Gaming Thoughts... 6/30/11

Got a few quick ones here.

First, hackers suck. Of course, I could be talking about the Sony downtime or the various gaming companies hit by this particular internet blight, but unfortunately I'm referring to my own situation. Apologies for anyone who got a spam email from my Yahoo! account. My work machine apparently picked up spyware (downside to tech support - I'm stuck opening files and visiting sites customers want me to go to frequently and it looks like one infected my cpu) - and then my email got hacked shortly after (some incredibly bored person spent nearly 2 hours sending out individual emails w/ links in them according to my sent folder that next morning - downside to having that email account for over a decade - I've accumulated a lot of addresses in my addy book).

Work cpu is currently getting wiped by IT, I've changed all my passwords, should be good to go but I apologize all the same.

Next up, a quick thought on Nintendo: I really feel like they're giving their Wii customers the bird. There's really no other way for me to put it (okay, I suppose there's a lot of other ways to put it, but I don't really want to).

I felt like E3 was almost a joke for Wii customers. Their main presentation only showed one title, and everything else was about the 3DS and the Wii U. There were very few titles for the Wii shown separately as well of interest. Now on top of that, there are a trio of games that North American gamers have been waiting on for some time:

- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Last Story
- Pandora's Tower

Now mind you, these are not titles everyone's been excited for, but enough people have been excited that a lot of gamers have come together to try and draw attention to the titles and get a response from the big N about whether or not they will come to the US as sites like IGN have been teasing content from them for a long time. Apparently Nintendo even told IGN they would have a specific, detailed response for the website on the matter - but has apparently backpedaled and made a brief Twitter and Facebook post saying that these titles would not be making their way to North America. You can read more about it here.

So, what do you think? Is Nintendo making a mistake? Are they blowing off Wii customers? Is this just a big to-do about nothing at all?

My personal feelings are that it sucks. I've been looking forward to 2 of these games for quite awhile. I haven't seen many compelling Wii titles released of late, and those two things combined with E3 have me quite down on the system and Nintendo. What does that mean for me? Hard to say. If I buy a handheld, I'm probably going Vita. I believe Sony's device looks more appealing, but if all things were equal I'd probably lean toward the non-Nintendo device right now on principle. Does that affect my interest in the Wii U? Maybe a bit, if only because I feel a bit let down by Nintendo lately to begin with, but I'm still very skeptical on the console at this point anyway.

Marvel Trading Card Game - PSP Review

I grabbed this game awhile back on a whim - it was one of my first PSP games. I generally dig card-based games, Marvel's a fun property and it was pretty inexpensive at the time. Overall, I had some fun with it. The game is lacking in bells and whistles, but the card strategy elements are pretty sound. There is not a great deal of revolutionary gameplay to discover here, but it does provide a pretty decent diversion.

Graphics 4:

I mean, there's almost no animation to speak of here. The cards are not real easy to read, and the layouts get a bit claustrophobic at times. I understand that this is a card game, but it sort of feels like a missed opportunity given the Marvel property they had to work with.

Sound & Music - 5:

The music is pretty decent actually, but it repeats a lot. The sound effects are absolutely minimal. Again, it is a card game and with that comes this sort of stigma where good graphics and sound are not needed, and while that is true, it does not mean they need to be so badly neglected either.

Gameplay - 6:

There are some different modes, including an online mode that seemed to be getting a lot more traffic a couple of years ago when I first got the game than it has now. Still, the game mechanics are solid and mostly fun, though some of the winning requirements to the story mode in a handful of stages were frustrating. The deck building is a lot of fun though, and the way you get cards for your deck is pretty addictive.

Intangibles - 7:

There are a lot of cards to go through, and a lot of different strategies you can employ in deck building. I love that part of the game. Deck design is one of my favorite parts of games like this. Unlocking more cards is addictive as well. The actual story mode is not too bad, and gives you a good excuse to play through solo. Online used to be a lot more active before, it seemed pretty vacant when I was recently poking around. Still, if you like single player card games like this, it can be found pretty cheaply.

Overall - 5.5:

I actually enjoyed the game more than the score would indicate, and at the price it may be worth a pickup. This game has been out for some time - I believe 2006. I saw a copy of this at Disc Traders for $4 the other day. That said, you have to be a fan of this type of game. It is not going to resonate real well for people who prefer heavy action games, but I thought that it actually suited the portable nature of the PSP better than it would have on say, a PS3 or Xbox 360.


