Saturday, July 30

I Am N00b; Hear Me Mash

In terms of fighting games, my preferred brawler has always been Street Fighter. For me, nothing has ever come close to the style it exudes. Maybe it’s because it was my first ever real fighter, but I’ve never connected with others such as Tekken, Virtua Fighter or Mortal Kombat (the first two were great but then it just seemed to blend in to one big mess of the same thing but slightly tweaked).

The only problem I have with Street Fighter is that I’m not that good at it. Although I started playing it on PC at a young age during the early 90’s, that was the last I had played it… until recently.

After watching the anime series and movies numerous times over the last two decades, I decided it was finally time to put fist to face.

This is where the embarrassment begins.

Earlier this year I played Super Street Fighter IV. I heard it calling me from the other end of the video shop, enchanting me with its sweet siren song. As soon as I got home, it was in the Xbox and I was keen to start a path to glory. However, the path was a dead end.

It seems Ryu, the Wandering Warrior, cannot wander too far at the hands of a n00b. His journey often ended after 30 seconds and numerous “WTF?!?” moments. My record ‘arse on a platter’ knockout was nine seconds. That’s right – nine seconds. I was gutted and had to go for a long walk and think about what I’d done.

I dabbled with other players and seemed to have a little more luck with Sagat, but Dhalsim, Blanka, Zangief and Vega all offered poor results.

The game sat there, mocking me from a distance, until I returned it the next day with my head hanging in shame. It was one of those moments where you could tell strangers somehow knew what you’d done and were quietly laughing about it with their friends.

Thankfully Dutch came to the party and told me he had similar woes, with his win/loss ratio differing significantly between the Super and standard versions. Further searching confirmed this is a common result and I started to build my confidence. Maybe I could win more than one fight against a weak player…

Now that I can finally look Ryu in the eye, I bought SFIV for both the iPhone and 360 with much better results. Much like the UFC games, it’s not about mashing, but more about learning your character and knowing how to use them in battle. Ryu’s path is now looking a little longer and a little more respectable.

What are your greatest n00b moments?

Friday, July 29

Neon Wasteland: How to Break an Honest Heart

First of all, an apology to the Bitmob staff - particularly Dan "Shoe" Hsu who awarded me with the download that is the subject of this post - for ignoring a lesson from my childhood: when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. Last month, I disclosed that I had assumed that I had to finish the Fallout: New Vegas' main quest line in order to have a chance of surviving the downloadable expansion, Honest Hearts. Upon deciding the fate of New Vegas however, I learned that there's no going back. It probably would have made sense to consult a resource like the Fallout Wiki, however I piggishly insisted on slogging it out alone.

 This conversation never happened!

So without further ado, my first adventure to Zion National Park.

It started out pretty rough; mainly because I couldn't find the NPC to start the quest that takes you to Zion. It was placed pretty clearly on my map, but in the middle of the night, a darkened cave entrance isn't overly obvious. Which is just as well, because without stumbling to the north of the Mojave Wasteland, I wouldn't have come across a small squad of aliens with ridiculously effective weaponry.

Equipped with some other-worldly hardware, I wandered around the Mojave until sunrise. Then I could see the gaping hole that evaded me during night hours. I wandered in and came across a wary group of travellers. I was told I could join them after lightening my pack. After two hours searching for this introductory quest, I'd now have to wander back to the New Vegas Strip to drop most of my gear. Fast forward fifteen minutes and I was back where I needed to be and ready to go.

Now for the frustarting part.

After initiating the first quest and watching a modest slideshow, my companions came under fire from some indigenous folk. Knee deep in the blood of newly-acquired friends, I fought back, killing all of the White Legs people who opposed me. I looted my assailants' freshly-fallen bodies and proceeded across a rickety bridge. Again I came under fire, this time from a unique NPC named Follows-Chalk. Heart still pumping from the assualt I had just survived, I switched to my alien firearm and reduced my opponent to a blue, chalky substance. To my surprise, I received notification that I had failed a quest and that another had been added, "Chaos in Zion." Bemused, I carried on with weapon drawn.

 Wrong place, wrong time.

The environment in Honest Hearts was uncharacteristically captivating. Indigenous art decorated cliff faces. Instead of the dreary browns, greys and pale greens of the Mojave Wasteland, Honest Hearts is home to earthy, red tones and rustic camp ground structures. A complete and necessary change in palette.

Despite the inviting, new location, I still found myself subject to an unrelenting assault from all of the Zion National Park's inhabitants: regardless of tribe or species. No matter how many locations I came across, not a single living creature was happy to see me. Surely this new expansion was not solely a survival-based affair? I began to question whether there would be any conversations or friendlies to encounter in this beautiful hellhole. Still, my enemies were no match for my recently-acquired alien blaster. Even the giant yao guai and cazadors were helpless against this other-worldly hardware.

The killing continued. I slaughtered Daniel, Walking Cloud, the Sorrows, Dead Horses and anything else that moved, until I finally reached the quest marker at the north of the map in Zion Canyon. I collected a map and was then instructed to return to the Mojave to complete the quest - and unbeknownst to me - the Honest Hearts expansion.

I watched another slideshow that described the carnage I had brought to this intriguing location. I had unknowingly flunked the downloadable quest, but still: what were the developers thinking, with a quest that could so easily be shrugged off course with some careless fire? Under assault almost the second I arrived in Zion, I could only assume that Follows-Chalk was another savage enemy.

There's that word again: assume. I was so busy defending myself from the frenzied attack of the White Legs tribe that I assumed Follows-Chalk would do me harm and because of that, Honest Hearts was almost completely lost to me.

 This dude looks evil, but I guess I shouldn't assume

Quest Design 101: Do not place an all-important NPC in the midst of a deadly firefight. A battle where one stray bullet can cancel out hours of potential questing.

Can you recall any other examples of broken quest design?

Wednesday, July 27

Bastion Review (X360) - Tell me how the world ends

When I first heard that former Gamespot editor, Greg Kasavin was abandoning journalism in order to pursue a career in game design I felt conflicted. One one hand, one of the few critics that I trusted (read: agreed with often) would no longer be offering their opinion for public consumption. On the other, someone who had spent over ten years assessing videogames would now be in the business of making them; seeing the flaws in a decade's worth of titles could potentially give him the insight to make a "perfect" game. Bastion may not be perfect, but it is one of the finest games available on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Developer Supergiant Games' first effort catalogues the adventures of a hero referred to only as "The Kid," who investigates the catastrophic event known as "The Calamity."

The Good
Tale for the ages - Bastion's story starts off as fairly standard RPG fare: a lonely hero is tasked with finding items and survivors in an attempt to undo the damage dealt by an apocalyptic event. The use of a narrator, however, serves to develop the characters and events of the game as well as foreshadow every victory, loss and betrayal that players will experience over the course of the adventure. It is also genuinely affecting in its final stages. I don't think I've ever previously played an Action RPG with a memorable story, let alone one that had me in tears towards the end. This is a beautiful game in more ways than one.

