Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers - PC Review

One step forward, but two steps back...

Dark Souls II - PC Review

Once again, the darkness comes to claim you

Q*bert Rebooted - PC Review

Classic fun works well with some new twists

Agarest: Generations of War - PC Review

An underappreciated RPG/Strategy hybrid

Forza Motorsport 5: Racing Game of the Year - Xbox One Review

The best racer on this newest generation of consoles

Saturday, May 14, 2011

PSN starting to come up?

I stumbled onto an article at IGN that says the PSN should be getting restored today. So, I interrupt my regularly scheduled Potato Sack posts to comment on it in case anyone who reads this was interested. :P

So, there's a new firmware update, and it actually didn't take too long to download and installed - I've certainly seen larger. However, I was not yet able to verify my account. I've read that you will be asked to do so on the PS3 you created the account on, or if that fails/is not an option, they will send you an email w/ steps on resetting your password. Curious to see how this process works, and if people will complain about the process. I can just see if someone doesn't have their original ps3 and has maybe changed email addys. It happens - and sure, it's that user's fault for not keeping their info up to date on the PSN (assuming they weren't for some reason forced to change over the last month it's been down).

Curious to see how the process works out. My youngest is actually set up on one of my alternate email accounts. Waiting to see which one - I don't recall myself 100%. Anyway, when I tried to sign in, I got the notice that the PSN was undergoing maintenence - so they're not there yet, but maybe soon. It sounds like the initial functionality will be trophy sync, friends lists and online play, with some features like the PS Store slated for the end of the month.

Potato Sack #6

13 games for about $35. It's a pretty ridiculous deal if you think about it, but only if those 13 games are worth what their price tag dictates. We all know that's not always the case. Steam released their Potato Sack before Portal 2 came out, with a bunch of indie games in it. I decided to pick it up and go through these games in slightly less than full-blown review status. This post will reflect on Killing Floor and Audiosurf. The two games have nothing in common, but since I couldn't get a good video of Killing Floor, I thought I would talk about it and then finish with Audiosurf.

Killing Floor immediately reminded me of Left for Dead - a game I picked up for my 360 somewhat recently for about $10. Get together with people online or battle the zombies by yourself using whatever weapons you can to try and stay alive. The storyline is almost non-existent, but that's okay since you'll likely be playing online with other people. The single player mode is okay, but it's the online that really keeps you engaged.

I had honestly never heard of Killing Floor until the Potato Sack, but I'm actually pretty glad I acquired this game now. It's a $20 download though, so I'm not sure I would have picked it up under normal, full-priced scenarios (I got Left for Dead on my 360 for about $9). I don't do a lot of online games. I played World of Warcraft for a few years, and even then did most of my leveling solo. Still, this game is easily better with online play. It's far from a perfect experience though.

I've read a lot of people have connection issues - thankfully I was not among them, but even if I had been, I'm confident I could have navigated my network settings pretty easily. Benefits of being in software tech support I guess - but I know not everyone has that particular luxury. I did however had a lot of graphics issues right off the bat. My computer more than meets the system specs, but I was getting these crazy flashing screens and the game would crash on my initially. Tripwire Interactive didn't have any obvious tech support - it directed you to forums, which sort of annoyed me at first. That said, the information in the forums was actually pretty hand, and these were known issues I was able to fix up pretty quickly.

Once I was on my way and playing, I was introduced to a game that I would summarize as:

- fast and fun
- with pretty good graphics
- rocking music but horrible voice over

There's still glitches, and there are not a ton of maps, but the online, different characters and perks and weapons all add up to make most sessions unique. My son likes these types of games as well - he loved Left for Dead when I bought it, and he too immediately saw the parallels between that game and this one, though Left for Dead felt a bit more polished in my opinion and I liked it better. I'd probably score Killing for a 7.5, but I'm factoring in value at the cost and the time I had to put into getting it to work right I suppose. My son, when asked, said a 9 out of 10, and that he thought it was a lot 'cooler' than Left for Dead

Audiosurf almost feels more like an experience than a game. There's certainly game elements involved - scores, maneuvering around on the screen - things like that. The goal is pretty simple - you control a sort of hovercar back and forth, collecting colored blocks to help create combo scores while trying to avoid gray, colorless blocks that can ruin these combinations. There's a futuristic vibe through the menu and limited sound effects, and the graphics while fairly simple are appealing at least. The core game mechanic however, is similar to 1... 2... 3... drop this beat that I covered in Potato Sack #1 - you pick your own MP3's, and the track, tempo and colored objectives change accordingly. That provides a good deal of variation in the game. There's quite a few difficulty levels, types of vehicles and the music is limited only by your own collection, so replay value is actually pretty significant here.

There's a demo you can pick up, and at $10 I would recommend trying that. It's not a game I plan to spend a ton of time with - I'd probably go with a 6.5 or 7 if I was scoring. It's okay in small doses, but not engaging enough for me personally.

