3 Games That The Agent Has Been Playing for The Last Month

I’m not sure why, but it seems that I’ve been losing interest in the triple-A gaming scene as I grow older.

Maybe I’m just bitter about how “games were better back then.” Perhaps I’m just legitimately more interested in what indie developers are doing. There’s the real chance that I’m just busy out of the house more often these days and I spend more time with cheap, free-to-play fare on my phone. Whatever the reason, I find myself drawn away from big budget releases in favor of indie games, classic re-releases, and mobile games these days.

And since I’ve been having a ball with taxes, family issues, and the like, let’s take a simpler approach this week and look at a few rapid-fire impressions from some games that have been holding my attention lately.

Ōkami HD

Scary!… but also pretty…
Source: PC Gamer

Let’s start with the classic re-releases, shall we?

I first played Ōkami on the Nintendo Wii and forwent the PlayStation 2 release thinking that the Wii motion controls would be better suited to a game centered around accurate brush movements (go ahead and get the giggles out now, a-holes; I’m sure it’s hilarious in hindsight), but the limited screen resolution made it very difficult to enjoy. After, a game about literally creating art should be, at the very least, pretty to look at.

The HD re-release addresses both the control and presentation issues I had in the past. There’s still a degree of challenge to accurate brush strokes, but none of that jittery nonsense from the motion controls. Plus, this is one of the few times I’d argue that an HD graphics overhaul was worth re-buying the game. Again, the one thing a game about art needs to get right is to at least look nice.

Other than that, it’s the exact same game as before; just as much fun and just as rich is Japanese folklore (so there’s this 3-part Kabuki theatre dance based on the folktale of Orochi on YouTube that you should totally watch…).

Reign of Bullets

Did somebody say, “EXPLOSIONS?”
Source: Steam

Next, the smaller indie stuff…

So, of the games I’ve been playing, I’ve been playing this the least – not because it’s bad, but because it’s better suited as a time waster and I’ve had little in the way of time to waste.

The story is kinda cute; a giant corporation literally drops a freeway on your garage and you go vigilante to take it back. Reading the passive-aggressive tweet storms between you and the bad guys over who has the worse business practices is amusing if nothing else.

The game also features tons of customisability as you earn new weapons and upgrades for your ship. But, as I said, it’s a time waster; You’re going to want to have some free time to dedicate to grinding for cash and parts. That kind of gameplay is good for when you want to just not think about stuff, but I find I’m not exactly the kind of person that enjoys not thinking.

Blustone

 

Prepare combat sequence for ludicrous speed!
Source: Google Play

And lastly, naturally, we come to the mobile game that I wish was more fun for me than it actually is.

Made of equal parts RPG and Idle Clicker, Blustone is pretty straightforward; you build a team, train them up, and tap on the screen ’till the bad guys go ‘boom.’

The problem is that, like most RPGs I’ve played, it starts out fast-paced and exciting, but slows down quickly to a slog of a level grinder. Plus, I found myself kinda distracted by the blatantly cutesy fanservice (how many bunny girls do you need, game?).

That said, there was ONE character that got a laugh out of me; an ice skater named Yuri (Get it?… Her name is Yuri… and you can say that she’s “on ice.”).

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The Agent Reviews a Game: Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack

This blank, boring promo offend ALL of my senses as a graphic designer. But as for the game…
Source: Google Play

Well, color me surprised. Here I am, hunting for the ONE good mobile I can enjoy, and it was hiding right in front of me.

In my defense, everything about Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack screamed, “don’t play this; it’s garbage and we REALLY didn’t care about it beyond a paycheck.” Every piece of promotional material attached to this game is some of the most bland-looking, generic marketing wank I’ve ever seen. Even the title is so generic, I had to review and analyze screenshots like they were courtroom evidence just to make sure I wasn’t looking at footage from a different, equally generic looking game.

That said, when I actually got to playing it, I was surprised at how well it held up.

As the title ham-fistedly tells us, Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack is a space-themed shooter. You may recall my frothing at the mouth rage towards the last mobile shooter I played. Well, I was able to detect a trace of enjoyability through my fury-blurred vision and decided to look for other shooters to try in the hope that they would correct the mistakes of Fastlane. And, for the most part, Space Shooter nailed it.

