Monday, December 31, 2012

The Life-Phorm Smartphone/Pad mount - Review  


*

Review: Life-Phorm Mounting System
By Lethal Protection – lethalprotection.com
MSRP: $69.95

*

I don't do a lot of hardware or product reviews in general, but after taking a look at the pictures of this thing, I think it's easy to understand why it was impossible to say no.

The Life-Phorm from Lethal Protection is an all-in-one positioning/mounting device that can be used with smartphones, tablets, cameras, and other various high-tech devices that may be laying around. Examples of compatible tech given by the manufacturer even include the WiiU.  

What comes in the box.
First (and most obviously) it looks like a giant freaking spider, or some sort of undersea parasite. It goes without saying that it looks totally unlike any other mounting device or holder that's currently on the market.
 
Once the initial shock of the thing’s appearance wore off and I stopped chasing my wife around the house with it, it was revealed to be a fairly unique device functionally, as well as in form.

The majority of the unit is made of high-strength plastic, with the only metal components being the screws which hold it together and the central clamp which attaches to the phone, iPad, or whatever is meant to be held. The clamp that holds the phone has a nicely rubberized surface. 

Hanging upside-down underneath of my son's bunk bed.
It will come as no surprise that the Life-Phorm is most effective when being used in places that you might find a multi-legged creature - hanging from a shelf, clinging to the underside of a bunk bed, sitting on uneven surfaces like carpet or in a bed with legs splayed out for stability, and so on. The legs can be moved in a number of positions, and each appendage has a small hook at the end. It can grip or cling in a surprising number of scenarios, so if there’s ever a place where traditional phone mounts just don't do the job, the Life-Phorm may be the answer.

Solid as a rock on carpet. 
On the other hand, it's not quite as flexible as the appearance might suggest. Although the legs can fold up underneath it, it's not very compact when not in use. Also, as I was testing out different places to set it up, I found myself wishing that the legs had one more joint than they do, or that I had the ability to remove or attach the legs to the base in different ways or at different angles.

There are some other downsides to the unit as well. For example, I found that when my phone was in the Life-Phorm and I needed to get up and go quickly, it was a process to first undo the legs from whatever they're gripping, and then after that, detach the phone from the base. It's not very practical for five minutes of use here, or ten minutes of use there. It's also worth noting that I didn't find the unit to be very stable as a table or desk stand. The legs are curved so they don't sit flat when it's 'kneeling', and standing it on its ‘feet’ took up more room than I could comfortably spare in my work area. (The wife finds it to be effective in the kitchen because she can put it places while not taking up counter space, though...)

Part of the clamp sticking out on the left side of the phone.
Also, it may be a small thing, but I was surprised that the clamp was too small to hold my iPhone 4S vertically between the grips. It was easily able to be secured in a sideways position (the grips are on either side of the phone in the picture above) but this left some of the clamp exposed and gave it a lopsided appearance. Since I suspect that most people who would be interested in the Life-Phorm will primarily be attracted to it because of its looks, it was disappointing that it wasn’t perfectly sleek in what will likely be a common configuration, given the prevalence of iPhones.


Overall, it's impossible to deny that the Life-Phorm is visually arresting and will likely appeal to gamers, sci-fi fans and people interested in making a statement with their accessories. Everyone I showed it to had a very strong reaction to it (mostly positive!) and the cool factor is off the charts. On the other hand, I think it’s most effectively employed in awkward places or in settings where it's generally difficult to mount a phone or pad. For normal, everyday functionality in home and office, it seems a bit too fanciful and unwieldy. 

...Then again, for those buying a phone mount which could pass for a cybernetic tarantula, fanciful might be just what's called for.

Rating: 7/10

*

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Big Pimpin'  


*

Thanks: As I look back on 2012, I have to say that despite the challenges which cropped up, it was a great year overall. My family is well, Gamecritics is going strong, readership here at Coffeecola is good, and my book is on track for publication.

I wanted to share some of that goodness with everyone who helped make 2012 so great, and if I could, I’d gift something to everyone who helped make it that way. Unfortunately, I haven’t reached millionaire status yet, so that’s kind of a no-go.

Instead, I'm going to use tonight's blog as a platform for something other than my tangential ramblings.  It may not be much, I feel like it’s the least I can do. So, instead of what I usually post, I'm getting the word out about people who have helped get the word out about me.

Below is a list of folks who wished to be mentioned in tonight’s blog post.  Please take a moment to check them out on Twitter, look at their websites and projects, or at least glance their way for a moment or two.
Also, thanks very much to everyone not on this list who didn’t have anything to pimp.  

You are all very much appreciated, and I look forward to another great year with all of you.

Cheers!

*

@teedub78 says  “I am fucking hilarious almost never.” 

*

@DriveForSix and @Rman5k would like people to check out @AddedXP, their parent-oriented gaming podcast.

*

@JPSJeffOrt would like readers to know his podcast at justpressstart.net is now entering its 4th year.

*

@Matt_Paprocki wants folks to know about his Blu-Ray site, @DoBlu.

*

Michael Cunningham is running a personal blog/portable gaming site with interviews, impressions, and some news over at http://www.pocket-console.com/

*
@xixBlueWolfxix wouldn't say no to some eyes and ears at his new home@tscoin.  

*

@secondquest says the internet seems to hate secondquest.vg. It could use all the love it can get!

 *

Chalgyr would like to mention his site, http://chalgyrsgameroom.blogspot.com/ - he says he's a mid 30's gaming enthusiast who has played a LOT of video games over the years (and even has most of his old consoles in running order). He posts reviews, news and general thoughts.

*

Thanks again to everyone!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Honorable Mentions, A PR Gift, and A GOTY Contest!  


*

Games: So in the last post, you saw my top ten games of 2012. However, I think the last twelve months were fabulous for gaming overall. It seemed as though there were a neverending stream of titles that ranged from ‘pretty good’ to ‘pretty great’, and I never had much trouble finding something that was worthwhile. 

