JaMiRe #51: Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

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Beatbuddy is kind of a silly game. It’s fun, it’s not too difficult, and it has a good sense of humor. There…kind of, isn’t a lot to it, but what it has is pretty good. Um, I’m speaking in broad generalizations because I can’t really figure out how to present this game, but let’s just jump in and maybe I’ll figure it out by the end.

So, Beatbuddy is a game about music and sound on every level, including the story. Symphonia is an underwater world of music, and that music is created from the dreams of three powerful celestial beings known as “the Buddies”: Melody, Harmony, and Beat. They slept peacefully in their temple, until one day Prince Maestro (a little blue mustachioed dude with a weird haircut and a strange penchant for stars) dug into the temple and started pulling out the shiny bits, which had the unfortunate effect of, 1: waking up the Buddies, which would eventually cause all music in the ocean to cease, effectively ending the world; and 2: causing a bunch of pale parasitic creatures to start popping out of the ocean floor. So, since Maestro has no intentions of returning the all-important temple parts you, as the third Buddy to awaken, Beat (Beatbuddy, get it?) must travel around the ocean searching for them with the aid of your sisters and the strange old man, Clef, who has a penchant for guns and explosives instead of stars. It’s a weird but charming little tale.

As to the game itself, well, it actually isn’t very complicated. You move Beat by clicking on the screen, and he swims the that location. Left click is for normal speed, while right click dashes, and if you hold down the right mouse button you will swim at increased speed. Therefore, the challenge of the game is mostly avoiding obstacles and moving with proper timing.

That “proper timing” bit ends up being very important, though. You see, each level in the game is set to a single looping song; and everything in the environment, neutral or hostile, pulses to the beat of that song. Conversely, you can only hear the instrumental tracks of the song based on what interactable objects are around you; for instance, the bassdrum, which appropriately introduces a bass drum track, or the snarestreams, which have a sound like a snare drum. If you head into an area with no objects at all, the music will fade out almost entirely…which is pretty cool. And occasionally you will enter an area where you can actually hear the melody, which is even more cool.

Anyway, the objects don’t just make sounds, but are also the challenges of the game. The bassdrum, for example, will send you shooting off (on the beat, of course) with enough force to break fragile walls. Snarestreams are obstacles, creating streams of bubbles that can only be popped on the beat. Fortunately for me and my poor sense of rhythm, most of these challenges are either simple or can be brute forced by just crashing through; only a handful of damaging hazards exist, and rocks with health recovery hearts are fairly plentiful as well. Still, sometimes Beat will get hung up on an edge or something and then fatally penetrated by spiky snails, which is annoying, but the game is fairly generous with checkpoints, fortunately.

I did have one obnoxious error related to checkpointing, mind you. In a certain challenge where you had to recover two highly unstable power sources to power up an organ so you can drive your Bubblebuggy deeper (oh yeah, forgot to mention, vehicle sections are a thing too). Well, I got the first one into place, and then died while trying to recover the second; whereupon respawning, Clef started shouting about how I had fixed up the organ and to quickly get back in the Bubblebuggy…meanwhile, I hadn’t even reached the target power source yet, and I had to grab it to make it back to the organ anyway. I died several times, and the cutscene played each time… It was quite annoying.

Other than that? Great game. Simple, but amusing and fun, and the sound work is definitely great. I advise headphones.

Time played: 2.2 hours.

Pros: Beautiful artwork; playful and comical; has a great beat, buddy.

Cons: Pretty easy, with a few exceptions; seems to be designed as a mobile game (and is, in fact, available on Android; so yeah).

Worth playing: Definitely fun to play.

Worth the price: $10 is a lot for such a short game, especially one that is available on Google Play for $5.

Random observation: The Bubblebuggy is more difficult to control than Beat, being bigger and literally bouncing to the beat of the sound track; but at the very least, it has regenerating health, so as long as you aren’t running away from a giant fish (note: a thing that happens) you can always stop for a moment and recover. Which is nice. 🙂

Arbitrary grade: B-

And now, for a game that was apparently a classic but I never managed to discover until it showed up for free on GOG: Beneath a Steel Sky, by Revolution Software. Just goes to show how sheltered I am, apparently.

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JaMiRe #50: Battle Worlds: Kronos

Battle Worlds: Kronos

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Speaking of games that feel more like digital board games, Battle Worlds: Kronos almost feels more like a board game than Battle Chess. Of course, this is due to my own preference towards overcomplicated board games with complex rules… But yeah, even compared to other turn-based strategy video games of my experience, this one feels a lot like you could just translate its mechanics, element by element, straight to cardboard. Which actually makes it a bit uncomfortable, but on the whole I’m into it.

