Sunday, May 21, 2017

Nintendo Switch review: Tumbleseed


I'm back! Felt like writing for the first time in a long while. Today I review a game I've put about a dozen of hours into over the last 2 weeks: Tumbleseed, published by aeiowu, out on most systems including PC/Mac, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch. Disclaimer: I haven't beaten the game, or even seen all the levels, but I've played enough that I feel comfortable reviewing it. Note there is a tl;dr version is at the bottom.


THE GAMEPLAY

Tumbleseed is a rogue-lite dexterity game based on a popular classic arcade cabinet (that I've never played) called Ice Cold Beer. It involves rolling a seed up a dangerous randomly-generated mountain, using a screen-width platform you control at each end using both your analog sticks. Navigation is the key mechanic that forms the basis of the game: moving your sticks together controls the platform's upward motion, pushing the seed along with it. The balance between your two sticks controls your platform's tilt, which in turn drives the seed's left-right motion and speed. Moving about accurately is an exercise in care - misjudging your tilt often results in falling into a pit, rolling into an enemy, or hitting some other deadly trap.

Your seed starts with four basic powers, including the ability to place checkpoints, attack enemies at very close range, refill your hearts (you start with three), and generate crystals. Crystals, which you can also earn by killing enemies, activate your seed powers and pay for new ones en route to the top. These help you deal with the obstacles, but also carry some risk. Your mines and projectiles can hurt you, and death by friendly fire is not uncommon.

The high learning curve of navigating your seed and using your powers is compounded by tricky enemy patterns. Each run starts against slow, easily avoidable slugs who ignore you. As you roll up the mountain, the enemies get scarier, progressing into leaping spiders that follow you, flying gnats that fire goo at you, and a long snake-like creature that reminds me of the dragons in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (that also follows you, causing me great anxiety each time I see it).

THE CHALLENGE

There are only four levels to this game, though after about a dozen hours of play I've only managed to reach the third level once. Similarly to Spelunky, the only run-to-run progression is the knowledge and skill that you gain. The sole exception is unlockable warp portals that allow you to skip levels. These aren't conducive to a successful run, as you end up skipping out on precious crystals and powers, but they at least help you familiarize yourself with the dangers of a new level. This might be frustrating to some players, and as a result only the most dedicated will get to see all the levels. Unlike other roguelikes like Rogue Legacy or, say, Shiren the Wanderer (my all-time favourite roguelike), you're not developing the world making future runs easier - each game is a completely fresh start.

I may be a masochist, but I find the gameplay enthralling, especially with how the controls can amplify your small mistakes if you're not paying attention. A little tension, an over-correction, and soon you are tumbling (emotionally and in-game) into a series of mistakes that lead to your demise. As the creators have described, a key skill of the game is exercising patience and keeping a cool head during trying times. When in trouble, a strategic retreat and reassessment of the situation is a wise strategy, though not always readily available. Aside from the moment-to-moment tactics, each run involves other interesting decisions depending on the powers available to you. Will you spend your crystals now, or try to farm more off of enemies in the hopes that a better, more expensive power becomes available later? Will you try to face a tough side-boss to gain a special power, or whiz past in an attempt to climb higher? Some runs will be easier than others based on the powers available to you and the random level layout that you get, but your success will depend on the decisions you make. Each decision carries risk, which encourages you to experiment with different approaches, and gives the game variety from run to run. There is also a quest mechanic, but these serve more as mini-tutorials encouraging you to try different aspects of the game - they are only a minor distraction that serve the main goal of getting good enough to reach the top.

THE OTHER STUFF

I don't have much to say about the art style: Tumbleseed has a clean, playful 2-D look that walks a line between cartoony and treacherous that serves the gameplay well. Here is a screenshot from the second level. 


It's pretty and distinctive, but it's not mind-blowing. 

In terms of other features, there are leaderboards and dailies. I have a few QoL issues with the interface, like how I have to scroll between all the seed powers when switching between them, and how it asks me to connect to the leaderboards anytime I end a run offline, but those are minor quibbles.

I played on the Nintendo Switch, which is probably the best version due to the portability factor. There has been a bit of fanfare about the Switch version's use of the HD rumble feature, with advanced rumble capabilities allowing for different seed powers to feel differently in your hands. I haven't been sold on the benefits of HD rumble (never really felt rumble was a significant feature of any game except Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on N64), and this game hasn't changed my mind. That said, it is intricate and neat if you're paying attention, but I don't notice it while playing and it hasn't affected my gameplay experience either positively or negatively.