As such, I would like to give recognition to a few titles which weren't good enough to make the final cut, but who still deserve a tip of the hat. In no particular order, my honorable mentions of 2012…

*

>Trials EvolutionREVIEW


I love Trials. Love it. RedLynx has absolutely nailed the formula, and this is one title I consistently come back to time and again when I don't have anything else cooking. It's especially noteworthy since I don't care much for motorcycles, I'm not a fan of scorechasing, and I don't particularly care for games which are incredibly difficult. Trials is all three of these things, and I just can't get enough of it. If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor and at least give the demo a whirl... on the surface it may not seem like your cup of tea, but it's got some magnetic quality to it that's impossible to resist.

*

>Containment: The Zombie PuzzlerREVIEW


I feel like I've talked this one to death, but it bears repeating at least once more. Take some zombies, mash them into a puzzle game where the object is to surround the undead with similar types of people, add in some intriguing environmental storytelling, and the results are a bloody good time. It's such a strange, offbeat title that it's a little hard to describe until you actually play, but every person whom I've introduced it to walks away a fan.

*

>The Testament of Sherlock Holmes – REVIEW


Sherlock is hot right now thanks to the BBC’s fresh, new take on the property and another recent series from CBS. This game doesn't build on either of those things, but contains a healthy dose of the classic Homes formula that makes them great. The developers are quite clever in the way they set Sherlock up as both the player, and as being above the player in terms of intelligence. It's a very interesting sensation, and meshes well with the point-and-click formula. I also appreciated that the game didn't shy away from filth and gore, and the feeling of solving a puzzle does make you feel as though you've done an honest bit of detective work.

*

>Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack  
REVIEW by Ned Jordan of GamersTemple.com


If you ask me, Drinkbox is one of the most overlooked studios out there. They've got a great sense of humor, the visuals are stylized and appealing, and their titles are a lot of fun to play. In fact, their latest is one of the best titles available for the Vita, hands down. I had a great time taking a spiky yellow blob and devouring everything that crossed my path in a game that combines Katamari Damacy, LocoRoco, and wacky ‘50s Scifi. Bonus points for including gyroscope and touch controls which don't feel shoehorned in.

*

>Silent Hill: Book of MemoriesREVIEW


This one isn't a no-brainer recommendation the way the other games in this list are, but I have to be honest when I say that by the time credits rolled, I was deeply enjoying the gameplay. Although it massively breaks away from the traditional Silent Hill formula, this title’s quasi-roguelike style really comes together once the player consults an FAQ to figure out what the hell is going on, and it feels like a good fit for the Vita -- deep enough to provide satisfying play, but small enough to be easily picked up and put down. Fair warning, it takes some effort to get into, but players who like survival-based dungeon crawling will find a lot to like here.

*

>Minecraft (XBLA) – REVIEW


I know Minecraft is old hat to PC gamers, but I played it myself this year for the very first time, and I found myself very attracted to the XBLA version because it was easy to approach, and never felt overwhelming. I was pleasantly surprised by the Survival mode’s ability to deliver a compelling, self-motivated adventure, but even better than that is the fact that the Creative mode (without monsters) is the most amazing box of virtual Legos that a parent could ever ask for. My children took to it immediately, and it's the sort of game that I don't mind sitting down with them to play -- we can build the most fantastic things and have fun doing it without worrying about any pressures imposed by the game itself. If we had to play this on PC, I doubt that anyone in my family ever would have taken the time, but it's so easy to get into on the 360 that I felt it was worth special mention.

… And there you have it, my honorable mentions of 2012. Check them out if you haven't already!

*

Misc: Since the holiday season is upon us, I wanted to take a few minutes and say thanks to everyone who reads this blog, who follows me on Twitter, or who reads my work at Gamecritics. I wish I could gift you all something on Steam (or the console equivalent) but I would run out of money long before I ran out of people whom I wanted to thank, or who I count as friends.


Instead, I would like to offer you all the opportunity to plug something here at my blog and Twitter… if you've got a website, a podcast, a project, a book, some artwork, some crafts you made, just a message, or anything at all (game related or not) that you'd like some publicity for, e-mail me or post a comment here, tell me what it is, tell me what you want people to know, and I will gladly include you in a big PR shout-out that I'll be doing before the end of the year.

It may not be much, but I'd like to say thanks somehow! Take me up on it!

*

GOTY: The @Gamecritics Podcast will be recording its 2012 year in review show on December 28th. On that show, we will be picking our overall game of the year in addition to handing out our usual awards, and we’re still looking for more submissions from readers and listeners!

Here's what you need to do: e-mail us at Podcast (AT) gamecritics (DOT) com and tell us what your top three games of 2012 were. In the same e-mail, tell us what the worst game of 2012 was, in your opinion. We will be tallying all of the submissions and will factor them into our year-end choice for top honors.

'sup?
As incentive, we will be picking four entries and giving them each a $20 gift card to the download service of their choice – PSN, XBLA, Nintendo’s eShop, iOS, Steam, or whatever. It only takes a minute to enter, and you might walk away with a few games in your pocket as our way of saying thanks.

We will be continuing to accept entries up until the morning of December 28th, so you've still got time if you haven't already dropped us a line!

*

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Top 10 of 2012  


*

Another year, another breakdown of the year's best games…according to me.

Before writing this list, I went back to my archive and looked over what I’d said in years past. The funny thing is that while plenty of folk were saying that the ‘big’ games disappointed in 2012, I also found that to be true in 2011 and 2010. Perhaps the trend is becoming more noticeable now, but in hindsight, it definitely seems to be a trend that’s been happening for a while.

However, even though the blockbusters might still be missing the mark, what was different about 2012 compared to years past was that I had my game of the year picked out quite a while ago. In my mind, there just wasn’t any real competition – the gap between #1 and #2 was fairly vast.

My top choice will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter, but we'll get to that in a moment. In the meantime, please take a look at the nine very deserving games which precede it, and if there are some which don't look familiar or which you haven't tried yet, please give them some consideration -- there were some choice experiences to be had this year, to be sure.

And now, with no further ado… my top ten games of 2012.

