Chipping Off the Backlog Episode 2 – Freedom Planet

Hello there readers! Welcome (or welcome back!) to Chipping off the Backlog, the series where I cover my quest to play and finish all the games in my collection.

Before I begin this next episode, I want to give a quick update on what’s been happening in my life. Part of the reason I started this blog was that I’ve been stuck at home due to circumstances going on in the world (this was originally written and posted in the Spring of 2020), and I wasn’t working a job because I didn’t want to work something outside of my house for the safety of my family. Well, I just got a job that allows me to work from home, which is awesome! But that of course means I won’t have all that extra free time for gaming and writing. That’s ok, only playing games for a while gets boring.

I’m going to continue working on my backlog, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing so so far. I also want to keep writing this blog, but I know I won’t be able to keep doing what I have been doing and make it work. So from here on out, I won’t be doing in-depth reviews of the games I play, instead I’ll be writing more general reflections on games and what it was like to finally play or finish them. I may rewrite my original inFamous post to reflect this, but for now, I want to push things forward!

(Previous post for those who need to catch up)

Last time around, I started my journey to play my backlog of games by finally playing inFamous. I absolutely fell in love with the game, mostly thanks to the parkour you partake in throughout Empire City. I loved how the game made you feel like a super powered being, and the way it handled the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative was excellent, but good lord I just wanted to keep scaling buildings and running over power lines! It was thanks to my newfound love of parkour that I began craving a platformer. It was with that craving in mind that I decided the next game I’d chip of my backlog was the Sonic fan game turned original IP, Freedom Planet!

Unlike many of the other games on my backlog, I’d actually put a decent amount of time into Freedom Planet. In fact, upon my revisit I realized that I had come close to beating the game when I first played it! So how come I hadn’t taken the time to finish it until now? Well, I had bought Freedom Planet while I was in college, when I had little time and little tolerance for videogames. At that point in my life, if I felt a game was too hard or “not worth it” I would immediately stop playing it and trade it in for something else. In Freedom Planet’s case, I got stuck at one of its hardest bosses, got sick of redoing the fight over and over very quickly, and put then put the game on the back burner. Thank goodness it was a digital download I couldn’t trade in, because I’m very glad to still own the game so that I could revisit the game and finally beat it!

In this revisit, rather than simply finish the file I had, I did an entirel new story mode playthough as Lilac, and then played through most of the game again in classic mode as Carol, and a few levels as Milla. I can easily say off the bat I had a blast and absolutely fell in love with Freedom Planet all over again! Of course, this would be a short post if that’s all I said, so I might as well go a little deeper.

As I mentioned earlier, Freedom Planet started life as a Sonic fan game, and it shows in the style and gameplay. There are plenty of loops and ramps throughout the stages, and many moments where you build up speed. There are also elements of Freedom Planet that remind of other games from the early 90s like Strider, Metal Slug, and Astal. But Freedom Planet isn’t just a tribute or throwback to those games. As I played through the game again and dug deeper, I realized tht Freedom Planet is a game that develops its own identity by thinking inside the box – rather than trying to entirely break away from the tropes of the 2D action game genre, it puts its own spin on some of those tropes to evolve them and give the game its own identity.

The most obvious thing Freedom Planet puts a spin on is how enemies hurt you. You don’t take damage from simply touching enemies, just from their attacks. As much as I love classic Sonic games, running into enemies and losing rings because of it is something I’ll likely never stop despising, so this is relieving for me. This change allows you to pick up the speed and explore around levels more freely, since you aren’t anxious about running into a foe and taking a hit. Of course, the game balances this out by giving most of its baddies projectile attacks. In rooms where you have to deal with a lot of bad guys, the screen can at times look like something out of a shoot ‘em up, with projectiles everywhere.

Another trope Freedom Planet puts a spin on, one I didn’t notice or realize until this revisit, is character special attacks. Most 2D action games and platformers allow you to use a special weapon or attack to make enemies easier to fight, but you often have to obtain it first and can easily lose it by taking damage. In Freedom Planet, each character always has access to their special attack, but it’s limited by an energy meter. Every time you use the attack, your meter depletes, and you have to wait for it to recharge, similar to waiting for a powerful weapon to cool down in a shooting game. Essentially, you’re never without a powerful attack to make foes easier to manage, but you can’t spam it. It changes the flow of enemy encounters and boss battles, forcing the player to find a good balance between standard and special attacks.

What surprised me the most in my revisit of Freedom Planet was just how different the characters played from each other. When I first played the game back in 2015, I only played as Lilac, a dragon with a spin attack double jump and the ability to shoot through the air. Even initially on my revisit I stuck to her, and most platforming challenges and boss battles were a breeze. I was ready to say “Freedom Planet is a good game, but its best platforming challenges and boss battles don’t come until close to the end.” Then I finally tried out the wildcat Carol, who does not have a double jump, but can jump from a slide on walls Megaman X style and can jump between red platforms to get to certain areas easily. Carol not having a double jump, as well as her special attack being Chun-Li style quick kicks, presented me the platforming and combat challenge I look for in a 2D action game like this. It almost felt like I was playing an entirely different game when I switched. I didn’t spend as much time with the basset hound Milla, but from what I have played I can see the short range of her melee attack and the delay of her projectile make her the “hard mode” of this game, the delay of her projectile attack reminding me somewhat of a Belmont whip.

