Been-Done List 2010-2012
SO MANY ITEMS
SO MANY ITEMS
***½  12/24/12
**** [PC] 12/22/12
**** [PS3] 12/13/12
***½ [PC] 12/09/12
***  11/30/12
*** [GEN] 11/26/12
***** [PC] 11/22/12
*** [PC] 11/21/12
***  11/15/12
**** [PC] 11/13/12
***½ [PC] 10/30/12
***½ [PS3] 10/24/12
****½ [PC] 10/22/12
***½ [3DS] 10/16/12
****  10/07/12
***½ [iOS] 10/04/12
**** [PC] 09/17/12
***½ [ARC] 09/14/12
*** [ARC] 09/10/12
*** [PC] 09/05/12 - im a big kid now
*** [ARC] 09/03/12
***½  09/02/12
**½ [ARC] 08/26/12
** [ARC] 08/25/12
***½ [NES] 08/21/12
****  08/20/12
***½ [ARC] 08/19/12
*½ [SNES] 08/19/12
**½ [SNES] 08/18/12
***½ [PC] 08/15/12
**** [SNES] 08/14/12
**** [PS3] 08/12/12
*** [GEN] 08/08/12
** [GEN] 08/04/12
***½ [SNES] 08/03/12
***½ [NES] 08/02/12
*** [NES] 08/01/12
*** [PC] 07/30/12
** [iOS] 07/24/12
**** [3DS] 07/13/12
*** [3DS] 07/12/12
½ [iOS] 07/08/12
*** [PC] 07/07/12
**½ [PC] 07/07/12
*** [PC] 07/05/12
***½ [PC] 07/03/12
***½ [PC] 07/02/12
****½ [PSX] 06/27/12
****  06/19/12
**** [PC] 06/17/12
**** [PS3] 06/10/12
**** [PS3] 06/05/12
**** [XBOX] 05/28/12
***½ [iOS] 05/25/12
*** [GBA] 05/12/12
***½ [PC] 05/12/12
*** [SNES] 05/10/12
*** [SNES] 05/10/12
****½ [PS2] 05/04/12
**½ [GBA] 05/01/12
*** [iOS] 05/01/12
**** [WII] 04/30/12 - The biggest victory of Last Story is that its battle system is exhilarating and offers a surprisingly diverse set of options for combat. The game may dole out tutorials for new skills in basically its entirety but quite a few of them change how battles work entirely so it was really exciting to see some new mechanic, whether it be running up walls to deliver vertical slashes, the general nature of magic circles and diffusion, or the command mode introduced a few hours in that provides strategy and swift battles to those who want it [although you could ignore this for a large portion of the game]. The story's not really too exciting although it's serviceable.
***½ [iOS] 04/23/12
***  04/23/12 - Understand the appeal of the game and the things it does right, yet still the desire to never play it again despite those understandings has never been stronger.
****  04/15/12
****  04/05/12
*** [iOS] 04/03/12
***½ [iOS] 04/03/12
**½ [SNES] 04/03/12
**** [SNES] 04/02/12
**** [iOS] 03/30/12
***½ [NES] 03/29/12
**½ [GEN] 03/26/12
***** [PS3] 03/14/12
**** [NES] 03/13/12
*** [NES] 03/13/12
****½  03/10/12
*** [NES] 03/05/12
**½ [NES] 03/04/12
** [NES] 03/04/12
***½ [NES] 03/03/12
***½ [GB] 03/03/12
**½ [GB] 03/03/12
** [NES] 03/02/12
**** [FDS] 03/01/12
***** [WII] 02/16/12 - I've only played the DS Rhythm Heaven before this, an imperfect but still pretty captivating title only held back by either the inconsistency of flick controls or my own inconsistencies. Rhythm Heaven Fever showed me that Rhythm Heaven's vibrant world belongs both on a big screen and without motion controls of any kind. It reaches a purity that resembles the basics of game design so beautifully--learn some moves, then recall the moves you've done--and it tones down the controls so that you can get wrapped up in the rhythm instead of worrying about whether the Wiimote is being detected, which would have likely been a nightmare. And like Rayman last year, it helps prove that visuals can be crisp and gorgeous without resorting to polygon counts. It is pretty much everything it needs to be. I love it. I LOVE IT.
**** [PC] 02/16/12
*** [PC] 02/14/12
*** [PS3] 02/11/12
***  02/05/12 - The joke--that you as a player must buy [with in-game currency] practically every ability and facet of the game imaginable as "DLC", including the ability to move to the left and jump--is probably worth a dollar, even if it only lasts around half an hour. There's definitely room to move the idea to more amusing places, like the notion of buying the ability to die, but I don't know how long the joke can last so I'm glad it doesn't outstay its welcome.
***½ [PC] 01/29/12 - Dustforce is such a breathtaking game when it works, especially when it comes to swiftly navigating ceilings, dashing down ramps to launch to incredible heights, and providing players the ultimate in satisfaction when they finally nail that more or less perfect run. It's an early frontrunner for the most appealing game visually and aurally--colors pop, animations are very stylish, and the retro soundtrack is incredibly soothing.<br>
But Dustforce really is too hard at some point, at least for me. The difficult unlock path for new levels makes sense--considering the levels designed for silver and gold doors, I'm not sure novices would get any satisfaction out of progressing before learning at all--but a fundamental design choice can threaten how fun it is to run through levels over and over. By having the player hold up to navigate up walls, stick to ceilings, and so on, I was personally locked into the habit of just holding up at all times, a pretty uncomfortable [and occasionally inappropriate] way to play a platformer no matter what I use--keyboard, directional pad, or joystick. It's a significant bummer but only because everything else about the game is top-notch, one of the more accomplished indie 2D platformers in recent memory.
**½ [PS2] 01/28/12
*** [iOS] 01/26/12
***½ [DC] 01/24/12
***½ [PS2] 01/22/12
**** [PC] 01/19/12
****  01/13/12
*****  12/27/11 - FLY ME TO THE MOON AND LET ME PLAY AMONG THE STARS LET ME SEE WHAT SPRING IS LIKE ON JUPITER AND MARS IN OTHER WORDS HOLD MY HAND IN OTHER WORDS DARLING KISS ME FILL MY HEART WITH SONG AND LET ME SING FOREVER MORE YOU ARE ALL I LONG FOR ALL I WORSHIP AND ADORE IN OTHER WORDS PLEASE BE TRUE IN OTHER WORDS I LOVE YOU
***½ [PS3] 12/16/11 - As an early showcase of the PS3's capabilities Uncharted is pretty incredible. In terms of graphical fidelity I can't recall a contemporary of the title that would compare favorably, and in fact the game still looks pretty great even as this generation [and presumably this series in particular] has moved forward. The story is also a fun and well-paced Indiana Jones adventure, with a nice dosage of the expected staples of the genre executed well--backstabbing, discovery, and so on. The characters are extremely likable and I'd wager that a lot of that appreciation comes from the expansive set of animations that the cast possess, especially Drake and Elena who serve as the emotional center of the story. It's also very smart about how it utilizes its setting; it takes place in one area predominantly, and I eventually felt as though I knew the area pretty well.<br>
As a film Uncharted would be a very pleasant and exciting diversion, but it kind of bothers me as a video game on a few levels. For one, Naughty Dog attempts to offer two very different forms of gameplay in one. There's the adventure portion which largely consists of tricky platforming and the occasional "look at the journal for clues" puzzle, then there's the cover-based third-person shooter portion. When the platforming is good it's perfectly adequate, though I frequently ran into problems of the camera suddenly shifting on me, resulting in unfortunate deaths that were thankfully alleviated by generous checkpointing. The shooting is also pretty good, with a nice variety of weapons that feel satisfying in ways unique enough to encourage using them all, or at least not relying on one or two exclusively.<br>
Both genre portions are competent and internally pretty well paced, but the juxtaposition is really strange to me. There are stretches of the game where platforming takes up nearly an hour straight followed by a three-minute action sequence; shooting sections in which the action is constant but each "encounter" only has a handful of thugs; a few out-of-nowhere Alamo-style shootouts where it seems as though the assholes never stop coming; and always that bizarre monotonous puzzle to, presumably, break up the monotony. It's an incredibly empty world too, and in a way it reminded me of playing Tomb Raider back in the mid-90s--enemies are largely sparse, environments are pretty big, and the sound design is eerily quiet. I can only be thankful that Uncharted doesn't share Tomb Raider's horrific tank controls.<br>
But it's still a pretty cool experience. It's beautiful and it tells a compelling story. It's also a short game, and perhaps that goes a long way in justifying the odd pacing, as a title twice as long with the same problems might grow unbearable or at least obnoxious. It only lasted me around 8 hours, and since so many games don't know when to stop I think that's perfectly fine. I think it says a lot that I'm still invested enough in these characters to see how their story continues.
****½  12/08/11 - The additions to the already-excellent Arkham Asylum combat system feel pretty brilliant for the most part. While I never felt compelled to mess around with additional tricks once I felt comfortable in Asylum, for whatever reason City grabbed me and encouraged me to mess around even if I wasn't necessarily going to vary it up all the time. Perhaps it's the occasional reminder of the tools at your disposal, such as one boss fight that cleverly forces you to utilize new attacks against a foe who adapts to your tricks. I think the real strength of the game is in its side missions though--never in a game have I been so excited with optional objectives. At worst they expose you to new villains and give you interesting cutscenes with them, and at best they are incredible mini-stories, sometimes better than what's offered in the main campaign, that leave me excited for the next title. Aside from the urgency of the Victor Zsasz side mission however I really wish I didn't have to navigate the city to complete them. The entire package is mostly a case of "more is better" with some fresh and exciting takes on both classic Batman villains as well as the weird minor ones [to the comic book casual]. I kind of wish the Catwoman stuff didn't exist, and I really don't see the need for a billion Riddler challenges.
*** [ARC] 11/27/11 - Certainly expands on the color explosion of the original TwinBee, and the game itself feels more fluid, which is why it bums me out that it's also way harder once you get past the first stage or two. Voice samples also start to get a little grating after a while. SPEED UP.
**** [PC] 11/21/11 - Saints Row: The Third is the silly, over-the-top game I hoped it would be, especially after the series' mediocre gang-rival beginnings. For a really long time the momentum of the game's absurdity--the oddities of the story developments, the surreal details of the game's weapons both in design and scope, and so on--keep things exciting. There are a few missteps where the game tries to "go all out" in its silliness and comes out feeling lame and juvenile instead, especially in the very last mission of the game [only attainable through one of the endings], but as far as sandbox games go, it's hard to say any game has felt more sandbox-like. Blasting through the main campaign may only take around 10 hours, but there are tons of things to do on the side that are mostly engaging and just as silly as the core antics, especially Professor Genki's S.E.R.C. There are so many tools to expand within the game that new toys are never in short supply. Strap it on, etc.
***** [WII] 11/19/11 - Platformers were certainly never dead, what with indie games like VVVVVV and Braid proving there was still room to push them, but in a way the pure joy of old platformers has been gone for a while. Rayman: Origins is the return to platforming purity that I didn't know I wanted until I played it; no platformer has felt so elegant in design and captivating in visual flair since the days when the platforming staples of the last 30 years were only just getting started. It retains the challenge of such old-school games without being completely brutal about it, bringing about modern gaming expectations like checkpointing to make multiple attempts a significantly smaller chore. And like last year's Epic Yarn, Rayman: Origins is an endless aesthetic delight that charmed until I couldn't have a bigger smile on my face. If only Ubisoft felt the same way about it as I do; in such a scenario the game wouldn't be releasing at the same time as numerous blockbusters [some of Ubisoft's own creation], doomed to lackluster sales that will "confirm" the full-priced 2D platformer is dead.
**** [WII] 11/15/11
***½ [PC] 11/15/11
**  11/14/11 - Respect grinding is not exactly my idea of fun, and after nearly finishing the second of three gangs that's exactly what I'd have to start doing. All the side activities are kind of bad, and while most of the base mechanics feel like polished PS2 GTA more or less [without being able to speak for San Andreas], it's just not worth playing to the end to me.
***½ [N64] 11/12/11
**** [SNES] 11/07/11
*** [PS3] 11/06/11 - yeah i dunno
***½ [PC] 11/05/11
***  11/04/11
***½ [PS3] 10/23/11 - It's naturally a stylistic delight, a warm aesthetic that's pleasant to behold. Level design is largely very creative and interesting, and it's fun to explore for prize bubbles so you can expand your design capabilities. There are some REALLY frustrating levels though, in particular any level that demands more precise movement, because Sackboy will far too often veer onto planes you didn't want or take a step you didn't take. It can result in some unfortunate and frustrating deaths, and those few occasions just don't feel like the kind of difficulty I can get behind.
**½ [DC] 10/23/11
***  10/19/11
**½ [PC] 10/10/11 - A mean game that encourages you to play it over and over in order to experience everything on offer is still a mean game. More importantly, it absolutely feels like a flash game in multiple facets of its presentation, and a desperately unfunny one at that. Also a minor bummer that Danny B.'s score this time around isn't nearly as exciting as the one he did for Super Meat Boy. Admittedly some of the powers are pretty cool [although none of them really change the way you play a whole lot], and I love the decision to aesthetically represent all the upgrades Isaac can run into, whether it be a wire hanger coming out of his head or giving him a third eye.
****  09/26/11
***½ [PSX] 09/24/11 - Yeah, I guess it's just a silly minigame collection with less than 30 minigames, and yeah, most of those are actually repeats, but no minigame collection I can think of has nearly as much personality as Incredible Crisis. It's a funny and weird game, and for a title that demands some occasionally precise timing it's not really all that punishing. The ska "orchestra" or whatever is a really strange but inspired soundtrack touch.
iOS games not on the site finished since 04/21/11:<br>
*** [iOS] 07/07/11 - Very simplistic gameplay just requiring the player to tap the screen at the right time to slash as many alien enemies as possible. It's still a pretty solid time killer though due to its cool visual style. Not particularly deep but super slick.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/22/11 - Another gorgeous game. It works with a simple aesthetic style that seems to both compensate for the limitations of the platform as well as make it stand out from other titles. The tilt controls are surprisingly tight--only surprising because most tilt controls on iOS are garbage--and there is a nice variety of challenges in which you must navigate your white fish around the dark depths of the black ocean, avoiding black blobs [let's say oil!] as well as shadow fish while you seek out light in various ways. There isn't THAT much to it and the difficulty curve for getting stars later in the game got a little rough for me, but it's still quite pretty and fun.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/20/11 - I wish there were more to this game, as in more songs. The free game provides a great bit of touch-screen rhythm-based fun, and the music mixes provided are well designed for rhythm which makes more sense when you think about Masaya Matsuura's [of PaRappa fame] involvement. Extending the length of the game kind of depends on more songs though, and I'm not going to pay for songs for this app when games cost the same as a song.<br>
**** [iOS] 05/15/11 - Very deceptively addicting puzzler that's also kind of hard to describe, or at least that's what I discovered when trying to tell my roommates about it. It's a puzzle game in which you drop colored circles with the intent of shrinking all the circles on the board with the laser your piece creates. Since that sounds retarded out of context, I'm going to let the developer do it for me via video and demo, which are kindly provided on the <a href=http://www.dropzap2.com/>website</a>. I prefer mirrors mode to barriers mode but both are fun, and like Reflekt its puzzle mechanic is surprising and refreshing, although here it's way more addicting.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/14/11 - It's not often I'm surprised by a puzzle mechanic, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a puzzle game where you eliminate gems on a board by matching its gems to another board mirror-style. This is the kind of puzzle game that could have soared with more options and some polish, but the presentation is impossible to ignore. The visuals of the gems are fine, but the menus look like a really old PC game, and not in a cool nostalgic way, and the modes are sorely lacking though the two options--colored gems and then a black-and-white mode where you have to pay attention to the patterns--are pretty nice and will do enough to convince me to keep the game around on my iPod.<br>
** [iOS] 05/14/11 - I know I must have played countless games like My Brute but I can't name a single one. The game has you create fighters that you send to DUKE IT OUT with other random people, and you are limited to a certain number of brawls per day--I had six the first day but five for each of the next two days. Other players may happen to engage your fighters, in which case you can have more brawls on an average day, but this is entirely out of your control. Your fighter levels up with each fight regardless of victory [though victories give you more experience] but your level-up bonus is completely random. In fact, aside from your character's appearance and whether you use a dumb Hulk potion to give some bonus stats for a single fight--and it looks like you get one free potion a day--it doesn't look like you can customize ANYTHING. I decided to make three characters on the first day, and they have had DRASTICALLY different three-day careers--one character is middling and wins about as much as he loses, one character has won two battles out of around 19, and the other character lucked into getting two different weapon types, two battle pets [including a fucking BEAR], and has only lost twice out of 24 engagements. Law of averages, I suppose? But the bonuses aren't just "you get random stat boosts," you literally get the utmost random level-up reward. You may get additional stats. You may get a weapon. You may get a skill. You may get a pet, or two. You may just win a potion. Who knows!? Nobody! In other words, this is a game where you check in every day, do some things, and then you're done. It's like Animal Crossing without the variety in activities or the customization of your village. Wooooooo.<br>
** [iOS] 05/14/11 - An interesting premise--taking on mob hits on a case-by-case basis, getting paid, and improving your equipment and supplies with the cash--is pretty soured by the execution, namely the game's limitations. There are the limitations the game places on you, most prominently in not allowing you to do hits without "energy" which the game limits unless--of course--you download other free apps created by the developer to get some more credits to purchase energy. Of course! Then there are the limitations of the game itself. The mission types I encountered could be placed into four categories--"kill one dude," "kill one dude and his cronies," "tranquilize one dude," or "tranquilize one dude and kill his cronies." Character models in these missions are always identical, and the action is always essentially the same. From a first person perspective you sit on a rooftop and scope out and murder or tranquilize these people. The controls are okay but the framerate is iffy if you actually are trying to aim for headshots. There just isn't enough to the game, and when you shamelessly advertise your own shit constantly, it is more than a little irritating.<br>
<b>Party in My Dorm</b><br>
** [iOS] 05/14/11 - It masquerades as a browser-style RPG where you click to do school-related "jobs" [Try out for the team! Take notes for someone!] to make money which you use to buy more dorm room slots which you use to hire new school stereotypes [Nerd! Goth Chick! Cheerleader!] which provide more stats for your overall "team" which allows you... to do more jobs which you then use to buy more dorm room slots which you use to hire new school stereotypes unless you want to level those stereotypes up so you can get more stats for those people and then HEY WOULD YOU PLEASE WRITE ON MY WALL THIS IS THE BEST GAME EVER ASL EVERYBUDY 22/F/WISCONSIN FJDSIANFVBE<br>
*** [iOS] 05/13/11 - Another simple but addicting puzzle game where you maneuver a YELLOW bubble in order to collect GREEN bubbles which you combo and destroy with BLUE bubbles once you have enough, all while you avoid PURPLE bubbles because they kill you. YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH but really it's a pretty alright game, nice risk/reward system for how many green bubbles you collect; the more you have, the more likely you are to be hit by a purple bubble accidentally.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/13/11 - Very simple in presentation but it's an effective puzzle game where you reflect lasers [...lazors] with blocks in order to hit all the nodes on the map. There should be more puzzles, but at least the mechanics are interesting enough, with different types of blocks such as black blocks that complete absorb the laser and prism blocks that split the laser into two.<br>
<b>A Glow Fighter</b><br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - There is a fine line between using Geometry Wars' visual style due to its beautiful simplicity versus using it because it's simple to make, and I think A Glow Fighter falls on the latter side of the line. It's a mediocre space shooter with powerups, and the controls are acceptable but a lot of the game screams lazy, even down to the achievement names that look like they came straight out of the game's code ["through9_no_strikes", really?].<br>
<b>Dalton the Awesome!!</b><br>
*** [iOS] 05/13/11 - Like Stylish Sprint it's a running game that offers persistence in the form of earning experience that can be spent to extend the effectiveness of powerups you find. The game also has a decent, hand-drawn style to it, but the game as a whole doesn't feel as polished as Stylish Sprint, and I feel like that's saying a lot when Stylish Sprint has the phrase "Qeust Completed" at the end of every single level.<br>
* [iOS] 05/13/11 - And I guess I'm starting to get exposed to augmented reality games, which--based on Tapcloud--aren't fun at all. Walk around your real-life environment and "find" clouds that you click to destroy! Yay! If any platform can make a gamer feel cynical about their hobby, it's apparently iOS.<br>
* [iOS] 05/13/11 - Oh hey, another running game on iOS where you tap to jump as you navigate a course! But this one's in 3D! And it's bad!<br>
<b>Chule Wants a Cookie</b><br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - Adorable aesthetic but the gameplay--collect all the items with your dude while you try to reach the exit, best exemplified by Cut the Rope, but here represented as an animal hitting other animals and then making it to a little house--is both pretty uninspired and not very well executed here. The levels all look identical and the control over your shot doesn't feel as tight as it should.<br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - I guess it's a totally acceptable if not very surprising or engaging quarterback simulator, but there really isn't much to it. I hit the FUCK out of those moving targets, and that's about it.<br>
* [iOS] 05/13/11 - Someone in Korea apparently decided it was an awesome idea to make a platform hell game--similar to I Wanna Be the Guy or Syobon Action--for iOS. League of Evil seems to be a similar style game but it's more Super Meat Boy than those other games which depend largely on memorization of retarded platforming traps. Also for whatever reason the on-screen touch controls take quite a bit of force to actually work, one of the first games in which pressure actually seemed to matter. Ugh.<br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - A respectable Asteroids clone for iOS, but  I don't really care that much for Asteroids and  touch screen controls don't really help! Still looks slick.<br>
<b>Legends of Yore</b><br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - What was at first a mildly appealing old-school dungeon crawling RPG turned out to be one of the most monotonous experiences to be had, and I think that's even in comparison to the more bland and uncreative RPGs of the past. The music drones on and on and ON AND ON, and the systems aren't remotely complex. In fact, the game's so easy it's basically on cruise control, and the grind to progress is just way too long.<br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - The game itself is a garbage running platform game but I was stupidly charmed by the "deal with it" cat and the "could not deal" game over screen. Clearly no effort went into making this though.<br>
** [iOS] 05/13/11 - This isn't a video game and it's still better than Pirate Jump.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/12/11 - Very similar to Digital: A Love Story in that you figure out commands, passwords, etc. through a typing interface in order to explore a plot. Digital had a much stronger resonance with me though, primarily due to a more engaging story, but also because, as a weakness of the platform, typing on an iPod isn't the best. Still a cool and quick game.<br>
** [iOS] 05/12/11 - Pretty mediocre basketball shooting game that for whatever reason occurs in space, but what's really egregious is the app's tendency to push [presumably] other apps the developer has made onto the player as an incentive to earn star points for the game, which allow you to buy upgrades. Seriously, fuck you guys, stop advertising your shit, even when you're offering free games. It's fucking annoying.<br>
* [iOS] 05/11/11 - Nothing quite like a poorly controlling vertical jumping game with bland animations and no incentive to keep playing, especially since you can't even control the jumping.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/10/11 - A neat distraction of a game that has you tap coins on the screen as fast as possible in various ways, whether it be a "Simon Says" style game or simply clicking as many gold coins as possible in a given time span. Maybe it's my finger, but sometimes the game isn't picking up my hits which can be endlessly annoying.<br>
*** [iOS] 05/09/11 - In a way Ring Blade is exactly how a bullet-hell style shooter should be handled on the platform. Great music although it would get old after a while I assume, a mostly great sense of control over your ship, and a fun scoring system that rewards you for banking shots off walls. Cool aesthetic also, really stylized and attractive, if slightly repetitive. Thanks, OpenFeint Free Game of the Day!<br>
<b>Cut Him Up!</b><br>
** [iOS] 05/08/11 - Three straight games with EXCLAMATION POINTS! SUPER BADASS TITLE aside, the gameplay of Cut Him Up! is no more than a pretty poorly controlling beat-em-up that stylistically rips out every frame from MadWorld. Exciting!<br>
*** [iOS] 05/06/11 - A Pachinko or Peggle-esque game that is pretty fun. The super-colorful look can make you smile, but a lot of the gameplay feels really luck-based. Still cute.<br>
**** [iOS] 05/06/11 - Namco nails it again with another great reimagining of the Pac-Man franchise into a different sort of game. Very smart meshing of Bejeweled and Pac-Man. If you can match five ghosts in a row you can get a power pellet on the board, and getting Pac-Man to that pellet results in a bonus stage where you can increase your multiplier and clear the board. The achievements are a little brutal for my talents, and the gameplay isn't quite as euphoric as Pac-Man CE DX, but for the iPod this game is great.<br>
<b>Robot Wants Kitty</b><br>
*** [iOS] 05/02/11 - The premise of the game is adorable and I really like the way the game is set up, gradually doling out abilities that let you progress to new areas. Each level is like a microcosmic Metroid adventure, albeit pretty challenging if you try going for the achievements.<br>
** [iOS] 05/02/11 - ALSO feels like a very typical time-wasting flash game. Not much variety to the gameplay, and hit detection for the raptor feels weird sometimes. Cute concept though I guess, and the power-up names tie in well enough that you know they at least thought about this for 12 minutes.<br>
<b>Chop Chop Runner</b><br>
** [iOS] 04/28/11 - Feels like a very typical time-wasting flash game, except with touch controls. It's apparently difficult for the game to tell the difference between one tap and two taps.<br>
<b>BMX Cunning Stunt 3D</b><br>
* [iOS] 04/28/11 - No. No, this is fucking terrible. No.<br>
** [iOS] 04/21/11 - The game serves as a distraction for a few minutes, but I got the impression pretty immediately that I knew why this was available for free. Unlike all the other iOS games I've played, Block World's presentation is simply bad. It's a very ugly game with ugly blocks and terrible color mixing. The gameplay itself is pretty simple, but isn't terribly responsive sometimes especially with jumping, and there are ill-defined rules for being able to double jump. Just not a very engaging game.
