Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony - PSP Review

I never played any of the prior Dungeon Siege games, but I have been at least somewhat curious about Dungeon Siege 3. That said, I did get Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony for my PSP some time ago, and only somewhat recently started to play it.

You pick one of three characters (I went warrior) to begin with and a companion to go with you (you generally want to compliment your main character's abilities - so for example I took a mage with ranged attacks). It is an action RPG game that offers a fair amount of customization as you level up.

Graphics - 7:

Characters are pretty well animated, but the backgrounds to me felt a bit... overused. Early on I felt like I was seeing forests, caves, caves in forests, forests surrounding caves... you get the idea. Eventually those assets branch out and you get more, but I would have liked a bit more variety overall.

Sound & Music - 8:

The voice work was pretty solid, and a game has enough variety in sound effects that they never grew monotonous to me. The music however, was very good. It was often well-suited to what was taking place in the game and it did an excellent job of helping to set the mood.

Gameplay - 6:

The menus are a bit confusing at first and the tutorials in-game were pretty limited. The gameplay was a good deal more simplified than I would have expected. For all of the background number crunching that goes on with collecting loot and leveling up stats, combat really just consists of walking up to creatures and mashing a couple of buttons. The loot system is rewarding and keeps you from getting too bored with the grind itself, but the combat mechanics did sort of bore me.

Intangibles - 6:

There's an online mode I never really tried to take advantage of. I've read it was decent, but it just did not interest me. The main quest was of okay length - around twenty hours. Not bad for a portable, but like the combat it just felt lightweight. I was more interested in my stat progression and loot pickups than the game itself, which is a bad sign. There are a number of quests, though they are pretty simple and most of them did little to engage me, though they did provide gold, loot and experience.

Overall - 6.75:

It was not a bad game, and it can be found pretty cheaply now. It did not engage me as much as I had hoped - I never really felt a connection to my character or the storyline and the combat was a bit too simple for my tastes. The most interesting part of the game was those rare loot drops, but I was always maxing out my carried items, which forced me to do a lot of on-the-fly inventory management, which bogged things down a bit for me as well.

The presentation itself was solid, and at a glance when Sony introduced Ruin for the Vita, that game really reminded me of this one, but with prettier graphics and hopefully some deeper game design.

Gaming Thoughts... 7/28/11 - 3DS news

So, Nintendo made some big announcements. Back when the Vita announced its $250 price point with what looks to be superior hardware, I predicted that Nintendo would have to drop the price of the 3DS as a result. I will admit I figured that this would happen a bit closer to the Vita release, but Nintendo has said it will be effective in August. I think that's a smart move because while they no doubt could have stretched that date out closer to the Vita release and gotten a bit more money out of it in the process, I think the sooner-than-later approach will help them out in the all-important battle to get their handheld into as many homes as possible before the Vita releases.

When I first read that though, my first thought was - what about early adopters? Well, they get a bit of a deal too - as Nintendo's promising twenty free older games through their e-shop. Now, those game offerings are cool - but they do work out to effectively paying $4 a game for customers who adopted early and I've seen some blog and forum posts claiming it's not enough. Certainly if I was in their spot as well, I'd want to get as much out of the Big N as possible, but I think all early adopters are aware that hardware prices are bound to drop. I still expect the Vita will eventually come down $50 or so after about a year as they get a bit cheaper to make and this is one of the reasons the Wii U probably won't find a place in my house until it's had a price drop as well.

Overall, what are your thoughts? An $80 price cut? I'll be honest - I may be considering one of these at some point once I've built up a bit more in trade-in stock. For those of you who haven't purchased a 3DS yet - is this price drop enough incentive? For those who were early adopters, how do you feel about the price drop and proposed compensation?

Archon Classic - PC Review

I first discovered Archon on my NES many years ago. I came to play Archon 2 on a friend's computer as well afterward, but somehow the original Archon remained entrenched as a favorite of mine. I wound up saving my allowance to buy it for the NES and played countless matches afterward.

