Beat Level One

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Save the Ninja Clan • Beat the first level

As I said yesterday, today was going to be pretty much tied up with family commitments, so it was a toss up between something passive like a Telltale game, or something more ‘meaty’ like … well, like this: Save the Ninja Clan.

I have to say, this concerned me at first, because it said a controller was recommended, but the first few levels seemed to work fine with a keyboard and mouse. It’s possible that there are more complicated mechanics to come, but for now I’m satisfied that I can get through the basics on my own.

I know it’s early days, but this is a good game. I’m enjoying the quick death, quick replay value, and the premise, so expect to see this one on my achievement list again.

Crystal Relic Collector

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Knack • Acquired a Crystal Relic • Bronze Trophy • Rarity 62.9% (Common)

It’s the freakin’ weekend, and do you know what that means? If you guessed housework, and a day out-and-about, then you’re absolutely correct; but if your guess ventured into something about having to entertain the kids when they’ve had a full day of the aforementioned ‘out-and-about’, and they’re eyes are hanging out of their head … then I’m happy to give you a silver medal as well.

What does this all mean? Why, time to fire up the closest friendly family game, of course – and Knack fit the bill. While we’re pretty much tag-teaming the game for the most part, it really is a case of my son playing for a bit, getting killed, and then me having to go back and get through the next chunk until he feels like playing again. Repeat, ad nauseum.

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Even though he still falls over along the way, he’s certainly got the grasp of the game, and he knows when to look in side doors or areas where chests might be. Even though he breezes past a lot of these things while he’s playing, it pleases me that he’s getting a good grasp of side quests. I’ll turn him into a professional gamer yet!

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This trophy is simply for unlocking a particular type of collectible, or ‘relic’ as the game labels them. I noticed that collecting the full set of these crystals appears to be the requirement for unlocking ‘Vampire Knack’, which – perhaps most importantly – is necessary for another trophy entirely! I can’t see myself in the likely multiple playthroughs needed to obtain the full set, but by the same token, I said that a lot about Max and the Curse of Brotherhood, and then I had to keep going back to it to cater to my son’s obsession, and used the time to 100% it. Silver lining and all that.

Tomorrow is pretty much a dedicated family day, so I’m not sure where I’m going to land when it comes to achievements. I still have many of my quick-and-dirty achievements on Steam there to work my way through, which might be a nice change from the more ‘meaty’ stuff I’ve been working on lately. Final Fantasy VII, in particular, is proving particularly taxing on the mind.

I’m not sure if that reflects the game, the twenty years since it’s been out or … more troubling … my mind!

Promise Keeper

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War • Issue a Death Threat, and then successfully kill the target • 20G • 31.15% of gamers unlocked this

A bit more Middle-Earth today, and – if I’m honest – this was a bit of a cherry picked achievement. For much of the last week, I’ve really just been working my way through Mordor and killing and building up Orcs for my army without any real rhyme or reason. I think the mechanism is a bit different from the previous game, in that the ‘pleb’ orcs don’t hang around and they certainly don’t do anything for you beyond fight in the here-and-now (or, at least, not attack you), which is frustrating, but it’s also equally fun – and so while I am likely not making much narrative process, I also feel like I’m doing what gaming is supposed to be about – having fun.

Today was all about threatening and then killing a particular orc. The ‘worm’ orcs seem to play a more important part in this title than the first installment, in that they are more numerous and serve as a logistical force behind a lot of the emergent gameplay, and it wasn’t hard to find one – send a threat out to a random captain, and then … well … then kill him.

In other news, I still haven’t heard about my Ryzen PC, which – regular readers will know – has been sent to the technicians for troubleshooting and repair. It’s quite frustrating, I had hoped for a weekend of gaming that I have otherwise had to miss out on because of my potato PC, but if this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the vicissitudes of life tend to prohibit these plans on a not-uncommon basis anyway.

There is a temptation to call the technician and give them a hurry up, but a saying which I was always fond of repeating springs to mind – good things come to those who wait …

… or does the squeaky wheel get the oil?

Avenged

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War • Complete a Vendetta Mission • 15G • 59.36% of gamers unlocked this

I’m going to attempt to going back to adding in more detail about my achievements in the initial leader line because I think, in some instances, that context is useful. In some ways, differentiating between a Bronze or a Gold trophy, or understanding it’s difficulty in terms of earn-rate (percentage) provides a rich picture about the achievement beyond my usual musings and often over-tired and shoot-from-the-hip style of writing.

If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not sure if this achievement is glitched or not, but from what I could tell, it unlocked while I was still in the middle of the titular Vendetta mission. While I did complete it in the end, I was actually in pursuit of my Orc target when it unlocked – which caused me to raise an eyebrow, briefly, before resuming my chase and eventually cutting down the tricky little blighter who had killed me twenty minutes prior.

