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Zapp Branniglenn

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Unmetal is a game released last week that styles itself as a parody of the original Metal Gear. Like in that game, most of the gameplay is piecing together how to progress with the bizarre items you've been sticking in your pockets. Don't go in expecting Metal Gear Solid, but rather an 80s/90s PC adventure game that lacks point and click controls. Stealth is a core element of gameplay, but there are far more things that will kill you quicker than guards and their predictable paths. One gameplay hook is that our hero insists that he's not a killer. If you use lethal force, you must heal that guard with one of your first aid kits before they bleed out. You'll also be guilt tripped for knocking out guards rather than putting them to sleep with chloroform, which is even harder to pull off. The game isn't afraid to challenge you either with certain sequences or boss fights. And I personally found the puzzles to be consistently engaging without being too esoteric. Although I did have to look up the answer to one screen with a ton of dogs that I'm fairly confident I never would have figured out on my own. 

If there's one thing I didn't care for, it's the repetitive dialogue writing. About 30% of lines drop an F bomb. It's not that I have anything against the word - one of my favorite movies ever is Reservoir Dogs - But when there's no emotion or comedic timing in those utterances, it really drags down the experience. There are also some dialogue sequences that, on paper, seem like a back and forth Monty Python skit between two characters that are trying and failing to have a coherent conversation. That works on film because the actors are allowed body language and facial expression. But in this game it feels dull and lifeless when it's just two sprites talking to each other - unless it's one of the higher fidelity cutscenes sprinkled throughout. It could just be the English translation that's at fault, since the game was produced by a Spanish developer, and presumably written in that language first. Beyond that though, the game's scenarios are typically hilarious. There's definitely a lot of ludicrous logic in puzzle solving that evokes those old point and click adventure games.

I also popped in one last random PS2 disc, Stuntman. It's a driving game where you play the role of a stunt actor performing elaborately dangerous stunts. Each level is a curated sequence of obstacles you need to avoid, crash into, and stay ahead of while reaching the end as fast as you can. Pretty cool idea for a video game, but it's intense difficulty can really test your patience. As the game goes on the margin for error becomes more and more slim. It's a lot of trial and error as you gradually get further in the scene and get used to the individual tasks.  I think the game would really have benefitted from a feature where you can see a demo play to understand how you should be negotiating obstacles. But otherwise it's a faithful simulation of the work of stunt coordinators. And as a special bonus once you complete all the stunts for a film, you get to see a mockup CGI trailer with gameplay footage of you doing the stunts interspersed in. The fake movies themselves are also fun spoofs of real life blockbusters such as indiana jones, 007, and the Dukes of Hazzard. 

I hear a lot these days about how fake movies have become. Everything is done in front of a green screen, nothing is shot in those beautiful real world locations, and that special effects have gone "too far". But after all that repeating of stunts on the way to a perfect run, I can't say that I have a bolstered respect for practical effects in film. Just CG it, geez. This is probably one of the hardest video games I've ever beaten, certainly the most difficult game centered on just driving, because of how much it demands perfection and how likely your car will flip itself or otherwise lose control on a jump or turn that you swore you took perfectly.

Edited by Zapp Branniglenn

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I finished the main campaign for Shovel Knight, though I did not 100% complete it.

One thing I can say is that the later parts of the game really made me miss the rewind feature from the Mega Man Legacy Collection. I know I'm not even close to the greatest at platforming challenges, but there were a lot of times, particularly in the Flying Machine stage and in the Tower stages, where it felt extremely unfair.

For just one example, there's one section of the tower where you have to jump across narrow platforms in the pitch darkness; the only thing of colour being the green rain falling on the stage, and not all the platforms are real; some are fake, and you have to discern the real ones from the fake ones by whether or not the rain is landing on them. That, I thought, was a great challenge. But then they toss in flying propeller enemies that are designed to push Shovel Knight away from them... in a section that already has narrow platforms, fake platforms, and complete darkness. That crossed the line.

However, the fact that I finished the game demonstrates that they didn't outright ruin the experience for me, though they did significantly diminish the experience.

The final boss fight though was great; I like how it demonstrates just how well Shovel Knight and his partner Shield Knight complement each other and work as a team, all through gameplay. It kind-of reminded me of final boss fights in The Legend of Zelda whenever Zelda gets to help out Link.

Overall, it is a very fun, lighthearted game that is only really brought down by a few unfair moments and the currency-loss-when-you-run-out-of-health system.

 

Now, I've moved on to the Plague Knight campaign, and I'm at the tower levels. I can understand if people didn't like that the stages are almost exactly the same, but I think the fact that you have to get through them differently because of how differently Plague Knight plays compared to Shovel Knight makes up for that, even if it is obvious that the stages were not designed for him.

Speaking of which, I like that Plague Knight plays very differently from Shovel Knight; relying on explosions and ranged attacks in general for combat and platforming. However, I find that he tends to make already-easy platforming a cakewalk, and already-difficult platforming a nightmare. I like that he can create a platform underneath himself in midair, though the already difficult parts of the game weren't difficult from lack of a place to land, but from propeller enemies and others constantly knocking me off the places to land.

Of course, the most noticeable difference Plague Knight's gameplay makes is in the boss fights, which are substantially easier for Plague Knight than they were for Shovel Knight. I don't mind this difference at all; mainly because it felt really cathartic to be able to beat Polar Knight on my first attempt for once.

I also like how Plague Knight's campaign takes place at the same time as Shovel Knight's, and that it's implied that there's a bit of unreliable narrator going on for Plague Knight's campaign in one particular moment:

Spoiler

The boss fight against Shovel Knight.

