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Growing Pains

Ghost Trick is all wrapped up and I have finally gotten to the mystery of Sissel’s death. I won’t spoil it but I really didn’t see THAT coming! Weird but certainly wonderful. In other gaming news there is basically no news. It seems that of late I have not really had the opportunity or motivation to do much gaming which seems very odd. Much of it is a time issue. Having recently had a baby, time priorities have become altered so that, even though he is usually (hopefully) fast asleep by 7.30 or so that is still enough of a squeeze on an evening. This plus my recent interest in board games has meant that digital gaming has taken a slump in my house.

There used to be a time when I used a games console on a daily basis but at the moment it’s more like weekly. A drop in Xbox time would usually be because I wouldn’t have any games waiting to be completed but even then I would be rooting through the bargain bins or having just one go on Trials HD over and over. However this isn’t the case at the moment as I currently have several pretty good titles ready to go like Sleeping Dogs, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Ni No Kuni but not the drive to make time to play them. This is to be expected to some degree. As time passes and our lives change so do our interests but to think that my passion could be waning in something that I have loved, championed and been captivated by for almost 30 years feels strange and a little frightening.

Maybe it’s just a matter of waiting for the right game to come along. Right now I have no interest in any of the newer consoles and even less in splashing out on a powerful gaming PC as titles on them seem to be lacking in any magic or wonder. Maybe it’s a matter of seeing through the cracks. After so long enjoying games my mind will naturally break a game down in order to beat it. It took a conscious effort to make natural decisions in Mass Effect instead of thinking about gaming the system for the best outcome. Maybe I should be looking back instead of forward. Nostalgia can fog our recollections about the true quality of things past but I have been thinking about getting Majora’s Mask on Virtual Console for a while now and I would love to see if I can recapture that N64 magic.

Maybe I should just stop being a baby, fire up Sleeping Dogs and just enjoy it. Yeah, probably that.

Tales from the Bargain Bin: Ghost Trick

Death can present a problem in a lot of video games. Once the main character is killed it’s usually the end of their adventure, at least temporarily. But Sissel’s demise in Ghost Trick is the very start of a strange and wonderful mystery that will have you scratching your head in confusion before palming your face in disbelief. After discovering he is dead and having lost his memories Sissel is assisted by a friendly spirit who tutors him in the art of ‘ghost tricks’ where he can move between objects and manipulate them. It sounds pretty basic but these simple powers make for some interesting puzzles that see you saving others and trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of Sissel’s death before sunrise the next day when we are told that time will run out and Sissel will cease to be.

Ghost Trick is a great puzzler, not as punishing as those old LucasArts adventures but still with a level of challenge that doesn’t treat you like an idiot. Many puzzles are time based which meaning you will occasionally get to a point where you can’t proceed any further but a neat rewind mechanic and helpful checkpoints mitigate a lot of frustration. The exception is a rather painful stealth section which meant a lot of agonising trial and error (which I hate) but thankfully this is only one brief part of one of 18 chapters so once finished it can be swiftly forgotten.

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Story plays a big part of the game and you will probably spend as much time reading as puzzling. Thankfully the story is full of humorous twists and bizarre characters that really bring it to life. On top of this the animation is top notch and squeezes something pretty stunning out of my old DS Lite. It seems so rare now to be wowed by visuals but the simple and clean art style here really impressed me.

Ghost Trick won’t be for everybody, the fact that puzzles can lead you down a dead end may alienate traditional puzzle fans who aren’t used to a fail state and the crackers story gets a little tricky to follow at times especially when it loops in on itself but I wouldn’t let those things put you off. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a wonderful and unique title that I think all puzzle fans will get a kick out of.

Playing Myst is like having a wee ... in a good way

I have never really been a PC gamer but thanks to the excellent sales of GOG.com I have managed to get myself a few retro games that I missed through the years, well known titles like Dungeon Keeper 2, Theme Hospital or Syndicate (the latter being impossible by the way). Yesterday I started Myst and it has given me a real insight into the inspiration behind the atmosphere of certain modern games. Fez, Proteus and the forthcoming The Witness all seem to have a Myst feel and I love it.

It’s a strange feeling and hard to characterise. Adventure is definitely a part of it but there is no danger like Another World or Outcast. If I compare Myst or Myst-like games to Ni No Kuni which I started last week there are definitely parallels and both take a regular person somewhere strange and wonderful but one is full of kind hearts and cruel monsters where the other is not. Myst has no peril, no fail state, no death, no checkpoints and not even any characters to meet, just a world that is there to be explored and deciphered. Fez is probably the closest recent example and both have a hands-free approach in gently tempting the player into unlocking it’s world. They also both share a terrible map screen and navigation but never mind.

