Wednesday, December 11
This year kind of slipped away
So very busy
Under much pressure
We grow closer and our hair
Shorter by the day
Own the pixie cut
Become one with Tinkerbell
Let us share hair gel
Let's always make time
To share in our pyjamas
Watch Law & Order
I love you more now
Than I did this exact day
Three short years ago
Wednesday, November 27
There is a point where I thought that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (herein referred to as "Blackgate") was due to end. There was a boss fight, a few puzzles and a room that was thick with finality. I thought I was knee deep in the conclusion, but I was then again tasked with playing fetch throughout Blackgate's labyrinthine wings.
My meandering, directionless agony was set to continue. Again I would wrestle with the game's nonsensical map.
The worst thing is that it shouldn't have been this way. Well, at least not on paper. If you read into it before release, Blackgate should have been one of the better games released in 2013. A Metroidvania -- for those not in the know, that means a platformer with role-playing game elements and a map that opens up with the acquisition of new equipment and abilities -- title starring Batman and developed by Armature Studio, which is partly comprised of Retro Studio alums. Retro Studios just happened to be responsible for two of the greatest Metroidvania games that I've ever played (just to clarify, I haven't played Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or much of Hunters on the DS, so that count may deserve to be bigger). If that's not enough, the Arkham series' signature combat, investigation and stealth systems would also be translated into 2.5 dimensions. Such promise!
It starts off well enough: the game looks good and the punching, kicking and stalking work just fine. There were lengths of time where I found that I was actually enjoying myself too, but these stretches are undermined by poor direction and hapless navigation. The best games in the genre subtly guide players to the next objective whilst also encouraging experimentation with new tools in previously-explored environments. Blackgate gives you new tools and a marker on an indecipherable map: good luck sorting that shit out. Suffice to say you'll be rubbing your screen (which activates Detective mode) looking for some indication of where to go next for hours at a time.
I'd wager at least a third of the 6 hours I spent playing the game involved asking aloud (on public transport, on my bed, in the park), "Where the fuck do I go now?". No short order of competent boss fights or charming comic book cutscenes could really redeem the game; no matter how badly I wanted it to. Still, if I'm being honest, I enjoyed this game as much as the 2011 mega hit, Arkham City and the less said about Arkham Origins, the better.
Wait until this shows up in the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection, otherwise approach only if seen in the bargain bin. Heartbreaking stuff.
Sunday, November 10
Saturday, August 17
With your PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones around the corner, photorealistic graphics are going to be what every developer and their Call of Duty dog strives for. The two-dimensional sidescroller will soon solely become the domain of indie developers. Not that I don't appreciate their work, more that your average publisher won't want any part of a niche market comprised of a small set of customers yearning for experiences from a bygone age.
Enter Muramasa Rebirth, a remake of the (previously) Wii exclusive, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I never played the 2009 home console release, but I have read enough songs of praise for Vanillaware's beat 'em up to make the idea of importing the handheld iteration sound like an acceptable course of action. Let's face it: at this point, importing any new retail release for the Vita sounds like a plan because new releases for Sony's fledgling portable are rarer than hens' teeth, and publishers aren't exactly breaking their backs to get their games to Australia. I can understand why, mind you; but still, the game's showing a release date of "TBC 2013" on the EBGames' website and our friends across various ponds have been playing it for two to five months now!
Oh yeah, the game! Let's talk about that, rather than the business of releasing games Down Under.
I loved this game. Loved it. I can fully understand if someone didn't want to give it time to see the time of day or wanted it to burn in a fire though.
For one, it's mighty repetitive. When you're not mashing the square button for minutes on end, it's more than likely that you'll notice some familiar scenery. The two campaigns play from and to opposite sides of Genroku era Japan to attempt to break up the monotony, but save for a few enemy types that are unique to each, there are a lot of common experiences spread across 10 hours plus.
Secondly, it's repetitive. Save for one boss fight that takes the concept of "verticality" and turns it up to 11, you'll have seen all the different types of combat scenarios the game has to offer after about two hours of play. So, that means shitloads of lengthy boss fights, hundreds of often frustrating exchanges between high flying enemies, and just generally bashing shit until it falls over. If you're looking for "surprise" in the conventional videogame sense of the word, there is no turret sequence and you can't jump in a vehicle to "freshen up" the experience. This is a beat 'em up: you will beat shit up on a 2 dimensional plane. That is it.
