Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mass Effect 2

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Jan. 26, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Action-packed space conversation.

0:00 Confession time: Despite enjoying the first hour of the first Mass Effect quite a bit, I never actually returned to finish the game. It's a problem I run into constantly with epic, story-based games, where I putter around a bit but can't bring myself to make the time and attention commitment to really immerse myself through to the end. I've heard some ridiculously nice reviews for this follow-up, though, so I'm determined to play it through to the end even if it kills me.

0:01 My sister's Xbox doesn't have HD cables, so I'm playing this in standard definition on a freaking huge HDTV. Looks noticeably grainy compared to what I'm used to...

0:02 I skip EA's "Cerberus Network Registration" because I don't have access to my Gamertag and I'm not using the online features right now anyway. I start a "New game, Male." On the loading screen I see schematics of a sleek, ultramodern orange spaceship rotating around. Choosable difficulties are Casual, Normal, Veteran, Hardcore, Insanity. So Normal is actually below average? That's fine by me... I'm fine being below average.

0:03 "Electronic Arts presents a BioWare production," says the game in its best impression of a Hollywood film. Close up of a burning star. Two figures talk in the shadows. "Shepard did everything right. More than we could have hoped for. Saving the Citadel but leaving the council to die. Humanity's place in the galaxy is stronger than ever... but still it's not enough." They're sending Shepard to fight the geth because the council will accept his help. "He's a hero... a bloody icon." One of these guys sounds exactly like Jed Bartlett from The West Wing. Is that you, Martin Sheen?

0:06 Cut to a different ship. "We're wasting our time," says a crewman. "Four days searching up and down this sector and we haven't seen any sign of geth activity." Three ships have gone missing, and the Captain thinks it's slavers, not geth, that are to blame. Suddenly, another ship comes in on a collision course and fires on them, despite their cloaking. "Multiple hull breaches" says an ensign as explosions rock the ship. It's like a really crappy episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, only I don't know any characters or what's going on.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Red Steel 2

Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 23, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: T

In a nutshell: Slashes, shoots and leaves

0:00 I wasn't very impressed with the first Red Steel thanks to bland, repetitive gameplay and a general lack of character. This one adds support for the Wii Motion Plus accessory, which seems unlikely to solve either of these problems on its own.

0:01 Old west music plays as a huge sun beats down on the title. Easy, Medium and Ninja modes are for beginner, experienced and "True Master" players, respectively. Let's go with Medium.

0:02 Looking up at a too-bright sky from a first-person perspective. Vultures circle around the lens flare. Fade to white again, and when I come to an unseen voice sounds concerned. "Won't that tear his hands off?" "That'd be nice. Save me the trouble." A big bad biker dude comes into focus, a rope trailing from his hog to near my position. He rides off and I see my arms in front of me as I'm dragged across the desert, through cacti, under trucks and down a drainage ditch like the one in American Graffiti. Wow, this would be really thrillnig to actually play, instead of just watching...

0:03 Eventually I get one hand free, grab a gun and shoot the bike, After the resulting explosion, we cut to close up of a gun lit by firelight and pan over to my hand as I get up, slowly. The biker jumps through the fire. "I'm gonna cut your throat with your own katana. Ain't that poetic." I kick him away and into yet another explosion. "You'll pay for that! In blood!" Poetic isn't the word that comes to mind...

0:05 Finally in control, I'm told to find my gun, which I quickly do, reloading it with a quick one-handed motion. In the background, the biker says he's "got gold for the man who brings me his skin."


Friday, May 21, 2010


Developers: Matrix Software, Red Entertainment
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+

In a nutshell: I still have idea why it's called Nostalgia.

0:00 Of all the unplayed DS game review copies I took down on my two-week trip to Maryland, this is the one I have the strongest memories of hearing some good things about. But those memories are still pretty vague...

0:01 A vignette of hand-drawn manga scenes shows an airship, a sword battle, a hero carrying a girl from a crumbling castle, a woman casting a fireball, and another reaching for a bird bathed in white light. The music is peppy but also full of pomp and circumstance.

