Backlog Battle Report (18th Sept 2017)

This week saw very little in the way of console activity, instead seeing long stretches of me glued to my 3DS or else tinkering with settings on my PC to get specific old games working. Monster Hunter Stories, Witcher 3 and Yakuza Kiwami are all surprisingly absent from this week’s report, but that’s almost certain to change in the coming days. I’ve also got the new Prey, the first Warhammer Total War, and a number of recent RPGs I never played through properly on my agenda. Let’s go through it, shall we?

Pokemon Shuffle (3DS) — A puzzling time filler

Match 3 games have been a guilty pleasure of mine forever, usually filling the void when I wasn’t regularly playing Tetris. It’s a simple and addictive concept, though some games take the concept and run with it in interesting ways. Puzzle Quest turned it into an RPG, 10000000 and its sequel You Must Build A Boat merged the genre with endless runners, and HuniePop had dating sim aspects.

Pokemon Shuffle does none of these things, really. The idea is that you have a limited number of turns to inflict damage on the target Pokemon, then get a chance to catch them. You can level up the Pokemon caught through these puzzle battles and make them stronger. It’s RPG-esque, but it’s pretty basic. Still, it’s an addictive way to fill in time when in game queues or some other situation.

It’s also free to play, meaning small time brackets are the only ones you’ll get anyway without tossing money at Nintendo. I have other products to give money to however, so for now it’s just something to do.

Etrian Odyssey 5 Demo (3DS) — Grinding down ever further

I’m not sure why Etrian Odyssey particularly needs a demo, since we’re up to game 5 of the main series and they all follow much the same pattern: assemble your RPG party, delve into a labyrinth, map it out using the touch screen, and conquer the increasingly tough challenges throughout. They’re usually quite challenging, though I was never particularly engaged by them as the challenge felt more like it came from overtuned numbers and a slow grind. Without much of a story to push the game along, I never got very far in any of them despite numerous attempts.

Etrian Odyssey 5 starts out the same as all the others. You get into town, introduce yourself, build your party from the options presently available and then get to dungeon crawling. You start off with eight class choices to begin with, and I believe subclasses or extra unlockables do surface eventually, so with five members in a party at a time you have plenty of options. There’s not much in the way of appearance options, but there’s colour sliders this time around so you can make something more to your liking.

The most interesting thing to me was that there wasn’t a dedicated healer class this time around; the class that’s labeled as a healer largely buffs the party first and generates small heals through doing so. Your healing will come more from items or support abilities spread across the party, which is an interesting approach.

Beyond that, you advance into the labyrinth, kill enemies, clear what you can and supplement your grinding with finding material for better gear or doing subquests. Rinse and repeat until the end, as far as I can tell. My time with the demo has been limited, but I don’t imagine any sweeping changes from the other Etrian Odyssey games for this installment. Still on the fence about if I’ll pick this one up.

Project AM2R (PC) — Quite possibly the pinnacle of a fangame

I did finish AM2R in time for the weekend as planned, clocking in a fairly slow time full of exploring and looking for hidden items. Overall, it was a really satisfying experience, and I enjoyed myself from beginning to end. Everything about the game has been polished beyond what you’d expect from a free game made as a hobby over nearly a decade, and it plays as well as any professionally made title. It sounds good, looks good, plays excellently… it’s everything a fan would want in a Metroid game.

As you’d expect, the next game on this list will be the official, newly released Metroid 2 remake Samus Returns, which is why I was in a hurry to knock this one over. I wanted to compare the two, wondering which game would do the original the most justice. Quite frankly, that’s not an answer I can give; both AM2R and Samus Returns do a fantastic job, and both should be experienced by Metroid fans. No game overrules the other and they both have the right to exist and thrive (even if technically Nintendo thinks otherwise).

I’ve got lots to say about both and will probably do so for this week’s Right Click to Zoom. Nonetheless, AM2R was a well-constructed love letter from Metroid fans to Metroid, embracing everything that the series has learned and utilising as much of it as it could.

