Gaming on a Timer

Attack of the Backlog! – December 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.

There’s an unspoken expectation associated with holiday periods – spend time at home, eat lots of food and, in gaming circles, get in as much play time as possible (which would be good, from a backlog-reducing perspective) and get stuck into as many sales as possible (which would conversely be very bad). Naturally, this leads into some very interesting times for the old backlog (what with a certain reduction challenge going on), so let’s see how that went:

  • 65,25% average Steam achievement completion (+0,87% from November)
  • 231 Steam games in progress (with achievements)
  • 1180 Steam games unplayed, 471 of which come with no achievements
  • 207 Steam games at 100%
  • games added to account
    • FORCED Showdown
    • Sunset Overdrive
    • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide
    • Access Denied
    • Finding Paradise
    • Songbringer
  • Steam games completed
    • Another World 20th Anniversary Edition
    • Who’s That Flying?!
    • Before the Echo
    • Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
    • Shadows of the Vatican Act 1: Greed
  • 39,10% average PSN trophy completion (+1,26% from November)
  • 48 PSN games played overall
  • 864 unearned trophies
  • 3 PSN games completed
    • Zero Time Dilemma (PS Vita)
    • Another World (PS Vita)
    • Burly Men At Sea (PS Vita) 

Steam tracking courtesy of , PSN tracking courtesy of

Bloodstained, an excellent throwback to NES-era Castlevania games, intended as a prequel to Ritual of the Night.

First thing you’ll notice is numbers going up, a good thing overall – more games finished than November, higher completion %’s, good stuff overall. On the “adding new games” front, things didn’t quite work out as intended. While I hadn’t actively gone out and bought much during the sales (in fact, during Steam sales I had only picked up Access Denied, which looks to be a very interesting / affordable puzzle game), between several secret Santa events (FORCED, STARWHAL), an impulse buy (Sunset Overdrive which finally hit Steam earlier in December), some giveaway wins (Beyond Earth DLC) and some very unexpected gifts (Finding Paradise and Songbringer), we still end up with more games in than out, so I guess the second goal of the challenge didn’t quite pan out for December.

Console-wise, it was mostly a Vita-only month (with some small progress in a couple of Wii-U games, which I’ll probably discuss in future posts), as last month’s Exile’s End 100% got me playing more stuff on the old handheld. Unfortunately, not much to talk about in general – Zero Time Dilemma I’ve extensively discussed a while ago in July 2017 when I first played it on PC, and it’s really one of those experiences that can’t be freely discussed as their narrative hinges on lot of spoilers and dramatic reveals. Suffice it to say, if you like good mystery, decent puzzles and complex narrative structures, you need to get some Zero Escape (the series’ overarching title) in your life yesterday.

Second time round, Zero Time Dilemma took a lot less to complete (but the story was so worth it).

Burly Men At Sea is similarly a weird cookie, narrative-wise – the game follows the adventure of the titular burly, bearded men through a looping series of multiple-choice events which, when strung together, form a series of mini-adventures. There’s a lot of charm to be found here, especially in the writing and sound design, but (for trophy purposes) the whole system kind of loses its novelty at around the third or fourth time you have to go through the same events, in order to make different choices to unlock alternate “endings”. Thankfully, it’s at least a quite short game, with each story sequence taking roughly 5-15 minutes to read through and the entire thing lasting around 2-3 hours at most.

On the other hand, Another World (being a re-release of the 1991 Eric Chahi classic of the same name), rarely bothers with narrative, save for a few short, vague cutscenes – in its case, gameplay mostly revolves around dying. A lot. Another World is a good example of the trial-and-error design that was prevalent in the early days of the medium – the game itself can be completed in roughly an hour, but only if you know the exact sequence of steps needed to reach the end screen. If not, then be prepared for a few hours’ worth of restarts, with each death bringing much-needed insight into what the “safe” places and actions are in each screen. Disappointingly, the achievement/trophy list takes inspiration from this, with a “Die 50 times” achievement included – something that’d make some sense superficially (as the game relies on dying/restarting as a mechanic) but which ultimately penalizes better or more experienced players (which presumably died a lot less than 50 times during the game) with grinding deaths post-ending to earn this.

