Hello. I am Vincent Leeuw and this is my personal blog.
An impromptu Friday-evening barbecue session was topped off with a bout of multiplayer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (PS5) on Gnarly difficulty. Which, let's be honest, wasn't exactly a walk in Central Park. Actually, that's where we had to call it quits as our credits ran out.
Despite that, it's a delightful chaos in multiplayer with a few mechanics thrown in to keep players interacting with each other. A round of tactical high-fives before munching on pizza seems almost mandatory at this difficulty level.
It's hard to overstate how much Tribute has nailed the feel and function of this game. It may not be a huge sprawling title, but it knows exactly why it's here and what it must do. I can imagine this one sneakily crawling up the GOTY lists of many a player.
Annapurna Interactive once again presented a great showcase last week, which reminded me of the fact that 1. Hohokum (PS4) exists, 2. I have owned this since its initial PlayStation release, and 3. I still had not even touched the game. Well, that was easily remedied.
A few hours later I was completely entranced. The game feels like an odd mixture of LocoRoco, flOw, and Flower. You're constantly exploring, trying to find triggers and objects to interact with. There's a childish use of colours and forms that reminds me of Sesame Street's abstract television sequences or (for Belgian and Dutch readers) Tik Tak. However it never stoops to being dumbed down and maintains an element of intrigue and delight throughout.
Should have touched this much, much earlier.
After visiting the Eye in Citizen Sleeper, I wondered what Night City would now feel like in Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5). The answer: a bit more bland than previously experienced. There are some vistas where you can look up and get the idea you are in a dystopian sci-fi metropolis, but I fear Night City is a just a bit too empty to make that part of the equation work. Leaving a lot to the imagination in Citizen Sleeper is clearly working out better. Quelle surprise.
On the questing side, it’s starting to grate that the answers you choose in conversations often don’t correspond to the replies your V actually gives. Is this a metaphor for how difficult it is to truly communicate with fellow humans, or the result of too much textual fiddling on the development side of things? We may never know. I do know that as a result my V has often responded way harsher than I intended. That it matters not one iota is maybe more damning.
Still, the main quest arcs do a lot of the heavy lifting here and I'm still on-board. Kudos for that.
The Eye in Citizen Sleeper (SD) has more or less become my second home. No really, at one point I got the opportunity to build a little place for myself in the game's space station situation and the sense of accomplishment and careful belonging washed over me. Only for the soundtrack to kick in with its gentle warm dark vibes.
Yup, still totally in love with this game. The characters and story arcs keep coming, and while you can potentially deflate one pressure point on your chances of survival, you're bound to see one or more pop up later down the line. Every exit has a new maze to run. Every positive emotion a potential negative consequence. It keeps the choices in the game meaningful without feeling too bait-and-switchy. Are you sticking to your guns, or do you go full opportunist? Great to see how the early choices to just survive slowly give way to more complicated ones, even though the game remains as easy to play regardless.
Yup, just get it.
Oh hi. Here's the third chapter of DOOM (PS4). And oops, how about chapter four as well?
Yup, after Saturday's trek, I basically unwounded on Sunday by blasting through the rest of this game. It's great to see the mazes become more and more complex. Going from mindless blasting to carefully sacrificing health and resources to finish up the exploration side of things, provides a nice sense of escalation.
That said, it does become a bit clear that while chapter three has some nice level designs and the occasional dud, chapter four becomes mostly filler. There's a general sense of trying to blow the player's mind with edge cases within the game's design and engine, often bordering on speedrunning tactics. It generates some smiles, but can feel a lot more unbalanced at times.
Oh well, on to part deux.
I really couldn't believe it when I saw this fly by: OMG! A new Starwing?! (Yes, you read Starwing. I kind of dislike the StarFox name.) And after downloading it I can confirm that, yes, Ex-Zodiac (SD) is pretty much a proper Starwing 2.
