Friday, July 23, 2010

Metapost: The end of an era

As you already know if you're an avid reader of my Twitter feed, today's Games for Lunch is the 500th one-hour review to be posted on this blog. It is also the last one that will be posted, for the time being.

The fact that these two events coincide is mostly a coincidence (though I did scale back to three reviews this week just so I'd end on a round number). The plain truth is that Joystick Division, which has been paying me to write Games for Lunch since April, has rearranged their budget and decided to leave this feature on the unhappy side of the new arrangement. As of now I've been unable to find another outlet that's been willing to pay to continue running the feature on their site.

Part of me wants to keep writing Games for Lunch sans pay, as I did for over a year before Crispy Gamer first picked it up. But a larger part of me realizes that, at this point in my life and my career, I can't justify spending a couple of hours (editing and formatting included) playing and writing about a new game every weekday. There's always a chance someone will want to pick it up in the future (Are you that someone? Get in touch. Reasonable rates!) but for now, the Games for Lunch experiment is over.

It's been fun and educational playing so many different games over the years -- many that I wouldn't have even considered spending an hour with if it weren't for this column. The one-hour review idea didn't exactly start a revolution in the game journalism community, but it did spawn some imitators (see sidebar) and I'd like to think it got people to look at their staid old review formats in some new ways. Maybe I'll go through the whole collection and compile some statistics and favorites as a sort of send off for the concept.

Thanks to everyone who contributed a comment, sent in a review suggestion, subscribed to the RSS feed (700 of you?! Insane!) or even just read a single review. I hope you didn't consider it a waste of time.

The Nethernet

Developer: GameLayers
Publisher: GameLayers
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2007
System: PC/Firefox
ESRB Rating: N/A

0:00 I don't really feel like actively playing a game today, actually. So, for my last Games for Lunch entry on Joystick Division, I've decided to try out a more passively multiplayer game.

0:01 "Hi and welcome to the Nethernet" says a steam-punky guy in glasses, from a comic on the official Web site. He goes on to describe how you play the game just by surfing the internet, unlocking badges, leaving traps and rewards. "If you don't have time to play, you're still earning points." Sound challenging!

0:03 At the risk of spamming my followers, I try to sign in using Twitter rather than creating a new account. Twitter gives me a PIN number to enter on the main site, but I can't seem to find where to enter it. Oh well, I guess I'll create an account.

0:04 I set my player name as "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" because I can. Then I set about downloading the Firefox toolbar needed to actually play the game. The 2.7 MB download is done pretty quickly.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: July 21, 2010
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T

In a nutshell: The gameplay is much more colorful than the graphics.

0:00 I've been careful to avoid reading any reviews or previews of this game so I can go in as fresh as possible. All I know is that everyone who's touched it seems to love it without exception. Man, I really hope I am not the exception.

0:01 The title screen reminds me of a movie from the '20s or something, with it's black and white and fancy fonts. "Limbo contains elements which may be offensive..." says a tiny disclaimer. I leave the "Gore filter off" and jump on in.

0:02 Fade from black to a gently lit black and white forest, with trees that fade to fuzzy indistinctness as they recede into the background. Um, where's my character? Oh, there he is -- a solid gray person-shaped blob with two glowing eyes. He slowly rises on his hands and knees. I think I'm going to have to shut the blind if I'm to have any hope of making him out. Excuse me.

0:03 I run left along the 2D movement plane, figuring they wouldn't expect that. I end up stepping over a small white egg, which cracks to give me 5 Gamerscore points and an avatar award. Nice!

0:04 I jump off the end of a downed tree and down a sloping hill. The fall is about three times my height, and my body crumples horribly upon landing. Oh, right... this isn't a Mario game.

0:05 This time I slowly edge myself off the tree stump this time and slide down a hill... right into some spikes. OK, I'm learning, I'm learning...


Monday, July 19, 2010

Joe Danger

Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Release Date: June 8, 2010
System: PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Excitebike + Tony Hawk's Pro Skater = AWESOME!

0:00 I really liked the old-school feel of the five minute demo I played at PAX East. But what really pushed me to download this one was the passion displayed by developer Sean Murray at last week's Develop conference.

0:01 Nice cheery guitar, bass and maraca music over the preview screen as the square-jawed protagonist stands at the foot of a ramp, smiling. I'm grinning like a fool already.

0:02 A cassette tape appears in the corner of the black screen during the loading. Is this a reference to those old tape-loading systems or something? That's before my time, sadly.

0:03 "J-j-j-j-j-j-joe DANGER!" says an over-caffeinated anouncer "Folks, let me tell you about Joe Danger," says a grizzled sounding man. "He was the world's most determined stuntman. That was a long time ago, back then he was a household name ... But it all went wrong. They said he'd never walk again, but he showed 'em. Now he wants to make his comeback. Maybe YOU can help." This quick story is accompanied by old newspapers and billboards showing Joe with a '70s mustache. Cute and, more importantly, QUICK!

0:05 The menu is a sort of trailer park. I zoom in on "Stunt Weekly" and choose "Joe Danger Returns," my only option. My mission is to "Collect all the Ministars?" Um.. "all the Mobsters?" This text is nearly unreadable on my 20" standard def TV.


Friday, July 2, 2010

F1 2009

Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Nov 17, 2009
Systems: Wii (reviewed) PSP, iPhone
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: This race is too easy. This race is too hard. This race is NOT just right.

0:00 I usually prefer my virtual driving in kart or off-road form, but damned if I didn't wake up this morning wanting to race something, and this is the only unplayed racing game I have on hand.

0:01 Stirring synthesized trumpet music on the preview screen. I could see listening to this while doing a Rocky-style training montage.

0:02 Lots of wispy graphs and green speed lines whoosh around a hot-as-hell F1 car. The signal turns from red to green and it zooms down the road at warp speed, blurring everything around it. The rather pedestrian title screen with that trumpet music again.

0:03 I name my racer Brock Driverson because that's the kind of mood I'm in today. I choose Qatar as my country, for tax purposes.

0:05 I turn on the racing line, steering assist, predictive braking, anti-skid, anti-wheel-spin, and automatic transmission. I may as well not even be driving.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: July 1, 2010
System: PC
ESRB Rating: RP

In a nutshell: Man, this guy really runs into a lot of puzzles and humorous situations in the course of his work...

0:00 I've been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it months ago. I like the look, the puzzle-based gameplay concept and the company behind the game, so my expectations are quite high.

0:01 After turning my screen pure white for a bit, the game fixes itself. Tinkling xylophone music accompanies a snow-covered field with a factory in the background.

0:02 Even when I turn off "full screen" mode and go to the lowest available resolution, the mouse is still a bit jerky. I don't know if it's my janky laptop or if the game is to blame.

0:03 I stopped the clock so I could shut a bunch of memory-hogging programs and tabs in the background, to see if that'd help the performance issues. The answer: not especially.

0:04 Cut to the basement of the FBI's Hoover building, where the Puzzle Investigation office resides. A guy at a desk sharpens a pencil and stares at his crossword dreamily. He unwraps and eats a piece of gum and blows a bubble. His eyes droop. He yawns. And... he's out. The comic timing is perfect.

0:05 A loud noise and heavy mechanical breathing wake the desk guy up. A man in a spacesuit takes his pencil and slowly opens his helmet to some foreboding music. Desk guy screams and tears up his paper in terror. But now there's no one there. Not a single word spoken and it's still some of the best introductory storytelling I've seen in a game.