Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game reviews: Snoopy Flying Ace, Dungeon Overlord, Torchlight tips and tricks

These are three games that kept me busy over Spring Break:

  1. Snoopy Flying Ace - An XBOX Arcade title that comes in at 800 MS points (about ten bucks) that, despite the cutesy Peanuts motif is an exceptionally fun, challenging, and genuinely satisfying dogfighting game.  No, not Michael Vic dog fighting but air-to-air combat Snoopy vs the Red Baron and his minions.  There has been a serious drought as far as solid (fun) air combat games but Snoopy is a welcome release.  It's easy to pick up and play, challenging without being Gauntlet for the NES (although some of the later levels made me say bad words), a varied style of gameplay (one of my favorite levels has you bouncing back and forth from a turret and a bombadier's postition), and one of the most chaotic multiplayers around.  I have not tried local gameplay yet so I'm not sure how well those work.  The multiplayer is complete mayhem though with team deathmatch being my favorite so far.  There's a definite combination of skill and luck involved against other players that is lacking in some other games (especially FPS) that levels the playing field against other players.  Additionally, the demographic online seems to be older folks (one evening I played and it was primarily jovial parents who were secretly having fun playing against other grownups a game they normally co-op with their kids).  The large team deathmatches also shift players from map to map so on one level your nemesis could on the next map be your wingman (I like this because it takes out part of the acerbic hatred you might feel for some of your opponents and when you're on the same team gives you something to joke about - and also learn tips and tricks).
  2. Sony Online Entertainment's Facebook game Dungeon Overlord.  Yes, I know a Facebook game but this game, backed by SOE is actually a really good game and if it were a regular title I think it would garnish excellent reviews.  DO is at its core an evil Overlord SIM.  You take on the role of a deposed Overlord and it is up to you to claw your way back to the top.  You start off with one dungeon in a mountain, build it up, collect and manage resources/troops/minions/etc, and slowly expand your area of influence.  What is still the most surprising aspect of the game is the sheer scope of the world.  Example, your starting dungeon is in a mountain with up to four other players with twenty available areas to expand to.  Once you enter the Overworld map you find yourself in a region of a continent with at least three dozen other mountains and surface dweller villages, towns and cities to raid.  On the continent there are about two dozen regions, expand from that there are over a half dozen continents (each contain untold numbers of regions and mountains).  I don't think I've encountered many games that have the scope and breadth of DO (and for free!).  It's a slow game (I've been playing for over a week and I'm still only level two) and at times the classic SIMs frustration of building levels and gaining the appropriate resources for expansion can tax even the Dalai Lama's patience.  That being said, it's an excellent game (with a warped sense of humor) that allows you to be an evil micromanager.
Torchlight is the third game and I have to admit that every time I think the bloom is off the rose I get a new piece of equipment or a new skill or encounter a new boss that kicks me in the jimmy.  As I said in the comments I'm on my third character (actually come to think of it my fourth) - the female rogue.  So far Frankie is my favorite character, a two gun action girl with abilities to drop some rather ass kicking traps (even on Very Difficult).  The ability to share gear between characters is awesome though it requires some inventory management and ping-ponging between characters when you're starting out.  Right now I have Frankie decked out with some excellent gear culled from other characters (none of the gear is class specific though in many cases you need to fulfill skill and level requirements before you can equip items).  Additionally, I've learned that each character (warrior, alchemist, and rogue) can be tailored to various sorts of gameplay.  Even better, if you have the GP, you can purchase a Respec potion which allows you to reshift all of your skills.  The wealth of spells adds to the level of complexity and I often find myself purchasing or trying out new spells just for fun.  Effectiveness of spells can further be boosted by spending skill points on one of three kinds of magic (Defensive, Offensive, and Charm).  Right now, I've spec'd combat boosts in dual wielding and ranged combat weapons (significantly boosting my combat effectiveness even with >20 lvl weapons) and traps (my current personal fav is the Flechette trap which lays down wicked suppressing fire with physical damage).  I could, in theory, respec and play more of a backstabbing nasty rogue character but I'm more of a play a bunch of traps, run into a room full of enemies, cast Haste, and kite the bastards to their doom.

Here are a few of my tips and tricks for Torchlight -  
  • DO NOT waste gear, potions, spells, gems, or anything of actual use on your first character.  All of that stuff will be much more useful to your second or third alts.
  • DO NOT after finishing the main quest retire your first/main character.  You might be tempted but don't.  I lost a lot of useful gear and supplies retiring my first character at lvl 40.
  • DO NOT waste your gems by plugging them into weapons and armor willy nilly.  You can combine them and slowly upgrade them to much more awesome gems a lot faster than you can find them.
  • Remember that starting your first character at easy or normal will reap you similar benefits to starting on Very Hard so take your time.  Start on easy, tear through the foe, loot, learn the controls and what set-up you prefer then when you are bored or things get too easy start a new toon, slap on some good gear, and keep going.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Torchlight (2010) - Relic Games

Lately I've been totally impressed by XBOX Arcade titles.  For a price point that ranges from $5-$15 and gameplay that is satifying I can't be upset (especially when big name titles debut at $60 and DLC basically means BOHICA - I'm looking at you Bioware).