Gaming thoughts... 6/27/11

I just saw this headline:

Court: California can't ban violent video game sales

I'll be honest, I haven't been following this case too closely. A) It's nowhere near me B) My kids don't buy video games without me currently and C) I had my 13 year anniversary yesterday and couldn't have cared less about video games by and large. :) Had to slip that last one in there.

But seriously - I sort of viewed this whole bill as similar to the 'no more happy meal' or 'no more Ronald McDonald', and the slew of other odd bills people are trying to pass. Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of games my kids aren't allowed to play. And being an avid gamer, I probably have a much better idea of a game's content than most other parents - that's what the ESRB labels are for.

But it's a parent's job to regular the movies, games, french friends and whatever else our kids are doing - at least that's my take. Obviously, it's not everyone's. Some of my readers are parents, others aren't - what do you think of the gaming bills like this one in California that got voted down? In case you're unfamiliar with it, the story can be found here.

Also if you're curious, here is Executive vice president and chief public policy officer of Activision Blizzard Incorporated George Rose's opinion on the bill earlier this year.

Elven Legacy - PC Game Review

Recently I reviewed the game Fantasy Wars. Despite the somewhat generic title, I found it to be a pretty effective turn-based strategy game. A couple of years later, they released a follow-up game called Elven Legacy, which in turn has spawned a trio of expansions: Magic, Ranger and Siege. I picked them all up as a combo pack from Steam and finally had a chance to play them. Since they use the same basic engine, I figure I will review them as a whole here.

Graphics - 7:

They're okay - the environments are bland, and the characters themselves do little to stand out at a distance, though they tend to fare a bit better on their close up. The maps themselves are easy enough to navigate visually. The cut scenes are pretty basic-looking, and in places, ugly if I'm to be perfectly honest. The engine looks very, very familiar to Fantasy Wars, which is a bit disappointing given a couple of years development time between titles. Thankfully, there does seem to be more color and the flying units look better, and the environmental textures are a bit more detailed.

Sounds & Music - 6:

The music's what you expect, but it can be a bit repetitious too. There are not a ton of sound effects, but what is there gets the job done. The voice acting is in fact, terrible at times. What's worse is the tutorial, which is broken in terms of audio. Overlapping sentences, phrases that get cut off early, these things make the tutorial almost completely useless. The expansions don't seem to have any voice acting at all.

Gameplay - 8:

The menus and overall interface were very similar to Fantasy Wars, which is to say they are easy to get around once you're familiar with them, but there is a bit of a learning curve. There's quite a few units though, and the turn-based tactics are solid. The way units progress is entertaining, and gives you a reason to feel invested in them - but be prepared. Like Fantasy Wars, this game is tough. The Fog of War feature keeps you from seeing what you're getting into at times, and the enemy is very adept at ganging up on and beating a single unit to a pulp.

One returning feature I am not particularly a fan of is the time-based gold/silver/bronze system, where you have a certain number of turns to meet your objective, and it seems like gold in several of these is virtually impossible. When you try to rush to complete objectives, you tend to lose more units and overlook things you might have found if you took the time to scour the map a bit, which is a shame. Still, the rewards for gold completion are usually quite nice - solid gold earning, usually a free troop and it unlocks a parallel mission that does not really affect the outcome, but is interesting all the same.

Intangibles - 8:

The games are a bit short - I got through my first run of Elven Legacy in about fifteen hours or so, but there's plenty of replay value with things like the side missions you can unlock and also a separate mission feature on top of the campaign mode. I also found the story more interesting than what was presented in Fantasy Wars, though I felt it was better in Elven Legacy than the additional packs.

Overall - 7:

Technically the games are not great. The graphics and sound/music are average, but the gameplay is challenging and there is a fair amount to do within the game. Like Fantasy Wars, this series of games can be found relatively cheaply (though not quite as cheaply). It's a bit disappointing that the series did not come a bit further over the two year span, but for strategy enthusiasts there is enough here to keep you busy. The AI presents a good challenge and there's a fair amount to do.


Snoopy Flying Ace - Xbox Live Review

This was a title that caught my eye when it first came out. I mean, I loved Snoopy as a kid, I'm not going to lie. Snoopy and Garfield were holiday standards for me. It's been out about a year now, and I picked it up a couple of months ago on a whim and finally started to play it last month and am very glad I did. This game was a surprise to a lot of people and reviewers when it came out, but I have to admit that despite knowing that going into things, it was as good if not better than I had expected.

