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I’ll admit, I still haven’t quite finished Chrono Trigger, despite how much I like it. The reason for this minor tragedy is Atlus RPG Etrian Odyssey, published here in Europe by Nintendo in June of last year (Over a year after the US release). It’s proving to be quite the  time sink.Etrian Odyssey

Etrian Odyssey is an RPG of the first person dungeon-crawler variety, in which you lead your band of adventurers down into a mysterious underground forest, to get items needed up top and to figure out why on earth the forest, dubbed the Yggdrasil Labyrinth (The “which-religion-shall-we-steal-from” wheel of fortune Japanese developers all seem to have this time apparently landing on Old Norse), is even there. Other than that, so far there’s no real story to speak of, which I don’t really regard as a bad thing in this case. I am content to be a delivery boy, fetching Holy Water for an old man who can’t really venture into the labyrinth anymore. It’s kind of refreshing not to be expected to save the world.

The lack of any substantial story extends to your characters as well. You choose everything about your party, including their names, classes, attributes and character portraits. This gives a real sense of  attachment to your group, and I felt some real discomfort watching my dorkily named avatars fall one by one to one of the super-hard enemies, or F.O.E.s that litter the forest. And believe me, this happens a lot. Etrian Odyssey is old school hard, which works well, as the only barrier to how far you can venture into the dungeon is whether or not you can actually survive, so there’s an amazing sense of accomplishment as you hack your way into a part of the dungeon through monsters who vastly out-level you, and gain some amazing loot and experience in return.

Graphics are serviceable, if not amazing, with some nice character portraits and backgrounds. The battle system is simple, but quite deep. If you’ve played Dragon Quest, you’ll know exactly how it works. A little unoriginal, sure, but DQ is certainly not a bad place to steal from. Music is very good. It’s written by Yuzo Koshiro, the composer for Ys 1&2, the Streets of Rage games, and Act Raiser 1&2, so I expected quality, and it’s certainly present.

Perhaps the most strikingly new feature of Etrian Odyssey is the mapping system. Your bottom screen is a grid, not unlike graph paper, where you are expected to map out the entire labyrinth. Spaces you have been are automatically painted onto the map, so it’s not impossibly difficult or fiddly, but placement of walls, treasure, traps and F.O.E.s is up to the player. This is one of the strongest points of Etrian Odyssey. It’s incredibly satisfying to see a dungeon floor entirely mapped out, and know that it was down to your effort. In fact, “satisfying” describes pretty much all of this game. Everything is extremely tight, and it all adds up to one of the best RPGs the Nintendo DS has seen.

According to this handy stat tracker thingmy I have right here, my World of Goo post has been viewed a grand total of 103 times.

Huh?

Apparently, I now officially have hundreds of readers! Amazing! That, or this is some strange spamming scheme I am yet to hear of, or the world’s most pathetic DDoS attack. My money’s on the last two, but that great big peak on this here graph still brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my heart.

Edit: Maybe my new-found popularity means I should do a podcast!? Bwahaha, not right now.

I’ve been tooling around with the recently released Crayon Physics Deluxe, and so far, I’ve been having a lot of fun. I’m not sure if there’s really enough there to justify the $19.95 price point, but the demo is certainly worth downloading.

crayon physics

The premise behind crayon physics is extremely simple. There is a small red ball, and it has to get to the star in the level. To do this, you draw shapes with your cursor, which then come to life as real physics objects that your ball can roll on. To some degree, how you complete each puzzle is up to you, but in most of the stages, there’s definitely a ‘right’ way to do things.

The drawing and physics system is responsive and very intuitive, with none of the confusion between lines and blocks endemic to some games using similar ideas. The simplicity of Crayon Physics really works to the game’s benefit.

Visually, the game is pretty amazing, perfectly simulating a child’s drawing, right down to the fold marks on the paper. As the screenshot above shows, some clever vignetting enhances the effect, and also serves to focus attention towards the middle. Anything already present at the start of a level is very precisely placed, with almost nothing that is not necessary for the puzzle. Of course, for the community created levels, this is often not the case.

The music perfectly matches the visual style and chilled gameplay of the game, and is very competently produced. In a lot of ways it reminds me of two Icelandic groups, Amiina and Múm.

All in all, though, I tired fairly quickly of Crayon Physics Deluxe. Even with the community creations from the excellent level editor, I just found that every level kept coming back to very similar solutions, and it didn’t hold my attention for much more than a couple of hours.

That’s me, though. I accept my opinion on the matter is entirely subjective, and I perhaps have not spent enough time with the game. So I certainly don’t expect my experience to mirror *everyone* else’s, or even the majority’s.  But that’s what the demo is for! I recommend everyone download it immediately.

Note: There is also a homebrew game for the Nintendo DS called Pocket Physics with very similar aesthetics and gameplay to Crayon Physics. As it’s free, I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone with a flashcart. It can be downloaded here.

So,  after only playing the demo, I feel pretty good about recommending this to everyone I know. And of course, my audience of, uh, about twelve, according to the stats.

World of Goo

World of Goo

It’s easily the most fun I’ve had with a puzzle game in the last few years, perhaps bested only by the nintendo DS version of tetris. And I’m about five levels in! With new and different kind of gooballs, made available, and a build-the-highest-tower metagame, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get monotonous any time soon, but I really can’t be sure, obviously. I’m looking forwards to finding out though.

The visuals are charming, and the sound design is excellent (although the gooballs sound an awful lot like those lizards from the first level of the second Spyro game). What I love most of all, though, is just the feel of your little slimes. It’s amazingly tactile, with your tower or bridge swaying haphazardly as you try to avoid a sawblade or drag yourself out of a ravine.

And the ESRB descriptor? Comic Mischief. Come on, that is an advert.

World of Goo is available on Steam

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