***½ [PSX] 09/24/11 - The puzzle mechanics are really solid and interesting, especially since you occupy the physical space of the puzzle unlike many similarly structured games. There's a certain charm to the use of everyday people as playable characters also.
***½ [iOS] 09/23/11 - It doesn't feel like there's much to Groove Coaster but it's still a really effective rhythm experience for the platform. I don't really have a full understanding of the pathing mechanic that is apparently affected by your performance, but it at least SOUNDS like a cool bullet point!
*** [PSX] 09/23/11 - Tail Concerto is a really charming game in theory; it kind of has an innocent optimism and simplicity to its characters and world that is aesthetically pleasing, although there was always this nagging feeling that all of it was a little creepy as far as fetishizing cat and dog people. It's a cute and functional game, and I suppose it was ultimately an enjoyable experience, but some levels late in the game really test your patience as far as your tolerance of the oft-unbearable camera as well as the weird floaty tank controls of protagonist Waffle's robot. The gameplay doesn't really change up a whole lot either, which is fine in a way since the experience only lasts five hours but it's also a bummer since you know there is a lot going on in this world that could be taken advantage of. For example, the game constantly teases the possibility of airship battles but never actually goes there which is kind of aggravating. I also wish there was more of an RPG feel to the progression--even for the short length, I don't think it would have hurt the game to encourage exploration by giving you new abilities. Any kind of progression would have been nice, really.
****½ [PC] 09/19/11 - I'm glad that great adventure games aren't limited to the clever and funny type often seen with LucasArts and the like. Aside from Phantasmagoria this might be my first incredibly dark adventure title; even the notes that feel weird and fake at first [Ellen's rampant fear of the color yellow] turn out to not only get the redemption the storytelling deserves, but often they're twisted into truly creepy setpieces. I love the surreal nature of Gorrister's segment, the historical weight of Nimdok's story... it's all occasionally witty and oftentimes disturbing in ways that games don't achieve very often. If only it didn't have the common trappings of adventure games--like the few instances in which it poorly communicates either what you're capable of doing or the consequences of taking specific actions--it would probably be my favorite adventure game.
*** [DC] 09/16/11 - The unflinching optimism of Tetsuya Mizuguchi can be seen in Space Channel 5, a game ultimately about happy concepts like Truth For All and Galactic Harmony, but unlike every other Mizuguchi game it's difficult to get into actually playing it. It's a very Simon Says-esque rhythm game where the player manages which directions to press and which gun to use--A shoots aliens, B saves dudes--and it's pretty simple on the whole but it hardly stays interesting even with the brimming personality. Not even saving Michael Jackson, as surreal as that was, made me forget that the button timing is pretty harsh and sometimes feels unresponsive. The late game trick of making the player press the reverse direction is also irritating. It was fun to mess with but I don't think I'll ever want to play the sequel unless it sounds like it works a lot better.
*** [PC] 09/15/11 - Silliness goes a really long way, as does the weird mash-up of tower defense and Katamari Damacy. The difficulty of the game is really unpredictable though in both directions. Sometimes the opponent is ridiculously smart, and since they always have an unfair advantage at the beginning of matches [where did their money come from?] it can make for some frustrating levels. At other times they will entirely forget basic mechanics like jumping, instead opting to roll around at the edge of a platform for five minutes while you steamroll them. I didn't really play this game for the challenge but it still bothered me a fair amount. Wish there were more comprehensive straight-up Katamari madness levels a la the bonus competitive games.
****  09/11/11
***** [PSP] 09/11/11 - It's hard to put into words what makes Lumines so amazing to me, but it probably comes down to the mix of addicting and clever block puzzle design and the integration of music which allows for constant shifts in playstyle. For some skins the scanline blasts by and doesn't allow you to create effective combos without meticulous planning--for others it goes by so slowly that you wish it'd go faster to clear some of the board for you. That all of this is perfectly paired with a vast music selection that keeps things fresh is the best part. I may not be the greatest at the game as I've been unable to even unlock half the skins, but it didn't stop me from playing it far too long every time I picked it up. It's that awful situation where the game is meant to be played in quick bursts but it's so fun it's hard to actually DO that. The music is great, the aesthetic is gorgeous, and it's more or less justified my recent ownership of a PSP single-handedly.
*** [PC] 09/04/11 - If Phantasmagoria's production values were higher, it's arguable that it could have been one of the greatest horror experiences to have in video games. As it stands, what can be still occasionally disturbing is largely pretty silly, the kind of aesthetic and acting quality you would see in a D-level horror drive-in movie or SyFy Original. The base plot is a classic horror setup that, at least in its plot beats, is effective and smooth. The adventure-based gameplay is also competent and interesting. The mix with FMV is a little odd because you watch the protagonist walk towards areas you click in such painfully deliberate ways, with so many different permutations, that it makes you wonder how much video had to be recorded for this. The game is most effectively disturbing during what is arguably a rape sequence, and it knows to linger on the sequence in such a way that doesn't exploit the situation but also provides the necessary punch for what is a pretty important part of the game. It reminded me of the second sex scene in <i>A History of Violence</i> which I would say is a compliment. The production isn't necessarily there but the game itself is pretty neat.
*½ [DC] 09/04/11 - Around the 12-year anniversary of the Dreamcast it's pretty appropriate to visit one of the most controversial entries in any significant franchise in gaming history. Sonic Adventure has always scared me off; I remember playing the first level on a demo disc, thinking it was pretty neat, then never actually playing the full release. Years later after having re-acquired a Dreamcast I felt it necessary to play a game that has since become known more or less as the day Sonic died.<br>
Sonic's first foray into 3D [because Sonic 3D Blast doesn't really count] is clearly derivative of its contemporaries--the level discovery and overworld "puzzle solving" is very reminiscent of Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie--and I can't say there are better examples to set for yourself. I haven't played enough Mario 64 but I know enough to recognize its importance and solid mechanics, and I'm a pretty big fan of Banjo-Kazooie. The problem is that Sonic isn't Banjo-Kazooie or Mario. The old Sonic games, despite constantly being referred to as "hold right and win" games, featured some clever and interesting platforming and mixed it with the speed element for which Sonic has become known. That being said, Sonic is most importantly about the flash of it all. The first level of Sonic Adventure seems to recognize this as there is next to no challenge in the traversal, the platforming is simple and serviceable, and the visuals and music mesh together quite admirably. You might be holding up while you "play" the whale setpiece, but that is one hell of a setpiece nonetheless. It communicates Sonic's speed very well and doesn't compromise the player's sense of freedom; they can play the level without too much concern for worrying about what comes next.<br>
That's one level out of approximately 10 action stages in Sonic's campaign, and the rest have a strong focus on puzzle solving and platforming. They are awful. When Sonic operates at slow speeds the game starts to unravel in a way that is actually borderline offensive when considered alongside the respectable platformers of the time. Sonic Adventure gets so many things wrong that platformers like Banjo-Kazooie get right. The jumping is significantly higher and weightier than you expect; Sonic's dash attack maneuver removes all sense of control from the player, often resulting in falling to your death; and sometimes basic movement is made randomly impossible on mildly sloped surfaces. It became impossible for me to trust ANYTHING about Sonic's movement to the point that I played a significant portion of the game cautiously, which of course results in no speed. Sonic without speed is like Mario without jumping--take it away and what exactly are you left with?<br>
Part of me actually wishes Sonic Adventure was JUST a mediocre platformer, but the action stages are only half of the experience. The game also has adventure stages in which Sonic roams [primarily] two locations, solving a few item-based puzzles and conversing with other characters as well as humans in order to figure out what to do next. Since none of these sections are based on speed, I would think the world would be designed in such a way that gets the player back into the action as fast as possible--minimal space packed with things to do. Instead the game is filled with MASSIVE areas that are pretty much completely empty, making any moment outside of the action stages essentially hell. While I was being assaulted by the terrible instrumental Japanese rock/metal I looked for the next level desperately, only to find that, for example, I get to play a VERY poor snowboarding minigame that somehow makes the one in Final Fantasy VII look clever. I could just bounce off walls with no apparent repercussions, I lost all sense of direction, and somehow I made it to the bottom of the mountain, I guess. I don't know, I certainly didn't feel like I was playing it.<br>
I don't know how the presentation would have felt back then, but now it's insufferable. Animations are so deliberate, as if the developers wanted to accentuate the advances in technology at the time, that they now look embarassing in a way that no game can even approach. Sonic's eyebrows move uncontrollably as he talks, and characters shrug in such a way that you can almost point out every single part of the unnatural movement. Voice performances are shrill readings of a condescending script. Nothing about the game's design is pleasant.<br>
Sonic's campaign is also only one of quite a few, and every other campaign is pretty poorly conceived. Tails' campaign is basically comprised of racing levels, and just about the last thing I wanted to do was race in a game that was designed to bring me to abrupt stops repeatedly. Amy's levels have you running away from an enemy. And then there's Big the Cat, one of the more bizarre campaigns in the game; in it you fish for Big's pet/friend Froggy, and the fishing controls are kind of awful. Even if the fishing controls were great, it would mean I'd have to put up with Big the Cat's "I is a dummy" voice performance for a span of time far greater than I was willing to accept.<br>
The last straw must have been during the final boss which had me constantly falling through perfectly solid floors, I guess because I hit the corners of floor geometry or something? I can theorize what went wrong with the game but I can't come up with a valid excuse for anything it has. Depending on who you ask, Sonic Adventure 1 or 2 is the best 3D Sonic game for many, and I guess at some point I'll feel obligated to play Sonic Adventure 2. Having briefly experienced Sonic the Hedgehog on the 360, I can't say things have gotten much better in the last 12 years for the bro. What's more surprising is that things haven't really gotten much worse--based on Sonic Adventure, Sonic in 3D has always been an ill-conceived and poorly executed idea.
***½  08/25/11 - As a first experience for me with a new peripheral idea, DJ Hero 2 is pretty fun to get the hang of. Presentation-wise though the game is a bit frustrating, and considering it's the second entry I wonder how the first game handles. For example, why would you let me play a song in quickplay and not let me immediately go back to the song select menu? Maybe I'm just incompetent but I couldn't figure out a better way than going back to the main menu and then selecting quickplay again. Very minor things like that break the flow of the experience for me in a way that, while not unforgivable, is still kind of senseless. The song mashups are really enjoyable and creative for the most part which goes a long way towards improving the game's quality. On expert things get a little too crazy for me and I'm not entirely sure I could ever play on that level, but then again I guess I would have said the same thing about guitar or drums in previous rhythm titles. I don't necessarily have the motivation to improve although I will likely look into the first DJ Hero at some point for a new soundtrack.
*** [GB] 08/21/11 - Well, I guess it's a slightly less interesting style of this game than the NES version. Still has a charm of puzzle, experimentation, and adventure to it, but it felt like I could break the game pretty easily too.
***½ [SNES] 08/18/11 - A Pac-Man adventure game is a really weird concept, probably one that would have been far more foreign to me had I not played it a little as a kid. Now older, it was fun to finally get around to playing the full game, and while the experience is pretty short lived it's highly unique and endearing. The one thing that I don't think I've experienced in any other game is its mood system--one of the keys to solving the largely simple puzzles is to manipulate Pac's mood. Happy Pac will be curious and investigate things more, mad Pac may interact with his surroundings in negative ways [or may actually be necessary to get him to, for example, kick something out of frustration which sets something off], sad Pac will barely want to interact with anything at all, etc. It can be difficult to make Pac-Man happier, and often it just comes down to whether you have power pellets to feed him, a mechanic that's meant to be for when ghosts show up but can also be used to cheer your buddy up. The puzzles are pretty easy to figure out--the challenge largely comes from getting Pac-Man to do what you want, which sounds like a potential nightmare with all the emotions he can have, but it seems mostly fair and key to the experience. The only downside is when Pac-Man goes through some very deliberate and slow motions for things you've already seen, and if you try to get Pac-Man to do something else by telling him to look in the opposite direction he will usually just take longer to still do the thing he's intent on doing.<br>
If there's a flaw with the game, it's that. It's an adventure game but it's not purely point-and-click; Pac-Man moves whether you tell him to or not, so it kind of feels like you're controlling a single Lemming, having to push him in the right direction while still paying attention to the environment and manipulating it. It's both a blessing and a curse, usually great but it can result in some frustrating moments. The game doesn't punish you too much for any slip-ups so it won't ruin a playthrough, but having to play a sequence a few times can still take away from what is a game filled with a strange amount of personality. The four "missions" include recovering Pac's son's guitar [stolen by ghosts!], getting milk because Ms. Pac-Man asks you to, and retrieving a mountain flower for a girl's birthday. It fills in the goings-on of the Pac-Man world in a way that no other game I can think of bothers with, which makes it an experience worth having, especially as a stepping stone towards more complex adventure games. It's really odd to think that the early to mid 90s housed tons of console games that operate much like PC adventure games, especially because most of them were licenses like Pac-Man and Beavis and Butt-Head.
** [SNES] 08/17/11 - I am absolutely comfortable in admitting that I'm terrible at games but something about this particular title feels really cheap and annoying, which is a shame because for a beat-em-up it feels like it has a lot more potential as far as variety. Or maybe part of the problem is that Superman is kind of bland to me, even though the story that inspired this game sounds like a cool comic book arc.
*** [SNES] 08/16/11 - The movie game has a lot of smart upgrades from the first Power Rangers SNES game--namely a greater deal of control over when you morph, smarter use of the Rangers' weapons, and better difficulty and character balance--but it's still KIND of dumb. Still, had a good deal more fun with it because the difficulty is extra smooth.
** [SNES] 08/14/11 - The one thing that the game nails is how each level feels like a condensed episode, where you move from standard teenager to Power Ranger morphin', and the game ends with a few stages of big robot battles that serve as the show's money shot essentially. Every level leading up to the last one is a dumb cakewalk, enjoyable for the formula and nostalgia but overall not that great. Last stage is kind of bullshit in that it's needlessly hard out of nowhere. I don't know, this is more than I ever expected to write about a Power Rangers game. Also, Billy is super stacked as a character, I guess because the creators thought most people wouldn't gravitate towards picking him, but since he's the only character from the original show who wasn't a total asshole it was a pretty easy pick for me.
***½  08/05/11 - In more than one way, Catherine feels like a game that's too much of a good thing. Its two greatest assets--unique story and clever puzzle mechanics--are pushed so far that it started to take away from what made the game great to me. The story is definitely more mature than games are typically used to, but that doesn't necessarily make it well-designed. The problem comes from trying to balance the story in such a way that it would make sense for a player regardless of their choices. Since the game allows you to pursue sexbomb Catherine [the path of chaos], longtime girlfriend Katherine [the path of law], or potentially neither [the path of freedom] in your pursuit of one of the game's eight endings, and since the cutscenes are pretty much identical no matter how you play--the only differences being Vincent's internal monologues as he panics during any particular moment--the game opts for something closer to Vincent as an indecisive fuck-up. And that's absolutely the point of the game and Vincent's character, as it's his journey to growing out of his indecision, but when you give the player control over Vincent's choices it starts to look bad if you play the game towards a path other than freedom. It also has a creepy feel to it--the camera often focuses on Catherine's cleavage or legs, even when the context isn't Vincent staring at her, so it starts to feel kind of weird. I still wouldn't give the game's story up for the world though, as you just don't see themes like this addressed in games published for home consoles, so while it could be considered a baby step in the right direction, it's a good and quite admirable step nonetheless.<br>
The other double-edged sword is the game's central gameplay, a puzzle world that Vincent encounters in his nightmares at the end of each day. It's also a pretty obvious but effective metaphor for the game's themes--yes, Vincent is climbing a tower and solving block puzzles as a metaphor for figuring out his life, and yes, Persona 3 and 4 [and probably 1 and 2 but I have no idea!] have teenagers fight their demons by literally fighting demons in dungeons, but you know what? That's interesting, and it's more than most games accomplish, and Atlus is confident and unashamed so I couldn't ask for more. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the puzzle design is actually quite amazing; it takes a lot of getting used to, and I honestly don't feel as though I've grasped everything quite yet in such a way that I can consider all possibilities on the fly, but it is highly smart puzzle design that encourages some mind bending and quick thinking, and when the game isn't laying it on too hard it's really fun. Hanging blocks off each other by the edges in ridiculous configurations as you climb the nightmarish tower is really satisfying when you start to get into a flow. But again it gives the player too much to think about and then starts throwing too many obstacles your way, so many that I feel as though I have never been so frustrated with any game in my adult life as far as difficulty. It really starts to show its true asshole nature during boss battles, some of which are fine [and one of which is an atmospheric masterpiece if you ask me], but several of which are so incredibly frustrating that I thought about not playing the game anymore. Boss levels seem to force the player to move faster, while also dealing with the different block types--ice blocks especially being the bane of my existence but also bomb blocks, spike blocks, and so on--and occasionally worrying about some ridiculous additional mechanic. One boss battle serves as an incredibly frustrating escort mission while most bosses shoot some sort of projectile at you which will either kill you, knock you down some levels, reverse your controls, or other frustrating things. When the puzzle gameplay is at its best I was experiencing pure bliss--when it's at its worst I wanted to fucking die.<br>
I really wish there was more to do when not watching cutscenes or solving block puzzles, but all the game has is a bar sequence that, while interesting, doesn't last nearly long enough. It's cool to interact with other bar patrons, talk with Vincent's interesting group of friends [in fact Johnny and Orlando are probably the most well-developed characters in the entire game, which is kind of sad], send text messages to Catherine/Katherine, and get Vincent drunk and change the jukebox to <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPogJsxnpAM>BACKSIDE OF THE TV FUCK YEAH</A> but these sequences last maybe 10 minutes at most unless you also decide to play the arcade machine in the bar. Problem is that's just more block puzzles, and it's pretty likely that after playing through a frustrating puzzle sequence you're not going to want to see a puzzle for at least another day. The cool thing is it's at least a different take on the puzzle system--instead of being timed and facing numerous dangerous obstacles, you're basically only limited by number of moves and they're more focused on being difficult to work out mentally. It would be a cool thing by itself, but the game does a pretty good job of seducing you with its puzzle mechanics and then fucking you over, so instead I wanted to ignore it for most of the game. I want pretty badly to love Catherine but I'm not sure it wants me to. The pros far outweigh the cons though; while I may never want to play it again, I'm really happy that I got to experience it, and there are far fewer games this year that have left me feeling that way than I would like.
**½  08/01/11 - First, the good: after approximately 10-12 hours the player attempts to reach Aurora, a city that presumably has no people but is the only lead the protagonist and his/her rebel friends have in their quest to overthrow the corrupt ruler of Albion. They're sidetracked to an island with endless ominous caves and sandy dunes, and the game takes this opportunity to serve up an incredible feast for the senses as far as mood. It's revealed that this is where the ultimate antagonist of the game, a dark entity that in all honesty is conceptually as cartoon-evil as Slytherin in the Harry Potter franchise, resides. Soon the player is overcome with nightmare visions, attacks from shadows, and ultimately a very weird, very trippy sequence in which they cross a desert while the darkness still haunts and preys on them. It reminded me a lot of the Scarecrow sequences in Arkham Asylum; Fable III is truly special for these 20 minutes.<br>
The problem is I played Fable III for approximately 25 hours when all was said and done, and the other 24 hours and 40 minutes were riddled with what should now be a glitch count that rivals and perhaps surpasses the reputation of Bethesda's open world games. In fact, it happened so frequently within the first few hours of the game that I decided to start keeping a numerical count of how often the game broke for me. Here's what I found!<br>
1] The Breakcrumb Trail [Number of issues: actually impossible to count]<br>
The game largely relies on a "breadcrumb trail" system, a gold path that tells you where you need to go to further your current objective, main or side quest. It's a beautiful thing in that by telling you where you have to go you can freely roam and do your own thing without worrying about setting off the next part of a particular quest--in theory that's the greatest thing, and it's something that didn't prove to be much of a hassle in Fable II. However Fable III had an INCREDIBLY frequent tendency to break the trail in one way or another. Ways in which the trail became useless to me include but are not limited to: failing to appear for 5 minutes while in an area; failing to appear at all; telling me to go to one place and then telling me at that place to immediately return to the place I just left [in other words, telling me to go to a place that doesn't even exist]; only revealing itself if I turn in the opposite direction like I was playing peekaboo with it and it didn't want me to look while it hid in broken game hell; straight up telling me the wrong place to go [which I always caught unless I didn't know where the place was, i.e. a new location]; and telling my DOG the right location but then having the dog wander off to do his own stupid thing, resulting in a constant golden path that didn't react to my movement. These are the only ones I managed to note, but it's also the only glitch in this game that was so persistent that I stopped bothering to count. Look, if you're going to have a built-in navigation feature like this you can do one of two things: you can make it work [oops!] or you can make the world SO interesting that relying on it is unnecessary [oops again!]. This is far and away the largest annoyance of Fable III, one that constantly broke immersion for me.<br>
2] Broken Quests [Number of issues: 9 relationship quests, 2 side quests]<br>
It's apparently far too easy to break a quest in Fable III, especially the relationship quests. Picked up an Aurora flower while taking your date somewhere and... awesome, now he follows me everywhere, the date quest doesn't actually work, and an "Accept" prompt appears on him although it's really an "Interact" prompt and I get to tickle and whistle to him for as much as I can stomach yet have no other meaningful interaction with him. Fetched an item for someone and... great, now they actually haven't given me the quest yet but I can also not get a quest from them and I am forever prevented from even entering the "friend zone." Finished a fetch quest for my daughter and... gave the item to her yet I guess it was treated as an optional gift and didn't register the quest at all yet the little shit immediately asked for the same item I just gave her--which theoretically wouldn't be a problem except the game explicitly gave me the "give item to your daughter???" quest finishing prompt as I walked up to her. It was even better when this sort of trash started crawling into side quests, my favorite being one where you have to kill a man's debt collector. I killed him then left the bar only to find that apparently he didn't ACTUALLY die. That's fine, I'll just go back to finish him off even though the townspeople already hate me for killing someone in front of them. Turns out though that he's "there" but it's just his disembodied voice. Figuring maybe he's just being awesomely invisible I start shooting around the bar hoping to take him out, but in the process I hit the only other person in the bar, some drunk hunchback who happens to be there. Once the hunchback is dead the game immediately asks me to return to the quest giver because I've accomplished my task. Well, thanks for making me kill two people instead of one.<br>
3] Forgetting How To Fight [Number of issues: 4 occurrences, 3 of which were full loss of combat]<br>
On four occasions the game would remove some portion of my ability to attack, whether it be through the apparently accidental interaction with somebody or some other weird method. It should be noted that this only happened to me during main quests also. On three of these occasions I lost all ability to fight back--could not shoot, could not swing my sword, could not cast magic. On the other occasion I lost my melee and shooting abilities but was still able to use magic for whatever reason. The only way I found that would fix this issue was to pause, save my game in the sanctuary, exit to the dashboard and restart the game.<br>
There were numerous other glitches that I experienced throughout the game--floating enemies, the dog's complete inability to function 90% of the time, and so on--but none of these were nearly as game breaking because I can ignore floating enemies [i.e. shoot them out of the air] and I can certainly ignore my all-too-eager dog and his constantly harassing me to dig up another diamond since, apparently, diamonds are very expendable in Albion.<br>
Even when the game isn't being a total nonfunctional nuisance, a lot of the design decisions are really weird and arguably contradictory. The Fable series, whether it's succeeded or not, has always been about making accessible yet deep RPG experiences. Fable II may have scared some people away with separate experience for ranged weapons, melee, and magic but it still made sense in a very casual-gamer way; after all, you should probably be powering up the thing you're using the most. Fable III almost feels reactionary to that [potentially nonexistent] confusion by streamlining all experience together into a "guild seals" system. You get these seals by killing enemies, interacting with villagers, completing quests, and so on, which in itself isn't all that bad, but the way you spend your experience is kind of absurd. Not only do you get experience from multiple facets of the game, you spend that experience on every conceivable upgrade to your character. It's not limited to skill-based upgrades such as new spells and expertise in weapon styles; it also includes the ability to buy property, the ability to get married, how much money you make at the handful of optional button-timing jobs in the game, even goddamned hair dye colors. There is no higher-thought game logic going on, no "point" to make about how you must choose your experience spending wisely. It's just an arbitrary design decision meant to make the "Road to Rule" look like it has more variety than it actually does.<br>
Weapons also have a built-in uniqueness to them in that they each have three additional benefits to unlock. For example by the end of the game my pistol had a shotgun blast and the ability to heal me when I damaged enemies with it. These are cool things to earn, but they are things you have to EARN, and the problem becomes quickly apparent when you get late-game "ultimate"-style weapons that you have no desire to use because they don't have that built-in experience yet. The tasks for unlocking these abilities vary from kill counts of specific enemy types to eating fatty foods or even completing 30+ quests with the weapon equipped, so no sane person is going to have any desire to work on a weapon that late in the game when they've been powering up their weapons for a while and removing most of the "fun" quests in the first place. It essentially encourages early-game weapon adoption, which is a little silly for a game that features well over 50 "legendary" weapons and probably a fair number of others. Not even going to get started on how obnoxious the property system in this game is.<br>
A lot's been made of the end game's confusing presentation of time and for good reason. Once you become ruler of Albion you have a year in the game world to prepare for the coming darkness, and the game presents this segment of the game in four or five days of decisions. The player decides in this portion whether to keep their promises to those who helped them overthrow the previous ruler--by keeping these promises the player cripples their own ability to provide sufficient funds for the coming war effort. The game explicitly tells you how much money is needed, but what it doesn't do is give you a good indication of when you're at the point of no return. The game's first list of decisions is made exactly a year before the attack; the game skips forward approximately a month after this list, then another month after the second list, but then begins skipping more time with each list of tasks. The last day for tasks occurs 121 days before the attack, and the game offers no indication that there is no turning back after this day of royal decisions. Being the property fiend I am I already almost had enough money before even becoming ruler, so the weird presentation of this final stretch didn't end up being a problem for me, but that doesn't excuse how clunky it is. You can ignore these royal tasks and do what you want, so you don't have a limited amount of time so long as you don't move the game forward, but it gives you a very poor idea of how much time is left to advance which is understandably frustrating. The final battle itself also feels poorly conceived especially in pacing--it's very anticlimactic and almost offensively pat.<br>
Frankly the series' desire to be accessible, such as its very simple combat system, is completely at odds with its ambition, but Fable II was still a pretty core RPG experience even when its combat wasn't the smartest, and I had a good bit of fun with it. Fable III just tries to do too many weird "casual" appeals while still having some archaic design choices that would likely just chase casual gamers off anyway. And did I mention it's fucking broken? I understand that my experience is likely not like the experience of others but considering how largely uninteresting the core game is I'm not about to be an apologist for it. When it works it's a passable, functioning action RPG, and the interesting ideas are always around--I just wish they were well-realized.
