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Experience Points .25: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Oct 10 // Ben Davis
Valiant villain I've always been a big Bowser fan, so I was very excited when I played Super Mario RPG for the first time and discovered that Bowser actually joins Mario's team. This was the first time the two rivals teamed up together, and it was awesome. Super Mario RPG actually begins with a boss fight against Bowser to save Princess Toadstool, leading the player to believe it's going to follow a similar storyline to the previous Super Mario games. But that all changes immediately when a giant monster sword descends from the heavens and lodges itself in Bowser's Keep, laying claim to the castle and kicking Bowser and his minions out. Mario spots Bowser and his army several times as they're attempting to regroup and take back the keep. Finally, they meet face-to-face in front of Booster's Tower where a lone Bowser reluctantly decides to lend his strength to Mario's team (because he knows they're headed for his castle anyway). He declares Mario and friends to be honorary members of the Koopa Troop for the duration of their travels together. Bowser is probably my favorite party member (sorry Geno!). He's a powerful asset during a fight, able to summon a Big Boo to terrorize enemies, wield a Chain Chomp as a weapon, and even toss Mario around like a projectile. He also brings a lot of humor to the group. This is the first game where he's characterized as sort of a goofball. He tries really hard to keep up the reputation of being a tough, mean bully, but it's pretty clear that he's really just a big ol' softie. You just keep being you, Bowser! It's axin' time! Super Mario RPG has arguably one of the greatest boss battles of all time: the Axem Rangers! After a particularly grueling fight against the Czar Dragon in Barrel Volcano, as well as its undead form, Zombone, Mario finally gets to take a break and revel in the light of the newly recovered Star Piece. Unfortunately, it's a short-lived victory, as the Star Piece is suddenly swiped right out of his hands by stealthy assailants. The thieves reveal themselves to be none other than the "amazing," "unbeatable," and "gorgeous" group, the Axem Rangers! They're clearly inspired by another group of similarly colored Rangers, only they're much more dastardly. Mario chases them up to the rim of the volcano where they attempt to make their getaway on the airship, Blade. The fight commences aboard the airship, where the Rangers declare their motto and attack. It can be a difficult battle, since there are five targets to focus on, each with their own attacks and specialties. Eventually they start to drop out one by one, each complaining about something trivial like being hungry, having a headache, having runny make-up, and accidentally breaking their sunglasses, to which Axem Red always has a snarky retort. Finally, Red changes strategies and takes control of Blade for their ultimate attack, the Breaker Beam. But despite their showmanship and underhanded tactics, the Axem Rangers are still no match for Mario and company. Of course, that doesn't stop them from being awesome and having the coolest motto! "We fight for evil! We live for disorder! We like what we do! We struggle for chaos! We are... the AXEM RANGERS!" Sniff competition Booster is one the most memorable characters in Super Mario RPG, but a big part of why I like him so much is because of his Snifit buddies. Booster himself is kind of insane; he never seems to have a good grasp on reality, so he relies on his Snifits to help him out and explain things to him. They help solve a lot of simple mysteries for him, like what to do at parties, how to eat cake, and what it means when someone is crying. Without his Snifits to keep him under control, who knows where Booster would end up. While Booster's main posse consists of three Snifits (simply named Snifit 1, Snifit 2, and Snifit 3), there's actually a secret side quest to expand his army. In Booster Pass, Mario might come across an enemy called an Apprentice, a blue Snifit who hopes to impress Booster by beating Mario in a fight. They are very weak enemies, so most players will probably just kill them and be on their way without a second thought. But I always liked the Snifits and wanted to help the little guys out, so I tried losing to an Apprentice on purpose once just to see what would happen. After a really long battle where I just defended and let the little dude pummel me with weak attacks, he finally "beat" me. Instead of getting the usual Game Over, though, it returns to Booster Pass where the Apprentice proudly exclaims that he'll become Snifit 4 and runs off excitedly. Congrats, buddy! Mario can actually keep battling Apprentices in this way until there are eight Snifits. They can all be found at the top of Booster Tower, where they're still super thrilled with their new titles. Well, all of them except for the eighth Apprentice, who woefully explains that Booster only wants seven Snifits and that all of his training was in vain. Poor guy... at least you tried your hardest! I am matter... I am antimatter... Monstro Town is my favorite area in Super Mario RPG for several reasons. For one, it has a great theme song and a bunch of cool, friendly monsters to talk to. All the enemy types Mario has been fighting have all gathered in this secluded villager in order to live peacefully with no wish to fight. There's also a few side quests to do here, such as fighting Jagger and his sensei Jinx at the dojo and playing a nice little game of "Find the Flag" with the Three Musty Fears. But my favorite side quest involves a sealed door and a mysterious neighbor. The friendly piranha plant hints about hearing their strange neighbor next door mumbling about crystals and evil. If Mario brings a Shiny Stone from Moleville, the crystal will react to the door and the seal will be broken. Upon entering, Mario finds himself floating in a strange dimensional rift and is greeted by a creepy purple being who calls himself "Culex, Dark Knight of Vanda." If Mario agrees to fight him, he will be up against the most powerful foe in the game, even more daunting than the final boss, Smithy. Culex is particularly awesome because of his ties to the Final Fantasy series, since the game was created by Squaresoft and Nintendo. While he's not based on a specific character, he's designed to look like a typical final boss from the series. The encounter with Culex also uses several songs from Final Fantasy, including the battle theme from Final Fantasy IV, the victory theme, and the main theme of the series which plays while they are speaking after the fight. I always thought Culex was a really cool idea for a crossover boss fight. Plus, the fact that he's so well hidden made it that much more surprising and exciting when I finally entered his door to find myself in another dimension speaking to a character who probably shouldn't exist in the Mushroom Kingdom. Well done, Square! Super Mario Shmup Super Mario RPG has a lot of fun mini-games to play whenever Mario wants to take a break from his grand adventure, but the one I spent the most time with was probably Beetle Mania. Beetle Mania is a handheld game that Mario can buy from a Toad in the Mushroom Kingdom Inn, which can then be accessed from the main menu during any area of the game. It's basically a really simple shoot-'em-up where the player controls a tiny beetle that shoots stars at incoming Koopa shells. The shells bounce around and remain on-screen until they are hit. Each shell grants two points when shot, and explodes into a burst of other stars that can hit more shells to trigger a chain reaction which can quickly multiply the score up to thousands of points per shell. Even though it only rewards two points for an individual shell, the score can easily skyrocket in seconds due to combos if there are a bunch of shells on-screen at once. I believe the high score is something like 99,999,999 points, which I never came close to personally, but I definitely made it into the millions a few times, and I wasn't even playing for that long! It's an addicting mini-game due to how satisfying it is to watch the score jump higher and higher so quickly, and I found myself taking breaks from the main story to play Beetle Mania for a while just because it was so much fun. Do you remember what your high score was? Wedding woes Super Mario RPG's story is full of goofy plotlines and even goofier characters, but the silliest part of the game by far happens in the town of Marrymore, where Booster attempts to marry Princess Toadstool. Crazy old Booster, who was holding Toadstool captive after she fell from the sky and landed in his tower, decides that their strange meeting must be destiny and that they should get married (obviously). When Mario climbs the tower to rescue Toadstool, Booster flees to Marrymore with the princess in tow and it's up to Mario and friends to crash the wedding. After barging into the chapel with Bowser's help busting down the doors, they accidentally bump into Toadstool, causing her to drop all of her wedding accessories. A quick mini-game ensues, where Mario has to collect all of her dropped items in a time limit. Afterwards, she says she'll reward Mario with a kiss. But this causes Booster and Bowser to feel left out, since Bowser thinks he deserves a kiss for breaking down the door and Booster wants a kiss too since everyone else is getting one. A confusing rush occurs as everyone goes in to try and get a kiss from Toadstool. Depending on the player's skill during the previous mini-game, Mario could get a kiss from Toadstool, Bowser, Booster, or even Bowser and Booster at the same time! The lucky bastard! Since the wedding is pretty much off at this point, Mario, Toadstool, and Bowser start to leave the chapel, but the way is blocked by the chefs who have just brought the wedding cake in and are distressed to see that the bride is leaving after they spent all day baking the (rather hideous) cake. In a fit of anger, the chefs attack, initiating one of the strangest boss fights in video game history. After a bit of fighting, the massive dessert the chefs were so proud of actually starts to move on its own, and the chefs flee the scene. Then the main battle against the living wedding cake begins, and it's a pretty difficult fight. After putting out the candles and eliminating the top two tiers, Booster and the Snifits arrive just in time to eat the remainder of the cake. They deliberate for a bit on the best method for consuming such a huge treat before the Snifits finally just toss the entire thing into Booster's open mouth (but not before Booster notices that it's moving!), destroying the evil dessert once and for all. It may have tried to kill most of the wedding party, but at least it was delicious! Say WHAT?! Super Mario RPG is so good at humor that even some of its more serious moments are rather hilarious. Take one of my favorite moments, for example, where Mallow's grandpa reveals his true origins. Mallow was raised by his grandfather, Frogfucius, in Tadpole Pond, an area populated by frogs and tadpoles. Naturally, Mallow grew up believing that he, too, was a tadpole, even though he really looks nothing like one. That is, until the fateful day that he met Mario. After retrieving his grandfather's coin from a thief with Mario's help, they return to Tadpole Pond to speak with Frogfucius about what to do next. He advises Mallow to accompany Mario on his adventure, but Mallow seems surprised, saying, "I'm only a simple tadpole! This adventure isn't for me!" Frogfucius turns around, the happy music fades out, and suddenly the tone becomes deadly serious. "Mallow, my boy, I've kept this from you until now, but you're... not a tadpole!!!" DUN DUNNN!!! (*Actual sound effect used in the game.) Needless to say, Mallow is shocked! His whole world is turned completely upside down. Everything he thought he knew about himself was a lie. It even starts playing a really sad piano tune and Mallow starts to cry. And yet... I couldn't stop laughing! Poor Mallow... but I mean, come on man, look in a mirror or something! Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy.22: Tomb Raider.23: Mother 3.24: Deadly Premonition
Super Mario RPG photo
Fungah! Foiled again!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Review: Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash

Oct 08 // Ben Davis
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoReleased: October 9, 2015MSRP: $29.99 In Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, pint-sized aliens have invaded Earth, stealing resources along with everyone's favorite snacks, and it's up to Chibi-Robo and his partner Telly (who is now shaped like a computer) to save the day. Chibi-Robo will travel the globe, putting a stop to the aliens' plans and rescuing any snacks he might come across (all based on real name-brand snacks and candies from around the world). To navigate the areas around him, Chibi-Robo uses his plug as a whip to destroy enemies, collect items, grapple onto certain surfaces, or helicopter across pits. The plug can ricochet off of walls as well, opening up a lot of possibilities for interesting platforming as the player tries to angle the perfect shot in order to reach distant objects. The cord starts off rather short at a measly 6 inches at the beginning of each level, but it can be lengthened up to 120 inches by collecting blue orbs. [embed]314129:60631:0[/embed] Aside from the plug mechanics, there are plenty of jumping sections, puzzles to solve, enemy hordes to destroy, items to collect, and even a few levels which have Chibi-Robo skateboarding, wakeboarding, and traveling by balloon to reach the end. There are also some pretty cool boss fights to round out each world. Just looking at the platforming mechanics alone, Zip Lash is a perfectly competent entry to the genre. Each world changes things up with new ideas and interesting layouts, so that the gameplay doesn't become stale too quickly. Once again, Chibi-Robo's health is indicated by his power supply, which slowly depletes as he's moving around and decreases significantly if he falls into a pit or gets hit by an enemy. He can recharge at any outlet by inserting his plug, which will cost a few watts (watts are earned by recycling trash). He can also buy spare batteries as a backup. For the completionist gamers out there, each level is filled with several hidden collectibles to find, including the aforementioned name-brand snacks, special medallions, Chibi-Tots playing hide-and-seek, toys to talk to, and trash to clean up and convert into energy. If something is missed the first time through, levels can be replayed in order to search more thoroughly, but only after certain conditions are met. Which brings me to my least favorite aspect of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. Most platforming games like this feature a map with each level laid out on a path, which are then played sequentially. Zip Lash tries to subvert this common feature by implementing the "Destination Wheel." After each level, Chibi-Robo will spin the wheel to select a number. This number determines the amount of spaces he'll move on the map, which in turn determines the next level to play even if it's not the next level in the sequence. Once every level on a map has been discovered and beaten, the player can then proceed to the next map. Basically, this means that most people will be playing the levels out of order, which could have been a neat idea. The problem, however, is that maps are laid out in a circle, and if the player loops around and lands on a level they have already played, they will be forced to play it over again in order to proceed and pick another level. Because of this, this one simple idea of the Destination Wheel single-handedly demolished my excitement for Zip Lash. Being forced to replay levels due to bad luck is not a fun mechanic. The only reason I can think of for this to exist in its current state would be to artificially extend the game's length, and that's not something I can get behind. They even included a separate wheel to spin for boss levels, which is completely pointless and a waste of time as there's only one space on the entire wheel. The Boss Wheel might have been a funny joke if the Destination Wheel wasn't already such an annoyance. Granted, there are ways to sort of bypass the wheel. Wheel numbers can be purchased with moolah (the in-game currency) so that the player will be more likely to land on a number they want. It's also possible to get more than one spin, assuming the player was skilled enough to hit the gold or silver flying saucers at the end of the last level. Finally, once every level has been beaten and the world has been cleared, players will no longer have to spin the wheel for that world and can freely select whichever level they wish. If only it were possible to do that from the start... Unfortunately, the Destination Wheel wasn't the only problem I had with Zip Lash. As if being forced to replay levels due to poor spinning wasn't enough, certain areas of each level will only become accessible after the levels have been completed. These areas are totally optional and are only used for the chance to obtain costumes for Chibi-Robo (which can also be obtained by finding codes posted on Miiverse), but it still sucks to have to replay every level again, possibly for a third time or more if the player is really unlucky, just to find everything. I also had some problems with the lack of checkpoints during the skateboard/wakeboard segments, but that seems like a comparatively small issue next to everything else. All that wheel nonsense sadly soured Zip Lash for me, which is a huge shame because almost everything else about the game is fun and charming. The new platforming mechanics work well, the boss fights are exciting, and Chibi-Robo himself is as cute as always. I would have been content with this game had it not been for the awful Destination Wheel. If you're a die-hard Chibi-Robo! fan, or if the possibility of having to replay the same levels over and over again doesn't bother you too much, then Zip Lash might be for you. Unfortunately, it's tough for me to give this game a good recommendation after the frustrating time I had with it. I still love you, Chibi-Robo, but this was not your best effort! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chibi-Robo review photo
Poor little robot...
I've been a fan of Chibi-Robo! ever since the original was released for the GameCube back in 2006. It was a weird, adorable adventure game with a tiny robot who was tasked with cleaning up an enormous house, with happy musica...