The game itself is an interesting hybrid of chess and simple combat. The game is billed as a struggle between light and darkness. Each side has its own pieces, and their counterparts are generally comparable. You have the basic knights and goblins (think pawns) and other mythical creatures like unicorns, basilisks and queen-like Dragons. Some units 'fly' others walk.

The chess-like elements are founded in the two opposing sides of the board and squares that make up the board. Some squares are forever dark, others forever light - just like chess. One differentiating element is that fluctuating tiles that change one shade lighter or darker every passing turn.

You win one of two ways - you take all the squares of power (there are 5) or you destroy the other side completely. The combat elements are two-fold. Each character has an attack: knights and goblins have very little health, and their attacks are weak, short-range melee strikes while Dragons have a powerful ranged attack with lots of life.

The color of the squares however affects the creature's life. A dragon has considerably more life if on a dark square than a light one. Each side's primary piece (think king or queen) has a handful of useful spells they can cast one time each.

This almost feels like a Retro Reflection as well, since it has such a long description. That said, this game does enhance upon the original. There are expanded game modes, including secondary attacks now and new rules. There are also a handful of campaign modes that create situations for you (like using two characters that are a bit stronger than the opponents and overcoming their eight units). This mode adds things like experience and level gains.

Graphics - 7:

This is not exactly top-shelf stuff, but they are a vast improvement over the original, with better textures and details across the board. The battle arenas have always felt a bit sparse, and that holds true today. The board could use a bit more of an update as well, but it does not look bad either.

Sound & Music - 5:

There are limited but effective sound effects. That said, in a longer fight, they can grow a bit repetitive, but even then the longest matches usually only take a minute or two. The music is okay and fits the action, but it is far from amazing. There is no voice work at all.

Gameplay - 7:

Menus are easy to navigate, the various mode offerings are nice. It would have been great if the game had some sort of online mode though. Two of my friends and I played quite a bit against one another before, and this game allows for local competition, but some sort of online would have been nice. Campaign mode does a nice job of giving you something to do besides the tradition even-sided match. The storyline is pretty minimal, but as a kid I was always coming up with my own sort of 'story' for light vs. darkness, so the effort's appreciated. Combat plays like it did before, which is generally good and the addition of secondary skills (which can be turned off) was a nice surprise.

Intangibles - 6:

The four campaign modes do chew up some time, and the ability to play against a person or the cpu locally is fun, but there was a missed online opportunity that would have added a lot of value to the game. It has an old school feel that I can appreciate having spent soooo many hours playing it when I was younger as well.

Overall - 6.25:

The normal price for this game is $10 on steam. For me, the game has some fun nostalgia to offer, because I was such an ardent fan of the original. On top of that, I got it on discount around Christmas time for about $3, so it was easily worth it to me then. For others? It is hard to say. My son played it for a few nights and liked it, but has not really bothered with it since. I get the feeling that for most people, it will be fun for a couple of nights or so, but fall into obscurity before too long. The campaign mode adds some value, but only so much. As a note? It plays far better with a controller than a keyboard.

White Knight Chronicles - PS3 Review

When I first spotted White Knight Chronicles in an issue of Game Informer, I was fascinated by the idea. I love RPG's and this had a different look and feel to it than the average RPG coming out of late. I enjoy the 'western' RPGs like Fallout and Mass Effect, but I've always enjoyed my more traditional JRPG's as well.

When White Knight Chronicles came out, the reviews were pretty bad. Almost every professional review site lambasted the game for a variety of reasons, and I held off from picking it up right away. Eventually though, my wife found it used and picked the game up for me, and I'm glad she did. My son and I both played and enjoyed the game quite a bit. Is it perfect? Far from it, but we both had a good deal of fun with it.

Graphics - 7:

The game won't win any awards here for technical merit. The environments look good but sometimes lack detail. Character models are not great, but the cut scenes were generally fun to watch. My son compared it to watching a cartoon. There was sometimes some odd pop-in and tearing, but almost never much in the way of slowdown. I also appreciated the wide variety of locales the game provided, and really sold the world as a whole I thought.

