Ratchet & Clank (PS4) – Finishing Thoughts

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Disclaimer: I get spoilery with locations and gameplay elements, but not the story.

7 years has passed since the last major Ratchet & Clank title, and as a huge fan of the series, I was ecstatic to see it finally blast its way into the current console generation. This entry is particularly interesting for me, because it’s a reimagining of the original game. It exists to complement the Ratchet & Clank movie that was being produced alongside it.

It is accurate to look at this as a movie tie-in of sorts, but it’s not bad like most movie tie-in games.  Regardless of the circumstances, this is still Insomniac we’re talking about, and they definitely know how to deliver a solid, traditional R&C gameplay experience when they rise to the occasion.

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I’m extremely familiar with the original title, and was very thrilled at the prospect of Insomniac giving their modern take on old, iconic locations. As you might be able to tell, this isn’t a simple remastering that just takes the first entry and enhances the resolution, while touching up on some textures. (We got that on PS3!) In fact, it’s essentially a brand new game, built from the ground up to take full advantage of the PS4’s power, and that definitely shows. It is easily one of the best looking games in the console space at the moment. The bright and colorful art style certainly lends itself well to the technical prowess of this current generation of hardware.

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There’s value in revisiting the first game that goes beyond just the novelty of seeing old, beloved locations remade with top quality visuals. The original, while being a good game in it’s own right, doesn’t have many of the important features that were added into the future games. So it feels a bit rudimentary compared to its sequels, as it lacks weapon upgrading, an efficient quick select, and other mechanics that fine tuned the experience as the series progressed.

Strafing is a huge one. The combat in the original is much more awkward to deal with than it is in the others because of its absence. Naturally, Insomniac took this as an opportunity to add those features into this reimagining, and the game generally plays much more comfortably because of it.

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Most of the game will send you to the same areas that existed in the original, but even so, playing through these old locations with updated gameplay mechanics provides an experience that you don’t quite get when playing its 2002 incarnation. The original R&C can get fairly difficult, but if Ratchet could strafe effectively like he does in later games, it would likely trivialize many of its encounters. Because of this, many of the enemy setups in this game have been altered from the original. You’ll see goons where they weren’t before, and often, a lot more of them than you might remember. This definitely helps freshen up the experience. It was fun for me to go through these levels with my knowledge of the first game and take note of all the differences.

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While this game is familiar in a lot of ways, there’s also a fair amount of totally new content. The Clank sections, for example, have been revamped, and are completely different from how they were in the original game. There exist a few levels that are practically brand new, along with some layouts of returning segments that have been altered. (Though, for the most part, old planets are nearly identical in their core structure.) There also are new boss battles, story elements, and ship combat sections.

On the other hand, a lot of content from the first game didn’t make the cut. This is a noticeably smaller game than the original, but considering it launched at $40 and is a ton of fun regardless, it’s still absolutely worth the value.

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There’s plenty to like about this game, but it’s not quite a perfect version of the 2002 title. Especially as a person who valued what the original game brought to the table, it’s hard to not compare the two in some aspects.

One element I found souring about this reimagining was the music. David Bergeaud’s work on the soundtrack in the original game was exceptional, and in my opinion, somewhat underappreciated. I thought this would have been a great opportunity to spotlight some of his music by at least incorporating recompositions of his old arrangements. Instead, we have a whole new soundtrack, that’s largely fine, but at the same time quite bland and unmemorable, lacking the personality that Bergeaud’s music emanated.  A pretty big missed opportunity there if you ask me.

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The 6 cut planets hurt a bit too, and it doesn’t help that many of them included some of my favorite locations in the first game. (Gemlik Base, Hoven, Oltanis) Not only does this serve to make its length shorter than the original, but it also hurts the pacing. The latter parts of the story feel like it progresses somewhat too hastily.

A cool thing that the original did when it started ramping up was that it would bounce you back in forth from dark, more imposing planets, to lighter, and a bit less imposing planets. So certain locations felt very satisfying to reach. For example, visiting Pokitaru – a nice, tropical resort style location, was much more impactful after having to trudge through Orxon – a toxic, polluted, brutal “not safe for life” type of location. In the reimagining, Pokitaru is still a great place to be, it just doesn’t have the same impact because of how it fits into the planet progression this time around.

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I started on the hardest difficulty when first jumping in, and just for some extra challenge, refrained from using the Groovitron or Bouncer throughout my whole initial playthrough. It actually began a bit more challenging than I’d expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. One of the very first levels put me up against a pretty fierce dropship, along with some other smaller enemies that actually managed to kill me a couple times. Though, things tend to ease up rather quickly as your arsenal gets more chaotic. The larger mid portion of the game was pretty easily manageable, barring a few sections, and didn’t really start to get noticeably more difficult again until it was close to the end.

I have an OCD-like habit with these games where I try to use my weapons equally, so that they’re leveling up equally. I imagine that the increased challenge towards the end could have mostly been overcome if I had chosen to play as efficiently as possible.

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The arsenal in this game is quite different from the one in the original, but not much of it is brand new. Most of the weapons are taken straight from the PS3 games, which is somewhat unfortunate. I’m surprised that they didn’t reimagine more weapon designs from the first game, but as it is, there are 2 weapons from the original, 2 completely new ones, 9 from the PS3 games, and 1 pre-order bonus weapon (The Bouncer) that may or may not be released to the general public at a later date. The 2 new additions are very nice. One of them is called the Proton Drum, which is a support weapon you throw on the ground that sends out pulses of energy to damage enemies within its area of effect. It was one of the more enjoyable tools to use, for me. I’d often toss it out to let it stagger/kill enemies in my immediate area, while focusing more on picking off enemies who are further away.

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Swapping through your weapons in mid combat is a simple task. Holding down triangle will bring up a quick select menu, and from there you can equip whatever you want to use. It also halts the action, which gives you time to think about your strategy in the midst of a hectic fight. There’s also a feature new to the series that lets you assign weapons to the d-pad buttons so that you can swap between 4 guns quickly without pausing the game. I didn’t use this option nearly as much as I thought I would. At the beginning, when I didn’t have many weapons, I used that weapon switching method quite a bit. Once my arsenal got larger, trying to utilize it went at odds with my tendency to try to upgrade my weapons equally. It takes a bit effort to remember what weapon you set where, especially if you’re switching it around a lot. I eventually ended up leaving that feature alone, unless I just felt like playing extra stylishly.

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Another new weapon addition is the Pixelizer, which is basically this game’s “shotgun”, except with a twist! This gun turns enemies into “8-bit” versions of themselves. The sound and visual effects have a cool retro spin to them too. It fits in very nicely with an assortment of weapons that include a hypnotic disco ball that forces enemies to dance, and a ray gun that turns your enemies into sheep.

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The core gunplay and upgrade loop is the main thing that makes these games so addicting. Your weapons gain experience with use, and can level 5 times before it transforms into its “definitive” version. The weapon upgrade trees from Into the Nexus and Tools of Destruction have also been brought back here. So you can collect raritanium crystals throughout the game that let you upgrade more specific aspects of each gun. There are a bunch of little enhancements you can unlock that include things like increasing the amount of ammo a weapon has, or increasing the area of effect to a detonation. Depending on what order you attain these in, they work to unlock more significant enhancements, such as an upgrade letting little bomblets fall from the explosion that your Fusion Grenade makes, or one for the Plasma Striker that slows down time whenever you zoom in. I always thought this was a good way to add a bit more depth to the weapon progression system, and was glad to see it return in this entry.

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Ratchet’s actions feel very responsive, as you’d expect from a modern R&C game. Insomniac’s decision to aim for 30FPS this time around instead of 60FPS doesn’t feel detrimental to me as far as his controls go. Everything runs smooth, and I only noticed a few frame drops in my 18 or so hours of playing. That’s extraordinary when you consider how good this game looks on PS4, and just the sheer amount of things that can be happening on screen at once. Enemy encounters can get pretty chaotic, so it’s somewhat of a necessity that a game like this would need a smooth, consistent framerate. They definitely delivered on the technical front. The environments feel nice and lively too.