*** [WII] 07/30/11 - All the Bit.Trip games are pretty neat but it seems as though Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Runner are the clear winners as far as being fun to play. Void is another kind of classy but also frequently annoying rhythm game, but it doesn't quite carry the personality of Beat or Runner, and none of these games seem to be able to compare to the cool feel of tilting the Wii remote while holding it horizontally in Beat. Nothing really feels all that special about moving the black pixel mass around to collect other black pixels and grow bigger while avoiding white pixels. The music is nice but of course the appearance of things on screen eventually gets way too difficult. I only have Flux left and I'm excited to check it out.
*** [PC] 07/27/11 - More of what makes Puzzle Agent one of the more interesting adventure series on the market--gonzo story, quirky characters, fun art style--and also what makes Puzzle Agent frustrating--mostly uninteresting puzzles, a difficulty that only seems to crop up in unnatural ways such as forcing the player to pull answers from the internet or leaving the rules so vague as to almost get the player to mess up by design--so I guess that's really it. The generally lower difficulty allowed me to enjoy the story more than the first game so I appreciated that in a way, thus probably making Puzzle Agent 2 preferable to 1. I just wish these games were more fun to actually play because there's barely anything quite like the world of Puzzle Agent.
*** [PSP] 07/22/11 - Well, I think WTF barely qualifies as a game. As a series of mundane minigames where you earn laughable wages, then spend the hard-earned cash at gachapon machines to at best earn MORE mundane evil minigames or other things such as PSP "tools" and amusing but otherwise worthless trinkets, WTF is still weirdly compelling to me. The sense of humor is fun even as it knows that it's being an asshole to the player, especially in its e-mail inbox that constantly provides you with the thoughts of fictional coworkers who detail their mundane lives. Reading things like "I bought some tableware they said was used by Princess Diana, do you know any appraisers?" is just kind of absurd in a way that I can totally get behind. The only bummer is that, despite being 40+ minigames, the game still seems to want me to play the same 5-6 over and over; even after unlocking at least ten more, the odds of them showing up is so incredibly rare that it doesn't feel like you're progressing. Maybe that's part of the point too. It's hard to separate out the intentional asshole stuff from potentially unintentional asshole stuff, perhaps to the game's credit but also to its detriment. It's still nice to see things like this exist.
*****  07/21/11 - Stylistically Bastion is kind of like a children's pop-up book with a hard edge--so a good children's book I guess. The watercolor visuals, haunting folkish soundtrack, and friendly narrator all mix in a really cool way. It's really difficult to discuss the soundtrack in any way that meaningfully communicates just how powerful it is; maybe it's just for how well it fits the game, but I don't think it's hyperbole to say it's one of my favorite game soundtracks ever and it's only been a few days since I completed the game. It's almost too beautiful, and what really blows my mind still is how some of the tracks are mixed together to RIDICULOUSLY good results. It's just something I personally haven't seen accomplished with such a high level of quality, and it's entirely possible I haven't even seen it attempted in games. It's the first time I've heard vocal tracks in video games that I would absolutely want in my music collection. Again, not enough can be said for how affecting it was for me. Much like Child of Eden it has a pacing to it that feels intricately planned but still manages to unfold organically with the player's involvement.<br>
Luckily Bastion is a video game too, and one of my early fears was that the gameplay would get pretty repetitive. After all, most gameplay footage had been "roll around, shoot guns, melee dudes, repeat." Honestly I guess the game doesn't depart from that although it's just not the problem I was expecting it to be. While the enemies don't change up a lot and you will still find yourself using the same patterns over and over, the combat can still be pretty fun. For one, the weapon variety is pretty crazy and solid; there are eleven to get over the course of the game and they vary in application and play style. Numerous ranged weapon types can let you keep your distance, the hammer lets you get up close and really take it to dudes, and then you have weird hybrid weapons such as the war machete that lets you slash up-close or throw your sword as a projectile. But even within each type of weapon you're afforded a great deal of variety in the way the weapons upgrade; the fang repeater eventually gets homing bolts, you can make your aiming more precise with the dual pistols, and so on. The game also affords you an opportunity to experiment with the weapons in challenge levels designed for each weapon specifically. By doing these you unlock new upgrade materials and skills that are beneficial to the player. It's a way to let players have fun with the different ways to play the game and find out what's comfortable for them.<br>
The customization for your arsenal doesn't stop there though. The distillery lets you equip as many spirits as you have levels and these offer boosts to your character in a variety of ways, such as increasing the number of potions you can hold, increasing the odds of critical strikes, creating an automatic counterattack when hit... I imagine just about everyone can find something they really enjoy in the numerous options afforded to players here. If you're smart about it you can make a crazy powerhouse character that can withstand just about everything. Then there are the idols you can equip later in the game that provide experience and crystal boosts but also make the game harder by giving the enemy some kind of advantage such as regenerating health or increased agility. Depending on the level of challenge you want to create for yourself and the types of gameplay that appeal to you, Bastion kind of has it all and still keeps it within an otherwise simple progression. It's pretty goddamn smart.<br>
The story is the biggest reason to play Bastion though--the way it unfolds, the notes the narrative hits, everything about the narrative's presentation is what works incredibly well for video games. The plotting is pretty sparse although there are clear objectives; the narrator is allowed to fill in many of the details as the player moves forward with their straightforward objective, and the narrative does a good job of complicating what's happening in the world in an interesting way without actually making it hard to follow since it's still a broad narrative all told. What the game does best though is individual moments. The most clever aspect of the inclusion of the narrator is that he can pace the narrative in an incredibly effective way much like the gradual reveal of the game world as you walk around, giving powerful moments an additional weight. It's a story where the player can take time and not lose any of the power of the narrative, especially since the narrator has an endless stream of unique lines depending on what actions the player takes. It's that cool feeling I've been getting from the Mass Effect series where there seems to be so much to listen to that you feel compelled to check out how things could be different on subsequent playthroughs. [Good thing this game has a new game plus mode then! Practically the only thing this game is missing is random loot. Christ.] The game even manages to end quite incredibly. Last year had very few games with effective endings and yet Bastion joins the overwhelming Child of Eden and clever Portal 2 as games that provided such conclusions for me. I'm sorry for everything I thought before, 2011--you are pretty alright.
***½ [PC] 07/19/11 - Episode 5 probably left a mildly sour taste in my mouth with its ending but as a full experience the BTTF adventure experiment worked out pretty well I think. The TellTale sense of humor is a good fit for the fiction and there is some quality writing that the last two movies didn't really see a whole lot. I'd probably say it's still too much of a slave to its source material at times, especially with an awful ending that serves as a shallow reference to the ending of the first film while kind of totally fumbling what made it so great in the first place. The puzzles haven't been top notch in the series necessarily but the fifth installment may have had the weakest, especially since some of them are spiritual retreads of puzzles the series already had. Still alright though, and since I'm experiencing a little adventure game fatigue it's nice to be finished with the season.
** [SNES] 07/14/11 - I remember enjoying this as a kid, enough to even rent it a few times, so I'm not sure what's happened between then and now to make me feel as though I've now had my first strongly negative Mega Man experience. Everything about being a kid would in fact suggest that I would have hated this experience, especially its LABORIOUS pacing that I haven't seen in the series until now. The game opens with a painful cutscene that forces the player to watch Rock, Roll, and Auto [as far as I know a new character, a big robot that later runs a shop] have a boring and slow conversation about the situation--Wily escaping prison and all the chaos going on--while in a vehicle, and the worst part is it is unskippable; you can't even speed the text up. The game spends time with an awful joke in which Auto notices Rock is helmetless and decides to hand him a helmet. We all know it's going to be the blue helmet that Mega Man is known for, but actually no it isn't, it's one of those yellow hard hats you see enemies wear! "Man, wasn't that funny?" the game practically yells as it has an intentional, ALSO SLOW pause before giving Mega Man his real helmet. Fine, just let me play the fucking game already. Then Mega Man gets out of the vehicle and moves to the next screen. Finally, I'm going to get to play, this is exciting! Wait, no, Dr. Light is on the next screen and he ALSO has a painfully slow conversation with Mega Man, ALSO unskippable, ALSO without the ability to speed the text up. At this point I should have known I was in for something kind of really bad, but then the game finally lets you play for real. I guess you get maybe a minute of traversal and shooting time, not particularly inspired, before the game then gives you MORE cut scenes. Man.<br>
This opening is a little too indicative of the overall experience with Mega Man 7. Alongside continuing the depressing trends from the last few NES games--more lame or repeat bosses, less interesting music and perhaps the worst sound effects the series has seen, and so on--Mega Man 7 has the distinction of being one of the slowest feeling games ever. Mega Man's animations feels a little too deliberate and not fast enough, boss battles are LONG wars of attrition once you recognize what is usually an easy pattern, and so on and so forth. Every time you defeat a boss and get their weapon, Mega Man has a way-too-long interaction with Dr. Light about his new arsenal; I kind of miss just being told the fucking weapon name I have and trying it out for myself. The argument for why they do it is that weapons can actually interact more with the stages, one of the few interesting additions to the game. An ice power can make the weather on one stage snow instead of rain or clear skies, electricity can be used in Dust Man's level to power equipment, and other pretty interesting ways of making bland levels replayable [the only problem of course being that they're bland levels].<br>
One of the biggest departures from the first six games--and honestly one of the most frustrating things about it--is the way bosses and their weapons are handled. The weapons are boring but that's the least of Mega Man 7's problems. At the start of the game you can only choose from four of the inevitable eight robot bosses; it's only after you've cleared these four that you get access to the other four. The coolest part of Mega Man has always been guessing which boss to tackle first, which bosses will give you weapons that will be effective against other ones, and so on. Aside from not even being able to see the name of the boss until you've selected his level so you can't even guess for the first four, the game has the balls to FORCE the player to not have an effective weapon against one or two of the first four bosses as their weaknesses are weapons provided by the next eight. Therefore, you can't exploit those bosses for their weaknesses until you've reached the again-inevitable eight-boss showdown in Wily's fortress. Even worse, the game further discourages playing around with weapons by making their use against certain bosses actually punish you. Bosses like Spring Man and Turbo Man are in fact empowered by the electricity weapon, making that weapon in particular a dangerous one to experiment with. It could sound like a positive in a more smartly constructed game but here it's frustrating because the series has benefited from this simple rock-paper-scissors relationship that wasn't going to fire back at you. It's the only challenge the game really provides--cheap punishment for experimentation.
*** [NES] 07/12/11 - And so the trend continues with MM6. The additions to MM6 are actually kind of ridiculous compared to previous games. For example, the jet and power versions of Mega Man are essentially infinite abilities that don't burden the player with rejuvenation through weapon pickups [although you can only jet for a limited amount of time]. Another weird addition is multiple exits; four of the levels feature "real" paths and "fake" paths where the robot master will be the same with either path and Mega Man will get the boss's power regardless but only the "real" path will allow Mega Man to collect one of the four parts for super secret weapon Beat. Beat, introduced in MM5, doesn't seem as useful this time around, but then again Beat made the final boss of MM5 an effortless cakewalk and the developers here must have taken note as Beat completely ignored the final form of Wily this time around. But for all these inspired upgrades, again the boss characters and level design degrade with it. Blizzard, Wind and Flame Man are boring rehashes of every fire, ice and air boss in previous games, and while a lot of the bosses have a weirdly connective theme to them--at least four are weird warrior class types in history and mythology, each of which is weak to the weapon of one of the others--it's also the time when the Mega Man franchise inevitably caved into the still-going depressing trend of generic Native American stereotype characters in Tomahawk Man. And what's Tomahawk Man's weakness? Plant Man's weapon. Sigh.
*** [NES] 07/11/11 - It seems to be a trend in the NES Mega Man games where, starting with 3, upgrades in the mechanics and variety of the actual gameplay is balancing out the less inspired design. 5, much like 4, has a boring assortment of villains that don't make for very interesting levels, although 5 is more interesting gameplay-wise. 5 is the first game where I ran into an M-tank, an item I never actually used, although research suggests it's a "mystery tank" as opposed to a weapon refill tank like I had assumed. One weird thing about MM5--and maybe it was just my luck--is that the game practically forced extra lives down my throat; there was more than one instance in which I received two straight extra life drops from enemies and on one such occasion I actually received three in a row. The game's difficulty doesn't feel too different from MM4 otherwise so it made for an even less threatening experience for me as a player. Again bosses barely seem to try although the occasionally cool level and boss fight--Gravity Man in particular stands out--makes up for what feels like going through the motions again.
½ [PC] 07/10/11 - My only exposure to Duke Nukem in the past has been the third-person shooters on the Playstation, pretty aggressively dumb but not the worst things in the world. Duke would throw out movie catch phrases in what were pretty action- and secret-packed levels. It didn't respect women, but it also didn't necessarily dwell on that notion, and while you knew Duke was a pretty despicable asshole, the games were okay and, God forbid, in some corner of my mind that must have made his antics excusable. It was also at a time when games weren't very evolved in terms of visuals or audio presentation, especially voice work. In other words you could say that the developers of Time to Kill couldn't really exploit the horrible potential of the Duke character; dumb, silly shooters would have to suffice. Here we are over a decade later with Duke Nukem Forever, and a thought persisted as I played it: if there is a Hell, I hope Duke Nukem Forever has a reservation in one of its deepest circles. Only a game like Duke Nukem Forever can make me hate this hobby I love; it is a game with such an insufferable amount of contempt that I questioned this thing I have done for the last 20-plus years of my life.<br>
There are obvious things that Duke Nukem hates, starting with women. Even as someone who didn't play a lot of Duke growing up, his misogyny was pretty evident; in the Duke world, women are objects of sexual pleasure, the rewards of Duke's valiant efforts and the hopeless victims that have to be saved. The misogyny of Duke Nukem Forever, however, shows absolutely terrifying colors in one level in particular titled "The Hive." Duke is exploring the underground and comes across an alien hive where the women, being kidnapped en masse, are brought. The reasoning isn't evident at first but it is eventually revealed that the aliens are using the women for breeding purposes. Thus, in "The Hive" Duke comes across wailing, terrified, demeaned women being raped by alien pod-like creatures; some of these women, if Duke doesn't put them out of their misery by taking their lives, will explode, birthing a handful of small violent aliens that Duke must then take care of. It reads like a fucking nightmare for any medium, a horror show of depressing proportions, but DNF makes it even more disturbing by giving the player numerous sociopathic reasons to dismiss what they're seeing. For one, Duke spouts off empty concern about how the aliens are going to pay for what they're doing to these women, and if you euthanize the suffering women Duke will say things like "it's better this way." At the same time Duke makes cracks about the predicament--"why do they always gotta take the hot ones?" he wonders aloud a few times. The worst of it is when the player discovers alien wall tits in one of the hive rooms, in the same room as a handful of imprisoned women who are concurrently being raped. As the women cry, vomit, and moan, you as the player are given the opportunity to slap the wall tits to throw out some real witticisms like "strange silicone-based lifeform" and "got milk?" The incentive for interacting with objects all over the Duke world is already there, as doing things like shooting basketballs into hoops, throwing discs, playing pinball, or admiring yourself in the mirror are actions that can provide the player with permanent health meter boosts. If you don't do it you'll have a slight disadvantage when it comes to the rougher battles--of which there are many since combat can often be a hazy clusterfuck--so essentially the player is encouraged to not only devalue women, but to devalue them as they are being raped by aliens while screaming for help. This is a thing that exists in this game, and if it's not hateful I don't know what is.<br>
But the game isn't just hateful to women, it's hateful towards the game industry. Duke was always meant to be the shallow-but-fun counterpoint to the notion of "serious" games, but here Duke repeatedly calls out other games as if to suggest that not only does Duke compare to modern shooters but that it actually surpasses them because, hey, Duke Nukem Forever doesn't take itself seriously! The game verbally attacks, for example, Halo, Gears of War, Dead Space, and Valve's output. You can presume it's all in jest if you want, but you can't ignore that those games are largely considered benchmarks of their respective genres, especially in Halo's popularizing of numerous mechanics still used today such as regenerating health [a mechanic that, um, Duke Nukem Forever uses] and the immense impact Gears of War has had on the popularity of cover-based third-person shooters. "Guess they deserve to be taken down a peg!!", Duke might say if he wasn't so fucking busy misquoting <i>RoboCop</i> or <i>Predator</i> or singing "America, fuck yeah!" off-key. Yet it encompasses so many of the tricks those games employ, and at a severely diminished quality, that it's not funny, it's just embarassing. It's part of the construction of this Duke universe though, the idea that simply acknowledging the existence of other things, asking the audience if they know what the reference comes from, is hysterical and clever. Maybe next time they would be smarter not to acknowledge that shooters have actually evolved since the last first-person Duke game, and DNF is spending an embarassing amount of time [as in, any] trying to catch up.<br>
But one of the strongest offenses DNF makes is that it is wholly devoted to hatred towards the player. Never mind that a game sparsely littered with enemies that focuses on first-person platforming is probably not what Duke fans wanted in the first place, but I'm guessing first-person platforming has been, you know, good before. Mirror's Edge is popular with a fair number of people, and I imagine its unique first-person parkour has a lot to do with it. Yet here the player is forced to navigate through numerous boring open rooms with boxes, couches, tables, and whatever else that can be used as platforms, often for what feels like an endless stretch of time. Lazy game design is almost expected at this point, what with the game being in development since before there was even a fucking Y2K crisis, but the laziness isn't enough for the 27 developers that had their hands on this project. One set of levels in particular has Duke repeatedly tracking down additional canisters of gasoline in order to proceed in his Monster Truck of Doom for another, say, 2 and a half minutes before it runs out of gas again. The game even puts more than one gas canister in front of you at a time when you track them down, yet Duke only takes one, apparently completely oblivious to his vehicle problems. Well I guess the joke was on me because Duke was certainly aware of it; after the truck finally meets its end, Duke is bummed out and says "and it got such good gas mileage." In other words, the player is forced to go through INSANELY prolonged sequence after sequence getting gas canisters so Duke can make a joke about the suffering the player has just gone through. The game actually laughs at the player under the guise of laughing with them--wasn't that sequence such total bullshit? I know, right? LOL! It's a hateful and lazy gesture, much like the game's endless stream of half-assed movie quotes and visual references. And most of it can't even blamed on the game's lengthy development process since a large portion of the "jokes" are modern references. Take for example a completely retarded reference to <i>Inception</i> in which Duke can spot a top spinning endlessly. It's a lazy reference to the fact that the level--a disgusting, sleazy strip club sequence in which Duke has to retrieve a dildo, condom, and bag of popcorn so he can receive a lap dance--is just a dream. Of course it comes off as a nightmare because, like the majority of the game, it's so slowly paced and boring that you're left to revel in the filth of it all.<br>
But it's okay! I mean, all of this is totally perfectly fine because Duke Nukem Forever is just a big, dumb, fun game and you're not meant to analyze it! Turn off your brain, the cries go, and just enjoy it for what it is! I'm reminded of <a href=http://filmfreakcentral.net/screenreviews/transformers3.htm>Walter Chaw's scathing review of the new Transformers</a>--at some point amoral garbage has to be called out for being amoral garbage. Just because "it's just a video game" doesn't mean it can't leave an impression; the implication is that we as gamers should simply accept the game's frightening attitude of American superiority, its lack of respect for just about everything except Duke Nukem himself, its trivializing of political action as a "pussy" alternative to just shootin' 'em til they all dead. It's a game that's proud of itself, a game that celebrates Duke Nukem as the epitome of perfection without spending any time having Duke dwell on just how disgusting he is. Women practically burst out in orgasms at the sight of him, men all want to be him, and even when he's been shrunk down to small size grown women dream of petting him or using his body for, well, you can probably guess. It's utterly, utterly repulsive just how much people love him, and all the game's "humor" is directed away from the pathetic nature of his character. Games like Duke Nukem Forever highlight just how dangerous the game medium can be; with the addition of interactivity you risk people actually identifying with someone like Duke Nukem. The only comfort I can take from the game's existence--and it makes me uncomfortable as I'm not someone who likes to assume any sort of higher moral ground--is that, well, maybe I'll be able to better predict who the real jackasses are.
***½  07/07/11 - As a puzzle game, Stacking isn't necessarily the best thing. A good number of the solutions are creative but there are some pretty arbitrary ones as well--it's a good thing the game doesn't require you to find all the solutions to a particular situation before moving on, though I did anyway because trying to guess what Double Fine is up to is half the fun. The best part of the game--almost predictably since it's a Double Fine game--is the disgustingly large amount of charm it has. The core mechanic of jumping into other stacking dolls to inherit their abilities is both very clever and kind of gross [but in a light way!] if you think about it for too long. I love that, while many of the abilities you can find in other dolls are useful, a lot of them are also just aesthetic, pointless, and entertaining. Abilities such as blowing bubblegum, telling long-winded stories, reading the newspaper, and so on don't actually appear to have a game world impact but they're still adorable and reflect the personalities of Double Fine really well. As far as Double Fine games go, this is probably my favorite as it plays the best as a video game; by taking on a mechanically basic premise of solving puzzles while still offering a new way of presenting them--stealth mechanics by hiding in other dolls and so on--it shows that the company is willing to make creative gameplay now as opposed to just weird marriages of genres or slightly clumsy execution. Trenched looks pretty promising too as probably the only tower defense game I could thoroughly enjoy, but it'll have to wait.
