Friday, April 29

In Case You Haven't Played It: Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)

Released late last year, Donkey Kong Country Returns (DKR) is the fourth instalment of the Donkey Kong Country series, with the Wii breathing new life into the game thanks to its unique control system. The game opens to a serene tropical island filled with happy animals. Suddenly, little floating tiki’s hypnotise all the inhabitants and make them steal Donkey Kong’s banana stash. Unaffected by the hypnotic trance, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong run into the forest to reclaim what’s theirs and save the island.

The Good
For a platformer, DKR is visually stunning. The characters and surroundings are well rendered and animated beautifully. Each level shows great depth, with Donkey Kong regularly interacting with the background, especially when finding bonus levels and flying through barrels. Additionally, while all the levels are themed the same i.e. Jungle levels are in a jungle, Ruins levels are in ruins, each level still manages to be different and brings something unique to the table. The locked level in the jungle is a perfect example. It is based at sunset, with everything in the level being silhouetted against a orange beach motif, creating a level that looks like a children’s version of Sin City.

Within each zone there are a range of standard levels along with movement/vehicular levels, requiring DK to ride something such as a barrel plane, mine cart or exploding cannon-like barrels. These levels bring another element of fun to the game, providing creative challenges to prevent platformer monotony.

Another reason DKR beats monotony is because it is quite challenging; not only with the need to find puzzle pieces and the KONG letters, but also just in general game play. I found myself playing each zone for about three hours trying to find hidden areas and collect each letter and puzzle piece, only to be left empty handed.

Once DK reaches the third zone, even late in the second zone, it is not uncommon to have to kill a number of enemies in order jump high enough to reach certain pieces; even incorporating Diddy Kong’s jet pack at times. The bosses are also increasingly hard to defeat, often requiring many lives to take them out in order to figure out the trick to their demise.

The controls are quite simple with users given the option to play with just the controller or with the nunchuck adaptor. I found it easier to play with the nunchuck as the joystick/shoulder button combination was less foreign to me. By shaking the remotes (much like playing the drums) DK performs special moves such as a roll, gentle blow or ground pound.

The Bad
It’s hard to find reasons to fault DKR. Playing the game is fun, challenging and rewarding; however it is annoying to keep dying for stupid reasons such as trying to get that elusive golden K and falling into a ravine or being killed by a ridiculous sand crab or bush. While these issues are most likely noob related, the repetitive nature of the game due to the need to collect the KONG letters and puzzle pieces can be frustrating. Additionally the music in some levels is annoying, which funnily enough can be unlocked as you defeat each boss and complete the various levels.

The only other annoying factor of this game is when you die repeatedly (only because you are trying to get a reward and not because you suck) the little pig at the checkpoint asks if you want assistance to continue playing. At first I was insulted but then realised it’s a game for children so if they are struggling they might need help. That said I’m 28 and the only help I want from a pig is to make my meals taste delicious.

The Ugly
Donkey Kong’s grand-dad, Cranky Kong. He owns a shop and gives you obvious hints when you buy things like extra lives, invulnerability potion or the key to locked levels. His rants are a little juvenile but so is the Wii. There’s nothing wrong with old Cranky Kong, he’s just not pretty.

The Verdict
9.0/10 – Donkey Kong Country Returns is a challenging platformer that does its legacy proud. Not only is it entertaining, by choosing to collect all the  items ensures hours of additional game play not found in many of today’s games. True to the original SNES series in all aspects of gaming, DKR is one of only a handful of games that makes the Wii worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 27

Hunting Trip

I wasn't the biggest fan of Borderlands when it dropped in 2009. I often referred to it as Fallout Too on account to the common wasteland setting, and general lack of engaging NPCs (non-player characters for the uninitiated). It wasn't a complete bust: the game featured solid drop-in co-operative play, and collecting and fencing loot offered the occasional thrill. Ultimately, after about ten hours of play, I couldn't find the compulsion to follow the main quest through to its end. 

It did seem however, that I was alone in my lack of dedication to this cel-shaded RPG/FPS hybrid. My brother and one of his best mates played through the retail product and all of the game's meaty downloadable expansions, often sharing tales of massive loot drops and tense encounters with some of the more-diabolical creatures found across Pandora. Another close mate - who had for long eschewed his gaming habits - had an Achievement list that suggested that he may have once again found the resolve to utilise a controller for hours at a time.

What was I missing? I couldn't understand what made this release so addictive, even seemingly essential. Thankfully, there were plenty of high-quality titles to distract me from this quandary across the latter part of 2009 and the year after. I couldn't spare much time to consider Borderlands with the likes of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Just Cause 2, Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Halo: Reach peppering the release calendar (let's not forget that I had a wedding to plan as well).