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Another tweak this entry makes to the gameplay is that it lets you actually aim up and down efficiently without having to go into zoom mode. It sounds a bit crazy that the previous Ratchet & Clank games didn’t allow for that, but it’s true. Usually, while in standard camera mode, you can only aim left and right. It’s just not something that often became much of an issue in previous games because of the aim assist, and also because they tend to avoid throwing many enemies at you that are too high for the aim assist to reach. This was actually something added with Into the Nexus, but many fans seemed to skip out on that game, so it’s worth noting.

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Something else that has returned from Into the Nexus are jetpack combat segments. What is by far the biggest expansion to a returning location involves a new section that lets you use a jetpack to fly around the environment and hunt down enemies for collectables. While the jetpack combat in many cases tend to feel like a simplified version of ground combat, it’s nonetheless a very welcome change of pace. Using it to fly around Gaspar is a lot of fun, and it’s a nice way to shake up the “crystal hunting” level trope that exist in many R&C games.

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Ratchet & Clank games usually aren’t all about shooting. A good amount of side activities exist that break up the core TPS gameplay. Some being better than others.

There are hoverboard races, that are very fun mechanically, but were a bit tainted for me by what is easily one of the worst racing AI I’ve ever come across. No matter how flawlessly you were shredding the track, you could never leave behind the other racers. You had to nail the ending no matter what, or else you wouldn’t win the race. Funnily enough, you could also easily exploit this by just not trying until the last 10 seconds, and then using the boost you have saved up to zoom passed everyone. Fortunately, the AI was improved in a downloadable patch that came out a couple weeks after the game launched.

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There are door hacking mini-games which have you solve puzzles that involve matching up lasers to panels without blocking off any necessary paths. I personally find these to be cool little challenges. They’re fun to do if you know the method to solving them and aren’t just randomly rotating the beams. If you don’t like doing them, there’s a auto-hack option that lets you skip them, but you lose out on a reward of bolts, as well as a trophy tied to completing all of the puzzles – if you care about that.

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You’ll also occasionally find yourself in the midst of ship combat. There are 2 new dogfight sections, along with one returning segment. I found both of the new ones to be disappointingly weak, and somewhat of a slog to play through. Thankfully, Pokitaru’s ship combat section is still as fun as ever, and a lot more forgiving than it was in the original game.

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Clank also has his own playable levels that are generally more slow paced and puzzle oriented. Though, there are couple segments where he’s on the run from a robot antagonist, and you charge towards the camera while dodging his attacks. These are fine for the most part, but nothing special. While the chase sections do feel a bit trite, the puzzles are a nice diversion. They start off pretty straightforward at the beginning, and get a bit more complex towards the end. I enjoyed the challenge of the later puzzles, but it was a bit annoying that Clank would spoil them for you were trying to take your time to think things through.

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Clank spoiling the puzzles actually ties into one of my biggest gripes with this game, which is that there is just too much superfluous dialogue going on during gameplay that I’m not a fan of. Many past Ratchet & Clank games have had talking over gameplay to an extent, but it was treated much more tastefully. I welcome unique character dialogue, meaningful interactions, funny, sadistic monologues from the intercom, and things of the like. What I find annoying is all of the fluff and hand holdy dialogue that you can’t turn off unless you want to mute the dialogue altogether. (Which is what I ended up doing in my subsequent playthrough.) What I consider to be unnecessary and somewhat annoying are the following: Ratchet & Clank having a canned discussion about where to go next when you enter the ship. – The weapons vendor guy frequently letting you know that you have enough money to buy a weapon, or when you have enough raritanium to upgrade something. – Ratchet and/or Clank shouting something like “Oh no, more of them”, “Uh oh, more bad guys!” for the umpteenth time during a gunfight. (Which just comes off as cheesy to me) – Clank telling me that there’s a Trespasser terminal in the room right after I’m done with an enemy encounter, and other things like that.

Again, I do like unique character dialogue and interactions, but they have to be enjoyable as well. Most of what the Blarg scientist had to say when I was hunting Telepathopi on Gaspar was a bit obnoxious if anything.

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The narrative is framed by Captain Qwark telling the story of Ratchet & Clank’s origin, so you sometimes get his interjections as well. Some of his commentary was amusing early on, but that ends up getting dialed down, and most of what’s left is him just over and over again reminding Ratchet that he can’t breathe underwater, or telling you that you need to jump from one grind rail to another.

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That takes me to another gripe. The grind rails were one of the aspects of the reimagining that I was most excited to experience again with PS4 level gorgeousness. I always loved grind rail sections because they’re fun, but also because they just look cool. I always considered them to be a neat visual set piece. In this game, they added a speed filter around the edges of the screen whenever you’re on a rail, which just cheapens the presentation of the whole thing. It’s implemented as a somewhat of a tawdry vignette rather than something that looks more natural. Also, Ratchet’s rail switch switch animation is much less smooth than it was in previous games, so it just looks a bit janky whenever you flip from rail to rail. Because of these factors, the grind rails were much less enjoyable for me this time around.

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There’s a jerkiness to Ratchet’s animations in this game in general, which is strange to me, because this has been something that Insomniac usually nails, even in the first game. While Ratchet generally feels more responsive and less clunky to control in this game than the first, the original still has much more fluid/less jerky animations when it comes to things like the wrench swings, rail switching, and certainly wall jumping. Wall jumping in this reimagining feels completely off, but it’s not really much of an issue since you barely need to do that anyway.

Ratchet’s side flip and backflip also feels less slick to execute. Here, it’s weightless, and lacks forced momentum. You can basically just jump around randomly while switching direction like mad. There’s no commitment to it. Some people might like the extra freedom, but to me, it just feels a bit cheap, and simply not as fun to do when compared to how it works in many of the previous games.

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With all of that said, I do want to reiterate that the controls still feel very good regardless of those things. The light amount of platforming sections that exist are fun to play through, and jumping around while shooting and maneuvering across firefights still feels good.

Ratchet & Clank games are primarily 3rd person shooters, but unlike many  games in that genre, there’s less of a focus on precision aiming, and more of a focus on dodging enemy fire. This is what I always thought was pretty genius about Ratchet & Clank’s design as action platformers. Enemy encounters can almost feel like platforming challenges in and of itself at times.

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The boss fights in this game are enjoyable. There’s a specific one that I think is a dud, but conversely, the fight against the Snagglebeast easily became one of my favorites in the series. Playing on hard without using the Bouncer or Groovitron made that battle in particular pretty intense. Same with the last boss, which I thought made for a good final encounter. It took me about 10 tries, maybe more. For once in the game, it forced me to deliberately coordinate which weapons I’d need to use when, and where. By the time I had completed it, the ammo for most of my weapons were completely exhausted. I love this kind of challenge in R&C, though I did have to handicap myself to get it.

I feel like it was maybe a too big of a jump in difficulty, because there were no other situations where I had to plan out my weapon usage in such a way, even a little bit. Ammo and checkpoints are so common that it was pretty much a nonexistent aspect of the game. The original game had a somewhat more prominent element of planning out what weapons you’d save for certain parts of a level, because – 1.) the general difficulty of that game just called for more deliberate thought to be put into your strategy, and – 2.) checkpoints weren’t as forgiving and ammo wasn’t quite as common, so you really had to think ahead about what weapon ammo you’d save for certain sections.

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Beating the game unlocks challenge mode, where they ratchet up the health and damage output of enemies. Like in many Ratchet & Clank games, it doesn’t feel much more challenging since the increased strength of enemy attacks mainly only work to compromise with your upgraded health, and not to mention the fact that your arsenal should be way more chaotic by that point. At least in many of the previous games, you could make challenge mode a lot harder by not purchasing armor upgrades, but since there is no armor vendor in this game, enemy damage isn’t scaled to account for that factor.

