Top 5 Games of the Year Amendment

So, when I set out to do a top 5 games of the year post, I had trouble coming up with a 5th game. I finally decided to add Limbo to the list. However, I didn't feel a particular attachment to that game. It was good to be sure, but it didn't hit me as hard as another downloadable title of last year did. That game is of course, bit.trip.runner. So, to make up for that oversight, I will give you the entry that I should have written in Limbo's place.

Bit.trip runner is the most cleverly disguised rhythm games you will ever play. It looks like you're playing a simple platformer from the Atari 2600 (with much flashier 3D visuals). You play as Commander Video who for the entire game is never not running. In order to get to the end of each level, you have to jump over obstacles, jump up stairs, kick through breakable objects, slide through gaps, and block projectiles. If you mess any of this up, you have to start THE ENTIRE level over. No checkpoints. No sir. It's punishing, but it feels so good to get it right. It is the definition of perfect balance. Bit.trip runner is one of the few games in recent memory that has caused me to stay up until 8 in the morning trying again and again (and again and again) to beat it. Also, it has an Anamanaguchi song for the menu music, so it really has it all huh?

So there is the entry that should have been, and just to make it a little better that I completely forgot to put this game on the list, here's some cool pictures from the game and some fan art too.

That's all I've got, but if you've really looked through all of this, then here's a link to Anamanaguchi's site and another one to all of the free singles they released last year. 

Anamanaguchi's site

Anamanaguchi's singles


Why I'm Excited About the NGP (PSP2)

Sony formally announced the follow up to the original Playstation Portable today. Unfortunately most of the videos you can find are in Japanese, so I'm just going to tell you a few reasons why I'm excited for this promising new handheld. 

Isn't she lovely

1. The Visuals

Now, this is sort of a loaded one because if you've been into games for a while you might remember that this was a big reason most people thought the PSP would beat the DS. It was visually superior to the DS. It was basically a portable PS2. At the time everyone was thinking, "Is that even possible?" But then the Xbox 360 came out and people realized that the PS2's visuals weren't as great as they used to be. So am I forgetting all of that when saying that the graphical power of the NGP is one of the most exciting aspects of the new device? No,   I'm not forgetting, I'm remembering selectively. Take a look at the Uncharted demo and tell me this doesn't look amazing. It may not be quite on par with the PS3, but I only really saw that after the 3rd time I watched the video. And even then it wasn't pronounced. Basically this thing is a powerhouse you can hold in you hand.

Uncharted Demo

2. The Look of the Console

The NGP looks like it's not changing it up too much from the original PSP formula, but it's the little additions that make it a really pretty device. Mostly what I'm talking about here is the rear touch panel which has the Playstation face button symbols imprinted all over it. It looks amazing. Apart from that, it has a glossy finish, what looks to be a very crisp (and if reports are accurate, a very expensive) screen, and a new more user friendly interface. I'm in the minority that actually likes the Xross Media Bar, but this new layout looks cool.

Just look at that.

3. Two Analogue Sticks

Let that sink in just for a second. Two. Analogue. Sticks. First of all, the main issue with the original PSP has been addressed. The lack of the 2nd analogue stick made controlling shooters cumbersome at best and a disaster at worst. Games like Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and Resistance: Retribution (made by the same developer) transfered 2nd analogue functions to the face buttons as best they could and these were good games, but it made the PSP feel dated (like playing a shooter on Dreamcast 5 years later). But now we've got two and that allows the face buttons to be used for anything else. But Sony didn't stop there. Look at the NGP again. These aren't analogue nubs; they're actual sticks! This may cause portability issues, but I, for one, will deal with it. 

They're calling them "mini-analogue" I'm calling them awesome
4. All the Flippin' Tech

Without going into technical specs (mostly because I don't have the largest comprehension of those things) the NGP looks to be pretty capable. Not only does it have a powerful processor and an OLED screen, but the new gameplay possibilities are looking pretty huge. These include: a touch screen and rear touch panels, a front and back facing camera, and a gyroscope. All of these are used in the Uncharted demo to great effect and while I want a more traditional control scheme for games like Uncharted, I still think these look promising.  And speaking of Uncharted...

