Celeste: First Impressions

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When Celeste was released earlier this year I noticed it gained traction surprisingly quickly on /r/NintendoSwitch so I was keen to check it out. Funny enough, when the game was announced during the Nintendo Mini-Direct alongside Fe I was actually more interested in the former, but as the tables turned I’ve now beaten Celeste (not 100%) and haven’t even touched Fe yet. Be warned, as this entry will include spoilers regarding the storyline so if you don’t want to see that then feel free to read this at another time.

Story

The storyline of Celeste centers around a woman named Madeline in her quest to reach the peak of Celeste Mountain. During her travels, she stumbles upon several side-characters that she gets more aquainted with as the journey progresses. The game also tackles elements such as anxiety and depression, and takes quite a realistic approach in doing so. The dialogue is very well-written, and quite humorous at times as well. The characters are likable. It all really comes together and adds to the charm that in turn keeps the player invested and motivated to push onwards.

Presentation

Celeste looks very visually pleasing, in my opinion. Backgrounds are nicely fleshed out, the colors are vibrant, the character designs are very true to their concept design and I especially like how they’re displayed in the dialogue prompts. The attention to detail is reminiscent of Shovel Knight. I had no frame drops throughout my playthrough either, the game is silky smooth in that regard. Overall, I have no complaints concerning the presentation of this game.

 

Gameplay

For me, the gameplay is another aspect that really shines through with Celeste. It’s a hards-as-nails 2D platformer, think Super Meat Boy or I Wanna Be The Guy style of gameplay in a way. The thing that gets me with Celeste’s gameplay though, is that it feels incredibly fair throughout.

The level design is intricate enough to teach players how to navigate through the screens by introducing new gimmicks without being overbearing. It gives you time to adapt to a new style, and then ups the ante once you’ve got the hang of things. Along with really tight controls, it ends up being that much more satisfying in terms of truly feeling in control of your actions. Every death feels like your fault as opposed to being a cheap trick played by the game at your expense. On top of that, for newcomers who aren’t used to slightly unforgiving platformers there’s an assist mode that allows you to add handicaps of sorts such as changing the in-game speed and making Madeline invulnerable.

As you scale the mountain, your deaths symbolise the effort you’ve put into reaching the top with Madeline and it’s almost as though your goals intertwine. It’s similar to a Dark Souls mentoring approach.

Extras

I wouldn’t usually add this category, but in terms of sheer replayability this game is jam-packed with extra content. Dispite the main campaign not being the longest thing out there, there’s tons of addition challenges. Optional collectibles such as Strawberries are placed in each level waiting to be collected, and some of them are a nightmare to collect. The game even outright states “these are just for impressing your friends”, leaving the choice of putting in the extra work in your hands.

Alongside the Strawberries, there’s also cassette tapes that can prove to be quite tough to find. However, if you manage you’ll unlock a whole new version of the world you were referred to as a “B-Side”. From there on you can even unlock a “C-side” if you’re so inclined. Now, the difficulty does get pretty high once you decide the tackle the B and C-sides, so do expect an insane amount of deaths if you decide to tackle these optional bonus worlds.

Another fact worth keeping in mind is the existence of Crystal Hearts. I believe there are eight in total, and honestly you might need a guide to find some of them because a few are them are very well hidden. In fact, collecting some of these opens an optional additional chapter so it might well be worth the effort to find them.

Finally, in one of the chapters there’s a prototype of the original game hidden somewhere I won’t specify. It was a nice touch of the developers to include it as a nod to the game’s original roots. You can really see how much it has truly progressed since then.

Overall:

I enjoyed this game so much more than I initially thought I would. Kudos to the dev team for starting off the gaming year of 2018 so well! I’ve heard talks about a potential level editor being added later on via a patch, and I’d love to tinker around with that. For $20, Celeste is a steal in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo Labo – DIY with Toy-Cons

Moment of silence for all of my predictions in the last entry as this announcement definitely came out of left field. The trailer for Nintendo Labo was just released and from what I can gather it appears to be separate DIY kits made out of cardboard that you can purchase alongside a game and with the Joy-Cons somehow use these creations as ways to interact with the game. I’m not gonna lie, this looks really cool. I’m not sure if it’s really my thing just yet, but I’m going to keep an eye on it either way. I could really imagine kids would love something like this.

