Mortal Kombat - Retro Reflections

I have played a LOT of Mortal Kombat over the last couple of weeks. This was done in no small part because of the new release about a week and a half ago. I've posted on Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe as well as the Mortal Kombat reboot, but I also got a chance to dust off a handful of older Mortal Kombat games (I didn't eve know we had all of these until my son mentioned a few).

I have a lot of fond memories of Mortal Kombat, and like NBA Jam, those memories were a bit kinder than the realities - especially when pitted against having played the recent modern counterpart. The graphics actually hold up okay, as do the sound effects and music, but the controls killed me - often literally. I used to be fairly good at these games, but it took me quite a while to get the hang of playing again with favorites of mine (like Scorpion), and some systems were better than others.

I made a quick video montage of the versions we had laying about:

Mortal Kombat 1 for the SNES
Mortal Kombat 2 and 3 for the Sega Genesis
Mortal Kombat Trilogies, 4, and Mythologies for the N64

Of them all, 3 and Trilogies aged the best I think. 4 was very 3-D heavy and felt off to me, and Mythologies was more of a side-scrolling adventure game. I will admit though, it was fun using Scorpion to use the fire-breathing skull fatality on Sub Zero in MK1 (that's on video). One thing I found interesting were the range of settings for things like blood, and also the button configurations. The genesis pad wasn't too bad, but I found the N64 controller a bit awkward for fighting games. Anyway, it was a fun stroll down memory lane, and you can definitely see their influences on the new release, which I am still playing and thoroughly enjoying.


Mortal Kombat - Playstation 3 Review

I go back a long ways with Mortal Kombat. I remember playing the first one around the same time Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades. I used to go to a local 7-11 to play both, depending on which friends were with me. The two cabinets stood side-by-side, waiting to eat quarters. I've never been terribly good at 1-on-1 fighter games. Unlike something like Madden or NBA 2K where I tend to mop up most people I play against, my results in 1-on-1 fighting games are more middle of the road. But, I do enjoy them all the same, and I've been anxiously awaiting this reboot. Why is it considered a reboot?

Well, there's been about a zillion Mortal Kombat games now, and their storyline has become increasingly ridiculous over the last few releases. In my opinion, their crossover with DC Universe was not their most ridiculous storyline. That should say something right there. So, the idea is that Raiden sends a cryptic message back in time to himself, to try and prevent the atrocities to come. Essentially then, we get a reboot of Mortal Kombats 1, 2 and 3, starting just before the first battle in the first game. Sort of a Star Trek reboot if you will. The downtime with the PSN made it hard for me to give the online modes much playtime before they went crazy, so I really can't comment on how laggy it is or is not, or how the lobby looks personally. Local against a friend is ideal here. Let's go ahead and break this game down then.

Graphics - 8:

The actual fighting looks so much better than the storyline cut scenes. Characters feel tiff as they move about, and the textures just feel a bit lacking. That said, the overall game itself looks great. Characters are well-detailed when fighting, they move fluidly, torn clothing and bloody bruises accumulate over play (something I noticed in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last week too, but much more gruesome here). And the fatalities and X-ray attacks? Those are wince-inducing fun as you spill buckets of the red stuff (there's eve an achievement that tracks how much blood in pints you've spilled). There are some odd clipping issues with some of the fatalities, and while they're not a deal breaker by any means, they did bug me a bit.

Two examples are when Kabal does this fatality where he disembowels his opponent and jams his hook blades into the ground for the person to fall onto. Well.. I mean, they're rounded hooks at the end, so the person's shoulders should be slamming into them, not impaling. Another is a fatality where a head is ripped off by Kano and shoved into the loser's chest. A character with long hair like Sindel will see their hair poking out through the body. Small things, but they seem a bit odd when they occur.

Sound & Music - 9:

The voice acting is actually pretty good for the storyline mode, and the narrator with the end segments of arcade mode does a good job. There are a lot of sound effects in the game, and they sound great. Kicks, slashes and thuds all resonate with a certain weight to their impact that fits the combat perfectly Fighting Cyrex as a cyborg, your punch to his chest is rewarded with a nice-sounding metallic clank. Combat special moves from fireballs to bladed fans sound good when soaring through the air.