The story is actually pretty cool as well. The game is set in a galactic empire, although I don’t recall if the name of the empire was given… Regardless, the previous emperor just died, after 200 years of rule (well, 50 years of rule and 150 years hooked up to life support machines), and the great Houses of the Empire are choosing the new emperor in the traditional way: flying to the original homeworld of the Empire, Kronos, and having a massive land war to seize control of the surface and gain the right to appoint the new emperor. Only this time, medical technology has become so good the new emperor might end up ruling forever, making this the last war of succession. So far, so good, right?

Well, you are a commander of the current ruling House, Telit, and you have been selected to command a force on Kronos. Your superior officer has noticed some strange behavior from the various sides of this war, including within House Telit itself, things that appear to be against the rules of the competition; and he chose you, a relative nobody, to lead because he didn’t trust any of the well-connected types to not be in on whatever conspiracy is happening in the background. He is about to reveal the details, but a sabotaged supply drop requires your immediate attention.

So, full disclosure: I’ve only completed the very first mission, the one that also doubles as the tutorial; it took me a full hour and a half. Partly, it’s because each unit needs to move individually, which gets a bit laborious once you have 10+ units to manage. Furthermore, there are no take backs, so if you move your piece and then regret it, too bad, you’re stuck with it. The game isn’t easy, either; the devs leave a very pointed message at the very beginning of the game that, yes, the game is difficult, but every level is possible once you know the rules. In fact, it is possible to complete every level in the game without losing a single unit, apparently; I wouldn’t know, my forces were torn to pieces by certain choke points on the first map. Still, I won eventually. (After restarting the level once because I totally fed my forces to the enemy. I’m not the greatest strategist ever.)

I guess my biggest complaint about the game is that everything is rather drawn out: not only do you move every unit one at a time, the computer does as well; meaning that every opponent turn takes awhile to execute, and lengthening the wait before you can begin your next turn. My second pet peeve is that certain tasks take an unnecessary number of clicks to complete, such as loading or unloading bases and boats, which must be done one unit at a time, reselecting the base each time.

On the other hand, I actually kind of like how you only have a limited number of units to complete the mission, and few ways of gaining more. (Ok, technically you can get additional reinforcements every 10 turns, but the game (well, the message from the devs) highly suggests that you do things properly.) It makes you consider every move carefully, in order to preserve your forces to the very end. Of course, it also means that you flinch every time you suddenly realize that you left a unit isolated and vulnerable, and now it’s been reduced to useless scrap metal.

In all, I do enjoy this game, its setting, and its visual style. I have some minor nitpicks about how units control and how everything takes about 25% longer than it absolutely needs to, but I’m still looking forward to finding out how the story turns out, which is a good sign. (Although, the blurb in the GOG store page gives away certain spoilers, which is…kinda too bad, but whatever.)

Time played: 1.5 hours.

Pros: Difficult but reasonable missions that reward strategy; intriguing world and back story.

Cons: Slow; minor interface and control issues.

Worth playing: Yes, it’s a good game.

Worth the price: $20 is a lot, but definitely worth it if you like turn-based strategy. If discounted, I’d recommend it to anyone.

Random observation: So, your first opponent in the game is a corporation, YorLa Inc., and the NPC you speak to in the first mission, Captain Hamill, points out that they are the same corporation that designed and sold all the military units to every side in the game. So, there is a canonical reason why everyone is using the same tech and units, which is pretty foresightful on the part of the devs. 😉

Arbitrary grade: B+

On Monday, I will be back with Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians by THREAKS. Just so you know, it’s a side-scrolling action adventure, not a rhythm game. Fortunately.

JaMiRe #49: Battle Realms + Winter of the Wolf

Battle Realms + Winter of the Wolf

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Battle Realms is a real-time strategy game, set in a fantasy world with the stylings and thematic influences of feudal Japan and Eastern philosophies. And my first impressions of the game are pretty good, for the most part. When it comes to RTS games, I’m most familiar with the early Command and Conquer games, as well as Warcraft 2, and I think Battle Realms can compare favorably.

Mechanically, the game is similar to Warcraft: build facilities for producing and upgrading units, create armies, and deploy them against your enemies. There are some major differences, mind you, beginning with the most basic unit, the Peasant. Peasants are the only unit in Battle Realms that is produced directly, being spawned from Peasant Huts at a fixed rate without consuming any resources, up to a fixed population. These Peasants are used to collect Rice and Water, the two main resources, and also to build the various facilities needed for your base.

Here’s where things get interesting. Once your Peasants build training facilities, they can be assigned to train at those locations in order to change their class. For instance, a Peasant that trains at a Dojo becomes a Spearman, while one that trains at a Target Range becomes an Archer. Further, a unit trained at one facility can potentially train in another as well, creating an entirely different class. If a Spearman is assigned to train at a Target Range, it will become a Dragon Warrior, a unit with both melee and ranged attacks. In any event, each unit contributes to the maximum population, so the game is less of a simple race to create units as quickly as possible; you have to consider the balance of units versus production as you create your army, and how to use your units strategically.

