Welcome back to my piece on Organised Nonsense, where I currently look back on season 9 of Doctor Who. Not much to say on this intro, so let’s get right into it!
A game wherein the player has been freed from the traditional structure and direction typically found in video games, and is instead given the ability to choose what, when, and how they want to approach the available choices in content. The term is in reference to a child’s sandbox in which no rules are present and play is derived from open-ended choice. While some sandbox games may have building and creation aspects to their gameplay, those activities are not required. Sandbox games usually take place in an open-world setting as to facilitate the freedom of choice a player is given.
“Sandbox game” — Wikipedia
I like a good action-packed game every now and then, but my toy of choice in the gaming playground is the sandbox. The kind of games that appeal to that excitement of opportunity, and don’t later disappoint you when you realize they’re actually mostly hollow.
Here are my top 5.
Algodoo is a 2D physics game where you build contraptions from shapes, motors, thrusters, lasers and physics, and then delete them because they are all crap in comparison to stuff in the Algobox
You may remember Incredibots from 2009, well, Algodoo is like that but better. With a better engine, a (much) better interface, more object properties, scripting(Though, the custom scripting language ‘Thyme’ is probably the worst I’ve ever seen bar intentionally bad ones), lasers and Water!
Despite being 2D, there is a lot you can do in Algodoo. I’ve had a lot of fun making multipurpose vehicles, games, solar systems, and just generally messing around in this game. It runs well, is now free, and best of all: it doesn’t use Flash, earning it #4 on my list.
You already know what Minecraft is, I don’t need to tell you.
But what puts it at #3 on my list are it’s mods. Specifically, Industrial Craft 2, Buildcraft, ComputerCraft, ICBM and a Bukkit server with Factions.
Industrial Craft 2 brings Minecraft into an industrial revolution, and then some. Mining lasers, carbon armour, jetpacks, teleportation devices and a large array of power storage, transmission and generation blocks(incl. Nuclear reactors!) to power them.
Buildcraft adds mostly just item transportation pipes and automatic crafting tables, which can be used to build factories to construct pretty much anything. I use it to make automatic ore processors, missile construction factories and extremely advanced nuclear power plants.
Computercraft gives you mining turtles, portable and static computers and a few other computer peripherals, and everything is programmable using Lua. You can draw to a computer’s screen and get user input, leading to some people creating their own OSs! Mining turtles can be programmed to do your bidding as they have their own inventories, and they can attack, dig, and transfer items. You can also use OpenPeripherals and OpenCC Sensors to make them stand watch at your base and attack intruders.
ICBM adds InterContinental Ballistic Missiles, which allow you to punch a hole in the world up to 10,000 blocks away. The size of the hole they punch is anyone between ‘conventional’ TnT, to a missile with 3 nuclear warheads powerful enough to reclaim a moderately sized base back to nature. With that last bit in mind, it’s important to construct missile counter measures, such as radar & EMP towers, anti-ballistic missile silos and AA guns.
Factions is a server-side mod that allows players to claim land and prevent your low-level, unorganised griefers from helping themselves, claimed land is uneditable to anyone but the faction it belongs to. The fun part of Factions is that for claimed land to remain claimed, the owners of that land need to not die too much. Traditionally, on Vanilla servers, this meant that Faction ‘raids’ would occasionally take place. Raiders would invade an enemy base when enough of their players were online, attempt to slaughter as much of the enemy as possible(Attackers often fell victim to clever traps, and well prepared defenders often stood a decent chance of repelling the attackers, and profiting from their *highly* precious, often beloved raiding kits)
What about when a faction simply builds a box and hides in it? Traditionally, a TnT cannon would be constructed outside a faction base by the invaders’ smartest technicians in order to breach the enemy base. With ICBM, I like to exhaust their missile counter-measures with a barrage of low-tier missiles, and then make a clean entry hole from afar.
Or if I’m feeling like the materials are worth it, convert their entire base into a crater. ICBM is awesome.
If the Internet was a game, this would be that game. Garry’s mod was originally a Half Life 2 mod, abusing HL2’s (at the time, arguably still) groundbreaking engine by turning it into a Sandbox game. Eventually it became standalone, with it’s own support for mods. And when I say “support for mods”, it’s not like child support or anything added in a “I suppose we have to” sort of way, It’s closer to air support, like calling in a Wing of Enola Gays to the middle of the Atlantic and blowing other modding support out of the water. It’s fitting that “Enola Gays” was split into two lines, given the context.
Gmod’s modding support provides access to a high-performance engine through an easy to learn, easy to implement scripting language – Lua – with an API providing both coarse and fine levels of control. Which allows the immature newbies and people that have never scripted before to enjoy themselves, and allows the (still immature) experienced modders to create their crazy works of art exactly as they invision it.
There are two types of mods for Garry’s mod: In one type, people add content to Sandbox mode(Hey dawg…), such as Wiremod and less impressively, an assortment of meme mods like Epic Sax saxophone, a ‘This is Sparta’ weapon etc etc.
