Grit and Persistence – An awesome lesson one can learn from games

I received a text from my son Grant while I was at work today.  He was incredibly excited and wanted to let me know that he had finally defeated the “Yellow Devil” from Mega Man for the NES.  If one is not familiar with that game or the lore of older NES classics in general that could be easily passed over as a “that’s nice..” moment, but the amount of effort and practice and persistence it took for him to topple that monstrosity was enormous.  That doesn’t come naturally, grit and persistence is a learned skill and you better believe you can grow and improve that skill just like any other.  The cool “thing” about persistence is that it can help in learning and mastering other skills.

So let me take a moment to brag on my boy here.  I’ve been gaming since I first saw an Atari around age 6.  It was my aunt’s old, somewhat worn-out console which she had mostly lost interest in roughly a decade earlier.  I was avidly playing during Nintendo’s empirical run through the NES and SNES days and have never been able to topple that insanely tough Yellow Devil from Mega Man.  He was my roadblock that kept me from ever finishing that game, though I really did still enjoy the game.  It became very frustrating to make it to him each time and proceed to blow every life and continue on him before having to restart.  Additionally I’ve never known anyone else personally who could tackle that tower of terror.  I think that’s a 90’s wrestling reference.. In any case, kudos to Grant for his achievement.

It is pretty easy for one to disregard the achievements of others, especially if it is not in an area or field that isn’t personally viewed as valuable or interesting.  To a non-gamer that feat probably seems pretty pointless.  It is interesting when one starts to view all of life as a learning experience, seeing what is the value and takeaway.  Pretty much everything we actively do or experience has some potential for progress, learning and life.  I cannot help but feel like the level of grit and dedication it takes for us gamers to overcome the sometimes ridiculous hurdles that game developers set before us will at least have the potential to aid us in our journey whatever we pursue.

Now let’s talk some Mega Man!

boss-select

Oh little Stage Select screen, you’ve inspired many developers over the years and have certainly come a long way…  Grant likes to take on Bombman first as he is, well… a pushover.  Don’t tell him though.. he is a bit sensitive and can pretty much spawn infinite explosives so, bad combination.

This little NES gem is one of the classics.  I found Mega Man immediately captivating as soon as the first boss robot was defeated and Mega Man equipped the fallen bot’s powers!  How awesome is that?  You actually get to use the bosses’ weapons against the other bosses!  In this lies one of the other cool aspects of this game.  Each boss is weak against one of the other bosses weapons.  What fun it is to puzzle through the game, attempting it in different orders to try and decipher which boss weapon will aid the most against other trickier bosses.  That’s right, non-linear gaming.  The player actually gets to choose the order to tackle the initial bosses.  In this first iteration of the series (which spawned MANY more) the bosses are a bit vanilla.  Bomb Man, Cut Man, Elec Man, Ice Man.. you get the idea.  It has also become the hallmark of the series to have at least 8 “Evil Robot Masters” and the original had only 6, but oh what a start it was.

met

Here we see the humble met, a long enduring enemy in the Mega Man series.  It hides in its helmet til do-gooder robots get close before spraying bullets in their direction.  These days Dr. Wily has promoted the Met race and allows them to drive heavy equipment and ride vehicles.  Progress!

The story goes that Dr. Light had created all of the robots to aid humanity, but the evil Dr. Wily stole the 6 boss robots and reprogrammed them to instead use their abilities as weapons.  Critique on humanity in general?  Perhaps.  We do have a tendency to weaponize practically everything that has ever been invented.  Maybe we will grow out of that habit eventually.  In any case, Mega Man is the only robot left with Dr. Light’s original programming to help, save and serve humanity and sets out to stop Dr. Wily’s evil plans for world domination.  Pretty short and sweet, just like the game if you can manage to get past a few tricky areas and opponents.  I personally always struggled with the slippery platforms in Ice Man’s stage and confronting Elec Man was always quite a challenge.  His attack hits a huge area and, while it is also awesome when the player gets it, it can be pretty daunting to take it away from Elec Man as he is pretty content to fry Mega Man and just keep his awesome electricity beam.

elecBeam

The elec-beam is awesome and probably the best weapon in the game in the opinion of the Plant Powered Gamers.  It sprays a large portion of the screen with shocky robot-busting destruction.  

As I mentioned the Yellow Devil was always especially tricky to me, even as an adult.  He is a weird combination of dodging mixed with a really small hit box topped off with a slathering of short window for actually damaging him.  No P-shooter spam here, it has to be very precise attacks that hit that beast.  His attacks, on the other hand, pretty much go everywhere so it is a real challenge to keep up with his very damaging attacks while trying to hit that tiny window of opportunity he presents all so briefly.  The game is really pretty smooth sailing after him, and Grant said it was practically a done deal after felling the big Yella’ beast.

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The jerk not only closes his “eye” which is his only vulnerable point, he also disassembles himself and flies back and forth across the room, much to the detriment of poor Mega man who is caught in the middle and has to dodge this nonsense.  Apparently Dr. Wily watched Star Wars before designing this guy and removed his ventilation shaft.  Good call, doc.

yuka

Those evil blocks may look innocent but don’t be fooled.  They are known as “Yuka” blocks and they appear and disappear in sequence.  The sound they make as they do their little magic act still gives me chills.  The still image just doesn’t do justice to their evil trickery.  

freezefire

Be ready for such logical usage of the various powers as freezing fire.  Hey, we are gamers after all.  We will be happy to create our own “version” of logic!

gutsman

Ah Gutsman, the first heavyweight boss to pull the ol’ Jump, stomp and make the ground shake maneuver.  Not sure if he was the first in gaming history but good luck finding a better known game in which it happens.  