It’s worth playing through Freedom Planet as each character not just because of how differently they play, but also because each character has at least one unique level to their campaign, and each of them has certain paths that only they can take in each level. If you’re like me and love hunting down collectibles, you’ll need to master all three characters in each level to obtain all of Freedom Planet’s collectible cards that unlock art and music. Fortunately, one of Freedom Planet’s best aspects is the multiple difficulties alongside each character. If you like a character’s style or want to get all the items they can obtain, but you feel they make the game too easy or too hard, there’s difficulty options for that! Personally, between these characters and the difficulty options, Freedom Planet is one of the few games I can genuinely recommend to both casual and hardcore gamers alike.

https://www.8bitdo.com/lite/ – Link to the 8bitdo controller I used for the review

The only criticism I have of Freedom Planet’s gameplay is the lack of D-Pad support (sort of). What’s head scratching about Freedom Planet is that by default it controls with an analog stick, which I know most people don’t care for with 2D games. There are a lot of controller customization options for Freedom Planet, but with most controllers when I tried to set movement to a controller’s D-Pad, the game recognized the D-Pad as a single button rather than four buttons. The only exceptions I found were my Playstation 4 controller and my 8bitdo Lite controller, the latter having a D-Pad in place on an analog stick. You can adjust analog stick sensitivity if you’re stuck with analog only, but if you want to use a D-Pad use a PS4 controller or an 8bitdo controller that doesn’t have an analog stick.

Even before revisiting Freedom Planet, I would have told you that the game looks beautiful. And now that I have revisited the game, I can very much reinforce that feeling, Freedom Planet looks beautiful. I love the color palette especially; it makes the visuals easy on the eyes and gives the game a “pretty” look for lack of a better description. The level of detail on the worlds and characters is also excellent. I noticed during this revisit that there’s layers to the backgrounds, multiple sets of objects different distances away. It reminds me a lot of Castlevania Symphony of the Night, which I would very much say is still the best looking sprite-based game out there.

Freedom Planet’s soundtrack is also awesome, blending chiptune sounds with real instruments, a style that never gets old to me. The music sounds great, and it provides the right kind of energy for each stage and boss encounter. Like classic Sonic music, this is the kind of soundtrack you should blast from your car stereo while cruise controlling down a freeway.

I wish I could say similar things about Freedom Planet’s story and storytelling, but I honestly cannot. When I first played Freedom Planet, I played on “classic mode,” which simply has you move from level to level with no story cutscenes. I decided to play story mode this time around to see if I was missing anything, and I felt that I really wasn’t. The story felt like the TV movie for a kid’s cartoon in all the wrong ways, with clichés that I saw coming or made me roll my eyes. The characters and character interactions were fun, but the story overall was nothing special.

What surprised me about the story was how many dark and frightening moments there were on screen. And I don’t mean Bionicle Mask of Light “rated PG for scary images,” I mean the fact there’s both a beheading scene and an electric shock torture scene on screen! Granted there’s no blood and neither scene lasts long, but if I had played story mode as an 8 year old, I would have run away from the game crying. Essentially, Freedom Planet’s story feels like it was made for kids but is not entirely safe for kids. Parents should have their kids play “classic mode” just to be safe.

Despite the issues with the D-Pad and my dislike for the story, I had a blast revisiting and finally completing Freedom Planet. It wasn’t just as good as I remembered it being, it’s better than I remember it. It’s a game that reminds me why I love videogames in the first place, as silly as that sounds. It’s an absolute blast, and I plan on coming back to complete playthroughs as Carol and Milla and obtain all the collectibles and hidden items. Even if you only casually like platformers, and even if you don’t like Sonic games, I can’t recommend Freedom Planet enough to you. And while I bought and played Freedom Planet on Steam, there are ports on the Playstation 4 and the Switch, so even those that say “I don’t like PC gaming” have no excuse to not try out this one.

Yeesh, the first two games I’ve played on this journey to play my backlog have been super awesome! How long will the super awesome last? Who knows? But I know it’s going to last at least a little longer, since my next game I’m chipping off the backlog is Castlevania Symphony of the Night! I’ll see y’all then.

Words by FauxLeisha

All images etc (c) their respective owners

Time For a Dance Party In Space – Space Channel 5 Part 2 Review

UGA / Sega – Xbox Live, Steam

Space Channel 5 Part 2. Wow. First off, where has this game been all my life?! Well ok, I knew of the Space Channel 5 series, but for whatever reason never bothered to pick up any of the games I came across at game stores or on XBLA or Steam. It was after my family bought the Sega Dreamcast Collection for the Xbox 360, which includes Space Channel 5 part 2, that I finally gave the game a shot. And oh man, my life has been made 300% better at least.

Now despite how much I loved Space Channel 5 Part 2, and how I now plan on playing every game in the series, I will admit that this isn’t a game for everyone. Space Channel 5 is incredibly unique and has style for DAYEZ, but its gameplay setup and source of replay value may turn off some. Nonetheless, if you like music games, or any game that has that sense of wackiness you can only get from Japan, I highly recommend this one.

Coming at you live with the latest story!

Those that haven’t played the original Space Channel 5 will be happy to hear that you don’t have to have played that game to enjoy the story of Part 2. Anything that would have been told in the first game is explained here, such as the backgrounds of the characters and why dance is being used to fight baddies. None of this is very complex anyways, so it won’t take long to get a hold on things.

If anything, Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a game where the style and the characters are more the appeal than the plot itself. This game is wacky, as in “this obviously came from Japan” wacky. I mean, the villain is trying to mind control everyone in the Milky Way via dance, and to do that he has to steal antennas from all of the galaxy’s major news stations! Throw in a space Michael Jackson and an alien news program explaining what’s going on, and what’s not to love?

Every character in this game has a distinct appearance and personality that were both enjoyable and memorable. I’d love to party with every single one of them, even the baddies. I especially have to give credit to the voice acting and dialog, which especially brings the characters to life. I should note, the main villain is voiced by the same guy who voiced the Nesquick Bunny in the 90’s and 2000’s, and their performance gave us one of those delicious goofy evil villains you’d expect out of a Disney movie, and it rocks.

And now, the style for DAYEZ

Personally, I feel style is more important than detailing when it comes to videogame graphics. I don’t care about seeing people’s sweat pores, I want characters and worlds that look distinct. Space Channel 5 Part 2 delivers that in spades. The polygon count is lower than I think most people would like, but you tend to overlook that thanks to the pretty colors and smooth animations of all the characters. The wackiness of the game shines through every character design and every stage. You can take a screenshot of any point of the game and you’d know right away it’s from a Space Channel 5 game, which to me is the ultimate compliment for a game’s visuals.

