Thursday, October 18, 2018

Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight Review

 As I had announced last week, I played through Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight on Twitch as part of my #HorrorGameOct streaming series. Since it was a relatively short game, I ended up finishing it in two streaming sessions! Here’s my review of the game, now that I can put ot in the “completed” page of my backlog.

Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight is an indie Metroidvania game that was originally released on PC in 2016. The game follows a priestess tasked with snuffing out the source of a curse that has caused the kingdom to be plagued by witches, skeletons, ghosts, and other Halloween-appropriate baddies. Though Reverie Under the Moonlight is the fourth installment of the Momodora series, it represents the point at which the series gained mainstream recognition and is thus my first exposure to the series.

  • Momodora features gorgeous pixel art and animations. The player character in particular has detailed animations while in action as well as a variety of charming idle animations.
  • For a colorful retro-style game, it pulls off a creepy atmosphere quite well. The spooky environment is enhanced by NPCs that express fear, anxiety, or malice even with relatively limited dialog.
  • The music is fairly low key but tends to kick in at the right times to give a sense of dread.
  • The protagonist’s mix of close and ranged attacks is fun to use. The game script describes the heroine’s weapon as a “magic maple leaf” but wielding it feels more like pillow case with a brick in it, giving landing a combo strike a satisfying sense of weight. I also enjoyed using the bow to juggle enemies and shoot down their projectiles.
  • Level designs in Momodora are not revolutionary for a Metroidvania, but offer enough variety and secrets to uncover to make filling in the map feel worthwhile.
  • Most games of this type offer some sort of traversal enhancement partway though (traditionally something like a grappling hook or jet pack). In this game you can transform into a cat!

  • The game’s difficulty didn’t scale consistently, especially when it came to boss battles. Some of these battles required full use of my action platforming skills, but there were also bosses where I could get away with just crouching in the corner and spamming arrows.  
  • Since the heroine’s strikes carry a lot of weight, positioning her during attacks felt a little imprecise, leading to a handful of accidental deaths during the first half of the game (I eventually learned to compensate).
  • The game has two endings. The bad ending is very unsatisfying. Getting the good ending requires following an obtuse process that I wouldn’t have been to figure out without consulting a guide. While the good ending is an improvement, it still felt anticlimactic compared to the buildup from the game’s atmosphere and NPC dialog.

While Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight doesn't do much to deviate from the formula established by similar games that came before it, I enjoyed my time with it quite a bit thanks to its strong mechanics and presentation. It’s generally a solid-by-the-numbers Metroidvania that'll please fans of the genre but won’t win over holdouts.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃
Completion Time: 6 hours (98% map completion)

Disclaimer: As of this week, Tales from the Backlog is no longer participating in the Amazon Affiliates program. I'll be sure to include a new disclaimer if I enter into a new advertising/sponsorship arrangement in the future. Any Amazon links in older posts will still work for shopping purposes but no longer serve as a revenue source for this blog.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Dragalia Lost Impressions


While I’m not the biggest mobile gamer, whenever there’s the opportunity to play something published by Nintendo (legally) on my phone, I’m sure to give it a shot. Their newest mobile title, Dragalia Lost, is an interesting one in that it’s not adapted from an existing Nintendo franchise, but is a new IP they created in collaboration with CyGames Studios (of GranBlue Fantasy and Rage of Bahamut fame). So far, I’ve been able to put a few hours into the game, which feels like just scratching the surface, but that's been enough for me to put together some early impressions.

Dragalia Lost is a free-to-play fantasy action RPG. The campaign consists of alternating visual novel-style story scenes and short overhead dungeon sequences in which the player fights a few enemies, gathers some treasure, and then fights a boss (like a very simplified version of Zelda or Ys). The player controls a party of four characters, most of which have the ability to transform into powerful dragons for a brief period of time. Dragalia Lost makes its money via microtransactions, primarily in the form of randomly drawn items, characters, and dragons (i.e. a “gachapon” or “loot crate” mechanic).

  • This game has very high production values for a mobile game. The graphics and character designs look very nice, many of the cut scenes are fully-voiced, the musical score includes several vocal tracks, and there are some TV-quality animated scenes sprinkled throughout.  The overall presentation is about on part with a late 3DS game.
  • In other mobile games I’ve played, including Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem Heroes, the story has felt like something cobbled together to justify the action and spur the player to put money into the gacha system. Draglia Lost’s story and characters feel richer, more like what I would expect from a more traditional video game. The depth of the lore, from what I’ve seen so far, almost feels wasted on a free mobile title.
  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the writing in the dialog sequences. I particularly like Notte, the protagonist’s fairly companion. Her humorous lines put her way ahead of previous similar characters like Navi in Ocarina of Time.
  • The voice acting for the main characters is solid, though some of the supporting characters sound a little off. Overall, it’s about on par with dubbed anime.
  • Dragalia Lost has systems on top of systems and I’m still discovering more after several hours of gameplay. Every character can be modified in several ways, each piece of equipment can be upgraded, the party’s composition can be changed around, and you can feed the dragons to raise their stats! I find myself too impatient to tinker with all this and instead just trust the “Optimize” button to do its job.
  • Touch screen controls aren’t ideal for an action RPG, but the implementation in this game gets the job done. I’m generally able to move, attack, and dodge with a reliable degree of accuracy. Some of the special moves that require specific holding and swiping gestures feel a little clumsy,  however.
  • In what I’ve played up until this point, using the gacha system or other microtransactions haven’t been essential. With the free stuff I collect by playing the game, I’ve been able to get the characters and items I’ve need and avoid running out of stamina. The impetus for microtransations may ramp up a bit in the future, but I’m thinking it will be quite some time before I’ll feel like the game is truly pushing me to spend money.
  • Dragalia Lost features some really catchy music. There’s a couple of Japanese vocal tracks that I would love to listen to outside of the game.
  • The dungeon level designs are pretty bland. Each one is essentially comprised of the same thing: about three kill rooms with weaker enemies, a treasure chest that is slightly off the main path, and then a boss battle. Since these sections are pretty short (less than five minutes), I can understand why they keep it simple.
  • The story-to-gameplay ratio seems pretty high for a mobile game. I would think that for a mobile game the idea is to get in, bash some enemies, and get out. Instead I've had many sessions with this game that are primarily watching cut scenes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the cut scenes are enjoyable, it's just not what I would expect from a game on my phone.
  • Dragalia Lost does something that a lot of mobile games do that drives me crazy. The game requires installation of large mandatory patches on a regular basis. The game doesn't auto update, so if it's been a few days since you've played, be prepared to spend a large chunk of your gaming session staring at a download progress bar. This can be especially problematic for those on a limited data plan. (I had this same issue with Fire Emblem Heroes and UtaPri)
Despite some issues that are prevalent in free-to-play mobile games in general, Dragalia Lost has really impressed me. Its combination of fun characters, bopping sound track, and decent gameplay will mean that it'll probably be my go-to phone time waster (other than Twitter) for at least the next few weeks. Also, knowing that many other Cygames properties have been adapted into other media, primarily anime, I'm curious to see what fruit their partnership with Nintendo may bare in the future.

