Sunday, July 29, 2012

Seattle Indie Expo 2012  


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Events: Last year’s Seattle Indie Expo proved that the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of up-and-coming games development talent, and if anyone needed further proof, then this year’s SIX drove the point home. 




Taking place at the DigiPen Institue of Technology,  the event was hosted by 17 Bit Studios (Skulls of the Shogun) and provided a great venue for gamers, journalists and developers to mingle face-to-face.

 Here's a quick rundown of the highlights, and for further information, you can find a complete list of what was at the show right here.

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Easily one of my favorite games at the show, Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment, XBLA) was an incredibly impressive ninja action game that takes 3D stealth concepts and interprets them to work in a purely 2D environment. The animation was smooth as silk, the controls were effortless, and the amount of thought that went into making the sneaking intuitive was fantastic.


For example, the game takes the guesswork out of being sneaky with things like an on-screen circle whenever the player makes noise. Any enemies within that circle will hear it, so it's quite simple for the player to accurately gauge whether they will alert guards or not. Other things were just as clever, such as the player being black when hidden, and brightly-colored when visible.

The substantial demo gave a very good taste of what to expect from the full version, including things like optional objectives for challenge-seekers and multiple paths through each level. Apparently, it's also possible to complete the game without killing anyone (except bosses) as well. From every angle, this looked like a big win.

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Shellrazer (Slick Entertainment, iOS) was another one that caught my eye, although for a slightly different reason -- I had actually downloaded it to my iPhone just a few days prior to the show. I had no idea that it was going to be shown at SIX, so getting to meet the artist of the game was a pleasant surprise.


In this title, the player takes control of a giant tortoise who straps various guns, cannons, and other weaponry to the back of its shell. The goal is to walk from left to right while taking out all opposition by any means necessary. There are loads of options for people who like to tinker with gear, and to be quite frank, seeing this giant reptile plod along while spewing lead in every direction is just too damned cute.

Unlike many of the other games featured at the show, this one is available on the app store now!

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Playing with perception seemed to be a recurring theme at this year's show.

Perspective
The first one to catch my attention was Perspective (Widdershins, PC) and I have to admit that as I was looking over the shoulder of another person playing the demo, I absolutely no clue what the hell was going on. Once that person left and I had my own turn at it, I thought it was pretty brilliant.In this game, the player takes control of a 2D character who must navigate through fully 3D environments. The hook is that he can only travel across blue platforms which are scattered around the walls, floors and ceilings. By rotating the camera view, platforms can be connected by altering the perspective onscreen. It was a bit reminiscent of something like Echochrome, but far more flexible and energetic.

The Bridge
The Bridge (Ty Taylor, PC) was the next mindbender I came across. It's most easily described as the player taking control of a man who is walking through the type of impossible geometry that M.C. Escher is known for. Portrayed in black and white, the goal of each area was simply to reach the exit, but along the way the player must account for the movement not only of his own character, but of large boulders which bring an end to the adventure if they roll the wrong way.

Subduction
The last one to play games with space was Subduction (Improbability Drive, PC). This one had the most stripped-down graphics out of all of them, with the on-screen display consisting of little more than simple lines and a small avatar, but it had no problem piquing my curiosity. In this title, the player controls a princess navigating through stark 2D environments, but these environments could be flipped and rotated every which way, including top-down. I was dying to talk to the developers of this game, but every time I came to the table they had just stepped away.

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At least two of the games I saw (maybe more) were the result of projects by students still at DigiPen. Both Rhinopocalypse and Meka Zoo were cute, clever, and instantly engaging. The former was about a rhino crashing through a world made up entirely of 3D pixels (it looked a lot like 3D Dot Heroes, really) and the latter was a platformer inspired by Donkey Kong Country. However, instead of starring apes, the player can transform between frog, snake and pelican modes. I was told by the Rhinopocalypse developer that because the game stems from work done at DigiPen, it had to be released free of charge. Look for that one to be available for PC in the next few months. Meka Zoo’s eventual fate was unclear.

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There were a number of games which were clearly not ready for prime time, but which still showed some promise, regardless. 


Volgarr theViking (Crazy Viking Studios, PC) looked like it was ripped straight out of the 16-bit era, and I mean that in the best possible sense. If I didn't know better, I would swear this was some forgotten Genesis gem, and an interesting turn of events, the developers currently have a fully-funded Kickstarter going to support development with plenty of days left before it ends.

My Giants (Studio Pepwuper, PC, Mac) was a cute multiplayer game featuring kids playing capture the flag, with the twist being that they have monstrous helpers along for the ride lending backup. Given the small scale of the development house, multiplayer is the only mode in production right now, but this one was crying out for a proper campaign, if you ask me. Hopefully that can come to fruition in the future.

Rednecks vs Robots (Noxious Games, PC, Mac, iOS) was notable for pitting anthropomorphized animal hillbillies against mechs from outer space. Several elements of the general design were still under development, but my guess is that it will be a good fit for iPhone/iPad.

NOT FOR FACEBOOK
Finally, a special shout-out goes to Heart Shaped Games and their new title Battleline Bandits (PC, Mobile, and NOT FOR FACEBOOK.) An interesting mix of turn-based tactics and CCG elements, this one will be going to beta soon and will be in need of testers. Keep your eyes peeled here, or check in with HSG for more details.

