Creature in the Well – Playstation 4 Review

A few years back my friend Sam was really into pinball. My twin and I would meet up with Sam at a bar, grab a pitcher of beer and take turns playing the one pinball machine around. I’m very fond of those memories and it even led me to tracking down pinball machines in my own city. I’m terrible at them, but I love the timing, the skill shots, and the fun kind of stress that pinball machines bring. 

So when I saw a trailer for Flight School Studio’s pinball inspired game Creature in the Well, I was definitely intrigued! Pinball video games can be fun under the right circumstances, but getting the feel of an actual machine is hard to digitally translate (unless we are talking about Full Tilt 2). But if the machine itself is hard to translate, perhaps the feel behind playing a pinball game could still make a great video game.  

There’s a lot of action, but it’s easy to track on screen. (Credit: Flight School)

Think about the frenzy caused by a multi ball in pinball. Creature in the Well nails that feeling by having you juggle multiple balls at the same time and striking them toward bumpers to either gain power or turn off hazards. Dropping a ball in pinball is awful, but this game continuously generates new balls for you to hit, either from a spot on the ground or stealing them from corrupted turrets. To me, this game is a great mashup of pinball and Breakout

You play as a BOT-C robot, reawakening inside of a massive sandstorm that has enveloped the world around you. Your goal is to dive into a massive mountain and restore power to the various machines embedded inside, which should clear the storm. Unfortunately for you, the mysterious creature inside the mountain will try and prevent you from accomplishing that task. 

The game’s namesake and villain: Creature in the Well (Credit: Flight School)

Every area of the mountain provides a branching path, letting you explore the different sections searching for secrets. You’ll definitely want to dig around in this mountain because the side paths and secret rooms reveal some great weapon upgrades. While you can find Old Cores to level up your character, the game never actually explains the benefit of doing so. I had to Google the point of leveling up (it allows you to add more charge to balls before striking them), which could have been solved with a quick description in-game. 

Creature in the Well features serene music to accompany its sci-fi theme. This is a nice way to balance the constant swiping as you swing your weapon to charge and all of the pinging of bumpers and balls bouncing everywhere. The graphics are smooth and I love the different colors for every section of the mountain. Unfortunately, I ran into a consistent visual glitch while playing on Playstation 4 which caused a strobing effect on some textures. At first I thought it might have been an artistic choice, it almost looked like a spinning fan overhead, but once I looked at some streams of the game I knew I encountered a bug. I also downloaded the game on Xbox One since it is included with Game Pass and the graphics were great there, no visual bug to be found. 

Dying in this game is a little unfortunate. While you don’t lose any progress, the creature throws you out of the well in town and you have to first run back into the mountain to heal. Then, you have to trek all the way back to where you died through the twisting turns and branching paths just pick up where you left off. I’m not sure why the antagonist of the game is reviving you in the first place, and the backtracking becomes pretty tedious. I also didn’t find the game overly difficult except for one fight in particular. Through the majority of the game I had only died 14 times, but this one battle killed me an additional eight times. 

Each pillar represents a section of the mountain to explore. (Credit: Flight School)

For anyone interested in playing Creature in the Well, I want to give you two tips to make the game much easier on your thumb. First, you can hold the charge button (square) to continuously charge up balls before striking them. I spent the first two hours or so of the game mashing square like I was getting tortured in Metal Gear Solid and my entire hand hurt about 45 minutes in. Second, remap the strike button (triangle). Since you are going to be holding down square to juggle balls, it’s much easier to change up the way you strike the ball by adding a different button. I used L2 and it gave my right thumb a much needed break. 

I finished the game in a little under five hours at 96%, and it took another 30 minutes to hit 100% with the Platinum trophy. I certainly enjoyed Creature in the Well, and for $15, I think the game nails the feel of a pinball table, while providing something fresh. Especially at a time where you can’t go out to a bar and get your pinball fix, Creature in the Well can scratch that itch. 

Note: While Creature in the Well was released in September 2019, it landed on Playstation 4 on March 27th. I was provided a review code of Creature in the Well for Playstation 4.

Bloodroots Review

I play a lot of video games, but when i’m not gaming I do have a day job: I teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One of the types of speeches that I teach is impromptu. Certainly terrifying to those with speech anxiety, impromptu speeches are given with little preparation and rely on a speaker’s instinct and gut reactions. The speech won’t be perfect, but given the circumstances, they are an efficient way of communicating a message. 