There are four clans in the game, Dragon, Serpent, Wolf, and Lotus, and each side has its own units reflecting the nature of their clan. Well, only Dragon or Serpent are available in the story campaign, and I only played Dragon in my short time with the game, though. Interestingly, while the campaign starts with the choice of either playing Dragon or Serpent, but you don’t just select it from a menu. Instead, the exiled main protagonist Kenji comes across a village being overrun by bandits, and he must decide whether to protect the peasants and kill the bandits (Dragon) or join the bandits in murdering the peasants (Serpent); and this determines Kenji’s personality for the campaign as well. Furthermore, as you progress through the game you occasionally get to choose which province you want to invade, somewhat similar to Command & Conquer, and that determines what missions you receive.

One thing I didn’t appreciate about this game is that the tutorial is unnecessarily long and boring. While it does teach you how to play the game, it also takes away control for long periods of time while an unnamed, unvoiced Geisha explains everything at unnecessary length without allowing you to skip any of her lines. (Ok, she’s got a name, Yumi, but you get my point.)

The other issue I had, is that the goals can sometimes be a bit vague. For example, for one mission I was supposed to attack a Lotus village and drive them out of the province. Well, I sent my small army into the village, but they had more troops on hand then I expected, and I was thinking about retreating… when suddenly and without warning, the game granted me victory and sent me on to the next mission. Another time, I thought I was supposed to chase after a certain unit that probably stole something important, only for a massive army to hit the base I was supposed to be guarding (ok, that was my fault for being curious about the thief, but still.)

But all in all, it’s an interesting take on the RTS genre, and although the graphics are a bit dated, it’s still fun to play.

Time played: 1hr40min.

Pros: Unique Eastern fantasy world; a mix of familiar and innovative RTS mechanics.

Cons: Dated graphics; limited FOV; unclear victory/defeat conditions.

Worth playing: Yeah, it’s good.

Worth the price: Considering that it is for the base game and its prequel expansion, $10 is ok.

Random observation: Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, but Winter of the Wolf is an expansion of Battle Realms featuring, you guessed it, the Wolf clan. So I guess only the Lotus don’t get their own campaign? :/

Arbitrary grade: B-

Tomorrow, we had back into space for a different kind of war: Battle Worlds: Kronos, by KING Art Games and THQ Nordic. Well, when I say different, all I mean is real-time versus turn-based, though.

JaMiRe #48: Battle Chess Special Edition

Battle Chess Special Edition

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Battle Chess is a virtual chess board where the pieces are animated. That’s about all there is to it, really. It uses the normal rules for chess, and there aren’t any special or alternate modes; although it does give you the ability to modify the board at any point by moving, adding or removing pieces. If you like cheating, I suppose. You can either play against another person sitting next to you, or against the computer, which has several difficulty levels, though I’m not qualified to judge how good the AI actually is. Originally you could also play over modem, of all things, though I can’t imagine how that would work nowadays…

There are actually three games in this bundle, or rather three boards and sets of pieces when you actually think about it. Battle Chess is the original version, and the pieces are a typical medieval fantasy archetypes — slightly oddly, the rooks are shapeshifting stone golems that look like towers in their resting state. Each piece has a specific animation for taking other pieces, in other words, a pawn taking another pawn will look different than a pawn taking a knight; but it will always be the same scene no matter which side, or which pawn.

Battle Chess 4000 is, as you might expect, a space themed version of the original, with updated features and menus, not all of which I understood, or cared to look into. Finally, Chinese Chess, which is a bit of an odd duck in that it isn’t just a reskin of the international version of chess with Chinese characters, but is actually using a Chinese ruleset and pieces. Unlike standard chess — or rather, the chess I actually know how to play — there are more spaces, fewer pieces, and a literal river running through the center of the board, which is…actually kinda cool. The game actually has the rules for playing this version in the game itself, so I was able to read up on them; and it was really quite intriguing how different the game is.

That said, it is really difficult for me to understand who the audience for these games is supposed to be. Admittedly, the various capture animations tend to be pretty funny, if occasionally gory (alright, a low-res sort of gory, but still). Yet, the game underneath them is still chess; and I could be wrong, but I don’t think people play chess for the amazing spectacle. On that note, all the animations make everything take longer, and a bug (presumably) in the original Battle Chess causes the game to hesitate every time a sound effect is played, causing the animations to take even longer.

Well, you can always turn the 3D animations off, and play the game on a 2D board; at which point, it’s simply an ordinary virtual chess set, which is fine. I suppose.

Time played: Not long; just long enough to make sure the games worked, and read up on the rules for Chinese Chess.

Pros: Can play chess in an ordinary way; several capturing sequences are actually quite funny.

