Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guacamelee! Gold Edition Review

Sometimes I feel like this game only exists to troll me

  • Developer: DrinkBox Studios
  • Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
  • Release Date: 8 August 2013
  • Time played: 5 hours (INCOMPLETE)

If you remember reading my First Impressions article about Guacamelee! Gold Edition, you'll remember I had nothing but praise for the game, except that I hoped it maintained a linear learning or difficulty curve, and that it was a bit fiddly on the keyboard, my preferred means of playing just about any game (an interesting confession I'm going to make is that I was actually a late adopter of the keyboard and mouse for the original Quake - that's how much I love the keyboard).

Unfortunately, it was all too good to be true since I simply couldn't get myself to finish this game due to it sapping way too much of my time and ultimately not becoming fun anymore. Anyway, I still want to be fair about this game so let's see how it fared in all areas:

Plot (5/5)
The plot on face value isn't terribly original - it's basically Super Mario Bros or the typical save-the-damsel-in-distress scenario. Where the game shines though, is in the details. You play the role of a humble agave famer called Juan who dreams of becoming a luchador (basically a Mexican wrestler). You pretty much get that wish but only after dying at the hands of a demon and entering the afterlife. You return to the realm of the living to continue your quest in saving El Presidente's daughter and you end up fighting lots of undead on the way. The game draws heavily on Mexican culture, especially the Day of the Dead festival (Día de Muertos) which means it shares some similarities with Lucasarts classic Grim Fandango - but that's where the similarities end.

Another aspect of the game is its humour and its insane number of pop culture references, whether it be an internet meme or a gaming in-joke. You've got several in here including the ORLY owls, Super Mario Bros., Grumpy Cat, gaming blog Destructoid, Viva Piñata and Minecraft, to name a few.

Gameplay (2/5)
So what's the gameplay like? Well Guacamelee! is basically a platformer but with some added mechanics with respect to wrestling moves which aren't only used for combat but are also used for jumping puzzles. I really enjoyed the wrestling combat aspect of the game, even when it became substantially harder a few hours in. What I mean by substantially harder is that combat starts to become a puzzle of sorts in itself. Enemies will have different coloured shields that can only be destroyed temporarily by certain wrestling moves. You'll also discover enemies that exist either in the living world or the world of the dead, but they can still damage you from both worlds, meaning you'll frequently have to switch between both to vanquish all of them. It took me several retries for some of the fights later on in the game but they're doable. Jumping puzzles on the other hand are another story.

At the beginning of the game, jumping puzzles seem simple enough and the learning or difficulty curve of the game goes at a linear pace. Unfortunately, as you get further into the game, the difficulty starts to increase exponentially to the point where I eventually came to a section where I spent a whole thirty minutes trying to get past before giving up entirely. That wasn't the first time I was stuck in the game either. Previously I was stuck on a jumping puzzle wondering if I was indeed doing the right thing. I checked a walkthrough and sure enough, I had the right idea - it's just my button mashing wasn't fast enough to ensure the timing was correct. For the final jumping puzzle I did before /ragequitting from the game entirely, I eventually sought help from a walkthrough for this puzzle too only to once again find it was a matter of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I knew what I had to do but the keys were just not responding to my commands or maybe I was off by a split second or maybe the game just doesn't work on a keyboard (despite the game only saying it's "recommended" you play with a gamepad). I did find reviews though stating that even people with gamepads or playing on consoles, found the game increasingly difficult towards the end, so it wasn't just me. I can appreciate I'm not the best gamer when it comes to platformers - I've already admitted that before on this blog. What I can't accept is a game that's nigh on unfinishable for your average gamer which I believe I am (rogue-likes like FTL are an obvious exception of course).

I'm not one for destructive criticism - I always like to give some constructive criticism when it comes to games, so if I were in charge what would I have done differently? Well I wouldn't have incorporated such difficult jumping puzzles for mission critical locations. A game that demonstrates this rather well is DLC Quest. You needed to gather enough coins in order to progress the story and while gathering the prerequisite amount of coins for the story was easy enough, if you wanted to grab extra "DLC" or extra achievements that are rewarded to those who search every nook and cranny of a level, the jumping puzzles were obviously harder as a result. Give the player a choice if they want to show how 1337 they are but don't deny your everyday gamer a chance at completing the game.

Trolled again!

