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Mass Effect 3

Full Review

Mass Effect 3 CoverI love the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect 3 is the first console game I bought new in over two years (previous new purchase was Mass Effect 2). I beat the first game six times. I’ve read the novels and comics that accompany the games. I own two Commander Shepard action figures and a mini Normandy SR2. I have a one year old son named Shepard.

So you could say with some confidence that I was really looking forward to Mass Effect 3. I made the day one Collector’s Edition purchase and popped up my first hour review of the game immediately. The game doesn’t start with as much energy as Mass Effect 2, but it’s hard to argue that there’s anything more powerful than beginning with the Reapers invading Earth.

Mass Effect 3 has received a huge amount of controversy regarding its ending. Do you know how hard it is to take two weeks to beat a game you’ve been waiting for two years while seemingly everyone on the internet is talking about its conclusion? Ugh. I’ll say right now that I certainly didn’t hate the ending, but didn’t love it either.

Now for my review on the other 99.5% of Mass Effect 3. I also have my review of the first DLC available, From Ashes.

Super Meat Boy

Full Review

Super Meat boy CoverI started playing Super Meat Boy for our new Indie Impression feature, planning on maybe putting in a half hour with the meat and then heading off to write down my thoughts. Two weeks later and 10 hours of gaming in the can, I beat all of Super Meat Boy’s light world levels, rescued Bandage Girl over a hundred times, and died 2,345 times (to be exact). And even though poor Meat Boy splattered every 15 seconds, I still had an awesome time.

It’s a testament to developer Team Meat’s ability that they can make a platformer not only crazy hard, but also very fun. Almost nothing is harder in game development than properly ramping the challenge up for every kind of gamer, but they pull it off with Super Meat Boy.

Released on Windows, Linux, OSX, and Xbox Live Arcade (a WiiWare release was planned and then scrapped when the game exceeded the platform’s size limits) in 2010, it has since sold over one million copies, not bad for an indie release. Here’s my review.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Batman Arkham Asylum CoverA year ago I played the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The conclusion was that I would keep playing “for a while,” and much of that decision rested on what percentage of the game would the stealth gameplay take up. I had to give the game back to who I was borrowing it from, however, and Arkham Asylum started burning a hole in my brain. I began to really want to play it again, but the opportunity never came up the rest of the year. When Christmas rolled around I said I wanted one game, and one game only: Batman.

I received the game but forced myself to beat Fable II before I moved on to something bigger and better (if I play more than one game at a time I’m bound to never play one of them again). The moment after I saved Albion again I switched over to Arkham Asylum and went to town.

Released in mid-2009, Arkham Asylum seemed to spring out of nowhere from absolute nobody Rocksteady Studios. Why and how these guys received the criminally under performing Batman license and then went out and made one of the best games of the year is a bit mind boggling, but a story for another day.

Here’s my full review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

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Donkey Kong Country Returns CoverIn case you hadn't noticed, in the last couple of years, the Nintendo Wii has been subject to the revival of a number of key franchises in the company's portfolio; franchises that have either strayed far from their humble beginnings or simply haven't been seen in many years, if not both. The beloved Donkey Kong franchise is the latest to follow this trend—in the footsteps of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and even, to some extent, Metroid: Other M—with its newest incarnation, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Interestingly, the game's developer, Retro Studios, is the same company responsible for the reimagination of another classic Nintendo franchise, in the form of the Metroid Prime saga. However, this time—as mentioned—the company was tasked with bringing a series back to its roots, rather than taking it (quite literally) to another dimension. It's been 13 years since we've seen the Kong family in 2D platforming fashion. In fact, the game's titular character hasn't been played in this form since Donkey Kong Land for the Gameboy back in 1995. Well, as the name suggests, he makes a return in DKCR. And what a triumphant return it is.

I previously wrote a first hour review of the game, and now, after spending much more time with it (and considering Retro's history with Metroid), I'm of the opinion that Retro should be given full responsibility over all major Nintendo IPs henceforth. This game is—and I'm trying really hard not to oversell it—perfect. Okay, well, maybe not perfect, but about as close as you can get. I kind of had trouble writing a review because of this. I didn't know exactly how to convey the sheer brilliance of this game, but, at the same time, I know words can only go so far. Only after playing will you understand why everyone's going ape over this—and hopefully, if nothing else, this review will get you to do so.

Borderlands

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Borderlands CoverSo it's been a while since I've written about games. It's actually been a while since I've played more than a few minutes of one. A crazy summer of children in the hospital, surgery, putting our dog to sleep after a nasty month-long illness, and planning a family reunion has meant that gaming has taken a back seat to lots of other things the last few months. My wife and I have made a name for the summer of 2010. It is, “The Summer of Suck”.

So that explains where I've been. But what is the reason I'm back? Well, to write a Beyond the First Hour review of course! But what game could be significant enough to get me out of my pitiful stupor of gamelessness? That game would be a little FPS that takes place on a planet called Pandora. That game would be Borderlands.

If you've been around The First Hour long enough, odds are good you've seen me comment on Borderlands, either from my First Hour review of the game, or via the comments section where we've discussed it several times. If you haven't, let me get you up to speed; I really enjoyed it. Ok, sure, that's a bit of a spoiler of the review you're about to read, but at this point in my life, I'm willing to do that. The reason is because the fourth and final DLC installment was just released on Sept. 28th.