*****  07/06/11 - Rez was a really cool and surprising title in the early aughts that showed games should be considering how rhythm and music are integrated into the overall interactive experience. It also had a distinct visual style to boot, and while its consistency might have led to some fatigue by the end, there was no denying that Rez was something pretty crazy and special. Nearly ten years later and Kinect support has given Mizuguchi and the crazy people at Q? Entertainment a breathtaking level of inspiration for a spiritually similar experience.<br>
Ignoring the notion that Child of Eden doesn't offer value--because the very notion is silly considering what people are willing to spend 50 or more dollars on--the most important thing to note about the title is that it offers two very different experiences worth addressing individually. The controller experience is largely similar to that of Rez; although Eden sports a secondary shooting weapon, the base mechanics are largely identical, although that means that there are now two games that offer such an experience. Neither game is really a shooter though; to be successful in these games from a scoring perspective depends on the player's sense of rhythm. Releasing an octalock attack in rhythm with the music offers a score multiplier, and levels are often designed in such a way that clever players can play the majority of them with constant perfect octalocks. The game helps you out via controller vibration if you're rhythmically challenged, but at some point I stopped even noticing the vibration. Child of Eden does something better than even Rez was capable of, a mix for the senses so strong that it was easier for me to get sucked into the experience.<br>
That's not even acknowledging the new way to play this Rez-style shooter, the Kinect, which could not be more different. You certainly could blast with your hands in rhythm with the music--it eventually becomes a dance game at that point and it feels surreal--but the utilization of Kinect offers the sense of exploration that the controller is incapable of. Overall I still probably preferred the controller experience as I am a rhythm gamer at heart, but I'm convinced there will not be a Kinect experience nearly as special as Child of Eden. James Cameron can talk about immersion with 3D as much as he wants--real immersion is an actual interaction with the world on terms that the person can handle, and nothing comes even remotely close to what Child of Eden has accomplished here. Levels may only be 10-15 minutes but that length of time was easily enough for me to forget my surroundings shockingly fast. When levels ended and I was removed from the experience I would say it was even mildly upsetting--not in a bad way, more so that I wanted to be part of the world for just a little longer.<br>
Both of these experiences are applied to an emotional narrative that is rarely seen in any medium. The closest analogs I can think of are two 2006 films, Michel Gondry's <i>The Science of Sleep</i> and Darren Aronofsky's <i>The Fountain.</i> Both films are unchecked, raw, and emotionally honest in a way that put their directors out there for the world to see. Child of Eden sports a narrative set in the future in which the internet is a high-concept representation of the world experience, an archive of everything the world has been through. As such, the levels reflect different notions of this experience. For example Passion explores urbanization and Evolution is...well, I guess pretty self-explanatory. Each level sports a completely new style, and while this suggests a level of inconsistency that Rez doesn't have, I think that's kind of the point. Last time I checked, the human experience is a pretty messy one, and in a way Mizuguchi and Q? have captured the imperfect perfectly. The game sports a level of sincerity that's just far too rare, the kind of optimism for humanity that's infectious.<br>
In a way this is ultimately what video games should strive to be. Whether it be through the actual controls like Child of Eden and the Kinect, or stunning realization of a mythology a la Mass Effect, what makes games powerful is immersion paired with interaction. And yet for the unique experience Child of Eden provides, all people can think to do is suggest they may not be getting value for their money. It's a sentiment that's directly at odds with Child of Eden's philosophy, and it's a bit depressing; all I know is I'm glad Mizuguchi and his team are optimists in a pessimistic world if these are the fruits of that labor.
**** [NES] 07/05/11 - There is probably no classic era song that can remotely compare to the <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjG2ZjPqzzE>first level music of Journey to Silius</a>, and I'm not going to lie, that has a lot to do with why I played the game today in the first place. One of my fondest early video game memories is renting this game, doing very poorly at it and yet never being able to get that goddamn song out of my head. It took 18 years for me to even remember what the game was called until I described the game to a friend who was able to pinpoint the title.<br>
My nostalgia for this game is very hard to separate from my concrete feelings about playing it now. However nostalgia can't change that, regardless of gameplay, very few games of the era can compare musically with the consistent work of Sunsoft's composers in the early 90s. Journey to Silius is probably the best of them all; it's music that comes alive immediately, and while the game is never able to equal its first stage in terms of intensity or melody it's not for lack of trying--all the levels feature incredible tunes.<br>
The gameplay itself is a little harder to defend, steeped as it is in the tradition of being an asshole NES game. The game is fair enough in that you can continue from the beginning of a level if you lose all your lives, and the checkpointing feels reasonable. While the levels themselves can occasionally be intricately designed traps meant to frustrate the player via surprise or straight-up unfairness, the boss fights really shine. They're the kinds of fights that rely on the player recognizing a safe zone and utilizing it in a strategic way; the player that can look beyond the chaos calmly can persevere without much struggle. This is especially true of the ridiculous looking but altogether totally doable third boss, a huge gun wall shooting a clusterfuck of cleverly laid out laser blasts. My mind may be clouded by recent run-ins with Mega Man, but boss fights hardly ever seem fair in the NES days even with pattern recognition; Journey to Silius is the rare game that rewards it, and it's very satisfying.
****½ [PC] 07/04/11 - What makes Loom so engaging and surprising for me, someone who has been exposed to so many adventure games that it's hard to be surprised, is the very unique spell mechanic that the game has. It's a very clever thing, the idea that you can learn a key combination for an "open" spell, but the best part is when you realize that the key combination backwards is "close." It sounds so quaint when I write it out like that, but jotting down spell key combinations as I played through the game, noting combinations that I wasn't sure of the effect for and getting to try them out later to try to solve puzzles [none of which are that challenging but still feel pretty clever]--that's a feeling I haven't had since I, to use a cliche, was using graphing paper to map out games as a child. Am I a loser for letting that overcome me again? Probably, but Loom has a really fun tone to it too, both quite dead serious in the somber, weighty drama that unfolds as well as a very light tone that reminds of the other LucasArts adventure games of the time like Monkey Island. It's a poignant and funny journey while it lasts--the only flaw I can think of is I wish it could be three times longer at least.
***½ [NES] 07/04/11 - Mendel Palace is a game I really, really want to love really badly. The core gameplay--trying to throw enemies against walls by flipping the tiles underneath them--is really solid, and kind of reminds me of Bomberman in a weird way. The game keeps things fresh too, having the enemies possess different bizarre skills on each of the levels. The expected skills are there, such as jumping enemies that make flipping tiles difficult, but then there are really creative ones like little girls that draw on the tiles with chalk to make enemies and items. It's also a very attractive game, heavy on light greens, blues and pinks to evoke childlike qualities. The childish appearance is however incredibly deceptive; at first it's easygoing, but the game gets INCREDIBLY difficult, so much so that it started to hamper my enjoyment.
*** [NES] 07/04/11 - It may be kind of hard to like Adventures in the Magic Kingdom but it's also pretty hard to hate it. It's a cute representation of That Magical Place and a pretty solid gameplay experience, one that is incredibly short lived. It's essentially five levels--granted they are five pretty different types of levels, ranging from platformers to racing to quick time events at the various attractions--and a trivia game all wrapped up into one 15-20 minute sitting. It has quite the charm.
**½ [NES] 07/03/11 - Isometric puzzle/RPG/adventure game that is kind of boring. Not much personality to it--the aesthetic is generic fantasy, and the controls are very methodical. Rooms don't really vary too much either and the puzzles are either repetitive or hard to navigate because the sense of space is pretty bad. I do like that the game provides ways of breaking its own controls. Pretty sure I'm not supposed to be able to pick up a block at the same time as I jump, then put the block down in mid-air and vault from it to get what is like a quadruple jump.
*** [NES] 07/03/11 - Mega Man 4 returns the series to a slightly easier time on the player similar to 2, but in this case it's almost fatal to the game's enjoyment. The best way to illustrate it is by thinking of the laziness of the creation of Toad Man. Never mind that Toad Man isn't a great idea for a boss in the first place, but the realization that he can't actually hurt you unless you stop hitting him almost blew my mind. His attack pattern is actually interrupted by Mega Man. Really? Similarly, one of the final three bosses of the game--the requisite "big ship battle" that the series appears to rely on--actually can't hurt you if you're standing right in front of it. One of the final bosses in the damn game! 4 is a pretty inconsistent experience; on the one hand you have bosses like Toad Man who barely even try to hurt you, and on the other hand you have your typical unfair checkpointing when things do actually get difficult. And of the first four games in the series, 4 by far has the worst set of bosses and levels as far as creativity. Ring Man's level aside--a visual feast and fun to play to boot--there is practically no life in the game. Where is the kind of creepy drill creatures from the Metal Man stage in 2 or even the [at least for half of it] eerie design of the Snake Man stage from 3 that has the player traverse a snake? Aside from the Ring Man level nothing in the game grabs at all, and even that level doesn't really compare to the vibrancy of 2. Again though, the core mechanics of Mega Man still work, and that's what makes the game still enjoyable despite all its faults. The introduction of the charge shot [something I thought was specific to the X series] is also welcome; I've read that some people feel it to be a game breaking mechanic but I can only assume most of those people want their games to be jerks. Mega Man 2 was one hell of a peak though, so to avoid getting depressed by where the series goes from there I think I'll take a break from it...
***½ [NES] 07/03/11 - Mega Man 3 is probably a bigger asshole than 1, and a lot of it can't even be excused by poor design like the air platforms of the first title. Many of the levels are designed to fuck with you, and while some of that is certainly inspired, it's also a pretty frustrating experience sometimes. You can also tell that this is the point at which bosses were going to become a problem for the series--not due to difficulty although Shadow Man is certainly one of the biggest jerks ever, but more because "Top Man" and "Hard Man" are just several examples that illustrate the creative minds behind the series are running out of ideas for cool bosses. There is a punchline just waiting to be written about Dr. Wily getting fed up with our protagonist's work and demanding that his cronies "get the top man" to finally take him out, only to get Top Man instead. [Did that already happen? Maybe? The internet has a lot of comics, so probably!] The four secondary stages after the player has overcome the initial eight robot masters are also kind of a fucking joke as far as how mean the game can truly get. The checkpointing is just so brutal that it's endlessly frustrating. Good thing there is some solid gameplay still under it! I also rather enjoyed the [little] story of the game, specifically the Proto Man story and the explanation of the robots' initial purposes after you complete the game; it gives the fiction a little more weight which is always nice. The music is also pretty fantastic, my favorite tunes being those for Spark Man and Gemini Man. At least when the gameplay doesn't necessarily flow the soundtrack generally does.
****½ [NES] 07/02/11 - Mega Man 2 improves on the first in so many ways it's kind of laughable. Superficially the design is incredible for any NES game; visuals really pop and the music is rather incredible. Mechanically the game also makes a large number of improvements, starting with level design that remains challenging but is consistently fair and creative. Some of the levels contain gimmicks that are incredibly fresh, especially Quick Man's level [seriously fuck that guy's level though he is a jerk]. The smartest addition by far is the introduction of the E-tank system that allows the player to refill health. While I didn't find myself using it until near the end of the game, it's nice to know that you can prevent losing progress by popping one if you have them stocked. Everything about the game just oozes with the sort of creativity and intelligence that you'd like to see in a sequel to a title with great ideas but flawed execution. I love the ending to the game as well; it's a weirdly beautiful and contemplative montage for a game about robots. The game haunts elsewhere too. For example, it's a subtle touch but there is something really creepy about the drill robots coming from the ground and ceiling in the Metal Man stage. It's probably one of the best action platformers I've ever played--the only downside is it's probably convinced me that every Mega Man game is worth investigating and I have a feeling I'm going to regret it.
***½ [NES] 07/02/11 - As the first in the series, Mega Man has some pretty clear first-try issues, most of which are through the game's unfair design at times. The best example is when platforms that take the form of enemies not only shoot at you but also may spawn at "bad" times, making it actually impossible to proceed without dying or perhaps creative backtracking. Regardless of the series' reputation for difficulty, that's not difficult, that's just poorly planned. Regardless, Mega Man's levels are still challenging in a fun way a lot of the time, and the Rock-Paper-Scissors boss mechanic is still one of the most interesting uses of weapon variety in platformers. It's fun to guess what robot masters' weapons will be effective agaisnt others before even entering stages, and while some feel forced others come naturally or reward thinking creatively for connections. It's kind of an asshole, but like Ninja Gaiden it's an admirable one.
***½ [PC] 07/01/11 - Man, Jamestown sure bums me out. On the one hand it's incredible--the alternate-historical story at hand is so hilariously realized and poker-faced about the whole thing that it's pretty amazing. The notion of mixing colonial history with space shooters on Mars works surprisingly well, if only to get the attention of someone like myself who can get bored with how similar these vertical bullet-hell shooters can look. The mid-90s aesthetic really pops too, both in the actual level and enemy designs as well as in the fantastic drawings during story segments. The music is also ridiculous and catchy, sporting that SNES style with some more complex instrumentation than one might be used to from that era. It's appropriately epic and wonderful.<br>
The game also sports a really engaging gameplay mechanic with the vaunt meter, a bar you fill up by collecting gears from destroyed ships and buildings. When you unleash your vaunt meter you have a brief shield and also start the draining of the bar; the longer the bar is able to stay above zero, the longer the player has to experience bonuses like score and damage multipliers and the bigger the score bonus when it finally does run out. For high score fiends it's kind of genius. Various ship types keep levels fresh too.<br>
What really rubs me the wrong way is that the game has an old game trapping that's really annoying. I don't play bullet-hell shooters for the challenge but instead for the craziness of it all, the appeal of blowing stuff up, and so on. Maybe that's the problem in the first place, but when the game offers a comfortable difficulty level I want to be able to cruise through the game on it and--if I feel compelled enough--I'll revisit on higher difficulties, especially given the incentive to earn enough ducats to unlock weird things like the "farce mode." Instead, Jamestown is designed so that the last two levels can't be played on normal. Level 4 can't be played unless you've completed the first three levels on the difficulty level above normal, and level 5 requires completion of 1-4 on a difficulty level above THAT. Some might call that replayability, but I would call it bullshit. Why would you design the game like this? I managed to unlock the final level but I always die on the final boss, and I assume I could beat it with some patience but it's not something I would enjoy doing so instead I looked up the final cutscene on youTube. When you're presented with such an incredibly weird story, I can't imagine the developers would want to prevent less skilled players from seeing all of it, and yet here we are. Thanks for the ride anyway, guys--hope you make some cool stuff in the future.
****  06/29/11 - I would never claim to be a fighting game expert or even a fan because, for the most part, the genre is overwhelming to me. That's largely why Mortal Kombat is so incredibly appealing from a mechanics standpoint. Many of the moves are two directions and a button, and many of the characters share the same directional combo between the majority of their moves. It's more about timing than it is execution of ludicrous button inputs--although you'd certainly benefit from learning how to juggle and combo effectively, which requires a fair amount of memorization of crazy combo orders--and, while I still wouldn't say I'm good at it, I'm way better at it than I ever will be at something like Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom. [<a href=http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/9/2011/02/wowreally.jpg>Seriously, what the fuck does this even mean?</a>] There's a great variety to the characters as far as combat styles, enough so that it's easy to figure out early on which characters will appeal to you. As a fan of crazy teleport shit and projectiles, characters like Smoke, Mileena, and Ermac were immediately fun as hell, whereas other characters such as Kitana, Noob Saibot, Cyber Sub-Zero, and Quan Chi could prove awesome with some more practice. These are not thoughts that would typically spring from my mind, but Mortal Kombat's [relative] simplicity and still-rewarding depth have brought it out of me. <br>
What I certainly wouldn't expect for a fighting game is the ability to compliment its single player options. Again, not being big into fighting games, I don't necessarily have that competitive streak and, were I ever to develop one, it would benefit me greatly to have a fun way of practicing on the CPU before I bring my game to the net. Mortal Kombat's single player is surprisingly robust and engaging. The story mode cleverly interweaves numerous characters, forcing you to learn new characters constantly and giving the player a great excuse to find out whether a character truly is appealing to them or not. There are also enough difficulty options that even novices can probably make their way through the mode. Having finished the campaign on medium, the end game was certainly frustrating and other fights were pretty challenging, but I eventually made my way through it and enjoyed it for the most part.<br>
Another interesting offering is the Challenge Tower mode which has a lot of creativity put into it. A lot of the challenges are ludicrously fun in their absurdity. Thank God the game lets you skip challenges though since some of them are next to impossible. Challenges such as the one in which you, as Stryker, must defeat three Shao Kahns are just... well, you eventually learn how to cheese fights like that if you try to beat them, and that's not a particularly fun way to play. Even more than the campaign mode though, it provides a controlled opportunity for players to try out characters in a variety of ways. It's subtle but smart; I probably wouldn't have played as Mileena if not for the Tower.<br>
What really disturbed me is that, ultimately, Mortal Kombat won me over enough to try my hands at online ranked multiplayer. I haven't played much of it yet, but I've played enough of it to figure out that the game is going to be pretty intelligent about matching me with other fighters that will likely be at my skill level; I'm hovering at around .500, and for someone who doesn't play fighting games a lot that seems pretty fair, especially as someone who expected to win maybe one out of every five matches. I'm still learning a lot about the game and its characters; that I'm willing to try in the first place is something that I'm still struggling to come to terms with.<br>
Also the babalities are fucking adorable.
**** [NES] 06/29/11 - Very solid puzzle game that caught me by surprise. It's like a weird reverse Tetris mixed with dominoes or dice in which you swap between 1-6 on the die of your player, then shoot it up to match dice that are falling down at you row by row. The objective is simply to clear the screen of all the dice and progress to the next level, but the game also lets you create combinations via a system that keeps track of up to the last six dice you've taken down. When you have interesting number combinations in this "stored" area you can activate it to clear up to 5 lines [at least from what I found, maybe there are better combinations] at one time, creating a nice point combo. It's really satisfying to be able to get a 1-6 straight because it clears 5 lines. The solo game is really chill, pretty easy to handle even on the harder difficulties as long as you know what you're doing. However, where the game really shines is the tournament mode [and I assume 2P mode] where you play against another player frantically trying to create combos in order to ruin their side of the field. The opponent AI seems fair on the whole but still pushes you quite hard. That the game provides both a competitive and harsh mode as well as a more relaxed one is one of its stronger assets, as far as puzzle games go. Music is super catchy too.
**½ [NES] 06/29/11 - This game almost feels like a polar opposite of Burai Fighter. The music is entertaining and light, and the visual style is pretty adorable as you play as what looks like a baby digging through caverns and making your way to the bottom of levels. The thing that sucks about it though is the gameplay, which has a very weird responsiveness to it. The use of ladders, dynamite, etc. to aid your navigation is fine enough, but the controls are too responsive and your baby/kid character is a very inadequate fighter against the cavern adversaries like bugs and... more bugs. Animation is definitely prioritized in this game, and while it's pretty solid for an NES game it's still a little frustrating for the controls.
*** [NES] 06/29/11 - Pretty cool shooter. Really fond of the way the game lets you shoot in eight directions even as the game largely acts as a horizontal shooter in the vein of R-Type. The game keeps things fresh by altering gameplay on certain levels also which is pretty welcome. Music and visuals are kind of unappealing though; with the music I always had a transition from "this is a neat beat" to "oh god that really is going to loop isn't it" by the end of a level.
*** [NES] 06/29/11 - Much like the first Ninja Gaiden, Dark Sword of Chaos is an asshole. It's a fun game, with lots of polish, slick controls, a great aesthetic, and dope music. But it's still an asshole, so it's kind of a hard game to love, or sometimes even like. I gave up on act 3--I'm not the best gamer in the world--but I still enjoyed my time with it. But fuck off, seriously. :(
*** [iOS] 06/28/11 - League of Evil is pretty Super Meat Boy-ish but, for the most part, it understands the platform it's on and provides a difficulty curve that can feel similar to SMB given the limitations of iOS. If you were to play League of Evil with a keyboard or controller it would be a fairly easy game, but the touch controls make the gameplay slightly more frantic, although it still doesn't always compare to the difficult platformers of today. That's not an inherent knock on the game, but it would be preferable to be difficult because it's similar to SMB instead of difficult because sometimes the buttons don't respond as well as you might like, something I experienced on several occasions. Eventually the novelty of the design wears out, but it's a nifty, well-crafted product.
***  06/28/11 - As self-described by the developers, "Geometry Wars meets Gauntlet" is a pretty accurate description of the game. Again, Radiangames provides a classic experience with an upgrade mechanic that makes it more engaging than would be typical. The difference is that I'm a big fan of Galaga so Crossfire 2 is right up my alley. On the other hand, I don't like Gauntlet so the addition of the upgrade mechanic, in conjunction with the dual joystick shooting, isn't as big of an improvement. Still, for my dollar I was able to get an hour and a half out of the standard campaign, not having much trouble until level 28 or so [out of 30].
***½  06/27/11 - Really engaging riff on Space Invaders / Galaga. Love the weird ass upgrade system that lets you distribute and redistribute points at will, and the mechanic that flips you to the other side of the stage is really novel and smart. The game is pretty easy on the default difficulty, or at least I didn't see myself running into any problems on Conquest and Conquest Plus. Look forward to doing Score Attack since that's where the leaderboards come into play. As basically an expert on indie games [being the proud owner of <u>four</u> of them] I'm going to say this is probably the best one available.
*** [PC] 06/21/11 - It's impossible to address Bulletstorm without first getting its language off my chest because I've been receiving mixed signals. A lot has been made of the game's creative vulgarity, and I'm certain I never heard "dicktits" outside the context of the game until its existence, but I feel as though the profanity's been blown out of proportion. Maybe it's just because I didn't play the multiplayer or echo modes, in which players probably get more exposure to Sarrano, but a large portion of the profanity is restrained in the single player, or is at the very least the kind of generic amount of swearing and tough-guy bromancing you would hear in That Other Epic Property. The more creative--and frequently borderline insufferable--swearing is relegated to the early portion of the game and the last two acts, therefore not enough to really grate all that much but also not enough to distinguish it from, again, That Other Epic Property. The writing is bad, that much is clear, and while the voice actors give the game a fair amount of energy it's just hard to pull off something that is as consistently unfunny as the script here. It aims for laughs through its vulgarity and bizarre references to other properties like The Simpsons, and they're all fairly awkward. It's, like the story, something you bear through in order to enjoy the combat itself.<br>
Also, the game has a story. The extraordinarily unlikable characters presumably go through development over the course of the game, encountering increasingly difficult obstacles and eventually learning to grow together. I guess I spoiled it. You can simplify a lot of stories to make them sound worse than they actually are, but I feel like I just gave this one's story too much credit by even writing a paragraph for it.<br>
The major draw for me in playing Bulletstorm was the skillshot combat system, and I do commend the game's attempt to make first person shooters interesting. The weapons are well designed for the purposes of the system, with crazy means of destruction like rocket-propelled drills and remote-controlled explosive sniper bullets that can even maneuver enemies closer to others before being remotely detonated. Shit is pretty crazy, that's easy to see, but as I played the game I encountered two problems with the system. For one, rooms are frequently set up in specific environmental-skillshot ways and, well, that doesn't really foster creativity, but it can still make for entertaining setpieces. Secondly, there just comes a point in the game where you find the weapons you like and you kind of stick to them, and you do the kills that you want to do over and over. I don't know if that's my own lack of creativity in how I used the weapons, but I didn't look at the skillshot list at all in the course of my playthrough and still managed to get approximately 90 of the 130+ skillshot types largely by accident, so unless I was forced to switch on the battlefield and no upgrade/ammo stations were around, I had no real incentive to switch it up. I assume everyone will have their favorites, and none of the weapons feel particularly bad [I might not give too much credit to the cannonball weapon though], so that's a solid victory for a genre in which certain weapons can frequently feel overpowered compared to others. Another minor bummer is that a fair number of the skillshots are very battle specific; a handful involve bosses where I'm pretty sure the only way to kill them is to perform the environmental skillshot, and the opportunities never come up again so they're just ways for the game to dole out large point bonuses. Still, as someone who has never been too skilled with lining up headshots, this game's weaponry is kind of brilliant. The moments of large-scale battles where the game more or less leaves you to your own devices are the best ones; going crazy with the thumper, chaining weird explosives, and just creating all sorts of mayhem are when the game really shines.<br>
It's a smart step in the right direction for shooters in that it [mostly to great success] combats the problem of just aiming for headshots, so the game deserves a fair amount of credit. It can be pretty fun to play, especially near the end when the action ramps up. It's just so weird that a shooter with a fair amount of creativity can feel like a repetitive chore so frequently.
