Quick Thoughts: Castlevania Collection and Dragon’s Crown Pro

There was a “Retro Sale” on PSN the other day and a few titles caught my eye. There has been a nice trend of old school games getting repackaged into collections and ported to the Playstation and though we’ve seen this before, it’s become more prominent. Not only are we getting some awesome retro games you can’t get elsewhere (unless you own the original consoles and cartridges, which most of us do not [hence the retro console emulation boom]), we’re also getting retro games redone with modern graphics and I couldn’t be happier with some of these products. Not only have I picked up the NES and SNES minis, I have a retro Genesis console, a Genesis collection, I picked up Shadow of the Colossus, the Crash Trilogy and CTR, even the new Resident Evil 2 redo. One that is on my list to pick up is the remake of the Spryo Trilogy, and though it was on sale too I didn’t want to spend too much all at once. There were a few other collections of old arcade style games that I was interested in as well, but I try to limit my spending on games particularly when I’m already working my way through multiple titles. As such, I settled on the recently released Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and the upgraded Dragon’s Crown Pro.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever completed a Castlevania title. I remember playing Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse on my NES, and the Genesis title Bloodlines, but I don’t think I ever completed them. The other games on the list are all new to me.

The menu is slick, and the collection boasts eight full games. The original trilogy from the NES, Super Castlevania IV from the SNES, two Gameboy titles, the Genesis version, and the never before released in the US Kid Dracula. The games are pixel perfect, meaning they won’t fill up the entire screen and are displayed in 480p. The games run fine, but do have the same sort of clipping and hitching present in the original cartridges.

There are definitely some memorable moments here, the church with the creepy looking priest has been etched into my mind from my youth. I love the quote above, there’s actually a Black Dahlia Murder song by the same name. Castlevania is a typical platforming game, but Simon’s Quest was truly epic and was one of the first games I played with RPG elements. The third title introduced branching storylines and additional playable characters, and this feels like it was before its time. The SNES and Genesis games are better performing and slightly better looking, but overall follow the same formula. I couldn’t get into the gameboy versions… they are just terrible to look at and not satisfying to play. Kid Dracula seems fine as platformers go, but I actually like the more adult oriented games in the series, and this one is a little too cute for my liking, but overall they are cool games that everyone should at least check out if nothing else.

The collection also has a bonus digital book that is actually really cool. It tells the developer’s stories, the game’s stories and even has artwork and compares and contrasts the Japanese and US versions. I spent some time pouring through this and I think it was a nice touch.

The other game I picked up is Dragon’s Crown Pro. I played the original Dragon’s Crown on PS3 a few years back, and I remember hearing about the game being ported to the PS4 but when it launched they were still asking $40 for it which I felt was a bit much. I paid full price for the original but it was a new game and something that appealed to me so it was a no-brainer. In this case I wanted to wait for a sale, because though the game has been made to support up to 4k resolutions, I don’t have a capable TV so the only real upgrade here is that the full soundtrack was redone by an orchestra. It does seem to run smoother too, I’d attribute that to the better hardware. Either way it’s still the same game, but it was an awesome game and I’ve been having a blast playing it again. Both versions have the same trophy set, and upon inspection it turns out that the last time I earned a trophy on the PS3 was back in 2013, so it’s definitely been long enough that I don’t really remember the storyline.

Playing again has been refreshing. I remember there being some updates that occurred with the game that sounded interesting but I never went back and played it after beating it a single time through. The character I played on the PS3 was the Dwarf, so this time around I created a Fighter and have started over. It does support save game importing, but for whatever reason it was saying that it couldn’t find my save data from the PS3, so I would have had to track that down and it wasn’t worth the effort to me. I’m okay with playing the whole game through again anyway. Dragon’s Crown is essentially Golden Axe meets Diablo. It’s a side-scrolling 2D fantasy brawler that you’ll be familiar with if you ever played Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, TMNT, X-Men or countless other Arcade and Console titles. What keeps things interesting here is the fact that there is a town that serves as a central hub where you can buy and sell goods, pick up quests, modify your party of AI characters and other various activities. You’ll also get gear as you play, level up and spend skill points to customize your character. You’ll always only have one character to play, but you’ll change out the AI quite regularly, or you can go online and play with friends or strangers.

