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Kids, Don't Inject Poisonous Ink Into Your Skin

This... er, mini-review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game.   So, what happens then you mix stealth, killing, tattoos, guns, stylized graphics, more killing, and clashing cultures? You get Mark of the Ninja, of course!   Mark of the Ninja is another Klei Entertainment game, a company well known for their Shank games. This game, however, isn't a brawler but more of a stealth game... you are a ninja, after all! Does this new direction help this new IP, or does Klei's strengths lie elsewhere?   Because I want to ruin my build up, Mark of the Ninja is a great game. This is mainly from the gameplay--it's remarkably well done. This game will throw you in a variety of situations, and give you countless tools to get past them. Will you want to distract the guards by turning out the lights, then sneak up from behind and kill them? Or... are you feeling more merciful, and simply pickpocket the key you need instead of murdering the man with it? Or even kill a guard, then drop his corpse on his friend's head and (understandably) terrify him? You can do all that and more in Mark of the Ninja.   It's what make the game so much fun to play. There's never really a bad solution (even getting detected has its advantages), and figuring out what you like to do isn't a chore, but a rewarding process. However, whenever you get comfortable with your current tactics, the game changes it up, by adding new obstacles and mechanics. In that way Mark of the Ninja keeps it fresh and forces you to try new things... something many games can fail to do. Especially in the later stages, you'll have to think of some creative solutions to get past some of the daunting situations you're put in.     Also, the story is a cut above what most games of this genre offer. It all seems generic and bare-bones at first, but many events happen that subtly let you know that something bigger is going on... and its the subtle changes of tone and the optional scrolls you fin that really pull it all together. You're left with many questions, and some are answered, while others are left to your own imagination. The ending is also very well-done and leaves a powerful impression.   The graphics aren't top-notch, but the graphical style allows Mark of the Ninja to stay mostly dark but yet makes it easy to pick all the details out. You'll easily be able to see what you can climb and grapple on, where the doors and vents are, and pretty much everything else you'll need to know. The graphics may not blow you away, but they are (perhaps more importantly) functional.   So, this isn't a very long review, but I think I got my point across. Mark of the Ninja is awesome. If you're the least bit interested in Klei, stealth games, or ninjas, do yourself a favor and go buy this!   I guess score wise, I'd give it... a 9/10, which is a Fantastic rating! Good going with this one, Klei!   [Note: I played Mark of the Ninja as the May game for the Backloggery Game Club. If you want to see a more detailed (albeit spoiler-filled) report of my playthrough, check here!]

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A Tiny Look at a Gigantic Selection (Part 1)

Steam has what can best be described as an gargantuan library of games. From the free to the full price, the great to the terrible, it can be difficult to decide what games you may want from the surface, especially when the famous mass sales come up.   With so many games, wouldn't it be great if you could read quick, concise thoughts on a bunch of Steam games at once? It sure would! This is the first of a series that I (and hopefully other users!) are starting; expect to see more Steam Mini reviews in the future!   For myself, I thought the best idea was to go in alphabetical order of the games I have finished. So, without further ado...     Audiosurf   Probably the first of the games that successfully used a player's own music and make it into a fun game. It's a very simple concept that reminds a bit of Klax; collect colored blocks in rows or columns and amass a high score. The best part is that with a bunch of different modes, it can be as easy or hard as you want it. There have been many since Audiosurf, but nothing beats the original... especially when you're looking for a more relaxing experience.   Score: 8.5/10 - Great     Back to the Future: The Game   I have a confession--I haven't really watched the Back to the Future movies. A terrible thing, I know, but even so I was able to enjoy Telltale's adventure offering of the IP. Back to the Future: The Game offers a new story set in the familiar setting, and delivers a great tale. I've never been a fan of the 'episodic' format Telltale likes to use so much, but playing them all in a row after they were released helped to solve that. The whole game lasted about 10 hours, so it's a pretty bulky experience for an adventure genre game, as well.   Score: 7.5/10 - Good     Bastion   Action RPGs isn't exactly my favorite genre, but Bastion is a boon to it. It offers a fantastic story through the voice of our narrator, and it comes to an emotional and powerful conclusion. The gameplay is fantastic as well, with a bunch of different melee and ranged weapons to choose from. The challenges are also a nice touch to help you learn to master each weapon, and get materials and skills to make them better. Overall it's a well-polished package, filled with the developers' love.   Score: 9.5/10 - Fantastic     Beat Hazard   Beat Hazard, much like Audiosurf before it, is a game that takes your own music to create its gameplay. However, Beat Hazard is a twin-stick shmup; the music you pick spawns enemies and bosses for you to shoot, instead of blocks to collect. This makes for a far more adrenaline filled experience. Which one you like more really depends on preference and what you're in the mood for, really; they are both great games in their own right.     Score: 8/10 - Great     Dear Esther   It's really, really hard to actually classify Dear Esther as a game. You literally just walk around the island for a few hours. However, the character's monologue and the beautiful simplicity of the island make for a great trek. The chilling and thought provoking conclusion really wraps things up, as well. Even so, though, it's just too difficult to give the game a higher score, if only for the fact that it's barely a game in the first place.   Score: 7.5/10 - Good     Fate of the World     What the heck is this? I have no clue how I'm even supposed to play this. No matter what I do, no one's happy and I fail the tutorial. I went through the effort to get the nuclear winter end once, but I only did that with the help of a walkthrough; I really didn't know how I even accomplished it. I think this game's supposed to warn against global warning or something, but it does a terrible job doing so.     Score: 2/10 - Bad     Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes     There's a lot wrong with this game, but I can't help but like it. It has a sense of humor that at least doesn't rely on Internet memes; while genre jokes aren't that much better, well... I didn't mind it. The gameplay works, though there's quite a few issues, and the characters are... well, characters. It's all decent fun, though it's far from groundbreaking.     Score: 6/10 - Decent           That does it for this first round of mini-reviews! If there's any games above you'd like to see a full review of... well, let me know, and perhaps something will come of it in the future. Until next time!

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So You Want Your Computer to Understand Moonspeak