The music is not terribly memorable, but it is pretty good and usually fits the action pretty well. There's a bit of nostalgia value in there as well. Hearing 'flawless victory' 'fatality' and 'fight' all sounded good and succeeded in taking me back to high school when I used to play this game.

Gameplay - 8:

The fighting engine is very solid. They opted for 2-D over 3-D in terms of execution, which I think was a good choice. There are some pseudo 3-D effects, like when Raiden barrels into an opponent and drives them to the other side of the screen, the scene tilts and pans a bit to give a sense of depth. The fighting feels like there is actual weight to it, and that's a credit to both the control scheme and collision detection (and works wonders with the sound).

There are several good tutorials, including a fatality one which is awesome for people who want to use a character through the arcade mode and perform fatalities. There is also a fairly lengthy and entertaining story mode. Like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, you are thrust into the role of a new character every chapter, and staged fights against storyline-provided characters carry the story and action forward. I really would love to see this show up in more games. Some games like Tekken and Street Fighter have so many characters and releases, that it would be nice to have this sort of 'canon' approach to the storyline.

There are new X-Ray attacks as well. Like most fighting games, you have a sort of super bar or gauge that fills up over the course of combat from things like performing special moves or getting beaten up. This allows you to unlock special moves like combo breaking counters, or extremely powerful X-Ray attacks. I think of them almost as mini-fatalities. They do a substantial amount of damage and try to depict the internal damage being done. They're fully scripted series of 2 or 3 attacks you chain together on your opponent (if you land them). They are suitably gruesome looking. This game strove for an M rating, and earned it. I play it at night when my youngest is in bed.

It's not all perfect, however. I hear people complaining a lot about how the bosses 'break the rules' - and that is true, but not exactly something new to the game. Those big goofy bosses have been around since the original. Truth be told, that happens in some other games too, like Tekken or Marvel vs. Capcom, so it doesn't bug me as much here as it does so many other people. Are Shao Kahn and Goro cheap? Absolutely. Those did not bother me quite as much as when I was in storyline mode, and being subjected to tag-teams while fighting them solo, or near the end where you are faced with fighting 3 combatants in a row without any health recovery while negating any 'stored' X-Ray bar energy with each new combatant. That was some tough stuff there, and probably a bit unfairly so.

Intangibles - 9:

There is a lot of game here. consider the modes alone:

Ladder Tag-team
Test your sight/might/luck
Online (which has some one-on-one and king of the hill modes)
challenge tower

There is also a krypt with a ton of unlockable content ranging from music tracks, to alternate costumes, to concept art and move. It takes a while to get through all of that.

Arcade mode is simply taking your fighter through a random assortment of enemies to get their end scene, which is sparsely animated with some voice narration over top of it.

Tag-team is just what you would expect, where you choose 2 fighters and tag in and out.

Challenge tower is interesting. It starts off akin to a training mode, teaching you basics for some characters, but it presents a pretty diverse range of challenges. Some of these challenges do work better than others though. For example, one challenge you are using ranged attacks to ward off encroaching enemies - it's more of a pattern recognition and timing mini-game than anything, and I didn't like that much.

But there is another where you fight Reptile,and he can only be hurt when visible. He will try to go invisible a ton, but one of your special attacks will break his invisibility and open him up to your attacks for a brief time.

There is a lot of hidden content as well. I've read about several 'secret battles' - and I've in fact unlocked one against Noob (not sure how I did it yet). And let me tell you, these secret battles? Not easy. I've run into Noob twice, and he absolutely destroyed me the first time and narrowly beat me the 2nd. Also, while there are no interactions with the environment during combat, some of the stages do have specific fatalities built into them (two I saw included me being uppercut off of a bridge and onto spikes well below, and the other was my character being thrown head-first into a living tree trunk that gladly proceeded to eat me).

