Training Day

I don’t think there’s a gamer on the planet who hasn’t played, or at least heard, of Worms. It has a timeless formula that, essentially, just lets you experiment with a whole heap of different weapons times and ‘go at it’ with either the computer of a human opponent.

There are varying degrees of expertise in the Worms community. You have people who are so brilliant at lobbing their grenades across the map with the right level of force, the correct angle, and against the wind that they can blow an opponent off the board in a single stroke. There are others that (over)rely on just getting line of sight, lining up a bazooka shot and firing it with an extreme level of force (that doesn’t actually make a difference).

I like to consider myself somewhere in between.

What I didn’t expect with this particular outing for Worms was the introduction of some new toys. I thought the introduction of a tank was pretty cool – a bit unnecessary in terms of what some of the Worms joy is – but cool nonetheless.

And then, they introduced a Mech!

One of my favourite gaming memories is stomping around a desert world playing MechWarrior. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I couldn’t play it very well, but I absolutely loved it. So, now, picture Worms WMD introducing Mechs, and letting me stomp around the level with the same level of joy that was sparked well over twenty years ago. Absolutely priceless.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this particular Worms, but at the same time, it has such familial comfort that I don’t need to dive too deep without giving my quick-and-dirty assessment on the game: it’s good. It’s the same ol’ Worms, with a WMD lick-of-paint.

To be honest, I wish more games took their winning formula, made them look pretty, and stopped stuffing around with the mechanics.

(The same could be said for the recently release Toy Story 4)

Hungry Shark

For those of you with a void in your life that can only be filled by stepping into the shoes (or fins) of a shark and eating fish and people alive, then have I got the game for you.

Hungry Shark is a little title out of a Developer you might have heard of: Ubisoft. But rather than flogging its Tom Clancy license or thinking up new world cities to stretch the Assassins Creed story to, it has this nifty little game that is all about controlling a shark as he, well, eats.

There is some other elements to this game that I haven’t quite worked out yet. For instance, I can’t quite understand what a Gold Rush is, and I suspect that there is different kinds of sharks to purchase or upgrade into. There were a few times I tried to eat things, in this instance a turtle as well as an eel, at which the screen popped up a notice that I needed a particular kind of shark.

I wonder if the same rules apply to five year old fussy eating humans as well. Do I need to upgrade to one that eats his vegetables?

Graphically, the game isn’t bad considering it is running on a mobile. The issues I saw were largely to do with frame-rate rather than textures, which is probably a conscious decision by Ubisoft to sustain visual fidelity over performance. It’s not necessarily distracting but it is noticeable, and while I’d like to be able to blame my hardware (I’m playing on an iPhone XR), I suspect that the results would be similar on most devices.

As it turns out, I picked up this game during what was an update to coincide with the Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’. If there was something special to do with that, then I completely missed it, but long-time players of the game might have a better idea what is and isn’t part of the update as opposed to the regular game.

All-in-all, a solid little time waster.

3/5 Stars

The Missing Lord (Xander)

I try and make a point of firing up Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms once every one or two weeks just to make sure I’m not missing a special event and, more importantly, an opportunity to unlock a special event character. While cross-save would still make this easier, I’ve increasingly become comfortable making my Xbox instance my Idle Champs home.

I’ll admit, Xbox achievements got me through the door, and my time investment in the console version has kept me there.

I enjoyed this latest event because I didn’t feel like it took itself too seriously. While most special events are achievable, some of them make more work than they need to, and this one just simply did not. It had a fun layout for the characters, and a good progress cadence that focussed on getting through it rather than punishing you for the sake of punishing you.

And what’s great about it? I have another character to collect this season! I’ve already sent Brunor back out again, and so with another day of grind, I should be adding another character to my collection.

It’s the little things in life.

The Kreator

I don’t know whether this game is supposed to be called The Kreator or simply Kreator. There is some marketing inconsistency going on with this title, but in any event, I think it’s fairly clear that this is a whimsical take on the word ‘Creator.’

From what I can gather, the actual creation in this game comes from manipulating your small, yellow orb about an ever-rotating world, at which point any pre-existing flora on the surface ‘grows’ a bit when you touch it. Voila! ‘Look what I have created!’ It’s actually not quite as exciting as that, but I think that, in terms of connection between the title and the actions goes? Well, this is it.

