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Video games, PC games, or other interactive media that's currently caught my attention ...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

I've been playing Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks since it came out, and I'm pretty sold on it.

It's a great little adventurer that fits into the Zelda canon, with intuitive but clever puzzles that are for the most part challenging without being frustrating. It's got the trademark fun and humor inherent with the franchise (Princess Zelda is particularly a hoot).

I'll save my larger write-up for when I'm further into (or finishing) the game, but there are a couple of rocky spots in Hyrule.

First, I'm not all that thrilled with the train mechanic. It feels gimmicky, and while core to the story, I wonder if it was a good design choice, or maybe fast travel has ruined me and my patience.

Second, I dislike requiring the stylus to make a player move, because it gets in the way of being able to see what's happening on screen. I like having the D-pad as an option to move around the screen, and since there are (at least right now) unused buttons that could be assigned to the map and menu screens, using the D-pad for these functions (and requiring the stylus for movement) feel like forcing the DS mechanics for the sake of enforcing the DS mechanics.

Lastly (for now), the sketchy directional control of upgrades like the whirlwind are sucky at best, causing frustrating battle moments and required replays. Not fun.

But these are nits compared to the overall game, and that's why I call them out -- the whole game is great, so these shortcomings shouldn't be seen as taking away from the overall experience.

More later ....

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the new Batman: Arkham Asylum game on the Xbox 360, and I've been pretty impressed so far.

This is a solid, dark treatment of the license, the full game is more polished than the demo (which itself was a good concantenation of a few segments of the game to show scope and diversity), the detective mode has been tweaked (and is pretty slick), the art direction is cool (and consistent), fanboy unlockables are solid and slickly implemented, and I like the progression, the open-endedness(ish)ism of the title. And (yay!) the video tweak settings let me brighten the game without washing out the graphics -- very important for playing on a projector.

Mark Hamill (who is the Joker) and Kevin Conroy (who is the Batman, at least until I am), are fantastic -- as is a lot of the primary voice acting (some of the secondary (like the guards) doesn't come close to the caliber, which is unfortunate). Good voice acting makes a game; bad kills it. This is stellar stuff.

And I like that there are subtle things like me being able to move Batman around during an in-engine cutscene, downed enemies are still breathing (they're unconscious, not dead), and the brief (at least one so far) first-person implementation (hey, you get it for free with the tech; might as well play with it; which most licensed fair refuses to do).

It's got a few shortcomings, but nothing that kills the game for me.

First off is I'm not crazy about the muscle-bound nature of ol' Bats -- feels a bit over-done, put - a -space -marine - in - a - batsuit. Also, the skinning of the game is a bit of a weird mix of shiny and muddy, but that's stereotypical of the Unreal Engine (right or wrong). Also, I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I game on a projector, and at that size Rocksteady's particular implementation of the third-person camera causes a bit of a problem with slight queasiness that most other games don't cause.

But overall, the game is solid, I'm enjoying it, kudos to Rocksteady for getting it right, and I'll be tooling through it for a while.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (NDS)

I picked up Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer for the Nintendo DS because I wanted to play a polished roguelike on the handheld.

Liking it so far, though I think after it, I want to find a darker roguelike game. If I can't find one, I may make one.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Conan (Xbox 360)

OK, Conan is an oldish 360 game, and I finished it months ago, but I've been meaning to write about it ever since. Reason for the delay is the final boss battle (more on that later).

This a the kind of game that makes me irritated at game reviews/reviewers.

This is a solid licensed title that is ambitious and has so much going right for it, that -- especially given the stigma for a licensed title -- it's great.

Nihilistic Software should be commended shoving so much stuff into the game -- from the basic hack-n-slash to the much deeper combat and combo system, to entertaining and stretch Xbox Achievements (50 grapple kills, 100 dismemberments, etc.), to technical implementations like environmental cloth and destructibility.

Its tale is knit together by game writing great Susan O’Connor, and has a stellar score from Michael Reagan (Twisted Metal: Black, God of War / II, the underrated music from Brute Force, etc.).

Besides, the fact that you can pick this game up for ~$10 bucks anywhere should make it a no-brainer for Conan franchise fans.

Since few games are perfect, here are a few of the rough edges Conan does fall into: camera, platforming, polish, gratuitousness, and quick-times.