5. The Confirmed Games

Because what would a console be without games? If you're a current PSP owner, you know that it wouldn't be much. But this doesn't seem to be the case for NGP. Aside from Uncharted you'll be able to look forward to Killzone, Resistance, WipEout, LittleBigPlanet, and a slew of other offerings from third parties one of which is Metal Gear Solid 4. The same one that's on PS3. Yes, that one. Oh and have I mentioned Trophy support? Because all these games will have them. Also, Epic Games showed off the Unreal Engine on the device, so we can probably expect something from them as well. All in all, this looks awesome.

Overall this new portable looks great. There are a few things that haven't been disclosed yet. The big ones are price and battery life. Both are very important buying factors. Some are speculating 5-6 hours of battery life which is decent and on par with the soon to be released Nintendo 3DS. This isn't too bad and when you look at all the stuff that's on the device it's a little hard to believe. Also, the price is a big unknown at the moment. All Sony have said so far has been that it will be priced affordably for a handheld, but then again this is the company that debuted the PS3 at $600, so we'll see what happens. I refuse to let these factors get me too pessimistic today because, well, did I mention Uncharted?

Just look at it


Defending Your Game: Sonic Unleashed


I might lose the little credibility I have among friends for even thinking this, but here’s the deal: Sonic Unleashed is a good game. If you have fainted from reading the previous statement, I apologize. Now, I want to be very clear. Sonic Unleashed is not a great game; it has more than a couple of flaws, but to be honest, with a little polish and a little less Werehog, this could just work. Here are a few reasons why I think the game is good.

1.  Sonic Controls Amazingly Well

During the day (speed) levels of Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is crazy fast, handles like a dream, and kicks a decent amount of badnik butt in the process. You dash through levels with plenty of speed and then you can give yourself a boost when you collect enough rings, and the homing attack helps take out the enemies while maintaining your trademark speed. It really is a great feeling (and awesome to watch) when you know a level so well that you can finish it in seconds flat. It’s a 3D Sonic game in which Sonic controls astoundingly. These levels go by at eye watering speed and are a ton of fun. 

Get ready to say goodbye to the background

2. Being a Werehog Wasn’t All Bad
Now, the part that everyone seems to hate is the inclusion of the night (Werehog) levels. These were basically added to beef up the game’s play through time because if only the speed levels had been included it would have been quite short for a $60 purchase; however, these levels aren’t bad at all. They control like any third person action adventure title in the past 8 to 10 years. God of War is (strangely enough) the inspiration for the stretchy arm combat (quick time events included), and Prince of Persia takes care of the platforming puzzles. This is the part of the game that really stopped the game from being great. It was derivative and unnecessary, and it’s the reason that most people didn’t like it. But to be honest, it was kind of fun. Now, I am a big God of War fan, so I knew exactly what to do when this combat rolled around. It does get a little repetitive, but it really is just fine. It does its job of fleshing out the game pretty well.

This is certainly the low point of the game

Yeah this is silly, but it works.

3. Sidekicks Are Minimal
Now, I personally don’t get too upset with the Sonic Creators for adding all of Sonic’s pals to the ensemble except Big the Cat. I hated him. Anyway, this time around, Sonic Team seem to have taken heed of that fact and only included 2 side characters to the mix: Tails (the original and still the best) and a newcomer, Chip. I have to be honest (and this is another thing my friends will shun me for) I really liked Chip. He was cute, charming, and funny. He isn’t a character I’d particularly like to see again, but he’s better than some of the additions (still referring to Big here). The point is, there are only a few sidekicks here. No Big, no Knuckles, no Rogue, nobody but Sonic, Tails, and Chip for the most part. 

I will always dislike this guy

Studio Audience: Awwwwww
4. Level Design is Stellar
The daytime levels are what I’m talking about here. Night levels are pretty standard, but not a hindrance. The day levels are a pretty substantial improvement over the older 3D Sonic formula which has pretty much stayed constant since Sonic Adventure. The design here is to make you go as fast as you possibly can and does so by switching the perspective from 2D to 3D along with including rail sections that aren’t impossible to A. Maintain speed in and B. stay on the dang rail. Also, there are hoops to jump through that give you speed boosts (are you noticing the pattern here) and give you bonus points for jumping through certain ones.  Also, when things are chasing you, the camera faces Sonic to make these scenes a bit more intense. All of these work tremendously well. It’s all snappy and responsive, grinding is a ton of fun, shooting through hoops has never been this satisfying, and it’s just a really fun experience.

