Shadowgate - PC Review

This throwback to the NES classic hits almost all the right notes

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 - Vita Review

The original game was charming, but flawed. Re;Birth 1 fixes almost all of that.

Akiba's Trip - PS3 Review

It's like playing an anime

Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar - PC Review

Some good takes on the tactical genre, but somewhat lacking in depth in the end

Whispering Willows - PC Review

A memorable, haunting point-and-click adventure

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fantasy Wars - PC Review

This is a strategy medieval fantasy game with a very generic title, but beneath the title and the often bland visuals and music, there is a good but tough game to be had here. There are a lot of standard strategy game trappings here: turn-based play, ranged and melee attacks, overly powerful magic attacks and unit progression.

I've seen this particular title pretty inexpensively several places such as Amazon, Good Old Games and Steam. The question is, is this game from 2007 worth your time?


Graphics - 6:

The graphics are pretty bland, and there really isn't any way to sugarcoat that. They are not necessarily bad. Just lots of shades of green, with a smattering of brown and blue in places. You can zoom in and out on units, but really getting closer does not do the engine any favors as it begins to show its age very quickly when you do so. Animations are simple and magic - usually the visual high point of a game like this - really doesn't wow even on the level of particle effects. The walking and combat animations actually have a tendency to slow down the gameplay quite a bit, but fortunately you can skip through these.


Sound & Music - 6:

Much like the graphics, the sound and music for Fantasy Wars gets the job done, but fail to impress. The sound effects lack variation, but thankfully are not so overused as to be annoying. The music is what you would expect from a fantasy game, and is nearly as bland as the title of the game itself. Still, it mercifully never got on my nerves either.


Gameplay - 7:

This game can be tough. The reasons for that are two-fold. One is due to the nature of the combat itself. Units are mobile, there are a lot of ranged attacks - including very powerful magic, and there are flying units as well which add a layer of strategy but also help to open a single target up to a one-turn beating that you sometimes have trouble preparing for. It was not unusual at all to have a fully healthy unit destroyed in a round. When you start to take damage, your units sometimes flee and lose effectiveness. So if you were in a good defensive sector like a city or forest and take too much damage, your unit may find itself fleeing into an open field or worse - onto a water/swamp sector where your defense takes a huge hit.

The other reason the game can be a challenge is every level has a timer of sorts. Each new level starts with an objective and a set number of turns to complete it in. In doing so, you get a gold completion status. Fail to meet the criteria in that time frame, and they give you a set number of turns to reach silver status. Fail to do that, and you get all the time you need to win the map, and you get bronze status.

The better your finishing status, the better your rewards between levels. The problem is, when you rush to complete a level, you open yourself up to the problems noted in the first examination of difficulty.

There are some pretty good aspects to the gameplay too. The menus are a bit tricky to work around at first but make perfect sense and flow pretty well once you know your way around. All units, not just the 'hero' ones gain experience and every time you level you can pick from one of three new perks. This gives you the option to customize your units and make them different from one another - though I generally found one upgrade path I liked best and stuck to that.

There are often hidden items and events throughout the maps, which of course will make you want to explore, but then stands in stark contrast to the timed nature of the gold/silver/bronze system.


Intangibles - 7:

There is some pretty decent strategy to be had here, though the learning curve can be a bit steep right at first. Maps can be played at 3 difficulty levels, and the story mode can be approached from different perspectives as you play with one of three races, which adds a bit of replay value to the game. For those who like such things, there are some cheat modes out there too for things like healing, experience and gold.


Overall - 6.5:

Once you get past some of the more generic features, there is actually a pretty decent strategy game to be found if you take the time to dig into it. The story is fairly forgettable as are the music, sound and graphics, but the strategy itself is both challenging and fairly rewarding. The game can be found fairly cheaply in several places - I picked it up really cheaply at Good Old Games and it was certainly worth that price, but the game shows its age and may only appeal to die-hard strategy fans.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 6/8/11... comparing the big 3

I'll preface this by saying - I'm no fanboy. I saw on another site, Digitally Downloaded, where a few commenters jumped on an author or two about their opinions about the various E3 presentations. If I'm a fanboy, it's of certain companies, video games in general - but I've owned just about every NES to date, every PS to date and the 360 was my first of the current gen consoles. I enjoy portable systems and PC gaming.

But, as video games are by their nature a very competitive pass time, it's only natural for people who have a particular system feel a sort of ownership and loyalty to that/those systems. So, E3 is a celebration of our beloved hobby, but inevitably people want to weigh the biggest presenters against one another.

