Archive for the ‘ Video Games ’ Category

Diablo 2

So in an effort to keep these posts fairly regular, I’ve decided to write a little today about some stuff I’ve been playing recently. To avoid repeating myself, I’m gonna concentrate on Diablo 2 as that’s the only thing of note I’ve been playing in the last week or so. I haven’t had an awful lot of time on my hands recently in between job interviews, worrying about my future and visiting friends so video games have taken a bit of a back seat. Nevertheless I did manage to get some ARTS (Action Real Time Strategy; a nothing term and genre but the best way to describe these types of games without saying ‘Diablo-like’ or ‘like an RPG’) action with Diablo 2 although I’ve not played a huge amount of the game I wanted to write about it nonetheless.

Diablo 2

The second installment in the popular Blizzard franchises is often regarded, at least from what I’ve seen, as the strongest game in the series. I’ve got the impression from various forums and online communities that Diablo 3 was seen as a little weak in some departments and ultimately failed to live up to the hype it generated. It can’t have been helped by the catastrophic launch, insistence of ‘always online’ and the real money Auction House. Anyway, I’ve never actually played Diablo 3 due to PC limitations (I have a very poor laptop) so when I got a strange ARTS itch me and a friend bought Diablo 2 a few years ago. The results were, well, pretty great actually. To start, the game looks extremely dated despite being only 14 years old. However that doesn’t change what the game is. A fun ARTS with exactly what you would expect; lots of enemies, lots of clicking and lots of stat and gear comparison. The classes are all fairly varied, I haven’t manged to play a whole lot of the game but I’ve played Paladin, Barbarian and Sorceress whilst a friend I played co-op with went Necromancer so I have experienced most of the classes available. I must say, I had most fun probably with the Barbarian. Jumping about using my massive strength and vitality to hit things in the face was very rewarding. I usually go for caster types in RPGs so I tried the Sorceress initially but in my experience playing sorceress involves a lot of running backwards as most things will kill you very swiftly. I feel the Sorceress would benefit from increased ease of spell switching. Changing spells in combat is fiddly and can easily get you killed, making this easier would allow Sorceress to be more usable in my opinion. You could use ice to slow enemies before blasting them with fire, for example. Paladin is also pretty cool, kind of like the Barbarian but with more focus on abilities. He has a lot of auras as well, which is why I picked him to use with my friends Necromancer in co-op. Overall the classes have their unique aspects which make them individually attractive depending on your preferred playstyle.

I will say one thing, this game is pretty tough. Some enemies will completely murder you and even the smallest of enemies can be threatening in large numbers. In fact, me and my friend never got past Duriel (the Act II boss) on Normal difficulty in co-op. After some reading we discovered that Duriel is considered the hardest boss on Normal difficulty to his massive melee damage, freezing aura and cramped dwelling where the fight takes place. We were unprepared for the Duriel Pain Train and got totally wrecked again and again. After reading that the only way to progress would be to ‘grind some cold resistance gear’ we promptly lost motivation for the game. Not a great indicator but this is an older game and back in the day you learnt from your mistakes. We’ll get back to it one day probably, we shall defeat Duriel yet. Meanwhile I have been playing a little more recently on my own, and it’s going pretty well so far. Maybe I’ll finally beat that goon this time round, I’ve been watching out for cold resist gear specially.

Of course Diablo 2 is not without its faults. Like I have already said, the graphics are very dated although this isn’t a huge issue. Enemy models are consistently reused within Acts with a simple palette swap and more HP being used in place of enemy variety, which is a little problem. Duriel presents the need for some balance tweaks as he is probably a little hard to have so early in the game. Other than this though, there are no glaring faults with the game. Diablo 2 is a game that rewards a great amount of time being put into it. Being more leveled will make the game a little smoother and completing quests with the bare minimum of enemy killing will lead to slow progression through the large ability trees. There are a lot of abilities available and choosing where to spend your points can be a tricky decision and you want to accrue as many levels as possible to fully explore the ability trees to their fullest potential. I probably haven’t put the required amount of time into Diablo 2 yet to reap it’s fullest rewards but I sure am enjoying the journey so far.

In short, I would recommend Diablo 2. It’s a bit of a classic these days and it’s always nice to play a game considered a classic for the first time and see what you think of it. Diablo 2 lives up the hype for me, it’s a solid ARTS from Blizzard with the opportunity to sink hours and hours of your life into it. Be warned, Diablo 2 could consume you.

