11/30/2008

Mirror's Edge had been garnering quite a lot of attention not very long ago. It's understandable, it being a first-person platform game, with enough running and jumping to put a number on the Prince of Persia series. First Person Shooters have always had some platform game elements thrown into the mix, but never before has one been entirely dedicated to that end. Well, maybe there has, but Mirror's Edge is still unique in its concept.

You play as an Asian femme fatale who's part of a resistance group of some kind. She spends most of her time jumping from building to building, escaping the gun fire of cops. There's a light amount of plot conveyed in stylistic animated sequences, but all in all, it isn't really that important. The conspiracies are far from daring and won't impress anyone who's into these sorts of plots.

It being a First Person game, they still felt it necessary to include the option to wield a firearm. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), you won't be wielding firearms for most of the game. The only way to obtain one is by disarming a cop, and even then it's mostly a temporary luxury, as you need to drop your gun to perform the majority of your acrobatic moves.

When it comes to enemies, the proper strategy is to just leg it. This is where the game kind of falls apart for me; I don't have a problem with chase segments in a game, but it seems as if all you ever do is run away from an army of cops and helicopters trying to pump your Asiatic body full of lead. The chapters are pretty linear, too, with only a few deviations or secret routes you can take. I'm not saying they should've made the game more gung-ho like an average FPS, but darn, one or two chase segments are enough. Perhaps the heroine should have taken a few lessons from Solid Snake about doing covert missions.

A lot of trial and error is involved in most of your capers through town. You better get used to the sound of a small Asian woman splattering on a cement sidewalk, because you'll probably hear it a lot, unless you've mastered the game. Being in the first perspective, it's a bit harder to carefully gauge your jumping distances and grabbing capabilities. Luckily, the level design isn't as nefarious as Mario 64, so that evens things out a bit. Personally, I found the main challenge to be with finding out where to go, in regards to what you can jump on or climb. They do provide you with hints by way of red objects signaling places of interest, and pressing a button will automatically lock your vision toward the current "objective", but I still got lost often. It's very similar to Prince of Persia in this regard.

While I do commend it on what it accomplished, I don't think it's all that great, either. I can't help but feel that the whole thing would be far better if they gave it a free-roaming atmosphere with a more gripping plot. Alas, I fear it will be forgotten just like all the other one-night stands crowding the game market.

11/28/2008

A good friend of mine has submitted an article. I think you should drop by the forums to check it out.

11/27/2008

Just punching in today to let everyone know that the forums are back online. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

11/24/2008

I'll be discussing Animal Crossing: City Folk from here on out. In reality, though, I'm discussing the Animal Crossing series as a whole, as they're all mostly the same thing. It starts off with the same typical Animal Crossing intro; you create a character, name your town, pick the location of your house and then move in. As always, you don't have the funds to afford your new home, and so you are enslaved to a devious shop owning raccoon. He puts you to work right away as a part-time employee, making you do things that you'll probably spend the rest of the game doing. Namely, fetch quests. Once he runs out of tasks for you, he grants you the freedom to pay the rest of your mortgage at your leisure.

Money makes the world go 'round in Animal Crossing. That becomes a bit of a problem when you realize that there isn't any real way of earning it. The most reliable way to cash in is to find random junk just laying around on the ground and selling it at the store. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Yeah, that was sarcasm. Fishing and bug-catching can earn you cash as well, but they're a lot more annoying to pull off, obviously. Other than those three things, there is only one more thing you can do in this virtual playground: fetch quests.

All of the denizens in your town will eventually get the urge to send you on a pointless fetch quest. See these glasses? Give them to Bob. Bob then sends you back to Lilly so you can give her a thank-you letter. To award your rigorous running about, you get a new carpet to decorate your house with. You hardly ever get paid in cash for doing these stupid activities, and the items you earn don't sell for much at the shop, either. You're often better off beach combing for seashells.

Then there is the matter of what you can buy with your hard earned money. Paying off your mortgage will earn you a house expansion, but gives you an even greater mortgage to pay. You can think of it as paying to have your house upgraded, really, because that's what it is. The real bread and butter of the game, though, is interior decorating. In the end, that's really the only thing you'll be doing with your money; buying furniture to make your house prettier. Very rarely will you be able to purchase items that have a meaningful impact on game play, making the whole thing feel all so... pointless.

