The long-awaited localization of two high profile JRPGs has delighted the dwindling Wii fanbase. After years of holding out, Nintendo was finally convinced to bring potential hits Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to the new world by distribution partners GameStop and XSEED, respectively. The orchestrators of last year's Operation Rainfall fan campaign deserve a pat on the back (though I was doing it before it was cool).
But another Wii JRPG topped my personal wishlist, then and now: Tales of Graces. The Tales series' claim to fame is its thrilling real-time battles, and Tales of Graces looked like the next evolution of that combat system. Months turned into years as I waited for a localization announcement, eventually accepting the improbability of my playing the game.
Fortunately, Namco Bandai's love for milking the Tales series eventually prevailed; late last year, the PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces was confirmed for release here in North America. I've built up some expectations, no doubt aggravated by the years of waiting. For me, these first sixty minutes of Tales of Graces F weigh more heavily than a JRPG intro should. Does it crack under the pressure?
There doesn’t seem to be a major release from one of the big name publishers that hasn’t received negative attention for one reason or another lately. Whether it’s nasty DRM, a lack of dedicated servers for multiplayer, or it simply doesn’t meet expectations in previews, a minority set of gamers love to complain vocally. The gaming press gives these guys attention and highlights the low-rated user reviews on Metacritic as evidence of either ignorant gamers or evil publishers, but the same development team is back in the office the next day making a sequel.
Mass Effect 3 is the latest target, and while a variety of complaints have bubbled to the top ranging from complaints about the ending to homophobic insinuations that Shepard could never, ever be gay, the main factor seems to be about the day one downloadable content, From Ashes. Similar to Mass Effect 2’s launch day Zaeed: The Price of Revenge, From Ashes features a new level and a new playable character.
I haven’t beaten Mass Effect 3 yet, but I have played this DLC and spent some time with the new character. Here’s my review on From Ashes, the first of undoubtedly many DLCs to come for Mass Effect 3.
3D, steampunk, tile-based puzzler. That's Cogs in a nutshell. Remember those little square puzzles from your youth where there was one empty spot to slide the other squares around to form a picture? Well, combine that with a bit of Pipe Dream and slap on a really slick interface, and you have on of the more unique puzzle games of the last few years. As part of the third Humble Bundle, you may well own this title and not even realize it.
Released in 2009 by Lazy 8 Studios on numerous platforms including iOS and PlayStation Home (yes, Home, that Second Life thing that hasn't received attention in three years), Cogs is a simple to play game that will challenge your wits and patience. If you can sit and play the sliding puzzle games for a bit, you'll enjoy Cogs for its extra depth on top of the base. If you can't stand that kind of puzzler, well, might as well just skip this game now.
First Hour is happy to present to you another entry in its Indie Impression series: Cogs.
I was disappointed in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I’ll just put that out there right away. The game received near universal acclaim upon release (it scores an 88 on Metacritic), but I’ve heard rumblings in the recent years that the game has problems. This isn’t uncommon, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was released two years later to even higher scores (96 average!), so people discover things to gripe about as time passes. But I haven’t played any other Uncharteds, though the game is over four years old, maybe I’ve just soured on it in other ways.
Released in 2007 and quickly labeled as the year old PlayStation 3’s best game, Drake’s Fortune kicks off the Uncharted series that has gone on to sell millions of copies on both the PS3 and PSP, and is headlining the recent Vita launch. It stars Nathan Drake as the supposed ancestor to real treasure hunter Francis Drake, and combines cover-system firefights with Assassin’s Creed-like climbing.
I recently published my first hour review on Uncharted, along with the complete video of its opening. If you watch it, you should definitely be able to see why I was so excited to keep playing: it has action, intrigue, and witty writing, along with a cast you can’t help but love. But problems eventually plague all aspects of the game, let’s get into them.
Sequels to your favorite games of all time don't come out very often, and the results are often mixed. Chrono Cross had me giddy for a while until eventual disappointment set in, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was incredible and I love it more than the original, and Mass Effect 2 was a supreme success, a better game in almost every way than the first, but I still love Mass Effect more.
So here we are with Mass Effect 3. The first hour to the first two games were both great, each setting the tone and pace for the rest of their respective title. I'm excited to see where Mass Effect 3 will take us, was the demo from a few weeks back the opening, or does Bioware have something else in store? I don't think I've been this excited to play a game since, well, Mass Effect 2 came out. Heck, the last time I paid full price for a game was Mass Effect 2.
