Friday, December 25, 2015

A Second Look at: Prince of Persia, 2008  


Although I don't talk about it much these days, the Prince of Persia franchise has been one of my favorites since the 2003 reboot, Sands of Time.

It was a stunning experience on all levels thanks to the Prince’s fantastically acrobatic traversal, a unique time-rewind mechanic, and its storyteller-style voiceovers. It all came together into something fairly magical for me, and I was hooked ever since.

After Sands of Time, I played the two sequels and enjoyed them greatly despite the drastic shift towards a darker, edgier tone. Nu-metal and unnecessary profanity aside, the mechanics were still solid and I was genuinely interested in seeing what would become of the Prince after meddling in powers he couldn’t control.

However, when Ubisoft rebooted the franchise yet again in 2008, I bounced right off of it.

I think I wrote about a paragraph on it at the time, and the @Gamecritics review was a quickie written by someone who popped up and didn't stay with the site. I regret leaving the topic so soon, and I should have been more vocal about it – in a nutshell, the gameplay felt less technical and too simplified, I was not a fan of the empty-feeling open world, and having to collect items to progress the story was the final nail in the coffin.

However, as someone with a substantial soft spot for the Prince, it always bothered me that I never finished the 2008 installment. I've had a copy of it for years, and now that we’re past the fourth quarter madness of holiday review season, it felt like the right time to pull the game out from the bottom of my backlog and give it another try.

I'm glad that I did.

Revisiting the game now, I will say that the character designs and animations are strong. The Prince and his companion Elika are a handsome pair, and the developers have taken quite a bit of time to make sure that they animate fluidly. They display many little flourishes that accentuate the partnership they grow over the course of the game. 

When on a ledge, they quickly leapfrog to switch places if the Prince needs to navigate in the opposite direction, or when standing on a beam, they hold hands and spin around gracefully to trade positions.  In most of these cases, it would've been perfectly fine to have no special animation at all, but by including these quick touches and grasping embraces, the two really do behave like a pair.

Following this theme, I enjoy how the two work together in a functional sense. When the game first released, one of the biggest points of contention was that Elika had magical powers, and whenever the Prince missed a jump or is somehow otherwise doomed, the game immediately cuts to a scene of Elika grabbing his hand and pulling him back to the last safe platform he was on. 

While I do have some issues with other parts of the game’s design, this isn’t one of them.  Rather than seeing it as some sort of handholding or dumbing-down, it’s just an interesting choice that eliminates the need to waste time reloading a save.

In the earlier games, the same sort of "do over" function was a gameplay element that asked the player to rewind time at will, and it was a limited resource – it was the literal sand of time. In 2008, the developers threw this out the window, made it an automatic response to player death and removed the limitation on its use.

I don’t know about you, but I generally re-load a save and keep playing if I die in a game, so removing the time needed to perform a step I’m going to do anyway was welcome. In addition, it’s yet another thing that reinforces the connection between the two main characters, so this is a win-win.

Looking at the characters and their dialogue, the developers recorded a ton of fully-voiced lines between the Prince and Elika. Some of it serious, some of it informational, some is just playful and it’s all enriching. I compliment this writing, but the brilliant part is that most of this dialogue is optional and is only heard when the player pushes the ‘talk now’ button.
Letting the player engage in this narrative at their own pace is an incredibly smart choice - I ignored it in action-heavy sections, and when I hit quiet moments and was ready for a break, I’d chat with Elika for extended periods of time. By leaving it in my hands, it was never intrusive, and never broke up the flow of what was happening at any given moment.

Oh, and about Elika… Looking back, I’m a little surprised that I didn’t hear more about her as a strong female character.  She’s fiercely independent and driven, she doesn’t take a back seat to the Prince during discussions, and she’s the reason why he can accomplish anything at all -- without her magic, he wouldn’t get far. She’s an equal (and even his superior) in most respects, and she’s a big, big part of why my opinion of this game turned around. However, rather than becoming the subject of fandom and cosplay, she vanished. I don’t recall seeing her mentioned as a good example at the time and she’s forgotten now. A true shame!

