Wednesday, December 10

Year 4: Places in our heart

Eiffel Tower
Textbook romantic hit
High places
Tears shed at its peak

Prinsengracht 
The never ending street
Solemn house
Near my ancestral home

Venezia
Floating high, sinking city
Nona's room
German tennis channel

Benidorm
New friends and love affirmed
Clear water
Loose Brits, sacred centre

Hospitals
Endless white halls, bright lights
Piss and tears
Moaning, it eats you whole

Gold Coast
We never quite fit in
Glitter strip
City of sun, no soul

Home
Always knew it was here
Together
In the heart of Melbourne


Sunday, November 30

Warm Sound

You begged me to listen
I gave in for need of distraction
Last night our hero cried

The ceaseless echo
A sound dispelled the legend
We saw him bleed like us

I played it over menial tasks
Like a party at a haunted house
He reverberated through walls

The songs were warm
My arms melted in waves of grief
Crashing as tracks changed

For days the album repeated
To drown out the sound of his howling
Without it I wouldn't recover

Sunday, November 23

Escape clause

History repeats 
Change of scenery 
The outcome doesn't change

Roll again
I'll leave the room
I know where my pieces lie

Stern words
Offer assistance
Talk is always cheap

Heavy and distant
Thought I knew despair
The definition evolves with time

It floats
Weightless and silent
It stalks, it pounces, it steals oxygen

Sunday, November 9

Shovel Knight Review (3DS): Love and wealth in the Time of Shovelry


Disclosure: a downloadable copy of the game was supplied by Yacht Club Games for the purpose of this review.

Shovel Knight. Let's talk about Shovel Knight. 

I was aware that its development was funded through Kickstarter and that Yacht Club Games had run into trouble with our baffling classification system, but there were plenty of other games for me to worry about. Games that were getting released; on current gen systems no less, with all the bells, whistles and million dollar budgets that such platforms demand. I didn't think that yet another retro-themed 2D platformer was anything to get excited about. 

Now I know what Australians were missing out on. Now I know I should've been outraged that bureaucracy slowed the release of legitimate classic.

Shovel Knight's inspirations are many, but are not confined to hardware of decades past. The magic system is reminiscent of the Castlevania games.  The themed levels, boss knights and colour palettes are reminiscent of older Mega Man titles. Death is handled in a way that is arguably similar to, though far less frustratingly than the (Demon, Dark) Souls series. The overworld map and encounters are strikingly similar to Super Mario Bros 3. 

That's how I see it at least. The developers may have been hoping for comparisons to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, or some other hallowed eight to sixteen bit franchise? Either way, this is one of those rare games that manages to hang with the legends it seeks to emulate.

The first level provides subtle hints that there's more to Shovel Knight than straight platforming and enemy smashing. Before long, jumping puzzles requiring near perfect execution become standard. It won't take long to discern exactly what's required to get to your destination, but identifying the solution is, sometimes, not even half the battle. Relics can help you avoid or mitigate some hazards, but there's no surviving lava or bottomless pits. 

Thankfully, checkpoints are mercifully well placed in all but some of the later levels. Dying at the hands of flying foes and mistimed jumps is usually only cause for minor frustration. 

Boss fights are varied and death never comes cheaply. Purchasing upgrades to health and magic make these battles more manageable, but that's not to say that they become walk-overs either.  You're also able to challenge wanderers and bandits that roam throughout the overworld map. One of the more difficult encounters doesn't even need to be attempted for you to complete the main story, but I strongly recommend that you wander off the beaten path.

Fiends and friends are all beautifully-rendered and whimsically written. There's one character in the first village that I always stopped to impress every time I came for supplies. Even though his response to my action was almost completely identical each time, I chuckled at this townsperson's genuine awe at my shovelling abilities. Everyone from the most evil of nights, to the most obsessive of hat salesmen has a killer line that had me laughing out loud, or smiling at the very least. 

The in-game economy is fascinating, if slightly forgiving, and provides ample reason to go searching for hidden treasure. Throughout most levels you can find travelling salesman offering powerful relics for a modest price. The villages offer various opportunities for commerce, allowing players to purchase new armour, attacks and other upgrades. There's even games of skill hidden throughout the more friendly areas of the map. I bought all that I needed to to survive, but Indare say I'll need to save up for some better armour for that New Game Plus run. 

