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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2022 10:29 pm 


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Herr Schatten wrote:
I actually prefer the first Monkey Island to the second one, but both are great games. I’m also looking forward to the new one quite a bit. If it ends up only half as good as Thimbleweed Park, I’ll already be very happy. I put a lot of trust into Gilbert. I’m pretty sure he’ll deliver a quality product.


It's hard for me to pick MI1 or MI2 as a favorite; I had a great time playing both games and I found the second one to be an interesting evolution of the first game and I remember it being somewhat more difficult than the first. Plus, the graphics and the music are definitely a step up. I haven't played it in a long time, and it took me some time to get through the puzzles. It was fun! This time around I was able to play it using the MT-32 music, which is absolutely superb and really takes the whole thing to the next level.

The reason I choose MI2 is that I played the first one about a year or so ago and I wanted to get myself ready the new game, which is supposed to pick up after the events of Lechuck's Revenge. I have to assume it tracks G.T. and G.P.LC. after the events of the Big Whoop Amusement Park, where they left Elaine waiting at the top of the hole.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 1:01 am 


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Posts: 1651
I’ve mostly been Playing PGA tour 2k21. I don’t know anything about Golf so it’s kinda interesting. What club do I pick? No idea. What kind of swing is best for this situation? No idea. Nothing too demanding to play after a crappy day at work.

Started playing Rocksmith again. Always my favorite. Getting pretty good at the Slayer songs.

The new Cotton game is pretty cool. I like using the Psyvariar character.

I bought the new Ninja Turtles game. Not the collection. Looks great and all. Makes you feel like your playing a cool mame rom that you somehow overlooked. Controls really well too. Levels are kind of lacking. Not holding my interest all that well really.

Played some Hitman 3 in VR mode and I like it ok. Too bad it doesn’t use the move controllers. Instead it’s some kind of halfway hybrid between the two. Have to use the analog sticks to move and actually move the controller to do kills is weird. As usual with the VR stuff I ended up getting nauseous eventually and had to quit.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 3:42 am 


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I've started playing quite a bit of King of Fighters recently - mostly XIII and 98 UM FE. XIII looks so good and has fantastic music too. Really like Daimon's and Leona's design. Haven't ventured online as yet....and it'll be a while before I have the guts to tbh :lol: I've been primarily a Guilty Gear player, which itself was famous for crushing n00bs (before Strive dropped), but I feel the KOF playerbase will be even even more brutal. Especially here in Korea where the game has been super popular since the arcade days. Still, I'm enjoying learning the combos and characters, and like all good fighting games, it has that satisfying feeling once you get a move or combo down.

I also picked up Metal Slug XX on sale at fanatical. It's steam reviews gave me pause, but I gotta say the controls feel snappy and it looks great imo. I was like a kid again playing, which led to some chuckles from my wife and a few "so cute" comments. Maybe it's a product of going form the first game in a lengthy series to the last game, but I had a lot of fun and was genuinely impressed by the graphics. To note, I didn't play very seriously, and only a couple of levels at that. I will say the level design seemed a little lacking in places, but I'm looking forward to playing this once I got through the rest of the series. Which might be a while :lol:
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 6:19 am 


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vol.2 wrote:
The reason I choose MI2 is that I played the first one about a year or so ago and I wanted to get myself ready the new game, which is supposed to pick up after the events of Lechuck's Revenge. I have to assume it tracks G.T. and G.P.LC. after the events of the Big Whoop Amusement Park, where they left Elaine waiting at the top of the hole.


I'm with you in that I really wouldn't want to pick favourites between MI1 and 2, but if I had to I'd definitely go with 2 for all the extra work and memorable moments put into that game. But they are just really two parts to a whole.
Did you play the remake that came out a few years ago? I actually like the new graphics (they aren't as pretty as the original, but they offer an interesting alternative), and find the voice acting mostly fitting. But if you don't like either, they can be turned off.
What's more important to me about this version however is that it comes with basically a "commentary track" that can be enabled for every single room of the game, where Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer themselves will pop up and comment on the development of the game and other thoughts in the context of where you currently are.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 11:20 am 


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I’ve mostly been Playing PGA tour 2k21. I don’t know anything about Golf so it’s kinda interesting.

I too have never really been golfing in my life, but get down with golfing video games. Both the old-school swing bar and the new analog stick "Golden Tee" variety. I'm also glad the PGA went somewhere other than EA with the license, as I think Tiger Woods '08-'09 was the last good one (they destroyed the putting--and in typical EA fashion--stubbornly and stupidly refused to change it back)

But they're part strategy-part test of nerve. Plus, I dig the whole RPG/barbie aspect of leveling/dressing up your character in the new-school titles.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 2:01 pm 


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Booted up Kirby again and remembering how much I just didn't care about this one save for certain fights and a level or two. But overall it's just...dull.
Man, I don't like the Switch.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2022 10:32 pm 


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ELEX marks Piranha Bytes’ sixth take on their tried-and-true Gothic formula. For those who have never played any Piranha Bytes games before, here's a quick introduction. PB games stand out from other RPGs through their small yet dense game worlds. Players progression is soft-gated through high-level enemies rather than physical barriers. This way skilled enough players can edge their way into parts of the world they’re not supposed to be in yet. Then there's a progression curve that–relative to most RPGs–has you start from level negative five. You will start off as such a useless sod that even a basic oversized chicken is a major threat to your life; something you must grow to overcome by running away and kissing the boots of those stronger than you. This time, the world is one of the biggest PB has ever made, and you get a jetpack right at the start of the game. How does it pan out?