Boss fights are also extremely well done in the day missions. The first has you running to destroy Robotnik’s (I refuse the retcon of Eggman) new machine. You run forward dodging bombs and the robot itself and have to rush forward at the right time to hit him. Most of the boss fights have a pretty classic Sonic  feel to them and are a lot of fun.

5. The Art Style is Back on Track
Sonic ’06 was a terrible, unfinished, garbage heap of a game that could have been great if it weren’t rushed and didn’t go the realistic route of having a giant blue hedgehog fall in love with a human girl. It was creepy to watch, uncomfortable to play, and just wrong. The art style in that game tried to bring a cartoon character to life in a way that should never have been attempted. Sonic Unleashed does it right. Sonic is cartoony. He looks like Sonic should look, and the people who populate each town look cartoony as well which is just right for a CARTOON game. Sonic Team didn’t try to make them realistic in any way. They look like they could be in a Pixar movie, which is just what the series calls for. The first cutscene in the game really sums up the visual direction of the game. Sonic is back to his smart talking and Robotnik kicking roots. It really is great, and after seeing it, I couldn’t wait to dive in. 

 (This looks promising)

(Yeah Super Sonic is Back too)

Sonic Unleashed is not a great game. It’s a good game with a few big flaws. Sonic Team made a 3D Sonic game that people would have loved if there had been no such thing as a Werehog. If you look at the average ratings for Sonic Unleashed, you’ll see ratings of 3-4 out of 10, but if it were me, it would be closer to a 7. It’s fun, and it gets me excited for new Sonic games again. Sonic Colors, for example, looks like it’s going to take the best from Sonic Unleashed and ditch the Werehog bits in favor of new platforming mechanics that are looking to be well implemented. Also, Sonic 4 is coming, and looks like quite a good return to form for Sonic’s 2D adventures. Sonic’s future is looking kind of bright. After all the years (that’s right, YEARS) of having to deal with bad Sonic games, it looks like we might be getting some good stuff in the near future.

Why I'm Excited About Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I heard about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for the first time at the beginning of this year. I didn’t really know much about it from the small paragraph preview in Playstation Magazine, but the story and setting sounded interesting. If you haven’t heard, the story is set 150 years in the future and revolves around a character named Monkey who is enslaved when Trip, a technologically proficient young girl, puts a mechanical headband on him for her protection. The headband ensures that Monkey will keep Trip alive because if she dies the headband will kill Monkey, and they are in an extremely hostile environment. That’s a pretty darn good set up for an action game. Now, up until recently I had only heard about the game, but with the recent release of the demo on the Playstation Network, I was able to see the game in action, and now, I can’t wait for this game. Here are a few reasons why.

1. It’s a Gorgeous Game
Just look at this game. It’s set in the post apocalypse, but instead of going the route of Fallout 3 or Borderlands, this game seems to take its cues from Uncharted. That’s a pretty awesome approach to post apocalyptic ruin. The cities have been taken over by lush jungle and vegetation, and it all looks hopeful until you zoom out a bit and realize you’re not in a jungle; you’re in New York City. It also contrasts with the tone of the game; it’s after the world as we, the players, know it has ended, but it’s just so beautiful to see. 

                            (This is the first level)

(This looks outstanding...oh the girl, she's nice too)

2. The Platforming
The platforming in Enslaved seems to be the sort you’d expect from an action game on this generation of consoles. Like games in the style of Uncharted, Infamous, God of War, Assassins Creed, and Prince of Persia, you see objects that you can grab onto, and you jump to grab them until you reach the destination (usually the top of the building, wall etc.), but what makes this game look special are two things: the speed and precision with which Monkey traverses the obstacles in his environment and the set pieces that have been revealed so far while you’re doing the platforming. For example, in the first level of the game, Monkey has to climb up the side of an enormous airship while it’s crashing and make sure he gets up to the top before the ship crashes into a dilapidated building. This looks simply breathtaking and seems to move with the same grace that Monkey employs in the combat. 