It's a good thing then that bashing shit up in Muramasa Rebirth happens to be somewhat enjoyable. The range of attacks that both Momohime and Kisuke have at their disposable are varied, and generally have your chosen character darting from one side of the battlefield to the other with a flurry of strikes. Some of the more open arenas lead to some particularly satisfying battles where you can string attacks together and climb from tree to tree (or cliff to cliff), leaving bodies above, below and to the side of you. There are some slight RPG elements at play here, but none of the special, blade-specific Secret Arts will greatly affect how you play (on the standard difficulty setting, at least).
I probably should've mentioned this earlier, but this has to be one of the best-looking games on the Vita. Hell, it's one of the most visually-arresting games I've played this year. Anything from the most fearsome demon to serene shorelines are rendered by hand, and the animation quality is top-notch. The game's visuals are reminiscent of a kakejiku that's come alive. The greatest joy in this game comes from running through a vibrant Japan and catching Momohime and Kisuke's wry glance at you mid-flight: it's hauntingly beautiful.
The boss fights probably wouldn't be anywhere near as memorable -- and in some cases, bearable -- were it not for Murama Rebirth's memorable artistic direction. Some of these encounters encourage movement and require enough skill and timing so as to be satisfying, but the vast majority require you to a) mash the fuck out of the square button and b) push the analogue stick to the right. Sometimes, ten minutes of bashing your sword against a wall would seem a challenge if not for the fact the game is so easy on the eyes.
There are some other quibbles, like the finnicky positioning required to start a conversation with NPCs, the apparent ignorance of the developers regarding the Vita's touch interface (and how that could've remedied the aforementioned issue), and two difficulty settings that allow for either careless play or require judicious use of resources (where's my happy medium?), but they don't detract enough from Muramasa Rebirth's gorgeous veneer to warrant further discussion. I'm sure that most will appreciate it's beauty, however, I'm less convinced that all could see its charm. If you don't mind playing with one less dimension and have an itch for some swordplay, I'd recommend this without hesitation.
Friday, July 5
Following in the footsteps of Kotaku Australia editor, Mark Serrels, I've decided to share my slant on what are the top 50 games of all time. There was a great disclaimer to his list that I think I'll apply to my own:
– I know [insert game here] isn’t on the list. I know that’s outrageous. Make your own list and post it in the comments!
– [Edited] There's a few Star Wars/Mario/fighting games in his list and it reflects the games I like and the games I’ve fallen in love with.
– People like different things for different reasons!
– Please do not use this list to justify any future comments I make in the future, or even things I might have said in the past. This is simply a list that represents how I feel right now. It would be different if I were to make it in the next 30 minutes, let alone in a year or two!
– I’ve written down the platform I played the game on — I realise it might have been on other platforms!
– Yes, they are ranked!
50. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade/XBLA)
49. WWF War Zone (PS1)
48. Devil May Cry (PS2)
47. Burnout 3: Takedown (PS2)
46. BioShock (X360/PS3)
45. Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion (Sega GG)
44. Quackshot (Sega MD)
43. Fallout (PC)
42. Wolfenstein 3D (PC)
41. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (PS2)
40. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega MD)
39. Hotline Miami (PC/PS Vita)
38. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GC)
37. Lumines (PSP)
36. Thrasher: Skate and Destroy (PS1)
35. Metal Gear Ac!d 2 (PSP)
34. Pokemon: Sapphire Version (GBA)
33. Time Crisis (Arcade/PS1)
32. Halo Reach (X360)
31. Bastion (XBLA)
30. Red Dead Redemption (PS3)
29. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (PS2)
28. Crackdown (X360)
27. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega MS)
26. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (PS2)
25. Street Fighter IV (PS3)
24. Metal Gear Solid (PS1)
23. Mario Kart: Double Dash (GC)
22. Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure (PC)
21. Gears of War (X360)
20. Super Mario Bros 3 (NES/GBA)
19. StarCraft (PC)
18. Streets of Rage 2 (Sega MD)
17. Resident Evil 4 (GC)
16. Super Monkey Ball (GC)
15. Doom (PC/XBLA)
14. Crusader: No Remorse (PC)
13. WWE Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain (PS2)
12. Tie Fighter (PC)
11. Def Jam: Fight for New York (PS2)
10. Soul Calibur II (PS2)
9. Tekken 4 (PS2)
8. Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
7. Capcom VS SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium (PS2)
6. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
5. Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (PC)
4. Shining Force (Sega MD)
3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
2. Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
1. Vagrant Story (PS1)
Source: Kotaku Australia
Sunday, June 16
I've never played an Animal Crossing game before, but a series of extremely enthusiastic New Leaf fans on Twitter pushed me over the edge. Last night I started my quest, knowing only that I'd encounter a clutch of achingly cute animals along the way. Join me as I get to know the citizens of Geebung.
