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3:47 PM on 02.14.2011

Dear Pirates, Here's How Afford Games and Be Good People

I haven't blogged in a while so excuse me if I'm a little rusty at this. Seriously, my last blog post was an entry in a Pokemon meme from back when Jim was obsessed with Ekans. Those were some good times.

I'm throwing in a post on this always controversial topic because software theft (commonly known as piracy) is something that always brings the shitstorm and always annoys me because it's something that pisses me off. I hate seeing the arguments, I hate seeing the flamewars, I hate the holier-than-thou attitude that's often taken by both sides and most importantly I hate people acting like they don't give a toss about the consequences. The last bit there is most important because of something we all know to be true about this, the medium we love.

Videogames give us joy, we wouldn't be here if we didn't love videogames. So here's an idea, why don't we start acting like it and look for ways to better use that time we spend torrenting and playing games we didn't care enough about to buy? There are ways to have a huge amount of fun without spending $60 on every AAA title or even spending a penny. Here's a few recommendations if you steal games despite genuinely loving the industry and wanting to get as much enjoyment as possible for mimimum cash.

Before I roll into this stuff, I'll ask that if you haven't already you go and watch the Extra Credits video on piracy. The Extra Credits guys (Daniel Floyd, James Portnow and Alison Theus) are I think the best industry commenters around and theirs is probably the most level-headed and useful view on the subject I've ever seen. I've embedded the video below, a lot of inspiration for this blog was drawn from James' fortnight of playing as many games as he could without spending a penny.

Here's the link if Dtoid's embed is throwing a fit like it usually is.

Right, here's your first option for AAA gaming on the cheap. Rent. If you're in the US you can get a Gamefly account for $16 a month. That's as many games as you can play through (one at a time, $23 if you want to go two at a time) for a quarter of the price of one new release. If you're in the UK have a look at Lovefilm, they have a games section which you can get into for 15 a month going 2 at a time, still less than half the price of a brand new game and if you get on it early enough you'll be playing most new releases in launch week anyway. Both sites have free trials available so give them a shot if you're unsure. In other countries I'm not so sure but if you live in a country where videogames are sold then chances are there's a rental service that'll provide the same kind of all-you-can-play gamey goodness.

If you really don't have any money spare to spend on games then all is still not lost, thankfully while the PC may be dying with regards to big major studio developed games the indie developer is thriving. Indie games are generally cheap anyway, but there are hundreds of devs who release games for free just out of love for the medium. That's before going into all the freemium browser games, free MMOs, abandonware and classic games made free by developers. Here, I'll give you a few places to look for free games and even give a few of the free games that have kept me occupied for months.

TIGSource's Freeware Section

The Independent Gaming Source (TIGSource for short) has over 500 entries in their freeware section. Lots of fantastic games in there, all of them free. From little 10m distractions to epic RPGs with hours and hours of gameplay. If you want to game for free you should work through that archive right there.


TIGSource editor Derek Yu's randomly generated platformer has eaten hours and hours of my life. The difficulty is based purely on your skill as memorising levels is pointless given that they're always different. I'm sure I can count on several commenters testifying to how many hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and you get the picture.

Free MMOs

The biggest time sinks in all of gaming are the MMOs. A good MMO can last for months until you get bored, so thankfully there are hundreds of free ones around the internet. An excellent list exists here on Wikipedia split into completely free, ad funded, microtransaction funded and with optional subscriptions. I highly recommend Perfect World, even as someone who generally dislikes MMOs I found myself glued to that universe for over a month. With the second major expansion (free, naturally) on its way in about a month now is a great time to get in there. If you need a bit of a settler before really diving in might I suggest the sublime Puzzle Pirates, a game I played for a long period of time thanks to its genuine variety of puzzle styles as opposed to just several variations of matching colours. Also look at the full catalogues of Perfect World (the company who operate the PW game, confusing I know) and Nexon. Perfect World have Torchlight in their game list, that should tell you the pedigree we're talking about.

Browser Games

They're not beneath you and can be hugely entertaining. Quake Live leads the field here if you fancy a bit of shooty action (Nexon's Combat Arms is pretty good too). That link up there will take you to MMO Hut's browser games section. There's lot of info and reviews there if you want to do some reading up on the game you're about to go into.

So please, to all the people out there who steal games because they genuinely can't afford them. Games don't have to be expensive even if you are playing them as soon as they come out and even if you can't afford the rental costs you don't have to steal to play great games for free. Support the indie devs, support this industry we love and most importantly...

Don't be a dick.

Thank you.

PS: If anyone has further specific suggestions for free games I'm currently between games after sending back Infamous and would quite like some new time filler and will appreciate suggestions.   read

12:02 PM on 03.12.2010


(Ditto doesn't need your fancy backgrounds)

How can people overlook Ditto? HE CAN BECOME ANY POKEMON!! A team of Ditto's can stomp all over your pathetic team by just copying them. Suddenly you're left vunerable because YOU HAVE NO ELEMENTAL ADVANTAGE!!!!!!1



1:18 AM on 12.21.2009

Nintendo: Publisher of the Decade

Let me paint you a picture. It's the year 2001 and a hugely innovative company that once dominated the videogame landscape has missed the boat on one of the biggest technical developments to ever hit the industry. In a desperate attempt to catch the boat while retaining its image it releases a new console with a slight twist on this innovation that fails so hard commercially that they finish the generation behind a company new to the industry. Fast forward to today and the same company has not only been rejuvinated but dominated the videogame industry once again by making sure everyone else missed the boat on a technical innovation like they did 9 years ago.