THE CONCLUSION

Tumbleseed is a really difficult roguelike, with a unique movement mechanic and a rewarding gameplay loop, that I would recommend to anyone into the less forgiving entries in this genre. My biggest criticism lies in its high learning curve and difficulty, which is also part of its appeal. I see myself playing this for quite a bit longer, as long as I don't break my Switch in a rage-induced throw across the room.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I review Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game for Nintendorks!

Hello, I'm back! How have you been?

Nintendorks, where I've been an avid reader/forum member since 2002, has recently added board game reviews, which I seized as a chance to finally get published there. I'm super excited, and though I might not be as funny a writer as some of the other talented folks there, I do have an article up! I review a game I've played a whole lot of in the recent months, with lots of different people: Legendary. Much thanks to Brandon aka Stumpy Joe for agreeing to publish my article. So check it out!

I'm gonna try to work on some more board game reviews in addition to A Game of Thrones and Dominion below. Not sure where they'll be published yet, but you will definitely hear about it here!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Mousetraps

Last month, I had the pleasure of hosting (and performing in) at Oh Snap! A The 404s improv comedy show. The term 'pleasure' is used with a bit of irony, as the last scene of the show involved myself and co-performer Dylan Hillyer (a very talented actor, musician, etc...check out his Youtube page for some songs) performing blindfolded and barefoot in a stage littered with over 50 live mousetraps.

Instead of worry and fear about getting hurt - and hurt I did, for days - I felt quite giddy and excited instead, both leading up to and during this scene. You can tell by my grin throughout (I really need to work on my poker face - though I like to think I'm a decent-to-good improvisor, I readily admit I'm a horrible actor!). Full disclosure: I do not have masochistic tendencies! I am in fact a pretty big sissy when it comes to pain. Here, watch:



As you can see in the video, I let out some genuine yelps of pain. I ended up with several welts on my arms and legs that I felt for a few days after. Many fans have asked me after shows if I'm really hurt and 'how painful is it?'. The answer is yes, I'm a bit hurt...but it's not too bad and it will pass. I would compare the pain component (both during and after) to getting hit by a paintball, so long as the mousetraps don't clamp on your toes or fingers in a weird spot. But there are two main differences:
  1. In paintball, you never know when you might get hit, whether you move or not. The blindfolds create a situation of both knowing that you are very likely to experience pain if you take a step, as well as a tinge of uncertainty and hope that you might miss one. Pain is always dependent upon your action.
  2. In paintball, you are actively trying to avoid getting hit, and therefore, trying to avoid pain. This is a natural human instinct, and meshes with how the human brain works. In this sense, the mousetrap game messes with your brain. SNAP! An immediate instinct tells you to stop moving, to take off your blindfold, to walk away. Instead you take another step forward, verbally trying to justify the loud yelp you had just let out within the scene. SNAP! You have no choice but to continue. In fact, get snapped in as many ways as possible enhances the 'painful creativity' of the scene. Time to reach down to 'pick a strawberry' or whatever else the cruel suggestion called for. SNAP SNAP SNAP!
So it's a scarier experience than playing paintball, despite the similarity in the type of pain experienced, and the much shorter duration of the activity.

But in those moments, the audience's surreal mixture of shock, joy, and maybe a little bit of awe, just overtook my senses. You feed off of their energy, and nothing else matters. It's my favourite part of performing: giving an audience pleasure by creating a shared experience. Few things feel more satisfying, and if I were offered a financially viable job where I could perform every evening, I would jump on that without hesitation. Until then I'm happy to keep doing this part-time, for love, welts, and pennies.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011: the highlights

Wow, it had been 7 months since my last post. I would make a promise to write more, but that would be a lie. Let's just say that if I feel passionate enough about something and feel I can add even a minimal amount of value by writing about it, it will likely end up here.