Seriously, I have had very few good fixed cameras in third-person titles. When the camera is not good, don't make it fixed. Conan uses a fixed not-good third person camera.


I like platforming -- in platformers. I don't like platforming in third-person actioner titles. I'm fine with the puzzle mechanic, and lightweight platforming-esque maneuvers that complete said puzzles. But jumping from ledge to ledge with the above fixed-camera implementation? Anger-inducing.


Like I said, kudos to Nihilistic for putting so much into the game. It does feel like in places the polish falls down, with unexpected clipping, some texture issues, etc. that almost made the game feel unfinished to me in places. That may be a horribly unfair assessment, and the reality is all games (unfortunately) have some level of bugginess and rough edges.

Other than that, a few of the environments feel a little bland -- and they feel that way because other areas (think a hall populated with rich props, interesting textures, cloth banners, etc.) are not bland at all.


Some people are probably going to call prude on me for this one.

I'm not talking the violence (which most games let you dial down) -- I'm talking the topless girls you rescue throughout the game. It'd be nice from a philosophical level to be able to "turn off nudity" like you can "turn of gibs" in so many games (and hey, in essence it's the same mesh and animation sets across most or all of the girls, so it should be easy). There are some tween kids I'd say could play a game like Conan despite the violence, but I wouldn't endorse the title for that same demographic, because of its obnoxious titillation.

Quick-time Events.

Developers who use quick-time events, I am convinced, hate gamers. That's my bias, but other than Resident Evil 5 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance coming close to making not totally sucky QT events, I hate these things. What's worse than a cut-scene? A cut scene where you can't passively watch, and can't really control. The industry calls these "quick-time events".

And Conan? While most of the QTs are irritating, the final boss battle implementation is horrific. I finished the game months ago, and it's taken me this long to write the review, because the QTs in that fight pissed me off sooo bad -- and not in a Ninja Gaiden "this is hard and is kicking my butt and I am going to beat it" kind of way, but in a "you are f***ing kidding me? Another cheap interruption?" kind of way.

See, where Conan is strong is its implementation of combos (X+X+X+Y, for example). But to make the final boss quick-time events "harder", devs decided to shrink the time you have to hit the button that you're supposed to mash. Problem is, if you're in a combo, it has to finish out before it registers the QT button, and usually stomps on it. This is maddeningly infuriating, and made me almost hate the game, even though it was just that last, bad implementation that soured me.

Devs: Quick-times are bad. Stop using them. Thank you in advance.

Anyway, pick up the title if you can. At sub-ten-bucks, it's a fun, brainless brawler at the least, and a deep combo license treatment for franchise fans in the extreme.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Dragon Ball: Origins (NDS)

I'm playing Dragon Ball: Origins as one of the half-dozen titles I'm rotating through my Nintendo DS.

This is a fun little, stylus-dependent game, and it's a great gift to franchise fans. Its implementation style fits nicely with the quirky Dragon Ball IP style (gone grittier in later Dragon Ball Z and GT incarnations).

I totally dig getting reintroduced to longtime favorite characters, and unlocking figures for display and animating, while a little gimmicky, is something I really appreciate.

It's not all perfect, of course -- in particular, the stylus-only combat can be a bit dicey, and I don't like that I have to use the stylus for moving around -- I'd much rather use the D-Pad in a more straightforward way.

I'm probably 10-15% through this overall massive little title, so I'll hopefully write more about it later.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Orcs & Elves (NDS)

I played id Software's Orcs & Elves, because I'm a fan of the first-person dungeon crawler genre.

While not the best entry in the genre (for me), Orcs & Elves is a fun, engaging, fairly addictive Nintendo DS title -- especially since you can easily get it on the cheap (less than $15)

Originally a mobile (phone game), the Nintendo DS version shows its legacy roots, in that more content should have been created for the latter version.

That said, I definitely like the map and touch-screen inventory management implementation, and spellcasting on the DS is pretty slick, even if a bit gimmicky.

You can use the touch screen to navigate, but I recommend the directional pad, and the implementation of the NDS bumpers for turning (a shortcoming in other genre implementations), is much appreciated.

I wish there were more art assets for the NDS version -- that part, in particular, seems necessarily skimped on.