So, everything I’ve touched on has been positive so far, but if that’s all true then why did I bounce off of it so quickly back then? Well, the game was heavily criticized at the time of release, and many of those criticisms were entirely valid.

For instance, the world feels too empty in general, and while there are certainly some technical sections which require a bit of skill, it's not challenging to complete in any real sense.

Unlike the older games, Prince of Persia 2008 was structured as an open world. This sort of design was still exciting and fairly newish back then, so I can understand why the devs might've wanted to try it, but for a game that’s essentially a highly-structured platformer at heart, it doesn't feel like a natural fit.

With the restriction that the Prince can go to a number of levels in any order and that he may or may not have the appropriate power-up that lets him get to the end of each section, most areas ended up feeling like hallways camouflaged by beautiful skyboxes and interesting bits of impossible architecture – easy to pass through from one end to the other, but with nothing notable happening along the way.  

Another poor choice was requiring the player to collect a certain number of "light seeds" in order to progress.

Certain parts of the world are locked behind the power-ups I just mentioned, and these can only be acquired after collecting seeds scattered throughout the environment. Unfortunately, these seeds don’t exist until an area has been completed.  As such, the player is forced to travel back through the same level again at least once to collect the seeds which appear afterwards.

Going through a level the second time is far less exciting than the first, and doing so for the purpose of collecting arbitrary MacGuffins is poor motivation. Making it even less pleasant, many seeds are tucked in out-of-the-way places that often lack a clear way to return to the main path. Sometimes, there seemed to be no way back at all. It feels like the developers had the idea of wanting players to hunt for things, but never quite figured out how this level-combing was supposed to work in practice.

Speaking of things that don’t work, the combat is… Well, it’s awful.

It could be successfully argued that the Sands of Time titles had excessive combat, but 2008 flies in the opposite direction. The only enemies in the game are a handful of carbon-copy peons and five boss characters which appear over and over. This isn’t enough variety to keep the fights fresh from start to finish, and combat itself is a series of QTEs that rely on the player remembering which move beats what, paper-rock-scissors style. It looks impressive the first few times a combo is successfully pulled off, but it feels so stiff and unpleasant that I wish the developers had done something totally different with it. Thankfully, most fights can be won by pushing the enemy over an edge, so the bulk of them can be ended in a hurry.

While all that stuff is bad, the real doozy is how it finished. No real discussion of Prince 2008 is complete without mention of that ending.

Spoiler warning until the next bolded line.

Over the course of the adventure, the Prince and Elika work to cleanse their lands from evil. The twist is that Elika died before the game began. Her life was bought in exchange for releasing the evil in the first place, so by containing the evil again, she must forfeit her life and die a second time.

I thought this ending was quite touching and bittersweet, until it was revealed that it wasn’t the real ending. Once she’s laid to rest, the game keeps going. Off in the distance, an object beckons. Once there, it’s revealed that the player can re-release the evil and bring Elika back to life – essentially, you’re undoing everything the pair did over the course of the entire game.
Some people have tried to explain this decision away by saying that I could have turned my console off after laying Elika down, but I don’t buy it. The game is OBVIOUSLY still going on, there was no in-game choice to select, there was no ‘the end’ message that scrolled… Who arbitrarily turns a console off and says that they’ve completed the game? Nobody, that’s who. The developers clearly want you to keep playing.

I knew this was not the path I wanted to take but I wanted to see the entirety of what the developers had crafted, so I followed it to the real ending. It was basically “to be continued”, and it felt like the most wrongheaded and financially-driven thing I’ve seen in quite some time. What could have been an intensely poignant and memorable finale turned into a giant raspberry blown in the player’s face, and the entire experience was cheapened. It is an understatement of galactic proportions to say that this ending was a Did Not Like.

End of spoilers!

So, after taking stock of the whole thing from front to back and finally rolling credits on it after all these years, Prince of Persia 2008 is an eccentric, flawed experience… But, don't let that scare you off.  I think the relationship between the Prince and Elika is actually quite special, and the way that it intertwines with the mechanics makes it that much better. And, despite the relative ease of navigation compared to previous installments, it's often entertaining to simply go through the environment and watch the Prince cling to ceilings, make fantastic leaps, or spin around on the top of a crumbling castle while holding Elika’s hand. It may not be my favorite Prince of Persia, but coming back to it now has given me a different perspective, and I appreciate the strengths in spite of its weaknesses more now than I did back then.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! 

