Category Archives: The Android’s Favorites

What’s Gold Is New

Over the course of the last couple of days I have been replaying Pokemon Gold. It has probably been a good 12 years or so since I last played this game – I never even got around to playing the HeartGold/SoulSilver remakes. While I was initially wary of going back to an older Pokemon game after being spoiled by the ridiculously good Pokemon X/Y, I’ve found that, much to my delight, the game is actually really pulling me in. I do often feel like I’m m-o-v-i-n-g v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but since I’m emulating I just press the turbo button when I want to get from place to place quicker. Hey, it’s a valid replacement for the roller blades, right?

"But... that's like... 1000% speed rollerblades."
“But… that’s like… 1000% speed rollerblades.”

Other than that I’m having a blast. What a great game. What a great Pokemon generation.

Dear readers, when is the last time YOU played through an older game that you hadn’t touched in forever? And how did that go for you?

Waking Mars is On Sale and Worth It

Right now you can get a little game called Waking Mars for $1.99 over at GOG (or $2.00 over at Steam). This is a steal. I’ve talked about this game before and I recommend reading that article for a good overview.

Basically it’s sort of a puzzle game and sort of a platformer and sort of Metroidvania but mostly it’s about exploration and being relaxed.

And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn't great.  (Hint: You can't.)
And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn’t great. (Hint: You can’t.)

TLDR: GET IT ON GOG or GET IT ON STEAM or GET IT ON THE ITUNES STORE. Not even kidding you guys: this is a good one.

Somewhere Only We Know


I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand


I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete


Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on


So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin


I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me


Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?


Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on


So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin


And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?


This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?


Somewhere only we know…


Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on


So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin


And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?


This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
So why don’t we go


This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go


Somewhere only we know?


Somewhere only we know?


Somewhere only we know…


Keane – Somewhere Only We Know

The Merits of Experimentation

I was recently seized by the desire to play some Final Fantasies so I went back to the beginning and played through I in a couple of days, and then I started II. Now, like Pike when she started it a couple of years ago, I had never played FF2 before now. And like Pike I had heard a lot of polarizing talk about the game, especially with regards to its somewhat unconventional character growth system.

See, in FF2 you don’t gain experience points to level. Instead, much more in the vein of western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, your characters grow according to what they do in battles. If they take a lot of hits they’ll gain HP and Stamina. If they cast magic, MP and Spirit or Intelligence, depending on whether it’s White or Black magic. Dodge and you gain dodge and agility. You get the idea. This doesn’t just apply to stats though, but also to your weapon proficiencies and magic. Use a particular class of weapon more and you’ll get better with it. Use a particular spell more and it will grow more powerful and more accurate, though also costing more MP.

I’m playing the PSP version which has enjoyed some years of refinement and polish over the original so it’s quite possible that the original’s balance was all out of whack. But I can safely say this system is one of the most engaging I’ve encountered in a JRPG in a long long time. I’m enjoying it tremendously and I cannot even begin to fathom what the complaints are. (I mean, I know what they are because I’ve read them, but if I hadn’t read them I’d never have figured them out by myself.) It’s deeply satisfying to get such feedback and results to how you play and it feels like there’s a lot more freedom here than in typical party-based RPGs.

wow very hate much dissent very opinion
very hate
much dissent
very opinion

But this goes, in my eyes, further than just being a system I am enjoying. What I’m finding is that I’m very naturally finding roles for my party members and that it’s not based on preset things but rather what feels sensible when a role needs to be decided. For instance, at the start of the game Guy, a big dude, seems like the obvious choice for heavy hitter. And he is a pretty heavy hitter. But he’s also loaded with the exact sorts of spells that have moderate, occasional, or intermediate use. I don’t need to stick Teleport on a dedicated mage, and I’d rather have Life on someone with a ton of health. The thing that makes this work is that you can level your spells as well. Guy doesn’t need to spend much time on his magic to still be useful with it. On the other hand Firion is carrying my offensive spells and because the spells grow as you use them, I find myself ensuring I do some casting regularly. I’m still early in the game but it already feels like a much more natural and sensible system than many RPGs manage. It’s a system which influences how I play without dictating it, and a system which rewards investment without being too malleable and having characters end up being very easily swapped because their abilities are tied completely into equippable items. It’s pretty simple to turn Barret into a mage and Aeris into a heavy hitter once you’ve got the materia to do it.

Ultimately what I’m enjoying is that character development fits into this wonderful niche of being freeform and not constricting without simply turning the characters into identikits of each other. By the standards of Final Fantasy this was a highly experimental game and I’m very glad Square made the choices they did with it because it has resulted in a real gem.

