Joe Dever's Lone Wolf HD Remastered - PC Review

I grew up on these books, but it's been years. It was surprisingly easy to sink back into the world once more

Thomas Was Alone - Xbox One Review

Simple graphics hide a deceptively deep story in this platform puzzler

Geometry Wars 3 - Xbox One Review

It's time to take aim at some familiar shapes - but with some new twists in the gameplay

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - Xbox One Review

Some signs of new life in this yearly shooter are more than welcome

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth - 3DS Review

A new console and a new visual style - but the same great characters and stories

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mario Kart Wii - Nintendo Wii Review

Not exactly a new game, and not even a new game to me - I've owned it since this came out. So why the review now? Well, I haven't shown my Wii much (any) love since Metroid: Other M and before that, Red Steel 2. But, there's another reason I decided to write about this game. We had some friends come out the other night, and we broke this game out and had an absolute blast with it.

Some context - a group of about 5 or 6 of us regularly hung out at one particular friend's place in college. The standard games we would play were some combination of Madden, Tecmo Bowl, Golden Eye and Mario Kart 64. Many a weekend was lost to that couch and those particular games while beer and wings were consumed in plentiful portions.

Fast-forward to the other night, and we broke out Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 64. Thing is, the appeal of this game goes well beyond nostalgia. My kids and wife played too. The next morning my son and youngest daughter were up before us, playing online and trying to hone their skills for the next day's play. We had a really good time, so here goes:



Graphics - 8:

This series has never been a graphical powerhouse, but the Mario charm shows through and is inviting to younger gamers and older ones alike, as evidenced by our weekend experience with it. There's not as many animations, shadows, lighting effects as true racing games, but it does hum along without tearing and stuttering, keeping the game flowing at a rapid, smooth pace that keeps the fun factor high. Textures and details are a bit low most of the time as a result, but I love the vibrant colors throughout.



Sound & Music - 8:

Limited voices, decent music if perhaps less-than-amazing. It's generally up-tempo and fits what you're doing in the game. Sound effects are just varied enough to keep from getting monotonous. I actually like how well some of the sounds coming out of the controller work. That in particular was clever use of the technology in my opinion, and it serves an actual purpose when it happens.



Gameplay - 8:

Good overall track variety and selection. Some of the throwbacks are a blast to see. The motorbikes are a nice addition and you have a bit more control in the air as you show off on big jumps. The online actually adds a ton of value to the game. I've never been much for solo-racing in the Mario Kart games, and with this feature, you don't have to. Still a pretty robust community from what I can see. I've read a lot of complaints about how the AI works - though honestly it doesn't bug me much. Sure, the person in last has the best chance of getting huge 'weapons' or abilities to try and cut into the lead, but it helps keep the game fun for everyone involved, even if one or two of the players are clearly better than the others. If you go into it with that expectation, it doesn't generally bother you much.



Intangibles - 8:

Online really helps here. Other modes like the various battles help as well. The game is a racer at heart, but sometimes it is fun just to go after one another as well on a course. The single player is okay, but honestly it just feels like training wheels for the online or local competitive modes.



Overall - 8:

It's not the best racing game out there. In many ways, Mario Kart is not even a racing game. There are vehicles on wheels, start and finish lines and timed laps are a factor - but there's a sort of playful combat mixed in and outlandish shortcuts and plenty of game modes to keep you busy. I still get a huge hit of nostalgia from playing Mario Kart 64 - but there is a lot to like in this version as well, as long as you go into it with your expectations properly aligned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Castlevania - Retro Reflections

So a couple of my most recent posts were in regard to Castlevania. Simon's Quest was really my first foray into the series, having gotten that with arguably the creepiest Nintendo Power magazine ever (Belmont holding Dracula's decapitated head was pretty crazy) - but I did rent and go back to play Castlevania one weekend. The game pushed me to my limits at the time. 2 night rental, and I beat it about an hour before my dad needed to take it back on Sunday night. Playing it now, obviously the controls are a bit tight and there is a lack of special 'moves', but the gameplay is still simple and effective. The music holds up well also. Probably the biggest complaint other than some brutal platforming (lots of cheap falls to your death) - is that the graphics flickered like crazy when there were three or more enemies moving on the same plane as you. Still, it was a fun replay.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Xbox 360 Review

I've got a long standing relationship with the Castlevania series. I actually played Simon's Quest before playing and beating the first. I must have beaten Simon's quest four or five times. I loved Castlevania 3. The series then sometimes had some great releases and some pretty poor ones along the way over the years. In a way, Lords of Shadow feels like that - plenty of really good high points and some really low and lousy points.