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Rounding out the show were returning favorites Skulls of the Shogun (17 Bit Studios, XBLA, PC), PAX 10 finalist Containment: the Zombie Puzzler (Bootsnake Games, PC, iPad) and Vessel (Strangeloop Games, PC, XBLA) made a return appearance, all of them having been polished up and prepped to move to new platforms.

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That about wraps it up for me, but as you can see, there’s a lot to be excited about here in the Pacific Northwest… I can't wait to see what's on tap next year!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Metro flops, Skylanders soars, and what to do about hyperviolent games?  


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Games: I finished Metro 2033 on 360 last night, and I started a blog post to sort of wrap up my final thoughts. By the time I had it all down, I realized I had effectively written a full Second Opinion review without intending to, so I'll go ahead and post that to Gamecritics. It should be up before too long.


In the meantime, if I had to nutshell my overall impressions I'd say that the first 2-3 hours were pretty amazing, but that the game quickly falls apart afterwards by relying too heavily on tedious gunplay and by presenting a story that lacks detail in every aspect. It's tough for me to get excited about slogging through tunnels and shooting mutant rats when the plot is paper-thin and makes little sense.

Despite all the complaints I had with the game and how little I ended up enjoying it, I would still recommend the first section to those who have an interest in rich atmosphere and effective pacing. After that, though, kick it to the curb and don't feel guilty about it for a moment.

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Reviews: Super LTTP on this one, but here’s my writeup on Skylanders: Spyro’s AvdentureSpoiler: I’ve beaten the game twice and I own all the figures, so you can probably guess what I think about it…

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Events: Seattle Indie Expo THIS SUNDAY. Don't miss.

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Requests: We will be recording a new episode of the Gamecritics Podcast in less than twenty-four hours, and the subject will be graphic portrayals of violence and what purpose they serve. 

How this came about was that I got an e-mail from a listener/reader who expressed concerns over gory stuff like Manhunt and its ilk, and more recently, Sniper Elite V2. In this game, the player is shown several “kill cam” shots of his bullets traveling great distances to explode the heads of enemy troops, and there are several scenes where the bullet is shown traveling through vital organs, and so on. It's quite reminiscent of the x-ray supermoves in the most recent Mortal Kombat, actually.


Essentially, this person is saying that they feel the extremely graphic presentation of the damage being done to the bodies of enemy soldiers is over the top and unnecessary, and that it serves no real purpose. In fact, he goes on to say that the specific level of violence he's talking about should actually be banned since it may even be harmful, in his view.

So, what you think? 

Is there any good reason to have hyper-violent content in games? Any good reason to get rid of it? Should it be banned, or should people have the option to consume such types of content if they wish?

If you've got an opinion and want to share it, e-mail me and I'll read it on the air.


***************PR/NEWS/INFO***************


 NIS America today announced that Character Chowdown is now available for download on iTunes® for iOS devices!
Character Chowdown is a brand-new game that will aid students in learning new languages. Developed in cooperation with Yummy Yummy Tummy, Character Chowdown will feature cuddly characters and cameos from Nippon Ichi Software Inc.'s popular Disgaea® series. 

Players can start learning the Japanese language with a free katakana pack. More language packs for hiragana and hundreds of kanji will also be available.


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The new Darksiders II trailer – Death Comes For All


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A brand-new Dishonored trailer showing multiple solutions to a problem.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seattle Indie Expo 2012, Metro 2033, and an iOS assist needed!  


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Events: This Sunday (July 29) is the second Seattle Indie Expo, and it's got a new location. 


Rather than the SoDo area where it took place last year, it's now being put on at DigiPen in Redmond. Doors open at 10 AM and the event continues until 5 PM.

Skulls of the Shogun
The selection of games this year looks absolutely fantastic. If you haven't already seen it, you can check a trailer for the event right here. For more info, click on over to the website and if you're anywhere near the Seattle area that day, come on over.

I’ll see you there!

(Psst...If you're in the mood for more gaming get-togethers, make sure to check the PR/News/Info section at the bottom of this post for an update about the upcoming Retro Videogame Expo in Portland on September 29-30.)

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Games: I'm still putting some time into Metro 2033, but I've got to be honest here, folks... the appeal is really wearing off. What a difference a few hours makes, eh?

Like I said in the last blog post, the game started like a knockout and grabbed me right away. It really did. The first few hours are pretty amazing, and I had no problem getting sucked in. Once past the first few hours, though, it hasn't been nearly as tight.

A little goes a long way.
Basically, it feels like the middle section of the adventure is unnecessary padding that doesn't add anything except more gunplay than is desired. Desired by me, anyway. Since stealth is hard to pull off successfully, things often degenerate into a gunfight when enemy humans are around. Plugging big swarms of mutants isn’t very thrilling, either. Despite the fact that the game is presented in the first-person perspective, it seems like a waste to have such a rich world and potent atmosphere fall back onto common shooting so often.

The other issue is that the story gets off on the right foot, but it soon starts going astray. I've never read the book that this game is based on, so I have no idea whether or not the developers have included all of the various story detours as a way of being faithful to the source material, but I'd rather have something that was six hours and laser-focused than what it is now – a game that's a lot closer to ten or twelve hours, with the dramatic momentum in danger of totally evaporating long before the end.

I was pretty close to quitting tonight for no other reason than the game doesn't seem to have any new tricks to share with me, and I'm not getting enjoyment out of going through a lot of similar-looking tunnels and ruined buildings as the story rambles forward, but I decided to take a break instead. I'm nearly done, and it would be a waste to stop now. 

I'll try to chip away at it, a few levels at a time.