While growing plants is nice and all, the substance of this game comes in the form of taking the aforementioned dot and collecting more yellow dots. Repeat ad nauseam. From time to time there’ll be a missed dot which turns evil, or you’ll collect some white guardian angel dots which help save the day, but there’s no huge narrative to explore here. No compelling protagonist. You collect dots.

Do I love it? No. Do I hate it? No. It is what it is. The reviews on the App Store tout this game as the perfect way to end the day or any one of a number of cathartic environments that need a quick mobile fix.

A new hope has awakened!

In many cases, I find the smaller and more ‘indie’ a game is, the more fun they offer are, and so I went hunting around Xbox Game Pass to see what titles might fit that criteria, and the one that appeared to hit the overlap in that particular Venn diagram was a 8-bit-esque title called Dandara.

The operative word in that introduction was appeared.

The premise for this one is simple – you ‘jump’ around the level using a linear path, which means trying to get to an overhead area often involves a whole lot of puzzle solving and using levers to either manipulate the environment, or help you ‘work your way around’ a whole heap of rooms just to be able to get where you need to be going.

There is also some shooting and a few enemies that make your life difficult – and they really do make your life difficult – but they are fairly inconsequential when it compares to the environment themselves.

I’ve only just managed to find a map within the game journey itself (I remember this being a boon when I finally managed to buy it within Hollow Knight) which might make life a bit easier, but in terms of game cadence, it probably injected itself into my life a little bit later than it needed to.

There is always going to be a healthy level of frustration when it comes to puzzle games. As there should be. But not at the expense of player goodwill. The only game that manages to treat its players with such disrespect is Dark Souls, and – to be honest – that’s part of what that particular playerbase wants, so bully for them. It’s not what I want, and, I suspect, it’s probably not what a whole lot of other puzzle gamers want either.

I’d like to say I’ll go back, but to be honest, it’s far too expansive, the narrative requires me to have smoked a very large joint of marijuana before I started playing, and it is (deliberately?) vague in giving players any sense of guidance.

I don’t want a life lesson on trial-and-error. I just want to play the damn game.

Gardenscapes Level 135

As I mentioned the other day, for a few weeks now, I’ve been getting back into Gardenscapes on iOS, which is essentially just a matching game with a bit of a narrative overlay thrown in for flavour.

I actually think that making it to Level 135 is more representative of my ability to stay with the game this long, rather than any sort of skill. All of the games like this seem to have a mechanism built in that tries to entice you into spending some real life money, and when it sees you’re not going to, it gives you a fast-tracked win and then tries again another day.

That nugget of wisdom comes to you thanks to over 135 levels of staying power.

My only criticism in the game (other than microtransactions and incessant ways to make you spend your real money – a criticism I level at most mobile games now, not unique to Gardenscapes), is its inability to skip over some rather dry narrative beats. I don’t mind tapping through a few dialogue boxes every now and then – but depending on what options you choose, you can start to feel a bit dry after the tenth line of dialogue in a game.

And so, the journey continues. It’s hard to tell where the Gardenscapes journey ends or if it’s just a never-ending road of developer updates and tweaks, but I’ll keep checking in with it as time goes on.

Besides, it beats having to try and work on my own garden!

Homescapes Level 43

When I think of some of the earliest games I played on the iPhone, a few notable titles come to mind: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Homescapes all rung-in a new generation of gaming that made mobile phones a legitimate vehicle for contemporary gaming.

With all that in mind, I’m not sure whether I’m just a bad player or if I played more Gardenscapes than Homescapes, but I’m not sure why I’m still only at level 43!

Ah, I know what it is … parenting.

Without getting into a long monologue about contemporary parenting as a gamer, what I will say is that, often, overnight when you have a newborn, you want a quick fix of a short, sharp, but – most importantly – fun video game. Since the birth of my third child, I’ve been leaning quite heavily into Gardenscapes, cf. Homescapes, and so while they’re both great titles, I’m considerably ahead on the former.

The other thing that I think draws me to Gardenscapes over Homescapes is the story. While it’s nice that the whole narrative focuses on improving our protagonist’s parent’s home, I think it feels more engaging to be working on the expansive garden in Gardenscapes. There is real aesthetic changes rather than just the small tweaks and occasional new asset dropped into the environment of the home.

So … with that in mind … I better get back to it. This house won’t renovate itself, and the cat needs a new bed to sleep in!