2011 however has allowed for thoughts of skag-filled expanses to re-enter my psyche. With the exception of possibly Bulletstorm, the Gears of War 3 beta has been the only essential gaming experience of the year. That coupled with the ridiculous bargain that was Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition for less than ten dollars on Steam (during the 2K Games sale about two weeks ago) has afforded me the chance to reassess my position.

So this long weekend, separated from my Xbox 360, yet ironically, re-united with some of my closest flesh-and-blood friends tasked me with finding alternate means of sinking time between barbecues, catch-ups and scheduled meal times. Borderlands on my capable laptop fit the bill fairly nicely (there was also a trip the local half court, but my field goal percentage was laughable, and barely worth mentioning).

It was the awkward nerd equivalent of a hunting trip.

I learned a lot about the wilds of Pandora, the diets of it's faunae (seriously, does every third skag start the day with a hearty course of handgun?) and laughably, myself. I learned that I'm still not quite over my Achievement addiction. I learned that scarlet red scarves are matched perfectly by a deployable auto turret with a healing buff. I was also forced to overcome my overbearing tendency to choose an avatar that looks somewhat like me. Not one of the four selectable characters in Borderlands looks anything like me, so I chose the character whose skill set matches my run-and-gun sensibilities. Roland is a much better fit than Mordecai (whom I selected for my initial playthrough): he has the capacity to absorb some damage, and even recover health with the appropriate choice of abilities. I'm dying a lot less, and genuinely enjoying my time with the game. It may take me some time - especially with the better part of three weeks remaining to play the GoW 3 beta - but I'm pretty confident that I can play this game through to completion, expansions included. 

After work today, it'll be nose back to the beta grindstone. I'm to get back amongst the COG/Locust fray, and only slightly gutted that I missed out on the Easter madness that was firefights with bunny hats.

How did you guys enjoy the Easter long weekend? Is anybody picking up Portal 2 on the PS3 or PC? I'm looking for a buddy to join me on the co-operative campaign (that is of course, assuming that the Playstation Network is restored to working order before the next long weekend).

Monday, April 25

This is how we do it (now, apparently)

For most of  the time I spent playing the original Gears of War, I was embroiled in the Warzone multiplayer mode. Its mechanics were almost Draconian: no respawns, no perks, and the same load out of weapons every single round. To make things even more brutal, the game was not played over dedicated servers, leading to severe host advantage in almost every exchange. You could tell who was hosting too. They seemed to move that little bit faster than you and what's worse, every single bullet they fired was so much more lethal than the blanks loaded in your rifle. The best players (read: not me) knew how to combat this logistical advantage: getting close to their opponents, strafing in tight circles and emptying clip after active reloaded-clip of hot death.

I dubbed such behaviour, shotgun dancing. Reason being that if enough people were involved, it sort of looked like a barn dance with participants switching partners every few seconds. The only difference being of course, that in this case some swung their partner too hard, with their torso thrown across the proverbial dance floor after a few coarse spins. The swirling blacks, browns, greys and reds were sometimes beautiful, if not visceral.

Shotgun dancing still occurs in the Gears of War 3 beta, but not nearly as much as it has in previous instalments. I can attribute this to two factors:
  • Playing on dedicated servers eliminates host advantage, with normally-affected players now attempting to engage in other, more elaborate strategies
  • The sawed-off shotgun is proving to be quite popular, and as it only has a one (extremely freaking powerful) bullet capacity and a long reload time, the chances of success are limited without an active reload
For those unfamiliar with the series, an active reload is a perfectly-timed reload. In the Gears of War games, pressing the reload button brings up a sliding gauge underneath your currently-equipped weapon; pressing the reload button again in a small space on the gauge increases the speed of the reload animation and imbues a damage boost on however many bullets you've fired out of the previous clip. An active reloaded sawed-off shotgun WILL kill you at close range. Usually in spectacular fashion, with at least half of your character model flying away from your current position.

The team deathmatch format which has been introduced in the beta has also affected the way people play. With each team having twenty lives, players have been a little bit more casual in their approach to war. What I mean by that of course is that it is not uncommon for a team to throw away a large portion of their respawns with casual play, only to then intensify their performance across their last few lives. On Thursday night I saw a team come from eight spawns down to then completely shut out my team and destroy our resolve for the next round as a result. I have to admit that I much prefer the ability to have a second, third, sometimes eleventh chance in a match. Sure I may be a drain on a team at times, but I'm a lot less frustrated and having a lot more fun.

