Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bloody Lara, Lost Odyssey, First Templar, Hitman & Ring Capacity  


Games: My good friend @ChrisGreen87 has just had an interesting opinion piece go up over at GamerDork. In it, he examines the possible implications of Lara Croft’s reboot, which seems to put her vulnerability and physical damage at the forefront of the game’s imagery.

 Click on over and see what he has to say... if nothing else, it will get you thinking.


Games: This week was a tough one for actually playing games. Between work, obligations, and other real-life things that needed to be taken care of, I was only able to squeeze in a fraction of the time that I would have liked to. Still, I did do a bit.

Primarily, I'm still pushing my way through Lost Odyssey (360.) As of tonight, I just made it to Disc 3, although I really should be getting through it a lot quicker.

Anyway, it's still a great experience, although Disc 2 seemed to lapse into standard JRPGness. I didn't find many of the same outstanding story moments that I did earlier, with the exception of a few of the text shorts. With half the game under my belt, I'm hoping that some of the initial high points that hooked me will be matched by the time credits roll.

(By the way, I’ll announce the winner of my giveaway at the next update. Stay tuned!)

For review, I’m currently making my way through The First Templar (360.) It's a budget release adventure game telling the thirteenth century tale of a Templar Knight and his female rogue partner. It's not the kind of game that will set the world on fire, but for people (like me) who don't mind playing games that aren't on the cutting edge of technology, there's a lot here to like.

The game certainly has its rough points to be sure, but it's one of those rare efforts where you can almost feel the level of effort and goodwill put in by the developers. Basically, this game has a lot of heart, and it shows. In my book, that counts for a lot. I'm not very far into this one, but at the moment it's a thumbs up, for sure. More to come.


Games: I am a huge Hitman fan, and I am thrilled to no end that Io Interactive has FINALLY announced the next installment of the series. (Yes, I think we've all had quite enough of Kane & Lynch and Mini Ninjas, thanks.) Titled Hitman: Absolution, practically no information at all has been released other than a confirmation of the game's existence.

...However, that hasn't stopped one YouTube poster from picking apart the teaser trailer with a fine-toothed comb. I can't tell if this piece is stupidity or pure genius, but I certainly laughed.


Music: Super-cool nerd-rockers Kirby Krackle have just released their latest music video, ‘Ring Capacity’.

As you might guess, it's an homage to Green Lantern, so the timing on their part is quite good. I've seen them live a couple of times and I really dig their stuff in a big way... click on over and give them a listen.


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Lost Odyssey Giveaway!  


Games: So I’m playing Lost Odyssey and nobody could be more surprised than I am that I’m really, really enjoying it. In fact, I'm having such a good time with it that I thought I should share the love. I haven't done a giveaway here at Coffeecola for quite some time, so this seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to rectify that.

So, want to win a free copy of Lost Odyssey for the 360? It's easy. Here's what you have to do:

Leave a comment here at the blog and tell me what the most emotional scene you've ever seen in an RPG was.

It can be a JRPG, a WRPG, or an RPG of any kind, I'm not being choosy here. The most important thing is tell me the game, tell me what scene it was, and tell me why it had an effect on you. That's it!

I'll accept entries for a week or so (or until people stop posting) and then I'll take all of the names, put them in a hat, and let my son choose one. If your name is the one he chooses…


Free game, free shipping, and a guaranteed good time. Interested? Get to posting!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Big Things...  

Games: I've only got two things to talk about at the moment, but they're both HUGE... well, huge to me, anyway.

Number one - Word is that Sony will be slicking up certain PSP titles to run on PS3 as part of a new 'remastered' line. The first announcement? Monster Hunter Portable 3rd.

Here's the video... I will say no more.

Number two - Well, a picture's worth a thousand words, and hey, this one's even got text.

The only thing left for me to say about both of these two titles? DAY ONE PURCHASES.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lost Odyssey, Cool Links, MHP 3rd on PS3 (maybe) and Firefly  


Games: I started playing Lost Odyssey (360) a few days ago. This selection may surprise to some people since it's rare that I’ll play a JRPG that doesn’t have ‘Shin Megami Tensei’ in the title, and there are a few reasons for that...