I also like the humour in certain moments of the game. For instance, after beating the first round of bosses, Plague Knight walks in on his assistant Mona dancing a waltz with an imaginary partner, and if you wait something like 30 seconds without interacting with her, the game says, "You have unlocked an achievement: Creep." I thought that was hilarious.

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The fact that Shovel Knight makes you lose all your hard earned cash every time you die is so frustrating.

This even takes the joy out of finding treasure. Because having more treasure means more treasure to lose when you inevitably die.

Edited by BrightBow

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7 hours ago, BrightBow said:

The fact that Shovel Knight makes you lose all your hard earned cash every time you die is so frustrating.

This even takes the joy out of finding treasure. Because having more treasure means more treasure to lose when you inevitably die.

I agree. It's not so bad when the money is easy to retrieve, but since I die to a platforming challenge most of the time, the money will often appear in such a way as to be unobtainable. Plus, even when the money is obtainable, it's essentially making the game that bit harder. Why make things more difficult for a player that's struggling? Stuff like the checkpoint system that you can destroy for treasure is a much better risk/reward system.

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12 minutes ago, vanguard333 said:

I agree. It's not so bad when the money is easy to retrieve, but since I die to a platforming challenge most of the time, the money will often appear in such a way as to be unobtainable. Plus, even when the money is obtainable, it's essentially making the game that bit harder. Why make things more difficult for a player that's struggling? Stuff like the checkpoint system that you can destroy for treasure is a much better risk/reward system.

The inherent penalty to death in any game is that you fail to make progress. And making progress is the most important objective in any game.

However, if we look back at the history of the platformer genre, death has usually incurred more penalties than that. Namely, a loss of a life, and losing all lives causes a yet greater loss of progress. 

Shovel Knight found the lives system dated and got rid of, but still wanted to have an additional penalty on dying. Losing a some money was the answer. -Or so I interpret it.

Personally, I'm a mediocre, average at best, platfomer player. While losing money was dangit! with every death, I didn't hate it. Sure I bought and wore the money-loss-halving armor as soon as I could, but even without it, I wasn't particularly perturbed by dying even without it. Money is still very worth it, the upgrades it can provide are good. And, if you're really struggling, you can grind for gems by going back to earlier and easier stages and replaying them. Not that I ever had to.

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On 10/7/2021 at 9:46 AM, Interdimensional Observer said:

The inherent penalty to death in any game is that you fail to make progress. And making progress is the most important objective in any game.

However, if we look back at the history of the platformer genre, death has usually incurred more penalties than that. Namely, a loss of a life, and losing all lives causes a yet greater loss of progress. 

Shovel Knight found the lives system dated and got rid of, but still wanted to have an additional penalty on dying. Losing a some money was the answer. -Or so I interpret it.

I understand it as an alternative to the lives system; I even figured when playing the game that they chose it because they didn't want to use a lives system. I'm just saying that it comes with its own frustrating downsides and that I don't consider it a better system.

 

On 10/7/2021 at 9:46 AM, Interdimensional Observer said:

Personally, I'm a mediocre, average at best, platfomer player. While losing money was dangit! with every death, I didn't hate it. Sure I bought and wore the money-loss-halving armor as soon as I could, but even without it, I wasn't particularly perturbed by dying even without it. Money is still very worth it, the upgrades it can provide are good. And, if you're really struggling, you can grind for gems by going back to earlier and easier stages and replaying them. Not that I ever had to.

That's another problem with the system that I forgot to mention: I don't like systems that encourage grinding if the player's struggling. It's basically, "Oh; you're struggling with the game? Just go out of your way to do something tedious." 

 

Anyway, I just completed the Plague Knight campaign. It was fun. I liked the final boss fight, and how the first phase of it can be beaten by doing absolutely nothing for 40 seconds, and how, without wishing to spoil anything, I like that the final boss fight represents Plague Knight's insecurities that led to him trying to brew the ultimate potion in the first place.

I also like what Plague Knight ultimately decided to with it. Deciding, "I didn't need it all along" is heartwarming but a bit of an old cliché; what made me like it more than usual was the way he decided to use the potion after deciding he didn't need it.

This I really can't say without spoilers, so...

Spoiler

I also liked that Plague Knight and Mona waltz together after the end credits. I kind-of wish there had been a funny, "Give these two some privacy, you creep" achievement (in reference to the earlier "creep" achievement), but it's a very sweet moment.

 

Next of course will be Specter Knight's campaign, and then after that will be King Knight's campaign.

Edited by vanguard333

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A lot of the internet has been binging the Metroid series in light of the announcement of Metroid Dread. I saw no need for this, since I had played and/or replayed every single non-spinoff game in the series in the last three or four years in an effort to manifest "Metroid 5". You're welcome by the way. The point is that I'm caught up. I did my homework. Well, mostly. The truth is I hadn't returned to Metroid Zero Mission. For nearly two decades, I've named Zero Mission as my favorite in the series, but it's been nearly that long since I've actually played it. Now on the final hours before Dread, I went back for that replay.

It's still incredible. What surprised me most was how faithful the map was to the original NES game. Layout wise. Yet the individual rooms have a much greater variety of obstacles and architecture. Even if the game didn't have one of the best maps in the genre, you still wouldn't get lost during normal exploration, and I'm noticing now some rooms that correlate to Super Metroid which makes sense since they take place on the same planet. The new secret rooms flesh out the game world, and I can't get enough of the classic Metroid "secret behind the secret". Very Metroid 1. And they incorporate new abilities that had become standard (gripping onto ledges, speed booster, angled shots) beautifully. I also really like the inclusion of Easy and Hard modes, alongside a gallery that tracks all the ending images you've earned. Though I'm finding out now through google that both of these features existed first in the Japanese version of Fusion. I wish the gallery included the cutscene images too. And that it also unlocked the "worse" images you theoretically earned. For instance, if you beat the game in under four hours like I did, it should also unlock the ending screen I would have gotten if it took me over four hours. Still between this and being able to play the original Metroid, this is the best suite of unlockables in the whole series. I think that's a crucial aspect of play you should think about when you're building a game as replayable as Metroid.

