King's Bounty - Retro Reflections

This particular post is a fun one for me.

I recently reviewed King's Bounty - Legend. But this game had much older roots than this release a few years ago. It was a PC game initially - one I don't really recall. However, it was among a handful of strategy games I got on the Sega Genesis years ago. It was on the Sega Genesis where I really discovered my love of strategic games. Shining Force, Warsong and King's Bounty. I had actually beaten King's Bounty - Legend about 3 weeks ago. So why the long wait to post about it and this Retro Reflection? Twofold:

1) I really wanted to get through the Potato Sack - no small undertaking.

2) I had gotten King's Bounty and Warson as birthday presents from my parents years ago. Well, today's my birthday - so I thought it would make this particular retro reflection particularly relevant.

So, I fired up this game again, after all these years off. My initial thoughts? Lordy this game was ugly. :P The terrain and textures are all right out of the 8-bit NES era. Low-budget NES era. The music? Nowhere do you hear the symphonic sounds of King's Bounty - Legend. The score in this game is horribly repetitive and honestly, just a hint grating. But the game? The game is deep strategic fare, and that aspect still holds up rather well today.

There are clearly elements from the Legends version that were found back in the Genesis version. From what I've read, there was no overhead wandering in the original PC game, but here you wander, find items, and combat monsters. Leadership still dictates the numbers of your army. There are some quests, some spells and troops you can slowly increase in number. The size of your troop, just like in Legends, is not only their health, but combat effectiveness. It's a great system overall that holds up quite well.

Surly many improvements were made since then - especially to the numbers system. In Legends you deal damage, and if you are fortunate, kill enemy numbers. Here, all it reports back are the soldiers killed - seeing a damage score reported or some indication of remaining live would be nice (the giant in my retro video is a good reflection of this).

The password system stinks. Seriously, things like 0 and O should be easier to tell apart. This was not the best strategy game I played back then (I'd probably tip my hat to the well-known Shining Force games, or the far less-well known Warsong), but overall it was fun to play it again - a birthday present from a long time ago.

Below is a brief video I made, so you too can share in the strategy, as well as the rather horrible music and graphics. I may not be posting quite as much over the next few weeks - I have a lot coming up. My dad's visiting from Florida and we're going camping shortly after that. I'll try to get a few small things up and going once in awhile - but my torrid every other day pace is going to come to a temporary end. I should be back up to full steam though after camping, so like the 3rd week of June. Have fun until then, and maybe after my birthday I'll even have a few more games to report on.


Gaming thoughts... 5/21/11

Don't have a ton of them today - but I have a potentially busy couple of weeks coming up so I figured I'd toss a few out while I'm thinking about them.

PSN Store should be up soon and I am curious to see how that goes. Sony's saying that they will be rolling out updates twice as often as usual to try and catch up on their backlog of games that publishers want put out there.

Speaking of backlog, I've been working through a ton of games - some bigger than others. A few titles I'm planning to review very soon:

Bloodbowl - Legendary Edition
Fairy Solitaire
Bob Came in Pieces
FX Pinball
Marvel Pinball
Arcanum of Steamworks and Magic
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Tiger Woods 11 (sure, it's last year's version)
Prolly a couple of others I can't recall

My currently played list is rather large as well as I work on:

Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agon
God of War collection
Elven Legacy
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Puzzle Quest 2
Snoopy's Flying Aces
Portal 2
Star Craft 2

Any new or upcoming games that have you excited?

Hunted: The Demon's Forge
LA Noire
Dungeon Siege 3

Are probably the upcoming/recent titles I'm most interested in, but as you can see from above, I've got a full plate (plus summertime activities kicking in shortly).

What have you been playing, what have you beaten and what's coming out soon that is of interest to you?

King's Bounty - Legend - PC Review

I have played a lot of strategy games over the years. One of the first that comes to mind is Shining Force, though I'm sure I played some prior to that as well. (there's some Godzilla game that I can't place right now that I believe I played on the NES that was a turn-based strategy game I *believe*). When I got a new PC this Christmas, one of the first games I picked up was King's Bounty on Steam. This was originally a PC game, and there was a Sega Genesis iteration by Electronic Arts as well. The most common comparison I hear made is to Heroes of Might and Magic, and though I have a couple of the games recently acquired for my PC, I haven't had a chance to play them yet.

