Thursday, December 31, 2009

Return to Ostagar

New DLC coming out for Dragon Age on January 5th, entitled "Return to Ostagar." Should be a great opportunity to get some revenge on the horde that did some unkind things to some friends of yours. Price is $5, might be worth it if there's enough going on there. Should be some promising items available as well.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Braid Complete

Finished the story mode and managed to collect all of the puzzle pieces along the way in Braid. Quite a few devilish puzzles -- I have to admit I didn't solve all of them without help. And the final level, incredible. I knew what was coming, but I was still affected by the conclusion. What an experience.

Plants vs. Zombies Complete!

As I mentioned before, I've been having fun with Plants vs. Zombies. I finally managed to clear the adventure twice, and each mini-game, puzzle, and survival mode to get the gold sunflower trophy! Bobsled Bonanza was particularly tough.

Woo I'm awesome.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Unlikely Pair: Assassin's Creed II and A Boy and His Blob

Friends and family were very kind to me with their gift-giving this year. Lots of great books and games. I've played a little bit of an odd pair of games, those being Assassin's Creed II and A Boy and His Blob.

I've posted about the game before, but in brief, Blob is adorable puzzle platformer in which you use the Blob's shape-changing abilities to get you around obstacles and past enemies. The challenges are smart but not frustrating, although I've only just started the game. The art and sound are perfect, with the hand-drawn backdrops and animation perfectly presented. It's a slow, smooth game that requires a quick mind without many quick reflexes.

Contrast that with Assassin's Creed II, in which you kill a lot of people. Brutally. But there's a whole lot more to it, thankfully, that breaks up core story missions. This game also has a lot more story than the first, which I'm very much into, dovetailing Desmond with Ezio in a past-future drama that is sure to go deeper into the rabbit hole. I've had fun bouncing around the open world, just finding things to do. You can easily get lost in the sub-missions, finding vantage points and courier missions in the incredibly-modeled environments. Controls are tights and fighting is much crisper than the last game. It really is Assassin's Creed 2.0.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Steam Sale and Braid

If you haven't heard, there's an amazing sale going on via Steam. I picked up some gifts for friends and had to get Braid for myself. I know there's been so much critical acclaim for this game in the past year, even by myself, but as yet I haven't played it yet. But I picked it up on Steam, and wow.

Braid is hauntingly beautiful, evoking emotion with its music and visual design. The story, told in book chapters, is equally good. Just played through the first world, and the gameplay is solid and the tricks with the time-shifting mechanic are innovative and seriously wow-inducing.

If you have not played this game, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top Ten for 2010

Gaming for 2010 is starting to look like 2007 Part II. We've got so many sequels coming out, it's incredible. Bioshock, Mass Effect, Super Mario Galaxy, Lost Planet, and Assassin's Creed II (yes it came out in 2009 but not for PC!) are all returning in 2010 for their second chapter. But there are only so many titles you can follow. With dozens coming out just in the first quarter alone, what are the most exciting -- at least to me? Well I'll tell you. Here are my Top Ten games for 2010.

10. Final Fantasy XIII
Rounding out the top ten is FFXIII. The first of the series to appear on the PS3, the futuristic RPG has a chance to be the best yet. Or a huge disappointment.

9. Okamiden
The hand-held sequel to the PS2 adventure game, Okamiden features a cute little dog-deity and a childish rider adventuring and using magic via the stylus. If it shares the same Zelda-like heritage of its ancestor, it should be a great action-adventure game.

8. God of War III
I've always known the first two games were great, if brutal, third-person brawlers in the Castlevania or Diablo style, with a style all of its own. But since playing the recently-released remastered collection on PS3, I'm certainly looking forward to the first native PS3 version. Should be a bloody good time.

7. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. The last game, Prince of Persia, was a delight, with its lighter focus on combat and more centered around acrobatic exploration. This "darker" game may be more towards the fighting and brooding style. Let's hope they go easy on the dark eyeliner.

6. Professor Layton & The Final Time Travel
We've all had a lot of fun around my house with the first two translated games in the series, most recently the Diabolical Box. If Nintendo keeps up, we should have the third game, The Final Time Travel, in the United States in 2010.

5. Metroid: Other M
It's been a while since new life was breathed into the Metroid series. Prime was ground-breaking at the time, and while Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was good, Other M looks to be an incredible remake of the classic franchise. With additional character exposition, there could be a great story behind this Team Ninja-powered brawler.

