Monday, August 21, 2017

First Impressions: Part I: Nintendo Switch Menus

Disclaimer: So this post turned out to be a lot more of me complaining about menus than anything else to do with the system, so we are going to turn this First Impressions into a multi-part series that (may or may not) will conclude on Friday with an actual attempt to talk about the functionality of the system, how it plays, how the controllers work, and the available games that Conklederp and I actually have an interest in playing.  But for the meantime, here is an article to bore your cankles off where I talk about menus on the Nintendo Switch.

So Conklederp and I have had the Nintendo Switch for just under a month and I figure after playing three games (not all to completeness mind you) and a handful of demos, I now feel somewhat qualified to talk a bit about what I like, what I do not, and where I think improvements can be made.

I should also preface (reiterate for the handful of people who frequent us) this article with the fact that the most recent menus for Nintendo products I have experience with are the Wii and the 3DS.  I do not know what the Wii U menu interface looks like first hand (aside from stills and Youtube videos), but the opening menu I have no real problem with.  The one thing I do wish is that, like the 3DS menu, I could create folders, especially once I really start downloading smaller digital only games.  So rather than having a single line of games that I would need to scroll through, having designated folders, say one for downloaded games, and one for demos would help to keep things a little more clean and less semi-all over the place.

The next thing I would be happy to have changed, is the location of the Mii Maker, which on the 3DS has its own icon, which I have placed in a folder with a lot of the other game system icons like the eShop, Activity Log, Camera, Swapdoodle, and Flipnote Studio 3D.  Right now, the Mii maker is embedded in the System Settings and is the ninth item listed after Support/Heath & Safety, Airplane Mode, Screen Brightness, Screen Lock, Parental Controls, Internet (and then you can see the rest).  I feel that the Mii maker should really be front and center having its own round icon on the front screen.  Where it is right now, I feel is not very intuitive.

My second to last issue is not so much with the Nintendo News option, but how it is organized; there should be no surprise there.  What I would really love, is that if each News post/article had a date at the bottom so that I could know how recent a post was made.  Yes, the "What's New on Nintendo eShop" posts have a date, but that is integrated into the thumbnail, so I am not actually going to count that, but I do very much appreciate the effort.  Additionally, why are the Nintendo eShop updates out of chronological order?  Why is the order 8/04, 7/14, then 7/28?  That does not make a lick of sense, unless the posts are ordered by how popular they are or how frequently they are clicked across all connected Switch units.

I should also note that the only channels that I am currently subscribed to are the Nintendo News, and the Blaster Master Zero Channel (apparently because I downloaded the demo), so my News is not inundated with a lot of randomness from every game out there. 

Sorry for the rhubarb quality, unable to take screenshots of eShop.
My last complaint is with the layout for the eShop.  Again, maybe it is because I am just so used to the layout of the eShop for the 3DS, but I just like it a lot better than what is there for the Switch.  Maybe it is because a lot of the available games are organized by folders.  By the way, I love to organize by folders.  I do like that I have the option to sort by price, but I would also like to sort by date released; or maybe "Recent Releases" already is and I am just so out of the loop that I am unable to tell.

What I think a lot of this boils down to, is that I am nearly five or six years into the 3DS and I have become so accustomed to being able to organize my digital games in a manner that I really like and am able to further customize if I wish, that not having that option in a more recent product takes me back a bit.  I like being able to customize how my interface looks.  I like being able to sort things in a way that I feel is intuitive, although I do recognize that it may not be so for everyone else out there.

So let us close things down then and I will be back on Friday to talk more about the actual Switch system and (maybe) not so much about things that probably do not interest people as much as they interest me.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Game EXP: Little Inferno (NS)

Little Inferno is a game that I apparently knew about as it was sitting dormant in my Steam library for I am not sure how long, but it did not officially/technically peak my brain's interest until recently when I purchased it for the Nintendo Switch.  What really cemented the decision to purchase the game was re-watching the trailer that is on Nintendo's eShop.  The combination of the hilarity of a game based around burning objects (the artistic design of said objects was equally important) and the overly dramatic music that played during the second half of the trailer dwarfed all of the accolades mentioned at the beginning of the trailer.

