Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Infusion of New Blood

Due to a beneficial convergence of circumstances (primarily my birthday), I was able to pick up a couple of new games this afternoon. I finally acquired a copy of Too Human, which will most likely trigger the use of my Xbox Live Gold membership cards. I also bought a discounted copy of The Orange Box, which stands as a gaming deal of Crazy Eddie proportions (five quality modern titles on a single disc). As is usual for a trip to the game store, I could easily have spent another couple of hundred dollars, but I suppressed my primal urges for the time being. I still have several important downloads to do . . .

At long last, Braid is within my reach. Additionally, there are a trio of games from the Mega Man series available on the Wii. I might eventually get back to BioShock, but it will be a while.

After my buying bonanza, I brought my shiny new Xbox 360 games through the door and promptly set them down as I fired up the Wii (what -- does this surprise you?). I finished Super Paper Mario tonight, but a review of the occasion will have to wait until tomorrow. An early morning awaits me, which does not fit well with a quality game recap here.

Game well in the week to come, and may your mushrooms not be zombies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Plumbing the Murky Depths

I found a link to this article at Penny Arcade last week, so I thought I would link it here as well. I should warn you in advance that the site in question has a metric truckload of ads, so your browser will most likely choke for a while in its attempt to load everything. However, I found the information therein to be a fascinating (and accessible) look at the crumb trail which led to the Red Ring of Death phenomenon.

Last week, I downloaded the demo for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed off Xbox Live, and I finally got the chance to give it a whirl this afternoon. As a guy who has tried to use the Force to grab the remote or a soda more times than I can count, the game's concept has a intrinsic appeal to me. However, the control scheme is a bit unwieldy in my opinion, and I find the targeting quite finicky.

The plot of the title also gives me pause, as the protagonist is an apprentice of Darth Vader. This naturally implies that you spend at least part of the game doing . . . well . . . evil things. Recent gaming experiences have convinced me that I can commit a small number of acts which conflict with my core lawful goodness (more on that in a future post), but an entire game of villainy is more than my mutant conscience can handle. I have no quarrel with ethical choices in a game (see Knights of the Old Republic to the right), but if that choice is between self-important evil and subservient evil, my superego rises up in protest.

Oddly, I have a feeling that if I pick up Force Unleashed, I will buy the Wii version. I like the prospect of being able to play the game without fear of turning my console into slag, and I can live with lesser graphics for ten fewer dollars.

Game well in the coming days, and may your saber stay focused.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Return of the Tabletop

Before any video game exploits, I have to mention that I got the chance to play some games with real people recently. My department hosted a dinner for current and prospective majors this weekend, and (along with beverage delivery) my lot was to provide games for entertainment after the meal. We got in a few hands of Fluxx, one of which I won with an inadvertent assist, and we also played a game of Tsuro. My introduction of games outside the mainstream seemed to be a big hit. Go Team Obscura!

Of late, my electronic pastime has been Super Paper Mario. I find this somewhat ironic, because we originally bought the game for my wife's enjoyment. She absolutely loves the Mario roleplaying titles, but the platforming elements of the Wii incarnation of the franchise were a bit too much of a deviation for her tastes. I, however, fell head over heels for the game's style and sense of humor. The way the game skewers fetch quests still makes me chuckle. On the gameplay front, the Whoa Zone now ranks among my all-time favorite game levels -- almost as far up the list as the Milkman Conspiracy from Psychonauts, and that is high praise. I can say that I will most likely not see everything Super Paper Mario has in store, but it does have an enjoyable treasure hunting side quest. After buying maps from a shady dude, you have to go wandering through previous levels, which I find a good test of my memory. What? Do I question your ways of passing time?

Game well this week, and may your saves stand the test of time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Features Added

To the right, you will notice my lists of favorite games have been bumped down the page a bit. I have inserted a couple of lists of the titles I am currently playing ('In the Drive'), as well as the next discs I intend to pop into the tray ('In the Queue'). Now you can keep track of what exactly is filling my nights -- well, all both of you who were concerned.

I finally finished Shadow of the Colossus before sitting to write this. I stand by my earlier claim of the game's artistry, but that is not equivalent to saying perfection was achieved. I nearly quit playing halfway through the game because I grew weary of fighting the game's controls. The camera was the main culprit, since the thing seemed determined to sacrifice useful views for cinematic impact. My experience with Shadow of the Colossus felt akin to a game from the Legend of Zelda series; for all but a couple of the colossi, I was never in any real danger. The challenge lay in figuring out exactly how to go about my grim task. Unlike a typical Zelda boss, though, you are not continually collecting new toys you know are involved somehow. This is where my frustration arose -- for two or three consecutive colossi, I almost immediately recognized the solution to the riddle, yet I fought for what seemed like eons to execute my plan due to the game's control scheme. Either the software was not up to the design team's vision, or a conscious decision was made to remind the player that his or her avatar is no superhero. I enjoyed the game too much to accept the latter, as sacrificing fun for realism goes against my beliefs of what gaming is.

