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Tales From the Backlog - A Slower, More Tactical Month also ITCHING

tldr - I hate moving house. No really, I do.

So it's been a pretty frantic month for me in terms of everything BUT video games. I've had some personal issues, I've had moving house to deal with, I've had to travel for Street Fighter tournaments (that I didn't do very well at!), all sorts.

Moving in particular has been a complete fucking disaster. Not that it's at all relevant to this post but what the hell, might as well fill space with more words! The short version of the longer story is I almost broke my hand in a fight with my brother (yay family!) which made the actual process of moving more difficult (I was at home between houses, so had to move twice) only to find that the place I'd moved to was in a disaster state. Holes in the bathroom floor, ants in the dining room, and now in the last week we're discovering: potentially wasps in the bathroom ceiling and FLEAS. Fucking FLEAS. In the carpets (and now, probably in all of my clothes and bedding). So my nerves have been completely shot between being very phobic of wasps (anything that buzzes near my ears or stings or both) and the madness of the itching caused by fleas (which initially we thought might be bed bugs or mosquito bites), on top of that I'm experiencing one of the worst psychological downturns I've had. Turns out my regular ol' depression may have been mis-diagnosed Bipolar 2. Or something. Whatever. Doctors, eh?

I almost choked on drink when I saw this, the last place I expected to see a Prisoner/Iron Maiden reference (don't know the writer's intent, either one is awesome)

So yeah, I felt the need to point some of that out not to excuse but to give a little context as I've noticed my comments here a little more aggressive/offensive than usual lateley. I don't mean to be a dick (well I do, just not as much as I've been lately). Sorry.

But despite all this I have actually found some time here and there to put in a few hours playing some games from my backlog and I like to vomit my opinion (as you are all aware) on things so let's have a look at what I've been playing this month (or nearly 2 months, anyway)

Fair warning, a lot of this is actually not from my backlog at all! I'm a complete liar. Most of these are new-ish games.

Project X Zone(3DS)
Status: Complete

Sums up the whole game, basically.

I had intended to do a full review of this, but I mostly completed it and then forgot about it in the whirlwind of other activity this month. So here's the short version.

If you have any love for the characters who appear in this game, and don't absolutely despise tactical RPG's, this game will win you over. It is purely an excuse for fanservice and nothing more. Provided you're ok with that going in (I didn't expect anything more than I got) you shouldn't be disappointed. You'll be too busy laughing at all the jokes and having fun with the bizarre situations a lot of the characters find themselves in. Whether it's Heihachi breaking into Dmitri's Castle and helping himself to the buffet, Bruno Dellinger being himself. There's a certain kind of charm to fighting Nemesis, Lord Raptor and several T-Type Tyrants on the front lawn of The House of the Dead mansion alongside a dude from Zombie Revenge.

Boom! Yeah, there's a lot of jokes like this.

But I should stress, unless you're willing to forget about depth, and don't mind the fact that what little story there is is literally just an excuse to have all these characters sucked into each other's various home dimensions, you may not find much to like here. As an sRPG, there's not a lot of depth and almost none of the missions present any real challenge or danger. You cannot lose units as a result of them dying, nor do they really level up (they do, but you play the missions in order from 1 - End so your people will naturally level up properly, and they don't gain many abilities or options as they do) nor is there any kind of hub location from which you can access other content. You just play the story missions in order and that's that.

Morrigan confirmed for peado...

But this lack of depth does have a plus, if you're not a huge sRPG fan (such as myself) but still like all the characters involved, you will find a nice relaxed and entertaining game here that I highly recommend to anybody who looks through the character list and likes at least half of them. I had no idea who some of them were, and was a little worries that might impact my enjoyment but on the contrary I now want to play games such as Sakura Wars and .Hack.

Characters like Frank West and Bruno Dellinger are a delight among the more super-powered characters, and provide many laughs.

Recommended? Sort of. Only if you're a fan of a good number of franchises represented here.

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos(PS1)
Status: Complete

This one was chosen by my random game picker that I use to help me clear retro backlog without being impeded by my inability to make decisions.

It's pretty janky even as early 3D platformers go. It's got a charming aesthetic and were it not for the awful tank controls I might have enjoyed it a lot more. I'm a huge proponent of tank controls, but in a platformer? No thanks.

Pretty standard early platformer/action-adventure fare, you have a few worlds based mostly on the old cliche's, fire, ice, 'crystal', etc. And each one has a good set of levels that vary wildly in difficulty, followed by a world boss. Some of these are more fun than others, none of them except the final boss is super difficult, and if you're willing to put in effort finding all the fuzzy little Gobbo creatures there are some bonus areas and powerups to find.

I'm just gonna leave PxZ screens everywhere, cos whatever!

Overall, if you've played every other retro platformer out there and are a huge fan of the genre, you might find something to like here. Otherwise, it's not terrible but it's mediocre enough that you might want to avoid it. There's nothing special to see here. Which is a grand shame given the history behind Argonaut Games.