Sound (5/5)
No complaints about the sound effects.

Music (4/5)
As mentioned in my First Impressions article, the soundtrack is inspired by Mexican music such as Mariachi, a style of Mexican folk music. It can be an acquired taste and although I was generally a fan of it at first, it started to become a bit repetitive, especially when you were on the same screen for over half an hour, attempting a puzzle. It's as if those trumpets were secretly taunting you for every mistake you made.

Graphics (3/5)
The game has got a very Mexican Art Deco style to the artwork - it's basically similar to Grim Fandango except in 2D. I really dig the art style and its clean lines although some would consider it rather crude.

Replay (0/5)
Unfortunately, I ultimately didn't enjoy playing this game. What showed so much promise at the beginning thanks to the great visuals, great music, challenging combat and humourous references, ended up being a grand waste of time. The game is simply too difficult for anyone who isn't a veteran at platform or Metroidvania games (myself included) and eventually I pulled the plug after one too many /ragequits. I'm definitely not going back to replay this game, ever.

Polish (4/5)
The game uses a visible checkpoint system which is good because you're able to see where the game actually saves but unfortunately they're occasionally too far from where difficult puzzles occur meaning some backtracking before you're at the right stop to attempt a puzzle again. While this is fine if you're only doing it a couple of times, it can get quite frustrating if you have do it maybe 30 times.

Score – 6/10

What starts off as an entertaining romp through a Mexican wonderland heavily inspired by the Day of the Dead festival, luchadores, and more internet memes and references than you can poke a piñata at, quickly becomes a tedious, unforgiving, slog that only veterans of platform games or masochists could ever find pleasure in. I actually feel like I've wasted time playing this game and that's a pretty rare thing for me to say. It is a pity though since I love the characters, I love the art style and I even love the music, provided it isn't played 100 times in a row...

Guacamelee! is available from these retailers:

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Guacamelee! website ]

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where are they now? - Jeroen Tel

Battlecruiser... operational

For those who were fans of the Commodore 64 and Amiga, you're probably already fans of the person I'm featuring for today's "Where are they now?" article and that person is Dutch video game composer, Jeroen Tel. So technically he's still a composer of PC game music but since I've only ever played DOS games it might prompt the question, how on Earth did you hear about him? Well I really enjoyed playing a game called Overlord aka Supremacy: Your Will Be Done in the early 1990s and it so happens that Jeroen Tel composed the music for the Commodore 64 version of the game which arguably has the best version of the theme. I still enjoyed the music for the PC version too but that was thanks to the talents of David Whittaker (who we will talk about another time).

Jeroen Tel was born in Helmond, a small city in the southern Netherlands in 1974. He started tinkering with SID music (the Commodore PC's Sound Interface Device) while still a kid in the early 80s but his professional career started in earnest around 1987 when he and Charles Deenen formed the music group Maniacs of Noise (which exists to this very day).

Tel was quite prolific during the late 80s and early 90s, producing music and sound effects for several games, mainly on the Commodore 64 and Amiga platforms. His tracks are frequently remixed by fans and famous games he's worked on include Turbo Out Run (1989) (apparently his favourite C64 soundtrack that he's composed), Golden Axe (1990), Overlord aka Supremacy: Your Will Be Done (1990), OutRun Europa (1991), Robocop 3 (1992) and Lemmings (1993). Apparently, Lemmings was the last time he composed music for a commercial C64 game and it was during the mid 90s that Tel started to diversify not only onto different platforms but eventually different media such as film and websites.

Tel continued to work on game music right up to the late 2000s although by this time he was mainly composing music for Xbox 360 Arcade titles, mobile games and web-based casual games on Zylom (a Dutch paid casual games website).

In terms of the past few years, it's hard to tell from MobyGames or his website what he's been up to recently as it only provides a huge list of the 200+ projects he's worked on (but without any dates attached to them). I'm hoping he's still composing music and it'd be awesome if he were attached as a composer to some indie games - the chiptune scene has definitely seen a resurgence in the past few years thanks to them, so Jeroen Tel would be a prime candidate considering he was actually there when the chiptune scene began.

