Friday, January 9, 2015

This Holiday I 'Ave Been Mostly Playing...

Saints Row IV DLC (PS3)

With it being Christmas, it finally felt appropriate to give How the Saints Saved Christmas a spin, 2013's holiday-themed DLC I somehow never got around to. Didn't really dig it much to be honest. I didn't think the missions were especially great (boy, did I have some trouble delivering freaking presents in the sleigh one). I didn't think it felt Christmassy enough either. Maybe it was the music; They certainly throw enough snow and festive lights at you at least. On top of that, I really didn't care for the story. I was expecting Saint's Row to do something a little different, but all you get here is your typical subversive Santa tale where yes, Santa embodies the festive spirit and all things good, but when Santa needs to kick ass he does, with guns. Same as South Park, same as dozens of other things. And, of course the Saints' boss thinks he's awesome. Yeah, no thanks.

Enter the Dominatrix though, was absolutely the Saints Row craziness I was looking for. It's hard to tell what's true and what's fictional, though there's certainly some truth here given the development history of SRIV, but this presents Enter the Dominatrix as this unfinished piece of DLC, abandoned in favour of SRIV that the Saints are being interviewed about making on their ship. That's how each mission gets introduced; the cutscenes are all presented as animated storyboards, property of Volition; and some great use of FMV. It's all super weird, very post-modern and well worth a play-through I'd say.

Mass Effect 3 DLC (360)

After several false starts, I finally knuckled down and played through Leviathan over the break. Gotta say, I found the initial adventure game-y mission where you look for clues in a scientist's house a bit of a chore, which is probably why it took me so many attempts to get started on this. Mainly though, this DLC is made up of two, maybe three fairly standard combat missions. You get some pretty big story bombs dropped at the end, mainly regarding the Reapers, but unless you really like Mass Effect's combat I'd give this a miss and catch the last mission on YouTube instead.

Citadel though, is pretty awesome. It should be too for the price and the 4 gigabyte, two part download (which proved to just a breeze to download with my 360 getting confused as to which part was which *and* freaking Lizard Squad banging at the door of Xbox Live). Somehow I'd gotten the impression that there were no real mission in this one, just a big party in a Citadel apartment, a way of saying goodbye to all the surviving Mass Effect 1-3 squad mates. This isn't the case though. The bulk of the content in this is actually a terrific series of missions across the Citadel (and somewhere else you might not expect) involving every squad member (outside Kasumi and Zaeed, though they do show up later. I'm guessing only if you already had their ME2 DLC though) against quite an unexpected antagonist.

Following that you get to throw the party, which is quite good fun: lots of entertaining situations and some pretty great dialogue. After the party's wrapped up you also get to hang out with pretty much every guest at some location on the new Silversun Strip area of the Citadel, where you get a brief little scene with each of them. You can also invite everyone up to your apartment individually for more scenes and more dialogue. The whole pack's a blast: light-hearted, full of in-jokes, and freaking packed with content. If you like the characters of Mass Effect, this DLC is well worth it.

The Steam Holiday Sale

Hah! Just kidding. The Holiday Sale has been going downhill for several years now, but this one was the worst in a while. Not that I didn't pick up a few odds and ends and constantly keep checking it anyway. I do miss the days of the big daily sale catalogues and the achievement-based holiday events though. The card and gem stuff they've got going on now couldn't be less appealing.

(But you should totally buy them off me anyway.)

I regret nothing.

Retron 5!

I still can't believe it, but it finally arrived after over a year of waiting. As for the console itself, it it's not the best-looking machine: quite bulky, and long, and the grey is a fair bit darker than I was expecting. The controller ports are a bit of a pain too, being on the sides. Come on, guys, you could have at least stuck one SNES port on the front, they're quite a squeeze to get into when you've got a Wii U on one side and the wall on the other. I'm using them regardless though because the wireless pad the Retron comes with is fucking HORRIBLE. The buttons and the clicky nub thing feel way worse than I'd been led to believe online. Mercifully though, you really don't need the included pad for anything. The Home menu button as well as save states and the like can be remapped to button combos on a real controller. (I'm using Select and R for save state and Select and L for load state. It's working pretty well so far).

As for the cart slots, much derided for their tightness on release: they're fine. I've used the NES, SNES, Genesis and GBA slots so far. The top slots are a little tighter than the original consoles,but I had no difficulty removing carts, and I've never felt that I was in any danger of doing damage to either the carts or the console itself.

For actually playing games though, it's fantastic. Popping in a NES game and having it boot first time, every time feels like freaking sorcery. Everything looks great too. It only upscales games to 720p, but, at least on my 22-inch LED, the games look great. Like in most cases where filtering options are available though, I find the graphics look much better left as they are.

As for Game Boy games: It's a pity there isn't any Super Game Boy functionality built in to the emulator*, but original Game Boy games look nice and sharp; GBC games too; GBA games, I might need to do a little more experimenting to confirm, but this may be the best I've seen them looking on this TV. I'm going to say better than the Wii U or Visual Boy Advance on my PC.