The PS3 version comes with Kratos as a playable character - I've read about the 360 options but can't really speak to them. I will say that Kratos is a great fit. His games are bloody and violent as can be, and that translates well here. As I've been playing God of War collection a bit on the side, I can appreciate his insertion probably a bit more than usual. Still, he's a much more organic fit for this game than the inclusion of Yoda, Starkiller and Darth Vader in Soul Calibur 4 when that came out.

Overall - 8.5:

I really have been enjoying this game. How much have I been playing? Well, I beat story mode, I beat ladder with everyone, unlocked pretty much everything and have gotten more than halfway through the challenge tower. My hope is the online stuff will get a bit better later, because that will help me to continue playing the game when I've exhausted all of the single player content, which I've nearly done.

Again, it really is worth mentioning, but this game fully embraces its M rating. If you have younger kids, not even close to appropriate. Bones are broken, limbs are cut off, skin is burned off, screaming endures and women tend to have more visible skin than clothing.


Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe - Xbox 360 Review

Not the Mortal Kombat you were expecting? Well, I'm still trying to get a bit more online in (barely got any before the PSN went crazy last week and weekend). But, I had picked this game up fairly cheaply awhile back (like $6 at Disc Traders) and figured it would be a good way to get by the week before the new release. I had completely missed this one when it first came out. I was aware of it, but it never made it onto my list of must-grab games when it released about 2 1/2 years ago.

The premise is pretty simple: come up with a somewhat silly storyline that merges favorites from two different 'worlds' and merge them into a single game. This has been done before (probably most notably by Capcom with their vs. Marvel stuff). To be honest, the story here holds up better. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a blast to play, but the story was paper thin. Here at least, there was an attempt made to explain things such as peoples' limitations (Supes is hurt by magic) and trying to balance out the roster (Joker can hit pretty hard for a skinny clown). Speaking of roster, that was one of my bigger curiosities going in, so here that is:

Mortal Kombat DC Universe

Scorpion The Joker
Sub-Zero Catwoman
Sonya The Flash
Shang Tsung Superman
Kitana Batman
Jax Wonder Woman
Liu Kang Deathstroke
Raiden Lex Luthor
Kano Captain Marvel
Baraka Green Lantern
Shao Kahn Darkseid

For those hoping to see Sueprman ripping someone's head off though, be forewarned that this game was aiming for a Teen rating. There's still some blood to be had, but it is not the vicious affair you expect from a Mortal Kombat game. Depending on who you anticipate playing it, that could be a good thing. I felt a lot more comfortable playing this in the living room during the day with the kids coming in and out, than I did the newly released Mortal Kombat. Interestingly enough, having played both games, I can see several elements of this game having made its way into the newer release from last week. So, let's get into the specifics, shall we?

Graphics - 7:

There's some nice touches to be had here. When you fight your opponent, they get beat up physically and their outfits take a toll as well. This is something they did in the recent Mortal Kombat reboot as well, and it looks pretty good here. It's not terribly bloody, but you can see some scrapes and bruises, with parts of Sonja's pants tearing away around the hamstring area, or a deep gash through the back of Flash's costume. The characters all look pretty decent in-game. They animate smoothly (if a bit slowly, but that's more of a gameplay concern) and have a vivid use of colors that reminds me of a comic book - which is probably a good thing given the source material. Backgrounds at first glance sometimes look okay, but upon closer inspection are a bit rough-looking. You tend not to notice it with the attention on the fighters in the foreground, but it is a bit disappointing. The characters in the cut scenes are serviceable if unspectacular, with the occasional goofy stance - or when you notice people turning their heads rapidly only to see their long hair remain perfectly stationary.

Sounds & Music - 6:

The music is not really bad or there - it's just good. It does nothing to stand out, and does the job of filling space, but I can't recall a single memorable tune coming out of it. The sound effects are good enough to get the job done, but they too are fairly unremarkable - and somewhat repetitive as well. Again, none of it is bad really - just none of it is terribly good either.