The beginning of the catalog with a limited amount of purchacables.
So Little Inferno is a point and click game developed by The Tomorrow Corporation where you purchase objects using in-game currency and burn them in a fireplace.  Those burnt objects produce slightly more money than what you paid for said object, and then you go back and do it all over again.  You are able to buy subsequent items in the catalog only after you buy the item before it and you are unable to buy the next catalog with new items until you have bought all of the items in your current catalog.  As is the case with the real world, there are shipping times (ranging from five seconds to five minutes) from when you order a product to when it arrives, but those can be ignored by using "Tomorrow Stamps" which are earned by killing spiders, completing combos and you know, burning stuff.

So that is the basic premise of the game.  You buy stuff, you burn stuff, you get money from burnt stuff, you buy more stuff.  Repeat.

Except there is a story, which I admit caught me a little off guard and was more emotionally impactful than a game about burning objects in a fireplace is probably supposed to have.  But I am going to leave it at that because, you know, spoilers.

Now, when I first started this game, I was using the Switch out of docked mode, thinking that I would use the Joy-Cons to move around the finger I saw in the trailer, but it turned out that when the Switch is not docked, the game operates only via the touch screen, which I had no problem with.  But, when the game is docked, you have to use the Joy-Cons as you would the motion controls on the Wii, but that since there is no infrared bar, the game uses the integrated accelerometer and gyroscope to track the movement across the screen while being able to (and needing to I might add) re-calibrate the controllers at anytime with only minor interruption.  This re-calibration became an issue during our first session with the game and became very distracting and frustrating, especially when trying to either buy specific objects in the store or placing fragile objects in the fireplace.  Eventually the problem went away after switching Joy-Cons; battery power, distance from the Switch, bad angle on my part?  No one knows.

Sorry, I Forgot To Warn About Spoilers.
Since this game is now five years old, buying on the Switch may not be the most economical way of playing (lack of sales and all), but the one main difference for Little Inferno on the Switch is that the Switch version can be played as a cooperative game, which is how Conklederp and I spent the 5 hours 23 minutes reaching the end of the game in just a handful of sittings; it was more than one and less than five, I know that much.  And surprisingly, Little Inferno works great as a co-op game, mainly because the game has 99 combos you can earn by burning two or three specific objects together.  These combos are hinted at by name such as "Lender's Combo" or "LOL Kitty Combo."  Most of the titles are pretty easy to figure out when you read the description of the items, or just by the items themselves, but there are others like the "Rosy Combo" or the "Planes and Trains Combo" that have managed to elude us.  This adds a fun word puzzle solving component to an otherwise repetitive game which works well between two people who, in my own opinion, communicate pretty well together.  The only other advantage I can see, is being able to ever so slightly faster than normal select and purchase items.

So, if you have a Switch, go ahead and pick up Little Inferno and play co-op, but if you don't, I would still highly recommend picking up this game on any one of the other platforms (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android) it has been released on in the last five years and turn it into your own single player co-op game.  And you know, I could have been upset at having a $9.99 game last only five hours (less if we did not care about earning combos), but here I am talking about it and actively listening to the soundtrack because it is that good.  

And if you really need another reason, then the in-game infomercial, which was also the first released trailer for the game, is the perfect sales pitch:


P.S.  I did a thing:
I only had to light just one of the 40 Mini Nukes.

At this point, the games fps really began to suffer.

I seem to recall a staticky noise followed by a flash of light and then a mass of coins and Tomorrow Stamps.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Little Inferno Titles" - Little Inferno (NS, WU, PC, Lx, OSX, iOS, And)

"Little Inferno Titles" from Little Inferno on the Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PC, Linux, Mac, iOS, & Android  (2012)
Comoposer: Kyle Gabler
Label: Tomorrow Corporation

Maybe it was intentional or not, but the opening titles, as well as some of the other songs from Little Inferno, have a bit of a Christmas vibe to them.  Be it the semi-angelic "ahh'ing" choir coupled with the chimes (which I personally immediately associate with "Carol of the Bells"), and even the visual of a roaring fireplace as well as the game world help to cement the wintry holiday atmosphere.  And now that I think about it, also in part because composer Kyle Gabler said that he was inspired by 1990s Danny Elfman, but "Little Inferno Titles" is fairly reminiscent of Danny Elfman's score for Edward Scissorhands, which also contains a fair amount of ethereal vocals in songs like "Ice Dance" and "The Grande Finale."  What I love, is that you can detect enough homage to Danny Elfman without feeling that there has been theft of themes or melody.