Sound & Music - 8:

The music was excellent in my opinion. I loved the opening music - the attract mode with cut scenes from the game played out against the instrumental (found here on Youtube if you're curious) is one I really liked. The voice actors do a good job with their roles, some of them really good and few actually embarrassing themselves along the way.

Gameplay - 6:

The game does take a few hits here. The combat is a bit slower than I would have liked. The building of an online village is fun, but there were a lot of questions I had that I could not find any information on. The combo system was not terribly clear right off of the bat. Still, leveling characters is rewarding and you get a good deal of customization to them. One thing that disappointed me is that your character is silent throughout. He is not the star of the game, in fact he is really just there as a combat aid. The customization system is very cool, but it is somewhat wasted on the fact your created character is more or less just along for the ride. It's understandable to a degree because roles and characters are very clearly defined for the sake of the storyline, but it did hurt my connection to the game.

Intangibles - 7:

The storyline was a bit over the top in places, but I enjoyed it for the most part. The game itself was seldom actually hard and I did beat it in about 40 hours. The new game plus was a nice touch, and I did play through it a second time to get some more trophies and try some different character combinations. The ending, without spoiling anything, was set up for the sequel that has already been announced.

There is an online component that adds some value to the game as well, though I did not get to participate with many online groupings - I didn't have any friends playing the game and I don't generally enjoy grouping with random people as much. Still, it was a neat, and slightly under appreciated feature.

Overall - 7:

And speaking of under appreciated, I feel like this game was precisely that. It plodded at times, and the combat was a bit slow for my liking - but I enjoyed the game and am looking forward to the sequel. Now that it's been out for a bit, if you are interested, the game should not be terribly expensive to pick up.


Limbo Review

This is actually a slightly older review of mine (from when I had almost no followers to this blog), but with the game coming out for PS3 and PC now, I thought I'd dust it off as I found it to be a very interesting Xbox 360 game. Here it is once more for those who may have missed it:

What is Limbo? Well, here’s one set of definitions:

–noun, plural -bos.

1. ( often initial capital letter ) Roman Catholic Theology . a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants) and of the righteous who died before the coming of Christ (limbo of the fathers or limbo of the patriarchs).

2. a place or state of oblivion to which persons or things are regarded as being relegated when cast aside, forgotten, past, or out of date: My youthful hopes are in the limbo of lost dreams.

3. an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.

4. a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.

That said, it’s also an Xbox 360 game that is part puzzler, part platformer and filled with more questions than answers in the end. My oldest daughter is not much of a gamer, and this is a game that caught her eye in one of my Game Informer previews, and then she has since sat and watched me play through about half of the game. It’s a almost disturbingly captivating experience that is far too short but deeply engrossing as well. Here’s my review of the game.

Graphics – 9:

There’s no color. The detail is not amazing, with loads of textures and flashy 3D effects. But visually this game is incredibly unique, and it’s deeply involving. I’ve included some screenshots and the usual video at the bottom. If this is a game you have any interest in at all? Do yourself a favor and check these out. There’s gorgeous play on shadows and light. Darkness and fog. It can be a bit disconcerting at times – a world of shadows and movements, and you will die wandering into the dark now and then. All the same, turn off your lights and play this in a dark room to fully appreciate the contrasting environment.

Music and Sound – 8:

Really almost no music to speak of, but honestly? You don’t miss it in this game. That’s because the environmental effects are so good. They don’t help you in the way that a surround system in Modern Warfare 2 does – you don’t hear a bullet striking near your back, left shoulder or anything like that. But there’s a wide variety of creepy sound effects, squeaking sounds and specific cues that not only effectively assist in presenting a spectacular atmosphere, but are useful in some of the puzzles as well (especially near the end where listening to the beats can help you navigate some very precisely timed puzzles).