Gameplay - 7:

Okay, there's quite a bit to talk about here. For starters, the control scheme is rather interesting. The Mortal Kombat games originally were a strictly 2-D affair, while some of the latter ones became 3-D. This one merges the two together, using the analog stick to control the 2-D mechanics (like jumping and ducking) while the directional pad allows you to step up and down in the environment, giving it a sort of tangible 3-D feel.

Plenty of moves and combos give the characters variety, though some did feel stronger than others. It was also interesting to see how some of the DC characters had their powers brought into a Mortal Kombat game. Flash reminded me of Cabal with his speed and the special attacks he could use to make you start spinning. Captain Marvel had a ducking sort of lightning move that brought him up behind a character, much like Raiden. In that sense, some of the DC characters felt familiar, which is probably a good and bad thing at the same time.

Also, I can only describe the combat as 'floaty'. Jumps seem to hang a bit longer than then should, and when you punch in the air, instead of a fist driving down at your opponent on the ground, your kombatant hangs for a moment to execute the move, which felt a bit odd to me. Special attacks were easy enough to pull off, and there was plenty of environment interaction, which I've always liked. It's fun throwing someone through a stone statue, and some stages allow you to plow into your opponent and execute a free falling sort of quicktime event. There is also a close quarters kombat as well that uses the same principle. Cool ideas, but I didn't really like either as much as I thought I would.

The free fall was neat the first few times, but it felt like it slowed the game down. Ditto the close quarters (though it did give you a nice closeup view of the warriors, allowing you to take in some of the bruising and costume damage, which was nice). Also, the quicktime events really need to be handled a bit differently. I don't like it when games use those off to a side or corner - it pulls your eyes away from the actual action taking place. I prefer games like God of War that put them front an center for you to see overlaying the action.

Like most one-on-one fighting games these days, there is also a bar that fills up over the course of combat, allowing you to do certain moves - when it builds up all of the way you can do a rage/super that gives you enhanced strength and makes you harder to take down for a very brief period of time.

Intangibles - 6:

There is a story mode, and it's pretty interesting how it is told from two different sides. It gives you a reason to play through it twice - once as the DC and once as the Mortal Kombat side. Still, I'd guess both versions are less than 3 hrs to get through. They do use an interesting mechanic that shows up in last week's Mortal Kombat release as well - where you take control of a single character for a chapter, fighting off a series of staged opponents. I like that as opposed to just the arcade/ladder versions found in most fighting games where you fight a random assortment of enemies before facing a boss or two and then getting a canned ending. You still get that here from arcade mode as well, but that is sort of the 'norm'. To me the structure of this story mode is a good thing and I'd love to see a bit more of it as you are told an 'official' story, instead of trying to make sense out of 20 different characters' different endings.

There are online and challenge modes as well, but it's hard to score these terribly high. There's almost no activity online that I can see (no doubt due to the game's age and newer fighters out there) and the challenge modes were more frustrating than fun in my opinion.

There is a decent selection of characters though, and that kept me burning through the arcade mode for awhile (I'm one of those people who has to beat a fighting game with every character). Still, it really doesn't take much to burn through the provided content, and the lack of online life really hurts a game like this that was clearly meant to be competitive.

Overall 6.5:

Not a bad game. For the price I picked it up? I'd call it a decent if not great game. There are some cool ideas that got put in, and it was fun using characters usually not found in titles like this. The Teen rating will be a boon or bust for different reasons. For me personally, the finishing moves were kind of 'meh'. I'm used to old school Mortal Kombat where Johnny Cage uppercuts an opponent's head off, creating a fountain of the red stuff. Then again, this is a game I can play when my youngest walks through the living room, and I don't have to pause it. So, there is some give and take to be had. I would say buying the game at full price, it's a tough recommend, but if you can find it really cheap, it's not a bad deal if you're looking to kill a weekend or two with it.


Gaming thoughts 4/24/11

Just sort of a random mix-up today.

I was hoping to have the Mortal Kombat review up, but there's a ton of content here, and I'd like to do more of it first. Aside from that, I haven't been able to get online with it hardly at all yet due to the PSN outtages recently.

I'm also working on my Retro Reflection to go with it, that will likely post a couple of days later, but it's not done yet.

