass Effect to the list. If Cultural Anthropology has ever peaked your interest, Mass Effect will completely tickle your anthropological fancies. All of the alien races hail from fascinating cultures if you care to learn about them. In terms of playing a video game it does lead to pretty poor pacing in the beginning. As soon as you get to the Citadel you can completely envelope yourself in hours worth of side questing and educating yourself on the universe’s other races. And though I vowed to bulldoze through this game as quickly as possible, I couldn’t stop myself from talking to the aliens to learn more about them. Free experience and loot notwithstanding.

With two more games in the series to go (and all the drama surrounding the grand finale) I’m really excited to see where the journey takes me. I’ve heard they stripped a lot of the RPG elements from the successors. While the RPG elements weren’t, like, good, it’d be nice if they decided to improve them instead of eliminating them. Unfortunately, because of the piss-poor inventory system, I don’t see this as a game that will age well with late-coming newbies to the trilogy. The incredible world-building and colorful cast of supporting characters were a suitable counter-balance to the negatives for me.

In case anyone is wondering, I created a badass (Renegade, if we’re being politically correct here) female Shepard. I planned on romancing Kaidan, the dark-haired human who I thought was a pretty sweet guy. But stupid Liara had to come onag and make me feel guilty when she asked if there was, y’know, chemistry. I couldn’t say no. I rationalized my decision with escapism. After all, I have a dark-haired human male at home I can romance whenever. But I’ll NEVER be able to romance a blue-skinned alien, will I?