The exploration in ELEX is downright addicting. What starts as a short stroll in the woods towards a quest objective turns into a constant string of “oooh, what’s that?”`. You'll end up taking detour after detour, going from one interesting landmark to the next. After scavenging everything you can find–only an hour later will you remember what it was you came here for in the first place. Despite the size of ELEX's world, it’s consistently dense with stuff to explore, and there's always another landmark in sight of another. The only exception is the region of Ignadon, which f.e. has only half or 2/3rds the amount of quests compared to the other two main regions, despite being as large. It also helps that the quest design in ELEX is good at sending you towards different parts of the world where you can (hopefully) get sidetracked.

ELEX’s world is on an intrinsic level appealing to explore because of the jetpack. In past PB games the main obstacles you faced were enemies blocking your path, but now the terrain itself is a major obstacle. The world terrain features much more vertical variation compared to previous PB games, as there are way more structures and landmarks that make you go “can I climb that?”. 99% of the time, you can, and 99% of the time you’ll also find an item up there as well! There are almost no invisible walls in ELEX that get in the way of your exploration; the only limit is your jetpack fuel.

One would think that a jetpack would trivialize combat and exploration, but turns out it's quite well balanced! The jetpack only allows you to gain height for about six seconds, and takes about three times as long to recharge from 0 to 100. Fuel only recharges if you’re standing on a solid surface. Infinite flight isn’t possible, and fuel takes too long to recharge to spam the jetpack in combat. Climbing terrain then isn’t a matter of ‘hold spacebar to climb’. It does take planning and fuel management to fly over gaps and climb buildings. In combat the jetpack doesn’t have much use outside of running away or shooting enemies mid-air.

With flight being a thing, PB was finally forced to address the longstanding issue of using high ground to cheese enemies. PB made the decision to give almost all enemies ranged attacks that can lead you. Meaning, they shoot towards where you are moving towards rather than where you are. As most combat in ELEX takes place on open plains or hills, this is definitely a sensible decision. This way you can’t just fly or circlestrafe to cheese most enemies, now that they can snipe you out of the sky. There are other ranged attack types (such as homing/interruptible hitscan) that ELEX could have used to vary things up, but sadly it never does.

Though the exploration in ELEX is great, its rewards are rather disappointing. Expect to find a lot of junk items, healing/mana potions, some cash, some crafting materials, or a piece of lore. Sometimes you will find an actually powerful piece of gear… with such insane stat requirements that it takes 10 more hours of leveling to equip. All the above is of course still valuable, but the fact that most places in the world yield more of the same makes it rather predictable and unexciting. Of course there must be more low-value than high-value finds to make the latter feel appropriately rewarding, but in ELEX that ratio is too skewed towards the former.

That ELEX reduces the average value gained per square unit explored does make some sense, however. In earlier PB games the worlds were relatively smaller, so for every square meter explored you were more likely to find a high-value item. In ELEX the world is larger, yet just as dense with items. This results in a greater total amount of items to discover, which for a game like this makes the difficulty curve and economy much harder to balance. If ELEX kept the same low/high-value find ratio of the old games, there’d be so many good items to find through a bit of exploration that the player would become too strong too early, likely resulting in the player being bored as they steamroll through most of the world without too much effort. Thus it was necessary to reduce the value you get on average out of exploration. Yet, the end result of the rewards for exploration not being exciting persists. The design challenge here is as follows: How do you maintain a reasonable difficulty curve and keep rewards for exploration exciting, while having a high density of discoverable items spread out across a much larger surface area?

One method ELEX already uses is to ‘split’ high-value items into parts and spread them across the world (akin to collecting Heart Pieces in The Legend of Zelda to create Heart Containers). For example, the world contains a lot of Natural Elex that’s not that useful on its own, but you can combine several pieces to craft Elex Potions for attribute/skill points. There’s also Gemstones, which you can slot into gear to give you minor stat boosts. Smaller Gemstones can then be combined to create larger ones which provide greater boosts. This way there’s a noticeable sense of progression without rewarding the player with too much power for exploring a small part of the world. The implementation of those ideas in ELEX are rather flawed (certain vendors can sell infinite amounts of Natural Elex to the point where finding Natural Elex in the wild doesn’t feel as rewarding anymore, and Gemstones are so rare to find that even in my semi-completionist playthrough I only had enough Gemstones to make one (1) Large Gemstone), but the idea behind them is sound.

(cont)
Spoiler: show
ELEX also prevents you from being able to equip powerful gear you find until you meet certain stat requirements. These are necessary in games like this to some extent, but in the context of ELEX they are absurdly balanced. In practice, you often won’t be able to equip that nice gun you found until ten or twenty more hours of leveling up. The costs for increasing your stats increase the higher the stats themselves get (when a stat is over 30 it costs 2 attribute points to raise it by one, and when it’s over 60 it costs five points to raise it by one), so if you also factor in that all armor/weapons have requirements for two different stats, and that most of the gear you find have requirements around 50 or higher, it’s going to take a little while until you get there. To rub more salt in the wound, even if you do finally meet the stat requirements, you’ll find that most high-tier gear you find in the wild isn’t even that good compared to what you can buy from the store and upgrade yourself–on top of having more reasonable stat requirements to boot! In fact, one of the most powerful melee weapons in the game is just a fully upgraded store weapon. So you often can’t use a lot of weapons you find through exploration, and by the time you meet the requirements you’ve most likely found a better alternative already.

This is where the ‘split’ method could be applied to gear. By ‘splitting’ gear into components spread out across the world, the player can still feel a sense of progress for having found a part of a powerful item that can later be combined into one. This should reduce the need for absurd stat requirements in high-tier gear as well. Dividing a high-tier item across several high-level areas or from materials dropped by killing high-level enemies should already pose enough of an implicit stat requirement of its own.