Nice story huh? The company I speak of is of course the great granddaddy of the videogame industry, Nintendo. No matter what financial troubles happen within the industry, no matter how badly the company screws up and no matter how many people try to rip it down they are the one constant of our hobby. They are always there whether we like it or not, even though their glory days of publishing revolutionary and diverse games have been left behind in favour of dumbing down their best loved franchises in order to appeal to a new breed of idiot 'casual' gamers.

Except there's something wrong with that statement. It's wrong. The Nintendo we love is still there, still publishing brilliant and original games and it annoys me to see people bashing a company I've grown up with just because everything's gotten a lot more white. So I'm going to make a bold statement, one that might shock you.

Nintendo are the greatest publisher of the decade.

This goes beyond simply wanting to defend the company or recalling past glories. This goes beyond wanting to draw attention to the great stuff Nintendo still produce. This even goes beyond begrudgingly giving props to a company that we don't want to like making shitloads of money. This is about putting forward the case that no other company has come close to the kind of publishing record that Nintendo has over the last 10 years.


First let's look at the very beginning of the decade and the last gasp breaths of the sickly N64, or rather let's look at some of the finest games ever released for the console. Rare's platforming masterpiece Banjo Tooie, Treasure's downright unusual shooter Sin and Punishment, more Rare goodness in Perfect Dark, an ill-fated attempt at a console version of StarCraft and even the shockingly excellent Mickey's Speedway USA all came to market with Nintendo doing the publishing duties. Then there's the Nintendo developed games to think about. The Zelda series was turned on its head by time-control in Majora's Mask, Kirby looked better than ever in The Crystal Shards, RPGs got a lot funnier with Paper Mario and a much loved franchise was resurrected as Excitebike 64.

Then there were the technical innovations that came from the late N64 days, the Super Game Boy had put portable games on the TV screen many years ago but the Transfer Pak made some games look downright beautiful thanks to Pokemon Stadium and its 2001 sequel. Voice control was also being toyed with long before Tom Clancy had a go. Hey You, Pikachu! didn't exactly set the world alight (or really work at all) but the very fact that it existed was a sign of a publisher willing to take some risks, hell it was losing ground in the marketplace so what else could go wrong?

Enter the next thing to go wrong. A finely designed and downright beautiful console known as the Gamecube. While its 2 competing consoles were dicking about with being multimedia players (and the PC was busy doing its own thing and not really giving a toss) Nintendo focused on one thing, games. Damn fine games as well, the downright unusual Doshin the Giant flopped at retail but remains a great relaxation game, Kirby's Air Ride flopped at retail but was a brave attempt to rework racing mechanics, Donkey Konga flopped at retail but was a ridiculous amount of fun especially when allied to its platforming brother Jungle Beat, also the flawed but fun-if-you-find-it-cheap possess-em-up Geist.

Then we can move onto the big list of solid gold classics published by Nintendo during the GC's life. The Metroid Prime series rejuvinated the series after taking the N64-era off, Pikmin proved RTS' could work on consoles given enough care, Super Smash Bros Melee came about as close to party game perfection as is legally allowed, Wave Race Blue Storm managed to be both downright gorgeous and insanely difficult (and still is even after 8 years), Eternal Darkness became one of the best horror games ever made, 1080 Avalanche found the potential the N64 game had missed and not only did old enemies Sega make F-Zero GX, they made it one of the best racing games I've ever played.


Then we think about The Wind Waker, tag-team co-op LAN-enabled karting in Mario Kart Double Dash, the Paper Mario series continuing to improve, Pokemon Stadium being reborn as the story-driven RPG Pokemon Colosseum (and later the slightly lacking Gale of Darkness), the Fire Emblem series' first appearance on western consoles and more voice control tomfoolery with feudal pinball game Odama and Mario Party 7. This is also in addition to more Game-Boy-to-console link-ups thanks to the brilliant Four Swords Adventures and the slightly less brilliant Crystal Chronicles.

Now we move into trickier waters. I think we can all agree that the N64 and the Gamecube were brilliant consoles which played host to a massive amount of great games. What we don't want to think however is that the great-granny-baiting-waggle-box that is the Wii can easily stand alongside both of them. We'll ignore the publishing duties done by the Big N on the entire Virtual Console library and go from the top of the list. Console pack-in game Wii Sports still rates as one of the best tech demos in gaming history and easily stood alongside semi-Gamecube-port Twilight Princess and the unfortunately insubstantial (big words!) Excite Truck as launch titles.

Now let's think of a great thought put to me once. The only company that knows how to develop for a Nintendo console is Nintendo. It's a decent thought, and one that seems to have gotten a lot of traction from the poor third party sales on the Wii. The other thought though is that they're just fighting a damn strong opponent. While others were busying themselves with horrible flailing motions to make their game look good in their pure white ads Nintendo were going with more subdued motions. Wario Ware Smooth Moves, Kororinpa, Metroid Prime 3 and Trauma Center hardly had flailing in their playbooks, preferring to go with more delicate and subdued motions. Of course the biggest stuff like Mario Kart, Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Galaxy hardly had any waving, Brawl and Mario Kart even going as far as to ditch the Wiimote for the old Gamecube controller.