A significant part of the game’s style comes from the music, which is in a word: awesome. Every song in Space Channel 5 Part 2’s soundtrack has energy and a great groove. There were many times that I wished I could put the controller down and just dance to the music. Anytime I had to redo part of a stage, I was never frustrated because I got to hear part of a song again. This is a game where you’ll be running to get ahold of its soundtrack before you’ve even beaten it.

And now a word from our sponsor: Gameplay

Space Channel 5 is a rhythm game, but not in the way that most players are likely used to. When you say rhythm game, most people think of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, where you press buttons in time with notes hitting a marker on screen. What a lot of people forget about are games like Rhythm Heaven, where the game is based around following visual ques and moving objects or characters to the rhythm. Space Channel 5 Part 2 fits into the latter category. Sort of.

In Space Channel 5 Part 2, enemies on screen will do a dance routine and sing what they are doing. You then have to copy the routine they give you exactly by pressing the corresponding buttons. It’s like playing Simon while simultaneously following the beat and melody of a song. The challenge comes from trying to repeat patterns perfectly, if you mess up a pattern you lose a life, and your chance to have a 100% “viewer rating” based on your performance at the end of a level. Space Channel 5 Part 2, to a degree, is about memorization and coming back to try again for that perfect score. I do wish that the game was a little more lenient with how you have to follow sequences perfectly, it’s frustrating that getting all but one note right in a sequence is treated no differently than if you completely botched it, either way you lose a life.

As for the gameplay not being based around notes lining up with targets, I feel this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is since you’re not focusing on lining up visual cues, you don’t have to worry about input delay on an HD TV throwing you off. The bad thing is, if you don’t have a strong sense of rhythm, not having markers on screen to help you with the timing can be challenging. Let me explain it like this: I’ve played percussion instruments my whole life, so I have a strong sense of musical timing, and I was able to jump into the game no problem. Meanwhile my 2nd cousin, who has very little experience with musical instruments, therefore not having a strong sense of  a musical timing, struggled on even the first level. It doesn’t help that Space Channel 5 Part 2 lacks any sort of tutorial or training mode, and the first level doesn’t really take its time in showing you things. The game also lacks multiple difficulties, the only way to make the game easier for beginners is to pick an option that makes every note the same button.

Tune in next week, same time, same channel!

Space Channel 5 is very much a “play again until you get it perfect” kind of game. The story mode is on the short side, easily completable in a few hours. The replay value comes from replaying the stages to get a 100% rating on each stage, as well as finding secrets. Doing so unlocks new costumes and items you can wear on stages. I know this kind of thing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for those that want to get into it, the challenge of playing stages over and over to get 100% is extremely satisfying.

The only other mode available other than story mode is Ulala’s dance challenge, which is an endurance test to see how long you can go without making a mistake. It would be nice if there were some other songs or modes to play other than this and story mode, it does make the game feel thin in terms of content, which is my only genuine complaint other than how perfect you have to be.  

Conclusion

I would say that Space Channel 5 Part 2 is one of those games that isn’t for everyone, but those who get into it will really get into it. I had no experience with the original game before playing this one, but nonetheless I was caught hook, line, and sinker. The visuals, music, story, and characters are extremely unique, and the gameplay, while not exactly beginner friendly, kept me coming back for that 100% score. If you like music games, or fun wacky Japanese style games, Space Channel 5 is a must play. Now we just a crossover between this and Yakuza.

Buy at a Decent Price

Space Channel 5 Part 2’s style is undeniable and will make those who get into it want to 100% every stage. I would say proceed with caution if you’re not into learning an uncommon gameplay style or the main source of replay value being playing the game until you have it down perfect.

Chipping off the Backlog Episode 1 – inFamous

Hi there! I’m FauxLeisha. Welcome (or welcome back) to my blog series Chipping off the Backlog, where I write about my journey to complete all the games in my gaming backlog! If you want my story, read the whole post. If you just want to read my review of this episode’s game, skip down to “The Review”

My Story

When the 7th generation of consoles was new, I only had one friend that owned a Playstation 3. Out of all the exclusives for it, his favorite was inFamous. He loved it so much he made sure to get the collector’s edition of the sequel when it came out. When I finally got myself a PS3, I kept my friend’s love of inFamous in mind when I was looking for games for it. For whatever reason, I saw inFamous frequently in stores but didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until last October, when a local Family Video was selling their PS3 and Xbox 360 games for cheap that I finally bought inFamous, as well as a few others.

As you can see, inFamous hasn’t been in my backlog for that long (7 months for those keeping track). However, it’s one of the games that I hadn’t played at all. I feel this was partially due to my obsession with competitive Tekken in my local scene, which hit an all-time high in the fall of last year. Obsession with fighting games will do that to your single player games!  I decided that inFamous would be the first game I play off my backlog, due to me thinking “you know, I always wanted to see how the good guy vs bad guy choices worked in this game.”

The Review

In the mid to late 2000’s, one of the game industry’s biggest trends was games that had the player choose to be a Hero or a Villain. Games like Shadow the Hedgehog, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Spider-Man Web of Shadows were all about you making either good choices or bad choices and seeing how they affect the story. Personally, I never saw the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative as more than a gimmick, usually amounting to nothing more than a different ending or tacking on some cheap replay value.

Despite my feelings about this trend, Sucker Punch Production’s inFamous always managed to catch my attention. Part of that was the game being one of the first true killer apps for the PlayStation 3, another was how many held it in high regard as one of the best action / adventure games of its time. I figured that with that much love for the game, it likely did the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative better than the games that turned me off from said narrative. I had no idea inFamous would not only do that, but also turned out to be a game truly made me feel like a super powered being that could do almost anything.  

