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Thoughts, features and opinions

Friday
Aug012014

Interview: Martin Kitts - Former Editor N64 Magazine

Martin 'Kittsy' Kitts was a fixture at N64 Magazine for years, eventually becoming editor leading up to the mag's 120th issue. N64 Magazine (later known as NGC magazine, then NGamer after that) ran for close to a decade, making it one of the UK's longest running and most beloved gaming magazines. The magazine's lack of official affiliation with Nintendo meant a more honest and candid approach to games coverage, which set it apart from other publications that were around at the time. Martin was gracious enough to answer my questions, despite having to deal with a newborn baby, so a big thank you to Martin!

 

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Gareth: N64 Magazine in its various incarnations was one of the longest running games magazines the UK has ever had. What do you think was the secret to the magazine's success?

Martin: It made you feel like you were part of a club and it had a quirky, irreverent nature that suited the subject matter. Nintendo fans are fiercely loyal and span a wide range of ages, and we didn’t aim the mag at any particular demographic. We tried not to patronise our younger readers and also to make the mag something that the older ones wouldn’t be embarrassed to buy, and a lot of them stuck with us for a long time.

 

In the last years of NGamer, though, the bosses insisted on having either Mario, Zelda or Pokemon on every single cover, regardless of whether we had anything to report, which sort of undermined the whole thing. But it was great for as long as it kept hold of its original spirit.  

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Gareth: Your "character" at the magazine was, shall we say... a psychopath? How did that come about?
Martin: I wanted to be the one who’s into Japanese stuff, but Wil Overton had already bagged that. So one day I had a bit of rant at my bank on the office phone, and Tim Weaver - the mickey-taking maestro behind all those mag personalities - decided I was actually a sinister murderous doctor.

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Gareth: You got the sense that it was a lot of fun to work on the magazine, what was the atmosphere like there and are you and the guys still friends?

Martin: It certainly didn’t seem like work. The first year I was there I barely took any time off because it felt like if I missed a day then I’d miss something amazing. Not that I could have afforded to go on holiday at the time! I did eventually take a week off to play Ocarina of Time when that came out, but I only lived around the corner so I was back in the office every couple of hours anyway. I’m still in touch with a lot of the old team as many of us still live in and around Bath, or at least on Facebook.

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Gareth: Do you have a favourite issue or feature that you worked on at your time on the magazine?

Martin: My favourite feature was the issue 100 retrospective. It was great to look back over all those years and rummage through thousands of old slides from photoshoots. For individual issues, probably any time we got our hands on a really big game, like Perfect Dark or anything else from Rare. Those ones were always special events.

 

 

 




Find a link to the whole feature (with the full sized scans) at the bottom of this interview.

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Gareth: You guys were putting your names and your personalities front-and-center over a decade ago (sorry if that makes you feel old) and almost nobody else was covering games that way. Nowadays, a lot of the larger, more popular websites (Giantbomb, Gamespot etc.) and especially the Youtube/Twitch revolution in games journalism/coverage is much more personality based. In many ways N64 magazine was a precursor to the way games are covered today. Back then did you guys feel like you were ahead of the times?

Martin: Actually I think we were a bit of a throwback even then. There was a long history of British games mags that promoted the writers as characters, such as Your Sinclair, Crash, Amiga Power and many others. When I joined, the old hands told stories of hordes of kids waiting outside the office after school to get autographs.

 

By the time N64 came along, the future seemed to lie in magazines with trendy design and acres of white space, like Official Playstation, or the humourlessly authoritative Edge. New launches tended to take themselves quite seriously, and had things like movie reviews so the staff could pretend to be ‘real’ writers, when the joy of a proper games mag was in the silliness. After all, it’s a bunch of grown men getting paid to play with toys.

 

I’m not sure if any of the current wave of websites really capture the sense of childish innocence that made those early publications so magical.

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Gareth: Whose idea was "Lex Luthor's Solve My Maze" and how did that pitch go for them?

Martin: I can’t remember for sure but I think that was probably one of Tim’s. He was the go-to guy for catchphrases, oddball ideas and 1980s movies, so it sounds like one of his. It was inspired by the dire Superman 64 game, in which the ‘maze' was a bunch of circles suspended in the fog. I’m sure it would have been just a random one-off thing, but the photo of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor came with a licence for multiple reuses so it became a long-running feature - a spoof competition with no solution and no prize. It was supposed to be a joke but people kept sending in entries like it was a genuine competition and it took on a life of its own.

Nobody had to pitch ideas as such. We were constantly chatting and joking in the office, and ideas like that would sort of evolve from this miasma of childish banter. It was like a playground, with many degrees of piss being ripped out of everyone and everything. It was great!

A fine example of Lex Luthor's "Solve My Maze." (link to a full gallery at the bottom of the interview)

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Gareth: So, what have you been doing since exiting the magazine game?

Martin: Nothing exciting, unfortunately. These days I work on science journals, which is a bit dull but has an undeniable bonus in that I’m much less likely to walk into the office one day and find that the people who used to sit over by the window have all been sacked.

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Gareth: I take it you're still a gamer, what are your methods of choice for gaming nowadays?

Martin: I’ve got an Xbox 360 that’s been gathering dust since I finished GTA 5 and a bunch of other old consoles and handhelds. I thought the new consoles were really disappointing so I got an iPad instead. Mostly I play PC games these days. I’d never owned a Windows PC until last year, so I’ve been checking out how the other half live.

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Gareth: So you're not on board with the next gen then. Is there anything on the horizon that will make you bite the bullet? And if not, what would it take to get you to buy yourself a PS4 or an Xbox One? 
 
Martin: Well they’re both about twice the price I’d be willing to pay for them and I haven’t heard of any particularly amazing games coming up, so I’m not tempted in the slightest. I really liked Halo 3, so maybe I’d be interested in the Xbox if the next Halo is as good as that, but the chances are slim. Perhaps I’d get one for the next GTA game. Neither console is a really desirable piece of kit at the moment, though. The closest I’ve got to either one was a PS4 demo unit in Game, but the controller was covered in sweat and the rubber bits were flaking off the top of the sticks, so I didn’t want to touch it. It looked like it had syphilis.
Martin: 

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Gareth: You noted that Nintendo fans are fiercely loyal, yourself included, I'd imagine. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on the current status of Nintendo, and at what point will they sell you on the WiiU? (Smash Bros? The next Zelda? Something unexpected? etc.)
 
 Martin: I’d love it if they could get back to what they used to be, before things like waggle controls, Miis and underpowered consoles. I got on board with Nintendo with Super Mario World. I’d recently bought a Mega Drive at the time, and when I saw F-Zero in the local import shop it was obvious to me that I’d chosen the wrong console.

So I think cutting edge tech is really important for attracting shallow people like me, but they’ve gone down a completely different route now. The console world has left them behind, and their last great new concept was probably Wii Sports, which is not the sort of game I’ve ever wanted from them. Their own games look primitive compared to things on other formats, they keep rehashing the same old ideas from 15-20 years ago, and in the unlikely event that a big multi-platform title appears on Nintendo today you can guarantee it’s a gimped version.

To be honest, I’d like to see them abandon consoles and start making games for companies that know how to do things like strong hardware and online infrastructure. Actually, that’s something that would persuade me to buy an Xbox or PS4.

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Gareth: With a newborn baby in your life (congratulations!) have you given any thought into whether you want to try to get them into gaming in the future, and if so, what's your plan of action?

Martin: She’s definitely going to be a gamer, if I’ve got anything to do with it. I think I’ll start her on retro stuff, like emulated arcade games and some of my crusty old consoles. There are so many games machines in this house there’s bound to be something she’ll like. I’ve even got a pinball machine in the spare room, but maybe she’ll just be into princesses and ponies.

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Gareth: What's the best game you can remember playing in the past year or two?

Martin: I’m a big fan of GTA, so GTA 5 really stands out. I liked Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and played quite a lot of Arma 3, which is a real mixed bag. Some of it is quite shoddy but then you’ll find a scene where you’re sniping people from two miles away and it suddenly becomes the best thing ever.

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Gareth: Is there a game that you keep coming back to? For some it's FIFA, for me it's League of Legends, what's yours?

Martin: I played World of Tanks for almost a year, but after a few thousand games it started to wind me up so much that I uninstalled it. I reinstalled it about a fortnight later but I’ve hardly played it since, so I think that habit may be broken. I rarely play single-player games more than once through, so my collection of old completed games just sits around doing nothing.

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Gareth: And finally, Sophie's choice: Enjiki, or Worldy Bloke?

Martin: You mean which one would I send to a gas chamber? That’s a bit harsh. I mean, Enjiki is a badly drawn anime girl and Worldy Bloke is a globe with goggly eyes, but I’m not sure either of them deserves to be murdered. Given some of the filthy stuff readers sent in about Enjiki, maybe the magazine would have been a slightly better place without her.

Worldy Bloke and Enjiki. (respectively... obviously)

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To keep up with Martin's latest activites visit his website Kittsy's Cookbook, and be sure to visit his portfolio for some of his past articles from N64 Magazine and beyond, including the complete Issue 100 restrospective referenced in the interview.

It was very hard to find them online, so the complete collection of Lex Luthor's Solve My Maze can be found here, easy to find, hosted on Gamebanter.co.uk, hopefully for all eternity! (Fingers crossed!)

Lex Luthor's Solve My Maze - Gallery

Tuesday
May282013

Unfounded Rage - analyzing the backlash towards Microsoft and the Xbox One

Well, it's been a week since Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, and the response to the announcement was, well, less than pleasant. Infuriated gamers took to the internet and whipped up a storm of hatred towards Microsoft, claiming that they had abandoned gamers and that they weren't even making games consoles any more! I watched the same press conference that they all did, and yet I didn't get any of the same fears, so let's see if we can't put a few minds at ease, and hopefully make a few people feel better about this new fangled Xbox.

“Microsoft doesn't care about 'Gamers' any more!”

 

Putting aside the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the term 'gamers' this is something that we can easily address. First it's probably best to ask what the reasoning behind this opinion is. Was it the fact that they spent time showing their new television integration? The mandatory inclusion of the new Kinect? The fact that they barely showed any games? Well consider this: E3 is in 2 weeks.

 

When Sony showed off the PS4, it was in February. E3 was still 4 months away and they had 2 hours to fill. They spent the first half of their meeting going over the specs, features and (sometimes hypothetical) functions of their new console. If it had ended after that first hour, would the internet's reaction have been as hostile? I hope so, for the sake of consistency. Sony had 4 months to wait until their big opportunity to show off at E3 directly versus their competition, and couldn't leave people with nothing, and so they showed off a boring looking Killzone demo; a by-the-numbers platformer in The Knack and a bunch of tech demos, including an extensive and unbearable video of how the Move could be used to sculpt your dreams. I mean sure, Sony showed some games, but that was B-roll stuff at best. The few, brief minutes spent at Microsoft's Xbox reveal made more of an impact on me than anything that was reeled out at Sony's thing, which brings us to Microsoft's Xbox One reveal...

 

Put yourself in Microsoft's shoes: E3, THE place to show off games, is 3 weeks away! Every year people whine when you go into your console's “social network integration” and “extra features” during your E3 press conference, so here's our chance to get all of that out of the way early and leave E3 to be nothing but games announcements! If they talk about their gaming stuff they rob themselves of reveals at E3. We know from what Microsoft has said, that there will be 15 exclusives in the console's first year... That's a LOT of games! We already know of 2 of those: Forza 5 (launch title, bytheway) and Remedy's next game Quantum Break, that leaves 13 games we have no idea about. That's exciting! Surely it makes sense to wait until E3 and give them the benefit of the doubt?

 

Remedy make good games, so why no excitement for Quantum Break?

 

“Kinect sucks! I don't want Kinect! Why are you forcing Kinect on me!”

 

Kinect is a conspiracy theorists dream! A HD camera with a microphone that can recognise you and is always hooked up to the internet? Surely a tool for the government! But in all seriousness, I can't wrap my head around all this Kinect hatred. I suppose it's largely a taste thing, some people just don't want to be moving or saying things, but another, more understandable part of the hatred is probably just how poorly executed the first iteration was. That first Kinect was a bit of a shambles, thanks in no part to how experimental the technology was. Developers made driving games and ill-conceived platformers for the thing and none of them worked at all. The cameras in it were low res and the tech was prone to glitch, it was nothing more than a minor proof of concept. In fairness to Microsoft, this newer Kinect was reacting MUCH better during the press conference and the tech in it is much better. 1080P camera, better quality microphone and wider angle lens so you can be stood closer (better for smaller rooms). A Kinect that works is an exciting prospect, it brings us one step closer to calling the computer like in Star Trek: The Next Generation! Who doesn't want that?!

 

"Computer, locate wife" "Wife is in the kitchen" "Good"

 

“No backwards compatability?!”

 

This is a bit of a non-issue in my books. I still have my Xbox 360 and will have in years to come, it's not a huge deal to get it out every once in a while for a bit of 'retro' gaming, the same way I do with my N64, SNES etc. and let's be honest, there are few things more pleasant than to get out an old console and delve through some of your old games.

 

“Why won't I be able to buy used games or trade my games in?! How dare you?!”

 

This was an example of people over reacting. Just after the press conference, there were conflicting statements all over the place, from people saying 2nd hand games will be fine on the Xbox One while others said you would have to pay to activate them. The internet was not happy about the thought of having to pay twice for buying a used game, so they went into full “Exterminate!” mode, but since then Microsoft's stance on used games has come to light and it's about as consumer friendly as anyone could have hoped for! Basically they'll have a system in place where when you buy a game, that disc is tied to your Xbox Live profile. When trading it in, that disc will be deactivated from your account, free for someone else to buy and register to themselves. Simple! The new service ensures Microsoft and the game's publishers see a cut when a game gets sold 2nd hand, so I'd be shocked if Sony didn't adopt a very similar philosophy. Imagine you're a publisher, and have to choose which platform to fully support, knowing that if you go with the Xbox, you're guaranteed to see money on every 2nd hand game sale instead of the nothing you're used to? You're definitely going to publish on Xbox One. We've been moving towards this kind of system for years now, it shouldn't be a shock to anyone to finally see it being implemented straight into a console infrastructure.

 

Don't worry, your ability to trade-in games is still intact.

 

“I don't want to watch TV, I want a games console!”

 

Well now not only do you get a games console, you also get a responsive TV interface and a built-in DVR! I mean seriously, I don't know about you, but the interface on my TV is sluggish, unreliable and an absolute nightmare to navigate. If I can have a nice, clean, quick interface for all my TV stuff instead of that, I'm gonna use it all the damn time! And honestly, Kinect integration will be a god send. I can't tell you the amount of time I've wanted to change channel but had to spend 2 minutes looking for the pissing remote! If I could just say “Xbox, E4” when New Girl is about to come on then I'm all for it!

