Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A bunch of random stuff

First off I'm going to start by saying thanks a freaking lot Microsoft. I really couldn't care less about paying for online play because 99% of the games that support it don't really interest me anymore. But to raise the price of a Gold subscription? That just reeks of arrogance. Honestly I'm kind of embarrassed to be supporting the system right now but XBLA and the XBL Indie games service are too good for me to ignore, same goes for the handful of exclusives that tend to target niche genres(like 2D shooters). Still it's pretty disgusting and just one of the many reasons why I'm not looking forward to the next generation of consoles.

I made a new game purchase. This time it's Ratchet & Clank: Crack in Time. I saw it for a good price and I've heard many a thing about how it's one of if not the best title in the series. I'll give it a go as my PS3 is going to get some much-needed attention.

Continuing on that note I've been playing some Yakuza 3. I really dig it. It's like one of those male power fantasies I've seen a lot of games described as. Basically I'm a middle-aged former Yakuza chairman whose mere presence can solve many problems and when that doesn't work out it's all up to pure brutality and some weapons to get things done. While the story generally keeps it pretty serious the game applies a bit of a fantastical element to it all. While the fighting isn't anything stylish it shows a certain dramatic flair and even a mundane date at the local karaoke joint becomes something special when the woman you're with is suddenly singing on stage and it's all somewhat corny but also really endearing. I was sort of indifferent to the cuts Sega of America made for this game but from the ten hours I've put in so far I'm already mega-disappointed there isn't more. Sure I apparently have 50+ more hours of stuff to do but ah hell I don't know, it still feels like I'm really missing out.

On the Nintendo DS front I just made one of my last purchases for the console. This time it's Style Savvy. Yep that's right Style Savvy. Boy I could just do that all day couldn't I? I bet it'd annoy the heck out of everyone. In real life I'm a pretty dull guy who dresses in plain clothes and spends more time in a work uniform than anything else. So obviously I must live out my dreams of fashion through various outlets. Style Savvy is considered one of the best games for this sort of thing and I'm sure I'll just have tons of fun owning my own clothing store and playing around with all of the hottest fashions. Oh and yes I'm being completely serious here. No guys it's not like that, I haven't given up the hardcore games, the beatemups, the shmups, or any of that other stuff. I just uh..happen to have some different interests.

I've been thinking about the whole retro thing lately and I figure the best way to talk up the finer points of those games is to...talk about the classics. To start with this blog is long overdue for a look at the older Castlevania games. Granted the relevancy of these games is questionable today and they use control schemes and level-designs that simply aren't being attempted anymore but all the same its influence is still there in even the most modern of modern action games. I guess I'm getting a little ahead of myself here but whatevs...I'll work it out somehow. I'll probably start off with the first or third Castlevania game and go from there.

And that's about it for now I believe.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'm starting to wonder if game developers understand "retro"

While it's been going on for awhile now the whole idea surrounding retrofied games still seems to be very much stuck in its infancy. I'm speaking more specifically about the whole NES age we're reliving again. There's a lot of stuff out there that sounds neat on paper but when it comes down to it the games just aren't there. As you've seen in my earlier post I'm not a big fan of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game. It's a harsh score certainly but I forgot to leave out my harshest comment: It doesn't even feel like a game.

Now I understand words like "feel" tend to open a lot of unwanted cans of worms. Thankfully in the case of SPvTW it's quite simple. While there are elements taken from other games there is nothing there that completes the assembly. It's like getting a bunch of really cool lego pieces but only certain parts of them can connect to one another. You don't get a car with three wheels, instead you get an interior, a trunk, and maybe the engine. There's no real sense of progression and worse still no sense of ambition, originality, or creativity.

On the DS we have an example in Xseed's Retro Game Challenge. It's a throwback collection that culls together a handful of games that we might have played on our NES consoles way back when if they had actually existed. Unfortunately again for the most part they lack the most vital functions and ideas. Without focus and direction this game merely comes off as an exercise in nostalgia. That's an ugly word for me because it's hard to get nostalgic over something that's readily accessible. I can't very well ask my great-grandmother to bake me cookies because they remind me of a better time and that's because...well..she's dead. While I can't get Nanny's cookies I can still get my hands on just about any classic game that was originally released on any classic console. Sure I might get nostalgic about the experience of playing that game, but never the game itself.

Problem is most of these retro-game developers are more worried about the experience than the game. 3D Dot Heroes seemed to have everything in order as it referenced all sorts of classic titles from Zelda to Dragon Warrior. You couldn't throw a stick without it hitting a sign or a townsperson saying something totally 8-bit. The game itself however was just not good at all. It might have included everything that made Zelda memorable but it forgot to include all of the things that made it great.

The worst part about all this is that retro-developers seem to imply that the experience was the only thing worthwhile about the games back then. Nowadays whenever there's an argument about older vs newer games that nasty nostalgia word gets thrown around a lot. There may be a bit of truth in it but at least as far as I'm concerned more than a handful of games made back then are still playable today. Problem is when I play something that uses old-school charm to hide its awfulness I start feeling like my intelligence has been insulted. It's like the people that made this game forgot where they came from.

2D Shooters and Beatemups both went through a Golden Age back in the 90s where seemingly every developer could whip up a competent to classic title. They make it all look so easy I wonder why so many developers today haven't been able to follow suit. Instead the results tend to be inept imitations. Everything from the controls, to the mechanics, to the little things like enemy design feel like they were ripped right out of the code of a title that came before. Still there were no actual games being made. They're just bits and pieces that the player was able to interact with long enough to reach the ending. It's really pretty embarrassing that I haven't seen much if any improvement in games styled after the ones that came before so many years ago. We have access to the teachings of the master so logically we should have been able to improve upon them and yet it just isn't happening.

So how does one begin to understand retro? It's really not complicated at all. Simplicity is one aspect of it and that's easy enough to understand. The average retro game should be able to get away with only requiring a couple buttons to play, the concept should be accessible, and the player should be able to understand the game in less than a minute. Retro is also about challenge. I'm not just talking about making the game really hard though. Challenge just has to be natural and constant so that the player's skills are tested as they progress. Retro does not underestimate the importance of a high-score. Sure there were quite a few older games and heck even some classics that had bad or even broken scoring systems but they still gave the player something to work towards. Nowadays it's a bit of a tough call because we're seeing a lot more arcade-style games that use scoring properly. Still it can have something to offer for the clever. Speaking of retro is originality. This is a huge thing that almost everyone is missing because a lot of the time they're all doing the same games. Back in the NES days many of the more memorable titles like Blaster Master, The Guardian Legend, River City Ransom, and so on had similarities to other titles but also offered some unique twists, some different methods of handling traditional aspects, and just plain thinking creatively. This sort of thing just isn't happening today since retro is such a niche concept that if one person does something they think they're the only game in town. How easily they forget that they're still competing with games that are just as viable as they were nearly 30 years ago.

Retro is not about how 8-bit-looking the characters are or if everyone speaks in engrish. This is the sort of stuff that ties into the experience aspect and usually feels forced and inconsistent. Retro isn't just making a game two-dimensional and thinking that's enough. That sort of thing strikes me as a disillusioned method of fighting the system, where the end result is just bitter old gamers decrying everything 3D, next thing you know it turns into elitism and then the dogs and cats start living together. Oh and retro isn't emulating all those glitches and other problems that plagued so many older games. Slowdown is one thing as its pretty essential to 2D shooters but making a game flicker or letting the sound skip just isn't cool at all. For all the power these newer consoles are capable of we really have no excuse for some retro games running like they do.

