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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: 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.   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, 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)   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 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.   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 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-)   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 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.   read

4:24 PM on 01.12.2010

Top 10 Games of the Decade

Fair warning: This is a video intensive post. Enjoy

I sincerely believe that while technical achievement and graphical eye candy are all well and good, the thing that stands out succinctly best is when a game is genuinely fun. As artsy as I do enjoy my titles as well, I would enjoy being shown something that just may blow my socks off. But if a game is crazy-awesome in the way it treats me to a good time, then odds are I really wonít be complaining. That being said, I feel Iíve made a succinct introduction to my top 10 games of the last ten years.

10. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando


There are two types of people who owned Playstation 2 consoles; those who like Jak & Daxter and the people who like Ratchet & Clank. I have what I like to call an unhealthy obsession with Ratchet and Clank games. Iím pretty sure because under all the sensible humor and Monty Python-esque science fiction, thereís some genuinely stellar gameplay under there. As memorable as the autochthonous apotheosis in the series goes, Going Commando takes the Platforming genre and merges it seamlessly with the elements seen more prevalently in a role-playing game. For 2003, that was a pretty bold move and it paid off pretty well for Insomniac who, if you havenít noticed, is still fu*king making Ratchet and Clank games. The ability to level up weapons as well as the replay value afforded by the mini-games there in simply took hold as one of the few must-have platform titles since Mario had been on the scene for a bit under a score by then.

9. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan


There are games that you can import and end up blowing a lot of money on a rather terrible gaming experience. Ouendan is not one of those. Probably one of the few titles Iíve ravenously attempted to import after having a brief taste of it on a friendís DS at the time, I still carry it with me to this day. Not only is the game accessible and easy to understand, Iím firmly convinced that the kick ass soundtrack easily supplants the OST of the Americanized version of the game: Elite Beat Agents. Since Iíve always loved seeing how different cultures approach games, particularly the Japanese, this game was an introduction to a love affair thatís only been rivaled so far by the gameís sequel. Notable as the Japanese are for certain wackiness in their games, each song has an individualized story that the Ouendan must arrive on the scene and help the main character through. Few games will make me shell out the money to import and in the last ten years, this and itís sequel were the only two.

8. Metroid Fusion


Samus Aran taught me that girls, under their soft, pink exteriors possess the hearts of badasses, provided of course they are raised by the Chozo. Metroid Fusion taught me that, despite the awesome Metroid Prime possessed being the first 3D Metroid title, Metroid was still first and foremost a 2D side-scrolling franchise and a fantastic one at that. From the moment you dock on the station to the X parasite forming the dastardly SA-X to hunt you down, the game consistently remain fun throughout. Never feeling like a rehash or just something done for the sake of slapping the Metroid name on it, Fusion stands as one of the last great Gameboy Advance titles.

7. Geometry Wars 2


While the first Geometry Wars proved to be the must-play title when it was released, Geometry Wars 2 shattered it by improving all the qualities of the original exponentially. Abandoning the singular retro for the sake of rebuilding the game from the ground up, there is a significant improvement to the mechanics without it feeling like Bizarre Creations was trying to reinvent the wheel. Complete with six modes instead of the original two of the gameís predecessor, there is the constantly one reason or another to go back and play the game. Most importantly though is the persistent high score board for each game mode, glaringly present every single time you play, reminding you of where you stand amongst your friends. I guarantee a fair share of the people who will read this list will own GW2 and even more will have at least tried it once, coaxed into it by an excited friend.

6. God of War: Chains of Olympus


If someone told me that a God of War title would not only be made for the PSP, but actually had the potential to be well done, I wouldíve slapped them in the face and sicked the dogs on them (or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you). Thankfully, the remarkable fact is that the game does exist and not only is it well done; it is kittens-in-a-trebuchet fun. The controls are tight and perfect just like anything thatís fun in life should be and the story overall drags you back in. While not the longest of the God of War titles, it certainly kept vehement Kratos fans busy for a while and still sticks out in my mind as one of the better in the series. Granted, this isnít saying much as all three major titles in the franchise have been Wookiee-tearing-your-goddamn-arms-off incredible and anyone who disagrees should have a word with Kratos. Thanks.