I'm not always a dead weight by the way. I'm desperately hoping that the stats for the beta will carry over to the full retail product because I have already attained some ribbons which I thought I had no chance of grabbing. My most prized possession is currently the Vigilant ribbon, awarded for ten or more kills and no deaths in a match. The three MVP awards are also sources of pride. Sure I have plenty more FIFO (first to die in a round) and Carmine's Star (awarded for the most headshot-related deaths in a match) awards than I would care to disclose, but there are some highlights amongst my many indictments.

The only notable addition to the formula introduced in the beta which has caused me grief so far is that of bots when players disconnect mid-match. Their abilities fluctuate wildly. Sometimes they're at the top of the scoreboard (that's no exaggeration, by the way), while at other times they fire their lancers into the air, waiting for their heads to be taken by whomever is holding the longshot. Ultimately I much prefer to have some assistance from AI when an opponent or teammate rage-quits; I just wish they were a little more consistent, that's all.

I'm well on my way to unlocking the Cole Train for the full retail release, which in turn has me somewhat hopeful that I can also acquire the gold retro lancer. This would of course mean that I would have to abandon my new preferred rifle, the hammerburst at some point; the sacrifices we make for gold-plated instruments of death. The promise of new maps and modes also has me salivating more than usual, as Checkout and Thrasball are starting to tire me.

Is anybody joining the fray this week on account of pre-ordering Gears of War 3? What did you guys play over the weekend?

Friday, April 22

Crisis Over

I find that when it comes to technology and computers it is the scary moments that stand out more than the great ones.

Sure I remember when I bought my first PC and Xbox 360. I remember when I experienced Transformers in brilliant surround sound with an HD picture; but I’m scarred with the memory of seeing the 360's red ring of death, a horrific flickering image as a result of a faulty component in the screen of my television and when my iPod mysteriously stopped working.

Today I was privy to another experience.

As I walked into my study, my two year old daughter was sitting innocently on the chair in front of the computer with a smile on her face and a permanent marker in hand. She had done the unthinkable and scribbled on my LCD screen.

I’d like to say it was a little line here and a couple of dots there but I can’t. I’m talking about major artwork that would make Mr Scribble proud.

To say I was upset would be an understatement and based on the long list of profanity that spewed forth from my mouth I’m sure my neighbours will agree it was a bad moment in history.

Thankfully my good friends Dora and Boots were able to look after my daughter while my other friend, Google, provided me with the best way to get rid of the marker (it turns out you use a damp cloth and toothpaste – I don’t know who thinks of this but it worked and I am one relieved and happy camper).

This isn’t the first time my two year old has tried to embrace technology. She’s washed my universal remote, put things in my DVD drive that shouldn’t be put in there like food and foam and she’s even unlocked my iPhone and changed settings.

That said she’s pretty smart too. If she’s not happy with the DVD I want to watch, she’ll take it out and replace it with what she wants. Not bad for someone who says 15 words and craps herself.

I don’t look forward to the next time my daughter and technology meet but I’m sure it will be sooner rather than later. All I ask is that she spares the Xbox. Please, don’t break the Xbox!

Have you ever found something that didn’t belong in a DVD drive? Has your games system suffered the wrath of a child?

Wednesday, April 20

How Soon is Now? - Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions

Let me be completely clear with you: if the first few hours I've spent with the Gears of War 3 beta are anything to go by, the full game would've been right to ship today. If you guys watched the video included with the last post (courtesy of Gamespot), you would've seen that a representative from the development team was happy to say as much as well. The graphics, gameplay and connection quality are all reminiscent of a retail release, not a beta five months out from the fact. 

Matchmaking has been improved dramatically when compared to the previous instalment. There aren't enough Aussie players participating in the beta yet to find a ranked match, but jumping into a player match was a quick and painless affair. The quality of the connection found in those matches was even more impressive. There was none of the lag-prone shotgun dancing that I have come to associate with the series; the games I participated in felt as though they were "live," so to speak, not like a delayed broadcast. I genuinely felt as though I was on a level playing field this time around.

The retro lancer has so far been the greatest joy to wield. The bayonet charge is a truly empowering maneuver, allowing players to perform a deadly roadie run which can lead to one of the following outcomes:
  • The player impaling their desired opponent on the business end of their rifle
  • The intended victim gracefully rolling to the side and cutting the aggressor in half with their gnasher or sawed-off shotgun
  • The player being tagged with a grenade or torque bow dart just as they stab their target, with both dying in what has been termed a "Grenade Hug"

The sawed-off shotgun is a little too much of a gamble for my liking, asking players to reload after every shot. According to the informative menus, the new option is much more powerful than the stalwart, gnasher shotgun. The sacrifice of range and capacity though has ensured that I play it safe when it comes to my preferred boomstick. 

