Category Archives: Talk of the Ninja

Talk of the Ninja: Super Mario Maker Celebrates and Facilitates Creativity

Well, I went ahead and did it. I bought a current-gen console. Enjoy those three hundred dollars, Nintendo! I only bought it for Super Mario Maker, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

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Mario Maker was released to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., the shot heard ’round the world. I know that’s the case because my Mario Maker Wii U Bundle came with a 30th anniversary Mario Amiibo (seen in the bottom right corner of the image above) who looks like he came straight out of Minecraft. It kind of fascinates me that instead of just making some sort of Mario Greatest Hits game, they made a game that challenges and encourages fans to make Mario levels themselves. That’s what Mario Maker is, and it has few bells and whistles to add on. It’s a comprehensive and intuitive level editor with tools, objects and enemies from several different Mario games, and an online sharing system for levels made by players from around the world.

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Talk Of The Ninja: Duck Game

Hey, you all remember Worms? The game you and your friends played decades ago where you’d take turns hopping around as a worm and shooting other worms with deadly and explosive weapons? Of course you do. What a fun game that was! I remember spending multiple days on end with a good friend of mine, creating custom match types and playing over and over, toying with all the different weapons and abilities and seeing what hilarious and even intense shenanigans would occur.

I played the latest Worms game a few years ago with some friends and what I found was depressing — the old formula I loved had aged like milk. A 30 to 60 second turn for each person used to be a nail-biting experience wondering what would go wrong or who would explode next, but now it’s a long time to wait for one unit to attack another, or more likely, to miss and hit itself or nothing. What used to be almost nonstop laughter now feels like dragging out a relatively straightforward battle into a tortured process of trying to shoot and then trying to hide, which isn’t helped by the now-awkward control scheme that hasn’t been sufficiently tweaked in its various iterations.

What I’m trying to say is that Worms as a franchise is utterly obsolete. Gaming has come such a long way that the old clown is no longer fun or funny. But the Worms dynamic — the premise of a couch party game appealing via cartoon-violence slapstick comedy with cute little animals shooting each other — is not obsolete at all. In many ways, its legacy lives on in this summer’s Steam hit Duck Game.

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Talk of the Ninja: Assassin’s Creed Chronicles China Of The Ninja

I’ve been uninterested in the Assassin’s Creed franchise for a long time. I liked Asscreed 2 and Brotherhood quite a bit, but once it came time for Revelations I think I realized that I’d had just about enough climbing, jumping and stabbing my way around a big pseudo-historical playground full of shallow minigames and collectibles. AC2 became the codifier not just of Assassin’s Creed, but of all of Ubisoft’s major releases — big playgrounds full of shallow minigames and collectibles.

So imagine my surprise when I discover that the newest AC release, AC Chronicles: China, didn’t look like that at all, but instead looked like Mark of the Ninja with an Assassin’s Creed skin.

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The HUD shows vision cones from guards and concentric circles appearing around all sounds. You climb on walls and ceilings, and can assassinate unaware enemies from above, below and behind, all using the context-sensitive X button. Environments are filled with Hiding Spots that you can sneak into and become invisible and wait until the right moment to hop back out. It has so many similarities to Mark of the Ninja that at a glance it looks like a clone.

So considering Mark of the Ninja is still my favorite game ever made, it probably makes sense that I was ready to play it and then eviscerate it afterward for being a hollow rip-off. But I was also ready to declare it a triumph if it proved itself — a game that takes inspiration from MotN, but differentiates itself and elevates the formula.

Now that I’ve played it all the way to the end credits, well, it isn’t really either of those. It’s a decent stealth game that’s cohesive and polished by Ubisoft standards, and messy and inconsistent by MotN standards.

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Talk of the Ninja: Elite Dangerous – Best Space Game

Man. I was going to write about something else this week, something I’ve been planning for a long time. But whenever I opened up the page to write about it, I’d stare at the screen for a few seconds, and then boot up Space Game instead. Elite: Dangerous is a pretty stupid name, so my friends and I have taken to calling it Space Game instead — not just because it’s a game in space, but because it feels like the definitive, quintessential space game. I haven’t played a ton of space sims, but honestly, it feels like it really is that good.

Note that when I say space game, I don’t mean to imply an experience like Gradius or Mass Effect — action games that have you jump into the position of Space Hero immediately — but instead an experience where you’re just one person with a ship and an entire galaxy to fly around in. There are numerous ways to make money, including trading, exploring, mining, pirating and bounty hunting, and you’ll do whatever combination you like.

