Mass Effect: Casual

Bald Space Marine's have difficult lives.
Mass Effect contains a deep, expansive world full of intrigue, danger, and dialogue trees. It pretty much defines the "RPG Shooter" sub-genre, and is good for dozens upon dozens of hours of sci-fi adventure fun. This iPhone based prequel to Mass Effect's upcoming sequel has subtle hints of many of these things, but not enough gameplay to make it worth your while.

You do get to meet two characters that will also be in Mass Effect 2, Jacob and Miranda. Jacob is a tough space marine type with a -- wait for it -- shaved head. Miranda is a sexy bounty hunter type who pops up from time to time in hologram form to tell Jacob to be careful.
Super Monkey Space Marine - Tilt to move

You play as Jacob. When not choosing from dialogue trees you pilot him around the screen by tilting the iPhone while he selects the next target and shoots at it. You can also tap on a target to get Jacob to shoot at that one instead, and a good majority of the time that retargeting actually works. There are the standard Mass Effect "Force Powers"... sorry, I mean "Biotic Powers" and a few types of guns to shoot. The heavy gun is the most effective at removing an enemy's shield, but unless your target is near a wall, it will often overshoot.

I actually quite like the art style.
The heavy gun in particular seems like a vague hint of things to come in Mass Effect 2. There are some of the sounds you remember, some of the dialgoue trees, some of the characters. Playing Mass Effect: Galaxy is smelling a pizza in the next room, when what you really want is to eat the whole thing. At $3 it might be worth it just to meet the characters and get the promised reward in Mass Effect 2, but if you're looking for actual Mass Effect, this isn't it.

I Hate You Mega Man

Mega Man 9 hates you, and isn't afraid to let you know. Here's news for you Mega Man 9. I hate you back. Please let me have one more E-Tank.

It's just as hard as everyone says. Most games of the Mega Man 2 era require memorization, but this game, ostentiably a throw back to MM2, takes it to the next level. We'll give you a blind jump to a landing block that isn't there yet, sure, but this time, let's put it over some spikes.

Do you know what else needs some spikes? The ceiling. And another in front of the place you want to jump. And, what the hell, how about an unblockable laser beam. Fine. No, good. You do that, Mega Man 9. I *want* you to do that, because I've been playing too many games that make me feel competent and are fun to play. This constant failure is making me humble, and...

Goddamit! Fucking spikes!

The end result is a game that requires a level of OCD that should probably be treated by medical professionals, not encouraged by winning a boss fight. The achievements (on the Xbox Live Arcade Version) are further tuned for the obsessive compulsive. You want twenty points? Beat the game in an hour. You want twenty more? Beat it five times in a single day. The last five points? I'll get the rubber glove on. Now, turn to the left and cough. You might feel slight pressure.

Between the precision and difficulty, there's little room for improvisation. There's a set way to do most things, and you will do it that way or else. Using the special items or special weapons certainly can make things easier, but for each clever trick there's a choke point of spikes that can't be out-smarted.

Treatment options are available
MM9 takes some small amount of pity on you by offering a store in which you can exchange bolts found in-game for useful items like E-Tanks, M-Tanks, and most of all Shock Guards that protect you once per purchase from those bastard spikes. These extra items are a great help, particularly in Dr. Wily's castle, but the game seems to resent their presence, and so makes the user interface for purchasing them astoundingly wordy and difficult to use.

Ha ha! You have to click a button six times to buy an Energy Tank. Isn't that funny? Just like in 1988? Do you get it?

I get it, Mega Man 9. You hate me. You feel I should suffer for my sins of assisted aiming in console FPS games, or quick saving before every decision point in an RPG. Well, I hate you back Mega Man 9. As soon as I can, I'm going to sin again just to spite you.

This game is too difficult to be fun, to fussy to be exciting. If you enjoy it, please, for your own health and safety, see a doctor.

First Place Dead Space *SPOILERS*

Necromorphs. I *hate* those guys.
The boss battles look amazing, that much is certain. Fighting the hivemind as it reared it's ugly... head?... a dozen stories into the air while an enormous chunk of the planet burned its way through the atmosphere above made me grin. "Awesome," I said to myself. It was a sight to behold, but I was also grinning because I knew this meant that I was just about done with Dead Space. I was ready for that too.

It's a fun game. The "strategic dismemberment" mechanic -- where it's faster to kill the mutated baddies by slicing off their limbs than repeatedly shooting them center mass -- is a great twist. You're given a number of different mining tools slash weapons to work with, some of which are particularly adept at this required slicing. Add into that the localized time slowing "stasis" gizmo you can fire at enemies and you're all set for your futuristic barber shop. Some enemies take only two limbs before they bleed out, others three. I got pretty good at punching back an enemy, then quickly cutting off both arms with my plasma cutter as they rallied for another attack. There is some light puzzle solving as well, most of which involve using stasis, and they're a nice change of pace.

