Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Xmas, Nintendo's Nonsense, Knack, Doki Doki Universe and Arkham Blackgate  


Before I get to my usual batch of game-related stuff, I just wanted to take a minute to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone who stops off here at Coffeecola to read my rantings. 

Not to be cheesy, but as I get older, Christmas becomes more about the people I share my life with, and less about what I got for somebody, or what somebody left for me under the tree. All talk of presents aside, I'm incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to provide for my family in this tough economy all year long (not just on December 25th) and that they’ve got everything they need to be comfortable and happy. I'm also grateful for the bizarre array of friends and acquaintances in my life, and I appreciate every single one.

I don't have all the swag I’d like and my bank account is nothing to crow about, but I'm grateful for the things I do have, and I hope that you all feel the same way as well. Best wishes to you all.

Now, onto the games talk…


Podcasts: In case you missed it, the new @Gamecritics Podcast (episode 102) is now up for your listening pleasure. It's a solid game-talk show, featuring Batman: Arkham Origins, ZombiU, Zelda: Link Between Worlds, and Beyond: Two Souls. As a bonus, former GC host @TimSpaeth makes a rare guest appearance to hang with us for the chat. Click here to come aboard.

If you can't get enough of me (and I sure can't) you can catch me guest-appearing on the Chic Pixel Plus Podcast (episode 13) hosted by the super-cool @ApricotSushi. We talk about random Japanese topics, Kaiju/Tokusatsu stuff, Marvel Puzzle Quest vs. Puzzles & Dragons, and a load of other nifty things. Give a listen!


Games: I picked up Super Mario 3D World to play with my family over the holiday, and we went through it for an hour or two the other day. I have to say, our multiplayer aspect was pretty horrible, mostly due to the mix of people that we did… My wife and I are goals-oriented, and my young son (of course) just likes to screw around. Both of those things are fine, but mixing them together wasn’t great. In the future, we’re definitely going to have to split into "serious" and "screw around" sessions, because otherwise it doesn't mix.

Side note: playing Mario really drove home how badly I need to buy "regular” controllers for the WiiU, and how ridiculous Nintendo's controller strategy has been in the last two generations.

When they were trying to break new ground with the Wii, I could understand the Wiimote, but it became immediately apparent that it wasn’t viable for a wide variety of games. With the WiiU, the gamepad lacks that same clear vision behind it, and that lack is obvious. Holding the gamepad is like holding a small dinner tray at best and grows tiresome over extended periods, the touchscreen functions are novelties, and there aren’t even any killer apps which make the case for why the thing even exists.

Nintendo's insistence on supporting the Wii’s peripherals on top of pushing the gamepad seems like a poor idea as well -- my wife and son were not happy using the Wiimotes held sideways and I'm sure it's got to be a nightmare for developers trying to take all possible configurations into account. Anyway, getting back to Mario, it seems like the only solution for all of us to be satisfied is to get everybody "normal" controllers, which sort of proves Nintendo's controller-related flights of fancy to be… just that. 

In terms of what else I've been playing, it's been fairly scattershot…

I finished Knack on the PS4 last week and was completely underwhelmed by it. It looks decent enough (certainly not a graphical powerhouse) but it suffers from an incredibly confused design that appeals to children but requires hardcore skills to cope with the difficulty of combat. 

On top of that, the game design is so flat and repetitive that there's really nothing to it, so of course it grinds on for at least twice as long as it should. Every now and then I got a glimpse of what it was trying to be and there’s potential for a sequel if it addresses most of the complaints, but in its current form, it's a bloated non-starter.

After that, I checked out Doki Doki Universe on PSN, and it was a fairly disappointing experience. The aesthetic is incredibly cute and endearing, and I love the concept of its robot trying to become more human, but the gameplay is so simple that I kept falling asleep. 

Just like Knack, it's another game with mixed-up design… The graphics are totally appealing to little kids (my son was dying to try it) and it uses a bizarre nonverbal pictograph menu system, but it's heavily text-based and there are complex concepts and questions that are communicated in the frequent dialogues. It’s interesting enough for adults, but the play is far too simple to keep their attention. The play is just right for little kids, but too complex for them to understand. What's going on with Sony's games these days?

Finally, I'm now playing Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate on the Vita, and it's been quite a pleasant little surprise. I didn't hear much about it when it came out except for people being disappointed, and Warner Bros. didn't send a review copy despite requests, so I was expecting the worst. However, it’s been solidly enjoyable, and a real treat for someone like myself who wanted more Batman after Origins.