And, for more on Prince of Persia 2008, the good men of @CaneAndRinse covered it on their podcast, front to back. Give a listen if you like!


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Blasting Through My PS2 Backlog, Part 1  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

First off, in case you missed it, I posted my top ten games of 2015 over at @Gamecritics. If you haven't seen it, click on over and let me know what you think of my selections! 

Now, let's get down to business...

So, it sounds a little ridiculous to still have a PS2 backlog now that we're well into the PS4 era, but... Yep... I definitely do have a stack of games from back then that I always meant to play. 

I didn't want to commit to anything big this weekend since I'm working on other reviews, but it felt like the time was right to blow through some of these in rapid-fire style and pack up the ones I'm genuinely never going to play.  

Here are the first four...


Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier - 2009

I was a big fan of Naughty Dog’s original Jak & Daxter trilogy, so I picked this one up who knows when because I was hoping for more of the same. For those who’ve never played it, it’s basically a hop-and-bop franchise with some light vehicle and collection elements tossed in.

While it’s got the same stars and it’s set in the same world as the first three titles, it was done by a different studio (High Impact Games) and it was originally built for the PSP, so there are some differences.

For example, the camera doesn't tilt up and down since the PSP didn't have a second stick, there’s aerial combat, and the graphic quality is pretty weird -- it definitely doesn't look like a native PS2 game.  It seems fine enough for what it is, but after having played the original three and after letting so much time go by, I think I'm all right with leaving this franchise in the past.

Verdict: Tossed in storage


Pirates: Legend Of The Black Buccaneer - 2006

I had been looking at this one for a long time, waiting for it to drop to the right price in the bargain bins, but I think it was @AshtonRaze tweeting about it that finally pushed me over the edge into purchase territory. 

The gist is that an escaped slave becomes some sort of evil voodoo queen, and your character is a sailor who’s one of many coming after her treasure. It's got a strong Eurojank vibe to it, and the world seems more complex than I was expecting… I didn’t play long, but I was picking up a bit of old-school Tomb Raider mixed with a dash of Risen.  There was platforming, a quest log, some puzzles… The word felt fairly open-ended, too. Promising! 

On the other hand, I'm not too sure about the themes… casting the antagonist as a black female slave who does voodoo is a little questionable, and the first power the hero (a white guy) earns is the ability to turn into a hulking black voodoo brute. The whole thing feels vaguely racist in some way, but it was good enough to pique my interest.

Verdict: Kept it around to play later.


Summoner 2 - 2002

This one is a bit of a cheat because I did play this when it first released. I seem to remember getting fairly far in it until I hit a big difficulty spike and I put it down. I recall being impressed with the size and scope of it back then so I wanted to give it one last shot, but it hasn’t aged well enough. 

Within the first few minutes of play, I was really turned off by how stiff and unnatural the movement and combat felt, and the graphics weren't nearly as good as some of the other games in my PS2 backlog.

I’m sure there's a lot to the game that I haven't even scratched, but this one’s a little too rough and I don’t think I’m going to be able to commit to this one.  

Verdict: Tossed in storage


Scarface: The World Is Yours - 2006

This one surprised me a bit -- it seems like a pretty legit attempt at horning in on GTA territory and there's definitely some money behind it. It's an open world game with a lot of licensed music and tons of voice acting. 

Speaking of which, the main voice actor isn’t a ringer for Al Pacino, but he definitely gets the tone of the film correct. Within the first few minutes of play, he was swearing a blue streak and had me diving for the remote control so that I wouldn't have to explain to my son what all those words meant.

Things started off on the right foot with a good tutorial and the beginning of the game was strong, showing the fall of Tony Montana and how his wealth and power was stolen away. The enemy count was a wee bit concerning (I think I killed 150 dudes in the first three minutes) and I don't know that I’m necessarily in the market for another open world game after all the other ones I've played this year, but this one had me intrigued.

Verdict: Kept it around to play later.


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Witcher 3 is done, and The Old Hunters is too hard. Also, Chibi-Robo!  


