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2:18 PM on 10.06.2012

Game Paralysis

Hello, Destructoid. Long time, no write.

There is an issue that has been frustrating me for a while: There are so many games these days. Ten years ago, I would have wanted to punch myself for saying that I had too many games, but things are different, now. I have a job, and I'm in my last semester of school. I don't have a ton of free time to play games anymore, and when I do, I often can't force myself to sit and play any one game.

And this is weird, because when I am busy with non-fun things, I fantasize about how exciting it will be to have a few hours to work through my backlog. I have 200ish games on Steam, most of which are completely untouched. I have another 30ish console games (current gen) that I haven't really played, plus all the hundreds of retro games I owe it to myself to play.

But when I sit down to play any of these games, I find myself paralyzed by the sheer number of options available to me. Even if I can settle on a genre to play, I have so many options that I end up staring at them and not playing anything.

This was never the case when I was younger. Back then, I would just play whatever was the newest game I had, until it was beaten. Then I would beat it, or some other game, again, until I had a newer diversion. I thus went through 10-12 games a year. Yes, I had parents that bought me (or allowed me to buy) a lot of games. We were poor, but it was usually an investment that both my brother and I could enjoy for a few weeks.

So, I pose this question to all of you: Do you experience this sort of paralysis, and if so, how do you remedy it? I have found that playing only on handhelds and carrying only one game tends to narrow my focus, but of course that is not a valid method for when I am at home.

Thanks for any input!   read

9:35 AM on 04.12.2011

Aaamaazing: Playing with Blocks

It was this Penny Arcade comic that convinced me to buy the semi-obscure Minecraft from a website that still, absurdly, does not have a common method of purchase (except Paypal, which I despise) and that, being based in Sweden, was sure to put a hold on my credit card for "suspicious activity."

But let's back up. As a child, I obsessed over constructing vast palaces from legos. I once built an entire walled city out of legos, one stretching over the entire floor of my bedroom. My mother, seeing it, was impressed but told me I couldn't leave it there as a testament to my greatness. My shelves, however, were always lined with smaller lego constructs: vehicles, houses, military bases, and the like.

Fifteen years later, I'm doing almost the same thing.


Minecraft, still in beta, is being developed by Mojang. Well, I say that. One of the oft-forgotten things about this game is that only now does Markus "Notch" Persson's company, Mojang, work on Minecraft, after Notch personally invested thousands of hours of his own time into doing something he loved, just because he could.

All this is well and good, but I'm here to talk about building.

Upon installing Minecraft, I did what every new player does: freak the hell out. What was I supposed to do? I had some vague notions that I had to build to be protected from things that would attack me at night, but that was it. I started punching the ground, yielding blocks of dirt. Trees gave me wood (snicker) which I turned into planks, then sticks. When I saw it was already midday, I paused the game and consulted the internet.

After a few minutes of watching YouTube tutorials on surviving your first night and reading about how different "recipes" work, I set out to make myself a fortified home for the night. I simply burrowed into the side of a hill, where I was lucky enough to find some coal so I could make candles. I survived my first night cautiously digging in my well-lit sanctum, stocking up on dirt and cobblestone.

But soon, I realized that the game is not really a struggle to survive. I was playing Minecraft, unsurprisingly, like a gamer. There were enemies, right? So I should vanquish them, right? My structures should be purely functional, right?

The monsters in Minecraft actually made no difference, as I soon realized. Within a few hours, I was safely into the "Day 3" stage of the comic mentioned above. So I had beaten the game?

The problem with explaining Minecraft to people is the definition of "game." Really, there is no point to Minecraft. It's not a game, any more than life is a game or, yes, building with legos. But it is immensely fun to "play."

Soon, I was expanding my Fortress of Solitude to include a recreation of a Greek cult temple. My levitating walkways could take me to where I'm still experimenting with agriculture. My entire complex continued to expand in each direction, all on the site of that original hurried attempt to survive. Eventually, I put a wall around it and, staring down at it, was reminded of that incident from my childhood. I'm still constructing huge cities of which I am the sole inhabitant.

But there are philosophical ramifications to this. Why do I bother? Eventually, I turned off the monsters by setting the difficulty to "Peaceful," finally obviating the need for my weapons and armor. And yet I continued to build. Why?