Computers are great. You can look at anything around the world, and even buy video game from other countries and play them.   Well, I guess just buying them and playing them isn't really true. While games in languages that use roman characters (think Spanish or French) should play fine on our English understanding electronics (well, other than the language barrier you may or may not be able to get through), languages like Japanese offer a different hurdle our computers have to go through. Since Japanese is a non-Unicode language, most English computers can't run Japanese programs correctly. Instead of Japanese characters, you'll get a bunch of weird characters and question marks, and the program itself tends to crash. That's not very fun if you're in the middle of a game!     So, how does one play their precious moonspeak games? There's a few ways to do it. First, you can change your system's location. By changing the computer's location, you can make it think like a Japanese Unicode computer, and therefore (usually) play Japanese games without having to worry about crashes. Changing to a different location on Vista and beyond is easy:   Start Menu -> Control Panel -> Region and Language -> 'Language' tab     From there, you can change the 'Current Location' of your computer. Click the drop-down menu, select 'Japan', and restart, and you'll be good to go!   However, there are some disadvantages to simply changing your computer's location. First, while most programs and applications still run fine and are in English, any program created for an International audience (think the installation discs that comes with things like digital cameras and printers) will show up in Japanese, as well as applications that grab local news and other information will display items from Japan. Also, while your computer's current location might be in Japanese, some Japanese games still may not display and run properly. Finally, while changing the current location is a easy as following the steps and choosing 'United States' instead of 'Japan', if you have to change it (and restart) every time you play a game it can be very troublesome.   Thankfully, there's a solution to this, and it's relatively painless... and that's AppLocale. AppLocale, according to Microsoft, is:   ...a temporary solution to these limitations caused by non-Unicode applications running on the Unicode (UTF-16) based Windows XP. AppLocale detects the language of the legacy application and simulates a corresponding system locale for code-page to/from Unicode conversions.   Basically, it emulates the whole 'current location' spiel temporarily without having to change your system's location... and it's very easy to use, too! Go ahead and download the installer, and we can begin getting this helpful solution.   If you're using Windows XP... great! Just install AppLocale and skip to 'So Now You Have AppLocale Installed'.   If you're using Windows Vista or 7... things won't be nearly as easy. Unfortunately, AppLocale was made for Windows XP and Windows XP alone, with no real alternative for later Windows OS's. But, that doesn't mean we can't use it... there's just an extra step you have to go through.     If you try to install AppLocale on Vista or 7, you'll probably get this message-- "There is a problem with this Windows Installer package. A program required for this install to complete could not be run. Contact your support personnel and package vendor."-- and it will shut down the installer. Bummer. The problem, however, isn't with a missing program... it's with Vista's and 7's Security Settings (or User Account Controls, or UAC)! You know, that annoying little pop-up that pops up all the time asking "Is it really okay we open/install this? REALLY?"... and we have to turn it off. Yes, you can actually turn those off! You can thank me whenever.     Anyway, turning off the Security Settings isn't too difficult, if a bit hidden:   Start Menu -> Control Panel -> User Accounts -> Change User Account Control Settings     From there, turn the setting down to 'Never Notify'. Then open the AppLocale installer, and it will go without a hitch!   But, if you don't want to turn off the UAC... well, why not? Whatever reasons you have, there is an alternative. For that, though, you can check out this article for installing AppLocale using Elevated Commands, and this article to learn what Elevated Commands are and how to do them.   So now you have AppLocale installed... congrats! We're almost done. Thing is, having the application installed alone won't work... you have to use the application itself! It's really easy, though.     When you open AppLocale, it'll give you a short synopsis of its purpose, and also the recommendation that if you use certain non-unicode languages constantly, that you should change your system's location. On the next screen, you have two choices: Add or remove programs or launch an application (default). It's here that you browse your computer's files and pick the Japanese game in question.     After picking the game and clicking 'Next', AppLocale usually detects the language of the application on its own. If it doesn't, though, you'll have to go into the drop-down menu and pick the correct one yourself. Since this is mainly about getting Japanese games to work, the correct option for Japanese is the bottom most one; you'll know you have the right option if there's three characters, with none in parenthesis.   Then, finally, after all of that... your game will be properly running in Japanese! No more question marks and weird symbols, but straight up Japanese. You can now enjoy your game with actual words and without non-Unicode error crashing!     That about sums it up for making your computer understand Japanese games without constant errors. It's a lot of information to be sure, and some of it can be confusing, so if you have any questions, ask away! Also, if you have something to share that I missed or could be helpful, feel free to let me know!   Also, My Digital Life is a great resource for learning how to make Windows bend over backwards for you, and also for news about, well, digital things, so check it out!

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Out of the Basement and into Society

You live in your mother's basement. Discarded cans of soda, half empty bags of Cheetos, and greasy pizza boxes litter the floor. Sitting on the slightly discolored, somewhat odorous couch is you, three hundred pounds of pimples and absurdly messy hair. In your stained wife beater and boxers you squint at the 24 inch TV for hours on end. What is it that's so interesting, to eat away your life? Is that... Ar tonelico? Oh, it makes sense now. What a lonely thirty two year old... Must have taken months to save up enough of his allowance to earn that piece of cartoon porn.   That's not you? My apologies. You must be that fourteen year old. After school everyday where you're accused and ridiculed for being the 'nerd', you go directly home and switch on the 360. Black Ops II, of course, what else is there to play? You go into multi-player, your fourth time over prestiged avatar seemingly looming over the competition. In the game, you snipe and knife the competition mercilessly, cackling through the microphone and calling your enemies unsavory names. Should your teammates fall behind your steadily rising kill count, they also become the victims of your vocal onslaught, being accused of being worthless, or worse yet, a girl. All of this continues late into the night, until you're finally forced to go to bed and repeat the process again.   Huh, that's not it either? Oh, okay. You're part of the group that crawls in the shadows of the Internet. Gathering up your meager typing and grammar skills, you strike out at anyone and everyone in the electronic world, with even more hatred than the angry fourteen year old. Many of your kind take to video game forums and comment sections, spewing venomous words at each other. While you are seem have differing opinions in some aspects and the same in others, arguing is simply part of your nature, and you will go out of your way to make someone else feel like the worst person in the world for offering a different perspective. You might get warned, maybe even get banned, but you change your IP address and begin anew in a couple of days, continuing the cycle of flames wars or hatred.   Really? You're not any of those? Wait... you're a girl? I didn't think girls played games... I mean, seriously, video games are only for little kids and nerds. Why are you playing them?   You're not a real gamer if you don't live like this.   Try as we might, most of our English-speaking society does not think too highly of gamers. A lot of it is thanks to the nasty habit many people have called stereotyping--a problem that in within almost all groups of people, gamers included. Even with the Wii and mobile platforms introducing gaming to a wide and mostly untapped audience, the 'casual' gamer, the stigma still remains. With more and more people playing video games than ever before, why do most people act like closet nerds that will salivate over the next World of Warcraft expansion and lash out at anyone that didn't play and love the latest Halo installment?   The answer is quite simple... because we still act like it. While (at least I like to personally believe) many gamers have become more mature over the years, there's still a small, very vocal minority that gives us a bad name. Those are the angry gamers that yell profanities over Xbox Live, the trolls that hide in gaming communities and lash out, even those that look down at other people for playing games they don't deem 'hardcore' enough.   Meet the 'typical' disgruntled gamer. He hates you too.   It's unfortunate, really, because the majority of gamers are quite mature. Gaming hasn't been around long in the grand scheme of things, but there is a new group of gamer out there since it's integration into the home. It's those that spent their whole lives playing games, and now have grown into gaming adults. They have careers and homes, spouses and children, but still enjoy booting up the PS3 and playing a few hours of Mass Effect 3 when they can. It's even the group most of us here on Game Podunk are in.   So, why do people not think of the average, grown gamer? Frankly, it's because we don't make ourselves known. It's like that for a variety reasons. First, and one many of us and attest to, if the lack of free time. As other, more pressing things in real life come into our lives, we have less time for our electronic ones. Not only do we have less time for gaming, we have less time for going into gaming communities and having our voice be heard.   Therefore, it only makes sense that most of those that occupy the more popular gaming communities (think IGN) are the younger crowds and those with a lot of free time... in other words, the ones that help bring the negative stereotypes into being. Unfortunately, it's places like these that the general public see gamers the most. It's here where the average person sees the fan boy wars, the terrible insults lobbed at each other for differing opinions, and general negative attitudes.   IM or not, lots of popular gaming boards look like this.   What can we do to reverse this cycle of thinking? It's a simple concept, but one that's hard to execute... basically, we have to let the world know that mature gamers exist. We have to go into those terrible, popular gaming communities and show that yes, there are intelligent gamers that think well of their hobby and industry. We can introduce new gamers to the crowd, weaning them in on fun simple games until they're sitting there playing Tales of Vesperia along with us. We have to express our open-minded views on gaming, and not look down on someone because they enjoyed the new mobile iteration of Angry Birds over the next entry of the Just Cause series.   Families that game together stay together... even if they look creepy doing it.   You want people to stop thinking we're bitter basement nerds? All we have to do is make the very vocal, angry minority seem just that: Very vocal, very angry, and very much the minority. Reversing stereotypes is far from easy, but taking the steps to do so will help us look better the the eyes of society. Of course, there will always be those that think games are 'only for kids' and scoff at the gaming community that's built up, but you can't make everyone happy, can you?