What about you guys? Do you have opinions on FF2, or perhaps you’ve come across interesting leveling systems in other games? Feel free to share your opinions, and remember we’re as interested in hearing about games that tried and failed as much as those which succeeded! Not every experiment will succeed, but learning about why one failed is at least as important as why another succeeded.

Atari Breakout!

Hello friends! Of course, when Pike and I resolve to get the blog going again, we both fall deathly ill and can barely rouse ourselves from bed that exact week! Still, I have largely recovered so here we go with a little blog post!

Here’s what you do: Go to Google Images and type in “atari breakout”. As you will soon see the screen will morph into that precise game, using the images for the blocks! Breakout is one of my very favorite classic games, one I’ve always adored, and it provides a really useful launching off point to show how very very simple systems can still make a very engaging and deep game. If you’re not familiar with Breakout, well, here’s your chance to get acquainted with it – though you might want to hold off if you’re in the middle of an important project ;)

Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness
Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness

That’s what Breakout looked like in the beginning and very little has changed. Those colored bars across the top consisted of a number of ‘bricks’, and you use the paddle to hit the ball up towards them, with the objective of breaking every brick. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it is. But marrying such a simple concept with such a sense of satisfaction is the genius that makes Breakout such a great game – all you’re doing is breaking bricks to clear the screen. You’re not fighting wars like in Hearts of Iron, you’re not shooting mans like in Call of Duty, you’re not going fast like Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed – you’re just breaking some bricks. You’d wonder how it can be so fun and addictive. But that simplicity might be the very reason for it. Anyone can figure out the conceit of Breakout within a few seconds of watching or playing. There’s nothing extraneous to it, not even graphically in the beginning, it’s what you might call a very ‘pure’ game. And when you managed to breakthrough the bricks and get your ball to bounce along the ceiling and the top row? Well, that’s one of the more satisfying experiences in gaming, simple as it might be.

Breakout is a stellar example not just of how videogames began but of what makes them special. With a very simple premise, controls that are simply “left” and “right”, and almost nothing in the way of aesthetics, it’s not something that modern gamers, used to all kinds of razzmatazz and particles and trillions of polygons on Lara Croft’s breasts, might immediately see the value in, but it’s about as pure as a game gets. You’ve got your objective and the means to achieve it, and the only enemy is your own mistakes. It’s pure gameplay, nothing else. That’s something maybe some developers could do with a gentle reminder of in this day and age.

Sonic After The Sequel

The clever guy behind Sonic Before the Sequel (one LakeFeperd) has recently released another Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, Sonic After the Sequel. Set between Sonic 2 and 3 this game follows the oppressor Sonic and the heroic liberator of the proletariat Dr. Robotnik in the aftermath of the Death Egg’s destruction and as they notice Floating Island’s appearance. But the storyline is always tertiary at best in going fast games so that’s all I’ll say on that front. Let’s get down to brass tacks:

This is the best Sonic game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. This is a genuine, bona-fide, old-school 2D Sonic game. If you took someone who had never heard of Sonic, had them play through the series, and inserted this between 2 and 3, I’d honestly be surprised if they could tell this is not a canonical Sonic Team game. The most important things to know are that Sonic handles near-perfectly and that the levels are extremely well designed. In a series which is famed for extremely tight controls this is obviously vital. The only handling flaw I can point to is that the spin-dash feels a little weak at times, but it’s a minor quibble and never actually causes any problems.

This is how I look when I play  this game.
This is how I look when I play this game.

The levels are many and have the typical Sonic variety, with the twist that there’s no annoying Carnival Night-esque levels that make you pull your hair out. No, every single level is interesting and fun, and often (as in Cocaine Coast Sugar Blast Zone) have gimmicks that are actually neat and fun to play with.cks that are actually neat and fun to play with. What’s more each of the Zones hides a special star which, upon collection, opens up a fourth, bonus act in that zone. The actual amount of content is pretty nuts and there’s a lot to do. Oh, and the special stages where you collect the Chaos Emeralds? I’d rank them as the best special stages in Sonic history. They’re perfect. The only objective is to Go Fast and it’s massively fun when you do so.

Special mention also has to go to the soundtrack, which was provided by a number of composers who clearly understand their videogame music. There are tracks here that rank among classics from the series and it’s just another example of how solid this game is. Basically if you want free Sonic of high quality, then download and play this game.

Get it here. And get it soon in case SEGA sends a C&D

Waking Mars Is How to Make a Good Casual Game

Recently, a game called Waking Mars went on Steam sale for a steal (and it still is on sale, by the way!) Because it had “Mars” in the title, I decided to snap it up. This, my friends, was a very wise decision. This game is more than worth the $2.50 I forked over for it. Basically, this is how you make a casual game.