 

“It has to connect to the internet once a day! What is this, Nazi Germany?”

 

Well made-up internet person, your exaggerations will do you no good here! This is another thing that we as a culture have been slowly approaching for a few years now. Obviously in the far-flung future everything will be online all the time, this is just Microsoft being one of the first to really give us a nudge towards it, a somewhat forceful nudge, but a nudge nonetheless. What's not been described is what it's doing when it does its daily connection or how its doing it. I think it's more than likely it will do it whilst in sleep/standby mode and 99% of people won't even notice, but if that's too draconian a concept for you, then you probably have bigger problems than what console you're going to buy next, you xenophobic freak, you! Seriously though, is this really that big of a deal? For the majority of people I think it's only a problem in theory, and in practice it won't be any issue at all.

 

“It looks ugly! Like an old VCR player!”

 

This is a taste thing for sure, but I personally really like it. I like how un-fancy it's trying to be. It's just a big black box, with shit loads of vents to keep it nice and cool so it works speedily, quietly and doesn't red ring. There are no frills about it, and I quite like that. In its own way, it's actually quite a daring bit of design, to have it look as nondescript as possible, and I think it'll look quite dashing underneath my TV.

 

It's so slick and clean, I really like it!

 

“I'm not buying one, I'm going to get a PS4 now!”

 

This may be the silliest thing of all the anti-One rhetoric I've seen. Not only do we have very little info to go on about not only the games, but the actual consoles themselves; but also, from those press conferences, the PS4 looks inferior based purely on features. The PS4 allows you to save gameplay videos and send them to friends, as well as integrate with your social networks and allow you to post them to your Facebook wall, but aside from that, there really aren't any new innovations. Sony spent a good quarter of their press conference talking about this feature, do you remember how long Microsoft spent talking about it? Like 4 seconds! The biggest innovation Sony could muster was shrugged off by Microsoft like it was nothing, sandwiched in-between ALL THE OTHER COOL SHIT THEIR CONSOLE CAN DO THAT SONY'S CAN'T. It was pretty apparent in my eyes that feature-wise, Microsoft have absolutely nuked Sony. Almost everything Sony announced, Xbox One will also do... in the background... whilst you're watching the Champion's League final, betting on it in a snap-in window and Skyping with your mate across the world who is also watching it live with you. It's like the Xbox One has a PS4 inside it handling the games stuff, then it also has all this other cool stuff as well if you want to use it. That's my first impression from the 2 press conferences we've already seen. If there's one thing you can take to the bank though, it's that first impressions aren't always correct, and this time 2 weeks from now, I may very well be eating all these typed words, but for now how about we all just agree to stop throwing around baseless hatred, and instead just be excited about the rapidly approaching future of our mutual, beloved hobby. Gaming. These are exciting times, my friends. Very exciting times.

 

 

Friday
Feb222013

Why I Don't Think I'll Be Buying a PS4

 

So, it's been a good day and a half since Sony went all 'Apple' and held their one off press conference to announce the PS4. I've watched it through twice and, while there are features I like, the whole press conference rounded out a bit of a wet squib for me. In the interest of being nice though, let's start with the positives:

The Good


GaiKai Integration

When Sony purchased GaiKai, cogs started turning in pretty much every gamer's head. The possibilities, if the hype was to be believed, were enormous, and even though OnLive kinda burned everyone, you've got to believe that Sony wouldn't be pushing this so hard unless they had total faith in the tech. If it works the way they say it will, then they've got something a bit special on their hands, and Sony know it. Games that you can play instantly and keep downloading the rest of the game in the background; a massive back catalogue and the ability to make a lot of money selling PS1, 2 and 3 games that, again, play instantly; the system pre-downloading something for you and have it waiting for you next time you turn it on. The way things are going, we're moving rapidly towards downloading everything, and so a solid infrastructure like this is going to be invaluable, and a big draw in the next few years (if not at launch). The social features are a lot less exciting, but I'll mention those later.

Suspending Your Game
Sounds like a simple one this, but being able to just suspend a game and store it in RAM whilst the power is off, so that next time you turn the system on you can just resume playing, is actually really cool. No more having to wait for a save point or a checkpoint, now you can just hit the power button and walk away, knowing you're safe for next time. Superb.

The Tech
I'm not the world's greatest at the technical side of things, but seeing analysis of this thing it seems pretty unanimous that it's gonna be a powerful little box. It has a lot of RAM (which is a versatile tool) and comparable components to powerful PCs, for no doubt cheaper than the PC would end up costing, plus a Bluray player included, not a bad deal. Ofcourse PCs will be more powerful, that's always the case, but what new consoles do is force developers to create new, more powerful engines, like the Panta Rhei engine we saw come out of Capcom (which, though on a low res stream, looked absolutely stunning!). One thing's for sure, graphics are more beautiful now than ever, and console gamers will finally get to experience what PC gamers have been going on about for the past 6 years. I also like the controller, the touch pad could be pretty cool and the share button is... well... it's there.

The Bad


The Games

As big a focus as they tried to put on games, pretty much everything they showed looked so run of the mill I just felt bored. Killzone: Shadow Fall, while extremely pretty, looked dull as dishwater. Standard FPS, except with some bright colours right at the start does not make much of an impact. The Knack, a 3D platformer in a similar style of Jak and Daxter/Ratchet and Clank looked run of the mill, at best, and not even that good looking. Should be a PS3 game. Drive Club, though obviously made with love, is redundant on a platform with Gran Turismo as it's premier racing franchise. Jonathan Blow's new game looked about as standard as a first-person puzzle game can, all the exciting sounding things he was talking about before he showed the trailer were completely absent when the video started rolling, what the hell were they playing at?! Overall, I didn't see a single gaming experience that showed off what the system could really do, or that would convince me to buy it.

Awkward Tech Demos
Whether it was showing an old man's polygonal face, or demonstrating how we can recreate our dreams, I couldn't give a flying fuck. The whole "look at us dancing with these dream characters using the Move controller!" made me cringe so hard I was worried my scalp might actually rip at the forehead. Not only did that not even look fun, it didn't even look that good. If the best you guys can do with all this new tech is make a puppet show, then maybe just call it a day, yeah? Come on, this is meant to be the future of the Playstation brand, and you made an awlward music video. All the thumbs down.

Vita Integration
While it's smart to make the Vita/PS4 combo do the same thing that a Wii U does, ultimately it's impossible to take any use of the vita seriously. It's only a small thing, but it still got under my skin.

The Meh


Social Features

I don't have any problem with social features, in fact they're great, the "meh" here comes from the sheer fact that none of this is really news. It goes without saying that these consoles are gonna be balls-deep in Facebook integration and social features, and flaunting these features felt like a waste of airtime. They might as well have announced "Hey everyone, this thing's gonna play GAMES!!!" I think there's a place for social networking feature announcements, but your big press blowout isn't it.

The Share Button
Again, at this point in gaming, a feature like this should just be taken as something that isn't a surprise, this should be something that's included as standard. It's just obvious. This wasn't an earth shaking announcement, it's nifty, sure, but it was also nifty a year ago when me and my mate Lee thought of it. It's just in incredibly obvious idea, that now we know is possible, HAVE to expect to see in the next Xbox aswell.

Counterfeit Kinect
Not a dry eye in the house when Sony showed their Kinect rip off, just no shame at all in the slightest. A sad, sad day.

"Hey there Kinect, what you doing looking at that Dual Shock?... You two-timing WHORE!"

Tuesday
Feb192013

GameBanter's Top Ten 2012

2012 was, for me, disappointing. There were games I liked (as there are every year) but I can't recall any other years in which I played more middle-of-the-road games. I found myself detached from the rest of the video game world on a few games, disliking them a lot more than the rest of the industry did, but just in general I felt that the quality wasn't as overwhelmingly high as in, for example, 2011. (Skyrim, Portal 2, Gears 3, Bulletstorm etc.) Granted there were definitely some blind spots for me (Journey and FTL remain unplayed by me, despite my longing) but there were some ball-grabbingly good games as well, so read on to see which games I liked that you should hate me for:

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10. Far Cry 3


Far Cry 3 starts off stronger than almost any other game in recent memory, unfortunately it goes off the deep end far further than is forgivable. The game's story is not only bad, it's also poorly told, with clumsy story missions intermingling with stupid drug cutscenes in which you have no idea whether your character has supernatural powers or is just high as a kite, and the voice actors read every line weirdly, with odd intonation and emphasis. Things like this make the game impossible to take seriously, but it also doesn't go far enough towards ridiculous to be endearing. Fortunately for the game, the island it's based on and the gameplay that the location invites are just enough to keep you playing and having fun while avoiding the latest story mission. hunting wild animals and crafting their hides into useful equipment is genius, and is the best thing about the game by a mile. Worth playing to experience this aspect of the game, but don't expect to get any deeper fulfillment from the experience than that.

 

 

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9. The Darkness 2


Grab the door off a nearby car, use it as a bullet shield, throw it and decapitate 3 bad guys at once. Pick up an enemy by one foot, grab the other foot and rip him open like a wishbone. Throw a demon at an enemies face and wait for it to tear his throat out... Or you know, just shoot dudes. All of these options are available to you at all time in The Darkness 2. The combat is nothing short of a joy, with mechanics in place to keep you thinking tactically about your next execution and looking round the battlefield for the nearest throwable object. You start off the game super powerful, and you keep getting more and more powerful as it goes on, making it a very fun game to take part in as a result. On top of the satisfying combat, the game is wrapped up in a really cool story. Jackie is a mafia don and uses his Darkness powers to get the edge over the other gangs. The story takes twists and turns, and gets pretty brutal in places, but you always feel like Jackie is nothing short of an invincible killing machine, despite the best efforts of all his enemies to try and finish him off. Even a lackluster multiplayer mode doesn't hurt the game's fun factor. It's a superb power fantasy and a pretty satisfying mob story as well, just don't be surprised if it grabs you harder than you're expecting.

 

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8. Hotline Miami


There are a lot of reasons not to like Hotline Miami. It's unforgiving, tough, violent and weird as hell... Though some people, myself included, see those as positives where Hotline Miami is concerned. The gameplay is super tight and quick, and rewards experimentation. The game's art style is 8-bit and looks great. Enemies die exploding with glorious pixel blood, in an over the top way games tend to be steering away from nowadays. The game's story is mysterious and trippy and though it's clearly just a thinly veiled excuse for killing more bad guys, its anonymous mission givers make the tone feel very sinister. All these things are well and good, but it's the soundtrack that really excels. It may be the best soundtrack of the year, perfectly matching the 1980s drugged up feel the game's got going on. You never come across a song in the soundtrack that sounds out of place or isn't absolutely ideal for the action going on on screen. The game gave me a strong Super Meat Boy feeling, which is always something I savor when I find it. You respawn instantly when killed, so the game moves quick enough that the difficulty doesn't feel like a negative. If you see it in a Steam sale buy it. For the soundtrack alone.

 

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7. Sleeping Dogs

 

What a load of bullshit. How is this game good?! This was originally a True Crime game (one of the most middling-to-shitty franchises to grace the last 10 years) and got it's arse passed round so much even a professional porn star would be impressed. The fact that Sleeping Dogs not only functions properly as a game, but also is a fucking good one is damn near a miracle. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop in the Chinese underground. The game is open world, takes place in Shanghai and looks fantastic. Everything about it oozes quality, from the visuals, to the atmosphere, to the great voice acting and even, crucially, to a story that stays captivating throughout. The story is surprisingly ballsy, taking a bit of a brutal left turn around 3 quarters of the way through which was not only unexpected, but really did the game some favours. The game could easily have chugged along in the standard way, but instead it takes some risks and becomes a stand out for the year as a result! And this is to say nothing of the game's open world gameplay and hand-to-hand combat, both of which are outstanding. It disguises itself as something mundane, but make no mistake, Sleeping Dogs is special.

 

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6. The Walking Dead


By now you've heard a lot about The Walking Dead, in fact you've probably already played it and chances are, it's much higher on your list than mine. This is one of those games I disagreed with the rest of the industry on. I don't dislike it, obviously, it's number 6, but I don't think it's the best game of the year. When you're not controlling Lee directly you're interacting with characters in tense, important conversations that feel just as draining as a real life argument would. Timers tick down, forcing you to pick a response in a hurry, so every time an argument flairs up you're left going with your gut, as if you were arguing in real life. It's remarkable how well this works, and if all the other games out there could master character interaction to this degree we'd be guaranteed years of great gaming experiences. The problems come any time you're required to do any kind of action scene. It's woeful, it really is. You need to hit a zombie in the head before it bites your face? Good luck. Shooting something? Better start praying. Trying for the fifth time to do this one sequence? Get ready to do it 5 more times. Pacing and fun are the victims here, but my goodness is it ever fulfilling the other 90% of the time. A must play, just have a little patience.

 

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5. Asura's Wrath


I don't even know where to start with Asura's Wrath. A game that follows the structure and narrative mannerisms of an anime, majoring in ridiculously exhilarating visuals and set pieces. Sure, you don't 'play' these sections, but it's hard to care when the stuff going on on the screen is easily the most ridiculous, awe inspiring shit you've ever seen. Granted, the bits you are playing are somewhat samey and lackluster, but it hardly matters when every single battle you know you're building up to a magnificent, breath-taking cutscene in which infinite ass gets kicked. A lot of the game is Quick Time Events that the player takes part in, though unlike other games, the game contextualises these in a way that is clever and imaginative. The whole game just feels epic in a way that's hard to put your Earth-sized finger on, but for me i found it intoxicating. I couldn't put it down. Asura's Wrath had me by the short and curlies and refused to let go until I was jumping off the couch yelling "HOLY SHIT!" and "YES!!!" so loud that the neighbours probably suspected a whole different kind of "Quick Time Event" taking place... Just play it. Experience it. Be one with Asura's Wrath. Buy it dinner. Seduce it. Take it to your bedroom and BURST its brains out!