I haven't been fast or daring enough to make a play for the digger launcher. My compatriots and enemies know the exact route to the devastating new, explosive weapon, and I dare not get involved in its procurement and subsequent distribution upon death. I have seen plenty of my teammates use the new weapon effectively, and seeing the projectile rise up from the earth to claim a new victim is often hilarious. I have however, managed to pick up some incendiary grenades. The flaming effect upon detonation is beautiful, but lacks a sufficient level of power and control to be considered deadly.

The new progression and medal system seems to borrow heavily from the competition. Medals are awarded for achieving specific career feats like playing through your first match, or racking up 100 kills with a specific weapon. Ribbons are awarded for match-specific feats like being the first to die in a round, or performing five assists in a match. You level up in much the same way found in games like Halo: Reach, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and most recent Call of Duty instalments, with experience being awarded for making kills and assists, attaining ribbons and completing matches. There doesn't seem to be any clear reward for leveling up though, and this would primarily be due to the limited arsenal of weapons (and the obvious balance issues that being able to equip some of these weapons at the outset of a match would introduce) and unlockables.

For Bulletstorm: Epic Edition owners, the first week of beta play takes place on two maps: Checkout and the previously mentioned, Thrashball. Both maps are strikingly small, even by Gears' standards. That being said, both maps have various vantage and choke points, as well as copious amounts of cover. Weapons are placed expertly, forcing players to engage in the GoW series signature "rush in then retreat," style of firefights. There are some issues with spawn points, particularly in Thrashball, with players often spawning into (or reasonably close to) a horde of opponents; as both spwan points are at opposite sides of the short field. All things considered though, both maps are well-designed and are conducive to the series' signature play style.

Interestingly enough, it appears as though Monday's prayer session is paying dividends. I'm enjoying a reasonable amount of success and my head has only been shot off three or four times. If you've previously purchased Bulletstorm: Epic Edition then do yourself a favour and jump into the beta now. If not, you're missing out on essential and brutal action; and I'm not just referring to Gears of War 3.

Have a safe and happy Easter, all!

Monday, April 18

Not in the face - The Gears of War 3 Beta Protection Prayer

May my controller keep me safe from harm
And obey my every input
Take cover when required
Keep my aim lethal and true
True enough at least to score an assist

When the servers go live tonight
May they be free from lag, matchmaking swiftly
Please select for me opponents of skill
Yet not skilled enough to damn me
To the bottom of the scoreboard

Speaking of scoreboards
May that found in Thrashball
Remain fixed atop the field
If it must fall, then fall it should
Crushing my enemies and sparing me

Grant me the time
To play enough matches to unlock
Worthless cosmetic accessories
When the full game comes
I wish to own (or more likely, be owned) while looking my finest

May the new weapons
The digger launcher, one-shot and sawed-off shotty
Make their way to me often
Have me beat the rush
Or at the very least, survive it

Most important of all
If my opponents come to acquire
The accurate weapons they desire
Then I will fall with grace
Just be cool guys, not in the face

Thursday, April 14

Danger, Will Robinson!

I’ve created a monster.

There is a guy at work who isn’t a big gamer but he’s been into computers and games for some time. Over the years he’s dabbled here and there and has a sizeable appetite for first person shooters.

A while ago we got talking and he mentioned older games such as Heretic, Quake and Rise of the Triad and the wonderful little nuances that made each game great. He also mentioned that he had been playing a lot of the original Medal of Honour games.

Unbeknownst of the consequences, I asked him, “Why? The Call of Duty series is much more visually appealing and realistic. Give that a crack instead”. It took a little convincing that COD is more than just modern artillery and warfare, but he eventually went out and bought World at War.

This is where my troubles began.

As usual, my suggestion was a massive success. Unfortunately, this is all he has spoken about since starting the game about six months ago. Until now...

Now he has started on a new game. Well kind of. He’s invested in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. So all I hear all day is Black Ops this and Modern Warfare that or “World at War is far more superior because you can get up close and personal to really do some damage and you get to see the detail” (he’s into all that gory, stabby action. He won’t watch Saw but he’ll happily bayonet troop after troop of Nazi’s all night long).

Anyway, let’s just say it’s wearing thin among many of us, with one team member letting loose with a barrage of profanity at a mere mention of any of the titles, or even just the word ‘black’.  

My new challenge is to find another game for him. Sticking with his preferred historical war genre I suggested the new Medal of Honour (I probably should have played this myself before suggesting it) however based on previous games he is now completely put off by the series.

