day seven

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

First Hour Review

Castlevania Lords of Shadow CoverIt's not uncommon for a game's narrative concept to change mid-way through development. Story is just one of many factors that go into a title's creation, after all, and is probably the most malleable. Alterations to the game mechanics from the original plan often crop up during the creation process, and the story is adapted to reflect them. Other times, a new intellectual property will be merged into a proven franchise in order to create instant brand recognition. Before it was a celebration of all things Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. was "Dragon King: The Fighting Game." Star Fox Adventures started out simply as "Dinosaur Planet."

Such is the case for the newest installment in the Castlevania series. Lords of Shadow was originally the title, not the subtitle, and had no real connection to Konami's classic series. It also went through a few of those oh-so-common story adaptations. It was originally pitched as a remake of the original Castlevania's tale of Simon Belmont, but eventually became the series reboot released last week. And a reboot is something many would say Castlevania sorely needed: five attempts at a 3D installment of the series ended with five instances of mediocrity, and it's obvious that some fresh perspective would help, here provided by relatively unknown developer MercurySteam.

The game found its way into my mailbox last week, courtesy of GameFly. I'm a noted Metroid-vania fanatic, though my time with Lament of Innocence a short while ago was largely underwhelming. Does the reboot take the polygonal half of the franchise a step in the right direction?

Civilization V

First Hour Review

Civilization 5 CoverI have a long history with the Civilization series, I was first exposed to it when reading Nintendo Power magazine while they pushed the original’s Super Nintendo release for months on end. The game seemed unlike anything I had ever played before, particularly on a console. I read and re-read their strategy articles trying to wrap my head around what this game was exactly supposed to be.

I never had the opportunity to play the original Civilization, but it wasn’t long until the second game fell into my lap, and there went my next few summers. The depth of Civilization II was incredible. Every game I played was challenging and had its own fun quirks. I loved the multiple paths to victory and the differences between each civilization. I really liked the early turns in each game before the game seemed to get bogged down in city management and what felt like watching all the other civs take their turn forever.

After Civilization II it was Alpha Centauri, the game I believe to be the pinnacle of strategy gaming and easily the best “Civilization” game in the series. Alpha Centauri can be described simply as Civilization II in space, but it’s really so much different. You have the ability to create your own units and civilizations are instead broken up by ideological factions, which turns everything on its head.

Civilization III was released and I jumped on it, but it just never felt right to me. I had invested way too much time into Civ II and Alpha Centauri and anything that deviated from those games made me angry. I gave up on III and went back to my old standbys. This might have been for the best, however, as Civilization IV was released when I was in college, and playing that might have been a disaster!

So here we are with Firaxis’ latest entry in the series, Civilization V. I’ll admit, I’m intrigued. I haven’t seriously played the series in a decade, but every time Sid Meier slaps his name on a game, I’ll at least give it a try. So let’s give it a shot, here is Civilization V’s first hour played from the free Steam 100-turn demo.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

First Hour Review

Castlevania Lament of Innocence CoverI'd never really paid much attention to the Castlevania series until Dawn of Sorrow was featured during the early days of the Nintendo DS. I was a bit hesitant to purchase the game, writing off the series' gothic style as that of a poor horror game. But in late 2005, I ventured into Castlevania for the first time and found its undead denizens too charming to slay just once. I've returned to see Lord Dracula and his wacky friends eight times since then, and enjoyed every visit.

Having played every modern "Metroidvania" since then (besides the recently-released Harmony of Despair, focused on online multiplayer), I realized I hadn't yet spent any time in a polygonal version of Drac's realm. The impending release of franchise reboot Lords of Shadow encouraged me to stop by the local game store and check the ten-and-under bin for anything Castlevania. The various entries on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 systems have received mixed reviews, but I'm willing to take a chance on a bargain title in one of my favorite franchises.

My excursion to GameStop ended with my wallet ten dollars lighter and a copy of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence added to my collection. I've spent sixty minutes in the demon castle. How did this latest visit fare?

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

First Hour Review

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers CoverIt's almost expected these days that a Final Fantasy game will be announced long before it ever hits store shelves. 2010's Final Fantasy XIII was first made public nearly four years before anybody outside of Japan got their hands on the final discs, and its companion titles revealed the same day aren't even locked for release yet. I know hype builds over time, but when a game passes the four year mark since announcement, I tend to forget about it completely.

Square Enix's teasing ways aren't exclusive to the main HD-platform Final Fantasy games either, as the absurdly-titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers was let out of the bag a year before its HD cousins, but saw release only months prior. There were multiple rumors of cancellation, rumblings of drastic changes mid-development, and over two-thousand days between announcement and release, but FFCC:TCB did eventually see the light of day.

I remember the first teaser footage and a full trailer released some time later, which featured the protagonist in some pretty exciting situations and plenty of lighthearted flair. As time went on, I forgot about the title completely when it saw release last Christmas, but picked it up on the cheap a few seasons after its launch. Did all those years in the oven leave Crystal Bearers well-done or burnt to a crisp?

Mega Man X8

First Hour Review

Mega man x8 CoverThe second video game I ever played was Mega Man 2. Since then, I've finished twenty-eight games with "Mega Man" in the title, most of them multiple times. I was the sixth person in the United States to submit a game completion time to the leaderboards in Mega Man 9, the afternoon it was released. I was fifth in Mega Man 10. I beat Mega Man 9 without taking any damage, earning the "Mr. Perfect" in-game challenge title. I'd even go so far as to say Mega Man 9 was my favorite release in 2008, a year packed with great titles that don't look like they were made twenty years ago and forgotten in a time capsule somewhere.

