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"I kind of miss the days when games were judged on their game-playing merit alone. I'm a little concerned about how far we (the game industry) are into the licensed four-page-ad marketing blitz era these days, which may be a natural evolution of the industry. But I'm always worried when we put more emphasis on glitz and production values than on the game. That's a trend that looks good for a while until you realize there's no game industry any more. If we don't have gameplay, we can't really compete with other forms of entertainment because we can't do graphics as good as the movie industry and we can't make sounds as well as the recording industry. All we can do that's special to us is be interactive. So we have to hang on to that and make sure we do a good job." - Sid Meier

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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: Linkís 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 didnít 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 Iíd brought along on the drive.

The thrill of nabbing new items or even more rupees had a dissonantly addictive draw for me. It didnít matter if Iíd 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 Ė the Trendy Game acted as a gateway drug for mini-games Ė and to this day, I still havenít finished Linkís 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 wonít 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 doesnít quite do justice to either the words Ďveritablyí or Ďcornucopiaí. All things aside, there was a Scrooge McDuck amount of mini-games for me to enjoy the hell out of and thatís 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 Ė 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 couldnít sink enough time into getting the utmost fun out of Wonder Square.

Regardless though, it wasnít 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 Ė 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 friendís 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 didnít 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 didnít. 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 Ė 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 didnít 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 werenít as long as those found in titles Iíd played previously, they did live up to the name Ė 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 itís the complete and utter disregard for any sort of seriousness I suppose that Iíve enjoyed the most Ė especially in the hustle and bustle of a day in a business world that regularly demands such a solemn demeanor Ė WarioWare acts as a small island paradise amidst turbulent, shark-infested seas.

Still, this shouldnít 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 Ė 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 wasnít 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 couldnít 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 Ė waiting with baited breath and wondering whether my lock pick would break or if Iíd 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 Iíve 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 hasnít 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, Iíve 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 canít 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.
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10:26 AM on 04.06.2010

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)

World War I was incorrectly labeled as, ďThe War to End All WarsĒ, 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 Manís 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 doesnít 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 youíll 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 Ė 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 couldnít 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, youíll 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 Iíve 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)
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Gamers born in the 1980s have, for most of their lives, been playing electronic games as theyíve evolved into what we have today. While many abhor the use of labels to players such as Ďcasualí or Ďhardcoreí, 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 donít 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 Ďcasualí. 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 PopCapís 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 Ďgamesí, 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 Ďhardcoreí 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 itís 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 Ďside-projectsí of big name creators that enable to continue making the big name games that the Ďhardcoreí 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.

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 wasnít 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 Softwareís 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 donít 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, youíll 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 didnít 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 canít 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 doesnít 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.

Hereís hoping the next Matt Hazard title ups the ante a bit.

Final Score: 6 / 10 (D-)

3:30 PM on 01.21.2010

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 theyíre 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 couldnít 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 isnít perfect, which in hindsight I really regret. If there is one thing I will always remember about him, itís 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. Iím 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 didnít even know he was doing it. Yeah, age does have itís 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 wasnít 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 canít even begin to describe how many times Iíve beaten the game on easy, medium and difficult, but if there is anything Iím sure of, itís that Iíve played through that game at least once a year for the last eighteen. In doing so, Iíve 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, thatís how it was done and heavenís knows Iíve 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 parentís house and then my grandparentís for the sake of earning whatever money on top of my allowance, itís 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 Ďfun over timeí I would be having wasnít 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 Iím not Jewish) was Mortal Kombat. My family didnít object to my owning this title for two prime reasons. First, they all spent enough time with me to know I wouldnít go and tear someoneís 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 didnít 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 Iíve written here isnít even a tenth of the influence he had on my life. I just wish I couldíve told him that before he passed away last week.

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

That's why I game.