I've been trying out more of the Hearthstone classes. So far I'm very fond of Mage, Paladin, and Hunter. Warlock I'm on the fence about. It's strong, but I'm unsure it suits me. I might just be bitter from losing to literally nothing but Warlocks in the Arena mode though. We should talk about that Arena at some point, actually.

Anyways, I've had enough fun with the game that I decided to go ahead and throw a little bit of money at Blizzard. My decision may or may not have been influenced by the promo offer for getting the golden Gelbin Mekkatorque card if you use the Hearthstone shop during the beta period.

And by "may or may not have" I mean it definitely was. I'm a sucker for promo cards. Plus this pops up when you get it so that's cool.

Beta Hero! That's me. Yep. I'm a chronic masterbetatester.
I actually had trouble getting the "Beta Hero!" pop-up box to go away. I closed out the store and everything and it remained. Yes, okay Blizzard. You're welcome. Please make your box go away now so that I can actually open the packs I got.

Now, the actual pack opening isn't new to me since I've been getting them with gold from playing the game. I haven't made a huge effort to earn gold, though, since there is a planned beta wipe coming. Knowing this, I actually had kind of mixed feelings regarding opening my packs. On the one hand, I want good draws because...you know, card game. On the other hand I don't want amazing draws because I know that when I'm given my real-money purchased packs back post wipe that I'm going to end up with worse things just because that's how my luck will inevitably play out.

So, let's see what happens. Pack number one!
I'll go ahead and say that only getting 5 cards in a pack feels slightly lame. I don't think it's a bad deal as far as money is concerned; but I really enjoy the process of opening boosters and more cards in a single pack always feels good. This is over very quickly and it just flat out isn't as enjoyable as opening a Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering booster and getting a two digit number of cards. It's worth noting that the cheapest transaction for buying Hearthstone packs is 10 cards (2 packs) for $2.99. So I'm still actually getting a two digit number of cards for a reasonable price. If I were to go down to the Target right now and buy a 10 card booster for whatever the current Pokemon set is it would run me $3.99.

In this case, I'm getting 10 cards (non physical, admittedly) for cheaper. But if you're using Gold you're only going to get 5 cards at a time and that's where these tiny Hearthstone boosters feel a bit insubstantial.

With that out of the way let's evaluate what I actually got. You always get at least a "Rare" which is the Eaglehorn Bow in the above picture. As per World of Warcraft, Rare is marked by the color blue. See the blue gem under the card's name? That's how you know. That's a decent weapon. And Deadly Shot is a nice way to clear enemies off the field for a Hunter deck when you're going for a zerg. The two Conceals I'm not as thrilled about. That's not bad for utility for a defensive play since Stealthed minions can't be attacked directly until after they themselves attack but I just don't play Rogue enough right now to be excited. The Farseer is a decent but rather standard minion. Decent draw -- about what I expected.

Let's open the other one.
See this is what I meant about being fearful of really good draws. I got my Rare in the form of a very nice Azure Drake. +Spellpower cards are always appealing to me seeing as how I play Mage so much. I also drew an Epic (Purple gem, the Shadow Priest). And even a Legendary (!!!) in the form of Malygos. Holy crap does Malygos provide a ton of spellpower. And unlike most of the spellpower minions I have so far he has enough health to actually stay in the game (barring getting hit with something unfortunate like Hex or Polymorph).

The Cabal Shadow Priest is really solid too. While some may scoff at the notion of only being able to take control of low attack value minions with it, it's worth noting that you can take over plenty of utility providing minions to deny your enemy the bonuses they provide. Her mana cost is a bit high but it's understandable considering how badly you can potentially disrupt an opponent's card synergy just by putting her down on the table. And if they kill her? Who cares, the damage is already done.

Priestess of Elune is straightforward and not very exciting. Meanwhile, Mark of Nature is a nice, flexible buff card for those that play Druid.

This pack was a lot of fun to draw and makes me want to immediately go and use some of these cards. I should also probably mention that there's a Dwarf character who gets really excited when you pull a card of at least Rare, um, rarity. It's pretty fun to hear him yell "Rare!" the moment before you lay eyes on your new prize. That brief anticipation is even sweeter when he yells "Epic!" and "Legendary?!?!"

So yeah. I'm pretty happy right now. Hopefully my post-wipe boosters will be as good. And if not, well, there's always more packs where these came from.

So, I'm going to play some cards now.

Although first I do have to say that it's really nice how quickly you can throw a deck together and start playing against other people without having to put on pants. Friday Night Magic being at the local comic shop is cool and all but for me it has nothing on Whenever The Crap I Want Hearthstone.

If you want to see more stuff like this or more class specific focus posts or want me to shut the hell up about Hearthstone or whatever the crap, consider letting me know. I've been getting messages on MMO-Champion about these posts, which is great! And I love the feedback. It helps. So contact me. Leave a comment here, message me at MMO-C. Or just e-mail me at psj@puppetshowjustice.com.

Or don't. I'm going to keep playing cards and posting either way. Until next time!

