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10:28 PM on 04.19.2012

Max Payne & Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne: An overwrought restrospective

With Max Payne 3 on the horizon, I brought myself to play its predecessors for the first time over the last month or so. In an attempt to both get back into writing about my favorite hobby and practice my pathetic attempts to mimic Sam Lake and his amazing corny metaphor skills, I decided to write a retrospective on the games in monologue form, as per request from Xzyliac. Also, spoiler warning.

They were all dead. Lying down with their gunshot wounds lay bare; bullets pierced through them like cavities in the mouth of a child with no real self-restraint on Halloween night. After so many long hours, Max had escaped the trap that had been laid for him back in 1998. His journey through the night hadn’t ended, but he could finally wake up from the nightmare, down a few painkillers, and have a brief moment of respite before going back to the inevitable sleep that waited for him.

Then I clicked on the “Quit” option on the main menu and took a breather, mulling over the experience that had been presented to me, and what I would face next month when Max Payne falls back into his bed of lies and misery as his bad dreams bring him to Sao Paulo for the next chapter in the life that has become a miserable, meaningless existence. I had the two games residing in my Steam account for a while; they were bought for $2.50, like a cheap prostitute whose glory days were long gone and spent their remaining time doing whatever job they had the privilege of being offered. Unlike that whore, however, Max Payne shows its age, but does so with enough style and grace to be classified as an archaic, but still appreciated experience.

Max refused to talk in the beginning, like a gangster who couldn’t comprehend the gravity of his arrest, and just how hard the officer’s fist was in the interrogation room. A patch “convinced” him to open his mouth, and I was swiftly introduced to the neo-noir New York that Max came to know as his own personal Hell; provoking him into firing every bullet into the hearts of the criminals protecting the source of the drug known as Valkyr.

Max stood there over the dead body of his wife, standing over her like the cold, brutal storm that would come to stand over New York as he slowly worked his way towards the truth about the drug and freedom from being framed for the murder of his partner in the DEA. As the temperature dropped, so did the empty bottles of health-restoring painkillers, the countless magazines of bullets, and the bodies of hundreds of loose lipped mobsters (The kind who couldn’t pull off a stealthy ambush if a gun was pointed in their faces and their groin at the same time.).

As Max performed his brutal ballet of bullets barreling into brains, I found myself almost as taxed as the English settlers under King George III. Max frequently found himself quickly losing health at even the slightest bullet graze. Precious Bullet Time was a commodity I soon found that I could not waste, and I found myself degrading myself to find every bottle of painkillers possible. The cruel flow of time had deemed it too long since I played a shooter unafraid to send regenerative health out on the street, leaving the player to own up to their mistakes, and I made more mistakes than General Custer on a bad day. I found it refreshing like a beach breeze, even if that breeze occasionally brought its fair share of annoying flies along with it. And yet, soon the game clicked faster than my fingers could click the left mouse button. The slow-motion opera was choreographed with the precision of a needle and thread, while I watched the bodies cascade in a crescendo of chaos.

As the bullets flew, so did the awful one liners and metaphors. Max’s monologues never loosened up as time goes by, and the facial map on his model seemed to suggest that his constipation never loosened either. But Sam Lake’s written diarrhea soon grew on me. Max Payne is a game that kept one foot firmly in self-awareness, and it was rather amusing to see it. The story sometimes felt difficult to follow, like a drunk driver in a dense forest, but the experience grew on me, and I was somewhat sad to see it go.

Then, as I prepared Max Payne 2, that sadness turned to jubilation. A more developed graphical engine, more manageable difficulty, and a physics engine that resulted in even more detailed collapsing bodies of my victims in bullet time all waited me. It was time to put Max through his paces once again, and after countless episodes of Address Unknown, and hundreds of souls sent to their just reward, it was over. Unfortunately for Max, everyone he knows tends to end up severely injured or with a bullet in their brain.

They were all dead. Lying down with their gunshot wounds lay bare; bullets pierced through them like cavities in the mouth of a child with no real self-restraint on Halloween night. After so many long hours, Max had escaped the trap that had been laid for him back in 2001. His journey through the night hadn’t ended, but he could finally wake up from the nightmare, down a few painkillers, and have a brief moment of respite before going back to the inevitable sleep that waited for him.

And, indeed, the wait for Max Payne 3 grew harder. I grasped my mouse, and I returned to begin the next difficulty for Max Payne 1. My journey through the night was about to become a fever dream…


10:52 AM on 09.07.2011

In which I defend the 3DS's second nub

By now, most of you have already seen the new 3DS second nub attachment (and if you haven't...look above) and most of you, (judging by the comments) have raged at the thing. Whether it be because of the look, or because of the concept, the darn thing can't catch a break. Yet, I feel that much of this discourse may not be very well founded, and I would like to offer a few rebuttals.

We don't know how it came about. I'm sure there have been fans who have wanted a second nub considering the fact that the Vita will have one. This puts Nintendo in a predicament. What if this attachment wasn't an excuse for Nintendo to decide to make a new 3DS, but a result? If they were to simply announce a new model, the current 3DS owners would feel slighted. Instead, this is a way of Nintendo to allow them to play the games that will be compatible without having to go out and buy that new model, instead paying a much smaller amount on an add-on.

Furthermore, we don't even know if it will be something that becomes standard in future games. It might. Or it might just be something used in a minority. Nintendo hasn't needed that second nub until this point, because they don't offer as many games that make it a necessity. Even if there do end up being games that offer it as an option, it could just be that; an option. If it makes your experience better, you can go out and get it, or you could ignore it.

