Robotic Gaming Monthly – Press F to Decorate Tree
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly, Topless Robot’s monthly look at what the gaming world has to offer recently! First off, a shameless plug for our TR Holiday Gift Guide for gamers, which I honestly hope end up leading to one person receiving a nice gaming surprise. In here, though, we do have Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Far Cry 4, and Overwatch to talk about, so yay!
Before we enter, though, I must mention something you won’t be seeing inside: The Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight, which in an effort to streamline everything here has now been promoted to the role of a recurring Daily List, a la Sherilyn’s Starlog lists. And considering that I originally pitched the Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight as a series of lists, I’m totally cool with this, so I hope the rest of you are too! Anyhow, on with the show!
You know, sometimes I do hate it when notable gaming news breaks right after I’ve finished a new edition here. Sure, on one hand it gives me more time to think about what I’m going to say about the subject, but on the other hand it means I have to wait a whole month before I can rightfully mock whatever happened, after everyone else has. Case in point…
…Yep, despite treading where several already have, we’re doin’ this.
For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, the recent Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has a moment in it where after a prologue mission in which the main character’s best friend dies in battle in order to save him (a character the player gets to know for about thirty minutes, tops), we get the funeral scene. A scene featuring the now-infamous moment where the player has to push a button to pay respects, and thus trigger the beginning of the game proper by having the friend’s dad (Kevin Spacey) come along to offer our star a new job in his PMC. It’s not a quick-time event or anything, mind you; just that absolutely nothing will happen until you press the button needed.
Needless say, the Internet had a field day with this. But while most have said it was just straight-up hackneyed, laughable and insanely stupid, others have said that the whole thing is actually disrespectful towards America’s veterans. As such, I decided to seek out Topless Robot’s own Gallen Dugall, a veteran of the U.S. Navy for several years, for his thoughts on the scene. Here’s what he said…
“I’ve done burial at sea details a couple of times, way back when. Frankly, that sort of ‘push the button’ gameplay is what made Witcher 2 place so high in my ‘worst game experiences’ list. ‘Push the button’ is not gameplay. But as for the saluting, at least in the navy you do not salute as part of a crowd or formation – the guy in charge does that. As a shmoe who just turned up for the funeral in uniform you can salute – or not – all you like. It’s bad gameplay, but I don’t think it was intended to have a negative meaning.”
“I saw that clip from when Conan played it and it was just awkward. I’m sure people can be offended by anything these days, but bad or even thoughtlessly implemented gameplay isn’t a biggie. My guess is the scene was supposed to depict the level of gravity of what the characters are going through, but it’s basically an in-game cut scene and cut scenes are always awkward to one degree or another. ‘Hey, here’s the character that represents you; we’re just taking control for a bit because you have to do this for the story.’ It’s wonky. I think if people are offended, there are lots of ways that this could be used to promote some good causes that are respectful to vets, like Wounded Warrior and such.”
…And I pretty much agree, especially when it comes to believing that the scene was designed to be more well-intentioned, to get the players to understand the casualties of war and put ourselves in the shoes of a main character going through a traumatic experience…but it fails because they try to condense all of this into one button, which is kind of a far cry from the series that once gave us such moments as Jackson’s death in Modern Warfare.
Hell, without giving things away, Valiant Hearts: The Great War pulled off an interactive showcase of the gravity of war almost perfectly this year in its final moments. Advanced Warfare’s scene, though, is more like a throwback to another war game…namely, the old NES Rambo game.
So yes, it’s unbelievably silly. But I also hear some people saying that a series that does major endorsements with Mountain Dew and Doritos (or “bro culture” in general) shouldn’t be attempting any moments at deep drama or story. And honestly, I kind of feel like this is a lousy message, since as mentioned, the scene still seems to have had good intentions in origin…it just bungled the execution. And saying the developers should never try drama again because of this is kind of like a teacher telling a jock who gets his first “F” to go f*** off, drop out, and start pumping gas because he’ll never achieve anything, all based on this one assignment. Instead, I feel like we should use this moment for constructive criticism, let them know how to pull off emotional moments like these more properly, and then maybe we’ll get some more poignant moments in a CoD game next time.
…But still, don’t let this stop you from mocking the funeral scene for the moment. Ha ha, stupid sad people interrupted by button prompts!
So, moving on from one high-profile whipping boy of a video game released this month to another, let’s talk about Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric! Now, I didn’t actually get the chance to play the game myself, instead opting to watch artist and Electronic Heroes host Andrew Dickman stream a playthrough of the game over Twitch instead. Now, Andy is putting together a highlight reel of the whole experience, but doesn’t have it ready yet as of the time of writing. I do, however, have an abridged version of the experience and what it did to Andy (and most people watching) right here…
Or, perhaps more appropriately, an illustration from Andy summing up the game…
|Artwork by Andrew Dickman|
…And that just sums up the dialogue that never stops and the piss-poor characterization.
