Tag Archives: Downloadable games

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

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Splatoon. It’s become one of the most popular Nintendo franchises in a fairly short period of time. And, as I’ve pointed out in two reviews, it’s easy to see why. It’s an excellent take on third-person team shooting. Plus, each of the games offered a substantial campaign that was easily worth the asking price. Now, Nintendo has gone 90’s PC gaming, and released an expansion pack for Splatoon 2. It boasts a whopping 80 stages, and promises to expand the lore. But does this expansion truly deliver?

PROS: An 80 stage campaign. Killer OST. Unlockable multiplayer content.

CONS: Some of the mission goals aren’t always clear.

PEARL & MARINA: Can be used to cheese your way through.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion does indeed deliver on its promises. Maybe not in the exact way you might want. But it gives you what it promised mostly in spades. The campaign centers around Agent 8, a Octoling who wakes up in a subway with no memory of who they are. You’ll start out by customizing the general look of your Octoling, like you did for your Inkling in the mainline Splatoon 2 campaign. As it turns out, Captain Cuttlefish from the original game is also in the subway. Over the course of the campaign we learn that the subway is actually a test facility.  That’s right, Inkopolis has its own Aperture Science.

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The way the expansion is structured is a bit strange at first, but eventually you’ll figure it out, and everything will make sense. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be riding along on a subway train. Stages are placed about along train lines. Some of these tracks intersect with other train lines, and if you want to see everything, you’ll need to complete every stage on a line. Beating any given stage, will give you something the game calls Mem Cakes, icons that resemble the characters throughout the Splatoon mythos. That is, if the characters were marshmallows in a breakfast cereal. Completing an entire line, and collecting all of the Mem Cakes will net you apparel you can use online when you complete the storyline. There’s a giant insect on the subway train. Every time you go to him with a set of Mem Cakes you’ll get the aforementioned clothing.  You can also play as a Octoling online if you complete the storyline. So this expansion gives you incentive to try to beat all eighty of its stages.

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In order to play stages you’ll need some power eggs, and the game starts you out with some. Each stage has an entry fee depending on how difficult the designers feel it is. Once the fee is paid you’ll begin the stage. Stages do show off a lot of variety. Many of the levels play like the ones in the primary campaigns of Splatoon, and Splatoon 2. You’ll go from point A to point B, and take out any enemies you see along the way.  While that sounds simple, in practice it rarely ever is. Your reflexes, and mind will be pushed hard as you try to balance combat, and platforming. These are a lot like EX grade stages in other games, where the bar is raised even higher. You’ll find yourself learning advanced techniques, and new mechanics. But don’t be intimidated. These skills parlay into the primary Splatoon 2 multiplayer, and you’ll likely do better at its other modes too.

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But that’s far from the only kind of stage you’ll be playing. Other stages are survival modes, where you have to go a period of time avoiding obstacles, and projectiles for a period of time. Some of them will send you into a room of death traps. Other times it will be a room of enemies. Often times you’ll be completely unarmed, and in just about every instance you cannot take a single hit of damage. The time limit can be as low as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. When you first start out these will indeed be pretty tough. But over time you’ll learn patterns, and eventually clear them. As frustrating as the early attempts can be, these stages are a lot of help too. Because again, you’ll learn how to better dodge, and outwit online opponents by playing them.

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The 8-Ball stages are about on par with what you’d find in Valve’s Portal series, at least in terms of complexity. Initially, things start out pretty softly. You’ll get the basic mechanics of the idea, shooting an 8-Ball at just the right angle to move it along a series of courses to the end. But as you unlock newer stages based around the mechanic, they become far more elaborate. Many of them have segments where there are no guard rails. So if the ball falls into the abyss, you lose a life. Some of them involve pinball bumpers, multiple balls, switches, and time trials. They’re some of the best stages in the expansion.

There are also a number of puzzle stages that involve rotating the stage around in order to reach your objectives. Again, these are comparable to some of the Portal puzzles in terms of complexity. Then there are the handicap matches. These are the multiplayer games, only instead of playing online, it’s just you up against a team of Octolings. These matchups can be compared to the ones in the main Splatoon 2 campaign. You’ll have to defeat the Octoling soldiers which seem to have advanced A.I.

