Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dave's Top Games of 2011

It's that time again. Every year it seems my format changes. This year is no exception. There are three categories, and each will have a definitive winner followed by a couple runner ups / honourable mentions.

Without further ado...

The Game i wanted to play the most in 2011 but haven't yet...

Catchy title huh! And the winner is...


It's by Atlus, it's a Q*bert-esque block puzzle game with a story set around relationships and possible adultery. It sounds right up my alley and yet i haven't gotten around to acquiring it yet. This will have to be rectified soon.

Runner ups: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron & Gray Matter

El Shaddai i actually own, i am just waiting till i finish Zelda, but i still need to get my hands on a copy of Gray Matter. El Shaddai seems to be a visual feast, and i always appreciate unique art styles in games. We're at this point that the only limitation to what we can achieve in computer graphics seems to be our imaginations... and yet departure from normal artistic tropes in the games we play are so rare. The question with El Shaddai will be if the style can overcome the supposed lack of substance i have heard about.

Gray Matter is an adventure game that finally was released this year after being in development forever. It's by Jane Jenson, the creator of the Gabriel Knight series, and my favourite entry in the King's Quest series (KQ6). Like El Shaddai, a lot of what i've heard isn't good... but i have to give this one a try. I hope for the best.

Best Game of 2011

The best game i have played released this year. The winner is...

Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Granted i haven't played most of the heavy hitters this year but Deus Ex just floored me. The gameplay was incredibly engaging and it gets bonus points for allowing me to play through most of the game as a non-lethal stealth character. Sure there were issues like the boss fights, and the story choices not having any consequences but rather a final choice being given to you at the end of the game. In my mind Deus Ex wasn't just a good game, it was good science fiction. As much fun as i had playing it, the moral backlash and ethical decisions revolving around augmentation technology i found fascinating, and one could see a similar outcome when this technology becomes a reality in our future.

Runner up: L.A. Noire

For all its faults (and it had quite a few) L.A. Noire had a very engaging story littered with intriguing characters, which really played its hand during the arson missions. As evident earlier in this post, i'm a sucker for the adventure genre, and this was a modern day adventure game. That facial capture technology was pretty amazing too... ooo, and how the game handles the Black Dahlia killings? Incredible. I dunno how many gamers will enjoy the experience but i had a blast.

Best Game not Released this year

While Deus Ex was fantastic, i wanted to create a category for games from other years as i spent most of this year not only playing catchup from 2010, but even further back. Readers of Monday Musings will probably pick the winner right away.

Persona 4

What more can i say about this title that i didn't during the months i played through it? It's one of the best RPGs i've ever played (And definitely my favourite since playing The World Ends With You). The story is expertly woven alongside the gameplay. Helping your friends overcome their problems makes you more powerful, and along the way you grow attached to this collection of characters. The game is also laugh out loud funny at points which seems to be rarer and rarer in this medium. The combat is interesting (though can be unforgiving), and while somewhat necessary, the game is not grind heavy. This is one for the longhaul however. I achieved the normal ending while plowing through the game and my gametime at the end was about 50 hours. I am so glad that i finally took the game out of the drawer to play and complete.

Runner ups: Civilization 5 & Fallout New Vegas

Both these titles are from the previous year. I acquired both at quite a discount (as PC prices tend to drop  nicely if you're patient). The original Civ destroyed me back in the 90s. I would play for days at a time and have fond memories of trying in vein to upgrade my castle before game's end. I've related this story here before but i actually held off installing Civ 4 for a few years after buying it because i was scared that it would overtake me. Funnily enough when i finally played it, it didn't. Civ 5 did. I joined forums, watched youtube plays, bought some of the extra civs on DLC. I love this iteration of the game. I haven't played it since the big update in June/July but i did pick up all the extra civ DLC for $4 in the autumn steam sale. I shall have to check it out sooner or later.