**** [PC] 06/12/11 - I really enjoy the perfectly crazy, old school sensibilities of TrackMania in that, while the controls aren't all that complex, they're still both intuitive and nuanced enough to handle some pretty crazy tracks. In the grand scheme of things it's a very dumb racing game, but I don't necessarily want to play Forza anyway and the community track playlists and absolutely nutty designs you can play through online make everything about the package worth it; you're guaranteed a new experience every time you boot the game up, and only having the free version of TrackMania doesn't impose too many limitations. I figured it would be the kind of game I would only pick up for 20 minute chunks to shoot through some courses, but I've found myself on several occasions playing it for two hours or so, something I frequently encountered playing something like Picross 3D. The game design is just such an addicting loop of trying a course over and over to shave off millionths of a second off your best time, and most of the courses are designed to be incredibly short, or at least the better ones seem to--not really excited about the "RPG tracks" but it's amazing that that kind of nonsense can exist anyway.
****  06/01/11 - Enslaved immediately announces itself as a unique game through its strong visuals. Ever since the Gaming Apocalypse that encouraged extraordinarily detailed dirty and grimy environments, it's been harder to come across games that feature a color palette that isn't dominantly brown, but the world of Enslaved is incredibly bright and colorful, featuring a vast array primarily of greens but also blues and reds. The lighting reminds of the beautifully bright landscapes of Shadow of the Colossus and are equally important here as a reminder that this universe is, in a way, a living hell, with a sweltering heat that adds to the everyday struggle. The apocalyptic world of Enslaved is also refreshing in its view of a wasteland in that it's largely nature taking over as opposed to simply broken down buildings. It gives the game a unique and very fitting feel for a future that feels more primitive than futuristic, but not in a Fallout or Mad Max kind of way. It's a world where survivors are desperately competing for resources, but it's not necessarily a world without hope.<br>
Enslaved is a masterclass of atmosphere, setting, and characters; its only shortcomings are in a few choices regarding gameplay. Mechanically--and this is arguably an issue with Shadow of the Colossus as well--Enslaved feels very loose and at times not as responsive as I would like. Combat flows well enough but camera angles mixed with loose controls can often betray your command of a particular situation, and traversal can be mildly irritating even in a game that highlights every climbable object. Also, when combined with one of the core conceits of the game--the escort-mission aspect of the experience where Monkey can die if he navigates too far away from Trip--exploration is a little difficult to deal with. It's a beautiful world littered with intriguing masks and collectible orbs that give Monkey additional experience, but it's hard to explore with the constant threat of navigating too far from Trip and then possibly struggling to get back in time, especially when riding Monkey's hoverboard-esque "cloud." It's especially when using the cloud that controls are an obstacle as opposed to a friend, and it's a shame that these aspects of the game weren't more polished. Enemy variety, at least visually, is also kind of a bummer, but it's part of the territory with the game's premise. Bosses provide moments of refreshing encounters but they don't necessarily overcome fighting bland-looking robots for the majority of the game.<br>
There are still several aspects of the gameplay that are quite strong. The game's upgrade system, for example, features a nice balance of defense and offense-oriented enhancements; it's always nice to see upgrades that feel meaningful, especially with Monkey's plasma blast ability, and the game offers an impressive and interesting set of skills available for unlocking. Also, what sounded like Enslaved's most damning mechanic--everything that the escort mission mechanic implies--ended up being mostly a strong addition with the exception of its hindrance on exploration. Trip is quite capable of taking care of herself, and the escort mission aspect of the game is largely left to scripted sequences in which Monkey must save Trip from mechanical monstrosities in race-esque segments. For the most part Trip is a partner instead of a burden, and the game smartly forces you to utilize her skills in order to understand that both characters must rely on one another in order to survive.<br>
Regardless of its mechanical issues, where Enslaved succeeds, it succeeds in ways of which few games are capable, and a large part of this is in character and story design. Say what you will about L.A. Noire's kajillion-dollar face technology, but the facial expressions in Enslaved feature a great deal more emotion and passion than Rockstar's big-budget baby. The exchanges between youthful Trip and resourceful Monkey--and later the inimitable third wheel Pigsy--are given some of the best expression and voice work seen in games, and by the end their characters are more strongly developed than anything you'll see in L.A. Noire. 30+ cameras can't give you strong characters, they just give you realistic looking ones, and putting Enslaved and L.A. Noire side-by-side makes this obvious. Not to harp on L.A. Noire too much, especially since the face technology there is a great asset to its investigation mechanic, but the point is it's not necessarily a game changer--older technology such as face capture coupled with good actors is all you need for an engaging experience. It has a strong sense of humor about it too once Pigsy is introduced, and even the gags that aren't great are still pretty unique for games.<br>
The story is one of the more erratic aspects of Enslaved, but personally I found it to be a beautiful balancing act of worlds old and new, providing a skeletal narrative that is enough to propel its characters' development forward without ever being convoluted. It largely glides along on its character interactions, but by the end it provides a bewildering yet nearly perfect conclusion to its narrative. Its juxtaposition of game images with photographs and video of the real world is certainly a little disorienting but nevertheless a very strong way of emphasizing the two worlds that ultimately provide the core struggle of the experience.<br>
And now time for a derail: not to get too artsy-fartsy, but video game visuals to date exude a falseness by default whereas photographs and video exude reality. Video games are like animated films and cartoons: they may be limitless in what they can imagine, but the visual style calls attention to itself. What makes the ending of Enslaved beautiful and wonderful to me relies on this struggle between reality and fiction, and without getting into too much detail--because it's an experience worth having--the utilization of Andy Serkis in service of this theme of reality vs. fiction, or dreams, or whatever, proves breathtaking.<br>
Its ultimate conclusion is appropriately ambiguous for the future in a way that legitimizes the arc of its characters. Playing this so close to L.A. Noire, it's impossible for me to avoid comparisons, and again Enslaved does something very similar to L.A. Noire, presumably with fewer resources in just about every respect, and still manages to outshine the big boy. It's such a shame that the world of Enslaved, at least by all appearances, can't have a satisfactory sequel almost by default, because it just doesn't make any sense to make a new entry. Mechanical issues aside, I'm happy with the time I was able to spend with it, and it's a bit of a bittersweet departure.
***½  05/24/11 - It must be the year of the adventure game. What's surprising is L.A. Noire isn't just any ordinary adventure game--the genre typically has a modest budget, but here that's clearly not the case, and in a way it's very satisfying that any company would be willing to take this great a chance on selling what essentially amounts to a big-budget point-and-click crime title. A large early concern for me was that this would be GTA in the 40s--or, in other words, that this would be a mildly better Mafia II--but the procedural nature of the investigations are refreshing for games in general and set the title apart from other open world games. The clue mechanic is highly engaging as you look around crime scenes, apartments, and even film studios in search of anything that will help you find who is responsible for the crime at hand. While it's annoying that the game lets you pick up quite a few things that AREN'T helpful--I feel like I should know the brand of beer bottle I was picking up at just about every scene but somehow I don't--it's also understandable. After all, if the game only told you what you had to pick up it wouldn't feel like much of an investigation and would instead feel like a pixel hunt where the game notifies you when you find the pixel [via rumble assuming the feature is enabled, which it was for me]. I also like that the game lets you carry your investigation in whatever order you please; it makes you think about what scenes are most important, what should be investigated first in order to ensure you get as much as you can, and so on. No game to date has made me feel more like an actual detective.<br>
A large part of the game is the interrogation mechanic where you must ask a suspect or witness questions based on the evidence you've gathered and then must decide whether they're telling the truth, lying, or simply holding something back. You use your clues Phoenix Wright style to catch people in lies, or you look at their faces to see if they look around the room uncomfortably or don't give you eye contact. It's a very fun and unique piece of gameplay, and one that I hope to see in other games in the future--that, or I guess what I'm saying is I would like to see more procedural crime titles. The game does a pretty poor job of communicating what each option will do at a given moment though. It's frequently suggested that "Truth" will just get the person to elaborate on their response, "Doubt" will have you intimidate them into coughing up something they're hiding, and "Lie" is only used when you have evidence that directly conflicts with what they're saying. However, there are several instances in which the option seems to do something else entirely--"Truth" may result in Cole yelling at suspects as if you had picked "Doubt", or "Doubt" will have Cole calmly tell murder suspects "are you sure you're telling me everything?" while straight-up yelling at a child who has lost her mother. It doesn't happen frequently, but it's incredibly frustrating when it does--I gave myself over to the game mechanics in a way that I wanted to feel comfortable with the options so that conversations could flow in ways that made sense ala Mass Effect, but then I would hit these walls and would have to step back for a moment wondering if the game had just betrayed me. "Cheap" is the wrong word for those moments but it's the closest I can think of.<br>
The game isn't entirely divorced from previous Rockstar efforts; it still has a large open-world mechanic. Street crimes are the only real side mission to speak of, though it's pretty fun to find new cars and landmarks so exploring the city is still engaging, especially with how much 1940s Los Angeles has been faithfully recreated. However, with open world mechanics comes open world jank, and I experienced no shortage of it. The one that blew my mind the most was when a car behind me decided to actually jump on top of my car. Sure it was funny, but in this game that's actually a penalty when it comes to the end of the case and I'm being rated, so if enough of that stuff had happened it would actually impact my game in a very negative way. There were also random times that my partner refused to get in the car, which for whatever reason also resulted in not being able to drive the car myself. These things are almost random by nature but L.A. Noire is the first time I experienced them fairly regularly, and when the game is on three discs to accomodate the ridiculous face technology, and with the generally streamlined experience, it's hard to excuse the game still containing as many glitches as it does. It's no Fallout or Oblivion but nothing is so that's not much of an excuse either.<br>
Speaking of that face technology, that's some crazy stuff! The human faces in L.A. Noire are unparalleled in how realistic they look, there's really no getting around it. It's great that this game--where evaluating faces is important--is the game to get that technology because it's not only pretty to look at, it's also vital to the game's mechanics when it works. There are a few downsides to the tech however, most notably something that didn't affect me as much as it could have--being able to recognize the actors who are providing these faces. I don't watch Mad Men, and I've heard enough about how the show and L.A. Noire share a ridiculous number of actors, but since most of the actors are TV personalities I didn't recognize them that well--however, I have seen Patrick Fischler in numerous roles. Seeing him as Mickey Cohen in L.A. Noire was both incredible--look how much it looks like him!--and distracting--hey, that's Patrick Fischler!--so the technology is both a blessing and a curse. It's incredible that I could mistake these performances for those you would see in movies, but the characters look like video game people when you don't look at their faces, so it calls a lot of attention to the performance of it all.<br>
But none of this tech, none of these game mechanics, matter without an interesting story, and L.A. Noire is willing to deliver for a while. There is some repetition to the cases, but the game is generally good about having story threads pay off in spades, especially during the homicide desk. What looks like one of the most depressing and repetitive lines of cases becomes an incredibly satisfying final act that is both historically powerful and incredibly engaging from an interactive perspective. Unfortunately, the game takes a dive near the end of the vice desk, and suddenly certain thematic ideas are poorly realized and pushed onto the player. The game isn't subtle about the notion that everyone has secrets to hide, but the secrets Cole has aren't interesting or well-developed, and they impact the game in such an abrupt way that the story can never recover fully. The arson cases have an interesting payoff similar to the homicide ones, but again the game gives an abrupt conclusion that doesn't feel earned in the slightest. And nothing is more frustrating than a game that doesn't know how to hold its punches in some cases--a certain betrayal is given to the player through a fucking newspaper collectible--and doesn't know when to stop bludgeoning the player's skull in others--a certain movie lot sequence provides the player with one of the most ridiculous gatherings of villains in any medium.<br>
Problems of character don't stop there though, as one of the most annoying things about the game is the inability to disarm criminals. It's not an impossible mechanic, not even within Rockstar's recent library since Red Dead Redemption lets you do it, but in L.A. Noire pointing your gun at someone's hand while they're shooting at you and pulling the trigger means nothing other than that criminal is not immediately dead. Regardless of the game's efforts to throw Cole's integrity into question, as an authority figure Cole still upholds the law and believes in what is right; it's too bad, then, that "what is right" is a headshot in all instances. For example, there are moments in which a suspect on the run takes a hostage and threatens to kill them. If you don't take the dude out with a headshot you will probably fail the mission immediately and have to start the chase over--shoot the armed hand and the criminal will just back up, point his gun, and kill the hostage. It's only mishandled in the sense that Cole is a largely respectable and efficient law enforcer; perhaps with smarter character development this nagging issue wouldn't have existed and you could just shrug off Cole as a cold motherfucker, but that never happens.<br>
It's hard to go against L.A. Noire too hard though--most games don't accomplish a lot, and this game does a lot of things really well--but this is also not the kind of game I want held up to prove the video game medium can be an artform worth experiencing. Most of it seems to be because the game goes out of its way to prove it can be as good as a movie. There's no ignoring the game's adoration for cinema history; when you see the golden reel collectibles that feature real film titles, and characters named after Humphrey Bogart roles, it becomes quite clear. But it's important to know that games aren't films. Sometimes L.A. Noire knows this, and sometimes--detrimental to the experience--it doesn't know it at all.
*  05/21/11 - <a href=http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2011/05/a-fountain-of-maggots-rob-marshalls-pirates-of-the-caribbean-on-stranger-tides/>I feel fucking ill.</a>
*** [iOS] 05/20/11 - This is a pretty cool albeit limited experiment from Square Enix. The meshing of comic book storytelling and the minigames is certainly interesting, but the story is kind of a vague mess reaching for meaning, in a way that only Japanese games can. Still, the storytelling is effective enough through its presentation and the minigames provide a nice way of interacting with the story. It'd be cool if they do more stuff like this.
*** [iOS] 05/20/11 - Pretty neat horizontal shooter; wish I was playing it with a controller because it does seem to have a great deal of personality and it could sustain itself on another platform; touch screen controls are a little strange and make the game harder than it already is. Still pretty fun, lots of weird weapons to vary the experience such as banana boomerangs.
***½ [iOS] 05/20/11 - Most of what makes Spirits special is its relaxed visual style, but that extends to the Lemmings-esque gameplay as well. Sacrificing the spirits to help the other spirits make it to the exit is surprisingly sad, and while the game never forces you to find the perfect solution--the cutoff for required saved spirits is typically pretty low--it's still fun to do so. Just a gorgeous game that takes advantage of the platform well, and considering I've never cared for Lemmings-style games it's impressive that this one caught on with me.
****½  05/17/11 - It blows my mind that no one up to now has thought to bring Ikaruga's intriguing polarity-switching mechanic to action platformers, and yet here we are and this is the first example I'm familiar with. Housemarque has hit it out of the park with this mash-up of Ikaruga and Super Metroid, providing brilliantly planned out incentive and progression throughout the adventure while making a challenging set of switch scenarios that never stop being fresh. This is the kind of game I love to run into every once in a while. It may not be "pushing games forward" from a narrative standpoint--while there is a narrative explanation for polarities, the plot itself is pretty minimal though effective--but it is a motherfucking video game with expertly crafted levels and a welcome degree of difficulty, and the world's color palette is designed in such a way that it takes advantage of the base color mechanics and still provides a standout visual feast. It's also that rare game that has exceedingly phenomenal boss battles, from the simple but intimidating golem that you first face all the way to the final encounter with the Sisters themselves. With the exception of the first boss, every one is an engaging and intense setpiece, both due to the game's strongly planned difficulty as well as the chaos and intensity of the on-screen events themselves.<br>
As I played and unlocked gallery art and minor abilities for my character via collectibles, I was entirely prepared to say Outland is very smart about rewarding the player for seeking them out, but in the endgame when you attempt to wrap up any collectibles you may have missed the game stumbles a little bit. This could be only because I'm kind of an achievement whore, but if you go for the collectibles you soon realize the level layout and presentation isn't exactly intuitive. The levels themselves are genius--it's when you notice you can't actually teleport to every section of each world that it starts to become annoying, because the game only informs you of the collectibles you are missing from the specific section you're in. Since the relationship between levels isn't ever presented to the player via a map or anything of the sort, it can be a true hassle to track down the remaining collectibles. I managed to do as much, largely because the game is phenomenal, but if they ever decide to do another Outland--which I'm not sure they can--I hope Housemarque at least thinks about that. It's the only blemish on what is otherwise one of the greatest XBLA experiences available, and I didn't even play through the promising co-op yet.
***  05/12/11 - If there's one thing Tron: Evolution absolutely nails, it's the splendor of the Tron universe in game form. It's one of the only games I can think of where repetitive environments was not a bad thing--it's hard to grow tired of the color scheme of Tron, at least for myself. The Ubisoft-inspired free-running during platforming sequences can also be quite breathtaking visually, and nothing in the game is more gorgeous than the visual sense of speed during the light cycle sequences.<br>
Gameplay wise though the game manages to both deliver and disappoint. At its best, the combat and platforming sequences feel amazing, perhaps even on par with what Ubisoft has perfected through Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed. At its worst, combat is frustrating as the game occasionally throws WAY too many enemies your way and the platforming is not tightly designed--the game sometimes asks a specific jump out of you and if you're slightly off it's the checkpoint for you. In basic gameplay terms though, the combat is smartly thought out and fun, with the disc powers varying these sequences in a way that keeps them fresh until the end. The only power that ultimately feels like a waste is the corruption disc which acts as a poison/leech power--it puts you at risk of being poisoned yourself [at least that seemed to be my experience] and it doesn't really change how you play.<br>
What's really disappointing about the game is the light cycle though. In multiplayer I can see the cycle working quite well, with wide open spaces to ride through and constantly switching between cycle and foot travel on the fly. In the story mode however the game limits you to straightforward courses that are pretty tightly designed--going fast puts you at constant risk of easy frustrating death and poor controls, and the game typically doesn't let you slow down or you'll get bombed by an out-of-sight Recognizer that is apparently trailing you at all times. These sequences are largely short but they're still some of the most frustrating vehicular sequences I've ever experienced, which is a real shame because the light cycles are responsible for some of the best sequences in the film series. It's still a game I don't regret playing, but it's also the kind of game where missed potential makes it feel worse than your typical failure.
*** [iOS] 05/12/11 - Cute experimental music game, not much to it but it's very satisfying from an aesthetic and auditory perspective. It has a simple mechanic of redirecting colored light into bars to create a symphony, and writing that made me feel pretty manly.
*** [iOS] 05/09/11 - Sure it's basically a flash game, but it is adorably devious. Not much to the game--simply a matter of getting lucky and being able to maintain your flight by finding cloud platforms, ponies that you PUSH DOWN TO THEIR BLADE-FILLED DEMISE, or birds that you DESTROY TO STEAL THEIR FEATHERS--but still a joy to play just to see the funny aesthetic and to try to top your high score.
***  05/09/11 - Apparently my write-up here got deleted, so... not doing that again.
**** [iOS] 05/03/11 - Apparently my write-up here got deleted, so... not doing that again.
[PC] 04/30/11 - Some nice furthering of what Episode 3 started to accomplish, especially its ambivalent and occasionally dark tone and its refusal to rely exclusively on the staples of the film series. This was probably the easiest installment of the entire series, but the card-creating puzzle was still a blast to work through.
*** [iOS] 04/30/11 - In the apparently very popular genre of running games on iOS, Stylish Sprint stands out not because it's particularly amazing but because the gameplay and visuals are polished. There's a small bit of persistence to the game in earning SP to unlock clothing for your character that grants stat boosts, but there isn't necessarily enough of that to make it an incredibly addicting iOS title. The game is thoroughly Japanese and has its fair share of weird English errors and jankiness, but it's pretty solid nevertheless.
***½ [iOS] 04/28/11 - If there were more game here, Pix'n Love Rush's blast of nostalgic visuals and music, and its harsh challenges [at least with iPod controls], would be a step better than the likes of Super Meat Boy; it's a very charming experience, but the content just isn't there. I'm likely to play the 5 minute rush mode every once in a while though. I'm glad that the game lets you move the control buttons around; my thumbs must be too big because I constantly pressed shoot when I wanted to jump or vice versa, so it was nice to separate the buttons out a little.
*** [iOS] 04/25/11 - The game has a decent puzzle mechanic and aesthetically resembles Space Invaders, which seemed weird at first but it's a smart enough mechanic that's easy enough to learn. Wish there were more options for the difficulties or ways to earn extra lives, but I doubt I would have played it much longer anyway.
****½ [PC] 04/24/11 - The greatest strengths of the original Portal almost fly entirely in the face of the idea of a sequel in the first place. For one, its short length made sure its mechanics never got old, but while it made it a lot easier for Portal to be a memorable experience that would make you want more, I personally wasn't sure I would ever actually want more. Even with the possibility of new twists on the mechanics, and more time with one of my favorite antagonists, a second Portal didn't sound like a very impactful experience.<br>
However, one of Portal's greatest strengths that would encourage a sequel is how it represents a rare trend in video games, using the video game medium to tell a story in a way that only games can. Things have only slightly changed since, and still most games rely on cutscenes or don't capitalize on player interaction as a storytelling device. That's why Portal 2 is as refreshing as it is--Valve still understands how to tell stories with video games, and it doesn't hurt that the story itself is engaging, hilarious, and occasionally poignant. I'm never going to forget the very first sequence of the game in which Wheatley is asking the protagonist for feedback to either confirm or deny that she might have a "minor case of severe brain damage" from her lengthy slumber. The joke with the ensuing set of on-screen prompts that force you to more or less confirm you probably have brain damage is a hysterical touch. It's not the only memorable story moment of Portal 2--early cases include the spine-chilling resurrection of GlaDOS and the general intensity of the opening sequence, and the game never stops having them.<br>
I will likely not play co-op for a very long time, but as a single player experience that lasted me approximately 8 hours Portal 2 is far from disappointing in content. Even ignoring the great humor and fourth-wall storytelling, the puzzles manage to have a greater variety of mechanics than the 2007 original while also reducing the number of timed switch puzzles, the kind of puzzle I've always hated. The only downside to puzzles comes when the gel puzzles begin to wear out their welcome, especially involving the Repulsion Gel since that's the only gel mechanic that feels a little lame. In any case, there's still that great satisfaction of sticking with a puzzle for a while before you finally figure it out. I don't give two fucks about ever learning the Half-Life fiction, but Portal matters to the future of game narrative and I couldn't be more stoked that it is blossoming into a great franchise.
*** [iOS] 04/22/11 - A neat experiment that plays with the idea of only having a single life. The gameplay itself couldn't be more basic and feels like the kind of interaction a first-generation developer for a touch system would come up with, just tapping the screen at the right time to jump from one building to another. Fuck up though, and it's all over. Well... it is mostly all over, since you can earn an extra life in a clever and beautifully rendered credits sequence. Lose THAT life though, and as far as I can tell it's all over. As in, the app is useless unless you were to delete it from your device and re-download it. That may not be cool, but it does make for an intense, albeit brief, experience, and if you let go after your attempts are gone, it's totally worth going through. I doubt I'd ever be tempted to redownload the application--if I did, I'd kind of undermine what works about it, although the visuals and sound design are both pretty nice.
** [iOS] 04/22/11 - Maybe it's just because tower defense games don't appeal to me and this has the slight vibe of one of those, but I'm guessing it's really because it's a game that maps a controller onto the touch screen and it feels like total garbage to play. The presentation seemed cute though, so there's that!
*** [PC] 04/23/11 - Plot is a big component of adventure gaming, and admittedly the plotting and acting of Gemini Rue is pretty mediocre. The story takes beats from the likes of <i>Blade Runner</i> and other sci-fi films, especially those concerned with memory, and even bothers to directly reference <i>Memento</i> in a really weird way. The characters are fine for noir tropes but the voice acting sounds kind of lame, and since the game was low-budget in the first place [at least, I assume it was] at some point I just wished they only did text. It would have been yet another callback to the classic adventure games of the past, which is where Gemini Rue truly shines. It's not enough to simply be in awe of the likes of Monkey Island, you have to know how to make clever and fun puzzles too, and while Telltale's current Back to the Future series has phenomenal production and story, Gemini Rue has the challenges of adventure gaming down really well. The added mechanic of a shooting mini-game is also a fresh addition to the genre even if it's not too complicated. The game world is also a beautifully realized sci-fi noir meshing--it may be referential, but you can still read newspapers and find other ways to learn about the world that maybe aren't important to the story at hand but add a lot anyway. The visual style is a nailed classic aesthetic, going to show that "old game graphics" don't necesarrily age--they just need to be utilized in the right way. The biggest bummer is that the story, a competent noir tale, suffers dramatically in the last 15 minutes with its inclusion of desperate twists.
**** [iOS] 04/23/11 - The best quality of a good portable game is taking advantage of its portability--you can play Picross 3D for 10 minutes or you can play it for 10 hours, because it's flexible like that. The irony is that when a handheld hooks me I tend to treat it like a console experience I can't put down, and Game Dev Story is no different. Within two days I have likely put in at least 10 hours into creating fake games for my fake game company TizTales, even going as far as making the Tizaster console, and losing track of time frequently. The charm of the game is endless, from its playful borrowing of real-life console, company, and celebrity names to its cute aesthetics and pleasant music. And while there isn't much to the core gameplay per se--once you've learned everything there is to learn about the game and you have your crew in place, all that's left is to crank out games and maybe play with genre a little bit--building up your company is a very satisfying experience. I ran into numerous situations sitting a little too close to reality on my first few journeys through a development team, including my first GOTY award being for a war shooter called "Modern Combat 2," which added quite a bit to my enjoyment. And I can't wait to do it all over again. Why do people talk about Angry Birds again?
***** [SNES] 04/11/11 - [later]
Old-ass arcade games finished 04/05/11 - Assault [**], Double Dragon II: The Revenge [**], Haunted Castle [**], Ninja Gaiden [**], Ninja Spirit [**], Operation Thunderbolt [**], RoboCop [***], Rough Ranger [**], Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair [****]
***½ [WII] 04/01/11 - The Wii version's shortcomings compared to its HD console counterparts--mostly related to presentation issues such as no switching camera angles and some awkward audio handling--are mostly pretty easy to ignore as the core experience of WWE All Stars is still pretty compelling. It's big and dumb and doesn't care because it understands what's fun about wrestling: simplicity. It has enough complexity to it that it can be fun with friends, but the control scheme is still very simple, which reminds me a lot of the N64 wrestling games. However, the lack of options does hurt the game. The video packages and promos in the game are amazing, and I kind of wish there was more of that stuff in the game, or maybe even a not-too-complicated story mode similar to No Mercy's where you can go down different story paths based on whether you win or lose or whatever. <i>Anything</i> to vary up the experience just slightly more would have been great--some more wrestlers out of the box would have certainly helped, such as <i>why is Chris Jericho a DLC character and not on the disc</i>--but I can't knock the game too hard because at least it knows I don't want a licensed fighting game with silly TV wrestlers to also have stamina bars and training.
*** [SNES] 03/31/11 - Totally silly but kind of stupid fun. The controls are slightly awkward for grappling, but other than that it's a fun brawler-ish wrestling game. Scorpion is an asshole.
*** [WII] 03/31/11 - de Blob has a lot going for it, especially its matching of music with the different colors which gives the game a great deal of personality, but it's also super easy and eventually just got pretty dull for me. The challenges are too repetitive--don't know if this is rectified in de Blob 2 but I kind of don't care enough to investigate, at least for a while. I'm glad that it doesn't abuse the Wiimote controls <i>too</i> badly.
[PC] 03/29/11 - A more strongly put together episode than the previous two, and it's really great to see a new setting, getting away from the 1930s for a "futuristic" 1985 that's more smartly realized than the future bits of <i>Back to the Future Part II</i>. Again, pretty easy adventure game as I blasted through it, but it has more of the charm and intelligence of the first film than episodes 1 and 2. Also, now that it's getting more distance event-wise from the film series, it seems less reliant on referencing the films in pandering ways--most importantly, it's a blessing that there isn't a Tannen crashing into a manure truck or its equivalent.
Old-ass arcade games finished 03/27/11 - Galaga '88 [****], Ninja-Kid II [***], Operation Wolf [**], R-Type [****], Rabbit Punch [***], Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 [***], Rastan [**], Wonder Boy in Monster Land [***]
*** [ARC] 03/26/11 - Like Ikari Warriors in a lot of ways. Neat weapon selection but there isn't really much that's special about the game. Boss fights are a little repetitive but some of the weapons are really satisfying.
*** [ARC] 03/25/11 - Well, the game I actually played is called Rescue Raider and it's for the arcade, but... anyway, I like the open nature of the exploration in this game, how you can find TOP SECRET DOCUMENTS that tell you where special items and prisoners are, but some of the enemy spawning feels cheap. Still, pretty cool and unique setup for a top-down shooter.
*** [ARC] 03/25/11 - Yet another solid vertical shooter, although in the context of today it's getting kind of boring playing all these... the bomb attack in this game is pretty brutal and necessary, and I like the mild variety in weapon powerups although it was hard to tell the benefits until you upgrade them-- otherwise on the base level they all look the same. Some of the boss encounters are pretty cool. I'm especially fond of a pair of tanks attached at the middle and if you take out the attachment they'll suddenly become two enemies. Neat stuff!
*** [ARC] 03/25/11 - Easily the best arcade game I've played today so far, The Real Ghostbusters is a playful recreation of its source material and apparently similar to the new [not as attractive looking] Sanctum of Slime. The two-weapon dynamic doesn't seem very useful--I can't imagine anyone using the projectile weapon when the proton beam is as killer as it is--but this is a nice take on the Ghostbusters license, even including the need to capture ghosts after you "kill" them so you can deposit them towards 1-ups at the end of a level. Probably the best Ghostbusters game ever made. Probably. [Most Ghostbusters games are terrible.]
**½ [ARC] 03/25/11 - The boss battles are pretty unique in the shift in perspective from vertical shooter to what basically moves like a top-down shooter, but the movement in this game never felt very good to me, and that's really important for a good shmup.
*** [ARC] 03/25/11 - I like that it's a pretty unique setting for a vertical shooter, so for that it wins a few points for me. The visual design and sound work are both pretty dope. Pretty tight controls too, though it doesn't have quite the personality or variety of the better vertical shmups.
*½ [ARC] 03/25/11 - Okay, I understand how arcade games are designed, there's obviously no covering the fact that developers created games to suck up quarters so difficulty was ramped up quite often. It's usually never more evident than in an old-school beat-em-up, but even so I have never played a game in my life that would so blatantly fuck you in the ass like Double Dragon. I just can't picture a world where the difficulty of this game makes sense--the game sets up sequences where you have to battle the terrible movement to jump over holes only to be thrown into them repeatedly because enemies seem to be able to grab you from just about wherever at a moment's notice. The final boss has a gun that fucking one-hits you--fairly realistic, no doubt, but are you fucking kidding me? Even when you "master" the really bad combo attacks [jump kick and jump punch are practically vital for even avoiding being constantly harassed by two or three thugs at once] the game is still practically impossible. For the short length of the game, I'm still pretty sure I used more continues than I ever did on Golden Axe, which I find unbelievable considering how cheap that game is. Like Adventure, Double Dragon is not a game that holds up with time, but at least Adventure would only take money from you once.
*** [ARC] 03/25/11 - A pretty solid vertical shooter. I like the transitions to lower altitudes for its "boss" levels, and it's weird to see many shooters with energy bars instead of one-hit kills. Music is also pretty alright.
***½ [NDS] 03/23/11 - It's easy to appreciate a lot of Monster Tale as a fan of Metroidvania-style adventure platformers. It has an enormous amount of progression available [primarily for your monster companion] and the controls are very tight, making for a pleasant experience. What bums me out about Monster Tale is what kind of bummed me out about Henry Hatsworth. As a bizarre marriage of gem-matching puzzler and action platformer, Hatsworth was a really cool idea that ran out of steam well before I could finish it because the marriage just wasn't that compelling. It kind of seemed like too much at the time, and here it's sort of cropped up again with DreamRift's mixing of Metroidvania exploration with a pet system that vaguely resembles Pokemon and various pet sims.<br>
There is a huge evolution system for Chomp that allows the player to switch to new forms of varying ages, elemental strengths and abilities, and players are encouraged to stick with one form for a while so Chomp may master equippable skills and stat bonuses--by doing this you can equip those skills and bonuses to other forms. The problem is that the game's length doesn't really accommodate it--you really can't bother with half of what the game has to offer with Chomp unless you decide to intentionally grind some levels for him. Every form seems to max at 30 levels and levels admittedly go pretty fast, but I must have played with 6 or 7 forms in the 8 and a half hours I played the game, and I feel like I only got through those forms because I grew impatient of trying to level Chomp enough. Also, the pet mechanics don't seem very smartly integrated into the whole of the game. There is apparently an elemental rock-paper-scissors system identical to Pokemon, but Chomp is not a very valuable partner in battle in the first place so it's hard to notice those elemental forces at work, and since the elemental system has no effect on Ellie I basically ignored it the entire time. It's not that the system is bad, but again it doesn't seem necessary--like Hatsworth the additions seem novel more than anything.<br>
There's also a frightening amount of backtracking for this style of game, and Ellie doesn't exactly move very fast so it gets a little frustrating. Without there being a large world to explore you're stuck with the specific tasks the game sets out for you. The game has no short supply of new abilities for Ellie--even if some are riffs on older abilities, like "X-ability in mid-air"--but offers the player next to no uses for them. Usually you will have 2-3 applications of that ability and that's kind of it. On the one hand it keeps things fresh by constantly giving you new things, but when they're not THAT different from old abilities it feels a little forced.<br>
Still it's a fucking Metroidvania game, and as a fan of that style of game it's very well realized. You could probably consider it a "My First Metroid" for younger players as the plot and world design are very kid-friendly as opposed to Metroid's world of isolation or even Castlevania's hyper-Japanese histrionics. It's a joy to play, it's just I feel like I'm partially missing out.
** [PC] 03/18/11 - My introduction to Jason Rohrer is not a very positive one. Jason's pretentious exploration of INFINITY ITSELF through the confines of a shooter [ENDLESS GAMEPLAY FOR MERE MORTALS] is still, well, a bad game. It plays poorly. There's no getting around it no matter how much the game is a redundant metaphor for redundancy and an infinite metaphor for infinity. No matter how much it inspires flowery language about the possibilities of games, I would suggest this game is an argument that the industry have a long way to go before games can be taken seriously.<br>
As an aside: <a href=http://wii.ign.com/articles/103/1033302p1.html>yes, that guy who called Metroid Prime the <i>Citizen Kane</i> of video games</a> recently wrote a review for Inside a Star-filled Sky, calling it <a href=http://pc.ign.com/articles/115/1154253p1.html>a game where "everything is true simultaneously," one that "leaves you to try and grasp something that you cannot, by definition, understand"</a>. Usually I'm for ignoring critical reactions to games, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to sidestep Michael Thomsen's crusade to discover what makes games art. If you come across this log and want to read something truly flowery and disgusting, then by all means...
****½  03/17/11 - With the inclusion of the My Player mode in NBA 2K10, basketball had finally reached a place I had wanted it to go for years. After experiencing Madden's Superstar mode where you take control of one player's career, the thought of 2K doing something similar for basketball had me excited enough to buy the stupid Draft Combine XBox Live downloadable to get my player ready right away.<br>
That being said, while the mode was fresh and exciting, it had a fair number of issues, to be expected out of a new and pretty radical single player mode. For one, grading seemed unfair and strange for your performance. For anyone who actually watches basketball and is aware that defenders switch roles frequently to adjust to a team's offense, being penalizing for "allowing my man to score" when myself and a teammate switched assignments is just unfair. The game also featured a fair number of weird judgments as far as how it penalized or rewarded you for shot selection--for example, 95% of missed shots were "bad shot selections" even if you were wide open, got a great release on the ball, and your player was accustomed to taking those shots. That's not a bad shot and it never will be. While these issues nagged at me as a purist, as a fan of basketball I still got a real kick out of the mode, and the rest of the game was the solid 2K experience I had come to known for a decade starting with the Dreamcast.<br>
Nothing worried me more than seeing Michael Jordan grace the cover of 2K11--one of the greatest players ever to be sure, but also a potential sign that 2K had made 2K10.1 and slapped Jordan on the box to sell units. With the decline of EA's Live series encouraging the introduction of a new brand--not to mention Elite's immediately being laughed out of the basketball world--2K had all the reason in the world to play it cool and not really do much of anything, just a roster update and a slider tweak or two. Not only were my concerns tempered immediately upon playing the Jordan mode itself, but the shock still hasn't set in, after weeks of constant play, that 2K has outdone themselves, making what is the smartest and most polished basketball game to date.<br>
The Jordan mode is a beautiful tribute to Michael's legacy, providing a chance to relive some of his most famed moments, but more importantly the craftsmanship in detailing the eras Michael was a part of is astounding. Michael himself is handled wonderfully for sure, but I simply can't ignore the love that went into recreating the rest of the Bulls as well as the opponents the Bulls would face--the recreation of Jazz and Laker legends here is phenomenal. Additionally, the great trick to the Jordan mode is in its subtle way of letting you know just how crazy some of Jordan's performances were--when the game tasks you with scoring 63 points or locking down Drexler, you practically have to be playing surreal basketball. The first instinct when given a scoring challenge is to constantly feed Jordan the ball, and even when you do that some of the points challenges are still difficult. The amazing nature of his feats does not go unnoticed in this context. The commentary during these games is also phenomenal and detail-oriented--a real blast to listen to while you rip it up with Jordan and Pippen. Much like Harmonix's Beatles game, I'm not sure a tribute to a legend and the era from which he came could be done much better. I haven't finished all the Jordan challenges as of this writing so I haven't been able to experience bringing Jordan into My Player mode, but that seems pretty exciting too depending on how it's handled.<br>
But what really excites me about 2K11 is how it plays--finally here is a game that penalizes you for careless passes, challenges you to improve your game, and has players run all over you if you don't stick to your assignments. NBA players are professionals for a reason--they're going to knock down open shots a lot, so you can't let that happen, and this is the first time I can say this about a basketball game with confidence. This is not a game meant for casual audiences, and I applaud the hell out of 2K for having the balls to put Jordan on the cover of a game with such a harsh learning curve. I found myself instantly playing the game in a different and more satisfying way, working my way into the post, drawing attention inside, kicking it out to open guys, and whatever else the defense gave me, instead of sticking with Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade and trying to blow by defenses solo [which very rarely works].<br>
Animations are also vastly improved from the previous game, and while there are still animations that take priority over control of your player in some occasionally frustrating ways, it's typically been either my fault or I've put myself in a compromising position that the AI takes advantage of. I never feel like plays that should go one way are going in entirely different directions, and that is exciting. There is also a very fluid set of Isomotion controls that are a great improvement from the previous game.<br>
My Player mode has been sped up significantly for all the impatient whiners from last year's entry who complained that they had to enter the D-league or at best get drafted in the second round. It's pretty easy to get drafted highly in 2K11--my future superstar Yuri Kursov was drafted 10th to the Pacers--and player progression points are given out at a greater rate with numerous matchup bonuses, for example playing against a conference or historical rival or playing against one of the best players at your position. Since all these bonuses effectively double the stat points you earn in a game, improving your player is way smoother, although it doesn't feel like a HUGE departure for me from 2K10 [then again being a second round player never bothered me]. It is, however, more satisfying when you see the multiplier, and it encourages me to play harder in those games knowing they matter more, an interesting reflection on how actual NBA players deal with going up against the best of the best.<br>
The silly penalizing has mostly been done away with although there are still some chinks in the armor. While the shifting matchup problem has been completely done away with, the game still shares 2K10's "the end justifies the means" system. If you defend the hell out of a shot and commit what would be considered a good foul but the ball still goes in the hoop, that's a bad foul. If you foul a driving player by carelessly swiping at him when he goes for a layup but the shot is off--pretty much the offensive player's fault--you are frequently rewarded for a "good foul." The shot selection problem has mostly been dealt with, but occasionally it falls in this trap too, especially in the case of close shots like layups. As a three-point specialist I am frequently rewarded for good releases on three-point shots even if I'm not open, which is also a little strange. Still, most of the problems with teammate rating in My Player mode have been fixed and a slew of new penalized/rewarded actions keeps things fresh, including the "good foul" bonus when it's rightly attributed.<br>
The presentation of My Player mode has been upped considerably as well. It may be a little obnoxious to force a response at a press conference after every single game you play, but it's at least a pretty interesting addition so I don't mind it that much, aside from not letting you select a voice for your player--would have personally preferred that I just saw the response in text form. And while I could be mistaken, I'm pretty sure you could not request a trade in 2K10, and that's an interesting feature in this entry. Monitoring teams that are interested in you is exciting even if you don't want to be traded--it's pretty satisfying to the ego to see that the Lakers want to add you as a piece of their playoff puzzle.<br>
I feel like I can finally say I don't need another basketball game. 2K's series is fantastic but always seemed to be missing something--now I can't see how the team can get away with just cleaning up some of the rough edges in this game and releasing a new version with updated rosters, and yet I also can't see what more can be done for the AI itself. I'm happy to see Michael Jordan's image not go to waste--it's been used in the best possible way on the best possible basketball game. I can only hope the next time 2K decides to top themselves they'll put Bill Russell on the cover.
[PC] 03/15/11 - Some more entertaining adventure gaming from Telltale, and while some minor sequences felt more difficult than the first part [mostly due to not realizing certain things can be done during certain sequences] it was still really easy. The story continues to be a playful joy, and even if they're easy some of the puzzles are cute and clever.
[PC] 03/15/11 - Since this is part of a series I'll wait to rate until the full series is done, but the first entry is an entertaining start. As an adventure game it's maybe lacking as far as difficulty but it has a nice sense of humor as well as the kind of heart I would expect from Telltale.
****½ [SNES] 03/14/11 - 16 years later, EarthBound's charm holds up to the test of time--there is no doubting that the game's strongest asset is its character. The script is cute and clever, and the design of the world's inhabitants is nothing short of bizarre and constantly surprising. Monster design ranging from cultural cliches [skater punks, cranky annoying old people] to flat-out absurd [piles of puke, abstract paintings, Dali clocks] kept me on my toes, and there is an undeniable joy in experiencing the cultures of the game, especially that of Saturn Valley and its adorable Mr. Saturns. As individuals, the party outside of Ness doesn't really stand out, but there are numerous NPCs, including those that join your party for brief times without your direct control, that pick up the slack for the pretty large lack of characterization for Paula, Jeff, and Poo. [Also--really? Poo?]<br>
There is a playfulness to the game in its send-up of RPG and game cliches, my favorite being the dungeon master character who creates amusing, roped-off dungeon mazes with signs that call attention to how gamers typically play dungeon sequences in RPGs. It pays off frequently in how the game informs you of how to do quests as well--finding a "carrot key" that just so happens to get rid of black stone rabbit gates in another part of the world, or having someone tell you that you could only pay off someone's debt if you happened to come across gold while mining, something that almost actually happens.<br>
The true heart of the game lies with Ness' family however--it's very rare to see a family play such a big part in a hero's journey, yet not only does Ness' family support the boy undertaking a quest to save humanity, but they also fill vital roles for the party. It feels like a throwaway thing at first when you call your dad to save the game or your sister to have items picked up or delivered, but it sets in after hours of journeying and numerous calls to Ness' mother just to see what she's thinking that you begin to realize how smart the family's integration into the game's mechanics really is. It's a gradual feeling that snuck up on me but almost made me want to cry eventually--how your dad will call you if you haven't saved in a while to make sure you're okay and to suggest you take a break, or how your house acts as a free hotel where your mom will tell you there's no need to talk, just eat up and go to sleep because Mom Knows Best. It's the difference between a group of characters getting together and trying to bond--and I would argue the relationships forged within the party are pretty weak--and relatives constantly fearing for your life and giving you all the love and support they can afford. It's very sweet and touching.<br>
Mechanically EarthBound is pretty generic. Aside from the neat rolling HP/PP mechanic that can protect you from death if you end battles fast enough, the set of commands is so bland and standard. I think the creators were aware of this when they decided to allow Ness' party to automatically overcome weaker enemies encountered on the field without having to enter a battle. To me, that's a mechanic that could have been emphasized more but it works out okay in the end for the most part. That being said, it was still pretty lame to go through dungeons that felt like they would never end with so many respawning enemy encounters that you want to die. Sometimes it feels worse when you can actually see the enemies, so I don't buy that on-screen enemies fixes the problem of random encounters, especially when so many encounters feel forced anyway unless you want to enter and exit rooms over and over.<br>
There are also some ridiculous, uncalled-for sequences near the end of the game, one in particular that leaves you with only one party member and also a final sequence that, if ill-prepared, could spell doom for the save file since there is no turning back. I came so close to being completely screwed near the end of the game because I hadn't brought a sufficient number of PP-replenishing items, but due to a slight bit of overleveling I barely managed to finish the game without having to reload my save and preparing again. There's also the sense, at least near the end of the game, that no matter how much leveling you do some of your party members may die, and while Ness is so unbelievably overpowered by the end that there is no worry for a [practically penalty-free anyway] game-over screen, you need your whole party to finish the game so you either have to find items that revive characters--VERY rarely sold in the game--or find a hospital to pay a fee to revive them. This didn't seem to be a problem until near the very end, but it was so frustrating that I was wrestling with how much charm can really do for an archaic, inconsistent-difficulty RPG.<br>
But the finale of the game is beautiful and broke me down to a pile of goo on the verge of tears. The circumstances of the final part of their journey are devastating--the final battle is a desperate situation with real emotional weight, and when you ultimately succeed, these are still kids that have to go back home and live normal lives. After all they've gone through, the thought is impossible, yet the kids are willing to try, and that counts for everything in the world. If one were to read a plot synopsis for EarthBound, even being aware of the quirky character design, I can only imagine the game would sound dry and plain. After playing it though, EarthBound is different. It's not beneficially different in all the ways it could have been--having next to no customization for characters and a lack of an interesting battle system hurts--but it is certainly different and wonderful.
*** [GBA] 03/03/11 - The immediate reaction I had to Amazing Mirror was pure ecstasy--just the idea of an open-world Kirby game where you had to discover new paths by using abilities you inherit from enemies, and just the idea that all the levels are basically connected together, was very exciting for someone who grew up on Kirby games and was used to the single-level games. Within a few hours though, it was actually just overwhelming. The maps aren't very good [even when you find the actual maps] and traversing areas can be a drag when some areas don't let you go right back to where you came from. That seems like a dumb restriction to have in the context of this game. Sometimes the door is still there, and sometimes it's not! Okay! Still, at its core it's Kirby and I've always admired Kirby gameplay.
****½ [SMS] 02/27/11 - I'm a sucker for Metroid-style games that nail the progression, and Zillion is totally one of those games. The code stuff for each room is both a unique spin and a little tiring by the end of the game, but I love pretty much everything else about the game. It has a really nice progression to it that gets pretty difficult near the end, especially as you're trying to find the remaining floppy disks. Unlike the original Metroid itself, this is a game that actually led to me drawing out a map since it was both easy and fun to do, with [more or less] single screen maps like Legend of Zelda. I thoroughly felt like a nerd but it was really satisfying.
** [SMS] 02/27/11 - And this is the worst! The game is better than the awful arcade game it resembles, Kung-Fu Master, but control-wise it still has the same problems and it's just constantly annoying to deal with. It seems significantly more lenient than its arcade counterpart but it breaks down in the exact same way once you reach boss fights.
*** [SMS] 02/27/11 - Music is pretty dope and the game is a pretty solid, albeit altogether generic, vertical shooter. Nothing truly differentiating it but it's still pretty fun, and I'm a sucker for any vertical scrolling shooters that have the options from Gradius. Probably the best SMS game I've played so far out of all five!
*** [SMS] 02/27/11 - This game operates on its weird charm more than anything I think, having some pretty bizarre enemies and cute music, but overall I grew a little tired of the gameplay. The charm goes a long way though, always like seeing how creative developers were with character designs back when video game characters were never typical. Also find it strange that the death animation for the character is identical to that of Alex Kidd, must be a Sega Master System thing.
*** [SMS] 02/27/11 - Always meant to play Space Harrier but never got around to it. I think it has a cool visual style for its time, and while the gameplay basically amounts to mashing on buttons as you move around the screen it's still a pretty chill experience. Music is awesome too. Apparently there are way more levels than the level I got to, so I must be pretty bad at the game.
*** [SMS] 02/27/11 - The controls don't feel quite perfect but there's something pretty cool about the wide variety of platforming that Alex Kidd offers. I remember trying an Alex Kidd game before and just really disliking its generic and poorly-controlling nature, but this one seems better than... whichever one it is I played before. I still think it's totally retarded that this game actually has boss fights that are Rock-Paper-Scissors battles, and nonsense like that, regardless of how unique it is, really hurts the game. Neat game though.
*** [PC] 02/25/11 - Zeit² may not have a lot to it but what it does have is pretty clever and neat for the horizontal-scrolling shooter genre. It kind of reminds me of Aegis Wing in a way. The time travel abilities get pretty clever as you go along, but boss fights aren't particularly fun and sometimes the game goes aggravatingly in the direction of showing off its time travel mechanic. I found myself having to kind of do the same thing over and over with creating a clone of myself on one half of the screen while blasting dudes on the other half. Still a cool game.