*

10> Tokyo Jungle - REVIEW


Weird… Fringe… Unorthodox. These are words that appeal to me when referencing videogames. I'm constantly in search of new and unusual ideas, or fresh takes on old formulas. Out of everything that was released in 2012, I would be very hard-pressed to name something more bizarre than the animals-gone-wild experience of Tokyo Jungle. The best part about it is that the premise of animals running through the streets of a major metropolis wasn't just bonkers, it actually had a great core of quasi-roguelike gameplay at its center. Further, the story campaign managed to be humorous, serious, and even poignant over the course of its running time. Toss in some impossible-to-resist characters (deinonychus! Japanese salaryman!) and the end result is a game built to deliver constant replay and constant absurdity at the same time.

*

9> Persona 4: Arena - REVIEW


I knew this title had been coming for a while, but I had no idea that rather than a simple bit of well-deserved fanservice, it was going to be an actual canon entry in the Persona RPG series. As if that wasn't enough of a surprise, not only did it contain a legitimate, multi-faceted story worthy of a full-on role-player, it bridged the narratives and characters of Persona 3 and Persona 4, setting the stage for what should be an absolutely mindblowing experience in the sure-to-come Persona 5. Oh, did I forget to mention that it's a fighting game? And that it’s not just any fighting game, but one with an approachable engine and enough depth to satisfy any aficionado of the genre? Strong combat and a strong story in the same title? You don't see that everyday.

*

8> Papo & YoREVIEW



Videogames have plenty of room to grow. They don't all need to adhere to the same sorts of ideas, and they don't all need to provide the same sort of experience. It’s not required that players have fun, and they don't always need to be king of the world. Papo & Yo is what I would describe as an autobiographical project, and the adventure its main character takes is more about what the director was thinking and feeling as the child of an alcoholic father than it is about solving puzzles or having doodads to collect. The visuals were strongly imaginative and the themes were quite clear. The ending was an absolute revelation. Although not to everyone's taste, the tale resonated with me on a core level, and I have nothing but respect for the message that was imparted by the time credits rolled.

*

7> Dragon’s DogmaREVIEW


Although I'm a big fan of Western-style RPGs, I've always been a little confused by the insistence of developers to focus on turn-based systems, or systems which rely heavily on standing in one place and waiting for cooldowns before spamming the next sword slash or magic attack. It's almost as though having quests and an epic story somehow exclude the ability to have fast-paced action. Dragon’s Dogma rectified that by asking players to actually fight their battles, and it was an absolute breath of fresh air. The classic tones of Dungeons & Dragons were great, the asynchronous multiplayer Pawn system was ingenious, and although there were a few fairly sizable errors made along the way (get to the fast travel sooner!) the ending of the adventure was not only totally unexpected, but put much of the experience beforehand into a different light. It's certainly not perfect, but it's a great start. If Capcom listens to player feedback, the sequel should be absolutely amazing.

*

6> Mass Effect 3 REVIEW


Mass Effect is one of my favorite games of all time. It was an incredible experience that has stayed with me ever since I rolled credits, and thinking about it eve now brings a smile to my face. No one was more excited than I was to begin Mass Effect 2, but in my eyes, it went off the rails and ended up as a bitter disappointment. I wasn't sure that BioWare could right their wrongs with Mass Effect 3, but I’d have to admit that they did, despite a few missteps. As someone invested in the characters and universe, I appreciated the time they took to wrap up so many connections and threads, and in essence, the third game is essentially one long epilogue to the series overall. There were many great moments and conversations which left me feeling quite satisfied about the state of affairs prior to the actual ending -- and that ending itself? I'm one of the very few who thought it was just fine the first time, prior to the fan outcry and subsequent tinkering. Although it didn’t quite reach the same heights with me that the first game did, Mass Effect 3 managed to bring the trilogy to a close in a great way, and I respect it for that.

*
  
5> Binary Domain REVIEW


If there were one game to not judge by its cover this year, I think my vote would go to Binary Domain. On its surface, it seems like another bro-shooter that doesn't stand out in any way, and being developed by Sega didn't inspire confidence in a lot of people. However, not only do the shooting mechanics deliver the most satisfying robot-wrecking action of the year, the writers went above and beyond what anyone expected by crafting a science-fiction story that was legitimately interesting and thoughtful. On top of that, there were light RPG mechanics included which asked the player to maintain relationships with the members of their squad, the ramifications of which ran deeper than most players and reviewers were aware of. Overall, Binary Domain took what could easily have been a standard genre entry and hybridized it into something unexpectedly sophisticated.

*

4> Mark of the NinjaREVIEW by Sparky Clarkson


I like ninjas and I like stealth games, and really, does anything go together better than these two things? It seems like a total no-brainer, yet the games industry has struggled time and time again to deliver something that fits the bill. However, Nels Anderson and his team managed to blend these elements together in a form that not only works, but works wonderfully. Surprisingly, the move to 2D felt natural and appropriate, and the brilliant way the game constantly gives the player feedback about their visibility and audio profile is one of those elegant solutions that makes you slap your forehead and wonder why no one thought of it sooner. Toss in fantastic animation and a number of in-game systems that encourage different playstayles, and it's easy to see why this one is on the list.

*

3> I Am Alive - REVIEW


After a prolonged development cycle and several near-disastrous twists and turns, it was a bit of surprise to see I Am Alive finally become available for download. It had been so long in coming that I had almost written it off as vaporware, but I'm incredibly glad it endured through its painful tribulations -- what it brings to the table is a harsh, unflinching look at post-apocalyptic life with an intensity that few games have dared to attempt. The content is a bit shocking at times, perhaps even offensive, and that raw tone combined with a game design which keeps the player constantly underpowered and on the brink of death adds up to a very mature, bleak experience which is often more about the will to continue than it is about dominating the landscape.

