Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: completed!

It has been a long time since I have written on this blog, and that is largely down to one game - Breath of the Wild.

I completed this last November, after around 160 hours of playing.  I would frequently turn the game on with every intention of heading for the next waypoint, but then get distracted by a side quest as I passed some stables.  I'd notice something odd from the top of a mountain; I'd see an opportunity to fight a few enemies to collect some loot; I'd notice a shooting star in the sky and chase it.


The freedom that game gives you - even allowing you to jump straight to the end boss once you're out of the initial area - is a great strength but also a possible weakness.  I didn't want the game to end, knowing there was so much left to see (I had found 112 of the 120 shrines by the end), and it was only with a significant mental push that I finally went to meet with Ganon.

And even that went wrong.  I hadn't appreciated that journeying to Ganon would involve a long trek through the grounds of Hyrule Castle, and my route took me into a library where I found some recipes that someone in Riverside Stable had asked me for.  So, of course, I had to return there before going back in to the castle.

The interior was a masterpiece of artistic design.  What would a castle look like after being neglected for a hundred years, used as a home for monsters? 


Dark, dingy and claustrophobic.  Even getting outside didn't help, since the drifting ashes in the air and hiding guardians meant the atmosphere remained tense.  I used my gale powers to drift ever higher, and entered the tower from a top window, leading to a nervous descent inside.  I needn't have worried; Ganon had become complacent.


So, if I completed this back in November, why have I not written about it until now?  Partially because I have been playing other things on my commute, but partially because I couldn't find the words to do this game justice.  It has been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, and I cannot argue with that.  Many people have written far more eloquently than I would be able to, and yet no article has fully captured just how amazing it is.

It's daft to give up a blog like this because of a perception of language inadequacy, though.  So instead I'll sum Breath of the Wild up in a single word, before moving on.

Breathless.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: completed!

It has been a long time since I have written on this blog, and that is largely down to one game - Breath of the Wild.

I completed this last November, after around 160 hours of playing.  I would frequently turn the game on with every intention of heading for the next waypoint, but then get distracted by a side quest as I passed some stables.  I'd notice something odd from the top of a mountain; I'd see an opportunity to fight a few enemies to collect some loot; I'd notice a shooting star in the sky and chase it.


The freedom that game gives you - even allowing you to jump straight to the end boss once you're out of the initial area - is a great strength but also a possible weakness.  I didn't want the game to end, knowing there was so much left to see (I had found 112 of the 120 shrines by the end), and it was only with a significant mental push that I finally went to meet with Ganon.

And even that went wrong.  I hadn't appreciated that journeying to Ganon would involve a long trek through the grounds of Hyrule Castle, and my route took me into a library where I found some recipes that someone in Riverside Stable had asked me for.  So, of course, I had to return there before going back in to the castle.

The interior was a masterpiece of artistic design.  What would a castle look like after being neglected for a hundred years, used as a home for monsters? 


Dark, dingy and claustrophobic.  Even getting outside didn't help, since the drifting ashes in the air and hiding guardians meant the atmosphere remained tense.  I used my gale powers to drift ever higher, and entered the tower from a top window, leading to a nervous descent inside.  I needn't have worried; Ganon had become complacent.


So, if I completed this back in November, why have I not written about it until now?  Partially because I have been playing other things on my commute, but partially because I couldn't find the words to do this game justice.  It has been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, and I cannot argue with that.  Many people have written far more eloquently than I would be able to, and yet no article has fully captured just how amazing it is.

It's daft to give up a blog like this because of a perception of language inadequacy, though.  So instead I'll sum Breath of the Wild up in a single word, before moving on.

Breathless.

Slime-San (Switch): COMPLETED!

To say this was a Super Meat Boy clone would do it a disservice. It’s certainly a game in the single-screen, hyper-difficult nimble platformer genre like Super Meat Boy, and a cursory glance would have you closely compare the two, but Slime-San is so much more.