Which brings us to the PC games finished in December – a bit broader and more varied selection, although similarly to the Vita games I’ve finished, there’s very little to talk about in-depth. Aside from Another World (again), most of my time was taken up between Who’s That Flying?!, a somewhat… unique take on the sidescrolling shoot-em-up genre, and Before the Echo, which some might know better as Sequence (renamed due to some legal mumbo-jumbo back in 2015), an excellent RPG-rhythm game fusion which, unfortunately, gets rather marred by its over-reliance on grind to (presumably) pad out its runtime. Bringing up the rear were Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon – an 8bit platform throwback to Castlevania, meant as a tie-in to the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – and Shadows of the Vatican – Act 1: Greed, a rather basic point-and-click adventure game which I found wholly unremarkable (in fact, its most remarkable feature is that development of its most current act, 3, has been in production limbo for a few years now).

Before the Echo’s combat system is quite unique and a refreshing take on the genre.

Let’s have a closer look at Before the Echo though – aside from being a unique blend of rhythm-game mechanics and RPG progression systems, it’s also an excellent example of how to badly implement grind and randomness.

Before getting started, keep in mind that I loved this game. From a mechanical standpoint it is quite well-made, boasting a unique three-field note track (more on that below) instead of the usual one-field approach that other well-known rhythm games (such as Guitar Hero) have taken, which gives it a much more “tactical” or priority-based approach. Its story is functional, in a good way – not dense enough to distract from the game’s core focus but neither sparse enough to feel unsatisfying (although I’d love to see a game that explores this universe in more depth).

The song list is also excellent (especially considering that this is by no means a high-budget project), boasting quality over quantity (admittedly, the genre selection is limited to mostly electronica and rock but it works in this context), with a small handful of songs used throughout the game’s seven levels. Which, in turn, brings us to what is easily my favorite part of this game – the note track combat system. As mentioned previously, there are actually three distinct note fields which the player can rotate into at will. The three fields correspond to attack, defense and mana – red, green and blue respectively.

In Before The Echo, each song represents a fight against an enemy monster or boss and with each note matched in whichever field the player has active at the time, different actions are taken. Matching notes in the red attack field will cause damage to the enemy, while matching them in the green defense field will negate damage towards the player. Meanwhile, the blue mana field acts as a sort of in-between buffer zone, where players can accumulate resources for their attacks when attacking or defending isn’t an option.

Unfortunately, its’ RPG mechanics depend way too much on RNG and grinding…

Thus, with this simple RPG-esque variation on the standard rhythm game formula, the game immediately becomes centered more around planning and anticipation, rather than just reacting to note drops.

Unfortunately, this is also where the aforementioned problems appear – the RPG elements in Before the Echo also include a crafting and spell learning system (spells being the attacks you can launch via the red field, crafted items being equipment that increases the player’s damage and defense), which would be fine except that it depends on luck and grinding for experience. In order to learn spells and craft items, experience points must be expended (and therefore the player must grind experience in order to progress their level and acquire new abilities or items).

Meanwhile, the item crafting system works concurrently on a percentage system, where the base chance of succeeding in creating an item (50%) can be increased by further spending even more experience. This ends up forcing players into repeating fights to accumulate enough experience to craft items they need or new abilities (and keep in mind, some crafted items are required in order to progress through the story).

…as evidenced by the absurdly low chances (which force huge XP expenditures).

I’d assume this was done in order to increase the game’s length (as mentioned before, the selection of songs is limited and similarly, the story is quite short if all the grind is disregarded) but even so, I’d much rather have had half of the current runtime in order to reduce or even eliminate the tiresome repetition – but even so, I’d still recommend this game in a heartbeat, just for its unique take on the rhythm genre.

Which games did you play in December? 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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