Welcome back to Coffeecoloa, and happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Before getting to my usual game stuff, I just want to take a minute to express thanks for everything that I have - my wonderful family, a source of income, a warm place to live, enough food to eat… things like these aren’t a given, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have them. I mean, I know a lot of people who struggle in just getting by, and here I am, lucky enough to spend time playing videogames and writing about them… It's an absolute luxury to be sure, and I'm very aware of that. And I am thankful.

Anyway, I also hope that you have good things in your life, and I hope this holiday was a happy one for you. Now, on with the show!

>Witcher 3 The last time I talked about it, I was just getting back into it after deciding that Bethesda's latest was too boring to stick with, and in the time that's passed since then, I actually completed the game. It seemed like it was going to go on for infinity at times, but there actually is an end to the main storyline, and after wrapping up the entire game, I can say that I'm genuinely glad I came back to it.

Overall, I think the writing was outstanding… Probably the best writing in any game I played this year. Also, many of the quests were interesting and varied, and so much work was put into every aspect of the experience that it's just a monumental effort.

I also thought that the female characters were particularly well done, and I do think it's a great example of strong women in games. Although some people who played the previous Witcher titles said that the devs did quite poorly with their women (and maybe they did) they’ve clearly learned some lessons along the way because the ladies here are fantastic. They’re strong, they have their own motivations, they don't play second fiddle to Geralt, and they feel like well-rounded characters. Great stuff.

Of course, the game does have a few issues. The biggest one is that the pacing is a little insane. The main quest is incredibly long and takes the number of turns. A lot of interesting things happen -- and that's great -- but these days I find it hard to buy into the "urgency" of a main quest when a game takes so many detours. It was also a problem for me because so many of the sidequests were genuinely good, and I didn't want to miss any of them. I felt compelled to do as many as possible in order to avoid having any automatically fail by advancing the story. I realize that there are story events that had to happen in order to have the finale that the devs wanted, but I think it would have been possible to restructure the game and make it a little less arduous to get through.

It's also worth noting that the game takes a few weird stumbles at the end. @SparkyClarkson raised this issue in his second opinion at @Gamecritics, and I think he's absolutely on the money. The game rises to a crescendo with a fantastic battle at the Witcher home base, and rather than ending things there, there's still quite a bit left to do afterwards, except none of it is as compelling or as exciting as that battle. In fact, it even gets a little bit nonsensical, with a last-minute MacGuffin showing up to lead into some some quest stuff that just don't make a lot of sense.

Those are pretty forgivable things when looking at everything else the game gets right, though, and it gets a hell of a lot right. It's a fantastic experience from start to finish, and although it is a significant commitment of time, I do think it's one of the few games that is worth investing in despite how long it is. The developers have absolutely raised the bar when it comes to writing and worldbuilding, and we are now living in a post-Witcher world. Any developer wanting to cover the same territory really needs to bring it.

>Bloodborne: The Old Hunters While I plan on doing the Witcher DLC, I need to take a short break before pushing on, so I decided to drop back into Bloodborne and give the Old Hunters DLC a try.

To be fair, I'm not the biggest Bloodborne fan. The story is a mess to me, I think some of the systems don't work as well as they could, and I don’t think much of the aesthetics. The hunters look great, but the world is too monochromatic and too cluttered with garbage and statues and all sorts of stuff that just ends up being visual noise. So, while I’m definitely not one of the hardcore BB devotees, I am a Fromsoft fan and I was curious to see what they would bring to the table with this new expansion. Unfortunately, what it looks like they brought is an insane level of hardcore difficulty.

Look, I'm not the best player out there, but I think I can generally hold my own and I am quite experienced when it comes to Fromsoft and the Souls games. And besides, I got through Bloodborne by myself with only a few difficult spots here and there, so I thought I would be well-equipped to handle this, but the developers are trolling pretty hard… They've really jacked up the difficulty.

While there are a few brutal enemies (the shark giants in the Fishing Hamlet are a nightmare) and there are a few too many ‘GOT YA!’ moments for my taste, the bosses are the worst offenders. Many do a crazy amount of damage and they're just straight-up difficult to fight. My friend @MikeSuskie (in his review) says that there's no real trick to finding these bosses, the player just has to be good enough to beat them, and I think he's correct. Unfortunately, I think the devs have taken it a little too far this time.

