under the microscope with flow and art style: rotozoa

flow art style: rotozoa
flow art style: rotozoa

thatgamecompany has gotten loads of acclaim for their 2012 PSN game journey, so i thought i’d see what they hype was all about and start with their first game, flow, originally released online as a USC grad student project in flash. the game is stylish to be sure, and the gameplay is easy to understand: direct a snake-like microscopic organism and eat other creatures to expand your body. the gameplay is simple and a runthrough of the main experience can be completed in less than an hour. i got bored in a fraction of that time, though, and i agree with gamespot’s review of the PSN version which said it lacked “a lasting gameplay experience” and that “the aesthetics clearly take precedence over all else” and that “not everyone is going to have interest in spending money on a game that’s equivalent to an attractive screen saver you can steer”. although i’m all for “artsy” video games, i wasn’t particularly taken with this one, although i liked the concept of ascending and descending layers (like floors of a building) in order to reach the goal. i’m pretty surprised that they stretched the original flash game to a PSN title that pretty much just seems to add tilt controls and new creatures to play as (and of course, a slew of achievements of varying degrees of pointlessness), but even more surprising is that that version has 4.5 stars (user rated) on the PSN page and a price tag of $6. the reviews on metacritic give perhaps a better sense of the range of reactions, but for my part i find myself wishing there was more substance as opposed to just pure style.

i actually played the game several months ago, but thought it was too short to devote a whole post to. for completely different reasons i played through the bulk of art style: rotozoa (aka art style: penta tentacles). i’ve been documenting my gradual survey of the series, although up to now i’ve been playing mostly puzzle games on my DSi XL. rotozoa is a wiiware release, and unlike the other games in the series i’ve played is an action/arcade game rather than a puzzle game.

from far away the game looks somewhat similar to flow (and i’m def. just one of many who has noted it) in that you’re a little microscopic organism feeding on smaller creatures and growing in size. in the main mode of rotozoa it’s your tentacles that are growing, though, and the game starts with you having to grow two different-colored tentacles to a certain length, with the ability to both move your little organism and rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. the higher levels increase your tentacles to three, four, and finally five (each a different color), and the behaviors of the creatures you’re feeding on (“goobugs”) get increasingly difficult to manage so that at the highest levels the goobugs intentionally try to hit you from the side opposite to their matching color tentacle.

as can be expected from being a part of art style series, the game glows with its clean, cool aesthetic. the visuals are eye-catching although a little on the simple side (although understandable given that it’s a wiiware release), and the music is suitably hypnotic. the game is more like the classic video game snake (which according to wikipedia has roots that go even further back) than flow in that the longer your tentacles get the harder it is to match the right tentacle with the right colored goobug. although the gameplay itself is fairly worthwhile, i didn’t find it to be nearly as addictive as the puzzle games in the series. i was never that big on snake type games anyway, although this game probably beats out the other snake-like game i played recently, the “square” mode of maboshi’s arcade, another wiiware title. the game is easy to get into, but at higher levels starts to fall into the “more frustrating than fun” category, and getting the “all complete” achievement for each level (no damage and no special moves) looks like by all accounts to be a lesson in self-masochism. still, there’s a decent variety of modes, and the gameplay is pretty solid for people looking to tackle a challenge that requires precision and patience. overall this is an example of a game that combines style with substance and doesn’t sacrifice gameplay for aesthetics.

get under the microscope with these art style: rotozoa links:
glowing review at nintendolife.com
entry at wikipedia
some info on unlocking the second and third sets of credits


run ‘n gunnin’ through smash TV

when it comes to co-op sessions with my bf, i tend to try fairly random games to see if any happen to pique his interest since the usual staples (e.g. mario kart, smash bros., etc.) are somewhat lost on him. most recently we tried out the arcade version of smash TV via the midway arcade treasures compilation on PS2 (also available on gamecube, and xbox). this review gives a good run-down of the SNES port, and i agree with his description that this game is a unique blend of run ‘n gun with shoot ‘em up elements. basically you’re a guy with a gun moving from single-screen room to single-screen room, 2-D zelda style, shooting down waves upon waves of baddies. the 360-degree shooting action reminded me somewhat of the geometry wars games, although the over-the-top gladiatorial game show festivities of smash TV are far from the clean, cool aesthetics of those games.

