RIP Halo 2

 Before the Fight had to be Finished, then Finished again, then coming soon to be pre-Finished, there was Halo 2.

My experience with Halo had started back probably about a year after the original Xbox came out.  I was rooming with 3 guys at the time, and we all worked together with a bunch of other friends who kept telling us about this awesome Halo game they were playing at another friend's house.  Eventually me and my best friend pooled together an absolutely enormous stack of games to trade in to EB; many games I now regret trading in (and have since re-acquired).  We got several hundred dollars in credit, enough to get a Xbox, 4 controllers, Halo, and some other game that I can't recall.  It didn't matter, because we had Halo, and it was amazing.  We soon found out (I forget how unfortunately) about GameSpy and Xbox Connect.  We used my shitty PC (which we could never get the fans working on, and had to run it open case by an air conditioner) and managed to get a 2nd network card in, and ran shitty taped-down ethernet cables all over the place to get our Xbox "online" and play against other people.  None of us really come from a PC background, so this was largely our version of the LAN experience.  While I have all sort of memories and whanot from the 8 months or so we had this set up, two stick out in my mind:

-With LAN play on original Xbox, you would see the other systems with whatever system "name" the owner had given it, essentially a super primitive Gamertag.  While most attempted some kind of humor, the best one that we ever saw by a country mile was one named "JEW OVEN", which is both at the same time hilarious and also probably the most offensive gamertag/name I've seen.
-One particular game that we played on Blood Gulch.  There was 4 of us, including one of our friends who dabbles in games very little.  This particular map was crazy, I believe it was multi-flag with the regular weapon/vehicle setup.  I remember one specific moment where what must have been the near entirety of all 16 players being in the very middle of the map, with tanks and warthogs and explosions all happening at once.  I specifically remember this and that this was the most awesome experience I'd ever had with a game.

Over time our group of friends all got sort of scattered and moved around.  It was probably not until near the release of Halo 2 that we were all in the (relatively) same location again.  I specifically went out and bought a Xbox prior to Halo 2's release as I had previously been using one I'd found in the trash which somehow worked but was obviously struggling (long story).  The prospect of not only a new Halo game, but one I could play online properly with my friends and random assholes over the internet on my on TV was amazing!  The French (?) version of the game leaked early, and some people at a forum I frequented at the time had pirated it and were crapping on the multiplayer changes but I didn't care, fuck those guys!  I pre-ordered the LE at my local Gamestop and waited in line at midnight with my friend again to get our copies.  I worked at a Walmart almost right next door at the time, and one of my co-workers came over to give me and my friend a hard time at about 12:15 as they'd just gotten theirs at Walmart, but I didn't even care!  I had my 3D/lenticular Halo 2 pre-order card thing from Gamestop and was waiting in line with my 7-11 Halo 2 cup (both of which I still have).

As soon as we got back to my place my friend and I played a few levels co-op in Campaign, and it was awesome.  Later that day after I woke up I played my first multiplayer for a good chunk of the day, and did pretty poorly; doesn't look like I won a game until about 10 in.  But the maps were new Halo maps and were fantastic.  As far as I can remember and from looking at the gaps in time on Multiplayer, I'm pretty sure I finished the game later that night.  At the time it was new and awesome, so no one was bitter and jaded yet about the Campaign.

I played about two-thirds of my total Halo 2 games (1,475) in the first three months through the end of January 2006.  Many of the friends I made during this time (which were in turn my friends had met up with by playing Rainbow Six on Xbox) are still on my list and played with today.  I dropped off at some point, but we then all got back into it on a fairly regular basis from April through August of 2007, presumably due to the lead-up hype for Halo 3.  Some specific memories I have from my Halo 2 time:

