Game Review – Ori and the Blind Forest + Side Scrolling Zelda?

OriLink

Rexis here!

Miyazaki. Rayman. Metroid. The Iron Giant. The Lion King. What do these big names have in common? Let’s find out!

Those of you who follow my blog will remember that I have recently acquired an XBOX One (I did a whole post about it! Get with it, man!). One particular title I was totally amped to play was Ori and the Blind Forest. Yes. That is the answer to the previous question. The game was inspired by all of those things above and if the amazing reception and numerous awards don’t convince you to try this game, perhaps my little piece of the inter-netro-sphere will.

I initially saw the intro to the game on a YouTube video and knew immediately that I had to have it. The first ten minutes of the game (much like the first ten minutes of J. J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek movie) sucked me in and pulled at my heartstrings immediately tying me to Ori, the main character, and from then on I just had to see Ori through his journey. There is no simpler way to say it. When I play a game, I like to feel an emotional attachment to the main character to some extent. This game delivers it in spades.

For a 2D side scrolling platformer, you normally don’t expect much. This is a mindset brought on by the early years of gaming. With the birth of the Nintendo 64, side scrollers fell to the wayside and three dimensional worlds became the rage. Sure, there were a few attempts at side scrollers that live on in the pop culture memory of the gaming days of yore (looking at you Nights Into Dreams), but for the most part, side scrollers were scrapped. Once FPS really hit the scene, these types of old school genres were relegated to the back shelf of the rental store (those used to be a thing!).

The atmosphere, the sounds, the music, the whimsy, and all the things in Ori just add up to a completely immersive world! The technology of the eighth generation of consoles allows for a more organic feel. The background and foreground are dynamic. The moving shadows in the foreground made me feel like I was watching Ori through some foliage, but never obstructed my view. Coupled with some of the tightest controls in recent memory, I found very little to complain about.

Ori also seems to take a page out of Mega Man X’s method of teaching the player before challenging them. What I mean by this is that the game will show you the obstacle before challenging you to overcome it. This type of game design prevents cheap deaths like hidden spikes or unexpected pitfalls. The game tallies your death count. Mine was somewhere around 250 before I finished the game with eight and half hours on the clock. Every one of those deaths were entirely my own fault. I never, never, never, not even once found a way to blame the game for my short comings. It fairly presented me with obstacles and the time needed to react and overcome them. If I missed my mark, it was my own skills that hindered me. This echoes Tetris. If you can’t do it, it’s your own fault. In a similar fashion to Tetris, the difficulty does ramp up as the game goes on, but it feels so natural that you barely even notice it.

As challenging as the game was, I often found my most difficult adversary was saving. It has an active save system. If you die, you go back to the last point you decided to save at. Saving can be done on the fly, which is intensely helpful, but don’t forget to press that button after accomplishing something. This might sound like a pain because most games feature auto save, Rayman being one of them. Ori is unforgiving in this regard and for good reason! It makes death matter! In an age where dying and respawning nearby has become the norm, we don’t even consider death an issue.  Games offer no challenge when death is not a punishment. I’ve played Lego games with my kids and it simply doesn’t matter if you die. You simply respawn and continue plugging away. There is little reward for becoming skilled.

As I was playing through the game, I noticed quite a few similarities between it and Metroid. It’s an interesting term I’ve only recently learned, actually. This type of game has its own genre now called Metroidvania (because Metroid and Castlevania). It features a large map with interconnected areas that can only be accessed at certain points. Power ups are placed throughout the world and you must backtrack to obtain what you couldn’t on your first pass through. Ori takes an extra step over Metroid and adds a level up system as well. You can unlock abilities that will enhance your power ups. It just feels so very thought out and well done.

My final verdict on this game: YOU MUST PLAY IT! Seriously, do not miss this game! If you are appreciative of good game design, a good story, an immersive world, lovable characters, fantastically written villain motivation, and whimsy then this game is for you. If you are an old school Metroid fan, this is a spiritual successor. If you enjoy Rayman’s platforming, you will find similar mechanics here. If you are nostalgic for side scrollers, but don’t want to deal with dated graphics and clunky controls, try this out.