I wanted to take a look at Hearthstone's individual Hero characters and briefly explore what makes them unique. I'll be covering the Hero Power, what it means for the character's role, and taking a look at some of the cards that the game supplies the hero with.

When you first start playing Hearthstone you are forced through a short series of tutorial battles and given control of a Jaina Proudmoore deck. Since she will be the first character that you familiarize yourself with anyways; she seems like the ideal starting point for conversation.

When playing as the Mage your Hero Power is Fireblast. It's very straightforward as far as powers go. Once per turn you can activate it by playing the 2 mana crystal cost. You then choose a target on the board to deal a single point of damage to. And when I say "choose a target" I mean literally anything. You can finish off a wounded minion that only has a single point of health remaining. You can damage your own minions (in some cases, this is actually a good idea). You can hit the enemy hero. You can even have Jaina Fireblast herself if you really want to.

This obviously gives Jaina an immediate theme of direct damage and creature removal. If you know what the color Red means in Magic: The Gathering you have a good idea of what direction Mage specific cards tend to take.
Most Mage cards are spells. You can pepper your deck with minion cards that aren't bound to any particular class, but Mage specific minions like the Water Elemental and Mana Wyrm are few and far between. That's fine, because Jaina really wants to use her spells to wipe out problematic enemy minions and blast away at the opposing hero.

As is obvious from the above pictured Arcane Missiles and Arcane Explosion; the Mage can spread damage around the game field without having to spend many mana crystals to do so. Arcane Missiles is especially fun because the game processes the 3 shots one at a time, and won't waste a shot on a target that gets killed partway through the spell. If the board is devoid of enemy minions it will simply hit the other hero 3 times -- which is pretty good damage for a single mana.

While some players will shy away from a spell card that they can't control directly; Jaina's Hero Power does a wonderful job of finishing off things that don't quite get killed by your spells or minion attacks. Another advantage to playing the Mage is that enemy minions with Taunt aren't as troublesome to her offensive -- since they can't block spell cards from going through to your ideal target.

Another aspect of Mage's toolkit is the fact that many of their spells can Freeze a target, causing them to be unable to act during their next turn. The Water Elemental minion can even Freeze people he hits. Control and destruction -- the bread and butter of a Mage.

Actually this card sums it up nicely.
Turning your enemy's best defender into a 1/1 sheep feels good. Spending the 2 extra mana to immediately Fireblast it into nonexistence never gets old. Oh, and speaking of the Hero Power; remember what I said earlier about purposefully Fireblasting your own dudes? Cards that get bonuses when they get damaged exist. This isn't a Mage specific card (I drew it out of a card pack); but the synergy is obvious.
If you just throw this guy on the table and leave him until the next turn (when he can start attacking) you can Fireblast him and attack your enemy for 5 damage when they anticipated only 2. Anybody with an ounce of pattern recognition will identify this as a threat that needs to be dealt with immediately because you can follow it up the next turn by doing it again and making his attack power go up to 8. Then 11. And so on.

You could even toss him on the table and immediately Fireblast him if you're willing to pay the 7 mana and are okay with telegraphing what you're doing before you can start attacking with him.

The Mage can really bring out the maximum potential of cards like this -- but most importantly they can do it cheaply and on their own terms.

Oh, and cards like this are good too.
You should also definitely be aware of cards that boost your Spell Power. That does exactly what it sounds like -- it makes your spell cards more effective. If you want to throw big nukes; +Spell Power minions on your side are the way to do it. Just make sure you have some guys with Taunt on hand to keep them safe from your opponent's minions.

If you want to blow opposing creatures up and then suddenly win the game by blasting the enemy Hero from half health to no health you might want to play as the Mage.

I don't want this to drag on much further; so I will stop here. But if anyone reading this would like to hear about more Mage card combo stuff or for me to do a post like this for another class, let me know. Comments let me know what people want to see.

Until next time, though. Cheers!

I first played Hearthstone the day it was announced at PAX East. Zudz and I both did, actually. And neither of us was terribly impressed by what we saw.

But I ended up with a beta key sent to my e-mail. Also, my PS3 up and died and I happen to be an absolute sucker for card games. Let us dive right in.

I should start by saying that I have played an absolute ton of TCGs over the course of my life. Once upon a time one of my core hobbies was traveling around playing in tournaments for the Pokemon TCG and Magic: The Gathering. Usually minor events, sometimes state or national level competitions. I took this crap seriously, and I still have some of my favorite promo and prize cards from the glory days.

At major gaming conventions it was common for me to have some downtime and I always made sure to check out new card games or miniatures games that struck my interest. Sometimes, I'd enter booster drafts for things that I didn't even know how to play. I bring this up because what it means is that I played a lot of different stuff -- and it's very, VERY easy to make a crappy competitive card game. Which is what I dismissed Hearthstone as at PAX.
I was wrong.
The first thing you need to understand about Hearthstone is that it's a pretty simple game. Your deck is always precisely 30 cards. It's a small number, but since the game's resource that you use to put cards in play doesn't actually take up deck space it works. At the helm of your deck is a Hero from the Warcraft lore -- each one unique in the class that they represent and by the special ability they have to use during the game itself.