Fallout 3 really didn't do anything for me, but man did New Vegas suck me in. I dunno if it was the wild west setting or the faction system or even the story, but i spent 38 hours on this game, completed every side quest i could, reached level 30 and had a blast. In that autumn steam sale where i picked up the Civ 5 DLC, i also bought all the New Vegas DLC. I think i might put aside a little bit of time after Zelda to play through them. We shall see.

Wrap up

Well that's my awards and top games for this year. A little different i know, and actually this is the first year in a couple that an indie game didn't hit the top of my list (2010 - Super Meat Boy, 2009 - Flower, 2008 - No More Heroes, 2007 - Super Mario Galaxy... for those that are interested). Like this year it looks like 2012 will be spent playing catch up on years passed (including this year), but that's never altogether a bad thing. Still, some big releases to look forward to, and i look forward to another year of talking about games.

Till next year, happy gaming all!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Monday Musings - 26th Dec, 2011

Hey everyone! Hope you all had a great Christmas (or any other holiday you celebrate)! Me? Well my internet's been down this holiday season but I worked out a way to make sure they were musings none the less. Call it my gift to you. Let us muse.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

I don't know if it was necessarily a gaming funk or just the annoyances I experienced in the Lanaryu Desert last week but things were looking up the past seven days. I just saved the game this morning outside the pirate hangout on the sand sea. Yes, I've covered quite a bit of ground since I last wrote. I'll try and list my experiences because there is a lot i'd like to discuss.

The Lanaryu dungeon was a bit of a letdown after how much I enjoyed the Earth Temple. I think it was a combination of overuse of the running mechanic (and the stamina bar), and the annoyance of all the puzzle involving the new item you gather in that dungeon (i'm purposely not saying what the items are when discussing these dungeons as at least for me, part of the magic of a Zelda dungeon is discovering what new toy you get to play with). It's a shame really as I was praising how cool the time stones were last time. There were some neat enemies though. I really liked dealing with the sentries, both the tower variety and the flying ones. The jumping totem pole heads I did not enjoy as much.

From this boss onward I have started to notice a pattern in how I play the game (and maybe this design is on purpose). You start out usually with full hearts, and I think due to this and not exactly knowing what the boss has up its sleeve, I tend to charge head first into danger, and before I know it, I am not at full hearts anymore (quite the opposite in fact). From this point onward, I get a lot more defensive, keeping my distance from the boss, or at least jumping in and out, trying to provoke an attack so I know what I have to do to counter and put the hurt on it. The last boss I fought in the Ancient Cistern was a great example of this. I defeated it with two hearts left. It was a crazy battle that had me swearing at my television on more than one occasion.

Now the Ancient Cistern dungeon is pretty much the exact opposite of the Lanaryu one. This was a delight to play through. Part of the reason was how centralized it was being more about different levels of the main room, and a few offshoot rooms, but I think the real joy was all the clever uses of the item you acquire in the dungeon. This led to one or two Eureka moments where I thought to myself, “Hmm, I wonder if I can pull this off”, and it worked. Follow that up with the item you get for passing the next trial and indeed the game is making up for having to power through the intial run of Lanaryu desert.

One final thing i'd like to talk about are the trials. The first one was a unique encounter. I found it tense, and there was a real sense of accomplishment when I completed it (especially because I ran out of freeze time with two spirit tears left). After completing it I thought to myself, “Wow that was intense. I enjoyed that, but never want to go through that again.” Those of you who know the game are laughing now. When I got to the second trial, I wondered what new gameplay awaited. Well the joke's on me. It was the same trial in a new location, this time in the sinking sands of the Lanaryu desert. Now i'm really dreading the final trial when I get to it.

So having just had a lot of fun on the sand sea and with the mine carts, and having been amazed at the design of the Ancient Cistern and looking forward to the next dungeon, i'm fully back on board with Zelda. Heck, I even enjoy the harp and how you play it. Sure it doesn't have as much fidelity as the ocarina or the conductor's wand, but the songs are great (especially the song of the goddess). I kind of want to power through and finish though. I've got three out of the five must play games off my list of releases for 2011 waiting for me when this is through (El Shaddai, Arkham City, and Bastion). I can see my 2011 year taking me right into at least Q2 of 2012 (which isn't a terrible thing really. I spent most of this year playing games from years passed).