That feeling of pointlessness never leaves me when playing these games. I always find myself bored out of my mind, desperately trying to find something fun or cool to do, to no avail. A large reason I play video games is because I tend to find them more interesting than real life, so it doesn't help when I'm playing a game that is actually duller than my own monotonous life.

I know I'm going to receive some major flack for what I'm saying here, considering that these games are so popular. Perhaps I'm just not a casual enough gamer to comprehend the appeal. I just think there are better casual games to spend your time on, like Wii Sports, Brain Age, and pretty much any Tetris clone.

11/20/2008

These days, I find myself with plenty of things to write about. So let's delve right into something recent, like Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for the Xbox 360. The very first thing that should be noted about this game is that it's nothing like the last two. If that's the only reason you're at all interested in this, then I'd recommend you steer clear, or devour every review you can find online. The intro to the game sternly warns you that this adventure will be completely different, albeit in a very humorous way. I knew all about this prior to starting the game, so my expectations were adjusted accordingly. In fact, I'd say that I was almost looking forward to the new and unique ideas they employed. So keep all of that in mind.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is a game developed by Rare, a once commendable developer that was a part of Nintendo's troupe in the old days. They did the Donkey Kong Country series on the SNES, most of which were fine pieces of software (the third was a bit stale). They went on to do Banjo Kazooie and its sequel on the Nintendo 64, which were platform games in the same vein as Mario 64. Later on, Microsoft bought them off of Nintendo, and they suddenly lost their appeal. I know that may sound like a stark fan-boyish remark, but most can agree to it. Rare soon faded from the minds of most gamers, being that they released horrid game upon horrid game.

Fans of the old Rare were suddenly shocked by nostalgia when they received word of the new Banjo game. It started off as a small announcement with no details. Hopes were high that Rare might be returning to its former glory. The details emerged at a much later date, astonishing all those who had been harboring expectations. This was no ordinary Banjo game, but one based on vehicles. I, too, was surprised when I learned of this.

Anyway, the game's premise is simple: you build vehicles in a dandy menu screen and then use them to win missions. You get access to all kinds of parts that will alter the performance, function, and look of your vehicles. It isn't just limited to car-like vehicles, either; you can make boats and planes as well. Like the Banjo games of old, there is a hub world that connects to the smaller worlds, where you'll spend most of your time collecting Notes (used as currency to purchase vehicle parts) and Jiggies (golden jigsaw puzzle pieces that gauge your progress). As you collect Jiggies, more worlds will be unlocked, so that you can... collect even more Jiggies. Unlike the last two Banjo games, the gathering of Jiggies is very mission based. There are a number of NPCs inhabiting each world, all of them making you do the most annoying things possible.

These missions, dubbed "Challenges", are awfully short on variety. What makes them interesting is not the task at hand, but how you choose to solve it. Most of these missions allow you to select a vehicle, either premade ones or your own creations. Considering the staggering amount of possibilities, solving a lot of the missions will come down to what sort of vehicle you decided to bring, granting them an almost puzzle-like quality. For example, you can't very well carry a large object if your vehicle doesn't have the means to carry things, or get to a deserted island if you're sporting an automobile. It's also possible to mix and match the type of vehicles you create, so you can create a car that can float on water and has the ability to fly.

Alas, it is not as good as it sounds. The vehicles all control terribly and make the annoying missions extremely frustrating. Land-based vehicles are very problematic to control as is, but the aerial ones can be a real nuisance. The main challenge to the game is trying not to have your work of art flip off the road or bump into every object in its path. Adding insult to injury, the physics are unbearably bad (a trend observed in most games), which results in your heaviest vehicles being knocked around as if they're weightless. Further, you aren't allowed to use your own created vehicles for exploration; you can only use them during a mission. That right there really took a lot of fun out of the vehicle-creation element for me. You are timed on every mission and tasked with incredibly frustrating objectives, so you don't have much time or mind to faff about with your darling experiments. They force you to use a boring "default" vehicle to explore the world, upgrading it with newer capabilities as you advance the game. It's not all that exciting when your little trolley finally earns the ability to float on water, considering you've been able to build wonderful boats and fantastic planes during all that time.

I sort of feel that they had a good concept and just weren't able to pull it off right. Then again, maybe not, considering almost every game's vehicle portion has shoddy physics. But that topic of discourse is for another post.

