Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “May, 2015”

Aaru’s Awakening for PS4, PS3 and PC

Can a game still be considered good if it’s core mechanic doesn’t work, even if it does most other stuff right? Aaru’s Awakening is a beautiful game with an interesting twist on platforming, which is good, but it’s all let down by one major flaw, a fairly major issue for a platformer; the jumping isn’t fun.

Aaru is a creature created to be the champion of a deity representing Dawn, which has been sent to eliminate the three other parts of the day (Dusk etc.) to allow Dawn to control all time. Aaru, initially a mindless drone, begins to ‘awaken’ and realise that what he is doing is wrong. It’s quite a nice idea, but Aaru’s Awakening subscribes firmly to the ‘tell don’t show’ school of storytelling, with too long passages of narration between worlds filling in the story. Aaru’s personal journey is potentially interesting, but frankly isn’t as told here.

Aaru’s Awakening is a challenging platformer with one key mechanic; Aaru’s teleporting ability. Aaru can send out a little ball of light with one button press and then teleport to wherever that ball has got to with another. Aim and timing are crucial and the game can get very challenging when it gets going. You can also teleport into enemies to destroy them and this is used to good effect in some interesting boss encounters. This mechanic works well, with the ability of the teleport ball to bounce around forcing you to re-evaluate your platforming instinct. All of this good stuff is let down in one terrible flaw however; the dreadful jumping.

The true joy of a good platformer lies in the satisfaction of the jump; it’s the main reason that Mario remains King. Aaru’s jump is awkward, stiff and difficult to maneuver and resulted in the majority of my deaths. Not the challenging level design or the interesting mechanic, the bloody jump. There’s the kernel of such a great game here but that damn jump pretty much ruined the experience for me.

The game looks lovely, with an impressive hand drawn art style. The character animations are a little stiff and the overall visual design is kind of lackluster but the art style does carry it through. The music and sound design is entirely forgettable, with the voice acting narrating the story being very earnest if not particularly engaging.

Aaru’s Awakening has some good ideas but falls at the first hurdle. If you’re going to make a platformer, make damn well sure that jumping isn’t irritating because, if you fail at that, nothing else really matters.



CounterSpy for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita

CounterSpy had one of the best first impressions of any of the PS+ games that I’ve played so far. The first few levels were amazing and clicked with me instantly; alas, diminishing returns set in and CounterSpy ended up settling as a ‘good’ experience rather than an excellent one.

CounterSpy takes place during a Cold War inspired conflict between two nations clearly analogous for the United States and the Soviet Union. Both sides are working towards an apocalyptic weapon strike and you play as a Spy for the intergovernmental agency known as ‘Counter’ and infiltrate both sides to stop the attack. The story isn’t really a focus here, but the little writing that is featured is quite amusing and quippy.

This is a 2D stealth game, although it’s considerably slower and more methodical than something like Mark of the Ninja. It’s also much simpler, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Each level sees you bringing your spy through a 2D stage, stealthing your way through to a terminal at the end. Along the way you collect intel which gives you money, blueprints and plans which bring you closer to the end of the game. If killed or spotted by a camera, your ‘defcon’ level lowers, with the defcon system essentially acting as lives. Each side has it’s own defcon meter, although not a huge amount is done with this mechanic. You can choose whether to infiltrate the US or Soviet side after each mission, but there’s not much difference. You can raise defcon by holding particular soldiers hostage. The stealth take downs are fun, but the most interesting mechanic is a hybridising of 2D and 3D gameplay. When you snap into cover, the camera pulls into an over the shoulder 3D aim as you take out the foes in front of you with a variety of weapons. It’s pretty cool and works well, with grenade lobbing enemies preventing you from cowering in cover for too long. Stealth is certainly the best way. Although simple, I found the core mechanics of CounterSpy very enjoyable, but the whole experience is let down by one fatal flaw; the levels are randomly generated.

Now, I’m really not into procedural generation, but I can see how it works for some games, like Binding of Isaac or Spelunky. Sadly, it just doesn’t work here. The lack of handcrafted levels mean that the stages begin to feel extremely same-y very quickly. CounterSpy made a great first impression but I kept expecting something more that didn’t arrive. I can see that they were intending to make a very replayable game, but I’d rather play a great game once than play a decent one over and over. The mechanics are good but without proper level design CounterSpy fails to elevate beyond mediocre.

