SQUIDS: Odyssey Makes a Great Transition from Mobile to Console

Way back in 2011, I reviewed an iOS game called SQUIDS, a turn-based RPG that combined solid mechanics, bite-sized missions and an undersea aesthetic designed to appeal to gamers of all ages. SQUIDS was a micro transaction supported game that struck a nice balance with its currency system, so you could actually progress without having to spend additional money if you didn’t want to. The Game Bakers also released a sequel called SQUIDS: Wild West, which was also well received.

Fast forward to 2014, and developer The Game Bakers has brought SQUIDS to Nintendo’s 3DS and WiiU platforms. This new iteration is called SQUIDS: Odyssey, and it brings the first two games together and some additional content as well. There are no microtransactions this time around–the game is a $14.99 digital download from the eShop. I spent a good amount of time with the WiiU version this past weekend, and I’m really impressed with how well the game has been adapted for Nintendo’s console.

SQUIDS: Odyssey retains the same story and core gameplay from the original games. Players control a group of squids who are thrust into the role of both protectors and recruiters when their underwater home is threatened by a mysterious Black Ooze that corrupts undersea creatures, turning them evil. Players control a party of squids that consist of different classes–Scouts (speedy rogue), Shooters (ranged combat), Troopers (tanks) and Healers. As you unlock more characters in the game, you can swap them in and out of your party, and customize that party for each type of level you’re facing. In addition to customizing your party, you can level up your characters, as well as find and purchase gear that gives characters bonuses to certain stats.

Each bite-sized level features enemies that must be defeated and hazards that must be navigated. So in addition to making sure you have the right members in your party, you also have to make sure you’re using them strategically. You move the squids around each level by pulling back their legs and aiming them in a certain direction. There are obstacles littering each level, and some levels have area that you can actually fall off. So each turn is spent positioning your characters to not only defeat enemies, but support one another and navigate the level effectively.

What’s impressive to me about SQUIDS is that all of the systems in the game are well balanced and simple to understand. None of the systems I mentioned above ever feels overwhelming, and each time I failed to complete a level, I knew exactly what I did wrong. More impressively, the game has transitioned well from a microtransaction-based model to one in which all of the currency is unlocked through playing. Gear and upgrades are reasonable priced, and because you can go back and play any level you’ve beaten, you can always grind for more loot and currency before taking on more challenging levels.

On the WiiU front, The Game Bakers have flawlessly adapted SQUIDS for the console. You can play with either button-based controls or touch controls on the GamePad, and at any time, you can switch the TV mode off and just play entirely on the GamePad. This game actually feels like it was made for the WiiU, and it uses the GamePad better than most of the games I’ve played on the console.

All in all, SQUIDS: Odyssey is a great adaptation of the series that is perfectly at home on the WiiU. It’s a game you can play with your kids, or enjoy as an adult, and it’s got plenty of content for the $15 asking price. Definitely worth checking out. And if you need any hints or tips as you play through, the devs have put a complete strategy guide up on The Game Bakers website. You can check it out here.


Let the Summer of Vita Commence!

Despite its ongoing lackluster sales, the PlayStation Vita has quite a stable of solid games now, with more on the way in the near future. Borderlands 2 just dropped (I am enjoying it so far), the Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy was just announced for July, as was Ubisoft’s new RPG Child of Light. Dragon’s Crown will be free in June to PS Plus subscribers, and there’s a steady flow of indie titles coming to the handheld for the rest of 2014.

For me, Borderlands 2 and the announcement that Child of Light is coming has given me a renewed interest in my Vita. With summer right around the corner, I know I’ll be spending less time in front of my TV, which means more of my gaming will be taking place on a portable platform. I’m looking forward to this, to the point that I’ve kind of planned out my “Summer of Vita.”

June will be dedicated to immersing myself in Borderlands 2. I only played about five hours of the console version, but the first hour or so I spent with the Vita version was pretty impressive. I look forward to delving deeper and perhaps even some online co-op.

July will be an RPG month, as I will definitely be playing Child of Light on Vita and would love to get through Dragon’s Crown as well. Coming off of Dark Souls 2, I’m looking for a different flavor of RPG, and both of these fit the bill.

For August, I’m leaning toward the Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy, but I also want to dig into the Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, which I got free when I bought the Vita.

So, three months and at least four games will see my Vita getting more use than it has since I bought it. I may even have a PS4 by the end of the summer, in which case I will definitely be taking advantage of some remote play.

