I'm a gamer from the NES era and onward. I love pretty much all kinds of games with the exception of racing, sports, and bad games (obviously). I'm also the co-host on the weekly podcast HYPER KNEE (http://www.hyperknee.blogspot.com), which is almost 1 year old now. I aspire to be either a video-game journalist, or comic book writer (and currently working hard towards those goals).
I'm not going to lie, as far as gaming goes, I did enjoy the year 2010, for the most part. Gamer's were able to get their hands on some great experiences. Experiences like Mass Effect 2, Megaman 10, Metroid: Other M, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and so on and so forth until it was time to claim Bankruptcy for irresponsible spending habits. However, there was one thing that greatly upset me about this year, and that was the stake in the heart to Castlevania, also known as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
For those of you that don't know, Castlevania is a series that runs all the way back to 1986 on the original Nintendo. It stars a clan of vampire hunters called the Belmonts, up until around 1996 anyway, when the beast forever known as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night made its debut. If you haven't played the original series, or have no idea what I'm even talking about, which would honestly scare me since you're supposed to be a gamer, then please stop reading this and take the time to play an original Castlevania title. You can't go any later than one of the Super Nintendo entries, those are the rules!
As hard as Castlevania tried, it was never able to truly make the jump into 3D like most. However, it wasn't such a bad thing. At least not for fans of the original's like me, anyway. I liked my Castlevania in 2D. However, as time went on, I could no longer bare the Symphony of the Night play-style over and over again, as the series continued to become saturated with anime-inspired characters, and exceedingly ridiculous/stupid story arcs, I could no longer take it. I just lost interest in the series all together and stopped buying them, except for Castlevania: Dracula Chronicles X on the Playstation Portable, obviously. All hope for me and Castlevania went out the window a long time ago, and this new entry was the last, tiny shred of light at the end of the darkest tunnel you could ever imagine yourself in.
Now that the obligatory history lesson is over, lets jump into Lords of Shadow (hereby referred to as: LoS). First, I would like to say that I was extremely optimistic about this title. I watched the trailers and gameplay videos whenever they surfaced, and I always attempted to ignore the flaws and things that I wasn't feeling in general. I was even one of those forum nerds that would have the audacity to defend the game when people would say it was a cheap, uninspired piece of shit. Yes, I'll admit it, I was that guy.
Then it came out, and there I was, first in line at the midnight opening at my local GameStop. With a big smile on my face, I forked over my hard earned dough for my reserved copy, along with a pretty sweet Castlevania T-Shirt (the best part of the deal, really). I promptly jogged home as I tore apart the shrink wrap and other Fort Knox-like security tapes that all games come with, so I could spend some time with a series that I know and love. I was most certainly in for a disappointment.
First, allow me to dive into the few things that I did genuinely enjoy about the game. The graphics, for one. I loved the way this game looked, the presentation was top-notch, and had some inspiring, vivid, landscapes that were very in tune with Castlevania. As I played through the thirty-some-odd hour adventure, I couldn't help but keep pushing forward simply because I wanted to see all the locales that were being offered. If there was one thing they did right when it came to making it feel like a real Castlevania game, it was how they designed the stages. I also felt that the combat system was very in-line to how a 3D Castlevania should play like. Obviously you can't have that one simple whip stroke like they did in the originals, that just wouldn't be much fun, and at least they gave him a whip-like weapon.
Now, I'm not going to go into the bad things in fine detail, because that would make this more of a review, and that's not what this is about, this is about the fact that the Castlevania series I know and love is dead, and it's never coming back. I didn't care about the storyline in this game, the characters were bland, boring, and mediocre at best, and to top it all off, it didn't feel like a story that belongs in the Castlevania universe. That is assuming we are trying to aspire to be more like the original series, of course (which is what the developers were trying to do).
The music was decent, however, once again, it didn't belong. Where's Bloody Tears? Vampire Killer (and no, not the music box version)? There are so many iconic Castlevania tunes, and instead of that we get some uninspired, orchestral, "epic" tracks. They did have one small music cue in the Waterfalls of Agharta track that was a nod to Super Castlevania IV's Waterfalls track, but that was it. The similarities ended there. The music box was also a cute touch, but not what I expected at all when I heard the Vampire Killer track was in the game.