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In challenge mode, there’s a bolt multiplier that increases as you kill enemies, which means that you can get much more bolts from wreaking havoc than you ever could in the first playthrough. You can stack it all the way up to X20, but it resets whenever you get hit, which gives you an incentive to play much more carefully and deliberately. You’ll need to have your bolt multiplier up consistently in order to buy the Omega versions of your weapons in a timely manner. Buying Omega weapons allows you to upgrade them even further, and maxes out entirely when they get to level 10.

It was around this time when I stopped handicapping myself. I brought out the Groovitron and Bouncer, both of which are ridiculously overpowered, and showed no mercy.

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During this run, I took a bit of time to go around the planets and look for all of the collectibles. It wasn’t really much of a search for me, as I knew where many of the hiding spots were, since they’re mostly the same in the original. Also, getting the map-o-matic near the tail end of my first playthrough sort of trivializes the hunt a bit. Still, it was enjoyable to go back through the vibrant environments to gather the remaining Gold Bolts.

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I enjoyed Pokitaru a lot more on my second visit because of the collectible hunt. It’s such a soothing environment to linger in and explore, and I was less familiar with the hidden locations on that planet. One of the secret areas in particular gave me a pretty heavy dose of nostalgia. It sounds weird to say, but I didn’t get much nostalgia from playing this game. Probably because I’ve played the original on numerous occasions, so it’s not like my last experience with it was in 2002. (More like, 2014.) Though, I usually don’t collect everything when I play these games, so that area on Pokitaru was one that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I had a similar experience with a few other hidden places as well.

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There were times where I went through the main paths of planets I had already completed just because I wanted to use my weapons or raise my bolt multiplier, but it turned out to be a bit of a dull experience. Going back through levels you already beat within the same playthrough removes most of the big enemies, and just leaves the small fry behind. This really highlights the fact that there’s no arena in this game, and because of those things, there’s no real way to just go all out with your weapons on a healthy horde of worthy enemies without progressing through the main story. Also, being forced to play the Clank sections again is bit of an annoyance, as completing them again feels like a chore.

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There’s a card collection system in this game, which is a first for the series. You can collect Holocards, and many of them feature cool nods to past R&C games. Getting them also unlocks the option to purchase Omega weapons, and special cards will allow you to attain the R.Y.N.O, which is an endgame weapon known for being the most ridiculously powerful gun in pretty much any R&C game. (It can beat the final boss in about 15 seconds!) Holocards can be dropped randomly by enemies, but are also hidden in secret areas as well. There’s a weapon upgrade option that increases the likelihood of these drops to occur, so getting all of them wasn’t much of an issue for me. It’s not even totally necessary to find all of the cards that are hidden within the levels, because you can get them via random drops from enemies. The only unique Holocards that you will need to find are those for the R.Y.N.O.

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The Movie’s Influence

Earlier, I said that while this was made to be movie tie-in, it’s a great game nonetheless. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it got away with being a movie tie-in scot-free.

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The narrative in this game is very lackluster as far as Ratchet & Clank stories go. This reimagining follows the same plot of the movie, while veering off a bit as an excuse to visit more locations that weren’t included there. The pre-rendered cutscenes in the game were taken directly from the movie, and they were likely able to use only a limited amount of footage. So the movie is basically the source material as far as the plot goes, and this is where a lot of the problem comes in.

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Over 2 years ago, the first draft of the movie script was written by TJ Fixman, which is the person who was hired by Insomniac to write the for Ratchet &  Clank games since Tools of Destruction back in 2007. When the first draft of the script was finished, he left the project. Afterwards, a director named Kevin Munroe took over and made his own changes. What we got from this was a movie that, in a lot of ways, fell short of what the narrative from the 2002 game accomplished. The original was very focused on the development of Ratchet & Clank’s relationship. The two characters interacted with each other a lot more, they were often at odds with each other, but by the end of the story, the whole ride they went through made their friendship feel much more genuine and impactful.

The movie seemed to be sanitized for younger audiences, so most of the attitude in Ratchet’s original personality is gone, as is most of the conflict and development between Ratchet & Clank’s relationship. Even the style of humor that the original game had has been watered down. This new story also adds in the Galactic Rangers, which introduces us to new characters that aren’t developed themselves, and ultimately feels like an unnecessary addition that just gets in the way of the time that could be spent developing Ratchet & Clank as characters, which is an aspect I think the movie would have been better off focusing more on.

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The reimagining in a sense feels like a very abridged version of the movie, story wise.  So the narrative is even worse off in the game. The new characters feel more paper thin there since they have less spotlight. The narrative in the game feels a bit disjointed as a whole, and is certainly less fleshed out than what exists in the original. (Or any other mainline R&C game for that matter.) Even the movie clips feel a bit odd as they’re placed. Coming across CG cutscenes in a game is something I consider to be a treat. It’s like a payoff/reward for all of the other context that has been built up to that point. When a CG (movie) scene plays in this game, it can feel somewhat unnatural at times.

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Final Thoughts

Going through challenge mode made me realize how small a lot of the planets are here compared to other Ratchet & Clank games. Some of them even seem bigger in the original, but that’s just the nature of playing through these planets with a Ratchet that can strafe as opposed to one that can’t. Otherwise, the level design generally still holds up great.

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While this reimagining feels a bit small compared to the other mainline titles, I assume that the game has to have had a relatively low budget. With it being the fastest selling Ratchet & Clank game of all time, and stealing the top spot of the charts in the UK for 3 weeks in a row, hopefully this success will encourage Sony/Insomniac to pour more resources into a sequel so that we can get a meatier title next time around.

Considering it went out of stock on Amazon at one point, along with many anecdotal reports of it being hard to find in stores, it must have surpassed their expectations quite a bit.

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Is this a good reimagining of the original Ratchet & Clank game? Yes. Is it a perfect incarnation of its 2002 counterpart? Not necessarily. They both have particular things that they do better than each other, but the reimaging is certainly much more comfortable to play through than the original because of the updated combat mechanics. This is a great entry point for newcomers to the series since the story – as lackluster as it may be – is a retelling of the first game’s plot. It’s not up there with my personal favorite Ratchet & Clank games; however, it is an entry that I consider to an absolute must play for fans of the series.

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Spoilery screenshot galleries below:

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Transistor – Finishing Thoughts

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I think one might be hard-pressed to find many games who’s combat rewards creativity and experimentation as much as Transistor’s does. It’s cunning and intricate, yet extremely intuitive once you get over the initial learning curve. It’s clear there was a great deal of thoughtfulness involved in putting it together, and that’s definitely not the only aspect of the game with that kind of meticulous care put into it. The presentation, art, music, character designs, and premise all assimilate to form an experience that is a unique one, to say the least.

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Transistor is an isometric RPG with a novel spin on turn-based combat. In actuality, it’s a clever hybrid of a real time action oriented style mixed up with turn-based esque elements. The game stars a silent protagonist named Red, and her magical talking sword. I suppose it’s not fair to put Red in the same category as your ordinary silent protagonist, because she can’t talk for reasons that are actually heavily relevant to the story. Her voice was stolen at the beginning of the game, and that fact is all the more heartbreaking when you consider that she was a highly commended vocalist. It’s not all bad though, by holding the correct button, you can make her hum along harmoniously to the jazzy-electronic ambience in the background, which is a neat touch.

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Let me get this out of the way now. The narrative style that Transistor puts forth is generally not for me. By playing through the game, I understood some of the basic surface level details of what was going on in the story, but much of the substance is exposed to you by reading terminals and descriptions. That kind of storytelling was never one that clicked with me. So because of that, the narrative had a disappointingly weak impact on my overall experience. Even on a second playthrough, I made an attempt to put more effort in comprehending and piecing together the details, but didn’t get much more from it.