Moreso than anything else though, I think we need to look at it and recognize what Nintendo is trying to do: Improve the handheld. They are not taking anything away, they are not forcing you to buy it (at least not yet). They are trying to make the experience better. The 3DS had a bumbling first several months, but now with Nintendo trying to fix some of the mistakes that the fanbase made incredibly clear, is it worth bemoaning it? The 3DS's problems have happened; they're in the past, no one can change them. Can't we just, for once, appreciate them trying to bring it up to our expectations?

If nothing else, I ask you this: In ten days, Nintendo will have their 3DS press conference before the Tokyo Game Show, where they'll go over this, and their plans for the future. Then we can see where this is going. Can we just keep an open mind until then?   read

10:34 PM on 02.16.2011

Groundhog Day: The Advance of a Blue Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rather...mixed history. He rose to power back in the early 1990s to combat the plumbing menace, had some great platformers, had a few stumbling blocks back on the Dreamcast, and by the time SEGA dropped out of the console wars, just about all of the important people from his past left Sonic team. This resulted in some 3D games that were outright panned by critics and the gaming community, yet despite this, the games still sold like bottled water in the desert. So he's still here. Fortunately he's starting to get back in the swing of things. He had a solid start to his platforming revival with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, a stellar 2D outing with Sonic Colors DS and an...okay...attempt at finding a 3D formula that works in Sonic Colors Wii.

Now, I say Sonic Colors Wii was just okay and not great because even though I do enjoy it, it's because I believe I have a stronger threshold than others when it comes to these things. Some of the level design is pretty bad at times, and there can be a serious sense of misdirection (Starlight Carnival boss, I'm looking at you) that can cause way more trouble than can be required. But the other games I brought up are great. Outside of a few not-so-great levels and the fact that the physics aren't quite where I want them to be Episode I was a darn good start, and Sonic Colors DS proved that the formula created in Rush could result in a great experience with the right level design.

There's a reason for all this, and its one that SEGA really needs to realize if they're gonna bring Sonic back into the spotlight: Sonic Team sucks on their own, but with Dimps at the helm they can kick massive rear. The fact is, just about everything Dimps has a hand in is considered to be better than what Sonic Team does on their own. And one game of theirs in particular is one that I just can't get away from as of late: Sonic Advance.

I started replaying Sonic Advance last year, right around the time Sonic 4 was announced. While I spent more time with the Nintendo Gamecube Sonic games (I was a kid, don't judge me) than I did with the Genesis games, I also spent a hefty amount of time with some of his handheld offerings, and the one that got me the most was Sonic Advance. Advance 2 was okay, and Rush was entertaining while it lasted, but the original Advance was the game that I couldn't get away from as a kid.

I opened my handheld drawer in my dresser, dug out my old Game Pak, and stuck it in my Game Boy Advance SP (which still works, amazingly; Game Boy hardware lasts). Then right as the Chaos Emerald floated into Eggman's hands, the nostalgia hit me like a whack from Amy's hammer. This was the game I fell in love with. The stellar level design, the sense of speed, the superb music, and the respectable cast. Everything was how I remembered it.

First off, Sonic Advance is incredibly faithful to the old games. Much like them, speed is not the main pull here. First and foremost, the focus is precision platforming, with speed used as a reward for playing well. There is no speed boost meter, no complex moveset outside of a few stunts for each character, no objective other than run to the end and collect as many rings as possible as quickly as possible and don't get hit by Badniks. That's it. Of course, each level has lots of paths to go through, so you can keep coming back to explore and find new hidden secrets. Along with that, the character roster is much more conservative than some of his more recent outings. You can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy. That's it. No Shadow the Hedgehog, no Cream the Rabbit, no Big the Cat. Plus, no voice acting so the odds of their personalities getting in the way is minimal.

Another thing Sonic Advance nailed was the atmosphere. The music was upbeat and memorable, and stuck with me long after I stopped playing the game. Most of the levels were based on previously explored themes, but they perfectly managed to keep the upbeat spirit of the classic games intact, and sometimes resulted in some dare I say epic scenes. I mean, how often in a 2D platformer do you get to run up a rocket while it's flying into space and huge pieces of it are falling off as you ascend. Egg Rocket Zone does just that, and it's accompanied by some fantastic music.


But the thing that really got to me was that the game was probably the fact that, for me, it was the perfect storm. As a kid, it was a 2D platformer with Sonic in it. That was enough. But now, it's a remnant of what once was, and what we're capable of. Not only is it my own personal nostalgia engine, but it's a reminder that Sonic games did and still can be a contender in this industry. It was a reminder of what 2D platformers are capable of in this day and age of 3D technology, big budget action titles, and developers trying to ape one another. A simple game that's only a few hours long with only a handful of gameplay mechanics can keep my attention to the point where I have spent hours upon hours (maybe even more than a hundred) playing it. It's a reminder that, even though we've moved on, sometimes the simplest of gameplay can keep the hedgehog running.

All these elements resulted in a game that felt exactly like the classic Genesis games, but most of all, it felt like it was what Sonic would have gone in for the future. Unfortunately, the fanbase cried out complaining that it was too slow, and each subsequent game has veered farther away from that timeless 2D formula. Starting with Sonic Advance 2, the "hold right to win" mentality got hold, and the fanbase ate it up. So when Sonic 4 was announced, I came back to Sonic Advance, and was immediately greeted with what has become possibly my personal favorite Sonic game ever. Call it nostalgia, call it a lack of experience but since I pulled that Game Pak from my drawer it's become one of my handheld mainstays, and every once in a while, I'll pull it out again just to practice in the time trials, or run up Egg Rocket Zone again. As the Steamtoid regulars are fully aware, my Sonic kick hit full speed, and it's only gotten faster since Sonic 4 Episode I hit.

