What’cha Been Playin’? September 2016


Nintendo 3DS got a workout in September, accounting for roughly half the games I played. Although three of the non-3DS games were demos, so shouldn’t that skew the percentage somehow? Regardless, September was a reminder that 3DS shouldn’t be disregarded. It has an outstanding library, and I’ll have a difficult time putting it down whenever Nintendo releases NX.

Anyway, the games I played in September:

American Truck Simulator // Steam

Three states down, 47 to go. SCS Software added Arizona to American Truck Simulator a few months back, joining California and Nevada for more truck-hauling enjoyment. We can’t say if/when they might reach Michigan or anywhere else I have called home, but their continued support is appreciated. I mean, yes, SCS managed to wrangle a considerable portion of Europe (and the UK) into Euro Truck Simulator 2, but it must be more difficult and expensive to map a country you’re unable to regularly visit. (SCS is based in the Czech Republic, for the record.)

That also means the likelihood of a Canada Truck Simulator or Japan Truck Simulator is slim while SCS is occupied. I’m content with American Truck Simulator (it’s difficult to explain how surprisingly relaxing it is to roll across the California coast), and I’m thrilled with the prospect of traveling between places I’ve lived, but SCS does such good work that I can’t help think about traveling through foreign lands.

Dragon Quest Builders (demo) // PlayStation 4

Dragon Quest-meets-Minecraft, a descriptor so accurate that I kept accidentally opening the menu in Dragon Quest Builders because that same buttons is used for jumping (my intended action) in Minecraft. I made that exactly mistake repeatedly while trying to jump, attack, and place blocks in DQ Builders, and I eventually switched to Minecraft to somehow untangle the two games from my brain. (That didn’t work.)

DQ Builders isn’t an exact replica of Minecraft, of course. Moments after escaping the initial cave, you’re rebuilding a destroyed village. That attracts the attention of a girl, who offers a handful of quests revolving around learning how to play. A second recruit is discovered shortly after, carrying his own quests, followed by a third compatriot. The game is obviously tutorializing, but it’s also a more guided experience than simply dropping you in a random location with complete freedom (aka Minecraft).

Furthermore, the cleverly written NPCs offer something that Minecraft lacks: companionship. NPCs (known as villagers) do exist in Minecraft, but only for rudimentary trading. They’re otherwise big-nosed humanoids with zero personality, making them poor substitutes for the least exciting NPCs found in any third-rate RPG’s backwater town. The boys and girls that’ll populate DQ Builders aren’t likely to contain much depth either, but any personality is better than no personality.

I’m happy with what I played (which is available on both PS4 and Vita), but I’m not sold on using a third-person camera. The first-person perspective used by Minecraft offers greater accuracy, and removes the need to use the shoulder buttons to place blocks above or below the ground (which doesn’t feel natural). Still, the demo did enough to ensure that I’ll buy the full game sooner than later.

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past // Nintendo 3DS

Plenty has been said about how long Dragon Quest VII takes to reach the first battle, even with the improved 3DS remake. About two hours, give or take, of wandering a lonely island that’s free of monsters. Two hours of spending time with your prince buddy and the mayor’s daughter. I started Dragon Quest VII 3DS expecting the worse, especially with how easily JRPGs tend to lose my interest, so I was surprised when I encountered the first battle.

More encounters followed, and I’m past the point where monster don’t exist and the only activity is running around. Despite the 3DS version cutting out aspects of the aforementioned peace, I still expected a lengthy gap between the start of the game and any battles.

The in-game clock noted that I played a little over an hour-and-a-half wandering, and you know what? I never hated that. Explore a place without breaking up the activity with battles? Sounds good to me. Maybe had I spent more time on that island — as is the case with the PS1 version — the exploration would devolve into a trudge, but that fortunately never happened. I’m not much further from that first fight, having put the game aside to focus on Fire Emblem Fates, but I have that little cartridge waiting on the wings.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright // Nintendo 3DS

Last week’s post (“Grievous Game Design Sins”) was born from frustrations with completing Birthright, but I am pleased to report that the final boss is dead. Only a single friendly unit perished, which is acceptable given my difficulties with that stage. My secret was heeding the advice of an online walkthrough to move everyone towards the stage’s bottom before traveling alongside the right wall, clearing away enemies and staying ahead of the environmental hazard. I reached the final boss in good shape, contrasting with previous attempts.

Although those last two stages caused a handful of rage quits, I enjoyed Birthright overall. It won’t uproot Awakening as my favorite Fire Emblem, though. Changing classes came with annoying restrictions, and the story felt flatter than intended. Big moments clearly designed to evoke emotion… didn’t. I never thought that the story was as bad as the internet claimed it was, but merely continued the unfortunate Fire Emblem tradition of mediocre plots.