It's not all bad for the retro scene though. There are a handful of real stand-out titles like Mamotte Knight, Half-Minute Hero, Spelunky, Pixel/Jump!, and quite a few others. Not only do they capture the right qualities of the retro game but they also use the hardware they're on to do things the NES could only dream of. If nothing else at least these games are showing creativity and originality, which in the end is all I really ask for.

Anyway thanks for reading this rambling post full of nonsense. I just felt like I had to say some things even if I'm not 100% or even 15% clear about it all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

XBLA look - Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

When Ubi-soft gets their crap together maybe I'll give this game a serious look. As it stands however I just wasted $10. Okay strike that I guess I've gotten enough material to say something, though I wonder why I'm even bothering since my recommendation will be to completely avoid this one.

I guess I should be thankful that I managed to get one playthrough out of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World before the game decided it didn't want to be played anymore. Granted the experience up to then wasn't all daisies and lollipops since there are a wealth of glitches, pauses, and just plain oddities that really have no place in any game. The game itself is...well..let's just move on.

It's a fun game that kept me going for the few hours it takes to complete, it has enough charm to last and punching people around may never cease to be entertaining. Furthermore there's grinding to be done and stats to be raised and you know I'm all about that. It's still lacking however as it's in this sort of middle-ground. On one hand it wants to be River City Ransom, a game which achieved classic status through introducing a sandbox element to the beatemup genre but at the same time it's also patterned after arcade beatemups from the likes of Konami, Technos, and so on. Unfortunately a little of this and a little of that doesn't make for a good game. It just sort of hobbles in-between and lacks the kinds of things that make beatemups such a great genre.

For one while I love that this game adopted the mechanics of River City Ransom(especially in its use of physics of the many objects strewn about) it doesn't capture the spark and imagination that gave RCR its creative edge. Simply put there aren't enough unique moves or specific ways to build your character so that they can specialize in certain things. The end result will be much the same regardless of which character you choose and what stats you decide to build. The move-set also starts off pretty barren and by the end only reaches parity with the kinds of moves we took for granted decades ago. Some more special moves like flying uppercuts, fireballs, or well anything that could be strung together to do some neat combos would have sufficed. Pretty much every neat move that the cast has going for them has its roots in the original RCR, which shows a discouraging lack of imagination.

There's probably some achievement or trophy out there that while it's invisible it'll pop up in the heads of everyone who manages to recognize every reference in this game. This is not something I'm proud of admitting because when I can recognize little things like the lights hanging in one stage that are straight out of Mario 3 I probably need to get out more. For others though it just might be a constant joy to have those nostalgic itches scratched. Unfortunately this aspect buries the game more often than not as sometimes the references are so wrapped into the game that they effect aspects like playability and difficulty. I mean it's cool and all that the third boss is just one huge Akira reference but when he telegraphs his attacks so much that he becomes one of the easiest bosses in the game I gotta wonder what the point of it all was.

Scott Pilgrim's game isn't particularly challenging but it can still be frustrating. The non-bosses lack the most basic structure of the average beatemup enemy. They don't adhere to any rules, they offer nothing in the way of telegraphing or warning when they're about to strike, they simple rush in and look foolish when players get the bright idea to counter everyone that rushes at them. This game must use a very rudimentary AI setup as I've watched enemies wail away at thin air even if I'm well out of the way. Sure I'm still in front of them but I'm also way off to the side. Still if I never moved the enemy would never stop swinging. This is not something that should be happening. Since the AI can't do much of anything the frustration comes from the simple fact that if an enemy makes contact they'll do a combo that in the beginning could do anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of the player's health. This is natural for an arcade beatemup but it doesn't work for this game since nothing else adds up. Every now and again the enemy can also land a critical hit that'll kill the player almost instantly. Sure the player can do the same to the enemy but it's really not a good idea in the slightest.

Thankfully for those who simply don't care most of this frustration can be dialed down to the point of mere annoyance buying goodies from all of the shops scattered throughout the game. Aside from restoring health these items can add to the player's stats and even the occasional new move. This eventually works against the game as once the stats hit a certain point the difficulty becomes absolutely trivial. It might make a difference on the higher settings but uh...I wouldn't know as the game continues to lock up on me.

Honestly I wonder how much play-testing was actually done on this game. Once the player's stats approach the maximum everything from the distance that objects are thrown and the speed at which the player travels start to become uncontrollable. This becomes a real nuisance in one of the later stages as it involves some precarious platforming over spike-pits. But I guess that doesn't really matter since unlike some other beatemups falling into these pits won't kill the player outright. I really couldn't care less what the spike-pits did if the player fell in them but to just hand-wave over something because they couldn't be bothered to test it properly strikes me as pure laziness.

The biggest cardinal sin is that for a beatemup there's just no thrill in...well..beating people up. I'm not the fighting type so I wouldn't know the first thing about what a punch to the face feels like let alone what sensations I get from punching someone else. But when I punch someone in a videogame I've got to feel it somewhere. Final Fight was really good about this as the impact felt really deep and the entire screen shook when some thug got pile-driven into concrete(or on top of other thugs, which is the greatest feeling ever). In this game however I punch people, hit them with bats, hit them with swords(?), and juggle their bodies by kicking garbage cans at them(?!). Yet I just don't feel a thing. There's no satisfaction, no thrill, and certainly no impact. It's like we all went at each other with balled-up tissue paper and playfully slapped each other into oblivion. I guess there's some sort of hidden meaning here and I gotta look at it from the perspective of everyone acting out their little teen drama by hopping in giant robots and shooting each other. But eh I'm just not feeling it. Everything falls flat here and it's the worst feeling in a world when a beatemup can't get the whole beating aspect right.

It's really a shame because in its current state the game is pretty much a mess. You could say that I'm being too hard on it and that I shouldn't be judging it by the standards of other beatemups but give me a break here. Throughout the 90s dozens of developers were able to put out competent games in the genre and make it look easy. They even went so far as to spend so much time working on these games that the most determined and skilled players could beat them without dying or even getting hit. Scott Pilgrim still has a ways to go before his game can even reach basic competency, let alone stand next to games that were made close to twenty years ago.

I'm probably just being overly negative because even if I looked past all of the problems with the actual game I'd still have to sort out the glitches, the freezes, and everything else that prevents me from simply playing the game. I should also have given this game a couple days before I wrote about it, maybe catch my breath at least. Still as far as I'm concerned this game gets a ZERO. If you want to relive your childhood or whatever just watch a playthrough on youtube. Maybe I'll hit the theater this weekend and see the movie, hopefully it doesn't remind me of the game too much.

Game Rating - ZERO
Comments? Psh...I've already said enough.

My Rating - ZERO
Screw this piece of crap.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boug...uhhh Downloaded some games

Sometimes I forget that as a PC-owner I have access to hundreds of thousands of freeware games that cover practically every genre. Here's what I've picked up thus far:

Bunny Must Die - Apparently this game is by the guys behind Gundeadline and so on. It's a Metroid-styled game starring a bunny-girl who explores labyrinths and kills things by throwing crazy weapons and stopping time. The controls are pretty difficult to get into, the bosses are tough as hell, and there are insta-death spikes everywhere. I think I might be able to get into it eventually.

