Ape Out – Going Bananas

This past week I sat down and played Ape Out, a game I had been wanting to play since it was released this past February. I absolutely love playing this game! It’s a vivid, violent, rhythmic smash ’em up that plays like something you could have found years ago in the local arcade but with a 70’s acid jazz kind of vibe to it. A game showcasing video games as an art form. From the second you break out of your cage and begin obliterating the guards watching over you, I knew I was in for an interesting ride.

The objective in Ape Out is simple: make your way from Point A to Point B. The gameplay and controls are simple, but extremely satisfying as you control an APE trying to ESCAPE(NOT to be confused with a PS1 title involving primates 😉 ) from his cage and make your way through the procedurally-generated levels, returning to the wild. As stated, the controls are simple: run, punch, and grab. You are vastly outnumbered by armed guards trying to take you down, and to survive you will need to make an instant decision of simply running past an unsuspecting guard or splattering against the wall. You are able to grab the guards and doors in your way and forcefully propel them at other surrounding enemies; this can also be a critical decision as quickly grabbing an enemy and using them to shield yourself from the barrage of bullets before hurling them at an enemy as if they are being shot out of a cannon…you can even pick up the limbs of the obliterated enemies and throw them at others…I enjoyed this greatly(NOT psycho) 😀

Ape Out is similar to Hotline Miami: utilizing a top-down camera angle, over-the-top stylized violence, and an explosion of colors. In Ape Out however, the top-down camera has been zoomed in, adding an increased sense of caution as you never know who is just around the next corner. There is also an absence of neon lighting and DeLoreans in Ape Out…

The sound design and visuals of this game are one of the more unique characteristics of the game; kind of a Miles Davis 1970’s jazz pastiche that I absolutely freaking love! The graphics are slightly grainy with a warmth around the edges of the characters and objects that exude a visual equivalent of the sound of a vinyl record being played. The colors in the game range from dark, smoky hues of black and gray contrasted by bright bold shades of red or orange. The dynamic contrast in colors is really brought out when you slam a guard into a nearby wall or post and the resulting blood red explosion is a bit like watching fireworks in the night sky. Other levels also shroud the environment in black that is disrupted by only the guards’ flashlights and a few dashes of purple around the level. The entire 3rd album( the game consists of four “albums” which contain eight levels each) – Fugue is washed in a completely crimson and orange backdrop that finds you trying to find your way across a desolate wasteland resembling a napalm-devastated Vietnam battleground. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet…the music in Ape Out is phenomenal! Each level or ALBUM rather, is set to a riveting drum solo whose rhythm mirrors yours as you progress through the level and even accents your very movements. You running down an empty hallway is accompanied by a steady snare drum roll while every time you pummel an enemy the music will add a cymbal crash, along with anytime you break through a wall; this adds a very stylish rhythmic element to the gameplay that is an absolute blast to play.

There are four main “albums” to play through in the game – Subject 4, High Rise, Fugue, Adrift – with four levels making up Side A and Side B respectively. Subject 4 begins kicks off your quest for freedom by escaping from research facility with the first couple levels serving as a tutorial of sorts as you get adjusted to moving around as a gigantic primate. High Rise takes place in a 32-story office building; making your way from stairwell to stairwell through a labyrinth of closets and cubicles before making a mad dash to the exit from the crowded lobby at the bottom. Fugue is a bit more difficult as the “album cover” would imply with a picture of a lit match – fire and lots of it. You cross what appears to be shipping warehouses full of oil drums that if anything OR anyone is driven into them with the force of an angry gorilla it will cause them to burst into a giant ball of flames; a new enemy brandishing a flamethrower pack is also introduced at this time. Fugue is probably the most memorable( and most difficult) level as the latter half( Side B) takes place outdoors in a scorched area surrounded by wire fence while firebombs are being dropped from the sky. The orange and red colors of the levels along with the stark snare drum march seemed to be a bit of an allusion to the Vietnam War. I couldn’t help but think of Lt. Kilgore of Apocalypse Now during this – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning…” The final album – Adrift takes place on a freight tanker on the open seas where you navigate your way through around the levels of the tanker before finally making your way to freedom.

