Splatoon

Splatoon Review

 

Alright Inklings, it’s time for our Splatoon Review! Splatoon is Nintendo’s first true foray into an online multiplayer experience on their consoles, and definitely their first attempt at creating an online shooter. How’d they do?

Splatoon is set in a brand new world where everyone is a kid… or a squid… let’s just call them Inklings. Inklings have gathered in Inkopolis Plaza which acts as a staging area for shopping for gear, venturing forth into single-player missions or challenges, jumping into ranked or unranked battles, and interacting with other players’ Inklings via the Miiverse.

Maps and Overall Feel
Splatoon is an incredibly fast pace third person shooter. Each round/map is only three minutes long, and players have one goal: Cover as much of the map in ink as possible. The team with the most ground (note: ground only) covered in their color ink will win. While an incredibly simple approach, and favorable for the younger audience, there’s depth and strategy at play here that only some of the more advanced or skilled players will employ.

You can still “kill” or splatter your opponents by shooting them inking them up bad enough. When you die you spawn back at your starting point which takes anywhere between 10 and 15 seconds to happen. This is valuable time lost if you consider that any ink you lay down can be painted over by the enemy. The map turns into a constant tug-o-war. The key is to own the center of the map and not let the enemy sneak behind your lines. If you lose control of the map you are likely to lose. [Read more…]

Hearthstone for the iPhone

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Hearthstone released for the iPhone just a couple of days ago, and I’ve already clocked 5+ hours…. all of which may or may not have been during the work day. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not great at Hearthstone. It’s not the deepest or most difficult to understand or even master card game out there, and like all card games you are only as good as the cards in your deck. Since I haven’t been into the idea of playing a lot of Hearthstone on my PC, as I’d rather play on the go, I’ve held off playing and thus haven’t earned cards. So take this review for what it’s worth — not that of a Hearthstone master, but rather an iPhone 6 Plus gaming enthusiast and still a fan of the game.

Hearthstone on my iPhone 6 Plus runs well enough. I have moment of slow-down, and loading times aren’t fantastic. These feel like something that I bet will be patched within a couple of weeks. This delay and often finicky nature of the touch controls has lead to more than one mistaken selection or card placement resulting in my utter defeat. The image above is actually of a match I was playing today. I mistakenly healed myself because the touch control let go when I was dragging it to my minion.

Blizzard’s implemented of the game on the iPhone does, overall, work. A few extra steps like having to click on my hand to bring it up, and touching to hold cards to see what they do adds to the time it takes me to execute my turn, but over time as I learn cards these will be less of an issue. The extra steps are a little annoying, but at the same time I’m willing to put up with them having Hearthstone in my pocket where I go.

What I love most about this whole thing is how integrated the Battle.net experience is, and the fact that I am playing on my phone with people on their computers, tablets, or phones. I have full access to my friends list and can chat, see what everyone is up to, and whatever I do on my iPhone is completely linked to my exact same Hearthstone account anywhere else. Wonderful integration that has, thus far, worked flawlessly.

Yeah, Hearthstone isn’t perfect. As a card game you can rip it apart. It’s pay-to-win, governed by incredible meta game, luck., etc… but it’s hard to beat free, and it’s hard to beat having it on my iPhone. The pay-to-win aspects are no different than the hundreds I’ve spent on MTG cards. I’m just trying to convince myself that a digital version is essentially the same thing when my brain is telling me it’s not. Bottom line, I have to spend money on cards for Hearthstone to realize its full potential.

Keen and Graev's Review Score:

Seabeard App

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Take elements of Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and everything annoying about In-App Purchases (IAP) and you have a “free” game called Seabeard. Seabeard is all about restoring your island to its former glory. You do so by clearing out overgrowth, restoring ruins, building new houses, and bringing commerce back to your empty corner of the map.

Gameplay is simple: You tap the screen to move and interact. You can decorate buildings, obtain pets, harvest farmable items, explore dungeons, craft recipes, do quests, go fishing, play mini-games, and the typical stuff you’d expect from a game of this type. Watch the video below from the creators of the game for a visual presentation of what you’ll find.

I really enjoy Seabeard’s use of islands. Your have your own island home that you are trying to build up, but you can travel via ship to other islands. Traveling between islands provides an opportunity to play sea-based mini-games where you can earn prizes ranging from gold to rare crafting materials. If you choose not to play a mini-game, you are lifted up by a zeppelin and carried to the next island.

seabeard-islandsOne of my favorite features is the ability to set up vendor stalls on your island to sell your goods to the game itself or to other players. I don’t mind the concept of having to put items up for sale and waiting 5 minutes to an hour for them to sell. I also don’t mind having to earn additional slots. I think this system works well for Seabeard, and it’s something I can see working well in other games. Selling your items to other players is also a novel feature for devices like this, and allows people like me to get my friends and family playing so that we can help each other build up faster.

Seabeard is one of the best graphical presentations I’ve seen on the iOS. The stylized visuals are captivating, the game runs flawlessly on my iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m once again challenging my previously held belief that phone games have no chance of providing a full-featured gaming experience. Seabeard is capable of providing the exact same experience found in games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. The key word here is capable.

 

In-App PurchasesWhere Seabeard falls short is in its use of IAPs. The game starts out decently accommodating. Wait 10 minutes here, 5 hours there, spend a few hours earning coins to afford the next building, etc. Then suddenly you hit this wall where it’ll take several hours of doing the same repetitive tasks before earning enough gold to move on. Conveniently you can purchase Pearls or Gold from their cash shop, but the rates are so ludicrous that you’d quickly spend hundreds of dollars before even putting in a decent amount of time into the game. IAPs take what could be one of the best games ever made for phones and warp it into a cash grabbing annoyance. My heart was crushed when this realization came crashing down on me right in the middle of enjoying the game.