Since this post is about a free game, there's nothing to topical to advertise. However, if you'd like to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

Sunday, October 7, 2018

#HorrorGameOct Streaming Series

Final Fantasy 5, Ys, Beyond Oasis, and Battle Chef Brigade... I've been on a long streak of RPGs on my Twitch stream and it's time to change things up. Thus, for the rest of the month of October, I'll be switching to one of my other favorite genres: 2D platformers! On top of that, this month is #HorrorGameOct, so I'll be focusing on platformers with a spooky Halloween theme. (If you'd like to know more about #HorrorGameOct, check out this post on the Chic Pixel blog).

The first game in the line-up will be Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, a Metroidvania game set in a world of monsters, witches, and curses. This game has been on my radar for a while for its great pixel art, so I'm really looking forward to digging into it. If I manage to finish Momodora before the month is over, the next game in the lineup will likely be Bloodstained Curse of the Moon, a spiritual successor to the 8-bit Castlevania games.

Streams will be on my Twitch channel on Tuesday nights from 8 - 11 PM ET. I hope you'll look forward to joining me for some spooky platforming fun!

 If you'd like to pick up a spooky game of your own while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Adventure Pals Review

Browsing the recent release lineup for a co-op game to play together, my wife and I happened upon The Adventure Pals. The promotional art and trailer featured a boy riding on a cute cartoon giraffe (my wife’s favorite animal), so of course we had to check it out. Did we make the right call by picking out a game based on aesthetics alone? Some thoughts:

Adventure Pals is a 2D platformer with RPG elements about a boy and his pet giraffe set in a wacky cartoon world. While the boy has fairly standard moves (jumping, wall kicking, and sword swiping), the giraffe gives him the ability to swing from grapple points, fly by spinning the giraffe’s tongue like a helicopter rotor (yes, you read that right), and quickly swim underwater (I had no idea giraffes are amphibious). When playing in co-op mode, the second player controls a set of characters equivalent to the first player’s (i.e. a girl with a very giraffe-like unicorn pal). Each player also has a pet rock that gathers items for them and protects them from spikes).

  • When it comes to visuals, The Adventure Pals has charm and personality in spades. The goofy but cute look may be reminiscent of Adventure Time, but each of this game’s characters and enemies have a fun and unique design all of their own. The world design also looks fresh off a Saturday morning cartoon.
  • To complement the wacky visuals, there is equally bizarre and humorous writing and scenarios. Throughout the adventure, the titular pals reunite a farmer with his pig (that is also his wife), rescue elderly people that have been turned into hotdogs, and intervene in a conflict between dinosaurs and sentient pieces of toast. Seeing what weird thing would happen next was definitely part of the fun.
  • The Adventure Pals controls very well. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of the characters movesets. After a level or two, my wife and I were comboing up jumps, wall kicks, grappling, and ziplining to fling our characters around the map with ease. In general, platforming just felt good. Most combat can be gotten through just by mashing the sword swipe button, which is totally fine for this type of game.
  • Everything explodes. You may have noticed in some of my previous reviews (e.g. Just Cause 2), I like a game that lets you blow things up. The Adventure Pals delivers with exploding enemies and explosive barrels that can be launched into groups of enemies. Setting up chain reactions to take out enemy mobs instead of fighting them head on was very satisfying.
  • While getting from point A to point B in a given level is often straightforward, finding the optional collectables (i.e. cupcakes and stickers) provides an opportunity to really explore every little nook and cranny. Many of the levels seem simple at first but their intricacies become apparent if you take the time to find everything.
  • Collecting the cupcakes unlocks new hats for your human character and costumes for the pet rock. These ran the gamut of cute, funny, and weird. This was more than enough justification to scour each level thoroughly.

  • During our adventure, we ran into a few glitches that caused us to have to restart a level or deliberately kill our characters to reset a stage. For example, in one instance we locked our characters inside a room and in another case, clearing an area of enemies was supposed to trigger an event but nothing happened. These issues were infrequent enough to have minimal impact on our experience but were still a little jarring.
  • With all the chaos and explosions on screen, it can sometimes be hard to keep track your character’s location, especially with two players. Many of our combat deaths could be attributed to losing our characters on screen, or confusing one player’s character for the other.
  • Even though this is a 2D game, it seemed to put strain on the Nintendo Switch in some of the later stages resulting in frame rate drops and lag. There were only a few areas in the whole campaign where this came up, but it’s a shame that it was an issue at all. I’m not sure if this issue is Switch-specific or comes up on other versions of the game as well.

Overall, The Adventure Pals is a satisfying co-op 2D platforming experience that sets itself apart with quirky appeal. While I didn’t try it single-player, it may be a little too simplistic to play solo, but for those who have a partner and love cute cartoon creatures, The Adventure Pals comes highly recommended.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 10 hours (100% completion)

Adventure Pals is available on Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, and PS4. If you’d like to listen to the game’s sound track while also supporting this blog, check it out on Amazon Music using the following affiliate link: Adventure Pals Soundtrack

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Beyond Oasis Review

 In an effort to fulfill the promise I made in my “Sega Gap” post, I decided to make my last game of #ARPGAugust something from the Sega Genesis library. After playing several other great games in the action RPG genre this year such as Blossom Tales and Ys, the bar was set quite high. Here’s how it faired:


Beyond Oasis is an action RPG that was originally released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis. In the game, the protagonist, Prince Ali, finds a golden armlet that gives him the ability to summon magical creatures. He travels around the kingdom to find new creatures to summon and hunt down his nemesis who wields the power of the silver armlet. The game has been a part of many Sega classic collections; I played it as part of the Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics package on PC.