-Getting my first annoying invite over Xbox Live; I remember I was doing a single-player Campaign level and someone was inviting me to play multiplayer.  At that point either you couldn't hide yourself, or if you could I certainly didn't know how.
-Staying up all night to play Halo 2 even though I had to go to work at 6 in the morning; I killed the last hour or so watching the documentary that came with the Limited Edition, which is still an awesome documentary.
-Possibly my favorite online gaming memory; I actually posted this in a 1up contest to get a Mythic Map Pack code and actually won one of them with this, I'll just post it in it's entirety:

"The best gaming memories are playing with friends; possibly my fondest memory was playing Halo 2 with a bunch of my friends one night, but most importantly playing with my best friend who was incredibly drunk at the time (a rarity).  The surprising eloquence of his rambling insanity and smacktalk was actually so good I had to write some of them down.  The following is a small sampling, most of them I'm not sure would pass 1up language standards.

"I killed that guy that killed you and told him to bathe in my warm fecal matter."
"We live in Virginia, the state of constant arousal."
"I know your father's name."
"Are you one of those guys who like, beats his wife, but then feels bad about it?"
"I killed that guy on our team. He did not capture the spirit of our team with his brashness."
"I can't hold my liquor, an unfortunate trait I inherted from my father, who was a coward."
"If you have a wife I will spy on her if I'm dead."
"I'm sorry to have to tell you that your mother is a prostitute and your father is too afraid to tell you."

I remember specifically we were playing on Blood Gulch, and at one point he was on top of the enemies base screaming "I know your father's name" and combined with his drunken movements, the 5 or 6 people in the base literally could not kill him.  Some of the people in the base were audibly confused and had no idea what was going on."

Once Halo 3 came out we never touched Halo 2 again.  To this day even most of my friends believe Halo 2 had better maps than Halo 3, and I would probably be inclined to agree.  When the call went out that Halo 2 was being shut down, I probably would have played on the last day just for the hell of it, regardless of whatever the "visual flair" is for Reach.  I'll be honest, the first few games I was hating it; I still liked the maps, but graphically the game looks pretty awful now (especially playing it over HDMI on a large 1080p TV, good lord) and most importantly the gameplay just felt off.  Nothing felt quite right.  As time passed and I played some games with my friends and even a few with Urk (amazingly) I got into it more; I still never got used to the grenade throwing and the SMG starts were still horrible, but by the end of the unexpected 2nd day it was up I had played to the point where the graphics didn't bother me at all and I was having a lot of fun.  I reached the point where I was going for 77 games played, and just barely hit it, even though bungie.net doesn't show the 1 custom game I played, but I played it dammit!  I was on past the point where new people were able to get on, but finally bailed around 9pm EST on the 15th.  

Although it's largely passed, I was even at the point where I seriously almost bought Halo 2 Vista just to be able to play online.  That temporary insanity has passed now, but I am left with a refreshed sense of history and past for the series, and left more hyped for Reach then before.  I've even begun to play Halo 3 online again in preperation for the Reach beta.  That's my story!
 

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Backlog of beaten games

 
Doing this quickfire as I'd forgotten to do these previously, and I don't remember some of the finer details at this point.
 
2/23/10 New Super Mario Bros. Wii beaten
Went through from start to finish 3 or 4-player so my perspective is a bit skewed, but was some of the most fun I had in the last year playing with friends.  A bit on the easy side, and a bit rote, but still a great game.  4/5 stars
 
3/6/10 Assassin's Creed II beaten
Love this game; did all of the DLC and 1000'd it.  Eizio as a character doesn't do much for me, but the overall story involving Desmond is great, and you're left really wanting more as it gets completely crazy at the end.  My main gameplay complaint was that it was frequently very frustrating trying to get people on roofs who would be right next to but on a different ledge; it never seemed to want to go where you wanted to, and you just wanted to grab the guy because he was a foot from you but you couldn't make it quite happen.  Overall fantastic though.  5/5 stars