The controls are AMAZINGLY responsive. My main problem with  Fastlane was that it didn’t actually track your finger which led to a lot of easily avoidable deaths. Space Shooter wins by default by having your ship lock to where ever you tap your finger, allowing for tight maneuvers and rapid response to threats.

And by god are their threats to be had. This game is just shy of a Touhou Project level bullet hell shooter – especially when you get to the boss fights and SUPER ESPECIALLY in Boss Fight Mode when they get amped up to eleven.

Oh yeah, there are multiple modes to play. There’s a ‘story mode’ (in the loosest sense as there is no plot) with three difficulty levels -Normal, Elite and Veteran. Boss Fight Mode has you rechallenging the bosses in the story with new ridiculous firing patterns that put your skills to the test, the Arena and Trial Modes give you a chance at snagging glory on a global leaderboard, and Endless Mode gives you a chance to grind some coin out of the alien menace to upgrade your ships.

Honestly, speaking of Endless Mode, that may be my only hang up with this game so far. Endless mode is WAY too easy. With a fully powered-up ship, I can cruise through over 200 waves while barely even touching the screen to steer. It’s pretty obvious that it exists only for level grinding.

Really, the thing you’re going to want to play this game for is the PvP. Yeah, this has a competitive multiplayer mode where you and a friendly rando from around world race against the clock to snatch the highest score. I thought it was totally mindless at first, but there’s actually a fair amount of strategy involved. What the fastest way to clear this wave to pull ahead of your opponent? Do you stick with your favorite ship to clear waves faster or grab the ship change power-up for a quick point boost?

As for the ads and pay-to-win shenaniganry I railed against in my Fastlane review, they are all completely optional here. Yes, there are buttons urging you to buy other games everytime you die, but they’re incorporated into the game over screen directly so as to be as unintrusive as possible. And if there ARE long video ads to watch, the game gives you the option to ignore them if the promise of extra coins or reviving your ship doesn’t appeal to you. Even the prices in the in-game store were more than fair; the starter pack is a steal at 99 cents.

This isn’t the sort of game that will hold me for long periods of time and it doesn’t compare to the big budget or even indie PC games I prefer to spend my time on. That said, I can’t state enough just how amazed I was that this seemingly hokey game that looked like it was made just to rake in a quick buck turned out so good. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good mobile game to hold you on a long road trip or waiting room visit.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that the ol’ chestnut of ‘less is more’ really does hold true in the mobile gaming market.

The Agent Reviews a Game – Fastlane: Road To Revenge

“THIS ISN’T GTA. NO SIR. NOTHING LIKE IT. ROCKSTAR GAMES? WHO’RE THEY?”
Source: Google Play

Uuuuugh… This year was even worse than the last. It’s been a year of terrible politics, rising ignorance, and shifty practices in all of the most crucial parts of our lives. I mean, I know it’s unrealistic to expect the world to form a Xanadu Bureaucracy of the Seraphim Incorruptible, but we could at least TRY to be reasonable and work towards a mutual benefit.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that I need to beat up on an easy target to make myself feel better before we get to 2018. So, please forgive me as I continue my futile search for a REALLY good mobile game.

Fastlane: Road To Revenge can be easily summed as, “what if GTA was also The Fast and The Furious and we make it a top-down Shoot’em Up?” And honestly only the last third of that sentence has any appeal to me and was the only factor in me installing it on my phone (other than the fact that I was without my PC for a month and needed some form of entertainment).

Now that’s not to say the premise is wholly bad, merely that it’s shallow. This seems to be a running theme among mobile games; story and character development are tertiary to simplistic gameplay to entice potential players and *gag* microtransactions to line the dev teams pockets. There’s IS a good story to be told here about gang violence and the criminal underground told through the aesthetic of automotive culture. The problem is that it’s a story that’s been done before and the fact that it gets sidelined makes me think that the folks at Space Ape Games are well aware of that and just wanted to get it out the door ASAP.