In the liner notes, Kyle Gabler says, "Little Inferno is a quiet introverted art project masquerading as a loud extroverted shopping game. For a long time, we weren’t sure which face of the game to portray in the opening sequence, but eventually decided on this one."  

I wholeheartedly agree with this as the theme for the game because it is a great introductory song containing a lot of the atmosphere and musical elements that help to make up the world in Little Inferno.  I ultimately decided on "Little Inferno Titles" for today because I felt that there were other great songs from the soundtrack, but I thought that they relied a bit on the emotional impact of the scenes they were used in.  Yes, the songs themselves were beautiful alone, but it would be like listening to "The Throne Room and End Title" from Star Wars without ever having seen the movie.  There was also the issue of some song titles that I felt gave a little bit away as far as the story in the game goes, and I would like to try to avoid spoilers because this game is pretty awesome (Game EXP article for Friday most likely).


P.S.  I highly recommend picking up the soundtrack (or any/all of Kyle Gabler's soundtracks) which is available for free from The Tomorrow Corporation's website for each respective game that they have released.  But again, there could be spoilers in the song titles if you care about that sort of thing; or maybe they're just spoilers in hindsight.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Game EXP: Code of Princess (3DS)

About a month back, I finally hunkered down and beat the Atlus published arcade-style hack and slash beat'em up, Code of Princess on the 3DS.  While I did enjoy the concept of the game, there were some issues overall that I had during my nine hours playing.

First off, let us talk about the massive blanche elephant in the room.  The main character, Princess Solange Blanchefleur de Lux is a rather amusing name and title combination.  To go along with her ever so slightly humorous name, is the armor she wears throughout the entire game.  There are various armor, sword, and equipment upgrades that you can find and purchase throughout the game, but the visual of Princess Solange stays the same.

So let us talk a little bit about this decision.

First off, Japanese illustrator Kinu Nishimura, the brainchild behind the look of Princess Solange Blanchefleur de Lux, first designed the character and look before there was ever mention of a game.  While unable to find an interview that describes what prompted Kinu Nishimura to design Solange, she did nonetheless, and the design was recognized and picked up by indie developer Studio Saizensen.  The art style for Solange also appears to be somewhat consistent with Kinu Nishimura's style of drawing female characters as evidenced by Hazuki Kashiwabara from 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, and many of the fighters in Street Fighter II and III.  So obviously Kinu Nishimura knows what she is doing when it comes to designing ridiculously proportioned female protagonists.  

Hot damn look how short her ski. . .oh shit, getting attacked again!
Does this excuse the obvious marketing of a titular protagonist?  Probably not since Solange did have some specific animation (the first few seconds anyway), which was a deliberate choice made by someone at Studio Saizensen.  The functionality of the armor is even brought into question by a couple of characters throughout the game and the reasoning is given is that it is the traditional outfit  and a "royal gown" for the Princess of the Kingdom of DeLuxia.  And while I do appreciate that at least someone either in the original Japanese translation or the English localization was able to call into question the all too often revealing nature of armor designed for women in high fantasy genres, I will say that in-game, there is no real time to ogle at Solange's attire.

The writing in the game though, never does take itself too seriously (there is a character named Milk Macchiato, a duo named Emble and Semble, and Ali-Baba who is the leader of a group of thieves), which I do appreciate as the story follows the traditional evil empire trying to take over the obviously good kingdom.  Some of the characters even seem to take notice that they are in that type of a story and have a good time with the cliches that tend to run rampant.

And speaking of characters, while there are 52 playable characters in the multiplayer and online versus matches in the game, in the main quest you are limited to only four, which makes only a little bit of sense when you consider that of the 52 characters, Solange is joined in her quest by six other characters.  Why you are only able to play as the first four friendly characters in the game, I cannot say.  But again, you are able to play as these characters in various local, online, or single player challenges.  That being said, I pretty much stuck with Solange for most of the game as I felt that replaying levels with new characters in order to level them up to be a bit redundant.  I reached a point about half way through where I stopped trying to level other characters, just played as Solange and worked my way though to the end of the game; she was the tank after all and I desperately needed all of that sweet sweet HP and attacking power.