It seems that I have progressed far enough in Shadow of War now so that my time is to be split between managing my army and playing the game itself. I am still having my hand held by a lot of the tutorial and help screens for this part of the game – but from what I can tell, it’s a good evolution of the already-excellent nemesis system.

One of the more emotionally-charged moments of the game came this morning when ‘Tarz of the Black Gate’ came on me and decided to taunt me with his admission he was there on the night that Talion’s (the protagonist) family were killed in an Orc attack. I’m not sure if this was a dynamic or scripted introduction into the game, but I loved it. Loved it. It triggered just the right of emotion into the battle that I felt like Tarz needed more than a simple sword-to-the-face. I wanted him to be properly punished. I wanted him branded.

So I did.

To add insult to injury (for Tarz), the delightful war troll, Brûz – who is best known for his appearance in the original gameplay reveal – rolled in shortly after I dominated Tarz and suggested that I make him my bodyguard. Great suggestion, Brûz. With a couple of controller clicks, I had converted Tarz, the taunting, family-killing orc captain into a minion under my control.

Delicious.

I’m still slowly working my way through this region of the game, and pretty much just undertaking quests if-and-when they occur. There is a method to working through the quests in sequence, but – to be honest – I’ve just been having fun levelling up Talion and, now that I’ve unlocked it, branding Orcs to fight for me.

Now if only they have the brilliant mechanic from Shadow of Mordor that allowed me to explode their heads en masse, we could have some real fun!

Stopped The Invasion

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Sakura Agent • Put an end to the invasion

I feel like we have reached a point in social progress where almost everything has become acceptable. In the words of Assassin’s Creed: Everything is Permitted.

I am not, however, convinced that playing a game about scantily-clad Japanese Secret Agents save the world from ‘incursions’ while on your lunch-break at work has quite reached mainstream acceptance yet. I suspected that there might be a ‘hint’ of suggestion in the game just by virtue of its genre, but I never quite expected salacious crotch-shots and lingerie-as-evening-wear revealing.

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Now, before you get the wrong idea – I am absolutely not a prude. I bloody love a good Asian cartoon soft-core semi-pornographically influenced visual novel as much as any other red-blooded thirty-something heterosexual male. I am certain there is an argument to be made for the sexualisation and objectification of women in games – and I absolutely support that, in truth, I spent most of my time while the game was loading searching for the right sequence of answers to get me through the game with a 100% achievement completion rate – my issue is more that this game was such a shock on an otherwise normal Wednesday afternoon.

I mean … I was having leftover spaghetti bolognaise, and next thing you know … blammo – crotch-shot. It’s a good thing I didn’t wear a white shirt today.

What pleases me most about Sakura Agent is that I’ve finished it. I am satisfied to have collected all of the achievements in this game, thanks to the aforementioned walkthrough. Done. Fin. The End.

I understand that there are other games in this series under the broad heading ‘Winged Cloud’, which I can only assume is some lost-in-translation title, so this may not be the last time you see the semi-naked cat-loving women grace the pages of this blog … but it’s probably the last time you’ll see it grace my screen during business hours.

Well, certainly in my current open-plan, heavy foot-traffic role, anyway!

Wordsearch Workhorse

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Lexica • Complete 12 Puzzles

I thought I had finished 12 puzzles yesterday during some after-hours dabbling in Lexica, but it turned out that I was one short. So a quick flick of the wrist, and a bit of word manipulation and ‘presto!’ the first wave of puzzles done.

Admittedly, this lot was the ‘easy’ grouping, so I would be lying if I said that this was a particularly onerous achievement – it was more a case of just finding the time to complete it. Much like Apple, this game (at least in the first levels) is easier the less you think about it. When you stop over-engineering your thinking, you tend to find the simplest solution.

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In other gaming news, I finally gave up on trouble-shooting my PC and have taken it to a technical specialist. I suspect that there is a misalignment between my old hardware and the sexy new motherboard + processor combination, but rather than tweaking different things each night when I get home and spending more money on more hardware – I figure I’m just going to let someone who has the time, and the tools, to troubleshoot it for me.

If there’s one thing I like about capitalism, it’s that you can outsource your problems.

Secure the Southern Border

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Make America Great Again: The Trump Presidency • Complete the Trump Wall

When Donald Trump was elected, I thought it would be slightly amusing to create a Spotify playlist that represented everything I feared for the Trump Administration. Sure enough, Trump is working hard to ensure those expectations are met – but it seems like there are plenty of other creatives looking to muscle in on the Trump Phenomenon (deliberately capitalized like a proper noun). Enter this … this monstrosity.

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I don’t even know where to begin. This is a mediocre resource-manager at best, and then it goes and throws in a basic side-scrolling shooter, and what’s worse is that it has Donald Trump’s face all over it!

I mean … I know that’s the point, but … wow.