So without further ado, let the summer of Vita begin!


Dark Souls II’s Informal Quest System

One of the many things I love about the Souls games is the organic way that quests emerge during a playthrough. There’s no quest system per se, but as you figure out your character build and playstyle, you will find yourself questing for items, spells and upgrades to complement how you are approaching a particular playthrough. This will lead to gaming session where you are not trying to complete a particular level, but rather find an item, or battle an enemy over and over in hopes of getting an item drop.

I have been playing a Hex build for my first time through Dark Souls II, and it’s been an interesting challenge. Because of the hybrid nature of the build (Faith/Int), you don’t really start to become powerful until later on in the game. Hexes require either a certain Faith score or a certain Int score, and certain hexes require different catalysts to cast. These factors are what led to the quest I was on last night–to get a Black Witch’s Staff from the Leydia Witches in Undead Crypt. The Black Witch’s Staff allows you to cast miracles, sorceries and hexes, meaning I would no longer need to switch between spell casting items during combat, and I would only need one equip slot for spell casting.

And so, I ventured back into the Undead Crypt, a very difficult area of the game that I’d completed recently, but needed to revisit, as it is the home of the Leydia Witches. The Leydia Witches are very cool from a lore standpoint. They worship the god of disease, and they can cast multiple forms of magic. They were once good, but abused their power and were killed, their spirits now forced to serve as guardians of the Crypt. From a gameplay standpoint, the witches are very powerful, casting spells that can make quick work of you if they land. When you kill them, there is a chance they will drop a Black witch’s Staff, but no guarantee.

So, my quest was to battle the witches in hopes of getting a staff. Luckily, there is a room not far from the first bonfire in the undead Crypt that houses three Leydia Witches. It also contains four Undead Prisoners, and is an absolute deathtrap if you don’t approach it carefully.

And this is what’s so great about Dark Souls II. This one room became a 45-minute quest for me. Because my character is a spellcaster, running into the room, dodging attacks and meleeing everyone was not an option. The witches are all lined across the far end of the room, and they begin casting Affinity (like homing magic missiles of death) as soon as you enter. Each time I battled them, I had to first lure out the four Undead prisoners and kill them so it was just me and the witches. I then actually had to run past them, dodging attacks along the way, and get to the room behind them to get better position. From there, I used Lightning Bolts and Soul Spears to take them out one by one.

Each run through that room took me about ten minutes, and it wasn’t until my fourth try that I finally got one of them to drop the staff I needed. It was worth it, though.

That’s just one example of the informal quest system that emerges while you play through a Souls game. There will be times where you make suicide runs into areas that are way to difficult, just to grab an item or weapon before dying. The hunt for items, weeapons and upgrades brings you back to areas you’ve already completed. And the type of items or weapons will depend on your build and style, so each playthrough will involve different quests.

This is just another aspect of the brilliant design of the Souls games, and the reason they are so replayable. Over seventy hours in, I’m still questing for odds and ends to perfect my build.

I love this game.

In the video below, you’ll see someone play through the room containing the three withches. This eprson had a much stronger bow than i do, and they smartly used a ranged approach with the witches. The Affinity spell they are casting is awesome, and the reason this person is not taking a lot more damage is beacuse they never take a full hit from one of an entire group of projectiles.


Dark Souls II–Son of A…

The first time you die in Dark Souls II, you unlock an achievement/trophy called “Welcome to Dark Souls.” I got a good chuckle out of that, because of course it’s a nod to the fact that in the Souls series, you die–a lot. For me though, the moment when I achieve the true Souls experience is the first time I want to quit in frustration. That moment happened to me today, at roughly my 60-hour mark into the game, when I face the boss called The Rotten.

The Rotten is a pretty much a giant corpse golem, who attacks you with a giant meat cleaver in an arena filled with burning pools of oil. He’s slow, but extremely powerful, and all it takes is one good swing of that meat cleaver to take me out.

I have died trying to beat this boss three times now, and that’s including when I’ve summoned in help. But what turned my frustration into controller-throwing rage was the way I’ve died the past two times. On each occasion, I had The Rotten down to a last sliver of health, and I’ve died before being able to land the killing blow. I’ve never been so close to beating a boss twice in a row, only to die both times.

I’m actually writing this as I take a break, because I had to walk away from the game. I’ll be diving back in momentarily, but I had to mark this occasion, as it’s the moment in Dark Souls II where the game became a true Souls experience for me.