Elona - There's Rogue and then there's Rogue-like. This game is closer to the former. Death is pretty much a guarantee, there's all kinds of things that can happen that you have absolutely no control over, it's a complete dick of a game and yet it's pretty addictive. I'm not even sure if I'm making progress or not but whatever it's neat stuff. Unfortunately the UI is a serious hassle to navigate.

Something of Jabberwock - Okay I forgot the full title but it's those goofy Gundeadline guys at it again. This time they crossed a Zelda-type game with a bullet-hell shooter. Yeah I seriously have no idea what is going on, there are phase levels, I think maybe some kind of rank control, and oh look girls with no underwear straddling giant cannons. Yeah it'll take me awhile to figure this one out. Oh and as a bonus my anti-virus said the translation patch was a trojan. It's a false-positive more than likely but eh just throwing that out there.

Legend of Princess - Fans of Noitu Love will probably recognize this one. It's by the same developer and while it has uses a few Zelda references the game plays closer to a fast-action version of the Wonderboy games(as in the later titles like Monster World and Part IV). It's a short game at around 15 minutes but there's highscores to get and 6 different weapons/tools to use for a slightly different game every time.

Obake - This platformer is patterned after a number of similar games like uh..Kirby. Yeah you play as this ghost that can take the form of any creature wandering the levels. Each creature has their own power and beating the stage as well as finding all of the goodies requires this aspect to be taken full advantage of. It's nothing spectacular but it has its charm. The sound effects for jumps are incredibly bad though.

Castle of the Winds 1 & 2 - I got a lot of play out of these two games when I was much younger. Back then all of my PC gaming was done on a 386 and this game was pretty much the best thing going. It's a rogue-like in that while death is still a constant it's not nearly as final and for the most part it's really difficult to screw yourself or somehow end up in situations where you'll get screwed over no matter what. It's still a quality game despite looking like something that should have died with the late 80s.

Zelda Classic - As far as I'm concerned the original Zelda is still one of the best games ever made and even today I'll get a ton of play out of it. This fan-made version is extremely accurate down to how monsters react when they are hit at certain moments as well as the other mechanics that made Zelda such a unique game. There are also a ton of user-created games based off the engine, though it's likely that I'll never get around to playing them all. Still maybe I could dedicate an entire year to playing these titles or uh..yeah I better just stop right there. I couldn't even stomach a month of Megaman games, how could I possibly survive a year of fan-made Zelda titles?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Started Echo Night Beyond

Admittedly I'm not sure why I thought up this silly three day review, there's no way I'll be able to hold myself to it. Still it's practice I guess and that has to count for something.

Anyway this game is the story of a couple who plan a marriage on the moon. Obviously things don't turn out well and the man wakes up in a facility with his only goal being to find his bride to be. The game runs off of the King's Field engine though instead of fighting lizards and whatnot the player must run away from ghosts. This is basically an adventure game where in order to solve the mysteries of the facility the player must help the recently deceased so they can cease their haunting ways.

Graphically it's a bit dated but while the elements of horror don't have the presentation of Dead Space or any other newer title it still manages to work in its own way, which is in generating the right atmosphere to fit the experience. Still I'm really not sure how I'll ever beat this game in time for a review. These kind of games are best played with the lights out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Couple moe I mean more XBL Indie game reviews

I bought some games, played them, and then reviewed them. Fascinating.

This game I haven't the faintest idea what it's called. It must be Doki Doki Hot Spring Panic or whatever. It's fun though and pretty unique. Read more about it over here.

The other games is called The ADVENTURES of CAPTAIN Becky. Yeah that's how it's supposed to be written. Check it out over here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is so wow

After getting caught up on the Phantasy Star Portable scene with the first release I got everything that I ever cared to know. The storyline is still awful, the characters are completely unlikeable stereotypes, but oh man it's so incredibly addictive. The formula has been all but perfected here as not a minute goes by where there isn't something to look forward to. The titles add achievement-esque goals that lead to unique awards, there all kinds of funky rares to grab no matter how useless they could possibly be, and the grind has been tempered just right so that it isn't nearly as bad as the original Phantasy Star Universe.

For those that haven't played the demo of PSP2 and consider themselves fans of the original there are no excuses. Portable 2 takes it to another level with a completely revamped system. Everyone is capable of blocking, dodge-rolling, and hell even parrying. There's something truly beautiful about blocking a dragon's charge at just the right moment and taking no damage. This leads to a battle system that's several times more engaging and challenging. The AI is also at least functional in this version instead of completely stupid. Sure most people will ignore it since infrastructure is supported now but hey it's a nice bonus for guys like myself who suffer from terrible wireless connections.

Couple all this with a fresh batch of characters that while stereotypical are still several leagues better than boring hero, intergalactic jailbait, large-chested woman who can't cook, and so on and so bleaugh. Sure I imagine most players couldn't care less about all that nonsense but eh well it's there.

Definitely can't wait to pick this up in September.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

XBLA Look - Castlevania : Harmony of Despair

It's been rough for fans of the Castlevania series. Over the years we've seen the franchise make one distinct change that has split the fan-base pretty severely. This year we'll see the fan-base split again with the upcoming release of Lord of Shadows. In a way we were long overdue for a change considering there have been no less than nine games in the Metroidvania saga and about the same to slightly more in the original series. That doesn't excuse absolute pap like Castlevania: Judgment however.

While fans of the olden-styled "get knocked into a pit by a medusa-head" Castlevanias have long since been left to die (aside from the recent and rather good Rebirth game) it seems even the fans of the "phat loot and experience points" Castlevanias have been left bewildered by the latest offering by IGA. Oh sure we still get our phat loot but we have to trade our Metroid-inspired powerups and levelups for completely open-ended levels and multiplayer. As a bonus the amount of original content in this game couldn't fit a thimble. Just what was Konami thinking charging $15 for this?

Well whatever their reasons they got my money and close to forty of my hours. It's certainly not without regret but as a whole I found the game to be quite enjoyable. Maybe it was for all the wrong reasons and I certainly can't give it a substantial recommendation but well...there it is. This is the purest definition of a "love it or hate it" kind of game and even the parts that deserve love take a lot of dedication to get into.

As the story goes Dracula is back and still sucking. This time he doesn't even bother to come up with an excuse for why he's returned and inexplicably a whole bunch of famous Vampire Killers like Alucard, Soma Cruz, Charlotte, Shanoa, Jonathon, and whoever else Konami thinks they can make some DLC money off have arrived from all times and places to put Dracula down once and for all...or maybe they'll just keep killing him until he drops some cool weapon or piece of armor they're looking for. Face it, Dracula, his minions, and saving the world all take a backseat to collecting hundreds of weapons, items, and useless trinkets.

Harmony of Despair is a game about anticipation. We play it because there's always something to look forward to. Every chest, every monster, and every boss can potentially drop something worth picking up. There are only six stages but they're filled with carrots that are divided up among each character. Alucard for example will find lots of swords and other fine weapons to wield but girlie princess boots are out of the question. In order to get everything one has to play as all of the characters and put in I'd say about five to ten hours apiece just to master all of them.