It’s sort of a platformer, except you have a jetpack. And it’s sort of puzzle game, but none of the “puzzles” ever leave you frustrated. Basically the game is about exploring underground Martian caves, learning about (and growing and breeding) bizarre alien species, talking to your AI bro, and in general being comfy. Yes, this is a comfy game.

We are gonna get comfy.
We are gonna get comfy.

This isn’t a triple-A title by any means and the game is easy to pick up and learn but this by no means makes it shallow. You actually have an neat little story going on that keeps you interested throughout, and between this and the research you can do on various lifeforms (and the subsequent notes you can read), the game has a surprising amount of depth for what it is. Humor is here too, thanks to your AI companion, and so is a certain amount of thoughtfulness thanks to the main character. Speaking of the main character, he’s Chinese, and the only other human character in the game is a black woman. This isn’t made a big deal, it just… is, like any other normal thing, and I like how it’s done like that. It reminds me of Star Trek and it’s nice to see some variety in games.

Overall this is a fun and extremely relaxing romp through a mysterious and alien world and I really cannot stress how much of a steal the current sale price is. The game is also available for Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, Android, and probably an old toaster too, so you really don’t have an excuse not to snag this game. I mean, really, look at this and tell me this doesn’t make you want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before:


Yeah, I thought so.

Buy it on Steam or at the website!

Drox Operative

Hey gang, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? Very sorry about that, but with Pike and myself both writing books, her getting a new computer, and various Christmas stuff we’ve both been somewhat busy. Still, here is a post now, and it’s an important one because it’s about a damn good game!

Soldak probably isn’t the best-known name in gaming, which is a crying shame. They generally work in the ARPG field and two of their previous games – Depths of Peril and Din’s Curse – have been pretty well received by those who have played them. I do not number among those yet but I will soon because Drox Operative is pretty amazing. See, whilst Soldak’s games are very solid ARPGs in and of themselves, they’re also trying to do some new and interesting things with the genre. Let’s talk about Din’s Curse first of all.

In that game, you play a typical adventurer type off to conquer dungeons, kill bosses, and get great loot. So far so normal, but here’s the twist: The world is doing stuff while you are doing stuff. While you’re in a dungeon looking for something, the Big Bad at the bottom might open a portal to the town and kill everyone so you have to rush back to try and stop this. And you can fail, and your quest progress is for naught. Or you can partly succeed and only some people survive. Move on to another (randomly-generated) town and setting and deal.

Drox Operative is even more ambitious.


You are an eponymous Drox Operative – a secretive and powerful mercenary agent who flies around the galaxy doing stuff. The thing is that the setting isn’t a premade one, nor is it just a regular randomly generated one. The setting is actually a 4X game which is going on all the time no matter what you’re up to, and you’re one part in that. You’re an important, sometimes pivotal part, but you’re not the only one and whilst you can certainly swing things around for a race on the back foot, you may not have the same ability if they’re on the ropes entirely. The various races – and there are an abundance – hire you to do exactly the sort of stuff that tends to not exist in a typical 4X; go clean that pirate nest out. Go deal with this one Space Asshole. Go shuttle some stuff between our worlds. That’s the “early game” stuff, where you’ll do less dangerous and difficult quests to build up relations with a race; then things will likely kick off and they’ll want your help with the big boy fights. Or you can just try to make nice with everyone, or you can go make loads of money instead if you want, as there’s more than one way to win (and lose).

If the game was just a regular randomly generated ARPG it’d be more than worth getting – it’s a damn solid game with a huge amount of things to try and a fuckton of different item types that give you a startling degree of customization options. Putting the player into a dynamic world which can be influenced and played around with and never controlled quite as completely as you’d like elevates it to downright genius territory.

It’s not a perfect game by any means. There are some interface and control issues, a few of the controls aren’t really intuitive, and the graphics, music, and sounds are serviceable rather than particularly good. None of this detracts significantly from the extraordinarily solid game at the core of this thing and if you want a good dose of ARPG after burning out on Torchlight II, this is one of the best options out there right now.

You can buy Drox Operative from the Soldak website for the absurd price of US$20. If you’re like me you’ll feel like you may have committed a crime getting it so cheap.

This just feels right.

Pike wrote extensive about XCOM: Enemy Unknown yesterday and I’m going to follow up on her post now that I’ve had the chance to spend a few hours with it. Through methods. As you can infer from the title, I’m a big fan. I’m a HUGE fan.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with classic PC games will probably be aware of X-Com even if they’ve never played it; it’s regularly highlighted as one of the best games ever made and this is not a reputation attained without sound reasons. It is an absolutely masterful blend of strategic and tactical thinking, it crafts an atmosphere of extraordinary tension, and it somehow manages to combine a very strong attachment to your troops with a massive rate of attrition among them. It also featured the torture of watching your brilliant tactical maneuvers getting completely undone and everything going to hell.