No Man's Sky photo
No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky developer creates a Stephen Colbert star system on the Late Show

Oct 04
// Ben Davis
Sean Murray of Hello Games, the studio working on No Man's Sky, recently appeared on Stephen Colbert's new late-night talk show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The developer discussed the overwhelming scale of the game (...
Blacksea Odyssey photo
Blacksea Odyssey

Harpoon enormous space creatures to shreds in Blacksea Odyssey

And rock an epic beard while doing it
Oct 04
// Ben Davis
Developer Blacksea Odyssey recently announced a top-down shoot-'em-up by the same name, in which you can play as a cybernetic old man with a crazy long beard and hunt down giant space creatures with a harpoon. Blacksea Odysse...

Review: Read Only Memories

Oct 02 // Ben Davis
Read Only Memories (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: MidBossPublisher: MidBossReleased: October 6, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The story of Read Only Memories begins with the appearance of a peculiar robot named Turing, who breaks into the player character's apartment after their creator, Hayden, was mysteriously kidnapped. Turing decides that the player character, who is a journalist and a friend of Hayden's, is the most statistically likely to be able to help them. Thus begins the search for Hayden in the technologically advanced, cyberpunk-inspired city of Neo-San Francisco in 2064. In this futuristic setting, scientists have discovered many new ways of enhancing the human body through cybernetics as well as genetic modification, meaning it's common to see people with robotic limbs, blue skin, rabbit ears, and other such bizarre enhancements walking around as if it's completely normal. Not to mention the ROMs, robots like Turing, which are just as commonplace and are on the verge of becoming sapient, able to think and feel as humans do. As expected, anti-hybrid and -cybernetic groups such as the Human Revolution have begun to pop up warning people of the dangers of such technologies. [embed]313479:60589:0[/embed] During the player's search for Hayden, they will meet a colorful cast of strange and interesting characters and be asked to participate in some rather shady activities, sneaking around the law in an attempt to learn secrets and uncover truths. Some characters can be trusted while other cannot, but they're all able to provide leads, information, and other helpful things if the player can successfully persuade them. The gameplay largely consists of your typical point-and-click adventure mechanics, nothing really new here but it works just fine. People and objects can be interacted with by looking, touching, talking, or using an item. Interacting with the same thing multiple times might yield different results, so sometimes it's a good idea to look at, touch, or talk to someone or something more than once. There's also a wide variety of items at the player's disposal, which can be picked up and used in certain situations. There is no item combining to be done, however, and pixel hunting is not a problem since anything that can be interacted with will be highlighted by mousing over it, so many of the more annoying adventure game elements were left alone. Much of the gameplay centers around conversations and choosing dialogue options, but there are plenty of puzzle-solving sections as well. These include direct puzzles, such as looking at a map and closing off intersections in order to divert a cab back to the player, as well as more indirect puzzles like trying to find the right item to gain access to a house or figuring out how to coerce someone into giving up information. None of the puzzles are too obtuse, and some of them are rather forgiving if the player messes up at first. The story features several branching paths and alternate endings, depending on how the player chooses to interact with characters and how successful they are at figuring out puzzles. It's possible to befriend or make enemies with several of the characters, so try and decide who will be the most helpful and choose the appropriate responses. Breaking the law and causing mischief seem to be unavoidable, but how it's done is up to the player. As most of Read Only Memories involves reading text, I found the writing to be entertaining and engaging, if overly-technical at times. They did a great job of giving every character a thorough backstory, making each of them interesting and relatable with their own quirks and behaviors. I particularly enjoyed Turing's fondness for painting and the player character's strange obsession with plants. There were, however, a few groan-worthy references and an occasionally disappointing lack of variety in dialogue options. Read Only Memories originally set out to do one thing: foster the inclusion of diverse characters, especially those of the LGBT persuasion. Thankfully, the end product is much more than just that. The characters' sexualities and gender identities, which include plenty of gay and straight, trans- and cis-gendered individuals, are revealed in a natural way or left up to the player's imagination. Meanwhile, we have a story built around mystery and intrigue, with topics of crime, technology, and politics taking the forefront of the discussion in the lives of these characters who just happen to be a certain way. Personally, I felt the LGBT themes were handled appropriately and naturally without being too heavy-handed, but I'm sure some will disagree with me. I would recommend Read Only Memories to anyone who enjoys point-and-click adventure games, as it's an excellent addition to the genre, borrowing many of its key elements while ditching some of the more obnoxious ones. It's also a great choice for anyone who is looking for more diversity in their video games, as it does a wonderful job of promoting inclusion without making it the sole focus. Plus, there's an awesome, adorable little robot friend to hang out with, and who doesn't want that? [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Read Only Memories review photo
Cyberpunk chic
MidBoss, the team behind the LGBT-centric gaming convention, GaymerX, has been having quite a successful time lately. After reaching its Kickstarter funding goals at the end of 2013, the team has been hard at work creating it...

Review: Laserlife

Sep 29 // Ben Davis
Laserlife (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Choice ProvisionsPublisher: Choice ProvisionsReleased: September 22, 2015 (PC, PS4), TBA (Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 Laserlife tells the story of an astronaut who died out in space, whose body drifts aimlessly along with the wreckage of a space ship. The body is discovered by "future intelligences who have no concept of humankind" as they delve into the astronaut's subconscious to extract memories in an attempt to learn of the skeleton's history and how this human ended up dead in outer space. Players control the future extraterrestrial entity in the form of two lasers. Each laser is controlled separately with the analog sticks, and they can both reach any part of the screen. Movement is very fluid and the lasers feel great to control as they spin and dance effortlessly around the screen. Each level consists of four stages. During the first stage, Memory Molecule Collection, players must move into position and press the trigger buttons at the right moment to collect memory molecules. Later levels introduce molecules which must be held in position as well as ones which must be moved to a new position. An insufficient amount of molecules collected during the first stage will reset the level, but this was never a problem for me while playing on normal difficulty. [embed]313018:60553:0[/embed] The second stage, Memory Harmonization, involves moving into position in order to hit targets. The hit boxes for the targets seem to be smaller than they are for memory molecules, so movements need to be slightly more precise, although the targets turn green once the lasers are in the correct position. These were the most difficult stages for me personally, even though they just involve moving around without having to time button presses. The final two stages are the easiest. During the Warp Phase, players must avoid colliding with red barriers, or mental blocks, by moving towards the openings. Finally, the Memory Materialization stage finishes out the level with the player moving the analog sticks as quickly as possible until the bar at the top of the screen has depleted. Once all of this has been completed, the memory will be fully extracted and appear as a physical manifestation of a significant object from the astronaut's life. If players find that the game is too challenging, or too easy, there are a few difficulty settings to choose from which will increase or decrease the amount of obstacles to deal with. There are also leaderboards to browse, with separate leaderboards for each difficulty, if that's something that interests you. Music is obviously a huge part of any rhythm game, and the soundtrack could easily make or break the game. Laserlife's soundtrack is very chill and atmospheric, which fits perfectly with the outer space setting. It's best to play this game with headphones in order to really focus on the music. I felt the soundtrack could have been a bit more varied at times, however, since all of the songs are very spacey and sometimes started to sound a bit similar after a while. Maybe they could have had some tracks that fit more with the theme of some of the memories, like a lullaby for the childhood memories, or even mixed in more spoken parts. One of my favorite tracks was used towards the end of the game, which had mission control voices being played over the music. I felt that was an idea they could have experimented with a bit more, because it worked really well for that one level. Unlike the Bit.Trip games, the sound effects from collecting memories and hitting targets don't really add much to the music itself, which was slightly disappointing. Obstacles are arranged so that they match up to the music of course, but interacting with them merely makes a dull sound which is often barely audible against the soundtrack. Having more robust sound effects might have helped make the soundtrack pop a bit more, and it would also be easier for the player to tell when they missed something. Laserlife has a lot of big ideas and an interesting premise. I love the concept of extraterrestrial life coming into contact with a human skeleton adrift in space, and trying to learn something about the strange creature's origins. The grand themes of human existence and the persistence of memory are ideas that I would like to see more games try to tackle. In this case, however, I found the overall experience to be a little underwhelming. It's fun for a short rhythm game, but with only 12 levels, it felt like Laserlife never really got a chance to fully explore the broad topics it brought to the table. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Laserlife review photo
Drifting through space
Choice Provisions is best known for the excellent rhythm-based series, Bit.Trip, a saga spanning six games (and one spin-off) which abstractly dealt with themes about a man's journey through life. The studio has been toying w...

Experience Points .24: Deadly Premonition

Sep 26 // Ben Davis
The man who wasn't there The big question on everyone's minds while playing Deadly Premonition is always, "Who is Zach?!" York talks to himself a lot, and he's always addressing someone named Zach who is not actually present. There's never a physical manifestation of the person he's talking to, and Zach never responds out loud, although York does speak as if Zach is talking to him as well. They seem to be best friends, and York always asks him for advice. So who is he? Is Zach an imaginary friend? Does York have some kind of mental disorder such as a split personality? Did Zach die and York is still in denial? All of these possibilities crossed my mind while playing through Deadly Premonition, but about halfway through I decided on something else which I kind of liked. Maybe Zach is the player, meaning every time it seems like York is talking to himself, he's really trying to have a conversation with the player to try and piece together the mystery of what's going on around town. It would have been a clever way to make the player feel included in the story, even if their name wasn't actually Zach. Zach's true identity is revealed towards the end of the story, and it's about as cheesy and melodramatic as I would have expected from this game. I do sort of wish they had kept his identity a mystery, though. Coming up with possible theories about Zach was a lot more fun than learning the truth about him. Let's take this baby for a ride For a perfect example of the kind of thing that makes Deadly Premonition an awesomely bad game, let's take a look at the driving mechanics. The first time I got in a car, the controls seemed jarring and overwhelmingly complicated. The game assaults you with a huge list of controls. Every single button seems to do something different. Not only can York steer, accelerate, brake, and change the camera angles, but there are also buttons for honking, turning on the headlights, using the windshield wipers, signaling turns, and talking (either to a passenger or to himself). I'm surprised they didn't include buttons for the radio and air conditioner too, while they were at it. All of these controls may seem like a lot to remember, but really, none of these things are necessary aside from steering, accelerating, and braking. The headlights don't really help much when it's dark, and likewise, the wipers don't help much while it's raining. And who knows why anyone would ever need to use turn signals in a video game. So why were all of these complex controls included? Beats me. I guess they wanted the experience to feel more realistic, but it honestly just makes it feel way more absurd. And not only do the vehicles have superfluous controls, they also break down over time and run out of gas, meaning if York wants to keep driving the same car, he'll have to take it to the gas station for refills and repairs. All of this just to drive from one location to the next in a murder mystery game, as if it's trying to be a driving simulator on top of everything else. The driving mechanics are incredibly bizarre and mostly unnecessary, but I kind of love them for those exact reasons. There's so many things to do in the car with no real justification for their inclusion, and I think that's hilarious in a way. All the girls say I'm pretty fly One of my favorite things in Deadly Premonition is its random inclusion of beard growth and hygiene mechanics. It may not be obvious at first, but York's face will slowly start to accumulate stubble over time, and his clothes will become dirtier the longer he wears them. At first I was confused about why he was able to shave at every mirror he came across, not to mention the fact that he was dry shaving (sometimes mere seconds after he had just shaved, if I kept making him... ouch!). Soon I stopped shaving, because it didn't seem to do anything. And then the stubble started to come in. I was pleasantly surprised. Beard growth mechanics in Deadly Premonition? Unexpected, but why not? The game already has everything else going for it. Obviously, I kept the beard for the remainder of my playthrough, because beards are awesome. But what about the hygiene mechanics? This one took me a lot longer to figure out. Eventually, as I was playing, I began to notice flies hovering around York. It started with one fly, and I thought it was just a random background element of the specific scene that was happening. Maybe the police station had a fly problem? Who knows. Soon the flies began to multiply, to the point where York was holding a town meeting amid a veritable swarm of insects. Only none of the characters were reacting to them. I thought, "Okay, now this is getting ridiculous! What is the deal with these flies?!" I had to resort to looking it up online, because I was seriously confused. Apparently, York's clothing gets dirty over time, so he needs to get his suits dry cleaned every now and then to stay fresh and keep the flies away. Who would have guessed? After I found this out, I honestly considered staying in my dirty pink suit for the rest of the game anyway, just because of how hilarious all of the cutscenes were with a horde of flies swarming around York during serious moments. It made me laugh, but ultimately the little bugs were too distracting, so I had to get rid of them. Geez, York, take a shower or something! A damn fine cup of coffee There are many reasons to love Mr. Francis York Morgan (I mean look at that smile... how could you not love a face like that?), but my favorite thing about him is his unbridled, almost alarming excitement for food and coffee. Much like FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper's enthusiasm for coffee and pie in Twin Peaks, York can't hold back his love for certain foodstuffs. A few of the most memorable scenes in Deadly Premonition are about food, such as when Polly brings York a cup of coffee for his first day on the case. Before she brings it over to him, he warns, "I am very particular about my coffee. The very best you have, please," with a charming smile that surely melted the old lady's heart (or her eyes). He takes his time enjoying the cup, and even has a surprising revelation while staring into the dark brown liquid. Afterwards, he can go back for another cup (and another... and another), and each drink gives him a new fortune. I have to wonder how he gets these fortunes, though. Are they appearing to him in the coffee itself, like the letters "F K" did? The fortunes are pretty long, so that would be rather impressive. Maybe he just has such a strong connection to coffee that it speaks to him every time he drinks it. Maybe he is the coffee whisperer. Another great scene is when he tries a special sandwich for the first time. After ordering a turkey and gravy sandwich and a fresh cup of coffee (obviously) from the local diner, Mr. Stewart stops by to pick up his lunch and convinces York to change his order to a turkey, strawberry jam, and cereal sandwich. Or as York calls it, the "Sinner's Sandwich." York is skeptical at first, but tries it anyway. His reaction to eating the concoction is perfect. He takes one bite and literally jumps back out of his seat, staring at the sandwich in awe and proclaiming, "I can't believe it! This is... fantastic!" The camera then pans to Emily, who has a look of thorough disappointment at her friend's choices. I have yet to try this sandwich myself, but it sure sounds... interesting. I can't imagine turkey and strawberry jam going well together, and "cereal" is a pretty vague ingredient. I wonder what kind of cereal would be best to use? Beauty in death Deadly Premonition had some of the best death sequences I've ever seen in a video game. Obviously, this is a bit of a touchy topic, because I don't want to spoil too much for anyone who hasn't played the game yet. But even the very first victim, Anna Graham, who we see strung up to a tree in the opening cutscene, looks like some kind of beautiful, bloody angel of death. Creepy and unsettling, but at the same time aesthetically pleasing. We don't actually see her being killed, though. The rest of the victims' deaths are just as dramatic, except the player must watch as they happen. I think the second victim's scene was my personal favorite, because the tension was so incredibly palpable. It was such an intense moment, and the color palette and placement of the body helped make everything stand out. I'm usually not one for appreciating blood and gore, but Deadly Premonition's death sequences were just so well executed that it was hard not to appreciate them. More than just a pretty (ugly) face If there's one thing that Deadly Premonition does legitimately well, it's character development. Every single character is memorable in their own way. They all have unique personalities and backgrounds. Even minor characters seemed interesting, even though I might have only talked to them a couple of times. Take the hospital receptionist, Fiona, for example. York really only has to talk to her once or twice during the entire game, but in that small amount of time I learned that she likes reading best-selling books, she's studying for a medical exam, and she has a crush on the hunky doctor she works with. She could have easily just been another random NPC with no personality, but they fleshed her out and made her seem important. I was actually surprised when I got to the end of the game and realized I only talked to her twice, because it almost felt like it was setting her up to be more crucial to the plot. And I could say the same for just about every other character. There was Mr. Stewart, the creepy, quiet, gas mask-wearing man and Michael who talks for him; Polly, the kind old hotel owner who is hard of hearing; Thomas, the shy police assistant who is great at cooking and knows a lot about squirrels; Kaysen, the friendly traveling plant salesman who has a cool pet dalmatian; Isaach and Isaiah, the creepy-cute twins; Nick, the art-loving cook who is very quick to anger; Lysander, the "general" who wears a sergeant's uniform; and even "Roaming" Sigourney, the crazy old lady who is always lost and carrying a pot around. They're all wonderful characters with so much personality packed into each and every one of them. I think the characters are the biggest reason why Deadly Premonition became such a huge cult hit. If the characters had been dull and uninteresting, I'm not sure most people would have put up with the weird controls, poor graphics, and sometimes tedious gameplay to make it to the end. I know the reason I couldn't put the game down was because the characters were all so likable and I couldn't wait to see more of the story to find out how things turned out for everyone. Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy.22: Tomb Raider.23: Mother 3
Deadly Premonition photo
'F K'... in the coffee!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Review: Undertale

