Sparky's Awards Extravaganza!

Here at Sparky Industries, we've decided that merely producing a GOTY list would be just too normal. After reviewing all the games on my Games I've Played in 2011 List, I've decided to give each of them an award, possibly with runner-ups, possibly not. This list will be chock full of games from other years as well, as it's not just limited to 2011 games, but all the games I've played this year. Let's jump in, shall we? We shall.

Obligatory GOTY Award

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skrim is stunning. It's exactly what I wanted out of a sequel to Oblivion, one of my most beloved games. It takes the open-world RPG formula, injects a good amount of steroids, and unleashes Skyrim on the world like some Hulkified monstrosity. There's so much to see and do in this game that it's staggering. Like I've said before, for every bug and rough patch, there are a thousand amazing things to easily make up for it. This is a grand adventure, one I'll likely revisit time and time again.

Runner-Ups:

Dead Island, Portal 2

Best Adventure Game I Played This Year

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain on paper doesn't seem to be very appealing as a game. It's mostly an interactive movie of sorts, set in various chapters with a small cast of interesting characters. But as a longtime adventure gamer, I thought I'd give it a shot and see what I thought. I was really glad I did, as Heavy Rain deserves to be a contender as one of the top adventure games ever. The story, while full of some very game-like holes and strange moments, is startling and intriguing, bringing a maturity to its approach that took me by surprise. And you can keep your LA Noire faces - this game has some of the best fully-featured actors and actresses I've seen. It's a gorgeous, fun game.

Runner-up:

Back to the Future

Funniest Game of the Year

Portal 2

With sharp, clever writing and voice talent to match, Portal 2 is the easy clear choice in this category. Be it Cave Johnson ranting, GLADOS's quiet vitriol, or Wheatley's dumbassery, everyone is hilarious.

Runner-Ups:

Back to the Future, Bulletstorm

Best Operation Babe Hunt!

Persona 3 Portable

It's true! Best Babe Hunt of the year goes to this gem! Never before have we seen such amazing Babe Hunt technology, brought to the palm of your hands! Wait. That came out wrong. Wait - THAT came out wrong. Ah, damn it.

Runner-Up:

A bar on Valentine's Day?

Best PC Game of the Year

Back to the Future

Remember, this is just for games that I played, and unfortunately, those were relatively sparse. I adored this game from start to finish. Hearing both Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox make returns to the movies that I love so much in video game format just tickled every pleasure center in my brain. Doesn't hurt that the gameplay was pretty solid for an adventure game, too.

Runner-Ups:

Hector: Badge of Carnage, World of Goo

Best Weapons AND Use of Disco Balls as a Weapon

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time

I still love the Ratchet and Clank formula, and this game was no different. Insomniac throws everything but the kitchen sink into this game, and it really works well. Not all the weapons are super useful, but all of them look great and have that sort of classic goofy feel.

Runner-Up (for Best Weapons, anyways):

Resistance 3 (no surprise, as it's Insomniac),Bulletstorm

Best FPS

Bulletstorm

Look, I get that people didn't like the over-the-top juvenile dialogue of Bulletstorm, but I absolutely loved this game. I thought it was a riot, and a hell of a lot of fun to play. The skill kill system adds a lot of replayability, and the guns feel appropriately badass. I really hope there's a sequel for this in the works. Note that the runner-up in this category, Resistance 3, is also really fantastic, but I think the addictive gameplay of Bulletstorm edges out in the end.

Runner-Up:

Resistance 3

Best Open World Game that Really Shouldn't Have Been an Open-World Game

Mafia II

Surprised? I was too. Mafia 2 is a surprisingly good game, with a solid (if cliched) story, solid characters, a great look, and really great gunplay. However, like the glaringly obvious runner-up LA Noire, the open-world elements just really should have been dropped or have more interaction and distractions (credit for that term goes to dankempster and his recent blog on GTA V). However, especially for the discount price, Mafia 2 should not be missed.

Runner-Up:

LA Noire

Best Team Brawler and the Biggest Asshat Move by a Publisher (aka The Sparky Raspberry Award):

Marvel vs. Capcom 3

I really enjoyed this fighting game, even if Mortal Kombat would eclipse it later in the year. However, I do not support Capcom's decision to add what amounts to DLC on a disc for stupid amounts of money. It's ridiculous, stupid, and incredibly asshole-ish. Thus, you, Capcom, get the Sparky Raspberry Award for the year. Piss off, you stupid jerks.

Best RTS

Starcraft 2

As much as I enjoy the Command and Conquer universe, Starcraft 2 has such an insane amount of polish and fun to it that this one wasn't even close. The campaign is brilliant and a whole lot of fun.

Runner-Up:

Command and Conquer 4

Biggest Disappointment

LA Noire

I've played far worse games this year (hang on for that one), but no game quite disappointed me as much as LA Noire. As a huge fan of Police Quest, I had a veritable nerd boner thinking that this would be a modern take on that classic gameplay. And it was... and you know what? It kinda sucked. I liked the investigations and the atmosphere. But the gameplay beyond the investigations was repetitive and boring. The open-world was something of a joke, but thankfully it could be skipped... which is perhaps the most damning part of this description. I shouldn't have wanted to skip a moment of this game, but I did.

Runner-Up:

None, really. This is perhaps the most surprising statement in this entire list.

Best Diamond in the Rough

inFamous 2

I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that inFamous 2 was perfect. The wave based enemies were annoying and, at times, frustratingly buggy. Traversing the world didn't feel nearly as smooth as the first game. Cole was "dumbed down" to be more family friendly and appeal to a wider audience. But even with all these negatives, inFamous 2 was a hell of a lot of fun. It didn't hurt that there was a great innovation in the user-made content and quests, which added a lot of fun ideas and really varied up the quests.

Runner-Ups:

Bulletstorm, Trails in the Sky, Yakuza 4

Best 3rd Person Open-World Game

Just Cause 2

This game, man! This game! I don't think I've revisited a game so often this year, There's a ton of stuff to do, great weapons to play with, incredibly fun stunt gameplay, and a truly beautiful world. This also deserves huge props for being such an amazing step forward in the series. It fixes the mini-map issues of Just Cause and completely blows away the first in nearly every regard while still staying true to its goofy roots.

Runner-Up:

Mafia 2

Most Forgettable Decent Game

Crysis 2

Crysis 2 isn't awful, but it's a game that never really knows what it is. In its quest to appeal to a wider audience and be released on consoles, it loses the intriguing open-world elements of Crysis, loses the insane graphics, and manages to muck up a decent story written by none other than Richard Morgan. There are some great gunfights, there are some neat upgrade elements, and the latter half of the game definitely picks up. But overall, it's just forgettable, neither really good or really bad.