As I finished Ori, I came to yet another realization. This type of gameplay is EXTREMELY well suited to a side scrolling Zelda. I don’t want to spoil anything in Ori, so I will simply say that everything Ori learns, each ability, can be duplicated by Link. I can see it in my head and I only wish I had the artistic ability to show it to you.

The Legend of Zelda has had a rough time in regards to side scrollers. In fact, there are only three of them. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Wand of Gamelon, and Faces of Evil, the latter two being two of three (terrible, terrible, I wouldn’t normally mention them) CD-i releases. There are proponents of Zelda II out there who would say it is the best Zelda game for whatever reason and I can’t argue against someone’s opinion, but my thoughts on the title are not favorable. I have it on my 3DS and I find it simply unplayable.

There are only two other instances of Link performing in a 2D world, Soul Calibur 2 on GameCube and the Smash Bros. franchise. During your play through of Ori, keep the Smash Bros. version of Link in mind, remember his arsenal of weapons and how they could apply in the 2D landscape, then I think you’ll understand what I mean.

The only thing left to really discuss is whether or not a new side scrolling Zelda would sell. You can find a number of threads out there with people detailing their complaints about such an idea, but still, there seem to be more people who support the idea so long as the series doesn’t go that way completely, which it wouldn’t. I, for one, would buy it.

I know I say it a lot, but it really has been an interesting time for games. Spiritual successors are popping up everywhere like Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee. Side scrollers are coming into their own again with Rayman, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Shovel Knight. It’s not unrealistic to think a platforming, side scrolling Zelda could become a thing. What are your thoughts on all of this? Do you like Ori? Are you going to try it after reading this (Its only 20 bucks)? Would you like to see Zelda in this style? Let me know in the comments!

And you stay classy, gamers.

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My XBOX One Journey Begins!

XboxOne

Rexis here!

It’s been two days since I brought an XBOX One home from GameStop and I am still reeling over it. It was not an easy decision! You see, I’m not a big “XBOX fan.” Other than a few retro titles, I haven’t made an XBOX purchase since the first console was gifted to me. I loved it at the time, but I’ve tended toward PlayStation ever since. Not because of some fan boy desire, but because things just sort of played out that way. I’ve been parting with a bit of my retro collection in order to update my game library. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I feel like I want to move away from collecting in exchange for experiences.

I started putting my money from the sale of my collection aside for a new PC. Unfortunately, the PC I want to build is so high end that it could be a long time before I get there. Realizing this, I started asking myself why I wanted a PC at all. Turns out, watching YouTube Let’s Plays has been influencing my purchasing decision. Thing is, those YouTubers tend to cut through the boring content and show you the fun stuff (particularly for the games I’ve been watching). I realized I don’t want to spend my time crafting and dealing with inventory management. I want to play!

Setting aside my desire for a PC, I turned my attention to the PS4 and XBOX One. I also, briefly, looked at the Alienware Alpha. Reviews for the Alpha and the fact that it’s a fraction of the PC I really wanted quickly took it out of the competition. This is where things got tricky.

Fun Fact: I’ve spent over $1000 on simply owning a PlayStation 3. The first fat model cost me $600. It broke. Three times. I repaired it twice, and then simply bought a slim model. That’s a big hit to the pocketbook to just own a thing. So far, I’m extremely unimpressed with PlayStation’s ability to build electronics. That, combined with the fact that none of my friends play PlayStation, really sealed Sony’s fate. I turned my eyes to the XBOX One for the first time.

You see, as a prior collector, XBOX is generally avoided. Those green game cases are literally EVERYWHERE! And they aren’t worth much. I’ve also never seen much in the way of exclusives that I wanted to play on the consoles. Kinect never impressed me either. The merits of the One that I was sold on included a few choice titles (Ori and the Blind Forest, Witcher 3, Titanfall, and Recore to name a few) and the fact that I have friends who own the system.