While still pictures really cannot do a game justice, perhaps they give a taste of what this old but still very fun game holds in store.  It is essentially the same game in all of its iterations (1-10) as well as a few spin-offs on other consoles.  Give it a try if the chance presents itself, likely the feuding doctors and their zany creations won’t disappoint.

Images courtesy of Grant, our local Mega Man pro who can be found on YouTube (LinkPlaysGames)  and Twitch (LinkPlaysGames206).

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Are You the Ultimate Chicken? Horse Maybe?

Following is a collection of musings by the Plant Powered Gamers on the delightful pass-time of deadly parkour with friends.. digitally of course.  Sharp and pointy things hurt us real folks after all, let’s leave the rough stuff to the happy digital animals of Ultimate Chicken Horse!

Some of the greatest things in life come from “mash-ups” – peanut butter & jelly, Tom & Jerry, ice cream and waffles, the duck-billed platypus… well that’s reaching. Finally, it all culminates in the ultimate platforming player-constructed sandbox death-trap race featuring cute and nimble little animals that are also great dancers.. Ultimate Chicken Horse!

Title

Party games beware, there is a new king in town. I can barely imagine how fun it would be to bring this game up to 5-8 player capability, but at up to 4-player-generated mayhem it is a riot. The game is available on Steam and PS4 and has online multiplayer as an option. Our experience is soley with the PC version as we are not currently equipped with a PS4. While it offers various modes, the Party mode is my favorite by far. The players can select one of 12 base stages to begin altering as they see fit with their choice of helpful or hurtful place-able objects that are offered at the beginning of each round from the “party box”.

partybox

The “Party Box” holds all manor of fun ways to confound and kill your friends.. and sometimes yourself!

A bit of strategy must be used to make the level difficult enough to keep the other players from making it past one’s traps while still being manageable by the player who placed it.. though getting caught in one’s own traps is a pretty common occurrence. There are bonus points to be had for catching your “friends” in traps you placed as well as a variety of other feats. Points accumulate through each round until someone crosses the “finish line” in point totals or a set number of rounds have passed, which keeps games from dragging on too long.

hub01

So many cute animals to play as.  So many levels to choose from.  So many deadly traps awaiting in each one.  Let’s go add more, shall we?

Players may take their pick of one of the many cute animal characters and can even dress them up in cute costumes which are unlocked by collecting “?”-Boxes scattered in stages. The animals have some pretty adorable and funny sound effects and “dances” as well. The controls are a little “slippery” but I suspect this is intentional in this sort of game as it only adds to the amusement to be had when stumbling off a ledge or into a booby-trap. I am already a rather mediocre at platform games, so Grant and I have had a lot of good laughs at my mishaps. We have even made several new friends online while playing, which is a great bonus.

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The levels can get pretty deadly as the match draws close to its end.  It leads to some insanely funny, mostly-luck-based platforming stunts.  Bonus: you can pretend that you planned it all out just perfectly and you really are that amazing.. at least until the next round when you miss the first jump or give a hug to a buzz saw near the starting point.

Grant is a pretty proficient with platforming games and as such usually comes out ahead. This game will certainly sharpen one’s skills quickly, though, and I have had a fair share of wins to put under my belt.. what an odd phrase that is. I can only imagine one would need a large wrestling-style title belt in order to place things under it. I digress.. In any case, there are several recordings in the archives at Link Plays Games’ YouTube Channel, so check it out if you like! If it seems entertaining then I would strongly encourage giving it a try. Being a rather inexpensive game to begin with, getting value from it should be quite effortless and it is a perfect fit for those odd times when we catch ourselves with 15 random minutes to fill while waiting on something.

dancin

Seems like the perfect place to dance a ‘jig.  Good call, Chameleon!

paperAirplane

Ah see the racoon in his natural habitat.. flying majestically upon the top of a paper airplane, sailing to his goal at the end of the pointy-stick-filled-jungle-temple with cursed coin in tow.  Quiet now, let’s not startle him..

changinClothes

Now don’t forget to collect and wear the proper attire before heading out into the deadly levels.  Just stop in at the friendly clubhouse and see what can be found in the costume trunk!

Light and fun, give Ultimate Chicken Horse a look and see what fun a bunch of animal buddies can have when equipped with buzz-saws, crossbows and a few gallons of honey….

If you are interested in seeing a bit of gameplay footage, head on over to Grant’s YouTube Channel:  Link Plays Games

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

 

The Little Things – A Tale of Rygar’s First Victory Over the Evil Lygar, Perseverance and How Little Actions Often Matter Most.

