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Archive for September, 2010

Review: Blade Kitten

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

This is a review I did for the kind folk over at zConnection in the UK, you should check them out! They taste like motherland.

Blade Kitten, the latest installment from Australia’s Krome Studios introduces us to Kit Ballard, a genetically engineered human/cat hybrid known as a Felion. Kit is a unique kind of bounty hunter called a ‘Breaker’ and the game follows her journey through the synthetic shell-like planetoid of Hollow Wish. The Blade Kitten universe originated in comic form, from which the game heavily borrows it’s anime-inspired art style. Kit jumps, flips, climbs, slides, and ground pounds her way through the cavernous depths and the tallest towers of this vividly detailed, very pretty 2D platformer, with the help of her friends Skiffy and Noot. As you travel various enemies such as slugs, space marines, droids, giant snails, Squamatans and Darques all try and get in the way of Kit’s main goals – the rapid acquisition of moolah… and to a lesser extent survival.

It’s narrative is a little thin, you don’t get a lot of background into what is going on and you hit the ground running with your first quest. Even before knowing who Kit is, why Kit is, and what she’s doing on this planet you are caught up in a catty (Ohhh pun-a-licious!) bitch fight that leads to your first mission. The lack of story telling early on can feel a little uneasy as Kit travels the land without being solidly grounded in an explicit context. Even after finishing the game I’m not 100% sure on what just happened. The gist of the narrative appears to be “Land on planet, find moneys (known as Hex), and kill anyone that tries to kill you”. Occasionally you see a glimpse of a bigger story going on, but it’s not explored enough to inspire a rabid, slobbering “all else ceases to exist” all night play-through. The narrative is somewhat wandering, uncertain of where it’s going, and this lack of immersive detail is a major roadblock to really losing yourself in Ballard’s universe. On the flip side, this means light hearted fun that a player can just jump into without needing to know a million things and also means levels can be played individually without needing any back story or introduction.

Gameplay wise Kit was fun and agile as hell. She’s very nimble and bouncy, and as her feline features may suggest, can fall from fairly great heights without too much hassle. She climbs walls and roofs with ease and the controls aren’t too tricky to master. She has a health bar, that rejuvenates automatically from almost empty to full in about 6 seconds of inactivity, so you don’t have to worry about health packs or potions or any of the sort. This health bar and the stamina bar can both be extended to give you more vigor and energy by purchases in the store, using ‘Hex’ you’ve acquired along the way. Small combos and special moves make this especially appealing for consoles as opposed to PC, as it can get a little button mashy at times as a tip of the hat to the 2D fighting games we all know and love.
One of Kit’s companions is Noot, a ridable creature with large hind legs and a head useful for smashing through roadblocks. Skiffy is an adorable floating Kirby-esque fetching-buddy handy for retrieving Hex from the background and foreground where you can’t access it yourself, and the occasional switch flicking. Combat is basically swiping with your levitating blade at close range, long range, and thrusting it into the ground through a very Mario-like ‘ground pound’, helping to stun and bring the pain. Blade Kitten has nailed the light newcomer-friendly hack and slash, and has just the right amount of cute to attract a cult following, especially of younger gamers.

Pardon me as I don my editorial hat, but I feel two small realisations I had while playing this game need to be pointed out. I started playing this game thinking I would be playing some spunky anime cat-girl kick-arse bounty hunter, instead I found a watered down bounty finder. She isn’t a contract killer, or an assassin. She just tries to stumble upon as much bounty as possible and goes on fetch quests to do so. She’s a loot fiend, and rarely is this loot earned from boss fights or battles with lesser minions. She doesn’t die. She just “fails” and falls to her knees saying “Ohhh no” or “Oh fail” (Cue cringing that almost left permanent marks on my face). I started feeling patronised. Like it was trying to appeal specifically to girls, or more accurately, what they thought girls wanted.
A wave of condescension washed over me as I heard our protagonist exclaim “You’re off my friends list!” and “Win get!” before adopting the “squee” stance. She even blew a kiss to the Sheriff to avoid going to jail… Bleugh. The space marine enemies scream out “It’s just a girl!” in an attempt to inflame our competitive instincts and virtually get back at all those nasty boys that have been big fat meanies over in-game chat. There were times I found it almost unbearable. She has only four weapons but eleven outfits.
But then I had my second realisation. I was taking it way too seriously. This is not the strong multi-dimensional female character we’ve all been waiting for, this is not some ground breaking game trying to appeal to girls and it will not be topping the charts for weeks on end due to it’s riveting layered storytelling – it’s just a bit of fun. While it didn’t tick all my boxes, Blade Kitten was still a relatively good time. It’s not the next big thing, the narrative was sometimes treated like something that if held for too long might burn you. It’s not going to make Krome a billionty dollars but it’s a playful, silly, very pretty and bubbly place to be. I may not be it’s target audience but my experience in Hollow Wish was a darn sight better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. I might even go back and get some more achievements. Maybe.

