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GabuEx Blog

Thanks for all the fish

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So, hey.

You might've noticed by now that I haven't been around much. I wish I were here to tell you that the reason for that has come to an end, but... well, unfortunately, I'm afraid it hasn't. So if you really want to know where I've been, then sit for a spell and let me tell you the tale of The Incredible Shrinking Community.

I first joined GameSpot in May of 2006, although it wasn't until 2007 that I actually started becoming active around GameSpot. Things started pretty small. At around that time I was pretty much accepting all comers in terms of friend requests and union invites, since I only had a few. Some of the few unions I remember I first joined were a Nintendo union, a NiGHTS union, and a Guitar Hero union. I met a lot of great people through those unions, many of whom I've sadly long since lost contact with, and it was that that really started getting me hooked on GameSpot - that really got me thinking that the community here at GameSpot was something special, something I'd seldom encountered before in the past.

It was then around February of 2008 that I got the official invitation to be a moderator at GameSpot. Given my love for the community, that was a no-brainer: of course I said "yes". After becoming a moderator, I became even more involved in the community, and became a regular poster both in OT and in the Wii forum, becoming effectively the official moderator representation for the latter forum after JordanElek stepped down from his moderator position. Around this time I joined even more unions, like the Monkeys Writing Shakespeare Union, and met even more people. In short, life was good. I really liked it here.

However...

Over time, things slowly seemed to start to change. The first big change, obviously, was the departure of Jeff Gerstmann, which was quickly followed both by other editors and by several users at GameSpot. That was pretty early on, however, and didn't affect me that much.

As more time went on, though, some of the unions I was in began to fall apart. The Nintendo one, I think, was the first to go. The Guitar Hero union slowly saw user participation fritter away to nothing. Once NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams was released, that union, too, died a slow, unheralded death. Monkeys Writing Shakespeare collapsed, too. One by one, all of the unions I used to frequent became wastelands.

But that was still all right. I was still active on the main forums, and they were great. For a while, at least. The Wii forum I especially liked, since it seemed to be a place that was more or less free of undue negativity, compared to other places around GameSpot. And OT was a great place to have quality conversations.

Slowly but surely, however, those changed as well. The Wii forum started to become less and less enjoyable to post to, and over time I found myself posting less and less in the main forum and posting more to the Off-Topic Lounge. OT, as well, seemed to be less welcoming, and I posted there almost exclusively to debate. During my very first OTcars, I tied Hungry_Bunny for Nicest User; subsequently, I wasn't even nominated for that, and only won the awards for most intelligent user and best debater. Secretly, I was a bit upset about this - I would take being known as a nice guy any day over being known as an intelligent debater. When you're on your deathbed, being an intelligent debater isn't going to make you any friends who will gather around and miss you when you're gone.

Then there was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back: the Soapbox was removed from the front page of GameSpot. With that - without almost any fanfare at all - my one last real connection to anything resembling a community had been severed. My time here was pretty darn empty by this time, but I didn't know it at the time. It took something shocking - something that I never expected to become a fan of - to truly make me realize just how empty it had become.

OK, I know that just posting that image just lost at least some of you who had been reading up until this moment. But for those of you still with me, let me explain. Actually, before I explain, let me let Jacob Minkoff of Naughty Dog explain better than I could. This picture in particular says about what needs to be said about the show:

This isn't your '80s My Little Pony. This is what you would get if Pixar were to create an incarnation of My Little Pony. Yes, the show drives the sales of pony dolls, but it's way more than that - it's a slice of life show that is smart, witty, cute, fun, and genuinely heartwarming. It's a show with an all-female main cast that manages to be neither tackily girly nor overly sappy; its characters are genuinely interesting and endearing; and its episode plots are really fun to follow, with very positive, yet not anvilicious, messages at the end of each.

The show certainly hooked me; however, the thing that really kept me around long after its first season ended was the community around the show. In a way the community around this show is a lot like what Gabe from Penny Arcade found the Pokemon community to be when he attended a tournament - they've really been affected by it in a positive fashion. I don't mean that in the sense as though they're learning life lessons for the first time upon watching the show; rather, I think it's more just that the show is captivating enough that it's able to just make them think a bit, and realize that, you know, maybe there are other ways to conduct oneself on the internet than being a callous, cynical douche.

Whatever the reasoning or whys or wherefores behind it, I very quickly found that the fandom behind this show is one of the warmest, most welcoming, most downright positive communities I've ever seen on the internet - and, unfortunately, when I compared that against what I got here at GameSpot, well... there wasn't really much of a contest. It unfortunately highlighted for me just how empty my time here at GameSpot had become, which is why I haven't been around here much.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to disparage anyone here on GameSpot. Individually, there are a lot of wonderful people still present here today. I won't name any of them because I don't want to leave anyone out, but, heck, if you're still reading this after all this time (in which case, bless your heart), then you're probably one of them. And that makes you awesome. Seriously. I love you folks.

