Life With Brother: Episode VI

It's been two years since their trip to Montana; since then, both Billy and Joe have graduated. While Joe enjoys his last summer before college, Billy, in a state of desperation, applies at Walmart.


HD re-releases of Kojima's MGS and Z.O.E. games coming soon

Yesterday, when I was browsing the game sites I frequent, I eventually came across the Konami Pre-E3 Video over on GameTrailers.  Some fascinating stuff in there, but the most exciting news comes in about 30 minutes into the video where it's revealed that Hideo Kojima is working on HD remasters of two of his most well-known franchises:  Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders.


Mega 64 was brought on to unveil this exciting news as well as a new feature coming to PS3/PSP cross-platform titles:  Transfarring.  Transfarring will allow gamers to transfer their PS3 and PSP saves across both platforms when playing the same title in order to truly bring your gaming experience everywhere you go.  From this, it's easy to infer that this feature will only be available to titles that are built to run on the PSP and given an HD upgrade for the PS3, so it's likely not going to be something we see across a wide library of games for a while.


Perhaps the most exciting part of these reveals is the announcement that both HD collections are also headed to XBOX 360.  This will be the first time since Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance that a MGS title will be available on Microsoft's XBOX branded home consoles with a current release date set for November 2011.  The HD collection of MGS titles will include Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater, and the former PSP exclusive Peace Walker (Transfarring will be exclusive to the PS3 version... obviously).  Being primarily an XBOX gamer, this news is welcome to me and might just sway me from picking up Snake Eater on 3DS simply because I'd rather play it in HD on a big screen.  That's just me, though (I'm also broke... the less times I buy a game, the less money I spend!).


The Zone of the Enders HD collection is scheduled for a vague 2012 release for both XBOX 360 and PS3 (Transfarring is also enabled exclusively on the PS3 version), and is likely to cause fans of the series to regain hopes for a new entry in the franchise.  I haven't played the Z.O.E. games, but I'm looking forward to changing that with this upcoming re-release.


Some information was also divulged about the upcoming, Raiden starring MGS: Rising with Kojima stating that it's still planned for a 2012 release.


To me, it's a little bit disappointing that the first Metal Gear Solid title won't be included in the HD collection (unless it's hidden in there somewhere); I have 3 copies of it (the original PSX release, the greatest hits PSX release, and the PSN release), though, so I'm not really needing to play it elsewhere.  I think it'd also be neat if the first two Metal Gear MSX2 games were available in the HD collection... but that might be a long shot.  Regardless, this is exciting news and I'm eagerly looking forward to the releases of these HD collections.


If you'd like to watch the Konami Pre-E3 vid, you can do that over on  GameTrailers .


More Alan Wake Confirmed by Remedy

Recently, rumors have been floating around about Alan Wake 2 being in development (due to a LinkedIn post of someone who apparently worked on it).  As a big fan of the fictional fiction writer and his otherworldly adventures, I was more than a little excited to hear about the potential future the Remedy game has for franchise development.  Today,   Joystiq  received a response regarding that rumor.

According to Remedy’s enigmatic reply, the project in development is neither Alan Wake 2 nor DLC, but they promise that more Alan Wake  is  coming and that it will give fans of the brand (such as myself) as well as newcomers something to sink their teeth into.

Looking over their letter, it’s clearly stated, “…this next Wake installment will not be Alan Wake 2.”  Their wording, not mine.  This certainly leaves some room for interpretation… for instance, they  could  mean that it’s not a sequel,or  they could mean that the sequel will not be titled so crudely (maybe something like Alan Wake: Season 2 (so much more class, I know), Alan Wake’s Arrival (if you haven’t completed the final DLC, you wouldn’t know), or Alan Wake: A Subtitle Goes Here).  If not a sequel, it might be a spinoff of sorts—a companion piece installment that takes place parallel to the events in the first game (or maybe after them…) or something along those lines.

Another guess is it might be something along the lines of a re-mastered re-release of the first game including all the DLC and running on an improved engine and sporting   Remedy’s new facial capture tech.  Alan Wake: The Complete First Season.  Have it include all the DLC released (The Signal and The Writer) as well as some fancy new content and special features to entice fans to come back and play some more, the improved engine and facial animations to give the graphic buffs something to talk about, and end it with a confirmation that Alan Wake 2 is really, really coming.