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This approach is not for everyone. There is a lot of headscratching and clicking on stuff and then clicking on it again. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results then everyone that has played Myst must be absolutely barking (Far Cry 3’s Vaas Montenegro was clearly not a point and click man). But it’s this frustration that makes games like this so compulsive, finding that breakthrough, that flash of inspiration (or luck) that gets you through a bottleneck is intensely satisfying. Cruelly, the more annoyed you get the greater the satisfaction. It’s kind of like when you finally get to the toilet after having to wait an uncomfortably long time. So there you have it, playing Myst is like having a wee … in a good way.

Ni No Konfusion

Ni No Kuni is beautiful. The world, the characters, the art, the music. It’s all stunning. Fans of Studio Ghibli (Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) are going to absolutely love sinking themselves into it like a big fat sofa. In fact it’s so lovely that I was prompted to write this just to share the following orchestral hot chocolate.

Outside of this the game is a little bewildering. This is good in a sense as being thrown into a magical fairytale world would lose a little wonder if it was full of the everyday. However in a gameplay sense I am in need of a little guidance. Controlling 2 characters doesn’t sound like many but when each has their own army of monsters and then each can be switched out as a leader (who is then monsterless) it gets a bit confusing especially with the fiddly joypad control system they have here. A little light grinding can give you some advantage but I have always thought that reliance on such things is a major failing in an RPG.

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Despite this I still managed to scrape a thrilling victory past the intimidating Bashura and I have the feeling that I will get the hang of this by sheer necessity. Thankfully the game is quite forgiving and a defeat just resets you to the beginning of the fight with full health after taking some of your money. I think is a great concession to sporadic gamers such as myself. Also, it seems very playable in shorter chunks with plenty of save spots and short cut scenes. Of course all this may change as the game progresses but for the moment I may be confused … but I am liking it.

Puppeteer Impressions

Disappointing. I could probably stop right there. Puppeteer has filled me with buyer’s remorse after impulsively getting it in the PSN New Years Sale. I should have stopped after Brothers and Ni No Kuni but I was wowed by the price tag and, more regretfully, the discount. I always scoff when my wife comes home and tells me how much money was knocked off the coat she bought before telling me how much she actually spent, after all a £30 coat is still a £30 coat even if it started at £30,000, but I fell into the exact same trap. Viciously hoisted by my own petard.

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The clever folks at Eurogamer summed it up a lot clearer than I could in their excellent review but Puppeteer is a clear case of vision exceeding mechanics. The theatrical presentation is beautiful and as stages progress it really feels like scenery is being madly shunted around by invisible stage hands with energetic characters being operated by master puppeteers. The silly story and script are like a chaotic pantomime and you can see the love that has been poured into the presentation aspect of the game. The problem is that it never stops. It seems that these actors don’t know when to leave the audience begging for more as cut scenes always feel that little bit too long. What’s worse is when you do get to do a bit of platforming the level design feels rudimentary and there is a lot of unexplored potential, particularly in the variety of heads that the main character can equip. Like I said, disappointing.

Carving Through Corporate ICE

I am also putting my blogs on Wordpress in an attempt to tap into a new community. If anyone would like to join me then let me know as I would love to follow them. I will continue to put blogs here on GS but hardly ever check it anymore. I am sad about this. I also participate in a small forum for GS refugees here.

I have always been a sucker for anything labelled Cyberpunk. At the age of 21 I rediscovered reading thanks mostly to William Gibson whose brisk style creats a cutthroat world of ruthless mega corporations and desperate criminals. At around the same time I learned about anime and after initially dismissing it as a perverse cinematic niche (it seems Urotsikodoji is a shared teenage experience for my generation) I saw Ghost in the Shell and was hooked. It brought to life the vision of a palpable future where technology is valued more than human life and AIs grow in the primordial soup of cyberspace. It may be no surprise that I also love Blade Runner.

Couple this with a growing love of board/card games and I have discovered a new obsession - Android Netrunner. Apparently it is a remake of a much older game that was released around the same time as Magic: The Gathering and created by the same designer and it is brilliant. The gameplay is asymmetric with one player as the corporation who is trying to further their agendas by installing them in servers and protecting them with ice (think Norton antivirus that fights back). The second player is a sort of digital Robin Hood that is attempting to access and steal those same agendas. Again, it is brilliant.

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I know it has gripped me because when I start typing ‘andr’ into Google the list of suggested previous searches goes off the page. In some ways it’s nice to have a bit of an obsession with something, remember when you are a kid and just listened to the same song over and over, or made countless armies of Warhammer in school without the reference cards because you knew every Eldar point value by heart? Well maybe not the second one but I am pretty sure you know the first. The flipside is finding an outlet for this new passion. There is a group in Liverpool that play every Sunday night but seeing as I go to another gaming group on a Monday, two nights of gaming ineptitude might be a little too much.