I've yet to adequately answer this. I'm constructing a wonderland that only I can see, interact with, and enjoy. I've tried playing on hosted servers, but the game loses appeal when other people are introduced. Minecraft is a deeply personal game, one which reveals enormous amounts of information concerning the subconscious. Staring down at my walled city, I saw what looked like a hastily-abandoned war outpost. What does this mean about me?

What does all of it mean? I don't know, and I don't want to. Some people paint. Some write poetry. I build worlds.


7:32 PM on 03.11.2011

Cheap Thrills: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

(Note: In this series, Cheap Thrills, I review a game available for less than ten dollars, usually on Steam.)

Most games are fun. I've known this since I spend gratuitous amounts of time as a child crawling through the sixty or so NES games people gave me in the early nineties. Their thinking was "Oh, poor boy, he doesn't have enough money to afford one of the new 16-bit consoles! Let's give him our old games." Which was awesome, because by age five I had played so many NES titles, popular and obscure alike, that I was legitimately qualified to make observations about the quality of games for the system in the first place.

My distinct impression at that time, and the opinion that I have again taken in recent years, is that most games are fun. This is not to say that they are all classic masterpieces of whatever genre they happen to try to embody, or that each game is a jewel of the medium- some are laughably broken. Some are ugly. Some are impossibly difficult.

But it always comes back around to the idea that no matter what game it is, I've had some fun with it. This is why I don't really like "reviews" of video games, beyond just information about the game in question. It's easy to slap a number on a game, say why it is or isn't great, and be done with it. Even the games that are not great offer some amount of entertainment, which is important considering that most games- especially cheap ones or the jungles of retro games- fall into this category of the sub-spectacular.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is not a great game. I doubt that, years from now, people will sit around discussing the merits of this game compared to other stylized puzzle games. Nevertheless, this is a really fun game. The style of play is simple, the art is quirky and interesting, the sound is nice, the story is delightfully ridiculous.

The Odd Gentlemen designed this game for Steam in the style of a silent film, with title cards and the omnipresent flapping, clicking sound of the film reel. The art is mostly black-and-white, with a quirky charm befitting a game with such a verbose title.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom takes a comedic approach to charming storytelling. The title cards, which appear between each level and advance the plot, are forcefully rhymed into couplets, like a children's story. I imagine the narrator to be a late Victorian British chap with a knack for Rummy and a soft spot for dark liquor.

(a titlecard)

Our hero is P.B. Winterbottom himself, a dastardly, widely-mustachioed fellow with an unholy love of pie. He wants to take all the pies in the world, especially the mythically-huge pie that appears to him in a vision early in the game.

We the players are enlisted to help P.B. get the pies he so desperately wants. The gameplay of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is concerned with an intriguing mechanic that our pro(ant?)agonist discovers: He can record clones of himself that will repeat the same action over and over.

(titlecard about clones)

Using this ability, he can flip switches, stand on levers, and leap through the air all at ones. This game is partly concerned with timing in the sense conventional to platformers, but for the most part, we have to solve puzzles using the allotted number of clones.

The game progresses (as they tend to do) from easier puzzles to more complicated ones, perhaps involving the ordered collection of the scrumptious pastries, or doing so within a time limit.

Some of the puzzles are actually quite challenging.

(ordered pastries gameplay)

Shockingly, the game doesn't quickly become boring. The puzzles consistently feel fresh, either by their own virtue or the sheer charm of everything else packaged within [i]The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom[i/].

The art is interesting and well thought-out, though simple. You will never be "impressed" with it, in the sense of viewing a technical accomplishment of artistic acuity, but you will (hopefully) appreciate the minimalism and taste of the silent film-esque character.

The music, too, is simple and not overpowering, but without being boring. It focuses on turn-of-the-twentieth-century piano ditties, retrofitted with tasteful drums and other instruments. It never feels cheap, if that makes any sense.

(early gameplay)

So, I'll return to what I was saying at the start of this post. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is not a great game. It's a good game, one of the better good games I've played in a while. It's enjoyable, but not orgasmic. It's memorable, but not life-changing.

But really, who really wants to spend all their time (and money) on strictly "great" games? That's the gaming equivalent of only reading classic literature, inundating yourself with deeper meanings and literary skill that puts yours to shame. It's like a director or actor only watching the greatest ten films of all time, ignoring the majority of films that are actually pretty good.

