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Videogame Conventions I: Indefatigable Capitalism


Nov 12
// Leigh Alexander
After 1,000 years, the Dark Lord has, against all odds, re-emerged into the world.We hadn't thought it possible. Our people had, through a use of time- and space-rending magical power, with the aid of a great celestial coinci...
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Difficult games: The real brain training


Nov 07
// Leigh Alexander
I beat that damn werewolf.I complained recently that the current era's intuitive, "easy" games might have blunted my legendary, meticulously-honed gamer skillz of old, like a one-time champ who's over the hill. A li...
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Difficult games: My miserable little pile of failure


Nov 05
// Leigh Alexander
So, extending my... extended Castlevania kick recently, I started playing Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP over the weekend. Firstly, it's a toe-curlingly good remake -- when Richter first crosses the bridge and it begins to r...

Destructoid Review: Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

Oct 16 // Leigh Alexander
Donkey Kong Barrel Blast (Wii)Developed by PaonReleased on October 8th, 2007 Let me preface this review by making a bold statement: I don’t like racing games in general, and that includes Mario Kart. At first, this was just because I never got into it; now, it’s because I’m sick to death of hearing about Mario-anything. I mean, to be sure, one can expect many a Mario title to crank out on the Wii. But when will the madness end? Mario Shuffleboard? Mario Blood Drive? Mario Car Wash?  And yeah, you don’t need to tell me there are other things to play on the Wii, like Mario – I mean, Metroid and Zelda. But it’s like, picture this: Samus asks you out on a date. You’re like, “yes,” right? The first five minutes you’re in her presence, it’s just totally rad, and then she’s like, “what do you wanna do?” And you’re like, “why don’t we play a game, baby,” and she’s like, “alright! I brought Mario!” Come on! Don’t be like that, baby. Come back here. I’m still talking to you. Don’t you dare walk away from me, Samus Aran. --Anyway. Racing game fan or not, Metroid rapist or otherwise, when Linde dragged me out of my wicker cage to review DK Barrel Blast – and here I was thinking I’d get a new ration of zwieback, perhaps a new canister of lye to wash my face with – I was heartily eager, because if I have to look at one more Mario game I’m going to apply a nail gun to my eyes. I love the old Rare fashion of simian rendering, and it’s been pretty faithfully reproduced here – you’ll even recognize the familiar theme song of one of my old favorites, Donkey Kong Country, in the tutorial screen. At first, you’ve only got Rookie Mode, a few of the Kong family, and a couple of the crocodile Kremlings, to play with, but as you win more races, you’ll unlock more modes and more racers. Unlockables, yes! Gameplay’s pretty simple; think of how it might have coordinated if you had bongo drums. Rapidly alternate the Wii remote and the Nunchuk up and down – like drumming, duh – to accelerate, and give ‘em a jerk in tandem to jump. Shake either the Wii remote or the Nunchuk by themselves to move right or left. It’s simple, and it’s pretty damn aerobic. As a result of playing this game for only a few days, I am proud to report I have developed swollen, fearsome guns capable of crushing tons of barbed wire and aluminum – unfortunately, Linde renovated my holding pen to compensate, and I am now coming to you from an adamantium chamber in the Earth’s mantle. I have a phone, but Nex is the only person who calls me, so it’s like a new kind of illegal torture. Oh, right, the game. Okay. It’s pretty fun, actually. You can play in the “Jungle Grand Prix,” which features several different competition cups and one build-your-own, and you unlock additional stuff by coming in first overall in the average score from the three races. You can also do single races or time attacks, and there are, of course, single and two-player modes. The stages have themes like jungle, ocean, volcano and temple – but other than that, there isn’t much variation. You can hop up into blasting barrels (it’s a Barrel Blast! Get it?) for shortcuts, and even pull off style moves by shaking the Wii remote in the indicated direction to get a bigger boost. You might also land a speedy mine cart ride, and you can also hop on top of your familiar animal buddies, like Rambi the rhinoceros, or Enguarde the swordfish, to zoom through obstacles and get a little speed burst.  The core of the gameplay, though, revolves around collecting bananas as you go – save up enough and you can pull off a “wild move,” which means you pull back on the Nunchuk’s stick to charge a burst of speed. You can chain the speed bursts by smashing into barrels – though, it’s unclear why smashing into barrels would make one go faster – and you can also knock down your competitors by charging into them, or by hitting A when you’re near them. Any SUPER WACKY racing game would be incomplete without power ups, and DK Barrel Blast has a few. I must confess, I have yet to really figure out the functionality of them in practice, because it isn’t eminently clear. I think the fairy helps you get bananas, and the tiny monkey enters monkey-on-monkey slavery to steal bananas from the other monkeys. Monkeys! Oh, yeah, and there’s a coconut which makes you invincible, but it looks a lot like a grenade to me. Y’know, stuff like that. I have been told that DK Barrel Blast is getting what Jim Sterling might call a right proper trouncing in the press, and while I won’t read their reviews until I’m done with mine, I have to hypothesize that it isn’t because the game sucks per se, but because they had expectations carefully nurtured by waiting for this title since the GameCube era. I, on the other hand, was expecting it to be utter garbage, and was pleasantly surprised to have a lot of fun playing it. I might have even more fun if I had someone to play against, but then I’d have to thaw the ice around my heart and splinter my glassy veneer of misanthropy and learn to love again. Pfft. The levels are not that great; in terms of look, style and course pattern, they get really repetitive – it’s the kind of lack of variety I’d expect from the 16-bit era, and back then it was due to technology limitations. And the controls are a little touchy. They’re simple enough that you can compensate, but sometimes the difference between a quick left-right alternation and a left-right simultaneous smackdown seems a little hard for the game to understand, and you might end up jumping when you mean to accelerate. Not that big a deal, though. And, I confess, the overall experience feels as if it’s just missing something; it’s a little hollow. But, you know, this is a problem I’ve had with Nintendo games in general lately – including DS titles – where they’ve got this great idea, and great technology that has tons of potential, and it just seems they settled for simplicity, didn’t go all the way. You get the idea that DK Barrel Blast  was kinda going somewhere, but didn’t quite make it. But it doesn’t suck. It ain’t complicated, you’re not gonna cry at the end or cosplay it at some anime convention or cut yourself to the soundtrack (which is kinda insipid, but works) – but it is a lot of fun, and again, probably even better with a friend – and this coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy racing titles, and who hates games that are intended for co-op play (Mario Strikers Charged bores the eff out of me). To be fair, if it is the most fun I’ve had on the Wii for a while, that probably has less to do with the game and more to do with the Wii’s selection – but yeah, I like it, OK? And anyone who hates it probably just sucks at it, and when I get out of here I’m going to play them at it and beat everyone and unlock all the monkeys and be really really proud of myself and then shake the president’s hand and become Queen. Got nothing to do? Want to max out your pump and shore up your biceps and stare at monkey butts for a while? Score: 6.5Verdict: Buy it!
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Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is the latest racer for the Wii. If you’re unfamiliar with the backstory, we’ve been promised the game for quite some time – it was actually supposed to be a GameCube title, using ...

