Portal Review

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In one hole and out the other.

It has happened! Steve-O and I have finally experienced Portal! The critically acclaimed, fan-favorite puzzle game that seems to have had nothing but positive buzz since its inception. I’m happy to say that we thoroughly enjoyed everything that it has to offer.

Let me first start by saying that I suck at puzzle games. I don’t normally play them. As soon as I get even a semblance of a puzzle in, say, God of War, if I can’t find a solution quickly I look it up. I never play a Legend of Zelda game without consulting a walkthrough. Okay, hugging a walkthrough for the entire game. This made me very wary of starting Portal. Thankfully, with our powers combined (and a friend sitting in on about half of it who had completed the game already) we were able to see Portal through to the end and can now consider ourselves “in” on all of the Portal references spread throughout the gaming community.

Your avatar, Chell, awakens from what appears to be stasis, in what appears to be an abandoned research/testing facility. Abandoned, except by GLaDOS and the technology that keeps the place running. I say “appears”  because this game is very light on the storytelling aspect. Much of what you learn about the setting will be through observation and what GLaDOS tells you. Which is all subjective, of course… There’s no guarantee the super computer running this joint is even telling you the truth. And Chell doesn’t ever speak. In fact, the only reason I know the playable character is female is by seeing her through the portals.

The bulk of Portal consists of completing 19 trials with your fancy portal gun supplied by Aperture Science. You can shoot orange and blue portals against most walls and ceilings. Going into one portal will cause you to come out of the other. And no, they aren’t color-coded. I think my main problem with puzzle games is that even if my preconceived notion about how the mechanics work is wrong, I have a hard time getting it through my thick skull. So for the first few trials I kept thinking maybe orange was the enter portal and blue was the exit… Which isn’t the case at all. Whatever color you enter, you will exit the other. Simple concept, right?

Needless to say, more variances are thrown in to make progression a bit more complicated. Enter Physics: Mainly, learning to build continual momentum while falling through portals so you can launch yourself across rooms. Trust me, it’s dizzying and confusing. Then add timed doors, hazards like poison, shooting robots, energy balls that will kill you on contact but must be used to activate certain apparatuses, and the infamous companion cube… And you have fascinating depth to a puzzle-platform game that is definitely more than it seems. You can’t die from falling, but there are enough hazards to make you think careful about how you want to continue on. Many of the traps are one hit kills. It’s nothing to be too concerned with, as the game frequently auto-saves. Plus, you can quicksave whenever you want. A very helpful feature.

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I didn’t want to incinerate you…

I can’t talk about Portal without mentioning the humor. The hilarious deadpan, dark humor. All provided by the super computer that guides you through your journey. GLaDOS is, quite simply put, my favorite video game “character” in a long time. The funniest, hands down. More often than not I was chuckling at everything it said. By the time the “great reveal” hit and GlaDOS was desperately trying to backtrack what happened, I was laughing consistently.

Then the end credits hit. Seriously, the entire game was worth the ending credits. Definitely the funniest, most clever ending credits I’ve ever seen.

Even if you don’t play puzzle games, download this for cheap on Steam and play it. Use video FAQS and walkthroughs if you must. Because, seriously, it’s worth it just to experience this gem. I can’t imagine anyone out there who enjoys puzzle games and *gasp* using their brain when playing video games having not played Portal or Portal 2 yet… but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and go play this now. You’ll finish it in a few hours, but the experience will stay with you for far longer.

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Super Mario Maker Musings

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Super Mario Maker: A race to upload the most obnoxious Mario levels in existence.

Mario is my gaming alpha. He is the man who got me interested in video games back when I was 4 years old. I can’t say what it was about watching my cousins die repeatedly on the first level that caught my interest, but I was so obsessed my parents broke down and got me a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas that year. So I think it’s safe to blame my parents and Mario for my lifelong obsession with video games.

That being said, I’ve never dreamed up original Mario levels inside of my head. Guess I’m not very creative when it comes to design and the technicalities of it all. This certainly didn’t do anything to smother my excitement for Super Mario Maker. In fact, I was always excited to go online and experience levels created by people with more creativity and spare time on their hands. Unfortunately, when it comes to the (literally) millions of levels uploaded online, the amount of quality levels is really a drop in a bucket by comparison.

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This isn’t the random clusterf**k you think it is.

In fact, my favorite levels are the levels I don’t have to play at all! “Don’t Move” levels permeate the popular online courses. Yes, that’s right… the “player” doesn’t have to do a thing! I know, it sound cheap, but many of these stages are absolutely amazing to behold. They really demonstrate the impressive mechanics and the overwhelming number of options on the table when creating levels. Plus, they’re a nice break from a sad majority of stages that only seem to exist to cause me stress. It seems like every other level is nothing but an annoying, gimmicky attempt at a “gotcha” stage that I have little to no patience for.

