Archive for the Games Category

The New Playstation Plus: Perspective From A Loyal Customer

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on May 17, 2022 by slateman

I’m a dedicated Sony faithful who has owned every Playstation platform in the past 25+ years: five consoles and two handhelds and even some duplicates. While I’ve owned almost every other console in the last three decades as well, Microsoft’s recent offerings haven’t joined my collection. Despite this, there’s simply no disputing the quality and value of the Redmond-based company’s Game Pass. One day, whenever the Series X graces my collection, I look forward to subscribing and diving into its vast archives.

However, this generation, like the last, I opted for Sony over Microsoft – with no regrets, mind you – and so the upgraded Playstation Plus is something I’ve had my eyes on for quite some time. Much of the dialogue of the new Playstation Plus has been around its comparison to Game Pass. I’d like to discuss its value *without* comparing – by simply contrasting it to the current PS+ subscription.

For the past decade, I’ve paid $60/yr (used to be $50, no?) for the standard “free” games, online play, etc. I fully plan on continuing that trend, with my subscription extending already into 2023. Some shitty months (or sequences of months) aside, I love the service and I’m happy with my subscription.

So, while the new base-level PS+ is identical to the existing service, the real question is whether the upgraded models are worth the added bucks: $40 for Extra or $60 for Premium. Since I’m already paying my $60 – and do so on an annual basis – that’s the real question. Is the added $40/$60 worth it??? I’m not talking about monthly prices – it’s all or nothing, baby.

Now that Sony has started rolling out a quick list of titles, it’s time to look at what that value truly is.

The second tier, Extra, offers ~400 PS4/PS5 games for $40. Since I never got around to playing Returnal or Miles Morales, the subscription is likely worth it right off the bat. As a pretty dedicated gamer, I’ve played most of the games I’ve wanted to play this past decade. Virtually every offering shown in the abbreviated list is already on my have played list. But for a pair of games and the promise of others? I’d say it’s likely worth $40, though the full game list will really be the deciding factor. In lulls of new titles, diving back into an older one here or there is probably worth the $3.33/month. I think it’s worth at least the first year of subscription. Then again, I am a Sony fanboy after all. :D

The top tier, titled Premium, presents an additional ~350 legacy games for another 20 bones. That’s not bad at all – IF you really will download/play PS1/PS2/PSP games and stream PS3 games. i own all those platforms and can emulate the entire lot of them. However, I much prefer playing on console than on PC. With ~350 games on 4 platforms, there is sure to be something I’d be glad to revisit. The sneak-peek list of titles so far was underwhelming. On the flipside, that there are save states and rewind features may very well make these games worthwhile in the end. Add to the fact that prior purchases from the PSP/PS3 days will be honored, and it could be worth it.

The ‘end-of-the-day’ view of this really lies in that $40/$20 split. Worst case? I continue with the $60/yr sub that I have had for a decade. I’m happy with this sub and I rarely pay a full $60, to be honest. No – it’s not a Game Pass killer. That’s OK. No, it’s not for everyone – and that’s OK! However, while the initial lists of 60 PS4/PS5 games isn’t too convincing, I’d say one or two games would be enough for the $40 upgrade. Let us not forget that there are more than 300 games not already announced. As for the Premium tier, a $20 bill nets me 350 titles: 28 announced on legacy platforms and another 30 on the PS3. To be honest, I really don’t know if anything on here will truly tickle my fancy, but I’m also a sucker for this shit and I’ll likely drop twenty more just to revel in some nostalgia.

Were it a decade ago, in 2012, I may not have opted in. But at the tender age of 46, I’m the prime candidate for such a service and for a few bones, I think I just may opt in – at least for the first year!!!

Elden Ring: Platinum And Done

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on May 6, 2022 by slateman

120 hours in and I beat the game, got the platinum and bid adieu to Elden Ring.

In looking back, I started this game on 25 February and have completed my journey on the 16th of April. Over those 51 days, I pumped 120 hours into this masterpiece. It’s imperfect. It’s got some visual issues. It’s still a phenomenal game and one of the best in recent memory.

