Tag Archives: Gaming

Bonesaw Podcast Episode 53: Jeff Wittenhagen

We return from a long absence with video game journalist, eight time author, podcaster, and founder of Hagen’s Alley Book’s, Jeff Wittenhagen. Jeff talks his books, his love of the games, and more.

Check Jeff out at www.hagensalley.com.

Donate to our Patreon: www.patreon.com/thebonesaw.

Advertisements

Yooka-Laylee: Familiar and Fulfilling

by Robert Orr

The year is 1998, and the Nintendo 64 is one of the hottest video game consoles on the market.

Coming off the success of Goldeneye, RareWare launches one of the greatest platformers of all time in Banjo-Kazooie. The game featured hilarious dialogue, endearing characters, vibrant graphics, and most importantly of all, exciting and rewarding gameplay. Rare followed up with a number of classics, which include a much loved sequel (aptly named Banjo-Tooie), Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark. Soon after, Nintendo announced the Gamecube, and rumors began circulating of what Rare’s next classic would be. Banjo-Threeie was teased numerous times, but the wait continued.

However, Rare and Nintendo’s partnership ended, and the company was acquired by Microsoft. Rare began developing games for the Xbox and later Xbox 360. Some were good, some were bad, but many were left wondering if Banjo-Threeie would ever see the light of day.

Eventually, news of a new Banjo-Kazooie game (Nuts and Bolts) finally surfaced. When the game was finally released, many fans were disappointed, as the classic platforming gameplay of the originals was replaced with a strange vehicle building quasi-sandbox. Suffice to say, the game was not well received by fans and critics alike, and many feared there would never be a true sequel to Banjo-Kazooie.

In 2012, a group of game designers, all veterans of RareWare’s heyday, decided to come together and form a new company, which would eventually be known as Playtonic Games. A Kickstarter for their newest endeavor, a true spiritual successor to RareWare’s greatest hit platformers, was successfully funded – a game called Yooka-Laylee.

Much like its precursors, Yooka-Laylee is a platforming game with a focus on collecting various items throughout large open worlds. Some of these items are used to buy new moves to help the titular heroes reach new areas of the game previously unreachable.

The main collectible, Pagies, are similar to Banjo-Kazooie’s Jiggies. Pagies are used to unlock new levels, and also “expand” existing levels, a new feature unique to Yooka-Laylee. Levels initially start off kind of small, but by paying a certain amount of extra Pagies (depending on the level), new sections of the level become available for the player to explore. Pagies are collected by completing various challenges throughout the level, which include completing puzzles and platforming challenges, defeating bosses, and simple exploration.

There’s also Ghost Writers, which are a bit tougher to collect, as they must be defeated and/or captured using the various special moves acquired throughout the game. There are additional unique items to be collected, which can be used in various ways in each level.

The levels themselves are huge. Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie were both known for their large levels (especially for the N64 era), but Yooka-Laylee takes it to the next level. With the edition of the expand feature, levels go from average-sized to gigantic worlds with a plethora of secrets. Each level is accessed through the hub world, Hivory Towers – this game’s analogue to Gruntilda’s Castle. Hivory Towers is massive in itself, with dozens of branching paths and secrets to be found. Aside from being the area where all the worlds are contained, Hivory Towers also serves as its own unique level, with various hidden collectibles and puzzles the player must complete in order to advance.

The characters are endearing and funny. Yooka the chameleon serves as the level-headed voice of reason of the duo, while Laylee the bat is a comedic and slightly sardonic foil to that. The main boss of the game, Capital B., is a nefarious honeybee businessman, and much like Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie, mocks Yooka and Laylee as they progress throughout the hub world. Capital B.’s partner is a strange duck head in a jar named Dr. Quack, who acts as the bumbling sidekick, designing trivia games to try and slow the player down as they progress through the game.

Also much like its predecessors, Yooka-Laylee features many side characters, as pretty much every item and inanimate object in the game can actually talk, and each of these side characters will quickly become loved by the player.

Graphically, Yooka-Laylee is gorgeous, featuring vibrant colors, dynamic light and shadows, and amazing high-def textures. The character animations are fluid and smooth, and the various transformations and special abilities are all creatively designed. The levels, aside from their titanic topography, are beautiful and unique, spanning various environments, from a tropical paradise to a frozen tundra – and even a casino. As with everything else, these levels are colorful and visually appealing, and players may find themselves climbing to the highest point of each level to just admire the scenery.

