Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Cthulhu Saves the World

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

cth1

 

 

Developer: Zeboyd Games

Publisher: Zeboyd Games

Release Date: July 13, 2011 (PC), December 30, 2010 (XBLA)

My Cthulhu knowledge is rather limited. I’ve never read a Lovecraft novel nor played any of the other games. I do play and enjoy the Elder Sign board game, which is a streamlined, dice-based version of Arkham Horror, and contains all the elder gods as well as thematically dark, poetic writing and artwork.

No prior knowledge is necessary to enjoy Cthulhu Saves the World, a lovingly styled retro-RPG created to emulate the style of old console RPGs. Zeboyd Games has carved out a fun niche combining humorous, self-aware writing with 16-bit styles. I’ve previously played their later games, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 and 4 and based on the fun I had with them, backed Cosmic Star Heroine on Kickstarter. CSH is now one of my Most Anticipated Games of the Year, and I wanted to dive a bit into their back catalog with Cthulhu Saves the World.

This is definitely a developer that has iterated and built upon each of their releases; each game has gotten progressively better with more features, options, content and animations. Unfortunately this makes the older Cthulhu slightly worse than the Penny Arcade games in just about every way.

Cthulhu uses a pixelated overland map to walk around. You start off controlling the former elder god as he washes ashore on a beach, having all his cosmic powers drained. The disembodied narrator gently informs our hero that he must save the world and prove himself a true hero in order to be admitted back to Mount Olympus (Err sorry, that’s Disney’s Hercules).

The story and plot are mostly unimportant as Cthulhu follows a familiar path of dungeon – town, dungeon – town, picking up a colorful cast of allies along the way. Towns offer some funny dialogue and a place to rest and buy better equipment, but otherwise they’re devoid of any personality, quests or content.

The real meat of the game comes in the dungeons and the combat. Combat resembles the old NES Final Fantasy games as your party of up to four takes on brightly pixelated foes. There’s very little animation during combat and you don’t even get to see your own party on the screen, so it mostly relies on the dialogue box to move things along.

Like all their titles, Zeboyd wasn’t content to simply recreate the old JRPG systems of combat and really innovated and streamlined many aspects, such as enemies getting stronger with each subsequent round, fully healing at the end of each fight and full details on exact damage numbers for the power of your abilities and the health of your enemies. Combat’s designed to be extremely quick and extremely deadly, which plays well into the limitations of the engine – though on Normal mode in the latter stages of the game I could blaze through most fights in two to three turns, making them more of a minor annoyance than a challenge.

I found the very first dungeon to be the most challenging as I was still learning the new and interesting concepts behind the combat. HP fully heals between battles but MP does not, so you still need to regulate your powers and balance defeating your foes as efficiently as possible while still holding back if you can. A little MP regenerates depending on how quickly you win the encounter, and thankfully there are save points sprinkled at the end of dungeons (and sometimes in the middle) that fully restore your MP. Oh and you can also save anywhere (YAY!) and teleport to any previous towns at any time (woo!). Options like these prove that Zeboyd is both lovingly nostalgic about retro JRPGs while still willing to add modern conveniences that makes a return to this style much more fun than frustrating.

The majority of the game is spent crawling in dungeons. Dungeons have a nicely diverse range from haunted forests to volcanoes and even a spaceship. The level designs are mostly just giant mazes, but thankfully you rarely reach a dead end as most paths lead to either treasure chests or the exit.

Still, some of the later dungeons are just way too big – an issue they freely admit on the nifty developer commentaries sprinkled throughout. I also enjoyed the fact that each area has a limited number of random battles – once you hit it (anywhere from 20 to 50) you can explore at your leisure without running into monsters. You can still select Fight on the menu, but I never once felt the need to grind.

Enemy types are varied but for the most part didn’t seem all that different when it came to actual attacks. Your party on the other hand is nicely diverse, including a meaty talking sword, a gothy necromancer, a crazy old man healer and even a fire dragon at the end that lets you fly around the world map like an airship. Picking the right combination to maximize your abilities is a fun tool to play with throughout the adventure.

Cutscenes help flesh out the action and the writing stays fun and funny throughout, but all the action takes place in stock pictures overlayed on a black screen. Cthulhu Saves the World wears its indie budget proudly on its sleeve and while charming, I can’t wait to see what they can do with a bigger budget and several more years worth of gameplay design under their belts.

Pros

  • Funny writing that made me laugh out loud several times
  • Tons of skills and options in combat, including Tech, Magic and Unite attacks
  • Lots of varied areas and dungeon types
  • Perfect length

Cons

  • Combat is mostly crunching numbers
  • Reverse difficulty curve; difficult in the beginning, fairly easy at the end
  • Side content is limited to a few optional dungeons

Final Say: A cleverly written, lovingly retro-styled JRPG starring everyone’s favorite elder god.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Portal 2

I’ve finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts on my gaming blog, and enjoy the excerpt below.

It’s tough to make sequels to beloved games, especially clever puzzle games with an intriguing, mysterious world that’s peeled back over the course of several hours. I loved Portal when I first played it last year to kick off Season Four of Rogue’s Adventures, and now I began Season Five with the even more beloved Portal 2.