I enjoy Mega Man, you guys. Like, kind of a lot.

Because I didn't have a PlayStation 2 until a few months ago, I missed out on two titles released exclusively on that system, Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8. I recently came across the latter in the bargain bin of a local game shop, so I figured I'd give it a shot. The Mega Man X series had started to lose its way by the sixth game (my least favorite game in the series, oh no!) but I had heard good things about X8.

I was understandably excited to start a relatively new Mega Man game for the first time. So how did the first hour go?

Halo 3: ODST

First Hour Review

Halo 3 Odst CoverI don’t know if this is just really good timing, or really bad timing, but Halo: Reach was released yesterday, so here’s the first hour review of... Halo 3: ODST! A first person shooter that came out last year on the Xbox 360. Now, last year wouldn’t be that big of deal, I cover older games all the time, but it’s already out of date a year later (not to mention it being basically an expansion pack to Halo 3 that was released in 2007). I’m guessing this is bad timing.

Haters gonna hate though, so we must trudge on with what we’ve got. I wasn’t a huge fan of Halo 3, so I pretty much ignored ODST when it was released. The game doesn’t star Master Chief, multiplayer is just Halo 3 with some new modes, and everyone knew the real sequel, Reach, was on its way.

Here’s the first hour of Halo 3: ODST.

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

First Hour Review

Zack and Wiki Quest for Barbaros Treasure CoverI purchased a Wii at launch just to play The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I wasn't particulary interested in Wii Sports, though it grew on me, but after I beat Zelda, I looked at the upcoming release schedule and promptly sold my Wii. Three years later another Wii falls in my lap and I'm given the opportunity of catching up on what I missed.

Super Mario Galaxy seemed like an obvious play, but after that, selecting games got a little tougher. Super Smash Bros. Brawl? While I had been a huge fan of Melee, I had heard the online offering was weak and the general feel of the game had changed too much. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption? Hadn't enjoyed the second Prime and an unofficial first hour of the game turned me off completely. The game my wife and I decided to get? Wii Fit Plus.

A sad state of affairs for a Nintendo system, in my opinion, but there was one game that had received good reviews and seemed right up my alley: Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure. Zack and Wiki is a point and click adventure game drawn in a distinct cartoony style. It was released October, 2007 with lower than expected sales. Here's its first hour.

Metroid: Other M

First Hour Review

Metroid Other m CoverI was first introduced to Samus Aran through her appearance in the Super Smash Bros. fighting game in 1999. As Smash is a melee-centric brawl, I always imagined Samus as an agile and powerful close-combat fighter who happened to have an arm cannon as well. In 2002, I eventually played Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, and discovered that Samus, both in 2D and 3D, fought primarily with her many energy-based weapons. I certainly enjoyed each of the games, but still yearned to see the hulking heroine kick some ass in a more literal sense.

To everyone's surprise, Nintendo ended their E3 2009 presentation with a trailer of the next Metroid game. Created through a collaborative effort between Nintendo's internal studios and Team Ninja of Ninja Gaiden fame, this Metroid: Other M featured Samus Aran's return to third-person adventuring after many years spent behind the visor. Jaws were dropped, however, when the bounty-hunting babe began tossing her foes around like rag dolls, grabbing them in choke-holds, and firing charged beam shots right into their faces. Could this be the Metroid Gaiden I had been waiting for?

The months that led to Other M's release at the end of August tempered my expectations somewhat as new details were revealed, but I was still fairly excited when the game was shipped to my door earlier this week. Did my first romp with Other M leave me disappointed or eager to see more?

Killzone 2

First Hour Review

Killzone 2 CoverBack at E3 2005, Sony showed off two minutes of "in-engine footage" of a highly detailed military shooter. The visuals were unmatched by anything previously seen in a video game, and PlayStation fans went nuts. In the comings days, Sony eventually backpedaled from their initial claim and admitted that the footage wasn't pulled from any gameplay architecture, and was instead a target render "done to PS3 spec." In a matter of weeks, Killzone 2 went from the new standard of visuals to a fraud.

Sony knew there was some damage control to be done here, and a few years later, the same footage was shown with in-engine graphics. Amazingly, few could tell the difference between the CG target render and the real deal, and the hype train left the station for good. At its launch in early 2009, many media outlets were calling Killzone 2's graphics unparalleled.

My interest in the game had always been lukewarm, considering my waning affinity for military-style first person shooters. Several Call of Duty titles had already come and gone, and none had left a lasting impression upon completion. I hadn't played either of the two previous Killzone games -- who has? -- but I decided to give Killzone 2 a shot anyway. After all, I've got access to a pretty amazing HDTV and surround-sound system, so I might as well put them to use.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

First Hour Review

Starcraft 2 Wings of Liberty CoverNot since Half-Life 2 has a PC game release needed no introduction. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has sold millions, will sell millions more, and is just the first game in a billion dollar trilogy. Of course, games are generally popular for a reason, not always the right reason, but in StarCraft II’s case, it seems we actually have a great game on our hands too.

You undoubtedly know what StarCraft II is already, so I’d rather talk quickly about how nearly every interested gamer can play the first hour (and more) of Wings of Liberty for free! Each copy of the game comes with a 14 day / 7 hour free trial, and since at least three of your friends already own the game, just pray they still have a code available.

So let’s just play, here’s the first hour of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.

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