Despite still being in early access, this game is super slick. Controls are instantly familiar, complete with barrel roll deflections. A nice tweak is that the game has homing missiles akin to Panzer Dragoon's lock-on system. It took me a while to realize that picking up Extra Missile power-ups actually increases the amount of targets for this lock-on feature!
Which is sorely needed. Though you can feel the difficulty curve melting with each replay, it can be quite brutal if you don't use all the features at your disposal. It can also do a bit better with feedback on your hits, incoming damage, and deflections in my opinion.
Despite all that, it's marvellous this is in early access, it feels pretty much feature complete. It even has a Space Harrier bonus level for heck's sake! The one thing that truly annoys though, is that even though there's a lot Starwing style bweep-bwaap-buup banter, the game doesn't really provide any breathers in between action scenes, giving you very little time to even read the text boxes. Maybe that'll become better with training.
Highly recommended to SuperFX veterans!
I've wanted to visit the Pyramid of Austerlitz for quite some time now. It's only 10 kilometres from where I live, but I wanted to go there in the form of a mini-hike through the Den Treek estate. It's a private estate made up out of heath and forest, that nonetheless has been opened to the public. It's connected to the much smaller Nimmerdor estate in the south of Amersfoort by a bridge crossing the A28/E30 motorway.
The Pyramid itself is situated to the south-west of the Den Treek estate and thus I'd be able to walk there without crossing too many highways. Yesterday I finally also had the time (and the perfect weather) to actually make the trek.
The landmark is odd to say the least. It's built out of several layers of turf and has a obelisk-shaped beacon on top of it. It was built during the Napoleonic era - when the Netherlands was governed by Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Louis acting as king - by command of a French general Auguste de Marmont who wanted to keep his soldiers occupied. The design was inspired by the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, which he witnessed back in an earlier campaign in Egypt.
Of course he didn't name it the Pyramid of Austerlitz. He named it the Pyramid of Marmont or Mount Marmont. That changed when Napoleon Bonaparte achieved a victory in the actual Austerlitz in the south of Germany. Louis Bonaparte paid tribute to his brother by renaming the nearby trading post and encampment to Austerlitz and the landmark itself to the Pyramid of Austerlitz. Much to the chagrin of Marmont.
These days, it's a curio in the Dutch landscape. We've never been a people to build such landmarks (even "our" palaces were mostly the work of Louis Bonaparte) and especially the pyramid shape is almost alien.
It does draw its fair share of families, due to the nearby luna park and restaurant. Which is exactly how I know and remember the spot. Especially the tiny train ride. I've been there a few times as a child and loved the train ride. But that's not my main memory of it. That came a few years later when I was learning about mathematics.
I had no issues with addition, subtraction, and division. All three came natural to me. Multiplication though… Oh boy, that just didn't fly with me. Which is kind of funny considering division was such an easy concept to me. I struggled with it a lot, and my mother patiently tried to explain it over and over through a collection of little math-booklets which I also liked. However, to actually get the fourth and final book about multiplication in the series, my mother wanted me to grasp the concept of multiplication first.
That took quite a while, before somehow it clicked in my brain that multiplication was - indeed - the inverse of division. I vividly remember exclaiming (without much rhyme or reason I might add) "oh, like when you ride the Pyramid train two times!" That must've confused my mother a bit, but the result was me getting the fourth booklet. Regardless, the train got stuck in my brain as the Multiplication Train thereafter.
Another stretch of land to the west of Den Treek and to the north of the Pyramid is de Leuderheide (Leusden Heath) which is a military proving ground (the French were apparently on to something). Because of it, it can still be littered with all sorts of explosives and is off-limits to the public. Around its circumference you can find signs like the one above warning people to not enter the area. Sad times. Would've loved to explore that area as well, but I'd rather keep both my legs attached.
There's also an additional warning about live exercises being conducted whenever the sign flies a "fireball" next to some red (metal) flags. I vaguely remember seeing one of those "fireballs" as a child, but I can only describe it as a ball with a pennant attached and even that is more of a guess.