(Insert long-winded rant about the stagnant, redundant and creatively bankrupt state of JRPGs here)

…Anyway, finding a JRPG that has something new to offer is difficult. However, a fair number of people whose opinions I value (including SINAN KUBBA) recommended Lost Odyssey, and for whatever reason, I was in the mood for a JRPG. Apparently the stars were in alignment because not only was my head was in the right place, but Lost Odyssey (8hrs in) has been a great experience so far.

While the nuts and bolts of play are fairly standard for the genre, I've been consistently impressed with the writing, and more specifically, the characterization of the cast. The game's protagonist is an immortal man who's been alive for over a thousand years. The writers really dig deep into how that would affect the mindset of such a long-lived person, and it's fascinating to see the way they cover it without beating it to death with obvious tropes.

The supporting characters so far have been quite good as well (Wise-cracking Jansen is impossible not to like) and I've been very impressed with the subtlety and depth on display during the cutscenes. The camera will frequently take cinematic angles or cut away to another character, and the animators have done a great job incorporating small motions and body language that most games completely overlook.

I'm still quite early in the adventure but Lost Odyssey has certainly been a rare treat so far.


Links: Speaking of SINAN KUBBA, the latest episode of Big Red Potion is now up and ready for download. Guest-starring myself, @ChrisGreen87, @EddieInzauto, and the always-smartly-groomed @MrDurandPierre, the topic on hand is an in-depth examination of the under-rated critical fave Nier (PS3/360).

…Wait, did somebody say Nier?!?

 ::laugh track plays::


Links: In case your clicking finger still has some juice left, you can pop on over to GameCritics and read my latest review. I take on the recent XBLA title Outland, and I find it just a wee bit lacking.


Games: File this under OMFG (maybe) Good News, Sony has announced a new initiative to "remaster" select PSP titles and make them playable on the PS3. The first? An HD version of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd. You can check out this video for a direct comparison, and start imagining how awesome it would be to play this game on a big TV with a real controller.

So why do I file this under ‘maybe’ good news? It hasn't yet been announced for release in the USA… Come on, Capcom. Do the right thing.


TV: I know I'm insanely late to the party on this one, but the wife and I just started watching the long-defunct Firefly thanks to NetFlix on-demand. I've heard about it for years and I know that it has a pretty rabid fan base, but for whatever reason I've never sat down to see what it's all about. Until now.

At this point we are about five episodes in and (so far) I think it's pretty good.

I'm definitely a fan of mixing genres, so Western with Science Fiction is right up my alley. I can certainly see why it got killed off so quickly, though. It's not hard to imagine all of the puzzled looks from people who didn't know what to make of it before quickly flipping channels to the nearest sitcom or reality show. It's certainly a shame, but I think history has proven time and again that smart, quirky shows tend to fly over the heads of the general viewing audience to end up on the chopping block sooner rather than later.

Side note: Whoever designed the show’s spaceship should be ashamed of themselves. It's one of the ugliest crafts I've ever seen, looking awkward, ungainly, and generally like it should have spent another week or two on the drawing board. Every time I see it flying, I physically cringe. Someone really thought that ship looked cool enough to put into production? REALLY?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting Along, XBLI, Section 8, GC Podcast, Settle Retro gaming Expo, Thor  


Misc: Today was gorgeous. Sunny, bright, warm... So, so nice.

It doesn't rain every day in Seattle the way that most people think it does, but it is gray and overcast most of the time. Personally, I'm a big fan of that kind of weather, but having sun once in a while is good too. However, despite the fact that the out-of-doors was picture-postcard-perfect, it wasn't really the weather that made the day great... it was the people who were out enjoying it.

I love Seattle, I really love it, and although I've heard some news stories recently claiming that it's one of the most homogenous cities in America, I really don't see that. As my family and I walked through a large park in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, we were surrounded by crowds of people of all kinds. I met a couple of musicians down from Canada who happened to be in town to play a gig. I exchanged a few words with a gay dad and his adopted son about the joys of chasing down small children. I passed by more people than I could count, exchanging smiles and head nods of acknowledgment for each other.

Black, White, Asian, gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, young people, old people, singles, couples, parents, Americans and those who were clearly from other countries... all of these people were literally gathered in one place to enjoy the park and soak in the day’s sunshine. No one was angry, no one was fighting, no crimes were being committed. Some of the younger kids were a little bit boisterous, but that was about the extent of it.