I remember scoffing at the lack of a "proper" resource system with Zudz. "It makes the game so simple. It removes a critical aspect of deck building. It renders strategies like resource denial impossible." I don't really take any of those statements back, but now I appreciate the streamlining that Hearthstone has managed in its gameplay.
So each turn you gain one mana crystal; as seen at the start of my above-pictured game (It's the glowing thing next to the 1/1 marker). That is your resource. Here I would spend my 1 mana to throw down my Elven Archer and on my next turn I will have 2 mana crystals to fund my 2 cost guy. So on and so fourth until my mana crystal bar maxes out at 10 on my 10th turn. It's damned simple. Again, simple to the point that I mocked it initially.

Turns out, this smooths out the pace of the game rather nicely. If you have ever played something like Magic or Pokemon you have inevitably run into situations where your deck simply didn't work because the cards shuffled badly and you just couldn't get the resource cards you needed -- or maybe you had the opposite problem and got flooded with them.

For people like me, part of the fun of these kinds of games is play-testing and reiterating your deck to figure out the exact optimal number of resource cards to include. I really thought that Hearthstone taking this away from me would be a huge negative -- but it doesn't feel like one. Instead the playing field on that front is fair and deck construction is more about building a nice set of cards that will smoothly go along with the natural mana curve that occurs over the course of the game.

We also have Hero powers to spice things up. These are a good addition -- not only because it obviously gives each character their own identity that you can build deck concepts around -- but because they allow you to do something even when you have no cards you want to throw down on a particular turn. It simply feels better to use the Warlock's Life Tap to draw an extra card or the Shaman's totem creation ability to put a helpful minion on the table than it ever has been to sigh and pass your turn without doing anything.
My Lesser Heal can bring a damaged minion back from the verge of death -- or restore my Hero's health.
Obviously you don't WANT to use your power haphazardly (though some are pretty safe bets when you have no other options) as this is a game of strategy and all. But it's a great tool to have in your arsenal and the game would definitely be worse off without it.

As you may have guessed from the screenshots, the objective is simply to beat your opponent's maximum health from 30 down to 0. Going back to draw another parallel to MTG, you accomplish that primarily by swinging at each other with summoned creatures and flinging spells at each other. Unlike MTG, though, all your actions take place entirely on your own turn. There isn't any such thing as an "interrupt". That means when your enemy's turn is happening you just sit, watch, and prepare yourself mentally to counteract whatever it is you see them cooking up. It actually plays out a lot like a game of chess in terms of pacing -- rather than a typical game of Magic where you have to be ready to make a judgment call on throwing out a Counterspell card or choosing who blocks when you get attacked. If that sounds boring -- it isn't. Turns happen quickly and sometimes you will find yourself wishing you had more time to think when the game reminds you that it does enforce a time limit on player turns. Blizzard really did a good job of keeping the game simple -- but also driving the game along at a good clip and making that simplicity into a strength.

That isn't to say that the game is completely without its tactical flare, though. Where you can normally just use your creatures to take an open swing at the enemy hero, that can be stopped by playing a creature with Taunt. Such creatures must be defeated before you can go back to swinging at anything else (though you can still hit them with spells or hero abilities that allow for it). More depth is provided by cards that make "Secrets" -- which are effectively traps that activate when specific conditions are met. You can even play cards to arm your hero with a weapon and then start taking swings at people with your hero character in addition to your usual attacks with your summoned minions. Those weapons break down as you use them, though -- so you have to carefully weigh a weapon's mana cost, power, durability, and what you aim to do with it.

All wrapped up together it makes for an experience that I can really sink my teeth into. My initial "I'm going to check this out since I got the beta code" investigation unintentionally lasted about three and a half hours. And then I kept getting the itch to log back in and play more. That's a sign of a good product.

Speaking of good product -- the game has a ton of personality. The music is especially pleasant. Cards come with fun flavor text and (even better) audio for when they go into play, attack, or meet their doom on the battlefield. I admit I smiled when I played the Raid Leader card and he blatantly referenced the Onyxia Wipe video by yelling "Handle it!" and then I laughed when I sent him into combat and his battle cry was "Hit it very hard!"
Since I'm on the subject of presentation; I have to say that Blizzard did a fantastic job with the gameplay animations. The way cards brutally slam into each other during combat makes it feel pretty intense. More importantly, status effects like buffs, crowd-control, or special abilities on cards tend to be pretty obvious due to the stellar job the art does of communicating what is going on. See the guy above that I hit with Frost Shock? Yeah. He's frozen -- and the fact that his icon on the field is iced over shows that. And if I ever see something that I don't recognize I can mouse over it and get a quick explanation. It's infinitely more intuitive than all the random icons in MTG: Duels of the Planeswalkers for card statuses like Lifelink, Trample, Islandwalk, ect.
Of course, it is a collectible card game. And as a free-to-play game it has to make its money somehow. The how is obvious, you buy virtual booster packs. You can earn boosters without resorting to real money by spending the in-game Gold currency -- but this is obviously much slower and requires a great deal more effort than simply throwing money at Blizzard. The gold gain for playing random matches online is absolutely terrible...and is something that is a hot subject of debate currently in the game's community.
Fortunately there is a solution for people who adamantly refuse to give Blizzard money. You can perform quests. You can only do a few per day (obviously to prevent you from grinding gold too easily) but they provide some pretty decent currency gain. To me, this seems like a fair enough compromise. Plus, who doesn't like doing quests? That's actually kind of neat.

