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

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

Sylvio - PC Review

There is plenty of tension to be had in this title, despite some curious design choices

Audiosurf 2 - PC Review

A bit less polish than the prior version, but more options provide greater variety

Horizon Shift - PC Review

Bright, colorful and full of variety, Horizon shift is simply a lot of fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

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

Saturday, April 9, 2011

TI99/4A, Munchman, TI Invaders - Retro Reflections

So somewhat recently, I did a review on Space Invaders - Infinity Gene. And then yesterday I did a review on Pac-man Championship Edition DX. I played some Pac-man over the years - my grandpa even had it for his Atari and I played Pac-man and Super Pac-man in the arcade a bit (the latter was at Chuck-e-Cheese when I was a kid).

I never had an Atari, but I did get a TI99/4A (TI as in Texas Instruments) for Christmas when I was about 5 years old. That thing was my introduction to home video games, and set me up for a life of fascination with the hobby. It was a cartridge based system, like the Atari, but it also had various peripherals you could acquire, like a Speech Synthesizer and a built-in keyboard. It also came with 'Basic' built in, and my dad at one point gave me a book on programming in Basic when I was roughly 8 - he likely figured it was cheaper than buying video games themselves. That is largely what got me into programming and a deeper understanding of computers and video games beyond the controllers and cartridges and was the foundation of what I would apply to my MUD - Kingdoms of the Lost - over a decade later.

Anyway - I'm rambling a bit, but I may call back on the TI99/4A, since when it comes to game reflections, it doesn't get any more retro for me than this. The two games I wanted to touch on briefly were TI Invaders and Munchman. Basically - Space Invaders and Pac-man remakes, but in some ways, a bit deeper than their originals.

TI Invaders works much like Space Invaders - you have little aliens in descending rows with the occasional UFO passing by over top of them, while you are a tank, using destructible barriers for shelter in between your shots to fend them off. This was not my favorite game for that system, but I did spend quite a bit of time playing it. I don't recall what the highest level I got to was, but I do recall I was better at it than my dad. :)

Munchman was a similar to Pac-man: you have mazes to wind through, while avoiding 4 enemy characters that attempt to collide with you. There are 4 power pellets in opposite corners of the screen. Eat them, and you can then eat your four wandering assailants. One thing that was different about Munchman was that the 'ghost' characters actually took on several different shapes with each new stage (if I recall properly, there were 20 stages in all before it looped back to stage 1). Also, instead of eating pellets you created a chain-link behind yourself. The objective was to fill all of the passages with the chain link. A couple of variants included a level (7 maybe?) that had invisible walls, making it much harder to get away from the 'ghosts'. I think the last level, or near the last level, you were eating things instead of making a chain. When you 'eat' the 'ghosts', you make a small burp sound. This game, I had gotten good at (and had cleared all of the levels).

There is an emulator out there for the game system (it's one of the few systems I actually don't still currently own) - and it includes several first party games (but none of the later-released 3rd party ones like Moon Patrol or Donkey Kong). What's awesome about this emulator is Texas Instruments approved of the creator including several of their games, like the two shown here. If you're at all interested, I found his page here. I was just mucking around with a keyboard and not a controller, and I was obviously struggling with some of the default key bindings - so I stunk it up in quality fashion in the embedded video below. But, take a look and I hope you enjoy taking a peek at some of my very earliest gaming memories.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX - Playstation Network Review

I've had this game for a while now. I actually picked it up one night on a whim because my wife enjoys retro games more than most of the current ones out there. She played it for about two hours and has played it a few times more, and enjoyed it - making it a decent addition to the collection for that reason alone in my opinion. But, I kept reading really good things about it - IGN even scored it a 10, and like Space Invaders - Infinity Gene, it seemed like a pretty solid idea:

Take a classic game, alter the way it plays on a fundamental level, re-skin it with all new graphics and put it out at a fairly low price. The big change to the gameplay is in your objectives. You're not just running around a static map chomping away pellets while avoiding a handful of ghosts. While the map itself in DX doesn't change, the pellets continually change - you're presented with a section of pellets, and when fruits pop up, you eat one and reveal more pellets. You do this against a clock generally, trying to beat the clock initially - and your best times after that. Also, the ghosts brought friends - lots of them. As you move around the map, 'sleeping' ghosts will wake up as you pass them, creating sometimes hilariously long trails of ghosts behind you. Grabbing a power pellet and chomping down on 20 or so of these guys can be pretty rewarding. The better you do, the faster the game goes, which make it more challenging for obvious reasons. So, how's the formula hold up in my mind?