I felt Sony gave the best presentation overall. They had a ton to prove given their recent security debacle, but I thought they gave a pretty good presentation. There were not a lot of big 'new' game reveals by any of the companies, though there were exceptions like Halo 4, Luigi's Mansion 2 and so on. The Move got a lot of air time, and that was to be expected, but it did not feel like it was taking over the presentation. The Vita however, was a huge hit for me. They showed some great demos of games in action, like the Mod Nation Racers track building feature. They had a good list of games and features and really touted the connected game space effectively. That they came in with such a polished-looking product and a price tag (and at $249, a very effective price tag) only helped.

Nintendo was a close 2nd for me. I felt Nintendo and Sony both had fairly balanced presentations. They both showed off new hardware - the Wii U looks potentially awesome (though I liked that things like price points were addressed by Sony where Nintendo's simply said they doubt it will be at the $250 entry point). They both backed up current but fresh hardware - the Move for Sony and the 3DS for Nintendo. I actually thought the 3DS had a better showing here. There were not many surprises, but there were a couple and it all looked good and polished. Nintendo however, struck out with me on two points. 1) They had a great lead in with Zelda's 25th anniversary, but it felt rather weak when it was said and done. 2) Almost no mention of their current platform - you had Skyward sword in their presentation, and that was it. In other sessions some games got mentioned, but it felt a bit like the Wii was getting neglected

Microsoft whimpered a bit. The initial titles they showed off were not exclusives. Because they had no new hardware to show off, Microsoft played up Kinect a lot. Not necessarily a bad move - the Kinect has sold well but people have been saying that they want more titles. Problem is, most of what they showed underwhelmed and a lot of early adopters have been vocal in their concern on various forums and blogs. There were a few exclusive titles that looked good like Gears 3, and the Halo 4 trailer tucked into the end brought a smile to my face, but it was my least favorite of the 3 presentations.

Anyway, those are my basic comparative thoughts on it - I'd be curious to hear if you agree or disagree. On that note, I got a nice new Cyborg V.5 keyboard for my CPU my dad got me for my birthday as I finish up a few more games and have a bunch of reviews coming soon - including some scheduled for next week while I'm camping up. Take care!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 6/7/11 ... Nintendo E3

Leading in with the Zelda 25th anniversary was a great start. I was excited, and I know the crowd was as well. However, my confidence did suffer just a bit shortly after - I love music from The Legend of Zelda, but the orchestra was keeping me from hearing about new things. And then, there was talk about the various Zelda re-releases.

The free Four Swords available for download in September for the DSi was cool.

And then talk of a promotional gold Wii Remote when Skyward Sword comes out.

And then more about music. Apparently, the symphonic orchestra will visit many regions. And there will be CD's. And then they moved on. I have a small issue with this if only because with the Metroid Prime collection and the Mario 25th anniversary collection, a lot of people were expecting some sort of a Zelda collection. Something remastered to some degree for the Wii. It's not going to happen unfortunately.

Nintendo then went into their 3DS section and they teased 5 titles right off of the bat:

Mario Kart, Star Fox, Mario, Kid Icarus, Luigi's Mansion (Luigi's Mansion?!) - great 3ds teasers before introducing Reggie Fils-Aime

- Mario Kart: Love this series - this is good stuff. Gliders for longer jumps? Underwater? Yes please.

- Star Fox: This looks and feels like a natural fit. The titling system and cameras is good use of tech.

- Mario: This game was a given, and will no doubt get top-shelf treatment, but no surprises on display

- Kid Icarus: Looks fun and flashy, and mulitplayer is a nice addition. The augmented reality cards were interesting. Pit's voice bugged me.

- Luigi's Mansion: This was a big, very welcome surprise. Loved the original, as did my kids. This was the most exciting title for me - maybe just due to the unexpected factor - of the five.

None of these are happening until later in the year - at the earliest. That keeps the 3ds launch a bit underwhelming - a bummer for early adopters no doubt.

Upcoming titles: Resident Evil, Mario & Sonic Olympics, Ace Combat 3D, Tetris, Cave Story 3d, Resident Evil: Revelations, Driver Renegade, Pac-Man & Galagy dimensions, Tekken 3d, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D - quickly teased, and only a few of which really caught my eye.

Nintendo announced a free 3D version of Excitebike that will be downloadable (that game is 27 years old!? Good lord...)

Pokemon. This is another free offering, and the idea is interesting but felt a bit light and gimmicky. Basically it's a visual Pokedex.