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Information Overload and The Removal of Surprise

E3 2012 was so disappointing. Behind all the flashing lights and booth babes, there really wasn't much substance. Sure, there were some trailers and in-depth demos on some of the biggest hits that were to come out over the year... but what about the surprises, the big reveals? Out of everything shown, so very few games were actually announced. It's great to know how the games we're all excited about are getting along, but it's far from the most exciting news a company can bring.   It's the biggest gaming conference in the U.S., and no one had anything to wow the country but with more gameplay footage of the same games? Really, what's going on here?   Skyward Sword is nice and all... but I already knew about that game!   Practically everyone knows the answer already, of course... the Internet. While that may be oversimplifying things, the convoluted World Wide Web has made it easier to announce any tidbit of news than ever before, and also harder to keep secrets. The evolution of the Internet has given millions access to an endless stream of information, and video games are no exception.   Remember when the Internet was not around in its full force? No? Okay, I'm old. But back in the day, gamers did not have this electronic luxury. We were confined to word of mouth and monthly gaming publications, drinking up what little information we could get. So, to us E3 was a glorious event; the one time of the year where the big companies pulled out ALL the big guns, aiming to wow us and surprise us with exciting new console announcements and triple A game reveals.   THIS used to be our go-to source for news and everything gaming related.   But then, computers started finding their way into every home, and the Internet turned from an AOL keyword filled club to a gargantuan mass of websites. Social networking via mySpace, and eventually Facebook and Twitter took center stage in many peoples' lives. Technology, over just a few short years, has managed to integrate itself so completely into our lives that many would be unable to function without it.   Because of that, it's very easy to obtain information on practically everything. Wondering how a friend's doing? Check their Facebook page. Have an odd bump on your leg? Go post a question on Yahoo Answers. Need to know if a game is worth buying? There's a website for that. Quite a few websites, actually.   So the question now is... why wait? People of this technologically saturated age crave instant gratification. They don't need the booth babes and the flashy reveals; they simply want to know if and when a game is coming out. Therefore, most developers just announce games and release dates on their social networking accounts. Rarely do companies wait until a big event to announce their big plans--because even if they didn't let everyone know via tweets, someone would just find out anyway from an internet leak or poking around site sources or copyrights anyway.   Remember when Atlus trolled everyone with their Gungnir/Growlanser reveals? All thanks to social media.   The developers and publishers see a double benefit in this. Firstly, they get to reveal new games to excited gamers at any time, which is beneficial to both sides of the equation. But, they also don't have to spend time, effort, and money on trying to make their reveal really 'wow' everyone. Why bother when you can just post a status update and a picture and get the same results? Social media saves tons of time and money, leaving events like E3 to be little more than a glorified physical GameTrailers-like conference.   Are the old days of reveal parties and huge excitement gone? Maybe not completely, but it certainly is dying. I mean, when the day comes that the next entry of the frequently asked about Fire Emblem series is revealed on Twitter after the E3 event instead of during it, you know things have changed.

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When Tapping, Waggling, and Smashing Get in the Way

When the average gamer goes out to buy a game, rarely do they think of how well the game controls. While it's an important part of certain genres, for the most part gamers are more worried about things such as the story, game mechanics, or even graphics and music. However, how a game handles controls is a very important part of a game itself, and if done incorrectly, can ruin the experience.   What makes a game have bad controls? Well... there could be any number of reasons. However, as we look through the gaming ages, we can see that control issues sprout up more and more in later generations. This is mostly because of the evolution of controllers throughout the times.   Remember when the original Nintendo controller had only the D-pad and four buttons? With a controller like that, it's hard to mess up the technical side of controls... though on the flip side, developers were forced to keep simple controls schemes. Sure, there were still issues with the developmental side of controls such as unresponsive or floaty controls, but that's an issue I'll get into in a bit.   Ah, the simple times of old... at least controllers don't have sharp corners anymore.   Nowadays, controllers have way more than four buttons. The PS3 and 360 controllers each have a D-pad, two analog sticks, and thirteen buttons. With so many ways to input control, it can be easy for developers to get overwhelmed or over ambitious. However, the Wii is the worst; while having far fewer buttons, the Wiimote uses motion to control games, and that leads to a whole new can of worms involving programming (and messing up) controls. When the Wii first was released, many games were sited for sloppy, unresponsive, or just plain odd controls. When developers don't know what to do with button happy controllers and motion gameplay, things can go awry quickly.   But, that's not the only aspect of detrimental gaming controls--the game creators can easily make controls more convoluted than it needs to be. One of the most common cases is the developer using a gimmick in their controls; for example, a DS game using full touch controls when it's unintuitive or a PS3 game that tries to fully utilize the Sixaxis controls. Usually it doesn't work out, and makes a good or great game a mess to play. Just try Mad Maestro! and its pressure sensitive button tapping rhythm based controls and you'll quickly see what I mean.   Oh, sorry! You pressed X slightly too hard. Try again!   That's not the only time developers screw up the controls, though; sometimes it's just a simple lack of thinking things through. Many game creators in this camp stand on one of two sides: Either the majority of the controls were an afterthought, or they thought too hard about them and made it over complicated. This sort of control issue is exasperated by the complicated controllers of the current generation... sometimes developers just don't understand they don't need to use EVERY button on the controller.   Finally, there's the problem that controllers have nothing to do with... and that's bad in-game controls. A game could have its controller perfectly mapped, but controls can still end up sloppy from programming decisions made within the game itself. This could be things like delays between pressing the button and the action happening, game characters having bad physics (so being 'floaty' or 'heavy'), or certain moves or commands not working properly.   Out of all the problems mentioned above, this is the one that had been consistent throughout all of gaming's history. It all boils down to the programmer's skill and time constraints at that point... and often the factor that can make or break an otherwise great game.   Older games have control issues too... even if they are sometimes overlooked (or sometimes opinion based)   So, to answer the original question... when does it get in the way of the game itself? Well, bad controls can easily and quickly turn any game experience sour, giving any game a frustration level never intended by the creators. Many games could be be regarded on a more positive level if the controls simply worked better... and that doesn't go for just racing or fighting games. All genres need to have good controls to be enjoyable, and controls are a bigger factor than you may think.