Graphics - 8:

For an Xbox Live game, there is a lot happening here. There is a metric ton of activity on the screen. Moving backgrounds, lots of players, gunfire and the various effects that go with it. The detail is not overwhelming and the animations are pretty simple, but I never really encountered any sort of tearing or slowdown, which is awesome considering the intense action.

Sound & Music - 6:

Not a lot of variety to the sound effects and music here. It's not bad really, but it's gets repetative fairly quickly. In addition, the sound effects never really 'help' the way they do in say, Modern Warfare 2 where the gunfire and explosions often take advantage of surround sound in a way that actually translates into gaming performance.

Gameplay - 8:

The controls are precise, and feel familiar yet different. Your ability to aim and use alternate weapons all resembles other shooting games, but the way your plane actually handles gives the shooter a unique feeling. Some of the combat manuevers are a blast to pull off, like the barrel roll. Some of the menu/customization stuff was a bit difficult right at first, I didn't quite understand how the secondary weapons were selected and set up, but once I was familiar with them, it was pretty quick and easy to choose what I wanted.

Intangibles - 8:

The campaign mode is nothing special. It's not bad really, but it's not the reason to play this game either. You can unlock a couple of achievements and such, but it feels more like training for the online mode, which is pretty robust. I'll admit, I was a bit surprised by that. I've played a handful of slightly older games lately that had little to no active online players on it. Heck, I haven't found a single online pairing for Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, which is about the same age. With quite a few different online modes to go with the people still playing, there is a good deal of fun to be had here.

Overall - 7.5:

It seems like this should be a higher score. I picked it up on a discount week, so it was only 400 points for me - but even at 800 points the game is a lot of fun. I generally just play it in small 15-30 minute bursts, but I enjoy the matches I play in. It's not as good in my mind as a Modern Warfare game or something like that, but you gain levels and that sense of progression online is still a fun one as is the core gameplay and combat. That they've skinned the whole thing with a Peanuts theme only enhances the game's appeal overall.


Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura - PC Game Review

I like classic games. I have most of the old consoles still around my house in working order. One thing that is tough however, is playing older PC games (I still have this old Magic the Gathering game that requires Windows 95 or 98 to play sitting in a box), because the system requirements don't match up and many of them simply don't load or run. Some you can get around, but not most. That's why I was pretty excited when I found Good Old Games ( - they have many classic games playable on the PC.

I also didn't have a PC until I was midway through college, so while my history of console gaming is pretty extensive, I'm a bit weaker on the older PC front. One of the games I picked up awhile back was called Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It's a mouthful to be sure, but it had a solid pedigree with Fallout developers having designed it, so I picked it up on sale one day. I know that this game got great reviews when it first came out, and a lot of people on GoG reviewed it, but it was one I struggled with to be honest with you.

Graphics - 4:

I know that this is an older game, and I keep that in mind, but while some things like the menu and the character portraits look nice, the rest of the game is just really bland and featureless. Walking around gives you very little new to see of interest. I kept getting the impression that even though this game is older (2001) - the graphics feel older than that even.

Sound & Music - 7:

There's almost nothing in the way of in-game sound effects, and that mingled with the sparse graphics can make your journey feel a bit empty. Luckily there's some voice acting, and it's actually pretty good. There's also a decent if somewhat repetitious musical score at play. Certainly fares the years better than the game's visuals.

Gameplay - 6:

I can appreciate a lot of what they tried to do here. This is probably one of the earlier systems where you see your actions affect the world around you. This is a theme in Fallout and plenty of other games since, and it works pretty well. The character creation system is actually pretty detailed as well, but truth be told I almost had more fun with this than the game itself. A lot of the gameplay elements are less-than-intuitive and though pretty much everything can be found in the PDF manual, it's not always easy to find what you're looking for.

My biggest gripe though? That has to be the combat. It just feels broken - almost silly in the way you click on things to swing and attack (I built my guy up for melee primarily - maybe it's less awkward for different combat styles, but I have my doubts. Sometimes party members hit other party members, things like that. Also the followers take odd paths at times and get stuck.

Intangibles - 7:

The game has the potential to be quite large. There are a ton of side quests, though I honestly did not bother with many of them - which was in and of itself an indicator as to how little I was enjoying the game. The way you can develop your character does lend some replay value to the game, as well as the deep creation system. It's a very open-ended RPG, but so many of the mechanics just did not work for me, and drained the fun out of the game. There are some multiplayer and map editing options I never got to make any use out of, but for those interested that's probably worth a point there.

