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.

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

Now Playing: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (Xbox One)

Welcome to blaaaaaaaaah

Welcome to blaaaaaaaaah

Eagerly awaiting my “free” games for Xbox One I was still a little bummed with the initial offering of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Giant Bomb’s Quick Look of the game didn’t impress but I’ve always appreciated what the series has done to add to the archaic platformer gameplay. That said, my first night with the game didn’t immediately destroy my trepidations. There’s not so much a learning curve to Max as a ‘learning wet noodle’. The game doles out its gameplay mechanics excruciatingly slowly but just as it got past bedtime things were finally getting interesting.

The setup here is that Max wishes his annoying little brother away and realizes what he’s done just as a gargantuan claw swipes his sibling. Max leaps through the portal after him but he’s already been swept away to MacGuffin Tower. Hot on the trail, Max runs into an old witch who is oddly happy to transfer her soul into his magic marker allowing him to manipulate the environment in unique, if specific ways.

At the start it’s simply pulling towers of dirt out of the ground to make platforms or move objects around. It’s neat enough but the mechanic is a little cumbersome and there are a few too many simple tutorial bits that ram home how it works. You’re also in a desert which doesn’t do anything to add to the appeal beyond some hi-res textures and nice animations. You’re also… kinda lame. Max’s quips are as flaccid as that wet noodle and while that’s fine for a younger audience there’s no high level Pixar style writing to smirk at so far.

Oh! This is much nicer

Oh! This is much nicer

Finally, though, things started picking up as I unlocked the second magic marker ability: BRANCHES! What I thought was going to be a simple draw-a-platform mechanic turned out to be a pretty big deal. With the ability to raise towers out of the ground and draw plank and box-like vines the game has started to feel a lot like Trine; less platformer and more physics puzzlery. There are some pretty clever puzzles, especially if you’re after the collectibles which have been more fun to suss out so far than simply moving forward.

That’s about where I stopped for Day One. The visuals have gotten much nicer as I’ve started climbing this huge tree and coupled with the atmospheric musical cues I’m getting a nice Rayman 2 vibe. I hope to return with even more surprisingly pleasant stories about the game but I’m still a little worried I’m just going to give up before long.

Now Playing: Trials Frontier (Android, iOS)

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Not that there’s much barrier to entry now that Trials Frontier is available for free on both iOS and Android, but for anyone still wondering you only need to answer one question: Are you good at ignoring free-to-play conceits like limited energy and for-pay currencies? If you said ‘yes’ you should already be clicking one of those links to grab the game for yourself. Because beyond the mobile game “features” is a Trials game that’s just as fun to play as any before it and light years better than all the other knock-offs.

I love that the very first thing you do — before the title screen, before being bugged about your Facebook account — is play Trials. You’ve got forward/reverse on one side of the screen and left/right lean on the other, now go run through this little course. If Trials Fusion is set in the far-flung future then Trials Frontier is the Mad Max post-apocalypse that comes after it. An almost-cel shaded look accentuates the old west/steampunk/retro-future designs and color palettes. It runs smooth, loads fast (reloads even faster) and has a comprehensive menu system that shows you all the little details of the various races. It also has crafting.

Because what modern publisher wouldn’t want to pad its game with resource gathering and pin them to a luck-based wheel of fortune spin regardless of how well you raced? It’s a gross mechanic that requires you to re-race the same courses in order to spin for fabulous prizes like… rusty nuts and blueprint scraps. The upside to it is that you get to play more Trials which, despite the grind for silly mats, remains fast and fun. The quests that require these crafting materials regularly coincide with bike upgrades so as you grind it out you notice the subtle changes to handling and speed as you clock faster times. I hate to say it but I’ve never gotten as much of a reward from these little improvements as I have with this game.

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Naturally, you can pay real money to skip a lot of this junk. You can buy more gems to spin the spinner endlessly to farm resources. You can spend gems to get a bigger “gas tank” so you can run more races before “refueling” which, of course, costs gems if you don’t want to wait. Passing checkpoints in races earns you the coins needed for upgrades but you can spend gems to speed up the timer or purchase a coin doubler. Eventually you’ll hit the point I’m at right now where you need a new bike to continue onto new courses and you’ll be faced with the choice: grind or buy. So far I’m perfectly happy racing old courses to pass the time because the game feels so good to play. The one thing they won’t sell you is a way to remove the commercials that sometimes burst onto the screen after races, overriding your phone’s volume setting. Yeah, that’s a pretty big bummer at work.

