My Favorite Element: Nier Automata

Uncle Geekly finished one of 2017’s best role-playing games Nier: Automata. Come to think of it 2017 was a great year for Japanese Role-Playing Games with Persona 5 also becoming available worldwide six months after its initial release. But we’re going to discuss Nier: Automata in this writeup and how it takes a novel approach to storytelling that I haven’t seen too many video games attempt.

To say Nier: Automata is off kilter would be an understatement. I enjoy that every weapon has its own unique backstory that players can dip their toes into. Weapon Stories are a recurring element in the Nier and Drakengard series as are multiple plays of the game revealing new potential endings. Nier: Automata takes the latter element and makes it work—alternate endings don’t always pan out that well in Nier and the Drakengard series—by showing the game through the eyes of its two protagonists.

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Nier: Automata is broken into two parts and two main characters: 2B and 9S. There are moments through the first playthrough where 9S disappears for long periods of time. He explains most of his absences but showing what 9S goes through offers a lot to the overall experience. As soon as I saw that I’d play as 9S during a second playthrough I shuddered. There are moments that I’d rather not experience first-hand, but at the same time, I played on because I wanted to see them out of morbid curiosity.

Not every story can be enhanced by a second telling by another character, but Nier: Automata makes a great choice in showing 2B’s and 9S’s story. It’s obvious that they’re co-protagonists and it would’ve been a falsehood to not show 9S’s journey.

What are your favorite elements of Nier: Automata? Are there any other video games that do a great job of showing two protagonists’ stories. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanisms: Dinosaur Island

Yes. Uncle Geekly picked up Dinosaur Island this past Christmas, and I’ve had some time to get in several plays. For the uninitiated or the ones who don’t remember what I said about Dinosaur Island in the past, it’s a tabletop game where players compete for visitors by building their own Jurassic Park. The premise is solid gold.

Each individual game mechanism has been seen in other games, but Dinosaur Island does a fantastic job of combining mechanisms that mimic what they’re supposed to mimic. The research and development section functions like the players exploring which dinosaurs they can recreate. Players can take a risk—increasing the dinosaur threat level—by taking a die that yields larger research results or they could take a safer route and set a foundation for gaining research points over time. It’s slower, but more reliable. The building of dinosaur pins and dinosaur husbandry—is that a thing?—functions the way one would think they would. Does one build the pins and reproduce dinos to get more visitors in one’s park before building adequate security? Players can, but is it wise?

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The dinosaur figures don’t hurt the fun factor, but the resource management of where to place workers to get the best effect and where to place visitors so they yield the highest reward are other moments where Dinosaur Island shines. There’s just enough luck introduced so there’s a chance for players to catch a runaway winner, but Dinosaur Island is first and foremost a strategy game. A player who deploys a better strategy tends to win more often than those who don’t.

Each game mechanism—worker placement, tile placement, set collection, and an action point allowance system—behaves like its own mini game. Dinosaur Island could even be viewed as a series of mini games. But Dinosaur Island’s whole is far greater than any single part. That makes describing the game difficult or zeroing in on any specific part as a favorite tough. I like how Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis combine these elements, so they make a tasty blend.

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There are plenty of other games that throw in a lot of mechanisms (First Martians comes to mind), but the individual pieces feel like a board game version of doing your taxes. Dinosaur Island doesn’t feel that way. The elements make sense for what the players are doing and the strategy, while difficult to master, is easy to see. Players will know why they won or lost and how they may be able to improve. Plenty of games offer hodgepodges of gaming mechanisms, but few of those games deliver a great experience like Dinosaur Island.

What are your favorite elements of Dinosaur Island? Have you ever played a game without humming the Jurassic Park theme? Uncle Geekly hasn’t, even when I play a solo game. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

My Favorite Elements of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and What I Hope Will Happen in the Series Finale

Your uncle Geekly started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this past summer, so he’s getting to the show during its final season. It’s too bad the show is ending after four years because I’ve enjoyed most episodes, but sometimes the best shows end after short runs. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is both the CW’s most over-the-top show and its most grounded. Yeah. It’s the oddest mix. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical comedy, so ridiculous dancing and singing abound, and while its main character Rebecca obsesses with love and romance, the show focuses on mental health.

The most recent episode aired a couple of Fridays ago and it had a musical number about antidepressants and how more people take these medications than one might think. Seriously, this show is about destigmatizing mental health issues and making sure folks who suffer from these ailments seek help and know that they’re not alone.  This is a far different message than what most CW shows present. The majority of CW shows devolve into who is with whom as in dating or bedhopping. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has had its share of Rebecca bedhopping, but these acts feed into her mental health issues. Plenty of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend watchers subscribe to Team Greg or Team Nathaniel or even Team Josh. But I hope, for the sake of Rebecca’s wellbeing, that she ends up with no one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against love and romance, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a higher calling than shipping (as in the slang for matchmaking) the main character with a specific beau. The show would betray its serious message about mental health and undercut a lot of good it’s done. I’ve seen just as many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans talk openly about mental health and reach out to others in need. But Rebecca choosing any of these men would end up a poor choice.