Regardless, Zelda does feel right around Christmas time, even though Christmas down under does not put this American in the holiday spirit (what can I say? I miss snow).


Well because of no internet, I haven't had the resources to look for an indie game this week. Thus what I shall do is talk about some iphone titles I have been playing (because I always seem to forget to mention them on this column and that's just not right.

Blueprint 3d (IoS)

Iphone games don't usually grab me like Blueprint has, but I powered through all the available level packs and even the Christmas pack that became available in an update not too long ago. I guess it's easy to see why. Each level takes a few seconds and I find this title incredibly stimulating to my brain, or at least the visual recognition parts of it (maybe it's the cartoonist in me). You start a level with a bunch of scribbles and fills. By rotating the blueprint, you line up the squiggles, lines, and fills until they resemble an image. Then you get stars depending on how fast you created the image and move on to the next blueprint.

It's simple, addictive, and has a lot of content. These are some of the items on the checklist of a good iphone title. The funny thing was even though solving a level in a couple seconds is very rewarding, the real fun came with the levels where the image wasn't readily apparent and it took close to a minute to rotate and shift the picture, trying to work out just how the thing fit together. Now those who read my blog probably know my stance on difficulty, but seeing how these levels were the most fun, I decided perhaps I needed to up the difficulty. I turned it to pro mode. I instantly turned it back. Pro mode has different layers you need to switch between to line up the image. They made it needlessly complicated, and really, I was still having fun when I was completing a level in seconds.

Bike Baron (IoS)

Since I last played this game (I was busy with Blueprint for a couple weeks), there has been an update making the game a lot easier with more checkpoints and little changes (like allowing you to keep coins if you crash). These changes allowed me to make my way through the entirety of the hard levels... but trying extreme, in my opinion, the fun was sucked out of the game through those designs. For instance, to get to the first checkpoint in the first level of extreme, I had to glitch the game, so my motorcycle was stuck in the wall, allowing me to fall straight.

Still, everything I played up to that point was great and if I ever get the itch again, I can go star collecting in the easy and normal stages.

Final Thoughts

Well it's the end of the year. Last year I posted my top 6 games of the year and it was very popular. I've posted my top games of the year in some form or another since 2007 (2010 was the first time on this blog). This week keep a look out for my picks of 2011.

Now followers of the musings will probably say, “Hey Dave, you haven't really played enough titles this year to have a good top list”, and to that I would say you're absolutely right. What i'm going to do this year is have three categories with one winner, and a couple of runner ups (probably 2 – 3). The categories will be:

'Game I most want to play from 2011 that I haven't'

'Best game i've played released in 2011'

'Best game i've played this year'

I already have my winners but the runner ups i'm still working out. I'd say expect this one between Wednesday and Friday.

If you have your own picks for these categories, please feel free to post em, either in reply to this musings, or on the end of the year post later in the week. I'm interested to see what other people really enjoyed from this year (as it was a great year for gaming).

Till next time, happy gaming all!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Musings - 19th Dec, 2011

This musings is gonna be a bit of a sparse one i'm sorry to say. Not much gaming has been done. Still, let us muse.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

It's really not an understatement when i say i haven't played much this week. I think i played Zelda on two nights, and for maybe an hour a piece. Basically i have saved inside the next dungeon in the Lanaryu desert. I'm sure the dungeon itself will re-energize my spirits, but the whole hassle of getting to the dungeon was pretty annoying for me.

It took a little while but i finally made the connection that all these upside down coloured triangles littered out of reach are probably hookshot markers and that's most likely the tool i uncover in this next dungeon. That will make travelling around a lot easier. So so much easier in fact.

Yeah i dunno if my lack of gaming is due to just wanting to relax and watch television during this uni course or if i'm down on Zelda. I'm almost tempted to check out either El Shaddai or Arkham City and see if my gaming funk is game related. That happened with Twilight Princess. I played the first 6-8 hours when i bought my Wii at launch... and then didn't touch the game for 9 months. When i picked it up again, i spent weeks and completed it, enjoying the whole experience.

No matter my call, i'm gonna play through this next dungeon. Then we shall see.

Coins (Indie)

A more relaxed approach to gaming this week. A puzzle game where you have to move coins to their designated slots. The catch is a coin can only be moved if it is touching two other coins. The game has a nice soundtrack and its level transitions are very fluid. Give it a play.

Final Thoughts

This week i just wanted to make a funny observation that came across my head last week. I love adventure games. Most of my game library over at GoG is adventure titles. The recent Christmas sale, i bought all the FMV zork games as i have never really given them a play (aside from Return to Zork). I was musing on some of the things you do in adventure games to achieve goals and a realization hit me.

In most adventure games, to progress you act like a massive jerk.

In Zak Mckraken and the Alien Mindbenders, there's a sequence where you make a flight attendant's day a living hell by sabotaging both the toilets and the on board microwave.

In Pandora Directive you can act like a total ass to everyone and while you don't get a good ending, it's a legitimate way to play the game.

In Sam and Max Hit the Road, one of the puzzles involves dipping your partner in water and shoving his face into an electrical outlet.

Possibly the reasoning here is that these games all have comedic elements and a good source of comedy is conflict, but there's also that kind of perverse pleasure that a player can get by saying to themselves, "I can't believe i'm doing this". Granted with games like Grand Theft Auto that feeling has kind of dulled in the face of wanton violence and destruction, but possibly it's because of the limits of the adventure game that this kind of realisation is much more impactful, especially when combined with the accomplishment of having solved a puzzle.

I'll leave things there for now. If anyone has any great memories of acting like a jerk in videogames, let me know in the comments.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Musings - 12th Dec, 2011

Last week was nice because of the rain. Now it's heating up again and reminding me how much i hate summer. Ah well, let us muse.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

So you know how a month or two ago i decided to try and make time to game every day and thus get through all the games i want to play quicker? Well that kind of hit a roadblock this week. I decided to check out season 1 of Sons of Anarchy and instead of playing Zelda, i was watching an addictive television drama about a bikie gang. It's not to say gaming did not get done however. I played every night of the weekend and have completed the Earth Temple.

Last week i lamented about how stupid LoZ games make me feel. Some games make you feel smart when you complete a puzzle, but for me, Zelda games always make me feel like an idiot when i figure out what i have to do. I think it's a testament to the level design of Skyward Sword however that even though i was in that state during the Earth Temple (and there were quite a few areas that stumped me and had me considering a walkthrough), i persevered and felt an incredible sense of accomplishment when the dungeon was completed. And disgust at my lack of intelligence wasn't the only emotion either. I also marvelled at the cleverness of the puzzle itself once it dawned on me what i had to do. Many sources have said this game has some of the best level design in the series (especially later on), and if this is what we start off with, i cannot wait to check it out.

Negativity now. You know what irks me more than anything else about this game so far? Link's lips. They're hideous. Everytime there's a close up of his face in a cut-scene i recoil. He looks like a fish.

I saved the game at the entrance to Lanayru Desert. From travelling through the mines, and experiencing the frozen time areas, i can sense that this whole sequence of gameplay is going to be special.

Earn to Die (Indie)

I got caught in this game's trap. It's quick and easy, and you're always progressing. Play a little longer Dave, just to upgrade this car and grab the next one. You're almost to the finish line Dave. Who cares if the game stopped being fun. You've spent this long playing, why not finish it?

I did finish it, and felt empty. This is an example of fine tuning the numbers so that your progression mechanics mask the lack of actual gameplay. It may sound like i'm angry. I'm actually not. These guys have got that balance down. It's quite inspiring in a way.

This kinda stuff is why i quit WoW though.

Final Thoughts

Nothing kills a videogame like hype. Let's take Skyward Sword for example. Not only was this the only game i paid full retail release price for this year but as it was being shipped to me i got really excited about the new Zelda title. I felt like playing previous entries in the series and couldn't wait for it to arrive.