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This first achievement is for building Trump’s infamous wall. The ‘moronic idea‘ designed to sate the appetite of racist conservative bigots along the Southern border of the USA. If there wasn’t an achievement in it – I almost certainly wouldn’t be implementing this as good policy … particularly when a large part of the game involves pumping oil (after building the Keystone Pipeline) and selling it to Mexico.

Side RL note: Trump is also the one who claimed that Mexico was going to be the next China, so putting up barriers – physical and metaphoric – just makes terrible, terrible policy sense.

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There is a few other game mechanics which I haven’t quite mastered yet. For instance, there is a function to deliver aid to parts of the world to help bring down your ‘World Anger’ rating and just stave off WW3. I managed to only do this once though, as there seems to be a cool down timer or something similar which isn’t letting me fly around the world saving the day at will.

Of course, I suppose that is thematically consistent with Trump’s values anyway.

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Much of the other mechanics seem to focus on timing and economics – ironic given the subject matter. I am certain there’s a good chance to flex some policy muscle later in the game – particularly when the likes of World Matriarch, Angela Merkel, and Trump lapdog, Malcolm Turnbull, make feature appearances.

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Is this a good game? No. I can’t say with any guarantee that it is. Will I play it again? Again, no, probably not. I’d like to be able to squeeze out a few more achievements, but the clunky gameplay, rushed mechanics and the fact I have to look at Donald Trump for a period longer than my blood pressure will allow all contribute to a less-than-stellar desire to go back and … ahem … ‘Make America Great Again.’

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Better Luck Next Time

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War • Meet an Enemy or a Follower who has cheated death

I am feeling a bit miffed, as I had hoped to have a beautiful new Ryzen 5 PC built and be playing something significant on it by this time today, but alas, good ol’ Ryzen chips don’t have on-board graphics, and I can’t work out whether the little-2GB-GPU-that-could is actually supposed to work on that board, or whether I should genuinely be upset that the CPU fail Ezy Debug light is showing on the beautiful new motherboard.

Net result: I am a little upset.

It’s a good thing there is the sweet, sweet catharsis of killing orcs to see me through, as I pushed on with a couple of missions today – resulting in a not-insignificant amount of slaughter for a few named orcs. I have to admit, I do miss my full powered-up Talion from the original game, but judging by my skim of the upgrades list, most of his old moves are there, and it should just be a bit of a grind away to get them all in the end. Time. It’s just simply time.

I’m still a bit on-the-fence about the game’s representation of Shelob … as a humanoid. I mean … I can see that it makes the narrative a little easier, but I don’t think anyone has really ever taken Tolkien to be a allegorical work, still fiction, of course, but everything has typically had its plain meaning. Still, good gameplay tends to forgive a lot of sins, and thus far, I am killing Orcs at a pace that satisfies my tortured soul.

 

Dismantled

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War • Disable an Outpost

Believe it or not, there is 59 different shaders you can use in photo mode on Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. The problem is, they all look a bit ‘meh’, and following the simplicity by which I was able to take shots on God of War, this clunky, mediocre effort actually makes me irrationally mad.

Thank God the rest of the game is, so far, ‘OK’.

There’s not a lot different between the original Shadow of Mordor and this outing, and I’m absolutely alright with that. Sometimes, games need to stick with what they do well, and that is it. Call of Duty is perhaps the best series which fell off the bandwagon when they introduced the most ridiculous mechanic in gaming in the last twenty years: the wall run.

In terms of achievements, this is a surprisingly slow burn. It’s taken a solid hour (though I’m sure it’s much more) before this first achievement popped – and judging by the achievement list, I’m can’t really see a path to quick-and-dirty achievements. Most seem to be unlockable through just routine gameplay, while others are for what I can only assume are key story beats.

Either way, it’s good to have a few runs on the board. I am a huge, huge fan of the WB Middle-Earth games, regardless of all the carry-on about loot boxes and micro transactions, I think a solid game is a solid game. I can’t wait to get into it a bit more!

Open Level 7

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aMAZE ZERO • Open Level 7

I am going out for dinner tonight and I can’t wait – it’s going to be Korean and if I don’t have a stomach ache from eating too much Kim Chi tomorrow, then I’ll consider it a wasted opportunity.

Today’s journey through some of the new indie games on my system continues, with a bit of a session on aMAZE ZERO, which – as the name suggests – is really just a whole series of mazes that you guide a little widget through until completion.

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Look, I’m not going to lie – even after seven levels, the mazes are not that hard. The basic premise of sticking in one direction, or working your way backward from the centre (the end of the maze) is a perfectly legitimate strategy, and – hey, it’s a maze game. The screenshots on Steam show a game that does increase in difficulty as time goes on, but really, none of it looks particularly hard, but, at best, time consuming.

And sometimes I have more time than inclination.