The price point for the kits seemed a little steep as the “Toy-Con 1” kit is listed at $69,99 along with the “Toy-Con 2” kit priced at $79,99, but maybe it’ll take off. Who knows? It appears you can also purchase stickers and other items to further stylize your creations. Either way, I’m interested to see how this will be further implemented and more information would be appreciated so I hope they divulge further details sooner than later.

What do you think about Nintendo Labo? Did the announcement meet your expectations?

 

Nintendo Switch “Interactive Experience” Announcement

So apparently in a few hours from now Nintendo is announcing a “new interactive experience for Nintendo Switch that’s specifically crafted for kids and kids at heart.” which is interesting. Initially I thought of either Animal Crossing or a Pokemon variant like Pokemon GO, but it could easily be a stand-alone peripheral so I’m honestly not sure what to expect. Maybe something that pertains to Amiibo functionality.

The game designer behind Animal Crossing: New Leaf retweeted Nintendo’s announcement, so that could either be foreshadowing or a red herring. However, if it’s an accessory of sorts a game announcement isn’t guaranteed.

I find the “specifically crafted for kids” bit to be intriguing as Nintendo seems to have strayed from that demographic a bit with the Switch, so this could be an effort to seize as many demographics as possible by homing in on as many as possible. It’s also what made me initially think of Pokemon and Animal Crossing, as they both fit that description quite well.

Either way my interest is peaked, though I’m still a bit wary as once the Nintendo hype train goes full force it takes quite a bit to stop it. Once the announcement is out, I’ll update with another entry.

 

 

 

“Why Would You Watch Someone Play A Game?”

Today I’d like to discuss a common opinion I’ve noticed that has been expressed a fair bit that I’d like to take the time to provide an adequate response to. There’s a notion that watching other people play games is deemed somewhat pointless when one could simply play the game themselves. I’d like to explain the logic behind why I enjoy watching other people play certain games as opposed to playing it myself.

When you watch people like PewDiePie or GameGrumps, you tend to watch it due to the fact that you enjoy the vibrant personalities of the individuals playing the game. It’s fun to see their reactions to in-game events or make jokes bouncing off the dialogue. I especially find this to be the case when someone plays something that you’ve already played through before.

Then there are speedrunners that train and work to perfect their craft in order to get the best times possible and often convey to the viewer how they pull off their exploits in a fashion that is quite mesmerizing. There’s something truly fascinating when watching a speedrun take place considering all of the variables involved and it makes for quality entertainment as you root for the person playing.

eSports are getting increasingly popular with time as well, and I feel like people get just as invested in match-ups from professional eSports teams as they would for general sporting events like World Cups and whatnot. I don’t see it being much different from watching a Soccer game instead of playing it yourself.

Interactivity is a big part of it too, I believe. Live streams especially are very efficient when it comes to this as viewers can chat with the person playing and it feels as though you’re directly involved in the course of events in some way just by being present and socializing. Donating can get a message of your choice displayed for everyone to see and you can be responsible for clipping certain moments during the stream.

Going back to the general Let’s Play topic at hand, I feel like watching a playthrough is somewhat reminiscent of playing a game with a friend. You both sit there and crack jokes and have a great time, and you don’t always have your friends around so I feel as though LP’s make a good substitute for that in a way. Especially with the varying dynamics of the people playing. Sometimes different personalities have crossovers and it makes for diverse content and can set a completely different mood for a playthrough, and that variation makes for some interesting moments when watching people play games.

Overall, I’d answer the following question with “Why does it matter?”. How you decide to dedicate your time is up to you entirely and watching someone play a game isn’t any different from “reading” an audiobook or “playing” a sports simulation. What you get from the experience is what’s important, so as long as you’re enjoying yourself it shouldn’t really make a difference.

 

 

Petscop: The Game From 1997 That Doesn’t Exist

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Apparently I’m pretty late on this one as it initially started in March 2017, but when I discovered Petscop yesterday I knew I had to write about it.