3/6/10 Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beaten
Overall fairly disappointed with this one.  I thought the single-player was pretty disappointing in all regards.  I was however surprised by how letdown I was by the multiplayer.  On paper it's great, and I really enjoyed the demo.  However my 6 or 7 hours playing the full multiplayer game really highlighted both how broken matchmaking is in that game, and how most people don't play the game correctly.  Our FOUR person squad would frequently be broken up into different teams.  This seems to have been mostly addressed with a patch that released relatively quickly, however it is still absurd that you cannot get a matchmaking game going with more than 3 of your friends short of getting a game, then waiting for people on your team to drop out, then get more friends in as randoms leave.  Aside from that, probably a full 50% or more of the time randoms on your team will all go Recon, and snipe from your base.  Even when you're supposed to be offense.  It's fucking ridiculous, and even when we managed to win with the 4 of us (and maybe one or two others who were actually playing properly) I was still just frustrated.  3/5 stars

4/10/10 Rogue Warrior beaten
Like probably anyone else, I rented this soley because of the Giantbomb quicklook, and honestly I should have just left it there.  Past the Quicklook the game is mercifully short (mabye 3 hours or so tops), but the aiming is shit in that game, and despite the plot and dialogue being ridiculous, it never really gets particuarly amusing much further one past where the Quicklook ends.  The multiplayer is hilariously bad.  1/5 stars

4/18/10 No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle beaten
This game is all over the place in all regards; it starts off great, but then it goes off the rails.  For every thing they fixed (ex. the shitty overworld), they broke something else (money being largely useless, shitty gameplay elements like driving, etc).  The pacing is all over the place; again it starts off great, but soon you're jumping through a billion places in the rankings through ridiculous contrievences, and it winds up feeling shallow.  Travis' main motivation seems to be forgotten about a third of the way through the game, they seemingly make a big deal out of other playable characters but it winds up being a moot point, and the ending sucks.  Ultimately if you really liked the first game it's probably worth at least checking out, but keep your expectations in check.  Also the 2nd part of the last boss fight is the cheapest shit I've played in a videogame in YEARS.  3/5 stars.

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2/19/10 Muramasa: The Demon Blade beaten

 Even though graphically I was really impressed with Odin Sphere, for one reason or another I just never got around to that game; the complaints of gameplay mediocrity after the game actually released probably didn't help.  Because of that I had tossed Muramasa on the bottom of my Gamefly queue for a latter day, but wound up getting it much sooner than I would have thought.  Having wrapped this up over the course of two days, I had quite a lot of fun.  Graphically the game looks and animates great.  Control-wise I used the default  nunchuk/wiimote combo which gave me a little grief doing fine-tuning jumping, but nothing besides that.  The game does have some weird UI choices, like the fact that you can't zoom out on your Forge tree, the game constantly is popping your objective text onto the screen taking up practically half of the playing field, etc.  The audio is great, Hitoshi Sakimoto is one of my favorite composers and he contributed heavily to this game as well.  Although the game has a number of RPG elements,  it's still ultimately an action game, and in that regard the combat itself works fine, although the game seems to punish you substantially more for blocking than I think it should.  Also doing regular mid-air strikes was a little awkward, as is hitting enemies that are on ledges.  Overall though it works perfectly fine and is fairly approachable.

There are 2 characters to play as, each with 3 endings.  There are also two difficulties, but this apparently has no impact on endings.  I went through the game as Kisuke on the default difficulty, and enjoyed it enough where I may go back later and do the other character and complete more playthroughs to keep unlocking more swords and get the other endings.  If you're a fan of 2D action games and like (or can at least tolerate) the artstyle there's a lot to enjoy here.