The bosses were all wrong as well. Fighting silly Titans that reminded me of a watered down version of Shadows of Colossus is NOT Castlevania. Then on top of that, no REAL Frankenstein monster (not that stupid scorpion-machine thing), no mummies, and no true Grim Reaper. Seriously? Every Castlevania game has had the Grim Reaper up until now, even the garbage I didn't care to like. Instead, get ready to fight goblins, trolls, and swamp thing. This isn't Dungeons & Dragons, it's Castlevania! Give me my damn mummies!
I feel like I could go on and on about what I hate about this game, but why bother? It's not going to change the hard, obvious truth. The good old days of Castlevania are gone, and now we'll have uninspired "epic" games like LoS from here on out, and most likely more of the same 2D handheld titles on the side. The transition from 2D to 3D can be done right, in my opinion, and this could have been the turning point for Castlevania that actually made it fun, fresh, and familiar once more, but that certainly did not happen.
Castlevania has been on its death bed for a pretty long time, but it officially died last year, and that's more than enough of a reason to say that 2010 sucked.
It's been three years since Isaac Clarke went through the survival horror experience of the original Dead Space on the USG Ishimura. There's plenty of more thrills, action, and horror to be seen in Isaac's next adventure.
The story begins on the space station called Titan, in a city named Sprawl. Isaac wakes up to another Necromorph outbreak, lucky him. His memory has been shattered due to being locked away in an insane asylum, having nefarious tests being done on him for the government to learn more about the mysterious alien artifact called the Marker. On top of all this, Isaac's dead girlfriend, Nicole, is haunting him at what feels like his every waking moment due to his sickness called "dementia," which he contracted in the original game. All hope isn't lost though, as Isaac touches base with a mysterious someone who claims they have the cure for his dementia, and so the roller-coaster ride begins.
The game unravels itself in small bits and pieces, you follow objectives, talk to other characters, defeat Necromorphs, and so on and so forth. Thankfully, Isaac is usually in charge of his own objectives, so you don't feel like that little errand boy again like you most certainly did in the first game. Dead Space 2's story is somewhat vague on its details, and might leave you wondering a few things in the end, but it's not a big deal, and if you pay close attention you can probably connect the dots anyway for most things. A second play through cleared a lot of that up for me, personally. All in all, the story is pretty good and serves its purpose, to keep the game moving!
Gameplay in Dead Space 2 has been tweaked and fine-tuned since the original. The controls are much more responsive, faster, and tighter this time around. Remember when I complained about no hot-key button for Medipacks? Well, my prayers were answered here. The button layout is changed a bit, but for the best. Now your Statis recharge item and Medical items are mapped to specific buttons, so you don't have to frantically go into your inventory to heal yourself.
It's a good thing for that too, because Dead Space 2 is way more action packed and hectic now. You will find yourself constantly being swarmed by enemies, in much larger rooms than the tight hallways you're used to. Each encounter ends with that classic sigh of relief, once more feeling like you survived by the skin of your teeth, with lack of ammo reserves and medipacks to prove it. All in all, the gameplay is a huge step in the right direction for the series. I must also mention that Isaac's kinesis ability is much faster and precise, making Kinesis Impalement much more viable. I never used it in Dead Space 1, but I find myself constantly picking up limbs and tossing them into enemies to save myself the ammunition, and trust me, you'll want to save as much as you can for the brutal final chapters.
The game comes in a variety of different difficulties, from the noobish Casual, to the noobish Normal (yes, normal is still easy), the regular Survivalist (I would say this mode constitutes as the normal setting), and the hard Zealot, and the ridiculous unlockable Hardcore modes (limited to 3 saves, no checkpoints, less ammo, harder monsters, a true test gaming pride). Thankfully, there is a New Game+ feature once you finish on any mode, so going into the harder difficulties isn't as bad when you have the best suits and weaponry (assuming you found them all on your first run, of course). I think it's probably necessary for the harder settings of the game, actually. Unless you're a Hyper Knee Warrior.