Now, for what everyone is curious about:

Image 1

The new console is going by Wii U. The controllers look different than rumored - really they look like small tablets. I didn't see a listing of the actual dimensions, though they touted a 6.2" touchscreen in the center. The Wii U will be backwards compatible - both for the Wii games and the various controllers. The controller has 2 analog sticks, 2 trigger/shoulder buttons, a direction pad, face buttons, rumble support, touch screen/stylus interaction, microphone, speakers, gyroscope and camera. They also claim the tablet will stream video games to the controller without any latency. Big claim, but as someone who does get into games to turn over the TV to my wife or kids, it's a neat feature.

Some of the other demoed features like screen over screen overlay, the implications on multiplayer games and more... well, there is a ton of potential here. The quick demonstration of Link playing in high definition looked amazingly good. I don't know if the specs surpass the PS3 by as much as was rumored, but it's a step in the right direction.

A lot of developers seem to be backing the console - and that is huuuuuuge. Nintendo has always been the best at making games for its own console, and that may not change. It would be nice however, to see the gap between what Nintendo makes and what 3rd party development teams produce narrow. Lego City Stories, Batman, Tekken, Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon, Darksiders 2 were all announcd.

A Super Smash Brothers brought to the 3DS and Wii U was mentioned.

On top of that, Nintendo closed with a quick talk from EA about their future partnership with the Wii U and teasers from:

Darksiders 2, Dirt, Aliens Colonial Marches, Ghost Recon Online, Metro Last Light, Tekken, Ninja Gaiden

The presentation got off to a disappointing start to me. Some of the 3DS games looked cool but... we knew about most of them already. Like Sony and Microsoft, I didn't see a lot of newly announced games. I think Nintendo and Sony fared better because they had new hardware to show off. I think the potential if Wii U could be huge. I will gather my final thoughts and weigh out how I think the big 3 did when compared to one another tomorrow, but one thing really nagged at me when I reviewed this post just now...

Was Skyward sword the ONLY Wii game they announced at all? There may have been more, but... I'm not seeing it. Are they basically abandoning the Wii with this new console still potentially a good ways off? I'm not sure, but that did irk me a bit.

Gaming thoughts... 6/7/11 ... Microsoft E3

So, this has been a slightly different E3 for me. First, work conflicted quite a bit with what I usually watch and listen to in the back ground. Actually had to go to meetings and stuff. Also, with me blogging and posting about games now - something I've never done in the past, I've been trying to take notes of my impressions so I can at least attempt to be coherent later instead of just drolling and going "GAaaaaaaaaaaaames" in much the same tone of voice I imagine zombies say "Braaaaaaaaaaains"

First, from my notes:

- Modern Warfare 3 looked slick. The devastated cityscape was impressive

- Tomb Raider looked very cool, though I was curious how much of what was done was really controlled and how much of the game is going to rely on quicktime events. What's the actual combat going to be like since gunplay's always been a bit of a question mark for the series. That said? Supremely excited by this one.

Two quality lead-ins, but... they're going to be on the PS3 later too.

- EA sports tying in with the Kinect does feel more organic than using a Move wand

- Mass Effect 3 - all kinds of awesome. Using a Kinect? Not sure that's such a big deal to me. The idea is interesting, especially for people who really dig the roleplay elements, but that almost makes the fact you are saying one thing and Shepard says another even more jarring.

- The ghost recon trailer looked okay and the customization interesting but wouldn't get me to buy the game. Like the games all above - PS3 as well? Oh my...

- The Kinect voice activation demo was first discussed when the Kinect went by Natal. This feels like to the game really, even if the tech itself is impressive. Not much personal appeal to me. Youtube? Also feels like an 'about time'. Bing? Meh

- Gears 3 - Loved the first game, enjoyed the 2nd, and I will play this one I'm sure.

- Ryse - It seems like decent use of the Kinect tech, but it also feels a bit generic and didn't really pique my interest.

- The Halo theme song started and I definitely perked up while watching the Anniversary Trailer. I have no problem with this. I loved the redo of God of War collection and am looking forward to Ico. This should be fun too.

- I can appreciate Foza's technical excellence but just cannot get into the series. What they showed here did nothing to change that for me personally, though my wife might ooooh and aaaah at the pretty cars.