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But it doesn’t end there. Some of the stages will give you an option of what weapon to use, while others will demand you use a specific one. There are also gauntlet stages, where you’ll have to defeat hordes of enemies in order to get to the next checkpoint. Some of these use the mechanics from the main game as well, such as invisible walls, and floors that need to be inked in order to see them, or switches that have to be shot in order to freeze a piece of geometry so you can jump on or over it. There’s even one that puts the attackers on a turn table, where a switch will cause enemies to spin around in front of you.

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There are also a few boss stages in this campaign. Many of them bring back harder versions of previous bosses. But there are also a few new ones that go along with the storyline of the Octo Expansion. The toughest part about these, are the high entry fees. If you lose, you’ll be going back to other levels to grind away enough currency for a re-match. Be that as it may, these can feel like a massive accomplishment when you finally emerge victorious. When I say these are harder versions, I really mean these are harder versions. The strategies you used before won’t always translate to the rematch. Plus you’ll have to dish out more damage than before, and be on the lookout for new tricks from these old dogs.

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The overall goal is revealed to you when you happen upon a phone in the early goings of the Octo Expansion. This mysterious phone wants you to collect four devices, that are represented on the rail line maps. In order to get to each, you’ll have to play stages that lead up to them in order. Once you’ve done so, you’re ready to escape (which isn’t as cut, and dry as it sounds) But you won’t see every rail line initially. You’ll discover them when you find a stage that intersects on them. So as I mentioned earlier the game gives you a lot to do. Especially if you want to earn those cosmetic items for multiplayer in Splatoon 2. Discovering new lines will also have the conductor giving you currency to enter new stages with so you’ll get a perk for doing so. Don’t forget clearing stages also gives you money so you’ll earn money to go on. As stated earlier, certain levels also give you a choice as to what weapon to use. So if you want to go high reward for an equally high risk, you can choose the least advised option for a bigger payout.

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Of course some of the challenges on display here take only the most honed skills. For many, this will only give the drive needed to complete these. But if you find them too frustrating you can call on Pearl, and Marina to let you skip them. It’s a lot like the aid Nintendo has put in some of its Super Mario Bros. games. Allowing people of a lower skill level to see everything. However the game also makes note of the stages you’ve skipped, and gives you faded versions of the meme cakes outlined earlier. This means you also miss out on some of the lore, because much of the storyline is built into background item drops, chat logs, and other devices. It isn’t all front, and center via cut scenes.

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A lot of this stuff is really well written too, and goes a lot deeper with allegorical commentary, than you might realize. But it also does it without beating you over the head. It’s subtle enough that those looking for it will find it, and those that don’t pay as much mind to it won’t miss it. And at the same time there’s nothing controversial one could glob onto. They did a great job of letting players see the events from a number of viewpoints. There is also some Sci-Fi in this that comes out of nowhere, and yet still fits the storyline like a glove.

You don’t have to clear every stage to be able to complete the campaign, but because of some of the multiplayer rewards, and some of the storyline elements you’ll have enough incentive to go back, and play the stuff you skipped, or replay the stuff you might have previously found too taxing. You’re definitely getting a lot of value in the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion.

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Be that as it may, I do have a few minor gripes with it. The largest small problem is that it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go in some missions. In this handful of stages, you’ll figure it out simply enough with some trial, and error. But knowing off the bat helps immensely most of the time. A minor nitpick but there you are.  It’s also possible to cheese your way through by skipping stages after every two failed attempts. The flip side of this is that you’re not really getting the experience of actually playing the game. It’s certainly a viable mechanic for newcomers to be able to see more of the game, but it has the potential for abuse.

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I also would have preferred more original bosses over the returning bosses from the campaign. The new versions of these old bosses again, do present new, and more difficult challenges than before. But seeing these guys again just didn’t have the same magic. Especially when so much of the rest of the expansion is so new. Still, you’ll likely enjoy the tension that these skirmishes provide. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have had some more original characters for these encounters instead. Visually speaking, there isn’t a notable jump over the base game, but it still looks great. Nice designs, some slick textures, and visual cues. Pretty much everyone will be fine with it. But for those holding out hope this would look like a pseudo-sequel were probably aiming a little too high.

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And finally, I would have preferred more New Wave, Power Pop, and Pop Punk tracks than the expansion pack delivers, but the Electronica it gives the audience is very good. It’s at its best when it goes for ambience during some of the most difficult tasks at hand. There are also some great uses of sampling the original Wii U game soundtrack in it. So in terms of using the soundtrack for telling the story, one can’t complain much.  Again, all of my issues are minor, and two of them boil down toward preference more so than actual complaints. Really the main issue is that some goals aren’t laid out to you properly in a very small percentage of levels. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t that big a deal.