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) — Welcome back, miss Aran

But as it turns out, Mercury Steam might just be as big a fan of Metroid as the AM2R team, only they had the budget and backing of Nintendo to accomplish their game. The long awaited return of the Metroid series and the first 2D Metroid released in well over a decade does not disappoint. It’s really great, so much so that I spent the better part of the weekend playing it and emerged triumphant just the day after launch.

There’s really a lot to like about this iteration of Metroid 2. While I never managed to finish the original and haven’t played it in years, I was still quick to recognise that the map and layout of the game hasn’t changed much at all. They’ve been as faithful as they could to the source material, modernising the gameplay and elaborating on the puzzles but largely leaving it accurate.

Any complaints I have with the game are, much like the recent Fire Emblem Echoes, holdovers of the older original titles. There are times where map design feels a little strange or full of unnecessarily empty space, and the placement of save points (not to mention their separation from health and ammo restoring points) is as arbitrary as it was in the original release. A number of the enemies grow stale and same-y towards the end, appearing throughout the entire game in some fashion.

But these are fairly minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, and overall I have nothing but praise for the game. It was well paced, suitably challenging and equally rewarding, with creative item placement. What really stands out are the Metroid fights themselves, which aren’t nearly as limited by the older designs and all have a variety of interesting tactics and moves. Between those and the other bosses in the game, it’s rarely smooth sailing, and I’m not ashamed to admit that some of them flat out kicked my ass if I wasn’t careful.

Furthermore, the new abilities that Samus has fill out her arsenal nicely. The addition of the melee counter is a great move that feels natural for the skilled bounty hunter. As for the Aeion abilities, they’re all quite functional and fill their roles nicely in both battles and puzzles. The Scan Pulse in particular was a great feature, and a much more natural means of uncovering maps than relying on map stations to give you a heads up.

Again, plenty I could say about this, but that’s all coming on Friday. Until then, just be assured that as a longtime Metroid fan, I was extremely satisfied with the game and greatly enjoyed it. I might just give speedrunning it or going for a 100% clear a go soon.

Warlords Battlecry 3 (PC) — Gimme that old time RTS

My continuing romp through the history of the RTS genre continues, coming back to replay a personal favourite of mine. This is a game I regularly reinstall and give a whirl every so often, featuring a fun combination of hero units with RPG stats and systems leading the charge in an RTS much like Warcraft 3 popularised. With 12 races each featuring some variety in their setup, there’s always a way for me to come back and try something new.

Battlecry 3 stands out among the earlier iterations by featuring a world map that your hero travels across, getting involved in various disputes or situations along the way as you progress through the main plot. These can give you extra items or bonuses, unlock races for you to deploy under that leader, or else just give you a chance to roll over your opponents.

It’s not perfect, as many of the battles can amount to just spamming as many units as possible and overrunning with numbers (or else abusing a high level hero), but it’s always good to revisit. One of these days I need to look into the mods for it, as apparently they are quite interesting.

Empire Earth (PC) — Experience human history… in real time

As something of a spiritual successor to the Age of Empires series, I was gifted Empire Earth when it first came out many years ago. I remember liking it, but never getting too far or sticking with it that much. When the urge to keep replaying old RTSes struck, it was only a matter of time before I revisited this one. It was a further matter of time before I managed to fight Windows 10 long enough to actually get it running, but eventually I was successful.

I sure as hell didn’t remember the game being this slow.

So yes, it plays like a more complicated Age of Empires. You build up your base, have your citizens collect the many resources, build your armies and gradually advance through the extensive tech tree to conquer your foes. The campaigns are usually more focused on specific eras, which keeps it from getting massively out of hand.

Unfortunately, the game has really not aged well in the speed department. It plays slower than Age of Empires, with armies moving and attacking slowly, resources gathered at a fairly casual pace, and just… it’s slow. It’s really slow, lots of dead time, and I don’t know how much more I’ll play.

