I beat Batman: Arkham City well over a week ago, but due to a weekend vacation, work, and the flu hitting my entire family, I’m only now getting to its review. This has given me time to think heavily about the game, and in some ways find as many flaws as ways to praise it, not sure if this is a healthy game reviewing technique or not.
As the sequel to Arkham Asylum, one of the most successful and highly regarded licensed games ever, expectations were through the roof. Arkham City was released in October of last year to brisk sales and excellent reviews, skyrocketing creatorRocksteady Studios among the upper echelon of developers.
Nate covered the game’s first hour when it was released, and later named it his Game of the Year. I just named Arkham Asylum my Game of the (Other) Year as I beat it early 2011. As I’m still ailing from the effects of the flu and its corresponding medicine, I’m going to try and keep this shorter than usual.
Following 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.
Nintendo takes a lot of crap for its reluctance to provide even rudimentary online features, and rightfully so. But I have to admit, I'm a big fan of the Virtual Console service on Wii and 3DS. The convenience of having Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all in the same tiny system was too much for me to ignore: I happily bought them all even while their systems and cartridges were mere feet away from my TV.
It's more rewarding, though, to discover classics that I missed out on as a kid. One such game was Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Though I owned a Genesis as a kid, all I ever played were Sonic games. Cutting through the excellent ninja sidescroller via the Wii's emulation service, I felt as though I'd rectified a childhood oversight.
Retro revivals are all the rage, and Shinobi's getting in on the action on 3DS. The new game is a prequel, simply called "Shinobi" in accordance with the entertainment industry's efforts to confound posterity by recycling the same titles over and over again. Judging from the low poly character models, I actually suspect Shinobi 3DS actually began development on Nintendo's last generation DS and was hastily upgraded. But hey, it's not the visuals that matter to me, it's the tough-but-fair sidescrolling action. Let's see if that's still intact.
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.
For the longest time, all I wanted from Nintendo was a new Kirby game with awesome copy abilities like in Kirby Super Star. No franchise has a track record like Kirby when it comes to spinoffs and experiments, but the SNES classic that boasted "8 games in one" is the series' greatest feat. For over a decade, my wish went unfulfilled.
But hey, we finally got one, appropriately dubbed Kirby's Return to Dream Land! It's exactly what I wanted: the twenty standard copy abilities are the series' best, with strong debuts and enhanced returns counted among Kirby's repertoire. It's amazing how many tricks you have up your sleeve with just a D-pad and a single button.
You have to be careful what you wish for, though. When dealing with a genie or blowing out your birthday candles, always make sure to choose your words deliberately and plan for stipulations and potential fallouts. Otherwise, you might end up with Kirby's Return to Dream Land, a game with tons of cool attacks and not much worth attacking.
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 rented a lot of games when I was younger. Video stores, rental shacks, and even supermarkets offered the chance to play games I had never read about in Nintendo Power or GamePro, and some of my all-time favorite games were discovered among their shelves. But I also rented a lot of bad games. In the time before the internet, and particularly before online video game criticism was readily available (N64.com aka IGN), the only sources gamers had to find out what was good were either magazines and friends. Money and time was wasted, as Sturgeon's Law was in effect even then.
And while I rented a lot of crap, none of it was as bad as Batman Forever, undoubtedly the most misspent $3 ever given to Video Spotlight. This was a game so unplayable it took me hours to get past its first stage. This was a Super Nintendo cartridge game that had a loading screen. Batman Forever was a crappily-made licensed game based on a crappy movie. Ugh.
Fifteen years later and Batman fans really have great things to cheer about. Arkham Asylum was a triumphant superhero game and this week's Arkham City may very well surpass it. We should have at least a first hour review of Arkham City from Nate this week, so look forward to that, but first, let's take a quick rewind to Batman's lowpoint.
Managing a small group of diverse writers has its perks. When Ian sent me his review of Magicka a few months ago, it was my first exposure to the indie title that is garnering quite a bit of attention this year. Would I have heard of it eventually? Probably. Would I have picked it up during the Steam Summer Sale a few weeks back? Probably not.
But cheap games are great and cheap games with good reviews are even better, so I bought the four-pack of Magicka and spread the wealth among the writers. I found some time to finally get into the game during a business trip and gave its first hour a whirl.
Magicka is an action-adventure game where you control a small-hooded magician on his quest to... do something. You have near immediate access to a complete range of elemental spells that serve to challenge you in both finger and brain dexterity. Released in January on Windows, here is the first hour of Magicka.
In the last two weeks, I started Captain America: Super Soldier for both the PS3 and Wii. At hour's end, I decided to keep playing each game, but with the expectation that I wouldn't actually finish either. As it turns out, I stuck with both through the credits. And I didn't do it solely for masochism's sake: movie license hex be damned, neither version of Captain America is mere shovelware. They won't be gunning for any Game of the Year awards, but they are games worth playing for the right price.
Okay, so they're not bad. But which version of Captain America: Super Soldier is the not baddest? The choice isn't as simple as HD versus SD, like in many Wii port afterthoughts: the parallels are there, but these are two very different games. In classic head-to-head style, check out how each of the versions stacks up against each other in their major elements.
Last week, I checked out Captain America: Super Soldier for the PS3, a decision based equally on hope and whatever horrible curiosity entices people to play movie-licensed games. It was like approaching a derailed train full of puppies: you can't look away from what's sure to be a disaster, but also there's a chance everything turned out okay, and wouldn't that just be wonderful?
Well, here we are again. Another game called Captain America: Super Soldier has been released for Wii. It has the same name and is capitalizing on the same blockbuster movie, but it's a very different game by a very different studio. The PS3 and 360 versions were handled by Next Level Games, a developer that quietly created some of my favorite gems of the generation (in addition to a few duds, apparently). In contrast, the Wii version was in the hands of High Voltage Software, a studio that hyped its first big project to high heaven before the final product would be condemned to gaming purgatory. Since then, the company has released an immediately forgotten sequel and made some noise about what will surely be vaporware in due time.
That said, I can't help but admire the ambition and genuine enthusiasm High Voltage Software brought to trade shows, even if it didn't translate into a worthwhile package in The Conduit. HVS also seems to be one of the few developers that actually took Wii development seriously at some point, so I suppose it's qualified to bring Captain America to Nintendo's neglected little box. My expectations are about as low as you can get, but I'm curious enough to give the game a try anyway.
And hey, video! Watch a superdeformed Captain America throw his mighty shield, solve some mighty puzzles, and even throw a mighty Shoryuken.