Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The king returns, Lara Croft & Osiris, [embargo!], Undead Darlings, and Kingsman: Secret Service  


To start things off tonight, here’s a link to our podcast discussing E3. The full crew covers the show, the press conferences, and the games that caught our eye.
 Also, if you'll recall what I said in my last update, I promised a huge surprise and I wasn't lying… Tim Spaeth is back on the show as a part-time host, and this episode marks his triumphant return.

I couldn’t be happier.


So, let's talk about some games.

Witcher 3: This is going to be my last Witcher update for a while, I promise. I got back into it hoping I could push through until the end, and although I still really like the game, I just can't play it right now. 

I totally overdosed on the sidequests and I gotta put it down for a good, long while to recover. I still want to finish it, but I have clearly proven to myself that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris: I picked this one up on sale a while ago because I really enjoyed the first (Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light) and I'm definitely all about the co-op these days. Although it’s not as good as the first, it’s a pretty similar thing – basically an isometric action/puzzle game, totally playable by one person but greatly enhanced by the addition of partners. This time, up to four friends can adventure together.

The biggest gripe I have is that the screen feels too zoomed-out. Lara and her pals look like miniature versions of themselves, and it’s hard to discern depth in some areas. Some of the boss fights feel a bit cheap, too.

I don’t want to sound too negative, though… Many of the puzzles are pretty neat, and the co-op dynamics are still good. Lara can throw a grappling hook to some of her teammates to let them wire-walk across gaps, teammates can boost or pull each other up to higher areas, and a whole bunch of other little things pop up like that. There’s always something requiring a second person’s input, in a good way.

I've been grooving on it overall and I would have happily sprung for the DLC, but it's only sold as a season pass for about $30, which is three times more than what I paid for the base game. Squeenix’s pricing structure here is completely out of whack, and while I'm happy to complete the game, I'm going to pass on the extras.

[Embargo Game]: I got a pre-release code for this one on Vita (it's also on PS3) and I've been putting a lot of time into it. I can’t type up a formal preview at the moment, but I think giving some general impressions is probably fine…

Basically, you control a team of psychics, each with their own different kind of power. Pyrokinesis, flight, precognition, and so on. It plays out like an SRPG similar to XCOM and the like, although it’s not based on grid movement; characters can travel anywhere. However, the biggest twist here or is that this game takes quite a bit of direction from Danganronpa in that there’s a traitor(s) within the group, so it's up to the player to figure out who it is.

I'm going to stop talking about it now, but I will say that while the inspirations are clear to see, it definitely takes the material in a fresh direction. I’ll also say that at this point, it seems like a real winner.

Undead Darlings: I'm not a big fan of Kickstarters and I don't usually back them, although there have been a few exceptions here and there. That said, one was just announced today that I think will be of interest to a great many of you who read this blog. 

Coming from people who used to work at NIS, it's a dungeon crawler/visual novel and oozing with anime cuteness. These guys know their audience and I'm interested to see what they do with this. If this kind of content is up your alley, go check out their page and see what you think.


…And now a bit of movie talk to round things out. The wife and I just watched Kingsman: The Secret Service the other day, and it kinda blew my socks off. I didn't have a lot of interest when it came out because the trailers made it look like a kids’ film, but we rented it on a lark, and I have to say, it was a total surprise -- it's basically the best James Bond movie that's ever been made.

In a nutshell, a lower-class British kid gets drafted into a super-secret spy agency and goes through the insane training just in time to help stop an evil mastermind from carrying out his nefarious plan. Simple and straightforward, but well-done.

Samuel L Jackson absolutely shines as the Apple/Google-like quasi-CEO bad guy, his henchwoman (Sofia Boutella) is awesomely deadly, there are loads of cool gadgets and the action sequences are amazing. Although it's quite graphic (unexpectedly so!) the fights are full of "oh my God" moments that thrill.

If you’re like me and dig spy films but have been unimpressed with the recent Bond flicks, this is the perfect remedy. Kingsman takes everything that's cool about spies, jacks it up to 11, and freshens everything from top to bottom. Total thumbs up.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Shallow Splatoon, Witcher Burnout, Neptunia's Charm & Jurassic World Boredom  


So, E3 happened. HOLY SHIT, amirite? 