4 out of 5 stars

Completed game with Kisuke on Muso difficulty, ~10 hours

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2/16/10 BioShock 2 beaten

This one's going to be pretty fuzzy for me, as I've been sick for about a week, including most of the duration that I played this game.  Ultimately I largely agree with Jeff's Giantbomb review; the game plays better than the first, but the story is just not as good.  All things considered they probably did a good a job as was possible given the closure the first game had.  It provides a decent enough excuse for you to be back down in Rapture, but ultimately the story and the villain didn't do much for me other than give me a reason to be in that setting.  It's been a while, but I want to say it was definitely shorter than the first; this one probably took me about 10-12 hours, and I'd say the first game took me around 15.  I didn't bother with the online multiplayer but I've heard mostly surprisingly decent things about it.  I think ultimately Bioshock 2 succeeds as well as they probably could have hoped.  It's a very good game, and better than the first in some regards, but just lacks the "specialness" the first game had.  Anyone who was into the first game should probably give this a go, although likely only the most hardcore Bioshock fans will probably feel they get their money's worth at a full $60.
 
4 out of 5 stars

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2/5/10 - Ico beaten

For whatever reason I've played through about half of Shadow of the Colossus, but never went back and played this one.  We had picked up a still factory-sealed copy about 3 or 4 years ago cheap locally, but had never opened it and I'd become hesitant to do so since it goes for around $100+ sealed.  On another board me and my wife frequent, they're doing a "Game Club" monthly a la 1up FM/Rebel FM, and this was their first game.  Luckily a friend of mine had a copy that we could borrow so didn't have to open ours, and I decided to go through ti as well, largely because it was so short.
 
My only major complaint with the game up front is that the combat is absolutely terrible.  On the only two occasions where I actually died in the game (that didn't involve me being stupid and hitting the jump button by accident and jumping off a ledge) , I died because I was literally getting juggled on the ground by enemies as they took Yorda off.  It's also particuarly weird because the majority of the combat takes place in the first half of the game when you have a crap weapon; once you get a better weapon you don't encounter enemies that much past that point.  All of my other complaints are fairly minor, primarily being that the controls are a bit clunky (which is understandable given the game's age) and that the graphics have not aged well (strictly speaking about textures/sprites, not aesthetically).  The game also feel a little TOO short.  I'm hardly one to complain about short completion times, but I finished this in about 5 hours, and the game felt like it should have been more around 8.   Also it's irrelevant, but man the US cover for this game is terrible.
 
Where the game largely succeeds and why it still holds up fairly well is the game's aesthetics, sound, mood, and setting.   Story-wise very little is ever spelt out, most is left to the player's imagination.  And even though you may sometimes wonder why there are bombs lying around or how practically the layout of the castle makes little to no sense, the game does an excellent job (especially using the camera angles well) in conveying a sense of place.  Not only are you frequently overlooking awesome vistas, you're also wondering how this place came to be and why.  You can also also frequently see lush scenery outside of the castle walls, which are a sharp contrast to most of the interior areas.  The game features very little (any?) music in-game, but does a good job with sound effects; you'll frequently hear birdcalls and rushing water used effectively.   The game largely consists of traversing terrain and solving puzzles, most of which is not particularly difficult, but will also sometimes give you a good a-ha moment when you've figured something out.
 
Despite some serious gameplay faults, there's still something worth seeing here for almost everybody.   Just be prepared to look past some combat issues and graphics, especially if you're playing on a HDTV.
 
4 out of 5 stars

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2/3/10 - Chime beaten

Also don't have much to say about this one.  "Beaten" is a bit of a stretch, but since I unlocked all of the songs and the Free mode in the game, for backlog purposes I'm going to call it as such.  I was never a big fan of Lumines for whatever reason, but I like 4 of the 5 tracks in this game, and hey it's for charity!  The actual gameplay is solid, essentially forming "quads" by combining different shapes reminiscent of Tetris, but set to music.  I did find the in the last couple levels it seemed to get a little too hectic with the leftover blocks, and they seemed to take waaaay too long to go away.  The music also seems to really set the mood, I hate that Moby song, and it took me a second try to get past that one as it was really distracting.  
 
For 5 bucks for a good cause, it's definitely worth it, just don't expect the world of it.
 
