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The Buy it/Avoid it Report :: Issue #008


Hello gamers! Welcome to the 8th issue of the Buy it/Avoid it Report!

Here we go again. As the year draws to a close, every major game publisher on the planet has decided to release their most anticipated games all at once! It's a wonderful/awful time to be an avid gamer for many reasons. For those in school, it's an untimely distraction when you need to focus. For those with regular jobs, it's hard enough to find the time to play all of these games, let alone afford them! For those who run a video game retail store (like me, for example), everything feels multiplied by 100.

On top of all the increased volume, my staff has doubled in size and my responsibilities have therefore grown as well. I've also done more midnight sales in the last 2 weeks than I've done all year and sold more copies of Modern Warfare 3 than I could have ever fathomed. At this point, I'm surprised I even want to think about video games after my shift ends. However, when I get home from a shitty day and see the Skyrim box lying there next to my controller, I realize that an escape from reality is perhaps exactly what I need. Then I murder some fucking giants and I feel loads better.

Well, since you're already here, let's talk about video games, shall we? Oh, and since someone complained that the last issue was a little too cheerful, I've gone ahead and included some extra criticism in this one. You're welcome!

Let's do this!


Dark Souls
Xbox 360

>> If you find yourself not having any fun when you play Dark Souls, don’t worry. “Fun” was not the developers' original intent. In fact, From Software has gone out of their way to omit (or in some cases even block) certain aspects of video games that we have come to take for granted. Would you like an easy, streamlined co-op system? Sorry! How about you scribble a “help” message on the ground and sit around and wait for some random person to hop into your game. If you don’t have the patience for that, you could always jump into someone else’s game. Though, the other player may have invited you into their game for the sole purpose of killing you and making you feel like a dumbass. You never know. Well, at least you can talk to the person you’re playing with. SIKE! The only means of communication you have with your co-op partner is a rudimentary set of gestures. How quaint!

That’s not to say that I don’t understand the reason behind these deliberate design choices. Dark Souls is an incredibly atmospheric game and the inclusion of these modern day amenities could disrupt the experience. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the environments and get caught up in the mood. Every aspect of this game is seems crafted to make you feel isolated and desperate. One moment you could be slowly walking down a corridor, shield raised, with only the sound of your armored footsteps echoing off the stone walls. At the end of a long hallway you see the silhouette of a foe that literally stands in the way of your progress. As you inch closer, he remains still. Then without warning, he lurches towards you and draws his weapon. Before you have a chance to react, he strikes you down with a massive overhead swing. This scene has played out in many different ways throughout my hours of play, but the end result is all too familiar. None of these deaths we necessarily "cheap" but most were lightning fast and all were inflicted without remorse.

Dark Souls is more a lesson in the ways of cause and effect than a regular video game. As you stumble through the various dungeons and hellscapes, you are a collector of information. You learn what works and what clearly does not. You’re forced to memorize the placement and attack patterns of enemies, carefully dissecting and abusing the flaws in the AI. One regret I know I'll have for not continuing on with this game is missing out of the massive boss fights. They are a pain but goddamn if they aren't breathtakingly executed. For those who have the will to succeed, feelings of pride and accomplishment (and relief) wait for them on the other side. For those like me, without the mental dexterity, the pressure is too great. We walk away humbled with nothing to show for our time but a few extra wrinkles and a tear stained pillow. In a world where nearly every game has become an electronic pat on the back simulator, Dark Souls stands alone as a stark reminder of how games used to be before we all went soft.

BUY IT if you have a thirst for adventure, an unnatural hunger for punishment and a discharge which can only be described as "ceaseless".

AVOID IT if, for some strange reason, you actually use video games to relieve stress.

(If you'd like a second opinion, check out knutaf's blog here on Dtoid. The man is truly obsessed!)


League of Evil

>> I hate pretend controllers on touchscreens. Not only do they obscure part of a screen that’s already fairly small but without the tactile feedback, it’s near-impossible to tell which “button” you’re pressing at any given time. I don’t know about you but when I play with a regular controller, I often rest my thumb on the buttons when I’m not using them. You can’t do this with ghostly controller overlays. What you’re forced to do instead is awkwardly hover over the general area of the fake button and jab it when you want to activate it. It’s a technique that can take a while to get used to but never really feels natural. However, if I’m ultimately forced into using one of these on-screen controller interfaces, I find League of Evil’s to be the most acceptable implementation. While holding the iPhone (or iPad) horizontally, you have a L and R arrow for your left thumb and an A and B button for your right. It’s simple and it works surprisingly well, all things considered.