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You start with a cheap ship and upgrade into whatever suits your style. I’ve been mostly trading and exploring with a little bounty hunting on the side, so I got a jack-of-all-trades ship and kitted it out with an extra-large cargo hold and a fuel scoop. (Fuel scoops let you generate energy by floating near a sun.) My friend and fellow commander is really into the combat, so he got himself a combat-focused ship and sought out the best weapons he could manage.

Whatever career you find yourself in, a very large portion of your playtime will be spent flying from place to place, and maybe looking around for bounties to collect or planets to scan. That might sound boring, but I think what makes it work really well is how amazingly they nailed the game feel. There are a thousand subtle touches that I love, like how you look at computer screens to your left and right to check things like your map, mission objectives and statistics. That feels far more immersing than opening up an obvious Game Menu popup. When you speed up or slow down your field of view pulls back or forward respectively, and the camera shakes a bit — not enough to be jarring, but enough to give you the same sort of virtual kinesthesia you feel when driving a car. The lighting is amazing, so the light from the nearest sun comes into your cockpit view at the appropriate angle and shifts based on your rotation and distance.

And amazingly, the world you’re in feels persistent and ever-changing. There are three major factions called the Federation, Empire and Alliance (basically the Corporate Empire, Caste-Based Empire, and United Nations Defending Themselves From The Two Evil Empires) but there are also a plethora of other factions based in each of the many, many systems. Whenever you complete a mission, even if it’s something small like a delivery, the game tells you the reputation change, influence shift, and statistical gains/drops of each faction involved. You really get the sense that while carving out a story for yourself, you’re also affecting a world much bigger than you in small ways that can lead to big ways.

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They say the game is in beta, but it already feels like a complete product. Hell, it practically feels like the kind of game Peter Molyneux would promise and then fail to deliver. It’s huge, absorbing, persistent and fun. There’s a ton they could add — I’d like to be able to explore places on foot, for one — but I’m telling you that while I almost never spend $60 on a game anymore, I don’t regret this particular choice.

You can buy it for yourself from its website.

Talk of the Ninja: Nuance in Game Criticism

Let me apologize up front for not posting on this column for the past 4+ months, but honestly, game criticism has made me very depressed lately. And that’s not because I think games are all bad or boring or whatever, but because it’s hard to shake the feeling that any criticism I make is useless or worse.

One of my brothers works as a usability analyst, and sometimes it feels kind of strange knowing that while I haphazardly examine my own subjective reactions to entertainment media that I consume, he’s making a career out of compiling hard data regarding a multitude of reactions to software use. But he once shared an observation with me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

“Often times what people say they want is very different from what they actually want. It’s more important to note what users do, not what they say.”

Super Bunnyhop recently put out a video about game length. In it he said,

“The reason people continue to argue about game length is the same reason people argue about review scores: it’s easy. It’s just about a number. That number breaks down all the complicated, subjective highs, lows and uncertainties of the experience into just one or two digits.”

That’s been a big sticking point for me, because the oversimplification of complicated aspects of games into something you can easily shout about and feel right and smart about is a pitfall I’m no stranger to.

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Talk of the Ninja: DeadCore

Do you want me to talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition today? Well fuck you.

Just about all my online video gamer friend people have been talking about Dragon Age lately, on Twitter and the like. I really want to share in the enthusiasm, but that desire is crushed by my utter apathy for the franchise. I just do not care for Dragon Age in any way, shape or form. I own the DA:Origins Super Edition or whatever, the one that comes with all five thousand DLCs, and I played maybe a third of it before I tossed it aside. I tell myself I need to give it another chance, but man, just thinking about watching those elves and dwarves talk about the evil bad guy invasion while showing all the passion and emotion of an accountant filing his client’s tax returns makes me sigh in exhaustion.

So instead of talking about a game that interests everyone but me, I’m going to talk about a game that interests me and probably nobody else.

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This right here is a great example of a game that’s hard to pitch. Deadcore is a first-person platformer that emphasizes high speed, precision, and disorienting powers, combining these elements to form challenges that are both brutal and confusing. It’s pretty much become common knowledge that first person platformers (sans Mirror’s Edge, which is less traditional platforming and more parkour) are a damned genre from the late 90’s. Everybody hates them, and everybody dreads when a platforming challenge or “jumping puzzle” comes up in a retro game.