The only thing that bugs me are the boss fights. Metroid games have never been a bastion of consistently challenging boss fights - certainly not if you're comparing to more modern, indie entries into this genre. In mere moments you'll figure out where to stand in these fights to be safe from the enemy's attacks, and look at that, it also happens to be the best spot to aim missiles at their weakpoint. There's no risk/reward strategies to consider besides I guess running directly into them spamming missiles at point blank while you abuse I-frames. And they have particularly low health too. Ridley goes down in five seconds of concentrated super missile fire if you stay on him. Hard Mode does double the damage you take, but if the enemies don't take more hits and the player doesn't take any hits, then it's functionally the same fight as Normal except for you having less missile ammo.

Zero Mission's got some nasty Shinespark puzzles that you'll need to accomplish in order to get 100%. Now on one hand, I hate these things. Because the game manual doesn't mention any tips about shinesparking. You do not, in fact ever need to shinespark in this entire game for progression sake. I remember staring at these rooms trying to figure out how to get by them as a kid. And there's no cute animals that teach you the mechanics in-game either. I understood the basic shinespark, but not that you could do it from a morph ball or in diagonal angles. Fusion had some nasty shinespark puzzles, but this game really amps it up by testing how well you can maintain that charge using slopes. This sequence took me 10 minutes of attempts. And probably more of that trying to search for a straight answer online about what directions to press. But the feeling of practicing a trick and then nailing the whole sequence was great. Like speedrunning really.

Is Zero Mission the best Metroid? I think so! There are individual aspects that other games do better, but I feel like Zero Mission avoids all their critical misteps in game design, creating the quintessential Metroid experience. Not a lot of long running franchises have that. I thought hard about what the player has to do to progress and I couldn't find a moment where the path to progression comes from the player futilely shooting and bombing every inch of wall and floor. There was no jackass on the development team that said "let's add a water level to pad out the play time". There was never a moment where you get a new ability in Phendrana Drifts, and the path to progression is going back to the Chozo Ruins on the other side of the game world to roll up that one spider ball ramp you forgot was there so that the game can show you there's more to do in that area that leads to the ice beam you need to finish exploring Phendrana Drifts. There was no Metroid Fusion grievances where previous doors and passageways get destroyed as you progress the game and the map doesn't update to tell you that. And the path to previous areas never locks behind you, preventing backtracking.

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I finished the Specter Knight campaign for Shovel Knight. I was a bit surprised to see such a lighthearted main game have a rather gloomy prequel. Don't get me wrong; a lot of prequels tend to be darker because they're often tragic, but this one was really gloomy. Of course, there's the knowledge that Shovel Knight beats the Enchantress in the main game, so a prequel like this can afford to be a bit gloomy without too much risk of what TV Tropes calls Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: when a story gets bleak enough that audiences become detached from it because they no longer care what happens to the characters.

Personally, I'm just glad to be able to play something billed as a prequel that is actually a prequel, and not something that the marketing pretends is a prequel only for it to be a fanservice-driven alternate-timeline narrative. Nintendo and Koei Tecmo could learn a thing or two from Yacht Club Games on how to be honest with customers.

Anyway, on the gameplay side of things, the gameplay for Specter Knight is really, really good. It manages to have a lower skill floor than Shovel Knight while having a higher skill ceiling; combining wall running & jumping with cutting straight through enemies to propel oneself in midair, not to mention the sections of gameplay where Specter Knight's scythe acts as a skateboard.

I also really liked the level design in that the levels were far more remixed and tailored for Specter Knight while still being recognizable. Sadly, instead of a world map, there's one hub and a basic level select, but if that was the price in exchange for the levels being more suited to Specter Knight, then it's a good trade-off. Plus, it comes with being able to tackle the stages in any order, which is a bit neat.

 

Well, now I'm playing the King Knight campaign. King Knight's moveset is fairly interesting so far. It's not my favourite moveset out of the four campaigns, but it's not bad. That said, I really am not liking Joustus so far. I fully understand the rules, and I'm normally great at puzzle solving, so I'm usually at least decent at these kinds of strategy card games that tend to get inserted into these games; I was good at Gwent in Witcher 3 and I was decent at the card game in Bug Fables. Here, however, it has been a pain. It feels extremely luck-based rather than strategy-based.

Edited by vanguard333

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Over the past few weeks, I've played through Not Tonight on the Nintendo Switch. The premise is, you play as a bouncer who needs to check bar-goers IDs and other documents, only letting in those who meet the established criteria. You're on the clock, so pick up the pace! And go for that bonus, too - you need to make enough money to pay your bills, after all! Oh, and to pay off the government that's trying to deport you. Oh yeah - you're a person of "Euro heritage" in a Britain that fell off the deep end post-Brexit. So on top of struggling to survive, you have to continue justifying your own existence in a society that's becoming more hostile towards you by the day.

Gameplay-wise, it owes a huge debt to Papers, Please. I've only played a demo of that game, but the general premise (examine people's documents, let them through or deny them, get paid based on your performance) is basically imported into Not Tonight, to the point that I originally thought the game to have been a work of the same developers (it's not). That's not to say this similarity is a bad thing - rather, it speaks to the strength of that motif of gameplay, that it can come across effectively in different settings. Each job you take has different aspects (i.e. some have a guest list, others a VIP password), with an internal difficulty ramp as the days go on (and the rewards turn greater). Characters speak in surprisingly-expressive nonsense, with written dialogue that can turn from cruel to hilarious in two shakes of a speech bubble. There are plenty of sidequests to complete, and a surprising amount of detail for a game whose pixels you can practically count. Oftentimes the choice between going to work and looking after your health, or between showing compassion and meeting your employer's demands, is not an easy one to make.