The gameplay in League of Evil falls somewhere between Super Meat Boy and Mega Man, but I’d estimate the overall difficulty falls just short of both. Spiked walls, armed soldiers, laser doors and turrets serve as the obstacles you must overcome in order to reach the end. With no life bar, death comes quick and often but stages usually take less than 30 seconds to complete so most frustrations are short-lived. Your abilities don’t stray from the typical action-platformer staples: run, jump, double jump, wall jump and wall slide. If you come across something organic, say a soldier or an evil scientist, you have one final ability: the mega punch. Tapping the B button causes your character to lunge forward with a fist outstretched which, if it lands, has a 100% chance of causing instant decapitation! I will never grow tired of seeing the freshly liberated heads of my foes flip through the air as an explosion of 8-bit blood drops rain down upon my glistening, cybernetic body.

The last few years have been great for fans of classic 2-D platformers and League of Evil deserves a spot up there with some of the best. The bright, cheerful sprites are backed by some really catchy chiptune music and the whole package is just incredibly solid. I hope that the success it’s having on the iOS platform leads to some sort of fully fledged PC, console or handheld sequel, but perhaps I’m dreaming too big. Regardless, I tip my hat to the folks at Ravenous Games. The amount of content and quality of the updates do not match the ridiculously low asking price. Did I mentioned this game is only a dollar? Wow. We live in crazy times.

BUY IT if you want an iPhone game that's so hardcore, it nearly defies the platform.

AVOID IT if you’re still struggling to beat your infant nephew’s highscore on Doodle Jump.

(Special thanks to Tubatic and Magnalon for inadvertently bringing this game to my attention via Twitter.)


Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Playstation 3

>> I played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves earlier this year and, for the most part, I liked it. I thought the environments were gorgeous, the action segments were pretty clever and I found the story as engaging as any decent action flick. If there’s a single word that absolutely defines the Uncharted series, it’s “cinematic”. Stuff is constantly blowing up or falling apart yet somehow our handsome adventurer always barely makes it through in one piece. These scripted sequences are incredible at first. However, when the floor collapses below Nathan's feet for the umpteenth time, the magic begins to fade away. In fact, by the end of the second game I was completely desensitized by all the close calls and oh shit moments. Perhaps if Naughty Dog had paced themselves a little better, these moments would have more gravity to them and might even catch me off guard once in a while. Regardless, a lot of people really loved it and Uncharted 2 won a ludicrous amount of GOTY awards for 2009. Kudos to them.

Two years and one silly Subway marketing campaign later, we arrive at Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. This time around, Nathan finds himself in search of another ancient city lost in the pages of history. Early in the game, you get to play a flashback of Nate’s childhood which sets the events of Uncharted 3 in motion. You also get a little back story on Nate and Sully’s friendship which is nice, but then it’s back to the classic formula. Nathan walks into a building, it catches fire. He hops on a plane, it crashes. He sneaks onto a boat, it sinks. Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is quite the spectacle and there is some incredible technology making these things happen. The ship stage was very disorienting and believable. Watching Nate shift his weight and brace himself on the walls as the ship rocked back and forth was a real treat. The scene with the plane and the resulting crash (which serves as the cover of the game) was something I’ve never experienced before in a video game. Pretty awesome stuff.

Most of the puzzles in Uncharted games range between “well duh” and “wait a minute.... oh duh”. Since the solutions are often written in your journal, figuring them out is often more about translating what’s written in the book than actually working through the puzzle yourself. One exception to that was a delightful puzzle that used light and shadow to great effect. I was able to examine the room and devise a solution without opening the journal at all. Another main component of Uncharted is the combat. I noticed a few small tweaks to the hand-to-hand combat but overall it felt pretty bland. Not great but not bad. The gunplay however feels completely unchanged from Uncharted 2, which is not a good thing. Enemies absorb random amounts of damage and don’t always react to being shot....in the head. I remember reading these complaints when the last game was released and it appears that Naughty Dog ignored them completely. It’s these little things that keep Drake’s Deception shoulder to shoulder with Among Thieves rather than of ahead of it.

BUY IT if you’re a sucker for thoughtful storytelling and unbelievable action.