Further distracting me is that I polished off a few more games recently (RISK: Factions, King's Bounty - Legend and Uncharted) and am midway through God of War (part 1 in the Collection remake), the Witcher (liking the game overall, but it's slow-going), Castlevania, FX Pinball - and of course a huge chunk of time with Mortal Kombat. Initial impressions: lots of fun, very bloody, good # of modes and unlockables.

Any new games you've been playing?

Also, trying to follow some of the recent news has been interesting (the upcoming Nintendo system, currently dubbed 'Cafe' is being strongly rumored in several locations to being 350-400, which is sadly in-line with what I expected, and talk that the controllers themselves will be at least $80, which seems a bit high - I expect closer to 60-70 based on the proposed specs, but we'll see).

Also, a buddy of mine picked up Portal 2 - so I'll get a crack at that soon. First one was cool - we got the Orange Box for Christmas and it's a title I keep meaning to spend some quality time with, but haven't yet.

Also, my wife got me Starcraft 2 for Easter. I'm going to have to get a lot better before taking on human opponents I think. :P

Lastly, I picked up the Potato Sack from Steam when they had it up for a couple of weeks. It came with a ton of titles, some with high ratings/pedigrees like Super Meat Boy and Amnesia, and several that were a bit more obscure. I plan to do a round up of several of the 'smaller' titles soon as well for those curious. Considering the package for all 13 games was roughly the price of Super Meat Boy and Amnesia at normal pricing, and those were 2 games I've been wanting to get? It was a pretty good deal for the package, but I'll comment on it a bit more once I get just a bit more face-time with the games. Thanks for peeking in on me!

Fallout: New Vegas - Playstation 3 Review

I've been let down by a couple of games recently due to bugs. We borrowed Fable 3 from a friend, and I just could not get into it the way I could Fable 2. I'm going to give it another go soon and try to play it, hoping that it gets better after the first 5 hours or so, but I'm not a big fan. My son however, loved Fable 2 and 3 (though he enjoyed 2 a lot more). Problem is, he had a game-killing bug in Fable 3 that does not allow his character to move from the spot he's in now. It's fully patched and updated, but he put at least 20 hours into the game, and now it's basically flushed, so he's upset.

Why am I telling that story? Because like Fable 3, Fallout: New Vegas was horribly bug-riddled when it first came out. Obsidian did a decent job of fixing some of the bugs, but it still has some technical issues and I managed upon a bug that broke the game's main storyline for me as well. After doing research on several forums, I'm not alone in this - my options are:

1) start over

2) load a save before that event that broke my play through (which would take me back about 6 1/2 hours)

3) or give up on it.

I chose #3. I borrowed the game from a friend at work and let him have it back today. These two events really frustrated me, as both were franchises I have been very fond of in the past, and felt like both of them let me (or my son) down in their current states. But, I did log over 30 hours of game time into Fallout: New Vegas, so I'm going to share my impressions of it - the good and the bad.

In previous Fallout games, you were someone who lived in a vault and for one reason or another, came to the surface to see a world after nuclear fallout changed everything about it. There's mutants, destruction and violence as far as the eye can see. Places of beauty and safety are few and far between. It's an action/rpg hybrid, with first and 3rd person views. You gain experience and levels, and there's a lot of customization in how your character develops. There are a good number of conversational options as well. Combat is mostly real-time. Mostly because New Vegas kept the VATS system (sort of a pause-and-select system where you target specific parts of an opponent in exchange for slowly regenerating action points) that Fallout 3 introduced. I'll come out and say Fallout 3 was easily one of my favorite games when it came out. I had played the original Fallout on my computer, and while some of the themes are pretty similar, the games are nothing alike. I bought all of the expansions for Fallout 3 - something I almost never bother with. So it's safe to say expectations were high for Fallout: New Vegas.

Graphics - 7:

The engine looked a lot better when Fallout 3 released a couple of years ago. There really is not much improvement in the overall graphics, I the framerate was stuttering far too often for a game that just does not feel like a graphical powerhouse. The human characters look stiff and awkward moving, and their expressions are okay, but far from great. The actual world looks pretty cool at times, and I've always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic themes in games and movies, so that helps. Be prepared though - the color schemes are generally pretty bland, though it's an intentional choice that fits the theme of the game.