But what about that gameplay though? Well, it plays well enough. As stated, it’s a top-down Shoot’em Up in the same vein as the old school arcade shooters I grew up with like Galaga1941, and one of my personal favorites Dragon Spirit. You hop into your ride and race through your rival’s streets shooting up enemy cars for cash to improve your car and take back your city. On paper, it sounds quite exciting. But in practice…

Well, first off, your movement is limited; your car seems to be fused to the bottom third of the screen. this wouldn’t be a problem normally as you would want to as far back as possible to give yourself ample time to dodge incoming attacks. But the screen is so small and the action moves so fast near the end of a level that you can’t react in time and you’ll have to start over from the beginning.

Now, you’d think that this would be mitigated somewhat by the use of that nifty health bar in the upper left corner of the screen, right? NOPE. That’s only for ramming other cars. Everything else – barriers and missiles – are a one-hit kill. Oh sure, regular bullets don’t insta-kill you. But they only seem to show up when you’re already dodging traffic and do so much damage at that point that they might as well be fatal.

The hell of it is that none of this would be a problem if I could just control myself properly. You swipe your finger to steer yourself around, but you expect that to mean that your vehicle tracks your fingers position on the screen. Again, NO. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve swiped my finger between incoming missiles or stopped going to one side only to STILL grind against a wall and got screwed and killed by terrible tracking.

The only way to survive the onslaught is to upgrade your car and power-ups. Granted most of the stuff can be bought with regular in-game cash – stronger guns, power-ups, armor, ETC., but better vehicles and spreadshot guns which you NEED to make any progress are locked behind a paywall. Oh, you could level grind for DAYS to try to get the gems to pay for them or sit through the “optional” ads that pop up EVERY TIME YOU DIE hoping to get some, but let’s be honest with ourselves – you’re expected to buy them directly and pay for the privilege of in-game progression.

This is easily the most frustrating game I’ve ever played on mobile. It’s a shame too because it could have been a fun time waster if nothing else. But between the weak story, unfair difficulty curve, janky controls, and money-grubbing tactics, this is a game I’ll be happy to leave behind. Thank god this was a free download or I might have actually gotten upset.

Three Games That The Agent Is Playing Now: Chrono.gg Edition

Well, I’ve been keeping busy these last few day with Halloween preparations and new management at work (we actually have a meeting about it today, so I have to make this quick), so I’m just going to put out one of my short and simple lists today because I’m not a fan of not having anything for you all on Thursdays.

So, I’m going to talk about the games that I’ve been playing lately… but with a twist. The catch is that all of these games were obtained through Chrono.gg.

For those that have not yet heard, Chrono.gg is probably one of the most useful resources a PC gamer and Steam user has at their disposal. Every day at noon (Eastern Standard Time), they have a new flash sale with one game marked down at a ridiculously low price – often 50-90 percent off the original price.

Even if there isn’t a game on sale that day that you’re interested in, it’s still worth logging in to check because you get daily coin rewards that you can use to get other games FOR FREE. These games are sold in limited quantities and new games get added every two weeks. So, there’s always a reason to show up every day.

So, today, I’m going to give this amazing service some free publicity by showcasing the games that I got through them that I haven’t been able to put down.

Loot Hound

Some of the most consistently enjoyable games I find on Chrono.gg are simple time wasters that are useful for just chilling out after getting home from work. Hence why I keep coming back to Loot Hound.

You play as an enthusiastic treasure hunter/dog lover in search of random bobbles and bric-a-brac. You have to train your three dogs – Marley (who specializes in digging through rocky terrain), Wifi (who’s small enough to fit into small hidey-holes) and Mr. Anderson (who can scare off stubborn wild animals in your way) – to be the best loot hounds they can be while dodging park security.

There’s not much in the way of strategy; the answer to any problem often boils down to use the right dog for the task and make sure they’re trained up properly to overcome obstacles. But, I can appreciate a game with a simple premise if it’s done right. And this game is just so bright and cheery with a light-hearted sense of humor (at one point, your dog will dig a steak out of the dirt and the game will call it “GROUND Beef”) that it’s quickly becoming my go-to title for unwinding at the end of the day.

Odallus: The Dark Call

Shifting away from bright and cheerful for just a second, let’s have some fun with old school, dark gothic fantasy.