I won't say that I'll never be around GameSpot again. That's closing a door that I would never want to close. However, I will say that, because of all of the above, it remains seemingly unlikely that I will be seen around here much in the foreseeable future. If you would like to stay in touch, I can be found at Equestria Forums, or, if you'd prefer to stay away from the show, PM me - I'm more than happy to give you my email address, AIM/MSN/Skype account names, or whatever else would work for you. I don't want this to be goodbye; I just want it to be so long... and, thanks for all the fish. All of you are grand chaps, the lot of you.

Your friend,

Gabu

Unsung greats of gaming, part 17: Rune Factory Frontier

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Author's note: This is part of a series in which Wootex and I highlight games that are fairly unknown but nonetheless awesome. They are both informative and entertaining, or at least Wootex's are.

Previous edition: 16 - Def Jam: Fight for New York

Past editions: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0

[video=KnQ3wTas5bMIujbd]

Rune Factory Frontier

Rune Factory Frontier box art

System: Wii
Genre: Farming/RPG hybrid
Developers: Neverland Co.
Release Date: November 27, 2008 (Japan), March 17, 2009 (North America), April 1, 2010 (Europe)

What is it?

Rune Factory Frontier is by far the youngest game to date in this series, having come out in North America only a little over two years ago as of the writing of this article. However, considering the fact that GameSpot never even reviewed it, I think it's safe to say that it already merits being called "unsung". And it's definitely great. And, well, it's also definitely a game. So, in it goes.

Rune Factory Frontier (like the rest of the Rune Factory series) is a pretty weird game, just in terms of its multiple personalities. On one hand, it's got a very strong Harvest Moon vibe going on - a major part of its gameplay is tilling soil, planting crops, watering the crops, and then selling the harvest for money, all while getting to know the people (especially the girls) living in the village you begin to call home. At the same time, however, there are a number of dungeons in the game in which monsters dwell, and in which you have to fight the monsters in order to get further into it. The two really don't seem like they should work together, but they really, really do.

In Rune Factory Frontier, you play the part of Raguna, a young man who left his home in search of a girl named Mist, whom he finds in the tiny village of Trampoli. She convinces him to settle down in this village too (there's an empty yet fully furnished house right next to hers, conveniently enough), and he does. Thus begins his epic quest of planting crops. And harvesting them. And also saving the town of Trampoli while he's at it, since a giant whale-shaped island floating above the town, you find out, is going to shortly fall from the sky down on it if nothing is done.

"I'll take a turnip... and EAT IT."

What's great about it?

Rune Factory Frontier's appeal is actually a lot like that of Animal Crossing - although this game does have a story, it largely takes a back seat to the gameplay. This isn't the sort of game that one will stay up super late playing because one can't pull oneself away from the gripping storyline; rather, it's the sort of game that one will sit down to for a relaxing session during which to unwind. It's also definitely not a game that will appeal to everyone - you'd definitely have to see value in planting digital crops and getting acquainted with a digital village, because that's definitely the core of this game's appeal.

If you do see the appeal in that, however, there's a lot of things to do in Rune Factory Frontier. For starters, the game goes through the four seasons just as the real world does, and in each season there are different crops to be planted and different activities in town to do. Both your house and your equipment (both farming- and battle-related) can be upgraded multiple times and in multiple ways. As you go through the game, you can get a forge, a kitchen, and a lab, in each of which places you can make new equipment and items. The game also has, in total, thirteen girls, as well, with whom you can start up a friendship that can eventually blossom into a relationship.

THAT'S WHAT SHE- oh, never mind.

Of course, you can't do everything the game has to offer in a single day. The game places a number of limiters on your ability to do things in an in-game day - you have a set number of hit points with which you can withstand enemies' attacks; you have a set number of rune points (effectively your stamina) that any given stenuous activity will require and use it; and you have an in-game clock, which dictates what shops are open, what villagers are where, and how late you can stay up before needing to go to bed. Everything you plant requires a set number of days before it's either ripe (in the case of crops) or in bloom (in the case of flowers), as well, so patience is a virtue.

Finally, the game also has a level and skill system, too - as you battle monsters, you gain levels up, making you stronger; and as you do activites around the farm and in battle (tilling, chopping, attacking, forging, etc.), you gain skill levels up, making you more efficient in those activities. These effectively make it so that you can do more in one day and go further in dungeons before needing to turn back - when you first start out, you'll only be able to tend to a small amount of crops and go a little ways into dungeons, whereas the more skilled you get and the higher your level gets, the more you'll be able to get through in the same day. Upgrades to farming equipment as well makes them more efficient - for example, upgrading your watering can one level enables you to water three squares in one go, instead of just one. Which is good, since the amount of farmland available in the game is massive.