The 2.5 the perspective works fabulously and doesn't feel like a “lesser” experience at all. Going through the levels has a very Metroidvania feel to it, and it reminds me a bit of Asylum, although the level designs aren’t as tight as that game. The cutscenes are told in a great ‘moving comic book’ style, and I like the way Blackgate prison has been divided into three sections, each one controlled by one of Batman's foes.

So far progress has been good and I like that enemies don’t respawn. I've seen this particular aspect called out as a negative by some reviewers, but I totally disagree. I feel like the "big" Batman games have far too much combat, and I never liked the idea of thugs respawning anyway… Besides, it feels like an accomplishment to have areas cleared out in this game, and finding new enemies is a good clue that you’re on the right path since Batman must do a good bit of backtracking.

Speaking of which, this “hey, new enemies… I must be on the right track” aspect is especially important because the game’s map is unbelievably awful. I have no idea why the developers thought this crapmap was going to fly, because the game is presented via side-view, but the map is presented as top-down. It makes absolutely no sense and is utterly disorienting. Apart from that, it's just plain hard to tell which way to go, and how to get there. They would've been much better off copying any of the dozens of map systems which came before, as in Castlevania or Metroid to name a few painfully obvious examples. 

Apart from the map, it's been all good… It feels like a great fit for a handheld, it looks great, and it definitely feels like a genuine Batman adventure.

Also, bonus points for the Deadshot boss battle. I played that side mission in Arkham Origins, and was disgusted at how absurd a fight it was. In contrast, Blackgate gets it exactly right, and it feels just the way it should. No spoilers, but it's pretty cool and makes a hell of a lot more sense with regard to the comics continuity.


The clouds of war are gathering on the Nintendo Wii U as super genre mashup CastleStorm is making its way to the eShop on December 26, 2013 in North American for $9.99 and in Europe for €9.99.
CastleStorm makes full use of the Nintendo Wii U Gamepad, which mirrors the action being displayed on the TV allowing the game to be fully playable on the GamePad without a TV. All functionality is available without touch as well, using the sticks and action buttons. In local multiplayer, one player uses the Pro Controller and looks at the TV, the other player uses the GamePad and plays on the Gamepad screen.
To learn more about CastleStorm, check out the developer diary on the Zen Studios YouTube Channel!

For CastleStorm Wii U assets, please visit the Zen Studios Press Center.
CastleStorm is a super genre mashup of 2D physics destruction mashed with tower defense brawler! CastleStorm was born out of the fond childhood memory of building and destroy Lego castles, and currently available on Xbox LIVE® Arcade, PlayStation®Network and Steam for $9.99.


Techland and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment released today a new gameplay video from 
Dying Light, showcasing the darker side of the game's revolutionary day-and-night-cycle mechanic. The video gives a glimpse into different strategies that players will adopt depending on the time of day in order to survive.

Slow, apathetic, and easily visible, the infected are not much of a threat in daylight. A skilled courier, sure of their parkour skills and smart enough not to engage in combat with too many enemies, can effortlessly avoid larger groups of the infected or escape beyond their reach. But this relatively safe state of affairs is turned upside down as the sun sets!

At night, it is you who is at a disadvantage. Without daylight, the senses of the infected become more acute while their thirst for human flesh skyrockets. They run, jump, and climb, so there is really no place where you are safe anymore. They grow in strength, which means fighting them is not even an option. Those of them who were too afraid of light to come out during the day now swarm the city hunting for you. Still, there is something even worse lurking in the shadows...

See it with your own eyes!
What tactics will you use to survive the night? Will you put your trust in your agility and try to outrun the infected despite the odds? Or use the lack of light to your advantage and sneak past them? Remember, your decision determines if you will see the sunrise today!

Dying Light is a first-person action survival horror game set in a vast and dangerous open world, where players scavenge for supplies during the day as to be best prepared to survive the night. The game will launch for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2014.


It's party time at Halfbrick as the Aussie studio's final game of the year 
Colossatron: Massive World Threat launches around the world simultaneously on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and on Google Play and Amazon Appstore for Android.

