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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

"I don't rightly recall the first time I read Sparky's Update, or about the month or so surrounding it. Because that blog blew my mind, compadre." -Adam West, The Huffington Post, 1835-ish

Are you ready to have the insides of your mind licked? Your mental taste buds are about to taste the rainbow, because I'm finallygetting around to writing another Sparky's Update. This week, we're gonna shoot the shit about the divisive pros and cons of WWE 13, the solidly okay Modern Warfare 3, and I'm gonna introduce a new segmant, tentatively called the iPad Corner, wherein I discuss in quick broad strokes a good game or two I've been playing on my iPad. Ready? Break!

Like an Elbow Drop to Mah Man Parts

At first, second, third, and fourth glance, WWE '13 is simply treading water. If you're expecting fixes to the net code that dumps you out of online connections nine out of ten times, forget it - this is still the same net code used the last few years, with even more problems, if you can believe that. If you're hoping for a fix to the sometimes wonky hit detection and clipping, forget it. If you're expecting new animations, an extensive line of new CAW parts, or upgraded graphics, forget it. If you're hoping for new Legends to be added, rather than retooled versions of current wrestlers and wrestlers who've appeared in previous iterations of the WWE games, forget it - you've seen all these wrestlers rehashed several times over the last decade.

In short, if you've disliked the prior WWE games for any of the reasons above, you're not gonna be particularly fond of this one. It does absolutely nothing to fix any of the problems inherent to the series.

So why in the holy hell do I find myself liking the game?

I should despise it. The broken net code is the most glaring and painful problem for me, because I love downloading CAWs based on real wrestlers so I can have a fun, padded game for the Universe mode. They've made the bizarre, reprehensible decision to hide most of the CAWs behind the ludicrously priced season pass. You cannot download certain CAWs without it. When you consider that most of the folks behind the game probably aren't going to be around to release compatibility patches, it makes sense, but it's still a huge detriment to the game. So why oh why don't I care?

It's not really the Attitude stuff, either. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of reliving wrestling's biggest matches and want to see variations of this for WCW and feuds from the WWE in the late eighties and early nineties. But the simple fact of the matter is that the Attitude stuff gets pretty old, thanks mostly to the fact that there's really only a focus on about six to eight wrestlers of the era, and you see those wrestlers recycled constantly. Even though they have the likes of Edge and Christian and Vader, you only get about one match per side wrestler, and most of those are relegated to a tacked-on "also ran" feature that doesn't use any of the voice work or design of the rest of the Attitude section.

What it is, then, is that this feels like the first WWE game in quite some time with heart. I've said it before - I'm a fan of the three-legged mongrels of the video game world, and this is one of those. It's crippled in so many ways by a lack of budget and uncertainty about THQ's future, but I can't help but love its ugly mug because of the fight and determination in its eyes. Yes, it's a yearly iteration of a series that has long needed a complete retooling, but there's a spirit here that sort of gets what we old school wrestling fans love about the "sport" and the games. Part of that is the nostalgia - reliving Undertaker throwing Mankind off the Hell in the Cell is a thrill, to be sure - but mostly I think it's in the way the game completely ignores the modern blandness of wrestling in favor of "the good ol' days." Truth be told, the game could have used even more of the spectacle, and hopefully with new hardware and new owners, the series will thrive and hopefully see the upgrades it so desperately needs.

So yeah, this is a wrestling game for wrestling fans. That's no real surprise.

The Sum of All Fears. Well, Fears, and Simple Delights

Modern Warfare 3 is more Modern Warfare.

I'm not going to try to sway you to play it, or not. There's a simple, delightful formula to these games, and while I doubt I'd pay the full price for a Call of Duty game until it sees a massive revamp, I have no problem whatsoever paying $30 for a big, dumb, fun action game. And that's what this is. I can't play the multiplayer, as usual. But for the spectacle of the single player and the fun of the bonus mode Spec Ops, I think the game is well worth the price of admission.

I'll throw out a couple of minor niggling complaints and some praise here. The levels don't really focus on the most promising aspect of MW2 - the war on American soil. Unfortunately, the levels are relatively bland game affairs - you'll raid a castle, storm through a sandy town, enter a bland mine. There's one spectacular level set in Paris, but that's about it. These levels are also fairly narrow in scope, to the point of feeling overly brief. It doesn't help matters much that at times the game bizarrely reminiscent of a corridor shooter.