I AM FARMING THE **** OUT OF THIS PLACE RIGHT NOW

The bottom line

This is really one of those games where it's pointless to dwell on it too long - if you're going to like it, you're probably already thinking about looking into it by this time, whereas if you're not going to like it, you've probably already decided that this sounds really stupid. If you are still considering it, though, it comes highly recomended in my books - it's a great game for a rainy day, one that offers great relaxation and casual fun. Check it out!

Review: L.A. Noire (Xbox 360)

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L.A. Noire

(original review here)

7.5

Ambitious and meticulous, but falls short in terms of enjoyment and engagement.

I know people are already preparing their flamethrowers in response to the above score, so let me say up front that this was a very painful score to give. I really, really wanted to love L.A. Noire. The extent to which its creators gave it their time, their care, their dedication, and their all shine through like the noon sun on a cloudless sky. This game has all the makings of greatness. Yet, I would be lying to my readers if I didn't say that I found it to ultimately fall short in terms of emotional engagement and interest, or rather, its lack thereof. I still like it. But I can't bring myself to love it.

Before I go any further, though, let's back up a bit and go over the factual specifics about the game. In L.A. Noire, you play as Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran who made his mark in the Pacific campaign and earned the Silver Star there, and then joined the police force upon his return home. He begins the game as a patrolman, but after a series of successes (which also double as the game's tutorial missions), he is promoted to detective, at which point the real meat of the game begins.

"From this, I deduce that something probably caused blood to get on this door."

Over the course of the game, which is fairly lengthy - it spans 3 discs on the Xbox 360 and took me a considerable amount of time to finish, well into the double-digits of hours - Phelps will go through four different desks on the force, those being traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. During his stay in each desk, he'll be tasked with solving crimes within that field. For example, while working traffic, he gets a case of two people found unconscious in a car that slammed into a sign, with ample evidence of foul play; on the other hand, while working homicide, he gets a case of a woman strangled to death and then left in the middle of a park. Many of these cases have a unifying theme between them that links some of them together, as Phelps comes to realize that the crimes are related.

There are four different modes of gameplay in the game, and any given case can easily transition between all four before it's solved. First, there's investigation - this involves combing through a scene of a crime or a scene of interest (such as a suspect's house), looking for any clues pertinent to the case. When Phelps comes across something of interest, the controller vibrates and a chime sounds, alerting you to the fact that you might have found something. Second, there's interrogation - this involves asking a person a series of questions. Each time the person responds, you have the option of either believing the person and asking for further detail, of casting doubt on what the person said, or of accusing the person of lying and presenting evidence indicating as much. Choosing correctly allows Phelps to gain additional clues and insight into the case. Third, there are chases - these typically involve chasing a fleeing suspect through the streets of L.A., either in a car on on foot, trying to make the suspect stop so he or she can be apprehended. Fourth, there are gunfights - these are basically what it says on the tin: you have a number of bad guys with guns trying to kill you and your job is to kill them all.

Professional not-giving-a-damn guy Cole Phelps celebrates another successful ass-kicking session.

To be sure, L.A. Noire has a lot going for it, and I'm sure that someone who places more emphasis on that would give this game a very different score than I've given it. For starters, the game is a very good showcase for Rockstar's new facial capture technology, which combines the reading from several cameras around the person to get a 3D model of the person's face. Although the technology still has a ways to go - they really need to figure out how to better synchronize the face with the body - it goes a long way just as they claimed it would towards closing the so-called "uncanny valley", that being the situation where 3D models look very realistic, but don't "act human", making the viewer well aware that they're not looking at a real human being.

The attention to detail in the game, as well, is just jaw-dropping. The game has hundreds and hundreds of blocks of 1940s Los Angeles, all rendered in an extremely faithful form - the people, the cars, the buildings, the billboards, the prices, the phone numbers, the products: everything feels just like it's actually from the 1940s. The crimes, as well, are in fact also authentic, insofar as they're inspired by actual crimes that occurred in Los Angeles in the 1940s (an example), although they have of course been sufficiently fictionalized in order to fit the video game. The extent to which Team Bondi went to create a real, 1940s Los Angeles experience, is truly commendable.

A staple of film noir: only having enough lighting budget for half the screen.