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty


Probably one of the best games of its day if for no other reason than the sheer fact that it is exactly, in most respects, like the original. A prime example of a postmodern game in that, ďpostmodernism refers to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality, in a way that is often indistinguishable from a parody of itself. It has given rise to charges of fraudulence.Ē Essentially, the game forces you to play the events of Metal Gear Solid because Hideo Kojima, in his infinite artistic wisdom, believes that is what equated to a sequel in his mind. Since many gamers took it with critically high praise, there is still a large divergence in the community as to whether or not this game is basically a middle-finger from Hideo Kojima to gamers everywhere.

4. Grand Theft Auto III


Not the best game ever created as far as narrative goes, this was when Grand Theft Auto games were still essentially light-hearted romps with the occasional bouts of ultra-violence on the part of the player. Being one of the first games to create a three-dimensional sandbox world where, upon completion of the introduction, players are able to run wild there is still a significant amount of content to see here even to this day. As far as the lack of noir style that many gangster titles have been synonymous with over the years, the GTA series has never taken itself all too seriously which is one of the qualities that keeps it at its very basic level a damn fun time.

3. Halo


Not Halo 2, which had an incomplete ending. Not Halo 3, which while splendid felt as though something was missing. Not ODST which had that slick, cool jazz feeling to it. The original, unabated Halo. While the game didnít descend from heaven in the way many fanboys would have you believe, it is still amazing in that it showed gamers things they hadnít seen before. The ability to carry two weapons instead of lugging ten machine guns, a shotgun and a rocket launcher or two across a map was a change of pace in that choosing what weapon you were using actually began to matter. Additionally, a sassy AI which has been reproduced more times doing lascivious things across the internet is an image all too deeply burned into my memory. But think of a game which has had as much machinima made about it, had as fan-damn-tastic multiplayer and become a franchise that has more than once kept Microsoftís consoles above water and all answers still lead back to Halo.

2. Eternal Darkness


Dear Silicon Knights,

Stop screwing around with this Too Human bullsh*t and get to work on a next-gen Eternal Darkness!


1. Portal


Everything in the Orange Box is an incredibly stellar buy and if you didnít purchase it in the past decade, youíre not exactly swinging any home runs in the awesome department. As everyone who has played it is aware, Portal is not exactly capable of standing up to say, Dragon Age: Origins regarding length of gameplay. But for what you get, it is a succinctly crafted package that never once leaves you wondering what is going on or wandering helplessly until you bump into an invisible wall. Portal is a complete gaming experience that can be sat down and played by anyone in about three to six hours and that is what makes it so great. Being a classic example of why shorter games are fun, it delivers exactly what it promises to while staying within a relative length, never overstaying its welcome. Being a puzzle title, I have a natural affinity for it, but as a game it otherwise stands head and shoulders above the rest of itís contemporaries as far as Iím concerned. Now if I could just see a sequel before this decade ends, that would be pretty goodÖunless that gets in the way of the next Half-Life, in which case, get back to work Gabe!   read

5:01 PM on 01.07.2010

Alien Breed Evolution Quite Entertaining

There are few times when a Xbox Live Arcade Game has been genuinely able to make me jump when a twinge of fear hits me, however Alien Breed Evolution did it repeatedly. Surrounded by human corpses and under siege as multiple alien creatures burst from walls or burning holes in the floor with all the intent in the world of tearing off you face, the game wastes no time in setting the mood.

While heavily reminiscent of classic science fiction titles along with the survival-horror genre, Evolution has a distinct arcade comportment all it's own. The seemingly lone survivor as the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, you are immediately thrust into circumstances where you either adapt and overcome via superior firepower or get torn to shreds. Immediately noticeable, the controls are extremely smooth. Using the left thumb stick to move and the right to aim, it's a relatively standard formula. However, utilizing the left and right bumpers allows the player to switch the overhead view by 90 degrees. By granting the constant ability to shift the point of view and see from all angles at any given time, it makes the players life significantly easier in terms of gameplay. Additionally, players are able to switch weapons and items by using the directional pad with their uses mapped to the right and left triggers respectively. Naturally, the fluidity in the control allows for players to focus on the two most important factors of gameplay, staying alive and killing everything in sight.