Overall, it's a very playable NDS title, and I recommend it for both fans of the genre, and people wanting to get their feet wet with it.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Assassin's Creed

I've been playing Assassin's Creed since it came out this week.

I'm busy with a move and a new job in the video game industry, so I don't have time to do a review right now.

So, let me just say it's all kinds of awesome.

If you love Crackdown, think of it as a super sexy stealth Crusades-era(ish)(esque) Crackdown. Think of it as a next-gen Crusades-era(ish)(esque) Buffy (the great first game from The Collective), with a better game save system and fewer cheap deaths (oh, non-poisonous, non-bottomless deadly water, how I hated thee).

It's a great game. Great story. Solid gameplay. Fun. Fun.

Is it perfection?

No, but game ratings are broken, so I'll steal from the movie ratings and say this is a five-star game.

Now go play it before Mass Effect comes out this week.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conan (Xbox 360)

Conan's going through a resurgence.

Besides the Dark Horse comics and collectibles, he's got not one, but two games coming out -- Funcom's MMO Age of Conan next March(ish) for the PC and Xbox 360, and THQ's hack-n-slash fest, Conan for the Xbox 360 and PS3, due out at the end of this month.

This latter game has a demo out, and I played through the Xbox 360 version a few times.

If the demo is any indication of the rest of the game, I think Conan will get fair to middling reviews, and I think this will be selling the game short.

To be honest, the game is pretty, and may end being one of the prettier hack-n-slash titles to date. Add to that what looks to be a faithful recreation of the Robert E. Howard mythos, and I think this game may be a solid pre-holiday game offering. And definitely something that will fill my Rune gap until the new Golden Axe comes out from SEGA.

It's straight-forward hack-n-slash, but with decent throw and combo mechanics. The demo felt a bit too easy, but I'm assuming the full game will have adjustable difficulty levels. The game's definitely mature, which I'd argue is required for a faithful representation of the Hyborian world.

I'm bummed there doesn't seem to be multiplayer, but this is a single-player, iconic kind of IP.

I'm looking forward to the full release, and hope THQ prices it competitively to keep it from being lost in the holiday shuffle.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BioShock (Xbox 360)

BioShock, quite simply, is the best game I've played this year, and maybe the best the last two or three years.

The game looks gorgeous, has interesting play mechanics put together in a way that matters, a great story, top-notch voice acting, stellar sound design, and diversity that kept me engaged throughout.

What kind of game is BioShock? At it's core, it's a shooter (First-Person Shooter), but it's a "shooter-plus" -- a shooter plus adventure game (so much fun exploring and figuring things out); a shooter plus RPG (what plasmids am I going to upgrade? Change out? Remove?).

Built on the Unreal Engine 3 (but given the nature of game development and customization, who knows how much of the UE3 is really still there), this is a pretty game. The fifties-deco vibe is well done, and gives a sense of what futuristic technology would look like in that era; and the signs and adverts are hilarious.

Water (one of the things for which I look in a now-gen game) is fluid and conductive (which means I can electrify baddies sitting in water, and get zapped myself if I'm not careful). If you light an enemy on fire, they'll throw themselves into nearby water to but themselves out and come back to attack you.

Which speaks to another strength of the game -- the AI. Enemies alternate between attacking and fleeing when you (for example) light them on fire. Sometimes they sneak up on you (via the ceiling, which creeps me out); sometimes they charge you. The designs of the "Splicers" are horrific and diverse enough between classes to visually cue me in to my attack or defense mechanism.

And there are a lot of options on this front. There are eight slots for weapons, and most have three different ammunition types (standard, anti-personnel, and armor-piercing for the machine gun, for example; or trip mine, fragmentary grenade, or heat-seeking RPG for the rocket launcher).

Then there are the plasmids -- basically your super powers that range from fire to telekinesis -- and those are just the combat plasmids. There are also sets of mechanical (safe hacking, etc.) and attribute plasmids. And you don't have enough slots for all plasmids, and you usually don't have enough Adam to purchase or upgrade the plasmids you want. This limitation (plasmids, ammunition, wallet for money, etc.) creates an RPG-ish mechanic that makes the game more than a straightforward shooter.

There is also a lot of diversity in the title. Far from just combat, there's exploration, puzzle solving, and a recurring mini-game in the form of hacking that is surprisingly engaging and white-knuckling at times.