Runner-Up:

LA Noire

Coolest Indie Game

Terraria

Terraria's sort of an odd little gem. It's not a particularly great game, but it is fun and bizarrely addictive. Seeing the work fellow Giant Bombers have done on the servers has been an amazing experience, even if I haven't been able to contribute anything beyond random signs with random quotes.

Runner-Ups:

Hector, World of Goo, Zombie Driver

Most Surprisingly Great Game

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Up until the release of Skyrim, there was only one game that really hooked me enough to stay up until an absolutely stupid time of the night (morning?) to finish it. That game was Enslaved. I love this game. The story is excellent, the characters have a sharp, believable, and natural rapport, and the gameplay is so damned fun.

Runner-Up:

Mafia 2

Best Game I Should Be Ashamed of Playing

Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4

I liked the first few Harry Potter books, and I've liked each of the Lego games I've played. That's all I'm gonna say.

Runner-Up:

None

Best Game I Just Couldn't Get Into

Batman Arkham Asylum

Unlike its sequel, which will make an appearance later, this game didn't resonate with me. Part of that is my indifference towards most of the DC Comics universe, which I've never much cared about outside of Christopher Nolan's films. The gameplay was fine, and I thought it was a solid game. It just never quite clicked with me.

Runner-Up:

Crysis 2

Worst Game Ever

Record of Agarest War

I've played some shitty games, and I never thought anything could be worse than Metal Dungeon or Gods and Generals. But this game, besides being awful and absolutely no fun at all, is horribly, stupidly offensive. I might be a man, but even I was cringing at how goddamn sexist this game was. If there's a game that makes me embarassed to be a gamer, this is it. Avoid this one at all costs.

Best JRPG

Disgaea 4

If you haven't kept on my blogs recently, I've been doing a series of blogs on this game and its story. I adore NIS games. They're goofy, incredibly strange, childish, and the deepest damned RPG's you'll ever play. Disgaea 4 is far and away the best entry in the series, both in terms of plot and gameplay. Its upgrades seem small, but overall, if you want to get into a Disgaea game, you cannot go wrong with this one.

Runner-Ups:

ZHP, Trails in the Sky

Most Internally Divisive Game

Yakuza 4

There are a lot of aspects of Yakuza 4 I can't stand, like its attitude towards women as subservient dress-up dolls, but there are a ton of aspects that I absolutely love. It's such a cool idea - an "open world" game within a relatively small section of a city, complete with a great amount of stuff to do. Two of the charactes are really solid too, and I wouldn't mind playing future games.

Runner-Up:

LA Noire

Best Use of Nolan North in an Otherwise Shitty Game

Alpha Protocol

Nolan North is one of the few great things about this otherwise crappy game. Remember kids, great ideas do not necessarily make a great game.

Runner-Up:

None

Best Arcade Racer

Burnout Paradise

I'm not sure how much I can say about this game that hasn't been said, but I'll say this - this is the first time I've gotten into this game, and I'm really liking it. It's aged well.

Runner-Up:

None

Best 2D Platformer

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Oh man, this game is one giant ball of awesomeness. It brings a welcome degree of familiarity, as it's only a light upgrade to the classic gameplay of its predecessors, while bringing in some damned gorgeous visuals, clever level design, and some real difficulty while allowing for options to make it easier on the player if they so choose. It's a jewel of a Nintendo game. I haven't played Rayman Origins, but it looks really great too.

Game I Loved Playing the Most in 15-Minute Spurts

Monster Hunter Tri

This game is really a hoot in small doses. I love popping it in for a few minutes at a time, doing a quest or two, and then calling it a day. There's not much of a story, and there are control elements that drive me crazy, but honestly, it's a distinctly Japanese game that I actually get. It's really well done.

Runner-Ups:

Donkey Kong Country Returns, Forza 4

Best Racing Game

Forza 4

I love the Forza series for being incredibly accessible and forgiving, not to mention being fun and loaded with all the stuff I love about cars. The ability to rewind makes my eyesight problems moot, the cars are a great blend of classic and modern, and the career has become even better about keeping things varied and interesting.

Runner-Up:

Burnout Paradise

Best Use of Mark Hamill

Arkham City

Jokes aside, this game surprised me. I'm still not huge on DC comic characters, but the core storylines in this game are surprisingly good and actually drew me in. Hamill's performance as the Joker really is ramped up a notch, but so is everything else about this game.

Runner-Up:

Errr.... nothing?

Best Atmosphere

Resistance 3

Resistance 3 is a great sci-fi shooter, but what really blew me away was the inherent bleakness of the world. Save for your protagonist, the people aren't bulked up warriors or heroes. They're survivors giving out a few grim gasps of life as they try their hardest just to cling together. Hope isn't dead - it's non-existent. No one is safe, anyone can die, and even once the game is finished, there's no guarantee that mankind's survival is assured. This is an amazing experience.

Runner-Ups:

LA Noir, Mafia 2, Heavy Rain

Most Unique Story

ZHP

Not only is this a great rogue-type game with some new, awesome elements to its gameplay (dying actually can be a positive), but the story is hilariously ridiculous and so goddamned Japanese that it's hard not to like. You play a guy who literally cannot die, fighting against a seemingly unbeatable boss who kills you time after time after... well, you get the idea. The real game, though, is in between these sessions, where you're essentially training to fight the boss again. This is NIS, so go in expecting all the great weirdness of their particular games. Oh, and it's insanely addictive too.

Runner-Up:

Disgaea 4

Most Room for Improvement in a Sequel I'll Inevitably Buy

Trails in the Sky

Trails in the Sky has a lot of good elements, namely in its combat and magic systems. Its traditional turn-based combat, with a lot of abilities to learn and destroy your enemies with. There's a godsend of an option that will "dumb" down difficult battles if you die repeatedly. There's an absolutely huge world with the potential to be great. But there's still a ton of room to improve things. While there are a handful of side quests, the game never takes advantage of blatant opportunities for some distractions or side-games/quests. A few more optional dungeons and areas would go a long ways towards increasing replayability, and for a game about airships, there is a distanct lack of them as your characters actually make a point of walking all over the place. It's a frustrating game, but it's also surprisingly decent at times.

Best Surprise of the Year

Dead Island

I absolutely love Dead Island. The combat feels great, I like the weapons and the upgrade systems, and the loot-based quest gameplay makes me wish I was playing it right now. If it weren't for Skyrim, this would easily be my game of the year. It matched and far, far surpassed what I hoped for out of it.

Runner-Ups:

ZHP, Bulletstorm

Best Overall Fighting Game

Mortal Kombat

This is a return to form for one of my old favorites. The storyline felt right, the character choices were (up until the DLC) smart, and the combat system felt right. There was no 3D nonsense, no trying to beat the newest kid on the block, no introduction of stupid characters. This is classic Mortal Kombat in a shiny new package, and I love it for that. Plus? Stryker!

