Nate's reviews and writings

  • Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games - The Level Slider

    Gaming Nostalgia

    the World Ends With you CoverSome games are unforgettable. After forking over our birthday money at K-Mart, we bounce all the way home in the backseat of the station wagon, wrestle the plastic wrap away from the box, gingerly place the game in the system, and steady our feverishly shaking hands with an anaconda grip on the controller. We don't let go for hours. And when the credits roll, we tear up a little, knowing we'll always cherish that first time through.

    And then there are games that are largely forgotten weeks after release. Niche appeal, scathing reviews, or even just lack of hype can doom a game to obscurity and the Target bargain bin. But even these games deserve a second look...sometimes. Every once in a while, a kernel of brilliance can be found within these steaming piles of mediocrity. The purpose of this feature is to sift out some of these conceptual gems and put them under the microscope.

    Today's trip takes us all the way back to 2008, when a game called The World Ends With You dared to eschew every gaming convention it could think of, for better or worse. In the "better" column resides one particularly inspired idea, the Level Slider.

  • 3D Dot Game Heroes

    First Hour Review

    3D Dot Game Heroes CoverRetro revivals are all the rage nowadays. In the era of the low-budget downloadable games market, everybody's digging into their past to give a classic a fresh coat of paint or create a sequel with old-school flare. The former provides a proven template onto which shiny new graphics can be applied, while the latter guarantees interest from lifelong fans who long to experience that same magic like it were new again.

    3D Dot Game Heroes is a retro-styled installment in Nintendo's famed Legend of Zelda series, albeit one that was developed by a different company and published for a different company's hardware, and it would be slapped silly with copyright infringement lawsuits if the word "Zelda" appeared anywhere in it. From Software, known for its Armored Core series and the recent hit Demon's Souls, doesn't just take a page from Nintendo's book: the book gets Xeroxed from cover to cover. Almost everything in 3D Dot Game Heroes feels like it was stolen from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, from the plot to the controls to the stage designs to the items and everything in between.

    We tend to view knockoffs as inferior, bitter, envious versions of the genuine article. Does 3D Dot Game Heroes lack the essence of its explosively-popular inspiration, or does it manage to work a little magic of its own?

  • Aquaria

    First Hour Review

    Aquaria CoverIt's rare that we get to combine our love for games with charitable donations, and unheard of that we can feel like a smart shopper while doing both. Such a concoction of impossibility was made real when the Humble Indie Bundle experiment went live on May 4, 2010. For a limited time, five acclaimed indie games (Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, Penumbra Overture, and World of Goo) were offered as a bundle to gamers...at whatever price they were willing to give. For any price you name, you could have access to five games you may or may not love. A sixth game, Samorost 2, was even added to the bunch as extra incentive. You could even split your price between the developers and two partner charities, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play Charity, at whatever fractions you wanted. I gave $7.50 to the developers and $7.50 to the charities myself, contributing to the $1,270,000 in total donations contributed as of May 15. It's a great cause that also happens to be a great deal.

    Having only previously played (or even heard of) the fantastic World of Goo, I decided to go alphabetically and spend an hour with Aquaria first. Aquaria was created by Bit Blot, an independent game company comprised of Alec Holowka and Derek Yu, in 2007. An indie games festival winner known for its atmosphere, Aquaria is an underwater 2D sidescroller with a focus on exploration and puzzle-solving, in the same vein as Metroid.

    As I dive into Aquaria for the first time, I wonder if it's true what they say: is it really better down where it's wetter, under the sea?

  • Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games - The Checklist Grid

    Gaming Nostalgia

    Kirby Air Ride CoverSome games are unforgettable. After forking over our birthday money at K-Mart, we bounce all the way home in the backseat of the station wagon, wrestle the plastic wrap away from the box, gingerly place the game in the system, and steady our feverishly shaking hands with an anaconda grip on the controller. We don't let go for hours. And when the credits roll, we tear up a little, knowing we'll always cherish that first time through.

    And then there are games that are largely forgotten weeks after release. Niche appeal, scathing reviews, or even just lack of hype can doom a game to obscurity and the Target bargain bin. But even these games deserve a second look...sometimes. Every once in a while, a kernel of brilliance can be found within these steaming piles of mediocrity. The purpose of this feature is to sift out some of these conceptual gems and put them under the microscope.

    Today we'll take a look at how the Checklist Grids in last generation's Kirby Air Ride add a special something to one of the current generation's biggest innovations: the Achievement.

  • Picross 3D

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Picross 3d CoverPicross 3D is the latest brain-teaser game for the Nintendo DS. If you're not familiar with the concept of Picross, it's a simple puzzle game: a grid of squares is presented, and numbers next to the rows or columns indicate how many squares in that column or row should be colored in. As squares are colored in, they clue the player in on what other squares should be colored in. The end result is a crude object, like a person or a clock. It's simple enough that it could be done on graph paper, but Nintendo has made millions of dollars collecting these puzzles and putting them in videogames, most recently Picross DS a few years ago.

    Picross 3D takes the concept in three dimensions, giving the player a large cube or rectangular prism made up of blocks. Remove the right blocks and an object appears. The concept is almost as simple in 3D as it is on graph paper, though it would be nigh-impossible to do with physical objects. It's well-suited for videogames, however, where virtual representations can easily be created.

    As someone who enjoys brain-teasers and puzzle games, I have a feeling I'll enjoy Picross 3D as long as I'm sufficiently challenged. But this is one of those new-fangled "Casual games" that seem to be popping up everywhere nowadays and trying to appeal to everybody, so it may be oversimplified or very slow to start. Let's find out.

  • Red Steel 2

    Full Review

    red Steel 2 CoverThe first third-party Wii game was revealed in the May 2006 issue of Game Informer. It promised intuitive swordfighting controls and unmatched precision in gunplay, all in a stylish Yakuza setting. In the six months between reveal and launch, Red Steel hype built to unattainable levels. Disappointment was inevitable. But even with tempered expectations, Red Steel is barely an average game, and the case for motion controls in action games took a serious blow when it failed to impress.

    That said, the game rode the launch hype into some pretty decent sales, eventually crossing the million mark. A sequel was rumored almost as soon as the original appeared on store shelves. It took three and a half years, but the sequel did eventually arrive in March 2010. Barring the focus on guns and swords, Red Steel 2 is nothing like the original: the realistic visuals are switched out for a cel-shaded style, the Yakuza setting and characters are changed to an otherworldly-mix of Samurai and Western trappings, and the hopes dashed by waggle at launch are replaced with renewed fervor for precise motion controls, which are provided by the Wii Motion Plus controller attachment that Red Steel 2 requires.

    Even if you made the mistake of purchasing Red Steel back in 2006, don't make the mistake of ignoring Red Steel 2 now.

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