My writing pace has slowed to a halt the last month. I might have burned myself out a bit at the end of 2012, and the new year has allowed me to erase any kind of guidelines or deadlines I was imposing on myself. With Nate and the other writers’ help, I always tried to publish three times a week, but I’ll be honest and say it’s just not in me like it used to be. Maybe it’s temporary, it probably is, but for now, I don’t mind taking it a bit easier. This is my hobby after all.
And most of that time not spent writing has gone into video games! Yeah, those! (Also reading, a lot of reading.) Maybe I’ll declare 2013 the year of the catch up, even though 80% of the games I beat last year weren’t released last year as it is. But my backlog is huge and the only game I’m really interested in on the near horizon is Bioshock Infinite, so now’s as good as time as any.
As for Deus Ex: Human Revolution? It was a good game, problematic at times, but an experience worth putting at least a few hours into, and at about 24 hours long, probably worth finishing. I’m not sure how much I have to say about it that hasn’t already been said by our own Paul Abbamondi, let alone everyone else, so I’ll keep this short and to the point... starting now.
It feels appropriate to end 2012 with a Wadjet Eye game, as this was the year I discovered, bought, and played nearly all of their games. Dave Gilbert has taken his Adventure Game Studio-developed titles from humble roots to full-on publisher in just six years, culminating with this year’s Blackwell Deception, Resonance, and Primordia; a tour de force in indie point and click adventure games. Wadjet Eye Games is the only publisher from whom I regularly preorder games from anymore, in an industry where they will often fall to half their price a few weeks later. But hey, what’s $10 between me and a few great games?
Primordia is their final offering of the year, and it is ambitious. As a robotic steampunk homage to games like Sam and Max, Primordia puts you in the distant future where humans are dead and a variety of robots are all that remains. Wadjet Eye Games tend to be uniquely evocative: the Blackwell series explores death, The Shivah examines religion, Resonance questions the power of technology, and Primordia scrutinizes progress and freedom. These can all be heavy topics, especially for a computer game, but Wadjet Eye always manages to make it about the characters.
For my final review of 2012, let us talk about Primordia, developed by Wormwood Studios and published by Wadjet Eye Games. Monday will feature our sixth annual Game of the Year Awards, so please have a safe and happy new year.
I’m not any kind of expert on zombie apocalypse fiction, but from my point of view, there’s two crucial points in the story that every good zombie story needs, and needs to do well. The first is the tension build-up in Act 1. Everyone watching, reading, or playing some sort of zombie media knows there will be zombies. The ones who don’t know are the characters, the heroes whose lives are about to be torn apart by the undead. The more tension the author can build, the more satisfying and terrifying the reveal will be when hell is unleashed.
The other crucial part of zombie fiction doesn’t involve the zombies at all, but human conflict. The zombie mythos rule of thumb says that the dead are never the true enemy in zombie fiction and that interesting drama lies in the living. This is true, but drama isn’t necessarily easy or obvious to write, so it’s not a given it’s executed well.
The Walking Dead already featured their tension build-up and zombie reveal in Episode 1: A New Day, but it still surprised me that Episode 2: Starved for Help almost immediately dropped running from zombies in favor of arguing with fellow survivors, but Telltale Games is apparently confident in their story, so let’s take a look.
When I rented the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law video game a few years ago, I learned that some comedy has a minimum speed limit. I loved the rapid surrealist gags in the Adult Swim cartoon, but fifteen minutes was all I could take of the same humor decelerated to account for player input. What worked at twenty jokes per minute just didn’t translate to a relaxed visual novel speed.
Retro City Rampage has taught me that the funny/fast correlation works both ways. What was shaping up to be a parade of lazy puns and toothless parodies is acceptable entertainment when marched at a sprinter’s pace. It’s all in the delivery.
And Rampage delivers ‘80s nostalgia in spades. From head to toe, the game is decked out in pop culture knockoffs. You’ll accept missions from Principal Belding, find Game Genie codes, and change your appearance in a Michael Jackson facelift shop...with slight alterations that abide by intellectual property laws, of course.
There’s a narrow alley tucked into a corner of the industrial castle town, hidden behind the bustling Arena Square. Armorsmiths and swordcrafts crowd the path, talking shop and hawking wares to passersby in a gaunt corridor of tiny workrooms. In the alley’s only empty corner, a lean brute presses an elderly shopkeep against the grimy concrete and slyly demands a cut of profit.
It’s a place foul with sweat and industry. It swelters with forge and struggle. A stroll from end to end offers a glimpse of the desperation that is life for these lower class tradesman. They fight for survival, crammed into a corner of the last thriving city on the last prospering island in a rotting world.