June 15th, 7:30pm: I'm met on the train by an adorable cat (?) named Rover. He asks me where I'm going, and because of a very small character limit, my destination will be Geebung (the suburb where I grew up) instead of New Holland. After a few minutes of general chit chat he tells what I assume to be an inside joke (been riding this train since 2002 apparently) and it dawns on me that I haven't been asked to customize an avatar. So, do I get to use my Mii, or is there a standard character that everyone has to play?
June 15th, 7:35pm: Hey, I'm a small, brown haired, white boy. Hooray for diversity, I guess.
June 15th, 7:37pm: I'm introduced to the townsfolk, a charming array of anthropomorphised animals and am proclaimed mayor of Geebung. I challenge this assertion, because as far as I know, I was just visiting. No, it appears that it is I who is mistaken, and I will be the new mayor of Geebung.
June 15th, 7:40pm: I'm informed that I will need a place of residence before I can officially be sworn in as mayor. I am asked to meet with a real estate agent immediately. All the other businesses in Geebung are closed and I notice there's only a handful of houses here, so it stands to reason that if your livelihood is selling property, you'd best be on call.
June 15th, 7:43pm: I settle on a lakeside site next to some trees. There's been no mention of cost at this point. Do they give away waterfront properties in Geebung?
June 15th, 7:44pm: My real estate agent, Tom Nook sets up a tent for me to use while the house is being built. He gives me a lantern and shows me how to set it up and use it. "This is a set up," I think to myself, afflicted with mild paranoia. He tells me to see him tomorrow to get the bill. I knew this was too good to be true!
June 15th, 7:46pm: Isabelle, my colleague in the mayor's office confirms my birthday and gives me a Town Pass Card. She then leads me to my inauguration ceremony in the town square. I plant a tree and bask in the insincerity of my new people. I am now the mayor.
June 15th, 7:50pm: I put the console to sleep so I can watch the Waratahs get thumped by the British and Irish Lions. Throughout the game I think back to the one piece in this puzzle that doesn't fit: Rover. Was he supposed to be Geebung's incoming mayor? What did he have to gain from me being installed as leader? Was I thinking into this a little too much? Only time would tell.
June 15th, 9:45pm: I attend the Bug-Off trophy ceremony. I am the mayor after all and this is a prime chance to be seen with my constituents. The judge appears to have eaten each of the winning entries; looks like a trophy is the most that any contestant can hope to walk away with. With each trophy conferral, we clap -- that is to say that we try to, our hands never quite meet but a thunderous sound is being made anyway. I'm tired and a little drunk. I need to leave before I make a scene.
June 15th, 9:55pm: I stumble from tree to tree, shaking them in the hope of finding treasure or some clue as to why I'm in this post. I acquire fruit and money. I shake one last tree, my view of the ensuing melee is obscured by another tree. I emerge with one eye swollen, stung by a swarm of angry bees!
June 15th, 10:00pm: What a night. I retire for fear of being further brutalised by the wildlife of Geebung.
June 16th: 7:30am: I awaken and exit my tent to find myself greeted by my postman, a pelican. He explains the mail system and warns me to check for incoming letters regularly or else my box will overflow and I'll then miss out on any additional mail. I have one letter from an anonymous sender, he indicates that it was he who was supposed to be thrust into the role or mayor, but insists I'll be fine. I swear at this point that I will hunt this villain down and bring him to justice for the grievous fraud he has committed!
June 16th, 7:31am: ROVER, YOU SON OF A BITCH, I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN!!!
June 16th, 7:38am: Isabelle briefs me on the mechanics of mayorhood and drops the bombshell that my approval rating is a whopping thirteen percent. I've just moved here, been thrust into a leadership role and I'm living in a fucking tent. Give me a break!
June 16th, 7:39am: Pacing with murderous intent following my shocking poll results, I run into a boar who tries to sell me some turnips. She explains that people don't eat them much anymore, but I can buy and sell them to various people to turn a profit. Can these turnips be used to manufacture drugs, I wonder; why else would the market be so volatile? I mean, if you're not going to eat the fucking things, then why are you buying them? I can now see through Geebung's smiling veneer and behold the festering shithole of addiction and greed that lies beneath. I want to die.
June 16th, 8:38am: Riddled with anxiety, I visit the real estate agent to see just how far I've submerged myself in debt. To my surprise, his office is closed and he didn't leave me with any other means to contact him.
June 16th, 8:39am: I visit the post office. Apparently Nintendo had left something for me: a rainbow screen. I wonder if I can sell it off to scrounge for a house payment.