as an arcade classic smash TV was clearly designed to munch quarters: it starts off at a pace where a decent amount of skill will get you through unscathed, but by the time you get to the middle and late stages it’s clear you’d need a lot of practice to last even a minute. thankfully this release provides unlimited continues, so getting to the end is just a matter of patience. the power-ups are fun and somewhat reminiscent of the contra series, which preceded it by a few years. the contra series also includes co-op to double the fun, and both share a vaguely similar “rad” late 80’s vibe as well, and although the contra games also included top-down stages, smash TV‘s single-screen stages are way more fun. bosses are large and colorful and its humor is still effective 25 years later. a common point of discussion regarding the console versions is the various levels of awkwardness of the controls: in most cases you’re left having to use four buttons to replace the 8-way joystick for indicating your firing direction. in my casual run-through i didn’t find it to be a problem, but if you were trying to really refine your game an alternate scheme would be highly beneficial. there’s a maze aspect to finding the easiest path to get through each set of levels which would also make more of a difference on a coin-counting playthrough.

it’s just as well that i never encountered this game in the arcade growing up since i would’ve wasted a lot of money on it. as it is, this was a nice short game, and i wouldn’t mind giving it another whirl at some point, although i’m leery of other versions such as the popular SNES version since they lack the unlimited continues of this port.

run ‘n gun’ through these smash TV links:
– coincidentally, this was a together retro club pick right after resident evil, which i just posted about. reading about the club’s experience with the monthly picks is always entertaining.
– there seems to be more info about the SNES version than the arcade version, and it looks like a very faithful port (which is somewhat surprising considering that enemies get mowed down in bursts of blood). here’s some footage and comments on that version of the game. apparently there’s also an NES version (among many others).
– in retrospect i should’ve tried out the game that immediately preceded this one, robotron: 2084 from 1982 (which is also available on the same compilation)
entry on wikipedia


lumbering resident evil

i’ve been playing a lot of relatively fluffy stuff lately, so i thought i’d buckle down and try to finish off a game i’ve had to return to many times, resident evil on the original playstation (specifically the director’s cut version which features dual shock support, an easy mode, and a rearranged mode (which works much like the zelda series’ second quest), as opposed to the original release). i’d played the much-lauded RE4 ages ago, and although i felt it dragged on i enjoyed it overall. at the time i’d noted that the common knowledge was that that game had gone in a different direction from the previous three entries, so it was interesting to compare the old vs. the new style of RE gameplay.

where to begin? first off, the pace of RE1 is much, much slower than RE4. the game’s “tank” controls (whereby you control the character from his POV as opposed to how he’s facing on screen) takes a bit of getting used to, and although i appreciated how this allowed the developers to avoid creating full 3D environments as well as carefully control a variety of camera angles that would heighten the suspense, i never really got to “like” them and found them to be fairly annoying overall. it’s easy to have your character do stupid things like rub up against walls as he/she is running down a corridor, and this really destroyed any sense of immersion for me. a steady barrage of load screens also really slows down the action, and the 3D graphics are blocky, as you’d expect from a fairly early playstation title.

RE1 is also different compared to RE4 in that instead of the linear path of varying environments that RE4 had, the bulk of the game takes place within a single mansion, with new areas opening up in a more metroid-like fashion. the game does alternate sections within the main mansion vs. fairly standalone areas connected to the mansion, so you’re not often running through the exact same corridors over and over again. also, the hazards change anyway, so i didn’t feel like the locations got too boring.

i found the game generally tedious for the same reason as RE4, which is that i ended up doing multiple sections of the game twice, once just to explore and figure out what i was supposed to be doing, and once to do it more efficiently and save on ammo. having the ability to save be tied to the survival horror/low resources aspect of the gameplay is also annoying, but i can bring myself to accept it. combat is cumbersome at best and downright obnoxious at worst, and, not knowing any better, i had picked chris instead of jill and thus ended up having to manage a ludicrously small inventory with only six slots.

i crept through the game and eventually got to the last section, but by that time i just couldn’t bring myself to spend another two or three hours finishing it. instead i fired up RE2 and played through a few hours of that, and already it feels faster paced: load screens are a lot faster for one thing, and the characters seem to move faster and more smoothly as well. although there were some memorable moments, i didn’t feel particularly “spooked” by the game, and the gameplay def. fell more in the “frustrating” rather than “fun” category for me. i appreciate that RE1 was groundbreaking in many ways, but i’m glad i can finally cross it off my list and explore the rest of the series as well as others in the genre. it will also be interesting to try out its remakes on gamecube and DS. eventually!

check out these lumbering resident evil links:
– the game regularly appears on “top games of all time” lists. it was listed at #28 on 1up’s list from a couple of years ago.
entry at residentevil.wikia.com
evilresource.com includes a nice interactive map
nice retrospective on the game at gamespite.net
a let’s play series on youtube
a video showing off chris’s second outfit, unlockable if you beat the game with him once


impressive flipnote studio

even though flipnote studio has been and gone, i’ve been sort of avoiding spending much time with it since it usually just reminds me how little i have in the way of artistic skillz. i’d made little 5-frame doodles with it before, but this time i made a conscious effort to sit down with it and explore it in order to get a better feel for the app and its set of tools by actually creating a couple of slightly longer animations.