The art style is amazing, hand-drawn and slick. I love it but I’m also not easily offended. There was controversy over this game due to the depiction of its characters — women are almost always scantily clad and out of proportion, and men are also muscle bound meat heads. If you can overlook this, you’ll find a cool story with great music and voice acting, along with fun mechanics that have a lot of replay value.

The bosses in each stage get progressively more challenging, and in between story quests you’ll get side quests that require you to revisit areas you’ve already been to. Later on you’ll also gain access to branching paths that expand on previous areas and give more opportunity for stories and loot. From what I remember they had also added in an endless mode or something to that effect, and in that you can level up to ridiculous power levels. Some of the trophies require finishing all of the quests or beating certain bosses on harder difficulties in short amounts of time, so it’s a game that can potentially be played for a very long time.

The skill system is set up with various cards, and each character has their class specific abilities along with those common to all classes. A fair mix of both is probably the best course of action, but you’ll be able to tack on extra effects to your attacks along with making things you pick up give you health or extra points that translate into XP. It’s a well balanced game and each character has interesting skills, though it all really boils down to mashing the right buttons at the right times. Don’t forget to bring healing potions too!

Overall both of these games are worth their asking price, but even better on sale.

Blaugust 2019 is Coming

We’re just about fifteen days away from the beginning of August, and just like years prior our amazing starter-of-fires-under-our-asses, Belghast, has once again announced Blaugust for 2019. It’s something I’ve participated in since its inception, and thought some years have been harder than others (this year is going to be tough with my schedule), I have been proud to make it through this blogging challenge multiple times. I have signed up to be a mentor again, as I have been blogging for almost 15 years so I know what goes into it and know how discouraging it can be when traffic dips or it seems like many of the blogs you enjoy reading go dark. I also know how rewarding it can be to get involved in these community events, and since Blaugust has evolved to encompass other events like The Newbie Blogger Initiative and Developer Appreciation Week, it’s a great way to get in touch with other people who like doing this writing thing! Last year Belghast introduced a loose schedule of sorts, and this year is following the same of formula:

Rather than putting my own spin on this, I’ll just quote the man himself:

  • Blaugust Prep Week – July 28th – August 3rd: This is a time for those of us in the community who have sorta figured this blogging thing out to help get you started with some tips and tricks style posts. Additionally this is a time to sign up on the Discord and start mingling among the folks. It is designed to ease you into the month with some helpful advice.
  • Topic Brainstorming Week – August 4th – August 10th: This is a time to for mentors to throw out ideas for posts to help you when you run out of things to talk about. This is something that hits all of us and having some familiar topics to revisit often times helps to defeat the tyranny of the blank page.
  • Getting to Know You Week – August 11th – August 17th: Tell us about you and your preferences as a gamer or whatever it is you happen to like doing. This is the time to dip into the well of stories and tell us something interesting that has either happened to you or something about your specific footing in your real or digital life.
  • Developer Appreciate Week – August 18th – August 24th: This one is specifically targeted at the gamers among us, but could be re-purposed to talk about any industry. The idea is to give appreciation for some of the folks who have created the things that you love. In the past we specifically talked about publishers and game studios that create the games that we are enthralled by, but it could be authors or artists or anyone who creates something that you love. It is a good time to give some thanks.
  • Staying Motivated Week – August 25th – August 31st: The final stretch. The idea is to post some help to keep folks motivated as they run towards the finish line. Also some general tricks and tips on how you keep motivated if you are one of the more seasoned veterans of the blogging community. If you are fresh to the initiative you could talk about some of the ways you have kept yourself engaged and creating content.
  • Lessons Learned Week – September 1st – September 7th: A reminder that the goal is to refresh the content creators out there and not necessarily to run a sprint. Some folks are going to cross the finish line and immediately go dormant for awhile, and others are going to want to talk about the experience. Creating a space to hold those discussions and hopefully keep folks from dropping off the face of the earth immediately following the event.

