What’cha Been Playin’ // March 2016

So it’s come to this. I played games last months, and now I’m going to talk about them. I’ll admit that it’s not the most original thing to write about. Thousands upon thousands of message boards includes threads with the identical purpose. I post in two of them.

The difference is that I always hold back. I summarize my thoughts or explain about a strange glitch within a handful of sentences. It’s concise for the benefit of other forum members, and because I doubt that I have the will to write paragraphs about just one of several games on a regular basis.

Which is why my intention is to make these “What’cha Been Playin’?” posts a monthly affair. I figure it’s also a good place to go in-depth, to write a bit more than I would elsewhere. It may take a few tries to shake off the shorter impressions that I’ve become so used to, though.

Whatch'a Been Playin' - March 2016

Civilization Revolution // Xbox 360

I rarely start Civilization Revolution with the intention of dropping an atomic bomb on a foreign country. No, I usually begin by acting like a paragon of virtue, building my cities into pillars of technology and sophistication. Only attack when a neighboring country crosses my borders, and only drive them back. Meanwhile, my ships explore the world for long ignored structures from ancient cultures, their walls containing secrets.

I guess Civ Rev has a habit of pulling out the worst in me. One country always seems to devolve into North Korea, taunting me with supposed attacks that rarely come. Others invade after being allies for centuries, taking my closest city. I take it back and promptly send my tanks across the borders, taking their closest city before bribing them for peace.

Civ Rev isn’t a complicated game, at least compared to what it could be, but that simplicity is a benefit. It’s rare that any decision requires more than two or three button presses. Many turns last less than 30 seconds, so it’s easy to fall into that predictable “just one more turn” rut that makes Civilization Revolution so difficult to put down. That’s not a complaint, though, but it’s a big reason why I’ve owned the ugly-as-hell DS version for years and only recently purchased the console version.

Such a game fits a handheld platform easily, which is possibly why Civilization Revolution 2 hit exclusively, regrettably, on mobile.

Fire Emblem Awakening // Nintendo 3DS

After 300+ hours logged with Awakening, it’s about time I infected someone else with my lunacy. My recent trip to visit my father led him to join my “Cult of Awakening.” This being his first Fire Emblem, I spent a fair amount of time explaining how the mechanics work (including door keys, which you’d think would be obvious).

As he slowly moved through the early chapters, I grabbed my 3DS and StreetPassed with him. To explain, you’re able to take about nine-ish characters and put them into a StreetPass team, which is sent to another 3DS while StreetPassing. Players encounter this team in their own copy of Awakening, and can buy items, hire the player’s avatar, or battle the team to win the avatar’s services.

So as my father gradually learned the game, I used my veterine units to slaughter his fresh-faced team just to add his ugly, pink-haired avatar to my ranks. Pointless since I doubt I’ll ever use his character, but I like having him under my control.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright // Nintendo 3DS

I’m tempted to lump both versions of Fates together, but that’d be a disservice to them. Where Conquest plays similar to most older Fire Emblem games, Birthright takes after Awakening by allowing random encounters and simpler objectives. Consequently, characters can learn more experience, giving greater chance of changing classes.

My beef is what happens after changing classes. In Awakening, changing classes always meant that the unit reverted to level 1, but using most promotional items, or “Seals,” retain that character’s level in each version of Fates. So once a character reaches the max (usually level 20), that’s basically it. Such a small decision alters the game significantly. Where grinding and changing classes provided me tons of enjoyment in Awakening (319 hours, according to my 3DS), it seems impossible to match that with Fates.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest // Nintendo 3DS

If Birthright is for those who jumped into Fire Emblem with Awakening, then Conquest is for the long-term fans who enjoy a bit of punishment. Boy, does Conquest deliver the punishment. Chapter ten is basically designed to filter out those serious about playing the rest of the game with those expecting something easier. Later chapters aren’t as difficult, but usually provide a gimmick to make life hell.

Despite my cursing, turning off the 3DS in anger, and repressing the urge to snap the game cartridge in half, I still prefer this to Birthright. It’s not a superiority thing over those lousy “casual” Fire Emblem fans who bought the easier, simpler version. I simply prefer the relief and accomplishment that comes from restarting the chapter several times and managing to just barely grasp victory.

And that’s just on Normal, the easier difficulty.

Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst // Computer

Beyond dabbling with StarCraft, Phantasy Star Online was my first experience with online gaming. I sunk hours upon hours into each episode, pushed my character through caverns crawling with brain-dead monsters, alone and with three other adventurers. Of course, Sega eventually turned off the servers, but a group of fans weren’t willing to let go so easily.