Odallus: The Dark Call is a lot of things. It combines the level progression of Ghouls & Ghosts, the branching paths of Demon’s Crest and the overall visual aesthetic and many combat mechanics from classic Castlevania games. You’d think that would be a case of the game trying to do too much at once, but if you can ignore the clumsy writing and dialog, it plays extraordinarily well and handles exactly like you would expect a retro throwback game would.

By the way, I didn’t pick those three game comparisons at random; the developers REALLY want you to know that they were inspired by those games in particular. In addition to ripping the overworld map directly from Ghouls & Ghosts, they recycle a lot of art assets from various Castlevania games and modeled quite a few bosses from baddies in Demon’s Crest. What’s more, when I bought this from Chrono.gg, it came bundled with three DLC skin packs – the Vampire Hunter, the Royal Knight and the Red Gargoyle.

Creative bankruptcy aside, this is still a fun play and was a steal at only two dollars.

Plasma Puncher

Ending back on the cute and silly, I’ve heard of Endless Runners, but this may be the first case I’ve heard of an ‘Endless Beat ’em Up.’

Plasma Puncher puts you in the role of a lone white blood cell fighting off a seemingly endless army of viral infectors. It’s your duty to fisticuffs every one of them into oblivion and save the body you call home.

As you progress, you’ll have to upgrade your little badass antibody, learn how to use various power ups to maximum potential, and quickly acclimate to new enemies with every incoming wave that alters their strategy. It’s pick-up-and-play style of game that still provides a fair amount of challenge.

If you seek out any of these games today, this would be the one I’d recommend the most.

First Impressions On The New DuckTales

Oh, hey; I can talk about something happy for a change!

At this point, you know that I have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to Disney. However, don’t take that to mean that I hate EVERYTHING about them; I am a human capable of love after all and Disney was still a formative part of my child. And one of those parts I loved was DuckTales.

Looking back, it was a very simplistic show – very much your standard, 1990’s, baddie-of-the-week, action-adventure serial. It was light on plot and character development, but it was completely serviceable with high-energy action, decent humor,  and still holds up surprisingly well after over two decades.

But, you want to know what they changed in the 2017 reboot and if they stayed true to the original source material, right? Well, let’s rap about that (NOTE: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT).

The first thing I took note of was a heavier focus on an overarching plot for the series. The first two episodes (conveniently mashed up as an hour long premiere in the video above) starts with Donald Duck struggling to make a home for his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie as the life of a sailor isn’t conducive to being a family man. Donald is forced to drop the trio off at the mansion of their grand-uncle Scrooge McDuck while he heads off to a new job interview. As the plot continues, new elements are added such as Huey, Dewey, and Louie being disillusioned with Scrooge’s greatness, Scrooge struggling to patch up strained family relations, Donald having to choose between family and success after unintentionally being hired by Scrooge’s arch-rival Flintheart Glomgold, and – end-capping the second episode – the discovery that Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s long-lost mother might have joined Scrooge and Donald in their early adventuring days.

With heavier plot came a greater chance for character development. This was where things started getting risky as this meant a chance of people complaining that the characters weren’t true to the originals. However, I didn’t have those concerns while watching. For the most part, I felt they were the same lovable goofballs I grew up with.

Donald is still a neurotic ball of rage, panic, and feathers (playing up the foul-mouthed sailor cliche… heh, FOWL… ’cause he’s a duck), but now he has the humanizing element of being an adoptive father figure to his nephews. Now his anger and frustration are justified because he’s constantly agonizing over the well-being of those in his care.

Scrooge is still the money-grubbing miser that he always was, but now he’s learning to accept family back into his life now that he’s made his fortune, thus making him a warmer and lovable character. Now, he has a chance to share his glory days with the next generation and has new meaning in his life by teaching them how to be, in his own words, “tougher than the toughies and smarter than smarties.”

Of course, the two biggest changes in character and the ones everyone wants to discuss are Scrooge’s maidservant Mrs. Bentina Beakley and her granddaughter Webbigail “Webby” Vanderquack. It’s understandable why the internet would go nuts over these two as their previous incarnations were a bit troubled from a modern feminist perspective.