To say that Rise of Lyric is a train wreck would be an understatement. Repetitive gameplay, lousy plot, empty world with no direction given on what to do next, poor music choices, countless bugs, awkward CGI…the list goes on. Several critics and fans have said this is even worse than Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, and the few that have said RoL is still better say it’s largely just because it doesn’t contain any bugs that make the game unplayable (it just contains every other bug imaginable).
But one complaint Andy stated in his playthrough that stood out was that the game’s slightly more serious tone in its story didn’t match that of the actual current cartoon it was based on, which was a lot more goofy and light-hearted. And after some people told me that the cartoon was indeed good and that I should check it out, I decided to do just that. So I watched the first six episodes online, and yeah, I thought it was pretty good. The CGI was a little iffy and there were still some corny bits, but overall it was a funny and enjoyable cartoon, in contrast to the game trying to play things more serious with its story about a cyborg snake attempting to destroy all organic life. Then again, the current modus operandi for Cartoon Network shows these days is to start off with the initial episodes being campy and silly before dropping the bomb and introducing more mature themes into the show, so who knows…
But the fact that Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric piss-poorly represents its own cartoon reminds me of the currently tepid Legend of Korra game and last year’s disastrous Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!, because the shared problem they have is that rarely does anyone seem to be able to make a good video game based off of a kid’s cartoon these days. Which seems like an odd problem to mention, but keep in mind these three games have been made by such acclaimed developers as Platinum Games, WayForward, and in the case of Sonic Boom, ex-Naughty Dog developers as part of the development company Big Red Button.
So what the heck caused them to suddenly be drained of their talent? Big Red Button at least has somewhat of an excuse in that several employees left the company during production…albeit it seems to have been over the fact that they were unhappy with the game’s direction, so that isn’t a good sign. What are the reasons behind these failures? One reason that springs to mind for me is possible redundancies…after all, it’s easy to see how most cartoons these days like Adventure Time, Regular Show, and Steven Universe are heavily influenced by video games as is, so a game based on a cartoon inspired by countless video games is going to have a few awkward translations.
But alas, in the end, I think this sadly might be another case of video games aimed at children these days getting the shaft. Cynical developers and publishers who feel that because it’s for kids, they don’t need to put in that much effort, or feel that the game should be dumbed down for today’s kids. And Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric REALLY gives off this impression, pulling off countless feats of hand-holding, a lack of consequences, slaps on the wrist whenever you die, and characters who point out EVERYTHING around them because they’re afraid kids might miss something.
I had a point here, right? Ah yes, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is what should be the absolute last straw when it comes to shoddy games based on kid’s cartoons. Look, we have a lot of great, mature cartoons these days, and we have kids these days that are smarter than you think. So please stop insulting gamers, cartoon fans, and kids in general with stuff like this. Especially if you can’t even get it to work right…
QUESTION TIME: Well, if we’re losing one feature in RGM, may as well introduce another small one! Just your typical “Burning Question” bit where I ask you all a question, and you reply in the comments with your answers. I may want to think of a more creative name, though…
Anyhow, one surprise out of BlizzCon this month would be that Blizzard’s new MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, would feature the stars from one of their very first games, The Lost Vikings!
And it also turns out that Microsoft has filed a new trademark for Battletoads, hinting at a potential return for the classic hard-as-rocks game franchise…
So our question this month is a pretty simple one: What classic video game would you like to see make an unexpected comeback as well? Because I doubt anyone saw these coming, as opposed to, say, a new Mega Man or Metroid game (which both need to happen, though). So shout out your answers as to what games you’d like to see in the comments.
Up next, though: Game reviews! Not much this month, but game reviews nonetheless!
Alright, time for some video game reviews…albeit not many this month, just a mere pair. Part of it was due to me not being able to get my hands on many review copies of anything, the rest was a lot of other work and personal issues that I have to suffer through before I can hopefully afford to do this full-time. Again, I am but one man, but my apologies nonetheless for not being able to deliver much for now…hopefully things shall pick up next month as I load up on any indie games for our end-of-year specials. But for now, let us go on!
Far Cry 4
So having played Far Cry 4 for about roughly 14 hours or so, I am told by the game itself that so far, I am just below the quarter-way mark when it comes to completing it. So far I have experienced a supernatural hallucination that took me to Shangri-La, fought against a dozen commandos in an arena while naked, took out an entire enemy coup and killed a tiger while riding an elephant, hunted snow leopards in the snowiest of the Himalayas, and got high twice (once on purpose, once accidentally), among other things.