She moved to West Covina to obsess over Josh who was dating someone else and may have a touch of Peter Pan Syndrome (that’s unhealthy behavior), rebounded with Greg who has his own demons with alcoholism (another unhealthy choice) and eventually plotted revenge with Nathaniel who suffers from abandonment issues and poor social skills (yet another unhealthy choice). It’s okay if Rebecca ends up alone. Or she could leave the door open for romance if she works on her issues first. There aren’t enough episodes remaining for Rebecca to get well enough to focus on romance.

To the show’s credit, it looks as if Rebecca will choose to work on her mental health first. Sorry, folks. We’ll probably get one more push for romance between Josh and Nathaniel, but it appears as if Rebecca may go back to her first love, theater, and that’s something else Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does so well, they suggest that love comes in many forms, not just romance. Other CW shows should take notice.

What’s your favorite element of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? If you’re a fan, what do you hope will happen in the series finale? If you disagree with me, you can have Nathaniel order a hit on me, or you could leave a comment. I could be moving to Venus or Mars soon, so leaving a comment would probably be more effective.

My Favorite Gaming Element for Apex Legends

Your uncle Geekly has tried out the latest battle royal craze Apex Legends and I like it despite loathing the genre. I’m more of a solo experience video gamer. Give me a story and characters I can invest in and I’m happy; multiplayer games don’t usually do a lot for me. Battle royal games and the chaos they bring do even less for me, but I’m surprised by Apex Legends’ focus on teamwork.

Everything about Apex Legends screams that the players must work as a team. When players jump into the map, they do so as a team and that shows the emphasis on team play at each game’s beginning. I’ve heard on some message boards that Fortnite players dislike being forced to jump as a team, but Fortnite is every player for themselves. Sure, there is a squad (or team) option for the game, but it pales in comparison to the every person for themselves game mode. Apex Legends’ squad play outshines Fortnite’s most likely because players jump as a team.

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The communication system, or ping system, works like a charm. The Gears of War series may have instituted a ping system, but Apex Legends gets it right. Players don’t need to use mics if they don’t have them. Heck. Even if they do have them, they may prefer to use the ping system. If you see a shield or gun a teammate can use, ping it so the item shows up on their map. If you see an enemy on the next ridge, ping the location so it shows up on your teammates’ map and you can converge on the enemy. Players can even ping one location for their teammates and another for themselves—you go here, I’ll go here—and a team can formulate a pincer attack in near real time.

Can Apex Legends be played by oneself? Yes, but not well. I’ve had teammates drop out because of server issues—of which there have been a lot since the game’s launch—and ended up in a solo team. I’ve made it to the final three squads in several of these instances, but when the game gets tight, more firepower is needed, firepower that won’t exist if a player is by themselves. The closest I ever got to winning a game as predominately a solo squad was second place with one other combatant standing. That’s not saying that Uncle Geekly’s good at Apex Legends, in fact, I strive for mediocrity, but my point is that one can’t win the game that easily going solo.

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More than any other battle royal game—on the market today—Apex Legends focuses on a team dynamic and if I’m going to play a multiplayer game, I prefer a team atmosphere. I could carry this team mentality further and discuss Overwatch at length and how the character selection screen breeds discontent while Apex Legends has a more relaxed feel, but let’s say that the concept of team shines through most of Apex Legends and that’s where players will find the fun. If you prefer team based multi-player games, you may enjoy Apex Legends.

Do you agree that Apex Legends is a good team battle royal game? Do you have a character that you prefer to player more than another? Let us know in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanics: Pit Crew

Many people won’t like Pit Crew. The real-time aspect of the game can get players flustered and dampen some of the fun, but that’s what I like about it. While most real-time games have players dashing to play cards or some other game device to a common area, Pit Crew has gamers play solitaire.

The rules are simple, but I won’t go into them in detail here. Players assume the role of a pit crew during a stock car race. They play cards numbered 1-10 in either white or black numbers (there’s a bonus if a player uses all of one color) on areas where they must place a pair of the same number, go up or down in number (with 10 and 1 being adjacent), and reach a specific sum. The first ones to do so begin rolling a die. For every 6 they roll, they move their car one space on the track—and that’s where it gets interesting.

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Geoff Engelstein has created a psychological game with his players. The impulse is to start playing your cards quickly as soon as you hear someone roll a die. But Pit Crew is more concerned with gamers playing a clean game of solitaire. Your opponents will gain more spaces with the penalties incurred by messing up a pattern, than any spaces gained on a die.

Roll. You may forget what total your on for the area that needs a specific sum. Roll. Did I play a three and then a four or a five and then a four? Roll! I don’t care if the color on the numbers match, I’m placing those two ones in a pair spot.

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What’s worse is that gamers may feel more impowered to give their opponents bonuses rather than take a penalty. This is another psychological trick Pit Crew uses. If my car went backwards on the board for every one of my mistakes, the penalty would only affect me. With all my opponents (it may be a 3-player game) gaining a benefit from my mistakes, my mistakes are multiplied, but in an odd sense, a lot of gamers would prefer giving other players a bonus instead of accepting a penalty.

