3DS: Impressions

I got these playing cards

I found myself with some extra coins in my pocket so I went down to the Gamestop and purchased a 3DS. It's not something I particularly wanted right now but definitely felt like something I'd want to have sooner or later. The actual device is slicker than I expected, even if it carries some of the rustic charms of the phat DS. The screens are large and inviting though not especially spectacular, and all of the buttons and pads feel responsive and comfortable. The retractable stylus is an improved model that's also a pain in the ass to reach. Was a nice touch for them to throw in a stand and keep the same charger as the DSi, and it helps alleviate the battery life issue when hanging around the house. Even if revisions are inevitable, it's a nice piece of kit.

Pedometer Power

The 3D effect messes with my eyes when I'm not using the system. Particularly when looking at another monitor, for a significant amount of time after playing I sense the screen try to display 3D, but then my eyes fight it back to normal. It's a strange sensation and one I'm not entirely comfortable with, so I'm taking plenty of breaks and will probably start playing with the 3D off once I'm over the novelty a bit. The effect on the handheld looks very nice, and I'm surprised at how effective it is even in subtle instances. Unfortunately the illusion breaks if you start moving towards a slightly different angle or distance. What you're doing impacts how stable the 3D can be, and it was at it's worst during the AR games - had to turn it off for that. I keep messing with the slider to try and find the sweet spot for different experiences, actually that little slider turned out to be one of the most important features of the system. Not sure if I'd be able to deal without it.

Too much Mii?

The amount of built in software is impressive and substantial, even if there's a lack of actual games to buy the system itself is plenty fun on it's own. Lots of long tail projects like play coins, a Pokedex and Mii based puzzle and RPG games give you a reason to turn the thing on and justify your purchase. 3D photos are stupid fun tricks, and they give you plenty of tools to mess with them. I've already encountered one other StreetPass Mii and I can already see how it's an amazing idea. The eShop is a bit of a DSiWare wasteland right now, hopefully something good shows up there aside from the Nintendo ports. And Legend of Zelda 3DS, my accompanying title of choice, is the best version of the classic to date. It looks great and still feels fresh and exciting.

Happy with my purchase, but even as I type these words the computer monitor is glowing in a funny way. For most people, waiting until v2.0 arrives with better battery life, wider viewing angles, and sleeker hardware is the way to go, especially because there's bound to be at least 2-3 must own games by then. But if you are careless with money and like new toys, I'd say it's a worthwhile investment at anytime.

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Dragon Age 2: Impressions

Man, Dragon Age 2. So many flaws, but with just enough of BioWare's satisfying Adventure/RPG mechanics to be worth playing. I guess I like it. Clearly it could have used another 6 months to a year's worth of development time, the problems bug me to the point that I feel the need to dissect them in list form.

I could have sworn we've been here before
  • Excessive dungeon and location reusage. The amount of times this game reuses a handful of specific locations is absurd. The small dungeon maps in particular, be it of warehouse, cave or outdoors motif, are well designed but constantly revisited with no regard to context or timing - you're likely to go to the same place two, maybe three times in a row, entering from different parts of the map and with a different "setting" each time.
  • Button mashing. Taking away the overhead camera (and the auto-attack for consoles) turns what is essentially an improved and faster moving version of the first game's combat into an unresponsive button masher. There's no way to tell if you're getting maximum DPS, so you just end up wailing on A until cooldown timers stop or a potion can be used.
  • Kirkwall kind of sucks. I don't expect Assassin's Creed level of detail from every developer, but Kirkwall, home to most of the game, fails at being the convincing city that the fiction requires it to be. It rarely feels alive outside of cutscenes thanks to segmented zones and a lack of character animation, weather, physics, and a host of other details common in high quality games today. Location visuals jump between impressive and inconsistent, with few bursts of creativity. As a whole Kirkwall just reinforces the feeling that this game was rushed out the door before it could be fully realized.
  • The dialogue wheel feels inadequate. I'm enjoying playing a voiced main character well enough, but after a few times around now the signature BioWare conversation wheel feels like it requires less thought and nuance than ever before. Do you want your Hawke to be a boy scout, an asshole or snarky? Probably snarky, right? And you want to ask for more information, maybe a special colored option every once in a while? Then you'll be good to go on autopilot when it comes to character interaction.
  • Bad loot. A good RPG developer knows that everyone loves loot. Not only can you not fully equip or customize your party members in DA2, but everyone is so specialized that you won't use most of what you find anyways. Almost all armor is automatic vendor trash. What you do keep is rarely worth using and design variety is limited. Also, why is the world littered with 'junk' loot that's worth nothing and only serves to take up bag space? Tattered robes in locked chests? Who designed this system?
The Dragon Age universe is taken in some interesting directions.