In its favor, the game attempts to solve a common problem amongst us color blind folk by including a color blind option for the names in multiplayer. It's cool that they do this, and hopefully it's expanded in the future to include the ability to choose the colors you see for the names of teammates and enemies. That'd be a huge step towards evening the playing field for us.

The iPad Corner

For this section, I'm not going to try to bother focusing in on obscure or indie games. This will be a completely random section, filled with whatever games and apps I feel like talking about, so odds are, you will know a great many of the games I cover. But for those of you as new to i-products as I am, maybe some of this will be helpful and fun.

-Towers N' Trolls is my latest crack of choice. I love me some tower defense with RPG elements, particularly games like Bloons and this one. The gameplay is simple enough - you build towers, you stop the enemy horde. Enemies drop crystals at random that can either charge your special attacks when drained or be used in between levels to purchase upgrades for your towers and special attacks. It's those upgrades that turn the game from normal to super fun, as there are tons of upgrades to purchase, and they feel immediately effective and useful. For around a buck, it's a really fun game.

-Temple Run 2 is essentially more Temple Run, but there are some neat little tweaks to the formula, such as a mine cart section. I'm still dreadful at it, but they've made some nice little level tweaks and it actually seems easier to see corners and obstacles than in its predecessor. I have no idea if that's just in my mind or not, but there you have it. The fact that it's free is the icing on the cake. I don't usually like endless runners, but this one's sort of fun.

-Middle Manager of Justice feels like it could've used some more time in development. You essentially build up a base, hire a handful of heroes to fight crime, and upgrade your abilities along the way. That's a hell of a solid premise for a game. If they'd added some variations to the combat scenes, I think it might have been great. As it is, it can be frustratingly repetitive. I'd check it out if it's on sale, but keep in mind that the game gets dull pretty fast.

The Rest

-I suspect there are many people who are reading it or will read it, so I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum, but A Memory of Light is a pretty great end to the Wheel of Time series. I wouldn't have minded an epilogue, and there's a moment late in the novel that's frustratingly coy with the reader, but overall, it's a pleasant end to a series I've been reading for nearly twenty years. Crazy.

-Fringe also ended this week. I adored that show, despite its plot problems and case of the week format. The last two seasons really showed what the series could have been. I'll miss Anna Torv being on my TV (thanks to Marino for correcting me on the spelling of her name, which I'd thought was Tory for years), but I liked the conclusion and look forward to seeing what the talent in the show and behind the scenes will do in the future.

And that's about it for this week. Take care, guys and gals.

Posted by Slag

Oh man Wheel of Time that 9th book (or was it 10th) just killed my interest in the series. So convoluted so many new dangling plot threads so little overall plot progression, it became a chore to read. After book 4-5 that series really started to run out of gas, dunno if it was because Robert Jordan's health was deteriorating as well. When I heard the 12th book had to be two volumes, I said to myself "of course it does". But man the highs in that series were great. I'd love to see that be remade as an old school network miniseries, like a Lonesome Dove. That would be sweet.

Maybe I'll go back and read straight through the series (since I don't think I remember enough to jump back in at this point), but I dunno if I got 12,000 pages of free time this year, or really will ever.

It's funny War & Peace used to get a bad rap in Looney Toons etc, but it ain't got nuthin on the Wheel of Time

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Slag: The last three books (i.e. the ones penned by Sanderson) are pretty much instances of "resolve all the things" followed by the last book being 75% battle scenes. I don't know if that is motivation for you to pick back up the series or not, but I found the conclusion to be totally worth all of the nonsense that goes on around books 7-10, which are easily the lowest point of the series. Book 10 is just so infamous in my mind because of how little it moves the plot forward and instead focuses on inconsequential side characters, and really there's nowhere to go but up from there. Even intolerably unlikeable characters like Elayne get less obnoxious as the series winds down.

So, if that above wasn't quite a tip-off, I also finished A Memory of Light. It does what it needs to, and does it well.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Slag: Sanderson really got the series back on track. He's not nearly as good of a writer as Jordan was with the first four novels of the series, but Jordan got so far off-track that it's nothing short of a small miracle that Sanderson managed to finish things with a pretty decent conclusion. We're in the midst of a great era for fantasy novels, and despite my misgivings about the dreadful Mistborn series, Sanderson's work with the WoT series should be fondly remembered.