Sep 24 // Ben Davis
Undertale (PC)Developer: Toby FoxPublisher: Toby FoxReleased: September 15, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Undertale is the story of a human child who falls into a deep underground cavern filled with monsters and must find a way to escape back to the surface. The monsters had all been banished there by the humans long ago, so tensions are high whenever a human drops in to visit. The player quickly meets two monsters, a flower named Flowey and a motherly cow/rabbit monster named Toriel. They seem nice enough, but they are monsters after all, so should they really be trusted? The journey through the caves is filled with puzzles, turn-based random encounters, and a whole lot of humor. The outstanding gameplay mechanic here, though, is combat. It's a unique system, and even though encounters are random, they don't occur often enough to become an annoyance. In fact, I usually found myself looking forward to my next encounter. [embed]312265:60496:0[/embed] The turn-based combat in Undertale works very differently from most other RPGs. While attacking or defending, a box will appear with a short mini-game to complete in order to determine the amount of damage given or received. Attack mini-games involve stopping a moving bar along a slider at the perfect moment for maximum damage. The majority of defense mini-games play out a bit like a bullet hell; enemies will usually send out a volley of projectiles, and the player must move their heart around to avoid getting hit by anything. Bosses each have their own slight alterations to the defense mechanics, and the game does a good job of changing things up from time to time so that it's not always strictly bullet hells. Attacking is not the only option, however. There are two other choices, Act and Mercy, which will provide much of the core combat gameplay for many players. The Act option offers several ways to interact with the enemy, which change depending on which monster is being fought. These can range from friendly actions such as "Compliment" or "Hug" to meaner things such as "Pick On" or "Ignore." Choose the wrong interaction and the monster might become more aggressive. Choose the correct interaction and the monster might become happier or no longer wish to fight. When this happens, the Mercy function opens up and the fight can be ended non-violently. I honestly enjoyed trying out every possible option anyway, even if I already knew what to do, just to see how the monsters would react. Basically, it's the player's choice whether to destroy the monsters or show them mercy. Killing monsters grants money and XP which can raise the human's LV. Sparing monsters is only rewarded with money (and perhaps a new friend). It's entirely possible to play through the entire game without killing anything and remain at LV 1, and it's also possible to kill everything. But keep in mind that every decision has consequences. Aside from combat, there are also puzzles to be solved in order to navigate the caverns, but for the most part these are very light. I can't imagine many players will get stuck on any of the puzzles, and actually some of them are solved by the monsters themselves because they doubt the human's abilities. The puzzles aren't particularly impressive, but they're used more as a way to keep things interesting as the player is exploring rather than trying to stump them. One of Undertale's greatest strengths is its wonderful cast of characters and its extremely witty sense of humor. While the main character is sort of a gender-neutral blank slate for the player to inhabit, the monsters are anything but. I quickly fell in love with just about every character I came across, even some of the common enemies, since it's possible to have conversations with them during battle. Everyone in Undertale is so memorable and interesting, I just wanted to hug them all (and I did hug some of them!). The humor is spot-on as well. I haven't laughed out loud this consistently during a game since EarthBound. Between listening to a long conversation of terrible skeleton puns, having a flexing contest with a muscle-headed merhorse, cooking and eating a cup of instant noodles in the midst of battle, finding out how item names like Butterscotch Pie or Spider Donut are abbreviated, and hundreds of other hilarious moments, my face was starting to hurt from smiling and laughing so much. The thing that really hooked me, sealing the deal for Undertale being such a phenomenal game, was how it deals with player choices. I don't want to spoil much in this regard, but there are multiple endings as well as many moments and lines of dialogue which can be altered depending on the player's actions, and some of the things the game remembered seriously surprised me. It's really difficult to talk about what makes Undertale so great without spoiling anything, but if the concept sounds interesting to you at all, I highly recommend checking it out. Don't let the somewhat plain-looking graphics turn you off, because the game more than makes up for that through its superb gameplay, characters, and writing (not to mention the excellent soundtrack!). And actually, many areas, objects, and characters are surprisingly beautiful and well-drawn, so even the lackluster art style started to grow on me after a while. Undertale provided me with many hours of laughter, happiness, and warm, fuzzy feelings, all the while surprising me with some truly sad and shocking moments out of the blue. It's the kind of game that I'll want to replay many times in order to see how all of the various choices play out, and I'm sure I will remember it fondly for years to come. I hope everyone else can find as much joy from playing Undertale as I have! [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Undertale review photo
Pure happiness
Every once in a while, a game comes along that takes you completely by surprise. I noticed a lot of people talking about Undertale recently, and how great it was. The screenshots looked a little underwhelming, but I decided t...

Review: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Sep 22 // Ben Davis
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: September 25, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Happy Home Designer puts the player in the role of interior decorator as an employee of the Happy Home Academy. It's your job to listen to clients' requests, fulfill their needs, and add your own bit of flair to their home designs. There are more than 300 villagers in need of decorating advice, and Isabelle will visit with requests to design public facilities around town. Each villager request will have a special theme to follow pertaining to their vision of an ideal home, such as "a tropical resort," "a forest of books," or "a bamboo playground." They'll bring along a few pieces of their favorite furniture which must be used in the design, but the rest is up to you. Design their yards, the exterior of their homes, and of course the inside as well, and try to fit the theme to make the clients happy. Isabelle will also drop by occasionally with requests to design larger public spaces, such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more. Many of these buildings have multiple rooms to decorate, each with their own set of requirements. These were the most fun for me, because I got to use items which I never wanted to use in my own home in previous Animal Crossing games, and the layouts were a lot different than what I was used to working with, so everything felt new to me. [embed]311329:60430:0[/embed] Every new request adds new items to the catalog of furniture at your disposal. Any of these new items are sure to make the client happy, although ultimately it really doesn't matter too much. They will be pleased as long as the furniture they brought along is used, and it's actually not possible to say that the house is finished until those items have been placed, so there's really no way to make any of the clients unhappy. This was the most disappointing thing about the game to me. I was hoping to be graded on my designs, with the ability to make clients happier with more thoughtful interior decorating skills or upset if their house turned out to be a disaster. In reality, they'll be just as happy if you take time designing a beautiful house as they will be if you walk in, unpack their boxes, and say that everything is finished without adding or moving anything at all. It's terribly unsatisfying, but I suppose it does give players the freedom to play however they like without the fear of upsetting any of the villagers. Fortunately, your designs can be graded by other players if you choose to upload them to the Internet via the Happy Home Network. Houses and public facilities can be rated by four different categories: cuteness, coolness, uniqueness, and the "I'd live here!" factor. If you find an interesting design online, you can visit that person's house to walk around and check it out before giving an assessment. It's a pretty neat feature and a good way to get some feedback, but it's not quite the same as having the game score your designs. That being said, designing rooms is still super fun, and easier than ever to do. Just drag, drop, and rotate furniture with the touch screen, add more items from the catalog, duplicate items with the L and R buttons, drag unwanted stuff to the trash can, and voila! No more slowly pushing and pulling furniture into place (but you can do that too if you want). Also, there are no bells to worry about, so the only limit to the amount of items which can be added to a room is the space afforded by the floor plan. Decorating rooms in Animal Crossing has never been simpler. There are also options to add ceiling fixtures, create your own custom designs, have Cyrus refurbish stuff, add background noise other than music, and more which can all be unlocked with Play Coins. Once a house or public space is finished, you're free to go back and visit it whenever to hang out with the residents or offer a remodel (although public spaces can only be remodeled after they have all been built). Villagers who have been helped already can be found walking around town, and new potential clients can also be found wandering around with thought bubbles above their heads. Finished public spaces will also be used by villagers, and their roles within the buildings can be chosen by the player (meaning you can decide which villagers are customers or employees). Happy Home Designer features support for amiibo cards. The game includes one amiibo card to start with, and more can be bought in packs for $5.99. The cards can be used to design homes for special villagers who wouldn't normally come by as clients. I got Lyle's card, for example, a higher-up at the Happy Home Academy, so I got to decorate my coworker's home. The cards can also be used to summon villagers to public spaces, so the town can be populated by all of your favorite villagers. That's essentially all there is to Happy Home Designer. Just design homes and admire the finished projects. But even for such a simple idea, I still find myself going back in to see which villagers are looking for a new home and how interesting their theme sounds. It's strangely addicting, and designing homes for some of the more offbeat villagers like the mad scientists, wrestling fanatics, and criminal masterminds is really fun. I just wish they had built in some kind of grading rhetoric for how well your designs resonated with the clients. There has always been a grading mechanic for your own homes in previous Animal Crossing games, where the Happy Home Academy would award points based on how well the furniture fit together, how everything was arranged, and so forth. It's strange they would scrap that idea for a game built entirely around the Happy Home Academy, but that's the way it is. I would recommend Happy Home Designer for anyone who really enjoys designing and decorating virtual spaces. If finding the perfect furniture for your house in Animal Crossing was your favorite part of the series, then you'll surely get some enjoyment out of this game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Animal Crossing review photo
Comfortable living
Animal Crossing's home design feature was actually the thing that got me hooked on the series in the first place. Back when I was addicted to building houses in The Sims, one of my friends came over for a visit and broug...

Laserlife photo

Bit.Trip studio set to release rhythm action game Laserlife this month for PC and PS4

Skeleton astronaut laser action!
Sep 12
// Ben Davis
Choice Provisions, the studio responsible for the Bit.Trip series, has been teasing the idea for a similar rhythm action game called Laserlife since way back in 2010. It seems the idea will finally come to fruition later this...