So it’s time to ask yourself again, is all of that junk worth some sweet, free Trials thrills in your pocket? It definitely has been for me. Like having Spelunky ever at my side on the Vita, I’m happy just to know that Trials is always ready to go for a spin regardless of how long it takes me to unlock more stuff.

Continue reading this series with Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Now Playing: Dragon Coins (Android, iOS)

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There are two types of mobile games that usually catch my eye. There’s the physics games like Stair Dismount… and there are coin dozers. Why are coin dozer games so captivating? Maybe it’s because I never, ever wasted my arcade tokens on them when I was younger. That’s not to say I didn’t want to watch my hard earned token set off a shower of coins that would enable my crippling wax bottle candy addiction. It just always seemed like a better value to keep playing shooters and brawlers. While arcades with physical coin dozer games have mostly fizzled out, the coin dropping fire from my youth never has.

First it was Game Circus’ Coin Dozer on iPad and their many variations. Then Coins vs Zombies which added all kinds of weird wrinkles. Now Sega has gone and combined coin dozers, collectible card games and role-playing games in the questionably dubious Dragon Coins. Why so uncertain about its dubiousness? Being a mobile game, Dragon Coins is naturally bogged down by stamina timers, friends lists, consumable items, and no less than four different currencies. That said, I have yet to be bombarded with ads or requests to spend real money. They’re both in there but the game doesn’t assault you with them which is good because there’s a lot going on in this game.

Forget about that mobile stuff and let’s focus on the gameplay. You’re some kind of hero in charge of a team of five monsters represented as collectible cards. Each has an elemental affinity, unique health and attack ratings and special skills. You choose four monsters, designate a Leader (which unlocks a unique skill of its own) and pick another players’ monster to fill in the fifth slot before heading into battle. Coin Battle!

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The game is broken up into an array of chapters and areas and battles but there’s no story to tie any of it together. Basically, poke the Mission button and then the Start button. You’ll see the familiar coin dozer interface with your five monsters at the bottom of the screen and waves of enemies at the top. Your goal is to strategically drop coins in the upper area and hope they push coins off the bottom edge to charge up your monsters’ attacks. Some monsters take multiple coins to charge up so there always seems to be something kicking off as the momentum builds and the coins slide around.

As you attack with multiple monsters you’ll build up a combo causing enemies to spill gold and health coins and skill cubes across the board. This is where Dragon Coins feels the most satisfying. You can only drop a prescribed number of coins before the enemies attack but with combos you can keep filling the board with coins and tearing them apart. Collect the skill cubes and you can unleash all kinds of powerful, temporary boosts like making the pusher move faster, bringing up walls on the sides of the board and doing double damage. There’s a great tension to battles as you build up a glut of coins until they’re teetering on the edge and then try to manage your boosts as everything explodes with a single drop.

It’s a coin dozer game you guys! It’s not especially hard and you’re encouraged to grind past missions to build your team but that’s where the mobile stuff kicks in. Leveling up monsters requires you to Fuse and Evolve them with other random monsters you find while battling. This costs Gold Coins but you’ll never get that many coins without grinding old missions. Playing missions costs Stamina which slowly recharges over time or can be refilled with a consumable item. These items also cost coins but these are Rainbow coins, the really rare currency you can buy with cash. I’m several dozen missions into it now and have yet to be cut off. I usually do a few rounds at a time and quit just as I’d run out of Stamina for the hour. But I know it’s coming, the moment when the enemies get so hard or the Stamina drains so fast that the game offers that simple solution: hey man, you’ve got all those Rainbow coins, get a fix, I’m here for ya.

It’s icky. I hate those mobile game “features” but Dragon Coins is a strategic and fun evolution of the coin dozer. It’s got permanence and progression — quite a bit with 758 monsters — and for that I’m willing to deal with energy and currencies. Will I ever catch ‘em all? Doubtful, but for the time being it sure is fun (and free) to try.

My new Fashion model/nail designer/layout coordinator job

Girl's Fashion ShootWhat I mean by that is: Hey look I started Girl’s Fashion Shoot for Nintendo 3DS yesterday and it’s super cute!

It’s hard not to compare it to Style Savvy or its sequel Style Savvy Trendsetters even though it’s not quite the same. The first video will be up on my Youtube channel at 10A EST today from when I streamed on my twitch channel yesterday.