According to Joystiq, Remedy states that we’re likely to see this in its entirety in fall 2011.  With E3 right around the corner, it’s very likely that we’ll become better informed about this project during that event.  Given that Microsoft has a publishing contract with Remedy for Alan Wake, I wouldn’t be surprised (but I’d be more than happy) if we see something regarding this project at the Microsoft press conference.

Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to seeing what Remedy has planned and will, no doubt, be picking this up once it becomes available.  Alan Wake was an absolutely fantastic experience with some of the best writing in any entertainment medium; I don’t doubt the folks at Remedy’s abilities to deliver a truly groundbreaking experience.


Wouldn't It Be Nice: Consumer-Friendly Gaming

Recently, it seems as though game developers and publishers are spending more effort in increasing profits than releasing a product worthy of its extravagant price tag.  Over the years, I’ve come to accept the $60 standard (this doesn’t mean I like it, it just means I’ve come to terms with what is and have no say in the matter… it’s the final stage of grief after shock, disappointment, outrage, forum trolling, and punch dancing), but it seems like we’re getting less for our money now than we did just a few years ago—we’re now subjected to cash shops filled with pricy digital attire and weaponry for your avatars and constant waves of DLC (don’t get me wrong, I like DLC… when it expands the game, not provides content that could/should have been in the initial release—I’m wholly opposed to day one DLC (you know, the kind of crap that the devs say wasn’t ready before the game went gold, so they decided to charge you extra for it)) and the $60 we’re paying has become more an entry fee than an all-access pass. 

I’ll get back to DLC in a minute, but I really want to discuss the recent craze of cutting costs in packaging.  Most of the games you buy now come in “green” cases (you know, the ones with the holes cut out… the ones that don’t actually protect your discs… the ones that make it easy for the box art to get creased and torn… the kind of cases that I, as a collector and someone who likes my discs to not be scratched, despise), and Ubisoft and EA (perhaps some other publishers… I’m not really in the loop right now) have been making a move toward paperless manuals.  The new cases and smaller/nonexistent instruction manuals might not seem like that big of a deal, but those are some major costs that have been cut—shipping crates have significantly reduced weight (seriously, pick up one of your “green” cased games and pick up something like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and tell me you don’t notice a significant difference), which means it costs less to ship, and the digital manual titles cut costs in both weight and printing fees.  These publishers are saving considerable amounts of money through cutting down on printing and shipping fees by giving customers less stuff for the same price.  As a collector, my tangible goods are important to me—I like my instruction manuals and I like my box art—I can understand a more “environmentally friendly” approach to game distribution, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it… my biggest concern with all of this is that we’re not benefiting from the savings. 

My concerns also come into play with digitally distributed games.  Sure, Steam has some great sales, but that doesn’t change the fact that digitally distributed titles are releasing at the same prices as their retail counterparts—you know, the ones that were printed, packaged, and shipped.  Digitally distributed titles should never cost as much as a physical copy.  Ever. 

Downloadable content is becoming more common and more costly recently.  I’m going to pick on BioWare (A Division of EA) first because they piss me off the most.  I loved BioWare—they were a community-focused developer who never delivered an unfinished or substandard product; they focused on making great games and treating their fanbase right.  Now they seem more focused on pushing out a game as quickly as possible to capitalize on the success of its predecessor and giving you ¾ of a game for the price of a full one.  Dragon Age II had two pieces of DLC available on its release day totaling an extra $17 on top of the game’s $60 entry fee… that’s just wrong.  I don’t give a flying Frenchman’s toot if that content “wasn’t finished” when the game went gold; if that were the case, I don’t think the gaming community would have cared too much if BiowEAr pushed the game back a week or two so they could get the full experience of the game they paid for. 

The countless weapon and costume packs are also bogus—you pay 2+ dollars for a hat or a gun in a videogame.  You paid $60 dollars for a game, and you’re going to waste money playing dress up and encourage publishers to exploit your stupidity by making weapons and clothes—stuff that could have been included in the game—DLC?

I firmly believe that DLC content to cost should equal that of the “full game.”  When you pay $60 for 80 songs in Rock Band or Guitar Hero but you have to pay $2 per song when it’s DLC, that’s hardly fair to the consumer.  When you pay $60 for a 30-40 hour game, it shouldn’t cost $7-10 for another hour or two of content.  All the systems that make the “expanded content” are in place, it’s less work to make and they’re charging you more to buy it. 