The traits of an impromptu speech were stuck in my mind while recently playing through the game Bloodroots. In it you help Mr. Wolf exact his revenge by tearing through stages, picking up anything you can use as a weapon and improvising along the way. The game was designed by Canadian developers Paper Cult, and was released on February 28th for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and the Epic Games Store.  

The world is indeed your weapon in Bloodroots (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

There are obvious comparisons to make between Bloodroots and Hotline Miami. The fast-paced action is very similar, having you carve your way through sections of a level filled with enemies and quickly swapping out weapons as you kill. You can use swords and axes sure, but you can also use ladders, fence posts, and even carrots! Your character dies in one hit, and a quick reload is all that stands in your way before you try again. Perfect the area by defeating all of the enemies and you get to move on.  

Where Bloodroots shines is in the level design, giving players plenty of freedom in how they approach each section of every stage. There are no random weapon drops or enemy spawns, so getting a lay of the land is crucial as you figure out the best way to tackle every challenge. Multiple routes, buildings and cliffs to provide elevation, and an abundance of weapons give the game levels a unique feel which keeps evolving as you play. I normally groan a bit when I see ice used in video games, but I liked the added challenge as I tried to weave my way through the soon-to-be corpses.

The art is stylish and a bit gory (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

While you are running your way through the varied levels, be sure to slow down from time to time to appreciate the clean art style. This definitely isn’t 80’s neon and pixel, but a smooth looking game fit for 2020. The story is fairly straightforward, and pinning your actions on “revenge” helps explain Mr. Wolf’s willingness to slaughter so many people, while not really providing a lot of ground to challenge his motivations beyond calling the main characters “Beasts”. 

Once teaching you the controls, Bloodroots takes off the training wheels pretty quickly. The first few enemies you face are basically punching bags dressed up as humans, but they build up from there. Some enemies take two hits to defeat, which can be tough if you have a weapon that you can only use once or one that’s about to break. Some enemies cannot be killed with a melee weapon, others are immune to ranged damage. Some are gunners, shooting at you from a distance, some use area of effect attacks, or simply spin at you. Tackle each one individually, or cleave through several at a time. But don’t stop moving if there are bad guys near, or else you will die.

Use whatever you find to kill your enemies. (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

For the most part, I felt like Bloodroots’ difficulty curve was pretty accurate to continually challenge me as I progressed through the game. Unfortunately, there were certainly a few frustrating parts that I described to my dog as “bullshitty sections.” I know, not the kindest of terms, but only a small section of the game felt a bit cheap, including a platforming section that I wasn’t prepared for in Act 2. 

At times, there are so many items on the ground that it’s pretty tough to pick up the one you want. Specifically, some ranged weapons require you to reload with ammo like a bow and arrow or nerf gun. For some reason Mr. Wolf prioritized other weapons instead of refilling the ammo and even after dropping an item a ways away, he would snap jump to a weapon I didn’t want. However, pulling off a string of bow and arrow kills, it’s extremely satisfying. Being able to pull the arrows out of the air and seamlessly fire into the next enemy feels great. 

On top of the action, Bloodroots’ Beasts all wear different animal hats, which reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami’s animal masks. You can also unlock new hats as you progress through the game, which give you a slight power boost like a dash punch or starting an area with a gun. However, the hat powers are only available when replaying a previous level, so the game sets itself apart a bit here. 

I didn’t get a lot of “S” rankings, but I’ll take Top 5 in the world for one stage.

Bloodroots’ offers a lot of replayability since you earn points for every stage based on a set of factors including the variety of weapons you used, how mobile you were, and how well you maintained your combo of kills. I don’t think I’ll go back to replay too many of the stages, but it sets up completionists with a tangible target: hitting an S ranking on every stage. There are also collectible hidden wolves to pet and additional animal hats to earn, giving you something more to chase once the story is finished. 

I had a blast with Bloodroots, and if what I have described sounds interesting, it’s absolutely worth the $20. You don’t have to be a good impromptu speaker to excel at Bloodroots, but trusting your instincts will help you improvise your way through a challenging and fun game.  

Note: I was provided a review code of Bloodroots for PC.

It’s Never Too Late: Metal Gear Solid 2 Steps Forward, and Back

I love starting video games. The sense of mystery with the story to come, unique game mechanics that surprise you, but my favorite part is seeing how a series evolves with its next entry. If I have access to a sequel or the next game in a series, I’ll pop it in as soon as the credits roll on the previous game. That’s been the case for each Metal Gear Solid game as I work my way through the series, and the gap between the first game and Sons of Liberty is drastic. The leap in graphics is even more pronounced since I played the HD edition on Playstation 3.