As for the rest of it, well, it's just OK, I suppose. It's interesting that they put an absolute crap-ton of new weapons in this DLC (clearly in response to complaints that there weren’t enough things to choose from in the vanilla game) but it's ironic that in order to get these weapons, players have to be good enough to survive the areas where they are… 

which means they have to be high-level… 

which means they have to have already been through the game. 

Since leveling up weapons takes a lot of resources that aren't just laying around, most of the weapons people will find won't be any use unless they do a lot of farming, or start a new game in order to re-harvest resources. I’d love to try some of these new things out myself, but some of them I just can't equip because my stats aren't set up properly, and the rest are too low to do me any good. I ended up collecting them, putting them aside and using my old standbys. It seems like a missed opportunity here.

Also, a heads-up to anyone who did what I did and missed the first shortcut that leads back to the very first lamp in the Hunter’s Nightmare. I have no idea how in the world I missed it, but I did, and there’s a very important NPC which hangs out in that shortcut… He has quite a bit of information about the world and ends up giving the player a weapon at the end, so if you plan to play this DLC, make sure you talk to that person before moving on. He's at one end of the large bridge spanning the bloody river that's in the starting area. Once you see the giant flea monsters, go up to the bridge and go in the hallway at one end… He's down there.

Overall, I'm feeling pretty mixed about The Old Hunters. On the one hand, I want to keep supporting From as I've been a fan of theirs for a very, very long time. On the other hand, I don't think Bloodborne was that great, and this add-on feels like it's hard for the sake of being hard. I'm pretty sure that a lot of people who struggled to get through the main game will be absolutely destroyed by the level of difficulty here, and I just don't see the point of making it so crushing.

>Random Just a couple of quick notes before I wrap up… 

First, I want to give a shout out to Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash! on 3DS. I haven't heard many people talking about it, and the people who have talked about it don't seem to think very much of it, which is a shame. I'm a fan of the character, and I think that this is a pretty solid outing for him. It’s certainly better than the last game he was in. 

There are a few weird choices and it's not the sort of thing that you want to marathon for hours on end, but I think it's a lot better than people give it credit for, and it's really cute as well. If you're a fan, it's definitely worth picking up, and if you want some solid platforming action, this is a good one to check out.

Finally, I haven't fired my WiiU up for ages, but I've been pretty curious about Xenoblade Chronicles X, out on December 4, and while I’m not going to cover it for review, I am going to pick it up to see what it's all about. 

It looks like it has a Phantasy Star Online vibe to it, and I'm a sucker for anything with giant robots. Some reviewer friends who already have been through the game have told me that they think I'll hate it -- which is very likely possible -- but it sounds like an interesting project that warrants investigation… I'll have more to say on it later.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fallout 4? No, Witcher 3!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola! 

So, that Fallout 4, right??? 

Yeah, not so much. I have a copy of it here, and while I wouldn't say I was overly hyped for it before release, I'm definitely a Fallout fan... Fallout 3 was really good, and New Vegas was one of my all-time faves. I was in the market for more Fallout

Then I started playing it, and it lost me in a hurry

Real talk: the beginning is pretty awful. Events happen too quick for my taste, and the opening 'motivation' is cheap and distasteful. Once I got into the game proper, the writing was dull, the quests were dull, and the emphasis on crafting is something that I'm not really interested in at this point. The interface for building structures was abysmal, as well. 

My playtime is pretty limited these days, so picking up a bajillion pieces of junk and spending an hour trying to mod a random handgun or combing the wasteland for roofing materials just isn't what I want my focus on in a game of this type. I put about four hours into it, and then I shelved it. 

I really doubt I'm gonna come back to it anytime soon, but a side effect of being disappointed in Fallout 4 is that it lit a fire under me to return to The Witcher 3 to wrap it up. 

