The 2009 Endies: Day 1

As 2009 fades from our memories like a high school crush and we return to the rigors of daily life, I'd like to take a few days to reflect on my personal gaming experiences, or lack thereof.  I didn't do nearly as much gaming as I'd hoped, but probably did about as much as I realistically expected.  School has become a new kind of suffocating; some might even view it as a peaceful smothering of my life outside of the hospital... but not me.  So let's get to my personal End o' the Year Awards, or as I call 'em, The Endies!
 

Good Start Award

This award goes to the game that I most enjoyed starting, but never finished.  To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Make a fantastic first impression, and 2. Make me regret that I have not, and may never, finish it.  Please note that me being regretful is an objective state determined by the number of times that I say "rad" and/or  "'splosion" when talking about the game in question.

 
And the Endy goes to...

 
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 Winner: Beyond Good & Evil (PS2)   
 
 
  
 

  • Runner-Up: Halo 3: ODST  (360)
 

This was actually a pretty tight race.  I started off the year with grand ambitions, hoping to record an entire play-through of BG&E and share it with all of you.  That fell through when I was gently reminded by my curriculum that I'm in medical school, not grade school.  BG&E was the victim of my disillusion and I weep for it.  I loved every minute that I spent with the game, yet I inexplicably have not picked it up since recording the first 60 minutes of gameplay, which included numerous rad 'splosions.  The graphics are fantastic for their time, the story is interesting, and the gameplay mechanics work together like an assembly line.   Yet the question remains: Will I come back to it this year?  No one really knows, not even me.  Maybe God, but he's omnipotent, so that makes sense.  But honestly, I really hope I do.  I don't want it to win another Endy in this category next year.
 
ODST makes a strong case for this Endy, but I know that I'll finish it in the new year.  I loved my time with the game, and it's still new enough to be relevant.  The way the story unfolds is a lot of fun and the music is simply beautiful.  We shall surely meet again.  Hence, the runner-up position.
 

Glass Half-Empty Award

This award goes to the game that lives on on the razor's edge, teetering between objectively good and painfully average. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Be a quality product with no glaring technical deficiencies, and 2. Make me struggle to come up with positive adjectives to describe it. Positive adjectives include, but are not limited to, "rad" and "'splosioney."

And the Endy goes to...

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Winner : Turok (360)
 
 
 

 
  • Runner-Up: Bejeweled (XBLA)

 
Oh Turok, you bleed gray.  You're not good, you're not bad, you're just really, really mediocre.  Not even the soothing sounds of Ron Perlman's angelic voice could save you from the extinction of my interest.  Sure, killing dinos in close combat was fun for the first hour, but after that I wanted more; I wanted something with some meat in it; I wanted a brontosaurus burger with all the toppings, not just some seared Tyranno flesh.   But instead of satiating my hunger with a main course, you served me appetizers of repetitive levels with a side salad of tired gunplay.  We could have been great together, Turok.  We could have been great... ;-( 
 
The runner-up is a borderline acceptable XBLA game known as Bejeweled.  Sure the game was an internet sensation, but it offers very little to console veterans.  It's perfectly competent and does exactly what it advertises; the problem is that it's just not fun.  The free XBLA launch title, Hexic HD, is a sparkling diamond when compared to this moissanite pretender.  Sure that game was better on the PC as well, but at least it retained some semblance of joy in it's transition.  In fact, Bejeweled only avoids winning this award because I realized its dullness so immediately in my play time. 
 
 

Closing Ceremony


That's all for today folks.  I'll be back tomorrow with more outlandish awards (which will become steadily more boring as I realize how much time I've spent writing these blogs, but just ignore that fact and pretend they're marvelous... and also ignore this last sentence... Sure I could just delete it, but... um.. bye!)
 
`Nick
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'Tis Better...

I needn't finish that quote because what we had is not lost.  I'm back and, thanks to some recent spectacular gaming experiences, am newly committed to my estranged hobby.  Now, "newly committed" should not be misconstrued to mean I will become some sort of professional gamer who surgeries people on the side, as I remain a busy human being and will require a steady source of dollars and quids and pesos and whatnot.  Instead, it means I will make an effort to delve into the many fantastic adventures that have jauntily sauntered into my collection over the past several months and years.  
 
In other good news, this witty blog is just the tip of the iceberg that is my glorious return to the internet, a wonderful land where anonymity allows even the scrawniest of nerds to topple the mightiest Yeti with poor spelling, circular logic, and a complete unwillingness to do supportive research.  Tomorrow, I plan on beginning a series of end-of-the-year awards which, barring any sort of horrendously hassle-filled hardware hazards, should run for a couple of days.   I will also try to update with some sort of real blog or video in the near future to fill you in on what I've been up to in the 3D world, despite the fact that it's been lacking in helicopter fights.  Don't stay thirsty, my friends.  Drink something.
 
`Nick

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Quick Update

  A few notes.