  • This game’s graphics look very sharp. The world features a bright color pallet and the large sprites feature a nice level of detail and distinct animations.
  • Rather than just slashing a sword like most ARPG characters, Ali has diverse arsenal of moves. In addition to sword swipes, he can punch, kick, perform areal strikes, and equip several types of swords, bows, and bombs. In combat, the way he moves reminds me of an arcade beat’em up game.
  • The summon creatures are Beyond Oasis’s defining feature. I liked that summoning requires using a feature of the environment that corresponds with the creature’s element. For example, summoning the water sprite requires aiming the golden armlet’s beam at a water feature. However, this isn’t just limited to the obvious lakes and streams, any source of water will work, even tiny drops of water coming from a cave ceiling. Similarly, the shade spirit, that’s summoned from mirrors, can be summoned off of other reflective surfaces, such as enemies wearing shiny metallic armor. Figuring out how and when to summon each creature and using their abilities to solve puzzles, is easily the most interesting part of the game.

  • Boss battles at the end of dungeons tend to be pretty dull. Most of them just consist of running around to avoid the enemies special attack, and then running in and spamming the attack button while they recharge. In some battles, I just abused healing items so that I could play sloppily and not worry if I got hit.
  • This game is viewed from a 3/4 top-down perspective but has segments that require precision platforming on tiny moving platforms. Also, Ali’s movements are very slippery. Thus, neither the game’s camera nor controls are set up for platforming, making these segments incredibly frustrating. I save-scummed my way through them.
  • While the summon creatures are fun to use for puzzle solving, they don’t control very well. Once summoned, they wander around on their own and the player has to wait for them to get into the right position before triggering one of their special moves. This was workable for puzzle solving, but made the creatures of little value in combat.
  • The story of this game is extremely bare bones, more comparable to an NES game than Beyond Oasis’s 16-bit contemporaries. Basically, because Ali found the Gold Armlet, it’s his destiny to gather the summon creatures and defeat the wielder of the Silver Armlet. Dialog in the game consists of short choppy sentences that don’t give the characters much personality. There is one noteworthy plot twist toward the end, but that lack of character personality or progression caused it to have little impact.
  • One of the reasons I was excited to play Beyond Oasis is that the soundtrack was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who also composed the music in Ys series (which I absolutely love). I’m not sure what went wrong here, but I found that the music in Beyond Oasis sounded very out of place, at times to the point of being irritating.
Ultimately, the problem with Beyond Oasis is that it’s not deep enough for an RPG or adventure game, but not tight enough for an action game. With the exceptions of its summoning mechanics and graphics, the game feels more primitive than competing games in its genre that had come out before it such as Ys, A Link to the Past, and Illusion of Gaia. Despite, the game’s short length (< 7 hours), there were several points where I strongly considered dropping the game, putting Beyond Oasis firmly into sub 3-star territory.

Completion Time: 5 hours, 51 minutes

In stead of picking up Beyond Oasis, I would recomend picking up the similary named action RPG, Ever Oasis, for the 3DS. If you'd like to get this overlooked late-3DS gem while also supporting this blog, you can use this affliate link: Ever Oasis - 3DS 



Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dragon Con 2018

After having such a great time at last year's Dragon Con (highlights), we returned this year along with over 80,000 other geeks. I didn't do as much video game related activities at the Con this year as I did last year, but there were still a few interesting things to note:

Japanese Arcade

This year's Japanese Arcade featured some new additions. While gamers like to joke about Konami not making games anymore, they are still alive and well in the arcade scene; there was a wide variety of arcade games on display here, with many of them being by Konami.  Here's a rundown of some of the games I got to play:

Dance Evolution - Older dancing games like Dance Dance Revolution used buttons on the floor to track dancing moves. New ones like Dance Evolution use Xbox Kinect technology to track a player's whole body allowing for a wider variety of moves. I was terrible at this game, much like I am at actual dancing, so perhaps the simulation is too accurate?

Bishibashi Channel - Last year I got to play an older version of Bishibashi. This new version adds a rotating pad to the controls in addition to the buttons. Thus, the spastic collection of mini-games can get even weirder, like this foot-tickling one, for instance.

Scotto - This one felt like some kind of high tech fusion of beer pong and skeeball. The player bounces ping pong balls off of the white panel at the front of the cabinet into the goal basket. Depending on the game mode being played, you either have to rapidly bounce balls directly into the basket or accurately bank the ball off the glowing pads and then into the basket as directed on the screen. I did pretty well when I played this one; turns out those seemingly useless skills I developed playing drinking games in college came in handy!

Gunslinger Stratos 3 - In the West, people don't often think of Square Enix when they think about arcade games, but in Japan, it's another story. I had seen older versions of Square Enix's Gunslinger Stratos when I was in Japan several years ago, but this was my first opportunity to play it myself. It's a 3rd person arena shooter in which the player holds a lightgun in each hand while moving the character around using the analog sticks and buttons on the back of each gun. I only had the time to play it once, so I spent most of my time just trying to get the hang of the controls. Characters can jump and flip through the air and stages have a lot of verticality to them, so it seemed like some really fun arial battles would be possible if I had more time to get down the fundamentals.


I didn't see quite as much video game-related cosplay on the convention floor this year as I did last year. However, I did get to attend a gaming cosplay competition and visit a costume exhibit. For some of these events I didn't have the best vantage point and was reliant on my cell phone camera, so I apologize for some of the images that came out blurry or grainy. Anyway, here are some of the gaming costumes that stood out to me:

Silver Knight from Dark Souls
Ahri from League of Legends
Bastion from Overwatch
Skull Kid from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Junkrat from Overwatch
Monster Hunter
Gengar from Pokemon (kid's level of the contest)

Fallout Power Armor
Purple Wizard from Diablo 3

Blood Elf Paladin from World of Warcraft
Bunny Hutch Party: Shy Guy Bunny
Bunny Hutch Party: Bomberman Bunny
Overall, we had another great year at Dragon Con and are already looking forward to returning next year! I'm planning to attend some more gaming-focused cons in the future, so look forward to posts about those as well!