AVOID IT if you’re looking for more than just sufficient gameplay and predictable outcomes.

(Although the very concept of an Uncharted movie feels horribly redundant, I believe in my heart that Mark Wahlberg could kick Nathan Fillion's ass any day of the week.)


Batman: Arkham City
Xbox 360

>> I was (and still am) a huge fan of Batman: Arkham Asylum. I could tell the developers at Rocksteady were passionate about the source material and really went the extra mile at every given opportunity. First and foremost, they made stealth a major focus. Perched atop a room full of dudes, you could survey the situation and carefully choose your plan of attack. Picking them off one at a time while staying out of sight put the remaining guys on edge and therefore more prone to making mistakes. However, when the shit hit the fan, Batman was graced with a silky smooth combat system perfectly tuned for dealing with groups of thugs. With many of his classic gadgets (batarang, batclaw, etc) integrated into the fighting mechanics, a skilled player could easily mop the floor with tons of enemies and walk away feeling like the Caped Crusader himself. Needless to say, I was happy to hear that so many gamers shared my level of appreciation. When word of a sequel came so soon, a smile crept across my face. I knew Rocksteady would outdo themselves.

You may be wondering why I spent so much time talking about Arkham Asylum in the first paragraph, but allow me to explain. Batman: Arkham City is a glorious extension of all the solid groundwork set in place by its predecessor. The fluid combat makes a triumphant return but with numerous improvements. Two and three-man counter attacks strengthen Batman’s crowd control ability and allow him to do that cool coconut-head-clonk thing from the Three Stooges. Also, you’ll see him using his environment a lot more this time around, like smashing a guy’s face on a handrail or running his head into a wall. Being able to "quick fire" gadgets during combat has never been easier, plus it looks pretty badass. My personal favorite move is to pull someone close with the batclaw, clothesline them and, just as their body goes horizontal, smash them into the ground with my fists. I did it like a billion times and it was totally awesome every time. Honestly though, as wonderful as I feel the combat is, it's also the most polarizing aspect of the game. If you enjoyed it in Arkham Asylum, you’ll fucking love it in Arkham City. If you weren’t a fan however, there’s nothing here that’ll change your mind. Though vastly improved, it is not vastly different.

Arkham City is a playground, plain and simple. A sizable portion of Gotham has been walled off, wrapped with razor wire and turned into a huge prison run by Professor Hugo Strange and his Tyger guards. The environment is not only 5 times bigger than the Asylum, but far more dense as well. There are tons of buildings, alleys and rooftops to explore, along with plenty of landmarks to keep fans happy. Luckily, Batman’s grapnel and increased gliding ability make getting around the city a breeze. One (possibly annoying) thing you’ll notice is Riddler’s presence in the form of hundreds of green question marks that litter the landscape. Solving these puzzles unlocks a wealth of concept art and character statues but they are completely optional. As far as the campaign goes, it’s really good. The sheer amount of villains per square inch should be completely ridiculous but their various motives meld together so well, I just can't complain. On top of that, there are loads of side quests and cameos to keep you busy well after the credits roll.

BUY IT if you can appreciate a game that balances stealth, combat and exploration so well, you almost forget that you're a crazy billionaire in a Chiroptera suit.

AVOID IT if you get really annoyed by Batman's penchant for naming things "bat-this" or "bat-that", like he's clever or some shit.

(Random thought: If Batman carried a baseball bat, what would he call it? Think about it.)


Super Mario 3D Land

>> In my 30 years on this earth, I have played a ton of games. More specifically, I have played a ton of Mario games. Running around, collecting coins, obtaining power-ups, stomping on goombas, breaking blocks -- these actions are as natural to me as breathing. They are soul food for my game-obsessed heart. I’d even go as far to say that the Mario series of games (omitting spin-offs like Mario Party, sports, etc.) are the most consistent video games in terms of quality, and have been since the original in 1985. Back when Mario first entered the third dimension on the Nintendo 64, a lot of the classic NES/SNES sensibilities had to be left behind which created a rift in the Super Mario franchise. From that point on, you have your 2D sidescrollers (New Super Mario Bros. on DS) and your 3D adventure games (Super Mario Galaxy on Wii) each carving their own path. What we haven’t seen yet is a flawless melding of the two....until now.