Dead Space 2 is highly replayable due to the unlockable suits, harder difficulties, and that completist mentality of wanting to upgrade all your stuff. I know I keep going back for more as I try the harder levels, and continually grow stronger. The campaign will last you about 10-12 hours on your first run, and probably along the lines of 5-6 hours on your play throughs after that. If you were one of those people that played through Resident Evil 4 about seven-hundred times (I'm raising my hand here), then you're probably going to spend a lot of time with Dead Space 2 as well.
I'm not much a technical chump when it comes to graphics, so I always have a difficult time figuring out what to say about them. Do I know if they're super leet or if they are like zomg direct x version 25? No, not really, but I can safely say that I love the presentation. It's prettier than the first one, for sure, and shows off more variety too. No longer constrained to the USG Ishimura, Visceral Games went ahead and made more interesting areas to explore such as a dark, and enigmatic Church of Unitology, a day care center, which is hands down the scariest, creepiest part of this entire adventure, and plenty more.
Let's get into how the sounds of Dead Space 2. Once again, Visceral did a great job with voice work, and one thing you'll notice in particular is that Isaaac is no longer a mute. Before playing, I thought this would bother me, but from his first moment of dialog, I actually preferred him this way. He's funny, genuine, flawed, and just a downright cool dude. That had to be mentioned. Then of course there's the atmospheric music, the random noises of pipes dropping and random bursts of steams blowing around. DS2 managed to get a fear-jump out of me a great many times, even a few times on my second run. I shake my fist at you for scaring me, Visceral, but at the same time, I applaud you!
I dedicated a couple of hours to DS2's multiplayer component as well. While it's not as in-depth as games like Halo, and Call of Duty, it still manages to hold its own, and is an enjoyable time-killer none-the-less. All of the game-modes are very similar to one another, you will play as either the Humans or Necromorphs in the first round. As the humans, you will be tasked with different objectives that you must complete in order to win the round. As the Necromorphs you will have to, you guessed it, kill the humans and stop them from achieving their objective. Playing as the Necromorphs can be a bit boring, as they mostly play somewhat similar, whether it's a ranged or melee type. When I was in my mp matches, I was usually hoping the necromorph match would end already, so I could get to the human portion of it, which is, as I'm sure you could imagine, a lot more fun. There is some enjoyment to be had in multiplayer, but don't get this game if that's your sole purpose of playing it. Dead Space 2 is a single player experience before multiplayer, and we'd like to keep it that way. I'm assuming it was thrown in there as a nice diversion from the solo campaign.
To wrap up this review in a nice, neat package, Dead Space 2 is a fine example of what a sequel should be: you take everything good about the first game, put it into this one, and then fine tune everything to make an overall tighter, and more enjoyable experience. If you loved the original Dead Space, then there's no question that you're going to want to pick up Dead Space 2. If you didn't like the original Dead Space, then you still might want to give this a rental, as it is a bit more action oriented and fluid than the first game. Plus Isaac looks BAD ASS! That's enough of a reason to warrant giving DS2 a chance. Once again a Game of the Year contender slips in right at the first month of the year.
It's been a long time since I've played any Spidey games personally, ever since the sand box style gameplay came around I pretty much gave up on the series, even though I used to purchase just about all the ones that came out. I gave up on it all though after Ultimate Spider-Man.
There was a gleaming light of hope however when this gem was announced. Gone is the repetitive free roam style, and Spidey returns to real, level by level gaming (or in this case, split up in Acts). You play as four different Spider-Men after the Amazing Spider-Man shatters the Tablet of Order & Chaos, a mystical relic that apparently grants great powers to evil minded villains (even when only in pieces), in a scuffle with Mysterio. This begins Spidey's journey to recover the tablet shards and restore order before these villains dish out complete havoc. The storyline is basic, and doesn't change from start to finish, which I personally don't mind, I'd prefer an overly-simple story over an overly-complex one (which most comic books and games in general do now-a-days), so I suppose it's a breath of fresh air to not get any dumb plot twists and other stupid things of that nature.
The graphics are pleasing to the eyes, looking they were torn straight out of the comic book pages and onto our televisions. Every dimension (Amazing, 2099, Noir, Ultimate) has a unique look and feel to it. Amazing looks just like the comic books, 2099 is very bright with lots of lights and flashing, Noir is very dark and mysterious (the sky looks awesome, just thought I'd mention that), and Ultimate looks pretty much just like the Ultimate comic (probably the more lackluster of the three since the Amazing universe does that too).