Runner-Up:

MvC3

Best Combat Racer

Wipeout HD

This was a good year for PSN sales after the hacking debacle. Sony is still in full damage control mode, but this was a game that came up early as a "thank you" for users sticking with PSN. It doesn't come close to assuaging my doubts about Sony's security or, more importantly, their attitude towards their customers, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little bit grateful that I finally got to check this game out - and for free, too. It's not a game I'd have paid for otherwise, but as it stands, I really did enjoy it. There's an old-school simplicity in every aspect, from the tough-as-nails racing to the ship and level designs. It's got a great score, some great gameplay variants, and a nice sense of style.

Runner-Up:

None

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Sparky's Update - Disgaea 4, Episode 6

Today's update will be brief, as Episode 6 really has very little plot but some very creative ideas.

A-Virus Walks Into a Bar One Day...

Episode 6 starts off with Vulcanus revived and in good health. Emizel, Fuka, and Desco explain that they never really wished any harm on Vulcanus, that it was all Fenrich's doing (which it was). When discussion turns to Axel and his mysterious return to health, Fuka begins to talk strangely, almost as though she were possessed by something - or someone. Artina/Vulcanus decides to join the party for her own motives, which also lie with the President.

Fenrich decides that the party should next head for the snow-covered upper boss area, the training ground for demons seeking the presidency. All are agreed it's a solid plan. The party runs into a group of monsters (of course), but there's something unusual about these demons. One of them sounds exactly like Axel.

After defeating the monsters, Val and the crew discover a horrible truth when they encounter an enemy that looks just like Axel. There's a virus (called appropriately the A-Virus) that has infected the entire Underworld. Said virus transforms people into clones of Axel... and unfortunately, the party isn't immune. In quick succession, Fuka, Desco, and Emizel fall victim, starting to develop a habit of talking back to Val as well as taking on certain hairy aspects of Axel's form. Even Fenrich starts to develop symptoms.

We discover that the corruptorment is behind the infection, though the motives aren't clear to the party at the moment. A cutscene between the President and his lackey, Thunder-something-or-rather, shows that though they were responsible for unleashing the virus, an unseen person was responsible for pushing them to do so. The President seems despondent and awestruck at the power and genius of this unseen individual.

The party soldiers on, taking on more and more clones of Axel. They finally encounter the real Axel, who claims he avoided death at Desco's hands by playing dead (by using a "Death Kabuki" move). After fighting through seas of Axel clones (more on that in a second), Val and his crew defeat the real Axel, who claims he has no knowledge of a potential cure. Defeating him does not cure the symptoms either. Val vows to find a cure for his friends, even should they turn into Axel. Slowly, the party succumbs to the virus, and Emizel, Fuka, Desco, and Fenrich are transformed into Axel. Artina at last reveals a solution. She must break the laws of the heavens by wounding herself (the game never acknowledges that she probably could have had someone else do this) and letting the infected drink her blood, which has incredible healing properties. The party is changed back, but not before Artina jokingly threatens to charge them all a ridiculous fee. Since they can't pay it, she says she'll just have to stick with the party until she feels the debt is paid. Val, still mindful of his promises to Artina, refuses to drink her blood. Recognizing the vows and promises of the vampire she once knew, she finally lets slip that she may indeed know Val and be the individual he once knew.

This area, though really light on any story-advancing plot points, is the highlight of the game for me in terms of plot. It's genuinely funny in parts, especially the horror and disgust of the party as they realize they're changing into Axel, whom they have grown to loathe (save for Val, who still treats him with a fair amount of awe and friendliness). I particularly liked the moments when Emizel discovers his newfound chest and leg hair. At first, he's disgusted, but quickly becomes enamored of himself, in the same vain style of Axel. The levels themselves are great too. I like the idea of fighting hordes of cloned individuals, and though the fights can be difficult, there's nothing here that's going to frustrate anyone with a few decently leveled characters. There's one level in particular where I felt nearly overwhelmed as several enemy base panels keep pumping out Axel clones of a relatively high level. It's difficult, but never feels impossible.

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Sparky's Update - Disgaea 4, Episode 5

Sorry it's taken me so long to get a new one of these posted, but between Dead Island and Forza 4, I've been a zombie-killin', Nova SS drivin' fool. Anyways, let's jump in. Today we're talking about the fifth episode of Disgaea 4, as well as the wonders and joys of level 5-2.

Wherein Women and Children Are Shit Upon By a Grumpy Werewolf

Let's get something clear right off the bat. I don't like sexism in games, unless it's done in either a tongue-in-cheek fashion or that it's sublimely ridiculous. Disgaea 4 is definitely in the latter category. The women of the game, namely Desco and Fuka (up to this point, anyways), are love-obsessed girly girls who just happen to want to either rule the Underworld (Fuka) or destroy do-gooders (Desco). It's a dichotomy that is all at once a cliche of anime and sort of bizarrely lovable. I'm not going to suddenly claim I enjoy the stories of any of the Disgaea games or very many of the characters, but when Fenrich starts laying on the verbal abuse and threats to Fuka, Desco, and to a lesser extent, Emizel, this game becomes a great deal funnier. And why the sudden ferocity in his verbal jabs?

Love, of course.

Not from Fenfen (the nickname given to him by Fuka, much to his horror), of course, but in their anticipation of the great love story between Val and Artina/Volcanus, the Angel of Avarice. Episode 5 is relatively short, and none of the levels pose much of a challenge even in the first playthrough. It's also a good area to gleefully take advantage of a "glitch" the developers have intentionally left in the game. More on that in a while.

Episode 5 has Val and his crew attacking a mid-level boss training area. This training area, though, strangely resembles an abandoned amusement park. Val bemoans the fall and laziness of demons, exemplified in how the former area has now become a joke of its former self. They easily mop the floor with some generic mid-level baddies. Val feels slightly uncomfortable about this, realizing that something isn't quite right. The enemies are far too weak, but this mystery is shuffled aside for later.

Along their path, Fuka and Desco pry (without too much effort) the story of how Val met Artina when he was terrorizing Earth, as a good demon should. Back in those days, Val was still drinking blood, and was enormously powerful (apparently - we never really get to see this, but it's mentioned by Fenrich on several occasions). During a vampire hunt, in the midst of a human war, Artina and Val met. After learning he's a vampire, Artina gently asks him if he needs her blood to survive, and offers it up willingly, as she's a human pure of heart and full of kindness. She talks Val into agreeing that he would not take any other human's blood until he's drank hers. Val is taken aback by her sweet nature and purity, and proclaims that he could not suck her blood until he had well and truly frightened her. This promise becomes incredibly painful for him days later.