And for the more ambitious, separate gamemodes can be made. Which has led to some pretty creative games, like the iconic Prop Hunt, where players animate inanimate objects and have to hide from regular humans. Or Trouble in Terrorist Town, which is like Cluedo but with social engineering and PvP. Or DarkRP, where you roleplay as a 12 year old roleplaying as a gun/drug dealer/manufacturer trying to
hackers guys out to shut down your meth lab legitimate business. Multiplayer mods and gamemodes thrive because whenever a player joins a server with them installed, that player automagically downloads and installs all the mods on the server, and is only bothered by them when they join that server.
Sandbox mode allows you to weld various plates, cubes, complex shapes and models together, and then attach axles, ropes and thrusters, which can be controlled from a seat or remote controller if you have Wiremod installed. All of this can lead to some pretty cool vehichles(And pretty cool combat if you have Pewpew installed), but in multiplayer mainly just equates to a lot of people getting run over and the 13 year old’s Mona Lisa constructed and painted in a large, often impressively creative variety of ways.
KSP is my favourite sandbox game, and my favourite game full stop.
The best way to play KSP is badly. People say that it is a hard game, because they can’t readily do what they set out to, or what they’ve seen other people do.
KSP is not a hard game. KSP is a Sandbox game. When your ship disintegrates during re-entry, or crashes into Mun instead of landing gracefully, you might think “This is hard” , “That failed” or maybe even slam things if you’re prone to anger. People that I’ve managed to get into this game instead think “Hehe! It exploded!” or “That was close. Now what can I do to get closer?” like tiny green Elon Musks.
Unlike what too many think, it isn’t a game you need to be smart to play(or even to be good at). Ever wonder how a few thousand tiny green men and women manage to get to other planets without any other technology or even civilizations outside of the Space Centre? It’s because they’re relentless(And also because they seem to value science over each other’s lives, judging by all the Kerbals drifting around my Kerbol). If you cannot accept that failure is always an option, this game is not for you.
If this game is for you, do not look up anything. The game covers all the essentials and when you look things up, you miss out on all those fun ways you can fail. Start a career mode, and just have fun, because a spectacular fail is still spectacular.
Also, take screenshots and videos. I regret not taking more, they help you remember the great moments you had.
Why hello there, I’m Sean Reidy and these are my things of the year 2015.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This is a game I spent several year obsessing over every slightest detail of in the lead up to its big release on September 1st. I had seen every trailer dozens of times. I watched any appearance of Hideo Kojima for some hope of news. I watched a Japanese livestream on Christmas Day to have a chicken hat confirmed for me. I bought the big 140 euro collector’s edition with a half scale replica of Big Boss’ bionic arm. I played the game non-stop for a month and I feel it is half a perfect game. Playing the game you see the occasional glimpse of an all time great, and the game still debatably is. But it could’ve been so, so much better. The game’s core gameplay is fantastic, every movement is fluid and responsive. The shooting is great, every one of the game’s wide variety of guns feel different to each other. The story is acceptable by general gaming standards but is pretty woeful by Metal Gear standards. Some segments of the story are fantastic. Quiet manages to have somewhat of an arc without any dialogue, the “woman in the room” who I won’t mention for spoilers has a heartbreaking side story, the mission “Voices” is spectacular and builds a fantastic atmosphere in one of the game’s very few indoor areas. MGSV is a huge disappointment, but also my Game of the Year.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
My Film of the Year was less of a disappointment. I was a big Star Wars fan a good few years ago but it had sort of subsisted into me deciding Empire was the only good one. The Force Awakens changed that, in the lead up to it I rediscovered the series I had abandoned and the film itself was the final clincher. I loved it. Almost every part of it. I understand it’s just A New Hope with new characters but I really like those new characters. Kylo Ren’s pathetic immaturity has given me one of my favourite film villains in years. Finn was well-acted, humourous. And of course, John Williams, fantastic as ever. The soundtrack is great, with the highlights being Rey’s Theme, March of the Resistance and The Jedi Steps & Finale. Rey’s Theme in particular gives a sense of discovery, hearing that song in the film I felt as if this was really it. After 32 years they got it right again. Good job, Disney.
Toast of London
Please watch Toast of London. Seriously. I don’t know a single person who watches it and it is the best surreal sitcom on TV since The IT Crowd. Toast stars Matt Berry (Douglas Reynholm from the previously mentioned IT Crowd) as Steven Toast, a failing, middle aged actor from London who is forced to do whatever job comes his way. The best of this year’s episodes involved popular US actor Jon Hamm, as Toast develops an unwanted homosexual crush on him. The show evokes memories of Father Ted, and I’d put some episodes on a level with that show’s absurdist highs like Speed 3 and The Mainland. It’s a fantastic show and, despite winning BAFTAs, I worry it has gone underappreciated.