Looking over the list of feats (achievement, trophies, what have you), it became apparent to me that I hadn't even scratched the surface. There were relics that I hadn't used at all, or whose proper application I was yet to discover. That may be an indication that certain items are overpowered or overly useful, or that I clung to the familiar. 

I only have a few complaints, and my are they minor ones. The StreetPass Arena is the definition of 'unnecessary': you record three, five second ghosts that collect treasure and race against any rivals you happen to pass. My first and only race ended in farce (it's never explained that you can attack in your recording), and as a result, I'll soon be deactivating this function. Next on the list is the kitchen sink design to one of the final fights which washes as supremely lazy and potentially frustrating (I was lucky enough to make it through in one piece). Given the steep upswing in the difficulty curve of the final stages, I can see that this battle could be cause for some to throw in the towel and miss out on some subsequent, better designed set pieces. 

My only other complaint is that the game does very little to explain itself to the uninitiated. There's very little in the way of instruction for players who haven't cut their teeth on console classics, so a lot of younger and/or inexperienced people may miss out on a truly great experience. 

You might baulk at the near twenty dollar price tag, but this is some of the best five hours of play I've had all year. Shovel Knight demands concentration, keen reflexes and your immediate attention. Yacht Club Games did right by Australian 3DS owners in getting their game here eventually, the least any platforming enthusiast can do is give it a go. 

Tuesday, November 4

The laziest review of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4)

I like Call of Duty games.
To me, they're like the first game of the football season.
I walk into a games store at launch, or Day Zero. 
Okay, so the season kicked off a day earlier this year.
Sort of, but not really.

I always start playing with people online.
It is important to know one's place,
And mine is at the bottom of the food chain.
I pretty much stick to the Ground War playlist.
Good mix, more players, more points up for grabs.

Advanced Warfare is fun with strangers.
Possibly with friends too, but few are nearby.
Fewer still like video games. 
That and 4 player split screen appears dead.
Valè, my tiny space on the television.

There's new weapons and abilities.
The pace has increased considerably.
Did I mention you have jumpjet packs?
They're pretty great.
Basically Titanfall without the Titans.

Maps are tighter.
You're always shooting.
Always dying.
Always earning.
Unless you're good, I guess.

The campaign is the best I've played in years.
Probably as good as Modern Warfare.
Easily better than its sequels.
It leads you a little too well.
No room for error, or to explore.

Just as well the story clicks.
Spacey acts well, but is written as Vaudevillian.
What could have been subversive,
Ends in farce, dropping hints of subtlety.
Geopolitics are pretty black and white here.

Still, it looks great and feels fluid.
You get to drive cars and jets and mechs.
Again, it's directed a little too well.
More a narrative experience than a game.
Lots of sizzle, but the steak is well done.

Haven't tried co-op.
Probably won't bother.
I'll probably jump online for a few more hours.
Witness my kill to death ratio fall,
Through my beautiful polished floor.

Sunday, October 26

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Review (3DS): Let's have a blue in haiku form


Let's fight: you and me
I've had enough of your shit
You've got it coming

Oh you brought friends huh?
They're stuttering from the lag
I'll just play alone

There's plenty to do
Not all of it is worthwhile
It's OK, I guess

Many characters
Don't think I'll learn them all now
Who has that much time?

Controls feel awkward
Please let me use my d-pad
Let's pray for our nubs

Portable Smash Bros.
The promise has been fulfilled
With some rough edges

Tuesday, September 30

Ten

One was the hardest 
I was not a great person
I did not deserve you

Two was the longest 
You knew where you were going
I sat still, playing Fire Emblem on your toilet 

Three had me threatened   
Thought I'd lose you to the Glitter Strip
You told me to get over it and get on the train 

Four was when I knew for sure 
Fridays meant everything
Reunited and it felt so good

Five and we were under the same roof 
We recruited Big Boss
I put a ring on it [cue Beyoncé bass hook]

Six had me preparing for seven 
I scrimped and saved
We had beautiful hair

Seven was the sweetest
I kissed you on the golf course
Nothing existed but us
 
Eight and you gave me courage
You gave me belief
You gave me mischief and its God

Nine was when we worked our fingers to the bone 
We saw less of each other
Realised money can't buy happiness

Ten saw our dreams come true
While my foundations crumbled
You gave me strength