Overall - 6:

It wasn't horrible, and I would say I spent about 35 hours beating the main storyline, but I'm someone who does every single side quest available in Dragon Age or buys every piece of property in Fable 2. So the fact I was streamlining my adventure is a pretty good indication that I just was not enjoying the game as much as I thought I would.


Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Playstation 3 Review

This is the first of my scheduled posts while I'm out camping with the family this week. Hope you like it. :)

I was a *bit* late to the party with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. This came out for the PS3 a few years ago and did so with a good deal of fanfare. I finally picked this and its sequel up around Christmas time and just had a chance to play Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and came away impressed. It holds up quite well despite being a couple of years old. The game clearly draws inspiration from the Tome Raider games and Indiana Jones movies, with high production values that give it a summer blockbuster feel.

Graphics - 8:

Everything looks good. There is a lot of polish in place on the cinematic scenes, and the various lighting effects and varied locals from deep passages to lush jungle vegetation really help sell the story and overall adventure. There are times where your pre-canned animations look a bit odd, and you see clipping and tearing with some of the set pieces as you interact with them, but even at a few years old this game's visuals please.

Sound & Music - 9:

The voice acting is very good and really immerses you in the storyline. Sound effects are good with a wide range of convincing gunshots, explosions, grunts and more - though sometimes the firefight sound effects and comments can get a bit repetitive. The music fits the action, the scenes and chases perfectly.

Gameplay - 8:

Platforming is fun, and seldom frustrating. Some felt it was a bit too easy, but I enjoyed it. The fight scenes are usually good, though they can get frustrating from time to time due to the huge swarms of enemies that seem to never stop. I can appreciate that the chase/vehicle scenes add a nice bit of variety to things, but they did not always control as well as I would have liked.

Intangibles - 7:

There's some rewards and bonuses, and they've added trophies retroactively to this PS3 exclusive. That said, the game was pretty short and having played through it once, I did not really have an urge to play it again. The lack of online/multiplayer hurts the game's lifespan a bit too, unfortunately.

Overall - 8:

That said, it can be acquired pretty cheaply used, and if you enjoy these hybrid adventure/3rd person shooting games, I think this is among the best I've played to date. I had a lot of fun with it, my kids enjoyed watching me play it. My oldest kid is not much of a gamer, but she watched more than 90% of the game, even choosing to do more of her laundry folding in the living room just so she could watch it. She said it was like watching an interactive movie. When I teased her that it really wasn't interactive for her, she said it was because she could point and laugh at me every time I died. Doh!


Gaming thoughts... 6/12/11

Short but sweet, rediscovering online combat. :)

So, my son and I were both pretty stoked over the footage we saw of Modern Warfare 3 at E3. I really liked Black Ops, but overall I enjoyed the online to Modern Warfare 2 more. My buddy at work who got me started on the Call of Duty games suggested I reacquire Modern Warfare 2 and pick up Modern Warfare 1 (I had not played that more than a handful of times over at his house and I had traded away Modern Warfare 2 quite some time ago).

For people who have been with my blog for awhile, Modern Warfare 2 was actually my 2nd game review on here. I had thoroughly enjoyed it. So, on a whim, my son and I swung over to Gamestop and picked up MW 1 & 2 fairly cheaply and have been playing the crud out of them both this weekend, and it's been a lot of fun. He's been needling me about picking up some of the older Halo games for the 360 and I may just have to break down and do that soon as I thoroughly enjoyed Halo: Reach, but it was admittedly my introduction to the series.

The story modes to Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops were pretty short - but the online really helps these games retain their value. I've read a lot of complaints that the campaign modes end way too quickly to be worth the dollars the game costs to both produce and buy - but after playing MW 1 online and still seeing a pretty robust community of players having at it, I would say there's some definite value in these titles. What do you think? Any heavy CoD or Halo players? What about the Battlefield series - I haven't played them yet, same with Resistance - any favorites out there?

Also, I have a ton of posts - mostly reviews - coming soon from a variety of platforms that will hopefully be of interest. :)

Fantasy Wars - PC Review

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

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

Graphics - 6:

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

Sound & Music - 6:

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

Gameplay - 7:

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

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

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

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

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

Intangibles - 7:

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

Overall - 6.5:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, for what everyone is curious about:

Image 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, from my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming Thoughts 6/6/11 - Sony E3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying my hand at Twitter a bit...