The latest album from the legendary New Order is something that popped up out of the blue for me, I only knew of its existence a day before release, I’m glad I did find out about it though. The album has a perfect mix of electronica, the occasional classical instrument and some pretty good vocals. The highlights on the album include Restless, a song that sounds straight off a Joy Division album with its vaguely mopey lyricism with top class instrumentation, Stray Dog, a contemplative slower song with a spoken word angle that sounds semi-similar to Ron Perlman and Tutti Frutti, a much more house type of song with occasional disco flashes throughout. Overall the album was a tremendous surprise, and one I thoroughly recommend you give a listen to.
Bonus Thing of 2016
Blackstar, the 26th and final studio album of David Bowie was released on January 9th, Bowie’s 69th birthday. I listened to it then and I thought it was fantastic. I thought I had already found my album of the year. 3 days later, Bowie died after a secret 18 month battle with cancer. This cemented the album as my favourite, which allows me to write this in absolute confidence. Listening to the album that weekend was a strange experience. It was a fantastic album, but a weird one. A lot of things in it were unexplained. Then the news broke. It is a parting gift from Bowie, with the jazz infused tones of the album playing him out from the world. He did not take his death idly, and instead used it to fuel one last masterpiece. To my mind the best songs on the album are Lazarus, Dollar Days and I Can’t Give Everything Away. These songs are rooted in death. Lazarus is the most blunt of these, opening with “Look up here, I’m in heaven” before descending into a final verse about how “This way or no way, you know I’ll be free” and the song uses the same notes repeatedly to create an overwhelming sense of dread. It is a fantastic album, only made better by the unfortunate context.
Disclaimer: I rushed this one out the ass.
In 1995 Square released Chrono Trigger saw its release on the SNES, a creation of what was dubbed the Dream Team; Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (creator of Dragon Quest) and Akira Toriyama (who most of you probably already heard of) with the game being produced by Kazuhiko Aoki. It was critically acclaimed upon release although official PAL cartridges of the game were not created for some reason and it wouldn’t be until 2009 that PAL regions got Chrono Trigger via the DS version. There was a PS1 port created in 1999 but like Square’s port of Final Fantasy VI and such, it was absolutely filled with load times and they were almost 10 second ones at the least. I presume this has something to do with the PS1’s RAM or lack thereof which is why SNES ports got these load times. The only new addition to the PS1 version was a set of animated cutscenes that would play at different intervals created by Bird Studio and Toei Animation. They’re great and all, especially with the opening’s version of the main theme but they’re also included in the DS version of the game along with bonus features, a better translation and such. Predictably the DS version is the best one out there, while I did manage to cope with finishing the PS1 version that’s something I’ll never do again and there are already iOS and Android versions of the game if you need them.
-How Trigger got triggered (lol)-
Crono is a young swordsman who’s a mute. Oh boy. In all seriousness the kid wakes up excited (at least that’s what his mother says) for the festival the Guardia kingdom is holding to celebrate its long prosperity. While testing out his friend Lucca’s teleportation device being showed off at the fair a girl named Marle, who tagged along with Crono after bumping into him, tries the machine out but her pendant causes a malfunction which opens a random portal that she gets sucked into. Crono picks up the dropped pendant and decides to open the same portal to find her while Lucca stays behind and tries figures out just what the hell happened. He finds himself in the Middle Ages where he finds that Marle has been mistaking for that era’s queen whose been missing. Marle suddenly and rather painfully disappears in front of Crono just as she begins to explain why she was mistaken for the missing Queen Leene (lol). Lucca appears to tell Crono that Marle is actually the present’s Princess Nardia who took on the name of Marle to go off doing non-royal things. Leene is the Nardia’s ancestor and because she is still missing with Marle taking her place, a grandfather paradox occurs causing Marle to simply not exist. Crono and Lucca team up with a frog knight named…Frog in order to rescue the missing queen and restore the royal family line. After doing so Marle is restored and using Lucca’s new device designed to open gates in time that are appearing for some reason (sort of explained later on) they return to the present. Upon doing so Crono is arrested upon escorting the princess back to the castle under the pretence of “kidnapping her” (don’t worry there’s a sidequest also explaining this well enough) and escapes from jail with the help of Marle and Lucca. After escaping to a time gate leading to the distant apocalyptic future they discover that at some point the planet was ravaged by a unknown force named Lavos. Deciding to try and find a way to stop the event from happening they begin their journey through time to save the future and that’s where I’ll stop for now. The game may be over 20 years old but I don’t feel up to spoiling a lot of elements that make it easier to enjoy. Besides this synopsis is pretty bare but the depth to the game and the characters start coming about from Antiquity onwards along with the endgame sidequests mainly focusing on character events and development for example going back in time to stop Lucca’s mother from losing the ability to walk by getting caught in the active machine right in front of the poor girl (just save beforehand so you don’t fuck it up and make Lucca watch it a 2nd time). It’s what they went for I think, mainly giving you a romp through the world and characters they created until you get to Magus where things start adding up. The time travel logic isn’t pure perfect, it never is when changing history is the subject, but it uses it really well ignoring some paradoxes .
