In the past couple of weeks, the games I've been playing aligned in such a way that I finished several in row, making a good dent in the sizable backlog to the right: NSMBU, Black Ops 2, The Jak and Dexter Trilogy, Ocarina of Time 3D and Kingdoms of Amalur. It was interesting to experience so many games from such different genres and time periods in a somewhat short time frame, like watching a videogame history class, and I'd like to share my thoughts. I also crossed Jet set Radio off the list, after playing it for about 2 hours. I tried to get into it and see what's the big deal, but I really couldn't. The last straw was when, with my patience already wearing thin, the game goes and crashes just as I'm about to finish a very annoying mission, and that was that. Please don't hate me!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
Some time ago, I wrote that, for the first time ever, I didn't like a Zelda game
, causing me to wonder if I was on my way to becoming one of those grumpy old people who hate everything. Fortunately, I can happily say that playing Ocarina of Time again after 15 years (damn, that's nearly half my life. Damn I'm old!) was an utter blast. I definitely didn't outgrow Zelda, I just didn't like Skyward Sword.
The enhanced N64 visuals look great on the 3DS, and watching Link wake up in the game's very first scene really took me back: I couldn't believe a videogame could look that beautiful when I saw that for the first time. The boss fights, exploration, sword fights and puzzle-solving are all pure gold, though there are some old school annoyances I'm happy to see go, like going back to the beginning of the dungeon even if we die at the boss.
Also, Epona. I'm a sucker for horses in games. Developers, take note: give me a horse and let me ride around, and I'll be much more forgiving towards your game :)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Wii U)
Unless they are console-exclusives, I always play shooters on PC, but I wanted to see how the Wii U Gamepad felt with a fast-paced FPS. The Answer: perfect. Mouse and keyboard is still the way to go, but compared to a standard dual shock, the Gamepad is excellent. It feels just right in my hand, it's just as comfortable as any other controller, and almost as light. That, plus the touchscreen, which allows you to quickly select scorestreaks and get a full view of the map, particularly useful when there's a UAV online, easily makes the Wii U the best console for shooters. Or at least for this particular shooter.
All that is true, but there is something else. Something that, for me, makes the Wii U the super-mega-ultimate console for shooters: my wife. She's always loved shooting stuff in on-rails shooters like Umbrella Chronicles, but give her a dual shock and, well, it's not pretty. I tried easing her into it, but she gets too frustrated. However, she fares much better with a Nunchuck and a Wiimote, and thanks to off-TV play, we can both play online together. That alone makes the Wii U the best console ever in my book!
As for the campaign, I loved it. Over the top and intense, with a decent shooter story to boot, and it got my Political Scientist mind thinking. Call of Duty is primarily aimed at Americans and (to a lesser degree) Europeans, and at the risk of being misunderstood, I wonder if Americans realize how resented the United States is across the globe, and how strongly something like Cordis Die would resonate, even in allied Western countries. When Salazar says "no wonder Menendes has so much support", I couldn't help but nod in agreement.
Don't get me wrong: killing innocents does not resonate anywhere, which is why support for organizations of religious fanatics who like to kill innocent people, like Al Qaeda, is largely limited to, well, religious fanatics who don't mind killing innocent people.
Cordis Die, though, is on a whole different level. Publicly, they have nothing to do with terrorism, and their supporters have no idea what it is they really do. And their rallying cry is not a medieval form of Islam, it's something immensely more powerful: resentment of the injustices of capitalism and of the country perceived as the main perpetrator of said injustices: The United States. Sure, Cordis Die and Menendez were far too powerful and omnipresent to be believable, but when I think about how dangerous a global terrorist organization motivated by those same principles would be, I feel a shiver down my spine.
Anyways... games, right? Yeah, let's get back to that.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC)
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? More like Kingdoms of Amalur: Madness. It saddens me to see a great game and very promising series like Amalur killed by the megalomania of its maker.
When all was said and done, I had completed 202 quests and played for 97 hours and 17 minutes. I'd probably have played 50 more hours or more, but by the time I reached Klurikon I was starting to feel fatigued, so I skipped the Legend of Dead Kel and literally dashed non-stop all the way to the final battle. Granted, those hours included the Teeth of Naros DLC, which is itself longer than most games, but it's still massive. Normally, when it comes to big RPGs like Amalur, the more the better as far as I'm concerned, but in this case, it didn't really work.
As good as it is, the biggest problem with Amalur is that it tries to be what it isn't. It gives us a world as vast as Skyrim's, but it doesn't feel like a real, believable world you can actually imagine yourself living in. All those myriad small touches that Bethesda does so well simply aren't there: Amalur feels more like a huge RPG level instead of a fully realized world. Which would be great if they had been clear on that and played to its strengths.
For me, Amalur has four (potential) key strengths: the combat, the colorful, gorgeous environments, a potentially good fantasy story, and a world I actually wanted to learn more about. The combat doesn't need introductions, it's what the game's famous for, and for good reason. The environments look great and have a sort of whimsical feel about them, and all those colors are a great change of space from the snowy mountains of Skyrim. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the character models and the voice acting, and this coming from someone who, maybe on account of not being a Multi5 native speaker, often can't see what's wrong with the voice acting in games notorious for their supposedly horrible voice acting, like Resident Evil or Silent Hill.
The story looks interesting at first, and so does the world. There's only one problem: in its attempt to pass itself off as a huge, open-world playground, the game throws at you so many meaningless quests and meaningless characters that you start to lose track of what exactly it is you're doing, then starts skipping conversations and chasing map markers instead of the story.
But what's really, really bad about that isn't that they detract from the overall quality, but that it quite literally killed the developers and probably the series. We've already established that Amalur is massive, and all that "massivenes"costs money. A lot of it. Like, rivers of it. By some accounts, Amalur needed to sell as many as 2.5 million copies to start turning a profit. Alas, it "failed", selling "only" 1.4 milion in 90 days. Wait, what? Let's back up a second.
Let's compare Amalur with that other RPG series about massive worlds, The Elder Scrolls. When Oblivion launched in 2006, it sold 1.7 million copies in its first month. And this was the fourth main game in a then 12 years old franchise. So it stands to reason that, for a brand new ip, selling 1.4 million in 90 days should be an excellent performance, right? Except 38 Studios's ambitions were so lofty they literally bet the farm they'd have a mega hit right out of the gate, and they lost the bet.
It didn't have to be that way. If they had made a game 1/3 the size of Kingdoms of Amalur, they'd have spent a lot less money, the game would have benefited from the tighter focus and we'd still get 50-60 hours of solid gameplay, an extremely good value proposition for a full-priced game. Then 1.4 million copies wouldn't be so bad, and perhaps it would have bought them enough time to finish the MMO.
When I started this blog, the plan was to write about my experience with all seven games, but it turned out to be longer than expected, so I'm gonna stop here and maybe write the rest later. I hope you enjoy it!