A New Frontier

SteamWorld Dig 2 • Leave the Earth with your companion in tow • 100G • 17.25% of gamers unlocked this

One game that I’ve always been surprised about how much I enjoy has been SteamWorld Dig, and so I went into the sequel with a fairly standard expectation – and hope – that I would, at a base level, ‘enjoy it.’

I didn’t quite expect to love it.

The crew at Image and Form have taken a great concept, and added more fun elements to the mix. In particular the grappling rope and the overcharged jet pack. You would think that the game itself wouldn’t really need much added to it to be enjoyable, but the developers have offered some new puzzles, environments and enemies that make it all worthwhile. Even now that I’ve finished the game – I’ve been spending a lot of time following up with just general mining and upgrading, pursuing some other achievements before I pop this game back on the shelf.

Most of my deaths throughout the game were silly ones, where you curse yourself for a moment before realising you can do better, and then … well … do better. The only frustrating section was, rightly, the final end boss, but it probably only took me four or five gos (admittedly on the lower difficulty) to get it done. The entire game is deliciously accessible for any skill-level.

And so, this brings my SteamWorld Dig 2 journey to an end. I suspect there will be a third outing, given the open ended conclusion.

If the transition from OG SteamWorld to 2 was this good – I can’t wait to see them knock 3 out-of-the-park!

Break the Bank

Hitman 2 • Completed “Golden Handshake” • 20G • 0.67% of gamers unlocked this

Those who know me, know that I love the Hitman rebooted series – it was by far-and-away my Game of the Year for 2016, and the sequel was pipped-at-the-post for 2018 only by the exceptional masterpiece that was God of War.

What GoW doesn’t do, however, is keep up with a healthy drip-feed of content and love that IOI (which I now chuckle about since I started watching Ready Player One) have given the game ever since they wrestled control of it from Square Enix.

I have to say – if getting out from a big publisher can do this for Hitman 2, I have exceptionally high hopes to see what Destiny 2 can do once free from Activision.

But I digress. Today I want to talk about one of the newer missions in H2, set in a New York Bank. It’s tight, controlled, and offers up a ‘Hitman-lite’ experience when compared to the main game(s). But I have to say, as additional content, I am more than happy for this level of polish. Sure, it doesn’t have the sprawling environment of Sapienza, or the NPC-rich markets of Marrakech, but what it has is story. It has enough beats for 47 to make this feel quintessentially Hitman, and – above all else – it’s fun.

Without much effort, I was able to get through two of the main story angles, and with a bit of blind luck and random button-presses, I managed to clear a few more milestones as well. The mission itself asks you to kill the main bank boss and steal some data from either the safe or off three other bosses in the bank – and while my plan going in was to aim for the safe, as it turned out, I stumbled into those three executives without too much trouble – and so, I killed them, took their hard drives, and then put a bullet in the front of the bank boss lady’s head.

Just another day in paradise.

Which, ironically, is where Lucas Grey tells 47 that they are headed to next at the end of the level – right before the ominous TO BE CONTINUED splashed across the screen.

After XIII ended the game like that back in 2003, I’ve been a little bit scarred. At least give me a (The) Sopranos-style cut-to-black!

I suppose the difference here is, the fact overarching story told in cutscenes is very different than that told through either in-mission voiceover or through emerging gameplay. Hitman is a game where you can dive into a world and kill a target without needing to know all the nuts and bolts of their lives. XIII is an intensely narrative-driven action romp where context is essential.

Still, to be safe – just don’t do ‘to be continued’s’.

I’m curious to see what some of the other achievements are for this DLC but I’m more than pleased for a solid first effort from IOI. I can’t wait to see what else they come up when they inevitably (shudder) ‘continue’ the series.

AoM Forbidden Valley 1-7 Flicker of Hope

As it turns out, you can only use your ‘borrow a minion off a friend’ once a day, and so with a whole roster full of woefully underpowered heroes, I elected to mix up the path a little and head into the Forbidden Valley.

I didn’t think there was anything special about this fight – it was fairly evenly matched and both sides lost a person or two (though, obviously, I still had some standing at the end!), but my main takeaway out of this whole encounter was that I had completely missed the auto advance button on the left hand side of the screen. So, instead of trying to find the best attack/defend option on each round, I can increase the speed to 4x, let it auto-play, and I believe it’s going quicker than I’ve ever been able to get through a game that didn’t use an auto-clicker or a few player-friendly enhancements!