I've since started catching up on some of the older Sonic games that I've missed, and am currently going through Sonic 2 (I'd be farther, but some of my perfectionist tendencies keep me behind) but Sonic Advance will always remain the game that pulled me in to Sonic's 2D adventures, and now that I've rediscovered it, I feel it may end up being one of those games that'll just keep pulling me back in.

Now if you'll excuse me, I feel the desire to go for a run. The chime of the rings call me...   read

7:17 PM on 01.26.2011

2010 Sucked: Sequels, expansion packs, and Super Mario Galaxy 2

2010 was actually a pretty great year, to be honest. We had some great games, some awesome announcements, and aside of a few editors having to move on, Destructoid is now bigger and better than ever. To be fair, even with a few speed bumps here and there, just about all of the games I played lived up to expecations.

There is however, one thing that's kind of bugged me. That something being that after the whole debate about expansion packs and sequels after last year (see: Left 4 Dead 2 ridiculousness) it seems that a lot of that went under the rug this year. Okay, not entirely, we had plenty of games that went under that. But there's one game that, considering the community's response, could potentially say that we still haven't accepted a universally accepted "sequel" formula.

And that game is Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Now before I go any further, let me just make this clear. I love Super Mario Galaxy 2. It has, without hyperbole, the best pure three dimensional platforming gameplay I've ever experienced, period. It is one of the finest games I've ever played. As a matter of fact, if Super Mario Galaxy 1 didn't already come out, and I was asked to review SMG2, I wouldn't hesitate to give it a perfect 10 out of 10.

But there was one thing that niggled at me for the entire length of the game. That being that really, when you look at it, nothing new really was added. Sure, there were new levels, new power ups, and other aspects like Yoshi brought in a bit more depth to the game. But what did the game really do a whole lot that was actually all that new?

Look at some of Mario's other sequels. Super Mario Bros. 2 was pretty much a different game than Super Mario Bros. 1 (as would be obvious considering it wasn't even a Mario game in Japan). Super Mario Bros. 3 brought in an (well, almost free-roaming) world map, flight gameplay with the Tanooki suit, a larger variety of level themes, mid-level mini-games, and plenty of other stuff. Super Mario World brought in Yoshi, even more new themes, the ability to replay previous levels freely, lots of exploration. Heck, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a game where one of the primary selling points was its familiarity, added the chaotic co-op mode.

Even past those, Super Mario 64 made the massive dive-bomb into real-time 3D gameplay. Heck, even Super Mario Sunshine did things differently. Whether or not you think FLUDD added to or detracted from the quality of the gameplay, it played very differently from SM64. And Super Mario Galaxy pretty much ditched almost all of the problems that its 3D predecessors had.

What significant changes to SMG1's formular did Super Mario Galaxy 2 bring that hadn't been seen before? A few minor changes here and there, the world map, some new power-ups. But that's kind of it. Mario had the same basic moveset, the game had the same basic elements. For pete's sake, a few of the levels were practically ripped from SMG1 and even SM64! There were improvements, yes, but when the first game was as incredible as it was, those improvements were borderline-negligible. The fact remained that (for me, anyway) that sense of playing a brand new game, a game with new secrets and fresh components, was practically gone.

I've seen other games in the last few years that have done a far more significant job of playing with the established ideas of their predecessors, or at least trying some new ideas, even if those ideas didn't work as well as hoped. Heck, I'd even say that Metroid: Other M, with all its problems and all the less than stellar execution weighing it down, did a better job to try and keep the franchise fresh with new ideas than Super Mario Galaxy 2 did for its own. Even if the game did have issues, at least we can try and figure out which parts of the game did work, and try and build upon those parts for the next game.

Look, I don't mean to say anyone is wrong to love the game. At the end of the day, you have the right to your own opinion. But I can say that almost no one who reviewed it, almost no one who champions the game on comment threads or message boards (or at least no one I've seen) has stated the simple idea that the game could have done better to earn the "2" at the end of the name. That makes me genuinely concerned about where the industry will go from here. Any franchise, no matter how revered, should always be encouraged to mix things up, make things feel fresh again.

I can't change what has happened in the past, and I can't change how you all view the industry. Playing devil's advocate against one game isn't going to do that. But I hope this encourages a few of you to just sit back, remember all the sequels you've played, and just consider what being a sequel should require, and what we should ask from the companies who we're paying to entertain us.   read

9:41 PM on 08.10.2010

Teh Bias: Inside the mind of the retrogamer

In the last several years, retro gaming has resurfaced as a new movement in the industry. Starting with services like the Wii's Virtual Console, and furthered by new games like Mega Man 9 and New Super Mario Bros. and its Wii counterpart which, by choice, go against their successor's innovation to create experiences similar to the games of years passed.

But now games are growing up, and we have to decide if retrogames have a place in these modern times. But are gamers ready to do that? Or more importantly, is doing that the right thing? Or is there a way that we can justify our retro biases and understand how to move forward?