Where the original Mrs. Beakley had almost no character other than being a doting nanny and mother figure to the child cast, this new incarnation is much more strict and professional – characterized as being very hard-nosed about how things are run around the McDuck mansion. She’s also not afraid to call Scrooge out on his B.S. when she smells it which has the effect of making her the Alfred Pennyworth to Scrooge’s Bruce Wayne. Her visual design reflects this by replacing her round rimless spectacles and frilly blouse with square horn-rimmed glasses and a broadly shouldered blazer to harden her appearance while keeping her bun hair-do, frilled apron, and giving her a classy brooch to remind us that under her sternness, she’s still a loving soft-hearted gentlewoman.

And she needs to be loving because she’s looking after the new Webby.

The original Webby was an example of one of the WORST kinds of female characters in fiction, the one that insists on being involved in everything with the boys for no discernable reason despite having no useful skills and calling sexism when someone tries to explain how dangerous that is for them and the rest of the team. Here though, she keeps this ‘up-for-anything’ personality while mitigating the problems previously attached to it.

For starters, there’s a reason why she wants to be with others on an adventure; she’s been horribly sheltered. Mrs. Beakley, fearing for her granddaughter’s safety sharing a home with a famous thrill-seeker, taught her every survival technique she knows but insisted that she be in a position where she’ll never actually need to use them by keeping her in the house. She’s bouncing off the walls with her growing social awkwardness. So when she finally meets Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she clings to them as the first living creatures she’s interacted with outside of the mansion.

Oh, and those survival techniques. Yeah, that means she actively contributes to the team instead of standing off to the side until she inevitably becomes a liability. It also makes my previous Mrs. Beakley/Alfred comparison stronger by suggesting that she’s a total badass.

And, of course, I’d be foolish if I didn’t mention the reworking of the original theme which is just as legendarily catchy as the before but doesn’t wear out its welcome nearly as quickly.

So, basically, this is just a REALLY wordy way of saying that I’m looking forward to seeing what else Disney comes up with. It seems they’re still making good use of those pages from the Cartoon Network school of plot and character development in animation that they borrowed when making Gravity Falls. The only difference is that they had the guts to apply it to one of their longest running franchises.

Now then, which of us is gonna start petitioning for a Darkwing Duck reboot?

The Agent Reviews a Game: Seek

I know; it feels like I just reviewed a mobile game. But I was so genuinely happy to discover this thing that I had to share it with you.

So, I’ve been on the hunt for AR games (short for “Augmented Reality) to encourage me to get out of the house and stave off the twin demons of idleness and depression. You’ve seen me discuss AR games here before in the form of Ingress and Pokémon GO. However, those games are a bit too competitive for a someone looking to game while taking a leisurely stroll. I need something that turns a walk in the park into a fun, casual treasure hunt.

In otherwords, I needed Seek.

Seek is simple enough to understand; there are digital ‘treasure chests’ scattered throughout the world and you need to find them and claim them. The chests come four colors that correspond to their rarity and, by extension, the quality of the stuff you find inside them. Rarer chests will also require that you have keys to open them. The rarer the chest; the more keys required.

And what do you have to earn from these chests? How about REAL WORLD LOOT?

Yes, the chests are filled with in-game items for the most part like keys, in-game coins for purchases, and doublers that boost your potential rewards when you open a new chest. But you can also find stuff like big discount coupons, gift cards, free mail-in prizes, and even ACTUAL MONEY PRIZES.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves; unless you have the speed of Mercury, the endurance of Atlas, and half the outdoorsman skills that Bear Grylls THINKS he has, you aren’t going to be paying your rent with this game. However, the potential of free stuff is a tempting enough promise to get almost anyone out and moving.

Also, remember how I said in my last mobile game review that I hate it when a game forces me to play on its schedule to be any good at it? Not the case here. There are regular log-in rewards that take the form of a free chest every seven hours. However, the rewards are already awesome in-game goodies that you need for better loot with no need for a cumulative build-up. So, if you’re too sick or too busy to go out that day, the game is understanding enough to sit and wait for you until you get back.

If I had any real complaints about Seek, it’s that it – like seemingly every AR game that boils down to a scavenger hunt – doesn’t make full use of its AR aspects. I was expecting to have to use my camera to scan the world for my hidden bounty, but it turned out that the answer was always, “look 20 to 45 degrees to your right.” Honestly, you’d be better off turning off the AR camera to conserve your battery life.