*

2> DokuroREVIEW


What's that? You haven't even heard of this game? Have no idea what it is? No worries, you're not alone -- this incredibly charming and clever puzzle/platformer is only available on the Vita, and arrived with very little fanfare and practically no PR. In fact, at the time I'm writing this, it's only been reviewed by thirteen outlets. Compare that to somewhere around 150 for Black Ops II, and it gives you an idea of how few reviewers were even aware of it. It's a real shame, though... Dokuro has a fantastic art style, truly brilliant puzzle design, just the right amount of action, and it's a perfect fit for the hardware it's on. In every respect, this small-scale tale of a hard-working skeleton in love is an absolute champ.

*

1> The Walking Dead – REVIEWS: Ep. 1, Ep. 2, Ep. 3, Ep. 4, Ep. 5 


Like I said, not really a surprise.

Although plenty of people have made the joke that I picked two zombie-themed games for top honors in a row, I didn't pick The Walking Dead because I’m a horror game superfan. No, the truth of the matter is that Telltale took one of the strongest properties in entertainment today and turned out the best material they've ever created.

The story of Lee, Clementine, Kenny, and the rest of the survivors in a post-zombpocalyptic world isn't as engaging and gripping as it is because of the zombies, but because the characters are portrayed as believable, realistic human beings trapped in a nightmarish situation and it's far too easy to relate to the struggles they go through and the choices they make.

It's been a long time since I've felt a connection to characters as strong as the one I felt here, and it just goes to show that videogames have plenty of room to grow. There is an entire world of emotion to explore and endless stories to tell which have nothing to do with photorealistic graphics or ever-more-massive online multiplayer. I am quite hopeful that the door opened by The Walking Dead will lead the entire medium in a rich, new direction.

*
…And there you have it, my top ten of 2012.

Agree? Disagree? 

Send an e-mail to Podcast (at) Gamecritics (dot) com and give me your top three games of 2012, along with your worst game of 2012. 

We will tabulate the votes on our end-of-year podcast and announce the reader/listener choices. As incentive to enter, four people will be chosen to receive $20 credit to the download service of their choice! Steam, XBLA, PSN, the Nintendo eShop, iOS… Whatever you want!

Speak up before December 28th, and let us know what you think!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Lost In Translation - Japanese PSN Imports!  


*

Games: The good people at GungHo recently released six "classic" Japanese PS1 games on PSN. They are currently available in the ‘Imports’ section for $5.99 each, and they’re in their “original, unaltered” Japanese state, meaning that no localization work has been done on any of these. 

In the interest of disclosure, it should be known that GungHo PR sent me a code for all six games for the purposes of evaluation. It should also be known that I had never heard of any of these titles, so I was walking into all six with a totally clean slate. 

Specific info on the language barrier will be given for each title below for those (like me) who don't speak or read Japanese.

*
Zanac X Zanac


This one is a compilation of Zanac (apparently an old 8-bit vertical shooter) and Zanac Neo, a vertical shooter which is more obviously from the Playstation era. Although people I spoke to on Twitter seemed to have some awareness of these titles, I had no nostalgia for either. Zanac seemed like a totally average title for the NES, and I didn't see any particular hook to keep me playing Zanac Neo more than two or three times.

Language Barrier: Minimal. Zanac has no English text, but it's a shooter. Zanac Neo has English menus.

*

Vehicle Cavalier


This title might be of interest to mech-heads and Armored Core fans. Essentially, the player takes control of a robot made up of approximately four polygons, and can either do arena battles or enter open environments with rudimentary terrain. Although fairly crude from a technology perspective, this one might be somewhat interesting since it's apparently possible to mix and match parts, change colors, and do all sorts of things that mech fans tend to enjoy.

Language Barrier: Massive. This one requires mastery of Japanese to navigate all of the menus and detailed options. It was extremely intimidating and confusing, and I didn't get far.

*

Finger * Flashing


In this game, the player takes control of a little wizard who is walking towards the top of the screen on a narrow roadway. Enemies in vague scissors/rock/paper shapes come towards him, and he defends himself by shooting magic spells that trump whatever creature is in his path. It's fairly cute-looking, but the formula is dead simple and the appeal ran out pretty quickly. Fun for five minutes, maybe, but not quite as entertaining as doing the same thing (while trash talking) with a friend.

Language Barrier: Minimal. The options are in English, and the game is pretty straightforward. The Japanese wasn't too much of a problem here.

*

Lup*Salad


I have no idea how they came up with the title for this game since there are no vegetables or dressings in sight. Instead, it's a 2D puzzle-platformer that tasks players with pushing blocks around levels in order to make three of the same color touch. Match three and they vanish. Match everything on screen, and the level is cleared. I really liked the visuals for this one, but actually playing was unbelievably frustrating. The jumping felt sticky, and I often pushed a block when I didn't mean to. In most modern games this wouldn't usually be a problem, but this title is from the archaic ‘one wrong move and start the level over’ school of design.

Language Barrier: Minimal. The menus are in Japanese, but it was easy enough to get into the game and start playing. What you see above is basically what you get.

*

Art Camion Sugorokuden


Out of the entire bunch, this is the one that was the most confusing and hard to penetrate. Apparently, it's some sort of a board game where the player is driving what I assume to be a delivery truck. The turn starts by spinning a steering wheel, then the truck can move a certain number of spaces. Words pop up. Things happen. If you get lucky, you win spoiled clams. At least, I think those were spoiled clams.

Language Barrier: Massive. The entire game is in Japanese, and reading text plays a huge role. It took me ten minutes to figure out how to get out of the name creation screen, and I had no idea what the rules were, or what I was supposed to be doing. I was totally lost the entire time.

*

Makeruna! Makendo 2


Apparently this was a port of a SNES game, and it looks it. I have no knowledge of what property this game was based on (or perhaps some property was later based on the game?) but it's a crude fighter that is most definitely from the time period before developers had sussed out how to do them properly. The characters are wacky and the overall tone is humorous, but the AI can be brutal and the fighting genre isn't one that's very enjoyable unless the engine is completely dialed in. This one's is... not.

Language Barrier: Minimal. The entire game is in Japanese except for the names of the characters, but it's simple enough to start playing. Be prepared to skip past all of the talky cut scenes, though.