I've spent hours playing this game, smiling at the quirky attitude of the developers and enjoying the puzzles. It's not the best game I've ever played, but at the moment, I don't really feel like playing that game, a game that I have to analyze and ponder and consider with the deepest intensity.

I just want to have fun.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is available here on Steam for $4.99.   read

10:37 AM on 02.28.2011

Dingoo A320: Retro Gaming Handheld

(Note: In this post, I will discuss the Dingoo A320's stock hardware and emulators. In an upcoming post, I will discuss the optional custom firmware, Dingux, that really makes the Dingoo shine.)

I'll just go ahead and disclaim this post: If you're offended by emulation of games that are fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years old, stop reading. I will be discussing how gamers can relive the games of their childhoods and perhaps enjoy old classics for the first time. I understand that some of these games are available for a few dollars on various platforms, so technically emulation undercuts the profits of so-and-so shovelware porter. Whatever. I'll emulate games I purchased for full price twenty years ago, celebrating the history of video games and promoting modern games in the process.

Now that that's out of the way.

More than a year ago, I purchased the Dingoo A320 from Thinkgeek as the "Pocket Retro Game Emulator."

I've always loved retro games, and I do mean always: I was born after the NES was released, and I loved it as a toddler. Once I was smart enough to figure it out, I started emulating NES games on my computer, letting me finally play the original incarnations of franchises I had come to love. I distinctly remember playing through the original Legend of Zelda when my friends were playing Majora's Mask on my N64. I really came to love the 8- and 16-bit games of yesteryear, in part because of the artistry, in part because I was a kid who got $5 a week and who couldn't afford most games in the first place.

So imagine the surprise and pleasant warmness in my nether-regions when I saw the "Pocket Retro Game Emulator" on my dear, beloved Thinkgeek, displaying a screen cap from Super Mario World, no less!

I was in love. Literally hundreds, nay, thousands of retro games can fit on the two gigabytes of local storage, and the device comes with emulators already installed! I could play NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, Genesis, Neo Geo, and CPS1 and CPS2 games until the day I die.


So the unit arrived in the mail. The hardware, while plastic, feels solid and has a pleasant lightness to it. The device doesn't feel too cheap, but it doesn't seem incredibly sturdy. The four buttons on the right are about of the same quality as any game boy, but the d-pad is just a bit shallow. The two shoulder buttons are fine, if a bit stiff. The speakers, I would learn, are also just fine: they don't produce beautifully-recreated landscapes of 8-bit chiptunes, but then, I never notice them being especially terrible, either. There's a headphone jack on the right of the unit and an A/V Out on the bottom.

I immediately began throwing all the ROMs I could find at the device. It immediately became clear that, while I was more than capable of figuring out the folder structure, and I understood that I would have to rename all my Genesis ROMs to the file extension that the Dingoo recognizes, someone less technically-inclined would have a bit of trouble getting the Dingoo to work properly.

I don't mean to say that the average Destructoid reader would be unable to figure out the Dingoo. I mean that I would hesitate to give this device to, say, my mother. You know, if she were randomly into retro games.

Anyway, once I had plenty of games on the device, organized into user-friendly folders, I tried out the stock emulators.

NES: Perfect. The emulation is smooth, controls are logically mapped, the save-state feature works, sound is fine, everything just works.

[b/]SNES[/b]: Pretty poor. Some games work well enough to play, though the frameskip sometimes makes the sound speed up and slow down unpredictably, so I'd advise playing with the sound off. And, unfortunately, some games are just unplayable, with impossibly awkward tempo issues and nightmarish numbers of skipped frames. Overall, SNES emulation on the Dingoo is terrible. (Note: This is a problem that is addressed in full by Dingux, a custom Dingoo firmware I will discuss in an upcoming post.)

GBA: Almost perfect. While a few games here and there have minor issues with the frameskip, almost everything works at about 95% of what I would consider to be perfect. Unfortunately, a couple random games do not work at all, most notably Golden Sun. Still, I consider the GBA emulation to be quite good.

Genesis: Decent. Sprites are rendered in a weird way, so that when they're moving they often have wide scan lines across them. Most games are playable, but it really cuts the enjoyment to have to watch the gorgeous characters fade in and out.

Neo Geo: Hell if I know. Apparently there is a utility somewhere on the internet that can convert the common Neo Geo ROMs into the kind that are playable on the Dingoo, but I haven't bothered with it.