Weekly Post sort of: HoG Blastzone4. My first tournament!!

So this Saturday I attended BlastZone 4 at Heart of Gaming in London! BlastZone 4 was a Super Smash Bros. tournament featuring Melee, Brawl and the popular Brawl hack Project Melee, designed so that Brawl is more like Melee in terms of physics. I entered Melee, Melee doubles and Project Melee. I don’t play Brawl, I’ve never really played Brawl. I never got round to getting it when it came out, so I never really played it. I also don’t think Brawl is a competitively viable game, it’s so slow and rewards campy non-aggressive play. Melee however is very different, it’s fast and aggressive and very hard to be very good at. PM to me still feels a bit off, I don’t mind playing it for a bit of fun and I’ll probably still enter competitions for it if it’s available, but I much prefer Melee. In Melee I play Marth and Ganondorf in teams because Marth is kinda band in teams due to the ending lag on a lot of his moves. In PM I play Ganondorf because he’s better in that game, faster, better recovery and still hits hard.

I’ve already talked about how much I love Melee so I thought I’d focus mainly on this tournament. I went down with my ‘crew’ from Southampton. There were four of us and we met up with another guy who drove us from Basingstoke train station to the venue in London. At the tournament I personally did quite badly, I had the hardest pool with Fuzzyness in. Fuzzyness is the best player in the UK, no question. He recently competed at Evolution 2013 in SSBM and got a monstrous 17th place. That is insane. The UK scene is so small and the U.S. scene is so good, it’s hard to properly describe but just know that he is very good. I also had Kipotsky in my pool, a talented Fox player who ended up getting 7th overall. I also had pretty damn good French Falco player as well as two Marth’s, one of whom was better than me. I only beat the remaining Marth player, who wasn’t too bad really, but I don’t think he plays too much Melee. So I did manage to beat one guy AND I only got 7 stocked by Fuzzyness (as in I managed to kill him once whilst he killed 8 times), which sounds bad but when considering how much better he is than me it’s actually a feat for me to kill him legit once. In other news some of my crew did really well, fellow newby R23 (or Alex) nearly got out of his pool, which is pretty damn big considering there are two seeded players in each pool and only the top 2 got out. In bigger news, veteran X1-12 (Tristan) got joint 7th (him and Kipotsky went out in the same round on different sides of the bracket) which is awesome considering how the top 8 at UK Melee events can be pretty much confirmed based on who attends. So Melee didn’t got too well for me in tournament, it went well for some of my crew though so I was pretty happy. I also learned so much, I got to play some great players and got better in the time I was there. I could feel it.

In Doubles me and R23 (Alex), playing a Sheik-Ganondorf combo (me on Ganon),got knocked straight out in a quick one-two punch. We faced some tough opposition and just lost, some of the games were pretty close. The guys who knocked us out in Losers (Brado and Willz) are both pretty damn good and managed to beat Tristan (X1-12) and Alex (different Alex, I actually don’t know his I.D. which is pretty embarrassing really) who are both pretty damn good as well.  P:M was a bit strange in comparison. Only 23 entrants so no pools, straight into bracket. My first round opponent was Shifting Shadows, a good Falcon player and apparently a pretty scary Zero Suit Samus in PM. Luckily, he decided he couldn’t be bothered playing or he wandered off or something but one of the guys keeping the cogs turning, Jolteon, told me I got a bye and he was sent to losers bracket. I then faced Bullet-Bill, a former resident of Southampton who Tristan knew from when he used to live here. He’s good at Melee and plays a pretty brutal Lucas in PM. I lost to him pretty badly, no surprise really. Part of the problem in a game like PM, because there’s not too much of a scene for PM because it’s still in development, so sometimes people will do things with a character and you will not know what the hell they are doing. This is basically what happened to me versus Bullet-Bill’s Lucas. In Losers I faced Willz, who beat me earlier in doubles, he played a strong Captain Falcon in PM as he does in Melee and he beat me pretty handily. So I didn’t do too well in PM either but again, it was about the experience.

Overall, I had a great time. I got beat pretty badly but I learned so much. I want to keep playing competitive Melee, I’ll keep going to tournaments and fests at Tristan’s house. I’ll hopefully keep improving and maybe one day I’ll even place at one of those things. I can only get better.

Weekly Post… Sort of. (News: Blizzcon 2013)

So remember when I said some weeks ago that I would be doing weekly blogs about my video games? Heh, good one eh? I am a real card.

In all seriousness, I have been quite busy with deadlines and various university stuff in the last week or so. I have also been trying to maintain my small but carefully managed social life, and by carefully managed I mean hiding from everyone until I get dragged from my room. Well it works for me. So unfortunately I haven’t been playing many video games, certainly nothing new. If you really want to read something I’ve written, you can have this article I wrote for my university entertainment magazine about God Hand. It’s not my full fleshed out thoughts of the game and is aimed at an audience that don’t know shit about video games.

I guess I could briefly mention Blizzcon 2013, which is actually still on going. I could make this a shitty news post mostly based on my opinions of facts I saw once on twitter and are probably false. Yeah, that sounds good.

So the two main things I know about and have opinions on are the Heroes of the Storm and the new WoW expansion. I adore Warcraft III, it is my favourite game of all time. Every move that Blizzard makes with Warcraft that means there’s an even smaller chance of Warcraft 4 ever existing and that makes me sad. Warlord’s of Draenor does not make me want to resub, it did not fill me with excitement or anything remotely approaching it. I would probably say something about the lore being in tatters, what with the time travel elements announced but actually it’s already ruined. Someone told me they brought Muradin Bronzebeard back from the dead (claiming he was unconcious or some shit) and after having found this to be true World of Warcraft makes me feel a bit ill every time I really think about it. If my two close WoW playing friends resub I might but I’d have to buy BC, WotLK, Cata and MoP as well as the new expac. So probably not gonna be doing that.

As for HotS (Heroes of the Storm, not Heart of the Swarm. Thanks Blizz) I’m a little unimpressed. I’ll probably play it a bit because it’s free but I don’t see it replacing Dota 2 in my life. It looks kind of fun, I watched the casted game between developers (which is available on youtube) but I didn’t really know what the fuck was going on (skills wise) and I have a suspicion that the game was probably staged to show off the game to the fullest. Above all the game looks to have no competitive elements AT ALL. This is not a bad thing really, with Dota 2 and LoL competing as it is, another Dota-like really doesn’t have a lot of chance. Even Blizzard’s backing won’t do much good as Dota 2 is already based off Warcraft 3 models/mechanics etc. I enjoy playing Awesomenauts when I can get a good connection and that game is pretty silly. So I’ll probably play it, with friends, but not by myself. I’ll probably also play exclusively Arthas and Thrall since I’m a WC3 kinda guy.

So that’s pretty much all I have to say about that, sorry for the usual lack of content. I promise I’ll get better! (maybe) If you are one of the two/three followers of this blog, I hope these weekly updates aren’t getting on your nerves. Thank you for patronage and I hope you keep reading!

Weekly Post: A New Beginning

If you ever read this blog, and your probably don’t, you may notice that my posts are far from frequent. I have decided I want to change this. So from now on I shall be posting weekly posts about what games I have been playing.

Sometimes these posts will be very short and contain a lot about Super Smash Bros. Melee which is a game I play a lot of. As well as this I play this game at a reasonably high level so I may get quite technical. For a quick summary the deeper aspects of SSBM watch this video by popular speedrunner Cosmo, who explains it all very well. Other times the posts will be lengthy, like this one, as I will have played a lot of different games.

So my last post was quick discussion of Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time and since then I have been playing a lot of stuff. So prepare yourself, here it goes.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

A housemate was excited for GTA:V and was delighted when I told him I had a copy of this lying around that I hadn’t played. So we busted out and played it to near completion. We haven’t done the last mission and that’s it, it barely feels worth it completing it now since the last mission is pretty tricky. First things first, this game is pretty tricky. There are some missions where I’m not sure how possible they would be without cheats. One particular mission sticks in my head, you had to flee from the Police in an already damaged van. If the van blows up, you fail. If you get out of the van for too long, you fail. The Police cars are faster than you and will ram your van into walls. You WILL blow up, I don’t really see how you can avoid the police cars for long enough, as they are limitless and there’s very little you can do to defend yourself. Thank God for cheats allowing you to lower your wanted level and restore the health of your car. Overall the game is pretty good a bit of a GTA classic. The shooting is pretty awkward, the only way to hit people is to stand perfectly still and fire at them whilst they do the same to you. There’s no real strategy involved and it can quickly get very irritating with multiple enemies. I’ve heard complaints that the map is too small but it’s a pretty good size. It’s not as big as San Andreas but it is also older. It’s not that bad really, could be bigger but it’s alright. The game has it’s share of interesting missions and has that Rockstar sense of humour that permeates their games. Worth a play I think, especially as a nostalgia trip.

