It's true, Legend of Grimrock has pretty much been my only gaming action the past two weeks. And I'm fine with that. But I've got at least a few other good tips for those of you looking for something fresh this week.
Games of note this week:
1 - Legend of Grimrock
2 - Battle Nations
3 - Choice of Zombies
4 - Mario vs. Donkey Kong
5 - Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Here is one of the highly-anticipated 3DS titles, one of the three or four (along with Super Mario 3D Land and Resident Evil) which was supposed to really prove out the hardware. I'm not quite sure it does that, but it's certainly not a bad game.
In simplest terms, the game plays out like Panzer Dragoon - an into-the-screen rail shooter with independent player movement and aiming. It transitions between ground-based and flight-based sections, but both types of sections map pretty closely to the same archetype. This is an archetype which has proven to be enjoyable in the past - but the 3DS hardware isn't especially well suited to the necessary controls, so there is a bit of a mapping problem present. Specifically, you are forced to move with your left thumb, and fire with the left shoulder button at the same time. This is a bit of a contortion for long sessions.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong
I adored playing through this 6-7 years ago, and was excited when it came back up as part of the ambassador program on the 3DS. I'm going through it again, and it's still just a fantastic action puzzler. If anyone missed it the first time through, you owe it to yourself to check out the original. Don't bother with the sequels - they change the formula around significantly, and lose the tight elegance of the original.
Choice of Zombies
This is an IF game (Interactive Fiction - like a choose-your-own-adventure book) from the studio choice of games. They have several free books out like this one, and if the quality level is as high, they are well worth checking out. Writing an interactive book presents several interesting challenges - you really need to worry about pagebreaks, and story breaks in a way that you don't need to in novels. Names become much more important as well, since you need to actually make choices and take actions for the various characters, so remembering that Kayla is the 8-year-old and Lisa is the gun-nut zombie survivor becomes pretty important!
This is a pretty popular resource-management game - it gates the content behind "quests" a bit too much for my taste, but in most ways it fully realizes the potential I used to yearn for in games like Ikariam. The big two innovations are to pit players against AI enemies for combat, instead of having players attack other players. This makes combat a reasonable source of funds, and doesn't encourage ganking the way so many past attempts at this sort of thing have.
The other big innovation is that "energy" in the zynga sense is totally unnecessary if your economic factors are strong enough. Battle Nations has "population" as a serious restriction on my productivity, which is interesting. Here's my current dilemma:
1 - I can only hold 500 of each resource.
2 - Building a warehouse adds another 500 storage for each resources, but requires 8 population to staff.
3 - You cannot "de-staff" a building once it is complete - you must sell it and then re-build it later if necessary.
4 - I've recently gained the ability to make a larger warehouse, which increases capacity by 1000 and still requires only 8 workers. But it costs 4000 resources, which means I need to already have 7 warehouses, tying up 56 population of my 125 total.
I've been pretty good about anticipating bottlenecks, and smoothing out my experience in the other resources - I've been expanding early, turning on multiple harvesting nodes, etc. But the population bottleneck is frustrating - it's almost convincing me to buy the premium building which increases capacity by 2000 and requires only 4 workers. But I shall resist!
Legend of Grimrock
Legend of Grimrock is a lovely, lovely game. The puzzles, the dungeon, the monsters, the pacing of combat - it's all good. I really like the skill + upgrade system as well - getting a few stat bonuses here and there as I increase my daggers skill is very interesting. Axes increase strength, but now I need Dexterity - so I'm thinking about dipping into swords and athletics for that. Bracers are an armor slot that gives interesting and significant bonuses - +50% poison resist, or +20% regeneration rate, or similar.
The only weak point, in my opinion, is the magic system. Legend of Grimrock uses a glyph-based system obviously inspired by Dungeon Master. But in order to learn the spells, you need to increase your appropriate skill - and skill trees alternate stat bonuses and spells to better match the weapon and defense trees. This means that the total number of spells in the game is under 20, and any individual character is going to get only about 6. That's pretty anemic for a wizard. Even worse, mana is deducted when you cast the spell, not when you select glyphs. This means you have no idea how much mana a given spell is going to cost or - crucially whether or not you have enough mana to actually cast it. It's very frustrating to open up the glyph pane, select your glyphs, then hit "cast" and have nothing happen, forcing you to manually close the glyph pane so that you can continue combat normally.
I have two parties in the dungeon at present - one which uses magic and one which does not. I'm finding the non-magic team to be much more robust and fluid in a tight spot. I wish that weren't so.