 

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4. Fez


On its surface, Fez is simple: A simple 2D platformer in which you rotate the world around you to access new areas. The true genius of Fez lies in its secrets. A secret language written specifically for the game, hints left absolutely everywhere to ancient civilizations and hidden meanings and puzzles which break the 4th wall and reach out from the TV to grab at your brain, like tantalising little breadcrumbs for you to follow down the rabbit hole to Narnia... Granted I mixed up my metaphors there, but such is Fez! It bends your mind and leaves you little choice but to completely change the way you think and absorb information from your environment. Seemingly insignificant details dotted around the game world turn out to be more relevant than you can ever imagine, and things you never thought possible turn out to be an inevitability should your curiosity continue to grow. Fez is definitely the most ambitious and original game to come out this year, which is saying a lot! I think of all the games I played this year Fez will stay with me the longest. It gets in your head and makes a home, it does things no game has done before and probably won't attempt again. Fez is an instant classic, and though not as fun or challenging as I wish it was, still accomplishes an incredible amount. Its respect is earned.

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3. Mass Effect 3


Oh Mass Effect. How I adored you. One of the great trilogies of our time, ruined in the last 10 minutes. I didn't play the extended ending DLC, nor did I play Leviathan or the other buyable DLCs, my experience with the game was with the original ending and it left me sad and unfulfilled. Luckily there were at least 30 hours before those last 10 minutes that really had me. The returning characters experience their final in-game moments along with you, destined to be the subject of some extended universe book in a few years but their journeys come to an end in the Mass Effect universe as we currently know it. Character moments are dealt with respectfully and realistically, having a shooting competition with Garrus feels natural, as does helping Jack and her students escape from Cerberus' evil clutches, it all makes sense and flows wonderfully. The adventures of Shepard have always been great entertainment and Mass Effect 3 keeps that ball rolling throughout. Seeing the team members I've spent days of my life with again was enough to make me enjoy the game, but Bioware also included a multiplayer mode that blew me away. So much better than it had any right to be, and with more hooks than a fisherman's wharf, it kept me playing for hours. Mass Effect 3 may not have been a perfect game by any means, but it's more than good enough to stand up on its own right. A shame to see Shepard go.

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2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

 

Honestly I had no idea there was a turn based strategy game all those years ago called X-com until Enemy Unknown was on its way. Not being a PC gamer at a young age it was in my blind spot, so I wasn't expecting X-com: Enemy Unknown to be any good at all. It was. It was very good. I'm a fan of turn-based combat anyway, with my love of Advance Wars and Pokemon, and this was like a breath of fresh air. It's not only the actual art of fighting in a turn-based game that had me endeared to X-com right away, it was the extras. In-between every mission you go back to base and research new weapons, upgrades, train new troops, buy air interceptors, make sure the planet is protected and plan ahead for your next mission. It's awesome, and has a weird habit of making you look forward to missions whilst you're not in them, and looking forward to not being in missions whilst you are. Every part of the game is so well thought out that you always have something to do and something to look forward to, it's great design. The game has a myriad of technical difficulties, with characters shooting through walls and glitches occurring frequently, but it's hard to care when you're having so much fun.

 

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1. Borderlands 2


Yep. My favourite game of the year was Borderlands 2. In terms of fun, no other game last year even came close. The gameplay loop of levelling, finding new badass guns, killing enemies with those guns and then levelling up again is as simple as it is addictive. Levelling up is satisfying, shooting things is satisfying, using your action skill is satisfying and getting new weapons is BEYOND satisfying. It's a game built on the solid framework of the original but tweaked to maximise the fun. Floods of enemies try to overwhelm you while you try to explode them into chunks same as before, except now they juke and jive and do some dodging so you have a harder time getting a clear shot. New AI systems like this make the enemies more fun to combat across the board, not just the ones that run at you. You'd think this would make the game worse, but actually it livens things up a bunch and improves the fun factor. Fun is what this game does, it oozes from its pores like squeezing water out of a sponge. The gameplay is outstanding and the characters are amongst the most well written I've ever experienced. It's genuinely funny and witty, and left me immediately wanting Borderlands 3. If I could only play one game that came out in 2012, it'd be this every time. Hands down.

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So that's my list. I know it was late, and I know there were 1 or 2 games I didn't play that might have squeezed on this list, but by all means if you disagree with it there's a comment section below, and a Twitter account to harass me on. Feel free to do both!

Fingers crossed 2013 will put 2012 to shame. I have high hopes... well... I have hopes. That's better than nothing, I guess.

 

Friday
Jul132012

GameBanter's Dream Games - Yu-Gi-(MM)Oh!

A feature in which we think about the most perfect games we could possibly imagine, but that will never happen, and put that vision into words.

I've been a pretty massive geeknerd for a number of years now, even before I got entrenched in this wonderful prison known as the internet. When I was in high school I had 2 big loves which stand out to me looking back: Super Sash Bros. Melee, and Yu-Gi-Oh Cards. Super Smash Bros. Melee was what me and my friends did literally every Friday night. They'd come over, we'd get loads of snack and we'd just kick the shit out of each other for hours on end. It was glorious. Yu-Gi-Oh though, was something I spent almost every day doing for atleast an hour. Some other guys in school were also into the game and so we had a little Yu-Gi-Oh club, then when we got a bit more serious about it, we started going to tournaments on Saturday mornings, even travelling to other cities for their tournaments from time to time. I was good at the game (helps to know Wayne Pinkney, ex UK Champ!) but never took it seriously enough to actually make the deck that was winning tournaments, I just stuck with my good old deck and had fun with it.

Unfortunately I fell out of the game when I: A) Started getting girlfriends (they usually wanna take up your Saturdays... and a lot of your free time), and B) When money was becoming an issue for me because I was jobless. I never stopped enjoying it, I just didn't really have too much say in stepping away from the game. I always had a lot of fond memories of playing Yu-Gi-Oh, and the game's rules are engrained into my mind like the alphabet, so occasionally, over the years, I'll dip into the newest Yu-Gi-Oh game that's coming out, whether that be for DS, PC or XBLA. These games are never good. Well okay, that's a little unfair, they contain loads of cards, and let you make a deck and play the game with automated rules and tutorials and opponents and the ability to unlock new cards... pretty standard stuff for a trading card-based video game. What I want from my trading card experience though, is something to keep me coming back. Sure, in those other Yu-Gi-Oh games I make my deck, battle the computer a bunch and maybe do a little multiplayer, but then I grow weary and stop playing it. What I want, and am about to describe to you, is the perfect Yu-Gi-Oh experience. The Yu-Gi-Oh MMORPG: Yu-Gi-(MM)Oh!

Playing Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers This character creatir is from Yu-Gi-Oh Online. Nothing about Yu-Gi-Oh is good.2013 forced to think about how I would best want to experience playing a card game, and I concluded that the coolest, most engaging way, would be to have the duelling system dressed up in an MMO's fine, silk suit. You start off in Yu-Gi-(MM)Oh! by making your character. There's an incredibly robust character creator, much better than the "Pick 1-of-3 faces. Now pick if they wear a hat" approach of other Yu-Gi-Oh games. You customise your character as thoroughly as you want, giving them cat ears, or designing your own logo for their duelling jacket, plus this is a world where straps can just be worn on your arms for no reason, so the sky's the limit. Once you've made your character look either cool, or ridiculous, depending on your sensibilities, you get to buy your first deck. Seeing as how it's the very start of the game, you start the same way you would in real life: By going to the card shop and buying a starter deck. You're given enough money to buy 1 starter pack, but you only get to choose between a choice of 2 or 3, so that everyone starts off on similarly weak footings. MMO 101.

Once you have your deck, it's time to use it! You can duel other players straight away at duelling benches, or just start undertaking quests for NPCs. Most of these quests will involve you having to duel someone at a duelling arena, obviously, but others could be to give them a specific card or set of cards. When you win a duel you get money. No exp in this game, only money (you get less money for losing duels but you still get money, so don't be discouraged by losing! You can still save up for a new booster pack!). Money will buy you booster packs, new cards, or other equipment like a Dark Magician broach or something daft like a Blue Eyes Helmet (though that'd have to cost a tonne of money). There's a starting area, in which you can only buy the earliest booster packs and cards that were available in the game, but as you leave the starting area and explore you'll find new card shops that have different booster packs and new individual cards for sale, as well as new quests and all that good MMO jazz.

Finally getting your own duel disk would be cool as hell... Maybe not a pink one thoughInitially you can only duel other players at duelling benches (literally just a picnic bench with a playing mat on it) but eventually, after you've done a bunch of quests and beaten a few strong NPCs, you gain your duel disk. You can upgrade your duel disk to look cooler, or do fancy stuff (like make fireworks when you summon a monster, again, this'll cost a lot of money) but the important thing is, now you can duel wherever, whenever and with the awesome holograms we're used to from the show, so you could be running around Domino City and, whilst running past an alleyway, spy an epic duel with 2 huge dragons fighting each other. It would be epic!

One thing that would lend itself well to an MMO from the Yu-Gi-Oh universe are the abundance of tournaments. There are loads of tournaments, and they're always pretty cool. An in-game event, for example, could be for all duelists of a certain skill level to get on the boat to Duelist Kingdom, and all fight it out there Battle Royale style until the champion fight Pegasus, a mod in the game who can see the other person's cards the whole time. Could be super cool. Also the Domino City tournament from the show, a tournament where when you lose, you lose your deck's best card, could be really crazy to be a part of. If you lose in these tournaments, what's cool is that even though you can't duel anymore, you can still walk up to any duel and just watch. With the hologram system from the show, you see everything! You walk up to a duel in the middle of the city square you know how many monsters are out, how may cards face down, what equips are out, what field spells. It would be so easy to spectate and chat about the duel as it happens, it would be awesome.

I think the most important thing to note about Yu-Gi-(MM)Oh! that I've yet to mention, is that it has a monthly subscription... and that's it. No micro transactions, no "swap real money for in-game money!" bullshit, it's all balanced and everybody has the chance to get the best cards even if they don't have a lot of money in real life. A good system to borrow would be that of FIFA Ultimate Team. In ultimate team you can get money through taking part in lots of mini player tournaments or even by cleverly selling cards on their auction house, both of which would be features I would want in the game. Imagine you're just sat there bored and you decide "I want to try and win some booster packs or money right now!" and you go to a building in the town and suddenly you're in a 16-man tournament, where there are various prizes for top 8. That's a freaking cool as fuck idea, that is for some reason only done in a football game, and NOT in a card game! Absurd!

It's kind of fucked up that when I think about card games This is how Yu-Gi-Oh games usually look: Boring. They can do better!with solid economies and incentives for taking part in the community, the only one I can come up with is a FIFA game, but so few and far between are decent video games based around cards that the guys behind Ultimate Team is really the only innovators out there in the genre. I think that by encouraging community, and incentivising taking part no matter your skill level, you keep people engaged for a far longer period of time, and as an MMO there's money to be made there. People will be constantly playing in tournaments, watching episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh on the big screen fitted above the main square (did I not mention that earlier?) and having fun playing virtual card games against one another. If you got all of this for, I dunno, £5 a month on top of actually buying the game, that would be an amazing proposition for fans of Yu-Gi-Oh cards! Entering a real life tournament costs about £5 anyway, and a real booster pack is coming mighty close to that as well! I'd be worried that they'd feel compelled to let you buy extras for real money, but I would hope that they would see that in the long run, this kind of integrity move creates so much good will that people will stay with the MMO for years longer than they would have otherwise.

Sure it's a pipedream, and sure it's a ridiculous notion for an MMO not to contain micro-transactions, but such is the life of a dream game in one's imagination. It shall never get made, and I shall be forever flacid. At least I still have my real cards, I guess...

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Wednesday
Mar282012

Why The Thought Of Reviewing Mass Effect 3 Gives Me A Stress Headache (With Spoilers)

I generally like to play a game to completion before I review it. Completing the game, trying out all of it's modes, giving the multiplayer a go and seeing how much replayability the game has, it all contributes to me feeling like I can make a fair, informed decision on how to judge a game based on it's merits, context and flaws. And then there's Mass Effect 3. I completed the game in about 30 hours, sinking a good 12 hours into the multiplayer after finishing it, which should, in theory, position me ideally to review it, but no. It's not quite that simple in this case.

We all know what Mass Effect is, we've all played it, and if you Some story devices I was okay with, others? Not so much...haven't then stop reading, because I'm gonna totally ruin the end of the game for you, just sayin'. The journey the majority of us have taken will have been through Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 with one Shepard, a consistent cast of characters and one continuous story, with a few players having the same experience but picking the story up in Mass Effect 2 instead. Either way you have a universe you're pretty attached to, and a family of characters you care about by the time you come into Mass Effect 3. I don't have a problem with that, I could still have reviewed the game even with about 70+ hours of character development already under my belt, in fact, in my non-existent review, I would have said that this was a good thing, and that if you loved Mass Effect 2, very specific things about Mass Effect 3 would fill your heart with joy.

To be a little more specific, the intimate moments you get into with your old friends is done better in 3 than in the other games in the series. Hanging out with Garrus on the Citadel, having Liara come up to your room with the time capsule, helping out Miranda with her daddy problems, picking out the spot for Tali's future home, to even massive story points like Moridin's self-sacrifice to cure the Genophage (a potentially hugemongous event in the Mass Effect lore), all of those moments are that much more special when you've spent such a huge amount of time with these guys. What's even more remarkable is the fact that, depending on how you did in Mass Effect 2, these characters may have already died in your universe, for example, in my game Wrex was dead, so throughout the whole last 2 games his cousin Wreav has been in charge of the clan, and for some players out there all the characters I've listed above could easily have died before the game even began, meaning none of those experiences can possibly happen to you. I think that's awesome, and it's in these possibilities that the game really shines. Who will help you against the Rachni if Grunt's dead? Who's gonna cure the Genophage if Moridin's dead? Will Kai Leng kill the councillor if Thane doesn't intervene? The answers to these questions are, to me atleast, incredibly intriguing, and made my specific game feel special.

Visiting Tali's homeworld WITH Tali was a personal highlight.The shooting in the game is as fun as it was in ME2, and just as tactical, which was alright for me as I got pretty darn good at Mass Effect 2. The main difference to combat is over encumbrance, meaning if you take more weapons then your powers have a bigger recharge, that and being able to upgrade weapons and modify them is always welcome. I wouldn't call the combat an improvement though, it's more just an ever-so-slight refinement of the system that was already in place, it was a good system though so the game doesn't lose any hypothetical points for that.

My main problem, and while not a game breaker, is definitely a review-breaker, is that the entire game is built around the notion that you have to acquire "fleets" in order to battle the Reapers. The higher your overall fleet bonus, the better you'll do in the eventual final battle against the Reapers, atleast in theory. After seeing the multiple endings and experiencing the end for myself, the most heart breaking thing is realising that that fleet value doesn't matter one tiny bit. I mean, if you're going to complete the game, chances are you'll gather as much fleet as you possibly can anyways, but even if you don't, you get almost the exact same cutscene no matter what your eventual choice was, or how good you were at the game. The differences between the red, blue or 'middle' choice endings are so minute it's actually offensive, with little more than a different colour applied to the energy blast emitted from the Crucible in the game's final moments. The Reapers are still defeated, the Mass Relays are still destroyed and Shepard still dies (except for that split second tease in 1 of the endings) no matter what your fleet value was.

