Alien Bastards, Wii-U and the Halo Kinection.

OK everybody!  It's blogging time!
OK, I've got a lot of things on my mind and very little time with which to say it, so let's go!

Comin' to Get the Rest of Those Alien Bastards - Episode 2: Lunar Apocalypse

In my previous post, I spoke about the colorful, busy environments of Duke Nukem 3D Episode 1: L.A. Meltdown, with only a minor complaint about the maze-like nature of some of the levels.  Well, Lunar Apocalypse is still full of crazy enemies to shoot, but the levels are a lot more labyrinthine than in Episode 1, and the whole affair isn't as colorful, though to be fair, it's to be expected when dealing with a large space ship.  The combat is still hectic, but the introduction of the Mini- Battlelord and the Sentry Drone make the proceedings way more difficult, especially with just how liberally they're spread throughout the levels.
The big problem here is that the game throws Sentry Drones at the player aggressively, sometimes three and four at a time.  They dodge rockets and the timing on pipe bombs is difficult since they move so damned fast.  That leaves trying to shoot them out of the sky, which takes way too much time and way too many shots of any of the bullet-based weapons, not to mention leaving openings when using the shotgun or pistol.  In other words, those bastards are going to hit, and they're going to take a ton of health, especially when the little bastards are clustered together.  Needless to say, the save-after-every-encounter strategy is in full effect.  And the Mini-Battlelords?  They're very rarely by themselves.  There are times the game has them in groups of two or three, which is a pain in the level Occupied Territory, where there are three Mini-Battlelords guarding the blue card.  There are so many when this game goes out of its way to be cheap, resulting in the player, bad ass Duke Nukem, running around looking for medkits, or in the case of the later levels in the game, staring at a broken water fountain while using a cel phone or DS or something to weigh down the use key.  It really puts the modern trend toward regenerating health in perspective - this part of Duke 3D, and indeed of many classic shooters, just isn't fun, and it serves to get in the way rather than enhance the experience, especially when it happens several times because a Mini-Battlelord or the entire population of Sentry Drone City decided to drop in.  Still, despite these setbacks, the episode is still fun, with lots of explosions and gunfire, and plenty of adrenaline pumping action.
A special note about the podgirls, which are far more plentiful than they were in Duke Nukem Forever (where they were only found in The Hive).  I don't remember it being viewed with such derision back then, which is odd considering the novelty and controversy surrounding games with mature themes in the mid-nineties.  While they didn't squirm or moan or anything else like that, the image is still quite striking - women suspended in pods, pleading to be put out of their misery, all the while looking far more like they could be saved than in DNF (they actually can be saved in Duke Nukem 64).  While there is something to be said for the theoretical influx of female gamers (that's a whole 'nother blog) and people growing up since the release of Duke 3D, but I can't escape the idea that much of the criticism is simply the result of over-sensitivity/political correctness in certain areas of the gaming media.
That said, Duke 3D doesn't have wall boobs, so that's one point in its favor.  Seriously, where did that idea come from?

Wii-U? No, I don't need another Wii.