Unbelievable announcements. Un-friggin'-believable. 

The Last Guardian, Shenmue 3, and Nier 2!  NIER 2!!! 

Instead of writing it all up, we covered the show in the next @Gamecritics podcast, and believe you me, that is one hell of an episode. Apart from the E3 stuff, we've got a massive surprise in store. 

The ep's not up yet, but SOON! Don't miss!


So, against my better judgment (and the warnings of @ApricotSushi) I caved and picked up a copy of Splatoon. 

If nothing else, I give Nintendo credit for getting this game in the conversation and having it catch on with pretty much everybody in my circles -- I felt like I was missing out bigtime for not jumping in on day one. It also doesn’t help that I'm a huge fan of squids and the like in general, so it was tough to hold out.

Now that I've been playing for the last couple days, it's hard to ignore how undercooked and empty the game feels. There aren't very many levels, not very many weapons, and I was hoping for a lot more customization than there is.

The base game feels shallow, and success seems based more on luck of the draw than anything else. Despite often coming in first in terms of ink coverage, actually winning hinges on getting a team of high-level players. The matchmaking is brainless, and I’m often on teams of low-level people while going up against a squad of all-20s (the level cap) or close to it.

The ability to turn into a squid also feels too thin. Apart from moving quickly through ink and hiding, it doesn't really add anything very squiddy. I sat and brainstormed the other day, and came up with at least five or ten things the squid form could (or should) do. Stuff like having a tentacle grab to immobilize enemies, maybe a super ink-spray in squid form, or maybe an offensive rocket attack similar to the super-jump. There are tons of possibilities

Splatoon is really cute, it's got a cool concept, and it's the first genuinely new IP that Nintendo has done in quite a while, but it just doesn't feel like it's there yet. It especially doesn't feel like a $60 game, and with what little is included on the disc, I'm a bit resentful that some stuff is locked behind amiibos – even if I wanted to buy them, they’re nowhere to be seen.


Now, for a Witcher 3 update.

I was hitting the game pretty hard for a while, giving as much time as I could. I think the writing is generally superb, I enjoy Geralt as a character, and a lot of really cool stuff happens in the story. However, the game is absolutely huge, and the longer it went on, the less excited I was about it.

At the moment, I’ve just wrapped up one major quest line in Novigrad but still have plenty of stuff to do there, and I haven't even been to the third area. Honestly though, I'm getting a little burned out on the game and I haven't touched it in a few days.

I think the appeal of the game is wearing off -- it's a little hard to describe, but it’s started to feel like there isn't enough depth to the gameplay. I know that sounds insane considering how large and detailed everything is, but I can't shake the feeling that at this point, I’m just going from point to point on the map, watching cutscenes to progress the story.

I would like to come back and see how it all wraps up, but people tell me I still have quite a bit of game left, and I need a little time away from it.


Finally, I’m dipping into Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3 on Vita, a series I've heard about for quite some time but never tried. Basically, it's a JRPG about characters who are the embodiment of game consoles in a land that’s all about videogames. Sort of. I'm not grasping all of the intricacies, but that's basically about it.

On the one hand, I think the writing is actually quite funny at times, the characters are enjoyable, and it all looks very cute. On the other hand, it doesn't do a great job of explaining the various gameplay systems, and I suspect that it all boils down to typical JRPG grinding.  I'm guessing that it's not going to end up being my kind of thing, but I can definitely see why it’s become so popular with a certain crowd.


So, Jurassic World.

The oldest son is with me for the summer, and he was jonesing to see it pretty hard. It wasn't on my list of things to catch in the theater, but he really, really wanted to go. So we went.

Seriously, don't see this movie! Don't go! I won't let you pass!! 

I had really low expectations for the flick, basically wanting nothing more than some cool dinosaur action, but even though I felt like I wasn’t asking for much, the film failed to deliver even that. I'm not going to get into specifics to avoid spoilers for those who may care, but it felt like a tired rehash of the first Jurassic Park, and most of the plot points were either too predictable or too insipid.