Decisions, Decisions

On paper, inFamous handles the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative the same way as most other games: at points the game puts you at a “Karma Decision” where you must make a good choice or a bad choice, and throughout the world there are both good missions and evil missions to complete. In execution, inFamous presents this narrative in a way that feels like it actually matters to the player. For one thing, Karma Decisions aren’t just you picking an option on screen, you have to actually act on the choice you want to make. As for the side missions, you have to make the effort to go to said missions, you can’t just select one or change what you’re doing on the fly. This is a game not just about making decisions, but also you acting on those decisions. It makes you feel like you’re actually working to be the hero or the villain.

The story of inFamous is also a key reason of why the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative works well here. You play as Cole McGrath, a man caught in an explosion that gave him electricity based superpowers. Said explosion destroyed parts of his home town of Empire City, leading to crime and disease taking over. It’s revealed early on that Cole was partially responsible for the explosion, even if he wasn’t aware at the time, and now the citizens of Empire City and his friends either hate or fear him. With this narrative setup, it makes sense for Cole to walk either the hero’s path or the villain’s path. He can either try to fix his mistake by helping the people that hate and fear him, or become the menace everyone says he is in retaliation for their hate and fear. It’s like if you read Amazing Spider-Man #1, where J. Jonah Jameson began writing articles that painted Spider-Man to be a menace, but then you got to decide whether Peter Parker kept trying to do good as Spider-Man, or if he went with his thought of “Must I become the menace everyone says I am?”

Part of why inFamous’ story works with the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative so well is due to how it’s told. There are a few spots where exposition is given, though the story is mostly told through character conversations and interactions. The characters move the story, rather than vice versa. Not only does the storytelling feel organic, but it also leaves room for things to change based on your decisions. I haven’t completed a villain play through yet, I’ve only completed a hero one as of this writing, but it was interesting to see just how different everything played out based on what Cole says and does. The cast of inFamous is also extremely memorable, full of characters that I grew to love and care about (or in some cases hate their guts) via how I got to know them.

Take Cover! No, Not Comic Book Cover

One thing I didn’t anticipate about inFamous is that combat is set up like a cover-based shooter rather than a traditional superhero game.  As someone who hasn’t played cover-based shooters that much, combat initially threw me off and took some time to get used to. I knew the basics –  try to get to high ground and hide behind cover, your health regenerates after a while if you don’t take damage for a bit, etc – but at first combat didn’t feel very fun. It doesn’t help that at first you only have one attack that’s good for hitting enemies from a far distance. And I do mean a far distance, because enemies are heavily armed, and with how little damage you can take at the start it’s not a good idea to run at them head on.  This was especially annoying when I tried to move around the city and enemies are constantly shooting at me with automatic and semi-automatic weapons, amongst other things.

With enough practice, I got better at playing in a cover-based combat style, and as I played through the game, I obtained other powers for combat and claimed territory.  Every time you complete a story mission where you restore power to part of the city, you unlock a new power for Cole, which often comes in handy for fighting large groups of enemies. Whenever you complete a side mission, you claim the local section of the town as territory, and enemies won’t return there. Missions and combat also reward you with experience points, which you can use to strengthen your powers. It was a slow start for me to get into inFamous’ combat, but taking on the missions helped make combat more manageable and removed a lot of the enemies that impeded my progress while moving around town. Traveling around with new powers and fewer enemies shooting at me let me enjoy the fruits of my labor, and kept making me want to push forward.

Unfortunately no amount of practice, upgrades, or territory claimed helped me deal with one of inFamous’ biggest problems: its frame rate, specifically its lack of consistency. I don’t mind games running at less than 60 frame per second, as long as it’s consistent, but that’s definitely not the case here. The game mostly runs at 30 FPS, raising to 60 when it can, then dropping back down to 30 during combat, sometimes lower when things got hectic. The of consistency never threw me off during a fight, but it always pulled me out of the action, and was a constant bother throughout the entire game.

With Great Power

If there’s one thing inFamous gets right, it’s truly making you feel like a superpowered being, thanks to the powers and abilities it gives you. The powers you obtain range from grenades and the ability to zoom in for accuracy to being able to hover for a short time. The balance of powers used for combat and powers that help with moving around the city gives you the feeling that you can do anything, even outside of enemy encounters. It especially helps that new powers are given to you just frequently enough to keep you engaged, and they almost always complete change how you fight or how you travel.

Force Feedback plays a big role here in making you feel empowered. Your controller shaking during the use of your powers, shaking more intensely as you use the stronger ones or simply have electricity flow through you, creates an amazing feeling of immersion. I felt like I was the one using the electricity powers to fight enemies and solve puzzles.

inFamous also features the most clever use of SixAxis motion controls I’ve come across. The team at Sucker Punch obviously realized how clunky and awkward the SixAxis / Dualshock 3’s motion controls were, so they used it for controlling a power that doesn’t allow for a lot of accuracy. I won’t say what the power is, but when you use it and move it around with motion controls, you’ll see how the clunkiness of the motion controls actually makes the power feel greater since even you can just barely control it. I know that kind of sounds stupid on paper, but when you actually obtain and use said power, you’ll see what I mean.

Ascend Tall Buildings (Just Not in a Single Bound)

I’ve played a lot of platformers and action games over the years, but I’ve never played one based around Parkour prior to inFamous. And man oh man, inFamous got me into that, big time. Cole has a lot of parkour skills: he can climb up buildings, move across ledges, and walk on wires no problem. I loved the challenge of seeing objectives high up on a building, or seeing one on a building that’s far away, and figuring out how to get to get there with what Cole can do. It especially helps that the controls make parkour feel super smooth, since if you hold the analog stick in the direction of something Cole can grab onto, he’ll grab onto it automatically if he’s close enough. It significantly reduces how often you have to press buttons to move around or make sure you actually grab onto something, allowing you to focus simply on moving forward and moving fast.