Grand Theft Auto: V

A recent one for a change. Grand Theft Auto V enjoyed widespread critical praise for everything apart from the Online. This is one I don’t want to take about too much as I am still considering writing a full post about it. I don’t actually own this one, my housemate does but I did play through a significant portion of the game with him. Overall impressions are very good. Huge game world with plenty to do, you can have enough fun stealing cars and punching people to keep you amused for a few hours. I like the three characters, all with their separate specialties and personalities and I also like the attributes aspect. Gives a sense of progress that isn’t always apparent in Grand Theft Auto games. The missions are very fun for the most part and a colourful collection of supporting characters combined with Rockstar’s sense of humour (which is running rampant in this game) make for an amusing experience. This game has it’s problems but it’s a barrel of fun and has enough content to keep you amused for a very long time. Definitely worth a pick up, this is what ‘next gen’ games should be like.

God Hand

This is one I will be definitely be writing about in the future. Probably when/if I finish it. Traditionally God Hand is looked upon a hidden gem and this is for good reason. This game was panned when it first came out but is actually very very good. It is hard though, very hard. If you do better and avoid enemy attacks your level increases, when your level increases the enemies get tougher. However, you can dodge everything any enemy throws at you. The game also has a build-a-combo system that allows you to play the game your way. The game’s camera (which is fixed behind you) can work against you, which is the only time the game is actually frustrating. Not gonna say too much now as a full post is coming, I may also be writing an article about the game for a University publication so I’m keeping my ideas to myself for now.

Dota 2

I do play some Dota 2 every now and then. It’s my ARTS of choice (mostly because it’s based on my favourite game, Warcraft 3). Not gonna talk about it really because there are hundreds of places you can go to hear this game being talked about more intelligently than I could.

Sonic 2

Only played a bit of this one. Seems better than the first one overall. More interesting level design and an opportunity for co-op, even if it is poorly implemented. Probably gonna write about this one as well and I’ve barely played this so I’m not gonna say too much.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Again, gonna wait to talk about my weekly Melee activities because I could gone on for hours about this one. I will announce that I finally got to play with people at my University’s Computer Games’ Society and got invited to a mini ‘Smash Fest’ at someone’s house this Sunday. The guy hosting is pretty damn good, better than me for sure. I hope to improve by playing with people instead of the CPUs. Judging by CGSoc, most of the guys are at a similar skill level to me and I may be a little better than a few of them. But there’s definitely things I can learn and I’m always trying to improve with all my characters.

So that’s it then! The first Weekly Round-Up is complete! This is a long one because of the time since I last posted but most of them will be a lot shorter than this I promise. Hopefully you’ll stick around and come back, maybe read them every now and then. That’d be nice.

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Majora’s Mask or Ocarina of Time?

When it comes to the Legend of Zelda series there are a few questions that are always asked. When is the next one coming out? Will Nintendo ever make another side-scroller like the Adventure of Link? Which is the best in the series? What possessed them to make those CDi games? What the fuck were they thinking with that timeline? And finally… Which is better: Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask?

With the several different formats that Zelda games have used over the years, it is often hard to compare the true gems of the series. You can’t expect Link’s Awakening (SNES) to have the graphical niceties of Twilight Princess (Wii and GC). But the two easiest games to compare are probably Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Both released on the same system, relatively soon after one another and both having countless similarities. Of course this is because Majora’s Mask was intended as an expansion to the incredibly successful Ocarina of Time, however Nintendo decided they would release it as a stand alone game making use of the N64’s expansion pack for more blast processing or something. The comparison of the two games was, and still is, inevitable. They are similar in all the practical ways and yet different in a hundred subtle ones. Having played through and given my thoughts on Ocarina of Time in a previous post I thought it was best to play through Majora’s Mask as well. I would like to take this opportunity to state that this ‘comparison’ will probably focus mainly on MM as OoT has already been discussed, as linked above.

I would also like to state that I played Majora’s Mask on the Gamecube version that is contained on the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition disc. This has some known problems like frame-rate issues and some musical errors, so i won’t mention any occurrences of that. Also, I won’t be taking about graphics because they’re the same as Ocarina of Time, literally identical.