Gameplay – 8.5:

The controls, like so much of the presentation, are both simple and yet beautifully implemented. You move your character around, and you have a jump button (that if you hold down can enact a sort of skipping animation that is rather nice) and an ‘action’ button that you press to interact with various things in your environment. That’s it. And while the control scheme itself may look shallow at a glance, its implementation is anything but. That same action button can pull crates, flip switches, activate levers and all of these things tie into the puzzles in their own way. Just when you think you’ve figured out what the game is going to throw at you, it tosses you something new. The difficulty of the puzzles scales nicely, from very simple early on to rather complex by the end of the game, but you very seldom get too frustrated. There were a few puzzles where I died a lot, but the game is very kind in that you respawn at the start of a new puzzle. Now, some puzzles are a bit longer to complete than others, so you may find yourself doing the same thing over and over again as you try to get your timing down, but the game doesn’t cheat – it’s your own fault and your own timing you need to perfect.

Intangibles – 7:

The game has amazing atmosphere. I was lost in it while I played, and it was almost jarring at times when one of my kids would ask me a question or if I had to get up to do something. There’s some unlockables that you can get which are kind of cool. For starters, the achievements are mostly based on finding ‘eggs’ along the way, and most of these are not in plain sight and easy to acquire. You can get a couple of items for your avatar though, if you enjoy changing those around on Xbox live – you can get a “Limbo” shirt (naturally it’s black with white lettering – simple yet fits the theme) for finding an egg, and another item you can get is a little critter as a pet. He’s a little black… well, critter, and you earn him by beating the game. It’s a small set of things, but it’s nice. The puzzles are varied and the game never really bored me. So why only a 7? It’s just too short. Short enough for me to recommend against it? Probably not – I’m very glad to have gotten to play it and I picked it up as part of the Xbox summer of arcade deal – having grabbed 2 other games and getting the bonus 400 Microsoft points. But the came can be beaten in about 3 or 4 hours. 5 if you die lots. In fact, there’s an achievement I haven’t gotten to try yet but plan to where you have to beat the game in a single sitting without dying more than 5 times. Taking a look around the internet and leaderboards, and it looks like quite a few people have done this. For roughly $15/1,200 points, that just doesn’t feel like enough game time. Make it 800 points/$10 and I think it’s a bit more fairly priced.

Overall – 8.2:

This is a very atmospheric game that is a fun blend of platforming and puzzling. It’s just short. Way too short. And without any kind of multiplayer and online, there’s really not much to encourage a 2nd playthrough other than looking for the achievements you missed the first time through. Also it should be noted that the main protagonist is a young boy. This young boy meets a variety of grizzly ends. You don’t see red blood splattered over the place, but you die often and to things such as spiders, buzz saws, drowning and even bear traps. The imagery may not be suitable to young children, especially those prone to nightmares. The game is like a single giant nightmare for a young boy, really.

And then there’s the story. Limbo – one of the definitions from earlier: a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants)

The game starts with a simple cut scene. Keep in mind, there’s no voice narration or even long scrolling blocks of text to detail the story. When you reach the end it’s left a bit ambiguous. The developers have even said as much – that they are leaving it open for interpretation. I know how I took it, but it’s certainly not the way everyone else will – just looking up limbo ending discussion on Google returns tons of theories on it, and I will link these three here – each site/link is different for those curious about it – but it’s left open-ended by the developers for us to draw our own conclusions. It’s open-ended stuff, and there’s plenty of spoilers on those pages. What else can I say about the game? It's a bit too short for its price, but it's a hauntingly beautiful yet eerie one that certainly made an impact on me during and after playing it, and I'm glad I had to chance to do so.


20 years of Sonic

My wife sent me this - I completely missed it. Given the fact my 2 youngest were HUGE Sonic fans for years, I thought this was pretty cool.

Anyway, my youngest thought this was really cool when I showed her right now:

I think we've owned about 2/3 of those games - I know I played the first 4 that showed up on that list. I haven't played Sonic Colors or Generations yet, though my youngest did ask me for both while watching that with me. Fond overall memories, though like Mario I enjoy Sonic much more as a 2D, high-speed plotformer than as a 3D adventure game.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition Director's Cut - PC Game Review

The Witcher video games are based on a sries of fantasy short stories and novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski featuring the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The sequel to the acclaimed original released recently, and they both promise a good deal of flexibility in your decision making, which does allow the games to take some liberties from the story cannon.