Unfortunately, however, the excellent parts of the game are largely aesthetic in nature, while the more negative parts of the game are more integral. For starters, I found the story in the game to be, unfortunately, just not that interesting when all was said and done. Despite threads tying them together and attempting to make them a unified whole, the cases in the game were largely overly segregated and felt too episodic in nature. There were repeat offenders between cases, for sure, but that was far in the background, and the immediate facts in each case presented basically a brand new selection of suspects, victims, witnesses, and so forth, never really giving the game a chance to go very deep into any train of thought. Furthermore, because every case saw brand new faces, there was actually very little bona fide character development or intra-character chemistry in the game at all. The few situations where there were recurring characters who did interact with each other multiple times, it never failed to feel superficial, either - by the end of the game, I really didn't feel as though I knew any of the characters much better than when they were first introduced. There were a few glimmerings of character development in the course of the game, but they were fleeting.

Two of the four game modes enumerated above also were, in my evaluation, not done very well at all. The investigation portions of the game was one of them. There's no real obvious indicator regarding what's a clue and what's just part of the background, so investigations often degrade into just wandering around aimlessly, hoping to feel your controller vibrate in response to something that you may not even be able to see, and then just repeating that until the location is crossed off in the pause screen, indicating that you've found everything. This can get very tedious and boring, and really does not advance anything in the game much. You can use "intuition points", which you pick up by doing well in the game, in order to reveal all of the clues hidden in an area - but then that's basically just cheating.

"I have successfully deduced that this is in fact a pipe. So we can cross 'not a pipe' off the list of hypotheses."

The other mode in the game that wasn't done very well was the interrogations. These were supposed to be the prime showcase of the game's facial capture technology, since you're supposed to need to watch the subject and try to tell whether or not they're being truthful, but the very simplistic and arbitrary nature of much of these portions of the game more or less kill any engagement that they might otherwise have contained. For starters, to determine whether the person is being truthful or not, there's basically just three signs to look for: does the person respond in a very abrupt manner, does the person's eyes dart around like they've got a contact lens caught in them, and does the person visibly swallow repeatedly? If any of those are true, the person's probably not being truthful.

Even if you know that this is the case, though, the difference between the three options is not very well-established, either. As it happens, "Truth" is basically only selected when the person is giving you the 100%, swear-to-God, whole, full truth; if the person is even just not mentioning something on the side, you may need to pick "Doubt" or "Lie" even if what they said was probably true. And even if you know it's "Doubt" or "Lie", it's often not at all obvious which is correct, since the meaning behind each clue is not always immediately apparent. As such, interrogations would often boil down to just a plain old coin flip for me, with no obvious indicators telling me one way or another. Needless to say, this does not make for very interesting gameplay.

I should give kudos where it's due, though: the chases and gunfights were significantly better and more exciting than these two modes.

"I'd say the staple line of 'we can do this the easy way or the hard way' here, but frankly this game doesn't give the option of the easy way. So that would be a lie."

The game also has very little replay value once it's done, as well. Unlike GTA, you play as a cop in this game, so there isn't much sandbox fun to be had at citizens' expense. There are "street crimes" that you can attend to if you so choose, which are basically side missions not related to the main case, but these tend to be short, and have nothing at all to do with the main story, as far as I could tell, so these don't make for very interesting adventures, and by the end of the game I was just completely ignoring requests the game prompted me with to deal with street crime.

The soundtrack in the game wasn't remarkable, but at the same time that's kind of to be expected - the soundtrack was definitely faithful both to the 1940s and to the film noir genre, so I can't fault them too much for that.

All in all, L.A. Noire is a very polarized game. What it does well, it does really, really well. What it doesn't do well, however, it does quite poorly indeed. Its aesthetics and attention to detail are absolutely top-notch, but its story, characters, and gameplay leave much to be desired. What one concludes about the worth of L.A. Noire will thus depend very heavily on what one values. As I value story and characters very highly, the game's lack of creativity and interest in those areas killed it for me. One who doesn't care so much about those aspects could quite easily like the game significantly more.

The bottom line I'd give is that if you want to check out Rockstar's new facial capture technology, or if you want to experience a game that very faithfully recreates Los Angeles as it was in the 1940s, then you should definitely check out L.A. Noire. If on the other hand you're looking for an engaging detective story with great characters and a gripping narrative, then you might want to look elsewhere.

A thesis on Portal 2's ending

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WARNING: Spoilers abound for Portal 2.

So, while rewatching the ending to Portal 2 a little while back, a couple things struck me as not really fitting into the bigger picture. The more I looked into them, the more I started to feel that there was something else there that the "official" ending wasn't directly telling us. As my thought and research on the matter has finally come to a completion, I'd like to present to you the results, which form my official thesis on what was really going on in the ending to Portal 2:

[video=dnY3kGf85bMPsj7Y]

Review: Portal 2 (PC)

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Portal 2

(original review here)

11

The single greatest video game I've ever played.

(WARNING: Spoilers for the original Portal follow. Stop reading if you haven't played the original Portal and don't want it spoiled.)