***½ [NES] 02/24/11 - I feel like Metroid was a game ahead of its time, and this is the first instance I would say something like that and actually mean it negatively. It's not that it was misunderstood at its time as clearly it was immediately applauded for its accomplishments, but rather it's just a shame it couldn't wait until game developers figured out basics like helpful in-game maps. In other ways it's an incredible game though. If one were to ignore the shortcomings of offering absolutely no direction or help for the player, the music and general sound design is incredible in its atmospheric touches, and the gameplay itself offers a nice balance of challenging and frantic encounters with enemies and isolated exploration. It's a masterpiece of mood for the time, it's just mildly unplayable without an inhuman amount of patience. Unless aimless exploration is appealing, which I guess it is sometimes for me.
***½ [NES] 02/24/11 - It's a pretty compelling package for its time with the ability to make your own tracks [not that I'm ever going to since I can't share them with anybody] and I like the control scheme and general setup of the game. I think it's a pretty huge compliment to the game that it continues to control as well as it does--the better NES games typically do. Has a nice physics-y challenge to it which is refreshing for a 1985 game.
*** [NES] 02/24/11 - You know, it's not completely broken, and I'll take whatever small victories I can. Functional, but really basic.
** [NES] 02/24/11 - The game is completely impossible to get a handle on due to the "unique" jumping speed which doesn't offer the right kind of feedback to the player. Nothing about the movement of the character feels right, and it's such a simple game otherwise that it's just totally annoying that there's no feel for whether the character is going to land on a platform or not. Again, conceptually a neat game [although Kid Icarus is far more interesting] but just unplayable, at least by today's standards.
** [NES] 02/24/11 - This game is kind of a piece of shit and it's making me wondering if I'm looking back on the Game Boy release with rose-tinted glasses. Frustrating control of direction and a pretty blistering difficulty that starts from the very first level is just annoying. Conceptually I think it's awesome, which is why maybe the GB version just realized that potential better and I'm not crazy.
***½ [NES] 02/23/11 - A way better version of Joust in that the slight difficulty curve to getting used to the controls isn't nearly as punishing. The game has a great sound design, very joyful and light. Also, unlike Balloon Kid, I don't feel totally helpless near the end of a campaign.
Old-ass arcade games finished 02/23/11 - Bubble Bobble [***], Gauntlet II [**], Ikari Warriors [***], Iron Horse [***], Jackal [***], Jail Break [**], Out Run [****], Rafflesia [***], Renegade [**], Rolling Thunder [***], Rygar: Legendary Warrior [***], Thunder Ceptor II [***], Victory Road [***], Wonder Boy [***], Xain'd Sleena [**]
Old-ass arcade games finished 02/22/11 - 1942 [***], Choplifter [***], Commando[***], Crater Raider [**], Do! Run Run [***], Exed Exes [***], Fantasy Zone [****], Galaga 3 [****], Gradius [****], Grobda [***], Gun.Smoke [****], Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [***], Inferno [**], Jack Rabbit [***], Kung-Fu Master [**], Marble Madness [***], Motos [***], Ninja-Kid [**], Paperboy [***], Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory [**], Repulse [***], Return of the Invaders [***], Road Runner [***], Seicross [***], Shao-Lin's Road [***], Sky Kid [***], SonSon [****], Super Xevious [***], Tiger-Heli [***], TNK III [**], TwinBee [****], Yie Ar Kung-Fu [**]
*** [ARC] 02/19/11 - An improvement over the first game, mostly due to the wider selection of characters and the slightly smoother controls. The world also has slightly more character. Again though, even for the standards of a quarter-devouring brawler it felt way too hard near the end.
*** [ARC] 02/19/11 - Conceptually the game could have been one of the best beat-em-ups ever with its clever use of an inventory of spells and weapons and its allowing the player to choose what stages to progress through. In a way it reminded me of Guardian Heroes although from the looks of things there aren't any alternate endings or anything. The real bummer is how cheap the AI gets late. I'm not sure I've encountered battles nearly this impossible in a beat-em-up before, especially in the final three bosses I fought which got ridiculous. Still, lots of neat stuff going on here and it controls pretty well.
Old-ass arcade games finished 02/19/11: Boomer Rang'r [**], Congo Bongo [***], Crossbow [***], Elevator Action [****], Food Fight [****], Gyruss [****], Hopper Robo [***], Intrepid [**], Mad Planets [**], Mappy [***], Mr. Do's Castle [***], Phozon [****], Razzmatazz [***], Regulus [***], Spy Hunter [***], Tapper [***], Wacko [**]
**** [WII] 02/17/11 - The greatest strengths of Fragile Dreams are clearly all related to the emotions it very capably pulled from me as I played it. Primarily in its gorgeous visual style and the implications of its story beats, no game released in 2010 truly got me that close to crying. Thematically speaking I would say Fragile Dreams is a nearly perfect game. The story's shift into sci-fi anime in its last hour was more than a little off-putting but the specifics of that shift are still integral to what makes the game ultimately powerful, in the way it uses human concerns to explore truly sad territory even as the plot itself gets a little silly in the moments leading to the final battle. Even if I were to complain about the kind of silly story missteps near the end, all is forgiven with the game's very final moments, an ending that rivals the power of both heavy hitters from last year in delivering a similarly emotional and bittersweet parting. It is very cautiously optimistic, opting for what is essentially a happy ending without surrendering the idea of a dark future.<br>
Much like Eternal Sonata, there is no descriptor for the game's music and visuals other than beautiful. Characters have an elegant and effortless anime visual style, and while enemy design is hit-or-miss some of them are flat-out terrifying, especially a multi-legged monstrosity that appears late in the game and feels the most threatening of any encounter over the course of its 10-15 hours. The visuals are a masterful mix of worlds light and dark that emphasize the alternating hope and despair that Seto feels as he explores the world hoping for human contact.<br>
But then there's the gameplay itself, and while complaints I had heard about backtracking were a bit extreme--especially if you're actually fucking paying attention to what the game is asking of you--some aspects of the game just can't be ignored. The item management system <i>is</i> kind of inexcusable, especially when paired with the fact that most items you pick up are unidentifiable until you go to a bonfire. This wouldn't be a problem if these mystery items were droppable, but because the game mixes essential mystery items [plot-related or mood-filling memory items] with nonessentials like weapons and healing items, it obviously can't let you just drop whatever [since items you drop don't just appear on the ground, they're gone forever because you actually trash them].<br><br>
Easily fixable problem if the game just allowed you a standard RPG inventory, but the developers also implemented a grid-based inventory of active items that is actually separate from the bottomless briefcase you carry around. You can only access the briefcase at the bonfire savepoints though, which are the safe zones of the game since ghosts won't get close to bonfires. That's the only justification the game provides, and I find that pretty stupid.<br>
The combat is also pretty lackluster though it's entirely bearable, just it would have been a lot easier to deal with had there been a lock-on targeting system for melee weapons. The other arguable shortcoming of the game is in its padding by having the player walk through some long hallways and climb a billion ladders sometimes, but in a way I dug the atmosphere they helped build and the tension of coming across another enemy encounter.<br>
But then there's needless tension built up by having weapons break CONSTANTLY. My impression ultimately was that, if you don't connect with some attacks, your weapon is fucking <i>gone</i>. It's not like the game has a shortage of these weapons, and even if you were to get to a hard spot you could grind for a little bit and easily earn some cash by finding materials, but the game never made it very hard to get new weapons. Like every other weird choice in the gameplay mechanics, it just seems like a needless barrier to enjoying what's truly great about the game--exploring a detailed world long-abandoned by civilization, filled with personality, hope, and sorrow simultaneously.<br>
If none of these problems existed, I would unquestionably say that Fragile Dreams is the greatest Wii game I've played to date. It's not that it necessarily takes advantage of the Wii's capabilities in a particular way, although the flashlight mechanic is certainly admirable and effective. It's just that the story is engaging in a way that very few games a year are capable of, and it's committed to an art style that, well into the future, will continue to impress. Still, while I think people were too hard on the game, it's impossible to ignore what could have been.
*** [GCN] 02/16/11 - The difficulty curve in Luigi's Mansion is impossible to deal with. The majority of the game is a cakewalk, with most of the puzzle solving [with regards to figuring out how to expose ghosts' hearts] being pretty straightforward or easy to figure out with some brief trial and error. The first time the game spikes in difficulty is not necessarily a matter of actual difficulty but a war of attrition as you battle with a set of ghosts that become harder to track down with the more you take out. The ghosts begin acting impossibly evasive and you basically having to luck out as to whether they get close to you at a good time. But that boss battle has nothing on the final encounter. The final boss reveals that the game only works when the control scheme matches the action, and the final battle doesn't match the control scheme at all, making for an incredibly frustrating experience. It's also just hard period, with very few inconvenient openings to take out the boss, no ways of getting health back, and on top of all that an impossible health counter that the boss happens to possess. The charm of the game is enduring enough and the repetition isn't that bad--the game handles backtracking well and gives you a few new abilities along the way to keep things fresh--but wow, fuck that final boss. I didn't beat it, and I seriously couldn't give less of a shit. I at least eventually beat Balloon Kid. [Also Balloon Kid is far more charming.]
***½ [GB] 02/14/11 - I was really enjoying this game a good deal at first--the physics were something to get used to but it controlled well overall and the game didn't challenge the controls in a way that would frustrate. That is, until the last level [and arguably the last two] at which point the game expects some pretty ridiculous things out of you. It feels like a pretty classic level of difficulty though, and with some memorization and skill you can get around some of that stuff. Also the game's concept and design are charming enough that it's a pleasure to experience, and there's a pretty cool dynamic between releasing and hanging onto balloons. I did find it a little weird that the game scrolls right to left.
**** [WII] 02/13/11 - I've only played about 8 of the episodes but I think that's enough to know that this shit is clever and funny and fun by yourself or with others. It does carry the issue of dating itself immediately but whatever! It's also a bummer that I will run out of questions some day.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Fun game, lots of obstacles to avoid and it has a nuanced and balanced control set for maneuvering the boat. Not much to it but pretty addictive.
** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Didn't really have fun with this maze game. I like the idea of letting the player control the colored gates but I think they probably shouldn't have made multiple colors with buttons controlling each color of gate. While it adds a good bit of strategy to it and encourages good reflexes, it's just too much to take in.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Pretty alright shooter, I like the visuals and sound design.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Weird mix of spaceman shooter and Bomberman, not bad.
** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Concept is neat, controls are terrible. For the time zooming into smaller maps from a kind of overworld maze is a pretty novel thing. Too bad it's no fun to play!
** [ARC] 02/12/11 - The difficulty of Vanguard is so cheap and retarded that I had very little enjoyment out of a game that has some neat concepts to it as a shooter, like an invulnerability pickup and four-direction shooting.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - An adorable concept of RESCUING BABY TURTLES AS A PARENT TURTLE but the music kind of grates after a while and the controls don't feel as responsive as they could.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - The difficulty of this game is frankly brutal but it's a fun horizontal scrolling shooter nevertheless.
** [ARC] 02/12/11 - The pace of this game is deadly to enjoying it despite the conceptually fun gameplay. This would have worked a lot better if you didn't have to change the nine white balls to red one at a time, either by reducing the number of balls or allowing the player to change more than just one at a time.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Not much to say about Qix other than the game still works and it's pretty alright. Sound is a little obnoxious.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - This game has a strong personality which I think elevated what is pretty simple gameplay. Very cute game and the gameplay itself is still fun. I always like the abstract games like "you are a paintbrush, paint the entire level." Also has an overpass and underpass! Dimensions!
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - This game is pretty alright but sometimes the setup for catching the balloons is impossible, maybe something that would be rectified were I to play this on the original machine. Pretty unique concept though, I'd like to know exactly who thought it up because it's weird as hell. Like that Pac-Man and the ghosts make cameos for essentially no good reason other than to let Pac-Man eat balloons and ghosts that you catch on your head. Pretty silly!
**** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Fun space shooter that in a weird way kind of reminds me of Time Pilot, probably due to the ship formations and the ship being centered on the screen. It's not quite as awesome as Time Pilot but there is a cool variety of enemy ships and I always like hearing bad voice synthesis.
**** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Gorf feels like a greatest hits package of arcade games from the past which makes it a little weird. Having levels be almost exact mirrors of other games like Space Invaders and Galaxian is pretty cool, and the game plays almost as well as those games so the mix isn't as bad as it probably sounds. The types of games are structured well in a level progression so it's not just a simple mish-mash of game styles.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - Pretty cheap Missile Command style game, pretty fun but the action feels a little too fast which I think is why Missile Command works better today.
*** [ARC] 02/12/11 - A pretty crude game graphically and sonically but the basic concept of getting the friends and bringing them to the surface is pretty cool, as is the unearthing of the maze.
*** [ARC] 02/11/11 - This game is kind of dumb as shit, and the difficulty is WAY hard, but I love the blunt stupidity and the silly satire at hand. I think I spent more time dead than alive.
** [ARC] 02/11/11 - Don't know if it's because weapon peripheral shooters don't work well with MAME but... this didn't feel fun to play at all. Cool design to the game though.
** [ARC] 02/11/11 - As a tool for servicing Simpsons fans it's a pretty competent game with a lot of shout-outs to show characters and it occasionally shows a cheeky sense of humor. Control-wise though--and considering this is a beat-em-up, a genre which never had complicated controls to begin with--the game feels really awkward, mostly because hits don't seem to connect as much as they should, resulting in my lack of confidence in the game. The music is also mostly audio-cyanide remixes of show themes. I was particularly fond of the dream level since it was an unexpected setpiece but otherwise the game's levels are pretty bland.
**  02/10/11 - The physics of this game are really annoying.
***  02/10/11 - The CPU seems like a pretty alright opponent in this game and somehow this is a dumb but satisfying boxing game to me.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Still not huge on Asteroids but it is still a pretty okay game.
** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Nothing to say other than it's a pretty lame maze game with a kind of janky teleport function.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - This game is alright but, like Pac-Man, it's hard to be super into it today.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - This game probably plays better with two players, but as one player it was pretty fun to take out the computer player when I'm pretty sure you're supposed to be working with him. Enemy variety is pretty cool and the music is nice although sometimes a note is held like twice as long as it should be and you just want to play.
**** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Really simple and great gameplay, not really much else to say. The three buttons mapped to three missile bases was pretty clever and made the game more strategic than it had any right to be.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Pretty cool Galaga Gyruss shooter with cool sound effects. I particularly like the ability to launch yourself upwards turning into a destructive shield, seems pretty unique for these types of games.
**** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Phoenix is a game I appreciate more for its visuals and atmosphere than for its gameplay. For a game from 1980, there's something really sad about the first level when it starts up and that music is playing, and the animations are colorful and expressive for the time. The gameplay is pretty good too, it's just so hard that I don't really get very far.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - This is typically the kind of arcade game I look for in the older ones [for the most part], a game with a few simple concepts going on at the same time that combine for something both challenging and fresh. Still works today I guess!
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - This game is pretty silly but I still had some dumb fun with it. All the colors were kind of irritating and the game gets immediately crazy.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - The game's controls take an INCREDIBLE amount of time to get used to but once you figure it out [in other words, map the controls to two joysticks as it's clearly meant to be] it can be a good deal of fun. Surprisingly complex for its time, not the gameplay itself but the way the controls are handled.
**** [ARC] 02/10/11 - The sound design is really awesome, especially the nice robot voice synthesis. The game totally told me "Chicken, fight like a robot" when I ran into another room without clearing out all the robots and for 1980 that seems weird. Pretty fun and challenging game, but those robots get pretty hard pretty fast. Just looked up WTF that bouncing smiley face was, and apparently his name is Evil otto and he is unkillable. :(
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - I was thinking of rating this game two stars because while it's alright it isn't really my thing, but then the game over sound kicked in and I was BACK ON BOARD. The shield is a pretty decent add-on too for strategic purposes.
*** [ARC] 02/10/11 - Pretty simple and neat Space Invaders-ish shooter that I like more than the original Space Invaders. The ducks flying down to eat your bullets are ASSHOLES. Seems like there's a weird amount of stuff going on in this game.
*** [PC] 02/07/11 - A sweet but way-too-short experience. It's pretty relaxing and touching for its length, never too challenging in its puzzles, but I still wish there was more to it.
** [PC] 02/03/11 - You can make the argument that this isn't really a game since it's clearly designed as an advertisement for the upcoming Bulletstorm, but I still took offense at how stupid this whole endeavor really is. The only thing that even sounds remotely clever is their "war changes" narration that opens the downloadable. Otherwise the strokes are just as blunt as the aggressively stupid ad campaign in general for Bulletstorm that continues to play up being immature for immaturity's sake. So... I guess this all makes sense then. ***** for intent! I also have a problem with making a 700 megabyte download that, gameplay wise, is no more than 3-5 minutes long. Its level of self-awareness is only funny if you really like whatever school of thought <i>Scream</i> comes from--that being self-aware is inherently hilarious.
** [PC] 02/01/11 - Yup, that sure is a game that not only doesn't belong on non-mobile devices but also doesn't really have a lot to it other than sheer volume of levels. Glorified flash game yeahhhhh! I don't know if it's just the nature of the iPhone/iPod platform but those shouldn't really be considered worthy game platforms if this is its peak. Makes sense for slide controls, but just... why?
*** [PC] 01/28/11 - Not a bad RPG but on the PC I think it's weird to not just let me use a controller to move around--the only things you need to click that you wouldn't normally be able to access are special items like artwork, so conventional controller RPG controls would have felt better to me on the whole. Not a bad sense of humor, little repetitive, overall a nice RPG.
*  01/28/11 - Suck my fucking dick.
*** [NDS] 01/13/11
*** [PC] 01/11/11 - This is a cool example of someone who understands what makes Metroid style games so fun while still meshing the style really well to what is kind of a bullet hell-ish flying game. There seem to be a lot of different options too once you beat the normal campaign, and I didn't realize you actually play different worlds on higher difficulties so I may have to try that. Very cool simple look. I would have died for something like this on the Game Boy back in the day.
** [PC] 01/09/11 - I BEAT IT. I BEAT FUCK QUEST. <I>I BEAT FUCK QUEST.</I>
****  01/06/11 - I'm not at all surprised that Harmonix has managed to create a comprehensive and smart experience for the Kinect, but what really surprised me was that it actually got me into dancing the dumbest shit. There is a great sense of learning provided by the game, and I can't begin to describe how satisfying it was when I played the game one day, came back the next day and replicated an entire dance with a gold star score as if I had actually learned something. There is a great selection of songs celebrating all sorts of dance styles--perhaps leaning too closely to modern music, although I guess that makes sense?--and I feel like I will have a lot of fun learning the new dance moves, so long as it's not trying to learn Crank That (Soulja Boy) because I can't do those moves for my life. I guess ultimately it's sad that it's the only game that could convince me to get a Kinect, and no single game justifies a $150 peripheral. Looking forward to Dance Central 2 when maybe we'll be closer to justifying that price tag.
**  01/06/11 - I like Kinect Sports enough as a proof of concept that the motion controls <i>mostly</i> work. The biggest problem for me was that, with all the potential for the Kinect, it's a bummer that most of the games effectively play the same. The throw in bowling is basically the same as the throw in Javelin [just underhanded] is basically the same as the discus toss is maybe even swinging with a paddle or at a volleyball. And when the technology <i>doesn't</i> seem to work on some of these games and perfectly works with others with quite similar movement, something is very off to me. They're cute enough, but it's ultimately a retread of Wii Sports and I had my fill of that in 2005 or 2006 or whatever. The possible exception is that it's undeniably satisfying to royally fuck up your avatar by posing in funny positions.
****  01/04/11 - Nier is a great game that takes so many chances it's hard to imagine why it was so blatantly ignored and run off as a generic, trying-to-please-all-audiences action RPG. I may not even know of its greatest ambitions--from what I've gathered, the game has new endings on subsequent playthroughs and, given the game's dark edge, the fact that the first ending is <i>happy</i> [well, kind of] gives me all the hope in the world that cavia and 8-4 have created something truly profound and rewarding for players who stick with the title. I can only say for sure once I have the time to play through the game a few more times, but I want to circulate some other titles on my rental queue. <br>
What I <i>can</i> say is that the game takes enough risks from a gameplay standpoint that it's still worth the single journey. The game is incredibly smart about not letting dungeons outstay their welcome, which allows it to throw new and exciting styles of play the gamer's way--from a mansion sequence that shifts camera perspective and some degree of control to Resident Evil [even allowing the player to find moon keys for god's sake], to scrolling bullet hell sequences that take place on mine carts, to some of the most incredible boss battle design seen in a while, the game knows how to keep things fresh. It's also worth noting that the game has a casual level of depth that it doesn't shove the player's way, such as the ability to collect "words" by killing shades. These words act as accessories to either your magic skills or weapons, which the game provides ample amounts of, at least when considering it's an action RPG. There must be at least a dozen weird dark spells, and there are approximately 30 different weapons of varying speed, power, and upgrading capabilities. <br>
Nier is also a blessing for providing one of the only truly great soundtracks of 2010, and the only one I can think of that is consistently great and not primarily comprising bleeps and bloops from the days of yore ala VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy. The game utilizes vocal music in a truly astounding way to give both a grand sense to the game as well as an occasionally modern touch. <br>
There are a few obstacles in the way of enjoying Nier completely. For one, traversal is not too great and the game doesn't seem to be very aware of it. Also, while the plotting is strong, the world doesn't have the personality of Deadly Premonition or Red Dead Redemption, two games that made traversal unique or exhilarating respectively. Nier is also a fairly linear game, but that's not too big a deal. Still, my opinion of the game will likely go up as I get to experience more of it, especially since the subsequent playthroughs will at least include the blessing of a fast travel system that isn't introduced in play #1 until over halfway into the game. Nier could be truly special, but it'll be a while before I find out for sure.
*** [WII] 01/01/11 - I haven't played this in a while but I've lost the desire so I'm going to mark it done. The charm is still kind of there, and the platforming is still pretty hard, but the shoehorned Wii controls really bug me a lot. I felt like I was exploring in the old games when I was looking for secrets. In the new one, instead of feeling that exploration, I feel like I come to a complete stop every few seconds to blow out a dandelion or stomp the ground by shaking the wiimote. It doesn't feel right. It also feels like punishment to play this game solo since in the old games you could switch control between the two Kongs, but in this one unless you're playing multiplayer you're stuck with Donkey Kong with the possibility of peripheral Diddy. Still a solid game, and a respectful attempt at revitalizing a series I adored as a kid [well, DKC2 anyway].
**** [PC] 12/30/10 - A very surprising and touching tribute to storytelling in video games and the internet days of old. Never thought a game entirely comprising of entering passwords, running compilers, and reading and replying to messages would be nearly this compelling, but here we are.
** [PC] 12/30/10 - I really like the idea of Recettear and hope that its unique focus on buying and selling items as an RPG shopkeeper makes its way into other games. The combat side of the game is just fucking TERRIBLE though, the most generic kind of action RPG dungeon crawling imaginable. The personality is also all kinds of insufferable, including its fair share of silly references like including the phrase "phat lewt." Goddamnit, you people.
*** [PC] 12/26/10 - I'm not necessarily good at this puzzler but I still have fun chilling out to it and hearing the music affected as I do better.
** [PC] 12/26/10 - Well I guess the game won. My patience ran out!
*** [PC] 12/22/10 - Pretty solid Breakout game. Don't see myself playing it a whole lot, but the music is bangin' and it's one of the retro-style games that manages to inject life into the original property.
***  12/21/10 - It's a fine Prince of Persia game, but it's also pretty bland. I vastly prefer the charm and design of the 2008 reboot, especially since most games checkpoint liberally enough to be as "super easy dur" as POP '08, by far the largest complaint against that game. The end sequence/battle is kind of exhilarating in a way that the rest of the game simply doesn't match--I'm glad I played far enough to experience that portion of the game. There is some satisfying platforming in here too.
*** [PC] 12/06/10 - There's a point when I just have to withdraw from a game and realize I'm not really having fun attempting the same dumb shit over and over. Regardless of how rewarding the game may feel the second you get that ridiculous bandage, frustration still paves the road, and frankly I had enough of this with N-Plus. Also I'm not really into the control responsiveness, a little too out of control for my tastes. It sometimes has a cute charm to it with its cutscenes and indie-game cast, but it also occasionally screams of stylistically trying way too hard. I've personally had enough of it. It's a fine game, and you could say I even enjoy it and look forward to the level editor features in 2011, but it's <a href=http://www.giantbomb.com/quick-look-scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world/17-3044/>"uncomfortably meta-textual... it's cool that this got made, I think...I don't know that I would have the fortitude to [jump] my way through the whole thing... it's a cool novelty."</a>
* [PC] 12/04/10 - Jesus, <i>really?</i>
***  11/26/10 - It doesn't have very ambitious gameplay like the psychological powers in Psychonauts but it manages to ooze as much charm and humor without being broken or outstaying its welcome. The costume mechanic is adorable when considering how the in-battle character designs beautifully and effortlessly reflect a child's imagination, transforming plain and silly looking costumes into the stuff of dreams [and nightmares, holy shit that fry costume]. I really wish there was more in this game--I know that the beauty is that its length doesn't let it get old, but the personality is so cute and it features some strong writing that I think a "generic RPG" could hold its own while the characters explore new things. Maybe a little overpriced too, for the length.