If Seabeard was available for $20 I would be telling everyone I know to get out there and buy the game. Totally worth that price. But now I’m stuck in this weird position of telling people they may as well avoid playing it because they’ll only be disappointed after about 3-4 hours of play.

Despite its enormous and unavoidable flaw, I really do hope people try this out and realize the potential for creating a fully-realized game of this calibre on mobile devices. I like having this type of game with me on my phone — a device I carry with me everywhere — and I like knowing I can pick up and play for 30 seconds or 10 minutes then slide it back into my pocket.

Keen’s Thoughts On Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha

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I finally got into Heroes of the Storm technical alpha a week or so ago, and after spending several hours going head to head with heroes, villains, and well-known characters from all of Blizzards IPs, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

First impression: Blizzard polish is (duh) amazing. They enter the MOBA scene years after so many others yet create a game that just ‘feels’ great. I don’t need to go into details about the UI being great or the game running smooth. The map is standard MOBA with a Blizzard flare (more on that in a moment). It’s all flawless, and that’s to be expected. Go watch a youtube video if you want to see more.

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Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

Gameplay centers solely around improving your team’s heroes faster than your enemy. Hero customization comes in the form of choosing talents and abilities that actually make the customization in HotS significantly better than most if not all other mobas out there. As you level you get to choose to upgrade abilities, and you have to make a choice of which ability will receive which upgrade. Upgrades may make an ability do more damage or gain an effect.

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As you play heroes more and win games you unlock new traits for them and gain experience to level those heroes up. This encourages you to pick a hero, buy it (yay cash shop?) and rank it up.

HotS also has mounts. It wouldn’t be a F2P or a Blizzard game without mounts. These can be activated by pressing Z and make moving around the battlefield when traveling a little bit faster. They can also be customized (more later).

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What makes Heroes of the Storm unique is the interesting gameplay twists. Throughout the match there will be timed events to gather things or beat the enemy team at performing a challenge. In the Halloween map ‘Cursed Hollow’ the goal is to curse your enemies by collecting the tributes. This curse makes the enemy creeps have 1 HP — a great way to push their base. Another map I’ve played had players entering into a goldmine (good ole classic Blizzard gold mines) to slay undead and collect tokens to spawn a boss that would fight for your team.

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The free-to-play component of HotS disappointed me. I hate games that only make certain heroes available each week. It’s like League. I prefer DOTA2’s method of giving you every hero. You’re forced to buy heroes and they ARE NOT CHEAP. Some range from $3.99 up to I think I saw one for like $10? It’s crazy. Yes, you can unlock them with the in-game ‘gold’ you earn slowly by playing normally. Other things like mounts, cosmetic skins, and the usual fair can be found. Blizzard clearly likes Riot’s business model.

Worth playing? Yep! Heroes of the Storm is a lot of fun despite being a somewhat obvious cash grab. If you’re like me you’ll look to find the most value possible without paying a cent. I can have plenty of fun for free.

Can’t Bring Myself To Play The Evil Within

I made a similarly titled post a few days ago about Alien: Isolation and how the intensity and stress caused by being stalked made it difficult to play. I don’t have that problem with The Evil Within because so far it just isn’t scary. Even while being chased by guys with chainsaws and wading through pools of human gore all I manage to think about is how the protagonist is going to end up surviving this entire ordeal just to die from the hepatitis he is sure to contract. What makes playing the game difficult is how the game is presented and how poorly optimized it is.

My computer isn’t great but I think it’s at least mid-high. I don’t know anything about specs anymore but it can run Alien: Isolation great on max settings but with The Evil Within I’m getting FPS bouncing around the low 20’s. That is pretty bad but I’m oddly used to it having played games on crappy computers for years. What makes the entire experience something rather difficult to stomach (it’s actually the first game that has ever made me feel ill) is a combination of several factors:

The Game Seems Super Zoomed In – I think this is referred to as “field of view” and I’m sure somebody will correct me if it isn’t. Anyway, the camera is extremely close to the character even to the point where he almost completely disappears from the screen when you aim to fire your weapon.This kind of view is something I find extremely disorienting and when you run around there is a lot of camera bobbing and turning the camera creates this swooping feeling that makes my stomach drop out. After only playing for 20 minutes or so I’ll get a headache and feel nauseated.

The Black Bars – There are horizontal black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. I really have no idea why this is. Supposedly for some kind of cinematic experience or something but I just don’t understand it. The field of view is already incredibly low and now you cut off a significant portion of the top and bottom screen? Why? Why would you do this?

Low FPS – By default the game is locked at 30 FPS unless you change that with a console command. That doesn’t really help me though since my performance is pretty horrible anyway. I did say that I’m not too bothered by low FPS but when you combine it with the other factors I mentioned it creates a visual nightmare.

I probably should have avoided the PC version of the game but I’m not always one to listen to warnings, even if there are a lot of them. Even so I can’t imagine I would get any better of an experience with the console version. At least on PC you can get field of view fixes and remove the black bars. I tried doing so but it only made my performance worse. Also oddly enough I didn’t get any sort of better performance when setting the graphics options to their lowest and on a lower resolution. That’s just weird, right? I get the same performance no matter what the settings are.

Anyway, buy at your own risk but I couldn’t recommend it. Some people really do like it, though. I’m just not really one of them. Maybe I’ll revisit it later on with better hardware.