0:03 A blocky, red-haired man in a suit of armor walks to a pedestal with a rotating yellow... thing on it. He reaches out for it, but it pushes him back. Cyclopean robed figures force a girl over to him. "What is it?" she asks. "There is no need for you to know," he answers. No monologuing for this bad guy!

0:04 Suddenly, one of the robed cyclopses runs up and takes the girl to safety. He removes the robe and announces himself as Gilbert Brown, a guy who looks like Indiana Jones plus a bushy brown mustache. Brown shoots a trigger on the wall behind armored dude and runs through a closing door, just dodging a thrown sword.

0:05 In control now, the girl and I are running down a spiral staircae. The music seems a bit too sedate for such a tense situation. Anyway, we quickly come to the first random battle. The robed guy (a "Caba Combatant") hits me point blank IN THE FACE with some repeating rifle shots, but I only take two damage. I attack twice, doing 53 damage with my sword slices each time. Nice victory music... it's got a very old-school Final Fantasy feel to it. Is that why it's called Nostalgia, perhaps?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2

​Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 23, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Welcome back, Yoshi.

0:00 Let's see, I got my start in this business running a Mario fansite, and the first Super Mario Galaxy was far and away my favorite game of 2007, so to say I'm excited for this game would be a BIT of an understatement. Of course, this means I can only be disappointed if it doesn't live up to my expectations.

0:01 "Super Mario Galaxy... WOOHOO!" says the familiar voice of Charles Martinet on the preview screen. Seems a bit hollow without any background music. BAD START! THIS GAME WILL BE HORRIBLE!

0:02 The familiar title theme from the first Mario Galaxy rings out as the title appears in a flash of light. Mario flies around a blue, star-speckled sky in the background. I create a file by stamping my Miis face on a planet, just like in the last game. Ah, familiarity.

0:03 "Now, let me tell you a new story that also begins with stardust." Wait, "also"? Is this how the first one started? Let me check. Oh, I guess so. I can't say I really remember Mario Galaxy's story very well...

0:04 "Dear Mario, Would you like to share some cake while we watch the shooting stars? Meet me at the castle! -Peach." Man, Peach is really fond of writing letters. It's 2010, girl! Get an e-mail account!

0:05 Mario pops out of a pipe and I'm suddenly in control, running Mario left and right along a 2D plane in front of the Princess' familiar castle. It might just be me, but the controls feel uncharacteristically sluggish... it takes a bit too long for Mario to get up to speed.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Red Dead Redemption

Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: M

In a nutshell: "Grand Theft Horse and Buggy" is too obvious. How about, "The politest bounty hunter in the old west"?

0:00 I'm not a big fan of open-world games in general, and Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto games in particular, but the beautifully vast vistas and horse-based gunolay action in this one impressed me at a PAX East demo.

0:01 I'm staying at my parents' place in Maryland, so I'm forced to use my sister's Xbox 360, which is hooked to a small, 20" standard definition TV. I'd almost forgotten what games looked like in SD. I'd also forgotten what a slob my sister is... this room is a pigsty!

0:02 "Playing the game may make you eligible for some prizes," says the fine print. Really? Anyway, an incredibly dull and silent title screen features a tree gently rustling in the wind.

0:03 Most of this minute is spent watching a scene titled "Exodus in America" loading.

0:05 A riverboat on a calm river. Light piano music. A bunch of people in proper period costumes step off, including one who looks a bit less proper than the rest. An old-timey car is loaded in by a winch. A newsie calls out "Extra Extra" to complete the cliche.


Bit.Trip Runner

Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: May 17, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Trippy retro rhythm platform timing jumping action GO!

0:00 I've liked the Bit.Trip games in the past, but I absolutely loved this rhythm/platform game hybrid when I tried it out briefly at this year's Game Developers Conference. The guy running the booth said I was a natural when I blazed through a few levels on the first try. Aw, shucks.