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How the Z-Axis Changed The Game

Gaming has evolved much in since its inception. We've seen our controllers gain more buttons, our consoles and computers got more processors, and the games themselves get jammed packed with content. Of all of them, one of the biggest and most dramatic changes we've seen in gaming is in how games look. Hardware has evolved with the times, and video games have reached heights that developers on their Commodore 64s or Ataris only dreamed of. However, in these evolutions, we've almost lost something that was once commonplace...   ...and that is the two dimensional look and feel.   Remember when games looked like this?   Today, a vast majority of video games are in 3D. Two dimensional games are reserved mainly for indie and niche audiences, while three dimensional games rule the realm. Many games that even feature sprite art aren't truly 2D, featuring sprites on a 3D plane, such as many games from Nippon Ichi and Compile Heart.   So, what happened to the style of old? Why did developers move on from the two dimensional plane, and from the sprites and colorful worlds that came with it? The answers might be more simple than you think...   Developers want to be innovative with what they're given. To stand out in the gaming crowd, they need to bring some different to the table, and what better way to do so that to push the hardware to its absolute limits? Back in the 8-bit days, that was done by creating beautiful and colorful worlds with what little they had. However, when F-Zero came out in 1990 in Japan, it brought something almost unheard of: Mode 7 and its illusion of 3D. There were a few games in the past that tried a similar technique, such as Space Harrier 3D, but the idea was mainly reserved for powerful arcade machines, and even then it was rarely seen.   It doesn't translate in screenshots, but F-Zero used Mode 7 in the background.   With the introduction of Mode 7, many developers tinkered with the idea of 3D in their games, resulting in at least twenty-four games released implementing the feature in some way to be released for the system. Sega, on the other hand, released the Sega CD, which helped the Genesis achieve similar effects. While the Sega CD did not do well, and only a very small percentage of Super Nintendo games used Mode 7, the idea of 3D gaming began to plant in developers“ minds.   Then came generation five. When the Nintendo 64 was first announced, and details started to flow in, gamers and developers alike were amazed by the 64's ability to create true 3D worlds. With the Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation, everyone got to see brand new horizons for video games. Developers could now create bigger, more open worlds, and gamers clamored for just that, especially after seeing the impressive feats from games like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VII, and many others.   Back in 1996, this was mindblowing.   With games in general moving into three dimensions, 2D games almost abruptly lost their appeal to gamers. There were still some games that invoked a feel of a two dimensional feel but with 3D graphics and models--also known as 2.5D--but developers' visions and gamers' demands alike shifted towards new technology and new ways to use this new dimension.   It's been this same song and dance since, with developers creating bigger, more realistic gaming worlds and gamers clamoring for more ever since. While whether that's a good thing is another subject entirely, a 2D art style simply doesn't have much of a place in mainstream gaming anymore.   However, that doesn't mean it's completely gone. 2D games are still out there, hidden in niche places. Ark System still puts out 2D sprite based fighters that look great, and Vanillaware sticks to the 2D realm with their beautifully and painstakingly crafted graphics. In addition, the growing indie market makes the genres and styles of old their playground, bringing us both nostalgia and innovation in one lovingly made package.   Vanillaware's games are always beautiful... and always in 2D   To most, 2D gaming is a thing of the past. However, if you look for them, you can still find the colorful, beautiful worlds without that Z-axis. Sometimes they're recreated for the modern experience, and sometimes they're created with the retro aesthetic in mind... but while the 2D style is no longer mainstream, it's far from dead.

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Sometimes It's Best To Let Go

A few days ago, I did something I hadn't done in years... I sold off some video games. I didn't really have a reason to do it, either; I wasn't in bad financial straits, nor was I running tight on my gaming budget... I didn't even buy a new game with my funds. I simply sold some games off... and guess what?   I'm glad I did it.   As of recent, my backlog has grown to pretty monstrous proportions. Impulse buying and the thought of 'having to get a game when it goes on sale' has made it so I have over four hundred games. The worse part was that I felt as though I needed all of those games.   "Oh, we can't sell that one, I might play it again." "Wait, I still want to try that one out." "I don't really like this one, but what's the point of getting rid of it?" The excuses went on and on. The one that really sealed the deal, though, was that I'd never make any money back. Gamestop and other companies, big and small, offer a pittance for trade-ins, only to turn around and sell them for many times the buying price.   I didn't want to end up like this kid.   I think another thing was seller's remorse. I sold my games all the time as a kid, and I'm sad that I did now. I sold away so many classics, and games I wish I could own again. I suppose that stopped me in my tracks whenever I wanted to sell something... because I was so worried that I was going to regret it, I just put it back on the shelf, no matter how much I disliked it.   However, recently Best Buy ran a deal where you got double the money for trading in games. Not the best deal, sure... but looking at some of the games we had, it wasn't a bad deal. Six bucks for Ninety Nine Nights, a game I both didn't spend much on and didn't like? Not bad. At first, Bacon and I only turned in a couple 360 games... but that was only the beginning.   When we did that, I realized something: It's okay to get rid of games. If I don't enjoy a game, or am never going to play it again, it's alright to get rid of it. I guess something clicked in my mind, and I started going through our other collections... and found a fair amount of games that we were never going to touch, or 'trimming the fat', if you will. Some we sold to Best Buy, others to friends, but the end result is the same--after so many years, I actually sold video games in my collection.   That's... pretty much how the process went.   So what's the moral of this story? There probably isn't one for a lot of you... but for me, I learned that just because you collect something, doesn't mean to have to keep everything you hate. I learned that just because it's a part of your hobby, you don't have to embrace the bad with the good; you can just enjoy the good. Oh, and the most important thing of all? Sometimes, it's best to just let go.

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The End of the Year is Upon Us

There is much to look back on in the last year. We entered the next generation of gaming with the Wii U, and the Vita entered the portable gaming field. Lots of great games were released, even if there were very few new IPs. With 2013 looming before us, let's celebrate the gaming year that has passed... and what better way to do so than to make Game of the Year lists?   This last year... I didn't play too many newer games. I was focusing on my older backlog, futilely trying to cut down on it while the newer games piled up. Because of that, I don't actually have a lot of games to choose for my GOTY... I've only beaten a whopping eight games that were released this year, with only a few others I've played enough to consider for the running. With such slim pickings... well, you might be surprised in what's on this list.   That said, let's begin!   Portable Game of the Year     Kid Icarus: Uprising   Out of all of the games I played this year, most of them were portable. Therefore, this was the hardest of all of my choice. While a lot of the portable games I played were great, my GOTY pick has to go to Kid Icarus: Uprising.   Uprising is indeed an ambitious project, and one that is handled fantastically on the 3DS. The lighthearted story and characters really make the game a joy to play through, and the graphics and soundtrack (and even the 3D effects) bring the world together. On top of that, the varied gameplay, customizable weapons, and the checklists make it so that the game has tons of replayability. The game does have a few quirks, such as the awkward controls, but overall it's a great experience, portable or otherwise.       Console Game of the Year     New Super Mario Bros. U   I've always been wary of the 'New' moniker of the Mario series. I never enjoyed the DS original, and very new entry seemed a rehash of the same old paths. Couple that with the fact that I felt pretty neutral towards Super Mario 3D Land, and I almost never gave New U a shot.   I'm really glad I did, though. New U might start a little average, but it soon opens up to a great platforming experience. The level design is fun and solid. Most importantly, it's challenging when you want it to be, mainly in trying to get the Star Coins in every level. It's also fun to play either alone or with friends, so you're not left in the dust if you only want to play one way or the other. Finally, Miiverse's integration is flawless and useful--you can get a lot of tips (or notes of frustration, or awesome artwork) easily. New Super Mario Bros. U is the perfect type of launch title; fun, shows off the hardware, and gives people a reason to buy the new system.       Downloadable Game of the Year     The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave   Quite a few great downloadable games came out this year, especially from indie developers... it's really a shame I didn't get to most of them. The very little I've played of The Walking Dead almost made me put it up as my downloadable GOTY alone--however, only playing a part of the first Episode makes it really hard to put it on the list. Instead, I turn to a completely different type of game for my pick.   The Denpa Men is a traditional RPG at heart; it's turn-based, and relies on having the right Denpa Men, the right items, and the right level to get through the game's multiple dungeons. However, how you acquire various Denpa Men is how the game really shines. Using AR and nearby radio waves, the game randomly spawns Denpa Men of different elements and abilities, and if you're lucky, you might even get a sparkling Denpa Man with a powerful attack spell. It's simple, yet very addictive concept, and makes it so you want to go everywhere and try to find new Denpa Men. The gameplay is very much like Dragon Quest, so if you like old-school RPGs with an interesting twist, this game is right up your alley... it's certainly up mine!       Honorable Mentions     Even if I didn't play too many games, I still had to make some tough choices for my Games of the Year. Other games I've played are pretty great too, and at least deserve a mention!   Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a fun third-person shooter, and was a great game for someone who doesn't typically enjoy the genre. Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is a great mix of nostalgia, fanfare, and unique gameplay. Dear Esther was an engaging and emotional experience, even if it's a bit difficult to label it as a 'game'. Pokemon Black 2 is a good sequel that reminds me of what Gold/Silver/Crystal did for the original games. The Walking Dead may very well be the best adventure game I've ever played.   ~~~~~~   So, looking back, I wish I could have had more time with the games that came out in 2012. Many hits came out this year, and with the lineup for 2013 so far, it's only looking to get better. It looks as though the backlog is only going to grow larger!

