Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?
This week is probably the most calm we'll get for the rest of the year, until December rolls around anyway. We've had fairly big releases on the PC and the DS this past week, but other than that it's just been a bunch of Kinect garbage rolling out on the 360. I'm going to be honest here: with the exception of Kinectimals Now With Bears, which my girlfriend's roommate bought for herself, I'm not even touching any of those Kinect releases. I mean seriously, a Micheal Phelps game and another shitty Wipeout game in the same week? Count me out. Limited budgets, limited Gamefly cues, etc. Maybe I'll get to them eventually, but for now just watch the hilarious Quick Looks if you want to see more of what these games are about. So while there have been some farily decent releases over the last week, I think most of us should just take solace in finding a little free time during this big holiday rush.
Might and Magic Heroes VI
This game has only been out since yesterday, and while I feel I've played enough to get a general sense of how everything works, I'm definitely going to invest a lot more time before committing to a full review. That said, what I've played so far was enjoyable enough to make me eager for another round. Now I don't know if these games have had a continuous, overarching storyline, but it certainly would explain a lot. See, I've never played one of these games before (much as I've wanted to,) so if any of the characters or situations presented in this game have carried over from previous iterations... well, it'd make a hell of a lot of sense, because I understand nothing that's happening here. The "story" as it were is just a bunch of amateurishly written gibberish being spouted off by poorly voiced characters. Luckily you can skip most of it and get right into the gameplay. No harm, no foul.
Heroes VI is a turn-based strategy game in which you move your armies around on an overworld map, collecting resources and establishing townships before engaging in grid-battles. This description might make it sound a little like Civ, but there's far less depth here than in Sid Meier's games (at least so far.) Establishing towns, collecting resources, and building up your armies can all be done with a click or two. The main focus here is on the battles, not the resource gathering before the battles. Units are situated on a grid, with enemies beginning on the opposite side of that grid. Your Hero unit, who is impervious to damage during battle, can cast buffs and debuffs on the battlefield, or attack an enemy directly. All of your other units, such as archers, soldiers, and healers, to name the few that I've seen so far, move about and attack normally. Some units, such as the healers, have special abilities that can be used to influence battle. And, halfway through the game's second campaign, that's about it. It's all pretty basic stuff, but it's executed smoothly enough to be fun. It helps that Heroes VI sports a vivid art style that makes the game look prettier than it really is, along with some really great creature design. This may not be the most Earth-shaking strategy release of late, but it's certainly solid enough to warrant checking out.
Kinectimals Now With Bears
It's Kinectimals. Now you have a bear.
Okay, seriously, this game is really just an expansion pack for the original Kinectimals from what I can tell. In fact, I think it's available on the XBL marketplace for like ten bucks if you already own the original game. But who would want to play such a cuddly game like this when you could be blasting dudes in the face in Gears 3, right? Right?
Am I right?
Aww! Look at that bear! AWWWW! LOOK HOW CUTE IT - Oh, ahem, didn't see you there. I was just admiring the... fur textures... and, uh... Okay, who am I kidding? I eat this cute and cuddly shit up. If this was just a game about petting fluffy little bear cubs all day, I'd shell out 60 bucks and never look back. But that's the problem with Kinectimals: You never get to spend as much time with your animal as you want to. There's always some kind of weird minigame or story scene that you have to go through before you can actually pet the bears, and frankly, these parts of the game are shit. And what's up with these bears acting exactly like dogs? I mean logically, they have cats already, so why not dogs next? You can't have your bear/dog cake and eat it too, Microsoft.
Mmm... bear/dog cake.
Dead Rising 2: Off The Record
Remember two paragraphs ago when I said that Kinectimals Now With Bears was more an expansion of the original's ideas than anything truly new? Well at least they added some goddamn bears to that one. I can't for the life of me justify paying Capcom's 40 dollar asking price for Dead Rising 2: Off The Record. Now I enjoyed Dead Rising 2, more than a lot of people I think, but I can still appreciate its flaws and how crucial a re-release like this could be in fixing them. Instead, we get a crudely stitched together retelling of the second game's story, a bizarre and totally unnecessary addition, while the boss battles remain borderline impossible and the difficultly curve is still about as smooth as a richter scale during an earthquake. Sure, they've added in the ability to set your own waypoints, which can be helpful, but it'd be nice if Capcom had taken the time out to fix some of the more fundamental flaws with the game. This is still Dead Rising, and thus it's still fun to beat zombies across the head with a chainsaw paddle, but I can't help feeling that Capcom has missed a great opportunity with this game.
To those poor uneducated few who haven't seen the pedigree behind Aliens Infestation, it might seem at first glance a paltry licensed game to be skipped over like all the rest of them. Well look again, inerudite swine! This game comes from none other than WayForward, the company responsible for the orgasmic Contra 4 and Bloodrayne Betrayal, amongst other great 2D throwbacks. This time they're aping the Metroid formula, twisting it and adapting it to fit into the chilling world of Aliens. And wow, does it work. Exploring the dark, derelict world, slowly opening up new sections and new powers as you go along, feels just like a Metroid game if it had the balls to be this scary. That tension is created due to a very limited pool of lives. Whenever a marine dies, they're dead for good. WayForward attempts to give these characters some real emotional heft, even going so far as to rewrite every section of dialogue depending on which marine you're currently controlling. It sort of works, but most of the backstories are pretty generic. Mostly, you'll feel every death because that's one less life that you have. And when you're all out of lives, it's game over man. Your save file is erased and you have to start all over again.
The tension that this adds to every encounter, every unexplored room, is fantastic. I've never been so afraid playing a DS game in all my life; any enemy can be potentially deadly, any room could be hiding innumerable foes, and death is around every corner if you don't step lightly. Coupled with the great sense of progression that comes from attaining new items to explore new areas, this tension is enough to make the game feel truly unique even as it apes other franchises so blatantly. It might be weird to say this about a licensed product, but this is about as close as we've gotten to a true successor to Metroid Fusion on the GBA, and like that game, Aliens Infestation is damn good.