Thankfully my wife patiently indulges these whims of mine and although she has never suggested a game (she prefers to efficiently destroy me at Carcasonne instead) she did say that she had ‘started to enjoy the last few games.’ Progress of sorts I guess. The last option is one that many desperate men turn to - strangers on the internet. There is an amazing site called octgn.net where you can play all sorts of card games including Netrunner and it looks fairly straightforward. I am sure that it’s a lovely community but sitting at a computer in my leisure time just doesn’t appeal (although I guess it’s just a little TV screen really). Maybe I should just shut up and do it, I mean, when a brave runner is on his last click, would he risk all and dive into cyberspace or just stay on the sofa watching Supersize vs Superskinny?

Experiments on Children in the Name of Star Wars

I am also putting my blogs on Wordpress in an attempt to tap into a new community. If anyone would like to join me then let me know as I would love to follow them. I will continue to put blogs here on GS but hardly ever check it anymore. I am sad about this. I also participate in a small forum for GS refugees here.

Hazy childhood nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Some of us 30 somethings forget that Star Wars was a fun family film and not actually the dark, gritty and emotional masterpiece we all remember it as. When Episodes I, II and III were released they were heavily criticised by those of us that felt that the playful child-friendly tone of the films was some kind of shameful cash-in to pack as many into the cinema as possible ... and they were right, but we were the same people that owned Darth Vader lunchboxes, Yoda tamagotchis and X Wing Micro Machines so let’s not be too judgemental.

One of the most horrible scenes endured by cinema-goers
One of the most horrible scenes endured by cinema-goers

So while I think that Attack of the Clones is one of the most stomach-churning films of all time I don’t feel that the other two are that bad. Sure, midichlorians were a misstep but was Jar Jar Binks really that bad when the original trilogy finished with an army of teddy bears? Great modern actors like Natalie Portman and Ewan Macgregor may have looked like amnesiac children at a Nativity but one of the most loved characters in the originals basically just nods, delivers 2 lines and is then flung into a giant pit because his jetpack is hit by a stick.

I am too close to it all but wait, there is another. As well as having the pleasure of my collected wisdom my infant son will be the valuable test subject in my Star Wars Experiment. As he gets older I will show him the films in chronological order instead of order of release and see what he thinks. I might even throw in The Battle Of Endor for added colour. Obviously I will insulate him from any subjective opinion to make a fair experiment but this could be a true test of taste. According to the research I have done (not even a single search on Google) nothing like this has ever been attempted and I am dizzy with anticipation. As a blank slate he will be the fairest indicator of quality of one of the most dividing series in film history.

I will share the results in 10 years or so and if he states that he wants to be Han Solo then you can be safe in the knowledge that our youthful recollections are not just dreams but fact. If not then my wife’s son will spend the subsequent 10 years in carbonite!

They got away with calling it Wii

I am also putting my blogs on Wordpress in an attempt to tap into a new community. If anyone would like to join me then let me know as I would love to follow them. I will continue to put blogs here on GS but hardly ever check it anymore. I am sad about this. I also participate in a small forum for GS refugees here.

Today I have been thinking about the Wii. The rather excellent Player One Podcast had a Wii retrospective (wii-trospective) last week and listed their top games on the system. The general consensus seemed to be that they struggled to find just 5 great games and that even with 100 million units sold it was not a great gaming machine. I would disagree.

What made the Wii special was that it’s strengths and weaknesses were often the same thing. Accessibility was confused with simplicity and shelves were stocked with cheaply made casual games cashing in on motion control. The Wii had virtually invented the concept of a casual game and a casual gamer but in courting a brand new audience it invited sneers from gamers who considered themselves above a console that seemed to just about waggling a controller. When hardcore titles like Sin & Punishment 2, Punch Out or The Last Story came out, the console had either been boxed up in the attic or was in Wii bowling Groundhog Day hell.

So when it came to trying to pick a personal top 5 I was happy to discover that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. Many games failed to make this list including Super Paper Mario, Metroid: Other M, Metroid 3, Wii Sports, Muramasa, Dead Space: Extraction, The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Zak & Wiki and Mario Kart Wii. These are all games that I consider to be Wii must-buys and they still didn’t make the hall of fame. For me, the 5 that are not only the best Wii titles but great games on any platform are:

Super Mario Galaxy

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Hydroventure (Fluidity in the US)

No More Heroes


Tales from the Bargain Bin: Dark Void

I am also putting my blogs on Wordpress in an attempt to tap into a new community. If anyone would like to join me then let me know as I would love to follow them. I will continue to put blogs here on GS but hardly ever check it anymore. I am sad about this. I also participate in a small forum for GS refugees here. On with the show.

