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Sprite Machine

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  1. Playing Final Fantasy Adventure (aka Mystic Quest, aka the original 'Mana') and that is one bad English localisation! The game feels a bit like Zelda but more clunky, and with levelling-up - so I don't feel too bad about wandering around aimlessly as at least I can earn some exp.
  2. Previously... 29) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice - 3DS - 2016 I've had this on the go for ages and finally completed it. I have enjoyed all of the Ace Attorney games to varying degrees but they are all basically the same, despite originating on the Gameboy Advance and going through two generations of technical improvements in the meantime. The same fundamental problem persists: the game logic requires you to be on its wavelength for the plot revelations to be effective. If not, you're either guessing until you catch up with what the game expects you to know, or you're way ahead of the game and jumping the gun, waiting for it to catch up with you. But on those occasions when the revelations come and you're perfectly in-sync, those triumphant moments, those incredible plot twists, the iconic 'turnabout' scenes, are just as effective as they were back in 2005 - arguably now even better with the improved presentation and musical accompaniment. Those 'putting-the-clues-together-in-your-head' sequences near the end of each court case, for instance, are some exceptional moments. Unfortunately, those moments are in between some excruciatingly long scenes, linear investigation sections and lots of fairly slow dialogue. Despite their attempts to bring the characters to life with animated humour and over-the-top sound effects, I continue to find the writing very leaden and verbose. This is not a short game at all, in fact its five chapters took me over 40 hours to get through. I spent several weeks just trying to clear he last case in particular - as every time I picked it up to play some more, I would start falling asleep. The slow investigation sections couldn't keep me awake and I just wanted the game to get to another good bit in the courtroom (which it eventually did). I had to force myself to power through and finish it. Was it worth it in the end? Yes, I suppose it was... but now I feel like I'm done with the series. I won't be getting the DLC episode and in all likelihood I won't be getting whatever sequel or follow-up is released. For me, this series has run its course.
  3. Previously... 28) Tomb Raider: Underworld - PC - 2008 Completed on the normal ('Tomb Raider') difficulty, 9-ish hours. This is the last of my Tomb Raider backlog that I bought on Steam about six or seven years ago. It's the third game by Crystal Dynamics and by this point they'd gotten pretty good at making Tomb Raiders, however I reckon this was rushed to meet the Christmas 2008 release date because it feels decidedly unfinished in places. Lara's moveset is expanded a little and the levels do make good use of this, however she also feels quite twitchy to control and the camera often misbehaves itself. The early levels in the ocean and Coastal Thailand are very strong, probably some of the best modern Tomb Raider has to offer. Mexico isn't bad and the larger sized areas and motorcycle are a nice idea in theory. After that, it starts getting a bit rushed, with repetitive level design, shorter levels and storylines wrapped up quickly. Also the 'secrets' in the game are literally all over the place and rarely very secretive, often found by kicking some clay pots over. On the whole, this is not a bad end to the series, and thankfully this one worked without issue on my PC, but it could have been better. After everything Crystal Dynamics achieved with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, they deserved the chance to knock this one out of the park, but it wasn't to be. I still enjoyed it, though.
  4. Speaking of repetitive level design, I find myself back on a boat identical to the one that sank earlier in the game. Apparently, Amanda has access to a fleet of identical ships?! To find Helheim, Lara goes to where Natla is being held captive and Natla says she will lead Lara there so she releases her from her reinforced chamber and off she flies. This level is much easier once I release I can actually use Mjolnir as a weapon, shooting lightning bolts at people from a distance and instant-killing almost anything. The final section of the game is in the Arctic Sea, and the entrance involves opening a massive underwater gate guarded by enormous statues (and some sharks). Once inside, I descend into 'Helheim', encounter more zombie skeletons, yetis, Amanda and the doppelganger, and Lara finds what remains of her mother - a skinless zombie, who she reluctantly puts out of her misery. Betrayed by Natla, Amanda 'kills' Lara's doppelganger (fate to be determined in the Xbox-exclusive DLC!!) and then helps Lara to fend off the encroaching hordes of monsters while Natla attempts to fulfill her true purpose of awakening the Midgard Serpent - actually a network of tectonic fault lines around the world that will spew fire and ash, kill everyone and bring about the Seventh Age. The final challenge is not a direct fight against Natla, but she does hover around me shooting fireballs and reanimating yetis while I attempt to ascend the ancient Norse machinery and destroy its three main structural supports. This level is torturous and sends me round in cicles (literally). In fact, I'm 90% certain that I manage to glitch this level to the point where I can't complete it, blocking my ascent to the higher platforms. After wasting 30 minutes or so, I end up having to start the whole section and trying again - which does eventually work. Once the machine is destroyed, Lara throws Mjolnir at Natla (which appears to finish her off, but who can tell) and she and Amanda escape through a portal like the one from Legend, which seems to take them back to the cave in Peru where Lara's mother originally disappeared. Their uneasy truce finished, Amanda and Lara go their separate ways. And that's the end of the game. So yeah, this is definitely a less than polished experience. The second half of the game feels rushed/unfinished and there are a small amount of glitches. That said, however, it's still a fairly enjoyable game and I love the themes of its levels, the idea of the underworld beneath our own, and how massive and empty these old tombs are. They even (finally) ditched the idea of finding distractingly modern medical kits inside these locations, instead replacing them with goofy 'potion cups' or something. A strong thematic core and some good individual levels, then. Better overall than Legend and not a terrible way to end the trilogy.