I have a brief video down below of it. Killing Floor, with its handful of graphics configuration issues would not play nice with me when trying to record, so the video is Audiosurf only.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Potato Sack #5

One of the more curious titles in the recent Steam Potato Sack was Super Meat Boy. I'm going to be up-front on this one: I'm not much of one for platformers. Super Mario Bros games hold a special place in my heart, and my kids like them (we have Kirby's Epic Yarn - which I still haven't touched), but generally speaking platforming games do not hold the same place in my heart as sports, strategy, rpg and fighters. When I think of platforming games, I think of interesting visuals, challenging jumps, lots of dying and level memorization. These were staples of the NES era when I'd play games like Life Force, Contra, Rush N Attack, Legendary Wings and so many more. But over the years, I did not play these kinds of titles nearly as much.

Why am I prefacing this? Because on the one hand, I can appreciate a lot of what Super Meat Boy does and does well, but it's not a game I will probably spend a ton of time playing personally. My son loves it. He has no problem with trial and error and tons of deaths. I find it to be a decent 20-30 minute diversion and then I sink my gaming teeth into something a bit... well, I was going to say 'meatier' - realized the unintentional pun within, and hang my head in shame. Moving on...

There's a lot to like here. the presentation is full of retro goodness for people who enjoy this sort of genre. You will die and often, but one thing I did appreciate was that most of the levels were actually quite short. No checkpoints, no running out of lives. Boss battles feel a bit more like a traditional Super Mario level, where as many of the levels in Super Meat Boy are much shorter. In the first world, you will be seeing several levels that are 1 screen in size is all.

The controls are solid. You run, you jump, you cling (and slide down) walls as you angle for your next jump. There's a sense of both horizontal and vertical scale that keeps the levels feeling fresh. Graphics and music and sound all work together to help recreate the retro experience. On their own, these elements are slightly above-average to good, and not great, but together they do a good job of carrying the game's theme and intent across.

There are a lot of intangibles here. Each level has a tougher, more sadistic 'dark world' that amps up the difficulty level and splashes the screen with a cool, new look to levels you've already beaten. There's secrets to find including bandages you can use to unlock new characters who all have their own attributes as well. There are also leaderboards for those who like to compare scores. All of this adds up to a fairly large game with a lot to do.

At $15 on Steam, it's not a bad price. It lacks some of the musical and graphic 'wow' of a Super Mario or Kirby release, but at a fraction of the price, that's to be expected. If you enjoy platforming gameplay and aren't frustrated/turned off by punishing difficulties, then there's a lot of value to be had here and it's probably worth a go. This is a game I've been eying for awhile, and I'm glad I got it as part of this package and not as a standalone personally. I'd probably give the game an 8 - it's not my cup of tea but I can't deny that you get a lot of game here for the price.

Below is a funny video of my gaming session. I have no idea what was going on here. usually the game is fast and buttery smooth playing on my machine. But as I recorded it here, two things began to happen. A) The game slowed down considerably. Not surprising that if my processor's getting taxed that I'd be dropping frames. B) While I was recording, impossible game physics occurred. I was unable to jump at times, I couldn't cling to walls -and as you will see, I started to fall through walls and floors. I have absolutely no idea how this happened, but the video plays out almost more as a blooper reel. A level that's usually a matter of seconds to finish? I couldn't do it. Somehow the game engine was affected by my processor being taxed, and breaking its physics. I've love to know what is happening here behind the scenes to cause that, but I thought it made for an entertaining video at least. :)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Potato Sack #4

Indie games are generally ones done without a large budget. One of the best ways to get around the need for voice acting, powerful graphics engines and more is to develop a puzzle game. Set up a system of rules and then apply them creatively to a span of levels. Several of the games in the Potato Sack package by Steam recently would fall into that particular category, and among them was Cogs by Lazy Eight Studios.

The premise is both interesting and simple - slide around wooden panels (much like those plastic frame-enclosed sliding square games from when I was a kid), but instead of trying to assemble an image, you are connecting parts of a greater whole to make an invention. My wife played something similar on her iPad recently, and her reaction to that game seems similar to my reaction to this one. It's fun to start, and you get a nice sense of accomplishment when your invention is fully assembled and it 'comes to life'. You use gears, pipes and more to line up gas valves, put a clock into motion and play out musical chimes in a specific order.

There is a lot going on at any given time. It's not just enough to figure out how to lay things out, but the need to shuffle the squares means that there's no clear path in place for doing so. It's really very easy earlier on, but the challenges become quite taxing in the later stages and make the game feel like a bit more of a drag. As you complete puzzles, you gain stars. Sort of like Guitar Hero, you unlock later challenges through the accumulation of these stars, so you can theoretically skip some of the puzzles if you are really struggling with them.

Graphics are okay, and the sound effects feel appropriate though the music is pretty underwhelming and there's not a lot of variety to be had either.

