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.

The Agent Reviews A (Mobile) Game: Pokémon Duel

Nintendo’s still grabbing for a slice of the mobile pie.
Source: PokéCommunity Daily

So, last week’s gaming discussion was some dark and heavy stuff.  POPULAR dark and heavy stuff if the site statistics are to be believed (thank you all), but dark and heavy none-the-less. So let’s do something I haven’t done in some time – give a proper review of a game. Only this time, there’s a twist.

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’ve never really taken mobile gaming all that seriously. I just never felt that my smartphone had the means to match my PC or consoles in the level of complex gameplay that I tend to demand. But, I heard some buzz surrounding Pokémon‘s newest foray into mobile gaming – most jeering from some especially negative people about how Nintendo was trying to recover after Pokémon Go failed (which it OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T). So, I decided to download my copy of Pokémon Duel so see what all the fuss was about.

I figured out pretty quick that this game was, in essence, a jambalaya of old ideas mixed with some spice to freshen it up a bit. It involves collecting  Pokémon figures to build your team (similar to Pokémon Rumble), collecting cards to power them up during matches (taken from the Pokémon Trading Card Game), and battle involves spinning a disk to randomly select the actions of your Pokémon (ala the justly forgotten and much-maligned Pokémon Battling Coin Game).

But repurposing and reworking the old has always been Nintendo’s bread and butter. Hell, it’s part of their business philosophy that’s kept them going for so long. So, how do they make it work? By turning Pokémon from a tactical turn-based RPG to a strategic battlefield control simulation with RPG elements.

Every match has you square off against an opponent with a set of Pokémon figures and Plates (the aforementioned cards) with the goal of getting one of your figures into their goal point. This makes the game more focused on proper figure selection and placement rather than just smashing them together until one falls down. In fact, if you’re especially skilled, you can win a match without even getting into a battle once. And if your opponent can easily overpower in one-on-one battle, you can always surround an enemy figure with yours and force them off the field.

As for the RPG elements, victories will net you in-game cash, new figures/plates, and experience boosts to use on your Pokémon. Every time one levels up, you can extend a section of their battle disk increasing the chance of landing on attacks you want and reducing the likelihood of a miss. This level up mechanic, while functional, seems a bit too simple. That said, it’s absolutely necessary to reduce the likelihood that two players with the same Pokémon figure will play the exact same and create an asymmetrically balanced game.

If I have any major complaints, it’s that the lack of variety in maps was annoying. I would have liked to see boards with different branching paths and shapes that force the players to rethink on the fly with every random match. But no; we just get the same square layout with different colored floors.

Overall, I can see why those turned off by Pokémon Go might be drawn to Pokémon Duel. It addresses a lot of the complaints people had such as the inability to play with friends (which was the whole point of the original games) and the lack of focus on combat. While I’m still not sold on mobile games over my PC and consoles, this is one I’m going to keep handy to keep my mind sharp and help me unwind after a long night at work.

 

Post-Holiday Gaming Spree (or “What’s The Agent Playing Now?”)

It’s not often that I get to talk about games here at The Archive anymore and that’s a shame seeing as how they were my first passion. Unfortunately, finances prevent me from splurging on digital entertainment.

The good news is that the influx of cash gifts over Christmas combined with Steam’s penchant for RIDICULOUSLY generous discounts over the holidays means that I get to talk about the ones that I’m really enjoying now. To that end, please enjoy these three recommendations for your gaming pleasure.

Chroma Squad

This was the odd duck gift that I got from a friend with a long history of loving the Real-Time Strategy and Tactical RPG genres. I never considered myself a fan of them since I’ve always preferred faster paced, action-oriented games that made me feel like I was directly in the action rather than an invisible hand directing events. That said, if any game has a chance of changing that opinion, It would be Chroma Squad.

Centering around a group of actors on a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers parody who get fed up with their d-bag director and start their own indie studio, you play the role of their new director and are charged with casting actors, making props, and building your set (all of which effect in-game stats) as you attempt to play to the audience to build a fanbase (which, in turn, provides you with a bigger budget for better gear) and build the best tokusatsu show ever.

Basically, it’s Fire Emblem by way of a business management simulator; an odd combination that strangely works. The fact that I was managing a show not only made me think harder about my choices but also helped to immerse me in the story since I wasn’t just some never-spoken-of pseudo-god playing with the lives of the cast. You can even customize the team name, uniforms, and catchphrases to create the show you wished you could make while watching stuff like Kamen Rider.

Bear Simulator

Okay, I know the ‘simulator’ genre is a total joke. Like, LITERALLY a joke; they’re made to be played for a few hours, be laughed at like a bad movie night, and swiftly forgotten. But Bear Simulator just feels like something more.

Like most games of its ilk (Goat Simulator comes to mind almost instantly), Bear Simulator revolves around you taking control of a normal creature in less than normal situations. But unlike its goat-based predecessor which largely required you to make your own fun from it, there is an over-arching mystery to be solved in Bear Simulator that helps to keep you engrossed in the action and encourages you to re-explore your world when you’ve polished your ursine skills.