At any rate, I need to get some rest and I don't want to make my "impressions" post too long. I may well post about the game modes or about particular cards of heroes. Not really sure what folks would want to read about (as though anyone reads this site. har har)

I also feel the need to say, before I go, that Hearthstone is obviously still in beta so everything I said about the gold gain and cash shop stuff is obviously subject to change. As it stands, though, I definitely intend to play more Hearthstone and I'm looking forward to the official release.

I also look forward to finding an excuse to write more about it in the future. Until then!

This is just a quick post to say that I've set up an account on Twitch. I'm getting ready to start streaming in a few minutes. Today is mostly going to be Cube World, but we'll see if I end up playing anything else.

In much more exciting news, Cube World released its Alpha client! I managed to get in very early this morning while the store was up. I've been informed that it's up and down again since then. PSJ and I attempted to play around with the server application that comes bundled with the game. It technically works, but it's pretty crashy. So, my session today will be solo. It's a good game, in which I die an awful lot. Come mock my lack of skill and wonder at the beautiful voxel environment. Good times to be had by all.

http://www.twitch.tv/zudz should take you there!


If the page hits from the last couple days have taught me anything, it's that people like to hear me talk about the Ouya. Instead of actually talking about the system (except maybe briefly) I want to talk about games. I'm pretty sure that's the theme of E3 right now, and if it's good enough for them it can be good enough for me.

Here's the "briefly". There was a firmware update. The system is less laggy (though still a bit sometimes), and the store section looks like it cribbed notes from Netflix. I like it alot better now.It's easier to manage multiple downloads (or at least visually track them) and the install step was improved (largely hidden). Not rocket surgery, but nice additions all around. Colour me optimistic.

I've only downloaded a small handful of games so far, but have some opinions.

Knightmare Tower:
A game about chopping dudes in half as you fly through the air. It's pretty simple, and reminds me of every distance launch flash game I've ever played (especially Burrito Bison). As it turns out, that's pretty much exactly what it is. You can go to Newgrounds or similar sites and play the whole game for free instead of having to pay to be allowed to unlock upgrades. Two stars: fun but mildly insulting cash grab.

Deep Dungeons of Doom:
A super simple game about crawling dungeons and killing dudes. There's a semblance of a story, but it's nothing earth shattering. An ancient evil threatens the land and you set out to ... kill things. For fun and profit. I dig it. There are three playable characters, two of which you unlock by ruthlessly murdering the denizens of the dungeon they're stuck in. You can equip one item and carry one, so if you want to bring anything back from a dungeon you'd best go empty handed. Unique character abilities make this game just challenging enough. It's also got a pretty good "just one more try" vibe. Some micro-transactions, but nothing I'm offended by. I cleared the free content without even realizing that the option to buy continues existed.

Oh, and they have a kind of sweet retro aesthetic. Four stars.
I'm in the middle of downloading Shuttle Rush and Star Shipping Inc. If either of those is worthwhile I'll say something about them here. But for now, actually playing games.

Much less exciting than the previous post. I mostly just want to say that I've got Netflix running on the Ouya now. There are also a couple games, but I get the feeling that Netflix will be the primary use of this device in the near future.

I did have to sideload the app, but it was super easy. Googling "ouya netflix" or "ouya sideload" will return a plethora of instructions and suggestions. I briefly considered rooting the device as well, but it wasn't required and I was lazy.

As far as the console itself goes, it's adequate. The menus are a little laggy, and it's slowish on wifi. Honestly, it's a little slow on Ethernet too. Once I actually launch a game it seems to run fine. I've only found a couple things here, but I can see that the emulator community is already out in force. There's supposed to be a bunch of stuff coming out "soon", so we'll see how that works out for us.

The controller is so goram weird. There's no "start" button! I didn't notice at first, but when I went to pause something I was playing for the first time and there wasn't one my brain kind of broke. The center "Ouya" button seems to fill that function, but it's not the most intuitive thing ever. It's also used to quit out of things.

I would say that the lack of decent launch titles is a problem, but I'm not too sure that's true. Also, I'm not sure it's officially launched yet. Anyway, it's a wait-and-see thing now. We'll see how I feel about it in a couple months, nu?

I don't recall if I've mentioned it (and I'm far too lazy to go look), but I was one of the backers of the Ouya on Kickstarter. I hadn't given it much thought, except as a thing which might someday soon be real, until this afternoon when the mail arrived with a thump. My mail isn't usually thumpy, so I was surprised by the package I retrieved.

I've literally had it in hand for an hour, so all I've got for you is some pictures and a first impression.