When production costs go down, the cost to the consumer should follow suit.  This encourages an increase in the customer base and allows the companies to continue to turn a profit.  We’re not seeing any of the savings these companies are benefiting from with the lighter cases and less printing costs.  We shouldn’t be paying more for less.

I’m sorry if this post was just a rant, but I feel like the industry I helped to make great is trying harder to increase profits than provide worthwhile gaming experiences.  I don’t have the money to spend $80+ in order to enjoy the whole game… but that’s my concern, not theirs. Game companies make games.  Gamers like games.  Games cost money.  Game companies like money.  That’s the order of things and there’s nothing we can really do about it other than bend over and say, “Thank you.”    


Wouldn't It Be Nice: Shenmue HD

Sega is in my blood.   I grew up with the blazing blue ball of speed that is Sonic The Hedgehog, spent countless hours in the phantastic worlds of the Phantasy Star phranchise, dominated in Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers (seriously, if you want to play a great fighting game… check out Fighters Megamix), and hailed the Dreamcast as the greatest videogame console ever made.   I loved the Dreamcast, the awkward cable placement on the controllers, the pretty graphics, and all the games… especially Shenmue.

Shenmue really surprised me when I started playing it over a decade ago by presenting a world that felt alive.   I love a good adventure game (and Shenmue is a great adventure game), but (especially back then) they rarely ever created such an expansive world that allowed the player so much freedom.   Yu Suzuki broke the mold of the conventions of gaming with Shenmue and crafted something beautiful and innovative.

The story of Shenmue is a tale of revenge as Ryo Hazuki sets out to find the man who killed his father and uncover the secrets of his father’s past.   It’s a simple enough premise, but it gets deeper and more involved as you progress and encounter more interesting revelations... and then it ends with “To Be Concluded.”   The last we heard of Ryo Hazuki and his epic tale was 2002 on the original XBOX with the North American release of Shenmue II, and the game… just… ends.   I was initially excited when I saw that because it meant that I’d be playing Shenmue III someday, but that day has yet to come and I have grown to realize that cliffhanger, “To Be Continued” type endings suck because of this decade-long letdown.

Since the release of the second installment, there has been little news and much disappointment with the Shenmue franchise—Shenmue III was never announced or released, Shenmue Online was canned, and then we heard news about a new Shenmue game and got all excited only to find out that it’s a mobile phone title.   Most recently, Yu Suzuki has been playing with our emotions again by teasing us with possibilities that the Shenmue franchise might have a future, but I know better than to get my hopes up too soon.

But… what if?   Wouldn’t it be nice if Sega was actually letting Yu Suzuki work on the final installment of the classic adventure series?   Wouldn’t it be nice if the mobile game and all this teasing is to increase the buzz around the franchise so they can release to more success than the Dreamcast and XBOX games did?   I think a great way to even better increase that buzz (and provide players who have never experienced some of the greatest games ever made a chance to do so) would be to re-release the first two installments and end them with a sincere promise that Shenmue III is coming.

With all the HD re-releases these days, it would be nice to see Shenmues I & II get a fresh coat of paint and another chance to shine in a new age of gaming.   I mean, Beyond Good & Evil (another underperforming adventure title from the past) was just given a second chance on XBLA recently, so why not Shenmue?

Shenmue holds a special place in my heart—as I’m sure it does with many gamers out there—and, for all of us who experienced (yes, experienced… you don’t freaking play Shenmue, you experience it), we have been waiting patiently to find out how the story concludes.   I would be more than willing to buy the Shenmue games again, and I’m sure there are many, many people out there who feel the same way.   Sega, if you have a heart, please… please make this happen (and give us Shenmue III, dammit!).


Wouldn't It Be Nice: The Last Story North American Release

If you’re anything like me… you’re probably a pretty awesome person… but you probably also have a thing for a well-crafted JRPG (not the garbage that Square has been crapping out for years since Hironobu Sakaguchi left to form Mistwalker).

In my humble (but also true) opinion, Lost Odyssey felt more like a true Final Fantasy game than the abomination that was last year’s Final Fantasy XIII (seriously, if you liked that game, gtfo because it was awful)—a beautiful soundtrack from Nobuo Uematsu (the man who created the Final Fantasy sound), a wonderfully emotional story from Hironobu Sakaguchi (the mind that gave Final Fantasy its start), and traditional, turn-based combat like JRPGs were meant to be played.   Lost Odyssey stands as one of my favorite games this generation and my favorite JRPG of all time—I love the game!   Blue Dragon was a solid title, too, but Mistwalker really sunk their claws in me with Lost Odyssey and I’ve been longing for their next console release since then (I’ve been begging for a Lost Odyssey 2, but that doesn’t seem to be happening), and finally a new console release has arrived!   … in Japan.