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Wii Want 2 Play w/ U

As you all know, the Wii U came out recently. The successor to the casual gaming hit Wii, a lot of questions linger in the gamers' minds... Is the GamePad useful in the games? Will third parties support it? Will lightning strike twice?   ...I don't really have the answers to those questions, but I can tell you one thing: The hardware sure is fun to play with.     Getting the system set up is pretty easily. All of the wires and pieces are either clearly labeled or clearly explained in the instructions. In fact, all of the instructions are easy to follow, making it easy for those that don't have much experience setting consoles up to be able to put together.   All the accessories that come with the Wii U are nice, too. The holder/charger is my favorite piece: If you want to set it up, you can charge the GamePad and keep it upright at the same time. You don't need to use it, either, and can just use the regular stand and plug the wire at the top for the GamePad to charge.     Speaking of the GamePad, it's remarkably light. I have small hands, and I find it easy to hold and control the action on the pad's screen, although sometimes I lose my grip a little and I can't hold it straight. Also of note is that the GamePad needs to be charged via AC; unlike the 360 and PS3, you can't plug it into the system. This can be either great or terrible, depending on if you have outlets available, but it didn't affect me in any way.   After getting it set up, I finally get to turn on the system. The console slowly takes you through the steps of setting up the system, setting the GamePad to be used as an alternate remote control, and after the infamously long update, make a Nintendo Network ID. The process is simple: You create a Mii (or import one from the 3DS or a QR Code), input some information, and NIntendo sends you a confirmation code via e-mail that you input later. You can create multiple accounts, which helps to keep settings and save files separate. Although I can't test it myself yet, it's assumed that all accounts can access any downloadable game on the console.   Okay, now to the real fun. We have the console updated, and an ID created, and now we can actually play on the Wii U. The first thing you'll notice is the Miis swarming your screen. The Miis say things, or show off pictures... and this is the Miiverse at work, which I'll get to in a bit.     On the GamePad screen are the various functions, apps, and downloadable games, styled similar to the 3DS. You can click on the icon to start the application, or hold on it for a second or two to be able to organize them. It's simple enough. At the very bottom, outside of the boxes are the functions that Nintendo deemed most important for the system, including Notifications, TVii, and more... and this includes Miiverse.   Miiverse is a truly wondrous thing. People can post short comments, screenshots, or hand-drawn pictures on various little 'communities' (there's a community for each game and app). These Twitter-like posts can be seen by the world, and you can 'Yeah!' them (Miiverse's equivalent to liking). You can follow people whose posts you like, as well as easily see your friends' posts. It's remarkably easy to waste a lot of time in Miiverse, looking at peoples masterpieces and comments, checking in on what your friends think of the games they're playing, and posting your own comments. A lot of people are constantly posting, too, so Miiverse isn't likely to become stagnant in a while.     The best thing about Miiverse is that you can post things while you're actually in a game. Unlike the 3DS, which can't multitask, you can stop in the middle of a Wii U game and post about it in the Miiverse right then and there. This usually gets it tagged with the area/level you're in, and you can even post a screenshot with your comment. Making the application so accessible makes it worthwhile to actually use for your little gaming quips.   Another application that was important to me was the Wii Channel. You can't simply put in a Wii game and start playing from there; you have to launch the Wii Channel first. The Wii Channel is basically a Wii emulator. When you launch it, you're taken to a Wii menu, complete with some basic channels and the data transfer channel, so you can transfer all your Wii data up. From here, you can launch any Wii games, in addition to any Virtual Console and WiiWare games. It's important to note that the Wii Shop is not integrated into the Wii U's eShop, so if you want a VC or WiiWare game on the system (that you're not transferring), not only will you have to go into the Wii Channel to get it, but you'll need Wii Points to buy it. This is a little annoying, considering that the eShop simply uses money for their transactions. You also can't make it so that the WiiWare and VC games able to launch from the Wii U menu, so that's an added annoyance. However, it could be far worse, and there could always be updates in the future to make the Wii Channel more streamlined.     As for the eShop itself, it's really easy to navigate. Anyone that has tried to find stuff in any of Nintendo's past stores will know that it's a massive pain to navigate, but this one is different. The eShop separates full and indie games clearly, as well as easily providing information about the games at hand. I haven't quite figured out how to add a game to my wishlist, though...   So, to put it bluntly, the Wii U's pretty awesome. I wasn't able to check out all the functions (I don't have any TV/movie watching services at the moment, and I've yet to play an actual game), but it seems Nintendo really stepped up their game. The interface is easy and fun to use, there's no more tedious Friend Codes to remember, and it's easy to hold the seemingly over-sized GamePad in your hand. Of course, great hardware has to be backed up by great software in order to really succeed, and that's something Nintendo will have to show in the coming months in order for the Wii U to flourish. The Wii U does have a solid grounding in its hardware, however, so here's to hoping that the system has the chance to succeed.   What do you think of the Wii U thus far, from your own experiences or others' opinions? Awesome? A failure to be? Only caring about how the games themselves play? Let me know in the comments!

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Hey Jack, How's Your Murdering Going?