Gameplay is where this game shines. Each universe has a different gameplay style, from the Noir stealth, to the crazy free-falling 2099. Amazing and Ultimate are a bit more on the normal side though, but that doesn't make them any less enjoyable to play through. Each stage has a lot of variety, and plenty of nooks and cranny's to explore for Spider-Emblems, and Hidden Spiders (which give you more Spider Essence to purchase upgrades). There's plenty to do in this game, due to the Web of Destiny, which is a series of challenges or goals that you must do to unlock the entire web. As you unlock more challenges, you gain access to more of Spidey's special moves and new costumes. Some of them are inevitably unlocked (such as defeating a boss, etc), but a lot of them are not, and you won't want to ignore them. I also must mention that zipping around the stages couldn't be easier with the easy to learn control scheme, and beating the crap out of enemies is a real pleasure too. There's also the first person view brawl scenes with the bosses, which I thought was a weird thing to add at first, but it grew on me very fast. The camera has its problems I suppose, though to be honest I've only had issues with it when I'm wall crawling, which I rarely do anyway.
The sound is great, notably due to the amazing voice actors of the Spider-Men and their foes. A lot of classic Spidey VA's are here, with funny lines and witty phrases being spout at every corner. It was a trip down memory lane for me, hearing Noir Spidey in particular, since I loved the 90's animated series, though I'm sure others will be partial to other VA's. The music isn't memorable, but that doesn't mean it's bad either. It gets the job done, to say the least. I particularly enjoy the music of 2099 and the Noir universes. I'm guessing by this point it's obvious that my two favorite dimensions are those two, since I continually mention them with praise.
This game is a must buy for Spidey fans, and fans of the action genre, or just plain anyone that's into a good game. There's a lot of potatoes with the meat with the Web of Destiny, 3 difficulty levels, rankings, and alternate costumes, so there's a lot of reason to go back and continue playing (probably more than the reasons I mentioned here). This is a great direction for Spidey, and I hope Activision keeps Beenox on board for their next Spider-Man release. Crossing my fingers for an exclusive 2099 game.
Metroid Other M is the latest installment in the classic Metroid series since Metroid: Zero Mission for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, so I'm sure MOM's release is a long time coming for many Metroid fans, such as myself.
The game starts off with an amazing recreation of the final encounter with Mother Brain at the climax of Super Metroid for the SNES. This scene right here really sets the stage for the quality of the game from here on out. In the beginning, there are a lot of cutscenes, which really slows down the beginning, but once you take in the story and head out into the Bottle Ship to explore, things start to move at a fantastic pace.
The gameplay is really incredible, as soon as the controller is in your hands it really feels like classic Metroid, but with all new twists. For example, to aim at enemies with your missile's, you must quickly aim your Wiimote at the screen and lock onto your enemy and fire away. It takes a moment to learn, but once you get it down, it's a really simple procedure. It's also possible to charge your beam before aiming at the screen for when you unlock super missiles, you just simply use the 2 button instead of the A button, so that makes the process even more painless for later in the game. Aside from the aiming there is also the dodge technique Samus has called SenseMove. It works like a dream, a quick dodge and Samus auto-locks onto the closest enemy. This also auto-locks you in first person, so you can quickly dodge and dive into Samus' visor for a clean shot. On top of all this, there's also the Overblast technique's, where you jump on your enemy's head and fire a charged shot straight into there head, and the Lethal Attacks, which are pretty self explanatory, but if you need to know there pretty much flashy finishing moves that are always awesome to watch. The only things that are annoying are the three or four points in the game where they make you walk in an over the shoulder view for whatever reason, and the "Find a clue" first person parts where you can't progress until you find the clue. For me, these parts only took five minutes at most, but apparently there are a lot of people having problems with it. There is also the concentration system, which removes the annoying "go back and forth to respawning enemy's and kill them to recharge your health and ammo" with a simple but effective system where you hold the Wii mote up and Samus recharges her health (when it's really low) and missiles naturally.