  • Third year of med school is amazing. Extremely busy, but amazing.
  • Rock Band 2 (360) is still awesome and my friends are still obsessed with playing it every time they come over.
  • Braid (XBLA) is a beautifully challenging game that has given me two moments of intense satisfaction: 1) Solving all 60 puzzle pieces on my own; 2) Beating the challenge time for the speed run.
  • Ikaruga (XBLA) is tough.

 
`Nick

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Chicago

I didn't do any gaming this weekend, but that's okay because I was enjoying myself on a visit to Chicago.  I basically avoided all of the tourist trap activities, only walking through Millennium Park to get somewhere else.  Instead of the standard fare, I spent most of my time catching up with two of my good college buddies, watching/playing sports, and throwing back a few beers.  The highlight of the trip has to be the Second City performance that we attended.  The skits were hilarious and the improv was almost impeccable.  If you ever go to Chicago, I highly suggest you check it out.

As for the sports, I ended up playing a bit of soccer, volleyball, and softball.  It's quite a sight to see hundreds of people playing volleyball on a huge beach and I had an absolute blast.  It was also quite eye-opening to see how many parks and green fields can be found in such a large city.  Overall I had a great time and am now exhausted.  I firmly believe that vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but when you've been sitting on your butt for 18 hours a day, a little activity is a good thing.  My only complaint about the weekend is the 3 or so hours that I spent sitting in stand-still traffic.... and the other 11 hours of driving I did over the weekend.  Still, it was worth it.

`Nick

P.S.  Here's some awesome music:

  

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Easing into Gaming: 80s Style

Sometimes I think we forget just how large of a commitment many modern-day games really are.  Having not gamed seriously in the past couple years, I'm actually too intimidated to fire up Fable II or Halo Wars right now, instead opting to start with something simpler.  As such, I'm beginning my return to gaming with a few 80s classics courtesy of Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade and the ridiculous advergame known as Doritos Dash of Destruction.

Galaga (XBLA)


Give me back my son!  I mean,  ship!
Give me back my son! I mean, ship!
The vast majority of gamers have heard of Galaga and probably played it at some point in their lives, whether it be in its original arcade format or later on t he NES and every other console that followed, so I don't need to elaborate on the gameplay mechanics.  Instead, I'll just say that this sucker is hard.  So hard that you'll probably be inclined to check out a few YouTube videos to find out how the experts do it.  Now I'm not trying to say it's unfair or impossible, but simply acknowledging that this game was made to be a quarter-eater when it was released.  On the flip side, the achievements in this game are a breeze thanks to the unlimited continues supplied by Namco.  Work your way to level 31 and you'll have gained 11/12 achievements and be ready to call it a day.  The last one requires a bit more work, requiring you to perfectly clear a challenge stage, but you should be able to get it with a little practice, persistence, and the double ship upgrade.  All in all, I had a good time with this senior citizen of the gaming world and netted 200/200 achievement points in about an hour and a half.

New Rally X (XBLA)


Blue Car > Red Cars
Blue Car > Red Cars
Judging by the reviews I've read, not a lot of people enjoy this game.  I'm on the other end of the spectrum: I love it.  You basically spend your time navigating a maze in search of flags, while fending off enemy cars with your wits and some timely smoke screens.  It's relatively simple in premise, but the real complexity shines through when you attempt to attain a high score.  There are two special flags labeled "S" for special and "L" for lucky.  The Special flag doubles the value of every subsequent flag on that level, as long as you manage to stay alive.  This means you need to avoid the enemy vehicles, boulders, and other flags as you navigate to the Special flag first.  This is possible thanks to a very cool radar feature on the right side of the screen.  The Lucky flag doesn't appear on the radar, but it rewards you based on the amount of fuel you have remaining in your tank, so it behooves you to find it first.  If you like games that mix brains with reflexes, I suggest you give this one a try.  Also, the music rocks.  I spent about an hour and a half and was able to nab all 200/200 achievement points.  A couple of them are tough (100,000 points and clearing levels 1 through 7 without dying), but I had so much fun playing that I wanted to get a perfect on this one.

Doritos Dash of Destruction


If this game allowed the 360 to shoot Doritos out its disc hole, I'd forgive its flaws.
If this game allowed the 360 to shoot Doritos out its disc hole, I'd forgive its flaws.
The developers of this advertisement masquerading as a game actually did a pretty noble job with what they had.  Playing as the dinosaur is a drag because the controls are terrible, but driving a delivery truck away from a stampeding T-Rex has a certain charm.  Overall, the game is fun for a few minutes and the achievements are so easy that you'll have no problem getting them all.  By the time you're ready to move on, you'll have grabbed 200/200 points and only wasted about 30 minutes of your life.

So that was my morning.  600 points later, I'm contemplating playing a little bit more tonight and then I'm heading to Chicago for the weekend to see some friends from college.  Being on vacation for the first time in 6 years is awesome.  Really awesome.

