The 2009 Major League Baseball World Series starts today featuring the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. It's sure to be a grand Fall Classic, but I'd like to know who will win in advance. Instead of heading to Las Vegas, however, I'll be pre-enacting the Series by playing MVP Baseball 2005 for the Xbox. It is considered one of the best baseball games ever and I actually feel a bit bad that EA lost the use of the MLB license (well, not really, considering all the damage they've done to other sports series). A few years ago I awarded MVP Baseball 2005 my "Older Console Game of the Year," an award for the best console game I played in 2007 that didn't come out in 2007 (complicated, I know).
I actually considered playing Bases Loaded 2, probably my personal favorite baseball game. I played this game so much growing up that I can still name the complete lineup for the team hailing from New Jersey. And therein lies the problem, it has made up teams and players. While that wouldn't make the results from that game any more inaccurate than playing with players from 2005 from real teams, it's just a little too far from reality than I'd like. The game actually does feature teams from Philadelphia and New York though, but both of them are pretty awful.
Like my previous pre-enactments, I'll be playing two games, one as each team, and if necessary, a one game playoff generated by the computer. As much as I'd like to play a seven game series, I simply don't have the time. Hopefully this will be enough to whet our appetites and accurately pre-enact the 2009 World Series.
Post World Series update: The Yankees have won the 2009 World Series, just like we predicted here at the First Hour. We now have two correct predictions out of three attempts.
With BioWare's new epic, Dragon Age: Origins, only about a week away from release, it was about high time to finish the prequel novel I had sitting on my coffee table, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne. BioWare is doing some massive world-building for the series and The Stolen Throne is about a major political event that happened about thirty years before the events of the first game. It follows three heroes: Maric, Loghain, and Rowan, and their tireless quest to overthrow the usurper that has stolen the throne from the rightful family. And as the book opens with the death of Maric's mother, the Rebel Queen Moira, the role of rightful king falls right onto Maric's soldiers.
The Stolen Throne spans a few years of time from the death of the Rebel Queen to its climax. It spends its pages not only trying to establish a few corners of Ferelden, but also to characterize the young heroes. We watch them all grow up, especially Maric, who starts out as a foolish prince and ends as a man who would make for a fine king. And since our heroic trio seem to be in that hormone-raging age of the late teen years, there's no lack of love triangles (or even quadrangles?). This is by no means a romance novel though, but more of A Game of the Thrones-lite.
Here's my review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, the prequel novel to the video game Dragon Age: Origins.
Four full days of first hour gaming have been completed, and from here on out I'm not playing alone. Day four introduced three new writers: Paul Eastwood, Grant, and Mike in Omaha. They all have very different tastes in gaming and all look for something different when starting out a new video game. I've had a great time bringing these guys on board and reading their awesome reviews. It's an honor to provide an outlet for them to write as well as host their reviews (and as always, just toss me an email if you're interested in writing too).
Day four also means I threw away my older scoring system for first hour reviews. It only took 72 reviews, but a few comments and emails exchanged with other review sites convinced me that the scores were simply too distracting to the games and reviews themselves. If you browse back far enough, you'll find quite a few heated and angry comments about how someone felt I was mistreating their favorite game; however, I didn't just do this to appease these complainers, but to make sure my real feelings were communicated properly about the first hour of a game. So the score out of ten is gone, replaced with even more reading. Hope you don't mind.
Remember when LucasArts used to publish games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and every Star Wars game under the sun? Well, in 2005, they somehow ended up publishing Pandemic Studio's Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. It's kind of an odd pairing, as Mercenaries is about as far from a point-and-click adventure game as one can get, but it's one of those games I've been wishing to play for a while now. Mercenaries is a third-person shooter about mercenaries, of course. There's a war going on in North Korea, and what better way to cash in on a lot of money than to drop in and play all the sides?
Here's a pro-tip for finding games you'd like to play for really cheap: while on vacation in a small town this past weekend, I was browsing the local library's book sale and lo and behold, Mercenaries was for sale for one dollar. I also picked up Legend of Dragoon for the PlayStation for another buck. I've found quite a few deals like these over the years and usually in the most random of places. While Mercenaries doesn't go for that much more on eBay, it's a bit thrilling finding it in the wild when you least expected it.
Mercenaries received a sequel released last year to quite the memorable media campaign featuring the "Oh No You Didn't" music video. I laughed out loud quite a few times when it aired. The series has also received a bit of criticism for its realistic scenarios and mercenary involvement. South Korea even banned the first game for its depiction of a hostile theater of war in its backyard. The Venezuelan government accused the U.S. government of funding the second game, crazy stuff. But I digress, this review is about the original, and just the first hour at that. Well, let's get into the first hour of Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.
A few weeks ago I finished a great fantasy title by Brandon Sanderson called Mistborn: The Final Empire. I began writing a book review about it, even though it has no video game counterpart or even one in the works as far as I know, so it eventually turned into an editorial about how to make a game from book or film. Well, in the time since then I've finished the entire Mistborn trilogy and now I'm back to write a review on the whole series. Well, maybe not a real review, there are plenty of legitimate fantasy book sites that can do a lot better job than me at that, but more of an examination on how a series like Mistborn could be translated into an awesome video game.
I'll admit, the only reason I was even attracted to the series is because Brandon Sanderson is now finishing off the late Robert Jordan's epic, The Wheel of Time. While that fantasy shelf-warping series definitely started to fade as it resisted to wrap up, I'm still excited to see how it ends. And what better way to understand that than to read the books that the chosen author has already written? The Mistborn series seemed like a great place to start, so here's my review/plea-to-make-this-into-a-great-game.