Most of my favorite missions and side missions in the game were the parkour based ones, such as moving across rooftops to deactivate a series of satellite uplinks within a short time. I also loved collecting Blast Shards, items which increase how much electricity you can hold, as they were often put in weird spots that made me think outside the box on how to get them. Almost every time I saw one, I stopped what I was doing and went for it, simply because I always had fun figuring out how to get them.

The parkour was my favorite part of the game, and always kept me engaged, but even with that there was one problem I couldn’t get around: the lack of any indication of an objective or enemy’s altitude. Your map and mini-map will show you were objectives, items, and enemies are, but not how high or low they are compared to you. It made looking for missions and keeping track of enemies during a fight a constant headache, especially when the action got intense and there were a lot of things to keep track of. If I can make another Spider-Man comparison, the games based off the Tobey Maguire movies got around this with an altitude meter for objectives and having a pointer on screen show what direction and what height something was at, so why can’t we have something like that here? I don’t think one more bar or a set of arrows would have negatively affected the heads up display, especially since there’s no health bar in the traditional sense.

Review Conclusion

I jumped into inFamous expecting a game that would maybe do the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative better than most other games. What I ended experiencing was a game that not only handled that narrative exceptionally well, but also made you feel superhuman with the powers it offers and smooth parkour gameplay. The narrative and how it has you work for your choices make decisions feel like your decisions, and the way the powers are presented to you make you feel as if you’re the one with the powers. The parkour based gameplay gives the player a unique way to move around its world, and pull them into the quest to complete side missions and find every item. It does have its problems with frame rate and lack of an altitude indicator, but those problems can be brushed aside in the big picture. inFamous is more than just a story about its protagonist choosing to be a hero or a villain, it’s a game that makes the player feel like they can become the hero or the villain while having the powers to do so.

Buy

Between how it handles the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative and the gameplay that backs it up, inFamous is an experience any fan of superheroes or action / adventure games needs to play. If you want to play all the classics of the 7th generation of consoles, inFamous is without a doubt amongst those.

My Conclusion

If the review didn’t make it obvious, I absolutely fell in love with inFamous. Seriously! It ended up being one of the most awesome gaming experiences I’ve ever had, which I did not anticipate happening. I haven’t had a single player game pull me in to keep playing more and more in a long time, and inFamous did just that. I can clearly see why my friend loved this game, why it was one of the first killer apps for the Playstation 3, and why it’s considered one of the best games of its generation. It’s now not only one of my favorite PS3 games, but a potential candidate for one of my absolute favorite games of all time. While I likely won’t do so right away, I plan on finishing the pure Evil playthrough I started just to see all the changes in the story, and going back to my original file to get 100% completion so that I can enjoy the game’s awesome parkour with all the powers I unlocked. inFamous was one heck of a start to me chipping off my gaming backlog, and it gets me really excited to play more of what I haven’t played or finished yet.

That’s it for this one folks, join me next time for next game I finish: the Sonic fangame turned original IP, Freedom Planet! See you then

inFamous and all related images (c) Sucker Punch Productions / Sony Computer Entertainment

Chipping off the Backlog – Introduction

Hi there, I’m FauxLeisha! Welcome to the beginning of my blog series “Chipping off the Backlog,” where I share my journey to complete all of the games in my gaming backlog.

Let’s be real, most gamers that buy their own games having a backlog, those games they bought and haven’t played to completion or haven’t played at all. A lot of people want to work said backlog, but that’s often easier said than done, especially if you have a large collection and / or like to frequently check out sales on Steam or at your local game store. If you read the “My Story” section of my blog, you’ll see that I decided to stop saying “I’ll get to these games” or “I’ll give these games the time they deserve” and actually do so! I decided to make a blog out of this journey (A) to hold myself accountable (B) because I felt this was a journey worth sharing, and (C) I love writing and talking about video games, period.

In this first entry, I’m going to explain how I began my journey, as well as the format for most posts

Step One – Looking at What I Have

I started my journey by cataloging all the video game I currently own. I made an Excel spreadsheet, noting the following for each game: what platform they were for, whether I owned them physically or digitally, if I had put a lot of effort into getting the game (did I do a lot of research and searching for it, or was it an impulse purchase?), and whether or not I had completed the game. When I finished, I found that I currently own 119 games, not counting the individual games on complications.

By making this Excel sheet, not only did I have a better idea of what I was working with, but I also had a better idea of my thinking when it came to buying games. For instance, I’ve spent the last two years playing a lot of fighting games, and it turned out nearly half my collection consists of them. I also found that a lot of the games I bought digitally were impulse purchases, usually from a Steam or PSN sale. I’ll get more into pondering these things in a later.

Step 2 – Figuring Out What I Was Going to Focus On

Once that sheet was done, I then made a separate sheet of just the games I hadn’t finished. When I looked over this list, I noticed that there were games I owned multiple versions of, such as both the PS3 and PS4 versions of The Evil Within. Then there was the fact that a lot of the games I hadn’t completed were fighting games and arcade style games, which are pretty subjective on what it means to “complete” them. To me, it didn’t make sense to complete the same game once per platform, and it would have been a headache to deal with what it means to “complete” a fighting game (and like I said, almost half of my current collection consists of them!), so I removed them from the sheet.

All in all, after removing games I had beaten, multiples of the same game, and all my fighting and arcade style games, that left me with 35 games that I felt I wanted to complete. Still a larger number than it should be, but seeing how my collection at this point consists of 119 games, 35 is a relief.

Step 3 – Committing

Ok, here was the though part: I told myself that to complete this journey, I had to commit to playing all the games on my list before I could buy or obtain any others. If I received a game as a gift that’s fine, but even if a game I really wanted could be obtained for cheap or even for free (like on PS Plus), I had to pass. There’s no way the backlog would ever get shaven down if kept I adding to it!

This is the hardest part I feel, with the popularity of Steam sales and Mom & Pop shop selling retro games for cheap, it’s easy to keep buying games and not complete them. Eventually, we build up the habit of buying games simply because they’re on sale, not because we actually want them. I’m not saying this to criticize others, I’m just as guilty of this myself. But if you really want to reduce your backlog, this is something you have to commit to. Believe me, even as I write this I keep having to tell myself “I know a game I want is GameStop’s deal of the day, but I’m not going to buy it.” It’s tough, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end

Step 4 – Get Playing!