The Last Story (yes, we all know how much the title resembles Final Fantasy.   No, you are not clever for pointing it out), Mistwalker’s latest release, seems to be a bold new direction for the developer with more real time, action-based combat than their traditional RPGs… but it’s a combat system, from what I’ve seen in videos, that actually looks good!   None of that lazy, self-playing crap featured in FFXIII, but a strategic approach to action combat that looks fun and innovative.   I can’t speak from personal experience, since I haven’t played the game (and I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t really understand the videos I watch), but I would really, really like to have the opportunity to experience this game.

Being a Mistwalker game, it’s bound to have a story worth experiencing (Sakaguchi-san knows how to craft a brilliant tale) and a beautiful accompanying soundtrack, but the game also manages to look beautiful on the limited hardware of the Wii.   Sure, I would have liked for it to be released on an HD system, but I think releasing on the Wii was actually a smart move for the developer.   Their previous games haven’t really received the sales they deserve and development costs for a non-HD system are cheaper (and the Wii has the largest install base of all the consoles).   So, I really hope that Mistwalker can find financial success with this release… but if they’re really looking for more sales, why not release it over here in North America?   I would buy it!

This might seem like a non-article, and it kinda is, but I was thinking about The Last Story yesterday, so I tweeted that it’d be nice if Mistwalker would release it over here, so I’m sure someone else out there does, too.   Mistwalker replied to my tweet saying, “Thanks for your tweet.   More info to come.”   So, I have hope that we’ll be hearing some news on a The Last Story North American release… I just hope it’s not, “We have no plans to release The Last Story in North America.”


A Fond Farewell to Bizarre Creations

Today, February 18, 2011, Activision closes the doors of one of its internal studios, Bizarre Creations.  Bizarre Creations was the studio behind several well-received racing games and arcade titles including Metropolis Street Racer for Dreamcast, the Project Gotham Racing franchise for Microsoft's XBOX systems, the Geometry Wars games (the first of which was introduced as a game within a game in Project Gotham Racing 2), and the recently released Blur.  Activision purchased Bizarre Creations in 2007 and Bizarre is the most recent studio to fall victim to the massive publisher's studio closings and cutbacks.  Thoughts and prayers go out for those who lost their jobs due to the studio's closure and hopefully they can find employment posthaste.


Wouldn't It Be Nice: Fix XBL Marketplace!

I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s XBOX… and pretty much everything else Microsoft (yes, I am a fanboy), so I spend a lot of time dinking around on my platform of choice perusing new content and such when I’m not actually playing games.  I know my way around the system and I welcomed the new interface when the NXE (New XBOX Experience) rolled out a couple years ago—it was prettier, being more visual than the previous interface, and it was faster.  However, we were treated with an update last year that, in my opinion, ruined some of the awesomeness that was.  And not just that, but cash grabs and unending uploads of rhythm game DLC are crowding Marketplace to the point of unusability.

Marketplace of the past used to be divided into a few easy to navigate sections (stuff like:  New Arrivals, Featured Content, etc.) that you could jump into and scroll to find what you are looking for.  If you went to Games Marketplace, you could go to New Arrivals and quickly scroll through new Arcade, XBLA, Indy Games, Games on Demand titles, Demos, etc.  Now, however, you have to click on each independent category and back out to go to the next (click on XBLA.  Scroll to New Releases.  Anything you like?  No?  Back out.  Go to Games on Demand, scroll to New Releases.  Anything you like?  Rinse and repeat).  It’s a clunky interface update that makes browsing Marketplace a chore and no longer the convenient quick trip it used to be—I don’t like it.