well, it’s just as well that the sharing service was discontinued a year ago, because my creations were pretty dismal. still, it’s easy to see why many people called it the DSi’s “killer app” when it released, esp. since it was free. technically there’s not much about the app that couldn’t have been achieved on the regular DS, though (with the exception of the minimal camera features and the fact that it’s a downloadable title). also, there’s a fair amount of awkwardness shuffling between screens and menus due to the fact that the DSi only has one screen that’s touch enabled, which makes the whole experience a bit more cumbersome than it would otherwise have been. still, eventually i got more used to its setup and, as evidenced by the huge number of quality flipnotes online, it feels like your creations are pretty much only limited by your talent, time, and imagination. when the service was still up the app had a nice feature where you could easily browse random flipnotes and mark ones you liked as favorites, which was fun to use.

its sequel, flipnote studio 3D, has been delayed outside of japan for almost a year now, supposedly due to the huge amount of server load it has caused. no word yet on when it will be making its long-awaited appearance, but its unique pricing scheme (which rewards people who create, or curate!, worthwhile content) is intriguing, although its friends features have been affectively neutered. anyway, even though i expect it to be pretty much the same as this edition, i’m looking forward to checking out other people’s amazing creations while trying not to dwell too much on the resulting blows to my artistic self-esteem. ;)

impressive flipnote studio links:
– although the website for the original version has been discontinued (although supposedly we’ll be able to view people’s transferred flipnotes in the new website), there are many great flipnotes that have been still preserved online. nintendo ran a mario and a zelda flipnote contest, and even released a “mario drawing song”. awesome.
– the app has some advanced features that are revealed after you spend some time with the game. flipnoteartist.wikia.com includes even more-advanced techniques that help take serious artists’ flipnotes to the next level.
random site that has put together a handy flipnote help card that you can print out and keep in your DSi
glowing review from nintendolife.com
entry at wikipedia
– aardman animations made a series of flipnotes. this one is basically an extended (and totally awesome) commercial for the DSi itself.
– this guy made two music videos of his original songs entirely out of flipnote. here’s the first one.


maximizing the mini-games of wii fit plus

it’s been almost two years since i posted about wii fit, but i’ve been playing its successor, wii fit plus weekly for more than six months now and have 4-star ranked the majority of the new balance activities, so am going to be setting it aside for now. the game turned out to be more worthwhile than you might expect given the similarities of the titles. along with some streamlining (you can now create your own custom workout by putting exercises and activities in a sequence with no breaks in between) which i didn’t bother spending much time with, the game includes a surprisingly rich range of new balance mini-games: 12 are brand new and three are harder versions of mini-games from the original edition. there’s a lot of variety in the new mini-games, and more than that the good folks at nintendo (bless ‘em) as usual didn’t just churn out a second money-maker with trivial additions, but added a new emphasis to this iteration: the new mini-games purposely try to make use of both the wii remote and the balance board, in an effort to stimulate the brain as well as the body. for the most part this works extremely well, and i appreciated how the new mini-games had a different feel.

as with the original, spending hours trying to get the top rank in a mini-game is much more worthwhile when you have the added side effect of getting some exercise (although the amount it actually qualifies as “exercise” is no doubt still debatable). i was certainly more there for the games than the exercise, so i didn’t focus much on the yoga or strength-training activities (which are pretty much all the same from the original anyway), but i dipped into them fairly regularly and the lure of trying to get a 4-star rank was almost as strong as with the balance mini-games. other than the new mini-games and some added info such as estimates of the intensity of each activity and the number of calories burned there wasn’t much new in terms of presentation or features, but as an expanded edition of the original this was much more essential than i expected and certainly worth putting some time into it.

oddly enough, this game hasn’t been made completely obsolete by its successor, wii fit u for wii u due to that game removing a significant number of activities from the first two games. it’s not clear why nintendo choose to do so, but in any case i’m sure i’ll be revisiting this game to nab a few more of those 4-star ranks… eventually!

maximize these wii fit plus links:
official site
– i had linked to this in my post on wii fit, but it’s interesting to compare the average amount of time played for each game (1 hour 13 minutes per session for wii fit plus!)
iwata asks interview
review at nintendolife
the wikipedia entry includes a listing of the new activities


polished mighty flip champs!

i’d played through mighty switch force! early last year and had enjoyed it, although the central premise (using a button to switch blocks from the foreground to the background, and vice versa) didn’t really hold my attention. it was the first game i’d completed by wayforward technologies, and although the gameplay itself wasn’t my favorite, the stylish presentation, including great music, character design, and smooth controls, was enough to keep me playing through to the end.