At first I thought about the game's ending in a way similar Certain parts were definitely epic as fuck.to this: "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell, I absolutely loved 29 and-a-half hours of this 30 hour long game, so I think I can let the ending go and still give it a 5/5" But then it occurred to me that the last 5-10 minutes of Mass Effect 3 almost entirely negate not only almost every single mission in the game, but the lack of inclusion of any major choices from ME 1 or 2 also kinda shits all over them aswell. I gave Cerberus the Collector ship to help fight the Reapers and that came to nothing. I saved the Rachni in ME1 and all I got for a reward was a (as we've already realised) useless fleet bonus. I managed to save both the Quarians and the Geth and include them both in the battle, but neither were acknowledged in the final cutscene, even though ending a centuries old war might seem like the kind of thing you wanna touch back on briefly at the end of the trilogy. About the only thing that actually matters are the fates of your Mass Effect 1 and 2 characters, but even then they have no bearing on the actual ending cutscene to the game. I've been playing a game for 30 hours, only to be told that "Hey, any time you spent doing any activity that wasn't a priority mission, or talking to a member of your crew, was basically completely pointless. Unlucky." And so the more I thought about reviewing the game, the more it wrinkled my brain.

How can I sit here and say that most of the game's missions are really cool and fun when they're laced with an insidious layer of false achievement?
How can I condone a game mechanic whereby the entire crux of said game is to gather fleets which later turn out to be useless?
How do I review this game without spoilers?!?

I wish I knew, but there's no way my mind can make sense on the situation. I wanna tell people that haven't played a Mass Effect game that if they were to play Mass Effect 2 and 3 they would experience something great, but the critic inside me wants to scream at the top of my lungs "BUT AT THE SAME TIME FUCK THAT FUCKING BULLSHIT GAME!". I can't sit here and pretend like everything is cool and say "The missions are all really fun and most turn out to be pretty cool in the end." because that would be denying the truth. It's like that one guy on Jeremy Kyle, who sits next to his pregnant scum girlfriend like everything is fine and swears he hasn't also shagged and duffed-up her best mate, but then those lie detector results come back and it turns he's not only shagged her best mate, but her mum, sister and pet rabbit aswell. I don't wanna recommend an experience (which a non-spoilery review would have to do) when the potential for disappointment is almost 100%, but on the other hand I don;t want to spoil the game for anybody who was still interested in it. I can't straddle both sides of the fence, and I can't sit in the middle. Mass Effect 3 is at all times a 5/5 and a 1/5 but never anything inbetween, or one but not the other. It's an anomaly, and one I can't consciously put a solid final score to. I hope that's alright with everyone.

Pick a direction, any direction! ...Seriously, it barely matters.


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Saturday
Mar032012

Why I Hated... SSX

I rent alot of games, some good, some bad. When I rent a game I can't bring myself to finish I'll let you guys know why. Learn from my mistakes!

Remember when SSX was a big deal? Remember when Tricky came out and that advert played "It's Tricky" and that snowboarder with the afro was doing mental tricks and it looked awesome? Remember when you heard about them making a game called "SSX: Deadly Descents" and it was supposed to have guns in it and shit, and then remember how EVERYONE hated that idea and the people making the game got sad and pussied out and were forced to make just another boring SSX game, but tried to arbitrarily change things up just enough so that they wouldn't get bored as fuck making it? I remembered all these things within mere minutes of turning SSX on, and I wasn't happy about it.

The first thing you're treated to in SSX (which now standsWingsuits: An early contender for worst mechanic of 2012 for "Snowboarding, Surfing and Motocross"... process that for a second...) is a tutorial, which sees you jumping out of a plan to learn the trick system. It's very important that they take the first 5 minutes of the game to teach you how to perform unuseful tricks, because just wiggling the stick in a direction whilst maybe holding the right trigger won't perform any tricks at all (hint: that's sarcasm). It seems absurd to me that a game where all the tricks are only a platform to increase boost would, at the forefront of the game, attempt to teach you the finer points of selecting which hand you want to grab which side of the board with. You go off a ramp, you wiggle the stick a bit, you perform a trick. THAT'S IT! Stop trying to pretend you've made a deep, snowboarding trick game, you've made a racing game that happens to be on snow and happens to have tricks. Doing tricks gives you more boost but that's it, and unlocking your super-trick does absolutely fuck all, except giving you infinite boost for a little while.

The next tutorial is to show you how the racing mechanics work. You move left and right to avoid obstacles and right trigger is boost. That's basically it. You jump depending on the button layout you choose, with either the "classic" SSX controls with buttons doing things, or the other control scheme , which is basically lifted straight from the Skate games, with the right stick doing your stuff. It works well enough, except for the fact that none of the jumps in the tutorial are big enough to do your super tricks off.

Tutorial: Press no buttons to grind flawlesslyAfter the tutorial you unlock a pretty troubling achievement: "That Was Easy - 5G" which informs you that you have unlocked every mode in the game. It's less than encouraging to unlock every single mode in a game after 10 minutes of playing, and that it was a 5 point achievement is pathetic. The first race you take part in is also a farce, with almost no challenge, being able to beat it simply by steering. After the race you're made aware of the game's loot system, in which you buy new items for a racer that affect stats of speed, boost or tricks. How is "tricks" a quantifiable amount? Fucked if I know. But I'll tell you what you will need if you wanna snowboard down mountains: ARMOR! Yes, you equip gear inbetween races, and some races you can't even take part in without specific gear, so for example, a race in the dark with penty of stuff to crash into would require you to equip armor... That happens. You race in the dark and if you crash you lose armor, and when your armor is gone you lose health, instantly losing the race if your health runs out. It's fucking pathetic and unnecessary.

Other races require you to equip a wingsuit, which is ridiculous. You equip the wingsuit, which makes hitting the right bumper activate your characters wingsuit. The wingsuit is absolute shit. It doesn't act the way you'd want it to, instead it'll barely move you forward at all very counter-intuitvely. It, also, FOR SOME REASON, only last for a few seconds, which makes fuck all sense. It's not like wings stop working after a certain amount of time has passed, the only reason this is in the game is to stop you flying down the majority of the mountain just with your wingsuit, Jumping out of a helicopter, as it turns out, gets old quickbut in that case just DON'T PUT THE WINGSUIT IN THE GAME!!! Why insert a mechanic into the game, then nerf the fuck out of it so as not to unbalance the game, in a game in which you character BREAKDANCES ON THE BOARD IN MID-AIR!? You can;t just try and mix realism and unrealism so cavalierly, it grates against the soul like... some kind of cheesegrater... on some kind of cheese.

On top of this there are other problems: The 'grinding' is literally automatic, the presentation of the game is boring as hell ("Let's start them off in every race by jumping out of a helicopter, won't that be awesome!!!" NO), the game doesn't justify anything that happens in it at all (seriously, why even botjer trying to insert a story?), and when you build up your "Tricky" meter it plays a dubstep remix of the original Run DMC song, as a final slap in the face to the old SSX and any fans it still had. I hated the hour I played of it, thank god I only rented the fucker!

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Tuesday
Jan032012

What's Gonna Be Awesome In 2012?

Ahh 2011, it was a great year in games, maybe the best, and I'm still sort of hoping to somehow figure out a way of doing a Game Of The Year podcast relatively soon, but until I can figure it out I don't wanna do too much Game Of The Year stuff. So I ask myself, what can I write about at the start of a new year if not to say how good last year was? Well, with my brain firing on all cylinders, I managed to figure it might be okay to write about how good THIS year might be! Woo!

Neverdead and Asura's Wrath

Games that are batshit crazy are hard to come by. Last year had Saints Row: The Third (which I am unfortunately yet to play) and Shadows Of The Damned which, combined, certainly did a great job of keeping crazy alive in 2011, and 2012 looks to be just as crazy, if not moreso! Both Neverdead and Asura's Wrath dial up the crazy to 11 then run with it to a splendid degree I can't help but look forward to. Neverdead centres around a demon hunter who cannot die (as the title sorta suggests) and can use that to his advantage by, for example, ripping his head off and throwing it at people... which, if I'm able, will be all I do in that game. Asura's Wrath follows the tale of a demi-god who awakens after being frozen on earth. Supposedly he's the kind of demi-god that all the other gods are afraid will murder the shit out of them, so the game will entail kicking the fuck out of massive bosses, and when I say massive, I literally mean bigger than planet Earth. Both games come out in February so it's entirely possible I'll burn out on crazy pretty early on in the year, but I can't wait to fight a continent-sized index finger or throw my own head at a gaggle of evil demons. Bring it on!

Neverdead

Asura's Wrath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Am Alive

I love games with a new and unique idea.... I Am Alive isn't necessarily that, but it does take a brand new approach to an already existing idea, that is fascinating. In I am Alive you take the role of a surviver of an apocalyptic event. Unlike in a Fallout, humanity is all but extinct, with the few pockets of mankind you find either near death or out to mug/kill you. Your character wanders around destroyed cities scavenging for supplies to either help other survivors or to hoard for yourself... I presume. Here's where my argument for the game falls apart somewhat, because I'm not 100% sure how the game will play. In my mind it's a given that you can choose to be a post-apocalyptic douchebag or not, but for all I know there are no choices in the game at all. It could be a completely linear experience, but from what I've seen of the game I'm almost certain that won;t be the case. I wanna parkour around a decrepit cityscape and rummage around in the rubble for medical supplies or a weapon, because I haven't had that feeling of isolation since Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. It's a feeling I like, it's a feeling I want again.

I Am Alive

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Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Resident Evil 5 got alot of stick, it was Resident Evil 4 with an emphasis on co-op and if you didn't play the game with a friend you probably had a somewhat more diminished experience than I did. I played the entire game sat side-by-side with my best mate, levelling up our guns, tackling weirdly mutated bosses, simultaneously kneecapping infected African natives and slitting their throats in equal measure, and we loved every second. For me, I've not had my fill of that Resident Evil 4/5 style of third-person action, though I definitely see why they would attempt to change up their formula following the backlash they received. Operation Raccoon City takes place during the events of Resident Evil 2 and looks to be based around 2 teams battling against each other to complete an objective, all the while being swarmed by zombies. The game seems to be close to a first-person shooter, which has me worried, but intrigued. I look forward to seeing Leon Kennedy again, and to shooting Ada Wong in the face.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

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E3 2012

E3 is always something to look forward to, but this years should be filled with awesomeness. On the bigger side of things Wii U will have it's first proper showing outside of tech demos (so expect some Hd Mario and Zelda!) and Valve have promised "something with a 3 in it", which for those keeping count could mean Portal 3, Half Life 3, Half Life 2: Episode 3 or Left 4 Dead 3.... any of which would be awesome! Also on the cards are Halo 4, and I would expect all the games we saw revealed at the VGAs, like Fortnite, The Amazing Spiderman and The Last Of Us. Can't wait!

Wii U

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Bioshock Infinite

I wasn't a fan of Bioshock. Admittedly I didn't play more than a few hours of it, but what I played I disliked. The guns felt shit, the powers weren't cool enough and the constant first person felt forced, instead of the natural way the game should be experienced. Bioshock Infinite looks... well... the same, but in the sky... so basically I couldn't give a fuck about the game, but I'm sure it'll have hundreds of critics singing it's praises, I'll just be surprised if I'm one of them.

Bioshock Infinite

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Darksiders 2

The original Darksiders was awesome. It came out of nowhere and was pretty much the best non-Nintendo Legend Of Zelda ever made. It had a kick ass concept and executed on it brilliantly. To sum the game up: The apocalypse is triggered prematurely, as part of an evil plan, but something goes wrong and 1 of the Four Horsemen (basically the infinitely powered lawkeepers of the apocalypse) gets summoned. He's sapped of his powers and has to regain his former strength whilst also kicking the ass of both angels and demons, whilst they also fight amongst themselves. In the first game you played as War, and in Darksiders 2 we'll play as Death. I expect more of the same, and it's gonna be awesome!

Darksiders 2

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Mass Effect 3

It's only a few months away and I've saved it until last for a reason. The end to the epic Shepard storyline in the Mass Effect universe, and what I assume to be the climactic end of the Reapers, the universe ending race of machines. What's going to be so great about the game isn't seeing how Shepard's story ends, but how MY Shepard's story ends. My Shepard is almost definitely different to yours, and yours is different to your friends... Hell, your Shepard might not have even survived the events of Mass Effect 2! It's going to be the most exciting game event for me I can personally remember, and is almost definitely my game of the year for 2012 already. Wow, I've honestly got chills just thinking about it!

Mass Effect 3

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Wednesday
Oct262011

Why I Hated... Rage

I rent alot of games, some good, some bad. When I rent a game I can't bring myself to finish I'll let you guys know why. Learn from my mistakes!

I played Rage for an hour. That was enough. From the moment the game starts it stinks of unoriginality, it looks almost identical to Borderlands (if Borderlands was permanently way too dark) and starts you off in a vault, waking you up after a an apocalyptic event has wiped out most of the population, leaving the survivors to scavenge and fight off bandits... sound familiar, Fallout fans?

It's a first person shooter, so you would expect, with the entire game Look, they're in cover...revolving around the firing of guns, that they would have made shooting people feel good. Wrong. The starting pistol you get feels like it has the power of a water pistol, and feels about as effective as clicking your fingers at the enemies. There's basically no kickback on your shots, and no feedback at all on your shots either, so firing at bad guys just doesn't have any weight to it.

And those bad guys, holy shit. You expect games nowadays to have atleast some kind of AI. It's not asking too much to have enemies act vaguely intelligently in this day and age, but Rage thinks it knows better. Rage thinks people with guns either stand still and shoot you, or try and huddle nearby something vaguely resembling cover, 99% of the time leaving their head, arms and torso hanging out in such a way that I was almost led to believe they were undertaking in some kind of spontaneous mass suicide but without telling me I was supposed to be the one providing the death. My suspisions were further confirmed by almost every bad guy in the game. When enemies aren't being the world's worst hiders, they're spring straight at you, without a care in the world. Baddies will see you, shout at you, then run at you as you shoot them in the face, torso and penis (what? They're not stopping me, I might aswell aim for the penis!), even the guys with guns more often than not leg it at you with reckless abandon. I think my mass suicide theory is spot on.