That said, I recently got to thinking about the past year, and figured I could share some highlights (inspired by a Nintendorks Chatter topic named "2011 - the Highlights"):
  • Visited my dad's side of the family in Lebanon! I had gotten pretty out of touch with the arab culture, so after 13 years it was really nice to visit and meet my 2-year old niece, and re-meet my cousins and other family members. Visited some really cool natural landmarks (especially the Je'ita grottos), and had so much great food, yum. I still hate arabic music. And the drivers there - it's chaos on the streets.
  • Visited Paris! This being the more touristy of our two-part summer trip, my brother and I roamed the streets and tried to soak in as much of the main city as we could in 3 days. Getting incredibly bad diarrhea on Day 3 did not diminish the awesomeness of this trip, which aside from the regular touristy stuff included singing Sweet Child 'O Mine karaoke in a small Parisian bar on Pigalle street (the hooker district). I was also really proud of my 'Dany points at Parisian Lampposts' photo album idea, where I'm pointing at a post but there's some famous landmark in the background.
  • Finished my MBA and got a pretty great job! In hindsight, I paid way too much for my education and despite much valuable learning, from an ROI perspective, I wish I had gone to a different school. Moreover, my job is definitely on the lower end of the payscale compared to my fellow graduates', but at least I like what I do and the company I work for does great things worldwide, so it's pretty fulfilling knowing the impact of my work.
  • Got to play board games on a regular basis! A new coffee shop opened last year in Toronto called Snakes and Lattes (it's really popular, if anyone's looking for a business idea), and with its location and ginormous selection, it has become easier and ever to get together with enough friends to enjoy a good strategy board game or two. Awesome times.
  • It's been a good year for our improv group, The 404s! We've had some new blood join, we started a monthly gig at a Toronto bar, and more geek conventions want to book us as guests than we can handle given our lives with full-time jobs. We're very minor celebrities in a super niche community, but it's still pretty awesome to receive that treatment and to have 'fans'.
  • Went to a Foo Fighters concert! Best concert I've been to this year, and second best concert I'd ever been to. Dave Grohl is the man when it comes to putting on a good show. I was blown away and wish I could be even a tenth of the rockstar he is.
Having said all of that, August/September was an incredibly sad time with two deaths in the family. And I haven't had a good woman in my life for far too long. I also feel like aside from my MBA classes and stuff for my job, I haven't learned much this year, which is a bit of a bummer.

But I'm optimistic for 2012! Started Aikido classes in the last month and really enjoying so far, planning to stick with it for a while so it might be a good topic for next year's review! I also plan to move to Toronto by mid-next year, but that hinges on me securing financial stability, which I'm also pretty optimistic about. Drastically reducing my commute time and living independently again is going to be a nice fresh kick in the pants for my life. I can't wait.

As for the women...well, what are you waiting for, ladies? I'm here for the taking.

Review: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game

I've been loving the crap out of A Game Of Thrones: the Board Game recently. If you can ever afford a 4-5 hour block of time to set aside for gaming with a friend or five (this is a 3-6 player game, but I wouldn't recommend it with just 3), this game is worth looking into. I had spent many Sundays playing the now-out-of-print original 2003 edition at Toronto's very popular Snakes & Lattes board game cafe, and when I heard Fantasy Flight Games was re-releasing this gem last month with updated rules, much nicer components,  and gorgeous artwork, I didn't hesitate to put down the $50 for a pre-order. Now that I've had a few sessions with the new edition, I'm ready to lay down the word on what's up (or something like that).

At its core, A Game of Thrones is a military conquest strategy game in the vein of Risk, but minus the randomness, and with a strong emphasis on alliances and treachery. Each player controls one of the 6 major Houses from the A Song of Ice & Fire series, and the goal is to capture 7 castles and strongholds on the continent of Westeros, or be the one with the most at the end of 10 rounds. Each round has 3 phases:
  • Westeros phase: world events occur, potentially affecting the military and political status of all players vying for the isle of Westeros. There may be a Wildling attack at The Wall, that all players must collectively defend against. A Mustering event allows players to create new military units for combat. Political power is just as (if not more) important as military power in this game, and the Clash of Kings event forces players to bid their power tokens on three areas of influence: the Iron Throne, the Fiefdoms, and the King's Court, which significantly affect players' abilities and limitations. 
  • Orders phase: players secretly assign orders to all of their units. This is not limited to movement and combat: units can passively raid other areas to disrupt their plans without direct engagement, as well as pledge to support combat occurring in adjacent areas. The support command is by far the biggest source of heated arguments and controversy, as in addition to their own armies, support units may aid battles that their House is not actually involved with. 
  • Action phase: players execute their now-revealed orders one at a time, claiming territories with valuable resources, capturing castles and strongholds, playing nice (or betraying) their allies, and fending off their enemies. This is where everything happens and the order in which you execute your commands matters a great deal. 