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Reviews: I'll be starting a brand-new feature at GameCritics soon, focusing on iOS titles. I plan to review three or four at a time, so if you've got a favorite that you want to see reviewed, then drop me a line here at the comments section, through e-mail, or on twitter.

Raid Leader

Also, I'm looking for a title for this series. I've got a few ideas at the moment, but nothing’s really clicking quite yet. I'm open to suggestions, so if something clever occurs you, let me know about that, as well. 


If I use your title or if I review a game that you brought to my attention, I'll give you a shout out and my most heartfelt appreciation!


***************PR/NEWS/INFO**************


Families and video game fans from around the Northwest can look forward to the seventh-annual Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) on September 29-30, 2012. Held last year at the Doubletree Hotel, PRGE moved to the Oregon Convention Center to accommodate the event's growing popularity. The event will be held in the 60,000 square foot 'Hall C' of the Convention Center. Specifically, PRGE will feature a greatly expanded arcade section which has been coined the 'Megacade.' Nearly 20,000 square feet of floor space will be set aside for attendees to play more than 100 classic arcade, console, and pinball. The arcade is being presented in partnership with the popular classic arcade, Ground Kontrol.
PRGE attracts fans of video games and their history and is a family friendly, all-ages event. It is made up of three areas: The arcade, speakers and panels, and the Vendor Marketplace.

The arcade will feature an unprecedented number of classic arcade and pinball machines, showcasing everything from Asteroids to Zaxxon. More than 40 classic home consoles will available to play, including such favorites as the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis. All games will be free to play with admission.

The Theater will feature two separate auditoriums where attendees can see speakers and panels on a variety of classic gaming topics. Attendees can participate in a video game trivia contest, a cosplay/costume contest and a live auction for many rare video game items and memorabilia.

The Vendor Marketplace is by far the largest and most popular part of the convention. More than 40 vendors will be selling classic games, consoles, and memorabilia from over 30 years of video game history. Game-related crafts and art pieces will also be available. 

Passes can be purchased online or at the door. Pre-sale tickets will allow attendees to get into the event one hour early on Saturday, September 29. Vendor space is still available and PRGE is soliciting arcade game owners to volunteer their games for the event. Visit RetroGamingExpo.com for more information.
“Our new arcade alone is larger than our entire event last year. I feel that this portion of the expo will offer something that attendees have never seen before – a nostalgic arcade experience on a vast scale." says Chuck Van Pelt, one of the organizers of the PRGE.

“Last year, we doubled our size and our convention was still packed. We have responded to the demand by selecting the Oregon Convention Center for the 2012 Expo. I’m really excited to unveil the Megacade, " says Rick Weis, of PRGE.

For tickets or information on the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, visit RetroGamingExpo.com.
For press passes, photos or interviews, please contact:
Rick Weis, Vendor & Exhibitor Services, 360-619-2217rick@retrogamingexpo.com
Chuck Van Pelt, Public Relations & Marketing, 503-349-3970chuck@retrogamingexpo.com

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Friday, July 20, 2012

LTTP: Metro 2033, PAX 10, Alexandria Bloodshow, and A "Sexy" Quiz  


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360: I know I'm totally late to the party on this one, but holy sugar smacks, you guys... Metro 2033.

(Nutshell: post-apocalyptic FPS set in the Russian subway system.)

I’d heard a lot of positive buzz for the game before it came out, and while the positivity seemed to falter a little bit after release (my fellow GC’er @SparkyClarkson wasn’t too high on it) there were still plenty of people who said it was the goods.


I snagged a copy on sale and it's been sitting in my stack ever since, but with talk of a sequel coming later this year, I figured I’d better get cracking and play it already. I'm guessing I'm about a third or half through the game at the moment, and so far it's been an incredible experience.

More than anything, I admire the pacing.. I've heard that it falls apart once you get further in, but everything up until the point that I'm at now has been excellent. While it's structurally a FPS, the developers aren't afraid to take things slow and cultivate the incredibly rich atmosphere.



Combat comes in fits and starts, and when it does, it usually feels panicky and frenetic. Rather than one of the countless titles where the player runs and guns like an invincible superman, each encounter here feels very intentional, and significant. I believe it was @JKeverne who described it as being the “Demon’s Souls of FPS games” and so far, I would say that's pretty accurate.

However, one downside (and it's a debatable one) is that the stealth elements I've come across are perhaps too "realistic", meaning they’re quite unforgiving and extremely difficult to pull off successfully. It's satisfying as hell when they come together, but I can see why people found them to be frustrating. I've only managed to get through one area without things devolving into a firefight, and that was after many, many attempts. If I had any complaint about the game so far, it would be the stealth.

That said, everything else has been just amazing so far. Great level designs, great concepts, fantastic atmosphere, mature and measured pacing… as I said before, I haven't completed the game yet, but everything I've seen so far has been off-the-charts awesome. If you haven't tried this one yet and you're the kind of player who’s open to an unconventional FPS with a brain, Metro 2033 is a must-play.

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 iOS: Just a quick shout-out for Alexandria Bloodshow here. Put out by Sega, it's a lot like Plants Vs. Zombies except that it replaces those elements with Egyptian and Greek armies.

The artwork is great (each army is rendered in the 2D style typical of its culture) and the game strikes a good balance between being complex enough to allow for some real strategizing and being simple enough to play on the go and in quick sessions. I've been playing it compulsively every day for a week, and I'm still not tired of it.