Thankfully, the general style of the game is excellent. The whole thing is steeped in 1960s spy thriller music and tone, with an attention grabbing cel shaded art style. There are some fantastic looking assets too, but the procedural generation means that it all begins to fade away and lose its allure by the end.

CounterSpy was a frustrating experience because there were so many elements I loved, but it’s dull level design (or lack thereof) killed the whole thing for me. There are some great things here, but just not enough. CounterSpy1

Pix the Cat for PS4, PS Vita and PC

Pix the Cat is a fun, light and endearing arcade-y puzzle game which wiled away a pleasant few hours. I don’t have a huge amount more than that to say, but I’ll give a quick overview.

Pix the Cat’s main mode is a series of Pac-Man esque rooms where the titular protagonist must collect a horde of ducklings from eggs and lead them into holes before exiting the room. That’s not very clear is it? Let me explain. In practice, Pix the Cat plays most like a much more complex version of Snake, being a game about maneuvering an increasingly unwieldy length which moves at faster and faster speeds. You can’t allow your trail of ducklings to cross, so navigating the levels is tricky and precise and most of all fast. It’s mindlessly good fun and there are lots of fun unlockables for completing certain challenges. It’s a very satisfying game to play, but not necessarily particularly compelling.

There’s more to this game than just the Arcade stuff, with the Laboratory being one of the best modes. In the Laboratory, every ten levels adds a new mechanic, with you generally only being able to slide across the entire level on your way to completion. These get properly tricky, but a lot of fun and represented the best part of the game for me. There are a few other modes as well, which I won’t spoil here, but Pix the Cat certainly does have a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Everything is assisted by a hyper adorable and energetic visual style, all flashing lights and ‘kawaii.’ The whole vibe of Pix the Cat is steeped in Japanese mascot culture but with a Western twist which makes it quite interesting to look at. The music is excellent too, with the presentation doing a huge amount to support the experience.

Although not my favourite PS+ game, Pix the Cat was a lot of fun. I wonder if I would have liked it so much without the hyperactive style, but it’s something that I got a few fun hours out of regardless.pix_the_cat_001-1024x576

Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2 for Wii U

So, Nintendo pretty much win at DLC right? Now that both are released I am struggling to think of any company that has released a better value pack than this. Containing eight new tracks and three new characters, this DLC Pack easily matches the first one.

As with the previous pack, this one contains four retro tracks and four new ones. The retro tracks are a good bunch, with me being particularly pleased with the return of my beloved Baby Park from Double Dash, which is very much the Final Destination of Mario Kart tracks. Another stand out is Ribbon Road, a fairly forgettable track from Super Circuit that is reimagined as a genuinely stunning track taking place in a child’s bedroom. The new tracks are excellent, of course, with the most immediately noticeable being the Animal Crossing track on which this DLC is based (which changes with the seasons) and a new F-Zero track based on the classic Big Blue. The new characters of male and female Animal Crossing Villagers, Isabelle from the same game and the surprisingly awesome Dry Bowser round out a hell of a pack.

Even though it was actually part of a free update (thanks for that Nintendo), I want to touch upon the new 200CC speed. It does more than just speed up the experience, it completely changes the way you approach the tracks. To be completely honest, it doesn’t really work; it’s clear very quickly that the tracks are designed for 150CC and that the natural rhythms of Mario Kart are lost. However, I think that 200CC is a fantastic addition. It may be a bit of a goof to try a few times for a laugh with friends, but it’s amazing that Nintendo gave us that and they really didn’t need to. The free update combined with very good value DLC once again show up other companies in comparison to Nintendo.

Mario Kart 8, particularly in the one or two player 60FPS, is possibly the most gorgeous game of this console generation and the new tracks are just as delightful and packed with detail as those in the main game. The music is wonderful and the animations for the new characters adorable. The core mechanics in Mario Kart 8 are the best in the series, but it’s also the most beautiful.

Putting aside nostalgia blindness, it’s hard to dispute Mario Kart 8 as the peak of the series and this DLC only makes it better. If Nintendo manage to bring this level of value to Smash Bros. I think I may cry. If you liked Mario Kart 8, get these two packs. Simple.


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