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The combat is where this game really shines. At the beginning, you start off with 4 different skills (which are called functions) that you can map to the available action buttons. Since I played on PS4, those were Square, Circle, Cross, and Triangle. As you level up, you start unlocking more functions to utilize. Now, as I just mentioned, you only have 4 action buttons to map your moves to, so if you have 15 functions, you won’t be able to use those all at once, right? Wrong. You can actually attach functions onto other functions which alter how they behave. For example, there’s the Help() function that summons a dog to help you fight enemies, and there’s the Spark() function which shoots out multiple shells that explode to cause AOE damage. You can attach Spark() to Help(), which, when used, will summon two dogs instead of one. It also works the other way around, so you could attach Help() to Spark() for a totally different effect. This works for all of the 16 skills you unlock throughout the game, so as you could imagine, there are a ton of possibilities. As soon as I realized this, I immediately had a vision of strutting with a squad of dogs that would attack other enemies and turn them to my side for a limited amount of time. Soon enough, I got the opportunity to do that, but it admittedly didn’t go quite as well as expected.

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Moment to moment combat can flow more like a turn-based affair, or an action oriented style depending on how you play. That is so because when the action gauge is filled, you can freeze time and plan out each of Red’s actions. Each action set will drain said gauge, which limits the amount of actions you can take in one turn. Then you have to wait for it to fill up before you can freeze time again. If you play your cards right, it’s possible that you can largely avoid that whole deal. Attacking in real time doesn’t deplete any bars, but it also makes you extremely vulnerable as many enemies and attacks generally move much faster than Red does. It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I figured out a strategy which would allow me to play while significantly lowering the necessity to freeze time.

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On top of the 16 functions that can be attached to each other, there are also “Permission” slots that you can link them to, and each one adds a certain passive effect to Red. Transistor does a lot to encourage you to experiment with different setups. There’s a door that appears in periodic locations throughout the city that transport you to a beach where you can take on challenge rooms. Many of these challenge rooms forced me to mix up my functions, which ended up getting me familiar with how some of the functions I had hardly used prior to that could be useful. Some challenge rooms also teach you about certain mechanics, like comboing functions and backstabbing enemies to deal maximum damage. That knowledge serves to be invaluable in the heat of combat, though backstabbing can sometimes be a bit tricky, because it can be hard to tell exactly where an enemy’s back is facing. 

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Another key way the game forces you to mix things up is by getting heavily damaged by enemies. When  your health bar depletes, it overloads (or disables) one of your active functions, and you die when you lose your last one. These functions don’t get repaired until you’ve advanced to two different save points. Save points are usually placed after every few encounters, so they’re not too far away. Still, if a function you heavily relied on got overloaded, you’d have to fill that slot with another function and figure out new strategies. I thought this would be annoying at first, but I quickly learned to appreciate it quite a bit. There are many different combinations and strategies that I would have never realized were possible if it weren’t for that push.

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As you progress through the game, you will slowly be introduced to some new enemy types. There aren’t many though. This is really apparent on a new game + run where it throws out all of the enemy types at you from the start, and you go on to fight the same limited selection of goons over and over again for the rest of the game. The battlefields themselves generally feel pretty samey too. This is the biggest shortcoming in regards to the gameplay. The main way to lessen feelings of repetitiveness is to mix up your function setups. Playing around with different setups is what kept me enjoying the combat in my playthroughs. I also strongly believe that Transistor could have done with more bosses, because there weren’t many. I couldn’t help but think about the potential in that regard. The final battle had a very cool concept, but it ended up being disappointingly easy. I went into it with a setup where 2 out of 4 of my functions slots were useless and still had no problem winning on my first try.

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Another crucial thing in regards to keeping the combat engaging for me were limiters. Limiters are things you unlock that you can activate to raise the difficulty in different ways. I had a few of them on, and if I hadn’t, the game would have been too easy for me to feel like it was worth experimenting with function setups. If I could steamroll with any ol’ combination, then there would be little point in me searching for better strategies. As it was, the game was never overwhelmingly challenging with the limiters I had, but it was challenging enough to make me often rethink and revise my function setups to see if I could be doing something more effectively.

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There are a few minor gripes I had with Transistor. One of them is the fact that you can’t view and inspect your full function setup unless you’re at a save point. Only being able to do that at save points is fine enough, but there were a few times I wanted to do it in other instances and couldn’t. Seems like something that could have simply been accessed via start menu. Another small issue I had was the lack of a feature to save function presets. There are a lot of different slots to put things into, and there were times where I had wished I could just save presets instead of having to try to remember everything I had in a previous setup that I may want to revisit. Though, they probably did that on purpose because it would discourage people a bit to play around with new setups, so ultimately I can let that one slide.

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Transistor is a beauty. The artstyle is absolutely gorgeous, the soundtrack, while not one that sticks with me much, gave the game a distinct vibe. Only the narrative left something to be desired for me. The gameplay is what really tops off this experience, and is easily my main takeaway. Thanks to the open ended nature of the combat, I enjoyed a good 9 hours across two playthroughs of the game, and will definitely be looking out for Supergiant’s next title.  

Spoilery gallery below.

Uncharted Remastered – Finishing Thoughts

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After having played Uncharted 2 and 3 back around when they were still fresh, I thought it would be difficult to ever play the original considering how much better the sequels are generally said to be. To my surprise, I didn’t find it hard to get into at all. It might help that I haven’t touched the other games in years and don’t remember too much about them or exactly how they played anyway. When I first went through Uncharted 2, I wasn’t really too into the story or characters.  Starting off this one immediately hooked me in because I got to see the origins of the relationships between some of them, and it was refreshing for me to go into an Uncharted game for once without worrying about important context that I might be missing.

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I hadn’t appreciated the writing in Uncharted as much as I do now after playing this. The main cast has great chemistry with each other. The dialogue is great, and the voice actors did amazing work in bringing the characters to life in the way that they did. Elena was the only character who I thought had some weak deliveries, but her acting too was done very well overall.

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The story starts off with Nate retrieving the coffin of his ancestor, an explorer named Sir Francis Drake, from the ocean floor of Panama. He is accompanied by a journalist named  Elena Fischer who is filming the events for a documentary. When they open up the coffin, they find that Sir Francis’s body isn’t inside, but rather his diary which marks the location of a fabled city of gold called El Dorado. Of course, Nathan Drake being the treasure hunter that he is, and Elena wanting to record all of this for her show, along with Nate’s friend Sully who’s deep in debt with people who you don’t want to be deep in debt with, there was a lot of motivation for them to embark on their journey to find it. Things basically spiral out of control from there, especially since they aren’t the only people after it.

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One of the first things I notice after I stepped foot into the forest is just how good the environments look. Uncharted was originally a very early PS3 game, but I played through the remastered version that is part of the Nathan Drake Collection for PS4. Bluepoint did great work in updating the graphics. It looks just about as good as I remember Uncharted 2 looking back when I played it on PS3. That may or may not be true, but the fact that I even think that says a lot about the job they did with the remaster. Not saying it’s up there were the best looking games, I just find it impressive how good Bluepoint managed to get it to look considering the original version, which looked good for it’s time, but is definitely dated now.

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While Uncharted is a very linear game, it takes you on a journey that feels grand. You’re on one island, and the vast majority of the areas are connected by gameplay traversal. Certain areas also have an element of backtracking to them. These factors help the game feel like one big cohesive adventure, which is something that the sequels didn’t do as well since they had you jump from location to location through cutscenes more often. For being stuck on one island the whole time, there was still a pleasing amount of environmental variety. Certainly not as much as the other games had, but still more than I thought there would be.