11/16/2008

Tales of Symphonia was an RPG released in the United States on the GameCube console in 2004. It's part of the "Tales" series of RPGs, developed by Namco. A once venerable game series, they appear to have fallen to the Mega Man Syndrome (too many similar games). Unlike Mega Man, these are RPGs, and each one is a solid adventure that will last upwards to 50-60 hours of play time. Fast forward to the present, and you have Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Not unlike Final Fantasy, each "Tales" game is typically unrelated from the next, barring a few that are direct sequels. This happens to be one of those rare examples.

Let's discuss this game, then. I would first like to say that, despite all of the hype that surrounded the first Tales of Symphonia, that it was a pretty underwhelming game. It only garnered so much attention from the elaborate marketing campaign, the fact that it was a GameCube RPG (those were rare), and that it had a decent combat system. As far as the plot and characters are concerned, it was one of the dullest RPGs you can get. I will give it a point for prominently featuring the trademark "Tales" battle system, but that's really all it deserves. So, with that in mind, you'd expect a direct sequel to not be much better. And it isn't.

Part of the reason that Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World sucks so badly is because it's based on another boring RPG, but even if it weren't, it does a perfect job of being boring all on its own. I will admit that, had this been based on a more interesting game, it would amount to something. The concept of playing a sequel RPG where all the game's denizens worship the heroes from the last game, despite how they became bad apples, is not a bad basis for a story at all. It's just that all of these characters were so one-dimensional, boring, and stupid.

Then there's the fact that this is a retread of a retread. Namco has been having a hard time deviating from their core formula for an RPG, so matters are made worse when they make a direct sequel that revisits a lot of the old locales from the previous game. It does provide some nice nostalgia, going back to these locations almost exactly as they were, but it does nothing to quell the feeling that you've done all of this before.

I would say that the only redeeming quality here is the battle system, but I'm not so sure. They've added a whole Pokemon element to it, with monsters that you can catch and raise. Unlike Pokemon, it's very shallow and feels like they just shoehorned it into the game for the novelty. For some strange reason, you seem to have even less options than usual when it comes to changing the AI of your characters. It has been a long standing tradition in the "Tales" series to have a party full of brain-dead mules, so it was a real slap in the face when I realized that there isn't a darn thing you can do about it here. You can't set your healer to stand back and heal, nor can you set your caster to stand back and cast. They will run up to the enemy and go into a spell casting phase, leaving them wide open for a wallop. Not that the fighters in your team are any more competent, as they don't seem capable of blocking or dodging enemy attacks, or... hitting the enemy. So the main thing you'll be doing during a hard boss fight is healing your downed party, only to watch them fall down some more.

I could go on, but it's hardly necessary. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (for the Wii) is even worse than its predecessor. If you're desperate for a current "Tales" game, you're better off with Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360. I might talk about that one in a separate post, but I do have one final thing to say. I feel that the teams behind these games have lost their soul to some corporate evil. A higher-up might be forcing them to churn out a hundred of these games per year. Whatever the case may be, I doubt I can remain a fan of this series if they continue in this manner. I don't have the time to waste on another boring RPG that brings nothing notable to the table.

11/13/2008

I'm back, and this time to I'll take a moment to talk about Gears of War. Not the sequel, mind you (though I doubt the sequel is much different). Now, I won't make any fibs, I've never been a big fan of shooting games. Third and first-person shooters are an unexplored alien world for me. If this site is any indication of my interests, I've mostly stuck with console games all these years, and until recently, consoles had been rather sparse when it came to shooters. Thus, I marked my foray into uncharted waters with Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War.

Gears of War sports some solid game play mechanics, this I will admit right away. It is very polished and slick, my only complaints being that it's hard to aim with a control stick and the sniper rifle doesn't have any extraordinary zoom features. I could very well be wrong on that last one, so don't quote me on it. Anyway, my real problem with Gears of War isn't the game play, but the plot, or lack thereof. I am aware that games like these are meant to be played with others via multiplayer modes, but they could try just a LITTLE harder on the single-player campaign. I had to drag myself through the single-player like I was wading through a swamp of diseased filth. It's pretty much the equivalent of a Hollywood action flick. You've got some really tough, muscled macho men, and some really big guns. It's one firefight after another, with very little pause in between for stupid Hollywood-grade dialogue. I'm sorry, I was being a tad bit unfair there; Hollywood certainly doesn't employ such atrocious writers.

