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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Terraria review!

Ah, Terraria. The game whose title can be pronounced in two different ways: You can either pronounce it like a pirate ("ter-ARR-ia") or you can pronounce the way I do ("ter-RARE-ia"). It's a game I have mentioned a few times on this blog and never bothered reviewing it, so that's what we're doing today.

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But what exactly is Terraria? At first glance, it appears to be a shameless clone of the overnight classic Minecraft. In reality, it's a 2D sidescrolling platformer/action-adventure hybrid with elements from both the RPG genre and the Survival Simulator genre with randomly generated worlds released all the way back in 2011 by developers Re-Logic, Engine Software, and 505 Games. Terraria has been continuously updated and ported to newer consoles and has garnered quite the following. Oh, and the game is filled to the brim with tons of pop culture references. In other words, almost the exact opposite of Minecraft. Almost.

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Terraria is interesting because it doesn't have a set story at all, aside from some minor lore such as the Old Man's Curse and the NPC interactions. And while I am a bit of a story junkie, a nonexistent story isn't enough to kill my enjoyment of a game. In fact, Terraria's lack of a fixed narrative is actually beneficial, as it lets you the player plan out your goals and ambitions at your own pace, and should you feel like using your imagination a bit, can come up with some silly justification for your activities. Like digging a tunnel all the way down to another plane of existence known as Underworld to go slay a hideous monster called the Wall of Flesh so you can unleash the spirits of light and darkness upon the mortal realm all in the name of becoming more powerful! Or building the world's most awesome looking fortress! Or building a town populated by the various NPCs that help you on your adventure! Or just fighting six bosses simultaneously just to prove how awesome you are to your friends and family! SO MANY POSSIBILITIES!!!

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So the main aspect of Terraria is a Monster Hunter style loop of collecting materials, using said materials to craft weapons, armor, and stuff to make your base of operations (which you must build, by hand, yourself) look infinitely cooler, and fighting bosses to gain access to rarer, more valuable materials and repeating the process until you are ridiculously overpowered and have conquered every boss in the game. Or until your base looks excessively awesome. Whichever suits your playstyle.

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Now Terraria has one of the best combat systems in a video game ever, at least in my opinion. You can equip your character (whom you can create and customize at the start of the game) with various armors and weapons to alter your stats to your heart's content. There are several different weapon types that each have their own properties, such as projectile weapons have incredible range but balanced by having limited ammo, which you can either craft with the right materials or buy from the NPCs that will move into your base as you progress through the game. Magic weapons don't have as much range as projectiles, but have infinite ammo and depending on the weapon, can have additional effects like lowering the target's stats, with the only real downside being the magic gauge (represented as a column of blue stars) putting your magical weapons on a cool-down period if you over use them. And finally, Melee weapons don't have ammo or a Magic gauge restricting them, with the trade off being most of them having terrible range (exceptions include Flails and Spears). It gets crazier later on in the game when you gain access to rarer materials and can craft armor that actually boosts your stats if you use a specific weapon type, such as boosting the power of weapons that use bullets as ammo. Additionally, you can equip four Accessories that offer passive abilities, such as an immunity to fall damage or a double jump, that can be used to further refine your playstyle. And finally, you can drink potions for various effects. Some potions are tried and true RPG staples (healing potions, speed boosts, etc), while others, such as the rather infamous Gravitation potion -which reverses the flow of gravity for a few moments- are a little crazier. I love the amount of variety and customizability, as it basically guarantees there is something for everyone.

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Terraria's randomly generated worlds play host to some seriously nasty monsters, some more dangerous than others. A prime example of this are the bosses, and there are plenty of them. Like the one pictured above, Skeletron. The boss battles are exciting and nerve-racking, even if some of them can be cheesed with enough preparation. Namely the Eye of Cthulhu (the name of which is a reference to the legendary horror icon created by H.B. Lovecraft), Which leads to one of the few gripes I have with this game. Either you go in a fight so horrendously underprepared that you die over and over and over, or you are so OVER-prepared that there is literally no challenge at all. Very rarely are you prepared enough you stand a decent chance at defeating whichever foe you are facing off against, while still running the risk of dying (Example, when I first fought Skeletron, I died twice, and only just barely beat him the third time. I have yet to have another clutch victory like that, because I am too overpowered at the moment). So even though it is very enticing to update your gear the moment you can, I suggest holding off on getting better gear until the difficulty starts catching up with you (aka when you start having trouble with regular enemies, let alone bosses). Or you can play with friends who have really O.P. gear and have them carry you through the game. They have a multiplayer co-op mode for a reason, you know.

