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.
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.
We have time to slip one more review into 2011, right? Let's talk about Recettear: An Item's Shop Tale, a quirky Japanese RPG released last year. Blending traditional dungeon crawling with running an RPG item shop, Recettear is unlike any game I have ever played, and probably ever play again.
I played the first hour of Recettear in October, determining that the opening was interesting enough to go on. This was probably a fair decision, as it is a rich game full of dungeons, companions, and items, but it is not without issues. If the review intrigues you, look for it on Steam sale in the next day or so, it was about $5 a few days back and may be available again.
Recettear is made up of two distinct game types: the classic dungeon crawler with randomized floor layouts, spawning bad guys, and big bosses; and an item shop where you lay out equipment, haggle with customers, and even buy items from them. Let's talk about what each type did right and wrong.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was my primary reason for buying a Wii at launch. It left me feeling disappointed and greatly annoyed. Five years later, beating The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on my second Wii (after selling my first just days after beating Twilight Princess) leaves me with nearly the opposite effect: I loved it and am slightly giddy to write a review about it before the end of the year.
I was definitely not feeling the game a few hours in. Twilight Princess’ first hour is awful and Skyward Sword’s is arguably worse, and the ramp up feels tedious. My list of annoyances was longer than any kind of enjoyment I was getting out of the game, but once the game does ramp up, it does it incredibly successfully.
So as the Wii’s last hurrah, Skyward Sword leaves a great impression, here’s my review of the latest Legend of Zelda game, released in November. This is our second full review of the game, following Nate’s from last week. I re-read his review in preparation for my own, and have to say I agree on basically every point. So hopefully this review won’t be longer than it needs to be, but if you have some time, do read his write-up.