Artina, finding an enemy soldier wounded on the battlefield, does the good thing and takes care of him. She is mortally wounded by people from her own side, and as she lay dying, Val visits her. Her only regret is that Val couldn't drink her blood, keeping him from being released from his oaths to her. She dies in his arms.

The group stumbles across Volcanus on a couple of occasions in the area. Her resemblance to Artina is spot-on, despite her apparent newfound love of thievery in the Netherworld. We find out she's out to collect on debts owed to Heaven from the demons, and has been stealing on her own accord. Fenrich, recognizing the angel as a threat and an impediment to Val's rise in power, tricks Val into promising that he'll take down Volcanus if she becomes a threat. Upon their next meeting, Fenrich tells Volcanus that the party has a bounty on their heads worth 10,000,000 HL. She doesn't hesitate and attacks the group, dollar signs flashing in her eyes (so to speak).

As boss fights go, this one was a cakewalk. She's surrounded by Prinnies, which can be lobbed at her or each other to quickly wipe the map clean. A good ranged unit or magician can whittle her HP down to nothing in no time. When Volcanus is defeated, she pulls Val aside for a brief conversation. He lets slip that he once promised someone he would never drink blood again, and she finally recognizes him for who he is, as she is indeed Artina come back to life as an angel. Suddenly, she springs forward, shielding Val and taking a projectile for him. The shooter? Why, it's none other than Warden Axel, that nefarious ne'er-do-well!

And so ends episode V.

Level 5-2

Big thanks first and foremost to Drac for pointing out that this glitch is still intact from Disgaea 3.

In Disgaea 3 (and possibly other Disgaea games, though I'm not certain), it was possible to exploit one hell of a leveling glitch. If you pass eight or so "Higher Enemy Level" bills and fought on level 5-2, the enemies would be at level 99, but give experience as though they were much, much higher leveled (which they technically should have been - that's the glitch). A character with a powerful, widespread ranged attack could mop the floor with every creature in minutes, letting you power level up through level 300 with ease. It sound cheap, and it was, but considering that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how far you can level in the Disgaea games (level 9999), it merely served as a good start if you planned on doing the post-game stuff.

As it turns out, the developers have left that glitch in Disgaea 4 on purpose, and it happens in the exact same fashion. Pass eight or so "Higher level enemy" bills, save, and jump into 5-2. If all the enemies are at level 99, congrats, and get to killing. If not, just adjust the bill until it's at that level. When the enemies don't give you as many quick levels, you can combine them together and continue power-leveling. It's magically delicious.

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Sparky's Update - Week 4 of Disgaea 4

This week, Val and his friends take on... the newspaper? Only in Disgaea, folks.

A Boy and His Death's Head Mantle

Episode 4 is pretty much all Emizel, all the time. This is probably the weakest part of the story to this point, which really says something, considering that the story in Disgaea games (and NIS games in general) are godawful. However, as your humble Disgaea guide, I am here to commit the story to that shiny Internet thing so many people nowadays are obsessed with.

The gang very quickly convinces Emizel that the best way to help himself (and them) out would be to use his high security clearance to get them through the apparently good security of the newspaper. We're never actually told what the security is, save for a bunch of ninja-like office workers who serve as the area's cannon fodder. Upon reading the newspaper, Val has discovered a grievous typo - they've misspelled prinny as "primy," and Val isn't happy! And as the crew makes their way towards the newspaper tower, Desco stops for a breather and encounters a suspicious Prinny who sounds awfully familiar. This Prinny makes some quick conversation with Desco and sneaks away, while Desco rejoins the party.

Upon confronting some of the office workers, Emizel tries to explain to them that he isn't dead, insisting over and over that he really is the President's son and he's quite alive. The office workers deny his claims simply based on the fact that the newspaper printed word of his death, so therefore, it absolutely must be true. D'oh.

We also get a little bit of character development from Desco and Fuka. Fuka discourages Desco from calling her Big Sis at first, until Val chides her by stating that if any of them are to succeed, they all must work together. Fuka reluctantly agrees that Desco may call her Big Sis while in her dream, but Desco must agree 100% with whatever Fuka says. Fuka, deeply lost in her hero worship of her Big Sis, quickly agrees that "if Big Sis says crows are white, Desco will paint them white!" Oh, that Desco. Some history between the two is also vaguely hinted at, as well as the first mention of when Val and Fenrich first met up in the Netherworld.

Anyways, more office ninjas are fought. The levels here are kind of interesting, in that there are some definite spatial hurdles as well as an occasional Geo Block puzzle or two. Emizel's continued insistence that he is the President's son and that he really is alive starts to piss off just about everyone in the party, as he starts using his father's title as a crutch. Val asks the boy if he wants to always be known as just the President's son, or if he wants to stand on his own two legs to show the world he's really alive. Emizel thinks about that throughout the rest of the episode. The party contemplates too whether or not Emizel's father has abandoned him. Fuka reveals that her own father had been out of her life for years, despite the fact that he worked close to her school and had no reason to be a shiftless dad (in her opinion). Val sees the common theme of fatherly abandonment for Fuka, Desco (whose father had created her to be a Final Boss on Earth and then cast her into Hades), and Emizel, and believes it ties them together in an even stronger bond.

We see some small plot developments and evil-doings of the President and his nameless benefactor as they prepare to unleash something that will quell the entire Netherworld all at once. What could it possibly be?

The levels aren't too much of a problem here, so we quickly arrive at the last level of this episode, where the Head Chief tells Emizel that the corrupterment was the one to issue the order to print Emizel's obituary. Fenrich also tells Emizel that he's long since notified the President that his son is alive, with an attached note to stay the hell out of their way. Therefore, Emizel's father knew all along that Emizel was alive, and could have rescinded the obituary at any time. After Val and his crew defeat the Chief, Emizel tentatively promises to Val that he will become a great demon on his own merits, and that he will join Val and stand up to his father to learn what exactly is going on. As this wraps up, the mysterious Prinny from earlier makes herself known and informs the Head Chief that she owes her over a million Hell (the game's currency, marked as HL) to go to the heavens as a sort of combination fine and back tax. She reveals herself as the angel Volcanus, but Val gasps and asks aloud how she can be alive. He calls her "Artina." And that's the end of Episode 4, y'all.

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Sparky's Update - Week 3 of Disgaea 4

Heya gang! I know I'm a week off on this thing, so expect another update sometime over the weekend. Let's dig in.

Week 3 - Foreshadowing, Ahoy!