If reading this post has caused you to want to step up your cosplay game in time for Halloween, you can pick up costume supplies while also supporting this blog by using this affiliate link: 
Amazon Costume Department

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ys Origin Preliminary Review

After having so much fun tackling Ys I & II as part of my “gaming shames” project, I decided to jump into another entry of the series, Ys Origin, the prequel to the first two games. Unlike the other games in the Ys franchise, Ys Origin ditches the main protagonist, Adol, and instead lets the player choose among two playable characters (with the option to unlock a third), each with their own unique plotlines. I’m writing this as a preliminary review because I’ve had the chance to finish the game with the two starting characters, Yunica and Hugo, but haven’t had a chance to try the third character yet. Here’s what I think of the game from what I’ve played so far:

  • The action is fast and fluid compared to most ARPGs; much of the moment-to-moment gameplay is closer to a hack-and-slash game.
  • Battles with giant bosses are the highlight. Having explosions and projectiles going everywhere creates enjoyable bullet-hell chaos. Sometimes battles can drag on a little too long but it’s generally quick to grind up a few levels to mitigate that.
  • Yunica and Hugo have distinct playstyles. Yunica is a close-up melee fighter like Adol (or Link) while Hugo is entirely based on ranged attacks. Yunica has more powerful attacks and combos but risks taking damage herself. Hugo is more about being methodical. Switching characters really does change how you play.
  • Dungeon design is much more interesting and varied than Ys I & II. Some areas of the dungeon are 3D reimaginings of parts of the tower from Ys I, which is cool to see as a fan of the series.
  • The story is pretty simple but has some emotional highlights (more so with Hugo than Yunica). Supposedly the third character's plot adds substantially to the Ys franchise lore, but I haven't gotten to that yet.
  • I really like look of the detailed 2D sprites on the simple 3D backgrounds.
  • The music is excellent, as one would expect from an Ys game. Many of the pieces are new arrangements of music from Ys I and II.
  • The whole game takes place inside one giant dungeon, Darm Tower, with cutscenes spread sprinkled in to break up the action. There are no overworld areas or towns. This makes the world feel more restricted than in other Ys games.
  • A few sections of the tower just consist of plowing through wave after wave of enemies which can feel a like a slog.
  • While the game’s character paths feature different plot perspectives, the gameplay covers the same dungeon and bosses with only minor variations. This means having to repeat most of the game three times in order to see the whole story.
  • Unlike Ys I and II, the game can only be saved at fixed save points. Sometimes these save points are spaced too far apart for my liking.
  • The inventory and equipment screen can’t be accessed during boss battles and hitting “retry” after losing a boss battle drops you right back into the start of the battle. Thus, if you walk into a battle with the wrong gear equipped, you must exit back to the title screen and reload your save.
My first two playthroughs of Ys Origin were a lot of fun and the game has been a welcome break from the slower turn-based RPGs I’ve been playing this year. That being said, with each run through the tower, the issues with repetitiveness and quality of life did begin to wear on me. For now, I’m going to set the game aside and play through the third character’s path after taking a break to avoid getting burnt out. If the final path, which supposedly shows the “true ending”, changes my views on the game, I’ll be sure to update this review or a write a follow-up post. However, based on the substantial time I’ve put into Ys Origin so far, I can comfortably recommend it to fans of hack-and-slash style action RPGs.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 20 hours (11 hours for Yunica and 9 for Hugo)

This game has an awesome soundtrack! If you'd like to give it a listen while also supporting this blog, check it out via this Amazon Affiliate link: Ys Origin Soundtrack



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Managing the Backlog

While the word “backlog” is in the title of this blog, I haven’t really written much about my backlog and how I keep track of it.
When I use the term “backlog”, I’m specifically referring to games that I have either purchased or received as a gift but have not actually started playing. For games that I received for free as part of promotions or bundle, they only get put in the backlog if they’re titles that have already piqued my interest. In other words, the backlog represents my to-play list among games I already have but I don’t obligate myself to play every game I own (that would be insane based on my Steam inventory).
Everything that doesn’t make it onto the backlog falls into one of the following categories:
  • Rainy Day – Games that I own but am not sure I’ll ever actually play.
  • Wishlist – Pretty self-explanatory. Games I want to play but don’t own yet.
  • Gaming Shames – As I’ve covered in a previous post, these are significant classic games that I missed during their original release.
  • Mothballed – Games that I have started but set aside. I may get back to these one day.
  • Played – Instead of a list of classifying games based on whether or not I have beaten them, I use the Played list for any game that I have either finished or discontinued playing and am unlikely to return to.
You may by wondering how I keep track of all this, that’s were a tool called Grouvee comes in. In starting this blog, I tested out various backlog tracking tools, including popular ones like Backloggery and HowLongToBeat, but I found Grouvee to the most intuitive and flexible. With Grouvee, I’m able to categorize games easily and log my review scores. I also like that Grouvee features box art for every game and can be synced with your Steam account so that new game purchases are automatically added to the backlog. All this is to say, if you’re thinking about using an online tool to manage your game collection, I’d highly recommend trying out Grouvee.
If you’re curious what my backlog currently looks like, you can find it here: Capsulejay's Backlog
Also, while I’m recommending things on this topic, if you’re the kind of person that enjoys organizing your nerdy hobbies, I’d suggest listening to this episode of the Geek to Geek Podcast: G2G Podcast Ep #7. Part of my inspiration for this blog comes from this podcast.
Anyway, now when I mention “my queue”, “gaming shames” etc, you know where all that comes from. I’m interested to hear how other folks organize their game collection, so feel free to share you own backlogging techniques in the comments below!