It's not perfect, though. Since it uses a vaguely CCG-like structure, the game is very slow to start since the player begins with access to a very limited variety of troops. One new card is awarded per match whether you win or lose, but this drip-feed slows growth of tactical options down to a glacial pace. There are several slots for different "decks" to be constructed, but even after all this time, I've only got enough cards for one really usable one.

Naturally, the player has the option to buy more cards with real-life money, but the cost seems quite steep and the cards are random. I would have much preferred some sort of in-game currency in addition to real-world purchasing to give the player more freedom in picking and choosing troops as they see fit.

It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but despite the issues I have with it, it's still a hell of a lot of fun and it scratches my strategy itch quite nicely. Plus, it's pretty cool to be able to summon wave after wave of mummies and send them shambling towards oncoming troops.

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Indie: The PAX 10 have been announced, and I am quite happy to say that Containment: The Zombie Puzzler is one of the finalists. You can read my review right here, and the game is currently available now via a variety of channels. If you haven't given it a shot yet, see what you've been missing.

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Sex: I can't remember who originally shared this link with me (sorry!) but this quiz is to see whether you can tell if a "sexy" passage from a book was written by a man or woman. 


The selections here are some real howlers -- number 8 especially. I scored 8/10, but give it a try and see how you do. Warning, although there are no pictures, some of the text may be NSFW.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Wrap-Up, Zombie HQ, Zombie Parkour Runner, and Outwitters  


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Games: My oldest son's summer vacation is over soon, just a couple of days left, but he managed to finish a few games while he was here. 




The first was Driver: San Francisco, and he enjoyed it just as much as I did... in fact, probably more. 
He seemed to have a much easier time with the final boss than I did, too. Young person reflexes, perhaps?




The second game he finished was Street Fighter X Tekken. Although it's not really a traditional game that you can "finish" in the sense that you've completed all quests or rescued the people in need, we went through the game with all available story-based pairs, so I'm calling that done.




The most recent game he finished, and probably the final one of the summer, was Skyrim. In this case, he completed the main quest line, so I'm counting that as done. Of course, there are still 38,000,000 quests left in the game, but does anybody really finish all of them? I mean, anybody who's not in a locked-down, supervised facility?

I'm pretty proud since this was the first real RPG he's played, and there was a bit of a learning curve. He spends most of his time with driving games and iOS grindfests when he's at his mom's house, so this was a big departure for him.

If you listened to the most recent GameCritics podcast, then you'll know that I re-started the game so that I could play alongside him, and I just wrapped up the main quest myself tonight. 

Although I was fairly bullish on the Dawnguard DLC, actually defeating evil dragon Alduin and restoring peace to the land of Skyrim was a boring, poorly-written, poorly-conceived mission. Not only did Alduin have no real personality nor present any real threat since he was mostly absent for the game’s running time, there was too much filler and not enough drama -- the same issues that plague the game, overall.

While I'm talking about it, special jeers go out to the final battle. I was only level 15 (mostly a destruction mage) and "The World-Eater" went down like a complete chump with a battle (if you can even call it that) even less memorable than some of the earlier dragons, and fighting dragons in Skyrim is about as tough as beating up on aggressive seagulls at the beach -- it may be a little annoying, but you’re never really in any serious danger.

Feh.

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Games: After spending so much time with my iPhone lately (why did I buy a Vita again?) I decided that I should probably start reviewing iOS games more frequently. I'm still mulling over what sort of format I should use, or exactly how I should structure it since so many of them are simple in nature and not designed to adhere to traditional console standards, though.

 If any of you reading this have any requests or specific things you'd like to see in relation to how iOS games are reviewed, please drop me a line here at the blog, via email or on Twitter. Any feedback is welcome.

In the meantime, here are some quick thoughts on three games I've played lately:

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>Zombie HQ  

Although this is one of the better games I've seen lately, it's also plagued with a number of serious problems.


The premise is that the player has a hideout on the roof of a building, and is contacted via radio to perform specific missions in different places across the city -- things like rebuilding barricades, escorting survivors, and scavenging for goods. It's a great concept that lends itself well to playing on the go since missions are quite short and small in scope.

After successful completion of a mission, the player returns to the rooftop and can perform various actions like buying furniture for the hideout, buying/equipping different armor and weapons, exchanging survivors for cash payouts, and so forth. There's a nice sense of progression and permanence as goods are accumulated, and it controls quite well for a faux D-pad type of game thanks to the excellent auto-targeting and simplified actions.

While all of this sounds like a win so far (and really, it is) it's held back by a couple of different things that absolutely kill the experience. 

The first issue is a huge one - since the game is free to download, the developers have instituted one of those pay-to-avoid-waiting schemes where players can spend real money in order to speed up gameplay. For those who don't want to pay, the character has a "cool down" period where missions can't be accepted for a brief time. It wasn't a big deal at first. In fact, I initially thought it was kind of neat since it gave the game a slight veneer of realism… the idea that your character had to rest up and wait for further instructions from his intelligence network was fine by me.

However, after stepping away from the game and then coming back to it, I discovered that there's a game-breaking bug in the clock. Every time I shut the program and then reopen it, several hundred minutes are added to the time I have to wait before accepting new missions. At the moment, the clock is telling me I can’t play again for 796 minutes! Until a patch is released, I can't make further progress in the game since more time is added every time I come back to see if it's working again.

