Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation - PS Vita Review

The latest Hyperdimension game for the Vita makes the most of the handheld and series

Farming Simulator 15 - PC Review

Down on the farm - again. This simulator provides plenty to do for fans of the series

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Xbox One Review

The latest in the Witcher series does almost everything well - a definite Game of the Year contender


This shooter gets almost everything right, throwing lots at you but making it fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

A fun simulation game with some social commentary to share as well

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ninja Gaiden - Retro Reflections

Now, I plan to keep most of these pretty light, but for my first Retro Reflections, I was inspired by my News & Notes post on Wednesday. Unfortunately, what starts off as 'light' usually turns into something more for me. So... I have some images mashed together, with a video I made of the arcade game and the intros from the 3 NES games. For the purposes of this post, I figured I would try both the video uploader that Blogger provides and an online embedding option I have, and see which I like better. This is all pretty rough, even if I did spent a bit more time on it than I planned/wanted to, so feedback's certainly welcome on the technical side of things. I'll likely mix things up for awhile as I try to find what I like and don't like.

I found an IGN article talking about the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 3, and this is a series I loved when I was younger, but sort of fell out of love with when I played the Xbox 360 versions. I first played the arcade game when I was pretty young, but I loved it at the time (then again, I enjoyed a lot of beat 'em up games like Double Dragon back then too). It's a pretty basic game with some cheap bosses - it was designed as a quarter muncher, and from that standpoint it did its job well.

Ninja Gaiden for the NES was one of the first games I can recall that used cut scenes to help advance the storyline of a game. I recall several things about this game in particular. I remember at the time thinking that the graphics were very cool - but also that the game was very hard. In fact, I did not beat it after first getting it. I actually did not get through the last area until a year or two later when I picked it up again. I remember thinking the jumping summersault slash special attack was the best boss-killer ever. I remember hating the wall climb system - how you had to jump, press away, press back to inch up a small distance, and that doing this repeatedly was often necessary to advance. The intro is worth mentioning again though - I remember thinking that ninja duel at the beginning was amazingly cool.

Ninja Gaiden 2 was actually my favorite of the series. I think it was probably the easiest of the three NES games, but I enjoyed the story a lot. Something about it really appealed to me as a kid and I know I beat that game dozens of times. The wall scaling mechanic was replaced with a much easier method of just climbing up and down vertically. You still had to do the same trick to get up on top of things if you didn't have an opposite wall to leap off of, but I recall thinking that it just felt so much cooler than the method used in part 1. I included the full intro to this game in my video I pieced together - I was surprised at how I still remembered the music near the end; I recall it like it was yesterday.

Ninja Gaiden 3. This is an odd one for me, because I remember beating it - but it was my least favorite of the 3 games. On a technical level, it was the most advanced of the games in terms of graphics, powers and music. But the story never resonated with me the same way as the prior two games and never made quite the same overall impression. I could recall things I really liked (and disliked) about the first two right away when I played them again yesterday. There were a few things in part 3 where I was like: "Oh, yeah - I remember that." - but it never brought up the same feelings of nostalgia that the first two did.

Now, I made a video up but I have no idea how these will fit, how the embedded one will attack my bandwidth where I have it hosted, how the formats work with Blogger - so this is pretty experimental right now.

The first video is an MOV I am uploading using Blogger:


And here's the mp4 embedded from another site - same video, just a different delivery:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spectromancer - PC game review

Honestly - I did not set out to review nothing but card based video games this month. Then again, it does give me a chance to compare and contrast them while they are all fresh in my mind. For Christmas I got a new computer, and with it a newfound ability to play games on it (the old computer was in really, really sad shape. I was happy to retire the hamster that was powering it). I discovered the Steam network, and they happened to be having a ton of good game deals on their site over the holidays. I spent way more than I should have there, but picked up a bunch of their games at significant discount. One of those games was Spectromancer, which I got at a really good prices (I got the game and expansion, which usually run around $15 I believe, as part of a 'fantasy pack' I got for $5 total)

I read that Spectromancer was designed by some of the people responsible for Magic: The Gathering. It shares a few fundamentals with that game, but it is a much simpler game overall. You have magic or mana types/pools - and they generally increase by 1 each, every turn (there are other spells and creatures that can alter these values). Cards are randomly chosen from your 'deck' of cards at the start of a match, and they each have a cost value. Once you have enough magic in that pool type, you can cast it. At most you can only cast 1 card per turn. There are two types of cards - spells and creature.