Some people said that they did not think this game had anything to do with the Castlevania series other than its name. I can understand that, but I don't know that I agree with the statement. This actually felt to me like a pretty natural evolution in the series, but it was definitely not without flaws.



Graphics - 9:

There are times the score feels a bit lower. There are framerate issues that pop up pretty regularly and many of the cut scenes look a bit roughly animated. Maria never looks as good as Gabriel for example. That said, there is a lot going on in this game too. The environments are varied, ranging from villages to forests to swamps to castles, mountains, deserts and more. In addition to just the variety found here, there is a ton of animation going on, whether there are hints of fog in the distance, cool lighting effects, well-animated characters - and there can be a lot of them on screen at once. Also, this game does an excellent job visually with some of its 'wow' moments. A particular favorite of mine was about 2/3 of the way through the game when you are traversing a giant chain and there is an amazing backdrop involving a huge castle. Still, it can't be a ten given some of the stiffer animations and framerate issues that pop up more often than I cared for.



Sound & Music - 8:

The sound effects are good, if somewhat lacking in variety. You use the same basic weapon for 90% of the game, and there's only so much you can do with that from an audio standpoint. The music was mostly excellent I thought, fitting the scenes and visually impressive backdrops. There are some very good voice actors in this game as well - and they do a good job of delivering their lines the majority of the time.



Gameplay - 7:

This game's combat does a better job of mimicking the God of War formula than most. The whip has weight, and it is easy to get around the menu. There are several elements baked into this game, much like God of War - which is the obvious inspiration for this blend of combat and puzzle-solving. The puzzles however, never feel as organic as the majority of the God of War ones. Also, there is a large reliance on quicktime events. I realize that a lot of people enjoy these - but I'd prefer not to have them there. I feel like it takes away from my ability to take in and enjoy the actual action while not really adding a lot to the game itself.

The camera angles drove me nuts at times. As good as the visuals are, the fixed camera drives me nuts in places. It can be hard to see where you are going, and they use these fixed angles to hide items and it feels a bit cheap - especially when it leads to death.

The platforming elements are not too bad. They actually verge on easy most of the time, reminding me somewhat of Prince of Persia in that you are not really punished for trying crazy jumps and grapples. To be honest, I liked that personally. I know some people felt that the platforming was too easy, but I don't really like super-difficult platforming, so it suited me just fine.



Intangibles - 8:

The game is long. It actually feels a bit too padded at times, and the above fixed camera gave me my share of fits. Some of the puzzles were underwhelming. So why an 8? Because the game is large - 2 discs, 12 chapters and probably twice the playtime of a lot of similar games. The combination of puzzles, combat, platforming, character progression and hidden items give you a good deal of variety.

You can go back to beaten stages in an effort to beat the 'trial' of each page, and to try and pick up anything you might have missed. You also gain experience you can put toward unlocking various skills. There is also unlockable artwork, and like many games some of the sketches are pretty 'meh', but some of what is there is quite excellent. My oldest daughter doesn't game much, but she really enjoyed looking at the artwork with me.



Overall - 8:

There is a lot of action here, and that is a good thing. Some of the boss fights are better than others, but the three 'titan' ones are impressively huge. It feels like a summer blockbuster movie - lots of great visuals and audio make it a fun journey and the ending was something I did not expect at all - and definitely got me excited about some of the downloadable content and the sequel that was announced. The camera angles and some of the puzzles might be enough to turn you off to the game, but I was able to get past those and lose a good chunk of time in this overall excellent game.