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

Gilly's Games - Lego Harry Potter

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

Couple of quick items

Not going to be on a lot this weekend, but after some people suggesting it, I set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for my gaming blog. Currently, I plan to link posts from the blog to those sites but hope to eventually start to use all three a bit more for things like quick comments or article links of particular interest to me.

If you're interested (and I'm hoping that if you read this you are):

Twitter: @Chalgyr

Facebook: Chalgyr


Pinball FX - PSN Review

I've had a lot of these downloaded games I've been playing recently, and I thought Pinball FX would be a good one to touch on next. My last review was for Peggle - a somewhat pinball-like gaming experience and one that appealed to much of my family. With my dad up and visiting however, I thought that now might be a good time to score this game. Why? Well for starters, he's been playing it some and seems to enjoy it. I've always enjoyed pinball, but my father? Even more so.

When I was a kid, my dad would take me out during the warmer months to 'make a day of it'. We'd start with breakfast, go fishing, usually swim, then do something like mini golf or tennis or basketball and then finish up with a trip to the local arcade (there were a few to choose from, but we always went to the now-defunct DC Action). While I would inevitably spend my quarters on video game cabinets (usually some combination of Solar Warrior, Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden, Elevator Action... you get the idea) he would spend his time playing pinball tables and we'd usually finish up with a round or two of air hockey.

I would almost always blow through my quarters faster (we'd start with an even split and inevitably he would wind up giving me a good share of his quarters too since my dad's pinball matches usually went on for much longer - he was pretty good at them). I would eventually wind up playing a few rounds of pinball when it was said and done, but my dad played a lot more.

Why am I sharing all of this? Well, in part because with my dad visiting from Florida I was already feeling somewhat nostalgic, but more so when we were playing FX Pinball the other night. Also, I wanted my dad's input on the games - he's played a LOT more pinball over the years, and I figured he could offer a better perspective to the authenticity of the video games.

Graphics - 7:

The overall aesthetics can vary quite a bit by table. Each one is themed a bit differently and have their own look and feel. The basic engine used is pretty good. You can view the table from a variety of angles, things light up and flash like you would expect. There are really not a ton of animated pieces at any given time - primarily the ball, the flippers and any of the environmental objects being interacted with. It looks good for the most part, and recreates the feel of a pinball table.

Sound & Music - 6:

Again, the idea is to try and emulate a pinball table. The thing is, these tables generally lacked the processing power of an actual video game. As a result, you are usually getting limited clips of music and electronic sound effects that can get a bit repetitive. Still, there are some nice subtle sounds to experience, depending on the table. I noticed on a few tables we could actually hear the ball rolling faintly or bumping into objects that on other tables you could not discern because of the blast of music and sound.

Gameplay - 7:

The experience is pretty authentic in my opinion, and my dad seemed to agree. Most, but not all, tables allow you to apply a certain amount of varied pressure to your shot. You have at least two flippers at the bottom of the table, but in some tables there are additional ones higher up that can be used for certain kinds of skill shots. A lot of what you see though is the ball rolling about of its own accord as you wait for your next opportunity to interact with one. One neat feature is that by shaking or tilting your PS3 controller, the Sixaxis kicks in and tilts/jostles the table a bit, though the effect is usually pretty minimal on the actual path the ball takes. You can also make modifications to the tables to change your play experience, though using anything but the defaults makes you ineligible for online scoreboards. This is reasonable - expected even - since you want everyone on a level playing field. One big gripe - it seems to take the tables an awfully long time to load.

Intangibles - 8:

The more tables you purchase, the better your mileage here. They're basically $2.50 apiece. Not too bad, and there are a wide variety of themes. There's a tesla coil one featuring lots of electricity and zapping sounds. There's one with a car theme. Another tables sports a medieval theme. There's even Street Fighter 2 and Ninja Gaiden tables. I picked them all up and probably spent about $20 on them at the time. The online leader boards definitely help since it is fun to compare stats to others as well.