I auditioned and was hired as a new model for Rising Star, but I don’t just model because that wouldn’t really be enough for a video game.  They also have me choose outfits and do nail design. After you do that you do a page layout for a magazine which is like designing photos in something like LINE Camera using frames & stickers which I already love doing (examples 1, 2, 3).

Unlike SST (Style Savvy Trendsetters) there doesn’t seem to be a day cycle.  You can keep going around in the infinite daytime doing things like buying makeup, clothes and new poses.  The only thing that seemed to show time passing was when I completed the 3 jobs that were available for the month.  The time change afterwards from April to May just seemed like a new day change in SST.

There are other models at the agency that you’re being ranked against, but they all want to be friends with you (this isn’t an American reality show). You can check your rank and read your fan mail! I received 2 so far and I admit they made me smile even if they are just game generated compliments.  You guys, I am someone’s favorite model!

After you complete a job you can export the photo from your cellphone album.  Below are three I did yesterday following the given themes they specify.  I’m not far into it yet, but I will say that unless it surprises me down the line, I don’t think this game will appeal to everyone who loved SST.  If anything sways me from that I will come back and post about it here, but if you just wanna see my future quips and images from it follow me on Google+.

 

My first 200 hours in Grand Theft Auto V (Part 2: Online)

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As obsessed as I was about seeing as much of the single player content as possible, I had no idea how possessed I would get once Grand Theft Auto Online rolled out. I stuck with it after the shaky launch and found a different kind of San Andreas than the world Trevor, Michael and Franklin inhabit. I’m a no-good thug, fresh off the plane and in town to meet my LifeInvader pal, Lamar. He basically hands me a gun and throws open the gates to the world; a confusing new place where I’m a criminal jack-of-all-trades.

Like the fervor around the launch of Portal and Fez part of the fun has been figuring out how this peculiar MMOGTA works. Rockstar filled the game with grinding, loot and quest givers like any other MMO but they wrote a bunch of their own rules and didn’t bother explaining them all. Passive mode makes you immune to player abuse, unless you get in a car. The world is full of ATMs that you can stash your cash in but you can also use your phone for convenient online banking. Races and respawns cost money. Your apartment comes with daily utility fees. I’ve posted a few times as I’ve discovered how it all works and now that I’ve gotten farther in things are really getting crazy.

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At any time the open world around you is crawling with distractions. If it’s not driving to a clothing store to see what your last level-up unlocked it’s an impromptu gang attack, an armored truck packed with money, a convenience store yet to be robbed or a random player to greet/grief. All of that sits alongside starting points for nearly 100 races, 72 deathmatches, 6 Horde style survival games, parachuting and team deathmatches.

What you could call story missions pop up frequently from your cellphone contacts and work much like regular GTA missions only you can invite your friends. These linger on the “drive here, kill these guys, drive back” formula for quite a while but soon it gets interesting. Stealing tankers as they barrell across the highway is much easier with multiple gunmen. Bringing a helicopter full of gun-toting friends to bear on a sky-high construction site is much more exciting than attempting it alone. The most elaborate mission I’ve been a part of so far eclipses even the single player stuff with multiple gunfights, invasions and even hacking.

All of this has been even more all-consuming since we decided to buy a second copy of the game. Finding a game with an interesting online mode that Katy and I are both interested in at the same time hardly ever happens. GTA Online has paid for itself a million times over in ridiculous knife fights, accidental explosions, frantic Survival rounds, racing shenanigans, and bluntly honest fashion advice. Joined by a regular, nightly crew of friends I’ve finally found that unrelentingly fun multiplayer experience that so many have had this console generation.

My first 200 hours in Grand Theft Auto V (Part 1: Single Player)

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I’ve just topped 200 hours in Grand Theft Auto V so I thought I’d answer your probable first question, “what the hell are you doing in that game all the time!?”. After 93 hours I wrapped up the single player story and completed the 100% checklist which, somewhat perplexingly doesn’t require you to do everything in the game. Still, it was a feat of fun and dedication that I enjoyed completely… mostly.

You’ve probably heard it already but the heists in the game are definitely the highlight. Going over the planning board, choosing your approach and crew, running little missions to recon or acquire gear build up some of the game’s best moments. What really sucked me in, though, is the world that Rockstar created. So many little details at every turn solidify San Andreas as a real place that I couldn’t pull myself out of. One-off conversations you overhear, the random people out on hiking trips or picnics, the handwritten in-game Internet that hooks right into the game world. Websites point to secrets and even start whole mission chains which wind up unlocking some of the game’s mysteries and teasing you with others.