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Pit Crew poses an interesting question. Is it better to be punished or rewarded?

What do you like most about Pit Crew? What are the things you don’t like about Pit Crew? Heck, is it better to be punished or rewarded in games?

It’s a good thing I’m a glutton for punishment, let me know what you really think in the comments.

My Favorite Storytelling Elements Spider-Man “Kraven’s Last Hunt”

Most critics dub “Kraven’s Last Hunt” the greatest Kraven story ever told and one of the best Spider-Man stories. It features plenty of comic book action, but the character studies are what set “Kraven’s Last Hunt” from other Spidey tales.

The world no longer appreciated Kraven’s physical prowess. It no longer marveled at his courage, and most animal rights activists condemned him—he was a hunter after all—and the world he lived in no longer made sense. Before he met Spider-Man he’d never known defeat or humiliation. Now Kraven has fallen ill. He knows the end is near, but before he goes, he vows to reclaim his honor and prove his superiority over Spider-Man. He went out for one last hunt.

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“Kraven’s Last Hunt” embraces Kraven’s personal struggles. It blends aspects from classic literature and recurring themes to find a deeper truth. Kraven doesn’t just want to kill Spider-Man. In fact, Kraven doesn’t kill Spidey when he has the chance. He buries Spidey alive on his complex and assumes his identity. There’s even a moment where Kraven rescued Mary Jane, Spidey’s new wife, and she can see through Kraven’s disguise. Kraven falls short of being a hero. He never was one. This is a story that questions what it means to be a hero.

Kraven also thinks he can drive Spider-Man past the point where he ceases to be a hero. A rat-like monster named Vermin stalks the streets of New York while Spidey rests six-feet under. Kraven beats the creature unconscious, brutalizes him, and takes him prisoner. After Spidey comes to, he wants revenge for the time Kraven took from him. His anger leads him to Vermin, who Kraven uses as pawn to see if Spidey is strong enough to do unto Vermin what he did. Spidey proves that he’s strong enough not to.

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There are so many themes of what makes a hero and what makes a good person that it’s easy to see why “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is high on most critics lists of Spider-Man stories. It not only portrays Kraven at both the height of his powers and the lowest, it does a great job in its portrayal of Peter and Mary Jane’s young marriage.

Readers see how MJ deals with Peter’s disappearance and how she’d react if Peter ever died in action. It’s a great window into the life of someone who must stay up late, worrying if their loved one is okay. In short, “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is a triumph and a must read for any Spider-Man fan or Spidey newbie.

Is there anything about “Kraven’s Last Hunt” that you liked that I didn’t mention? If there is, message me and I’ll give you Jim’s phone number to complain to him. Or you could let us know in comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanism: Super Mario Bros.

I’ve talked about this before years ago, but one of my favorite game designs is the first Super Mario Bros., specifically the game’s first stage World 1-1. It’s an example of flawless game design that has inspired many game designers since. It’s a wonderful use of intuitive game design.

Mario begins on the screen’s far left. The player could try and move farther left, but the game won’t allow the player to do so. It’s showing the player that Mario must go right. Sure, the buttons are limited, but Mario can only move and jump, and the controls are easy to understand without ever reading the game’s manual. Soon, Mario encounters a Goomba (a mushroom-shaped enemy). Since Mario can only jump and the player gets caught in a corridor where they must interact with the Goomba, they find that Goombas can be defeated by jumping on them. This informs the player of Mario’s skillset and his enemies’ weakness.

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A question mark box flashes ahead, begging to be pressed. When pressed, a mushroom emerges. New players won’t know if the mushroom’s good or bad, but the game’s design makes it almost impossible to miss it. The mushroom turns out to be a powerup.

There’s even a moment where a seemingly random jump would result in finding a hidden 1UP mushroom (or extra life mushroom) and since it looks like the previous powerup mushroom, players are informed to grab it. A field study showed that most people who had never played Super Mario Bros. before found the 1UP mushroom. That’s because of its placement in the world; the first 1UP mushroom’s placement is just before a hole in the floor that players must jump over. It takes a little intuition to learn this game.

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Speaking of jumping over something, the first occurrence of a piranha plant, a polka-dot Venus flytrap enemy, is also strategically placed. With its mouth and fangs pointed up, players are informed to avoid them, but if a plant like that can go up a pipe, Mario can go down a pipe and that’s exactly what Mario can do there. It’s an excellent way of revealing a game’s secrets.

The rest of the level continues in a similar fashion, non-verbally teaching the game. When gamers say that they want intuitive game design or controls, they want something like Super Mario Bros. World 1-1. It’s still one of the best game designs.

Don’t believe me? When Hirokazu Yasuhara designed 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog, he stated that he tried to recreate Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 with every level. That’s high praise from Nintendo’s greatest competitor at the time. What are your favorite elements of classic or modern video games? If you disagree with my choice in World 1-1, feel free to jump on my Goomba head. That might hurt. Instead, leave me an angry comment.