And now here’s the game telling me “Oh, that? Those 14 hours were just the tip of the iceberg.”
Needless to say, I am loving the hell out of this game.
Far Cry 4 takes place in the Himalayan region of Kyrat, where Ajay Ghale has come back to from America to spread the ashes of his deceased mother, according to her final wishes. Kyrat is a country in a decades-long civil war, and Ajay’s mom fled the place when he was just three years old. Now back in Kyrat, Ajay finds himself having to take on the tyrannical Pagan Min – Kyrat’s villainous leader – for reasons that the locals never really get around to explaining much. He gets drafted into the local Golden Path rebels and is treated like their savior simply because he was the son of their former leader, despite their having no knowledge of Ajay’s life and whether he’s skilled or not, or even if he wants to join them. Then Ajay proceeds to climb around Kyrat with ease, hunt wildlife, and gun down members of Pagan Min’s Royal Army despite having no known survival or combat training, or anything similar to it.
…Okay, so maybe story hasn’t exactly been one of the game’s strong suits so far.
Yeah, I keep waiting for the moment Far Cry 4 delivers a curveball in the story department, but it hasn’t come yet. In contrast to Jason Brody’s journey in the previous game from an extreme sports enthusiast who hasn’t decided what he wants out of life into a reluctant, scared soldier and later into a full on blood knight, all while playing with the whole “Chosen One” trope, I haven’t exactly nailed down what Ajay’s character arc is supposed to be yet. I get the feeling a good chunk of it is supposed to be about him learning all about his culture and heritage, but I returned from the previously mentioned Shangri-La bit after battling demons in paradise with the help of an invisible tiger, and his result is pretty much a bland “Yeah, that was cool, I guess.”
Unlike Ajay, however, the supporting cast of characters is a delightfully colorful bunch, ranging from former warlords looking to atone for their sins, to stranded stoners seeking enlightenment, to torture-loving governors who leave in the middle of electrocuting a prisoner to take a phone call from their little daughter back in America to hear about their day at school, to name a few. They all have such incredible personalities and stories behind them that you’ll want to keep playing just to see who pops up or who does what next. They all contribute to the world that is Kyrat, which incidentally is insanely beautiful. Every inch of extraordinarily verdant nature is glorious to look at, intertwined with a heavy dose of Asian culture and mythology (and this isn’t even getting into the more surreal bits, like the Shangri-La parts). Simply put, these are graphics to die for, which is a good thing because much like Australia, every inch of wildlife here was designed to kill you (on a side note, f*** you, dholes).
You might have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the gameplay in Far Cry 4 yet. That’s because to be honest, a lot hasn’t changed since Far Cry 3, so it’s still the same rock-solid open world gameplay as before. Travel around vast amounts of wilderness, liberate outposts from enemies, clear bell towers of radios to view more of the map, hunt and skin animals for upgrades to your inventory, etc. It was perfectly fine back then and it’s pulled off perfectly fine here as well.
Of course, there are still a few new notable touches. One is the ability to use bait you can get from hunts to lure predatory animals away from you and/or towards enemies as well, a bit carried over from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It sounds particularly good in theory, but this means that the number of predators lurking in the game has increased seemingly just to show this off, including more than a few that feel planted in specific areas despite the organic nature of the series these days. There’s a new vehicle in the form of a little makeshift helicopter called the Buzzer, which is an absolute blast to use and makes travel fun, not to mention it provides you with the ability to rain down death from above on your enemies. There are also the Karma Events, seemingly designed by a man who thought “Boy, I sure loved those moments in the Spider-Man 2 game where you have to fetch a kid’s runaway balloon! I wish more games had those!” and who, as such, has a special place in Hell waiting for him. Finally, there’s the ability to ride elephants and use them to charge at enemies, and if I seriously have to explain to you whether or not this is awesome, clearly something is wrong.
But long story short, despite a few annoying wrinkles, Far Cry 4 is an absolutely terrific shooter on par with its predecessor, full of terrific combat, a good challenge, and several amazing moments to experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to air bomb a few more honey badgers.
The Sailor’s Dream
A few months back when the reveal trailer for The Sailor’s Dream came out, I noted that out of Simogo’s previous iOS games, I had found the acclaimed Device 6 to be an absolutely stellar piece of work, while I thought the similarly acclaimed Year Walk was overrated and confusing. So what side does The Sailor’s Dream fall on more? Well, I hate to say it, but it ends up being Simogo’s weakest game so far.