Metal Gear Solid is considered a classic. The game, the way it was presented, and its cinematic approach came together to create an experience unseen in the gaming world at the time. The 1998 game was met with fantastic reviews and cemented Hideo Kojima as a name many gamers will remember.   Fans waited three years for a sequel. The original version of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was for the PlayStation 2, and took advantage of the new consoles increased capabilities to take the series to the next level. However, over ten years later, does MGS2 stand the test of time?     Let's be honest, the hit that it was, the original MGS has not aged too gracefully. Sure, the story still stands well, but the gameplay can be stiff and the graphics are far from pretty. While the Gamecube remake The Twin Snakes exists, the mechanics can sometimes feel a bit dated.   Thankfully, Metal Gear Solid 2 does not suffer the same problem. The transition to the PlayStation 2 gave the game a huge advantage over the original, and while it's an earlier PS2 game, it still looks smooth and plays well on the original hardware. While I was playing the Substance version, I don't believe it has anything significant in terms of of the core gameplay.     Moving along, though, Metal Gear Solid 2 is much like the original in that it provides a cinematic experience. In fact, you'll likely spend more time in cutscenes and codec conversations than playing the game itself. Even so, it weaves an interesting, albeit complicated, story. The choice to use Raiden, as opposed Snake, was mostly met with outcry by fans. It's understandable, since Raiden is far from the man that Solid Snake is, but it fits well in a narrative standpoint.   The problem is with the story is that there is a bit too much of it. Even I, an avid RPG fan, got sick of all the expositions and just wanted to play the game. It gets especially bad near the end of the game, but overall it's more of a minor issue, as it seems all the explanations were needed to wrap one's head around what's going on.     Mechanically, the game plays well. It took me a while to get used to the controls, but after fiddling around and playing the Tanker mission, it became second nature. The game honestly doesn't explain the more advanced moves, but the controls menu in the main menu helps to explain everything else. MGS2 also makes little tweaks, like not having to have the key cards equipped to open doors, that help make the game easier to play.   The core game of Metal Gear Solid 2 lasts about ten to twelve hours for one playthrough, but the Substance version adds tons of goodies to play afterwards, including a ton of VR Missions, the 'Snake Tales' mode that has you playing as Solid Snake during points in the story, and even a skateboarding game. If you want to play one version of this game, you'll want to play the Substance version (which is usually the one re-released and ported).     So, Metal Gear Solid 2 stands the test of time. It improves a bit on the original Metal Gear Solid, even if it can get a bit too wordy and ambitious with the story. Many people complain about Raiden, but just think about how awesome he becomes in MGS4 and it makes the sting go away. MGS2 has a nice mix of everything you want in a Kojima game, and while it's not my favorite of the series, it's still a great game.   [i played, or rather replayed Metal Gear Solid 2 as The Backloggery Game Club game for November. You can check out stuff about the game club here. Also, for the club I wrote a very lengthy post detailing my adventures through Big Shell, which you can check out here. Careful, there's spoilers.]

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Punch, Tear, and Upgrade

Take Custom Robo, mix it with a 2D action platformer, and take a pinch of Super Smash Bros., and you have Megabyte Punch. It creates for a fun experience, and one that has the potential to be something great.   Let me start by saying that this game's still in Alpha; in other words, it's not complete and won't be until 2013. However, the playable build that I tried was very well crafted. I only ran into one noticeable bug (using a certain uppercut move in the wrong places could get items stuck in the wall), and the game played like it was a final release. There isn't full enemy variety yet, and I don't believe all the levels are completed, but it's very much playable and worth checking out. You would have to pre-order to get access to the builds, however.     Anyway, the story revolves around this small technological world. As a Megac, you're going to join the Tournament, who pits the strongest against each other to see who's the strongest of them all. And... that's it. The story's not why you're going to play this game.   Megabyte's strength lies in its simple, yet deep and fun gameplay mechanics. The game is a 2DE action platformer, and you beat enemies up in order to progress. When you beat these enemies, you get two things: Bits (which give you more lives, but nothing else until a future build) and parts. Parts are what make this game a blast: You can customize your Megac in a number of ways, building a speedy melee guy or a tanky defensive man, or anywhere in between. Some parts also give you special abilities, which are mapped to to the control pad (or arrow buttons) and are executed Super Smash Bros. style. The parts are what make a decent game a lot more fun; you'll spend a lot of time experimenting with new parts and combinations, figuring out what's right for you.     The game consists of several stages, with a hub town to explore and switch your parts freely in. Each stages is further broken down into levels, which are pretty large and reward exploration with hard-to-find enemies to beat up and new colors (which I'm not sure if you can use yet). After you gets through the levels, you fight a boss at the end, and every changes up. Boss battles play out just like a fight in Super Smash Bros.: You and the boss are on a stage, and you want to knock the opponent out of the stage until he runs out of lives. I feel this part of the game need a little tweaking... the bosses tends to have powerful special moves, and since you can change parts on the fly in a stage, you probably won't have the right parts to combat the boss. When you lose all your lives, you have to go through all the levels again too, so it's a bit annoying when you get trounced by a boss.   All and all, this is a game to keep on the radar. It's a lot of fun, and bar a few annoying aspects, plays really well. I can't really tell anyone to go out and pre-order it just to play the alpha, but it's really shaping up to be something great. From how polished it looks and plays already, the developers really know what they're doing, and the final product will be worth the asking price. So keep on the lookout for Megabyte Punch!

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Megabyte Punch Attack

A while back, Marcus brought the Indie Game Stand to our attention. The site has a neat little concept, after all: Every 96 hours, an indie game comes up, and you can pay what you want for it during that time period. Instead of have to buy bundles or pay more than Unfortunately, most of the games that have gone up on the service have been pretty... lackluster. Sure, a few of the titles might interest some, but for the most part there's nothing to write home about.   Megabyte Punch, however, is the first game that has interested me since the service went live. Megabyte Punch is a nice little 2D platformer/action game that has you customizing your Megac to try to win the Grand Tournament. The story is far from the most original, but the customization is in-depth and provides a lot of options for you to play with. The combat also feels fluid and works well on the 2D field, so the gameplay makes it a lot of fun. If you're a fan of action or beat 'em ups, you'll probably get a kick out of this game. There's also co-op and versus modes (local only, though), so you can get your friends in on the customizing action, too.   The game's currently in the alpha stage, but Reptile Games is releasing updates for the game at a regular basis, so you won't be paying for a game that's never finished. You can pay what you want on the Indie Game Stand for the next day or so (at least $1 if you want a Desura code), and you can try the demo out here if you're not quite sold on the idea. I just bought it myself... stay tuned for my thoughts pretty soon!

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Can I Just Get The Treats?

