Monday, August 29, 2016

My Month In Games: August 2016

Mighty No. 9 - PS4

Ever late to the party, I'm just now getting around to Mighty No. 9. By now I'm sure that EVERYONE knows the backstory of this game's development, but for the uninformed I'll break it down like this: the co-creator of Mega Man launches a highly successful Kickstarter for this spiritual sequel to that vaunted franchise, game is beset by numerous delays and development troubles, game finally releases to tepid reviews and general disappointment. That pretty much sums it up. One of the things about me though, is that I seem to have a bit of a contrarian streak in my wiring. When a film, TV show, or video game seems universally loathed, it just makes me want to see/play it all the more. I don't know why I'm like this exactly, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that when I see the masses piling on the negativity toward something artistic, I tend to feel that I need to see it for myself and try to give it a fair shake. There's just something about having my expectations lowered that allows me to view things with a more open mind. Sadly - and much to my general annoyance - I usually tend to agree with the haters, and it only rarely ends up that I find some aspects of the thing that I truly love. When it comes to Mighty No. 9, I should have listened to the masses, but unlike many of the generally negative reviews I've read, I do think there's room for this property to grow into a successful franchise.

Backgrounds are kinda stark.
Without going into it too much, Mighty No. 9 just doesn't have the same tightly constructed gameplay or much of the charm of the Mega Man series. The platforming and level design seem uninspired, most of the weapons you gain by defeating the bosses are fairly useless, and the graphics are surprisingly spartan. I did find the cast of characters fairly charming, and I also appreciated the Osamu Tekuza (Astro Boy)-style look of their design, but this alone wasn't enough to really grab me. To be sure, Mighty No. 9 is not a broken, unplayable game - far from it - it's just that it simply doesn't measure up to Mega Man by any metric you'd care to compare.

The "absorption dash" mechanic is a nice addition to the Mega Man gameplay style.
In the end, Mighty No. 9 feels like a well made fan game. It mostly works, and you can tell that there was some measure of ambition behind it, but whether it was a shorter development timeline or an overall lack of inspiration, the whole thing winds up feeling just a bit flat. Despite this, I wouldn't mind giving the designers another chance to make a more fleshed-out and enjoyable sequel. From my perspective, this game could be great with a few tweaks, but as it is Mighty No. 9 simply doesn't have the stuff.

Grade: C

Tricky Towers - PS4

This challenging and engaging puzzler might resemble Tetris in screenshots, but unlike in that game the goal isn't to clear lines but rather to create towers using the familiar Tetris shapes. Seems easy enough in concept, but here the pieces have weight and physics, and they don't automatically stick together when they make contact with one another. Build your tower up too much on one side and the whole thing will come crashing down. Place a "T"-shaped piece stem side down and it's going to list to one side. Make sense? Tricky Towers also features several play styles. There's your basic mode where you must balance a set number of shapes, a puzzle mode where you have to fit the shapes together in a specific way without piling them up too high, and a race mode where you have to get your shapes down quickly in order to reach a certain height before time runs out. There's also a head-to-head mode where you can challenge a human player. As usual I didn't try this mode out (I have no friends), but it seems like it would work well as a tense, thrilling 2-player experience.

Multiplayer looks fun! I didn't play any... :(
I rather enjoyed Tricky Towers. It's a good game to pop on and play for 15-20 minutes at a clip when you feel like getting your puzzle on. I wasn't in love with the pastel color scheme and the odd looking character designs, but the core of the experience is solid, challenging, and fun in short bursts.

Grade: B-

Ultratron vs. Geometry Wars³ Dimensions Evolved - PS Vita

I don't normally review and compare two games at once, but since I played these games within a few weeks of each other and they both have a similar feel, I thought it might be appropriate to smash them together into one review.

Both of these games draw their inspiration from classic 80's arcade titles. In fact, it's probably fair to say that they both draw most of their inspiration from the same title: Robotron 2048. Both are twin stick shooters, and both feature retro-style visuals and gameplay aesthetics. Of the two, Ultratron is the game that reminded me most of Robotron. It's not just because of the title either, as much like its distant cousin both games feature single screen stages and a robot protagonist who is fighting for the human race against hordes of evil droids. The retro soundtrack and pixelated visuals played heavy on my nostalgia for the old days, but I had to dock some points for a combination of odd visual design choices and an overall lack of variety in the level design. Truth be told, it's actually more accurate to say that there is NO variety in the level design, as each stage is a simple, square 2D room, and your objective is always just to blast away at every enemy until the screen is clear. The strangest thing about Ultratron, however, is the way the enemies are often the same color as the stage itself. It makes the bad guys hard to see and feels like a major flub considering the limited scope of the game. It's definitely fun for awhile, but I feel it could have been much better with some visual tweaks and a little more variety to the level design. By comparison, Geometry Wars³ Dimensions Evolved is a much sleeker affair. The sound and visuals don't feature the same 80's-style retro charm as Ultratron, but there is a tremendous amount of variety to the stages, the presentation is crisp and inviting, and you are given incentive to revisit stages and get better scores.

Geometry Wars 3
Both games feature a currency system that you can use to upgrade your firepower and augment your main character with drones that follow you around and help you shoot the bad guys. What's interesting is that in both cases, the drones follow you in a way that makes them difficult to distinguish from incoming enemy fire. Put bluntly, this sucks. I guess it gives the little drones a bit more "personality" to have them fly about and not have them locked into a static orbit around your ship, but I don't think it would have hurt to find a way to make it more easy to tell them apart from enemy bullets.

At the end of the day I'd have to give the advantage to Geometry Wars. It has a better presentation and it just feels better to play overall.


Ultratron - C+
Geometry Wars - B

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