Experience Points .23: Mother 3

Sep 12 // Ben Davis
Monkey business My favorite character in Mother 3 doesn't remain a party member for very long, but he uses his short amount of time to really shine. Chapter 3 introduces a cute little monkey named Salsa, who is being led around by a horrible man named Fassad. Fassad forces Salsa to perform for him with a device which electrocutes the poor monkey for disobeying. He has also kidnapped Salsa's girlfriend and threatens to harm her if Salsa doesn't do what he says. Fassad is a rather despicable man. Eventually, Fassad drags Salsa to the quiet town of Tazmily, hoping to trick the citizens into buying his "Happy Boxes" (which are basically televisions or computers) by charming them with Salsa's dance moves. He then forces Salsa to deliver the heavy electronics to each of the customers, which means he's free to walk around town without Fassad following him around for a while. Even though he's under strict orders to deliver the Happy Boxes in a timely manner, he can still pretty much do what he pleases. This is one of the most powerful moments in the game to me. A little chime plays each time Salsa picks up a Happy Box, but it's definitely not a happy chime. It's more of an apprehensive tune, which foreshadows the eventual downfall of Tazmily due to the Happy Box catalysts. And poor Salsa is the one being forced to deliver these evil boxes against his will, probably unaware of what he's about to cause. The music for this section, "Monkey's Delivery Service," is one of my favorite tracks. It almost sounds happy at first, but there's this subtle mournful tone to the music which starts to creep in once the player becomes aware of what's happening. It's quite brilliant. Chatting with the local townsfolk of Tazmily while he's supposed to be delivering boxes, Salsa will get a lot of comments about how sad he looks. Makes sense, given his current predicament and the horrible treatment he's been getting. Also, if he looks in the mirror at Lucas' house, he'll think to himself, "What does a smile look like again?" It almost broke my heart the first time I noticed this. But thankfully, Salsa is eventually redeemed, freed from Fassad's evil clutches, and reunited with his girlfriend. It's a good thing he got a happy ending, because I don't know how much more sadness I could have taken. I just wish he could have stayed with Lucas and friends for a while longer! Freaks of nature The enemies in Mother 3 are just amazing. Along with the usual wacky foes, such as living trees, walking musical instruments, and baked yams, Mother 3 also introduces chimeras into the mix. And these aren't your typical chimeras; these jumbled up monsters are all sorts of unexpected and terrifying! Some of the tamer chimeras include the Muttshroom and the Pigtunia, mixing animals and plants to horrific (possibly humorous) effect. But then things start getting crazy when Lucas and friends encounter such bizarre beasts as the Batangutan, an orangutan head with bat wings; the Ostrelephant, an elephant with ostrich legs and an ostrich head for a trunk; and the Parental Kangashark, a hammerhead shark with kangaroo legs and a pouch holding a baby Kangashark. The scariest chimera of all, however, is the Horsantula, a horrible hybrid of horse and tarantula, with eight horse legs, a tarantula torso, and a frightened-looking horse head (*shiver*). A real-life horsantula would probably make me shit my pants... that thing is truly the stuff of nightmares! And then, of course, there is the Ultimate Chimera, which appears to be some kind of demonic creature with a baby chick attached to its head. This foe is practically invincible. It actually cannot be fought in typical combat, and in fact, if it catches Lucas then it's automatically game over! The party's only hope for survival is to run for their lives and hope they're fast enough to escape. But there is a secret which temporarily leaves the Ultimate Chimera incapacitated... Snake charmer Mother 3 took the series' trademark ridiculous inventory items to a whole new level by introducing the Rope Snake, an item that actually becomes a character in the story (and one of my favorite characters at that!). Duster first purchases the Rope Snake from the ghosts in Osohe Castle to help him cross pits as a sort of adorable grappling hook device. Duster also uses the Rope Snake to try and grab hold of an escaping Pigmask airship, with Lucas, Kumatora, and Boney hitching a ride as well. At this point, Rope Snake proudly announces that he's now a major character in the story (and breaks the fourth wall in the process). But unfortunately for everyone else, he also announces that he's unable to support the weight of three people and a dog. His jaw gives out and they all fall from the sky. Later on, Rope Snake gets a second chance and tries to redeem himself by grappling onto a flying bird cage with the party in tow, but his jaw gives out again and everyone falls out of the sky for the second time. His pride shattered from letting his friends down twice, poor Rope Snake leaves the party to go hide in a hole and feel sorry for himself. I've never felt so bad for a snake before as I did for Rope Snake. I just wanted Lucas to give him a hug and tell him that they still believed in him, but instead they just let him go. It's okay, Rope Snake! You tried your hardest! Eventually, the gang meets back up with Rope Snake in New Pork City. He excitedly tells the party that he's close to becoming a behemoth of a snake and wishes them a happy new year, but it seems like Lucas and company are trying to avoid him. It's like they don't even care about their reptilian friend's feelings, the jerks! Oh well. You'll always be cool to me, Rope Snake! Mother 3: The Musical Mother 3 introduced an awesome new mechanic to the turn-based battle system where the player could keep an attack going by repeatedly pressing the button to the rhythm of the music. It's pretty difficult to get the timing just right, and it changes depending on the battle theme, but once you get the hang of it, it's extremely satisfying to pull off. A single attack can turn into a string of several more smaller attacks, stacking up the damage to quickly take down foes. I always enjoy when turn-based JRPGs add interesting mechanics like this to make the combat feel more action-oriented. Games like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario were really good at this too, keeping players on their toes by allowing them to do extra damage or defense with a well-timed button press. Mother 3's rhythmic combat is possibly my favorite system, simply because of how fun it is to tap along to the music and watch the damage numbers steadily increase and bounce off the enemy. I like to imagine these attacks playing out with Lucas and friends circling around the enemy and bashing them to a rhythm, kind of like that scene from Shaun of the Dead where Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" suddenly starts playing on the jukebox. It's like a fully choreographed dance for every fight! I pity the fool who tries to throw his life away One of my favorite things about the Mother series are all the crazy NPCs. It's one of the few games where talking to every NPC I come across is almost always a rewarding decision. Everyone seems to have something interesting, funny, or completely random to say. Mother 3 happens to have my favorite NPC in the series. He doesn't have a name, and he can't be found wandering around on his own. Instead, he seems to appear out of nowhere whenever Lucas tries to walk on the railroad tracks leading out of Tazmily. If Lucas tries to enter the cave on the tracks, a man will shout, "Hold it!" and run on screen to grab Lucas and pull him off the tracks. He'll then go on about how dangerous that was, urging Lucas not to just throw away his life, and to forget they ever talked. After he walks away, a message pops up saying, "Your life was saved." The gravity of the conversation was so unexpected that I couldn't help but laugh. Even better, the man will continue to save Lucas' life each and every time he tries to enter the cave. He has different dialogue each time, growing more and more impatient and exasperated with Lucas until eventually he gives up trying to convince him not to throw away his life and just rescues him quietly with nothing more to say. The man also bears a striking resemblance to Mr. T, which just makes the whole scene so much more entertaining. Thanks for saving my life, Mr. T! Lucas be trippin' When Lucas and friends find themselves washed ashore on a seemingly deserted island with all of their items missing, they must go foraging for food. The only thing to be found, however, is a group of brightly-colored mushrooms. Lucas' dog Boney steps back as Lucas, Duster, and Kumatora consume the fungi for sustenance. At first, the mushrooms seem to be all right. That is, until they start to take effect and the party falls to the ground, the worlds turns bright pink and purple, and everything starts shifting and swirling. Maybe eating these strange shrooms wasn't the best idea after all... oops! Suddenly, the party springs back to life with the message, "Lucas and company felt just dandy!" But the island looks totally different now, and is strangely populated by... people you know? While running through the jungle, the party will encounter friends and family members who shouldn't be there. They're all saying really strange things, but they're just illusions. They can even be battled and destroyed, revealing that they were actually enemies shrouded in disguise. The jungle is also strangely littered with mailboxes, and these mailboxes are filled with some of the most insane things you can imagine. Among the many mailboxes Lucas comes across, some of my favorites include the following contents: "Inside the mailbox was the sound of yourself crying," "Inside the mailbox was absolutely nothing. Nothing after nothing came bursting out," "Someone looked back at you from inside the mailbox! ...Or so it seemed, but you were the one looking from the other side, too," and my personal favorite, "There's nothing in the mailbox. Except for the 1000 rat corpses." Man, those mushrooms were no joke! Eventually, the party arrives at the house of Mixolydia, the local Magypsy, who notices that they're all hopped up on shrooms and kindly knocks them back to their senses. So ends Lucas' crazy, drugged-out adventure through the psychedelic island jungle full of horrific, mind-blowing discoveries. It's just too bad they didn't run into Mixolydia before they decided to take a dip in a nice, relaxing hot spring which actually turned out to be a disgusting sewage dump... blech! The saddest man in the world Mother 3 has some awesome boss fights, but there's one optional boss that really stands out from the rest. Granted, he's not really boss material per se, but he does get the "Strong One" boss music, so I think he technically counts as a boss. I'm talking, of course, about Negative Man. Lucas finds Negative Man hunched over on all fours, alone and unmoving in the middle of a cave. If the party decides to battle him, they had better be prepared for the easiest fight of their lives! It's so easy, in fact, that I actually feel pretty bad for the guy. Negative Man very rarely attacks, and when he does, he can only manage to dish out a measly single point of damage. Mostly, he'll just be pathetic and feel sorry for himself. Instead of attacking, he'll use up his turns muttering things like, "There's just no way I can win..." or, "Just get rid of me now..." or even, "I'm nothing but a worthless protoplasm..." Meanwhile, Lucas and company just keep mercilessly beating the crap out of him until he's defeated. Poor guy... I almost want to just let him win so that he might feel a little better about himself. But let's be real, that could take ages and I don't want to wait that long. Sorry, Negative Man, but today's not your day! [embed]310276:60326:0[/embed] Open Sesame Tofu The Mother series is at its finest whenever it's trying to be funny, which is admittedly almost all the time. One of the funniest moments hands down happens in Mother 3 when Wess must open a secret door in Osohe Castle. And what better way to open a secret door than by... dancing in front of it? For a bit of background, Wess is an elderly gentleman with a rather serious disposition who spends most of his time scolding his son, Duster. The last thing I'd expect someone like Wess to do would be to let loose and start acting silly. But when the father-son duo finds themselves blocked by a grim-looking door, Wess does the unexpected. He urges Duster to turn around because he's about to do something embarrassing. And then, out of nowhere, some upbeat, goofy music begins playing and Wess starts shaking his butt and performs just about the silliest dance I can imagine, causing the door to crack a huge smile and open. It might just be my absolute favorite moment in the Mother series, just because it's Wess of all people. For an old guy, he can really shake it! Later in the game, Salsa also gets to perform the dance to open the door. It's a lot more adorable when Salsa does it, but also a lot less shocking and hilarious because he's not an old man. Video games could really do with more old folks dancing, in my opinion. Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy.22: Tomb Raider
Mother 3 highlights photo
A story is a series of memories
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Viridi photo

Grow your own virtual succulents with Viridi

And play with your own virtual pet snail
Aug 29
// Ben Davis
Viridi is a free-to-play gardening simulator which released on Steam last week in which you grow and care for a pot of succulent plants. The plants grow in real time even while the game is closed, so this isn't the type of ga...

Review: Flywrench

Aug 26 // Ben Davis
Flywrench (PC)Developer: MesshofPublisher: MesshofReleased: August 24, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Flywrench is a little difficult to describe without actually seeing it in motion. It's essentially an aerial obstacle course, where the goal is to guide the ship to the end of the level while passing through barriers and avoiding walls. It has the same sense of intense difficulty with rapid respawning as many notably punishing platformers such as Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, without actually being a platformer per se. The flywrench moves by flapping its wings, and it will plummet to the ground rather quickly if it doesn't keep flapping. If the flap button is held down, the wings will come together to form a vertical line and the ship will change colors from white to red. Another button makes the ship barrel roll out of control and turn green, and also allows it to bounce off of boundary walls. The color of the ship is very important, because it can only pass through barriers if it matches the color. A big part of the gameplay involves quickly switching between forms so that the ship can safely travel through barriers, all while continuously flapping to stay afloat. [embed]307954:60146:0[/embed] The levels start off rather simple, slowly introducing new mechanics in short areas so that the player doesn't get overwhelmed too quickly. Moving from planet to planet, the levels steadily become more difficult. Each planet introduces a new obstacle to overcome, such as rotating barriers, turrets, switches, gravity pools, and more. All of this culminates in the final planet, Mercury, which steeply ramps up the difficulty by throwing every mechanic at the player in a gauntlet of truly challenging stages before the grand finale of the Sun. Like Super Meat Boy, Flywrench is one of those games that requires a lot of patience and determination to master, and you'll be filled with joy and rage simultaneously as you try to overcome the challenges. Once I got to Mercury, I found myself involuntarily clenching up as I tried repeatedly to overcome a tough level, tossing out all kinds of expletives every time I died, before rejoicing and fully relaxing every part of my body once I finally succeeded. And then I continued on to the next level and repeated the process all over again! But it's all worth it for those beautiful moments where I seem to soar quickly and flawlessly through a tough level, pulling off impressive aerial stunts like it was second nature. The Steam release of Flywrench makes a lot of much-needed improvements upon the prototype version. Perhaps most importantly, the physics have been tweaked to make it much easier to maneuver precisely through the air. The ship keeps its momentum going with every movement and flap, and barriers now hold that momentum until the ship has passed through them. It also feels much easier to maneuver left and right while changing colors now. Also, the ship will slightly gravitate towards the exit portals when it's close enough, so even if your aim is a little off, it still might be good enough to get sucked into the exit. All of these changes make the gameplay a bit less frustrating and allows the player to feel more in control. Granted, it is sometimes a little too difficult to break momentum, which led to a huge number of deaths as my flywrench flapped one too many times and was unable to slow down before crashing into a wall. But that's just something to get used to. The graphics and soundtrack were also greatly improved. It now has that signature Messhof art style seen in many of his other games such as Nidhogg, with added effects such as a trail of exhaust leading out of the ship and an explosion upon death. The soundtrack was completely redone with electronic tracks by Daedelus and a host of other artists, and they sound much nicer than the previous scratchy, industrial-sounding music. Overall, the game is simply more pleasant to look at and listen to. A few new modes were added to the Steam version as well, including time trials and a level editor. Each planet has its own time trial which unlocks once you have beaten every level for a given planet, so you can test your skills by beating each stage quickly with as few deaths as possible and try to climb the leaderboards. The level editor is also pretty neat. It allows you to create your own planet and add as many levels to it as you want, which can then be downloaded and enjoyed by other players. It'll be interesting to see what kinds of challenges other people can come up with. Flywrench comes highly recommended from me, especially to those gamers who are always seeking a new challenge. If you enjoyed Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and the like, you will certainly enjoy this one as well. It does a really great job of easing new players into the mechanics too, so it's worth trying out even if the difficulty sounds daunting. I can definitely see myself coming back to replay Flywrench many times down the line. The feeling of determination as I try to conquer a punishing game and the satisfaction of finally emerging victorious is like an addiction, and I'm forever thankful that games like Flywrench exist to scratch that itch. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Flywrench review photo
Flying high
You may have heard of Flywrench before. A freeware prototype version of the game has been floating around since 2007, and many people were introduced to it due to the eponymous flywrench appearing as an unlockable character i...