I picked this game up rather cheaply ($5) around Christmas time, not having known much about it but I found the premise and reviews interesting enough to warrant acquiring it. Overall, I'm glad I did, but I am not quite as big of a fan of the original as a lot of players and reviewers seem to be.

Graphics - 7:

The environments look really good, despite the game's age (2007). Some of the cut scenes look good - I particularly enjoyed the intro scene to the game before starting it up. Characters often look a bit stiff though during the dialog sequences - Geralt in particular seems almost 'stuffy' with his general pose being standing upright arms hanging straight but at an angle to the side - almost like a scarecrow. Still, there are a lot of really nice touches, with an almost elegant look to the menus and interface, though the Aurora engine (used in Neverwinter Nights) feels a bit dated at times. That said, small things like weather and lighting effects are handled very, very well most of the time.

Sound & Music - 8:

These hold up nicely over time. The sound effects are actually quite varied, and there is really good ambient sound in many of your environments. The music is excellent the majority of the time, working well with the set pieces. Voice acting is a mixed bag - most of it is pretty good. Thankfully I liked Geralt's voice since his is the one you hear the most of, but some of the more peripheral characters feel a bit overdone at times.

Gameplay - 7:

The combat is unique, but I don't know that I am always a fan of it. There is this sort of timed click interface where you try to time the 'sweet spot' to click on your opponent and chain attacks together. It gets credit for innovation, but sometimes the execution is lacking as environments or odd camera angles can keep you from clicking when and where you want to. The bar fist-fighting mini-game is just more of the same 'combat' - and suffers from the same problems where you occasionally just cannot click on your target. The dice mini game is pretty nice though, and the alchemy system is interesting if a bit cumbersome at times.

The real standout here is the way your choices in the game later affect things. There is no painfully obvious gauge to measure your 'good versus evil' choices like in Mass Effect, and it works well here. I've only given the game one play through so far, but I have read that sometimes your actions do not show their consequences until much later in the game. If that is true, then there is some significant replay value to be had here.

Intangibles - 8:

And now we lead into the replay value. There are a lot of instances where you have a freedom of choice that can make you want to see how events might play out in another way. There are a ton of side quests as well - almost too many if you ask me. It can be a bit overwhelming when the quests add up, and if you are like me and have a compulsion to finish them all, it can take a long time to beat this game.

There are sometimes long and frequent loading times, and I managed to crash the game several times on an early cutscene, but once I skipped that scene things moved along pretty well. I think I dropped about 50 hours on beating the game the first time, and I did mess around with many of my loaded states to try various outcomes as well.

Overall - 7.5:

The combat really annoyed me at times, and since so much of the game is based on it, I found myself annoyed more times than I should have been for a game that was so carefully crafted in other areas. It should be mentioned, but this is definitely not a kids' game. There is some pretty rough language at times, nudity and tons of adult themes. To put things into perspective, Geralt can have sex with quite a few people over the course of this game, and you get a semi or completely naked card of the lady (conquest) in question afterward. There is some relevance to these relations as well though, as you have a chance at one of two romantic interests in this game.

I have read that when this game first came out, it did so with a ton of bugs, long load times and instability. This is the final, patched version of that, and while some of those things were still present, they were nothing like what was discussed with the game's initial release. I'm curious about the recently released sequel, but will probably hold off on it for awhile until I can pick it up cheaply as well.


Mario Kart Wii - Nintendo Wii Review

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

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

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

Graphics - 8:

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

Sound & Music - 8:

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

Gameplay - 8:

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

Intangibles - 8:

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

Overall - 8:

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


Castlevania - Retro Reflections

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


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Xbox 360 Review

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

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

Graphics - 9:

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

Sound & Music - 8:

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

Gameplay - 7:

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

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

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

Intangibles - 8:

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

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

Overall - 8:

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


Gaming thoughts... 7/8/11

Console durability.