The last time I went riding with Geralt was around June or so, so it's been about six months, give or take. At the point where I quit, I had put in 60 hours and had made it to Skellige, but burnout was hitting me pretty hard. It was just way too much content, but ironically, it was content I didn't want to skip. The writing was great, the quests were interesting... It was physically impossible for me to not do them, but it's got to be one of the most content-heavy games I've ever played. 

There's. Just. So. Much. To. Get. Through. (And that's not even counting the map icons, monster quests, treasure hunts and all the other minor stuff!) Anyway, I decided the time was right so I fired it back up and... I had no friggin' idea what was going on. I mean,  Yennefer wanted me to do something that I didn't remember anything about, I lost the main plot thread, and I had forgotten most of the systems in the game. 

Putting the search for Ciri on hold, I fumbled around with the controls for a bit and decided to clean up some of the secondary quests that were left hanging as a warmup exercise. 

Thankfully, I got back into the groove pretty quick, and my time away from the game reminded me of why I liked it so much in the first place.  I'm glad I came back. 

That said, I wish the devs had structured the adventure a bit differently... It would be great to have more emphasis on the main quest and to have left most of the secondary stuff for after credits roll. 

A big problem for me was that I didn't know what quests would fail if I didn't do them, and their general quality is so high that major FOMO kept hitting me every time I felt like I needed to critpath it. Knowing that I could focus on the central plot without fear of losing content would have helped stave off exhaustion, for sure.

In any event, it's good to be back in The Witcher and I'm really hoping to close the book on it.  And hey, who knows... I may even pop for that DLC! 


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

4 guys, 1 Steam Machine - SFW  


Hey all, just a quick redirect tonight - A group of my friends got together to weigh in on the new Alienware Steam Machine. You can read my writeup on their thoughts over at @GameCritics right here.  I'll be back with a regular update next time.  Thanks!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Playing Catch-Up!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

I’m currently between review assignments, so I’ve had some precious free time to play pretty much whatever I want without feeling guilty about it -- AKA, the best time of year!

So, what’s been on the docket?


>The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition (PS4)

Despite hearing all the praise last year, this one kind of snuck up on me. I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

While it’s very Portal-like in many ways, I really liked the different aesthetic of the game, and the writers did an outstanding job with it. The themes of humanity and free will were a great fit with the puzzle-based gameplay, and the world had an awesome atmosphere and style.

While I didn’t love some of the in-game text (the myths and historical writing found on PCs weren’t effective at all) Talos is one of the exceedingly rare instances where the existence of audio logs not only made sense, but actually did a great job of enhancing the story. Even better, the ending was both perfect and amazing, and it left me glowing with contentedness for the rest of the day.

In fact, the story is really what carried the day here. I think the game is too long by a third, and the final bunch of puzzles were exercises in frustration. If I hadn’t been so invested in seeing how things turned out, I’m certain I would have quit before the end. Thank god for GameFAQS, amirite?? Speaking of which, mega props to nomercyrider for his awesome FAQ. I used it and I am not ashamed.

Despite getting a bit burned out on it by the end, I am very, very glad that I pushed on through – it really was a wonderful experience overall.  I haven’t touched the Road to Gehenna DLC because I’m feeling pretty burned out on the puzzles right now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll give it a shot once some time has passed.


>Leo’s Fortune (PS4)

I have to say, when I saw this one pop up on PSN I wrote it off out-of-hand based on the screenshots, but I heard some positive things later on so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad that I did.

I haven't been keeping up with mobile lately, but apparently this one was a successful mobile title that got ported. It doesn't really break new ground, but it's very focused on being a physics-based platformer, and it does what it does very well.

The main character is a big fuzzball who can puff himself up, and the developers have done a good job of designing levels which are a mix between straight-up platforming and puzzles which involve environmental manipulation.

I have to say, I also thought the story had a certain sort of magnetism. Although it was totally simple, it took a dark turn by the end and finished with a positive message that I didn't see coming. It could've used a little more story sprinkled throughout, but I appreciate what was there.


>Shovel Knight (3DS)

So, I first played this when it dropped last year, and I have to be honest, I didn't click with me. That retro vibe was pretty clear, but it just didn't seem to be doing anything that was interesting at the time, and I put it down pretty quick. Of course, it went on to receive so much praise and love that I couldn’t ignore it. I decided to give it a second chance and I finished it.

Now that I've done the main campaign, I definitely recognize it as a quality product and can appreciate what the developers were going for, although it never lit my world on fire.

I think that part of my apathy is that the visual design of Shovel Knight himself leaves a little bit to be desired… Something about it just doesn't pop for me, and his shovel feels underdeveloped. I mean, it could've basically been anything besides a shovel, so that feels like a gap needing to be filled there.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. It's definitely a good game and I'm glad that I came back to it, but… yeah. Probably not gonna end up on my ‘favorite 3DS games’ list.

Side note: the free Plague Knight DLC is pretty nuts. It’s basically a whole new campaign re-using some of the old levels, but the new character has all-new moves and different strategies. It feels a lot more technical and demanding than the vanilla content, so check it out if you need some of that.


>Sunset Overdrive, XBO

Now that I've got an Xbox One in the house, I've been trying to go back and see all of the games that caught my attention before I had access to one. This was at the top of the list.

Although I'm pretty tired of open world games, I do appreciate that the traversal in Sunset is fairly unusual and ends up lending it an energy that others have been lacking. Since the main character can grind/hang/wall run/bounce/air dash, getting from point A to point B is a lot more fun than simply crossing the city in standard open-world style. It reminds me of Crackdown a bit in that respect.

On the other hand, the missions haven't exactly been very interesting (I absolutely despise the base defense) and it feels like there's a little bit too much going on at times. Since the main character is a sitting duck when on the ground, having to constantly stay in motion while dodging things/targeting/managing crowds/working the camera leads to moments of pure overload, so it's probably a good thing that the save points are pretty generous.

Style-wise, I've seen a lot of people bounce hard off of it, but I found it to be genuinely humorous for the most part – some of the lines in the script are pretty sharp. It's definitely a little too "in-your-face" at times, but not horribly so given the irreverence at its core. I really like the female voice actress, so maybe that helps?

The things that I find more offputting are the different menus and "amps" that the game offers. These power-ups feel like an extra layer that I don't want on top of things, and it's presented in such a cluttered and busy fashion that I end up ignoring most of it. I wouldn't mind some streamlining in this area. Also, pausing when using the radial menu to change between weapons would be super welcome.

I'm just doing the main story missions and I’m happy to say that the game is going by pretty quickly -- I think I'm past the halfway point and not tired of it yet, which is a good sign. Dunno if I'll be up for any of the DLC once I roll credits, but it's been a thumbs up so far. It's not something that feels like a system seller, but it if you already have an Xbox one, then it’s recommended. 

Oh, and it's great to see Insominiac finally finding the fun again. They felt really lost when they were churning out those dreary Resistance titles, and as a fan of the studio, I had a hard time understanding where they were coming from and what they were going for. Sunset feels like a more logical progression for them and I'm glad to see that they've got some of their spark back.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hands-On with the Alienware Steam Machine!  


Hey hey, welcome back to Coffeecola!

Just a quick redirect tonight... I posted hands-on impressions of the Alienware Steam Machine over at @gamecritics, and it's a pretty fab piece of hardware. 

For my thoughts on this kit, head over to the page at GC.

While you're there, I'm giving away five copies of The Talos Principle (PS4) and a Valve Key which grants a copy of every game Valve has ever made, and every game they'll ever make in the future

All you have to do is leave a comment. So easy! 


Monday, October 5, 2015

Blood Bowl 2, Paddington, and I'm on TV!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

First off, I was a guest on the new @VideogameBreak TV show which is now airing on local Seattle stations. The show is just now getting off the ground, and host Carlos Rodela does a great job with it. If that name sounds familiar, that you might know him from the @VideogameBreak Podcast,and he’s also @Onawa on Twitter. 

In any event, here the first two complete episodes are also on YouTube in case you don't get local Seattle TV.

Episode 1 - Mad Max, Senran Kagura 2, Underfall and CYOA games.

Episode 2 – Game preservation and journalism stuff

So, what have I been playing? 

I just finished Blood Bowl 2 (PS4) and it's been taking up all of my free time over the last week or so. Although I've never played the tabletop game that it’s based on, developer @CyanideStudio has taken a second stab at porting it to electronic formats, and in this case, the second time's the charm.