The handmade tale - Bastion is a visual treat with hand-painted backgrounds and an assortment of enemies that are all animated expertly. With an isometric perspective and melee-centric combat, the game is initially reminiscent of hack-and-slash games from previous hardware generations. After a few hours though, players will have access to an arsenal of ranged and melee weapons, as well as "secret skills"  that add a layer of depth not usually found in an XBLA title. It may feel a little familiar to begin with, but in the end, Bastion is in a league of its own in terms of play and presentation.

 Every Bastion screenshot is worth a thousand words (992 to go)

Tell me how the world ends - While I have touched on this previously, the use of a narrator is a master stroke. The way Rucks comments on every event adds a level of suspense and intrigue that I've not felt since the original Bioshock. The commentary also evoked the odd smile when I was chastised for being careless in battle. Every idiosyncrasy is subject to Rucks' observations and Bastion is all the better for it.

Fight for freedom - Bastion's weapon and skill customization system is the most friendly that I've encountered in the genre. When you upgrade a weapon, you select from one of two buffs. If you find that the weapon isn't performing as intended, you can switch to the other perk at no cost. You can also choose to equip any combination of weapons that you've acquired; melee or ranged only, if you please. The freedom to switch your loadout - to the point where each weapon functions differently - is a refreshing change from the hack-and-slash norm. 

New Game Plus - It worked for Crysis 2, and it works for Bastion. I love being able to carry over weapons, upgrades and abilities for a second playthrough as it serves to cut out the repetition and still make for a rewarding experience. I'm half-way through my second crack at the campaign and am hoping to earn all two hundred available Achievement Points.

The Bad
Spoiler Alert! - While I did love the running commentary, there were a few times that it did serve to spoil the odd plot twist. That being said, a lot of the developments were somewhat predictable.

 Psst! It's hiding in the long grass.

Broadside of the barn - As much as I loved experimenting with each of the ranged weapons - and the melee weapons with ranged capabilities - most were just a little too fiddly for my liking. Often my aim would stray just to the side of my intended target, no matter what adjustments I made to the sticks. The Proving Ground challenge with the War Machete is one the most painfully-frustrating time attack challenges I've had the "pleasure" of playing through.

The Ugly
Justify my thug - Most of the Proving Ground challenges are more frustrating than they are fun. Almost all of them are time attack activities which are subject to the imprecise aiming controls described above. Further to that, most of them aren't worth attempting unless you've upgraded the weapon that is the focus of the challenge at least three times (out of a possible five).

 No games until you've finished your chores!

Easy Rider -Despite the depth in options for approaching combat, Bastion can be powered through  without much opposition. Throw in the right mix of upgrades and secret skills and some levels present little in the way of challenge. It should be noted that after a certain point, you can actually make the game harder by activating idols in the Shrine.

The Verdict
Bastion is one of the best XBLA titles available and a perfect start to Microsoft's "Summer/Winter (depending on where you live) of Arcade." With beautiful graphics, a moving, well-told story, and a refreshing level of freedom in terms of combat, Bastion is well worth 1200 Microsoft Points. Highly recommended, and be sure to have some tissues at the ready towards the end.

Monday, July 25

Bastion: Innovation in Narration

Bastion - the first offering from the Xbox Live Arcade’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion - oozes charm. Its visuals and isometric perspective hark back to classic RPGs like The Adventures of Alundra and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The combat system and other gameplay mechanics also appear to be reminiscent of Action RPGs released in the nineties. Innovation lies in the game’s sound design though. Not necessarily in the sound effects or the contemporary soundtrack, but in the use of a narrator. 

Other games have used them before, though not as comprehensively as Bastion. Previous instalments of the Fallout franchise have opened and concluded proceedings with Ron Perlman’s dulcet commentary, but his voice is notably absent throughout the action of each adventure. The narrator in that case sets the tone, but doesn’t maintain it. Supergiant Games’ first effort offers a new approach, with a narrator providing observation on most aspects of the player’s experience.

Bastion’s narrator, Rucks comments on almost every action the player takes. He will taunt you when you become careless and fall or take massive damage. He will remind you to heal yourself when you’re close to death. He will celebrate and detail the acquisition of new gear. He will lament your passing. 

For the first few minutes, I found this constant commentary distracting; almost annoying. About three hours in however, and this vocal chronicle of my adventure is essential. It elevates what is - in all honesty – a fairly standard, though beautifully-rendered hack-and-slash adventure to a thoughtful experience that I would recommend without hesitation. You need to listen to fully appreciate what Bastion offers, and how it differs to every Action RPG before it.

The way in which every deception, betrayal, triumph and shortcoming is reinforced provides a sense of warmth and guidance that can’t be achieved with the scrolling and boxed text normally associated with the genre. It also serves to develop the story at large. I can’t think of any game – RPG or otherwise – that tells players how they’re performing, what they need to do, and what’s happening in the game’s world as effectively as Bastion. Can this narrative strategy and sound design be applied to any game? Probably not, but the results could be hilarious if not inappropriate. 

Let’s start with a game like John Woo’s Stranglehold. I would invite you to provide a transcript to read over the action you’ll witness in the clip below.

Here’s my take:  
Inspector Yuen may have been a violent man – some would say, needlessly so – but if there was anything he enjoyed more than killing, it was grinding. Jumping on a rail and sliding; killing as many people as he could, as stylishly as humanly possible. He was doing that well this time. The rail had to end sometime, didn’t it? At least he found a cart to continue his dance of carnage. Time just seemed to slow down when those bullets flew and those bodies crumpled. So many bullets, but not enough bodies to make a good score this time it would seem. There will be others though, don’t you worry. Why is he jumping against that wall? Now he’s just showing off, isn’t he? 

Maybe that’s a little too lyrical for a game that allows players to shoot their opponents in the groin and watch as their victims fall to the ground in agony? Let’s try the technique on a game that is better suited to some exposition: Grand Theft Auto IV.

Niko loved to drive; and drive fast. So he did, on his newly acquired bike. It was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. He was listening to some light-hearted tune that reminded him of better days. If he had hair, you’d best believe it would be trailing behind him in the Liberty City sun. One thing you should know about our friend, Niko is that he did not much appreciate the law. Nor did he care much for paying hard-earned cash to abide by it. Either way, he had better slow down if he has any hope of avoiding certain death. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Few people would have called him a good man, but no one deserves to be thrown into the Liberty City deep like old Niko just was. 

Are there any games you can think of that would be richer with the inclusion of an all-seeing narrator? Have you got a transcript that you would like to share?