Graphics - 8:

I'm grading on a bit of a scale here. It's a downloadable game at a fraction of the price of a brand new AAA title like MLB The Show or Gears of War. What they did with our lovable pizza-shaped friend was give the maps, ghosts and Pac-man a ton of different character designs and skins. Some are more appealing than others, but the quality is actually pretty good on all of them (though one of the map skins - I can't think of it's 'letter name' - but it has a very neon lights look to it, while looking great, sometimes got a bit too 'busy' for its own good and made it hard to see what you were doing).

Sound & Music - 7:

The music's pretty good, and as time counts down the intensity picks up. It's a nice, non-visual cue while you play. The sound effects don't fare quite as well in my mind. On the one hand, it's Pac-man, so I'm not expecting Dragon Age quality dialog, but the fact of the matter is: the sound scheme is pretty repetitive pretty quickly.

Gameplay - 7:

As when I commented on Space Invaders - you know what you're getting here for the most part. So either you enjoy the basic formula or you don't. Pac-man handles pretty well, and they added some fun twists to the classic formula by having chains of ghosts, moving pellet layouts and 'bombs' you can use to send ghosts in your immediate vicinity back to their starting point for a short spell. Pac-man handles pretty well and the menus are easy to get around. If you dig the game itself, there's not much to complain about here. I did find that my thumb cramped a bit on extended gaming sessions. Maybe it's the constant movement, or that I was using the directional pad more than the analog stick - something I almost never do, but somehow it just felt more natural to me.

Intangibles - 8:

There's plenty of maps, fresh visuals and various length time trials to keep you busy. There are leader boards for the ultra competitive as well. It all works just fine and I found it entertaining. The ability to change your visuals helps keep things fresh longer too. That said. there really is not a ton of depth here. You unlock alternate versions of the same basic game play. It's fun, but after a dozen or so hours, I was losing interest as well.

Overall - 7.5:

It's all very well done, and at its price Pac-man Championship Edition DX is a pretty good value. I wanted to rate it a bit higher, but I was a bit disappointed at how it was received. I figured between my wife and kids, this game would get a lot more mileage, but it did not seem to have the level of appeal to them as I thought it would. They played it for a short time, but as more of a curiosity than something they were generally interested in - my kids in particular. There is some pretty serious nostalgia value to the game, despite its various face lifts, but maybe it does not resonate quite as well with younger kids as I thought it would. And now that I have played it as much as I have (in total, probably about 12-14 hrs), I don't foresee much more than a few short stints with it here and there myself.

Bloggin', a few quick hit thoughts in general

So, I've been trying to decide what's a good amount of content to blog or not blog. I've been trying to do no more than 1 a day, but hoping to do at least a post or two a week. I see a wide range of video game blogs from those who post several pieces a day, to those who go with maybe one or two a week at most. What is your preference, out of curiosity? Is it hard to 'keep up' with a blog that's putting out a post or more a day? For example I had my game review and retro review done yesterday - but I scheduled them out to keep things spaced because I don't want to push content too far down before people get a chance to see it. If someone doesn't post regularly, do you quit visiting?

For me, I prefer lots of content - but I have that sidebar in my Blog that shows my most commonly read blogs like Coffee, Little Gamer and 8-bit, so I see when they update.

Also, is there anything in particular you like to see? When I started this blog, I was just doing a review every week or two. Then I started sprinkling in News & Notes. Then I started the Retro Reflections. Now I've been tossing out a bunch of less easily categorized articles. Just curious what people thought of that.

I finally pulled the poll for game systems. It was pretty even with the Wii the overall winner. Replaced it with the gamercard/contacts for myself.