So what is King's Bounty - Legend? It's primarily a turn-based strategy game. You move around on a world map that 'lives' in real time, with creatures wandering to and fro as you navigate through forests, caverns, mountains and more. Along the way you'll find items on the ground you can pick up, from scrolls, to gold, to runes and more. You'll also encounter people who give you quests for varying rewards. Most of the quests are of the typical fetch or kill a specific baddy nature. The story itself is pretty thin stuff that basically gets you from one skirmish to another.

There are some pretty heavy RPG elements here: you gain experience, levels, branch your skills out in varying ways, acquire, buy and sell various items and equipment and more. However, all of these things affect your troops - you are the general, and you will not be fighting on the field of battle yourself. Instead you command a huge assortment of creatures ranging from human knights to black dragons, with elves, dwarves, giants, spiders and so much more in between. I found the troop assortment pretty impressive. So, let's get into the specific now, shall we?

Graphics - 8:

This is a slightly older game, I want to say 2006 or 2007 release. The graphics are not incredibly detailed, and it is an area some of the professional review sites really picked on, but I actually liked them quite a bit. I thought the vibrant colors made both the creatures and the landscapes pleasing to look at. Particle animations for fire and magic are only so-so and there were certainly times it bogged down my cpu during some of the battles. The art direction itself is not terribly inspired - it's all stuff you've seen before, but the large number of terrains and creatures really helps. One complaint is that the world map was sometimes a bit of a chore to get around visually, because things can be packed in very densely, but it looked good. Squirrels dart around and into trees, webs cover parts of the cave and add to the atmosphere, and the battle areas had plenty of moving content in the background. Compared to a lot of strategy games with little to no environment movement (Culdcept Saga and Record of Agarest War immediately come to mind) , I found this one a bit more refreshing. There are no real cut scenes however, no real 'movies' built into the game, which does perhaps dim the presentation value a bit.

Music and Sound - 9:

Most of this is for the music, which I loved. It was composed by Lind Erebros - not someone I had heard of before, but I found several of the tunes to be very catchy. They're perhaps not strikingly original, but they fit the game itself very well, and several of the songs stuck with me even when I was not playing. I looked up some of the songs on Youtube, and found out who the composer was. Not a lot of games convince me to put that much work into finding the music, so I have to score it high on that.

Sound effects are alright. They're not terribly varied, but the game doesn't beat you over the head with them either. They pop up here and there as needed, and let the music do most of the heavy lifting, which was a good choice in my opinion. No spoken dialog at all however, which goes hand-in-hand with the somewhat limited presentation graphically.

Gameplay - 8:

The game is smooth and easy to play. It relies on a point and click interface for both movement and combat. Menus are very easy to navigate, which is good since you do reference some of them quite a bit. Hotkeys are scattered throughout for things like quick map and quest log references. The combat is very deep for a game of this nature. There are no terrain options and a fairly limited map space - which makes me a bit of a hypocrite if you look back at my Record of Agarest War review, because these are 2 areas I panned that game for. That said, there are some 'objects' in the terrain that add variety - either the impede actual movement, or cast random attacks/spells on units, and there are also treasure chests that are sometimes randomly generated that can have anything from gold to runes.

However, the combat found here is much, much deeper. There are a huge number of troops, as I mentioned before, and while many of them are similar, they have various attributes and skills that make them feel different as well. Werewolves and vampires both change shape for mobility, but their perks and attacks are completely different There are several types of dragons, and they all fly, but their basic attacks are not the same nor are their specific abilities.

One area I've heard the game picked on for is degree of difficulty. I beat it on one of the easier settings, but I've read people saying even the easy difficulty was very challenging early on - I disagree. I only lost 2 fights ever, I never struggled for troops and had an abundance of gold. On my first-ever playthrough I landed 4th on the leaderboard listing (though I have no idea where the game draws that data from, but there were 8 others on that board - including #1 who nearly doubled my score).

Now, there is a steep learning curve to the game. There's a very basic tutorial at the beginning, but it leaves out a lot of the game's better nuances. For example, you can mark and annotate your maps - which is really handy since each map only has a handful of named items on it, even if you have been there before. Once I started using that function, buying my favorite troops and completing quests got a lot easier.

Also there are some combat items that are not discussed, or if they were - I missed them, like the direction you attack from. Ranged attackers simply click on their target and you shoot them, but for melee you click on a side of the hex to attack from that direction. That point confused me a bit early on. Still, once you discover these things, there is a lot to do in this game.