The other thing the game does well from a design mechanic is that "just 5 more minutes" mechanic. More than once I'd go an hour or two beyond what I'd intended because I wanted to explore something new, take someone down differently, re-listen to audio cues or Foley, and so on. And there are 4 plasmids I still haven't found or unlocked.

And I actually like they way they implemented syringes and snacks and health stations scattered about Rapture. I also liked the various audio diaries and radio intrusions that added to the story (some other reviews have complained about these as too intrusive).

Of course, for me, a stellar story has to be married to top-notch gameplay, or I get peeved (except in multiplayer, where I just get peeved at the idiotic anonymous, socially challenged masses).

Anyway, BioShock delivers on the story front in spades. I don't know how much of this is Ken Levine, and how much is Susan O'Connor and other contributors, but the story rocks. It's full-featured, accounts for the fluidity of the game medium, and moved me along as a player. Stuff of this caliber shouldn't be so rare in video games.

And sound? Symphony orchestra for the score? Mixed (and balanced) surround sound? Some of the best voice acting since Carpenter in Hunter: The Reckoning? Great stuff. I'll try to post more about it on the acting side of my Website, if I can get permission to post one particular clip from the Sander Cohen character, and verify the voice actor.

Is BioShock a perfect game? No, but it's super close.

I mean, it's not all that innovative. Telekinesis? The evolution of Half-Life 2's gravity gun (or Jedi Knight's Force Push). Speaking of Jedi Knight, the electricity plasmid is akin to a certain Dark Force power.

But the way these things are put together matters, and is great fun. Light a Big Daddy on fire, then hit him with heat-seaking RPGs? Freeze an NPC, then bash him with the wrench? Set up trip wires, capped off by a proximity mine near some propane tanks? Good times.

And there are some minor missteps in otherwise great level design. I like how the map is implemented, but on the Arcadia level, the map and the level design caused some problems in smooth navigation that made me pretty frustrated.

And while I like health stations scattered about, I think health packs could have been left out, which would have made for a more frenetic, urgent experience (but leave the snacks, and the related plasmids).

And near the end of the game there's a type of mission that I don't like if it's not implemented well, and while it's implemented pretty well in BioShock, it's not good enough, and frustrated me when it felt like it wasn't possible to complete it with my (and, I suspect, most people's) definition of success.

But honestly, these are nits.

BioShock is a great game, and definitely the best I've played this year, and probably the best I've played in the last few.

Rent: Yes.
Buy: Oh, yeah.

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Monday, August 13, 2007


Been playing the BioShock demo that went up on Xbox Live tonight.

Freaking rocks. Gorgeous, stylistic game

I like adventure games. I like games with atmosphere and story. I like games that make me say, "You want me to what? By myself?"

So this moral dilemma shooter (a la Deus Ex; a shooter like that's a "shooter") has got my interest piqued. Gonna be a long couple of weeks waiting for the full game.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gauntlet Seven Sorrows (Xbox)

I've wanted to play Gauntlet Seven Sorrows on the original Xbox for some time.

Due to external happenings and a request from my East Coast gaming buddy Dajoti, I rented the game Friday night.

This is an under-rated game.

I mean, it got middling reviews, but it's real strength lies in multiplayer. Questing through the entire game with a buddy on Xbox Live (or, better, together in the same room) is a lot of fun. Though I wonder if 4-player multiplayer would hold up over Xbox Live -- two player was a bit frustrating as we talked each other into what direction to go next.

This a hack and slash game, with light RPG elements that let you choose powers to purchase and skill points to assign.

There are older Xbox games I would argue look even better (Hunter: The Reckoning; the ridiculously underrated Dungeons and Dragons Heroes; etc.), but Seven Sorrows has some great character designs and detailed environments. There are also decent production values in the not-overbearing back story and cut scenes.

The game's a bit on the short side -- Dajoti and I bulleted through it in around 5 or 6 hours.

And, after playing games like X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, I expect fully destructible environments. Not so much in Seven Sorrows.

Oh, and the game ends unceremoniously. Dajoti were texting each other and saying, "Um, I guess that's the game. G'night."

As an aside, though Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is on the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, my playing on a 360 and Dajoti on an original Xbox caused constant disconnects over Xbox Live. My switching to original Xbox solved the issue.