Saturday, July 23

For Hot Water Press Up Down Left Right A B Start

How many times have you wished gaming could be a bigger part of your life and somehow integrated into your everyday routine? Other than playing more games or dressing up like Mario and starting your own Mario Kart competition in France, there’s little more you can do…until now.

New to Australia, Kohler has released a new mixer range called the Margaux (pronounced mar-go). What’s this got to do with playing games? It’s got a joystick handle.

Rather than the standard flat handle that you’ll find on most tapware in Australian bathrooms, this one has a thin stick on top of it to control the flow and heat of the water. Granted it needs is a little ball on the top of the handle to make you feel a little more at home but it’s a pretty cool idea.

This is actually one of two Kohler mixers with the unique joystick handle, with the new articulating Karbon sink mixer also using it. A mix of art and plumbing, the Karbon can be manipulated into a range of positions for use and will stay fixed however you need it. However, at $1800 you’ll have to manipulate your wallet into a very sad position to buy it.

With the bathroom traditionally a retreat for the ladies (let’s face it if you’re going to build or renovate they will tell you what you like), do you think you could convince your loved one for something as unique as a joystick handle?

I’m going to put it to Kohler to make a new bathroom suite called the Ryu – a white vanity with red trim, a flat basin, joystick lever mixer and buttons that open draws, dispense soap and more. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 20

Collector's Editions: Lots of dollars, not much sense

There's only one collectors edition (CE) that I've purchased that has actually provided value for money. Back when the concept was still in its infancy - in Australia, at least; few made it to our shores early on - the limited edition package for Bioshock had it all: a figurine, soundtrack, the game and a steel bookcase. Even better, it was no more expensive than the standard game. As a matter of fact, I purchased it for about twenty dollars less than the retail price of the game alone.

 The Big Daddy of all bargains.

The game was - and still is - fantastic, I still have the soundtrack, and I managed to sell the figure for the sum of fifty bucks once the novelty wore off. No other CE has come even close to fulfilling Bioshock's value proposition; even when I managed to pick them up for a fraction of the asking price. The Terry Bogard statue included with King of Fighters XII can't hold his cap as pictured, plus some of his fingers have since snapped off. The tiny Chris Redfield that came with the Resident Evil 5 CE shattered from a short drop.

My loving wife even paid over one hundred and fifty dollars for the Street Fighter IV CE which came with two minuscule figurines of Ryu and Crimson Viper, an animated movie on blu ray (which I never watched), and a mini comic. So much money, so little value. I guess if anything, it proved how awesome my spouse is. I wish I could have saved her the money all the same.

With a little bit of self-control, I've managed to go about a year without buying a collector's edition for a new release (the sole exception being inFamous 2: Hero Edition which I pre-ordered for a fraction of the recommended retail price). I've picked up several on the cheap - some as few as six months after release - and have enjoyed being able to spend more money on actual games instead of worthless trinkets.

Skimming through the news today though, and it looks like that is about to change. I'm sorry, Matt: I tried.

Batman: Arkham City
Forgetting that I'm a huge fan of Batman and Rocksteady's previous effort: this package offers so much more than the average, limited-run package. Including a Batman statue, art book, soundtrack, a dvd with the animated feature Batman: Gotham Knight, early DLC access, collectable cards and A BATMAN STATUE: this will be an essential purchase. The package will retail for just under one hundred US dollars, meaning that Australian consumers can look forward to a price tag that should be double that amount. I'll be looking to import in the first instance, but I don't think I can walk away from this much Batfan service. 

Na na na na na na na na EXCESS!

Source: Kotaku

Star Wars: The Old Republic
My interest in this package makes no sense; at all. I love Star Wars - there's no denying that - but I haven't played an MMO since the Guild Wars beta. I also very rarely buy PC games at bricks-and-mortar retail, with Starcraft II being the last game I procured in a box. Still, SWTOR's CE comes with an awesome statue, a soundtrack and oodles more assorted geekery. It's rumoured to cost more than minor veterinary surgery (about two hundred and twenty US dollars), but it looks so(ooooooooooooooooo) cool. 

 Search your feelings, you know it be truly ridiculous. 

Source: G4TV, Bitmob

Do you buy collector's editions? Or, are you one of those disciplined, sensible individuals who would rather buy two games instead of a nonsensically-expensive one? Are you likely to be lured in by any of the loot above?

Tuesday, July 19

In case you haven't accidentally bought it: Duke Nukem Forever multiplayer review (PS3) in 250 words or less

The Good: Freezing my brother then uppercutting him Sub Zero style. Only played "Dukematch" and am yet to comment on "Capture the Babe" or "Duke of the Hill". Genius naming conventions.
The Bad: The SP guns have absolutely no use in the MP, except for the 2 rocket launchers, trip mines and freezegun. Do not dare attempt to use anything other than these if you are not host. The Shrink Gun is a useless piece of shit, and there is absolutely no point in using your L1 zoom. However, with the benefit of 0 ping, my brother started tearing me a new one with the rail gun.

These are your controls, get used to them.

The Ugly:
Compared to Quake II (Released in 97!!!), there is no decent lighting and fluid level structure, the Hollywood level has about as much complexity as the original Duke 3D. Games would often go for up to five minutes without a kill, the character models look like they're floating around on an air hockey table and the stick controls for aiming may as well be dog turds instead of a PS3 controller.
Save your pennies for this bad boy

Verdict: Will play 1, maybe 2 more times. Would not have even played If I hadn't shelled out 2 x $60 as birthday presents for people. They enjoyed the SP as a casual fuck around and nostalgia fest so all is well!

Monday, July 18

Franchise Rewind: F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin

Quick note: This post contains some spoilers for F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin.

Bargains, a non-existent sense of self-control, mild obsessive compulsive disorder and disposable income can sometimes lead to nonsensical purchase decisions; like the F.E.A.R Collection, which I obtained during the Steam Summer Camp Sale. On paper it doesn't look like a bad deal: the critically-lauded first instalment, the somewhat indifferent sequel and all of the downloadable expansions for each game for less than twenty bucks. When you then consider however, that I've owned each of these games previously - in some cases, multiple times - across two different platforms there isn't much merit to the repeated acquisition.

Well, you could at least argue that until you've read my review for F.3.A.R. The ridiculously enjoyable, though undeniably ugly conclusion to the trilogy provided that little spark of impulse that was required for me to push the "Add to cart" button. Previously not owning any iteration on PC also allowed for me to ignore that the series had long rested at the bottom of my pile of shame and therefore press the "Purchase" button.

Almost a week later and I'm glad to report that I do not regret the decision. If anything, my recurring absence of reason has provided me with about eight hours of skull-splitting, ghoul-impregnating fun that I refused to enjoy two years ago.

