Monday, July 28, 2014

Knytt Underground - Bounce and Climb 'Til You're Bored

Platform: Wii U, PC, PS3, Vita     Genre: Platforming/Adventure
Knytt Underground (pronounced with a "k" that isn't silent and the "y" like "i" as in "it") is kind of like a Metroid game, but also kind of not. It's kind of like a sequel to Nifflas' other games, Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest, but also kind of not. While it has all the exploration, atmosphere, and spiffy audio/visuals of said games, it unfortunately left me feeling less satisfied than any of them. But that's not to say that Knytt Underground is a bad game; it may just be a pretty alright game rather than a great game.
The gently swaying over-sized plants in the background are an interesting artistic touch.
This is just one of many differently styled areas which each have ambient music
and sounds to set the mood.
Knytt Underground, like its predecessor, Knytt Stories, is all about exploration. There is no fighting at all and the only enemies are the occasional robots and environmental hazards which act more as elements of platforming puzzles than as enemies. If you mess up and die (it only takes one hit), you'll be mercifully reset to the beginning of the screen, just before the obstacle. Save points are also kindly signified by arrow signs in adjacent screens to make it less likely that you'll wander down the ever branching paths without encountering one. The game extends over the course of three chapters, although the first two chapters are more like tutorials for the core gameplay elements of climbing, using special location-based abilities that let you fly temporarily and with limited mobility, and bouncing as a ball. In the third chapter, you're able to transform between the main character's climbing/ability-using form and the ball form, which allows you to get all over the place with some pretty unique physics-based platforming.
The robot on the bottom electrifies the water when you get close. The one on top shoots.
The white orb gives you one robot-killing shot. The green orb lets you fly temporarily.
You can turn into a ball and bounce at any time or climb walls as a sprite.
Figure out how to get where you want.
This third chapter is where the majority of the game takes place and you'll spend it with the goal of ringing six bells and saving the world (or maybe not - the legend could be a myth as some characters suspect). In order to ring the bells, you'll have to find miscellaneous items to pay the gatekeepers by doing quests for people which are mostly just doing tricky platforming and finding hidden passages. The map is huge and there's a ton to explore. There are even extra secret areas outside the boundaries of the map with extra challenging challenges. Unfortunately for Wii U owners, there's not much reason to find these exceedingly well-hidden and difficult challenges because all they gain you is an achievement. Even the other hidden items are unexciting to get because they offer little benefit except to get you past gatekeepers or to offer you back story on characters that you likely won't see again (although the dialogue is well written and often amusing). By the way, this dialogue between your two fairy companions and the people of the world is the sole reason for the game's M rating; there's some usage of F-bombs, among other vulgar language. Shoutout to ESRB for giving a game with swear words the same rating as Grand Theft Auto.
You are Mi. You travel with the super optimistic Dora and her super negative friend Cilia.
Mi is mute, so these two fairy companions do most of the talking.
Unlike typical Metroidvania games and Knytt Stories, there aren't really any upgrades that allow you to access new areas. Instead, you have access to the entire map from the start (of Chapter 3). In my book, this is a huge problem. Because of this design choice, finding items is unexciting, and backtracking and exploring gradually becomes more of a chore since you never get any new abilities to change up the way you explore. It's great the the world is so big and that there are so many secrets everywhere, but after the ten or so hours it'll take to explore it all, you'll likely be getting bored. And while the story has some interesting themes and characters, the openness of the game results in the story being just a bunch of disconnected scenes rather than something that can build on itself much.
Not that this game is stupid by any means.
The Final Word:
There is certainly some fun to be had in Knytt Underground, but after several hours of it, it gets old. If you're looking for a nice, relaxing game with lots of exploration or if you're just a fan of Nifflas, this game might be for you. Just know that this isn't really a Metroidvania due to the lack of new abilities and that it might not be for you if you require nonstop action in your games.

For another mellow exploration-based game, check out Ico. Or, for a Metroidvania game that actually has combat and upgradeable abilities, give Guacamelee! a try.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guacamelee! - Me Gusta.

Platform: 360, XB1, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Vita, PC    Release: April, 2013

I had my eye on Guacamelee! for quite a while before I finally picked it up and played it. Platforming and item-based exploration are two of my most favorite things in gaming and Guacamelee! did not disappoint on these or any other front (except perhaps one).

