Game Ramblings #20 – Xeodrifter

More info from Renegade Kid

  • Platform: PS4
  • Genre: Action/Platformer, Metroidvania
  • Also Available On: PC, 3DS, Vita, Wii U

I’ve been grabbing a lot of the releases by Limited Run Games for my collection of late, and being a fan of Metroidvania games, this one was at the top of my list.  While this isn’t the best Metroidvania I’ve ever played, it’s one of best in terms of its raw mechanics, and that props up the main issues that I had with the game.  In the end, I really had two main issues with the game; it’s length and repetition of boss battles.

Unlike Metroid’s generally single open world, Xeodrifter takes place on 4 smaller locations.  While there is a bit of revisiting to each location, the small size means there is not much in the way of secret paths to visit.  There are a handful of spots in each world with hidden health or weapon upgrades, but not the breadth of secret areas that the Metroid games use to open up entirely new paths for core traversal.

Like Metroid, each core upgrade is also given after a boss battle.  However, the bosses in Xeodrifter all have the same visual design, other than a color palette swap.  Each battle also builds on top of the previous, with largely the same mechanics, with generally a single addition using the skill learned from the previous battle.  By the end of the game, this makes the boss fights quite a lot easier, as you’ve generally already learned the pattern of how to beat the boss, and can generally make a pretty good guess at what the new mechanic will be.

That said, mechanically this game really does shine.  It’s core shooting and movement is extremely fluid, and at a generally faster pace than would be expected out of the bigger names titles in the genre.  The upgrades also add a lot of flexibility to the game, with the standout probably being the upgrade that allows you to pass between different depths in the scene, not unlike the 3D gameplay used in recent 3DS Kirby titles.  Combined with other abilities, such as the submarine and dashing, you’ll often be juggling movement and shooting across multiple planes of gameplay at the same time.

Also of note is the gun upgrade system.  This game ignores the more standard straight beam upgrades from Metroid in place of a point-based upgrade system.  The guns can be upgraded in 5 ways; bullet size, bullet speed, fire rate, fire spread, and movement wave width.  Because of this, the guns can be upgraded in a way that suits the player’s style, rather than just being a straight upgrade.  For example, I maxed bullet size and fire rate, while putting a few points into the movement wave.  What this gave me was effectively a machine gun shooting large pellets, while moving in a small wave pattern.  I could have just as easily made a powerful slow firing shotgun, or something akin to a rail gun depending on how I wanted to play.  It was a truly fun way for them to handle the hidden upgrades typical of the genre.

Generally speaking, if you’re a fan of Metroidvanias, this is probably worth a try.  The game has its issues, but it has great core mechnicas, and is relatively cheap, so for a bit of a time filler, it’s worth the play.

Game Ramblings #19 – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

More info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Wii U

I’m gonna start this off with some big words.  This is the best JRPG I’ve played this year.  This is also probably the best JRPG I’ve played on the current PS4/Wii U generation of consoles.  The only two traditional JRPGs I think have come close in that timeframe are Persona 4 and Shin Megami Tensei 4, which not too shockingly share a development studio and a lot of gameplay with this one.  There’s something in the water at Atlus, and if you’re a fan of JRPGs, this is one I would go as far as saying it’s worth buying a console for.

It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that this is basically Persona 5, if Persona 5 wasn’t also coming down the pipeline.  It shares a lot of the DNA of that series, and will be largely familiar to fans of P4.  The main cast go in and out of an alternate dimension, they’re possessed by beings from that dimension, and they battle demons while in that dimension.  Sure, the alternate dimension is all Fire Emblem, but that’s the story covering taking place here.  There’s also the real-world interludes, this time showing the life of a Japanese entertainment agency, rather than a bunch of high schoolers, but when you aren’t battling, you’re doing a lot of relationship management similar to the Persona series.

The battle system also shares a lot with the Persona and SMT series, but starts to split away a little bit here in the specifics of how battles go.  The core of the system is the same.  The cast take turns attacking enemy demons, with order determined by built-in speed.  Hitting the enemy with an attack or spell they are weak to still gives a bonus.  However, rather than simply knocking over the enemy and gaining a bonus turn, the strength/weakness setup now initiates a chain attack among the entire party.  As the game progresses, you gain the ability to chain these together with duo attacks, as well as the ability for out-of-party members to join the attack.  Although the duo attacks are somewhat random, I’d seen up to an 18 chain, and suspect this could be pushed further if things rolled your way.  This has the effect of drastically increasing the value of knowing the weaknesses of your enemies over past SMT-series titles.  Doing anything greater than a 2 hit chain also gives bonus items and bonus money, increasing the need to take advantage of this further.  Because switching characters out during fights is free and doesn’t incur any delay, it also means that you’re constantly shuffling to take advantage of these weaknesses, even in trash fights.

