Nate's reviews and writings

  • WiiWare Demos! FINALLY!

    Blog Post

    bit Trip Fate LogoIt's no secret that Nintendo is the underachiever in console features this generation, especially in the online space. While Xbox Live and PlayStation Network both started strong and have been continually updated with emerging content, Wii's only online feature at launch was the Virtual Console, and only the bare minimum has been added since then. Even now, Wii's online service looks downright antiquated next to what Sony and Microsoft provide. Perhaps that's why Nintendo tries its best to keep its meager online offerings a secret.

    Case in point: game demos. Both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live offer hundreds of free, playable sneak peaks at retail and digitally distributed games. And Wii? Most of the time, that number is zero. Almost a year ago, to the day, an experimental batch of WiiWare demos were made available through the Wii Shop Channel. A few months later, they were no longer available.

    A year after the experiment began, it seems Nintendo's going to start giving WiiWare the demo support it deserves...sort of. On Monday, November 22nd, Nintendo released a second batch of WiiWare demos and promised that more would be made available on Mondays. The following games are currently available: And Yet It Moves, BIT.TRIP FATE, Jett Rocket, ThruSpace, and Cave Story. If you have a Wii, you should download them all right now, though: they'll only be available for a limited time, assumedly replaced by new demos. Read on for my brief impressions of each, or head to the Wii Shop Channel and download them right now. You'll find them in the WiiWare section, under New Releases. Or you can find a Demos category when sorting by Genre.

  • Sonic Colors

    First Hour Review

    Sonic Colors CoverHi everybody. My name is Nate, and I'm a disgruntled Sonic fan.

    I was five years old when my dad brought home a Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That game was like catnip to me: its lightning speed, vibrant colors, and catchy soundtrack were all I could think about through elementary school. The only reason I put down Sonic 2 for good was my migration to its sequel duo, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Catnip was now crack: I was hooked for life. I loved the game then, but it wasn't until years later that I realized the genius of S3&K. The sprawling, interconnected stage designs were like races on the playground: your goal was to get from one end to the other, but you could do so in dozens of unique ways. I still play the game annually, and even after so many trips from the beach of Angel Island to the Death Egg in outer space, I can still find new secrets by experimenting with the physics and stage design in ways I hadn't thought of before.

    Fast forward to the launch of the Dreamcast, when Sonic Adventure started a new era for for the blue blur. New playable characters, new gameplay modes, cutscenes and spoken dialogue...all in 3-D, of course. And while the addition of a dimension provided the potential for even more spacious stages, the final product was a far more restricted affair than its 2-D predecessors. Gone were the intermingling tunnels and paths, replaced by a string of land strips that were suspended over an endless chasm. I dug the thrilling dashes through those corridors for a while, but I now I only realize how many flaws I overlooked in those days when I replay Sonic Adventure, its sequel, and its successors.

    It's been over a decade since the franchise changed course, and while Sega recently made an attempt to recapture the Genesis style, I just don't see the same brilliance in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 that made its prequels so timeless. On the other hand, 3-D Sonic's roller coaster runs have been tampered with throughout the years -- rarely for the better -- and the most recent experiment is Sonic Colors. It sure doesn't appear to be what I want from a Sonic game, but I'll admit that it looks like a huge improvement over the rest of the Adventure-spawn. I decided to give it a chance, something I swore I wouldn't do after Sonic's Arabian Nights-inspired adventure broke the camel's back. Was my change of heart warranted, or am I simply a glutton for punishment?

  • 2010-2011 NHL Regular Season and 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

    Sports Pre-enactment

    nhl 11 CoverAs sports games trend towards delivering a true-to-life experience to players, the systems and stats behind the play system are becoming increasingly complex. The result, I've found, is a genre that is taking more control out of the player's hand and giving it to the CPU in order to keep a Cowboys/Steelers matchup in Madden from turning into an 79-3 blowout, a rather common outcome when I was playing NFL '95 on the Genesis. I can appreciate the effort to mimic the pro league norm, but I can't help but feel a bit cheated when I can do everything right in NBA Live and not go 82-0 on the season.

    Oddly enough, this devotion to believability and authenticity has driven me away from the sports game genre in recent years, though I still take time to play EA's NHL series now and then. Still, I've found that I'm more interested in the peripheral modes and features than I am in the standard game options. Running simulations of season and playoff matches has become commonplace, and it is quite impressive to see just how believable the outcomes are, barring the last season sim I completed that resulted in the Columbus Blue Jackets winning the Stanley Cup with a 16-2 record in the playoffs. That's a little much to expect from a team that has only one winning season in its existence.