We have quite a number of new things to cover but nothing too in depth. Trigger does away with random encounters and transitioning into a different screen for battle. Battles are initiated by coming into enemy contact or going to a specific tile for fixed battles and battles all happen on the same map. This was considered quite innovative to have battles happen where they start, however there’s one major problem with this: There are a lot of fixed battles, combine that with enemies respawning everytime you leave the room and come back and you have a annoying number of repeated fixed encounters when you step on a tile on your way back to somewhere. EarthBound didn’t have this problem because dungeons had one way to go most of the time and avoiding encounters was more of a element there. In here its more in theory. One thing that makes it a bit harder to take is how because you fight on the same map YOU KNOW that you’re fighting the exact encounter again in the same area whilst with random encounter transitions you feel more like fighting just another one of that enemy type if they show up. You get used to it fast enough and if you don’t it’s not something that hampers the whole deal but it’s something that’ll make it hell to play the PS1 version where battles have load times where they didn’t. At least thanks to this system there are no encounters in the world map. Battles run off Final Fantasy‘s Active Time Battle. Basically everyone, enemies and characters, runs off a ATB Meter which gets full when they can perform a command. The higher a characters’ speed the faster the meter goes, although I recommend altering the battle speed and ATB in the Options menu to go faster or slower and whether or not it still fills when selecting through Items and Techs in case you don’t want to feel pressured to pick something in those menus fast before the enemy snags you. Techs are basically where all a character’s special moves and spells are and they cost MP to use. You learn Techs by gaining TP but unlike XP a character has to be in the battle to have earned it, whilst members out of the party can gain some XP on their own. Techs generally have a field of effect, some work more when the enemies and lined up or in a particular area of range; for example Falcon Strike is a Tech that attacks diagonally so anything next to what your attacking gets hit as well. What makes creating a party in this game unique in terms of strategy are the powerful Dual Techs. When two character’s ATB are both filled you can use any Dual Techs they may have. Dual Techs come about when character’s Tech’s can be combined for example Crono’s Cyclone Tech can be combined with Lucca’s Flame Toss to create Flame Whirl. Dual Techs cost the characters using the Dual Tech the amount of MP that their normal Tech would cost on its own meaning Crono spends MP needed for Cyclone and Lucca spends the MP needed for Flame Toss learning Dual Techs is a matter of changing around party members once in a while when they learn new Techs and seeing what appears in the Tech menu. It gets even further with Triple Techs which require a specific party and in some cases a specific item to use. Party members can be swapped at any time outside of battle so making a new party is a button push away if needed. Since TP has to be earned during battle I generally like to fight the respawning Rubble on the Mountain of Woe past the halfway point of the game, the bastard drops 100 TP which is not something I can pass up to grind on until everyone has their Techs which is something you WILL do before getting to the near end anyway. I don’t think this game will ever force you to grind too much but there are bosses that you will need to think of a good strategy to beat…or be like me and just abuse strong Techs when I can get them early. Basically fights give good challenge either way, they’re difficult enough as things go on so that you need to keep your eyes open and learn the enemy starting with Magus and especially with the fucking Golem boss.
One of the main gimmicks for Trigger is, well, time travel. Different version of the same planet through a number of time periods allowing access to new locations; The present, middle ages, prehistory, apocalyptic future, antiquity and finally the year 1999 where Lavos rose and destroyed the planet. And when I was born. Lovely. The End of Time which you enter soon into the game acts as the main hub for any Time Gates the group come across until you get the time machine Epoch and eventually its upgrade to fly. Gaspar will generally give you hints of where to go next so getting confused on what to do isn’t ever a problem. Just don’t touch the bucket’s Time Gate, that takes you straight to the final boss. Gaspar does warn you not to touch the bucket when you meet him but fuck he could’ve mentioned where it lead. The Epoch comes majorly into play when doing sidequests which are basically the meat of Trigger‘s final chapter. Getting Crono back into your party endgame is technically one since at that point you can beat the game with any party you want but the others serve to strengthen the party for the fight against Lavos so ignoring them is a very bad idea unless you want Lavos to wipe you out. I won’t go too in depth to them but they’re enjoyable side quests nonetheless and give you great equipment for the final battle as well as the time travel coming into play for stuff like the Sun Stone and Rainbow Shell. The game is designed quite straightforward until that point, and it helps cut down the backtracking by a mile.
I think I’ve covered the main gameplay so far so let’s get into the DS version’s additions. Besides some interfaces changes we also get a self filling map which is always nice to have. There’s also 2 Lost Sanctum areas which basically have you do fetch quests and things for reptites in return for rewards. I never bothered since the stuff opens extremely late game and you all know how I feel about areas being dedicated to fetch quests. We also have this Arena of the Ages. Ever wanted to raise a monster? Now you can, although this is accessible from the End of Time it doesn’t anything I deemed worth going after although some items can be nice to get a bit early and the raising mechanics are extremely straightfoward. I just get a kick out of watching my raised pet out damage another one but that’s about it. Finally we have 4 extra boss fights against a few shade versions of your party members and then the Bucket will take you to the Dimensional Vortex dungeon. This does get you some more awesome equipment but it’s the last thing in the game so I didn’t feel it was worth trying out and Square usually made extra dungeons in ports a pain to get through. Maybe when I bother to go after the Dream Devourer (yeah that’s the name of it) and the other ending, I’ll update the review but not now.