Last complaint - the demon lands. I really hated the little floating panels to move from one area to another. They looked cool, and at first I thought they were a neat idea. It added a level of depth to the area, which was one of the more visually interesting in the game. But there were just too many of them, and no way to 'skip' the floating scenes that were only 15 seconds or so each time, but it got annoying by the time I was done with that particular area.

Intangibles - 9:

This review's getting pretty long, but in defense of that - it is a pretty long game. According to my Steam data, I put 72 hrs into it. I did do just about every single side quest and explored each and every map.

There are a lot of dialog choices, but without another playthrough, I can't really verify if they accomplish anything. I'll have to try it again and see, but I have my doubts. Most of the choices I saw simply generated a bit more dialog. That said, you can choose from one of 3 classes - a warrior, a paladin and a mage. These are reflected in the 3 rune types: might, mind and magic. I am curious enough that I might try another playthrough with someone else soon (I chose warrior this time). I doubt I'll complete another playthrough, but I'd like to try a harder difficulty, trying a few different choices and taking a paladin perhaps.

There's no online mode, which will bug some people. Strategy games are at their best when played against another person, but I don't know how well this one would scale. The leaderboard was a nice touch though (using a ton of criteria such as battles won, lost, earnings, time played, etc).

Overall - 8.5:

I enjoyed this game a lot. I picked it up nice and cheap right around Christmas time, and have the sequels as well, and I plan to give those a shot somewhat soon. There were a few performance quirks - which is odd for a game a few years old since my system easily handles modern games without a hiccup most of the time. Still, while the story itself was unremarkable, the amount of depth in both character building, exploration and strategy make this game a winner with me, as a fan of this genre.


Mortal Kombat - final thoughts

I posted my review on Mortal Kombat amid several other articles, but there were still a handful of items I wanted to follow-up on. I'd say after a re-read of my review, the score and overall sentiments are still ones I stand by, but there are some additional insights I'd like to add quickly:

- Online play is just not as smooth as I would have hoped. And this is across the board.
  • The first two nights I played online once the PSN was restored the combat was really laggy. It got better on subsequent nights, but was still worse than say, Super Street Fighter 4 or Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in my opinion
  • I still haven't been able to do a King of the Hill match. I've read about it, and I've tried to connect every single night since the PSN restored, and it just searches for a match but never comes up with anything. 2 nights ago I let it run for about 30 minutes in the background while I played 360, toggling back and forth between TV inputs every few minutes.
  • It takes way too long to find a match. I can't help but think there's just some sort of server problem - but it takes about 1-3 minutes to find a match every time it succeeds - and a lot of times it just never succeeds at all. I'd say better than half my tries do not wind up in an online match. And I've tried a lot of different settings, but generally just try a simple ranked match with no qualifiers.
  • Again, not sure if this is a Mortal Kombat server issue, PSN or some combination of both, but I would say I've spent about 3 hrs trying to get into matches vs about 20 minutes of actual playtime. Disappointing to say the least.
Got to the last match in the Challenge Tower. There's 300 levels of it, and you have to do this to unlock things like various levels of difficulty in test your might/sight/strike. I did do a lot of skipping (once I bought everything in the Krypt, I really didn't have anything else to spend my koins on, so I shot up the ladder as quickly as I could. Some of the challenges were actually pretty cool - some were pretty lame and some were just really hard. Here's some quick thoughts on it:
  • Many of the challenges were built in such a way you take advantage of certain character abilities. They can also serve as a training device to learn how and when to use certain moves from certain characters
  • Some of the challenges were just silly - like when you throw/heave your limbs at your opponent, and they regenerate a few seconds later
  • You get to use Goro for a level. That was cool and unexpected.
  • Some of the challenges, like beating an army of 3 Goros in a row? yeesh
  • The final challenge? Too much for me. You're fighting the final 3 bosses at a high level of difficulty, all in a row and without life regeneration between rounds. I can beat the first two, but that's it. Not getting that trophy
There is a lot of unlockable stuff here:
  • There's 2 'hidden' characters you unlock in story mode
  • There's 4 'secret battles' that are fun - if sometimes hard - to make happen
  • The Krypt has a ton of content in it, though about 1/3 of it will only interest you for a handful of minutes
  • Babalities. Had not discovered these when I wrote my review. I have since.
  • Scorpion is still my favorite character. And he has the throwback MK 1 costume, throwback fatality as well. Good stuff
One last point I had been curious about was the online redemption code. I was not sure if my son would get to play or not - it looks like his account does get authorized as well. I say looks like because I recall trying to get online before I put the code in, and it said something about me not being authorized to do so. I put the code in, and that night PSN went down, so I never got to test with my son's account until last night.