Even after the gargantuan credits finally stop scrolling each character has a good post-game moment that let’s you know Rockstar isn’t finished yet. This is where I really got started on the 100% checklist and other unfinished business because I was honestly saddened at the idea of leaving this world. Little did I know that once GTA Online sorted out its launch-week woes I wouldn’t have to worry about ever leaving San Andreas again. Check back tomorrow for a lengthy recount of my time as a strong, silent, fashionably confused Ginger fumbling into Rockstar’s online world.

Pro Tips: Make Grand Theft Auto Online more fun!

Grand Theft Auto V throws a lot of info at you, doubly so when you go online. I’ve poked around in the game and on the Social Club site and here are a bunch of tips and tricks that I’ve found not everyone knows about. Most useful of all: how to make a closed, friends-only game!

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Hidden Menus and Online Modes
From your single player game, press Start, navigate to Online, choose Play GTA Online and then choose a mode. The default is ‘Go’ which throws you into a random world of players but you also have the choice of Invite Only, Crew Session, Closed Crew Session, Closed Friend Session and Solo, though this last mode specifies “available activities will be limited”. Once you’re in a mode the only option you have to change it is to join a new session with random players or ditch back to single player and choose ‘Play GTA Online’ again.

While we’re in the menus you might as well hit Start, Online, Options after you’re in an online game. This gives you access to your various “mood” settings and Quickplay Actions for races, freemode, and deathmatches. You can set your spawn location if you prefer to spawn at your apartment (after you’ve bought one) and you can choose how much info is displayed above players’ heads in the game. Maybe most useful is the ability to keep the on-screen map expanded; handy if you find yourself always toggling it by pressing down on the d-pad.

Why Rockstar split up these options is beyond me but there’s one last place you may wanna check. Press Start and scroll over to Settings. If the game is getting too noisy with incoming calls, award pop-ups, and activity info you can toggle most of them on or off under Notifications. The rest of the settings are mostly the same as in single player but worth looking at if you haven’t tweaked them yet.

So You’re Finally Playing Online
I lied, there’s more esoteric menus here. Hold Select/Back to bring up your quick menu. It’s a really handy tool that I’ve come to wish was available in single player. The top option will quickly let you set a waypoint to the nearest Ammu-Nation, ATM, mod shop, clothing store or quest marker. When doing a mission it will also let you set waypoints for mission targets and locations.

Below that is your Inventory where you can store up a bunch of snacks to refill your health when you can’t find a medkit. Buy snacks at convenience stores and fill up your pockets because these things don’t replenish a lot of health. You can also put on a mask or change clothing here, both of which have more than cosmetic value. Put on a mask before holding up a convenience store and you won’t be spotted (and immediately attacked) if you come back later for legitimate shopping. Changing your outfit will also remove one star from your Wanted level when you’re out of sight and the stars are flashing. Last up in the Inventory is the option to set who can get in your personal vehicle so you can keep random strangers from driving off in your car!

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Random Tips

  • Races cost money! If you aren’t winning at least $300 from each one you’re secretly losing money.
  • You can navigate to an ATM but you can also head to Maze Bank’s site on your phone browser to manage/hide your money.
  • Take a look at your bank Transaction Log to see where your money’s been going.
  • Passive Mode only keeps people from killing you on foot. You can still be shot if you’re driving a vehicle.
  • If you lock onto another player and hold Select/Back you’ll see new options at the bottom of your quick menu to view their profile and crew info.
  • On the dealer websites on your phone browser the number on the vehicle images indicates how many passengers it can hold.
  • The game gives loser perks to anyone who dies repeatedly in a deathmatch without getting a kill. Activate these on the Wasted screen before you respawn to get a little edge up.
  • JP points currently don’t seem to have any value. Reasonable speculation says they may factor into the online Heists or other modes planned for future updates.
  • You can sell off a vehicle at the Customs shops every 48 minutes which is 1 in-game day.
  • Your online bank account is shared between all your characters. You can’t get the free $500,000 for each of them.
  • If you want to add playlists or maps to your game from the Rockstar Social Club site you need to make sure your Xbox 360 Family settings are turned off or have ‘Member Content Privacy’ set to ‘Everyone’.
  • If you’re looking for something to do press Start and go to Stats. Press A/X on the Awards and Unlocks sections to display a ton of detail on your progress in dozens of categories. 