There's plenty else to nitpick, moreso if you swore by the PC original, and when you factor in a pandering ad campaign and poor response to criticism I'm disappointed in BioWare on a few levels. It's not without positives - fast paced gameplay, very little downtime, some good side quests, a few memorable characters and a personal, politically charged storyline (that unfortunately falters before the end). The game has the spark that BioWare is known for, even if it isn't the brightest, along with plenty of rich fiction that builds on themes from the first game.

There seems to be a lot of faith in Dragon Age as a franchise and certainly there is potential - DA2 suggests the series will follow in Elder Scroll's footsteps, with each game taking place in specific kingdoms or provinces. I just hope they consider putting future emphasis on the quality of the experience instead of worrying so much about marketing, focus testing and setting aggressive production milestones.

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hey megalowho, whatcha been playin'?

Ah, January. The perfect time to sit back, relax with a cup of cocoa, and revisit the games I never got around to over the holiday season. And also a time to rekindle my torrid love affair with World of Warcraft. Here's what's been on my plate as of late: 

 World of Warcraft: Cataclysm  


Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery  

Trauma Team  
    
Battle Fantasia  
    
Fallout: New Vegas  


 Back to the Future: The Game  
 
 DJ Max Portable 3  
Also been trying out the half dozen or so games I picked up during the Steam sale, including some heavy hitters like Alpha Protocol, Darksiders, The Witcher and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I'm finding myself gravitating more and more to PC games lately, in no small part to sales and WoW, and really enjoying it. 360, PS3, you guys aren't going anywhere, right? Right??
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thoughts on whiskey subscriptions

So, Whiskey Media subscriptions. Yeah I put in my share, these guys have more than earned it and I want to support the site staying the way it is/getting better instead of moving into an ad soaked, page click oriented mess. I don't pay for things like cable that I'd rarely use, so I'll gladly support GB which I check every day for the price of two months of TV. Happy to contribute, no perks needed really.
 
There's a few things I'd like to comment on about how they've gone about it and what we get out of it. Figure I've earned the right to at least post my two cents on a blog no one reads.   

  • The Bombcast split. It feels a little icky, very surprising, and the (reasonable) backlash is justified. It's worth the time/effort they put in, I don't know anyone that's ever wished GB spent less time on podcasting, even if it was at the expense of more content in other areas. The community loves it, it brings attention and first timers to the site, it's kind of important to the gaming industry at large. Setting arbitrary time limits, splitting the content and taking away what once was free for all to create some kind of twisted incentive to pay monies feels wrong and against a lot of what the Whiskey Media guys have stated was their plan with this subscription thing. And it'll be a turn off to first time listeners from here on out, I'd imagine. I guess they're being pressured from above, but then the guys above don't really get what a good thing they have going, or don't care. And that's a damn shame.
  • The medals. I like the design, but I wish there was a way to turn them off in my settings. I don't need to flaunt my subscription every time my icon shows up on the site, with rollover text to boot. Nothing wrong with wanting to be a little anonymous about it, a choice would be appreciated.
  • I really like Tested and check Screened from time to time, but I'm not a fan of every site Whiskey Media produces now or might in the future. I know I can't pick which sites get subscription $ added to their budget but hope this cash goes towards strengthening the brands they already have, and not needless expansion - they seem to have plans to keep growing, but I think they're already on the verge of being spread too thin for their limited resources. 
 