I tend to do my own thing during Blaugust, which essentially amounts to what I would already be doing, just amplified due to the increase in posts. This year has been a down year for blogging as most months I have barely reached ten posts. However I know that this event has always been good for me and my writing mojo, so it will be a challenge but one that I’m up to facing. I have pushed myself to get all thirty one posts out for a few years now, and I have noticed that my output remains higher than normal for the following months. The only reason I’ve slacked off a bit this year is due to a graveyard schedule fucking up any sort of semblance of a normal schedule for me, but I have been slowly but surely ramping up and I think I’ll be able to persevere to round out the summer.

The two major links you’ll need to get started are here:

  • The Sign-Up form for Blaugust 2019 can be found here. Only those who have signed up will be given credit towards the awards.
  • The Invite Link to the Blaugust Discord can be found here. Participation in the Discord is entirely optional.

The Discord has been a great way to connect with other bloggers and chat about things outside of writing, but if nothing else it’s a great place to share your content to more eyeballs. You should also head over to that sign-up form if you plan to participate, otherwise Belghast might miss you for his tracking purposes. Hope to see you all writing away next month!

TWR: The Game Knights Effect

I titled this post “The Game Knights Effect” because it was something the guys over at The Command Zone podcast mentioned in a recent show, where they were talking about how people watch their sub-series “Game Knights” and often times that seems to effect stats of the commanders that they play during the show over on EDHREC. Basically, when they pull out one of the new commanders and brew around it, people who watch the game play thereby get inspired and want to build their own versions of that deck, so there is a spike in that commander’s deck stats on the popular aggregate site. Funnily enough, I then watched one of the recent Game Knights episodes, where the guys were covering Modern Horizons and created some decks with new legendary creatures. Jimmy was playing a version of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and I really loved what his deck could do during the episode. Not only did he have some of the more splashier plays, but the deck was built solely around graveyard shenanigans and outside of some reanimator strategies I haven’t really built a deck of this style. I also haven’t found the right Golgari commander for me, and since this one appealed so much I decided to go ahead and make my own brew. Let’s take a look at our general:

The basic stats are pretty good on this card. Hogaak is an 8/8 with trample for 7 CMC. That’s not really enough to outright win games but he’s a solid beater for a decent price. What makes him unique to date, is that first line of text that reads “you can’t spend mana to cast this spell.” Of course, that would make this card useless by itself, so of course we can pay for him with two other keywords: Convoke and Delve. The former allows you to tap creatures to pay mana for him, and the latter lets you exile cards from your graveyard to pay the mana instead. Another nice feature is that he is able to be cast from the graveyard, so there is no need to ever pay commander tax unless someone exiles your graveyard and you have to move him back to the command zone. Obviously this is the kind of deck that not only wants to make cheap creatures in order to convoke, but also wants to manipulate the graveyard as much as possible. That means having recursion, sacrifice effects, and other graveyard friendly keywords. As such, I utilized Gatherer and EDHREC to throw this build together, starting first with delve searches, and then diving into dredge as well. It turns out there isn’t a lot of cards with those abilities in these colors, but I took what I felt would work best, along with some great Golgari staples printed in recent sets, and a few hidden gems. That along with the base that Jimmy made for me, and I have a deck that looks pretty solid, doesn’t cost too much and should be fun to play!

Graveyard Manipulation:

There’s a lot here so I’m not going to go over the individual cards. Suffice to say that everything I put into the deck should have some sort of synergy with our overall game plan. The name of the game is self milling, and that means dumping cards into our graveyard by either using tutors like Buried Alive or Entomb, or sacrificing creatures to Altar of Dementia. Most of the cards that give us some selection like Grisly Salvage or Satyr Wayfinder dump the excess cards into our graveyard, so we can put the spells into our hand and creatures into the graveyard just to cheat them back into play. We can also do the same sorts of things with land. The Gitrog Monster forces us to dump lands but also allows us to play an extra per turn, and if we have Crucible of Worlds out, we can throw them right back onto the battlefield. We also have a ton of cards that will check the graveyard for an amount of creatures or lands and then recur them or give us a benefit for doing so. We want to be moving cards from zone to zone often, because it will allow us to draw cards or trigger other effects that will help us maintain a dominant board state.