With no hint system in place, some of these challenges can get pretty frustrating. Like my wife's iPad game, Cogs was a lot of fun when I started, but the returns diminished for me the further into it I got. At $10, it's not a bad game, but I'd probably give Cogs a 6 or 6.5. It's not bad, but there's better for the price (you could for example, pick up Toki Tori and Rush for that same price).

The other game I want to talk about is called Bit.Trip Beat and it, like cogs, is $10 on Steam normally. I thought the title looked familiar, so I did a quick bit of research and realized I had seen a review for this on the Wii in the past too. I had been playing some of the Steam 'music' games like Audio Surf or 1... 2... 3... and thought I was in for a similar experience with Bit.Trip - but was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case.

The first impression is an interesting one - I had this full screen game of low resolution, blocky but colorful graphics with a paddle on the left side that immediately called out to classics like Pong. The retro graphic style quickly grew on me though, as did the catch electronic beats. The premise is pretty simple - objects fly at you from the right side of the screen, while you move your paddle up and down on the left hand side to keep the flying pixels from falling off of the screen. Succeed in making contact, and it turns out that precise moment matches a beat in the funky music score. It's all very engaging - my oldest daughter's not much of a gamer, but she loved this one.

As you get further along, the challenge can become a bit overkill - truly frustrating. It doesn't help that sometimes there's just so much going on in the game and with the backgrounds, that your flying pixels can be obscured. It feels a bit cheap when you have a huge string of hits going and a block slides past you because you never saw it on screen due to the background comet hiding it.

Let too many blocks on by, and you wind up in a dull, gray, music-less world that gives you a chance to save yourself. These sections are much easier because you don't have the various distractions - but it's just not as much fun either. You find yourself desperately wanting to get back to the music and color that gives Bit.Trip Beat its life. I'd probably go with 7, maybe 7.5 simply because my daughter enjoyed it so much - at $10 it's not a bad value and was a bit of a surprise for me in fact.

Down below is a video of the early Bit.Trip first level and then also me solving out a couple of the earlier puzzles in Cogs.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Potato Sack #3

The Potato Sack by Steam was an attempt at getting a bunch of Indie games together, and packaging them at a single price. It was a heavily discounted package that helped draw attention to some titles that might not normally have seen much attention. While the first 2 posts I made on this topic revolved heavily around smaller, more obscure titles, there were a few in the Potato Sack package there tried to push a bit further and show that they had more in common with big budget games than most indie efforts. Some worked better than others in this package, and the game I want to take a brief look at today is simply called: The Ball

The first thing you notice is that it touts the use of Unreal engine and that it has a fairly nice-looking if brief opening scene, giving it a story before plunging you into the depths of an archealogical dig on your own. You then happen to come across a strange 'gun' for lack of a better term, though it's really more of a physical hammer (left-click) and a drawing device (right-click). Your primary tool in this game is a very large, ancient ball. You can propel it forward with the left-click and draw it back to you with the right.

What do you use the ball for? Just about everything. It's your tool in combat (run over monkeys, zombies and more with it) and your primary means of solving puzzles. I would say the majority of the game is puzzle solving and exploration. To that end, the game generally works pretty well. The environments look pretty good, the puzzles are generally logical and the ball is integrated into them pretty well. The music is decent as well, but the sound effects annoyed me a fair amount - usually because you have to have the 'draw' part of the gun active so the ball follows you around, and it's a somewhat grating sound after awhile.

Also of concern are the controls. At times they can be really touchy, and while the game does have checkpoints, they are spread apart just far enough that you find yourself retracing your steps. Also, while the ball itself handles okay, there's times when you have to 'hammer' cubes into locations and that just feels clumsy. Also, I got hung up on environments at least 4 or 5 times while I played, and was finally the reason I stopped about halfway through. The game does not seem to be terribly long - looking at the achievements it appears the game is about 4 or 5 chapters and I got through the first couple relatively quickly. But the last time I had gotten hung up, there had not been a save in nearly 25 minutes, and then I tried to jump over something, and got 'stuck' on a wall. The first couple of times it happened it was annoying, by the last time though, it was just killing the game for me because it seemed like each time forced a lot of lost time.

Combat is also kind of awkward. You get the hang of it quickly enough, launching the ball at your targets and then pulling it back to you to run over anyone you might have missed. But, with the controls being so jumpy at times, it is easy to get ganged up on by charging creatures and feel like you never got a chance to defend yourself.

On the one hand, I can appreciate what the developer, Teotl Studios was trying to do here, but the $20 price tag, annoying situations/glitches/controls and what appears to be a somewhat short run time make it hard to recommend this particular title. There is a demo of it on Steam if you think you might be interested, but this is a title that I'm glad was a throw-in and really didn't cost me anything as I would probably only give it a 4.5 to a 5 overall.

I included a brief video below of me solving a couple of puzzles, and you can see the game mechanics in action.