I don't want to say too much about the pictures. I'm obviously not an professional, and they were taken using my phone. I'm sorry.

Anyway, it was all smartly packaged. It didn't have my custom plates, but I'd got an e-mail about that already. (They're coming "soon".) The controllers are simple enough to get apart if you happen to know that they come apart. There was kind of a big to-do about them during the Kickstarter campaign, but they're frankly not that exciting. They look and feel like modern era console controllers. The batteries aren't rechargeables, but I'm of two minds on that. Frankly, if this is the brilliant design that Yves Behar was brought in to do... well, I hope he wasn't paid overly much.

The R2 and L2 buttons are kind of... big? I would describe them as paddles rather than triggers. They feel okay though. I hooked it up to my projector, realised there wasn't an optical audio port (which is what allows me to hear my PS3) and then plugged it into the TV in my man cave instead. It downloaded an update, then restarted and prompted me to sync my controllers. I did, and was in.

Everything about it feels dirt standard. The interface is intuitive, setting up wifi is simple (though I opted to cable in, which it automatically detected and switched to), and most of the cruft of Android OS is hidden away where you won't find it unless you're a busybody like me. I popped the "Discover" menu and went to look for something to download. What I found was... strange.
Is there nothing here?
Oh, there you are Square-Enix.
This was the point at which I switched to ethernet instead of WiFi. The switch was near instant, and when I repoped the menu everything looked fine.
I'm using a cell phone to take pictures of my TV. Again, I'm sorry.
The store isn't super populated, but I set the little box to pull a few demos. After I had commanded it to download a few things my bandwidth went to hell again, and all I could see on new menus were more grey boxes. I opted to see if anything had finished and was rewarded with a single title for my impatience.

I don't actually remember what it's called, but I had to install it before I could play. This mostly consisted of agreeing to the EULA and then waiting 30-seconds, but I can see how this could be irritating for larger titles.

The game itself consisted of riding a barrel rocket into a tower and then ascending as quickly as possible by bouncing on monster's heads. It wasn't deep, but it handled well and I had fun. I'm eager to have other things finish downloading so I can put the system through it's paces. I've got two controllers, and I called PSJ before I opened the packaging. I expect he'll want to come over and help me test, so more opinions soon.

Ever wonder what sort of computer games a lone individual could make in a single weekend? Well then boy do I have a website for you. Lumdum Dare is a thing I just learned about after I stumbled upon a little game called Dream Fishing (created by a Sophie Houlden) that was a product of one of these weekend challenges that they host. Apparently what happens is a theme is stated and people jump on board to make games based in the given theme. This time the theme was "Minimalism".

Dream Fishing has this in spades...if that makes any sense. The game is controlled purely with your mouse. There isn't much to the environment (shocking, I know) but you can use your mouse to look around the game world to check out the things that do exist. You can also traverse the, erm, implied landscape by pressing or holding your right mouse button down to move forward. The only other actions you have involve your fishing pole -- holding and releasing the left mouse button will cast your line out and your scroll wheel can be used to draw said line back in.

I think it's worth noting that I was having a really, really bad day and Dream Fishing managed to lift my spirits. To me, that's really something. There aren't any objectives to speak of; just a pond with some scattered fish just waiting to be caught. It doesn't take any brain power or critical thinking whatsoever to engage yourself in it but somehow it's really charming and I never found myself bored with it. I'd start it up, play around with it for a bit, and then leave it alone once I felt my mood brightened. And this has worked for me three times thus far.

Your guess is as good as mine.

So what exactly happens when you play Dream Fishing? Well, not a lot. There is no music while you survey the area and pick out your fishing spot, but pleasant tones sound as you walk about. It's when you catch a fish that the magic happens.

No caption can do this justice.
So pretty much you catch a fish, it tells you something thoughtful (i.e. gives you advice) and then punctuates that potentially profound statement with a bit of nonsense. And then your fish sprouts wings and soars away as though demonstrating its own enlightenment. Then it returns to the water -- presumably where it waits to share its fishy insight with the next person who happens along.

Oh, and the fish speaking with you and then flying away is the only part of the game accompanied by music. Yeah, I don't even know. This probably sounds really dumb but somehow I found it heartwarming every single time.

Sadly, most of the bits of fish wisdom that I enjoyed most made me hesitate too long to get a good picture. On the other hand, it made me actually stop and reflect a few times -- which is rare for a game to accomplish. I know a lot of people would probably dismiss this whole thing as pretentious or stupid. Heck, I'm not honestly sure how I feel about calling it a game. It's just kind of an interactive...thing since it's devoid of anything resembling a goal. But I simply can't get over how this genuinely brightened my day.

The funny about this is that the lack of an objective makes it a better experience. If you were meant to collect all the fish or something it wouldn't have nearly the charm. You can't win at Dream Fishing.
Alternatively, everyone wins at Dream Fishing.
I really wish my dreams had this much atmosphere. But more than that I wish that someday I can write something that will make someone laugh or pick them up or entertain them or do whatever it takes to make someone's day the way Dream Fishing made mine today.
Come back! You have so much more to teach me!
If any of this interests you at all you can check Dream Fishing out for yourself here.