CPS1: Perfect. Many well-known MAME games were for the Capcom arcade console, and they all seem to work without a hitch.

CPS2: Similar situation as the Neo Geo. They're supposed to work after conversion, but I've never bothered to try.

Those are all the stock emulators on the device. In another post, I will describe the various ways you can get more out of your Dingoo, from simple things like adding one small file that allows you to play original Game Boy/Game Boy Color games, to more complex ones like installing Dingux, which allows you to do basically whatever you want without any problems whatsoever, if you're technically-inclined enough to manage the process in the first place.

[embed]195269:36870[/embed] (A fairly decent review of the unit, showing off the A/V capacity of the device quite nicely.)

So, for the conclusion:

If you look at the stock Dingoo A320 as an NES and GBA (or even original GB; it's really just one copy-paste until you can play those, too) machine, you will love it. If you wanted to play the 16-bit consoles that emerged in the 90s, you're better off not buying, unless you're willing to put in the time and effort of installing Dingux.

For me, it is worth the price alone to play every NES game ever made on my television via the A/V Out, which works perfectly, by the way.

But follow up in a few days when I write the post on Dingux. Where the stock firmware on the Dingoo A320 is less than appealing in certain respects, Dingux really shines.

The Dingoo is available on Thinkgeek for $120 dollars. But, if you don't mind the sometimes-less-than-optimal shipping times and customer service of DealExtreme, you can get it there for $80.61.   read

12:33 PM on 02.25.2011

Cheap Thrills: Chime

(Note: In this series, Cheap Thrills, I review a game available for less than ten dollars, usually on Steam.)


Chime, developed by Zoë Mode and the first game published by OneBigGame, is a block puzzle game, in the same vein as Tetris, but with an interesting quirk: it is set to music that reacts to where the blocks are placed.

But let's back up a moment. The gameplay is fairly straightforward: There is a grid. You have blocks. You want to form "quads," or clumps of blocks 3x3 or larger by placing them on the grid. Got it?

(Here you see the grid in question.)

While this mechanic may seem fairly common, and it is, that doesn't detract from how fun the game is, and as I mentioned, there is a musical component to the game that is worthy of mention.

Each of the levels (of which there are six on the Steam version) is set to a piece of music that, at start, is very minimalistic. Take the first level, featuring Philip Glass's "Brazil": Before you place any blocks, all you hear is a simple instrumental underlay that functions as a basic harmonic background. You may notice in the screenshots the white line which sweeps across the screen, and each time it hits a block, some instrument will sound. If the blocks are not well-placed, that sound will be out of place- a random flute run, marimba noises, et cetera.

It's fun enough just to play with the odd, melodic drum machine feel of this game even without frantically trying to cover the grid with quads.

Chime includes the following songs:

"Brazil" by Philip Glass
"Ooh Yeah" by Moby
"For Silence" by Paul Hartnoll (of Orbital fame)
"Spilled Cranberries" by Markus Schulz
"Disco Ghosts" by Fred Deakin
"Still Alive" by Jonathan Coulton (Exclusive to the PC version)

One of these songs excites me a lot more than the others, but will I tell you which one? Ha ha, fat chance!

(With blocks randomly placed like these, the entire piece of music takes on a frantic, amelodic tone.)

The quad mechanic is actually very well thought-out. Once you place blocks together so that there is a 3x3 (or larger) square anywhere on the board, they light up and begin to fill like a meter. What you want to do for maximum coverage is to add to the sides of the quad, making it grow, but you must cover a side before the meter runs out. If you manage to do so, the meter is reset and you can add to another side. As the quad grows larger, however, it becomes more and more difficult to add to the sides before you run out of time.

The "goal" of each level is to get as much "coverage" of the grid as possible. Coverage is achieved each time you form a quad, coloring in that part of the grid the next time the white arm sweeps over it. Getting full coverage can be difficult, however, since fragments of the blocks you use in quads remain even after the quad is completed and adds to your coverage.

If there seems to be a lot going on in Chime, don't worry. When you're actually playing it, it feels simple enough that you can relax and enjoy the music, while trying to add to it, especially in the untimed Free Mode.

(Notice the size of the quad on the right, large enough to earn me the "The Beast" achievement.)