Ultimately, it was a very fun game, well worth the roughly $3 I spent on it while on sale. The Switch version, I should mention, also includes a "challenge mode" minigame, plus a packed-in DLC called "One Love". I never got into either, but to my understanding, "One Love" originally released on Valentine's Day, and stars a side character from the main storyline going on dates within a similar style of gameplay. Maybe I'll give it a try when next Valentine's Day rolls around, hm? Oh, and apparently the developers have a sequel in the works, so that's something I'll be keeping my eyes out for - even as I imagine it'll take a while to travel from Steam to Switch.

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Been playing Smash with my bro again recently. We rarely battle each other and instead usually play Classic Co-op, Spirit Battles, or set up themed CPU tournaments.

Another game we've been co-opping is One Step From Eden. Basically a "spiritual sequel" to Mega Man Battle Network. Well, its battle system, anyway.

Edited by Lord_Brand

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Well, I finished the King Knight campaign of Shovel Knight. I finally completed all the campaigns in Shovel Knight. I have to say that, overall, it was a very fun and interesting game.

For the King Knight campaign specifically, I liked the platforming and combat, and a lot of the items were really neat, but I really did not like the card game Joustus. It felt far too luck-based.

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@Shanty Pete's 1st Mate That game sounds intense. And I loved Papers Please. That's going on the old wishlist.

This week I replayed Mario & Luigi Partners in Time. The one that wasn't remade for 3DS. It's been two years since the sinking of AlphaDream, and at this point it's fair to say at this point this series really is dead and buried. From the perspective of mid 2000s, these games can be seen as a downgrade to the console Paper Mario games. Instead of partners, each character is just Mario but with some stat differences, there's no character customization with badges, and starting with Partners in Time they became less and less reluctant to show us new worlds filled with never before seen characters and enemies. The plot of Partners surprised me though. Tonally, it's all over the place, but on paper it's a remarkably serious/edgy story with character deaths (though everybody is brought back to life at the end), and a macguffin hunt that dooms the world rather than saving it.

The major conceits of time travel and battling with the babies could have been more fleshed out though. You're at your strongest when all four characters are together, and never is the player tasked with doing an entire dungeon with the party split up into pairs. You do have to split up often for puzzle solving, but you can always run from battles with guaranteed success, or take the time to wipe out all the enemies before splitting up. If I were designing the game, I would have kept the two pairs separated into their specific time periods for the first half of the game. That time would be spent hunting down parts to repair the time machine. Maybe design dungeons that you're exploring in both time periods at once, but the Babies' actions in the past will affect the Bros' present. Once the bros and babies are united, you can then have a major gameplay shift of fighting and exploring with all four characters' skills right around the point where everything would be getting stale. 

Partners was an early DS title. It has only one instance where the touch screen is ever used, instead choosing to take full advantage of the dual screens. In battle, you may have to keep track of what's going on on both screens in order to dodge or make full use of Bros attacks. Series composer Yoko Shimamura returns, but this is definitely not her best soundtrack, and likely the weakest of the whole series. The graphical design also lacks the expressive sprites and animations of the GBA predecessor. Mario and Luigi especially look off when moving separately from the babies or at diagonal angles. The overworld exploration also tasks you with relearning the previous game's partner abilities. There are only two new moves, the Bros Ball and baby cakes. And you can bet the tutorials for nearly everything are not skippable. It's also a short game - about ten hours long with virtually no side content save for two minigames. One with a rare badge reward, and the other allowing you to grind infinite beans. I also was annoyed with badge descriptions not giving you much information about how they work, and virtually never telling you if they will work when equipped on the Babies if you're fighting piggyback. Altogether this game could have used some more time in the oven.

Still I enjoyed my time with the game - probably because of its merciful short length preventing the flaws from piling up too heavily. I'll admit that I miss this series, even if I was never too impressed with it beyond the original and the Bowser half of the third game. It was nice to have some sort of Mario RPG experience to help cope with the downfall of Paper Mario. Had AlphaDream been permitted to make other games in this style with a different nintendo IP - like Zelda or Kirby, we probably could have avoided the overwhelming series stagnation by the time it did hit the 3DS. Now we live in an era where the only Mario RPGs being produced come from Ubisoft. Mario + Rabbids is delightful in its own way, but the world needs more action commands. More slapstick. And more Bros attacks.

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Completed Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory and Super Mario Odyssey past days.

About first it's kinda hard to give a proper review since it's a bad approachment for someone like me who has very few knowledge of the Kingdom Hearts series (only played III for a little bit). The story was very confusing, actually not even spoilery for being so compliacted. After all it's a rhythm game, and for being one it was very fun. It had different modes in the story and most of them were fun. However the most notable was the music of course. The soundtrack of all existing Kingdom Hearts game was marvelous. Can't really say more here.

 

As for latter I have to say it was my favorite Mario game. Not only for being different by having an unique enviroment which forces to explore a bit like an open world adventure (Zelda), but also makes great use of the enemies using them as projectiles. I have to admit I struggled in lots of sections because I did not expect being able to use them to make progess in the world. Merging irl with fictional world (New Donk City) was a bit weird for me at first, but honestly it worked very well and kept the atmosphere very authentic. The soundtrack is also very interesting. Lots of themes did not sound from Mario if I heared them and did not their origin. However my favorite moment was

Spoiler

playing as Bowser at the end. I even died whilst the credits song because I did not know to destroy all the pillars for not seeing them being under panic.