Recursion:

Our recursion package is set to get lands and creatures back at a rapid clip. Bonus, if we are targeting creatures like Avenger of Zendikar or Deep Forest Hermit, we’ll get a bunch of ETB token creation triggers to boot, and those are great sacrifice fodder to get our engine going. Use an Eternal Witness to bring back Avenger, and then sacrifice it to get another benefit, then bring it back the next turn with Genesis in our graveyard! There are shenanigans to be had and it’s such a different style than I’m used to — but I love a good value engine.

Other Tools:

We’ll want to use these cards in different scenarios differently, but overall our goal is to draw cards off of sacrificial lambs, play things from the graveyard, and then get more triggers to keep the cycle going. Most of the inclusions should be self-explanatory at this point, most have effects that will be beneficial to recur over and over again. There’s a pretty standard Golgari removal package included, and overall I think it will be pretty solid. Something I haven’t tried before, so some testing will be required. I’ll get back to you on this one. You can see the full deck list here.

Thoughts on Detroit: Become Human

Sony announced this month’s lineup of free games via their Playstation Plus service, and it was lackluster at best. One arcade racing game reminiscent of, I don’t know, Pole Position? And a Soccer game that wasn’t FIFA, not that I’d care either way — nobody likes Soccer. There must have been some sort of critical mass of outrage thrown at them, because at the last moment they swapped out PES 2019 for Detroit: Become Human. Konami wasn’t even told it was going to happen. Nonetheless, I was more interested in trying out a newer Sci-Fi game rather than boring ol’ Futbol so I went ahead and downloaded it. I should mention too that the other game, Horizon Chase Turbo is actually pretty fun, but that’s all I’m saying at this juncture.

Detroit: Become Human was hyped up before its release. I remember hearing good things about it, but from video it didn’t really appeal to me and honestly I would have never played it were it not for getting it for free. Apparently, I was wrong when I judged this game by its cover, because it appealed to me on many different levels.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of narrative, story-rich games that don’t necessarily have a lot of game play so to speak. These types of games range from adventure titles to interactive story books. I’ve been a fan of some of the TellTale Games series, though now that the company is defunct it’s unlikely we’ll see more of those unless another company picks up the reigns. Another recent game of this style The Council was very good and had basically no game play whatsoever — yet the story was intriguing enough that simply controlling a character through a story arc and making some minor decisions was fine by me. Detroit: Become Human lines up pretty well with this assessment — I’d go out on a limb and call it a QTE game, because outside of dialogue all of the action is controlled by various timed button presses and other motions with the controller. Honestly this is one of the first games I’ve seen that uses the controller motion technology along with the touch pad on top of the normal controls — that part was pretty cool, but also kind of annoying at times.

Graphically the game looks amazing. I honestly think it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the Playstation 4, top five at least. The animations were stellar, there was no hitching, it ran well, looked beautiful and contained more heart than I would have expected. As the story goes, it’s the middle of the 21st century and Androids have become a large part of human society. They perform tasks that many would not want to do for themselves, including cleaning, manual labor, and even taking care of their own children. It seems that they are the perfect utility machine for everyone, and affordable enough for the average family to own one. Ironic that the game takes place wholly in Detroit, Michigan, a city that was known for its prosperity during the automotive boom of the 1900’s, but is more known as a ran down and broken city in more recent years. It seems to have regained its prominence in the nation in this game however, as these Androids are all created here in the city by a company called Cyber Life.

I honestly cannot go further into the story because it has so many branching pathways and spoilers that I’d have to play through it a couple more times in order to see everything. I don’t want to spoil that for you if you haven’t yet played it. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did, and I played through it in just a couple of days which isn’t something that usually happens with me and games these days. The story is compelling — you’ll take control of several different Androids with different agendas and there are plot twists and turns along the way. Fuck up on some QTEs? You’ll have to live with the consequences (I did earn a trophy for not losing a single fight throughout the entire game). The same goes for your dialogue decisions. Things will happen, and it will be your choice how they happen. Just don’t expect everyone to like your choices.

If you have a PS4 I highly recommend you download this game right now and play it. Definitely for fans of Sci-Fi stories with artificial intelligence, detective work, dystopian futures, the love of a family, hero’s journeys and freedom.