Some good will has been lost but we cool, we cool. Keep up the good work, hope y'all find a way to keep providing the best gaming coverage on the net and get real paid doing it.
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The Perils Of Summer

Steam's summer sale is here, time to click buttons and buy more stuff! Tried to only pull the trigger on great deals this time to maximize my $$ and also to hopefully discover something new. Here's my purchases, their price points and general impressions: 
 
Flotilla $2.50  

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon 
Haven't gotten to play it yet but I know I will soon, seems perfect for travel on the netbook. 
  
Broken Sword: Twin Pack (The Smoking Mirror, The Sleeping Dragon) $3.39 
I've played and owned the first Broken Sword on multiple platforms, getting II and III at this price was too good to pass up.
   
 Cryostasis
Cryostasis $3.24 
Instant buy, so cheap for such a cool atmospheric game. 
 
Grand Theft Auto IV $4.99 
5 bucks almost felt like splurging but hey, GTA IV is still a great game and I bet it looks great on the PC. 
  
 DEFCON: Everybody Dies
Introversion Complete Pack (Darwinia, Multiwinia, DEFCON, Uplink) $5.00
Never played any of these titles, needless to say I'm quickly becoming a big fan. Most played games of the sale for me so far, amazing value.
  
Super Laser Racer $1.25 
Screenshots looked alright, fast, a bit retro - why not, add it to the list. 
  
Grand Theft Auto IV 
Port Royale 2 $1.50 
Now things are getting hazier, but $1.50 is nothing and this actually seems like a cool little strategy game. 
 
King's Bounty: The Legend $3.24 
Port Royale 2 
I've only read about it, never seen any footage, felt worth taking a chance on. Stopped myself from getting the more expensive complete pack though. 
 

Also plowed through Episode 3: They Stole Max's Brain! of The Devil's Playhouse and that game continues to be something special, Telltale just seems to be pulling out all the stops. The first act in particular is probably the most memorable sequence of the series yet - Phoenix Wright would have been proud. This chapter does eventually move towards more traditional puzzle structures for the first time in the series which I kind of liked, nothing wrong with going to a proven formula as a breather from all the curveballs. Would play through again, for sure. 
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Red Dead Redemption: Impressions

A good dozen plus hours into the Red Dead Redemption by now, 6 or so missions into the second area. A few thoughts (minor spoilers):

Pardner.
  • The open world wild west setting is really working for me, they hit all the right notes. It's a game is packed full of little details, beautiful vistas and sweeping atmosphere. Not perfect though - expect minor pop in, texture and framerate issues at times.
  • It's a cowboy sim! Lots of little opportunities to do all your cowboy deeds. Some are more fun than others but I've been continually surprised how much there is to do here, both in favor of the law or the lawless.
  • Quick hitting procedural events keep things from feeling static, and most of the side missions feel weighty and worth doing.
  • Having an MMO style quest system for crafting, hunting and marksmanship is a great idea. Between that and various checklists for unlocking outfit sets, there's alway something you're working on completing. Gambling and sporting diversions are also plentiful and period appropriate - activities range from horseshoes to arm wrestling to the manly "five finger fillet."
  • This game reminds me me of Bully much more than I expected, from frequent nonviolent missions to the bass heavy soundtrack. Main character is a pretty nice guy too, though still a typical GTA mold protagonist at heart.
Stranger.
  • You'll have to work to earn achievements.
  • There's some easy stereotypes and heavy handed political diatribe, thankfully that stuff only pops up every so often. Rockstar just can't help themselves. Overall the script and characters have been good, if a little drawn out.
  • Game is pretty damn buggy. Lost all my money once for no reason. Seen my horses do some pretty dumb things too. Save often.
  • Combat is a lot of fun and pretty easy on the default setting. Once I got the hang of slow motion (it levels up) shooting things became even more entertaining. Guns feel powerful, ammo is everywhere.
  • Infinite bag space!
  • Even though hunting/skinning can be repetitive, I'm still way into it.
Amigo.