I was quite bored and found myself reaching for my phone several times. Looking around in the audience, I saw many people doing the same. The simple act of seeing a realistic dinosaur on screen isn't nearly as powerful as it was when the first movie debuted, so such a film needs to bring ore to the table these days.

I don't regret that I went because my son had a great time and I'm happy for that, but as for me, I couldn't wait to get out of the theater and left feeling highly unsatisfied.

Not recommended.


Monday, June 8, 2015

The 2015 Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show  


The Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show took place in Tacoma, WA this weekend, and I had the pleasure of attending for the first time. While I've been to most of the other local shows that happen in the Seattle/Portland area, I've managed to consistently miss it for the last few years. Not quite sure how, but I'm glad that I finally made it down this time, because it was fantastic.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I was provided free admittance to the event as a media attendee.)

The convention center where the event took place was easy to find, and very accessible. While not a huge show compared to some others, the space was a good fit.  

We got there as the doors opened on the last day, so the venue was relatively empty for the first few hours. I'd imagine that the 9AM start was probably too early for most of the folks coming to a show like this, but since my son still wakes up before the sun rises, we were here bright and early. I'm glad we got here right away, as it filled up fast. 

Speaking of the son, this is my guy playing Creature From The Black Lagoon, which had a very cool light-up hologram of the monster. When activated, it looked a bit like it was underwater and surfacing. Also, I'd like to call your attention to the stepstool he's standing on.  If you're a parent attending an event like this, bringing your own stepstool is a must. The kids can fully participate, and you don't ruin your back trying to lift them up to every game. 

This is me playing the brand new Walking Dead table. A really cool machine with great LED animations and a zombie that teeters over when hit with the ball. However, as cool as the table is, I included this picture to show the strap I rigged up to carry the son's stepstool around with us at the show. It's just a bungee cord and a rope, but it meant I didn't have to constantly have the thing in in my hand, but it was always accessible. (Also, kudos to this exhibitor for having their own step stashed under the machine.)

One of the coolest parts of the show were the banks of super-vintage pinball tables. I had never seen machines of this kind before in my life, and they were quite classy and cool. It seemed like most of these were from the '50s and '60s...

Here's a top-down view of one of the older tables. The overall design is much simpler and there's none of the bells and whistles that became so commonplace later. It almost reminds me of an electronic billiards table in some ways. 

Another older table. Look at the size of the gap between the slippers, and how short and stubby the flippers are. Also, take note of the point values there. Racking up seventeen million on one ball? Not gonna happen...

Almost all of the older tables had a second plunger below the one that traditionally launches the ball onto the playfield. I was confused about what it was for at first, but it turns out that you push the lower plunger in, and the ball is lifted up into position to be hit by the upper plunger.

This coin slot was sealed, but the price of a play is still clear to see...

Getting back to some of the more modern machines, here was another gem I'd never seen before, and it was a pretty cool one to find on the floor.

I tried a dozen times to get the egg on this Jurassic Park table to crack open, but I never managed it. maybe next year!!

It's tough to get a real sense of how massive this pinball machine is without seeing it in real life, but my son can't  even reach the flipper buttons on this Hercules table. The ball itself was about the size of a billiards ball, and the table surface must have been at least six feet long, if not longer.

If memory serves, this machine was from 1974. A cool bit of nostalgia from the time period, but look at the score... Nothing digital there, those are old-school number readouts with a max of 99,999.

Besides pinball, there were a good number of vintage arcade machines at the show. This one, Blue Shark, threw me for a loop -- the characters of the game were displayed on a TV set on the bottom of the machine's screen and reflected onto a plastic backing on the upper half to make it look like the sharks, octopi and other creatures were 'swimming'. A really unusual design, to be sure.

This was the repair table in the middle of the floor. It seems like a big part of being a pinball table owner is being able to fix the machines and keep them running, and this area was well-stocked with all manner of things to keep the lights on and the bumpers pinging. 

From start to finish, I had a great time at the show. I will definitely attend next year, and would highly recommend it to anyone who might be in the area when it happens again in 2016. For more information, please visit the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show website, and tell them I sent you!