 (He makes it look so easy)

(But I'm sure it won't be)
3. The Combat Looks Awesome
Speaking of which, the combat looks to be outstanding, and considering that Ninja Theory’s last game was Heavenly Sword, we can probably safely assume that it will be. The players will take control of Monkey, a tough loner, to combat the robots that were left over from a mysterious war. Trip refers to them as Slavers, but from what has been released, there is no clear answer as to where they came from. Trip asks Monkey, “Why do they want to kill us?” Monkey puts it quite bluntly, “It’s all they know.” In other words, there is no reasoning with these things, they are designed to do one thing: kill humans.  Monkey is extremely acrobatic, and it shows in the combat. He jumps, flips, and rolls with a grace that other action game heroes don’t have. 

 (Is there anything this guy can't do?)

The game looks like it’s going to follow the hack and slash formula and have some light character progression, but it’s not the mechanics that make it look outstanding, it’s the way they’re delivered. Monkey flows with the same grace in the combat that he employs in the platforming making the end result look outstanding. All in all both the platforming and action seem amazingly polished and look incredibly fun, and that seems to be the key between these two gameplay mechanics: they aren’t incredibly innovative; they look like they’re polished in a way that makes this game looks outstanding.

 (Hopefully this means they will add platforming puzzles to the combat)

4. Trip
When early previews of Enslaved went up, a lot of people were pretty vocal about their skepticism of a game that seemed to be built around the idea of escorting a character who was unable to defend herself throughout the entire game. To be honest, it didn’t seem like the most fun idea in the world, but after reading more and more previews and finally seeing some of the gameplay, I really think the Monkey-Trip dynamic looks like a lot of fun. Trip’s tech savvy characteristics allow Monkey to upgrade his melee weapons, eventually giving him some ranged attacks that add some cover shooter mechanics to the mix. Also, she has a robotic dragonfly that can scout out enemies’ locations before you have to fight them. This looks like it will allow for more varied battle strategies and give more opportunities for the player to change it up throughout the game.

(Looks like she'll be upgrading Monkey's weapons with this)

Also, the relationship between Monkey and Trip will obviously be strained (she did enslave him after all), so it should be interesting to see how the relationship will evolve between the two. Monkey looks a good bit older than Trip, so I’m hoping for a father-daughter relationship rather than a love interest situation just because that’s been done so many times, and it would be nice to see something a bit different. Trip seems to be an interesting element in the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Ninja Theory do with her. 

 (Hopefully this is indicative of how the gameplay will be prioritized)
5. The Enemies
Most games throw the same cookie cutter enemies at the player over and over again. Some games don’t even bother to throw much imagination into them after a point. The developers create enough to keep things interesting most of the time, but they have the same 5 to 10 enemy types for the player to fight, and that’s it. Now, I don’t think that Enslaved will be too different from that formula; however, I do think that we will all be a lot more wowed by these enemies. The robot slavers look like they’re going to be an extremely diverse set of enemies. The designs look outstanding, and if you look at the video at the end of the gameplay demo, you’ll see that the bosses look to be just as diverse. 

 (Looks pretty creepy)

(Might have to start praying on this one)

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West looks like it’s going to be a pretty outstanding game visually and be extremely solid mechanically. It seems a little strange that Namco haven’t put more into advertising for this particular title. It sure seems like they put quite a bit of money into making it. Hopefully the game will be as fun as it looks, and I can’t wait to play it. 

Also, here's the URL to the demo; it's in two parts. Watch the end of part 2 for the shots of the boss.

Part 1 -
Part 2 -

And if you just want the trailer its at: 7:50 in part 2. 


Why the New Dante is Just Fine

Watch that first if you haven't seen it. Otherwise what follows will make no sense.

When the new Devil May Cry game was announced at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, the new Dante was also revealed, and of course, the internet user backlash was quick and full of hate. I was pretty put out by the idea of a reboot instead of a direct sequel, but after watching the trailer a few more times, I got excited, and when I saw the comments of pure hate, I decided to come up with some reasons to give it a chance.

