Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ikaruga


I've said before that I'm a fan of space shooter games - like 2D-scrolling things where you're a starfighter (or sometimes a dragon) and you blast through an environment full of robot ships and monsters. The genre captures a lot of science-fiction-ness in a simple format. And often the music is great. These games are also super hard - usually a single hit will blow you up, unless you get some kind of shielding.

Ikaruga is an innovative twist on space shooter games. All the enemies and shots are either dark (black/red) or light (white/blue). Your ship can switch between these two polarities at will. Touching a shot of the opposite polarity will blow you up, but you can absorb shots of the same polarity, converting them to ammo for your homing lasers. Your shots do double damage to ships of the opposite polarity. That's pretty much it - super simple. It's also insanely hard, even though it's only five levels long.




The game had my interest ever since it came out on the GameCube like 15 years ago, but I just got it recently. It was rare at the start, and then it kept getting re-released on consoles I didn't have. Also I wasn't sure I wanted to invest the time it would surely take to really play the game. (It also has super weird character art, and this weird point system that incentivizes you to destroy enemies in groups of three of the same color, as if surviving wasn't hard enough.) But now it's on the Switch and super cheap.

I really like it. Conveniently, the Switch version has a bunch of previously-unlockable options available from the start, like playing individual chapters and infinite continues (which is basically invincibility). This is a good thing, because Ikaruga is actually in sub-genre of space shooters that I'm not generally a fan of - it involves a lot of dodging a relentless stream of shots, rather than destroying enemies before they can fill the screen with shots. But this one is exceptional because the shots are your friends, if you do it right.

My son and I blasted through the game with the infinite continues, and then I did it alone, but of course that is cheating. I used 13 continues if I counted right, but the largest number you can have short of infinite is 9. Eventually I beat it with just those 9, and then 6. So no cheating! (That's on Easy difficulty; maybe someday I'll do it on Normal.) [Edit: I eventually beat it on Hard!]

In the mean time, the music gets stuck in my head all the time, and the gorgeous lasers blasting through enemy metal is simply delightful. And even when it's insanely hard (like at first, or if you turn the difficulty up), there are these moments where you feel like you're in the "zone", switching colors quickly to skip through otherwise impossible energy fields. It is glorious. Here, check out these shots of the almost-final battles:


So many lasers! What's not to like?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Breath of the Wild


I didn't want to get a Switch. $300 is a lot for a game console. For a time, I managed to ignore the main reason why people bought one last year: Breath of the Wild. I love Zelda games, but I somehow managed to convince myself that maybe this one wasn't what I was looking for. After all, it doesn't have regular "levels", and there's all sorts of stuff you can do around cooking meals with various ingredients, and some of the "T" rating descriptors gave me second thoughts. But then they announced Metroid Prime 4 for next year - also a Switch game. I knew I was gonna need that. And if I'm going to end up with a Switch, why not get one early so I can play it over the Christmas break? So I broke down and got it.

My goodness, the game is good. That's not news; it won the Game of the Year award, and it's a Zelda game after all. I'm not even sure who the audience of this post is, since anybody who cares about the game has already played it, I'm sure. But aside from being awesome, the game is also very long and involved, and so I naturally have a lot of thoughts about it, so here they are.

[Spoiler alert]

Even though I knew what to expect, I was kind of amazed when Link walks up to a cliff ledge at the start and looks out over Hyrule, and I thought about how much space there is, and now much detail, and how I was going to be able to actually go out there and explore it all. The intro bit is nice, giving you a little slice of the game in a limited (but still quite varied) space, before throwing you out there to find your way. And when I did leave the intro area, I think I covered so much distance (in game terms) in the first hour or two of playing that I could have traversed the entire map of any other Zelda game.

In doing this, I avoided roads, preferring to "explore". And I'm sure I found some shrines earlier than I might have otherwise by doing this. But I also ended up missing a bunch of things that were supposed to be obvious, like Hestu and the hint that the best way to get money in the game is to blast open the ore deposits you see here and there. I kind of wish they had included that stuff in the actual tutorial bit instead of assuming that people would follow the roads to their given destinations.


There were a lot of times where I had a hunch that I was supposed to look in a certain area for something and couldn't find it. But the game is so expansive that even if you don't find what you're looking for, you will usually find something of value. And even when you're missing out on something, you're never really stuck. There's always something else you can do.


The game does have two main weaknesses: First, there's very little catch music - it's mostly mood stuff, like most modern games. And second, I missed the large "levels" (i.e. dungeons, temples, etc.) - meaning large themed puzzles chained together. This game has 120 "shrines", each of which contains one or more small puzzles (inside or as a requirement to access the shrine), and all but 4 of which are completely optional. I liked them, but most of them are pretty forgettable once you're done.

There was a lot of nice nostalgia in the game:
    • The Lost Woods starts with a bit where you have to move in a certain path or you'll be sent back to the start. The beginning of this path is taken from the original Lost Woods in Zelda 1.
    • The music that plays on Death Mountain is a slightly happier music than the final, Death Mountain music in Zelda 1
    • Hyrule Castle has one of the few catchy tunes. It's a medly of the main Zelda theme and either Gannondorf's theme or Zelda's theme, depending on whether you're indoors or out. This sort of symbolizes the Triforce being brought together as Link approaches Zelda, who is locked in combat with Ganon.
    • The map has all sorts of references to previous games. There are lots of towns, mountains, rivers, etc. named after towns or characters. I felt like the bridges and stuff on the eastern coastline was reminiscent of Zelda 1 too.
A lot of games that have really complex mechanics end up being "overdefined", in the sense that there's more to the game than you actually need. This game certainly fits this. There are some elements that you can dive into if you want, but I didn't. For instance, you can make a huge array of foods by combining different ingredients, but I stuck with a very simple combination of a "Hearty Radish" plus something else, which refills your hearts and gives you some temporary extra ones. And even those I didn't use much, relying instead on fairies (which automatically refill some hearts if you perish) and Mipha's Grace (which acts like that hearty radish meal automatically if you perish, but then takes 24 minutes to recharge).
There are also the horsies. I boarded one horse fairly early on, and stuck with it rather than looking for a better one (until after I had beaten the game, and then I did do some horsie quests). I also avoided a bunch of the games.

I beat the game the first time in like 75 hours. I finished the last of the shrines and beat the game again in after about 135 hours. That is a lot of glorious exploration!

Okay so there's more I could say, but this post has been sitting in draft form for months, so I'm just gonna hit send. Yay Zelda!