I'm not here to persuade you of the Wii's worth though, I'm here to bring to light the publishing power that still burns bright. It's hard to imagine other publishers bringing out hyper-relaxing dive-em-up Endless Ocean or bringing side-scrolling platformers to full retail with Wario Land: Shake Dimension and New Super Mario Bros. It's even harder to imagine any publisher releasing a game called Captain Rainbow. Then there's adventures in downloadable games, Burch-baiting relationship analog You, Me and the Cubes and the DOWNRIGHT BRILLIANT ArtStyle series all carry Nintendo's name next to them on the WiiWare store.

Another excellent thing done by the Decade's Greatest Publisher in this new era of having shitloads of money is actually giving older titles that didn't quite reach the audience they should've another chance. Excitebike was resurrected again for WiiWare, the New Play Control series breathed new life into the Pikmin series, Punch-Out returned after nearly 15 years and possibly the biggest bargain of all time, all 3 Metroid Prime games were reworked with Corruption's excellent control scheme and released as a single disc. Even hardcore SRPG series Fire Emblem got brought to the 'casual' console.

This is Nintendo's greatest publishing act, not only continuing with series' beloved by everyone such as Zelda and Mario, but bringing older series to a new breed of gamers. They may not necessarily bite at all of them, but dammit they're trying and I believe that is to be congratulated.

Last and for fuck sake nowhere near least let's dash through the stupidly large list of portable games. The Pokemon series, first dips into motion control with Kirby: Tilt and Tumble, the Harvest Moon series in Austrailia, Zelda's Oracle games, the Advance Wars series, Golden Sun 1+2 (arguably the best portable RPGs ever made), Metroid Fusion, the revival of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Mario & Luigi, THE MOTHER GAMES, the gleefully silly WarioWare games, the sadly Japan-only BitGenerations series, THE POKEMON MINI, Meteos, Another Code, Jump Super and Ultimate Stars, Electroplankton, Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents, Hotel Dusk, Professor Layton and RHYTHM FUCKING HEAVEN alongside anything I may have missed.

So if you want to, take all the games I've mentioned here and put them in a big list without all my fluff and padding. Can you think of any publisher who can even compare to the sort of record Nintendo has in this decade? From end to end they've produced brilliant games, some stinkers in there too (Wii Music anyone?) but no-one can keep a 100% record through 10 solid years. The evidence is there for you to consider my original point which I shall reiterate now for you to hopefully agree with.

Nintendo is the greatest publisher of the decade by miles.   read

1:43 AM on 12.16.2009

NJ's Game of the Year 2009 Nominations

It's that time of year, and while Dtoid are drip-feeding us their top 5, I thought I'd give you mine in one big lump. So in no particular order and including at least one game no-one else will include, here are my 5 nominations for Game of the Year 2009.

Killzone 2 (PS3)
From epic Dtoid Alpha vs Dtoid Beta clan matches to a great campaign to the best multiplayer progression system I've ever seen. I just cannot fault Killzone 2. It gave me some of the best multiplayer moments of the year as well as a god-like feeling of awesomeness as my incredible skills as a Medic gave team after team a near unstoppable front line. Even after 10 months it remains the best multiplayer shooter I've played this year and coming from someone who doesn't stick around much for multiplayer that can be considered high praise.

Rhythm Paradise/Heaven (DS)
What, in naming Game of the Year contenders has everyone forgotten the best rhythm game of the year? For most of us this was our first experience of the Rhythm Tengoku series and damn was it a good first taste. It's been a long time since I've been gripped so tightly by the need to get perfects, the slightest split-second error ruining a run and no doubt launching many a DS. And if you need any more convincing...

Street Fighter 4 (X360, PS3, PC)
When it comes to great comebacks, few could deny that this was a stunning return for one of the most respected fighting game series' of all time. Sure the online arena was dominated by Ken's for a very long time but unlike SOME fighters I could name (as much as I love it, Tekken 6 for example) the online actually worked from the beginning. An excellent training mode helped a lot with reducing the barrier to entry that's kept me away from truly getting into previous SF games and this one actually grabbed me. So SF4 gets onto my list by being an entry in the series that somehow got the respect of a notoriously hard to please fanbase yet drew in thousands of new fans. Not many fighting games can do that after such a long hiatus.

Wipeout HD Fury (PS3)
Wipeout has had a long and arduous mountain to climb after Psygnosis did their best to kill off the series with the abysmal Wipeout Fusion. Studio Liverpool started well with Pure, improved with Pulse, got better with HD and finally returned the series to it's previous heights with the Fury expansion this year. What the expansion did above that though was return the series to retail shelves for a very reasonable 15 (the same price as its digital equivalent) and in doing so restored my faith in the series as the poster boy for the Playstation. It's not all sentiment in this selection though, HD Fury isn't just one of the best Wipeout games, to me it's the best racing game released this year. Fast, beautiful and absolutely insane. If there are still any competitors in the futuristic racing genre then the bar has been raised.