I may just have to wait until June for Duke Nukem Forever to come out, for that will surely take his mind away from Call of Duty. Although I’ll be fairly peeved if the release date is pushed back again, there is one benefit it will bring: Gears of War 3 will soon be released (September 2011 is going to be a great month!), which means potentially less time to hear about Duke and more time for me to get my own back and ramble on excessively about an Xbox 360 exclusive, something Mr “PC is the best and all I need” will have a little bit of trouble accessing.

Have you ever brought happiness to another through gaming only to wish you had shut your mouth? Do you have a suggestion for my colleague, whether it be a FPS or just a genuinely good game?

Wednesday, April 13

In case you haven't played it: Red Faction: Battlegrounds (PS3)

Free to Playstation Plus subscribers this month is THQ Digital's Red Faction: Battlegrounds, a multiplayer-focused vehicular combat game. Apart from some tenuous ties to series lore, this is Red Faction in name only. The gameplay is strikingly reminiscent of 80s arcade racer Championship Sprint. Sure there is dual-stick gunplay added to make the game more appealing to a modern, bloodthirsty audience and to add a questionable amount of depth; but at the end of the day, even as a free game, Red Faction: Battlegrounds fails to be a worthwhile use of bandwidth.

The Good
Heavy Weapons Training - despite the complete lack of charm, variety and depth, the single player training missions adequately prepare you for the multiplayer action found in Battlegrounds; which from what I could ascertain is supposed to be the main focus of the title. As a matter of fact, some of the final missions are so much more focused and urgent, that the multiplayer feels lackadaisical in terms of approach.

Loud noises! - there were times when the utter chaos found in the multiplayer modes was somewhat enjoyable. Explosions and weapons of striking colour lit up the diminutive maps; all the while, coloured text scrolls up the screen remembering the dead.

The Bad
Balance - There's no middle ground in Battlegrounds. The speedy vehicles pack no punch whatsoever, and in all modes but Flag Frenzy they are rendered completely redundant. Further to that, vehicle types and upgrades are unlocked as you rank up (by playing both single and multiplayer modes); meaning that if you were to jump straight into the multiplayer suite, you would be painfully ineffective in battle online. Even after finishing the solo missions, I found that I did not have access to the vehicles my higher level opponents did; and for your information, King of the Hill against three heavy tanks is not much fun. With that said however, the collectable weapons in each environment are too powerful, and overly similar in design.

The Ugly
Cretaceous - Red Faction: Battlegrounds is so horrendously dated. I previously likened the game to a twenty-five year old arcade racer, which tasked players with tracing around a circuit at almost snail speed. Apart from the survival challenges, Battlegrounds asks players to do exactly the same, except sometimes it's mixed up (but by no means freshened) with some tired dual-stick shooting. Whether dispatching movement-impaired mines or EDF vehicles, the action fails to excite, or to even be considered acceptable.

No Meat - I completed each of the single player challenges, and competed in each multiplayer mode in less than two hours. I should also note that the only reason I trialled every mode was for the purpose of this review. There is nothing in this package that would normally have enticed me to play for any longer than required. King of the Hill is a distraction at best and the other modes are barely worth mentioning (four player Team Deathmatch, surely they could have called it doubles?). At no cost, it's a questionable deduction from your download quota. For 800 Microsoft Points, it is tantamount to daylight robbery.

Wrong kind of chaos - Multiplayer action is near impossible to make sense of. There may be a respectable amount of vehicles in which players can wage war, but the choice always comes down to strength over speed. You will explode a lot, as do your opponents. Sometimes you'll win a match, but you'd rarely care. THQ should be condemned for their milking of the Red Faction name, as this game is completely disposable.

Trapped - Battlegrounds' maps are minute and generic, with no interactive elements to differentiate them. Yes, one map may have rivers of lava, while another is covered in ice: but the environment has no impact on gameplay. Funnily enough, even with these diminutive play areas, the game's camera will often lose track of players; particularly in the single player campaign.

The Verdict
2.5/10 - Red Faction: Battlegrounds is about three decades behind the eight ball. I could only stretch my experience with the game out to two hours, and that was only to say that I have been there and done that. This is about as shallow an experience that can be purchased over the Playstation Network (or Xbox Live). Apart from being technically stable, there is not much else of note in this stale package. Avoid at all costs.

Monday, April 11

Fight Like a Man

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition for the 3DS contains what is essentially two versions of Super Street Fighter IV. While both Lite and Pro modes allow input from the touch screen in addition to the face and shoulder buttons; the ability to macro special moves, super and ultra combos to the touch screen in Lite mode dramatically changes the way the game is played. You may think I am exaggerating somewhat, but for anyone who has played any Street Fighter game since the second instalment, you would know what this means.

Goodbye charges and full circles.