I think, in order to give context for what I'm about to say, I should first give a little background. I've been playing video games for twenty-one years now. Between all the games I've bought since I moved out and the games I rented when I was living at home, I've probably played over a thousand video games by now. In addition to that, for fifteen years I've held the SNES RPG Earthbound as the greatest game ever, thinking it utterly incomprehensible that any game could ever surpass its greatness.

That day has now arrived. And the game is Portal 2. Portal 2 is now the greatest game I've ever played. A 10 just wouldn't do it justice. This one goes to 11.

A helpful diagram.

Before I open the floodgates and start talking about what this game did right, let me bring you up to speed if you're unacquainted with it or its predecessor. The main gameplay mechanic in the original Portal, which obviously returns in this game, was a portal gun that opened a blue portal and an orange portal on white walls. The two portals directly connect the two walls on which they appear: walking through one will cause you to emerge from the location of the other, and vice versa. The portals are treated just as holes in the wall: travelling through a portal with considerable momentum (such as from a fall) will give you the same momentum in the direction the other portal is pointing, as though you had just fallen through the floor into another room. This opens the game up to considerable physics-based puzzles, employing such mechanics as putting a portal at the bottom of a pit and another at the top of a wall and then falling through the former to launch yourself in the direction of the former, thereby clearing a pit in the middle of the room. The game also contained certain other objects that you needed to interact with via portals, such as boxes and turrets, which added to the puzzle potential.

That all returns in full force in Portal 2, but it's not alone: it carries with it several other newly introduced mechanics, such as a "hard light bridge", which is a beam of light that can be walked on, and "repulsion gel", which makes the floor very bouncy. All of this can, of course, be put through portals just like anything else. By the time you're putting a lot of this together, puzzles can and do get very complicated - which is all the better for one who likes a good brain-cruncher.

Whoa.

The story in the original Portal was largely very rudimentary. You played the part of Chell, a lone survivor in Aperture Laboratories, who is put through a series of tests by GlaDOS, a sentient artificial intelligence in charge of the entire facility, and one that has a rather sadistic streak. At what was to be the final puzzle, Chell finds herself heading towards an incinerator, but escapes, finds her way to GlaDOS' chamber, and destroys the machine, escaping in the process.

Portal 2 jumps into the future, where Chell has been taken back into the laboratory - but, due to malfunctions, the laboratory starts falling apart with her in the middle of it. A friendly, if twitchy, personality core named Wheatley comes to bust her out of there and escape. They very nearly make it out, but, thanks to Wheatley's incompetence, instead manage to reboot GlaDOS, who promptly begins to test Chell again. Thus Chell's second journey to escape from Aperture Laboratories begins.


This is not what you want to see when you wake up.

That's the game in a nutshell. So, what does it do right? Well, um, everything.

For starters, the puzzles are easily just as good as in the first one. All of the aspects that meshed so well from the first one are back, and are augmented with several new ones. As with any game that relies on the precise balance and synergy between its composite elements, adding new things to the equation is always tricky business. Will one of the new elements end up breaking the game? Will one dominate the puzzles, leaving little room for the other mechanics? Will one end up too specific and be seen as a one-time gimmick? These are all very important questions a designer has to ask when considering adding something new to a formula that worked, and it's obvious that Valve thought of these questions, as the answer to each of them in Portal 2 is "no". Everything Valve added in Portal 2 has a purpose, meshes and interacts well with the already-existing mechanics, and feels like it fits perfectly. In that respect, Portal 2 is exactly what a sequel should be in terms of gameplay: augmented, yet familiar; fresh and new, yet retaining the winning aspects of the old.

The noble I-wonder-what-this-does button is also back.

The story is also leaps and bounds beyond the original Portal. Of course, considering the meagre nature of the story in the original Portal, an actual existant story would've already been an improvement, but Valve pulled out all the stops.

First, there are now two characters who directly interact with the player - that being Wheatley and GlaDOS - and several other more minor brushes against sentience or other life occur during the game as well. The chemistry between the characters in the game is absolutely perfect. Whereas in the first game GlaDOS was little more than a detached voice for much of the game who provided comic relief, Wheatley and GlaDOS directly interact both with the player and with each other, to great effect, GlaDOS being the calm, sadistic evil one and Wheatley being the bumbling, excitable, friendly one. The two combine to give the player very real purpose within the game, which was something that was not present in the original Portal, in which one went through the tests at least initially more or less because they were there.

"Don't press any switch, except for the one that reads 'escape pod'. In fact, don't even look at any other switch. Well, I mean, you do have to look at every switch to see if it reads 'escape pod', but..."

Second, the narrative, as well, is miles ahead of the original Portal. While the first game did have the single plot twist in the form of GlaDOS trying to kill you halfway through, it didn't have much of interest in the story beyond that, and any narrative was more or less just an afterthought that served to tie the game together rather than being anything central. This has completely changed in Portal 2, whose story is genuinely interesting, genuinely engaging, and genuinely... well, genuine. Over the course of the game, you'll find out about Wheatley, about GlaDOS, about Aperture Laboratories, and even about things that in the first game were just purely arbitrary rules for the sake of gameplay, such as why portals could only open on white walls.