After clearing each of the four albums you can choose the option to now play the game on Harder difficulty; there is also Arcade Mode where you can try to rack up the highest score possible while clearing the levels in the least amount of time and deaths. I enjoyed this game so much that once I cleared the albums I turned around and started the play through them again, this time striving for shorter completion time and fewer deaths. There are no exact same runs through the levels, as the paths through the maze-like levels as well as enemy placement are all procedurally-generated; you thought that same enemy with the explosives was just around the corner only to find out THIS time it’s several enemies with shotguns or none at all…at least until you round the next corner. Every time you take a hit, you will leave a trail of blood behind you for the guards to follow; after three hits you’re dead and will have to start the level over again.

Every time you die, the camera zooms out to show your path taken and progress made through the level.

Violence, jazz, and apes….awesome, right? Ape Out is available on PC and Switch and is a fantastic game that I very highly recommend to anyone looking for something a little bit different to play. Finally…justice for Harambe! 😀

What games have you been playing recently or what games are you most looking forward to hearing about at E3 this week? I plan on putting up another post with my thoughts about all the upcoming announcements after E3.

Keep on playing…

2 Years of Nintendo Switch – Things I Love and Would Love Nintendo to Change

The Nintendo Switch was released two years ago on March 3 2017 and has been a huge success for Nintendo. The console has sold over 32 million units as of December 2018. Today I am going through some of my favorite things about the Switch as well as some that I really would like Nintendo to correct.

I remember being cautiously optimistic when Nintendo announced their newest console they would be releasing to follow up what most consider one of their biggest failures with the Wii U( the Virtual Boy still tops that list….). I thought the idea of a hybrid portable console sounded like an interesting idea. Nintendo has always had interesting ideas…but they haven’t always been the most practical, something that you would use on a consistent basis. The Wii was a very successful console, that DID have a lot of great games…you just had to sift through all of the games that just cashed in on the gimmick of motion controls. I didn’t mind using the Wii-mote and nunchuk in place of a controller as much as I tired rather quickly of being forced to use motion controls where I would have greatly preferred a conventional controller. The Wii U brought about their Game Pad, complete with a touch screen that you could also use to play games if for example – someone wanted the tv and you wished to remain playing. (Yes, I know……only one tv in the house?) However, the Wii U was yet another system without a very large collection of third-party titles and was generally left for dead. You cannot talk about the Switch and it’s success without pointing out it’s essentially what started out as the Wii U Game Pad. Anyways…..here are some things that I really enjoy about the Switch.

Mario Odyssey is still my favorite Switch game. (Image courtesy of Nintendo)

  Games – I’ll start by talking about the games the Switch currently has in its library. I am obligated to begin by mentioning launch title – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While BotW was released on the Wii U as well, the Switch has far, far more people playing it so will forever be known as a Switch title first and foremost. I absolutely LOVE Mario Odyssey as well, playing through Odyssey for me was similar to playing through Super Mario Galaxy . Splatoon 2 expanded on the first game and improved the multiplayer experience. And then there’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is essentially everything any Super Smash Bros. packed into one game. There are also exclusives that aren’t using their flagship franchises(i.e. Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong) like Octopath Traveler and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Nintendo has been putting an extra effort into getting more third-party support this time around, along with a robust platform for indie games in the digital store.