2B or not 2B

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

All my life I’ve had a love affair I rarely speak of. Some might call it a fetish. Something so lewd and risqué I keep it secret and try not to let anyone understand the depths of my fancy. But here it is. I have a surreptitious fixation with stationary. I love everything about it. Going into Office Works sends my heart racing, and going into a store like Pepe’s Paperie or Kikki K sees my palms sweat as they involuntarily dive into my bag for my wallet. Resistance is futile as I smell the crisp new pages and attempt to justify the purchase of yet another notebook. My world is being digitised at a rapid rate, I use my phone for basically everything, but I still find myself going back to the old pencil and paper for a few things, and I’m not entirely sure why. At first I thought it was just out of habit, but I think there’s more to it than that.

I have tried and tried to put my shopping list on my phone. The notes app looks great and is easy to use, it’s not the app’s fault. I just cannot walk around the shopping centre using my phone as a list. I keep almost dropping it, I can’t put it down in the basket for fear of getting chicken juice all over it, and it’s annoying to have to keep waking up the phone to check one little thing (especially seeing as I have a passcode). There’s also the issue of walking around the supermarket waving your smartphone about and looking like a total pillock. I’ll take the digital option in almost every circumstance, but his is one such instance that I simply cannot bare the digital version. I always go back to my chicken-scratch handwriting scribbled on an innocent piece of scrap paper that was yanked from it’s natural habitat because it was within reaching distance when I decided to start my list. Digitally I cannot recreate the satisfaction of striking through an item on my to-do list.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about writing smoothly with a pencil on a nice piece of faintly textured paper. Feeling the slight grittiness and tiny vibrations through the pencil, hearing the graphite softly graze the paper, there’s a definite romance in it. Cursive writing resembles a ballet. Handwritten notes are more personal, they have penmanship, they actually bring a part of the person onto the paper. One word written by many people will look different almost every time. A romantic letter written by hand is at least +15 to swoon. I type fast, friends are mortified by my “angry typing” as my hands look blurred as they hurriedly type away, almost in bullet time. I can’t write as fast as I can type, and most of the time this is a good thing as it saves time. But occasionally it’s nice to write with a nicely weighted pencil in my Moleskin as the speed of output gives me time to ponder what it is I’m writing. When it comes to poetry, or creative writing in general, I prefer to write it by hand. The pace gives me time to polish words on the fly and not over-analyse and kill the content. There’s a pace and a flow to it that I dig and cannot replicate in the digital world.

Is it nostalgia or habit that fuels my love for stationary? It could be just a throwback to the joy I felt at the start of a new school year, looking over all my new books, erasers, pencils, pens, post it notes, and highlighters. The love of a new start, a clean slate. Reminiscing the tenderness felt from a handwritten love letter. Or is it the data overload factor? Are we so swamped with the digital world, hundreds of emails, thousands of tweets, hours on FB every week, that we crave a break from screens? You still see people taking old fashioned notebooks in to meetings despite being CEO’s of major tech companies. A notebook in a meeting is quick and says “I’m listening, I’m not tweeting or checking FB, I’m right here and paying attention”. No matter how much we move on and the huge technological advances we face, pencil and paper still has a place in the world. For whatever reason. Why not embrace it and write someone a nice letter today. You’ll be amazed at how much your penmanship deteriorates when neglected… Above image is case in point…

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