EarthBound vinyl photo
EarthBound vinyl

The EarthBound soundtrack is getting a vinyl release next year

Available for pre-order tomorrow
Aug 25
// Ben Davis
[Disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter for the Mother original arranged soundtrack on vinyl.] Earlier this year, independent record label Ship to Shore PhonoCo. acquired the licensing rights to release the Mother soundtrack on...

Review: Snakebird

Aug 24 // Ben Davis
Snakebird (PC)Developer: Noumenon GamesPublisher: Noumenon GamesReleased: May 4, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At first glance, Snakebird isn't all that intimidating. It's made to look cute and appealing, with bright colors, simple cartoon graphics, and adorable bird/snake hybrid characters which easily bring to mind more casual games like Angry Birds. But be warned: this is far from a casual experience. On one hand, the cute art style helps by drawing people in and keeping them calm and relaxed while they fail again and again at the puzzles, impaling their adorable snakebirds on spikes and throwing them off of cliffs. But I do worry that the simple graphics might turn some players off to the game too soon. It's definitely not the type of game that it appears to be, but I kind of like that it subverts expectations like that. [embed]307530:60107:0[/embed] The goal of every level is simple: eat all the fruit and get each snakebird into the portal. No snakebird can be left behind, so if one makes it into the portal but the other one can't reach, you might have to start over from the beginning (or at least backtrack a few moves). Eating a piece of fruit increases the snakebird's size by one segment, usually making it easier to navigate certain puzzles. But be careful! Just because a piece of fruit can be reached doesn't mean the puzzle has been solved yet. Most puzzles involve finding the correct path to the fruit, which is not always the most direct path. In fact, the most direct path more often than not will lead to a snakebird getting stuck or dying, but keep in mind that you can easily backtrack in case mistakes are made. If a snakebird dies, the game immediately resets to the last move before death, and you can keep backtracking from there if need be. Once all fruit has been eaten, the portal will open, creating an exit from the level. One of the largest sources of difficulty comes from simply figuring out the physics and abilities of the snakebirds. While there is a tutorial level, it really only covers basic movement and how to open the portal. Everything else is up to the player to figure out, and it's not always obvious. Here are a few mild hints for new players who find themselves getting stuck really early on (possibly even on the second or third levels). Normal physics don't really apply to snakebirds. They always hold their current shape while falling. They can sit on top of floating fruit without eating it. They can push other snakebirds and certain obstacles (or multiple things at once), sometimes even in ways that might not make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Snakebirds that are pushed will always maintain their current shape. Also, it's usually a good idea to try and figure out what position they will need to end up in to reach the portal, in order to plan out your moves accordingly. Eventually, through trial and error, you'll develop skills and moves that you wouldn't have even dreamed of at the beginning of the game, and you'll start flying through the puzzles, only to get stuck again a little while later on a puzzle which requires a new skill to be discovered. This might leave some players overly frustrated, but options for each level are not endless, so players are bound to figure out a solution as long as they keep trying new things. Snakebird does a good job of keeping things interesting by introducing new mechanics every so often, including the addition of multiple snakebirds in a single level, spikes, movable platforms, and teleportation portals. Each themed area introduces something new, and then there are the special star levels which will test your abilities to the fullest. There are a total of 53 levels, and the difficulty of each level will probably vary from player to player. The map is also non-linear, so beating one level might open up several more to choose from. It took me about 13 hours to beat every level, although I had a particularly tough time figuring out a few of them (a couple that come to mind include level 20 and level 44, both of which took me WAY too long to figure out). Usually, I would have to sit and stare at a difficult level for a while, or even stop playing entirely and just take some time to ponder the level and all of the possibilities, and then come back later with fresh ideas. But the feeling of finally completing a seemingly impossible puzzle after so much failure is just so wonderfully satisfying! Personally, I think Snakebird could have benefited from a few extra features. Including statistics such as the amount of time it took to finish a level or the number of moves used would have added a bit to the replayability. As it is now, once a puzzle is solved, there's really no incentive to go back and try it again. Leaderboards would also be a welcome addition, since I'm sure many players out there figured out way more efficient methods of solving certain puzzles than I did. Snakebird is not for everyone. But for those puzzle-lovers out there seeking the ultimate challenge, definitely give Snakebird a shot. You might be surprised by how often this game will leave you stumped, but that just makes the feeling of overcoming challenges so much sweeter! [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Snakebird review photo
Delightfully challenging
Well-designed, challenging puzzle games can be hard to come by these days, but they are out there. Games like Antichamber, English Country Tune, and Splice are a few Steam titles that come to mind for providing particularly h...

Spider cheats photo
Spider cheats

Hate spiders but want to play Spider? Use this cheat code to play as a walrus

Goo goo g'joob
Aug 20
// Ben Davis
I reviewed Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it, but some readers were concerned about the fact that they would have to play as a spider, because, well... spiders are pretty creepy. If yo...
Sploot photo

Be a seagull and poop on people in Sploot

What more could you want out of games?
Aug 19
// Ben Davis
"You are a seagull. A beautiful, fragile seagull. You poop uncontrollably. Your purpose is to poop on things." Fantastic! I'm always clamoring for more games where you get to really feel what it's like to be an animal, and th...
Team Fortress 2 update photo
Team Fortress 2 update

Team Fortress 2 gets the ball rolling with a new sports-themed game mode

Created by Bad Robot, of all companies
Aug 19
// Ben Davis
Ready for another off-the-wall Team Fortress 2 update? After the addition of bumper cars from last Halloween, it seems anything is possible with this game. Now the multiplayer shooter is getting another shot in the arm with a...

Experience Points .22: Tomb Raider

Aug 15 // Ben Davis
T. Rex doesn't want to be fed, he wants to hunt One of my most memorable gaming moments was seeing the T. Rex in Tomb Raider for the first time. Keep in mind, this was actually the very first 3D video game world I was exposed to. So that, coupled with the fact that I was very young at the time, helped to make the T. Rex a very mind-blowing experience for me. Here's the scenario: As an eight-year-old exploring a three-dimensional cavern for the first time ever, pretty much everything in Tomb Raider seemed incredible to me. Running around, dodging traps, solving puzzles, and shooting at bats, wolves, and even frighteningly powerful bears, I was having an amazing time. Then I get to the Lost Valley, the third level in the game, and things take a surprising turn. Lara climbs up a high wall and drops down into a curiously lush jungle environment, very different from the rocky caves I was used to. A bunch of skeletons litter the ground, and there are some rather large, bird-like footprints all over the place. What could have possibly made these prints? Suddenly, the sound of something large can be heard coming directly towards Lara, and out of nowhere a huge red creature shrieks and lunges at her. It happened so fast that all I could think was, "What the heck is that thing?!" as I jumped around like crazy and desperately fired my pistols. Finally it died, and I was able to take a closer look at the corpse to find out, oh my god, it's a freaking raptor! At that point, dinosaurs were definitely the last thing I expected to see in this game. From then on, I explored the jungle area very cautiously. Soon after dispatching a couple more raptors, Lara approaches a broken bridge high above her. I was moving very slowly towards the bridge, looking up to try and see if there was anything up there, when suddenly the battle music started and the ground began to shake. I stopped dead in my tracks as an enormous T. Rex burst out of the shadows and quickly bounded towards Lara. My heart skipped a beat and I slammed the pause button and nearly fell off of the ottoman I was sitting on! A T. Rex? I have to fight a freaking T. Rex? How in the world? After mentally preparing for several seconds, I got ready to attempt to take down the dinosaur and pressed the start button to resume playing. The T. Rex immediately ran up to Lara, grabbed her in its jaws, thrashed her about, and slammed her limp body onto the ground. Welp. That sure was fast. Eventually, I figured out an effective, if rather cheap, method of killing the big dino, but that moment of seeing it for the first time will forever remain one of my fondest memories in gaming. The wrath of the gods My favorite level in Tomb Raider would easily be St. Francis' Folly. It's the first level of the Greece section, and introduces lions, gorillas, and crocodiles into the mix of enemies. But what makes this level so fun and memorable is the extremely tall, enormous room which leads to four other rooms labeled Thor, Atlas, Neptune, and Damocles. While it's admittedly strange that they included the Norse god Thor and the Roman god Neptune in this Greek ruin (they later changed the names to Hephaestus and Poseidon in Tomb Raider: Anniversary), we'll just look past that for now. These four rooms are some of the coolest areas of the game. They're all themed around the mythological figures they're named for, and they're all quite deadly. Thor's room is decked out with a ball of electricity that shoots lightning bolts onto random floor tiles which Lara must carefully avoid, as well as a gigantic hammer which falls in an attempt to crush her if she wanders beneath it. Atlas' room traps Lara in a narrow corridor with a deadly boulder, which is meant to symbolize the sky that Atlas held upon his shoulders. Neptune's room has a frighteningly deep pool of water which sucks Lara down to the bottom and won't let her back up until she finds a hidden lever. Finally, Damocles' room is rigged with a bunch of huge swords dangling from the ceiling, which fall as Lara tries to leave and even home in on her a bit in an attempt to slice her up. I always enjoyed the creativity that went into making this level. The traps based on mythological figures were a really neat idea and really well implemented, even if they mixed up some of their mythologies. It added a lot to the wonder of the game's world, and even inspired me to research some Greek and Roman gods as a young kid to try and figure out what the names meant. Levels like this are what Tomb Raider is all about. The temptation of the Sphinx This one is a little specific. It's more of a small ritual that I personally enjoy doing every time I play Tomb Raider, even though it's probably not a part of everyone else's experience with the game. But it's also possible that I'm not the only person that does this! Lara actually has two different kinds of jumps in Tomb Raider: a normal jump and a swan dive. The latter is basically just a fancy jump that's probably only meant to be performed around water. Except Lara can do a swan dive anywhere, and one of my favorite things to do is take advantage of this and have her perform swan dives in some of the most ridiculous locations. Sure, she usually breaks her neck, but at least she looks damn good doing it! When I first learned that Lara could do swan dives, I was pulling them off all over the place. I swan dived into every pool of water. I swan dived from the top of the waterfall in the Lost Valley. I even swan dived from the top of the really tall room in St. Francis' Folly (Sorry, Lara!). Then Lara made her way to Egypt, and found herself in the Sanctuary of the Scion. Eventually, she exited into a big, open room with a gigantic Sphinx statue. I took one look at the Sphinx, towering way above Lara's head, and immediately thought, "I have to do a swan dive off that Sphinx." I made that my primary goal as I navigated around the room in an attempt to climb on top of the huge statue's head. Finally, I arrived at the top. I stood there for awhile, surveying the massive, open room around me and the ground far below. Then I pulled off the most glorious swan dive imaginable as Lara silently plummeted to her death in the sand at the Sphinx's feet. It was awesome. Now, whenever I replay Tomb Raider or Tomb Raider: Anniversary, I make it a ritual to perform a swan dive off the top of the Sphinx whenever I arrive at the Sanctuary of the Scion. I wonder if anyone else does the same thing... Home sweet home One of the best parts of any Tomb Raider game is getting to explore Lara Croft's mansion. In many games in the series, including the first, the mansion acts as a tutorial level. It's completely optional to play, and even the tutorial sections of the mansion are optional as well. When Lara enters certain rooms, including a gym, a room with a tumbling mat, a room full of boxes, and a swimming pool, she'll announce to the player all the different moves she can perform and which controls to use. The player can either follow her advice or choose to just keep moving and ignore her if they want, and continue to explore freely. It's actually one of the best ways to include a non-intrusive tutorial that I can think of. Unfortunately, there's not too much to do in the first game's mansion other than tutorials. The second game introduces a bunch of neat little secrets to discover, hidden rooms to find, and a crazy old butler to mess around with and lock in the freezer (he's a hoot), all staples of Lara Croft's awesome home. It's still pretty neat to run around the mansion in the original game though too. Goldfinger This may sound weird, but one of my favorite parts of Tomb Raider is actually one of the death animations. The Tomb Raider series is known for having some pretty gruesome deaths. Even in the first game, I sometimes felt really bad about dying because of Lara's death animations and sound effects. Seeing her thrash about while drowning, hearing the horrible popping and squelching sounds when she falls onto spikes, and watching her get torn apart and tossed around by the T. Rex and the final boss... man, Lara had a rough time. But there's one death animation that had me literally laugh out loud due to how absurd it is. When Lara travels to Greece, she eventually finds herself in an area called Palace Midas. There's a puzzle in this level wherein Lara must collect a few gold bars, except the only things to be found nearby are lead bars. Perhaps there is some way to turn the lead into gold? Those who are familiar with the story of King Midas know that he was said to have the power to turn anything into gold merely by touching it. And wouldn't you know it, there just so happens to be a giant statue of King Midas in the palace, with one of his hands severed and lying on the ground. Obviously, the key to solving the puzzle is to place the lead bars onto the statue's broken hand, which then turns them to gold. But... does the hand turn other things to gold as well? Lara's curiosity gets the better of her as she jumps up onto the hand and, lo and behold, her body parts slowly transform into solid gold as she dies a horrible, yet totally glamorous death. I believe the first time I witnessed this death animation it was completely by accident. I walked into the room, saw the hand lying there, and thought, "I should jump on that hand!" The death that followed took me completely by surprise, but as I sat there looking dumbfounded at the continue screen, I slowly started to piece together what had happened. "Oh! King Midas, duh!" Afterwards, I had a really good laugh, and then promptly went back to the statue room to watch the death animation all over again. Horror in hiding Tomb Raider is one of those games where nobody seems to realize how terrifying and bizarre it is until they actually play it all the way through. It's kind of like Ecco the Dolphin in this regard. For the majority of the game, the locations and enemies remain relatively normal. Lara makes her way through caves and ruins, fighting against the sorts of enemies you might expect to find there, such as bats, wolves, bears, lions, and crocodiles. Occasionally, she'll also encounter some unexpected things such as dinosaurs, but even those aren't too disturbing. But everything changes once Lara reaches the end of the Tomb of Tihocan. The entrance to the tomb is decorated with two statues of centaurs. They don't actually do anything other than look intimidating, so she leaves to navigate the area to find a lever to open the door of the tomb. But as she begins to enter the tomb, the two statues unexpectedly spring to life and attack. And not only do they do that, but their stony exteriors crack open to reveal a truly grotesque sight of what looks like a skinless creature with muscle and bone clearly exposed to the elements. It's horrible, and the first time I played this level it scared the crap out of me! But the horror doesn't stop there. After the Tomb of Tihocan, Lara makes her way into Egypt, and of course the place is crawling with mummies. But these aren't ordinary mummies. You might expect mummies to be slow, lumbering, yet powerful monsters, but the mummies in Tomb Raider are anything but slow! These things freaking run and jump all over the place, making an awful shrieking sound the entire time as they're thrashing at Lara. Their movements are so sudden that they somehow manage to startle me every single time I encounter one. Finally, Lara discovers the lost civilization of Atlantis, which is not nearly as wondrous as you might expect. It's actually pretty nightmarish. The place is crawling with creatures like the centaurs from before, with exposed muscle and bone. Not only that, but the walls, floors, and ceilings are all pulsating and throbbing like the entire place is alive, as if Lara is walking through some massive creature's body. It's extremely unsettling, and very far off from the relatively normal caves that began the whole adventure. And then there's the final boss... I'm fairly sure nobody expected to find something so grossly horrifying from a game like Tomb Raider, but I love how unpredictable it is. Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy
Tomb Raider photo
I'm sorry, I only play for sport
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Gathering Sky impressions photo
Gathering Sky impressions