Apart from that bug, the game uses two different currencies for items, and of course, the best stuff is bought with the rarer form of currency. Although I've heard from players who don't have the time bug that it's possible to farm "the good money" in certain missions, the developers are obviously hoping that players will save all the hassle and just get the primo bucks by buying it with real cash.

This kind of strategy backfires with me, to be honest. I have no problem at all chipping in some extra money for games that deliver a great experience and respect me as a player, but when I'm getting nickel-and-dimed from the start, I'm far less inclined to open my wallet.

I can’t fully review the game since it’s literally unplayable in its current buggy state, but what little I've seen shows much promise. The general design felt like a good fit for the iPhone and the graphics and controls were thumbs-up, too. I'd have no problem paying couple of dollars outright for something of this quality, so it's a shame that it went the route of free/IAP-whoring. 

I'll come back to it after it’s patched and see how much of the game can be completed without paying any extra money, but I hope that the developers will take a different route next time -- if they keep turning out products of this general quality (apart from the bug) they’ll certainly be at the top of the charts, I think.

At this point, Not Recommended.

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>Zombie Parkour Runner

Continuing the zombie theme, ZPR puts the player in control of a super-cool female parkour athlete who radiates can-do girl power and avoids the busty/sexy stereotype. There’s a bit of a story to be pieced together by collecting objects which can be viewed inside her room (accessed through the main menu) but the real draw here is the fast-paced platforming.


The developers have done a great job of giving the main character a satisfying amount of moves like wall-running, vaulting, and grabbing onto pipes, yet it's all controlled by a single fingertip pushing on the screen. She runs at a constant pace, so it's up to the player to tap at the right time and get her from point A to point B while an undead giant is chasing her through a city.

The first three worlds are fairly tame, but the fourth world (available via IAP) gets pretty intense and will likely have even experienced players trying certain sections over and over again just to make it to the end. Collecting all of the story items is even more challenging.

Zombie Parkour Runner looks good, controls great, and offers a solid play formula that was entertaining enough to keep me playing all the way until the end, and on iOS, that's a fairly uncommon thing.

Recommended!

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>Outwitters

Outwitters is a turn-based, hex-based strategy game that is played asynchronously with other live people. (vs the AI is not an option.)

Ordinarily, I wouldn't spend time with something like this, but I am a strategy fan and the game seems to have no shortage of people to play against. On the first day, I had five games going at once, and there was very little downtime between turns.


Although the formula is simple, it's a proven one. There are three types of teams (only one is available initially, the other two are IAPs) and each one has a mix of light, medium, and heavy soldiers, each with their own attributes. The starting team is fish-based, so the heavy is a shark, the sniper is some sort of jellyfish, the scout is a sea horse, and so on. Each side is limited to five actions, so moves must be carefully considered and larger strategies have to play out over several turns.

I was initially going to give this one a thumbs up, but the servers crashed and I ended up losing all of my games for three days in a row. They finally came back today, but I wasn't able to complete them on my own -- apparently they somehow auto-completed, or my opponents somehow completed them in my absence.
The game isn't exciting enough for me to put up with irregular performance like this, and the UI needs a little work -- I have no idea how to dismiss the completed games that are cluttering up my home screen, for example. Also, it's a little disappointing that solo play isn’t possible, and that only one group of soldiers is available without purchase.

It seems like a bit of a work in progress so far, and I see a lot of potential here. If some of the issues are ironed out, I would be happy to recommend it, but it feels a bit too uneven in its current state.

Undecided.



***************PR/NEWS/INFO***************



Acclaimed localization studio and video game publisher Aksys Games today announced that Record of Agarest War 2 is now available in North America for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system in stores and also on the PlayStation®Network! Not content with the either the Standard or Digital version? Make sure to turn heads with the over the top Limited Edition, featuring an inflatable doll, compressed hand towel, and an unforgettable artbook. Developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart and RED Entertainment, and localized by Aksys Games, Record of Agarest War 2 is a new installment of the Record of Agarest War series with all-new strategy RPG gameplay, HD graphics, and bonus mini-games.

LE Contents:

·         Inflatable Felenne Doll: An adorable inflatable doll that will make a nice addition to any location that you can feasibly place it.
·         Compressed 8 x 12” Hand Towel: Conveniently compressed into a heart shape, this towel is the ideal object of your desire for when you need a small object that expands into a full hand towel.
·         Collectible Artbook: Titled “Heroic Trials from the Lands of Agarest”, this artbook is a humdrum addition to the many boring books you’ve read recently. Or so we would like others to think…

Game Features:

·         Revamped Battle System: Unlike the first two games of the series, Agarest 2 battles are fought with an engaging active grid-based battle system.
·         HD graphics: Enjoy your favorite characters, environments and CGs in high-definition!
·         Mini-games: Engage in PlayStation®Move compatible Bathtub, Shiatsu, and Massage mini-games.
·         New Agarest Universe: Roam freely in the newly designed world of Agarest

Record of Agarest War 2 has been rated ‘T’ for Teen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). More information aboutRecord of Agarest 2 can be found at www.aksysgames.com/roaw2.


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THIS IS IT: the FULL trailer for Persona 4 Arena, the upcoming fighting spin-off of the award-winning Persona RPG franchise developed in collaboration with genre masters Arc System Works (BlazBlue, Guilty Gear).

A curious appellation, that of the "FULL" trailer.  What, pray tell, is it "FULL" of?  Wonderment, akin to that of unicorn tears or the contained laughter of a thousand adorable babies? Excitement, equal to many things exploding at once or perhaps the sight of DOUBLE RAINBOWS?  Publishers use such curious language to pump up our stuff, don't we?