While it's ironic that we spend so much time finding things to kill enemies more quickly that feeling of anticipation is hard to ignore and will most likely be the driving force as to why so many hours will get spent on this game. I myself am an easy target for this sort of thing because traversing the same hallway over and over to kill one enemy for a chance to get one particular drop is actually fun and enthralling. Thankfully the level-design in Despair is at least a step above that.

In fact it's possible that this game has the best level design of any Metroidvania. This is rather surprising considering all of the levels are for the most part jumbled together from previous games. There's more of an effort put into clever enemy placement and while the entirety of the stage is viewable at any time there are still at least some twists and clever ideas to keep things interesting. They're also open-ended to the point where depending on the goal of the player they can either rush for the treasure, go straight to the boss, or just wreck everything without too much of a hassle. I'd expect nothing less however since each stage must be repeated several times if one hopes to collect everything.

To mix things up a bit each level has a gimmick of sorts. The first boss for example will at certain points spit out a giant laser, the second boss will crawl all over the map looking for iron maidens to toss the players into, and so on. They're considered gimmicks in that they are pretty one-dimensional and once figured out they don't pose much of a threat. Still it's a neat idea and creative players can even find ways to take advantage of it(like using Death's scythes for shortcuts in stage 5).

Each of the five characters has something to offer players of all skill levels and preferences. Alucard is pretty standard as he works best with powerful weapons, Charlotte takes a lot of hard work to learn her spells but she's essentially a beast when mastered, Soma is pretty catch-all and his wild collection of souls offer quite a bit of variety, Shanoa and Jonathon are pretty basic in comparison but they hold up well and Shanoa also happens to make a good beginner character. Unfortunately a major issue in this game is the complete lack of balance. It's not unexpected since the prior games weren't exactly balanced, there are 101 ways to break Symphony of the Night after all. Still some truly ridiculous weapons aren't too far out of reach for the likes of Alucard and Soma, making even the hardest sections of the game absolutely trivial. Still there's some sort of strange appeal to this aspect of the game. There are so many weapons and styles of play for each character that even if there's one absolute best method it's still quite a bit of fun trying new ideas and running with certain weapons even if they hardly work at all.

The best advice for any new player in Harmony of Despair is to start off playing solo. Yes while multiplayer is a major selling point of this game it is also a brutal affair for anyone not familiar with the levels and enemies that inhabit them. The difficulty scales in accordance with the number of players and even the most broken Alucard can't expect to carry five players who can't even carry themselves. There is a time limit for each stage and while thirty minutes is far more than enough it disappears very quickly when undead players start getting their bones scattered.

In an interesting twist death in multiplayer Despair is not final. Upon dying the player will become a skeleton whose only abilities are its double jump and that it can throw bones. These guys can't even crouch, they're hopeless. If that wasn't bad enough skeletons also aren't rewarded with treasure. Skeletons die in maybe one or two hits and when that happens a large chunk of time is lost which inevitably lead to all players(even the surviving ones) failing the mission. All is not quite lost as skeletons can regain their human form through a revival potion.

This leads us into the more complicated and several times more fascinating part of the cooperative experience. When playing Harmony of Despair one is bound to run into all kinds of players who operate under all sorts of skill levels. A revival potion can only save one person. Do you give it to the guy who is running headfirst into every enemy, falling into spikes constantly, and just an absolute nuisance? Or do you give it to the guy who has shown quite a bit of skill but just happened to have some bad luck(likely because he was trying to cover for that other guy)? While you're asking yourself this question the game is still going on. I can count the number of times I played with people I actually know on one hand but most of my time was spent with randoms even if more often than not they managed to cost me time and sanity. For best results groups of six should actually be avoided if possible because due to scaling even four good players can be undone by two awful players.

For fans of the Castlevania series this really isn't a truly difficult game. There are a few walls at first(most notably the Puppet Master boss of the second stage) but they can be overcome through practice and/or a more powerful weapon or ability. More often than not however a lot of players will find themselves dragged through the game without so much of an idea of how to dodge an attack and they'll get frustrated when they can't even get through a single stage on the Hard difficulty (which naturally is home to all of the best loot in the game).

There's a list of issues with this game that is almost as big as the boss of stage 3 but I'll try to focus on the most major of them. To start off with the running speed for every character is much too slow. The best way around this is through a piece of equipment called the Winged Boots. To get these boots one has to kill Dracula on the Hard difficulty. These boots don't become available in the shop however. See that sort of stuff is all left up to chance. Maybe you'll get lucky and those boots will drop, or maybe Drac is feeling rather jerkish and leaves you with a piece of meat for your trouble. It's one thing to make absolute best weapons and even the silly laser gun that shoots exploding hearts that do 0 damage* ridiculously rare drops but such a unique item that can change the way the game is played? That's not something that should be left up to chance. In fact a surprising amount of content can be locked away depending on the luck of the player. This can be manipulated somewhat through equipment and certain consumables but the effect isn't particularly dramatic and won't in any way guarantee that one item needed to make a character better.

This was probably done the way it was so that players will make do with what they have and it'll allow for some creative builds. The game wasn't balanced around that however so quite a few players are going to be stuck with garbage while waiting for Dracula or a certain other boss to give them something worth a damn. This creates an almost infinite anticipation-loop that is balanced only by disappointment and all that can be said after getting that one particular bit of loot is "Great! This will make it easier to farm."

This aspect is the ugliest side of Harmony of Despair as once all of the anticipation dries up there's nothing left but a handful of items that require farming in order to attain. Require is probably the wrong word for it but considering there are people out there that have fought Dracula 30+ times in a row in the hopes of acquiring some particular item well what else should one call it? Sure luck plays a factor but some sort of other method for attaining items would have been the perfect way to fix this. The game gives out so much gold but after a certain point there's nothing left to spend it on.

Hard difficulty could also stand to be a little more balanced. Essentially it boils down to everything doing and taking a lot more damage though enemies also tend to attack faster and Dracula gets a couple new tricks. For some characters the jump in challenge isn't too bad but for those who are more gear-dependent it can be a pain to defeat bosses simply because they take so much damage. On the other hand the characters who don't have to rely so much on great weapon-drops have to put in so much of a grind to have any hope of achieving similar results that they're more than likely left for later. Insta-death attacks are also quite a bit more prevalent in the hard difficulty and that's really not much fun, especially when Drac is capable of performing most of them.

So what about becoming really good at the game? Phantasy Star Online offering some impressive rewards for players who managed to best its Challenge Mode so what's stopping this game? I've no idea myself really but it strikes me as a huge missed opportunity. There are leaderboards and replay videos for those standout players but the scoring system revolves around getting through a stage as fast as possible while collecting and destroying everything. This all but guarantees that all non-Soma and Alucard players will never have a chance at hitting #1. Some rule settings or maybe even different leaderboards for different styles of play would have alleviated this somewhat. As it stands however there's really too much blurring of the line between a masterful Castlevania player and a mediocre one who just happens to be dual-wielding the two best weapons in the game.

Which is perhaps the greatest shame since the game has so many rewarding aspects to it for players who think outside the box. For example I'm a huge fan of Soma's ability to throw skulls and then jump off them to reach different places. Those skulls may have been designed to be kicked into enemies but for me it's more about using them to reach areas quickly and more efficiently. Jonathon has a handful of tools available to him for skipping past certain sections and even evading traps that would usually require the assistance of a friend to press a switch.

