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Basically, Destiny came out this week.  It got mixed reviews for a number of valid reasons and a lot of people are really disappointed in it.  I am not one of those people.  While I'm not going to give a complete review because I have not finished the game, I do feel that I've played enough of it to give my thoughts.

First off, some disclosures that may be affecting my opinion of the game.  Primarily, I had very little interest in this game prior to its release.  Over the years, I've developed a tendency to avoid previews of big AAA games, since I don't like to be let down.  So, from what little I'd heard about Destiny, it sounded like something that could be cool, but that probably wouldn't line up with my interests.  I downloaded the Beta, since everyone was doing it and I was pretty underwhelmed.  On the Beta you were pretty much confined to Earth (its all I played), but really "Old Russia," which is a rather boring environment.  Also, I don't have a PS4 yet, so I was playing on Xbox One and since I didn't preorder, I only had the Beta for a day.  To sum it up, all I really had going into Destiny this weekend was a beta experience that I wasn't all that thrilled with.  I didn't spend years tracking updates on the game and building up my own expectations about what it should be.

Additionally, the two games Destiny is getting compared to the most are Borderlands and Halo.  I've never played a Borderlands game and the last Halo I played was "Halo 2" on the original Xbox (PS3 was my console of choice last gen).  So, I really don't have a lot of experience with either of these similar games to set any expectations for me.

I picked up Destiny Friday despite mixed reviews in reliance on the encouragement of some friends who bought it day one.  I repeated the Earth missions and, again, wasn't too captivated.  My interest really started picking up when I got to the Moon.  I'm not one to make a big deal of graphics.  Two of my favorite games this summer were Shovel Knight and 1001 Spikes.  But, holy shit chilling on the moon and looking up at the Earth and the space junk is fucking beautiful.  I'm playing as a Hunter or Ranger or whatever its called and so I've got a sniper rifle handy.  I've spent quite a bit of time using the scope of that rifle just to an up-close view of some far off environments.  While I'm sure a high-end PC would make it look like PC in comparison, I was impressed.

Pretty much everyone has agreed that the shooting is good, so I'm not going to go into that.  But, a lot of people have said that the game is repetitive.  While you do tread through the same territory on each mission on each respective planet, I have to say that I have not been bothered by it at all.  I'm actually enjoying finishing a mission, powering up a bit, then blasting through that same area like its nothing on the way to the next challenge.  I'm actually finding that it adds to the sense of character-building and progression to retread the same areas a few times.

 

And yes, each mission plays out almost exactly the same way:  go somewhere, scan something, shoot a few waves of enemies.  But, that hasn't diminished my enjoyment of the game thus far.  I love platformers.  Every level in a platformer boils down to: go right, jump on/over some stuff, reach the finish.  As long as the difficulty scales appropriately and I get the occasional change in environment, I don't mind doing the same thing over and over again.  In Destiny, it appears that the difficulty is scaling fairly well.  I've rarely had to "grind" and I feel that most missions are difficult enough to keep me on my toes, but not unfairly tough either.  Likewise, I didn't find Earth all that interesting, so the Moon was a nice change of pace.  Tonight, I got to Venus and, thus far, its my favorite planet.  It's completely different from either of the two previous environments and it looks like its got some pretty cool lore to it, which brings me to my next point...

Everyone has slammed the story. Granted, it is stupid to refer to everything as "The Awoken" or "The Traveller" or "The Fallen" or "The Hive."  But, (and I feel like a very basic, simple person for admitting this) I am genuinely interested in Destiny's story.  I understand that this is the kind of story that, when I'm finished playing the game, I'm going to have to go online and read some articles to figure out exactly what happened.  But, most importantly, I feel like the game is feeding me just enough information to get me interested in the lore of the universe that I want to go back and learn more about these different races and the history of each planet when I'm finished with the game.  When it comes to story, I'm more of a Dark Souls/Metroid kinda guy than a Walking Dead/Uncharted guy, so I'm pretty satisfied with the way that Destiny has presented its universe.

Finally, a number of reviewers have implied that Destiny is really only decent if you play with friends.  I disagree.  Most of my friends have a PS4, so I've been playing Destiny solo and it's been quite a satisfying experience.  Story missions are fun by myself.  But, I've also had a few Journey-esque experiences where I've been travelling on my own and happened to be going in the same direction as another player and we sort of teamed up for a bit.  Likewise, I did my first Strike mission this afternoon and the game matched me up with two randoms and it was still a fun experience.  Without saying a word to these other players, I felt like we were able to establish a pattern of conduct that got us through the mission.  In fact, my least favorite part of the game thus far has been the PvP in the Crucible.  Maybe, its because I was a lower level and didn't have a lot of powers yet, but I felt like it was basically the same thing I could get from Titanfall, which I've been bored of for a while now.

As someone whose been enjoying Destiny way more than I personally expected that I would, I hope these random thoughts are of help to some people still on the fence about the game.  Thus far, most of my enjoyment has come from building a character and seeing all of the worlds.  So, I don't know if I'll have much reason to go back to Destiny after I've reached the max level (or close to it) and unlocked all of the planets.  But, I can say that I've been addicted to this game all weekend and that it's been awhile since I've been this invested in a game.

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I moved into a new apartment this Monday and (thanks to Comcast's lies) didn't have an internet connection until Friday night.  I had a lot going on this weekend as well, so, just today, am I checking some gaming websites to see what's been going on.  

I'm excited to see that Persona 5 is coming to the PS4 (gives me another reason to buy one) and the new DLC for Saint's Row 4 looks awesome!  But, I've also noticed something else seems to have been going on this week, something much, much worse.  It seems that a lot of gamers have been suffering from something called "giving too much of a fuck."  Now, small and isolated occurrences of this illness are common and, to some degree, can even be healthy.  But, when someone gives too much of a fuck for too long, the consequences to one's mental health can be dire and the stress that this produces can even lead to an early death.

Here are five signs that you might be giving too much of a fuck:

1. You've personally referred to or thought of someone as either a social justice warrior or whatever-the-opposite-of-a-social-justice-warrior-is within the past week.

2. You seriously believe that a game's overall quality will be significantly diminished if it's in 720p rather than 1080p.

3. Your console preference is affected by its sales.

4. You've spent more time reading about video games or watching videos of people discussing video games than you have actually playing video games within the past week.

5. You got personally offended by something on this list.

Now, this list could go on forever with more specific symptoms of "giving too much of a fuck."  But, I feel that these five are a sufficient starting point.  So, what's going to happen to you if checked "yes" next to any of these boxes?  Fear not!  Many gamers have suffered from this illness at one point or another (myself included) and there is a cure!

Play. Some. Damn. Games.

It's so simple.  It's right in front us, yet so often it evades us.  Now, obviously, to get the maximum benefit you should play the type of games that you personally enjoy.  But, I'd like to offer some suggestions, if I may.  While there is a time and place for narrative-driven games that deal with serious emotional issues such as The Walking Dead and Gone Home, I'm really not sure that these are the sort of games that would help someone get over "giving too much of a fuck."  Likewise, while it's not uncommon to hear of someone blowing off steam by logging onto Call of Duty and mowing down noobs, I'm not sure that the serious competitive nature of online shooters really helps with "giving too much of a fuck," especially if the player experiences a run of bad luck.  So, what's left?

How about Mario Kart 8?  It's competitive, but your online interaction is limited so that other players can't say anything that might seriously piss you off. Also, it's got a high degree of randomness built into it, so that even new and unskilled players can have a chance at doing well in a race.  In my opinion, the overall experience is enhanced if you take things offline and invite a friend over to play with you.

Don't have a Wii U?  It's okay, not a lot of people do.  Luckily, Shovel Knight is also available on 3DS and on PC.  It's got charming retro graphics, great music, and even some humor.  The game can be a bit difficult, especially if you're not big on platformers.  But, the consequence for dying is just that you lose 1/3 of your cash, which you can get back, so it's not that big of a deal if you die.

Looking for something a bit more "adult"?  Well, Path of Exile just got a new expansion that I've been dying to try out.  It's free to play and it really does a good job capturing the fun of building a character and taking out hordes of enemies.  And, it's up to you how much interaction you want to have with other players.

I've also got some cures that aren't gaming-based, if you're interested:

1.  Have some friends over for a board game or movie night.  As with gaming-based cures, stay away from the heavy stuff.  Play something like Cards against Humanity or watch a comedy or horror film.

2.  Go for a walk/run/swim/bike ride.  Physical activity is great and when you're doing it, you won't be giving a fuck about anything else.

3.  Learn to cook a new meal.  It can be done in an afternoon.  And, as with exercise, if you're focused on learning something new, you won't be giving a fuck about what someone said online.

Above all else, have fun and don't take yourself too seriously!  Life is too short to spend getting into arguments with strangers online.  Games are supposed to be about fun and if you find that you're spending more of your time stressed or outraged than you are having fun, then you need to seriously reconsider your approach to gaming.  Maybe you're saying "well, it's they're fault (whoever 'they' are), they're the ones who made this into such an issue."  Not true!  People are always going to say shit, it's your choice whether or not you're going to let yourself be bothered by it.  

On the other hand, maybe you're not interested in my point of view, maybe you think I'm too privileged to be offering advice.  You can discredit me all you want, but, at the end of the day, if I'm having fun playing video games and you're not, then you're the only one who's missing out.
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We're all excited about the new Star Fox being officially announced for the Wii U this past week (I really didn't expect it to happen), so I've decided to dedicate this week's article to one of the few levels that I could actually beat from the original game--Corneria.  Star Fox was one of the, if not the, first 3D games I was exposed to as a kid and I sucked at it.  I don't think that I ever got past the third level on the easy route (I never got the hang of the whole "press up to go down" thing).  But, I loved the game for other reasons:  the delightful characters, being able to look at the whole Lylat system and imagine what some of those other planets were like, and let's not forget those awesome tunes!



Just try to listen to that jam without getting pumped.  And, excitement is really what Corneria is all about.  Before the game even starts, you see a shot of Corneria with the level's boss ominously floating towards it.  When you start Corneria, you're greeted with an intro where the arwings are flying through a long, black tunnel.  The word scramble flashes on the screen while a siren blares.  You hear a voice say "emergency" just before your arwing exits the tunnel and enters the world.  Your crew (Peppy, Falco, and Slippy) chimes in (speaking gibberish) to let you know they're ready.  By the time you take control of Fox, you're excited for this.


Enemies will appear on screen at generally high, medium, or low altitudes.  Buildings are sparse at the beginning of the level to give the player some time to adjust to changing altitudes to shoot things, but they do become more frequent and there's a relatively lengthy segment in the middle where the player's main focus is dodging them.
Gradually, the buildings clear out to make way for some larger enemies that are tougher to take down and will deal some collateral damage to the player if they take too long to so.  Soon enough, the music changes and the boss slowly enters the frame from behind (lower your altitude when you see that shadow, you'll take damage if you're too high up).  

The boss is a test of the aiming and dodging skills that Corneria was intended to help the player develop.  The first phase has three weak points at varying altitudes that the player needs to aim for.  There are a handful of missiles to dodge, but nothing too tough.  The second phase tests the player's dodging skills, as the boss begins to fire bombs in a more rapid succession, which covers its frontal weak points.  When the player gets close enough to the boss, it turns around to expose the weak point on its back, but, in doing so, there's a good chance it will hit the player, so dodging is still important.  If all goes well, the player is treated to some 2D explosions, and then flies past the boss to regroup with the crew and take off to the next level.

Star Fox was designed to show off Nintendo's FX chip, which opened the SNES up to 3D.  As such, Corneria is really an introduction for many players to a new style of gameplay.  Corneria succeeds because it uses a killer soundtrack and adrenaline-pumping intro to get the player excited about the level that follows.  This makes it more likely that a player will keep trying to learn the new mechanics, even though they may be difficult for many gamers (like myself) who were much more familiar with 2D at the time to pick up.  From what I've seen of the Wii U Star Fox, it looks like Nintendo is again trying to introduce us to some new gameplay mechanics.  This is excellent!  I do think Star Fox is at it's best when it's showing off a new mode of gameplay, be it the FX chip, the rumble pack, or real 3D, rather than just being a Star Fox game to be a Star Fox game.  It'll be interesting to see how Nintendo hypes up the opening levels of the new game to help players acclimate to using the Gamepad for a first-person perspective and the TV for a third-person perspective.
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Platformers generally shy away from conventional storytelling elements.  There might be a short exposition with a bit of dialogue, but nothing like what you'd expect to see in an RPG, an open-world game, or even most FPS's.  So, designers often rely on a level's art to convey a particular area's backstory.  Rayman Legends is an extremely well-crafted and beautiful game.  I could write a blog on the character animations alone.  But instead, I'm going to focus on a level called The Mysterious Inflatable Island, which demonstrates how one well-placed set piece can add so much to a level's theme and backstory entirely through its atmosphere.


The Mysterious Inflatable Island is the first level in Rayman Legends' water world, 20,000 Lums Under the Sea (which alludes to two Jules Vernes classics--20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and it's sequel, The Mysterious Island).  The player begins the level atop the titular inflatable island and the feeling is tranquil.  No music is playing save for the sounds of some seagulls in the distance.  There are lums to collect and you can bounce off the island to jump pretty high, but that's about it.  The player inevitably dives into the water and finds a flurry of brightly colored fish to swim with.  There are more lums here, which are actually somewhat difficult to spot given just how many fish are present, and the delightful sound of strange creatures singing, but no danger--the player is peacefully collecting lums and enjoying the bright colors.




Soon enough, the player comes across the anchor and chain that keep the inflatable island tethered in place.  Following the chain leads the player into a dark, green-tinged cavern.  The singing fades as the player swims through some debris until it disappears entirely.  In its place, the bass starts thumping.  The player comes across a teensie in a cage under a flickering green light, which is emanated by a mechanical orb.  If the player attempts to save the teensie while the light is on, then the light will menacingly turn red, they'll get shocked, and they'll lose a point of health.  It's at this moment that the player learns that the theme of this level is deception.




The inflatable island and the brightly colored fish were a deception intended to prevent others from investigating what might be going on below.  But, the player dug deeper and must now use deception to make it through the level.  There are only a handful of enemies in this cove.  The trick to getting through the level is to hide behind pieces of debris or floating mines until the time is right, either the mechanical orb's light has gone out momentarily or its facing a different direction, and then quickly swimming to the next hiding spot.  In the few instances where there are scuba-diving enemies, the player can often sneak up behind them by swimming through a hidden corridor.




At the end of the level, the player enters this airlocked door to some underwater facility that houses the majority of 20,000 Lums Under the Sea's levels, reminiscent of Bioshock's Rapture.  It's amusing to imagine Andrew Ryan ordering Rapture's engineer's, supposedly the world's greatest minds, to develop a structure to keep the city hidden from the outside and them proposing a big inflatable island as the solution.  Rayman Legends envisions a cartoony world where that essentially happened.  The game doesn't explicitly say that, but rather implies it through its art and design.  But, of course, that's just my interpretation.  Someone else may have seen that inflatable island and thought of something completely different, maybe even something kinky...


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The Wii U is a platformer fan's paradise right now and Donkey Kong Country:  Tropical Freeze is only one of the console's exemplary titles.  In my years of gaming, I've found that one hallmark of a truly great game is that its later levels are just as polished and entertaining as its beginning levels.  I had the pleasure of completing Tropical Freeze this past weekend and I'm happy to report that the game delivers quality levels beyond the scope of the main game.  Secret Seclusion, the unlockable world, rewards the player with a trio of difficult yet rewarding experiences for collecting all of the KONG letters in the main game and completing all six temple levels.  So, for my inaugural edition of Level Lowdown, I've decided to focus on Rocket Rails, one of Secret Seclusion's unlockable delicacies.



What first struck me about Rocket Rails was the level of diversity contained within it.  There are five distinct parts to this level, including both a mine cart and a rocket segment.  You begin the level in a temple.  Both Rocket Rails and Levitation Station (another Secret Seclusion level) carry a temple motif, which ties them to the temple levels that the player must complete before unlocking this hidden world.  The temple is crawling with Snowmads--the villains of Tropical Freeze and essentially Retro's answer to the Kremlings (who I'm assuming Rare owns the rights to).  The trick to clearing this segment is timing.  Platforms are constantly shifting and/or collapsing if the player rests on them too long, and so its important to know where to move and when.





Eventually, the player reaches a blast barrel that propels them out of the temple and onto a mine cart.  The key to clearing this section is avoidance.  There are flying fish floating all over the track and the player prevails by either ducking or bouncing when appropriate.  What's interesting about this section is that there are massive fish statutes in the background and, oh yeah, floating fish, which are present nowhere else in the game.  It really adds to the mystique of Secret Seclusion that there's this area full of fish that can mysteriously fly.  At some point, these fish must have been known to some race of creatures that built these statues and temples.  But, given the fragmented nature of the track and the fact that the temple is crumbling, it appears that this species is long since gone and only the fish remain.  The cart section ends by plummeting into an empty pool, which raises numerous unanswered questions about whether the fish have any connection to the pool.  Then, its onto another blast barrel and into another temple.





The third section of this level is another temple and again there are Snowmads.  Again, the focus is on timing.  There are large falling blocks in the temple and the player must time their jumps and blast barrel ignitions so as to avoid taking damage.  The player ultimately blasts out of the temple and into a rocket barrel, which begins the fourth part of the level.  Here, avoidance is once again key so that the player does not take damage from rising and falling blocks or moving enemies.





The fifth and final section synthesizes the level's running themes for satisfying finish.  As with the temple portions, timing is essential to the player's success.  However, this part of the level takes place outside temple walls and instead of jumping from platform to platform, the player jumps from fish to fish.  Solid ground becomes progressively sparse as the player pushes on until the grand finale when the player is tasked with timing four consecutive bounces off of floating fish.  The lack of solid ground in this portion of the level adds to the atmosphere of this level.  There may once have been a civilization here.  But, it's been gone so long that it's impossible to navigate simply from point A to point B.  Notably, the player is required to roll jump at one point from a sliver of solid rock to a floating fish, which emphasizes just how unfit this area is for any lifeform other than the fish.



Rocket Rails succeeds because it throws many different elements at the player, but still manages to tie them all together in a way that is both challenging and rewarding.  Throw in a tinge of mystery added by the level's art and atmosphere and you've got yourself a truly great stage.  Given how few players make it to the end of a video game, I'm always thankful when developers add in quality post-game content.  Secret Seclusion, and especially Rocket Rails, is a huge compliment for anyone with the dedication to play the main game of Tropical Freeze through to completion.  I've got a hunch that Nintendo is about to put the Donkey Kong franchise on ice for a bit and let Retro work on some other projects.  So, those of you who are platformer or Donkey Kong fans owe it to yourselves to check this one out.
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