Nearly two years after its initial Japanese release, and eight months after finding its way to Europe and Australia, Nintendo of America finally saw fit to grace North American Wiis with the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles (though not without a lot of pestering it would seem). Debuting at E3 2009 under the title Monado: Beginning of the World, Monolith Soft's latest immediately captured the attention of RPG-starved Wii owners with its large, open environments, colourful atmosphere, and intriguing storyline.
Probably most intriguing, however, was the gameplay. Xenoblade—its title a tribute to Monolith's flagship franchise, Xenosaga—deviates considerably from traditional JRPGs, doing away with random encounters and turn-based combat. Instead, players do battle on the very map they explore, without a transition to a battle screen, and with the ability to see enemies long in advance, as many are simply animals going about their business in the game world. Battles themselves are much more tactical, seeing players manoeuvring about the battlefield for ideal position and using abilities at advantageous times.
Never mind that I'd been craving some decent RPG action for a while, I definitely wanted to see what Xenoblade had to offer, and was more than a little disappointed when it first looked as if I wouldn't get the chance. Better late than never, I guess. At least my Wii has something to do now besides collecting dust.
In Super Smash Bros, Director Masahiro Sakurai stripped the fighting game genre of its finger-tangling combos and built a new style from the core sensation he enjoyed the most: the dynamic "ad lib" nature of the fights. It was arguably the Nintendo 64's best game. In Kirby Air Ride, Sakurai boiled down the racing game to drifting and acceleration, then layered that core with Kirby flair and garish extras. It wasn't exactly the next Smash Bros.
Now, Sakurai's "disassembly and reassembly" approach takes on the shooter in Kid Icarus: Uprising. The father of Kirby and Smash Bros has transformed a quirky NES action platformer into half corridor shooter and half third-person shooter. It's no Smash success, but it's far from Air Ride's mediocre curiosity as well.
There are ambitious indie games like Fez, which go all out on their insane puzzles and clever solutions. Then there are ambitious indie games like the Blackwell series, which tells a tale of death with believable characters and full voice acting. And then there are ambitious indie games like A Valley Without Wind, which features a fully procedurally generated, side-scrolling action, massively multiplayer online world.
Developed by Arcen Games, A Valley Without Wind is, if anything, ambitious. It’s also genre defining, I personally haven’t played a lot of action RPG 2D MMOs, but now at least one exists. Released last week for Windows and Mac, here are our impressions on the game. They’re unsurprisingly varied.
The tower defense genre feels older than it is, with basically only five years under its belt since Desktop Tower Defense and its kin. But its games have seen so many variations to the model and appeared on so many platforms, that it feels very mature in its parameters of game design and implementation. And this is from a genre that has essentially never received a “triple-A” release and most sales come from direct downloads, not on discs or cartridges.
Solo indie developer Cliff Harris of Positech Games is now officially tackling the genre with Gratuitous Tank Battles, a sort of sequel to his popular Gratuitous Space Battles game from 2009. I had a great time playing that game, but didn’t realize at the time that Space Battles, boiled down, really is a tower defense game too. An excellent example on how varied the genre is, even if you don’t realize it.
But Tank Battles is a proper tower defense game with the familiar onslaught of units marching across the screen and grid-based gameplay that veterans of the genre will instantly recognize. It also features an attack mode for most missions letting you experience the other side of combat, and it wouldn’t be a Gratuitous game without an insane amount of unit creation and modification at your fingertips.
I first became aware of Dear Esther on the day it was released, as news passed that it recouped its Indie Fund investment in a mere six hours. Somehow, I entirely missed word of the game prior to that, but as I read more, I knew I had to play it. While it will take multiple playthroughs to obtain the game's full experience (due to semi-randomized dialogue), I came away a bit underwhelmed by the game. I normally eat up intentionally vague/confusing dialogue-based stories, but this story seems a bit more pedestrian than most (even if the vagueness fully makes sense within the story). But this in no way takes away from the game's other draw; its relentlessly gorgeous handcrafted visuals, with each frame packed in detail.
I 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.
Blackwell Convergence follows The Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound in Wadjet Eye Games’ story-driven adventure game series. I found Unbound to be a stunning entry that rectified many of Legacy’s issues while building on the series’ mysteries. It also had a ton of style that is sadly absent in many games today.
So I had high expectations for Convergence, as the story was brought back to present day with our original heroine Rosangela Blackwell. The detour Unbound took to the past was engrossing and informative, and gave the series that much more emotional weight. I knew it would be tough for Convergence to keep up the momentum, but I promised myself that if it did, I’d be waving the Blackwell flag for many years to come.
Released in 2009 for Windows and once again built in Adventure Game Studios, here’s my review for Blackwell Convergence.
Three of my favorite mobile series recently received updates, so it’s time to revisit them. Angry Birds Space is the new Super Mario Galaxy inspired spinoff of the original bird-flinging game, and Cut the Rope: Experiments expands upon the original Cut the Rope concept with new ideas and 125 levels. Finally, the genius Where’s My Water? has received some new levels since my original review, so I’ll touch on that too.
Laugh if you want, but I really love these games for their quintessential mobile experiences. Levels are short and sweet, difficulty ramps up slowly, and gameplay variety is injected constantly. Each of them have fun with physics and benefit greatly from the touchscreen. Plus, they’re dirt cheap.
My thoughts will hopefully be short and efficient, just like the games I’m reviewing. I played each game on my Android EVO 4G phone.
Is The Stanley Parable a game? Does it matter? We're about to present our impressions for a title that doesn't really fit any existing definition. The Stanley Parable is sort of an experiment in game design, but also presents questions in how storytelling influences gameplay. Saying anything more would be saying too much, it's a short experience that will have you questioning previous games you have played and their intentions.
Our impressions for The Stanley Parable are unique in that all three of us "beat" the "game." And six times each, no less. This isn't an amazing feat, as six times through Stanley would still leave time on a clock for a first hour review, but it also made me question whether I should be filing this under a full review instead of an impression. This game makes me ask too many questions.
So I apologize if we're too vague, but The Stanley Parable experience suffers from over-explanation to those who haven't played it. Here we go.
It was four minutes into Tales of Graces f that I met the amnesiac with the impossible purple pigtails. She didn't know who she was, or where she came from, or anything really. She was a deadly martial artist, but nearly walked right off a cliff. Later she asked the meaning of the word "friend." I threw up in my mouth a little and realized that Graces f would be a tale quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I guess the cover art should have served as warning.
But if the whole game boiled down to waiting for the kid in the Elvis getup to realize that the king is possessed by a demon, I wouldn't have played it for almost ninety hours. Yes, a lot of time is wasted running errands through copy-paste corridors while the characters say how they feel and explain magical jargon. But then you run into a giant spider, and the kids' anime story melts away for a few seconds of glorious battle.
I'll even say that Tales of Graces f has my favorite RPG combat, taking the crown from predecessor Tales of Symphonia. Graces f layers new abilities and limitations onto Symphonia's melee-and-magic arena skirmishes, and the end result is a more dynamic structure that makes earlier games in the series look like button mashing. It's also complicated as hell.