Yet, in the case of this new FULL trailer for Persona 4 Arena, we believe it delivers on any and every kind of "fullness" expected by the viewer.  It is full of awe, a mixture of beautifully drawn and animated 2D fighter sprites set upon elaborately rendered 3D backgrounds.  It is full of action, with satisfying combo after combo delivering high-flying punches and kicks and jaw-dropping special effects.  It is full of win, friends... The very best kind of win.  

24 karat win. 

Truffle win.  

Nutella win.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kirby Krackle - Live In Seattle  


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Music: If you read this blog, then you know that I’m a big Kirby Krackle fan. They’re local, they’re game players, they’re comic readers, and they’re awesome.


Their latest album is out. Titled Live in Seattle and recorded at the Hard Rock CafĂ© during this year’s Emerald City Comicon, it’s now available on Bandcamp (you can listen to the entire album for free before you buy!) and features the eleven tracks listed below.

Here are my thoughts on each…




 1> Up, Up, Down, Down If you know KK, then you know this one -- it’s pretty much their signature song and it’s a great one.  Plus, Wilson Fisk callout.

2> Nerd Money I’m not quite sure why this one doesn’t do much for me, but it’s not one of my favorite songs.  It’s a great rendition and easy to groove too, but… Meh.

3> Vault 101 A song dedicated to Fallout 3. If you’ve crossed the wasteland, this one will bring a smile to your face. The rising refrain just nails it.

4> Needing A Miracle Unlike many of their other songs, what this one is referencing is fairly vague…  Maybe I need to listen to it again, but it seems to be more about a general superhero theme than any one in particular.  A great song, though.  It reminds me of something that could have been on the radio in the eighties, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

5> Comic Shop I’ll be honest -- I dig this song, but when the female voice comes on (Kristina Horner, who I’d never heard of before) it just falls flat.  I don’t know if she’s a friend of the band, if they pulled her out of the audience or what, but her vocals kill this version.

6> Ring Capacity A Green Lantern homage. Not a favorite character of mine, but this song’s driving pace and pounding beat get my head bobbing.

7> Great Lakes Avengers They’re the worst heroes of all time, and the hero of this song has no other team to take him… The subject is a great fit for the quasi-punk vibe here.

8> Booty Do Math Did you read that title? ‘Nuff said. (Plus, Adam Warrock!)

9> Roll Over An unreal amount of 80’s/90’s cartoon references and a bouncing, rolling party beat. Pure fun, and round two with Adam W. I’m a big, big fan of this one.

10> Take On Me A Krackle-ized cover of A-ha’s 1985 classic. The synth! I dig it!

11> I Wanna Live In A World Full Of Heroes An earnest anthem of wishful thinking that stays upbeat and closes out the album with thoughts that every comic book reader has surely had.



I’ve seen Kirby Krackle play at least two or three times, and the energy of being in a crowd of fans is definitely captured here.  If you’ve never heard the group before, this would be a great place to jump on, and if you’re already someone who’s got a T-shirt of the band and drives to their local gigs, then you probably bought it before reading this.

Although I might have picked some of their other songs to replace the couple that I wasn’t crazy about here, overall, Live In Seattle is a win. 

Eleven bucks? Hell yeah.  8/10

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dawnguard... Or Yawnguard?  


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Games: I just wrapped up the Skyrim Dawnguard DLC last night, and as someone who’s not a Skyrim fan at all, it… wasn’t too bad.

Before going further, I’m sure some of you are wondering why I bothered with it, considering that I had nothing but bad things to say about Skyrim earlier.  I go into greater detail on the most recent Gamecritics podcast, but basically my son took a shine to it and wanted to play together, so I figured it would be a good bonding opportunity.  It certainly wasn’t my first choice for something to share, but it’s more palatable than some of the iOS crap he’s been on recently, so this was good enough for me.


SO…

Although Dawnguard was better than I had expected (and honestly, I expected the worst) it still had some problems.  On the other hand, it’s a very interesting piece of DLC in that the parts that it gets right shine a spotlight on what I found so wrong with Skyrim in the first place. 

Where Dawnguard succeeds is that it manages to inject some actual personality and character in a game that is painfully bereft of it -- specifically, via the vampire follower Serana.  Her introduction is quite interesting, she’s got an unusually large amount of dialogue compared to the other followers, and her relationships are intriguing.  Instead of spouting a bunch of lore and funny, made-up LARP-style terms, she talks about her parents, her situation, where she’s going in the future.  Despite the fact that she’s a vampire and the quest you’re on is to prevent the sun from being put out for all eternity, she is incredibly easy to relate to. Basically, she’s the most complete, well-rounded character that I’ve encountered in the game so far.


Also, I can remember her name, which is something I can’t say for anyone else in the adventure.

Other highlights include an undead horse that can be summoned at will, a new castle to occupy, and new skill trees for both vampires and werewolves.  My son chose to be a wolf and he enjoyed that fairly well, but it seemed a bit underpowered to me, even though it was much better than it was previously.  The vampire side seems greatly improved, however.  The powers are a lot of fun (transforming into mist or bats, a gargoyle summon, flying, etc.) and it was a fun metagame to decide which towns I would terrorize, and which ones I would leave alone.