So, to begin with, let’s start with the negative points. Firstly and perhaps most glaringly, the game is quite short. In OoT there are the 3 initial dungeons to get the precious gems to get through the Door of Time. There are then the 5 dungeons to get the medallions and then a few mini dungeons spread throughout, all topped off by Ganondorf’s Tower which contains 6 mini, mini dungeons as well as having enemies to fight within. Majora’s Mask has 4 dungeons with a few mini dungeons scattered around. The Clock Tower can’t even be called a dungeon. There are the mini dungeons that you need to complete in order to get the Fierce Deity mask but those are completely optional, unlike the mini dungeons in  Ganondorf’s Tower. As well as this the world of Termina feels smaller than Hyrule by quite a large margin. This does subtract somewhat from the feeling of being a child, setting out to topple insurmountable odds. A feeling commonplace in most Zelda games. What we have here then is a lack of content. This is clearly because MM was intended as an expansion. It’s not only clear in the identical visuals but in the shorter length of the game. I would probably cite this as a bad thing and for this reason I feel like it is necessary to consider MM as an expansion, otherwise the lack of game to play would be nigh on unforgivable.

Whilst talking about the downsides of Majora’s Mask, I want to talk about the bosses. Bosses in Zelda games are always a highly anticipated feature and there have been some very memorable ones. From Ocarina of Time I thought the fight with Ganondorf and Ganon was very memorable, as well as enjoying Volvagia, Twinrova and Bongo Bongo. The mini-bosses were also very good, a highlight being the return of Dark Link, who first appeared in Zelda II. However, the bosses in MM are memorable for all the wrong reasons. I shall give a quick run down of each of the 4 main bosses and reasons why I hate them.

Odolwa: A forgettable boss fight. A giant Jungle warrior with a sword. Probably too easy whilst also talking a while to kill. The least to say about this one

Goht: A mechanical goat. The most gimmicky boss fight here, but a good idea really. Roll after him in Goron form and kick the shit out of him. Also very easy, but a good idea nonetheless.

Gyorg: Frustrating unless a specific strategy is supplied. Doing the dolphin jump out of the water in Zora form is the only way to ensure not taking damage each cycle and that can be tricky to do when you’re close to the centre platform. This fight can even feel unfair at times, with Gyorg recovering from damage quicker than you can safely retreat.

Twinmolde: Insultingly simple and controller breakingly frustrating in the same breath. Hit the two giant snakes on the head or tail. Use the Giant’s Mask to become huge and attack them. (WARNING: This is going to be a long one because I hate this boss and found it very hard for a variety of reasons which I will elaborate on). Firstly, when you are wearing the Giant’s Mask, Link fills the centre of the screen, making it hard to see what the fuck is going on. The hit boxes seem to be a bit off for the Kokiri Sword meaning you have be very close to score a hit but the animation for Twinmolde taking damage is for the hurt appendage to flail around slightly. This causes Link to take damage 9/10 times he damages the boss. The use of the Giant’s Mask constantly drains your magic. More magic can be found in pillars in the arena, hit them with your sword to break them. If you are too close to the pillars the hit won’t register. Not all the pieces of the pillars drop magic. The magic is incredibly hard to see when you’re wearing the Giant’s Mask, making it hard to pick up. You may also have heard that the blue snake is weak to fire arrows and the red one to ice. Well these also cost magic and hitting the tail/head with arrows is incredibly difficult and most of the time you’ll get run over from behind before you even see the snake that’s hurtling towards you at a million miles an hour. On top of all this clusterfuck that this boss fight is slowly shaping up to be, you take more damage when normal sized as well. Basically, if you run out of magic, you have to hang around near a pillar, which may not even contain any magic, and hope that the snakes don’t deal you massive damage with their enormous hit boxes you can’t possibly escape. In short, fuck Twinmolde. Possibly the worst thing about this is that the boss is completely trivialised with two sidequests. Simply upgrade your sword fully and defend Romani Ranch to get Chateau Romani and the fight becomes trivial, You hit 3 times as hard and you never run out of magic, which was pretty much every problem to begin with. I hate this boss fight so much.

Having said all this, it should be stated that the final boss fight is actually very good and a little odd, perfectly reflecting the tone of the game. Some of the mini bosses are great as well, King Igos being a particular highlight.I do however feel like the larger bosses in this game are very underwhelming and only memorable because of frustrating aspects. Twinmolde is probably not as bad as I’ve made it seem but I do think the fight is mechanically flawed. I can’t think of a boss in any other Zelda game that frustrated me as much as Twinmolde did.