Cons: Still can’t figure out who these games were aimed at.

Worth playing: Do you like chess? There are better ways to play chess, though.

Worth the price: $10 for three virtual chess boards. I honestly can’t even judge.

Random observation: Chinese Chess has cannons, which makes me approximately three times as likely to actually learn some strategy for that game. 😉

Arbitrary grade: They are chess games, and they play chess; a passing grade.

Moving on to a game I actually know nothing about, and which I am not sure how it even ended up in my library: Battle Realms, by Liquid Entertainment. At the very least, I’m pretty sure it won’t be chess…but I wonder if it will have cannons?

JaMiRe #47: Banished

Banished

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Banished remains one of my favorite games, despite being somewhat outside my normal genres. It is a town simulation game, something like a medieval SimCity (which I’m sure has to be a thing, or a Sims mod). There is no fighting or conflict, just your poor citizens trying to survive against the odds.

That said, I’m not sure whether the game is difficult or not. Banished is very simple, in a way; the tutorials teach you more or less everything you need to know about creating and running your town. You start with a handful of families, resources and food; and you need to build houses and buildings, clear land, grow and gather food, and basically keep the little people from starving. Or freezing, or dying of disease; but starvation is the biggest danger.

The thing is, while you can direct your people where to build things, and assign them various jobs, you can’t micromanage them on an individual level, and these people aren’t the smartest settlers ever. For instance, you can indicate where to build a house, and the people will clear the land of impediments like rocks and trees, which then get carried to a stockpile to be used as raw materials. Once the plot is clear, the people then take the same materials they just removed from that building project from the stockpile, and walk them over to the building site once again. It’s a problem easily avoided by clearing the areas you want to build in beforehand, but I believe it demonstrates how every task takes a lot longer than you might expect.

Further, your people do people-like things, like going home to eat, and to get warm in the winter; and sometimes they just hang around relaxing. There is a great deal of lag time between when you give an instruction, and when it might be finished; and when it comes to things like food production, this can literally be the difference between life and death. It is possible to expand beyond your food supply surprisingly quickly; and usually the first you realize it is when your city starts starving to death — at which point, it’s too late to take emergency measures. Cue the massive die-off.

But yeah, other than that, it’s a pretty chill game. Give your people jobs to do, and leave them to it. Build more houses whenever you want to expand your population. Make sure you have fishing docks, hunting lodges, and gathering huts; on the easier difficulties where you start with seeds for crops as well, make fields and orchards. If you want to get different products and livestock, build a trading post, and stock it with whatever you can spare — new seeds are expensive. Most importantly, there is no win condition for the game; there are achievements for maintaining a certain population for a certain length of time, or to build a town that doesn’t use certain resources, or every available resource — but even if you achieve them, you can just keep going.

So yeah, the only complete failure is having everyone die, which isn’t too likely (though losing a large number of villagers at once tends to depress me enough to restart, but I’m a perfectionist like that.) Also, the game lets you increase the speed up to 10x its base rate, so if you really want to hurry things along, you can; or, if you just want your village in the background while you do something else (like me, at this very instance) setting the speed to 1x makes it more like a screensaver. I usually run the game at 2x, a good balance of alacrity and chill. Check on your peeps every so often, but as long as you keep your food surplus high, they should be fine for long periods of virtual time.

Of course, as I may have mentioned a time or two now, it’s possible to eat through even a big surplus if you expand too quickly…

I could go on, discussing the various quirks and details of the game, but I’ll spare you. It’s a fun, town-sized simulation game with stupid yet endearing little people. And I would be remiss if I missed the game’s greatest feature: amphibious deer, which can migrate across the bottom of rivers and lake beds. I checked, and their heads were completely under water. So yeah. Underwater deer are a thing.

Time played: Hours. Lots and lots of hours, 4+ for this review alone, and many, many more in the past.

Pros: Super chill gameplay where planning ahead is 1000% necessary.

Cons: It is very easy to accidentally starve your village to death; there is no win condition so you have to make your own goals.

Worth playing: Absolutely yes.

Worth the price: Er… $20 is a bit… I mean, yes, it is worth that if you enjoy it as much as I do, but it’s kind of a high buy-in price if you aren’t sure if you like village simulation games…

Random observation: The weirdest element in the game is how these people age. You see, there are four seasons in a year, like you would expect; but your people seem to increase in age by season, not by year. Not only that, but they are fully functioning adults at the age of 10 (unless you send them to school, but that’s an entirely different kettle of worms). I’ve given it some thought, and I have decided that the reason these people were banished from their original home is that they are actually, secretly, goblins. It’s the only explanation that makes sense. 8)

Arbitrary grade: A

Tomorrow I review Battle Chess Special Edition by Interplay. I’m aiming to keep it even shorter than usual, because I am not an expert at chess.