It's clear that retrogames aren't going anywhere fast. As proof of this, look at Nintendo's upcoming lineup. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword marks a return to more colorful, cartoony visuals that breath a sense of youthfulness. Metroid: Other M, while bringing in the size and scope of the more modern Metroid titles, has a control scheme and basic gameplay that was clearly based off of previous titles. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby Epic Yarn both utilize tried and true 2D platforming that are based off of each franchises roots. Activision hopes to mark a return to the old days of social gatherings to play first person shooters with its Goldeneye 007 remake. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is the newest entry in a franchise acclaimed for its old school JRPG goodness. Heck, they're even pulling Pit out for the newest Kid Icarus game in almost two decades.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that part of the appeal of retrogaming is the nostalgia factor. Mega Man 9 had 8-bit pixel art and New Super Mario Bros. Wii included the Koopa Kids, first intruduced in Super Mario Bros. 3, a game that is heralded by many as the greatest platformer ever made, if not the best game ever made period. Both of these features are tied to the olden days of the NES, the system that many older gamers remember as their first. They were the days of plastic cartriges and storylines that you could fit on one page of an instruction manual.

These were simpler times not only for the games, but for the gamers as well. They were in their youth, where their only responsibilities were getting to school, and getting to dinner on time. They had innocence, and their lives were good. Now real life has showed up to bite them in the rear end. Retrogames allow them to return to a simpler time, when they had none of these problems. The nostalgia not only allows them to remember all the enjoyment out of classic games, but it also causes them to recall those days.

I myself recently pulled Sonic Advance out of my stash a few months ago, and after I started playing it I was immediately returned to my days of elementary school, relaxing in day care. I remembered playing the levels over and over again, looking for those elusive Special Springs. I recalled watching in awe of running up Egg Rocket Zone while the lower parts of it fell to the ground and the remaining parts continued soaring upwards; while awesome music blasted through my ears. It's one of the most epic levels I've ever played in a 2D platformer, and as a 12 year old, I was struck dumb. It also returned me to the old days when I could sit around and go fooling around in the playgrounds, when my grandfather could still give me piggyback rides, and when children's programming was still good.

But while games like Sonic Advance or The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past may have aged beautifully, other games haven't been so lucky. Super Mario 64, while still a good game, has not been on the good side of time. The graphics, the game design, even the control scheme have all been done better (often times by other Mario games). Sure, there might be some memories still attached to them, but the games themselves might not be as fun as they used to be.

This brings up the opposition to the retro movement. People argue that in creating new games to appeal to those emotions and nostalgia, they're holding gaming back. That they don't allow evolution in games to continue. These games do nothing to push the medium forward and they are counter productive. Not only that, but the gamers playing them are just as responsible. All they want to do is play the same old game all the time.

To an extent, the naysayers have a point. It's foolish to say that New Super Mario Bros. Wii didn't become the fastest selling single system game of all time without having the appeal of being familiar. It had simple 2D platforming where the only real objective is to keep moving right until you hit a flagpole. The controller was meant to be played like an NES controller, and many of the enemies were based off of classic characters from games past. Even the Super Guide's ideals, a feature that had never been used in a Nintendo game before, could be traced back to the days you'd have buddies over and you'd have your super awesome friend beat the levels you couldn't even lay a scratch on. Retrogames are treasured not only on their lack of innovation, but on their desire to go against innovation altogether.

And perhaps it is true that retrogames don't push the medium forward, but they wouldn't be popular if they weren't good. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mega Man 9 didn't become popular soley because they were familiar. They became popular because they represent a dying breed of games. Games that were good then, and good now. They carry design philosophies that modern games don't, and while some of them died out for a reason like lives systems or passwords, many of them are still just as good now as they were 20 years ago. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 may be utilizing an art style, soundtrack, and gameplay based on the classic Genesis games, but when you consider that the last great Sonic game was Sonic Advance, a game that stood up to the test of time because it was a continuation of the Genesis design philosophy, Sonic 4 has the potential to be the best, and most focused Sonic game in years. Most importantly, at the end of the day, SEGA's still willing to push the franchise forward and make Sonic work in 3D. Just look at Sonic Colors.

I'm not against progression in games in any way. There is a reason why games that try new and innovative ideas get critically acclaimed. But there is still room for a few retro games here and there as well. Just because New Super Mario Bros. Wii sold fourteen million copies worldwide doesn't mean that the entire industry will cease focus on new and exciting games. No one can play the same game forever, retrogamers included, and I think our biases can still leave room for the newest franchise to make its way into our systems.   read

1:51 PM on 08.07.2010

Darksiders post-second dungeon impressions

About a week ago I picked up Darksiders from Gamestop. I realize that I'm several months late to the party, but I had heard some mixed feelings about the game and decided to wait until the price went down. Plus the game had been selling pretty well so I wasn't worried about the developers not getting proper support. Anyway, it was on sale for $20 so I decided to strike. This morning I finished the second dungeon, so I felt that it was time to put my impressions down on paper.

First of all, the art style is fairly appealing. There's a good variety of different areas, colors, and textures as well as a fair job of continually introducing new demons to turn into mince meat. Along with that, the storyline is fairly deep, or as deep as it needs to be at the very least. I will however say that some of the character design is overwrought. War in particular looks way too detailed and half of the items on his outfit serve no purpose other than to try and make him look cool (Which it doesn't, to be honest). His personality feels a little boring as well. He's supposed to be the embodiment of violence, yet he's spent most of the game scowling full of angst.