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Octo Expansion is a worthwhile expansion pack. Players who wished the base game had more single-player content than the base game should absolutely download this. With 80 stages, and so much variety, chances are you’ll be playing this a fairly long amount of time. It also has plenty in it for anybody who has become a big fan of the characters, and the world they inhabit. There is a lot of backstory here for those willing to look for it, and for those looking to uncover it. Not only in the cut scenes, and chat logs. But in the actual gameplay as well. It is even a solid buy if you come to Splatoon 2 for the Turf War, Ranked Battles, and Splat Fests. Because beating a lot of these stages will actually improve your skills online. They often require learning some advanced techniques to complete which then parlay into multiplayer. Plus there are all sorts of apparel, and Octoling options you’ll have access to once you manage to complete the storyline.

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Is Octo Expansion required to be able to enjoy Splatoon 2? Not at all. If you stick with the base game, you’ll still get to enjoy all of the Turf War, and Salmon Run you want. But if you like the idea of some added online perks, and hours upon hours of new content for a game you already love, Octo Expansion is a solid recommendation. There are so many things to love about this one. Whether you’re a hardcore fan who sings Calamari Inkantation every chance they get, or just somebody who happens to enjoy a good console shooter, Octo Expansion is quite the catch.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Evil Quest Review

In the grand scheme of things, few games cast you in the role of the bad guy.  Sure, there are the heavy hitters like Grand Theft Auto, or Saints Row.  But outside of the crime themed games, things begin to thin out a bit. Enter EvilQuest, an old school Action RPG from a small outfit called ChaoSoft. Released about two years ago, it’s a game that didn’t get a lot of mainstream attention upon release. In it, you play as an evil warrior named Galvis.

PROS: Solid game play. Comic relief. Fun to play. Challenging.

CONS: Inconsistent  pixel art. Very short. Brutally difficult boss gauntlet.

ULTIMA: Had Tie Fighters. EvilQuest has an AT-ST.

Imprisoned for war crimes, Galvis breaks out of prison for several missions on his thirst for power, and revenge.  Ultimately,  he wants not only to destroy his enemies, but the entire planet. He even has a plan to kill the planet’s deity. This involves tracking down an axe of supernatural origin. In order to take hold of it, Galvis has to traverse the land, seeking, and destroying shrines. The shrines hold the power to unlock the door to an astral plane where this being exists.  It isn’t a particularly deep story, but it does have its share of  humor, and moves along the action fairly well. Character dialogue fits the archetypes properly, and there is enough substance here to keep you interested in it. The game takes inspiration from a lot of Action RPGs, JRPGs, and early WRPGs. Most notably Ys, Crystalis, Ultima, and even a hint of early Final Fantasy.

Just like those games, you can expect to explore several over worlds, dungeons, and find towns. In the towns there are NPCs that give some general information, or send you on errands. These of course lead you to items you’ll need in order to access further areas. It’s a formula that these sorts of titles have used for years. Where EvilQuest differs a bit is that it doesn’t take itself seriously 100% of the time. There are small bits of dark humor centered around some of the sillier or overused conventions of the genre’s 8-bit days. Galvis will murder NPCs while making grandiose super villain speeches. The game goes out of left field a la Ultima, by bringing in a Star Wars themed vehicle.

Thankfully, the game does emulate the classics it loves fairly well most of the time. Areas are nicely varied, and there are a lot of really cool enemy types. Spells, weapons, and potions are the usual element based fare. There is the fire sword, and ice sword. Along with themed armor, and shields throughout the game. Many of which can be found during quests rather than trying to buy them in towns. In many of these cases the themes go along with the types of enemies in the area. Like dragon themed armor for dragons for example.

This continues throughout the areas. You’ll find your way through ice zones, fire zones, mountains, fields, and a deserted battlefield.  There is a pretty deep encyclopedia of characters, and backgrounds in the game’s pause menu. As you discover new enemies you can read their dossier, or read journal entries. Similar to the ones found in Falcom’s Ys series, they’re handy for filling in blanks in the game’s lore. You’ll also be levelling up your health, and magic abilities from time to time.