After finishing the first Metal Gear Solid in early January, I decided to write about my experiences here. Is it too late to review a game that released in 1998? Probably. But with the “It’s Never Too Late” series, I show that you can absolutely still enjoy a game even 20 years post-release.

The Protagonist Problem

I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was controversial when it was released in 2001. Hideo Kojima subverted expectations by only letting players control Solid Snake for the first few hours of the game (the Tanker episode). So fans expecting a full Metal Gear Solid experience with their gruff protagonist were disappointed to be playing as a younger blonde guy codenamed Raiden. I can see why’d they were upset.

I didn’t mind having to control Raiden instead of Snake. To me, it was a cool way to have a “boots on the ground” supporter for the Big Shell mission, something more tangible than only radio guidance. This also allowed for cool co-operative moments like Snake/Otacon defending you in the helicopter during the Harrier jet fight. I loved escorting Emma along the oil fence, sniping enemies before they could hurt her too much as she tried to reach Snake on the other side.  

However, Raiden wasn’t nearly as interesting of a character when compared to Snake. They tried to create a deeper backstory near the end with the child-soldier/Solidus reveal but it honestly got a little too confusing. Speaking of confusion, was this mission all a VR simulation? The answer to that question is both yes and no, which is just frustrating. So many people google that question that it has its own dropdown search result:

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The trippy simulation reveal was a little confusing, I was wasn’t the only one a little lost.

The Sons of Liberty story was confusing to me, but only the last two or three hours. I still experienced lengthy monologues from bosses, Codec conversations, and double crosses. On top of that another character soiled themselves in fear (which is apparently a Hideo Kojima signature) so that’s fun. Regardless of the lead protagonist, players still get to sneak around, use cool tech, and occasionally get themselves out of sticky situations.

Streamlining Controls and Action

All of this action felt a lot smoother in Sons of Liberty, especially with the inclusion of more streamlined first-person mode. Although I do wish I had experimented more with knocking radios out using the tighter aiming controls. Raiden (and Snake) also had an amazing addition to their arsenal with the silenced tranquilizer gun, my favorite item in the game by far. Eventually I learned that knocked out enemies would wake up, which threw wrenches in my so-called “plans”.  I ended up putting most enemies to sleep with the tranquilizer and then shooting them in the head with my silenced pistol. Don’t look at me though, Raiden was cold-blooded.

I liked that there wasn’t nearly as much backtracking in this game as there was on Shadow Moses island. The mission felt varied as it took you from disarming bombs, to finding the President, to saving the President, to escorting Emma, to stopping Solidus. It was also a nice changeup from the very dark environment of MGS1 to much brighter and more colorful in Sons of Liberty, at least with the Plant episode. Whereas Metal Gear Solid 1 showed its age in clunky controls and hard to see graphics, its sequel cleared up a lot.

Bummer Boss Fights

Unfortunately, boss fights weren’t as compelling as the first game. I enjoyed the mechanics of the Fatman fight, but a bomb-loving boss sipping on wine while scooting around on rollerskates wasn’t very intimidating. I really liked the fight against Metal Gear Rays, but it became so easy to knock them out that they didn’t seem very threatening at the end of the fight as it became repetitive blowing apart seven or so war machines.

All in all, these boss encounters were also a lot easier than the first game. I found myself knocking them out on the third or fourth try compared to some of the harder ones in MGS1 like Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Rex and Liquid. There weren’t as many bosses either, which was disappointing. Even though some of them broke my spirit in the first game, I loved the creativity of the original enemies and they were spaced out to bring some much needed variation to the overall experience. I was hoping the bosses would evolve just as much as the graphics and general gameplay.  

Overall Thoughts

Despite the setbacks in my book, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty pushed the series forward in important ways. It’s a crucial piece of the ongoing story and it was absolutely enjoyable. If you got through Metal Gear Solid, you should definitely give Sons of Liberty a shot, if only to see the major evolution in controls and graphics. If you find yourself finishing the game, then perhaps you’ll follow my lead and start the third Metal Gear Solid game that same night.   