NHL10 (Everything)
A sports game? In a game of the year list? Well yes. No matter what I've done in this game, no matter what mode, online or offline I've gotten brilliant games of hockey whoever I'm playing against whoever. It's easily the best sports game I've ever played and has provided me with some major "GET IN!!" moments. Whether it's a perfectly timed one-timer pass that gets buried in the net or the wild last gasp shots that somehow find the top corner to tie a game in the closing moments. Also the defensive lapses that result in a home town crowd being silenced by a goal at the wrong end. Despite the best efforts of every space marine shooter there's still no dramatic storyline or feeling of terror that can match a looming shootout in the last game of a playoff series. Yes it's a sports game, but it's also incredibly fun, exciting and an amazing videogame.

So there we go. Killzone 2, Rhythm Paradise/Heaven, Street Fighter 4, Wipeout HD Fury and NHL 10. Those were my 5 best games of 2009, I'll be doing a bigger awards post after Christmas (along with everyone else) when I'll let you know which of these I consider the best of the year. You may now bitch about me including a sports game.   read

11:25 PM on 11.29.2009

Xbox Live Indie Games Roundup: 23rd to 29th November 2009

Let it not be said that I'm easy to anger or quick to give up on something. If I was like that then I probably would've quit doing these recaps after about 3 months having played enough shitty massagers to drive me off a cliff. I stuck with it though and I did these over at Negative Gamer for over 7 months. Now though I've left that site and brought my recaps over here to share my pain with everyone here. The Indie Games section of Xbox Live is rarely the most enticing section of the marketplace but trust me, there are some phenomenal games in there. I've done a list of 10 great games on there before, but I'll be doing another list this week to bring attention to some other gems on here. Before we get started though let me clarify how this gets done.

1) I play trials, not full versions. I don't have the money to play the full versions of everything.
2) I judge games, not apps. If I feel a game is not a game then it'll go in a little footnote at the bottom of the recap.
3) This goes up every Monday, sometimes early morning and sometimes late evening, but always Monday.
4) Developers that just heap endless shit on the service go on the blacklist. 3 strikes and you're games go out of the recap, but produce one worthwhile game and you're back in. Decent ideas that don't work won't earn a strike, but cynical no-effort cash-ins that try to exploit the service will.

Right, starting next week I'll be including chart data in here as well to chronicle the success (or otherwise) of the games featured. For now though I'll just say we have 17 games to get though, let's get started.

Platypus (400MSP)

Claymation is becoming something of a fascination in the indie gaming world I've noticed. Over the last few months I've seen a few games going with the cute placticine look that Platypus uses and I can see why. The game looks downright beautiful with vibrant colours everywhere only made nicer with the claymation look being applied to everything. The score counter morphs as enemies are destroyed, enemies grow more and more deformed as they lose health and the scenery is dented in places to add to that handmade look. Graphics are naturally nothing without a game though so I'm happy to report that Platypus qualifies as one of the best XNA shooters I've played. Enemies get gradually harder to defeat as levels progress thanks to new and upgraded enemies being introduced and the number of enemies on screen is balanced enough to ensure that there's always a challenge, yet death never feels unfair. For people who grew up on the likes of R-Type and Xevious this is very much the same kind of shooter, and well worth the money.

Life (80MSP)

Life is a weird artsy cross between Go and an evolution simulator. The basic idea is to place cells (sun and moon symbols) on a board so that they will produce new cells when you press a button to move to the next generation. A cell with only one connecting cell will die, cells with 2-3 connecting cells will survive, 3 will produce new cells and 4+ will kill the cell. It's a weirdly compelling balancing act but things become impossible to maintain as the board fills up. No doubt this is some kind of artistic statement but it makes long term play pointless when after about 2 minutes you can get into a situation where your cells are unable to reproduce. There's also no real point to having 2 types of cell in the game when they don't interact with each other. It's a decent concept to have this kind of evolution sim, but it's just not nearly fun or deep enough to really work.

The Impossible Game (80MSP)

Declairing your game to be impossible is something I can see as a decent marketing strategy. Hardened/stupid gamers will take your titling as a challengeand that'll get some easy sales. However it's important to clarify good and bad kinds of hard. Good hard means a player can get through the game on a single try if they're brilliant. Super Mario Bros is an example of good hard. Bad hard forces the player into memorisation not to make life easier, but to clear the game completely. Add in unresponsive controls and you have fake hard, which is where this falls. From screenshots you may thing it to be a platformer but there's only a jump button to use as obstacles come flying at you, forcing you to combat the SINGLE UNRESPONSIVE JUMP BUTTON and combine it with split second reactions. This is fake hard at it's worst.

Txingurri (240MSP)

Out of empathy I'll ignore the unpronouncable name for now and call this one like it is. It's Chu Chu Rocket. With ants. Nothing more, nothing less. Placing arrows with the right stick is good and precise and no doubt fans of Chu Chu Rocket will have fun with it. The sheer rip-off factor makes me want to kill it, but right now this is the only real way of playing Chu Chu Rocket online. For including a critical feature alone, this deserves a bit of charity. Get some friends to buy it and I reckon this could get quite a bit of playtime.

