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9:54 AM on 06.22.2011

Drew a Conclusion: You Don’t Know Jack HD

Those who find themselves drawn closer to the Saturday Night Live rendition of Celebrity Jeopardy, replete with the surly visages of Sean Connery and Burt Reynolds, than Trivial Pursuit will, odds are, have played Jellyvision’s You Don’t Know Jack at one time or another.

The churlish demeanor of the shows host, Cookie, cynically belittling contestants who botch a question complete with the presentation of said trivia is inimitable in that the experience goes out of its way to punch the player in the mouth with humor – yet makes it feel as natural as failing out of community college – except twice as fun.

While the game recently found releases on multiple platforms, heralding a return for the long-dormant franchise, it seems to be a relatively tenuous return to glory. There’s a lot to gain from coming out strong, and even more that could be lost should the offering end up floundering.

You Don't Know Jack HD (iPad)
Developer: Jellyvision
Publisher: THQ
Released: April 14, 2011
MSRP: $4.99

Without a doubt, faced with competitors who have been available on the App Store, Jellyvision has successfully come out swinging. Harkening back to their classic one-time PC-only franchise, the game is now presented in a format that is fun, yet conveniently attuned for the iPad-wielding Bourgeoisie to understand, navigate and derive a significant amount of enjoyment out of beyond what a retarded puppy chasing its tail never-ending circles must experience. But for a game that was once confined to PC, an exceptional translation has been made to the tablet device with very little lost in the transitional process.

Arriving initially on iTunes with nary more than 20 episodes of play, comprising 10 questions each and a Jack Attack to close out each installment, one would assume that astute players would be able to devour everything Jellyvision proffered within the span of a lonely, masturbatory-devoid afternoon, but this is a bit far from the truth. This isn’t simply a port for the sake of garnering a few fans that happen to carry an Apple device.You Don’t Know Jack caters to fans who will remember the series from its onset or those looking for something to pull them away from Qrank or just compliment their daily trivial urges.

After all, it’s rare that a game is capable of eschewing the ills that come with attempting to inject so much comedy into its overall design, but YDKJ does this with fluid precision. More often than not, players will catch themselves chuckling or outright laughing, which is usually the result of the game’s host in one way or another. But it’s refreshing to see something out of the trivia genre that doesn’t feel dry and hokey, but instead revels in it’s off-the-wall demeanor.

While absent from the App is what anyone would call real and conducive multiplayer, which is disappointing given the series’ history for doing this so well, the players aren’t totally out of options. Cooperative play in the form of two huddling around a single tablet, answering questions together is one option. Alternatively, gamers prescribing to the “sharing is caring” school of thought can hand the iPad back and forth. But, this really doesn’t go the lengths to satiate that competitive trivia-answering urge that You Don’t Know Jack is so famous in both cult and pop culture for bringing out in people – leaving many with no other choice but to play with themselves – so it’s definitely a feature that would undoubtedly be valued down the line.

Additionally, whereas those 20 initial episodes can become done and over with given enough time, it was certainly welcome to know that Jellyvision would be updating YDKJ at consistent intervals with supplementary content. As of this writing two more episodes had been added and felt like complete accompaniments – not just tacked on to humor the game’s audience. Jellyvision has set out to really support the game post-release and it’s really showing.

Now if only they’d do the same with Headrush.

Score: 8/10   read

10:42 AM on 06.21.2011

Did LulzSec Leak Your Data?

While we could all argue between the righteousness and asshatery of what LulzSec, an off-shooting branch of Anonymous, has been up to lately, I think if there is one lesson to take away from recent events is that we should all be very, very careful about how we secure our stuff online.

Now, I'm not saying go all Boris, a la Golden Eye, but what I am saying is that personal security is more often than not the first, last and only line of defense you have against having your information visible for the entirety of the Internet to see - in plaintext. For those of you who may have had your information leaked by LulzSec, obviously change all your password immediately. For those of you who haven't, same thing and avoid the whole "Password" or "12345" business. It's just not good cricket.

In the meantime, if you want to check - go here, do a ctrl+F and pop in your details. The good/bad news will become apparent pretty quickly.

via [Reddit]   read

9:45 AM on 06.21.2011

Drewsome Twosome: A Comparative Clash of Section 8: Prejudice & Brink

First-Person Shooters have a distinct, formulaic presentation that their genre has been perpetuating since the first sprites were slaughtered in titles like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Since then, as all things usually do, FPS games slowly evolved, branching off to find their particular niches and the bases of fan to subscribe to their particular brand of violence. Be it mindlessly shooting everything in sight, endless customization, risk and rewards for closely following team-based mission objectives or filling a particular role in a squad better than anyone else – there is still something for everyone who wants to play an FPS.

Releasing at relatively the same time, both Section 8: Prejudice and Brink have had their fair share of love and hate from FPS fans as well as the wider community of gamers. But while both are summarily different in what they offer, they both appeal to their respective cliques in a very well-thought out manner. The only question that has realistically risen to the surface during the hours of gameplay is: What about either would appeal most to any prospective shooter player?

That can be a dicey question.

Brink (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: May 9, 2011
MSRP: $49.99

Section 8: Prejudice (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: TimeGate Studios
Released: May 4, 2011
MSRP: $14.99

Both S8: Prejudice and Brink prove that that the FPS has by no means reached a development plateau and that the genre still has quite a bit of life left in it. This is because, at times, even the smallest additions can have drastic evolutionary effects on the overall sum of the initial design as envisioned by the developer.

What made the original Section 8 so much fun was that it drew as closed to the novelized version of Starship Troopers, at least in regards to human technology, as I imagined any game dev would ever be able to approach. Dropping out of the sky in armor and avoiding anti-air fire was prospectively one of the coolest game mechanics to resurface since parachuting into multiplayer combat was initially done. Ultimately though, the game served as more of a teasing prospect of things to come, leaving my geekiest notions wondering what the hell had happened.

Tightening up the entire experience, complete with a more concisely enjoyable campaign and excellent multiplayer, Section 8: Prejudice proves that a full-fledged, disc-based release isn’t necessarily the course of action a developer needs to take to get their pet project into the hands of the gaming masses. Releasing via the Playstation Network, Xbox Live and Steam, it was able to reach the maximum amount of potential players in the most limited amount of time and for all intents, it worked out.

Narrative aside, the gameplay solidly offers FPS fanatics and sci-fi aficionado identical experiences, the ability to almost infinitely customize their characters before setting to kick ass. And while the campaign is a good introduction for most new to the franchise, multiplayer is definitely going to be what keeps gamers coming back for more.

Replete with all the weapons, equipment and gear to keep you consistently trying something new, one would argue that such a level of customizability increases the odds of a broken, unbalanced multiplayer experience – but this never seemed to surface. The changes, ranging from increasing sprinting speed, shield power, reinforcing armor or weapon damage all offer players the ability to suit their in-game armament to their particular style of play. Serving to tie the experience together, it was fascinating to see how the changes were more than aesthetic or something to make the player feel warm and fuzzy inside, but allow the player to bend their particular character to their playing style as opposed to the game forcing the player to adapt to how it wants you to play.

Beyond this, the game modes outside of the campaign, which included such standards as Deathmatch is really where the game is going to continue shining for players who continue to find themselves attracted to the particular niche that S8: Prejudice appeals. Assault, which was additional content unlocked over the course of play by gamers working together and accumulating kills collectively across PSN, XBLA and Steam.