Anyway, remember when I told you people are remixing his music? Well they're still doing it - check out this remix released not that long ago on OC Remix:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Elite Dangerous officially released today

There's a whole big universe to explore out there

So Elite Dangerous has been finally released to the masses. We're no longer in alpha, beta or even gamma anymore, this is the real deal. Kickstarter Backers and Paid Beta Testers will probably notice that there aren't any release notes with this release and that the patch is extremely tiny, probably because version 1.00 is just Gamma 2.07 open to the masses. I guess the question everyone is asking though, is the game worth it? Did the rush to release before the end of this year compromise the quality of the game?

Once I've played around a bit more with the actual release of the game, I'll get back to you with an answer to the first question. With respect to the second, personally I don't think so. The game's definitely got less features than originally promised such as the controversial move to remove offline-only play and the fact you can't play with your friends as one unit (you're currently able to check where they are in the galaxy though with a simple friends list feature but that's about it). Apparently the ability to form "alliances" which allows players to all jump in at the same time and engage in combat with each other in the same instance (without the need to fiddle around like you do at the moment) will be implemented next year, so while it's disappointing that features such as this one have been postponed it's still in the pipeline. Also it might end up being a wise move to hold back on implementing new features so close to release since that's a sure-fire way to make your game buggy - and thankfully I haven't really encountered many (noticeable) bugs while playing Elite Dangerous. In fact, I think the game is less buggier than Dragon Age Inquisition at least with respect to performance which is a real killer for me at the moment - so much so I played Elite Dangerous instead of Dragon Age Inquisition because at least the game worked on my PC.

Those of you who have read my First Impressions article on the Gamma would already know what I like about the game but most importantly, what I don't like. Since I've played quite a bit more of the game let's see if any of these worries have abated:

  • Bugs (MINIMAL): The game has substantially less bugs than when I first started playing the Gamma a few weeks ago. The tutorials have definitely been revamped and now they even have tutorial videos to fill in the gaps. There's been a huge number of bug fixes during the Gamma (almost daily) and I'm happy to say I haven't really experienced any serious bugs yet. The only complaint I have is that I don't seem to have a Sol System permit which backers are apparently meant to have already... thankfully you're able to earn this over time but might as well get the perks I'm entitled to right? :)
  • Steep learning curve (SLIGHTLY LESS): The revamped tutorials have helped this somewhat but there are still so many things in the game that I've only learned thanks to reading forum posts and asking questions of veteran players. Most of what I've learned about mining, setting up hardpoints, bounty hunting, accepting counter-offer missions and not overshooting space stations are all thanks to trial and error. In a game where you've only got one save game slot this could mean very costly mistakes.
  • Mouse and keyboard at a disadvantage (USE JOYSTICK): Pretty sure this is still the case. Lucky I have a joystick then right? If you're planning to play this game, I'd almost say it's not worth playing unless you have a joystick.
  • Lonely universe (DEPENDENT ON LOCATION): I'm now situated near the Solar System which I guess could be considered the Federation core worlds and there's definitely a lot more traffic now, NPC and Humans - so the galaxy doesn't feel so lonely any more. As I learned more about the game too I noticed that there's a chance for optional random encounters while in Super Cruise called "Unidentified Signal Sources" which you can investigate. Usually these are NPC populated instances but it at least gives the illusion that stuff is going on in the space around you.
  • Laggy (STILL EXISTS): I'm not sure where the servers are located (most likely the UK) but this is probably always going to be an issue playing from Australia. While I still get the occasional lag spike while going through hyperspace, it doesn't matter too much during those sequences since it's basically a loading screen. When you're exiting hyperspace into a star or when you're trying to avoid interdiction from a pirate, that's when it becomes slightly annoying.
  • Plot (WAIT AND SEE): The jury's still out on this one since apparently they weren't going to do anything major in terms of the actual plot/storyline until release - which is now! One good change they have implemented though is that each time you complete a mission it shows which factions you are receiving a reputation boost with (as opposed to before where you received no feedback whatsoever).

So overall I think a lot of things have been fixed in the game and a lot of things make more sense to me now, so the game is not all that bad. I'm actually playing it like my own version of Euro Truck Simulator but in space and it seems to suit me just fine. Would I recommend people to get their hands on it just yet? As I mentioned earlier, I'll need more time to give a definitive answer (i.e. a review) but one thing's for sure: if you were a fan of Frontier: Elite II I think you'll like this game since it definitely feels more like an Elite game than your run-of-the-mill space sim.

[ LINK: Official Elite Dangerous Website ]