Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon - PC Review

The title is a bit of a mouthful, but the game is also a ton of fun

Deponia: The Complete Journey - PC Review

A great compilation of three gorgeous adventure games

Q*bert Rebooted - PC Review

Classic fun works well with some new twists

Agarest: Generations of War - PC Review

An underappreciated RPG/Strategy hybrid

Sakura Spirit - PC Review

Another welcome visual novel

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Metroid: Other M - Wii Review

I have always been a bit 'late' to the Metroid games. I didn't play the first one for the NES until the 'surprise' that Samus was a female was old news by a year or two. I never completed the SNES or Gameboy versions, playing them at friends' houses but never getting my own copies. I thought Metroid: Prime for the Gamecube was awesome, but my buddy beat it before I did and showed me the ending, and I never got around to finishing it. Truth be told, the last Metroid game I actually played through from start to finish was the original. It's odd, since I've always liked the series, so when Other M was announced, I was determined to finally sit down and play it through, and overall - I'm glad I did.

The game is clearly a Metroid one, featuring our bounty hunting heroine, Samus. Many of the creatures from the first game are re-imagined in this game, but instead of being a 2-D platformer or a first-person adventure, this game is set in a 3D world with some first-person elements. You will travel in every direction - up, down, left, right, forward and back. The first-person elements come in the form of some limited 'research' storyline moments, and when you point your Wii remote at the screen you enter a first-person view where you are stationary but have access to some powerful attacks and locking mechanisms like missiles. Sometimes the battles require this mode, other times it is just more convenient due to the weapons/view angle - and sometimes it is a hindrance, especially since you don't really have the ability to move around.

Similar to the other games, you slowly add to your abilities - though there is a story mechanism in place for this. Unlike the first game where you have to find improvements for your gear, you have most of them already in place but you are not allowed to use them.

That was perhaps the biggest chance taken with this game, and one of the most controversial. Nintendo games are known for great gameplay, but not really for quality narrative. The Metroid series has been no different, but in Other M they have a fairly involved storyline in place, and for the most part I think it works pretty well. There are some quibbles that can be made over how Samus' character is portrayed, and that she allows someone to tell her when she can use the powers of her suit, but overall I found that the storyline really kept me engaged in the game.

Graphics - 9:

I would say this is one of the prettiest Wii games I've played to date. There is a pretty good variety of environments and they look great. Samus looks good in action and seeing some of the classic creatures brought to life was fun. The cutscenes were quite good as well. In fact my oldest at one point asked me what system the game was on, and when I said "Wii" - she was suitably surprised and equally impressed.

Sound & Music - 9:

I thought the music was great - it fit the action and areas really well. There were plenty of good sound effects and for a game with a lot of 'shooting', it never seemed to annoy my wife the way games like Halo or Gears of War does. The voice work added to the already great visuals of the cutscenes. Even if you didn't care for the story itself, the presentation was among the best, if not the best, I've seen on the Wii, and the voice acting was a big part of this.

Gameplay: - 7:

A bit of a hit here. I thought the first-person view was a cool idea that could have been a bit better polished in execution. In some of the investigative scenes I would sweep over my target option 4 or 5 time before it would register and lock in. The camera worked pretty well the majority of the time, but there were times it was hard to target what I wanted to unless I went first-person, but that also made me a sitting duck.

Also, the game has a great exploratory feel to it, but it sometimes felt like the 'rules' were not clearly explained. For example I got stuck at one point for a good long while before I happened to jump up near a round hole in the wall. Samus grabbed on with one hand and hung there, and then I was able to morph into a ball and role into it, but I never noticed any tutorial or demonstration of this jump, grab and morph tactic, but it was used quite a few times in the game. At first I thought maybe I just missed something, but my son got stuck at the same part until I pointed it out at him. It was also annoying to sometimes see items that you wanted to collect, and that you could see and would show up on your map, but try for a long time to get them only to realize later on that you needed a specific item (like a wave gun to shoot through the wall and activate a trigger that was otherwise inaccessible). The first person mode is very cool in some of the details it gives you, but this was a pair of areas they probably could have explained better - perhaps through that mode.

Now, despite those 'bad' points, the combat is fast and smooth for the most part. You auto-adjust and shoot at things no the fly, and there are times where you just feel like a very dangerous bounty hunter. I especially liked some of the finishing moves Samus can put down on guys, like when she jumps on a creature and charges a blast to the head at point-blank range. You just feel lethal in those moments. Also there are frequent save/heal points, which is nice. Menus are easy to get around and there are multiple difficulty settings for people who want to try the game a few times.