Super Mario 3D Land, I’m happy to say, is the first great game built for 3DS. Up until this point, no game in the 3DS library has taken the concept of the glasses-free 3D beyond the “Ooooooh looky” phase. For this reason, the slider which controls the intensity of the 3D has stayed primarily in the ‘off’ position since I acquired the system back in March. With 3D Land though, the stages are built in such a clever way, they actually use the added depth as a gameplay mechanic, instead of gimmick. Refreshing! There’s also a command assigned to the d-pad that switches the 3D from outward to more inward. It’s hard to explain the effect without seeing it with your own eyes but I found it to be a thoughtful inclusion nonetheless. It doesn’t hurt that the game is downright gorgeous too, rivalling some of the best looking Wii games out there. This is due in part to the solid precision of the automatic camera which always keeps the action on-screen and never ever requires your input.

As with any Mario game, power-ups are all over the place and each one alters the plumber in uniquely helpful ways. Of course the Tanooki Suit is in full effect here. Eh, well partial effect is probably more accurate. Unfortunately, the gift of flight is no longer part of the package but tail-whacking and floating still are. Other power-ups include returning favorites like the Super Mushroom and the Fire Flower, along with new ones like the Boomerang Flower and the Propeller Box. The later is exactly what it sounds like and is used to great effect on some of the vertical stages unique to 3D Land. The Star Coins hidden in each stage are used to unlock bonus levels and boss battles down the line, so they’re definitely worth searching for. Flag poles once again serve as the ending point for each stage and the Bowser bridge fights make a triumphant return as well. All in all, Super Mario 3D Land is a perfect blend of new and old concepts and a great reason to own a 3DS.

BUY IT if you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Tanooki Leaf.

AVOID IT if Mario games became far less interesting once you were introduced to beer pong and UFC.

(Fun fact: I typed "3D" 13 times over the course of this feature. Ugh.)


That's it for #008! As always, I appreciate your time and I cherish your comments. Thanks for reading and more importantly, for giving me a reason to write. Please don't let that stop you from throwing valid criticisms my way though. I'm a big supporter of brutal honesty and I assure you, I can take it. See you next issue!

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About Phoustone of us since 2:05 AM on 02.11.2010

(Banner crafted by the amazing COM 01)

My name is Eric. I'm 34.
Here are some random things I'm into:

The Buy it/Avoid it Report - back issues
#001 - Ilomilo, Uncharted 2, Infinity Blade, Pac-Man CE DX, Battlefield BC2: Vietnam, PixelJunk Shooter
#002 - Batman: Brave & Bold, DJ Hero 2, Dead Space 2, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Bulletstorm
#003 - Pokemon Black/White, PixelJunk Shooter 2, Monster Tale, God of War III, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, Torchlight
#004 - Portal 2, Steel Diver, Sin & Punishment Star Successor, Pilotwings Resort, Crysis 2, Blocks That Matter
#005 - L.A. Noire, Alice Madness Returns, Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D, Shadows of the Damned
#006 - GoldenEye 007, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, AC: Brotherhood, Sword & Sworcery EP, Trenched
#007 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Jetpack Joyride, Gears of War 3, The Binding of Isaac, Renegade Ops
#008 - Dark Souls, League of Evil, Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, Super Mario 3D Land
#009 - The Buy it/Avoid it Report's Awards - 2011
#010 - Spelunky, Max Payne 3, Trials Evolution, Mario Kart 7, Escape Goat
#011 - Super Hexagon, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Lollipop Chainsaw, Mark of the Ninja

The Play it/Avoid it Report - back issues
#001 - Bioshock Infinite, Darksiders II, Dead Space 3, Far Cry 3, Sleeping Dogs, Tomb Raider
#002 - Dishonored, DKC: Tropical Freeze, Grand Theft Auto V, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Rogue Legacy
#003 - The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Mario Kart 8, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Sunset Overdrive

Secret Moon Base - episodes
Subscribe on iTunes - a podcast about video games and other stuff with my pals knutaf and Occam

Spelunky HD - blogs
Mega Guide - part one
Mega Guide - part two

The Binding of Isaac - blogs
Blood, Shit and Tears - a love letter
Instruction Manual - w/ tips and tricks for beginners
Unlocking Godhead - tips for playing as The Lost

Social Network(s) - ugh
Twitter - @corduroyturtle
Xbox LIVE:Corduroy Turtle
PSN ID:Corduroy_Turtle
Steam ID:17wizards
3DS Code:4639-8962-6190


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