Good strategy lads, just run at meThe characterisation is some of the worst I've ever been forced to look at. Your character doesn't speak for some reason, and nobody you talk to seems to notice. John Goodman is the first talking character you see in the game and for some reason seems to think you're capable of killing an entire camp of bandits just minutes after he has to save your life from TWO of them, stating that because you're from this vault thing you're better at shooting bandits... for some reason. I've never been so utterly detached from anything anybody has said so quickly in a game.

The game's graphics are nice, I guess, but the art style is so standard: dusty wasteland, destroyed places people used to live, shanty towns with survivors living in. Even the world's most gorgeous desolate wasteland is still a shithole.

You pick up stuff from the environment to sell and then you use thatJust stand there lads, that's great. Great job. money to buy ammo, or bandages or stuff. why a shop would want to buy an empty bottle after the apocalypse is beyond me, but hey, it's a game, why bother trying to make anything in it make logical sense when you can just make it look a bit prettier than other games. It's an excellent idea, I mean who cares if the gameplay is so incredibly bad it makes me want to burn the disc, so long as those shadows are realistic! Why make the main character a character at all? Just make him a mute with no personality or unique features, then make absolutely sure the dust kicks off your tyres just right when you're driving around to make up for it.

Rage, ironically, made me so damn angry. It wasn't hard, not even a little, it was just such a... nothing. Unoriginal, boring and a game that exists for no reason, other than to invoke memories of Borderlands and Fallout and get some sales off that nostalgia. Rage can fuck off. On the one hand I'm glad I rented it because I save £40, but on the other hand I kinda wish I'd bought it, so I could do whatever I wanted with those 3 shitty discs: Throw them at a wall; wipe my bum with them; grind them up and sell them to a drug addict, stick disc fragments into Halloween sweets... all these are better uses of the game than sticking it in your Xbox and even getting a single achievement from it. A waste of discs.

 

Tuesday
Sep202011

Masticating On Mario Kart

 

Oh my, my, dear-oh-my! Well-O-well. Agape is my mouth, my mind washed clear by briny turbulent seas into an ocean of calm. Yet calmness and contention are absent, vexation and frustration abundant as in this ocean... Hold on, you seem confused – perhaps I should explain.

So simple, so good!Mario kart is one of my favourite games. From the early days in my childhood, blowing the cart before sliding it into the SNES to snaking along as Dry Bones on the DS, via that cheeky gap in Wario’s Stadium, and with Petey Piranha juggling three shells in Double Dash!! The series has been a constant in my life. The medium through which multiplayer friendships are forged, fearsome rivalries explode, and the difference of a Grand Prix made on the last lap of the last race and by a green shell aimed with pinpoint precision (and a touch of luck).

However, with the coming of the 3DS, and the WiiU coquettishly winking at us from across the room, I’m left thinking what will the future instalments bring in the way of innovation and development to gaming? Do Nintendo need to reinvent the series, or should the series be put out to stud? Of course it fucking shouldn’t! It’s an institution that pubs and club need to cater for! We need 16 player tournaments in the corner of the local battleship cruiser! So by the infinitesimally minute chance that Shigsy himself should read this and that we can affect change in our future, here’re a few suggestions that you, or anyone else, is free to borrow.

Firstly, it is long overdue that there were a few more interesting and dynamic weapons. To follow the example of the Smash Bros series, a couple of new weapons and the option to turn them on or off for battles and multiplayer races would be a welcome breath of air to the dusty green-red-blue-shell staples of the It wasn't called "Super" for nothingseries. Some additions I’d like to see are: a poison mushroom that makes the screen freak out with LSD graphics and trippy 60’s kaleidoscope images (could be Luigi’s special after SSBB); Donkey Kong barrels that you can throw at other characters or drop, making the barrel spin and fire a boost in a random direction; A pink Bob-Omb who walks around until somebody hits it, or randomly boosts to actively attack when characters come around for the next lap; the return of the Feather that makes you jump - helping the player take a risky shortcut or just look flash (imagine the look on your mate’s face after you jump his green shell onslaught); A new fire flower that fires from the sides (Waluigi’s special perhaps? Imagine a little purple fire flower with that Dick Dastardly moustache on, too cute); A little Chain-Chomp that you fire at another character which then takes a bite out of one of their tyres, causing some chaos for a 20 seconds as they try and take corners; A Chain-Chomp that latches you to another player, or can be used to latch two other players together (could mean the invention of a new type of Chain-Chomp too which I predict will be a double-headed dildo of a beast).

A welcome addition would be the return of the character specific special items from Double Dash, but in a way which had each character access to a range of three items as opposed to one, and with some characters selections overlapping Nintendo wouldn’t be pushed too far, and the game would keep an aspect of random chance. One addition should be Luigi’s Poltergust coming to life and sucking up power-ups for a speed boost, The detail wasn't there, but the gameplay was solidand steamrollering over other players and stealing their items, which could be a character + specific kart special option – which in turn would pave the way for Nintendo to think of other such combinations and further extend the weapon system. Bowser and his clown-faced helicopter as a cart could have its special as some Mecha-Koopas to throw, which would act like walking banana peels. Yoshi combined with his egg kart could imitate his special egg-roll move from Smash Bros and roll through course debris with a little speed boost. Much like the Super Smash Bros series, there’s plenty of potential for Mario Kart to develop into a more dynamic and exciting series without diluting the quality, and the item roster getting some proper development would be a great start.

Secondly, they should offer some level of customisation that would truly affect the subtle qualities of a race. From the look of the new promo video it’s been grab-a-gimmick week all week at Nintendo track development offices. Rather than offer wings to float, leap and bound over sections of track, or underwater submariner routes that split one good race course into three poor ones (which anyone will always pick the quickest route and stick to it (as will the opponents, thus rendering it a one route track with two poor options)), they could focus on creating solid tracks with a few pitfalls along the way and keep the variation in the handling and control. Say, each character could have two different karts to choose from, and a standard kart as is the format with MK:DS, but then there could be a custom option from which you use a previously customised kart with the character of your choice. Custom karts could be composed of wheels, body, engine and misc which would change the kart in terms of weight, speed, acceleration, handling, and parts offer special quirky bonuses. Custom parts would be unlocked by completing the Mission Mode (giving the Mission Mode actual rewards for better grades), or by getting better ranks on each of the Grand Prix modes, beating Staff ghosts in Time Trial, or by increasing certain online rankings or stats. I feel that this would lean the game towards a more structured racer with plenty of Mario’s trademark wacky charm. Like F-Zero crossed Such a varierty of track designwith party poppers and balloons.

In relation to F-Zero and its sublime gameplay and graceful craft control, Nintendo should aim to keep things tight and accurate. This is not to say that each race should be sterile and lose that un-definable yet delightful symphony of cacophony, but that the player should always have a feel of control, rather than tentatively steering the incorporeal through the intangible. There is nothing more responsive than buttons, and karts should be as responsive as possible with the threat of sliding into a Chain-Chomp’s mouth ever present; and this is why motion control doesn’t cut it for simple precision and should be directed towards other genres. The difference of several degrees is the difference between a graceful corner with a boost just after the apex, and a flaccid lumber across the mud and into last place; and when trying to nail a precise jump over several turbo boosted platforms you need to feel synergy with your racer and in control, rather than taking guesses with a vague and unresponsive steering wheel.

In addition, take out the ham-fisted half-pipes and the maladroit stunt jumps out. They never fail to fuck the camera up a treat, so trying to play Mario Kart Wii amidst the mess of gimmicky stunts is like threading a needle with a horse’s cock whilst chewing a cattle prod and suffering a nut allergy.

Although, perhaps there is some hope. Perhaps this is merely an experimental interlude before the groundbreaking and universally acclaimed definitive Mario Kart. Nintendo are keen to play around with a concept and try to evolve it in new directions (except with the Mario Party series), and are no amateurs when it comes to amelioration. Now they’ve got plenty of notes on the board and tallies on the graph of ‘hits and misses’. There’s a lot of pressure for Nintendo to remodel and deliver; but then again - it’s Nintendo.

 

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 - KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, then they wouldn't be on the site. So enjoy!


Wednesday
Aug312011

The Stanley Parable - A Source Mod With A Difference

New, unique, interesting game experiences are hard to come by in this day and age, with even the most unique take on a first person shooter boiling down to little more than a re-skinned, re-imagining of every previous FPS. So few games have the balls to do something genuinely different and take risks, so occasionally you have to look slightly further afield than simply to what's coming out next. The Stanley Parable is a Mod for the Source Engine, the engine behind Half-life 2, Team Fortress 2 and pretty much all the valve games. Like most mods it's been made by one guy, a guy called Cakebread, who had an idea and worked on it in his spare time and as such isn't motivated by the need to make a profit, or the need to reach as varied an audience as possible; it's not geared towards a demographic or being released in time for the holidays to sell more, it's a labour of love.

You play the game through 427's eyes

I can't go into too much detail regarding the game, as it's something you really need to experience for yourself, but what I can do is tell you why I loved it. I don't read books, I'd rather play a game of Starcraft, or League Of Legends than read. Something about the experience of sitting there reading large amounts of words makes my brain wanna escape my body and jump in front of a bus. Experiencing story in an interactive medium (believe it or not, I'm talking about video games) is, for me, a far superior experience. Whether it's experiencing Russia invading America in Modern Warfare, trying to end the reign of the Combine in Half-Life 2 or saving the galaxy as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, those experiences are made all the better by the fact that you're in the thick of the action, making shit happen.

The Stanley Parable takes what's great about video games and boils it down to an essence. Experiencing a story whilst being in control are what makes this hobby of ours such a unique experience, but what happens when the acts of being in control and experiencing a story are fighting against each other? What if you weren't supposed to act of your own free will? What if, in fact, the enemy was the story itself? That's the concept The Stanley Parable explores.

The game's enemy is choice... and it always wins

There are no "enemies" in the traditional sense, instead there is a narrator, constantly filling in the blanks in the story and telling you how the tale of your character 427 transpires. The mindfuck happens when you start to do things the narrator doesn't want to do: Instead of going left, you go right; instead of going up the stair, you go down. The narrator doesn't like it when you diverge.

I obviously won't explain to you any specifics, but I will say that this is a game you will want to play multiple times. It's a game that wants you to play it multiple times, and is well worth doing so for the games multiple, multiple endings. A single playthrough will probably take you about 5 minutes, but you could easily get lost in the game for a few hours.

You won't believe quite how deep the rabbit hole goes...

The Stanley Parable is a free experience unlike any other: Clever, thought provoking, profound and in a lot of ways, revolutionary. It'll change the way you think about mods, and probably the way you think about 90% of video games aswell. It'll challenge you mentally whilst bringing a smile to your face, and even get you reminiscing about game experiences past. If you're looking for some time to kill, or an engaging, one-of-a-kind experience, you can do no better than the Stanley Parable...

A work of art.

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The Stanley Parable is completely free and requires the "Source SDK Base 2007" to work, which you can find in the Tools section of your Steam Library. You can find the game here: The Stanley Parable - Source Mod

Tuesday
Jul192011

Innovating The Established

Now, as dry and boring as the above title is I must assure you, dear reader, that I plan on making this article as wet as a young filly getting fingered on the back of a double-decker bus, whilst the driver is giving out Ecstasy and lube with every ticket. Get your waders on, cling to a rubber ring, ‘cos it’s gonna make you wetter than Nora the Nymphomaniac in a hardcore Carry On film, and she’ll be pumping out all manner of things moist. Phwoar!

Nintendo. Not only one of the major video game companies in the world, but a considerable influence over my childhood and subsequent memories. From 1995 to 2001 I would visit my dear, sweet grandparent’s house every weekend and with my cousins we would switch on a small grey box. This box was connected to a television, and by inserting different boxes into the box they would transform from a boring, monochrome assortment of nondescript containers into a rocket ship, an adventure on an alien planet, a ship sailing over an opalescent ocean into a world of discovery and rainbows. Or, Mortal Kombat 2, a bloody and brutal back-alley fight with even the victor losing enough blood to satiate Satan’s own army of vampires. It was more than the sum of the technology; the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the great gaming systems of the era. It was the system which brought more detail to the established NES classics, and made their characters’ stars shine that little bit brighter, bringing each game closer to what Nintendo ultimately wanted. There was Donkey Kong Country winning awards for graphics, Super Metroid getting radically updated graphics, gameplay mechanics and striking bosses (Kraid!), and Mario Kart and Star-Fox making the pseudo-step towards 3D rendering. Which, to put in context, was released at a time when games had a choice of top-down, side-scroll, or blasé RPG, and after Nintendo surpassed them all in the established fields, they did again by inventing the Pseudo-3D genre; subsequently creating the N64 and full on 3D. This is roughly comparable to, say, Microsoft making the step into full-blown virtual reality with their next console, with free DLC for life and an always available butler who isn’t shy about doing a thorough wipe down service.

Nintendo created a whole host of games of which just the mention of their names is like the first slurp of a sexy cocktail mixed with 2 parts nostalgia, 2 parts respect, and 4 parts serotonin, all served in a glass with ice and Haribo Tangfastics. Need I elaborate on Zelda: A Link to the Past, or Super Mario All-Stars? Two delicately crafted mixtures of epiphany and epitome of their respective genres.

However, Nintendo have a record of using their stock of established characters in a variety of uncharacteristic and atypical formats. Nowhere is this more evident than a title like Mario Baseball, or several other similar titles that have marred some well known activity with the “Mario treatment”. I can see the obvious advantage – Mario is now a brand and a video game hero, and brands sell unrelated products when combined and Nintendo are savvy enough to spot this trend; I’m guilty of owning a Donkey Kong T-Shirt regardless of the gaming experience it offered. However, they have abused branding with such classics as Mario Paint, Dr Mario, Dance Dance Revolution Mario, and around 400 Mario Party games to name a few. Something isn’t quite right in the universe when a portly plumber starts break dancing, and it makes me question Nintendo’s integrity. Is their first thought to the game and overall quality of a product, or the cash?

Maybe this is what Nintendo have always wanted for Mario and his band of merry merchandisable men, that they always were building up to his great adventure in an epic tale told through many instalments where he would finally triumph over Bowser and defeat him in a body popping dance routine. But, whereas that may seem obscure or arcane, what is strikingly obvious is that they couldn’t give a shit about franchise purity. They have created some outstanding games (The platform based series up to Sunshine and most of the Kart series and more), but the chaff is always there. There are always a few kids pissing into a swimming pool, and a scabby old grandma whose plasters keep falling loose and drifting perilously close to your mouth. Whilst walking home you don’t think about the stunning beauty whose body was carved by the buxom God of fucking hot bods, but that scabby pair in the deep-end who were obviously petting heavily, and the curiously pink water which followed; and floating, a red sodden cotton ‘submarine’.