Between actually getting a fairly decent character and more action-oriented powers, things were going well and I was surprised that there were fun moments happening.  That said, there’s still enough of the bad stuff to prevent it from completely redeeming the experience - in a nutshell, any time the game goes into a dungeon, things go straight into the crapper.


On the whole, I find the dungeons are generally way too long, too repetitive, and too uneventful.  Going through hallway after hallway without a lot going on slows the experience down to a painfully tedious pace, and adds nothing at all to the game.  I know that these dungeons are supposed to be “better” than what we got in Oblivion, but they’re still flat-out boring.  Things got extremely bad in the Dwemer ruins and the “collect water” mission near the end.  It was almost like a death march of patience to get through these, rather than anything that was exciting or suspenseful.  If there was ever a case where “less is more” proved true, it’s the dungeons in Skyrim.

There were other things holding the experience back, like not being able to loot when in vampire mode, and then having the transformation take more than a few seconds to happen.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but believe me, it’s a major disincentive to go vamp when you’re looking for stuff to pick up and you’ve got to switch back and forth over and over.  It also sucked that the vampire form is too big to navigate through some passageways comfortably, and can be pretty awkward to use indoors.

Although I got more enjoyment out of being a vampire than I would have guessed, the highlights of Dawnguard just made the rest of Skyrim seem that much worse.  I realize that Bethesda has no shortage of fans when it comes to the series, but for me, I need a lot more character and a lot more action in order to really immerse myself in a fantasy like this…  If the Elder Scrolls developers can take a few lessons from some of the other, newer RPGs making waves like the Souls series or Dragon’s Dogma and blend it with what they’ve got, their next project should be pretty incredible.

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Speaking of Skyrim, I find it pretty interesting to watch my older son play (age 10) for many reasons, but one thing that really stuck out to me was when he discovered that you can get married in the game.

Like me, he usually plays a female character if given the choice, so after finding out that you can have a spouse, he asked me where he could find a husband.  I told him that the game was flexible, and that he was not limited to hetero relationships…  I give Skyrim credit for offering not only same-sex marriages, but also interspecies options as well.


Those orcs, amirite?

Anyway, he paused at this for a moment and looked a little confused, and then preceded to go off and quest for a willing man.  Although he didn’t say so in so many words, I perceived his hesitance to be about the possibility of having a girl-girl union, yet he had no issue with role playing as a woman himself and seeking out an appropriate male match. I don’t quite know what to make of it, although it was fascinating to see where he’s drawing lines at this age.

 Parenting-it’s never boring!




**********PR/NEWS/INFO**********


Friends of ATLUS,

The last week brought with it news that Persona 4 Arena™ would effectively become the first PlayStation°3 system game to be region-locked. We can today confirm that this is true; the game will be region-locked in all its respective territories of release.

As we've ascertained from your impassioned responses online, this is obviously a tremendous frustration for many fans. We understand the various perspectives on the matter. Those who fear this is a slippery slope, the beginning of a dangerous and unnecessary precedent. Those who import foreign hardware for a multitude of reasons and expect to be unlimited in their software selection. Those who aren't necessarily affected by this issue, but who are principally opposed to it. We are not blind to these concerns and we pledge to grow ever more informed as to exactly what our fans want. It should be added that we were completely unprepared for the force with which the community communicated their disapproval.

There are, however, a few points to clarify. This is NOT the beginning of a new ATLUS policy, nor do we view it as a precedent or a slippery slope. If anything, your determination and dedication to what you believe in has certainly stood in the face of that. This is an isolated case, a situation precipitated by a number of factors, some of which are simply out of our North American hands. Moreover, and perhaps there is no way to convince our fans of this considering the magnitude of the betrayal many are feeling, but we are not doing this out of malice or a desire to control. Allow us to explain.

Persona 4 Arena achieves a number of triumphs for our North American publishing house. For years, our fans have asked us to include dual language audio in our games. Finally, with P4 Arena, we were able to deliver on that desire and include the exact same content as the Japanese release for our North American fans. Moreover, our North American community is often forced to wait months for a localized release (a plight our friends across the Atlantic can relate to). Again, with P4 Arena, we're able to release within two weeks of Japan. We pushed hard for these things. We know our fans want them--well really, EXPECT them--and we did our best to get as much for our release as possible.

The unforeseen consequence in all of this was that we had a version of our biggest game of the year releasing within a couple weeks in two territories, both identical in content, but at radically different price points. Importing, as great as it is for gamers who otherwise can't get access to a title, can also cannibalize the performance of a title in one territory to the benefit of another. While we're all one big ATLUS family, the reality is that the dramatic difference between the Yen and the Dollar makes for a dramatic difference in price. So the decision was made, perhaps at the expense of some of our fans, clearly at the frustration of many, to region-lock Persona 4 Arena.

For many of you, there is no explanation that resonates, no justification that atones for this fact. We can only endeavor to earn back your confidence and, to learn from your arguments. We absolutely recognize the fear that this is the beginning of a trend. We in no way view it as such. Please also keep in mind that the game's excellent online multiplayer is global, a fact that is in no way affected by the region-lock. Players can compete against fighters from all territories.

A tremendous team of talented developers and artists poured their blood, sweat, and tears into Persona 4 Arena, and every reaction we've ever received to the game has shown that those efforts are readily apparent. The decision to region-lock P4 Arena was a business one, one that has very clearly affected how many perceive the project, but we ask you to please not overlook the exceptional efforts of the people behind the game and to work with us through constructive dialogue.

Thank you.
  