Intangibles - 7:

The game is well-made and it is a lot of fun to play. I dislike when games rely exclusively on quicktime scenarios for things like boss-fights. You're offered these things in Other M, but you seldom have to use them - but doing so would make your life easier. There was a lava dragon I fought at one point and there were some cool scripted events during the fight that could be used to amp up the damage done, but I missed most of those and just gunned him down traditionally. I hate when you fight a boss, miss the quicktime event and he gets 1/4 of his health back.

Once you beat the game, there is an option to use your collection of powers to try and gather all of the items in the game. Cool for completionists, but honestly once the primary story was done, I didn't personally have much interest in that. I'm really big on completing stuff/gathering everything I can along the way, but once I reach the conclusion of the main story, I don't usually go further with it (Fallout 3 after the expansion packs is a good example of this. I did everything along the way, beat the game and didn't bother with the remaining side quests - just my preference).

Also, the game takes a hit with how short it is - I beat the game in like 12 or 13 hours. Not bad, but with no online and no New Game+ or additional story elements to hook my interest, it loses some value there for me.

Overall - 8:

This game is an interesting one, and its reception was just as interesting. For every person I find online bashing Other M, there's another singing its praises The 'professional' sites could not seem to agree either, with IGN scoring it quite high (8.5 I believe) while Gamespot and Gameinformer ranked it much lower if memory serves me right (6-something range I believe).

I for one found the game a lot of fun, and my son did too. Both of my daughters watched me play through large chunks of the game. They were invested in the storyline, and I enjoyed it too. I've always liked Metroid games, but as this was the first one I had beaten since the first, it just felt like they got a lot more right than wrong.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 4/15/11 Wii 2?

Nintendo sure knows how to keep news going about their system. Though occasionally their timing is suspect (I still couldn't believe they started shelling out 3DS news while they XL was just releasing), they have been in the news a good deal lately, and for the right reasons. While there's certainly naysayers out there, the 3DS have had a very good overall reception. Just as the news was starting to taper off on it, word has leaked out that Nintendo plans to release their next generation console late 2012. IGN and several other sites have talked about it so far.

Plenty of speculation will ensue, and no doubt Nintendo will continue to make sure people are talking about their brand. I don't really have any speculation at this point, just sort of an amused observation. The more these consoles change, the more they become the same. The early rumors speculate that this new console will be a powerhouse, with an engine that outperforms the ps3 and 360 by a fair margin. Why does this sort of crack me up?

Well, all Christmas season we heard about the Kinect and the Move - basically motion control additions to better mimic the Wii. A couple of weeks or so ago, Microsoft began to talk about a new disc format that would allow their games discs to hold more data. While the difference is not a huge amount, the early conjectures came in 2 varieties: a way to try and compete with the storage space the PS3 has with Blurays or an attempt to better combat piracy. Now that Nintendo is turning an eye toward HD graphics, the first thought that came to my mind is how similar all of these systems are trying to become to one another.

Don't get me wrong, Nintendo needs to do this. The Wii when it came out was released at a time when people did not all have HD tv's, though now it's not uncommon to find 2 or more in a home. It'll also be interesting to see what else comes of this new push. The rumor mill states that Nintendo wants its hardcore gamers back - which is great, but generally those hardcore gamers come from 3rd party software development - an area Nintendo has struggled with by and large over the last few console generations. Also, will they alienate the same casual player base that helped to make the Wii such a phenomenal success since its release? That question goes to more than the controls, but the pricing as well. While the 3DS was quite successful, its price point was a smidgen higher than a lot of people were comfortable with - myself included.

One of the Wii's best selling points is that it was accessible at a lower pricepoint than the 360 and the PS3 for a long time, and that helped the Wii get a foothold in a lot of homes. If this new hardware's going to be more powerful than the 360 and PS3, what kind of a price point are they looking at? The PS3 went the high-end route and price-pointed right out of most peoples' homes to start. It'll be interesting to see if the 3DS maybe starts Nintendo on a slightly higher-end, higher price-point path or not going forward.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Best Free Games

So, I stumbled onto an article awhile back on IGN called "Best Free Games', so I thought i would take a look and see what it was all bout. I thought: that's a pretty cool idea. I don't really play many free games myself, but my kids do and I know some people at my work place do.

Now, I get the idea that IGN's 'best games' means completely coded from scratch, where as if I were to find a good game out there, I wouldn't much care if it was built from an RPG Maker, or Game Maker, etc. So, I may do some digging around online, find a few games here and there. In the meantime, I thought I would critique some of the games IGN put out there. I'll link to their article, and to the game, and share my thoughts. I've given 2 a go to this point. First up -

Hot Throttle:

This was the first game IGN recommended. It can be found on [adult swim] games.

The premise is pretty basic. You race around tracks and occasionally use power-ups to gain an edge on the competition. The storyline, loose as it is, is that this group of clothing-less people get together and race around, acting like/thinking that they are in fact cars. It's as weird as it sounds.