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A small, but amusing attention to detail is how
every time you die, a tombstone appears. Clicking it 
will let you read the writing on itwhich will describe 
in comically violent detail how you died last time. 
Sure, it's pretty dark, but you can't deny there's something funny
about the game going out of it's way to remind players how they 
died and even marking the exact spot where they died.

Now combat isn't the only thing you can do in Terraria. After all, people wouldn't be arguing over whether this game or Minecraft is better if it weren't for the building and crafting systems. Now, I thoroughly believe that there are some things that Minecraft does better, namely being able to build in 3 dimensions gives Minecraft an edge in the building department. However, Terraria has two things that Minecraft will probably never have: Firstly, sloped blocks that help builds look less blocky. And secondly, ACTUAL FURNITURE!!!! You see, doing interior design in Minecraft is tricky because there aren't actual furnishings in that game, minus the bed, which leads to folks slapping signposts on staircases to make it resemble a chair. Terraria on the other hand has craftable tables, chairs, chandeliers, sofas, beds, clocks, weapon displays, and much more. And even though it loses an opportunity for 3d builds by being 2d, Terraria's 16-bit artstyle practically begs you to make some Pixel Art.

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Clockwise from top right: The Corruption
biome, the Crimson Biome, the Hallow biome
and the Mushroom biome

The worlds of Terraria are randomly generated, meaning you have no idea what you might find in your world until after you see it. But there are some patterns amidst the RNG Gods. Namely the world is divided into various biomes, each with their own unique resources and materials you won't find anywhere else. Of course, each biome has enemies and dangers aplenty, but hey! It's totally worth tracking down the Crimson biome to get some Shadewood even though you'll probably get eaten by bloodthirsty monsters if you aren't careful. Speaking of which, if you are playing in Hard Mode (unlocked by going down to Underworld, slaying the Wall of Flesh, and unleashing the spirits of light and darkness upon the mortal realm), the more evil biomes (that is, The Crimson, the Corruption, and the Hallow) will spread across your world and override any preexisting biomes. This will, in turn, up the difficulty even higher than normal due to those biomes being inherently more challenging than the other biomes.

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Something impressive about the game's soundtrack is how every single biome has it's own unique theme music. Even the underground variations are unique! And not only are they unique, the set the tone for each biome perfectly. The Forest theme is warm and welcoming, which not only is perfect because it's probably going to be the first biome you see when you load up a new world, but it kind of belies the fact that Terraria is a game filled to the brim with tons of nasties wanting to kill you. The Desert theme sounds like you're going on a grand adventure, and the Crimson theme instills a sense of unease and dread, almost as if to give a warning to the player that they shouldn't be there. My only gripe is how they often reuse tracks for bosses. Namely, the Eye of Cthulhu, the Eater of Worlds, Skeletron (and Skeletron's *Machine form, Skeletron Prime), Duke Fishron, AND King Slime share the same theme! The only bosses with unique themes are Plantera and Moon Lord (the latter of whom is currently the final boss, but that is subject to change because the Wall of Flesh used to be the final boss, but then came the Machines, and then came Duke Fishron, and THEN came Moon Lord).

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You can create your own character, and change
the hair, hair color, eye color, gender, shirt, undershirt,
pants, and shoes. Unfortunately those last four are 
almost always covered up by armor.

As for visuals, Terraria has a nice 16-bit artstyle that not only is very appealing to the eye, but again going back to the biomes, each biome not only looks but feels unique and even have unique themes running through them, like how the Snowy Biome has a pleasant Christmas theme, or how the Corruption is based of disease and well, corruption, the Crimson is based off of horror, and the Hallow draws inspiration from fairy tales. The sprites for everyone (players, NPCs, and enemies) are also nice, but the main focus is on the bosses, whose designs vary from grotesque (The Eye of Cthulhu, Wall of Flesh, etc) to bizarre (Duke Fishron, Plantera, etc). The armor and weapons also each sport unique designs, which is impressive considering there are over 300 DIFFERENT ARMORS AND WEAPONS. That's THREE-ZERO-ZERO!!! Three times as much as one hundred! And the consoles haven't hit update 1.3 (which added new enemies, craftables, and gear)  yet which means that when that update arrives on the consoles there's going to be even MORE armor and weapons! But anyway, while on the subject of armor, if you don't like the way a specific armor piece or Accessory looks, you can put a better looking piece/Accessory in one of seven Vanity Slots (three for armor, four for Accessories), which will alter your character's appearance, but stats and abilities are completely unaffected.