Dark Souls II–A World of Co-Opportunities

After putting twenty-five hours into Dark Souls II, one of the things that stands out the most to me is how much of an emphasis has been placed on cooperative multiplayer. As someone who really grew to love the co-op in this series, it’s been a great experience for me so far.

From Software has made it easier than ever to engage in co-op, and to customize the type of co-op experience you want to have. From the covenant you join, to your “Soul Memory” (the total number of souls obtained regardless of your character’s level), the game’s goal is to match you up with people who are about as powerful as you so you can play through a level at the appropriate challenge.

For those that don’t really want to deal with summoning or invasions, you can actually “turn off” the multiplayer features by Burning a Human Effigy (a consumable item that can turn you human) at a bonfire. For me though, the multiplayer is one of the most interesting aspects of the Souls series.

I’ve actually been using co-op as a chance to preview a level before I go through it in my own game. I’ll help a few people through the level as a kind of practice, and then make a run through myself.

You can also use co-op as a way to farm for souls, as the developers pretty much did away with the type of farming you could do in the previous game. I actually like this way better, as I’m helping others while I grind to get enough souls to either improve my gear or level my character. The only thing you have to be careful about when doing this is that your Soul Memory continues to increase, and you will eventually move past the level range of most players who are summoning or being summoned in a particular area.

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed is that very few people are taking advantage of the ability to voice chat in Dark Souls II. I haven’t used it, and I haven’t encountered anyone who is using it. I really love the gesture system of communication, and the anonymous nature of the co-op. The gestures this time around are fantastic, and for me voice chat would ruin the atmosphere of the game.

So to recap, thus far I’ve been engaging in a ton of co-op, building up my character and practicing in areas before I make my boss runs. I am getting to the interesting part of my character build now, which I’ll talk more about next time.


Dark Souls II–The First Few Hours

Oh, it’s good to be home again. I have spent so many hundreds of hours with the Souls series over the past few years that there is a familiar comfort in slipping into the world of Dark Souls II. As much as Drangleic is a new setting, it shares so much with what has come before. The biggest difference that I have noticed in my first ten hours with the game is in the approach that I’ve taken to playing it.

I’ve been conditioned by the previous Souls games to know up front that I will be dying regularly in this game, and use each “life” to learn something. The only waste of time in a Souls game is dying needlessly without learning anything new. And I decided before creating my first character in Dark Souls II that I was going to challenge myself to play differently than in past games and explore this game in ways I had not explored the previous one.

So, I started with the Deprived character class, as you are spawned into the world with nothing, and you have no pre-spent levels. It’s the “clean slate” class of the Souls series. Normally, I would start with a spellcaster, because I prefer ranged attacks and the spell you start with makes low level play a bit easier. Not this time. The first enemies I defeated in Dark Souls II were with my bare hands.

The tutorial level is known as Things Betwixt, and for the most part it’s a place to practice with the controls, but there are a few optional, more challenging enemies (Ogres) in the area that you can either brave early, or come back and fight alter. I lured one of these to its death but decided to come back for the others after I had more than a dagger with me.

After the tutorial area, you find yourself in Majula, the main hub area of Dark Souls II. Much like the Nexus in the original Demon’s Souls, this is an area you constantly come back to for leveling, blacksmith access and merchants. NPCs move to this area as you progress through the game. The area itself is beautiful, and is a stark contrast to the murky nature of most levels in the original Dark Souls–it’s bright and wide open.


The first area I decided to trek through from the hub is the Forest of Fallen Giants, and it became immediately apparent that the combat in Dark Souls II was going to be more challenging than its predecessor.

The biggest changed I’ve notice so far are the roaming enemies, and the variety of enemy mobs. In Dark Souls, most enemies were standing in place, waiting for you to aggro them. They were always in the same place, and you knew exactly how close you needed to get in order to pull them to you. In Dark Souls II, many of the enemies are patrolling, which adds almost a stealth element to the game, especially when multiple enemies are present in an area.

And speaking of multiple enemies, there is much more variety to the mobs already in Dark Souls II. You are often facing off against two or three enemies at a time, each with different weapons and attacks. These encounters are much less predictable than what you’d see in the original Dark Souls, and you have less control over the battle itself. This means a smaller margin for error and a bigger emphasis on timing attacks, blocks, etc.