Speaking of extra equipment Chrono Trigger was one of the first RPGs to introduce the holy New Game Plus. Replay the game with all your badass equipment, levels and Techs? Fuck yeah but now we can get into alternate ending territory. There are a large number of endings you can get that the game keeps track of, all based on when in the game and how you beat Lavos. The ending most players should get first is the ending that comes after you rescue Crono and fight Lavos after going through the Black Omen. A lot of the endings are more of a play for laughs like what if you went into the Bucket defeated Lavos before helping Ayla take out the reptites in Prehistory, thus turning the present’s humanity into repitites. Another ending is…the female characters going through a list of the male characters of the game. Fucking hell.
Sexy on all accounts; the music is phenomenal and definitely my favourite SNES soundtrack. The graphics were spectacular for the time make the game hold up extremely well amongst the DS library although the numerous uses of the SNES’ list of special graphical effects (can’t name them all myself right now) does age the game to some extent. The story is what I feel it needs to be, its less about deep questions but still keeps characters’ and story’s development and has good writing with twists that are strong as they need to be. I recommend the game for everyone to at least try out, I know a lot of people aren’t very friendly towards some of the ideas implemented (specifically ATB and encounters started by touching tiles) but it’s a great game given a fair shake and worth any gamers’ time. The DS version is great despite my disinterest in a lot of the extras but seeing as the other options are the PS1 version (huge load times), the SNES version (90’s RPG localization), and iOS (touch screen controls), I think you’ll come to the conclusion it’s the best choice out of them.
Wanna know why this was rushed? I wanted to review Mother 3 but I realised how long I would take writing a plot synopsis so I looked over a couple of things I could do. I tried rushing a playthrough of the original Ratchet and Clank as a nod to the upcoming reboot game and film but it was agonizing going back to it. I had about four days to decide, most of which I wouldn’t spend writing so I picked Chrono Trigger as a easy ticket out.
I’ve been a long time Pokemon fan having played every main series game since Pearl. And in recent years the games official championships have had an explosion of viewers and participators. With the game now having garnered eSport status I still find myself being brushed off by most people when I participate in competitive Pokemon even by friends who play bigger eSports such as LoL and Dota. So today I would like to explore the true complexity of this Pokemon VGC along with some of the recent changes to the format and there impact on the community.
Some of you may not know this but there are currently 721 Pokemon, you also are only able to have 6 Pokemon on your team at a time. Which means there is a total of 137,579,356,487,018,880 possible team combinations this all before taking into account Items, EVs, IVs, Moves, Abilities and Forms. And that is just team combinations. You are also allowed to only take 4 of your 6 Pokemon team into battle meaning you have to look at your Opponent’s team and try and predict what they will bring along with the how to counter them. The format is also a “Double Battle” which means you always have 2 Pokemon active at a time. So you have to manage two Pokemon at at a time whilst also trying to work out what is the best plan of attack along with predicting your opponent is going do.
Maths also factors a surprising amount into this, you will often see top level players with notepads beside them and they’ll constantly be scribbling trying to calculate the percentage chance of out speeding the opponent to get the first shot in along with the percentage chance of the bonus affects from there moves taking place. So to truly be a Pokemon master you need to be able to manage all of these skills along with being willing to put in a lot of time just to get into this team of yours it can take several hours to just to get one Pokemon for your team of six and then you have to retry again if the team dynamic doesn’t work.
Pokemon VGC gained it popularity at the 2014 VGC World Championships receiving millions of views. Then Se Jun Park one using a Pachirisu on his team. And using it surprisingly well. For those not in the know Pachirisu is a Pokemon that is often caught early on in the game and then quickly discarded due to it’s weakness and small move-pool. This rocked the Pokemon Community for lack of a better word, showing that you too can be a Pokemon Master with your favorite Pokemon, Karen would be proud.
But then in 2015 the meta game stagnated having an incredibly small variety of Pokemon among the top level players. For example Landorous-Therian Form was on the team off all top 16 players in the masters division. The fans cried out asking for The Pokemon Company to do something. The logical decision would be to ban Pokemon that were overused and overpowered. But instead they added in a bunch of Pokemon previously banned for being too powerful. This changed so much of how people played the game. Yes there is more variety (This is just from what I am seeing, there hasn’t been any live streamed Pokemon tournaments at the time of writing) but at the same time there is a new Landorus if you will. Not as bad, but still rather prevlant. Xernas. Xernas was always a hassle to deal with before even when it was surrounded by legendries, but now amongst lesser ‘mons Xernas can be fatal to an entire team if not neutralized quick.