Take it’s two additional moves, for starters. One lets you do a dash, in any main direction, on the floor or in the air. You can speed under stuff, over stuff, smash through some stuff, or jump a bit higher or further. The other is a morph, which lets you pass through green obstacles and slow down time a little. Together, your little slime can perform some ridiculous tricks. Perhaps the most game changing of these is being able to jump down, round and up blocks hanging from the ceiling.

It starts off simple: avoid anything red (they’re instant death), pass through anything green, and slime on, along or up anything white. Each level, of which there are 100, is a handful of separate screens most of which add new elements to the formula. Green creatures that carry you, or act as trampolines. Platforms that phase in and out depending whether you’re holding down morph or not. A feather which lets you fly – Flappy Bird style – for a short period. Blocks that disappear when you touch them, blocks that move when you stand on them, ghosts that chase you, things that explode, water you can swim in, locked doors, Donkey Kong Country style barrels, warps, a clone of you that copies your moves (and kills you if it catches up) and many many more.

Not only that, but after a certain amount of time on each screen (instantly on some!), red liquid flows in from one side of the level making it even harder. Just in case it wasn’t tricky enough already.

There are puzzles, pixel perfect platforming, and screens that just make you think “Nope. Not possible.” only for you to complete it after several hundred attempts. Oh, and there are bosses too. Insane bosses. Like the evil Uvula who attacks you with a tongue and teeth – sometimes with lasers.

And did I tell you the whole game is set inside the body of a worm, and there’s a whole city of creatures you can meet and talk to in there? Yeah, it’s bonkers. And brilliant. And I feel like the best gamer ever now I’ve completed it.

If you’re a better gamer than me and your hands aren’t ravaged by the passage of time, then you might get even more milage out of Slime-San by collecting the apples in each level (I didn’t get any that weren’t really easy), or completing each level in under par time. I can’t cope with those, but even without that challenge, it’s still an excellent game. And better that Super Meat Boy, which I’ve tried many times and just given up on.

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Thimbleweed Park (Switch): COMPLETED!

This is a point and click adventure how you superficially remember point and click adventures used to be. It looks like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, but in fact all the fiddly bits of those games have been quietly trimmed off. Moving from location to location has been streamlined. Items have more obvious uses. It’s more accessible, there’s less backtracking (or at least, less annoying backtracking), and there’s a built in hint system for when you get truly stuck.

What is the same, however, is the humour, the fourth wall breaking gags, the clever puzzles and the characters with bags of, well, character. And so many injokes, with references to old Lucasfilm adventures a-plenty. In fact, the mansion in the game may very well be the actual mansion in Maniac Mansion.

The story starts out as a reasonably simple murder mystery, which your two federal agents have to solve. Only it gets weird. Then some more characters are introduced (initially by way of playing as them in flashbacks), and the PillowTron business and related inventions add more mystery.

Then there’s paranormal complications and eventually, well, a late chapter in the game is called Madness for a reason.

I really enjoyed Thimbleweed Park. A few technical issues – mainly tiny, tiny background pixels being vitally important items – marred it a little. I had to use the HintTron 3000 a few times only to find I was doing the right thing but tapping on the wrong pixel, or using the wrong character. It didn’t affect my enjoyment too much though, and the rest was brilliant.

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Subsurface Circular (Switch): COMPLETED

I didn’t even know this game existed, let alone what it was about, until yesterday. Then someone recommended it on Twitter, mentioned it was by Mike Bithell, and I saw it was less than a fiver on the eShop. Of course I bought it.

Subsurface Circular is a visual novel with light puzzling and investigation, manifesting mainly as conversations between you – a robot detective – and other passengers on the robot-only underground railway. In this world the robots, known as Teks, are sentient. Each has a job or role designation, and it’s up to you to question them in order to try and discover why Teks have been mysteriously disappearing. Or have they?

It’s only a couple of hours long and not exactly taxing, but there’s an interesting story and some humour so it’s worth playing.

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Axiom Verge (Switch): COMPLETED!

