Truly, this is the age of Power Up Based Racers

 Part of me wants to give Activision's Marketing Department kudos for the timing of their big press event, and how it popped up the week that Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and ModNation Racers both got Quickly Looked at as it strikes me as the perfect way to rob both kart racers of their thunder. Watching the Kart Racers' Quick Looks what really stuck with me was how derivative they were rather than how their deviations from the formula were well done or how their fan service was better than Nintendo's fan service. While I sorta got the impression that for Mario Kart clones they were perfectly fine, the thing Blur made me realize is that I don't want a Mario Kart Clone. Now, this might be partially because I've never been a Mario Kart man myself. The earlier games controlled horribly and the later games had terrible power ups and AI issues. I was always more of a Diddy Kong Racing man myself, and blur seems more like DKR than it does MK64. Items aren't randomized, theres an emphasis on collecting them and using them smartly, and there are several different classes of vehicles which all handle distinctly. It's interesting to note that the game that avoids the stigmas of being comparable to Mario Kart takes after a game that avoided the stigmas of being a Mario Kart Clone. 
Going back to the Kart Racers, Sonic and Sega seems fine for what it is, a massive fan service wrapped around a kart racing game. Lots of well detailed tracks and characters from Sega's back catalog. As someone who has little experience with Sonic outside of the 3D ones (Which I actually enjoyed at the time) and a few other games, what it really did is make me wish that Nintendo's fan service in Mario Kart was half as good as this. I mean, they only give one course to DK per game, and that course will either be a jungle that doesn't look at all like anything seen on Donkey Kong Island, or a Mountain that may bear a slight resemblance to K3. Fucking Samba has like 3 courses in the Sega game, and everything looks like it wasn't made to fit into the game better, it was made to please fans more. But then, despite how good the fan service looks to me as an observer, judging from the quick look, actual Sega fans just walk away with a list of characters and franchises that should've been represented. I guess it speaks to the futility of fan service, as even if you do try to put together a fair amount of quality locations and characters for your game, crazy fans, that is to say your target audience, will be disappointed in the exclusions of their favorite characters and locations from your past. Brawl was like that for me with K Rool and Krystal as my reasonable hopes and Jr Troopa as my impossibly obscure hope.
  As for ModNation Racers, it also looks fine for what is is, but watching the quick look I found the claims of the producer to really ring false considering how it was a clone and all. It's the way he talks about how the Power Up System is unique when it is obviously the DKR Stacking Power Up system only random, as well as the way he talks about how one might drop a mine when picking up a power up if they were to be clever, despite that being the first thing that comes to mind in a Mario Kart game when one gets a mine, especially in the case of the Fake Item Box mine. In the blur quick look road trip, Ben Ward pulls off a similar technique, dropping a mine as he picks up a nitro, but he does not stop to comment on it being something original to blur, and I think that's one of the strengths blur has as a power up based racer. It does not stop to say that it has originated all the ways of using power ups, only that it implements them more fairly and more satisfyingly than ever before.


Mass Effect 2 and Conker's Stories

Been thinking about Mass Effect 2's story after abandoning the game in my second play through pretty much immediately, and how while I thought that it was the strongest thing about the game in your first time, it totally falls apart when you see the same scenes play out with the only difference being some slightly different dialog from Shepard. The Illusion that any of your decisions have weight is lost, except for the one where you can choose to be all Paragon or all Renegade for a minor reward at the end. I've been thinking back to replaying Conker a few months back, and how that game didn't offer any illusions of control, and as such offers a much more compelling  and honest narrative.
Not to say everything in Conker still held up, the a lot of the crude stuff wasn't nearly as amusing to me as it was even a few years ago. The Great Mighty Poo song in particular seemed much more unpleasant than it was funny, but really it was Conker's portrayal which I really dug that time. He really seemed like an honest character, being somewhat of a dick at times when he didn't like people, but not always as ME2 would have you do going down the Renegade path. What I got out of him is best seen in the lines "Aren't you a little short to be a grim reaper?" "Well, how many grim reapers have you met before, mate? What, what am I supposed to look like?" "Yeah, that's a good point, and well made." It's really interesting to as while Conker starts off as a dick, when called out on his dickishness, he backs down pretty much immediately, which to me makes him seem honest. He's a very cynical squirrel and is quick to make dick comments, but he usually knows when it's important to take a more responsible tact. He's sensitive to context, which is something the all renegade or all paragon Shepard isn't. 
I played as a middle of the road Shepard myself, treating every dialog option tenderly, looking for options which people wanted to hear instead of going for Paragon or Renegade, and in the end I guess I payed the price by losing half my team in the suicide mission. It's just a bit of a bummer than the game punishes me for trying to make a choices in real time, instead of all in advance.