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Enough, We’re Through Here
When you’re ready to quit playing Rockstar strongly suggests switching back to single player to make sure your online progress isn’t corrupted. Hold down on the d-pad and switch to Michael, Trevor or Franklin or press Start, Online, Leave GTA Online.

There hasn’t been any news from Rockstar yet but just as a reminder they have a lot of content planned for the future. Coming soon is the content creator that will let players make races and deathmatches, 300+ new clothing items, 4 beach-oriented vehicles, 2 new weapons, a Capture the Flag mode and multiplayer Heists. All this content is allegedly free according to Rockstar.

Thanks for checking out this immense post. If I learn anything else I’ll update it and hopefully have a video covering this same info in the game up soon.

Now Playing: Karaoke (Xbox 360)

I’m no Pavoratti but I’ve been known to belt out a decent ‘New York, New York’ without much hesitation and as a fan of video games I’ve enjoyed watching karaoke games evolve. I got into Karaoke Revolution on PlayStation 2, dueted alongside Katy in SingStar and loved tambourine tapping while singing in Lips. Those games were fun but we always got tired of singing the same handful of favorites and never getting into the unfamiliar songs. Downloadable tracks are nice but they never seem to come out frequently enough to bother loading up the games again.

That’s one of the reasons I was excited to try out Microsoft’s latest stab at karaoke, the free app simply called, Karaoke. Developer iNiS has teamed up with The Karaoke Channel to offer a library of over 8,000 songs to sing with new additions and even free tracks rotated in daily. There’s no marketplace to fumble through or downloads to queue up because all the songs are streamed as you choose them. That leads to the other interesting aspect of Karaoke: how you pay.

Rather than charging per song or for “track packs” in Karaoke you pay for hourly chunks of time like you might at an actual karaoke bar. The cheapest is a two-hour block that costs 240 Microsoft Points ($3.00) with stops at 6 ($5) and 24 hours ($10). This gives you immediate access to every song in the catalog and even on our mid-range consumer internet it never felt like we were wasting our time waiting for things to load.

The tablet interface takes up more space to accommodate big meaty fingers

The search function works well with a snappy auto-complete that starts showing you songs and artists right away. The catalog is also pretty easy to browse through with categories for genres, latest additions and Top 100. Even better, all of this can be accessed on-screen while someone is singing and all songs get plopped into a queue that you can jump into from almost anywhere. Using a controller works fine but Karaoke is one place where Xbox SmartGlass really shines.

It’s a little clunky on our first gen iPad but the whole catalog can be navigated and songs added to the queue with a couple of taps. You can also view the lyrics to brush up on ‘It’s the End of the World as We know it’ before it starts. There aren’t as many sub-categories on the app as in the game but being able to dig into the catalog while one of us was singing maximized our time and money.

A few things we discovered worth pointing out. The time you buy is always counting down so be ready to sing for at least two hours or lose some minutes. Also, you can’t slide in one more five minute ballad if you don’t have five minutes of time left. Fortunately the catalog contains several TV theme songs perfect to keep in your queue for those last few minutes.

The game interface’s auto-complete in action

Playing the game is just as easy as finding a song to sing. Any of the fancy voice analysis the game might be scoring you on has been hidden leaving you to focus on the big, bold lyrics on screen. There are no pitch-matching cursors or fancy interface stuff here. There also aren’t HD music videos or peculiar karaoke stock footage which may be a bummer to some. Instead, the background is filled with a lively Avatar performance that grows as you continue performing. Keeping things simple has also ruled out multi-user support so only the paying player’s Avatar will put on a show or earn progress.

That’s right, Karaoke has a leveling system (and Achievements and Leaderboards) to keep you coming back. Each song you finish awards you with both Fans and Moola which unlock random new items to spruce up your stage and boost your level progress. You’re never playing roadie and placing individual items on a stage, it’s just to keep things looking different as you continue playing. Karaoke also uses Kinect for mid-song pose matching but we didn’t try that.

Paying for play time may seem gross but consider that a modern, disc-based karaoke game costs around $20 and only packs a couple dozen songs. For a fraction of that Karaoke offers hundreds of times the music with nothing to go out and buy unless you don’t already own a pile of Xbox headsets or mics. We wound up having a lot of fun combing through the catalog and singing ourselves hoarse. For $3 it’s probably the most value and instant satisfaction I’ve ever gotten from a music game.