The combat feels a little shallow. So far the game has done a decent job of introducing new weapons on a regular basis. Chaoseater and the Scythe work fairly enough as a light and hard attack, and there's a good variety of moves you can purchase using the souls you collect. Plus the enemies have decent variety and the quick-time event finishers are fairly well implemented. But why is it that all the combos can be counted on both hands? All you can do is hit one of the buttons, and after three hits the combo ends, and you can't work in the other weapons into your combos as well. It gets repetitive really fast. I'm not a huge fan of the dodge mechanic either. It isn't as effective as I'd like it to be, and holding down the right bumper then flicking the stick just feels weird, although I guess it feels better than using the right stick. Although part of my frustration might have to do with the fact that I played Bayonetta when it came out; there were a crapton of combos in that game and the dodge mechanic was fantastic.

As for the dungeon crawling, it is Zelda to a "T". Collect four life shards to increase your health meter (Pieces of Heart), check. Do puzzles that involve pushing blocks and hitting switches, check. Collect an inventory item that will be used to solve puzzles and defeat the boss at the end, check. To be totally honest, it's really getting close to ripoff territory. The very first item you get is a boomerang, and considering the fact that there's a hookshot later in the game, I'm guessing that it won't do a whole lot to differentiate itself.

But for all it's flaws, I'm only two dungeons in, and I'm willing to keep an open mind. The combat may be flawed, but it doesn't bother me too much (I really enjoyed Madworld, so repetition in beat-em ups doesn't bother me horribly) and the dungeon crawiling, while derivative, is still entertaining and fun. Besides, as I said earlier I waited for the price to go down for a reason, and so far the experience has been worth $20. So we'll see. If anything the game should satisfy my Zelda fanboyism until Skyward Sword comes out.   read

2:34 PM on 06.29.2010

The Great Escape: Unfamiliar Territory

In elementary school, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Most of you are aware of ADHD. Hyperactivity and difficulty focusing were my primary symtoms. I was nuts as a kid, bouncing off walls and going crazy were common feats for me. But I was also diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's is a form of autism. It is a somewhat minor form of it though. While many well-known forms of autism affects people physically, Asperger's focuses primarily on social interaction.

ADHD and Asperger's alone were bad enough, but when combined they became a massive hurdle in my learning process. I had to go to a private school in the 5th grade, and stayed in private schooling for almost 5 years. During that time the only social interaction with my local peers became Boy Scouts, a hobby I excelled in (I ended up earning the Eagle Rank) but that was a minor part of my social life. I had made new friends at my private schools, but midway through my freshman high school year, I returned to the public schools. But those five years had taken their toll.

Asperger's makes me have trouble interacting. I had trouble maturing mentally. Even at the age of 14 or 15, I had maturity of a pre-teen. Of course, this had its advantages. I had a better appreciation for the downsides of things like drugs and alcohol. I did a better job of staying out of serious trouble. It gave me greater resolve for my goals. It also ended up being the base for my love of Nintendo, almost to a worrying degree. I was a hardcore Nintendo fanboy. I grew up gaining a greater appreciation for the wholesomeness of Nintendo games, while others wouldn't go near them ("THOSE GAMES ARE GAY", etc.) Games practically became a second religion; Mario, Zelda and Metroid were the holy trinity.

But after all that, eventually my ability to do school work had become satisfactory, and I was deemed prepared to return to my local schools. Friends I knew from Boy Scouts were still there; I don't know how I'd get by without Bufar being the nerd I could lean on. But even though I made new friends, I quickly realized the gap that formed while I was away. Oh sure, I could do my schoolwork fine, (I only once failed a class, but it wasn't even enough to fail me for the year.) but I was totally out of place everywhere else. This was a world unknown. It was a world of danger, of mischief and debauchery. Oh I tried to join in, but every time I did, I stuck out like Gordon Freeman on a radio talk show. I misunderstood what went on. I felt uncomfortable.

Going out and partying doesn't make me happy. I tried sports, the root of all evil. Gave track and field a shot, but I was horrible. While the rest of them learned better physical habits like exercise, I had learned new, less body-reliant activities. I couldn't even get into school functions, the pep rallies, the school dances, the football games. This wasn't fun to me. Even with the friends I did have, things rarely got far. I'd go over to their houses to play Rock Band every once in a while; we'd talk on the internet about things. That was as far as things went however. I just went in different directions than everyone else.

Unfortunately, part of this was the Asperger's Syndrome. I have trouble with things like tone of voice. I get excited and interested in a conversation and the tone of my voice gets louder without me even noticing it. I have trouble telling sarcasm from normal conversation. In the end, outside of the few friends I have, I'm something of a social outcast.

I ended up returning to my games. This was one constant I was familiar with. After a day slowly stumbling through school. I would sit down, pop in Mario, and all of a sudden, everything disappeared. My work was no longer an issue. My hometown became Hyrule. The adventures in the park became adventures in Zebes. I didn't need to go to the movies, I could play Viewtiful Joe and be IN the movie. This was familiar. This was something I understood. Yeah I wasn't very good with real life, but I didn't need it. Sean Corey wrote an editorial on the very subject, and at this point I realized why I love games so much. Because even though I can't go out and be social like everyone else, I still have one place that I can call home.

Is this a crutch? Maybe. Maybe I'm not very competent. Maybe I'm doomed to live like this. Or maybe not. Now in between my freshman year of college and my sophmore year, I'm trying to improve. I'm trying to learn golf. I've got a job that provides me with decent money. I'm trying to broaden my horizons. And if it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have found Destructoid. I wouldn't have become very good friends with those who like to use the Steam group chat, I wouldn't have found about all the awesome things that gaming can provide. And I learned that gaming isn't a lifestyle. Its a hobby. Its a place where I can sit back after a hard day's work and relax. I can find my little bit of nirvana. But its a place I can't stay forever.

