day ten

Our Five Year Anniversary - Revisiting God of War II

First Hour Review

god of war 2 CoverFive years ago I played about sixty minutes of the beginning of God of War II and was impressed by how quickly the action ramps up and how the momentum is carried throughout. Big action set pieces like the Colossus battle and flying on Pegasus made for an extremely memorable first hour, and still one of the best. At that moment I made a decision that I suppose in some ways has changed my life: I reset the PS2, grabbed a pen and notebook, and started playing God of War II over again.

Five years later and a full ten days worth of first hour reviews written by me and a half-dozen other writers, we're back to where it all began. I imagine this is a one-time event, I'm not sure there's really much left to point out in the game's first hour that I didn't the first time, but the timing is fun. I've always measured first hours in how many "days" have passed, with 24 first hour reviews representing a day. Since this is review 240, the end of day ten, I couldn't really pass up the opportunity.

The review format hasn't changed a lot in five years, even then I was keeping track of "minutes to action", but I don't give scores anymore, focusing instead on what really matters: would I keep playing beyond the first hour? Fellow writer Nate has developed his own first hour review format, and from now on I'll be moving more towards that. It's very time consuming to detail every minute of action, and I'm not sure if it's entirely valuable to the reader, so things will be changing for me as a critic, I'm still not entirely sure what it will look like.

But somehow my little review site has survived five years without much trouble, or attention, for that matter. But that's okay with me, soon after I began writing regularly about a subject I actually enjoyed, I realized I loved doing it and the number of readers or amount of money I was making was far less important than the fact that I was putting my thoughts and ideas on paper.

So thank you to all readers, fans, and critics over the last five years. You have turned a curiosity into a hobby into a passion.

Valkyria Chronicles

First Hour Review

Valkyria Chronicles CoverWe’re celebrating our five year anniversary tomorrow with something special, but before that happens, we need to play one more first hour, and that game is Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 3. Released around the world in 2008, Valkyria bridges Japanese anime graphics with an early 20th century European setting, a pairing that seems so wrong, but may actually turn out alright.

Developed and published by Sega, Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical strategy game with third-person shooter elements, also not a pairing seen often in gaming. But with in-house influences from Skies of Arcadia, Shinobi, and the Sakura Wars series, Valkyria Chronicles was never going to be a normal type of game.

This 239th first hour review was actually meant to be God of War III, but wouldn’t you know it, half an hour in I realized that Nate already covered it two years ago. One of the disadvantages of having so much content, I suppose. He was doing a better job on it anyway. So as fate would have it, here is the first hour of Valkyria Chronicles.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

First Hour Review

Metal Gear Solid 4 CoverI’ve always enjoyed the crazy and convoluted stories of the Metal Gear Solid series, even when the controls seem to be fighting against me instead of cooperating. I’ve played the series on the PS1, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox, and with every release both the story and controls become more complex. So in some ways I’m very excited to finally be able to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but at the same time I’m leery that it’s going to be a mess of bad aiming and Snake behaving badly.

Released over four years ago(!), Metal Gear Solid 4 puts us back in Solid Snake’s shoes in a war-torn future where armies for hire are the norm. It’s a disturbing vision, but if anyone can sell it, it’s Hideo Kojima and his team at Konami.

The game has sold very well and was a major critical darling. Heck, one of our very own writers gave it a 10/10 a few years back. Needless to say, this has been on my to-play list for many years. Here’s hoping the first hour lives up to my hype.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

First Hour Review

Uncharted 2 CoverLet’s get right to the point, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation. I don’t usually put a lot of trust in Metacritic, but it has a score of 96 over there with over 100 positive reviews, and not a single mixed or negative score to contrast. I can only marvel at that, and then I see that Grand Theft Auto IV has a score of 98 and I can only shrug at the idea of critical consensus.

Playing the Uncharted series was high on my list for when I finally obtained a PlayStation 3, and while I never considered not playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, it seemed many gamers thought it was rather skippable, especially with Uncharted 2 available. In the end, yes, it is skippable, but if we only ever played excellent games, we would never be able to recognize them for what they are. I have my list of faults the first one suffered from and am hoping they are all fixed with Among Thieves.

So let’s get right down to the first hour of Uncharted 2, a game which advertised you’d be able to fool your girlfriend into thinking she was watching a movie (this would be a massive eyeroll if it wasn’t for Kevin Butler). So pop the popcorn and roll the film.

F-Zero GX

First Hour Review

f Zero gx CoverThe original Super Smash Bros. was a crash course on the Nintendo properties that I ignored in the early nineties. I learned that the orange robot from Metroid was actually a woman in a suit. I learned that the green elf guy wasn’t actually named Zelda.

I also discovered that Nintendo made a futuristic racing game called F-Zero. Although the Falcon Punch was the coolest thing in the world, I still couldn’t be persuaded to try out an F-Zero game. Cruis’n USA and Wipeout convinced me that racing games weren’t my thing.

Racers still aren’t my game of choice, but a bargain bin find has led me to give the F-Zero series the old college try. It’s been almost ten years since the earth-shattering Nintendo/Sega tagteam effort gave birth to GX, and though Nintendo has buried the underperforming series beneath Wii-branded successes, a small but passionate fanbase still thrives. Is an hour with the game enough to place me in their ranks?

A Boy and His Blob

First Hour Review

a boy and his Blob CoverI’ve been on a bit of a Wii fix lately. Perhaps all the Wii U buzz inspired me to check out B-List Wii games that initially flew under my radar. Whatever the cause, my little white waggle box had a busy month, thanks to Lost in Shadow, Link’s Crossbow Training, and FlingSmash.

Up next, A Boy and His Blob. This 2D puzzle platformer is a modern take on the original Trouble on Blobolonia, one of many quirky NES games I remember seeing at the rental store as a kid. But I took home Super Mario Bros. 3 every single time.

In a way, picking up the new Boy and His Blob feels like atonement for Young Nate’s disinterest in anything without “Mario” in the title. But I also wanted it because it looks adorable. Seriously, you feed the blob a jellybean and it happily forms into a ladder. I probably had an imaginary friend just like that when I was six and couldn’t reach a tree branch.

FlingSmash

First Hour Review

Flingsmash CoverI had a craving for some motion gaming the other day. Skyward Sword’s mixed bag of waggle came and went six months ago, and the surprisingly smart Wii Play Motion ran its course last summer. It was time to try something new.

The list of Wii MotionPlus games on Wikipedia almost drove the craving away. Three years after the Wii remote finally got its necessary upgrade, a mere thirty-odd games support the device. Most have the unmistakeable stink of shovelware.

The only one that caught my eye was FlingSmash, a sidescroller where you smack a spherical character into bricks and junk. High concept, it’s not. But it seems like a good excuse to excitedly wave my arms around like a toddler with a bubble wand and a sugar high.

Link's Crossbow Training

First Hour Review

Links Crossbow Training CoverRemember when Nintendo gave Link a gun? I did when I found this baby at the media exchange shop. I wish I could say I just scored a Zelda game for a dollar, but there’s actually no “Legend of Zelda” in Link's Crossbow Training, so that would be incorrect. Also, it was two dollars.

It seems blasphemous to send Link on an adventure without his trusty sword and shield, but is it outrageous that I’m kind of excited about the idea? Zooming the Wii remote’s infrared pointer around is my favorite aspect of playing Wii games, and my best memories of Twilight Princess involved loosing arrows at goblins from horseback. Seriously, if this game lets me shoot Ganon in the face with some crossbow bolts, I may have to give it a perfect score.

I guess that seems unlikely, as any confrontation with the ultimate evil is unlikely to happen during crossbow “training.” I’ll probably just shoot targets and maybe a goblin or two. But maybe someday I’ll get my sequel, my Link’s Crossbow Conquest...

Final Fantasy XIII

First Hour Review

Final Fantasy 13 ps3 CoverI’ve played every single numbered Final Fantasy game up through XII, so playing the thirteenth entry was inevitable. But from the guy who bought Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XI, and XII on release days, finally getting around to XIII two years after release is a bit odd. But from a combination of some bad press and plenty of other games to play, I didn’t mind.

But here we are with the first hour of Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve also reviewed VII and VIII’s first hour previously, and had mixed success, though I can solidly point to the opening of Final Fantasy VII’s to be one of the highlights in the JRPG genre. Whether we can agree or not on the rest of game is irrelevant, but it sure does kick off with a bang.

And as you’ll see, Final Fantasy XIII also kicks off with a bang, but can it keep that momentum? Or is there something deeper required for a successful first hour? We’re about to find out.

Diablo III

First Hour Review

Diablo 3 CoverThe original Diablo was introduced to me by a friend probably no more than 3 years after its release, before my highschool years. Diablo would eventually see some of the most unforgettable and impactful gaming moments of our childhoods, and those of our closest friendslargely due to how much it scared the crap out of us. The first time I laid eyes on The Butcher and heard that deep, grating voice"Ah... Fresh meat"I slammed the door to his lair in his face and ran all the way out of the dungeon (a little excessive since enemies can't use doors). I can distictly recall at least two other moments that caused me to toss my mouse or phone (I was talking to said friend while playing once) in suprise and fear. Ah, the good old days.

Diablo II and its expansion would demand exponentially larger amounts of our attention due to its improved graphics, presentation, story, and gameplay (both online and off). It was a staple in our gaming repertoires, and inspired many discussions and stories of our own. I spent a good deal of my time every night reading through Brady Games' strategy guide.

When all was said and done, standing in the wake of the Worldstone's destruction, Diablo fans were sure we would someday see a sequel. It was just a question of when. The answer came at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Paris on June 28, 2008, though it would be many years more before an official release date was announced. On March 15, 2012, Blizzard finally announced that the release date was only two short months away.

And now, 11 years in the making, Diablo III couldn't have come at a more awkward time for me... I'm currently in the middle of two jobs, one of which takes up the entirety of my weekends. Throw in a small spat of the flu and new member of the family (a stray cat my girlfriend decided to bring home one night), and I'm left which much less time to play, let alone write, as I would've liked...but I finally found the time, and you didn't come hear to read my whining, so let's jump into the first hour of Diablo III.

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