Splitting items has its limits when there’s not that many items to split to begin with, so another solution is to add more items by introducing more item categories. The currently available equipment categories in ELEX are for weapons, shields, body armor, helmets, leg armor, one ring and one necklace, but so you could also add categories for things like gloves, boots, belts, another ring, earrings, or cyber-implants. Since finding a new piece of equipment in the wild only feels valuable if it’s better than your existing gear or if it has an unique use case (like masks that offer radiation/poison resistance, or can be broken down into useful crafting materials), scaling out horizontally by adding more types of gear allows you to populate the world with more equipment that feels unique and valuable. The player being encouraged to multi-class in ELEX is also a good extension of this idea. It means that more weapon types and thus more items one finds through exploration are more relevant to one’s playstyle, whereas earlier PB games tended to focus more on pure builds with a single weapon category. The only caveats to scaling out gear horizontally is that the difficulty curve of the game should factor in the player having an item equipped for every category, and that the economy should factor in the player being able to buy an item for most categories. Keep also in mind that there’s only so many equipment categories you can make: a massive amount of categories could devalue each individual item category, the equipment system could become Armored Core-levels of complicated in a way that doesn’t suit what the game is going for, and having a humanoid player character be equipped with so many different items and baubles could feel a bit silly.

Another option is to scale out vertically by adding more equipment tiers per equipment category. That way there’s a lot more stuff to find per equipment category before you get your hands on the highest-tier gear, thus keeping the world populated with useful items that aren't immediately too powerful. ELEX already applies this by having most weapons come in four minor tiers of power, on top of major tiers per weapon category that have actually different names but the same moveset. For this to properly work, there would also need to be more enemy ‘tiers’ to exercise this newfound power against (be it through new enemy types, variations of existing enemy types, or a pack of lower-tier enemies that you’d have to fight all at once). If mid-tier gear is enough to deal with endgame enemies, then the higher equipment tiers are overkill. You could balance the highest equipment tier around the highest enemy tier, but if you then try to squeeze in a 1000 equipment tiers even though there are only 5 enemy tiers, then the end result is an incremental sense of progression which feels like the only difference between an old and a new weapon is that it does +1 damage. It’s hard to appreciate new gear you found if it’s barely any different from your old gear. You need to strike a good balance between the amount of enemy tiers and weapon tiers, depending on how many assets (weapon/enemy models, animations) you can afford to create and how large you plan to make the world.

Finally you can add another dimension to itemization by letting the player modify and upgrade existing gear using upgrade items. This reduces the need for horizontal scaling by introducing more equipment-relevant items that aren’t actually equipment items. It also reduces the need for vertical scaling, since being able to make low-tier items as strong as high-tier ones would reduce the amount of equipment tiers necessary. Such upgrade items can function as one-time consumables or reusable modifiers you can equip onto equipment, like the aforementioned Gemstones. These upgrade items themselves can also be tiered, split into parts/upgrade when combined, and either apply to all equipment categories or some/one of them. Care must be taken to not make upgrade items too powerful and versatile, otherwise there’s little point in finding better tiers/uniques of an equipment type (beyond slightly higher base stats) when you can already upgrade a low-tier weapon to be as strong as a high-tier one. ELEX manages to avoid this by limiting the amount of Gemstone slots on a weapon by its weapon tier, where higher weapon tiers have more slots to put gemstones into compared to lower tier ones.

To sum it up, we’ve added more item categories, added more tiers per item category, relaxed the stat requirements for items, introduced upgrade items that can modify items, and also split all aforementioned items in parts and recipes for good measure. Will that be enough to populate a large world with useful but not-too-powerful items in a way that’s satisfying? Well, no. Populating the world with useful items like upgrade potions and higher-DPS weapons is one thing, but populating it with interesting items is another. If the only thing better items do is the exact same thing as the previous tiers but with a higher armor/damage value, then all you’ve done is establish more progression for the sake of progression. Such number-goes-up itemization holds nothing new and no surprises by itself, leaving no sense of excitement to be had.

The secret ingredient behind what makes upgrades exciting is precisely all the new gameplay opportunities they open up. Exploration in Metroid wouldn’t be as rewarding if Energy/Missile Tanks were the only items you could discover, since they usually don’t open up any new opportunities. Stat upgrades like Energy/Missile Tanks or all the methods I listed above only serve to make the world feel less empty by populating it with useful rewards, but they cannot be a substitute for creating interesting rewards.

ELEX’s gear rewards aren’t very interesting because the only new things better gear offers is usually just a higher attack/armor value. There is no leg armor that does anything but increase your armor stat, most helmets (aside from sunglasses and the Protective Mask) only increase your armor stat, and all body armor also only increases your armor + poise. Rings and amulets are a bit more special in this regard because they can boost your skills or attributes, but given the aforementioned insane weapon stat requirements, I ended up mostly wearing rings and amulets that let me equip a better weapon. Even unique weapons with special names don’t do anything special. First, they are always based on an existing weapon that you can buy in a store, and thus don’t have any unique moves or modes attached to them that other weapons of the same type don’t have. Second, they might come with elemental buffs or gemstone sockets pre-applied, but since you can craft those on any weapon yourself it hardly makes those “uniques” unique. Aside from the sunglasses and the hilariously broken amulet that lets you survive one lethal blow (an effect you can reset by re-equipping the amulet), most gear does not provide any unique effects or synergies or anything that can change the way you play, like in Diablo or Baldur’s Gate. Since finding a better sword by itself isn’t as satisfying as it is in Gothic or Risen, giving weapons more unique and interesting effects (both in combat and outside of combat) could allow one to populate the world with a greater amount and variety of equipment items without having to scale equipment out horizontally/vertically as much. Either ELEX should have introduced new gear properties/systems to justify strewing so much gear around the world, or it should have shrunk down the world to accommodate the gear potential it already had.

While Gothic and Risen took an even more basic number-go-up approach than ELEX to gear progression, it ironically did work out better for those games. One reason being that each better equipment item that you did get was a major and noticeable upgrade because there were less equipment tiers. Every armor set in Gothic/Risen represented a major milestone that required you to do several quests and save up a ton of money just to be able to unlock it. They wouldn't be as impactful if you'd get more new armor sets in the same timespan. The second reason is that Gothic/Risen's worlds were filled with gatekeeper NPCs who would gib your unarmored underleveled ass if you got too close. Putting on better armor posed an immediately noticeable increase in your chances of survival against them. The excitement from finding better gear in those games stemmed from all the new areas and potential for exploration that opened up for you, much like finding a key item in a Metroidvania. Of course, finding better gear in ELEX serves a similar purpose, but that sense of progression is way more incremental and thus less pronounced due to the greater amount of equipment items, categories, and tiers present in ELEX–not to mention that ELEX has way less clearly defined gate(keeper)s to test your newfound strength against.

The larger world of ELEX has not only caused the value of itemization to be stretched out, but enemy design as well. I’m not upset at the fact that enemies are reskinned at all–that is simply an inevitable reality of game production–but rather that there is not much variation in enemy behavior and attack design. It's a problem that applies not only between enemy variants, but whole enemy archetypes as well. Whether it’s a Biter or a high-level Stalker, how you approach them is identical: dodge their attacks and stunlock them during the gaps in their attack strings for as long as your stamina and surrounding enemies allow. The only variables that change is the HP/armor/damage on the enemy, whether they have ranged attacks at all, and the animations + punish/dodge windows in their attack strings. Dealing with melee attacks is mainly a matter of timing your backstep/roll button, and rarely about positioning, which curbs the potential variety in enemy melee attacks. Ranged attacks too almost often only come in the form of a projectile with leading, but never spreadshots/lasers/homing/area-of-denial attacks/etc. There are only a few NPCs that use explosives, but that’s about it. Enemy behavior (such as how aggressive they are, how they respond to your actions, whether they can interact with other enemies such as by buffing others or use group tactics) also remains the same throughout. Enemies trying to impede you indirectly (such as by inflicting debuffs, altering the environment, etc.) is also something that rarely ever happens. Only humanoid enemies behave differently from wildlife since they can block your attacks and prefer to use ranged attacks at range. While there are several firearms with unique firemodes and spells and stims available to the player, humanoid NPCs don’t seem very interested in using these. The end result is that once you’ve gotten familiar with the combat system and gotten some decent gear, each fight will play out similarly. For a game where you’ll be doing a lot of fighting, that is not exactly a boon to making each part of the world feel unique.

Even if the enemy NPCs and their variants were more varied in behavior and how you had to fight them, there’s still the issue of having to spread them out across the world in a way that’s not repetitive. There’s only so many enemies and variants that can be reasonably put in the game after all, especially with Piranha Bytes’ AA-level budget and manpower. For this reason it’s important that existing enemy types are combined with each other to create new unique combat scenarios with the same assets, and that enemies are designed in a way where they can synergize and play off of each other to facilitate this approach to encounter design. This may sound asinine to bring up (especially if you’ve read my other reviews), but it bears repeating in ELEX’s case. External modifiers (things like difficult terrain, weather, environmental hazards, interactable environmental objects, or other magic nonsense) can be overlaid on top of a combat zone to multiply the amount of mileage you get out of the few enemy types you have. This would however require that enemies more often attack you in groups/packs, and that they aren’t as susceptible to being picked off one-by-one. That would otherwise defeat the entire point of combining enemies to create new combat scenarios. Of course, even with the above there’s only so many combinations you can make, but at that point you should ask yourself whether your world isn’t just too big to accommodate what little content you have.

That brings us to the second main culprit of ELEX’s lackadaisical balancing: it’s utter and total devotion to non-linear progression. ELEX takes the non-linearity of its forebears even further by letting you go anywhere you want after you exit the tutorial zone, with almost no invisible barriers or story gates holding you back. Such non-linearity doesn’t need to be a bad thing at all. If anything, ELEX’s quest design massively benefits from being able to progress quests out-of-order by being able to find key items or deal with key NPCs before having even started the relevant quests (unlike prior Gothic games where said items/NPCs only spawn after having started the quests… in locations you’ve already explored). Rather, the issue with ELEX’s approach of total freed.om of progression is that it makes it significantly more difficult (but not impossible) to balance character progression, item progression, story progression, and enemy populations, since the player can tackle most content in any order. It’s possible to predict non-linear outcomes and entry points to smaller isolated entities like quests and dungeons, but how do you as a designer predict such things for a massive overworld?

Prior PB games were renowned for their freedom of exploration (especially relative to most mainstream RPGs at the time), but they were–for good reason–not that free. The crux lies in how the games handle how the worlds of those games changed as the main story progressed.

In Gothic I, when the main story moved to a new chapter, most of its world got refreshed with new content. Wildernesses would be repopulated with higher-level enemies (but lower-level enemies would not be despawned, thus not screwing you over if you didn’t systematically exterminate every single NPC for XP per chapter), and NPCs would offer new quests. This meant that the world by hand adjusted itself to match the player’s progress in strength, and also helped the world feel alive by having it respond to changes in the main story. Yet, this approach of refreshing the entire world can only realistically work when its surface area is small enough and when the new content itself is fresh enough. The greater the surface area, the more content would need to be refreshed, which from a production standpoint becomes exponentially more taxing. Not to mention that the player would be expected to sweep most of the world again just to come into contact with the new content, which is something that increasingly feels like forced backtracking and padding the larger the world is. This approach also only works if the refreshed content has truly new story/gameplay ramifications, otherwise it too will come off as padding.

Gothic II had a larger world compared to its prequel, and instead of periodically refreshing the entire game world, it instead cleverly decided to refresh only one part of it. The way that worked is by structuring the world around a central hub–the Khorinis Mainland. In one chapter the player would explore the mainland, then the next chapter a hard-gated border zone would be unlocked (the Old Valley of the Mine, Jharkendar) featuring higher-level content appropriate to the player’s expected level at that point in the main story. The main story then expects the player to explore and do quests in that area, after which they’re led back to the Mainland, which has since been refreshed with new content while the player was away in a border area. This usually brought with it a meaningful change in the situation, such as the introduction of Seekers or an Orc invasion, after which the process repeats itself. Since the border areas are situated on the borders of the world, the player is less likely to pass through them again while backtracking or doing Mainland quests, which means that their lack of new content won’t be noticed. The fact that all the refreshed content is only placed in the central hub/crossroads of the world means that the player is more likely to “organically” (i.e. guided by the designer’s graceful hand) come across all the changes and new content as they’re backtracking. This way they are more likely to engage with it out of their own curiosity and initiative, rather than being told by an NPC that they should investigate something in position XY, which can feel like it is invalidating player agency. Now that the designer can reasonably predict how the player progresses through the world, new level-appropriate content can be placed in areas that the player is likely to visit and come across.

Now compare this to ELEX. Here, almost nothing is gated, and after the tutorial zone the player can go about anywhere anytime. The fact that there’s shit to explore in practically every direction makes it very likely for the player to get pulled into every which way, making predicting player progression through the world rather difficult.

Besides that, ELEX has only three story acts, where the bulk of all side-quests (save for some companion quests) can be completed in the first act. There is no pressing reason to progress the main story, and if you’ve played a few RPGs, you are most likely used to completing as much of the side content as possible before progressing the main story (out of a merited fear of the sidequests permanently disappearing otherwise, as is already the case in ELEX with the Domed City). If you do all the sidequests first and the main story second, then the world will appear barren and its settlements lifeless now that there's no reason to interact with the rest of the world. Only the Domed City changes noticeably after the main story progresses, and even then it doesn’t offer you any new content when it does.

For this reason it would have helped if there were more main story acts and if more sidequests were gated in later acts, but this presents another issue: how do you notify the player that there's new quests available across vastly different parts in the world? Now that the designer cannot predict how the player will backtrack and place new content along that path, either the player must manually check each settlement and/or NPC to see if anything's new, which is time-consuming, or the player must be notified through either phone calls or messenger NPCs spawning near you to notify you that's something new. But the latter has its limits; it feels a bit silly if after a story act change you are bombarded with a dozen NPCs at once telling you you can progress their questline (which is something that actually happens when you visit your companion hub after a story act change). Given the design challenges here, it's understandable why PB would skip all this hassle by just making all side-quests available from the start.

The above paragraphs mostly concern themselves with anticipating progress between major zones of the world, but what about gating progress within those zones? The most common approach by PB games is to have high-level enemies soft-gate your progress, and nudge you towards areas more suited for your level. Instances of this do exist in ELEX, but they seem to be rather applied for guarding small buildings or inlets containing phat loot, rather than guarding larger areas. Even if higher-level enemies were spread out across larger areas, they still wouldn't be effective gatekeepers since enemies in ELEX have trouble chasing you down at all. Not to mention that it makes slipping by them rather unrewarding because of how easy it then tends to be. One of the reasons for this is that enemies never sprint towards you at full speed. Bizarrely, enemies in ELEX can sprint at high speeds, but they only ever do this if you point a ranged weapon at them. The jetpack also makes it easier to simply fly over any would-be gatekeepers, especially once you know how to dodge leading projectiles. That is something that can only be solved by introducing new ranged attacks for enemies that are significantly harder to avoid, or by making the jetpack itself upgradeable so it starts weak, just like how the player character has very limited stamina at the start of the game.

Another victim of this total freedom approach is the difficulty curve. Assuming that the player doesn’t use one of the game’s many exploits or broken tactics, the ‘hobo phase’ (the start of the game when the player is still weak and must scrounge by using any means possible) lasts too long, whereas after that the game completely dissipates in terms of difficulty, offering no meaningful enemy barriers after that point. Admittedly, no PB game ever had a difficulty curve that didn’t fold halfway through the game, but at the very least they still had a functional hobo phase. Yet in ELEX, the player is so weak relative to the average enemy roaming around the starting settlements that they have no choice but to do non-combat quests in towns for several hours before having the stats and money to equip the gear necessary to survive the wilderness and get into actual combat for once. While that is part of the hobo phase too, making it last for so long as in ELEX’s case can make it feel like the game’s just about being an errand boy. At least other Gothic games were more generous with placing weaker versions of enemies in the world.

Once you do hit the magic threshold (which is usually getting the stats to equip a weapon that deals decent damage), the world folds. The grand majority of overworld enemies can be reliably solo’d, you have enough healing potions at that point to mitigate most damage, and the only higher-level enemies are present in isolated pockets that are easily avoidable. From what I can tell, ELEX attempted to balance the fact that the player can go anywhere by balancing most overworld enemies to be mid-level. If the goal is total freedom, then each route should be equally valid, which can mean that each route should be equally dangerous. This would then result in the aforementioned overlong hobo phase (since lower level enemies are hard to come by) and the world having little to offer after you do reach mid-level.

The issue of insane stat requirements on gear can also be traced to the fact that the player can go anywhere at any time. A game whose world had some zones that were hard-gated could simply place higher-level gear in higher-level zones that the player can’t access to begin with until they reach a higher level, while populating the parts that the player can access with weapons more appropriate to their expected level range. Same thing goes for enemies: by gating world progression in a way where the designer can predict how much progress the player has made, they can then have the player fight more level-appropriate enemies. For example, in Fallout: New Vegas the player can take a short route to New Vegas by passing through mountain ranges filled with deadly high-level Cazadors or Deathclaws, or they can take the long and scenic route populated with more level-appropriate NPCs and quests. When the designer cannot predict how the player might make their progress through the world, they're forced to take a one-size-fits-all solution (level scaling in Bethesda’s games, or in ELEX’s case, respawning the world with enemy types depending on the player’s level) to enemy balancing, with limited success.

ELEX did introduce a new (for PB games) way of soft-gating the world: through environmental hazards, or danger zones as I like to call them. Step into a danger zone, and you receive a debuff that saps your health until you leave the zone. You then only have a limited amount of time to go about your business if you don’t want to die, which automatically acts as a barrier for the ill-prepared. It also brings with it interesting trade-offs. So you need to decide if you want to equip gear with a worse armor value but a better ailment resistance if you want to survive the danger zone itself, while leaving you weaker against enemies within the danger zone. So having to spend one buff slot on ailment resistance stims is one slot you can’t use on something else (which matters if your playstyle is reliant on stims). Of course you can try to force your way through the danger zone, but here ELEX actually disables healing through healing potions if you’re inside. The HP that you came in with is all the HP you have to play with. Since each action in the danger zone affects what other actions you can take/how much time you have left down the line, you also can’t just savescum your way through, when it’s a bad decision from half a minute prior currently screwing you over. Unfortunately danger zones are not used as often in ELEX as I would have liked despite the engaging challenges they offer. The few danger zones that there are don’t feature combat or platforming that often (even though combat/platforming under debilitating conditions would have made for more interesting challenges). The only negative in the implementation of the danger zones is that each danger zone type (heat/frost/poison/radioactivity) functions the same (sapping your health over time). It's the same thing but in a different skin depending on the biome the danger zone is in. The danger zones could be more unique from each other if each damage type affected you differently as well.


To conclude, I hope this all illustrates the challenges and caveats that come when expanding the surface area of an open world game. While I would have preferred that ELEX’s world was smaller in size, I do not believe it impossible to create a game with a larger world whose progression and balance is still sensible. The only challenge is doing so is whether the developer has the budget and manpower to realize that, which a larger studio like From Software recently set out to prove with Elden Ring (to great success, I hear?).

During the time while I was (procrastinating) writing this up, ELEX II was released to muted fanfare. Rather than to polish the strengths of the first game, it seems like per nu-PB tradition it’s yet another “one step forwards, two steps backwards” affair. Oh well!
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2022 3:04 am 


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Been playing Hyperstone Heist. I beat it on normal (used a couple continues, though) and I'm now playing on hard, which seems to be only slightly harder. The game feels like mostly remixed levels from TMNT AC and Turtles in Time. Only one new area and boss, but he's awesome (Tatsu). It also has a boss rush that feels like a filler level, though it's not as bad as I initially thought and at least one of the bosses gains new moves (and I found out that a hack already exists that skips or shortens the level). Love that Super Shredder still has that cool music to go with him too.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2022 8:55 pm 


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BurlyHeart wrote:
I've started playing quite a bit of King of Fighters recently - mostly XIII and 98 UM FE. XIII looks so good and has fantastic music too. Really like Daimon's and Leona's design. Haven't ventured online as yet....and it'll be a while before I have the guts to tbh :lol: I've been primarily a Guilty Gear player, which itself was famous for crushing n00bs (before Strive dropped), but I feel the KOF playerbase will be even even more brutal. Especially here in Korea where the game has been super popular since the arcade days. Still, I'm enjoying learning the combos and characters, and like all good fighting games, it has that satisfying feeling once you get a move or combo down.



Great picks.
And as long as you avoid Latin American and Asian players you should be fine :mrgreen:

About Metroid: Fusion gets a lot of flack, but one of it's biggest merits is streamlining Super's convoluted control scheme with only four buttons; boss battles are much better as well. It had everything to be the best yet, if Nintendo execs hadn't decided to dumb down the game for them kids...
In any event, it still remains the best portable Metroid game IMO.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2022 10:29 am 


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I finished off Samus Returns, and it's a lot more not bad than I'd expected.
It pretty much scraps everything that makes Metroid II cool, but I can live with that because it doesn't pretend to do that anyway. But unlike Metroid Dread, which just funnels you through a single linear path throughout the whole game, Samus Returns actually very frequently gives you the freedom to choose where you want to go and look for the various metroids you're hunting in the current area. Just this bit of player agency alone is enough to make it much more enjoyable than its own immediate successor.

The controls are also generally nice, but holy crap the flash counter system is utter garbage, and actively makes every enemy encounter worse. It's cool in some boss fights, but the way it's integrated in common enemy behaviors ruins that aspect entirely. As dumb as it was to keep it around for Dread, it's pretty dumb to even have it in this game in the first place.

Boss fights, ignoring the issue with super repeated ones, are actually quite good in this game too, and don't allow as much passive tanking as the ones in Dread, you absolutely need to know what you are doing. Each of them has very unique patterns than you need to figure out, and I think the game is actually a textbook example in how to properly tell upcoming attacks. A good example is the
Spoiler: show
Ridley fight in the very end. First time you meet him it seems like he'll just rush right over your corpse, giving you little chance to react. But it's actually a pretty easy fight once you start paying attention to what he does, but no less satisfying for it!


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 12:21 am 


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Some games I've been playing for the past few months:

The Operative: No One Lives Forever: Best 007 game :wink: An excellent FPS that knows how to tread the line between stealth and action; parody/humor and originality. Never grows stale nor feels like it overstays it's welcome with many interesting set-pieces and solid level design - 'A very large explosion' being my favorite, a fantastic action stage. Kit Harris does a great job voicing a spunky Cate Archer (the game's main character), an agent in search of revenge and proving herself. And there's even a Metal Gear!? reference/homage in the game!

Metal Gear & Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake: Speaking of the devil... while the first game is a commendable first step, Solid Snake is where the foundation for the series was laid IMO; an incredible effort all around. Damn good music as well.
That swamp fucking sucks though :lol:

Silent Hill: What can I say? A timeless classic and a true horror game. Team Silent Hill masterfully made the PSX limitations works to the game benefits, creating an perennially unsettling and at times an oppressively macabre scenario that's complemented by equally impressive SFX. Enemy design is terrific and making best dad Harry an average Joe and not John Rambo in game adds to the atmosphere of a game that's not out there to kill you, but to make you experience the horrors that were inflicted to an innocent soul.