  5. Jan Mayen, an unpopulated Norwegian island, is next - and this is the location of Thor's mighty hammer Mjolnir. Once again, I retain the use of the motorbike and am able to drive through many of the enemies that stand in my way. There's a lot of big, ancient machines to activate in this icy tomb, including a large central pillar surrounded with climbable ledges and poles, and a room full of gigantic swinging stone hammers. There's also a big ol' yeti sub-boss. This isn't too bad a level but it's quite short and I'm noticing a fair bit of repetition in level design. I imagine corners were cut and I feel like I'm coming to the end already. Also, the number of 'secrets' in the game is ridiculous. Secrets used to be few and far between, and really well hidden. Now, there are dozens of them scattered around the level, hidden in pots. I'm compelled to stop my bike every time I see a pot by the wayside, go over to it and kick it, just to be sure. It's stupid, lazy and harming the flow of traversal.
  6. After Thailand, it's a short-ish level in Lara's home, as she discovers that the missing gauntlet of Thor was actually discovered years ago by her own father and buried within a previously unknown vault in the gothic basement of Croft Manor. Part of this level (when the explosion happens) is a repeat of the prologue, and I learn that the perpetrator of this destruction is none other than a clone of Lara - like the Atlantean doppelganger, but this time with skin and a mind of her own. The clone kills Lara's whiny friend Alastair and Lara vows to take revenge on Natla for sending this thing after her. To kill a god, she will need Thor's hammer, and to lift Thor's hammer, she needs Thor's belt. This takes me to Mexico. So, Southern Mexico is a rainy nighttime level, and Lara is equipped with an all-terrain motorcycle for sliding around the muddy roads. This is a fairly large and open level, with different parts of the tomb's exterior accessible by vehicle only. The bike is a nippy little thing and quite hard to avoid smashing into walls. The idea here is to find the components to open a large doorway in the middle of the area and then descend into the depths of the underworld (also with the bike) before it closes again. Thor's belt buckle is in a giant statue of himself amongst a lake of deadly blue magic liquid that spews out reanimated skeleton soldiers. There are also giant spiders. I didn't mind this area. It's different for a Tomb Raider game and I'm kinda digging how the entire location, above and below ground, is all one seamless level. It adds an impressive sense of scale. That said, it's not a very picturesque location and it's easy to get lost.
  7. I suppose I should finish my playthrough of 'classic' Tomb Raider games with the third of Crystal Dynamics' trilogy, Tomb Raider: Underworld. This one doesn't only continue the storyline of Legend, with Lara searching mythical underworlds for her mother, but also brings back Natla, the Atlantean queen from TR1/TR:A, with Lara's former friend Amanda using Natla as a source of information to help her schemes. The game gets off to an explosive start with Lara's mansion blowing up, and you're introduced to the controls and moves while the place burns and collapses around you. Then the game whisks you back to a week earlier, with Lara exploring the Mediterranean Sea in search of Avalon. Starting a game with an underwater level is rarely a good idea, but with scuba gear there's no danger of drowning and Lara can also use her guns underwater and swim faster. The moveset has increased a little. You can balance on top of swing poles, stand on ledges with flat walls above them, do wall-jumps off of parallel surfaces, and use the grapple rope in more ways such as rappelling. However, somewhere in all of this, Lara has become a lot more twitchy and jittery, the camera doesn't behave itself as often, and the game feels slightly more awkward to play than its predecessor. Secrets are often hidden in pots, so you may spend a lot of time kicking and smashing little pots to pieces. I believe this game was rushed to meet a deadline, which is why it feels unpolished in parts, but the opening sections at least are pretty solid and the graphics still look good. Coastal Thailand is a beautiful setting, and I could have stood on the back of Lara's yacht looking out at the sparkling water for ages. This section features some of the best platforming/traversal and is an excellent location with some stunning views. The combat is similar to the previous game, but instead of getting the enemy into a rage mode and then doing a slow-mo kill, you have to build up your own gauge and then activate a slow-mo headshot manually. You have a choice of secondary weapon at the start of each new level and Lara's grenades are now sticky grenades. Just once more, you can follow along with my recorded gameplay sessions, then I'm drawing this mad thing to an end :