While on the way toward the Pyramid I mostly hugged the highway alongside the Leusderheide, on the way home I dived into Den Treek proper. In its south is a large patch of heath, with inexplicably the road sign above planted smack in the middle of it. It says:
Wijk bij Duurstede (Hamlet near Dorestad)
4 hours going
Amersfoort (Hemur's Ford)
2 hours going
Wijkerweg (Hamlet Road)
It seems the road I was following used to be a road connecting both towns of Wijk bij Duurstede and Amersfoort. A surprising realisation, as I'm so used to the highway being the connective veins between places, I completely forgot roads like these used to be more common and more travelled in the days before Saint Asphaltum graced us with their presence and promotion of automobiles. I should check if the road towards Wijk bij Duurstede is still intact. Would be a nice follow-up trip to go there by foot.
The rest of the journey through Den Treek was real nice and relaxing. The warm sandy heath, giving way to a fragrant pine forest, making it like I was walking through a large public sauna.
About 20 kilometres into my trip I started seeing more familiar terrain and finally reached the Vogelplas (Bird Pond) and the surrounding heath with its small clumps of trees.
In the end, this was an easier trek than anticipated and I'm looking forward to extending my reach a bit. Having walked 22 kilometres in total, it's not even a full stage of the 4Days Marches but hey, not bad for a spur-of-the-moment attempt. Maybe next time I'll visit the Soesterduinen (Soest Dunes) once more.
Again with the Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5).
A pleasant and welcome surprise is Takemura’s quest line. After spending a lot of time of the filler-quests, I poured some time in the main acts and this particular branch actually produced a very good scene between Takemura and V. Conflict, resolution, foreshadowing, metaphors, and… a cat. Capped off with a nice quest including some free-form elements. Yup, this was very good indeed. Of course, right after I had to bump into a graphic glitch, but I’ll let that one slide. This particular sequence still lingered in the mind. Hopefully there’s more of this to follow.
On the flip side, the clothing/stats upgrade cycle is becoming a real chore. Every garment drop is a random piece of clothing with stats dictated by on your own level. As a result it can be maddening to find an outfit that pleases your role-playing side. Hot-pants and hard-hats do not mix well (not in my mind, at least). Of course, you can simply go to a store and buy a new outfit outright, but apparently good pants are a bit of a rarity in Night City.
Either that or hot-pants are sickeningly overpowered.
I mainly got this because I liked the look of the UI in the screenshots. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. What I wasn’t prepared for is that Citizen Sleeper (SD) is just as intoxicating a narrative adventure as Disco Elysium.
What you are playing is in essence a choose-your-own-adventure type of novel. The twist is that this game picks up Tharsis’ dice-survival mechanics1 and blends them in smoothly. Each cycle your condition rolls an amount of dice, and you can use the resulting scores to perform actions. The higher the number, the greater the action’s chance at success and its potential rewards.
Actions differ in riskiness and rewards, applying some satisfying placement-mechanics from the game’s board game brethren. Place a die and hope for the best outcome. Failures cost energy and/or condition. Success means influence and/or credits. It’s a bit of a nudge-able slot machine in that respect, but like such gambling contraptions, success and failure still feel deeply personal while adding a “one more cycle” feel to your experience.
That’s the gist of it and really. There’s more to it you should discover for yourself. The story it tells is intriguing in such a way, that here - once more - is a game that out-cyberpunks Cyberpunk 2077. There’s a slow drip of characters neatly slotting into place, each one having their own needs while bringing a new layer of depth to the story. It’s the game’s way of covering up the slightly obvious questing structure. Still, that doesn’t matter as much as the characters are charming enough. Citizen Sleeper understands its weakness and simply gives you a narrative reward in return. Which considering the genre is brilliant.
I’m getting a sneaking suspicion this one might just rub shoulders with Elden Ring for the GOTY top spot… Truly, it feels like it’ll be this year’s Disco Elysium, and you should at the very least give it a go to see if you’d be missing out on a great experience otherwise.