As we approach Father’s Day this year I found myself reminiscing with Grant about great moments in gaming that I had with my dad. Now while dad wasn’t really what one might call a “gamer”, he did still enjoy some games, especially in the early days of the NES. We had an especially fond connection in regards to games in which the setting was based on the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome. That is where our tale begins today…

To say growing up in rural Alabama was a little weird for me would be quite the understatement. While gaming is a pretty widely accepted hobby these days it was mostly the realm of the “nerdy” kids at my school. I played sports and such mostly because that was what my friends enjoyed, but I never really developed much interest in it. It was great exercise, though and I’m glad I had that in my life. I liked drawing and painting and games and generally just playing imaginatively even into my teenage years. That worked its way into Role Playing Games eventually, but that is a different tale. As we approach Father’s Day I just thought I’d relay a short tale about my dad and how awesome and thoughtful he was regarding me and my rather unique interests. It’s also a fine opportunity to share one of the most unique adventure games I have ever played.

When I was small and our NES was still quite fresh I had a pretty unique way of getting games – at least I have realized in retrospect. As it was the only way I ever purchased new games it was just the way it was done at the time and never gave it much thought. Going to town was pretty unusual for us, so when I had finally mowed enough yards or raked enough leaves to be able to buy a new one I would just hand enough money to dad when he and my mom went out on a trip or date or a regular trip to the store. This was an awesome way of handling it on dad’s part as I really valued every game that I worked for and as a bonus he never failed to bring back an interesting title though he oddly avoided the “big name” games of the time. Being a fan of mythology he mostly stuck to games that seemed to be related to that genre. Trojan, Rygar and Kid Icarus were three true treasures that came out of this mutual interest we shared. Most gamers with any experience in the retro realm are probably familiar with Kid Icarus, though the other two are perhaps of less renown. Rygar, however, was one of the true hidden gems dad found for me and I still enjoy playing it on occasion today.

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Just check out those locations!  What an interesting and varied world lay before Rygar to explore.

Rygar is a side-scrolling hybridized with an isometric top down adventure game that actually has some RPG-style elements. Wow, how is that for covering all of the bases?  Rygar, the main character, actually advances in strength and toughness with each monster he defeats. This means that the player can essentially power up without limits. The downside, as a kid with no real understanding of exactly how this worked, I was constantly annoyed at how tough the bosses and even some regular enemies were and how quickly they could defeat me. It was my dad who actually figured this out. The instruction manual was a bit vague but somehow he pieced together the rather archaic information presented there and simple game-play experience and found that with a good bit of battling Rygar could take down even the bosses with ease. The problem? No save feature. That’s right – Rygar is an RPG-style adventure game that you have to complete in a single session. Once that power button has been hit (or your little brother bonks the NES with a badly thrown ball) you get to start from scratch.

As I mentioned, my dad isn’t really a gamer, but he made it a point to play games with me anyway. Looking back now as a dad myself I realize how awesome that was of him to take the time to do something as silly as playing some NES with his “weird” son when he likely had little or no interest in the game itself. It has really influenced the way I behave as a parent and how I view time with my son today. All of this culminated in the day that I beat the game for the first time with an amazing bit of help from my dad who was absolutely being the hero of the day, giving me a great “boost” but allowing his boy to nail the “slam dunk” and win the day… indulge me in sports reference!

bigbadBot

The “Big Bad Bot” himself, whom my dad found was accessible early in the game if you were a sneaky guardian of Argool…

I woke one Saturday morning when dad was about to go to work. He had gotten up early and fired up Rygar. He had found a particular enemy that I suspect was meant to be a deterrent – a tough, higher level opponent that would tell the player “you’re not strong enough yet, come back later”. Dad had fought that guy repeatedly (this is in the days of easily respawning baddies by simply moving the screen off of their spawn location. He had found this big nasty “robot dude” that shot powerful wave beams at you. They did a lot of damage and the robot took a ton of hits to defeat, but dad had been defeating him for who-knows-how-long, and had gotten to the point where Rygar had become so strong that he was able to defeat the thing with a single attack! Dad showed me his accomplishment, smiled and headed off to work simply telling me to let him know if I was able to beat Lygar (the final boss) this time around, knowing I had been struggling with that final battle each time I had made it that far.

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A few of the bosses.  Unique patterns, projectiles, movement (or in Lapis’ case, not moving from its floating platform..)!  How exciting it was to make it to each of these big baddies and how awesome it felt to take them down with all of that dad-assisted power!

No kidding, the first three bosses were beaten so quickly that I was able to simply rush through the game. The first boss went down to a single hit! Dad had really given ol’ Rygar the workout of his life and he was ready to save Argool! Rygar and I steamrolled that game with no trouble after my dad’s significant “boost”, and I was super proud to tell him how it had gone when he made it back home. I was able to repeat the trick he had shown me soon after in order to share the game’s ending with him and this simple strategy and the patience it taught me in the form of proper preparation is a lesson I value to this day both in games and reality (who says games aren’t educational?!). This is easily one of the simplest yet fondest memories I have of something cool my dad did for me. No trip to the beach or Disney World. No pony or car. Just a simple gesture of taking interest and helping me in something I was interested in, so keep that in mind all of you parents and grandparents out there. Even if the child doesn’t quite seem to comprehend in the moment, those little things we do for them as parents, those simple little choices and seemingly silly games we play along with them now could impact and influence them the rest of their lives!

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Lygar’s inner sanctum lies inside the maze of his floating castle which is itself epic.  Guarded by “shadow” versions of many of the game’s toughest enemies, it is quite a trek.  Lygar himself is no pushover as he spits.. teeth?  Thorns?  Some weird projectile.  I remember as a kid I decided they were poisonous teeth from his serpent arms, as they were obviously responsible for my repeated demise.  But not this day, Lygar!  Today he falls and Argool is freeeeeed!

