It's been a long while since I've written a review, which is pretty commonplace due to my busy schedule. But as my days have cleared up due to seriously inclement weather, I figured I'd write a review. Not just a review, but a review on a game in a series that I am in love with. This is something I had been saving and looking forward to for the right time.
Unfortunately though, this didn't pan out like I had hoped. This is hard for me to write. Not just because of the fact it's a multiplayer experience I'm reviewing, but also because it's a dream of mine being crushed.
As I've mentioned before, I was a pretty avid player of Counter Strike, and much more so, Counter Strike: Source. My father and I played CS: Source from around 2005 until 2007. We were in a clan, competitively. (The name of it was Exemplar Sect, best player was Pug.) Anyway, we loved that game, and I remember upgrading computer parts all of the time to increase framerates, and every weekend was a Mountain Dew fueled weekend of meeting people all over the world and killing them. But then other games became popular (I played Battlefield: Bad Company 2 quite a bit.) and I went over to them, but I always visited CS: Source, and always had a blast.
When I rented the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law video game a few years ago, I learned that some comedy has a minimum speed limit. I loved the rapid surrealist gags in the Adult Swim cartoon, but fifteen minutes was all I could take of the same humor decelerated to account for player input. What worked at twenty jokes per minute just didn’t translate to a relaxed visual novel speed.
Retro City Rampage has taught me that the funny/fast correlation works both ways. What was shaping up to be a parade of lazy puns and toothless parodies is acceptable entertainment when marched at a sprinter’s pace. It’s all in the delivery.
And Rampage delivers ‘80s nostalgia in spades. From head to toe, the game is decked out in pop culture knockoffs. You’ll accept missions from Principal Belding, find Game Genie codes, and change your appearance in a Michael Jackson facelift shop...with slight alterations that abide by intellectual property laws, of course.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing a full-blown Easter Egg epidemic. In just the last month, Dishonored re-enacted a scene from PC classic Thief: The Dark Project. The newest World of Warcraft expansion contains homages to everything from Battletoads to Harvest Moon to Star Fox.
There are even veritable egg trails: Torchlight II pays homage to Borderlands 2 which references Dark Souls. If this trend continues, it won’t be long until we have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon on our hands, counting references back to either “Cake is a lie” or “Arrow in the knee.”
And Retro City Rampage isn’t helping matters. Released last week on PlayStation Network and Steam (and coming soon for XBLA and WiiWare), this Grand Theft Auto “demake” touches on dozens of classic NES-era videogames, if not hundreds. The launch trailer alone portends a never-ending assault of sly winks, like a pirate blinking War and Peace in morse code.
Stacking came out for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in early 2011, and it immediately captured my interest. With characters based on the Russian stacking matryoshka dolls and the narrative devices of silent films of yesteryears, it was definitely a unique offering, though looking over Double Fine Productions’s history it’s clear that that’s their thing. Quirky mish-mashes: RTS and musical influences for Brütal Legend, Halloween outfits and RPG elements for Costume Quest, and summer camp and psychic abilities for Psychonauts. However, I just never got around to getting it due to my severe distaste for buying Microsoft Points, since the conversion rate of USD dollars to Space Bucks never seems to be in the buyer’s favor.
Flash-forward to July 2012, and the Steam Summer Sale has now concluded. I was able to snag this bite-sized adventure for a cool couple of bucks, as well as a slew of other titles. But for now, let’s play with dolls for an hour and see how things turn out.
Bastion made a huge splash last year when it was released on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, reaping excellent critical reviews and huge sales, especially for an indie game. Developed by Supergiant Games and published by Warner Bros., the game’s iconic narrator and haunting soundtrack have cemented its place as one of the cornerstone independent games of this decade.
I was impressed by its first hour last November, but reading my thoughts on Bastion’s start indicates a trend that would hold throughout the game: while the art, music, and voice acting is stellar, the gameplay is just sort of there. It’s solid, but didn’t stand out amongst the great presentation.
It took a few months and many, many games, but I returned to Bastion, restarted my adventure, and finished the game in a half-dozen sittings. Here’s my review of Bastion for the PC.
A few weeks ago, I acquired Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, Cthulhu Saves the World, and all three episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures for eight bucks on Steam. It seemed like a steal at the time: five brief RPG comedies for less than I spend on my daily commute.
I dropped Breath and Cthulhu after a few hours. Zeboyd’s nutty tributes to ‘80s JRPGs had their moments, but not enough to excuse dull battles, random encounters, and big empty dungeons.
The first two Penny Arcade games weren’t much better. My disgust for their fetch quest campaign structure smothered my fondness for the Mario RPG-style battles.
So when I saw that Penny Arcade’s Whatever 3 was the result of a Zeboyd/Penny Arcade team-up, I braced myself for some whole new amalgam of repulsive game elements. It turned out to be a roundly enjoyable seven-hour adventure, one that almost excuses the twelve hours I slogged through the other four games in the bundle. Almost.
I started playing Super Meat Boy for our new Indie Impression feature, planning on maybe putting in a half hour with the meat and then heading off to write down my thoughts. Two weeks later and 10 hours of gaming in the can, I beat all of Super Meat Boy’s light world levels, rescued Bandage Girl over a hundred times, and died 2,345 times (to be exact). And even though poor Meat Boy splattered every 15 seconds, I still had an awesome time.
It’s a testament to developer Team Meat’s ability that they can make a platformer not only crazy hard, but also very fun. Almost nothing is harder in game development than properly ramping the challenge up for every kind of gamer, but they pull it off with Super Meat Boy.
Released on Windows, Linux, OSX, and Xbox Live Arcade (a WiiWare release was planned and then scrapped when the game exceeded the platform’s size limits) in 2010, it has since sold over one million copies, not bad for an indie release. Here’s my review.
Our second Indie Impression is of Super Meat Boy, the 2010 platformer from Team Meat. Known for its sadistic level design and smooth gameplay, Super Meat Boy has grown into a huge hit that's spread beyond the indie community, selling more than one million copies across all PC platforms and Xbox Live Arcade. We've got four impressions for that range from a few minutes to completing the game 100%, which is pretty much exactly how I envisioned this column working out. Greg was going to provide impressions also, but decided that since he ended up beating the game in about a week, he's going to provide a full review in the coming days.
The Bastion narrator has been everywhere lately. To gamers like me, this reference barely means anything. But like “the cake is a lie!”, it’s beginning to ingrain into gamer culture and being in-the-know in the early stages of fun is the best part.
But that’s not why I’m playing Bastion. I’m playing Bastion because it’s been almost universally heralded as a great game by everyone I pay attention to. From the graphics to the story to the music, Bastion is the indie darling of the year.
Released as one of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade premier titles in July, Bastion made an immediate splash. While doing a pretty poor job advertising and selling most indie games on their market, Microsoft seems to do a pretty good job predicting which titles to really push during their summer event. A Steam version came a month later, and just last week the game finally went on sale for half price (I’m one of those obnoxious gamers who will almost never pay full price for a game, whether it’s $15 or $60).
So let’s dive into Bastion’s first hour and see if this darling has legs.
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.