I can talk about gameplay for paragraphs, but how much do I really need to say? This is a simple puzzle game, the kind that I think my mother would enjoy (she was always a fan of Dr. Mario) and I'm sure the readers of this blog understand how block puzzle games work.

So instead, I'll mention this: The entire game is an exercise in charity. The songs were donated by the artists in question, and a portion of proceeds goes to benefit Save the Children and Starlight Children's Foundation.

And you should donate to children, because they're the future, and also the people that will be developing the video games when we're old.

To sum this up, Chime is an interesting puzzle game that will keep you entertained for a good while. At $5, I'd say it's worth the price just to play with the music, let alone the warm fuzziness I associate with giving to children's charities.

Chime on Steam   read

11:45 AM on 02.21.2011

Groundhog Day: Pokémon Blue Version

I'm an adult. I'm an adult. I'm an adult.

Such is what I feel compelled to repeat to myself, year after year, when the latest diversion takes on tones of boredom and recent fascinations begin to fade. In such times, I have been known to turn inward and reminisce about past joys, perhaps the greatest of all joys I have known. Seeing the sheer ludicrousness of that statement, I realize: This is the mantra of a man with a problem. A poképroblem.

Like many of the readers of this post, I was a child when the first Pokémon games were released. Pokémon Blue Version and its companion, Red Version, were released in the United States on September 28, 1998. (Notably, the games came out more than two years earlier in Japan, on February 27 1996, meaning that the 15-year anniversary is in only a few days.)

I remember reading the reviews in Nintendo Power at the time. Most reviewers didn't really get it; They saw the game as a watered-down RPG for children, and why shouldn't they? The anime hadn't taken off, nor had Pokémon cards, or any of the other merchandise that would come to be associated with the Pokémania that would sweep children off their feet in the coming months.

But the games, the progenitors of it all, were remarkable for reasons that the reviewers couldn't understand with their advance copies.

The entire game, as I'm sure the readers of this post know, was to capture, train, and battle these cartoonish creatures called pokémon. Some were adorable, some as badass and fearsome as the medium would allow.

And that was great fun. But the real draw of the game for my friends and me was that you could trade these creatures to each other, and most importantly, battle against each other. This one element, an element that basically just mimicked the entire single-player campaign, was the most important of all. Now we had a reason to bother training for hours in the tall grass outside of town: We wanted to beat our friends. We wanted to prove our tactical prowess. We wanted to win.

And win I did. I was one of the more devoted pokémon trainers in my group of friends, and I had the strategic advantage of my Prima Strategy Guide, which I memorized down to the level at which my favorite pokémon learned useful moves, at which they evolved, and so on.

I may have been a bit obsessive.

Yes, this is all well and good, you say, but why 13 years later are you returning to these games? Besides, there are new Pokémon games, ones that you could even play with other people, though they will mostly be under ten years of age.

Well, you would be correct that there are new games. And they, too, are good. But the reason I return to Pokémon Blue Version is simply that I know it so well that I can experiment with various gameplay styles and party lineups, constantly surprising myself with how interesting it can be to play with, say, only non-starter pokémon, or only pokémon that never evolve, ad infinitum.

Yes, the new games have many added elements, such as breeding (which is actually really cool) and contests and the like, but the original games are simple and beautiful in their simplicity. I can focus on the odd tactical quirks I impose on myself each time I play the game without being bothered with figuring something new out.

You may wonder why I choose Blue Version. Simply, that is the game I had as a child. My brother had Red Version and each time I play that one, I feel slightly out of water. Or perhaps like I'm cheating on my significant other. That's not that weird, is it?

One last caveat: I don't carry around my game cart (remember those?) anymore. I emulate this game and many others on my Android phone. This has the added advantage of allowing me multiple save states, so I can carry on numerous crazy team line-up experiments at once.

Oh, and yes: I'm very excited about the new games coming out March 6.   read

5:15 PM on 02.18.2011

Cheap Thrills: Zen Bound 2

(Note: In this series, Cheap Thrills, I review a game available for less than ten dollars, usually on Steam.)

Most games we gamers play revolve around action of some sort. Even most puzzle games have a time requirement of some sort, requiring you to think and act fast.

Occasionally, though, I come across a game that requires neither frantic action or stress of any sort. Zen Bound 2 (available on Steam for $5) aims to be a relaxing game, difficult without being stressful. And for the most part, it is successful in that regard.