1. The Tone Works
If you look at all the Devil May Cry games --accept for 2 because that one didn’t match up and is discounted by more than a few fans—the tone is that of Dante being a tough, trash talking, quick witted and all around badass character. The creators instilled those characteristics throughout each game. Even in 2 where Dante was almost lifeless, the player still knew that he was tough because he could slice through enemies with ease (maybe a little too much ease, but still). 
The new Dante looks to be absolutely no different. Regardless of whether you think Dante should be smoking or not, he still looks like he kicks as much demon butt as ever and he’s still doing it with style. Look at the trailer again; whenever Dante starts fighting he burns one demon he has in a headlock with a cigarette, then rushes head first into a group of these monsters and uses his pistols at close range. That sounds like the Dante that everyone knows and loves right? In other words, this Dante isn’t emo; this Dante isn’t a Twilight character because those two things are defined by your actions not your haircut, and his actions seem pretty brutal here.

If this is emo: 

 Then so is this by definition:

The new music works as well. Now, this is obviously a matter of preference. The music in the first 4 games fit well with the gothic setting, but not with Dante’s attitude. “Taste the blood; taste your fate; swallow your pride with your hate.”  This does not personify Dante’s Devil may care attitude in the least. The old music was too brooding; it worked, but only just and sort of became a joke by the 4 game. Now the new music seems to go along perfectly with Dante’s attitude and the setting. It’s fast paced; it’s hard; and it’s cool.

2. This Fits Perfectly With References to Dante’s Past
Dante never goes into detail about his past. No one does. There’s a vague reference in the 3 game about he and Vergil meeting a year before the events of that game, but that’s it. In the 3 game, it is implied heavily implied that Dante is reluctant of the demon powers he has inherited from his father, Sparda and that Vergil wants as much as he can have. With that in mind, it makes sense that Dante would be an extremely troubled teen. At this point in his life we have no idea if his mother has been killed or if Vergil has turned (for lack of a better phrase) to the dark side. If these two things have happened, it seems pretty clear that Dante would be angry and rebellious. His parents are MIA and his brother is evil. This fits into a possible explanation for his white patch: he wants to reject the demon side of himself and dyes his hair to cover it up (that’s an early assumption, so it’s probably incorrect). Also, people seem upset that he’s a smoker in this depiction, and no matter how he felt about smoking once he was an adult, as a teen, he probably cares a lot less about his body (as most teens do). Besides smoking, how does he take all this aggression he has out? By killing demons of course! He’s not bottling it all up like an “emo” kid would do; he’s doing what Dante does, and that means killing a lot of demons with style. Now, once he got most of this aggression out of his system he could easily turn into the more sarcastic and smart mouthed demon hunter of DMC 3. All-in-all this fits Dante’s persona much better than most people seem to think it does.

This DOES make sense:

3. Everything is Still in Place
What does every DMC fan remember about the iconic and amazing DMC series? White hair, Ebony and Ivory, big swords (named Rebellion, Force Edge, Red Queen, and Yamato), plenty of creepy demons to kill, and an awesome front man that’s what. And guess what? They’re all still here. 

The white hair is hard to spot, but it’s in this picture and every subsequent screenshot (I promise):

 (See it's on top of his head, I'm not making it up)

The twin pistols:

(They're Even Black and White Here)

The Big Sword and a decent shot of the new creepy demons:

(Well here it;s a scythe, but I mention the weapon changing a little later.)

And the tough character:

 (Yeah, I know this is polarizing)

In other words, this is still your Devil May Cry; it’s just been given a visual overhaul and not even a huge one. The refinements are just to make Dante look younger; that’s all. 

4. Combat Looks Promising
Take a look at some of the action from the trailer; ignore the look of Dante; just focus on the action.
Dante is shooting demons at close range; this isn’t new to the series which should make the naysayers happy. Something that is new is the melee system. Dante’s new “sword” is changing from pole arm, to sword, to a some kind of chain weapon watch at 1:22; see how it looks like a sword and then changes to be the chain weapon? This would make sense as Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword employed this kind of system. Also, he’s using these different forms of the weapon to tear up the environment pretty hard. This is exciting. It could make the action even more brutal than it’s ever been. 