You can also watch a time-lapse video of the game's creation. Amusingly, the creator stops to watch some Azumanga Daioh a few times over the course of the process. That might explain some of the surrealism actually. That video here:
And that's all out of me today. I'm going to rest up so I can go see Iron Man 3 at midnight tonight. And then next post I'll either tackle Neverwinter Online or continue on with Secret of Mana. No idea if anyone actually reads any of this but if they do; any input is always welcome. Until then!
Secret of Mana. Man, I loved this game as a kid. When I moved in with some friends at age 18 I distinctly remember asking Zudz if he wanted to play some Secret of Mana with me and he shrugged it off as a mediocre game and declined my invitation. That blew my mind at the time. How can anyone not like Secret of Mana? The masterpiece action RPG from my childhood that was both beautiful to behold and a joy to listen to? The atmosphere! The action! The magic and character progression! Whaaaat?!

Then I actually played it. I got about halfway through and realized I wasn't having as much fun as I remembered having as a kid. So then I put it down --- until now.

So today we look at Secret of Mana. I want to get into the game, the mechanics, the story. The everything. This is going to have to span multiple posts that will have to focus on different subjects as I go along. So yeah. Secret of Mana!
Let us begin...at the beginning.

"First game in a new action / adventure series!" = "Keep an eye out for Sword of Mana in about a decade!"
I understand that nostalgia is a powerful thing. Once upon a time I thought very highly of SoM and I know that today my experience with it won't hold a candle to what it did for me when I was young. And that's okay. SoM was a joy to me once and nothing can ruin those memories or tarnish what this game meant to me. But the question now is: Does it hold up? Do I still think it's a good game? Let us dive right in.
Using the power of Mana a civilization had grown strong...
In time, Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress...
This angered the gods. They sent their beasts to destroy the Fortress...
A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seemed to disappear...
Before all was lost, a hero with the Mana Sword smashed the Fortress...
Though the civilization had been destroyed, the world was peaceful again...
But time flows like a river... and history repeats...
I have to admire Secret of Mana's pace. It wastes no time in getting you into the meat of the game after the initial (badly written) exposition dump. The game has you name your blank slate of a hero, fall off a bridge, discover and grab a magic sword, learn the combat mechanics, doom all civilization, fight a boss, and then get exiled from home all within ten minutes. It's honestly impressive and it only really feels rushed when the village elder suddenly busts out into an uncomfortably forced telling of your origins. In case you don't remember how bad this is I'll grab the text.
I took you and I raised you. But there's nothing I can do to help. Please forgive me. I know I've told you this before, but...
Your mother brought you to this village when you were just a baby. Soon afterwards, she disappeared...
I took you and have done my best to raise you. But now we must part. I truly hope you can find your mother someday.
But let us back up a bit...
"In retrospect I probably should have mentioned that the Mana Sword rests less than 200 paces from our village and that tampering with it will plunge the world into chaos. Please leave before anyone starts pointing fingers at me."
So. This game is astoundingly negative in the way it treats the main character. We're here getting yelled at by our foster parent right now but let's see how many things have gone wrong for us already.

*Fell off a bridge
*Doomed all of humanity.
*Got attacked by monsters on the way home.
*Insulted by your peers as soon as you arrive back at town to explain the situation.
*Your caretaker flips out at you.

And then an earthquake splits the ground and the planet consumes you and one of the other village kids.
And this guy is waiting to greet you there.
You have with you what was just confirmed by your village elder to be the sword of legend. The sword that the intro text said destroyed the Mana Fortress and saved the world. Another kid from your village has fallen and is helpless. You must stand your ground and rise to meet the great destiny that you have been charged with.

You are the Hero.
So when I did this fight the Mantis Ant opened with the unavoidable Gem Missile spell, knocked me down, jumped on me, and then slit my throat with his scythe arms all before I got to do anything. So yeah, he stands good odds of whooping your ass. If (or when) your HP hits zero you die. You get a creepy little grim reaper icon over your head and everything. But it's okay because you're revived by supporting character Jema who also gives you some advice on how to deal with the situation at hand.
Clear your mind, wait until you have 100% power, and aim carefully!
"Are you hitting him with your sword? You should try hitting him with your sword!"
Okay so we can add Died to the list of things that have gone badly for us today. But after we un-die we defeat the Mantis Ant, earn a Sword Orb, and triumphantly...get kicked out of town forever by the people we just saved. Woo?

Okay so now we're outside of town. We're homeless but we're also free. Free to explore and take on the world and...immediately get ambushed by goblins. A scripted encounter -- you can't even put up a fight. You just get rolled and then this happens.
Any time life is going badly just remember -- it could be worse. You could be the hero of Secret of Mana.
I know I just spent a lot of time putting this character down but the game just doesn't let up. Even when you have the other characters in the party and you're far into the game it seems like the hero is just kind of there. But to go into that is to go into game mechanics and party dynamics. And those are things for a much bigger, more detailed post.