Ah, Halloween--a wonderful time filled with costumes, candy, and stomachaches. To others, it's also a prime time for horror... Halloween also tends to bring out people's need for a good scare or two.   However... that's not for everyone. Frights and scares? I'm not a fan. I've never really gotten in the horror genre, be it video games, movies, or even television. That must mean Halloween's a terrible holiday for me, right? Oh, no, I still have a ton of fun! If you're like me, and not a horror fan, then try out these games... they're still quite in the spirit of the frightful holiday, but without terrible creatures chasing you with pointy objects.   Luigi's Mansion     Okay, so Luigi's Mansion is about navigating a ghost infested abode, which is a not uncommon horror setting. However, it's far from scary. In the game, you suck ghosts up with a vacuum cleaner, of sorts. It's more about exploring and finding stuff that it is about the scares, and that's what makes makes it a fun Halloween game. It's pretty cute, even, with Luigi and has general lack of courage exploring a place filled with ghosts. With a Luigi's Mansion themed mini-game in Nintendo Land and a sequel coming to the 3DS, you can find even more faux, Nintendo brand horror for next year.   Costume Quest     What's Halloween without trick or treating? Nothing, of course, and that's what Costume Quest is about! Well, that and kids being kidnapped by monsters, but it's far from scary, I swear. In it, you play as a kid whose brother or sister got kidnapped by a sweets-loving monster, and you have to save them. To do so, you have to get more costumes and candy, and enlist the help of the neighborhood children. Interestingly enough, this is an RPG, and whenever you get into a battle, the children transform into awesome versions of their costumes. Who knew running around town begging for candy could be so much fun?   Gotham City Impostors     Batman's Gotham City isn't exactly the most cheerful place. So many baddies, and everything's so dark... kind of a spooky atmosphere, you could say! And what better way to celebrate that than by dressing up as your favorite dark hero (or jester villain) and beat the crap out of each other? That's a good bit of the Halloween spirit right there (and a bit of a comic convention's spirit, too)! Gotham City Impostors is a multiplayer shooter, not unlike Team Fortress 2, with different classes to try out and objectives to complete. The best part is, is recently became free to play on Steam, so there's no reason not to download it and give it a whirl.   Darkstalkers (Series)     Darkstalkers is like Capcom's forgotten little fighting series. Well, maybe not quite... I'm sure everyone knows who Morrigan is by now, even if they don't know where she's from. Anyway, it's a 2D fighter based on having the typical horrors fight each other. You got vampires, succubi, werewolves, ghosts, and even Little Red Riding Hood duking it out for... well, whatever reason, it's an early fighting game. Instead of spooky, though, the games come off as typical fighter fare, with some crazy looking characters and locales. Sometimes it's even more humorous than it would be scary. The series gameplay still holds up pretty well, too.   Decap Attack Starring Chuck D. Head         This one's sort of in the middle with it comes to scary games... while its 16-bit, generally colorful graphics and atmosphere doesn't relay a spooky mood, some of the stuff in this game is just plain weird... which, who knows, might be a little startling. Decap Attack is a platformer, with an odd premise: When your odd mummy creature attacks, he throws his head. Don't worry, there's a face on his torso, so he can see just fine if he loses it, but it's odd nevertheless. The game has some slippery controls, but is nice to boot up for a few minutes to see if it's worth the time. The Genesis game found its way on a few collections, too, so it's not too hard to find.   -----   These games should keep the faint of heart occupied for the scariest night of the year, without any screaming or fainting! Got more games to recommend? Think I'm a pansy because I can't even play Silent Hill during the day? Let me know below!

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Loot Crate Follow Up: What's in the Box

Earlier this month, I made a post about Loot Crate, a subscription based service that sends you a geek-based goodie box every month. While an interesting premise, there's easily doubt about if a crate is worth it... sure, you have a chance at winning a Mega Crate with very expensive stuff, but it's not the best idea to rely on getting that. Is it really worth setting up a subscription for a random box of stuff?   I got my box in today, and I'm, of course, going to share what I got! But first, some comments on my thoughts about the service before the package even arrived. Signing up was easy enough; packages were promised to be sent out on the 20th of the month, and sure enough, I got an e-mail on that day stating that the crate has been sent out with a tracking number to know where it is. I got my package today, on the 24th, so it didn't take long to get here at all, considering the 23rd was a Sunday.   I also got two other e-mails. The first was an incentive; upgrade your subscription from one month to three, or three months to six, and you get a free Yoshi keychain thrown into your box. The keychain is nice, but I doubt it alone is enough to pay out more money. The second was regarding their new Refer-A-Friend program; get four friends to sign up for Loot Crate, and you get a free month. It's a good idea, and a pretty great way to get more people to sign up.   Of course, none of this matters if the stuff inside is lame. Let's open the sucker up!     It's a pretty small box... small enough for my mailman to try and cram it into my apartment's tiny mail box. So, it's not the service's fault that it's a bit beat up.     Inside was a card, detailing the theme of the month and the main items I get. It's a nice touch. As for the items themselves:     It's not too bad. We love dice, so another d20 is always welcome. I collect gaming mint and candy tins, so there's another for the collection. My boyfriend collects pins, so he also got something for his colleciton. The sunglasses are neat, but I'll never wear them outside. Energy products are bad for your health. Mr T's great, and moustaches are... well, moustaches. The items seem to be worth over the base price of $13.37, but mileage definitely varies.   So, my final thoughts? I like the idea. I'm a bit of a packrat when it comes to gaming stuff, so I'm always happy to see new stuff. A few of these items are easy enough to find in stores, though, so it's not like you're getting awesome hard to find stuff. The featured item were the sunglasses, which were cool and I haven't seen around, but most of the items I've seen in one novelty store or another. However, the price is right, and the element of surprise is always fun... so if you have the cash to spare, it could very well be a good investment!   What are everyone else's thoughts about Loot Crate? Waste of money? Well worth it? Somewhere in between the two extremes? Let me know!   EDIT (September 28th)! I got an e-mail from Loot Crate today detailed their new surplus site, which sells some of their extra stock. It's nice if you wants something from a box but don't want the risk... right now all that's up are the 8-bit glasses in three colors, and you get two free pins with the purchase. Just thought it's a cool solution to the 'luck of the draw' problem.

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When the Planet Falls, It's Time To Roll Out

When looking at a game based around a 'modern' movie makeover of an old television show, it might be a little hard to give it a chance. The Transformers movie trilogy certainly gave our Autobots and Decepticons a whole new look and feel, and one that not everyone may enjoy. However, regardless of what you think of the movies, as long as you like Transformers then Fall of Cybertron will be a blast to play through.     Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is the sequel is 2010's War for Cybertron, which I have not played as of this writing. However, these games have something very interesting in common: They do not directly based on the modern movie trilogy's plot. Instead, the games take place before the Autobots came of Earth... War takes place during the beginning of the civil war on Cybertron, and Fall is about the Autobots' plight from the planet. It creates back story that hasn't really been elaborated on much, and provides Transformers fans with a fresh experience when they jump into the game.   None of this really matters if the gameplay doesn't stand up, however. Thankfully, Fall of Cybertron provides an easy to learn, yet challenging third person shooter experience. The game is cover-based, meaning that instead of runnin' and gunnin', you have to make careful considerations of where to go and how to best use the terrain to your advantage. It leads to slower, but more rewarding gameplay. In addition, the inclusion of a bunch of different primary and secondary weapons allows for a plethora of ways to dispatch your foes. Combine that fact with different difficulties, collectible blueprints for upgrading the weapons, audio logs to find to flesh out the world, and perks to buy to give yourself an advantage, there's plenty to dig into even after the story is complete.     Fall of Cybertron also makes you do more than just shoot enemies. There's a few other segments that break up the action, such as stealth sections and other generally less action based bits. Unfortunately, this is when the game trips up the most. Being stealthy is very difficult from some iffy controls (hint: stand a few inches away for the 'execute' command to pop up; it won't appear if you're right next to the target), and while driving around in a vehicle can be fun, trying to shoot down foes and maneuvering can be less than that. However, these sections are usually over quickly, and you can get back to the fun stuff.     Multiplayer is an aspect I didn't play very much of, but still seemed fun. You can choose between one of four classes to play when you enter a match, which have various weapons and perks. You can also level the classes up to unlock more options to play with. It didn't really seem extremely deep, but hidden weapons might become available at higher levels. The modes are standard multiplayer shooter fare, so as long as you enjoy the game, you'll likely enjoy the multiplayer as well... just don't expect anything mind-blowing in the department.   Is Transformers: Fall of Cybertron the game of the year? Probably not, but that doesn't make it a lot of fun to play. The gameplay is solid, and the setting and story gives players motivation to get to the end. While there are some chapters that can be frustrating, there's enough good to outweigh the bad. Transformers fans will come for the unique story, and stay for the action. If you're not a Transformers fan, you likely won't glean as much for the experience, but if you're looking for a good shooter to play, then Fall of Cybertron will be a good game to pick up and play.