If all this reading about backlogs and such has you in the mood to add more games to your own collection while also supporting this blog, consider picking something up from Amazon using this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Steamworld Dig 2 Review

Ok, after my recent streak of personal and retrospective posts, it's time to get back to a good old fashioned review:

Steamworld Dig 2 was an acclaimed Metroidvania when it came out on Switch last year. I put it off after getting a little burnt out on the genre. Eventually, I got the PC version for free via Twitch Prime and decided to give it a go as a buffer between all the RPGs I've been playing lately.

  • Charming character and world design. I really liked the vibrant colors and quirky cast of NPCs.
  • The controls feel really good. Maneuvering Dot around is fun in classic Nintendo-like fashion. This especially true once you acquire upgrades like the grappling hook and jet pack.
  • The puzzle rooms add some clever challenges and let you explore all the different ways you can use your gear.
  • Exploration leads to collecting the items needed to upgrade your character, which opens up even more places to explore. This makes for a very satisfying gameplay loop.

  • I felt that the game overly limited exploration in the beginning. Having to frequently return to town to recharge the lantern and empty your backpack was kind of irritating. Thankfully, you can get upgrades after a while that ease up these restrictions.
  • Many areas of the game  are traversed by digging tunnels (think Dig Dug). This was a novel idea at first, but eventually, I found having to smash rocks all the time got a little old. This made me appreciate the freedom of exploring the open areas a lot more.
  • Metroid and Castlevania would break things up periodically with big boss battles. This game has very few boss battles and they weren't particularly memorable.

Overall Steamworld Dig 2 is a quality Metroidvania and I think any fan of the genre should check it out. However, I couldn't help but feel like it was over-hyped by the time I got to it.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 8 hours, 45 minutes

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games 

Monday, August 13, 2018

For Pinky

Well, here we are with another non-game-specific post. This one just felt like the right thing to do.

Those of you that have been reading my posts for a while or have been following me on Twitter or Twitch probably have seen my cat Pinky make some guest appearances. For the past several years she has been my faithful gaming companion, co-streamer, and assistant reviewer. In fact, in the over 100 posts I've written in this blog, she was sitting in my lap for the majority of them. Unfortunately, our time to say goodbye to her was last week, but rather make this a mournful post, I'd like to dedicate this entry to her and celebrate the time I got to spend with her.

In addition to keeping me company during gaming time, Pinky often liked to take an active role in the vanquishing of digital enemies. Based on her interest in batting at the monitor or mashing buttons while I was playing, I’m pretty sure her favorite games were Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser and The Witcher 2 (she was a cat with diverse taste). On the topic of taste, she also contributed to some of my hardware reviews by taste testing the peripherals. Pinky was also a presence on my Twitch streams, her color commentary was picked up on the mic during several broadcasts.

Pinky may have been a small cat (~ 6lbs) but she had a huge personality. She will be missed and I’m very grateful for her companionship.

Farewell, Pinky, and thanks for all the wonderful memories!

One of her many peripheral taste tests (you'll see a theme here).
This blog doesn't cover non-gaming electronics. Pinky's work had a wider scope.

The Horipad was probably her favorite controller.
Here's some of that signature personality I mentioned.

Normally, this where the affiliate link would go. However, today, instead of buying stuff online, I encourage you to go hug your pets and tell them you love them.


Friday, August 10, 2018

The Sega Gap

Earlier this week when I talked about my history with gaming, I mentioned my “Rip Van Winkle period” from 2005 to 2011. However, you may have also noticed another gap in my history with game systems; with the exception of the Sega Dreamcast, I didn’t own any Sega devices. During the 90s console wars, I was always firmly on the Team Nintendo side of the schoolyard. Despite my juvenile biases, I couldn’t help but admire some of the interesting-looking content Sega had on offer that I didn’t have access to. For example, I watched Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons and read Sonic comics, but never actually played the games with a Genesis controller in my hand. Many years later, after the fires of the console wars had died down, I sampled a little bit of what the other side was playing via ports to other systems. Here’s a quick rundown:
  • Genesis – Sonic 1 through & Knuckles (via a Gamecube collection), Gunstar Heroes (Virtual Console)
  • Saturn – Panzer Dragoon 1 and 2 (1 via Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox, 2 via emulation)
  • Dreamcast – Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Shenmue 1 and 2, Jet Set Radio, Soul Caliber
Since the whole point of this blog is to clear backlogs and address “Gaming Shames”, I feel like there’s a rich wellspring of titles here that I’ve largely overlooked. I briefly skimmed the Sega Genesis catalog some years ago with an emulator, but I found it hard to focus on any one title. At this point, I’m looking to dig a little deeper and work a few titles into my Gaming Shames queue. I have a few ideas of what I could play but would love suggestions from readers of some must-play Sega titles (especially from the Genesis). Depending on the game, I might stream some of these Sega games on my Twitch channel. What are your favorite games from Sega history?

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a game or two while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games 

  • The topic for this post was largely inspired by chatting with some fellow Twitch streamers: Keyglyph, BogusMeatFactory, and HungryGoriya. Be sure to check out their channels!
  • This post is part as part of the #BlaugustReborn event. For more information about Blaugust, see this blog entry by Belghast.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Octo Update