I've been waiting for this ever since I finished the 3rd DLC back in March. So enough about me, let's get to the review.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 CoverIt has been a while since we've seen two core Mario series games on one Nintendo system in a while, you need to go back to the Super Nintendo with the two Super Mario Worlds for the last example, and it is highly arguable whether Yoshi's Island can be considered a core Mario game for that matter. Surprisingly, Nintendo announced Super Mario Galaxy 2 last year and the game was released this May to much herald and acclaim. Glancing at Metacritic, the top two games for the Wii are our two Galaxies, an incredible triumph for Nintendo.

I actually beat Super Mario Galaxy 2 well over a month ago, but I decided, much like I did with the first Super Mario Galaxy, to wait until I had collected all 120 stars before writing a review. Actually, make that 240, no... 242 stars! Galaxy 2 more than doubles the collectible star count over the original while keeping the game both interesting and challenging. But is the game too much like the Super Mario Galaxy, or does it set itself apart enough to transcend the typical sequel failings we've been witness of lately?

For a look at the game's opening, check out Nate's first hour review of Super Mario Galaxy 2 published right after release.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Full Review

Metal Gear Solid 4 CoverMetal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the final chapter of the Metal Gear saga (kind of).  It seeks to wrap up the complicated plots from the previous three games, which up to this point seem to be fairly divergent.  It also seeks to perfect the gameplay and presentation for which Kojima-san and his Metal Gear Solid games have become famous.

It is also the first game in the series on the PlayStation 3, and it uses this hardware to be one of the best looking games ever.  The MGS series has always used the in-game graphics engine to render its cutscenes to prevent a jarring disconnect between graphic styles, and this is the first time it works perfectly.  The in-game character models look good enough that you can't complain a bit.  The facial animations and lip-syncing is increbible.  The game is, in a word, stunning.

So we know the game looks good, we can tell that from screenshots and trailers  Is it good?  Is it fun?  Is it worth buying?  For those of you with short attention spans, the answer is yes.  For everyone else, read on.

Mass Effect 2

Full Review

Mass Effect 2 CoverI've been delaying writing my review for Mass Effect 2 for a while now.  It was my most anticipated game in years, and I bought it the day it came out and finished it a few long nights later.  I pored over 40 hours into my first playthrough of the game, longer than even my first run of the original.  This was going to be my defining game of 2010, my Game of the Year.  It's two months later now and I've played it more since I beat it, but I still haven't compiled all my thoughts on it.  Half of me wants to write the best review possible for one of the best games ever, and the other half of me wants to make sure it really was one of the best games ever.

I'll start with my conclusion though: I loved it.  It's a beyond excellent game that takes the series and the genre into new territories.  Mass Effect 2 tries something new at every bend and seemingly succeeds at them all.  I had built up an incredible amount of hype for the game, and I can honestly say it surpassed my expectations.  BioWare, my hat goes off to you.

A little more introduction though: Mass Effect 2 was released in late January of 2010 for the Xbox 360 and Windows.  It's the direct sequel to Mass Effect which was released in late 2007.  The game was published by EA and is its flagship product for its downloadable content scheme.  The free-with-a-new-purchase Cerberus Network has provided us with plenty of free and paid for DLC since the game was released, and more is on the way.  It's BioWare's second big AAA title in about as many months with Dragon Age: Origins coming last November.  Everything seems to be going right for them.

So you can tell I enjoyed the game already, but read on to see exactly why.  Here's my full review of Mass Effect 2.

Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber

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Ogre Battle 64 CoverOgre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is a mixed game, and has had mixed reviews. Some hold it as the holy grail of RPG/Strategy gaming, while others find it about as entertaining as a box of rocks.

I’m of the former. When I saw this game in Nintendo Power, and read about it, it was all new to me. I never played its SNES predecessor. But it looked so awesome. Being an RPG fan, and desperately wanting a reason to play my Nintendo 64 other than to play Super Smash Bros. or Star Fox. The game Quest 64 left a terrible taste in my mouth and made me desperately want a Playstation for some good RPG games.

Super Mario Galaxy

Full Review

Super Mario Galaxy CoverI loved Super Mario 64. It was the first game I ever played on what is one of my favorite consoles, and my memories of the game have stuck with me to this day.  The running, the jumping, the exploration of huge levels, it was incredible.  Mario made the best transition to 3D ever, well, until Ocarina of Time came around.  The next 3D Mario iteration was Super Mario Sunshine, which I was less then enthused about.  I'm not sure if it was the water pack gimmick or what, but I was never convinced that it would be worth playing.  Nintendo has finally delivered its third true 3D Mario game (well, two and a half years ago) with Super Mario Galaxy.  While it is almost unrecognizable in terms of what a Mario game should be like, it plays just like Mario 64 did 14 years ago: awesomely.

Galaxy's gimmick is that instead of featuring one giant, flat plane, each world is made up of small, Little Prince-like planets and objects.  Gravity and physics are now Mario's biggest friend and foe, as you're constantly being challenged in new ways to jump and explore.  I love games like Braid and Portal that challenge me to think and play different, Super Mario Galaxy joins that elite group, in my opinion.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is due in less than two months, and it'll probably be the first Wii game I buy at launch in over three years.  I'd love to have a first hour review of that game at launch (hint, hint, Nintendo), but I've got a first hour review of this game also on the back burner.  Here's my full review of Super Mario Galaxy.  I collected all 120 stars in the game which took me about 25-30 hours.

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