Take Honda as an example. Sumo Headbutts no longer require a two second charge; meaning that you can throw yourself across the screen with reckless abandon, to the point where you could time the move to meet an opponent as they descend from a jump.

What about Guile? No longer would he lose projectile battles against his quarter circle-equipped opponents. Players can perform a Sonic Boom even quicker than a Hadouken with the touch screen interface.

When I first read about this, I promptly concluded that this revelation would ruin any chance that SSFIV:3D could provide an experience that catered to the series faithful. I was of course wrong, and treated to a tantalizing new way to play in the process.

When you first jump into Arcade Mode, Lite is the default style of play. With Fight Request enabled, I decided to give this new, seemingly purile control method a quick trial. Before I knew it I was already being matched with online opponents and enjoying connection quality on par, and at times even better than the home console version of SSFIV (this has easily been the most impressive aspect of the title so far, but more on that later). Both my opponent and I selected Honda and the results were hilarious. We each performed Sumo Headbutts en masse, colliding in the middle of the screen with the player who attacked last usually taking most of the damage. The second round of our bout was much more interesting though. I tried to counter the usual Sumo Headbutts with a Sumo Smash (an anti-air attack, usually performed with a down charge and kick). Most of these attempts failed miserably, as my opponent had reached the other end of the screen well before I crashed to the ground; but they weren't hitting me either. After a brief stalemate, we quickly returned to our masculine ritual of butting heads until my adversary could no longer return fire. I then trialled the new method with Blanka and Bison and enjoyed mixed results. All I know is, Zangief is now no longer a redundant choice for competitive play.

I was satisfied that the new scheme is a fun diversion for experienced players and a worthwhile entry point for newcomers. I then decided to switch to Pro controls and adjusted the Fight Request settings to only accept challengers using the same input method.

Not a challenger in sight. No one wanted a bar of the old school. All is not lost as I can still use Pro controls for solo play. It's just a shame that difficulty settings are just as inconsistent in this portable instalment. Medium difficulty with Ryu required a few continues, and the final battle against Seth is just as frustrating on the 3DS as it is on the PS3. Hardest difficulty however, can still be beaten without continues by spamming Zangief's Double Lariat.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is proving to be quite enjoyable, but the unwillingness of the online community to use more traditional control schemes is troubling. I'm all for the new, but I'd like to have my cake and eat it too.

Friday, April 8

Wii Un-Fit

Suffice it to say I’m starting to put on some poundage. While I’m far from fat, I’m starting to jiggle when I shouldn’t. Whether I’m driving over the audible lines on the highway or just shuffling in my chair, there are bits of me starting to move and I don’t like it.

I felt it was time to bring on the Wii Fit. Now as you may recall, I have a Wii but it mainly gathers dust unless the relatives are around. After almost three years I’m yet to buy a game and only have it because it was a gift. Look, if I’m going to fork out money on a game it’s going to be a decent one on a superior system.

Anyway, I had to borrow the system from a friend at work – funny side note: when asked why I had a Wii board sticking out of my bag I said, “Cause my wife’s getting fat” (she’s not really I just said it for the shock value). I said it a little louder and more aggressive than usual and now none of the ladies talk to me at work.

Back to the story, I got it home and set it all up and I was pleasantly surprised. The program has a little Wii board mascot that guides you through all the processes to help you measure your weight and BMI. Despite being a little annoying you can pretty much skip everything he has to say, which is a refreshing option.

After a quick balance test it presents you with your fitness age. When it showed I was ten years older than I actually am, I must admit I was a little taken back. Thankfully I realised that like Wii Sports, your fitness is measured with a mixture of skill and familiarity with the tools at hand. I’m sure after a few hours practise I would've become much younger.

Being that I was just trialling the system for the week, I wasn’t going to set up a regime or weight loss goals and I just wanted to play the available games. At first they were tricky, leaving me feel like a hopeless case with no coordination. Once I turned the board around the right way I did a little better.

Nintendo have done a great job with incorporating sports and activities into light cardio, balance and coordination tests. Not only that, they’ve created these mini games using sports that not many of us can do outside, such as slalom ski, ski jump or play soccer with panda heads.

Yes that’s right, panda heads.

It’s actually pretty cool. You have to try and stop people from kicking goals by head butting a socc\or ball out of the way. If you can stop the goal, you get a point but if they kick their shoe or a panda head and you are hit with it, you become dazed and slow down a little.

There are other activities such as hula hoop spinning and moving avatar themed balls through an obstacle course which are all challenging in their own way. Nintendo have even attempted to keep players interest by gradually unlocking new games as a reward for longer play time.