  Hardware – I try to be as careful as possible with all my consoles but I can say the Switch is a very sturdy little console. I knocked it off a side table(to my utter horror) a couple times and not even a scratch, and have heard stories of much worse from others who have noted how durable it is. I also put a screen protector on to minimize fingerprints and scratches. I actually was pleasantly surprised with the Joy-Con controllers for the Switch after using them for the first few times. I was a bit skeptical at first, they seemed likely to feel anything but durable and having tiny, impossible to use buttons but I have really grown to like using them, even with lobster claws for hands. The HD Rumble feature works remarkably well(I CAN feel those ice cubes in my glass),even though it isn’t something that is utilized to any great extent. Nintendo also tweaked their Pro Controller they launched alongside the Switch, and is a very sound, sturdy controller. There is just enough of a weight to the console and controllers, not enough to make it heavy or cumbersome. The touch screen works as good as anything currently on anyone’s smartphone, even after putting a screen protector over it. The motion controls do work surprisingly well, though I honestly don’t use them much.

Function – The Switch is designed so that you can play it either in handheld mode, or you can place the console in the accompanying cradle to use in docked mode. It performs equally well in both modes, although the video quality isn’t quite as well as you would want for some games. I was surprised at how seamlessly you can be playing in handheld mode and place it onto the dock and your game is on your tv screen, or vice versa. Nintendo is improving their online services, even if it seems to be baby steps. The Switch is a completely enjoyable console to play, I have spent many, many hours playing it either on the tv in my living room or lying in bed, or should I actually venture outside my home and spend any significant amount of hours(not something that happens real often…). I have found myself buying multi-platform games almost entirely because I want to play it on the Switch, yes I bought Skyrim and Final Fantasy IX….but along with many others too.

On the flip side of all that, here are some things I’m not crazy about and wish Nintendo could or would change…

Another console, another release of Skyrim… (Image courtesy of Nintendo)

  Games – I will begin talking about the games. I love many Switch games and have bought titles that are ports or remastered versions and released on the Switch, but it does seem like Nintendo is padding their catalog with games that were Playstation and Xbox titles from previous generations. You can buy versions of Skyrim, Doom, Diablo 3, and a remastered version of Dark Souls. Also, these games are generally more expensive for the Switch than you can currently buy on the PS4 or Xbox one. Nintendo has gone with a physical format for their games by using a proprietary SD card, rather than a standard Blu-Ray disc so that can have an impact on cost. I’m not even going to begin discussing how much the upcoming Resident Evil ports of 0, 1, and 4 are going to cost….<sigh>. Nintendo does also seem rather determined to re-release just about every one of its Wii U exclusives on the Switch like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, etc. It can seem like they’re simply recycling titles from the previous console…..I mean hardly anyone bought the Wii U and there were good games for it but a lot of them were too little too late as most people had already long passed on ever buying it.

Hardware – The hardware aspect of the Switch has several things I am not real fond of. First, would be a seemingly minor gripe about the Pro Controller d-pad. It has too “soft” of a feel making it easy to rotate 360 degrees if you were for example playing a fighting game like Street Fighter, but it can make it difficult to hit a specific direction. I have been playing a lot of Tetris 99 lately and the d-pad on the Pro controller can cause you to inadvertently hard drop a block when you where simply be moving blocks around. I have heard that the more recently produced Pro Controllers have corrected this issue, in the mean time I have been using the Joy-Cons with the smaller, more accurate d-pad for games like Tetris 99. There is also a number of people that have had problems with the battery of their Switch and the charging dock not working properly. I personally haven’t had any issues with the battery or charging for mine, but the design of the dock could use a revamp if Nintendo does begin to manufacture different versions of the Switch. I do also wish there would be a headphone jack in the controllers, at least in the Pro Controller. Should you ever want to play something in docked mode but want to be able to hear the game more clearly with a good headset you’re out of luck. This is one of the reasons why I am skeptical as to the quality of playing games like Fortnite on the Switch. You would benefit from using a headset but you can only use the headphone jack ON the console itself and are simply unable to enjoy using headphones AND the Pro Controller. The Switch hardware does have its drawbacks and limitations…

The Switch online service is there, but still needs some work if Nintendo wants to compete for online play. (Image courtesy of Nintendo)