4. Command and Conquer 4
A fitting location for this game, and only slightly influenced by its title. I've enjoyed the latest outings in the series, and the refinement and final chapter should be a proper send-off. Mobile and flexible bases along with additional options promise expanded game-play options beyond just tank rushes.

3. Super Mario Galaxy 2
The first game was an adorable and challenging adventure in a bright and detailed world. The two-player co-op was also a fun game mode, something my wife enjoyed teaming up with me on. I'm hoping the addition of Yoshi and new environments to explore keeps the same charm and bright visual design while still being a challenging platformer in a dynamic, three-dimensional space.

2. Mass Effect 2
This properly epic space RPG gripped me in 2008, and I'm very much looking forward to the sequel. The fact that the choices you made in the previous game will carry over into the new game interests me, and it will be cool to see the impact that you made in the game world. The "darker" feel of the sequel worries me, but should still be a great adventure.

1. Gran Turismo 5
The granddaddy of them all, this is a big reason why I bought a PS3. Two years later, I might get to play GT5 on it. With luck, we could see GT5 in the States by June.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Time rewind is back.

With the recent announcement of the upcoming Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, we will be getting a new installment of the franchise in May, 2010. The game is said to take place between the events of Sands of Time and Warrior Within. And judging by the video shown at the VGAs, we should have the ability to rewind time and replay through sections of the game, the innovative feature in the original series reboot Sands of Time.

I really enjoyed the most recent Prince of Persia, and hope that the new "hardcore" game doesn't take away from the sense of wonder and the acrobatic exploration I've come to enjoy and understand as a hallmark of the franchise. Warrior Within and The Two Thrones really turned me off of the series due to their focus on fighting. If I want God of War, I'm going to go play God of War. Prince of Persia is something different altogether. I hope they keep that in mind.

Off to play God of War.

One Month Left to Mass Effect 2

Less than a month away from Mass Effect 2, and the BioWare crew have been inundating the internets with all sorts of screens, videos, and additional details about the second installment of their epic space RPG.

A new feature from Gamespot talks a little bit about the intro to the game. From the first teaser trailer released around almost a year ago, the fate of Commander Shepherd, "your" character in the game, was in doubt. But it seems that the introduction to Mass Effect 2 will expound upon the inter-game time, and whether Shepherd really is what he seems to be. Or was. In any case, it should be interesting to watch, and I'm looking forward to release.

Possibly most surprising (and hopeful, to some) is that both the PC and Xbox 360 version of the game will be out at the same time. PS3? Nowhere in sight. Seems Sony's platform is getting the PC treatment this time around. Curious that Dragon Age saw a wide release. Although it could be that the widely-reported delay in Dragon Age was due to the PS3, that could be part of BioWare's decision. Since I'm playing it on PC, it's immaterial to me, anyway.

Mirror's Edge Complete

Finished the story mode of Mirror's Edge over the weekend. It was a fitting ending, and one obviously left open for a sequel. Given that there have been statements confirming an eventual sequel, it wasn't surprising. But it was properly dramatic and a good end to the admittedly brief story.

I tried going back to do some of the time trial stuff, but I'd really lost my patience. I wanted to get to the end of the story, but falling over and over just to beat the clock doesn't drive me. Maybe I'll go back to it. But probably not. Maybe the sequel will clear up spiking difficulty and sequences of unarmed Faith versus legions of dudes with automatic weapons.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on Pirates of the Carribean LBP Pack

Guess the rumor has been proven true! On December 22nd, the level and costume kits will hit the PSN. The primary pack, the premium level kit, available the low, low price of $5.99, has a wealth of objects, including five new levels and a costume -- the cannibal -- along with almost two hundred objects, materials, switches, decorations, stickers, music tracks, a new background, and of course, the highly-anticipated water environment! Just an amazing deal for your $5.99. This will be one to get for sure.

The costumes seem neat as well. The big pack includes "Sack" Sparrow (haw haw), Elizabeth Swan, Will Turner, Captain Barbossa, Tia Dalma, and the squidy Davy Jones. Seperately each are $1.99, or save 50% off and get all for $5.99 in the pack. Not too bad for the costume collector.

Below video shows off the costumes (just love the Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow!) and levels that mimic some of the scenes from the movie series:

Mirror's Edge Pickup

I had initially written about Mirror's Edge over a year ago, having played its demo fresh out at the time. I decided not to get it at release after some mixed reviews. But I found a used copy on the cheap, and decided to give it a fair shake.

I'm having fun, but it's certainly at a cost. There are sections that are really tough, especially where guys are shooting at you. It feels deeply unfair that all you can do is run away as five guys mow you down with shotguns. The particular shotgun section took me a good twenty tries to finish, and try as I might I could not get past without killing them, which I feel is a little contrary to how the game works.

However, during the complicated platforming across rooftops, the game is a blast. Especially the time trials, the feeling of racing from building to building is a lot of fun. The sense of speed and danger is in your face, and each fall and failure due to oncoming train is a real jolt.

I probably would have been a little miffed buying this game for full price, especially given its relatively short story mode, but at a bargain price, it's worth plowing through some of the frustrating parts to get to those great expanses of uninhabited rooftops.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy

The last micro-expansion for Sins of a Solar Empire, Diplomacy, has been announced for some time, but it's recently become available for pre-order. And, as a reward, anyone who pre-orders can play the beta. Which certainly makes the deal sweeter. The expansion is supposed to expand upon the relationships one can create with other players, CPU and human players alike. A new envoy ship provides special abilities that affect your standing with one faction or another. Should prove to add interesting options for those less inclined to total war.

Rumors of New Pirates DLC for LittleBigPlanet

There are rumors of a new DLC pack coming for LittleBigPlanet. New levels, new trophies, and water! The community will be pleased to have real water, if the rumors are to be believed. I'm just looking forward to some fun new levels to play from the MM crew. No word on a release date, still unconfirmed at this point.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plants vs. Zombies

Man I need some kind of TD tag. With my past forays into stand-alone titles like Pixeljunk Monsters, Defense Grid: The Awakening, and of course the original Warcraft III TD maps, it's maybe my most-played game type.

Plants vs. Zombies has been my most recent pickup. For $9.99 on Steam, I think it's certainly worth it. While not strictly a tower defense game, it has enough of a strategy feel to push all my buttons.

Graphically, the game is simple. Low res, but workable. Thankfully, the cartoony feel of the plants and zombies allow me to overcome my deep-seated fear of the undead and play the game, even at night!

The gameplay is varied, if a little shallow. There are a huge amount of towers, from pea shooters to watermelon catapults, wall-nuts (get it?) and spiky hedges. Night-time modes and aquatic hazards add a little complexity. But it's never difficult to see what you need to do, although there are a few strategies beyond just building a ton of crap to get in the way of zombies.

There are also endless varieties of mini-games, puzzle modes, and the main adventure mode. Heck, there's even a zen garden where you can grow all sorts of little plants.

Definitely getting my money's worth out of this title. If you enjoy strategy games, it's worth checking out.

Zelda Spirit Tracks Reviews

Holding off on picking up The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks -- gotta leave something on the Christmas list! But by all that I've seen, the game is pretty good. Kotaku has a pretty good roundup of reviews, all generally positive. The Metacritic score is 87. And Gamestop has some pretty good things to say.

It doesn't seem like a blockbuster to drop everything and go get, but it is a good follow-up to Phantom Hourglass and a worthy entry to the Legend of Zelda series. Cool with me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Fiction of Resolution as Innovation

I recently read an article on Kotaku, an interview with EA CEO John Riccitiello. The conversation echoed another discussion I'd had recently, in which I'd argued how more pixels can never equal more fun.

HDTV manufacturers and Monster Cable would like you to believe that to have any fun in gaming you need a hugely expensive high-def 240Hz 3D display coated in the blood of your enemies with gold-plated cables wrapped in baby seal skin. But Riccitiello and I both believe that that increased resolution is not true innovation.

Nintendo has gotten a lot of criticism for not going high-def, cheaping out and not standing up to par with their competitors in the visual department. But as I think about the most innovative games I've played over the past two years, not a single one of them has involved amazing new graphical wizardry as a key innovation.

LittleBigPlanet has pushed the boundaries of what we see as a game community. While modding has been around on the PC for a long time, Media Molecule showed just what an easily accessible toolkit could make on a console. And the charm of the dressable Sackboys rivals that of the Mario gang -- even those cute little baby ones!

Naughty Dog has shown with Uncharted 2 that you don't need to go out to a movie theatre to experience a blockbuster experience. More than anything, Uncharted 2 has made environments that react the way you think they should, with physical interactions that make sense, from desks breaking to buildings falling down, all while you're in the middle of the action. Not to mention the intense and believable characters and their expert voice actors.

And as far as cinematic experiences go, Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the best. Kojima and crew are borderline megalomaniacs, and yes it looked good, but the greatest resolution was in the range of emotion drawn from the characters in the game, especially the haggard and drawn Solid Snake. Knowing he goes to his death, the old warrior again takes the world upon his shoulders, and you feel his weariness -- quite literally in some gameplay sequences.

Low-res games have had a massive impact as well, and have really pushed the boundaries of how we acquire access to games. World of Goo and Braid are good-looking games, but hardly need high definition. Their digital-only distribution and high levels of polish and innovating control schemes prove that you don't need a big studio or really even much of a publisher relationship to put your game out there.

The success of Flower has had the same impact, and while it is a beautiful 3D game in high definition, it tugs at your heart strings, with incredible musical composition and a message that is your own to interpret.

The recent New Super Mario Brothers Wii is only the last in the line of first-party Nintendo that eschew high-def for good fun. They've brought the quality time and again, in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Super Paper Mario, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart, and more. Each game has had the perfect formula of gameplay -- easy enough for everyone to pick up and play, while deep enough for veterans to master. Nintendo has somehow found that perfect balance of accessibility, innovating in the marketplace, bringing games to more gamers than ever before.

Yes, given the choice, I will choose HD where I can. But it doesn't make a game any more fun. Good graphics simply allow a game to be presented competently. Story and characterization, music and emotion, accessibility and community, and the actual game that you are playing beneath those graphics -- these are the areas where games have innovated in the past 24 months. And we will continue to see games that, while having good graphics, will create more believable and more fun games that do not depend simply upon the next graphical update.

Continuing Adventures in New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Had a chance to play some more NSMB Wii last night. I'm still having a lot of fun with the game. In my play-through, I'd warped past world four (yes I know I'm a dirty cheater), so I've gone back to the world and played through some of the levels again. It has a cool beach theme, and I like a lot of the new enemies, especially the mud-ball throwing crabs. Adorable. I found myself smiling every time I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way to the end of the level, and Mario does his little twirl and hat doffing in celebration. His voice changes depending on your power-up (or lack of). Whenever you're mini-Mario (a-la the shrink power-up) he sounds like he's been turned up to 2x speed. And the fireworks whenever you rescue a capture Toad blink star and 1-up shroom power-ups make me happy, too. That's what I just love about this game -- it's just plain good fun.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Guild Wars 2 Video -- Races of Tyria

Exciting new trailer showcasing the five playable races available in Guild Wars 2. Very exciting. I love the new art style -- it preserves just enough elements of the original Guild Wars while progressing. Perfect for a two-hundred year gap between the game worlds. No idea when the game might be available, but it's going to be good.

LittleBigPlanet: One Year Later

It's been the year of LittleBigPlanet around here. It released to much fanfare and a little bit of controversy back in October 2008, and we're still playing it a year later. My kid liked it so much that we actually had a LBP-themed birthday party. I'm not kidding. He's even taken to bringing his replica Sackboy to school where they play Sackboy tag. Adorable.

And here we are a year later, and the shine still has not worn off this charming and fun game. Recently, the Media Molecule team released a big update that added some features and functionality to the game, on the heels of the big anniversary re-release of the game, conveniently bundled with new PS3s for this holiday season. More and more community levels and great DLC content come out all the time, including this properly awesome Ezio get-up.

It's been a great year of gaming, including the dynamo that is LittleBigPlanet. Long live LBP!

Another Gran Turismo Demo?

There's nothing like a little bit of Gran Turismo 5 news to bring the fanboys and the haters out. This is no exception. Apparently there is a "demo" coming to the PSN in a few weeks -- most likely a thinly veiled marketing attempt for Nissan, similar to the Toyota Prius special edition release from GT4. But we'll see. And maybe the game will come out in 2010!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Forza 3 Runthrough

Had fun playing some Forza Motorsport 3 last night. Two-player is a great race mode; you have just enough friendly competition. I have to say the most fun was probably banging million-dollar Bugatti Veyrons off of the barriers in New York City. Also, the twin remade muscle cars, Camaro and Challenger, was fun as well in Sebring.

I was impressed with the number of cars available in Forza. Although Gran Turismo has strictly more cars, Forza has more manufacturers, most notably the ones missing from GT like Bugatti and Lamborghini. And while the game doesn't look quite as good as GT, it is still a lot of fun, and definitely has a more forgiving driving model if you're looking for something not quite as serious as Gran Turismo.