Hello gamers and welcome back to the Buy it/Avoid it Report! In this series I take a quick look at some of the games I've played recently and attempt to summarize what makes them worth playing, as well as a few reasons why you may want to avoid them. I try to keep things short because there are a million in-depth reviews out there so, if you're looking for that sort of thing, they shouldn't be hard to find. But you're already here so...
Let's do this!
Xbox LIVE Arcade
Deep down, in the depths of my soul, lies a raging masochist. As my virtual deaths pile up, he grows stronger. When I clench my teeth in frustration, his thirst for pain becomes more fierce. When Iím emotionally spent and questioning my skill, he laughs and commands me to try again. I am nothing but a vessel carrying out his vicious demands. As tears of shame stream down my face, soaking my beard with regret, he rises up from a pool filled with the blood of a thousand deaths and whispers his name in my ear -- ďSpelunky
Originally a free retro-style PC game, Spelunky
is a platformer with roguelike elements -- dungeon layouts, items, traps and enemy placement are random, though the way they react to each other are not. The finality of permadeath ensures that there are no second chances so it is absolutely essential to learn how these various elements react to each other, and which of those reactions will kill you immediately. The short answer: all of them. You will die many nearly-impossible-to-foresee, Rube Goldbergian deaths in your quest for treasure; a lot of which will make you question what you could have possibly done differently. Iíve found that taking it easy and making smart decisions instead of rushing around like a greedy, gem-hound is usually a good start.
The biggest change Spelunky
went through in its transition to the Xbox LIVE Arcade is in the graphics department. The gritty, pixelated look from the original has been tossed into the abyss and replaced with cheerful, almost cartoon-like visuals. This can be misleading to new players because it doesnít match the tone of the game at all. The laid back, jazzy soundtrack is also feels somewhat out of place. Regardless, there is fun to be had. I personally like the look of the characters and witnessing their horribly violent deaths is just icing on the cake. Especially
the shopkeeper. Fuck that guy.
BUY IT if you are willing to knock a few years off your life expectancy in exchange for massive amounts of virtual wealth.
AVOID IT if the thought of an adorable, little pug rotting at the bottom of a snake pit because of what you did is just too much to handle.
This game is currently $15.00. If you feel that price is way too steep, go play the free one on PC. Your complaints are invalid!
Max Payne 3
Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Poor Max. I wasnít around for his first two games but itís easy to see how hard it was on him -- heís an overweight mercenary who filters what remains of his shattered life through hard liquor and painkillers. Throughout the story (during cutscenes and gameplay) Max is always talking, either out loud or to himself. This is often used to remind the player what Max is supposed to be doing, but also to keep the player in Maxís head at all times. Heís constantly doubting himself and his abilities, which can leave little seeds of doubt in the playerís head as well. I found myself asking, ďCan this fat, old dude really pull this off?Ē
Max Payne 3
is a crazy ride, filled with some absolutely insane action sequences. I read a preview which made a similar claim before the game had come out and I shrugged it off because they always
say that. But I promise you, this one delivers big time. During certain pivotal moments, the game will force you into bullet-time and allow you to pull off some truly unbelievable feats. These are the types of situations that most games relegate to cutscenes, but here you actually get to experience them through gameplay. Even the normal encounters have ďfuck yeah!Ē moments, with slow, cinematic camera angles that track the final killing bullet as it makes a beeline for some poor sapís eye socket.
Though I loved the game, it does have its flaws. The pacing can be inconsistent, with some areas of the game being harder than they should be. The weapon system can take a little getting used to, but I appreciate the level of realism put in place. Itís really cool to notice the little details, like when Max tucks one gun under his arm while he reloads his other. The aiming can feel sluggish too, which forces the player to use the slow down mechanic as more of a crutch rather than a fun option. Still, these gripes didnít dilute the experience and I walked away from Max Payne 3
hungry for more. Luckily the multiplayer is pretty fun too.
BUY IT if youíd like to experience the most compelling video game portrayal of an alcoholic gun wizard with nothing to lose.
AVOID IT if repeated depictions of realistic gore and violence just arenít your thing.
I'm not sure if this is a spoiler or not but this game features THE most realistic looking female nipples I have ever seen in a video game. The beard hair looks pretty amazing too, just not as nippley.
Xbox LIVE Arcade
Ever since I played Excitebike
for the NES, Iíve had a weird soft spot for motocross games. Gaining speed, hitting massive jumps and landing smoothly massages the pleasure center of my brain, resulting in an adrenaline rush that few games can replicate. I wasnít completely aware of this strange preference of mine until I got my hands on the Trials HD
a few years ago. I was blown away by the high level of precision required and the purity of its execution.