Now comes the fun part – playing the games! For this step, I decided to focus on one game at a time, because I feel that will help me stay focused and actually take in everything about the games. After all, I want to enjoy the games, not just check off a list! Of course, feel free to tackle this however you want, this is just how I decided to approach things.

I’ll also note that I don’t have a particular order to what I’m playing, I just look over my list and picked based on what I was feeling. Recently the host of an all-ladies gaming group I’m in asked everyone “what makes you decide to pick up a game?” I’ve been applying that question to what I do.

The Format

For each entry in “Chipping off the Backlog,” I’m going to both share my story with the game, and also review it. I want this blog to enjoyable for both those who want to read about what I’m doing, as well as those who just want to read the game reviews. If you want the full picture, read the entirety of the posts. If you just want the game reviews, skip sections titled “My Story” and “My Conclusion.”

Alrighty! That’s how I started this crazy journey, and what I will be doing throughout this blog! Join me next time to see the beginning of this journey with my story about buying and playing inFamous, as well as my review of it. Take care, and I’ll see you then!

All images (c) their respective owners

Opinion: Four Games That Need a Remake More Than Resident Evil 4

Written by FauxLeisha

Even Leon seems baffled by the possibility of Resident Evil 4 being remade

I love the Resident Evil series, and I’m happy to have seen two of my favorite entries in that series – Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – be remade for modern consoles in the last few years. However, upon hearing rumors that Resident Evil 4 may also be getting a remake, I wanted to yell “Hold It!” Ace Attorney style. Personally, I don’t feel Resident Evil 4 needs a remake, seeing how it’s had so many re-releases and updates, its already had the chance to live up to its potential. Plus, it’s a game that’s so ridiculous and full of so many radically different ideas that it should not be good in the first place. (If you want a good explanation as to why I’d say that, watch Stop Skeletons From Fighting’s Video “Resident Evil 4 Re:Certified Classic”) There are many other entries in the Resident Evil series that I feel need another step at the plate more so than 4, whether it be to get a fresh coat of paint, or to live up to being everything they could be. Here are the Resident Evil games that I feel could benefit from a remake much more than Resident Evil 4, and why I feel that way about them:

Resident Evil Code: Veronica

Ok, this one is pretty obvious: if you look on social media you’ll see a lot of people want a remake of Code: Veronica. After all, it’s next game chronologically after Resident Evil 3, which just got the remake treatment earlier this year. It’s also been a fan favorite for years due to its story and presentation. Although, I think the reasons to remake it go deeper than that. For a lot of players, myself included, Resident Evil 3’s controls and added mechanics set a new standard for Resident Evil in terms of gameplay, so when we made the jump to Code: Veronica and saw that it played like the Resident Evil games of yesteryear, it was a disappointment gameplay-wise. All Code: Veronica really did to push the series forward was add more to the Resident Evil lore and improve the graphical presentation, and neither of those elements hold up well enough to make up for the lack of improvements in gameplay.

With a remake in the style of Resident Evil 4, Code: Veronica could finally be a game that brings us the lore and graphical style we love from Resident Evil while not being held-back by outdated gameplay. It could also be a chance to rewrite certain aspects of the story, such as making Steve a lot less of a creeper (Seriously, I can’t stand the things he tries to do in this game. They would not fly today and should not have been there in the first place anyways). Continue the saga and make a game that felt dated even in its day play better, why not?

Resident Evil Ø

Resident Evil Ø is a perfect example of a game that botches the dismount, so to speak. It has some cool ideas on paper, but in execution didn’t make for a particularly fun game. For those that don’t remember, Ø’s main selling point, aside from being a prequel, was playing as two characters simultaneously, one controlled by the CPU. What should have a been a different take on the classic Resident Evil formula ended up being a clunky and frustrating mess, mostly thanks to the CPU controlled second character. The CPU controlled character was not good at defending themselves in combat, didn’t defend themselves at all when the characters had to split up, and more often than not the only useful things they did were hold items and stand on switches for puzzles.

A remake of Ø could be a chance to make this idea of controlling two characters work better. It probably wouldn’t take much more than improving partner AI, but why stop there? Why not make it a game where both players are controlled at the same time with controller inputs, a la From Software’s Adventures of Cookie and Cream? Having complete control over two characters simultaneously could ratchet up the tension during enemy encounters, and lead to more unique and interesting puzzles. You could also go the Resident Evil 5 route and make it a 2-player co-op game. Some would say that the game wouldn’t be scary that way, but let’s be real, Ø was always more frustrating than scary. And who knows? With the right enemy and level design, you could find a way to have a 2-player game effectively bring the fear factor.

Resident Evil Survivor

I’m sure most of you reading this are probably saying “Why the (bleep!) would we want a remake of Resident Evil Survivor?!” I can understand why people would say that, Survivor is a piece of garbage: lack of light gun support despite being designed to use one (at least in the U.S.), slowdown during encounters with only a few enemies, a limited number of continues and no save options, and the campaign is so short you can complete it in an hour. In spite of all that, I find myself playing Survivor every now and again, partially because I like the challenge of beating it in one sitting, but more so because for a while it was the only Resident Evil played entirely in a first person view, giving a different look at Resident Evil’s environments, puzzles, and monsters.

Thanks to Resident Evil VII, we now have a competent Resident Evil game that plays entirely in first person. The one thing that disappointed me about VII, as great as it is, is that it doesn’t feature any of the monsters we know and love from classic Resident Evil. A Survivor remake in RE VII’s style would allow us to fight Hunters, Lickers, giant Spiders, amongst others with nothing but our hand holding a weapon in our view. How awesome would that be?