There's a ton of untapped potential in this game as the concept is rather fresh and a nice change of pace, but it's just not where it should be. More stages and characters will soon be available but Konami expects to charge for them, which will do nothing but segment things ever further. In fact this will only prove to further ruin the balance as some players will have to pay to make their characters better (like say in the new stage Charlotte has some new spells she can absorb, Jonathon finding another subweapon, and so on). It'd probably be different if these expansions were sizable to the point of an additional three stages but currently it's just not going to work out well.

Yet while I have nothing left to look forward to in this game and may never play it again it was still fun. For those who played the previous games on the Game Boy Advance and DS this will be an all too familiar romp but for some like myself who spent countless hours getting every last dumb item in the series Konami crafted a fine way to do it all over again. Sure the fans of the older Castlevanias will laugh themselves to death over why I liked this game but whatevs...loot-collecting is just as legitimate a videogame genre as action.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5
There are a number of good ideas and the concept is very sound. The execution is unfortunately still quite a ways off. I'd say these are the sort of things that could be fixed in a sequel but that's out of the question. More than likely this is a one-time experiment that will be put down when it's too dry to milk. If you've already played the demo and hated it there's really nothing in the full game that'll grab you. Other things like the presentation need serious work as well. As it stands Despair is prone to freezing while searching for games and there tends to be more disconnects than is healthy. I can blame only so much of that on the other players.

My Rating - 4 out of 5
The rating I give this game has more to do with my tastes. When I played the demo I thought something to the effect of "whoo boy look at dat phat loot!" and promptly bought the full game. Sure I might have said a thousand times in the past that this game is a rip-off and Konami can burn in the fires of a thousand hells but principles be damned when I can open a chest and get something new to swing. That's not to say that's all the game has to everything else is pretty competent. It's just for the most part it's nothing we haven't seen before, boss patterns and all. Still it was a good time.

*Heart shooting laser gun doesn't actually exist in this game...I think.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Three day reviews

Starting next week I'm going to attempt something a little different. One of the problems with professional reviews is deadlines. In the race for hits having a review out there at or even before a game's launch is essential. Problem is when reviewers only have anywhere from a week to a couple days to play the game AND write their review there's going to be trouble. Inaccuracies, outright lies, and really just a complete lack of real in-depth critique. Then again that sort of analysis probably isn't a benefit to any of the major sites that have publishers leaning on them every time they talk about a game but at least something could be done about the false information.

Someone like myself wouldn't know anything about that because as you've seen I take my sweet time when it comes to getting reviews out. So by next Wednesday expect to see a review for a game I just started on Monday. To make this at least somewhat interesting I'm going to review games I've never even played before so it'll be almost as if the game had just come out.

I can't promise anything but I'll try to stick to longish games and if I don't beat them I don't beat them, that's just how it goes. This shouldn't affect any other reviews I post here as Monday and Tuesday will be devoted to just that one game, which means two days to play and one to write. I think this will be good practice and hey if nothing else it's at least one review per week.

Next Wednesday look forward to a review of From Software's Echo Night Beyond.

Monday, August 16, 2010

PS2 Look - Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2

Before I go any further I must point out that I did not finish this game. Here the line is drawn because what it comes down to is one question: "Is it me or the game that is at fault?". Unfortunately there are potentially limitless factors as to why I can not continue with a game. Maybe it's a problem with the game where it's too poorly designed or just outright boring, or in my case it's the hundreds of millions of things that could happen -- like death for example, and no I'm not posting this review from beyond the grave -- which would cause me to quit playing.

To start with let's look at the game itself. Devil Summoner 2 follows Raidou, a Devil Summoner who always gets called when demons become involved in matters of the world. He's the silent-type however so an ally in the form of a black cat named Gouto does all of the talking. They work with a detective agency headed by a guy named Narumi. The story involves a mysterious woman, cults, ancient villages on the outskirts, and predictably a lot of things go very wrong. It's up to the player to make things right...or not? As with other games in the SMT franchises, decisions the player makes can shift their allegiance to Good, Neutral, or Evil which affects the ending.

A common theme with the Shin Megami Tensei series is that there are a great many demons and that the player will interact with them in ways that don't involve killing them outright. In Nocturne for example these demons could be recruited to join the player's party and assist in battle. The Persona series has demons giving their cards in order to create Personas, which are the backbone of each party member's ability. For Devil Summoner 2 the system is closer to Nocturne as the player must negotiate with demons to recruit them, so they can offer their services in both battle, exploration, and even investigation.

The world of Devil Summoner is set in the 1920s where apparently all women were called dames, running around aimlessly can waste shoe leather, and it's generally pretty excusable to be suspicious about every little thing. To find out information the player can talk to townspeople and even use demons for arts of persuasion as well as mind-reading. These demons can also be used to blow up special walls, turn the player into different characters, and all matter of other fun things. Each class of demon has their own abilities so it's important to keep a wide variety of them on hand to figure out every little puzzle.

Where there isn't mystery there's likely to be combat. Devil Summoner 2 features actual real-time combat similar to..well.. okay it's not Bayonetta but it's serviceable and quite fun. Raidou is equipped with a sword and a gun as well as the ability to block and perform dodge rolls. Both weapons are pretty self-explanatory but on their own it just isn't enough. The key strategy is in the demons that the player summons. These demons work on their own attacking and using a predetermined skill (if one is set) or the player can issue commands for them to perform. There's only so much MP to go around however and if it's empty the player is all but helpless in battle.

To counter this the player must use these skills to attack the enemy's weakness. This other trademark of the SMT series emphasizes abusing enemy weaknesses to dominate the battle while avoiding the possibility of the enemy responding in kind. When an enemy is weak they are stunned and give up a ton of MP when hit with a physical attack. At this rate the player can continue to expend MP as they replenish it almost instantly. Not everything is weak to something however so it's not as easy as it sounds. In order to survive the player must rely on their natural action-game skills, learn enemy movements, and work with whatever situation they're put into. There are a number of interesting aspects that give the combat in this game a unique quality. As mentioned earlier it's quite possible for the player's demons to have weaknesses. The trick here is that the player can "hide" their demons from battle and only bring them out to use skills. The enemy can't exploit the weaknesses of those they can't touch so with some clever maneuvering the player can cover all fields and the only way they can fail is if their demons aren't up to the task and they just can't work around the active-style of play . Though seriously if you can pick up something as simple as Secret of Mana this is hardly a jump in terms of intensity, everything does hit much harder though. The battle system is easily the best part of this game which is good because in dungeons random encounters are very constant.

The third facet of this game is in demon-building. It's not enough to merely recruit a demon and have it gain some levels. The art of demon-fusion is imperative to success as it allows the player to build much stronger demons than any they may find wandering around. By building loyalty through battle the demons unlock special skills and through some unique techniques and maybe the light of the moon some ridiculously powerful abilities can be unlocked. It's tough work and can become a grind but it is definitely the most addictive aspect of the game as there are over a hundred demons to team up with.

That's about the extent of the game really. There's the story to follow and all but the pattern usually goes something like a mix of investigation and exploration, then it transitions into a mix of exploration, fighting, and fusion. Still it's great at what it does though ultimately it falls on me to explain why I don't consider it worth finishing. Now first off let me say that I put quite a bit of effort into this game as I'm somewhere around half-way through it with over thirty hours logged. All I can really say is that I just couldn't get into the story or characters. They all have their motives which are handled well and expressed clearly but there's nothing there that makes me want to say "Okay I have to protect him!" or "I have to stop her!". I'm just sort of along for the ride and waiting for the next dungeon to enter so I can look forward to fighting and putting some new demons to work.