I have to talk about the story's conclusion, so spoilers follow. You know what to do if you are willing to look.
Having to watch Agro fall into the canyon three times before I was able to complete the game nearly drove me to tears; despite my control complaints, Wander's faithful steed always did what I asked. I was completely off-base on what occurs during the finale. Certain that Wander would become a seventeenth colossus as payment for his wish, I smirked with satisfaction as his form distorted in the shrine. Personally, I would have been okay with his death, since he spends the game killing innocent creatures for what amounts to a selfish desire. Needless to say, the return of Agro warmed my heart, in spite of the limp. As powerful as I found the dénouement, I put nowhere near the thought into its meaning as the guy who wrote the story analysis FAQ at The horned baby seems an obvious link to ICO, which is part of what put that title back in my to-play list.

Game well this weekend, and may your memory cards not fail.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

B'Gosh and Begorrah!

Much to my surprise, I can actually access all our Xbox Live Arcade games again. I finally got enough time to call the support center last night, and the fellow to whom I spoke actually knew how to handle the situation. How sad is it that this amazes me, despite the thousands of people who have had this problem? If the licenses are not transferred by the time you receive your new console, you basically treat things like you had just purchased a new machine. Of course, there is a downside; the online license-switching tool says it can only be used once every twelve months. Let this be a warning if your 360 fails and you decide to upgrade to an Elite system in the same year. Beyond playing demos for Castle Crashers and Braid (yes, I played the demo again), we really have not used the thing for much since its return. Once I can acquire Too Human, though, I will most likely use the two free months of Live Gold membership to pull some online cooperative play.

I would write more, but only one colossus stands between me a game's conclusion. I ran out of time Tuesday night and must try again. I hope I can hold myself together to get back to the beast (if you have played the game, you know whereof I speak).

Game well, and may your wireless signal stay strong.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shock and Dismay

As promised, my Xbox 360 arrived at the house last night. Inside the box with the new console, the good folks at Microsoft also included a free month of Xbox Live Gold membership. Along with a letter apologizing for the inconvenience of having a bricked console, I found some instructions for getting my Xbox Live Arcade game licenses transferred to the new machine. You know what would have been really swell, though? I would have loved for those directions to actually work.

Yes, good readers, for the second time in a calendar year, I cannot access any software my wife downloaded using her Gamertag. No Contra, no UNO, no Geometry Wars, not a single luxury -- like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as can be. At the moment, I can only play Symphony of the Night, Undertow, and Carcassonne with my personal downloads; the pathetic part is that two of those games were given away for free by Microsoft to palliate the community for issues with Xbox Live service. I have not yet had the time to get on the phone with Microsoft's support staff to be told they cannot help me and to receive eleven thousand apologies. My expectations for the event are quite low, since I had called on the Better Business Bureau by the time my last situation was resolved. Given the rampant hardware failures suffered by the Xbox 360, I cannot help but wonder who decided the license system for Arcade downloadable games was a solid idea. Perhaps by this time next year, my fourth console will actually ship with my license information updated!

Wish me luck in my service call. Game well this weekend, and may your licenses get transferred when they are supposed to be.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Reunion Forthcoming

According the the good folks at United Parcel Service, I should have my new Xbox 360 tomorrow afternoon. Oddly, at the time of the hardware failure, the big white box was the only system getting that much play time, but since its departure, I have spread the love throughout the rest of my entertainment center. The PlayStation 2 has seen quite a bit of use for sessions of Final Fantasy XII and Shadow of the Colossus, and the wife has worked out the Wii with her birthday gift of Dragon Quest Swords. Heck, over the weekend, I fired up my original Xbox to play Jade Empire again! Other than Braid, I am having a hard time thinking about what will get played on the 360 upon its return. Too Human will most likely have to wait until my birthday, and nothing else out there screams for my dollars.

A couple of weekends ago, while I was in North Carolina, I had my first experience with the gaming juggernaut that is Halo 3. While I enjoyed the game, I fail to see the near-universal adulation the title received upon its launch. The campaign seems to assume that I am already passionately in love with Master Chief and his new alien buddy -- perhaps in a move to push more copies of the first two Halo games? What exactly did the gameplay do that BioShock and The Orange Box did not? I did enjoy the option for cooperative campaign play, as I find shooters more entertaining when coordinating maneuvers with a friend.

Game well this week, and may your consoles feel as loved as mine.