Game Ramblings #10 – Ratchet and Clank (2016)

More Info from Insomniac

  • Genre: Action/Platformer
  • Platform: PS4

As it turns out, the game based on the movie based on the game is still as good as it was on the PS2.  As it also turns out, you can retcon an origin story without actually retconning an origin story.  Basically, Insomniac has pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

So, yes, this is technically a game I’ve played before.  Saying I’m a Ratchet and Clank fan would be a bit of an understatement.  I’ve effectively played through all the games, including Secret Agent Clank, Size Matters, and the slightly unusual side games on the PS3.  I came into this one not really sure what to think.  On the one hand, it brings the origin story into a more modern time, with the things that Insomniac has learned in the past 15 years.  On the other, I came in knowing that they were going to be retconning a significant amount of the origin story of what is now a 10+ game combined story.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit suspicious of the thing as a whole.

So, let’s get this out of the way.  If you’ve never played a Ratchet game before, this is a damn good starting point.  If you have played a Ratchet game before, this is a damn good restarting point.  In some ways, this game really is an all star combination of the best of the past titles.  The weapons and upgrade system tied to it are heavily influenced by the later titles in the series, with standard blasters like the Combuster to the absurd like the Sheepinator to the explosively fun like the RYNO.  The levels themselves are also show a bit of a mix.  There are some that are reimaginings of original game levels, and some created new for this game.  Overall, it hits a lot of the highlights from the original, while swapping in some newer, better designs for some of the repetitive elements that would no longer work as well.  And holy shit it was so nice immediately turning on the strafe controls right at the start.

So now, about that story.  I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but they explain away the retcon of the origin in a way that absolutely makes sense for this series.  From the opening cutscene, long time players of the series will be in on the gag, and appreciate the in-jokes that pop up to explain the differences between the original and remakes, while new players don’t even have to care that the original existed.  The end of the game also leaves an opening to explain how we arrive at one of the later titles in the series.  The trademark Ratchet humor exists throughout the game, and from what they’ve shown of pre-rendered cutscenes in the game, should also translate very well to the movie theater.  Is it kind of weird to see the changes? Sure.  Is it very Ratchet and Clank? Yes.

I guess I don’t really have much negative to say here though, which is slightly rare.  There’s a handful of weapons I didn’t really use, but that’s mostly because the ones I did use were never really running out of ammo.  There were a handful of areas where there was probably a bit too much collecting, but nothing that got in the way.  The difficulty on normal was too easy, and moving up too hard provided a nice challenge, but had sort of strange power spikes depending on my upgrade path, but again didn’t provide any negative blocker.  Overall this just continued the Ratchet and Clank mainline series history of being at worst a really damn good game.

So, I dunno, go out and buy it I guess! 😀

Game Ramblings #9 – Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China

More Info from Ubisoft

  • Genre: Stealth Action
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Xbox One, PC (Uplay)

This is going to seem like a fairly negative review, but for me it’s with good reason.  Assassin’s Creed Chronicles has a lot of the makings of a great 2D stealth action game, and even more so, has a lot of the great makings of a game that fans of Metroidvania style games would enjoy.  Environmental traversal feels great, stealth kills feel great, combat feels great.  In particular, the combat allows for really smooth transitions between defensive and offensive maneuvers to allow for rapid kills that nearly feel rhythmic in their execution.  Visually, the game also is fantastic, with each of the Chronicles trilogy having their own unique visual style.  That said, I never got that far into the pack, and for me it was the feeling that the game was getting in my way that caused me to stop playing.

One of the core parts of the China episode is that the player gets scored based on their actions within segments of the level, then at the end of the level they can gain upgrades, whether that be health bars, ammo pack upgrades, etc.  However, the way the scoring was done actively forced me into a specific play style to maximize the score I was getting, and killed my reasons for pushing forward.

The maximum score for segments of the levels can be achieved in one way; never being seen, never killing anyone, and never setting off any traps around the level.  What this meant for me is that I could never use the fantastic combat system that they had implemented, I could never even stealth kill enemies even if they never saw me, and any progress through levels became a slow series of waiting in a hiding spot until the perfect opportunity arrived to move forward without being caught.

While I am all for having a full stealth option, at the end of the day the things that have always been the most fun for me in the Assassin’s series are being able to do stupid things like jumping off a roof to assassinate unsuspecting enemies, then sending throwing knives into the people responding.  The China Chronicles episode actively worked against doing anything resembling that style of gameplay.  For players that enjoy full on combat, it’s even worse as combat is by far the lowest scoring option of the three.

At the end of the day, the China Chronicles game is a game that is frustratingly close to being great.  Given the chance, equal scoring for the three paths would have at minimum allowed me to play as I want, and probably have resulted in me playing through all three of the trilogy, rather than stopping at the first.  For me, the Assassin’s games have always represented a series that largely allows you to play as you want, as long as you get to the end goal.  Sure you may miss some optional bonuses, but the core of the objective was always achievable.  In this case, China has gone so far down the route of sticking to the full-stealth option that I just couldn’t bring myself to want to keep playing, and that’s kind of an unfortunate end result.

Game Ramblings #2 – Thoughts on Box Boy!

More Information from Nintendo

Info:

  • Genre:Puzzle/Platformer
  • Platform: 3DS eShop

Progress:

  • Main path and roughly half of known post-game content
  • Give or take 4-6 hours of play

Box Boy! is a fairly clever puzzle platformer.  It has relatively simple core mechanics of spawning trails of boxes, but adds a lot of world-based mechanics to add significant depth to the core gameplay loop.  I’ve seen 22 worlds of 6-8 levels, plus another couple of sets of time attack and score attack levels, so there’s a lot of content to be had.  Though there feels like a lot of fluff content early on, the game overall was easily worth playing, and for its current $5 price has a lot of value.

What I Like

The core gameplay is extremely simple.  The main character can spawn a chain of boxes, limited to a different max per-level, which can then be used to traverse puzzle sections.  However, this is expanded upon with significant in-world mechanics.  These can range from things directly related to the character, such as using box patterns to pull the character through the world, or more direct actions like gravity manipulation, portaling (including conservation of momentum like Portal itself!), some Lemmings-inspired NPC leading, and more.  Each of the first 16 worlds introduces a new core mechanic, culminating in a story-ending world and a set of post-game worlds that combine the mechanics into the tougher puzzle set of the game.

Each world also cleverly introduces the mechanics to avoid hand-holding tutorials.  The first level of each worlds is typically a very simplified level featuring only the new mechanic for the world.  Subsequent levels then ramp up the difficulty bit  by bit.  In doing so, the player naturally learns how mechanics work without having to slog through text tutorials.

What I’m Indifferent To

Each level contains a crown or set of crowns that can be collected to earn bonus currency for purchase of in-game items.  The items include outfits for the character, hint books, background music, and some extra score and time attack levels.  However, outside of the extra levels, the rest of the items feel largely unnecessary, and don’t act as a good completionist carrot.  The main benefit I’ve found to collecting the crowns at all is that they often require more advanced mechanics to collect, which helps for solving later content.

What I Don’t Like

Outside of the last world and post-game content, this game is incredibly easy.  The first 16 worlds are essentially teaching the various mechanics on their own, before being combined for the end-game.  Though this does lead to a deep knowledge of the individual mechanics, it feels unnecessarily long to get to the combined mechanic puzzles. Fewer levels in early worlds or earlier combination of mechanics would have benefited the progression curve, which in its shipped state feels very padded with fluff content.