The game looks great, not just in boss battles but throughout, with only a few issues with cast shadows being blatant enough to bug me. EAs new game engine seems pretty solid, overall. Animations are fluid but maintain responsiveness. The environments are
Don't drop it
creepy and convincing. The audio really deserves the awards its getting.

My problems with the game are two fold. The first is that the level design is occasionally far too video-gamey for such a realistic looking world. A section where you need to move The Marker through some evil infested hallways has bridges you need to raise. That's fine, but they lower far too quickly for you to schlep The Marker through. Stasis to the rescue, of course, but why design a loading bay that way in the first place? The hive mind battle as well featured five clearly telegraphed weak points you needed to shoot which opened up five more weak points. It's a great looking monsters, and a fun fight, but video gamey through and through. You should have read this entire paragraph in the Simpson's Comic Book Guy voice, by the way.

The Author (center)
My second problem with Dead Space is that it scares the bejeezus out of me. I love science fiction, I love shooters, I love shooters with science fiction stories, but man do deadly monsters suddenly jumping out at me make me tense. I found myself getting tense every time I imagined starting it up. Even writing this just now and putting myself mentally back in the world of the USG Ishimura, my phone rang and I jumped. What I'm trying to say here is that I'm a big chicken, and this game made me cluck like one.

Fortunately I really liked the story and it kept me coming back. It used the same audio log mechanic as Bioshock where you revisit a destroyed place after most of the destruction has taken place and try to piece together what must have happened. It's dark and creepy. Not as good as Bioshock, to be honest, but that's mostly because it wasn't as fresh. Dead Space heavily borrows from science fiction movies I've seen many, many times before, but does it so well I didn't really mind.

Dead Space has everything people that like shooting things look for in a game. The tension was a bit much for my chicken heart, but the strong story, fun game play, and amazing art direction made me see it through to the end. I give it four stars, one maple leaf, and my dry cleaning bill. This game really scared me.

Persona 4 Endurance Run - Episode 9

Wave your hands in the air!

Holy crap, it turned into a video game... with crazy art design and what seems to be a pretty standard (but interesting)
 J-RPG turn based fighting system. I like it.

Now if we could just get the game characters  to stop recapping every single plot point, not only the moment they say it,
but then again remembering what was already said and recapped.

They should add different levels of plot comprehension difficulty, just as they do with combat difficulty. Do you get
befuddled by The Cat in the Hat? Consider using the "Easy Plot" mode. Did you follow all the ins and outs in the
book "Foucault's Pendulum"? You're ready for "Hard Plot" mode. "Insane Plot" mode is only unlocked if you can
correctly identify each character in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and trace out their family tree from memory.

For a while there Persona 4 felt like an animated comic book. Press X to turn the page.


Persona 4 Endurance Run - Episode 8

This episode is dedicated to the curtains in HazBazz's game room. Flower Curtains: Like a garden, but on your window.

Vinny pressed X so hard this episode which caused Charlie Tuna to hear a variety of interesting things. It turns out that
Gandalf the White is the principal at Charlie's school. Normally that would be pretty bitchin', but in this case he just
showed up to say that Tuna's classmate Saki, the sleepy girl that hooked up Yosuke with Japanese Zima, was found
dead. Saki is warm no longer.

Yosuke loved that Zima, and seems fond of Saki as well, so he puts forth his theory that the magical TV world with it's
pee fog and talking bear costumes might have something to do with the murders. He's resolved to return there and get
some answers. Chie Pet thinks deliberately going to crazy town might be a little dangerous. Charlie presses X.

Yosuke tells Chie to hold on to his long rope, which she does, but -- typical Chie -- she breaks it off. Women. Am I right?

Back in TV pee town, Charlie and Yosuke confront the Mysterious Bear, but mostly let M. Bear deliver some exposition
on the way things work in TV Land. Reading is fundamental. There are shadows. The fog is either here or there. Never
remove a bear's head in crazy town unless you are prepared to have the doors of your perception blown WIDE open.

These are the things Charlie Tuna learns today.


Persona 4 Endurance Run - Episode 7

also known as
PIcture in Picture
Inspector Uncle Dorito Has Left the Building

Deep in the pee-soup fog of the television world, Tuna, Chie Pet, and Yosuke have a heart to heart with the Monkey Bear. He lets on that someone has been throwing people into his television world, and that it's a pain in his monkey-bear ass. Chie yells at him, because he seems male and that's one of the main things she does with men. The other things she does with men are denoted by the many buttons on her jacket and we can't detail them in this family friendly blog.