It’s Never Too Late: Reflecting on Metal Gear Solid

I recently had an enlightening conversation with a good friend about time and video games. I’ve grown up with games my entire life, but when I was a kid a video game was a luxury. We wouldn’t get many video games over the course of a year (typically Christmas and birthdays), so each one was savored, replayed, and loved. Now as an adult, I have access to more video games than I could ever play simply through Xbox Game Pass, free games through PlayStation Plus, and using disposable income to buy new releases. 

I’ll never get to play every single game, nor would I want to. It’s important to remember that not everyone will get to play the same video games as you – it’s our ability to share our passion through conversations, YouTube videos, Twitch streams, or blog posts that allow us to nerd out about the experiences we love. 

With that in mind, I’d like to start writing about some of these experiences with a series called “It’s Never Too Late” – because while I do occasionally play a game right as it gets released, most of my gaming is months and even years behind. To lead off, I’d like to reflect on a series that I recently dove into: Metal Gear Solid. 

A Daunting Task

Whenever the Metal Gear Solid series came up in a conversation with my friends, I always told them the same thing: I had finished the first and second game, but put Metal Gear Solid 3 on a hard enough difficulty that I had gotten frustrated enough to give up. 

Looking back on the series now, I don’t think I ever actually finished the first game. I remember renting the Twin Snakes version for the Gamecube back in high school, but I don’t believe I made it all the way through the game. I also distinctly recall buying Sons of Liberty for dirt cheap as a used copy my freshman year of college and playing through its entirety in my dorm room (ah, back when video rental stores existed). 

A few years ago, I borrowed the Legacy Collection on PS3 from my twin, but it’s mostly sat collecting dust until the beginning of this year. An interest in Death Stranding finally motivated me to fire up the old PS3 and restart Metal Gear Solid. Over the course of four days I experienced a weird mix of nostalgia, an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, as well as some truly frustrating moments. 

A Little Rough Around the Edges

To start off, I played the original Playstation game as a classic on my Playstation 3. So yes, the graphics were quite blocky and rough around the edges when it comes to today’s standards. I’ve never really been too concerned with how a game looks, and I’d like to think I would never scoff at graphics. Sure, I’ve been blown away by Read Dead Redemption 2 and Gears 5 in 4K, but I knew that MGS was released over 20 years ago. About an hour into the game and I felt like I had gotten used to the dark style, and my mind was filling in for some of the missing pieces like facial expressions. It felt right. 

What I had a hard time getting used to were the game’s controls. Around the time of meeting the DARPA chief I realized that the PS3 has a separate menu option for turning on the analog sticks, which certainly helped give Snake’s sneaking a little more fluidity. Even with smoother movement without the D-Pad, I encountered a very sticky railing early on in the Tank Hangar. I would successfully cling to a wall to sneak past a security camera, but then as I tried to move onto the stairs before the camera swept back, Snake would get caught on the railing and the enemy would be alerted. This happened three times in a row and irked me quite a bit. 

Tough, but Rewarding Boss Fights

Some of the touchy controls also bled into the penultimate boss battle against Metal Gear Rex. This was a doozy of a fight for me as I had a hard time avoiding the constant barrage of rockets so death was a familiar friend during this section. What made it harder to conquer was the constant flipping between items – bringing out the Chaff Grenade to block the boss’s targeting system, using R2 to swap over to the Stinger for a brief second, and then utilizing first-person aiming to hit the mech in the right spot. I felt like the timing of the boss attacks left very little room for error in getting this sequence down.  

I played through the game on Normal, and while many of the bosses were difficult, only Metal Gear Rex felt a little cheap. A few bosses took me three or four tries like Revolver Ocelot, Cyborg Ninja and Vulcan Raven. Some took around a dozen attempts like Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis. Others were knocked out on the first try like the Tank, the Hind, and Sniper Wolf. Some of these fights were infuriating at the time, but ultimately I believe they will be memorable. 

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I’m sure one of the reasons this game is so unforgettable is due to its creativity. The bosses and their weaknesses were unique, especially Psycho Mantis. Revolver Ocelot didn’t just have slick gunplay for show, his bullets bounced off walls and nailed Snake directly. The game broke the fourth wall several times and actually made me chuckle in its execution. After a torture section where you have to tap O repeatedly, Snake’s ally Naomi directs you (the player) to put your controller on your arm and she’ll help the pain. A short controller vibration later, and I was all smiles at a small and clever little gesture. 