Gathering Sky is out today on Steam and mobile, and it's quite relaxing

I want to fly like an eagle
Aug 13
// Ben Davis
Gathering Sky, a game from indie studio A Stranger Gravity about controlling a flock of birds, released on Steam, iOS, and Android today. I got a chance to play around with the Steam version this week, and it's a pretty neat ...

Which video games did you grow up with?

Aug 09 // Ben Davis
We had a ton of other NES cartridges, too. Of course, we had the other two Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, plus some other neat games like Clash at Demonhead, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, 1943: The Battle of Midway, Marble Madness, and Excitebike, as well as some weirder ones like Fester's Quest, T&C Surf Designs, and Winter Games. I dabbled in all of these games, usually with my sister and brother -- who was way better than me at the time, so I watched him beat more than a few of them. As for the other consoles, we only owned a few titles for each, and typically rented more. Our SNES collection included Super Mario World, Mario Paint, A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy II (well, IV), and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge. I liked all of these, but I probably played Final Fantasy II and Mario Paint the most (I loved that fly swatter mini-game!). I was terrible at Final Fantasy, though. I always got stuck on the octopus boss or the Antlion. I know I never saw anything past that point. But I kept trying to get better, because I really wanted to see more of that world. The Sega Genesis didn't get much love. I know we had a few Sonic the Hedgehog games and Ecco: The Tides of Time, but I can't remember anything else. Ecco was actually one of my favorite games at the time, because I was obsessed with marine biology as a kid (and still am!), but I was so bad at it that I just watched my brother play it instead. Whenever I played, I mostly just swam around and did flips and stuff. We also had some neat PC games. I remember playing Myst, SimTown, Lemmings, Magic Carpet, and Lode Runner: The Legend Returns on our old Windows 95 computer. I always thought Myst was really interesting visually, but I could never solve the puzzles by myself, of course. I spent most of my time with SimTown and Lode Runner. I even messed around with the level editor in Lode Runner a bit and tried to make my own maps. I'm sure all of the games from my childhood helped shape me into the gamer I am today and had major influences on my tastes. I always seemed to prefer the weird stuff, like Super Mario Bros. 2, Blaster Master, and Ecco. I loved platformers most, but also enjoyed RPGs and creative games like Mario Paint and SimTown. Of course, my tastes have since grown to include many other genres and types of games, but the ones I grew up with were the foundation of my hobby and I'll never forget them. How about you? Which games did you have growing up? What did you play the most and why?
Community discussion photo
Time for a nostalgia trip
Everyone remembers their first video game, right? I often think back on the games my family owned growing up and realize how much of an impact they had on my life. Without them, I might not be here today talking about video g...

Experience Points .21: Katamari Damacy

Aug 08 // Ben Davis
Royal Rainbow! The King of All Cosmos might actually be my favorite video game character of all time. It's weird though, because honestly, he's kind of an asshole. He "accidentally" destroys all the stars in the galaxy, and then has the nerve to make his son do all the work creating new ones. He's also incredibly snarky and super critical of the Prince's work. Really, dad? You're gonna force me to fix your mistakes and then tell me I'm not doing it well enough? I'm really feeling the love here... But even after all the abuse, I just can't help but admire the King of All Cosmos. I mean, just look at him! He's fit, handsome, has a quirky fashion sense, well-groomed facial hair, and a shockingly noticeable bulge (oh myyy). And did I mention he literally vomits rainbows? He is the very definition of fabulous. The King's dialogue is one of the most entertaining aspects of Katamari. Hearing him put down the Prince in such a nonchalant way is pretty funny. Plus he's got a witty sense of humor and a really strange way of viewing the world. It's fun to see what he thinks of humans and their way of life as he tries to understand why they do the things they do. He talks a lot (and I mean a lot!), but I never got tired of hearing his weird and wonderful thoughts or the strange record-scratching sound he makes. The King of All Cosmos may be a horrible father and a huge asshole, but he's just such a lovable asshole. I mean, it's hard to be mad at a man that has rainbows bursting out of every orifice! [embed]297398:59858:0[/embed] Na naaa na na na na naa naa naa na naa naa na na na~ It's almost impossible to talk about Katamari and not mention the soundtrack. It's one of the most unique video game soundtracks I've ever heard, filled with relentlessly happy songs and catchy melodies. If I ever want to smile, I simply have to put on some Katamari music. It cheers me up instantly. The vocal tracks are the best. Some of my favorites from the first game include "Lonely Rolling Star," "Katamaritaino," "A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic," and "Katamari Mambo" (I especially enjoy the male singer in that last one; he sounds so crazy!). Then there's "Cherry Blossom Color Season" with some adorable child vocals, "Que Sera Sera" with its notable English vocals ("I want to wad you up into my life!"), and "Katamari on the Rocks" which gets stuck in my head for days whenever I play the game. And I can't forget to mention "The Wonderful Star's Walk is Wonderful," which may not be a vocal track, but it's my personal favorite. I could honestly gush about every song on the soundtrack; the whole thing is fantastic! I had to give special mention to the title screen music, though. It's the very first thing the player hears upon turning on the game, and it's fantastic. It's basically just a guy singing a simple melody, but it's an instantly classic tune. It's calming, cheerful, quirky, and immediately recognizable. All you have to do is sing the first two notes ("Na naaa...") and it's already in my head! For the people The basic premise of Katamari is to roll junk up into a ball. It's a very simple idea, but it's crazy just how fun it is. It starts the player off as a tiny little ball rolling up thumbtacks and candies, growing larger and picking up progressively bigger objects like trash cans and bicycles, and eventually becoming huge enough to roll up entire buildings and even the very island they're standing on. It's such a wonderful feeling to see the Katamari growing larger and more powerful by the second and rolling up everything in its way. But I always find that the most fun comes from rolling up people. The behavior of the humans in Katamari games is hilarious. When the Katamari is still really small, they sort of just go about their business normally, most of the time not even giving a second glance to the weird ball of junk rolling around them. But once it's big enough, people will notice it and run away in terror, flailing their arms wildly. Even when they get rolled up themselves, they keep flailing their arms and legs in a comically energetic manner, like insects that are stuck on their backs. They also make funny noises upon being picked up. Usually it's a goofy shouting or laughing sound, but many of them make other strange noises. The biker punks' cries are especially odd. This video has a good sampling of the many sounds the people make. It may seem cruel to enjoy rolling people up into a ball of random objects, potentially crushing them as things like cars and buildings are added into the mix, or impaling them on fence posts and street signs, or burning them on campfires, or drowning them as the Katamari rolls through the ocean. And all the while they await their fate of being turned into a flaming hot star in a newly reformed galaxy. But, you know, they'll probably be okay... right? I hope? I'm sure they're fine... My cousin Dipp The Prince's many cousins are a bizarre bunch of individuals. They can be found hidden in each level, and can later be selected for use in the multiplayer mini-game. Over the course of the series, more and more cousins were added to the mix, and they became playable characters for the main game as well. Even though they're essentially just costume swaps of the Prince (they don't have special abilities or anything), I just love collecting all the little guys. Whenever I find a cousin as I'm rolling around one of the levels, I absolutely have to roll them up. If they're too big, I make it my goal to grow large enough to grab them before the timer runs out. The cousins also have some of the craziest designs in the game. They're all very colorful with differently-shaped heads. There's Ichigo who looks like a strawberry, Marny who's shaped like a tennis ball, Nickel who's a robot, Lalala who is always naked, Miso who literally has a bowl of soup for a head (filled with actual soup in later games), and many more. My two favorite cousins are Dipp and Odeko. Dipp's body is covered with brightly-colored, flashing polka dots so he looks like a disco ball or something, and Odeko has an unreasonably tall head which grows taller in the later games and makes certain items like the headphones look really funny. I almost always play as those two. Throughout the Katamari series, the cousins seem to get weirder and weirder. The original 23 from the first game have all had their features altered and intensified, while newer, crazier cousins are introduced as well. I really like them though. They're like a strange, dysfunctional, rainbow-colored family. I bet they have the greatest reunions! Must find all of the things! Katamari Damacy is one of those games where I have to collect everything. I feel like I haven't truly finished the game until I've rolled up every last object I can find. This mentality is mainly due to the very detailed collection screen, which lists every object by category, location, and size, as well as a separate list for rare objects with special names. Each list provides a percentage of items that have been collected, which of course made the completionist gamer in me want to fill out each list for 100% completion. Katamari also took one step further with its collection screen by adding funny little descriptions for each object in the game. The descriptions appear to be written from the perspective of the King of All Cosmos, since they often use the royal We, which the King enjoys using to refer to himself. Since the majority of the objects are human items, the King sort of has to guess at what they're used for through observation, so a lot of the descriptions are humorous. Some of my favorite descriptions include the peach ("A butt-shaped fruit that is more tasty than butts."), the chopsticks ("Why are these called chopsticks? And why are they so difficult to use?"), the toothbrush ("A stick to put in your mouth. There's got to be a purpose..."), the nail clipper ("Used to clip human claws. We wonder if it hurts."), the handcuffs ("If you do something really bad these may be used on you! Or if you are good..."), and the dung beetle ("Rolls cow dung and makes it bigger. We feel a little rivalry here."). The collection screens are always a joy to read through. Every time I find new items, I go directly to the collection to read what the King has to say about it. In fact, there's actually a Twitter account specifically dedicated to cataloging every single Katamari item with their descriptions! And now for something completely different It's not often I praise a game for its cutscenes, but Katamari's cutscenes are simply glorious. The game's intro is just about the happiest, craziest thing I've ever watched, and it sets the mood perfectly. It has rainbows bursting everywhere, animals dancing and singing, the King flying around and looking all regal, the Prince doing a happy little dance, and really catchy, upbeat music. It might just be my favorite opening scene of all time, simply because of how wacky and cheerful it is. Those ducks get me every time! And then there are the other cutscenes which focus on the human Hoshino family as they live their daily lives while Katamari are being rolled in the background. These scenes are particularly awkward. The Hoshinos are all square and boxy, move very slowly, and speak in slow, unenthusiastic voices, but something about their boring demeanor clashes with the wackiness of the game in a hilarious way. The cutscenes always had me laughing in a "what did I just watch?" kind of way, and I kept looking forward to seeing more of them. Oh, and the little girl also has her own cutscenes after each constellation level is completed. She gets a peculiar sensation and proclaims, "Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!" before swirling out of control into the cosmos herself. I love those scenes so much. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3.13: Animal Crossing.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.15: Super Mario Sunshine.16: Final Fantasy VII.17: Nier.18: Chrono Trigger.19: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.20: Red Dead Redemption
Katamari Damacy photo
Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Review: Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon

Aug 08 // Ben Davis
Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon (PC [reviewed], PS4, Vita, iOS, Android)Developer: Tiger StylePublisher: Tiger StyleRelease Date: August 6, 2015 (PC, iOS) / TBA (PS4, Vita, Android)MSRP: $12.99 Spider is primarily about eating insects and getting high scores. You play as the titular character in a large, seemingly abandoned estate, and come equipped with all of the skills a real spider would have. It can cling to almost any surface, move around very quickly, jump incredible distances, and spin webs to trap prey. Playing as a speedy, acrobatic hunter feels really great, and the controls are very responsive and precise. But on top of the slick web-slinging gameplay, there's also an underlying puzzle game hidden in the recesses of the estate for players who want to delve a bit deeper. The core gameplay is simple enough to learn the basics very quickly. Basically, jump from one surface to another while spinning a web to start building, and try to create geometric shapes which will be filled in automatically once completed. These webs will trap passing insects, which can then be eaten for points and more silk to spin more webs. Eating multiple insects without leaving the web will increase a combo meter, but the combo will reset to zero once the spider touches any other surface. [embed]297461:59879:0[/embed] Gameplay leaves plenty of room to develop new skills and strategies to maximize your score. Combos remain as long as the spider is touching a web, so you can try building multiple webs to jump between to keep the combo going. More points are earned by eating smaller insects first and saving the larger and rarer ones until the combo meter has built up a bit, so figuring out which insects to catch and eat in which order can drastically alter your score. Different insects require different strategies to eat them. Most have to be caught in a web, but some will need to be led into the web somehow and some can only be caught in strong webs. These strong insects might destroy webs that are too weak, releasing any other captured insects in the process. Other insects can only be killed by being tackled, such as hornets and ants. These have a separate combo meter which runs out in ten seconds unless the spider tackles another insect to keep it going. Just jump into them to eat them. No webs necessary! But be careful, because some of them can fight back. Spider also has an interesting time and weather mechanic. The game detects your location and mimics the current time and weather in-game, between four different scenarios (clear day, rainy day, clear night, and rainy night). You can choose to opt out of the location services as well, in which case it just uses the developer's location. It also tracks the current phase of the moon if it's a clear night. The time, weather, and moon phases all affect gameplay in different ways. Certain insects only come out when it's daytime or while it's raining, and some areas can only be accessed during certain weather conditions. Sometimes, the level will feel completely different between night and day. For example, one level in the barn is filled with a normal variety of flying insects during the day, but at night it becomes infested with hornet nests, totally changing the way you play it. My only complaint is that I felt some of the levels could have used more obvious differences between the various time and weather scenarios, but for the most part there was a good variety. Then there are the moon phases, and this is where the underlying puzzle game comes in. While roaming the estate as a spider, you'll come across secret areas and clues pertaining to certain mysteries. Many of these clues can only be found and solved if special requirements are met, such as playing during a new moon or at night while it's raining, although some of them can also be completed whenever. Solving mysteries will unlock more areas to play, and the game cannot be truly beaten until all clues are found and the final mystery is solved. While time traveling and altering weather mechanics is an option for those less patient players, Spider is really meant to be played slowly over a period of time. Try playing at different times of the day to find new stuff. Or if it starts to rain one day, then try to find some time to jump into the game and see what all has changed with the gloomy weather. Once you start finding clues, you can begin to synchronize your gaming schedule with the phases of the moon and plan out certain nights to return to the game to check on something. Eventually, as the month goes on, you'll start to unravel the mysteries of the estate. Or, if you don't care about all that, there's still the incredibly fun web-slinging, insect-catching action to focus on, which should be more than enough to keep you engaged. I'm sure some players will be more involved with achieving high scores and climbing up the leaderboards than trying to solve riddles and look for clues. Either way you choose to play, it's still a great game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Spider review photo
Strong web
I will take any opportunity to play as an animal in a video game. Let me control a dolphin, a wolf, a shark, or even a tiny little mosquito and I'm happy. As you surely already guessed, Rite of the Shrouded Moon puts the...

Splatoon update photo
Splatoon update

Squid Girl outfit coming to Splatoon this week in Japan

You gotta be squiddin' me
Aug 05
// Ben Davis
[Update: We've spotted all the Squid Girl gear in the U.S. build of the August update. Thanks, Nintendo! Please do Ranma 1/2 next.] Ever since Splatoon's characters were first announced, I've been seeing comparisons between t...

Experience Points .20: Red Dead Redemption

Jul 25 // Ben Davis
The desert life There really aren't enough games that go for the Wild Western setting, and probably no other game pulls it off quite as spectacularly as Red Dead Redemption. It's set in an area inspired by the Rio Grande Basin connecting Texas and Mexico, as well as the deserts and prairies of Arizona and New Mexico. It also takes place in a time of Wild West cowboys, horses, outlaws, gunslinging, and saloons, so it basically feels like playing a classic Spaghetti Western film. The desert vistas in this game are absolutely gorgeous. In fact, my favorite thing to do was just to ride around and look at all the different locations. The sandy expanses, the majestic rock formations, the fields of cacti and desert shrubs, the old Western-style towns and dilapidated structures, and those sunsets... my god. Every inch of this game is stunning. Sometimes I just sat around on top of my horse for a few minutes and marveled at the world around me. I've only been out West once in my life, when I was like five years old, so I didn't really get to appreciate it as much as I would have liked. I'd love to take a trip around that area again sometime, in part because Red Dead Redemption makes it look so beautiful. It's rare that a game makes me want to go out and see the world like this one did. Draw! Good old-fashioned duels are a staple of the Western genre, so it's no surprise they make an appearance here. I've been obsessed with Western duel scenes ever since I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which has quite possibly the most glorious duel ever filmed. Two men (or three, in the case of the film) standing at a distance, their hands readied above their guns, sweat rolling down their faces, waiting for the signal to draw their weapons to see who can shoot faster and become the victor... it's always such a thrilling scene to watch. The duels in Red Dead Redemption aren't quite as long and fancy as the ones from Sergio Leone's films, but they're still very satisfying. Some duels take place as a part of the story, but many occur randomly. Marston may be challenged to duels by outlaws just by walking through a town, or if he's caught cheating at poker, or even if he rudely knocks over a passing stranger. If he accepts the duel, then the standoff begins. The camera shows both participants before coming in close to focus on Marston's hand hovering above his holstered gun, and then time slows down as shots are fired. It's very cinematic, which makes it feel even more like an homage to its film inspirations. I also like that, in some cases, Marston can win by simply disarming his opponent rather than killing them. Doing so generates both honor and fame, while killing only generates fame. It makes me feel good to play as the virtuous Western hero sometimes, so I always tried to aim for my opponent's gun hand whenever possible. It's what the man with no name would have done (unless he's dueling against Angel Eyes, that is!). John Marston, with the rope, in the conservatory Speaking of being honorable, I particularly enjoyed the option of using the lasso to subdue foes. It's not always the best method, but I tried to use the lasso as often as possible, not only because it means I don't have to kill as many people, but it's also just really fun to use. Bad guys can be lassoed, hogtied, and lifted onto the back of Marston's horse to take them to jail kicking and screaming. It's a bit trickier to capture bounties this way, because the player often needs to act quickly before the criminal's pals appear to help him out. Plus it feels good knowing that it's possible to solve problems non-violently. I'm always pleased when games give me these kinds of options. Of course, if the player wants to be a bit more villainous with their lasso, that's also a possibility. Marston can lasso someone while on horseback and drag them along behind him to kill them, hold on to the rope with the lasso around their necks to choke them, lasso their horses to try and buck them off a cliff, or even go the old-fashioned dastardly route and hogtie someone and then leave them lying on the train tracks to meet their demise. All you need is a bit of creativity to turn the lasso into a deadly weapon. A horse with no name John Marston wouldn't get very far without a trusty steed, and luckily there are plenty of horses for him to choose from. While the horses in Red Dead Redemption may not be as memorable as, say, Epona or Agro, they still play a very important role as companions. The game provides Marston with his own horse early on, but it also allows him to steal other people's horses or even capture and tame wild horses whenever he wants. If a strong-looking stallion is spotted in the wild, Marston can use his lasso to reign it in and then jump on its back to try and tame it. This was my favorite method of finding horses. I tend to go for the solid white or solid black horses, which seemed to be kind of rare and challenging to tame, but they're just so impressive-looking. I liked to pretend I was riding around on Shadowfax or one of the Black Riders' horses. Many players probably go through a lot of different horses during their playthrough, but I usually tried to keep my horses as long as possible. They tended to be more trustworthy and stronger the longer I kept them around, and I also couldn't help but feel a sense of connection with my horse friends after a while. I hated to see them get hurt, especially the ones I captured in the wild since so much work went into finding them and gaining their trust. For something that could easily be seen as a disposable item within the game, Red Dead Redemption sure did a fantastic job of making the horses feel alive and full of personality, something more than just a mode of transportation. Gambling man While the story and free-roam play of Red Dead Redemption was phenomenal, I also just could not get enough of the mini-games. Poker, liar's dice, five finger fillet, horseshoes, arm wrestling, blackjack... I spent so much time playing all of these games in each of the settlements, trying to master them and win money. They're all really fun and impressively fleshed out. While I probably spent the most time playing poker, my best game was definitely liar's dice. I'd actually never heard of it before playing Red Dead Redemption, but I quickly mastered it and raked in the cash. Horseshoes, on the other hand, was definitely not my game. I was terrible at aiming correctly, but it was still fun to learn. Five finger fillet was also enjoyable simply because I would never want to try it in real life. I value my own hands, thank you very much, but I don't mind the risk of butchering Marston's body parts. Although it is kind of strange how his hands seem to be just fine even if he accidentally stabs himself repeatedly with a knife. I messed up so much that I'm surprised he still had fingers! A grizzly encounter There is almost nothing more terrifying than hearing the snarl of a cougar while Marston is roaming the wilderness in Red Dead Redemption. Cougars are fast and powerful, they can easily kill in one or two strikes, and they're very difficult to detect due to their tan color which blends in well with the sandy desert environment. Usually, the player won't know a cougar is near until they hear the loud, ferocious snarling. The sound always stopped me dead in my tracks, as I desperately tried to search for the location of the animal before it was too late. Then when they pounce, it's a strenuous fight to the death as I try to avoid their attacks and get a few shots in as they're running around. Even when I was being careful, they mauled me to death on more than one occasion. The cougars are no joke! But even the cougars pale in comparison to the grizzly bears. The bears make a loud growling sound as well, but more often than not, I would see the bear before I heard it. I would just be minding my own business in the woods, then turn around and BAM... there's a big old grizzly bear bounding straight toward me! It scared me every single time, and sometimes I'd even have to pause the game for a bit just to take a breather before confronting the animal. The bears in Red Dead Redemption are arguably even more dangerous than the cougars. Sure, they're slower, but they're so powerful and difficult to take down that I found them to be way more frightening. And usually, once I killed one bear, two or three more would come running out of nowhere to avenge their friend. It was almost certain death once I found myself surrounded by multiple bears. Chill out, bears! I can only handle so much bear at once! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3.13: Animal Crossing.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.15: Super Mario Sunshine.16: Final Fantasy VII.17: Nier.18: Chrono Trigger.19: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Red Dead Redemption photo
John Marston! Remember the name!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Experience Points .19: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Jul 18 // Ben Davis
When it rains, it pours Metal Gear Rising is full of insane, high-energy boss fights. Sometimes Raiden will be up against gigantic war machines which he can climb all over, and sometimes he'll be in one-on-one duels against villains roughly his size. But no matter what, the fights themselves are always impressive. My personal favorite boss is Monsoon. He's a cyborg ninja with distinctive red and black armor and a helmet covering most of his face save for his creepy grin. His weapon of choice is a pair of sais, which he's quite deadly with. And true to his name, his boss fight takes place in the pouring rain. His most unique feature, however, is the fact that his body is actually made up of a bunch of smaller segments held together by electromagnetic forces. This allows him to separate his body at will, which he does quite often in order to attack from great distances and to easily dodge incoming attacks. If Raiden tries to attack normally, he won't be able to land a single hit with Monsoon's body constantly shifting, separating, and reconnecting at high speeds to avoid injury. Patience and clever tactics are required to even scratch this guy. After a while, Monsoon will begin demonstrating another ability which allows him to lift and hurl enormous objects. He starts chucking tanks and aircraft at Raiden like it's nothing, even going so far as to meld a bunch of them together into one giant Katamari-like ball of metal. Things get pretty crazy! This fight in particular forces the player to master parrying, a skill which quickly becomes essential for survival. If Raiden is unable to parry effectively in the fight against Monsoon, he'll be taking far too many punches, kicks, and sais to the face to survive for very long. It's one hell of a fight, complete with an excellent heavy metal-ish theme song, and it perfectly encapsulates the frantic, over-the-top combat of Metal Gear Rising. The incredible backflipping feline There is possibly no greater character in Metal Gear Rising than the cat. What cat, you ask? You know, the ninja cat! It can be found walking around the beach in R-01. It's kind of hard to spot sometimes, so the player has to really be looking for it, but it's totally worth it to seek the animal out. What's so great about this small white cat? It doesn't really do much of anything, just wanders around the beach lazily. That is, unless Raiden tries to attack the poor, defenseless kitty. Don't worry though, there is no way Raiden is going to land a hit on this cat. When attacked, the cat will perform a killer backflip and dodge out of the way. Every single time! No matter what attack Raiden throws at this ninja cat, it will demonstrate its impressive evasive skills and come away unscathed. I spent so much time on the beach just watching this awesome cat backflip out of the way of every move Raiden attempted. Had the cat decided to go on the offensive and scratch back, Raiden surely would have been defeated by this nigh invincible feline. The ninja cat also makes another appearance later in the game, during a long cutscene where Monsoon is having a chat with a weakened Raiden. The camera can be controlled during this scene, and if Raiden looks to his right, he'll see the cat walk right up to one of the cyborg soldiers. The soldier gets really excited, getting down on the ground on all fours to pet the kitty before it leaves him in disinterest. Then the soldier gets back up and sadly waves goodbye. It's really adorable and goofy, and it completely turns Monsoon's serious monologue into a bit of a joke. ¡Muy guapo! Early on in the game, Raiden has to swing by Mexico to infiltrate a cybernetics lab. He was apparently told to wear a disguise so as not to draw too much attention to himself in this foreign country, so of course he goes the full stereotypical route and decides to wear a poncho and a ridiculously large mariachi hat. Excellent choice! Immediately after stepping out of his car, everyone around notices his strange appearance and starts freaking out, commenting on his outfit and wondering if he's actually a mariachi player or rather a cyborg in disguise. He quickly descends into a sewer, ditching the outfit and saying, "Adios, amigos," as he disappears. It's pretty much the best cutscene. Then mission R-02 begins with Raiden back to his normal suit (lame!). I was pretty disappointed, as I was really hoping I would get to play the entire level as Mariachi Raiden. Fortunately for me, the mariachi outfit becomes unlocked as an alternate skin after completing R-02, meaning I could play the remainder of the game in a totally absurd costume. Obviously, I only played as Mariachi Raiden from that point on. I mean, how could I not? Cyborg's best friend Raiden's mechanical canine companion, Blade Wolf, is such a joy to have around. He may not be useful for combat (his AI apparently lacks brutality), but he is very helpful for scouting purposes, and he's a surprisingly entertaining conversationalist as well. He may be a robot, but he has quite a unique personality since his AI was created to be similar to a human brain. He's especially noble, often questions why killing is necessary, and is always yearning for freedom. I particularly enjoy Wolf's dry sense of humor. He always takes notice of Raiden's jokes and likes to point out that he doesn't think Raiden is very funny. He's also quick to pick up on puns and expressions, such as when Raiden said they should "throw him a bone" and Wolf quickly noted that his choice of words was amusing on two levels, since his body is modeled after a canine and canines like bones. Wolf was even popular enough to get his own DLC chapter where he was featured as a playable character. It's a pretty neat side chapter which requires the player to be extra sneaky to get stealth kills, since Wolf himself is not that great at fighting (even though he has a giant chainsaw which he can fling around with his tail). I'm glad he got so much recognition as an excellent character, worthy of being playable even though he's not humanoid. Honestly though, who wouldn't want to play as a badass robotic wolf? The perfect hiding spot Ah, cardboard boxes. A classic staple of the Metal Gear franchise. They're back once again in Metal Gear Rising. Raiden can of course find cardboard boxes scattered around which he can hide under and walk around in a most (in)conspicuous manner. And not just cardboard boxes, but metal drum cans as well. Plus, if he's wearing the mariachi outfit, the boxes and drums he hides under will be decorated with his festive hat. Totally not suspicious-looking at all! My favorite thing to do is to have Raiden hide inside a drum can while wearing the mariachi outfit and then go into a ninja run. This causes him to fall over and start rolling around sideways inside of the drum can, with the hat somehow remaining firmly fastened to the top. This move can actually hurt enemies and destroy parts of the environment, but eventually Raiden gets sick and has to stop rolling to vomit. Metal Gear Rising even went a step further with the cardboard boxes by including enemy soldiers which hid inside boxes themselves and could be found and killed for an achievement. There are a total of five of these MIBs (Men In Boxes) to find, and locating all of them unlocks a special wooden sword. The first one I found made me laugh pretty hard, because I honestly wasn't expecting anyone else to be using the cardboard box tactic. Apparently, it's becoming quite a popular technique! A million little pieces It may sound twisted, but slicing enemies up into tiny bits in Metal Gear Rising feels incredibly satisfying. It probably helps that most of the enemies are machines, and even the humanoid enemies are riddled with cybernetic enhancements, so slicing them up doesn't really result in a bloodbath of internal organs and icky stuff. It's mostly mechanical body parts, with a bit of blood splatter thrown in for color. But still, it feels amazing. Raiden has a special ability which allows him to essentially slow down time in what's known as "Blade Mode," so that he can hack and slash enemies with quickness and precision. With Blade Mode activated, a single cyborg soldier can become hundreds of sliced up pieces of cyborg soldier within a matter of seconds, as Raiden unleashes a flurry of sword swipes in every direction. It's almost hypnotizing to watch it happen. And it's not just the enemies Raiden can obliterate. Most of the environments are fully destructible, so even when he's not in combat, Raiden can enter Blade Mode and slice things up to his heart's content. I spent a lot of time running around the levels trying to see what all I could destroy, slicing up trees, tearing through cars, turning crates into splinters, bringing down entire staircases. It just felt so satisfying to watch the world crumble at my hands. Mwahahaha! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3.13: Animal Crossing.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.15: Super Mario Sunshine.16: Final Fantasy VII.17: Nier.18: Chrono Trigger
Metal Gear Rising photo
Nanomachines, son
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Camp Fangamer photo
Camp Fangamer

