Chaos Blogg 51: Valiant Hearts

4 games for you today folks and some anime. It’s all downloadable titles so I think you can get most of these on steam which is probably a good way to get these games on the cheap. Are they worth the price? Well lets find out. Oh right, here’s some remixes.

Battleblock Theatre (PC): 

This game may well be the funniest game of the year, or at the very one of the funniest I’ve played this year (rivalled by the Stanley parable). Received as an unexpected gift fromcelsium (who you may know as Ghandi and excellent streamer and a very generous person) I somewhat quickly started this game only to put it on the back-burner in favour of completing other things (see last blogg). However I resumed playing eventually and really enjoyed myself with this game, in fact I intend to go back and explore further at some point provided I have someone wanting to join me. The key draw of this game is the presentation: the beautiful cartoon art-style, the wacky yet simple character designs, the wonderful and comedic narration and voice acting by Stamper (whose normal work is actually kind of gross and it seems he produces amazing stuff when he has to actually censor himself to a degree), the awesome heart pounding and somewhat catchy soundtrack, and the overall level of polish. The gameplay itself is a rather standard platform affair, with elements of puzzle games and collect-a-thons thrown in. Each world consists of 9 regular levels, 2 finale levels and 3 encore levels which are often very brutal. To complete a level you need to find 3 gems and enter the exit, however the finales and encores race you against a timer which I personally don’t like but it’s often easier to A++ these levels than the regular sort. The game uses a grading system depending on how many gems/yarn you collect and how fast you collect everything, and since I’m a somewhat obsessive collector I collected most of the gems and yarn except for the ones in the final encore which can go suck on bull testicles. For the most part the platforming is straightforward and the levels are well designed with plenty of secrets, however there’s some moments where the game feels like a user made level used to dick with people and to force them to use exploits and shit. I’m guessing in those moments I missed something but luckily enough the game gives you shortcut items that can help you out of trouble. Overall the game-play is solid and quite fun, even if I wouldn’t say it’s anything extraordinary. Forgot to mention but the controls are fluid and suit the level design, it all meshes well together. As for longevity well the game has a level creator which is rather in-depth and kind of fun, it reminded me of when I used to play Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 and made levels in that game. There’s also a lot of multiplayer content including various versus modes and a co-op story mode that changes the level design to suit co-operative play. So even if the game is short by your standards there should be quite a bit here to engross you for a long period of time, assuming you have the creative and/or friends. I could probably recommend this game for the presentation factors alone, however the gameplay is also fun and worth playing. Just a reminder but I’m not sure which features are exclusive to PC so you should into that if you want to purchase this game.

Valiant Hearts: The great war (XBLA):

This game is great and it’s without a doubt my favourite game included in this post. Valiant Hearts is a puzzle adventure type game of a rather linear nature, the puzzles for the most part are intuitive and the game often allows some very minor exploration where you can find historical artefacts. For the most part it’s a linear experience that’s also quite relaxing doesn’t require too much skill. However there are some action sections to spice up game play, these include taxi levels where you need to avoid obstacles, some levels that have some stealth mechanics, levels where you control tanks and moments of gameplay that require a mini-rhythm game. These different styles of gameplay keep everything feeling diverse and stop the game getting stale, in fact they make for great pacing and variety. The only complaint I could give is that some of them have achievements that require 100% accuracy which means replaying/restarting levels over and over again which gets a little tedious. Another minor complaint is that some collectible objects blend into the ground even when highlighting is on. Overall the gameplay is fun and I enjoyed most of the level and puzzle designs. Music wise it seems Valiant Hearts is filled with a lot of classic (styled?) music and it seems a lot of the soundtrack was used from other sources, but I could be wrong about that. Either way the soundtrack is filled with beautiful pieces that fit the themes of the game and convey the tone well, and that piano stuff is just excellent (it’s not really what I’d call memorable though). Visually the game is very impressive with interesting character designs and hell of a lot of gorgeous detail put into pretty much every area. You can tell this is related to the new Rayman games and it’s a nice contrast between the rather gritty setting and themes. In fact considering the setting and story, I was surprised at how they managed to show variety in colours and the like, I was really impressed by it all and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a game handle this setting like this visually. Speaking of setting and story the game feels like it’s in two halves, one which is more of an adventure and the other which feels far more serious and sombre. I personally like this as the first half develops a lot of the characters while the second shows more of the impact of the war on them, while I wasn’t crying at the end I thought these were fairly well done and likeable characters and the story was a take on WWI that could be at times light hearted or exaggerated but it never felt like it was mocking the serious subject. The game is also filled with historical facts and details, which is pretty neat since it reminded me of the days when 12 year old me would just read up on history most of the time (the collectibles also contribute to these details). Overall I can’t find anything big that I thought was off about the game, and I can highly recommend this game to any looking for a puzzle/adventure game set in a unique setting for the genre. Hell I recommend it to all but the most impatient of players.

