I 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.
A few weeks ago I found myself addicted to a little iOS game called Turtle Fly. The idea is as simple as the title: you fly a turtle like you’re launching a rocket into space, avoiding obstacles until you run out of fuel or health. Sounds like a typical mobile game, right? Worth about five minutes of your time and then deleted? Well, toss in a shop and RPG elements and all of a sudden we have a real, solid game on our hands that will suck hours away at a time.
I’m not going to argue that adding RPG-like elements to every genre will make it better - would Tetris be improved with hit points? - but sometimes the right amount of stats and level-up progression injected into the right part of the game will give it the boost it so desperately needs.
The new indie title, Best in Show, is attempting to do just that, with solitaire. Here’s my preview of the soon to be released, canine-themed, solitaire card game with RPG elements.
Although it's common to see a physics engine mentioned in the opening credits of current generation titles, games that are driven by calculated friction, momentum, and the like are still so rare. Trials HD is one of the few I've experienced that uses complex physics as a gameplay core, rather than merely governing how crates jump and limp bodies flail after an explosion. Tellingly, Trials HD is also among the generation's most unique games, a blend of platformer, simulation, and racer that make it impossible to define with current genre labels and difficult for new players to grasp.
Developer RedLynx appears to preserve that essence and curtail the frustration in MotoHeroz, a WiiWare title that replaces Trials HD's injury-prone dirtbike rider with durable, tumbling buggies. Trials's garage skatepark courses are also traded for platformer-adventure mainstays like forests, snowfields, and deserts. Strip away the Wii-appropriate aesthetics, however, and the game seems to be a kinder Trials romp, very much the approachable but deep physics showcase of its Xbox 360 and PC cousins.
I spent an hour bounding through the Story Adventure and climbing the leaderboards in some daily online challenges. Check out some of the footage pulled from that sixty minutes.
I've been meaning to spin out different kinds of content this year, and something that I've always loved to hate is bad video game box art. So I started a Tumblr for just that purpose, one nasty cover a day, forever. I've already got a few dozen queued up over at Cover Fart, so if you've got a Tumblr, follow me (is that the right verb?), otherwise slap the RSS link in your reader of choice or follow me on Twitter to get updates around noon everyday. Should take about 10 seconds out of your day and hopefully you'll get a smile out of it.
I'd like to thank Nate for the name suggestion, as "Bad Game Box Art" just doesn't have the right ring to it. Also, I'd like to take a moment to praise Tumblr's queue system, you simply add a bunch of posts to a queue and instruct Tumblr to automatically pull from the queue X times a day between whatever hours you choose. My current Cover Fart settings are one a day between the hours of 12pm and 1pm Central Time, stupid easy to set up and even easier to maintain, though I wouldn't mind a randomize queue-pull feature so even I would be surprised each day!
Also props to Paul Abbamondi for his 2010 Worst Box Art feature, already stole a few covers from that list, but I'm really trying to pick out some unique ones that haven't necessarily been called out on the internet before.
Anyways, thanks for reading, and feel free to send me Cover Fart suggestions!
I didn’t play a whole lot of Enix games growing up. I rented a few titles for the Super Nintendo, including E.V.O.: The Search for Eden, Ogre Battle, and 7th Saga, but it wasn’t until I beat Star Ocean 2 during college that I could poke out the Enix notch in my belt. Their merger with Squaresoft in 2003 blew my mind, but I had grown up in the world where publishers were like armies, constantly battling it out with each other for supremacy; but in the real world it was all business, and the merger made sense.
Illusion of Gaia was released during the time when Enix was in a heated battle (business and fanboy-wise) with Squaresoft on the Super Nintendo platform. In its six year lifespan, both publishers released over 30 games each, many competing directly in sub-genres that seem too similar to be considered a coincidence. One of these face-offs was Secret of Mana from Squaresoft against Illusion of Gaia from Enix. Released in 1993, both games were action RPGs that happily broke the mold of the Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests.
But in the end, Squaresoft easily won the action RPG battle and the Super Nintendo war. Secret of Mana was an engrossing, multiplayer tale with a huge variety of weapons and magic, Illusion of Gaia was a rather rote, singleplayer, cobbled-together adventure with little variety. Here’s its review.
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.
As a prequel to the original Deus Ex, which I've replayed numerous times—well, mostly that beginning level set on Liberty Island—Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a difficult task ahead of itself. It has to be more visually advanced than the 2000 offering, with updated gameplay mechanics, and yet keep things less technological in terms of story, as this is a time before JC Denton took on the Illuminati with his wild and crazy nano-augments, when augments were glorified.