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Halo 3: Chiefly Underwhelming?


Sep 25
// Leigh Alexander
So have you got Teh Haloes? Yes, no? I haven't. Even though I've yet to hear a recommendation against it; even though it is, by all accounts a solid game, and by some accounts, a revolutionary game. Most of all, I've yet to see a heavily critical rating.So why aren't I interested? Hit the jump; maybe you can tell me. 
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Destructoid Review: Rune Factory -- A Fantasy Harvest Moon


Sep 24
// Leigh Alexander
Thinking of the Harvest Moon series, it’s rather amazing that it’s as compelling as it is, considering the entire gameplay revolves around the repetition of simple, mundane behaviors. But add in gentle townsfolk, ...
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Chewy, chocolate-coated gummy proposal: Viva Pinata love


Sep 13
// Leigh Alexander
So we know that wedding proposals take place in MMOs all the time, sweet touching moments of deep connection that occur when real people start to forget that Azeroth is not a real place, as their concept of reality becomes ev...

Ian Bogost wants to trouble you: The Destructoid interview

Sep 10 // Leigh Alexander
 What's the aim of Persuasive Games, and how are the games you design different from consumer games? Persuasive Games makes games meant to influence people's opinions. Usually that means games about social and political issues, but we've also done work in advertising, learning, and corporate training, among others. The primary difference between our games and traditional consumer games is that our work might be encountered in different situations from those games. For example, you might play a game about an organization's public policy positions when you're thinking about how to vote, or a game about workplace behavior in the context of a job. That said, not all our games are solely about work or learning ... there's a great deal of blurred boundaries. A lot of our games are snide and satirical rather than overt and pedagotical. You might think of our work as bearing some resemblance to non-fiction books or cartoons or documentary films.  What do you think makes gaming an ideal vehicle for this kind of work?Games are an excellent medium for modeling and experiencing complexity. Most social and political dynamics are complicated, interrelated mangles of different influences, conditions, motivations, and institutional constraints. Videogames are a useful medium for creating experiences of complex situations and subjects.   You've said that games don't necessarily need to be fun -- isn't fun part of the definition of a game? If not, how do you quantify its efficacy?The first thing that's fundamental to a videogame is modeling -- creating a set of rules that represent some aspect of human life. The second thing that's fundamental to videogames is a first-hand experience of that model, stepping into the shoes of someone who is subject to the rules of the model. For example, what's it like to live the life of a single mother below the poverty line, or a refugee, or a slaughterhouse worker? Most videogames, which rely on fantasies of power as their primary draw, but experiences of all kinds can be compelling and revealing.  As far as efficacy goes, I'm not into quantifying anything. Remember that scene in Dead Poets' Society when Robin Williams has his students tear the page out of their poetry book, the one that tries to graph human expression? The same is true for games. I want to see players talking about the questions I raise in games. but I don't need -- nor do I want -- scores on scales of ten or ratings on MetaCritic.  Consumer designers obviously want the number one takeaway for gamers to be fun. What's the most important thing you want players of your games to get out of the experience?Perspective. Specifically a different perspective than they might have coming in. And, if I'm lucky, empathy for the situations the games model. And if I'm really lucky, one or more bothersome questions that dig into the player's skull, either right away or sometime in the future. I want to trouble players, not amuse them.  