It does let him connect to the lobby and see the online options. So, it looks like he is allowed to, but it's hard to say 100% since the online matchups still never happened - we spent about 25 minutes trying 4 or 5 times to connect to an online match in various modes, and he was never able to find a match. We switched over to my account to see if I could find one, and I did on the 2nd try. Not sure what the deal is, but that's just sort of how the online has been so far for us.

The reason I'm not too quick to blame the PSN itself is we hopped off and played Black Ops and Mod Nation Racers online right afterward and had no issues at all with either of those games.

Potato Sack #8

Last, but hardly least - Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

This game is all about atmosphere. If you enjoy horror survival, then this game is probably for you. And that is what it is - surviving the horrors around you. This is not Resident Evil or Silent Hill. You don't have guns that ward off the monsters. There's some parallels to Eternal Darkness, the old Gamecube game that focused on sanity and evil - but even then combat was a bit part of the gameplay. In Amnesia, make no mistake - there is no combat here. If you engage one of the castle's horrors, you're dead and reloading the game from a recent save point.

No, this game is about an immersive storyline told largely through flashbacks and notes after you awake with no memory. The way the story is pieced together as you find notes - sometimes from yourself prior to your memory loss (reminding me of a movie I like quite a bit, Memento), serves to encourage exploration as you try to make sense of your dark surroundings.

The graphics look a bit dated at first, there's no powerhouse engine running the show - but they do the job and set the scenes. Darkness creeps in on you from every angle, and as you are exposed to unsettling sites (doors opening of their own accord, rumblings, things like that) - your sanity suffers and a sort of watery filter is applied to the proceedings. It makes your character's movements slow and awkward, and can make your adventure even more dangerous should you encounter a creature.

Light is your friend. It's sort of the opposite of the shooting game The Darkness where you want to snuff out light at every turn. Here, you want to light candles and keep oil in your lantern. These light providing tools are limited resources though, and without them it is not only hard to see your surroundings and possibly miss important clues - but your sanity levels drop as well. You have traditional health as well that you will want to monitor, and the downside of using light is the creatures inhabiting the huge, strange castle, are more likely to notice you when you are in or near light. That creates an interesting balancing act in some of the later stages of the game.

There's a real sense of being immersed in the world as well by manipulating objects. You can pick up and rotate objects, giving them a sort of tangible, 3D feel. You don't just click on doors and drawers - but click, and then drag your mouse as you simulate the act of pulling a drawer open or pushing a door open. It's a small touch, and sometimes a bit clumsy - but overall a welcome one that adds a sort of tactile sense to your actions.

The sound effects are fantastic. The voice acting is generally good, if not great, but the best parts of the game are when you are alone, clinging to a source of light, surrounded by darkness and there's a scraping sound nearby. Were those footprints? Is that my breathing or something else's? Is there even anything else there? Most of the time, no. Thankfully the game is paced in such a way that it doesn't bog down with lots of needless encounters, but you can't take for granted you're alone in those moments either. Just as soon as you do, you round the corner - and you're dead.

You will be solving a myriad of puzzles, and most of them are not too hard. The clues are laid out logically and what you need to complete a particular puzzle is usually somewhat close at hand, whether it's a key, or a book to pull or an object to throw at a crumbling wall - you don't generally get stuck doing a lot of backtracking to solve them.

It's actually a good enough story on its own, but all of these addition elements are very skillfully blended. I liked horror games and horror movies. I almost dare them to spook me - and most of the time they don't do much more than cause an occasional chill, but this game pulled me in effectively enough to keep me on the edge of my seat almost throughout. So how would I score the game? Probably an 8.5. It's not a terribly long game. I'd have to check my time, but I'd guess it rang in at a bit less than 6 or 7 hours. There's also not much to do once you've beaten it. There is a neat sort of 'director's commentary' you can listen to as you play the game, to hear what the developers had in mind during certain parts of the game. It cuts down on tension but offers some interesting insight into the game's creation.