Exploring the Bottle Ship is a lot of fun, even though the game is linear, at the end of the day exploration is exploration, even if you know what direction you're going, everything you're seeing is still new to you (unless you're on a second playthrough of course). The areas are polished and easy on the eyes, and everything fits nicely. All in all, the gameplay is superb with tight controls and amazing attacks and power ups. Speaking of power ups, they finally decided to stop making Samus' suit bug out and lose all her power ups in the beginning (which really made her suit appear to have some faulty design, lets hope they stop with that for good), and instead replace it with an Authorization system. It makes a lot more sense to me, considering she's following the orders of someone else and not just doing her own thing, she figures out of respect instead of going buck-wild and blowing the entire place up with super missiles and power bombs, she would wait for proper confirmation, like a soldier should! Kudos for the brilliant work around that bothersome issue with these games.
The graphics are equally as impressive, Other M is probably one of the best looking Wii games made to date, which is perfectly normal coming from the graphic obsessed developer's at Team Ninja. Samus looks awesome, the monsters are really sweet too, especially a lot of the awesome throwback monsters from Super Metroid and earlier games. It's great to see them all new in 3D. The cinematic cutscenes are also top notch, some of the best FMV work I've seen in a long time. For graphics, this game definitely goes above and beyond, and delivers the goods.
The story is also very interesting, not quite the best I've ever seen in gaming, but definitely stands well on its own. Samus receives a distress signal from a Galactic Federation ship called the Bottle Ship. When she arrives she meets up with her former Commanding Officer, Adam Malkovich and his team. Samus decides to co-operate with Adam and his team due to their past history, so she follows orders from him and that's how the game progresses, similar to Metroid Fusion, just minus all that annoying text every time you hit a save room. Instead, you get a small gold dot on your map that shows you the next area to go to, kind of like in Zero Mission. So, unlike earlier Metroid games and the Prime series, you won't be lost without a clue for hours on end, and thankfully can go through the game at your own pace and not get lost a lot. My only gripe is that at least with Zero Mission you did have some sequence breaking options if you wanted, but if you wanted it to be completely linear and follow the path, that was up to you as well, but lets hope we'll see sequence breaking in the sequel, right? I also have to mention I really like what they've done with Samus here, she's much more of a person than I've ever known, and it's nice to finally know the person behind the visor.
The music is very atmospheric as well, though it doesn't live up to the great tunes of Super Metroid (though lets be honest, its hard to live up to that), and quite frankly I'm just glad they didn't do a bunch of remixes of classic tunes to satisfy everyone. I'm kind of sick of hearing remixed Metroid tunes in these games, personally. I'd rather hear new music, even if it's not as great. It does what it must, it sets the tone and the mood of the lonely Bottle Ship, and that's all that matters. The music is original here, and solid. I also have to mention that playing with headphones is really awesome, the sound effects can be so appreciated when you can hear every single little one, from switching to the visor view, to the morph ball. If you have a headphone slot on your TV, I highly recommend it, the sound effects are great!
All in all, I would say this is a great step in the right direction for finally bringing classic Metroid to the third dimension, there are a few things that need to be worked out from keeping this game from reaching a 10/10 like it's brother Super Metroid, but it's still a great game all on its own. I think if Nintendo continues working with this formula, and improving upon it, their can easily be a new generation of great Metroid game's coming our way.
Fans rejoice! It's about time. Good work to Nintendo and Team Ninja on this very successful experiment, I'm looking forward to what comes next in the future progression of Metroid, and hopefully it won't be in six years from now like last time.
If Super Metroid is a 10/10, then this is easily a 9/10. Good stuff!
Link to my podcast. If you're into retro gaming, check it out, if you're into the stuff that comes out now, I recommend you stay away (although we do cover recent news, we just might not say the nicest things about everything you probably like). Just being honest..
As always, another great episode of Hyper Knee for your listening ears, covering the topics listed in the title, and a few other surprises, be sure to give this a listen if you've enjoyed the last three episodes:
Also, I'm starting a side project called E Tank, where I'll be giving a little extra coverage on the gaming front (as well as paper-dice gaming, or more specifically, D&D 4e), here's the first clip of that: