Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Opportunity Missed

We went home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I had meant to take home a game to play with my family. However, I forgot to pack my copy of Bohnanza, the most entertaining bean-growing card game simulation ever designed by man or beast. In case it does not shine through my usual ramblings, I deeply miss the weekly tabletop gaming excursion I had while a graduate student in Virginia.

Over the summer, I saw some footage of Street Fighter IV, and my soul hungered for the experiences I once had with the venerable fighting franchise. While I in no way, shape, form, or fashion claim to be an expert at two-dimensional fighting games (or, for that matter, any game in any genre), I have had a soft spot for Capcom's flagship brawler since I saw it in a bowling alley arcade as a teenager. That desire might lead me to take a stab at Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix in the near future. It has been a really long time since I guided Blanka across the battlefield . . .

Game well this week, and may your combos pave the way to victory.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Death of Time

To occupy my sick wife's time while I am on campus, I purchased Animal Crossing: City Folk, as I mentioned last time. We played the original game daily for over six months before life drew us in other directions. The town of Dapslihp (have fun figuring out that name) still resides on my GameCube memory card, overgrown with weeds and bearing a memorial to a purple cat named Bob. I cannot bring myself to free up the space; I drew that much of a connection to my little sequences of ones and zeros.

Feeling somewhat like a traitor to my existing and neglected villagers, I created a character in the new town of Newrland. I had forgotten that any Animal Crossing title consumes lives in the course of play; hours slip into oblivion as I wander the fields searching for fossils or the recipient of a gift delivery. This is made even worse by the fact that since I am virtually always the last person to play the game every day, most of the special stuff is already gone. How can I spend so much time catching carp and picking up seashells? What is this insidious hold Nintendo has claimed over my leisure time?

Barely connected to the post title, I played some Tiger Woods golf last night at my brother-in-law's house. I scored a birdie on the very first hole of Pinehurst No. 2, and after that I commenced to drag the good name of Retief Goosen through the mud. I have a hunch the major-winning South African could out-drive a pair of girls not yet in high school. Make no mistake -- I think the analog swing is a vast improvement over the old-timey meter mechanics of previous generations, and I enjoyed playing the game despite my lack of skill.

Game well this holiday weekend, and may that big shadow not be another blasted sea bass.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Definitely Not Canon

Remember that powerful scene from Final Fantasy VII where Cloud and company slid Sephiroth under an office desk to bury him alive? It seems that I do; I had a rather vivid dream about that very vignette between snooze presses this morning. To make the affair even more ludicrous, Sephiroth's head and feet poked out each side of the makeshift cairn. He and Cloud were also chatting as if they were roommates, and if I recall correctly, someone had shot Cloud in the head. While I have not yet watched the copy of Advent Children that I purchased, I have the feeling that this scene was left on the cutting room floor. I hope so, anyway.

After a run on Dr. Wily's fortress in Mega Man 2 this evening, my wife caught a glimpse of the new Animal Crossing game for the Wii. She was instantly hooked by the combination of aimlessness and goofy charm that made the original a sleeper hit. The new fish probably helped, too. We will most likely be picking up a copy at our next chance to visit a store which carries games.

I still have to get familiar with the new Xbox 360 interface. While mildly irritated that the console demanded I create an avatar upon logging into my Gamertag, I am trying to keep an open mind about the shameless apery . . . er, new experience. Upon posting this, I will head back into the mines; if nothing else, I keep forgetting to download the demo for Pac-Man Championship Edition.

Game well, and may your updates be rapid.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

'Tis the Season . . .

In my case, I generally lay off game purchases during this stretch of the year to make certain I do not cut off too many holiday gift opportunities. Last year was a glaring exception, fueled by a combination of a mouth-watering slate of long-awaiting titles and a substantially larger income stream. Honestly, since I have yet to have finished most of the top-flight games I purchased last year, this is not really a problem. I can wait until Christmas morning for most titles. However, I might have to go pick up a copy of Tomb Raider: Underworld this week. I mention this because I may very well be the only man in the world who is told to go buy a Tomb Raider game by his wife.

I have pushed forward in Too Human, which has led to another of reviewers' favorite complaints. The game's polarity enemies and their status-inflicting explosions are a serious annoyance, particularly since I cannot distinguish the melee-only and ballistic-only versions on my television. This grievance is not a deal-breaker, thanks to the lack of a serious penalty for death, but I keep thinking that the design team assumed people would be playing their game on a high-definition display. This would also explain the bits of text I must strain to read. As much as I love my hobby, I find it unlikely that I will purchase a new and expensive television to replace a fully-functional standard model.

Game well this week, and may your targeting always strike true.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Patience Pays Off

This weekend, the demo for Mirror's Edge was finally made available to the unwashed peons who cannot or choose not to pay for Xbox Live Gold membership. I have played through it several times now, and I am still quite excited to get my hands on the finished product. As a first impression, DICE has found a way to make a first-person platformer quite viable. A statement like this sounds absurd to anyone who has experienced most of the horrific jumping puzzles which have plagued first-person games of years past, but the system in place makes things feel as natural as Altaïr's maneuvers in Assassin's Creed. Of course, this is based on a tutorial and a single segment of gameplay. Perhaps the demo level is a tightly-designed trap to dupe unsuspecting gamers into flinging sixty dollars at a subpar product. Time will tell, I suppose.

Before you make your purchase, though, I feel duty-bound to notify you that the game's perspective has the potential to make you very ill. While the camera is superior to the one from The Blair Witch Project, there is an awful lot of swaying, leaping, and somersaulting -- all viewed through the eyes of the protagonist. If your Constitution score is less than 16, Mirror's Edge might not be for you. At least, you should not be playing it without a hefty dose of motion-sickness medication.

Game well this week, and may your Runner vision lead you to your next checkpoint.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

I am almost through the first area of Too Human, and I enjoy the combat system as much as I did when I played the demo. The analog-based melee combat is the best scheme I have yet seen to translate the point-and-click mayhem of a Diablo-style computer title to consoles. The slide and juggle mechanics give the player ample opportunity to feel like a rock star -- not to be confused with, you know, feeling like a Rockstar. I also like spending minutes at a time piddling about the equipment and statistics menus; the nickname "Mr. Inventory Screen" has always described my approach to most games which involve loot. I eagerly anticipate the chance to kit out my character in stylishly colored gear.

At the same time, I can definitely see that the game is not perfect. With the right analog stick claimed by the combat system, the camera is more than a little flawed. I have already taken several missile volleys from foes that had been panned off-screen; that little fact has the potential to be infuriating in an environment where death causes a nice long pause in the action. The decision to only make healing available to a single class puzzled me during the demo, and time has not made it any more sensible. Also, the targeting is occasionally spotty, which can make a large difference when surrounded by enemies. Having thought about the mechanics in place, I have conjectured that Silicon Knights could have resolved the camera and targeting issues in a fairly simple way: make the game's camera view isometric, à la Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or the Marvel Comics games by Raven Software. I always wanted more use out of those series' jump buttons, and I never got much use from their camera rotation. I think the Too Human combat system could benefit greatly from a mostly-overhead point of view. Of course, a decision like that will most likely never get past the initial design of a modern game, since there is clearly no future for titles that are not portrayed in three dimensions.

Speaking of camera complaints, I almost changed my mind about Tomb Raider: Underworld based on the demo. My wife's support of the game gave way to a mild case of motion sickness, thanks to the amount of manhandling I had to do to get a proper view of my surroundings. I finally found the auto-center technique, which helped to alleviate a great deal of my prior spinning, but the camera control seems a bit more touchy than Legend. Has anyone else noticed this?

Game well this weekend, and may your hit counter keep climbing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It Took Long Enough . . .

For all my desire to play Too Human, I will finally take a shot at the game after I finish writing this. I have become temporarily frustrated by Half-Life 2, but my consternation is self-imposed. You see, the game offers an achievement for finishing the Ravenholm area without using a weapon other than the gravity gun. Were I willing to forgo that, I would have finished the chapter a couple of days ago. However, the additional challenge leaves my nerves in a state such that I can only tackle an encounter or two at a time due to the need to preserve my limited ammo (and my state of mind).

While visiting the mall today, I picked up a copy of Zack and Wiki, a nifty little adventure/puzzle game for the Wii -- from late last year. While the massive amount of tutorial information you get at the beginning gets old really quickly, tackling the title's goofy challenges is fun in an old-school Sierra/LucasArts kind of way. While nowhere near as awesome as Braid, which is still my leading candidate for game of the year, solving puzzles is always a blast. I also took a look at Star Trek Legacy for the Xbox 360, primarily due to a yearning induced by Star Trek Online. I held myself back from making a purchase, because I wanted to check out some reviews before sinking the cash. The numbers look respectable for the price, so I will probably take the plunge at some point in the future.

Additionally, I downloaded some trailers for Tomb Raider: Underworld. I almost activated one of my Live Gold cards just to get my hands on the demos for that and Mirror's Edge, but patience won out on that one. After my wife saw the videos, she told me that we would be buying the game once it hits retail. This sort of declaration is rare, to say the least.

Game well this week, and may your loot all be golden.