- My son and I both really liked Fable 2. We were both disappointed with Fable 3. The series tends to promise a bit more than it can deliver, and while Fable the Journey was visually interesting and the idea of casting spells with your hands (again, using the Kinect) is interesting, I don't know if it's enough to make a solid, fully-fleshed gaming experience and while I'm curious, I'm also prepared to be disappointed.

- I haven't played Minecraft, but my son absolutely loves it. He'll find this to be a big announcement.

- Not sure about the Disneyland game. Maybe my youngest would be interested, but I have my doubts.

- I'm not hating on the Star Wars Kinect nearly as much as most people are. The idea makes sense - try to really immerse the player in a Star Wars world. Force Powers? Lightsaber. Acrobatic jumps? Looks like they are all accounted for on this game. But, is it deep enough? Will it bore quickly? The Star Wars skin earns the game some extra mileage for me, but will it be enough?

- Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster was cute - and it seemed to use the Kinect tech as well as anything else presented, but isn't really a factor for me personally.

- Kinect Fun Labs felt like an extended advertisement. Like a spin-off of the stuff they were telling us Kinect would be able to do over the last two E3's. We get it, the tech is cool. It doesn't help if the developers can't leverage it into good games.

- Kinect Sports Season 2 feels like an extended tech demo with interactive graphics and a cheesy presentation.

- Dance Central - I've heard it's good, but really not my thing.

- Ending on Halo 4 teaser was a great choice though, and left me with a good final impression.

That said, this felt like a pretty weak E3. They had the Halo's, Gears, Forza and... that was really it I think for non-Kinect, all-Xbox-exclusive content. They spent way too much time on the Kinect, and focusing on non-gaming content to boot. There were very few surprises to be had, which was also disappointing. Given that Microsoft was the only one of the big three to not have any new hardware to show off doesn't help matters either.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gaming Thoughts 6/6/11 - Sony E3

So, I'm a bit out of order here. I totally missed the Microsoft session this morning (silly job and all), and may wind up having to watch the video of it later (probably not tonight as it is starting to get late). No doubt, I'll have the same issue with Nintendo's tomorrow morning. I do plan to watch both though and give my thoughts on them afterward. However, tonight I did get to watch Sony's E3 demo, and being (very) new to using Twitter (despite having an account for awhile now), I felt that would be a good exercise in sharing off-the-cuff notions while watching it.

Sony really had to come out strong given their recent PR disasters.

Things started off with a bang introducing Uncharted & Resistance 3. Both looked pretty good - Uncharted in particular. I recently played and beat God of War: Chains of Olympus and have been eying Ghost of Sparta. Hearing that they will both be remastered and made for the PS3 as a new collection however, I believe I will wait for that. Chains was outstanding, and I'm currently playing through God of War 1 & 2 in that collection, and picked up #3 over the weekend. That plus the Ico collection have me rather excited.

I've had little to no interest in 3d tv's. my current TV set me back quite a bit in both cash and wife-granted brownie points, but I have to admit the new package Sony is offering is interesting (HDMI cable, Resistance 3, a set of glasses and a 26" tv for $499). Perhaps the most interesting thing in my mind, and from the reaction the audience gave, I think they agreed, was the promise that the glasses not only would allow 2 players to participate in 3D gaming, but allow them to see completely individualized screens. In other words, no split-screen on co-op. Anyhow who's played cramped quarters in split screen knows how cool that sounds - we'll see if the execution matches.

Lots of Move stuff. Unsurprising given what I have heard was a Kinect-heavy theme by Microsoft, and considering the big pushes Sony and Microsoft made last year to get the word out about the Move and Kinect. I was sort of 'meh' on the announcement it would be in Bioshock Infinity. That game looks great on its own. It looked kind of gimmicky when shown with NBA 2K12 as well. That's been my favorite NBA game since around 2k5 or so, and I was far more interested in the new features they mentioned, but gave no actual info to.

Now, in case anyone thinks I'm hating on the Move - far from it. I have a two-player Move set I won last year (and STILL need to write about). I'm certainly willing to try those features out, but honestly question if they will make the experience any better. That said, my youngest seemed fascinated by Medieval Moves, and here it IS the gameplay and doesn't sound like a potentially gimmicky tacked-on feature.

Several of the trailers were underwhelming to me like Sly Cooper's. I know a lot of people have been picking on the Star Trek announcement, some people saying it looks like a poor man's Mass Effect. Considering I think Mass Effects 1 & 2 were some of the best games I've ever played, that still might not be a bad thing, but really what they showed in the trailer was incredibly superficial and it is way too early to see if that's a fair comparison in any way or not.