But since we're talking about The Hero right now there is one more thing that I want to touch on real quick. He's really flippin' boring. I hesitated to bring this up because I know he's a silent protagonist and that you're supposed to project what you want onto him but he's so hollow that only so much can really be done to salvage him.

I hate to make this comparison because it's really, really unfair but take a look at Crono from Chrono Trigger for just a second.
Crono is also a silent protagonist and yet this scene gives him more character than the Secret of Mana hero gets throughout his entire game. The beautiful thing here is that we don't really know what goes through Crono's head so there's still some room for you to project your own thoughts onto him. Does he burn for adventure? Does he feel guilty for what happened to Marle? Does he dive into the portal because he really wants to get into her pants? These are all acceptable answers.

Crono is a hero because something bad happens that he doesn't understand and he steps up to face it anyways in order to protect somebody. Secret of Mana Boy is a hero because...he needs to cut down some shrubs that are in his way and accidentally attunes himself to a weapon that has to save the world? It's heavily implied that Jema intended to take up the sword himself and that you screwed the much more capable person out of being the hero.

So I guess we can add THAT to the list of things that the main character screwed up his first day on the job.

We're off to a great start here.

I first found out about Guacamelee! by complete accident. I was at the most recent PAX East looking around for mushrooms that had been hidden by Riot Games (finding one and bringing it to their booth won you a pretty sweet League of Legends hat) and my search caused me to unknowingly enter the territory of Drinkbox Studios.

There was an awkward conversation when my snooping around was interrupted by a guy who assumed that my approaching their booth was due to interest in their game. I didn't wish to be rude; so I stuck around and heard him out on his pitch to me and I asked some questions to keep engaged in the conversation but the whole time I knew, in the back of my mind, that other people were out there finding mushrooms and winning hats while I was trapped in conversation about a game that I wasn't terribly interested in.

When I managed to break away I hadn't honestly learned much about Guacamelee! other than it was a "Metroidvania" (yes, they used that word) title set in Mexico, that it starred a luchador, and that it had couch co-op (but not online co-op). Also the game was nice to look at. Truthfully I pretty much forgot the majority of the conversation's details in short order.

Perhaps partially out of guilt for brushing Drinkbox off the way I did; I decided to give Guacamelee! a closer look when I saw that it had released on the Playstation Network not long ago. I had some extra money sitting in my PSN wallet anyways and I figured that at worst I could hate it and rant about it to my buddy Zudz later.
(...also I hadn't played anything on the PS3 lately and this seemed like a cheap way to fix that.)

Initially I actually considered doing something of a review for it. But instead...well, I think it's more interesting to take a look at what makes this particular game genre work and pick out exactly where Guacamelee gets it right and where it drops the ball. I guess that's still a review. Okay, it's still a review. Kind of. It's a review only if you want it to be. There.

Guacamelee! is a fun but flawed product. One can't go into talking about a "Metroidvania" style game without drawing immediate comparisons to Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Those are hard acts to follow. I'm pretty much just going to dive right into this...

The Good

Guacamelee!'s visuals are excellent. The game world is vivid and makes great use of color that is appropriate to the Mexican setting and folklore it's representing. The characters that actually matter are drawn well and have a great deal of personality to their movements -- making the whole package really appealing to look at.

Just look at this scene from the game's start and tell me that you don't want to find out more about these characters.
Día de Muertos skeleton guy (with kidnapped damsel), the player character, gunslinger dude who is perpetually on fire, evil chick with wavy hair. I'm five minutes in and I'm already sold on this.
So pretty much the above-pictured dbags steal your girl, wreck up the place, and foolishly assume that you can never rise up and stop them. It's a simple, cliche plot -- but the game plays it tongue-in-cheek enough to make it rather entertaining. Heck, the love interest is referred to only as "El Presidente's Daughter" throughout the entire game. At least the game is being straightforward with you.

As long as we're talking about the game's presentation; it's worth mentioning that the world you explore is absolutely stuffed with references to other games, movies, and even internet memes. Some of these fall flat (especially when a character needlessly drops "Your princess is in another castle"). But a lot of the visual references are a treat. I absolutely loved seeing advertisements for wrestling matches that are clearly Luchador'd versions of childhood favorite characters.
There's a ton of stuff like this; and I found myself running all around the towns just to seek them out.
In the gameplay department, Guacamelee! should have been called Guacaplatforming! because that is honestly the game's core strength. The best part of being a luchador is apparently running, jumping, and using your special moves to get into all the nooks and crannies of the game world. And as you learn new powers you'll have those delightful "Ah-ha!" moments where you remember something you couldn't reach before and know that you now have the power to get there. These are the moments that make the genre -- and you get that here.

Speaking of the platforming; the game has enough tricks up its sleeve to make for some genuinely tricky challenges in this realm. The really taxing ones are optional, as they should be, but they provide a nice sense of satisfaction when you figure out the appropriate way to string together a double jump / upper-cut / cap-closing punch / ect to land you onto a ledge to get a reward.