On top of that, you can no longer rate a game from the game info screen.  When NXE first launched, it added a really neat community feature that I really appreciated:  the ability to rate games.  This doesn’t sound like it’s that big a deal, but I like to see consumer opinions of a game (and they often have more weight than a critic who reviews a game that was provided free of charge)… even if it’s a simple star rating, I like to see what other people thing before I commit to a buy (I don’t make my judgment based just on what other people think, but I’m less likely to just buy a game with a 2 star community rating than one with a 5).  Rating a game was nice and easy when the feature was added (have a disc in your tray?  Press Y to pull up the game info screen and give it your star rating.  Scrolling through your XBLA collection?  Press A on any of the titles to pull up the game info and enter your star rating), but now that game info screen rating system is gone; instead, you have to go through Marketplace, find the game you want to rate, give it your rating, back out (or go to the   XBOX  website, search for the game there, and rate).  It’s a hassle and I’ve found myself doing a lot less rating now than I did in the past—this update did the XBOX Live community a disservice by making the rating process so inconveniently complicated.

I’m really sick of cash grab DLC (the kind of stuff like new character outfits or weaponry—half-meg downloads that cost 2-5 bucks for no reason).  Seriously… you paid 60 dollars for a game—a full game—and you’re going to turn around and spend 5 for a digital piece of weaponry?  I’d like to say that these cash grab content packs are ruining the industry for all of us, but it’s really the people who buy those packs that are—if it sells, they’ll make more!  Microtransactions (unless the game itself was initially free) and digital costumes are pointless DLC packages that should either be included in the game (if they’re available on release day) or launch for a price of free when they do come around.  DLC needs to meet the content to cost ratio of the full game, in my opinion, but with stupid people out there willing to shell out 15 bucks for 5 maps (yes, I called you stupid, and I’m not taking it back), we’re never going to see that.  You get 80+ songs for 60 bucks when you buy a Rock Band game, but each individual downloadable song costs $2.  It’s outrageous!

I’m getting off topic, though… this post isn’t about how much I feel publishers and stupid people are killing the games industry, but one about how XBL Marketplace needs some fixin’.  So, my final point is:  folder system, plz.  With all the aforementioned cash grab packs and music tracks up for download on Marketplace, the new arrivals section is constantly cluttered with waves of Rock Band, Lips, and Guitar Hero tracks as well as EA’s latest cash grab suites—it’s nigh impossible to find something you might actually want to download with all that crap up there.   A while back, Microsoft announced that they were releasing shops specifically for the music games; this gave us all hope that Marketplace would be less cluttered… but this wasn’t the case.  Instead, the music game shops were basically applications you launch to have a game specific store available to conveniently sort through all the latest tracks, but this didn’t affect the Marketplace listings at all… they still showed up and pushed all the other games’ DLC out of the way.  So, why can’t we have a folder system?  Like… say a game has more than 3 new items available for download, why can’t all of those be collected in a folder that states something like “Game Title—New DLC! (X-many Available)”?  It would be a nice solution to keep things neat and tidy for those of us who don’t care about all those music packs available.  We wouldn’t have to scroll through 3 pages worth of Rock Band songs just to find the expansion pack that was supposed to come out that day.  Please, Microsoft, make it happen!

If I missed anything or there’s something you’d like to see changed about the XBOX 360’s interface or Marketplace, let your voices be heard in the comments down below!    

The 5 Downloadable Games That Defined 2010 (For Me)

This list is similar to my previous post in that it’s a list… my own, personal list of the top five downloadable games that defined 2010 for me.   The same restriction of “I have to have played it” in order for a game to be eligible for my list still applies.   I don’t expect everybody to agree with my list, but it’s my list and you have a comments section down thither that you can use to list your own top X list.   With that said, this is my top five downloadable games of 2010 list.

5.)   Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Eidos did something different with their Tomb Raider star with this downloadable piece, breaking away from the traditional Tomb Raider formula in favor of a more twin-stick shooter-esque puzzle game.   There is a story that you can follow from the onset of the game to its conclusion, but it’s not really genre-defining fiction; the real meat of Lara Croft’s downloadable debut is the gameplay.

LCatGoL is played from an isometric perspective which, aside from a few moments where you may get lost behind geometry or botch a jump due to an awkward angle, works well—especially for this type of game (namely a twin-stick shooter).   It also works very well for aiding in the puzzle solving since you have a larger view of the environment; this isn’t to say that it makes the puzzle solving easy, but it aids you in being able to find what you are looking for and keep tabs on things more easily.   Exploring the labyrinthine stages is also more manageable from this perspective as you have a clearer view of where you’ve been and what’s ahead of you.   So, yeah, the camera works properly even though you have no direct control over it.   Combat plays exactly how you would expect a twin-stick shooter to play—you move with the left analogue, aim with the right, and pull the right trigger to shoot.