    We're now almost a quarter of the way through the 2010-2011 NHL Season, and I've been waiting to run a simulation for the site since NHL 11 came out in September. Unfortunately for me, it took EA nearly two months to release a roster update that actually reflected accurate rosters for the season. Then it took them another week to fix it. Anyway, it's time to place some bets, people: here are your 100% guaranteed* results for the 2010-2011 NHL Season.

    * results guaranteed to be incorrect

  • GoldenEye 007

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Goldeneye 007 ds CoverIf you pay attention to the development timeline, there are some clues you can pick out that may hint at a flawed final product. If the game changes platforms mid-way through development, that should send up a warning signal. If it does so more than once, that's probably an impending disappointment. If some lead developer leaves the team shortly before it's finished, that's another. And the developing company goes under before the game hits the shelves, that's something worth considering as well.

    But the easiest way to spot a troubled game is by the dearth of information preceding its release. Goldeneye 007 for the Wii was heralded as the second coming of the N64 classic at this year's E3. On the other hand, its Nintendo DS counterpart was quietly announced alongside it at E3 and unceremoniously released on the same day last week. I made an extra effort to look for details of and screenshots from the Nintendo DS game, but had a very tough time finding anything of substance.

    Curious, but with low expectations, I rented the spy-sized DS game card from GameFly. I mean, it's still Goldeneye, right? And the Wii version seems to have plenty of polish, so why shouldn't its DS counterpart? I've spent thirty minutes with the game. Is it an undercover success or a dirty little secret?

  • GoldenEye 007

    First Hour Review

    Goldeneye 007 wii CoverWhen I think of GoldenEye 007, I think of a screen split in two by a horizontal line through the center. I think of the Complex, a multiplayer map with plenty of hidden nooks and crannies, as well as one raised bunker room overlooking the map's main area. I think of the claustrophobic staircase that leads into that room. And I think of the countless times I climbed that staircase, RCP-90 at the ready, only to catch a glimpse of an enormous explosion before blood dripped down my half of the screen.

    When I think of GoldenEye 007, I think of my brother hoarding the explosives, camping in that fortress of perfectly-placed remote mines, watching my screen until the perfect moment to strike, then pumping his fist and laughing when the blood started to spill. Every. Single. Time.

    It was infuriating then, but I can't help but laugh looking back on those days. It seems Activision, the current owners of the 007 videogame license, want to cash in on our fond memories of the N64 phenomenon that introduced so many to the first-person shooter genre. The game-publishing juggernaut announced a Wii re-imagining of GoldenEye 007 at this year's E3 with plenty of hype in tow. Though it stars Daniel Craig and boasts a storyline more fit for modern times, the new GoldenEye appears to be taking many cues from the Pierce Brosnan-era video game, with updates to the gameplay that seem stripped right out of the latest Call of Duty titles.

    There aren't a lot of games that can get people excited through name alone, but GoldenEye 007 definitely fits that bill. It's easy to forget, however, that the GoldenEye name has been mishandled before. I've briefly stepped into the gadget-laden shoes of this latest James Bond. How did this first mission go? This briefing is for your eyes only, 007.

  • Killzone 3 Beta Impressions

    Blog Post

    Killzone 3 CoverMy experience with the Killzone series is rather limited. A couple months ago, I reviewed the first hour of Killzone 2's campaign, noting that I might keep going. I did end up running through another hour or so, but it takes something special to keep me interested in an FPS campaign, and Killzone 2 didn't have much of the sort. And though I planned on giving multiplayer a try, I never got around to it.

    So when The First Hour was given a code for the Killzone 3 multiplayer beta, I wasn't sure I was the man for the job. I've never really been drawn into the world of online play in shooters -- the exception being Uncharted 2, which I played regularly for a few months when it launched -- so I don't have many comparisons to use for my experiences with the Killzone 3 beta. Luckily, I've heard plenty of commentary regarding Killzone 3 versus other shooters over the in-game voice chat that I can relay. And, surprisingly, I witnessed no personal attacks or foul-mouthed adolescents...and only one instance of a microphone being left in front of a stereo playing nothing but Madonna hits from the 80s. I guess that's a fringe benefit of a semi-private beta.

    I've spent about four hours on the battlefields of Helghan, and I think I have a good enough grasp on the Killzone 3 multiplayer beta to make a report. I tried briefly looking around news sites and message boards for a comprehensive outline of the beta's features but didn't find any. With that in mind, I think I've constructed a pretty detailed outline of what's going on in Killzone 3 at the moment (at least as of Halloween, anyway).

    All in all, despite my indifference to the franchise and its genre before jumping in, and the brief re-introduction to dual-analog that saw many deaths and few kills in my first hour of play...I have to say, I'm enjoying the Killzone 3 experience a lot more than I thought I would thus far. Or, what little of it is available in the current beta, anyway. Hit the jump for all the details floating around in my head.