I didn't record any video of this particular game - I played it full screen, which made recordings a bit harder to do, and quite frankly you just don't get the full effect if you're not playing it yourself - preferably in a dark room with loud sound effects.

Wrapping up the Potato Sack

I will be honest, this game was a huge part in my acquisition of the Potato Sack from Steam. I had been wanting to play it for quite some time, and while the $20 price tag was not in and of itself off-putting to me, I was waiting for it to go on sale. This particular sale was just the reason to acquire it when I did. I got a slew of others good games out of the deal in the process - overall it was a good investment for me. For about $35 bucks I got to play 13 different games, and probably spent about a hundred hours or so in total in doing so. Some of them were more obscure than others - I had never actually heard of Audio Surf or Killing Floor, while others like Amnesia and Super Meat Boy had received a good deal of acclaim from professional review sites and users alike. Some fare better than others, and with such a diverse collection of games, everyone's mileage will no doubt vary.

Since getting a new cpu this last Christmas (thank you dear!), I've had an opportunity to play a lot of games previously not available to me, and I've been enjoying it immensely. Steam is one of my regular websites to check now, looking for a good game at a good price. Some come out to be better deals than others, and while I'm not a huge fan of the digital rights stuff that requires I be online to play them, I have to say that overall I am very pleased with the service so far.

Thanks for hanging in there as I wrote up this large collection of articles - I've appreciated the comments and hope you enjoyed them as well!

PSN "welcome back" program

Gamers can select two of the five following PlayStation 3 games:

  • Dead Nation
  • Infamous
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Super Stardust HD
  • WipeOut HD + Fury

Those with PSPs can also cop two of four following PSP games:

  • LittleBigPlanet PSP
  • ModNation Racers PSP
  • Pursuit Force
  • Killzone Liberation

Additionally, the PlayStation faithful can look forward to the following:

  • "A selection of 'On Us' rental movie titles" for use on a single weekend. The weekend in question and the titles available have yet to be determined.
  • Non-PlayStation Plus subscribers get 30 free days of PlayStation Plus.
  • Existing PlayStation Plus subscribers get 60 free days of PlayStation Plus.

Australian and European gamers are going to get Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty in lieu of Super Stardust HD.

Any thoughts on this? I have been watching a lot of forums. Overall, most people seem pretty happy about the offer. The potential loss of credit card info still bugs me, from from a 'loss of free service' - well, this seems like a pretty generous offering as well. What do you think?

Myself - I already have LBP and Infamous (still need to play both more) - so I will likely pick up Super Star Dust and Wipeout HD. I don't have a ton of hard drive space left on my PS3, but I'll make room.

The PSP games are a bit trickier. I currently only have a 1 gb memory stick I got when I bought the unit. I haven't downloaded any games to it so far due to the memory limitations. I'm tempted to pick up a 4gb stick and grab Killzone and... dunno about the 2nd game. I've been eying Killzone for awhile anyway though, so this may push me over into getting the necessary memory stick to hold it.


Potato Sack #7

One of the game that I got as part of my Potato Sack acquisition from Stem was Defense Grid: Awakening. I've got this for my 360 as well, having acquired it last summer when it was on sale for like 200 points. It's an awesome game, but obviously was not one of my biggest factors in acquiring the Potato Sack. I have been meaning to give it a good review for some time, so we'll just count this as a PC and 360 Arcade review since the game is pretty much the same on both platforms.

Defense Grid is a tower defense game - which basically means you have swarms of invaders (aliens in this case) who travel various paths to try and reach a goal (in this game, they are trying to go to your core reactor, to steal energy cores for themselves, which then will then try to march off of the map). Your objective is to create defense towers to stop them. You do this by gaining resources - and these increase a couple of ways. First, you are always gaining, though the more cores you currently have protected (you start with 24 and if all of them are stolen, it's game over) and the more resources you have on hand, the faster that value goes up. So for example if you're sitting on 24 cores and 1000 resources, every second that goes by you may gain 3 more resources. If you have 3 cores and 10 resources, you may gain an additional one every 30 seconds or so. It creates an interesting dynamic where you want to sit on resources as long as possible - but not so long that your defenses are under-developed and unable to thwart the invading aliens.