Now that is most of the negative things out of the way, it’s time to consider the positives. Firstly, and the most often cited argument for MM superiority, is the atmosphere. Atmosphere is quite hard to describe but I’ll give it my best shot. So the whole plot of the game is a big ass scary moon is about to crash into Clock Town. The game takes place across 3 days. One the first day everything is fine and dandy, on the second people begin to talk to you about the moon. How it’s getting closer and how this scares them. On the third day Clock Town is nearly empty. Those who remain tell you that the others have fled, you can see the despair in many characters and even the acceptance of their inevitable demise. These are dark themes for a Zelda game, ones that MM conveys well. The third day in Clock Town is one of the most unnerving places in any video game. It’s not scary like a horror game, but it’s filled with despair that feels almost real. I mentioned earlier that the atmosphere pervades into the final boss fight and this is certainly true. The 3 versions of Majora’s Mask are reasonably challenging with the second form, Majora’s Incarnation, being quite unnerving. The final boss, although made ludicrously easy by the Fierce Deity’s mask (which is optional), fits the game very well.

Other advantages over Ocarina of Time include a wealth of better  and more varied side quests, the Romani Ranch series being a particular highlight. There is also a large array or better characters. Clock Town is filled to bursting with them, something that Ocarina of Time was severely lacking. In OoT it sort of felt that you, Zelda and Ganondorf were the only real people in Hyrule. I personally liked Darunia a lot and there’s also Saria who, whilst important early on, does fade out as the story progresses. Meanwhile Clock Town has tonnes of personality bursting from it. A particular favourite is the story of Anju and her missing  fiance Kafei. In an interesting, time specific, side quest you re-unite the couple and leave them, ready to accept their death together. Clock Town feels alive, this is helped a huge part by the time specific events which add a sense of urgency and realism that was severely lacking from OoT. This is, along with the atmosphere, the greatest plus point of Majora’s Mask and it is not one that should go unconsidered.

Overall then we see that Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time basically succeed where the other fails. Ocarina of Time was criticised for it’s empty feeling over-world, a problem that Majora’s Mask solves. Whilst Majora’s Mask has mostly lacklustre dungeons and bosses, an area where Ocarina of Time excels. Here then we have a problem, I don’t feel entirely comfortable calling one game superior to the other. I feel that maybe Ocarina of Time is the better game whilst Majora’s Mask is a better experience. Truly the only solution is to play them both, MM is canonically a direct sequel to OoT and you should take this rare quirk of the Zelda timeline as an opportunity for a cohesive story to develop over two games. Both should be played, you will enjoy both. But which you prefer is entirely down to you.

Hotline Miami

To begin with I should probably retell about how I came across Hotline Miami. I was pretty broke, as a student such as myself often is, but then the Great Overlord Gabe Newell saw it fit to bless Steam users with the annual Steam Summer Sale. A bonanza of bargains of varying quality. I like the Steam Sales particularly because it gives me a chance to pick up the ‘Flavour of the Month’ indie game for usually under a couple of pounds. Last snatch was The Binding of Isaac, a great little title that I thoroughly enjoyed playing. Although I didn’t get too far, something I intend to eventually fix. However, in the Summer of 2013, that is this Summer, this title was Hotline Miami. A trippy and violent retro flashback to the 80s, a decade that I was not born during so of course I know nothing about, but I’ve been assured it’s accurate…

To begin with, as usual, the visuals come up for discussion. Being an indie game Hotline Miami doesn’t even the graphical ‘quality’ to think about such words as ‘high definition’. The graphics to me looked very ’16-bit’ and were very stylised, again as indie games often are.  However, this isn’t bad in any way. Some gorgeous pixel art exists and most of it is from games from the ’16-bit’ era. Games like Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Link’s Awakening and the SNES Final Fantasy games have graphics that have only matured like a fine cheese. Hotline Miami taps into this and the game looks nice. The thing that jumps out about the graphical style is the colour. The colour is vivid and intense and wonderful and fits wonderfully to the hectic, murderous, drug fueled rampage that comprises the game’s story. Truly a visual style that is appropriate and pleasant, a combination any game should strive for.