Playdate’s season approach is reaching Netflix-levels of abundance and the result is me getting a bit overwhelmed by choice. Figures that I’d skip the free stuff and fall for Sparrow Solitaire (PD) instead.
Yup, it’s a Mahjong solitaire game for Playdate, and while that sounds spectacularly problematic on a tiny high-resolution 1-bit portable screen, it’s actually surprisingly solid, with a good range of options, clear theme designs, and a great feel to selection and removal of tiles. You can even use the crank to quickly scroll through all tile selection options. It’s a bit tricky, but also quite fun!
It’s not exactly mind-blowing, but as Bloom demonstrated, it’s great to have a sweet drop-in-drop-out time waster on the Playdate. And this has yet to properly release to boot!
1 Stupid Vincent, nobody remembers Tharsis.
I absolute adore branding in video games. It’s one of the main reasons why I rate the WipEout series as high as I do. I think I felt something close to love for what Namco did in Ridge Racer Type 4, crafting a world, setting, and mood that is still unparalleled.
To me it is the quintessential Ridge Racer as a result. Likewise, I can really appreciate branding and UI design in games in general. The classic yet modern blues of Final Fantasy VII Remake. The brutal serifs and menus of Demon’s Souls. The sheer exuberance pouring from every graphic in Destruction AllStars.
Maybe you can then understand my utterly gobsmacked response to Ubisoft presenting their new pirate game logo as… “this”…
What in the seven seas is going on at Ubisoft, to give a 17th century pirate game the look of a random Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six game? Just slap a Tom Clancy’s on top and Bob’s yer uncle.
Actually, hold on.
There. I fixed it.
This is (partially) in jest of course, but if you look at the game’s official website and scroll down a bit, you do bump into the following artwork.
What are the odds this was originally meant to be the game’s logo? It would have made a much more flavourful jump off point for the branding. Maybe add a fancy serif for the wordmark? Hold on, I'll apply a few default settings. I'll even add "A Ubisoft original" as I'm feeling generous.
Now, that’s not great. At all. But blimey, I daresay it does sell the nature of the game a bit better. I have no idea why anyone would start with a sans-serif, cover the odds and ends with brushstrokes, and finally slap a CS:GO decal in front of it instead. It constantly clashes with the game itself. Why?!
Keelhaul the lot.
I'm still continuing my play-through of The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition (SD) in short bursts. However, the more I play, the more Special Edition’s graphics seem to bother me. At times they’re great, but at others you bump into a display featuring a hideous font that is not only horrible, but also very, very badly cut out.
Maybe that’s just a trait of Special Edition itself becoming quite old, but it certainly adds another notch to the “this is quite ugly” vibe. I can however most heartily confirm that I have most certainly been practising my insults. Onwards!
OK, so playing through episode 1 of DOOM (PS4) was really satisfying last week, so here I am - again - playing through episode 2: The Shores of Hell. Providing an almost poetic sonic backdrop to Hell’s front porch, is my phone playing a terrifyingly amazing podcast about the gigantic fuck-up that is the design, planning, construction, and maintenance of Berlin’s BER airport.
DOOM and BER. Like peanut-butter and jelly.
Last week, Gato Roboto managed to puppy-eye me into finally completing it after staring at me from the home menu of my Nintendo Switch. But oh dear, there’s a lot more where that came from in the Library menu. Enter Touhou Luna Nights (NSW). Yet another metroidvania I left on the back burner, in lieu of playing - no joke - Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. Which is the follow-up to Luna Nights made by the same team. I blazed through the last couple of Luna Night's areas and completed it for good measure.
While Wonder Labyrinth drew a lot of inspiration of Symphony of the Night and… ehr… Outland? Ikaruga? Both? Luna Nights seems to stay just a tiny bit closer to its Touhou Project source material. This game is an intriguing blend of metroidvania and shmup buzzing/grazing: the action of very closely approaching enemies and bullets without getting hit to earn rewards.