And speaking of stats, I did like that you could customize each of the four characters' stats as you leveled up.  I quickly started giving Solange more and more points in the speed category so that she moved a bit faster than her sluggish starting stats allowed. 

Now a few things disappointed me with Code of Princess.  The first being that when I read descriptions of the game as an arcade style hack-and-slash, what I had pictured was something along the lines of TMNT: Turtles in Time, or Golden Axe, where you would start out at the beginning of the level and fight your way though an area and fight a boss or mini-boss at the end.  What the majority of Code of Princess turned out to be was starting out on one side of an area, say a graveyard, then fighting to the other side which would be no more than a full second screen away.  Basically, there was no moving through an environment, but just fighting within that one environment.  Other locations included a tavern, a thrown room, and a village square.  It really felt like the locations were more akin to a fighting game like Street Figther  or Killer Instinct than to an arcade style beat'em hack'n up slash.

Secondly, I really feel that Code of Princess would have been a lot more fun if I had played it as a co-op game.  There were times while fighting against waves of enemies that having a second player would have made my life a lot easier and a lot less frustrating.  While I cannot comment on how the game differs with additional players, there were some battles in the late game, that definitely felt that they were not scaled for a single player experience, either in regards to the number of enemies or the types of attacks the main bosses would utilize.  And while each stage did have a timer that counted down, usually from 20 minutes, I never felt that I was running out of time, no curious to find out what happened if I did run out of time.

Thinking about the 3D effects, I used them a bit in the early stages, but as more and more enemies started filling the screen, I did either turn them down or off completely.

Lastly, the music which was composed by a Japanese composer credited as ACE, was damn catchy and I will most likely be putting up a MIDI Week Single with some of that music later in the month.  Nearly all of the music used in each stage was upbeat and exciting enough to help push through the last of the enemies and defeat each boss at the end.

Now, would I recommend Code of Princess?  Sure.  Maybe?  I dunno.  It was a fun game that was at times frustrating, had very good music, and cliched and not overly developed story, but had an amusing script and decently voice acted.  And ridiculous outfits for some characters.  I did buy it on sale through Nintendo's eShop for $9.99 or less which I felt was a good price for the amount of game that I used; I did not fully go into all of the "extra" stages which seemed to be just the same in-game levels but only as one-off encounters as opposed to the story mode.  I also cannot comment on the version that is out on Steam although a number of the reviews complain about the characters being too pixely for a larger screen, which does not really come across on the 3DS screen.  So sure, why not.


Don't Go Trying Some New Fashion

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "I Have Begun My Ascent" - Dear Esther (PC)

"I Have Begun My Ascent" from Dear Esther on the PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation 4, & Xbox One (2012)
Composer: Jessica Curry
Label: thechineseroom
Developer: thechineseroom

What I love about not only the song "I Have Begun My Ascent" but also the game Dear Esther, is that Jessica Curry's music perfectly compliments the visuals in the game, the semi-sparse poetical narration, and the often bleakness of the scenery of the island.  If you were to replace any of those aspects, the rest would loose a lot of meaning, which is not to say that listening to the music on its own looses all emotional impact, it doesn't.  It does loose a little something if you sit alone in a darkened room and listen, but the song itself is still powerful in its own right.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of many songs that feature a piano that plays only two chords, and not just a song that only plays two chords with melodies flitting throughout, but literally the same tri-tone for the entirety of the song.  Yes, at around 1:02 (what I am going to assume is the cello performed by Chris Worsey) brings the first bits of melody, which is later picked up by the violins roughly a minute later, but the piano line is never truly gone, it is always present.

"I Have Begun My Ascent" is not an overly complicated song when you break it down into individual parts, but when everything fits together so seamlessly, what is created is a powerful and gorgeous soundscape that is pretty easy to be lost in.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Monthly Update: August 2017

CONKLEDERP AND I GOT A SWITCH!!!  But more on that in a bit.

So July saw a lot more of the same as far as playing Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia on the 3DS goes.  I feel like I am nearing the end of the story and a little disappointed at how the story has progressed, although I still recognize that it is from a Famicom era game that was originally released in 1992.  But that is only if the game ends with how I am now expecting it to end, which I hope is not the case.  Maybe I was just hoping for a little more character development in some way that I cannot really explain.  Either way, I am still trudging through Duma Tower.  Yup.