The other way you gain resources is by destroying aliens. They came at you in a variety of shapes, sizes and powers. Weak herds of them may band together, trying to swarm through fifteen at a time in a cluster, making it hard for guns to single them out and pick them off - so perhaps a flame throwing tower works better here. Boss aliens are better armored and so flame throwing is not nearly as effective as a gun tower. There's faster than average aliens, flying aliens, aliens who spawn more aliens, and it's a challenge to set up a proper defense that can best handle all of these things. A missile tower might keep the skies free and clear, but they don't help you at all against ground units.

Aside from a large variety of towers to choose from, you can also spend to upgrade them. This improves their abilities - but usually at considerable resource cost. It's a wonderful balance of strategy and management, all wrapped up in a visually pleasing sci-fi package. The music's nice enough, and there's a narrator with a calm, likable voice as the somewhat thin storyline is advanced by him and new towers and tools are skillfully integrated into your arsenal level by level.

Time flies when you're having fun, and I've always found this game to be personally very fun. I remember playing it the first time and then realizing around 3am that I had been playing for about 5 hours. I had beaten most of the maps in that time, but there's varying degrees of difficulty, leader boards, and the very nature of the game begs for experimentation and replay as you attempt to protect each and every core the next time. The graphics are not exactly powerhouse, but I thought they looked better than most tower defense games, and this one can be had on Steam for $10.

I already had this one so for me personally the value as part of the Potato Sack was slightly negated, but for fans of this genre I would encourage giving the demo a try. For me the title's a 9 out of 10. Quick video below of one of the earlier levels:


PSN up and running

Well, I finally got a chance to try and get my account squared away on it. The process was actually pretty simple - the toughest part for me was figuring out which PS3 (I have 2 of them) we originally created the account on. I was 4 of 5.

When we bought our first PS3, my wife and I - and I thought my son - had created our PS3 accounts on this PS3 #1. I went to log in, it asked me to create a new password (seems like the rules are a bit more stringent now - not a bad thing. 8 characters, letters and numbers, can't be the same as your old password). When I tried to log in my son's account, it said the directions to reset his password were emailed to him.

Then we went and checked his email, and it was easy to do via that form as well.

We made our way to PS3 #2 and configured both of my daughter's accounts. It all pushed through nice and easy. Looks like basic functionality is there. I haven't had a chance to actually play on it yet, but I was able to sync my trophies, which bumped me up to level 5 (which, looking at my card on my blog here, those may not be synced anymore. Might have to redo that), I had a message from a friend, and another friend showed up online as actively playing DC Universe Online - so it appears just about everything but the Store seems to be kicking along now (if you try to access the store, you get a message about it being under maintenance).

We're doing a bit of spring cleaning today, but already my son's saying he's going to play some Black Ops online, and my youngest is going to play Little Big Planet (my oldest couldn't care less - she plays video games about twice a month).

IGN had an interesting article asking people what the first thing they would do was going to be. Some of the answers ranged from predictable:

- Play Brink
- Play Portal 2
- Play Black Ops

To slightly less predictable:

- play my single-player games I fell in love with again during the outtage
- sync my trophies and watch my level (hopefully) rise up a few times

To ones that made me grin:

- change my PSN credit card info
- plug my ps3 back in

Me? I'll likely try to get some rounds of Mortal Kombat in later and just make a quick blog post in the next day or two about my online impressions since I didn't get to include that in my original article.

PSN starting to come up?

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

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

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

Potato Sack #6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Potato Sack #5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Potato Sack #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Potato Sack #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Potato Sack #2

So I touched on a trio of titles that were interesting, but as full games were a bit lacking in my mind - at least for the price - back with Potato Sack #1 the other day. This time, I'm examining two of the titles created by Two Tribes - Toki Tori and Rush.

Both of these games are essential puzzlers. Toki Tori has minimal story - you're basically gathering up eggs in various levels using a handful of tools available to you. When you start off, it's little more than navigating a basic level. It's all 2-D platforms, ladders and occasionally very simple enemies that wander back and forth repeatedly. You will use freeze rays, a teleporter, lay down bridges and more during your adventure. There are 4 worlds in total, and a dozen maps in each. I blew through the first two worlds in about an hour, but spent much longer on the last couple of worlds as the difficulty spiked a bit. You have to be very creative when you try to navigate the maps, but there is a handy rewind feature that lets you go back to various points in the map in case you made a silly mistake along the way. It's a great mechanic that encourages much-needed experimentation.