Of course, you aren't truly meant to play the single-player mode as a single player. Gears of War allows for online cooperative play, which quickly turns things around. As always, when equipped with a speaker headset, you'll be able to chat with your friend during the game, creating a fairly good experience. It is due to things like this (not to mention the cover system) that Gears of War is commended by many to be a big forward step in game design. I'm just mortified by the fact that such game play advancements occurred in a game designed to appeal primarily to the football-watching demographic. Either way, I doubt I'll find myself ever going solo again.

11/09/2008

I'm thinking about starting up the whole "blog" thing I had going. The thing where I write my thoughts on a bunch of recent games I've played. Why do that over a full-on review, you ask? Well, there are a couple of reasons, but the most prominent one is: I'm lazy. There are times when I want to write a little about a game, but not do a full review. Doing reviews in their entirety is a lot of work, I'll have you know! I'm a very busy man; I can't be doing reviews left and right. Anyway, that's the plan. I'll kick the whole thing off in this very post.

Operation Darkness: A strategy Role-Playing game developed for the Xbox 360 by Atlus (or perhaps it was merely published by Atlus, I'm far too lazy to check that out now), based on the delicious concept of zombie Hitler. You heard me right, zombie Hitler. Hitler isn't actually a zombie in this game (perhaps he becomes one later, I didn't play far enough to find out), but this game takes place in World War II, and has zombies in it. Not just zombies, mind you, but also vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of black magic. It goes without saying that this is a new spin on the ol' WW2 formula. A really cool spin that will make heads spin, in a spinning manner. Unfortunately, the game itself is a complete train-wreck. Shoddy camera, terrible graphics, boring battles... the intriguing setting is about the only thing I enjoyed. You command a top-secret, British forces unit that consists of witches, warlocks, and werewolves. This unit secretly fights against the Nazis own secret units, in secret. As I understand it, all of this occult stuff eluded our historians due to this careful secrecy. And it seems quality has eluded the developers, unless it has also been shrouded in secrecy. Any game that shrouds its quality in secrecy for over 20 hours is a bust, though. That's about how much time I spent playing the game, in case you weren't following.

Valkyria Chronicles: It's for the PlayStation 3, in case you haven't heard of it. I'm mentioning these two games in tandem for a reason. They're both similar, being WW2 (or WW2-like, in this case) SRPGs, but one is clearly better than the other. This is that one. Basically, everything that the other game did wrong, this one did right, and everything that the OTHER one did right, this one got wrong. I hope you were able to wrap your mind around that one. The other game did only one thing right, and that was the setting. Valkyria Chronicles has a really boring setting, you see. It's a fantasy RPG's take on WW2, only without Nazis (and thus, no Hitler) and not really about Germany at all. It's more like Russia's relationship with some of its former Soviet Union states, or some such. The game's story is centered on a fictional land, by the name of "Europa". I have to say, that is a really creative name there. It almost seems like they're referring to something. Anyway, it features an evil empire, which I assume represents Russia (or perhaps Rome, as the commander of the leading army looks like Julius Caesar), and a small country by the name of "Gallia". The evil empire wants to get at the precious resources in Gallia (dubbed "Ragnite", some mystical stone that powers machinery), and so, they invade them. Unlike the United States, they declare war on Gallia openly, not trying to mask their reason with something absurd, like fighting fictional terrorists. While the plot is a snore, riddled with every RPG cliche you can think of (lost civilizations and ancient technology) the game play changes everything. In amidst the turn-based strategy, you get to control your units in a pseudo real-time segment. You'll be shot at from all directions during such segments, and whenever you decide to take a shot at an enemy soldier, the action stops to let you aim, in a third-person view. As expected, aiming for a head shot has a higher chance of failure, but if successful, deals fatal damage. I'll admit that there are some hefty flaws to this entire ordeal, but it just plays so much better than Operation Darkness. Even on its own merits, you can tell that they really polished the engine. They even took great care to cut down on the grind time, by having only one experience bar per class, so all characters under that class will receive a level-up. A similar thing was done with purchasing equipment, further cutting down on mindless grinding. All in all, I had great fun with it. Here's a useful tip if you decide to check it out: take advantage of the in-battle save feature. Things become frustratingly difficult later on in the game, so that save feature is a big help.

Well, that's all for my blog-like post. Let's see if I'll keep this up.

11/04/2008

It seems I've been bitten by the update bug once again, as I've done some unnecessary tweaks to the site's design. Things aren't quite finished yet, but I am getting close. Look forward to some real updates in the not-extremely-distant future.

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