Overall - 7:

Some of the tables are better than others, so that is a factor. The thing is, everyone may have certain things they like about one table, that someone else really dislikes. My dad seemed to enjoy though, though his hands were a bit sore after the first half an hour or so. He doesn't play a lot of games and the button scheme was one that was not comfortable for him, but did not bother me as well. There's definitely a niche group these tables are aimed at. If you have fond memories of arcade pinball tables, this is one of the better versions I've had the pleasure of playing and my father enjoyed it as well. My son's played most of the table a few times now, but usually only when I play. None of my girls have shown even the slightest interest.

Favorite tables:

- Street Fighter 2
- ElDorado

Least favorite:

- Mars
- V12

Peggle and Peggle Nights - PSN Review

As predicted, my posting has been down a bit over the last week, and I am hoping to get a few more reviews and articles out over the next week, but we have more company next weekend, events going on the following, and then a week long camping trip. While I was pondering what to write about today, it came to me over the weekend - Peggle & Peggle Nights. Why? Because I saw a lot of this game over the weekend. Quick background:

Last summer my son went to stay with my dad down in Florida. My dad picked up a PS3 on my recommendation since a) Chris would wind up playing it a lot and b) my dad was interested in Blu-ray movies. While getting it all set up, I was trying to show my dad some games he might be interested in. He's never been a core gamer. He played some TI Invaders, Munchman, Hunt the Wumpus and more on my TI99/4a years ago, but when the NES came out, the only games he ever put much time into were Tetris and some Dr. Mario.

Keeping the puzzler theme in mind, I introduced him to Peggle last year, and he loves it. While he was up this last weekend, my dad and I spent hours playing Peggle and the Peggle Nights expansion. My wife loves this game too - we both went through the various modes after purchasing it. Popcap games is great at creating games that appeal to the broad casual game market (as evidenced by the Bejeweled series and Plants vs. Zombies) and Peggle is another demonstration of that ability.

Graphics - 7:

The art style is nice. The backgrounds are pleasant to look at. Everything moves well. It's really hard to rank this one any higher, despite the pleasant aesthetics though, because there is really very little happening on the screen, which is made up of lots of little dots/pegs.

Music & Sound - 8:

The music is nice - almost calming really. The end song when you complete a map is great... though after a few hundred times it does get a bit old. The sound effects are not amazing, but they work to keep the experience from being too bland. It helps set the tone for the entire experience with the steady, pleasant music in the background, emphasized by the occasional sound effect like a spaceblast 'explosion'.

Gameplay - 9:

Menus are easy to get around, and the mechanics are very, very simple. You have a small gun/cannon at the top/center of the screen. You have a ton of small pegs (hence, Peggle) in various patterns across the bottom. The primary objective is to clear the stage by hitting each of the orange pegs before you run out of balls to shoot. There are small twists like a purple peg that moves around every turn and gives you substantial point bonuses if you connect with it. There are green pegs that give you a 'super power' - and these vary by the character you are using (in some modes you are restricted to a specific character, in others you can choose from any of those you have unlocked). These powers vary in usefulness, often by map, from creating multiple balls at once, to shooting lightning across the screen to 'score' multiple pegs. The maps themselves are quite varied as well, sometimes with moving parts, other times with portals - there is a good deal of variety here for how simple the game is. In essence, it is sort of like pinball without the flippers (except, there is actually a powerup that creates flippers as well).

Intangibles - 10:

There are a lot of characters. There are a ton of maps. There are a variety of game modes, including online. There are leaderboards. You can do local player vs. player. You can pick this game up and do a map in 3 or 4 minutes, or you can be like my father and I and spend the better part of 4 hours on Saturday night just talking and taking turns playing. Peggle Nights is an expansion that you have to buy to play, but it adds a new character and a bunch of new maps and some new trophies to earn. If you enjoy the Peggle formula - you'll be getting more of the same, which is a good thing.

Overall - 8.5:

This is a fun game, and you can spend hours and hours on it. It may not appeal to people who are really into heavy action or story-rich games. Then again, I'm into those kinds of games as well, but have no problem spending a couple of hours at a time playing Peggle. The fact that my kids, my dad and my wife all enjoy it also speaks volumes about the game's broad appeal. Obviously mileage will vary. My son doesn't play it much, he'd rather play Black Ops. I've gotten through most of the modes and don't play it regularly now (I've had the game over a year now), but will still play a few rounds here and there. My dad has taken to trying to rank online on every map in some capacity, and has also done a 100% clear of the pegs (not just the orange ones, but all pegs) on a good number of maps and still after a year can easily sink 3 or 4 hours into the game - and he's had the game over a year himself.

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