The most brilliant aspect of the Trials
series, at least in my eyes, is that you control the rider -- not
the bike. This may seem like a small detail, but the effects on gameplay are huge. As you (the actual human) tilt the analog stick, the rider shifts their weight. This alters the bikeís orientation which obviously affects its interaction with the environment. Even the slightest movement of the stick can have huge consequences once itís filtered through each element. This can be somewhat of a roadblock for casual players since theyíre not accustomed to harsh repercussions from such small actions. However, this is also what makes Trials
so insanely satisfying because once you understand how this intricate machine works, you can manipulate and exploit it.
takes this solid groundwork and expands it in nearly every direction. The dark, depressing warehouse environments from the first game have evolved into a massive outdoor map, which feature a refreshing mix of mountains, cliffs, towns, rivers and forests. The path your character follows can curve now, allowing for some incredible environmental stuff that was impossible in HD
. Thereís also an improved level editor that takes a lot of cues from Halo Reach
ís Forge mode. Levels created here can now be shared with anyone on XBL, not just your friends list, which means there are always new tracks and challenges to tackle every time you turn the game on. On top of all that, thereís a 4-player multiplayer mode tossed in, just for fun.
BUY IT if the combination of precise controls, high difficulty and leaderboards are enough to make you salivate.
AVOID IT if failing a jump for the hundredth time would cause your controller to spontaneously shatter into a thousand pieces.
It's not terribly important, but you can also customize your rider and bikes to a much greater degree this time around. What? Maybe I like to make my wheels two different colors? Leave me alone.
Mario Kart 7
The Virtual Boy aside, every Nintendo system since the SNES has had a Mario Kart
game released on it. Although the videogame industry has gone through a lot of changes since then, the mechanics and core gameplay of Mario Kart
remain untouched. Power-sliding, drafting and a few well aimed shells are still the best ways to get ahead of the pack. Though some may complain about the random items, veterans of the series are quick to remind them that itís pronounced ďMario Kart,Ē not ďGran Turismo.Ē A game in which bananas are a common weapon is not one to be taken so seriously.
Mario Kart 7
obviously keeps the tradition going but manages to add a few ingredients to the classic recipe. All karts now have a glider built in that allows them to soar through the air after huge jumps. This leads to some cool, optional shortcuts as well as giving you a great sense of scale as you soar above a track. Underwater segments are also new this time around but theyíre mostly cosmetic. Movement feels a little sluggish but it makes those moments when you burst out of the water that much more satisfying. They also werenít shy about upgrading some of the older stages with these new mechanics, which is pretty awesome.
Like Super Mario 3D Land
, this has a super colorful, clean look that I doubt Iíll ever grow tired of. With 3DS games already looking this great, I literally canít wait to see what itíll be able to pull off in the next couple of years. Iíd be remiss if I didnít mention the incredibly solid online play as well. Itís easy to hop into a match with random people; no pesky friend codes required. Theyíve also introduced a community feature which allows you to create groups of like-minded racers for easy multiplayer sessions. Hopefully Nintendo continues to include this type of thing for more of its franchises.
BUY IT if you specifically bought the 3DS because of solid franchises like this.
AVOID IT if you canít fucking believe Nintendo has managed to repackage and sell the same game seven times.
I didn't use an actual screenshot here because the 3DS doesn't look great blown up on the computer screen. You're welcome!
Xbox LIVE Indie Games, PC
Trying to find a truly great game in the sea of mediocrity known as Xbox Live Indie Games can be tough. Itís a lot like sifting through the iOS game market. Neither service seems to worry too much about quality control but with such ridiculously low prices, why bother? With so many options and no real marketing, itís easy for good ones to get buried and forgotten. It is for this reason that I would like to draw your attention to Escape Goat
You play as a goat who finds himself trapped in a prison and charged with the ridiculous crime of ďhat theftĒ. Being a puzzle-platformer, successfully escaping will require a combination of quick reactions and a sharp intellect. As a goat, your skill set is very goat-like. You have a vicious headbutt move used to destroy specific blocks in the environment and youíre a natural climber thanks to a realistic double jump. The graphics and music give off strong 8-bit Castlevania
a bad thing. Nothing is too simple nor too over the top, clearly the sign of intelligent game design.
Early on you meet a fellow prisoner; a mouse who happily joins you in escaping. In doing so, he adds some critical moves to your arsenal and becomes essential to solving many of the mind-bending puzzles. His small mouse-body is perfect for slipping into tight spaces and accessing areas that the muscular goat cannot. While hitting switches to open doors is not a new idea, Escape Goat
takes the concept one step further. Entire walls, floors and ceilings shift right before your eyes, which can transform once simple looking stages into completely different layouts. Itís really amazing to see in action.
BUY IT whether youíre a puzzle game fan or a serious 2D-platfomer connoisseur.
AVOID IT if you think puzzles are really just brain-demons conjured by Satan himself sent to deceive and pillage your tender, innocent mind.
I wrote this before Escape Goat was released on PC and before I had the pleasure of chatting with the creator on my podcast. I also won a fan art competition, my first ever!
That's it! I had no intention of reviving this series when I sat in front of the computer a few hours ago but, here we are. Though I can't commit to any kind of regular schedule for these reports, I will put one out when I have enough to talk about again. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next issue!