Now just to make a few more notes on Rygar, I’ll link some gameplay footage on Link Plays Games YouTube channel for those interested. Don’t be deceived by the games old, pixelated style as it’s quite a lot of fun. It is simple at a glance but involves a fair amount of searching and some of the NPCs offer legitimately useful clues which was sadly rare in those days of yesteryear. It is reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda in that the world is quite open and the player is left to find their way around. Some areas are restricted by items needed to access them, which keeps the player in safer zones until Rygar has toughened up sufficiently but from my experience one can move much faster than the game may expect and it is not hard to find oneself tackling enemies and especially bosses that are nearly impossible to defeat without a bit of “grinding” to increase Tone which is Rygars measure of attack power and Last, his measure of toughness (how many health bubbles Rygar has).

Rygar’s weapon of choice is certainly unique.  Now I have heard the rumor that yo-yos were originally used as weapons and while I am no historian and not particularly interested in weapons and warfare in general I sadly cannot discount the tendency for humans to weaponize pretty much anything (remember that catapult in Monty Python.. they weaponize a cow for goodness sakes!).  If those ancient yo-yo-weapons were anything like Rygar’s diskarmor, I’ll believe it though.  He makes it look quite deadly at his side and can whip it with startling speed.  It is really cool to see some variation on the typical weapons used in games at that time in any case and it makes for a cool visual.

Rygar must navigate his way around the world and battle past the five bosses in the world in order to access the various tools and powers needed to be able to assault Lygar’s floating fortress – which at the time of the games making was a site to behold. That level’s rather sinister and anxious music is still pretty firmly embedded in my mind from those early years of assaulting that maze-like castle.

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Sinister floating castle that is viewable early in the game from the tallest tower in the first bosses domain yet still unreachable til the game is near complete?  Epic NES foreshadowing, check!

I cannot say that there is a tremendous need to practice so much as patience to power up Rygar. In today’s world of save-states it isn’t as much of a problem, as one can actually pick up when convenient at the point previously reached but when the game was originally released this was a major limiting factor! Count your blessings fellow gamers. It is also the first “metroid-vania” style game I ever played, requiring a fair amount of backtracking over previously visited areas after different items had been gained.  It also had a pretty unique “hub-world” which the player doesn’t actually begin from, instead having to battle through the games first few sections in order to reach it.  This is the first game I had ever played which used the “tutorial stage” setup, in which the game is learned in the first area and allows for experimentation without tremendous potential for loss.  As Rygar works his way along those beginning cliffs and mountains, checking doors, caves and often reaching dead ends, the game also hints at the fact that it is going to require a bit of searching and exploring to find the correct paths.  All in all it is well worth the effort and Argool and Rygar will thank you for your effort in all of their 8-bit glory (think pixelated doves and rainbows.. majestic).

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Thought I was kidding?  Proof.  Enjoy.  Majestic.  It’s the friggin’ door of peace, respect it!  Lygar was the last joker to try closing it and you heard what happened to that guy, right?

The Plant-Powered Gamers strongly recommend giving the game a try if you ever have the chance.

Dad, thanks for being awesome. Happy Father’s Day.

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Spelunky – One Hundred Ways to Die While Treasure Hunting.

SpelunkyMossmouth August 2013

Rogue-like, Adventure, Platformer

One of the first Arcade games that I ever played that truly captured my imagination was titled “Jungle Hunt”. It is pretty similar to the likely more popular Pitfall which is often referred to as one of the best titles on the Atari 2600. It wasn’t just some little guy avoiding ghosts and eating pellets and it wasn’t a wonky spaceship with poor steering trying to stop an alien invasion. This game took the player on a literal adventure through the digital jungle, swinging and jumping from vines, swimming in a crocodile filled river, jumping over and ducking boulders and even avoiding the spears of angry natives. Of course this was all to save “the girl” who had been abducted and was about to become soup. Sure it may be a simple twist on a cliche’ but hey, this was the 80s and I suppose we have to give ourselves some credit for progress in game design over the last 30 years or so.

JungleHunt

Jungle Hunt; Atari 2600 – Adventure Gaming history in the making.

Pitfall

Pitfall; Atari 2600 – Jump snakes, barrels and scorpions!  Stand on crocodile heads!  Swing on Vines! 

If ever a game brought back that sense of unexpected adventure in a truly deadly package, I would have to nominate Spelunky. It really has the same flavor as Pitfall and Jungle Hunt to me, with unexpected adventure, treasure and surprises at every turn.

Mine01

The little explorer is in luck today, gold bars lay just inside the entryway.  Surely luck is on his side today!

The player chooses one of the characters to use, though as far as I can tell there is no difference beyond appearance. There are several unlockable characters as well which gives one the fun challenge of rescuing fellow adventurers that appear to have fallen prey to the mines. The player must run, jump and whip their way through the obstacles, very “Indiana Jones” style but with likely far less success. There is even a “damsel” to rescue, though checking the options menu it is actually possible to save a ugly-cute pug dog instead which I find awesome and hilarious. He even makes funny whining sounds when you get close! Rescuing the “damsel” gives a bonus health at the end of each level, so it is quite worthwhile in a game that can be pretty cruel at times. That bonus health can provide a nice pad that keeps one from having to restart completely.

shop

I generally buy ALL THE BOMBS!!!  They are actually multi-purpose tools that have al kinds of benefits if one stays well stocked.  Great for “bustin'” booby-traps, diggin’ out treasure and even killing the occasional bus-sized frog.