(an early puzzle)

The premise of the game is manipulating a statue (the complexity of which increases as you progress in level) attached to a spool of yarn, which somehow splashes paint around the area of the it touches as you wind it about the statue. You complete a level by covering most or all of the statue with color.

(the same puzzle at completion)

As I said, the statues become more complex as you progress through the game. The may have concave areas that are difficult to touch with yarn, or enough appendages that it is difficult to adequately cover with the limited amount of yarn you are alloted.

(a more difficult puzzle)

The single gameplay mechanic is the manipulation of the object, which is performed entirely with the mouse. Luckily, the system works well and is intuitive enough that you don't have to spend much time learning to use the system, which would detract from the Zen vibe of the game.

However, despite the calming nature of the game, some of the puzzles are incredibly difficult.

(the same puzzle, at which I am failing)

The soundtrack was composed by Ghost Monkey, of whom I have never heard, and actually is quite good in a down-tempo, monastery-in-the-future kind of way.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a total whore for Steam Achievements, and Zen Bound 2 includes 11.

This indie game takes an attitude toward gaming that is unusual. I like it. I don't assign scores to games I review because I feel that how "good" or "fun" a game may be is entirely too personal to quantify. I enjoy this game, and I think it accomplishes its goal of being "challenging but not stressful" and of being relaxing. But someone else may find the game boring and difficult to the point of frustration.

It's your call.

When all is said and done, this game is intriguing and simple. And, perhaps, even meditative.

(another difficult puzzle)   read

4:55 PM on 02.02.2011

Magicka Knows Its Audience (Geeks)

I'm a sucker for easy deals on Steam, so at the end of January, when Paradox Interactive's Magicka was offered for the normal price of $10 but with DLC exclusive to those that bought the game before February 1st, I jumped to buy.


Magicka, if you were unaware, is a top-down third person action adventure game in the same vein as Diablo. The gameplay largely involves smiting various enemies with spells, swords, and, erm, the occasional M60. More on that later.

The gameplay mechanic that carries the game is the series of eight elements mapped to the QWER ASDF keys, allowing you to mix and match to produce thousands of different spell effects. You can shoot a stream of fire by simply casting one fire element. Mix it with one earth element and you get a fireball. Mix fire with the arcane element and you get a brilliant beam of fire. And so on, with every element.

This is actually a lot of fun to play with, at least for a while. You learn how different shields work, how to make mines, which beam spells are the most effective (hint: lightning-arcane-frost), and the like. But pretty quickly, this becomes a little dry, especially as you settle into the groove of knowing which spell to type out.

Luckily, the game also has a series of pre-fab spells called "magicks" that produce specific, non-standard effects, such as lightning bolts, teleportation, waves of heat, or haste. These often require a complex series of elements that you either must remember or look up when you want to cast them, but you'll find that the ones you use the most quickly become reflex.

Despite the fun mixing and matching elements to produce cool effects, the real draw of the game is the humor. Magicka describes itself as being set in "a generic fantasy realm" that "of course needs saving." The entire game is peppered heavily with jokes about the sheer ridiculousness of assorted RPG conventions. Early in the game, for example, you find a woman with an exclamation mark hovering above her head. I, like most players of this game, waltzed over to take on a quest, but the woman informed me that she didn't know what the thing over her head was or how to get rid of it.

Occasionally, you find something random enough that even the game says that it doesn't belong. Like the M60, the use of which gives a Steam achievement.

This delightfully half-assed trailer for the game also speaks volumes about whom Paradox intended their game:


While the game can become tedious after a while, it never stops being funny. The clichéd dialog, the item blurbs, the characters that are exactly what you'd think they are, and the comically-named achievements all contribute to the humor of this game.

Sure, the game is fun to play both alone or in the cooperative multiplayer (though, at time of writing, the latter is a bit glitchy) but the advantage of Magicka remains the fact that Paradox knows their audience and what makes them laugh.   read

12:19 PM on 02.02.2011

The Death and Rebirth of Retro Style

I make it no secret that I have a deep, some may say unhealthy, love of retro games.

Like most people that would ever wander the annals of Destructoid, I associate a lot of good memories with the retro games in question, especially NES classics. This nostalgia, however, is not the main reason I bother to emulate and promote these games. For me, it is a technical and creative issue.