It felt absolutely wonderful to be in this place among people of all kinds and simply experience everyone getting along -- I'm definitely a cynic and I've got plenty of negative views on a wide range of subjects, but not on a day like today. Being around other people and taking in the atmosphere was the sort of moment that makes me feel glad to be alive, and gives me hope that maybe we can all eventually get to a place where this kind of contented amiability is the norm and not the exception.


Games: I’m in between reviews at the moment, so I took the luxury of trying a couple of XBLI titles recently.

The first was LaserCat, which has the player exploring room after room of hazards as a cat... made of, uh, lasers… I guess.

It reminded me greatly of VVVVVV, except that this title was much easier on the player with a far friendlier level of difficulty. It was a fun enough title, but after having completed VVVVVV, I don't feel much desire for another title so similar to it.

The second title I tried was Lab Rabbit. In this one, the player is a rabbit silhouette trying to escape from (wait for it) a lab by leaping over tons of pits and spikes. This is generally one of the kinds of XBLI games I enjoy due to the stark visuals and simplicity of play, but I've noticed that a significant number of indie developers have huge problems with jumping mechanics.

Lab Rabbit was no exception, displaying absolutely horrendous jumping physics that require the player to fight some odd inertia in addition to manipulating the direction of a jump with the left stick in a way that did not feel intuitive. If the jumping had been more manageable I probably would have bought it, but I've got no time or patience to fight the idiosyncratics of a game that should have its core function absolutely dialed-in.

The final Indie I tried was Blocks That Matter, and this one ended up being a purchase. The idea of the game is that the player controls a small robot able to destroy and absorb blocks that are in its way.

Simple enough at first, but the hook is that the robot can reconstruct these blocks in classic Tetris shapes in order to aid its movement through each level. I didn't get very far in it, but I appreciated the combination of puzzle game and platformer, and the few levels I did play started simple but became pleasantly complex before long.


Podcast: The most recent GameCritics Podcast is now out and available for download. Episode 54 is all about "The games that made us" in addition to a humorous segment about fictional pre-order games. Give a listen, if you're into that sort of thing.


Games: Recently started and finished Section 8: Prejudice on 360. I was a pretty big fan of the first Section 8, and had been looking forward to this one for a while. After putting in my time, I have to say that it didn't do much for me that the first hadn’t already done.

The singleplayer campaign was certainly expanded, but the writing was pretty bad and didn't have any particularly memorable missions or high points. I completed it out of some vague sense of obligation, but I can't really say that I enjoyed it.

The multiplayer was still fairly enjoyable and I think it's a good formula, but the game becomes an exercise in punishment when the teams are lopsided. Out of the three days that I played online, I only had two matches that were decently populated with real people. When there are only five people (total) in a map and the teams break out with two on one side and three on the other, that extra person makes a world of difference if they’re even halfway competent. (The maps are designed for far more than five people, by the way.)

Overall I think it's a pretty good value for $15 (especially if you haven't already played the first game) but I'm done with Prejudice now and don't have any intentions of coming back to the series unless the next singleplayer campaign is a lot more interesting than this one was.


Events: Heads up that the Seattle Retro Game Expo is happening May 28 & 29. You can click on over to the official website here to find out the details, but if you're in the area you may want to think about popping in and checking it out.


Film: The wife and I caught Thor in theaters last night, and if you ask me, it was well worth the price of admission.

I've never been a very big fan of Thor as a character, but I was more than a little familiar with the comics and felt as though the filmmakers did a surprisingly good job of translating the material. The actors showed a decent amount of depth for what they were given, the plot wasn't over-stuffed with too many half-realized elements, and the visuals were fantastic.

In fact, some of the battle scenes were pretty amazing. After seeing ridiculously buff actor Chris Hemsworth pummel some frost giants with his mystic hammer (and a little assistance from the special effects department, of course) I think I can say that this is the first time I really got a sense of Thor being truly godlike and fearsome in battle. Bad-ass, man.

While Thor wasn't the sort of film that made me re-examine my views on humanity, I was completely entertained from start to finish and enjoyed the performances, and for a movie like this, that's about all I ask.

(Also, huge props to the film for only making Hemsworth wear Thor’s iconic winged helmet in one scene. It may look appropriately majestic in the pages of a comic, but there's no denying it was unbearably goofy-looking in real life.)