And a final note: the Master System Converter / Power Base Converter (that I specifically bought for this like, nine months ago) totally works. So, anyone know any Master System games worth getting? Anyone?

* EDIT: Turns out I was wrong about Super Gameboy support. Since a software update last September, it now supports both SGB borders and the pre-defined colour palettes that came built into the SGB (as well as the GBC and GBA) for older games like Super Mario Land and Tetris. Pretty freaking awesome.

Super Mario Advance (Gameboy Advance [via Retron 5)

Here's where the cheating begins. :D After being stuck on Wart since 2012, I busted this out on the Retron and gave 7-2 the save-state-infused business. Actually, the Wart fight, at least in this version, isn't that tough thanks to a set of life-restoring hearts you can go back and grab with the Princess mid-fight. In my defence, I did try and run through the last level again unassisted right after, but just ended up doing in fewer save states. :D Fuck it, I beat this game (somehow) eighteen years ago on the SNES; I'm not going to loose any sleep over it.

Overall: a totally solid port of the Mario All-stars version of Mario 2, but there's really no good reason to get this unless you badly want this version of the game on the go. The additional stuff they added to this port is minor.

Super Mario Deluxe (Gameboy Color [via Retron 5])

Another Mario port that I was stuck pretty far into (this time on 8-2). I didn't abuse the Retron quite as much here though. I set a save state a few seconds into each level and just kept reloading until I nailed each one, leading to the surprising revelation that you can keep small Mario within the arc of the Hammer Brother's and avoid being hit if you just move around a little as they do. (I'm going to thank the epic Rex showdown of Metal Gear Scanlon for the inspiration to try it out.) Also that last level: actually pretty easy, just a bit of a pain to navigate for the first time in many, many years.

Also gave the Mario Vs. Boo mode a spin, which is surprisingly fun. You race through a set of, I think, specially designed levels against a boo to reach the flagpole. The twist is that boo can trigger barriers to impede your progress through the level that that asshole can just pass through. You, on the other hand, need to hit special blocks to temporally deactivate them. About as frustrating as it sounds, but quite tense and again, surprisingly fun. The type of mode that could have really spiced up Super Mario Advance. I guess we were expected to make do with that port of Mario Bros.. Actually, the care and the amount of extra content Nintendo put in here makes me sad that there weren't more of these GBC deluxe re-releases. Too bad Metroid II apparently got canned. As for the main game here, it's definitely a playable version of SMB, with some nice bells and whistles (a map screen!), but the limited amount of screen width can make things a bit challenging at times.

Assassin's Creed Revelations (PS3)

Wrapped up the last few hours of this on Christmas Night (and preceded to spend a very long time sitting through unskippable credits. Seriously, Ubisoft WTF?). I'd put off trying this out for a long time. While I loved Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood, I played through just over a year later and it left me kind of cold. I could certainly see that it was a really good game, but it was so similar in so many respects that the whole time I was playing it, it felt like I was just playing through ACII again. Along with the tepid reviews and the apparent in-game emphasis on how old and useless Ezio was now, I was ready to skip over this entry entirely and give ACIII a shot instead. I'm glad I didn't though. Yes, this game is kind of just ACII again, but it turns out stabbing guys in open world, historical setting is still quite entertaining; turns out I just needed more of a break between games.

Gameplay-wise, pretty much everything makes a return from Brotherhood, with relatively few new additions, the main one being a new tower defence mode that you can be sure I avoided like the plague. :D For a now annualized series apparently worked on by thousands, this is also still quite a lovingly-crafted game. The soundtrack is as fantastic as ever, it still looks good, the location, Constantinople here, still has an air of historical authenticity to it.

I was pleased to see too that Ezio's age isn't the big deal it appeared to be in a lot of coverage of the game: You don't have him constantly sputtering and groaning as makes his way across the rooftops; The cutscenes aren't a constant barrage of ageist abuse. It's occasionally acknowledged by the other characters or the NPCs, but other than that, it's mostly just ignored.

While I'm on the subject of the cutscenes, I really need to give the storytelling some props here. Well, at least the in-animus stuff (I never gave a fuck about the modern day Desmond stuff. Seriously all the people who wanted a modern AC starring that freaking nothing character, why? Not only would that lack the best thing about the series, the historical setting, you'd have to play a whole game as, the entire story would revolve around fucking Desmond.). It feels way more focused and coherent than past entries where I always felt like I was missing huge chunks of character and plot development between leaps in time. I guess that's easier when the story spans a much shorter period, but still. (Actually, to be fair to Desmond, some of the childhood back story you get from him in this game, I found quite engaging. It's only when he moved onto the pre-Assassin's Creed 1 stuff that the urge to hit the mute button became almost unbearable. Seriously, fuck Desmond).

I guess my major criticism of the game is that it feels somewhat light in content. I didn't check but it feels like there are far less story missions here than in the last two games. And I want to say there are less side missions too. I suppose that's to be expected for a non-numbered, annualized sequel though. Still, overall I had a blast. I'm almost excited to try AssCreed III now, despite the gigantic u-turn the internet's taken on it over the last two years. Eh, I might learn a bit of American history at the very least. :D

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