Even without reading too much about Axiom Verge, I knew I was going to like it. “It’s like Super Metroid” was enough. The only confusing thing was how it took me so long to actually buy it.

Actually, I think I did buy it ages ago on Steam or something, but like most Steam games, it sits there unloved. Last week it was on offer on the Switch, so I bought it again, and then completed it.

Those people were right – it is like Super Metroid. Certainly, there are different weapons, and the graphics are all smaller, and of course the plot isn’t the same and you’re not a woman in an exosuit. But it’s so very Super Metroid. Similarly themed areas, traditional locked off bits and powers to access them. Hidden rooms. Power ups. Giant bosses.

The main difference is that it’s so very easy. Every one of the bosses is a total walkover – not least because most of them have areas you can stand and not get hit while still damaging them. That doesn’t actually hurt the game at all though, as the main task is exploring and upgrading. The unlockable powers are a joy (especially once you fully upgrade your drone), and the “glitch” mechanic is original and often clever.

Importantly, it’s great, and I can throughly recommend it. Now to try and 100% it!

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Vostok Inc (Switch): COMPLETED!

You know Cookie Clicker or Cow Clicker or Clicker Heroes or that paperclip clicker? Pointless but somehow addictive, right? And you know that little known twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars? Great, yeah? What about those tamagotchi thingies? Lovely.

Now bung them all into the same game. That’s right, the same game. A single game with all these elements in. There’s no way that can work.

But it does. You develop planets in a solar system in classic clicker style: buildings generate money each second, which you use to buy more buildings. More expensive buildings, and upgrades to buildings, generate more money per second. You keep this up, increasing earnings through ever higher powers of ten.

But while doing this, you have to fly from planet to planet to develop each. And you get shot at on the way and oh look – it’s a twin-stick shooter now. Shooting enemies and asteroids provides more money, although it’s the developing planets that really gets you the big cash.

Use some of your money to upgrade your ship’s weapons and abilities, and then take on the boss before expanding your business empire into the next solar system.

Oh yeah, and while you’re whizzing round the galaxy, why not rescue some executives? They inhabit your ship and – providing you keep them fed and entertained virtual pet style – they’ll give you a money generating bonus. They’ll also give you a minigame each to play should you have some time to kill while waiting for money to build up. They play out on a replica LCD screen, and are simplified variations of Flappy Bird, Galaga, R-Type and even Doom. They’re hardly full of depth, but they’re fun (and hard!) little diversions.

Then, before you know it, 20 hours have passed. Oops.

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North (Switch): COMPLETED!

I read a couple of reviews for North, and although they weren’t exactly high scoring, they all said the story was interesting if a little short. Someone referenced Blade Runner. Another mentioned Papers Please. For reasons that became obvious when playing, specifics were missing somewhat from these reviews.

Then I saw it was only £2.79, and more than that I had some free eShop credit. Not only that, but I’d get some money back now Nintendo have that rewards points thing. Why not, I thought.

North is a narrative discovery game, and starts with you – a refugee from the (seemingly literally on fire) South – having just made it to a city in the North. Before you can apply for asylum, you have to prove you’ve been persecuted in your own country, convert to the local religion, and be fit for work.

This plays out in the form of walking round mostly pitch black areas, writing letters to your sister who is still back in your old country, and some slight interaction with alien figures and switches. It’s important to mention the pitch black areas, because on the Switch at least (Youtube videos of other platforms suggest it’s a Switch thing), some areas are too dark to see anything. Walls, slopes and space are all just black. I missed a door for ages because it was so dark.

One of your first tasks (and the only one that requires any sort of skill or dexterity) is to work. You get a drink from a vending machine which allows you to run, then enter the mines. Here, you have three jackhammers you have to activate (and collect the stones they produce), only you die if you stay in the mines too long. You can recover health by running back to the entrance before you die.

Dying just repawns you outside the mines, but I encountered a bug in doing so: I was unable to get more drink, so was unable to run, and therefore unable to complete the mines. If you can’t complete the mines, you can’t prove you’re able to work, and so can’t progress in the game, so I was stuck. I had to restart the game. There were a few other bugs – sometimes the wrong name of a door appeared on a door, for instance – but this was a biggie.

Hardness to see and game breaking glitches aside, the game’s story was enough to keep me playing. I can’t go into details here much as almost everything is a spoiler, but when you realise why the player is being persecuted, you suddenly realise how politically charged the game is. Especially since it comes from Moscow…

For some reason, it feels a lot like Bernband only more oppressive and more lonely. It’s amateurish in the way it’s built, with unfinished rooms and what I sense are Unity assets, but it seems like that’s just the means used to tell the story. It could have been done in Twine, or Inform, or PICO-8, so I can’t really mark it poorly for that. Apart from the lighting and bugs, of course!

Having played it, I can see how the reviewers had a hard time scoring North highly. It’s like trying to assess a film using the rules of reviewing a concert. Is North a great game? No. Is it a great story? No. Is it an important story to “play”? Absolutely.

Oh, and the title music track is a lovely Vangelis-style thing so it’s almost worth it just for that.

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Super Bomberman R (Switch): COMPLETED!

A lot of people derided this at launch, but I know Konami have changed a lot since then. In fact, the multiplayer mode is – baffling graphics choices aside – a decent enough Bomberman game. Today, I discovered that you could change the viewing angle of the single player game with the L and R buttons and you know what? Single player is just fine now too.

Sure, the camera angle, even when fixed, is a bit odd and sometimes it’s hard to see what “level” you’re on as a result, but mostly it’s not an issue. I’d have liked it to be a touch more overhead (perhaps I missed another button combo) but it hardly caused an issue.

In fact, I completed it. And it was fun, and it wasn’t too long and you know what? It’s the only Bomberman game with a single player mode I’ve completed since the SNES/PC Engine/Mega Drive versions. Which says more than any description I could stick here would.

Obviously it isn’t perfect, but all the necessary power-ups are there, each world has gimmicks that work, the levels are pretty varied (some have “survive for” time limits, some require you to kill everything, some have you saving people), and the bosses are decent too.

Of course with a Bomberman game, the actual game is in the multiplayer modes. But Super Bomberman R’s (haha! R’s!) is a solid 3/5 on it’s own. How much has changed in the last year I don’t know, but that’s where I’d stick it now. And yes, I played the “bonus” world after completing the game too, in case you were wondering.

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The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game (Switch): COMPLETED!

I have to say, I’m a little bit disappointed with this. The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game (yeah, that’s the name) isn’t bad at all, but there are a number of niggles that actually cause gameplay issues. Sure, there are the “usual” Lego game problems – crashes and bugs, mainly – but two things in particular are really game breaking.

The first is the strange darkness of the game. In the open, sunlit levels (like the beach) it’s fine, but as soon as it’s a bit dark or even just shadows, it’s impossible to see. A gamma slider would sort it, but there isn’t one. And when you play as Garmadon or Cole, who are both wearing black, it’s even worse.

The other problem relates to Lloyd’s “green build power”. Like the “master builder” power from the Lego Movie game, you have to stand in a certain spot, hold down a button, then move the cursor over three glowing items. The thing is, when you’re playing in split screen two player mode, sometimes you can’t physically “tag” all three items – the screen just won’t scroll to reach them. We had to have one of the two players drop out so the remaining player had use of the full screen. A bizarre bug that would absolutely come up if two player mode was actually tested – which it clearly wasn’t!

That said, these are pretty minor things and it’s generally business as usual for Lego games. There are a few changes to the formula, notably no red bricks and no “True Hero/Adventurer/Whatever”, but surprisingly these don’t change the game as much as I expected. The plot follows the film, although expands it somewhat with a load of extra sequences. For some reason all the characters get their elemental powers well before they do in the film – making the whole purpose of their journey a bit pointless – but that doesn’t really affect the game.

My daughter and I played the whole game in co-op (bar the above mentioned necessary drop-out), but as usual we’re only actually about 40% done. No doubt we’ll do some more.

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