*

And there you have it. For more information on these or other GungHo titles, click on over to GungHoOnline and tell them I sent you!

*

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Son, Tom Clancy, and Big Freaking Rabbits  


*

Family: I'm quite happy to say that my oldest son, age 11, will be flying in this weekend to spend Christmas with us.

Since he lives with his mother for most of the year (and they live pretty far away) I usually only get to see him during the major school breaks. It's a very long time between the end of summer and the Christmas holiday, so it feels like an eternity since he's been here.

We plan on chopping down a Christmas tree and catching a showing of The Hobbit, but other than that, I think we are going to lay low and just hang out as a family… we may play a few videogames as well.

Maybe.

*

Games: I can't remember if I mentioned it or not, but I picked up a 3DS XL during one of the big holiday sales, so I've been spending a lot of time getting to know the system. Impressions are pretty positive so far, apart from the strange situation of not being able to log on to free WiFi when I'm out and about because the system doesn't seem able to connect in order to bring up the screen where you click ‘I agree’ in order to actually use the free WiFi. It seems like there must be a simple solution to this problem, but if there is, I've been unable to find it.

In terms of what I've actually been playing on it, it's been mostly Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars. It happened that @ChiKongLui recommended it to me during one of our podcasts, and I picked it up for $10 a couple of months ago, before I had even bought the system. 


It ended up being the best $10 I've spent in a while -- I'm not a fan of Clancy-type stuff in general, but this is a turn-based strategy game partially developed by one of the original XCOM creators, so it's totally solid and a hell of a lot of fun. The graphics are pretty ugly, but once I got over that, it's been a fantastic game to play on the go. My full review is coming soon, but if you have a 3DS and you're a fan of turn-based strategy, buying this one is a no-brainer.

Speaking of reviews, I just turned in my text for Black Knight Sword on PSN. (It's also on 360.) Although I'm actually a fan of the crazy visual style and offbeat nature of the game, actually playing it is a disappointing experience and it shows the same sort of unsophisticated, unpolished gameplay design that's common to Japanese developer Suda51’s titles. 


Look for the writeup at @Gamecritics, but the short version is that it's not really worth the purchase price unless all you care about is Suda51’s offbeat nature or some bizarre graphical choices.

*

My friends over at Undead Labs sent over this link to a developer writeup detailing some of the finer points in their zombie survival title, State of Decay. I haven't had a chance to play it in a while, but it was already looking pretty great back then. This is easily one of my most-anticipated titles for 2013, so click on over and take a look at some of the stuff they’re working on.

 One of my other most-anticipated titles for next year is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, on WiiU. (And yes, I am going to buy a WiiU *just* for this game...) 


Here’s a video link to one of the new monsters called a Lagombi. I don't know if that's the name it’ll have in the NA version, but whatever it ends up being called, it's a big freaking rabbit. It definitely looks like one of the mid-or low-range monsters, but the person in the video is apparently a terrible player since they're getting hit with every attack. 

Anyway, I can't wait to see what kind of armor can be made from this beast… whatever the end result, I'm sure it's going to be cute and fluffy.

*

Music: The good people of nerd rock band @KirbyKrackle have released a version of the disgusting Christmas date-rape song, Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Fortunately, they have de-creepified it by switching the male and female vocals, and by rewriting the lyrics in order to give it a Han/Leia Star Wars theme. I generally hate this song whenever it comes on the radio, but this new version... I think I likes it.


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


THQ confirmed that Metro: Last Light – the hugely anticipated sequel to 2010’s cult classic Metro 2033 – is scheduled for release in March 2013 on Microsoft Xbox 360, PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Windows PC. Initial copies of THQ Inc.’s (NASDAQ: THQI) Metro: Last Light will be sold as a Limited Edition packed with exclusive content. To guarantee the free upgrade to the Limited Edition, Metro: Last Light is now available to pre-order from the THQ Store and select retailers, including Amazon.com, Best Buy, EB Games, GameStop and Walmart.com for an SRP of $59.99 on console and PC.

The Metro: Last Light Limited Edition will include a standard retail copy of the game with ‘Ranger Mode,’ the fan-favorite game type fromMetro 2033 that represents the ultimate, immersive Metro experience. Additionally, the Limited Edition includes the Ranger load-out, containing bonus military grade bullets to spend on weapon upgrades and equipment, and the deadly AKS-74U modified Russian rifle. 

 Beginning on Dec. 18, fans in North America who pre-order the full LE digital version of Metro: Last Light on PlayStation®Network will receive a free digital copy of the popular shooter Homefront at launch. For instant gratification, purchasers will acquire a free Metro: Last Light PlayStation Network theme at the time of pre-order.  

For more information and a list of local retailers, please visit http://www.enterthemetro.com , follow Twitter.com/MetroVideoGame or become a fan at Facebook.com/MetroVideoGame.

***

A string of grisly murders is going down in Boston, and FBI agent Erica Reed is taking it personally -- her younger brother, Scott, was murdered by a serial killer three years ago. She also has an unusual skill at her disposal: a set of post-cognitive abilities that help her sense how a crime unfolded. As the body count builds, so does Erica's fierce desire to avenge Scott's death. The result is an engrossing point-and-click mystery that you (and your readers) won't want to miss.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a four-part adventure series that recently debuted for PC and Mac with Episode 1: The Hangman. Review copies are available, and I'd love to hook you up so you can check out this tense psychological thriller firsthand!

If this is the first you're hearing about Cognition, here's a quick rundown:

·  A dedicated indie team: Cognition is developed by lifelong adventure fans Phoenix Online Studios, the same guys behind the ambitious King's Quest spinoff The Silver Lining (which was praised by KQ creator Roberta Williams herself!)
·  Strong storytelling: The "CSI meets Dexter" storyline was crafted with help from legendary designer Jane Jensen, whose portfolio includes Gabriel Knight, Gray Matter, and King's Quest VI.
·  Gorgeous graphics: Cognition's bold graphic novel artwork was overseen by artist Romano Molenaar, whose comic credits include X-Men, Witchblade, Tomb Raider, and many others.
·  Kickstarted before it was cool: Months before Tim Schafer kicked off the crowd-funding revolution, the devs raised $35k on Kickstarter to begin Cognition's development. Phoenix later teamed up with publisher Reverb Games to get the project completed and distributed.
·  Going Greenlight: Thanks to amazing fan support, Cognition is ranked within the Top 100 games on Steam Greenlight (http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=92915746). And it's already available for purchase from Rain, GamersGate, Gamestop.com, Green Man Gaming, and Gamefly.