For those not familiar with Blood Bowl, it's essentially football played by fantasy races (elves, orcs, ratmen, humans, etc…) along with a large dose of violence and fatalities.

Now, if you read this blog with regularity or you know me from the @Gamecritics podcast, you might be wondering why I'm even remotely interested in a sports title, and the answer is: I'm not. Despite the fact that American football is definitely the basis for Blood Bowl, it plays a lot more like a turn-based strategy RPG than it does like Madden, and that's what hooked me. 

While the tutorial doesn't quite do its job and the production values are lower than I'd like, there's no denying the deep strategy and tactics here. Playing a great match is like XCOM on a field, and with all the special abilities, cheating, and bizarre circumstances, it makes for an incredibly entertaining experience.

Now, while the online is pretty robust and you're able to have a full season with friends, I was thrilled to see that the developers have included a full single player campaign, complete with special challenges, cutscenes, and an actual ending. I haven't tried multiplayer, but I had a great time with the story mode, and a special shout-out goes to the two voice actors who played Jim and Bob, the announcers. The pair did a great job, and really help sell the entire experience.

Although @GC_Danny is handling the review for @Gamecritics, this title comes totally recommended by me, and I give it an absolute thumbs up. It's easily one of my favorites this year.

While on the subject of games, the good people at @MommysBestGames just released a bundle on Steam, and it's a pretty killer deal. For only $8, players can get four lovingly- handcrafted indie experiences from the twisted mastermind of Mommy’s Best, Nathan Fouts. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Nathan's work, it just so happens that I reviewed three out of the four games offered in the current bundle. They are:

1> Weapon Of Choice – 8.5/10

2> Shoot 1UP – 8/10

3> Explosionade  - 8.5/10

So, if you know how strict I can be with games, then you know the scores I gave his work are no joke -- that’s a lot of great game for not-a-lot of cash. If you like indies and never tried these when they originally debuted on XBLI, now’s your chance.

Now, about TV and movies...

While we’re waiting for some of our favorites to return (Season two of The Flash, yo!) the wife and I were checking out some other shows that we heard were good, and one we tried out was iZombie.

This show is based on a 2010 comic by Roberson and Allred, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't care for the book, and I was more than a little surprised to see that someone had picked it to develop into a TV show. That said, we gave it a spin, and I'm happy that we did – it’s been a nice little treat.

In a nutshell, the main character is infected with a zombie virus, but by eating brains she maintains most of her humanity despite being incredibly pale. She works in a medical examiner’s office, so she has frequent access to food, and a side effect is that when she eats a brain, she remembers some of that person's history and takes on some of their personality. Naturally, since most of the people coming into the morgue have been murdered, she uses this ability to help solve the crimes.

It's a goofy premise, but luckily the show doesn't take itself too seriously. It's more about getting fun performances out of the cast, and everyone does a great job. Also, someone in the writer’s room must be a gamer, because they drop a lot of game references that are actually on-target and make sense. I was impressed! I'm about halfway through the first season, and we're down for the rest… It's light, peppy, and pretty cute.

One final thing for the blog tonight… As parents, we're always on the lookout for some quality entertainment that the whole family can watch -- Something that's not too intense for the young ones, and not too insipid for Mom & Dad.

I'd heard a lot of good things about the 2014 remake of Paddington, but the movie trailer looked like absolute crap. I couldn’t understand where the good word-of-mouth was coming from, because just seeing those few seconds of clips from the film really turned me off. However, it was for rent on iTunes for .99 one rainy afternoon, so we risked the buck.

I have to say, I was quite surprised by the quality of the film -- the trailer was full of kiddie crap like burps and pratfalls, but the film was actually quite smart, had a lot of sophisticated visual storytelling, and told a wonderful tale rich with magical realism.

If I was the director of the film, I would've been pulling my hair out at how stupid the trailer made it seem, but I'm glad that we decided to give it a chance… Everyone in the entire family enjoyed it, and I can't recommend it enough to families with kids. It's a movie that's entertaining on many levels, and much, much better than I had ever expected. Absolutely recommended.