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dilemma of Monster Hunter Online, and Mass Effect 2's stupid plot.  


Games: So a while ago I gave up on my dream of completely finishing Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP) since the upper-rank missions are clearly designed for team play, and I've been unable to find a group of people to quest with. However, my good friend @SilentHitoshura recently got into the game in a big way and I've also made contact with a few other folks who were interested in getting a group going.

Score, right? Well, not exactly.

First, the PSN outage killed any potential of long-distance connection since MHFU only supports local play. There is a program available on PS3 called AdHoc Party which acts as a local hub to enable long distances between players, but we all know what's been going on with Sony's online presence.

As an alternative, I checked into Xlink Kai, which is an independent program created to allow games to connect over long distances, much the same way as Sony's program works. However, I was unfortunate enough to purchase a new computer when they were still being bundled with Vista, and as anyone knows, Vista doesn't work with anything. In fact, Vista barely even works. I am personally of the opinion that Microsoft owes every Vista owner a free copy of Windows 7, but since they aren't handing them out yet, I refuse to pay any more money for another OS. (I didn't want to deal with the hassle of changing over, either.) As a result, Xlink Kai was not a viable option.

Just conncect, damn you!
As of last night, PSN reinstated limited functionality which would have been good enough to finally get a game going until I discovered that AdHoc Party does not work with 20GB PS3 non-wifi models.

The type of 20GB I have does not sport native wi-fi connectivity, but I figured that an adapter or some type of device could be purchased to enable a connection. Unfortunately, from what I've read so far, that assumption was wrong. I'm not exactly clear on what the problem is, but it seems as though there isn't a third-party piece of equipment that will make my 20GB work in the proper way with AdHoc Party. So, it seems as though my only option is to trade in for a newer model.

(As a side note, I was recently informed that GameStop had sent out e-mails offering $100 off the purchase of a new PS3 for certain members of their discount-card club, of which I’ve been a part of for somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen years or so. However, I did not get this e-mail so I did not get the coupon required for the $100 off. Thanks for nothing, GameStop.)

I have to admit that having so many barriers to get through has been very frustrating, but after putting over 300 hours into MHFU, it seems ridiculous to quit now that I've found a few people to help me out in putting down those nasty, nasty high-ranked monsters.

The quest will continue.


Games: Apparently I'm the only person on the entire Internet who hasn't read this epic takedown of all the plot holes in Mass Effect 2 by Shamus Young. It's a great read, and if you (like me) were left feeling hollow and unsatisfied by the complete cop-out, let-down, WTF-are-they-serious?-ness of the game’s central storyline (yes, there was one) then this is required reading.

Thanks go out to @unangbangkay for pointing it out in his own blog here, in which he has a novel solution for solving the ME2 stupidness problem.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Exclusionary Brink, Pokemon, Dark Souls Preorders and The Joy Formidable  


Games: So Brink has been out for a little while now. I'm not going to dig too deeply into it since (for me, anyway) there's not really a lot to say. I spent a bit of time with the full version and, well, let's just say that I didn't spend much.

However, there is one (more) thing that I need to get off my chest.

You may recall that I wrote about Brink’s decision to exclude female models from the game a year ago. I had hoped that they might change their minds in the interim, but I didn't really expect that to happen given that the developers kept citing “resource constraints” as the main reason for the omission. However, I was quite surprised to find that the full retail version of Brink has no options for subtitles whatsoever.

At the beginning of the game, players are prompted to watch a lengthy tutorial video which explains all of the game’s systems and features -- and there are no subtitles. After this discovery, I quit back to the title screen and searched through all of the menus, and was not able to find any option to turn on text. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I took a pretty thorough look... if there is an option for subtitles, I sure as hell couldn't find it.

In this day and age, every single game being released should come with (at minimum) an option for basic subtitles. Sometimes voices don't come through as clearly as they should, sometimes people are playing in noisy environments and miss a few lines, but most importantly, developers need to be aware that not every player is able to hear. It is a fact that deaf and hard-of-hearing people play games, and being disabled, they don't have the choice of ‘turning up the volume’ or lip-reading the characters on-screen.

I have never met any of the Brink developers, I have not interviewed the Brink team, and I don't have any inside information or first-hand accounts of what happened behind the scenes, but I have to say that the combination of female character exclusion and total lack of subtitles serve to paint a picture that isn't very favorable to the people who made this game.