Deus Ex is one of the earlier examples of fusing RPG elements with shooters, often allowing players to not even fire a gun so long as they upgrade their character correctly. Nowadays, with titles like Fallout: New Vegas and just about every shooter with a name implementing some kind of RPG leveling system, it's hard to say how tall Deus Ex: Human Revolution will stand.
Well, its opening hour is upon us; hope I upgraded my enjoyment augmentations enough.
Plants vs. Zombies is a game I've been eyeing for a while. It regularly tempted me at $10 Steam with even cheaper sale prices. This summer's sale finally put me over the edge. Every so often you need some good tower defense action, and PvZ seemed like a unique yet highly praised take on the genre. Its cartoonish, Popcap/flash feel and simple five-lane setup makes things perfect for beginners. And it has enjoyed massive success over a huge variety of platforms. Originating on PC, PvZ has since expanded to every modern platform imaginable, both traditional and mobile. Popcap is undeniably a casual gaming powerhouse. The Bejeweled and Feeding Frenzy creators certainly know how to make products and pricing that clicks with the average consumer. They've been so successful that EA recently purchased the company for ~$750 million.
For the most part, PvZ exemplifies this success. It creates a casual-friendly atmosphere with calculated progressive learning combined with enough longevity and a tad of optional difficulty to round out the complete package. The game starts slowly, at first holding your hand with only a couple plant options (towers) available to defend your house from a weak zombie horde on a completely barren level. With only five lanes to defend, beginners will learn quickly what it takes to operate. In case they make mistakes, the game includes a get-out-of-jail-free card, in the form of zombie-clearing machines that activate and clear the lane should a zombie make it past the plants. For a while, the game introduces a new plant on almost every level, encouraging the player to try them out and discover what they're worth. Soon enough, juggling several plant types on more obnoxious levels will be a requirement.
Two franchises I consider to be inherently Japanese are Dragon Quest—really, Dragon Warrior—and Pokemon, and both were born under the mighty and massive RPG tree, but have had their fair share of spin-offs. With Pokemon, its ranged from zaniness like taking pictures to brawling with other well-known gaming characters to rogue dungeon crawlers. As for Dragon Quest, they took a page out of their younger sibling's book, releasing Dragon Warrior Monsters in 1999 for the Game Boy Color; in it, a young boy is out to save his sister by collecting monsters, breeding them, and pitting them against other monsters. Pretty close to the Pokemon formula, but naturally featuring the classic monsters of the Dragon Quest franchise. Things like slimes, gremlins, and wyverns. There was more of a focus on taming monsters than simply capturing them, too. But it hooked players nonetheless.
The monster-raising series has continued on over the years, and I'm here today to give TOSE's 2007 Nintendo DS release Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker a try, a few weeks shy of the sequel's release. I have no expectations other than Pokemon mixed with my favorite classic RPG monsters, and maybe some light implementation of the DS touchscreen. And I hope the joker subtitle has nothing to do with that crazy jester from Dragon Quest VIII.
A half-hour review approaches!
There once was a game named Bionic Commando, and then twenty years later there was another game named Bionic Commando. In some media, this would be called a remake, but when one features a generic soldier battling through different locations with a grappling hook and the other features a dreadlocked dude battling through an office building with cheesy one-liners, I wonder where the remake line is drawn.
Bionic Commando was released for the NES in 1988 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of platformers where characters did normal things like run and jump, but Bionic Commando bucked the trend and put you in the body of a slow-moving soldier with only his grappling hook at hand to move vertically. Its combination of solid but difficult gameplay and a branching level select entrenched it in the mind of gamers, which led to...
Bionic Commando was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows in 2009 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of actiony-platformer shooters where characters shot things until they died, and Bionic Commando did not buck the trend. Its combination of generic yet insulting gameplay and derivative story made it largely a totally forgotten game.
Neither Bionic Commandos is meant to be confused with Bionic Commando: Rearmed, which is an actual remake of Bionic Commando (for the NES), and released a year before Bionic Commando (the forgotten one on the more whiz-bangery systems). Or Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2, which is a sequel to the remake released before the game with the same name as the original.
I've played around with this tom-foolery before, particularly with Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden. A pair of games that both featured the same name and ninjas, but that's about it.
I'm going to play the first half-hour of each Bionic Commando, which adds up to an hour of Bionic Commandoness. I will then judge them entirely on 30 minutes of gaming and move on with my life.