It was very untypcial Mario game, but honestly it was a great change and showed this series can look at the edge of the plate. Merging 3D adventure platformer with old school 80s 2D platformer sections was as contrasting as fun! One of my absolute favorite games for Switch and as said before my personal favorite Mario game!

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With all the talk about NSO, I decided to try the free trial (and immediately disable the automatic renewal) and use it to play Super Metroid. And, right away, after getting the morph ball and the missiles, I got lost.

Now, I know that the whole point of these games is that you're supposed to get lost and figure out where to go next, but I've searched everywhere I could and every single path led to a dead end. One of them was even a dead end from which I could not escape, so I had to use the rewind feature. I don't want to have to resort to a walkthrough, especially this early on in the game, but I'm beginning to think I might have to, and it's making me feel dumb.

EDIT: So, I found out that some of the doors have to be hit with five missiles to enter. In no way whatsoever does the game hint that the doors need to be hit with five missiles, and I previously gave up trying to open them after failing to do so with one missile. My experience playing the game has been a lot better after that, though it's been very hard to get the timing right for wall-jumping.

Edited by vanguard333

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I returned to the Castlevania Advance Collection for the next game, Harmony of Dissonance. You know for years I hadn't played the "Igavania" entries after Symphony. Seeing them as cheap knockoffs released on inferior hardware in order to avoid the full criticism and expectations of Console/Triple A titles. That's pretty harsh, but Harmony of Dissonance would have proven me right several times over. This is a shameless SotN demake that misunderstands much of what makes that game great, and it was produced by the legendary game designer himself, instead of the teams that made Circle or Aria. Our main character is wearing a red version of Richter Belmont's vest, yet the rest of his character design is unmistakably Alucard. None of the other Belmonts look like this man. From the game's first hour your eyes and ears are treated to a grade schooler's crayon color palette and remarkably low quality music that would have felt at home in the gameboy castlevanias. No, worse than that, since at least those two games had actual chiptune compositions. Circle of the Moon had GBA quality music too but it at least fell back on remixes of classic tunes. How anybody saw this as a strict improvement over Circle is beyond me. Maybe because it's easier? 

True, Harmony is a much easier game, and certainly relies less on grinding rare drop items. Most of the best stuff is sitting at dead ends or corners of large rooms, waiting for you to claim it. There isn't a single breakable wall, which feels distinctly sacrilegious of a Castlevania game. And even partway through the game I felt like I had accrued enough potions to tank my way through any area and boss fight with no regard for dodging. But I do indeed prefer Harmony's brain dead easiness to Circle's outrageous difficulty spikes and flailing giant bosses that punish you for attempting to use the whip instead of magic spam. The collection also adds an area-by-area checklist for collectible furniture and key items that wasn't there in the original, aiding completionists. But it's not as much of a help as when Circle tells you if an enemy has a card drop. And that checklist doesn't extend to literal keys that exist in your Items menu for opening certain doors. Not including those is a huge oversight that may even lead to modern players not noticing that they've collected a key item. It's a checklist more concerned with Juste's Ikea shopping then helping you finish the game.

The level design is Harmony's biggest weakpoint. You're constantly running into thin wall partitions with seemingly no way to cross. If this were symphony, then perhaps the answer is one of his unlockable forms or abilities. Most of what constitutes good level design in this genre is a repeating progression of enter new area > get new ability > use that ability to get past obstacles that lead you to the next area. But Harmony has just three special abilities. The slide, the double jump, and a higher jump, and they are spread evenly across the game's playtime. Everything else that aids your progression is just a key meant to open a very specific lock. And you'd better remember where those locks are and what kind they are, because the game will not keep track of that information for you. Why is it that metroidvanias with map markers are always the ones least in need of such a helpful feature? In the first half of the game, the player is confronted by these locks relentlessly, making most exploration seem like a waste of time since now you need to backtrack even further to try out another path that is hopefully the right answer.

I'll admit that progression and exploration does get much better in the game's latter half or last third of playtime. By then you're exploring sections of both castles at a streamlined pace. Your knowledge of one castle is giving you reliable hints and expectations about the other - each save and warp room has identical locations, and individual room layouts are precisely the same. And instead of being confronted by walls and locked doors, you're finally discovering the keys to those doors that frustrated you all those hours ago. The inverted castle concept of Symphony is just padding. I don't deny that. But in this game's case it's where things start to click, and almost reach the thrill of that groundbreaking game. I had a final play time of six hours, according to the game, and map completion of about 194% out of 200. I missed three relics necessary for the best ending.

On 10/16/2021 at 1:20 PM, vanguard333 said:

EDIT: So, I found out that some of the doors have to be hit with five missiles to enter. In no way whatsoever does the game hint that the doors need to be hit with five missiles, and I previously gave up trying to open them after failing to do so with one missile. My experience playing the game has been a lot better after that, though it's been very hard to get the timing right for wall-jumping.

Mmm, but the door does flash white when shot with a missile. Just like an enemy flashes when you've successfully damaged them. And before you say that's 'NES Logic', NES Metroid actually doesn't have flashes when you damage something. For what it's worth though, every Metroid game released after Super just asks for one missile on its red doors. Even the remakes of the first two. I hope your journey through Super gets smoother in the future. I recently watched/listened to Maximillian Dood's first playthrough of the game and he did indeed get through without any hints from chat or looking up a guide, which surprised me a little due to his almost total inexperience with the genre.