Cel-shaded graphics, fast action gameplay, and a rocking soundtrack? Sounds like the perfect game for me, and maybe a few of you readers too. That game would be Jet Set Radio Future, a 2002 inline skating action game released just for the Xbox. With the Dreamcast done, Sega was looking to branch out and become just a third-party publisher and I suppose the original Jet Set Radio must have been popular enough to warrant a sequel. I found it a bit surprising that Sega chose the Xbox, as that pretty much threw out the Japanese audience for a game that feels very... Japanese. Microsoft must have made a deal though, as the game was eventually bundled with Sega GT 2002 and thrown in free with an Xbox.
This was definitely a big time for cel-shaded games, with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, XIII, Dark Cloud 2, and Viewtiful Joe all released within the next year. When executed well, I believe the game's can rise far above in terms of style than any realistic looking video game. Jet Set Radio Future definitely has style, but does it actually play well? Well, let's find out; and no, I won't be splitting time with Sega GT 2002, I hate realistic racers.
Professional puzzle-solver and tea lover Professor Hershel Layton and young Luke, his apprentice, are back to solving the ultimate mystery in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, the sequel to 2008's Curious Village. The game plays as a Myst-like point-and-click with brain-teasers thrown in every couple of minutes; and not the random, bumbling puzzles of Myst, but random, Mensa head-scratchers that will have you reaching for the nearest bottle of headache medicine. Diabolical Box is not just about solving puzzle after puzzle, however, there's a series of unsolved mysteries at hand along with a big cast of characters to help and hinder along the way. The game is chock full of wit and charm, and it is truly hard to put down.
Developers Level-5 seemingly got the formula right the first time, as not much has changed for the sequel (the third game was released last year in Japan and the fourth is almost out there too!). We still have the lovable British accents, the endless number of puzzles, and nearly the same enticing soundtrack. Let's get into my review of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.
Shortly before they began squabbling about cartridges versus compact discs, and long before Square-Enix came crawling back for a suck at the Nintendo DS teat, Nintendo and SquareSoft got around quite nicely. One of the results of this relationship was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, a Japanese style role-playing game set in the Super Mario Bros. universe. It's one of those games that no one would have ever thought to ask for, but was so successful, it spawned the Paper Mario series that landed on later Nintendo systems (with no help from Square) and the Mario and Luigi RPG series found on their handhelds.
The game itself was quite ambitious, even beyond the cooperation of two major developers. The cartridge had its own onboard CPU, not to be confused with the popular graphics Super FX chip, but simply a co-processor to the main CPU already in the Super Nintendo. The ability to include additional hardware on the actual game cartridge was one of the amazing design decisions that revealed the foresight the hardware team had and kept the console highly competitive through 1996 when Super Mario RPG was released.
Super Mario RPG ended up being one of the last, great Super Nintendo games, being released along with some of my other favorites including Harvest Moon and Kirby Super Star. It's the end of the classic era, in my opinion, but marks the beginning of some bold moves by Nintendo. Here's the first hour of Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo.
Daddy issues: it's a common phrase thrown out to explain many character issues, especially against women. Psychologists call it the Electra Complex from the Greek mythology of Electra, a woman who had her brother kill their mother after she had been involved in their father's death. Many would say Electra had daddy issues, and she probably did, because of her response to her father's death at her mother's hand. While the complex is as old as mythology, it's still commonly used today in literature, television, and yes, even video games. This is the first in a sporadic series of articles on daddy (and mommy - Oedipal) issues seen in video games. And since I'm such a big fan of Mass Effect, it seems like the perfect place to start.
The number of characters in Mass Effect makes this a great place to begin, many of them are pretty complex, not only due to their parental conflicts, but because many of them are aliens and have a unique culture that let's the writers exploit Electra and Oedipus in new ways. The main character, Shepard, can recruit six additional characters along the way. Talking with them as the game progresses reveals their backstory and how they ended up where they are today. No too few of them are there almost certainly because of the ways their father was or wasn't present in their life. Let's take a look at some of the characters from Mass Effect and their daddy issues.
A year and a half ago I had the distinct pleasure of playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a mystery game packed with puzzles set in, well, a very curious village. The game was a hit with me and many others, and while Level-5 has doled out three Layton games already and is a few months away from the fourth, they're just getting around to releasing the second outside of Japan. We wait patiently, however, and are rewarded with Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. Nintendo is serving as the publisher in North America, Europe, and Australia, and has done a magnificent job releasing a potentially very niche puzzler to a wider audience. Honestly, the series is filled with such ultra-politeness and quirky British voice talent it's a wonder that something like this has taken off. Professor Layton is simply a perfect storm of great puzzles and marvelous atmosphere.
Level-5 is of course also the developer of Rogue Galaxy, an RPG I recently reviewed for the PlayStation 2. I'm becoming more and more impressed by their range of games they're developing and publishing, and other companies are too, including Square Enix which trusted them with Dragon Quest IX.
The release schedule of the Professor Layton series seems very similar to that of Phoenix Wright, with the West just starting to get the series after a few of them had already been released in Japan. In some ways, this is great because we know that there are a whole slew of games coming, but I just hope it doesn't start feeling stale like Ace Attorney did. Well, here's the first hour of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.