This episode is all about long-term payoffs. Right off the bat, Val and his motley crew square off with a bunch of snarling monster ruffians, straight out of Hades' prison. Axel cheers them on, promising a grand reward if the prisoners can defeat Val. That reward, you ask? Pardons! Except... well, Val questions the validity of Warden Axel being able to promise such things, since he is only a lowly warden and not the president. So to reinforce the idea that the prisoners will be granted pardons, Axel unveils his partner-in-crime, the nefarious... Death Emizel! That kid pops up everywhere, doesn't he?

Needless to say, groups of monster prisoners are soundly thrashed. Axel and Emizel confer over whether or not they really should be promising the pardons, but Axel convinces Emizel that E's father, the President, will happily do so once Emizel brings him back word of the uprising's demise. It doesn't take long to convince Emizel, and the two escape from Val and his crew, only to unleash more and more monsters.

Along the way, Fenrich intentionally lets it be known that Val is known other than a former Tyrant of great reknown and incredible power. This information leaves several of the monsters quakin' in their boots, as well as Emizel, who once saw Tyrant Valvatorez as a childhood hero. Axel had no idea who Val had been before he hired him, stating that he hadn't included that on his resume for the prinny instructor position.

We're also given a little foreshadowing for a handful of future characters important to the plot. The President is shown meeting with one of his top men regarding news about the uprising and his missing son. When the top man leaves, the President sighs with what seems to be exhaustion and a hint of despair. An unknown, nasally-voiced stranger appears, asking the President if he's got something ready. The President does indeed. Dum dum DUM!

We also see, for the second time, an angel, who appears only briefly to state that she's ready to do what it takes to stop... him. The implied "him" seems to be the President. Is it, though? Is it really?

In any case, foreshadowing aside, after numerous defeats, Axel and Emizel decide to enter into a forbidden chamber and unleash a Final Weapon against Val's party. The former prisoners, who have by this point all but joined up with Val and his crew, explain that the Final Weapon has the potential to destroy half the Underworld. Sounds pretty scary! Val and Co. make their way to the Forbidden Chamber (after a brief interlude that has the player introduced to the Item World, if they haven't been already), where they encounter Emizel and Axel unlocking the chamber. Desco, the Final Boss wannabe and the Final Weapon, escapes from the chamber, crushing Emizel and Axel in one blow apiece.

Of course, Val battles Desco. This battle itself is pretty interesting, in that Desco hides behind a timed No Entry barrier, but has a long enough special attack that she can still do plenty of damage if you're underpowered. Once that barrier comes down and she can be surrounded, though, the battle's a cakewalk and she's quickly defeated (even faster, since this is my second playthrough and my Val is somewhere near level 450). Once the battle ends, Desco breaks down and we realize she's little but a castaway child, a Final Weapon designed by humans and cast down to the Netherworld. She wants to become a Final Boss, but realizes she's too weak to defeat a hero. Val, taking pity on the childlike monster, consoles her and convinces Desco to join their party.

Let me say this now - Desco becomes a freakin' killing machine if you take the time to develop her. Her special attacks have some strange ranges, which can be a bit annoying, but her later attacks become awesome and she can Magichange with any character to become even more useful.

Anyways, back to it. Desco develops an immediate attachment to Fuka, whom she calls "Big Sis," much to Fuka's irritation. Emizel comes to, and is told by Fenrich in no uncertain terms he'll be accompanying them too. The chapter ends with Fenrich holding up a newspaper, which states that Emizel has been killed, an egregious error which becomes the focal point for the next chapter - along with a typo.

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Sparky's Update - Week 2 of Disgaea 4

I'm already missing deadlines on this thing, and it's only two weeks into my thoughts on Disgaea 4. My English degree is frowning down upon me with shame. I've been out with a cold, but you can't keep a good man down. Well, okay, you can't keep a halfway decent guy down. All right, all right, you can't keep a selfish narcissist with self-destructive qualities down. You happy? Good.

Before we jump into my thoughts on Disgaea 4, I want to talk about this blog's format. I've already beat the main game and unlocked a few things I really wanted to get, such as the Chara World, the Cave of Ordeals (I believe they call it Mount Ordeal in this one, but it's the same thing), and most (but not all) the character classes. I've gone ahead and started a new game+ (which you can do by talking to an NPC in your base after you've beat the game). This is so that I can keep up with the episodes as I blog about them. So what I'll be doing each week is examining the story so far episode by episode, with a non-standard secondary part explaining certain other elements of the Disgaea series and/or this game in particular.

OH. MAH. GAWD. IT'S FUKA

Each section of Disgaea 4 is called an episode. These are broken up with a special cutscene, narrated by the game's various characters, that give a brief summary of what just happened and what the next chapter has in store. It also has a bunch of gibberish from Val (if you remember, our non-blood drinking vampire who always keeps his promises) regarding sardines, a joke that gets incredibly stale about three minutes into the game. Thankfully, these can be skipped through, as you can do with every cutscene in the game.

So we've beaten Death Emizel, the son of the President of the Netherworld. We've discovered that the President has ordered the death of the prinnies, in order to clear room in Hades, so to speak. As we jump into the second episode, we are quickly introduced to the Prinny X-Terminators (or Exterminators - it's never spelled the same way twice in a row, consistent with Nippon-Ichi's hilariously awful translations). These are a task force sent by the President to kill all the Prinnies. Sound a bit redundant compared with the last episode? Well... it is. The Exterminators are led by Fuka, a young middle-school girl who wears a prinny's hide for a hat. Turns out, she was supposed to be a Prinny, but since the Netherworld ran low on prinny hides, she was left with just the hat and a decree by the President that if she and the rest of her lackeys wanted easier work hours and better rewards, they'd better get to cracking some real prinnies' skulls. She declares war on Val and his posse.

It's at this point that we also start to see just how freaking awful the game's male protagonists can be towards the women in the game. In just a few conversations, Fenrich has called Fuka an idiot and stupid. Throughout the rest of the game, Fenrich in particular continually hands out verbal abuse to the rest of the gang. More on that later, but suffice it to say, it's done tongue-in-cheek, even if it doesn't always come across that way.

Val and his crew hand Fuka's forces a few defeats, including one wherein she has hired Death Emizel to be her lackey. Once beaten again, Emizel is forced by Val to examine his own spirit to determine if he really has it in him to kill someone as Death truly should. Emizel stumbles off contemplating this. Fuka throws a tantrum and declares that she hates this dream. Yes, Fuka, denying that she's died and gone to hell with the logic that she definitely would have gone to heaven had she really died (logic that Val sees as "airtight," much to Fenrich's annoyance), devoutly believes throughout most of the game that she is in a really bad dream. In any case, the team eventually fights her directly, and when she's been soundly beaten, she flees into a toxic dumping ground where humans have been storing their waste for quite some time. Val and Fenrich add the toxic dumping to the list of complaints they have with the President. Fuka, having fled into the area without knowing how dangerous it is, encounters some baddies and screams. Val to the rescue, as expected!