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But I already know the question forming on your lips. "Is Terraria better than Minecraft?". Well, that is EXTREMELY subjective. While both are good games in their own right, I personally enjoyed Terraria more, partly because of the challenging difficulty and partly because it has some of most fun bosses I've seen in a while (that is, assuming you don't cheese your way through them). Minecraft is a much more relaxing game with an emphasis on exploration and building, while Terraria is a more exciting game with an emphasis on adventure and combat. It depends entirely on what you like in a video game. If you like relaxing, exploration focused games then Minecraft is better. If you like action-packed adventures and epic battles, then Terraria is better. Or you can be like me and get BOTH games. Or be a die hard fanboy of one and shameless hate on the other. Your choice. It is a free Internet after all.

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There is only one thing I don't like about Terraria and this is the most irritating thing ever. When you save and quit, then go back to the world, instead of leaving off where you last saved, like literally every video game ever, it puts you back at your spawn point. This is all fine and dandy, if it weren't for the fact that say you last saved building a boss battle arena miles away from your headquarters. then quit. If you want to finish that arena you are going to have to hoof it all the way back. I despise this "feature" and it frustrates the ever-loving daylights out of me. With that said, I give Terraria a 9/10. If that gimmick with the save-quit-then-reload leaving you at your spawn ever single time wasn't there and the boss battles weren't so easily cheesed, I would have given it a perfect score. But Your Milage May Vary regarding the how easy it is to cheese the bosses.

*The first three bosses of the game, Eye of Cthulhu, Skeletron, and Eater of Worlds all have Machine forms you can fight in Hard Mode where they each get redesigned to look more robotic and have brand new attacks and abilities they didn't have last time, like Machine!Skeletron has a laser cannon, giving him a means of outgunning you.

P.S. Considering that Skeletron is considered by many to be one of the tougher bosses and how his Machine form can spawn randomly of his own accord (often to tear you and your friends limb from limb), I guess you could say that he has a BONE to pick with you!

P.P.S. You know, I've been playing Terraria for over two years and never once bothered creating a world with a Corruption biome somewhere. You would think that since everything in the Corruption is either blue or purple (my two favorite colors!) I would have specifically gone out of my way to get a Corruption biome in one of my worlds. You know what, I'm going to go find a Corruption biome when I publish this. #QuestforCorruption! Betcha you weren't expecting to read THAT on my blog!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Review!

Okay, so back in 2014 an indie platformer game inspired by 8-bit classics such as Mega Man, Castlevania, and Super Mario Bros 3 was released by a small dev team known as Yacht Club Games and took the world by storm, becoming so famous that the main hero of this game got one of those Amiibo figurines. So famous, in fact, that this character has went on to cameo in OTHER indie games such as Yooka-Laylee. This is the story...

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...Of Shovel Knight! And while I didn't get into the Shovel Knight craze back in 2014, my Nintendo Switch Bundle had some download codes for a remaster of Shovel Knight titled Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Now I see why so many people love the original and all the DLC it received (Yacht Club Games, you are one of the few companies that know how to do DLC right!).

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Now the thing about Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is that it has multiple story campaigns, each one starring a different Knight. You got the Shovel of Hope story, which is the MAIN story of the game. In this story, after years of fun and adventuring with his best friend/crush Shield Knight, Shovel Knight is separated from his beloved by a cursed tower. But when he learns he might be able to save her, he goes on a quest to climb The Tower Of Fate and reunite with his closest friend/crush, platforming his way through a variety of stages and duking it out with the villainous Order of No Quarter (who have turned the tower into their headquarters) in Mega Man style boss battles. It is at the end of the day a "Free the Damsel in Distress" story, but thanks to a clever plot twist that I will not spoil becomes something much more memorable. It's a perfect example of how making a plot complex is not necessarily a good thing, which is fitting for a game inspired by classics that long-time gamers might have grown up with, but today's generation aren't willing to give said classics a chance because they don't have cutting-edge graphics and tons of violence and guns and profanity and what not.

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The next story, titled Spectre of Torment, stars a vengeful edgelord ghost known as Spectre Knight. Spectre Knight's story is a prequel to the other two, and primarily exists to further clean up the already well-written lore. The story follows Spectre Knight as he recruits various Knights into the Order of No Quarter on behalf of the villain of all three stories, the Enchantress. It's notably darker and more mature in tone than the other two stories, but again, I must congratulate Yacht Club Games on making a really good prequel that ties up all the loose ends in a way that feels natural and satisfying. Unlike the Star Wars prequels which had the mentality of "Let's put all of our budget into visual effects and absolutely nothing else!".

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The final story in this remaster is titled Plague of Shadows and actually runs parallel to Shovel Knight's campaign. In Plague of Shadows, the star is the weirdly adorable Plague Knight, who, taking a page right of *Starscream's book, betrays the Order of No Quarter with the help of his equally weirdly adorable girlfriend (girlfriend as in a friend that is a girl, they are not dating during the events of Plague of Shadows...yet. #ShipFuel) so he can brew the ULTIMATE POTION!!! Why? For SCIENCE!!! It's arguably the most lighthearted of the three, and Plague Knight himself makes a good protagonist thanks to his cheerful yet obviously insane personality. Random fun fact! Plague Knight is based off a Plague Doctor. In case you don't know what a Plague Doctor is, they were doctors from back in the day who were sent to deal with populaces that have the plague. They would often wear bird-like masks that hid a variety of filters inside the "beak" that, in theory, would purify the air (keep in mind, during the time period Plague Doctors were in use, everyone thought the Plague was airborne) and would do the best they could to cure the residents of said populaces, which is difficult considering there was no definitive cure for it. The More You Know! *twinkle*

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First thing to note is that all three of the Knights have play styles so drastically different that each campaign could easily pass as their own separate game entirely (in fact the campaigns were sold separately before Treasure Trove was released!). Shovel Knight is the most simplistic of the three, as his control scheme consists literally of the control stick and two buttons (one for attacking and one for jumping). Shovel Knight's weapon is, quite obviously, a shovel, which he can use to dig up treasure (needed to buy upgrades such as extra health), slash at enemies, and the most useful trick out of his moveset is a pogo-stick jump attack that lets Shovel Knight destroy dirt blocks blocking the way or bounce on enemies. Additionally, Shovel Knight can find artifacts known as Relics which effectively let him use sub-weapons at the expense of the item/magic gauge. Some Relics are kind of overpowered (Phase Locket, how I love you so!). Shovel Knight himself plays fantastically, and personally, I recommend playing through his campaign first because Shovel Knight is perfect for beginners or people aren't good at platforming (like me). Or what you could do (and I did this when playing the game myself) is start any campaign you want, then switch to another campaign on a separate save file (the game gives you TWENTY!!!) when you inevitably rage quit (assuming, of course, you aren't good at platformers). Because even though Shovel Knight's campaign is the easiest of the three, it's still fairly challenging. Especially if you have become spoiled by how most modern games include a lengthy tutorial because low and behold, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THE THREE CAMPAIGNS has any kind of tutorial (the idea being you figure out how to play through trial and error).

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Admit it, this image looks pretty dang awesome!

Spectre Knight on the other hand is MUCH more agile than the other Knights, being able to Dash, run up walls like a flipping Naruto character, and even unlocks the ability to teleport over to enemies for a powerful slash with his Grim Reaper-esque scythe. His agility comes in handy, since Spectre of Torment possesses lots of ways to die (and Specty is already dead, so if you die that means he's deader than dead!) Spectre of Torment is considered the hardest of the three campaigns by many (I consider the other two campaigns to be harder, because Spectre Knight's Dash and Wall Run abilities make what would be some of the more difficult platforming sections more bearable). Spectre Knight was really fun to play as, thanks to the fluid controls and the emphasis on agility (I'm pretty sure he was a Naruto character in a past life. Wait...) and he's arguably my favorite out of the three.

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Plague Knight has perhaps the most unorthodox play style of the three. He can double and (technically) triple jump, something neither Shovel Knight nor Spectre Knight can do. However the most notable aspect of Plague Knight's campaign is how he can use customizable bombs and potions to help him on his quest for SCIENCE!!!! What kind of potions and bombs does he have? He can drink Health Tonics to temporarily increase his Life gauge, he can toss down smoke bombs that render him completely invincible as long as he stays within the smoke, he can cover the floor with bright pink flames, he can use the recoil from his Bomb Burst attack to triple jump (a lot of platforming challenges rely on this trick), and he can summon a giant vat of potion-y goodness to serve as a temporary platform. His unorthodox play style combined with his weirdly adorable-ness make him my favorite out of the three. The fact that he is basically the Shovel Knight universe's version of Starscream nets him bonus points in my book. Seriously, Plague Knight is basically a sillier, funnier, and more cheerful version of Starscream (I always imagine that if the Shovel Knight franchise ever had voice acting that Plague Knight would speak with Starscream's voice lol),