There’s also a number of sub-systems that offer a lot of flexibility to how you build characters.  The short version is that any kill can drop an item type called Performa.  This can either be generic, or enemy-specific.  There’s also Performa that occurs from story events, or in treasure chests scattered around the world.  All of these can go into three different things.  The first is weapons, the second are character-specific skills and passive effects, and the third are Fire Emblem-style secondary class upgrades.

The most important of these really falls onto the weapons.  Weapons are the thing that gains skills, similar to demons in SMT or Persona skills in those titles.  The skills can either fall into main skills, combo skills, or passives.  Each weapon can give 4 skills, and can be upgraded once fully mastered to continue giving more.  Because of this, the main upgrade loop is entirely focused around maximizing the number of times you can get through weapon upgrades, and building out the individual skill trees from there.  Because each skill type is capped in the number that can be actively known, there is also a bit of a sub game in making sure that the combo skills in particular are setup in a way to maximize the amount and length of combo chains that can be pulled off by any party configuration.

In the end, there really wasn’t much that bothered me about this game.  To some extent it definitely has very SMT problems with bosses generally having one-shot mechanics.  This is definitely not something I’ve ever been a fan of, but there are plenty of options there to either force avoidance of the attacks, or in a worst-case, simply dropping the difficulty down to get through a fight, which has no penalty.  The game could probably be somewhat grindy if you aren’t actively doing the side story content, but the skill advantages of doing the side stories are so good that I don’t think it’s worth skipping that content just to save a few hours.  As it is, this is about a 60 hour game, which is perhaps on the longer side of a typical JRPG, but not by much, and I think JRPG fans will enjoy the experience throughout.

Game Ramblings #18 – Kirby: Planet Robobot

More info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Platform: 3DS

Let’s be realistic here.  The mainline Kirby platformers haven’t really changed that much in the nearly 25 years the series has been going.  Sure, there’s been the more experimental games, some entirely touch driven like a number of the older DS titles, or motion driven like Tilt ‘n’ Tumble.  However, the platformers all effectively have the same gameplay; a bunch of pretty standard platformer levels where Kirby can suck up the enemies to gain powers, ranging from archer abilities, to fire breathing, and more.  Robobot doesn’t make an attempt to change that, but it both succeeds at not screwing up the formula, and bringing in some nice touches to make this a great entry nonetheless.

So, the question then I guess is what this one does that’s different from the standard formula.  The biggest obvious difference is the Robobot part of the game’s title.  In most of the levels, Kirby can takeover a big ass robot frame, and truck around the levels in that, rather than on foot.  While the core gameplay is still the same (the robot also sucks up and gains powers), the implementation of the powers between the robot and Kirby on foot is entirely different, and the robot being large also allows for destruction of areas in the level that Kirby alone can’t get into.  What this does is enforces a larger sense of exploration than is typical in a Kirby game, as getting a robot frame can allow you to get into areas you previously had to pass up.  It’s also worth noting that like most games with robots, punching things in the face is still satisfyingly great.

Robobot also brings back the multi-plane gameplay from Triple Deluxe, and uses it to great effect here.  In particular, some of the robot sections have you jumping back and forth between both level planes based on power ups.  For example, the wheel powerup turns the robot into a motorcycle, and allows jumping between the near and far plane with the press of the button, allowing for much quicker traversal through the level without having to stop.  Some boss fights also take advantage of the depth, with freely rotating circular arenas, or the robot punching projectiles in and out of the screen towards the enemy firing at you.  The depth also ties into a lot of the collectible aspect of the game, with stamps and collectable cubes hidden all over.  In general, it took a good feature from the previous title, and expanded on it in ways that really made sense given the game they were developing here.

That being said, the game has some issues, but they aren’t any different than a typical Kirby game.  By and large, this is an easy game, and the difficulty is more in trying to be a completionist, not missing any collectibles.  I don’t think I ever died in a way that wasn’t self inflicted due to missing something and needing to force backtrack, even on the final boss.  The game was also relatively short, clocking in at something around 6-7 hours.  That said, I didn’t play through the included minigames, which seemed like they were probably 25% or so of the included content.  Had I been going for a 100% collectible completion, you can probably clock in another 3-5 hours, depending on how nice RNG is treating you in the collection of the in-game stickers.

Realistically speaking, there’s no mystery to whether or not to play this one.  If you like Kirby games, you’ll like this.  If you haven’t liked Kirby games, you probably wouldn’t like this.  If you’re looking for something new, that’s definitely not here either, and you’re probably better off playing Rainbow Curse on the Wii U.  Regardless, this was another fun Kirby game, even if not much has really changed over the years.

As an aside, Nintendo’s website for Kirby has an adorable Kirby sprite.  Nice touch guys.