Players take the role of Colossatron in the ultimate role reversal, on an explosive quest to destroy cities and ultimately the entire planet. Hardened military hero General Moustache is the key to Colossatron's demise, but the best players will create powerful strategies to fend off the General's gunships, mechs and battle tanks. And I, for one, welcome our new gigantic robot snake overlord.

Colossatron has been a year in the making, with gameplay innovation being a key focus for the development team. Using a core color-matching mechanic to build Colossatron and fight off hordes of military attackers takes inspiration from tower defence and real-time strategy. There's nothing else quite like it, and Halfbrick is always proud to add another unique game to its portfolio of mobile hits.

Adding a fresh layer of style was also important to keep the action covered and the story moving. Everything is presented from the viewpoint of Action News 6, the hard-hitting team of reporters who see Colossatron as both a catastrophe and chance for ratings! Rick Dalton covers all the action from the studio, and field reporter Katie Hazard checks in with live updates from the battle zone.

Colossatron: Massive World Threat is Halfbrick’s flagship game of 2013. It is available now worldwide as a paid title with optional in-app purchases.

Download Links
Launch trailer:
Press kit:
Official website:


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Top 10 Games of 2013... According To Me  


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

By any reasonable measure, 2013 was a fantastic year for videogames.  Although much attention has been devoted to the launch of next-generation consoles (and I look forward to seeing what they bring) there’s no denying that the last-gen boxes were stuffed to the gills with quality software. 

…And wow, does it feel strange to refer to them as last-gen.

Anyway, I was happy to find myself playing good game after game over the last twelve months, and I’ve got to be honest – if next year was guaranteed to be as strong as this year, I wouldn’t need new consoles at all. 

Since 2013 was such a bumper crop of goodness, I had a difficult time picking an overall winner. There were many solid titles, but no single one which was head and shoulders above the rest.  In fact, I think I rearranged the order of this list at least a dozen times and swapped the top three slots even more than that. Honestly, you could rank the final three in any order you like, and I’d probably agree.

Also, some readers may note that this list is heavily console-centric, but that was out of necessity.  I know that there were quite a number of notable PC titles deserving of attention, but I wasn’t able to get to them due to my desktop computer being a piece of junk.  My hope is that I will be able to include more PC titles next year, but I played as much as I could with the machines I had available.

In any event, don’t just skip straight to the bottom – please take a look at the very deserving games which precede the winner, and if some aren’t familiar or there are a few you haven't tried yet, give them some consideration. There were so many choice experiences to be had this year, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to have played them all.

And now, with no further ado… my top ten games of 2013.

Marvel Puzzle Quest – iOS/Steam

Okay, I lied. I picked eleven.

Anyway, it’s been quite a while since an iOS game held my attention for more than five minutes, but Marvel Puzzle Quest has become my new addiction, and I take a hit every chance I get.  While it may appear to be a standard match-three puzzler on the surface, it retains much of the nuance and complexity found in the original Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. The developers also do a great job of translating the powers of Marvel comic characters into game mechanics, there are constantly rotating events to keep players engaged past the campaign, the rewards and perks flow freely, and its free-to-play status never undermines the integrity of the core design. It’s pretty close to being my ultimate iPhone game.

New StreetPass Games – 3DS

I never had much use for the StreetPass function on my 3DS until this new batch of games came out, but I carried my unit with me religiously once they did.  Although all four (Flower Town, Mii Force, Warrior’s Way and Monster Manor) suffer from being overly repetitive with their text, they each offer a unique style of gameplay that uses the Miis of fellow 3DS owners in creative ways such as power-ups on a spaceship, or as fellow gardeners nurturing a seed. Light enough to play before bed but rich enough to make me seek out Nintendo Zones or places where gamers might congregate, these titles might seem like a strange pick, but the fact that they made me change my real-world behavior can’t be ignored.

Devil May Cry – Multi

Real talk: the Devil May Cry series has never been as good as fans want to think it was until DMC3. I've got respect for that installment, but the work that Ninja Theory’s done with DmC is quite possibly the best Dante overall. While it may not require the same level of technically hardcore skill, it’s a more well-rounded and conceptually interesting game, and it takes the franchise to a whole new level. The art direction is fantastic, the combat engine is totally solid, and the re-imagining of the character, his backstory and the supporting cast was great work. Every aspect is polished and cared for, and it shows.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified - Multi

It's a shame that The Bureau was connected to XCOM, because that link set it up for failure. While it has precious little in common with the source material and might disappoint people wanting turn-based strategy, I found The Bureau’s spin on real-time combat to be quite satisfying once I learned the ropes. With creative micromanagement of a three-man squad and special powers which were a blast to use, each battle was intense. Its environments are incredibly rich with the essence of the early 60s, and the story turned out to be a real crackerjack past the halfway point. I would absolutely love to see a sequel, but since the studio has been disbanded that doesn't seem too likely… Enjoy this one for what it is, since it's probably all we’re going to get.

