Nate's reviews and writings

  • Goodbye GameFly

    Blog Post

    Gamefly LogoFive hundred dollars is a good chunk of cash. That's a few car payments. It's a cool TV on Black Friday. It may be enough Taco Bell to last a lifetime (shortened by all that Taco Bell). It's also what I paid on video game rentals in the last two and a half years.

    "Wow," you shriek, "$500 is a lot of money to rent games!" You're right, Obvious Banshee, and that's why I'm dropping my GameFly subscription (temporarily, at least). I've got other expenses to consider, other pastimes to enjoy, and a backlog of neglected games to play, so I think I'll give my wallet a break and go without.

    But whether or not I ever re-up with the service, I got my money's worth in my 30 month GameFly period. It can actually be a frugal choice for the eclectic video game enthusiast.

  • Shinobi

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Shinobi 3ds CoverNintendo takes a lot of crap for its reluctance to provide even rudimentary online features, and rightfully so. But I have to admit, I'm a big fan of the Virtual Console service on Wii and 3DS. The convenience of having Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all in the same tiny system was too much for me to ignore: I happily bought them all even while their systems and cartridges were mere feet away from my TV.

    It's more rewarding, though, to discover classics that I missed out on as a kid. One such game was Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Though I owned a Genesis as a kid, all I ever played were Sonic games. Cutting through the excellent ninja sidescroller via the Wii's emulation service, I felt as though I'd rectified a childhood oversight.

    Retro revivals are all the rage, and Shinobi's getting in on the action on 3DS. The new game is a prequel, simply called "Shinobi" in accordance with the entertainment industry's efforts to confound posterity by recycling the same titles over and over again. Judging from the low poly character models, I actually suspect Shinobi 3DS actually began development on Nintendo's last generation DS and was hastily upgraded. But hey, it's not the visuals that matter to me, it's the tough-but-fair sidescrolling action. Let's see if that's still intact.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword CoverWith so many Legend of Zelda re-releases in 2011, I've had several excuses to reacquaint myself with the series for the last six months. I awakened Link for the first time, replayed bits of the first Zelda game I ever experienced, tried out a solo retrofit of the franchise's multiplayer experiment, and even charted my way through the legend that begot legends. For me, 2011 has been the year of Zelda.

    Through this trip back through time, I've reevaluated my regard for Nintendo's beloved adventure franchise, and just in time for the newest iteration. Skyward Sword, at a glance, looks like just another Zelda, which is enough for most fans but insufficient for me. On top of that, the game boasts a distinct watercolor style, a sky/land dichotomy, and what appears to be an origin story for many of the franchise's trademark elements.

    What has me excited is the motion-controlled combat. I loved the MotionPlus combat in Red Steel 2, and Skyward Sword uses the gyroscope add-on to provide needed nuance to Zelda's normally dull swordplay. Comparisons to Punch Out's puzzle-like duels have me salivating all the more.

    Unfortunately, I didn't get to experience much of that in Skyward Sword's opening sixty. That's disheartening enough, but Skyward Sword doesn't stop at mere disappointment...the game outright insults me. Take a look:

  • Super Mario 3D Land

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Super Mario 3d Land CoverNintendo likes to think that the Mario series is a good gateway into this hobby. To its credit, the original Super Mario Bros alone is responsible for millions of current video game enthusiasts (myself included). Even today, I've witnessed the welcoming effect that games like New Super Mario Bros and casual-friendly spinoffs like Mario Party have on those who rarely touch games.

    There's one segment of Mario's work that is an exception, far out of beginners' reach: Super Mario 64 and its successors in the same 3D platforming vein are not for newbies. I thought otherwise before I observed a friend floundering through the opening stage of Super Mario Galaxy for nearly an hour, steaming with frustration all the way. He can wind his way around a Mario Kart course. He outwitted GLaDOS at his own slow, careful pace. He even made admirable progress in Ninja Gaiden Sigma (on easy mode, yes, but Ninja Gaiden all the same). And yet, Mario's least-demanding 3D outing was far too much for him.

    Nintendo sees this and offers Super Mario 3D Land. Borrowing aesthetics and rules from the NES games that birthed millions of today's gamers, the first Mario game for Nintendo's 3DS aims to nosedive the barrier of entry. That's a tall task in and of itself, but I'm more concerned that all this catering to beginners will diminish the things I love about 3D Mario: 64's complex and joyful movements, Sunshine's sprawling, layered environments, and Galaxy's inventive scenarios. Novices can work their way up to 3D Mario like I did, so don't deprive me of the next Super Mario 64 for their sake! What can I say? I'm selfish.

    But Nintendo has earned my faith when it comes to Mario, so I start the game wary but eager.

  • Kirby's Return to Dream Land

    Full Review

    Kirbys Return Dream Land CoverFor the longest time, all I wanted from Nintendo was a new Kirby game with awesome copy abilities like in Kirby Super Star. No franchise has a track record like Kirby when it comes to spinoffs and experiments, but the SNES classic that boasted "8 games in one" is the series' greatest feat. For over a decade, my wish went unfulfilled.

    But hey, we finally got one, appropriately dubbed Kirby's Return to Dream Land! It's exactly what I wanted: the twenty standard copy abilities are the series' best, with strong debuts and enhanced returns counted among Kirby's repertoire. It's amazing how many tricks you have up your sleeve with just a D-pad and a single button.

    You have to be careful what you wish for, though. When dealing with a genie or blowing out your birthday candles, always make sure to choose your words deliberately and plan for stipulations and potential fallouts. Otherwise, you might end up with Kirby's Return to Dream Land, a game with tons of cool attacks and not much worth attacking.

