This week Fred and guest Matt Bradford re-visit the Mass Effect trilogy. Although GH101 tackled this with a previous episode, it was time to go back to the well and delve a bit deeper into the mechanics, evolution, and critical opinions placed upon one of the most significant series of last generation.
The referenced Annotated Symphony of the Night can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFmpodGI3Jk
A storm rages outside, the unsettled abandoned buildings keep making noises as they groan into settlement, and I’m alone with nothing but a lighter to guide me. I turn a corner and gasp loudly. It’s my worst nightmare: another box puzzle. The Crow’s Eye is a crafted puzzle experience that doesn’t just focus on keeping your problem solving skills in check, it has ulterior motives. Despite some design choices that can dissuade you from continuing the experience, there’s no denying that the world set before you has been carefully crafted and even comes with a story to compel you forward.
You play as a young man who awakens in the abandoned Crowswood Medical University, seemingly as part of someone’s twisted experiment. It’s been nearly twenty years since the disappearance of four students ignited a massive investigation that saw several more people go missing until eventually the facility was shut down by faculty. Now you wonder the halls of the abandoned buildings with nothing more than a lighter and the items you find in the environment as you attempt to overcome the challenges set forth by a sadistic puppet master. It’s honestly a heck of a setup for what could have merely been a series of puzzle rooms thrown at you in succession and instead becomes a cohesive adventure. If you look at these screen shots you may notice the game borrows some aesthetics and HUD elements from another popular first person franchise, but aside from the look the comparison stops there. I’m actually okay with this given that it’s a sense of familiarity that invokes the same type of mindset without having to be told. In that game I picked up audio logs and focused on any shiny piece of paper that could offer information vital to the story, and the same is true here without having to be given so much as a hint. The way the story unfolds in these journals, letters, and well-acted audiologs is also commendable and assists in the atmosphere that’s critical to keeping you in tune with the story. There’s no doubt that the world of The Crow’s Eye and the story embedded within it is quality, but you won’t be calling this a “walking simulator.” It’s a puzzle game with some adventure elements.
Fred and Trees are joined by Jesus of the Horrible Gamers Podcast to discuss a bunch of things going on right now that, quite frankly, bug us. Instead of it being a whine fest the trio actually break down why these problems exist and how best to deal with them. Additionally there’s reader mail and a “Just Stop” for good measure.
This week Fred sits down with Ali of 42 Level One to discuss the more popular 32-bit generation of CD-ROM consoles. What started as a disaster with the 3DO Interactive Player gave way to the big releases of the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. While the Saturn may seem dead in the water for the West, it was a strong presence in the East. Finally everything wraps up with the beloved console that lacked sales: the Sega Dreamcast.
To appreciate River City Ransom: Underground it’s probably best you know about its predecessor, River City Ransom, which is a beloved NES title with a cult following. A Western-localized version of Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari from Japan, Technos created a long-running series known best as “Kunio-kun” titles given that the lead, Kunio, appears in every game. River City Ransom was the only action brawler in the series to make its way to the States and fans have been pining for another game in the series since the original premiered in 1990. Since then Technos Japan has closed, been reborn as Million, and while Japan has received consistent releases over the past two decades there’s been almost nothing to show for it in the West. That’s when Canadian-based developer Conatus Creative decided to acquire the rights to make a River City Ransom follow-up. The result has finally arrived with River City Ransom: Underground proving that it is possible to make a sequel to a 20-year-old game and do a great job at it. Those who remember playing the original alone or with a friend on the couch will be in for a treat, but if you’re hoping to utilize modern online gaming, this title is still a work in progress.
From start to finish the mechanics of River City Ransom: Underground are spot on. The game acts as a direct sequel to the original and has an appropriate prologue set on re-establishing the two leads, Alex and Ryan, as they confront and defeat Slick on the school rooftop. It’s much akin to the Dracula fight at the beginning of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that re-hashes the battle from the end of Rondo of Blood. Upon jumping into the present you are greeted with four new protagonists, each one with a distinct fighting style, and off you go. You’re either a fan of the brawler genre – namely Renegade, Double Dragon, and of course River City Ransom – or you’re not, which only bears mentioning because Underground is cut from that cloth. Any criticism weighed against the genre applies to Underground as well, but beyond those caveats I must admit the single player campaign really has none. It’s an ideal follow-up.
Earlier this week, Xbox Director of Programming Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) announced that the Xbox Game Pass was coming this Spring. For a fee of $10 per month, Xbox One owners (at first) will gain access to 100 games that they can download and play. Much like the Netflix model, the games are a rotating selection that can change each month, and they will vary from Xbox One titles and backward compatible Xbox 360 titles. Those in the preview program have alpha access to about 20 games ranging from titles like Halo 5: Guardians, Mad Max, and Payday 2 on the Xbox One as well as 360 titles like Fable III, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Lego Batman. This is the next step towards video games being much more like movies in that you can pay a flat rate and have access to a selection of titles and it takes those efforts one step further by allowing downloading to avoid the many troubles that streaming games currently has. There’s just one big problem: I don’t think gamers really want it.
It’s not just the Xbox Play Pass that gamers don’t want. We also don’t want Playstation Now, which is getting downsized at this moment to only support PC and PS4, but before that gamers didn’t really want Gaikai, OnLive, GameTap, or even the illustrious Sega Channel. I think this is more because it not only goes against the culture of what video games have always been, but it completely ignores the fact that a large portion of gamers play online with specific games. Personally I think this is a great idea for the non-hardcore gamer or even a house with gamer kids because it provides a steady stream of titles, some new for the month and some returning, that you can enjoy without the fear of returning a game, trading it in, or even your parents having to budget for it. If you play console or PC video games in 2017 you do not have a budgetary constraint for $10/mo, period. As a child my mother made me a deal to get the Sega Channel – I was of the lucky markets in the Chicago suburbs to gain access to the service – and for $15/mo I had 50 Genesis games in steady rotation that I could always play in return for the fact that I wouldn’t be buying new games. Maybe I would have grown tired of this model, but for the year or so I had the Sega Channel this totally worked for my 12-year-old self. As adult gamers, I don’t see this being popular at all because all adults like the freedom to choose what they do and gamers in particular are a finicky bunch dead set on keeping up with the zeitgeist. I assure you that the current month’s, or even year’s, best releases will never be a part of the selection.
The Wii U was Nintendo’s follow-up to the widely successful Wii, but amidst an overall lack of interest to gamers it was met with mostly resistance. The slogan “How U Will Play Next” was far from accurate and thanks to a lack of consumer understading of what the console on top of the scruitiny leveled against the library it was never much of a success. Still, Fred has fond memories and he takes you through the journey of the Wii U from announcement to today.
Fred and Trees are joined by Wolfy of overclock.net’s podcast. The episode is chock full of discussion involving the Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild but there’s also plenty of room for other big and indie games along with plenty of fun discussions.
This week Fred is joined by guest Travis (@TheHibkiTMD) to discuss the Double Dragon franchise. An interesting series spawned from the arcade as a spin-off franchise of the Kunio-Kun series, followed by a slew of ports, and an alternative style and series on the NES.