****  11/25/10 - From a mechanics standpoint Brotherhood stands far above the other entries in the franchise, really furthering the notion that you are very powerful and very much in control. The guild additions are really fun if not really that important, and there seems to be a little more variety to the missions, especially in the Leonardo invention missions which got a little crazy. What really disappoints me is the plot--it's both vital to understanding the series going forward, and yet barely present. The Desmond side of things is barely forwarded except at the beginning and end of the game, and they manage to drop a bombshell in the final moments [a bombshell a YouTube comment casually managed to spoil for me] that makes the game essential to anyone who is playing this series and is invested in the story. That makes it really puzzling, then, that they'd barely focus on the single player campaign at all. However, other than the opening and closing sequences, the plot of the game barely moves at all, so it feels like you're just goofing around. Which is fine for me--the AC world as far as maneuvering and navigating is unparalleled in my eyes, since there is nothing more fun than its parkour style making you feel limitless [other than the times when it shows its limits with misinterpretations of your intent]. Mechanically it's amazing, but it still left a good deal to desire.
*****  11/25/10 - Jesus fucking Christ this game is amazing. The maps all have a unique feel and are mostly laid out in an extremely intuitive way, the gameplay is incredible with its breakneck speed and the rush of destroying a hundred ghosts, and most importantly I actually enjoy a Pac-Man game for once.
***  11/18/10 - This is probably the best LEGO-style game just in the ways that it incorporates its source material into the LEGO universe, especially in taking advantage of Hogwarts as a big "level" where all the standard game levels are played. It makes exploring the school for collectibles kind of a bitch [especially students in peril since you can't even brick-detector your way to those] but it was still fun to do. It's a charming game, and I'm glad I played it, but sometimes I wish they could figure out how to make certain things a little more clear. One of the problems introduced with the targeting system with regards to magic is that it opens up the "pixel hunting" aspect of the series to sometimes frustrating lengths. I feel retarded when I can't figure out a LEGO puzzle immediately, which probably has a lot to do with the friendly and "kiddy" aesthetic. If I were to ever recommend one LEGO game to a friend though, it would be either this or LEGO Batman.
*** [PC] 11/13/10 - My biggest problem with the BLOPS single player is that there are quite a lot of very "easy" moments that they rush into the game, mostly related to the music selections. Come on guys, "Fortunate Son"? "Sympathy for the Devil"? Really? I'd actually be surprised that "The End" didn't make its way into the game except I guess EA might have a handle on Doors licensing in games right now. But that's a pretty minor complaint in the face of a really solid single player campaign. The shooting feels so much better to me than in Medal of Honor [look at me, talking like I know first person shooters] and the guys at Treyarch absolutely know how to script great moments. Being fascinated with the aftermath of the "No Russian" moment in Modern Warfare 2 [despite having never played the game] I really, really, REALLY wish this game went all the way with the suggestion it makes near the end. The plotting is engaging if predictable, and the variety of vehicles is pretty cool. I'm surprised this is the "down" series for many of the hardcore Call of Duty fans in the face of Modern Warfare, since it's still a good game in its own right. Maybe it has everything to do with the multiplayer, in which case, well... whatever. I also think it's really cool that they crammed so much crazy shit into the game. I don't really give a shit about the FPS zombie stuff, but Dead Ops Arcade was amusing for like 10 minutes and it blows me away that they bothered to include Zork in the terminal. Made me want to play Zork actually.
** [PC] 11/02/10 - This is a first person shooter where you shoot dudes in first person
*****  10/27/10 - This is exactly what rhythm games have needed to be. I can only say that it's a shame that it happened to come out in the same year as Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption, both of which went a pretty good way towards revitalizing and reinventing their respective genres. No game is as important for its genre as Rock Band 3 is for music games, and I am really excited to start getting into the pro stuff and never buying a band game again. Even if all the innovation didn't exist, Rock Band 3 is perfection as far as interfaces are concerned. I was excited for a new setlist, but now even without exporting Rock Band 2 yet I can't envision myself revisiting Rock Band 1 or 2 ever again. PROPS.
*** [NES] 10/24/10 - I like how it frames poker as if it's like... a Yu-Gi-Oh game would be now, how you have to beat players to get to other players, but it only has two different gambling pleasures from what I could tell [blackjack and poker] so it got old kind of fast. Still funny and neat.
***  10/24/10 - While Beatles felt more "special" a lot of that has to do with how impossibly iconic the Beatles are compared to every other band that has ever lived. Harmonix certainly gave Green Day a game they can appreciate. It celebrates their career really well and reflects their personality. Outside of the drums, there's slightly less variety on the instruments than you would see in something like Beatles or a standard Rock Band game. It's a solid product but it's hard to look at band-specific rhythm games after Beatles and not wonder if it's even possible to top the craftsmanship and care that went into that game. After playing Beatles I was stoked that the Beatles got their own game, but after playing this I just kind of wished they would have released DLC packs instead.
*** [NES] 10/24/10 - It's weird how conceptually similar Guardian Legend and Xexyz just happen to be, only with shifts in perspective and level design [Guardian Legend is kind of an open world, Xexyz is more obviously level based]. Neat game, though the electricity dragon gun whatever thing was a little rough. Final battle is pretty anticlimactic but at least unexpected in terms of gameplay.
**** [WII] 10/21/10 - The game's difficulty was never really an issue from the beginning for me. In a world where most games have checkpoints every 30 seconds, I don't even see where the complaining is coming from--it was the same situation with Prince of Persia 2008, another highly stylized and fascinating game. And even if you were to consider the game to be easy, the high-score fiend in me got incredibly upset any time I was hit and lost half my gems, so I frequently found myself restarting levels so I could have my perfect run anyway. Just like Super Mario Galaxy 2, what I really like about Kirby is that it never ceases to surprise and introduce new mechanics even to the end. If it featured a hug button a la A Boy and His Blob, it would probably never lose the crown as the cutest game ever made, and it appeals to all ages, to hell with anyone who says otherwise.
**** [NES] 10/14/10 - The flying sections in the game are incredibly difficult, and I still haven't come close to beating it, but I feel like I've experienced just about everything the game has to offer and I'm looking forward to experiencing more of it. I love the two styles of gameplay being integrated really well, and I like the exploratory nature of it. The level designs are a little bland I guess since it's hard to vary each screen in the adventure sections, but the designs are all quite vivid and expressive for the time. It's unforgiving but it's pretty awesome.
*** [WII] 10/12/10 - The minor upgrades to the old game are mostly smart and interesting [the boss battles are fun even though they can be painfully difficult], and it's nice to see a roster of players I've grown up with instead of players I basically only idolized through NBA Jam like I did back in the day. I didn't get into watching the NBA until around 1996 so the glory days of many of the players in Jam were over, but now I can play with Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson on my B-Cats. There is a great amount of detail put into the personality--I am 99% sure Gerald's mouthpiece is dangling from his mouth in the game, which is frankly perfect. There isn't a lot to it, but it's a loving revival of the series and as long as I can feel the love I'm good. And it's certainly not half-assed like a certain other franchise that got a retro reboot this week.
** [WII] 10/12/10 - It's so adorable and has a great style to it, and I liked the simplicity of the mechanics at first, but I dunno. Maybe it would feel more welcome on the DS, so I'll give it a go there at some point since the Wiimote is a little... terrible for most anything, but I wasn't feeling it after a while and I doubt the DS will spruce up the variety. The question mark in the name is dumb.
* [WII] 10/12/10 - I know Sonic is a franchise that's more than just speed, but the sensation of speed is what sets Sonic apart from the other franchises, so when you make a deliberately old-style Sonic platformer and do everything in your power to destroy that sensation of speed, you have one incredibly mediocre platformer that rehashes levels from old Sonic games and introduces very few interesting mechanics [targeting in 2D Sonic games, and I guess the effect of running on cards was <i>kind of</i> cool] while introducing a ton of awful ones [the one that springs to mind immediately is the torch level]. I don't know if the incredibly easy difficulty [in a retro-style game] is refreshing or fucking boring--kind of leaning towards the latter. And this is going to be multiple episodes? Ugh.
***  10/11/10 - Skate 3 is my first Skate game since..... Skate, and it still feels fun, but the absolute power from the first time I played Skate just wasn't there. Part of it was a nagging bug related to a person on my friend's list having a character model for the game despite never playing it [which must have confused the hell out of the assets for his character because it flat out froze the game repeatedly] and part of it could have been that I did the Hall of Meat challenges first, by FAR the reason to play that game. Pulling shit off is still pretty gnarls, but the single player doesn't feel as complete as it did the first time around. The focus seems to be on the online though, so that makes sense I guess. Still a good time.
** [PC] 10/06/10 - I didn't get any ending other than the standard "bad" ending but I think I'm satisfied with not caring. The game is pretty alright, and I kind of like the gimmick of switching dimensions, but... no desire to get all the gems in that last level. None.
** [NES] 09/24/10 - In spots this seems more fair than the first game but in other ways it's so much worse. The technical prowess on hand here is unquestionable for the NES, but I kind of hated playing this as it's so reliant on memory that it's infuriating. The personality of the content doesn't make up for it either, and it's really weird to see a Batman game where the Bat wields a gun pretty much exclusively for combat. Music is pretty awesome though.
*** [NES] 09/24/10 - This game is incredibly difficult but it's a good bit of fun, at least when it's not super frustrating. What the fuck is with the final two confrontations in this game, Jesus Christ [did not beat the last one]
?????  09/22/10 - Well... that happened. First time I've explicitly played a game for its achievements, and now I feel dirty.
***  09/21/10 - I unquestionably enjoyed Gears 2's single player campaign more than that of the first game, if only because there wasn't a single fucking Berzerker and the vehicle segment wasn't nearly as obnoxious. At the same time there is something incredibly depressing about the selection of boss fights in this game, especially [without question] the very last encounter. I love how [mostly] polished the cover mechanics in the Gears franchise are, but there is something decidedly not special about the new one. Haven't played Horde mode but I doubt it will change my mind much if I decided to proceed with it. I guess this is how people reacted to Bioshock 2, although I can't really speak to it as I never finished Bioshock 1, much less played 2.
**** [ARC] 09/17/10 - God I love MAME. Thinking about buying this on Game Room because I'm an idiot, but this was really fun for me once I understood the strategy of "you should probably fly upwards most of the time." I just read the plot on the Giant Bomb page and man..... that's really messed up.
*½ [NES] 09/16/10 - I think I could play this game even though it's kind of garbage, but the song that plays the entire time you play it is fucking RIDICULOUS.
**** [NES] 09/16/10 - Gets brutally hard, especially near the end, but playing on normal was worth it at least to get to play the entire game. I feel like if I ever play it again I'd just play it on easy because I like the mechanic of switching between characters a lot and the platforming is pretty fun, but I have no desire to ever play that last set of normal-exclusive levels again. Despite its difficulty the game is an incredible piece of work, from its top-notch visuals and music to its very smart and fun character switching mechanic.
**** [NES] 09/15/10 - Even better than the first game, although I am really disturbed by how great a year 1993 was for games. Love the additions in between levels to upgrade your Scrooge with the money you accumulate, and the secrets seem more intuitive than the first game. The only thing #1 has over this one is that you go to the goddamn moon.
**** [NES] 09/15/10 - Such an awesomely designed game. I'm really fond of the [limited] open-ended nature of the game's structure, and the mechanics and difficulty are just about perfect. I only wish it were longer, but I've never played the second DuckTales so there is still hope.
*** [GB] 09/15/10 - After playing the second game on the Game Boy pretty extensively as a kid and always hearing how much better the first game was, I finally got around to playing it and it probably is a better game but only because it feels more strategic. And by strategic I guess I mean "at some point you are going to need to practically crawl forward if you don't want to be overwhelmed by 3 spawning enemies" so maybe it's not all that strategic. Game is pretty short but it's neat. Looking forward to revisiting the second game at some point and maybe checking out the third game.
*** [GB] 09/14/10 - Really quirky and cute platformer. The actual raw difficulty of the levels is pretty deceptive [sometimes the game can be brutal] but it gives out lives so frequently that it resembles the occasional challenge but overall forgiving nature of a Mario game, despite being a weird hybrid of Castlevania and Mega Man. The bosses are absolutely adorable too, especially the first ghost boss.
***  09/13/10 - The aesthetic of this game is fucking absurd but otherwise it's just a competent snowboarding game. Pretty neat, but by the end of the game I was a little tired of the insanity.
**** [GB] 09/12/10 - Okay I probably need to stop playing games I've already played and should focus on games for old consoles I've never played like Flintstones
*** [NES] 09/11/10 - Pretty fun platformer. The challenge between levels is so bizarre--the final boss was a joke but there were some brutal levels early on--but it's a good and colorful game. The basketball minigame levels are cute too, and it seems like Taito was trying some neat stuff for the platformers of the time [Fred being able to charge up his melee attack, grabbing on edges of platforms, etc].
**** [GB] 09/11/10 - My memory really stretched this game's length to something far greater than its actual length [12 levels, really?] but it's still a great 12 levels and I love the Mario games that have a really bizarre assortment of enemies. Music is also still awesome.
*** [WII] 09/06/10 - I only played the single player which I guess is a flawed way of playing what is clearly a pretty neatly designed multiplayer experience, but the single player is sufficient and still pretty fun. I really like the charm on display, and the writing elevates it far above what you would normally see from a mediocre Disney production today. It's too bad it's a short single player experience, but I guess it would get really old if extended for too long.
***  09/04/10 - It has a lot of problems mechanically and it's probably the easiest Virtua Tennis I've played [AKA the only one I've ever finished] but I guess it was nice to play some more Virtua Tennis. <i>I guess.</i> Minigames are as bizarre as ever.
*** [PC] 08/30/10 - It's certainly an entertaining and competent game, but something <i>really</i> bugs me about requiring that I drive around pretty much everywhere when I don't get to do anything outside of the story other than silly collectibles. And I didn't even find any wanted posters out of like 150, so... I don't know, they don't seem to be that obvious anyway. The shooting feels pretty good, the melee combat is alright, and the driving isn't too bad. I also like the few novelties provided by, for example, getting the attention of the cops by going over the speed limit. I sort of wish they went farther in that direction so it could be considered a Shenmue-style curiosity with good gun mechanics instead of a fighting game system of combat. There is something really engaging about doing monotonous things sometimes, if done right, but Mafia II is mostly content with being an above-average but clearly dated "sandbox" game. Playboy issues are a creative collectible at least, but still a little creepy. Not DOA creepy, but creepy enough.
****  08/28/10 - I am perfectly fine with what amounts to be a pretty amazing recreation of River City Ransom, regardless of whatever "bad vibes" could come from a constant stream of video game references [which are sincere and lighthearted enough to never be that distracting]. It's not quite the exciting pop art of the movie counterpart but it's goddamn River City Ransom. I can't really complain.
**  08/13/10 - This game has a very serious identity crisis. By way of its setlist and use of the Guitar Hero 5 setup you would think it's a way more casual game, but it still manages to have challenges where you need note streaks that almost equal the number of notes in the song on the highest difficulty. The setlist is also a bit of garbage--lots of chord-heavy songs that, regardless of challenge, just aren't that fun to play. The greatest joy I got from the game was putting Taylor Swift on drums, Gwen Stefani on guitar, Adam Levine on vocals, and my avatar on bass while we rocked to "Grave of Opportunity" by Unearth which is allowed into the game by way of Guitar Hero World Tour DLC. <i>Yeah.</i>
* [WII] 08/10/10 - Yo this game is pretty bad
** [WII] 08/09/10 - The tedium overwhelms me
*** [PC] 08/06/10 - I guess there isn't really enough to the game that it would require way more time to be "done" with it, but after experiencing more or less everything the game has to offer it's a pretty fun game. It's not as good as Audiosurf, which seems to have everything practically perfect about integrating your music library into generating levels, but the frenetic nature of Beat Hazard is a pretty twisted and fun experience. I don't think I could play it for long though--seizure warnings seem pretty appropriate. The only bummer is that, in order to create that illusion of progression, the audio track is turned way down at the beginning, so while it's almost a necessary mechanic it seems like a mildly bad idea because, with Audiosurf, my music is pumping the entire time, whereas here if I die I lose half the volume of the track. It's weird.
***  08/04/10 - I guess I'll just put the Atari games I play on Game Room or the ones that leave a great impression on me as I emulate the <i>hell</i> out of them. Anyway, Decathlon is kind of neat, not exactly the greatest gameplay in the world and I can't imagine having to play this with an actual Atari joystick but I like the variety and it's cute for the time.
***  07/21/10 - It's certainly a really cool and rewarding experience, and complaints about the value for the price aren't entirely an issue [I do pay two dollars for Rock Band songs all the time], but this still left me feeling a little cold by the end as far as paying 15 dollars. For comparison's sake, Braid was incredibly rewarding when I purchased that in its first week, and VVVVVV this year is a constantly inventive platformer that's maybe half the length of Limbo, but both of those games ended up feeling more rewarding overall. The art direction of Limbo is really cool, especially the first portion of the game up until the spider is finally gone for good on an amazingly morbid note, but I wasn't really feeling the variety that I felt in those other two "puzzle" games [granted VVVVVV isn't as much of a puzzler]. Probably the most interesting looking game of 2010 so far, and I wish more games used this sort of bare aesthetic.
*** [PC] 07/19/10 - I love the style and story of this game--that part of it shines as one of my favorites in the adventure game genre. It's too bad the puzzles are anywhere from average to occasionally awful. The game's length prevents it from being too big of an issue but it feels like a worse case of what everyone accuses Deadly Premonition of being--"suffering" through the gameplay part so the story part can come back. It's weird because both games are clearly inspired by Twin Peaks, but I still think Deadly Premonition does a lot more with gameplay mechanics to the point where it's ultimately a far more interesting and satisfying experience. The range in difficulty is really strange--at times the puzzles couldn't feel more dumb, and at other times it's flat out ridiculous, not necessarily because the puzzles are hard but more because they are occasionally confusing, vague, or clearly designed for the stupidest and least creative kind of trial and error. The story makes it a worthwhile experience but the actual game is kind of garbage.
*****  07/17/10 - I finally have what is more or less the definitive mash-up of two of my favorite things, the western film genre and [when they're at their best] open-world games. The GTA series is a little flat for me outside of Vice City, but I adored Bully and I now adore this. I really wish sometimes Rockstar would hold back on their humor as, for the most part, their humor is blunt and ill-suited for the video game medium, and if the flowers stranger mission shows anything, it's that Rockstar does not do punchlines nearly as well as the best writers in adventure gaming. It's only really been suited to Bully for me in that Bully is pretty light-hearted. Still, the story is really an enthralling and engaging experience and, near the end-game, the amount of dread that began to creep up was both exhilarating and nerve-wrecking. In most years, this would probably be my favorite game of the year, but Mass Effect 2 still reigns as far as I'm concerned.
**** [WII] 07/11/10 - Pretty inventive platformer. Steam kind of ran out for me near the end even though new techniques and ideas were being introduced, not sure why. End boss was kind of anticlimactic too in the actual fighting, not necessarily the setpiece though which was kind of cool. Never played Galaxy 1 but from all I've heard 2 is the one to play so I'll probably skip out on it at least for a while. The first half gave me the chills I got when I first played Super Mario Bros. 3 as a kid, but by the end it was more like the "kind-of-neat" feeling from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
*** [WII] 07/10/10 - These games almost feel redundant but this is alright too. Don't know when I'll get around to that other one.
*** [WII] 07/10/10 - Definitely feel the rhythm in this one more, and the controls felt awful at first [the way you tilt the wiimote isn't something I've experienced in any other game] but once I got used to it it felt pretty natural and appropriately responsive. Like Runner, gets really hard so I doubt I'll be able to complete it, but at least it doesn't punish you and make you start at the beginning of a level if you fuck up like Runner does.
*** [WII] 07/10/10 - Infuriatingly hard but very addicting gameplay. I'm not sure I "feel" the rhythm entirely because going for the gold bars seems to mess with it on occasion, but it's still a fun memorization platformer. Also the music in the main menu... oh my godddddd.
** [WII] 07/09/10 - Kind of disappointed with this one but it's cute I guess. Not really relaxing like I was led to believe however.
* [NDS] 07/07/10 - This does not have the ragdoll physics of the Wii version. Also it's all asynchronous, no shooting medicine balls at old ladies and jerks in tuxedos. Frontrunner for most disappointing game of 2010.
*****  07/05/10 - I find it really hard to believe that this game and its predecessor would share any personnel because I can't comprehend anyone from the ME2 team thinking driving in the Mako was a good idea, or thinking building designs <i>should</i> be shared between entirely different planets in entirely different clusters. Every mission is unique, every character is wonderfully drawn [the possible exception being Samara even though she is given a little dramatic weight through her story], combat mostly feels way better this time around... a way easier game to love, although I hope this is as far as they go with the action elements when making the third installment. The series still needs to maintain what few RPG elements it has in combat so it avoids becoming Gears of War with a worse lead voice actor. What a fantastic game though.
*** [PSX] 06/29/10 - Pretty neat and adorable rhythm game. The controls are wanky as fuck and that can get pretty annoying, but I stomached it for the greater good of cute. Also the music is catchy as hell.
****  06/23/10 - Yeah, I put a fucking Atari game on here. I'm going to put more. This game is pretty sweet.
** [PS2] 06/20/10 - Lots of people say Tim Schafer games are more about the story than the gameplay but, this being my first Tim Schafer game, I didn't really think the gameplay would be completely sacrificed. Like Deadly Premonition, it's a matter of getting past flawed mechanics, but in this case it isn't the inherently flawed mechanics of most survival horror games but instead it takes on the image of just about any generic-ass 3D platformer trying to recreate the magic that Nintendo effortlessly cranks out every year or so. Anyone can criticize Nintendo for relying on old franchises and not really innovating, but their company continues to come up with incredibly creative level design. Psychonauts also has SEVERE camera and space issues, and the game knows it by even building in ways to avoid doing things again, such as springs that act as "checkpoints" in the levitation world. I played this for about four hours before giving up--the story isn't enough. I absolutely adore the emotional baggage collectible though.
***  06/19/10 - Pretty neat shooters, although some of the achievements are unrealistic. 96 hours of play on three games that could generously be listed as half an hour each? Really?
****  06/13/10 - Very good story and universe, and the combat is pretty fun if sometimes a little frustrating like fighting the droids on the moon. Texture and glitch issues were a real nag and forced me to reload a few times when I got stuck in terrain and whatnot. Worst two parts by far: the ridiculous repetition in side missions both in structure and ACTUAL SETTING [in the future there are four building designs], and the awful vehicle navigation which became a real bitch on rough terrain planets. Can't wait to play 2 though, and hoping to find a romantic interest in that game for my poor Shep that isn't a boring bookworm, a generic and whiny introvert, or a bitchy and racist army girl.
****  05/??/10 - Not nearly as bad as everyone says, mostly because the combat, while not necessarily refined, is certainly tolerable and reminds me of survival horror games from the PS1 and Dreamcast eras. However the story of the game destroys most survival horror titles by miles with its off-kilter sense of humor and pretty twisted and twisty plot. I don't think this is a "so bad it's good" game because that's an insult to any game really, I just think it's flat out very good.
***** [PS2] 05/??/10 - WAY better than Persona 3 [at least the normal edition], mostly due to the subtle refinements to combat, the unique and personalized dungeons [and the fact that there is more than one main dungeon], the more interesting social links, and the higher general level of personality and humor. One of my favorite recent console RPGs.
***  03/??/10 - Neat puzzle game, doesn't hold a candle to Braid but the art design is cool and some of the puzzles were pretty nagging in a good way.
**** [PS2] 03/??/10 - Really like the persona system as well as the social aspects of the game like S-linking and social stats, definitely a very good and interesting game, but when you actually have to progress in the game the main dungeon is no fun to navigate and the main story is fine but is way too self-serious. Still very good, though I probably should have played FES.
** [NDS] 01/??/10 - Pretty dull and repetitive, and sometimes it felt as though the game wasn't responding correctly to my stylus demands.
**** [NDS] 01/??/10 - Pretty solid and funny RPG that manages to stay fresh for its majority, although personally I think it could have been a little shorter.
**** [PC] 01/??/10 - Very creative platforming and the perfect length, just like Portal in the way that it knows when enough is enough and makes the most out of its design possibilities so no moment feels repeated.
**** [NDS] 01/??/10 - Really dig the unique and simple-but-refined rhythm controls, one of my favorite games from last year.
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