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Capcom today confirmed the advanced release of 12 new playable characters for Street Fighter X Tekken on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Originally scheduled to be available after the PS Vita version launches this fall, these 12 new characters will now be added to the all-star roster on July 31, 2012 as DLC for the low price of $19.99 (1600 Microsoft Points). 

Bringing the robust Street Fighter X Tekken character line-up to an impressive 50, the newly-added playable characters are…

From the Street Fighter side: Blanka, Cody, Dudley, Elena, Guy, Sakura

And from Tekken: Alisa Bosconovitch, Bryan Fury, Christie Monteiro, Jack-X, Lars Alexandersson, Lei Wulong

For those who purchase the PS Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken this fall, the first run of all retail copies will come with two free download codes that allow owners to transfer DLC content to their PS3. One code will be for the additional 12 characters and the second will give Vita players free alternate costumes for the core roster of 38 characters. Additionally, anyone who pre-orders the upcoming PS Vita version at select retailers will receive alternate costumes for the 12 new characters. All DLC can be shared between PS3 and PS Vita.

For more information on Street Fighter X Tekken, please visit: press.capcom.com and http://www.capcom-unity.com

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Friends in the gaming press,

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time now has a shiny new website to complement its shiny (and beautiful) character art.  Please, if you'll just follow us--wait, what's that?  You don't know a thing about Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time?

That's silly talk.  Haven't you read all of the previous emails we've sent you on the topic?  No?   We're devastated, truly.  If only you knew how hard our team of capuchin monkeys works on each one of our PR emails.  Their adorable little monkey hands tremble ever so rapidly as they type away, their minds cheerily thinking of the banana treats we've lied to them about.  So precious.

Anyways, as I was saying before you rudely interrupted us by not knowing a thing aboutGrowlanser: Wayfarer of Time, it's actually a rather highly anticipated strategy RPG for PSP system.  Perhaps not by a ton of people--THOUGH THERE WOULD OBVIOUSLY BE MANY, MANY MORE IF THEY KNEW EVERYTHING THAT MAKES THIS THE ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, SHINY RPG THAT IT IS--but folks in the know know that it's one of the best entries in a legendary roleplaying series but is one of the only ones to never make it to North America......... Until now.  Did you enjoy that dramatic pause?  We lost one of the capuchins as he/she tried to make a run for the window.  There, there, little monkey.

Anyways, a story of a threat from long ago, now forgotten by the denizens of the present but no less damning of their futures, combined with some terrific strategic RPG goodness, not to mention the beautiful artwork of Satoshi Urushihara... Look, it's amazing, that's what we're trying to say.  And we're not just saying that because we're supposed to.  Or because we want bananas.  Sorry, the capuchins wrote that last bit.

So, in short, there's a new website.  VISIT IT, WON'T YOU?  http://www.atlus.com/growlanserpsp.

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time for PSP system releases in stores and via PSN on 7/31.

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NECA/WizKids, the leader in collectible gaming, is excited to announce their partnership with the Valve Corporation to develop and launch their new line of Portal 2 Sentry Turret Collectible Figures.  In Portal 2, the Sentry Turrets are objects to avoid or destroy while maneuvering through the mind-bending puzzles presented at each level in the game— but you will want to collect all of these Portal 2 Sentry Turret Collectible Figures to stand guard over your work space and prized possessions!


The Portal 2 Sentry Turret Collectible Figures stand 3” in height and will feature both Open and Closed versions of 10 unique design patterns including camouflage patterns, animal prints and even a Hot Rod-motif.
As part of the announcement for the release of the set, NECA/WizKids Games and Valve are offering Portal 2 fans the opportunity to vote on one of four design patterns— the winning design will be released as part of the set.  The four nominated design patterns are a Lightning-motif turret, a turret with a “Mom” tattoo, a Hawaiian Shirt pattern and a Wood Grain pattern.  Please visit Valve Software’s Facebook page atwww.facebook.com/portal to vote for your favorite design pattern.  The winner of the “Fan Vote” will be announced on Valve Software’s Facebook page.

Follow NECA and WizKids Games on Facebook at www.facebook.com/necaofficial and www.facebook.com/wizkids for information about other Valve Software licensed products and collectibles.
The Portal 2 Sentry Turret Collectible Figures will be available for purchase in October of 2012.

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SEGA® of America, Inc. and SEGA® Europe Ltd. today announced that an HD remake of fan-favorite flying platformer, NiGHTS into dreams…™, will be coming to Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®Network, and Windows PC Digital Download this fall. To prove this news isn’t a dream itself, check out the first officialNiGHTS trailer online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb_CJLofgPY!

“The SEGA Saturn offered many unique gaming experiences, and NiGHTS into dreams…stands out as one of the most recognizable titles that found a home on the system,” said Chris Olson, Vice President of Digital Business at SEGA. “We’ve gotten a lot of requests about this game over the years, and are very happy to be able to give both former Saturn owners and new players a chance to play it in its most beautiful form to date this fall.”

Initially released for SEGA Saturn 16 years ago today, on July 5, 1996, NiGHTS into dreams… is one of the best-regarded games in SEGA history and a favorite of many fans thanks to its innovative 3D gameplay and multi-faceted level design. This new version will bring Nightopia to vivid life with improved HD graphics and a 16:9 aspect ratio, as well as added support for leaderboards, trophies, and achievements. It will also feature an optional Saturn Mode that will let players experience the game with the original graphics intact.

For more information on NiGHTS into dreams… please visit http://www.sega.com/.

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