There are however, a few performance hiccups, which is to be expected from a game this new, and will most likely be patched as time goes on. It has also been reported by individuals who received early copies of the game that the camera had some issues. However, a first day patch seems to have fixed whatever problems there were with the camera, and aside from a few areas where it can get a bit crazy, the camera control is fairly solid.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a well-designed game, and while it does have a few flaws, these are minor in comparison to all the positive aspects of the game. Veterans of the original RareWare classics on the N64 will love Yooka-Laylee, although the gameplay may seem a bit dated to younger players. That said, Yooka-Laylee really does bring something for everyone to the table, and even younger players will grow to love it with time. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to pick up and play, but has enough difficulty that even seasoned players of the platforming genre will find themselves with quite a challenge in completing the levels.

For those Rare fans who’ve been waiting years for Banjo-Threeie, the wait is finally over, and although it isn’t a true Banjo-Kazooie sequel, Yooka-Laylee certainly fills that void.

Bonesaw Podcast: Episode 50 – Patrick Hickey Jr.

bonesaw4

In order to start a journey, you need someone to make an impact on your life. That person is our guest for our latest podcast, Patrick Hickey Jr. Hickey is an author, professor, and editor in-chief of reviewfix.com. We talk his upcoming video games book, journalism, and more.

Donate to our Patreon: www.patreon.com/thebonesaw.

Nintendo: To Switch, or Not to Switch?

Nintendo’s latest creation, the Switch launched Friday in North America, Japan, and Europe to the thrill of many who were able to get their hands on it.

That said, there will always be skeptics hesitant to grab the new console right away as well as those who wish to wait for reasons such as a price drop, early bugs to be removed, and a larger game catalog. Although it never hurts to wait, it also doesn’t hurt to wait in line and head home happy.

For starters, the console is extremely lightweight once fully assembled in the tablet (aka Wii-U mode) portion. When docked, the console itself fits seamlessly into the charging station, which connects to your TV. You’ll want to keep your Switch in this setting most of the time as it functions better in this state. When used in its tablet form, the Switch can be a tad slower, but not enough to throw off your game.

The controllers also attach and detach easily and function well. The infrared camera in the right portion of the controller (also known as the red side) surprisingly reacts well to weight detection and motion sensing, which you’ll discover after having played the 1-2-Switch title. The controls also respond well to other games such as Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and the included launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. When the two are detached, there’s also buttons on the side, making for a variety of ways to play.The Switch also comes with a controller frame for you to combine the two controllers to form a Gamecube-like controller as opposed to holding them like the Wii-motes.

Another interesting dynamic is how the Switch games are reverting back to cartridges. You can download other titles in the Nintendo e-store, but the main games are tiny cartridges are slightly larger than those used on the Game Boy Advanced. There’s also a slot for micro SD cards to increase your system’s memory.

Overall, the system performs well. The sound system is on-point, games don’t take long to load, and the graphics, while not the caliber of rivals Sony and Microsoft consoles, play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses (which really comes down to not being able to handle the processors the others have). Games are easy to play and the system hub is easy to navigate however the controllers are used.

At the end of the day, Nintendo continues to favor innovation over hardware upgrades with the Switch. By combining old concepts with new, the gaming giant competes with the market by thinking outside the box and choosing a franchise title to launch with their latest endeavor. Although the fear of the new and unknown will still see some gamers unable to make the switch, those that do will reap their rewards instantly.

 

 

F*ck Mondays! Episode 23: Who Needs The Emmy’s?

real fmondays

Our hosts ramble about South Park, Stranger Things, gaming, Collin Kaepernick’s protest and more.

Dark Souls III – Farewell to an Epic Friend

darksoul_facebook_mini

FromSoftware’s titan of a series has finally come to an end; not with a whimper – but with a bang.

Dark Souls III arrived in April to the delight of millions of fans worldwide just itching to spew curse words at their TV’s. After an absence from Dark Souls II, FromSoftware’s main man Hidetaka Miyazaki returns to his rightful place as director of the project this time around (and it definitely shows). From the complex yet simple level design to the extremely deep combat mechanics, Miyazaki-san’s presence is most certainly felt in the latest (and final) installment.