4 out of 5 stars

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2/2/10 - Phantasy Star Universe beaten

Yeah, I don't have a whole ton to say about this one; my main motivation for beating it was that I had about 800 hours logged into the online mode, but only had about 200 achievement points in it.  The original 1000 points are all single-player based, and the remaining 250 or so were added with the online-only expansion, and it was just bugging me for years.  Long story short is that the story mode is fucking awful, online mode is still good fun for me and my friends.  At least the story mode was short.  Kinda.
 
1 out of 5 stars (story mode ONLY score)
 
(beaten at level 60, about 20 hours)

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2/1/10 - Mass Effect 2 beaten

As a complete package, Mass Effect 2 is a better game than the first.  The technical issues are either gone or are very minimal, although I still had some gripes about Normandy load times.  The Mako segments are completely gone, as is the poor inventory management of the first game.  Graphics are much improved as well.   The story sets about the same for me; this game is almost completely character driven.  The first game had you with a pretty clear nemesis that you were trying to hunt down the whole game.  Mass Effect 2 essentially sets the ending point for you within the first hour of the game, and you spend the rest of the game getting to that point by recruiting your team and doing their missions.  Personally it's a wash for me, but I can understand people not liking the plot as much as the first game, as it's completely character driven, and lacks the grandiose space epic plot of the first game.   The game also seems to have a lot more humor, as well as cursing than I remember the first game having.  They've also introduced an "interrupt" system that I believe they touted for the first game but never really came to fruition.  In several conversations throughout the game, regardless of your character's alignment you will be given the option if you so choose to take an interrupt action; sometimes it is a Paragon choice, sometimes it is a Renegade choice.  Even though I went pretty much straight Paragon, I almost always did the Renegade interrupts, as they were usually hilarious and involved Shepard killing people in amusing and/or horrible ways.   The combat itself is much more action and skill oriented now, and everything in general has been tightened up and streamlined considerably, which makes for a much more satisfying combat experience than the first game.  I'm not sure why they bothered to add weapon ammo however; I can only think of one time in the whole game I ran out of ammo for a gun, and that was because I'd been using that one gun for a series of encounters.  The game throws ammo at you so frequently that I don't know why they bother changing it from the first game; perhaps it makes more of a difference on harder difficulties?
 
Where I have problems with the game is they addressed most of the original issues that people had by either minimizing them, or getting rid of them entirely.   For example, the Mako sections in the first game were kind of a mess with the Mako controls, and when you would find something on planets besides minerals, it was usually the same prefab building every time.  This is addressed here by completely removing the Mako; when you choose a planet, you enter a scanning mode.  Most planets can be mined for minerals via a scanner minigame of sorts, and these minerals are what you use to get research upgrades for your ship, amor, and weapons.  The problem with this is that the scanner minigame is slow as hell (although there is an upgrade you can get later that helps some), and more importantly boring as all hell.  At least with the Mako you were driving around a planet that at least sometimes looked cool.  It is also bizarre that there are so many planets you can mine.  I spent over 4 or 5 hours doing nothing but scanning in the first 15 hours of the game, before deciding to stop for a while, because my thinking was obviously that if they put all of this stuff here, we'll need it right?  Apparently not, as those minerals I had wound up enabling me to buy every upgrade for the rest of the game as they became available, with hundreds of thousands of each left over, AND I only mined about a third of the possible planets to mine.  I have no idea what the hell they were thinking here; the mining minigame is getting so much flak, but I think that if they didn't throw so much of it at you early on and spaced it out better, it wouldn't feel like such a grind that ultimately doesn't even really pay off or is necessary.   The upside with scanning though is if there is an sidequest on that planet, you scan for a location, then you fly down directly to the level, which are all pretty unique and different.  Most of them are still pretty short like they were in Mass Effect 1, but they're much more varied than they were in that game.   I am also baffled by the addition of a fuel gauge to the Normandy.  Ostensibly this would make sense to avoid having players get to farther out star systems than they may want the player to get to early on in the game, but even before you get the fuel upgrade (which I got at the very end of the game regardless) you can make it to any star system in the game and back to a fueling station without running out, so I honestly have no idea what the point was here.
 
