First Hour Reviews

  • Donkey Kong Country Returns

    First Hour Review

    Donkey Kong Country Returns CoverIf you were to ask me what game I was most excited for following the events of E3 2010, my answer, without a doubt, would have been Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's announcement marked the return of one of my favourite platforming franchises of my youth—and something I hadn't experienced in years. In the E3 trailer, I noticed the hairy ape brought back all of his signature abilities, plus a couple of new tricks. I saw old friends Diddy and—in later trailers—Rambi make a return. I saw vine swinging, barrel blasting, and mine carting. I saw banana grabbing, KONG letter finding, plus new items to collect. In fact, after seeing what I saw, to say I was excited would've been an understatement; I was overwhelmed with anxious anticipation; I couldn't wait to get my hairy paws on this game.

    And now, the day was finally here; November 21, 2010. I woke up bright and early, refreshed, and ready for a full day of barrel blasting, ground pounding, tiki crushing fun. I set out and purchased the game at a local EB Games outlet about one minute after opening. I was their first customer. I rushed home, popped open the case, threw the disc into the Wii, and fired it up–all the while singing the DK Rap in my excitement (I wish I was joking).

    The game features two control options–Wiimote plus nunchuck, and classic Wiimote. I choose the classic style and begin my session...

  • Sonic Colors

    First Hour Review

    Sonic Colors CoverHi everybody. My name is Nate, and I'm a disgruntled Sonic fan.

    I was five years old when my dad brought home a Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That game was like catnip to me: its lightning speed, vibrant colors, and catchy soundtrack were all I could think about through elementary school. The only reason I put down Sonic 2 for good was my migration to its sequel duo, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Catnip was now crack: I was hooked for life. I loved the game then, but it wasn't until years later that I realized the genius of S3&K. The sprawling, interconnected stage designs were like races on the playground: your goal was to get from one end to the other, but you could do so in dozens of unique ways. I still play the game annually, and even after so many trips from the beach of Angel Island to the Death Egg in outer space, I can still find new secrets by experimenting with the physics and stage design in ways I hadn't thought of before.

    Fast forward to the launch of the Dreamcast, when Sonic Adventure started a new era for for the blue blur. New playable characters, new gameplay modes, cutscenes and spoken dialogue...all in 3-D, of course. And while the addition of a dimension provided the potential for even more spacious stages, the final product was a far more restricted affair than its 2-D predecessors. Gone were the intermingling tunnels and paths, replaced by a string of land strips that were suspended over an endless chasm. I dug the thrilling dashes through those corridors for a while, but I now I only realize how many flaws I overlooked in those days when I replay Sonic Adventure, its sequel, and its successors.

    It's been over a decade since the franchise changed course, and while Sega recently made an attempt to recapture the Genesis style, I just don't see the same brilliance in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 that made its prequels so timeless. On the other hand, 3-D Sonic's roller coaster runs have been tampered with throughout the years -- rarely for the better -- and the most recent experiment is Sonic Colors. It sure doesn't appear to be what I want from a Sonic game, but I'll admit that it looks like a huge improvement over the rest of the Adventure-spawn. I decided to give it a chance, something I swore I wouldn't do after Sonic's Arabian Nights-inspired adventure broke the camel's back. Was my change of heart warranted, or am I simply a glutton for punishment?

  • Dance Central

    First Hour Review

    Dance Central CoverThe PlayStation Move’s release came and went without a single person I know picking a package up. Kinect was released, and again, nobody I know actually bought one. Well, except for one of my coworkers, who excitedly picked it up on launch weekend and then held a LAN party this last weekend. The two events are completely independent of each other, however. His friends at the LAN party were more interested in playing Warzone 2100 and setting up E.V.E. servers than moving their bodies in the living room, but knowing he owned a Kinect actually got me really excited.

    Kinect isn’t something I actually want, or it wasn’t, at least. I like lounging about when playing games and the thought of relaxing after a day of work by running and jumping around sounds awful. But from the moment I saw Harmonix’s Dance Central back at E3, I’ll admit I was curious. As the games of Red Alert 3 broke up, I wandered upstairs with a few other guys to try out Kinect. They immediately popped in Kinect Sports, which turned out exactly as I had expected: a ripoff of Wii Sports, Wii Play, and Wii Sports Resort. Not that this was a bad thing, and while some of the mini-games were pretty fun, the whole experience just screamed “gimmicky!”

    And then we put in Dance Central, and everything changed. Harmonix is the best music game developer out there, so I had confidence that if anyone could pull off a dancing game, it would be them. This is not a traditional first hour review with minute-by-minute updates, but I hope you still find it informative and entertaining.