Dark Souls III begins in the future of the Souls timeline, after Dark Souls II and well after Dark Souls. The cycle that players have been a part of since the beginning has gone askew, with different timelines and dimensions now all converging on one point. Dark Souls III’s plot can be very confusing to newcomers, especially those who have not played the previous installments and their respective DLCs, so it is definitely a good idea for those new to the series to at the very least read a plot synopsis up until this point. The story for the most part remains fairly open-ended (as the previous games have), so that the player can speculate and figure out the plot for themselves. By doing this, FromSoftware has managed to create a tight-knit community that is able to openly debate not only the mechanics of the game, but the plot as well.

The setting this time around is Lothric, which is clearly influenced by all the previous souls games, including Bloodborne and Demon Souls (two games with similar mechanics to Dark Souls but with different plots and settings). The level design is breathtaking, with plenty of gorgeous vistas that one can easily get lost in. Miyazaki’s influence is perhaps best felt in the level design, which shift away from the numerous checkpoints of Dark Souls II back to a more “shortcut” based design. Rather than having bonfires to rest at/warp to spread around everywhere, Souls III requires the player to be a bit more observant, looking for hidden paths, ladders and elevators that allow for massive skips in the level. The levels are also massive, with numerous branching paths and plenty of hidden secrets to explore.

Combat has also been changed again for DS III, taking elements from Dark Souls, DS II and even Bloodborne; creating a hybrid system which works very well. There does seem to be some balancing issues however, with magic, dark magic and miracles being slightly underpowered compared to previous installments. Pyromancy works very well and with a bunch of new spells mixed in with the classic favorites, there is definitely something for everyone. Weapons are also still a bit unbalanced, with early game strength weapons being almost useless versus the faster dexterity-based weapons. However, late-game really balances out the different weapon types, making numerous builds viable in late-game PvP.

One mechanic that still remains shrouded in mystery is the poise mechanic. In previous Souls games, poise was a measure of how many hits your character could take before you were “staggered.” In DS III however, it’s unclear exactly what poise does, as there doesn’t seem to be any difference in armor types when it comes to how fast someone is staggered. There is speculation among fans that poise somehow effects how many frames of “hyper armor” one has when doing certain moves, which makes the character temporarily unstaggerable (although it has not been confirmed or denied by FromSoftware yet). This mystery just adds to the mountain of information players are still attempting to sift through and decipher months after the initial release.

Another strong point of Dark Souls III is its multiplayer. Up to six player “phantoms” can be summoned at once, which is a mechanic originally introduced in Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, but has since been improved upon. Depending on the area, hosts can summon up to three friends for co-op with two more slots open for other players to “invade.”

The way that covenants work has also been improved, with special equipable items to signify one’s covenant, making it easier to switch on the fly between your different covenants (covenants are factions within Souls that award you special items based on your co-op or player vs. player participation). Speaking of covenants, another improvement is the addition of the Mound Makers covenant (essentially a “neutral” covenant). In previous games, it was basically the host and his co-op phantoms versus any invading red phantoms. In DS III, the host can summon or be invaded by a purple phantom, who can either co-op with the host OR kill him. Purple phantoms also receive rewards for attacking other phantoms of any color, so it’s actually beneficial for them to keep the host alive. This adds a whole new layer to the multiplayer which was not present in the previous games. However, multiplayer does still have its quirks. Although greatly improved over the other games in the series, there is still some issues with lag which can effect the outcome of player duels. There has also been an ongoing problem with hackers on the PC version, with even innocent players being banned just for accidental interaction with hackers. FromSoft is currently still working on these problems and have been slowly improving the situation, so it’s likely within the next few months they will be fixed for the most part.

Overall, Dark Souls III is an amazing experience, both for fans of the series and newcomers. From the gorgeous levels to the extremely in-depth combat mechanics, there is something for any hardcore RPG player. Those craving a challenge will also love Dark Souls III. It pulls no punches in its difficulty level, harkening back to the days of the NES and games like the original Castlevania. With DLC currently in development, tons of replayabilty and awesome endgame content, Dark Souls III will certainly keep fans playing for quite a long time.