This is a game designed with co-op in mind, so having a buddy along for the journey to watch your back really adds to the experience.   I’ve played through quite a bit of the campaign solo and, while it’s still fun, it’s nowhere near as fulfilling as having someone else kicking butt and solving puzzles at your side.   It really is an enjoyable experience with plenty of depth and content to keep you occupied for several hours—if you have a bud you can play the game with, that’s even better.

4.)   Toy Soldiers

Toy Soldiers is a game that goes somewhere uncommon for the medium:   World War I.   Not the real WWI, mind you, but a toy box recreation of it that pits armies of mini models of military men against each other in a tower defense type game that lets you jump into the seat of the weaponry you purchase which allows you to have more direct control over you units which is a unique approach for the genre.

The campaign serves its purpose as a tutorial that eventually leads into more challenging scenarios with limited resources or the like that are designed to encourage you to adjust your strategy—standard fare for a strategy game campaign.   There’s plenty of challenge to be had with the campaign as you strive to better your score or test out new strategic approaches, but I would say the real meat of the experience is taking the game on Live and battling real intelligence instead of the artificial variety.

Toy Soldiers is a charming game that features a soundtrack that echoes the time period with some fast-paced action for a game in a genre that has been content with being a more passive experience common to the mobile device platform it’s most popular on.

3.)   Comic Jumper

I probably like this game more than it deserves, but I found it to be an absolute joy to play and the witty writing that bordered on “wrong” so many times was also a welcome addition to the experience.

Comic Jumper sees you in the role of Captain Smiley (a down on his luck superhero with Star, the vulgar, living star, on his chest) as he traverses through comic universes in an attempt to earn enough money to reboot his comic series.   This plot element allows the developers, Twisted Pixel, to get all sorts of crazy with the presentation with constant changes to the art style as Captain Smiley finds himself in the barbaric world of Nanoc (inspired by Conan the Barbarian (Nanoc is Conan spelled backwards… in case you failed to pick that up)), the 60’s sci-fi of Origami Kid, as well as the strangely hostile world of the manga Cutie Cutie Kid Cupid (which, being a manga and all, is presented in black and white and has you running right to left).

It is inarguable that Comic Jumper is a creative game and the minds at Twisted Pixel have the ability to make you laugh at all the right jokes, but a game cannot stand on its creative merits alone.   So, how does the gameplay hold up?   Comic Jumper plays a lot like an SNES sidescrolling shooter from the 90’s—it’s nothing really original but it’s a welcome familiarity.   Comic Jumper encourages multiple playthroughs as you upgrade your character and hone your skills and memorize level structures and enemy behavior.   Speed runs are also encouraged in this game as each stage has a par time you’re encouraged to beat.

While it’s not a game that defines a certain genre, nor do I think it aspires to, it’s a game that’s undeniably fun and witty and a welcome addiction in my game library—I got more than my money’s worth with Comic Jumper and would be more than happy if Twisted Pixel decided to release new comics to play or a full-blown sequel.

2.)   Super Meat Boy

This game is hard… nigh impossible at times, but it has some of the best platforming I have ever experienced—the controls are tight and the levels, of which there are many, are creatively brutal.

Super Meat Boy isn’t what you’d call a story-heavy game, but the story that is there is told in wonderfully charming flash animations that are disturbingly funny in the sort of way that you should feel bad for laughing, but you don’t.   It’s a simple, “save the princess” type story that has so many retro references that it’s apparent this game was designed with the weathered gamer in mind—the brutal gameplay is also indicative of that.   There’s not much more that I can say about SMB other than:   if you don’t have it, you probably should... and be prepared for blisters on your thumbs (I’m being serious).

1.)   Dead Rising: Case Zero

I never really got into the first Dead Rising game—never really saw the appeal and when I lost about two hours of content due to my forgetting to save, I gave up on the game (I didn’t realize that I could save my character’s stats and that the game was designed to have you die and restart multiple times… so, yeah).   Anyway, with Case Zero, I decided to pick it up because it was released at 400 MS Points (five dollars) and I was surprised with the amount of content included in this little downloadable prologue… as well as a little disappointed with myself for never plugging through the original game.

For the five dollars, you’ll probably get a good two or three hours worth of game for your first playthrough and you could plug in another two or three to pound out the rest of the achievements.   There are a lot of zombies to kill and your character’s stats will carry over to the full game if you ever decide to pick up Dead Rising 2.   It’s a great game and easily one of the best titles XBLA has to offer—especially for the price.