As the player progresses through the level there is loads of treasure to collect. The game begins with a few bombs in the inventory which can be used not only to access areas that have been blocked off but also to dig treasure out of the walls, floor or ceiling. A shopkeeper inhabits many areas as well and he can sell everything from extra bombs, guns, machetes, spins of a weird prize wheel and a time or two I have even found a “kissing shop” that let you pay $8000 for a lick from the pug.. or I suppose a kiss from the lady. It’s a bonus health either way, one just likely contains fewer germs. Dogs have really great oral hygiene after all.

Damsel in distress?  I’ll pass, gimme puggy-lovins!  Truly “explorer’s best friend”.

want_to_be_saved

What’s wrong boy?  I’m gonna saaaaaaaaave ya!  (Dies 10 seconds later, dropping puppy into spider den…)

Ghost

Steer clear of this cheapskate.  The ghost appears if you linger too long in a level and he “one-hits” like nobody’s business.  He kind of works like a timer that you can run from, but still ensures that the level cannot be picked clean as there is simply not enough time.

Of course being a “rogue-like” the stages are randomly generated and every play-through is somewhat different. The levels to progress in the same pattern, though, with the first being the Mines, the next the Jungle, followed by Ice Caves and so on. There are “events” of sorts that come up occasionally that add a twist to the level. There is an event that displays “I can’t see a thing” as the level begins and light is very limited. The player starts with a torch nearby and can use it to light sconces throughout the level. There are also a few fireflies that float around to help some but these can be very challenging as it makes it hard to tell what traps might be lurking just beyond the sight-range. There is one that loads the level with snakes, another that loads with spiders and even one that tells that the dead are restless and zombies lurk about. These are fun, but again, can be pretty challenging in a game that is already pretty ruthless at times. Oh and don’t anger the shopkeeper. They will pursue your demise for the rest of that play-through and they like to hide close to exits with shotguns…

cant_see

“I can’t see a thing!” – In Spelunky, these words generally mean “Josh isn’t making it through this area; Game Over”.  My success rate on dark zones is around 10% at the moment!

rock

The humble rock.. in this game it is handy to keep one as a pet.  They are great for triggering traps and throwing and googlies that lie out of reach.  I named mine Steve.  Steve fell in a hole later.  I’ll never forget him. 

Even though the game is pretty tough it manages to rarely frustrate me. Restarting is nicely streamlined so that I can be right back in the adventure within moments which really reminds me of Pitfall and Jungle Hunt which basically restarted within a button click of losing. The game gives a journal entry telling how the player “died” though part of the story is that the adventurers in the mines find themselves again at the beginning of the mine when something… goes badly for them. Kind of a fun explanation for the endless “lives” one is likely to exhaust in tackling the challenges before them. Some of the entries can be a little snarky but most are just amusing and hey, a click of the button closes it and gets you back into the game!

Ruin_Day1

What’s this?  A Spider the size of a golf cart?  I’m sure it won’t be so bad, this is world 1 after all!  Don’t be fooled, this stinker can really ruin a day quickly.

There is a Daily Challenge each day in which the player can try once per day to do their best at the level of the day. Only one try is allowed and it ranks everyone that tries on a fairly active leaderboard. So far my best is making it into the 300s and I wouldn’t say I was terrible at the game exactly so I certainly think there is some long-term play value there. It is fun in that it gives one a sense of playing in a community rather than it being a completely solitary experience.

Trap

Not all traps are this obvious, but only rarely do they keep me from “going for it”.  This may explain why I have yet to actually complete the game.

Games like Spelunky are certainly not for everyone though. Grant is actually turned off by the ease of losing and finds it frustrating. Certainly a bad jump can quickly end the adventure and occasionally the enemies will “ping-pong” you into oblivion. While this sort of bad luck can be a pain I will take it in stride if as a trade off I get a non-stagnant level layout, refreshing itself each time with new treasures and dangers to discover with each attempt. Grant does occasionally find it amusing watch my exploits though, so it may have some merit in watching the disaster that is likely to unfold when watching a friend play. It’s all pretty light-hearted with about as much violence as a Looney-Tunes or Tom & Jerry cartoon, though it does have some “blood” animation. It is pretty tame but I find it odd that there wasn’t an option to turn that off.

IceCaves01

Don’t let the cute alien and his UFO fool you.. those things are quite explosive when they crash and often “ping-pong” you into a long fall below.

Bonus Content:  Grant and I have actually played Spelunky on one of his streams for his YouTube Channel.  Check it out if you want to see a bit of gameplay footage with a little “Gameroom Banter” between us.  Give him a follow or a like, it totally makes his day when someone takes interest in the games he enjoys!

Josh and Grant Play Spelunky!