The VGC community has grown in recent years as I mentioned above. People are now able to make a living off making VGC Youtube videos, which doubles as practice. And the Friend Safari subreddit has gained thousands of members. But there is also a different side to the community. With legendries being non-breedable that means that you have to turn your game off and on again and battle them again and capture them and then get there IVs checked and it can take a couple of minutes just to do it once. So people have turned to twitter and social media. Asking and trying to exploit people to send them legendries to use. This was received negatively by most pokemon fans and demonstrates how far people are willing to go to get just one Pokemon.
Doctor Who last year, frankly, wasn’t very good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things to be said about it – Capaldi was a fantastic choice to play a darker Doctor, Jenna Coleman got an actual character to play, and it had many entertaining episodes. Overall though, it was a bit of a mess, a show that couldn’t quite decide whether it wanted to be a show where the Doctor can talk a robot to suicide or a show that featured the Doctor swordfighting Robin Hood with a spoon.
I’m happy to say that series 9 not only is a return to form, but one of the most consistently Very Good seasons since the return of the show. But it does raise one problem:
The Problem with Reviewing Two-Parters
Series 9 used an interesting spin on the show’s formula by having two-thirds of the series be two-part episodes, with one three-parter and only one single-episode story. This works on a number of levels, as it gives more time for characters and concepts to develop effectively and it can create a more detailed story. However, it also means that it is difficult to decide whether to judge each episode individually or the story. If the second part is amazing, can I ignore a lacklustre setup? It’s a difficult question to answer, but I’ll be judging these story-by-story. It just seems like the best way to go about it.
SPOILERS WILL BE AHEAD. SPOILERS STRAX IS WARNING YOU.
Titanfall was released in March of 2014 on Xbox consoles and PC to much fervor. EA promoted the game as the next big thing in online gaming. The game had a huge media push and a massive open beta, played by 2 million people. Then it came out and the hype fizzled out quickly, the player base dropped and people moved on. I recently came into possession of an Xbox One and an EA Access subscription and I cannot possibly imagine why people quit.
Titanfall is at its core a simple Call of Duty-like twitch-based first person shooter (which is to be expected somewhat, as it is mostly made by ex-Call of Duty developers) but with three simple additions to the base mechanics that drive the experience to something higher (to the point where the most recent Call of Duty has completely aped two of them). The first of these three additions is wall running, which gives an amazing feel of momentum that may have ruined other, slower FPS games such as Battlefront for me forever. The second is the double jump, which works to accentuate what the wall run does for the game’s fluidity. The third and most obvious addition is the game’s big selling point. The titan. The titan is a giant, but quite fast mech the player takes control of, usually about 3 minutes into a match. It strikes the perfect balance between the more grounded designs of western mechs in sci-fi and the extravagant swiftness of the Japanese mecha designs you would see in anime such as Gundam or Gurren Lagann. These titans are satisfying to use and make you feel empowered without breaking the game’s balance in the slightest. The titans have the clear advantage in firepower but one of the most satisfying things in the game is the rodeo attack, in which you jump on the back of a titan, rip a panel off and start shooting up its insides.
Another triumph of balance is my favourite weapon in the game. The Smart Pistol Mk5. The weapon is a standard pistol but it, after a short time, automatically locks onto any target within a certain distance, even locking onto multiple at once. Hearing this may make you think it is a gamebreaker, surely a weapon you do not need to aim surpasses all the others but no, the lock on is fast enough to be viable, but just slow enough to keep it reasonable. The weapon feels clinical, like a precision instrument. You feel ruthlessly efficient using it. Every time the right trigger goes down you feel like a cold, calculating machine. And as all this is happening, you stop running for maybe a second to shoot before getting back to building momentum. The game has a tremendous pace. Life is short, death is fast, both are tremendously exciting. Titanfall is the first time since Battlefield 3 I have felt the desire to go back and play more of an FPS and I’ve missed it.
It does have some negatives. The lack of any offline gameplay is irritating. Even a Battlefront 2 style Galactic Conquest bot match would’ve sufficed. I am also lead to believe there wasn’t much content at launch, but this has become less of a problem as all the post-launch DLC is now free and pretty much mandatory unless you want to play nothing but private games.
Overall, Titanfall is a fantastic game everyone should play. It has dropped in price immensely since launch and I desperately hope the multiplatform sequel picks up more traction. It brought a new take on a genre that has grown entirely stagnatory.
EarthBound is a 1994 SNES RPG created by Shigesato Itoi as the sequel to 1989’s Mother; a NES game not released outside of Japan until 2015 when Nintendo decided to take the unreleased prototype of the localization and sell it as EarthBound Beginnings. Yep, not only did they localize the wrong Mother game fans have been begging for but they also used the prototype that’s been on the internet for some while and didn’t adjust it. We’re not here to talk about Nintendo’s lack of effort though, we’re here to talk about the fact that EarthBound’s US advertising slogan was “This Game Stinks!” while in Japan it was marketed towards non-gamers. The game sold like shit in the US because of the advertising campaign (costing a total of about 2 million dollars) and the graphical style being received poorly at the time. As a result no official PAL (European) cartridges of EarthBound were made and its sequel was never released outside of Japan. In spite of that thanks to its unique style and setting (Extremely satire portrayal of America, most of which presumably unintentional) Earthbound created a massive cult following for itself which grew bigger as time went on and is probably one of the most nice and undying video game fandoms out there. EarthBound finally got itself a Wii U Virtual Console rerelease in 2013, presumably because of licensing issues thanks to the games’ numerous musical quotations, references and sampling. This release allowed Europeans to play Earthbound without using a emulator but before you do that lets look at the cult classic in question.