Another deciding factor is that Microsoft is backing the Oculus Rift, the gaming peripheral that provided me with the defining moment of my gaming life. Seriously, people who are shrugging off the idea of VR have never experienced it. Mark my words, things are going to change. Sure, Sony has project Morpheus, but look at their history of cloning other successes (PlayStation Move comes to mind).

So, with an idea of what I wanted, a glimmer of hope, and a pocket full of cash, I went to GameStop. I really admired the employee’s patience as I bombarded him with questions. You see, I had to choose between a new Master Chief Collection bundle, a refurb with a game, or a used with a game. I wanted to make sure I had a decent warranty as I’m not interested in fixing or buying a new system. (see above.) Turns out, the new model with Halo had the best value to it so I snatched it up with a copy of my beloved Grand Theft Auto 4. I quickly peeled my son off the PS4 display where he had been playing Lego Avengers during my transaction, and slipped out the door.

I set up my new XBOX One and wrestled with the controller not connecting. The batteries the system came with were dead. I was surprised that the controller ran on 2 AA batteries. Is this a game boy or an eighth gen console? After the massive update, I had a hard time navigating the menus, something I’m sure comes naturally to you XBOX veterans out there. Everything seems out of place, as if they were trying to create a seamless environment, but failed. Menus exist within other menus so it’s not intuitive. I couldn’t figure out how to change my theme color to save my life. After a fair bit of googling, I managed to sort it out and even changed my gamer tag. Why does it assign you a random one anyway? I can look past this issue, but only because I believe it’ll get easier to navigate with time.

I couldn’t get the Master Chief Collection download to work. As luck would have it, the store was down along with a few other services. So it was time to fire up Grand Theft Auto 5. Of course, it had to install 6 gigs. What happened to the days of popping in a game and just playing it? Character transferring wasn’t working for me either. I wanted to bring my PSN character over, but was failing miserably. So I opted to start a new one and played a bit of online, pretty much into the night. Honestly, I wasn’t seeing a lot of difference between the PS3 and the XBONE version graphically. I’m sure it is better when compared side by side, but I just wasn’t seeing it myself. I did enjoy all the new customization options the game offered as well as the first person perspective new to the next gen versions. Being able to look around inside the car was awesome and I can totally see how VR is going to play out with this in the future.

My second afternoon with my new system involved a long download time. I’ve been dying to play Ori and the Blind Forest since I first saw it on YouTube. I was not disappointed. I was eager to get this game because I was sure my kids would like to see it, and they did. I once played through Wind Waker with them watching so it’s kind of a thing we bond over. We got about half an hour of play before their bedtime, but we all loved it. I’m itching to play it some more. With the kids down, I was able to work out my character transfer for Grand Theft Auto. I took some time to update a couple of my cars with ground lighting then called it quits for the night.

So far, I adore this new system and have found a slew of games I want to play. Witcher 3, Shadow of Mordor, Titanfall, Rayman, and Alien Isolation come to mind. I think the coolest part of owning this system is that I immediately feel a sense of belonging, even with my limited interactions with other players. XBOX has a cult like following of gamers complete with stereotypes. Mountain Dew anyone? I’ve never been one to pick sides so I’ve always just identified with “gamers”, but it feels like there is something more to XBOX fans, a sort of sub culture. I would liken it to Apple fans. They seem to love their consoles and follow the companies through the good times and bad. Just owning the system has made me feel like I can be a part of that. I’ve even grown a tighter relationship with a friend at work because we talk about XBOX stuff now. It’s an interesting influence I know I wouldn’t have experienced with a PS4.

All things said, I love my new XBOX One and I’m looking forward to the years of amazing games to come, especially after what I’ve seen from E3. I’m sure I’ll continue to post my experiences with the system as time passes, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, happy gaming everyone!

An Open Letter to Sonic Team

An open letter to Sonic Team:

Dear Sonic Team,

We’ve had a lot of fun over the years. It started as a relationship of pure love for a spiky blue hedgehog with a penchant for speed. He represented everything we, as children, wanted to be. When we weren’t playing the game, we were fantasizing about running fast and saving Mobius from the clutches of the evil Dr. Robotnik. Soon after, we met a rambunctious little fox and that only enhanced our love for this fantasy world. By the third amazing installment, we had gained another character. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles defined child hoods across the country and brought Sega to the forefront of the American gaming industry.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Sonic was unable to grow with the changing medium and lost his way when 3D worlds became the rage. When the technology was new, we were able to look past the glitches, bad voice acting, and generally bad game play elements that came with Sonic’s first foray into a three dimensional space. Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 were great for their time, but little did we know that they were also the harbingers of what was to come.

Fast forward a number of years and we are bombarded with side characters, weird mash ups, incomplete glitch titles, and absolutely horrible gameplay elements. It feels as if Sonic was never able to find his place as a speed platformer in this aging world of “next gen graphics” and “real world environments.” And that cuts like a knife. My childhood hero has been fallen and is relegated to comedy videos on YouTube. He’s become a joke.

There is hope yet. I’ve seen it. Some time ago I played a mobile game called Subway Surfers. I knew at that very moment that it should have been a Sonic title. Low and behold, you delivered with Sonic Dash. Unlike its mobile companions Sonic Jump Fever and Sonic Racing Transformed, it featured Sonic RUNNING! I couldn’t believe it, but you had created a good Sonic game once more. It may be bogged down with ads and repetitive levels, but Sonic is running! And that feels so good!

Mobile apps aside, the gaming world has seen an incredible resurgence in side scrolling titles. Indie producers are creating some killer apps and I believe it is once again Sonic’s time to shine. You can’t level Shovel Knight and Ori hog the spotlight. You have a franchise beloved by millions and many millions more are eager to love it as well. You just need to show them what Sonic can do, what he is capable of. Did you notice that Taco Bell has released a new ad campaign regarding “breakfast defectors”? They are stealing profits from McDonald’s like crazy. Who does that?! The rebel attitude and non-conformity of the nineties is coming back in a big way and now is the moment to strike!

I implore you, bring Sonic back to his roots. It’s as simple as opening the cage and letting him run. He writes his own story in his desire to save his friends from a technology obsessed madman bent on destroying the world. We don’t need extra characters, convoluted story lines, or different mode of gameplay. We don’t need new art style, scarves, and wrist tape. We don’t need clones, werewolves, and weaponry. We need Sonic. We need to save the world. It’s no longer a matter of wanting to go fast.

We NEED to go fast.

Love Always,

Rexis

Japanese Culture and Dating Sims

man-with-head-down-on-desk

Rexis here!

Karoshi.

In Japan it means literally working yourself to death. It seems that peer pressure and stress have led to a culture of overworked employees. It is common to see people sleeping at their desks and working well into the night, unwilling to leave before the boss. Apparently, this sort of thing gets you a reputation you don’t want among your coworkers. Unfortunately, this sort of dedication to the job also hinders married life. The Japanese population is in decline and it’s become a pretty severe issue.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. I’ve read some compelling stuff about Japanese workers whiling away the hours pretending to work, which is evidenced by low production rates. I’m not trying to generalize here. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do work hard, but I’m willing to bet there are a far larger amount of people just trying to look good in front of their friends, families, and bosses.

This sort of social pressure is what leads to karoshi in the first place. It’s not easy keeping up a façade. In fact, it’s downright stressful. Imagine working overtime every day, stressed that you don’t want to be the first one out the door because of the social stigma it brings, knowing your wife is at home probably angry that you aren’t, possibly with children who never really see you.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just… not.