The other big complaint that people had about the first game was the inventory system being a pain in the ass to manage (at least on 360).  So apparently Bioware couldn't figure it out etiher ,so they have more or less stripped the inventory out of this game.  Rather than finding and buying unique weapons and armor, you don't even have visible stats for most of these anymore; throughout the game you buy and/or spend minerals to research upgrades that mostly apply to your whole team, such as +x% to your shields, +x% Assualt Rifle damage, etc.   Most weapon classes only get 2 or 3 actual new weapons, and they're always a clear upgrade to the previous one.  Your have no management over your team's armor; they basically don't have any.  Shepard can buy individual armor pieces and customize the colors and whatnot, which seems great until you find out there's only about 5 different pieces for each part, and the ones I got in the first few hours of the game I used the entire rest of the game with one exception. 
 
One thing I also think that Bioware dropped the ball on was party banter; after Dragon Age's excellent party banter, you'd expect this to live up to at least that standard, but it comes nowhere close, with the party banter being almost non-existent.  The few that there are all are pretty excellent (particularly the one with Garrus and Tali in the Citadel), but it's a disappointment, especially considering how great the random NPC chatter in towns is.
 
My only final issue with the game is the by and large unimportance of importing your save from the first game.  Aside from some minor money and resource bonuses you get, it feels like the majority of the major choices in the first game are irrelevant.  No matter who your love interest was in the first game, you'll run into them in this game, but strictly as NPC's, and the game encourages you to have another relationship in this game anyway.  The Citadel in this game is optional as-is, and whether or not you let the council live or die was largely irrelevant.  The only one that really matters, and the main reason I'm glad I still had my save, was that by default without an imported save Wrex died in the first game.  Visiting Wrex in this game is fantastic, and I can't belive Bioware "canon" has him dead.  There are also a multitude of other small things you'll notice by importing where people might reference something you did in the first game.  This is all very neat, but has no practical impact for the most part.  Don't get me wrong, I definitely think it adds to the game and is a plus, but it seems disappointing that they didn't go any further with it.
 
That said, even though it probably looks like I crapped on the game for three paragraphs, at the end of the day this is one of the very best games of this generation, bar none.  The overall package is so refined and well done that any issues or complaints seem more more egregious than they are compared to the whole package.    
 
5 out of 5 stars
 
 
(Game beaten on Normal, Level 28, approximately 35 hours)

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1/24/10 - Brutal Legend beaten

I'm not sure that I've ever been so torn on a game before.  One one hand, Brutal Legend takes you into an awesome Heavy Metal-inspired world and setting, and gave me a new appreciation for the genre.  The dialogue and characters are actually pretty entertaining, which is a pleasant surprise because I generally don't care much for Jack Black.  On the other hand, all of the actual gameplay ranges from mediocre to absolutely frustrating dogshit.  Doublefine needed to drop one of the subgenres the game has and polish the remaining ones; the beat-em' up/brawler combat is not fantastic, but gets the job done.  You get around most of the overworld via car travel, and the car controls are pretty rough; any time you need tight controls you will fail.  I remember one specific portion where I was trying to make a ramp jump, and could not get the car to go off the jump in a straight line literally 7 times in a row.  And with the speed your car moves, I would not infrequently die due to a sudden pit or cliff edge that had nothing below it that I couldn't see.  Also I don't care what Schaefer says, the game needed a damn jump button; I got stuck on geometry on several occasions, and had to re-load to get unstuck, and in most of these situations there was a 2 foot high obstacle blocking me.
 