I still understand why I didn't make it through on my first playthrough: F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin was for the most part, an exhausting experience bereft of colour and humour. Your companions are big-balled, macho stereotypes who spout predictable dialogue across your comm. Your enemies - save for the recurring, under-aged villain, Alma - aren't overly engaging either; and no amount of collectable documents could serve to change that now that I've finally finished the campaign and seen over seventy-five percent of the irrelevant text that players can potentially find. 

 Yes, he sounds as smug as he looks.

A renewed interest in Sergeant Becket and his sexual assault at the hands of Alma - which prove to be the propellant for the events of the third game - was the main reason for reinvestigating this primarily-bland sequel. That and the shotguns in this game have a tendency to reduce enemies to a bloody mist that is sometimes accompanied by an arm or a leg; hilarious.

Most of the weapons in F.E.A.R 2 have some pretty visceral applications. Using the Hammerhead to pin Armacham soldiers to chain link fences was reasonably satisfying, as was the resulting bodily explosion from a sniper rifle headshot. The guns in this game make people fall apart and you don't get that in your Call of Duties or your Battlefields: reality holds back the hilarity.    

According to F.E.A.R 2, men are 98% blood.

As for the events of the game and the characterisation of the lead, F.E.A.R 2 has the narrative depth of a thimble. Sergeant Becket - much like the protagonist of the first and third games in the series, Point Man - doesn't say a single thing throughout the adventure. There's no concluding monologue to elaborate on what would have been a very traumatic event. There's no commentary or retorts on the musings and actions of his colleagues. Beckett just takes it. He's more than willing to spill his guts in the next instalment though, but when he's the focus of the story likes to be the strong, frustratingly-silent type. Outside of the disappointment provided by Becket’s lack of character, there’s also no hint of what happens to Armacham boss, Genevieve Aristide who completely evades the final chapter. It seems that story is not the franchise’s strong point. F.3.A.R’s focus on action as opposed to a muddled narrative is perhaps the reason that I view it as the strongest entry.  

F.E.A.R 2 controls well, but the meticulous direction through a seemingly-endless series of differently decorated corridors failed to endear me. Some of the firefights - particularly one against a mech about three hours in, and a warehouse sniper fight towards the end - caused a lot of frustration and often slowed the pace to a drag. Conversely, the majority of the action - including the mech segments - can be powered through without much objection from your opponents. I would attribute this to some unbalanced weaponry that is procured towards the end, but either way, Monolith failed to properly scale the difficulty of this adventure.

So maybe F.E.A.R 2 wasn't that much fun after all. That's not the point, I guess. The point is I've removed one game from my pile of shame: only about two hundred and something - still in my possession, God knows what the lifetime tally would be - to go.

Next up will be the Reborn expansion. Maybe the injection of the ferocious, part-time cannibal, Paxton Fettel can redeem this package?

 Dude, wipe up and help already!

Has a stellar sequel ever encouraged you to look at a series' roots? Have you ever enjoyed a prior instalment of a series more than the current one?

Saturday, July 16

The Crossover Conundrum

With the recent release of Transformers 3, I started thinking about the unfortunate media crossovers that occur for renowned brands. By this I mean when a movie becomes successful, a game is launched to support it, or in Transformers case, a cool toy is released, which is turned into a TV series, then a movie (and then a sequel destroyed by testicle jokes and two stupid little cars). The world of gaming has enjoyed very few wins when taking the step into cinema (or some sort of major release), with the following list being memorable mentions, for all the right or wrong reasons.

Street Fighter (1994)
With Kylie Minogue and Van Damme in the lead roles, this was destined to be a sure fire shocker. Featuring a dodgy plot about Sagat being an arms dealer and Allied Nations officials being kidnapped by Bison, Guile is charged to save them with the help of a misfit group of martial artists as well as a TV crew. The TV crew is made up of Chun Li, Balrog and E Honda. I’m fairly sure there’s something wrong with the content of the above sentences. I remember seeing the movie and thinking, “What just happened? Is that what the game was about?” Anyway, the Street Fighter 2 anime and V series is significantly better and actually worth a look at. Do not bother with the 2009 Chun Li movie.

Mortal Kombat (1995)
I saw this at the cinema and was amazed. I also hired it out recently and was still impressed. More about the fighting and the tournament than a dodgy plot/side story (I’m looking at you Street Fighter), seeing Scorpion throw his little spear thing out of his palm and Kano’s demise at the legs of Sonya Blade was a treat. It was also refreshing to see the characters be accurately portrayed rather than suffer from creative license. Additionally, the cheesy techno in the opening scene was loved for years (please don’t hold this against me).

Halo Legends (2010)
After three superb games, seven short animated films by separate directors were compiled and released to tell the story of the Halo franchise. Similar in style to The Animatrix, this release was, in my opinion, mundane, boring and missed the mark. More arty than entertainment, I would’ve liked to see a more immersive story, maybe about the battle or the Covenant invasion. Better luck next time.

Super Mario Brothers (1993)
I don’t remember a lot about this one, except for dodgy hair cuts by the two henchmen.  Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo star and need to save Daisy from Koopa (wow, a movie having some sort of similarity to the game from which it was derived…) who is played by Dennis Hopper. Despite the big names, IMDB rates it pretty low, but it’s not going to stop me from picking it up on my next movie store visit.

Hitman (2007)
The game was boring, but the movie was great. Full of action and fairly close to the game (or as much of it as I played anyway), Hitman not only has a decent plot, but also some pretty wicked fights between Agent 47 and The Organisation. Expect to see a sequel next year.

The list of other game movies is vast – Tekken, Earthworm Jim (TV), Far Cry, Devil May Cry (TV), Wing Commander (TV), Prince of Persia, Silent Hill, Resident Evil and much more. Have you seen a decent one? Which is the worst?

Wednesday, July 13

In case you haven't played it: F.3.A.R Review (PS3)

Until just recently, I'd never finished a single installment of the F.E.A.R trilogy. I'd played each of them: bloody corridors, shotguns of some renown, and scary little girls, but the first two parts couldn't sustain my interest. Then came F.3.A.R or Fthreear as it's known in some cultures; it may not be the best looking shooter on the market, but it does enough things differently to be worth a try. Read on for my thoughts on the conclusion to a saga that I've never really been invested in. 

The Good
Hellfire - While it doesn't always look convincing, F.3.A.R is a gory rollercoaster ride that I won't soon forget. Full to the brim with hectic firefights, brutal weapons and action/horror movie-themed abilities, I never found myself bored or unsure of how to proceed. Highlights included mech battles on a crumbling bridge, a terrifying traversal of a zombie-occupied department store and a frenzied tour through an airport. A working cover system, ferocious melee attacks and a uncharacteristic final boss fight also feature in this strong effort. The game is not only fun to play, but exceptionally paced. Further to that, if you actually manage to find a match of "Contractions" and enjoy decent connection quality, be prepared for some frantic co-op play against increasingly-aggressive waves of better-equipped, AI-controlled foes. White-knuckle action at its ugliest.