Here that means you can replenish your HP by grazing enemies and/or projectiles. Likewise, your attacks cost MP, which you can replenish by stopping time and then grazing enemies and/or projectiles. The result is very satisfying, even though it means you’ll be abusing your ability to stop time at every corner.
Another feature is the gems that enemies leave behind once defeated. They act as currency for various items, but hoarding them also provides minor stat boosts, to the point that they can really add up if you don’t spend them at all. A notion that emphasises the hardcore shmup theme of the game.
It’s only in the post-credit area that the game starts introducing more interesting puzzle-type barriers, that you can instantly trace forward to the creation of Wonder Labyrinth.
Despite all these mechanics, the game still feels slightly hollow for most of its runtime, which is mainly due to a nonsensical story (at least, for non Touhou Project fans) and a very predictable pacing. Something Wonder Labyrinth also suffered from. A recommendation, if only for the mechanical prowess at display.
Completing my tiny metroidvania mop-up on Switch, here's a replay of the last 25% of Axiom Verge 2 (NSW). I completed this at launch on PS4 by way of PS5, and I never picked up the final pieces on Nintendo Switch.
Nothing more then, than a short run up to the finish collecting some last bits and bobs to defeat the final boss. A boss which went down rather quickly as I knew exactly what to do based on my run last year. Not bad though, as the trickery involved reminded me of some of the best cheesy boss battles from Super Metroid.
To top it off, I ventured back to Night City in Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5). This time, the game really got its claws into me as I focused less on the theme park aspects and just went with the flow doing a bunch of cyberpsycho and NCPD alert side missions.
These are fine. Nothing special per se, but they do have some nice set-pieces and flavour texts surrounding them. Curiously, I do seem to recognise a “no budget” approach to storytelling here; one we also employed during the development of The Chronicles of Spellborn. Without any means to do grandiose stuff, we created many small missions using minimal means and oodles of text to fill in the nooks and crannies, that were otherwise left untouched by the main story arc.
While this is effective, it also demands a lot of the player in terms of attention. Cyberpunk 2077 plays like an action game in its conflicts and asking the player to stop and read pages upon pages of text, will probably be met with a perfectly on-brand cybernetic shrug. For those willing to dig deeper, there’s a lot to read through and I do appreciate CD Projekt RED making sure there’s some meat to the bones.
Something completely different that did keep bothering me: it’s frustratingly unclear if you can kill enemies or not. Sometimes they are non-moving and obviously dead, other times they just seem to move and groan on the floor after being shot or stabbed. When does one trigger either state? Is it story based? Is it chance? I can’t seem to hack adversaries into surrendering, so is there a non-violent way of disposing enemies? There is the non-killing grab-and-takedown move, but then there’s a side mission where doing so berated me for actually killing my adversaries. Then yet another mission asked me to keep someone alive, but the only proper response was gunning the person down, which then promptly was confirmed as them being “unconscious”.
Seriously, I’m at the point that I really don’t give a shit any more and just start mowing down anything that moves as soon as things start attacking me. Which is a bit of a shame from a role-playing perspective.
On a way more positive note: I finally bought the double jump and yes, this is a superb addition to the game. It frees up your movement and matches the game world’s design a bit better. Making you explore the vertical alongside the horizontal makes for better stealth approaches and zany combat maneuvers. Kind of wish the game could give you a form of sustained running speed (a la Aria of Sorrow’s Black Panther soul) so you could ditch vehicles completely.
To top it off, I also bought myself a cosy little apartment on Northside, and as the game mentions: it’s “hygge!” Might even function as a reference to Count Zero’s quarters. But… maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
And suddenly, without warning, Eiyuden Chronicle Rising (PS5) ends. That was shorter than anticipated, but considering the questing was not doing anything new near the end I'm kind of relieved. The final plot twist (if you can call it that) doesn’t do much, but it does finally drop some potential political intrigue. It's very blatant almost to the point of fan service, but oh boy, did I get excited for a moment.