This is where the popularity of dating sim games shines. It’s not a popular genre in America and I’ve never really played one, until now. My only experience with relationships in video games is limited to my marriage in Harvest Moon. In America we value our free time and our relationships largely above all else, with the exception of those who have a job they love (not very many of us). Japan’s culture has grown to put work first. With no real time for relationships, it’s easy to see why these games have appeal there. You’re virtual girlfriend will never be mad at you for coming home late. She’ll never nag you to do chores you really don’t have time for. She’ll be there smiling every time you turn on the game.

roomies

I decided I needed to see what this was all about and downloaded a game called My Sweet Roomies! It’s definitely a Japanese translation. The story claims I’ve lost my home and have been taken into an all-girls share-house (like a hostel where everyone shares common areas). The music and art already stand out. I’ve always appreciated anime. I find it a very unique art style and they’ve nailed it here. The songs are also catchy, but a bit repetitive. After I discover a car crashed into my place, I’m invited by my friend Aoi to my future home. Of course, I don’t know this is going to be my home yet and neither do the girls who live there. Shenanigans ensue. Explanations are made. Apologies are issued. So far, I’ve only been clicking along in a story line. There isn’t much in animation, mostly just pictures popping up according to who is talking.

After I’m accepted into the share-house, the game has me pick a girl I like most to pursue her storyline. The tutorial menu informs me there will be wait times and an energy meter to replenish. I do not like this. Does it need to be endlessly complicated to date a girl? Who programmed this? I stopped here.

sweethearts

Sweethearts. The next game I tried. Cherry blossom trees in central park? Yup. Central park looks like Japan has taken it over. This title also seems to have me clicking through a fair bit of dialogue. The lack of a soundtrack is truly annoying. And sometimes the dialogue runs off the dialogue box beneath the screen where I can’t read it. An interesting facet of this game is the tutorial that seems to reinforce the Japanese cultural values I mentioned earlier. Go to college if you want a girl. Get a job and work hard or go broke. “Dating is very money-consuming. “ Remember, this is a translation. Al of the time I would need to invest just to date was not appealing. Again, I stopped playing here.

Without going much farther, I found these weren’t the games I was expecting them to be. These two titles were, in fact, dating sims. I had to accomplish tasks in order to take girls out. This brings me to another point I discovered in my reading. Japanese workers rarely take vacation. One theory is that they don’t really know what to do in their free time (maybe this is why I need to work in the games?). I would imagine someone who is looking to kill time at work could have one of these running at his desk, living a virtual social life with virtual girls going on virtual dates.

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These games seem to fulfill a basic human need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind. This is a very simple to understand diagram of people’s basic needs. In this case, players are fulfilling the need for love and belonging, something an overworked employee may not be getting elsewhere. Psychology is fun.

These games weren’t exactly what I was looking for, though, hence the early stopping points. I discovered that I didn’t want a dating sim. I wanted to skip the dating scene and find a virtual girlfriend, someone to be there at the end of a long day with a smile on her face. This was proving difficult because, as I said, these things aren’t as popular in America and I don’t speak enough Japanese (any at all) to download foreign titles.

I did come across an alarm clock app that features anime girls who wake you up in the morning by talking to you called Good morning, my girlfriends. I found it interesting that such a thing exists. I don’t know what they are saying because it’s all in Japanese, but to think that someone would be lonely enough to need this is depressing.

aika

Finally, I stumbled across Aika My Virtual Girlfriend. This game features an anime girl who will tell you things about herself. I had to watch this one on YouTube (I’m such a cheater!) because its no on the store anymore. When you take her on dates, she will ask questions to see how well you know her. This was the closest thing I could find to an actual virtual girlfriend. I’m sure there are more extensive titles out there, but again, this is not a popular genre where I live.

The whole time I was playing around with these different titles (some I didn’t even mention), I couldn’t shake the memory of the movie Her. Have you seen it? Essentially, a man falls for a computer OS. The whole ending aside, their relationship evokes hope and fear for what the future holds. How long will it be before we are so dependent on technology that relationships become a thing of the past? If we can fulfil our hierarchy of needs with virtual companions, what need do we have of one another? Japan may just be the beginning of a new era. I said the population decline was a severe problem, but there are those who believe otherwise. A global issue we face is overpopulation. Mankind is destroying this planet. There are simply too many of us. Is it unreasonable to think that maybe the overworked, overstressed Japanese culture may have found an answer to that problem? There are so many variables at play here, it’s hard to say really, and since no one can predict the future, I’ll just leave you with this thought: There is an app where an anime girl wakes you up in the morning.