Not every game player is an able-bodied male, and with the choices on display in Brink, it's hard to avoid getting the impression that women and the disabled were either forgotten, consciously left out, or deemed not important enough to have been considered during development. I'm sure the Brink devs are lovely people, but regardless of their true feelings or intentions, the end result displays the kind of outdated, exclusionary ‘dudebro’ attitude that no one should support.


Events: This Saturday at the Washington State Convention Center downtown, the Pokémon World Championship will be happening. Although I haven't played Pokémon in quite some time, I may drop by to check it out.
Apparently there are three different age divisions for competitive play, and I'm guessing that there might be a few cosplayers as well. If nothing else, the crepes at the restaurant in front of the center are delicious, so the trip would be worth that at the very least. If you're going to be in the area and have an interest in Pokémon, stop by and catch a few. Or... 'em all.


Games: The good people over at Atlus have released a new co-up video for their upcoming title, The Cursed Crusade. You can check that out here.

Some of that combat looks pretty sweet and I'm always up for titles that have a good buddy mode, so it's on my radar.


Games: Just a quick FYI, if you're interested in the upcoming Dark Souls (and if you're not, I mean... seriously? you're not?) it’s just been announced that people who pre-order now will be automatically upgraded to the deluxe version for free. Bonuses include an art book, a strategy guide, and a soundtrack among other things.

Although I'm still a little disgruntled that Atlus won't be publishing, this is certainly one of my most-anticipated of the year considering that it's the spiritual sequel to Demon’s Souls. (And in case you don't remember, that game was my top pick for 2009 overall. Am I stoked? Just a wee bit.)


Music: I don't talk about music very much, but the other day I was driving along in the car listening to KEXP (which is pretty much the only station I listen to if I'm not tuned into NPR for the news) and the song ‘Whirring’ by The Joy Formidable came on.

I had never heard it before, I don't know thing about them and it took me a few minutes of googling to even figure out what the song was or who they were, but it clicked with me right away and I liked it enough to share it with all of you. Here's a link to the official music video. If you give a listen, let me know what you think.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Normal Blogging Resumes  


Games: So, I wrapped up my Outland (XBLA) review.

It should be up soon, but for the moment I can say that my final impressions were a lot less positive than my initial ones. In fact, I didn't even bother to finish it, and it's not a very long game. I totally love the art style, but the rest... well, you can read it for yourself later.


Games: In other negative news, the Brink embargo has now lifted.

I'm not reviewing the game myself (and I'm extremely glad for that) but I did get a chance to play a couple hours of it, and I didn't want to see anymore. There were a few good ideas on display, but for the most part the game looked like a terrible mess.

The first wave of reviews has come in, and although there are some high scores, a significant number of critics seem to feel the way I do. Buyer beware, I suppose.


Games: On a more positive note, I've been hopelessly devoted to Gladiator Begins on PSP for the last week or so and I just can't put it down. It's definitely a hard-core niche title and I see why it didn't go anywhere at retail, but a title like this is gold to me.

The player starts off by creating their own gladiator (male/female, all the various customization options, etc.) and then goes to work fighting in the arena. There are four different fighting styles (single sword, double sword, sword and shield, pugilist) and each comes with their own different special attacks and so on.

The real hook for me is that there’s a ridiculous number of weapons and armor in the game, and certain pieces can be customized to increase attack and defense, while decreasing weight. Equipping the proper gear (taking encumbrance into account) is hyper-addicting when combined with the options of the various fighting styles, and finding just the right setup is incredibly rewarding.

Gladiator Begins certainly isn't for everyone, but players who like tinkering with gear, experimenting with customization, or those who find Monster Hunter or making mechs in Armored Core to be an entertaining pastime might want to check it out.


Games: One of my most-anticipated games of the year, Catherine, has recently announced a slew of pre-order bonuses for those gamers who want to pony up for the deluxe version.

Apparently the "Love Is Over” version will be made-to-order (meaning that there won't be any extras left over if you don't speak up soon) and will come packaged in a cardboard pizza box which I assume ties into the game somehow. It also includes a pair of boxer shorts, a T-shirt, and a pillow case displaying the image of Catherine herself. If you don't want to pay for these bits, any pre-order for either the standard or deluxe version will receive a soundtrack CD and art book.