I’m now also realising that all those names I gave to stuff are going to pop up in the next game, aren’t they? Which is of course a Suikoden staple, but in this case it'll instantly cause 'member berry' moments in the follow-up. Hoping they might do a bit more with it though.
The ending itself was a let down with little too no build-up and a Spartan presentation that does little to provide a satisfying conclusion. The one thing it does do is explain what CJ’s name stands for, but then they introduce a teaser character with an even worse name than CJ, making me a bit anxious for the follow-up. This series might need an editor.
Due to the proper reveal of Return to Monkey Island, the Steam-bundle of the previous games is currently on sale. Which resulted in me playing through The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition (SD) once more.
First of all, it is great to come back to. I forgot a lot of puzzle solutions, yet they instantly slot back into my mind when certain sentences or situations are presented. That said I do think I prefer the pixel-art style of the original even though this special edition does a better job of showing you what you are supposed to see, making contextual clues work better. Slightly annoying that your inventory is now hidden though.
The real star is of course the script and its humour. It still holds up quite well. Other highlights include encountering the map overview. Mêlée Island™ still has this uncanny festive dark mood with its blacks and purples accentuated by pockets of light (never mind an actual circus tent). It's a great feeling to return to and I think I'll be enjoying this new run just fine. But why on earth the devs thought that new hair-do on Guybrush was a good idea is beyond me…
A smooth shooting experience. That's DOOM (PS4). It's so sleek and lean that it’s impossible to fault. You could say it is "merely" excellent.
Ran through the first episode just for the heck of and yes, it is a joy. Though every time I pull the trigger on the shotgun I mentally add a “bingo!” these days. Thanks, Tim Rogers.
Finding a new town on floor 27 in Dungeon Encounters (PS5) was a new breakthrough moment and I’ve been happily grinding deeper again.
The game has become a bit of a side dish to my usual game sessions. Something to wind down by after spending some more time on grander stuff. Not to say Dungeon Encounters is boring, but it remains a basic, highly entertaining itch scratcher. Likewise, it's great to use as a base level to compare other titles against.
I finally set aside some time for the Live-A-Live Demo Version (NSW) and boy, it did not disappoint. This is a classic Square (Enix) JRPG through and through.
Having never touched the original 16-bit game, I expected a more bitter SaGa taste to it. What I got instead, was something that felt like a precursor to Chrono Trigger's combat system. There's a grid battlefield, positioning matters, and attacks can and will vary in range and effect. All that topped with a chunky ATB implementation that also allows each unit of movement on the grid to function as another tick on the system's clock.
In terms of localization it's a hell of a lot better with Chinese/Japanese pronunciation of names than other games. Though the occasional voiced accent can feel slightly over-the-top. Still, its script manages to feel very comprehensive for a 16-bit remake, with the game only showing its dated origins when even an extended script can't fix the mechanical shortcuts of yesteryear.
The game also features interesting differences between the various eras and characters. Something that adds a welcome variation in style and difficulty to the mix. Yeah, I'm pretty much won over by this demo and I'll happily sink my teeth into the full version.
Playing Live-A-Live also reminded me that I abandoned Gato Roboto (NSW). It was just sitting there mocking me from the last tile in the main menu. I quickly gave it another spin and promptly completed it!
It is a short (around 3 hours) and fun little metroidvania and deploys a 1-bit pixel-art style to boot. Even though that can get rather straining on the eyes. The multiple unlockable colour palettes don't do a damned thing here, other than to remind you that the Virtual Boy was indeed a terrible idea.
Another thing that did stick out a bit, is that in its shortness the game doesn't spend any time in teaching you how to use certain skills. Often you just get dumped into the situation and need to learn as you go. Which is OK if you're into the genre, but it can lead to some crazy difficulty spikes as a newcomer.