Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Impulse sale on Sins of a Solar Empire

For anyone interested in picking up Sins of a Solar Empire, Impulse is running a sale now. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Sins is only $9.99. Quite a steal for a fantastic strategy game.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins Complete

Though my problems with crash and loading bugs conspired to keep me down, I was finally able to finish the main campaign in Dragon Age: Origins.

The end battle and boss fight was a treat, properly epic and allowed you to see lots of character cameos. It was pretty tricky, too. Very well done.

I felt a little let down at the end, because a lot of my decisions drove off or doomed different characters or factions. I'm hopeful that in a second play-through I can improve the world a little rather than get by. I suppose that says a lot about how you can get emotionally invested in the characters and setting of Dragon Age, in that you can regret making the wrong decisions in a simulated world. I certainly did. But I was happy to finish. On to round 2.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Super Mario Brothers Wii Complete

Well, when I say complete, I mean I beat Bowser. And wow, what a fun boss fight that was. A great trick in the beginning, and a crazy run for your life afterwards. Ah, what fun. We'll all look back on this later and laugh.

But really, the game has been a lot of fun, and there's still a bunch more to do. I skipped around a little bit (and yes, I took warps in the form of cannons, bad form to be sure) so I have some levels to go back and enjoy. Lots of Star Coins to pick up, secrets to find.

There's also the whole subject of World 9. A new twist, to have a world past Bowser's domain! Maybe I shouldn't give too much away for those who haven't finished the game. Suffice to say that while entirely optional, it taunts you, and it's not easy to get to any of the worlds within...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Assassin's Creed II Review Roundup

Although I haven't breathed a word about the game, I've been looking forward to Assassin's Creed II. I enjoyed the first game in spite of its flaws; the ages-old conflict between the Templar and the Assassin orders, being drawn from history into the current era, it really captured me.

So I'm excited to read that the recently-released sequel has garnered widely praised reviews. Gamespot praises plot, visuals, and animations. 1UP names the game a proper sequel in every way. And IGN keys in on the biggest flaw of the old game; namely, that objectives other than the main story missions were boring, repetitive, and useless. Not so in Assassin's Creed II.

With universal acclaim, Assassin's Creed II seems to be a proper revision, a true addition to a great, fledgling series. With availability on all major platforms, this is one not to miss.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What We've Been Waiting For -- New Super Mario Brothers Wii

We picked up New Super Mario Brothers Wii yesterday day, and wow it's good. New Super Mario Brothers Wii does for platforming what Uncharted 2 does for 3rd-person action-adventure. It pushes the boundaries and treads new ground while retaining a core game that is accessible for any player, and looks really good doing it.

First of all the game is adorable. The very first thing I noticed running through the first level (1-1) was the music, and the reactions of the enemies to the music. At a certain point in the music loop, during a kind of drum backbeat, the koopa troopers do a little shimmy and shake to the music, and the goombas do a little jump sequence. In some of the overworld sections, the trees sway to the beat. The new costumes, especially the penguin suit, are incredibly cute. The rest of the characters, enemies, and environments have a colorful charm, and is one of the best looking games on the Wii. The sounds match, with pieces you can hear borrowed from other games. I've heard original NES sounds, Super Mario Galaxy bits, and lots of original additions, including the cartoon-y penguin suit flipper steps, all with perfect fidelity and excellent timing.

But all this cuteness and attention to presentation doesn't take away from the game itself. It's classic tight platforming controls in a dynamic environment. There are more things that move, shoot, twist, and tilt than ever before. There are some truly challenging sequences, and situations that explore new ground in the Mario series. I've had a lot of "Oh, wow!" moments, usually just before dying because I'm too busy enjoying the view.

Thankfully, 1ups and powerups are all over the dang place. You can barely swing a penguin flipper without slamming into a Toad house (where you can win powerups to carry along with you like in Super Mario 3), or you can rescue a poor captured toad stuffed into a chest or ? block for red mushrooms or 1ups. There are red coin sequences throughout many levels that give freebies, and hidden 1ups right where you'd expect -- hidden areas, invisible blocks, and rapid starman runs. See world 1-2 for the most fun you can have with a star ever!

Several new mechanics I've enjoyed: First, I really like the motion controls. There are these platforms or other objects in the game world you can orient by tilting the Wii remote. Picture a flat platform in front of the flag. You can tilt the controller way to your left, and the platform follows suit, so you can run up it and hit the top of the flag. There are variations on this where you have to dodge incoming shots, illuminate dark areas, or capture items above and below you. Really cool moments.

Also the new suits are a lot of fun, and they expand the game options. The penguin suit (and ice flower suit, similarly) allows you to make stepping stones out of your enemies to get to high places. There's a level where there are probably eight million Bullet Bills. Here, if you have the penguin suit or ice flower, you can turn danger into opportunity by freezing those fools and jumping right up them like icy stpes. If you have enough nerve, you can actually attract a big group of them all the way to the end of the level where you can freeze them all and jump up to the top of the flagpole to get a 1up. All sorts of opportunities for mischief.

The levels in the game offer great reasons for replay. Not only are you competing on points, but you're collecting all the star coins to unlock various things, as well as trying to find all the secret endings to various levels -- especially the Boo houses! Somehow I wandered out of a secret exit in a ghost house in world 3, and took a cannon shot to world six! Wasn't expecting that.

Oh, and the game will actually PLAY FOR YOU when you suck too bad. Last night I just died endlessly on this tough stage, I was just flaking out. The game told me "It looks like you're terrible -- would you like Luigi to take the lead there?" I said "Hell yes! Play yourself." Then I sat back and watched the Green Man play through. Guess Luigi's good for something after all!

All this talk of the one player experience of course leads right into the multiplay features. With up to four players in a level at a time, there are some mad crazy hijinks. It actually makes the game tougher, but this probably isn't surprising. Unlike a four-player game like LittleBigPlanet, in NSMB you can collide with other players. I constantly find myself trying to run somewhere, only to find another player's character in my way. So if you're all trying to run up a platform that is rapidly dropping off the screen, you're limited by the slowest player. This game can end even the strongest of friendships.

Probably the best way to experience multiplay isn't by going through the main game cooperatively, but instead doing coin battles or free-for-all game modes with multiple players. In this way, since you've already beat the level to progress through the main story mode, you can unlock that level to play multiplay. You can then compete to get the best score or the most coins with other players. That has proven to be a lot of fun, because there's less riding on the line. If you all fail out, you don't have to use a continue or restart a critical boss level.

Whew. Nearly a thousand words later, I still have more things to say about how much I like this game. But this is enough for now. If you have a soul, and you have a Wii, this game will entertain you and actual, in-person, meatspace friends for hours and hours. You will marvel at the ingenious and devilish level designs and wow over the cute and amazing spectacle. You will experience the joy of victory and (if you are like me) the agony of defeat. But most of all you will have a lot of fun.

Uncharted 2 Completed

What a roller-coaster ride. Finally finished Uncharted 2 and it was a ton of fun. The ending was just as explosive as the rest of the entire game. I can't say enough things about it. From the over-the-top run-and-gun sessions, to the moving sequences on the top of trains and trucks, stealth action, and puzzle platforming, there's a lot here to like and it moves seamlessly in between genres. That and it looked and played the entire game, I was rarely frustrated or at a loss of where to head next. Certainly worth a replay to experience again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins

I took the plunge yesterday and picked up Dragon Age: Origins. Pretty much everyone else was playing it, and I just couldn't miss out. And I'm really glad I haven't. Even though I've only played a couple hours, the quality of this game has really shown.

I'm playing as a City Elf warrior, and I really liked the origin story. A tale of place and privilege, got to get my hands dirty against an abusive human, very satisfying. The origin stories both provide a good starting point to learn the game and mean a great deal as you go along. You never quite forget your origin, and everyone is always letting you know they know who you are.

Combat is fine, not the most satisfying experience. But it's competent.

The story and characters though is where it's at. I've enjoyed the immense amount of dialog and the number of cut scenes that show the action. Ferelden feels like a lived-in place, and if not quite as dynamic as GTAIV's Liberty City, still feels very much alive. And it certainly draws you back for more.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Preview

Can't believe I haven't said a word about the upcoming DS title The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. The release date of December 7 is coming up soon, and is a game I'm anticipating, since I really enjoyed the best control of the previous Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

However, the whole Link on a Train thing has gotten some criticism, while I've never really had a problem with it. I think our hero looks pretty awesome up on that train engine blasting fools with a huge cannon. Anyway, ars technica had a little bit to say about the game. Previewer is pretty positive about the feel of the game, especially for any old-timers who played with model trains. Even considering it's not just for old people, I think the move to land-based transportation will be immaterial, as 95% of the game will be in dungeons using gadgets -- and let's not forget that instead of just battling them this time, Link will be able to command the phantoms! Should be a bunch of fun.

Some video!

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Begins!

Picked up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves last night. The game has received rave reviews universally, and they aren't lying. From the outset the game is a blockbuster, with incredibly detailed environments, great action, and amusing and dramatic writing and voice acting.

The story is told, at least in the beginning, as a series of flash-backs, and I'm really into the hook. I'd love to know just how Nathan Drake ended up hanging out over a cliff from the back of a frozen trainwreck. That's pretty much the guy's life in a microcosm.

I've only just started, but I have the feeling I have a wild ride ahead of me.