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Infamous

Full Review

Infamous CoverThe whole “play the first hour of a video game and determine from that whether I’d keep playing” concept has its flaws, it’s certainly not perfect. Some great first hours fall short over time, and others give a bad first impression that they (sometimes) unknowingly recover from later on. But other times the first impression is right on, Infamous is one of those games.

I had a great time with the first 60 minutes of Infamous, the gameplay was fast-paced and just felt.. right. Plus, I’m always looking for sandbox games that pull off the action genre better than Grand Theft Auto IV (ugh). The Saboteur had similar first hour pedigree, and was also a great success in the end, so I had quite high hopes for Infamous.

You can probably tell by my praise that I enjoyed the game, so if you care to read on why I enjoyed it, well, here you go. My full review of Infamous for the PlayStation 3.

Blackwell Deception

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Blackwell Deception CoverThe Blackwell series hasn’t changed a lot over four games released across five years. The screen resolution and accompanying art still seems reminiscent of 1990s adventure games, the point and click gameplay is also rooted in the classics, and the story is still well polished and very entertaining. But none of this at all is a bad thing, it enables indie developer Wadjet Eye Games to release quality games at a manageable pace.

And I have certainly had it well off the last few months having just discovered the Blackwell series. Four games that I almost instantly fell in love with at my fingertips! But now that they’re done, I find myself playing the waiting game like the rest of the fans. Much like when I caught up with the A Song of Ice and Fire book series in 2008 or The Wheel of Time in 2007, waiting really can be the hardest part.

So I present my review for Blackwell Deception. You can also read my reviews for The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, and Blackwell Convergence, or just play the games. They’re great.

Pocket League Story

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Pocket League Story CoverI find soccer boring. It has its exciting moments, but those usually happen when I’m getting a snack. On the other hand, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed lots of soccer video games over the years, starting with Nintendo World Cup for the NES and peaking with the insane Sega Soccer Slam on the GameCube. There’s just something so simplistic and fun about kicking a ball into a goal, especially when that ball is on fire.

So truthfully, I like arcade soccer, the kind of stuff displayed in the movie Shaolin Soccer. But when I discovered I was four games behind on Kairosoft’s Android releases, I decided to start with the soccer simulator: Pocket League Story.

In the same vein as Game Dev Story and Grand Prix Story, Pocket League Story has you guiding a soccer team from the dirt pile in your backyard to the top of the world. There are lots of numbers and tons of crunching, but most refreshing, every soccer game plays out in front of your eyes. If you thought watching your cars race in Grand Prix Story got me excited, well, you should have seen me when my first 11 versus 11 match played out. Here’s my review of Pocket League Story.

Heavy Rain

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Heavy Rain CoverI am willing to give every video game genre a try, including what Wikipedia describes Heavy Rain as an “interactive drama” and “psychological thriller.” To the traditional gamer, those probably rank right up with the dating sim and train simulators of the world. Why play an interactive drama when I could just watch a movie?

But this is a valid question that can be used to juxtapose any type of media. Movies are an excellent format at telling a story in about two hours, while many games take a two hour story and stretch it across 12 hours with bits of action padding the time. Heavy Rain was created from the ground up to challenge the idea that not only can a video game tell a compelling story, but that it can deliver the same emotional punches that a movie can too.

Released in February 2010 by French developer Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain tells the story of a father, a journalist, a detective, and an FBI profiler all tracking down an elusive serial killer who targets young boys. As one of the PlayStation 3 exclusives I’ve wanted to play the most, I was very excited to get my hands on the game after two years. You can see my first hour review here, or read on for spoiler-free thoughts on Heavy Rain.

Super Mario 3D Land

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Super Mario 3d Land CoverUpon starting Super Mario 3D Land, I was placing internal bets on whether the game would be filed with the 2D or the 3D Mario experiences. Miyamoto and the team say they combined the approachability of 2D Mario with the freedom of the third dimension, but one of the two styles must win out, right?

Exactly fourteen hours of playtime later, the answer still eludes me. There's bits of Super Mario Galaxy and pieces of New Super Mario Bros in the game, and it leans heavily towards the former. What's keeping me from committing 3D Land to the 2D Mario pile is all the Sonic Adventure mucking things up.

Despite the disappointment, elation, and outright disdain that those three names likely bring up, they ultimately mean little for the actual quality of the game. It would be difficult to argue that Super Mario 3D Land is anything other than the Nintendo 3DS' most compelling purchase to date. But it's also the first Mario title in several years that I can't just rave about.

The Binding of Isaac

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Binding of Isaac CoverFollowing in the wake of the widely popular Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen’s latest entry, The Binding of Isaac, takes its name and narrative from a story in the Book of Genesis. In that tale, Abraham is called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a proof of his devotion to God. Isaac is bound by his father and placed upon an altar on top of Mount Moriah, where an angel appears to stop Abraham just before the slaughter.