Last 2 thoughts:

Game I'm looking forward to the most right now: Mortal Kombat
Game that recently disappointed me a lot: Fallout - New Vegas

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 4/7/11

When I started this blog, it was with the idea of writing game reviews like I had in the past on and off on other review sites. Mostly I was just interested in having a 'home base' - a place where my reviews could go first, where I could better customize the surrounding layout of the page - things like that. When I first started, I have a following of 1 (waves "hello" to his wife). My following base is by no means huge on here, but I have had a handful of people who comment frequently and even sent me messages when I was considering giving up on it altogether.

I took a few weeks off recently to work on my backlog of games - I acquired quite a few in the last year, and haven't been able to play through them yet. That gave me some time to start following some new blogs about video gaming, and get some fresh perspective. I updated my reading list on the left of my blog to reflect some of these newer ones, and pulled down some of the inactive blogs that had been collecting dust and cobwebs over there.

One of my new notions going forward is to maybe not be quite so regimented with how I do things here. I only made review posts on Fri/Sat, sometimes a Retro Reflects Sundays and on Wed did gaming news and notes. I like scores - they're a quick, easy way to digest information, but I found some of my favorite articles on other blogs just being opinion pieces, or lists - things like that. So I'm going to try and just toss out some random articles that aren't just based on game scores or videos - but just talk about whatever gaming topics are on my mind at the time too.

This one's is going to be really short, but it's just a list of what I've been playing this last week or so. I've been working on a lot of games lately, with more reviews coming sooner than later. But I thought it might lend me some focus if I just say what I specifically recall playing recently, and if others want to comment on their games or what they think of the ones I'm playing - cool by me!

FX Pinball by Zen Studios - specifically the PS3 tables - I bought them all, including the Marvel ones

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX for the PS3

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the Xbox 360

The Witcher on my PC

King's Bounty - The Legend on my PC

I also knocked off Dragon Age 2 last week, and that one had been occupying the majority of my time until I beat it.

What have you been playing?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just not a good 'online' night for me

So, the Playstation network keeps dropping me on my failed ps3 attempts. Which is also keeping me from grabbing my portable ID as I mentioned earlier.

Dragon Age Legends is down on FB currently.

Most annoying though was the complaint from our cable company about us being over our bandwidth limit (which I'm not silly enough to think wasn't there, despite being on their 'unlimited internet' package).

We use a ton of bandwidth - always have and in some ways, I'm surprised it hasn't happened before. Take the last week for example: I downloaded a bunch of games off of Steam (they had a 13 game package for like $35), and I got the Mass Effect 2 download. Those 2 sets probably chewed up 15-20 gigs right there. Add to it the # of internet devices in our house always running (PS3, Wii, 360, several computers, DS's, iPad) - and of course the first thing that probably comes to mind is: Dude, you own too much crud.

And you'd be right.

But, it did get me thinking. As more and more companies are pushing downloadable content (Xbox Live, Wii download, PSN games, Steam) were you acquire whole games, or services like online radio or youtube or playlist.com where people are constantly streaming data, or netflix (we use it in 2 rooms at any given time) - it's interesting to note the concerns internet service providers face: they want to restrict use more and more. Look at the various dataplans a lot of companies have now for iphones/pads/andriods, etc - now there are more limits in place than there used to be.

I guess what I find interesting about all of that, is there's more of a push for digital downloads than ever. And that trend's not going to go away. My downloading was completely legit, I'm not sitting on a horde of ill-begotten movies here or anything, but Broadstripe sent the message saying our internet speed would be throttled down (they didn't say for how long) and that a 2nd offense equals discontinuation of our service. I know why they have those safeguards in place, but it's a slightly irksome experience from my side of it. On the one hand you have companies pushing as much digital content as possible, and on the other you have providers who are trying to protect the use of their bandwidth from abuse as well.

As games get larger and demands grow while gaming and streaming movies become even more popular, it'll be interesting to see what happens with ISPs going forward. I can't imagine I'm the only person who runs into this - but it seems like a conflict of interest between ISPs and distributors of content that promises to get worse before it gets better.

Gaming News and Notes from 4-6-11

Here's a quick rundown of the latest Xbox Live releases in this week's update.

This one's not news, but with Mortal Kombat coming out soon (and I'm pretty excited for it) - IGN had a cool rundown for every MK ever. In a semi-related note - the Live-action Mortal Kombat series kicks off April 12th.