Saints Row IV - Multi

I've always been a fan of the Saints Row franchise, but I was painfully disappointed in Saints Row: The Third. As such, I didn’t expect much from IV, but I couldn’t be happier to have been mistaken -- the development team got themselves back on track in a big way. Open-world games are too formulaic these days and the devs know it, so they energized the adventure with wild superpowers that let players run rampant. IV goes bananas in the best possible ways and its design overhaul is jaw-dropping, but the real key is that it was all done in a way which absolutely makes sense. The writing is miles better than it was last time around, and it all fits together in just the right way. Newcomers to the franchise may think the Saints are just about being crazy, but crazy without structure underneath it isn't any good. As far as I'm concerned, Volition absolutely nailed that balance here.


Lost Planet 3 - Multi

I'm an absolute sucker for strong writing and characterization, and Lost Planet 3 has it in spades. While some were surprised or put off by the sudden shift away from fast action into a more narrative-driven structure, I adored it. It was a rare, mellow pleasure to join space-faring long-haul trucker Jim Peyton on his day-to-day duties, experiencing what it must feel like to be so far from home and missing your family while trying your best to support them. Playing the role of someone who wasn't an invincible lone soldier or lethal space marine was a rare treat, and the writers did a fantastic job in taking the mundane and making it shine.

Dragon’s Crown – PS3/Vita

Dragon’s Crown is the ultimate example of taking an older genre that’s been lying fallow and revving it back up for modern sensibilities. The side-scrolling beat-‘em-up hasn't been deserving of attention to for years, but Vanillaware not only brought it back with a bang, they created what could very well be the finest iteration that’s ever existed.  The hand-drawn art is fluidly fantastic and dripping with distinctive style, the depth in game design and character abilities is superb, and the replay value -- traditionally a weakness of the genre -- far outstrips its predecessors thanks to the diversity of classes, numerous side quests, and online cooperative questing. 

Tearaway - Vita

Out of all the titles I played this year, nothing was fresher or more joyous than this. Media Molecule uses every aspect of the Vita’s hardware in interesting, innovative ways that mesh perfectly with the third-person gameplay. It’s exceedingly rare when I don’t find touch integration or motion irritating in games, but everything Tearaway does is smart, restrained, and infused with whimsy and delight. There’s also no denying that the character and world design are painfully cute, and awarding the player papercraft blueprints to create in the real world was absolute brilliance. If there was ever a poster child for what the Vita’s hardware is capable of, this game is it.

Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons - Multi

This small, quietly unassuming title came out of nowhere with a gut-punch emotional response and a radical intertwining of game design and narrative. By combining the physical nature of controllers with the way the player controls two characters at the same time, a special form of storytelling was created that could only exist via the electronic medium. In addition, its dark fairytale of a story was conveyed only through gesture and play… Not a single word is uttered from start to finish. Succeeding at so many challenges is an incredible achievement from any perspective, and Brothers elegantly demonstrates that there’s plenty of room left to explore in the narrative space that has nothing to do with scripting or dialogue.

State of Decay – XBLA/PC

Despite the flood of zombie games over the last few years, I’ve been consistently frustrated at the lack of true survival scenarios… until now. State of Decay achieves exactly that, and does it magnificently. By creating an open world and allowing the player to roam free within it, searching for resources, rescuing survivors, and establishing a bulwark against the undead is fantastically gripping. Details such as managing internal strife at home base, assigning the right survivors to the correct tasks, and being in constant fear of character permadeath put it over the top. Going out on a routine supply run is never routine -- getting surprised by a mob of zombies and watching a character’s stamina run low as the undead close in is gut-churning. In this state, the stakes feel incredibly high at all times.

The Last Of Us – PS3 

The Last Of Us is a genuine tour de force of writing, characterization, and world design.