As a result of the trial I’m actually contemplating buying one as an alternative to watching TV of an evening with my wife. She was pretty keen to try it in the first place so I’m kind of glad she's on board.

Have you ever played with a Wii Fit? While I doubt it is the sole answer to stop my jiggling, do you think it’ll at least help my cause?

Wednesday, April 6

Baby Don't Hurt Me

Recently a friend directed me to Streets of Rage Remake, a fan project from Bomberman Games. SoRR is a true love letter to the 16 Bit, 2D Side-Scrolling Beat 'Em Up, and the list of features is undeniably impressive. After so much as reading about it, I quickly downloaded the title for some violent nostalgia. From the outset, it is obvious how much effort went into this project. Hand-drawn cutscences, complete with Blaze's heaving chest, scrolling text and Axle's flaming strikes at the screen evoked memories of an age long since past. An age where a game that can be completed with little fuss and just as little time would be able to keep me occupied for weeks, months, and even years.

First impressions were deceiving though, as playing the game was a brutal experience.

The sprites and music remain faithful to the original series, but the jump in difficulty was completely unexpected (and not entirely welcome). To clarify, I've finished Streets of Rage 2 on the Normal difficulty setting, using no continues or any special attacks (for achievements, otherwise I would've been unleashing fiery punches at thugs en masse). For the first level of SoRR, I used both of my continues; staggering away to the next stage with no more than three lives. The first boss fight (against two femme fatales) was the greatest challenge, taking about five lives when the last thug was dispatched. They weaved around the dance floor, evading most of my strikes with the greatest of ease. The second stage featured a solid five minutes of motor bike-mounted combat which I believe to be new gameplay (can't remember it at least). It was solid, easy fun which was more in the spirit of the orginal games. I did manage to make it to the second boss fight, but there was no hope: I had two lives left, and Jet would not take a punch.

It was still quite a sight to behold though.

Criminals in brightly coloured clothes - the same that I had first fought with over a decade ago - once again attacked me in their hundreds. All the while, a thumping midi dance track catalogues each heated, physical exchange. Some of the stages are new, some have been recycled, all I know is: I loved all of those that I battled through. It was so intoxicatingly colourful and essential. The soundtrack for SoRR - which features tracks from each of the instalments (including those on the Game Gear) remixed by five musicians - is the true star of this retro melee. I only just wish it were a little bit easier so that I could enjoy more of it.

I strongly encourage all of you to download this fitting tribute to a much-loved series. There's no cost, and it offers hours of ferocious 2D brawling. The funny thing is that I'm not even scratching the surface. There are over one hundred stages to explore, I just lack the skill to make a dent in this package.

To download Streets of Rage Remake and learn more about the project, please visit the following link.

Source: SoRR Project

Dutch Note: For those of you who have purchased Dragon Age II new (regardless of platform) and redeemed the included Online Pass, you should know that you can now redeem a copy of the brilliant Space Opera RPG, Mass Effect 2 for the PC for free. Get on this great deal while it lasts!

Source: Gamespot

Update (13/04/11): Kotaku are reporting that Sega have requested that Bomberman Games no longer make Streets of Rage Remake available for download. Hopefully Sega lift this embargo and allow the gifted developer to spread their retro beat em' up love letter. Best case scenario would of course see Bomberman Games being paid for their work and SoRR being made available via Steam, Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.

Monday, April 4

As Promised (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 3D)

For the record: I have spent a few hours with Crysis 2. While it does appear to be quite a promising package, I must admit that I am thoroughly exhausted by first-person warfare at the moment. Whether it be science fiction-themed, based in an alternate reality or waged with modern equipment it matters not: I am sick of looking down the iron sights of a rifle. I'll return to the game at a later date because the multiplayer suite features a deep, satisfying progression system (even if it does play like Modern Warfare with a cloaking device), and the campaign seemed to afford a little more freedom than the standard "proceed to next checkpoint," affair. 

My Nintendo 3DS arrived on Thursday afternoon while I was in the midst of a heated battle with some flu-like bug of devilish design. While at first I may have entertained the thought that my insomnia, cold sweats and non-existent appetite were related to the anxiety and excitement that comes with participating in a console launch; this was quickly dispelled by the persistent feeling that my sinuses would explode at any given moment. Still, without further ado, behold my first foray into the game website ritual geekery referred to by my contemporaries as an unboxing:

The excitement stopped there. Sure I had a slick, glittery machine in my hands, but some home truths were quickly brought to bare. Specifically, 3D graphics will not change the way that I play games. As a matter of fact, after some observation of the modest effect in a game and the console's Home menu: the 3D slider has almost always been fixed to the off position. Why? Because viewing in 3D takes a fair bit of effort (for me anyway). My eyes have already been subject to years spent too close to the TV, and 3D only serves to exacerbate my lack of ocular capacity. Nintendo have delivered what they promised: glasses-free 3D; and they haven't delivered much else. At least not much that could not be achieved on other better-established platforms.

