Thursday, October 28, 2021

Metroid Dread

We waited a very long time for a sequel to Metroid Fusion, and it's delightful to have it. The game looks and plays like a real Metroid game, more so I think than Samus Returns (the game it most resembles and the second-most-recent). The map in particular is delightful - not only does it show you the location and type of items you've seen (including whether you've acquired them or not), it shows everything you need about the rooms you've visited, including individual destructible blocks and what it takes to destroy them. The lighting effects are nice too.

The boss battles are pretty hard - I perished a ton of times on almost all of them. But there are always checkpoints nearby, so the penalty for losing is low. (Really it's just time on the clock, if you're interested in speed running.) One of the help text thingies they show you while loading says that "no attack is unavoidable", and that's true - once you know what you need to do, even the hardest battles become reasonable. And one of them is pure joy.

I do miss the music of Super Metroid. Dread's music is fine, but none of it is memorable, and it doesn't lend the same kind of character to the different areas that Super Metroid (or even Zero Mission) had. 

As for plot, that is also fine, and I can't say much without spoiling things, but I will say that they didn't include much detail, and I don't feel like this works as the "ending" of the side-view Metroid story, like the pre-release media paints it as. At the start we don't find out how the Federation reacted to Samus's rebellion in the previous game, or where the Dachoras and Etecoons went, or why Samus's armor looks totally different now. And while the ending is certainly more plot-heavy, it still raises a lot of questions.

But anyway, I'm very happy that they finally made a new Metroid game. Hopefully it will do well and they'll keep cranking them out.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The definition of "black"

Sometimes people get so technical in creating definitions that they end up defining or categorizing things in a way that flatly contradicts the colloquial definitions of those things. I think that's lame.

One example is the question of whether black is a color. Some people say that it's not because it's the "absence of color", or it's a "shade", which can be used to modify a "color". 

But, come on. "Color" is a way to describe what frequencies of light come from an object to our eyes, and which of the light receptors in our retinas react to those frequencies. We experience colors as contrasts to other colors - just try and describe how a color looks in any other way. In that sense, black is definitely a color. It's one of the ways our eyes perceive light bouncing off of things. If someone is wearing a black shirt, and you ask them what color it is, they don't go "Oh my gosh there IS no color!" They also don't try to figure out which primary or secondary color is being reflected the most and then say something like "I think it's a profoundly dark green." They say it's black. And even you developed some ultra-Vantablack shirt and there were no light coming off of it at all, zero is a valid value that something can have. But then again, there's never really zero light.

And that brings me to another point. Some people say that nothing is really black, because black means no light and everything reflects a little light (except a black hole I guess). But dude, that is NOT the definition of black. If it were, it would be totally useless. That's like saying nothing is cold because nothing has a temperature of absolute zero. There are plenty of things that we all look at and say are black. That's the definition of black. It's all relative. All colors are relative. There's no use defining a common word in such a way that it can't actually be applied to anything.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

One of my kids checked out Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians from the library. Brandon Sanderson has written some good stuff, so I figured I'd check it out. The book is hilarious. The plot is fine - it's one of those kids-gets-powers-and-has-to-save-the-world types of things. But what makes it great is the commentary that the narrator gives. It's a very self-aware book, written as a biography after the fact, and it openly mocks various tropes in literature. I don't know if I can even say that much about it here without spoiling the jokes, but I haven't laughed out loud at a book in a long time (well except for What If? by Randall Munroe), and I did that several times here.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Axiom Verge

Any Metroid fan will agree that there aren't enough Metroid-like games in the world. So whenever I hear about one, I want to want to play it. But there's often something that shuts me down, like an icky theme or a super melodramatic premise or tone. Axiom Verge is an indie game (like literally by one guy) that is super popular but does have a weird/dark plot. But a sequel came out and people have been raving, so I gave it another look. The plot isn't sadder than Ori, and the icky factor is actually less than the worst of Super Metroid (although in the latter game you can avoid the worst of it). So I went ahead and got it.

Exploring the world is delightful. The visual and musical tone are very reminiscent of Super Metroid and Zero Mission. The whole experience feels familiar - in the sense that it's weird and alien, but the creatures from Metroid would feel right at home there. The power-ups definitely have Metroid-esque analogs, but they are unique at the same time, and it's fun to be surprised with how they enable you to get past the game's various obstacles.

And just like in Super Metroid, you can get lost and stuck. I got super stuck at one point. It ended up being just a matter of having forgotten about one little spot, but as I explored everywhere, I kept finding optional power-ups. That's a sign of good design, in my opinion. And of course when I finally found the way forward... well then I got stuck again, but after that, it was super satisfying. Another time I wandered all over the world trying to find that next item that would let me progress, only to realize that I already had the ability I needed, but I had never thought to use it in a certain way. And believe it or not, realizing that was a good feeling.

I like the boss battles. They're not super complex, but the bosses look cool, and it's satisfying to figure out what to do. (It's usually much simpler than what I expect going in.)

There's a lot of variety in items to collect. I mentioned the abilities that would correspond to "suit upgrades" for Samus, which are the main source of innovation regarding how you get around the world. But there are also upgrades to health and attack power, that sometimes come in pieces you need to collect a bunch of to equal one upgrade. So there is always a reward for exploring. There are also a lot of different weapons. None of those is strictly required except for one you get early on, but there's a lot of variety in how they work, so you can pick what works for you (or what looks the coolest).

