This site reviews the first hour, and only the first hour, of video games. It gives a minute by minute look at what is potentially a deal breaker for many games. If a game isn't fun during the initial hour, why should we expect the last 10 to 50 hours to be any different? The First Hour updates every few days with a new game review. Please contact greg@firsthour.net for comments, game suggestions, or if you'd like to write for the site.

Tales of Graces f

Full Review

Tales of Graces f CoverIt 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.

Blackwell Unbound

Full Review

Blackwell Unbound CoverFresh on the heels of the well-received The Blackwell Legacy arrives Blackwell Unbound. After playing and thoroughly enjoying the first for our Indie Impression feature, continuing was an inevitability. For reference, Legacy was released in 2006, and Unbound in 2007. There have since been two more releases in the semi-episodic series, so I'm still a bit behind. I am playing the re-released versions in the Blackwell Bundle, which offer improved voice acting as well as bug fixes and some extras. The Blackwell series (as well The Shivah) were primarily developed by Dave Gilbert and his studio, Wadjet Eye Games.

For ease of writing, I'm just going to assume that you don't mind to be aware of mild spoilers in the first act of the first game. After all, it's printed everywhere, including the covers of these very games. Essentially, the Blackwell series is about the generational history of this family who has been "blessed" to be mediums to the restless spirit world. In the case of the Blackwells, they have been assigned by the powers that be to a ghost detective named Joey Malone. He is forced to stay with his medium at all times and guide them towards restless ghosts in the world who have, for one reason or another, been unable to pass on into the afterlife.

During Legacy, we played as Rosangela, the newest medium in the Blackwell family. She has to fight through a bit of family history as well as her own personal weaknesses, before encountering her family's legacy. In Unbound, we travel back to her aunt, Lauren, who has already met and come to terms with Joey.

Mega Mall Story

Full Review

Mega Mall Story CoverAs I reflect on Mass Effect 3 before I attempt to write its full review, I’ve been catching up on games in mobile land. Angry Birds Space and Cut the Rope: Experiments were just released, but I’ve sort of grown into a Kairosoft fanboy over the last few years so they beckon even stronger. Mega Mall Story is my latest go at their games after Pocket League Story, and it brings some new ideas to the “Story” series and merges some of their existing ones, as well.

In Mega Mall Story you run, well, a mall. In lots of ways it feels like SimTower, the Maxis published simulation where building up was just as important as fattening your wallet. But it also feels like a traditional Kairosoft title, with all the charm and number crunching seen in some of their more sportier titles, plus the layout challenge founded in Hot Springs Story.

Mega Mall Story is available for both Android and iOS for a few bucks, I played it on my HTC EVO 4G phone.

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden

Indie Impression

Barkley Shut up and jam Gaiden CoverThere have been only three successful basketball parody video games: NBA Jam, Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City, and Make My Video: Aaron Carter's "That's How I Beat Shaq". In 2008, as an attempt to broaden the market, amateur game developers Tales of Game's Studios released Tales of Game's Presents Chef Boyardee's Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, more often known simply as Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.

Our Indie Impression column has been our own attempt at broadening our content and giving us a reason to try out those sometimes lesser known games. Barkley is a rather special case, as it was released free as basically a parody of Japanese RPGs, the NBA, and of course, Charles Barkley. Created with RPG Maker 2003 and Gamer Maker, the game undoubtedly started as a joke among friends and grew into something... bigger, to say the least.

We present our impressions of Charles Barkley's second game below, and they vary widely, much like his golf shot.

Art Style: CUBELLO

Full Review

art Style Cubello CoverIt's understandable that a hardware manufacturer like Nintendo would condemn app gaming. The company makes its fortune on dedicated video game machines and the traditional $30+ software pricing; the $1 mobile alternative is a serious threat to the viability of that strategy, especially in the handheld market. You won't see the House of Mario endorsing Angry Birds and its ilk any time soon (until it comes to 3DS, anyway).

It's a shame that a Nintendo-branded smartphone is so unlikely, because gaming's biggest name already has a series perfectly suited for the bite-size mobile market. The little known Art Style franchise on WiiWare and DSiWare emphasizes "elegant design, polished graphics, and pick-up-and-play controls." Having played the gravity-manipulating Orbient on WiiWare and cardboard-factory simulator Boxlife on DSiWare, I can definitely see the Art Style brand as a viable and profitable iPhone series.

Last month I picked up Cubello, one of the earlier Art Style games on WiiWare, from the Club Nintendo rewards program. It looks like the offspring of Tetrisphere and a Rubik's Cube got caught in a light gun game. I like it better than either of those things, though.