Right now I’ve cleared the way to the boss of the first area, but I’m still exploring the Forest of Fallen Giants, grabbing items and trying to level up a bit. As a deprived, I’ve had to get my Strength and Dexterity up enough to wield basic weapons, and I’ve not leveled my Intelligence up enough to even cast basic spells yet. It makes for more of a grind at the beginning of the game, but so far I like the challenge of having to scavenge for everything as well as having full control over what stats I invest in from the start.

What I absolutely know for sure about Dark Souls II is that I will be putting a few hundred hours into this game, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it on the blog here.

Stay tuned.


The Minecraft Effect

I first picked up Minecraft when it was released on Xbox 360 in 2012, and for a few months, it became an obsession. Whether in co-op or alone, I would often lose hours at time to the timeless nature of the game, where sessions are not measured by minutes in our world, but by the day/night cycle of the world you become immersed in.

For me, Minecraft is equal parts LEGO and Dungeons & Dragons. Creating a base of operations, equipping my character and then venturing out into the world to hunt monsters hearkens back to my tabletop roleplaying game days, and it’s easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole whenever I fire up the game.

What has consistently surprised me though, is how easily causal and non-gamers are drawn into Minecraft. In the past two weeks alone, my 7-year old son, my ten-year old daughter, my 15 year-old nephew and my thirty-something brother-in-law have all been captivated by Minecraft.

For my son, the simplicity of the basic mechanics and the similarities to LEGO building (which is his favorite pastime) hooked him immediately. While the crafting menus can get a little complex, the core concepts are really clear, so the learning curve for him wasn’t steep. Not to mention, the ability to turn off the appearance of monsters in the game allowed him to build without worry, and then begin adventuring when he had a good feel for the game. My daughter also liked the building aspects, but what really drew her in was the notion that you can just keep digging deeper into the world, and you never knew what you’ll find behind that next block.

This past weekend, my brother-in-law and nephew watched my son play, and then jumped in themselves. My nephew bought the game on his Macbook and literally sat next to his father playing on his laptop while my brother-in-law played the XBox 360 version. For my nephew, it was the crafting that hooked him, while my brother-in-law found the game reminded him of Zelda, the one series he’s really gotten into despite not being a frequent gamer. When the two left our house at the end of the weekend, they promptly went home and bought the game for XBox 360.

My son and daughter have both now gotten Minecraft on their iPods, and it’s been a blast watching them explore and build. What I love the most about Minecraft is that despite their being some monsters in the game, it’s completely appropriate for kids of almost any age. Heck, even my wife enjoys watching the kids play, and she hasn’t been into games since Pandemonium on the original PlayStation.

The game really reinforces all of the things I love about games, and I can just let my kids dive in and play. Seeing them enjoy it so much has actually rekindled my love for the game, and I just picked it up for PlayStation 3, so I expect I’ll be writing about it more in the coming months.


Defenders of the Faith–Part 2: At Home in the Catacombs

Ahh, the Catacombs. An area of Dark Souls I previously hated, but have grown to love playing through them with my Faith build. I’ve spent more time in the Catacombs during this playthrough than with my previous two combined.

For those unfamiliar, the Catacombs are a potentially frustrating area of Dark Souls because the skeletons that populate the area can reanimate if they are not killed with a divine weapon. There are necromancers (six of them, I believe) scattered throughout the level, and until they are killed, they keep bringing the skeletons in their area back to unlife.

Those not playing divine characters often build divine weapons just to play through this part of the game. As a Faith build this time around, I looked forward to tackling the Catacombs with a character uniquely suited to them. By the time I made it to this area, I had upgraded my divine Claymore to +5 (halfway to max), and my Faith stat was in the low 30’s. So for the most part, I ripped through this area without much trouble, decimating dozens of skeletons along the way.

Unlike previous playthroughs though, when I beat Pinwheel (the area boss), I didn’t just move on to the next area–I went back for some co-op. I ended up playing through the second half of the level several more times, helping people through. I also went back and forth through the area a few times, exploring it in a way I had never done before.

With my Faith build, I felt like the Catacombs were almost made for me. It’s yet another reason why Dark Souls is a game that you should play through multiple times. Every approach gives you a new appreciation for the game world.

Here’s a cool video by OreoYifu that features some good co-op in the Catacombs, including a few great invasions.