I don't mean to sound like I'm the most miserable person on the planet right now. I know that the last eight paragraphs make me sound like the stereotypical nerd that you see on television when the writers are to lazy to realize that we're not all people living in our parents' basement shunning all other forms of life, but I've accomplished a lot in the 19 years I've been on this planet so far, and I have every intention to keep going. But I probably wouldn't have reached this point if it weren't for games. They helped me get through the hard times and I'm glad they existed.   read

6:45 PM on 06.17.2010

Something about E3: The Key To Victory

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is one massive advertisement. That's not an insult, its an aspect of business. The games "journalists" go there to gain info on all the latest games, which they then show to their readers. Then they get excited, and now potential consumers become more attached to the products shown off. Then investors who have their precious money riding on the success of these games gain more confident in their decisions. The fact is, this is how the industry has always worked.

This year, the majority opinion is that Nintendo is considered the company that "won" E3. They were the company everyone was talking about. They showed off the most exclusives. They drove the fanboys crazy with their lineup. They all but proved that they are the leaders when it comes to handhelds from what we've seen of the 3DS. Kirby is made out of yarn. As a whole, Nintendo dropped more bombs than Bomberman in an Avro Lancaster. But it wasn't a simple matter of showing off enough games to make the fanbase happy. Almost everything that happened at their conference was carefully calculated to make sure they came out on top, to the point where it almost seems devious.

They knew it was time to go, and let the rest take their place.

First of all, we need to look at Nintendo's "hardcore" lineup. Out of their entire conference, only Wii Party and Just Dance 2 could be considered games that are "casual". The rest seemed to be games aimed at their traditional audience. This is in stark contrast to the last few years. (You all remember the Wii Music fiasco from 2008) Meanwhile, look at Microsoft's and Sony's conference. Kinect and Move took up huge portions of their shows.

The fact is, interest in the casual market is starting to wane. There is a very good possibility that "casual" gaming is just a fad, and eventually it will lose relevance. Nintendo has realized that it's losing that market, and now they're in the middle of leaving it. But before then, they managed to gain a massive monopoly on the market, and its one that Microsoft and Sony are walking right into. The slight "improvements" that their controllers have over the Wii Remote when it comes to motion controls aren't simply going to allow them to take a piece of the casual pie. Nintendo has a firm grasp on it, but they're slowly moving their eggs into the mainstream basket, and now Microsoft and Sony's time in the casual market is limited. Heck, they're even taking some of their newfound fans with them.

They know when to leak

Then we come to the leaks. This is also something Nintendo has carefully monitored. What games did we know about? Donkey Kong, Goldeneye, heck we even saw some Kid Icarus concept art from time to time. This was all done to keep interest in the franchises so that we'd get even more excited. Nintendo is king at fanservice. They know how to string along fans providing them with the info on their franchises they desire. They give them juuust enough info to keep them excited until the official announcement.

Seriously, just look at Kid Icarus. How many of you guys squealed like a little girl when Kid Icarus: Uprising was announced? Probably a lot of you. I did too. Now how many of you have actually played Kid Icarus? I certainly haven't. Would you consider the franchise as being high profile? Does the quality hold up? Now we get a brand new game and its like it's a long running franchise that we devoted hours of our time to, and yet all we've seen is a trailer. (A really good trailer mind you, but we know borderline-nothing about the gameplay.) This was all planned. Of course, the concept art was always present, but think about Pit's appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They took time to establish Pit as a character, gave him some time in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the very same development studio that made SSBB is now hard at work giving him a proper next-gen sequel. They've been secretly gathering interest in the game, even to those that haven't even played the previous games.

And you know what? That might not be the only game Nintendo has planned with that strategy. We already know that Dr. Andonuts had his own door at E3. Why would he get his own door at E3? They could be screwing with us, but you know who else was in Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Ness and Lucas. Nintendo keeps hinting at a new Mother game every once in a while, they could be ready to reveal it. TGS is just around the corner, guys.

Then, just after the conference, this list of games was leaked onto the net. Every game under the sun was there. And in the middle of Sony's conference, Nintendo leaked screenshots for a remake of arguably the greatest game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo had enough of a list to keep people talking about it, maybe even believe it was too big to mention during the conference, (which it was) make it seem bigger than it was.

All of this, combined with the amazing hardware and software lineup of the 3DS, and Nintendo seems just about ready to return to their fans. The amazed everyone because they understood how to market everything properly. They took what they could from their casual market, and they came back in a huge way to their traditional audience, while Microsoft and Sony are fumbling with their motion controllers, Nintendo seems convinced what their plan is from here on out, and they made that very clear at their conference. Again, I'm not saying that we should be calling them out for what they've done. They're simply doing their jobs. And we as the consumers now get almost exactly what we wanted to show up at E3. That's why they "won" E3.

That, and the fact that KIRBY IS MADE OUT OF FREAKIN' YARN.   read

4:42 PM on 04.27.2010

An open letter to Reverend Anthony Burch

In 2006, a good friend of mine showed me the Destructoid review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Some douche-nozzle gave it a 4.0. Twilight Princess was my game of the year. This man is obviously insane. To give some context, 2006 was one of my last remaining years as a die-hard Nintendo fanboy. That included disregarding the opinions of those who disagreed with me. This "Reverend Anthony" shouldn't be working for a game site, let alone as a reviewer.