As you progress through the game, you will be tasked with various objectives. In the first level, you must shut down the main reactor to keep your ship from exploding and coincidentally scattering you across space in the form of debris. As you move through the dark corridors, you'll happen upon human corpses that can be searched for health kits and ammunition as well as lockers, save terminals and logs that can be accessed through the PDA, which gives you a bit of backstory on the circumstances surrounding the Aliens. While the game has a distinct Aliens feeling to it, especially with the motion tracker in the upper right hand corner of the screen, I felt there to be a mixture of ambiance from other titles as well. The survival-horror components reminded me, at least visually, of the Dead Space, while the Aliens themselves reminded me of the space station sequence in Starcraft in which Marines are engaged by the Zerg. Furthermore, with the use of Epic's Unreal 3 engine the game does look prodigious for an XBLA title.


Admittedly, the game is a truly fun arcade title and not without moments that make players jump, while being a very fun game to play. Despite possessing a single-player campaign, Alien Breed Evolution also offers a free play mode as well as cooperative gameplay for up to two players to run through and exterminate every single alien in sight. In regards to accessibility, I can't imagine many gamers who wouldn't enjoy playing this title at least on 'Normal' difficulty. However, for those who either fondly remember playing the original on the Amiga or have a taste for a challenge, the Elite mode will definitely keep you busy for sometime and shouldn't be overlooked.

While the game certainly wasn't without flaws, I found them to be a bit more forgivable given the overwhelming amounts of fun I was having with the game. As smooth as the controls were, I felt at times that I didn't have enough fingers to rotate the screen, switch between weapons or items and keep up a constant rate of fire when a swarm of Aliens were bearing down on me. On the contrary, the screen also seemed a bit dark at times allowing me to miss creatures just up until they attacked. While I'm not sure if this is intentionally done or not, I was forced to turn up the brightness on my screen just a bit prior to playing. Otherwise, I found the sound to be more than capable of creeping the hell out of me more than once. Also, the replay value of playing the game on multiple difficulties, hunting achievements and multiplayer potential make it a lot easier to part with the 800 MS points to download the game.

Final Review Score: 8.5 / 10   read

2:42 PM on 01.06.2010

A Belated Top 10 Games of 2009

10. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II


Dispensing with the original formula of base building, Dawn of War II took the stance of kicking ass without having to hunker down first to do it. Taking the role of the silent Space Marine Commander, you slaughter your way through the single-player campaign while taking charge of up to four unique squads of fellow Space Marines. Differing from the original and its expansions Jonny Ebbert, the game's lead designer, best describes the feeling of the title by saying it "takes everything that was great about the original and combines it with the best that Company of Heroes had to offer." While the game can be played cooperatively, going through the campaign alone is nonetheless an engrossing experience. Furthermore, branching battlefields, allowing the player to select the next location in the theatre of war and even, at times, the objectives themselves made for an extremely engrossing experience, which remained ripe with replay value. Essentially giving Warhammer 40K players the PC game they had always dreamed of in the sense that on the tabletop, you donít have builder units, bases or worry about resources. You land, kick ass and sort everything out after. That is how Warhammer works and this is the best possible presentation I couldíve asked for in a game illustrating the awesome of 40K.

9. ĎSplosion Man


For anyone old enough to remember the fun that was to be had with platformers like Super Mario Brothers 3 and the original Sonic the Hedgehog, ĎSplosion Man will seem like someone kicked your ass into a time machine. From the introduction forward, Twisted Pixel created a game that wasnít just full of a lot of humor, but also filled to the brim with enough gameplay to make the MS point cost easily justified. The story isnít especially strong, but the game mechanics easily make up for this and a 2 to 4 player co-op mode guarantees a significant amount of replay value. While the amount of time spent playing is dependent on skill as well as likelihood of utilizing the ďWay of the CowardĒ, this is still a fine game regardless of length. Probably one of the funniest games to premier in 2009 besides Brutal Legend or the remade Tales of Monkey Island, ĎSplosion Man easily takes the cake as one of the best games of í09.

8. Halo 3: ODST


It wasnít the perfect Halo experience that the fanatical Halo zealots have come to expect over the past several years from their beloved Bungie, but the fact that it was so differential from what had come before it is what made it stand out most. Taking the role of an ODST wasnít what players had been used to in the original Halo trilogy. They had become used to playing as the Master Chief, able to leap buildings with a single bound and curbstomp a grunt without a second thought. That was the character we had all gotten used to playing. But when Bungie served up something different, just because they could, it was done remarkably well. Playing through the evening sections of the burnt out New Mombasa played a significant parallel to the daytime sections, which became all about straight up action. It wasnít perfect, but a memorable experience all the same, it earned its place in the top 10.

7. Street Fighter IV


There is always going to be a new fighter for gamers to go bananas over, but what happens when the game that all modern titles in the fighting genre gets remastered for the next-gen consoles? Something amazingly, utterly mind-blowing. Not only was the game redone in a visual style that is graphical eye-candy, it plays well, fast and strong against other titles that premiered in the past year such as Soul Calibur IV and Tekken 6. Not to be outshone, Street Fighter IV consistently proves that it belongs as a fighter and I have a feeling, many gamers will be fluctuating between II and IV for many years to come.

6. Killzone 2


The original wasnít a Halo-killer and neither was the second, but Iíll be damned if this game didnít look as sexy as a Playstation title should. From the introduction on throughout the entire game, it distinguishes itself as one of the few must-have shooter titles on the Playstation 3. While the visual aesthetic is grimy, dirty and extremely bleak, that, my friends, is the visual style of war. Utterly forgotten about in the torrent of excitement up until the release of Modern Warfare 2 and since then, I still think this game definitely sets the precedence necessary for the inevitable Killzone 3 and personally, I canít wait to play the hell out of that either.

5. New Super Mario Bro. Wii


If someone had told me 19 years ago that I would have my childhood packed in delicious nostalgia and resold to me again, I wouldíve called them a filthy liar and punched them in the junk. Well, Nintendo has done it yet again. Following the slew of titles, from Metroid to Zelda and on through Punch-Out, weíve been provided with a Mario title of note before the end of 2009. Bravo Nintendo. In all fairness though, it is a relatively fun game for four-player, regardless whether or not you grew up playing the original source material. Basically, envision Super Mario 3 and New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS and you have this game nailed down pat. Nonetheless, it is undeniably fun and that is what makes it one of my favorites of 2009.

4. Modern Warfare 2


I really donít need to explain this, do I? But, as for its position on my list, it was a well-made game; there is no doubt about that. Infinity Ward knows how to make a good game. They just took a lot of what made the original Modern Warfare amazing and blew it all out of proportion ten-fold. Seriously, it was like turning the entire damn game up to 11 and from the narrative of the campaign to Spec Ops and ultimately the crack-addictive multiplayer, it is absolutely obvious why Modern Warfare 2 has sold, and been pirated, as much as it has.

3. Gratuitous Space Battles


Probably the overlooked strategy game of 2009, I think this game got significantly less love than it deserved. Taking the role of both Fleet Admiral and Engineer, you build the ships, form them up on the line, give them orders and let your captains do the rest. While at first very frustrating for me since I love to micromanage in RTS games, it took a long time for me to actually kick back and enjoy this title. However, once I did, the gratuitously beautiful battles pleased the eye and the strategy aspect kept me ravenously coming back for more. For such a fun game, it deserved so much more acclaim this year but missed it.

2. Plants vs. Zombies


There is an entire genre built around tower defense. People who will sit for hours mapping out strategies and figuring out the best way to utilize their turrets to massive effectiveness before committing to a run-through that invariably ends up on youtube somehow, but this is the genre for those people. Whether this game is for those people or not is relatively debatable. The best part about PvZ is that it is so lighthearted in nature, that few people that Iíve discussed it with whoíve played the game rarely are ever even aware of the term Tower Defense. They just see it as another rich game experience that conceals all the complicated aspects of traditional tower defense for the sake of fun. Sure, Plants stopping Zombies is ridiculous, but itís goddamn fun.

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum


Without a doubt the sleeper hit of the year, this game surprised the hell out of everyone and certainly left enough gamers wanting more to warrant a sequel. Essentially appealing to every male between the ages of 2 and 102, you get to try and fill the shoes of the Goddamn Batman. Not only was this game done well, it was of such high quality that in no short span of time, it became the underdog title bucking for game of the year. I donít know how that happens by accident, but when video game content achieves a quality like this, I can only be left wishing for more accidents than a maternity ward during a power outage. Yes, you can dispute it as a game of the year as there is no perfect game, but as the best comic book hero game, it certainly takes home the cowl.   read

12:42 PM on 01.05.2010

My PS3 Love Affair, Round Two


So, I had a Playstation 3 for a while. It was a saucy little number touting its sweet little 40 GB hard drive. We had our torrid love affair much to the dismay of my Wii and Xbox 360, but in the end, it wasnít meant to be. After waiting with baited breath for something to make the relationship worthwhile, it all fell apart. The underdeveloped Playstation Network, lack of definitive exclusives and overall burdensome appearance meant we were spending less time together as the days wore on. Eventually, I found myself at a Gamestop trading in the system for a DSi, but that is a different story altogether. Ever since the slim PS3 hit the scene, itís been like seeing an old ex, except now more successful than ever. Sheís lost some weight without losing any of the substance than made her sexy in the first place. Sheís also got new friends for us to share a few fun, laughs and good times. Itís difficult to forget the fun you had as the good times easily gloss over the nights when you sat together, watching a movie, wondering if this was all there ever would be in the relationship. However, it seems now, more than ever, that resistance just may be futile and giving things a second go is inevitable.

After spending so much time with my Wii and Xbox 360, I think itís time I got back in the saddle and gave it a genuine shot. While looks arenít everything, itís definitely nice that the slimmer appearance is a bit easier on the eyes, making it difficult to ignore. On top of that, the idea of a built in wireless connection is more appealing than ever with ethernet cables running to both my Wii and 360 for the sake of a reliable connection. A lack of wires always a plus, especially in a house where things have a tendency to be wanting in the aspects of susceptibility to gravity and structural integrity. Also, after being subjected to the Sixaxis for such an extended duration, the desire for Dualshock controllers simply eclipses it in my mind, but that could be fond memories from my days with the PS2 or my sheer hatred of the toy-like Sixaxis. Aesthetics aside though, itís the games that seem to be doubtlessly pulling me back in with the hooks in deep.


Abstaining from saying that this is the time when the PS3 will descend from the heavens, if it hasnít already, the system has actually begun to pick itself up. While it took Sony long enough, it was ultimately just a matter of time as a steady library of respectable games began to slide their way into waiting hands. Granted, there was a time when the offering on the Playstation 3 were a bit underwhelming, which I still think is somewhat of an understatement. But that has changed quite bloody drastically in the past year. Exclusives in 2008 like LittleBigPlanet were what initially drew me in. Of course, when the system was announced years ago, I had to pick it up in the hopes of playing the latest installment of Metal Gear Solid 4 on it, even if the prospect of Metal Gear Online makes my skin crawl. But then again, the original Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty both lacked a multiplayer component and, for the most part, have stood the test of time relatively well. Throw in the original Uncharted with a dash of Resistance and it becomes clear why I initially fell into a quirky romance with the system in the first place. But if 2008 was a bang, 2009 was a nuclear bomb leveling a metropolis. Uncharted 2 graphically is just way too sexy to ignore and the time I have had with the game has been too little to say the least. I hope Sony realizes that they have a system selling studio in Naughty Dog right now and if they donít, theyíre pretty goddamn stupid. Infamous seemingly stands out against Prototype as the exclusive and while I havenít spent more than twenty minutes with it, I get the distinct impression itís one of those titles I probably should be playing until the credits roll. Toss Killzone 2 and Demon Soulís into the mix and those exclusives alone could keep me busy as the days roll casually into 2010.

Speaking of casual, Iíve been keeping an eye on the Playstation Network and the clusterfuck I remember has seemingly fallen to the wayside in favor of something that strikes me as working rather well. Yes, not everything can be perfect, but with the current PSN contributions, it makes it difficult to remain offline. The entire Pixeljunk series has come such a long way that each episode is proving more and more to be a worthwhile purchase. Additionally, the latest episode, Shooter, gives the distinct impression of being a must-have title. While Fat Princess, Savage Moon and Flower are yet more weights on the hooks pulling me back into owning a Sony product, the ability to own classic Playstation titles abounds. Simply said, I canít say no to Resident Evil and Final Fantasy games. It doesnít matter what system theyíre on. If I see them, odds are itíll wind up in my collection if they havenít already. Moreover, the ability to remote play seamlessly with the PSP as well as being able to download the older titles to the system itself is pretty stellar given how boring my ride on the train downtown can get.


For all things packed in the system, there is also that whole blu-ray thing. Given that not every single movie ever will look batshit crazy awesome in blu-ray, Iím still sitting on the fence about this feature, even when I owned the console previously. Sure, if I really needed blu-ray and my heart ached for it, I could shell out about $200-$300 bucks and get one. But, I donít. Sure, Iron Man and Star Trek look goddamn amazing and the Pixar flicks were practically meant to be watched like that, but if I were to watch a few episodes of South Park or just about any film from the late 1970ís or 1980ís on the system, even in blu-ray, I doubt I would notice any real upgrades of any kind to the quality. But just having it, should I want to watch something on blu-ray is a plus, even if all I ever watch on the thing are DVDs. That is besides games.

Games, of course, bring me to my final note and the original reason I dragged my feet on owning a Playstation 3 in the first place, the lack of backwards compatibility in the console. I sincerely think it is, for lack of better terms, cool that Sony is doing what they can to bring all of their older content, such as PS-X and PS2 titles, to the Playstation Network and make them available for download. I also think that I shouldnít have to pay for content I already own physically, just to have access to it in a format in line with Sonyís digital distribution plans. This has perhaps been my greatest point of contention with owning the system. While being firmly convinced that many first time PS3 owners exists and will only play titles designed for that system, I still want to be able to play my Playstation and Playstation 2 titles from the disc if Iím so fortunate to have them. In the meantime, Iím aware that I can still play them on a Playstation 2 and am thankful to still own one in good working order. But, it still feels like Sony is trying to nickel and dime me for digital backward compatibility in the form of charging me for content theyíve already charged me for once during the course of my teenage years. On the other hand, I do have to concede to the point that by utilizing digital distribution, Sony has effectively made games available to players who may otherwise never had a chance to play or own them if not for the PSN. So, it being a double-edged sword, I suppose itíll always feel like Sony is lurking in the shadows, waiting to spank me and my credit cardís respective bottoms raw. But, then again, love does hurt.

So if there is one thing Iím absolutely not a fan of, itís rekindling things with an ex, but I think itís time I gave reconciliation a shot. The Playstation 3 has come a long way from the struggling, crying infant that really didnít know if it was a blu-ray player, family entertainment system or streamlined game console, but it seems to have tightened those ideas up over time. Sony, being the drunkenly disciplining father finally put the system in its place, telling it to step-up and be a goddamn gaming platform. Sure, PS3 had to surround herself with a few pretty games and definitely had to drop a few pounds, but since then, all the boys have been noticing her again. Regardless of all the flaws though, the better times will always seem to shine through, even if itís memories of times with Playstation 3ís two older sisters. But this is the PS3, the young, hot little number that breaks hearts and leaves you wanting more. And while there was a time the system sure as hell broke my heart, after 2009 came to a close, I was definitely left wanting more.

Authorís note: If anyone has any suggestions as to what I should be playing on the PS3 now or how best to get the most out of it as a system, I would be more that happy to hear it. Thanks.   read

11:47 AM on 12.31.2009

First Thoughts - Gratuitous Space Battles

Real-time Strategy has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Ever since I got my first taste of Warcraft 2, I've been hooked and haven't looked back. Cut to the summer of this year as Positech Games releases Gratuitous Space Battles. Taking the role of both Fleet Admiral and Starship Designer, you are tasked with kicking intergalactic ass and taking names.

From the standpoint of design, you are able to fill various starship hulls until they're virtually armed and armored to the teeth. Divided into three classes - fighters, frigates and cruisers - each class has it's decided strength and weakness. By further allowing ships to be filled with components relative to their class, it expounds on the diversity of each ship. Essentially, should the designer choose, no two ships in their fleets ever have to be alike. Additionally, by defeating enemies and winning battles, you receive honor points, which can then be utilized to unlock new hulls, ship components or even entirely new races to play.


In order to win those battles though, you'll have to be a capable strategist in addition to being a clever designer. From the deployment screen, you're able to place your fleet into formation along with assigning orders. Setting target priorities allows you to dictate what your ships will hunt first as well as what range they'll begin to open fire. Another cool feature is issuing orders such as escort, formation, vulture (which orders the ship to target enemy vessels on their last legs) as well as co-op (ordering starships to concentrate fire on targets). The orders become vastly important as you have no direct control over your ships while they're engaged, which I found a bit off-putting at first. However, the more comfortable I became with building out my ships, I subsequently found myself increasingly confident in sitting back and enjoying the battle.

The demo is currently available via Steam and from Positech, which you would be doing yourself quite the disservice if you didn't at least check this title out before 2009 was over.   read

10:16 AM on 12.30.2009

When Digital Downloads Go Bad

It seems that there was a little speed bump amongst all the joy of the annual Steam sale. The Consumerist reports that all Ario wanted to do was gift his brother a game via the digital download client, but what happened is a bit more convoluted. It seemed that his brother had already purchased the game on Steam, so instead of notifying Ario, crediting his brother's account or enabling the issuance of a refund, the service simply ate his money.

"Earlier this week I had purchased a game that was on sale as an early gift for a family member to hold him off till his real one arrived late for Christmas. I didn't know it at the time but because of some glitch in Steam's systems the gifting failed but my CC was still charged and I was none the wiser. Since I told my brother all about the game, hyped him up, got him excited, but he never received it he ended up buying it for himself. I saw him playing it on Steam and thought all was well but after asking him how he liked my gift only to get a puzzled look in return."

It only went downhill from there.

"Took another support request for them to realize the issue was not in the fact I couldn't send but the fact I couldn't send and because of that he already owns the game I wanted to give him to which the customer service guy replied that they can't give me a refund or even store credit because according to their Subscriber Agreement they don't have to give me a return because I am not in the European Union which apparently has consumer protection laws that require 30 day grace period for returns."

For those who don't want to go searching for it, here is the section of Steam's subscriber agreement covering refunds:

"ALL STEAM FEES ARE PAYABLE IN ADVANCE AND ARE NOT REFUNDABLE IN WHOLE OR IN PART. Valve reserves the right to change our fees or billing methods at any time and Valve will provide notice of any such change at least thirty (30) days advance. All changes will be posted as amendments to this Agreement or in the Rules of Use and you are responsible for reviewing the billing section of Steam to obtain timely notice of such changes. Your non-cancellation of your Account or an affected Subscription thirty (30) days after posting of the changes on Steam means that you accept such changes. If any change is unacceptable to you, you may cancel your Account or a particular Subscription at any time as described below, but Valve will not refund any fees that may have accrued to your Account before cancellation of your Account or Subscription, and Valve will not prorate fees for any cancellation. If your use of Steam is subject to any type of use or sales tax, then Valve may also charge you for any such taxes, in addition to the Subscription or other fees published in the Rules of Use. The European Union VAT tax amounts collected by Valve reflect VAT due on the value of any Steam Software or Subscription as well as import VAT collected which is to be paid to the tax authorities for the importation of Merchandise.

As the Account holder, you are responsible for all charges incurred, including applicable taxes, and all purchases made by you or anyone that uses your Account, including your family or friends. Information on how to cancel your Account or a particular Subscription can be found at Valve reserves the right to collect fees, surcharges or costs incurred before you cancel your Account or a particular Subscription. In the event that your Account or a particular subscription is terminated or canceled, no refund, including any Subscription fees, will be granted. Any delinquent or unpaid Accounts must be settled before Valve will allow you to register again."

Honestly, it kind of scares the living hell out of me that Steam actually does have a bit of a dark side, but since when has a company not shielded themselves using the EULA? I'm not saying the system is perfect, but this is just a firm reminder of that fact and how careful gamers with a penchant for gifting need to be as digital downloads become more mainstream. Additionally, as the article goes on, it touches on just how intimidating a company can be by utilizing a EULA in such a heavy-handed fashion as to ban customers from their forums who take issue, effectively making the problem go away as silently as possible. It's actually pretty scary when you think about it, especially if you've sunk hundreds of dollars into your account.

Check out the full article from the Consumerist here.   read

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