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A Monthly Christmas Gift

...Well, perhaps it's not quite a Christmas gift, but it can certainly feel like one!   Loot Crate is a site with a very interesting premise; pay a monthly fee (the base price is $13.37, clever), and near the end of the month, they send you a box. What's in the box? That's the fun part, you don't really know! You can get anything from video game swag, to geeky food items, even neat little electronics. One crate sent out a month is also the 'Mega Crate', which has a ton of neat stuff... you could get an iPod, a game console, or some really rare gaming swag. At even the base price, there's more than $15 dollars of goods inside, so you'll definitely get a good deal, and it adds the excitement of not knowing what you get!     The best part is that there are ways to lower the price. The first is to sign up for an extended subscription--The base price is a per month basis that can be cancelled at any time, but you can also sign up for three or six month periods to discount the price a bit. These can be cancelled at any time as well, so if you're confident that you'll enjoy what you'll get, it's a good idea to buy in bulk!   In addition, you can get coupons to lower the prices further... in fact, after talking to a coordinator for the site, he gave me a coupon to give out that lasts until September 20th: LOCKERGNOME gets you 10% you purchase; it basically takes care of shipping for you!   So, what do you think of Loot Crate? A great idea, or just a great way to clutter your living space with useless junk? Are you going to give it a try? Let me know!

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The Dawn is Dark Indeed

When first released in 2001, the original Golden Sun with met with much success; critics and players praised the Game Boy Advance game alike. Camelot was prompt to release a sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which was the second half of the original's story, and offered even a different perspective on all that happened. Despite is being the 'end' of the story, however, some questions were left unanswered, and the possibility of a third game was highly likely. Fans clamored for it, but Camelot did not give them what they wanted. Years passed... and in 2010, over seven years after The Lost Age was released, the fans got the game they asked for... Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the DS.   Being a huge Golden Sun myself, I bought the game and my rose tinted nostalgia glasses allowed me to enjoy every minute of it. However, looking back on the experience... a lot seemed off. If anything, it is the classic case of 'too little, too late'.   [NOTE: This post will have spoilers to the entire series in it, big or small. You've been warned!]     Dark Dawn takes place thirty years after the original and The Lost Age... and that might be the biggest problem with it. In thirty years, the original cast has grown older and had children... wait, that's only half true. Due to some odd plot event or another, the main characters of the games haven't really aged at all over the time elapsed, and even resident old-fogey Kraden still alive and kicking, most likely being over 100. However, while the old main characters are more than capable to traipse the world again, they instead allow their kids to go retrieve a magical feather. It makes sense in the scenario, but it's still disappointing to not be able to continue the quest with the original cast. This could have been rectified with being able to meet the characters, but the only ones you even see are Issac and Garet at the beginning of the game. Barely everyone else got a passing mention! It's unfortunate that fans don't really get any fanservice with seeing what their favorite characters are doing.     Another problem sprouts up when exploring the world... and it's how unfamiliar it is. Barely any of the towns will be recognizable to even those that played the first two games recently. It's explained with the plot point of the Golden Sun (the in-game event, not the game itself) caused the land to shift and caused ancient ruins and machines to be revealed, but it's really a poor excuse. Even so, why would all of the old towns change their names, or so many new ones be created? It's only been thirty years, after all. Camelot even rubs salt in the wound by making many of these places have 'ancient roots', suggesting that the places have been around for quite a while; it's easy to suggest that you simply couldn't get to them in the original two games, but when a good majority of the towns visited were 'inaccessible' before, it leads to the game feeling isolated from the games it's supposed to be a direct sequel of. It's great to have new places to explore, but it's not bad to have some familiarity, either!   Finally, there's how linear everything is. Instead of being able to explore the world at least somewhat on your own terms, you're completely railroaded the entire game... even when you get the ship. Where's the fun in that? It also leads to an issue if you miss a Djinn... you can't really go back to old places, so if you miss something, you're out of luck. The original and The Lost Age both had problems with railroading as well, but you were able to return to old areas and complete sidequests as least. Dark Dawn offers none of the sort.     Of course, it's not all bad. Dark Dawn's battle system is upgraded a bit with new Djinn, Summons, and Psynergy, giving each character a unique feel; in the GBA iterations the same element Adept had the same skills and practically same roles, but in the third game each character has something different they can do. The graphics look great, and so does the out of game artwork. Puzzles are never really obtuse, and the handy guide and books you can find in the world offer a good summary of the first two games. The plot itself, points above aside, is transparent enough, but offers a few interesting points to carry you through the game and to the cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, it doesn't answer much of anything from The Lost Age, though.     Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was a greatly anticipated game... that can leave fans very disappointed. It feels like you're exploring a brand new world wit ha fresh cast... until you realize that it's only thirty years later and the original cast is well enough off to be doing this 'world saving' themselves. Instead of answering questions, it leaves the player with more (Shadow Psynergy? Where'd that come from?), and the sudden cliffhanger ending will leave a bitter taste behind, especially since there's no whisperings for Golden Sun 4. Will we have to wait another seven years? If we do, hopefully Camelot will have learned its lesson from Dark Dawn.   So, you've heard my rant, let me ask... What do you think of Dark Dawn? Is it a great addition to the series, a terrible flop, or somewhere in between?

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How Much Hate Can You Fit Into Four Hours?

One lazy evening, I decided to boot up my Steam copy of the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story. It's a visual novel, so I could just watch the story unfold and be done with it, right? Well, that's partially true, but the story that I watched was not only intriguing, but one that'll stick with me as a well-presented and emotional tale.     To summarize, Analogue is the story of the space craft Mugunghwa, of more specifically, what happened after it lost contact with Earth. When you discover the ship, any sign of human life is long gone, and an AI greets you instead. After a bit of an intro, you can start accessing files and reading letters and correspondence from the now deceased crew members. The game, and the AI *Hyun-ae are quick to show you that something was... off about the lifestyle of those on the lost Mugungwa; culture had seemingly reverted to a time akin to medieval society, and any information from before that time was conveniently erased. You, the player, slowly uncover more about the secrets of the Mugungwa, and they aren't exactly happy...   Analogue does a great job of presenting a story in a unique way. Reading letters gives the story a very personal feel without forcing your character to the center of events, and the question of "what happened?" will keep you playing until the end. In addition, the two AIs, *Hyun-ae and *Mute, have very different personalities and give contrasting views on the events that occurred, providing an extra level of emotional touch, despite them only being computer programs. It's really impressive how the developers managed to make a story this powerful in such a fresh matter. We all know that medieval style societies were far from the greatest, but having the story in such an unusual setting and it spoon-fed through letters provides a unique touch to keep the player clicking.     That said, I feel the companionship that the game forces upon you with the AIs to be a bit out of whack. The game is quite short, a first playthrough taking only an hour or two, but any good end has the AI of your choice practically begging you to take them with you. It's implied that the game is played in real time, so why the sudden affection towards the character? It feels like it was tacked on, so that the developers could appease the crowd that is used to having their visual novels with 'love' options. It's a small thing, but it can be a bit odd when you go down one of the paths...   Seeing everything that Analogue has to offer would take about four or five hours, including getting the 'harem ending', as the game calls it. Despite this, however, it's well worth the ten dollars asked for, and it's even better if you catch the game on a Steam sale. If you like visual novels, or great stories, Analogue is worth a try.

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