Then again, “game” may not apply here that much. I went into The Sailor’s Dream knowing full well that is was more along the lines of Dear Esther-style interactive fiction, described as a peaceful experience based around exploration that puts the emphasis on story. So you begin the game in the middle of the ocean, and sliding the screen around reveals a series of islands to visit, containing locations such as an old lighthouse or ancient ruins. You enter, swipe the screen around to travel along various paths within, and occasionally scroll along a path uncovered by a hidden artifact to uncover a part of the story, all controlling like the previously mentioned Device 6.
It all has potential, but the problem is that all of the exploration is just too easy. All the artifacts that lead to the nuggets of story are sitting right out there in the open, so they barely come across as secrets, if at all. There are the occasional interactive bits involving music-themed segments where you get to play with little sliders and such to craft some intriguing, haunting little tunes, but their existence is a mere red herring or window dressing.
And it’s a shame, because the graphics are legitimately gorgeous, and the same goes for the music, particularly the numbers with haunting female vocals you can unlock. The story itself also has an air of intrigue to it and is definitely quite clever, but with a game that you can beat under the course of about an hour or so, it all ends just as it’s starting to get good. There is a “true” ending to unlock via bottles containing the previously-mentioned musical numbers that show up every day of the week in real-time and radio transmissions that pop up every hour, but again, there’s just no real meat to it. You just show up, punch your ticket, and eventually get an ending.
You might say that for a cheap iOS game, The Sailor’s Dream still delivers enough content to satisfy, but it just didn’t click with me. What we have here is a particularly meaty story sandwiched between the nearly-transparent wafer-thin bread of a game, and the end result just doesn’t feel like a satisfying meal. Spend your money on a tastier snack instead.
…So not much again, but hopefully we can get more next month. Oh, which reminds me, I purchased Super Smash Bros. for Wii U due to peer pressure last week, but haven’t had time to play it yet. Did I forget to mention that? Well, we’ll see about that next month! For now, let us move on to game trailers…
You know it’s a good month for video game trailers when you get to lead off with a game starring a cyber-gorilla! Let’s get at it…
So the big news out of BlizzCon this year was the reveal of Overwatch, Blizzard’s first new IP in seventeen years. Truly this was something they were proud of, showing it off in both the form of a slick CGI cartoon introducing us to the game’s world and a lengthy gameplay trailer showing off the game’s team-based shooter action (seen below), not to mention twelve individual character trailers, which you can view here. Quite the launch indeed! So how did the internet react to Blizzard’s glorious new baby?
With cries of “Boo. It’s just another shooter” and “I wanted Warcraft IV!!“, mainly (read in the voices of Droopy and Veruca Salt, respectively).
I’m…I’m sorry, I just can’t accept a response like that. I just saw the reveal of a game where I can have a cyber-gorilla fight a gun-wielding grim reaper – among other things – and I refuse to admit that any game featuring such a scenario can be bad. And I know some have said that the game seems an awful lot like Team Fortress 2. True, but in all of the good ways: A vibrant, fun, uniquely cartoonish art style, a sense of humor, fast-paced action with a nice variety of options and classes, and assloads of multiplayer fun. So even if this is just Blizzard’s version of TF2, I welcome it with open arms. Plus, seriously, cyber-gorilla. The dude has glasses.
Another month, yet another lineup of three notable video games that popped up on Kickstarter. I’d consider making this a regular feature if I were actually guaranteed this many promising games each time…but anyhow, first up is Thimbleweed Park from Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the creators of Maniac Mansion. And what we have here is their spiritual successor to that game (not to be confused with the sequel), an old-school late-’80s graphic adventure game about a murder mystery with five playable characters to switch between, multiple endings, different solutions to several puzzles, and the joining of the chainsaw and gas can, together at last.
My only criticism is that the stretch goal they have when they reach $625,000 is full voice acting, which just doesn’t seem right when you’re trying to make deliberately old-school game. I mean, one of the few flaws I had with Freedom Planet is the voice acting, which doesn’t match the 16-bit console aesthetics and snaps me out of whatever childhood trance the game has me in at the moment. Still, Thimbleweed Park looks incredible so far, and I do love me some adventure games. Especially ones with cursed clowns. The game has met its funding goal, but feel free to chip in to its Kickstarter campaign if you want to.