Balloon Blocks (240MSP)

I played a game on XNA's ancestor Net Yaroze that tried this exact same idea, a match 3 game where blocks are bouncy and don't fall into a strict grid. It's a nice idea on paper but translates to an unplayable mess once you actually try it. The blocks in Balloon Blocks bounce all over the place, making any kind of precision play (essential in any match 3 game) impossible along with forward planning as there's not much you can do to predict where a block will drop. Blocks also drop way too fast, often landing on the pile before you even realise they've appeared on screen. So like I said, nice idea on paper but it adds up to a terrible game.

Gravity (240MSP)

An unresponsive menu saw me accidentally exiting this game while trying to access the options menu. Not a good start for any game really. The game itself is a puzzle platformer based around manipulating gravity to move boxes, soften long falls and make enemies easier to avoid. The trial doesn't do a great job of showing any real compelling use of the gravity bending gameplay, instead it just shows off some very strange controls. Right trigger is used to jump, which works well enough but why not use the A button like everyone else as it's not used for anything else. The whole idea works well enough, I just can't see enough of a compelling game built around it to make it worthwhile.

City Rain (400MSP)

Remember Wetrix? That weird water collecting puzzler on the N64 that I could never really get the hang of? Well City Rain is something of a tribute to that, right down to the 4:3 screen ratio. Apparantly widescreen is for pussies. I say it's like Wetrix, it's more like Sim City, but played with the same falling blocks style. The aim is to build facilities like homes, factories and emergency services on the play area in order to keep the citizens of the city happy and complete the objectives given to you. These are things like raise enough money to build a fire department or replace the city's power stations with cleaner alternatives (ripped from the headlines much?) in order to prevent the city getting stomped on by the Enviroment Agency. Slightly heavy handed message aside, this is actually a really enjoyable take on the city building genre. Falling blocks can always changed to something that fits your plan more so the usual problem of random blocks screwing up your plan is eliminated and the tutorial is short and effective enough to make the complex control diagram less threatening. It doesn't hurt that the game is also pretty damn good looking.

Avatar Casino Slots #1 (80MSP)

It's just a slot machine with avatars crowbarred in and Xbox Live play for some baffling reason. There's no reason for this.

Jump Duck (80MSP)

Jump or duck under lasers. There's no animation, no original backgrounds and everything involved is straight out of the stock XNA font pile. Worthless.

Button Holding Extravaganza Party (80MSP)

It's meant as a party game, but anyone who's idea of a decent party game is holding down buttons while hoping no-one else is holding down the same button must throw some pretty damn boring parties. Just ignore this, there's nothing even vaguely entertaining about it.

Musicus (400MSP)

A puzzle game based around music is an idea that's worked before. However this is a Japanese XNA game, and Japanese XNA games (puzzle games especially) have a nasty habit of being damn near impossible to understand. This unfortunately is no different. You control 2 cursors on screen and use the triggers to grab coloured blocks as they rise up the play area, then you can move them around to gather more blocks before shooting them down, hopefully hitting the correct coloured bar in order to play more of the song. It takes a while to get a handle on what exactly is happening but you've got the idea it can be extremely satisfying. Struggling through those early efforts though makes this hard to recommend.

Words in a Word (240MSP)

I love word games, this is no real secret. I'm a big Scrabble fan, love Bookworm Adventures and generally just enjoy the hell out of anything that involves finding words at speed. That's the sole idea behind this, you're given 6 semi-random letters (there's at least 1 six letter word in every arrangement), a time limit and told to find as many words as you can. A handy chart keeps track of the words you've got and also shows how many possible words there are broken down into how many letters are in each one. Then when time is up the chart fills in with all the words you missed, allowing you to kick yourself when you realise how obvious some of the higher scoring words were. Competitive multiplayer over Live is also in there but that's only really going to get used if you can convince friends to get the game as well. If you're a wordphobic then ignore it, but for everyone else this is a prime slice of vocabulary action.

Relic Raider (400MSP)

Or Pac-Man meets Dots and Boxes. Basically you walk your little Indiana Jones ripoff round a tomb avoiding enemy mummies and try to surround squares to find relics for points, a key to exit the level and the level exit itself. Like so many painfully simple ideas there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the game, just there's no actual fun in here either.

Buttons (80MSP)

In the 80s there was a toy called a Simon, it was a memory game where big buttons flashed out a sequence which then had to be repeated. The sequence got 1 part longer each time until a human brain could no longer keep up. Buttons is a Simon clone and let this be known, there's a special pit of hell for every developer who tries to dress up a Simon clone.

Matrix 2 (400MSP)

The original Matrix was something of a flawed masterpiece. Grid building Tetris style worked well enough but was let down by some seriously unpredictable block falling. A small update that added colours to the mix improved things and now a proper sequel seeks to right the wrongs that ruined the initially good idea. I mentioned earlier that Japanese XNA puzzlers are often horribly explained but Matrix 2 manages to break with tradition and explain itself pretty well thanks to the diagrams that fully explain how blocks fall and intersect. The game itself has also changed, rather than creating perfect unbroken grids the idea now is to form an outline that spans across the entire play area. This is a much more manageable idea and awarding extra points for forming outlines that touch the game over line is a beautiful piece of risk reward gameplay that will truly tax even the most experienced high score chaser. This is a sequel that has truly realised the potential that the first game showed and I couldn't be happier.