Basically, if you use AR gaming as a motivator for physical activity like I do and need something more friendly and more rewarding than an occasional gold star sticker, you may find Seek to be a great match for you.

The Agent Reviews A Game: Hyper Heroes

Hurrah for generic title screens…
Source: Google Play

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of more introspective philosophical pieces here lately. And while it’s good to do some soul searching every now and again, I’m sure you need a break from that as much as I do. So let’s get back to a topic I don’t touch as often as I used to; video games.

When I last reviewed a mobile game, I made it clear that I wasn’t sold on mobile games as a whole but remained hopeful that one could change my mood. I still feel that way, but I think that Hyper Heroes may have helped me to single out my issues with the mobile market. But first, let’s talk about the game.

Hyper Heroes markets itself as a, “marble-like RPG,” and that description seems to fit quite well. You select a team of up to four heroes and do battle with your standard high fantasy monsters by click-and-dragging to literally throw them at the baddies until they drop.

It’s marginally more complex than that description makes it seem. Obviously, there’s the RPG trope of level grinding (more on that later), physics-based tactics requiring you plot your angle of attack and memorize how far each hero can travel, and probably the best mechanic in the game; the various attack styles of the heroes.

There are three styles; bounce, penetrate and stick. Bounce will ricochet off enemies making for complex strikes, penetrate can move through enemy lines while dealing damage to reach priority targets, and stick with stop dead on the first enemy struck for precise setups – especially useful for tank characters to draw fire away from frail heroes.

There’s also a promotion system where, as heroes collect required gear, they can be promoted and gain up to four skills; a ‘Unique’ skill that can be activated after building up a rage meter, a ‘Combo’ skill that activated when another hero crosses over them in battle, a ‘Finish’ skill that triggers at the end of their turn, and a ‘Passive’ skill that grants general buffs consistently.

So, a lot of interesting stuff to work with. But, alas, there are some things in design that just irk me and that I can’t shake off whenever I notice them. And I think they may be a the root of why I haven’t embraced mobile gaming completely yet.

For example, it feels VERY cheaply made. I know that it’s a free-to-play game and I shouldn’t expect much from it, but I expect a level of quality even from budget titles. If you can’t afford to do something right, you find workarounds – not half-assed solutions. Case in point; the voice acting SUCKS. The actors are totally phoning it in for a paycheck and it’s painfully clear that most of them just aren’t comfortable speaking English. Those misdirected, disinterested squeals are an assault on my ears and my own enthusiasm – how can I care about the game if they don’t?

Secondly, the writing is distracting. It felt like the crew helming this project knew they couldn’t fit an epic story into a tiny mobile game, so they relied on humor… humor that tries insultingly hard to get me to laugh and fails miserably. the cringe-worthy comedy ranges from dated references (Seriously, Pyro Monk? A reference to Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” 15 years after the single dropped?), pervy non-jokes (Why is the cute deer-centaur druid asking me not to look at her tail?), and just generally bad writing decisions (I’m sure none of my fellow feminists will be bothered by the sexy female fire mage being called Flame Dame).

And finally, we have game mechanics designed to drain time and money. Remember when I said I’d discuss the level grinding? Well, the grind is so slow when simply battling monsters that you have to rely almost exclusively on EXP potions that you can either collect or – more unfairly – buy with real world cash. Now, I’m no stranger to in-game purchases, but they’re meant to sell convenience; not power. When I need to stock my kitchen with EXP potions and fill my wardrobe with rare gear just to have a fair shake in the PvP arena, there’s a balance problem.

The only alternative is to play every day to get the cumulative daily sign-in bonuses and I’ve only just started to learn how much I hate a game that tells me that I HAVE to play it. Once the game puts me on a schedule, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore; it feels like a second job. And unlike a real job, I don’t get sick days. Instead, I get punished by losing by benefits and have to start building them up again from square one… Oh, and I don’t get paid for coming in either.

Still, there is some merit to Hyper Heroes. There is a germ of a good idea in here and I’m hopeful that a more competent studio attempts something similar in the future. If you can get pass the uglier parts of the game, there’s a well-made puzzle-RPG with cute character designs and unique gameplay that can hold your interest.