Gaming on a Timer

Attack of the Backlog! – October 2018 Round-Up

In Attack of the Backlog!, I’ll be discussing my attempts at tackling an ever-growing backlog of games, from both a campaign/story and an achievements completion point of view. For the sake of keeping track of things, I’m only going to mention games I’ve actually finished and/or completed that month.

This month’s backlog adventures were quite interesting, to say the least. Aside from a lengthy dive into The Bard’s Tale IV (of which you can find my impressions in the aptly named First Impressions and Last Impressions posts, respectively) the majority of the games I played and finished were quite old in terms of having entered my backlog, as well as (truth be told) not particularly challenging for the most part.

As it stands, my “statistics” at the close of October now stand at:

  • 63,79% average Steam achievement completion
  • 236 Steam games in progress (with achievements)
  • 1163 Steam games unplayed, 466 of which come with no achievements
  • 198 Steam games at 100%
  • Games added to account
    • Robin Hood
    • Hidden Folks
    • Gremlins, Inc.
    • We Were Here Too
    • Old Man’s Journey
    • Yakuza 0
    • 140
    • The Sexy Brutale
    • Lucidity
  • Steam games completed
    • Dwarfs!?
    • Dwarfs!? Free-to-Play
    • Highlands
    • Half-Life: A Place in the West
    • The Bard’s Tale IV
    • AdVenture Capitalist
    • Castle of Illusion

Above statistics courtesy of Completionist.me

So, as the numbers show, I’ve pushed a mere 7 games to 100% completion since October 1st, and even worse, one of them is really a double-dip (Dwarfs!?), while another is a silly visual novel/comic book deal (Half-Life). Even worse than that, I seem to have also gone and added another new games to the huge pile of backlogged games I own on Steam. Awful, right?

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Dwarfs!? in all its “glory”.

Well… not quite. You see, in actuality only of the new additions were actual purchases of mine – Yakuza 0 (which I’m planning to stream as soon as my other streaming obligations clear up a bit) and We Were Here Too (which I’ll be playing with a friend in co-op, and for which I’m very excited) – the rest were mostly sourced by friends and viewers, such as 140 coming from long-time follower and all-around nice guy to have around TuhmaTiikeri (hai!), as well as from various bundle leftovers that I’m given every once in a while and find as too much of an opportunity to miss (I believe Hidden Folks came from the most recent – as of writing – Humble Monthly bundle).

So, the actual end-tally for October should be around 5 games completed and 2 new games bought. Sadly, this still didn’t quite line up with my goal of 6-to-1 completed:purchased ratio (see the “rules” in last month’s round-up), but I’m not too worried – if only because there’s actual effort being put in to complete stuff, on which I can build and improve upon. Baby steps and all that.

So, with the recap thus concluded, let’s have a look at two of the above-mentioned titles, Castle of Illusion and Dwarfs!? (as well as its F2P counterpart):

Castle of Illusion (starring Mickey Mouse)

A short trip down nostalgia lane, Castle of Illusion is actually a remake of the 1990’s Sega Genesis classic with the same name. Players take on the role of Mickey Mouse, on a quest to find seven colored gems and defeat the evil witch Mizrabel, saving his fiancee Minnie (who has been kidnapped so that Mizrabel can… steal her youth and beauty, apparently). The game is purely a platform game – there is very little else in the way of gameplay than jumping, avoiding or killing enemies and collecting various items – and thus very hard to talk about in any length.

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Cutscenes have a certain charm to them.

The House of Mouse

As a platform game, Castle of Illusion is very short – even someone like me, who’s not particularly adept at the genre, still only took approximately 5 hours to fully complete the game. Personally, I consider this one of the game’s strengths, as there is just enough content and variety in its mechanics to not outstay its’ welcome while still feeling complete as an experience. The majority of the game is spent traversing the game’s five worlds, spread over fifteen levels (two “main” levels and one boss level per world), offering a variety of environments to explore – such as a giant library; a land made of sweets and candy; and a haunted forest – each with its own enemies, collectibles and power-ups to collect.

The variety in visuals is quite endearing, with most worlds having a vibrant and colorful look which is quite reminiscent of Disney’s golden age of animation (while not directly using settings from any actual material produced at that time). This vibrancy gives the game a joyful, almost playful tone, further reinforced by the narration and overall sound design – indeed, the game looks, feels and sounds cheerful during those five or so hours it takes to complete, which I feel also helps it stay “fresh” and not tire the player out.

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Castle Of Illusion’s in-game collectibles tracker is a feature I’d like to see in more games.

As a brief aside, the quality of a platform game is often dependent on its control scheme – the overall “feel” of controlling the player’s character (which is affected by a multitude of factors, such as player velocity, gravity, friction and so on), which can make or break the experience.

In Castle of Illusion the control feel is, for the most part, functional – you’ll not find any excessive sliding or imprecision when platforming and neither any problems with hitbox detection or collision detection (which govern the player’s model reaction towards enemies and platforms/solid objects respectively). There is a slight delay with certain jumps, especially in areas that are visually overloaded (such as certain setpieces in the candy-themed world) but for the most part it is not noticeable.

Steamboat Trophy

The game’s achievements are closely tied to its various collectibles – the game boasts around 400 “Magic Diamonds” spread throughout its levels, as well as a series of rarer items such as Donald’s chili peppers or magic playing cards. I’d like to note here that the developers handled these collectibles quite well, as they’ve included a tracking system which indicates at all times how many of  each collectible were found in a level, as well as model changes for already-collected items (such as magic diamonds becoming transparent in subsequent playthroughs if the player has collected them already).

