Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Slash-slash-slash-something-about-souls-slash-slash

0:00 I remember hearing a lot about this one at E3, but not so much after it came out. Still, I'm in the mood for some hand-drawn 2-D action today, so let's see if it merits discussion.

0:01 On the preview screen, the logo comes up over a full moon behind black clouds, with a loud gong and the sound of an unsheathing sword. Sleek.

0:02 "Answer the call of the Demon Blade, thirsting to draw and drink blood. Witness the fate of those who've drawn the demon blade." OK then ... I will. The credits start to appear over sweeping harp- and flute-heavy war music. A woman in old-fashioned Japanese garb unsheathes a sword. Two swords sit impaled in the ground in front of a sunset. A hazy forest flies by from a first-person perspective. A lonely warrior with a blue headband stands on a ridge. An old man with a long, white Fu Manchu mustache and beard stares evilly. The sun sets in the distance as the camera refocuses on a bug on a leaf. The full moon flies by a black sky in a diagonal. Leaves fall onto a pool of water, with a carp swimming underneath. And the logo appears again. Color me confused.

0:05 Before moving forward, I have to select my playing style. Muso lets me "cut through enemies easily," and "progress steadily even if you're not skilled at action games." Shura tells me that "to advance, you must evade, defend and use Secret Arts masterfully. Only for the brave." I may regret this, but I decide to be brave and choose Shura.

0:06 Two different stories to choose: The Story of Momohime and The Story of Kisuke. I can't tell any apparent difference from this screen, so I'll go with Momohime, I guess...



Monday, October 26, 2009

Axel & Pixel

Developer: Silver Wish Games
Publisher: 2K Play
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If the guy behind those Monty Python animations made a game...

0:00 In describing this game, Crispy Gamer Managing Editor Elise Vogel said "it looks like they're trying to go for a Braid aesthetic, but I'm not sure about the puzzles." Ambivalent praise at best, but we'll see how it goes...

0:01 A quick logo and I'm treated to an incredibly odd title screen, where a huge tree monster snarls behind a black picture frame that has a swirling vortex. A crudely drawn painter, complete with red beret, is holding on for dear life to avoid being sucked in. Oh, and there's a dog. I press A and the pair is sucked into ... the menu screen. Let's "Play Story."

0:02 Gentle string music over a snowy field with a humble house. A hawk swoops down and picks up a rabbit in its talons. Inside, the painter puts down his paint and sits in a comfy fur-lined shair. His brown dog hops onto his lap. A rat scurries in and cranks a phonograph on the floor, pleasing the artist. A title card reads: "Spring, Chapter 1, a ray of hope." Loving the surreal, paper cut-out animation style.

0:03 Outside now, the snow has started to thaw. Then: chaos. An icicle falls on the dog! A huge bee crashes into another and flies off, startling a red wolf, who throws a rock that drops another huge icicle on the house. A third icicle falls across a gap that I have to cross. The artist makes cute surprised noises as all this happens. I can't process this much surreal imagery so early in the morning!

0:04 A menu box tells me the situation. "Axel & Pixel awake in the dream world. The Evil Rat holds the key back home -- help Axel and Pixel catch him before winter returns and freezes this dream over forever!" Oh, so the red thing isn't a wolf? Hmmm... I wonder which one's Axel and which Pixel.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brutal Legend

Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: So metal, it's funny.

0:00 I'm a big fan of Jack Black and Tim Schafer, but not a big fan of heavy metal music. Not even in an ironic, detached way. I just really don't like it. Also, I could barely hear the demo I saw with Gus Mastrapa on the crowded E3 show floor this year. So, I really don't know what to expect from this.

0:01 Before the game even starts, I'm treated to this hilarious sequence of Jack Black one-liners on the PS3 preview screen: "Let's mosh it up! Whaddaya say? ... Time for a mosh pit! ... Come on, dude, how come we're not moshing? ... Yep, moshing time! ... If only we had a mosh pit going on ... Yep, a mosh pit would really hit the spot right about now. ... One of these days, I'm gonna try that mosh-pit thing I've been hearing about. ... Pffft, yeah, mosh pits are probably stupid." I'm already laughing and the game hasn't even started!

0:02 "Version 1.01 of the software is already available." And it's ... a 256 MB download?! Say what you will about the PS3, it is predictable. Oh well. The system estimates I'll be seeing you in 13 minutes...

0:16 I love how the counter says "108 seconds" rather than rounding to two minutes. As if that makes the 15-minute wait so far less interminable.

0:18 Download finally done ... another minute to install, and...

0:19 "There is not enough free space on the hard disk. The game was forced to quit. At least 170 MB more free space is needed." Kill me now.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Ow! I got snow in my festering chest wound. Look out!

0:00 I enjoyed the writing and presentation in the first Uncharted, but stopped when the game started throwing endless streams of ridiculously tough enemies at me. After reading a bunch of reviews that call this sequel the greatest game of its generation, the bar is set mighty high. Will it live up to expectations? We shall see...

0:01 After a good minutes of loading and logos we've reached ... the title screen. Really? That's why you needed all that loading? Anyway, birds fly around amidst golden idols in a sun-lit jungle tomb. Timpani-heavy, John Williams-esque music sets the mood.

0:02 Difficulties are Very Easy, Easy, Normal and Hard. Where's my Very Hard? I DEMAND SYMMETRICAL DIFFICULTIES. Oh, maybe it's locked. Well ... all right, then ... Normal it is.

0:03 There's an option for "Motion Sensor Throw." OFF PLEASE!

0:04 This is the first game I can recall that lets me set the "dynamic range" on the audio. I don't even know what that means, but it can be set to Maximum, Wide, Normal, Narrow or Midnight. That last one sounds cool. Let's go with that.

0:05 Twitter! Yes, the game can update your Twitter account as you play. A few of my Twitter friends had this on, pestering my feed with endless updates on their progress through the chapters. I think I'll pass. I actually like my Twitter friends.



Monday, October 19, 2009


Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2009
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Go shoot this! Go fix that! Go shoot this other thing!

0:00 I remember thinking this looked like a Fallout 3 clone, when I saw an E3 2008 demo. Not that that's a bad thing... but still.

0:01 A broken robot that looks like an orange cone whirs pathetically on a cracked cement road. In the background, windmills. In the foreground, what looks like an emergency roadside phone.

0:02 As I pick up the controller and go to the main menu, the robot gets up and skitters around on it's single wheel. SO CUTE!

0:03 During the loading screen, the game tells me "when your shield is depleted, take cover and it will recharge." Wow ... only three minutes for me to hit a major pet peeve.

0:04 Cut to the inside of a bus with four archetypes standing around and the desert rolling by outside. "Next stop, Firestone Depot," says an unseen bus driver. "Time to gather up your stuff. Who's getting off the bus?" I can choose from Soldier, Hunter, Siren and Berserker. The bus driver says a piece on each of them. To the Siren: "And you, pretty lady? What can you do? Perhaps bake us a delicious cake." I'm amazed the bad-ass-looking Siren doesn't slap him. Anyway, the driver advises us that we can't just kill anything. "Don't be afraid to spend what it takes to get the equipment you need." I'll remember that. Once the driver's spiel is done, the excellent song "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" comes on the in-game radio. NICE!