The next year, I had started to leave that fanboy mindset, and around October, I was looking for a new site to visit. Dtoid fit the bill. By that point I had started to pay more attention to Anthony, and over the course of the next few years, realized how outstanding he was. The thought-provoking Rev Rants, legitimately funny HAWP videos, his insight into the indie scene, and how much he managed make himself known on the site. This was not a man who simply liked games. This was a man who understood their advantages, knew how they worked, what made them great, and how they could be better. This was a man who knew games inside and out. He could speak to the masses about thought-provoking design, and they would listen, because he was usually right. A man deserving of the term Reverend if I ever saw it.

To be honest, Anthony, you've had more influence on this site and its people than any other editor, and you're quite possibly the greatest game critic I've ever known. I am more than happy to have had a respect for you on the same level as a new Mario or Zelda, and coming from a former Nintendo Fanboy, that means a lot. I think I speak for all of us when I say that you're not just an editor, you're a goddamn hero. This site will not be the same without you and I don't think I'd trade the time I've known you for anything in the world right now.

So, I guess there isn't much left for me to say, except for, "Best regards for your new job and congratulations on your engagement. And if you ever need somewhere else to go, we'll always have a place for you here."


12:51 PM on 04.26.2010

E for Effort: Dead Space

Dead Space was a survival-horror game released in 2008. It received critical acclaim for its utilization of different aspects of a wide variety of previous horror games to create an experience unlike any other game.

Unfortunately, despite using all those ideas, it fails to use any of them to become truly outstanding.

The fact is that while the game has everything in place for a fantastic, albeit familiar experience, it doesn't manage to truly understand how they all work and are effective.

We can start with the story. This is easily the most common complaint against the game. The primary focus of the game is that it starts with you knowing nothing about what happened on the ship you're on. This is still one of the most common traits of a horror game. Start it with a mystery that the player knows nothing about so that the enemy seems more mysterious and the player does not understand him. As we've seen in real life most commonly by some of the more aggressive supporters of wars overseas, people fear that which they don't understand. This is more or less done to a satisfactory degree, but at the exact same time, it isn't supported by the poorly written and uninteresting script. There are moments where it just seems like a joke more than anything else.

Then there's the subplot between the protagonist, Issac, and his girlfriend. Obviously we do not care about her, we don't know her. Therefore, the writers should have been attempting to evoke some sympathy from the players. They should feel bad about Issac losing his girlfriend, and want to meet her, if only to see him satisfied from her rescue. The problem is, we cannot feel sympathy for Issac. He has no personality, he never speaks, we never see him. He is a blank slate who has no connection to the player other than acting as their avatar as they progress. There are games where silent protagonists can be useful, but if the other characters are not being met at the same time as the player, or the player feels sympathy and appreciation of those characters, the whole concept falls a bit flat in terms of forming relationships.

Next, the gameplay. This was considered one of the more highlighted aspects of Dead Space. While most horror games focus on shooting anywhere on the body, specifically the head, Dead Space utilizes weaponry that are designed to shoot limbs. This brings up a refreshing change of pace. Instead of shooting wildly, players were encouraged to shoot the parts of the body that would be most likely wailing about as they rush towards you in anticipation of tearing you apart. Unfortunately, they rely on this concept a bit too much. It gets repetitive far too quickly, and they don't do a very good job of introducing new enemies on a regular basis. This isn't helped by stasis being easy to use and feeling overpowered. Enemies that were normally hard and challenging to take down, felt like a cakewalk with it. Also, the game doesn't do a good job of making the player feel rewarded for succeeding in doing damage. While Resident Evil 4 might still have a sketchy status in terms of being a quality horror game in hindsight, it managed to stay fresh throughout its long playtime thanks to its wide variety of set pieces, and satisfying combat. There was a satisfying mix of both horror and bloody satisfactory feedback. And they still managed to come up with new and interesting ways of changing the enemies in presentation, defense, and weapons.

Now comes the most problematic part of the game: the atmosphere. Ironically, the thing that most reviews seemed to appreciate about the game falls a bit flat. Simply put, the game is all conflict, but no buildup. If you want to scare players with monsters, but only have 2 or 3 of them at once, you can't simply have them show up and even let the players see them before said monsters start attacking them. You need to allude to their existence and build up what they do and are capable of first. Furthermore, don't always use screeching and bellowing music all the time. Using genuinely creepy music that feels sad and mournful can have just as much as an effect. The problem was that the game felt like it was all action and thriller, but tried to present itself as a true-form chilling horror game, and to that extent, it fell flat.