JaMiRe #46: The Ball

The Ball

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The Ball is a game about the Ball. What is the Ball? It is a game about the Ball, which is the focus of the game which is the Ball…

Uh, sorry, I think I blanked out for a second there. So, The Ball– that is, the game, The Ball — is a first-person physics-based puzzle game. Well, mainly a puzzle game, anyway. The closest comparison I can think of off the top of my head is Portal, which is also a first-person physics-based puzzle game named after its central mechanic. Unfortunately, The Ball is not nearly as good as Portal, unsurprising though that may be.

Anyway, the game is set back in 1940. You are an archaeologist excavating a mountain in South America, who gets separated from the rest of the team due to falling down a hole. Rather than do the smart thing, i.e. stay in place and wait for rescue, you follow the suggestion of a fellow expedition member and explore around a bit — whereupon you fall down another hole, and end up at the entrance to a buried, but surprisingly well kept up, Aztec temple. Just outside, you find a strange automatic piston/industrial magnet…thing…which allows you to manipulate a boulder-sized Ball of metal and stone, decorated with skulls and glowing from within, that you find just inside the entrance.

There’s more to the story, about the significance of the Ball and the alien race humanity apparently stole it from, but it’s pretty nonsensical so let’s just ignore it. Gameplay is basically about manipulating the Ball in order to solve puzzles and unlock the path forward. You can either use the weird gun-thing as a magnet to call the Ball to you, or give it a smack with the piston to send it flying forward. There are switches that can only be activated by the player, and some that only respond to the ball; there are various hazards to avoid like spikes and lava; and there are secrets, represented by spinning gold heads, which can be found by exploring out-of-the-way places. Oh, and eventually you are attacked by Aztec mummies which throw fireballs.

I think the first complaint I have with the game is a certain lack of consistency. For instance, you can find clay jars all over the place, and as you might expect, running over them with the Ball causes them to break. However, you can’t use the piston gun to break them, even if you charge it up; there’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance that your apparently steam-powered piston can knock away a big heavy boulder, but can’t crack a stone pot. Furthering this weirdness is that there are objects you can hammer away with your piston, but they are all clearly marked with a glowing blue hammer symbol. The danger the Ball represents is extremely inconsistent as well, since you can use it to crush mummies, monkeys, cracked walls, etc. — but even if it slams into you at full speed while you stand between it and a wall, it won’t do a single hitpoint of damage.

Also, the game is a series of puzzle chambers, so why are we mixing in awkward combat as well? Admittedly, the puzzles tend to be fairly simple, so I understand wanting to spice things up a bit. But the Ball can’t be relied upon to kill mummies just by running over them; you either need to piston it at them, or call the Ball back with the magnet from a bit of a distance. And since the mummies are smart enough to try and flank you, fighting them in the open can be frustrating. (Especially with my frame rate issues, but hopefully that won’t apply to everyone.) Mind you, it is kinda fun to lure them into a choke point and then Ball them to death, but it isn’t much of a puzzle; and on occasion they get to chase you when the ball isn’t even available, which is obnoxious.

It’s not a bad game, but I just can’t get invested in a game which has realistic visuals and a story that is attempting to sound serious, but in its mechanics is shouting “THIS IS A GAME” at the top of its lungs. Oh, and you have to make precision jumps over lava, which is always a red flag in first-person games. So yeah, not great.

Time played: 2 hours, to complete the first two named areas. Which was actually three areas, but never mind.

Pros: The visual design is kinda pointlessly cool; the Ball can be fun to play with.

Cons: A nonsensical story and setting; the physics of the Ball, and the magnet/hammer thing, feel very inconsistent.

Worth playing: Meh. I could take it or leave it.

Worth the price: I can’t see paying $10 for it, get it on sale if you want to try it.

Random observation: It turns out that mummies explode violently if you lure them into water. Who knew? 😕

Arbitrary grade: C

Well. I feel the need to calm down for a bit, and fortunately I have the perfect game next. Tomorrow I review my favorite village simulator, Banished, by Shining Rock Software.

Occasional weekend status updates are going to be a thing.

Because I can’t think of a better title for this post, I’ll just go with that. As of last Wednesday, both my kids are back in school, and I have a large chunk of time available to myself each day to Get Stuff Done. Of course, just because I have time, doesn’t mean I’ll spend it wisely. Or even stay awake. Still, I’m about a week ahead on my JaMiRe schedule right now, and there is a measurable, non-zero chance that I might start writing fiction again in the near-ish future. 😛

Speaking of JaMiRe, I’ve made it into the ‘B’s of my collection, and while there are fewer of them than the ‘A’s, the going has been, shall we say, fraught. Games that have been dropped from GOG, games that have been combined with other games, games that belong in collections starting with a letter other than ‘B’, and one series with the second and third game appropriately under ‘B’, but the first game under ‘The’. It’s been a mess, and will continue to be a mess; but I will do my best to keep the madness hidden in the shadows! (Since I just told you about it, I guess this counts as complete failure. Ah well.) As a final note, I try to update the TOC for JaMiRe every weekend, preferably on Saturday; but I usually end up updating on Sunday. Just an FYI. 😀