Speaking of Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory can do action quite adequately. The overlooked and under appreciated (by gamers) debut title from Ninja Theory shows how capable the team is at making action very fun and engaging. With multiple combo options and different types of weapon variations for each type of enemy that comes, they really made something special, especially considering that it was their first title (as Ninja Theory). We’ll have to see how Enslaved: Odyssey to the West shapes up, but they have my confidence.

 (So I hear this was a pretty good debut)

5. It’s Really Way too Early to Tell
Despite all these reasons I’ve come up with here (and the various hate comments that have popped up), the fact is that it’s just too early. All of this hate and hope are based on a trailer for a game that is more than likely in extremely early stages of development. There’s not one frame of gameplay here; the trailer is less than two minutes long; and it’s all just speculation at this point. The whole thing is just that people are very attached to this series. Anything that Ninja Theory and Capcom could have put out at this point (or any for that matter) would be met with criticism and hate, but it’s just too early to know if this game will be good, and isn’t that the whole point?

The Popularity of Gaming Today

I heard a game developer on the bombcast say that if you told gamers ten years ago how popular games are today, they wouldn't believe you, but if you told someone ten years ago why games were so popular today, they wouldn't want to believe you. It's true. I'm living in the here and now and I still don't want to believe it. Gaming is popular now on all the wrong platforms for all the wrong reasons. I use the word platform loosely because some of these “platforms” are not very traditional in terms of gaming. Gaming is popular now because it is convenient.

Let’s take the worst offenders first: facebook and myspace apps. You know these. They are things like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and all the other stuff that fills your social network activity stream with spam. These apps are no more games than a youtube video is a movie. A lot of work may have gone into them, and they may be good practice for getting your foot in the door of that particular industry, but they are not really a final product. In other words no one should aspire to make facebook apps for a living. Hopefully the point is to move onto real games. Look at the latest update for Farmville compared to an upcoming triple A video game release.


Does not equal this:

Now portable gaming has the same problem. Too many oversimplified and bite sized games to really be considered an actual platform for games, but as sure as I’m typing, Apple is billing the ipad and the iphone as “real” gaming platforms. While this is true up to a point, (Epic Games has done some great things with their Unreal engine on the platform as well as id software) most games that come to these devices are not even on par with most flash games you can find on any free gaming site. While these apps are cheap and easy to access with the extremely dominant app store, they are not really games. The original gameboy had probably less than a tenth of the processing power of the iphone, but its games were more in depth and substantially more fun. Now, iphone games are more on par with other portables than Facebook apps as far as visuals go, but seldom do these games actually have the same amount of depth as a Playsation Portable or a Nintendo DS Once again here’s a comparison. 


Doesn't quite equal these:

Now possibly the biggest threat to traditional gaming is the target audience for the Nintendo Wii. It really is pretty lame that the biggest game company in the current race and the longest running game company can make their way back to the top by making their games so simplistic and unentertaining that anyone can get into them. Making games accessible is a good thing. What Nintendo has done here, is not. The biggest reason for the Wii’s success: price. It’s the cheapest console on the market and has been since its launch. Also, parents remember the name Nintendo even if they never played it. Now, making this new inexpensive console is a good thing, but the sheer amount of sub-par and downright unplayable games on the market for the Wii are astounding. And people will shell out so much money to play them because, “Look, when I shake the remote, he moves.” It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and not because I dislike motion control. It's just that whenever kids today remember playing a video game for the first time, their memories will be of shaking controllers to make their Mii do something vaguely reminiscent of that motion. 

Now am I so bitter that I cannot respect Nintendo? Of course not. They have brought gaming to the masses and are now trying to sneak a few really great games back into the mix with Donkey Kong Country Returns, Metroid other M, Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Epic Mikey. These are all really good looking games that might trick some Wii-owners into buying an actual good game. 

All these add up to very little, however. Most “serious” gamers have either an Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or all three consoles. They don’t bother with Facebook apps and only play iphone apps for convenience sake rather than getting a legitimate piece of portable gaming hardware. But that’s exactly the problem: people should not want to play video games for convenience sake but for the love of the industry and the desire to get the best experience available for home or on the go gaming.