"Now, if anyone asks us about the ten thousand dead humans - I mean, of course nobody's going to ask - but if they do..."

Of course, a much stronger story would be a case of one step forward, two steps back if the increase in exposition resulted in a decrease in gameplay quality. Thus, I'm happy to report that that isn't the case. In fact, Portal 2 has the single most immersive form of storytelling that I've ever seen in a game. With two extremely minor exceptions, there are no cutscenes in the game; every single little bit of story that the game tells happens exactly as you would experience it if you were there. Characters will talk to you as you're walking by something, or after something happens, or while you're doing something, all while you still have free reign over your movements and actions.

"Oh... it's you."

A lot of the story, as well, is entirely optional. If you don't care about the story, you're welcome to ignore almost everything that the characters actually say, and it won't affect the actual gameplay. If you do care about the story, however, there is plenty to be both heard and seen - a good portion of the story is implied in scenery that you go by rather than being beaten over the head with it by characters vocalizing it. This made the progression of the story an immensely satisfying and engaging experience, as I really felt like I was a part of it as it unfolded, as opposed to being merely an observer watching it happen.

The atmosphere in the game is also incredible. As an interesting nod to the first game, the first few areas you go through are directly from the first game - except, given the length of time that's elapsed, they're all very dilapidated and overgrown. When I first came across GlaDOS' lair and found her inactive on the ground, and when I looked around the room and into the distance, I couldn't help but have a certain feeling of awe come over me, despite the logical portion of my brain telling me that it was just a game. Throughout the game, you'll find yourself in old places, new places, polished places, run-down places, high places, low places, and everything in between; the game is a marvel of level and atmospheric design.

Also, rubble.

The clever and dry writing from the first game is also back in full effect. GlaDOS is the same as ever, and Wheatley provides an absolutely perfect foil to her demeanor. In addition, prerecorded announcements at the beginning let the player know exactly what kind of game they were about to play ("This next test applies the principles of momentum to portals. If the laws of physics no longer apply in the future, God help you."). The game is funny at times, serious at others, in between at even further points, but one thing remains the same: it is always, always pitch-perfect. It's not so funny that the more detailed narrative becomes a bore, yet it's also not so serious that some charm from the first game is lost. It in short blends intrigue with laughter to wonderful effect.

Just like old times.

If there were one place where I'd imagine people might find fault in the game, that would probably be its length. The single-player mode can probably be completed in a matter of about eight hours. However, there are a ton of secret things to find in the game; there is a co-op multiplayer mode that is excellent fun with a friend that takes about the same length of time to complete; and, hell, I almost already want to play the game a second time. As such, I really can't fault the game for its length. It did exactly what it wanted to do in the time it allotted for itself, and in my view, it neither outstayed its welcome nor left me hanging after ending too soon. And even if it had been genuinely only eight hours in length, it would've still been the greatest eight hours I'd ever played.

The environment in the game is complemented, as well, by the game's soundtrack. The music in the game is very much atmospheric as opposed to prominent and driving (with one exception, in which a driving song really works), but it's very moody, and sets the stage very well, conjuring up just the right emotion of ominousness, uncertainty, or apprehension, to serve as a perfect counterbalance to the humorous quirks of the characters involved.

"We're probably going to have to go through her chamber... and she's probably going to kill us, so... option A: we sit here and do nothing, forever."

There isn't really much more I can say about this game. I've already given the summary: Portal 2 is the greatest game I've ever played. If you enjoyed Portal, for God's sake get this game right this instant. If you didn't enjoy Portal, Portal 2 might just convince you to like it (although it might not, of course). If you haven't played Portal yet, you should try it out if it at all interests you before coming to this game - but don't spend too long playing the original, as every minute spent playing the first is a minute you're depriving yourself of the second.

WHEEEEEEEEE

Review: Okamiden (DS)

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Okamiden

(original review here)

8.0

A bit too much like its predecessor, but provides good fun and cuteness galore.

Perhaps it might be time to rename Nippon the Land of the Setting Sun - only nine months after all the lands were plunged into darkness by the forces of evil, the evil forces are at work once again. Amaterasu vanquished and banished the evil forces of Yami, but now they're back in full effect - and now it's up to her son, Chibiterasu, to save the day once again and save Nippon from its fate, this time from a brand new threat.

In a smaller box.