They sure don't make them like they used to. I think that applies to video game consoles as much as anything, doesn't it? They consoles are bigger, more moving parts, they get hotter, the electronics are both more advanced and sensitive... but let's compare a bit. Systems still bouncing around my house and working with minimal maintenance from me:

Old ones still working:

- Atari
- Sega Genesis w/ CD
- Sega Saturn
- N64
- Game boy color
- Game boy advance

Consoles I've had in the past that are now dead and gone:

- Game boy
- Playstation 1
- Playstation 2
- Gamecube

Modern consoles and how they've fared:

- I've had my Wii die once and had to have a refurbished one sent to me for $75

- I've had 1 Xbox 360 red ring and get fixed by Microsoft and then break down in another way that wasn't covered by warranty

- I have purchased 2 other 360's which are both running

- I have purchased 2 PS3's - one broke down last night and no longer reads any discs (feels like it's not spinning)

- We have purchased 3 DS Lites. These get their own breakdown:

* One's cartridge bay broke and Nintendo fixed for free (it was only 2 weeks old), and then that same thing broke about a year and a half later. $50 to fix so we'll probably just replace eventually. (this is my youngest daughter's)

* One's screen cracked when dropped on its side - not even a direct hit, but broke. We had replacement on it though so for $10 we got a new one that lasted until it was traded in for a DSi which has held up well (my son's)
* The third has worked flawlessly (my oldest daughter's)

PSPs - also get two sub headesr:

* Mine was a 2nd generation run, has worked flawlessly
* My father's was a 2nd generation run and it died about a year ago and he gave it to me for parts

It's sort of amazing that I still have working consoles from two decades ago, and then myself and many other people have had to replace modern consoles in two years (or less). I've heard horror stories ranging from red ring of death for the 360, yellow light of death for the PS3 to Wii black screen of death - I've actually suffered two of these issues myself (the 360 and Wii).

But we invest so much in these systems, we're bound to replace them most of the time, right? I was already set to sell some stuff to one of my buddies for about $400. I suspect I'll get a new PS3 when that happens because my game collection is worth more than that alone and we really do heavily use two of them in two different rooms (yes, at this point I expect no sympathy as I clearly spent far more on gaming systems than I ever have on a good, grownup car). Bummer is I was considering a 3DS or putting the money toward getting my wife a new cpu.

What are your thoughts? Have you had any modern console horror stories of your own? What did you do? replace or sell your game collection after? With the Wii U coming out, I worry about the controller durability as well - now there's an additional, potentially very expensive component to concern yourself with.

Also, I've been hearing rumors of a $50-$100 price drop for the PS3. Anyone else heard this? Since I won't be getting my $400 until Aug 16th, I'm really hoping those rumors come to pass sooner than later!

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - Xbox Live REview

I recently reviewed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and one of the complaints some people had was that the game was more God of War than Castlevania. Another Castlevania game I only recently got the chance to play was Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - and this title is very much a throwback to the older Castlevania games, but with a unique twist. It has some RPG elements in the equipment you can find/buy that increases your stats. The most noticeable change however was the inclusion of multiplayer - in fact, the game feels like it was built with multiplayer in mind. It was a risky new direction to take, but did it pay off?

Graphics - 7:

There is an old-school feel to the graphics, and it works well. Animations are nothing spectacular, but the pixelated appearance does a great job of setting the scene. The castles are all quite large, and there are some decent interactions with the backgrounds. The ability to snap to three different view sizes is a huge plus since each level is very labyrinthine.

Sound & music - 6:

The music does not really 'fit' with how I picture Castlevania in my mind, and the sound effects are very simple and recycled quite a bit. The sound effects get the job done and the weird guitar music used in the background is not necessarily bad, but for me Castlevania games were largely about atmosphere, and that is not really handled well by the music here.