What designers have you learned the most from? Is there any designer/game that you think is a good model for the kind of work you do, and what elements make this so?Chris Crawford's early work, for its unapologetic political positions. Sid Meier and Will Wright, for their focus on sandboxy simulation and the creation of emergent systems. Tim Schafer, whose quirky humor is too rare in games. Warren Spector and Peter Molyneux, for attempting to make moral choices an integral part of gameplay, and for revealing the limits of such an idea in the process. Allan Calhamer and Alexey Pajitnov for their reminder that simplicity and elegance will always remain strong design values. Noah Falstein for sticking with the medium since coin-op and advocating its potential to change and expand in form. Don Daglow for Utopia. Warren Robinett and David Crane for drawing attention to the hardware platform as a constraint and an opportunity. Yasuhiro Wada for proving that mundane everyday life is a viable subject for games. And ... as much as I enjoy his games, Shigero Miyamoto for helping me see what I don't want to emulate, namely a focus on empty leisure at all costs (the exception is Animal Crossing, which I admire in the same way as Wada's Harvest Moon series).As far as a model, I admire designers who dig deeply into problems and topics and then try to figure out how to represent them in games to explain their operation in detail. One of the things you'll notice about, say, Will Wright's work, is that all of his games were inspired by reading books by smart thinkers in different disciplines.  What's your future prediction as far as the increasing permeability of the market for serious games in general?I think serious games have the potential to expand the possibility space of games. Serious games won't just look to expand the market for commercial games, but also they will find new markets that currently don't exist. Some of these are obvious and are already happening. Brain Age and related products for mental acuity -- whether or not they really help your brain, people feel good about the idea. Dance Dance Revolution and other physical interface games for exercise and the like. But some are much less obvious. I've been talking and writing for a while about the possibility space of games. I don't mean the design space -- new game designs or mechanics -- I mean the places and contexts in which games are used. One of the reasons I resist the name "serious games" is because its a phrase that has become associated with very specific contexts -- in my book, Persuasive Games, I argue that serious games are primarily games by and for institutions, like governments, corporations, and schools. Often serious games are opposed to entertainment games for this reason. I'd much rather think of videogames as one flexible medium that has a wide variety of possible uses and contexts, not just two opposing ones.
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Anytime someone says that games aren't art, we're up in arms burning straw effigies of Ebert. Any time someone says games are destructive, we want blood. Half of us want to pretend that games are only toys, and the other half...

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Become a Rock Band rockstar -- like, right now


Sep 05
// Leigh Alexander
So yeah, obviously we're all excited about Rock Band, duh. Are you really excited? Wanna get your hands on it now, before anyone else -- and be on national television?The tender dreams of hilariously ironic rock superstardom ...
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Samus: I don't need no plasmids, bitch


Sep 04
// Leigh Alexander
Samus likes it on top, boys. Gamasutra and CVG are both reporting that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is in the top spot on the all-format sales charts, possibly outdoing BioShock in its first week of sales.Actually, it looks pr...
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Delicious BioShock easter egg (you must not eat it)


Aug 29
// Leigh Alexander
Image quality is poor because I snapped it with my cell phone, but I found this on the floor of Arcadia Winery (upper portion). One of those musty old cheese wheels and what looks like floor dirt forms a cute and not-so-subtle little nod from the cutting edge of gaming to the old, old school. Rock on.
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A World of Our Own: Online games and community


Aug 29
// Leigh Alexander
I recently interviewed Nexon's Min Kim for Worlds in Motion, where I'm editor when not here at Destructoid. I cover bizness news related to online worlds, social networking, and MMOs that work on the free-to-play, pay-for-goo...
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Crisis Core Trailer: Time to Cry Like a Girl


Aug 27
// Leigh Alexander
What is it about Final Fantasy VII? We all try to be cool. "Overrated," we scoff amongst our enclave of pals as we mock Cloud on forums and draw comical mutilation fanart of Aeris (SPOILER: SHE DIES). And yet, I de...
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The Most Rad Dorm Ever