Trends and Darksiders

So played the Darksiders Demo, and it's Zelda. It has a lot of good ideas and a few bad ideas, which really got me thinking about trends in gaming, both good and bad. Theres a simple difference between one and the other, as good trends spread when a designer says "that was sweet in Blank by the Blanks" and throws it in. Bad trends meanwhile, are perpetuated when designers say "This was in Blank of Blank" and consider that a good enough reason. An idea being in a popular game does not imply that it is a good idea. If you were to ask the guys who made Dante's Inferno "Why must Dante mash X to open a chest?" or indeed "Why is anything in this game the way it is?" you know you would get the answer "Because God of War did it."   
Really, game designers need to ask themselves, what is that people look for in the type of game we intend to make, and is this the best way to address those criteria? I for instance don't think that having an indiscriminate amount of orbs fly out of dudes and objects so that you can buy moves for arbitrary prices is the right way to go, as it renders the moves optional and thus no fights will demand a mastery of any given one, meaning that the player might not ever master the intricacies of the combat. I guess you could combat that by having an enemies have mile long health bars, requiring mastery of the combat, but even that that's a general mastery while you should be teaching the combat one technique at a time, and it violates the rule of three, making your game less fun as players use the cheapest or safest attack 20 times in a row to take out one or two dudes. So probably not the best idea, despite the fact that a popular game does it. Really, the mashey spammy overlong combat derived from these bad trends was what convinced me to stop playing the Darksiders Demo, and indeed stop thinking about purchasing it.
But then again Darksiders also has a lot of good in it coming from the Zelda bits, as it really does play as if designers looked at Zelda and asked "What is it that players expect out of Zelda, and how can we better address these expectations?" Sure, it has temples like a Zelda game, an inventory screen that looks like its taken right out of Zelda, bomb plants that you will be expected to throw at bombable rocks, even a puzzle where you have to chain your bomb plants, but theres a lot of fantastic polish that went into it. Theres the smooth platforming elements and climbing elements which sorta remind me of Kameo except a lot more smooth and enjoyable. Compared to the slow ass climbing in Zelda games and the nonexistent platforming elements, it's a godsend. I also really dug the Aiming Mode, which is their way of dealing with the fact that First Person Perspective in action games is played out, but precision is still needed for puzzles. Basically it zooms into a 3rd Person shooting perspective that while not optimal for combat, is swift and precisionate for puzzle solving, which is just how it should be. Personally I had been thinking about how I would handle that problem about a month ago and came up with a similar solution, so seeing that it works makes me happy.  
So yeah, I liked the way that Darksiders implemented and improved upon Zelda a lot, but really it's the trends that they centered the fighting on that made me quit it and return to the Dashboard. I guess it goes to show that while accepting good trends into your game and replacing what you don't feel was good enough in the source material with innovation goes a long way to making a game great, a single bad idea can hurt the product significantly.


Borderlands and Controls

So I borrowed Borderlands from a friend a few days ago, having played the first 20 levels or so with him sporadically when it came out in splitscreen, and got about 10 levels into it in two days. It's fun and the shooting has a sorta open ended thing going for it which I've enjoying, though I'm getting the impression that the guns, despite their procedural nature, aren't quite diverse enough to really bring the game alive like say, Bioshock 2's Plasmids do, which makes it seem hard to think that the game is solid enough to last the time it suggests it does. That said I am enjoying it for the time being, and the Coop was always solid, so presuming that someone on my friend's list doesn't mind playing with a level 10 with no DLC, which happened the first time I popped it in, it should continue to be fun. 
That said, I'm really annoyed by the way it controls. Not strictly in terms of sensitivity, that's something that I adjusted to quickly, but in terms of button mapping. Basically after playing probably around 30 hours of Bioshock 2 offline and online, I was used to those controls and as such even today I'm constantly hitting the wrong button. Jumping when I mean to pick something up, switching weapons when I mean to jump, throwing a grenade when I mean to switch weapons. I guess it's more a problem with myself than with the game, being accustomed to another game's unchangeable control scheme, but that doesn't stop it from being annoying, and thus its problem. It doesn't help that I sorta feel like I don't like a lot of the choices in its controls from the start. Sure, it offered some alternatives, but they didn't really seem any better, and given that one of them maps shooting to a bumper, I'd guess they' weren't being serious with those schemes. 
I'm interested in what Perfect Dark's Live Arcade release is trying, making control mappings according to matching FPS controls, such as the Spartan control scheme and the Duty Calls control scheme, which seems to go a little farther to address the reason people actually want alternate control schemes, to resist change. I really hope they've throw in more thinly veiled control schemes, namely a Bioshock 2 based one called "Little Fish". I don't expect all the functions of Perfect Dark to have perfect parallels to Bioshock's functions, but then it's simple stuff like Weapon Selection, Reloading, and using I'm looking for, which is the sort of thing they implied the schemes were for, so it should be good. 