Who doesn't love a touching, family reunion?

Woo Vs Carpenter - Depending on your choice of character, F.3.A.R affords players the ability to carry out carnage in ways not seen in any other FPS. Point Man has the series' staple ability of being able to slow time and line up perfect shots. Fettel can suspend enemies in mid air, blast them with his "Fettel Blast," and even possess most enemy combatants. Slowing down time makes for some jaw-dropping action, but Fettel is almost unstoppable as he can burn through entire squads of enemy soldiers without taking much damage (to his person at least). I can only imagine how much fun this would've been in co-op, but more on that later.

Meaty - F.3.A.R affords players a raft of content to play through. For soloists out there, you have the campaign to play through with two sufficiently-different characters. My first playthrough with Point Man took just shy of ten hours to complete; I've only played through a few levels with Fettel but his superior abilities allowed me to plough through these sections of the game much faster. You then have the option to play in local or online co-op as well. I imagine that would be quite the sight to behold with the action slowing down and bodies being thrown about as the two protagonists work in concert; but I guess I'll never know.  Then there are four different multiplayer modes that offer something for those with co-op and competitive sensibilities. You can even play them on your own if you're so inclined, although, for the record: "F%$cking Run" solo is not fun. 

"Reach" for the competition - My favourite thing about Halo: Reach - which was also my favourite game of 2010 - was the persistent sense of reward that you got whilst playing across single and multiplayer modes. A similar system is at play in F.3.A.R with a ranking system that works across all play modes and rewards anything from finding collectables to achieving specific feats using Point Man's Slo-Mo ability. During the campaign specifically, you are awarded scores across four areas for your actions and the player (and therefore the character) with highest score determines the outcome of the story. A great idea that I would love to see in pretty much any FPS released from this day forward.

The Bad
Triggers - This gripe is exclusive to the PS3 version. F.3.A.R only allows players to choose predetermined control schemes which each have L2 and R2 as iron sights and fire. My preference with shooters on this particular platform is to map these actions to L1 and R1 as the triggers on Dualshock 3 and Sixaxis controllers are too spongy for my liking. The game was not at all happy to accommodate me across four different configurations; not acceptable.  

Loathsome mother - F.3.A.R is not a visually-spectacular game by modern standards. There are some moments in pre-rendered cutscenes where the visuals reach par, but otherwise it is almost ugly to behold. Muddy wall and door textures mixed with some of the most uninspiring fire effects I've seen in the last few years failed to impress when compared to most recent big releases. There isn't a great deal of variety in terms of opposition either, and Armacham army operatives are coloured in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of light gun classic, Time Crisis (blue being for standard grunts, red is for the more dangerous variety who usually carry shotguns). Be it humans, mechs or demons: few are animated in a way that looks convincing but ultimately, the game does look good enough to get the job done.

 I'd recommend an LCD TV. Plasmas have a tendency to burn... patterns into my face.

Sound off - The weapons in F.3.A.R sound nothing shy of f3arsome, but the score is anything but. Rivalling the likes of your average installment of the Friday the 13th series in terms of ham, the original music in this game is almost jarring. Even worse is the repetitive chatter from Armacham forces in a heated firefight. On a postive note however, Danzig's powerhouse "Mother" plays over the credits at the end of the game. A strong aural reward for finishing the campaign.

The Ugly
Lopsided team - Point Man and Fettel can tear up the battlefield by themselves or as a team; just don't expect both to shine in the expository cutscenes. Fettel is more than happy to ham it up with his evil laugh and talk of family but all Point Man can do is flash the camera a grimace. The default single player protagonist does not utter a single word, even when it could really serve to flesh out the story and his one-dimensional character. There are some moments where insight into Point Man's thoughts and motives would add a lot to this tale. Instead, he follows Fettel without question because it serves them both to reach some form of resolution so he can pull the trigger; again.

 Care to add anything?

Hello? Is anyone there? - I'd love to elaborate more on F.3.A.R's multiplayer modes but I simply can not find a match on the PS3 version. All up, I've played just over a handful of rounds of "Contractions", found one match of "Soul King", while no-one seems to be showing any interest in the other modes. Some of the Contractions matches I've connected to have also suffered from horrendous instances of lag; enemies dealing damage long after being vanquished and teleportation are just some of the hilarious issues that I've encountered in my time online. As for online co-op, I couldn't find a single player to join the party. Considering the focus on co-operative gameplay, it's a shame that more PS3 players aren't willing to give this fresh approach to multiplayer a try.

M4rk3t1ng g0n3 m4d - Plenty have joked about it, but the stupidity in spelling the game's name with a number can't be ignored. No prizes for guessing what the next installment will look like: F.E.4.R. Perhaps the fifth game in the series will see all of our worst F.E.A.R.5 realized. Either way, F.3.A.R has set a new standard for misguided and intentional spelling mistakes being mistaken for savvy marketing.

The Verdict
F.3.A.R may look like a dog, but it's the most fun you can have with a corridor shooter. It may not be scary, it may not have anyone else playing it (on the PS3 at least), but that doesn't mean you won't be able to enjoy it by yourself. When someone else actually does sign up, you may find yourself having more fun than you bargained for. It's a rewarding package despite the lack of polish and community. At the very least, I'd recommend a trial of the PC and X360 versions in case the player population is more robust on those platforms.

Monday, July 11

In case you haven't played it: Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review (PC)

If there's one genre that's never really endeared itself to me, it's the Shoot 'em-up. Whether you referred to these games as shmups or bullet hell, they all appeared and played the same to me. Even industry darlings like Ikaruga failed to engage me, so why bother sampling anything else that the genre has to offer ever again? I'm not sure if it was the pixel art, the testimonial from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, or some beautiful screenshots, either way Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony ended up as a purchase during the Steam Summer Camp Sale. There is a plot woven amongst the progressively-hellish levels, but it's hard to care for it when you've just spent the last three to five minutes dodging and shooting for your life.

The Good
Teach me how to love you - As above, I've rarely enjoyed any shmup that I've played throughout my lifetime. I can attribute that to two reasons:
  1. I like challenge, but not the bullet hell-brand of "seriously, how the shit am I supposed to navigate through this obstacle course of death without losing all of my lives and potentially two or three credits," challenge. 
  2. A lot of my friends were of the same persuasion, so there was very little chance that I would be playing these for any great amount of time as I usually prefer my AAA blockbusters when I'm playing solo.
The developers must have known about people like myself, because Jamestown does a great job of teaching you how to play. First of all, you're shown the "hitbox" for your chosen vehicle at the select screen: so you'll be fully aware of your ship's vulnerable area (note: you can only be killed by a direct hit). The alt-fire for each ship is also explained in the select screen and divided into two categories: standard and advanced. I trialled each and I rarely had much luck outside of ships from the standard category. Finally, Normal difficulty is only available for the first three levels, and while far from insurmountable, it made it very clear to me what enemies I needed to fear, when to "Vaunt" and other ways to protect my hitbox. It also allowed for me to grow in confidence; enough so to embrace "Difficult" and not run away in terror when I learnt that the last level can only be accessed after beating the first four on "Legendary" difficulty. I'm proud to say that I beat the campaign and I even managed to best a Gauntlet.