  8. Previously... 27) Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - PS4 - 2015 (2007) Completed on normal mode (again). I can't believe it's been over a decade since I last played this. The PS4 remaster is outstanding, the 60fps presentation and more precise controls make it looks and play really smoothly. I seem to be playing a lot of action/traversal games in a row - not by intention, it's just release date order. After coming off Tomb Raider, Nathan Drake's sense of adventure leaves something to be desired. Traversal has a more 'automated' feel, puzzle solving is at a bare minimum and treasure hunting is perfunctory. No, make no mistake, Uncharted is a shooter/combat series first and foremost, and when you emerge into yet another arena full of chest-high walls and boxes with ammo and grenades sitting on top of them, you know what's gonna happen, again and again and again. To be fair, it's not a bad shooter, the cover mechanic works well enough, the weapons feel good to use, the combat arenas show some promise, but it's not as refined or complex as the sequels and it's got its fair share of annoying choke points or arbitrary rules. It also makes very little effort to atone for its astonishing violence, presenting itself as a cheesy (through well-produced) adventure B-movie with a plucky cast of characters making quips and gags at one another, all the while the everyman protagonist slaughters what must be hundreds of human beings. Anyway, enough has been said about this series, I don't need to ramble on about ludonarrative dissonance again. It was fine, I enjoyed playing it again, but that will probably be the last time.
  9. Previously... 26) Tomb Raider: Anniversary - PC - 2007 Hadn't played this since 2009 on the Xbox 360. Completed it again, played through all levels twice (the second time with developer commentaries turned on) - 19-ish hours total. After the rough-around-the-edges Tomb Raider: Legend showed a promising starting point for Lara's new adventures, Crystal Dynamics upped their game and churned out an absolute belter with Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Taking the original Tomb Raider as a starting point, they effectively redesigned every single level to work with the new engine, re-imagined key scenes and built 15 goddamned levels of blissfully pure platforming and traversal gameplay with barely an inch of fat on it. This is not only a masterful example of how to remake a game, but remains in my mind the absolute best Tomb Raider game to date. It's still a hell of a looker, too. Yes, more time has passed since this came out (13 years) than there was between this and the original Tomb Raider (11 years) but it still looks beautiful and that's down to the excellent art design that strikes a balance between realism and cartoonishness. There's lots of nice lighting effects, bloom, sunbeams, haze and rippling reflections of water on rock, and the attention to detail even extends to Lara's top changing colour when she gets wet and gradually drying off from top to bottom as she runs around. Not that I was paying that much attention to her top or anything...
  10. The Atlantis levels are where the differences between this and the original are most pronounced, and where for the first time it seems like they cut a lot of corners. Natla's Mines was originally a massive (and annoying) labyrinth, but this version trims it right down to just a few areas, only one lava room, and the 'skate park' section with the uzi kid is removed completely. Instead, Uzi Kid and Shotgun Guy are fought together in front of the pyramid, and it's done via cutscene/QTE instead. Something that was changed for the remake is that Lara doesn't kill any people until this moment, and it's supposed to be the moment when she crosses a line that she can't go back on. The emotion and drama is ramped up and it helps to soften the character that has, in recent games, become a massive psychopath. I really like what they did with this. The Great Pyramid level cuts out most of the side rooms on the long ascent to the top, turning it into a straight obstacle course - but it still has the doppelganger room. The battle with the giant legless mutant is great fun, as you have to shoot his hand off and then make him fall off the edge of the platform. He's still very formiddable and grotesque, but now he emerges - as do all the Atlantean creatures - from fleshy sacks that look like giant testicles - not the pale green billiard balls from the original game. The Natla fight is also good fun - combat in general, while far from perfect, is greatly improved. I don't particlarly mind that the last few levels are cut down to the bare essentials - they were quite tedious in the original, and everything recognisable still remains in the remake, just much more fun and better looking. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this again. I think this is absolutely a benchmark for Tomb Raider games, taking what made the first one so good and modernising it, updating it, and putting Lara's adventure into a new context. What's particularly impressive is how little filler there is - coming from the rather slapdash Tomb Raider: Legend with its short platforming and action setpieces, Anniversary focuses on platforming and traversal for its entire runtime. It's the core of the game and it dishes up level after level of the same thing, gradually increasing in difficulty, through amazingly atmospheric environments. It's thematically-solid, consistent and a pleasure to play through. Best classic Tomb Raider? This is the one.