After writing my impressions last week, I’ve sunk a bunch of additional hours into Octopath Traveler. At this point, I’ve now played through the first chapter for all eight characters, and have started the second chapter for the merchant, Tressa. Some additional thoughts now that I have a bigger picture of what this game has to offer:
  • The original demo featured the first chapter for Primrose the Dancer and Olberic the Knight. I think Square Enix made a wise decision showcasing these two characters when unveiling the game to the world. Of all eight characters, I found these two have stories with the most compelling starts, even upon second viewing. Their darker themes of revenge and justice are probably best suited to older players like me that were reeled in by this game’s resemblance to 16 and 32-bit classics.
  • The second tier of characters have less interesting stories but have likable personalities that keep me engaged. My lead character, Cyrus the Scholar, is a wannabe Sherlock Holmes on the hunt for a lost book of forbidden knowledge. There’s a mysterious air to his story that appeals to me. Also, his haughty attitude and devastatingly powerful magic make him a fun character to have as my protagonist. (I neglected to mention in my preview that the first character you play serves as your main character for the whole campaign). Tressa the Merchant is charming in a different way with her happy-go-lucky attitude and thirst for adventure. She’s also a highly opportunistic capitalist, like you would expect from a merchant, which works its way into her plot in fun ways. Her quest is also motivated by a book, so I tend to group her and Cyrus together.
  • Some of the criticisms of Octopath Traveler from major review outlets have been about “generic writing”. I think this shows a bit once we drop down into the third and fourth tier characters. I put Therion the Thief and Ophelia the Cleric in the third tier; they’re not especially interesting but I think there’s potential for their plots to go in interesting directions. In the Final Fantasy series, Square Enix has done interesting things with thieves (e.g. Balthier from FF12) and clerics (e.g. Yuna from FF10) before, so hopefully, that’ll end up being the case here.
  • In the fourth tier, we have H'aanit the Huntress and Alfyn the Apothecary. While these characters are pretty useful in combat, their dialog doesn’t do much for me. H'aanit speaks in a strange faux-Elizabethan English that seems off to me. If the game’s writers wanted to go this way with her script, I wish that they would have committed to it more fully. The strange half measure that they went with just seems awkward to me (think the original Dragon Warrior). As for Alfyn, he just wants to be the best apothecary he can be... and that's about it. Not too interesting.
  • As I had mentioned before, I started off with Cyrus and thus he's my team leader. This has worked out exceptionally well. His powerful area-of-effect elemental spells and his ability to detect enemy weaknesses make him exceptionally useful in every combat situation I've encountered.
  • I've only just started my first Chapter 2 quest and there's a noticeable difficulty spike. Many basic encounter enemies now feel on the level of mini-bosses. When I finished all the Chapter 1 stories, Cyrus was at level 22 and everyone else was in the upper teens. It feels like I'll be able to handle Chapter 2, but just barely.
  • I managed to figure out some of the side quests, but other than earning money, I'm still not sure if they matter much.
 Octopath Traveler continues to be a joy to play and it will probably keep me busy for at least the rest of this month. Since I'm increasing my posting frequency for #BlaugustReborn, I'll likely post one more impressions post before writing my review. Since this post was mainly about characters and story, the next will probably focus on combat strategy once I've gotten a taste of higher level play. In any event, I still highly recommend that any RPG fan give this game a look.

If you'd like to check out the world of Octopath Traveler for yourself while also supporting this blog, you can order a copy of the game from this Amazon affiliate link: Octopath Traveler - Nintendo Switch

If you would like to learn more about #BlaugustReborn or sign up to participate, take a look at this post from fellow game blogger, Belghast: Tales of the Aggronaut - First of Blaugust

Monday, August 6, 2018

Gaming Origin Story

While I generally don't like to talk about myself and prefer to keep this blog focused on the games themselves, it occurred to me that in two years of game blogging, I've never really gotten into my history with my favorite past time. In the spirit of #BlaugustReborn, I figured I should probably fix that. Here it goes:

My start with gaming came from an unlikely figure: my grandma. She was probably the only 60+-year-old lady hanging out in the dingy local arcade, but she could clear Pac-Man boards with the best of them.

Naturally, several years later, once I was old enough to hold a controller, she taught me how to play Donkey Kong on the NES, followed soon after by Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. Three-year-old me was, of course, terrible at all of these, with the exception of Duck Hunt if I put the Zapper’s muzzle directly against the screen. None the less, I’ve been a diehard Nintendo fan ever since.

While I may have been a massive Nintendo fan, my 8 and 16-bit gaming was limited to genres like platformers, fighting games, and racing games. I didn’t come to appreciate other genres, some of which are now favorites, like RPGs and puzzle-adventure until many years later when my family got our first computer (we were pretty late to the party on that) and my sister bought a PlayStation. The PlayStation got me into RPGs; I literally emptied my piggy bank to buy Final Fantasy 7. The PC, on the other hand, accomplished two things: introduced me to genres that weren’t available on consoles at the time (e.g. FPS and point-and-click adventure) but also sparked my interest in computer hardware that continues to this day.

My journey has looked something like this overall:
  • Nintendo – NES, SNES, Gameboy Color, N64, Gamecube, DS, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, Switch
  • Other Consoles – PS1, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox
  • PC – Dell Pentium desktop, HP AMD Athlon 64 Desktop,  ASUS i5 gaming laptop, Samsung i5 media laptop, self-assembled gaming desktop (current)
You may notice that there's a pretty large gap in my non-Nintendo gaming between the Xbox and the ASUS laptop (approximately from 2005 to 2011). Time and money were in short supply those years, so I missed the majority of a whole console generation with the exception of a few Wii games. I call this my gaming Rip Van Winkle period, and much of the focus of my backlog journey has been devoted to filling in that gap.

The past two years of taking that backlog journey with everyone in the world of game blogging has been a lot of fun! Thanks for joining me so far and happy Blaugust!

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, check out this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

I'm upping my blog posting frequency for the rest of the month in celebration of #BlaugustReborn. I'm aiming for at least two posts per week. If you'd like to know more about Blaugust, you get more info from this post by Belghast.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Octopath Traveler Impressions