Sound & Music - 8:

There's really very little music to be had, which works for this game. There's often a sense of lonely isolation as you traverse the wastelands. You do have a radio that can be used to pick up specific radio stations if you get within range, and while they add a bit of flavor to the proceedings, they grow repetitive over the course of this large game.

Sound effects are pretty solid across the board. You can hear gunshots in the distance, the sounds of mutant creatures approaching you from behind and even the weapons have a fair amount of variety to how they sound when firing off. Additionally the voice acting is very good, and that is a blessing since so much of the game and its narrative is told through conversation with other NPC's in the game.

Gameplay - 7:

The game plays a lot like Fallout 3, which is a good thing. Character progression is handled well, the VATS system is fun (I like going for headshots) and there is a ton of gear to collect, modify, repair and sell. There are a lot of side missions as well, and these are generally pretty interesting and fit into the overall world nicely. They also added the ability to look down sites in this game (Fallout 3 lacked this) and that helps the combat out quite a bit. Companions are handled a bit better as well overall, than in Fallout 3, with a bit more control over them and the ability to converse with them. Some technical problems do hold the game back though on this front. There are a lot of pause times as you walk around the environment - a lot of them. Sometimes as often as every 30-60 seconds. They're short pauses, a half second or so - but enough to become very annoying. I've heard that on the 360 it is very bad, but that installing the entire game to your hard drive fixes it. I consider that a horrible solution - I have less than 3 gbs of space on my hard drive, I shouldn't have to dump an entire game onto it just to make it run smoothly. Also, I'm on the PS3 with my version, and did the install, and the problem never went away for me.

Intangibles - 2:

I'm killing the game on this one. When it released, it had an absolute boat load of bugs. It was borderline unplayable in certain places. Obsidian released patches and it got better, but I wound up in a state where I can no longer finish the game. At one point you have to recover something from someone - and you can do it a few different ways. I went with the guns-blazing route, and got that item (I'm trying not to spoil any storyline here). Quite some time later, after doing a bunch of side quests and investing 6-7 hours more into the game, I decided to get back 'on track' with the main storyline. I returned the item to the owner, and he instructed me to go use the item to unlock something and progress the storyline. Problem is, he didn't return me the item in question. I looked it up online, thinking maybe I had missed something, but it's happened to a ton of other people too. You cannot complete the primary storyline at this point - I spent at least another hour trying to, and could not advance it. Even if they patched the game now, it would not help my situation I'm sure.

Let me be fair and say these games are huge in scale. There are so many side quests, so many variables and so many things you can do. But I've also helped design games. If you break a core mechanic or storyline partway through, and people cannot complete the game and have no recourse to get around the issue, it's a deal-breaker for me. There's really no other way for me to look at it.

There are still gobs of other issues as well I've seen. Your companions frequently get lost or stuck, and you wind up having to go back to find them. One quest, I was told to go talk to a group of people and they would forgive me for my past transgressions. It was an integral part of the storyline. I went to them as instructed, and they began firing on me at will. I found several hugely exploitable bugs too, like one faction's camp - if you kill everyone, gather what you need, leave and sell it all - you can come back and re-loot their bodies again. And you can do that to your heart's content.

Load times are another annoyance for me. The constant pause/skip issue was bad, but there's a load scene every time you enter or exit a building, or use fast travel. You do those things a lot. Sometimes you get them while moving around in the building from one floor to the next. I realize there are a lot of things the game keeps track of, but it just seemed like a lot.

Also the game was freezing for me somewhat regularly - as in locking up my PS3 and forcing me to cycle down the power by holding down the power button. It did not happen a ton - maybe every hour, but enough that it was really annoying. I looked around online and checked with my buddy I borrowed it from, and they had seen all of these issues too.