Trailer Feedback: Five Nights at Freddy’s – Sister Location

Heere’s Baby.

Set in what looks more like a facility than a family restaurant, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Sister Location will contain at least four new haunted animatronics guaranteed to give you nightmares. There’s the ringmistress Baby, Funtime Foxy (who is possibly a hybrid of Foxy and the Mangle characters from the original series), Funtime Freddy (sporting a Springtrap puppet on his right hand) and the twisted ballerina Ballora – who’s eyes never appear to open.

The trailer for the FNAF spinoff begins with a cold open as the words “Fear, panic, dread and terror deep below ground where memories sleep. Anger is restless and secrets don’t keep” appear alongside flashing images of the beloved survival-horror franchise’s past installments. We are introduced to possibly new gameplay mechanics as the room/elevator descends into madness before divulging into a vent before we get a load of Baby and her nightmarish clan.

Creepy music ensues before presumably Baby utters the phrases “Don’t hold it against us. You don’t know what we’ve been through” at the trailers end.

The demented cat known as Sister Location was semi-let out of the bag in the second FNAF World update ending, which was released May 13th (which of course, fell on a Friday). During the ending, the player finds  FNAF creator Scott Cawthon at a desk explaining that he’s created something terrible and that her name is Baby. The lights dim, glowing eyes appear in the corner and when the lights come back on, Cawthon is found lying in a pool of his own blood.

This Fall, gamers and horror enthusiasts alike will uncover the terrifying reasons why nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Ratchet & Clank Makes Qwarktastic Debut

14045_poster2

In 2002, Insomniac Games and the Sony Playstation 2 brought us the story of a Lombax and a robot that would save the universe.

Fourteen years later, Ratchet and Clank not only have an army of hit games under their belt, but are making their feature film debut both on the big screen and at home on the Playstation Network.

The movie follows a plot similar to the first game with a few storylines from subsequent games tied in to add more elements.

Ratchet dreams of being a Space Ranger but is stuck in a monotonous life as a spaceship mechanic until a defective robot he names Clank crash lands on Ratchet’s home planet Veldin.

Although he’s already been turned down to join the Space Rangers by his hero Captain Quark, Ratchet is convinced by Clank’s inside information to warn the team of an imminent attack by the evil Chairman Drek and mad scientist Dr. Nefarious.

After discovering more details of Drek and company’s evil plan, our two heroes join the Space Rangers on a galaxy saving quest filled with weapons, gadgets and hijinx that remind us why we fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

In addition to the big names cast (Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone), one of the finer points of Ratchet & Clank is the inclusion of nearly every main voice actor from the original games. James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward and Armin Shimerman do a wonderful job reprising their roles, bringing smiles to nostalgic faces and life to their characters ways only they can.

We also see many weapons featured throughout the series’ tremendous catalog of games. One of the highlights is the appearance of the Sheepinator while one of the lowlights is the R.Y.N.O.’s (Rip You a New One) cameo as it’s destructive power never materializes to the big screen.

Another issue is that despite being a key factor of the series and gameplay, none of the weapons evolve and if they do, the audience is never informed of it.

Although Ratchet & Clank’s cinematic debut holds its own as a standalone film, there are tiny nods to the franchise that aren’t present in the final cut. Having said that, a solid story that stays true to the source material, delightful humor, playful visuals and an excellent cast is more than a fan of the beloved franchise could ever hope for.

Bonesaw Podcast: Episode 25 – Temple of Dagon’s Kyle Hertz

a1057392546_10

We’re opening the can of worms with Kyle Hertz of Temple of Dagon! Hertz talks working in the gaming industry, being a local promoter and much more in our last podcast of 2015.

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide is a new FPS from developer Fatshark, who are perhaps best known for their Medieval combat game, War of the Roses.

The game takes place in the Warhammer fantasy universe (the lesser-well known sibling of the futuristic Warhammer 40k), both tabletop games from developer Games Workshop. While perhaps not everyone’s favorite Games Workshop IP, Warhammer fantasy still brings rich lore and fun gameplay mechanics to the table. Unlike Warhammer 40k, however, Warhammer fantasy has traditionally not translated as well to the electronic medium.