  • Kirby's Epic Yarn

    First Hour Review
    Kirbys Epic Yarn CoverThe word "epic" sees plenty of use these days. You'll find it on plenty of video game boxes, woven into a bullet point or two on the back between screenshots and numbers pulled from reviews. You'll see it in a few game company logos, as well. And sometimes, the word will flash in your mind when you play something otherwise indescribable.

    It seems "epic" has truly made it big this year, finally being promoted from the back of the box to the title. Not only has the game formerly codenamed "Epic Mickey" been finalized as "Epic Mickey," but Nintendo announced and released their own titanic mega-game worthy of the term: Kirby's Epic Yarn.

    Wait, seriously?

    That's right, a series that has seen the words Squeak, Dream, and Tumble in its marquees is now Epic. And made of yarn. The title, of course, is a play on the word "yarn" used as a story and also the fact that everything in the game is made of fabric and knitting. But those same reviewers whose five-stars and upward-thumbs sit alongside the word on so many rear covers are giving a game that ironically uses it on the front the same treatment.

    I played an hour (and then some more). Would Nintendo want to put my words on the back of the box?

  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

    First Hour Review

    Castlevania Lords of Shadow CoverIt's not uncommon for a game's narrative concept to change mid-way through development. Story is just one of many factors that go into a title's creation, after all, and is probably the most malleable. Alterations to the game mechanics from the original plan often crop up during the creation process, and the story is adapted to reflect them. Other times, a new intellectual property will be merged into a proven franchise in order to create instant brand recognition. Before it was a celebration of all things Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. was "Dragon King: The Fighting Game." Star Fox Adventures started out simply as "Dinosaur Planet."

    Such is the case for the newest installment in the Castlevania series. Lords of Shadow was originally the title, not the subtitle, and had no real connection to Konami's classic series. It also went through a few of those oh-so-common story adaptations. It was originally pitched as a remake of the original Castlevania's tale of Simon Belmont, but eventually became the series reboot released last week. And a reboot is something many would say Castlevania sorely needed: five attempts at a 3D installment of the series ended with five instances of mediocrity, and it's obvious that some fresh perspective would help, here provided by relatively unknown developer MercurySteam.

    The game found its way into my mailbox last week, courtesy of GameFly. I'm a noted Metroid-vania fanatic, though my time with Lament of Innocence a short while ago was largely underwhelming. Does the reboot take the polygonal half of the franchise a step in the right direction?

  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

    First Hour Review

    Castlevania Lament of Innocence CoverI'd never really paid much attention to the Castlevania series until Dawn of Sorrow was featured during the early days of the Nintendo DS. I was a bit hesitant to purchase the game, writing off the series' gothic style as that of a poor horror game. But in late 2005, I ventured into Castlevania for the first time and found its undead denizens too charming to slay just once. I've returned to see Lord Dracula and his wacky friends eight times since then, and enjoyed every visit.

    Having played every modern "Metroidvania" since then (besides the recently-released Harmony of Despair, focused on online multiplayer), I realized I hadn't yet spent any time in a polygonal version of Drac's realm. The impending release of franchise reboot Lords of Shadow encouraged me to stop by the local game store and check the ten-and-under bin for anything Castlevania. The various entries on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 systems have received mixed reviews, but I'm willing to take a chance on a bargain title in one of my favorite franchises.

    My excursion to GameStop ended with my wallet ten dollars lighter and a copy of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence added to my collection. I've spent sixty minutes in the demon castle. How did this latest visit fare?

  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

    First Hour Review

    Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers CoverIt's almost expected these days that a Final Fantasy game will be announced long before it ever hits store shelves. 2010's Final Fantasy XIII was first made public nearly four years before anybody outside of Japan got their hands on the final discs, and its companion titles revealed the same day aren't even locked for release yet. I know hype builds over time, but when a game passes the four year mark since announcement, I tend to forget about it completely.

    Square Enix's teasing ways aren't exclusive to the main HD-platform Final Fantasy games either, as the absurdly-titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers was let out of the bag a year before its HD cousins, but saw release only months prior. There were multiple rumors of cancellation, rumblings of drastic changes mid-development, and over two-thousand days between announcement and release, but FFCC:TCB did eventually see the light of day.

    I remember the first teaser footage and a full trailer released some time later, which featured the protagonist in some pretty exciting situations and plenty of lighthearted flair. As time went on, I forgot about the title completely when it saw release last Christmas, but picked it up on the cheap a few seasons after its launch. Did all those years in the oven leave Crystal Bearers well-done or burnt to a crisp?

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