  • GoldenEye 007

    First Hour Review

    Goldeneye 007 wii CoverWhen I think of GoldenEye 007, I think of a screen split in two by a horizontal line through the center. I think of the Complex, a multiplayer map with plenty of hidden nooks and crannies, as well as one raised bunker room overlooking the map's main area. I think of the claustrophobic staircase that leads into that room. And I think of the countless times I climbed that staircase, RCP-90 at the ready, only to catch a glimpse of an enormous explosion before blood dripped down my half of the screen.

    When I think of GoldenEye 007, I think of my brother hoarding the explosives, camping in that fortress of perfectly-placed remote mines, watching my screen until the perfect moment to strike, then pumping his fist and laughing when the blood started to spill. Every. Single. Time.

    It was infuriating then, but I can't help but laugh looking back on those days. It seems Activision, the current owners of the 007 videogame license, want to cash in on our fond memories of the N64 phenomenon that introduced so many to the first-person shooter genre. The game-publishing juggernaut announced a Wii re-imagining of GoldenEye 007 at this year's E3 with plenty of hype in tow. Though it stars Daniel Craig and boasts a storyline more fit for modern times, the new GoldenEye appears to be taking many cues from the Pierce Brosnan-era video game, with updates to the gameplay that seem stripped right out of the latest Call of Duty titles.

    There aren't a lot of games that can get people excited through name alone, but GoldenEye 007 definitely fits that bill. It's easy to forget, however, that the GoldenEye name has been mishandled before. I've briefly stepped into the gadget-laden shoes of this latest James Bond. How did this first mission go? This briefing is for your eyes only, 007.

  • Dwarf Fortress

    First Hour Review

    Dwarf Fortress CoverA few months ago I was emailed from a reader requesting I give Dwarf Fortress a try. He described it as “pretty complicated” but asked that I follow a series of tutorials written by a devoted fan. I gave the game a look, skimmed over the tutorials, and shelved the idea of playing it. Dwarf Fortress seemed a bit overwhelming and having been on a bit of a NetHack kick last year I was feeling a burned out with ASCII gaming.

    I decided it was finally time to give it a chance though, so here’s my first hour playing Dwarf Fortress. The game is currently in development (and has been for the better part of the last decade), but since the tutorials I’ll be following are for a specific build from back in 2008, that’s what I’ll be playing. So keep in mind that while I have never played Dwarf Fortress before, I will be following the walkthrough site pretty closely (and using the included saved game, though nothing has been built out).

    This seems like a great time to visit Dwarf Fortress, with the success of another indie darling, Minecraft, generating huge waves and sales; super-deep sandbox games are big right now. So let’s get this started and dig into Dwarf Fortress on the PC.

  • Penumbra: Overture

    First Hour Review

    Penumbra Overture CoverJust in time for Halloween, we have a special first hour of Penumbra: Overture. Released in 2007 by indie developer Frictional Games, Penumbra: Overture is the first in a trilogy that promises to be a uniquely frightening experience. As part survival horror, part puzzle solver and part first person shooter, initial previews evoke thoughts of Half-Life 2 infused with terror, which is just fine with us. I've heard great things about the game for a while, mostly from flattering word-of-mouth. This is as good a time as any, after purchasing it from the Humble Indie Bundle several months ago.

    For this first hour playthrough, we've trying something a bit different. I played through and recorded the initial first hour and then sent the video to Greg, who then watched and wrote what he saw and felt during the run. I was curious in seeing how his experience would differ from mine, especially since third-person impressions are so important to overall game opinion, especially when it comes to making purchasing decisions. So I'll hand this off to Greg (while adding some extra comments I deem appropriate) and then bring it back for the conclusion.

    If you wish, you can follow along yourself with the provided Youtube videos. Apologies about the graphical and slight sound sync issues, but you can blame Youtube for those.

  • Kirby's Epic Yarn

    First Hour Review
    Kirbys Epic Yarn CoverThe word "epic" sees plenty of use these days. You'll find it on plenty of video game boxes, woven into a bullet point or two on the back between screenshots and numbers pulled from reviews. You'll see it in a few game company logos, as well. And sometimes, the word will flash in your mind when you play something otherwise indescribable.

    It seems "epic" has truly made it big this year, finally being promoted from the back of the box to the title. Not only has the game formerly codenamed "Epic Mickey" been finalized as "Epic Mickey," but Nintendo announced and released their own titanic mega-game worthy of the term: Kirby's Epic Yarn.

    Wait, seriously?

    That's right, a series that has seen the words Squeak, Dream, and Tumble in its marquees is now Epic. And made of yarn. The title, of course, is a play on the word "yarn" used as a story and also the fact that everything in the game is made of fabric and knitting. But those same reviewers whose five-stars and upward-thumbs sit alongside the word on so many rear covers are giving a game that ironically uses it on the front the same treatment.

    I played an hour (and then some more). Would Nintendo want to put my words on the back of the box?

  • 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?

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