The sad thing is, after all that there was still some potential for a great horror game. The main control scheme was more or less solid, and the new ideas, including the zero-gravity effect and timed vacuum sequences, had some genuinely memorable moments of scary thrills and creativity. For all intents and purposes, had the fundamentals been better, Dead Space could have been able to stand with the likes of Resident Evil 4, Left 4 Dead, or Silent Hill. But as is, its a rent-worthy experience that only stands to sadden that it could have been truly great.   read

2:31 PM on 04.06.2010

E for Effort: Sonic Adventure

I like the music in the 3D Sonic games. There, I said it. For ages while playing Sonic Adventure for the first time, I found myself singing Open Your Heart constantly. At least until Sonic and the Secret Rings, they endeared themselves to me. Yeah, I know they're the exact opposite of what Sonic music should be, they're cheesy and they are for all intents and purposes, horrible. I accept that, but for me, they're a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, the term guilty pleasure could probably be used to summarize Sonic Adventure as a whole. Arguably the most polarizing of the 3D Sonic games, to many Sonic Adventure was a good first attempt at a 3D formula for a true Sonic game. To others, its the beginning of the series' downfall. Sonic ran through levels that were constantly pulling him to a stop, running turned into giant fetch-quests, shooting galleries, and lame fishing areas and with Big the Cat, Sonic started to become overflowing with lame sidekicks that no one cared about and wanted out of the picture. Its not very refined, has plenty of moments where the camera gets in the way, and most of the voice acting is a bit questionable. And yet, I still enjoyed it.

If you want to see how a Sonic game can work in 3D, go play Sonic Unleashed, (preferably the Wii version; Dimps did a much better job on the level design) because that's where you'll find Sonic's true potential. Despite the fact that the game was pretty poor overall, there was a shred of brilliance in the levels where you get to play as the blue blur running through loops and speeding across courses. While they might still have been closer to the Sonic Rush philosophy of gameplay, (you spend a bit more time "pushing right to win" so to speak) they're a much better representation of what Sonic should be.

Now go back to Sonic Adventure. Disregarding the levels other than Sonic, the game plays out like a traditional platformer that tries to go really fast at specific points. To an extent, that's kind of what the older 2D games were. Precision platforming with speed acting as more of a reward; not quite identical, but it was on the right track. Of course, that track was riddled with glitches, wonky camera angles, and it wasn't quite as fluent as the 2D Sonic games. But despite all that, it was a good first start, and still enjoyable.

Even some of other characters, managed to find a certain niche they could exist in that used that formula in new ways. Tails had even more of an emphasis on speed, since he had to race another character to his destination, and Amy was constantly chased by one of Robotnik's robots, so she had to be constantly reacting to his movements, and quickly looking for methods of escape. While each of the modes was brought down by other problems, the basis for something potentially great was always there.

Because of that basis, I can still enjoy Sonic Adventure even after all these years. It may not have aged very well, but its still fun to play. Most importantly, combined with the Daytime levels in Sonic Unleashed, it can give me that one shred of (maybe foolish) hope that we'll see a truly great Sonic 3D game one day.   read

11:21 PM on 03.16.2010

Four years of STFUAJPG

Late 2007, I was starting in a new mechanical drawing class. Being the lazy jerk that I am, I needed websites that were not subject to my school's IP blocker. I checked out some blogs to find one that would work. Joystiq, Kombo, TheWiire, all opportunities to pass the time between projects. Then I remembered a blog that was referenced on Attack of the Show; "Destructoid" they called it I think. Wasn't that the site that allowed some douche to give Twilight Princess a 4? Wait, positive thinking. You're a converted Nintendo fanboy Peter, don't let one person's opinion get you in a twist. You loved it, that's all that matters.

I followed it for a while, leaving the occasional comments under the most generic username in existence. Tried to write a few blogs only to realize that they were total crap and hid them immediately. Went back to my comments, learned about how awesome Dtoid podcasts were and tried to get back into the community; try and find the community of gamers I so longingly wanted that my regular social life couldn't provide. I floundered in regular social situations that weren't focused on video games. Its as awkward as watching Gordon Freemon guest star on an episode of Gilmore Girls; I stick out like a sore thumb.

Anyway, I went back into blogs late last year and got one of them promoted. How exactly? I don't know. It wasn't very good, and I didn't even properly keep it after that. Made the stupid mistake of trying to edit it afterward, and it was completely ruined.

Then we played games for 24 hours to earn money for the destruction of cancer. I got to talk to the staff for what seemed like the first time. Welcome to Erf happened. I almost got to see Colette face her nightmares with Soda Popinski, a rivalry that has become Dtoid legend. I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl to communicate with these people in psudo-real life, when in reality, it was no big deal. All the members of the staff were real gamers just like me. They had their quirks, and they had their own personalities. I'd never seen that in any other gaming site ever.

The site was down for a few days in December, and in desperation of finding someone to listen to on the internet I found the Steamtoid group chat. The regulars there were all people who I could relate too. People who play the same games as me, and could relate. I was finally starting to feel at home.

So what are the last five paragraphs of composed warbling supposed to say? I guess that for the last 2 and a half years, Destructoid has become like family to me. Even though I've never seen any of you in person, and I probably won't for a while, I still find myself checking this site more often than I do going outside. You could take that as you guys being amazing, or me having no life whatsoever. Either way, you're probably right, which is what makes me so happy to be writing this blog right now. I've grown up since that day in class, I've matured, and you guys have been there with me. I feel like I won't make much of an impact on this site, or its readers, but I'm more than happy to have been along for the ride.

Outside of this site, I'm a 19 year old diagnosed with ADD and Asperger's Syndrome living in New Jersey who's still having trouble keeping up in school, has never been to PAX, E3, or even a proper organized NARP, and hasn't even written who he is in his blog page. But inside the site, I'm home. As ridiculously sappy as it is to say this, you guys are some of the most important people in the world to me right now, and I wouldn't have you any other way.

So at the risk of being redundant, I'm leaving a repeat of my comment on this year's anniversary post: Here's to 4 years of STFUAJGP and here's to 4 more! I said it at last year's anniversary, and I'll say it again: Niero, may those big red glowing lights of death you call eyes never burn out.


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