-EarthBound’s Beginning (lol)-
After being shown a sort of horrifying screen that has nothing to do with much and being given that lovely title card we get to name stuff: The four party members, Ness’ dog, your favourite food and your favourite thing. Your favourite thing comes into play as Ness’ PSI Special or PSI [Your-Favourite-Thing-Here] to be exact. Just don’t name anything after yourself as the game asks for the player’s own name down the road. The story starts with a meteorite crashing near Ness’ house and after the police are away, Ness’ neighbour Porky Minch knocks on the door and asks Ness to help find his brother Picky near the crash site. Yes, I know the kid’s name is actually Pokey in the US version but not only is that a stupid name but Smash Bros. and Mother 3 use the Japan variant Porky. And because the kid looks like a fucking pig. Ness finds Porky’s brother but a fly-like messenger from the future named Buzz Buzz emerges from the meteorite, telling Ness that he is the chosen one who needs to stop the alien Giygas from causing world devastation (and lots of other weird shit). Giygas is the villain from the first game who booked it after a few kids played a song from his childhood, deciding to become pure evil in order to continue conquest. After taking out the Starman Jr. sent to kill Buzz Buzz (because Final Starmen are fucking expensive) Ness takes Porky and Picky home where its implied the kid gets a good parental beating by his father. Porky’s mother Lardna kills Buzz Buzz because he stupidly flew into the woman’s earshot. With his dying breath (which you can get him to continuously repeat) Buzz Buzz tells Ness to visit 8 Sanctuaries and collect their melodies which will give him the power to stop Giygas. And what is that power? 200,000 XP. From then on the story doesn’t really advance much besides finding the other chosen kids to join Ness and getting through all the weird things each area brings. You’ll be taking out gang members and a police force, fighting your personal dark side inside a surreal mental location, or getting your soul tossed into a robot in order to travel to the past just to name a few but let’s leave weirdness aside for now. Nothing that I can say about the story from now besides Porky turning over to Giygas’ side and becoming 2nd to final boss or Giygas causing weird things to happen to the townspeople, animals and inanimate objects really holds much significance to a reviewers’ plot summary. Some might argue the game’s story pauses until the final dungeon, however we’ve still got a lot of meat to cover here.
REALLY standard stuff for a RPG, with some archaic problems even for its time but convenient additions in areas you wouldn’t expect. EarthBound has you go through different towns in Americaland and areas connecting said towns because fuck world maps. The game was one of the first SNES RPGs to introduce diagonal movement but the main chore of navigation is the lack of any sort of speedy travel. You can only walk everywhere with the only things you get to alleviate this being a bicycle that Ness can only use by himself and you get it not too long before a area where you get your first party member making it a waste of space. You also get PSI teleport around the halfway point that lets you travel to areas you’ve already been through but at that point you’ve already done a REALLY large amount of back and forth to get to that point. At some points you can/have to take the bus through the first few towns but THAT takes time as well. Battles initiated upon contact with a enemy, a pre-emptive if you get them unawares, a sneak attack from them if they get your party from the back or a normal battle circumstance every other time. Its basic turn based battle mechanics, with a couple of exceptions. First the health meter is a odometer, meaning it takes time to scroll down when you take damage. This means if you take a fatal hit but win/heal before death than you survive which becomes very important to take into account in later bosses. When engaging in battle with weaker enemies you’ll end up killing them instantly and skipping the battle. Weak enemies and enemies in completed Sanctuaries also run away from Ness instead of chasing the party. You save the game via telephones which you use to call a number of people but here are the main ones: Your dad to save, your mother to get rid of Ness’ homesickness (yes that is a status ailment exclusive to Ness and it comes up randomly until Lv. 70), and your sister to get a delivery man to collect 3 items and put them in storage. If you get a game over you’re sent back to the last save point you used with half of your money.
When you defeat monsters any money you get is sent to your bank account which you access via ATMs so if you’re done with money put at least most of it away to avoid losing a lot of it. One of the infamous problems with this game is the fucking inventory. Nothing stacks, your equipped weapons are treated as separate items that take space and each character can only hold 14 items each INCLUDING key items. Needless to say in a RPG this system becomes a massive pain in the ass to sort out, especially since other RPGs of its time didn’t have something as backwards as this. You do have the item storage I mentioned earlier for useless key items and such but even that has a limit and you can only store and take 3 items at a time when using the delivery service which takes time to get to you in the first place. Status ailments can be annoying to cure at first with some needing specific healing requirements but stops becoming a major issue once you get the better Healing PSI
Characters can only hold one weapon and 3 pieces of equipment to boost their stats, with shops allowing you to automatically equip purchased items and sell old ones which is a convenient feature in the face of the inconvenient item management. As it may be obvious baseball bats and psychic powers replace swords and magic which doesn’t mean too much to me, they do what they need to do in this type of game. Each character is unique in certain ways:
Ness- Main Physical Attacker and Healer with PSI Special coming in for crowd control
Paula- Main PSI Attacker, learning lots of useful PSI attacks but is incredibly weak to attacks when you get her. Grind her levels up for a easier time since every character starts at Lv. 1 when you get them and she has the weakest defence and HP.