Nintendo's Stuff

Nintendo seem to have just hit their press event where they get a little less vague about their 3 big announced games of this year and show off a bunch of stuff that's either dumb, or too late. For example they made a point that DSiware will be become a games service, as opposed to a venue for clocks with photos. Only it took them a year, and they still got the issue that I don't see myself running out to the store to buy a new version of a system I play 2 games a year on tops. And no, a bigger one doesn't help. Another thing that's stupidly late is Warioware: Do it Yourself. I don't think you're allowed to have any mystery about a game that came out in Japan a solid year ago, so announcing its coming out does little to excite me, rather made me wonder if I was right in thinking it was an April 09 game for Japan. 
Other than that, there were a few trailers for games that are actually of note, and I suppose they look okay. Can't say I really learned anything about the games in question, but makes me want them a bit more. Say what you will about the informative, interesting, 6 months in advance developer diary approach, the vague ass trailer has a way of getting into your head. A part of me makes me want to pass up Galaxy 2 on principle then, in favor of a game that had the decency to try to get me involved by awesome gameplay and developer diaries for months and months, but I sorta think I won't be able to. Pokemon though I'm definitely taking a pass on. As much as I'd love to play through Johto again, there are more better games to buy out there. 
Metroid though looks a bit crap honestly. When looking at the article and drowsily reading the first passage I said to myself "Wait, is this like Shadow Complex? Some 2.5D Action? I could be into that." And then I read on and found that its a story driven metroid game with weird 3D controls and automatic fighting. I sorta wonder if it'll have a focus of exploration what with the solid story they're shoving into the series, but I'm pretty sure I don't care either way. The things they've done to the gameplay just sound bad to me for some reason, and I sorta don't want anything more to do with them.


Bioshock 2 Final Thoughts

So I've played through the Single Player twice (one on Normal, once on easy with no Vita Chambers), and gotten to the 21st Rank in the multiplayer, so I thought I'd summarize how I feel about the game. 

It's hard to say whether or not Bioshock 2 is better than its predecessor as what one does right the other does wrong. I really enjoyed Bioshock 1 back in the day, finding its audiotapes fascinating, its world brilliant, but then it's gameplay was nothing special. Bioshock 2 I also really enjoyed, but because of the faster more punchy action, the big improvements of the Hacking and Research Camera which make them a lot more compelling, the little improvement of the Tonic system, but then a sort of straight forward plot with just enough interesting audiotapes to keep it good.  
  Really though, I feel that the Bioshock series has a lot going for it, as its structure of putting you in what is essentially a miniature sandbox with one or two objectives and bunch of little things to do allows it to have a lot of areas which are designed for action and meaningful exploration, while allowing you the freedoms of an open world game, which is something that other shooters don't have. I've mentioned before (in this list for instance) that I consider collectathons such as the Banjos or DK64, to be closer to the Open World game then they are to the 2D Platformer, suggesting the term "Concentrated Open World Game (With Platforming Elements.)"  I think that Bioshock 1 and 2 could be considered Concentrated Open World Games with shooting.  Really though, the strength of a sandbox comes from the amount of variety in the tasks, which are primarily doing the Main Objectives, collecting audiotapes and hitting up Power to the People Stations, dealing with Little Sisters, and shooting a ton of splicers all around. It's the strength of the last two which really put this game above the first, as for a start killing dudes is a lot more fun, so it becomes a joy to run across a Spoicer when roaming Rapture, and guarding the sister allows for a great twist of the usual gameplay, making you hold ground as hoards converge on you and your little sister. In the end, I think the gameplay story blend of the Bioshock 2 is better suited to take advantage of the miniature sandbox approach to level design they got going, meaning that when I want to play a Bioshock game, I'm going to replay the second because it's a better game.  