  • 2011-2012 NHL Regular Season and 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

    Sports Pre-enactment

    nhl 12 CoverLast November, I ran the first annual FirstHour.net NHL season and playoff predictions using EA Sports' NHL 11. I think the only prediction that could even be stretched as "correct" was that Alex Ovechkin would have the worst offensive season of his career (though even my NHL 11 sim did not predict he would finish with a paltry 32 goals). And although the Atlanta Thrashers didn't win the Stanley Cup in 2011, something pretty important did happen to that franchise during the playoffs...

    Well, here we are again. A new NHL season, a new NHL game. This year, we'll see if the official FirstHour.net predictions are more accurate using the new NHL 12. Don't worry about our track record: this is the year, people. Put all your money where we say to. And disregard that some of these predictions are already impossible.

    End of Playoffs update: Well, that does it for NHL hockey this summer. Congrats to the Los Angeles Kings on their first Stanley Cup victory. We certainly didn’t predict that. We didn’t predict a lot of things that happened this year, but we improved on last year’s airball. This post has been updated with the verdict on each of our predictions.

  • Batman: Arkham City [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Batman Arkham City CoverEverybody wants to be Batman. He was born with more money than most third world countries. His car sips gasoline and pisses fire. He could win the World's Strongest Man competition and the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions simultaneously. He knocks boots with Catwoman at night and brags to Superman in the morning. Whatever you aspire to be, Batman is it.

    So it's surprising that no developer ever attempted the complete Batman experience until 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Okay, maybe Batman isn't quite "complete" without Batmobile or Bruce Wayne, but the game offered a taste of the hunter/fighter/thinker dynamic that makes Batman so Batmanly. Two years later, Rocksteady Games is back on the prowl with Batman: Arkham City, because when was the last time a hit video game didn't get a sequel? The new game promises an increase in scope parallel with its subtitle: the play area has expanded from the asylum to a full borough within greater Gotham City where evildoers and thugs (and maybe also the mentally ill that legitimately need help?) have been corralled and quarantined.

    But enough prep, it's time to bust faces. Watch some snippets of footage from early in the story and pretend you're Batman. It's okay, we all still do it from time to time.

  • Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games: Load Screen Time Wasters

    Blog Post

    Bionic Commando Xbox 360 CoverI'm trying to find the right word to describe the Bionic Commando reboot. Like so many modern pop culture reboots, the desecration of the source material is surely blasphemy. It took a beloved NES classic with an unabashed nerdy charisma and '80s action movie lunacy and reskinned it with lifeless grit, detestable characters, and the kinds of military-political entanglements and absurd plot gimmicks that shouldn't be allowed to escape the feature length cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid. It also exhibited a few genuinely terrible design decisions, like invisible, death-dispensing fallout zones. I'm not sure how nobody questioned the merit of sudden, explosive cancer as a hazard in a video game, but it makes me wonder if Capcom and James Bond villains hire from the same temp agencies.

    And yet, despite its many, many, many downsides, the game actually managed to be fun at times. If nothing else -- and that's not really an "if" -- the NES original's joy of mobility remained intact. There was tingling grace and invulnerability in swinging around the bombed-out Ascension City. It was enough to persuade me to finish the game's story mode, all the way through the atrocious final hour that actually made me yearn for the one-screen "Congraturation!" endings of the coin-op age.

    "Forgettable" is a pretty good descriptor for Bionic Commando 2009. Marking the game as "god awful" and calling it a day would be a disservice to those ecstatic moments of suspension between swing and freefall. But this is one of Capcom's western-focused HD experiments that won't be the subject of any "PS3 games that need a PS4 update" blog posts, that's for sure.

    But hey, the game sure did one thing right: load screens!

  • Rage [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Rage CoverI've never played a game developed by id Software. Not Doom, not Quake, not Wolfenstein, not nothing. I didn't play PC games much back when id was more prolific, and I had a prejudice against overly gory shooters. To me, they prioritized shock value over sound game mechanics, kind of like Mortal Kombat. Considering their lasting appeal, that was probably not my most sound judgment.

    In my defense, id Software hasn't given me much to work with lately. The developer has only just this week released Rage, its first major game since 2004's Doom 3. Rage had been building up a lot of good press since its announcement back in 2007, earning plenty of "most anticipated" awards from major media outlets (yes, there are awards for such things). All the praise was a bit perplexing to me, though: by all appearances, Rage seems like yet another competent first person shooter with some car combat on the side.

    But hey, now I can say I've played an id Software game (or at least an hour of it). Check out an early mission video below to see a short sample of Rage's early goings.

  • Kirby Mass Attack

    Full Review

    Kirby Mass Attack CoverLike the titular pink puff, the Kirby series has worn many hats in its nineteen years. Almost every 2D action-platformer has been partnered with an experimental pinball sim or an arcade racer or some amazing miniature golf mutation. As much as I enjoy each iteration of the main Dream Land style, the spinoffs are what really intrigue me, even when they fail. Sure, Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble may be unplayable with the Game Boy Color's dark screen and restrictive viewing angle, but it broke ground for motion controls six years before Wii Sports taught us to waggle.

    It's a good season for Kirby fans, as we get a bit of both sides in under two months. Kirby's Return to Dream Land in October looks like the long-awaited Super Star successor, and September sees Kirby get multiplied in Kirby Mass Attack. Revisiting the stylus-centrism of Canvas Curse, Mass Attack tasks players with flicking, dragging, and leading up to ten Kirbys at a time through a puzzle platforming adventure. It's not the most eye-opening Kirby spinoff -- the concept is essentially a pared-down Pikmin -- but it makes the most of a middling concept.

    Kirby Canvas Curse was widely dubbed the Nintendo DS's first worthy purchase. Kirby Mass Attack may be its last.

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