They created their own server for Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst on PC. When I finally got the technical issues out of the way (I don’t want to talk about it), I eagerly jumped back onto Pioneer II as a magic-wielding FOmar.

It’s exactly how I remember, albeit smaller and uglier. PSO was never a visual feast by any stretch, and time hasn’t done the game any favors. Regardless, it plays as I remember — almost. The only control players have over the camera is to snap it behind the character, with no real control otherwise. Given when PSO originally hit Dreamcast, that’s hardly surprising, but I nonetheless forgot about that particular frustration.

Want to join the server? Point your browser to Ephinea.

Picross e4 // 3DS eShop

I’ve never been able to adequately explain my love for Picross. I mean, what explanation would make Picross sound exciting? “Use math to reveal pictures. As involved as doing your taxes.” Um… yay? Picross e4 doesn’t add anything major, either. It’s basically just more puzzles, which is good because that’s exactly what I want from a new Picross. So yes, yay.

Pokémon Omega Ruby // Nintendo 3DS

In the three months after buying Omega Ruby, I invested about twenty minutes into it. That’s not the fault of the game as I go into periods where I want nothing to do with the Pokémon RPGs. They’re simply too slow-paced, which is okay at first. Slowly, the battles wear me down until I put down the game and don’t return for weeks or months.

However, when I return, I jump all in. My recent travels through the Hoenn region earned me a handful of badges, although the conflict with Team Magma hasn’t begun outside little encounters. Meanwhile, my team of lil’ bastards (as I affectionately call them) is composed of Combusken, Crobat, Gabite, Gloom, Kirlia, and Sneasel. I gained two (Gabite and Sneasel) from trading with Pokemon Y and tossing them with a Breeder until I got an egg.

Where the Ruby and Sapphire had a bland visual style, developer Game Freak did a much better job at bringing this world onto the 3DS. Omega Ruby just looks richer. As with X and Y, this still a largely 3D-less game (as in stereoscopic), and battles still show signs of slowdown. They’re not big problems, though.

Pokémon Red // 3DS Virtual Console

I’m weak-willed, I suppose, relenting on my decision to ignore the original Pokémon games after a few weeks (or maybe days) of hearing people talk about them. Never mind that I played the Red version to death back in the day, or that I’m able to play that same copy on my Retron 5. Of course, the problem is playing a handheld game on the television is often the worst way to play, and that doesn’t even account for how horrible Game Boy games look stretched across an HD TV, even if the game itself is HD.

Apparently my interest in replaying Red was only a passing fancy since I haven’t touched the game in weeks. I’m still at the first gym, trying to remember how I bested Brock’s rock-type Pokémon with only a Charmander (fire-type), Pikachu (electric-type), and Kakuna (bug/poison-type). Spoiler: none of those types are particularly effective against rock-types, and I can’t recall what other wild Pokemon found so early in the game might pose a threat to Brock.

I may have to just level up my existing team and squeak out a victory. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Red Faction // PlayStation 2

Yep, that game where shooting most walls with rockets will carve out a hole. Fire enough rockets and you have a small tunnel to crawl through. Or carve out a moat that the idiot AI opponents fall into without hesitation. Just ignore how damn ugly the game is, or how used to the standard Halo controls I am. I sure did as I played splitscreen with my father.

Make no mistake, blasting holes into walls provides no small amount of stupid fun. I built myself a hole overlooking the central, multi-level passage. While the AI had no problem finding me, the image of my character crouching in his little hidey-hole earned a few chuckles. If I had a working PlayStation 2, I’d probably grab the game on eBay. Sadly, my phat and slim PS2 broke years ago.

Rock Band 4 // Xbox One

Rock Band 4 continues to make slow progress towards becoming something that surpasses RB3, but it’s too easy to feel that the whole game is stillborn. I understand that developer Harmonix is an indie developer lacking the funding and support they enjoyed while under MTV’s umbrella, so a certain degree of latitude should be given towards RB4, but it’s coming at such a snail’s pace. Just based on available features, RB4 barely matches the original Rock Band, and is miles away from RB2 and RB3.

That being said, I still enjoy the hell out of Rock Band 4 because I still enjoy the hell out of the basic gameplay. Putting me behind the plastic drums is a surefire way to get me sweaty and tired with a big smile on my face. And once Harmonix finally gets the AC/DC Live tracks working, that smile is only going to grow larger. What can I say? It’s fun to bang away to “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

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