Their new handheld, the PSVita got the tail end of the conference. I'll start off by saying that the graphics look good, the dual analog sticks are a great idea, the touch screens and cameras in the front and back certainly present a good number of possibilities and they touted it having 6-axis detection like the first party PS3 controllers have. I expected a pretty high price point but the Wifi model is the same as a 3DS - $250, and the 3G/Wifi model is $300. Better than I expected really, though still a bit more than I was hoping (I really, REALLY like my handhelds at $200 or less). That said, I've always liked my PSP more than the DS so I was curious about the games mentioned.

Uncharted again looked great for the system, and my son thought Mod Nation Racers looked cool as well (we've recently acquired and started to play it on the PS3 and it has proven quite popular). The little Big Planet announcement had both my youngest super-excited though. They love LBP, and we have it for the PS3 and recently acquired it for the PSP. Seriously, that took the show for my younger two kids, and both are going to bed with visions of Sack Boy, dancing in their little heads.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes. Sony claims to have a ton of developers ready to roll on the Vita, and let's be honest - the 3DS came out of the gates pretty weak with its initial lineup. This may come down to the titles readily available.

Overall I enjoyed what they showed. There were not a ton of surprises in the first half, but it was fun seeing some of the titles like Uncharted 3 getting some play time and the news on the Vita was quite interesting in my opinion as well.

Trying my hand at Twitter a bit...

for those following or interested in my thoughts on Sony's E3 presentation, I'm trying out Twitter as a means of just commenting on various things that catch my eye. @Chalgyr http://twitter.com/#!/Chalgyr if you're at all interested. Hoping to consolidate my thoughts into a full post later.

Gilly's Games - Lego Harry Potter

First - thank you to those who have friended my FB page and Twitter accounts. I will definitely need some time to grow into those as companions to my blog. I don't want to turn them just into references or referrals to the blog, or they would serve no real purpose. I'm certainly open to suggestions on those two fronts.

It was another busy, but great weekend with my dad having been up from Florida. Now that he is returning home later this week however, I do plan to update with some new posts - and for those who saw my recently played games on Coffee With Games.

Anyway, my son Chris wrote up a Pokemon DS review a couple of months ago that generated quite a few comments, and he's been excitedly working on a couple more reviews for the near future (he's been playing Dungeons, Mass Effect 2 and some other games I haven't reviewed yet). My youngest overheard this the other day and wanted to write her own game review. Probably her all-time favorite game is Little Big Planet for the PS3, but runner-up is likely Lego Harry Potter on the Xbox 360. She doesn't beat very many games, but she's beaten this one at least once. This was her first time trying to use Word for anything like this, so here goes:

Hello I’m Gillian and today we are going to talk about Lego Harry Potter years 1 to 4. Now it’s very easy in years 1 and 2 but as you go on it gets harder and harder and may become impossible. Not for me though it was pretty easy, and this may be shocking but I was 8 when I beat it but right now I’m 9. It's really funny, cool, scary and misunderstood at parts in the game and it wasn’t always like the movies in parts. But enough of the chit chat and let's get on with the game. So if you want to play the game on a different difficulty you need to beat the game first. It need to know you can beat the game on normal mode and then go into settings and change the mode.

The parts I liked were when Ron got smacked in the face with his broom because you were supposed to say up for your broom to come in your hand. Ron here wasn’t paying attention so much. Then he said it to much making the broom come up alright… then whap! He was smacked in the face by his broom and I’m guessing it hurt. So if you chose to play it hop you l-o-v-e it.


My thoughts:

Basically I've seen Gilly play this game quite a bit now, and even parts she's seen before, she laughs at. The usual Lego humor shows up in this game as well, but there were definitely some darker parts of the game that she considered 'scary' as well - which does fit with the constantly maturing theme of the books/movies in the series.

I have not actually played this game yet, so there's a lot of things I wouldn't want to comment on - but the graphics were good (for what they are - they're not going to win any technical awards but the Lego aesthetics retain their charm), the sound and music fit, and there seemed to be more you could do in general with this game than some of the earlier Lego ones. With plenty to collect, explore and unlock, my daughter has played this game heavily even though she beat it several months ago, so I think that speaks to the game's replay value for her.

I've always found the Lego games cute (I've had Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and Rock Band - and I have a friend who will be giving us Pirates soon) - but they don't hold a lot of value for me. I tend to bore of them somewhat quickly - but my daughter? The game was a very good value where she is concerned. This is easily the Lego game she has played the most - her favorite in the series.