This is only mainly a problem due to one of my few complaints about this game. As many of you know, Super Mario Maker allows for amiibo skins while playing 8-bit Mario Bros. levels. If you don’t happen to own 100 amiibos, you can unlock skins by playing “100 Mario Challenge.” 100 is a lot of lives… right?

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Also, get used to level names that LIE, have spelling and grammar errors, and are in other languages.

100 Mario Maker has an Easy, Normal, and Expert mode, which are determined by each stages completion percentage. Easy is brain-numbingly easy. Normal usually has decent stages. But Expert? Ugh… Most Expert mode stages make me want to write death notes for the users who created this painful garbage. I would just, you know, stay away from Expert mode… if I had a choice. Sadly, the game caps how much you can unlock on Easy and Normal modes. So unless I want to go out and buy more amiibos (Someday, but not today) I have to suffer through Expert mode or just not bother. As it stands, I haven’t completed it once. Even with the feature to skip a level (I’d be livid if this didn’t exist) if I still have 8 stages to go and more than half of my lives are gone… I always quit.

I still have a lot of unlocking to do. Time is all that is needed to unlock all the building tools. 10 Mario Challenge will get you some starter levels to tinker with and completing them all gets you Nintendo World Championship Levels. Completing all of those gets you… Wait for it…

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Is that… Walauigi?

Skinny, weird jumping Mario. I have an irrational fear of it. Seriously, it creeps me out.

I still have a lot to unlock and some stage designs to play around with. There is a lot to this game, and with the potential of it being a never ending Mario game with (hopefully) more DLC down the line for level creation tools and layouts (Seriously… No Super Mario 2???? It hurts). Aside from these gripes, I’m so glad Nintendo finally made this a thing. This is the best thing to happen to my Wii U since Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows DLC

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He’s just so… cute!

I’m back to sing Shovel Knight’s praises again! Except this time… it’s Plague Knight I’m rooting for?!

While Plague Knight didn’t especially stand out to me while playing Shovel Knight for the first time, I was immensely excited when I read about this free DLC for owners of the original game. In Plague of Shadows, the player assumes the role of Plague Knight, who is on a quest to become the most powerful alchemist out there. With the help of a few friends, of course.

I’m happy to report that we’re not talking about a mere palette swap here. I could tell a lot of time and care went into this DLC. Though it’s true that you will replay the same basic stages, they’ve been remodeled and subtle changes have been made to accompany Plague Knight’s style. And man, it is hella different. If you’ve played the normal campaign recently, it will take some getting used to.

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Just look at all these options!

Being an alchemist, Plague Knight relies on an assortment of potion bombs to blow up enemies. Don’t expect any signature shovel pogo sticking here. Instead, you’ll be double jumping, bursting, and tossing explosive vials. Bursting is an effect that will trigger when releasing the button. Plague Knight can glide, rain a blizzard on enemies below him, break through walls, and more. A common practice for gaining gravity is to double jump then burst, but you can do any combination of burst and jumping that you’d like. His bombs have THREE different features that you can upgrade and swap out whenever you want. It is very important to purchase these and experiment with them, as many effects are situational. Don’t learn the hard way (like me) that having a certain explosion or casing type can make or break a boss fight. Because they most certainly do.

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Treasure Trappings… Troupple King is my kinda Troupple.

Plague Knight utilizes magic as well. So on top of micromanaging your basic attack (which can get frustrating on certain stages… especially after the upteenth “Why do I keep dying here?!” death) you also have magic spells to consider. Some of the magic spells are wildly different than Shovel Knight’s, while others are different animations serving the same purpose. For example: While Shovel Knight gets the Dust Knuckles to soar across gaps, Plague Knight gets a dust cloud that he can walk through.

On top of the great new mechanics and creative equipment and abilities comes a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable story with delightful characters. Yacht Club Games did an impressive job of giving Plague Knight his own fresh story that runs parallel to what we saw the first time around. You’ll see some new faces, but more importantly, you’ll see a different side to characters you thought you knew. Most of the knights haven’t really changed; their ire is just temporarily directed towards Plague Knight. But damn, if it isn’t hilarious watching the pre-boss battle banter.

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Sound logic right there.

In short, the Plague of Shadows DLC is the perfect excuse to delve back into this game again. And this is coming from a person who almost never buys or downloads DLC. Typically when I am done with a game, I’m done. But for Shovel Knight fans, this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. Plague Knight’s story is charming, fun, and hopefully a showcase of what other tricks Yacht Club Games has up their sleeves!