Fuka agrees to team up with Val and Fenrich to fight the unnatural slime monsters of the area, and it's a darn good thing, too. Fuka is one of the game's best melee fighters, especially with some sword skills. She has a great compliment of ranged attacks too, utilizing her patched-up baseball bat and prinny lackeys to make some colorful special attacks. The characters persevere. Fenrich and Val try to convince Fuka that she's really not dreaming and that she must submit to becoming a prinny trainee, but Fuka will have none of it. She decides that the presidential laws regarding prinnies are stupid, and takes up Val on his vow to take her to meet the President, if she's willing to work with him.

But before they can leave, a mysterious man appears from out of nowhere. Who is it but.... Axel? He declares that he's freed his former prisoners, and will ensure their freedom should they defeat Val and his ever-growing band of misfits. That's it for the episode, and for this week's story wrap-up so far.

The Chara World

One of my favorite parts about Disgaea 3 & 4 is the Chara World. Unlocked through the Senate, this allows your characters to boost certain abilities like their jumping power, learn skills already known by other teammates that surround them in the Cam-Pain HQ, or even inherit Evilties.

Basically, each character has a set number of times they can enter the Chara World per incarnation. Special story characters can reincarnate over and over again with no additional cost, making it easy for them to learn a few skills or boost some abilities, and then pop back in and reincarnate to do it all over again. Pretty soon, you'll have melee characters with some magic skills, mages who can suddenly use axe skills, or really, just about whatever suits your fancy. It's crazy addictive, and there's a fair bit of challenge to it, as the enemies within the Chara World are based entirely upon the level of the character you're using to enter it.

There are ten levels within Chara World. At the very beginning, you decide what you're going to focus upon increasing, or whether you'll be learning skills or evilties. At the ninth level, there will be a Mystery Room. In that Mystery Room is a vendor who will allow you to purchase upgraded abilities or new skills depending on your SP. Skills and abilities cost a damn fortune in mana compared to the normal skills a character would normally learn, so there's a certain risk/reward system in play that becomes the focus.

See, reincarnation saps your SP down to 0. Going into the Chara World with a level 1 character would seem to make sense, since you'll be facing really low-level enemies with hardly any challenge, so long as you've got a level 50 or so character who can do the grunt work. But this means that your reincarnated character will have very little mana going into the Mystery Room, even if you put him or her into the Evil Symbol that allows you to gain mana from another character's kills. This leaves you with basically one of two options (there are theoretically tons more, but these are how I like to do it):

1) Have a high amount of mana on a low leveled character. This is easy when you place the character on a mana pyramid square with a super high powered character as the leader. All you basically have to do is have that leader power through bunches of enemies, gain a ton of mana, and wait for the trickle-down effect. Easy as pie, especially if you keep that low-leveled character away from the evil symbol that grants EXP from its leader.

2) Try to get as much mana as possible while in the Chara World, and eliminate all the Geo Boxes within each level. Harder than it sounds, by far, but it can get you some basic level skills such as Heal, Fire, or Star without having to resort to that last bit.

As an extra bonus, finishing each map in the Chara World and eliminating all the Geo Boxes will allow you to improve your aptitudes. Now, I'm not entirely certain if this is accurate or not, but I believe aptitudes affect the general stat bonuses you would get from equipment. This makes it possible for a character to get more out of a weapon or armor piece than you usually would. So, for example, if Val hadn't gone through the Chara World, his aptitudes might all just be 100% - he gets exactly the bonuses listed from the equipment. But with some aptitudes boosted, he might get a sword and get 105% from its ATK bonus instead of the usual 100%. These aptitude increases are permanent, which is insanely cool and makes your characters pretty overpowered.

Whew. Let's call it a day for this look at Disgaea 4, shall we? Remember, questions, comments, anything, feel free to post 'em below. And if you haven't had a chance, check out my prior blog on general gameplay tips as well as some KILLER information from Drac96 on power leveling.

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Tips for any Disgaea players

I'm hoping to update this and eventually turn it into a FAQ here on Giant Bomb, so if anyone has any tips or advice, please feel free to chime in.

General Combat Tips

Concentrate on weapon specialties at first

If you go into your status screen and press the right analog stick to the right, you'll get all sorts of useful and useless information about each character. One thing you'll want to pay attention to is weapon specialties. At least at first, it's a good idea to equip that character with his specialized weapons, as he or she will be able to gain skills for those weapons through the Evilty dealer. Which leads me to my next point...

Keep updated on your skills and/or evilties

Each character has different skills and Evilties you can obtain depending on your class or if the character is specialized (storyline-wise). I like to get a couple of basic skills, upgrade them once or twice, and then focus on obtaining the unique Evilties. Some of them are ridiculously awesome, like the ability to absorb enemy stats after defeating them (which is a temporary boost, but still useful).

For mage characters, I tend to avoid boosting their Evilties until I've got a good amount of range and power on their primary spells. It also doesn't hurt to reincarnate these characters several times when you've got the extra SP and have a powerful leveling area. Reincarnating a character allows them to keep their prior skills and learn new ones from a different class. All mages should pick up the Healer's skills at some point (though not a necessity, it really helps) as well as at least one or two other mage abilities like Fire or Ice. Please note that reincarnation is really not necessary if you just want to play through the main storyline first - this is all just hypothetically assuming you're going to get into the deeper endgame stuff.

Learn the basics of power leveling

This is an essential for making grinding far less aggravating. Basically what you're looking for is a level with tightly grouped enemies and a potentially quick win. Level 5-2 is my favorite so far, as it has groups of enemies packed together, sitting on one color grid with two +50% EXP boxes just off to the side waiting to be tossed down. You have several ways to power level here, but the easiest is to stack your characters to a height of 10 with your most powerful human character at the bottom. Then proceed to whip some monsters' asses! You can lift and throw enemies into each other to create more powerful enemies, which can be tricky if you're underpowered or don't have a lot of HP, but if you do, it'll level your weaker characters up fast, because they'll gain all the EXP from the kill without being in harm's way, as your bottom character will take all the damage for you.

If this isn't providing you with fast leveling for your powerful characters, you can go to the Senate and pass a "More powerful enemies" bill, which will make them stronger but also give you more experience for killing 'em. Just remember to continually save your progress if you go this route, as you can create some awfully damn powerful enemies pretty fast.

GB Member Drac96 Chimes In On Leveling in 5-2

"Also this is just from researching on forums and such. 5-2 is one of the best places to level. Apparently the exp is its best when you pass 8 stronger enemy bills. This makes them level 99 and creates the optimal experience. In previous games it was believed that this was a glitch that caused them to give the exp of level 300 enemies. I don't know for sure, but I don't think this is the case now. It has something to do with the experience leveling off from 99-299, so you'd only get more exp when the enemies are 301. The method I use on the level is have a runner like my thief go to the right and throw the block near my base. Then I have another character break it. This makes basically the whole level 150% exp through a geochain."