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As far as the combat sections are concerned, I played through most of the game as a standard cover shooter. Though, I had forgotten how useful hip firing could be in Uncharted, and being on normal difficulty, the encounters never urged me to play any more dynamically than I was until around the latter parts of the game. Drake felt a bit less mobile than I remember him being in UC2 and 3, and the cover system could get a bit finicky. With that said, it still mostly plays like a solid third-person shooter. There are around 14 different weapons that you can use throughout the game. You get them by picking them up off of the bodies of the goons you’ve killed, or finding the ones that are already placed around the area. I mostly preferred using the regular pistol over anything else in many scenarios. For me, it was the most fun to use when going for headshots.

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Most of the enemies you fight through the game are pretty samey, but there are a few distinct enemy types that shake things up a little. There’s a grenade launcher scout that will pop up every now and then that can do some mad damage. There are also snipers that are distinguished by a bright red laser pointer that follows you around. I don’t remember ever getting hit by them once come to think of it. Even if you’re out in the open, simply rolling around will mess up their aim. It’s usually smart to take out these enemies first and deal with the smaller fry afterwards. The combat sections in general could have easily gotten tiring because the mechanics aren’t too vibrant, but most of the encounters went by pretty quick without much trouble. I never felt like they overstayed their welcome. Nothing went into the realm of being challenging on normal mode, so I’ll be sure to play Uncharted 2 on a harder difficulty setting when I get to it.

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There were also a few jetski combat segments that could have been annoying since it’s a bit hard to control sometimes, but they were easy to get through so it never became a problem. I actually really enjoyed them. It was nice to tread the water while going through pretty looking environments. Aside from combat encounters, there are also almost just as many ambient exploration moments in the game. It usually involves looking around the area for places to climb and are pretty straightforward. The things you can grab onto are normally ledges or rocks of some sort that stand out in the environment. Many of them are usually discolored in a way that makes them noticeable. These sections bring some relaxation time in between battles, and prevents the game from feeling too combat heavy. 

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Among those ambient exploration segments throughout the game, a few puzzles pop up that basically involve looking at drawings in Sir Francis’s diary and matching up the monuments that you can manipulate in the environments with whatever is being depicted in the drawings. They are pretty simple to figure out, though there was one I was stuck on for about 20 minutes. I had the right idea, I was just executing things the wrong way. I suppose that’s where the challenge can come in,  but they’re still reasonably basic. I remember the puzzles being by far my least favorite parts of Uncharted 2 and 3, but I didn’t mind them here. They contributed nicely to the treasure hunting vibe without feeling too intrusive.

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This game wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the writing. At first, I was hooked because of the characters and their motivations. The banter that they throw at each other during gameplay while going from place to place made traveling with them a lot more engaging than it would have otherwise been. I got invested in the characters, so when something bad happened to them, I was always really motivated to keep playing just to meet up with them again. The treasure hunting premise usually isn’t an interesting one for me, but story itself was actually pretty enticing. As it went on, there were multiple moments late in the game where I was almost about to think that the story was dragging on and wanted to see a resolution already, but things kept escalating and escalating in the best way possible, and made me glad that it wasn’t over. The general atmosphere change in the last chapters of the game is handled extremely well. There are a few good twists that keep the excitement rising and rising all the way until the extreme climax at the end. The final boss may be my favorite of any Uncharted game. Gameplay wise, that’s not saying much, because Uncharted games have never had strong final boss fights, but it was an awesome story beat to end out on, and the context of it definitely helped the fight feel a lot more intense than it actually is on a gameplay level.

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I like to think of these games as an action packed rollercoaster that you just get on and ride out to the end. I enjoyed the story in this more than I had in the other Uncharted games, but that’s probably because i’m playing it starting from the beginning rather than jumping in on the sequels without the knowledge of the developments made in the original. Even though the combat is definitely weaker in this game than it is in the others, and is lacking in the epic set piece department that the latter two games are known so well for, those games still didn’t leave as strong of an impression on me as this one has. I’m excited to go through 2 and 3 again. I suspect I’ll enjoy them more now than I did then, and they should feel somewhat fresh since I barely remember the story from those games. The extra context I have now should definitely help.

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Extra Notes –

Took me about 8-9 hours to beat.

Spoilery screenshot galleries of the 230+ pictures I took with the PS4 share button (because I’m a crazy person)

 

NaissanceE – Finishing Thoughts

The world of NaissanceE is a lonely, yet captivating one to journey through. Its setting is based heavily around clean, brutalist architecture, with no detailed textures, and a very drab use of colors. The visual design is outstanding. Strong enough that it essentially became the sole factor that urged me to continue through the game, despite some annoying gameplay sections. I definitely wasn’t compelled to turn each corner to do another lackluster, first person platforming segment. Much of the platforming is there for the purpose of getting around the environment, rather than trying to challenge you with platforming for the sake of platforming. That’s not particularly a bad thing though considering what it’s actually going for. NaissanceE is mainly a first person exploration game, with some platforming and puzzle elements.

The first 20 minutes had me in a lot of really enclosed, dark, and cramped feeling areas that were a bit uncomfortable to traverse through. It did open up substantially afterwards though. NaissanceE is a very linear game, but it often doesn’t feel as linear as it actually is  because of how massive the environments around you can get. The goal in many scenarios is to search the area for a path that would lead to the next area. There are a fair amount of red herrings and dead ends that distract you from the right avenue. In some cases, it felt like there were certain landmarks that seemed like the obvious place to go, but would actually lead to nothing, or even traps in some specific instances that you would have to find your way out of. (Like an endless staircase, for one)  I sometimes found myself frustrated at being deceived, but I sort of appreciate many of those moments when I look back on it. Though, parts that I always found annoying were ledges that I could drop down on that seemed like a potential path, but weren’t, and left me trapped down there with no other way up, making me have to kill myself to respawn at the previous checkpoint.

Some segments are less about finding a path and more about overcoming an obstacle presented to you. The platforming generally ranged from serviceable to shoddy. Certain puzzle elements that involved touching floating orbs of light to move them to different positions presented some interesting ideas. Some surfaces would only be materialized when light was shining on them, and would dissipate into some kind of dark matter, lacking any tangible attributes, when in the dark. These were the gameplay mechanics that I was interested in the most, and what I hoped would have been expanded upon more. As it is, those puzzles aren’t really there to challenge your mind, but more to set a mood. It worked for what it went for. Those elements, combined with the ambient and dissonant soundscape, some uncanny visuals, and surreal elements elements sprinkled about, gave the game a very distinct atmosphere. Just running through the environments was enjoyable because of how interesting the setting was. I didn’t have much tolerance for getting stuck though. I usually took a break from the game whenever I couldn’t find my way for more than a few minutes. However, the world of NaissanceE always ended up drawing me back in each time, and if it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing.

Sprinting isn’t a completely idle task. While performing the action, there is a breath icon that pops up in the middle of the screen periodically that needs to be maintained by pressing down R3 in a corresponding manner. Missing the prompt multiple times won’t slow you down or stop you from running. It’ll only make the sides of the screen glow more and more white until (I presume) it eventually gets to point where your character passes out. I never screwed it up enough to know for sure. It was a fine mechanic, but I never felt like it really added much. Makes me wonder why they chose to put it in the game in the first place. Maybe to keep players engaged with something while running through some of the vast terrain? There was one segment near the beginning  that had me chasing an orb of light while jumping from platform to platform. I had to keep up with it or else I wouldn’t be able to see the surfaces that I was supposed to be jumping on, as the light orb only lit up a relatively small circumference of area around it. I had to coordinate the act of timing my breaths with taking leaps and keeping up with the light ball in an almost rhythmic fashion. It was one of the most engaging gameplay moments in the game for me, and at that point, that’s what I thought a lot of the game would be about. Unfortunately, that’s the only segment like that, and looking back on it, I probably didn’t even need to focus on my breaths as much as I did because there isn’t that harsh of a penalty for missing it here and there anyway.