The result? I feel a little let down. Don't get me wrong, the game is great... but it's not nearly as awesome as i had worked it up to be in my mind. The drive to play it isn't fully there mainly due to this chasm between expectation and reality.

I had thought myself free of the hype train. Years ago partially due to being around gamers and game news while completing my degree and recording The Console War Vets, i started holding back on having to play the newest latest release. Part of this was due to money, but i started to see that this cycle that most gamers find themselves in with new games is pretty self defeating. The game press does such a good job at building up interest in future releases that one can't help but be swept away in how great a game looks, and how interesting it might be to play.

And that's why hype will always negatively impact a gaming experience in some way. Our imaginations are more powerful than anything that can be created from a couple videos and news pieces, our minds race about all the possibilities an upcoming game might provide. The story, the mechanics, the epic scale and setpieces, how can a game actually live up?

Well it has been argued that there are some games that do either live up to or exceed the hype surrounding them. I'm sceptical on this as flicking back through my memory, i can't think of any personal examples. Many of the games i have fallen in love with i knew very little about going in... or i had waited until the buzz died down (mainly for money reasons. Some game drastically drop in price if you wait two months after release).

I think in some cases, hype can be positive if it's long term post release hype. For example, Red Dead Redemption was a game i had ignored in 2010. Come to the end of the year and people were still talking favourably about it. This got me interested to check it out. I haven't still... but it's on the radar once i get through everything else i wish to play.

At the start of the year i told myself i would only purchase one game at full price, and i waited till the Q4 launch window to discover what that would be. It was actually between Skyward Sword and Arkham City when it came down to it, but i went with Zelda. I'll pick Arkham City up later. I think this release purchase put more pressure on the game as well. I paid full price for this! It better deliver!

It does... just not in the way i was hoping. It's not a perfect game. No game is, but hype tricks us into believing this, and that can be a real problem.


Till next time, happy gaming all!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

5 Credits to Midnight: Ep 9 - Magic Sword

This week on 5 Credits we look at a sword of magic and the tower involved with it. It's an abstract love triangle!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Musings - 5th Dec, 2011

Wow, December. I've been writing this column for almost a year. That's pretty crazy right? Here's to more years to come! Let us muse.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

I finished this up on Thursday. Man what a nutty last couple of hours. First of all i decided to get the new chip installed so that made the next boss fight incredibly difficult. It's one of the most intense gaming experiences i've had in quite a while. When i finally took him down, i had exhausted all my health items, all the ammo for 3 different guns and when i had finally resigned myself to failure, i pegged him with a tranq shot to the chest and down he went. Immensely satisfying!

Then the final showdown, but more importantly the final choice. The game gives you four options at the ending, and i had to think about which choice i wanted to take. Like a multiple choice question on an exam, i was able to eliminate 50% of the possibilities immediately, but the choice between Sarif's and Taggart's plan was where i was stumped. I ended up choosing Taggart's plan and was moderately satisfied with the ending i received.

Having not completed the original Deus Ex (i need to fix that one day. I have the GoTY edition on Steam), the post credits cut-scene didn't mean much to me, but perhaps it will mean more when i eventually get to playing through that game, having completed the prequel first. It's kind of like how i played through Westwood's Blade Runner game before watching the film for the first time years later. I constantly said to myself, "Hey, i know all these shots from the game". Incidentally, if you haven't played the Blade Runner game, you should. It was amazing in the way it randomly presented character and plot elements on different playthroughs, and it had some moral choice gameplay... and this was 1997. The only game i remember that from any earlier (having not played much Ultima) was The Pandora Directive (which is one of my favourite games too).

Anyway this is slowly turning into a Final Thoughts spiel, so i'll just give my recommendations for Deus Ex. While i haven't perfected how i want to present reviews on this site, i still rate games how i rate movies, with a 5 star system. Deus Ex is the 2nd game i have played this year that i have given 5 stars to (the other being Persona 4).