Icewind Dale II

First Hour Review

Icewind Dale 2 CoverLet's start with a shocker: I've only ever played one Forgotten Realms videogame, and that first happened in 2012, the year of the dragon, the year of our collective undoing. That's right, no experience with Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights whatsoever. Our paths just never crossed. However, the game that does get the glory is Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, and it's fairly bland and forgettable. Since high school, I have read what some might consider maybe too many Drizzt Do'Urden books by R.A. Salvatore and am familiar with a couple of other works based around the shared universe, which I do enjoy.

So, when Good Old Games, a website which focuses mainly on selling old PC games, ran a “buy one Dungeons & Dragons game, get The Temple of Elemental Evil for free” I took a chance on Icewind Dale II to see what I had missed out on. Hopefully it's as exciting as those books I ate up one after the other.

Blackwell Unbound

Full Review

Blackwell Unbound CoverHaving just finished The Blackwell Legacy a few days ago, I decided to waste no time in jumping into its sequel, Blackwell Unbound. These aren’t long games by any stretch of the imagination, clocking in at just a few hours each, but they don’t waste any time spinning their wheels or forcing you through gameplay hoops that aren’t essential to the plot.

Developed by Wadjet Eye Games, Blackwell Unbound was released in 2007, less than a year after Legacy. The game tells the story of Rosa’s aunt, Lauren Blackwell, the previous medium in the family and former detective of all ghostly things.

Unbound was originally intended to just be a short flashback sequence in what is now the third game, Blackwell Convergence, but was fleshed out into a standalone title as development progresses. Let’s see if the game manages to stand on its own in the adventure gaming genre.

Win a copy of "3D Classics: Kid Icarus" for the 3DS

kid Icarus Cover

CONTEST IS OVER!

Would you like to own a copy of the original Kid Icarus? Here's your chance! Enter our contest for a chance to win what Nintendo is calling "3D Classics: Kid Icarus", which is the original NES Kid Icarus game enhanced with some fancy 3D for the Nintendo 3DS.

How To Enter

  1. Create an account
  2. Leave a comment
  3. Wait until Tuesday, April 3rd for the announcement of the winner!

Creating an account requires an email address, which we will use to contact you upon winning the game. We will never spam you, and probably never even send you an email beyond registration.

Rules

  1. One entry per reader
  2. Anonymous comments, even with an email address, will not count
  3. Don't leave spam in your comment because we'll just be forced to delete it
  4. Contest closes at 11:59 PM Monday, April 2nd
  5. Writers for First Hour are not elegible

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Half-Hour Handheld

kid Icarus Uprising CoverEarlier this month, I played through the original Kid Icarus for the first time. It's a golden-age Nintendo oddity with a novel mishmash of action and RPG (novel in 1986, anyway) that provides more frustration than fun. It's okay, I guess.

But through the years, enough fans yearned for a revival of Kid Icarus that an online petition could always be found on any sizable video game forum. Unfortunately for these die-hards, Nintendo never gives its fans exactly what they want: it instead creates something new that resembles fan demands. Besides, Kid Icarus was a strange game. The only aspect of it I could see living on was the oddball Cupid Versus Eggplants theme.

Apparently Nintendo saw that too, because the new Kid Icarus: Uprising celebrates its strange heritage in a game style closer to Star Fox than a return to the original's platforming-action formula. Lifetime Kid Icarus fans are no doubt disappointed, but I couldn't be happier: the rail-shooting half of Uprising bears a strong resemblance to my 2010 Game of the Year, Sin & Punishment Star Successor, and the on-foot arena melees look no less enjoyable. Could Kid Icarus: Uprising be the 3DS's first worthy purchase of 2012?

The Blackwell Legacy

Full Review

Blackwell Legacy CoverI played a lot of point and click adventures growing up, from the Monkey Island series to King’s Quest, but I figured the genre for dead over the last decade. What a pleasant surprise to find that it’s alive, well, and kicking in the indie community. Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentleman, Please! have been covered here before, and now I’ve discovered the delightful Blackwell series.

The Blackwell Legacy is the first game in an ongoing series of point and click adventures from Wadjet Eye Games. Set in modern day New York City, the game already sets itself apart from most of the fantasy elements Lucasarts and Sierra raised the genre in, except for one thing: the main character is accompanied by a ghost.

Recently featured in our Indie Impression column, The Blackwell Legacy was well received by all participants, and knowing it was a relatively short game, I had no qualms in playing on. Here are my thoughts on The Blackwell Legacy.

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