If you’ve sat up at 3 AM reading creepypastas about obscure games being found at yard sales that may or may not be haunted Petscop might be right up your ally as that’s pretty much what this is in video form. There are subtle elements shared between these mediums, albeit without reaching the “hyper realism” level of absurdity that creepypastas tend to end up on by turning everything up to eleven in an attempt to scare the reader.

Petscop is an ongoing webseries revolving around a teenager named Paul who is playing a fictional PS1 game he received as a Christmas present in a blind Let’s Play format. His playthrough starts off innocently enough as footage he made for a friend in order to document the game, but for reasons still largely unknown as of yet he’s pretty much forced against his will to keep playing and recording footage of it for an audience to see. Clues are scattered all throughout this series in the form of single frame occurrences, odd sound cues and cryptic dialogue intended for the viewers to pick apart and attempt to piece together the full story with.  I won’t give away a lot of plot details, but let me tell you it gets pretty intense later on. The storyline delves into very dark themes, and is certainly intended for a mature audience so keep that in mind.

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Dispite only discovering it, I’ve binged watched the entire thing (12 episodes as of writing this piece) and it’s quite unbelievable how well all these elements mesh together in order to make a compelling, but very disturbing narrative.

First off, there’s the fact that the game looks so authentic. It really taps into the whole bizzarro world factor many old PS1 games share with their low resolution graphics and limited draw distance that ups the creepy factor on its own. Dispite likely not being a complete playable game they intend to release once the series is over, someone has actually programmed this to function properly for the scenes required and gone to some lengths to make it as true to our childhood as they possibly could.

Secondly, the horror element is done just right in my opinion. Besides intentional cheesiness meant to replicate that of an actual Let’s Play, nothing is really over the top. At times it even comes off of as slightly mundane, but it’s the feeling of uncertainty and not knowing what to expect that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. While I’m on the topic, the sound design is phenomenal. There are in-game noises for footsteps, dialogue prompts and picking up collectibles that really adds to the immersion and builds the atmosphere of the in-game world in a way that is very unique to this series.

Lastly, there’s Paul himself. As a protagonist he’s definitely charismatic enough to lead the series and his performance throughout is highly believable. His jump cuts and occasional stutters lend well to the idea that he’s recording himself playing a game. There’s even certain points where he leaves the footage on when he’s not present in order to experiment with game progression. His reactions are quite subdued, which  compliments the games subtle nature nicely and makes him very complex and well-rounded as you ponder what role he plays in the bigger picture and how he ties into the main narrative.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Petscope to anyone who is a fan of video game creepypastas but doesn’t mind a series that gradually builds up the horror aspects. It’s a slow burner for sure, but one that I think will be remembered quite fondly with time. Especially among those who have a form of attachment to the PS1 era of games and are familiar with the presentation of Let’s Plays from its origin point and beyond. If this series was available for purchase, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

 

 

LSD Revamped [Fangame]

While on the topic of LSD: Dream Emulator, I feel like highlighting a work in progress fangame that in my opinion is deserving of its own entry.

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LSD Revamped is a love-letter to LSD: Dream Emulator that has been an ongoing project for a while now. Serving as his introduction to game design and the Unity engine, a user going by the alias of Figglewatts has been working on LSD Revamped since 2011 and is still actively developing it to this day in hopes of recreating the original as faithfully as possible (minus the soundtrack) which alone is already an ambitious feat. However, Figglewatts intends to take it even further by implementing Oculus support, mod support, texture packs, and a complete SDK for players to mess around with. Imagine making your very own dreamscapes.

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A playable alpha for this game was released three years ago and is pretty bare-bones, but very impressive on its own regardless. It even features modern FPS mouse controls as an option. It’s still available for download if you want to see it in action for yourself, just don’t go expecting a fully featured game.

You might already be aware of the existence of this game if you read the full interview by the programmer of LSD Osamu Sato which I linked to in the previous entry as he acknowledges it with the following statement.