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A sample of one of the game’s few unique 3D setpieces.

There are a few more unique challenges on the way to 100% completion, such as jumping on 7 enemies without touching the ground, but those gave me little to no trouble, as the level design often complements and indicates very clearly where and how these challenges can be done.

As a game, I’d highly recommend it for anyone that wants a short-but-sweet experience to fill in the gaps between longer or more difficult games, anyone that feels fatigued by the grim, “realistic” look of most games nowadays or just as a Disney fan.

Speaking of more difficulty…

Dwarfs!?

Dwarfs!? is a weird game to classify, as it shares elements between rogue-lites, sim, management and strategy genres, with a healthy dose of randomness injected to keep things fresh. In essence, it’s very reminiscent of 2006’s Dwarf Fortress, sharing a lot of its traits – indirect control of the player’s units; randomly generated worlds; the theme of building a dwarven colony and trying to survive against a variety of hazards; and a generally high degree of difficulty (brought on mainly by how random chance affects most of the game’s core systems).

Regarding Randomness

In the game, the player starts with a newly-established dwarven outpost in a huge underground area littered randomly with caves, lakes and lava. From this outpost a constant stream of digger dwarfs is generated in fixed intervals – these dwarfs cannot be controlled directly by the player and will constantly dig out tunnels in random directions. Further, the player can create warrior dwarfs, which will usually orbit the colony’s perimeter (and, later on, outposts that the player can build on tunneled soil) – these act mainly as a form of defense against monsters that the diggers unwittingly unleash from the randomly-generated and placed caves strewn throughout the underground playing field.

Thankfully, the player isn’t left entirely helpless against the randomness. A series of tools and options allow you to indirectly affect how the diggers behave – among others, you’ll have access to guidance arrows (which can force a dwarf to travel to a specific direction for a few minutes); dynamite (used to blow up dwarfs and spawning lava- or water-blocking holes in their place); reinforced cave walls (which the diggers cannot tunnel through); and barricades (which can be used to temporarily stymie the flow of water, lava and hostiles. These tools, however, come at a cost: gold, which can only be gained by tunneling, locating mineral veins and looting caves.

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Letting things go too far might get you an early (and watery) grave.

Thus, the game becomes a sort of balancing act, constantly requiring the player to balance the cost vs. usefulness of using any of the tools at their disposal – for example, would you blow up this dwarf that just opened a cave full of water, in order to prevent it from flooding the entire cave system, or do you just plop a wall in its path and steer other diggers clear of that area until you have enough gold to seal the whole damn thing? These micro-decisions end up making the bulk of the player’s input in the game and, owing to the randomly-generated maps, make the game feel like a hectic race against time, in order to survive the elements long enough for the colony to flourish.

Modal Mayhem

All of the hectic action is compounded by the game’s general design – in the basic “Survival” mode, you are limited by a timer of your choosing, from between 5 to 60 minutes, in which time you are tasked with earning as much score as possible. Score is given for a variety of tasks, mainly by the overall distance covered by your tunnels at the game’s end, as well as for certain milestones (such as “Dig 100 squares” or “Dwarf Digger level 20”) – a leaderboard system is in place to give players a way to compete and show off their scores.

As for available modes, the game boasts no less than eight, from the aforementioned Survival, to modified versions such as Endless (no time limit) or Dark (caves are invisible until tunneled into), to unique challenges in the Scenarios mode, to various mini-games in Carnival mode. This helped the game stay interesting, even after I was long done with the Survival mode (which is to say, once the achievements were completed). My personal favorite is Rush mode, where digger production rate is upped significantly, leading to a frenzied scrabble as your tunnel system is expanded at insanely fast rates.

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A sample of the multiple modes on offer.

Achievement Architect

The achievements in Dwarfs!? are quite interesting for the most part. Aside from a few token “Reach X score in Survival Easy/Medium/Hard” ones, there’s a series of grind-based ones (mainly collecting/digging/killing certain amounts of ore/dirt/enemies), a few tied to the game’s alternate modes (mostly Carnival mode), as well as a couple of more innovative ones such as managing to destroy your colony within 15 seconds of starting a new game or getting an enemy to fall into a hole left by an exploded digger.

Generally, these achievements seem to have been designed to accrue progress as you play the game casually – there are no grinds that require specific actions to be taken, while the few mastery-based achievements (score, hitting specific level milestones as digger or warrior dwarf) are difficult mainly due to randomness rather than actual mechanical difficulty (though, mastery of the game’s tools and behaviors goes a long way towards offsetting the random factor).

Overall, I found Dwarfs!? quite an enjoyable experience – indeed, even after completing the achievement set for this and its free-to-play counterpart (which feature a save transfer system, meaning that any progress and achievements earned in the paid version can automatically be transferred to the free-to-play one, and vice-versa), I often found myself returning for “just one more game”. I feel that its combination of random-based behaviors (level generation and dwarf behavior) with reliance on mechanical mastery (the player’s tools), in the context of its short per-playthrough time, makes for a highly addictive game and so could easily recommend it to those looking for replay value and short, fun game sessions.

Which games did you play in October? Got any backlog-related horror stories to share? Tips and tricks for keeping it in check? Share below in the comments section!

 

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