AggroChat Episode #26
I feel like last night was a really good episode, or at least I hope it is. It is one of those nights where the conversation flowed freely and we had way more topics to talk about than we realistically had time to do so. Even at that we still recorded for roughly an hour and a half and it is completely packed full of stuff. The title of the show is the “Gospel of Galaxy Trucker” and that is because Kodra has become an evangelist for the power of that game. He has always been a big fan of the board game, and has latched onto the iOS port with both hands trying to get as many people to play with him as possible. Problem is for me at least I don’t have any iOS devices, and I sadly doubt that android and iOS users will be able to play together…. although in Carcassonne you could play across platforms so here is hoping.
Other than that we talked at length about Dragon Age: Origin and mostly how Kodra has been getting along in the game. He had tried to play it before in the past but was unable to get into it, so it seems as though he is at least over the hurdle. As we refer to it “Getting Off Citadel” because that was the big hurdle of when Mass Effect 1 started to become interesting, and getting past Lothering in Dragon Age is a similar journey. I talk at length about my issues with Destiny right now and the mindless grinding that is required to keep progressing. I am far more grind friendly than the rest of my cast mates but even I am starting to hit my limit. Finally we talk about the tell tale blank spots in the Blizzcon lineup and contemplate what they might be announcing. We throw out a bunch of ideas for a new game genre for them to polish to a mirror shine.
Blood of the Werewolf
I picked this up some time ago on a Steam sale because it had two things that greatly interested me. Firstly the fact that you were playing as a female werewolf looking for revenge for her slain husband was an interesting spin on the genre. Secondly it looked in many ways similar to the original Castlevania with a series of levels that show your progression in form of a minimap. The dual mechanics of “human” and “werewolf” modes seemed interesting as well. So for this mornings Steampowered Sunday I decided to give it a spin and play it for a bit. I was not really feeling up to interacting with the world so I opted not to stream it, however I did take lots of screenshots along the way. This however is a review that almost didn’t happen because apparently this game is essentially broken without massive intervention. When I launched it the first time I started getting C++ debug errors, and since I am programmer by trade and have visual studio installed… it kept asking me if I wanted to launch a debugger to step through the code.
It turns out this is a “known issue” and simply has not been patched. In fact there is a “helpful” thread on the steam forums on how to fix it. I put helpful in quotes because the “fix” requires you to edit your registry and hard code the resolution you want to run the game at. This is a horrible horrible decision, and I damned near stopped playing the game at this point. If you put a game on steam you should at least have a way to configure your games resolution without resorting to the registry. Quite honestly this right along makes me not recommend this game for anyone at this point. I feel like more than likely the current $1.04 pricetag and the regular $7.00 pricetag maybe reflects the fact that this game has some shitty development behind it. All of this said… the registry hack seemed to clear up my problems.
The art style and voice acting are really nicely done. I maybe should have used charming in quotes… since in reality you are going across the country side on a revenge fueled murder spree. But I guess in reality the original Castlevania didn’t give you much of a reason why you were going after Dracula… so it works here as well. The game is told from the perspective of the mother telling her son what she had to do to seek revenge for the killing of his father. I am not sure if this is like a journal that the son is reading, but it seems likely. Which makes me wonder does your character simply not survive in the end. I have not played enough yet to really be able to determine that, nor do I know if I will play enough, but I can get into the reasons behind that later.
The only problem I have is that the enemies you face are mostly random monsters… and while the rats and crocodiles and even other wolves make sense… I have no clue why there are giant fireball belching deep ones in the sewer system as well other than a faint nod to Castlevania. I feel like the game didn’t really explain who I was fighting against other than someone killed my husband and the father of the person reading the narration. What helps me care less about all of this is just how nice the characters and background end up looking. It is very stylistic but at the same time still richly detailed without going overly minimalistic.