I am a fan of Rockstar's games but have only finished Bully and GTA IV - with Red Dead Redemption, the San Diego team pulls some great ideas from both those titles and came up with an entirely fresh entry to the sandbox genre, one I'm thoroughly enjoying.

The acting, directing and animation are some of the best the developer have done to date, and the gameplay variety has been keeping my interest high and my play sessions long. It's a period piece with all the satirical trimmings Rockstar is known for but still takes itself spaghetti western seriously, to great effect. And though I've only played around an hour of multiplayer it feels unique, varied and well worth sinking more time into, especially co-op. Glad I picked it up.

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the young, the fat and the elderly

As great as the cities in Mass Effect 2 can be, there's something missing that bugged me in the first game and bugs me in this one as well.
 
No children, No fat people. 
 
Very few old people too. Where's all the little alien and human kiddies? Maybe not in a scummy place like Omega, but surely in the Citadel you'd see some younglings scurrying about somewhere, just waiting for a space hero to come along and help them with a fetch quest. And really, the Volus are the only species in the galaxy without a perfect BMI? Just a little flab would go a long way towards differentiating character models and making random NPC's and citizens feel more diverse. 
 
Maybe some folks just aren't cut out for space travel. Got to be in top shape, can't be crying about your Tamogatchi. But in the areas where it feels appropriate it would be great to see the fat, the old and the young represented in all their glory once ME3 rolls around.   

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A look at the Chinatown Fair Video Arcade

Last night I got a pretty nasty urge to seek out a DJ Max Technika machine and ended up stumbling upon something that probably should have been on my radar a long time ago - the Chinatown Fair Video Arcade, appropriately located in the Chinatown district of New York City. Online research yielded descriptions such as "dark," "dirty," "crowded," and "reeking of body odor" - most agreed that it's the last real arcade left in the city and 100% legit, especially for fighters. Also it houses the only DJ Max Technika in the city, so I was already there. Since I'm currently on vacation I took the F train to Chinatown early this afternoon and after a tasty bowl of noodles, headed over to Mott St.  

8 Mott St., Chinatown NYC 

The view from the entranceway 
Even showing up relatively early on a Monday I wasn't disappointed, the place has a ton of sleazy charm in the sense that there's pretty much nothing here but concrete and arcade machines. It curves around until you hit a dead end, and most of the lighting comes from the monitors glowing on either side. The selection was impressive: X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Metal Slug, Tekken 6, multiple Street Fighter IV's, Neo Geo cabinets, Mrs. Pac Man.. a nice mix of old and new, hardly any filler. Lots of DDR setups going on, which I'd imagine gets entertaining for spectators. I started off with SFIV, which was pretty amazing. Took my Blanka in for a few sound thrashings from a Ken player, thanked him for it and, feeling sufficiently humbled, headed to my personal main attraction for the day.  
 
Bathe me with your warm glow, DJ Max Technika. 

They were all out of memory cards. Also no headphones, which would have been nice. 
I'm a big Pentavision fan to begin with and had a ton of fun with Technika, $15 worth of fun to be exact. It's their best game yet and I'll certainly be back soon to play it again. If DJ Max Portable=Beatmania this can be considered inspired by Ouendan, with Lumines wipes that signify when to tap/hold/swipe on a multitouch HD screen. Animations look crisp as hell and the glow from the two monitors feels intoxicating. The soundtrack by Pentavision's crew borrows most tracks from the Clazziquai and Black Square games, thankfully rooted deeper in the K-Pop/Soul genres than anything too abrasive or silly. I uploaded a short video of me playing through a song and a half here, shaky cam and all. 

Street Fighter IV 
After I'd annoyed the guy next to me with booming bubblegum pop music long enough I took a spin at King of Fighters 2000, BlazBlue and Metal Slug 5 (i think). Nothing too obscure but there was plenty of stuff I'd never heard of that I'll have to explore next time. I resisted the urge to throw 20 more bucks in the token machine and said my farewell after an hour or so of quality public gaming. All in all it was a pretty great experience, I'll certainly be back again soon as it's about 10 minutes on the subway and 10 minutes of walking to get there from my apartment. Highly recommended to city dwellers and tourists alike. A few more pictures below. 
 