Overall 6:

It's a shame really, because there is a very good game in here (though the storyline was not nearly as interesting to me as Fallout 3's was), but it's lost among so much technical debt that it started to become a bit more of a chore to play. There were improvements made to the successful Fallout 3 formula, and while Fallout 3 was not without issues, they were never quite as glaring to me as this. Then when the storyline came to a premature end to the game were lost to me due to another bug, Fallout: New Vegas just did me in. I know a lot of other people have rated the game well, and plenty of others have finished the game. I can't rate their experiences though, only mine - and mine was very disappointing in the end.

Gaming thoughts... 4/20/11

I recently posted some thoughts about how the internet and connectivity have affected gaming in general, and one of those bit items - for better or for worse - has been achievements. My first brush with them was with my Xbox 360, and I thought they were cool at the time. I'm competetive (most gamers I imagine are), so if I can have a bigger score than most of my friends, cool - right? Also, it gives you incentive to play a game through a second time and try to do things a bit differently than the prior time.

So basically, I loved them at first. Then, I went through a period where they almost sort of annoyed me. It was like the Developers were dangling achievements in front of you to get you to do things during the game you wouldn't normally do. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the activity is fun - but some games have achievements you can only complete by playing online (and if you're a 360 user without a gold account, that makes them frustratingly unattainable).

So I've gone back and forth on the whole trophies/achievements thing several times. I guess overall - I do prefer they be there. I have a fairly large gamerscore on my 360, and my PS3 trophy count is slowly trending upwards. I have a buddy who used to rent every last game he could get his hands on and would spend hours just trying to get the achievements. I've never gone that far myself. In fact one of my 360's is in my den, back here next to my desktop and it has no internet. I have a completely separate 360 account from my main Chalgyr one used on the 360 in my living room. I don't get 'credit' for beating all of the games I do, but I don't care really. Basically I look at achievements as something interesting, but not terribly important.

One side-trend I've seen of late is getting avatar items (this is more for the 360 than any other system) for accomplishing certain things in game (like I got some helmets for my avatar due to accomplishments in Halo: Reach, and for Limbo, and for Risk: Factions). Those are cool. I unlocked some gamer profile pics on my off-line 360 for doing certain things on Final Fantasy 13. Again, kind of neat, but is it a big deal?

I think it sometimes depends on the type of game too. Take Facebook games for example - you can often post specific accomplishments for others to see. As of this writing, I'm the highest person in Dragon Age Legends that I'm aware of. Several levels over anyone else in my friends' page. I might even be the highest in the whole game. I have to admit, if I get to level 40, and do so before anyone else, I'm looking forward to posting that for others to see - but it's not the sole reason I play - which is for enjoyment.

How about you? I know a lot of people really love gathering achievements, and some people feel like they are actually bad for gaming. Any opinions on it?

Metroid - Retro Reflections

I've been on a Metroid kick the last several days. I thought that fan game IGN showed a video of on Wed was pretty cool, and overall I enjoyed my time spent with Metroid: Other M and put that review out there recently. But this is about the first game in the series, Metroid for the NES.

Now, I didn't play this game right away. My first couple of games were Elevator Action and Dragon Power. I actually had gotten Kid Icarus pretty early on as well, but Metroid was a game I got from a friend via trade when he was sick of it a year or two after it released. I loved the game though, barely getting through it on my own the first time, and then played through it almost immediately after using the maps in a spread of Nintendo Power to get every last little item the game had to offer.

So, I gave it a while the other day for a time (which was a bit of a challenge since my PC game controller's not working right now - I need to pick up another one it seems), so I used my keyboard for a time. Overall, the game holds up pretty well though. Response-wise running, jumping and shooting were all good, and the graphics were pretty solid for a game of that age. The sense of progression as you find and unlock new items became a staple in Metroid games going forward, and quite a few other games as well. Overall, this one stands up better than most of the others I've played with since starting Retro Reflections.


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.

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.

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.

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)
Bit.Trip Beat
Defense Grid: The Awakening
Killing Floor (got a 7.5 on IGN and normally sells for $20)
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:


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.

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.


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.


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.


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

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?


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 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..


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.

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 ( 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.

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