Gameplay - 7:

This is the basic gameplay fans of Castlevania are no doubt most familiar with. Run, jump, attack. It's combat and platforming and the level layouts are actually pretty creative for the most part. Your character does not gain experience, but you gain gold as you play and you can grind to get better and better gear, which raises your stats. There are also several characters you can choose from that helps to add some variety to the proceedings as well.

Unfortunately, the game is built with multiplayer in mind - and I have tried at least two or three dozen times now to find matches online and have not succeeded even once. The lack of local co-op hurts too, because my son and I would love to play together but can't. Some of these levels are just really, really hard on your own, which is no doubt by design, but frustrating as I can't seem to find much of a community out there for it.

Intangibles - 7:

The game only comes with 6 maps, but there have been several more released since then, which is nice. You can't progress through the original six until you beat your current one, though you can thankfully jump ahead to the downloaded ones. I used that to help gear myself up better since later maps are 'higher level' and generally have better drops. It was a good workaround for me since I lacked anyone to actually play the game with. The way you improve upon your characters and the fact that the different characters all actually feel different is a big help.

Overall - 6.75:

I might have enjoyed the game a bit more if I had picked it up when it first came out and there were more people still playing it, but as it stands what was meant to be a social experience has shaped up to be a largely solo one. To that end, some sort of scaling difficulty would have been nice so I did not feel like I was in over my head. I understand the decision not to have local co-op based on the very independent nature of your travels through the castles, but my son and I both agreed we would have preferred split screen to only single-player as well. It was a good idea with some addictive formulas that just aren't quite clicking for me, as much as I wish they were.


Gaming thoughts... 7/4/11

Actually, not much in the way of gaming thoughts today. I just wanted to wish everyone a spectacular 4th of July.

I spent yesterday out with my wife and kids at Michigan's Adventure. Worked up a semi-sore back, stiff legs and a slightly tender sunburn, but all in all it was a lot of fun. Today is going to consist of some grilling, some fireworks tonight and then back to work tomorrow.

Still, one quick gaming thought I can share: I really like the new Captain America (see? Keeping it in theme) table for Marvel Pinball. Picked that up on a whim the other day to go with my other Marvel tables and scored rather nicely on my first play. More to come on the Marvel tables soon!

Happy Independence Day to all and I hope you've had a nice weekend!


Cut the Rope - iPad Review

My wife got an iPad before Christmas. I say my wife because really, I bought it for her. I have slowly begun to use it more and more over the last few months however, and discovered a wealth of games she had acquired for it. Certainly there are practical uses for the device as well, and I love getting sports updates on it, but I will admit - at least half my time is spent playing games on it. Thing is, they're not the kinds of games I would normally download for myself - yet I often find them to be quite a bit of fun.

The premise behind cut the rope is both simple and brilliant. There is a piece of candy suspended by rope or ropes - and you use the touchpad to 'cut' across a rope and cause it to descend - and that is where the varied stages come into play. It is very easy in the beginning to get through the stages and collect the stars - but later on it can be quite a challenge to properly do either.

Graphics - 8:

I find the graphics to be pretty good overall. They're cute, they're bright and they simply exude fun. Keeping in mind that this device is limited compared to actual game consoles, it is therefore up to the developers to do the best with what they have, and this is a pretty good example of doing just that. You can see everything very clearly, and that helps out quite a bit with the gameplay as well.

Sound & Music - 6:

The sound effects are simple and limited, but do their job. The same can really be said of the music. My wife primarily plays the game with sound off on the iPad, but I generally leave it playing, even if it is little more than just background.

Gameplay - 8:

The design is simple and perfect for the iPad or a touch device. You have to move fast on some of the later stages, and that can be a bit frustrating since there are times I know I swipe my finger across a rope and it doesn't take - or doesn't register quick enough. That said, it works well far more often than not and really feels perfect for a touch device like this.

Intangibles - 8:

It really did not take me a terribly long time to get through the stages, but they were cleverly designed and the additional objective of gathering stars (you do this by swinging the candy into them) adds a fair amount of replay value to it. Getting through the stage itself is seldom difficult, and early on all 3 stars come easily. Later on? You're lucky to get one. It's an affective formula.