Since I mentioned the game’s story, I guess that should be discussed next. I’ve heard it said that this game’s story is not to be taken too seriously and that the aim of the developers was to prove that story is not required for a good game. But I’ll try and give a plot summary anyway. You play as ‘Jacket’, who is a man, with a jacket. He wakes up and there are messages on his answering machine telling him, in a series of heavy euphemisms, to murder hundreds of members of a Russian gang. During the respites in Jacket’s blood spattered rampage he is accosted by characters wearing the masks that Jacket himself wears on his sprees and grill him on various aspects of his new found life. The questions helpfully voice the players own wonders about what the shit is going on.  You follow Jacket’s efforts to uncover what the hell is going on and murder hundreds of people gleefully along the way. Meanwhile these is a couple of prologue chapters that reveal a little more but there is a lot of aspects, such as ‘what the fuck was going on?’ and ‘did any of that actually happen?’ and ‘seriously what was going on?’. So yeah, the plot isn’t that important.

Meanwhile, what is important is the gameplay and the gameplay is very good. You control Jacket from a top down perspective and you go around killing hundreds of enemies with a satisfying varieties of melee weapons and guns.  The controls are simple and effective. I feel like it’s best played with Keyboard and Mouse for the record, it feels more natural and allows for quick changes of the way Jacket faces. The satisfying crunching noise of crowbar hitting face, the graphic death animations and the small penalty for death (press R to Retry) will have any player eager to jump back in to the face-crushing, Russian-slaughtering action. Really, there’s not an awful lot to say. I can tell you that you will try levels multiple times, it’s all about finding the correct timings and order in tactics with which to slaughter anyone who stands in your way. The aforementioned masks add some pleasing variety as well, each mask with a different bonus that vary from having your unarmed attacks be lethal to having the entire level dimly lit, reducing enemies’ cone of vision. More than anything the masks add tonnes of replay value to a game that already has loads of replay value simply through the virtue of being incredibly fun.

Hotline Miami has, overall, not a lot to talk about. It’s very simple but in doing so is awesome. I have often harked on about how simplicity is often a merit to games, allowing the player to be quickly involved and to immersed more easily. That isn’t to say that games that are complex are bad, in many ways a complex game is better by rewarding players for putting more time and effort into the game meaning that the player feels more rewarded upon the games’ completion. Having said all this, the visceral, bloody simplicity of Hotline Miami goes a long way. The game is simple to play and relatively difficult to master. Some areas of the game can be challenging and the feeling that you get when you run through a house smashing the shit out of a platoon of Russian gangsters has few rivals. I would rank Hotline Miami as a must get if you can. I was lucky and got it on sale, but the game is still pretty cheap even off sale and certainly less than the typical AAA game that is being constantly peddled these days. Hotline Miami is simple, fun and more importantly it sets an example for the future. People in the games’ industry need to see that these types of small titles are much better for the consumer than the constant excretion of the same bloated entrances to the same old series again and again. Hotline Miami is the cure to that disease.

Hotline Miami is a fun game that you should all buy. I liked it at least, I hope you will.

Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2: Crash and Burn

This story begins on a dark and stormy evening. Or at least, it could do. Me and two friends sat down and decided to don our nostalgia hats and play some Crash Bandicoot. Where better place to start in our quest for sweet Bandicoot nostalgia than the first game? Recently purchased by one of the aforementioned friends and housemate to fulfill his Crash Bandicoot itch, we sat down and turned on the old PlayStation 2. Little did we know what was in store, for when we started that game we could not stop. What began was an unbroken marathon of swearing, frustration and tiredness and, above all, Crash Bandicoot. (Disclaimer: It wasn’t actually a straight marathon, we did do the first 4 or so levels a couple of hours before the rest of the game). Our marathon claimed many lives, by which I mean one. By which I mean one of my housemates had to go to work for a few hours and by the time he got back me and the other housemate had got so good and determined that letting him have a go would only result in failure. So he watched, cheered us on, consoled us  when we failed and soothed us with promises that the game was indeed being unfair and cheating in our darker moments. I should begin this sort-of review by saying I never actually played the Crash Bandicoot games when I was younger, it was a phenomena that passed me by when I was busy with my beloved GameBoy Color. This strange platforming experience was new for me and, to say this was the first time I played a Crash Bandicoot game, it was a hell of a way to start.