Edited by Zapp Branniglenn

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20 hours ago, Zapp Branniglenn said:

Mmm, but the door does flash white when shot with a missile. Just like an enemy flashes when you've successfully damaged them. And before you say that's 'NES Logic', NES Metroid actually doesn't have flashes when you damage something. For what it's worth though, every Metroid game released after Super just asks for one missile on its red doors. Even the remakes of the first two. I hope your journey through Super gets smoother in the future. I recently watched/listened to Maximillian Dood's first playthrough of the game and he did indeed get through without any hints from chat or looking up a guide, which surprised me a little due to his almost total inexperience with the genre.

True; the doors did flash.

I wasn't even going to say "NES logic".

Well, I'm on my way to what by process of elimination should be the Ridley boss fight, so I can say that it has been a much smoother experience. I've been very thorough in my exploration, and the secrets have been a lot less unintuitive (to me at least).

The only area where I really struggled to the point of annoyance was with the area where you learn the wall jump. But, once I got the hang of the timing (mainly being sure to press the opposite direction, then press jump as opposed to pressing both at the same time which I tend to do a lot by accident because of the strict timing), it wasn't too much of a hastle. The real difficulty for me was finding a way to jump over the three-tile-wide false floor in front of the missile upgrade.

I have admittedly been using a walkthrough, but I try to only use it for making sure I didn't miss anything on my way out of an area. And, most of the time, I found an item upgrade or secret room before the walkthrough mentioned it.

Overall, I think the game is very interesting. There are a few annoyances I have with it; mainly in the form of platforming sections where I struggle with the timing (using the space jump or the grappling hook come to mind), but it is very fun overall. The exploration is fun, and there's a lot of attention to detail with the world design and the environment. Combat is also interesting; while I normally prefer melee combat in games, I have to say that I seem to prefer ranged combat with side-scrollers.

 

EDIT: I just completed Super Metroid. Here's what I can say about the last two bosses:

1. Ridley could've been fun if there was more horizontal space in his boss room, but I largely found him annoying because of the lack of space. I even tried to use the screw attack to make up for the lack of horizontal space by exploiting the vertical space in the boss room, and it really didn't work, so the boss fight became a game of chipping off as much of his HP as possible as quickly as possible before he took away all my health.

2. Mother Brain was a fun boss fight overall (but I got to use the rewind feature and save states; it might not have been as fun in 1994). There is a bit too much happening on-screen on the actual approach to the fight; I get that Mother Brain was previously a stationary boss and that the approach was supposed to be a fake-out not unlike the little Kraid fake-out a lot earlier in the game (or at least I'm guessing that's what the boss approach is supposed to be), but the fight against its mobile form was very straightforward.

One thing that confused me was that I knew about the scripted attack it does to end the first phase of the real fight, but when I got hit by that attack, I got a game over instead of the cutscene. I had to look it up online and found out that, if you're below a certain amount of health when the boss does that attack, you lose. That I thought was a bit stupid, and that's where the "I got to use save states" comes in, because it was easy to just go back to the beginning of the fight (after the fake-out) and beat it with a lot more health remaining. I'm sorry, but a win should be a win whether you're at full health or nearly empty; a "if you beat the boss with less than this much HP remaining, you lose" is just stupid.

 

As for the game overall, I can see why it's a classic. It hasn't exactly made me an instant fan of Metroid games, but I fully understand the appeal of them now. Maybe I'll try some other Metroid games later. But, for now, I'm going to move on to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and see how far I can get in the four days I have remaining of the Switch Online free trial. 

Edited by vanguard333

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I would have guessed that Juste is the son of Alucard and Sonia Belmont. He most certainly looks like it.
In any case, Juste's thick blue outline does him little favor in making him look less like a vampire. Especially since these outlines are so selectively applied. I think bats have it and that's about it.
Idk, if those outlines were used for all enemies, I would maybe think this was just a desperate attempt to compensate for the GBA's lack of backlight. As is, it's just really strange.

Also, Circle of the Moon literally just did that whole "best friend brainwashed into becoming an enemy" thing.

Edited by BrightBow

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On 10/17/2021 at 6:58 PM, vanguard333 said:

As for the game overall, I can see why it's a classic. It hasn't exactly made me an instant fan of Metroid games, but I fully understand the appeal of them now. Maybe I'll try some other Metroid games later. But, for now, I'm going to move on to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and see how far I can get in the four days I have remaining of the Switch Online free trial. 

Ooh! Another childhood favorite!

I assume you'll be using an item guide to find everything? If so, my advice probably won't be as useful as it would be otherwise, but I'll say this: Soon as you can get to the west side of the Dark World and thus the Village of Outcasts, do so. The Thieves' Town has an item you need in order to complete a side quest to get the Tempered Sword, and you can leave the dungeon midway once you have the item to find the lost blacksmith and bring him to his partner in the Light World. Then you can give them your sword and get the Tempered Sword. Using glitches, you can get to the Village of Outcasts as soon as you have the Magic Hammer from the Palace of Darkness, but I don't know if you use exploits like that.

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8 minutes ago, Lord_Brand said:

Ooh! Another childhood favorite!

I assume you'll be using an item guide to find everything? If so, my advice probably won't be as useful as it would be otherwise, but I'll say this: Soon as you can get to the west side of the Dark World and thus the Village of Outcasts, do so. The Thieves' Town has an item you need in order to complete a side quest to get the Tempered Sword, and you can leave the dungeon midway once you have the item to find the lost blacksmith and bring him to his partner in the Light World. Then you can give them your sword and get the Tempered Sword. Using glitches, you can get to the Village of Outcasts as soon as you have the Magic Hammer from the Palace of Darkness, but I don't know if you use exploits like that.

Interesting. A Link to the Past was long before my time.