Aug 24
// Leigh Alexander
Do you guys say "raddest" or "most rad?" Man, college was a nightmare, huh? --Oh, right, I didn't go. Boy, was I mistaken -- instead of languishing at acting school with boys taking their clothes off and c...
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Crisis Core PSP bundle will rape your wallet (and your Mom)


Aug 15
// Leigh Alexander
So it looks like the Crisis Core PSP bundle is available for preorder in a few places. That's the new PSP slim, with a Buster Sword wrist strap and some Zack-Cloud-Sephiroth art as done by Nomura, from the looks of it. They'r...
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BioShock: I think I've been here before


Aug 14
// Leigh Alexander
So, like many, I played the unbelievable BioShock demo last night, and was floored. I've never been much of an FPS fan; I've always said it would take a lot to get me really into the genre. But few could argue with me that Bi...
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Building a better RPG: Let's make babies!


Aug 09
// Leigh Alexander
Heard on Kotaku about this strategy RPG from Idea Factory/RED called Record of Agarest War. At first tender romantic blush, it's a strategy RPG -- but it turns out you can propagate your heroic DNA with the game's heroines to...
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New Famitsu Scans: Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon


Aug 08
// Leigh Alexander
For where there is Chocobo, evil dares not tread. The prophecy foretells of a time when the yellow-crested harbingers of Instrumentality will stride forth as heralds of joy across the marshes and mountains as a ray of beauty ...
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Growlanser: Heritage of War Web site launch


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
Atlus launched a Web site today for the upcoming PS2 strategy RPG Growlanser: Heritage of War. The Web site's got tons of goodies up there, wallpapers and avatars and other digital swag. Speaking of goodies, if you like them ...
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Take-Two shares take a dive


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
I'm developing this great idea for a dramatic sitcom based around the Take-Two offices. It will feature tense courtroom scenes as executives get caught backdating stock options and falsifying records against the dramatic back...
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Karma's a bitch: Jack Thompson has heart trouble


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
You know what karma is; it's that concept by which if you live a good life, you're reborn as a golden cow, and if you're bad, you're liable to spend your next incarnation trapped in the body of a hideous predatory mantis who ...
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Somebody loves you: New Eternal Sonata Screens


Aug 01
// Leigh Alexander
How do I love thee, Destructoid? If you count the number of images in this brand-new gallery of Eternal Sonata screens that I painstakingly converted to JPGs and uploaded just for you, you might have a fraction of an idea of ...
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Counterpoint: Why you should fear casual gaming


Jul 30
// Leigh Alexander
As you've probably seen, Lewzr's recent clogpost, much like a lucky crane game toy, was plucked from the crowd and deemed by the fickle whim of fate to be worthy of frontpage note, leaving the other two-dollar polyester toys ...
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A wild CHOCOBABY appears! What will you do?


Jul 30
// Leigh Alexander
I pretend I'm rational, pragmatic, unsentimental. I deal with the issues, man, the core of our intellectual relationship with games, the subtle layers of gamer psychology. And I feign androgyny; my gender has no place in my ...
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Let boobs flounce free!


Jul 27
// Leigh Alexander
A recent FileFront editorial treats a topic near and dear to all our hearts -- boobs in video games. However, even though the article's author identifies himself as "someone who enjoys eye candy as much as the next man,&...
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Building a better RPG: How Persona 3 will save us all


Jul 25
// Leigh Alexander
Quite often these days, we hear it said that “nobody wants to play 60-hour RPGs anymore.” Many of us even say as much ourselves, especially as an entire generation ages and finds itself with less time to pour in...
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Dragons ate my power cord: New Lair Screens


Jul 23
// Leigh Alexander
I've never seen Lair demoed anywhere. My parole officer doesn't like me going out much, especially near childrens' schools. I know that people scrutinize any new developments on the Lair front, though, to see if i...
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New Devil May Cry 4 screens include cleavage


Jul 20
// Leigh Alexander
Few more official Devil May Cry 4 screens for us today, via the Japanese site. These are new characters, and it looks like they're part of Nero's end of things somehow. Since info about this game skulks out of secrecy...
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Expansion announced for Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops


Jul 17
// Leigh Alexander
At the Tokyo PlayStation Premier event in Tokyo, Konami unveiled what seems to be an expansion pack for PSP's Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. It'll offer new playable characters, new multiplayer stages and game mode...
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Accidental brilliance in Grand Theft Auto: Episode 2


Jul 17
// Leigh Alexander
It finally happened; we took back the hood.Grove Street was on the up-and-up now, we rollin' high-style in the mansion with the fancy cars, cuttin' rap albums and livin' da life of a go-getta. CJ looked pimpin'...

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