F-Zero: Part racing game; part tech demo; part pinball machine (when the CPU wants to fuck you on harder difficulties). Would've worked better as a time attack game IMO, but unfortunately you can only do that in some tracks. Despite it's many shortcomings (with Death Wind II being the worst track that I've encountered in any racing game so far), I like the game: unique futuristic setting for the time with great sense of speed, good music and decent track design. Oh yeah, and still a much better game than Super Mario Kart...


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 12:36 am 


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Something that always hits me when revisiting SH1 - the relentless level of detail in its various street and interior environments. Despite the innately low PS1 res, and its ingenious leveraging of draw distance into iconic mist and dark... when it comes to what you can see, the entire game is astonishingly fine-brushed. It's easy to forget, with the technological quantum leap its PS2 sequels (also sumptuously detailed) enjoyed, they were already working against a towering standard in SH1.

(also, despite Yamaoka gracing each of the three sequels with some horribly unnerving ambient sound, SH1's sporting of one of the most skin-crawlingly morbid in the series, via the OSV-only track that most gamerips title "The Dark." I'll never forget clearing the opening "Wizard of Oz" key hunt, only for the sun to die as that awful dirge kicked in. Christ, so many memories bound up in this quartet)

Have you ever tried the unlockable "Self View" mode? It basically turns the "focus cam" button into an over-the-shoulder crash zoom. If you use the camera toggle option, it'll stay that way by default... making the cam button more of an "Ok ok I give up, help!" option, if the POV gets too unwieldy. :lol: While the game would never have worked with it as the default, for replays (knowing how to control/evade the various enemies), I found it surprisingly compelling... walking down the intro alleyway at Harry's eye-level is supremely filmic.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 4:47 am 


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bottino wrote:
The Operative: No One Lives Forever: Best 007 game :wink: An excellent FPS that knows how to tread the line between stealth and action; parody/humor and originality. Never grows stale nor feels like it overstays it's welcome with many interesting set-pieces and solid level design - 'A very large explosion' being my favorite, a fantastic action stage. Kit Harris does a great job voicing a spunky Cate Archer (the game's main character), an agent in search of revenge and proving herself. And there's even a Metal Gear!? reference/homage in the game!

Funny, I remember this game being an extremely popular and broadly revered one, enjoyed by the mainstream and enthusiasts alike.

Kinda weird how I've heard pretty much nothing about it since then. Seems like someone somewhere dropped the ball for some reason. Glad to hear it holds up, though.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 11:19 am 


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I couldn't resist buying Return to Monke Island on day 1 despite a lack of any physical release. This is a series that's far too dear to my heart to just ignore it. Go back 20 years and I'd have gone apeshit over a new Ron Gilbert-directed chapter.





So far, first impressions are quite negative....


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 12:28 pm 


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Quote:
F-Zero: Part racing game; part tech demo; part pinball machine (when the CPU wants to fuck you on harder difficulties). Would've worked better as a time attack game IMO, but unfortunately you can only do that in some tracks. Despite it's many shortcomings (with Death Wind II being the worst track that I've encountered in any racing game so far), I like the game: unique futuristic setting for the time with great sense of speed, good music and decent track design. Oh yeah, and still a much better game than Super Mario Kart...


Still one if my all-time favourites. Still go back every few years to smash through Master level. I actually enjoy Death Wind II, even after all these years it causes ne more issues than any other course, and it's one of the very few that's an absolute pig in Fire Stingray.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 1:52 pm 


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MOSQUITO FIGHTER wrote:
I’ve mostly been Playing PGA tour 2k21. I don’t know anything about Golf so it’s kinda interesting. What club do I pick? No idea. What kind of swing is best for this situation? No idea. Nothing too demanding to play after a crappy day at work.


Having a grasp of real golf helps with those games for certain situations, but it almost always defaults to the club yardage, so there's no real point of changing clubs unless you're dealing with wind at your back or face.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 5:21 pm 



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Never was a N64 guy back in the day, but I've really been enjoying exploring the system lately. Been on Banjo Tooie for a couple weeks. This game is freaking addicting.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2022 9:10 pm 


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Just started Return to Monkey Island. So far it's absolutely fantastic. I know a lot of folks are being critical of the art style because they wanted a retro 16 bit adventure game, but I really like the art, and the visual update is used perfectly to add depth to the game rather than just being window-dressing.

I won't give any details at all, but I recommend it to anyone on the fence.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 5:16 am 


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I'm on chapter 3 of Return to Monkey Island, and conversely I don't think I'd really recommend this game to anyone who's a fan of the series or genre. At least wait until it's going on sale.
It completely drops the ball by seemingly being afraid of alienating its audience by having actual adventure game puzzles. Instead you're pretty much just going through laundry lists for people of things to do, never needing to think about the solutions for anything.

It's a bit of a clash of intention, because while the game seems to strongly refuse to acknowledge its classic adventure game roots, it also stops at nothing to throw memberberries at you every single minute, constantly soaking you in callbacks to Monkey Island 1.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:32 pm 


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I played through Fire 'n Ice (NES) / Solomon's Key 2 (FC) last weekend. It's a really fun and well built puzzle game, and if you want like a minute during the ending when it seems like the game's over, the game suddenly tells you WAIT THERE'S MORE and gives you a password that lets you access a sound test and 50 bonus levels! Really, really quality game.