Pokemon Yellow (GBC)

The day i completed Deus Ex, Skyward Sword arrived in the mail. I also had borrowed El Shaddai from my good friend Kenneth. So what game do i start playing that evening? Pokemon Yellow on a GBA emulator. I had a pokemon itch and decided to go back to basics.I missed yellow the first time around. I was very close to completing Blue back in the day but i never pushed myself over the threshold (i had the most awesome party though. Charizard, Raichu, Garados, Wigglytuff. It owned). So yeah, i load this up and start playing. I've been playing for the last couple days. I just defeated Misty for the 2nd badge. I dunno how much longer this poke fever will stay but i am enjoying myself, and that's all that matters.

Incidentally, having gone from an original Game Boy to a GBA, i never really got to experience the Game Boy Color. At least in Pokemon Yellow, i am really impressed how they create some beautiful shades and textures with such a limited colour palette.  How travelling to different towns and on different roads there's a dominant colour swap that invokes a different mood. I think part of the reason i love games from the earlier eras is the limitations of the hardware provoked so much creativity in these development teams. Not to say that kind of stuff doesn't happen now, but it was so much more prevalent when you didn't have the graphics power, sound chips, or just the hard drive space or memory to enact everything a team wanted to do... and of course the brilliance of coming up with a creative solution to problems that these limitations might provide.

And maybe it's just me but in this series, i've always loved the single release of their games that comes out after the two main ones. Maybe it's cause it feels kind of like a special edition or psychologically it feels like the two games combined (even though it's of course not). Just something interesting that struck me during my treks through the long grass.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

So after an hour playing Pokemon, i had to try the new Zelda. Every day since then i've been playing pokemon during the day and Zelda in the evening. For those of you who are asking about if i was working on other projects like my comics or the next 5 Credits...please dont. I feel bad enough. I completed the first dungeon last night and i love this game. If there is any fault i would say that the game doesn't adequately explain some of the controls enough and sometimes the sword fighting is a little iffy... but when it all works, wowzers.

One thing i really like is Skyloft seems like a mix of Majora's Mask and Windwaker. You have this town full of people that you can help with certain things throughout the game, and thus gain more of a connection to your home... and having the sky to explore is just fun. The dynamic of having Zelda be a childhood friend and also having a role to play in the coming events creates a nice take on the classic formula... especially when Link is kind of a doofus in this game.

I love the art style and design of the characters. The game is dripping with colour and not in an bombastic, obnoxious way either. It was also pointed out to me today, that your companion Fi sounds like a female T-Pain. She definitely is auto-tuned.

It'll probably take a couple more dungeons before my thoughts are really solidified (after all, most of the Zelda games really kick into gear after dungeon 3), but i'm having a blast.

Oh and the first puzzle in the first dungeon with the eye above the door. Completely stumped me and i had to look up the solution online. Once again, a Zelda game succeeds in making me feel like a complete dumb-ass (in Twilight Princess it was using the boomerang on the four windmills to open the gate. God i felt stupid when i solved that one).

K.O.L.M. 2 (Indie)

This picks up exactly where the first one leaves off, so if you haven't completed the game after i recommended it last week, go back and give it a whirl. Funnily enough the story intrigues me more in this title. I played for 20 mins and then saw how things were changed gameplay wise. You gain another character to control either separately or in tandem. To be honest this is when i closed the game as i generally dislike this type of gameplay... but i might bite my tongue and go back and run through the rest of the game... if just for closure.

Final Thoughts

Gah, i have no idea what to type here this week. I guess the off topic conversation i broached in the Deus Ex and Pokemon sections of this week's musings tapped me out. Come to think of it, is this section even needed? Well yes, cause there are things i like to discuss down here regularly. Should it be here every week, even if i have nothing to talk about? Possibly?

Hmm. Well i'll throw a call out. If anyone has anything game related they'd like my take on, let me know and i'll address it in future Final Thoughts segments.

Reader participation!

Till next week, happy gaming all!