No, actually; I decided I would go in pretty much blind; only going on Zelda Wiki for clarification after finding something. I chose to do this mainly because I know I won't be able to finish the game before the free trial runs out, and because I wanted to see what I could figure out for myself.

No; I don't use glitches or exploits, nor do I leave a dungeon unfinished.

 

Anyway, in terms of progress, I just defeated Aghanim for the first time and gained access to the Dark World.

Overall, the game has been fairly fun. It's much easier to start playing than the first game thanks to a number of things; the most obvious being that Link does a slice with the sword rather than a stab, so the attack range is a lot wider and it's much easier to safely hit enemies. Another advantage the game has is that it is much easier to see when an enemy is about to attack; in addition to projectile-using enemies having an animation where they prepare to fire, this is also probably the only Zelda game I've ever played where I didn't find leevers to be really annoying, thanks to having plenty of time to see when they're about to pop up. That said, it's also interesting to see the different conveniences newer games have that A Link to the Past didn't have, such as the compass revealing the locations of the treasure chests in addition to the boss room, or the shield being able to block more than just projectiles.

The dungeons so far have been a lot smaller than I expected; even for early-game dungeons, they were rather quick, and up until the Tower of Hera, they were surprisingly lacking in puzzles compared to newer games in the series. Speaking of the Tower of Hera, I found it quite interesting mainly because the item you find in the dungeon isn't used inside the dungeon at all; instead, all the puzzles revolve around rearrangeable pits and stuff like that. It was interesting to see a Zelda dungeon where exploring it isn't gated by the dungeon item.

Anyway, the opening segment where you rescue Zelda and escort her to the sanctuary was interesting; it sets up the stakes, it shows the main characters trying to be proactive in trying to stop Aghanim, and it lets the player briefly get to know Zelda before she gets kidnapped again by Aghanim. That said, apart from her occasionally-repeating dialogue, she's very much a non-presence during the rescue; it just made me think that it might've been neat if she had some gameplay components or accompanied Link throughout the game; something that of course wouldn't happen until Spirit Tracks. I mean, it's not like there weren't any SNES games that had companion characters follow the main player character; games like Secret of Mana (which admittedly I haven't played) spring to mind.

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And I wrapped up the collection with the final game, Castlevania Aria of Sorrow. I can see why people like this one. Personally I don't care for grinding in metroid-like games. But I never felt like I had to stop and grind strong souls, money, or levels just to keep up since what I found through progression always seemed to be top of the line for that point of the game. And unlike in Bloodstained, acquiring copies of a soul doesn't power it up. You also never need to kill a common enemy to earn the right to swim (hello again, Bloodstained). Most souls border on useless compared to careful swinging and dodging with your weapon, but it's fun to experiment. And while the low drop rates for new souls are lame, it's easy to see how it makes each playthrough unique when you'll end up with stuff you didn't have last time. The remaster also keeps track of what souls you've collected when you hit that enemy, cutting down on consultation of online guides to see what soul an enemy drops. No longer does the completionist player have to memorize or consult the menu to see if they've already got something. Sometimes two enemies give you the same soul, so you won't have that heartbreaking realization after spending time grinding off the second one. 

And the game is just a solid action platformer in its own right. Landing cancelled attacks from SotN make their delicious return on most weapons. Bosses actually have recognizable attack patterns and openings you can master. The fight against Julius is probably my favorite Castlevania boss. It feels like a pvp match against another player. Pretty much the only rampant design choice I don't like is weapon wielding enemies holding their sword out, totally inert, and touching it hurts just as bad as getting hit by the actual swing. It's a very dumb form of contact damage, but once you learn to respect that danger, you'll avoid cheap-seeming Game Overs. That lull in combat where you can't safely approach is the perfect window for a projectile attack. Speaking of, combining hearts and MP was a smart move. In the previous game, the input for item attacks and magic was the same, so you had to pause the action in order to switch to the other resource. Now it's consolidated into one thing. I do wish the projectile based souls had more variety. Most of them shoot straight ahead or have the same range as your basic weapons, it would be nice to have more options to help with enemies above and below you. Then again I collected less than half the souls in the game, so maybe I just got unlucky in terms of that variety.

The level design is certainly improved too. At first I was worried because the very first fork in the road potentially leads you down a loooong watery hallway that's just a dead end until later. But I like that you can venture into later areas with very powerful enemies. You might pick up a piece of equipment that immediately improves your odds. They also brought back breakable walls! I do wish the game's areas fed into each other better. Only once or twice do you get a skill like the ability to stand on water, and then use it on a body of water to actually reach the next intended area. Usually when you get a new ability for progression, your next intended direction is on the other side of map, so start hunting for those gaps in your map screen. At the very least, warping is introduced fairly early. The water areas also got pretty obnoxious. You have to pause to equip and unequip the "iron boots" soul at least as much as Ocarina of Time's water temple.

Unlike the previous game, I cared enough to seek out the true ending. I have to wonder who managed to discover it without a guide back in 2003. Even most of the answers I found on google were incorrect on one detail or another. But I'm glad I went to the trouble since it leads to the aforementioned best boss fight and a challenging final area. Now that I've finished the collection I should rate the games? Sure. Aria > Dracula X = Circle > Harmony. Even though these were mostly under average castlevania games, it's excellent to be able to play them in such a high quality package. Bad games need preservation too, so keep this stuff coming Konami!  Silent Hill is long overdue for another shot at a remastered collection, and you got most of the way there on Metal Gear back in the PS3 generation.

 

Edited by Zapp Branniglenn

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Aria...
Honestly, I had a worse impression of it then I did back in the day.