There's also a level editor that lets you make your own levels (though with no battery save, you'd have to recreate the puzzle each time to share with friends).
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:51 pm 


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I consider Solomon's Key 2 a nice, clean and well polished counterpart to the way more raw, rebellious, and frustratingly arduous Lolo 3. Combined I'd say they make out the top two brain-puzzlers on the NES. :)


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:16 pm 


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Sumez wrote:
I consider Solomon's Key 2 a nice, clean and well polished counterpart to the way more raw, rebellious, and frustratingly arduous Lolo 3. Combined I'd say they make out the top two brain-puzzlers on the NES. :)


Which game is better US Lolo 3, or its counterpart JP Lolo 2, which has a different level set?


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:31 pm 


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I own both games for some reason, but I haven't played the Japanese one yet, so I can't speak for it yet.

The western Lolo 3 is a massive step up in difficulty compared to the western Lolo 2, so I'm not sure if the Japanese equivalent had the same approach (or maybe even more so?). I think that's really what it comes down to for me. Lolo 3 is so god damn relentless, that the relief of finally solving a room is on the level of beating a tough DLC boss in a Souls game.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2022 5:24 pm 


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Sumez wrote:
I consider Solomon's Key 2 a nice, clean and well polished counterpart to the way more raw, rebellious, and frustratingly arduous Lolo 3. Combined I'd say they make out the top two brain-puzzlers on the NES. :)


They're definitely top-notch puzzle games. I consider Solomon's Key 2 to be superior if only because the Lolo games seem to have an element of trial and error; there's no way of knowing if the heart piece you collect is going to give you shots until you collect it, at least not an obvious one I could tell. Solomon's Key 2 has none of that and it's a pure logic and deduction game from the start of a level. How is it even setup in Lolo? Is it set like:

• the second, fourth, and fifth piece in this level give shots, or whatever # piece in the sequence you collect based on the level

or

• each heart piece is flagged to give shots or not and you have to figure out which one in the level is which

I'm pretty sure I remember it being the latter, in which case it annoys me like Castlevania's candles do, in that the ones that matter aren't clearly visually different from the rest (at least Bloodlines had the sense to make subweapon candles look different so you can't accidentally swap weapons).
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:01 pm 


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Solomon's Key 2 is absolutely awesome, one of my favorite puzzle games, regardless on platform. To me, the best puzzles games are ones where, upon starting a new puzzle, I can just put the controller down, look at the screen, and work out the solution in my head. Execution should be a minor, trivial detail afterwards. This is also why I think Sokoban is great, and why I can't get into Lolo despite wanting to and owning all the Famicom games.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 6:09 pm 


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I finished Wayforward's The Mummy Demastered, which has been sitting on my Switch for like 2 years since I got it on sale. It's based on the failed Tom Cruise 'Dark Universe' vehicle, but they didn't pay to license the actors so that's cool. I didn't see the movie because why would I do that, but I'm assuming it's not a 2D pixel art controid so I think it's safe to declare this the definitive version of the property.

The game does a good job building on the design foundation that Axiom Verge laid. It's snappy, responsive and fluidly animated. I don't know if it's because I played Axiom on the not-terribly-ergonomic Vita, but I felt like this game handled aim-lock & diagonals better. Though in the early going it didn't feel that way, since it's throwing enemies at you from angles you're not well equipped to handle yet, who are pretty tanky for your starting weapon set.

There's a very long list of pixel art games with uninspired synthwave soundtracks, but I thought Monomer did a great job evoking a Carpenter-esque atmosphere with this one, it added a fantastic sense of place. Though for gods' sake man, vary up the bass patches. Maybe I shouldn't have listened through a pair of Beats but by the end my ears were going numb from the endless procession of distortion-pedal Curtis filter bass arpeggios.

Artwise it's trying to evoke 8 & 16-bit design cues (it feels very Super Metroid crossed with Castlevania), but in actual technical performance it's more along the lines of Saturn + RAM cart 2D performance. Which I appreciated, Axiom might have hewed too close to the NES (while still breaking most of its rules) aesthetic. It feels a step up from

The game's pretty short - I ended up with 98% of the map & 88% of items in about 6-7 hours, and I'm very much a slow take-in-the-scenery type of player. So I'd say it's worth picking up if you're in the mood for a controid & see it on sale.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:26 pm 


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I've been hoping for Mummy Demastered to get a sale on Steam but it never does.

Is a controid like a metroidvania?


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:54 pm 


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Sumez wrote:
I own both games for some reason, but I haven't played the Japanese one yet, so I can't speak for it yet.

The western Lolo 3 is a massive step up in difficulty compared to the western Lolo 2, so I'm not sure if the Japanese equivalent had the same approach (or maybe even more so?). I think that's really what it comes down to for me. Lolo 3 is so god damn relentless, that the relief of finally solving a room is on the level of beating a tough DLC boss in a Souls game.


The US Lolo II, AFAIK, reused layouts from previous Eggerland games. I'm under the impression that the first JP Lolo, it's JP counterpart, was made to be much more difficult. I'm not sure if US Lolo 3 uses levels from older games, or just has a different level set from the JP version. From what I heard; I'm leaning towards the latter. I remember reading somewhere that the JP Lolo II starts out easter than the US Lolo 3, but I'm not sure on this.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 11:56 pm 


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Air Master Burst wrote:
I've been hoping for Mummy Demastered to get a sale on Steam but it never does.

Is a controid like a metroidvania?


Yeah, the game structure is just like Metroid, but your character controls and weapons are more along the lines of Contra.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2022 1:05 am 


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Sengoku Strider wrote:
So I'd say it's worth picking up if you're in the mood for a controid & see it on sale.

As it happens I played through Mummy Demastered myself not too long back; personally I'm not terribly inclined to recommend it. I'll concur that the presentation isn't bad, and it's certainly far from the worst licensed game you'll play, but it simply had too much of That WayForward Sloppiness to ignore, in my opinion, especially before you track down certain late-game upgrades which smooth things out to some degree. I half-wonder if the team truly intended to make something worthwhile but were cut off by deadlines before they could, but either way there are loads of 'vanias that easily outclass it.
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