Unfortunately I haven’t made any progress on the fiction front, and I don’t have any new cakes to share (my wife is back in school, so I’ve prevented her from making cakes for the duration — except for my son’s birthday, which is on Thursday. I’ve heard rumors of a “flaming cheesecake,” but I don’t know what that means…) So, I guess I’ll just leave you with a couple of recommendations for YouTube channels: first: Dicebreaker, a channel for boardgames and tabletop RPGs that just started a couple weeks ago; and Today I Found Out, which features…basically random facts and interesting data, but presented in a very appealing British accent. Actually, Dicebreaker is hosted by two Brits as well… Huh. Guess I just like British accents. 😉

Have a great week, friends, and take care of yourselves. 🙂

JaMiRe #45: Baldur’s Gate 2: Complete Edition

Baldur’s Gate 2: Complete Edition

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Sometimes, I wonder how much my mood affects my impressions of these games. Baldur’s Gate 2 definitely does have a lot of improvements over the original; it has more options in character creation; it has a strong opening, dropping you right into the action. But, somehow, I still don’t want to play it for any length of time. But let’s break it down.

BG2 is a direct sequel to the original, storywise, and you as the MC are canonically the same poor orphan from Candlekeep — but wait! The intro movie spoils the ending of the previous game: that armored guy who killed Gorion was actually the MC’s brother, since they were both born from pieces of the (dead) God of Murder, Bhaal. You killed armored guy, but a cruel mage named Irenicus has since captured you and your party, and performed inhuman experiments on you in an attempt to wake the power of Bhaal within you. Apparently. You are imprisoned in his dungeon home, but an assassination attempt has caused a breach in his containment and you are able to escape, freeing a few of your former party in the process.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this opening, and once again it comes down to the D&D ruleset. As a seasoned adventurer per the story, you start the game at level 7. While this might not sound like much, in D&D this is actually a huge increase in power over level 1. This is helpful, of course, especially since Irenicus keeps lots of goblins and mephits all over his lair, but it also means that your characters will have a lot of abilities and powers that you won’t immediately be familiar with. Nowhere is this more apparent than with mage/thief Imoen, who starts the game with numerous spells memorized and has great utility — if you know how all the spells work, which symbol is which spell, and when the best time to use them might be. There are tooltips that will pop up if you hover your mouse over the spells (eventually, anyway; for some reason the game defaults to a very long hesitation before displaying tooltips) but these will only tell you the name of the spell. And if you aren’t familiar with D&D already, how are you supposed to intuit out the effects of, for instance, Color Spray?

Still, it’s better than being completely weak. And unlike the first game, there is an independant tutorial you can play to learn the mechanics of the game, instead of a series of boring NPCs in the prologue. Amusingly, this tutorial was lifted almost entirely unchanged for the enhanced edition Baldur’s Gate, despite being completely nonsensical in context and also resulting in Imoen being a thief/mage in the EE tutorial instead of a pure thief. Or I find it amusing, at least, although others might use it as an example of how little Beamdog actually added to the EE — but that was yesterday’s review, so let’s move on.

So what’s good about BG2? Well, the resolution is higher, meaning we can see more of the playfield at any one time; the journal properly separates story and quests; opening the inventory pauses the game while opening the map does not; and it’s possible to tell how hurt your characters are by watching their portraits on the right, which fill up with red as injuries mount. All very helpful, but…in the end, it still isn’t enough. It’s really difficult to keep track of who is properly engaging the enemy in combat, and who is just standing around. Also, due to how damage works in D&D, combatants tend to miss a lot, but hits can end up doing a lot of damage. In other words, things can seem under control, but then the enemy gets a few good hits in and suddenly your mage is dead — or worse, your MC. It just isn’t that great of a system for combat, despite the ability to pause and give orders at any moment.

So, sorry, Baldur’s Gate fans, but I just don’t care for the series. I’ll give it credit for the things it does right, and for pioneering a lot of unique elements of the genre of Western RPGs, but in the end, I’d rather be playing the Avernum games. My personal preference, I’m afraid.

Time played: 1hr30m.

Pros: Interesting story that is a direct sequel to the previous game; many quality of life improvements over the original.

Cons: Combat isn’t easy to read, or very fun to play; D&D rules are both complicated and not necessarily suited to computer games.

Worth playing: Yeah, but there are a ton of games I would recommend first, like Avernum or Aarklash: Legacy.

Worth the price: Again, $20 for this game packaged with the Beamdog Enhanced Edition doesn’t seem worth it.