The intangibles are somewhat lacking - there's a harder difficulty that can be applied to the maps, essentially doubling them, but when it's done it's done. There's just not much to do after. Graphics are cute - bright and colorful. My youngest termed them 'adorable' when she saw me playing. The sound is okay though the music was actually pretty catchy. From what I've seen, the maps are different on the PC than the Wii version. Overall, I'd give the game a 7 or maybe 7.5. It was fun, and at $5 on steam, not a bad value if you like this kind of game.

The other Two Tribes game in the Potato Sack was Rush. Again, a puzzle game, but without the cute graphics of Toki Tori. You control blocks that roll from start points, and you use certain physics, signs, treadmills and more to redirect them to a finish point on a 3-D map that sort of reminded me of Marble Madness on a much smaller scale. It sounds easy, and some levels are, but others require a lot of thought. There's a nice hint system you can leverage as well should a map be particularly challenging.

Graphics are bright and fun, if very simple. Not much in the way of sounds, but the music is catchy at times. The controls and menus are easy to get around and the learning curve is pretty solid. There's probably around 100 puzzles in total - you can get more if you sign up for the Steam group on Rush. I liked this one just a bit better than Toki Tori - so probably a 7.5 or an 8 overall out of 10. Like Toki Tori, it has a palatable $5 price tag should this sort of game be of interest, and I believe there's a free demo available for download as well. A pleasant surprise that I spent most of my afternoon on (Toki Tori I believe took me about 4 hours to get through the normal difficulty from start to finish).

In the video you can see my struggling with levels the first time I encountered them in both games. Toki Tori in particular was rough - about the first 4/5 of that video was me being stuck, then dead. Then, the light bulb came on and you can see me wrap up in the level in about a half minute.


Potato Sack #1

So a couple of weeks ago I commented on a fairly large-scale deal Steam had put out. The Potato Sack, as they called it, was a package of 13 games that would in total normally have cost about $130 on Steam, but was available for about $35. Of course, that in and of itself doesn't make it a good deal if the games don't hold up.

Myself? I was interested in 2, maybe 3 games outright that were on the list: Super Meat Boy, Amnesia and had something of an interest in Killing Floor. Those three titles alone would have added up to more than the Potato Sack price, so I went ahead and picked it up, figuring that everything else was extra.

I have been playing the games that came with it to varying degrees, and will talk about them each in turn. A few like Amnesia will likely net a full review, others like the Dejobaan trilogy are light games that are all interesting, but probably not full-review material.

Now, I have never heard of this company before, but their inrto states that they have been "making quality video games for 75 years" - you immediately realize that this small group wears their sense of humor out there for everyone to see.

The first one I played was called 1, 2, 3 Kick it! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby). Described as:

Battle your favorite drum ‘n’ bass tracks, or zen out as you soar through that trance album. “Kick It” mines your existing MP3 music to build hovering, hallucinogenic worlds to fly and fight through.

This game is a beta right now, but anyone who bought the Potato Sack bundle gets to play the beta for now, and gets the full game when it comes out. What is the game? Well, it's basically a geometric flying/first person game. The shapes, the rhythm and targets all generate based off of the music you choose to play it to. That's right - the game comes with a pair of pre-packaged songs to test it against, but the real replay value will come from putting your own mp3's into the music folder. You gain multipliers and more points by avoiding objects and flying close to - but not touching - them. There's not a whole lot to do in here yet - but I did notice that very different songs did in fact alter the game environment quite a bit. it's still in early stages, but I hope a lot more variety shows up in the final product. There is a shooting mechanic, but it's almost completely unused currently, which makes the game feel more like an interactive Windows Media Player visualization than a true game.

The 2nd game I played was called AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. Maybe they're digital download because the titles won't fit on retail boxes? :) This game is infused with the same energetic humor as their other ones so far. The description is this:

Jump off of a perfectly good building, create your own stunts, and flip people off for points in our award-winning title for Windows PCs.

So basically you are base jumping off of tall buildings, trying to guide your character during his downward plummet. You want to get close to buildings (close enough to 'hug or kiss' them) for bonus points. As you unlock stages you find more advanced falls, with buildings of varied height and metal beams along the way that can turn your femurs to paste, as they put it. Adding to the variety, some stages have fans and haters - and these groups are exactly what they sound like. Basically you can give your fans a thumbs up and the haters the bird on your way past them. You don't actually see the gesture, but you are rewarded points if you are successful and in proximity.

Like 1...2...3 Kick it, this game relies heavily on large, geometrical shapes to make up most of the landscape.