The locals call this slum strip Artisan’s Way. It has an effortless narrative density that's so refreshing to see in a JRPG. The Last Story could have been about this place. It’s not. The Last Story is about a vampiric meteor that shoots giant lasers.
I’m not sure if we ever needed to return to Donkey Kong Country. The original series is so firmly a product of the Super Nintendo era, with its shiny, Toy Story look that is unique to Rareware, and pretty bad collision detection for a 2D platformer, I would have been okay with having rose-colored memories about my trips with DK, Diddy, and the rest of the forgotten gang.
But Retro Studios, apparently bored with resurrecting Metroid moneybags every few years, was tasked with bringing back the old gorilla in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Surprisingly, this was not another 3D incarnation that Retro seemed to excel at (Remember DK64? No? Good.), but a pretty straight enhancement of the originals. The world was still 2D, but with a bit more depth, and all the old standbys were there: bananas and letters to collect, barrels to get shot out of, and obnoxious boss battles.
Released in 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns has already earned a prestigious 10 from Jonathan Ramundi, and while I would have written a review no matter how much I agreed or disagreed, I have a rather differing opinion about the game.
Tales of Monkey Island is my first foray into episodic gaming, but considering the season was finished nearly three years ago, I’m not exactly playing the game as it was originally intended. But considering plenty of people see blockbusters for the first time outside the theater, television seasons are consumed in two or three sittings, and classic rock albums are downloaded one song at a time, it should be expected that good media is good media no matter how it’s delivered.
Now that I’m used to the controls and inventory system, my experience with the second episode went a lot smoother. I’m still feeling a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing, however, but have come to the conclusion that the episodic delivery is a good mechanism for not only Monkey Island, but the point and click adventure genre as a whole.
Siege of Spinner Cay kicks off, unsurprisingly, right where Launch of the Screaming Narwhal ended. TellTale Games squeezed in a little cliffhanger at the end of episode one to remind you not everything is okay, and honestly, it immediately pays off.
After 2000’s somewhat disastrous Escape from Monkey Island, I was rather leery on returning to my beloved childhood point and click adventure series. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge was the first game I ever played in the genre, and The Curse of Monkey Island is still in my top 10 games of all time.
LucasArts wasn’t too excited on bringing back Guybrush Threepwood either, but in 2009 thanks to TellTale Games, began publishing the five episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, beginning with Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. TellTale Games is the most successful episodic gaming developer around, and they seem to thrive when given an existing IP to adapt into their release format. Tales of Monkey Island would go on to become their best-selling series at the time.
I’ll be reviewing each episode individually as if they were being released one at a time. There’s a few reasons for this: if an episode really sucks, will I want to play on? I like the idea of being able to quit at any time. Plus, I’m a big fan of getting my ideas down on paper sooner than later, and feel like I can give each episode the time it deserves by reviewing it immediately.
A few weeks ago, I acquired Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, Cthulhu Saves the World, and all three episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures for eight bucks on Steam. It seemed like a steal at the time: five brief RPG comedies for less than I spend on my daily commute.
I dropped Breath and Cthulhu after a few hours. Zeboyd’s nutty tributes to ‘80s JRPGs had their moments, but not enough to excuse dull battles, random encounters, and big empty dungeons.
The first two Penny Arcade games weren’t much better. My disgust for their fetch quest campaign structure smothered my fondness for the Mario RPG-style battles.
So when I saw that Penny Arcade’s Whatever 3 was the result of a Zeboyd/Penny Arcade team-up, I braced myself for some whole new amalgam of repulsive game elements. It turned out to be a roundly enjoyable seven-hour adventure, one that almost excuses the twelve hours I slogged through the other four games in the bundle. Almost.
Breakout and Arkanoid and similar paddle games never resonated with me. Maybe because their Atari heyday ended before I started playing games, or maybe because I disliked the loose shot control. Whatever the case, the genre’s most polished and inspired entries still manage only a passing fancy.
So I’m flummoxed by my lingering affinity for Wizorb, a three-dollar, three-hour curiosity. I completed the brief game in a weekend fling and have no real desire to revisit it, yet it’s still on my mind. I do relish the lively lo-fi style and RPG window dressing, but the game is still a pretty standard brick breaker at its core.
I’m not terribly impressed by this new appstore era, this flood of amateur developments selling for less than a vending machine lunch and rarely lasting as long. But Wizorb is one of the few $3 games that’s more filling than its price tag and play time imply. A few thoughtful little gameplay functions that address the genre’s weaknesses are what make it shine among its Breakout-clone peers and its bottom-dollar indie competition both.