June 16th, 8:40am: I visit Nookling Junction and find myself greeted by Tommy, who appears to be a cute, brown raccoon thing. He likes to give some subtext to everything he says, whispering sweet nothings after each of his utterances. Bells, the town's currency are "So shiny," and he wants me to come back because he'd "Love to see me." I sell some cherries for roughly one thousand bells. I wonder whether feeding myself will become problematic if I can score a grand for some common fruit. It comes to mind that I've played this game for roughly ninety minutes and still haven't murdered anything. I buy a shovel: not only because it should be a deadly weapon, but it should help me to dispose of any evidence that could incriminate while I sit in Geebung's throne. I also buy a bug net, because I'll show those shitheads how to win a Bug Off.
June 16th, 8:47am: To my horror, it doesn't look as though I can do much damage with this shovel. I do, however, unearth three fossils while digging around the town. I wonder how much money I can get for these things? What ancient creatures lived beneath this city's tiny houses?
June 16th, 11:55am: I visit Tom Nook's office again. Ten thousand dollars, for a lakeside property in this economy. Things could be worse. Tom tells me to go fishing and catch bugs to make the down payment. My first instinct is to tell him to go to hell. As if you could afford a house by pawning sea shells, but then I remembered that puzzling formula from this morning: 8 bunches of cherries = approximately $1000.
June 16th, 12:07pm: I speak with Blathers, the owl curator of Geebung's museum. At first he seems shitty at me for waking him up, but he's cooled off. He assesses the fossils I've found to reveal that I've been lugging dinosaur skulls across my city. What the fuck, these bones are probably worth millions and he wants me to donate them FOR SCIENCE? Knowing my luck, I've probably got kids to feed somewhere in this dungeon of a town.
June 16th, 12:18pm: I need ten large. If I want a solid roof over my head, I'm going to have to meet that end. I started shaking cherry trees, but they weren't fetching as much at Re-Tail. I collected shells and bells. I hunted butterflies and for as long as I'd been in Geebung, I found the closest thing to pure joy.
June 16th, 12:30pm: Nook has his fucking money now and tomorrow I'll have a house. What will I need to endure to survive my tenure as mayor of Geebung? Will I exact sweet revenge on Rover? Tune in next week to find out!
I can't do scary movies. When my brothers and friends used to insist on viewing films such as Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later, I would accompany them, but I'd also spend between ninety and one hundred and twenty minutes with my eyes fixed squarely on my crotch. Even when watching the relatively lighthearted murder sprees found in the Friday the 13th series, I would stick my fingers in my ears to block out the sounds associated with men being torn limb from limb. I'm certain that my entourage would tell you that I whimpered on occasion - I'm not saying I did, but I wouldn't put it past them all the same.
I was able to play the odd survival horror title without crawling into the fetal position, however. Something about having agency in a raft of terrifying situations allowed me to deal with the sort of gratuitous violence that normally have my glance heading south. Resident Evil 1 through 4, the first Silent Hill, Dead Rising, and titles like Dino Crisis and F.E.A.R -- that weren't necessarily scary, but would try and get you to jump with surprise attacks and limited resources -- were able to be bested despite my inability to compute cinematic horror.
As time's gone by and I've branched out from friends and family, our expeditions to view abhorrent content have become less and less frequent, and I've strayed away from the offensive content almost entirely as a result. It's to the point where I'm even shying away from violent games: Resident Evil 5,6 and Dead Space 3 have been lying around the house unplayed for months, Dead Space 2 has been in the backlog for years now. I thought I could go the rest of my life without my heart rate rising on account of copious amounts of blood, guts and screams of terror.
Then I found myself in the Metro. Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling spider webs, haunted, eviscerated rail cars, and amorphous pods of skin that spew slime and more spiders, I found that the best way to deal with my fear was to let it out. I mean really let it out: squealing and swearing as I trudged my way through the depths of post-apocalyptic Russia. I'm like a surly, cowardly sailor shooting barbs and buckshot towards creatures that make my nightmares look like scenes from an episode of Care Bears.
It's not just the grotesqueries that have me perpetually wailing "That's fucked up!" either, it's the sounds that accompany them. The taut strings that score the stealth sequences, the skittering of six (maybe eight?) very large legs, the blood-curdling screams and cries for mercy from innocent survivors: if my fingers weren't wrapped tightly around the controller, they'd be in my ears.
I actually relish the chance to face human opponents. They're predictable, they're preoccupied and they only see me coming when I want them to. It's not so much that the AI-controlled opponents aren't cunning strategists as much as they are blind. Unless a strong light source is present, consider the greenlight for shenanigans flashed.
In any case, I'm glad that Metro: Last Light has provided some fuel for that final, flickering spark of courage hidden at the back of my brain. If you have any love of bleak, post-apocalyptic scenarios or thick Russian accents, I strongly suggest you give it a try.