Camp Fangamer celebrates EarthBound's 25th anniversary for charity

PK Livestream!
Jul 18
// Ben Davis
A few years back, the folks at Fangamer and held an EarthBound Bash which raised $23,420 for charity. This year, in celebration of EarthBound's 25th anniversary, they're hosting a similar event known as Camp Fanga...

Experience Points .18: Chrono Trigger

Jul 11 // Ben Davis
It's not easy being green I absolutely love when games give us unconventional heroes. Chrono Trigger is full of them; apart from the three main protagonists, the party also recruits a humanoid frog, a robot, a cave woman, and even a villainous mage. But let's face it, the best character by far has got to be Frog. Frog is a very mysterious character at first. He sort of appears out of nowhere to help Crono and Lucca out of a jam, and doesn't really explain who he is, where he came from, or why he is a bipedal talking frog. But the party just sort of accepts this strange fellow and welcomes him into their midst without question. He is really good with a sword, after all! Later, it's revealed that Frog's real name is actually Glenn, and he used to be a human before Magus killed his friend Cyrus and transformed him into an amphibian. He has since dedicated his life to tracking down and defeating Magus to get revenge for the death of Cyrus, and probably to try and get his old body back as well. Frog is just all around cool, though. I love everything about him: his triumphant theme song, his victory animation where he flexes his surprisingly huge muscles, his fancy Old English accent, the way he hops around instead of walking, and simply the basic fact that he's a walking, talking frog wearing clothes and wielding a large sword. He's just the greatest! Moral dilemmas at the Millennial Fair Chrono Trigger is one of those games that makes the player very aware of their actions. Almost as soon as the game begins, the player is being judged, even when they're just trying to enjoy a lighthearted festival. Of course, they won't be aware of this until later on. At a certain point during Crono's adventure, he is apprehended by the chancellor of Guardia Castle for allegedly kidnapping the princess, Marle, and is swiftly put on trial. As the trial progresses, the player may quickly become overcome with dread when they realize their seemingly simple gameplay choices are in question. Remember that man's lunch you stole at the fair? Or the girl with the lost cat who you failed to help? Or the moment you bumped into Marle and then went to pick up the pendant she dropped? The player may not have thought much about these things at the time, but now these simple actions are being used as evidence against their character in a life or death situation. Now, in reality the choices don't actually affect much. Crono will still be thrown in prison and given the death penalty whether or not he's found guilty. Of course, I had no idea of this at the time. I figured I had completely screwed myself over by stealing lunches and grabbing dropped pendants, and I was starting to feel really bad about the way I had been playing. I was so used to being able to do whatever I wanted in games, without repercussion. Going into other people's houses and smashing all their pots? No problem! Taking money and items from their cabinets without their consent? Go right ahead! But now, in Chrono Trigger, I'm suddenly being judged, and I look like a complete jerk. Later, Crono finds out that the chancellor is, in fact, a fake and that the trial was a set-up. But even so, it still got me to think twice about every action I took in Chrono Trigger from that point on. You never know when some seemingly insignificant choice could have major consequences! [embed]295724:59448:0[/embed] Yearnings of the wind Chrono Trigger has an excellent soundtrack in general, but there's one song in particular that I love more than the rest. "Wind Scene" plays on the overworld map in 600 AD. I'm honestly not entirely sure what it is about this song that makes me love it so much, but hearing it always leaves me feeling peaceful and happy. Whenever I play Chrono Trigger, as soon as I get to the Middle Ages, I just sit around on the overworld and listen to this song play on a loop. It's just so lovely and mystical, I can't get enough of it. A few other songs come close, including the heroic "Frog's Theme" and the mysterious "Schala's Theme" (which was bizarrely sampled in a rap song by Wiz Khalifa... anyone remember that?), but "Wind Scene" is my comfort song. It never fails to lift my spirits. All life begins with Nu and ends with Nu If Chrono Trigger had a mascot, it would probably be the Nu. Nus are odd, round creatures found throughout the game. They exist in all eras, from 65,000,000 BC all the way up to 2300 AD. They can be merchants, enemies, assistants, and regular old NPCs. But what exactly is a Nu, anyway? The one found in 2300 AD is actually a robot built by Belthasar, programmed with his memories and left in charge of the time-traveling ship, the Epoch. So are all of the Nus robots? It's not really clear, although some of the other Nus the player can come across behave more like living creatures than machines. One example is my very favorite Nu. He can be found walking around the Zeal Palace, behaving very strangely and sidling sideways across a platform. He politely asks Crono to scratch his back for him. After a nice, satisfying scratch, a message pops up which says, "You discovered the Nu's scratch-point!" while a little victory tune plays (Oh good, I've been wondering where their scratch-point was the entire game!). This doesn't actually do anything significant, but it's still pretty much the best NPC interaction I've ever had. God I love those Nus! [embed]295724:59449:0[/embed] Screams internally This is the first time I've featured a sound effect as a noteworthy Experience Points memory, but this one definitely deserves praise. The sound of Lavos screaming is something that has stuck firmly in my mind whenever I think about Chrono Trigger. It's a truly terrifying noise; a high-pitched, bloodcurdling roar which lasts just a bit longer than one might expect. It's got this otherworldly quality to it, and it definitely does the job of making Lavos seem like a frightening, formidable foe. In terms of classic villainous sound effects, I'd put Lavos's scream just about at the top of the list, well above Kefka's laugh, Sinistar's evil taunting, and even the horrifying ambient noises of Giygas. It's a scream that says, "I will destroy you and everything you love," and that's exactly what he'll do should Crono and friends fail in their mission. The kingdom in the clouds The world of Chrono Trigger is relatively small compared to most RPGs, but the game makes up for that by having the player explore through several unique eras, each with its own distinct theme and alterations to the world. Starting in the present day, players can travel all the way back to prehistoric times in a land roaming with dinosaurs and cavemen, and up through the ages to the future world, a desolate wasteland of machinery and food shortages. But the most intriguing time period is the Age of Antiquity in 12,000 BC. When Crono and the gang first arrive in Antiquity, the world appears to be even worse off than the post-apocalyptic future. It's essentially an Ice Age, with a powerful blizzard covering everything with snow and ice and only a few scattered caves are present for shelter. That is until the party comes across a strange building known as the Skyway, which teleports them up into the clouds to the floating island kingdom of Zeal. Zeal is a kingdom created by magic as a way to escape the harsh winter climate. Only the Enlightened Ones, people who can use magic, are allowed in the kingdom, with normal folk cast away to live on the frozen continent underneath. Not only is Zeal a beautiful place, bright and sunny with a waterfall flowing down into the eternal blizzard below, but it's also full of secrets and strange occurrences. The kingdom is home to many strange individuals, books overflowing with magical power, and all sorts of neat stuff (not to mention an excellent theme song). A few buildings even have hidden passages which can only be found by players clever enough to solve a certain riddle. I bet it would be really fun to live in a place like Zeal, even though many of its denizens are rather snobbish, and in some cases, total assholes (I'm looking at you, Dalton!). Luckily, there are other much nicer people like Schala and Janus to balance out the snobbery. I'll just chill with them instead. The nature of machinery Chrono Trigger has a ton of lengthy, rewarding side quests, my favorite of which begins in the Middle Ages (and actually turns out to be two side quests in one!). A woman named Fiona lives in a barren desert wasteland, which used to be a thriving forest before enemies appeared and destroyed it. After defeating the fiend lurking in the desert, the party returns to Fiona, who is eager to start planting trees to restore the forest. Unfortunately, Fiona fears it will take ages to plant enough trees for the forest to return to its former glory. She certainly would not be able to finish the task in her lifetime, as it could take centuries. Overhearing this, the party's mechanical friend, Robo, kindly offers his services to help Fiona plant trees. Robo bids farewell to Crono and friends, and tells them to look for him in the future. Outside in the desert, Robo can be seen working diligently by plowing the land, sowing seeds, and even acting as a scarecrow (adorable!). 400 years later, the party arrives to find a huge, lush forest in place of the desert. In the center of the forest is a shrine dedicated to its robotic creator. Lucca reactivates Robo, who is pleased to see everyone again after hundreds of years, and proposes a party to celebrate their reunion. During their celebratory campfire in the forest, a second side quest begins. A casual remark from Marle leaves Lucca dwelling on her memories. Late at night, after everyone else has fallen asleep, Lucca steps out to open up a portal back to a moment from her past. It's a deeply personal, tragic moment where Lucca's mother gets caught in a machine, resulting in an injury that leaves her paralyzed. A young Lucca, powerless, must stand by and watch it all happen. But this time, future Lucca can intervene! Well, possibly. If the player is very quick and careful, there is a password to discover which can shut off the machine, saving Lucca's mother from a life without walking. This is actually very difficult to do correctly, though, so most players will unfortunately fail, leaving Lucca to watch her mother's accident all over again. Afterwards, Lucca returns to the present to find Robo waiting for her. If the past remains unchanged, the two have a touching conversation where Robo offers to donate his legs to Lucca's mother so she can walk again. Now, this may sound cold of me, but I actually prefer to leave the past as is and not rescue Lucca's mother, just because the cutscene between Lucca and Robo afterwards is so much better. It shows a funny, caring side of Robo where he offers to help make Lucca happier, and Lucca calls him a friend which he seems to be pleasantly surprised by. It's such a heartwarming exchange, even though it comes at a cost. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3.13: Animal Crossing.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.15: Super Mario Sunshine.16: Final Fantasy VII.17: Nier
Chrono Trigger photo
But... the future refused to change
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Spelunky book photo
Spelunky book

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Dragon Quest photo
Dragon Quest

Want more Dragon Quest games localized? You might want to buy Dragon Quest Heroes

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