Random observation: Color Spray: “Upon casting this spell, the wizard causes a vivid, fan-shaped spray of clashing colors to spring forth from his/her hand. 1d6 creatures within the area are affected in order of increasing distance from the wizard. All creatures in the area of effect that have 4 Hit Dice or less must make a successful Saving Throw or be rendered unconscious for 5 rounds.” Just so you know. 😛

Arbitrary grade: B-

Ok, I’ve had it with Western RPGs, enough is enough. On Monday, I will review The Ball, by Teotl Studios and Tripwire Interactive. It’s, uh, it’s weirder than the name would imply.

JaMiRe #44: Baldur’s Gate: The Original Saga and Enhanced Edition

Baldur’s Gate: The Original Saga and Enhanced Edition

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Alright, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really like Baldur’s Gate all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it either. Back in the day, I played through the whole game, in fact. Even thought it was pretty good. But I just don’t feel that it is nearly as good as its hype, and I’m willing to say so.

Part of the problem, a large part in fact, is definitely that Baldur’s Gate uses an adaptation of the Dungeons & Dragons rule set. (Specifically, the second edition known as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but no need to get into that.) Don’t get me wrong, I love D&D — as a tabletop game I play with friends, and a DM. The rules in D&D are there for arbitration, and establishing a baseline of sorts, but it’s up to the DM to decide what actually happens when the players choose a course of action. In the case of computer games, though, the computer has to play the role of DM; and no matter how many options you allow the computer to give the player, it doesn’t change the fact that those options are chosen mechanically in the end.

All that said, once you strip away the baggage the ruleset brings it is a pretty good story. Not an especially original story, mind you, but good. You are an orphan raised at the scholarly fortress known as Candlekeep. Your foster father, a man named Gorion, has been increasingly nervous of late, and one day he pulls you from your chores and tells you to prepare for a journey, but refuses to tell you why. Later that night as you travel, you are ambushed by a large party led by a man wearing ominous-looking armor, who demands that Gorion hand you over to him. Gorion tells you to flee, and fights against the enemy all by himself, before finally dying at the hands of the armored man. You are all alone, now (actually, for about five seconds but never mind), and you have no choice but to find out why the armored man was looking for you.

Mechanically, and setting aside the D&D ruleset, there are a few other things that annoy me about the game. First, foremost, and above all else, characters move so damn slowly! It takes forever to move anywhere, especially if you don’t care about anything in between your current position and your destination. To move a long distance, the most expedient way is to open up your map (and there is no minimap) and click to move your current field of view to the place you want to reach. Leave the map click on the ground to move your party (and I hope you selected all of them) and then wait. Wait until those slow little midgets finally reach the place you sent them to. If you want to know how much longer they will take, pop your map back open again, and move your view back to the party. There is no autoscroll following the party, either, so you’ll have to follow them the whole way. It’s obnoxious, especially if your party is attacked along the way.

The journal is also annoying. While it does keep track of quests you receive, it doesn’t organize them; so if you want to see what you are supposed to do for a certain sidequest, you have to scroll back up until you find it again. And bizarrely, the game remains paused on every menu screen except the inventory, which must have made sense to someone. Oh, but you still can’t see what’s happening to your characters on the inventory screen. Just so you know.

And then there’s the “Enhanced Edition.” And to be fair, it is somewhat enhanced, not only the graphics but fixing some of the things that annoyed me in the original version: the journal helpfully sorts quests, opening the inventory pauses the game while opening the map doesn’t, and you can zoom the field of view so you can see what’s happening more than five feet away.

Other than that? The game is exactly the same: quests are the same, items are in the same locations, and even the sound and voice files have all been lifted from the first game. It kind of makes me wonder why they bothered remaking it; and apparently I’m not the only one, since they eventually packaged both the enhanced edition and the original together. They were still separate when I got them, incidentally. Sure, the enhanced edition is technically better, but somehow it just highlights the weaknesses of the original game that didn’t get changed. Like the walking speed. So, in conclusion, meh.

Time played: 2 hours collectively, 1h20m in the original, 40m in enhanced, to reach approximately the same spot.

Pros: It is a game that inspired and laid the groundwork for many later great RPGs.

Cons: It shows its age in many ways, even in the updated edition.

Worth playing: It’s a classic, sure, but I think there are games more worth your time out there.

Worth the price: No, even both editions together aren’t worth $20. Wait for the next significant sale.

Random observation: Do Gorion or Minsc sound familiar to you? That’s because it is none other than legendary actor Jim Cummings, who is literally everywhere and everyone. Everyone who isn’t Frank Welker, anyway — wait, he’s in this too?! As Elminster, no less. 😆

Arbitrary grade: C+

So, tomorrow I have scheduled Baldur’s Gate 2 Complete, again by Bioware; which is no longer available on its own, but is still available packaged with Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition. Please note that I do not own the Enhanced Edition, so BG2 will have to stand on its own merits. Fortunately, it has its own merits, even when compared to its predecessor– no, sorry, that review is tomorrow, come back then.