The Binding of Isaac has players taking control of the titular character, whose mother is called to kill her son as a sacrifice to God. In this story, however, there is no angel to stop the fanatic parent; it’s up to Isaac to survive, fleeing the clutches of his murderous mother in the basement of their house.

The artwork and style are synonymous with that of McMillen’s other works, such as Super Meat Boy and Gish (both of whom make cameo appearances), but, taking a break from platforming, level design and gameplay share similarities with The Legend of Zelda. The interface also shares a resemblance. However, unlike the series from which it seemingly draws inspiration, The Binding of Isaac features fully randomized levels, items, enemies, and even bosses. Another key feature is the aspect of permanent death. You have one and only one life to clear the dungeon-like levels and defeat the final boss, which serves to make The Binding of Isaac a very challenging and nerve-racking experience.

Kirby Mass Attack

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Kirby Mass Attack CoverLike the titular pink puff, the Kirby series has worn many hats in its nineteen years. Almost every 2D action-platformer has been partnered with an experimental pinball sim or an arcade racer or some amazing miniature golf mutation. As much as I enjoy each iteration of the main Dream Land style, the spinoffs are what really intrigue me, even when they fail. Sure, Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble may be unplayable with the Game Boy Color's dark screen and restrictive viewing angle, but it broke ground for motion controls six years before Wii Sports taught us to waggle.

It's a good season for Kirby fans, as we get a bit of both sides in under two months. Kirby's Return to Dream Land in October looks like the long-awaited Super Star successor, and September sees Kirby get multiplied in Kirby Mass Attack. Revisiting the stylus-centrism of Canvas Curse, Mass Attack tasks players with flicking, dragging, and leading up to ten Kirbys at a time through a puzzle platforming adventure. It's not the most eye-opening Kirby spinoff -- the concept is essentially a pared-down Pikmin -- but it makes the most of a middling concept.

Kirby Canvas Curse was widely dubbed the Nintendo DS's first worthy purchase. Kirby Mass Attack may be its last.

Dragon Age II

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Dragon age 2 CoverI was a bit worried going into my playthrough of Dragon Age 2. The first screenshots revealed a depressingly gray world with curiously pointy polygons, and reader reviews of the game blasted it for a variety of reasons. But my first hour review of the title cemented me firmly in the “I’m going to enjoy this game” category, and 40 hours later I emerged with some sore fingers and a smile on my face.

It’s understandable why some gamers didn’t enjoy Dragon Age 2, in some ways it’s quite a departure from the stable, Western RPG tropes that Dragon Age: Origins employed, but deep down, it really is the first game’s sequel. Some aspects have been streamlined, for better and worse, but I always felt like I was in the Dragon Age universe I spent 50 hours in last time around.

Dragon Age 2 was released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, and OSX. I played a used copy on the Xbox 360, meaning I didn’t have access to any downloadable content that was provided for first-time buyers.

The Legend of Zelda

Full Review

Legend of Zelda CoverAchievement Unlocked: Review a game older than you.

Zelda may be the most beloved video game franchise, but I've never counted myself among series super-fans. Since cutting my teeth on the series with Ocarina of Time, I've merely enjoyed all but a handful of games in the series. Don't get me wrong, they're all great, but I wouldn't put any in my top ten.

That said, I like checking out each title and comparing it with the rest of its ilk. Other than the experimental black sheep Zelda II: Adventure of Link, the first Legend of Zelda may be the series' most divisive game. Fans can't seem to agree whether the game's old school difficulty and unguided progression make it dated or just different. Lacking an in-game overworld map and never funneling players away from difficult areas, the NES original certainly requires more of its players than any Zelda since.

Nintendo recently launched its 3DS Ambassador program, giving the system's early adopters ten free NES games. I had been meaning to check out several of the ambassador titles, but none more so than The Legend of Zelda. Fifteen hours and a princess rescue later, I'm ready to weigh in on the Dated vs. Different debate.

Tower Defense Standoff - GRave Defense HD and Fieldrunners HD

Full Review

Fieldrunners CoverI’m pretty new to the tower defense genre, I missed out on the first few waves of games including the massively popular Desktop Tower Defense, and first experienced it with Plants vs. Zombies, which is probably a sub-genre of its own. But since buying my Android phone, I’ve been exposed to a lot of games I couldn’t imagine myself playing even a few months ago. Two of those are tower defense games.

Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD are great examples of two distinct approaches at the tower defense genre. Both are easy to pick up and play for 10 minutes, but are amazingly effective at grabbing you in for over an hour. However, that is where the similarities end, and it is their differences that really define them.

Both titles are available right now for under $3 on the Android Market, and Fieldrunners is also available on a wide variety of devices including iOS and the Nintendo DS. Here’s my short reviews of Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD.

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