Friday, August 29, 2008

Catching Up

I've got a bit of catching up to do as its been a while since I posted anything in this space. It isn't for lack of trying, I've just been really busy.

But I will be posting some stuff from my hotel. Possibly a last hurrah, but I'm still uncertain (conflicted or whatever).

More information coming soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trimming the Fat

My video game shelf is getting a bit crowded. Maybe it's all the darn peripherals (Wii Wheel, Wii Fit, Wii Zapper, and Rock Band), but its time to weed out the crap that's slowly slipped into my collection. So this month the axe is comes down and seven games are on the chopping block (perhaps eight).

Goodbye and Good riddance!

On the Way Out:

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360) - I reviewed this controversial title last year for, back when we did reviews.
Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360) - Completely mislead by my nostalgic love of the PS2 original. Although gamers everywhere cried foul when this up-rezed port showed plenty of freezes and gameplay hiccups, the later patches Rockstar and Mad Doc released corrected those issues. The port still looked bad, with inconsistent art direction and served as proof positive that developers can't just up the resolution on a next gen game and consider their job done.
Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360) Played it last fall, finished it and slowly realized I'll never play it again. The magic wore off this one pretty quick.
Timeshift (Xbox 360) Sadly, still wrapped in shrink wrap. Never played it.
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii)
Resident Evil masquerading as House of the Dead. Not a bad game, but not a very memorable one, either.
Frequency (PS2)
As a fan of all things Harmoix, I bought this game hoping I could revisit the magic of the 'old days'. But playing Frequency through an upscaled PS3 on an HD television was not a formula for success. Instead, the timings on the notes were impossible thanks to unfamiliar HDTV refresh rates. There's no way to fix it either.
Animal Crossing (Gamecube) I bought the DS version, and I'd rather play it on the go.
Devil May Cry 4 (PS3) Completely heinous emo-swordplay wankery at it's finest. Fun for five minutes and then it's gone. I'm only sad because I really wanted to love this one. Oh, and dice games as a prelude to the final boss equals fail.
Unreal Tournament III (PS3) The first console game to support custom user generated content. But I kept hoping I could use the Gears of War mods in single player so I could fool myself into enjoying this bloated shooter. Oh, and playing as Master Chief (thanks mod community) didn't save it for me, either.

Mario Kart Wii (Wii) "Mario Kart: Double Dash" was better. Really, it was.

Every few months I'll focus on making this a regular practice. Who knew spring cleaning in August was so refreshing.

Balancing Act - Or Day One of Playing with Wii Fit

It's 4 a.m. in San Francisco, and while I struggle with yet another sleepless night, I can't help but marvel at today's turn of events.

As I found myself awake last night (again), I spent most of the night reading up on Nintendo's leap into the world of family fitness. This leap is something that I've always been curious about both a gamer and a guy who likes to try interesting things. But alas, it seems that the older I get, the more i become agitated with my lack of healthy habits. I don't like jogging, I hate sweating, and I've been blessed with a fast metabolism that's slowly slowing down the closer I get to 30. Instead of fruits, salads, and the occasional jogs, I wallow in my unhealthy state, blindly convinced that it will never get the best of me.

Who am I kidding? But maybe the fact that I dwell on it is proof that it's affecting me, right now. But rather than get all esoteric and bore you with some psychoanalytical thinking, I'll just get to the point - I bought "Wii Fit" today.

There, I said it.

Now before you close this browser and stamp off, convinced that I've finally lost my marbles (or the few that I had to begin with), here me out: First, I don't believe that Wii Fit is designed to make you more slender or physically fit than I do any other contraption that you see on late night television. You know, the pills, clothes, or DIY workout stations that fit in your closet, guaranteeing new ways to lose weight, or your money back (incidentally, I wonder if anyone has ever actually sacked up and confessed that one of those products didn't, demanding their refund and scowling with contempt for their delusional short-comings). Anyway,...

The reason that I bought "Wii Fit" wasn't for the promise that I'll lose weight (or get fit), but the motivation to try and be more conscious, and hopefully do something about it. Maybe this is the same thing that motivates people to sign up for the nearest gym, or read tons of books on healthy practices they can enjoy during their everyday life. Regardless if this over priced bathroom scale becomes nothing more than a $90 dust magnet, it still one step closer to me actually doing something about this gut that's growing between my chest and my mid-section (you know, the area formerly known as my stomach).

Plus, I've got bigger regrets than a measly $90 bucks. Like the time I bought "Steel Battalion", and slowly watched my geek cred rise like it was inflated stock (that thing sat in the closet for months after I played the game for a two weeks straight). Was it awesome? Yes, but was it worth it? Absolutely not.

It just feels so bizarre to me that I even own this product. I mean just read how awkward my gaming tonight was: I returned to "Soul Caliber IV" and vanquished another three floors of computer generated scum and villany. I fired up a quick session of "Halo 3" co-op campaign, and relived my favorite moment battling the four-legged Scarab Tank. Oh, and I started my first night of "Wii Fit" at 2:30 a.m.

See what I mean. It sounds so bizarre!

But even if I know the concept of Wii Fit helping me lose weight is a placebo effect at it's best, I'm still curious enough to give it a shot. Yeah, it's a lot different than the stuff I normally seek from my games, but isn't that why I play games in the first place - to try new and exciting things that I normally don't do. That could be solving mysteries as the curious Professor Layton, terrorizing the busy street of Paradise City. These are still fun things to me, and maybe I can weave Wii Fit into that gaming diet.

But what really concerns me right now is: Is anybody playing Wii Fit, right now? June sales data shows that "Wii Fit" sold half of what it did in May, that's the debut month in case that seems unreasonable. But my concern is that I hardy see any of Wii Fits impact in the stuff I read daily.

Are supply problems holding this back because the Wii system is still averaging insane numbers mother to month?

Couch Potatoe, Confirmed

Maybe a month from now I'll still be playing "Wii Fit"? Or maybe I'll just give in to real excercise and get a bike?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Game Diary - August 9, 2008

Shamefully, I haven't had a single entry in this game diary for weeks. And that isn't due to a lack of playing games. I've just been a little too burned out to write about them. I'd try and play catch up, but there really isn't a point to focusing on the games I've played in the past few weeks. Instead, I'll just focus on today.

So downloadable games have my undivided attention thin month. And I'm totally fine with that considering the quality level. Last week, mentioned how infuriating it was for me to play Geometry Wars 2. But instead of seeking out anger management classes, I just took some time off and played it today for the first time since. Kyle Orland, of Joystiq, is still beating the crap out of my scores, but I'll live. And I even came close to topping him today, twice.

The mode that did manage to mess with my blood pressure wa Pacisfism - the mode that everybody is talking about these days where your object to avoid the blue diamond-shaped enemies, and fly through gates that will blow them up when they get close.

While listening to an awesome 1UP Yours, I reached my new best of 35,000,000. Kyle's 44,000,000 is just within reach, an he's my only target since no one on my Xbox friends list has bought the game yet.

"Braid" is only other game keeping me busy, and it's worthy of incredible praise. This is truly a magnificent experience that draws from every traditional platformer I've played since my Super Mario Bros. days on the NES. The water colored art, the thematic play mechanics of each level, and the carefully crafted puzzles have helped me to really appreciate smart game design.

I finished it today, collecting all the puzzle pieces (and I feel quite sheepish that I had to cheat to get one of them). I don't know what I think of the ending yet, it was... not something I understand right now (it's 5 am on a Saturday) so I'll have to dissect it in my head tomorrow when I can be more coherent.

Next week: Signing up for a second semester at Bullworth Academy for Bully: Scholarship Edition.

The Summer Crop of Downloadable Games

In gaming circles, August is typically known for only one release, John Madden Football two-thuosand-and-whatever. Naturally the great gridiron simulator returns both new and improved, but this is usually the only big release we see in August, as the summer months come to an inevitable close and the rush of quality holiday titles begin to storm into the release calendar year.