The levelling system is based upon experience points. You get four main stats that can be upgraded over the course of the game. Two affect your health, and resistance to damage. The other two affect your magic, and attack power. You get these points the way you would in most other role-playing games. By killing enemies. In later areas you’ll find grinding away on enemies is the only way to survive certain boss fights. When you receive enough experience points you can assign them to whichever stats you want. However, it will only let you apply two points to any given stat per level up. So if the game gives you four, you can’t dump all of them onto your attack power. Two of them have to go elsewhere.

Throughout your time with the game you’ll alternate between using different weapons, and magic items. Some of these replenish your health, others extend the length of your life bar. Still, others will give you more points to cast spells with. Nearly all of the spells have upgrades as well, as the weapons. EvilQuest also takes a big example from SNK’s Crystalis by offering a charge shot. It works almost exactly the same way, even requiring you hold still while charging. Moving will impede the charge from growing. So in fights you have to charge, dodge an attack, then stop to continue charging.

EvilQuest also takes full advantage of the Xbox 360 controller.  Gamers used to playing these kinds of titles on a console will feel right at home. But the game also fully supports a traditional keyboard setup. Play control in either case is relatively smooth. You can move Galvis around with little to no trouble. Using magic, or attacking enemies works fine, and overall things are responsive. It’s actually built more with the pad in mind, as you can easily cycle through magic items on the fly. That said, in either case you still may find yourself pressing select, and start a lot to get to journal entries, save menus, or your load out screens. The game looks good most of the time. Like a lot of games being put out independently these days, Evil Quest has a retro look. It tries to encapsulate the aesthetics of Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, and Commodore 64 era games. In some places, one could also confuse it with an early MS-DOS title by Apogee.

But in doing so it has a bit of inconsistency. Most of the time these sprites are pretty nice, reminding you of the titles it is inspired by. But then, there are places in the game where the look changes enough to be jarring.  Make no mistake, nothing looks outright horrible. Just inconsistent. It should be noted some of the best visuals the game offers come up during boss fights. Boss fights are the best part of Evil Quest. With the exception of a few, they’re usually huge characters, with a lot of powerful attacks. They’re very flashy, impressive, and pretty difficult. Especially near the game’s climactic final battle.  The retro theme continues in the game’s audio which mimics the sound of a Super NES game fairly well. The music won’t be playing in your head hours after you’ve played it. But it does fit the theme of what happens on the screen. The game also has a lot of Steam, and Xbox Live achievements for anyone looking to hunt away on them.

Not everything in Evil Quest is great though. Besides the inconsistent look in spots, there are a number of small issues that pile up. In the early sections the game isn’t very open. It becomes fairly predictable where you need to go, and what you’ll need to find. This certainly improves as the game goes on, but initially things are rather straight forward.  The game’s final boss is a soul crushing three form affair. One that you will take on immediately following another difficult boss fight.  So expect to max out every stat you possibly can. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of time trying to grind your way to an acceptable level of health, and attack power. All in an area of very tough regular enemies.

On the technical side, the game doesn’t support full 1920 x 1080 resolution. The highest the game supports is 1280 x 720. So if you play the game with full screen selected it will be stretched to fit your monitor. To be honest even windowed, the 720p resolution seems to have been stretched from the 640 x 480 resolution. This is disappointing because most computers have had 1080p capable monitors for a long time, even before EvilQuest’s release. It’s also too bad the game couldn’t run in full screen mode, centered, with borders surrounding it. This would have at least kept a proper aspect ratio. It doesn’t break the game, but it is disappointing.

It should also be noted that in over world areas you can pretty much save anywhere. But in dungeons you can only save in a designated checkpoint area. In towns you cannot save at all. There isn’t really any reason for this. You spend about an equal amount of time in each, and run into about as many enemies, and hazards. A quick save system where one could save at any point, or a checkpoint system would have made more sense. The strange mix of both seems unnecessary. The game isn’t very long either. Dedicated players can clear the game in a couple of hours.

Still, it’s a step up above a lot of other indie games you can find on download services. It functions well. It plays well. It’s a short ride. But it’s a fun, and challenging short ride. For retro gamers, or fans of RPGs  it’s worth a look. It isn’t going to take the place of your favorite series, but it is a fun distraction. It’s not a perfect game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. It’s average. But it sets itself apart from other average games with some fun moments, and bad guy themes.

Final Score: 6 out of 10