The 5 Console Games That Defined 2010 (For Me)

 With the New Year here and plenty to look forward to, now seems as good a time as any to look back at the games that made 2010 the great gaming year that it was. Now, this is my own personal list and I don’t expect everybody (or anybody) to really agree with me; but it’s my list, so I can do with it whatever I please. Since this is my list, I have to have played a game in order for it to be eligible for listing (I’m broke, so I missed out on a lot of games this year) and, since I’m broke and haven’t played many games this year, I’m limiting this list to five titles (I wanted to do ten, but I could only come up with nine console games and seven downloadable (XBLA or PSN) games… so, there’ll be an honorable mention post after I’m done with the “full” and downloadable game lists).

5.) HALO: Reach

This is probably here due to my rabid fanboyism of the HALO franchise, but there’s no denying that this is a solid title that features what is likely the best campaign in any of the HALO games. Reach’s campaign doesn’t stick around for too long, but Marty O’Donnell’s beautiful musical score wonderfully compliments the game’s somber tone.

For the campaign, you take the role of Noble Six, a Spartan III in Noble Team (a Spartan group composed mainly of III’s with the exception of one II, Jorge), as you fight a desperate but futile battle against an unbeatable foe. Reach offers moments of hope in its bleak story that are too quickly shattered as the gravity of the planet’s fall truly begins to weigh on you—it’s a stark contrast from other HALOs and a welcome change of pace that brings more humanity to the game universe.

On the multiplayer front, you have the same addictive HALO formula that propelled the franchise to become the industry giant that it is. Matchmaking works as you’d expect with waits in the lobby being painlessly quick; Firefight has been given Matchmaking functionality; each day, there are new challenges waiting for you (which grant you the opportunity to earn more credits); and your Spartan is (cosmetically) customizable depending on how many credits you have available with more armour available as you rank up. It’s an addicting game and a worthy addition to the franchise that Bungie built.

4.) Darksiders

I didn’t really know what to expect going into Darksiders—I had seen a trailer and knew that you played the role of the Horseman War and Mark Hamill lent his voice talent to one of the characters, but that’s about it. It looked fun, Mark Hamill is in it, and I had a job (ie. money), so I bought it and discovered a polished action game that was like Zelda for grown-ups. It’s a game that offers a puzzle-heavy experience in a large environment that encourages exploration as you try to regain the powers that were stripped from you because War was duped into starting the apocalypse early. Combat is bloody and brutal with War swinging around his mighty Chaoseater—which has a proper, “weighty” feel to it—to demolish foes.

Darksiders could be described as Zelda meets God of War with World of Warcraft-esque visuals… I like to take the simpler route and just say, “It’s awesome!” I loved Darksiders and am eagerly looking forward to the sequel (which, I think, is scheduled for a 2012 release). If you love the Zelda games but are growing tired of Nintendo lacking to really do anything new with the franchise, Darksiders is the breath of fresh air you have been waiting for.

3.) Heavy Rain

Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain is one of the games of 2010 that I spent several years waiting for; the original tech demo that Sony showed off to display the power of the PS3 really caught my interest and when it was finally revealed that the game would actually be coming out, I had to have it.

I grew up on adventure games that sacrificed complex gameplay in favor of telling a well-plotted story—I love experiencing interactive stories and that’s what really drew me to adventure gaming. Quantic Dream redefined what I expected from adventure games as well as storytelling in games with Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit), their previous release, so my expectations with Heavy Rain were high… very high. The game was well worth the wait and succeeded in exceeding my expectations.

It starts off slow, but it’s a necessary tedium that introduces you to the game’s controls as well as one of the central characters. One hour or so into the game, though, and things pick up as the fiction of Heavy Rain pulls you in, holds you tight, and has you gasping for air as the relentless pace and unremitting intensity keep the controller firmly in your hands. The plot isn’t flawless and leaves several questions unanswered at the end of your journey (questions that will likely remain unanswered as Sony thought it wise to have Quantic Dream add motion controls over expanding the story through downloadable content), but it is a truly beautiful game that is emotionally engaging and has a kind of intensity uncommon in most games.