But here’s the thing: I fucking love this game.

I love dashing from floating platform to floating platform. I love that the limited perspective makes it harder to judge jumps. I love carefully landing in a safe place after dashing between several different floating platforms while dodging death lasers, and I’m totally fine with dying a dozen times in the span of a few minutes to make it through. I had a blast with this game, even though I know that statistically you probably wouldn’t.

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Talk of the Ninja: Morbus

I have a few friends that I’ve been playing Garry’s Mod with for awhile.

Garry’s Mod is an interesting beast — it’s a creativity tool used to create countless game modes that can be downloaded and played through the one program — but most game modes are either vapid or extremely confusing and unintuitive, and in both cases you can always feel the Garry’s Mod limitations straining them. There’s a survival horror mode, but it mostly relies on jump scares and you’re ultimately just running around in a custom Source map with “spooky” particle effects and models. There’s a parkour mode, but it feels like you’re exploiting a wall-jump glitch, rather than moving fluidly and naturally along obstacles like in Mirror’s Edge.

The types of modes we tended to latch onto most were the ones that followed the “Mafia” style of social play: you’re in a group, and one of you is the “bad guy,” and you have to figure out who it is. Unless you’re the bad guy, in which case you need to kill everyone else while maintaining your disguise as a not-bad guy.

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The two modes we switched between for the longest time were Trouble in Terrorist Town, and Murder. In Murder the killer has a knife and one of the innocents is randomly given a gun. This way it’s up to the gunner to track down the killer. In TTT everyone can pick up guns, making a tense sort of “I don’t know if I can trust this guy or if I should kill him” gameplay.

Both are decent, but the main problem with both is that if you’re not the killer, there’s no reason not to huddle up with others and just wait for the killer to run out of time. If the killer has to jump into the group of people to win, everyone else can jump away from and/or attack the killer and it’ll be fine.

But just recently we discovered a new mode called Morbus. And Morbus fixes almost every issue we’ve had up to now.

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Talk of the Ninja: “The New 3DS”

Nintendo announced their new portable console, which is called “The New 3DS.”

When I first heard the name I thought it would just be another slight variant, like the 3DS-XL or the 2DS. Once I heard that it’s the actual next step in Nintendo’s portable console scene and games made for it won’t be backwards-compatible with The Old 3DS, I checked to see if it was April 1st already. To my surprise, it is not.

I probably don’t have to say that this is a bad idea. This is a spectacularly bad idea. This feels like the culmination of all of Nintendo’s bad ideas for the past decade or two. Here’s why.

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Talk of the Ninja: Join the Ninja Blues Army! In Firefall!

My friend and I were talking about recent MMOs the other day, and he shared with me his disappointment with Wildstar. He said he liked the art style and the concepts behind the world, but the combat was unremarkable and quest system was completely standard MMO fare, i.e. like World of Warcraft. He felt a similar sentiment toward The Elder Scrolls Online — a solid idea with very bland execution. We both reflected on our failed attempts to find an MMO that could satisfy us.

One sentence of his really stuck with me: “I mean, I like MMOs, but I… I don’t like MMOs.”

This is exactly how I’ve felt for a long time. I had some fun with Guild Wars 2, but my interest in that game died once I hit the level cap and discovered the sad lack of decent endgame content. After that I looked back at all the time I’d spent playing it and felt horribly unsatisfied, much like I’d feel if I ate a giant bag of potato chips for dinner.

GW2 did a bit to mix up the usual four-or-five-hotkey-mashing timesink of MMO combat, but ultimately it still felt like more of the same. I was still pressing a few hotkeys and watching my character do the same few sword-swinging animations over and over and over and over to make baddies immediately in front of her fall down. It still felt flaccid and uninvolving, like every other damn MMO.

Recently I discovered that Firefall is now free-to-play on Steam.

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Talk of the Ninja: Cook, Serve, Impressive!

I’ve been out of town for the past few weeks and I’m not headed home until Saturday, so I wasn’t planning on writing any content for you in the meantime, but then on Monday Jarenth posted a spectacular review of Skyscraper Simulator. It’s a scathing review of something that truly deserves to be scathed, which is generally delightful enough to read, but it was particularly interesting for me because I’ve been playing a sim game lately called Cook, Serve, Delicious! And I’ve found it to be a joyous experience.

I knew I had to write my impressions about it.

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