Overall - 7.5:

This is an inexpensive game and a great little diversion on the iPad. I'm obviously pretty late to the game here, but I am finding some good value not only in the iPad in general, but some of its titles. This is one I can recommend with ease due to its low price and fun gameplay.


Big gaming sales

So, there's a theme right now I'm noticing - Steam, Amazon, Gamersgate, Good Old Games and Gamestop all have various sales going on for digitally downloaded games. I don't usually post sales like this, but I found a ton of great stuff out there and thought others might be interested too. Anything here catch your eye?

Some examples? Good Old Games has Interplay games for 50% off (think early Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics and more)

Gamestop has Fear 3 and Duke Nukem for $20 off. God of War 3 for the PS is listed as normally $30, and they have it for $15. There's a lot of others too.

Gamersgate has had some 2K sales this week. Today's big one? Civilization 5 for $17. That's $33 off. I may be picking this one up later tonight as I've been eying it for awhile...

Amazon has downloadable titles for up to 75% off. Two titles that caught my eye were Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition and Spore. Big discounts on those 2 titles, and plenty more. One thing to look out for is several of the shown titles don't work on Vista/Windows 7 so make sure to check the specs on those, but there are plenty of good prices there.

I know there's a few of you out there who haven't actually gotten into Steam and have talked about it for awhile (I'm looking at you Coffee with Games - who has a great gaming blog of his own) - and the Steam Summer Camp Sale is off to a quick start. They have some contests going right now, but plenty of games too through July 10th - and they started yesterday. This means that what's posted now may not be there for much longer. Ones I bought (hiding this from his wife: Borderlands Game of the Year Edition, Oblivion Game of the Year Edition Deluxe, Recettear, Bit Trip Beat Runner and an expansion for Spectromancer. In total I spent $26. The normal going rate on those would have run me $95.

If you're curious about the breakdown:

Oblivion: Normally $25, on sale for $8.50
Borderlands: Normally $30, on sale for $7.50
Bit.Trip Runner: Normally $10, on sale for $2.50
Spectromancer: Truth and Beauty: Normally $10, on sale for $2.50
Recettear: Normally $20, on sale for $5

There are all games I've eyed in the past, so it seemed like a pretty good time to pick them up :P That said, one thing to watch out for on Steam sales like this is that lots of other content is on sale. For example, I think everything from Epic is like 25 or 33% off. Several times individual titles will show up with steeper discounts on Steams daily sales, so those are usually what I focus on (they had something similar over Christmas. When I picked up King's Bounty, I had seen it listed for 25% off at one point and considered it, but then held off. Glad I did, because it was later offered for like 75% off as a one day sale).

Not all of the deals out there right now are specific to computer, however.

Digitally Downloaded (another really good blog) posted these titles earlier at half off on Xbox live:TMNT: Turtles in Time Reshelled -- was 800mspts, now 400
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light -- was 1200mspts, now 600
  • X-Men Arcade -- was 800mspts, now 400
  • Comic Jumper -- was 800mspts, now 400
  • Hard Corps Uprising -- was 800mspts. now 400
Last but not least, there's some discounted games on PSN right now too:

  • Dead Space Ignition (PSN, Discount)
  • Deathspank (PSN, Discount)
  • Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue (PSN, Discount)
  • Funky Lab Rat (PSN, Discount)
  • Magic Orbz (PSN, Discount)
  • Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom (PSN, Discount)
  • MicroBot (PSN, Discount)
  • Shank (PSN, Discount)
  • Spare Parts (PSN, Discount)
  • Tetris (PSN, Discount)
  • The Fancy Pants Adventures (PSN, Discount)
I've been keeping a pretty good pace on reviews lately - about every 3 days. I am hoping to keep that going for awhile and would appreciate any comments about titles of interest - they're all over the place in terms of age, system, genre. And glancing up at the list above... I suspect I'll have plenty more incoming over the next couple of months. :)

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