at first it felt like its predecessor mighty flip champs! was going to end up falling around the same place in my esteem. the game’s central premise is that you press a button to switch the bottom screen to the top screen, and the game is perhaps even more polished than MSF, despite (or because of) it having simpler pixel graphics. the character design is great, as is the music and general colorful art style. the presentation in general has a nintendo 1st-party game-like vibe, which in my book is a very high compliment indeed.

despite the sky-high level of polish, the gameplay was slow to grab me. the review at nintendolife covers the mechanics and is typically complimentary, but i found the puzzle aspect to be fairly tame and somewhat obvious and just a matter of navigating a maze that shuffles around. after playing for a while, though, the game’s mechanics became much more enjoyable, and i really appreciated how beautifully the game makes use of the second screen of the DS. i’d go so far to say that it makes one of the most unique and essential uses of the DS’s second screen of all of that system’s (and its similarly two-screened successors’) library (although it has since been re-released on other platforms with the second screen flipped horizontally to the right instead of vertically in order to fit single-screen devices).

this shift in my enjoyment was due in no small part to the trickier levels that appear later in the game, around worlds 3 and 4 (of 5). many of the other levels have a single route that’s very obvious, i.e. at any single point there’s only one place you can go in order to safely flip from the current to next screen). those levels remind me a lot of the highest-ranked user-created levels in games like mario vs. donkey kong: minis march again! where instead of being a puzzle the level is really just a rube-goldberg like contraption that the player just has to set in motion. but there are some levels where you can see where you’re supposed to go but it takes some head-scratching to figure out how to get there (being able to mark a spot on the screen with the stylus is a huge help in some of these stages). it’s admirable how much gameplay wayforward was able to squeeze into these single-screen levels, and a higher percentage of truly puzzling levels (as opposed to just following the single path laid out by the level designer) would have really helped. as it is some people have complained that the game is too difficult, so i guess you can’t win ‘em all. personally i thought the difficulty curve was fine, and since the game has such a limited amount of actions you can perform overall even younger players shouldn’t have much trouble completing it with enough patience.

overall i would agree with the general opinion that mighty flip champs! is one of the highlights of DSiware, even though it was one of the earliest releases for the system. wayforward has steadily built up a library of great games and i’m looking forward to playing the third of their mighty trilogy, as well as trying out their other acclaimed titles.

polish these mighty flip champs! links:
page at wayforward.com and official site
– interview with the developers, at pocketgamer.co.uk
entry at howlongtobeat.com (FYI, the game includes 41 levels, although the majority of them are quite short)


paper mario wrapped up

finally finished a game i’ve been trying to finish for ages, namely paper mario for N64. i’d played its sequel years ago and it was actually one of the first gamecube games i’d played, and i hadn’t been that excited by it. i had actively disliked the wii sequel (although i had enjoyed the first mario & luigi game), but i was interested in seeing how the mario RPGs progressed from the original SNES title to the paper mario series.

even though it’s been years since i’ve played the thousand-year door it was still somewhat surprising how much that game took wholesale from this game. not only are the mechanics pretty much identical, but even the supporting cast is pretty much functionally the same (and three characters, a goomba, a koopa, and a bob-omb, have pretty much exactly the same abilities in both games). despite the close similarities, it had been long enough since i’d played TTYD that i didn’t feel like it was too much of a chore to play through this game. the pacing of all the paper mario games has been slow due to mario’s slow walking speed, although this game includes a dash ability that makes getting around a bit faster. the game is as wordy as the subsequent two games in the series, which could potentially get annoying, but for the most part you can skip conversations with NPCs and not worry about missing anything and so the optional dialogue serves as a nice way of making the world feel more alive without necessarily slowing things down too much. the game’s pace is steady and for most RPG fans a good length, and the battle mechanics are generally entertaining, although as repetitive as most RPGs. the badge mechanic is a great substitute for the traditional stat-boosting equipment found in other RPGs, and is satisfying without being overly simple.

despite being very similar to TTYD, i would give this game the edge overall. i found the original to be more enjoyable not just because it was a solid first entry in what has become a regular series but also because the situations and locales feel more epic and unique. (TTYD makes much better use of the paper conceit, though, with mario gaining paper-specific powers, such as turning into a paper airplane.) anyway, i was motivated to finish this game so that i could continue on with the M&L series and get into the 3DS paper mario entry. i’ve actually already dipped into sticker star and am up to the second world, and i’m really enjoying the new mechanics and the different pace. i’ll prob. be posting more on that before too long.

wrap up these paper mario links:
– as usual mariowiki.com is a great resource with tons of info on the game
nice visual walkthrough at shrines.rpgclassics.com
– i haven’t gotten into video game papercraft, but paper mario seems obviously suited for it. here are two (1, 2) paper mario related automata that look like they’d be fun to make.
EGM apparently published a guide to finding all 160 star pieces back in the day
review of virtual console release, at nintendolife.com
entry at wikipedia

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