`Nick
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Step 1 Down, 2 to Go

Hey everyone, I hope you're all doing well.  I just thought I'd give you a bit of an update on what I've been doing.  I spent the last couple months studying for Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) and finally took it on June 5th.  I won't know how I did until the middle of July, but I'm extremely glad to be done. This exam covers everything from the first two years of medical school and how one performs is relatively important in determining what specialties will be available later on.  After that, I had a week of Intro to Clinical Medicine (ICM), which was basically a very quick primer on life in the hospital.  I finished that up on Friday and have been traveling since then.  So, while it may not sound like much, that's what I've been up to.

As I've been studying my butt off, I've found precious little time for gaming.  The biggest draws have been Contra 4 (DS) and Plants Vs Zombies (PC).  I can honestly say that both games are fantastic and come highly recommended. 

Contra 4 has a bit of a learning curve, but is actually pretty easy once you've got a handle on the levels and weapons.  I enjoyed it so much that I actually went through

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and completed all 40 challenges, which are much more difficult than the main game itself.  Besides improving your skills for the main game, conquering the challenges also unlocks extra characters, an interview, and some other cool stuff.  The controls are great, the music is enjoyable, and the level designs perfectly balance nostalgia  with the DS's technical prowess.  Despite all of these positives, there are a few pertinent negatives you should consider before purchasing.  For one, there are a lot of cheap deaths due to the dual screen layout; it becomes very easy to lose bullets in between the screens.  And even though the game is challenging, the powered up weapons are much too strong and the bosses are pretty easy, especially the final one.  Don't be surprised if you're able to save the world without even dying in the final confrontation.


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If you haven't heard about Plants Vs Zombies, you should definitely check it out.  It introduces itself as a tower defense game, but it has a lot of unique features.  The game also does a fantastic job of keeping you hooked by continually doling out new seeds and levels.  The game is probably a little too easy, but the art style is endearing and everything else just seems to work.  It's only $9.99 on Steam and has some pretty interesting achievements, so go get it. 

So that's about it for me.  I'll probably be around a bit more before I start my third year, which will consume my life with 12 hour days and studying at night.  I'll be reading your blogs and commenting when I can, so I look forward to hearing from you all.

`Nick
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EndGame: Elite Beat Agents (DS)

Elite Beat Agents is an interesting game with a lot of character and some great humor.  Unfortunately, it also has a lot of problems.  In it, you play as the Elite Beat Agents, a group of dancing government (?) agents, whose sole purpose is to make a difference in the lives of others.  How do they do this?  By dancing, of course.  At it's heart, EBA is a simple rhythm game you play using the only the stylus.  You'll find yourself tapping, dragging, and tracing your way to the beat.  This is all well and good when it works, but when it doesn't, the game can be a frustrating mess.

The Good

  • Controls - The touch screen is responsive and it never feels like you miss a beat due to lousy detection.  The spinning sections can be annoying, but they are never unfair due to sloppy controls.
  • Crazy Humor - The game is loaded with off-the wall humor and ridiculous situations.  Helping a penniless oil baron get his gold-digging wife back is a joy.
  • Style - The cut scenes and comic book panels look fantastic and really grab the player's attention.  The colorful art is an excellent supplement to the wacky tales unfolding during the missions.
  • Music - Some of the songs are great choices and lend themselves to this type of rhythm game.'

The Bad

  • Difficulty - There is nothing wrong with a game being difficult.  In fact, I love a good challenge and the gameplay difficulty actually ramps up nicely in EBA, unlocking more challenging versions of the song as you go.  The problem here is that it can be difficult for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes the screen is too cluttered to tell where the next beat will appear.  Even worse, your own hand will often get in the way of seeing the screen.  This leads to a lot of repetition and memorization.
  • Repetition - Something about having to repeat songs in this game seems worse than in other rhythm games.  You're forced to sit through all of the cutscenes just to get back to the part of the song that you failed, even though you've seen them before.  If the part you're struggling with is at the end of the song (which it invariably will be, due to the nature of the game), you'll spend a lot of time playing the parts you already know and very little working on those you need to learn.  This could've been ameliorated with a practice mode, but no such thing exists.
  • Variety - Or lack thereof.  There are only 19 songs in the game and you will probably see the majority of them in the first day if you start on the easiest setting.  Three songs open up as you increase your score and level up, but it's just not enough.  We've come to expect a lot of variety in our rhythm games thanks to Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, so this seems like a step backwards.
  • Music - The music is a relatively eclectic mix and it works most of the time, but there are a few stinkers in there.  It's obvious they wanted to please a large fan base, but some of the song/story pairings make no sense (e.g., Sk8er Boi, Walkie Talkie Man, etc.).

The Ugly

  • The Christmas Episode - Yeah...  You really need to play it to understand just how bizarre it is.  My reviews are spoiler-free zones so I'll just say that it caught me completely off guard.  If you want to know more, just google it or send me a PM.

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Modes played and beaten: Training, Breezin', Cruisin'

Modes played and not beaten: Sweatin'

Modes not played: Multiplayer, Hard rock

Time Spent: 5 hours

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