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Demo Driver 8: Forward to the Sky

It's kind of weird.

Anime princesses apparently have a lot of expectations they have to manage, like, all the time.

I find myself for the first time in the weird position of being able to say that Forward to the Sky is probably my favorite of the vaguely anime brawler titles that I’ve played for this feature, which is not a phrase I expected to type more or less ever.  Not that I consider that to be high praise, though; it just means that the game manages to deliver its contents more effectively than others.

By the same token, it’s not dismissal, either.  Like so many before it, this game was and is a labor of love; the people who made it are self-described fans working to make a game that feels like an anime game, and to their credit they’ve succeeded at that.  The downside is that ironic as it sounds, a game all about climbing a tower winds up without a whole lot of verticality.  The demo itself feels like a demo for what’s coming next, because it’s a very thin experience; at the same time, it’s a product that clearly wants to be exactly what it is.

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Challenge Accepted: A closer look at Super Mario Bros.

Oh, the NES limitations.

Boy, Bowser has some posture issues, huh?

It’s impossible for me to properly state the impact that Super Mario Bros. had on me as a youngster.  I can’t say conclusively that it was the first game I ever played, although it might have been; I can conclusively say, however, that it’s the earliest thing that stuck in my memory.  It was a remarkably long time before I owned an NES, so I remember playing it constantly at the houses of friends, including a few friends who may have been less “friends” and more “other kids my age with an NES.”

The down side was a number of visits that did no favors to my ability to socialize with others as a youngster; the up side was that I can go back to the game as an adult and re-examine it to find that yes, the game is pretty damn brilliant.  It’s not an endless challenge like Tetris, but it does have a number of mechanical elements that make it a brilliant challenge, and chief among those is the one element of the game that no power-up can alter – the timer.

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The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy V, part 9

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

So, the good news from the last installment is that the world is coming to an end and the group completely failed to prevent that evil whatsit from emerging from his prison.  Which admittedly sounds all like bad news, but conceivably there might be some good news in there somewhere.  Yet the game must go on, even though the party is down a member.

This is actually a part of the game I kind of despise, for two reasons.  The first is that it’s a foregone conclusion the main party is heading after Galuf, since otherwise the game would consist of sitting around and waiting to die.  The second is that it results in your party getting janky amounts of ABP  and experience until you’re reunited, which puts everyone at a different place development-wise.  When it’s already possible to lose track of your overall trajectory…

Eh, getting ahead of myself.  Let’s figure out how we can chase Beardy McBeardpants.

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The paid mod debate we never had

Well, until this happens the next time.

Here we go with an important point of discussion we’ll never actually discuss.

According to pretty much anyone you ask, Valve recently made one boneheaded move and one reasonable and understandable move. The question is which one came first and which one came second, and that speaks to something interesting going on underneath.

Not oh-so-long ago, Steam opened up the option for paid mods via the Steam Workshop. There were two camps involved – one that was convinced this was utter brilliance and another that was certain it was the worst thing ever. It didn’t matter in the long run, of course, as not even a full week later Valve announced that it was pulling the test program, offering refunds to those who paid, and so forth.

By itself I find this all kind of uninteresting. I don’t have a horse in this race. What fascinates me is the fact that both sides in this particular tempest in a teapot have very firm ideas about which side of the debate is the side of the angels, and the very idea that there is an opposite side seems laughable to them.

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Demo Driver 8: Environmental Station Alpha

Case in point.

Normally I don’t like name-dropping another game dozens of times while talking about a game, but… sometimes it’s necessary.

Anyone who has talked to me for a little while knows that I love Super Metroid.  And I genuinely love it, have loved it for years, will not and, I feel, should not stop loving it.  It’s a magnificent game, setting a standard for an entire genre that has frequently approached it and danced around what it accomplished without ever surpassing it – in a method that’s neither a disservice to the original nor a mark of shame for its numerous spiritual and literal successors.

Environmental Station Alpha is not Super Metroid.  I don’t know if it can be Super Metroid, for that matter; that’s a high bar to aim for.  What I do know is that I cannot in good conscience call it a bad game, but at the same time I can’t really say it’s a good one.  It understands the formula, but it never feels like it’s actually transcending that formula, just twisting a new riff on it with minimal inventiveness.

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