Thanks Drac96!

General Gameplay Tips

Item management is crucial in the Item World

Always, always, ALWAYS keep an Mr. Gency Exit in your prime inventory if you're going spelunking in the Item World. You can use them at any time, so when you're facing some tough enemies, always keep one character in reserve to bail you out in a jam. All he needs to do is pop up, use the item, and blammo, you're home safe.

Now, other item management tips. I really recommend passing as many "More Expensive Item" bills as you can afford in order to keep a better stock of higher end healing items on hand. You'll still usually get the basic healing items in the store as well and you can always pass cheaper item bills later if need be. Keep your primary inventory stocked full of healing and SP recovery items that will heal your most powerful characters and forego keeping anything less powerful. Unless you've taught a few characters Espoir (the game's status-curing skill), you'll want to keep a couple of Fairy Dusts as well as a couple of high-end thieving items (if you have a thief with a reasonable level). By keeping your primary inventory full of useful items you can actually use, your loot will go straight to your secondary inventory, which can carry far more but is only accessible in peaceful areas (i.e., your main base, Mystery Rooms, and Item Town). Always remember to switch out junk you can't use with stuff you can in those peaceful areas so that you're never caught with your pants down.

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Sparky's Update - Week 1 of Disgaea 4

I'm cashin' checks and breakin' necks in a nearly all-Disgaea 4 week of gaming here, folks. In honor of the football season starting up, I implore you to ignore the TV completely, grab those pork rinds and beer, and settle in for a long fall's read on what might be the most tragically ignored game of the week here on Giant Bomb. The format of my adventures in Disgaea 4 is blatantly stolen from Dan Kempster's "Enduring Final Fantasy VII," which is a MUCH better read here on Giant Bomb. Get to crackin' on reading that if you haven't already - and if you haven't already, for shame!

OF SARDINES AND MEN

Disgaea 4 starts up with its usual bizarre J-Pop/anime-styled intro video, and I"m immediately reliving my ultimate love-hate relationship with this series. For the record, I've played each one of the proper Disgaea games. I've put in close to probably 100-120 hours in each, and though I don't go completely all-out in finding every legendary weapon or maxing them out to level 100, I'd consider myself a Disgaea pro of sorts. After about thirty seconds of that terrible intro video, I skip forward to the main screen and select a new game.

We are quickly introduced to Valvatorez, a Prinny Instructor in Hades who is obsessed with... sardines? And by obsessed, I mean totally bananas about them in true, annoying anime-fashion. I've said it before, but if you tried to make a drinking game out of how often Valvatorez (who I'll refer to as Val from here on out) says "sardine," you'd kill your liver. Anyways, Val's sinister right hand werewolf Fenrich guides him towards completing his goals for the day, insinuating blatantly he wished his master was back to his former glory as a tyrant of the Netherworld.

Anywho, Val greets his students, the Prinnies, but not before gaining a couple of new members for his team. The training consists of basic Disgaea 4 levels, teaching the user how to move and attack, utilize special moves, and the sort of basic know-how to play a game of this sort. It also broaches upon more advanced Disgaea skills, such as the team attack (which really isn't so advanced, as you just group characters next to one another and make a normal attack) and how to utilize and destroy geo blocks and geo panels. The geo panels are colored panels on the battlefield that have special effects. Essentially, a Geo Block will grant those effects, but only when on one of the colored panels. So, say for example, a geo block was in play on the map that had an Attack +50% effect. On a normal, non-colored title, it wouldn't do anything or add any bonuses. But if it were on a colored tile, all tiles of that color would have that effect. These statuses aren't always positive, and can sometimes lead to much more dangerous or even invincible enemies. But by taking the geo blocks out of play, the enemies lose those bonus effects, rendering them much easier to kill.

The graduation of the prinnies is a happy affair, with Val promising each graduate a single sardine for passing. The prinnies are abruptly kidnapped by a mysterious force. Val, who is also obsessed with keeping promises, vows that he will get the prinnies back so that he may fulfill his promise of one sardine per prinny. Yes, it's stupid. Trust me, you don't play a Nippon-Ichi game for its great storytelling.

Val and Fenrich approach the warden of Hades, Axel, a returning character from the Disgaea series. Axel explains that the "corruptorment" has ordered the death of all prinnies because Hades is becoming too crowded. Prinnies, I should explain, are the souls of humans atoning for their sins... as explosive penguins with a love of the word "dood." Val tricks the death squads sent by the President's son Death Emizel (the embodiment of Death, though he has yet to take a single life - I know, I know, the story gets even worse) into believing Axel is with them, and Axel is supposedly slain (a repeating joke throughout the game). Val and Fenrich take on Emizel and defeat him, naturally, after a five or six stage chapter.

At this point in the game, most everything becomes available in terms of starter shops and the Item World. I've taken a little time to grind level 1-2 and 1-4 a couple of times, but now I jump into the Item World on a very basic sword in order to pump up its stats, do some leveling, and grab some loot. I'm given an Mr. Gency Exit, which enables the player to leave the Item World when used, though it does have its disadvantages (we'll get to that possibly in a far-flung Sparky's Update when I feel like explaining the post-game a bit more in-depth). I've also gone to the game's Senate to create a couple of new characters, namely a healer and a Wind and Fire mage. These characters are the bread and butter of the early game for me, so I take care to assign them prime spots on my team, rearranging characters as I see fit and making sure I keep them in play for the first couple of chapters.

My romp through the Item World introduces me to a few notable changes in the game. First, the Item World now has branching paths, where you can choose to focus on leveling the item or increasing its Residents. An Item's Residents give it long-term benefits and can be transferred item to item, but it's not something I really need to worry about in a low level item. I focus on leveling up the weapon, burning through the various stages without much problem. I also find that there are a few new bonuses in the Mystery Rooms, such as a character that will give you an extra Mr. Gency item. Pretty cool stuff. The game also includes a bit of a tutorial on certain Item World particulars, a first for the series as the Item World is usually left unexplained past its initial shopkeeper's explanation. Nice, but not really necessary for an old pro like me.

At every ten levels of the Item World is an Item General (or variant, such as an Item King). This is a more powerful character that acts as a mid-level boss for the Item World. After defeating the Item General, I go to Item Town, which is essentially a breather for the Item World, and allows you to heal up and either continue forward in the Item World or return to the home base. Since I've leveled my party up fairly decently and obtained a few nice loot items, I decided to call it quits and head back to base.