Starbase Epsilon (80MSP)

This proclaims itself to be a fast paced strategy game, but I'd like to know where the strategy is. All I did during my play time was ferry minerals from where I'd placed my mining bots (on every one of the 8 planets in the play area) to the space station in the middle to sell them. There doesn't seem to be any real strategy other than get minerals to the station faster than other players and occasionally upgrade your own bots. So basically it's not a strategy game, and it's incredibly boring.

ARC Ninja Edition (80MSP)

I covered the full version of Anti Gravity Racing Championship a few weeks ago and while the basic idea was good and the graphics were pretty, the handling of the ships were far too twitchy and loose for the game to really be fun and it held the Ridge Racer contact system where you always come off worse in contact with CPU ships. This disguised Lite version fixes none of those problems and is basically just a stripped down taster version. The good points are still there but I'd say ignore this though and check out the trial version of the proper ARC though.

This week I award Game of the Week honours to City Rain, it's close between that and Platypus but I found the city planning puzzler to be insanely entertaining and deeper than Platypus' pure score attack shooting. Platypus is still a brilliant game though, don't get me wrong.

If the recaps have awakened some kind of spark inside you then why not make a game of your own. Have a look at XNA Creator's Club for the info or take a simpler route and check out Kodu Game Lab.

Want to know some devs to avoid? Check out the Blacklist. Looking for a review? Have a look at the roundup archive.

Also, if you fancy making me a slightly less rubbish header image I'd be greatful. I'll buy you a cheap Steam game or something.   read

11:32 PM on 11.25.2009

I Think I Should Reintroduce Myself

It's been 4 months since I last posted something on here so I think I should start over by introducing myself to anyone who may be unfamiliar with me. My real name is Francis Lambourne, I go by njsykora on the internet and as NJ when with people from the internet. A few quick things about myself and the way I do things first. I'm a furry, not exactly hardcore but it's something that's always close to my mind. I own all 3 consoles and both handhelds so I feel I can say with authority that the PS3 is my favourite console and the PSP my favourite handheld. It's no fanboyism or loyalty, I actually hated Sony with a passion until halfway through the PS2 era while waving a Nintendo flag around. I still hold a flag for Nintendo, but it's more like one of those little American flags you see idiots waving at patriotic rallies now.

I collect figures, the most recent additions being Aigis from Persona 3, the Executioner from Resident Evil 5 (thanks to the awesome people at Capcom who take good care of Dtoid UK) and Master Assassin Ezio from the Assassin's Creed 2 Black Edition. I'd say my prized figure though is my 12" Sonic statue. Truly it is a thing of beauty, not to mention a low number in the run.

I'm a Cblog Recapper, a job which I do on Wednesday nights. I'm the only UK member of The Sacred Knights of Recappia which means I'm the one who stays up until 5am to get them posted for midnight US time. Don't let anyone say I'm not dedicated to the post.

I also hang around in the Destructoid IRC, click the little chat link at the top of the page if you feel like getting in on that. It's a great place to organise games or just make rape jokes. Occasionally we have serious discussions about politics and shit as well. Occasionally.

Now have 3 random facts about me.

1) I used to harbour a burning hatred of Dtoid UK leader Phoenix-blood. Having met her and discovered that she is in fact one of the nicest people on the planet I have been forced to accept that she is, in fact, kind of a big deal.
2) I know it's fake, but I adore the WWE. No matter how dull and contrived the storylines get I will always follow along.
3) On the wall opposite my bed there is a drawing I was given as a gift of myself being molested by Bakura from Yu-Gi-Oh. That's just how I roll.


What I'm bringing to this blog (that's sparked this re-intro) is what I named the Xbox Indie Game Recap, a feature I started over at Negative Gamer. This is my way of bringing attention to the great games that are released on this often overlooked section of the Xbox Live Marketplace and also drive the knife into people who abuse things to release pithy little applications or just try and get people to pay money for the sort of flash thing that would disgrace 4chan. The way I do this is to download the play the trial versions of each and every game that goes up, then distil my opinions into a bit of writing before slapping on one of my 3 judgements. Buy It, Try It or Leave to Die.

Leave to Die is fairly self explanatory, this is something to steer clear of at all costs. Either it's useless and rubbish application (hello Entrager) or just a terrible game. I've drawn some flak from developers for my choice of wording.

Try It ratings mean you should give it a shot. Maybe I didn't like it but think you might or I'm unsure whether it's worth the money. It's effectively me sitting on the fence.

Buy It ratings go to the elite. Those rare few games which deserve a place on your hard drive without question. Games that I've included in this group before include Trino, Clover, College Lacrosse 2010 and of course I MAED A GAME WITH ZOMBIES IN IT.

I wrote a blog a little while ago with what I think are 10 essential games on the service (back when it was called Community Games, just so you know how old it is) and following the first recap to go on Dtoid this Sunday I hope to do another list of 10 games that you really should check out. The recaps themselves will either go up late Sunday or early Monday so as to best cover the full 7 days, not to mention hopefully give you something to read at the weekend.

Oh yeah, if someone could whip me up some small images for the ratings I'm sure I could find something to show my gratitude with.


I thought what I'd do to leave you is to show you some of my blog posts that I'm most proud of. Just to try and convince you I can actually write.

This is my crib
My 5-step plan for saving Sonic the Hedgehog
I have a Turbografx-16, a console never officially released in Europe
My original intro, I once referred to myself as Brian Crecente's lovechild.....