  11. Egypt is where the platforming takes a step up in difficulty, with lots more intricate ledge patterns, timed sequences and instant-death traps to contend with. Unfortunately, it's also where some bugs creep in, as on several occasions Lara refuses to engage with the environment, failing to grab a swing bar or step on an upright post, falling 'through' them as if they weren't there. Eventually she does it, but it's unnecessary frustration. The introduction of the mummies, like any new and scary creature, happens via a cutscene. To be fair, it's a really good cutscene, but in the original game, those mummy things are just there, walking around and moaning until you get close to them, then they start screaming and lunging towards you. Lara's new agility and combat skill takes the edge off the horror aspect. (For which I am secretly glad. ) This is a very pretty game. The light shining through the stone roof, highlighting specks of dust and sand, the reflections of the water rippling on the walls, the hazy glow to everything - it's quite beautiful. I always think that's the sign of good graphics, that they still hold up despite technical limitations because the art design is so strong. Incidentally, I've been recording a (partially commentated) playthrough on my youtube channel. I should have it all finished by the weekend.
  12. St. Francis Folly is a classic level and still looks how you remember it, but each of the four 'Greek god' rooms has been expanded in scope and variety. They also fixed the incorrect names, so Roman god Neptune and Norse god Thor are now renamed Poseidon and Hephaestus, the latter being the Greek god of blacksmithing or something - hence the hammer (though I'm not sure about the lightning). The next level is also now correctly named as 'coliseum' (a generic term) rather than 'Colosseum' (the specific one in Rome). Basically, Crystal Dynamics went in and fixed everything. The developer commentaries by Jason Botta (director of TR:A) and Toby Gard (creator of the original TR) are really good, very down-to-earth people and clearly having fun sharing their stories. It never really occurred to me that the original Midas statue in the 'Palace Midas' level wasn't actually there. It was just its feet up to the ankles and one hand. The rest was filled in by my imagination, I suppose! In the remake, they've got the full statue, a much higher room, they've combined the gardens area with the statue room and all of the surrounding rooms with the lead bars are almost completely different, just based loosely on the original rooms. You also start and finish the levels in a different place (you enter from the little square pool in the original, but here you finish by going into the pool). The gold bar slots are also right in the same place as the hand, so there's less backtracking, although I did still have to do a bit of backtracking when I kept falling down the sand slopes. The Cistern level has been 'removed' and merged with the Tomb of Tihocan level, so again they've taken the original ideas and level themes and made almost entirely new levels out of them. The original is massive, and I was going back through my old playthrough videos, bewildered by how many extra rooms there were, how many bits of the levels have been streamlined and condensed in the remake. But, at the same time, the remade levels look and feel how you remember them being and in most cases are significantly better and more fun. They should have included the giant rats, though.
  13. Tomb of Qualopec is almost completely different. In the original, it's a very boxy room, pristine with ornate gold and red detailing. In Anniversary, it's crumbling and falling apart realistically, with walls of rock and wood, and there are gaps in the floor and the layout of the corridors going off from the main room is totally different. I don't find this version as scary as the original game. In the original, a lot of the fear comes from not being able to control Lara easily and every enemy encounter being very dangerous. Here, the combat is actually so much fun that I don't mind when a raptor comes screaming around the corner. I can dodge and dive and enjoy the experience rather than dread it. (I may change my mind when the mummies turn up again.) Here's a scary thought: more time has passed between Anniversary and today (13 years) than there was between Anniversary and the original Tomb Raider (11 years). #sorrynotsorry
  14. Oh my, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is as lovely as I remember it. This was only released a year after the rather scrappy Legend and the jump in quality is staggering. It's basically running on the same engine, but everything is polished and refined, the environments look lush, the character and art design is more ethereal and subtly shaded rather than the high contrast post-process soup of Legend's enhanced graphics. And it's just so nice to be exploring big ancient tombs full of traps and mechanisms and the odd wild animal, and not have to worry about gun fights with humans throwing grenades at you, or vehicle sections or whatever. It's the Tomb Raider game everyone loved, except now it's spruced up, streamlined and incredibly fun to play. Even the combat is made better with the charge/focus/head-shot mechanic. And Lara's mansion has become a fully fledged level in its own right, expanding the version from Legend and adding more to explore indoors and outside. And dialing it backwards in time to before the pool room was built, and there's the crates still in the hall, etc. How absolutely bloody excellent. I'm going to really enjoy playing through the rest of this again. (The only thing they messed up in this remake is over-emphasising the iconic moments from the original, such as that bloody T-Rex cutscene/boss fight QTE nonsense.)
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