Posted by dankempster

Sparky's update makes its triumphant return for 2013. Few things so far this year have made me as happy as this.

I've never really been into wrestling in any format, so I'm not in a position to comment on WWE '13 on any account. I'll just leave my stock wrestling video game conversation response here for your perusal: I played a lot of Smackdown! 2 on the original PlayStation with my cousin back in the day, and recall it being tons of fun. The sheer variety of match modes and the robust create-a-wrestler kept us thoroughly entertained, even though I wasn't at all invested in the world of wrestling. For what it's worth, I'll keep my fingers crossed that whoever ends up dealing with the franchise in the future manages to improve on the criticisms you've mentioned, while also retaining the 'heart' that's kept WWE '13 entertaining.

From one long-running series in which I've only played one game to another - my experience with the Call of Duty franchise begins and ends with the original Modern Warfare, and I feel like that game's campaign and the few hours I spent in multiplayer told me all I wanted/needed to know. I'm not completely ruling out the possibility of being sucked back into the 'big dumb action movie' appeal of the franchise, but between my aforementioned time with CoD4 and the sheer size of my Pile of Shame, I can't see myself being motivated to pick up another game in that series, at least not in the near future.

Final thought - the Wheel of Time series sounds insane, in the best way possible, but I'm not sure I could ever commit to reading a series spanning fourteen volumes. The seven books that made up Stephen King's Dark Tower saga took me long enough to get through, so I've no idea how I'd fare with a series with twice as many entries. It's good to know it didn't disappoint you, though. After the crushing anti-climax that was The Dark Tower, I'm slightly nervous about seeing any epic fantasy through to its conclusion. I'm just about to start The Return of the King and even though I'm at least partially aware of how it ends thanks to the films, I'm still a little wary of being let down by the dénouement of Tolkien's epic.

Posted by Cyrus_Saren

I'm curious on what your misgivings were in regards to the Mistborn series? I only read the first book but it was a pretty solid book to me. It had the usual Sanderson part of nothing really happening until the end of the book but I didn't think it was too bad. I'm genuinely curious because I was planning on finishing off the trilogy after I get through my backlog of books.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Cyrus_Saren: Finish the series, by all means. I really want to discuss this a lot more when I can talk about spoiler-ish things, but without getting too specific, I am not a fan of his characterizations and the way Sanderson overly described his magic system. The main characters felt two-dimensional (save for that pretty cool secondary protagonist in the first novel, the male one who does that thing at the end) and left me wondering if Sanderson wasn't writing caricatures instead. The ending to the series is crippled by a deus ex machina to end all deus ex machinas.

The Way of Kings was a pleasant surprise, and one I genuinely look forward to re-reading once the next in the series comes out. He still can't write a woman for the life of him, as they all tend to fall squarely into the "strong but vulnerable" archetype with little imagination or heart to them. There are other problems to boot - most of the characters feel like Mary-Sue's (ugh, I hate using that trope as a descriptor, since it isn't what a Mary Sue started as, but you get the idea) - but it's a really solid start to what will be his own "Wheel of Time"-sized fantasy series.

Posted by Slag

@ArbitraryWater: & @Sparky_Buzzsaw:

I don't know if I'm happy to hear that as I was content to not have a book backlog ontop of my gaming backlog. Damn that figures I quit right when it was about to get good again. Now I have regret I didn't stick with it!

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Sparky_Buzzsaw:I wouldn't go as strong to say that Mistborn is "dreadful". I liked the series well enough, though I think Sanderson spent more time on his intricate, overly detailed magic system than he did on plot and characterization. I think he fixed those misgivings well enough with Warbreaker and The Way of Kings, but that's mah opinion. And yes, all fantasy writers are bad at writing female characters. Example number one? Robert Jordan.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Cyrus_Saren: @ArbitraryWater:

Arbitrary has a good point. "Dreadful" is probably overly strong in describing Mistborn, but I'm still not a fan of it. Sorry. I do enjoy some hyperbole, don't I?

Posted by RenegadeSaint

I've done a wee bit of Temple Running in my day. I can't say I'm truly interested in cell phone games at this stage in my life, but it's always good to hear about quality stuff coming out. I also never found myself interested in Fringe. It may turn into one of those shows I end up watching in about 10 years and loving. Only time will tell.