Also appealing to your sense of nostalgia on Kickstarter this month is Crossing Souls, a top-down action-adventure game containing a world that’s a giant tribute to the 1980s, but with graphics and gameplay (amazing stuff, by the way) that feel like they’re more at home somewhere in the 1990s, oddly enough. Also odd is that this game also contains five playable characters, albeit here you get a Goonies-style gang of kids (naturally) who come into possession of a mysterious artifact that lets them switch between planes of reality in order to interact with the land of the dead. Seems like a particularly fun and impressive-looking romp through a classic ’80s cinema adventure, so I’m fully behind it. Back it on Kickstarter here if you want to support it as well.
…Also, bonus points for the Easter eggs at 1:11. Nice touch.
Hey, a video game on Kickstarter that isn’t relying on old-school pixel art – how about that! Okay, so it’s still a metroidvania game that’s an intentional homage to the likes of games such as Zelda II and Faxanadu, but that art…oh lordy, that animation. What we have here is a dark, moody, fluid, but still kind of cute insect world brimming so much unique details and characters and some astounding 2D animation. And it kind of helps that it looks like it’s shaping up to be an incredibly deep and fun game as well, as illustrated by the pan out to the game’s map showing you how much you get to explore even in just one bit of it all. Truly the stuff that epic tales about stinger-kicking insect folk are made of indeed. And again, if you want in, here’s their Kickstarter campaign.
Coming out next month for the Xbox One, Kalimba looks to be an incredible little puzzle-platformer with an emphasis on co-op, even in single-player, as you control a pair of totems at once and guide them through various levels with various gameplay mechanics to learn and master along the way while…aaaaand you just when down into the comments to post the Temple of Doom clip, didn’t you? Sigh. Fine. Miss out on the charming and unique puzzler if you want, but don’t come crawling back to me when you suddenly want a dose of totem-based puzzlers.
…Okay, that was a lie. Please come back, because this looks like a promising game that you should definitely check out.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
Now, one could argue that the big 3DS game from the Nintendo Direct presentation this month was the Majora’s Mask 3D remake. However, Majora’s Mask didn’t have a steampunk Abe Lincoln commanding Tom Sawyer, Tiger Lily and the Cowardly Lion in a fight against a Lovecraftian alien invasion of London in an impressive-looking strategy game, thus I say “Meh” to this Majora’s Mask news. Besides, we all know we need to encourage Nintendo to invest in new IPs, and this is especially true for any game being described as an homage to Jack Kirby, so yes, more please!
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Amazingly, this is the second game I’ve come across this month that involves a group of girls imprisoned together seeking to escape some sort of hellhole they’re trapped in. Unfortunately, we don’t have a new trailer for the one where you get to “motivate” a group of anime girls based on the Seven Deadly Sins, so here’s an extended look at Resident Evil: Revelations 2 instead. It does indeed look like it’s shaping up to be a return to form for the RE series, right down to the clearly-out-of-place gear puzzle and so-awkward-it’s-good dialogue, so here’s hoping this episodic series can bring some actual horror (or at least campy B-movie horror) when it comes out next year.
Yes, I know we already covered this trailer in an earlier post this month. But screw it, this is an eye-popping Claymation adventure that deserves all the attention it can get, so in case you missed it the previous time, here you go. God bless you, Doug TenNapel.
So Nintendo’s upcoming multiplayer shooter Splatoon will get to have a single-player mode as well, one where a bunch of adorable girls battle an invasion of emo-fringed sentient tentacles with countless fluids being squirted around (oh, and the girls can transform into tentacled creatures as well). And despite the countless Rule 34 possibilities, this still remains one of my most anticipated Wii U games/games in general at the moment, and any game that remembers that single-player mode still matters is a win in my book. And again, more colorful and fun shooters with insane concepts for the win.
Well, we could always use more games about sumo wrestlers, and we can always use more games about falling on your ass over and over again. The time-manipulation bits have been done before, but I’m pretty sure it’s a law by this point that every other indie platformer needs to involve gameplay mechanics based around time manipulation. And as Sumoman is a finalist at IGF China this year, here’s hoping this is a sign of one quality game…that just so happens to involve comically rotund men jumping around and chowing down on sushi.
And thus we reach the end of another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly. Thanks for dropping by, feel free to leave any comments offering suggestions, questions, additional discussions on what we talked about, or messages about how much we suck, and remember to have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season! And praise Santauros! See you next time!
Previous Editions of Robotic Gaming Monthly:
Robotic Gaming Monthly #6 – Harmonix, Hatred, and an ex-BioShock Bonanza
Robotic Gaming Monthly #5 – Destiny, Danganronpa, and Death at The Hands of Freddy
Robotic Gaming Monthly #4 – PAX, Gamescom, and Sad Signs O’ The Times
Robotic Gaming Monthly #3 – Rapture, Road Not Taken, and Ripping on Pre-Orders