Get to it!


Comics: Free Comic Book Day happened last week, so I hope you all had a chance to get down to your local, shop and show your support while picking up a few free reads at the same time.

I ended up getting a stack of stuff myself... most of it was made up of my usual selections, but I did pick up Super Dinosaur, Atomic Robo, the Discovery Channel’s "Top Ten Deadliest Sharks”, Escape Goat, the two latest issues of Firebreather, and a pile of books for the kids. Good times.


TV: The wife and I just watched the third episode of Doctor Who’s season six (the pirate episode). For me, this was a pretty mediocre episode. There were a few plot holes and in general, I didn't think the scripting was very good.

While one shabby episode of any show wouldn't be enough to make me worry, the last two episodes weren’t any good -- and that's on top of the fact that I was fairly dissatisfied with most of season five. The string of subpar installments on a show I love is getting a little worrisome.

When I took part in recording the GameCritics Doctor Who podcast a while ago, I wasn't clear on which of the creative players (Davies and Moffatt) were responsible for which elements. At this point, I think it's a little easier to tell. Apparently, Davies was responsible for the parts that I liked and Moffatt (who's now running the show on his own) seems to be struggling to manage an entire season.

I sincerely hope that season six starts picking up and that Moffatt gets it together because it's really painful to watch episodes that are both full of holes and not very entertaining, to boot.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Passing  


Personal: 2011 been a bit of a rough year.

I had a feeling it might be, pretty early on in January. No particular reason, I just had that vibe.

Soon after, a number of issues surfaced that were causing one headache after another, and following all that noise came a serious bout with pneumonia (chronicled earlier in this blog) which was the sickest I've been in years and years.

Well, I guess when it rains, it pours. Just a few days ago, a friend I've known for more than ten years passed away, and the loss hit me much harder than expected.

This person had been sick for quite a while and everyone knew that there was no chance of recovery, but the end came as a bit of a surprise since they had been doing fairly well just the week before. I had expected to see them later on that day, but I got a call before I woke up and learned that they were gone.

I've seen lots of sad things and been in many emotional situations, but I think this one is probably the toughest because I've stayed in contact with the family since the event; the spouse who was left behind, the kids, and so on. I thought I'd be able to be strong for them and give support -- and I have -- but this passing has had a much deeper effect than I would have guessed.

The end result? Mild grade depression, another confrontation with personal mortality and my normally-healthy eating habits have been thrown out the window in favor of ridiculous amounts of fat, sugar and salt.

I had a bunch of game stuff to talk about, but in light of this week's events I'm going to put it on pause for a day or two. Normal blogging will resume shortly.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

???, Outland, and The Disappointing Doctor (Who)  

Games: In a very ironic turn of events, I just started playing [ _____ ]. I never would have guessed it, but it arrived this morning, so clearly the universe works in mysterious ways.

I don't have a lot to say about it at the moment except that my first impressions were terrible, and they didn't get any better as more time went by. In fact, I’ve got some pretty harsh criticism for it, but unfortunately, I can't say a word.

Sorry to be such a tease, but more on this later. Maybe.


Games: In non-embargo news, I put a little time into Outland (XBLA) today. It's best described as a Metroidvania with a main character that looks like Tron and a color-switching mechanic very similar to Ikaruga or Silhouette Mirage. It's kind of a crazy combination of elements, but for the most part, it really works. The art style is fantastic, the controls are tight, and the boss battles are great.

On the other hand, the prologue is too long and I'm not entirely convinced that Metroidvania was the right way to go. A lot of my time has been spent on simple level traversal in the hunt for keys and switches to flip -- not exactly riveting stuff. It occurs to me that if the developers had gone with more straightforward linear level design and positioned it as a traditional action platformer, the adrenaline level would've been kicked up by at least a few notches.

I'm still working my way through so I'm reserving final judgment at the moment, but at this point I would categorize it as a thumbs-up… hopefully that feeling will remain.


TV: The wife and I just watched the first two episodes of Doctor Who’s new season, and I’ve got to say that we’re both feeling a little… dismayed.

We had misgivings about the way the previous season was going (season five) and especially about the way it ended, but we were hoping that the rough patch was due to the transition between Tennant and Smith, and that things would be tightened up after the hiatus.