You have a series of slots/spaces in front of you and in front of your opponent. Any creature summoned gets placed in one of those slots. Every round, your creatures will all attack. If there is a creature in your opponent's slot directly across from your monster, then it will automatically block it and take the damage instead of the actual controller. Each controller starts with a specific life value, and spells and unblocked creatures lower it. The premise is pretty simple, and with the 'attack every turn' twist, you don't have to worry about turtling. Sometimes in a game of Magic, a person can play very defensively, and it is a valid way to win - sometimes it is the only way to win. But in Magic you're not limited to the number of creatures you summon, and you generally don't have to attack every round.

These conditions make Spectromancer a much faster game, and I think that is a benefit. You can get through an entire single player campaign in a night or two, but there are a quite a few different classes - and that helps the replay value. All classes have the same basic mana pools of fire, water, wind and earth. But each one has a custom pool as well, and it comes with cards unique to that pool. That gives the different classes a slightly different feel, without making them confusing or feeling unbalanced. You pick a new opponent every round, and each one comes with a new card or ite4m you can win (like a Titan card, which can be a game-changing card to have in your deck, or boosts to your starting life or magic). It all lends itself to a nice sense of progression, while none of the fights ever seem to last more than about five minutes or so, giving it a nice, lightweight feel.

Let's dig down into the game itself and break down the different categories.

Graphics - 4:

Nothing here too revolutionary. Cards are very static, though the artwork on them is generally nice. The only motion you get in the game is when a card 'slides forward' to attack, or some simple spell effects represented on the screen. You can choose from a bunch of different portraits for your character's representations and they are all nicely drawn. There is a simple overhead map that you slowly displays more and more terrain as you 'travel' to beat more opponents on it. It is all very functional and easy on the eyes, but completely unimpressive as well. There are no real cut scenes, just small text boxes that explain the story as you progress.

Sound and music - 4:

The music is nice and fits, but there is not a ton of it and after a few hours it starts to cycle. The sound effects are also functional, if unspectacular. There is no voice acting, no cut scenes - the presentation is very minimal, and while this is by design, it is hard to give a good score as a result.

Gameplay - 10:

The game scores well here for me. The rules are simple, yet there are so many different ways to beat an opponent that matches seldom felt repetitive to me - and I have played through the game 4 times already. There are several different difficulty levels, and while the higher ones were certainly tougher to beat, they felt smarter, not cheaper. There is also a decent little online community playing the game, and I had a very easy time signing up for it and finding matches. It's a pretty simple click and point interface laying out cards and casting spells - I never had any control opens. Also, it has a built-in auto save, which is awesome. I can just close out the window without actually looking for a save command, and then open it back up and I'm right where I left off. It's a small thing, but I really appreciated it. Perhaps my biggest gripe here? You don't get to customize your deck like a person would expect in a collectible card game - but oddly it bugged me a lot less here. I think in part because the matches are so much quicker, there's less pressure to have a great game and not waste 30 minutes or a couple of hours like Magic: The Gathering and Culdcept Saga ask of you when you lose.

Also in campaign mode, they add in a fair amount of variety. You face a fairly diverse set of opponents, and the battle conditions change frequently. Sometimes it is a matter of just taking all their life before your own hits zero. Other times, you have to do it within so many turns. Sometimes you or your opponent will start with cards in play that are not normally part of the game - like an alter that you can summon creatures to in order to gain double their casting cost in magic, or stones that slide around the creature 'slots' every turn, shuffling up which monsters are directly across from whom. This plus the spoils of war you get for winning matches really help to keep the experience from getting repetitive.

Intangibles - 10:

High score, right? Pretty much perfect? Well, in my mind - yes. Does this title feel a bit lightweight? Sure, but it's a fraction of the cost of a full game. So while the production values may be lacking, I think it gives quite a bit for the price tag. The online was very cool - I only had 1 bad experience, and it was a guy berating me for "playing like a bitch and not like a man". Of course, he had just been on the receiving end of back to back 20-some point lighting spells that won me a match that he no doubt thought he was dominating. It was not my usual tactic, but he got off to a fast start, and I had to adjust to a fluid situation by defending his attackers while building up a big counterpunch. That was a big part of the appeal for me - while it is an easy game to pick up but there are so many different things that can happen in it. The average match takes about five minutes, maybe 10 at most. Having just played Magic: The Gathering where a match against the cpu or a person can run 10-30 minutes, or Culdcept Saga where they can run 2-4 hrs, I think Specromancy finds a great balance.

