Pokémon: Unite

You can skip Pokémon: Unite, unless you’re a massive sucker for anything Pokémon related. Like I am.

For me, the ultimate test of any licensed game consists of two very simple questions:

  1. Would I play this game if it didn’t have the licensed branding?

    And
  2. Am I going to play it anyway, because I am a consumer whore?

For the best sort of licensed game, such as something like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the answer to question 1 is a solid “Yes.” This is something I can say with confidence because I’ve been playing a bunch of Shiren the Wanderer, and it kicks ass. Then we have stuff like Pokken, which is more of a “Sorta,”(but it’s not because the game is bad, just because I don’t really play fighting games).

On the flip side, we have games like Magic: Legends, which gets a solid double “No.”

And then in the middle, we have things like Disgaea: RPG, and, the actual topic of this article, Pokémon: Unite.

I am a sucker for pretty much anything Pokémon. This doesn’t mean I’m 100% “Consume Product,” but if there is something Pokémon related, and it doesn’t cost me money to try it, I probably will.

I’m not sure how long I’ll play Pokémon: Unite for. It honestly might be less than a week. The primary reason to play it over something else is that it’s on the Switch, it’s Pokémon themed… and that’s about it.

The main reason is that while the theming, sound, graphics, etc are charming, the gameplay itself is lacking any incredible moments, and the meta-progression/economy is absolute garbage. Also, I have some problems with its informational display, but at least my UI complaints are correctable.

Let’s start with the gameplay: Pokémon: Unite brings exactly one new interesting idea to the MOBA genre, and that is the victory condition/scoring. Instead of towers or ancients to destroy, there are a series of hoops. You gain score by collecting points, and then convert those points into score by channeling at these hoops. So the basic loop is: build up points by KOing wild Pokémon, go to a hoop, channel and score. It’s an interesting mechanic that leads to some neat tension. And that last sentence right there is a the nicest thing I’m gonna say about the game for the rest of this article.

Okay, this isn’t a great combat screenshot. The UI usually isn’t this busy, but it’s the one I have.

The rest of the game feels fairly standard, like a dumbed down version of Heroes of the Storm. There are a few different maps, with different layouts, but similar objectives. Your hero champion Pokémon have an auto-attack, two specials, an ultimate that takes 8 years to charge, and a summoner spell battle item. In either case, the end result is that in any fight, you have effectively two activatable moves, but I’ve yet to see a situation where it doesn’t feel like I’d want to just spam them. There’s no mana cost to discourage you from doing so, and the cooldowns for the moves are fairly short.

I can’t believe it’s not flash!

The end result is a game that feels bland, to the point that I’m bored with writing about how boring it can be. So let’s move on to the next part of the game that sucks: meta-progression.

Everything about the game’s meta-progression is garbage, and I can summarize why I hate the system in two sentences.

Unless you want to spend real money, unlocking a new character costs between 6000 and 10000 gold. The maximum amount of gold you can earn in a week from winning random battles is 2140.

Yes, you can get more gold from doing quests, and limited time events. Yes, you can get gold by leveling up your trainer level. Yes, you can get gold by finishing the tutorials, or doing some weird slot machine thing. It doesn’t matter. The core point is that the game is designed to be an absolute slog for grinding out the ability to play more characters, leveling up equipment, etc.

The game feels like a cheap mobile game, in the sense that it’s designed to make you log on to do your dailies, to build the habit of playing a few matches, and then leaving. Instead of having you come back for the gameplay, or exciting updates, you’ll come back because if you do for just a few more weeks, you can unlock a new character! Or you could just spend like $10, and get them right now!

Oh, and it has a premium currency, bonus boosters, a battle pass, and just about every other feasible way short of straight up gacha. The game even has a kinda gacha in its energy roulette system, but at least you can’t directly pay money for it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I have one last big gripe. Keywords, description, functionality and stats. Every attack in the game is something like this:

Secondary gripe: why do I have to confirm moves being upgraded when I get them? Just upgrade them! Don’t make me press buttons twice.

And then we have items in the game that look like this:

40 SPEED UNITS OF SPEED

Do you see it? Or perhaps more specifically, do you not see it? “It” in this case, being any sort of useful information/way to measure the actual numbers/damage/etc that your character can do in a game? Because I sure don’t. At least this one they can probably fix, but why isn’t it there already?

Pokémon: Unite isn’t awful, but it isn’t very good. There are better games to play on the Switch, better MOBAs to play in general, and better Pokémon spinoffs. If for some reason after all this, you still want to play it, it’s Switch exclusive right now, so just go find it on the eShop.

Shapez.io Review

Here comes the sun (because you’ve been playing for several hours, and now it’s morning).

I’m not sure what genre Shapez.io is, and I’m not sure it’s super relevent. You can play it here. Don’t click on that link if you have other things you need to do today.

So what is Shapez.io? The easiest thing to compare it to is Factorio, at least mechanically, in that both are about processing and making things, and will eventually turn into some form of incredible clusterfuck.

You exist on a more or less infinite grid. On this grid there are 3 things: colors, either red, blue or green, shapes of various types, and a hub. You start with access to extractors and conveyor belts. You can use these to pull shapes off the shape spawns, and bring them to your hub to collect them.

Game progression is very simple, right up until it isn’t. Each “Level” asks you to collect large amount of shapes in the hub. Level one might be squares. Level 2 might be half a square. Level 3 might be half a blue square. As you go through the levels, you unlock painters, cutters, pathing splitters, etc.

And then it’s level 17, and the game is going, “Hey, I want you to make a Christmas ornament looking thing with a green star in the middle, on top of a circle that’s half white and half red, on top of a weird half square thingy spliced with a red spiky boy”.

And if you’re me, your response will be, “Oh, that’s not too bad, let me just re-route my white pigment production from a secondary holding dock into a route where I can use it to color the halves of the circle… but first I just need to create a way to get the circle, so if I look for a shape I can split into….”

And then it’s 11:00 PM. But you’re finally producing those precious, precious ornaments.

And then you realize that you don’t have enough quarter circles to keep your circle producers running, but when you add more, you find you’re getting blocked by the routing of the waste products on non-circles from your harvesters, so you add splitters and overflow that dumps into trash to prevent that from going wrong…

And now it’s 2:00 AM.

Fuck.

This is the Shapez.io experience. Is it fun? I’m not sure. I think I need to play a bit more first to be sure. Is it satisfying? Maybe. But I’m sure it will be even more satisfying just as soon as I can increase production speed on these ornaments.

Is it compelling? Well, for me, yes.

Helltaker – Short and Sweet

This review is more in the form of a rambling recounting essay than anything else, but as per Gametrodon editorial standards (i.e. my own self enforced and designed standard that applies to myself), I’m gonna save some reading time. Helltaker is really neat, and it’s free. You can get it here. Now, back to the stories.

In Ye Olden Days, otherwise known as the 2000’s, I did not have a computer. Or to be more precise, I did not have a computer you could play games on. My family had a desktop mac, that eventually succumbed to the ravages of time, but even if the operating system had been compatible with PC gaming at the time (it wasn’t), I still wasn’t allowed to use it to play games.

Instead, any computer gaming I did at that point in time either took place at my friend’s house, or the library. And in both cases, I mostly ended up playing various weird random flash or other web browser games.

Looking back at it now, I suspect that most of the sites that I played on were primarily rips, and copies, stealing games off other sites, and then uploading them on their own. But at the time, I didn’t know this. All I really knew is that I could go to those websites, find something, and then just play it for hours.

When I see people talking about independent games these days, I don’t often hear people mention those early flash games and weird browser hybrids. Things like Minecraft, Binding of Issac, and Cave Story are pretty easy to point at. But for me, there was a massive amount of weird shit that I played that is more or less lost to time, and the fact that I can’t remember their names.

I say all of this as a lead-up to discussing Helltaker, because as a game it reminds me of those small, strange little flash games. It’s short, sweet, and polished, with a few hidden secrets. You won’t be playing it for years to come, and you’ll finish it in a day. But it sticks with you.

There’s not much point in talking extensively about Helltaker’s gameplay, as it’s a fairly simple/straightforward puzzle game where you need to get to the exit (Demon Girl) before you run out of moves. There’s also another part of the game that subverts that a bit, but most of your time in the game will be spent on the puzzles.

Also, Modeus best girl.

One of the demons from Helltaker.

Immortal Redneck – Finally Finished – Video Games!

So, I finally finished Immortal Redneck, by Crema. If the name sounds familar, it might be because they’re the folks that made Temtem. And raised a bunch of money on Kickstarter. But Immortal Redneck is their first game, and frankly, I’ve had way more fun with it.

I’ll talk later about Temtem, but for now, lets just talk about Immortal Redneck. If I had to describe it sufficiently, it’s a rogue like version of Doom, with an Egyptian theme. The game itself is fairly straightforward. You pick a starting character ALA Binding of Issac. This character determines your starting weapons, special activated ability, and usually has at least one more passive gimmick. Then you go into a pyramid, fight your way through to the stairs, go up the next level where enemies get harder until you die or get to the top. On the way to the top there are two bosses. If you get all the way to the top, or if you die, you restart, and can spend money you’ve collected on your way up to increase your hp/def/attack/unlock characters. It’s a pretty standard rogue like structure.

Here’s the thing though. If the reason you start playing Immortal Redneck is because “Oh hey, roguelike” I don’t think you’ll actually have a very good time. Most well regarded rogue-likes have an aspect of “learning” to them, and that isn’t really present in this. You don’t really construct a build. The only thing you can change about your set up as you proceed up the pyramid is your weapon load out, if you find something interesting to replace it with. The only real power-ups, “scrolls” can be good or bad, and you don’t know what they are until you pick them up.

I like Immortal Redneck overall though, because its fun. While it doesn’t follow the standard rogue like gameplay, most of the guns are a joy to play with, and just fun to shoot things with. While it does lean a bit heavily into references to pop culture with some of them, (looking at you little cricket and woolololo staff) most of them are just very satisfying to use.

In addition, the voice acting is pretty good. The only real voice lines are from the titular Immortal Redneck, but I found myself actually rather enjoying how he’s described. Making your character likable in a shooter like this seems difficult when all you can have them really do is spout one liners, but these make the redneck out as surprisingly likable.

I enjoyed Immortal Redneck, and if you like shooters I’d say give it a shot. But if you’re looking into it for the roguelike elements, it may not be your cup of tea.

The Tides Have It

I’ve decided to try to see if I can keep this blog updated twice weekly. Woo. That seems like it will be kinda tough, so I’m just gonna quickly talk about a few things about Animal Crossing New Horizons that have been bothering me. These are more or less extremely small nitpicks, and I’d suspect that overall, they’re not really worth thinking about for more then a few minutes, but they’re still interesting to me, so yeah, whatever.

Nitpick #1

You can release fish into areas of water that they didn’t come from.

Okay, so in terms of “Annoyed Complaints” I’d file this one up with there with “Zootopia is unrealistic because animals can’t talk” in terms of how much it actually matters, but the reason this bother me is really straight forward. The game doesn’t let us just kill fish by tossing them onto land to die, or whatnot, we can only release them with the implication that well, they’ll live. Despite this though, nothing stops you from chucking a sea horse into a lake pond, or a trout straight into the ocean. I’m not a fish person, it might even be that those kinds of fish can survive in those areas, but I feel like they prob wouldn’t do so hot. I dunno, really it just bothers me because the game on one hand says “No, you can’t just murder these animals” but on the other hand is like “Yeah, sure, cram that Sea Bass in that tiny lake pond. It’ll be fine!”

Nitpick #2

Going out and chopping down everything on a random mystery island isn’t just possible, the games mechanics almost encourage it.

I find this one “funnier” in the sense that I’m almost never bothered by content in video games.

There’s a subsection of the population that seems to think that Video Games are the Devil, but it seems like people thought the same thing about Rock and Roll, Dungeons and Dragons, reading Catcher In The Rye. I’m more of the opinion that “Shitty people are shitty people” and that if “The Youth” are being corrupted, its more likely that they went looking for it.

Point is, in terms of “Oh dear, the moral panic” I’m almost never bothered by content in games. Murder a dozen people? Sure! Blow up a boat? Why not. Kill your Minecraft villagers over and over again until you get one with the right recipes? Those books won’t make themselves.

The point is, simulated violence almost never bothers me, as does war, blood/gore/etc. It’s very easy to tell that it’s not “real”. However, the idea of just going to random part of a forest/island or something and just clear cutting it cause “Fuck it, it ain’t my home” actually does sorta rub me the wrong way. I feel like I was raised to have a certain respect for nature even digitally, at least as long as said nature isn’t trying to actively murder me. (That’s a different situation, more about Don’t Starve later this week maybe?)

There was an interesting post a while back on Penny Arcade that I can’t find at the moment, but more or less boiled down to the following:

  1. “It’s very hard to see people in games as real people, because eventually you’ll reach a point where they behave weirdly, or bug out, or start saying the same voice line or whatever.”
  2. But the corollary is “It’s a lot easier to make us care about dogs/cats/animals, because it’s not hard to make something that really feels like a dog.” If it wags its tail, run around, barks at stuff, you’ve pretty much nailed it. It’s way easier to make a digital dog that feels “real” then a digital person.
  3. As far as I can tell, this is how I feel about forests and wild places in Animal Crossing. They aren’t real forests, but they are real in the sense of the game, and to the characters of the game. So yeah, clear cutting a pristine bit of nature so I can have an extra axe or two feels bad.

Afterthought:

After thinking about most of this, I realized that it’s more then possible in AC to harvest wood and such without actually cutting down an entire Forest, but I still thought it was fairly interesting that I was more bothered by a game saying “You can cut down all the trees” and the message that it sends to our children. So yeah, time to get children back to playing Call of Duty, Animal Crossing teaches lessons that are far too dangerous about deforestation. Speaking of which, more about Don’t Starve later this week, a game with a VERY different game play loop, but some of the same occurrences.