There's another aspect of this game that tests my patience and it's luck. One of the elements of the story involves luck and this stat affects the player in a number of ways. The unlucky tend to take a lot of unavoidable damage, never receive any cool bonuses, and generally just get pushed around a lot. Luck is gained through building up the stat through levels as well as capturing luck locusts (which require cages and the appropriate bait). Luck is constantly lost however as sometimes the enemy will get the first strike and there's a chance they'll knock a huge chunk of luck away (as well as break the luck-filled cages). In essence I'm being punished for fighting. It's one of the aspects I enjoy the most out of the game and yet after a certain point I have to seek out a healer just because it gets so frustrating losing 3/4ths of my health every time the enemy gets a first strike (which is entirely too often).

To further add to the annoyance factor some enemies will chance a surrender if the fight isn't going their way. Unfortunately this usually turns into the enemy getting some free damage because whether I let them go or continue fighting is irrelevant as they'll call me an idiot either way and score a free hit. These decisions actually extend to the negotiation process as well since whatever answers I come up with seem to be based more on how lucky I am than my ability to say the right thing. At least there's a way around that since demons have their own conversation abilities that make the process trivial for the most part. Still every time I start up the game I can expect to lose all of my luck and eventually become frustrated with even the most random of battles.

Ultimately the biggest strike against this game is that I have the freedom to play something that offers constant rewards for my good luck. This is perhaps the biggest argument that can be made when a game has little more to compel me to play than the promise of better stuff. The seemingly petty issues involving luck suddenly become so much more when there's really nothing else to look forward to. As good as the battle system is it rarely reaches levels that actually take real advantage of it or at least enough to balance the ratio of the easy random encounters. Even the demon-recruitment loses its appeal when so many of the demons share the same qualities, skills, and even voices and mannerisms. It's an incredibly minor thing but the stat-limits on demons means that I can't be Raidou the Devil Summoning Pimp and only be backed by the finest demonic-ass. I guess I could actually but I'd be at a serious disadvantage to Raidou, the Devil Summoner who only rolls with Lucifer and God. To further add to the limiting aspects while the sword can be forged to become more powerful there's nothing in the way of different types of weapons aside from possibly a different special attack or some additional skills. Again it's a minor thing but when I can look to another game that scratches that particular itch why continue?

So in the end Devil Summoner 2 really isn't bad at all and while it catered to my interests and taste for awhile it did little to keep me playing in lieu of other games which better at appealing to the sort of things I get into when playing a game. Fans of the first game obviously shouldn't miss this and SMT fans in general will find a lot to like here. So I guess all I can really say here is that isn't the game, it's me.

Game Rating - 3.5 out of 5 stars
There isn't much if any flaws as far as I can tell. Then again I only got so far so maybe there's something further on that truly sets the game on another level or throws out a twist or game design aspect that's so terrible it completely ruins the game. So I guess the best I can do is play it safe.

My Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars
Yeah I really can't say I loved this game. I appreciate what it brings to the table and all but it's probably something I could have just as easily ignored this one entirely and been pretty well off. At least I'd have had some additional hours to play other games. While I don't believe directly comparing one game to another does either game any favors comparing one game to something nebulous like "other games" seems suitable, at least in regards to this game. Maybe it was just bad luck that this game got into the hands of the wrong person.

Well at least I got a pretty sweet plushie. I'll definitely be holding onto it.

Oh what a shock. More PSP game purchases.

Is it so wrong to take advantage of the best time to buy a PSP? The prices of these games are crazy cheap.

Half Minute Hero - In thirty seconds one man can save the world. Yeah I dunno how exactly that works out but this game is certainly different. It's got the retro-style and the goal of each level is to figure out the RPG trope to reach the boss(downed bridge? rock blocking passage? etc) all the while dealing with random battles, gathering loot, and gaining levels....in thirty seconds or more. It's kind of fun.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth - One of my favorite RPGs of the PSX era...well except for that process to get the best ending. It's either paying $12 for this and dealing with the issues like slowdown and whatnot or paying a million dollars for the original version.

The Legend of Heroes - Ys 7 hits tomorrow so I gotta bone up on my Falcom. Actually this game was $6 and I'm a sucker for bargain-bin titles.

Gunpey - One of the last works of the brilliant Gunpei Yokoi (Metroid, Game Boy, etc) is a puzzle game where lines must be manipulated to reach both ends of the play-field. It shares a trait with Lumines in that every few minutes a skin w/ music to match covers the surroundings of the screen. It's addictive like any good puzzler and the presentation is quite appealing.

Oh and I guess I'm buying Ys 7 tomorrow. Goodness I think I need to sell some stuff and/or quit a few jobs if I'm going to make time for all these games.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Oops bought a couple more games

You knew this was going to happen. Sure I might have gotten ten games with my recent PSP purchase but that's not nearly enough.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona - Yep the one that started it all. This was my first foray into the SMT series way way back when it came out on the Playstation 1. Something about the modern day approach and fighting as well as talking to demons while wandering the city streets really struck something with me. Unfortunately I could never get into the newer games(Persona 3 & 4 to be exact) due to the schedule system and a bunch of other stuff that just didn't interest me. Aside from that Persona 3 gave me nightmares. Now I'm guaranteed to have at least one bad dream a month where I find myself back in college.

Phantasy Star Portable - While the Universe edition of this series left a bad taste in my mouth I couldn't say no or even maybe to the features announced for the upcoming Phantasy Star Portable 2. I decided to snag this since for over half the price I can get a good taste of what to expect and get some practice in.

Friday, August 13, 2010


In the interest of time and sanity this post will be the new home for games that I don't want to play anymore and am not interested in reviewing. If your favorite game ends up here feel free to say something that will get ignored.

Dark Messiah Might & Magic: Elements - I forget exactly why I quit but I think it had to do something with getting caught stealing = game over. If I'm the savior of the Earth I should be able to do whatever I want. If the guards don't like it they can fight me. Otherwise I guess I just got bored of kicking people off of cliffs, into spikes, and so on.

Fighter Maker 2 - Why did I buy this again? In the time it takes for me to make one move in this game I could probably have played through a dozen arcade games.

Urban Chaos: Riot Response - This game has awful graphics and a pitiful framerate but I do like how there are so many unlockables. Then again if somebody broke into my computer and made me unlock all of my programs I'd probably like it.

Transformers (PS2) - This is one of those licensed games that is actually not terrible, but I really don't have anymore interest in playing now that I just ordered War for Cybertron for $20 off of Amazon.

Venetica (360 version) - Here's something that I really don't want to see. This game is in fact...broken. I was willing to tolerate the hilariously awkward cutscenes and dialogue as well as the shallow combat and terrible framerate. I just love RPGs that much sometimes and all sense is thrown out the window. This game however does the unforgivable and slips in a few major bugs that have caused me to lose progress as well as ruin saves. For example I help a guy find some paddles so he'll give me a ride on his boat. I take a boat ride to some nearby shore and save the game. Upon loading the save the guy who gave me the ride has disappeared and I'm stuck on the shore with no way to leave. Somehow I doubt I'll be able to get a full refund for this broken game...what a waste of money.

Dynasty Warriors GUNDAM - I love the Dynasty Warriors series. I love Omega Force games in general, and I'm totally planning on getting Trinity Zell or Zillo or whatever it wants to call itself. This game however feels like a dated throwback to Dynasty Warriors 3 or even 2 only without the charm. The move-sets feel really limited, there are a lot of clones, and the grind is just unbearable. If the equipment I won in battle could be shared with every mecha things would be a lot different. Instead each piece of equipment is exclusive to the mecha that found it so I have to start from square one every time I pick a new character. The painful level-design, the slow-moving mechas, and the bosses that have entirely too much HP just drag this game down. I might give the sequel a shot since Warrior games tend to improve with each subsequent iteration(Dynasty Warriors 6 being an exception).

DJ MAX Fever - Now I'm well aware that a handful of hardcore DJ MAX fans will grumble to themselves: "He should have imported the good editions or bought the latest sequel." That's great and all but you know what? It's not going to effect my opinion of the game. The presentation is great, the songs are good, it's very playable, but...I'm not a robot. Until I get those cybernetic implants I keep asking for my eyes & fingers are just no match for the absolutely insane level of ability required to play this game. All it turns into usually is that I just mash buttons while I jam along. Sometimes I get a huge combo, sometimes I screw it up, the entire time I just don't care. It's not my thing so I'll just leave it at that.

The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion - Classic RPG Game-play! Over 50 hours of Adventure! Unique Pet System! Wow! Falcom is a good developer and I love their Ys series but this game is just pathetic. I'm the kind of guy who could probably sit down with any dumb RPG and kill hours and brain cells in equal amounts but this game just doesn't get there at all. It reminds of that old Genesis game Traysia, an RPG so boring even frame-skip can't save it. The only real highlight is a comically inept translation by Bandai. It's probably one of the worst I've ever read since the SNES era. It's good for a laugh but certainly not fifty hours good.

Lumines/Gunpey (PSP) - Alright I know I know it's pretty much impossible for me to say that either of these games suck. Fine...they don't suck...doesn't mean I can't hate them. Lumines isn't bad except its feature-set has been trounced several times over by the many updates the series has received. Gun-pey rolls with the same concept as Lumines but the execution is absolutely borked. Either the songs are too long or the stages take forever to change but when it takes thirty or so minutes to get through a few songs that means the pacing is absolutely shameful. Sure they're both addictive and all but they're "falling block" puzzlers, that's their job. Just grab a newer version of Lumines and pray that somebody gets the bright idea to release a fixed Gunpey with a better implemented system for unlocking new skins and music.

LittleBIGPlanet (PSP) - I can't really knock this game too much because I didn't pay for it. It was part of the game bundle I received when I bought the PSP. Thing about LBP on the PSP is that it served its purpose well, it gave me just enough of a reason to grab the PS3 version. Well congrats to Sony for that one because I love the PS3 version of LBP. Unfortunately while this edition of LBP has exclusive content it is lacking multiplayer, which to me is one of the best parts of the PS3 version. All things considered it is a solid-port but ehhh...no thanks.

The Dark Spire - How old-school is too old-school? This love letter to the days of classic Wizardry has its heart in the right place but when Dark Spire can't even reach the level of games that were made 20 or so years ago there's little reason to consider playing it. This game also had the misfortune of being bought at the same time as Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land which is a fresh and excellent take on the genre. Oh well at least Spire has some decent music.

Devil May Cry - I've tried more than enough times to play this game again but wow thanks to the likes of more recent action games like Bayonetta and so on this title may as well be unplayable to me. I understand a number of people still consider this a classic but ehh..nope..I can't stand it.

Seven Samurai 20XX - I've put about an hour into this game and it's just awful and dull. A re-telling of the Seven Samurai story with cyborgs and demon werewolves should have been cool but the combat is so repetitive, bland, and constant that it simply buries any quality that this game has. This is little more than a complete waste of $7.

Resistance: Fall of Man - Really this just isn't an exciting game. Maybe if this game had some sort of hook or heck even a gimmick beyond shooting human-like aliens with futuristic weapons I would have stuck with it. Unfortunately this one just comes off as terribly mediocre and unoriginal.

Genji: Days of the Blade - This game failed the fifteen minute test. For those of you out there who aren't me the fifteen minute test is used to look out for anything that could be considered horrendous game design in the earliest stages of the game. The assumption is that if the game can't keep from showing its seams at that point then it will most certainly fall apart towards the end. Surprisingly only a handful of games have failed this test and this game is one of them.

To explain early on the player must climb onto a roof-top to dispatch some archers. After jumping from a pedestal to a spot where the roof can be hung on to the camera switches angles and if I'm still holding the analog stick in the direction I used to grab the edge I end up letting go and falling to the ground instead of climbing up. To add to this even the games that fail this test tend to offer something that compels me to keep going. This game doesn't.

New Zealand Story Revolution - A remake/sequel of the New Zealand Story seemed like a good enough idea. The original game was one of those Taito Arcade Classics that had its fair share of fans. This game is much the same except with additional features and abilities like Dual-screen support, a double jump, a health meter, and so on. It all seems good enough but none of the additions work out in any way and the entire game still ends up being as frustrating as the original. As a bonus the DS version features stages where I have to locate missing objects using both of the screens. This shoehorned garbage is just sad.

Winback - I gotta say the mechanics for this game are something else. The player character as well as almost all of the enemies are invulnerable to damage for a few seconds after taking a hit. This is rather surprising considering this is a third-person shooter. Unfortunately it doesn't make the game fun in the slightest as most of the time I end up trapped and helpless as enemies run away and hide until I lose my invulnerability before finishing me off. Tacking on a convoluted control scheme with very stiff movement adds quite a bit to the frustration as well. I'm sorry I paid $3 for this. I'm really truly sorry I spent more than an hour on this.

Tekken 6 - Nearly all of the time I spent on this game was in the story mode. Yes that horrific mode which fancies itself a beatemup but knows nothing of strong mechanics, good controls, and exceptional level design that makes beatemups worth playing. Still I have to consider that it has highlighted a weakness when it comes to what appeals to me in videogames: Random loot. I'm especially vulnerable to phat loot and I fear that it may make me think good things about bad games or games I should otherwise hate for all of the lousy decisions that are made. I will definitely have to consider this for future game reviews. I also have another weakness and that is playing dress-up and customization. One day game developers will make nothing but games with phat loot that allows me to customize everything and I'll be forced to retire from videogame criticism.

Folklore - Another vice of mine is grinding. Yes of course I'm talking about the kind where you do repetitive actions to gain experience and/or loot. Folklore falls in line with this as aside from the story and the puzzle-laden bosses there's really not a whole lot in the game. The whimsical art direction and interesting characters can only hide so much of the boring level design and finicky combat. Also while I understand and even appreciate the two-character approach to the storyline there really could have been a better way to tell the entire story than to have both characters play through pretty much the same areas. Oh sure both characters have their own monsters to collect but that eventually just turns into more grinding to bring them up to parity. Oh and for the love of everything who do I have to stab to get a patch that'll do away with the Sixaxis controls?

If I were to give "objective" ratings to these games well I dunno they could be rated 0 to 100 stars for all I care but as far as my rating goes they're all ZEROS.

I'm sure there will be more games posted here. So look forward to that if you like.

Well then. PSP arrived today

First of all big ups to the seller on ebay I got this from. What a great guy.

Anyway here's all the games that came with it.

God of War: Chains of Olympus - Considering my feelings on the first two games I dunno if I'll ever get around to playing this but hey trade-in fodder is good too right?

Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play - This set seems a bit superfluous when I already own the first two Treasure sets on the PS2 but hey whatevs.

Loco Roco 2 - Never played the original and I haven't the faintest idea what it's about it but again hey whatevs.

Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded - Finally! Mercs and 1943 Kai wherever I want!

Spiderman: Web of Shadows - Another one of those titles I have no idea about. Oh well.

Lumines - Yep the original. Most of my experience is with the XBLA version but this one is good too. The music and presentation seem a bit better at least.

Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters - Up Your Arsenal? Crack in Time? Quest for Booty? Going Commando? I can't believe a videogame series exists in which I hate every single one of its subtitles.

Secret Agent Clank - Well at least there isn't a subtitle involving a joke about butts and/or penises.

Sega Genesis Collection - I already have Sonic's Ultimate Genesis collection but oh well this is cool too. Sword of Vermillion all over the world!(That is if I ever went anywhere beyond Central Florida)

LittleBigPlanet - Not too bad so far. I probably could have just grabbed the PS3 version for a song but for a package deal it ain't bad at all.

So at least as far as I'm concerned like a lot of my favorite games this collection is one of those "whole that is greater than the sum of its parts" dealie. Still I'll get around to a number of these eventually and there are still all of the PSP games I've been missing out.

The analog nub still makes my left thumb sore though. Sheesh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Status Update

Seems I've been away for awhile. This time the blame can be placed on Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. However after over thirty hours of play in less than a week I can probably say that I'm done with it...until some DLC hits.

I'm going to make an attempt at finishing the last handful of titles I have for the Nintendo DS cause I plan on selling it. It's definitely not a knock on the system in the slightest but currently there's just nothing on it that I'm interested in. I should also point out that I just purchased a PSP so eh whatevs.

Other than that I don't have much of an idea of what I'm doing next. I am playing Yakuza 3 and a few other games at the moment but in terms of content for this blog well I dunno. I guess I should write a Harmony of Despair review shouldn't I? I certainly spent more than enough time on it.

Oh yeah beat Batman: AA as well. Definitely looking forward to the upcoming sequel even if it is over a year away.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

X360 Look - Timeshift

There's a lot of things I should be saying about Timeshift. I should be talking about how derivative it is, how there's nobody playing it online anymore, and that..well..it's a bargain-bin title. This is one of those games that got ignored when it came out. Maybe there was a good reason for that. The scores from every major review site tell the same story, "Timeshift is somewhere between a five and an eight so you're better off waiting for a nine or a ten". Nowadays our standards have grown so we expect better, which means that Timeshift is already gone and forgotten about.

Thus it's difficult for me not to question myself when I admit that I really enjoyed this game. What does that say about my standards? I'd like to think I'm a pretty critical person when it comes to games but what about first-person-shooters? I don't play very many of them and I don't appreciate some of the best received titles in the genre. So where does that leave me? Maybe one day I'll be gone and forgotten when everyone believes that I have no idea what I'm talking about. It'll be me and Timeshift living together in some paradoxical anomaly nobody would dare to speak about. Well that's just fine if that's the case because I have no idea what a paradoxical anomaly is and it sounds kind of cool.

Timeshift follows the story of a man with no identity who gets a really cool suit and the ability to use time to his advantage. There's a handful of cutscenes explaining some story about a dictator and the hero's girlfriend but none of that's important. Most of the time the player will be part of a resistance movement to take down this evil dictator. There are some light puzzle elements that have easy solutions, an extended sequence that involves driving a vehicle around, and a handful of vehicles that must be destroyed to progress. It's standard stuff and I guess that sort of thing would be inexcusable in our mad dash for innovation in story-telling and direction.

All of this rendered irrelevant when the player steps foot on the battlefield. It's the typical one against many affair but it looks like the hero has all of the advantages. The biggest one is the hero's suit. Basically what it boils down to is that the player can slow down or even stop time whenever they feel like it. They're unaffected by the happenings of the world around them so if that means blasting everyone while they stand around impotently well that's what's going to happen. This power is regulated by a meter that drains and refills with time. Each section of the game is basically a different combination of enemies, environmental hazards like exploding barrels, and whatever weapons the player happens to be lugging around.

This simple yet effective model is further augmented by the player's arsenal. There are a variety of weapons to use and while they're all pretty traditional they offer a lot of options. If the player enjoys long-range they'll find a sniper rifle and a crossbow that fires exploding bolts to aid them while those that prefer getting up close will like the flame-thrower and shotgun. It's the kind of stuff that's been seen before but one also has to take into account the player's ability to control time. If anything this makes the player even more effective in whatever kind of shooter they like to play. It's a perfectly rational idea to stop time, hit five enemy soldiers with cross-bow bolts, and watch them all explode at the same time.

No doubt about it the timeshifting is what makes this game work. It allows for a lot of different ways of going through each encounter and the weapons are all satisfying to use as the enemy responds appropriately to every shot (as in they split to pieces real good). It's pure fun and offers the kind of experience that one should have gotten from those Matrix games that came out in the past. I really have to wonder what could have been if Timeshift allowed for a robust melee-combat engine. Some other games have used the slow-motion model before but it's just not as fun to me when the player is slowed down as well.

Ultimately however it's not all great. The puzzle sections are amusing at first as they involve slowing, stopping, or even reversing time to solve. They're pretty numerous and ultimately wearisome after awhile. It's a nice break from fighting or so I assume, I'd rather just shoot people all day but oh well. The final encounter is a bit lacking as well since rather than fight a guy that's potentially on the level of the main character it's just a destroying a very large vehicle.

Still while the conclusion isn't satisfying I can honestly say that I enjoyed this game the entire way through. There's really not a single moment that threatened to grind my progress to a halt or force me to repeat certain sections again and again just because I didn't have it quite right. Furthermore unlike a number of other shooters there's not a bunch of lousy hidden pick-ups to find. There are no dog-tags, hidden intel cases, or anything that'll cause me to lose focus of the mission. Really though this game is good enough as it is even if it's just making people explode in slow-motion. Maybe you won't feel the same way, at least you'll only be out a few dollars.

Game Rating - 4.0 out of 5 stars
The multiplayer is pretty barren but I didn't take that into account while playing this game. It's probably better this way since I have more than enough fun in the campaign mode. Still though I'd trade the weaker elements like the repetitive puzzles and boring finale for maybe some new types of enemies and perhaps a handful of new weapons. As it is however it's very solid and totally worthwhile.

My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
Like I said I really enjoy this game. The havok physics are pretty dated but I think that adds to the fun as sometimes I'll crush a soldier into a wall with a stolen quad and his body will spaz out. Sometimes people just have a habit of flying up into the air when shot while being frozen in time. I don't care if that's supposed to make sense I just love it.

X360 Indie look - ???????

Well I played another game so why not review it?
I have no idea what it's called and the game probably isn't worth playing or even reading about but whatevs a review is a review.

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