So that's me. Thanks for reading if you did the whole thing. If you didn't eh, thanks anyway.   read

8:19 AM on 07.28.2009

Xbox Live Indie Games Sends Me to Bullet Hell Heaven

This week the Community Games channel of the Live Marketplace officially went through a few changes. Firstly it changes names from Community Games to Indie Games (or iGames, as I'm dickishly abbreviating it), secondly the price points become 80, 240 and 400 MSP but thirdly the service is opened up to a load of new countries. This announcement I largely ignored thinking that the most interesting of these countries would never have their stuff put onto the western Marketplace. However....

That went up on iGames today. Oh yes Pedobears and Weeaboos of the world unite, there is moonspeak on the Western Marketplace at long last. You can download the trial for this game over here, however it is ALL in moonspeak be aware. If someone who can speak Japanese could translate the basic gist of the title and this screenshot for me I'd be very much appreciative.

However if trying to get into the pants of underage girls isn't your thing, how about blowing shit up with them instead? Another all moonspeak all the time game went up yesterday and it is a bullet hell shmup.

That one can be found here and once again, a title translation would be much appreciated. I have to actually try to write the names of these games down later and "Moonspeak 1" doesn't really work for me.

I would like to thank Microsoft from the bottom of my penis for putting Japanese games on the Indie Games channel worldwide. I really hope this stuff will sell, just to show there is a demand for this kind of thing over here.

Only if it's good of course, though I have a feeling we won't be seeing a 'massager' from Japan anytime soon. They'll just cut the pretense and call it a vibrator.   read

9:51 PM on 07.15.2009

10 Community Games Everyone Should Play

Community Games have become something of a passion of mine lately. I play pretty much every game that goes up on the service so naturally I was always going to notice when the gaming behemoth that is IGN picked their favourite 10. IGN did nail a few of the excellent Cgames but unfortunately included the likes of A Moron's Challenge. So naturally I assume they're saying it's a moron's challenge to pick 10 great Community Games. Well this moron decided to have a go, here is what I consider to be 10 essential Community Games.

Quick note, these are not in any kind of order. It's just 10 games I love and you should all try all 10 of them. Some of the older games are also much more worthwhile as pretty much all of the old 800 point games have been cut to 400.

0: Kodu Game Lab
Microsoft Research - 400 Points

I put Kodu in here as a pre-list thing because it's not really a Community Game. A Microsoft Research project to try and get kids into programming using cutesy characters and a very simple interface, however it is also a lot of fun to mess around with and more than capable of creating some decent games if you put the time in. For 400 points it's really something everyone should at least have a go with.

1: unRevolutionary
Julio9 - 400 Points

unRevolutionary surprised me if I'm honest. It's a dual stick shooter that came out recently into a market flooded with dull and simple dual stick shooters. So to come across a dual stick that looks excellent, has great simple enemy design and knife edge balanced difficulty was something of a shock. Also knowing how many enemies I have to kill to move onto the next wave really kicks in the mystical 'one more go' factor. Ooooh I only needed 3 more....

2: Gamerbots: Third-Robot Shooting
Hotwave - 400 Points

I like this game on name alone, I also admit I loved it when I first set eyes on it. It's a brilliantly designed third person shooter with very much a mercenary bent. What sets it apart in my mind is the ability to use money won in fights either offline or online to buy new guns and body parts yet I also get a kick out of having to buy ammo for those guns. No greater terror than running out of ammo with no more left in the tank during a heavy firefight. Also no greater reason to use an evil laugh if it happens the other way round. Execution style FTW.

3: Blow
David Flook - 400 Points

Blow is a tricky one, released right at the beginning and a Dream Build Play finalist. It's very much like Flower in that it's a zen game. Very peaceful and relaxing but beneath all that there's also an engaging puzzle game based around safely getting bubbles from one side of the level to the other using fans to blow them around and temperature to effectively interfere with gravity. It looks beautiful and really is just one of those games you can lose yourself in for a few hours.

4: Carneyvale Showtime
Gambitsg - 400 Points

If memory serves, Carneyvale was the first game to come under scrutiny in Jim Sterling's XNA Challenge. Showtime emerged from that with a glowing review and a 9/10 score and with good reason, the charm just seeps from every part of this game from the circus theme to the way the puppet acrobat you control flies through the air grabbing balloons. It's what I consider an excellent example of finding one great gameplay mechanic in flinging the puppet around and building an excellent game around it.

5: Easy Golf: Course Architect
Barkers Crest Studios - 400 Points

There's a game on Xbox Live Arcade called Golf: Tee it Up! which looks rather similar to Easy Golf, it's rather embarassing that Easy Golf manages to do everything Tee it Up does and quite a bit more for half the money. Fundamentally it's a standard 3-click golf game build around character customisation not unlike Everybody's Golf but what sets it apart is the excellent course creator. While the full game has quite a few 18-hole courses the community behind the game has created an awe inspiring collection of extra courses which is more than enough to keep this game excellent. The devs themselves have been providing the game with plenty of extra content through patches as well, possibly the best value game on Community Games.

6: NextWar
Unknown Developer - 200 Points

Why isn't Tower Defense represented more on Community Games? Because early on this came out and pretty much shut the whole genre. It's cheap, it has loads of levels, excellent depth and an awesome wireframe graphic style. I was actually turned onto this by BunnyRabbit2 at NGathering earlier this year and it's probably one of my favourite tower defense games. Also it's bollocks hard on the later maps.