Magi: The Kingdom of Magic (Anime):

If you have a great memory you may remember me recommending this anime some time in the past. Well to be more precise I was talking about the first season back then and with the last year a whole new season was made. This show is going to be a big one I can tell, since not a lot of the overall story threads are tied up at the end of this season but at the very least I can manage it with individual seasons. Magi looks just as good as it did previously and the visual design of new locations is pretty sweet. The same pretty much goes for the soundtrack which has some really great moments but is often mediocre and just serves its purpose. The story and characters are charming just as they were previously although I personally dislike some, and not all of the protagonists get the same amount of screen time. The first half of the story is a fun adventure where the protagonist develop and go their separate ways, there some fun action here and it’s a good time as the series keeps a sense of humour. Also developed are several other characters and we’re introduced to a much larger cast of characters and many a brand new setting. The second half decides to focus on Aladdin and the characters of magnostadt a country found on magic. Several characters are introduced here and developed quite nicely and unexpectedly, in fact overall I was impressed by some of the complex themes (well they seem complex to me anyway) and I felt the story naturally lead itself to the climax. The action and drama are quite impressive overall, and there was one moment in particular that stood out as quite epic. Really I don’t want to talk to much more since I feel like anything else I could say is a spoiler of some sort. What I will say though is that Magi season two is worth watching is enjoyed season one and that the series is so far is one that I can recommend anyone wanting a good action anime with a unique setting. Will it make the end of year top 10? Not sure really, but it has some chance.

Akuma no Riddle (Anime):

While interesting in premise Akuma no Riddle fails in it’s execution and is mostly wasted potential. The reason for this is that the show is far too short to effectively develop all let alone any of the characters. It really boggles my mind that they would try and explain one character per episode, and a lot of them end up feeling shallow. It’s really hard to give a shit about most characters in here which is a shame since the whole thing has some interesting visual design and there was potential for something so much better story wise. The fact each character gets their own ending theme is also a level of polish that suggests potential, that clearly effort was being put into some areas. Soundtrack wise though it’s nothing special outside of those ending themes and I really can’t remember a single track without any vocals which shows just how forgettable the soundtrack is. Story wise it’s an interesting premise as a bunch of (highly implied lesbian) assassins are gathered to try and kill one target in order to have their wishes fulfilled, there’s some intrigue but the plot twists are kind of meh and not really anything worth calling a twist. The ending was also fucking lazy and cements this show as mediocre at best. Of course not everything is garbage as the potential shines through in a couple of episodes starting with episode 8 and ending episode 11 once the ‘twist’ is revealed. Those few episodes focus more on action and tension, while also somewhat developing characters effectively. This is most likely because the pacing changes in these episodes giving more time for everything rather than just speeding through like the rest of the show does. Overall the action sequences aren’t bad and I was surprised by how some characters seemed bland but turned out to be somewhat interesting. At the same time some really potentially interesting characters are wasted and one in particular is completely shafted by shitty and confusing writing. Do I recommend it? No, there’s a lot better stuff out there, and while this show does have the visuals and action done fairly well, it’s just so damn rushed in terms of pacing and feels poorly written because of that. Wasted potential.

Outland (XBLA): 

Outland is one of those game where a lot of elements clash and produce kind of an average game, which is strange since in the earlier levels (areas) it shows little signs of turning out this way (In fact it’s very promising). Firstly Outland is a beautiful game that has a rather simple silhouette art style and a calming natural feel. There’s plenty of bright colours on objects and in backgrounds, and the red and blue colour coding is a key element in progressing through the games hazards. Unfortunately though this beauty is also a weakness, as some of the backgrounds make certain objects and enemies hard to see at points. Outland has a beautiful soundtrack that is incredibly relaxing and atmospheric, however not much of it is really memorable at all and doesn’t leave a lasting impression. There’s also something oddly nostalgic about this game and it’s hard to put my finger on but the presentation leaves me feeling calm and relaxed. The gameplay is semi-metroidvania in nature since there’s some exploring and backtracking, however it’s all optional unless you want 100% of the upgrades and collectibles. Even then though the game doesn’t really reward those efforts and by Metroidvania standards it’s not that great, in fact you’re better off playing Guacamelee or Shadow Complex both of which are downloadable games that are extremely fun and great examples of the Metroidvania genre. Putting aside the small size of the game and somewhat linear nature of the experience there’s a far bigger set of problems that I think hold this back from being an excellent game. The first is the mixture of clunky control and bullet-hell-like designs, the character is way too slow and cumbersome for the level design which seems like something better suited for a bullet hell shooter at times. I remember some games having similar elements and they often had fast moving characters, and they also had a health bar system… in Outland there’s a hearts system like Zelda but instead of having varying degrees of damage each hit you take loses you one heart. This is rather brutal at times when the game throws bullet-hell like challenges or gives you multiple enemies that aren’t always intuitive to deal with. You also need to deal with enemies in close range except for the couple of special projectile moves that take up one of your yellow power tank things with each use. All these things combine together at times to feel rather unfair than challenging. I think it may be because they wanted to focus on the colour switching mechanic which is necessary to avoid ‘bullets’ and to attack enemies. It’s a rather neat idea but I don’t think it suits the gameplay style at all, and I often found myself losing my hearts quickly to these annoying obstacles. Also switching has been in other games and ironically enough you’ll find something similar done better in Guacamelee, although that game lacks the colour based ‘bullets’ so it’s not quite the same. As much as I’m giving Outland a hard time I will admit that it’s still fun and is by no means a stinker, if you’ve played the best than Outland could fill your Metroidvania cravings although even the linear Metroid Fusion may offer you a better meal in that regard.

Brothers – A tale of two sons (PC):

Brothers is that game you may have seen Xbox trying to promote last year amongst the likes of Flashback and that crappy TMNT game, in fact it’s the only game from that promotion that I could say is worth playing. The game has an arguable generic style but I personally feel that it has an almost fairytale fantasy kind of charm and you can see some of those darker fairytale elements throughout the game. My explanation doesn’t really do it any justice but the level design is rather charming and there’s some well designed creatures even if the visuals aren’t ground-breaking. The music for this game is pretty meh at best as seemingly all of the soundtrack has annoying vocals. Sure they help build the atmosphere but they are rather ear grating and I don’t think I’ll return to this soundtrack at any point in time. Story wise Brothers is a somewhat dark adventure but the darkness is more in the themes than the tone itself. I found the adventure interesting and I think if you want to play the game you should discover it all for yourself. What I will say is that I’ve seen better and more interesting stories but I think this game still offers a worthwhile narrative. Before I forget I noticed that the PC version I was playing suffered from glitches and graphical fuck-ups, one time the younger Brother clipped through a cliff-face and I couldn’t get him out, and there were several occasions where textures wouldn’t load on certain objects. I’m not sure if the glitches are exclusive to the PC version or not but keep that in mind before you go to buy it (assuming you want to). The gameplay itself is a rather linear puzzle/adventure game, however there are several small things you can do as extras and some of these even involve extra puzzles. You’ll find this game is extremely easy to 100% so it’s certainly more about focusing on the experience itself and the unique gameplay concept. Said concept is the fact that you control two brothers at the same time using both of the control sticks to move one brother each and one of the shoulder buttons to trigger actions. It’s hard to get used to but luckily the slow pacing doesn’t punish you for the adjustment period and it leads to some interesting gameplay experiences later on. Overall I really enjoyed these puzzles and I think it’s something worth experiencing. Sometimes the game is a bit to slow and sometimes some of the actions you have to do make no sense, like the time I had to dive underwater to save one of the characters but found myself unable to save them except by pure random accident. If anything the core concept is a lot of fun and this game has a lot of potential. However I would say it needs some polish in some areas and as it is I would say it’s worth picking up on sale but I wouldn’t buy it full price unless I was really curious to try the controls (don’t get me wrong I like this game).

Well that’s it for this blogg, as you can see I may have been a bit too harsh but I honestly enjoyed everything here in some capacity. I think I’m noticing that with time the bars get set higher and higher as I experience more and more. Luckily for me there’s also an opposite bar that gets set lower and lower, and this week it hasn’t budged much at all. Anyway my nonsense aside I hope you enjoyed reading this or at the very least I hope you have something to comment. Here’s some pictures as a reward for the more perverted among you. Thanks for reading.