Relic's Torchlight came out to decent reviews on the PC but since I'm not a hardcore PC gamer I didn't pay much attention.  The XBOX Arcade port came out this week and I have to say I am glad I plunked down the 1200 MS Points for the whole game.

Torchlight is at its core a dungeon crawler, smash the enemy, loot hoarding, Diablo clone and it does it well.  It's single player (which is kind of a shame because this game would lend itself well to some Gauntlet-esque action), the graphics are solid, the gameplay is solid, the gear is awesome, the controls are really simple once you figure out the mapping, and the game is fun.  Yes fun and actually has some interesting features I haven't seen in an RPG before, like a competent pet - that not only acts like a pack mule but you can send to town to sell loot, equip with spells and items, and you can trust to "Smitty" you (Smitty is my term for when the AI does retarded shit, get stuck on walls, disappears randomly, runs into friendly fire, pretends it's Leroy Jenkins, or generally acts like a Teapartier).

So far so good, I am looking forward to playing some more and getting more of that precious looty.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Abuelita Hultberg's tips and tricks for grocery shopping and saving money...

because the money you save can be spent on beer and video games later.  Uh, I mean, donating to orphans and reducing your carbon footprint.

I joke but while shopping at the grocery store today and post-shopping I was looking at my grocery bill (not because I'm a Stepford Wife - I needed something to read in the can).  I managed to save, off the top, almost $14 just by purchasing items on special.  I'm not talking about buying the spooky generic stuff that is simply labelled, "Food" or "Drink" but solid name brand deals.  I also wasn't shopping at Walmart (not for socio-political reasons I just can't get there).  My total was $79 for thirty-nine items (roughly $2.02 per item), my two most expensive items were a rack of ribs for $11 (not on sale) and crawfish meat (on sale $6.99).  Minus those two items my average item cost drops to $1.65.  I bought ten boxes of Zatarain's for a buck a piece (on special) because, well I like them - it's a quick easy dinner that goes well with a can of beans (or servings of beans if you have batch made and in the freezer).  I bought cat litter and a few non-regular items for less than ten bucks.

$79 bucks may seem like a lot to plunk down at one time but consider that I now have two weeks of solid meals, home-cooked versus, on average $10-$20 a day on meals eaten out.  So $79 v $140-$280.  I know I'm bad at math but that seems like a shit-ton of savings to me.

So here are three crucial tips to make your money go farther and your life easier:

  1. Yes, get the saver card at your local grocery store.  No, it won't make you old - it'll make you have more money.
  2. Get an account online for your grocery store.  Not only will they send you coupons, flyers, alerts on specials but with spooooky tracking of your purchases the company will give you more coupons and deals on items you actually use or purchase on a regular basis.
  3. Finally, it's become more common for supermarket chains to offer the ability to build and save shopping lists on-line.  Don't fool yourself into thinking your gonna use the "What to buy!" sticky thing on your fridge door.  You're not - and if you say you do either you're a liar or need to come to terms with the entropy of everyday life.  Having a saved grocery list amended with click and add coupons and specials quick and easy to print makes life so much easier.  This helps for those moments when you're in the store slack-jawed going, "I dunno what I need.  Oh look cookies!"  Then you get home and you realized you had milk on your list.  
Also, if you hate going to the grocery store - try going during off hours.  Sure sure, you work 9-5 blah blah blah.  If you're not a church-goer - hit the grocery store on a Sunday morning.  If you are a church-goer hit the grocery store Saturday evening when the heathens are getting sinful.

Coming soon Abuelita Hultberg's cleaning tips for you dirty birdies.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

NEStalgia - the 8bit MMO

NEStalgia is my newest gaming addiction.  This title from indie Silk Games is:

"an original MORPG inspired by the glory days of traditional console RPGs. Essentially "Dragon Warrior 3 meets World of Warcraft", NEStalgia is an amalgam of the best generations of RPG gaming."

I gave the game a quick run yesterday afternoon after reading a post on Quarter Past Qwerty (a nice gaming blog) and after about fifteen minutes subscribed.  It's a free game but a yearly subscription is only $9.00 and comes with all kinds of perks so I figured why not?  Hours later I had gotten some really enjoyable game time in, met some nice people, and went to bed with the game music in my head.

The folks at Silk Games have really put their love of the "classic" NES RPG into this game from monster design to dialogue (some of which is really damned funny and funnier if you're familiar with the tropes) to music to pretty much damned everything.  The MMO aspect comes in to play with co-op PvE.  Form a three member party and tackle challenges that are damned near impossible to solo.  I haven't died this much in a RPG since...well...it's been a long time.  When you die in battle you rez at the closest town minus half your gold.  With limited inventory space you can't just load up on 99 heal potions and go.  Boss fights can turn fatal very quickly.  There's no buying gold with RL money, no power levelling, or any of the nonsense people have grown accustomed to over the last decade.  And I love it.

NEStalgia reminds me that creative ingenuity and a designer's love of the game make up for most of the bells and whistles and shiny crap that is slapped on so many modern games.  I wholeheartedly recommend this title (especially to my fellow NES generationers who grew up on FF I-IV, the Dragon Warrior series, and other lesser known classics.

I'm currently on the Imrit server - toons Hooligan and my alt Nunzilla.  I'll be on most evenings.  Hope to see you guys soon.  Now I have to think of something else because the theme song is in my head and making me want to skip class to play.

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