New 6×6 & Megaminx Records!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, Cubing Records on January 3, 2022 by slateman

I started cubing almost 11 years ago and in my early days, I was more focused on speed than I am now. However, while my collection is now more focused on diversity and uniqueness – I still like to dabble into speedsolving from time to time. With a new, Christmas boost to the collection – I’ve upgraded my 6×6 and Megaminx – the former, a terrible V-Cube and the latter broken in shipping. Due to these substatial updates, new efforts were made to break decade-old records and in each case, the personal bests fell swiftly.

My 6×6 record, residing at over 15 minutes, was shorn to 11:11: an improvement by over four minutes. The Megaminx took a pair of tries before it too tumbled. I only did this puzzle for speed a few times, and I don’t endeavor to break this record – a half-minute improvement – any time soon.

A pair of records brought into the current decade, now leaving but the 2×2 and Pyraminx as sole representatives of the 2010s. Oh, and the 3×3 but that’s OK. My full cubing records can be found here.

2022 In Music

Posted in Blog, Lists, Music on December 30, 2021 by slateman

Just some upcoming music release dates for personal reference!

07 Jan – Wilderun: Epigone
04 Feb – Korn: Requiem
11 Feb – Amorphis: Halo
11 Mar – Ghost: Impera
25 Feb – Hammerfall: Hammer Of Dawn
25 Feb – Svartsot: Kumbl
25 Mar – Eucharist: I Am The Void
25 Mar – Abbath: Dread Reaver
08 Apr – Hällas: Isle Of Wisdom
08 Apr – Joe Satriani: The Elephants Of Mars
22 Apr – Faun: Pagan
22 Apr – Wardruna: Kvitravn – First Flight Of The White Raven
03 Jun – Kreator: Hate Über Alles
24 Jun – Alestorm: Seventh Rum Of A Seventh Rum
29 Jul – Arch Enemy: Deceivers
12 Aug – The Halo Effect: Days Of The Lost
19 Aug – Soilwork: Övergivenheten
?? TBA – Megadeth: The Sick, They Dying…And The Dead!

With help from Metalstorm’s Upcoming Release List.

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.

4x4x6 Algorithms

Posted in Algorithms, Blog, Cubing on July 30, 2021 by slateman

This was my favorite puzzle and when it fell and got destroyed in Sweden, I was heartbroken. However, a few years later, whilst living in Italy, I replaced it and – to my dismay – realized I had forgotten some crucial steps into solving it!

Things are really quite simple and matching those inner-edge pieces remains my toughest challenge. I figure I should catalogue this stuff for future reference, rather than relying on old YouTube videos to help me through. OK, let’s see!

  1. Solve centers (like a 4×4)
  2. Solve edges (like a 4×4)
  3. Return to Cuboid (like a 3×3)
  4. Make sure your two middle layers are good.
  5. Solve inner-edge pieces (I struggle here)
  6. Position inner-lower layer ‘cross’ segment
  7. Then solve inner-lower layer edges (like a 3x3x2): R2 / U / R2 / U’ / R2
  8. Now inner-upper layer edges (headlights)
    • Headlights on Left (or 2x): R2 / U / R2 / U2 / R2 — u’ / d — R2 / U’ / R2 / U / R2
    • Inner-edge swap (Opposite): R2 / U2 / R2 / U2 / R2
    • Inner-edge swap (Adjacent): R2 / U / R2 / U — R2 / U2 / R2 / U2 — R2 / U / R2 / U’ / R2
  9. Middle-Layer Parity (If necessary): U2 / R2 / F2 / U2 / F2 / R2 / U2 / F2
  10. Now bottom centers (Intuitive)
  11. Bottom edges (just like step #7)
  12. Repeat Headlights & inner edges steps (#8)
  13. Middle-Layer Parity Redux (if necessary)

See if that makes sense the next time I need it!!!

Second Half Of 2021 In Music

Posted in Blog, Music on June 20, 2021 by slateman

Just some upcoming music release dates for personal reference!

25 Jun – Suidakra: Wolfbite
25 Jun – Dream Theater: Images And Words Live 2017
02 Jul – At The Gates: The Nightmare Of Being
30 Jul – Lantlôs: Wildhund
20 Aug – Wolves In The Throne Room: Primordial Arcana
27 Aug – Thyrfing: Vanagandr
27 Aug – Obscurity: Skogarmaors
03 Sep – Iron Maiden: Senjutsu
17 Sep – Carcass: Torn Arteries
01 Oct – KK’s Priest: Sermons Of The Sinner
08 Oct – Havukruunu: Kuu Erkylän Yllä
22 Oct – 1914: Where Fear And Weapons Meet
22 Oct – Dream Theater: A View From The Top Of The World
29 Oct – Thulcandra: A Dying Wish
05 Nov – Omnium Gatherum: Origin
12 Nov – Eucharist: I Am The Void
19 Nov – Khemmis: Deceiver
19 Nov – Exodus Persona Non Grata
26 Nov – Hypocrisy: Worship