Category: Now Playing

Posts about a game we’ve just started playing. Think of these like journal entries as we work through a game or demo.

Now Playing: Gotcha Racing (Nintendo 3DS)

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You know me, always happy to fawn over a little release that looks to have some quirk. That’s definitely Gotcha Racing, a game I’ve had my eye on since its quiet debut at E3. It released yesterday on the 3DS eShop for $5.99 and I grabbed it as soon as I got home from work last night. It’s called Gotcha Racing because it’s all about winning new car parts through a gashapon system. But as I would play, put it down and come back minutes later for “just one more race” I felt like the title had another meaning. After my first hour with the game I wouldn’t call it captivating but it definitely scratches that compulsive itch for progress.

Of course, I wasn’t drawn to a game because it has random loot drops from capsule toys. Gotcha Racing makes a fairly striking first impression when you see it in motion with a strict top-down perspective that spans both screens of the 3DS. The view keeps your car perfectly aligned in the center of the bottom screen, feeling a little like a sewing machine where you’re rotating the world underneath your car. It’s a peculiar sensation at first and a peculiar design choice as the game leans towards realism with its vehicle performance. Each chassis, engine and tire has an impact on acceleration, top speed, brake power, cornering and drift.

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I don’t know if it’s the perspective or the precision of the A.I. racers but I’ve never fought this hard to find the perfect racing line in any other game. Moving up a position is a battle over inches in the early game and if you can cut just a tiny bit more into a corner you’ll secure your spot in the pack. It’s turned out to be way more harrowing than I expected from what looked like a cutesy toy race car game. Grinding out parts from the capsule machine and then combining them to boost stats also seems harrowing. It’s been fun tinkering in the first hour but I can see this process getting elaborate and annoying as you can’t upgrade or sell items equipped to your four loadout slots. This results in temporarily swapping each loadout item to an inferior one, backing out, fusing the items, then going back to each car and re-equipping the new gear. Elaborate!

Gotcha Racing seems like a game I’ll pop in and out of for short bursts or maybe while listening to podcasts. I’m not yet able to move out of the initial F-Grade class because I don’t have a good enough car to win the final tournament. That means re-racing the first three courses over and over until I can win or upgrade my way out. It may not sound like fun but it’s enjoyable to play and fast to load, and there’s always a chance for that Rare Drop to fall out of the machine and make everything instantly better.

I’ll be back with an update once I hit the next noteworthy milestone with the game.

A Hands On Preview of PONCHO

What is PONCHO? Since I first saw it six months ago all I knew was that it looked gorgeous and was mysterious as can be. Having finally laid hands on a preview build of the game I’m happy to bring you some of an answer to that burning question. Like that indie darling, Fez, PONCHO is a mysterious, 2D, platforming adventure with brain-tweaking dimensional gameplay and lush pixelart visuals. But those high level characteristics are where the similarities end.

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At the outset you’re given the most succinct of explanations: mankind rose up, created self-sustaining robot life… and then went extinct. Centuries later you wake up into a new world as Poncho. Cities have fallen into crumbling ruins, nature has taken over and the remaining machines may have evolved on their own. Part of the game’s charm are the tiny, pixelated details like robotic caterpillars that wriggle like clockwork and mechanical frogs that bound out of the bushes. Did mankind create robot animals or have the machines grown to fill in the gaps? It’s just another of the questions that so easily cross your mind as you poke around while the perfectly fitting, lo-fi chiptune soundscape washes over you.

Besides being the only robot in sight wearing a poncho, you also have the unique ability to leap between Z planes — background, middleground, and foreground — at the press of the shoulder buttons. The story intro and tutorial for this mechanic make for a damn striking first impression but I don’t want to spoil any of that. The defining difference with the gameplay compared to similar titles like LittleBigPlanet or Mutant Mudds is that you can change planes anywhere there is line of sight between the overlapping layers. The effect is mesmerizing as planes ripple back and forth, changing transparency and scale as you rapidly move between them.

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Beyond mechanics, the real point of PONCHO is simply to explore, and I love that. You arrive in a forest and you can head any way you want, periodically running into scholarly bots who spew existential quips about the meaning of life and the absence of the Maker. As you explore you’ll find shimmering pickups scattered around and cleverly tucked behind the multiple planes. Eventually you’ll come across a warp gate that lets you access new zones but you’re always free to come back because, chances are, there’s still stuff to find. Those pickups can be swapped for keys (from one of the best shopkeepers ever) and used to unlock new paths. There’s also an NPC who shows you how to awaken his dormant followers and rewards your efforts with a new ability.