After being enthralled by the Octopath Traveler demo last year, it was pretty clear that this classic-style JRPG would be right up my alley. The wait until the release of the full game felt long, but it has finally arrived. At this point, I'm about 10 hours into the campaign and have added five of the eight characters to my party. Here are some early thoughts on my time with the game:
  • The music and environments on display in the original demo really wowed me. Now that I've gotten to see a wider variety of what the game has to offer, I continue to be impressed by its artistic presentation. The dark forests, glittering coastlines, snow-capped mountains, and medieval towns all look great in Octopath's faux-retro graphical style. The color pallet of the game world is muted compared to a 16-bit RPG but it works well for the game's setting and tone. So far every environment has been accompanied by great music in the form of stirring orchestral pieces, somber piano sessions, or folksy tunes as appropriate.
  • While the environments themselves look lush and deep, largely due to the 2D-3D hybrid style, traversal through the world is quite linear. The side-scrolling camera angle means that there's generally only one path through an area with the occasional short detour to pick up treasure. In a sense, it's actually more restrained than the 16 and 32-bit games that Octopath resembles. Furthermore, if the player somehow does manage to get lost, the map and radar are marked with distinct green icons showing the location of the next quest objective. As a player that doesn't like spending a lot of time figuring out where to go next, I really like this design decision. However, I imagine that players expecting "open world" exploration may be a bit disappointed.
  • Another efficient design decision that Octopath makes is dividing each quest into short chapters. So far each chapter has consisted of a few cutscenes, a visit to a town, a small dungeon, and a boss battle with save points liberally placed throughout. This makes the game much easier to pick up and play for short bursts compared to other JRPGs. Most of my play sessions have been under an hour and in portable mode.
  • A minor gripe: there is no option to auto-advance fully-voiced cutscenes. In most games, I like being able to set the controller down while listening to the dialog with my hands free to do other things (mostly eating). This game doesn't let me do that since I have to tap the A button after every line of dialog. I've gotten used to it by now, but it still makes the conversations between characters sound a little stilted. 
  • There are side quests in this game, but I have no idea how to keep track of which ones I'm working on or determine what the objectives are for each. The game prompts me when I've met the criteria to start a new side quest (usually talking to the right NPC), but I have yet to figure out how to progress things from there. I'm not sure if this is a game design issue or if I'm doing something wrong. Either way, the side quests don't seem to matter much yet.
  • Every time you begin a new character's quest, that character joins the party at level one. I was initially concerned that this would make the game feel unbalanced, but that hasn't been the case. The level curve is such that the new character catches up quickly and the older characters don't become too overpowered. In other words, the difficulty curve has been smooth.
  • Some of the early bosses can take quite a beating before finally going down, however, I have yet to have one wipe out my party. 
  • Right now, the five characters I have access to are the scholar, the cleric, the merchant, the huntress, and the thief. Each one plays a little differently, but there is some overlap in their skill sets. For example, if a quest requires acquiring a key item from an NPC, I can either use the merchant to purchase the item off the NPC, or just steal it using the thief. I'm curious to see how each character's field skills work together once I've assembled the whole crew.
I was initially concerned about some of the early reviews I was seeing for this game, but I'm having a blast with Octopath Traveler so far. I'm thinking that the eagerness of some outlets to brand this game as "the next Final Fantasy 6" did it a disservice. Octopath is looking less like one grand quest with an ensemble cast like Final Fantasy 6, and more like a set of smaller stories that occasionally intertwine, a la SaGa Frontier. Thankfully for me, that's exactly what I wanted.

If you'd like to check out the world of Octopath Traveler for yourself while also supporting this blog, you can order a copy of the game from this Amazon affiliate link: Octopath Traveler - Nintendo Switch

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Tales from the Backlog! The event that got me started with blogging is called Blaugust and it returns this year as #BlaugustReborn! If you would like to learn more about Blaugust or sign up to participate, check out this post from fellow game blogger, Belghast: Tales of the Aggronaut - First of Blaugust

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Persona 4 Review

Compared to last year, 2018’s release calendar has been fairly light. While some gamers might be
lamenting this, I’ve found it has been an excellent opportunity to go back and check out some titles from prior years that I missed. Thus, I’m jumped right into tackling yet another “gaming shame”, the Megami Tensei franchise. Except for two spinoff games, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, and Shin Megami Tensei Synchronicity Prologue, I haven’t gotten the chance to get into Atlus’s hugely popular RPG series. A friend was nice enough to lend me his copy of Persona 4 for PlayStation 2 back in April and it's taken me a while to finish the game and put together my thoughts.

Game overview:
Persona 4 is an RPG in which the protagonist and his friends must investigate a series of grisly
supernatural murders that have been taking place in their town. The wrinkle is that the investigators are all high school students and must juggle their school and social lives in addition to gathering clues, fighting villains, and rescuing potential victims.