Thankfully, Nintendo can be relied upon to try and innovate as they develop –with constant hardware development which evolved the humble Gameboy to the 3DS, and recently igniting the motion control obsession after unveiling and enchanting with the Wii.

Although, with the latest showing at E3 and the promises of more Mario Kart and Zelda, I can’t help hope that they would quit with some series while they’re ahead. The Zelda tale has been told, and better graphics won’t make up for the fact that it basically boils down to: boy beats evil man and saves princess. Come on Nintendo, you’ve been telling that same monotonous story with different graphics, on different formats for twenty years, but there’s only so many times we’re going to buy the same flavourless meat coated in a different sauce. The same can be said about Mario Kart, which peaked with the DS version, and since its groundbreaking release on the SNES has been reinvented time and time again. Thankfully the quality has been consistently high with Mario Kart, but after seeing the latest version I can’t see the racing being excitingly and electrifying effervescent, only shambolic gimmickry which tarnishes the experience of the whole.

 I’d like to excuse Nintendo on the grounds that each new game in a series they could be building up to tell the tale or create the game they envisaged years ago, yet didn’t have the hardware to produce. Then again, I can’t look anybody in the eye and say that Pokémon Black has captured my heart with its motley crew of ‘Mon in the same way as Squirtle and Charmander, or any of the original myriad of ‘Mon (with the exception of Pidgey who has the charisma of a builder’s brick.). As well as being able to maintain eye contact and announce that the Zelda saga is incomplete. I think that they either don’t have the creative team to forward a new world, or that the bosses of Nintendo won’t take a punt on trying to sell something new. Why bother when you can slap Mario’s cheery mug onto any concept and get a guaranteed sale?

I propose renovation, change, and pump fresh air into a stale fart miasma of an ideas boardroom. LSD laced Frappacinos given to random boardroom employees so the strange and extraordinary ideas mix with the conventional thinking we currently have. With cocaine for the guys who have to pitch it, because the guy selling the original Super Mario must have been a mix of exuberant and evocative to get that commissioned. I envisage:
“It’s about a man, no! A PLUMBER! A humble down-to-earth plumber, connect with everyone, identify with the working class yeah? His boss is an evil cowardly monster, like Godzilla a bit but like a... a... turtle! Yeah, and he’s ugly and steals this plumber’s money... No wait...”
“Wallet? Identity? Pint? Queen?”
“Nah, not a dusty old Queen, needs to be younger, yeah? Princess, oh yeah! Sexy little lovely princess gets kidnapped and Mario needs to save her!”
“Heh, heh, dudes how cool would it be to have it set in a mushroom kingdom, like toadstool people and magic mushrooms and gold coins everywhere heh heh heh heh...”

They must have been thinking outside the box, and less said about the creation of the anthropomorphic crew of the Starfox the better.

On the other hand, I’m not saying that’s how Shigsy rolls. In the midst of amazing games which he and Nintendo contribute to the world, compared to him I’m not worthy to lick his boots. I do hope for a return to form for Nintendo, and that they should continue to take gambles on quirky and untested ideas because this is how they innovate, delight, and continue to improve. They alone created the legacy of a simple man determined to rescue a princess from an irate ape, which formed the basis of a series of adventures and resulted in a fictional moustachioed man being more famous than Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, or David Cameron.

They can do this again, just believe Shigsy.

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, then they wouldn't be on the site. So enjoy!

Wednesday
Jul062011

Xbox Live Arcade - The 10 Games You Should Already Own And Love

One of my regular commenters (actually, my only regular commenter) Luke D recently said he had almost no interest in any XBLA games. It got me thinking about the XBLA games I've downloaded and adore, and, with the Summer Of Arcade just around the corner I thought it would be the perfect time to express my love of smaller, downloadable games and the unique experiences they can offer. This is my personal top ten, made up of games I've played, all of which are available for download right now on Xbox Live Arcade.

(Also worth remembering is that all these games have free trials available, so try before you buy!)
(ALSO, also worth remembering is that throughout the year and particularly at Christmas/New Years, Microsoft have insane sales on XBLA titles, so just bear some of these games in mind and then snap them up when they're a bargain!)

10. Braid

Braid is a game that proceeds itself. It's renowned for it's ingenious puzzles and unique tone, aswell as a fiendish logic unlike any other game. You use time manipulation is various ways (more ways than you've probably ever even conceived of) in an effort to collect puzzle pieces which you use to unlock new levels. It's personal preference but for me Braid isn't the transcendent experience many other cite it as being. I don't think it controls tightly enough and the puzzles seem unnecessarily complicated but you can't help but be drawn in due to the sheer unlike-anything-else-edness of it. Lots of people would place Braid much higher on their list, and with a Metacritic score of 93 you can see why, but for me it's a solid 10th.

Puzzles like this seem simple at first, but take more brain power than your typical shooter ever would

9. Peggle

Popcap, makers of such games as Bejeweled, Zuma and Plants Vs Zombies, are also behind a little gem called Peggle. In Peggle your aim is to remove orange pegs from boards constructed from blue pegs. The position of the orance pegs is randomized at the start of each attempt at a board and you can pick between various characters, each with their own peg-busting special attacks activated by hitting special green pegs also scattered randomly across the board. The game is simple but irritatingly addictive. There's a story mode, multiplayer modes and a challenge mode with some insanely tough goals. There are hours of play time and actually quite alot of depth. It's got a great, subtle sense of humour and is, most of all, loads of fun!

It may not look like much, but I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised

8. The Secret Of Monkey Island - Special Edition

The Secret Of Monkey Island is considered a classic in the world of video games, it was one of the first well-written games and one of the best adventure games (if not the best) ever made. What's awesome about the Special Edition is that it gives you the option to switch between the extremely old, ugly graphics, or new, shiny graphics that really help the game feel modern. The game follows a very old mentality in regards to it's gameplay (which makes sense, seeing as it's 20 years old), requiring huge leaps in logic to solve puzzles, but the writing still shines, and the great voice acting also breathes new life into a classic experience. The game's not too long, but you won't feel short-changed by the end.

The game has a great cartoony style, but if you'd prefer the original graphics, you can do that too!

7. Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2

Twin-stick shooters have exploded over the past few years, and the reason for that is solely down to the original Geometry Wars. It didn't create the genre but it was the perfect iteration of it, spawning tonnes of copycats, some good, some bad, but none as good as Geometry Wars... BUT, as good as Geometry Wars was, the sequel is better. The graphics are spectacular (if a little seizure-inducing) and the sheer amount of ways to play is amazing. Multiplayer is done flawlessly and the game is super tough, but in a good way. The game/genre's a few years old now but Geometry Wars feels fresh and incredibly well made. If you only have to play 1 twin-stick shooter, make it this one.

The game in motion is staggeringly gorgeous

6. Torchlight

I never played Diablo, I never had a good enough PC when I was younger, but from what I hear Torchlight is essentially a modern day Diablo. It's a top-down dungeon crawling RPG with tonnes of loot and things to do, you have a pet which you can send back to town with your unwanted loot so you can keep exploring the dungeon without being interrupted by a full bag of items. I may not have Diablo as a personal frame of reference but I still enjoyed the hell out of Torchlight, and sunk many, MANY hours into maxing out my character and making him as savagely hard as possible. Games like this aren't for everybody, there's a fair amount of repetition but the game scales enemy levels really well, meaning you'll never be so high level that the game's no longer a challenge and collecting loot is a joyous feeling that will never get old. If you want an XBLA game that will give you tonnes of satisfying hours and you love getting exp, Torchlight won't steer you wrong.

Giant spiders deserve an arrow to the face!

5. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

If I say Pac-Man, you immediately know exactly what I'm talking about: A little yellow pie that eats pills and runs away from ghosts. Now imagine that... but in the mind of a stoned 14 year-old and you're getting close to Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. In the game you choose a map and ghosts spawn in various patterns but "asleep", they wake up when Pac-Man passes by them and start chasing you. Your ultimate goal is to get the biggest train of ghosts you can and eat them all at once for a huge score. The game ramps up in speed depending on how well you're doing and gets unbelievably hectic, but it never feels too hectic. The game's look and sound is amazing, mixing the classic Pac-Man style with a modern sound and look that really pulls to game forward 20 years. If you like Pac-Man, or even if you just like fun, give it a go, it's something you have to experience.

The game is super fun, despite the sheer amount of craziness on screen at all times

4. Shadow Complex

There are certain genres that just don't get made any more, and one of those is known in "the biz" as MetroidVania and basically the only 2 games that fall into the genre are Metroid and Castlevania games (hence the name!). For those unfamiliar with either of those games, the basic premise is that you are trying to explore a map but certain areas aren't immediately available to you. In order to access these areas you have to earn special items that will grant you new abilities, for example, in Metroid games certain doors will be locked by blast doors, but when you eventually earn missiles you can blow those doors open thus gaining access to new areas. There's your basic premise, and it's a premise Shadow Complex takes and runs with. You play as a regular guy who stumbles upon an evil scheme in an evil complex filled with evil people. You explore and gradually get more and more bad ass until you eventually feel unstoppable. It's a great game and even features challenge rooms to add to the replayability. One of the best games of the past few years, downloadable or otherwise.

Oh, and bytheway, the game looks FANTASTIC

3. Castle Crashers

What happens when people who make free internet flash games decide to make a game for consoles?Well as it turns out, what happens is one of the best co-op experiences of all time. In Castle Crashers you fight against the evil sorcerer who has stolen your princesses and must slice and dice your way through countless hordes of evil Eskimos, barbarians and teddy bears. You gain experience and money and can buy new items with which to bludgeon to death your foes. The game looks almost hand-animated and features satisfying combat and great interplay amongst you and your friends. If you have friends and have a good sense of humour you might just find yourself staying up until 5am playing this, like my friends and I did.

It seriously is the perfect co-op experience

2. Super Meat Boy

It's simple, Super Meat Boy features pixel-perfect control, movement with the control stick, a run button and a jump button and that's it, but where it gets tough is in the execution. You play as a hunk of meat (obviously known as Super Meat Boy) whose evil nemesis Dr. Fetus keeps kidnapping his girlfriend Bandage Girl... who's made of bandages. The conceit for the game is more than a little insane, but don't let that fool you, the game is one of the hardest ever made, but definitely not impossible. It gives you all the tools to succeed, and then leaves it up to you to figure out the split-second timing and route to Bandage Girl. Taking cues from modern Mario games, Meat Boy has the ability to wall jump and slide down walls but cannot kill any enemies so jumping on their heads is a no-no, it's all about avoidance. The game is played at a blistering pace, meaning most levels get completed in seconds, although you do get infinite tries at a level to get it right. It's a game built on trial and error, but the error is never the game's fault it's always your own, so you never get pissed off at the game, just your own clumsy hands. One of the most satisfying experiences I've had with a game in recent memory, and one I'll never forget... because of the mental trauma. It's so hard!!!

 As you can probably tell, the game's no walk in the park.

1. Limbo

Limbo is a 2D puzzle-based platformer... and that's where I stop speaking about Limbo as though it were a game. Limbo is in fact a piece of art (cliche I know, but apt in this case). It is a profound experience which forces you to think about death and life in ways no video game has ever even attempted before. You awake in a mysterious shadow-coated land with no indication of how you got there or how to get out. Along the way you'll experience horrific imagery, but bathed in silhouette so never so detailed as to disturb, though with as much implied suffering as your mind will allow, really turning it into a psychological experience. The look of the game is striking and an ideal accompaniment to the action that's taking place on screen. Moments of basic puzzle solving remove you momentarily from the nightmarish world you've been placed into but it won't be long before your psyche gets dragged back into the darkness. The game keeps plunging you deeper and deeper into the disturbing world it's created, until it's inevitable heart-breaking conclusion, and while the name "Limbo" may imply certain things about the game, the sheer, unrelenting truth of the final realisation is nothing short of devastating. If you don't play this game, you're missing out on a crucial experience and an entry into the medium of "gaming" that should make you feel lucky that this is your hobby. A perfect game.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest games ever made

Monday
Jul042011

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest - A KENZI199 Retrospective

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, then they wouldn't be on the site. So enjoy!

 


That Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest was good is a legend that I propagated for some years. I have drunkenly, and with an alarming perspicacity, claimed this game to be one of my all-time favourites of my childhood. In writing this review I seek to discover whether I was right to do so, or if my memory is addled and rotten, or just playing favourites. I dusted down my old cartridge, connected my SNES, and fired the old girl up.

 

The facts are simple: Final Fantasy is a very early Role Playing Game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The legend surrounding these facts however varies wildly. That it has conquered the minds of children is true, saved us at least twice from Dalek invasion, sadly is not; and that it was created in a lab by breeding the original NES with a calculator and splicing the offspring with King Arthur crafted out of mutated Lego is on a need-to-know basis. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is dated before records began, and caused people to begin making records. It is responsible for the creation of Time, the wheel, sliced bread, exaggeration, and any realistic looking pair of mammalian mammary glands in a video game.

This uh... This isn't racist, right?

Final Fantasy is a game I want to win. I played through it in my childhood, let a friend borrow it and then realised I didn’t like him and he was poor and it was never returned. I remember the complex battles and monsters that looked awesome, the difficulty of beating some of the bosses and the ingenious dungeon layouts that made me get my Dad to print out a walkthrough (from work) for. That’s right, we didn’t even have internet at home. I got my dad to risk a warning at work so I could complete this epic game. Sorry dad. And fuck me, I should’ve been held back at school.

The dungeon layouts are like a living room painted white. Not modern, minimalist, art deco or a habitual statement about the dangers of excess in our binge culture. Just a lazy once in a lifetime job you don’t give a shit about. If in ten years anyone asks we’ll leave paint tin open for ten minutes, tell them we painted it last week with a brand new coat of beige.

I'd be gone too if I lived on a sphincter coloured mountain!The dungeons are as repetitious and become a chore quickly. Much like every (and I’m not over emphasising for a dramatic statement, it is every) fight you find yourself coming enthralled in. The “party” consists of you, the Hero, and a partner who is several levels above you who can kill the monsters you face in one hit. You can kill the monsters with two hits which makes it unbalanced in the encounters, until the point where you level up enough to kill them with one hit - but by then you’re on to a new partner (several levels above), and new monsters. Only, not quite. Most of the monsters are repeated throughout the game but coloured differently, making it feel like living in that white-slash-beige living room.

There is some joy to be got from the game. If you’re inadequate in some way this game will make you win, because it’s impossible to lose. A prime example is whenever you lose a fight. The game just asks if you want another go. Simple satisfaction, simple pleasures, simple minds. It’s hollow as the chocolate in an Aldi Easter egg, but pair it with being able to save anywhere and you just can’t lose.