Pros: original graphics, free, web-based so there's nothing to download

Cons: the sound track annoys me, the graphics (while original) are pretty mediocre and the racers handle like they're on ice, sliding around oddly.

I didn't really care much for the controls, and upon closer inspection it's actually a pretty low-rated game on the site at 5.-something. Some credit here for creativity, but the overall package is pretty rough, and after doing 4 or 5 races, I had lost interest

Next game -

The next game they recommended was called Megazey and Demons and the actual game's page can be found here. The story is pretty simple: demons are trying to escape hell and cause havoc on Earth. This is a sort of platforming/action game.

Pros: The biggest one for me was the graphics. The backgrounds actually look pretty nice. Nothing too detailed, but the use of color catches the eye quickly. There's actually a fair amount of variety in the combat. You have a couple of different guns you can acquire, a sword, some basic power-ups too. There are a few boss fights and you need to use different tactics on them from time to time. Kind of funny, though maybe at times not intentionally so.

Cons: The creator was clearly not English-speaking natively, and the localization is pretty horrendous. The backgrounds look great, but there's not much to the basic character animations. Your main dude's walk is sort of odd, with his legs spinning in a pinwheel effect. While the weapons vary up, the overall battle against the hordes of demons really doesn't consist of much more than plowing into them gun blazing/sword swinging. It's also a pretty short game - probably less than 15 minutes.

Overall, it's free, and it's nothing more than a short distraction, but it did the trick for me the other morning when we were about to head out to drop our daughter off at camp for the weekend. It's funny on the forum the creator hosts, because people do comment on the abrupt ending, and the user admits he did not expect anyone to ever finish playing it. Not sure if he just did not expect the exposure his game got due to IGN or what, because the difficulty is pretty low. I had to do one boss battle 4 or 5 times, and one other map twice, and that was it.

The actual walking/climbing/jumping mechanism is odd. I can't really put it under a pro or con, I didn't mind it when I got used to it, but it's definitely not what you would expect collision-wise from a typical platformer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gaming News and Notes from 4-13-11

There's a few good deals going on at Steam currently. They are doing 2K sales with Mafia 1 being 75% off on Monday, and the excellent Bioshock games 75% off on Tuesday. They'll be doing the same today and tomorrow.

In addition to that, Steam is offering up a collection of games called The Potato Sack. Not really sure how long it will be up for - it's been about a week and a half now, but there's quite a long list of games for $38.72:

1...2...3 Kick It!
AaAaAaaAa - A reckless disregard for gravity
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (this one has gotten very good reviews and normally lists for $20 alone)
Audiosurf
Bit.Trip Beat
Cogs
Defense Grid: The Awakening
Killing Floor (got a 7.5 on IGN and normally sells for $20)
Rush
Super Meat Boy (again, a review sensation that normally goes for $15)
The Ball
The Wonderful End of the World
Toki Tori

I did grab this, maily for the 3 games I made special notes of, but there were others of interest to me as well - but I had been eying all 3 for awhile now, so I decided to pick it up. Slew of reviews, even if smaller ones, forthcoming soon. :)

Speaking of PC game discounts, there was the Humble Bumble releases last year - taking a slew of indie games (including some excellently scored ones like Braid) and packaging them together for a price that you yourself name. The proceeds largely go to charity (or completely - they have cool customization on your purchase package). This one's not nearly as impressive as the one from last winter I missed out on, but you can pick up Trine, Shadowgrounds, Shadowgrounds: survivors, a pre-order for Splot and prototype/dev kit for Jack Claw. Seriously, a buddy picked these up for $1. Of course, the proceeds go to charity, so you probably want to chip in more than that. Seriously, cheap games, good cause, check it out.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D's Release Date Revealed to be Sunday, June 19, 2011 in America.

And this last bit isn't news, it just gave me a grin and should tip you off as to what my weekend reviews will be:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 4/12/11

The importance of internet in gaming.

That's the topic on my mind tonight. It's prompted by me staring at 'loading asset' in Dragon Age Legends on Facebook, while downloading a game demo and blogging about it all. As I type this out I just go: Wow... it's become such an integrated part of the gaming community. I remember when I picked up a network adapter for my PS2. I was so excited to be able to hop online and play Madden against people I didn't know or play Twisted Metal Black. It opened up a world of accessibility. I beat hundreds of games through the years, and often found that the only time I got a good challenge was when I played against one of my buddies.

I've spent a lot of time building franchises and playing them with friends - one in particular would come over almost every weekend and we'd play a handful of games on our franchise. The PS2 network adapter promised me live competition whenever I wanted it. Sure, back then you were connecting via phone lines, and the game stuttered horribly and people found tricks to exploit the system because rank/achievement meant more than playing the actual game (that's a topic for another time in and of itself) - whether it was pausing a match and walking away or rapidly unplugging and plugging in their connection - rumors and glitches abounded. But it was an exciting new era.