Speaking of working together, let’s talk about Brink for a few minutes. Despite concerns that the game shipped broken, which in all honesty it did, following a brief update it became a non-issue, finally allowing players to enjoy the damn game. Upon beginning the game, following a somewhat grandiose explanation of why you should care about the Ark and the battle around it, you are asked to pick a side: Rebels or Security Forces.

Ever having a subtle love for order, it was an easy choice to pick Security Forces. I customized the bullet sponge that’d be heading out on missions, checked the controls and jumped in. The campaign had a bit more flavor to it than S8: Prejudice, but only subtly so.

Between both games, the gratuitous use of bots in the campaign – allied or opposing – is blatantly essential to the design philosophies of both titles at the very basic level. Regardless of how ‘life-like’ a particular AI can act, a buzz-phrase since before shooters like Perfect Dark, they still aren’t a match for living, breathing and ultimately vilely creative humans who can outthink, and out-kill, any opposition in their path. Sure, bots are good stand-ins, but it really only serves to create the illusion of a full-game while making the player feel significantly less Forever Alone.

Not that this is either a bad or good thing, but while both games use AI-controlled bots amidst the campaign to create a convincing environment of play, it is beating-off-in-the-player’s-face obvious in Brink. Where Section 8: Prejudice has a more standard FPS campaign feel to it – giving the player the feeling of being a hero with an ally or two in tow – Brink sets out to make gamers feel like one of fifteen other ‘real players’ in an enclosed space, akin to a genuine multiplayer match, which only serves to highlight the glaring issue. Perhaps an unnecessary amount of griping, but for someone who frequently favors single over multiplayer, it is a true-to-life problem.

Purely aesthetic customization aside, the gameplay feels relatively solid when compared to other titles in the FPS crowd, but it fails to distinguish itself to be a standout must-have. The weapons have a decided level of purpose, each killing the enemy as one would imagine it would, but the real glowing part of the experience was the objectives.

Lately, shooters such as Black Ops, have encouraged team-based players to go lone wolf, garnering kills in exchange for screwing over teammates who set out to accomplish objectives. While there are times when straight-up Deathmatch is all too appropriate to getting the full out value, objectives – encourage teams to operate cooperatively towards a higher goal than individual players would otherwise be able to achieve alone – is an appreciable, and almost outright laudable, endeavor on the parts of developers.

Nevertheless, this seems to fall flat on its face, breaking its nose and chipping its teeth when a single human attempts to achieve a fulfilling team-experience amidst Brinks bots. Again, this doesn’t make the game bad, just a soulless purchase for any gamer who lacks the wherewithal desire to play a game online. And that, at the end of the day, is a true disappointment for such an otherwise conceptually interesting game.

Are either of the games fun – yes, but for very different reasons. Where Section 8: Prejudice allows for a full-on all-around amount of enjoyment – single or multiplayer – Brink is a bit of a one trick pony. If you’re looking for something on the cheap that offers a satisfying single or multiplayer experience, then Section 8 will definitely keep FPS fans who’ve tired of Halo and Black Ops busy for sometime to come. However, if you’re looking for something to replace Counter-Strike in terms of exceptional PC multiplayer gaming, Brink tries, but doesn’t come close – but it does offer a welcome change of pace for online gamers.

Brink: 7/10
Section 8: Prejudice: 8.5/10   read

9:08 AM on 06.20.2011

Drew a Conclusion Review: Paper Wars HD

Once in a long while, there comes a game for an otherwise obtuse device that proves it capable of appealing to a community many would have initially suspected it was incapable of performing said task. For the iPad, titles like World of Goo and Infinity Blade have, without actively seeking to do so, have seemingly assisted in pushing the Apple tablet into a tier of the gaming community that is slowly allowing it to begin competing on some level with other handhelds. That being said though, there are other games that only serve to set the device back worse than the Virtual Boy did for Nintendo.

Paper Wars HD is one such game.

Paper Wars HD: Cannon Fodder (iPad)
Developer: iFun4all
Publisher: iFun4all
Released: Mar 28, 2011
MSRP: $1.99

Approaching the game with a modicum of optimism granted me a degree of fortitude that kept me coming back for more despite the games glaring failures – but I chose to press on through those first few hours to see if there would ultimately be something of treasured value beneath an otherwise murky surface, but only found myself feeling stuck in the mud and frustrated.

The high concept of the game is relatively simple. Enemy soldiers of various connotations pour from the side of the screen and the player is tasked with defending their side of the screen from allowing any of them to advance past your digital line in the sand. Suffice to say, there is realistically very little that is new or original here that gaming vets won’t have seen before – and many will be even more disappointed that for all the flagrant imitation being performed, very little of it impresses.

While the formulaic sequence of missions should be enough to justify the purchase, the sheer amount of content seemingly strides to aggravate the player. Even the menus chosen aesthetic are enough to insult the intelligence of even the most discerning gamer with titles being scribbled backwards complete with poorly, backward drawn letters to complete the vile design – a simply slap to your sensibilities before getting into the real grinder of pain that is the campaign.

From the first mission of the first campaign onwards, it’s like being strapped to a rack, the screws being turned with each successive completed level. While there are roughly 25 levels per campaign – each unlocked as you progress through the various missions – it feels about as rewarding as happening upon an additional circle to Hell, minus the company of Virgil to explain what atrocities lay before you.

Most pitifully is the actual in-game components that reek of rushed design processes with emphasis on making the overall design look bad as if it was a niche to be exploited – as if taking the whole ‘it’s hip to be square’ thought process as gospel. Launching shells at the papier-mâché styled enemy infantry lacks any real satisfaction, even with the blood turned on, leaving the player with little motivation to continue shelling the oncoming hordes of troops beyond the game telling you that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. But beyond that, there’s little incentive to push on towards the next level unless you have a militant desire to do so.

Moreover, the power-ups, which can usually pull even the worst of horde-style shooters back from the brink, are a severe letdown. Seemingly random in their underlying implementation, which could have served to add a kitschy degree of amusement to the overall experience only adds yet another major detraction to Paper Wars. Power-ups like tremors and a barrage of random missiles ultimately do little in the way of assisting the player and even on Normal will make veteran players feel unduly overwhelmed by a ridiculous spike in the difficulty curve early on. While this would normally serve to increase replayability, Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder lacks any of the whimsicality that would keep many players coming back for more.

Last but surely not least is the insipid sound design that went into this title. Certainly, the excuse could be made that it earns exceptions being an iPad game, but when World of Goo, Infinity Blade, Angry Birds and even the tablet rendition of the PC classic The 7th Guest are capable of exemplary qualitative audio – there leaves little excuse for other games to not pick up their respective slack. More often than not, I caught myself turning the game down, if not muting it since the whines of what this game interprets combat to be like amidst the repetitively reverb of a poor soundtrack on repeat served little to improve my opinion of Paper Wars. Ultimately, I ended up finishing the game on mute if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity from such relentless ear rape.

Sadly, for what initially appeared to be a silly, raucous romp through a bit of warfare turned out to be nothing more than a major disappointment. Paper Wars had the potential of being something very well executed on paper, pun intended, which could compete with XBLA titles such as Heavy Weapon. Yet, it flounders once put into practice, leaving many gamers at the very least frustrated and at the very most left with nothing more than a smashed iPad. I applaud the attempt of ‘making a bad game that’s so bad, it’s good’, simply because it’s so very incredibly difficult to make a game like that work, if not become a best-selling hit – as proven by Paper Wars – but sometimes it’s better to err on the side of logic that happily illustrates the simple creed that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Better luck next time.