At this point (and I certainly admit it's still early days) that doesn't appear to be the case.

I'm not quite ready to go off on a full-scale rant yet, but the pace of these two new episodes was overly brisk and left too many details behind. Some of the logic on display was also quite questionable, and although there is certainly a level of disbelief suspension that is required to appreciate a show of this sort, the writers are playing a little too fast and loose for my taste.

I hate to say this because we fell head over heels in love with the show after discovering it last year and we've been eagerly awaiting the further adventures of everyone's favorite Time Lord, but this… I don't know, it just feels as though things aren't quite right here.

Hopefully things will start coming together as the season goes on, but I do have butterflies in my tummy after seeing how it kicked off. Nothing to do but keep fingers crossed and hope for the best, I suppose…


Monday, May 2, 2011

Can Mortal Kombat survive without the Ultraviolence?  


Games: I've been putting a good amount of time into the new Mortal Kombat, and if you read this blog, you’ll know I'm a fan of this latest iteration. I have much admiration for the work that NetherRealm Studios has put into the project, and in my view, this is the best MK of them all, bar none.

However, something interesting happened while I was going through the Story mode...

For those that don't know, the Story mode is a reworked mash-up of the plotlines from several of the older MK games. Basically, the writers stitched all of the plots together, cleaned everything up so that the linear progression of events made sense, and expanded the relationships between characters a great deal. It's a fantastic mode (easily one of the best that a fighting game has ever had) and it's a great piece of fanservice.

However, the twist is that since the Story mode needs all of the characters to survive in order to actually tell the story, players are not allowed to perform Fatalities. After all, it wouldn't make much sense to have Baraka challenge Jade in Shao Kahn’s palace if he was already blown to smithereens fourteen matches earlier. It seemed a little odd at first, but I soon forgot that the bloody moves had been disabled, and I rolled credits on it feeling quite satisfied.

Here's the weird thing: after completing Story mode, I started playing Ladder mode; basically a standard arcade mode like those found in just about any fighter. After performing my first Fatality, I felt a little… wrong. It may not make sense, but my gut feeling was that ripping the skin off of my opponent after a victory didn't belong, or that it was too much. It was a little jarring and dissonant.

Or, I dunno... Dont?
Back in the day when MK first hit the scene, it was pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that the game itself could not hold a candle to any of the Japanese-produced fighters at the time. It was quite inferior, technically speaking, and although the developers may argue the point, it was widely understood that the gore was what its fame was built on. If not for the graphic level of violence, I have no doubt that MK would have faded away with barely a whisper, like so many other subpar titles at that time.

With this in mind, there's no disputing the fact that Mortal Kombat and gruesome acts of violence go hand-in-hand. We are talking core identity here. However, the quality of gameplay has improved so much in this latest iteration that it absolutely feels like a well-rounded, interesting and deep fighting game -- and in my opinion, no longer needs Fatalities or uber-violence to justify its existence. Going further, I'd even say that the gore on display is almost a distraction from what the game actually offers; perhaps even cheapens it.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a weak stomach and I have no problem with violence in games. I'm also a huge horror fan, so I'm no stranger to seeing all sorts of crazy deaths and violent acts, but in this particular case things are so over-the-top bloody and gruesome that it's a little off-putting. I now find myself skipping the Fatalities altogether and finishing each match with a much tamer uppercut or jump kick just so I can move on to the next round.

Not bloody enough, or are we good here?
Maybe it's because I'm older, or because I'm a parent, or maybe it's just that my taste and views on what makes a good game have shifted, but I can't get away from the feeling that the graphic acts of dismemberment and decapitation delivered with each Fatality are obsolete and outdated; vestigial components which no longer serve a purpose other than to push the game’s gross-out factor through the roof. Seeing this type of bloodshed may still hold some appeal for some, but not for me.

Violence in a fighting game is quite appropriate and I'm quite happy to play what NetherRealm has delivered -- and will continue to do so-- but if Fatalities were left out of the next installment, I can honestly say that I wouldn't miss them. I realize that I'm probably barking up the wrong tree here, but after making so many right choices and showing real wisdom in the new Mortal Kombat’s redesign, I'm thinking it might just be time for the game to ditch the shock value, promote the quality of the fighting, and grow up just a little bit more.