Before the days of high-budget, graphically-awe-inspiring games, developers were forced to use their eight bits or sixteen bits to do something incredible. They had a unique challenge before them, one of the type not experienced by other artists, except perhaps poets.

By that, I mean that the very conventions of the art form limited what they could do. No modern painter ever has to worry about not being potentially able to mix the right color- he is only limited by his own technique. A poet, however, may impose a sort of limit on himself through the use of meter or form, forcing him to be more creative to fit his poem into a given parameter.

Video game designers had to do the same, purely from a technological perspective. But technology advances. Soon, the issue ceased to be a limit of the number of sprites on a screen, or the number of polygons. Of course, this is a fantastic thing, as it always is in art. The removal of boundaries- think free-form poetry- can lead to amazingly creative works.

But sometimes, it pays to impose boundaries on yourself.

Every time a less-technically-advanced console would die (most prominently for me, the Game Boy Advance) I would mourn the probable end of development for that particular medium, and of thinking within its limits.

In the last few years, however, I have been heartened by indie studios that (ahem) honor the old ways.


Look at VVVVVV ($5 on Steam), a game that could have just as easily been released for the Commodore 64 in 1982. Not only is this game fun to play, it's innovative. And it has sold well! The market does not constantly require technological marvels. It requires fun and, I believe, creativity.


Or Super Meat Boy, ($15 on Steam) of course. This game won loads of awards, made lots of money, and caused me to develop Tourette's Syndrome (in the best possible way). And I don't think that anyone would say that this game is especially astonishing in the technological sense. The levels are beautiful, the gameplay is tight, and the cutscenes are taken straight from the Flash games and movies on Newgrounds from which Meat Boy hails.

There are lots of examples of retro style coming into fashion, not just with nerds like me that rock out to chiptune and wear NES tee-shirts. No, these are games being consumed by real people that really just want to have fun. And that's great.   read

1:41 PM on 01.30.2011

Cheap Thrills: Arcadia

(Note: in this series, Cheap Thrills, I review a game available for less than ten dollars, usually on Steam.)


Arcadia, available on Steam here for the enticing price of $4.99, is described by creator Joshyy as "a fun, casual little shooter."

And that's precisely what it is.

Think of a glorified version of Asteroids, with mostly geometric shapes as enemies, on a retro-looking grid with fast action and steadily increasing powers. Then stop thinking about Geometry Wars.

It's true, this game is very similar to the Xbox Live Arcade classic. I would love to amend that statement by adding pronounced differences that make it a compelling, original game. I really would. But I can't.

That isn't to say that Arcadia isn't a fun game. It is. The action is intense without being stressful, gameplay is simple and, if you are like me, relaxing. Playing a hectic space shooter like this one actually puts me into a Zen-like state, where my eyes gloss over and I just let the pixels fly, man.

The music doesn't help, and I mean that in a good way. Taken from Dimrain47's audio portal on Newgrounds (here) the soundtrack consists of upbeat, over-caffeinated techno. I believe the proper terminology would be "happy hardcore." It's catchy as hell. Again, counter-intuitively, the music helps this game to be relaxing.

But really, there is nothing especially creative about this game. It's more difficult and simpler than its more well-publicized cousin, but there is not single attribute that I can point to and say, "that's what makes this game so awesome."

So why should you buy this game? Especially considering the wide variety of competition available in the top-down space shooter genre, not the least of which is Geometry Wars itself, is there any reason to sacrifice your latte for this game?

-Indie developer, probably just one guy
-26 Steam Achievements (I'm a total achievement whore, as you'll come to see)
-Simple graphics means you don't need much in the way of hardware
-fun, arcade gameplay
-two modes of play
-your-grandma-could-play-it simple

What are your thoughts on Arcadia? Let me know in the comments.   read

9:12 PM on 01.27.2011

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (is an excellent exhibit of a video game as art)

Last Spring, Roger Ebert famously stated that video games could never be art. Of course, his post was immediately inundated with comments from gamers and non-gamers alike, some foaming at the mouth in retaliation, some agreeing, and some (like me) who felt that he was, despite his status as a critic, no judge of something he didn't understand. I could write pages upon pages about the status of video games as cultural products, or about why Ebert is insufficiently prepared to arrive at any conclusion regarding art in general.

But this is a video game site.