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Something interesting about the three campaigns is that they all share the same levels. And while Spectre Knight's version of the levels are completely overhauled to accommodate his agility, Shovel Knight and Plague Knight share the same level designs almost identically. The idea being that areas where Shovel Knight will have no problem navigating become tougher for Plague Knight and vice versa. I, personally, like the idea behind the shared level design, even though I know some folks are going to cry foul and ask why Specty's levels are so different while Plaguey's are almost identical as Shovelry's (never let me come up with nicknames ever again lol). However, here's my counter-argument to that. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is a VERY difficult game, ESPECIALLY if you are playing blind (blind as in avoiding spoilers for both story and gameplay, like I did) and don't play platforming games often enough to be legitimately good at them (like me) but on replays the game because easier because the first playthrough gave you enough practice to be at least decent at platformers. Or maybe you are already good at platformer games anyway and in that case you will probably breeze through this game.

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Tinker Knight? More like, **MEGAZORD KNIGHT!!!

By far my favorite part of the game are the boss battles. They never outstay their welcome, are satisfyingly challenging without being too unfairly difficult, they were all fun to do battle with, and it feels awesome to take down the Order of No Quarter one by one as you make your way across the land. However, going back to how Plague Knight's campaign and Shovel Knight's campaign are eerily similar to one another, all three Knights fight the same bosses, only altered slightly to keep things fresh (for example, during the first fight with Black Knight on Spectre Knight's campaign, he rides a giant turtle steed. Meanwhile, during Shovel Knight's campaign he fights Shovel Knight on foot).

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A very entertaining feature exclusive to Shovel Knight's campaign is Body Swap mode which lets you change the gender of every major character in the game (that is, Shovel Knight, Shield Knight, The Enchantress, Black Knight, and the members of the Order of No Quarter). Not only does in-game dialogue change to match the gender, but almost every character gets massive redesigns to appear either more masculine (the Enchantress becomes the Enchanter and is wearing what looks like bright purple samurai armor instead of robes) or more feminine (King Knight becomes Queen Knight and trades the red with white fur trim cape for a red-and-white ball-gown). The changes are less obvious on Shovel Knight himself (his female counterpart's helmet has smaller horns, but otherwise looks identical) and Black Knight (whose design is so androgynous that it's hard to tell if he is male or female regardless if Body Swap is in effect or not). Body Swap doesn't impact gameplay aside from changing the appearance of everyone, but it's fun for a good laugh. And it gives you an excuse to replay the game! Sadly, this feature is exclusive to Shovel Knight's story, since all the characters are locked into their canon genders during Plague of Shadows and Spectre of Torment. So now you don't have an excuse to replay the game six times over.

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As for visuals, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove basks in the nostalgic 8-bit retro style. Yet another praise I must give to Yacht Club Games is how they managed to make every stage not only look, but FEEL unique. Each stage has a unique theme going for it, from the Clockwork Tower's steampunk vibe, to the forest of deathtraps that is the Lich Yard, to a giant submarine called the Iron Whale (which is a WHALE of a time to play!). The character sprites are charming and full of life, which is impressive, because Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is completely 8-bit. The music is just as nostalgia inducing in addition to being really good even ignoring the nostalgia factor. The boss themes are also really good, partly because they are, as far as I can tell, more energetic remixes of the regular stage music.

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Before you ask why Shovel Knight is red in this
image, it's because you can customize him and 
the other Knights with different outfits.

So the question at the end of the day is, should you buy Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove? Yes. Treasure Trove is basically three games in one, all of which have been carefully crafted to pay homage of the greatest games of a by-gone era while making it worthwhile for folks who never got into the 8-bit craze. The only real flaw, if you really want to call it that, is the somewhat steep learning curve present in all three campaigns, but then again, that's how games USED to be before all this "modern games are too hand-hold-y" shenanigans.So I give Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove a 10/10.

*- Starscream is a villainous character from the Transformers franchise, famous for betraying other villains to pursue his own personal agendas, just like how Plague Knight betrayed the Order of No Quarter for the surprisingly selfish goal of creating THE ULTIMATE POTION in the name of SCIENCE!!!

**- That was a Power Rangers reference. Obviously.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention, Yacht Club Games aren't done adding content to this neo-retro masterpiece of a game. They are currently working on a FOURTH campaign starring King Knight, as well as a four-player Battle Mode which I am assuming will be some kind of PvP.

P.P.S. Using a shovel as a weapon... What a GROUND-BREAKING idea, Yacht Club Games!

P.P.P.S. I guess you could say that I had a BLAST playing as Plague Knight (because his moveset involves using bombs)!

P.P.P.P.S I know this game can cause people to rage quit, but don't throw in the TROWEL!!!