The alluring artstyle of NaissanceE is what initially drew me to the game in the first place, and is ultimately the aspect that got me through it. It was an intriguing world to explore. There was a portion late in the game that really freaked me out to the point of shutting it off because of certain surreal/trippy elements. I’m pretty sure that was just due to my abnormal fear of that kind of stuff and that not many people would have the same reaction, but it’s a moment I doubt I’ll forget. I’m sure this would be an amazing thing to experience using an Oculus Rift headset. (Although particular moments in the game with a lot of flashing lights and a heavy use of Depth of Field effects would be pretty headache inducing) As a game though? It doesn’t hold up too well in my eyes. Still, I can’t stress enough how much I loved the visual design. I couldn’t stop pressing F12 to take pictures. Here are some more I took.

Extra Notes –

Took me a little over 5 hours to beat.

Played on PC using a 360 controller.

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze – Finishing Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a Donkey Kong game. The last one I played was DK Country on Gameboy SP around 10 or so years ago. I remember trying to chip away at that one for a while, but never fully came to completing it because of the difficulty. The consensus seems to be that Tropical Freeze is a lot harder, and one of the hardest DK games in general. I guess my 2D platforming skills have increased significantly since then, which would make sense anyway considering I was about 8 when I played Country. This game definitely had challenges, but nothing I ever felt was unmanageable. There were certain sections that had me dying quite a few times, but I was always stocked up on enough extra lives to retry at the latest checkpoint, which allowed me to tackle any obstacle again pretty much right away. There was one particular segment in 6-1 that had me take a break and come back later to finish it, but even that I see mostly as an incident of me finally running out of lives rather than the section itself actually being significantly harder than other sections that I found trouble with. In a way, the game’s generous life system undermines some of its difficulty. 

Starting off, the game was slightly harder to get into than I would have thought. The controls took some getting used to, and the first world in general was largely unremarkable. It wasn’t until world 2 where things started clicking for me. Once I got accustomed to the psychics and controls, it felt good to move around in. Throughout the game, there were two instances that forced me to alter my mindset. The second world stopped me from running around as carelessly as I had done beforehand, but I could still basically “wing” most of the game until up to somewhere through world 4, and definitely world 5, where I started to slow down and calculate my actions more by default. This is a process I usually go through when playing platformers. Well I suppose I could say that about a lot of games really, but it sticks out to me the most anyway in regards to platformers.

The bosses are fairly long and challenging, but not as hard as I thought they would be based off of things I heard about the game before going into it. I came in with preconceived notions about how unpleasant they would be, so I ended up looking on youtube to figure out how to beat most of them from the get go, when in reality, I probably never needed to anyway. Most of the bosses were a lot of fun to go up against, but they did usually end up being a stopping point for me every time I got to one since they slowed down the pace of the game while generally not being quite as fun as the regular levels. I liked the polar bear boss in particular while not being too fond of the underwater puffer fish fight. (Because who likes underwater?) I also enjoyed the somewhat humorous cutscenes that played before each encounter.   

The water sections in the game actually weren’t too bad. It controlled well enough to manage, but they were noticeably less interesting to me than the on foot sections. I have similar thoughts about the levels where you’re piloting a flying barrel and avoiding obstacles. They brought their own share of fun, but I always played those segments wishing that they had just done another land bounded one instead. Now, the mine cart levels and rhino riding sections on the other hand, are just as ace as many of the normal levels.

There’s a lot of variety in the game in terms of visual design, and gameplay. I never once found myself thinking that anything was repetitive. It actually didn’t come to my mind at all as I was playing. The majority of the game is just fun to play through, and enjoyable to listen to as well, as the soundtrack is very nice in most areas. With that said, not as many parts stuck out to me as I would have liked. Though, that could be a product of me beating the main campaign in a little under 9 hours, and not trying to stop to collect things or find the optional areas. I’m rarely a completionist when it comes to games. The only games that urged me to find all of the collectibles were Super Mario 3D World, and Rayman Origins (the latter of which only came close). Those games were just enticing to me enough gameplay wise to warrant that out of me. While I do think this game was good fun, it wasn’t quite on the level of making me want to unlock all of the optional levels. Maybe I would have given it more of a chance on that front, but I currently have a lot of other games that I want to get to. In a way, the game already feels slightly more like a blur than I’d like to admit, but it’s definitely a good blur. Not to say nothing sticks out to me, just a little less than I’d expect.

Many of the levels felt very lively in their design. There were lot of detailed backgrounds and foregrounds. A lot of dynamic things going on in the environment that made much of the platforming feel adrenaline fueled and just made them more exciting to play through. I did have a couple instances of being confused by what exactly I was supposed to jump on, and I died each time because of it, but it didn’t happen enough for me to consider it as being real problem. There’s a shop in each world that lets you buy things that aid you while playing a level, but I never found a real need to use it. I actually just ended up buying 96 lives in the last world just for the sake of using my coins that I had saved up to that point.

To wrap up, I thought the game was pretty good. Good enough that I almost regret making the decision to end my time with it where I did since I’ll miss out on getting to know the levels a bit more by searching for all of the collectibles, and unlocking the harder levels, and playing through the game on hard mode. But again, not exactly enticing enough to make me really want to go back and do it. I probably would have given it a bit more attention though if I didn’t have other things I wanted to get to, but it served it’s purpose of being a fun little bridge to what I’ll be moving onto next.

Extra Notes –

I played primarily using my gamepad as a screen.

Never got to try the co-op.

Xeodrifter – Finishing Thoughts

A lone traveler flies through space, crashes into an asteroid that damages his warp drive, and proceeds to get stranded in a solar system surrounded by four planets. With that, you have your stage set for Xeodrifter. It jumps into things basically right off the bat. The game doesn’t give you any direction, so you can choose from whichever one of the four planets that you would like to explore. It’s a false sense of freedom though, as you quickly realize where you’re actually supposed to be. I just happened to stumble across the right planet on my first try, but at that point, the other planets are blocked off by sections that you clearly won’t be able to get through until you’ve gained the right ability.

Xeodrifter very tightly follows a basic metroidvania format. You’ll have to kill bosses to unlock new abilities to unlock new areas, and so on. I liked the format of having to go back in forth between the different planets while knocking out sections of them bit by bit. There is backtracking to be done, (which is expected in a metroidvania) and it rarely feels like too much of a drag since your character moves fast and it normally doesn’t take much time to retread previous areas. The map is very easy to work with, so as long as you’re paying attention to it, there should be no problem in finding where you need to be. The only checkpoints in this game exist at your ship, and right before and after bosses. They feel pretty sparse, but I didn’t have a major issue with it. It forced me to learn the environment and enemy placements well, so by the time I did get to a boss, I felt like I had earned it. If there were any more checkpoints, I would have been able to run much more carelessly past the sections until I reached one, which would have made things a bit too easy. The game’s difficulty as is I found to be pretty manageable anyway.

The four planets are very different from each other aesthetically, but there’s very little depth to them as separate entities. Whatever amount mystique that each location has to offer is worn out by their first segment. The game is still fun enough to play, so I enjoyed progressing through the planets for that reason alone. They weren’t actually interesting to explore on their own right though. Exploration stops being exciting when you’re coming across largely the same enemy types and environments over and over again. The 8 bit music was mostly boring and unmemorable, and that combined with other things gave this game an overall weak sense of atmosphere.

Even the bosses that you fight are palette swaps of the same enemy model with the same core moveset, and the only difference in each subsequent encounter being that a new attack would be added to its rotation. For me, it actually worked better in practice than how it might sound on paper. The boss is enjoyable to fight the first time, and it ended up being fun for me to go into the next encounter fighting a harder and more varied version of the enemy that I was already familiar with. Still, I wish there were a couple of different bosses, but it’s not surprising how things turned out when knowing that the developers at Renegade Kid whipped this all up in 5 months.