I dug the story for Metal Gear Solid a lot, and it never really felt too convoluted for me. Most of the story is told through Codec calls, which is a radio, but silent? I guess that never really clicked how Snake was able to have full conversations mere feet away from a guard, but I just rolled with it. The voice acting in these scenes, as well as the more animated cutscenes was fantastic, especially considering how long ago the game was released. A few characters could be overly dramatic at times (Otacon) or ultimately they were a melodramatic villain that I expected to tie my friend Meryl to railroad tracks (looking at you Liquid). 

Overall Thoughts

Metal Gear Solid is a sneaking game that forces you to be stealthy – it’s not easy to fend off an attack if you’ve been discovered. Other games like Dishonored give you some leeway once you are spotted: make a few quick kills and maybe the problem goes away. For MGS, you need to be patient to successfully sneak past guards and cameras. It’s a different skill set, and you certainly need to be in the right mood to take your time.

So with all of that in mind, was it worth playing Metal Gear Solid for (mostly) the first time, over 20 years after the game was released? Absolutely. If you haven’t tried this game or series, jump on in. It’s $10 on Playstation 3 and you’ll have a good time. If you enjoy it, there’s always several more games in the series to play as well. 

Becoming a Gungeoneer – Enter the Gungeon Review – PS4

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Fans of both top-down shooters as well as dungeon crawlers can now rejoice, as April 5th brought us the release of a fusion of these two genres: Enter the Gungeon.

Enter the Gungeon is a twin-stick shooter developed by DodgeRoll Games. The developer’s name is a great indicator of what players will be doing a lot of besides shooting: dodging bullets by rolling around. The action and flow of the combat feels fast and fresh, and many of the guns you pick up are a wild mix of deadly, fun, and creative. Fans of games featuring inventive gunplay like Ratchet and Clank will love to test out some of the game’s nearly 180 different guns. Some of my favorites include the hilariously quick T-Shirt Cannon, or the effective Scrambler which shoots out eggs that crack into tiny homing bullets.

The goal is simple: choose 1 of 4 starting characters and begin descending a dungeon filled with enemies, guns, and loot. Each floor has a variety of randomly generated rooms, as well as a boss. Ideally, players need to make it to the bottom of the “Gungeon”, where a gun that can kill the past awaits. When a player dies, they lose all progress, guns, as well as items, and are sent back to the top to start over. There are shortcuts, allowing players to start on deeper floors than the first, but they are difficult to earn.

This game is full of smart development choices. As you enter a new room, the minimap fades from the top right corner to maximize your view of the action. After all of the enemies have been wiped out, the minimap returns to show you where you can head next. Backtracking is also smooth, as every floor has a handful of teleporters to allow you to quickly jump between rooms that you have already cleared.

However, the game lacks clear explanations on exactly what a player should do following the excellent tutorial. Starting the main portion of the game, I knew that I needed to descend to the bottom of the Gungeon. I also knew Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike game before I started. But when you actually launch the game, there is no indication that your progress will reset until you die for the first time. Knowing what items, if any, carried over after death would have been helpful to direct players starting out. If I kill one of the three bosses that I’ve seen at the end of the first floor, will they be dead forever?

In addition, the game is marketed as having the ability to be played cooperatively, but players are not given much information on how that feature is accessed. Having so many unanswered questions, I felt lost in my first few hours of playtime. I was not sure how to progress because the game does not explain a lot of core concepts. As much as loading screen tips could be ignored by gamers, Enter the Gungeon could use these to give players a short roadmap for how portions of the game function.

When it comes to visual design, the retro feel with the graphics is very clean and polished. At times, having a shootout in a library with pages flying everywhere makes it a little difficult to tell where your character is, but it ultimately adds to the frenzied action. The music is far more subtle than one might expect with a game using this graphic design. The soundtrack won’t blow you away like the music for Shovel Knight did, but the music successfully steers clear of becoming monotonous for the procedurally generated maps.

Finally, while I have enjoyed my fair share of roguelike games, Enter the Gungeon seems excessively punishing due to the randomness in which you acquire your guns. For example, Rogue Legacy and Darkest Dungeon are difficult roguelike games, but every failed attempt can potentially give the player incremental progress. In Enter the Gungeon, there were numerous runs that made me feel powerless because I felt like I had wasted my time after I died.

Overall, Enter the Gungeon has a lot of really creative pieces of a game. However, without showing players the overall trajectory for the game, many players could get lost and frustrated in the early hours of a playthrough. With brutal difficulty, many players will enjoy it for a time, only to never finish it.