  • Persona 4 begins with an incredibly long set of introductory cutscenes. During the first two hours or so of the campaign, the game only requires player input two or three times. Putting non-interactive segments this long in a video game would probably even give a director like Hideo Kojima pause. Thankfully, the writing is pretty good, so this lengthy introduction still has entertainment value, but I still wish it the game’s designers would have broken it up a bit.
  • As the two hours’ worth of introductory material makes clear, Persona 4 focuses on developing its characters and story above all else. I found the central murder mystery to be interesting and enjoyed getting to meet the whole cast of characters. The English language voice-overs for these characters are excellent and add significantly to their personalities.
  • Atlus made some interesting choices regarding localizing this game. Despite being a 100% English translated game, locations, characters, and events all use their Japanese names (the game is set in Japan, after all). The dialog even includes honorifics with character names. It took me a little while to get used to hearing English-speaking characters calling each other -san and sempai but I have to give the voice actors credit for making it work.
  • Much of the gameplay reminds me of old-school dating sims like Tokimeki Memorial. The game follows the daily life of its typical anime teen protagonist over the course of a year as he goes to school, hangs out with his friends, works a part-time job, investigates a serial murder case, and battles demonic forces (I described it as “anime” for a reason). How and with whom the player elects to spend the hero’s time will affect his personal stats. Points in the hero's qualities like "knowledge" and "expression" open up new pathways for interactions between characters but also can affect his combat performance as well.
  • Since the hero juggles his high school life and his evil-battling life, I break the gameplay down into two modes: school mode and quest mode. School mode plays much like a visual novel or a dating sim (especially like the aforementioned Tokimeki Memorial). During the classroom segments, the protagonist may be asked questions by the teacher or may have to take exams. Scoring well on these segments improves his “knowledge” stat. After class, the player can elect to have their character attend after-school activities, work a part-time job, or spend time with his friends and family. These activities either boost general stats like “diligence” and “understanding”, or increase the “Social Link” score, which affects combat attributes when in quest mode (more on that later).
  • Outside of all the usual high school activities, the player can enter quest mode after school. The quest consists of gathering clues about the murder mystery that the characters are trying to solve by talking to NPCs and exploring dungeons to track down suspects or rescue potential victims. There are about eight dungeons in the game and the player is given a month or two of in-game time to finish each one; missing the deadline to complete a dungeon results in a game over. Thus, managing the character’s time between school mode and quest mode is crucial. 
  • The dungeons themselves are themed after each character’s inner struggle (similar to Psychonauts) but the layout of each is procedurally generated with the exception of the boss room. Most of the dungeons are eight to twelve stories tall and require and a considerable amount of time to finish (about three to five hours each in my playthrough). Running out of MP and items often means that dungeon runs have to be spread out across multiple in-game days in order to restock supplies. While I thought the character-specific theming was pretty cool and I didn't mind the procedure layouts, I couldn’t help but wish that the dungeons were a little shorter. After getting to about the sixth floor or so in a given dungeon, I found myself being a little bored of the slow dungeon crawl and wanting to just get to the boss as quickly as possible so I could advance the story.
  • The combat is in the form of traditional turn-based battles in which each character in the party can summon a demon (aka a Persona) to use special skills. Most of the strategy of regular battles involve figuring out the right skills to exploit enemy weakness and execute combos. The protagonist can collect new Personas by finding Tarot cards in the dungeon and can swap between these demonic allies in mid-battle. The rest of the characters only have one fixed Persona that they stick with for the whole game. This leads to the protagonist being the only strategic variable in boss battles which makes them less interesting than they could be. It’s important to note that bosses and regular enemies alike can exploit your characters’ weaknesses as well, which can mean that a bad roll of the dice can wipe out your whole party even during a basic encounter.
  • In addition to acquiring new Personas, the protagonist can also fuse his Personas together to form new more powerful ones. The power of these fused Personas is a function of the Social Link scores you’ve built up with each character. Every character has an affinity with one of the arcana of the Tarot deck, which correspond with the 22 races of demons in hell (yes, this game has some dark themes in it). Hence, the hero’s decisions in school mode can have a significant impact on his progression in quest mode.
  • The connection between the school mode and quest mode of the game manifests itself in some ways that are interesting and others that are jarring. Since the dungeons take place in a hellish parallel dimension to the real world (did I forget to mention that?), things going on in school mode, such as the weather, can reflect the situation in quest mode. For example, rain and fog in the school mode portion of the game foreshadow the death of a character in the dungeons, representing a quest deadline. Since checking the local news is part of the player character’s daily routine, the weather report takes on a foreboding tone that adds to the sense of tension in the story. However, there are other times where this connection didn’t work for me. If you finish a quest mode objective earlier than the game expects you to, you’ll be prompted each day with a message that says something like “you are waiting for the situation to change”, and nothing of any consequence will happen until the original due date for that quest passes. For the first half of the game, I appreciated having this bit of downtime to meet all the characters and develop the Social Links. Yet, as the game went on, I had completed most of the social links that I was interested in and found myself wishing I could turn the clock forward past all the mundane school days and get to the next main story beat. Another instance where the connection between quest mode conflicts with school mode is the relationship between social links and Tarot Arcana. When a character asks the protagonist if he’d like to hang out, the player is prompted with a message indicating the benefits of this social interaction on the strength of his Personas. I found that this made my character seem like some sort of psychopath who weighs all of his interpersonal relationships based on the perks they’ll confer to his personal arsenal of demons. I realize that this prompt is just clarifying a mechanic in the game, but the direct acknowledgment of it in this context highlights how creepy the whole thing is.
  • Regarding the character-specific theming of each chapter of the quest, Persona 4 attempts to tackle some rather heavy themes such as anxiety, depression, sexuality, and gender identity. These are ambitious subjects for a video game to tackle (especially a Japanese game from 2008) and the execution sometimes feels a little clumsy by 2018 standards. That being said, I really have to commend the game for trying. Generally, Persona 4 achieves its goal of developing each member of the cast into a relatable person that the player can sympathize and root for.
  • While I didn’t know this going in, Persona 4 has multiple endings and it is extremely easy to accidentally get the bad ending. There is a key set of dialog tree decisions during a scene late in the game that determines which ending you get. To me, it seemed unclear which choices would lead to which path. I ended up reloading the scene several times only to get different variants of the bad ending each time before ultimately giving up and looking up the exact path through the dialog tree to get to the good ending. Thankfully, the game explicitly prompts the player to save the game right before this crucial scene.
  • Something that is often said about the Persona series is how stylish it is. I agree. The music and character animations give the game an extra helping of personality over pretty much any other RPG.
  • Some notes on how I played this game: I played on the easy setting and used a PS2 emulator so that I could make liberal use of save states. I have no regrets about either of these decisions. Losing progress due to large gaps between save points and getting wiped in unforgiving battles would have significantly hampered my ability to enjoy and finish a massive game like this.
Overall, I found that the gameplay of Persona 4 was interesting at first but lost its luster as the game went on; it was the strong characters and compelling central narrative that kept me on board for the 70+ hour campaign. I'm really glad I got to experience this landmark game and I know it will stick with me for quite some time. That being said, the investment of time and mental/emotional energy required to tackle a game as large and deep as this is something that I'm only prepared to handle occasionally. In all likelihood, it will be quite some time before I'm ready to dive into another Persona title.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 73 hours

If you would like to pick up a copy of this game while also supporting this blog, check out the Amazon affiliate links below:
Persona 4 - PS2
Persona 4 Golden - PS Vita

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ease Further Into Ys

After having so much fun with my last Ys streaming series, "Ease Into Ys", I've decided to delve even deeper into Falcom's classic action RPG series with Ys Origin. This game is a prequel to Ys 1 & 2, but according to the series experts at Digital Emelas, it is said to be best played after the first two installments of the series. If you'd like to get caught up on what happened in those games, I'd suggest this YouTube video:

Unlike the other Ys games, instead of playing as the series protagonist, Adol, Ys Origin has three playable characters with their own story lines. At this point, I've already played through the first character's quest offline in order to get familiarity with the game and will be starting the second character's quest on my Twitch channel. Ys Origin is much more action-oriented than other RPGs I've played, even when compared to other Ys games, so it should make for a pretty briskly-paced stream.

If you'd like to join me on my journey up the Devil's Tower in Ys Origin, be sure to tune into my "Ease Further Into Ys" stream on my Twitch channel every Tuesday, starting tonight (Jul-17) at 8PM EDT!

This game has an awesome soundtrack! If you'd like to give it a listen while also supporting this blog, check it out via this Amazon Affiliate link: Ys Origin Soundtrack