I’m going to at least try and get through what I can of the campaigns just to say that I did, but who knows if I’ll manage to stick to it when I could play through multiple interesting Warlords Battlecry 3 or Dawn of War maps in a fraction of the time.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Way more compelling this time around

Regular readers of this blog might recall that I dabbled in Elder Scrolls Online a few months ago. It took a handful of attempts to really get into the game, and when I was finally starting to get somewhere I was completely put off by the chatter and drivel being spouted in chat to the point that I just lost interest.

Well, that was then, and this is now. With updates for Final Fantasy 14 still a ways off and discussion with some friends about playing it so I wasn’t alone, I jumped in once again and rolled up a new character for a different faction. Originally I’d started on the Ebonheart Pact, and despite being a big fan of the dark elves, I just wasn’t feeling anything for the starting zone or the characters in it.

The Aldmeri Dominion turned out to be far more gracious hosts. Right off the bat you get introduced to a really fun and entertaining character in Razum-dar, who guides you through the motions to get started and routinely pops up to help you out and provide witty commentary. The zones I visited are bright and colourful, and the quests a little more interesting (well, when you’re not bumping into racist high elves anyway). It turned out that was all I needed to throw myself into the deep end of the game, and now I’m hooked.

My new character (a wood elf Templar built mostly for tanking) is now in the mid-20s range. My completionist tendencies have had me sticking largely to the one zone and clearing out as much of it as I can rather than bouncing around the world, though now that that zone is finished that may change. There’s plenty to see and do, and now I’m invested enough to go do so and see what else is around.

It’s also much better to be playing an MMORPG alongside friends, which is thankfully where I’m at now. A handful of good friends from FF14 and elsewhere have teamed up with me to play it together, which is furthering my interest both in the game and in fleshing out my character’s narrative for the sake of RP and such.

ESO isn’t perfect, of course, and I’d still rate FF14 higher on the totem pole of MMOs I enjoy. Nonetheless, it’s proving a good little way to spend some time, and I’m curious to see how it’ll all unfold and what else is there. The hardest part will be keeping myself focused on a single character and not just rapidly branching out into a huge roster as I tend to do… I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Rogue Squadron (PC) — Arcade spaceship flying goodness

They really don’t make them like they used to anymore… no, really, there’s a serious dearth of good Star Wars games nowadays. Between the old school in-depth space flight sims of TIE Fighter (which was a good chunk of my childhood), the interesting RPGs of Knights of the Old Republic, or the arcade shooters like Rogue Squadron, there’s a lot of potential in the setting that is being squandered.

Anyway, Rogue Squadron sees you in the third person (usually) cockpit of the various starfighters of the setting, engaging in a variety of missions that usually amount to you shooting as many enemies down as possible. There’ll be escort missions and key targets to take out here and there, but for the most part it’s a 3D dogfight to take part in. Simple concept, but lots of fun, and the various medals you can earn for completing levels swiftly and efficiently make it interesting to repeat and challenge yourself.

I played a lot of Rogue Squadrons 2 and 3 on my Gamecube years ago, but I never got through all of the first due to not owning the system for it at the time. Thankfully, the GOG version that came out a few years back is filling in nicely, and I’m hoping to clear all the missions before too long. Then I’ll try and do it again as the TIE Interceptor, because that’s one of my favourite spaceship designs ever.

You know what’d be great? An Empire-themed version of the game. Still, I’d settle for anything in the Star Wars universe that isn’t a movie tie-in or an EA Battlefront game nowadays.

That’s about it for this week. I feel like I’m missing something, or that there was more to the last few days, but then I recall the amount of time sunk into Elder Scrolls and Metroid and that feeling evaporates. Perhaps the coming week will be more varied. Well, tune in next Monday and we’ll find out together!


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