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Moving platforms are also present and you probably guessed they aren’t the traditional kind. These platforms jump in and out of the three planes and were incredibly challenging for me to navigate. The color coding as they move is helpful but in my time with the game I never managed to really nail it. It’s a bit of a bummer but for a game with no combat (love it!) I suppose some aspect of it has to be challenging. PONCHO is no slouch when it comes to precision platforming and while I am no master, the moments where I got into a groove sure made me feel like one.

This build has a few other surprises that I’m not going to detail but they do hint at a bigger game and more narrative. The complete history of this post-human world may never be laid bare but it looks like we’ll take part in some interesting stories on the search for the Maker.

I’m thrilled to have finally played PONCHO and even more excited to say the magic didn’t wear off. I’m just as clueless as before about what’s happening but still as excited as ever to explore and find out. Developer Delve Interactive and publisher Rising Star Games just recently announced the game will be out on Steam this September with Wii U, PlayStation 4 and Vita versions alongside or close behind. I have a hands on video of PONCHO up if you want to see the game in action (which you should) and will be back once it’s released with more Now Playing impressions as I work through it.

Everybody SPLUNKAAAH!

I haven’t had much time for writing or working on Promo Man posts but I did manage to record some time with my current game of choice: Minna de Spelunker Z. It’s a Japanese exclusive, free-to-play update of a 2009 remake of the venerable NES original… so of course I’m into it!

This was my first attempt at streaming from our new PlayStation 4 so the quality isn’t nearly as high as I’d like but hopefully it’s watchable and entertaining. I think I cover all the basics so treat this as a guide if you’re interested in trying it yourself and let me know so we can play multiplayer!

Now Playing: Tori Watch (iOS, Android)

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Do you like birds, but don’t want the mess and noise of having one as a pet?  Do you like birds, but don’t like sitting outside too often  to watch for them?  Well this Japanese app (game?) has solved these problems!  The app is still mostly in Japanese, but is available here. It’s called Tori Watch by ククリス・ゲームズ (Cuculis Games) and you can find it on the Google Play store and iTunes.

Even without reading Japanese many of the menus are easy to figure out.  You can upgrade the food items you feed them with to attract new types of birds.  There are info cards to tell you about them, but those are in Japanese.  Hopefully it will get translated to English someday, but until then here are some info cards I made myself.

Shawn’s Thoughts
First off, Katy’s images are fantastic! The in-game models are cute but I didn’t realize how spot on they were to the real birds until Katy put them side by side. Questioning if this is a game at all is also spot on but as the adorably translated description proclaims, “you can play it without any complicate action”. They know the score. Truthfully, the most challenging thing I’ve done is to keep my screen from timing out when new birds arrive.

Despite the simple nature of this “bird watching game to observe leisurely small birds”, it definitely follows modern mobile game design. Don’t worry, none of it involves microtransactions or hot sales on ‘Energy’, it’s supported by simple ad banners. Birds fly in, you get points. Like Katy said, you spend those points to upgrade your feed options or expand your park to accommodate more birds. There’s a journal with goals to shoot for (again, all in Japanese so I’m guessing stuff like “get a male and female on-screen at once”) but that’s about all you have to do.

It’s been a cute little diversion over the last few days and fun to poke around the Japanese menus to figure out how the game works.

ArcheAge Travelogue: Wet Work on the High Seas

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While the vast majority of ArcheAge’s underwater terrain is simply empty peaks and trenches, there’s loads to find down there. Oysters and abalone can be harvested for some quick gold and shipwrecks randomly spawn treasure chests that can be brought to the surface and salvaged. There’s a volcanic field of steam vents I haven’t been able to explore yet and plenty of high level enemies to skirt around or be slaughtered by. That probably explains why I keep finding long-lost trade packs at the bottom of the sea.

Unlucky trade runners get caught by seabug mobs or giant jellyfish and the pack they were hoping to sell overseas for a hefty profit or rare crafting materials slowly sinks as they respawn back on shore. That was apparently the case with this pack that took me a few attempts to drag out of enemy territory and swim to the surface. My boat has oxygen tanks but once you reach the trade pack you have to swap backpack items. Without breathing potions or buffs it’s always a frantic speed-swim to see if you can make it back to the surface before dying yourself.