Function – Here is where I complain about Nintendo’s continuing battle with getting online gaming right. The Switch Online service still needs more to it to make it really worth paying for. There is the Members Only Deal of purchasing a set of wireless NES controllers for your Switch at $59.99. The controllers are impressive, but the fact that you have to subscribe just to be able to purchase something isn’t something I’m really crazy about. I have an NES Classic so I do have the option to play those games currently on the NES Switch Online. I would prefer something more along the lines of Microsoft’s Games Pass. When Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was released a lot of people, including myself had lag issues with the online play, making it feel like you were playing entire matches in slow-mode. The online play for games like Mario Kart 8 have been pretty good, whereas Splatoon 2’s online play is generally good with not a lot of matches getting disconnected. The online infrastructure in general I really really would like Nintendo to improve, this being my biggest wish to Nintendo. However, there are the rumors that Microsoft and Nintendo may be partnering up to bring Xbox live service(or something similar) to the Switch. If true, this could be incredible for Nintendo. Xbox Live has consistently provided the best most stable online gaming network since launching back in 2002. I also wish the Switch was not WiFi only; it would be beneficial to be able to use an ethernet cable for stability. There are some things that I dislike about the Switch versus other consoles, but the things I enjoy about it seem to overwhelmingly make up for a few minor(mostly) gripes. It has been a great success for Nintendo so far…I am truly excited to see what the next few years bring.

Here are a couple Switch news links – https://www.businessinsider.com/nintendo-winning-video-games-fastest-selling-console-2019-3

https://www.gameinformer.com/2019/02/21/rumor-microsoft-bringing-game-pass-and-published-titles-to-switch

Tetris 99 – Where we hard droppin’ boys?

When Nintendo announced during their February 13 Direct presentation that they would be releasing not just ANOTHER Tetris game, it was going to be a battle royale game. I felt some strange combination of skepticism and curiosity. A Tetris battle royal game? This is one of the games they were excited to announce?( This was before we all saw the teaser for the Link’s Awakening remake also”. Nintendo released the game shortly after the presentation for free for Switch Online subscribers; they can certainly use more features to beef up their online service(which vastly needs it…). I thought “sure, sounds interesting….and free” and I do not regret it one bit, it’s already one of my favorite Switch titles. I’ve been having a blast playing this!

There probably aren’t too many out there who haven’t played a Tetris game in one way or another, as it is available in about every way there is to play. Tetris was first released in the Soviet Union in June 1984 but did not become a world-wide phenomenon until it was bundled with the original Nintendo Game Boy in 1989. It has since been inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2015. https://www.museumofplay.org/press/releases/2015/06/2108-2015-world-video-game-hall-fame-inductees-announced

The basic gameplay of Tetris 99 is exactly the same as the multiplayer mode we know and love, but with a couple unique twists on it. First, it’s you versus 99 other online players trying to be the “last one standing”. Second, you can send your completed lines or “garbage” to another player to add to their screen. This is similar to standard multiplayer mode, except in typical battle royale fashion you can be playing with nothing happening and then all of a sudden, you’re being attacked from every angle. The game keeps track of your KO’s – opponents you have knocked from the match and you can also target other players by selecting one of the modes at the top of the screen. You can sort by KO – you attack another player who is closest to being knocked out, Attackers – you…um…attack the players who are currently targeting you, Badges – you attack players with the most in-match badges or essentially the Top Player(s) in the round, and then there’s Random – you send your garbage to completely random players.

You can see all the other online players you are competing against, including those attacking you and the ones you are attacking

Tetris 99 is equally tense and exhilarating, and just get to the final 25 or even 10, 5 players and it is just as, if not more stressful than the final couple squads in any other battle royale game. I have already spent over between 5-10 hours playing Tetris trying to outplay the other 98 online opponents and I still plan to put in plenty more. I cannot recommend this enough to anyone who is currently paying for the Switch Online service.

Keep rotating those blocks!