The Y button has never been my favourite. Since earning disdain as the melee button in Bad Company (I could never get to it in time) it has steadily earned a modicum of respect as a reliable but unglamorous workhorse that lets me switch weapons or look at something interesting but it has never truly excited me. Well all that has changed as in Dark Void Fun starts with a Y. One press of the little yellow underdog triggers a powerful jetpack that instantly launches the hero into the direction he is facing at full speed. His arms and legs flail about as he adjusts to the sudden acceleration and the sudden change in movement looks and feels incredible. It’s easy to miscalculate as a slightly wrong angle can send him head first into a brick wall but it adds dangerous thrills and slapstick head trauma to an already impressive manoeuvre.

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This is my favourite part of the game which is telling in itself. When one take-off animation is the high point you can probably guess that the rest is fairly medicore and that is what we have here. The rest of the game is a fairly generic cover shooter although the jetpack enables a novel vertical aspect that means you can boost up to higher platforms and drag enemies off ledges leg first. The story involves a WW2 pilot and his inevitably kidnapped lady sidekick who are drawn into an alternate world (the void in question) while travelling through the Bermuda Triangle. He encounters other lost humans that either worship or fight an alien race that seems to be indigenous to the world they have found themselves in. Sadly it stops at being a great premise and the idea that all those mysteriously missing people have been taken into an alternate would could have been a lot more fun. Glenn Miller DLC would have been incredible.

We all know that a great main character can really hold a game together but, again, Dark Void stops at the ideas level as after some initial mild surprise the protagonist gets to the business of laser-blasting baddies with very little adjustment. In fact I can’t even remember his name although I am pretty sure it’s only one syllable like Brad or Will or something, clearly one syllable is one too many.

It sounds like I am down on the game and in a lot of respects it fails to meet it’s potential but it does have one very strong thing going for it and that is the simple joy of movement. It seems like a trivial thing but that heart-stopping blast into the sky really is worth digging this game out of the bargain bin. Subsequent controls can be a little fiddly but being able to immediately stop in mid-air, hover, shoot up a few enemies behind cover and then jet off into the sky is truly exhilarating. It seems a shame that there are so many titles like Dark Void that are ignored when they are not only perfectly fun games in their own right, but are also a solid stepping stone to a potentially accomplished sequel. I am pretty sure nobody is going to pick this licence up which is a real shame and it will have to sit alongside Project Eden, Stubbs the Zombie and Herdy Gerdy as a flawed implementation of great ideas.

Changing Habits

Note: I am also putting my blogs on Wordpress in an attempt to tap into a new community. If anyone would like to join me then let me know as I would love to follow them. I will continue to put blogs here on GS but hardly ever check it anymore. I am sad about this. I also participate in a small forum for GS refugees here. On with the show.

My gaming habits have drastically changed recently. Since the arrival of a baby boy 6 months ago those late night BF4 sessions have disappeared and I am constantly looking at the length of games, not to see how long they are but to see how short they are. I don’t have the time or opportunity to sink 50 hours into an RPG but if I can get a game done in a couple of hours then I am more than happy. Hotline Miami and To The Moon have been two recent purchases that have given me a little gaming buzz and then let me move on to the next thing.

This has led me to a bit of a revelation that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy games. This may seem obvious but there does seem to be a little snobbery embedded in the self-titled hardcore gaming community. For example I am a big fan of gaming podcasts and regularly listen to the Videogamer.com podcast. It’s a great listen but the host, Matt Lees, is one of those that keeps trying to tell me that I am gaming wrong. Playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Classic Ironman is not THE way to play the game but A way to play it. I am in no way interested in playing Dark Souls because sudden and unavoidable deaths forcing me to replay the same hour of a game sounds excruciating.

Now it may seem like I am picking on poor Matt Lees (which I am) but for some, even if we did have the chance, we wouldn’t want to throw ourselves into a game that would punish us at every turn. It’s like there is this false idea that the harder the game that we play, the purer a gamer we are which is bullshit. Firaxis Games put all kinds of difficulty options in XCOM to cater for all play styles and they called them Easy, Normal, Classic and Impossible and not Baby, Less Baby, True Gamer and Best Gamer. A game being hard is not a positive feature of a game, it’s just a feature.

Games used to be harder and blind nostalgia might lead us to think that games used to be better thus harder is better but back in the days of the Commodore 64 or the NES there were no checkpoints and saves only existed in very specific ways (like The Legend of Zelda’s amazing internal battery). This meant starting a game over and over and doing the same parts hundreds of times. I don’t want to go back there. I must have started the first level of Battletoads about 200 times but only started the last level once. I still didn’t finish it.

So if someone wants to blast through Call of Duty: Ghosts on easy then why the hell not. I would find the lack of challenge a bit dull but then I played To The Moon which is essentially an interactive book. At the moment I am playing Dark Void which is the very definition of mediocre but it has a jet pack. These are experiences that are not one person’s definition of true gamng but who cares. Let’s just enjoy it.