Jeff- Good Physical attacker, can’t use PSI and can take advantage of one use items he either purchases or fixes if his IQ is high enough. Said one use items can BREAK BOSSES EASILY so Bottle Rockets and Big Bottle Rockets are a goddamn must.
Poo- PSI attacker that comes in halfway through the game but he has a number of drawbacks. He can only wear 4 special pieces of equipment you’ll most likely miss in the whole game and a lot of items don’t have much effect on him like fast food. The only time he can get close to eclipsing Paula’s PSI range is his unique PSI Starstorm he learns late game.
Different PSI is learnt after reaching different levels and can make bosses and enemies easier if you grind to them….which the game can make you do on a number of occasions. There are some areas and dungeons halfway through the game that can rip you in two quickly if you don’t rip them in two first. In fact the start of the game is technically you just grinding enemies near Ness’ house until you can beat the gang members and their leader because they can do heavy damage if you walk to them straight away. Something useful to note is that if you exit a room and re-enter it/move far enough away you can reload the enemies in that area into either a different formation or type which makes avoiding dangerous or speedy encounters feasible.
My experience with this game can be summed up as such; I had fun until the halfway point. Its then when all of the design problems this game has starts building up. Backtracking is rampant at certain points, particularly when trying to get into the fucking Monotoli Building in Fourside and having to do a few backtracks to the desert especially obvious in a cave FILLED with fetch quest monkeys although it does start to thin out over time. A number points of the game can be cryptic on what to do and the townspeople only do so much when they’re not giving you the weirdest dialogue you’ll ever hear in a RPG but I can’t really complain about it because 1. There’s a guy in certain areas of the game that gives hints and most importantly 2. Every copy of EarthBound comes with a extensive strategic guide, including the Wii U version. Getting lost is kind of difficult with that stipulation but I’m not really a fan of that type of design if the game was indeed packaged with a guide in part to clear cryptic and annoying parts aside but I doubt it.
Is EarthBound beginner friendly? Yes, despite the need to grind on occasions. Is it good for veterans? In my opinion, HELL NO the gameplay just doesn’t hold up well enough to compete with many RPGs, including the ones out at that time. The deciding factor for many on why they love EarthBound is its presentation.
The game’s simplistic cartoony style is appealing whilst allowing it to age better over time but SNES games didn’t tend to age badly in my book. The only time the style annoys me a bit is when the perspective can get wonky, especially in Fourside. The sprites are OK, I’m more a fan of the enemy sprites in battle which are really nice looking in this style. The battle background is another story. This kind of thing is never too intrusive to the eyes but you have to wonder why they decided to get trippy with it, maybe to make the game have more of a identity than it already had since I don’t want to think about if this is Ness’ actual vision. The music is really catchy stuff and I like a lot of the battle themes despite a good bit of it being a SNES sound chip and a theremin having rough sex but eerie, atmospheric and funky battle tunes all the same. I’ve mentioned the insane amount of weird shit and dialogue previously, and while that is a humorous turn on for some I find it rather unremarkable after the halfway point where I realised this is all I’m hearing from these people not to mention the aged gameplay taking me out of it. I think this weird kind of plot can be done with endearing writing, something I have a hard time spotting in the dialogue. The creepy shit that happens with Giygas at the end of the game shook me out of my bored stupor but I went right back in when the method to defeating his last form came about. After playing Mother 3, a game I think manages to balance its good writing and characters with its weird, wacky and unmistakably humorous side I found it to be the better game between the two because I felt a reason to keep going with the game. I know many EarthBound fans think otherwise but that’s how I think about it.
For myself I feel EarthBound has managed to build itself up as a popular experience than a game. It does things uniquely but only in the ways it wants to and whether or not one likes the game is a question of if they can find endearment in its wackiness because this gameplay does shit for anyone. Sure its fine for first timers but why start a first timer with something so limited? When I don’t feel satisfied from a gameplay view the story and characters were what usually have me press on but I didn’t find it appealing enough to stop the drag that the game became till the end after the halfway point. Well, besides the catchy soundtrack.
It’s up to the person from there, but I doubt anyone whose played many other RPGs will have a easy time trying to see for themselves. Who knows, maybe watching a LP or something might get a craving going for more of its silliness but I think it’s done much better…in its Japan-only sequel.
Hey, at least I can say I love the fans of the game and what they do in their spare time.