And here's the PSN updates this week.

I'm still playing the first Witcher. I dig it, but not as much as I thought I would. Still, I've been curious about the much anticipated sequel and here's the system requirements for it.

NBA Elite (the new name for the EA NBA series) got scrapped this year, but it will be out for Fall 2012. They will also be doing a new NBA Jam: On Fire Edition.

The next Black Ops DLC has been found out.

Quite the price drop for Rock Band 3 - $20 now.

Lastly, there's been quite a few rumors that the hackers who took credit for goofing up PSN networks yesterday are at it again today. As I've been trying to update my sidebar with gamercards - I've run into several PSN errors while unsuccessfully attempting to get my portal ID from PSN. There have been a lot of complaints on forums about connectivity today, but I haven't seen any official posts yet..

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

10 memorable/surprise NES game moments

Everyone likes lists, right?

No? Oh... well, I do. They're quick, they're concise and if enough people read them, they always lead to some sort of debate/conversation/name-calling...

I think my break from the blog was good for me. Now in my ongoing effort to burn myself out on posting video game thoughts, I figured I would add a few more 'conversational' pieces now and then. Here's my first one. Background: the other day one of my buddies and I were discussing a game we played on the NES, and it got me to think about some of the more surprising moments I ran into while playing NES games.

10. I tried the Contra/Konami code on Lifeforce on a whim - and got 30 lives instead of 3.

9. Kid Icarus was a tough game, combining platforming with adventure/rpg elements. So imagine my surprise when in the last level the entire game play has become a side-scrolling shooter. I had never had a game change its core play that much on me so far along before.

8. Beating Ghosts n Goblins... only to realize I didn't beat what was one of the hardest games I had actually played in my life, and that in fact I had to go through it again to get to the real boss.

7. The hundreds of lives trick in Super Mario Bros. using a turtle and steps. Took me a lot of tries to get it to work, but the goofy symbols for lives was totally worth it.

6. Ending of Super Mario Bros 2 - really? It was a dream...?

5. On the endings theme: I just beat Dracula in Castlevania 2: Simon's quest. I had spent a ton of time scouring over that game, and enjoyed it thoroughly. And now I'm reading the ending and... I died of fatal wounds? I just killed Dracula, and I die anyway?

4. Sticking to endings of games: did you know that at the end of Dragon Warrior, the final boss gives you a choice to join him? Did you know that if you agree, your screen blanks out and your character gets deleted? I didn't know that going into it - I just wanted to see the different ending...

3. River City Ransom. Loved that game. Loved beat 'em ups like Double Dragon as well. So imagine my surprise when I heard the Double Dragon music and Billy and Jimmy came out to fight me! Don't recall ever seeing a cross game item like that previously.

2. Beating Contra on a single life. I know I couldn't do it today, but I had my patterns down to something sick back then...

1. Speaking of beating hard games, I remember Mike Tyson kicking my butt over and over again in Punch Out! But when I finally beat him, he never laid a glove of me.

Honorable Mention: The arcade version of Double Dragon, when my buddy and I finally beat the gang only to realize that now - we had to fight it out for the girl between one another.

Dishonorable Mention: Metroid. I was not an early adopter of the game so I had already long but known that Samus was a woman by the time she took off her helmet and armor - so in a sense even though I loved the game, the ending was sort of ruined for me

Cool Dragon Age 2 bonus

I got an email earlier from EA about being eligible to download Mass Effect 2 to my CPU for free since I bought Dragon Age 2. They've got a link for the promotion here. I was an early adopter of Mass Effect 2 (been meaning to post about it and part 1 for awhile now - I will eventually!), but still the idea of being able to toss it on my laptop for some gaming on the go, especially since it's easily one of my favorite games, is a pretty cool little promotion in my opinion. So, I figured I'd share it here.