 Just breathe. You'll be fine.

Not just for n00bs - While Jamestown caters to novices and genre haters, it also has (what I imagine to be) more than enough challenge for bullet hell veterans. Five well-scaled difficulty levels, challenge packs and the Gauntlet awaits players with appropriate skill and dexterity. Gauntlets task players with beating every level in succession with the level-standard, two credits. Normal and Difficult Gauntlets end at the third and fourth levels respectively, the other three difficulty levels require you to finish the entire game. Challenge maps are usually timed survival trials, though several have some secondary objectives introduced such as flying through rings. For the record, I've beaten the Normal Gauntlet and three of the fifteen challenge maps. I've tried to do more, but I'm not quite there yet.

Unconventional beauty - Polygons be damned: Jamestown's wondrous landscapes and creatures - all rendered in hundreds of colourful pixels - won't fail to grab your attention. The action never stutters when the screen is ablaze with beams, lasers and aliens of all shapes and sizes. It's not only beautiful but functional as well.

Like a Boss - Each of Jamestown's boss fights are big, colourful and memorable. Whether it's the Lady of the Lake or a running battle with a drill mounted-train, be prepared to weave your way through more bullets then you'd find in a standard FPS campaign.

 Don't panic. I'm sure it didn't see you.

The way you move - Jamestown boasts mouse, keyboard and gamepad support. You'll only require three buttons for combat and even with a screen full of moving death, it never feels complicated. Deaths never comes cheaply, even in the final level where environmental obstacles are introduced. This game is hard, but you'll have no one to blame for your demise except yourself.  

The Bad
There is a story -  Like I said before, but it's told through static pixel art and green text. Jamestown's gameplay is so vibrant and hectic that the storybook narrative fails to keep up with it. By no means a deal breaker, but it is in a no way a reason to give this great game a go either.  

The Ugly
Local confusion - I understand that this is an indie game and the developers may not have had the budget to ship the game with decent netcode, but who plays local multiplayer on their PC? Don't get me wrong, Jamestown is a brilliant game; but online co-op would have made it nothing less than an essential experience.

The question of length - Even after having to replay the earlier levels on a higher difficulty to progress, Jamestown's campaign can be conquered in less than three hours. Hell, if you're any good at these games you could do it in far less time than it took me. I can't recommend this game highly enough, but you should know that it won't last you very long.


The Verdict
Jamestown had everything going against it: a difficult shmup on PC without pretty graphics and modern effects. Against the odds, it proved to be more fun than my five dollars deserved. It can be run on a system with very modest specs with just about any peripheral. It is riotous fun alone - I can only imagine how good it would be with company - and a quality learning experience as well. It pretty much demands to be played by anyone: bullet hell lover or not.  

Saturday, July 9

Mobile Mayhem

Previously I’ve bagged mobile phone gaming, questioning its validity and relevance especially when compared to console or PC games. With an impending work conference to attended (with guaranteed downtime) as well as a two year old who knows how to open my iPhone and find the games, I thought it was time to give it a crack and find some bargains.

While Dutch was busy scouring the Steam Summer Sale, I happened to come across the Activistion sale on iTunes. Nowhere near as exciting but still satisfying, Activision classics such as Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 were half price.

Anyway, like I said, it was nowhere near as exciting as the Steam sale but since THPS 4 was the first game I ever bought for my PS2, the series holds a special place in my heart (especially the numbered games because the Wasteland/Bam games were crap).

The mobile version is true to the original in terms of graphics and game play, with the only difference being the way the game feels. I’m still getting used to the grind/flip/ollie/grab buttons on the touch screen but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon.

With years of experience on the console, the touch screen is still quite foreign. I’m finding the fact that I can’t physically feel the buttons under my thumbs distracting and I feel lost when holding the phone. Have you felt the same?

To help my daughter have a little more fun, I picked up Halfbrick’s Fruit Ninja. Whilst this isn’t the newest of releases, it’s a game that’s fun to play. Essentially you need to slice up fruit as it launches from the bottom of the screen, using your finger as a knife. Based on the simplicity, my daughter is ableto understand it, but keeps missing fruit and cutting her game time short.

Thankfully there is a timed practice area that we can play in so that she can miss as many pieces of fruit as she likes without cutting her time short. Best of all, not only does it entertain her, but me too.

Something I’ve found a little more addictive is Fragger. You can pick this up for free and the aim is to throw grenades at the enemy and blow up them up. It’s essentially Worms without the cuteness or ability to move, with the cartoon graphics providing an inexplicable appeal.

Further searching for time fillers pointed me in the direction of Street Fighter IV. Had I picked this up last month, I would’ve only paid $1.99, however I was a bit slow and grabbed it at the full price of $5.99. I’m yet to play it but I can assure you it will get a good run in on Sunday.

Have you bought any games for your phone that you can’t get enough of?

Wednesday, July 6

The High Horse Audit 2011, Part 1: The Best 5 Games of 2011 (so far)

It's that time of the year again. Another financial year has come to an end, and gamers are left to ponder what has been a heavily-populated release calendar. For my part, I'm happy to advise you of what I believe to be the best five games I've played so far this year. As with last year's strenuous auditing, it's important that you're aware of the following limitations:
  • I'm one man, so I can only play and afford so many games. That being said, I've spent a ridiculous amount of money and time on games so far this year; so there's a lot of titles up for consideration.
  • Given the afformentioned time constraints, please be aware that I have not spent an adequate amount of time - if any at all - with the following big releases: L.A Noire, Red Faction: Armageddon, F.3.A.R (which I am absolutely loving despite its rough appearance), Mortal Kombat, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Shadows of the Damned and Portal 2.
  • I will only comment on games that I have completed, or come very close to completing.
  • Only games released between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2011 will be discussed
With those conditions in mind, allow me to reflect on the best that 2011 has had to offer.