0:01 I spend a few minutes clearing off enough space on my Wii's internal memory to host the 319 blocks this game needs to run. I'm sure I'll ignore the Mario Kart channel just as much on the SD card as on the main menu screen...

0:04 I'm watching my sister down in Maryland this week, which means I get to play this game on my dad's 1,000,000 inch flat screen TV. OK, it's really only 70 inches or so, but it's still a bit disconcerting to see the games blocky, retro graphics on such a huge screen.

0:05 A bunch of logos, then the title appears with some bouncy chiptunes and a very strong backbeat. Commander Video -- an black obelisk with arms, legs and a white slit for eyes -- runs in place on the main menu screen, with an early '80s rainbow trail behind him. Zone 1, named Impetus, is the only one available. Level 1-1 is named First Contact, appropriately enough.


Friday, May 14, 2010

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

Developer: Media.Vision
Publisher: XSeed
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site (Japanese)

In a nutshell: I'm not sure if it's more offensive to RPG fans or Wizard of Oz fans.

0:00 I've been putting off playing this one -- which XSeed sent me months ago -- because I'm relatively sure it will be awful and ruin my happy childhood memories of the movie. But I figure I have to try it out sometime, and stuck as I am away from home on a trip to Philadelphia, this seems as good a time as any.

0:01 The four main Wizard of Oz characters walk by on the bottom screen as an overproduced version of Over the Rainbow music transitions into some sort of generic Japanese anime theme song. Yes, really. Also, the tin man is incredibly fat, the scarecrow has a guitar for some reason, and Dorothy's skirt is incredibly short. I can already tell I'm not going to like what they've done with this.

0:04 The camera travels through dark cemetery with large jack-o-lanterns. "Our story begins... on a still night..." A witch with a ridiculous purple robe and a bright red hat stands with a book in her hands. "Every story needs a charming main character," she says. She needs a name for an adventurous girl. I pick Hortense, because Dorothy is too obvious. I name her puppy Bruno, because it strikes me as funny.

0:05 The book is raised to the sky in a beam of light, and then we're reading it. "In the peaceful countryside far from the city, where brooks babble gently in spring, bees waltz in summer, colorful leaves paint the world in autumn, and snow blankets the troubles of yesteryear in winter... lived a girl." Someone needs to teach this witch about the concept of a run on sentence, huh?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Samorost 2

Developer: Jakub Dvorsk√Ĺ
Publisher: Amanita Design
Release Date: December 2005
System: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Click click click click oh that's weird click click click

0:00 I remember clicking my way through the beautifully surreal experience of the original Samorost while procrastinating back in college. I didn't know about the sequel until it showed up as a free bonus as part of the Humble Indie Bundle I recently purchased (Only two days left people. Pay what you want!).

0:01 The title, written in a branching script across a starry field, creaks and moves ominously as I hover the mouse pointer over top of it. When I click it, we get a wide shot of that same craggy planetoid from the first game. A lunar-lander-style metal UFO lands and two blue aliens with exceedingly round heads walk out. A dog barks at them then retreats into his doghouse. One of the aliens holds a bag as they both look about warily

0:02 I click the doghouse and the dog comes barking out. The aliens grab himm hurl him in the sack and take him up to their ship. A man in long white feety pajamas shouts from the window. "HEY! HEY!" and flies off after the aliens in a rocket made from a faded tin can (labeled Polkonerska, for some reason).

0:03 On another craggy planet now, the alien ship bonks a robot who opens a hatch to an underground area. Our white-pajamaed protagonist lands and gets out of his tin can only to be snatched up by an animated tree branch. Er...

0:05 Clicking the tops of the trees causes dandelion seeds to blow in the wind. Clicking a green bug lets me pick him up, but I can't find anywhere else to place him down. Hmmm...


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
In a nutshell: A step towards frustrating controls.

0:00 I've been a huge Super Monkey Ball fan since I pre-ordered the first game along with my Gamecube back in 2001. I'm a little worried that the Balance Board won't be precise enough for the tight controls these games need, but this is probably the closest simulation I'll get to actually being in a Monkey Ball, at least until I can buy one of these.