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This one wasn’t too much of a problem to cash in. In less time than it would’ve taken to grow the ingredients to make these trade goods myself I brought it up, sailed to shore and rode it into town for a spot of gold.

ArcheAge Travelogue: Surprise! Free Money!

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The part of town in ArcheAge known as Vilanelle is ridiculously picturesque. It’s like walking into a traditional Japanese painting with huge, rounded mountain spires, stepped rice paddies, and deep red pagodas and temples dotted everywhere. I’d tried climbing those mountains in the beta with the basic glider and just ended up falling down a lot. But with my Ultimate Glider and some downtime between crop harvests I decided it was time to try again.

Hopping from one outcropping to another, using the glider’s upward boost ability to get some extra lift, I finally reached the top of a mountain. Naturally, all I found were other peoples crops. It costs money to have a farm of your own in ArcheAge so people will go out of their way to hide their secret gardens in what they think are remote locations. Trust me, I haven’t found a single corner in this game where there weren’t crops planted or other players dashing by, no matter how secluded it seems to be.

Anyways, I kept circling the edges up there, just looking to see what I could see, when my mouse cursor slid over something odd. It was too small on the horizon but the pop-up said ‘Falcorth Snowlion Yarn’. Surely people aren’t growing livestock up here too? I drew closer, aware that the item was on a pretty steep slope. Oh! It’s a trade pack of Snowlion Yarn! I looked around for a while, expecting the owner to come bounding down the mountaintop as well, but no one ever showed. Maybe they were trying to transport it on an airship and fell to their death, leaving the pack behind when they respawned. Where the tooltip would normally say the owner’s name it only said ‘Free Loot’ or ‘Free Goods’, something like that.

With Katy standing by in case I also fell and died, I managed my way down the mountain and rode the pack over another map to turn it in for 4 gold. That money will go towards replacing the trade pack that was stolen from my dead body when we were trying to finish our large farm. It was a heartbreaking ambush I wish I’d handled better. I may not tell that story. Anyways, it all worked out… except for whoever made the Snowlion Yarn. Sorry about that.

ArcheAge Travelogue: Seabugs & Soaked Packs

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That’s… a lot of skills

Much of what brought me to ArcheAge is the stuff you see above. I’m not into 50-man raids or guild meetings or PvP; I’m into crafting, farming, and other less glamorous pursuits. Once I reached the Blue Salt Brotherhood — the NPC characters that embody most of these skills — I focused almost solely on their quests. Not only do they reward you with designs for your own farm plots, they open up the arduous, terrifying and frequently boring art of trade runs. This is probably what most of my posts on ArcheAge will be about.

I’m no MMO player but I think the trading mechanic is unique to ArcheAge. It requires you to grow or gather all the ingredients for a regional specialty, trek to a specific crafting station and then slowly transport the final product to a remote buyer. The first two trade quests are pretty easy and let you get used to the process. The third run sends you across the PvP ocean into rival faction territory to make the sale. Last week we were finally ready to brave the open waters with our heavy packs in tow.

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Katy and I patiently awaiting our watery demise

That same day we had met another adventurous couple that were several levels higher than us who offered to go along. Carrying a trade pack means you move at a snail’s pace and can’t attack unless you drop it on the ground (making it fair game for anyone to grab). Companions are always helpful… even though none of us on this trip had a ship bigger than a rowboat.

The first obstacle we ran into were seabugs, big mid-30’s mobs spread out in front of us like World War II floating mines. It wiped out our companions and I but Katy was somehow immune and carried on rowing the boat. Meanwhile, my pack was sinking to the ocean floor and I was spawned way back where we started. I swam to the gravesite marked on my map and after a few lung-emptying dives I spotted my pack! We were back in action, now spread all over the sea trying to find a way through the seabugs. I kept going more north than west and started circling around an ominous isle topped by dark clouds and lightning… and more seabugs.

The bugs soon became the least of my worries as more and more clipper ships floated by. I caught the attention of the second guy and he swung my way but despawned his ship on accident. He was now keeping pace in a rowboat of his own. I thought my eloquent plea of “please no?” would be enough but even my explanation of earlier tribulations wasn’t swaying him. I veered around some outcroppings and lost sight of him when I ran into another clipper ship, this one much closer.