So instead of launching into a self-important rant about the meaning of art, or the philosophical and moral implications of choosing a definition that excludes what may be my favorite form of media, I'll just talk about the fantastic Amnesia: The Dark Descent, from Frictional Games.

First, I want to put out that what almost every review of this game has agreed upon: It's scary. At times, it is startling (a la jump-out-and-yell-boo) and at times it is disturbing (vicious scenes of torture percolate throughout the last quarter of the game) but the underlying chill of the game is the real draw, and what makes it so brilliant.


But let's start with the story. You play as Daniel, who apparently lives at Mayfair and is being hunted by something. And that's all you know at the beginning of the game. He has Amnesia (get it?) and it's up to you- the player- to figure out what you're doing and how to get out of wherever you are.

Throughout the game, you find scraps of Daniel's diary and other notes, which serve to reveal more of the story. You are in Castle Brennenburg, and for whatever reason, you're supposed to kill a man named Alexander.

Soon, however, a new element of the story begins to emerge: You are being hunted by something supernatural, which manifests itself in the form of a fleshy growth on the walls and ground of the castle. Whatever it is, you know it is dangerous and you continue to flee further into the castle to avoid it.

Along the way, you learn of the horrors of Castle Brennenburg, and of your place in them. Also, aside from the "Nightmare" that is chasing you, the castle hosts a variety of creatures willing to tear you to shreds. And there's the clincher, because you have absolutely no way to defend yourself.

The only items you carry are tinderboxes (for lighting candles) and a lamp (which can and will run out of oil), plus whatever tools you find in your adventure. But nothing can be used for defense. If you see a monster, run and hide, because you stand no chance.

That helplessness lends immensely to atmosphere, which is by far the most magnificent aspect of this game. You see, especially in the early game, there are very few monsters. You won't see any for quite a while. But the threat is always there, and every sound or shadow will send you running for the nearest hiding place, extinguishing your lamp and trying to breathe quietly. Okay, maybe only I did that.

Of course, having Daniel crouch in the dark for too long is a terrible idea, because in addition to the various horrors awaiting Daniel ahead and chasing him from behind, Daniel also is going insane.

Witnessing disturbing events, seeing monsters, or just being in the dark too much all contribute the the sometimes-rapid degeneration of Daniel's mental health. The more insane he goes, the odder things you begin to perceive: doors slamming on their own, paintings changing to more gruesome ones, and so on.

This presents an interesting meta-resource-management aspect to the game. Do you carry your lamp, burning your rare oil, attracting whatever monsters may be around, but preserving your sanity? Or do you run across the castle from candle to candle, hoping to not trip over something monstrous in the meantime?

To return to the topic of atmosphere, I want to say that Frictional has created one of the most beautiful, engrossing environments in memory. Castle Brennenburg is gorgeous itself, in a Lovecraftian, fantasy-inspired ancient castle kind of way that geeks love. The scarcity of light lends to the beauty of the occasional window, the luminous stream pouring through a reminder that there is a reason to try to escape. The soundtrack is also astonishing. At times, it highlights the broodiness of the castle- dark, slow, and subtle. Sometimes, you stumble across a pleasant scene, and the music changes to a bittersweet, seemingly-reminiscent piano theme.

I would not classify Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a survival horror game in the traditional vein. This is an adventure game, one of the best I've ever played, though one with distinctly horror themes. The gameplay revolves around exploration and interacting with the environment. The puzzles are never difficult, but they actually help to pace the game. You should never be "lost" in Castle Brennenburg, because the game takes place in fairly closed environments, meaning that you should never have to go far to solve whatever puzzle is impeding your progress.

Finally, I'll return to the story. I won't give much away, but know that the narrative of Amnesia is superbly written, and the way in which the game drops small chunks of Daniel's past into your lap, without any way to correlate them until the end, is brilliant. All you ever really know is that something is terribly wrong, and you have to fix it.

So, to return to my issue with Roger Ebert. Personally, I define art as any creation purposely made to impart an emotional experience unto another human being. By the end of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I was gripped by a deep sadness for Daniel, who (very very slight spoiler) learns some awful things about himself. By the time the credits rolled, I had experienced more emotion as this character than I have in most books I've read, or movies I've watched, or paintings I've seen.

Roger Ebert, go play Amnesia. You'll thank me for it.   read

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