Sorry Mystic Quest... But my days of hitting "No." are over...Sadly, its incompetence doesn’t even lend a so-shit-it’s-funny quality to it. There is a feeling of repetition; a consistent déjà vu, or feeling of repetition, which only a child’s imagination can ignite into a world of wonderment and excitement. I recommend your time is left with more absorbing games in the SNES/RPG category such as Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy II, or that you at least leave this to a young audience. A “My First” RPG akin to a B flat monotone, harmonised by a troupe of disappointed bargain hunters echoing the sound of a rattled sigh. Avoid.

 

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is available via car boot sales or downloadable via a ROM site.

(Thanks to IGN and MobyGames for having decent screenshots of the game)

Monday
Jun272011

Pikmin - A KENZI199 Restrospective

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, they wouldn't be on the site. Enjoy!

 

Ahh Pikmin. Where to begin? I guess at the start. Picture this: you are the height of a fifty pence piece, you're flying a rocket through space and you want to get home to your family when suddenly your ship collides with a meteor! Curses! And more curses you mutter as you crash land on an unfamiliar planet with your space ship destroyed, and all the essential parts scattered across a harsh and unforgiving vast unknown. Thankfully, after rousing from unconsciousness and making the startling discovery of an “Onion”, you pick a red Pikmin out of the ground and find a friend that will follow your every command. Though less in the tyrannical dictator way, and more in the “it’s nice to be nice” way.

 

A very tiny man's best friend

Olimar quickly establishes the facts - he has 30 days until his life support system fails, and he suffocates in the planets deadly Oxygen atmosphere. He also has 30 ship parts that have been scattered over the five ingeniously designed levels. The aim is to recover these parts and jet off to return home to his family. Simple, no?

 

Well yes, delightfully simple, but also no. The game functions by Olimar commanding his initially low amount of pikmin to mercilessly savage every other creature you meet, and the carcasses can be carried back to the Onion and turned from spoils of war into an army of industrious tykes. Early on in the game you discover two other colored Onions which are home to the yellow pikmin who can be thrown higher, and carry bomb rocks, and the blue pikmin who can survive in water. Combined with the reds that can tolerate fire, they work together in a multi-colored mass to destroy walls, build bridges and define the phrase “more than the sum of their parts” as they dominate armoured beetles, gargantuan tarantula, and the savage scourge of the swamps on their orders to recover Olimar's missing ship parts.

 

If you don't use tactics, don't expect to get very far

On the first day the controls are explained and it's all relatively simple. However, the game relies heavily on the own players initiative to find the best solution to tackle the tasks of getting Olimar’s ship up and running, and an experimental approach to defeating enemies along the way. Rather than the obvious tactic of “grow loads of pikmin and swamp anything in the way”, most enemies have habits that need to be observed and taken advantage of to save the slaughter of unnecessary troops. The trial and error nature of developing tactics on-the-fly amidst an environment which could become a battlefield adds to the charm of the game, a hard-won daring mission into enemy territory and just barely recovering a ship part before nightfall is massively rewarding, resulting in waves of satisfaction and well-earned accomplishment, and sometimes even a mention in Olimar’s nightly diary.

 

Though to anyone, it is initially very frustrating to lose a mass of pikmin through what can feel like no fault of your own. Equally annoying is to spend a day getting used to the layout of the level, grasping what needs to be done, and working out which pikmin to send where and ending up with nothing tangibly accomplished. Although you can choose not to save a bad day, the overly cautious gamer could be left feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the initial task, but that in itself serves as a Nintendo life lesson on prioritisation and planning and is what some may call character building. Initially, I had to build some character if you get me, but once you gather some pikmin by your side and adapt to the nature of what needs to be done, the timeframe of 30 days is enough to gather the essential parts and return home.

 

There may only be 3 types of Pikmin, but once you get the hang of them they'll be all you'll ever need!

Though I had some minor frustrations, there is so much character in the game and simply exploring is a joy. As Olimar jets off each night he writes down his experience of the day, whether his army of pikmin were slaughtered, or of a successful new part, or just the hope of returning home, and it really does melt your heart. Even just playing and seeing each level slowly change from dawn to dusk is no exception. Throughout the day enacts a subtle change in the scenery, the lighting ever-changing across the world, combined with the luxuriant water effects and the delicate florescence goes a long way to make this a beautiful game.

Despite being a short game, with each day being fifteen minutes and the 30 days totalling seven and a half hours, the single day challenge offers some scope for beating high scores, but probably won't keep you hooked. There is also the option of trying to get all 30 parts in 30 days, offering a good incentive for more organized replays. However, the great pacing of the day-by-day exploration, discovering and cautiously recovering parts, cannibalizing enemies to grow your army and growing close to your phalanx of flora is what really sets Pikmin apart from other real time strategy games. What will keep you hooked is stepping out on a new day with complete free reign of choice, and of tenaciously discovering a new planet with its own odd menagerie of enchanting creatures and enthralling landscape; and some months later little niggles of nostalgia kick in, and there’s such pleasure in rediscovering it all over again. Almost like a special, very personal holiday.

Pikmin, admittedly, have a pretty rough time of it

So, if you own a Gamecube/Wii and don't own this yet, there’s a whole lot to you could do worse than go looking through the pre-owned section of Game and spending a cheap-as-Stringfellow's-ten-pound-plate-of-chips for this. NASA may be sending men to survey the Moon, but Nintendo can create entire worlds for a lot less, with a damn sight more to enjoy once you get there.

 

 

Available on Gamecube, and re-released for Wii with Wii-mote controls. I am in no way being paid to promote or sell Pikmin or Nintendo based products, ideas, hopes, or dreams.

Saturday
Jun112011

Top Ten Games I'd Like To See On Wii U

I grew up as a Nintendo fan, and I still am one so naturally the second I saw the Wii U my head started filling with awesome ideas, particularly which games would work best with the new hardware. Going from 10 to 1 I'll list the games I think will work best and which will be the most fun!

10 - Puzzle Quest

Possibly the easiest choice, Puzzle Quest for Wii U pretty much speaks for itself. Bejeweled on a touch screen is a dream, especially one as big as the Wii U, plus the extra screen size means it will be easier to touch your spells. The only stumbling block I see is what to put on the TV whilst your Bejeweled-ing it up on the controller.

I guess in the long run it doesn't really matter, as you wont be looking at it, but it would be nice if something cool were to happen on there during a battle, just in case anybody happens to walk past and see you owning a spider demon.

 

9 - Broken Sword

A common theme among my picks is going to be inventory management, which adventure games like Broken Sword can often do quite clunkily. I guess in a broader sense this entry on the top ten could actually just read "All Adventure Games", because the point 'n' click nature of them suits a touch screen perfectly, although again, what to do with the TV view would be a conundrum, but with games like this, I think it'd be fine to just display the same thing on both screens.




8 - Resident Evil 4/5

Both Resident Evil 4 and 5 had very unique inventories, RE4's was almost close to Tetris and RE5's was mid-action, meaning you couldn't pause the game whilst you messed with your stuff.

I'm a fan of both. RE4's was a puzzle game and RE5's was a test of co-ordination and reflexes. Both, however, would be way better with a touch screen. I'd love Wii U remakes of either of them, or maybe even a cheeky new Resi game!

7 - Metroid

Metroid comes in 2 flavours nowadays: First person and side-scrolling. In first person, a big aspect is that you can scan almost anything in the world and have access to info on those things in an in-game database; and in the side-scroller you explore a large mapwhich is reveled to you gradually.

Both of those things could be expertly conveyed on the Wii U controller's screen! Imagine having Metroid Prime's database on the controller screen at all times, changing dynamically depending on what you're near, or imagine the map in a 2D Metroid always available to you, so you never get lost! I'd love it!

6 - Advance Wars

I imagine a world in which you have a huge battlefield on your 50-inch television, with fog of war covering it displaying mutual information, with all the stats of your epic battle displayed on the big screen whilst you take it in turns to fight, make and move units and all the while, still have no idea what your opponent is doing, their unit compositions or strategy.

You could totally do a new Advance Wars on the Wii U! I can't imagine a better use of the controller screen than to hide secrets from your opponent!

5 - L.A. Noire

I have a very specific idea as regards to L.A. Noire. In the game, you have to interview suspects, and whilst doing this you're forced to look down at your notebook.

What I think would be awesome is if they mapped the nbotebook to be on the controller screen so that you never have to take the character you're interviewing's face off the screen, you can simply look down at your own virtual notebook!

4 - Kirby's Canvas Curse

In Kirby's Canvas curse you drew on the DS screen to make a path for the ball-Kirby to follow. That game was awesome. The graphics were simplistic but gorgeous and the gameplay was fluid and satisfying, I think the same could easily be said for a Wii U version.

The simple act of drawing a loop-de-loop and having Kirby whoosh round it is so much more fun than in ought to be, so I would love to re-live than experience but bigger, better, prettier and Kirby-er!

 

3 - Zelda

Okay, slight cheat here, in that they already showed some footage of what a WII U Zelda would be, but I still want it.

The awesome thing is that they've done the correct thing, have all your menus and items on the controller and leave the top screen free for action and pretty graphics.

They haven't shown much of the game so far but what they have shown looks goooooooood.

 

2 - Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing would work so well with Wii U! Another theme of my list is awesome DS games that make good use of the touch screen.

Animal Crossing games make great use of the touch screen, having you type messages to friends, equip items, carry stuff around and sort out your schedule all on the touch screen, leaving the top screen free of clutter, which would transfer awesomely to Wii U.



1 - Pokemon

 The ultimate series on top of everyone's Nintendo home console wish list. Let's be honest, the only thing that will do at this point to forward the series is an MMO, and there's never been a better console for Nintendo to do it on!

The controller's screen is the perfect medium to easily sort all your items and pokemon order out, plus to hide what moves you pick if battling a friend in some sort of versus mode.

The thought of a HD Pokemon game in a permanent online setting is equivilent to viagra for me, so I have little choice but to inform the internet that if they make a proper Wii U Pokemon game I may have to quit my job and become a Pokemon trainer full time...

Tuesday
May242011

Why I Hated... Brink

I rent alot of games, some good, some bad. When I rent a game I can't bring myself to finish I'll let you guys know why. Learn from my mistakes!

I rented Brink honestly not expecting much. I had heard it was a class-based multiplayer shooter made by Bethesda (of Fallout fame) but knew little else going into it. The very first thing the game does is give you a choice of "Save The Ark" or "Escape the Ark". Immediately I was confused. These options aren't at odds with one another! In fact, out of those 2 options it would be beneficial to both parties if the ones who wanted to leave just left! It's a decision you're asked to make with no context at all, but even with context it's confusing. It's like asking "Stroke the puppy OR Play fetch with it", the only reason you would fight about it would be if you were a massive douche.

After this baffling choice I had pretty much already made my mind up about Brink (thankfully it kept piling on the terribleness and proved me right). I knew just enough about the game to know that it's story mode was simply muliplayer mode with bots, so I skipped the opening cutscene. After customising your character and weapons and stuff, you get thrown into games of Capture the Flag, King Of The Hill and Protect the Target dressed up as crack the safe, be the general's bodyguard etc. If you've played a multiplayer FPS before you've played these modes. there's nothing new for you here, and there was nothing new for me either.

Brink considers this an "action" shot... DULL

So, you've set up your weapons, you know how to play King of the Hill. You make your way towards the objective and you see an enemy. Great! You aim and shoot and OH GOD. WHY DOES IT FEEL LIKE MY GUN IS FIRING AIR BULLETS?!? The weapons across the board feel terrible. In a game like Battlefield when you fire a gun the sound is meaty, the gun kicks back and you struggle to keep your aim true because of the sheer power of the weapon and when bullets connect you feel like it's an actual achievement. When you fire a gun in Brink you feel like you're playing laser tag (at best). The guns have no weight to them, no power and barely any sound. It feels like the kind of wussy shooting game you might give to an 8 year-old looking for "My First First-Person Shooter".

The aiming too feels terrible. I played it on 360 and not once did I feel like I could keep anyone in my sights. I played the game for about 5 hours and almost every kill I got was from firing from the hip and spraying the area with bullets, this being my only real option. This is especially annoying because the bots are pretty good shots... although luckily when they see you they stand in front of you for a few seconds, allowing you to shoot them in the face a couple of times. The AI in the game is fucking awful. If your teammates aren't running directly into fire they're on the other side of the map doing fuck all. Granted they'll revive you if you die but ultimately the game would be more fun if it was just your player running around the map with no allies or enemies just doing the various tasks with no bullets having to be fired.

"Quick! Place a bomb on this already-open door! Because, well, we need to give you some kind of objective..."Of course the game has online multiplayer, but that was even less fun than playing on my own. Each and every objective has 1 and only 1 thing you an do at any one time. It's not like a regular King of the Hill where there are multiple places the "hill" can be, in Brink the hill will always be the same, the thing you have to protect will always be in the same place and the thing you have to deliver will always be delivered to, you guessed it, the exact same place. This means that the other team always just all have to be protecting the exact same area to win, which is incredibly easy! If you have 8 guys guarding the same area every time then there's nothing getting past that. The game also mixes bots and humans in multiplayer which means that if you're trying to coordinate an attack against the guarded area the bots will just run in there anyway and get gunned down in milliseconds. It's like the game was made by somebody who's definition of 'strategy' is the same definition of "strategy" Noel Edmunds uses in Deal Or No Deal to describe a middle-aged housewife's decision to pick an even numbered box over an odd numbered one.

The classes in the game are standard: Medic, Engineer, Soldier and Spy. They each have a set skill or 2 and you can probably imagine exactly what they are... because they're the standard thing every medic/soldier/engineer/spy can do in every game medics/soldier/engineers/spies are in. If you're even toying with the idea of Brink I would say just buy Battlefield Bad: Company 2 instead and wait for Battlefield 3. They're superior games where changing class ACTUALLY provides tactical advantages and where tactics actually do matter.

Tell you what is an underutilised (for a reason) reticle in shooting games: A massive circle. Thank you Brink, for making shooting games no longer about accuracy or having any funIf you're desperate to play Brink though just rent the fucker. Hopefully you'll see it's not worth your money, and if you disagree, feel free to chastise me in the comments... although I highly doubt you'll be anything but disappointed by it.

[Tiny dislaimer, I did not complete Brink. My views are reflective of the hours I played the game before I couldn't tolerate it any longer.]

Thursday
May192011

Cult DS Classics: Supplementing The Poor 3DS Launch Line-Up - Part I

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, they wouldn't be on the site. Enjoy!