Defenders of the Faith–Part 1: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

My first Dark Souls character was a magic-based one. The second was primarily a melee character, with some Pyromancy spells thrown in. For my third Dark Souls character, I decided to go with the Cleric class and make a pure Faith build, which meant I had my toughest playthrough ahead of me. That’s because from a spellcasting (or Miracle) standpoint, Faith magic is mostly defensive and supportive in nature. Healing spells, buffs, shield spells and utility spells make up most of the list. In fact, the only real offensive miracles for Faith builds come from joining particular covenants. Because I wanted to focus on my Faith stat and use spells as much as possible, I knew I had to join covenants.

As soon as I was able, I joined the Warriors of Sunlight covenant, for a couple of reasons. First off, Warriors of Sunlight are focused on helping other players through co-op, and the rewards of that covenant come from helping others successfully defeat bosses. I like that, as I prefer co-op as opposed to PvP in Dark Souls. Secondly, joining the Warriors of Sunlight gives you access to two offensive Miracles fairly early in the game: Lightning Spear and Great Lightning Spear. These are decent ranged attack spells and are very helpful early on.

In order to get Great Lightning Spear, you need to have successfully helped ten players in co-op. So, many of my early hours with this character were spent in co-op, which was really fun.

Two offensive spells wasn’t going to cut it, though, so I needed to get myself a decent weapon. Once again, Faith builds kind of get the short end of the stick, as there aren’t a lot of great weapons that scale well with the Faith stat. I settled on the claymore, as it has a good move set and is fun to wield. As soon as I could, I began upgrading my claymore through the Divine path. While faith weapons don’t scale as well as many other types in the game, it’s enough to give me a fighting chance in most boss encounters.

So, a good portion of my first 20+ hours with this character spent in co-op, and all of the souls I earned went to increasing my Faith stat and upgrading my claymore.

Next time around I’ll talk about how the Catacombs went from one of my least favorite areas in the game to one I love playing through with my Faith build.


Return to Demon’s Souls–Part 2: The More the Merrier

Probably the biggest difference in my current playthrough of Demon’s Souls as opposed to the original is my participation in the multiplayer aspects of the game. The first time I played Demon’s Souls, my multiplayer experiences were limited to being invaded by the occasional Black Phantom.

Having spent over 200 hours with Dark Souls (many of them in multiplayer) has really changed my approach to Demon’s Souls this time around, though. Because Demon’s Souls doesn’t have Humanity like Dark Souls, reviving to human form is a little more precious. You do find stones that will revive you to human form, but they’re nowhere near as abundant as Humanity is in Dark Souls. The most consistent way you revive in Demon’s Souls is by beating bosses.

One huge difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls is that in Demon’s Souls, if you have the necessary stone, you can revive at any time. In Dark Souls, you can only do this at bonfires. So, in Demon’s Souls, I can battle my way to just before the boss, and then revive and summon another player or two in. In Dark Souls, when I revive, I have to make it from the bonfire to the boss without dying, and if I’ve summoned in other players, they do as well. This is a huge tactical advantage the Demon’s Souls offers over Dark Souls, one of the handful of areas where the original is better than the sequel.

I’m about a third of the way through the game now, and I’ve summoned players in a handful of times, making boss fights much easier. What I’ve done a lot more though, is made myself available for summoning into others’ worlds.

What’s cool about the summoning in Demon’s Souls is that you actually rate the other player after you beat a boss. When someone looks at your summon sign later on, they see how many matches you’ve participated in, and what your rating is. So far, I haven’t seen anyone really abusing this by trolling people with low ratings, and the system is a great way to thank someone for coming in and helping you through a difficult part of the game.

Outside of summoning, I have had my share of invasions so far, and I’ve had some amazing battles. The other day I was invaded in the Shrine of Storms level (luckily I’d cleared out the steel skeletons before that happened), and the ensuing battle was about ten minutes long. We both switched back and forth between spells and weapons, each getting the other near death several times. I ended the battle with a well-timed roll and sword attack, finishing the invader right before they landed a blow that would have taken my last sliver of health. It’s these kind of battles that make the Souls series so memorable.

That brings up another big difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls–the ability for summoned or invading players to consistently heal themselves during co-op or PvP. In dark Souls, players have to use Humanity or miracles to heal when summoned or invading–Estus flasks don’t work. In Demon’s Souls, you can use the healing grasses to regenerate health as much as you want. This makes for longer PvP battles, as well as an increased chance that a summoned player will survive a level or boss encounter with you. It’s another area where I prefer Demon’s Souls over Dark Souls.

Next time I’ll be discussing some of my favorite locations in Demon’s Souls, especially the mind-flayer populated Tower of Latria.