0:01 The preview screen features what sounds like Meemee and Aiai having a conversation in a high-pitched, chittering monkey language. Quite the annoying way to start a game.

0:02 A monkey in a sleeveless tee yells at Gongon for sleeping on a pile of bananas. Then the Sega logo pops up and we get a title screen with monkeys running by on a rainbow in the background. The super-cheerful music makes up for the annoying chittering from before.

0:04 The Wii Balance Board is on and confirmed working. Apparently you can play without it, which I think is a bad sign... like they didn't trust the Balance Board controls to carry the game. Let's start with the main game. I choose Gongon because he's the picture of monkey masculinity, just like me.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition

Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: May 5, 2010
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T

In a nutshell: A game that's as fucked up as it looks.

0:00 I missed this one when it started getting all sorts of indie buzz on the PC last year, but I remember being intrigued by the concept of a first-person brawler. I'm excited to try it out now that it's on the Xbox 360.

0:01 In a primitive village with muted colors. A bent old man in a hooded robe plays with a voodoo doll. An ogre in a helmet gestures. A woman looks warily at a lanky, very tall man seated next to her. A talon comes down on a piece of paper. The characters are mostly recognizably human, but there's something slightly off about their appearance. It's like we're in a dream world just this side of a nightmare.

0:02 The options screen has a visual option for a computer monitor. A nice touch, that.

0:03 Prologue is the only one of 19 chapters available. Guess this is gonna be a long game... I choose Normal rather than Easy of Advanced for my difficulty.

0:04 Fuzzy blobs of light fade to white. A shaman in a hood falls over as my first-person viewpoint is periodically obscured by blinking eyelids. I'm in an enclosed wooded clearing, with green spirits floating in the air. "Hello Ghat. That trick with the bomb, you learned that from me, remember. But you didn't do it right. You're not dead like me." Come again?

0:05 As a quick warm up, the dead shaman tells me to kick some chickens with a tap of RT. It's a bit weird to see this from a first-person perspective.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Data East Arcade Classics [Games for Lunch]

Developer: G1M2

Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

​In a nutshell: Their definition of "classic" is inconsistent.

0:00 I'm a big fan of classic gaming, but the Data East name doesn't really trigger any warm nostalgia for me. Still, I figured this one was worth a quick spin on the GameFly queue, if for no other reason than to improve my classic gaming knowledge.

0:01 The little blooping theme on the preview screen seems familiar, but I can't quite place it.

0:02 The loading screen has the characters from Burger Time running by. Oh my God, Burger Time! How could I forget that was Data East? It's one of my favorite arcade games ever!

0:03 The title screen and menus are pretty plain, as is the super generic background music. Feels a bit like a rush job. The list goes alphabetically, so I start with Bad Dudes, which I remember playing occasionally on the NES.

0:04 "Rampant Ninja related crimes these days... whitehouse is not the exception. President Ronnie has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?" You've gotta love that quality retro gaming translation.

0:05 Characters are much bigger and better animated in this arcade version, when compared to the NES. Kicking these endless streams of ninjas is surprising satisfying.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Picross 3D

Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 3, 2010
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E

0:00 I was one of probably three people who bought and enjoyed Mario's Picross on the original Game Boy. I blazed through Picross DS too, and enjoyed a quick tutorial of this 3D reimagining at GDC. Let's just say I'm expecting to spend a lot of time with this one.

0:01 10 seconds of odd "preparing to play" loading before a blocky dog bounces up and down the title screen. Transition to a blocky baseball player swinging at the air. It's amazing how recognizable these figures are despite the low resolution. The careful coloring really helps.

0:02 "Hello and welcome to Picross 3D" says what looks like a duck from Picasso's nightmares. Instead of a lengthy introduction, we go right to the menu screen. Nice.

0:04 The beginner difficulty has a "how to play" tutorial, but I already know how to play thanks to my GDC demo, so I just to the "Easy" section. Of course, you readers might not know how to play, but I don't really care about you...