The Plant Powered Gamers’ stat breakdown:

Fun: 9/10 Angry Old Shopkeepers: Loads of fun with quick game-play and only occasional irritating bits of bad luck.. well okay, maybe every game ends in a bit of bad luck but it’s still fun! Hey, when I am almost to the 4th level and a UFO ricochets me into a laser-shooting mammoth which then bounces me into a bottomless pit.. well.. it makes for a good story.

Replayability: 9/10 Shiny Gemstones: It is a rogue-like, after all, and that is one of the hallmarks of one well done, which Spelunky certainly is.

Value: 10/10 Whiney Pugs: The game regularly goes on sale, being fairly old now. Mine actually came in a Humble Bundle and likely cost less than $5 even though it was the main game I was buying the bundle for. It is awesome when one finds a few bonuses that are fun in the mix though. For its normal price of $15 I think it is perfectly on par with similar games that have similar value in terms of time played before boredom would set in, but with older games just stick it in the Wishlist and grab it for half of that. Besides, Summer Sale is almost here!

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Single Dragon?! No thanks! I’ll check over in River City..

So decades ago.. in a land not too far from here a young Joshua was totally hooked on the awesomeness that was Double Dragon.  I often visited the local skating rink just because they had a copy of the arcade classic to which I would offer my last week’s lunch and/or break money which I had saved so that I could get some arcade action. Billy and Jimmy Lee (the main characters of the game) were the absolute epitomes of cool.

“Insane, violent street gang steals my girlfriend?  Obviously I will kung-fu my way through every last one of them to save her!”  They also have that 80’s and 90’s ‘tude just dripping from their sweet blue and red jumpsuits.

In comes the Nintendo Entertainment System and home gaming.  I had to wait a few years before my parents actually graced our  home with this beautiful bit of miracle but boy did we enjoy it.  I mowed yards and chopped wood and every other chore and odd job I could think of in order to hasten the process of growing my fledgling game collection.  The classics were an easy pick but others I feel were fortunate accidents, as game reviews were pretty much non-existent and the only magazine that really carried information was biased to say the least.  After exhausting every way one could play the original Legend of Zelda including a “no-sword” run before that was even “a thing” and dropping King Koopa into the lava pool more times than I could remember I heard the whisperings of Double Dragon being ported to the NES.  Could it be so?  Sadly, while this was so it was not the same game at all.  After a single rental from my local game rental store – which doubled as a gas station, mind you – I realized that the dreams were in fact too good to be true.  Single player?  How could this be?  One of the coolest aspects of Double Dragon was the fact that it was DOUBLE Dragon.  Two players!  Simultaneously!  How could they get that wrong?  And what was this disastrous “level-up” system.  Now let me take a moment to explain that years later, looking back at it the NES version of Double Dragon is actually rather interesting.  It presents some pretty unique and special qualities for its time and delves into that experimental realm that really only Nintendo games tend to do.  For my almost-teenaged heart, however, this was not sitting well.  I needed a 2-player simultaneous kung-fu filled, girlfriend-saving, high-school-gang-stomping romp!

BARF

Sure.. great last words, Barry.

I found this little gem with little hope, but it looked fun and touted some interesting “bonuses” in comparison to Double Dragon.  It was titled River City Ransom, and honestly I don’t think I ever shopped for games the same way ever again after playing it.  The game was pretty poorly marketed, had a pretty cheesy cover and the back packaging game images really didn’t give the buyer much idea of what they were getting into.  It was obviously something like my beloved Double Dragon, though, so I gave it a try.  My friend and I began our journey as Alex and his brother Ryan, setting out across River City to save Alex’s girlfriend from the evil gang leader, Slick.  On their way they will defeat the various gang-members ranging from lackeys to mini-boss sub-commanders, all of which drop their “lunch money” upon defeat.  This money must be collected so that the brothers can “power-up” by eating all kinds of food that the town has to offer, each bestowing increased stats, refilling health or giving other strange benefits.  There are also books to read, some of which teach new techniques as well as shoes that increase speed and kicking power – obviously.

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Alex seems to be really happy with his meal.  Certainly he will be fueled up for miscreant punishing now.

While the game is probably just in general better than Double Dragon if only in variety, the enemies are a bit less varied.  As mentioned there are the basic low-level gang members, the mid-level commanders and of course the final boss.  With only three exceptions, the only variation the player sees on the basic opponent is whether they are armed with a weapon.  There are several of these:  sticks, pipes, tires, garbage cans, rocks, brass knuckles and chains.  While there isn’t an incredible amount of enemy variety, it seems pretty forgiving as there is little need to grind any ridiculous amount unless the player really wants to save up for a special technique to try out, as those can be rather pricey.  For the most part enough money is collected in a pretty straightforward playthrough to power-up enough to take on all of the bosses and save Alex’s girlfriend without the need for too much senseless violence.  It’s okay if you wanna commit a little senseless violence against the evil gang, though, they respawn.  No permanently hurt feelings here.  Plus the enemies “talk” to the player in a text box at the bottom of the screen.  Most of it is nonsense and goading but occasionally the mini-boss commanders actually give out information that is useful, so keep a watch for that!

Some give useful information.. some just banter playfully.. it’s a real mixed bag in River City!