The problem I had with the story was that it just felt shorter than the first one by far. Whether it really was is hard to say, as I sorta think that Bioshock 1 was just a lot smarter with pacing its story, and a lot more clever about it. The root of the problem is that the third act of Bioshock 1 was a surprise. Leading up to the death of Andrew Ryan, I thought for sure that the game was wrapping up, and the death of Ryan might as well be where Bioshock ends. But it didn't, instead plowing on for 4 or 5 more areas with a new sense of determination. It allowed us to form an expectation as to when it would end so that it could break that expectation. Bioshock 2 didn't do this so much, and it felt like it didn't have that extra push the first one did. Playing it, I also found the fact that half the primary missions centered around opening or clearing train station doors a bit dumb, but then I thought about how many times Bioshock 1 did the same thing with Bathyspheres and decided it was fine.
To me though, the weakest part of Bioshock 2 by far is the multiplayer. The main problem is that it feels more like a bad Bioshock Multiplayer mod for some random online FPS than it does an extension of Bioshock 2. I mean, optimally one should finish the single player, and roll into the multiplayer feeling confident with the gameplay. This is not true of Bioshock 2, as even at a basic mechanical level the way aiming handles is completely different from multiplayer to single player, the guns feel a lot less powerful, hacking is done by holding down a button, health regenerates, and we're back to either using weapons or plasmids, which becomes terribly annoying when you go to reload. I suppose there have been rounds where I have a lot of fun, but still. The worst thing I could say about it is that when faced with a choice between playing the single player again and playing some of the multiplayer, I choose to replay the single player all the way through, as I could get more variety and action out of the game doing that.


Thoughts about Splosion Man

Finished Splosion man, it's too fucking hard. If I were to rate the first 20, 30 levels alone I'd probably give it a 4 or a 5, but the back half is so unreasonabley hard, and pays no attention to flow, and as a straight foward platformer whos only virtue is that every jump's trajectory is thoughtfully done right such that it can be hit in a perfect run, enemies that hold you up until you bat back 10 projectiles and a difficulty which can have you do the same 20 second stretch for 10 minutes break flow far too often. I really enjoyed level 1-12, but everythings downhill from there, levels become less open ended, free spirited and just plain fun and become exorcises in controller snapping frustration. I'd call it a 2/5, but thats because I'm biased from just having played the last world. The game works well when it's not too hard, and the multis a lot of fun, though timing puzzles based around 4 people and sploding off one another breaks with the presence of lag which seems to fuck up any game, and even moving platforms can be fucked by lag, resulting in platforms in two different places for different people, even after they stop moving, which is not how you build a multiplayer game dependant of coordination on Live. The game feels fun, but at the same time much of it is simply broken. I'd recommend it, but if you value your controllers you should probably stop around world 2. 4/5 
(This review was copy and pasted from twitter, hence why it is a wall of text.)


A good HP game could be made if they didn't use HP Characters

The Half-Blood Prince Quick Look and the demo of Order of the Phoenix I found on Live Marketplace both seem to be all kinds of terrible. In terms of gameplay they look bland, and fail to capitalize on the fun that might be had being a powerfull wizard in Harry Potter's universe. First off, for gameplay, a rail flier and a potions mixer are two of the worst ideas ever. There must be ways to make it fun, perhaps you have to guide the ingrediants from one side of the bowl to the other, Viva Pinata Style, and after they touch the bowl churns a bit and more ingrediants are poured in quick. That might be no fun as well, but it'd be gameplay.

Second all the usage of characters in the games are terrible, the acting poor, and the appearances a bit off (Slughorn not fat enough this time around, should be walrus size). Honestly, if they want to be a good game (they don't, though they might after all the movies pass), they would choose a location that involves a lot less of Hermione, Ron, Harry, Dumbledore, the whole lot, and focuses on characterizing the world, and the details of the magic. They could do a game where you're an Auror in the Original War, kicking ass and taking names. They could spend a game in an American School in the Harry Potter world where they don't care about Quiditch at all, and infact call it Ruffletop and call a FPS like sport Quiditch. They could put you in the shoes of Harry as an Auror if they really want it to be about Harry, so long as the action is solid.

Also a thing about the dueling club from the end of the quick look, Stupefy should knock a bitch out. Like in one hit. Sure, it's kinda crap for gameplay, but then you could just change HP into stamina, and make autoblocks take it out of him.
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