This game exudes style with its flashy, colorful animation and Mexican aesthetic which is rarely explored in gaming. The quality doesn't stop with the art style; it also has a rockin' soundtrack that'll get stuck in your head and an epic and amusingly written storyline that isn't just arbitrarily tacked on. On top of that are countless references and nods to other similar games like Metroid and even internet memes like Grumpy Cat, so in between discovering the many hidden items, you'll also be discovering tons of spiffy easter eggs.
What? No! These "Choozo" Statues are totally different from Metroid's Chozo Statues.
Well, yeah, I guess they both give you new abilities, but that's just a coincidence.

The game itself plays like a Metroidvania game, which means that you'll be exploring and finding new abilities which will allow you to explore new areas. Unlike Metroid, however, you'll be fighting enemies with your fists using intuitive Smash Bros.-like controls of "attack+direction", dodges, and throws. The abilities used for exploring can also be used in battle and many moves can be upgraded as well. Getting the hang of fighting and succeeding in comboing your enemies while dodging incoming attacks feels truly epic and is super fun. Unfortunately, it is also the root of my single complaint with this game which is that combat starts out too simple. In the beginning of the game, there are disappointingly few moves at your disposal and it would have been nice if the unlockable exploration/battle moves were available from the start and different exploration-centric abilities were put in their place. Still, this is only a minor complaint against the otherwise expertly crafted combat and controls.
via EntertainmentFuse
Exploration is always fun thanks to the many quests and hidden areas which often require clever use of your abilities to access, especially the core game mechanic of swapping between the world of the living and the world of the dead on the fly to avoid obstacles or make platforms solid. Finding these secrets is rewarded with health and stamina expansions or, more disappointingly, gold which can be used for upgrades or unlockable characters, each of which have slight variations in stats and attributes. There are even a few extra secret areas with additional challenging tests of skill. The biggest of these is an entirely optional area in Hell, the "Devil's Advocates Law Firm" building, which is packed with timed challenges that will prove difficult for even the experienced gamer.
This optional area with lots of world swapping is probably the hardest place in the game.
All this is great so far, but Guacamelee! doesn't settle for great - it goes above and beyond by adding simultaneous co-op, custom costumes (via Steam Workshop), hard mode, and online leaderboards for speedrunning.
If you play on Steam, you can be Batman. Or Samus. Or Johnny Bravo.
If you're looking to buy the Super Turbo Championship Edition, you can expect the addition of the "Intenso" ability, which gives a temporary boost of strength. Whether you see this as an increase in epicness or a disappointing decrease in difficulty is a toss-up however. On top of that, there are new enemies, bosses, areas, and cutscenes which are all worked in to the original game and not just attached in some optional area. I only played the non-STCE version, so I can't review all that stuff, but Guacamelee! had a lot going on to begin with. All that extra stuff could only make it more mind-blowingly good.

Look, if you like platforming games at all, I don't see how you wouldn't like this game. It's a blast. It'll take around six hours to beat, but if you're like me, you'll have so much fun that you'll immediately want to play through it again on hard mode and find every secret the game has to offer. It's available on practically every platform, so check it out!

I linked it already, but here are a bunch more games that are similar to Guacamelee!. Otherwise, here's a totally free indie game that you probably haven't hear of.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pokemon: Chamo-Chamo ☆ Pretty ♪ Vol. 2 - English translation

Vol. 1 - Vol. 2 - Vol. 3
The first ever (to my knowledge) translation of Pocket Monsters Chamo-Chamo ☆ Pretty ♪ Volume 2 is now done! This manga is out of print and not available in an official English version, but you can support the author by checking out her other works.

This volume introduces some new characters and brings back old characters for some cute and amusing situations. Also, Torchic's emotions get more complicated!

Here are some sample pages from my English translation (read right to left): 
(Download links are below)

(Chapter 12)
(Chapter 19)

I'm not going to embed the entire manga here, so if you wanna read the rest, you can download it from any of these links: (.zip, 92 MB)
Google Drive (Old, lossy version)

Read online:
Imgur (Temporary)

More translations by me:
Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 (My Summer Vacation 3)
Kino's Journey Vol.5 Ch.2: Land of Permitted Murder

I also teach Japanese lessons, so let me know if you're interested! :D
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