Full game reviews as we beat them, there will be a balance of both new and old games reviewed. We review the basics of the game and deliver scores in a few categories and an overall score out of 10.
Thanks to the indie uprising, we have a heightened visibility for games that might have gone unnoticed just five years ago. A garage developer's labor of love can now share front page headlines with the AAA behemoths of the industry. Many fine media outlets even make a special effort to cover these smaller productions. Indie games have become the punk rockers of the industry, offering a lean alternative to overproduced AAA formulas, often with rebellious verve and spunk that resonates with us ninety-nine percenters (and at a price we ninety-nine percenters can afford).
But even in this new era, where the little guys yield as many pageviews as their big budget competition, an indie game needs to have some innovative hook or bombastic message in order to rise to the top. I can think of no other reason why Fluidity, a brilliant puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements, has gone largely unnoticed. (Except that the game is marooned on Wii's invisible WiiWare digital distribution service, that is.)
It makes sense, though, doesn't it? So many indie darlings that went big had some kind of divergent aura about them. Limbo and Braid made their names with artsy themes and visuals that you just don't see in big money productions. The cheery brutality of Super Meat Boy, Magicka, and Castle Crashers upgraded them from mere mechanical joys to acclaimed game experiences. Fluidity, on the other hand, lifts its style and mood from airline safety manuals, of all things.
I find soccer boring. It has its exciting moments, but those usually happen when I’m getting a snack. On the other hand, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed lots of soccer video games over the years, starting with Nintendo World Cup for the NES and peaking with the insane Sega Soccer Slam on the GameCube. There’s just something so simplistic and fun about kicking a ball into a goal, especially when that ball is on fire.
So truthfully, I like arcade soccer, the kind of stuff displayed in the movie Shaolin Soccer. But when I discovered I was four games behind on Kairosoft’s Android releases, I decided to start with the soccer simulator: Pocket League Story.
In the same vein as Game Dev Story and Grand Prix Story, Pocket League Story has you guiding a soccer team from the dirt pile in your backyard to the top of the world. There are lots of numbers and tons of crunching, but most refreshing, every soccer game plays out in front of your eyes. If you thought watching your cars race in Grand Prix Story got me excited, well, you should have seen me when my first 11 versus 11 match played out. Here’s my review of Pocket League Story.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is a procession of adorable cartoon situations. A boy kicks away stray footballs that threaten to ruin his date. A quartet of baby seals tilt back-and-forth in marching-style unison. A tiny monkey taps a tambourine, its big brown eyes gleaming with joy as you repeat its patterns. The game's energetic sweetness is the antithesis of this console generation's characteristic gravelly machismo and brooding drama. It's pure joy.
And yet, it wracks my nerves like a Counter-Strike match. My palms sweat as I constrict the Wii remote in a boa's death grip. My heart races before I even select a song. Like a tiger crouched in the brush, I await the right moment to strike each note with parched eyes. Even with the peppy rhythms as a constant guide, relaxation is a shortcut to failure.
You can't get careless because the game demands total precision. Guitar Hero understands that you have five frets to manage and cuts you some slack if you're a split-second early on the downbeat. Rhythm Heaven Fever scrutinizes to your timing to the millisecond: near the end of the following video, the song approaches 180 beats per minute and splits each beat into 23 blocks; I am tasked with hitting only the center column. There is no room for error.
The smiles and rainbows are a front, as the cute chimps and happy cheerleaders of Rhythm Heaven Fever know exactly how well your internal metronome is running. And they are judging you. Harshly.
I am willing to give every video game genre a try, including what Wikipedia describes Heavy Rain as an “interactive drama” and “psychological thriller.” To the traditional gamer, those probably rank right up with the dating sim and train simulators of the world. Why play an interactive drama when I could just watch a movie?
But this is a valid question that can be used to juxtapose any type of media. Movies are an excellent format at telling a story in about two hours, while many games take a two hour story and stretch it across 12 hours with bits of action padding the time. Heavy Rain was created from the ground up to challenge the idea that not only can a video game tell a compelling story, but that it can deliver the same emotional punches that a movie can too.
Released in February 2010 by French developer Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain tells the story of a father, a journalist, a detective, and an FBI profiler all tracking down an elusive serial killer who targets young boys. As one of the PlayStation 3 exclusives I’ve wanted to play the most, I was very excited to get my hands on the game after two years. You can see my first hour review here, or read on for spoiler-free thoughts on Heavy Rain.
I started playing Super Meat Boy for our new Indie Impression feature, planning on maybe putting in a half hour with the meat and then heading off to write down my thoughts. Two weeks later and 10 hours of gaming in the can, I beat all of Super Meat Boy’s light world levels, rescued Bandage Girl over a hundred times, and died 2,345 times (to be exact). And even though poor Meat Boy splattered every 15 seconds, I still had an awesome time.
It’s a testament to developer Team Meat’s ability that they can make a platformer not only crazy hard, but also very fun. Almost nothing is harder in game development than properly ramping the challenge up for every kind of gamer, but they pull it off with Super Meat Boy.
Released on Windows, Linux, OSX, and Xbox Live Arcade (a WiiWare release was planned and then scrapped when the game exceeded the platform’s size limits) in 2010, it has since sold over one million copies, not bad for an indie release. Here’s my review.
Riding on the excitement of The Binding of Isaac, I decided to dive right into another roguelike, this time from indie developer Gaslamp Games. But unlike Binding of Isaac, Dungeons of Dredmor is a more traditional, turn-based dungeon crawler, complete with character classes, skill trees, item forging, and the hack and slash-style fun one would expect from classic franchises like Diablo or Baldur’s Gate. Well, maybe not that traditional. Dungeons of Dredmor is perhaps best described as a spoof of classic computer roll-playing games; nothing takes itself seriously...
Three other writers here posted their impressions of Dungeons of Dredmor last week in our new series: Indie Impression. You may consider these my extended impression that turned into a complete review.
I beat Batman: Arkham City well over a week ago, but due to a weekend vacation, work, and the flu hitting my entire family, I’m only now getting to its review. This has given me time to think heavily about the game, and in some ways find as many flaws as ways to praise it, not sure if this is a healthy game reviewing technique or not.
As the sequel to Arkham Asylum, one of the most successful and highly regarded licensed games ever, expectations were through the roof. Arkham City was released in October of last year to brisk sales and excellent reviews, skyrocketing creatorRocksteady Studios among the upper echelon of developers.
Nate covered the game’s first hour when it was released, and later named it his Game of the Year. I just named Arkham Asylum my Game of the (Other) Year as I beat it early 2011. As I’m still ailing from the effects of the flu and its corresponding medicine, I’m going to try and keep this shorter than usual.
If someone tells you they're going to do a "reverse" something, odds are the result will be terrible. The concept sounds similarly cheesy for games, evoking memories of bad minigames and multiplayer modes. However, for some genres it actually could be a fresh take on the concept, and 11-Bit Studios tries to prove this with their "reverse tower defense" game, Anomaly: Warzone Earth. 11-Bit is a brand new developer out of Poland, powered by a small team of industry veterans. It appears that they've taken an independent mindset towards publishing and distributing, releasing Anomaly directly to Steam and the Mac Store. Thus far, they seem to be having a good deal of success and are proving capable in quickly porting their game to new platforms, including iOS, Kindle Fire (!) and an upcoming XBLA release.
I played quite a few mobile games in 2011, and I don't expect that to change much in 2012. Where's My Water? was available as a Free App of the Day on the Amazon Android store a few weeks ago, and I picked it without much thought and tucked it in the mobile queue. Free games are great, especially on a pick-up-and-play platform like a phone. It's pretty amazing how the ideas behind a First Hour Review can be boiled down from 60 minutes to 30 seconds.
Where's My Water? passed my immediate test of being playable and having an interesting concept; a few days later with every rubber ducky collected and all the challenge levels defeated, I'm ready to declare it a triumphant mobile game along the lines of Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, here are my thoughts.
Upon starting Super Mario 3D Land, I was placing internal bets on whether the game would be filed with the 2D or the 3D Mario experiences. Miyamoto and the team say they combined the approachability of 2D Mario with the freedom of the third dimension, but one of the two styles must win out, right?
Exactly fourteen hours of playtime later, the answer still eludes me. There's bits of Super Mario Galaxy and pieces of New Super Mario Bros in the game, and it leans heavily towards the former. What's keeping me from committing 3D Land to the 2D Mario pile is all the Sonic Adventure mucking things up.
Despite the disappointment, elation, and outright disdain that those three names likely bring up, they ultimately mean little for the actual quality of the game. It would be difficult to argue that Super Mario 3D Land is anything other than the Nintendo 3DS' most compelling purchase to date. But it's also the first Mario title in several years that I can't just rave about.