Game Ramblings #6 – Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd

More Info from Sega

  • Genre: Rhythm
  • Platform: Playstation Vita (Also available for PS3)

Progress

  • Full Completion Normal/Hard, all but 2 songs Extreme difficulty
  • Completion of all available song DLC at the time of playthrough

Project Diva is very obviously a game concentrated around the Japanese Vocaloid characters and music.  However, underneath the surface, there’s a really strong music rhythm game to be had.  There’s a large variety of content to run through, a nice range of difficulties, and a lot of side-activities for completionists to run through.  If you’re fine with the very much anime-styled experience to be had with this, it’s one of the better rhythm games I’ve seen on a a portable system of late.

What I Liked

Overall the rhythm gameplay was pretty well put together.  The core actions are all button presses, but there’s a mix of straight symbol/d-pad presses, combination symbol/d-pad at the same time (Ex: X + D-Pad down), as well as hold variants typical of the genre.  On the Vita, there is also screen swipes with the inclusion of the front touchscreen.  By the time I got into the extreme difficulty, I was playing a lot of thumb gymnastics trying to keep up with the pace of symbols coming in.  The nice thing about this is that the presses follow the music very closely, so growing familiarity with the songs increases the effectiveness of play throughs, even on top of simply getting better at recognizing the patterns coming in.

On top of that, there is a lot of flexibility in how the game is played, both cosmetically and functionally.  Song modifiers can be set before a song is played to increase the difficulty (Ex: random direction of symbols moving onto the screen), or to help clear tough songs (Ex: touch screen swipes can now be activated with the shoulder buttons).  This gives another nice layer of modification even on top of the set of difficulties available.  As a cosmetic incentive, the animated characters in each music video can be cosmetically changed, from simple things like hats, to completely different outfits.  This plays into some of the completionist goals, where certain unlockables can only be obtained by playing songs with specific conditions of all of the above.

Indifferent, but Neat

The completionist aspect moves beyond just cosmetic changes.  Each character can be interacted with within a customizable room, where you can give them gifts and interactable objects, growing relationships.  I didn’t see anything to this beyond a handful of trophies, but it adds another layer of something to do for completionists to chase after.

What I Didn’t Like

The touch screen swiping was pretty poor.  However, I chalk this up more to the system than to the game’s implementation.  Over time, the typical touch screen finger grime would build up, and I’d start missing swipe inputs.  Knowing about this to clean the screen before songs is fine, but hitting that tipping point mid-song tended to be frustrating as hell.

Extreme difficulty is also pretty appropriately named.  While most of it was pretty much tuned to the rhythm of the song, some of the later songs were very clearly chosen to be absurd.  Double press 16th notes wrapping around the button mapping felt next to impossible on the long travel, small buttons of the Vita.   I suspect the PS3 controller would have felt better with its easier button presses, but the later songs on Extreme often times felt unfair to try to get through.

Game Ramblings #5 – Thoughts on DiRT: Rally Early Access

More Info From Codemasters
Purchase on Steam

Info:

  • Genre: Simulation Racing
  • Platform: PC – Steam Early Access
  • Twitch VODsYoutube Playlist

Progress

  • 11 Hours play time
  • Cups played in 3 vehicle classes
  • As far as I know all content current as of last play through (May 10th)
  • Have not yet played recently released Pike’s Peak content

From a high level, this feels like old Codemasters to me.  This is more Colin McRae than it is DiRT, and while that comes with some significant added complexity, to me it’s a nice change of pace.  While it is an Early Access title, the content available so far (rally cups in 4 main environments with recently added Pikes Peak, as well as 6 vehicle classes with multiple cars in each) is already a really good look at what the type of content will be for the final release.  For how early it is, it does have some problems that I will outline below, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t worth purchasing already.

What I Like

The driving feels decidedly more simulation than the last handful of DiRT games.  Even with some assists turned on, when I screw up my line, chances are I’m going off the track, often time to my doom.  In that sense, the physics sim being used in this game definitely feels like it’s on the right track.  There’s enough assists and tuning options for people to turn down their play to be safer, but allow those interested in the full simulation experience to really push their times to the limit.

Each race feels like the result is purely based on how strong I am doing, and my often times place low on the results definitely follows when I’m being reckless.  As I played more and started picking up on the feel of the cars, my times became better and more consistent.  Although I wasn’t placing podiums often, I was definitely getting closer, and it felt good to see that improvement as I was going along.

As a side note, I went in expecting widescreen support to be good due to past Codemasters titles, but it’s always pleasant to see unusual aspect ratios be well supported in simulation games.  I’m currently playing the game in 3440×1440, and had no problems at all with the game in the 21:9 aspect.