Recommended? Ehhhh. Not really.

Prison Architect(PC)
Status: N/A

This is a quirky little title from the Darwinia/Defcon/Uplink guys for anybody who hasn't heard of those, go check them out. Prison Architect opens with a tutorial that covers a subject which hits harder than I'd given the game credit for. It looks like a light-hearted romp that doesn't really want to make you think too hard about what it is you're actually doing but then it opens with a tutorial that has you building an electric chair and executing a convicted murdered. Whether intentional or not this actually made me sit and think about my life for a few moments.

Regardless, the game is a lot of fun once you get into it, but it does take a good 4-5 hours of sitting through youtube videos and looking up 'efficient' prison plans in order to really get a functioning facility in place. Once you get there, you can have a lot of fun expanding the prison and seeing how all the various inmates react and interact with each other and the guards, as well as seeing the funnier side of a lot of bugs and glitches. Once they get a more in-depth tutorial in-place and some better AI routines, I can see it being easy to play, but very difficult to master and a charming strategy game which may even be a modern rival to Theme Hospital. Definitely check it out, just maybe wait until it's not in alpha anymore and is actually completed (I guess sometime next year?).

Recommended? Very much so, just not while it's still in early alpha stages.

Sword of the Stars: The Pit(PC)
Status: N/A

Initially I bought this during the Steam Summer Sale because I mistook it for Teleglitch which I also want to play. Thankfully, it was a happy accident. The Pit is a somewhat diluted Rogue-like that see's you venturing into an abandoned facility in order to reach the bottom level in hopes of finding a cure for some mysterious disease (or something).

It plays quite similar to something like Dungeons of Dredmore, only with a little more 'bite' as a Rogue-like. You have to progress through levels of the facility, each one containing a random assortment of rooms, monsters, door traps, lockboxes, cookers, batter rechargers etc etc. These elements are not tailored to your class or skillset, and so you really are at the mercy of random number generation. There's nothing here to stop the game throwing 10 high level locked boxes at you when you're playing a mercenary who might not be able to open them, starving you of resources. Or giving you a ton of unhelpful resources and then not enough health/ammo. It's a signature of Rogue-likes that people often hate, but I love it. This game kept me coming back for more when I initially had decided to stop playing it and finish Surgeon Simulator, by the time I actually closed the window I'd been playing for about 4 hours.

Combat is turn-based and methodical, you have access to a decent inventory system, the game is very easy to actually play and includes a helpful tutorial, combined with the Steam community guides and item lists you can get your brain around the crafting system quite easily (although finding all the necessary resources is another matter) and in that sense this is probably one of the easier RPG-esque Rogue-likes to get into (aside from Dungeons of Dredmore) but that doesn't make its sting any less potent. You might not fall down the stairs and break your neck because you're encumbered, ala Nethack, but you certainly will back yourself into a corner if you're not cautious enough or waste resources and be torn to shreds. One of this games favorite tricks seems to be punishing carelessness with disease from animal bites, which can be very difficult to cure without the right equipment, and WILL kill you if left untreated. The way in which Rogue-likes make you manage resources, is hilariously much closer to "Survival Horror" than most self-described "Survival Horror" games these days.

Recommended? Yes. Especially if you get it on sale or as part of a bundle.

Infestation: Survivor Stories (Previously titled: The War Z)(PC)
Status: N/A

I'm sorry. I just had to know. I had to know, could this POSSIBLY be ANY WORSE than DayZ (yeah I think DayZ is a big heaping pile of dog mess in it's implementation, despite being a great concept, it's unplayable, hopefully the standalone will bring a lot more in the way of polish).

God can't save you from The War Z, Erica.

Somehow it managed it. This game is so bad that its only possible function is to be a measuring stick for the depths to which you will stoop "because it's on sale".

Recommended? NOPE.

The Walking Dead - 400 Days(PC)
Status: Completed

If you liked The Walking Dead game at all, you need to play the DLC. It's fantastic. There's not too much more to say, gameplay is more of the same and you follow 5 different people through small anthology-style tales along different points in the timeline spanning 400 days from the day of the outbreak. Saying much more than this I feel would spoil it. But rest assured, this is well worth your 5.

Recommended? YES!

Surgeon Simulator 2013(PC)
Status: Completed

Most people know what this is by now, but I want to mention it to re-iterate what many others have said. This game is joyous. Absolutely joyous. The concept is very simple, you play the disembodied hand of a surgeon and must pilot (for want of a better word) it to success on a series of different life-saving operations such as a heart transplant. This sounds pretty simple but the challenge is that you have to operate the wrist and fingers separately, and must to it with precision so as to avoid injuring the patient too much.

What ensues is one of the funniest gaming experiences of my entire life, and it manages to do it without a single line of dialogue (well, there is some actually). But it also manages to be frustrating, in that very specific "I MUST try one more time" manner, that sees you almost giving up before you finally crack the challenge. There aren't many levels, in fact there is only three operations. However, once you've completed them you get to challenge them again in 'Ambulance Mode' which involves performing each operation in the back of a speeding ambulance as various objects fly around the environment in time with the vehicles movement. The first time I played this mode, I was laughing so much as the donor heart flew out the back of the ambulance via the open door that I thought I was going to choke to death on my own enjoyment.