Last but not least is The Wonderful end of the World, which they describe as:

A joyous trek around the earth to gather everything you can before it's eaten by a giant fish head.

Mass Effect-like story creation this is not, but it is an amusing if simple game in premise. You start off as this sort of empty entity, and you walk around making contact with and 'picking up' or absorbing smaller objects. The more you absorb, the larger you get. Objects that may have been too large 20 seconds ago can then be absorbed once you're of size. The controls aren't bad, some of the levels are genuinely cool (I like the word tile one I included in my video), the music's fun and the world around you scales to continually get smaller as you get bigger. This is probably the game my son, daughter and I played the most of these.

These games run $10 each off of Steam. It's hard for me to say they're worth the price when you can grab a full-fledged game used like Splinter Cell: Conviction from Disc Traders for $11 (which I did the other day), but they were nice addins to the Potato Sack and I enjoy seeing smaller scale games like this and can appreciate the creativity and effort that goes into them. That said? These are probably the weakest part of the Potato Sack package for me personally.

Below is a video of 1...2...3 and Wonderful End of the world - Aaaarg pushed to full screen and I couldn't record that (all I got was a blank black screen). I'll post more games from the Potato Sack soon!


Gaming thoguhts... 5/2/11

Quite a bit going on game-wise right now, for me and in general.

So, the in general first:

Lots of new stuff about the Project Cafe by Nintendo has speculation running all over the place. Too soon to really get into any one camp about it, but I'm definitely curious where it will go. Hearing that it will have significantly more horsepower than the 360 and PS3 was interesting, but the controller rumors and how it will be integrated into the game play is a bigger curiosity of mine. Also, hopefully they'll get the online stuff right this time around. Speaking of getting online right...

Sony held a press conference earlier stating that they were working with the FBI and will be slowly bringing up their systems over the next few weeks or so. They're also running with the idea to give Playstation Plus users an extra 30 days free, while giving all PSN users a free 30 day run of Playstation Plus. I think that's a good idea for a few reasons:

- that will increase downloads and help them stress test things
- it doesn't really cost Sony anything unlike the suggestion to put funds in our wallets online
- it gives people a chance to try the service who haven't yet (raises a hand - that's me) - so they may even get some new customers out of the deal.

There was a lot of good sentiment to what Sony's offering and saying, but still question marks. The Playstation Store sounded like it could be down much of May. That makes it hard to take advantage of Playstation Plus - so when does that free 30 day trial start, exactly? Also, Sony has said there would be select free downloadables - I for one am curious what those are. Games? Themes? What if you have said items already - do you get alternates?

So far it doesn't look like anything bad's come of the vulnerable account data, but only time will tell. Losing the network access has been mildly annoying for me - I just picked up Mortal Kombat and couldn't really do much of anything with it online, but I know my time will come. The potential loss of personal credit information was much more bothersome, and I am keeping a close eye on that.

I just wrapped up my large Mortal Kombat series of reviews. I don't often get to review brand new games, that are only a couple of weeks old, so I wanted to get that one out there quickly. A few of my side projects are on hold at the moment. I wanted to do more 'best free games' but haven't had much of a chance. Also, my KotL - Summoner game is on hold for a bit. My trial ran out and I do plan on buying it and picking up where I left off - I've got about 45 minutes of play right now. I don't plan to make this a massive game, but hopefully 4-6 hrs worth of time, but I probably have to wait a few weeks before I can dig back into it anyway.

That gets me into my biggest game related project of late. I've been breaking down the Potato Sack from Steam. 13 games - lots there. I'll probably break this up into multiple posts over the next couple of weeks. While the deal's dead, the individual games are still on Steam for those who find something interesting. And many of these games wind up on sale from time to time - like Amnesia just in the last 6 months has been on sale for 2 or 3 different times and was included in this bundle.

I've also got a handful more reviews coming up soon - having recently beaten several games. So, what am I playing now?

Well, I've been playing King's Bounty on Sega Genesis for a retro. I've been playing FX Pinball as well on my PS3. I've been playing one of the Dragon Ball Z games on my 360 as well. Then there's the potato sack. God of War has gotten a bit of time too. Also as soon as I post this, I am ducking back into Star Craft 2 a bit - I've hardly gotten to play it yet, but really want to so that's next. What have you all been up to and have any thoughts about the general topics above?

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