Leads Ellie and Joel have one of the best relationships I've ever seen illustrated in a game thanks to incredibly natural conversations and rich levels of nonverbal expression.  I was also quite taken by the contrasting themes of parental responsibility and independence, and of the way the game examines the difference between doing what’s right and doing what you must, not to mention questioning what the definition of “right” even is.  The supporting cast is just as strong, and each new situation in their harsh quest presents riveting slices of what survival might mean to different people.

Technically, Naughty Dog devotes an unbelievable level of effort towards bringing each ruined location to life, and the environmental storytelling shines through.  Even more impressive is how the hybrid stealth/combat play offers enough twists and surprises to actually sustain its fifteen-hour running time. Balancing tense encounters with quiet moments is a difficult thing, but the developers managed to find the right line better than most.

I never would have expected it given my general lack of affection for Uncharted, but these relatably human characters struggling through an inhuman situation manage to deliver the most memorable experience of the year. And that ending? It rings absolutely true.  Although there’s no question that the amount of money and number of people required to create an experience of this sort would not be possible for many studios, the most important element of The Last Of Us is the time and care taken to craft the connection between its two leads, and the lessons learned here will certainly have an effect on future titles to come.


…And there you have it, my top ten of 2013.

Agree? Disagree? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts either way, as well as your own picks. Post a comment and let me know! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Revisiting iOS - Island Of The Lizard King & Marvel Puzzle Quest  


Games: It’s been quite a while since I’ve talked about any iOS games here at the blog because it’s been quite a while since I’ve been excited about any. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put down developers who put their blood, sweat and tears into bringing their iOS dreams to life, but those gems are tough to find in the sea of crap that’s on the app store. 
I did my best to find the good stuff for a while, but it became too much effort for too little return, and I gave up. However, there are a couple of things I’m upbeat on, so I figured I'd dip back into the world of the iPhone for at least one night… 

The first is a brand-new title from one of my all-time favorite iOS developers, Tin Man Games.  I clicked with their stuff immediately since I’m a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure, and clearly these guys are too. Their latest title (out now!) is Island Of The Lizard King, originally penned by Ian Livingstone in 1984 as one of his Fighting Fantasy novels - Similar to CYOA, but better-known in the UK than the US.

Although there are other options available on the app store, Tin Man’s production values are great and they put lots of little tweaks in to make the overall experience quite pleasurable.  If you’ve never read a CYOA or FF (quite understandable, since those books were at the height of their popularity quite a while ago) do yourself a favor and check out Lizard King, or any of the others they’ve already published.  I think the Judge Dredd installment has been my favorite so far, but they're all good.

I’ll be going through Lizard King tomorrow for certain.

In other iOS news, if you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you will no doubt have heard me raving about my next pick, Marvel Puzzle Quest.  I just turned in a formal review so look for that soon, but in the meantime, I have no problem recommending this to absolutely anyone.  While I can certainly understand a general aversion to free-to-play games (believe me, I am quite allergic to in-app purchases) this one is the real deal.

Basically, it’s a match-three puzzle game married to characters taken from the Marvel universe, and has a lot in common with the original Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords MPQ is much simpler than that one (and if you’ve never played it, it’s fantastic) but it’s a great fit for the iPhone and I find that the free-to-play implementation is pretty painless when compared to most I’ve seen. In fact, I’ve been playing it for at least an hour or two a day since I picked it up on @rowankaiser’s recommendation, and he wasn’t wrong. 

The gameplay is solid puzzling enhanced with super-powers fueled by matching gems, and there are a number of amenities that keep the action going – the ability to skip matches against opponents who are obviously overpowered, a regenerating character-heal function which is free to use, and lots of side missions outside the campaign which always offer something to do.  

It’s not perfect by any means, but it's had no problem keeping my attention, and I’ve enjoyed it enough to kick in real money -- and for me, that's saying something.  Frankly, I’ve already played it longer than I play most $60.00 retail games, so I don’t feel bad about keeping these devs going at all.

There are a couple of other things that I’ve done my eye on… The Room is a game I’ve heard about forever, but it was only on iPad had until recently.  There’s a new pocket version that I’ll be checking out, and Halfbrick is coming out with a neat-looking title called Colossatron this week… My eye's on that one as well. 

If you've got any current iOS favorites that you can swear by, drop me a line.  It’s definitely more work than one person can handle to find the wheat in all of the app store's chaff, so any and all help is appreciated!



AbleGamers Charity proudly announces the launch of this year’s AbleGamers Holiday Gift Guide for Gamers with Disabilities. This year we have several recommendations on which games were the most accessible and which assistive devices are the best bets to help the disabled gamer in your life, but we also included several items you may want to avoid altogether.
The annual Holiday Gift Guide for Gamers with Disabilities is available before Black Friday every year. You can find this year’s guide at


Trion Worlds has released Arkbreaker, the second installment of downloadable content for its open world shooter, Defiance. The Arkbreaker pack features exclusive content including a new mission line that gives arkhunters the power to call down their own arkfalls, vicious cold fire weapons and a formidable new boss, the Volge Warmaster, that will require teamwork to defeat. Starting today, all gamers will also have free access to new powerups, Spikes and Stims, and both daily and weekly login bonuses. The Defiance team has also reworked all the major storyline missions, making them fully cooperative so that arkhunters will always be able to bring their friends on their adventures.

Players who purchase the Defiance Arkbreaker DLC will receive exclusive access to:

         A New Story Line – A race against Dark Matter to secure an ark-brain interface with the technologies to summon arkfalls down to earth on command.
         Summon and Enter Arkfalls – The power to call down arkfalls is now in the hands of arkhunters. Once on the ground, individuals or groups can battle their way inside to loot new and advanced weaponry and, of course, face off against the Volge enemies protecting them.
         Cold Fire Weapons – Exclusive use of a line of cold fire sniper rifles, pistols, and assault rifles. An additional 20 new advanced-tech weapons put a new and more powerful spin on old favorites.
         A Seriously Deadly Volge Warmaster – The Volge Warmaster means business. 20 players have seven minutes to vanquish him before he vanishes to earn some of the best loot in Defiance.
         Volge Threads – A new Volge engineer outfit comes with the purchase of Arkbreaker along with increased daily and weekly login bonuses.
Along with the new DLC pack released today, Defiance was updated with a slew of new free content and features, including fully co-op story missions (previously playable only as single-player instances).  All players can now utilizeSpikes, which grant offensive and defensive area buffs, and Stims that boost speed, strength, heal rate or EGO power. Arkhunter inventory has also been given a serious update: favorite items have been added for quick retrieval along with instant breakdown of non-favorite items, giving players the ability to sell or salvage in bulk. Gear comparison has also been greatly improved, making it easier and faster to choose the perfect loadout.

The Arkbreaker pack is available on PlayStation 3 and Windows PC for $9.99 or on Xbox 360 for 800 Microsoft Points. 
Check out the Arkbreaker trailer at:
Download the latest assets for Arkbreaker at:
Defiance is rated M for Mature by the ESRB. For more information about Defiance, please visit


Crimes & Punishments, the latest Sherlock Holmes investigation game scheduled for release on PlayStation®4, PC, Xbox 360® and PlayStation®3 in Q2 2014, can now reveal its new trailer, "Justice and Morality", and is updating the Devblog with a new post!

The clues you uncover and the avenue you wish to pursue - or not - in each of the 7 cases in the game will point to 10 suspects in a single case. Your logical deduction alone will enable you to determine who, in your opinion, the true culprit is. But remember: you could put an innocent victim behind bars if you overlook certain clues or trails! Once you establish the perpetrator of the deed, you must then bear the responsibility of deciding what to do with this information... will you carry out the letter of the law, or will you be guided by your moral compass? Carefully consider the consequences of your actions, because every choice you make will have repercussions later in the game!

Don't forget too that Crimes & Punishments has its own Devblog which is regularly updated by the various Frogwares teams with all the relevant, varied and fascinating info on the game development.Today's post describes the different puzzles, brain-teasers and other specific situations in Crimes & Punishments that will force Sherlock to draw upon his many talents!
Crimes & Punishments will be released on PC, Xbox 360®, PlayStation®3 and PlayStation®4 in Q2 2014.


A special add-on content pack in support of the Child’s Play charity is now available in Saints Row IV: The Child's Play Pack (a special web site for this DLC is located at Publisher Deep Silver and developer Volition are donating all proceeds from this pack in support of Child's Play. 

Child's Play is a video game industry charity which raises money to support sick children and their families during their stay in hospitals and therapy facilities. Just recently, Child's Play announced that through the generosity of donors worldwide they have raised more than $20 million over its ten year existence.

“The generosity of Deep Silver, Volition and Saints Row IV fans will positively impact the lives of children in our network of hospitals around the world. By providing video games and other forms of play, child life specialists are able to help children cope with pain and fear, and make the holidays a little brighter for sick kids,” says Jamie Dillion, program coordinator at Child’s Play.

The Child's Play Pack in Saints Row IV contains toys that will bring back childhood memories. Players will be able to rampage through the virtual city of Steelport as a Digital Dino or go bananas in the Robochimp Outfit, while the Retro Rocket vehicle lets players soar through the streets of Steelport in classic style.

Saints Row fans can support Child's Play for a limited time by purchasing this add-on for the PC at a price of $2.99 USD / EUR 2.99 / GBP 2.49.

For more information regarding Child's Play, please visit


Before Banksy was selling art in Central Park for 10 bucks a pop, graffiti artist and pop culture icon (and nice dude) Marc Ecko released Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure in 2006 to much fanfare on Xbox, PS2 and PC. With a mind-blowing soundtrack that won Best Video Game Soundtrack from the MTV Video Music awards, fans can nab this bad boy for just $7.49 (half off the regular $14.99 price tag) as Devolver Digital, purveyors of fine indie content, have propped it up on Steam:

Play as Trane, a "toy" graffiti artist with the street smarts, athletic prowess and vision to become an "All City King" - the most reputable of all graffiti artists. Along your quest, uncover the mayor's deep, dark secret and use your fighting talents and high-wire graffiti to expose the city's leader as a corrupt tyrant.

As you struggle to save a neighborhood from an oppressive government, one question stands out: What if graffiti could change the world? Risk your life battling city authorities and rival graffiti gangs - mere obstacles in your attempt to get your tag up. And in this city, not just any tag will do. You have to "Get IN, Get UP and Get OUT".

For more information about Devolver Digital, please visit


New features for the upcoming Van Helsing II

Remember that Ocarina I reviewed a few posts ago? Here's a video of a cosplayer in the woods who knows how to actually play one...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ZombiU & A Link Between Worlds  


Games: Although there are still a few weeks left in 2013, we’ve finally hit that lull that comes only after all of the big games have been released for the holiday and the pressure of trying to cover everything is off.  I love this time because my backlog is enormous, and it’s one of the few periods when I can safely start chipping away at it without feeling bad for neglecting something that needs to be reviewed. 

Case in point, ZombiU

I’ve had ZombiU in my backlog since the day I bought my WiiU, and I’ve never had time for it until now.  I guess it worked out since we decided to cover it as a group for the next @Gamecritics podcast, but I’d have to say the wait wasn’t worth it.

The gist is that you play a survivor in a post-zombie London, taking advice from an unseen voice who guides you through the city and helps you do what needs to be done.  One twist is that the game runs on a permadeath structure, so every time your character falls, he or she turns into a zombie (with a backpack full of your items, by the way) so your next character needs to track down the old one, kill them, take their stuff, and continue the mission. 

The other twist is that the developers have incorporated a number of novel functions into the WiiU’s gamepad.  For example, when going into the inventory, it must be managed on the gamepad touchscreen.  At the same time, the character in the game is “looking” into his backpack.  He looks in his bag as you look at the gamepad, essentially. It’s kind of neat. Another common usage is to use the game pad to “scan” an area in order to detect items and zombies. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m usually interested in zombie games that try to do something besides the average shoot-em-up, so ZombiU seemed like it would be right up my alley.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a devil of a time staying interested enough to make real progress.

One of the problems I have is that in a game where supplies and resources are quite precious (you’re counting every bullet) I take issue with the developers having zombies pop up out of nowhere to surprise and ambush. 

In one instance, I was in a completely cleared-out building looking for supplies, only to come around the corner and see a zombie waiting which had obviously been placed by the developers to catch me-off guard.  In another, I was trying to reclaim gear left on my last character and I was literally (literally!) watching zombies spawn on top of a roof and then stumble down to the street to surround the resources. 

The way I see it, you can’t have it both ways – if the resources are tight and I’m expected to manage them, then you can’t break the rules and surprise me in a fakey-gamey way after I’ve done due diligence and been sufficiently cautious, i.e. - zombies appearing in locked areas.  On the other hand, if you really want to do the jump scares and go for something on the action side, then don’t be so stingy with the items.

Another problem is that this is one of the only games I’ve ever played where my character feels slower, clunkier, and less competent than the zombies.  It’s incredibly easy to get surrounded and overwhelmed, and playing in the first-person perspective doesn’t help.  The melee using a cricket bat feels slow and awkward, and there aren’t any new techniques to learn or any power-ups to get for it.  With bullets in such short supply, that bat is going to see the majority of the action, yet it’s the most awkward, boring thing to use.

To thing that kind of sealed the deal for me is that the very features which are supposed to make it stand out -- the gamepad augmentation -- only serve to take me out of the game and destroy my immersion. 
Honestly, despite what the current trend seems to be, it’s a royal pain in the ass to constantly look back and forth between two screens. It just breaks my focus and distracts me from what’s going on.  It would be pretty cool if second-screening was only required once in a while, but taking my eyes off the action every time I needed to access my inventory (often) or to scan the area (constant) just became a chore.
I’m still pretty early in the adventure, less than half, but I feel absolutely no desire to go back to it and when I do, it just can’t hold my attention.  The systems in the game don’t work for me, and with all of the second-screening, I feel like I’d rather be playing something else that I can really  sink my teeth into.

Speaking of which, it’s been a very long time since I played a Zelda game which I genuinely enjoyed a (I think Spirit Tracks was the last one) but I’ve been spending time with A Link Between Worlds while I’ve ignoring ZombiU, and I think it’s probably the best Zelda Nintendo has turned out in quite a long time.

I’ve been told that the game is actually called Link To The Past 2 in Japan, which makes perfect sense since the overworld map and much of the structure is highly reminiscent of that Nintendo classic.  In fact, when I started the game, I had a powerful sense of deja vu, and it took me a little while to get into the swing of things.  It certainly feels overfamiliar at times, but there’s no question that it’s a very polished, smooth experience with a number of changes that make it debatably better game than the one that inspired it.

What I like is that it does away with a lot of the baggage that’s dragged the recent iterations down – there’s no longer constant repetition of things the player already knows, the game is open to exploration from the start, and the dungeons can be tacked in nearly any order, so it becomes a fairly self-directed experience with little impedance save for the occasional sticking point here and there. In fact, it generally moves at a rapid clip, which I appreciate. It’s nice to jump into something like this and have it wrap up long before I’m sick of it.

That said, the game is far from perfect, and it stumbles in a few places that were a little surprising.
To begin with, my good friend @Duckols took the game to task for something that I agree with – despite giving the player nearly all of the tools from the beginning of the game, the dungeons are still constructed around using only one. From start to finish, I can only think of perhaps two instances where I actually got some benefit from having another piece of equipment besides the one that was “recommended” and that seems a bit wrong. It’s odd to think that Nintendo trusted the player to be smart enough to handle a more open structure and a lack of handholding, but they clearly didn’t want even the possibility of going into a dungeon without everything needed to complete it.

The weapons all seem overly-dedicated in their purpose, as well. I got through the game never needing to use the bow or boomerang, and the sand rod doesn’t even do anything outside of the desert. Half of the weapons could have been cut.

Speaking of lacking functionality, the game’s big trick is that Link can “flatten” himself and walk on walls in 2D fashion.  It’s a neat idea and there are a few places where it really wows, but in general it feels like it’s half-baked.  Sadly, this mechanic is mostly used to help Link cross gaps and reach elevations which don’t have any other way up. 

For instance, he can climb a ledge on one side of a room and then flatten onto the wall.  When walking, he’ll keep the exact same altitude as he walks his way around to the other side.  Naturally, the developers go a little crazy with minor height differentials, and I got really tired of looking for ways to boost up to things that were just a little out of reach. Adding insult, there were too many times the developers lazily stuck a little brick or some type of broken surface to prevent link from taking a shortcut, and there were other times when it seemed like he should be able to slip through somewhere but couldn’t. 

It was also disappointing to find that Link doesn’t really do anything when he stuck to the wall except walk.  There are no enemies to kill and he can’t use items or jump Mario-style, and I almost wanted to cry when I realized that there really wasn’t much to this power except simple traversal.  I mean, there could have been all sorts of interesting 2D sidequests or activities, not to mention the different ways the items could have been implemented, but none of it ever happens.

Although I’ve listed out more negatives than positives, don’t get me wrong... I definitely feel like Link Between Worlds was a worthwhile experience, and I certainly enjoyed it once I was able to put the overfamiliarity aside.  For people who aren’t as burned out on Zelda as I am, I would imagine the enjoyment to be even greater.