JaMiRe #43: Bad Mojo Redux

Bad Mojo Redux

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So, as you might expect from a game about a cockroach, Bad Mojo is a weird game. And, as you might expect from a game about a photorealistic cockroach, it is a game with a lot of gross imagery. Now, I don’t exactly have a phobia of insects, but I personally find them gross and creepy, especially when they are dead. And does this game ever have a lot of dead insects….

But let’s start at the beginning. The main character is a cockroach– Actually, let’s start even before the beginning: the main character was, originally, a creepy guy with a complex about being “the little man,” someone who always gets the short straw, who is always the victim, etc., etc. Bitter and fed up with the situation, he finds the opportunity to steal a suitcase full of money (possibly by fraud, although I’m not 100% certain even now) and plans to leave the country. However, before he can put his escape into action, he gets cursed by a mysterious amulet, and his consciousness is placed inside a cockroach. Now, he has to explore his apartment building as a bug, and find a way to return to his body metaphorically and literally.

Bad Mojo is a puzzle adventure game, sort of, where the puzzles are mostly of the “make something random occur by satisfying an arbitrary goal” type. As a cockroach, your sole ability is movement and you can’t pick anything up, so puzzles that you can achieve by pushing small objects with your body is the order of the day. Although, maybe it’s because you’re cursed, you seem to have a strange effect on nearby electronics, as well…. Oh, and the game uses tank controls, which is understandable given the different planes a cockroach can move along, but it still makes it difficult to maneuver sometimes.

Regardless, the main difficulty in Bad Mojo is figuring out what exactly you are supposed to be doing. Fortunately…. Or maybe not fortunately, but anyway, you can find hidden “eye” pictures around the environment, which allow you to stare into the eyes of other small creatures and pests (warning: not all these pests actually have eyes) and receive a crazy vision of what you might need to do to progress, along with rhyming couplets to accompany the images. How much help this actually is, is debatable; but I almost got stuck in one area before finding a slug to give me an important clue, so I guess the mechanic works. Still gross though.

The secondary difficulty in Bad Mojo would be “staying alive.” You can crawl just about anywhere, including vertical walls and inverted surfaces; but you can’t cross liquids without getting stuck, and there are various other hazards such as spiders, burning cigarettes, a hot water main, and a giant cat (the giant cat is actually a normal cat, but cockroach.) For some reason, the game has a wholly unnecessary lives system, and if you die from hazards four times you get sent back to the “hub” area beneath the drains where you started the game. It doesn’t actually reset your progress, though, so it’s just an annoying exercise in backtracking that honestly should have been left out entirely.

I mentioned right at the beginning that the cockroach and other insects are rather photorealistic, but it goes further than that; actually, the story in the game is entirely presented in live action FMVs. There is a rather ridiculously schlocky B-movie quality to the whole thing, starting with the main character’s actor who is hamming it up to a truly ludicrous degree. It is definitely straddling the line between “so bad it’s good” and “so bad it’s bad,” and while I personally think it falls slightly more on the fun side, I could see it as being off-putting instead, especially given how gross the games environments can be.

As a final note, I almost wasn’t able to play and review the game at all. When I installed the game in the default directory, the game’s launcher completely failed to work, giving only a generic error message. Fortunately, when I checked the GOG forums (incidentally, the GOG game support pages are usually worthless) other people had solved this problem by installing the game in the root directory with a specific folder name, C:\BadMojo. I tried this, and it worked perfectly; I have no idea why this would work this way, but at least it worked. Truly, older games can be bizarre.

Time played: 2 hours (1hr40 playing the game, 20min troubleshooting the launcher)

Pros: Unique premise; interesting environments to explore as a non-human creature.

Cons: Imagery is often gross and unattractive; acting is B-movie quality (this might be a pro); puzzles can be obtuse and arbitrary.

Worth playing: Yeah, but don’t expect Shakespeare here. Avoid if you have a true insect phobia, as well.

Worth the price: $6 isn’t so bad, but I’d rather get it on sale.

Random observation: I wouldn’t call the music too special, but I found myself enjoying it, and it seems to fit the game pretty well. On the other hand, the sound effects creeped me out a lot, with all the clicking legs and fluttering wings… ew. 😥

Arbitrary grade: C+

Ok, it’s been one day and we are already coming back to RPGs, like my collection is skewed in a certain direction. Which it is. And tomorrow’s RPG already has a towering reputation, so you probably don’t need my opinion; but regardless, I will be reviewing Baldur’s Gate — both the original version by BioWare and Black Isle Studios, and the “Enhanced Edition” by Beamdog.