As I look back over the best games of recent years: Deathloop, Tsushima, God Of War, Resident Evil VII…does this game transcend the awesomeness set by such titles? Such is the question.

In the simplest terms, Elden Ring will stick with me for quite some time. Its world was mesmerizing, its gameplay satisfying and its sense of adventure remarkable. For almost two straight months, I had zero interest in booting up anything but this game. I thought about it before bed, during my drive home and I longed to jump back in at every corner. I was obsessed and I loved every minute of it. As with any great game, you put off actually beating it so you can clean up things. i put off the end for at least a week.

This game addressed almost all of From Software games’ shortcomings and made things more accessible. Can’t beat this boss? Run. Stuck and overwhelmed? Escape and warp somewhere else. Underpowered? Grind & level up. Don’t want to lose runes? Use an item not to. About everything that made prior titles inaccessible is now streamlined and more user-friendly. While the lore itself was virtually impossible to comprehend, this didn’t hinder my experience one bit. Instead, the entire gameplay experience and loop was just thoroughly ejoyable. Even after scores of hours, I wanted to adventure to new corners, look up new weapons on a wiki, explore anything and everything the game had to offer.

That sense of wonder and excitement is what makes it rival the greats of the last decade. While God Of War was a new and unique experience, I can say with confidence this was one of the most-incredible titles in recent memory. Even now, weeks after completing Elden Ring, it still lingers in my memory and I would have it no other way. The prospect of diving back in for NG+ still lingers in my brain. If only the PS5 would let me download save games.

I’m going to post a crap-ton of pictures because this is my website and I don’t care. I loved this fucking game.

Elden Ring: A 30-Hour, Not-Nearly-Finished Review

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on March 7, 2022 by slateman

Elden Ring came out last Friday and by Monday, I’d plunked down 16 hours. By the next Friday: 30. By the end of this weekend: 36.

I’ve traipsed all over The Lands Between. I’ve scoured dungeons, ascended castles and toppled giants. This really is big Souls, but that’s fine by me because it offers numerous quality-of-life improvements which make it a far more playable and, dare I say, easier experience. Find a boss who one-hits you? Run away. Overwhelmed by too many enemies? Mount your horse. Need to upgrade? Grind and do so! Desire to revisit other areas? Fast travel in seconds anywhere and at any time.

I’m loving the exploration and the adventure. I’m enjoying the Souls formula with these new changes. I’m compelled to return to seek out one more upgrade and item – to gaze over a cliff’s edge for a hidden ledge – to mark upon my map locations for future days.

Elden Ring Get! A New Adventure!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on February 26, 2022 by slateman

I don’t know quite what to expect from this new From Software title. I shied away from Dark Souls due to its difficulty and only, many years later, proclaimed Bloodborne to be the best game ever. Though I jumped into Dark Souls Remaster and Dark Souls 3, I never completed either – for whatever reason. While living in Sweden, I was so excited to dive into their follow-up, Sekiro but never quite loved it. In fact, I never beat it. At the end, I opted for the bad ending, due to the difficulty, and I never even accomplished that. Ultimately, I didn’t worry too much, as the game never clicked with me.

The PS5’s launch gave us Demon’s Souls and…surprise! I never beat that either! Despite Bloodborne being fucking fantastic, I couldn’t ever complete any of From Software’s other entries.

And so here we are with Elden Ring – which at the time of this writing sits at the 12th highest-rated game of all time on Metacritic – and I’m on a new adventure. Odds are against me completing this. However, in its opening hours – which tally four in my initial sitting – it’s tremendously-compelling. I eschewed the follow-up to my Best New IP Of 2017 (Horizon) for this. I will 100% play this in the future. Anyhow, as the new game starts to truly open up – I thought I’d share a compelling image from the opening hours. This is going to be quite the adventure!!!

Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow Thoughts

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on October 24, 2021 by slateman

I have to say, Castlevania Advance Collection is one of my favorite games of the year, despite the average age of each of its four games being 20+ years old! I purchased this as soon as it came out and I never regretted it once. Jumping into Aria Of Sorrow on the heels of the first two GBA games was a no-brainer.

As this is considered a top=tier Castlevania, it really should stand out among its predecessors, but it’s not as clear and simple in my opinion. Breaking it down – visuals are in some small way a step back from Harmony Of Dissonance, with more subdued environments and less flashy colors. However, it’s more consistent and in no way a downgrade. I found I preferred the gaudy colors and over-the-top animations of the middle game. The interface is cleaner and the new soul system is far better than HOD. Unfortunately, exploration feels a bit stifled again. That crazy nature of Dissonance is lacking here and I missed it.

The music is good again, thus regaining that which was lost after COTM however, it came at the expense of that visual flourish. But while graphics and effects may have stepped back a bit, there were way more items and diverse options throughout which changed up battle substantially. It was a lot more fun with much cooler gear. This diversity led to much more entertaining loot including some truly OP weapons. The soul system was quite cool but of course, grindy. The rewind system helps w/ that. I specifically used that cheat to get some to pass certain areas.

The lack of a dash button and scant few upgrades made traversal feel a bit more of a chore than HOD which was, admittedly, broken. But the upgrades are good and useful. The one castle is better and it’s not designed in a confusing and annoying way. Warping to whichever room you’d like is a nice perk and backtracking is never quite as cumbersome as it was in the past. The game was, by far, a more streamlined experience.

Ultimately, Aria Of Sorrow is a better game than the prior two. The story, while still rather thin, is more engaging and the quality-of-life fixes were welcome. I’m certain I beat this one back in the day, but I definitely didn’t get the good ending. However, despite being better, that doesn’t mean I like it more. I prefer the visual style of HOD and I know I liked several of the NDS entries far more. Altogether, it was a tremendous experience playing these titles back-to-back-to-back. I’ll likely never revisit some of these but I do sincerely hope a NDS collection follows.



Castlevania: The Adventure – Rebirth Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Retro Games on October 20, 2021 by slateman

I tinkered with this back in the day but never played it through, despite its rather kick-ass soundtrack. I’m on a Castlevania tear as of late, clearly thanks to the Advance Collection’s surprise announcement & quick release. Having taken down two of the collection’s three GBA games (I realize Dracula XX is on there as well, but I just beat that three years ago), I wanted to get a look at this title and I quite enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, this game is not available officially anywhere and I don’t see Konami digging that deep in the archives to issue this one at any time, so now is as good as ever to dive in. This game is a bit harder than some later entries, a throwback to the Classicvania formula replete with old-school sound effects. Visuals are pretty cool, blending 2D style with some 3D effects. The stages are all familiar-looking and while they don’t aim to diverge from traditions, they’re fun and colorful. From graveyards to the clock tower to the standard steps to Dracula, the game never exceeds its budget concept and that’s just fine with me. Much like the other two Rebirth titles (Contra & Gradius), they know exactly what they ought to be and there’s a reason Konami issued these on the Wii and not one of the other more-powerful platforms.

Fire, water, stained glass backgrounds very cool, but enemy diversity suffers, with numerous palette-swapped enemies feeling redundant. Overall, the visual style is a half progression from HOD – I think I actually prefer Aria’s predecessor.

The game’s five stages cover the gamut of Castlevania tropes and Simon controls rather well, given the throwback nature of the title. Whip enhancements were a nice perk and different-colored candles revealed which kind of bonus was added before even hitting them. There were plenty of quirky sections including a gear mechanism towards the end, however, the best mechanic added to this Rebirth game was the branching path concept. Despite being rather thorough in games, the numerous locked doors and alternate pathways truly lend themselves toward additional playthroughs with some choices skipping mid-bosses entirely.

And the bosses were indeed cool. Many familiar faces returned, now often featuring different move sets. Early level battles are quite easy, but later ones required the usual Castlevania accuracy. None were truly thrilling to behold, however, Death was impressive and Dracula’s final form was a rigorous challenge.