Also, combining the Canada Hat in the above trailer with the fake mustache you find later totally makes you look like a gentlemanly tundra explorer.

Neurovoider

At this point, if you’ve been following me for a while, you should know that I love The Binding of Isaac and other procedurally generated dungeon crawlers. But if any game is going to knock Isaac off its lofty throne, it’s Neurovoider.

A sci-fi-based twin-stick shooter where you essentially play as a brain in a jar, Neurovoider is far more cerebral (no pun intended) than Isaac by the virtue of its item management system. Where you could basically pick up nearly any item in Isaac with little or no consequences, Neurovoider forces you to choose what to keep, scrap, and upgrade forcing you to make tactical decisions based on your style of gameplay.

It also addresses one of the biggest issues I have with Isaac – its lack of enjoyable and unintrusive multiplayer – by including a four-player co-op mode. Combine that with Dan Terminus’ intense Dark Synth soundtrack and you have what’s possibly one of my favorite games of the last five years.

3 Games For Pen-and-Paper RPG Fans That Are Bored With Dungeons & Dragons

Now, don’t let the title of this article mislead you. I have nothing against Dungeons & Dragons as a game. There’s a reason why D&D and its various spin-offs, knock-offs, and tributes have endured for so long among hardcore gamers. It really is that good and there’s just something satisfying about creating/playing your own unique story.

But, let’s be brutally honest. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. A person needs new experiences to stay psychologically balanced and retain mental plasticity; learning new skills and interacting in and with fresh environments is key to our well being.

To put it in layman’s terms, you can only eat so many Oreo cookies before you start begging for a Nutter Butter.

To that end, here are three Pen-an-Paper RPGs that I’ve personally played that I would argue were just as much fun – if not more so – than D&D.

Spycraft

Given how many books and games came up when I searched for this, I’m amazed there haven’t been more copyright disputes.
Source: Wikipedia

You’d be surprised just how much a change of setting can be refreshing. With so many RPGs being Fantasy or Sci-Fi oriented, it’s nice to see one set in something that approximates the modern world.

Spycraft is not a huge departure from D&D in terms of rules; it still utilizes the d20 system and has similar rules regarding stats. So players making the transition won’t be too lost.

What’s nice is that the setting forces a more “cerebral” style of gameplay. Regardless of the Dungeon Master’s intent, it’s surprisingly easy (at least, in my experience) for a D&D campaign to devolve into hack-and-slash, kick-in-the-door, barbarism. In Spycraft, the setting of covert ops and tactical espionage tends to lead one into thinking with strategy in mind – stealthy infiltrations, high-stakes negotiations, black hat hacking and the like. And this is reflected in game with the use of Stress Damage during emotionally draining missions.

This isn’t to say that a good D&D game can’t force players into mental gymnastics or that a bad Spycraft game can’t be thick as manure and only half as useful, but it’s nice to have that guiding hand sometimes.

Eclipse Phase

Yes, there are mentally enhanced octopuses in this game. Yes, you can play as one.
Source: DriveThruRPG.com

The promise of the future is both exciting and bleak. Leave it to the post-apocalyptic world of Eclipse Phase to catch both ends of that.

Yeah, the various colonized worlds are mostly toilet bowls of full slime and privacy is a thing of ancient history. But we now have Morphs – designer bodies built for specific tasks that people can download their consciousness into making us effectively immortal (as long as you have cash). What’s more, everyone has what amounts to a wireless internet connection in their heads that lets them use social media to run highly accurate background checks on everyone INCLUDING the authorities resulting in a system of law enforcement where everyone polices everyone. Sounds pretty badass!

The coolest thing about Eclipse Phase to me though was it’s rejection of the d20 system in favor of a percentile or d100 system. Basically, the massive bag of dice of varying shapes that most tabletop role players keep are simplified down to two 10-sided dice that can represent a value of one to one hundred. Every task has a percentage of failure/success based on difficulty that’s modified by your set of skills and experiences and your success is determined by whether or not you roll above or below that threshold. It’s much more simple to grasp for newcomers to the Pen-and-Paper RPG genre.

Paranoia

“Oh, for the love of – Really, Dave? You couldn’t last, like, 30 seconds?”
Source: Wikipedia

Who could have guessed that the dystopian world of 1984 could be so full of wacky hijinks?

This, again, comes down to that change of setting I mentioned. There aren’t too many RPGs out there that are INTENDED to be played for laughs. The goal of Paranoia isn’t to complete an epic quest or bring down a corrupt system; you’re just trying to force your friends to die in the most hilarious ways possible to ensure your own survival and win Big Broth – um, “Friend Computer’s” love and approval while trying not to get caught doing anything questionable.

Growing up, I remember so many people manipulating the rules of D&D with homebrewed monsters and items in the name of comedy (I distinctly remember one campaign including a “Belt of Masculine/Feminine-kind” that permanently swapped the gender of the wearer and then immediately loses its power to revert them back). It’s nice to see a game can be just as much goofy fun without the DM having to bend the rules backwards to do it.