But the fanfare was light when two new Mario platformers were revealed at this year’s E3. Old Jumpman may be a victim of overexposure: assuming New Super Mario Bros. U launches alongside the Wii U this holiday season, that will make five Mario platformers released in three years. The five previous Mario platformers stretched from 2007 all the way back to 1992.
You’ll never hear me complain about too many Mario games. I loved NSMB Wii’s hilarious multiplayer, adored Galaxy 2’s imaginative splendor, and even enjoyed 3D Land’s muted creativity. But all I expect from New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the same old unassuming excellence that has come to define the word “New” on Mario’s box.
Stacking came out for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in early 2011, and it immediately captured my interest. With characters based on the Russian stacking matryoshka dolls and the narrative devices of silent films of yesteryears, it was definitely a unique offering, though looking over Double Fine Productions’s history it’s clear that that’s their thing. Quirky mish-mashes: RTS and musical influences for Brütal Legend, Halloween outfits and RPG elements for Costume Quest, and summer camp and psychic abilities for Psychonauts. However, I just never got around to getting it due to my severe distaste for buying Microsoft Points, since the conversion rate of USD dollars to Space Bucks never seems to be in the buyer’s favor.
Flash-forward to July 2012, and the Steam Summer Sale has now concluded. I was able to snag this bite-sized adventure for a cool couple of bucks, as well as a slew of other titles. But for now, let’s play with dolls for an hour and see how things turn out.
Without Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto III, we wouldn’t have Sleeping Dogs, The Saboteur, and possibly dozens of other series, including Saints Row. But whereas Grand Theft Auto IV upped the realism to aggravating levels (managing relationships and awful driving are the worst offenders), Saints Row has descended further and further into insanity, basically delivering the same sandbox joy that GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas were known for.
I’ve never played the original Saints Row, and while Saints Row 2 seems to continue directly off from the first game, I’m guessing I’ll be able to jump into the gangster-filled world with ease. I’ve heard tons of great things about the third game recently, but the second one flew under my radar, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect.
Here’s the first hour of Saints Row 2 for the PlayStation 3.
I find it kind of amazing that I grew up as a geek and never experienced any of the Warhammer 40,000 gaming culture. This is a tabletop game that has expanded far beyond the living room, including graphic novels, movies, books, and lots of video games.
Released last September from Relic Entertainment, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine stars one of the more popular aspects of the lore: Ultramarines. Super soldiers in huge armor that are seemingly unmatched on the battlefield. To the Warhammer ignorant, they may look like rip offs of the COG soldiers from Gears of War, which is a rather unfortunate comparison considering Warhammer has been around since 1987 and has undoubtedly inspired dozens of video game universes itself, including Gears.
So it’s time for me to take my first steps into the Warhammer 40,000 universe with Space Marine on the PlayStation 3. In one hour, I’ll know whether or not I want to stay any longer.
We’ve played our share of unique games here at First Hour, but Catherine is in a league of its own. With adult-oriented anime scenes about love, marriage, and infidelity splitting time between fast-paced, psychological horror block puzzles, Catherine is... different. The game opens with a television show framing device, dives into our hero’s nightmares, and is apparently pursued by two women named Katherine and Catherine.
Developed by Atlus and released a year ago for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Catherine was well received by the press but noted for its oddities. These types of games often are not seen outside of Japan, but Atlus made a gamble which reportedly has paid off, with Catherine being their best North American launch ever.
As we move beyond our fifth birthday, I’ll be making some changes to my first hour review format. I’m going to cut most of the big “minute by minute” section which (sometimes tediously) detailed the happenings of the game. Instead I’ll call out the game’s strengths and weaknesses section by section much like Nate does. So without further ado, here’s the first hour of Catherine for the PlayStation 3.
Five 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.
We’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.
I’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.
Let’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.
The 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?