Of course, due to Survivor’s reputation, a remake of it would not be likely to happen. And besides, if you want to want to fight off old school Resident Evil monsters in first person, there’s always the first person mode in Code: Veronica. But I think a remake of Survivor is an idea that is at least worth contemplating.

Dino Crisis

Alright, I’m cheating a little bit seeing how this game is a spin-off, but I feel that more than any other Resident Evil game Dino Crisis would benefit from a remake. Like Resident Evil Ø, this is a game with a lot of good ideas on paper, but in execution didn’t work out well. It brought some welcome changes to the Resident Evil formula, such as having unlimited slots for key items in your inventory, and saving being done whenever you left a save room (no need for ink ribbons). The dinosaurs also brought some new ideas to the table, such as tracking you if you’re bleeding or repopulating rooms you had cleared. However, those changes to the Resident Evil formula eliminated a lot of tension during enemy encounters, as you could hold almost all the firepower you want without having to worry about having key items on you to progress. In addition, fighting dinosaurs while armed with a lot of firepower didn’t feel much different than fighting Hunters or Lickers. Dino Crisis at times felt more streamlined than Resident Evil, but the enemy encounters felt like a case of “been there, done that,” that personally always left me feeing empty and unsatisfied any time I’ve beaten it.

As seen with the sequel, Dino Crisis 2, dinosaurs lived up to their potential of being a greater threat than most Resident Evil monsters in a more action-oriented game, with the challenge of things like enemies having specific weak points and dodging attacks. That focus eliminated the fear factor, but it made dinosaurs truly feel like a threat. With a remake in modern Resident Evil style, you can have Dino Crisis incorporate those elements, while still feeling tense by taking place in claustrophobic corridors only lit by emergency lighting, a la Dead Space. You could also take a page from the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes and have some of the dinosaurs behave like Mr. X or Nemesis, making the dinosaurs truly feel like primal hunters always following you. A remake of Dino Crisis would also allow for fixes in other areas, such the puzzles becoming bigger but not better later on in the game, and the narrative’s pacing taking a dramatic nosedive in the second half. Plus, who wouldn’t want to fight dinosaurs rendered in the RE engine? Sounds wonderfully frightening.

Conclusion

The unfortunate thing about remakes is that they rarely happen to games that really need them. You can probably count on your fingers the number of times a game was remade so that it could live up to potential it had (Castlevania Adventure is the only one that comes to mind personally). Resident Evil 4 being remade over other games in the series is a bit of disappointment. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be good! After all, with a little reworking, it could go from being a mess of ridiculous ideas and set pieces that don’t always blend well to being something more focused. It could also be designed in a way that makes it actually scary, like the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes. Hopefully, if the Resident Evil 4 remake really is happening, the developers will recognize the problems the original had and improve on them. And even if it isn’t, we can all still let our voices be heard via social media that other games in the series more rightfully deserve another step at the plate.

I’m curious though, what are your thoughts on Resident Evil 4 being remade? Do you think it really needs a remake? Do you agree any of the games I brought up deserve the remake treatment? What games would you like to see Capcom remake for current consoles? Share your thoughts below!

All images featured are (c) their respective owners

It’s Not “Super,” But It’s a Party – Super Mario Party Review

NDCubed / Nintendo – Nintendo Switch

Mario Party is one of my all-time favorite game series. I’ve been a fan of its energy and wackiness for years and can’t recall many gatherings of gaming friends that didn’t feature at least one board of Mario Party. But even as a superfan of the series, I can’t deny that the quality of its games has dropped dramatically over the last decade, leading to my friends and I choosing to pass on the last few entries. But after my family received Super Mario Party as a Christmas gift, I feel that Mario Party might finally be getting back on track. Its mini-game selection and alternate game modes prevent it from being in the same league at Mario Party 2, 4, or 7, but its unique board strategies and wonderful co-op modes help make it the best series entry in a decade.

Not Your Not Your Older Sibling’s Mario Party

For those who don’t like the gameplay of Mario Party 9 or 10, fear not, Super Mario Party goes back to the series’ roots of players moving individually around (mostly) non-linear boards. You roll your dice to move around, land on spaces that do things like give coins or trigger events, and after everyone moves you play a mini-game. You earn coins in mini-games or by finding them on the board, and use said coins to buy Stars. It’s classic Mario Party for sure, but Super Mario Party isn’t a carbon copy of the early game’s formula.

The series’ distinct 10-sided dice have been replaced with 6-sided dice as well as character-specific dice. At the start of your turn, you can roll a 6-sided die, or you can roll your character’s die with a unique set of faces. For instance, the faces of Luigi’s die are 1,1,1,5,6,7, and the faces of Wario’s die are 6,6,6,6, -2 coins, -2 coins. Each character die has unique advantages and disadvantages, some helpful for moving a specific number of spaces, others being risk vs reward in trying to move a lot of spaces.

Super Mario Party also incorporates a new “Ally” system into the mix. By landing on an Ally space, another character will randomly be selected to join you, and you’ll have access to their character die. You only get one Ally per Ally space, but you can get as many as you want by landing on Ally spaces multiple times. Your allies will roll additional dice with faces of 1 or 2 to add to you roll at the start of your turn, and you can choose between any of their character dice.

The smaller dice might be a concern to some, seeing how large Mario Party boards tend to be, but fortunately Super Mario Party’s boards are considerably smaller than most classic boards. Between the smaller boards and smaller dice, Super Mario Party is the fastest moving Mario Party I can think of, which is perfect for a portable game.

What’s Gonna Work?

Since Mario Party 4, the series has included Team Battle Mode, where two players play on the same team and share items, coins, and stars. This mode, while fun, felt tacked on as nothing about the rules, the boards or the mini-games changed other than the shared inventory. Super Mario Party on the other hand features Partner Party, which does still include shared inventories, but makes smart changes to the boards and what players can do on their turns to make co-op play its own experience.