I've been waiting for the Mortal Kombat game to release. It's a known IP and I would have been excited anyway. But seeing the videos, pouring over images and being able to download the demo makes it all just that much more exciting, doesn't it? It puts a lot of pressure on the game developers now. Remember on the NES you just waited for your favorite developer to release something new, or maybe got excited when a sequel to a beloved gaming franchise came out? Now there's reviews on IGN two days before you even have a chance to shell out money for the game. Developers have to spend more and more time selling you on their game before it even can be physically purchased, by making demos and trailers. And 'physically purchased' opens up its own can of worms now as companies are pushing digital download, trying to sell it as a convenience to the gamer who doesn't have to leave their sofa now, but has no physical game to trade in to a Gamestop if they want. And then you wind up with issues like my recent one where I was buying a bunch of digital games and using Netflix a ton and my ISP carrier, Broadband, had a conniption.

Computer gaming has always been a bit ahead of the curve here compared to console gaming, but now it's all on the table. We made huge leaps and bounds with this generation of consoles, whether it's playing Halo with friends online, or getting the latest game patches for a buggy game like Fallout: New Vegas. It's also been interesting to see the other side of things. Hackers really gummed up the works for Sony this week, and a lot of players were up in arms over their loss of connectivity. The flip side of that coin is while people who play Wii games primarily do so offline would not be as affected by something like this, does Nintendo's limited online approach hurt them? Does it impact game sales? What about games like Metroid: Other M that can have huge bugs like the 'red door' bug that can wreck an entire adventure. On the 360 the company would push a patch and the matter would be fixed in a week. For owners of Other M, they have to save out their data to a card and send it to Nintendo to get fixed and then wait for it to come back. Almost seems archaic now, doesn't it?

Gaming has become a much more social hobby. A lot of kids I knew in junior high had NES systems, but they didn't play them regularly. They would beat a game and often be done with it. Now you beat the campaign mode and play the online for months longer. And then there's games like World of Warcraft that build their entire premise on social interaction.

Even my blog reflects this now to a small degree as I recently added some 'gamer cards' for my 360, PS3 and Steam accounts on the left side. It'll be interesting to see where it all goes in the future. I thought the Dragon Age 2 marketing push was impressive. And based on the high sales despite many people feeling the sequel was inferior to the first game, I would say it largely worked. They integrated with Facebook, with their own website's newsletter, other games EA sold, and then as a 'thank you' for such impressive sales, they offered a free download to Mass Effect 2 on the PC. If other companies see this as having been a success, will they try to follow-suit? Gues time will tell.

Now, my asset is loaded. Back to Dragon Age Legends on Facebook.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Gameplay Trailer

I don't usually do a lot of 're-posts' except on the occassional mid-week news bits I find. But this one has me excited - this is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which I talked about last week at one point. It's a brief trailer, but it's definitely enough to get me excited.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

KotL - Summoner 4/7/11

So, I got some pretty positive comments about my KotL Summoner 'attract mode' demo, both here and in a few other places I posted it. So, I thought maybe as I prod at this project, I'll go ahead and update on it here and there. Now, the software I'm using is called RPG Maker XP. It's not the latest version of the software - that would be RPG Maker VX. And I've talked to a few of their reps in the last month and they assured me there is a new version coming out this year. I've got about a week of my free trial left, and I will probably purchase it considering the amount of time I'm dropping into it already - it's like $30. Anyway, it's usually referred to as RMXP in several of the maker communities.



So there's a bit of background on the software I'm using. It's basically a framework for making games. It comes with some default art, tilesets and sound/music called the RTP. It also comes with a functional gaming system programmed in Ruby. You could take this framework, and with no programming knowledge or (like me here) if you have no artistic inclinations, still make an RPG game similar to the 16 bit classics of years gone by.



A lot of it is very menu/data base driven. You define characters, spells, items in a data base, assigning stats, images, things like that. I've included a couple of screenshots of the data base and also a short, blurry video of me working in it to try and get some events set up and working properly.



A lot of people who work on these games do so in teams - like a coder, a map maker, a sprite editor, etc. They also tend to try and track rough progress and here's what mine would probably look like at this point:

Story: 50%
Graphics/sound: 70%
Maps: 5%
Code: 90%

Mapping is probably the slowest overall part of the process, so while at a glance a person might look at that and think: wow, you're like over half done. In truth, I'd say my overall is more like 5-10% done is all. I'll probably keep tossing in small status updates, mention what I'm working on next, that sort of thing. I'll try to do better with the video next time too, uploading it to Youtube instead of subjecting it to Blogger's scaling process.



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