TWR: New 2020 Build: Kykar

Core Set 2020 just finished being spoiled and hasn’t even been released yet, but I couldn’t wait to brew around one of the new legendary creatures. I wouldn’t say that it’s the color combination, because Jeskai is definitely not as effective as Grixis or Esper, but we’ll take what we can get when we have such a cool commander to build around. I’ve made several other brews that featured token strategies, but this one feels like the ultimate token commander that doesn’t really want to turn creatures sideways. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but check him out and we’ll talk about it:

Kykar is a new Bird Wizard that is trying to compete with other famous Bird Wizards like Derevi. We won’t know if he’ll be as competitive until the community gets their hands on it, but I’m still excited to sling some spells and smash face with some tokens. Kykar is a 3/3 for 4 CMC that has flying, but has the triggered effect of creating 1/1 flying spirits every time you cast a non-creature spell. Bonus, you can sacrifice spirits for 1R, which means if you’re making a ton of tokens you’ll be able to make some extra mana to cast more spells to make more tokens. But I think we can take it further than that with a bunch of ways to make tokens, and hell, we might as well use Divine Visitation and turn those 1/1’s into 4/4 angels while we’re at it! This isn’t the first time I’ve brewed a token focused deck, nor is it the first time I’ve put together a spell slinger deck, but this combines the best of both worlds and I think suits my playstyle pretty well. First up, let’s look at our token strategy:

Token Strategy:

Not only does our commander create tokens by casting non-creature spells, but there are plenty of other creatures in the deck that also trigger token generation from casting instants or sorceries. These aren’t new cards, and I’ve talked about most of them in the past. Basically, with or without your commander you should be getting tokens off of each of your spells cast, and then we have some additional support. Mentor of the Meek can draw us cards for an extra mana per spell (the tokens will trigger his ability), while Impact Tremors will do a damage to each opponent for each token generated. Anointed Procession will double up our tokens and if we have Divine Visitation out then our 1/1’s are suddenly 4/4’s and we’re swinging for lethal pretty quickly. Lastly, Metallurgic Summonings isn’t going to make us too many big tokens due to the deck being pretty low to the ground, but it can still supplement us with some 3/3’s and 4/4’s and that’s not nothing.

Spell Slinging Strategy:

A selection of cards here that support the spell slinging portion of the deck (though the two ideas feed each other well). Guttersnipe can do some nice damage to all opponents if left alone for long enough, while Niblis of Frost can tap down blockers and threats alike after casting spells. Taigam protects our instants and sorceries from counter magic, and can also give our spells rebound if we time them properly. Narset lets us filter through the top of our library for a needed spell, while Ral does damage for casting spells and can let us copy them periodically. Past in Flames is nice recursion for spells and can set up an explosive turn, while Electrodominance does some damage and gets a spell cast for free. Lastly, Jeskai Ascendancy fits both strategies as when we cast spells, we get a small anthem along with getting to loot. Start stacking some of these effects, and your one mana cantrips can a whole bunch more.

Other Synergy:

Our support package provides some utility that can be abused with some of our other strategies. The brand new Tribute Mage from Modern Horizons is great for searching up some of our mana rocks, but was put into the deck to specifically tutor our Isochron Scepter. Trinket mage is there to tutor Skullclamp (to use on our tokens to draw more cards) but can alternatively grab a Sol Ring. You can then use Mystical Tutor to grab Dramatic Reversal (or something else if the circumstances call for it) and use Enlightened tutor to grab a Basalt Monolith for the infinite mana combo. Smothering Tithe and Rhystic Study will help us get more cards and more mana which is always a good thing in these kinds of decks. Last on the tutor front, we have Plea For Guidance which can grab Anointed Procession and Divine Visitation at the same time, or whatever else is needed at the time. Lastly, we have three wheel spells that were included specifically because of the new Narset I linked above. Her static ability says that opponents can’t draw more than one card per turn, so if she’s on the board and we cast one of these spells, our opponents will dump their hand and get one card, while we’ll get the full hand. Card advantage for the win!

Otherwise the deck has a pretty standard land base and most of the spells are removal, counterspells and cantrip or draw spells. You can see the full decklist here.