I cannot talk about River City Ransom without going into two little details that I found extremely weird, funny and endearing back then and really still do now.  First, when Alex and Ryan get food or drinks in the restaurants… they eat the food/drink container and all.  It was probably done to save the trouble of doing eating and drinking animations for different food items at the time, but I loved it and still do.  It’s just amusing to seem them cram an entire glass of soda or a whole pizza into their mouths by way of apparently unhinge-able jaws.  Hey, they have taken a lot of punches to the face, after all… probably loosens the joints.  The other thing I found pretty amusing was the one shop that sells chicken.. kind of a KFC spin-off.  One of the offerings on the side menu was a “Smile” in which the lady cashier smiles at the player, making him blush.  This may seem simple but I found that to be pretty amazing that they programmers/developers thought to add little touches like that in the game.  There are a few other unique interactions in the game that makes certain places seem more memorable and not just reskinned versions of the previous section of town.

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Pink shirts are a hot item in River City.

So much naughtiness to correct.  Alex’s lot is a hard one..

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Think a smile can’t brighten someone’s day?  Just think, Alex might not make it to save his girl if it wasn’t for the kind smile of the nice chicken-lady.

So in today’s world of amazing games RCR may not hold most people’s attention for long, but certainly if a chance ever arises I would recommend taking Alex out for a stroll across River City and see what kind of trouble the two of you can get into.  If you have a friend handy bring his brother Ryan along for the full experience.  Oh and stay out of the pits in the construction zone.  I’m pretty sure they are bottomless.  River City is a dangerous place, after all.

Plant Powered Ratings:

Fun: 9/10 Lunch-money coins –  To this day I still can have a pretty fun 30-60 minutes roughing up the trouble-makers of River City and I have finished this game countless times.  Its peculiar uniqueness just makes it timeless to me though I do admit that nostalgia probably colors it a bit rosier than it deserves in my eyes, so I am pulling a point from it for that sake.

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Dancin’ in the Dungeon with Crypt of the Necrodancer

Have tons o’ fun Dancin’ with Skeletons!

Crypt of the Necrodancer – Brace Yourself Games April 2015

Rogue-like, Rhythm

Take a pinch of pixel graphics, a drop of rhythm gaming and mix them with the ridiculously fun rogue-like mechanics.  This weird recipe calls forth Crypt of the Necrodancer, and the mad alchemist forming this brew will never be the same..

The game lays out the story in a clever cut-scene sequence that leaves the player with the vague understanding that movements and actions can only be taken “with the beat”. This is reinforced by the fact that all monsters in the crypt follow the same rules, so your movement with the beat can be planned out to foil that of the monsters, most of which follow pretty predictable movement patterns. Sound too simple? Don’t be fooled, when watching the movements of several monsters while also timing your own and trying to avoid certain trapped tiles it can be shocking how often a mistake can be made which can cost anywhere from a slap on the hand (a half a heart of damage) to severely punshing and brutalizing death spirals (dead before I realized what was happening even though I was at full health).  Speaking of death spirals, this guy is often to blame..CoND_RedDragon

(Those red dragons have a tendency to catch me with their sizzlin’ breath all too often.)

The game has loads of unlockables that you “purchase” with in game currency – diamonds. This is really fun as you can look forward to finding that new item or spell you recently unlocked to see how it affects your next dungeon run. There is also gold to be found so that if one is lucky enough to find the shop in each level then items can be purchased to power up the player.

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(Apples for 10 gold, broadswords for 30… guess you make prices up as you go if you live in a musical crypt.)

Speaking of shops.. hear that singing? In the crypts? Weird… Shopkeepers actually sing with the music; not words exactly, but it is very clever and pretty amusing. You can hear them increase in volume as you get closer, letting you play “hot and cold” to meander your way to the shop. There are loads of items which alter the game mechanics a bit or give the player bonuses or even reusable spells. It is one of the hallmarks of a good rogue-like in my opinion to make the player want to keep going to see what interesting, powerful or silly combinations of power-ups and items might be discovered in the next attempt.

In addition to unlockable power-ups there are even unlockable characters, each possessing different abilities and attributes that alter the way the game works.  Take Eli, the first character I unlocked for instance.  While Cadence, the main character typically uses only a few bombs per game, Eli has unlimited bombs and can even kick the bombs around.  They are very powerful and it allows him to dig his way through any walls with ease but it can be a real pain if you get cornered or swarmed with little room to maneuver and place explosives – leaving the big guy wishing for a trusty dagger.  This can really add some nice variety as the games initial charm begins to wear down and starts to leave the player wanting some additional variety other than different power-up combos.

The game increases in difficulty at a reasonable pace with the game divided into 4 “zones”. Each one contains a different selection of monsters with some classic “palette-swaps” to show the player that certain dancing skeletons may behave slightly differently than previous ones, but there are actually quite a few new monsters to be seen and outsmarted.. out-patterened? Out-danced! A mini-boss stands in the way of the stairs to the next level at the end of each with a final boss at the end of each zone’s 4th level. All bosses are randomized and some are certainly trickier than others. My absolute favorite was “King Conga” who leads a massive conga-line of zombies that must be defeated before he can be harmed.  Coral Riff is a close second with an entire band of possessed water-elemental (maybe?) instruments that teleport about and attempt pincer attacks.

CoND_CoralRiff(Behold, Coral Riff in all of his Glory.  Don’t blink, those are some aggressive instruments!)