2.) Mass Effect 2

BioWare is one of those studios that I’ve been following for most of my life as a gamer (which has been most of my life as a person)—from Baldur’s Gate to KotOR and Jade Empire, I’ve played most of the Canadian studio’s releases and enjoyed every one (I even really liked the Sonic DS game they made). The first title in the Mass Effect trilogy is one of the games that defines the XBOX 360 library and, being BioWare (even if they are now owned by Electronic Arts (frowny face)), the sequel was sure to be a must have game—and it is.

Mass Effect was initially planned as a trilogy (which was originally intended to be published by Microsoft and therefore XBOX 360 exclusive, but we won’t go into that now… it’s good that PS3 owners will be able to experience the franchise, yeah, but I can’t help but be a fanboy when it comes to losing one of “our” franchises… regardless the system, fanboys all feel the same way when they lose an exclusive), so it wasn’t a surprise when ME2 was announced, but the game exceeded expectations by having a sweeping sci-fi story with memorable characters and fast-paced gameplay.

The first game had stat-based combat, which made things awkward when you first pop in the game as you need to level up your character to become a soldier who can easily dispatch foes—ME2 does away with that and opts for a more action-y approach by replacing this clunky combat system with that more akin to a traditional third-person shooter. Some of the streamlining that was featured in the game (like the absence of shops to buy new armour or weapons) felt like a misstep for the franchise, but it had too much good to fault it for the little things. ME2 feels more like a third-person shooter/adventure game than the action RPG that the first was, but it also feels like a natural progression for the franchise as some of the deeper RPG elements from the first title felt forced or out of place in the sci-fi epic that BioWare crafted. Needless to say, this is a must-have title if you are a fan of anything good and I am eagerly looking forward to the trilogy’s conclusion (I just really hope EA doesn’t ruin BioWare as they have so many other studios in the past).

1.) Alan Wake

Five years… five long years, I waited for the release of Alan Wake. I was a senior in high school thumbing through the pages of a gaming magazine during lunch break when I came across an article dedicated to the Remedy thriller that puts you in the role of Alan Wake, the writer. Being someone who enjoys writing fiction and story-driven experiences, this concept piqued my interest and I tried to follow the game’s development… but new info was hard to come by and things went quiet for a long time. It wasn’t until E3 of 2009 that the game came back out of hiding as the small Finnish studio wowed audiences with the horrifyingly beautiful visuals, intense gameplay, and haunting story. Part Twin Peaks with a dash of inspiration from Stephen King and some Max Payne stirred in for good measure, Alan Wake was shaping up to be everything I was hoping it would be. It’s rare to find a game, or any form of entertainment, with as much intensity and intelligence as the well-crafted Alan Wake.

Waiting for the release of this game was nothing short of painfully long, but it was easily worth it for such an amazing piece of interactive media that breaks away from the paradigms of storytelling in games. It’s a linear game that has you traversing levels in a relatively straightforward manner, but the environments are huge and open which allows the player to explore and try to find new routes to get an advantage over the Taken—or avoid them altogether.

The expansive wooded areas populated by small-town folk and decorated by cabins and logging equipment feels familiar to me as a person (having grown up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), but it’s a wonderfully foreign setting for a game. It may not have the polygon count of some of the bigger titles out there, but the world presented in Alan Wake is memorably beautiful in its masterful presentation of a rural town haunted by a dark presence.

Alan Wake’s story may not offer the same freedom of a BioWare game, eschewing dialogue trees in favor of crafting a mysterious thriller that has you picking up on new details with each subsequent playthrough. The writing is witty and has a natural feel that makes the story feel human instead of the forced melodramatic dialogue intended to be profound common in many other story-heavy games. The town of Bright Falls is as much a character as the people that inhabit it—and I’m not just saying that to sound like a clichéd gaming journalist writing about a Silent Hill type town, I’m saying it because it’s true. All the elements of this game are used to add to the story, even the soundtrack which is wondrously fitting and equally haunting—a song by The Old Gods of Asgard (which is really Poets of the Fall) is used to explain some of the back story.

This is a game that deserves more recognition and sales than it received and I hope that Remedy gets the opportunity to continue the story of my favorite fictional fiction writer. I’ve read reviews and complaints that Alan Wake is ultimately a disappointment since it took over five years to develop, but Remedy isn’t a huge studio—there’s like 50 people working there—so, they don’t have the ability to just pound out games like Activision’s studios can. Announcing the game back in 2005 may have been a mistake, but there is nothing disappointing about Alan Wake.