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There’s just no reasoning with some folks

The captain of the ‘Good Ship Griefer’ used some spell to pull me out of my rowboat and leave me waffling in the water. I decided this could only go one way for me so I dove as fast and far as possible, hoping to put my pack out of reach without risking his own life. Respawning all the way back where we started (again), I resigned this trade run to the history books and tried to keep up with what Katy was doing. She was piloting one of our companions rowboats which eventually despawned, leaving her even more vulnerable as she swam through the ocean. With the goal slowly drawing nearer it was a giant level 50 jellyfish that took her out in two swipes.

Trade runs, everybody. They’re hilarious and heartbreaking and definitely something I’ve never experienced in a game before. It’s like Animal Crossing with tension; like if one of your villagers could viciously destroy you on your way to pay off Tom Nook. There are surely more stories of epic calamity to follow.

I’m not trying to be one of the dicks I’ve seen in ArcheAge forum posts, but…

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I am starting to get worn down by the problems of this ArcheAge head start.  If this is what it’s like now, before the game is even open to the non-subscriber public, what will it be like on the 17th when the gates are really open?   I am unable to even login this morning which gives me time to write this when I would much rather be checking my crops.

I am new to MMOs so I assumed all the queuing, the authentication errors, failed logins and infinitely looping intro movie were normal for a brand new game. I figured Trion World does Rift and other mmos, so surely they are prepared.  I asked seasoned mmo players if 20 minute queues were normal for a paying member  at launch and found out they really aren’t. A friend said they were there for Rift’s launch and it was nothing like this.

I paid $50 for this game and the times I can get logged in to play it I feel it’s absolutely worth the money. I have already had $10 worth of fun since last Friday which I hope won’t be ruined when the official launch starts. I’m playing with online friends I really like that I don’t always get to team up with, plus my husband who I work well with in game (and out obviously).  There are so many routes a player can take in this game that from what I have heard are unique for an mmo.  I am leaning towards the gardening and crafting with a bit of trading.

I am sad that some people rushed to grab land so now many of us who were trying to take it gradually have nowhere to place a house. I have read that some guilds bought land up on purpose to resell or reserve for their guild or something, but as we know, most people are dicks, online doubly so.

I am able to login now, so that’s all I will say, at least until the official release.  PS We have a GameLuv guild as of last night “Gameluv dot com”

Still Playing: Trials Frontier (Android, iOS) Pt.3

Here’s some trans-media content for ya, a little video tour of where I’m at in Trials Frontier. I’m using ADB’s screen record function here so there’s no audio and it hits the framerate a little hard in spots but mostly this is what it’s like to play; slick victories and grindy prize wheel spinning alike.

Continue reading this series with Part 1Part 2 and Part 4

Still Playing: Trials Frontier (Android, iOS)

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Quests, coins, upgrades and time sinks

In my last post about Trials Frontier I was on the verge of unlocking a new bike and a new tier of races. That much went fine but shortly after the game’s progression hit one of those trademark Trials inclines that looks impossible to ascend.

The new tier was fun to explore and the courses really feel on par with Trials Evolution. There’s even a few physics-y gimmicks I don’t remember dealing with in any previous Trials game. It was around this point, though, that bike upgrades became a necessity and not just a periodic quest line. It doesn’t look like it by the tiny sliver of top speed or acceleration that you’ll get out of a $20,000 upgrade but you can definitely feel it.

And so the grind has been on for coins and crafting materials while I continue to beat my head against an array of ghost races. At least three different quest lines have you racing AI or live player ghosts to progress; one set is literally a bunch of races against a ghost. Despite the impressive number of tracks available (I’ve got 50 unlocked so far) the game seems to favor the same seven or eight courses which makes things feel even more tedious. Adding to the slow new pace of progress is some actual slowdown. Sometimes a race will load and the framerate on my Galaxy S4 will be cut in half. The slow-mo effect has helped me win a few races by giving me time to fine tune my landings but overall it’s a bummer.

All this could instantly be rectified if I were willing to pump some money into the game. For $5 I could get enough gems to skip the crafting materials and for another $5 I could buy enough coins to pay for the next few upgrades. But the races themselves still have to be run and won so I’m taking this new pace as the game’s slower middle age.

I still play several times a day and almost every day. The slot machine continues to provide fun new challenges and doles out some nice rewards between quest victories. Just the act of playing Trials still feels great and that’s enough to keep me going for the time being.

Continue reading this series with Part 1Part 3 and Part 4