You'll find more info about Cognition (including a chilling trailer and some gorgeous screenshots) at the official website:http://www.postudios.com/cognition

***

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Little Jungle: Tattoos Are Magic  


*

Games: So, Far Cry 3

I can't say that I've been a fan of this series, but all the pre-release chatter had piqued my curiosity, and it seemed as though the game was going to attempt to tell a more serious, darker sort of story.

I put about six hours into it over last few days, and... I'm done. I am literally so bored that I am choosing to just quit the game and move onto something else.

Two big issues here. The first is that the story flat-out sucks.

The party is short lived, literally and figuratively.
Things started off well with a brutal introductory sequence, but it's hard to invest in the idea that a pasty, spoiled kid becomes a man-killing terror of the islands within the blink of an eye, and that's entirely apart from the fact that it's tough to feel sympathy for a rich douchebag who gets kidnapped while partying in the tropics alongside his rich, douchebag friends.

Making things worse is that the game throws in a lot of misguided mumbo-jumbo about magical tattoos and surreal dream visions. The writers don't really commit to the premise, so it feels stuck halfway between a serious shooter and something that could easily be more supernatural.

The second big problem is that play-wise, Far Cry 3 is as shallow as a dog dish, and turns repetitive a lot sooner than one might expect.

Since following the story doesn't give much satisfaction, the game really needed the sidequests to come through, but they all feel samey after doing just a couple. There's just not much motivation to keep on doing them – the manhunts, tracking down wild animals, delivering supplies... Sure, there's a lot of stuff to do, but it all feels like filler.

You'll be climbing a lot of these. All that's missing is a haycart at the bottom.

It's slightly more worthwhile to liberate a series of small outposts and climb a bunch of towers to unlock the map just because it makes playing the game easier, but again, the game asks players to do it too many times, and there's too little variety in doing so. It's like being handed a giant checklist of chores and working your way through them with a pencil.

The final nail in the coffin is the incredibly underdeveloped skill system. While it initially seems as though there are a ton of abilities to earn, I consistently had a pile of skill points that were going unused because nothing seemed worthwhile enough to invest in. I didn't have any abilities to look forward to, and once I did unlock a skill, I often didn't feel as though there was much difference or improvement -- It's like the developers wanted to include a skill tree to give the appearance of depth, but the game doesn't support or need the skills that they've come up with.

Most of these are a bit of a joke.
Swimming 25% faster? So what? Shooting one-handed from a zip line? I didn't see a single opportunity to use it in the six hours I played. And so on, and so on.

While the game may be technically solid and certainly competent enough, it doesn't have much going for it apart from a huge area to cover and a whole lot of piddly little jobs to kill some time on. I guess there are worse games to play, but that's hardly a recommendation. With more variety and depth it could have been a winner, but as it is? 

Pass.


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


Capcom, a leading worldwide developer and publisher of video games, recently shared plans to release a new fan-made crossover title featuring two of the company’s most iconic franchises.Street Fighter X Mega Man will celebrate the closing ceremonies of the 25th Anniversary of Street Fighter® and kick off the festivities taking place in 2013, when Mega Man takes center stage as “The Blue Bomber” reflects on his own 25 years of gaming greatness. The Street Fighter X Mega Man game will be released as a PC download beginning on December 17, 2012 and will be offered to fans for FREE through Capcom’s official website, Capcom-Unity.com

*

Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. announced that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate will be available on March 5th, 2013 in North America, exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS™system.  A new trailer for the action packed title has also been released, featuring Trevor Belmont's story. Dracula's return is explained during an emotional farewell between Trevor and his son, Simon. Trevor reveals his quest for vengeance of his mother's murder, at the hands of his father (Gabriel Belmont/Dracul), and gives Simon a pendant that contains a piece of the Mirror of Fate.

Developed by Mercury Steam, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate takes place 25 years after the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and is a precursor to the highly anticipated and recently announced Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system, Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, and Windows PC. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate reveals the story of Gabriel Belmont's descendants, Simon and Trevor Belmont, as they battle their own destiny only to discover their true, shocking fate.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate will be available on Nintendo 3DS™ on March 5th, 2013.

For more information, please visit: www.facebook.com/lordsofshadow

*

Ape Entertainment, in association with independent game developer The Game Bakers, today unleashed a wave of adventure onto the App Store—the Squids Comic App for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Exploring the backstory of the chart-topping game series, “Squids,” the comic app is priced at $.99, which includes the first issue and, for a limited time, the second issue at no additional cost.

Additionally, SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West get free updates on the App Store with new content and in particular The Ballad of Clint and Sammo, a mini-comic book in two parts that reveals how the mighty Sammo first crossed path with the most wanted Squids Clint.

For more information, please visit www.ape-entertainment.com

*

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Wife, My Life... And Games, too.  


*

Life: If you follow me on Twitter, then you're probably aware that my wife became very ill yesterday and had to be taken to the ER. I know that it's difficult to follow any given story from beginning to end in tweet format, so I just wanted to give a quick update on the whole thing for anyone who was wondering.

Basically, my wife was feeling a little not-so-hot for a while, but we didn't think much of it. Everyone in the family has been recovering from the flu, sinus infection, or some combination of both over the past few weeks, and everyone is running on a pretty nasty sleep deficit. We kind of ignored it at first, but after we ate dinner that night she started having incredibly severe pain. I made an executive decision to get her seen.