For starters, in Partner Party both players on a team move on the same turn. They move individually, but the amount of spaces they move comes from combining the individual player’s dice rolls. Not everything is shared, as Ally character dice are only available to the player that obtained the Ally, and items will only affect the player that used them. This structure to team turns makes for some unique strategies, as players can decide what ways they want each other to move, and what items each one should use to meet those objectives. With this turn structure, both players can also land on the same space to both get its affect, including a Star Space, allowing a team to obtain two stars in one turn if they have enough coins.

The boards themselves change in Partner Party, becoming grid-based rather than following Mario Party’s traditional space design. Coins can be obtained by walking over them, or by being stolen from opponents by crossing their path or landing on the same space as them by exact count. The effects of certain spaces (including Star Spaces) will only occur if one lands on the space by exact count, which dramatically changes things. In addition, each board has a unique item that can be taken to another part of the board to get a free star. There are a lot of unique strategies to consider in Partner Party, such as whether or not to go for the item needed for the free star, making it feel more like a team effort than Team Battles were in other Mario Party games.

Though in my opinion, the co-op highlight in Super Mario Party is River Survival, a 4-player rafting game with mini-games sprinkled in. Like real river rafting, the four players have to coordinate their movements in order to move their raft around obstacles and towards items needed to succeed. The players have a limited amount of time to get to the end of the river, and they get more time by hitting balloons to play mini-games. There are 10 4-player minigames unique to this mode, where the 4 players must cooperate to succeed. The higher the score they obtain in a mini-game, the more time gets added to the clock. There are multiple paths to take down the river, and five different endings, each with unique obstacles to overcome. Good 4-player co-op videogames are still nowhere near as common as they should be, so River Survival is a real treat in that regard, and one of Super Mario Party’s biggest highlights.

Little Variety to Little Games

So Super Mario Party delivers in terms of board navigation strategies and co-operative modes. But how about the mini-games? After all, mini-games are the heart and soul of the series. I have to say, Super Mario Party doesn’t bring the A-game here. None of the mini-games are boring, frustrating, or extreme-luck based, but I can count on my fingers the number of mini-games that made myself or my family say “Yay, this one!” The main issue is that a lot of the mini-games fit into one of the following categories: speed waggling, moving a vehicle, avoid the thing, throwing things at your opponent, or using HD Rumble to find something. At first, you’ll be excited by how wacky and high energy the mini-games are, but after a while you may yourself saying “Didn’t we just play something like this?”

The balance of mini-game types is also a little weak. There are 80 mini-games total in Super Mario Party, but in a standard party you’ll only be playing 60 of them. That may not sound that bad, until you realize that 30 of the mini-games are free-for-all. Only 10 are 2 vs 2, 10 are 1 vs 3, and 10 are team games played with your allies. It’s true most games of Mario Party will primarily feature free-for-all mini-games, but this was the first time I’ve played a Mario Party and said to myself “Why haven’t we played 2 vs 2 or 1 vs 3 games yet?” Even in a 10-turn Mario Party you usually get a few mini-games that aren’t free-for-all, but frequently in Super Mario Party my family and I got none at all in 10-turn games. The remaining 20 mini-games are the 10 co-op minigames from River Survival, and 10 rhythm mini-games from the Sound Stage mode. These mini-games are all fun, but you never play them on the party boards, which is a shame seeing how they could have added some variety to the base game.

I’d Pass on the After Party

I’m one of those weirdos that likes playing Mario Party games solo, though Super Mario Party has become one of the exceptions to that. The only dedicated single-player mode is Challenge Road, which is essentially Mini-Game coaster from Mario Party 2 with no challenge as there are no lives or forced returns to checkpoints. There isn’t a story mode of any sort, which can be seen as a relief for those who don’t want to play a lot of single-player to unlock everything for a party, but it’s still head scratching that there isn’t a Story Mode despite that being a staple of the series since Mario Party 3. And for those like me who like Mario Party’s Story Modes, this is a disappointment.

In terms of mini-games modes, Super Mario Party only offers two aside from Challenge Road and Free Play, and neither feels that interesting. One is simply a contest to get the highest combined score from a set of mini-games, and the other is one where you simply pick squares on a grid to obtain after you win mini-games. There also isn’t much details to the visuals of these modes. Say what you will about Mario Party 8, but even that game had more interesting and better-looking mini-game modes. 

Aside from the earlier mentioned River Survival, Super Mario Party’s other modes are also a bit of a disappointment. Toad’s Rec Room has a selection of bigger mini-games, although they are a simple distraction at best. They’re not bad, but other than the returning Shell Shocked from Mario Party 2, they aren’t very memorable. Sound Stage features unique rhythm based mini-games that are fun, but anyone that has played a rhythm game on an HD TV knows the pain of dealing with input delay while trying to follow the music. Play Sound Stage with your Switch in Tabletop Mode or connected to a gaming monitor if possible.

I’d talk about the online features, but I don’t have a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, so I can’t give an honest and fair analysis. All I will say is that, as someone who plays fighting games online, I have a feeling the input delay of online play would throw off players big time in the more intense mini-games.

Conclusion

Super Mario Party is definitely not a contender for the best game in the series. But seeing how much the series’ quality has dropped over the last 10 years, it doesn’t need to be. It’s a very playable game with some unique ideas to its movement strategies, and its co-op modes are possibly the best in the series. The issue is the mini-games will start to get old after a while, and there isn’t a lot of fun to be had outside of the Party Modes and River Survival. It doesn’t deserve to be called “Super,” but it’s at least a step up in quality compared to the games of the Wii and Wii U eras, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a new Mario Party in a long time. If someone were to ask me what’s the best Mario Party to break out at gathering, I’d still say Mario Party  2, 4 or 7. If someone were to ask me what’s the best one you can get from a chain retailer right now, Super Mario Party is the easy choice.  

Buy At a Decent Price

Super Mario Party’s fast pace and high energy makes for a good portable game, and it’s fun with friends, especially in the excellent co-op modes. It’s unfortunately held back by a lack of mini-game variety and weak alternate game modes.