We catch up with our heroes embarking on their journey, smashing through the first few levels all filled with that familiar combination of 2D side scrolling and sort-of 3D platforming with the camera behind you or fixed facing the screen. Sometimes you would be traveling away from the screen and sometimes towards it and, whilst moving towards the screen was a cautious affair, it all worked very well. Precise jumps were occasionally utilised and careful timing often needed. However, the game was progressing well. Some levels took some attempts to get done, but we powered through all the same. A particular highlight is the level ‘Hog Wild’ where you ride on the bag of a wild boar and hurtle through a level. The sound effects are hysterical and the noises that the pig makes whilst you ride it like a bull are truly spectacular and something I will imitate until my dying day. However, here were darker times ahead of us. One later level in particular had the two of us bamboozled for something approaching and hour and a half. It may even have been longer, either way it was probably more time than any two people should spend on a level of a Crash Bandicoot game. The level is the infamous ‘Slippery Climb’, oft recognised as the hardest level in the game, we certainly found it to be the hardest at any rate. The level is a series of precise jumps and there are sections in which the slightest of errors result in death. The level isn’t really that long and there is a midway checkpoint as well. I can’t really put the reasons why it was so difficult into words. I think it was a combination of having to bounce on vertically moving pterodactyls and collapsing stair cases. Needless to say it was difficult, the most difficult level in the game without a doubt (special mentions to ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘The High Road’ as they were both quite challenging) .

However, the difficult of this game does somewhat come from the save feature, this is often the way with older games. Crash Bandicoot’s save system is quite strange and not ungenerous at times, it’s certainly a neat idea and I have not seen it’s like before. Basically in some levels there are 3 Coco head (I think) icons that, when they are all collected, take you to a bonus level. This bonus level must be completed to secure a save and a checkpoint. These bonus levels are not hard really, one or two were a bit tricky, but they’re easy to fuck up and to do so is to doom yourself to another few levels playing with the fear of a large setback should you fail to often and incur a Game Over. This system is actually one of the reasons why we played Slippery Climb so many times. Slippery Climb does not have a save point in it. Neither does the next level. The one after (‘Jaws of Darkness’) does contain a save point but my housemate span away the last icon, and died on the bonus level in an unprecedented disaster. However, after the despair of this calamity I was somehow able to rally myself and complete the next level and the boss fight that came afterwards without incurring a ‘Game Over’, this rewarded us with a valuable save point and more importantly, we would never have to play Slippery Climb ever again.

After our Sisyphus-esque experiences with Slippery Climb it was three in the morning and the rest of the game passed by without many hiccups. By the time we had finished it was nearly 5:30 am and the sun was beginning to rise. As we finally defeated Dr Neo Cortex and agreed to go to bed I was reminded of why I love video games. No other form of media presents a challenge, unless you can’t read and pick up ‘War and Peace’ by mistake. No other form of entertainment demands you overcome the challenges set by the creators of the content in order to fully experience it. With the game completed I stood victorious. I was tired and fatigued but triumphant. Whilst I cursed the game’s difficulty and attitude towards check points whilst I was playing it, they made victory all the sweeter. Crash Bandicoot, you are defeated. I am your master now. No I will not play again to get 100%, go fuck yourself.

Our saga continues the following afternoon as my friend declares we should play Crash Bandicoot 2 to further sweeten the victory over the first game. He also informs me that this game is easier than the first, his favourite in the series and that he’s also pretty good at it. He is indeed good at the game and knows it well and the game quickly fell to his prowess with me helping out on some levels. (A quick note: we usually alternated levels in these games unless someone had a particular urge to play a level. If they did,  we would let them). CB2 is more hub based than the first game and you can save at any time between levels. The side scrolling is mostly gone but this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different. I personally prefer side scrolling platforming as depth perception can be a bit funny if you are moving away from the camera. The game does feature some fiddly controls, in particular a jetski and a jetpack that both took some getting used to. The level design is solid and each world has it’s own theme that keeps the game fresh and interesting. Riding on a baby Polar Bear is a particular highlight. The final boss is however a little disappointing and, whilst the idea of jetpacking after Cortex sounds cool, I don’t think it it had the grandiose scale as the others, for example N-Gin is in a large robot you pelt apples at in order to destroy first the arms of the robot, then the shoulders and finally the chest piece. You defeat Cortex like you would most enemies in the game, by ‘spinning’ him with the square button. Perhaps more thought should have gone into the design of that.

All this being said, I don’t not like Crash 2. I just liked the first one more. This is almost certainly because of the circumstances under which I played both of them. Either way, these games were both fun and if you wish to replay them or play them for the first time then I heartily encourage you. I would tell you to beware ‘Slippery Climb’ but I would also assure you that fun will be had whichever of these two titles you play. In short, Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2 are both good games with different design choices. Naughty Dog’s classics can be thoroughly enjoyed today. Especially at 5 in the morning.

Shout-outs to Will (for playing the games with me and for being boss at Crash 2) and Henry (for helping).