Dragon Age™ II
Thanks to gamers like you, Dragon Age II is off to a great start – breaking the 1 million mark in less than two weeks and faster than Dragon Age: Origins. We appreciate your support. As a special thank you for helping with the game's early success, BioWare would like to present you with a download code for 2010's Game of the Year, Mass Effect 2 on PC. As always, we sincerely appreciate your support and passion as we remain focused on delivering quality interactive experiences now and in the future. Look for more exciting things coming from Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: The Old Republic in the future, including our recent launch of Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Neverwinter Nights - Retro Reflections

I'm sort of cheating on this one - I don't have Neverwinter Nights anymore. It got lost at some point between moves and changing machines. Good old Games (gog.com) has it for $10 though, and I've been considering picking it up again on principle, but I have too many other games on my backlog to pick that one up right now. So, how is am I going to review this? Well, about 4 years ago I wrote a review on Neverwinter Nights on another site, including a few pictures I had captured at the time. If you want to see the original review, it was on a sight called Gather.

The reason I'm choosing this for my Retro Reflection? Well, for those who have been paying visits to my blog over the last several days, you know I was doing a large Dragon Age blowout. I thoroughly enjoy those games, and they are made by one of my favorite game studios, Bioware. Neverwinter Nights was the first game of theirs I had played, and I can see a lot of parallels between that game, and the Neverwinter Night series. Here is how I reviewed Neverwinter Nights back then. For me this was also interesting because I have not read through this review in a long time, and yet it seems my style of review was similar then than it is now, even though I took a few years off from writing game reviews in any form (I published this Sept 22, 2007). Anyway, here it is:

I have always been a fan of role-playing games. I got hooked on the Final Fantasy series after I had experienced Dragon Warrior, which had been preceded by Ultima: Exodus. Most of these games borrowed heavily from the rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, so when I heard about Neverwinter Nights - a game based on the Dungeons & Dragons rule set.

To begin there is a great deal of flexibility when creating your character. You can also advance in a great variety of ways as you gain levels. There is a ton of gear to be found, and some lively monsters to use these findings against. The story itself is fairly long, but there are plenty of things to do along the way in the form of side quests. There are nowhere near as many as say, Oblivion or even some of the final fantasy games, but your decisions can make an impact on things down the road and help you establish the character to your liking.
There were also some expansion packs to be bought for the game. There is also a very large community that has been fueled by other players. Modules, artwork, music packs and more have been created by Neverwinter Nights players, for Neverwinter Nights players. I suspect this has a great deal to do with the game's continued success, even though years passed since its release.
Graphics: Decent, but could have been better. Even considering the game's release date, the Aurora engine that fueled it seemed dated at the time. Still, they were functional graphics and the camera angles were very adjustable, which helped to prevent things from getting lost in the somewhat frantic combat that would take place.
Sound and music: Excllent. The voice acting was a bit spotty in places, but with so much of it one can hardly nitpick since most of it was solid. The music was incredibly memorable as well, with stirring battle songs and soft melodies depending on the scene and time. Creature and spell sound effects are also quite solid, and the way sounds move in and out depending on your proximity is also quite nice. For example if you stand next to a fireplace it will crackle loudly, but step away from it and it begins to fade out.

Game play: About as good as could be expected. The point and click interface made movement easy, menus painless enough to navigate, hotkeys to simply the matter even further and I seldom had difficulty in selecting the enemies or friendly characters I wanted to interact with.
Intangibles: The abound. Want to play a noble knight? Feel free. Rogue interested in only his or her own welfare? That works as well. Customization? Check - this game has it in spades. Replay value? It's actually quite high due to the different classes, races and choices that can be made along the way. The final success? The Neverwinter Nights community that has provided so much quality content over the years has really done a spectacular job of extending the life of this game.

Score: I will score this game a 9. I really want to rate it higher. I played through it and the expansions twice, played several of the modules and could pick it up today and whittle away the hours again. Still, the graphics did prove lacking at times, there were bugs in the game at times, the AI can be exploited and the dialog is sometimes weak, especially in the base story.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dragon Age Legends - PC Review

This will be a pretty light game review, but amidst all of these Dragon Age reviews over the last few days, I decided I would review Dragon Age Legends as well. What is Dragon Age Legends? Well, it's a Facebook game of all things - something I've never played before now. EA did an interesting marketing campaign with the release of Dragon Age 2, allowing for unlockable content based on owning and registering some of their other games - Dead Space 2 and Mass Effect 2. They also offered in-game items for Dragon Age 2 based on things like registering with the Bioware community or signing up for the Dragon Age newsletter. If you're interested, you can find it here.