On the PC front, I started Diablo II after not being able to get the original Diablo to run on my computer, which all started from having played Diablo III on the PS3 with Deep-V.  I read everything from changing various compatibility settings to long lists that included creating .bat files or downloading third party programs.  Presently I am working my way through Lut Gholein, recalling a bit from my first time playing through six years ago and very much enjoying every hour I sink into that game.  

Okay, let us just move onto the Switch now because that is all am able to think about while trying to type out my thoughts, but I will keep it semi-brief so as not to take away content from the First Impressions article that will be coming out either next week or the week after.  It was just over a week ago that I randomly decided to check out a Best Buy next to the Banfield (picking up prescription cat food) just to see if they had any Switches in stock.  And they did.  There were four grey Switch boxes there in the display case.  I immediately texted Conklederp and we decided that we would talk about the feasibility a $359.98 (and picking up a game too) purchase would/could be in our budget.  So after maybe 30 minutes after Conklederp came home, we headed back to the Best Buy to see if they were still in stock.  I was prepared to park in the same spot/area I had earlier in order to recreate similar situations to when I had seen them in stock earlier, but we ultimately decided to actually park next to the store.  We walked in, found the Switch display along with now six Switches, so we snagged ourselves an employee, snagged ourselves a Switch, but did not snag ourselves a game since I was fairly set on picking up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe so that both Conklederp and I could play together (Breath of the Wild is closely on the horizon). Upon coming back home, I ordered Mario Kart from Amazon which arrived roughly two days later, with the days in-between were spent playing any demo we could download from the eShop.  A few days later, we added Snipperclips to our game collection (which will probably have its own First Impressions as well in the coming weeks).  You know what?  I think I am going to end the Switch Paragraph Wall of Words now and switch topics (groooaaan).

Movies!  I don't think Conklederp and I went out to the movies in the past month but I am looking forward to seeing The Dark Tower after we get back to the states.  I have also heard from a number of people that I should see Dunkirk, which I did not really have much interest in until I saw one trailer in particular that made me think, "Huh, I may just want to see this film."  At the moment, I still kind of want to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as I do love me some Luc Besson films, although I seem to always be chasing that Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element highs.  That is about it until next month when IT comes out, then. . .Star Wars Episode VIII in December?  And Whenever Thor: Ragnarok comes out.  Perhaps I need to pay better attention.

On the board game front, it has really been all about Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, which we always seem to play when friends come over, and I have absolutely no problem with that.  And how the hell have we not yet written an article about that game!?  I will have to take care of that either this month or in October for semi-obvious reasons.

At this point, I somewhat feel like I am rambling so I am going to head over and make myself (another) cup of coffee because yay for coffee dependency.  In short though, I expect August to be a lot of Switch playing, finishing FEE:SoV, starting another game, and starting The Handmaid's Tale as I just finished The Book of Were-Wolves.

My Plan Requires Time

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Peaceful Waters" - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC, Xbox)

"Peaceful Waters" from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the PC, and Xbox (2002)
Composer: Jeremy Soule

Apologies for the day lateness of the MIDI Week Single.  I am currently a few hours outside of Montréal in an area that can best be described as "there are lakes everywhere."  Seriously, look up "Lac Wendigo, Amhearst, QC" and zoom out.  Lakes.  Everywhere.  I am not at Lac Wendigo, just a few lakes over, but you get the idea.  So I wanted to use a song that reminded me a bit of lakes and rivers and I landed on "Peaceful Waters" from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind by Jeremy Soule, who we have used a couple of times previously on MIDI Week Singles

What I personally love about this song, is that in me, it does instill a sense of calm and peacefulness, but that feeling only goes so far as I find that there is an undercurrent that while there is tranquility, there is also a sense that all is not right just under the surface.  However, the song never seems to deviate from the calming meter that it begins with as there is no significant change in tempo, chugging bass lines, or rumbling drums to indicate that there might be something more sinister just below the surface of the waters.  The, what I assume to be a bassoon does a great enough job to help convey that sense of possible foreboding as a contrast to the harp, flute, and oboe.  Not that I feel that there is some evil cosmic force living under le lac or a presence out in the forests that wants to capture you and set your feet a'fire, I just find this song somewhat appropriate as I look out on the peaceful waters of the lake, or perhaps taking a stroll along the beaches, all the while avoiding any mudcrabs or slaughterfish.