It's probably also worth noting the mere fact that a couch co-op option exists if you want to play this with a friend. I'm not convinced the game's more complex platforming sections would make for an enjoyable experience; but it's worth pointing out that the option exists.

Oh, and the game is pretty blatant about wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. How blatant?
That's a Choozo Statue. Not to be confused with a Chozo Statue.
The Bad

The actual combat is where Guacamelee! sort of shits the bed. It gets the job done and it has its moments but that isn't exactly what I was hoping for out of a game starring a masked wrestler that features the word "Melee" right there in the title. While exploring the terrain is fun, having to stop to fight quickly starts to feel like a hassle. Pretty much you run up and punch things until you can grapple them (a triangle-button icon showing above the target's head flags them as vulnerable). Then you throw them. There is some fun to be had in throwing a dude into his friends; but you can get by fine just using specials or regular punches without putting much heart into any of it. It's all just kind of "meh" and that's never a good sign in a game.

There are a few core issues here. One, there's a huge lack of enemy variety. I understand that this is a fairly short game (there's nothing wrong with that for a $15 PSN game) but I've seriously played first generation GameBoy games with more enemy variety. That's disappointing no matter how you slice it. You know how in Super Metroid you'll enter a new region and there will be new things to fight? Yeah, Guacamelee might introduce one new bad guy in a new region. Heck, I can only think of one flying baddie in the whole game. Yaaawwn.

Boss fights also aren't very spectacular. Which is a shame because they have these totally sweet poster-like things before they begin. Check this out!
I just found out I can post animated GIFs. Ta-daah!
Another combat issue (and I bring this up right after showing the X'tabay banner for a reason) is that there are few to no recovery frames when you get hit by something in Guacamelee. That means that an enemy can hit you multiple times before you have a chance to actually respond and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. One of X'tabay's attacks was frustrating enough in this regard that it earns special mention -- and that honestly should have been fixed in testing. It's not god-awful but it can quickly remove fun from the encounter.

Moving on to other game features that don't quite work; there's also a shop where you can buy different throws and stuff but I never once found them to actually matter. Some of them advertise themselves as great single-target damage or having a good blast radius for taking down multiple foes but...my experiments with these things never felt very fruitful. I could already accomplish all that stuff anyways by just grabbing a dude and throwing him at his buddies. What I'm saying is the shop felt like a lot of wasted potential.

Oh, and some of the supporting characters are pretty lame. Especially the goat man who pretty flatly states that he wants to plow your mom. That is to say the player character's mom. Not, you know, actually your mom.
(That's my job)

The Ugly
If I asked Zudz what his favorite optional thing to get in Symphony of the Night is he might answer with The Shield Rod. I'd answer the same question with Sword Familiar. In that (and Super Metroid) a huge part of the fun comes from the cool stuff you get for going above and beyond in your searching the game environment for the coolest swag you can find. You don't NEED the Spazer Beam or Spring Ball to beat Super Metroid, you know? But they're fun to have. And that's a big part of the fun.

Guacamelee! doesn't reward you as well for your dedicated exploration, and that's a shame. Time and time again I'd find my way somewhere cool and the reward would be an extended health bar or more of the gauge that powers my special moves. Those are okay; but they don't change the way the game is played like the Screw Attack or the thing that changes Alucard's mist form into a damaging gas. The Metroid and Castlevania games were really good at enticing you to explore because you knew that those games were packed full of fun toys just waiting to be discovered. Come on, Guacamelee! You can do better!

The Verdict

Guacamelee! offers an unlockable "Hard Mode" once you beat it the first time. I'm not excited by that but I feel like I should be. I've played Super Metroid through getting only the bare minimum power-ups. I've played Symphony of the Night using only my punching to fight off Dracula's forces. These are, in a way, self-imposed Hard Modes. So Guacamelee giving me the option straight up should be cool, right?

Playing through a Metroidvania style game again is always kind of odd because the exploration is over and done with. Barring a sudden case of amnesia, you can only really explore a game's world once and then that aspect of the game is behind you. With that part of the game lost, what brings you back to Planet Zebes? What makes you storm through all Dracula's minions again? Is it the promise of loot and toys? Is it the fighting? Is it the simple joy of uncovering the whole map?

What Guacamelee! boils down to is this; do you play these games to explore or because you want to collect cool stuff and fight things with that stuff?

Guacamelee! is in no way a bad game; but it lacks some of the polish that those titles that coined the Metroidvania term had. My final answer would be that if you want a game world to explore and stomp around in, you could do a whole lot worse than Guacamelee! But if you want meaningful combat and lots of goodies, you won't find much of that here.
It's worth noting that I played this for a while and had trouble putting it down. Then I ignored it until days later, when I was driving somewhere and randomly got the itch for more Guacamelee! Draw your own conclusions from that.

(I'm still sorry for brushing the guys from Drinkbox off the way I did. And consider this my formal apology in the event that anyone from there ever somehow reads what I wrote).



    Content by PuppetShowJustice (or PSJ), a man with strong opinions about things.

    Additional contents and page management by Zudz.