For an example, please take the wonderfully addictive Strategy RPG, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Apart from the subtle 3D effect which can be seen in the game's menus and in-game maps, this game could possibly be rendered on the PSP or iOS. Sometimes I would flick the slider up to view some shrubs in 3D, but the game doesn't even use the new circle pad. Hell, there's barely any use for the touch screen in this game either. Regardless, it's sucked me in for just over thirteen hours so far and caused the alarmingly-bright battery warning to flicker a few times. I'm sure that you would have previously read about the console's poor battery capacity, and I'm afraid that I can confirm that it won't survive for much more than three hours worth of sustained play.     

Despite my trolling, Nintendo have once gain crafted a device which demands attention from non-gamers. My wife was sceptical about the device's capabilities, but then I showed her some 3D video. Her position changed instantly, with plenty of cooing to accompany the vision. She was even impressed by the 3D foliage in Shadow Wars. The 3DS will be sure to wow those who normally associate gaming with the brown and grey textures, blood and bullets found in the majority of titles that are consumed by core gamers (for example: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor, and most other games available on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360). It will not however, manage to win over the those cynical core gamers who view the use of 3D as a gimmick. Because honestly, for the moment that is all it appears to be. The extra dimension isn't changing anything in terms of the quality of launch titles, or the play mechanics for DS games. Save for the lack of a certain visual dimension and a higher resolution: any gaming experience I've had using the 3DS would be possible with the previous hardware iteration (actually two before it: the DS Lite).

All things considered however, Shadow Wars  is filling the "any game that isn't a first-person shooter," description pretty well, and given that it is also deep, enjoyable and harking back to the days of classics like Fire Emblem and Shining Force: I may just have to see it through to its end. It might also be worth noting that my critique of the console may be due in no small part to the fact that the Mii Maker (which can generate your Mii's facial features based on a photograph) has advised that I look somewhat similar to perennial loser (and one of my favourite Simpsons characters), Milhouse Van Houten. But surely I can't be that shallow.

I'm still looking forward to the arrival of Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition in the coming days; and while my view of the console itself may not change too drastically, as long as there are some gems released on the system it will be of little consequence.

Did anyone else pick up a 3DS? What are your thoughts on the system and its meagre launch line-up?

Friday, April 1

Champagne: Supanova!

Geeks of Australia unite! The annual Supanova pop culture expo has finally arrived, exciting fans of anime, comics, gaming and sci-fi all over the country.

Supanova kicks off this weekend at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane, presenting a rare opportunity for pop culture fans to meet industry icons and stars of the silver screen all while participating in cosplay and getting the inside scoop on all things anime, gaming and more.

As with previous years, Supanova 2011 has a stellar line up of guests and guest speakers including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Tom Felton (Malfoy from Harry Potter), Charisma Carpenter (Buffy), Colin Baker (Dr Who), a host of Neon Genesis Evangelion voice artists and comic artists.

Sydney and Perth visitors will be able to catch up with Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights), James Marsters (Buffy), Luke Perry and Sean Maher (Firefly).

Back To The Future’s own Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) was also due for a meet and greet this year but had to pull out at the last minute. Other cancelled guests that I originally planned to see include Shawnee Smith (Saw) and Julie Benz (Dexter).

Christopher Lloyd has been confirmed to attend next year’s Supanova as well as in a special event in November to coincide with the National Madman Cosplay Championships in November.

As far as gaming goes, Supanova is partially sponsored by GAME, so not only are they likely to be flogging their wares, they are also providing a chance to play Duke Nukem Forever five weeks before it’s official release in May (May 6 for those who haven’t marked it in their calendar).

Additionally there are gaming competitions and giveaways, with featured sections housing 2K Games (Borderlands, NBA2K11, Mafia II) and Ubisoft (Splinter Cell: Conviction, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood). For some reason if you want to play Just Dance 2 you can but you’ll most likely be laughed at.

There’s plenty more to do such as listen in on a number of panel discussions, roam the stalls for games, comics and anime or watch live wrestling (why I’m not sure but whatever floats your boat). You can even take part in the Madman Cosplay Competition for your chance to win Madman online store vouchers.

Supanova is on this weekend in Brisbane, next weekend in Melbourne followed by Sydney and Perth in June. Tickets start from just $20 for a day pass, $60 for a weekend pass and children under 12 are free.

More info can be found on their website.