I knew that Greg Noe—the virtuoso behind The First Hour—and I would get along just fine when one of the first comments he left on my gaming blog was this: “Suikoden II... best JRPG ever made.” Yes, I totally agree. Suikoden and Suikoden II make up a pivotal part of my gaming history, and without them, I have to believe I would not be who I am today. They taught me the importance of character and characters, showed me at a young age that politics were always at war, and highlighted the importance of the invention of the elevator. Plus, they were really fun. Collecting 108 Stars of Destiny and watching a castle expand to house all of them is something I wish was in every RPG about building a rebel army these days.
Something happened though. Let's call it college. Four years went by, and I missed out on Suikoden III and Suikoden IV, as well as many other videogames during my time of study and refining and dropping of majors. I didn't come back to the world of videogames until after graduating and getting my first post-college job, picking up Suikoden V at first chance. Alas, by that time, it was hard to find copies of the previous two games, and only got harder with each year that passed.
Flash-forward to 2011, and I was able to find a used copy of Suikoden III recently at my local GameStop. Honestly, I've been a little scared to play it, worried that I've built up too much internal hype over the years, but destiny's calling. It's now or never.
I love the LEGO videogames. I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably keep on saying it, especially if the folks over at Traveller’s Tales use their magical powers to read my mind and make LEGO Lord of the Rings or LEGO Men in Black next. My favorite of the bunch so far has been LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4, which managed to follow both the films and books while also giving fans a ton of love with their attention to details. It seemed perfect for LEGO-izing, with magic and a wide cast of characters, but I was disappointed that it only covered half of Harry’s legacy; the developers padded out the experience by giving players Hogwarts, a huge hub to explore that revealed more and more in a Metroidvania style after certain spells and classmates were acquired.
J.K. Rowling finished up all the books way back in 2007, and the money-making films now dead and done until some fool tries to remake them all in like ten years. I’ve never played any of the movie tie-in videogames—though I did have fun flying on brooms and catching Golden Snitches with Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup for the PlayStation 2—but from what I can gather, many of them are not great. Especially the Kinect ones, which tries to turn Harry into a new recruit for Gears of War. LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 could very well be the last greatest game for the franchise, simply because there’s probably not much else coming out for it afterwards.
My favorite thing about the LEGO videogames are that they are perfect for playing co-op. There’s a challenge, sure, but exploring the levels and piecing everything together is more fun with a partner. Like my wife, Tara Abbamondi. Comments from her are in red!
Okay, let’s see if the first hour of LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is just as magical as the previous game’s.
With so many Legend of Zelda re-releases in 2011, I've had several excuses to reacquaint myself with the series for the last six months. I awakened Link for the first time, replayed bits of the first Zelda game I ever experienced, tried out a solo retrofit of the franchise's multiplayer experiment, and even charted my way through the legend that begot legends. For me, 2011 has been the year of Zelda.
Through this trip back through time, I've reevaluated my regard for Nintendo's beloved adventure franchise, and just in time for the newest iteration. Skyward Sword, at a glance, looks like just another Zelda, which is enough for most fans but insufficient for me. On top of that, the game boasts a distinct watercolor style, a sky/land dichotomy, and what appears to be an origin story for many of the franchise's trademark elements.
What has me excited is the motion-controlled combat. I loved the MotionPlus combat in Red Steel 2, and Skyward Sword uses the gyroscope add-on to provide needed nuance to Zelda's normally dull swordplay. Comparisons to Punch Out's puzzle-like duels have me salivating all the more.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to experience much of that in Skyward Sword's opening sixty. That's disheartening enough, but Skyward Sword doesn't stop at mere disappointment...the game outright insults me. Take a look:
Do we have another Game of the Year contender on our hands? Skyrim is the latest adventure in the epically massive Elder Scrolls series, released just last Friday. Heralded by many as the second coming of... Oblivion, Bethesda looks to destroy college grades and tear apart healthy marriages.
What else needs to be said? This is a massive game and we'll barely be striking the surface with its first hour, but I hope to get a feeling of the game's tone and pacing, something I would say the series has stumbled with before. This is the first time we've even discussed The Elder Scrolls here at First Hour, but better late than never.
Later this week we'll have an ever-timely review of Oblivion along with the first half-hour of Super Mario 3D Land, and early next week is the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which will definitely receive some coverage. But until then: the first hour of Skyrim for Windows.
The Bastion narrator has been everywhere lately. To gamers like me, this reference barely means anything. But like “the cake is a lie!”, it’s beginning to ingrain into gamer culture and being in-the-know in the early stages of fun is the best part.
But that’s not why I’m playing Bastion. I’m playing Bastion because it’s been almost universally heralded as a great game by everyone I pay attention to. From the graphics to the story to the music, Bastion is the indie darling of the year.