5. Stacking (PSN/XBLA - Played on Playstation 3)
I still haven't been able to reconcile whether I liked Stacking solely on the basis of its whimsical design or if the non-existent purchase price - on account of being a Playstation Plus member - had something to with it. Regardless, Charlie Blackmore's quest to reunite his loveable family of chimney-sweeping Russian dolls was an absolute delight to play through. Navigating through each of the villainous Baron's domains - each dripping with silent movie era charm - players must possess larger characters and utilize their unique abilities to solve rarely-taxing puzzles. There's something about solving a conundrum with vomit that is not only memorable, but satisfying (in some twisted way) as well. There were puzzles that did not involve bodily functions as well, but most are resolved through simplistic, logical actions. The game may have been short and meticulously-directed, but as a result no part of the experience felt unnecessary. I'll remember Stacking most favourably for its high quality presentation. The visuals, a mix of art deco, almost steampunk design and a piano-centric, fanciful score. Short, expensive, but well worth a download.  

Stacking Coverage:

4. Crysis 2 (PS3/360/PC - Played on PS3)
Start spreading the news: Crysis 2 is well worth your time. The narrative may not have meant anything to anyone but series' veterans, but seriously, why would you care when you can cloak? Story doesn't really matter that much to me either when you jump around the ruins of New York City as a super-powered agent of forces you won't fully understand; at least not with the explanation the game gives you anyway. The absence of an engaging tale also failed to concern me when I could combat foes of impressive size and design. The different varieties of Ceph ensure that players will need to employ different tactics for each combat situation if they want to progress; you may be able to dispatch a group of grunts without acknowledging your surroundings, but good luck to the brave (read: stupid) man who engages a pinger in an open battlefield. Crysis 2 affords players the tools and ability to make the most of their surroundings. You can even use giant metallic donuts to combat your foes: everything is a weapon. The game also features several sequences of destruction that should be seen by any FPS enthusiast; landmarks torn asunder by an alien threat in consistently-spectacular fashion. Not to say that CELL operatives - your human opponents - can't offer up a spectacular explosion. What better way to end a fight against a helicopter gunship then to have it plunge into the building you're firing from? Crysis 2 also features the most memorable score in recent memory and a solid multiplayer offering that is a valid alternative for those tiring of the Call of Duty formula. A fantastic package to be sure!

Crysis 2 coverage:

3. Mass Effect 2 (PS3)
Writing this list has been - to an extent - an exercise in eating my own words. Nowhere has this statement  been more true than with my second attempt at playing through Mass Effect 2. As some would be aware, I didn't exactly take to Bioware's space opera sequel the first time around on the Xbox 360. I even gave it the closest thing to a lambasting that I've seen anyone give Mass Effect 2; critics couldn't speak highly enough of Shepard's second adventure and I could not understand why. This time around however, everything seemed better; if not more bearable. I also employed a different class and approached the game's missions in a slightly different sequence to that from my first attempt. The first six hours still dragged and the vehicle segments were still more awkward than a lunch date with an ex, but persistence paid off. After a very slow, almost painstaking start to proceedings, players are treated to an expansive world full of rich, (usually) well-developed characters. The are some - *cough* Jack *cough* - that are still quite grating and Zaeed and Kasumi feel like superficial additions at best, but you'll care about the rest of the crew of the Normandy; that much I can guarantee. The combat can feel a little awkward, but some of the biotic powers are awesome to behold; particularly when they reach their full potential. Not many games feature firefights with enemies literally floating in mid air as you and your comrades pepper the surrounds with bullets and explosive fire. Further to that, few other titles offer the potential for so many central characters to die in the final act; without careful consideration, you can have a real bloodbath on your hands. There is a real sense of weight and consequence to the choices that you make in Mass Effect 2. The consequences of specific actions and dialogue options may seem a little obvious - even ham fisted - but the choices are still there to be made. If you haven't done so after releases on multiple platforms across two years, do yourself a favour and experience this brilliant sci-fi RPG.

 Throw in some spaceships and you've got Mass Effect 2 right here!

Mass Effect 2 coverage:

2. inFamous 2 (PS3)
inFamous 2 may be the year so far's best game, but it comes in the second best package. The Hero Edition did include a cool messenger bag (which I actually use), a statue and a mini-comic - and let's not forget about the woefully-implemented exclusive DLC - but it didn't include a ticket to the beta trial of what will be one of the best competitive multiplayer experiences of the year. I know you get access to the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception beta with purchase of this title, and it may surprise and offer an experience on par with Epic's powerhouse; but I doubt it will. I'll be in it for the campaign more than anything else, I suspect. Back to the issue at hand, inFamous 2 offers the most prolific boss fights in sandbox action game history whether they have you hanging from a helicopter, shooting from a trailer or on foot and up close and personal with your usually-monstorus opponets. The scale of some of the enemies you will encounter is unmatched: monsters that are taller than apartment complexes and office towers, their attacks fearsome without feeling cheap. On top of some brilliant "Man Vs Godzilla," moments, inFamous 2 also benefits from improved mission design, some new powers that make movement more fluid and -to be frank - joyous, and fan service for those who played the first game. There may have been some narrative missteps and some weak characterisation, but ultimately inFamous 2 is a game that you need to play.

 Second prize sure comes with some perks

inFamous 2 coverage:

 1. Bulletstorm: Epic Edition (X360/PS3/PC - Played on Xbox 360)
Now before anyone starts quoting my review for inFamous 2 (what? it could happen), you need to consider what the Bulletstorm: Epic Edition package offered in its entirety. Not only did you get a quality, foul-mouthed first person shooter in Bulletstorm, you also got access to the Gears of War 3 Beta before anyone else (and for longer than anyone else I might add). On its own merits, Bulletstorm is an insanely-enjoyable game, with gunplay revolving around skillshots that ranged from the relatively-mundane "Headshot", all the way through to the ridiculous "Fireworks" which tasks players with hitting suspended enemies - thown into the air with a charged thumper -  with a charged flare gun shot.  On top of the skillshot metagame, there were also several memorable set pieces and boss fights for players to make their way through with the help of some creative weaponry, alternate fire modes and spins on genre staples: such as the sniper rifle which allowed players to plot the course of bullets and even detonate them if the shot was charged. All of this chaos was articulated in a single campaign of respectable length which was skillfully paced; never mind that the narrative never really went anywhere meaningful. While it didn't offer much in the way of replay value, Bulletstorm was easily one of the most enjoyable, funny and visually-impressive titles released in 2011.

Bulletstorm coverage:
As for the Gears of War 3 Beta, it offered enough ammunition for multiple posts and more play time than most full releases that I've played this year. The promise of some cosmetic unlockables and a preview of the new combat mechanics had me hooked. Sure there may be some balance issues, but this substantial trial is sure to make the time between now and the intended release in September drag on for what will seem like forever and a day.

 Cosmetic unlockables: Is there anything more glorious?

Gears of War 3 Beta coverage:
 Do you agree with any of my picks? What are your favourite 5 games of the year so far?

Monday, July 4

Battle of the Bargain Bulge: My wallet's retreat from Steam's Summer Camp Sale

There are two times in a calendar year that I've come to fear. Times when reason is discarded on the promise of unbeatable prices, on all but the most recent of releases. I'm talking of course about Steam's two major sales: one in summer, one for the Holiday season, both causing unspeakable damage to the budgets and resolves of all but the most frugal of gamers. Now these sales are particularly painful for me because I am undisciplined and anything but frugal. People talk about their "pile of shame," but most can rest easy in the knowledge that their towers will be eclipsed by my quarry of unplayed videogames. I wish I could say that it was just digital acquisitions, but my desire to consume has led to a tangible and intangible mass of gaming gluttony. A mass that is only set to grow in size after some of the unbelievable offers that I’ve seen in the first few days of the Summer Camp bonanza.

 Beware of adorable marketing material!

Some of the offers seem too good to be true. Most would lead many (myself included) to question their preference for console gaming. Sure, the initial investment required to purchase a capable machine would be greater than the purchase price of a console; but at this crazy time of year, games can be three or so times cheaper than the console equivalent. Take yesterday's ridiculous Battlefield Pack as an example: $9.99 USD for one of last year's best shooters, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and all available DLC. Compare that to the best price for a console version which is $29.95 AUD for the game, plus another $19.95 AUD for the Battlefield: Vietnam expansion (on PSN) and another $20 plus for the Onslaught and Spec Act packs. Now I own the game and all DLC on the Playstation 3 and I seriously considered buying it on PC. I wish I could explain the logic behind this impulsive purchase decision, but it took all of my self-control to remove the pack from my cart.

Best. Value. EVER!

Let's not forget about the publisher packs either. Some of these deals are so amazing that you had best bring some smelling salts or - at the very least - ensure that you are seated whilst perusing the Steam Store. The THQ Hit Collection is causing me the most headaches. Dawn of War II and each of its expansions (including the recently-released Retribution), the self-maligned Homefront, Darksiders, Red Faction: Guerilla and more for less than the recommended retail price of a Platinum game for the Playstation 3. To someone who has spent most of their time buying for and playing games on consoles, such a proposition is baffling, though irrevocably beautiful at the same time. What have I done to deserve such unbelievable prices, holy Steam?

I'm not just buying console ports either. The Summer sale will allow me to indulge in some smaller scale releases that I wouldn't normally purchase. Garshasp: The Monster Slayer and the Magicka Complete Pack will be my first indie acquisitions, but I'm also looking at picking up Jamestown and Terraria before this circus of value comes to a close.

Events like this will only serve to secure Steam's monopoly of the digital market. EA recently announced their "Biggest Sale Ever," via their Origin service (sale items also feature on the iOS App Store and Xbox Live Marketplace) which is not only exclusive to customers based in the US but also fails to offer anything anywhere near as enticing as Steam's near-fortnight of peerless savings. There are rare challenges to Steam’s ability to offer value for money. Recent examples include Good Old Games’ ( offer of extra store credit to Australian consumers who purchased The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings at the inflated Australian region price and perhaps also, their Interplay “Staycation,” which allowed gamers to pick up the first two installments of the Fallout franchise in addition to turn-based RPG spin-off, Fallout Tactics for just under three US dollars each. GamersGate are worth a look as well, for sure; but ultimately, nothing beats a good Steaming.

Have you been indulging in the sale? Do you cherish these times of the year, or, have you come to fear them like myself?

Friday, July 1

3DS Virtual Console Review Round-Up

The launch of the Virtual Console, and some intriguing recent releases have led to me falling deeply in love with my 3DS.  I've had the console since day one, but it's only now that I've found myself booting it up on a daily basis. Dead or Alive: Dimensions was another toast to the fighting genre's improved health. Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition may have been available since launch, but I only really got around to playing it last month; it was awesome, best online fighting experience available on any platform. The afformentioned Virtual Console has allowed for me to engage with titles that I wanted to play in my youth (and since my youth; starting to get a bit impatient after today's update however. One game only). Last week also saw the release of the critically-lauded The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, re-imagined in three dimensions (forgive me for waxing lyrical; truth be told I didn't really care for it when I first played it on the Nintendo 64). It finally feels as though Nintendo's new portable is hitting its stride.

Three weeks into the new eCommerce channel's life and I've got some recommendations for you. Not many, but enough to justify a post all the same.

Super Mario Land - $6 AU 
This is not your typical Mario title. Sure, there's plenty of platforming and fire flowers to please series faithful, but everyone's favourite plumber is packing some lead in his overalls. By that of course, I mean that Mario falls heavy and fast from any height; unlike more recent iterations where you feel as though you have a little more control over your descent. Side-scrolling vehicular shooting also serves to break up the action and is functional, even enjoyable. Interestingly enough (Spoiler Alert), the final boss fight follows this format and is a genuine challenge. Enemies and level design are varied, but start to get cheap towards the end. Cheap to the point where the console's Restore Point feature was required for me to finish the game. With the use of the Restore Point, I was able to finish the game in an hour. That being said however, there's a Hard difficulty unlocked upon finishing the game and you could happily spend hours trying to beat the game using naught but your own abilities.

How all great adventures start.

The Verdict
If you feel any love for classic platforming and don't mind some side-scrolling shooting, Super Mario Land is well worth the price of admission. By no means is this Mario's greatest adventure, but it has aged pretty well all things considered. 

Double Dragon - $4.50 AU
I've played Double Dragon on many different platforms. The Sega Master System and Arcade version were somewhat similar, but this Game Boy version is a completely different monster. It is cheap beyond belief; rigid platforming and powerful boss characters would have elicited streams of tears if I was playing this on the 3DS' AA battery-powered predecessor. Once again, thanks to the Restore Point feature of the portable console's emulator, I can defeat the burliest of adversaries. I can cheat death. I can rewind time, and chip away Double Dragon's once impenetrable challenges. Cheap death after cheap death, I kept playing; drunk with power. Without the ability to save I was still able to make it half way through the third "mission," though. I relished the challenge until my curiosity got the better of me and I saw the treachery that appeared past my best effort. Unlike Super Mario Land, this is not a game that can be conquered without the use of assistance.

 Save me, Restore Point! Lord knows I can't save myself.

The Verdict
Great, cheap - in respect to both price and design - fun. The soundtrack and classic beat 'em-up action will serve a good hour or two of fun to be sure. I love it, but if you're not a fan of failure or unfair level design: you'd best leave this alone.

That should be the end of my 3DS coverage for the time being. I've just started playing F.3.A.R or Fthreear depending on your level of beligerence. The visuals aren't too special, but the visceral gunplay coupled with the added ability to take cover is proving to be very enjoyable. That, and Contractions is Zombies mode (from Call of Duty: World at War/Black Ops) done right.

What are you guys playing this weekend?