Making that choice was basically a no-brainer since she was hurting so badly, but as people who have recently become uninsured due to unaffordable rate increases, we definitely consider the cost of seeking medical help before we actually do. If you ask me, the state of healthcare in the United States is absolutely shameful, and I am of the opinion that private profit is fine, so long as there is a public safety net. Currently, the only safety net in existence is going to the ER, and that's a poor substitute for consistent, prevention- oriented care.

ANYWAY…

Once we got to the ER, it was pretty clear that it was something serious. When the tests came back, the doctors said that surgery would be required, they just weren't sure whether it needed to happen now or later. My son (age 3) and I stayed with her as long as we could, but he started fading after a while, so I took him home to put him to bed.

Although I've never been a person to take life for granted, that night was another reminder of how precariously-perched we all are in our daily lives. Things are only good until they're not, and sometimes, we have no control over what happens. 

Just the day before, everything was as normal and stable as it ever gets, and less than twenty-four hours later, I was faced with wondering what was going to happen to my wife, wondering who was going to care for my child if I went back to work, if I didn't go back to work in order to care for him, how would we afford to live, what would happen if she needed someone to help her recuperate after she got out of the hospital, and so on... although our situation is compounded because we are a single income family and I am a self-employed freelancer, I don't think what I was going through is very different from what anyone else facing a sudden medical emergency would experience.

... And you know what? It was pretty fucking chilling.

Even worse than that was how the situation was affecting our son. Since my wife stays home with him every day, she is his consistency and his rock. Seeing her laid up in a hospital bed had a huge impact on him, and it was awful to see my little man trying to make sense of what was going on. Utterly heartbreaking. 

It seemed like an eternity before we got any hard information, but eventually her test results started coming back with a more positive spin and the doctors started talking about letting her come home as long as she was stable. She continued on that upward trend, and I'm overjoyed to say that we were able to bring her home earlier tonight, and as I write this, she is sleeping soundly and finally getting some badly-needed rest. She will definitely need to have some surgery in the future (and making arrangements for that as an uninsured person is a huge challenge unto itself) but she's good for the moment and I feel like the luckiest man alive to have her back, and the rest of our life along with it.

At this time, I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks to everyone on Twitter who sent messages to my wife and I. We don't have much of a support system locally, but we greatly appreciated knowing that there were people out there, somewhere, who cared. Even getting just a little sentence or two really meant something, so thank you all very much.

Now, since things are back to (relative) normal, I am going to take special pleasure in the fact that I am lucky enough to have the privilege of getting back to this blog’s regularly-scheduled programming...

*

Games: A week or two ago, Planets Under Attack was released on XBLA, and no one I knew (including myself) had even heard of it. I gave a demo a whirl, and I thought it was pretty interesting stuff - it's sort of a super-simplified RTS set in space that asks you to dominate each little solar system you come across, or to meet certain requirements like holding a target planet for X number of seconds, wipe out all the opposition, etc.


I'm about halfway or better through the campaign, and although there is one particular type of mission I absolutely despise (Collector missions suuuuuuuuck) it's been a real thumbs-up so far. It's relaxing enough to sit back and chill out while playing, but the missions are challenging enough to keep your brain from zoning out. I also really appreciate that it doesn't really feel like anything I’ve played in a while, and as a fan of different, I am a fan of this.

My full review will be coming soon, but if you're looking for something a little off the beaten path, download the demo and see if it suits you.

*

Books: Man-about-town and Aussie thinker @BRKeogh has put out a book that takes a deep-dive into Spec Ops: The Line

(For reference, here's my review.)

I haven't had a chance to read it in its entirety yet, but this guy is one sharp dude, and even if I end up disagreeing with some of his points, I will likely emerge enriched from the process.

His work is called ‘Killing Is Harmless" and it's available right here for three dollars. That's right, I said three dollars. If you give a rip about games criticism, skip a latte and support guys like Brendan who are doing the work.

*

Links: A bunch of new stuff has gone up over at @Gamecritics

>Podcast 82: Giving thanks on Thanksgiving, Wreck-It Ralph, and guest host @Shoinan!

*

>My review of the Infinity Blade novel, which was actually quite good! If you are a fan of the games, it's a must-read.

*

What the... Shep's not a guy. What gives?!?
>My review of the latest Mass Effect 3 DLC, Omega. It's a stand-alone mission that doesn't tie into the main story of ME3, and the new partners are good additions to the canon. (Although technically, one isn't new, she's just newly-playable.)

*

>My review of Walking Dead, Ep 5 – No Time Left. It wasn't quite the ending that I hoped for, but it wasn't as disastrous as it very easily could have been, either.

…And speaking of Walking Dead, did you know that there is a brand-new iOS game completely unrelated to Telltale’s series? It's called Walking Dead: Assault, and it’s sort of a top-down dungeon-crawl patterned after the comic book. I've only just scratched the surface of it, but it seems pretty solid so far. The pathfinding AI is kind of wonky, but I love the visual style and I'm a fan of these kinds of games in general. 



(Another iOS game to check out? Battle Cats. It's purely insane, yet still a solid game! If you can watch the whole intro and not crack up, you're a stronger person than I am.) 

*

>Finally, longtime readers of this blog will know that I have a deep, meaningful affection for the Etrian Odyssey series on DS, and the fourth installment has recently been announced for 3DS. 

I'll be buying it in English, obvs.
I currently do not own the hardware, but I fully intend to buy it just so I can play Etrian 4. Yes, you read that right... this game is my system-seller. If you haven't already seen it, here is the latest trailer for the game, and considering that each of the previous three games has been better than the last, this one should be a real crackerjack. Can’t wait!



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



The 25th Anniversary celebration of Street Fighter is approaching its epic finale, as the activities that support this super-combo milestone will culminate at the Grand Finals event on December 8th in the San Francisco Bay Area. Capcom’s high stakes global tournament series has travelled from the USA, Asia, Brazil, France and to the UK in search of the greatest Street Fighter players on the planet. The world’s best fighters from the preliminary tournaments will soon unite in what promises to be the ultimate Street Fighter showdown!