What I Don’t Like

Right now, the steering wheel support feels, for lack of a better term, slightly off.  I’m currently using a Logitech G27, and I’ve not yet been able to shake the feeling that the game was tuned for controllers in early access.  The basic problem for me is that my wheel feels like it has a huge dead zone, then once I’m past there is incredibly sensitive.  What this often does is has me basically not steering at all, then accidentally overcompensating until I get into a wheel lock situation.  There’s been some mention of this in blog posts from Codemasters, so I’m relatively confident that it will be fixed, but it was somewhat of a damper as I played through the game so far.

Also, given how early the game is, there was a lot of repetition of content.  I’m currently waiting for more larger content patches until I jump back in for further thoughts to avoid burning out, but that is a consideration on whether or not to wait for a more complete release.

Game Ramblings #4 – Thoughts on Pokemon F2P Experiments

So this is going to be a two parter covering both of the free to play Pokemon titles Nintendo has released for the 3DS, Pokemon Shuffle and Pokemon Rumble World.  Both are curious small titles, and I think they are an interesting early look into what Nintendo’s long term mobile plans could possibly look like.


Pokemon Shuffle

More Info From Nintendo

Info:

  • Genre: Puzzle RPG

Progress:

  • 95 Pokemon
  • Handful of Mega Evolutions
  • Handful of daily/special events

Similar Titles

The first of the free to play titles is a pretty standard pick-3 puzzle game, with the added twist that you battle to catch Pokemon, and can gain XP to level up the Pokemon you are using in battle.

In general this was a good time waster.  I could go in, spend 15 minutes running through my available stamina, and go back to whatever else I was doing.  The core game is solid, and has enough Pokemon features to feel like it’s well integrated into the overall rule set established in the RPG titles.

What I Like

The type strength/weakness system from the main line series is represented here.  While this may seem like an obvious addition, it does have some fun ramifications in terms of how you build out the squad of Pokemon for each battle.  In addition, because there is a pre-battle party optimize feature, you can get in and out of battle with a generally good set of Pokemon without spending a ton of time in menus.

In addition, the variety of Pokemon was astounding.  The in-game Pokedex lists 233 capturable Pokemon at this time, and special events have been showing off some fun rare Pokemon from time to time.  It results in allowing you to really build out a strong squad from any number of your favorites from past games.

What I Don’t Like

The catching system feels super arbitrary.  Every Pokemon has base odds of being caught, then bonus catch odds based on how many turns remained in the battle upon victory.  The majority of Pokemon typically end up in the 70-90% catch rate range, but the stronger Pokemon are locked behind often < 5% base odds with low per-turn bonuses, making repeated battles a chore in these cases.  This is exacerbated by the fact that Great Balls are extremely expensive in terms of the in-game currency, as well as them only doubling catch chance, making the gold cost often not worth the risk.


 

Pokemon Rumble World

More Info From Nintendo

Info:

  • Genre: Brawler

Progress:

  • 116 Captured Pokemon
  • 9 Balloons
  • Account Level 19

Similar Titles

This one is a continuation of the Pokemon Rumble series.  The basic gameplay is similar to top-down twin stick shooters, with some simplifications.  Combat can either be automatic upon contact with enemies, or triggered via A/B attacks.  Upon defeating an enemy, there is a random chance that they will drop as a capturable Pokemon that can be added to your roster.  As your account levels up, the Pokemon in all areas progressively grow stronger, giving you consistent progress and good excuses to go back to old areas to capture stronger versions of already captured Pokemon.

In general, while I did enjoy this title, it is extremely simple.  It is essentially a 5 minute play and forget title to pick up while you have a few free minutes.  The variety of Pokemon is again really strong, but the F2P mechanic blocking progress is more aggressive than in Shuffle, to some extent to the game’s detriment.


 

So, what does this all mean for Nintendo?  A while back they announced their entry into the mobile market going into 2016, and these feel like their first experiments in that style.  Both games have very similar monetization efforts, with progress blocked via some sort of stamina mechanic, a soft gold currency earned in game, and a hard diamond currency earned through microtransactions.

Shuffle’s stamina mechanic is more typical, with one heart per battle, and hearts earned back over time.  Rumble uses a slightly different mechanic.  Balloons can be purchased that transport you to various areas for battling/capturing.  The balloons then go on cooldown, with progressively longer cooldowns based on how expensive the balloons were to purchase.  In general, this simply forces me to replay old content more often, which doesn’t really feel that good.  However, it does push me more towards purchasing into diamonds, which is good for the typical purchasing path.

Overall both of these titles feel like they would be appropriate entries into the mobile market for Nintendo.  They’re solid quick play titles, have simple but engaging mechanics, and are already setup with the typical monetization scheme that the highest grossing titles typically use.  Looking a year from now, I wouldn’t be that shocked to see both of these as the first of the  Nintendo mobile titles being released as part of their latest market experiment.