“Now there’s even some guy who has taken it upon himself to revamp LSD and make it run on the PC. All on his own, of course. Without anyone’s permission. He shouldn’t be doing it, but I sympathize with his efforts.

So you’ve got guys like him, and then there are others taking images [from LSD] and putting them on hoodies and selling them. Or guys putting the soundtrack on cassette and making their own designs for it and selling them, tons of guys like that. And these guys will come and try to post the stuff made on my Facebook. Pretty crazy, huh? They aren’t considering the copyrights or anything at all.”

 

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There are legality concerns that arise with this project, and I truly hope it doesn’t end up getting taken down in the end as I feel like this guy has really been putting his heart and soul into making this game as true to the original as possible. I’ve been following his blog updates, and he has as of late even managed to reverse engineer bits of the original game in order to add authenticity to the final product. Now that’s true dedication. If you’re interested in seeing his updates for yourself, I’d advise checking out his development blog for updates. You can even send in questions. He takes hiatuses every now and again, but always comes back with really insightful updates. They make for really good reads. Either way I’m eagerly looking forward to the next release of this project, and will likely make another write-up dedicated to it once it’s released.

 

 

 

 

 

LSD: Dream Emulator PS1

I’m pretty sure a lot of you out there are familiar with LSD, but I’m sure fewer of you are aware of the weird PS1 game by the same name.

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Released in 1998 by Asmik Ace, LSD: Dream Emulator is a game that received a cult following for its general weirdness, surreal aesthetics and at times outright disturbing imagery.

The game features no real goal or mission, besides exploring different dream worlds that you travel between using a game mechanic referred to as “Linking”. Most borders and objects you find in the game can be linked with by simply colliding with them, which in turns causes the screen to fade into white and transports you into another dreamscape.

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The game has individual days, and tends to cycle between days every ten minutes. When this occurs, you’ll see a dream chart that vaguely lists what sort of dream you had during that day. There are many in-game factors that determine this alongside linking and all of them still haven’t been broken down yet, leaving a sense of intrigue and mystery to the player.

Every so often, you might notice a reoccurring character most players tend to refer to as the “Gray Man”. He shows up at random times and hovers towards you. If he manages to get in a close enough radius of the player, the screen will flash briefly and the man will vanish. Though the nature of this character has been heavily speculated, the general idea is that colliding with him triggers the main character to forget events that happened previously and slows down progress. That’s why it’s a good idea to avoid the Gray Man as much as possible.

That being said, the longer you manage to avoid him the more frequently he appears. The more days you last, the weirder your surroundings get. Sometimes to an extreme.

Screen_Shot_2013-01-17_at_5.02.22_PMNote: The character featured in this screenshot is not the Gray Man, but another similar looking character.

The inspiration for this game has been discussed to infinity, but in a recent interview with Osamu Sato goes surprisingly in-depth on the question and pretty much settles the debate indefinitely, so here’s a quote from the man himself.

“As for why I made LSD, there were plenty of traditional games, racing and so on, for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. I played a bit of this game where you drive a car, and I’d never played a game like that before, so I just sucked at it. I was slamming into things left and right. If you crash into things it’s game over, so it was really boring for me since I was no good at it. So I wanted to make something that even people who sucked at games could play. This is the same line of thinking as what I mentioned earlier about moving on to the next world after you die. So if I crashed into the wall I would be launched into the next world – that’s the LSD link. I wanted to make something where the player explores a world that keeps transforming like that.

I wasn’t sure how to put it all together so it sounded plausible, since nothing like that actually happens in real life, but it does in dreams, right? Like, maybe I was just in Shibuya, but if I were in a dream I could suddenly be in New York, too. You can teleport all over the place, right? I wanted to do something like that. And then in order to fulfill the realities of the project I made a sort of dream diary to use as the raw materials and built the world from that, and there you have LSD.” – Osamu Sato

Well, there you have it. One thing, in case you feel up to trying the game after reading this, I’d highly advise checking out the LSD: Dream Emulator wiki which features a lot of information in regards to game mechanics.

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If you’re interested in reading the rest of the interview by Osamu Sato, click this link. Osamu Sato Interview [November 2017]