The story, at least initially, bears a lot of resemblance to the original Okami. When I say the world is plunged into darkness again, I mean that quite literally - Chibiterasu must reprise his mother's role in making the guardian saplings in the world bloom once more in order to banish evil from the lands and release the people of the land from darkness. Along the course of his journey, he'll team up with several different partners, visit lands both familiar and new, and ultimately confront a new ultimate evil.

The story in Okamiden is significantly more character-driven than it was in Okami. Characters in Okami were more or less one-dimensional and did not experience any significant character development (with a few exceptions - e.g., Issun), whereas Okamiden fleshes out quite a lot of things from Okami and develops its new characters quite a bit more than Okami. A few things in Okami are explained in Okamiden in a rather clever fashion, as well, such as how the Goryeo sank and why the magic mallet was present in its cargo, which is something that I quite enjoyed seeing. Overall, I felt the story in Okamiden was improved a fair bit over Okami - but, even so, it still was not really the main attraction. I will say, though, that it got significantly better as the game progressed, which was good to see.

The gameplay in Okamiden is very similar to that in Okami. As Chibiterasu, you travel across Nippon, interacting with the denizens therein and solving their problems with brush powers - abilities that have you draw on a canvas overlain on top of your view of the world, and which create different effects within that world depending on the shape drawn on the canvas. For example, drawing a straight line on the canvas will slice through anything the line intersects, while drawing a bomb shape (a circle plus a line) will cause a bomb to magically appear in the field. You also encounter enemies along the way, which trigger entry into a battle scene, in which Chibi can either hack and slash away at the enemy with his Divine Instruments (mirrors, beads, or swords), or use his brush skills to attack them. Chibi can't use unlimited brush skills, though - they drain his ink pots, which can be refilled by either using inventory items or by picking up ink pots from breaking jars in the field - so brush skills shouldn't be just spammed like crazy. One very notable difference between Okami and Okamiden as well is that the ink pots don't refill automatically anymore, so using them sparingly is even more important.

Bloom! Bloom, I say!

Those who have played Okami will probably remember the praise system from that game - restoring trees and cursed areas and helping out creatures generated praise for Amaterasu, which could then be spent to augment Amaterasu's abilities (e.g., increasing her health and ink pot capacity, increasing her wallet size, and so forth). That system is back in Okamiden, but it's been quite considerably streamlined from the first - now, instead of spending praise, the game just has a "praise meter" that fills up as Chibi gets praise, and when it gets completely full, Chibi automatically gets either another unit of health (or solar energy) or ink pot. The other upgrades from Okami are basically already in effect - as far as I can tell, the wallet Chibi starts with is already bottomless - so this wasn't a big deal, although I do have to admit I liked the freedom to choose how to upgrade from the first game.

Much as in the original Okami, Chibi acquires his brush skills from brush gods - deities that are much like Chibi in appearance - white animals with red markings. Even if the player already knows what a brush skill looks like, it's not until Chibi actually meets with the brush god that that skill can actually be used. All of the brush skills from Okami reprise their roles, along with two new brush skills as well, the most significant of which being the ability to control one's partner - if Chibi's with a partner, he can have that partner dismount and can then make that partner walk in the field by drawing a line from that partner to where he'd like him or her to go. I have to admit that I was actually a bit disappointed by what I felt was an overreliance on gameplay from Okami here, though - rediscovering all of the brush skills that we had already seen from Okami was lacking in the mystery and intrigue that the original had when each brush skill was new and fresh. Still, it manages to keep it interesting by having Chibi learn the brush skills not from the original brush gods from Okami, but by their children - children which are, much like Chibi, SO ****ING CUTE.

Resistance is futile.

The music and graphics are also definitely in full effect from the original, too. The leap from the Wii to the DS definitely incurred some logistical hurdles - the distance you can go between having to load new areas is much, much smaller, and Shinshu field (for example) now has to be divided into three parts instead of being one big expanse - but the styIe heavily infused with traditional Japanese art is still very much intact both aurally and visually, and is very much still the treat that it was in the original Okami.

All in all, Okamiden's biggest flaw is, in my opinion, the fact that it borrows too much from its predecessor - the vast majority of the brush skills you acquire are those already seen in the first one; the gameplay is quite similar to the first one; the premise is quite similar to the first one; about half of the settings in the game are from the first one; and overall the game feels as though it could have differentiated itself from its predecessor much more than it did, and could have further built upon the world of Nippon much more than it did. Still, though, taken unto itself, its story is good; its gameplay is solid (the brush skills feel more natural than ever before on the DS); it's a treat for the senses; and it's an all-around good time. If you enjoyed Okami and wanted more, you should do yourself a favor and check it out. If you didn't enjoy Okami, on the other hand, it's not going to offer anything more to win you over. If you haven't played Okami, then it'd probably be best to start there - this game is a direct sequel, after all, and a lot of things in it will be better understood by those who have played the original.

NOT Leaving GameSpot - April Fools!