Monkey-bear really knows how to work his AV equipment, as he not only has a universal remote hooked up in his shoe, but he actually got the picture-in-picture feature working on one of those Junes televisions. Two taps, and three stacked exit TVs are ready for our heroes.  Back in the real world, having transcended space, time, and the boundaries of reality that mankind has heretofore understood as being rigid and unchanging, there's really only one thing Charlie Tuna can do -- go home to his Uncle Dorito's house and call it an early night. Good call, Tuna-san.

Before being instructed by the universe that he's sleepy, Charlie learns from Inspector Dorito that his classmate that found the body a few days back is now missing and that some television announcers really like young, female hotel managers and other television announcers find that a little creepy.

The next morning, Dorito leaves for work while Charlie and his cousin Nanako stare wistfully after him, each lost in thoughts of their own hopes and dreams for that overworked public servant. Either that, or Vinny forgot to press X.


Persona 4 Endurance Run - Episode 6

This episode brought to you by the Junes Electronics Department. Junes Electronics: We're located really, really far away from the toilets.

Charlie Tuna was once again faced with two options: Go upstairs to look at the television at midnight and find his soul mate, or stay in the apartment downstairs making running motions while colliding with the furniture. Eventually, Tuna went upstairs for a nicely animated cut-scene. A cut scene is a part of the game where you just watch the action, as opposed to the rest of the game where you get to watch the action and occasionally press X. In this cut scene Tuna discovers that his soul mate is a dude who seems to share many of his interests. He then gets partially sucked into the TV set, but his big ass and small TV are simply not compatible. Maybe if you did some more running into furniture and less sitting around pressing X you'd make it, fatty Charlie Tuna-san.

Back in school the next day Charlie seems to have finally escaped from his asshole home room teacher's class, and into World History with his new favorite teacher, Egyptian Chick Santa Claus. "Ho ho ho," she says, "I'm Ms. Sofue, and I like romance." Pro-tip: When your young, hot, crazy teacher says she likes romance, make sure you sign up for the one-on-one tutoring. Got it made, got it made, got it made, I'm hot for Egyptian Chick Santa Claus.

Later, Mr. Tuna-san compares notes with his classmates regarding the freaky-deaky anime sneaky TV peeky they all were up to last night. Chie learns something about her sexuality in discovering her soul mate is a girl, Yosuke says his was a girl too, only girlier and totally not some dude that makes him feel tingly inside. Tuna tries to tell them about his experience, but can only make little white rectangles appear over his head. The others don't believe that Tuna got sucked into the TV, but go to the mall to look at bigger TVs anyway.

Looking at the big TVs, but thinking about her soul mate, Chie says, "You might be able to stick in more than your hand."

In a totally plausible bit of physical comedy, Yosuke then knocks the all three of them into the TV because he has to pee. After falling through, he must have taken care of it, because there's a thick pee fog in the air. That dude had some pressure. He's like the ultimate humidifier, but with pee. In the television world, thick with pee fog, They find the warehouse from the movie "Se7en", start feeling bad, then leave. The group then runs into a Monkey-bear who gives a little head nod and says, "Sup."

What is up, indeed, Monkey-Bear? What is up. Stick more than your hand in tomorrow to find out.


Persona 4 Endurance Run - Episode 5

aka The Case of the Midnight Channel
The Food Court of Sprite and Mystery
Everything's Not Fine at Your Junes
If You Wear The Same Clothes Every Day People Recognize You Easier

In this gripping episode of the Persona 4 Endurance Run, Charlie Tuna was weighed down by a difficult decision. Should he press the X button and help the jerk who drove his bike into a garbage can, or should he turn off his Playstation, ending his pretend life for good. In the end, Tuna-san bravely pressed X.  Bicycle-jerk turned out to be named Yosuke (Yo-SOOK-ay), and Suke-suke really wants to be Tuna's friend. Really. A lot. Like, now if possible. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

In class, Professor Moo-okay was an asshole and then dropped some learning on those kids with their buttons and uncleanliness. He dropped so much knowledge, Charlie picked some of it up after, naturally, pressing X. A smarter man, Charlie was ready to face the next challenge... pressing X to go to the Food Court with Suke-suke and the short-haired, mini-skirted, pixie-like, wearing-exactly-the-same-clothes-as-yesterday Chie. Chie Pet rudely invited herself along, but who can stay mad at that face? Who's a cute little ball-breaker? You are. Yes you are. Yes you are. Woogy woogy woogy. Little Chie Pet.

The story reached new heights of X-pressing where we learn that Chie has needs, Suke-suke has a back story, Charlie Tuna is okay letting others talk at length, and Yosuke's got a female friend named Saki-Serpentor that has a knack for finding dead bodies. Like Nancy Drew, but with access to way more booze.

