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Review: Broken Age: Act 1

Jan 24 // Caitlin Cooke
Broken Age: Act 1 (PC)Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsRelease Date: January 14, 2014 (for backers) / January 28, 2014MSRP: $24.99 (with free update for Act 2) Shay has lived his entire existence on a spaceship designed for toddlers. Day after day he’s coddled by the ship’s “mother,” an overbearingly saccharine computer unwilling to allow him to take care of himself. Mother babies Shay in every way, including knitting sentient pals to keep him company and forcing him to take his daily nutrition paste. Shay’s unending routine consists of completing childlike “missions,” like saving his yarn pals from an ice cream avalanche or a hug-attack, which are designed to keep him occupied throughout his existence. Struggling with his confined life, Shay manages to discover a secret part of the ship and quickly experiences what it means to have real responsibility. Vella wakes up on the last day of her life, preparing to uphold the long-standing tradition of being eaten by a giant abomination named Mog Chothra to keep her village safe. A town that once prided itself on raising fierce monster-fighting warriors, Sugar Bunting now concedes to offering up its finest maidens to Mog Chothra during what they call the “Maiden’s Feast.” While the other maidens are excited to be considered potential meals, Vella can’t help but wonder if there’s another way out. She rises up to fight against her supposed destiny of becoming a delectable treat for Mog Chothra and breaks free to search for a way to defeat the monster before it consumes her town. Both stories are engrossing and highlight a certain childish curiosity that I haven’t felt in a long time. I adored every second wandering through these worlds - the dialogue on all fronts is hilarious and crafty, the story elements thoughtful. Broken Age captures a style that is imaginative and expressive while still maintaining an environment that's easy to interact with. Above all, the art is captivating so much so that at certain points in the game I found myself staring at scenes just to take it in. Almost everything comes to life in Broken Age - characters range from charming to downright ingenious, all with spot-on humor and fantastic voice acting. One of my favorites is a needy spoon who regularly vies for the attention of Shay by shouting things like "It is my honor to be your training spoon today sir, I can't wait to start MISSION NUTRITION!" Puzzles are integrated well into the character’s personalities - I found it amusing to discover what dialogue or actions would make characters give up an item or a piece of information. The game allows for switching between both stories seamlessly, which is not only creative, but a very useful feature. I enjoyed going back and forth regularly because it allowed for me to pace out the stories (for example, not getting too far on one side) and also gave me a chance to escape if a particular puzzle was stumping me. I also felt that Shay’s story involved more interactive gameplay elements while Vella’s focused more on dialogue and riddles, so being able to leave one story and hop to the other gave me a nice break. The format of Broken Age is obviously very reminiscent of the older point-and-click adventure games, however there are a few interesting camera perspectives and design choices in the game that change up the formula a bit. For example, in one area of the game you can literally fall through clouds if you’re not careful where you step. Another section has the camera angle peering in through a window that’s being cleaned by an adorable spaceship minion. These details seem marginal, but they keep the gameplay fresh and original. I found that the gameplay is so seamlessly integrated with the art that it’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re supposed to be viewing a scene and when you need to take action. For instance, it took me a while to solve one of the first puzzles in the game because the action I needed to take was during what I thought was a cinematic sequence. Although I appreciate that the game never took me out of the moment mentally, it did become frustrating after a while. My solution to this was to whip my mouse around the screen just in case the action circle appeared in future cinematics. Broken Age manages to keep the hand-holding clues to a minimum without completely withholding answers from the player. However, as the game progressed I wasn't entirely clear on what actions I could take. During one puzzle in particular, I had tried to combine and use every item possible to get past what I thought was the obstacle, but really all I had to do was move around it. The puzzles eventually make sense in time and are fairly thoughtful, although some of them could have stood to be a bit harder -- because for the most part, they didn't require a lot of brainpower. In the end this may not be a terrible thing but I would like to see a tad more complication thrown into the mix for Act 2. I haven’t felt this surge of nostalgia and excitement about a game in a long time, and I truly think Broken Age will be looked back fondly as one of the greats. That being said, the first Act is only a few short hours and ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger with no word on how long we’ll be waiting for the rest of the game. In some ways I feel cheated, but in the end it’s the heart of the game that matters - and that certainly isn't broken.
Broken Age review photo
Point-and-click heaven
[Disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter. A review copy was used for this verdict.] The game formerly known as "Double Fine Adventure" has finally made its debut -- or should I say, half-debut. Broken Age: Act 1 is the culmina...

Review: Mario Party: Island Tour

Nov 27 // Caitlin Cooke
Mario Party: Island Tour (3DS)Developer: Nd CubePublisher: NintendoRelease Date: November 22, 2013MSRP: $39.99 Mario Party: Island Tour presents a variety of game modes: eight main party modes, three minigame modes, and StreetPass minigames. Party mode focuses on the core of the Mario Party series -- characters progress on a game board with the goal of either getting to the end first or collecting the most mini-stars. Each party mode is rated in three different categories: Skill, Luck, and Minigames. For example, the Rocket Road game is rated at two skill, four minigame, and five luck because it’s basically a game where you roll a die to get to the end of a line, but also contains many tiles that make you switch places with opponents (i.e., lots of luck involved). Estimated play times are also shown, which I found helpful but somewhat unreliable. I had kind of hoped for a mode that resembled the original premise of Mario Party -- screwing over other players to collect the most coins and stars. Unfortunately, nothing like that exists. It’s almost as if they took each aspect of the original Mario Party and chopped it up into different modes. One board’s goal is to collect mini-stars, another board focuses on items that affect players, etc. There isn’t really one “complete” Mario Party experience. That being said, there are a few boards that break from the mold. For example, Kamek’s Carpet Ride utilizes cards instead die, forcing players to use a bit of strategy in which cards they decide to play. In Bowser’s Peculiar Peak, the goal is to stay in last place by not making it to the end or Bowser will smash you with his hammer. These modes are somewhat enjoyable but not really the complete package I was hoping for since the goal is usually one-sided and involves finishing the board. To make matters worse, the gameplay is somewhat unbearable at times. I realize this is a child-friendly game, but Toad goes above and beyond with babying the players. His trademark is to point out something obvious each turn -- like who is about to win the game or how many rounds until a minigame is played. If I get a card or item that could potentially allow me to win the game, he’ll say something like “Between you and me, if you use this, you could reach the goal!” Nothing is left for you to figure out on your own. Island Tour seems rigged in the sense that nothing is truly randomized -- the games are fair to a fault. Toad will sometimes rearrange the turn orders based on minigame ranking to allow players who are behind to catch up. Each mode also seems to have a mechanism to prevent players from progressing too far ahead, whether it be Bonzai Bill knocking players back or a Whomp blocking the path. In Star-Crossed Skyway players are forced to stop advancing once they hit a certain platform, allowing everyone else to catch up. And usually there’s some sort of “random” havoc that happens every once in a while to even the playing field for opponents who are behind. The one mode I actually enjoyed was Bowser’s Tower, a single-player story(ish) driven game where you climb a tower and defeat bubble ghosts by playing minigames. As you climb, Bowser likes to randomly select a punishment or reward which could affect enemy levels or your sacred Mario Party Points (which are used to purchase collectables). There’s also an option to save and come back later to finish the tower, which is a useful addition for folks who are strapped for time. Minigames are the highlight of Island Tour -- there are a wide variety of games and for the most part they’re entertaining and original. I was happy to find that 3DS capabilities were used in most minigames -- tilt, 3D, mic, touch screen, dual screen, and augmented reality all made an appearance. I did notice however that any of the games utilizing the mic were extremely off. I tested both voice impersonation games with my fiance -- he whispered lewd things into the mic while I actually attempted to play and I lost each and every time. It was hilarious, but disappointing. Although I enjoyed most of the minigames, Mario Party: Island Tour lacks heart at the end of the day. I explained the situation to a non-gaming friend and she replied, “So if this were a party in real life, the host basically ordered too much salad instead of pizza.” Her assessment is eerily accurate -- in the Mario Party diet, the salad is the necessary but restricting structure and the pizza is the delicious, random fun that makes it worthwhile. The amount of hand-holding in this latest installment leaves me longing for the Mario Party days of yore -- a time when people actually worked hard to win minigames because it got them that much closer to the big reward: a star. The minigames in Island Tour are enjoyable but the structure around them can be tiring and almost too fair to bad (or just plain unfortunate) players. The only true merit of Mario Party: Island Tour is the ability to play Mario Party with your local friends on the 3DS. As long as they have a 3DS and are close-by, playing via Download Play is fairly quick and painless. However, the lack of online play and the overall single-player experience is a pretty big bummer. Unless you’re desperate and need a quick Mario Party fix on the go, stick with a console version if you can.
Mario Party review photo
More like Island BORE
I consider myself a Mario Party veteran -- I’ve been a huge fan of the series, with a particular emphasis on the cutthroat days of the N64 titles. There’s nothing like losing the skin on the palm of your hands t...

Review: Super Motherload

Nov 21 // Caitlin Cooke
Super Motherload (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: XGen StudiosPublisher: XGen StudiosRelease Date: November 15, 2013 (PS4) / November 26 (PS3) / 2014 (PC)MSRP: $14.99 Your adventure in Super Motherload begins as Employee 1001 -- a miner working for the Solarus Corporation on Mars. Solarus is hungry for precious minerals, and it's your job retrieve them. Aided by Mister Fix-it (your AI partner), you descend deep into the planet's crust to find minerals to exchange for cash to upgrade your rig. Refueling, repairing, and buying upgrades are the main staples required to continue the descent into the unknown. The further you dig, the more you begin to learn about the secrets of Mars and the strange occurrences happening throughout the various Solarus bases. Excerpts of video logs and sound bytes come through occasionally throughout the dig, and as a result you’re sometimes left with a fetch quest. The interruptions are interesting but brief however, allowing more time to do what you do best: dig. Digging and refueling is a very simple gameplay mechanic, but despite the repetition the game is somewhat complex. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the deeper the dig, the more complicated the soil gets. For example, after hitting the third base (about a quarter through the game) I started to notice less open space and more metal plates blocking my path, forcing me to find a way around (or through) them to reach valuable gems. The game ramps up its presentation as well, with more and more complicated systems. At first, the Motherload starts off with a smattering of minerals such as “bronzium” and “goldium” which are fairly easy to obtain. Soon enough, the treasures become more valuable deeper into the descent, from rubies all the way to “unobtanium.” Eventually, upgrades can be bought to automatically “smelt” minerals together which make interesting combinations like “katana gold.” Smelting adds a bit more variety to the mining gameplay, allowing for the crafting of bombs and forcing players to think more carefully about the order in which they collect minerals. Gameplay isn't restricted to just "digging" though, as there are a number of different bombs that are made to blast through different types of elements, as well as some interestingly shaped bomb explosions to help navigate through barriers. For example, a “T” bomb will help blast the area directly above and one space to the left and right, creating said "T" shape. Some valuable minerals are trapped within rock or metal barriers that players must explode properly, without destroying the loot. I really enjoyed these short challenges but longed for a bit more complexity and variety as the same puzzles showed up over and over again. Despite the repetition in bomb puzzles, maps are randomly generated upon each new game making it so you’ll never play the same map twice. Characters also have a different set of upgrade levels and abilities, making gameplay a bit different depending on which character you choose. For example, the unlockable character Laika is a ghost dog who doesn’t take any hull damage, and another extra character, Demitri, has unlimited electron bombs. I also noticed that stations have different abilities and items for sale upon each new game -- in one game I purchased an ability to turn magma into money but in another game I found the same station selling an ability that makes “ironium” turn into fuel. Some of the upgrades can feel like downgrades at first -- like increasing the rotor speed is potentially dangerous as you can quickly damage your digger. However, once you get to the endgame these speed upgrades come in handy. About three quarters into the game though, I found a lack of plot movement and an increased difficulty in navigating around blockades. Even after purchasing all possible upgrades for my character it still took quite some time to get to the end and I was not prepared for what I had to do next. After spending hours digging through Mars, the endgame delved into new mechanisms that took me by surprise. However frustrating, I found it rewarding to complete it in the end. I heartily enjoyed Super Motherload -- so much so in fact, that I’m already whizzing past on my second playthrough and I plan to unlock and upgrade the rest of the characters. The act of collecting minerals and selling them has never been so exciting, and I can’t quite place my finger on why. Perhaps it’s the ’80s vibe and the stellar OST that is reminiscent of Hotline Miami, or the feeling of zen when I dig. Regardless, I can’t seem to stop playing. I did run into a few small but notable snags that are worth mentioning. The first problem I encountered was the touchpad -- bombs can be dropped by swiping or clicking the touchpad in a manner of ways. Me being the clumsy person that I am, I often dropped or misplaced my fingers on the controller making it so that I accidentally used up bombs at least a few times during each session. There isn’t a way to turn off touchpad functionality, so I learned to be extremely cautious with how I picked up and put down my controller. Local co-op is available, but to be honest I found it to be more stressful than playing alone. Players share a fuel tank, which means that fuel gets wasted a lot more easily so it’s a bit harder to progress. Everyone also shares a single screen -- all players have to be in the same area for the game to function. If you leave your controller sitting for more than a few seconds, the game automatically removes your character from play. I can see how co-op could be fun with the right group of people, but I personally prefer the single-player experience. And what a fantastic experience it is, despite its flaws. Super Motherload is simple enough so that anyone can pick it up and play, but complex enough for mining veterans to keep coming back to fully upgrade characters or even risk playing in hardcore mode. The sci-fi ’80s vibe is delightful and the perfect setting for this ridiculously addicting game. I find myself coming back to it at the end of every day, ready for a new adventure underground.
Super Motherload review photo
It's not too late to go back...
Super Motherload was supposed to be my “tester” experience -- the first game that I booted up on my PlayStation 4 to get a feel for the system. I planned to take a few minutes to acquaint myself with the control...

Ken Levine on the evolution of Elizabeth in Burial at Sea

Oct 04 // Caitlin Cooke
In Burial at Sea: Episode 1, Elizabeth seemed a little bit jaded, if not completely cold, in comparison to her personality in BioShock Infinite. I asked Ken to elaborate on what's happening with her character, and he explained, "In [Burial at Sea: Episode 2], there will be even more changes and each experience. It's really about taking Elizabeth from the woman you met in the tower [in Infinite], this naive person, to the person at the end of Infinite who's gone through some terrible things, [then] to this femme fatal, opaque, cold and then going inside and seeing what caused all of that." "When you get to the end of this, where does that leave her and what does this experience do to her? We basically want to show you the world from her perspective [...] that's a journey that you can complete only when you step into her shoes." After learning about the "lighthouses" from BioShock Infinite, it can be confusing to understand where Burial at Sea falls in the timeline and how it fits into Elizabeth's world. Ken Levine clarified that "This is 'Elizabeth prime,' this is the Elizabeth that went through the experiences in BioShock Infinite and this is the Rapture from BioShock. We're not splintering that." Elizabeth's combat style in Burial at Sea: Episode 2 hasn't been announced yet, but the gameplay will be more of the survival-horror variety. Ken elaborates on the gameplay that "It's probably even more resource management intensive and stealth oriented. Elizabeth is a different person, she's not a "guns blazing" person. "Without going into too much detail, it's the world through her eyes. Each game (BioShock Infinite, Burial at Sea: Episode 1) are bespoke experiences, we're working on game experience stuff that varies from each of them." Perhaps we will be getting a completely different gameplay mechanic when we step into Elizabeth's shoes. There is no official release date for Burial at Sea: Episode 2, but I imagine we'll have our answers when it's most likely released sometime next year.
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A cold, jaded lady
Warning: Minor plot/theme spoilers  BioShock Infinite - Burial at Sea: Episode 1 ends on an interesting note to say the least, and I'm curious to see what is in store for the next episode. When it was announced, Burial a...

Preview: BioShock Infinite - Burial at Sea: Episode 1

Oct 04 // Caitlin Cooke
[embed]258998:49773:0[/embed] BioShock Infinite - Burial at Sea: Episode 1 (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Irrational GamesPublisher: 2K GamesRelease: Holiday 2013 Elizabeth informs you that she knows a crazy artist named Cohen (sound familiar?) who may know the whereabouts of Sally. After viewing the new areas Rapture has to offer, your first objective is to procure a rabbit mask that will grant entry into Cohen's secret party. This task introduces a new aspect of gameplay where Elizabeth distracts shopkeepers as you wait for the right timing to sneak into the back areas. I found it highly enjoyable and tense (in a good way), but also very brief as this particular mechanic doesn't show up again in the DLC. Once you steal this mask, you enter Cohen's crazy little party. From there, those of you who have played the original BioShock can assume things get dark and twisted very fast. Note: This is the last of the story I'll reveal.  The combat mechanics in Burial at Sea, including Plasmids, are very much the same as in prior BioShock installments. However, this time around resource management is much more prevalent than it was in Infinite. On medium difficulty I found myself often running out of bullets and Eve, thus having to conserve my resources to ensure I could make it through to the next area. This was intentional from a gameplay perspective, and I actually found myself getting more out of the combat situations versus the rushed combat mentality of BioShock Infinite. Enemies are different this time around as well. They were much less likely to rush at me, and often times I could observe them milling about before they were even alerted to my presence. This gave me time to plan my attacks in advance, making it easier to strategically place Plasmid traps and route enemies. Despite the lack of resources I ended up feeling more accomplished at the end of my battles, which is something I didn't really feel in Infinite despite the numerous and often large amount of enemies. The setting in Burial at Sea is gorgeous and colorful -- all assets have been redone, breathing in new life to Rapture. Bars, shops, art galleries, and even slot machines adorn the main area. One of the settings, a derelict department store, is an interesting space in its own right. Clothing, electronics, toys and various other relics from Rapture in the 1950s are scattered about in a creepy yet eye-catching way. The pacing and overall design felt much more open than Infinite as well. So much more open in fact that at one point I had accidentally skipped two parts of a quest because I bypassed it. Enemies had cropped up in the meantime making it harder every time I made a mistake in my path selection. Hidden areas are still prevalent in Burial at Sea, with Elizabeth always at the ready to help pick locks. Audio diaries are scattered about, providing extra context to what's happening in Rapture at the time and also some interesting tidbits regarding a certain "phenomena" occurring. I highly recommend not skipping these! I fully completed this DLC and truly enjoyed it. In fact, I loved it so much that it makes me wonder why it's not a standalone game. I felt like it blended the best parts of both BioShock and BioShock Infinite; the combat was challenging and thoughtful, the story was captivating, and the pacing was perfect. Infinite was a fantastic game in its own right, but bringing Booker and Elizabeth to Rapture is literally a whole new world. Burial at Sea: Episode 1 does not have a specific release date, but they do anticipate it coming out before the holidays. We'll do a full proper review closer to release. In the meantime, enjoy this ominous "Fact from Myth" video which foreshadows what may have happened after Elizabeth and Booker meet in Rapture ... [embed]262949:50775:0[/embed]
BioShock Infinite photo
All assets have been redone, breathing in new life to Rapture
Warning: minor plot spoilers I swore hand over heart that I would not spoil the resolution of Burial at Sea, so that will remain a mystery until the rest of you fine citizens get to enjoy it before the holidays. However, to g...

Ken Levine on BioShock Infinite's new DLC, Burial at Sea

Jul 30 // Caitlin Cooke
Ken and his team have built Burial at Sea from the ground up, including the objects and assets. This was surprising to me seeing as it's only DLC, but Ken explains, "it was a huge undertaking and I’m not exactly sure why we do things that take so much time, but we thought this was our last chance for a while to give our fans a love letter so we decided to do it.” This method seems to pay off -- when Ken describes the game to me, I can already tell how unique it will be compared to previous installments. He continues: “It’s basically two parts -- [the first episode] takes place in sort of the pristine Rapture, and that’s very much like being in Columbia at the beginning. There’s a hubspace that’s pretty…I think actually one of the best BioShock spaces that the team has ever built in terms of what I like to see. "I look at levels like the medical level in BioShock and Fort Frolick as sort of the right structural layout of things because they’re less linear, they’re more sort of the center. They feel organic to me, [but] buildings are designed in a hierarchical fashion […] where the more big action stuff tends to push you down a single corridor. It is a constant struggle to get the team around that non-linearity. We’ve definitely done a better job I think in this DLC than we did in Infinite." When I asked about the story, Ken didn't want to get too much into the specifics so as not to spoil it, but he did say that everything ties together and certain characters will make appearances. "We’re fans of integration, we’ll put it that way. We want to both give people a chance to see characters from BioShock before they splice up as much as they do and what they were like beforehand. There is a very well known character in BioShock who will be involved substantially in the story [...] It is connected to the larger story.” Ken also touched on a few themes from the original BioShock, and mentioned that this DLC will dive a bit deeper into the intricacies of Rapture. "You see this opening part which is in pristine Rapture and there’s this whole quest there that doesn’t involve combat and your journey takes you to […] a department store that’s now a prison that you’re there for a reason, you’ll find out. That’s a very traditional BioShock experience with all the fucking crazy splicers down there and the place has gone to shit. So you get both -- you get the pristine Rapture and the ‘gone to shit’ Rapture in the same package.” I prodded about the second episode, in which players get to experience everything through the eyes of Elizabeth. I was particularly interested in Booker's role, but it hasn't been fleshed out completely so Ken was hesitant to share a lot of information. However, he has an outline of a story in mind and wants it to have a different combat feel than the other games. “We’re in relatively early stages of the third part of the DLC [Burial at Sea Ep 2]," Ken told me. "It’s something that we wanted to do, we didn’t know if we could or had the time or resources but finally we decided it was important that we did it. It’s funny, each of the DLCs are a different combat feel, the first one [Clash in the Clouds] is very much like Infinite. The second one is much like BioShock, we reintegrated much more of the player-initiated combat notions of BioShock. In the third one, it’s almost like survival horror. Elizabeth is not like Booker, she’s not a huge tank. We’re still figuring out the details, everything is open to change, but we want her to feel like she’s always on the bleeding edge of resources and decisions and even push the stealth mechanic." Ken continues, "We also have this notion of grifting from the original game that we didn’t have time to do, and I wanted to show that side of Elizabeth and her saviness through her wits to get the things she needs done, done.” When I asked about everyone's favorite characters, the Luteces, Ken said that "I'm not only a huge fan of writing them but I'm a huge fan of working with Oliver [Vaquer] and Jennifer [Hale] on them, and I'll leave it at that." For now, Ken seemed excited about the future and about what fans will think of Burial at Sea. He explains, “We never know what we’re doing next but I think if we knew… it wouldn’t be surprising because we’d have to surprise ourselves. I’m just curious to hear people’s reactions. We know people were frustrated by how silent we were and how long it was taking, but at the end of the day we’re always going to make the choice to present things in a way to actually give people a sense of what we’re doing and do the thing that we think is right for the gamer in the long run, not in the short run. So they’re frustrated that they haven’t gotten the content yet, but we could have done something quicker but it wouldn’t be this. People get anxious but I think they’re going to be pretty happy.”
BioShock interview photo
Returning to Rapture on the eve of its downfall
Irrational Games, and Ken Levine in particular, have been known for creating games with innovative narratives and unique gameplay. BioShock Infinite is no different, and we expect the same for the remaining downloadable cont...

Return to Rapture photo
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea set on the eve of Rapture's downfall
Irrational Games revealed the intentions for their remaining BioShock Infinite downloadable content plans to follow up the Clash in the Clouds DLC: Burial at Sea, a Booker and Elizabeth tale set on the eve of Rapture's down...

BioShock Infinite's first DLC is out on Steam today

Jul 30 // Caitlin Cooke
BioShock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Irrational GamesPublisher: 2K GamesRelease: July 30, 2013 (PC) / August 2013 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Clash in the Clouds does not tie into the storyline specifically but rather is a standalone arena-based combat game. You continue to play as Booker Dewitt with Elizabeth at your side, tearing the fabric of space and time to obtain useful items in battle (as usual).  The DLC consists of four maps (The OPS Zeal, Duke and Dimwit Theater, Raven's Zone, Emporia Arcade) with each containing 15 encounters, or waves, of enemies. The waves get progressively more difficult and sometimes require a lot more strategy vs combat in the main game, especially as the enemies grow in number. The beauty of Clash is that it can be fun for both hardcore arena players or for gamers who want a bit of challenge without the need to be ranked. If players can successfully beat all 15 waves without dying, they'll be placed on the glorious leaderboards for all to see. If the player dies at any point, they can resume the game to continue collecting cash but won't make it onto the rankings. Extra lives can be purchased at the office door in between waves, which allow players to spawn at the door with no penalty and at full health. Players earn Silver Eagles at the end of each wave, and can also get bonus Eagles by killing enemies in various ways (headshots, vigor combos, etc). "Blue Ribbon Challenges" can also be attempted to earn cash bonuses throughout each wave. For example, a few of mine were to defeat enemies only with the hand cannon, or defeat enemies only using the skyline. At the end of each wave, health and salts replenish and you have the opportunity to stock up on new guns or buy upgrades with your money. Silver Eagles can also be used to purchase artifacts from the Columbian Archaeological Society, a really neat-looking atrium with a giant bronze statue of Songbird hanging above. This was actually my favorite part about the DLC -- you can buy character statues, individual songs playing on their own phonograph, Kinetoscopes, Voxophones, and concept art to fill out the space. There's even something waiting for you when a certain duo is unlocked ... but I won't spoil the surprise. Overall I enjoyed my time with Clash in the Clouds. For $5, or included in your Season Pass purchase, you can't really go wrong. It's honestly worth it just to unlock some really cool story items from Infinite and test your combat skills when shit hits the fan.   Clash in the Clouds is coming at you later today on Steam, and will be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by the end of the week. Burial at Sea, the next two downloadable content packs for BioShock Infinite, were also revealed to us, and this will be story-driven content that is set on the eve of Rapture's downfall. Rapture being the setting of the original BioShock. You'll even get to play as Elizabeth here. Check out the trailer and our impressions of that here.
BioShock Infinite DLC photo
Clash in the Clouds is an arena-based combat game
We're here folks! Breathe that big ol' sigh of relief because by midday you'll see BioShock Infinite's first piece of downloadable content, Clash in the Clouds, available for download on the PC through Steam. Clash in the C...

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments looks sweet


Demo puts LA Noire to shame
Jun 15
// Caitlin Cooke
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is the seventh installment in the Sherlock Holmes series from Frogwares development studio, and so far it's looking pretty stellar. Crimes and Punishments holds many firsts for the seri...
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It's Deadfall Adventures Time!


Aztecbraic!
Jun 15
// Caitlin Cooke
UPDATE: Deadfall Adventures will be $39.99 on PC and $49.99 on X360, not $60. Deadfall Adventures may seem like an Indiana Jones or Uncharted rip-off, however the game is doing the exact opposite: it is engrained in the ...
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Contrast lights the way to fun platforming


And a has a cool setting to boot!
Jun 14
// Caitlin Cooke
Contrast is hands down the most unique game I played at E3. It's rare to find a game that melds adult themes with the whimsical storytelling mechanics of a child's mind. Blended with interesting puzzle platforming, Contrast is surely going to spark some interest when it arrives.

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies is lookin' fine in 3D

Jun 13 // Caitlin Cooke
The demo I played was very reminiscent of the original series with the same dialogue style and basic gameplay mechanics but with the extra oomph that the 3DS can offer - mainly, short 3D cutscenes and added graphic detail. Oh, and of course Phoenix's hair is even more spiky in 3D. Players can still shout OBJECTION! into the mic and I imagine the investigation will also incorporate some 3DS features, however the demo did not get into the crime scene portion.  The court scene was very much the same as it's always been -- lots of banter, pressing the witnesses, presenting evidence and of course all the courtroom drama that goes along with it. It was entertaining watching Phoenix stumble his way through his first investigation in years - it wouldn't be an Ace Attorney game without embarrassing the main character! The new gameplay mechanic, the "mood matrix," allows Phoenix to sense how the witness is feeling during their testimony -- happy, angry, sad, or surprised. Pinpointing an unexpected emotion allows for Phoenix to press the witness even further on their testimony, exposing new information. It didn't seem very difficult but it was interesting being able to view the witness' memories play out. I found this to be a unique addition and I'm curious how it will play out in the long run. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is being released in Japan on July 25th with western regions following suit in the fall for 3DS download only. Yes, it's sad, but hey at least we're getting it, and getting it soon!  
Phoenix Wright photo
I have no objections
I'm a big fan of the Ace Attorney series but fell off the wagon somewhere between the Apollo Justice and Miles Edgeworth games, so it's exciting to see that Phoenix is making a comeback in Dual Destinies. The game takes place...

Magrunner photo
Magrunner

Magrunner: Dark Pulse looks really darn cool


Magnets, how do they work?
Jun 13
// Caitlin Cooke
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is a game that you may brush off as a Portal imitator at first - but I urge you not to do so. After playing through some levels on the E3 show floor, Magrunner has caught my attention not just with its delightful puzzle-solving mechanics but through the world and story itself.
XSEED photo
XSEED

Rune Factory 4 is pleasantly complex


'Harvest Moon on steroids'
Jun 12
// Caitlin Cooke
Attending E3 has given me the chance to try out some games I normally wouldn't think of picking up - Rune Factory 4 being one of them. I always considered the Rune Factory series to be a Harvest Moon imitator until I gave it ...

Review: Might & Magic: Duel of Champions

Jun 03 // Caitlin Cooke
Might & Magic: Duel of Champions (PC, iPad)Developer: UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftRelease: May 28, 2013MSRP: Free Duel of Champions begins with your choice of a faction: Haven (protection and healing), Inferno (attack damage), or Necropolis (infecting and stealing life). The story and deck you receive depends on the faction you choose -- I chose Haven and ended up as an elite mercenary, fighting for the glory of the holy empire in battle. The campaign map started off with a few missions and included a boot camp (tutorial) to learn the basics. Each encounter (duel) started off with some dialogue to tie into the plot, and after finishing the duel I was showered with rewards like XP, gold, and seals. At first the gameplay seemed very generic but as the tutorial eased me into it I realized there were a lot of elements at play. Cards are not only cast with resources, but may also require a combination of three different abilities to come into play: might, magic, and destiny. Each player is represented by a hero who can add one of these three abilities to their pool or in lieu, can cast a special ability. To add to the complexity, each player brings eight event cards to the duel which are shuffled together and brought out in twos. On any given player's turn, they have the option to play one or both cards if they have enough resources. Some of these cards are simple -- each player draws a card, add 1 attack to this creature, etc. -- however some event cards have the power to turn the tables quickly. Three types of main cards can be found in the deck: creatures, spells, and fortunes. Fortune cards require enough of the "destiny" attribute to put into play and twist the rules of the game (i.e., adding resources to a player's pool). Spell cards are pretty typical and usually affect creatures on the board (like raising an attack score, or eliminating a creature from the board). Creatures have an attack score, a retaliation score (damage dealt back to an attacking creature), and health points. Health is not regained at the end of the turn so players have to be careful with how they place cards and who they attack. During the action phase players can cast creatures onto the battlefield, which consists of two rows on each player's side. There are three types of creatures -- flying, melee, and shooter -- each having their own rules on where they can be deployed on the board (i.e., the front line, back line) and how they attack. Creatures usually have to be in the same row as an enemy creature to make the attack, and can only perform one action each turn. If no creatures are in the row to block the attack, players can attack the enemy hero instead. Just like Magic the Gathering, once a hero's life total goes from 20 to zero the game is over. Players can win gold, seals, and XP by winning duels (PvP) or encounters from the single-player campaign. Gold and seals are used to buy consumables (like tickets to compete in a tournament), decks, and card packs. Gold is accrued much easier than seals and you'll utilize more of it to unlock decks and packs, whereas seals are won at a much slower rate but are used to purchase rarer items. After playing through the tutorial, I found that I had enough seals and gold to buy about five card packs. Not bad, although it seems like you'll need to play quite a bit or hand over the cash to unlock rare decks. Despite all the fun I had playing Might and Magic: DoC, I had my share of pet peeves when running through the game. The game moves way too fast on an enemy's turn -- it's hard to tell what they're casting and what the effects are, and since there's no way to pause the game I found myself having to backtrack by clicking through cards in their discard pile. I suppose this is something that players would get used to once they're more familiar, but it would benefit newbie players to slow it down a bit at first. I also felt like if I made one or two mistakes the game was basically over -- it's hard to recover from a duel when your battlefield is basically empty.  The dialogue in the main campaign isn't really anything to rave about, but at least it's there - it allows for nice context that many collectible card games do not provide. However, you can't really skip through it even if you've already played that specific encounter. I also wish there were more ways you could play with your friends but alas Practice mode is the only option at this point. You can't remove the timer and there are no rewards/XP offered so playing in Practice is kind of pointless. Fortunately, playing in Duel mode (normal pvp match) is worthwhile as you receive rewards even if you lose. I was surprised in a good way to find that I never had to wait longer than 20 seconds to find a match. I did notice that practically everyone I played with was way more advanced than I was in terms of skill, which gave me the impression that only super hardcore players stuck around after the beta. However, on rare occasions I did actually find myself playing against similarly-skilled opponents. My favorite and least favorite part of the game happens to be the same thing: the deck-building tool. I love that the game actually HAS one, for starters. The most important piece, however, is that you can completely customize decks to your liking as long as cards are in the same faction. Unfortunately though, I found the tool to be a bit cumbersome and confusing -- it's hard to see the cards and there's no real structure overall. For first-time players it would be super beneficial to have a tutorial or a "suggested" deck tool which could assist players in building decks from scratch. Might & Magic: DoC is easy to learn but quite difficult to master. Card fans seem to already be flocking with almost 150k ranked players and duel wins up in the thousands. The game has been in beta for months but with the official launch Ubisoft has added a new card series called Herald of the Void, which includes 120 new cards.  When I first started up Duel of Champions and played through the tutorial, I never thought I'd be playing for the next four hours. I found myself becoming easily lost in the game, with my duels lasting over a half hour but only seeming like 10 minutes. It's a solid CCG for sure, and one that I don't mind being tied to at the moment. 
Duel of Champions review photo
A delightfully addicting CCG
Might & Magic: Duel of Champions is yet another contender in this year of our collectible card game lords, 2013. CCGs are being released in droves this year and with most of them running on the free-to-play model, competi...

Planeswalkers photo
Planeswalkers

Magic 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers to have sealed play


Yayayayaaaaay!!
May 08
// Caitlin Cooke
[Update: Further details on the sealed play mode and potential cost can be found here. It sounds like players will not need to pay for booster packs, rather the game will come with two sealed deck slots in which you can edit ...
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Zynga

Impressions: Zynga's mobile card game War of the Fallen


Simple and accessible, Zynga may be winning yet
Apr 15
// Caitlin Cooke
Zynga has just released their latest social game endeavor War of the Fallen for iOS, with Android soon to follow. This new card battle game steps up to the plate with hopes of introducing casual game players to the world of c...
Magic: The Gathering photo
Magic: The Gathering

Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers sneak peek


This summer Chandra is kicking ass and taking names
Mar 25
// Caitlin Cooke
Wizards of the Coast has announced the return of its Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers game series this summer. In addition to the usual platforms (iOS, PC, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network), the game is also being relea...
Heroes of Warcraft photo
Heroes of Warcraft

PAX: Hands-on with Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft


Easy to pick up, engaging for all
Mar 24
// Caitlin Cooke
Being a huge Magic: The Gathering fan, I was super excited for Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft announcement on Friday. However, I was a bit wary on how they would approach the game. Collectible card games...
Toki Tori 2 photo
Toki Tori 2

PAX: Singin' and stompin' with Toki Tori 2


The little yellow chicken that could!
Mar 23
// Caitlin Cooke
I love puzzle adventure games, so I couldn't pass up the chance to play Toki Tori 2 on the PAX show floor. What's not to love about an adorable yellow bird tromping around a brightly animated forest? I got a hands-on with Two...
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Videogamer: The Film Seeks Funding


Bringing you closer to the games you love
Mar 22
// Caitlin Cooke
"Through our numbers we can get the world talking about innovation. The gaming industry revolution is now." Videogamer: The Film is a neat little project with a huge undertaking -- a full-length film which pulls back the...
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PAX: Details on Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft


Collectible card game, ho!
Mar 22
// Caitlin Cooke
Blizzard has announced new details regarding its free-to-play collectible strategy card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. To start, there will be over 300 cards in the game. Players can unlock cards by purchasing or...

Games to play with your boyfriend on Valentine's Day

Feb 14 // Caitlin Cooke
Portal 2 Who doesn't love to play adorable robots that can hug and high-five each other all day long? Atlas and P-body are like mini versions of your relationship, only they’re more prone to falling off ledges! For those of you new to the co-op portion of the game, GLaDOS, your evil (or maybe just misunderstood) A.I. guide leads you and your partner through various rooms in order to retrieve data disks for a certain unknown but most likely evil purpose. Portal 2 is a great way to bond with your boyfriend, especially if you’re both into puzzle-solving hijinks! Saints Row: The Third Nothing says “I love you” like taunting your boyfriend with a big fat purple dildo. Saints Row: The Third is the sandbox game you wished for and finally received -- it’s fantastically silly, loads of fun, and extremely self-aware. To be honest, I haven’t played through much of the game because I’m too busy doing stupid stuff like skydiving out of airplanes and crashing parties, but from what I've seen it’s the perfect game to play with that someone special. So, what are you waiting for? THQ isn't getting any younger…oh wait. Torchlight II Surprisingly, killing lots of things can be delightfully romantic. Created by members of the original Diablo II team, Torchlight II pays homage to those long lost yet reawakened hack-n-slash dungeon-running games. The music will give you all kinds of nostalgic lady boners, and you even get to choose your own pet, ranging from a panther to a random made-up animal like the Chakawary, featured above. As an added bonus, you and your boyfriend no longer need to fight over loot -- you both get your own! Gone are the days of “No, honey, YOU take One-eyed Willy’s Other Eye!” Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game This Valentine’s Day, you and your boyfriend should wreck the s*@$ out of Ramona’s 7 evil exes. Why? Because nothing says romance like kicking some side-scrolling ass to amazing chiptune music, that’s why! Even if you haven’t read the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels (which if you haven’t, you totally should) the game is a blast. The sprites are adorable and the game puts a totally unique spin on traditional side scrolling beat-em-ups by just being…completely silly. My personal favorite characters to play are Scott and Kim - they were meant to be together anyway, right? Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed Go back to your roots and share something special with your significant other, like your favorite Sega characters! AiAi, Beat, B.D. Joe, Tails are just some of the few playable characters which you can level up. Even better, the levels in this game are insanely immersive -- in addition to your standard driving you can also fly and float your way through the track (which, by the way, often falls to pieces during the last lap). Racing Transformed will soon win your heart and become your go to "kick your boyfriend's ass" game.  You Don’t Know Jack Boyfriend doesn't game much? You Don’t Know Jack is the ticket - everyone loves a super difficult, zany trivia game. The only catch is that you’ll probably end up as an ex-couple by the end of it. Every round contains 10 questions plus a few bonus rounds, and a “Wrong Answer of the Game” in which you have to keep your eyes peeled for an answer related to the “sponsor” (which can be anything from Banana Toasters to Granny’s Roach Butter). Overall YDKJ is a quick and fun way to enjoy each other's company this V-day. Plus, who doesn't love a game where you get to screw your significant other? Honorable Mention: Having your boyfriend cuddle up and watch you play Condemned…in the dark. 
Games to play w/ your boo photo
Romance is just a game away!
Valentine's Day isn't always about getting taken out to dinner and receiving fancy treats and trinkets. Okay, well maybe it is, but who's to say that you can't get a little gaming on the side? Consider spending some quality time with your boyfriend by reeling him into the following co-op games. If he resists, consider your future with him wisely...

Review: Kinect Party

Jan 14 // Caitlin Cooke
Kinect Party (Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Microsoft StudiosReleased: December 17, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points Building off of its predecessor, Kinect Party continues the “just play” mentality of the series. There is no start, end, or goal -- the point is to have fun! When starting Kinect Party, it launches straight into the Television, the gateway to playing these quirky yet entertaining games. Players interact with the environment around them for a few minutes until the Television changes the “channel” and moves onto a new game. The menu can be accessed by shouting “Hey Television!” which will allow the player to choose the game they want to play next, or to take/view/share pictures. Kinect Party has a total of 36 mini-games, a few being more “involved” than others. For example, some of the interactions are basic -- the player walks around an environment like a forest or a beach and has to feed pigeons or look for treasure. Other modes are more intense and mimic games like Space Invaders, Tempest, and Breakout. At random points, the game will capture photos of you (with warning, so you can pose) and save them for you to look at later. Unfortunately, those pictures will eventually be overwritten by new ones and will not be saved permanently unless you share them to Facebook. This is my one major gripe with Kinect Party, as I’m not really partial to sharing rainbows coming out of my butt for my coworkers, friends, and family to see. Like its predecessor, Kinect Party can support up to six people simultaneously. To my delight, this included my dog Tali, who was obviously not aware of her projected surroundings. At one point, she leapt in front of the Kinect to destroy one of her toys, but on-screen, she was immersed in sand. The device instantly picked up every second of her movement and as a result, sand was being kicked up all around me. I was impressed by this, and by the abilities of the game and of the Kinect to work hand-in-hand to create an authentic environment based on my furniture and movements. I specifically mention this because when playing other games for Kinect, I've noticed that my environment is rarely analyzed properly. Kinect Party seems to nail it down correctly. Kinect Party is a fantastic game in the right scenario. If you often have guests over your house, especially family or children, then this is definitely something to check out. It’s hard for anyone to dislike a game in which you build a castle and promptly turn into a dragon to destroy it. However, I find that this isn’t the best thing to suit lone gamers like myself. I do love pretending to be trapped inside a jello mold with my dog every once in a while, but that can get old. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good game -- it certainly is for what it aims to achieve -- but Kinect Party is best played with others! Folks who own Happy Action Theater will already know what Kinect Party has in store for them, and will delight in knowing that the game is only 400 Microsoft Points. If you are one of the lucky to have snagged Kinect Party while it was free over the holidays, you can’t go wrong. Fun to be had at no cost is nothing to complain about. If you missed out on the free promotion, don’t kick yourself. It’s certainly worth the $10 if you’re willing to let your imagination fly!
Kinect Party review photo
Double the fine, double the fun
Hey, Television! Check out Double Fine’s latest game for Xbox Live Arcade: Kinect Party. In fun-loving Double Fine fashion, it was released for free upon launch in mid-December until the New Year. For those of you who d...

Preview: Lost Marbles

Dec 10 // Caitlin Cooke
Lost Marbles (PC)Developer: Binary TakeoverTo be released: December 2012 Lost Marbles begins with straightforward introduction levels, which ease you into learning how each of the marbles operates. There are three types of marbles: Rubber, Paper, and Metal. Rubber balls are your basic ball -- bouncy (giving the ability to jump over obstacles) and are able to float and maneuver in water. Paper balls are fast and flexible, having the ability to shrink to avoid dangerous obstacles. Given their light weight, these balls are prone to strong winds, which can also be used to the player’s advantage. Metal balls are slow and easier to control, able to best most obstacles -- unlike paper and rubber, which are vulnerable to fire and spikes -- and contain a speed boost to give it that extra edge when moving uphill. As the game progresses, the levels challenge your ability to solve puzzles as well as test your reflex and timing skills. Once you have the basics down, the stages grow into somewhat of a marble co-op where you’re able to freely switch between the various balls to solve puzzles within the level. For example, in the level Shock Value, the player is presented with a string of electricity running across the platform. Rubber absorbs lightning, which would allow the paper and metal balls to pass through. However, there is a small river separating the marbles from the rest of the level, in which the paper ball cannot pass through. Either the metal or the rubber marble must make its way past the water to activate a switch, allowing fans to blow the paper ball past the water. The level continues with each marble assisting the other for all to make it to "home" (i.e. the end of the level). The game keeps track of your times, so once you’re a puzzle-solving aficionado, you'll be able to replay the level to create a new best. Lost Marbles can be played either via keyboard or with an Xbox 360 controller. I found that the game is best played with the controller, as it gives a bit more sense of control, though it’s certainly not unplayable with the keyboard. The layout and controls are akin to something like Super Monkey Ball, which adds to the challenge as you’re not only focusing on the puzzles, but your ability to control tiny marbles on floating platforms. I found that the level design was interesting and progressed at the right speed, yet the controls were a bit too touchy for me. This is part of the challenge though, to fine tune maneuvers in order to complete levels -- and one that makes the game so addicting to play. However, there are a few abilities that need more work including the metal ball’s speed boost (I often found that it wouldn't boost in the direction I was pointing or facing) and the sensitivity of some outside elements, such as magnets. Although frustrating, they’re not entirely game-breaking. These are details that Binary Takeover said they were currently tweaking to make gameplay more efficient. Despite the few issues, overall I've come to enjoy the game and found myself wanting to pursue the challenges in every stage. Each stage brings bright graphics and thoughtful, unimposing background music which only add to the simplistic charm of the game. My hope is that when Lost Marbles is fully released, there will be more content in terms of levels and added challenges. Unfortunately, due to Steam's new classifications on smaller indie games, the two minds behind Binary Takeover were not able to get Lost Marbles directly onto Steam as they did with Turba. They’re currently working through the Greenlight process (you can vote for them here). For now, a demo of the game is available on Binary Takeover's Steam page.
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Found: puzzle game!
I first came across Lost Marbles at the Boston Festival of Indie Games this past September. As I walked past Binary Takeover’s booth, I couldn't help but stare at the bright ambiance emitting from the screen and the fun...

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MoMA Collects 14 Video Games for Exhibition


Rolls them up into their Katamari
Nov 29
// Caitlin Cooke
Paola Antonelli of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has announced today that the museum will be exhibiting 14 video games as part of its Architecture and Design collection starting in March 2013. In addition to exhibi...

Review: Tower Wars

Sep 10 // Caitlin Cooke
Tower Wars (PC)Developer: SuperVillain StudiosPublisher: SuperVillain StudiosReleased: August 14, 2012MSRP: $9.99 The basic premise of Tower Wars is simple: like most tower defense games, you protect your castle against an enemy army by placing different types of towers in their path. However, this is only half the battle -- the player is not only responsible for ensuring the safety of their castle, but in charge of launching attacks against the enemy’s castle as well. This isn’t your grandma’s “plant towers and wait” type of tower defense title; this is true war at hand and every second there’s something to be done. The objective is to maintain a balance between breaking down the enemy’s castle and protecting your own. This is done by buying and upgrading a variety of towers and units with gold and Battle Points, another type of currency. Gold is naturally accrued, however the main source of gold comes via the miners which players can buy within the mines scattered about the playing field. Battle Points can only be achieved by sending out troops toward the enemy. Units will gain BPs when they cross over enemy lines, and will accumulate a bit more depending on how long they stay alive. Towers and their upgrades can be purchased with gold, while your army units, miners, and their upgrades are purchased with a combination of gold and BP. There are three maps to choose from, each containing a field of hexagonal tiles where towers can be placed. A dotted line leads from the enemy's castle to yours, where their army marches to attack your castle. These paths can be altered depending upon where players choose to build towers. Ultimately, the idea is to prevent the enemy from walking straight into the castle gates by winding them through a path laden with a variety of towers. Eight types of towers grace the game -- some are your basic tower defense types (arrows, ballistics, shield diffusers) and others are a bit unique (a giant mallet, a wind tower, molten lava factory, etc). Along with most games in this genre, they can be upgraded or sold to efficiently attack enemy armies. Each player starts out with Mr. Moopsy, the basic grunt unit. After accruing more gold and BP, players can unlock and purchase a variety of different units including Baron von Pepto (healer), Madam Sudsie Lennor (shield boost), Stanley Clunkerbottom (big unit) and many more. Upgrades to the units can be purchased to buff health, armor, shields, speed, or to increase the accrual of Battle Points. The castle can also be buffed with additional armor or gunners, which comes in handy when the enemy army has moved past your towers and breached your gates. Tower Wars comes with a few modes -- a tutorial, Classic TD, and the main Tower Wars game. The tutorial is a cute and informative way to learn the features and even allows you to play against a computer until beaten. However, it seems to gloss over important details and could benefit to teach more about the specific mechanics of the game and how to use units and towers to the player’s advantage. Classic TD (Tower Defense) is exactly what the name implies: players survive for as long as possible building towers against an enemy army. The main game, Tower Wars, can be played in either ranked or unranked mode. In ranked mode, you can invite your friends to play 2v2 or 3v3 against other players, or have a 1v1 game with a matched player. In unranked, you can invite friends to play up to 3v3, though there is no match setup for this mode. One of the main issues of the game is a lack of story or single-player mode. After the tutorial, players have the option of either settling for Classic TD mode (which can get stale very quickly) or going straight into a ranked match if they don’t have other friends to play an unranked game with. Without even a practice mode, I found it hard to jump straight into ranked as most of the players were well versed already. Another issue I ran into was queue times -- for a 1v1 quick ranked play, it would sometimes take up to five minutes to find a match. Co-oping with a friend in either 2v2 or 3v3 would take upwards of 10-20 minutes, to the point where I was wondering if anyone was playing this mode at all. Tower Wars is unique in its own right. The graphics are polished and the overall mechanics are solid for an indie game. With a smart-looking steampunk theme, it strikes a balance with being not quite serious and not quite silly -- something in between that hits the right note. However, it seems as if there is some work to be done to make the game a complete, playable success. The learning curve is quite steep as there isn’t much help from the tutorial and there's really no way to practice or grow the skills necessary to beat players in ranked mode. Queue times are off the charts, and in the meantime, there's no Tower Wars single-player mode to play with. That being said, SuperVillain Studios is working hard to add functionality to the game. They’re frequently cruising the Steam forums, taking in feedback, and making small tweaks to satisfy players. This has given me some hope in terms of a more complete package; as it stands now, these issues are a bit cramping. Hardcore tower defense fans will certainly enjoy Tower Wars, as they will be the most likely to spend the time and energy required to research tower and army strategies. What this game offers currently is not going to be a blast for the majority of gamers, unless they happen to have a group of friends who already own the title. Tower Wars is completely functional and full of spirit; however, lack of a single-player mode and unruly queue times will likely leave many gamers unfulfilled.
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Tower defense games are somewhat an addiction of mine; instinctively strategic yet part determination and endurance, these titles have always delighted and frustrated the wits out of me. Lately, there’s been a surge ...

Review: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Jun 29 // Caitlin Cooke
Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (iPad, PC, PSN, XBLA [reviewed])Developer: Stainless GamesPublisher: Wizards of the CoastReleased: June 20, 2012MSRP: $9.99, 800 Microsoft Points DotP 2013 features the same general interface as the 2012 version but with some new artwork and a few added tweaks. A new Player Status option can be found in the main menu which displays historical information on your character and allows you to choose from unlockable personas without digging into the options tab. Players can also browse through achievements, leaderboard information, and a neat mana statistics bar within this menu. The Deck Manager now shows stats on the amount of creatures vs other types of cards, and stacks them in a neat display. However, the ability to customize decks is still very limited – players are only able to remove cards other than mana, therefore leaving mana to be dished out on a sliding scale. DotP 2013 contains 10 decks total to unlock, which are similar to the ones featured in DotP 2012 but with more streamlining. For example, there are very few decks that contain more than one type of mana, and most of the decks contain a medallion card that decreases the cost of mana for a particular color. Although the decks are a bit simpler, the gameplay is still challenging and there are still plenty of new cards to enjoy. Some of the builds are event a bit surprising, such as Jace's Dream Puppets deck. When selecting a particular deck for battle, stats appear with attributes such as Creature Size, Card Synergy, and Deck Speed and Flexibility for ease of comparison against other builds. The Campaign in DotP 2013 has distanced itself from the tree-branch method and instead separates itself into various realms within Magic lore. Within these realms the game progresses linearly with battles called Encounters – these are meant for the player to devise strategies against a certain type of card, or battle. For example, the first Encounter has you fighting off hoards of flying Suntail Hawks in order for you to develop a method of defense against flying creatures in battle. These encounters eventually lead to  boss battles, dueling against full-fledged Planeswalkers as in previous iterations. They now flaunt animations and character descriptions including history, stats, and relations to other Planeswalkers for story purposes. Revenge mode is still on the slate, which gives players the opportunity to duel against the Planeswalkers one last time in a harder difficulty setting. Challenges are also still present, however they’re off in their own section as they were in the first DotP. Rather than keeping the physical Magic card game advertising to the loading screens as they’ve done in the past, ads are now placed straight into the Campaign. Once a player beats a high-profile Planeswalker, they’ll find an advertisement for that deck pop up with a link of information on how to buy it. The ads are later stored in the “Extras” section on the menu. It’s a minor annoyance, but one that’s noticed. The most notable change is the absence of Archenemy mode, with Planechase in its stead. Archenemy was a much loved (although highly frustrating) addition to DotP 2012 and it is missed, but its exclusion is not surprising. Wizards of the Coast prides itself in creating a new game experience with each DotP, and they’ve certainly crafted a very different mode here. In Planechase, a player can duel against 1-3 other Planeswalkers  as they normally would in a game, with the addition of Planar cards depicting the different realms of Magic along with a set of conditions. These conditions can range from anything from adding mana to a player’s pool, to not allowing creatures to attack. Setting off the conditions, or changing out the planar cards (also known as planeswalking) is all determined by the roll of a die. The different configuration that Planechase offers is admirable, but it seems to fall short in areas. The chance factor that it presents is exciting at first but can become irritating after a time. Games tend to run on for an extremely long amount of time as the cards defy most Magic logic and often reset conditions which can make players extremely powerful in a short period of time, creating a stand-off environment -- or in the reverse case, having players start from square one. The random chance factor seems to override the skill of playing Magic. Overall, it’s a solid mode, but not the most memorable. Probably considered the most improved feature in DotP is the ability to manually tap mana. Gone are the days of pulling out hair in frustration when the game decided to choose the wrong mana to tap, leaving your next move completely doomed. The cost of mana is also highlighted when selecting a card, making it visually easy for the player to determine how much would be spent. Graveyard browsing is also much easier this time around, allowing the player to select their own or an opponent’s graveyard with the click of a button. Multiplayer touts the same options as other DotP iterations -- Two Headed Giant (2v2), Free-for-all (up to four players against one another), and Planechase (instead of Archenemy). The menus and lobbies are no different than before, but then again there wasn’t much to improve on in that respect. Loading times seem reasonable, and there are a plethora of random internet people to play against as there always has been with DotP. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is an admirable attempt at creating the ideal gaming platform for Magic -- fans of the DotP series will be pleased, but not entirely blown away. The hindrances present in prior editions have been removed, and basic improvements to the interface have ultimately paid off, making this game a practical and perfect rendition of the physical card game. Although the decks are a bit simpler than I'd prefer, they're still highly enjoyable and interesting enough to capture my attention throughout the game. Planechase is no Archenemy, but it's still a valiant effort in creating a unique game mode that will excite most players. Overall, new features like the stat boards, the Lord of the Rings-esque music, and the ability to tap mana have won me over, making this third edition a charm.
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With two predecessors in its wake, Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is the third installment to hit Xbox Live Arcade, iPad, Steam, and the PlayStation Network. The DotP series has generally been known fo...

PAX: Perfect World's RaiderZ and Neverwinter MMO

Apr 09 // Caitlin Cooke
[embed]225482:43309[/embed] After RaiderZ we moved on to Neverwinter, another free-to-play MMO that takes place in Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting approximately 100 years after the events in Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2. A cataclysmic event called the Spell Plague has hit Neverwinter, destroying the weave of magic in its wake. Your hero answers a call to resurrect the Jewel of the North to its former glory, and therein begins the quest. Being a huge fan of Neverwinter Nights, my main concerns were focused on how the game actually fits into the world of D&D – ie, were they just copying the setting and races and pasting them into a basic MMO? The short answer is no. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Cryptic Studios has weekly talks with Wizards of the Coast to ensure that their lore and timeline fit into the world of the Forgotten Realms. In fact, WoTC has borrowed some artwork created for Neverwinter and released it officially as cannon. The game will also contain lore books, which will encompass history and characters from the Forgotten Realms. The gameplay in Neverwinter seems pretty basic on the outside with no tap-targeting and powers that function on a cool-down system, however there are a few unique characteristics that caught my eye. One of these items includes a meter shaped like a D20 that you can charge to unleash a powerful spell upon enemies. There’s also an integrated in-game calendar that shows off special events, dungeons, queues, and community affairs. As of now they’re looking to have basic classes with specialization options, including Control Wizard, Trickster Rogue, and Guardian Fighter. Race options have not been officially announced however I did glance a peek at a Tiefling! RaiderZ and Neverwinter are slated to go into closed beta shortly, and will be released later this year.
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This weekend I got a sneak peak at two MMORPGs that Perfect World is currently publishing – RaiderZ (MAIET Entertainment) and Neverwinter (Cryptic Studios). We started off with some RaiderZ (pronounced Raiders), a free-...

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PAX: Relieving stress with Bloodforge


Apr 08
// Caitlin Cooke
I got some hands-on experience with Microsoft Studios’ Bloodforge today on the floor at PAX East and boy did I unload some stress. After days of walking around in circles, chatting with a thousand people, and eating ove...

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