 Over 45 of the best Street Fighter players in the world have made the cut and will compete for $125,000 in cash prizes. Raising the stakes even higher, the winner of the Street Fighter X Tekken tournament will be handed the keys to an all-new custom-designedStreet Fighter 25th Anniversary branded Scion FR-S Sports Coupe. The tournament series features the following monumental titles from the past and present:  Street Fighter X Tekken, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, Street Fighter III 3rd Strike Online Edition, andSuper Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.

 In addition to the intense competition taking place on stage, fans can expect a barrage of bonus Street Fighter-related activities and exciting announcements taking place on the show floor throughout the day. All of the titles being played in the tournament will be available for free play, including the recently-announced Darkstalkers Resurrection and more! Street Fighter producers Yoshinori Ono and Tomoaki Ayano will be on hand for signings and photos and a LIVE art show will celebrate 25 years of Street Fighter culture.

 The Grand Finals will be held at the Hyatt Regency SFO (in Burlingame, CA) on Saturday, December 8th from 10am to 9pm PST. Admission to the event is free, and the first 1000 guests to arrive will receive goodie bags filled with exclusive Street Fighter collectibles. For everything related to the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary, including the tournament series, go to: http://www.streetfighter25.com/

***

MONSTERS & DAMES is a highlight for many attendees of the annual Emerald City Comicon, and the 5th installment in the series promises an amazing variety of original illustrations by the guests and artists of the 2013 Emerald City Comicon. This year’s 80-page edition features a cover by award-winning artist and animation icon Bruce Timm.
 Since 2009, MONSTERS & DAMES art books and auctions have raised well over $35,000.00 for Seattle Children's Hospital, a premier child health care & pediatric center, recognized as one of the leading hospitals for children in the nation. The art book has sold out each year at the convention.

 The full-color, 9"x12", 80-page MONSTERS & DAMES hardcover is limited to 1150 individually numbered copies. The 2013 edition features contributions from some of the top names in comics, animation and illustration, including Mark Brooks, Skottie Young, Terry Moore, Joe Linsner, Mike Mignola, Fat Rabbit Farm, Ben Templesmith, Dave Johnson, Michael Golden, Eric Canete, Brett Weldele, Doug Sneyd, Camilla D'Errico, Mark Dos Santos, Drew Johnson, Lar DeSouza, Benjamin Dewey, David Petersen, Robbi Rodriguez, Mitch Gerads, Doc Shaner, Cat Staggs, Marcio Takara, Lars Brown, Paul Guinan, Andy Runton and dozens more! For the complete list of creators involved in this amazing art book, visit http://www.emeraldcitycomicon.com/monsters-and-dames/

 The 11th Annual Emerald City Comicon takes place March 1-3, 2013 at the Washington State Convention Center in beautiful downtown Seattle, WA. For more information, visit http://www.emeraldcitycomicon.com

***
Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker are bringing their talents to The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct video game.
As things are ramping up on the third season of AMC's Emmy® Award-winning drama "The Walking Dead", Activision and Terminal Reality are proud to announce that series stars Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker will reprise their respective roles as fan-favorites Daryl and Merle Dixon in their upcoming The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. Their addition is central to developer Terminal Reality's commitment to delivering an engrossing, original experience that stays authentic to the characters, tone and storyline of the series Entertainment Weekly called the “greatest thriller ever produced for television.” 

In the game, players assume the role of the mysterious, crossbow-wielding survivor Daryl Dixon. This first-person survival title takes place within the universe of “The Walking Dead” and before the events of the AMC show, following Daryl and his brother Merle on a gruesome journey to reach the supposed safety of Atlanta as the world around them ends. Reedus and Rooker will bring life to their characters' desperate, unforgiving struggle against limited resources, the nightmarish walkers and, perhaps, their fellow survivors...

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct video game will be available in 2013 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC platforms. To pre-order or to find out more information, visit 
www.TheWalkingDeadBegins.com or 'Like' The Walking Dead on Facebook (facebook.com/TheWalkingDeadAMC).

***

Rising Star Games Inc. today announced that the classic shmup (shoot 'em up) arcade game Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition is now available for PlayStation®3 exclusively through Amazon for $29.99. Players looking to get their hands on the digital version via PlayStation®Network can do so on December 4.

Developed by Japanese arcade video game company G.Rev, Under Defeat is widely regarded as one of the best-selling and finest shooting games ever made. Set in an alternate universe during a World War-esque conflict, Under Defeat HD lets players take on the role of a helicopter pilot in a territory divided by struggle between the Empire and the Union.

Under Defeat HD builds off of the classic arcade version with a new set of upgrades and modes. Some of the new features include: dual stick compatibility and destructive realism, which presents a refined iteration of the original with improved artwork, textures and shadowing. In addition, the game includes two engaging player modes: the Classic Arcade Mode and a 16:9 New Order Mode, which takes advantage of HD TV screens -- showcasing high quality graphics through the PS3. Moreover, practice versions of both modes will also be available to players looking to refine their shooting skills.

In addition to the full game, the Amazon Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition exclusive includes:

Digital art book / All Current DLC and Patches / Soundtrack CD / Exclusive VKL6.02(A)P Chopper

To order the retail version of Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition, visit the Amazon Store below: 
http://www.amazon.com/Under-Defeat-Deluxe-Edition-Playstation-3/dp/B0093FMS3U

For more information on Under Defeat HD, visit: 
http://www.risingstargames.com/game.aspx?sku=under-defeat-hd-deluxe-edition-ps3.

***

Hey Krackleheads- Kirby Krackle has released a brand new single, "One More Episode!"

The song is about the unending love we have for curling up on the couch and watching TV shows until the wee hours of the morning!

You can download the single on
iTunes - 
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/one-more-episode-single/id580847426?uo=4
Amazon MP3 - 
http://www.amazon.com/One-More-Episode/dp/B00ABH9ML0/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354039278&sr=301-1
Bandcamp - 
http://kirbykrackle.bandcamp.com/
and more

You can also view the video here: 
http://youtu.be/evA8JEjJbLg

We'd love to hear what you think, please make sure to leave a comment on the video or drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook!

***