Tuna got tired of pressing X at the food court, so he went home to press X with Uncle Inspector Dorito and Charlie's cousin Nanako, both of which are stuck in some Groundhog Day like world of constant repetition. Nanako is unsupervised. Dorito is tired and overworked. Charlie Tuna should go to bed. Go to bed. Don't forget to stare at the TV at midnight to see your soul mate, but dear God won't you please just go to bed? I'm betting Suke-suke snuck into Charlie's room and pasted his face on the TV in an attempt to recruit him.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Press X to stop reading.


Persona 4 Endurance Run Write-Up - Episodes 1-4

The story thus far:

Charlie Tuna-san had a nightmare vision of an old man with a penis nose and his creepy but hot female companion in the back of a limo. Tuna-san is told he has a destiny. Thanks for that, Penis-nose.

Tuna awakes on a train en route to his creepy Uncle Dorito's house in the 'burbs. He meets Uncle Dorito and his underage daughter, and is promptly left alone with her. She starts singing television jingles, which must mean it's time to raid the fridge for tasteless fried rice. Tuna then should go to bed. TUNA SHOULD GO TO BED. He's very tired, and should stop clicking on things and instead should go to bed. We're tantalized by the possibility offered by the sub-titles that Tuna might have a good dream.

Tuna does not have a good dream. He finds himself in a foggy dream-world where you can only go forward and nothing you do matters. You know, like Gears of War. At the end of the path he opens a sweet swirling square door and meets the dreaded ???. Tuna selects "Cleavage", slices at the air miles away from ???, then passes out. In his dream.

The next day at school he meets his asshole homeroom teacher, Mr. Moo-okay, who lectures them all on proper underwear hygine. You're dismissed from class and told something big happened, but just go home. You should go home. Stop clicking on things and just go home. With the two hotties. Now we're talkin'.

On the way to the mall with the hotties, you hear that something was hanging from an antenna, but that it's not there anymore. It totally was there at one point though. You can take that to the bank. Although it is not shown and also not there anymore, you overhear that the hanging thing was a body. Not the good kind of body, like Tuna's two lady-friends have, but the bad kind of body, that is dead and leaking things it shouldn't be leaking. It must be pretty gross, as your creepy Uncle Dorito (who is naturally a Police Detective) is even more unshaven than usual, with his tie even more un-tight.

The gross body discussion puts off your lady friends from going to the mall and suggestively feeding corn-dogs to each other, so you agree to reconvene the next day. You go home to hang out with your cousin, the unsupervised daughter of Inspector Dorito-San, then you should go to bed. You should go to bed. You are tired after almost walking to the mall and should go to bed. Christ on a crutch, would you just go to bed? Please? The game has nothing more to say to you.

After sleeping, you wake up and some jerk drives his bike into a garbage can, where he stays. Ha ha. Jerk.

You should stop reading now. You're tired after plowing through this massive wall of text and should stop reading. Stop reading.
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People Scarier than Monsters

I'm a reluctant fan of the sci-fi/horror genre, not because I look down on it, but because I'm a big chicken.  These scary games scare me, and sometimes I'd just rather roll a katamari and listen to J-Pop thank you very much. I played Doom 3 the day it came out and loved it, but I found myself saving the game every three seconds and twice before every doorway because I was so tense. I did the same thing with Bioshock, getting into the habit of saving at least once per room because it soothed me. Bioshock has essentially no death penalty, so saving constantly is that much more absurd.

The act of taking myself out of these immersive situations in many ways ruins the mood that the designers are trying to establish. As I mentioned, I'm a big fat chicken so that's A-OK in my book. It's the video game equivalent of watching the movie through your fingers. I'm actively filtering out the scary.

Now that I'm playing Dead Space and my favorite saving crutch has been removed I find I'm actually enjoying it more. The moodiness and environments are crafted to perfection. There are cheap jump scares, but even those are fun. In fact, I'm having so much fun playing the game that I'm starting to think that Bioshock was actually a scarier game. I think I've figured out why.

The main foes of Dead Space are horrible monsters while Bioshock had actual humans. Sure, the few remaining humans in the underwater city of Rapture were spliced up and crazy, but because they were fundamentally people it got to me more. There's a moment in Bioshock, walking down a frozen hallway deep under the Atlantic Ocean, that can still make my hair stand on end.

I think Bioshock is scarier, but I'm still early on with Dead Space, maybe it will start getting to me more. I should note that although my ability to save the game at will in Dead Space is gone, I did download the Elite (Level 5) Suit when it was free and am making ample use of the refill-stasis cheat code. Some things haven't changed. Bawk bawk ba-caaaaawk!