Last year was more of the same, Madden was on the way. But one thing was different. 2K Boston (or Marin, whatever) and Take Two released Bioshock, a game that rocked the emotional storytelling boat like no other in the genre (or about as well as System Shock II did years prior). Wave of enthusiasm and praise swept across our industry, as more and more people the unprecedented depth of BioShock.

Both Madden and BioShock were the prelude of the incredible lineup that was released in the fall of 2007. That year will stand out as a remarkable year that included a list of marquee games including: The Orange Box, Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Uncharted, and more.

But fast forward to August of 2008, and there is a much different picture in place. The release calendar for August might be missing a game as rich as BioShock, but there are a plethora of quality downladble games - a much different picture indeed from 2008's usual fare.

This month the downloadable games just keep coming, each presenting another unique take on the concept of smaller focused games with lighter financial risk. "Braid", "Bionic Commando: Rearmed", "Castle Crashers", "PixelJunk Eden", and "Geometry Wars 2" (along with Siren: Blood Curse) represent a new growing market in the game publishing buisness - the self-published downloadable games sector of the video game business. These are the projects that might not survive as a retail disc, or would become dismissed or bloated and unoriginal by the traditional standard of retail packaged games. They are lighter on content, but more focused entertainment experiences. They deserve your attention and your dollars because of their unique nature.

This year, you won't find a smarter platformer than "Braid", or a more soothing graphcal aesthetic than "PixelJunk Eden".

Ladies and Gentlemen, digitally distributed games are here, and their quality stock is only getting better.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quick Ramblings

I've been playing catch up with a lot of things right now, so I've got a slew of things to talk about.

iPhone games aren't living up to the quality that I hoped they would. For better or worse, more and more clone games are finding their way to the device (Like thirty versions of Sudoku); and it's makes me worry every time I browse the App Store. However not all is lost, I have been playing Aurora Feint thanks to media guru (and veteran) John Davison's recommendation on his twitter feed.

I believe John is an incredible resource for quality assessment in video games, and I trust his opinion completely. He's the founder of Whattheylike, and - a parent's resource on gaming and online entertainment for kids.

Aurora Feint plays a lot like Panel De Pon (a.k.a. "Planet Puzzle League"). It reminds me of what "Puzzle Quest" did for traditional puzzle games like Bejeweled. The adventure aesthetic is part of the leveling system that the developers added to the already familiar gameplay (especially if you liked PPL as much as I did).

I've also got "Critter Crunch" and the abysmal "Super Moneky Ball" on my iPhone right now. Instead of being a breakout success, the mechanics Monkey ball dropped the ball big time. But it's probably not that bad for Sega. This was the number one downloaded app for weeks after the App Store launch, and at $9.99 a pop it must have made them money. I just hope they put it to use and develop better games for the platform. My crystal ball bets we'll see a Sonic game (with iPhone wankery) soon*.

I guess it just seems inevitable.

Geometry Wars 2

I liked the first "Geometry Wars" enough to purchase "Geometry Wars Galaxies" on the Nintendo DS. After all, this was the first title to really push Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360, when it launched back in the Fall of 2005.

So after all the praise on this weeks 1UP Show, and 1UP Yours, I knew it was only a matter of time before I jumped into "Geometry Wars 2". And although I'm glad I did, I'm not better for it.

Now, I should preface that I'm never easily angered by a game. I always keep my cool and just retry a level, whenever I fail. I don't throw controllers or smash stuff; That's just uncool.

I say this because "Geometry Wars 2" is bringing the opposite out of me. Now I get mad.

Maybe it's a combination of age and bad luck, but GW2 is really bringing out my bad side. The leaderboards make me uber competitive, the difficulty makes me easily agitated, and despite loving the sequel, I find myself frustrated before I hit continue.

*P.S. Sorry, I really don't have a crystal ball.