0:05 OK, I really do care about you, so I'll try to explain what's going on. I've got a 5x5 grid of blocks here with various numbers on some of the faces. The numbers indicate how many blocks have to remain in that row, column or, um... depth line? I don't know the 3D term. So if there's a "zero" I know I can just chip away every block in that line with a tap of the stylus. After that, there's only four blocks remaining in a row marked with a "4," so all those get marked with protective green paint. So it goes until I've created a nice, simple letter U in 56 seconds. I get three stars for my "perfect" performance.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 14, 2001
System: Game Boy Color
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Zelda is Zelda, no matter the season.

0:00 I picked this up months ago at a ridiculous 75% off clearance of all Game Boy and Game Boy Color games at my local Gamestop. Total cost: $1.25 plus tax. As one of the few Zelda games I haven't played, I'm interested to see if it holds up to more recent entries in the series.

0:01 Man, I had forgotten how puny the backlight on the Game Boy Advance SP was. Compared to the DS Lite, it seems unlit.

0:02 Slow fade in. A familiar green clad figure rides in on a horse. Close up on Link riding as the chip tune music swells. Link looks exceedingly young. The camera jumps back as the horse rears up on a cliff edge over a white castle. Cut to the series' familiar overhead view, showing Link walk into a temple with three triforce pieces. They hover and encircle him in orange light. Everything goes all wavy. Cut to a shot of a large tree and a blue, partly cloudy sky. The title comes up with a catchy remix of the familiar Zelda theme.

0:04 All three files on this used copy are taken by "LANCE." They all have five hearts and 064 deaths. Hmmm... guess Lance didn't stick it out.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ju-on The Grudge: Haunted House Simulator

Developer: feelplus
Publisher: Xseed
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: M

In a nutshell: Cheap thrills... emphasis on the cheap.

0:00 After playing Alan Wake a bit, I'm on a horror game kick. What better way to satisfy it than with this Haunted House Simulator that's been sitting on my pile for months. All I remember about the movie of the same name is that the trailer looked awful.

0:01 I'm playing this at 9 in the morning with the sun streaming in through the blinds. Hardly ideal for creating a scary atmosphere, but it is what it is.

0:02 Grainy, handheld video of an alley, a roof, a door to an old-fashioned house being opened. Slippers and trash on the floor. In the bathroom, a sink full of hair. A cloaked figure stands in the sunny kitchen. A mannequin presses against a frosted window. The door slams. Bloody napkins everywhere. A woman in a white shroud with black hair draped over her face. Jumpy close ups of her eye. Title screen. They're obviously going for a Blair Witch Project vibe, but I'm less scared than confused.

0:03 In addition to three selectable files, there's something called "courage test." How can I resist trying something like that?

0:04 The game asks for my gender and Zodiac sign. I'm a Leo. The only episode available is "Rundown Factory." Like, Zoinks, Scooby!

0:05 A golden retriever scampers along with the camera close in on his back, pointed towards the ground. Awkward panting as he comes upon a man with naked legs. "Oh that Ivy running off like that," says white text on a black background. "I wonder what she saw? This factory looks like it hasn't been used in forever..." Then a title card that simply reads, "Erika."


Monday, May 3, 2010

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time

Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2009
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: E10+

In a nutshell: The future looks a lot like the past. And the past was awesome.

0:00 I've been a big Ratchet and Clank fan since their first outing, and my love hasn't diminished much despite yearly updates that don't bring much new to the table. I vaguely remember playing a quick demo of this at E3 2009, but not being terribly impressed with the time-based puzzles.

0:01 Gentle fantasy music plays on the preview screen. What looks like Ratchet on steroids looks out over a cliff edge with some sort of cat thing at his side? What the... where's Clank?

0:02 "The latest update data for this softare has been found." I suppose that's understandable since the game has been out for months now...

0:04 14MB file downloaded and installed. That was relatively painless.

0:05 "This game needs to perform an initial setup process." Of course it does.