The plot is decent but super confusing. The ending - I don't know if it was trying to lead into a sequel or just to cement the feeling that you don't know what the heck is going on. And of course I could have done without the bits of profanity thrown in, and the icky white remains of the former population. (In Metroid, you're always exploring ruins, but you generally don't actually run into the former inhabitants.) I was also a bit thrown off by this item you can get that allows you to enter codes that supposedly alter reality. One of them is obvious, but it doesn't seem to do anything. In fact, even after finishing the game I have no idea what you're supposed to do with it, or what any of the other codes are.

But that aside, Axiom Verge is the most Metroid-like game this side of an actual Metroid game, and that includes Ori. It is glorious.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A Link to the Past

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has been one of my favorite games, really since I saw the first screenshot and saw that it was a return to the Zelda 1 style and looked amazing. The SNES graphics create a charming world to explore, and there's so much in it - the game has the most level of any Zelda game, and it started a lot of the conventions they still use in the top-down games, and even some in Breath of the Wild (like certain switches and the sword spin). And the music is super epic - an orchestrated version of the original theme, and probably the best ending sequence of any game. My only real regret about the game is that I read too much before I first played it, so there were a lot of things I didn't get to discover.

I replayed the game again after not having done so for probably 15 years, and it was really fun. I'm surprised at how many things I didn't remember - I'm still not sure where the last 4 heart pieces are. In order to make it challenging, I decided not to power up the Master Sword or my tunic - after all, the green outfit and blue sword look better than the wonky colors you end up with normally. This worked out pretty well.

Here are some screenshots of my journey, along with some random thoughts. (Some spoilers implied)

This is one of my favorite spots. The trees and river create this nice, tranquil vibe. And you passed below it on the way up and saw the heart, but it was inaccessible at the time, so finding the way in is rewarding. It looks like a great spot for a picnic or something.

The Zora king looks cool, and I like how he calls you "little man".

I want a sign like this.

Drat, turned into a bunny again.

Zelda is very quotable.

See that bombed wall in the Tower of Ganon? I had never figured out how to get to it before. But this time I remembered a puzzle I solved (and felt like a genius!) in the extra dungeon of the GBA version of this game, and it hit me! (There's nothing essential in that room, but still!) I will leave it to the reader to figure it out. And no, there is no invisible floor.

This is me fighting Ganon, with the green tunic and blue sword.

... and proof that I won!

Now, a note about where this game falls in the plot. Nintendo has stuck it in the middle of one of three alleged timelines, but I think that's bunk. And A Link Between Worlds positions itself as a sequel to this game, which is also bunk (in part because the state of the Triforce at the start of that game matches the end of Ocarina of Time [split], not A Link to the Past [joined]).

But in any case, this has to be the last Zelda game. Here's why:

See? After this, the Master Sword is never used again. And Ganon is totally destroyed. The Essence of the Triforce said so. I think that precludes putting any other Zelda game after this in the timeline.

Anyway, even though I wasn't surprised by things very often, this game still ranks in my top five ever. Yay Zelda!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Cyber Shadow

This was a really good game for what it is. It's reminiscent of NES platform fighting games, but it has save points at reasonable places, upgrades to find - the stuff you'd expect in a modern game. It also has better, catchier music than most modern games have. A lot of the bosses are very cool looking. The graphics are intentionally retro, but given that limitation they look good.

On the other hand, it also has a melodramatic plot (although you can ignore that), and toward the end the game just gets a little TOO hard. But to be fair, even when things are really, really hard, MOST of the time it's a matter of figuring out what to do, meaning how to best use your various abilities to make the situation more manageable. So for most of the game, I didn't mind having to restart sections over and over because I felt like I was making progress by thinking things through. But in the rare times when it really does require precision (and in the many times when it seems like that's the only way to win), it does get frustrating. But none of this makes me dislike the game overall. (I paid the $15 pre-order price; the regular price is probably reasonable too if you're into this genre - I don't actually have any nostalgia for the NES ninja games.)

There was also one design bug, which I found quite frustrating. There's this part where you have to climb a set of platforms faster than this spirit monkey thing. The game hints that you can make it easier by sword-bouncing off of these lantern things, but I had this power-up left over from a previous area that made a blade spin around me and destroy stuff. That's great when you're fighting enemies, but this thing destroyed the lanterns before I could approach, so I just had to do the whole thing with very precise jumping. Drove me crazy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Portal (1&2)

For the Christmas break, I played Portal 1 & 2. I had heard about them since forever, but I never really gave them a lot of thought - I was turned off by the "dark humor" motif, and of course they're not on Nintendo consoles. But Steam works on my laptop and the games were dirt cheap.

They're really fun. For one thing, the computer making fun of your character (who's not a bit fazed by the taunting) is pretty funny. And beyond that, the puzzles are really well designed. They're satisfying, not unreasonable, and they make you feel like an absolute genius whenever you solve one.

The portal gun works exactly like you'd expect - you put a blue portal here, an orange portal there, and they're connected. You can go through them. Other stuff can go through. Momentum is maintained. You can look through and see what you'd expect to see, which is generally the same room but from a different perspective (and maybe yourself, depending on how they're positioned). You can't help but want one. But then, that's how all good sci-fi tech is. Unrealistic, but so clear in its purpose and use that you can easily imagine what you'd do if you had it.

Best quotes: this and this, and my personal favorite.