The end result was a pretty straightforward game with plenty of replay value. The soundtrack is killer, as they often are, and despite the thin storyline, I truly enoyed my romp through the rebirth of this Game Boy game. While it’s new enough to avoid the retro tag, I’m counting it as it’s more unaccessible than most other retro entries in this franchise!

GBA Castlevania Comparisons

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games on October 13, 2021 by slateman

I’m enjoying these titles so much. As I moved into Aria Of Sorrow it was fun to see their progression instantly, rather than waiting a year for a new release. It’s making me hope that much more for a NDS collection. Anyhow, save rooms & warp rooms compared.

CotM
HoD
AoS

Castlevania: Harmony Of Dissonance Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on October 11, 2021 by slateman

Immediately after polishing off Circle Of The Moon, I progressed to Harmony Of Dissonance, the GBA’s second installment. Changes are immediately evident: larger sprites, much more colorful visuals, upgraded graphics, new enemies and a more adept protagonist. While the story is ultimately a rehash of CotM, there’s a lot to like here, particularly in comparison to its predecessor. Unfortunately, large chunks of this game have tremendous downsides which make the inferior Circle Of The Moon a comparable title.

As I progressed into the second castle, I made a realization: I almost certainly never beat this game. Stumbling across an old save – it appears the 60% mark was about my limit. If memory serves me right, I revisited it later and felt the same pang of frustration. The game is deliberately obtuse, an old tactic employed to artificially lengthen the game’s duration. Several areas are off-limits, but the map “opens” them up, thereby marking them and making a revisit quite challenging. The rewind feature is spectacular to erase some of those mistakes, but oftentimes a key opens just a very specific door or two with no word of where that might be. The overly-spacious two-castle system compounds this issue as warping is initially slower and more arduous than in the past and there’s an awful lot of running around just to revisit a dead-end you knew about in the past. In fact, things are so spacious that the main goal is to dash through vast swathes of the castle searching for the next extension – unfortunately almost always stumbling upon another wall or impassable segment.

20 years later and with the aid of decades of guides, this task is much simpler, but no less absurd. The enemies themselves are quite diverse, building off of CotM with 3D effects and the like, but despite the size of the bosses and their impressive animations (both attack and death), most felt rather uninspired and far easier to beat. The initial GBA game was a rigorous challenge; this game is not. Once again, you resort to zipping through portions of the castles, here designated as A and B, and even getting hit is rarely a concern. Fortunately, controlling Juste is far more forgiving than Nathan Graves and his animations are substantially more impressive. Those wonderful bosses, added animations and effects come at a hefty cost: the game’s sound. It suffers and contains scant few memorable tunes, a series staple. In fact, the title sounds like an archaic NES game, but even that is too kind, as the songs here don’t contain the standard hook. The shopkeeper’s tune sounds downright ancient and represents one of the weakest set of tunes in any Castlevania ever.

My gripes continue, but Harmony Of Dissonance is generally fun once things get moving. There are a ton of items to collect, different armors and the like, though none are incredibly exciting, and there’s nothing comparable to CotM’s DSS system, unfortunately. Collecting furntire isn’t quite my style. Visually it sings with a huge assortment of backgrounds & colorful enemies: overall it’s a lot of fun to look at. Scouring screenshots is a lot more rewarding than the first GBA game.

As I approach 200%, it’s so interesting to discover (re-remember?) that I never finished this. The era of its arrival was a tumultuous one for me – however, I’m almost certain I completed every subsequent 2D Castlevania on the GBA & NDS. Until I can verify by getting my old-school GBA from Maine, I remain uncertain if I actually beat Dracula in Circle Of The Moon as well! Wouldn’t be surprised if I hadn’t!

As a stepping stone to Aria Of Sorrow, the game really is impressive despite its numerous flaws. I’m tremendously happy I got to revisit this with the assistance of guides, save states and the rewind feature. I am stoked to finish it and to move on to its successor!