On top of that, the campaign has several classes and difficulties, as mentioned before. There's also a one on one challenge mode where you can fight a cpu opponent and try to earn 'badges' which are just like achievements in the game. You can get these through the one on ones, campaign modes and online matches. They're nothing particularly amazing, but they do give you some extra goals to aim for.

Overall 7:

I will admit I'm grading on a bit of a scale here. If this was a full fledged $60 game like Culdcept Saga would be new, then the lack of production values would hurt the score more in the graphics and sound area. Considering there is free online play, badges a one-on-one mode, and a campaign mode in here, it is a really good value if you enjoy these kinds of games. The lightweight feel of the game - the ability to save on close automatically - the ease with which you can learn to play are all major plusses. The story is nothing amazing and its presentation is fairly bland, but really for me the campaign mode was so much more than that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Something new...

I want to try something new. The big technical reviews are fun, but they are time consuming. Also, I fear, I'll eventually run out of games to talk about if I try to keep up a pace of two per weekend (I say that as I spy a stack of games and think: I didn't have this 'problem' in college - unplayed games that is). The dilemma of adulthood: I love my games as much as ever, and I can actually afford to go out and spend on my habit - the downside is, I don't have nearly as much time on my hands to play games as I used to.

Then that got me thinking: I used to play a ton of games. I still have a ridiculous number of old game systems and games laying around the house. Why not spend a bit of time each weekend, just tossing in an old game that catches my eye for one reason or another, and just write about it? No technical scores (really, is it fair to try and rate the graphics of Double Dragon on the NES or Sonic on the Genesis when we know that modern games easily surpass those?).

The idea behind my technical scores and longer reviews is that I am talking about games people may actually be interested in purchasing for current systems. Sure, it's just an opinion, and it's only my opinion, but that is what I had in mind when I began this blog. So, instead I'd like to just talk about older games for a bit - what I remember about them, what my thoughts are now after dusting them off for a bit. It's more me reminiscing about older games, and hey - maybe you will see one of them come out on the virtual console for the Wii or release on Steam or the Playstation Network. If so, and my ramblings encourage or discourage you from buying it? Cool, and I'd love to know what I said that caught your eye.

So, I'm hoping to do one of these each weekend, just a short run of images and video from hooking the console up to my desktop and giving it a few minutes to a few hours and sharing my thoughts. Hope you peek in this weekend as I get my first one posted under Retro Reflections. This week's will be Ninja Gaiden.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gaming News and Notes from 1-26-11

Since I led off last week with discussions about Nintendo's new upcoming portable, I thought I'd do the same for Sony this week. Here's a discussion about the Playstation Phone in IGN. And here's some news on the PSP2 as well.

For Mortal Kombat fans, there will be a series of shorts similar to the Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that found some viral popularity last year. Oh, and the new Mortal Kombat game is coming out April 19th.

Dead Space 2 has been arrived to solid critical reviews, and already some DLC has been announced for it as coming soon.

Knight's Contract is a game I've been keeping an eye on, and it is slated to release Feb 22nd this year.

There's a rumor on Gamespot citing Bioware sources as saying Star Wars: The Old Republic will be releasing in September this year, and not spring of this year as was announced before.

I've got a long-standing relationship with Ninja Gaiden. I played it in the arcade - loved it when I was a kid. It doesn't hold up so well now. The NES titles were tough, but I beat all 3 and enjoyed their cinematic approach to storytelling. Then I played the newer iterations on the 360 and while I could appreciate their technical excellence, I really did not enjoy them as much as I hoped I would. Now Ninja Gaiden 3 is being put together by a new team, and it promises to be a very different game than the last two.

A little info on Final Fantasy Versus XIII - with no release date given yet.

Here's one for my wife - talking about Diner Dash for Facebook.

Here's some Playstation Network news as reported on IGN. I got an email about some of this and what caught my eye was all of the half-priced games:

  • Comet Crash
  • Costume Quest
  • Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue
  • Hoard
  • Motorstorm 3D Rift
  • Peggle
  • Shatter
  • Soldner X-2: Final Prototype
  • Space Invaders: Infinity Gene
  • Swords and Soldiers
  • Top Gun
  • Tumble

There are some excellent games in that list (Peggle in particular has been a hit with me, my wife, my kids and even my dad).

And last but not least, for computer gamers, Steam has released the Sega Genesis Classics Pack 4.

Not a bad list of games, which are listed at a 2.99 price point each, or you can buy the collection of 10 for 7.50, which is a pretty good price. There's some solid games in this collection as well, including some of my all-time favorites like Shining Force, Shining Force II, Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2.