Released as one of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade premier titles in July, Bastion made an immediate splash. While doing a pretty poor job advertising and selling most indie games on their market, Microsoft seems to do a pretty good job predicting which titles to really push during their summer event. A Steam version came a month later, and just last week the game finally went on sale for half price (I’m one of those obnoxious gamers who will almost never pay full price for a game, whether it’s $15 or $60).
So let’s dive into Bastion’s first hour and see if this darling has legs.
There’s different flavors of “difficult” in video games. Some games are hard because of limited lives and crushing level design, like the original Ninja Gaiden, for example. And take Nethack, its difficulty resides in the massive amount of “unknown” in the game combined with a bit of luck. And then there’s Demon’s Souls and its sequel Dark Souls, known for their incredibly challenging, but fair gameplay.
I have not played Demon’s Souls, but when Dark Souls was released last month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I was determined to at least give it an hour of my time. That opportunity has come, and while I survived, I did not come out unscathed.
Dark Souls was developed by the obnoxiously named From Software, known for their double-noun named games such as Shadow Tower, King’s Field, and Ninja Blade, along with the Armored Core series. They also published 3D Dot Game Heroes, which as far as I can tell is the extreme opposite of Dark Souls.
Here is its first hour.
Happy Halloween, everyone! Time for a spooky first hour with Ghostbusters: The Video Game. As the game sequel to one of most popular, family-friendly Halloween movies out there, and as one of my favorite films growing up, I found it my duty to finally play this game I bought during a Steam sale cheap years ago.
Released in mid-2009 on every platform available, Ghostbusters: The Video Game played on early trailer hype and fan nostalgia to sell over a million copies that summer while receiving pretty decent scores. It doesn’t hurt that essentially the entire cast returned for what some call “Ghostbusters 3”, not to mention Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd worked on the game script.
I’ll be playing Ghostbusters in Windows, a few years ago I gave the Xbox 360 demo a try and wasn’t impressed at all, so I’m curious what my reaction will be on this platform, years later. Well, bustin’ makes me feel good, so let’s get started.
Everybody wants to be Batman. He was born with more money than most third world countries. His car sips gasoline and pisses fire. He could win the World's Strongest Man competition and the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions simultaneously. He knocks boots with Catwoman at night and brags to Superman in the morning. Whatever you aspire to be, Batman is it.
So it's surprising that no developer ever attempted the complete Batman experience until 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Okay, maybe Batman isn't quite "complete" without Batmobile or Bruce Wayne, but the game offered a taste of the hunter/fighter/thinker dynamic that makes Batman so Batmanly. Two years later, Rocksteady Games is back on the prowl with Batman: Arkham City, because when was the last time a hit video game didn't get a sequel? The new game promises an increase in scope parallel with its subtitle: the play area has expanded from the asylum to a full borough within greater Gotham City where evildoers and thugs (and maybe also the mentally ill that legitimately need help?) have been corralled and quarantined.
But enough prep, it's time to bust faces. Watch some snippets of footage from early in the story and pretend you're Batman. It's okay, we all still do it from time to time.
I’ve played and beaten the first three Professor Layton games, and while I continue to return to them every year like clockwork, they have been essentially the same game every time. Sure, the stories change, and the puzzles are a bit different, but the core gameplay has remained the same: move around town poking at stuff, solve puzzles, talk to people, eventually linearally solve the overarching mystery that ends in some bizarre manner. I don’t hate it, it’s just repetitive.
But I love the puzzles, and the characters and setting are so charming, I can’t help but play. The fourth game in the series, Professor Layton and the Last Specter, has finally been released in North America after being out in Japan for nearly two years. Though we’re slowly catching up, the fifth game was just released earlier this year on the 3Ds, so we’ll hopefully be playing that come next fall.
Last Specter also holds a special surprise: London Life. I don’t know much about the new game, let alone this super-minigame inside it, but there’s plenty of buzz around it on the internet. So for a special first hour, we’ll be playing the first half-hour of the main game, and then switching over to London Life, whatever that may be. Let’s get right to it.
I've never played a game developed by id Software. Not Doom, not Quake, not Wolfenstein, not nothing. I didn't play PC games much back when id was more prolific, and I had a prejudice against overly gory shooters. To me, they prioritized shock value over sound game mechanics, kind of like Mortal Kombat. Considering their lasting appeal, that was probably not my most sound judgment.
In my defense, id Software hasn't given me much to work with lately. The developer has only just this week released Rage, its first major game since 2004's Doom 3. Rage had been building up a lot of good press since its announcement back in 2007, earning plenty of "most anticipated" awards from major media outlets (yes, there are awards for such things). All the praise was a bit perplexing to me, though: by all appearances, Rage seems like yet another competent first person shooter with some car combat on the side.
But hey, now I can say I've played an id Software game (or at least an hour of it). Check out an early mission video below to see a short sample of Rage's early goings.