7: Trino
Trino Team - 400 Points

Every time I play Trino one question comes to mind. Do these guys work for Popcap? And if not, why the hell not? Trino is a glorious example of this so-called 'casual' gaming we keep hearing about and alongside Carneyvale is the list of games that just take one great mechanic and run with it. In this case it's about trapping enemies using a triangle, a deceptively simple premise that gradually gets more complex as enemies get faster and more numerous and the concept of chaining triangles is introduced. Like all the best casual games, the casual players will go for survival, hardcore for high scores but everyone will be addicted.

8: Clover
Binary Tweed - 400 Points

Clover is not exactly the darling of Community Games. It gets a bit of hate for it's art style but plenty of love for it's excellent music and well written story. The gameplay is just the standard adventure game item ferrying to be sure but it's executed in such a good way that I find it a joy to play through. For a more detailed assessment check out the lovely Colette Bennett's review right here.

9: Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp
IshiEiketsu - 200 Points

It's really quite bizarre this one. A 2D platformer based around defeating a robot army in the land of biscuits. Weird though the story is however this is some good old fashioned puzzle platforming with very few frills but regardless it's cheap and it's fun. Nothing not to like really.

10: Little Racers
WaaghMan - 400 Points

The very definition of a hidden gem. Little Racers isn't visually stunning, neither does it look particularly appealing in screenshots. However once this thing gets rolling and you're battling for position amongst a field of 12 opponents it becomes immensely competitive. There has never been a greater thrill for me than a perfectly timed nudge against an opponent sending them into a race ending spin and Little Racers is perfect for that, also within the top down viewpoint I can see every futile minute of that rival's attempt to catch up. If nothing else it makes being a dick fun.

So there we go, 10 community games everyone should play. If you have any suggestions for other great Community Games then let me know in the comments or in an email. Also if you like reading about community games then check out the weekly recap I do for Negative Gamer on Sundays. Have fun and please support good indie games so they can make more good indie games.

>NJ   read

11:35 AM on 06.12.2009

European Virtual Console: There Will (not) Be Brawl

Do you like fighting games? Well then this week isn't for you. It's not a fighting game but it kinda pretends to be.

Game: Super Smash Bros.
N64 - 1000 Points

It's the game that brought new meaning to the word 'clusterfuck' and singlehandedly made every Nintendo fanboy in existance orgasm themselves to death. Mario beating the crap out of Luigi, Link vs Samus, Pikachu vs everyone else if you played the game round my house. Sure the roster is smaller than other Smash games but that also means there's less bloat and fewer completely useless characters like Olimar. If you didn't like Brawl then I reckon you'll find something to like here.

>NJ   read

9:18 AM on 05.14.2009

The 5 Challenge Goes Tits Up

Earlier this week I wrote an article over at Negative Gamer that led to some people accusing me of being something of a prude. Possibly even anti-tits-in-videogames. Well rest assured I'm not against having tits in videogames. Let me show you just how pro-tits-in-videogames I am.

Beach Spikers - 5

"It's hot, it's sweaty, it's beach volleyball! Bring a friend along for the hot girl on girl action!"

That is honest to god the blurb on the back of the box. I have had this game before I must confess, my sister lent it to one of her friends without my permssion about 4 years ago. The friend in question unsurprisingly nicked it. So here's my official stance about tits in videogames. I don't care how big they are, how exposed they are or how focused the camera becomes on them. I only ask that the game the tits are in is good, fortunately Beach Spikers is freaking amazing. Without question it's the best beach volleyball game ever (because the competition isn't very good) and it's genuinely a very fun game. This stems primarily from the fact that the game comes from the same team responsible for Virtua Tennis. Give a good dev team a good project and not even the breast content of a harem anime can ruin it.

Of course, it helps if your breast filled game has a character creator option.   read

6:41 AM on 05.07.2009

The 5 Challenge Hits The Jackpot

Last week I set a challenge. How much game can you get for only 5? I came back from a branch of CEX with Timesplitters, Dynasty Warriors 3 and Zone of the Enders. I decided after that that CEX was way too easy so today I took another 5 and checked out the regular game stores. Almost an hour of umms, ahhs and a long chat to the store staff about the boxed copy of Secret of Mana in the nearby Gamestation later I spotted something rather special on the Gamecube. Following that I went to the other side of the store to look at the Playstation 2 games and found this. Jackpot.

Ico - 5

[embed]131268:19139[/embed]   read

3:35 AM on 05.01.2009

European Nintendo Update: It's Pong. Edition

4 games are available today over the 3 services. The Virtual Console gets Galaxy Force for the Turbografx (it's a shooter shockingly) and DSi Ware gets minified versions of cack magic game Master of Illusion and awesome puzzler Dr Mario. But we're all here for the WiiWare.

WiiWare Game - Bit.Trip Beat
Aksys Games - 600 Points

I'd love to put the boot into this one by saying it's just Pong without the fun of returning the ball but I honestly can't. This is a beautiful and brilliant rhythm game that is a perfect complement to Rhythm Paradise if you've bought that this week. For just 600 points as well, consider this essential.   read

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