Recommended? Cannot recommend this game enough. Legitimate, no joke GOTY contender. So far anyway.

Status: N/A

Another odd game. McPixel is essentially a series of small, rapid-fire adventure game puzzles contained within a single screen, in a style reminiscent of Wario Ware. Each game consists of 6 screen which you have a very small time window to solve, once you've solved each puzzle you can continue to the next set. These puzzles are chosen randomly from a pool again much like Wario Ware, and many of them have 'silver' and 'gold' solutions which help unlock more puzzles, there are also a ton of downloadable puzzles. Many of these puzzles are homages to that style of obscure adventure game puzzles found in things like Monkey Island or Mystery of the Druids, and contain many pop-culture references as well.

The game has a very odd and stylised (surrealist, not at all politically correct, at times disgusting) sense of humor that I imagine some people will probably not 'get'. I found it amusing at times mostly just bizarre. In a good way, albeit. It really is a perplexing experience but it can be had for less than a dollar so it's well worth spending an hour with just for the spectacle of it.

Recommended? Sure, why not.

Shadowrun Returns (PC)
Status: N/A

Again I'd intended to do a full review of this, but just don't have the time/inclination so I'll give you my impressions, prefaced with the context that I contributed $150 to the Kickstarter but intend to treat it as if I'd paid retail price ($20 I believe, it's 14.99)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shadowrun Returns, despite constantly feeling as if it was a little 'lite' or a little bit undercooked. It keeps very much to the style of the old SNES/Genesis games, so if you're expecting a full-on cRPG in the style of Fallout/Baldur's Gate, look elsewhere, you won't find it here. It's a strategy RPG reminiscent of games like Fallout Tactics or Final Fantasy Tactics. Using a grid-based, turn-based combat system.

The characters and dialogue in the game are fantastic, and very much meet my idea of what Shadowrun should be, very characterful and a joy to read through. The music is good (if a little forgettable compared to the SNES soundtrack) but by all accounts, I expect a lot of people to be disappointed/upset by the combat. I found it satisfying and reasonably engaging, but not particularly deep. But then I'm not a big fan of strategy RPGs of this style and I'm not very good at them. Despite that, the only mission which posed any real challenge was the final one, and I only died twice. So don't expect a hard game either, on normal difficulty anyway. The combat itself is quite basic, you will mostly be moving to cover, blasting people, and maybe using a class ability or two if required, there's very little in the way of unique boss mechanics, or specific mission strategies.

Things that a lot of people are used to but which serve less of a purpose to the actual game, like free-roaming, huge hub locations, and expansive character customization are nowhere to be found, but not exactly 'missing'. They don't necessarily feel missing, though. The game does a fantastic job of immersing you in the complex, cyber-punk fantasy setting without overloading you with the finer details of the world, and it looks fantastic to boot.

Despite feeling like a 'lite' version of a more expansive game, Shadowrun Returns' Dead Man's Switch campaign manages to be an enjoyable and satisfying 7-10 hours worth of immersive world, one that I would gladly revisit. And that's the good news, the bulk of the teams development work seems to have gone into the editor which allows users to create their own content using a powerful toolset reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights. Additionally, an estimated 4-6 hours worth of additional content is being created as a free piece of DLC, The Berlin Campaign. Combine that with the potential for user-generated content and you have one heck of an investment if you like the world of Shadowrun. Just don't go in expecting a hugely lengthy, deep RPG in the traditional cRPG style, because you won't find it here.

There are also some issues with saves (checkpoint based, no manual save/load) but despite peoples complaints I never had any real issues apart from Steam throwing out my cloud save for some reason.

It's a great game, but be warned if you're heavily into strategy RPGs, or are expecting a broader experience, like Project X Zone you will find Shadowrun Returns a little lacking. But considering the development budget of less than 2 million dollars (once you account for fees and taxes) it's an incredible accomplishment.

Recommended? Heartily.

SmashTV (NES)
Status: Complete

What can I say? It's SmashTV. On the Nintendo. It's a remarkably impressive version of the game given the hardware, though. Just, don't bother if you have access to a better version.


Recommended? Ehhh. Yes, but if you can play another version of the game do that instead.

So that's about it for this month. I've not had a chance to play anything else although I am continuing to churn through my NES collection and am considering selling it once I have finished it all. I'm currently about halfway through. Then I'll move focus onto another console.

What have you been up to this month?
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About Adrian Leigh Gordonone of us since 7:20 PM on 06.02.2013

Amateur hater of popular things, gamer, small-business owner and all-around grumpy, cynical shitbag.

Twit at me: @The_A_Drain

My garms:

Destructoid suggested I hotlink an image. So this was the first thing on Imgur: