Thursday, December 27, 2007

Metapost: I'm still alive... again

I know... I know!

It says "every weekday" right up there, and yet I've barely done a half dozen posts this month. Chalk it up to extra paying work, holiday travel/socializing and more time spent with games that last significantly longer than an hour (Rock Band rocks my world).

Rest assured, though, that I am not dead, and neither is the Games For Lunch project. In fact, there ware some big plans in the works for this entire enterprise that should be coming to fruition next week. Watch this space for more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Milon's Secret Castle

Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 1988
Systems: NES, Wii Virtual Console (reviewed)
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Frustrating platforming puzzling at it's finest least fine.

0:01 So I'm bending my own rule a little here because I have played this game before, during a short rental back in 1989. Since that was about 18 years ago, I feel like I can play it again today with fresh eyes. The title screen shows the top of a castle and a blue sky background. GAME START!

0:02 Running along outside the castle, there are three doors I can go in. If I lolly-gag too long bolts of lightnings start following me.

0:03 Controls are simple enough. A jumps, B shoots little bubbles that go forward and up slightly, (or down slightly if you hold the down button). Walk long enough in one direction and you start running, which makes your jump farther.

0:04 I get hit by one enemy four times in rapid succession and it's game over. What the hell! I know games were harder back then, but DAMN!

0:05 Starting over, I kill an enemy and he turns into an umbrella that floats away before I can grab it. Now that's good design. Also, shooting random bricks turns them into money signs. I've got $10 so far. This must have seemed impressive when I was eight, now it seems kind of laughably small.

0:06 Whoo. I find an energy-restoring/expanding item hidden in a block! Good thing too, 'cause I was down to one health unit again. I like the little "doot-dootle-doo" music that goes with it.

0:08 So I've got a key and $16, but I can't buy my way out of this room. HELP!

0:09 Hmm... apparently shooting a bubble in JUST the right spot in the upper right corner uncovers a door out. Intuitive! Back outside, I try door No. 2. It's a shop. I buy some sort of potion for $5. "Shrink when you touch the glove." What? I also get some free hints. "Find a saw" and "Crystal has Mysterious Powers." Words to live by if I ever heard them.

0:11 This time I got the umbrella! I have no idea what it did, but still, I got it!

0:12 This room has a lot of climbing. I can't make the apparent jump, but I can destroy a portion of the upper wall and jump through it. I think this is where I always got stuck as a kid.

0:15 So I find some holes in a staircase, but I can't get to the money hidden within. Suddenly, I'm dead, hit by the same monster about five times in rapid succession. Whoever made this game never heard of temporary invincibility? Oh well... time to start over... AGAIN!

0:16 I find a Hudson bee that gives me a bubble shield! Woohoo!

0:17 Things are going a bit faster now that I know what I'm doing. I find the key and get out of room No. 2. OK... now what.

0:19 This game is a travesty of design. There's absolutely no indication of what you're supposed to do or where secrets might be hidden. It's just guess and check fest. Ugh.

0:21 Wow... that's tricky. The only way to advance involves jumping, turning midair, hitting some bricks with bubbles, then jumping into the small gap you made, then doing it all over again. No wonder I got stuck as an eight-year-old.

0:23 Upon further exploration, all that trick did was get me access to a dollar. Whoo?

0:25 I keep accidentally going out through the door out of the room as I explore. Why yes, that is annoying, thank you for asking.

0:26 Still no freaking clue what these umbrellas do. Nor do I know how to use that potion I bought. On the plus side, I've destroyed this same green dragon thing about 50 times now.

0:27 I've hollowed out a good portion of this stairway, but still nothing I can get to. Annoyingly, the blocks only seems to disappear if you hit them JUST RIGHT, so I'm never quite sure if I missed something or not.

0:30 I reached a new platform! By running down the stairs and jumping just right, I've now gotten a bit higher. Yes, this is an achievement in this game. Unfortunately, I'm still equally stuck. Just higher.

0:31 Dead again. I've been playing for 15 minutes since my last restart, but I've probably lost only five minutes of "progress."

0:32 I believe I may kill myself if I have to listen to this calliope music anymore. Dah, dah dah, dah dah dah DAH dah.

0:35 Back to exactly the point where I was stuck. Yup, five minutes.

0:36 Desperate, I turn to the on-screen "operations guide" to see if I'm missing something obvious. If I find a crystal ball, I can continue by holding left when I press start. Again, intuitive!

0:37 "Be sure to search everywhere!" Thanks instructions. What do you think I've been doing?!

0:38 The parasol increases your rate of fire! There! Now I'll be able to sleep tonight. Also, the medicine I get makes Milon small when touched by "Bog (the green glove)." Uh huh... so where do I find that exactly?

0:40 I see something that looks kind of like a green glove just out of reach at the top of the right side of the screen. There's got to be a way up there, right? It just stands to reason.

0:45 I think I have now shot a bubble at literally every square inch of this room, and turned up nothing.

0:47 I go back to the shop. "FIND A SAW" IS NOT A HINT!

0:49 This music is going to haunt my dreams all week.

0:52 I have no more words. Part of me wants to use a guide for help, but a larger part of me doesn't want to give this game the satisfaction. I've played my fair share of games, and I feel if I need a guide within the first hour, it's the game's fault, not mine. I bet Milon veterans are laughing at me right now for missing something, but I don't care... this should not be this hard!

0:55 I'm beginning to think that maybe this game shipped with a fatal bug that makes the second room impossible to pass. Is this the "Secret" of Milon's Secret Castle? This idea seems more and more credible the more I play.

0:56 Not that anyone cares but I died again.

1:01 Has it been an hour already? Sorry, lost track of my sanity the time.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? If I wanted to be trapped in a room all day I'd commit a crime and go to prison.

This review based on a Virtual Console gift copy given to me as a joke by my friend Bruce. No, really.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Killer 7

Developer: Grasshopper
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: July 7, 2005
Systems: GameCube (reviewed), PS2
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Cel-shaded carnage.

0:01 "This game contains mature subject matter and graphic violence." Now there's an understatement. Someone is shooting at the Capcom and Grasshopper logos. Seems a bit gratuitous, as does the maniacal laughter as I choose "options."

0:02 Difficulty options are "Normal" and "Deadly." Whatever happened to "Easy?" I guess Normal is the new Easy. "Target:00 Angel" is the first chapter.

0:03 A laser pointer target hovers on a black silhouette. I can move the target around. A head shot turns the silhouette into some bloody kanji. Trippy.

0:04 The moon is beating in time to music. Was that the loading screen? Now a white-suited guy (Garcian Smith, as the credits call him) walks down an urban tableau. He has a tense moment passing a guy named Christopher Mills. There's no music, and stark black and white backgrounds with some blue gradients. Very stylish... like a movie intro. I like it.

0:05 Garcian gets a call about his mission. "May the lord smile." "And the devil have mercy." Smooth. My first task is "A free-for-all fight in the multipurpose Celtic building." A lot of this seems to lose something in the translation.

0:06 "Do you wish to learn the controls?" YES! Weird... the control stick doesn't control movement. The A button runs, and B changes direction (there are only two ways to go). Hold R to enter shooting mode. Somehow it works ... the system is very streamlined and promotes smooth, continuous motion. The low to the ground camera is very nice.

0:09 Cut scene time again. I'm on a surveillance camera when I (as Garcian) somehow change into a lanky white guy. "You don't want to go any further... My friends were all murdered" says a passing crazy person. Dan Smith (me): "Shit, there's more than 14. Those bastards are breeding." I'm so confused.

0:10 A gimp-like guy clad head to toe in red leather is my servant, apparently. His name is Iwazaru and he tells me where to find my room. "Let the bloodbath begin... in the name of Harman." What?

0:11 OK, apparently I'm Harman because my room is called "Harman's room." On the TV I can pick out personalities and try them on like clothes. There's Garcian, and Dan Smith, and a woman named Kaede Smith, and a whole bunch of others, some of whom are locked out currently. Weird.

0:13 I come to Iwazaru again. He has a bunch of info. about all sorts of game-related stuff. "About multiple personalities: They're not just normal multiple personalities ...[they're] multiple personalities, but with multiple bodies." So, uh multiple distinct people then?

0:17 Iwazaru's voice is incredibly unsettling, like he's whispering through a voice-changed. It's kind of grating, and the subtitles go by very slowly.

0:19 "The blood in the beaker is pure. Give it to the doctor in the television." In any other game that would be by far the weirdest line. In here it's one of the sanest.

0:20 OK, I could probably sit here reading about esoterica for another 10 minutes, but let's get back to the real game.

0:21 As I run down the hallway, Iwazaru suggests I turn back, because the enemies will "bomb rush" me. And they do. I can barely see the transparent things. Am I missing something?

0:23 I run into Travis, sitting in an open elevator. He speaks in a freaky, breathy whisper. "I'm the killer who got killed on the job ... you think I'm a real pain in the ass don't you... I ain't letting you go nowhere." Oh come on, just get out of the way. Or at least let me shoot you. Freaking ghost.

0:25 Iwazaru: "This guy is a true freak." Yeah, like you're one to talk, you gimp.

0:26 My first real battle, with a freaky looking something called "Camellia Smile." She goes down in three shots... running away all the while. Lots of blood everywhere. Then I run into an invisible wall. What do I do now? Guess I'll backtrack a bit.

0:30 At the halfway mark for the hour and I'm totally at a loss for what to do. Part of me is really intrigued by the presentation, another part of me is really peeved at being thrown in with so little guidance as to what the hell's going on. Give and take, I guess.

0:33 Back to my room to get more info. from Iwazaru, since I can't figure out what else to do. So according to Iwazaru, the Camellia Smile thing I killed might have been a traitor that wanted to defect to my side. NOW he tells me. Maybe this would've been nice to know earlier?

0:34 "Decadent murder makes the blood boil." Does Jack Thompson know about this game? "It's a world of sin. Have you met the sinner." Creeeepy.

0:37 Still stuck. My best clue is that I hear someone laughing when I go in the parking lot, but it's no one I can see.

0:39 In my pause menu, there's a memo that says "pigeon." When I choose it, there's a pigeon against a striped background. Wow. Just when you think this game can't get weirder.

0:44 So apparently I was supposed to use L to scan for enemies at that wall I was stuck at. This reveals a hanging monster that occasionally drops eggs with enemies. Part of me is mad at myself for not realizing this (it was part of the control tutorial, but I thought it was an optional part). Part of me is mad at the game for not telling me explicitly what to do when I got stuck. Have I gotten too coddled by games that lead me by the hand early on?

0:46 Apparently, scanning for enemies makes the transparent things suicide bombers apparent and killable. The game suddenly makes a bit more sense (but just a bit).

0:47 After taking out it's shambling spawn, I shoot the hanging thing in its shiny weakpoint. It explodes in a shower of white light. Whee!

0:49 Travis (now in the parking lot) tells me how the egg-laying Duplicator I just killed "pumped out the countless duplicates that took this country down." He gives me a "soul shell" bullet to take down the queen "gatekeeper." That's all well and good, but where do I go next?

0:51 Despite helping me in the parking garage, Travis is still in the elevator. And he STILL won't move to let me pass. Sigh.

0:52 So now, for no apparent reason, I have the option to go down a part of the hallway that I couldn't before. I've heard of linear game design, but this is a bit much.

0:54 A guy in a hooded sweatshirt gets blown to pieces by one of the transparent suicide bombers in a somewhat gratuitous cut scene.

0:59 After dying a few times to shambling suicide ghosts, I realize I'm way too tired to aim well. I'll come back when I'm less beat and less freaked out.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? It's incredibly unique and intriguing. I feel I've barely scratched the surface of an impressive, if badly translated, world.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck


Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Just Watch This

0:01 An extremely tinny, Looney Tunes-style musical number plays over the title screen. "Well look who's back. You sure took your sweet time getting here. Let's get started!" says Daffy. But... this is my first time playing. That's what happens when you rent from Gamefly, I guess.

0:02 Daffy talks about what type of game it should be. A "strategy quest game"? A "3D games with lots of polygons"? Or maybe one of those mind improvement games. Before I can type this up and react, he's asleep against the stark white background again. Oh well... waiting...

0:03 Tapping Daffy makes him react with some jumpy animation. Eventually, he tells me to "Knock it off, screwball" and brings out some cans of paint. I choose the red bucket, and he becomes a cowboy, complete with desert background. I draw the worst horse ever imagined and he jumps on and bounces towards town.

0:04 Daffy spouts a bunch of Western catch phrases in a saloon and gets ignored. Then he says "Anyone for tennis" and gets corralled into a card game. O...K. The pause menu tells me to deal the cards correctly before time runs out. This involves tapping the deck and slinging the card to whichever of the two players is pictured on the card. Pretty easy.

0:06 Now there's three players and three sections to deal to. This is kind of fun, if a little simple.

0:07 Five levels of this repetitive cruft and we're done. "Tough room," Daffy says as he dumps bullets out of his hat. Back to the stark white background... Daffy's temperature goes up, as shown via a giant cartoon thermometer. Now there's a light slider at the top of the screen. Daffy complains when I turn out the lights, but not much.

0:09 He complains more when I turn the lights real bright. This unlocks a new mini-game... Daffy holds a candle and I have to blow it out before he reaches the top of the stairs. Then he holds TNT and I have to... not do anything. Gripping! This whole concept was done better in WarioWare: Touched.

0:11 Five levels of this crap... most of them just involve watching Daffy and DOING NOTHING as he carries TNT. In level five I have to blow softly to slow him down. Yeah...that makes sense. The slight load time between animations really takes away from the whole thing. Bleh.

0:12 "I wonder whose idea it was to put two screens on this thing. That's using the old coconut." Yay self-referential humor.

0:14 I choose yellow paint this time... Daffy become Robin Hood! He's gonna steal the gold and "return it to the less fortunate... namely me." Heh.

0:15 Another freaking blowing game? This time I have to blow to keep Daffy up as he flies through the air like an arrow. First time out I blow too hard and he hits the top of the screen and falls down. Er, what?

0:16 Second try, I go over the king I was aiming for. It's hard to watch the screen when you have to put your face right up to it to blow. It hurts my eyes. Also, I'm getting spittle all over the screens.

0:17 Three failures and Daffy's temperature goes down. "So what's next on the menu." Maybe something that doesn't hurt my eyes so much?

0:18 Heh. Daffy starts blabbing egotistically about his central role in the game, when a volume knob appears. I turn off his speechifying and he drags out a typewriter to formally request his voice back. Then I get to record something... Wait, was that a mini-game? There was no game there...

0:19 So apparently if I click the light bulbs during Daffy's "What Type of Game" speech (see 0:02 above) I can get new mini-games. The adventure quest is "Diamond Mine! Mine!," a pixelated "low-rent game from the 70s" as Daffy puts it. Shades of Adventure on the 2600. I have to guide the diamond away from Daffy using the stylus.

0:22 I feel really stupid but I can't figure out how to get the diamond by a brick wall. Daffy says I stink, but that's why he loves playing games with me. Gee... thanks.

0:25 After playing around in the options, I choose blue paint this time. Duck Dodgers! My favorite cartoon ever! "That was some of my best work you know." I do, I do!

0:28 This is quite the weird game. I have to make a path for the electricity using green arrows, then crank this tiny crank to get the juice flowing, then pull a switch to transport Daffy so Marvin can incinerate him. It's a bit hard to figure out, even with instructions, thanks to the unfriendly interface. Also, the crank is VERY hard to turn in super-small circles.

0:31 The later Duck Dodger levels get a little interesting, with stuff in the way, but still kind of confusing. When I win, Daffy says "You're disgustable" What! Doesn't he mean "You're despicable!"? Someone dropped the ball there.

0:34 "How is it that I can look so good after so many years, you may ask. Can you keep a secret? Well so can I" The writing ain't half bad.

0:35 I'm not sure how, but by tapping around I somehow activate a game where I have to cut Daffy in half, creating multiple, smaller Daffys, until they finally disintegrate into nothingness. Surreal.

0:37 This has some potential for fun, but the cutting controls are so imprecise and hard to use that it becomes more of a chore. Ugh.

0:41 After failing quite a few times, I finally manage to win by tapping ans slashing like a madman. Overall: Frustrating.

0:42 I try the Adventure clone again and figure out that I can destroy the brick walls with a few taps of the stylus. Me = idiot.

0:45 This Adventure game is actually kind of fun now that I know what I'm doing. But Daffy is so slow that it isn't really challenging. Hopefully there's a master quest later or something.

0:46 So I somehow unlock the recording mini-game again. I have no idea why it's even a game. You record your voice and then... you win? What?

0:50 I tear a hole in the background and then, apropos of nothing, Daffy demands I draw him a new body. I draw him a big green bulbous thing just in time for a tortoise and hare style hurdle race. Wait... that was a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There weren't enough Daffy moments to swipe from?

0:52 This is actually a lot easier if I turn the DS sideways, like a book. Up and down swipes are a lot easier than left to right, for me. I win all five races easily, despite some tough, unresponsive controls.

0:56 "I should be one of those new-fangled 3D characters. That's where the money is." Heh. 3D Daffy has like ten polygons total. "This is next-gen?" Heh x 2.

0:58 I fail Level 1 twice before I realize I'm SUPPOSED to make Daffy hit the bombs. It's hard to remember sometimes that my goal is to make Daffy's life a living hell.

1:01 Making Daffy die is actually kind of tough by level 5. "So much for the latest and greatest. Give me pixels over polys any day." Amen. Also, "Did you know there are 49,152 pixels on this screen. I known because I've counted them all waiting for you to do something.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? There are some inventive ideas here, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I'm glad I played for an hour though.

This review based on a retail copy rented from Gamefly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mass Effect

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Knights of the Old Republic minus Star Wars

0:01 No discernible loading time before the BioWare and Microsoft logos, complete with LOUD sound effects. A stock shot of a planet from space with some ethereal background music accompany the title screen.

0:03 "Welcome to Alliance Military Database. Classified information requested." Weird way to start a game. I choose the pre-created John Shepard instead of creating my own character.

0:04 There's a big ship with a rotating, glowing energy core. Oh, that was just the loading screen? "Well, what about Shepard. Earthborn, but no record of his family." ... "Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy." "It's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy." Gag. It's the year 2148. Something about Mars... I can't read the backstory quickly enough while typing. Seems like generic sci-fi cheese to me so far.

0:06 Still a cut scene: Shepard walks through a spaceship hallway as some radio voice goes on with techno-babble. A sweeping violin score completes the cheesiness.

0:07 The glowing thing on the ship launches us into hyperspace, or something. The pilot and an alien boss don't get along very well. The voice acting is a little hollow, but generally convincing. Oh, it's my turn to talk. Some guy named Nihlus is here, and this is important, for some reason. I can't follow what's going on at all. "Is it me or does the captain always sound pissed off?" "Only when he's talking to you, joker." Heh.

0:09 All right, I can move. I don't go 20 steps, though, before talking to someone else, a Navigator Pressly. This conversation actually reveals more about the backstory in a comprehensible way. Nihlus is a Turian Spectre, whatever that means, and he's on board for mysterious reasons. Pressly thinks they're covering something up. On Captain Anderson: "If he melted down all his medals he could make a life size statue of himself." Heh.

0:10 The conversation system lets you choose a generalized response before the person is done talking. This works pretty well in practice.

0:12 Rumor around the ship is that Spectres don't answer to anyone and can kill without question. Intriguing.

0:13 We're making a overt pickup on Eden Prime. Nihlus, obviously not human, seems... overly interested in it's beauty. There's a Prothean beacon there from 50,000 years ago... incredibly valuable for its technology. I like the natural flow of the conversations, but I keep wondering what the other discussion options would have led too. What can I say, I'm a completist.

0:16 They're testing me out as a "candidate for the Spectres." I'd be the first human on the elite squad. The writing and voice acting are picking up, but the eerily misshapen faces and bad lip-synching hurt the presentation. Captain Anderson is especially hard to look at. And while all this backstory is interesting, would it kill them to have some more action early on?

0:19 The last two minutes or so were spent conversing about more of the universe's backstory. Apparently finding Prothean technology on Mars catapulted the humans into this futuristic space world. Good info. to have, and nice that it's not forced on you.

0:20 A video message shows a gun battle on Eden Prime. Heavy Casualties. "This mission just got a lot more complicated." Enough talk, time for ACTION! Let me in there!

0:21 Actually, a bit more talking, as Nihlus strikes off ahead and we have to back him up

0:23 All right, on the ground and moving 'round. LT zooms and RT fires. You need to lead your shots a little. There are some floating white things to shoot at ... nothing too interesting yet.

0:26 There are a bunch of weapons to choose for each of my squadmates. Not that I know what any of them are. I try to pick a good mix of big and small, I guess...

0:27 Well that was quick. No more than 30 seconds into the first firefight and I'm down. "Critical Mission Failure" the screen reads. I don't like whatever weapon I selected... too much kickback and too hard to aim.

0:29 Ah... the floating white things are harmless "gas bags." I would've found that out if I hadn't killed them so quickly last time. Also, thank god for subtitles. I can barely hear what my squadmates say most of the time.

0:30 Annoyance #1: I can't skip the 15 second, pre-battle cut scene that I already saw before I died? That's going to get annoying fast. Armed with a faster weapon, the fight is pretty easy. One of my squadmates is done for though. I can't tell if this is a scripted story element or if I just didn't defend him well enough.

0:32 The shooting controls are pretty nice. The auto-targeting helps immensely for an FPS noob like me. But the frame rate's hiccuping a bit as I run through the over-detailed environments.

0:33 Wow, the pause screen is chock full of information on my squad and their equipment. Lots of things to spend level points on... I could be here all day. Luckily, there's an "auto level up" option that just puts points wherever they fit best.

0:36 A summary of the last 15 minutes or so: Walk walk walk, shoot a group of three drones, walk walk, more drones, walk, drones, walk.

0:37 Cut scene of a woman running from some drones. She quickly turns and makes garbage out of them. Er, why didn't she do that earlier. Suddenly, she spies a human getting impaled (!) by a pair of humanoid-ish robots. She runs for cover. Back to controlling Shepard ... I run to her and help her take them out, no questions asked. Nice flow here.

0:39 She's "Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212." She thinks the enemies are "Geth" which haven't been seen for over 200 years. "They must have come for the beacon." NO SHIT SHERLOCK! I ask her along on my team.

0:43 So during the conversation I got turned around and spent a minute running the wrong way before figuring it out. Partly this is my fault for having no sense of direction, but would it have killed the developers to put some sort of subtle hint about where to go next on the radar or something?

0:46 OK, that was entirely awesome. I crouched behind some cover and popped out to take out two enemies, threw a grenade at a third, then used a brief burst of super-speed to ram into two more. Of course the tutorial guided me through each step, but still it was relatively seamless. Can't wait to pull this stuff out in real battles.

0:49 Seems those impaled soldiers are now GETH ZOMBIE ENEMIES! AIEEEE!

0:50 Door unlocking mini-game time. I have to press buttons as they light up. In this case... Y three times. Wow... tough...

0:51 Dr. Warren was hiding behind the door. "They must have come for the beacon," she says. WE KNOW, WE KNOW. But it's not here anymore. Oh. Dr. Manuel, her assistant, seems to have gone a bit batty. "Genius and madness are two sides of the same coin." Warren says. Manuel insists he's "the only sane one left." Uhhhh... sure.

0:53 Damn. I choose the "I can shut him up" option for our conversation and Shphard goes ahead and knocks Manuel out with a single punch! That's hardcore! Dr. Warren is remarkably amenable to the idea, after a quick explanation from Shepard that "he's better off." What is this, Die Hard: Space Edition?

0:55 Jump cut to Nihlus. He comes across someone he knows... another Turian named Saren. "The council thought you could use some help on this one." The creepy music means we should be worried. Saren pulls a gun on Nihlus and the scene cuts back to Shepard just in time to hear a far off gunshot. Nice.

0:57 A quick firefight and we find Nihlus' body on the ground. A human named Powell is conveniently hiding and tells us what happened. Hooray for plot device characters. Apparently he took a nap there before the attack started. He sounds a bit ashamed about it. We lay into him,basically calling him a coward. It's actually surprisingthey flesh out such a minor character to this extent.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite a confusing start, the story and characters are developing nicely, and combat is simple but thrilling.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Microsoft.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune


Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: No. 19, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Prince of Persia meets Indiana Jones

0:01 This minute was spent watching a blank loading screen and a title screen with sweeping violins.

0:02
After a brief title screen and playing around with options, yet more loading!

0:03 "There must be a beginning to any great matter..." We're in Panama, watching shaky-cam footage of the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, buried at sea 400 years ago. "Are you sure you want to be defiling your ancestors remains like that?" the female camera holder asks. There's some real chemistry between her and the guy defiling the coffin. Nice voice acting and character animation makes it work.

0:04 The coffin holds a book, but he doesn't want to share its contents with the camera-woman. Pirates are coming. "Shouldn't we call the authorities or something." "That'd be great except we don't exactly have a permit to be here..." She doesn't really know how use a gun. "It's like a camera... point and shoot, right?" Heh.

0:05 Into the gameplay. L1 to aim, R1 to shoot, O to take cover behind objects. You need to stand still to aim, which leaves you painfully open. Feels a bit lame to me. I do like how the well-written dialogue continues through the firefight.

0:07 Pirates are on the ship now. "Press square, square, square, square, square for a furious combo." Really? Square five times is "furious"? Booooring.

0:08 "Enemies killed by a brutal combo leave more ammo." How does that even begin to make sense? Are they hiding some ammo in a special compartment that only a "brutal" combo can break open?

0:10 Sully responds to our earlier radio for help by flying in on an old fashioned propeller plane to save the day. Just then a rocket launcher blows up the ship. "I had everything under control until they blew up the boat." "Nothing a few years of therapy won't fix" says Elena Fisher (the girl). Sully is the cigar-chomping Victor Sullivan. Nate (the guy) thinks Drake faked his death. Elena overhears, and wants to see the diary when they land.

0:12 When Sully cuts Nate off, Nate calls him, "a man only interested in the climax. You must be a real hit with the ladies." Heh. So Drake was looking for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The last page is torn out. "This is it. This is finally it." But Elena is "a little problem," according to Sully. He wants to cut her loose. She doesn't trust either of them. Great characterization here ... some believable motivations and conflict, for once.

0:15 It still looks like a cut scene, but it turns out I can move about the jungle as the men chatter about past conquests. The lighting effects really capture the forest. Nice blur when the camera moves.

0:16 I'm loving the character animation on Nate ... he leans into turns, rolls after long falls, jumps and climbs realistically over complex rocks ... very nice. Now if there was only something to do ...

0:17 Another cut scene. They find nothing but empty space where the city is supposed to be. "This is like trying to find a bride in a brothel." Oh Sully. You're incredibly offensive.

0:19 Well well well... run through a little passage and we find some ruins that Drake somehow knows are 2,000 years old.

0:21 Two minutes walking around before I find the one ledge I can climb. A Prince of Persia style leap and I'm across to another platform. The environments are incredibly organic, which is nice, but makes it hard to find where to go next. This is both good and bad.

0:23 Our first puzzle. There's some hollow ground, and we have to figure out how to smash through... my first thought, jumping from up high, doesn't seem to work.

0:25 Hanging off ledges and sliding along ... Prince of Persia much? I come across a boulder that I push over to break on through to the other side.

0:26 I love the little touches that make the world seem alive (even though there's no one else alive around). Bats that react to the flashlights ... bits of stone that slip unstably as you run on them ... the way Drake's stance changes when he walks down stairs. The little things matter!

0:28 "This place was picked clean centuries ago," by the Spanish. Sully is "up to my eyeballs in debt." Sully thinks Nate's into Elena. "All's fair in love and war, kid." "And what if you can't tell the difference." "Then, well, you're in trouble." I love this dialogue!

0:30 I come across a huge pit. Luckily there's an explosive barrel across the way that knocks down a big inca-style head. "Ha, that'll work."

0:33 Sully: "We gotta figure a way to clear this debris. ... This wood's pretty dry. I bet we could burn it. ... Try shooting one of those lamps down." Thank you Captain Game Objective! Also, is there anything in this game a gun can't solve?

0:35 Ouch... one false step and I'm in the drink ... then I'm right back where I was almost instantly. Low risk ... encourages exploration ... nice.

0:37 Note to self... be farther away from barrels before making them explode.

0:38 So 2,000 years ago people apparently had the technology to make a five-ton stone door move just by lighting a lamp? Whatever.

0:44 A pretty simple puzzle, based on a journal entry that has four symbols in a certain order. The hardest part is finding the buttons around a massive room, but it's so much fun running around the spookily lit caves and watching/making Nate jump around, it's hard to complain.

0:47 Nate, upon getting out of the water. "I am really wet." The voice acting makes it work, surprisingly.

0:48 This "shooting at explosive barrels thing" is getting old already. This is the third time in less than an hour! Aren't there any other ways to get stuff done?

0:49 Wow. Walking on a shaky wooden platform, it quickly starts to collapse, starting a run-into-the-screen action sequence. Shades of Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, appropriately enough. In a good way.

0:51 During certain sections Nate is forced into a walk. One the one hand, this is annoying because I want to get there sooner. On the other, it's realistic, in that no one can run that long, or would want to.

0:55 We come across a beautiful waterfall with ... something big sticking out of it. A ship's hull? Yet another cut scene. They're pretty frequent, but so good I don't really mind. It's a German U-boat. Sully is worried. Nate gives him the diary and jumps in the drink.

0:59
More wall-crawling. Now there's vines to let me swing along. It's hard to see what to jump to next in the crowded environments, but blind leaping tends to work OK.

1:00
Finishing out the hour with a save, the game tells me I'm 11% complete for 44 minutes of actual "play." So a seven hour game, at this pace. Kind of short, but about how long I can see putting into this, actually.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Yes
Why? Great controls, animation and, possibly most importantly, writing and voice acting, make for some very convincing world building. Well done.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Metapost: Don't worry! I'm still alive

Hello, faithful readers. As you've probably noticed by now, I've been slacking off on my daily playing/posting duties for the better part of a week now. Sorry about that. As a freelancer, I do occasionally have to do work that makes real money, and with the holiday season being so important to the game industry, the paying work has been piling up. To make matters worse, I'm flying to London to be with family for a long Thanksgiving holiday, so updates are likely to lag for a while longer.

Anyway, just know that I'm still here and still committed to the site. Look for updates to start again Monday, Dec. 3. You'll see ... the time will just fly by! You'll barely continue to notice I'm gone!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Super Mario Galaxy


Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2007
Systems: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The reason I play video games.

0:01 As Super Mario Sunshine might say: Mandatory Wii System Update GET!

0:02 Right to the title screen with a trumpet fanfare, flowing into a gentle piano. The title hovers over a starry field. I'm grinning like an idiot already.

0:03 Up to six save files are available. They really do want the whole family to play, eh?

0:04 "Every hundred years, a comet appears above the Mushroom Kingdom." The shooting stars from the comet were taken by the toads to make the great Power Star. The static hand drawn illustrations remind me of Yoshi's Island.

0:05 Princess Peach sends a letter, recalling Super Mario 64. "Dear Mario. I'll be waiting for you at the castle on the night of the Star Festival. There's something I'd like to give you." I bet there's something Mario would like to give the princess too, if you know what I mean!

0:06 Mario runs along the path with arms out like an airplane. What is he, five years old?And we're playing! Star bits are falling from the sky all over the place, and I can pick them up with a point of the remote. I like how some characters talk as you pass... no need to stop and hit A. But others you do have to stop for. Lame.

0:08 Bowser attacks! The bustling castle courtyard comes under fire from airships (straight out of SMB3). Everything is fire and bedlam! Might be kind of scary for the young'ns. Peach looks over the carnage from a safe perch with a big puffy star in her arms.

0:09 Bowser: "Princess Peach. You are formally invited to the creation of my new galaxy." Well since you asked so nicely. The super-zoom shot of Peach's eye is like something out of a Kubrick film.

0:10 One of the tods actually yells "Panix and fear! Panic and fear!" as I pass. I've never actually heard someone say those exact words when experiencing panic and fear before.

0:11 A large UFO hovers above the castle. It uses a laser to cut a circle out of the ground and lifts the entire castle into space. Booming timpani and strings here... very nice.

0:12 Somehow, Peach calls down to Mario despite being in airless space. No matter, though -- A magikoopa comes down and launches Mario out of the stratosphere and even deeper into space.

0:13 The puffy star thing Peach was holding wakes Mario up on a green grassy planet. He turns into a rabbit. "Finally! You're awake! Let's play!" Who can think of playing at a time like this?! The princess is in trouble. Again!

0:14 Gentle lilting piano accompanies a quick guided run around a smallish planet. The controls are just as tight as ever, and camera follows along perfectly. "Let's play hide and seek. If you catch all of us we'll tell you where we are." Or, how about you just tell me now, eh? Why you gotta be like that, star-rabbit-thing?

0:16 Heehee. I fall through a crater straight through the center of the world and come out on the other side of the planet.

0:17 These rabbits are surprisingly hard to catch. You need pinpoint turning ability.

0:18 A Colosseum appears out of nowhere when I catch all three rabbits. "Mama" is at the top. It's Princess Rosalyn. We're in the "gateway to the starry sky." It loses something in translation , I'm sure. I get the ability to do a spin attack with a shake of the remote.

0:20 With a quick spin in a floating hollow star I'm launched to another planet. I like the little tones that play when this happens. and the sound effects from the remote too.

0:22 Jumping on enemies isn't as easy as I'd like. Spinning or hitting them with stars (using the pointer) seems the way to go.

0:24 Oh lord. There's Zelda-style beeping when you get down to one health unit. I HATE that crap.

0:25 Walking sideways on spheres from the camera's perspective takes some getting used to. I find myself tilting my head to try and get better oriented. It actually helps.

0:26 Now I'm on the inside of the hollow planet. I have to hit switches to turn off a machine. Easy stuff so far. The Grand Star I collect is huge. Mario kind of plays with it like a kitten with catnip. Disturbing...

0:27 The star goes into the corona of a fiery ball, which gets bigger and illuminates a new area of this hub world. Turns out it's "The Beacon."

0:29 Blah blah story. The Lumas pass by every hundred blahs, Bowser took their star blahs, now he has the blah to blah the universe.

0:30 Gameplay again, thank the lord. The star bits say things like "This is the observatory" and "We live here with mama." when I pass. Wow... you guys need to get out more and get some more interesting stories. Seriously.

0:33 Only one galaxy available so far, the "Good Egg Galaxy" This also probably loses something in the translation.

0:34 "Welcome to the galaxy!" Star bits appear as I run through the grassy, flowery field. But on the opposite side of the oddly shaped planet, it's like a Halloween ghost house. Interesting.

0:39 I waste all my star bits trying to hit some underground thing that's leaving trails of dust. Turns out I just needed to spin to bring it up. D'oh.

0:41 I'm really loving the music. For this Dino Piranha boss it's a soft remix of the underground theme from the original Super Mario Bros.

0:42 Dino Pirhana goes down with three quick spins into his rocky tail, which stretches and bonks him on the head. It's a bit easy, but then again, this is my third time playing, between past two E3s. Yeah, I know, I'm a jerk.

0:43 I can feed accumulated star bits to the helpful Lumas in the hub world. So far, all this does is make the Lumas thank me. That's nice and all, but...

0:47 Neat. As I'm flying between planets, I can spin to hit other launchers and take a detour. Heehee.

0:49 OMG this little piggy Luma is SOO CUTE! He demands star bits, and lemme tell ya, he gets 'em, puffing up and getting EVEN CUTER as he does. Then he turns into an entire planet. Whoa.

0:51 COOL. I'm running around the outside of a clear capsule-shaped world. with enemies and stuff inside.

0:55 DOUBLE COOL. On the inside of the capsule is a 2D old-school platforming challenge, only the gravity flips at certain points. As a McDonald's ad might say, I'm loving it.

0:56 I have to say, walking around a metal planet shaped like a hollow five-point star is a new experience for. Slingshotting around to get a star hovering in the middle is also new. And also fun.

0:58 I have just enough time to enter the Honeyhive Galaxy, but sadly not enough time to tell you about it, alas. Sorry.. You'll just have to wait. Actually, I'm not sorry because I get to play it more now. Haha!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? It's somehow instantly familiar and wholly new at the same time. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true!

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo THREE WHOLE DAYS before the official release. I love my job.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol


Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The real reason I borrowed Chibi-Robo

0:01 "Touch to start." So I do. I can choose from a bunch of colored flowers to represent my save file. Nice touch.

0:02 "Citrusoft robotics is committed to making a difference in people's lives." Thus, the new version of Chibi-Robo is "Blooming Chibi-Robo." He's four inches tall and shaped like... er... what's this game rated again?

0:03 Some disturbing scenes here of a Chibi-prototype being tortured with a soldering iron. "Pollution is a major problem worldwide." Great, here comes the enviro-lecturing...

0:04 I get a boom box, which makes plants sprout buds, and a water squirter, which makes buds grow. Simple enough, although I doubt that boom box thing would work in real life.

0:05 I'm in control. The d-pad moves, while the touch screen has a variety of fancy buttons for things like moving the camera, picking stuff up, etc.

0:06 This boom box works like no other boom box I know of. You have to spin the tape spool with good timing to get it to play music -- too fast or slow and it sounds wrong. Cute enough mini-game, but don't most boom boxes handle the tap speed automatically? This isn't a hand-crank phonograph, is it? Whatever, it's a good excuse to see Chibi dance. Heehee

0:08 Using the squirter to grow flowers gets me Happy points. Oh how happy they make me.

0:09 "Chibi-Robo's gardening ability is a green answer to pollution." Really? Flowers? I've heard a lot of debate over hybrid vehicles and ethanol and such, but nothing much about flowers as a solution to our world's warming woes.

0:10 They're giving Chibi-Robo's to parks for free. Because they're just that nice. "Citrusoft. We're ripe with innovation." Heh.

0:12 The "park" I've been dropped at is a vast dusty field with like three flowers. Wow. Sad.

0:13 Hmm... this time around my happy points are turned into life-giving watts. I guess that makes sense, as there aren't any outlets in an outdoor park, but the risk of falling dead and gone out in the field is a bit terrifying.

0:14 Chet, my round robotic helper, says this park used to be covered with flowers on "every square inch." But the picture I'm shown of that verdant park seems to have... not many flowers. More than it does now, but still, rather empty.

0:19 So I go make a few more flowers using the dance/squirt method, then come in to charge. Then I do it again. And again. Compared to the first game, the world seems a little sterile and empty. There's just not much to do yet.

0:20 "It's up to you to make the park explode with flowers." OK, fine, but is that all I have to do?

0:22 Whoops. Too much dancing means I'm out of batteries before I can recharge. This loses me some happy points. Sigh.

0:26 I'm up to 19 flowers planted now. So far I'm pretty upset with how repetitive and empty this game has been. There's none of the human warmth or wacky verve that infused the first game's first hour. It's just endless fields of brown and endless toil over the flowers. Bleh.

0:30 Day one is over. A cut scene features a black-spandex clad man (whose face we never see) laughing ruefully at the flowers that have sprung up. He thinks my house is a pile of "sweet sweet life-choking garbage." Was this guy rejected from the Captain Planet villain casting call or something?

0:32 So the Chibi-gear section now has a 150-watt battery, meaning I won't have to recharge as often. But I'll still have to do this soul-crushingly repetitive gardening routine over and over, righjt? Um.. yay?

0:33 Groan, I don't even have enough watts for the battery. Oh game. Why do you taunt me so.

0:39 Some nice synth-guitar music fills the air now that I've reached a certain threshold of flowers. It makes the soul-crushing repetition a little less soul-crushing, I'll give it that.

0:42 Now I can buy clippers to clip the flowers and take them to the flower shop. This will gain me happy points, but it seems to go against the entire message of the game (i.e. that flowers are good against pollution and therefore should not be PLUCKED FROM THE GROUND TO DIE). Oh well, at least it's something else to do.

0:44 I go about systemically destroying my work of the last half hour. The peppy guitar music goes away as I pick out too many flowers. Way to encourage me, game.

0:46 Oh dear lord. I just played a street crossing mini-game, that consisted of (1) waiting for the signal to turn green and (2) crossing the street. Frogger it ain't.

0:48 The flower shop owner tells me his tale of woe. "All over the world, flowers are disappearing at an alarming rate." Yeah, it's tough all over, pal. It's odd that I never see his face. In fact, I haven't seen a single human face since the first cut scene ended. Weird.

0:50 Holy crap. Giving away 11 flowers got me 340 happy points. For context, I has been getting like two or three points a piece for planting them. Screw gardening for gardening's sake -- cold hard commerce is where it's AT!

0:51 I recklessly recross the street without waiting for the green signal. I seem to make it OK...

0:53 I convert my massive happy points into enough watts to power a small city... or a small robot for days on end. Being a greedy capitalist has its perks. Too bad I have nothing to spend these watts on.

0:56 A hint of things to come... Chet tells me that once I get the tiller cartridge, I can turn sand into soil to plant more flowers. Hooray! The promise of more menial labor!

1:01 I get a big flowery "Congratulations!" message. Er, for what. Did I reach some flower milestone or something? Who knows? The only real difference I notice is a butterfly hanging around. Whoo.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? What can I say, I just don't have that green thumb.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chibi-Robo


Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: June 23, 2005
Systems: GameCube
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Cute Robot just didn't sound as cute.

0:01 Happy calliope style music loops over a sterile title screen with water droplets making circles in the background. Suddenly a silver, screw-shaped robot with legs and arms runs by holding his plug/tail. A hoverbot behind him showers him with confetti. The robot picks up the used confetti poppers and deposits them inside his head like a trash can. Cute stuff.

0:02 A family is gathered in a living room around birthday cake. The daughter is wearing a frog hat/mask for some reason. She has a stupid grin plastered on her face like she's developmentally disabled. Graphics remind me of a late N64 game... minimalist and unpolished. Jenny's mom gives her a pink hat, but Jenny doesn't like it. "Jenny, you're eight now. You can't run around in a frog costume all day. You need a real hat!" "Ribbit ribbit" Jenny replies, adroitly.

0:03 Tao, the freaky-looking dog, also has a present... a bone wrapped in a bow. "How did you wrap it?" It's a fair question, but Tao doesn't answer.

0:04 Dad thinks Jenny will love his gift. Mom is incredulous. Mom thinks he got it for himself, and that they can't afford it. "Get ready Chibi-Robo, it's almost show time" says the hover-bot from inside the box. "Get ready to ROOOOOBBOOOOO," Dad says excitedly.

0:05 The robot hops out of his box to a techno beat and a light show. "Yaaay! Chibi-Robo!" "We're here to make you happy," says hoverbot, whose name is Telly. What a concept. A game that tries to make you happy.

0:06 Telly is worried because they came to the party empty-handed. Ironic, since they are, in fact, the gift. He spies a flower and decides that should be their gift. Now I'm in control. I climb up on some plates and the vase in super-cute fashion. Everything seems so big from this low angle

0:07 I love the peppy, Charlie Brown-style piano music in the background.

0:08 "HOT! Diggity! Dog! That's Awesome!" dad says as Chibi-Robo puts a rose that's three times his size inside his body. Even mom is impressed.

0:09 The Chibi-copter lets me hover in a super-cute fashion. When I hover over to the cake, Telly tells me I can't eat it. "Sorry...I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Robots have feelings now?

0:10 The word "chicken" brings back some really bad memories for Telly, apparently. "But maybe now isn't the time to talk about that." Come on, please? The one thing this game needs right now is a tale of chicken-induced trauma perpetrated on a floating television set.

0:11 I got 20 "happy points" for giving Jenny the rose. Happy points! This is threatening for cutest game EVAR!

0:13 Now it's night time and I'm back in my box/mini-house, charging. With the 20 happy points, my imaginary worldwide ranking is up to 784,309 from an initial 1,000,000. So there are 215,691 robots with less than 20 points. What are they doing, sitting in the box? If I reach number one I'm upgraded to Super Chibi-Robo!! Boss!

0:14 Telly's full name is Telly Vision. AND HE'S A FLOATING TELEVISION! I GET IT!

0:16 Every step I take makes a musical note, like in a Looney Tunes cartoon. I love it.

0:17 Off into the living room. Mr. Sanderson is sleeping on the couch. Telly thinks he "passed out from the excitement." I think he and Mrs. Sanderson are having a little argument over his extravagant spending on unnecessary robots.

0:19 I come across a... well... I have no idea what this thing is. It looks like a duck with antennae and a pencil. "Dear diary... Tonight I'm in my usual spot. Head in the living room, body in the kitchen." Tao dropped her here, apparently.

0:20 Apparently it's a squeeze toy that's stuck in the door between the rooms. The toys come to life at night, in a totally original conceit! Her name is Sophie.

0:21 I love how everyone talks in a kind of pidgin, Simlish-style language, but I wish the text translation/captioning would scroll a bit faster.

0:22 "Girls and their diaries. This could be a while." Oh Telly. You chauvinist pig, you.

0:23 So every step I take lowers my battery... rather quickly too. I only have 800 or so steps before I need a charge. Luckily there are wall outlets all over the place.

0:24 I climb a stray power cord to get on top of a table. I find a record player that I can't seem to do much with and some cookie crumbs. Is this game just about cleaning up trash?

0:27 There's a toothbrush by Mr. Sanderson's hand. I take it because I want to clean up stains around the house. They should have called this game Chibi-Maid. Seriously.

0:28 I get six happy points for cleaning a stain. I like the happy guitar ditty that plays as I do this. The audio design is really top-notch.

0:29 Already I've had to charge three times. Each time takes a few minutes. It's a bit annoying.

0:30 Through some conveniently placed books, I climb to a chair and open a box that just happens to have happy points in it. Why do the Stephenson's have this box. Shouldn't these points be strictly controlled by the FDA.

0:31 Some beeping sound presages the end of the night. We return to the Chibi-House to check in my happy points. I'm up to rank 653,376 already. I rule! Once I reach number one "The girl-bots won't be able to leave you alone." Good to know!

0:34 Daytime now. Jenny is coloring a picture of some frogs. She takes me in her hand and with a menacing look, gives me 13 happiness points. Not sure why... I didn't really do anything.

0:38 My day so far: Picking up trash and cleaning up paw prints. It shouldn't be so much fun, but it is. I blame the chipper music and sound effects. They're infectious!

0:39 Mr. Stephenson admits to the marital strife I'm causing, but tells me not to worry about it. How can I not worry about it. I'M TEARING THIS FAMILY APART!

0:40 Climbing up some cabinets, I find a small door that's openable by plugging and twisting. Inside is a creepy silver universe of eyes and "Moolah" the in-game currency. Freak E.

0:41 I can't hold any more bits of paper. Does this mean I can stop cleaning? I'M FREE! FREE!

0:42 Mr. Sanderson seems content waving an action figure in the air over and over repetitively. Mr. Sanderson is easily amused.

0:43 So far there's been lots of moolah to wander around and collect, but not many different tasks to collect happiness points. Some more structure, please.

0:47 My rank is up to 415,243. And I ain't even hardly done nothing.

0:50 Night time. Dad's sleeping on the couch again. He drops a book from his lap. It's the manual... for me. That's a bit unsettling, somehow.

0:51 Telly apparently has some extra happiness points provided by Mrs. Sanderson. He gives some to me as a "cleaning bonus." YOU'VE BEEN HOLDING OUT ON ME TELLY!

0:52 Reading the manual gets me happy points. READING. THE. MANUAL. More games should have such encouragement.

0:56 "Forget the other rooms for now. Let's check out this room." You make a compelling case, Telly. Wait, no you don't.

0:59 I wish I knew what to do with all this detritus I've been picking up. I also wish I knew how I can improbably fit it all inside my tiny body.

1:00 The TV that mysteriously turned on and plays an ad for an action figure... that is standing atop the TV as well. "People say evil. People say justice. But what is JUSTICE. And what is EVIL? Am I just a fool? A blind fool? NO! I fight on the side of JUSTICE!" Buzz Lightyear much? Seriously, the creators watched too much Toy Story. His name is Drake Redcrest.

1:01 "Space Hunter Code Part One: Greet everyone by yelling!" "As your friend it is my duty to tell you that it appears your life needs more justice." I love the writing here. He gives me a Drake Redcrest suit. SO CUTE!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? It's so endearingly cute and wacky, even if the "game" part hasn't really been too interesting yet.

This review based on a retail copy borrowed from a friend.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Darkness


Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: June 25, 2007
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The opposite of The Lightness.

0:01 The intro. movie is a series of quick jump cuts. Guys on cross. A skinned bull. An angel on a cross. A soldier shooting a helpless prisoner. "Past. Present. Future" "I think I'm in hell." "This is the heart of the Darkness" "Mutilate."Destroy." "Avenge." "Watch the skies." "Come, embrace the Darkness." It's supposed to be creepy, but it comes off as Goth campy.

0:02
"I remember the night of my 21st birthday. That was the first time I died.." Intriguing.

0:03 Someone wakes me up. I'm in the back of a convertible. The mobsters in front are weaving through traffic and cursing up a storm. I'm with them, and it's my birthday, apparently. We don't have the money that the boss wants, and they're worried he's not gonna be happy. The writing is very natural, although peppered with too many curse words for my taste. I'm not a prude, but when every other word is "fuck" it gets on my nerves.

0:05 We're being chased. He tries to shake 'em. This guy is driving like a maniac. "Tell 'em they'll never take us alive. They hate that." Heh.

0:06 So I'm given a gun and have to help "shake these pigs." but I can't shoot it. I'm just holding it in my hands. Nino, the passenger in front, goes down with a giant "fuck meeeeeee." And I take his place, kicking him to the asphalt in the process.

0:07 So Now I can fire but I can't turn around all the way to fire at the cops tailing us. This is getting annoying. I can take out a guy crawling on our windshield like a sitting duck, though.

0:08 I take out a few more guys standing in our path, but it doesn't seem to matter much ... they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. It's ok, though, we reach a dead end and flip over. I guess this was the first time I dead.

0:10 The demo jumps to chapter 3, "The Graveyard." "Me and Paulie never did agree about the way things was bein' done," my character says in his best Brooklyn Italian accent. Apparently Paulie, the driver from before, betrayed me, tried to kill me, and now his men are after me. At the cut scene ends I've got two guns in my hands and guys firing at me from above. "Darkness will fall." says a creepy-ass voice after I dispatch the gunmen

0:11 The shootout in the cemetery begins. I like the animation on the enemies when they fall. Looks like their actually being hit by a hail of gunfire. Reminiscent of Goldeneye

0:12 Ouch. When I get close to a guy I raise my gun and shoot straight down into his head. What a way to go.

0:13 The screen goes red at the edges when I'm low on health and I go down. "Your life is mine" says the creepy ass voice. Or is it... I'm back at the entrance to the graveyard again.

0:15 Another super-gruesome kill ... this time I stick the gun barrel down an enemy's mouth. Ew.

0:16 "I am the master of death." Well then you're the master of me because I keep dying. I just noticed the graffiti on the hallway wall. "I'm the fucked one. They fucked me. I FUCKING graduated from high school." Way to use those vocabulary lessons.

0:17 I kick a guy in the balls from behind then take him out with a gunshot. That first part seems gratuitous.

0:18 The strategy so far seems to be knocking guys down with bullets, running up to them as they hobble up, then doing a close-up gruesome kill.

0:19 I made it through the graveyard and into a far hallway. Homeless Frank Rottenberg lives at the end, in the bathroom. "Smells like Satan's bunghole, but it beats freezing to death. "Ain't it the truth.

0:20 I take out Rottenberg after he gives me next to no information. Nice that the NPCs react realistically to a bullet in the head.

0:21 "Through you I will display my power. Through you I am born." Holy crap. I've grown tentacles with gnashing teeth and I'm automatically taking out everyone. Looks like fun... too bad I can't control it. "You are nothing but my puppet." Yeah, that's what I'm complaining about.

0:23 Oh, OK, now I can summon the tentacle powers at will with the R1 button. I still have my guns out even though these tentacles look like they can handle anything that comes my way. The "devour heart" option appears over my fallen foes. I can spawn a berserker, a devil-dog thing with a flannel shirt.

0:26 My berserker companion opens the graveyard gate and I'm on the street again. The little guy also helps me take out the shooters that are standing there for some reason.

0:30 The first "puzzle." I have to turn into a slithering snake and get through and air duct to take a key from a taunting guard. The puzzle is easy to figure out, but the awkward slithering controls make it unnecessarily frustrating.

0:31 Chapter 3 done, we warp to Chapter 7. I've gone to mess up Paulie's operation on Grinder's Lane. "The place always makes me want to kick a fucking dog - or something." And this is the guy you're supposed to empathize with - or something.

0:34 Some guys talking about how I escaped from the cemetery. They can't figure out who was helping me take out all those guys. They can't fathom it was me and my demon powers. Nice touch.

0:36 Did I mention that every other fucking word in this fucking game is a fucking curse word?

0:39 I sneak in as a slithering thing and kill the two chatting mobsters. Then I destroy a generator. Now what? I'm looking for switch to open the gate, but it's so dark it's impossible to find anything.

0:41 Oh my god. I can open the gate just by pushing on it. I could have sworn I tried that already. Obviously wasn't trying hard enough.

0:44 I go into an abandoned workshop, pick up some gasoline, and operate some band saws sitting around. Now what?

0:45 Apparently I'm supposed to wander into this meat freezer, which just happens to have a bunch of enemy mobsters waiting for me. Because why wouldn't mobsters hang out in a freezer? I die quickly in the ensuing shootout "We do not die." creepy ass voice tells me. Whoopee.

0:46 I've died five times now in the same shootout. Creepy-ass voice is having a field day: "Our blood flows in you." "You can not live." "Your life is mine."

0:48 Up to seven deaths now.

0:52 I'm beginning to make some headway. The key seems to be taking out a few guys quickly, then devouring their hearts to get the tentacles out. They act as a shield to help take out the other guys. A nice family-friendly game

0:53 I stumble across a TV that's randomly playing a real video of Flash Gordon. I change the channel and a Popeye cartoon come on. Heh. I shoot out the lights so I can see the screen better.

0:59 OK, I've been wandering around the hallways trying to find what to do next for the past five minutes. Time to call it quits.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite some pacing and control problems, it's got some decent shooting, snappy writing, and is full of atmosphere. Definitely worth some more time.

This review based on a demo downloaded from the PlayStation Network.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Conan


Developer: Nihilistic Software
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2007
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: God of War plus ... actually, God of War minus the interesting bits.

0:01 A booming war beat strums across a screen that simply says "Start Demo." So I do.

0:02 Intro. cut scene. Conan takes out a random guy and meets a warrior queen with an arrow trained on him. "I am Conan, I serve no man." "Perhaps you would suffer a woman, then." "Service her, aye, and gladly." She doesn't kill him despite this well-written affront because she admires his bravery. The black death has killed most of the men on her ship. "Do not mistake me for one of your helpless maidens barbarian." Very nice facial animation and voice acting. Decent writing too. Good start

0:03 The warrior princess disappears as soon as the cut scene ends. Like, evaporates into the ether. I can hear her screaming commands at me, but unless she's secretly The Flash, I don't know how she got away so quickly.

0:04
Looking at the controls, I see the O button does a "Camel punch." Isn't that a dirty sex act? This I gotta see. Aww... it's just a big punch.

0:05 Now I've got two swords. That's so much more awesome than one sword. Like two times as awesome.

0:06 So my sword went through the ropes of the recent suspension bridge without causing so much as a scratch, but these steel chains with a distinctive glint to them are easily destroyed with one slash. Go fig.

0:07 I rescue a shipmate from a cage. He looks a LOT like a scrawnier Kratos from God of War. Right down to the face paint. Question: Why does the game feel the need to make me hit O over and over to open this cage. Is this supposed to make me feel more engaged?

0:08 Awesome. I just picked up a guy by the legs and swung him into the ground. Oddly enough, his body went straight through a bunch of other enemies without knocking them down. Go fig.

0:09 There's an absolutely stunning, raging waterfall flowing in the background. Everything looks extremely polished. Often literally... there a nice shiny sheen to the whole proceedings. Like vaseline on the lens.

0:10 I just completed a 44 hit combo, mainly by hitting X over and over and pointing myself at the enemies. Watching Conan tear through enemies is nice to watch but not very interesting to DO. One nice touch: For the most part, the enemies attack in groups instead of waiting patiently to get their swords in.

0:11 I didn't know they had level activated elevators in... whenever this game is set.

0:17 Finally, after tearing down more cannon fodder enemies rather mindlessly, I come to a somewhat interesting fight with three burlier, more heavily armed guys. Well, I fight two of them at least... one mainly watches until I finish with the first two. They're better at blocking and dodging, which means I have to be too. Using the barrels scattered about to hit them is kind of fun.

0:19 "There's your ship, let's get off this accursed island." Wait, some of her men are still trapped. We'll need a full crew. I go off to get them because she would "die in an instant." Hey,. Conan, haven't you heard of women's lib. Er, I guess you haven't.

0:20 I got a score of 6115 for my mission, whatever that means. Why is this the first I'm seeing of this score? What goes into it? I also scored "27 limbs removed." That's an accomplishment I'll be sharing with the grandkids someday.

0:21 And the demo is over already. A video asks me to "embark on an epic journey..." "devastate enemies..." and "experience the strength, savagery and brutality of the ultimate Warrior: Conan!" The video boasts 100 unique moves and magic spells as well. Why didn't I see any of that in the demo?

0:22 Time for my patented light attack test, i.e., how far can I get in the game using only light attacks in combat, without stopping to dodge or block?

0:25 Not very far apparently. The first enemy that can block does me in. A decent showing.

0:26 I fare better with heavy attacks... I'm past the blocker already.

0:28 A quick sampling of the "witty" catch phrases I've heard Conan repeat over and over and OVER: "Begone you spawn of hell." "That should end your miserable life." "Die scoundrels." "I'll chop you into pieces." "Die you cur." Did the developers really think these would add to my immersion?

0:29 The non-stop-heavy-attack combat strategy is working wonders. I take some damage, sure, but the plentiful health bonuses take care of that.

0:31 Forgot to mention this the first time through... at this point in the demo the warrior princess tells you to "head to the ship" and you're treated to a pointless cut scene featuring an enemy warrior slowly ascending a wooden elevator and making the most ridiculous thrusting motion with his sword for no apparent reason. It's all so slow and laughable and incredibly useless.

0:33 The heavy attack strategy finally fails on the bosses. Nice to know that roughly 1/5th of the demo is potentially interesting.

0:35 One of the bosses throws a bomb that actually blows up another of the bosses. I end up getting life out of the deal. Tasty.

0:37 Boss battle finished again. It's more engaging than the rest of the game, I'll give it that, but repetitive dodging, waiting for the attack animation to finish, and striking gets old fast.I score 5855 this time... no idea why I did worse in the score department. Maybe it's because I destroyed fewer objects?

0:38 Seems a little pointless to go through the same demo for a third time, so I'll leave it at that. Even if there were more content, I doubt it would play very differently...

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
No.
Why? A painfully beautiful game with depressingly little to offer in terms of gameplay.

This review based on a demo version downloaded from the PlayStation Network.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dewy's Adventure


Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2007
Systems: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Super Monkey Ball + Loco Roco

0:01 A breathy hum in a bleak, hazy, hand-drawn world with a large dead tree. A little boy with a stick in hand. "Why does mom always have to bug me about studying." This is kind of unsettling, somehow. There's a girl sitting by the tree, reading. She likes his song. She likes the tree, he doesn't because it's all dried out and dead. "Well it looks like a strong and beautiful tree to me," she says. People used to hold festivals here, supposedly. She starts reading to him from the book about "an enchanted land, like your world, but it really exists." It's full of "crystal waters and green forests." Suddenly, the title screen, with Katamari-style graphics and a cooing Dewy. OK!

0:04 I start the story mode and... more story. The "eau" lived in the land, and the tree of seven colors gave life to all living things. But black water started raining from the sky. Is this gonna be an environmental parable? Ugh.

0:05 The tree gave birth to Dewy to defend the land from Don Hedron, the evil guy sending the black water. Don Hedron? Really? That's the best bad guy name they could think of? He sounds like the kid who beat me up in elementary school.

0:06 So Dewy won, but then Don Hedron (still an awful name) came back. The tree called back the "living drop of enchanted water once more." More cute, hand-drawn art style here.

0:07 And we're playing. Hold the remote like an NES controller, and tilt to move the world and Dewy by proxy.

0:08 Some mushroom-capped guys are very happy to see Dewy. They basically repeat the story I just heard. The game doesn't tell me, but I figure out the 2 button does a nice, floaty jump.

0:10 Up and down shakes create a gust of wind. It moves pinwheels. Cute!

0:11 Dewy kind of splats when he lands from up high. ALSO CUTE!

0:12 I accidentally jump off the edge of the world. Dewy gives a plaintive cry all the way down. Awwww...

0:13 I got some camera film. I can use it to take pictures from the pause menu. The game is cute, but I don't really see why I'd want to do this.

0:14 Being water, Dewy can switch forms. A tap of down goes to ice with a spinning attack. Up goes to mist, which can attack with lightning. Mist dewy is somewhat limited by not being able to move. And by somewhat, I mean totally.

0:15 I hit a switch to make a balloon thing inflate bigger and then go in and shake the remote to shoot Dewy to the next island. This game is triiiiipy.

0:16 The controls are a little touchy so far. Water Dewy stops kind of abruptly when he changes direction. Ice dewy has a much more satisfying momentum to him. I do like the super-floaty jump though.

0:19 Stage one clear. All the mushroom guys I collected fall onto the screen. I get a B for my time and number collected.

0:20 There is product placement on the tips screen in between levels. I can't believe it -- the enemies are being turned into Aquapod water, with a small copyright notice: "(c) Nestle Waters North America." I think I'm going to be sick.

0:23 Wheee! This invincibility soap bubble is tons of fun. Like bowling for bad guys here. I got a health shard for some reason. No idea what it does. I'm serious, I assume health, but my health looks the same.

0:25 I'm finding bunches of secret areas without really trying. Nice that there's extra stuff for those who aren't satisfied just going through the straight-as-an-arrow levels.

0:27 I think I've figured out the main problem with these controls. It near impossible to get Dewy to stop. The controller doesn't auto center, so you have to hold the remote very still and level if you want no movement. Very annoying.

0:30 I know it's still early, but this game seems more targeted towards the kiddy set. I'm just sliding around and collecting things on an extremely linear path. It reminds me a lot of Loco Roco, this is kind of relaxing, but kind of dull too.

0:34 Sigh. I'm finally fighting a semi-interesting group of enemies, but I keep falling down to a lower level and having to climb back. NOT FUN. The controls definitely get in the way.

0:40 There's a group of caged mushroom heads that's just out of reach. I have to bounce on a trampoline plant multiple times to get up to them. The controls make this nearly impossible... I keep drifting. This might be my bad, but it seems like a major failing of the whole concept.

0:42 Boss time. A big green blobby thing with a golden head. He does a jumping attack that sends out a big shock wave. I like the character design a lot. The world design, too... very bright and fanciful.

0:45 The boss actually kills me. This is shocking for two reasons... 1) something in this game was actually threatening and 2) I have to restart the level. Unlike falling off the sides, this sends me all the way back. Who knew?

0:46 Oh crap, I have to collect all these freaking mushroom heads again. Good gravy, this is getting monotonous.

0:50 A quick test confirms that the little enemies can also kill you if you absolutely let them. They also send you back to the beginning of the level. Nuts to this.

Would I play this game for more than an hour 50 minutes? No.
Why? Cute concept, but the controls are just a bit too spotty and the play a bit too basic and repetitive. A good one for the kiddies, p'rhaps.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.