Okay, I know it's been a few days since E3, but I need to get this off my chest, and you guys are already here, so here goes.
I can't really bring myself to care about the Wii-U.  Besides feeling thoroughly duped by the Wii, I can't help but feeling that Nintendo is putting out the wrong console, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.  The Wii, while a success for Nintendo, didn't exactly move software units, especially for third parties, save for the occasional outlier or games that included extra remotes or balance boards or what have you (I still can't believe people bought into that stupid wheel).  In the time since the Wii's 2006 debut, the system has become more of a dust collector or (by more foolish people) Netflix box, and Nintendo found itself either completely excluded from most major multi-platform releases, or at best being given the version with the least care and support put into it.  As a result, the system is practically useless to any gamer who desires more than the occasional Mario, Zelda or Pokemon rehash, which is to say everyone reading this other than the people who are going to flame mercilessly when this post comes up.
Nintendo's solution to this problem is to put out a behemoth of a controller with all the buttons and a huge screen, in essence making a home version of the 3DS with contemporary graphics.  There are three problems I have with this approach.  First off, the idea that these multi-platform releases will even try to use the litany of extra stuff in that controller is silly.  Everyone knows how it goes - the lead SKU for a multi-platform game is normally the lowest common denominator, in this case the 360 (in the West, anyway, Japan is clearly leading with the PS3).  Even if Nintendo mandates their use - which would leave them back where they were with the Wii - third parties aren't going to put the effort in doing anything more than token uses of this stuff, leaving only Nintendo to do anything with the new hardware.  Unless Nintendo proves willing to move past its nostalgia-driven business model, this severely limits their appeal to gamers.  Next, the PS3 and 360 are both rather old consoles at this point.  Nintendo will have two, maybe three years of parity before the next systems from Microsoft and Sony come out (depending on how soon that hardware can be priced reasonably - no one wants another "$599 US Dollars" incident, especially not Sony).  Once again, by de-emphasizing tech and going with a controller for their appeal, they're putting themselves in yet another situation where, like with the Wii, where they are the redheaded stepchild of the development world.  Lastly, Nintendo's trying way too hard.  Tom McShea wrote a fantastic article about this very subject at GameSpot.  After the stunning sales success of the Wii hardware, Nintendo's clearly desperate for another casual hit out the park.  However, not everything can be a home run.  I mentioned this when talking about Duke Nukem Forever a couple posts ago, but when development is driven by trying to be new instead of trying to be fun, almost nothing good comes out of it.  Compare this to the first system with analog controls, the Nintendo 64 The big launch game was not just a showcase of the new control system, but an amazing, intelligently designed game that earned itself a permanent place in gamers' hearts and, in the process, redefined the entire platformer genre for over a decade.  The N64 controller didn't sell the games - the games sold the N64 controller.  By contrast, the Wii-U feels like Nintendo's attempt to relight the fire and sell hardware, with its capability to enhance gaming almost an afterthought.  Creativity never comes from having a gun to one's head and demanding something new.  It comes from endless iteration, figuring out what worked and what didn't, and occasionally saying "wouldn't it be cool if...?"  The 3DS is the same "let's put novelty over gameplay" deal, and the sales have been tepid, especially in Japan where the PSP outsells it.  That Nintendo seems to have learned nothing from this and is going 'hardware first' yet again.  It's a damned shame to see a company that was once so reliable in making great games become a company that puts out products you'd see Anthony Sullivan pimping.

The Halo Kinection

According to Microsoft and 343 Studios, the upcoming Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is going to include support for the Kinect, but won't effect the core game play.  The question must then be asked - what the hell are they going to do with it then?  Are they going to put nonsensical mini-games like Sony did with Sly Cooper Collection and the Move?  Let you use its slow, laggy interface for the menus?  Exactly what can be added to Halo without being completely peripheral to the experience or making it an aggravating "addition" that people will go out of their way to avoid?  What in the hell is the point?  This is the whole problem with the Kinect, really.  It's sold a bunch of units, but there are very few games for it, and the games that are there haven't exactly set the world on fire.  The problem is so pronounced that Microsoft blew nearly their entire E3 2011 presentation on Kinect, trying to show people that the stupid camera/sensor they bought really isn't a waste of money that's only for Carnival Games.
Now this wouldn't be so bad if all those games weren't rail shooters.  That genre, more than any, requires the precision offered by a pointer.  That's why we've seen a revival of light-gun games on the Wii and the PlayStation Move.  Flailing one's arms about like an idiot is just NOT a proper substitute for having a wand/light gun/whatever in your hand.  So where does that leave Kinect users?  In a bit of a horrible bind.  There hasn't been anything at all to prove that this is a good gaming interface, no matter how hard Microsoft tries to sell us on the contrary.  Indeed, the interesting stuff has been from hackers in the PC community, almost all of it not relating to gaming.  We now have Microsoft committed to tacking on worthless additions to non-Kinect games and rail shooters that will lure in no one who gives a crap about gaming.  And the casual audience?  What do they get?  Worse versions of the mini-games they get on Wii, and at a slower rate.  It's amazing how a single game peripheral can have so little potential besides ripping people off.  It's the Activator all over again.