For a game themed around music, rhythm and dancing, at least at some level, one may have mixed opinions. Having grown up in the NES and SEGA era, retro tunes tend to appeal to me and Crypt of the Necrodancer certainly didn’t disappoint. Grant and I are especially fond of the first zones and I honestly play through it on occasion just to hunt up the shopkeeper and hear him sing his jingle along with the zones music – its really catchy! Good job Brace Yourself Games!

CoND_Golem

(Golems, skeletons and mushrooms, oh my sweet pixels!)

The Plant Powered Gamers’ stat breakdown:

Fun: 9/10 dancing skeletons. Getting into the beat of the game as a neccesity makes it easy to zone out and enjoy; clever and funny monsters present adequate challenge; the silly theme is a perfect fit for how the game “feels”.

Replayability: 6/10 bouncing slimes. It is a really fun game, true, but after the initial charm had worn off I find that I usually play it for only 15-30 minutes at a time. It is a nice game to have on hand as a small time-gap filler and even now after several months I find myself playing it on occasion.  Additionally, Grant likes the music and I still get a silly smile over the singing shopkeepers.  One might increase this score if access to the Steam Workshop is viable which adds even more variety to the game.

Value: 10/10* wailing banshees. Picking this up on sale makes it feel like a steal. It is probably worth the $15 price on Steam as of the writing of this article, but as often as it comes up on sale it may be silly not to wait and get it for half that price. The Plant Power Gamers have certainly been happy with our purchase.

Make new friends with Kirby – then eat them..

“Hey!  Why did you eat me mom!?” Grant cried.

“Oops!  Oh well, I needed that ‘flame power’ to light this fuse anyway, ” Suzy explained. “Don’t worry, I’ll spit you back out when I’m done.”

“No way you shot me into the pit!”

“Well you ran off and left me earlier and I was after that last puzzle piece.”

Fun for the whole family..

Actually, to be a bit more objective, this one really is a blast. Kirby Star Allies for the Nintendo Switch was a gift from Suzy to us guys to play together over Spring Break this year.  It has been quite a hit and we have had several evenings of fun and I’d love to share our thoughts regarding this adorable and quirky game.

First it must be noted that this game is a return to the more basic Kirby formula.  Platforming and adventures with a pretty low difficulty curve that should be comfortable for even the little gamers in the family are in large supply once again.  In this game Kirby is able to throw “friend hearts” at enemies to convert them into allies.  He can also go the traditional route and just eat them “old school” but a lot of the game plays off of the friend mechanic so one might as well play around with it a bit.  Oddly enough he can still eat his friends, which we all found hilarious, in order to use them as projectiles or consume them to gain their powers.  This friend eating power adds to the normal chaos of multiplayer games and has led to a lot of laughter and amusement.  Some of the enemies/allies have elemental powers which can be combined with other powers to produce either special attacks or augmented weaponry.  I always loved the mix and match powers in Kirby Crystal Shards, originally on N64 but also included on the Kirby’s Dream Collection: Special Edition, so I was happy to see something in that vein returning.

C1

As mentioned, this game is very “little gamer” friendly, as the ally players cannot lose by falling into pits and even if they run out of health they can commandeer a new friend so there is minimal repercussion for the ally players’ errors.  The teams fate really hangs on Kirby, because if he falls in battle the whole team loses and backs up to a checkpoint, though as far as we have gotten the game is pretty gracious with checkpoints and I cannot think of one yet that took us more than two tries to pass.  This keeps the game’s potential for frustration very low but does suffer, as Grant noted, from being a bit too easy at times.  The level of frustration and risk is very low and while this is good for casual players and little ones, anyone looking for a challenging game may be a bit underwhelmed.  This is a Kirby game, though, and the little pink puffball sort of has a tradition for being a bit softer on the difficulty curves in the last several iterations.  Grant also pretty much hated “friend bridge”… one really must experience it… but I’ll agree, not the most entertaining “mini-game challenge” by a long shot.

C2

We all agree, however, that what the game lacks in challenge it makes up for in clever ability combos, super powers, new allies to explore and learn and above all – that special Kirby charm.  He holds the place as the main game that can get Suzy to join in on the gaming action and really make for a fun “family game night”.  In my opinion that is the coolest power Kirby has to offer and it is one that keeps returning again and again.

Sound interesting?  Have little gamers that would like to join in or perhaps a significant other that is not typically a gamer?  This one may be the gateway you are looking for!  Do be aware that the game probably has a certain ceiling on likely replayability.  If we unlock anything that changes my opinion on this later then I will be sure to make an edit and note any opinion changes.

On the Plant Powered Gamers scales:

Fun: 9 out of 10 friend-flavored cupcakes.  Make friends.  Eat them.  Spit them at bosses until they are defeated, then eat them.  Recyclable fun!  Plus mix and match powers have been incredible fun to experiment with.

Little-gamer Friendly: 9 out of 10 mega-tomatoes.  It is harder than my son’s old V-tech toddler games, but not by much.

Aesthetics: 10 out of 10 “Super tough cream puffs“.  It is colorful, imaginative and accompanied by happy, energetic music – probably works as an antidepressant and with fewer side effects.

Replayability: 6 out of 10 sleepy Noddys.  Other than replaying the levels to collect missing puzzle pieces, there is not a lot to cause me to want to return to previous stages.  They are all fun, certainly, but not really any that I would truly say were memorable.

PlantPoweredGamers