I'm sure this guy would have kicked my ass 

    
Tekken 6 

 Cashier is behind the bars

Sexy. 
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I don't like it. But I keep playing it.

I'm talking about Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the next in a now long line of RPG's to feature the brothers and probably Nintendo's flagship DS title for the holiday season. Each of the three handheld titles have seen near universal acclaim from critics, lauding the great writing, varied gameplay mechanics and interesting mix of interactive battles and puzzle/platform level design. So maybe it's just me. But fuck, this is just not a fun game to play. And yet I am.
 

For some background I never played the SNES RPG, adored the N64 and GC Paper Marios, and went from mild enjoyment to pure hate for the game that is unfortunately most like Bowser's Inside Story, 2005's Partners In Time. It's clear to me now that enjoying the console vision of a Mario RPG does not guarantee that the handheld games will scratch that same itch. This starts with the stupid idea that you have to control Mario and Luigi simultaneously. Hitting two buttons to jump is *not* a fun mechanic, especially when it often results in one person falling offscreen and starting over whatever platforming sequence happens to be in the way. Additional moves like a hammer hit, drill and tornado spin are only needed in obvious situations and feel cumbersome to cycle through. Sitting through their little "baddabeep baddaboop" "waaaaa" shtick is neither funny or charming at this point. In fact, nearly everything that I've done with the brothers so far has been a chore, a slog, etc.  
 
Battles work similarly no matter who you're controlling, and if you've played a Mario RPG you know how this works. It's still a good mix of action and turn based combat, but there is little new to make veterans stand up and take notice. For me Bowser's battles fare much better due to his overpowered nature and entertaining special moves. In fact the game shines when Bowser takes center stage as he's given a wonderful characterization, and that is really the only thing propelling me through the game right now. But even Bowser segments suffer from uninspired overworld design and a constant need to switch back to the brothers for either a mindless and oft-repeatable minigame or to grind all progress to a halt so 10 puzzle pieces can be collected. 
 
These puzzle piece segments, which should be standout parts of a game like this, are so annoying that they result in me contemplating "why am I doing this? who gives a shit?" which I guess can be said for most games, but it takes something especially numbing to really bring that out. They started harmless enough when you explore an area to hit a few blocks, but the sequences keep popping up and they've quickly become dreadful and momentum killing. Arriving out of nowhere, forcing me through bad, confusing platforming (remember, two buttons to jump) for something that serves no real purpose other than to give me a new special move that I'll rarely use anyway. I'm in one now that is particularly painful and it's making me think of quitting the title altogether. 
 
ugh. 
The other supposed highlight of the series, the script, comes with a lot of caveats as well. Sure it's highly localized and can be entertaining, but there is waaaay too much of it. You can't take two steps (or two screens) without more bubbles of speech being thrown at you, forcing you to push A to advance over and over and over again. But rarely is it in the good, Persona 4 kind of charming way - usually it's for more tutorials, more inane back and forth with this Chippy guy (who is basically a Navi so far), and just an overload of words that feels like padding more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, there are some grin worthy moments here and there, but the game thinks it's way funnier than it is with all the accents and colloquialisms it throws around.  
 
So why am I playing it and writing so much about it? Well, it's a good way to fall asleep or pass the time during a poop. Do some stuff, gain a level, hit a save block and be done. For an RPG it works surprisingly well in short bursts, unless that short burst happens to be one of the text heavy or tutorial sequences. It also has a nice clean look to it, even if that look is pretty generic. The turn based battles are engaging and the charm is there, at times. And since travel has kept me away from consoles, sometimes portable gaming is the only option for me. But I can't say I recommend it, not to fans of Paper Marios, not to detractors of Parters in Time that heard this one is better. It's only marginally so, and in ways that don't address the main issues that game had. At least the babies are seemingly gone forever. So, thanks for that Nintendo? But next time, maybe rethink this whole Mario & Luigi thing. It isn't clicking, at least not for me.
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