    The rules can be incredibly intimidating at first - there is a whole lot that can happen - but after one or two rounds you find that everything makes sense, with only a few small details requiring regular clarification from the rulebook. Unfortunately, in my experience players WILL try to find every opportunity or loophole to get out of whatever situation they face, so the rulebook will often be consulted. With this in mind, this is not the right buy for a person new to board gaming. However, if you've already played your Catans, your Carcassones and maybe your Dominions, and are thirsty for something with a bit more complexity, this will fulfill that need nicely.

    In addition to being a fun and smart military conquest game, A Game of Thrones: the Board Game captures the flavour of the A Song of Ice & Fire series very well. Most prominent characters make an appearance as army leaders during combat, and the forming of alliances (and breaking of said alliances at the most opportune moments) is a defining aspect of the game, leading to much treachery and controversy. Table talk is absolutely crucial in this game, so it's not for the meek...but I absolutely wouldn't have it any other way.

    In conclusion, A Game of Thrones offers an engaging, noisy experience for those who can set aside several hours with at least 3 experienced gamer friends, or fans of the series who are willing to learn.

    Oh, and you get to gang up on House Lannister to make sure they die a horrible death every time...that's got to count for something, right?

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Toronto - Beirut - Paris Journal. Day 0 - If I'm Dyin', I'm Flyin'

    My dad, brother, and I decided to fly out on Friday the 13th to a politically unstable country (and my homeland from my dad's side), then to Paris during the G20 summit (which will surely involve rioting of some kind). This journal covers my daily experiences hoping to cheat certain misfortune.


    7 hour flight to Paris.

    First time using Air France. Seats were REALLY uncomfortable – very narrow and I have a hard time imagining anyone but skinny people having enough ass room. Entertainment selection was very limited. Watched No Strings Attached – good twist on the typical romantic comedy…Portman’s character was a heartbreaking bitch. But goddamn I’ve been starting to really notice her hotness lately. A bit of turbulence, but I’m used to that. Tried to sleep, but just ended up laying in my seat for 2 hours with my eyes closed.
    Enjoyed the view of the countryside as we flew into Charles-De-Gaulle airport. Green fields, tiny hamlets and villages, little clumps of forestry… it looked like the early stages of a game of Civilization were unfolding beneath me. Nobody clapped when we landed! As a child, every summer my brother and I flew between the UAE and Ukraine or Hungary, and right as we hit the ground and the plane completed its descent the entire plane-ful of people would burst into applause. Maybe that’s a third world thing? Or a 90s thing?

    3 hour layover in Paris.

    Only 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi?! I manage to send a quick FB message and tweet my disappointment, and have not had internet access until the posting of this journal entry. Bumming around the duty free…damn there are some expensive liquors here, 6000 Euros! We stop by a coffee shop…chocolate croissant is fine (was hoping for superlative since this IS Paris, but then again it’s also just the airport…guess I’ll hope for better next weekend when I actually visit the city), “American Coffee” is half a small cupful…shoulda ordered an Espresso. There are free PS3 kiosks in the waiting areas, which is kind of neat until you find out all they have is a crappy street soccer game.

    4 hour flight to Beirut.

    This time we’re flying Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s official airline even though it’s only a small part of the Middle East. Apparently its owes its name to a first mover advantage when it came to middle eastern airlines. (I really should edit that last series of sentences). Horrible logo colour scheme and branding IMO. The most offensive part of my trip by far was the half hour of advertising that was force-fed to my eyes and ears right after the safety instructions. Basically, my screen couldn’t be turned off and the sound was blasted over the PA system. If this is the future of travel (advertising revenue to offset cheaper plane tickets, as alluded to by my marketing prof last year), then I’d like a warning when signing up, and significantly cheaper plane tickets. Hell, I’ll even fill out surveys and perform research studies if it means my flight’s cheaper. Just let me know beforehand, because this coming out of left field totally turned me off. But at least my ass fit in the seats, unlike with Air France.

    This time there was clapping when we landed! I guess it is a third world thing :/. Maybe we’ve learned to better appreciate and get excited for when we don’t die.