There are health and weapon upgrades to find throughout the planets. Many of them are basically out in the open, but you won’t be able to access them until you get certain abilities. Others are hidden behind false walls. When you get weapon upgrade modules, you can put them into 5 different stats that affect your gun. The game won’t describe to you in detail what they do, but the little icons should give you a decent hint. If you’re not sure, you can tinker around with them. The weapon upgrade points aren’t of permanent use, so you can always take them off of a certain stat and put them elsewhere. That character progression is definitely felt toward the end of the game where you will start to feel much more like a threat to the enemies around you rather than just a wandering nomad trying to get by, and it feels good.

Xeodrifter certainly seems like a game that needed more time to be fleshed out. A couple of the abilities that you get toward the end felt like they didn’t get enough use, and there was some opportunity for them to be used in more creative ways that wasn’t taken advantage of enough.

The character controlled a bit slippery, and his jump height was fixed (which got me into some trouble), but it wasn’t too big of a deal. Even with all of the gripes I had, I found it to be a nice little action platformer, just nothing too special.

Thomas Was Alone – Finishing Thoughts

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What could have easily been only a simple puzzle platformer about hauling around quadrilaterals to their respective goals became a thoughtful story about the plight of sentient AI and their efforts to escape the digital containment of a computer mainframe. Thanks to some clever narration, life was injected into the array of playable shapes, and insisted on a reason to progress through the game that extended beyond just completing levels for the sake of it. It’s pretty remarkable how a charming narrative and emotional soundtrack can take what would otherwise be a rather basic experience and elevate into something that feels much more grand in comparison.

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In Thomas Was Alone, you switch around from taking control of different colored and sized rectangles – each with their own set of unique attributes – and utilize them in collaboration to get over obstacles, and to ultimately reach the end goal of each stage. The mechanics are fairly simple and straightforward, and the presentation/aesthetic makes it come off as somewhat of a glorified flash game. I don’t say that as a bad thing, in fact, that’s what helps make the accomplishments of the narrative seem much more impressive. It’s the stark contrast between the fact that you’re moving around an assortment of expressionless rectangles in a minimalist world, and the fact that the careful and deliberate narration makes you actually care about those expressionless rectangles, that ends up contributing to this game’s uniqueness.

The way Thomas Was Alone personifies the playable blocks into notable characters is quite clever. It takes the rectangles and gives them a personality that often reflects whatever unique ability that they individually possess. For example, Chris is a short and stubby orange square that can fit into small places that most of the other characters can’t. He has a bit of a short man’s complex, often is grumpy, and feels like he doesn’t need help from any of the other characters. John is a tall, yellow rectangle that jumps the highest out of all of the other initial characters. He’s somewhat egotistical because of it, and likes showing off. Chris takes a particular disliking to this character at the start, while John merely finds Chris’s cynicism amusing. As one might imagine, there is a good deal of development that goes on between the cast of characters, which is noted by the narrator. It all feels like a story of an unlikely meeting of people with unusual abilities that get together to fight for the greater good.

The simplicity of this game doesn’t go completely without fault. Thomas Was Alone offers decent variation throughout the progression in terms of obstacles and how much of what abilities you’re relying on by a level to level basis, but it wasn’t enough to keep things from feeling a bit repetitive at a few points later in the game. The characters definitely felt fun to control. The jumping animations gave off a bit of a sense of bounce, which is a little detail that I always appreciated. Difficulty wise, this game is very low on the scale, which made it good to play purely for relaxation purposes and never demands much from your mind or reflexes.

At the end of the day, any game that can make me feel even slightly emotionally attached to a bunch of rectangles is pretty solid and worth playing in my book.

Extra Notes-

I played Thomas Was Alone on the PS Vita.

This is my second playthrough of the game. I originally played it back in 2013 and decided to revisit it in anticipation of Mike Bithell’s new release, Volume. (That is, if the Vita version ever comes out….)

Titan Souls – Finishing Thoughts

Titan Souls is an indie developer’s attempt at executing on the formula of the highly acclaimed title Shadow of the Colossus, and I think it succeeds reasonably well. It’s a game about running from boss to boss in a serene, 16-bit environment, with no enemies in-between. Accompanied by a tranquil soundtrack, you will explore a large landscape in search of your next target. You’ll spend a decent amount of time striding along ruins and flora to the next fight, and that’s not just because the bosses are spread out, but also because of the fact that when you die – and you’ll die a lot – you aren’t usually placed directly outside of the encounter. For me, it wasn’t as bad of a thing as it might sound. The checkpoints were normally close enough to the boss rooms that I didn’t find myself getting too annoyed at it. At the very least, it helped me feel more accustomed and connected to the world while also giving me a bit of time to rethink my strategies. While there are also no items or things to collect, I still found it a nice place to be in.

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One man, one arrow, one life. That’s the philosophy followed throughout the run of 19 bosses in Titan Souls. You die in one hit, but that also goes for a majority of the bosses. (The first boss in particular takes 5 strikes, making it the worst one in the game in my opinion) That’s definitely one of the strengths, because the fights aren’t necessarily about a test of endurance. Well, they don’t have to be at least, that is, if you know what you’re doing. I almost never knew what I was doing jumping into a boss though, and that’s where I hit my lows as far as enjoyment is concerned. The game felt like a roller coaster… When I got to the point where I learned how to avoid a boss’s attack patterns well enough to hang with it for a bit, my enjoyment would go up to healthy levels. When I started forming a real strategy on how to overcome a challenge, I got very into it. As soon as I executed my plan successfully, my excitement and confidence would peak, and I’d be on a high all the way until I got to the next boss where I would proceed to get slaughtered right off the bat, often multiple times in quick succession, and whatever ego I had built up to that point would have been beaten to a pulp. That wouldn’t be so bad, but that’s when the perpetual trek from checkpoint to boss room can sometimes get a bit bothersome.

The game tosses you out in a location that allows for a largely open ended progression where you can tackle the bosses in almost any order you choose. I didn’t find any those fights to be inordinately harder than others. There is also no character skill progression, so there are no balance issues to be had in regards to that. It’s just you and your one arrow. Yes, only one. If you shoot and miss, you have to retrieve it by either going over to it, or holding a button to magically drag it back to you. While doing so, you’ll be stationary and vulnerable.

Most of the bosses are quick and brutal with their attacks. It’s a real adrenaline rush trying to hang toe to toe with them. They were difficult to beat the first time around, but once you really figure out the trick, it’s relatively easy to execute on it again, which makes the game good for speedruns. The fights are fair as well. There are very specific instances that I felt like some of my deaths were cheap, like when I walked into a disembodied stone fist that was sat on the ground, completely void of any movement, or when I got hit a few times by something off screen. For the vast majority of the run, I felt like I was at the fault of my deaths. As long as I put in effort to learn from my mistakes and adjust, I wouldn’t feel stuck at a wall and would keep improving until I eventually succeeded. Admittedly though, at points I wished there was some kind of aiming reticle. I would rather my execution be focused more on just my evading and positioning rather than struggling with actually hitting the target i’m aiming for. I could see people liking the lack of a reticle, but I don’t feel like it complimented the fights in any meaningful way. With that said, even that was a problem that rarely came to the forefront of my mind, but still thought it was something worth mentioning. It wasn’t much of an issue overall.

Titan Souls has some small yet noticeable bumps in it’s design – not to mention the game’s arbitrary lack of a true pause function – but is still an experience that I very much enjoyed. It was worth the $7.50 that I payed for it. I ended up completing the game with 257 deaths. You can encounter the final boss without having to fight every other, so I got to the credits sequence with 15 defeated. You have to beat all of them to unlock the “true” final boss which is a much more grand, 3 part battle that makes for a very satisfying wrap up to the package.

Extra Notes –

I played Titan Souls on the Playstation Vita.

There are extra difficulty modes. Those include hardcore mode, one life mode, and no running or rolling mode.

Loading times normally fall somewhere around 6-10 seconds on Vita. They’re a lot quicker on other platforms.

Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut – Finishing Thoughts

It took me a while to finally jump into this game. I downloaded it for free off of PS+ a while ago but never really played it mainly because I didn’t like the artstyle and I never really bothered to research the game much outside of just glancing at review scores. All I really knew about it was that it’s a generally well received 2D horror game. I like trying out games that are highly acclaimed, yet appear to me as being somewhat unappealing and something that would lie outside of my tastes, because they often surprise me. Hotline Miami and Guacameele are probably the two most prominent examples of this. I was very off-put by the aesthetic/style of both of those games, and for a long while would never even consider giving them a shot because they didn’t come of as something I’d like too much. Eventually, the never ending praise I had consistently seen thrown at the two games raised my curiosity high enough that I just had to see what the fuss was about. Of course, I ended up being very surprised by how much I enjoyed them, and even began to appreciate their artstyles a bit more. I guess that’s one way to broaden your horizons.

No, that's not a large grin. It's a hospital mask.
(No, that’s not a large grin. It’s a hospital mask.)

I’m not experienced with the survival-horror game genre much at all. I’ve only played a few of them at friends’ houses, but never really sat down on my own time to play one myself. The closest thing to a horror game I’ve ever completed was Bioshock.

Since the game took place in a pixelated 2D environment, I underestimated just how creepy the game could actually be. In retrospect, I feel like the aesthetic only helped to add to that factor. There were a few moments that startled me a bit, but nothing too bad. I was often tense, mostly when going to new areas for the first time. Because of the way the game is structured, I got to learn most of the areas very well. It was always fulfilling to traverse places that I’d cleared of enemies or just had gotten familiar enough with to be comfortable in them. Since there were no surprises during those points, it gave me nice earned moments of relaxation and security for whatever brief time I had to pass through the area again. You have to go back to your apartment pretty regularly to sleep so that your character doesn’t pass out somewhere in a dark corridor. (It is also the only way to save your game) There’s a clever checkpoint system that involves finding mirrors spread about world and staring at them to warp you back to the mirror on the wall of your apartment. You can then use the mirror at your apartment to warp back only to the previous mirror you used. It was a very convenient mechanic without feeling too convenient, and eliminated a lot of backtracking that you would otherwise have to do. Finding a mirror deep in an area that I wasn’t familiar with gave me feelings of accomplishment similar to discovering the shortcut back to a bonfire in Dark Souls.

You also have to make sure your character is fed decent food on a regular basis or else he’ll keep complaining about being hungry and probably die. Early in my playthrough, I thought these survival mechanics would be a bit cumbersome and serve to be detrimental to the experience, but they’re actually quite straightforward and simple to manage. I rarely found myself on a shortage of food. You’ll find what you need as long as you’re looking around the environment, and it’s not like it’s easy to miss things because there is a button prompt that pops up on the screen whenever you’re near something that you can examine. There are also a couple other methods of getting food aside from just finding whatever is lying about the environment. There were times where I felt like my character was getting hungry and tired a little too quickly, but overall I like what the survival elements added to the game. I only passed out from exhaustion once, and never succumbed to an empty stomach.

I didn’t find the game to be too challenging. There was one specific section that had me a bit stumped, and I could see it being a part that a lot of people would have some trouble figuring out. With that said, I wasn’t stuck there for too long. For the most part, just making sure you’re exploring every area that you can go to on the map and picking up anything you see will progress you through the game in a fairly smooth manner. The map was a bit confusing for me to follow at first because it’s tracking your 2D left-to-right movement on a visual layout with twists and turns, but I understood it well enough after giving it a bit of extra examination. There are no puzzle heavy elements really, just parts where you have to use common sense to know what key items to use so you can advance through certain sections. Though, you do have to worry about getting around the monsters too. The game gives you different options on how to handle those encounters, and this element of choice extends to certain aspects of the narrative, as well as the way you take care of your own character, all which contribute to 1 of the 4 endings you can get on your first playthrough.

It’s been a while that I’ve felt this immersed in a game. Many aspects of the story are presented ambiguously, which helps make the world all the more intriguing. That’s mostly what kept my interest high. I wanted to try to piece things together and figure out exactly what was going on. I wanted to know more about the characters you came across. I wanted to know more about the main character. I wanted to know how the story would end. The ending I got wasn’t too satisfying. I knew it would be something vague, but I was hoping it was at least something that would help me tie together some of the events that happened previously throughout the game. Though, I had gotten that ending based on the way that I played. I had no interest in playing the game over again to see the other endings or to visit the new areas opened up in new game +. Not because I didn’t enjoy the game, but because it was so dreary and dark that I wasn’t exactly excited at the thought of going through it again. So I ended up watching all of the endings on YouTube. Some of the other ones I found to be a lot more satisfying than the one I got, and even though they were still a bit ambiguous, they at least gave me an idea of what was actually going on. I was very intrigued by looking up interpretations of the plot on the internet after everything was said and done.

Overall, I enjoyed the game a lot. Definitely something worth playing.

Earphones are highly recommended, as the audio is a crucial part of the experience. The (good) soundtrack and sound effects heavily contribute to its eerie atmosphere.

Extra notes –

I played Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut on the PS Vita.

I played on the normal difficulty setting.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions – Finishing Thoughts

This is the first Geometry Wars game I’ve come in contact with. I didn’t know much about the series at all before I picked this up off of PS+. I remember some of my friends back in the 360 days talking about it a lot and I always thought it was some kind of math puzzle game or something.

As one who isn’t generally drawn to ship shooter games, or isn’t exactly an avid player of dual stick shooters in general, I found this to be really simple and easy to get into. The controls felt slick and responsive, the movement was fluid, the visuals were bright, vibrant, and exciting. There wasn’t a period of “getting into the game” really, I was having fun with it right off the bat.

The game has a lot more variety than what I had initially expected. At first, I thought the spice would only come in forms of variations in the geometric stage layouts and numerous enemy types, but it’s often throwing completely different gameplay styles at you that would give you a different goal aside from just “shooting these enemies without dying.” I suppose it mostly dials down to that, but there was definitely enough variation to keep me satisfied and even surprised at multiple points throughout the game. One of my favorite levels took away the shooting aspect completely, and instead had you focused on flying through gates that would then explode and take out whatever enemies were around you, while rewarding you with the deserved points of course.

The game gets very hectic. If you want to mindlessly play through it, you should have fun. Well, you can’t be too mindless. You definitely have to be attentive and alert. It’s not an easy game, but I also rarely got stuck. Mastering levels takes a good deal of deliberation and finesse. Settling for one star was a bit too straightforward for most of them, but going for the maximum of 3 stars was usually too demanding for my tastes. Aiming for 2 stars was the sweet spot for me. There are bosses in the game, but they tend to be the easiest levels to pass with 3 stars in my experience. That last boss though was ridiculous and is a huge difficulty spike in comparison to the rest of the game. I was struggling to beat it for a while, but then I watched it being done on YouTube and realized that i’m good with not being able to complete it and moved on, lol.

There are also drones you can buy and upgrade that do different things to help you out in combat. There are two different types. One has a finite amount of usage per level, and the other is indefinite. There are a few different models that you unlock throughout the game, and those can help alter/define your general strategy/playstyle. If you find that one combination isn’t working out well for you in a certain level, switching up your drones can help. Though, I often found myself sticking with the same setup and only felt the need to change it up a few times.

The look of the game is very colorful and stylish, and really comes together great in motion. Its soundtrack meshes well with the game’s aesthetic. The fast paced electronic music helps you get in the zone and keeps you focused so you can output the best performance possible, and even if I don’t think the music is generally that great (there are 2 stand outs while the rest are just serviceable in my opinion) it’s still worth putting on earphones for that reason alone.

Extra Notes –

I played Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions on the PlayStation Vita.

The Vita version has less flashy visual affects than the console/PC versions.

I only played through Adventure Mode. There were a couple others there that I didn’t try out.