This game masterfully recaptures that. The mechanics are different in a lot of ways, such as the removal of Time Units (Something that caused a sudden intake of breath among X-Com vets when it was revealed) and the smaller squad sizes. But it’s an isometric tactical game with a strategic layer on top, and it’s all about tension and everything going downhill and your desperate efforts to pull it off despite all your best laid plans going the way of George and Lennie’s.

Moreno, Okamoto, and Mack were good soldiers, and good people. Their sacrifice won’t be forgotten. Also despite this loss the mission had a good outcome, because Classic Ironman is hardcore and this is XCOM.

Indeed, most of the changes are very sensible and nice ones and it’s patently clear that the team at Firaxis put a huge amount of work into figuring out what worked and what didn’t and then polished the thing nicely. Which isn’t to say it’s not buggy as heck, because many reports suggest it is, but the underlying design decisions and mechanics all seem to be very, very solid. One nice touch I’d especially like to point out is the addition of three characters in your base, your chief scientist, engineer, and your right-hand man. It adds a lot to hear their commentary on various matters, but their suggestions are never more than that. They’re a wonderful little addition that add a lot to playing.

What this game does though is it takes me back. Like an old war vet, playing this game reminds me of the original, and it pulls me back to when I was a kid playing that game all summer long, getting destroyed by Cyberdiscs and Mutons (Not to mention Tentaculats and Lobstermen oh god), and this just feels like a game from a bygone era, when they were unforgiving bastards that made you incredibly angry but were far, far too damn good and addictive to actually put down for more than five minutes.

If you were worried about this not being true to the original, you can rest assured that all the changes I’ve seen so far have allayed that fear completely. The mechanics and look may have changed but the spirit absolutely has not.

(It should be noted that Pike and I are both playing the PC version of the game, and indeed one of the few genuine criticisms I have is that the UI is clearly intended to allow consoles to play the thing. I’m all for a game this relentlessly ballcrushing on a console but I hope Firaxis patch in a few tweaks for the PC side of things.)

This is it. This is the game X-Com fans have been waiting for.

So let’s talk about XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

I was originally going to wait until I’d clocked more hours in this than just the tutorial, but honestly I feel that said tutorial has got me confident enough to make a valid assessment, so here we go:

This is the strategy/tactics game of the year.

The short version is that they took the original X-Com: UFO Defense, beefed up the graphics and redid the UI, tweaked a very small handful of features, packaged it up and are selling it right now.

Sold yet?  No?

Here’s the long version, then: all of my fears about the game have been thoroughly laid to rest.  This isn’t an easy, casualized version of the game (unless you specifically put it on the easy difficulty.)  This isn’t Babby’s First Turn-Based Tactics.  This is X-Com.

In fact, that last sentence was something I just kept hearing in my head over and over as I played.  This is X-Com.  This is what it’s supposed to be.

Everything is there.  The rookies from every country in the world with the appropriate name.  The Skyranger.  The Interceptors shooting down UFOs.  The research.  The construction.  The money management.  The geoscape.

“Hidden Movement” is there; it’s called something different but it’s there and just as terrifying.

The music is there.  They redid the mission music from the original and added it as a track in the game and when I heard it I felt my heart jump into my throat.

Which leads me to my next and perhaps most important point; the sense of sheer white-knuckle thrill is there.

Let’s talk about Firaxis’s most controversial choice, which is the removal of time units and the replacement of them with a fixed set of moves.  They pulled this off really, really well.  There is still a sense that you can move a certain number of steps if you also want to shoot something, and thanks to a very clear UI you know exactly when you’re going to overstep that boundary.  It doesn’t change the core mechanic, it just makes it easier to “read”.

They have also added a “talent tree”,  so to speak, to your soldiers.  Different soldiers come with a different specialty– or “spec” if you will– and as they improve you can pick up talents for them.  Some of the talents are a real difficult choice because they could all be useful in different situations.  This also ups the stakes, considerably, because it makes it all the more acute when one of your really spec’d out guys dies.  (And he will.)

The other thing they added that I was originally iffy on– occasional cuts to a third person view of your soldier as he shoots or moves– was pulled off superbly and does nothing but heighten the tension.

I don’t have much else to say here that isn’t a fangirly mess of random letters and numbers and exclamation points.  All I know is that the guys at Firaxis have outdone themselves with this one and pulled off something which I didn’t know could be pulled off.  Absolutely worth every cent of the full price.

In closing: over a year ago, when I didn’t know that this game was in production, I made a post about what an X-Com reboot would need to be a worthy successor.  Firaxis followed it word for word.  Much love.

Available on Steam and also for consoles.