Score: 3/10   read

4:30 PM on 06.09.2011

Drew a Conclusion: Pulse

Music is always one of the few genres of games that have either been significantly underappreciated by a majority of the gaming community or created assembly line style only to be run into the ground by money hungry publishers. Pulse seems to land in the former of the two, but for good reason.

It's only available on the iPad.

While being created only for the Apple tablet doesn't necessarily contribute to the overall quality of the game, it definitely does bar a good number of potential Cipher Prime fans from partaking in the fun. Depite fans of their previous works, Auditorium and Fractal, feeling right at home, it doesn't take much time with Pulse to realize that it just may be the next great game to justify buying an iPad as a mobile gaming platform.

Pulse (iPad)
Developer: Cipher Prime
Publisher: Cipher Prime
Released: May 5, 2011
MSRP: $4.99

If you own any of the three major consoles of the last generation, odds are you've played at least one game to come out of the music genre in the last several years. Whether your preference deviates between Rock Band, Guitar/DJ Hero or even more obscure titles such as Elite Beat Agents it isn't difficult to enjoy the almost universal acceptability of music games. Thus, when Cipher Prime released their latest opus, it was a pleasantly welcomed entry into the iTunes App Store.

A clever twist on the formulaic gameplay that synergistically merges elements found in Gutair Hero and Elite Beat Agents, it harkens on further refined qualites of titles like Rock Band, Ouendon and Tap Tap Radiation. Nevertheless, Pulse stands on it's own incredibly well and proves itself to be unique against many other bland, generic games.

Proving visually unique and graphically appealing, the colors of each level are seamlessly harmonized with the audio, enhancing the gameplay in a very memorable way. Play well, and the sounds and colors remain characteristically vibrant. Play poor, the color washes out and the sound becomes broken and disoriented, beckoning the player to get their head back into the game.

The tutorial level, despite being only 1:07 long, will be a definite repeat affair for many players going back hone their rhythmic skills. It's here that the comprehensive design of the game really shines through, making the underlying gameplay stand out in a very clear way. Utterly, the best foot forward I've seen of a tutorial in a great while.

8 Levels later, each with their own individualized visuals, audible characteristics and clever names (i.e. Sakura, Let's Roll and Porcelain Doll), player will feel statisfied upon their first playthrough as well as with the replayability of each one (because it's doubtful anyone will nail a 100% on each song their first time through). Adding on a bit more each level, the difficulty curve doesn't exactly spike in the most dramatic sort of way, but there are times it almost seems unmanageable to the less experienced player. However, this never feels fun or overwhelming to the point of rage quitting. On the contrary, going back to a prior level, everything feels significantly easier akin to playing a song in Rock Band on Expert and then playing it again on Medium.

With a decidedly low barrier of entry (barring the fact that one needs to own an iPad to play), almost anyone can pick up the game and become attuned to it with relative ease in a very short amount of time - setting out to master it in a matter of minutes - which, odds are, will slowly bleed into a matter of hours.

The touch controls are almost eerily intuitive pending the fact that one doesn't fat finger the touch screen while complimenting the iPad interface very well. At times, Pulse will almost require gamers to set the tablet down on a flat surface as the game will unrelentingly demand the full attention of both hands in the later levels.

Complete with a fun, catchy soundtrack that is just one of the identifying hallmarks of a Cipher Prime title combined with enjoyable gameplay really will ultimately keep players coming back repeatedly, which sets it out to be the next great single-player experience on the iPad.

That being said though, the limited amount of initial levels demanded updated content, to ever expand the few levels in Pulse. And, Cipher Prime wishing to maintain and expand their iPad audience, did just that, which will definitely pay off as more people take the plunge and enter into the tablet market.

Truly, Pulse ends up feeling like a well-crafted game that expands on the puzzle roots of Cipher Prime, bringing them, and their previous works, a bit more into the spotlight as they continue to flex their audiophilic muscles as well as their proven ability to merge gaming and music into consistently great games.

Buy this game: If you own an iPad - otherwise you have no excuse.

Don't buy this game: If you're happier playing any other genre of game and avoid musical anything like the plague. Tone deaf, need not apply.   read

2:02 PM on 06.09.2011

E3 Approaches: Microsoft, A Potential Stumble

Watching Microsoft demonstrate what the world could expect from them, gaming-wise, between now and the next E3 is always an interesting proposition. For some, it’s fodder for their fan boy fueled hatred, while others discover it to be vindication in their belief that Microsoft genuinely has their fingers on the pulse of the gaming community. For many though, this time around, it seemed as though Microsoft was doing everything they could to please everyone and now that the initial shocks have worn, we can only wonder what exactly they were thinking in some cases.

Multiplatform Offerings:

It wasn’t terribly surprising that the press as well as those watching via Spike TV or one of many internet streams were entreated by Microsoft casually opening up by showing off Modern Warfare 3 within minutes of the lights dimming. The game is a flagship title that many players are looking forward to and shareholders are betting on turning a fair profit when it releases towards the end of the year. After all, Activision has impressed upon the world that this is series that can be, and realistically has been, milked into the ground.

Now, I’m not saying that the game looked bad by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, it looked very good under the assumption we can expect more of what made the first two Modern Warfare iterations so widely loved. What I’m simply proffering is that the series really hasn’t truly evolved in an innovative way since the first Modern Warfare hit store shelves, courtesy of a pre-capitulated Infinity Ward, other than the addition of Special Ops cooperative play. If this is the last Call of Duty or even the last Modern Warfare, then all the power to Activision, Sledgehammer and what’s left of Infinity Ward, because they deserve to see it go out with a bang. On the other hand, given Activision’s track record though in regards to many of its franchises, I anticipate we can see CoD further driven into the ground before it goes out with nothing more than a solemn whimper.

Still, Bravo to Microsoft for appealing to what is a major population component on Xbox Live by securing exclusively-timed DLC for Modern Warfare 3 when it hits store shelves this November, but should the game, in the unlikely event, ultimately flop or Battlefield 3 stands up and succinctly drive a wedge between the online community – aptly dividing prospective players between the two – then Microsoft will have bet on the wrong pony and their exclusivity will have meant nothing.

Moving on, Microsoft showed off the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, which was either vastly disappointing or sexually stimulating as hearing muffled porn through your bedroom wall – depending on your particular fetish. The developer, amidst the playthrough, conveyed that the game was going to be a telling of how a 21-year-old Lara Croft sets out upon adventure and becomes the hardened Tomb Raider only gamers familiar with the series when it first premiered over a decade ago would be intimately acquainted. While it seems almost moot at this point, it felt as though this reboot was an avenue for a potential cash-in on the popularity of titles such as Uncharted, but otherwise felt relatively soulless based on my initial impression.

Replete with all the Quick Time Events and insipidly poor female voice acting that you’ll be able to stomach, the demo was closer to watching a once kitschy beloved female character attempt to be reinvented as this fresh faced damsel with a bit of Indiana Jones in her. Feeling almost forced, it eventually becomes difficult to keep track of all the QTEs the game was throwing at the developer holding the controller during the roughly six minute demonstration. What could have been another chapter in the long line of Tomb Raider games heading on a downward slope towards an absolute nadir is instead going to be served up as an entirely new start to a long line of titles, which already look like it’ll be a long desperate climb to mediocrity.

Microsoft Exclusive Offerings:

Stepping out on Stage, Cliff Bleszinski was joined by Ice-T in what may or may not have been the most ridiculous use of celebrity during E3 this year. Showing off a level in the Gears of War 3 campaign, it was sort of what you’d expect from the preceding two Gears – running, shooting creatures big and small and taking cover when circumstances dictated. Now, before you string me up in the town square, it bears mentioning that yes, the game looked great and if you loved the previous incarnations, you’ll already be sold on the third in the trilogy. But, it just seemed to me that Gears of War 3 doesn’t have the same kind of heavyweight status as a certain other blockbuster franchise.

Speaking of which, Microsoft showed off more Halo. While we can’t expect a Bungie-crafted Halo anytime in the near future, we can look forward to the next best thing this holiday season. The original Halo, dubbed “Halo: Anniversary” will be arriving in stores in time for the Christmas season. Remastered in the Halo: Reach engine, Halo: Anniversary appears to definitely going the lengths to reinvigorate the decidedly strong love many fans have for the original. Complete with Xbox Live co-op, online multiplayer and bringing many fan-favorite maps back to bear, Halo: Anniversary seems to be a somewhat decent offering for zealous Halo fans, at least until 343 and Microsoft Game Studios can get something else out the door next year.

Next appeared an almost shockingly overwhelming amount of Kinect content, giving the definitive impression that now that Microsoft has secured the more relaxed slice of Xbox 360 gamers they’ll be going after the deeply embedded segment of the gaming community. Much seemed to cater to the die-hard Xbox 360 owners and while some look great theoretically, it’ll nonetheless be exceedingly interesting to see how the integration of core gamers accept Kinect functionality.

Mass Effect, showing off voice commands that seemed to work flawlessly in-game harkened back to Tom Clancy’s EndWar, which purveyed the use of the Xbox Headset to give orders to on-screen units with a relatively advanced level of seamless play. While a step in such a direction will leave many on uneven footing, even outright uncomfortable with the idea of utilizing this feature in-game, it looks like a reassuringly cool alternative to issuing movement commands via the previous methodology of the two prior ME titles. Suffice to say, Bioware did their homework and in this case, it really shows.

On a more superfluous level, the latest Ghost Recon showed off what can only be described as a Minority Report style armory. Allowing players to endlessly customize their weapons using voice commands such as “Long Range”, “Close Quarters” or “Randomize”, Ubisoft was more than happy to show off the almost infinite amount of creation that could go into a player’s weapon, being sure to note that potentially, no two weapons would ever be alike in game. Shooting seemed uncomfortable – not for the fact that there isn’t a weapon to hold – but because it just seemed unnecessary when placed next to a comparably good controller.

Perhaps most disappointing was the unveiling of Fable: The Journey. Seemingly gone is the whole “setting out to do whatever you wish while becoming the Hero of Albion” sort of thing, only to be replaced by something significantly worse. I don’t what the illness seems to be with developers trying to force the, so far, hit-and-miss integration of Kinect into more mainstream titles, but from what Molyneux and the Lionhead crew showed off during the Microsoft E3 Conference, it’s an understatement to say it was less than impressive.

A brief aside, the new Forza was shown, complete with a track from Kayne West. But it was a preview trailer that didn’t really go the lengths to show off what we can expect when the game finally revs its engines to hit stores in its final form. Certainly enough, it’ll have full Kinect integration, but the jury is still out on how popular that will be with Forza’s particular hard-line slice of the Xbox 360 crowd.

From there, it only seemed to become a disappointingly downward slide. Microsoft set out to try and continue convincing everyone that they have a stranglehold on a market the Nintendo Wii took years ago. Showing off sequels to original titles like Dance Central 2 and Wii Kinect Sports 2, the modus operandi for Microsoft regarding Kinect this year appears to be that if people liked it once, they’ll like it again. It was utterly disenchanting to watch them go through the motions.

Perhaps the only redeeming title, unveiled by none other than Tim Schafer, who stood by as an awkwardly stereotypical father-son pair played, was a Sesame Street title currently being developed for the Xbox 360 peripheral. Stepping into the digitized figures of Elmo and Cookie Monster, the pair played and watched their on-screen avatars do as they will, having a moderately enjoyable experience all the while – perfect sort of game for anyone with children. Admittedly though, the nostalgia factor for many who happily remember their days growing up watching the program is a key point of popularity for this game, nonetheless, time is definitely going to tell as it draws closer to release.

Going on, Microsoft showed off additional functional Kinect integration and what we can all expect from the, yet again, New Xbox Experience. Bing integration with Xbox Live was laughably received with absolutely zero applause while other features, such as YouTube pairing with the online service was met with audience approvals. UFC will additionally be receiving its own functionality, garnering an almost superfluous level of latitude similar to what ESPN got when it arrived on Xbox Live. Again, the best saving grace was the arriving ability to use the Xbox 360 to watch and DVR live television, which should bump whoever has a Tivo over the edge into finally buying a 360.

Beyond that, it was surprising how much Microsoft seemed to just get up there this year and flop around like a fish for two hours. Certainly, they showed a few interesting new additions to the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, proving that they have the capacity to adapt and change to whatever Microsoft wants it to be during a particular year, but with that evolution, it still feels like Microsoft is trying to please everyone on the gaming side of things.

Yet, showing a majority of Kinect and saving Halo 4 for the last was perhaps the best move they could have made, a teaser is just showing that 343 is indeed working on something and for the time being Halo: Anniversary is there to satiate your vicious fan-rage. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Microsoft even has the imaginative capacity to homebrew a new hit series that can meet or even top the laurels that Halo is now, in all essence, resting upon. But, since the next Halo kicks off a new trilogy, I guess we’ll have to wait a few years to find out.

Thus, while Microsoft didn’t bomb E3 this year, they didn’t really go too far out of their way to impress with anything that one would call revolutionary. Gears of War, Forza, and even Halo all made expected appearances, leaving little to blow the minds of those wanting to see something genuinely new. While it doesn’t seem that Microsoft is hurting as a developer or publisher, it feels like they did nothing less than phone it in this year – dumping their offerings on stage with a minutia of excitement and expecting us to eat it up like swine at the trough. Well, if nothing else, it gives us something to look forward to next year, right?   read

1:35 PM on 05.05.2011

Mini-Games: A Torrid Affair

It was an unusually warm spring day as my brother, grandfather and I packed into a Champaign-colored Buick setting out on a road trip down to Florida to spend a week of spring break with family. Being nine, I had little interest in the scenery, instead focusing my attention on the Game Boy clutched in-hand as I continued playing through Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I had quested to every corner of the map, searching in whatever direction I sincerely believed would get me to the next progressive step. However, that was before my attention would become diverted for the entirety of that drive, altering my gaming perception in a very lasting way.

The Trendy Game, a relatively simplistic game that was more timing than anything else, most likely deserves the brunt of the blame for what would become my addiction. 10 rupees and I could win items the likes of which I could only dream about. In my youthful mind, it almost felt like cheating, except in the best way possible since the game was allowing it. How could I lose?

Becoming completely derailed from questing any further and I spent the entirety of the drive down to Florida with my eyes firmly affixed to my Game Boy. When we stopped for the night to sleep, the final moments before dozing off saw me exiting the Trendy Game house so I could save and head back in when I woke up, ready to play again after resuming my save. It didn’t matter if we stopped to eat, I would save and go right back to it. Even my batteries dying saw me groping for spares, right up to taking them out of other devices I’d brought along on the drive.

The thrill of nabbing new items or even more rupees had a dissonantly addictive draw for me. It didn’t matter if I’d won them a hundred times already, I wanted more. Magic powder, bombs and rupees were just a few of the things that caused me to refine my timing to a well-honed skill. Eventually, the batteries on my Game Boy ran out and as we arrived in Florida, I put the handheld aside. Yet, the damage had been done – the Trendy Game acted as a gateway drug for mini-games – and to this day, I still haven’t finished Link’s Awakening.

For a bit, it seemed like the desire had subsided. Games came and went and I had little issue sitting down, playing through a game in its entirety without being derailed and moving on to the next subsequent title after a visit to Best Buy and a small dent in my allowance savings. This, of course, was before Final Fantasy VII hit store shelves.

Having never played a Final Fantasy game prior, it seemed natural for me to check the game out. My friends had been talking about it, every gaming magazine seemed to love it for one reason or another, so it seemed all too natural for me to tip my toe in and see what the fuss was about. It was like dumping a junkie into a fully-stocked meth lab.

Certainly enough, the plot had everything American gamers had known and loved about Final Fantasy games since the original. And while I won’t disparage that, enjoying the narrative in my own particular way, I once again found myself forsaking plotline for obtuse poignancy. After all, to simply say that there was a veritably cornucopia of mini-games doesn’t quite do justice to either the words ‘veritably’ or ‘cornucopia’. All things aside, there was a Scrooge McDuck amount of mini-games for me to enjoy the hell out of and that’s exactly what I did.

For a game that could easily bleed away days worth of time, I happily exchanged my summer vacation sleeping hours for another crack at any of the mini-games Final Fantasy VII happily proffered. Defending Fort Condor was my first introduction to tower defense, which is still a save on my PS-X memory card to this day simply for the effect of my desire to occasionally replay the experience. The gym squats at the Wall Market additionally had a desired effect of getting me to see how many I could do before time was up – an act that almost caused me to destroy my only Playstation controller at the time from trying to press the buttons too hard and fast. Once I arrived at the Golden Saucer though, all bets of me getting to the final duel with Sephiroth were undisputedly off.

A Disney World level of entertainment was what spelled out my extended stay at the Golden Saucer. Sephiroth and the rest of Midgar could wait, I had Chocobo races to win, Speed Square to play and couldn’t sink enough time into getting the utmost fun out of Wonder Square.

Regardless though, it wasn’t so much a conscious decision to avoid the story that was laid out before me, so much an urge to relish in the little games within the overarching world that my character and party inhabited. To me, it felt as though I had been seated at a buffet without a time limit and was going to get my fill.

Eventually though, I moved on towards the end of game. The final battle with Sephiroth came and went without much fanfare in my mind. Yet, I consistently loaded saves from various mini-games, just to go back and give them another go – even to this day.

Then Mario Party released and it seemed like Nintendo had set out to make a game just for me.

I was immediately and hopeless hooked. In an age when other kids were playing Goldeneye and Star Fox 64, I would bring my copies of Mario Party and its sequel over to friend’s homes, complete with four controllers. Evenings would fade into weekends as the only break between the mini-games was a rolling of digital dice and moving on a board game styled playing area. It didn’t matter who ultimately won or lost, it was just all about playing the next little game. Free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, or 3 vs. 1, each game had its own personality that brought a distinct flavor of genuine fun to the overall experience.

I developed a taste for games I enjoyed and would half-heartedly venture into the ones I didn’t. But whether I was playing them alone or had coaxed a friend or two into joining me, I always felt a tinge of excitement at the uncertainty of what the next game would be – and that was more than enough to continue pulling me back in for more with each successive game.

Even as additional iterations of the game released, numbering ever higher, I would find myself glancing at them when looking at other newer titles. Picking up Mario Party 2 saw me buy the sequel. Before I knew it, I had brought home Mario Party 4 and 5, even playing them on my Wii to this day. Unfortunately though, I built up a resistance to Mario and his endless need to always have another party. The game stopped being fun after 6 and despite giving each consecutive game a shot, they just didn’t offer the same high anymore.

It was then that I found the next superlative mini-game experience in the form of WarioWare. While the mini-games weren’t as long as those found in titles I’d played previously, they did live up to the name – short, challenging and seemingly endless. Sometimes silly, occasionally embarrassing but always fun, WarioWare offered an almost Zen-like mini-gaming experience. Regardless of playing alone or with others, it seemed like there was no short supply to the wacky nirvana.

I snatched up both the Wii version and keep the DS title, Touched!, with me wherever I go. Whenever I have a few minutes to kill or am stuck commuting long distances for my day job, I still relish in taking the time out to spend a few minutes playing mini-games that vary from petting a dog to picking a nose. But it’s the complete and utter disregard for any sort of seriousness I suppose that I’ve enjoyed the most – especially in the hustle and bustle of a day in a business world that regularly demands such a solemn demeanor – WarioWare acts as a small island paradise amidst turbulent, shark-infested seas.

Still, this shouldn’t discount mini-games encapsulated in larger, more ornate game worlds.

Take for instance the now perennial hit Bioshock. While the game was replete with some of the best first person shooter and RPG elements, allowing you to mould and change your character as you see fit amidst a rich, deep story – I found no greater thrill than hacking everything in sight. In fact, I would usually divert myself away from just about any objective at hand to do just that.

It could, of course, be argued that I wasn’t so much hung up on my desire to hack things as suffered an innate desire to play Pipe Dream, there was little left to turn over to my use by the time I completed the game initially. Although, I still have the urge to go back and play through Bioshock again whenever I get the particular itch to do so, other games have since come along that appease my desire for small achievements.

Progressing onwards into Fallout 3, along with the many bits of DLC to come after, I found myself enthralled in the post-apocalyptic Wastelands surrounding Washington D.C. Again, the narrative, characters and setting all created an ideal world that any player would be happy to explore, shape or simply destroy. And yes, again I found myself thrilled with the little things.

Despite being engrossed in everything Fallout 3 had to offer, I still couldn’t repress my grin when I was picking a lock or hacking a computer. Small potatoes, I know. But, what it boiled down to, as far as I believe, was a desire to relish each and every small accomplishment that the game would afford me.

Happening upon a locked box, I would grit my teeth and bite my lower lip as I slowly turned the thumbsticks as if I was hunched over a box fiddling with a lock pick in reality. Rotating them slowly, I would anxiously watch the onscreen indications – waiting with baited breath and wondering whether my lock pick would break or if I’d be presented with a satisfying click as the box opened. Besides picking locks, hacking, which many would consider filler on the level with driveled minutia offered me a compelling, enjoyable challenge.

Realistically, it was merely selecting the right password on the screen, and not as if I was doing any real work, so to speak. But the act of guessing, feeling out and finally selecting the right answer before being granted access to the faux-computer system garnered a satisfied smile each time I pulled it off. And conversely, angrily reloading a save when I failed. So, despite being a game embedded into the greater realm of the Fallout universe, I nevertheless discerned a great deal of fun, real or perceived, from the mini-games despite being eclipsed by an overall larger game in a succinctly bigger world.

My most recent addiction has been the simple act of mining in Mass Effect 2. Now, the game has been available for quite a bit of time, a sequel has not only been announced, but a release date set for next year. As I’ve stated previously, the oddity at being obsessed with such a minor component of, albeit, a massive game seems trivial, but my endless enjoyment of it hasn’t been bested yet to progress onwards with the engaging story.

Admittedly, for all the unrequited love I have for the original Mass Effect as well as its sequel, I’ve found myself going back to the mining, similar to my constant need to explore planets in the predecessor title. Simply enough, one scans a planet to determine where the most of a particular raw material are, launches a probe into the vicinity, acquires minerals and repeats. I can’t ever seem to acquire or use enough probes to make me want to move on with the rest of the story, which I have a feeling is pretty good, if I ever get to it.

All the same, perhaps in my love for mini-games, be they great, good or simply mediocre, there is an appreciation for the little things, which in the face of ever-realistic graphics, sprawling worlds and more players crammed into an environment, that admiration of detail is all the more important. Looking back on that road trip, sitting in the car, breathing stale air conditioning and intent on winning everything I could, as often as I could in the Trendy Game, I was imbued with a sense to stop and smell the proverbial roses for a moment, anchoring myself against the torrential push to beat a game and move on. Either way, I can only imagine what the next addiction will be.   read

10:26 AM on 04.06.2010

XBLA Review: Scrap Metal

Fifteen years ago a small company called SingleTrac began designing a game that would be the delicious brainchild of the ever irrepressible David Jaffe and Scott Campbell and would change how we looked at racing and combat as video game genres forever. Sure, other games like R.C. Pro-Am and Mario Kart had done it before, but this was a darker, edgier twist that the gaming community really hadn't been privy to until the moment Twisted Metal hit the shelves. Springing forward a decade and a half will cause you to remember that there hasn't been a Twisted Metal in years that was capable of receiving critical acclaim like the original and it's first sequel, Twisted Metal 2. If ever there was a game that reminds of us this fact, it is without a doubt Scrap Metal.

While the narrative is forgettable and the characters can't hold a candle to the eeriness that Sweet Tooth perpetuated, the game is not without respectable merit. Players make their way through circuit after circuit, competing in races, one on one matches against boss characters as well as demolition derby-style deathmatches against relatively uninspired AI. Throughout, you'll be able to upgrade you vehicle's armor, speed, weapons as well as purchase turbo boosts, which can additionally be replenished picking up a barrel mid-race.

Giving players the option to utilize up to 20 different vehicle customization lends players to believe that with such vast amounts of various permutations that ultimately no two cars could ever possible be alike. However, the more you play, the more money you earn and eventually will seize upon a Scrooge McDuck amount of funds allowing you to purchase the best upgrade to your hearts content. After all, when everyone is the same, no car is ever really different. But the grind to get there isn't half as noticeable as you'd think and the package in its entirety is relatively solid for a single-player experience. The only real issue is that Scrap Metal feels just like that, superfluous at times. If I had to put the feeling the game purports into words, it would be that the game lacks a soul.

True enough there is a solid level of multiplayer here, but the Demolition Derby and King of the Hill will, given enough time, wear out their welcome like a bad set of tires and no amount of rotating them will save it. On the other hand, there is another multiplayer type that gave me a slightly fuzzy feeling as it hearkened back to the earliest days of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit and genuinely seemed interesting. But at the end of the day, finding people to play with proved to be a more trying exercise and I was forced to capitulate in a sheer act of frustration.

The only glaringly huge issue in regards to the mechanics was the lack of consistency with the controls. As soon as you got the hang of driving a vehicle, you'd immediately unlock a new vehicle and have to learn how to drive all over again or stick with something that, while you could drive exceptionally well, ran the risk of being outperformed by the AI or other players you were racing against. It's like dating a girl and as soon as you figure out everything about her, a new one falls into your lap. There's some good with every bad I suppose, but you get the point.

The game isn't terrible by any solitary stretch of the imagination, nor does it jerk itself off to the stratosphere of greatness. It's an interim title that exists more as a proof of what Slick Entertainment is capable of than anything else. Serving as a stepping stone to something bigger and better certainly leaves me curious what their next project would be. As Scrap Metal doubtlessly serves to fill a vehicular combat void that persisted on Xbox Live until this title saw the light of day, it does go to say that Slick saw a gap and filled it quite well.

Final Score: 7/10 (C)   read

11:35 AM on 03.03.2010

Toy Soldiers: A Surprise Attack of Fun


World War I was incorrectly labeled as, “The War to End All Wars”, but rightly so. It was when all the various technologies emerging at the turn of the century suddenly became used for warfare and while history buffs might find that fact interesting, the soldiers in the trenches at the time, probably not so much. Toy Soldiers allows you to play from the standpoint of a war between World War I era toys. Taking up the mantle as either the Germans or the British forces, the game immediately tosses the player right into the mud for a vast view across No Man’s Lands.

Noticeably attempting to fill the role of a tower defense title, Toy Soldiers easily accomplishes this mission with grim efficiency. From the onset of the introductory level, the game has a design that belies its initial underlying simplicity. Players place sandbag surrounded weapon nests on either large or small positions to defend the routes leading to their toy box, which they then must prevent enemy troops from entering. This is intriguing as certain weapons have one of two differing size requirements. A machine gun nest, for instance, can be placed on either a large or small weapon spot. Conversely, an artillery piece or anti-aircraft gun can only be placed on a large terrain position. Thankfully, the game denotes the positions capable of accepting what weapons quickly and easily without leaving any room or doubt.

In addition to the mere placement of weapons, completing levels in the campaign progressively unlocks upgrades that will definitely come in useful. These can be anything from a level 2 machine gun that has a bit more power to allowing an artillery piece to fire clear across the map. Also, while the game doesn’t immediately make it clear, you can alter what direction certain weapons face prior to placing them to maximize the effect of kill zones the player can create utilizing barbed wire to slow down enemy troops. And while this would be enough for any tower defense aficionado, Toy Soldiers takes it a step further.

By placing your cursor over a gun position and selecting it, you have a few options. Repair and sell are self explanatory, however you’ll rarely sell a position unless you need to place a different weapon as the endless stream of enemies will keep you well-funded. Upgrade, which enables you to do just that up to level 3 making that weapon in particular exceptionally deadly to the charging enemy toys. Last but doubtlessly not least is the ability to assume command of a unit, utterly setting Toy Soldiers apart from its predecessors.

The first time I took control of a machine gun nest in the face of oncoming enemy infantry, it felt awkward and slow. But by about two levels in, I had grown accustomed to the controls and speed and was able to mow down entire waves by myself. Practice did, in fact, make perfect. This extends to all the weapons available, allowing you to take control of poison gas teams as well as artillery pieces bombarding the battlefield from afar. As a slight aside, when holding down the right trigger, it will follow the fired shell to its destination, which I only mention because I caught myself doing it repeatedly throughout the course of the campaign – it just never got old. Progressing through the campaign though will unlock the ability to make your way out for the trenches.

For instance, the first time you find your base the subject of a bombing raid by enemy aircraft, you can assume command of an anti-air gun, place several of them and hope for the best or jump into a bi-plane and shoot them down yourself. At first striking me as nothing more than a quirky, tacked-on mechanic, I couldn’t stop doing it once I got the hang of flying. Anyone who previously played Crimson Skies on Xbox will feel right at home swerving through anti-air fire and scoring a few kills against the Kaiser. Eventually, you’ll find yourself able to fly bombers, bi-planes or drive tanks into the midst of enemy charges. No matter what the challenge, it never felt unmanageable in a way that made me feel as though the game was merely using quantity to overwhelm.

The levels ultimately felt well-thought out and exceptionally designed to allow players to relish in the arcade-feeling of shooting masses of enemies and drop artillery on them while still remaining aware that something could slip by them and make it into the toy box. Conversely, the game encourages players to continue placing weapon positions, upgrading them and striving to repair them as each level ends with an enemy boss dauntlessly making their way towards your toy box.

Replay value definitely stands out as this is probably one of the best arcade games I’ve played on the 360 in a while and will keep going back to for a good time to come. The overall gameplay truly is an amount of whimsy fun mixed with genuinely compelling gameplay in a fashion that works so well that I was utterly surprised. For a game that seemingly came out of nowhere, it was definitely a hidden gem. For those still on the wire, not sure whether to charge forward or not the demo is currently available on Xbox Live and even at 1200 points is well worth the price.

Final Score: A+ (9.5 / 10)   read

11:44 AM on 02.17.2010

Casual is the New 'Hardcore'


Gamers born in the 1980s have, for most of their lives, been playing electronic games as they’ve evolved into what we have today. While many abhor the use of labels to players such as ‘casual’ or ‘hardcore’, they still persist regardless. A hardcore gamer is easily defined as someone who plays games above all else. While the term may have changed slightly over the years, its definition is still succinctly accurate. On the other hand, there are the casual gamers. These are people who may merely dabble in gaming, enjoy games that may not demand the attention that deeper games do or more to the point merely don’t have the time to devote to gameplay other titles do. As time goes on though, there are casual gamers who play the informal titles they enjoy at the pace of hardcore gamers. Therefore, it becomes arguable that casual gamers are becoming the new hardcore class of the gaming community.

PopCap games are most notably being recognized as the prime purveyor of games that many in the industry have labeled as ‘casual’. Many see these merely as simple mechanics mashed together and shipped out.

However, there is truly a satisfactory amount of depth present. Peggle being one of the simplistic selections currently available in PopCap’s library, it at first seems to lack the profundity to keep any devoted gamer interested. But, the present mechanics combine a casual concept of dropping a ball with puzzle elements to make an astonishingly fun game.


Conversely, games like Bookworm additionally seem to possess elementary qualities, but on further inspection reveal far engrossing fundamentals. Progressing through levels by completing words, it becomes a single-player Scrabble that keeps players constantly playing, learning and expanding there vocabulary to remain plausibly able of obtaining a high score.


Most notably though is Plants vs. Zombies. For everything encompassed in a game where you defend your home from zombies using giant plants that are raised and purchased utilizing sunshine as your currency. A simple mechanic such as tower defense translated to the stellar creation that was PvZ is remarkable in that many of the people asked about the game hardly realize that they are even playing tower defense. Consequently, while it seems these games are at their heart very straightforward, the layering of multifaceted workings continually keeps them fascinating to players.


Games scattered across the internet have additionally changed the way many players examine how they play. Playing a ninja collecting simple squares, N+ is doubtlessly one of the best examples of a game built on Flash that illustrates the uncomplicated gameplay which exponentially adds on new mechanics that keeps gamers absorbed. As the first few levels entice you to fly across the game-space, bouncing off the walls to scale ledges and obstacles, it at first plays very easily. However, as the player progresses, they encounter elements that make the game significantly more difficult. As this can become frustrating to many gamers, it then becomes a balance between the challenge curve and fun factor. Ultimately though, the balance remains proportional enough to keep people playing well past their bedtimes.


Music is another genre that has gone from being a hardcore exclusive space, becoming increasingly accessible to just about anyone. Auditorium is an online only game that utilizes different instruments and generated tones to give gamers an audiophile experience like no other. Starting with a piano melody, the game uses streams of energy that move across the level unobstructed. Utilizing spheres with arrows in them, you can alter the course of the musical energy as well as affect the influence of the sphere itself by expanding or contracting the size of the sphere. Overall an intriguing concept that remains particularly effortless in the first few levels, it develops into a more demanding experience as the player advances.


The up and coming outlet for casual games on the internet though is the social networking website Facebook. Games like Farmville, Mafia Wars and Bejeweled Blitz all demonstrate easy amusement that is capable of existing inside a social networking site viewed through a browser. While the prospect of browser-based games, especially those made accessible by navigating to a site primarily based on the prospect of social interacting is an interesting diversion.

While you may not necessarily go to Facebook with the intent of playing these ‘games’, they stand the real possibility of pulling you in and keeping you busy for an infinite amount of time. Adding insult to injury, friends on the site are capable of, rather easily, inviting you to play the game with you and in most cases are rewarded for doing so. While these are debatable as far as the industry and community are concerned in regards to worthwhile experiences, the ability to reach out to such a massive audience will ultimately see these games created, released and supported for an indeterminate amount of time.


Interestingly enough though, online services provided by the big three game publishers have additionally grown in appeal amongst the casual crowd as time has gone on and remain continuously popular. Titles on Xbox Live such as Geometry Wars and Hexic have opened the door in a very significant way for casual gamers to get their foot in the door towards what could be considered more ‘hardcore’ titles.


But what is consistently fascinating is that gamers, regardless of their walk of life consistently continue to play regardless of difficulty. If the game interests them and has a genuinely interesting quality about it, odds are the person in question will keep playing. For my part, my mom is currently playing Farmville relentlessly and constantly tries to recruit just about anyone she can get her hands on to play the game with her. My sister-in-law recently got hooked on Brain Age and it’s sequel with her interest constantly expanding. Finally, my girlfriend is playing through Might & Magic on her Nintendo DS and is expanding her repertoire as I keep offering her new titles to keep her interest constantly piqued.


What it essentially boils down to is that casual gamers keep purchasing and playing the casual games made by independent developers or ‘side-projects’ of big name creators that enable to continue making the big name games that the ‘hardcore’ continue to know and love as the days go on. So, it could be arguably a symbiotic relationship between the casual and hardcore titles and gamers in the community. Thus, as long as people keep playing, the ability to maintain the industry as a whole via easier or difficult titles ensures that there will always be a steady stream of new games with content that players, regardless of how much time they put into their gaming lives, may have never seen before. Thus, casual titles serve as a means to an end in regards to hardcore or triple AAA games constantly creating circumstance where casual gamers have the potential to always become hardcore.   read

10:22 AM on 02.16.2010

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond Lacks Humor; Disappoints

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Released: January 6, 2010
MSRP: 1200 MS Points / $15.00

Gamers growing up in the mid-eighties have finally aged to the point of being well positioned to receive a Monty Python-esque video game and Matt Hazard sets out to do just that. In Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard players were introduced to out-of-shape, over the hill video game hero Matt Hazard. While the game wasn’t the most spectacular title the video game had ever seen, it was in its lack of taking itself seriously that made the title stand out and overall enjoyable to play without standing to be overly memorable. Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise when D3 Publisher set out to bring Vicious Cycle Software’s Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond to gamers on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Discarding the 3D elements in favor of 2D side-scrolling with slight 3D portions is the first and most obvious divider between the 2 games. Once the first level loads, it feels almost like a knock-off version of Shadow Complex; however this is merely where its faults begin. Eat Lead offered gamers something they had never seen before in the form of being a self-aware video, Blood Bath and Beyond seems to struggle with this as a lot of humor fades in the first few levels. Spoofs are all well and good, but from the first level on, it seems to taper off and feel a lot like Contra. For a game that utilizes so much humor, it seems to drop off from having an interesting narrative early on. You don’t really care about Matt Hazard anymore than you did in his previous title. Eventually the game merely breaks down to what the designers decided to parody.

Despite the downfall of a forgettable story, there are a few pluses to the game. The controls are relatively smooth, feeling clunky very rarely. I only garnered genuine frustration from the controls about one in ten times, but when that one time does happen, you’ll notice it and hate the game a little bit more for it. One should also take into account that there being only 3 difficulty settings (Wussy, Damn This is Hard and Fuck This Shit) makes the game accessible for just about anyone looking for a quick shooter fix. Additionally, a co-op component opens up the possibility of going through this with a friend and that is never a bad thing.

Overall, I wish I could convey more about what I saw playing through Blood Bath and Beyond, however I felt the game really didn’t do its 3D equivalent any justice. If this game had released as a regular shooter, independent of the Matt Hazard name, I would tout it as competently designed. But it feels like something is lacking and I still can’t put my finger on it. My largest complaint comes from the fact that more often than not, it felt like the designers spent more time trying to come up with things being funny and left the important things like level and enemy design fall by the wayside. With a decidedly lacking replay value ever-present, running through a level, slaughtering just about everything in your path and picking up the occasional power-up are all the game really does in an acceptably satisfactory manner.

The underlying problem remains that the game, in an attempt to be funny and not take itself seriously suffers from a lack of quality, which it tries to play off as being funny. But this ends up only being frustrating for gamers when better shooters have been out for a significantly longer span of time like Shadow Complex and Pixeljunk: Shooter. The game is fun without being memorable or coming off as unique since Eat Lead already did it conceptually and despite lacking production values, did it far better. It doesn’t seem like a really worthwhile buy at about 1200 MS points and for now seems like a game that is comfortable not taking itself seriously to the point of being okay with being mediocre.

Here’s hoping the next Matt Hazard title ups the ante a bit.

Final Score: 6 / 10 (D-)   read

3:30 PM on 01.21.2010

Why I Game - Part I

We all have our reasons for gaming. Some play to escape the drudgery of an otherwise stressful day. Others might play because they want to enjoy the game as a work of art. Many do it just for the fun of it. But for me, I was raised on it for more than my part.

Video games have always been a huge influence in my life. Whether they’re aware of it or not, there are also many people in my life who served to further my interest with electronic games. Throughout my life, in one way or another, people have seemingly contributed to my appreciation of games far more than other factors ever could.

This one goes out to my Grandfather.

I couldn’t tell you when my Grandpa was born or what his childhood was really like because him and I never discussed it and admittedly my memory isn’t perfect, which in hindsight I really regret. If there is one thing I will always remember about him, it’s that he got things done and encouraged the same quality in me.

When I sat down in front of the Atari 800XL in his office, he showed me how to put the disc in, the commands to boot it, load the game and make sure the controllers were connected so I could play. He showed me once. That was always his thing.

He only spoke once.

If we were running through the house pushing each other near the top of the stairs, Grandpa would gently stroll out of his bedroom, look each one of us in the eye, hold up his index finger and ask us what it meant. We would giggle, but he would remind us that he only spoke once and to knock it off. We never did find out what the consequences were.

I tried to stay out of as much trouble as possible though being attached to that Atari by the controller. I played so many of my first PC games on there that they still remain tattooed on my brain to this day. The first time I was ever exposed to classics like Ballblazer and Archon, both of which I still remember to this day thanks to my Grandpa.

As time went on though, technology evolved compelling Grandpa to purchase a PC. It was a 386 - laughably slow by modern standards - but my Grandpa was never too busy to sit me down and show me how to navigate Windows 3.1 or a DOS prompt. I’m still convinced to this day that I ended up a system administrator because of his patience in teaching me. But as always, there were the games.

Being of early age, I was exposed to the normal round of games. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is probably still one of my favorite titles to this day. Additionally, in conjunction with the time-traveling incarnation in the series, my Grandpa made me fall in love with history, geography and the many varied cultures of the world. The man made me enjoy learning and I didn’t even know he was doing it. Yeah, age does have it’s points of wisdom.

As I played through the games haphazardly fast, there was one game I constantly went back to and the game I single-handedly blame for my lifelong love affair with puzzle games. The Castle of Dr. Brain wasn’t the greatest puzzle game ever created. All the same though, it was still damn fun exploring the castle and solving the different puzzles that actually require you to be somewhat intelligent. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve beaten the game on easy, medium and difficult, but if there is anything I’m sure of, it’s that I’ve played through that game at least once a year for the last eighteen. In doing so, I’ve downloaded Dosbox countless times so I can emulate the game on whatever latest PC I happen to be running at the time. If you want to play it nowadays though, you may have to find the image of the code sequencer grid. Back in the old days before DRM, that’s how it was done and heaven’s knows I’ve hunted for the copy of that damn grid more than once. Thankfully though, my Grandpa made multiple copies for me.

Once Sega released the Genesis, ever kid on their block had to have one and my Grandparents did eventually buy me one for Christmas in 1989, but there was just one problem, I was young and broke. If there was one thing I came to realize about games is that there were always too many and not enough money for me to buy them all. However, there were always chores to be done.

I will say this right now, anytime I hear someone complaining about cleaning a house, I just ignore it. After cleaning my parent’s house and then my grandparent’s for the sake of earning whatever money on top of my allowance, it’s hard to get any sympathy from me. Every time a new game would come out, I would work for whatever money I could get my hands on after begging them to just outright buy it for me failed. That and it was always a sobering experience when one of my graphs depicting the ‘fun over time’ I would be having wasn’t exactly selling them on purchasing the game for me. More than once though, Grandpa would just take me to the store and buy a game for me and I would quietly owe him.

When it came time to get the Christmas decorations out of the crawlspace, the boat to get cleaned in the spring, leaves needing to be raked, dishes had to be washed, and lawns needed to be mowed. Believe me, my Grandfather worked his ass off all his life and there was nothing he was quicker to impart into my brother and cousins than the value of a dollar.

The last game my grandfather bought for me before I was deemed too old for toys and games (I would just get cash for my birthday, Christmas, my theoretical bar mitzvah that never happened because I’m not Jewish) was Mortal Kombat. My family didn’t object to my owning this title for two prime reasons. First, they all spent enough time with me to know I wouldn’t go and tear someone’s heart out. Second, my grandparents would be keeping the game at their house. It was an insurance policy. But the first time my grandmother beat me as Sonya, that was a rude awakening (She can actually still hand my ass to me in Columns, my point is, be wary of the elderly).

Some days, my Grandpa would just come and sit on the couch next to me as I played. It didn’t matter what I was playing, but he would still ask me about it and listen with a smile while I told him that Turok had to kill the raptors, shaman and hunters because that was what Turok did. He would listen to my ideas about why games were great or why they were stupid and allow me to have an open forum with him. He was the first one to really listen and at the very least try to understand where exactly I was coming from.

He was like my first community blog, except he never trolled.

The only thing he ever asked in return from me was to work hard and do my best in all things.

My Grandfather was an amazing man and what I’ve written here isn’t even a tenth of the influence he had on my life. I just wish I could’ve told him that before he passed away last week.

In the meantime, I remind myself that doing my best is exactly what he’d want me to do.

That's why I game.   read

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