Let's go ahead and call that the first entry, then. I'm actually pretty far into the game, at about Chapter 5 or so, but I don't want to overwhelm you with an even bigger wall o' text. Hit me up if you have any questions, comments, or thoughts, and if I can explain something further, I will.

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Sparky's Update - Do the Donkey Konga! Cha cha cha!

This week's Sparky Buzzsaw gaming blog is going to revolve around primarily two games - Hector Episode 2 and the immensely enjoyable Donkey Kong Country Returns, but I'll also wax a little poetic about the simple joys of Monster Hunter 3. Grab your beer caps and your Slim Jims!

DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS SHOULD BE ILLEGAL

...and I'll tell you why. I've been thinking a lot about video games lately in terms of cars. Halo is the Hummer of cars. It's loud, brash, utilitarian, and a hell of a lot of fun. Monkey Island is the old VW Golf or GTI. Sure, it's old, but it was a fun car to drive then and it's still a hell of a fun car to drive today. Starcraft 2 is a BMW sedan - it sort of looks similar to its predecessors, but it's all the little changes and improvements that have added up to become one fantastic car.

Well, Donkey Kong Country Returns is that late 60's muscle car you've been rebuilding in the shed for the last decade. Sure, it's not as pretty as the newer models, nor is it completely without its problems. But from the minute you get in until the minute you come to a screeching halt back outside your house, you have this big shit-eating grin on your face because it's just so damn much fun to drive.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is not a game filled with innovations or the shiniest new technology. But holy hell, it is incredibly fun, difficult in all the deliciously right ways, and it's a throwback without feeling antiquated or irrelevant. This is, frankly, the sort of game that made me a lifelong gamer in the first place. The art style is superb. They've taken the fundamentals of Donkey Kong Country 1, 2, and 3, and added all sorts of neat new visual effects and spiffed them up for a modern generation. It's as though this generation of games had followed right after the days of the SNES with all the new shiny graphical capabilities of the Wii. Now, I know that's not supposedly saying much when you stack it up against the Modern Warfare 2's or the Crysis's of the world, but anyone with a heart and soul and a fondness for great classic Nintendo style will immediately see what I'm talking about.

The details are really what sets the game apart from its predecessors. The gameplay is roughly about the same as it was in the days of the SNES - you won't find too much different in terms of controls or the basic way you play the game. But they've taken everything up a notch in terms of the design. Certain parts of the background become interactive at times, leading to some nifty hidden bananas or other collectibles. You can actually shift to a section of the background further back than the front stage, which doesn't sound like much when I explain it here, but it leads to some ingenious puzzles and tense gameplay moments. And as the game progresses, the backgrounds become more of a central focus. One of the most brilliantly designed levels is one where you're racing across a stage as tidal waves are coming in. You actually have to hide behind rocks, time your movements just so, and avoid baddies all at the same time to dodge the waves. It's intense, sweet-looking, and indicative of the type of genius design that has gone into all the elements of this game.

I'll review it at some point, but suffice it to say, this is a 5 star game for me, without question. The difficulty can be a little rough (and at times, inconsistent - you'll earn a crap ton of lives on certain easier levels, but other times, you'll be needing every single one of them on some of the more frustrating later levels), and sometimes the motion controlled movements are a shade imprecise, but other than that, it's simply one of the best games I've played this year and certainly among the very best 2D platformers I've ever seen.

CLASSIC ADVENTURE GAMING IN A SHINY NEW BOX

Hector: Episode 2 is pretty similar to the first episode, minus a bit of character swapping here and there. It's a classic "you can't die" point-and-click adventure game, with all the great and bad that comes with that label. There's genuine joy to be had in its fairly simple puzzle solving, and there's not much pixel hunting to be found here. The graphics and objects are distinctive enough that even a guy with my vision never had any trouble finding clues, objects, or anything in the environments I needed.

The graphics are growing on me. I think with a couple more guys to add in a few more frames of animation (especially when walking), they'd actually be pretty damn good. The script is solid. There's some genuinely funny moments, even if the humor's a bit juvenile (that doesn't really bug me, but it probably will irk some people).

The only real problem with Hector: Ep. 2 is that its small team makes it harder to stack against the likes of Telltale's other games. It also won't hold a candle against, say, something like Heavy Rain, but it's not supposed to. This is the adventure game equivalent of cotton candy - it's delicious, but it's not really meant to be a full-on meal. I was also fairly pissed that buying Hector: Episode 1 did not entitle me to Ep. 2 or 3, but now you have the option of buying all three at once.

LITTLE TIDBITS

Monster Hunter 3 on the Wii didn't exactly generate a ton of buzz here in the West, and it's understandable. The game is, essentially, all the combat and gathering bits of an MMORPG without any real story or a seriously inhabited multiplayer mode. That being said, it's still a very fun game. There's a simplistic joy to it. For some reason, I keep thinking of it as the RPG equivalent of Animal Crossing. If you go into it looking to play for hours, you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you go into it looking for something to entertain you for 15 minute chunks over a long period of time, it's absolutely fantastic.

In other mediums, namely books, I've been rereading Scott Lynch's superb Locke Lamora novels. If you haven't given them a shot, I highly recommend them. They're clever, very entertaining, and super addictive. I can't wait for the next one to come out. I suspect after that I'll be looking to sate my need for a good horror novel or two.

If you're like me and interested in the slightest in Forza 4, go to Giant Bomb mod PSEG's blog right now and read up on his tips for maximizing your potential going into Forza 4. He details what cars will be transferrable (only four! Boo!), what will happen with your driver level, and many other great details. Get on it!

Next week, I'll probably be starting a small section on Disgaea 4, which comes out this week. I'll be cataloguing my travels through that game, hopefully both for amusement and to drum up interest in a great series of games. Until then, keep it classy.

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Sparky's Update - Eat my shorts... short update, that is.

Worst. Title. Ever.

Brief update today, because I haven't been playing a ton of games outside of the abysmal Record of Agarest War, which I've given up on for now. Here's a brief look at some game and book related stuff.

-Joe Abercrombie's novels turn out to be absolutely fantastic. Stick with 'em, as The Blade Itself doesn't get off to a great start. The Last Argument of Kings is one of the best fantasy novels I've read, and that's saying something.

-Beat the original Portal, months after beating the second. Not much to say that hasn't been said - it's fun and silly in all the best ways.

-Been playing a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 and Just Cause 2, which are some mighty fine games.

-Looking forward to getting Disgaea 4 in a week and a half, and am thinking I will devote part of Sparky's Update to my Disgaea 4 meanderings, as those games seemingly last me about a year or so. I figure I'd do it like a small nod towards Dan Kempster's "Enduring Final Fantasy VII."

-And finally, does anyone out there know where I could buy an Aperture Laboratories t-shirt in a 4x size?

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