The gameplay is split into two different kinds of mechanics. The first is that of your character as a human. She is equipped with a crossbow and here is where things get a little wonky. You aim your crossbow with your right thumb stick and fire it with your right trigger. Now if you fire your cross bow without touching your thumb stick it shoots straight at, but there are many times where you will need to angle a shot. The ability to fire directed arrows allows you to hit switches and trigger traps and angle shots just right to be able to shoot from relative safety. All of this however in practice feels like a lot to do as something is rushing at you. I got the hang of it as my play test went on, but it did not feel exactly intuitive at first.
Whenever your character goes out into the moonlight, you change immediately into your werewolf form which has a completely different set of attacks but maintains the same basic control scheme. Right trigger to attack, right shoulder to perform special ability. In werewolf form you get the ability to double jump, so a lot of the puzzles involve you jumping just at the right time in the middle of the air. One of the things they carried over from Castlevania is the constant cavalcade of bats timed at just the right spacing as to make it damned near impossible to ignore them, but futile to actually try and destroy them. Later the bats develop the same kind of loping movement as the medusa heads from Castlevania which makes them even more frustrating.
Other than the fact that the game does not actually run when you install it through steam without registry hack intervention… my number one complaint about the game is that it seems to have very uneven difficulty design in the levels. Granted the original Castlevania had this going on as well, but it was very much not a good feature. I feel like this game as a whole is a nostalgic nod to Castlevania in so many ways, and it even managed to carry over the same brutal and frustrating bits that quite frankly were just the product of poor level design rather than actual planning I feel. I played the first two levels this morning, and in each of them the bulk of the level was rather sedate with logical progression gradually ramping up as you went through the play field.
Then they would throw you at a bullet hell section, where for the course of a single area you would have to avoid three projectiles at a time from an enemy on the far side of the room, while avoiding environmental damage form above, bats flying in from the side, crumbling tiles beneath your feet and still having to make perfectly timed jumps between ladders and platforms. These sections are maddening but not in a good way. They feel completely misplaced when compared to the rest of the level design. Why should this one room be that much harder than the others, and why did none of the rest of the level really prepare you for it? The first time you really encounter the crumbling tiles… is during one of these sections so you really have no clue what that block does until you have already failed at doing so.
The above section is what finally made me decide I was done for the morning. YOu have a series of crushers that are a one shot kill. They move in all sorts of directions, and extremely quickly. There are status indicators above or to the side of them that show you how long before the piston fires. They require perfecting timing to get through. There is a moment where at two lights, you have to wait a split second before jumping. If you jump immediately after the second light you jumped too soon and die. If you jump as the third light is coming on, you jumped too late and die. I could have handled one sequence of these pistons but after doing three in a row… and having a fourth one at the top of the ladder in the above screenshot… I just said fuck it and killed the game. I was not in the mood for that, especially when the rest of the game was actually rather enjoyable.
Rhinestone in the Rough
Given that it is the season of monster themed games, I figured playing Blood of the Werewolf was a good pick this week. Now comes the hard part… do I suggest this game to others. I can’t really say this game is a diamond in the rough, because there is quite a bit of rough that you have to deal with to get to where you can play it. The steam forums are full of issues folks have had with this game, and apparently if you are not using an xbox 360 controller… you are likely going to have issues with controller support as well. Like the subheading says this is more a Rhinestone in the Rough. There are definitely some shiny bits that are fun, but the thing that got me was the uneven progression of difficulty. If you really like Metroidvania style games, and there is an aspect of collecting bits that make you more powerful… and you don’t mind frustration games that can be down right unfair like say the Mega Man series… this might be a game for you.
If you wanted a game that you could install, boot up without issue and play through without the feeling of wanting to throw your controller… this is very much not a game for you. Thankfully like I said earlier the game right now is super cheap on Steam through the 15th for only $1.04. At that price, even dealing with the bullshit it is probably worth it if you are at all curious. Sadly despite its charm I will likely never boot this game up again. I feel like Outland is better at doing the things I like about Metroidvania in every single way, so in truth you would probably be better playing it or Guacamelee. If however you have massive amounts of nostalgia over the original Castlevania… this might be just the game you were looking for.