Vermintide heavily pays homage to Left 4 Dead, with four adventurers fighting through swarms of Skaven- evil humanoid rats with a hatred for mankind in place of zombies. Much like L4D, there are several “special” enemies that have different abilities than the average Skaven.

This is where Vermintide begins to fall short, with the unique Skaven being almost complete rip-offs of L4D enemies. For example, there is an enemy called the Packmaster which hooks players and drags them off (much like the Smoker from L4D), and a Hunter-esque enemy called the Gutter Runner, which leaps onto the player and pins them down while stabbing them. Vermintide even features a direct rip-off of L4D’s tank enemy called the Rat Ogre. Other than the unique Skaven that clearly rip-off L4D, Vermintide’s standard enemies are just plain boring. Hordes of rats run at you much the same way the standard infected in L4D do, with no regards to their own personal safety. That would be fine if every level didn’t include these same enemies either standing around doing nothing or blindly rushing at you like crazy Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday. After a while, players will find it almost becomes a chore simply cutting through the same enemies over and over again.

Vermintide’s other big problem is the optimization. Sudden frame rate drops, random bugs and crashes plague Vermintide at random intervals. Even the best machines it seems have sudden frame drops for no apparent reason.

Other than optimization issues, Vermintide’s bugs can make the game range from absolutely hilarious at times to down right frustrating. Many of these bugs happen when one of the game’s special enemies attacks and include players being launched into the sky where their allies can’t save them, or pulled through walls by the Packmaster’s hook. Enemies sometimes even seem to spawn out of nowhere and/or teleport with no explanation as to how. Certain levels also contain easily exploitable designs, making the threat of certain enemies (such as the Rat Ogre) completely moot.

Vermintide’s loot system (while innovative) also fall short. Players may customize their chosen hero with different equipment from weapons to trinkets which add special abilities. At the end of each level, a number of dice are rolled to determine which piece of loot the player receives for winning with higher dice rolls netting the player rarer and more powerful items. These dice rolls can be augmented with pick-ups throughout the level, which add more dice that have a better chance at higher rolls.

Unfortunately because it is completely random, even with the best dice there is no guarantee the player will receive a rare item. This can be very frustrating,  as pretty much the only way to beat higher difficulty levels and ultimately receive rarer loot is to outfit yourself with rare items.

Combat can also be very tedious. Each character is equipped with both a ranged and melee weapon and while some of the weapons are fairly unique, the fighting itself is very straightforward and standard.

For a game whose primary focus is close-quarters combat, Vermintide’s melee combat is just plain boring, usually turning into button mashing as you cut down hordes of enemies. There are no combos and only two different types of attacks – regular “light” hits and heavier “sweeping” hits for crowd control (performed by holding down the attack button briefly). There’s also a block button, but enemies can break your block after just a few hits (more or less depending on the enemy), rendering blocks mostly useless.

One aspect in which Vermintide does well is the playable characters. There are five heroes to choose from, each of which brings a unique gameplay style and a role that they fulfill within the group.

The Soldier for example, uses mostly large melee weapons and powerful muskets/blunderbusses, makes for a great heavy hitter and also can use his huge sweeping attacks for crowd control. The Witch Hunter is almost a hybrid class with a good balance of quick melee and ranged attacks. The Elf Archer is pretty standard, providing ranged support with the quick-firing bow while also able to provide quick melee strikes. The Dwarf Ranger makes a great tank, as his default weapon is an ax/shield combo allowing him to form a living wall in the small corridors and alleyways the players often traverse. Rounding out the list is the Battlemage, who is perhaps the most unique hero of all. While having a fairly week melee attack, the Battlemage can use powerful and fast ranged spells to utterly blow away hordes of Skaven. The Battlemage can also charge up her ranged spell and fire an explosive shard that deals massive damage.

Unfortunately, where Vermintide goes right is not enough to redeem the entire experience. This very well could have been a great game. It has all the right elements: unique characters, a great IP to work with, an innovative loot system, and tons of replayability. Unfortunately, it falls short in far too many of these areas to make it the next big thing. Vermintide becomes far too grindy and predictable after only a short period of play. Perhaps with some time, developer Fatshark will add content to the game such as new levels and enemies that will make the experience more interesting but until then, Vermintide remains just another mediocre FPS.