Late Update: I’ve now beaten the game and witnessed all three of the title’s endings. My final map count is at 99.7% for each castle, maxing out at 194.4%. I appear to be missing the same number of rooms in each. The two versions of Maxim were uniquely-different fights and the Dracula Wraith final boss was a pretty cool, horrible amalgamation of his body parts (a callback to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – much like the Simon Wraith callback to the original Castlevania.)

Castlevania: Advance Collection Thoughts – Circle Of The Moon

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Retro Games on October 2, 2021 by slateman

I played Circle Of The Moon back when it launched in June 2001 on the Game Boy Advance. I went through the game on the non-backlit launch GBA and quite enjoyed the first real sequel to Symphony Of The Night. The game was fun, but flawed, and it was quickly followed up by its successor merely 15 months later. I recall that title and its improvements. The entries flowed for the next half decade and my, how i took for granted the golden age I lived through.

Now two decades hence, I dropped a cool $20 for this four-title collection and I started at the beginning (sort of). Things are substantially different now, as I’m equipped with a mobile phone to look up a FAQ, save states to revert to former safe spots and a glorious rewind feature to wipe clean each and every misstep – if I so desire. Instead of backtracking, losing progress and getting frustrated by the challenging bosses, I’m consuming this game with a nigh-perfect run. It’s wonderful but it also reveals the game’s shortcomings. These are both due to design and storage limitations. Most of the Metroidvania tropes are here with a very limited selection of updates and collectibles. 90% of the discoveries in this game are HP, MP or Heart upgrades. While useful, they’re not tremendously thrilling and the series’ search & backtrack formula is therefore less rewarding.

The game’s DSS system is quite interesting and this collection updates the manner of collecting cards. Save states may render those upgrades less important, but the design is fantastic nonetheless.

Circle Of The Moon was impressive for the era and is still a worthwhile play in spite of those shortcomings. Recycled, palette swap enemies and repeating level backgrounds do limit the diversity, but none of this was really surprising for a handheld, particularly one that replaced the old-school Game Boy Color. And the limited graphics are offset by a rather good soundtrack. The controls are stiff, but that improves as the sequels progress. Several of the bosses are truly difficult and some sections presents a tough challenge. It’s all good though, as I have been zipping through, enjoying the experience. There is great replay value in the DSS system, but I look forward to beating Dracula and moving on, possibly 100%ing it in the process.

The story is thin and the controls are clunky but overall it’s exciting being able to play this (legitimately) for the first time in so many years. My real hopes is that a DS collection is to follow. If the rumors of a reboot are true and if I could have all three collections on my PS5, I’d consider this a new golden age of Castlevania!

Late Edit: I completed the game, deliberately not reaching 100%. In retrospect, I believe it’s possible I never completed this game back during its initial release. Beating Dracula now was a total pain in the ass – I think it’s entirely plausible that I never beat that asshole without aids. In any event, it was a fun playthrough today and I’m glad this game was re-issued.

Upcoming Game Release List

Posted in Blog, Games, Lists on August 29, 2021 by slateman

The usual looking-forward post, this time focusing solely on games. Stars follow the title name – the more, the greater the interest! Let’s do it!

14 Sep – Deathloop – ☆
21 Sep – Kena: Bridge Of Spirits – ☆☆
07 Oct – Far Cry 6 – ☆☆☆
08 Oct – Metroid Dread – ☆
21 Jan – Elden Ring – ☆☆☆☆
18 Feb – Horizon: Forbidden West – ☆☆☆☆
TBA 21 – Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey – ☆
Spring – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – ☆☆☆
TBA 22 – God Of War Sequel – ☆☆☆☆☆

In the future, I’m also looking forward to Diablo 4, The Elder Scrolls VI, the Dead Space reboot and the second installment into the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Oh, and the new Skate game. But otherwise, this is a pretty comprehensive list with Elden Ring, Horizon and God Of War topping my most-desired titles.

Conversely, looking back, 2021 hasn’t been a bad year with R-Type Final 2, Resident Evil VIII, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, It Takes Two, Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart and Hades all being solid releases.