Perhaps their biggest and most daring tie-in though, was the Dragon Age Legends app for Facebook, which has a very loose story based on the Dragon Age world, and uses some of the sames themes, but is a very different kind of experience. For starters, it's not meant to be played right through in a single Mt. Dew consuming grind - you have something called stamina that gets used up by visiting new spaces on the overhead map. Stamina replenishes over time and allows you to move on.

Now, I'm not going to break this down by graphics and music or anything like that. I haven't played any other Facebook games, I don't have much to compare it to. Gameplay's spotty to judge - you simply click here and there so things like responsiveness aren't an issue. So, I'll give some info about it and share my impressions to date. And I say 'to date' because it's listed as Beta, but then most live-games like this are ever-changing (at least, they are if they want to be and remain successful)

The game itself is more of a turn-based strategy game than an RPG. You create a character from one of three classes (fighter, rogue and mage) and can take people into battle with you (up to 2), so you want to find a blend of abilities that work well. These people can only be used once and then need a break as well before they can be called on again. There are several factors that contribute to how long it takes for them to be usable again. This is one of the reasons it's good to have friends on Facebook who play it. There are a handful of generic characters that you can use, but if you have friends on Facebook playing, their characters are added to your roster of available combatants. Every time you use one of your Facebook friends' characters (or if they use yours) - they can get 20 gold from it (or you can gain 20 gold).

there are two columns of combat for you and your enemies. Back line people are better protected if they have someone in front of them. These are usually ranged damage dealers like mages and archers. Front liners tend to have more hps and better defense, but fewer direct attack options. You can use items for combat or for healing/boosting your own characters. Each class has access to different skills and you earn skill and attribute points as you level up. The current cap is level 40, I'm tied for the highest on my friends list as of writing this at level 21. 1 or 2 visits a day can keep you going pretty well, and use up your stamina reserves.

As for items, you can make bombs that do various things like a low level of damage to all enemies, or do damage plus drain their mana, or poison them, and so on. Speaking of mana, your special abilities will require mana - whether you're a warrior who hits multiple targets or an archer who gets a super-powerful single shot or a mage who summons a drake. You can find items or gold after every fight, as well as gain experience. Some items are the one-time use variety like I've described above, others are equipment that are often restricted by class type and level.

Gold is used on your castle. That's right, while you will spend a lot of time wandering the map and getting into preset encounters, you will spend some time in a castle where you can create first aid kits, potions, bombs and more. You can buy things like furnaces to increase productivity, and you need to have workers to manage all of these various shops. The pieces come in different sizes and there are benefits to having some types adjacent to other types, giving the castle section of the game a sort of Tetris-like feel.

If it sounds like there is a lot going on - that's because there is. For what seemed like a mindless sort of point and click game, there's actually quite a bit to manage. You can't play it for four straight hours, but you can have a pretty full 20 minutes as you check in on things. I don't know how this compares to other Facebook games because I haven't played any, but there is definitely an addictive formula to checking in to see if your shops have finished producing your next batch of shock bombs or seeing if you have enough stamina to move onto the next map space as you try to get to that next level.

The game, as I mentioned before, is still being worked on. Graphics have steadily improved and they keep adding new things to it. I've already beaten all of the available maps, but EA assures us that there are more coming. The game itself is free to play - you just need a Facebook account to access it. While the game is a tie-in to the Dragon Age 2 release, and the freebies I got as a result of playing it during the closed beta were cool, EA is not just doing this for fun. You can buy crowns (another form of currency that you can use in a specific shop, or to unlock upgrades for your castle) and gold from EA. You certainly don't have to - I haven't yet and I'm under the impression that most of the people I play with haven't either. However, some of the gear is pretty cool, as a few of my friends have some very potent weapons and I love it when their characters become available to use again.

It's just a Flash game, with point and click mechanics, but if you have any interest in this sort of thing, the tutorial does a good if not great job of laying out the basics and the game itself is completely free so even if you don't like it, you're not out anything but a bit of time. All in all, I plan to keep poking at it and see where it goes from here. video