Overall, a fun game to play with friends.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? No

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

BF2:MC; G.R.A.W.; Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360)

One of the coolest parts of the new Xbox 360 incarnation of Xbox Live is the free downloadable demos.

Recently, a bunch of demos hit the network, with Electronic Arts releasing Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (BF2:MC); Ubisoft posting Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.), and Eidos dropping the Xbox 360 version of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend.

I keep getting sucked back into the Battlefield 2: Modern Combat demo (the full version ships today). The game is a visceral, intense, absolutely huge, and less-serious war game ripe for "That's what I'm talkin' about!" moments. For example, me driving a tank over a bridge I know is out, as a guy on a rooftop takes aim at me with a rocket launcher. I drive the tank over the edge of the bridge, but not before I jumped out, rocket whizzing over my head and missing the plummeting tank, as I swap to a sniper rifle and cap the guy on the rooftop. He'd just been served.

The BF2:MC demo is buggy as all get out, so I'm hoping the retail version fixes some of the glitches. Seriously, the demo makes Oblivion look good (don't get me wrong -- Oblivion is a beautiful, engrossing game; but it's glitchy, and I can't currently play it because the "fragmented disk cache fix" isn't working).

The Xbox 360 version of BF2:MC has the content from the Xbox version (prettied up), plus the three new maps and four new vehicles from the Xbox “Warsome Booster Pack” released in December.

A more serious (and much more gorgeous) demo is Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.). This game is intense, and for the less-experienced player, pretty unforgiving. This game plays more like a war version of a chess game (where you're an shootable chess piece), and can be pretty frustrating until you get the hang of the controls and different game play style. I jumped into this after playing BF2:MC, and had to seriously adjust my "who can take more bullets" game style.

Also, this game is a totally different game than the Xbox version of the game -- developed by a different studio, and with a much higher level of quality and overall game play.

In a previous blog, I passed on info that the demo wassn't going to have co-op. But last night, a buddy and I fired it up and were able to co-op -- though he hit that steep learning curve pretty quickly, and didn't enjoy his taste of the game.

Finally, I downloaded and played Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend. I'm warming up to this, and admittedly, I'm not a big non-2D platformer fan, but my issues with the game aren't with it being a platformer -- it's that it doesn't feel next-gen.

The game is fun, and things like the water are fairly impressive. But there are some jaggies, and when Ms. Croft stands on a downed tree, for example, her feet are set apart as if she's standing on a transparent, flat surface -- which looks wonky.

If I'm playing a next-gen game, I really want the physicality of an object to be apparent. I want her feet to land roughly more where they "should" land on a tree trunk.

But I did say the game was growing on me. Lara's got some new moves, and the God of War inspired grappler is a nice addition, and I think swimming handles better than it has in the franchise.

I should play it again, and see if it grows on my some more.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Xbox 360 demo of Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Xbox 360 demo).

The demo is slick, and absolutely amazing in high def on a projection screen. This is the first game that, for me, is seriously enhanced by the big-screen treatment.

There's a quirk in the "V-REX" level -- when you get into the pool of water, wait there until the T-Rex moves on, and one of your party makes a comment to you. That'll end the demo. If you exit the pool before the comment is made, you'll wander around waiting for something to happen, but not able to move on.

Or maybe that's just me.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shamu's Deep Sea Adventures (Xbox)

No, I haven't finished Perfect Dark Zero yet, but any time that title's single player story and dialog irritates me to the point of stoppage, I've been bouncing around to other titles.

Like this little All-Ages gem: Shamu's Deep Sea Adventures.

Why? Because it's an Xbox title compatible with the Xbox 360, supports HDTV 720p (high-def widescreen), and doesn't suck gameplay wise like Finding Nemo.

Good luck finding the Xbox version, though. I've been able to track down the Nintendo Gameboy Advance version pretty regularly, and the Sony PS2 version surfaced once, but I couldn't find the Xbox version until I ordered it from Searching for it on Activision won't get you jack tuna -- you need to go to their Activision Value Publishing sub-brand microsite. And, oddly, I couldn't find anything about the title on developer Fun Labs' website.

I'm only 4 levels in, but not bad so far -- and a high-def killer whale on a big screen projector turns out to be pretty cool ...

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