As craterous the opinions formed over the 3DS, some claiming it to be a Holy Grail from which to live and breathe innovation and new invention, courtesy of Nintendo; others claiming it more appropriate a comparison to a fetid, sopping urinal from which users will only amass a miasma of disappointment and dirty hands. Very opposing forces are stacked on either side of the 3DS. The sceptics amongst them claim that the format is prone to gimmicks with weak core gameplay. Whereas, the ever faithful claim future games will deliver untold pleasure and excitement, solidarity as a species, and offer pets without fear of ever accidently touching real shit; that Nintendo are pioneers in handheld gaming.

From whichever angle you choose to look at the 3DS you can be sure that the release line-up is decidedly average. So I offer a short list of recommendations to supplement the Gamer unafraid to explore the humble DS back catalogue. And I assure you that I’m not working on commission.

Meteos

Do you like meteors? Do you like Tetris? Do you like dogging on a week night in the badly-lit parks around Stockport? If you’ve answered "yes" to any of those questions you may be interested in a fusion of all three – A copy of Meteos wrapped in my social calendar and a photo of a car. To continue the link of raucous sex with strangers with only car ownership in common, and a rather addictive DS game, both will get under your skin in a way that there’s no cream for, and put a strain on your wrist. Meteos is one of the few games for which the touch screen is not simply drafted in. The concept is of the evolution of Tetris which changes the pace of the original gameplay by making it tighter; rapid, but controlled.

The game works by using the stylus to slide three or more of the same tiles together, which then turn into rockets that fire skywards, carrying any tiles stacked on top with them. The skill is in firing multiple rockets up and connecting them into a screen clearing mass of propulsion, and keeping things balanced with blocks constantly dropping in from the opponent. Each of the 32 planets offers a different environment to subtly change each match. Some planets are wider or narrower than normal, or gravity is changed which alters the game more than you might think. Hevendor blocks disappear instantly after ignition, whereas Gravitas is like hauling your house onto your back and climbing the every stair in the world. But what to do with unlocked planets? The multi-player lets you utilise them which adds a dimension of "best of 5" tournaments, and could see you being a new archenemy to your friends when the rivalry starts to rocket.

Considering Meteos was a line-up release title, you could probably get a copy for less than a fistful of Viagra and a bottle of vodka, so easy on the wallet - and with a more friendship forming multiplayer. A true sequel to equal even the most halcyon held memories of Tetris.

Information

Price: Around £16.99 - Brand new

Metacritic Rating: 88

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________

Custom Robo


If bricks and rockets aren’t your cup of contentment then ever-ready to please I offer a fully customizable selection of miniature robots. But not just any robots, not those dullard mechanized automatons that build cars or fail to grasp teddy bears in amusement arcades. You choose the gun, the bomb, the mine, the body and even the legs! You can customize between so many different parts, arenas and un-lockable "illegal" (read bad-ass) parts it has all the appeal of a pokemon game but with a more intense battle system. You control the robot in real-time, ducking and diving behind cover or jumping around peppering the enemy with bombs and watching them confusedly dart into your mines. It’s hectic, but war between tiny robots often is.
It’s worth noting however, that for every exciting moment in battle between belligerent ‘bots there will be a reel of dialogue to skip past or minute of walking between scenes in the miasma disguised as "story". Sadly, this isn’t the work of Oscar Wilde and the plot can be summed up in "boy moves to town, meets friends, becomes an active member of the community, slowly gains strength/skill/rank, and beats the final enemy". The plot is mired, purulent, vapid to the point of vacuous, and inoculated with insouciance - but to save you looking those words up - the story has the personality of particularly unremarkable grey paint sample, slightly covered in "a bit below average" house dust in stupendously sub-standard way. Bland to the point of banal, which I don’t think can be understated.
Though once you complete the (sparingly short) story mode, you can start unlocking the awesome illegal robot parts and arenas, and really mixing things up in multiplayer. This game is frenetic with a surprising amount of depth to collecting new parts, and creating new combinations for the ever-changing multiplayer matches. Just tune out everything that happens between battles and you’re in for a treat.

Information

Price: Around £14.99 - Brand New

Metacritic Rating: 74

 

 

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Bangai-O Spirits

Something not so far removed but with a different appeal is Bangai-O Spirits. If that alone didn’t give you a jolt of serotonin and memory of more explosions than celebrations on Chinese New Year, then buckle up and strap yourself in. I’m not being cute either, the visuals in this game go off like fireworks in a paint factory and you may experience arousal.
The game plays on a 2D map and starts deceptively easy as you control a small robot and jet around and defeat all the enemies on each map to win. You can use a variety of weapons each with their own quirks and uses which you can mix up, or use independently to various effect – such as homing + napalm bullets, or bounce + break that rebound off walls and shoot through the opponents’ hail of missiles. The uses of each weapon and some of the game’s mechanics are introduced through optional training levels which are not to be overlooked if you find yourself initially overwhelmed. The levels themselves form a mixture. Some start you brutally in the centre of hostile turrets which instantly effloresce with incandescent attack. Other levels are more puzzle focussed and require some forward thinking about what to shoot first so you can eventually get to the waiting enemy. There are also a handful of levels that combine both aspects with a challenging combination of quick shooting and quick manoeuvre, (good luck).


The real appeal, the jewel in the crown, the Molotov cocktail that ignites the petrol station in a riot, lies in the EX attacks! Wait till the enemy have you surrounded with torrents of hell-fire and bullets coming at you then unleash an EX attack to create a cresting wave of return fire and gather some footing against the heaving flow of incoming chaos. The EX attack is a wondrous thing, the more missiles fired at you, the stronger the EX attack, equals explosive extermination. Can you stay calm and composed enough to charge a screen obliterating attack? Therein lays the skill.
Intense, and a not entirely brainless delight, Bangai-O mixes puzzle elements with the action rather smoothly, and of the 160 instantly available levels there are levels for a bit of feverish fun or maps in need of a well planned approach. And, if that wasn’t enough - prepare to have your cherry popped - up to 4 player multi-card multiplayer, and a level editor to edit any of the 160 levels or create your own.

Information

Price: Around £13 - Brand New

Metacritic: 83

 

 

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Was that a champagne cork or are you done?...

 

Friday
Apr082011

Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Or “My Thumbs; My Inadequacy”

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, they wouldn't be on the site. Enjoy!

 


 

Marvel.

 

Capcom.

 

Take a breath to pause and think of the evocative memories those words bring swirling into your mind. Rose-tinted perhaps? Most of us have memories of childhood whether you think of the first kiss you didn’t get pushed away from, the time spent at primary school where you got bollocked (and it wasn’t your fault), or the unusual moment when your dad treats you like an equal. Well maybe not that last one for you chaps on a council estate, so the first time you stole a Ford Focus and spunked your seed up some special lady’s arse on the back seat.

 

But, despite your choice of leisure activity, either a gaggle of goons in costume exploded in colour before your eyes on a lazy Sunday reading comic books, or you sat yourself down with a snack to your side and picked up a pad to immerse in the world of magic that only Capcom can create. Those memories could be seen through shit-filtered, milk-bottle lens welder’s specs and still look like a halcyon heaven. Viewtiful Joe Vs Wesker; Thor Vs a Sentinal; Spiderman Vs Wolverine; these were the match-ups I daydreamed about on a long car ride, short bus ride, disappointing dirty ride, and most social occasions where I wished I wasn’t. So, why does this article have an alternate title up there? Let’s explore that together.

 


Always start on a high note, and the graphics are simply divine. Colourful like a techni-colour dream-coat exploding in a paint factory. This game is bright, quick, with solid lines around each character so they don’t all merge together in a mess of oil spilt in a puddle. I love the colour and the speed of everything going on is intense. Even with demanding backgrounds, two main characters launching special attacks, four back-ups darting into the fracas and launching torrents of attacks that all spark a lightshow equal to a small scale 70s disco: there is no relenting from the game, and it professionally runs smooth and shudder free.


The main piece of art in this picture museum is the gameplay itself. You pick three characters to form your team and fight three other characters, either computer controlled via the story mode, though much more likely in the frantic cut-throat online multiplayer.


Sadly, and I loathe to admit this, that’s where my experience with that game started to turn sour. My high hopes were seamless and instinctive, and accessible but deep combat; I was being pummelled left, right, up, and certainly down. I felt like the fat kid who knew his meaty ham-like fists held power, but didn’t know how to apply it to the grinning tormentor’s face - and flashback memories aside - I chose three different characters to prove it wasn’t my fault.


But it was.

 

 

I sucked harder and more enthusiastically than a recently out’d gay man trying to prove his skills on a new scene. With my tail between my legs (and a sore mouth) I tried to improve my fight technique on the Mission mode. The ball-achingly, dull as dirty silverware smeared in uniformly brown and featureless shit; Mission Mode. Throw us a shred of innovation, because you’re only fucking CAPCOM. After my dalliance with the same series of button combinations for a few different characters I toyed with the idea of quitting. But I couldn’t just turn my back on Arthur, Chris, Super Skrull. They deserved better from me damnit! With a refreshed cup of the black stuff, I glanced through the manual, brushed up on all the intricate details of power blocking, aerial combat, special attacks, Monster Attack, cataracts, hairy backs... super attacks, chaining supers, mixing in more supers, making tomato and basil soup, character changes... Refreshed and confident like a young Rocky Balboa, I set the diff to easy and had another go!


Oh yeah! Those suckers who thrashed me across the screen were getting a beastly beating at the hands of my skills. I completed the story with Wolverine, Magneto and C. Viper... Then marvelled at the disappointment in the rewards. Yeah! Pictures! And after working up the piss-taking points: only FOUR unlocked characters. Whoop-di-doo!

With a feeling of being somewhat cheated and deflated I took my newfound prowess into the online arena to test the mettle of my skills against some scurrilous rogues. I can only liken the experience to a high-school band playing their heart out, and being followed on by Nirvana with a recently resurrected Kurt Cobain centre stage. I got wasted once. I got wasted twice. I got visually proved to be worse than dysentery and cholera combined for two gruelling hours before my epiphany.

 

This is a game not for the single player. The rewards are not in the Story mode. This is a game for people who like depth, precision, and have the proper time to practise their craft. Some people play guitar, or learn French, but this is a game to replace those time-wasting skills. If you take time to learn, and sweat past the humiliating hours of practice then there is a solid fighting game here that’ll last you for years of online play.


But I’d rather learn French, for the ladies.

 

Sunday
Apr032011

My First Week With The 3DS

The 3DS is a hard sell, especially to your "modern" Nintendo fan. You can't show the 3D on TV, it looks exactly the same to the untrained eye as a DSI and as of right now there really isn't a single good game for it... But I bought one anyway.

I've spent this past week with it out and about in the real world and don't regret shelling out the £200 for it one bit, so if you were thinking about getting one, or were thinking about hating it arbitrarily, I've got you covered.

it's a pretty little thing in blue... Mine's blackTHE 3D

The 3D is great, it totally works and totally works without glasses. Granted, there's a definite "sweetspot" for the 3D, you've got to look at the 3DS straight-on and keep it about 30cm away but so far I've had no problem sticking to that when I want the 3D. There are a few people I've shown it to who immediately claim it gives them a headache or that it hurts their eyes but personally, I've experienced no discomfort with it. A rousing success for me.

THE GAMES

Honestly, I can't say a word for the games because I don't have any 3DS games yet (Pokemon: White will keep me busy for a while). While that sounds ridiculous on the surface of it, it actually makes perfect sense. My old DS was pretty much on it's last legs and I was just about to buy a DSi when the 3DS got announced so for me, it was a no-brainer. So while I can't weigh in with my opinions of the launc games, the general consensus has been less-than-great. If you've gotta buy one, it seems like Street Fighter is the one to go for.

Supposedly it's a pretty good version?...BACKWARDS COMPATABILITY

Now this IS something I can talk about. I was pretty nervous at first, given that the original DS's backwards compatability was very limited. Back in the day if you played a GameBoy Advance game on a DS you couldn't play any kind of multiplayer at all, but I'm glad to say there is no such problem with the 3DS. The backwards compatability of the 3DS is fantastic. Essentially when you play an original DS game on the 3DS, it's the same as if you were playing it on a DS. Same wireless connectivity and same trouble getting onto my house Wi-Fi.
Basically it seems like somewhere inside the 3DS is a tiny unborn DS fetus that the 3DS absorbed in utero. Which is awesome. My 3DS connects to my Wi-fi just fine but in order to play online in DS games I need to disable the security on my router. It's a peculiar way of handling the backwards compatability but it works, and there are definitely worse ways they could have gone about it.

3D PHOTOGRAPHS

The 3DS has 2 cameras on the back of it for a reason, so you can take 3D photos. 3D photos! IN 3D!!! Unfortunately the quality of the pictures is pretty terrible, atleast on the regular setting and you can't view them on anything but the 3DS right now but still, I find it to be a nice bit of fun I keep coming back to.

STREET PASS

Street Pass is an awesome idea. Basically you leave your 3DS in sleep mode and walk around, then if you pass somebody your 3DS's will transfer data between them. At it's basic level you trade Miis to strangers but Street Fighter IV shows an early example of the potential of Street Pass, having you build up small teams and battling other 3DS users automaticall simply by walking near them, a feature just crying out for an Animal Crossing or a Pokemon to abuse in amazing ways.

BATTERY LIFE

Ugh. The battery is atrocious. It's fine for keeping your 3DS in sleep mode and Street Passing in your way to and from work, but for extended play you're going to want to bring the battery charger with you most places you go. Which is, admittedly, a massive bummer.

THE OTHER STUFF...

AR Games -The Alternate Reality games are cool, placing objects into the real world as viewed by the 3DS's 3D cameras, but ultimately I haven't found myself coming back to these.
Web Browser - The Web Browser hasn't been released yet but promises full web-browsing mid-game via the 3DS's home button... which I can't wait for.
Friend's List - Everybody gets 1 Friend List that is tied to your 3DS, which means no more having a seperate, game-specific Friend's List. Excellent new addition.

THE FINAL VERDICT

I love my 3DS, and for £200 I'm damn glad I do! It's not perfect, but for my circumstances none of the big problems the system has (lack of games and battery life) really effect me. I play at home mostly anyway and I can play Pokemon until the "must play" games get released. I think the biggest problem the 3DS has is that it's not marketing itself as a brand new system, rather it's presenting itself a new, upgraded DS. Which it isn't. it's a brand-new, more graphically powerful, more versatile, more user-friendly console with 3D. It's definitely worth the investment, but if you're sceptical, maybe wait until the make a 3DSi