So let's just get right to it. I'm excited, honored, and extremely biased to present the first hour of Mass Effect 3.
Thanks to the indie uprising, we have a heightened visibility for games that might have gone unnoticed just five years ago. A garage developer's labor of love can now share front page headlines with the AAA behemoths of the industry. Many fine media outlets even make a special effort to cover these smaller productions. Indie games have become the punk rockers of the industry, offering a lean alternative to overproduced AAA formulas, often with rebellious verve and spunk that resonates with us ninety-nine percenters (and at a price we ninety-nine percenters can afford).
But even in this new era, where the little guys yield as many pageviews as their big budget competition, an indie game needs to have some innovative hook or bombastic message in order to rise to the top. I can think of no other reason why Fluidity, a brilliant puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements, has gone largely unnoticed. (Except that the game is marooned on Wii's invisible WiiWare digital distribution service, that is.)
It makes sense, though, doesn't it? So many indie darlings that went big had some kind of divergent aura about them. Limbo and Braid made their names with artsy themes and visuals that you just don't see in big money productions. The cheery brutality of Super Meat Boy, Magicka, and Castle Crashers upgraded them from mere mechanical joys to acclaimed game experiences. Fluidity, on the other hand, lifts its style and mood from airline safety manuals, of all things.
I’m honestly not sure if there’s ever been a decent Indiana Jones video game, I’ve played a few including the recent LEGO release and the ancient point and click adventures, but as an active observer of the industry, I’ve never seen any of the games rise to the top. Whoever owns the rights to the series couldn’t even release a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull game to coincide with the film’s release. Imagine climbing into a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast. It’d be exhilarating.
But even if Indy never sold successfully off the silver screen, the Uncharted series has been doing great, not to mention the numerous accolades bestowed upon it by the press. Now that I finally own a PlayStation 3, catching up with its best games is easy, if not time consuming. After finishing Heavy Rain, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune seemed like the next logical step.
And like Heavy Rain, I recorded the entire first hour of Uncharted and uploaded it to YouTube. So follow along if you’d like, or find an interesting minute and skip to that in the video. And I promise you, the first hour of Uncharted is chock full of interesting minutes. I've also broken up the video into chapters if you just want to see specific adventures.
I 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.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is a procession of adorable cartoon situations. A boy kicks away stray footballs that threaten to ruin his date. A quartet of baby seals tilt back-and-forth in marching-style unison. A tiny monkey taps a tambourine, its big brown eyes gleaming with joy as you repeat its patterns. The game's energetic sweetness is the antithesis of this console generation's characteristic gravelly machismo and brooding drama. It's pure joy.
And yet, it wracks my nerves like a Counter-Strike match. My palms sweat as I constrict the Wii remote in a boa's death grip. My heart races before I even select a song. Like a tiger crouched in the brush, I await the right moment to strike each note with parched eyes. Even with the peppy rhythms as a constant guide, relaxation is a shortcut to failure.
You can't get careless because the game demands total precision. Guitar Hero understands that you have five frets to manage and cuts you some slack if you're a split-second early on the downbeat. Rhythm Heaven Fever scrutinizes to your timing to the millisecond: near the end of the following video, the song approaches 180 beats per minute and splits each beat into 23 blocks; I am tasked with hitting only the center column. There is no room for error.
The smiles and rainbows are a front, as the cute chimps and happy cheerleaders of Rhythm Heaven Fever know exactly how well your internal metronome is running. And they are judging you. Harshly.
When we were selecting games for our new Indie Impression column, variety was the most important factor. We've had a cartoony roguelike, fast-paced platformer, and a spelunking adventure, all relatively action oriented games in their own right, but it turns out, one of the most popular genres for indie developers is the point and click adventure. Thanks to tools such as Adventure Game Studio, even you can make your own Monkey Island.
The Blackwell Legacy is the first title in a series of point and click adventure games developed by Wadjet Eye Games. With the first three games recently included in an Indie Royale bundle, our growing backlog of unplayed games seemed to double in one day. So in an effort to possibly kill three birds with one stone, we decided to check out the first Blackwell game and see if this series is worth playing.
As usual, impressions are presented individually, with a variety of time put into the game. If you have a suggestion on an indie title to highlight, or are a developer yourself, leave a comment or shoot us an email.