For starters, like half of the castle is the freaking water temple of Ocarina of Time fame.
You constantly have to swap between the Soul that allows you to descend in water and the Soul used to walk on water. It rarely feels worth it to bother using that slot on any other Soul, because water is always just around the corner.

Progression is also really dull. Permanent powerups have been ditched, and now the only thing you find is gear that will become outclassed in the next 5 to 10 minutes anyway. And of course the actual fancy stuff is randomized bullcrap.
This game started the trend where Castlevania games would be virtually interchangeable, except for adding more and more of this mindless grind stuff. Instead of actually exploring, they have you keep reentering the same room over and over, killing the same dude an uncountable amount of times until the game arbitrarily decides this particular kill actually mattered.
Though at least Aria is the only game where randomized loot is actually required to get the true ending. So it's not all downhill from there.

But that's also a thing that became mandatory after this game. To have "multiple endings". Or as one might also call it: 1 ending and 2 premature cutoff points. There is just no point in them being there.

And holy crap, those "hints" you find to lead you to the actual ending are also more obtuse then I remember. One book tells you to find a "Beautiful Nightmare". There is an enemy called Nightmare. A pretty fancy looking flaming horse. But naturally it doesn't refer to that. It refers to the succubus enemy.
...besides the leap this requires to assume that "Beautiful Nightmare = Naked Woman", there are like a million enemies in this game that are naked women. It's really not narrowing it down that much.
I didn't even find the book that is supposed to lead you to a specific palette swap of the Demon enemy series. I recall not finding it back in the day either.

There is also just something inherently upsetting about the fact that the concept of a true final showdown with the villain of a decade long series with a zillion different entries was wasted on being mere backstory for this game.
And for what? Just an excuse to make "ordinary high school student" the protagonist who wins the day through the "power of friendship". Because that never gets old.

That being said, in the context of Castlevania, this character concept has some potential.
Castlevania protagonists are always pretty much the same: They are professional vampire hunters, training their whole lives for the day Dracula emerges again.
By contrast, Soma is just some dude who gets dragged into the castle. He has no training, he got no warning. He didn't even grew up in a world that believed the creatures of hell were actually real. He is as unprepared to face Dracula's demonic hordes as it gets.
But the game doesn't take advantage of those unique opportunities at all. Soma is dropped straight into the bowels of hell, but he is so casual and nonchalant about it, he might as well be just another Belmont for all the difference it makes.

Edited by BrightBow

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26 minutes ago, BrightBow said:

And holy crap, those "hints" you find to lead you to the actual ending are also more obtuse then I remember. One book tells you to find a "Beautiful Nightmare". There is an enemy called Nightmare. A pretty fancy looking flaming horse. But naturally it doesn't refer to that. It refers to the succubus enemy.
...besides the leap this requires to assume that "Beautiful Nightmare = Naked Woman", there are like a million enemies in this game that are naked women. It's really not narrowing it down that much.

I admittedly haven't played the game that you're talking about, but in regards to that hint, succubi traditionally invade men's dreams in folklore and medieval literature, so "beautiful nightmare" would make sense in terms of referring to them specifically, assuming of course that that dream-weaving aspect of succubi is actually in the game.

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2 minutes ago, vanguard333 said:

I admittedly haven't played the game that you're talking about, but in regards to that hint, succubi traditionally invade men's dreams in folklore and medieval literature, so "beautiful nightmare" would make sense in terms of referring to them specifically, assuming of course that that dream-weaving aspect of succubi is actually in the game.

No. They just give you hugs and suck your life.

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12 minutes ago, BrightBow said:

Progression is also really dull. Permanent powerups have been ditched, and now the only thing you find is gear that will become outclassed in the next 5 to 10 minutes anyway. And of course the actual fancy stuff is randomized bullcrap.
This game started the trend where Castlevania games would be virtually interchangeable, except for adding more and more of this mindless grind stuff. Instead of actually exploring, they have you keep reentering the same room over and over, killing the same dude an uncountable amount of times until the game arbitrarily decides this particular kill actually mattered.
Though at least Aria is the only game where randomized loot is actually required to get the true ending. So it's not all downhill from there.

I absolutely get where you're coming from. Usually when I play a game with these rpg mechanics, I see how far I can get on no intentional grinding. If I can at least beat the game with this style of play, then I won't ever think too hard about the arbitrariness of the progression system. Because you can break down any RPG like that and it sounds stupid and unplayable. For me the worst case scenario is a game like Shin Megami Tensei or Xenoblade where if you're attempting to fight something that's more than five levels above you, the game won't allow it. Your damage and accuracy calculations start to plummet as the battle system does everything it can to make that fight unwinnable until you've stopped to grind. And the only reason that system is there is to prevent you from leveling up too fast by defeating something that much stronger than you. Even if it would make for a fun challenge, the developers just refuse to give up on padding out your play time. In Aria of Sorrow you can level up at your own pace for your own reasons, and it's awesome. You can't say that about Circle of the Moon. You beat that game with your cards, not your whip. If they make a DS Castlevania collection, I'll be very interested in to see how they handle the same playstyle.

As for the multiple endings, I think it's just become a franchise staple by the time of Aria. Even in the action platformer games (2, 3, and Rondo all had multiple endings, maybe more that I don't remember). You're right though that Aria probably should have only required you to equip souls obtained from proper boss fights, like Death. Or maybe even some optional boss fights in various corners of the castle. I got lucky. When I googled the ending requirements, I was only missing one of the two missable souls - Succubus, who exists in the exact same area as the place where her soul is required. If I was missing flame demon too, that would have resulted in another google search of where he is. But altogether I don't see these souls and their drop rates as being too different than the laundry list of items you need to unlock Symphony's inverted castle.

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