The RTS gameplay is what ultimately really kills the game for me though; it's just not well done at all.  For what they claim they built the game upon, it feels barely functional.  Probably my biggest complaint is that the game doesn't seem to do a good job of telling you what's going on; on multiple occasions, I would have a ton of units one spot with nothing going on, I'd leave for 30 seconds and come back, and they'd all be dead with me having NO clue what happened.   I had several of the RTS battles turn into horrible battles of attrition, until later on when you get Rock Block (the riff that allows you to temporarily block enemy unit building).   I also found out later online that you can carry the rally flag with you (which I did not realize), so once I had Rock Block I would just immediately start battles with that, and start rushing fan towers while spamming Batlte Cry, and once I realized this the last couple battles felt almost broken easy.  But even after that, none of them were actually any fun to play; spending most of my time managing units while frantically doing riffs as they became back available never really felt like it fit into the game properly.  I understand the game's conceit with the different type of armies you recruit, but it feels like the game would have benefited more by having the mass battles be much more RTS-lite than they are.  Some more along the lines of a Dynasty Warriors or N3 type setup, but maybe just with units you could call into assist.
 
Ultimately I feel like I enjoyed the game despite itself; I wanted to explore more of the world and get unlockables, but I also had no desire to actually do any of the story missions.  Also with how poorly I felt about the RTS sections, mutliplayer isn't something I'd even have the slightest interest in.  I don't know how likely it is, but I would like to see a sequel made with some of these issues worked out.  I'm glad I rented it, I'd probably recommend either that or getting it cheap ($30 or less), but I'm glad I decided to hold off on it when it first came out.
 
 3 out of 5 stars

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1/19/10 - Bayonetta (360) beaten

 This game is ridiculous, and I love it.  Often referred to as "Japan the game" I can't really disagree, but I think even people not into that scene will still find the game itself enjoyable.  The game does not feel ridiculously punishing like Ninja Gaiden, and it always feels like you're completely in control, even moreso than Devil May Cry.  The biggest mechanic that contributes to this is the dodge move; since all moves in the game can be broken or interrupted, being able to dodge at any time makes you feel much more in control than I ever did in those two games.  Executing "perfect" dodges on most enemies gives you a few seconds of Witch Time, which dramatically slows down time for everyone but you, which is a very cool mechanic that has the side effect of encouraging you to learn enemy patterns and work on timing moreso than someone button mashing their way through the game might do otherwise.
 
Bayonetta also feels more user friendly than Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, but doesn't feel dumbed down either.  The game is generous with it's checkpoints, and allows you to replay levels at any time to earn more Halos which are used to buy new techniques, items, and weapons, as well as obtain more synthesis materials which allows you to make more healing and support items as well.  Continuing and using items only hurts your ranking but allows you to still proceed.  In fact it almost feels intentional to "push" you through your first playthrough so you can just enjoy the ridiculousness without being frustrated, then subsequent playthroughs begin to inject more difficulty and penalties, but with the caveat of having more unlockables to earn.
 
That said, the game goes so far over the top at times that it's almost embarrassing; there were actual scenes I had wished my wife was not present for, and we both watch anime and she watched me go through FFX-2.  If you can accept a bit of cheesiness however, usually the cutscenes were so amusingly over the top or ridiculous and awesome that the overall package makes up for it.  Also the story in this game makes no sense; after having beaten it, I'm still not sure I completely understand what happened, but at the same time that isn't really why you're playing the game, and it does a good enough job to keep you moving along.  There are also some very poorly implemented QTE's in the game; they usually appear in a cutscene when you are not expecting it, the button presses can be random, and if you fail it is almost always an instant death, which essentially destroys your ranking.  Along the same lines, there are also cases where you come out of a cutscene and have an attack coming at you the split second it transitions out, and unless you are already pounding the dodge button you're going to take a hit, which comes off as especially cheap the first time you encounter these.
 
As it stands now, I think this is ultimately the action game of this generation, definitely ahead of Ninja Gaiden 2 and Devil May Cry 4.  The cutscenes and presentation may be too over the top and niche for some people (tentacle joke anyone?) and some specific portions of the game that just feel cheap or poorly implemented keep it from being perfect.   If I wasn't trying to stay away from half-stars it would definetely be a 4 and 1/2.
 
4 out of 5 stars

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