Portal 2 shoves you, the mute protagonist that might as well be Gordon Freeman (side note: I find it funny when Chell is propped up as a great heroine, she has zero lines or personality, and same thing with Gordon Freeman as a hero – both are simply camera lenses for the player), back into the massively underground Aperture Laboratory. You’re given a rude awakening by new character Wheatley, who’s eventually revealed to be the personality core you forcibly removed from GLaDOS in the first game in a funny bit of retconning.

Wheatley, fantastically voiced by the very British Stephen Merchant, serves as your initial guide in trying to escape the lab. The illusion of the lab as anything other than a creepy science prison was shattered in the first game, so the story delves further into the history of Aperture and lets us see even more of the cool behind-the-scenes machinations that were teased so effectively in Portal.

Read the full Final Thoughts on my Game Informer blog >>

2014: My Year In Gaming

Two Thousand Fourteen! I spent most of the year editing and writing for gaming site Leviathyn, got through another two seasons of Rogue’s Adventures, did a ton of live streaming and video content, began freelance writing for multiple game sites and finally bought a Wii U – all while still blogging here on Game Informer (I also started my own personal blog at roguewatson.wordpress.com).

2014 was a weird year for games. I predicted a huge year with exciting new franchises a la 2007, but instead we got mostly middling disappointment and sequels. However the indie game scene is stronger than ever, and thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, more and more developers are finding success making some really wonderful games. And I played a ton of ’em.

I’m also a big organizational nerd, which is to say I love making charts and lists, and this end of year recap is the grand daddy of them all. Or rather, it’s the love child of a year’s worth of note-taking of games I acquired, played, beat and/or 100% completed. Sites like Raptr.com and Backloggery.com help immensely, and you can see my year-end breakdown from Backloggery below:

That’s 68 New Games versus 50 Beaten and/or Completed ones – Not great! Interestingly I beat almost the same number of games as last year, but I acquired many, many more. I’m presuming it’s a combination of steam sales and review copies. Either way, despite playing through my backlog dutifully via Rogue’s Adventures, I ended up adding even more onto the pile. What a terribly glorious problem to have.

Anyway, let’s get to the month by month breakdown! As always I’ll give a brief rundown of the games I played, as well as the backlogged games I finished for Rogue’s Adventures (as well as links to my written Final Thoughts).

Read the full month-by-month breakdown over on Game Informer >>

Rogue’s Adventures Season Four Recap

For more on my backlog group, click on the Rogue’s Adventures tab at the top.

Season 4 collage

Hope everyone had a very happy holiday season, and soon a happy new year. I’m having to sneak my latest recap right between Christmas and New Year’s as I only just finished my latest backlogged game – Saints Row IV, mere days before Christmas.

For newcomers this is the bi-annual recap I give for Rogue’s Adventures, my social backlog group. I create a schedule of games from my backlog (usually about six months worth), writing my Final Thoughts for each game I complete, as well as live tweeting and streaming my gameplay. At the end of each season I write up a recap to go over each game I played, link to each Final Thoughts, rank the games and break down some fun stats.

If Season Four had a theme, it was mostly joined by more recent games. Other than Beyond Good & Evil, a cult favorite from 2003, every game was released in the last few years. The Banner Saga was even released earlier this year. This made Rogue’s Adventures much more relevant and interesting compared to the first season when I mostly played old 90s adventure games. I was also able to play two of the games on here cooperatively with friends, which was an absolute blast, and two more a friend of mine played them right before so we were able to discuss while playing them. Live streaming and videos were obviously a bit more popular as well.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point were most of my backlog are newer games. I have nothing to buy on GoG sales because I feel comfortably caught up on most older stuff from the 90s and early 2000s, but I can and do take advantage of Steam sales rewarding my patience for games that are only a few years or few months old.

For example, with the current Steam holiday sale running right now, I was able to grab Assassin’s Creed IV ($10), South Park The Stick of Truth ($13), Might & Magic X ($7) and Portal 2 ($4) among others. Two of those were released earlier this year and are now crazy cheap with just a bit of patience. Gotta love PC gaming.

Read the full Recap on my blog on Gamer Informer >>

Final Thoughts – The Swapper

I’ve finished another backlogged game from the excellent Humble Indie Bundle I purchased earlier this year thanks to Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts on my gaming blog, and enjoy the excerpt below.

the swapper cover

Rogue’s Adventures has introduced me to a lot of non-violent puzzle games, especially in the last year – Antichamber, Fez, Portal, etc. The Swapper is absolutely the best of the bunch (yes, I enjoyed it more than Portal, I generally prefer 2D to 3D with my puzzle games) and is also one of the few games with a foreboding sci-fi horror theme that is never actually reaches heightened stages of horror. A friend of mine put it succinctly: It’s like the first 15 minutes of a sci-fi horror film where we’re delving into the danger before *** hits the fan, extrapolated over a five hour game.

To me that pervading sense of dread and curiosity without having to feel scared of zombies or aliens jumping out at me is a huge plus, and something I rarely get to experience in games. I really don’t do horror games and The Swapper’s emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration while still maintaining its creepy atmosphere of What Went Wrong was wonderful to experience.

 

Read the full Final Thoughts over on Game Informer >>