Having reached the credits in Birthright, I’ve moved my focus onto Conquest, the harder of the Fates games. I don’t expect the last two stages of that game will be any easier than in Birthright, nor do I think that it’ll provide me with a save before the final level. That online walkthrough that helped with Birthright might be used once more before I head into Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation, hopefully before 2016 comes to a close.

Forza Horizon 3 (demo) // Xbox One

Racing games don’t typically do anything for me unless I’m tossing turtle shells or launching off ramps at thousands of miles, but the Player One Podcast speaks so highly about the Forza Horizon games that I couldn’t pass on the demo for Forza Horizon 3.

And it’s fun, if exactly what I expected. Forza Horizon 3 is an open-world racing game, so it’s about driving stunning cars around Australia and taking a variety of challenges from straight racing to drifting. Beyond regular NPC vehicle, the world is also populated with similar vehicles marked with the names of people on your friend’s list. They’re also AI-controlled, but it’s still neat to see a familiar name traveling down the opposite side of the road. You’re also able to challenge them to impromptu races, although I’m not sure of the benefit.

Controls were effortless, and the vehicles were, as expected, impeccably detailed. I considered purchasing the full game, but there’s enough new games hitting this fall that Horizon 3 would quickly get lost in the shuffle. Besides, I have that Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast and Furious game if I really want to do a little racing outside of Mario Kart and F-Zero.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice // Nintendo 3DS (eShop)

I’m only a little into the second of five episodes, so I don’t consider myself particularly far into Spirit of Justice, and what I played didn’t differ much from past installments outside of a new setting (Khura’in, a fictional kingdom) and a new courtroom gimmick (Divination Séances). Of course, the first episode of any Ace Attorney game is rarely anything but a courtroom tutorial, so why should I expect anything groundbreaking from that?

Well, in truth, I’m not expecting anything groundbreaking at any point. This franchise has long settled into a comfortable routine, delivering entertaining mysteries among a goofy cast and generally great writing. As long as they don’t drop the ball on those aspects, Capcom can change the series as little as they want.

Picross 3D: Round 2 // Nintendo 3DS (eShop)

Too much of a good thing doesn’t apply to Picross 3D, as proven by the digital-only Picross 3D: Round 2, which offers hundreds of puzzles and a handful of welcome user-friendly interface tweets. Round 2 also differs from its predecessor by requiring that blocks be painted either blue or orange, so now it’s not enough to know which blocks remain and which should be removed. That’s not a huge change, but it does alter how I interact with puzzles.

I couldn’t be happier with Round 2. Vanilla Picross saw plenty of love via multiple 3DS releases under the Picross e banner, but Picross 3D hasn’t been as fortunate. This is only the second Picross 3D game, the original hitting DS in 2009. The world was long overdue for more Picross in the third dimension, and Round 2 is everything I wanted from a sequel. Expect it hear more gushing when I make 2016’s Game of the Year list.

Resident Evil 7 Teaser // PlayStation 4 (PSN)

Outside of updating the demo with new content, Capcom unshackled Resident Evil 7 Teaser from the confines of PlayStation Plus, which is excellent for non-Plus peasants such as myself. Unfortunately, I’ve already witnessed much that the demo has to offer by watching people on YouTube run through the demo. I did uncover the added content, but that lasted only minutes before I answered the phone and was jumped by that disgusting homeowner.

My second attempt was even less eventful. I couldn’t recall where the missing fuse was located, keeping me from the new content in the attic. I then explored that familiar house — the falling mannequin surprised me — before the homeowner jumped me again at the expected spot.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End // PlayStation 4

What a difference a sequel makes. For such a critically-acclaimed franchise, I’ve treated the previous two Uncharted games with little respect thanks to mediocre gunplay, obnoxious enemy AI (especially in Uncharted 3), and the story spotty. After a few months after finishing the last game, I jumped into Uncharted 4 worried that I’d be in for similar frustrations.

Not quite, thankfully. While I still dislike the gunplay, Naughty Dog toned down the tossing out waves of enemies, at least so far. Only once did I fight multiple groups of foes. Most encounters contain only a single batch of soldiers, sometimes followed by a single wave of reinforcements, and that gives the pacing a welcome kick. It was never fun being contained to an area for a considerable length of time (or felt like it, at least), so I appreciate taking out enemies and moving on.

The biggest improvement to combat is, well, avoiding combat. A greater emphasis is placed on stealth, allowing Nathan Drake and his buddies to move unseen through tall grass. That introduces a sort of metagame where I see how many enemies I’m able to silently eliminate before the entire group becomes aware of my existence. As long as that option remains viable, tangling with the opposition is, well, fun. That’s a statement I didn’t expect to make for an Uncharted game.

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