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UPDATE: I posted a blog entry yesterday in which I claimed to be leaving GameSpot, but it was, of course, an April Fools' joke. The blog entry posted yesterday follows.

----------------

Every now and then in life, something just happens to cause your brain to "click", so to speak. Yesterday was, I'm afraid, one of those days.

I bought a 3DS the other day, but to be honest, the feeling that I felt when I was playing games on it was one I've felt for a long time before that. I had hoped that it was just a passing feeling, or the feeling of a generation of gaming that was just getting old and needed replacement. However, after having gotten the 3DS and finding no change in my feelings, I'm just going to have to come to grips with a simple fact: I don't like playing video games anymore. I'm just too old for it. I suppose it shouldn't really be a big surprise - I'm almost 26 years old now, after all - but it's still an unfortunate feeling. I wish it would go away, but it won't. So, here I am.

I know there are a lot of people here who are older than me. To them, I can only ask whether they've asked themselves whether they really want to spend the rest of their lives doing this menial activity. At some point in time, things that you did while growing up just don't cut it anymore. I'm sorry, but I can't keep the fantasy up any longer. I, and really everyone else around my age, need to just face it: the magic is gone. Our childhoods aren't coming back. And, frankly, the sooner we can accept that and move on, the better.

I've had a good time here, but times change. People grow up. I've put it off for a long time, but I have to face the fact that I'm not getting any younger. I've got so much more to do in life than kiddy stuff like video games. It's been fun, guys. Adios.

Why reviews are (almost) worthless

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By now you may have seen the fact that Pokemon Black/White, the flagship games for Generation V, received a 7.5 on GameSpot. That's the lowest score a generational flagship Pokemon game has ever received on GameSpot; the others (Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, Diamond/Pearl) received scores of 8.8, 8.8, 8.1, and 8.5, respectively. The main reason for the low score was that, as the review put it, "It's the same Pokemon formula you've seen before." Now, I could take this time to note (as some in System Wars already have) that that didn't exactly stop Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops from getting 9s (nor did it stop, well, every other Pokemon game from getting scores in the 8s, with no clear previous downward trend). However, I'm not going to do that. Why? Simple: because that would miss the real issue that no one seems to recognize. The real issue is that all of this is completely worthless information.

That Pokemon Black/White received a 7.5 from GameSpot is worthless information. That the reviewer would have preferred it if the game were more original is also worthless information. The reason why it's worthless information becomes apparent if you ask yourself a simple question: if you were a prospective buyer, how would that information help you make the decision regarding whether or not you should buy the game? The answer is none. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

ALL ABOARD THE NO-INFO EXPRESS

"But wait a second, Gabu," you might be saying. "If a game gets 7s across the board and another game gets 9s across the board, doesn't that mean that the second game is better?" No. No, it doesn't. That means that the average reviewer liked the second game more than the first game. That is literally all it means in itself. "Now hold on," you're probably now saying, "it certainly means that I'm more likely to enjoy the second game than the first!" Perhaps. Perhaps not. That all depends on what you like and how what you like compares to what the average reviewer likes. Even if a game receiving 9s instead of 7s does mean that you're more likely to enjoy it, then it's still the case that all you've done is used the average review score as a proxy for what really matters in a review. More on that later.

Let me go to a personal example for a second. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was one of the most well-received games not only just in this generation but also of all time. It received 10s or near-10s across the board, including a much-coveted 10 from GameSpot. Reviewers couldn't stop gushing about how incredible a game it was. So that means it's a totally awesome game, right?

Nope. Not from my perspective, at least. I played it and got around 80-90 stars in it, but on few occasions did I ever actually enjoy the game in a "wow, this is awesome" sort of manner. The game felt aimless and pointless to me, and its lack of any kind of narrative, sustained focus, or internal motivation for what Mario was doing in the game made it a difficult game for me to play. If I were to give it a score out of 10 to denote the extent to which I liked the game, I'd probably give it a 7. At best.

Why do you care about this? You don't. That's the whole point: you don't and shouldn't care about whether or not I personally enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2. If you're interested in buying it, what you want to know is whether you would enjoy the game. That's what a review is supposed to tell you. Everything else is either a proxy for that information at best or self-indulgent fluff at worst.

So if all of that is worthless, then are reviews as a whole worthless? Well, no. Now we come to the "almost" in this article's title. There are two, and indeed only two, pieces of information that are actually useful for a prospective buyer in a review. They are as follows:

1. What a game promised to deliver or what the game was designed to be; and

2. How well the game delivered on that.

That's literally it. If you don't want what a game is supposed to deliver, then you obviously aren't going to care about it no matter what - even if it delivers what it is very well, you still aren't going to want it. On the other hand, if you do want what a game is supposed to deliver, then obviously of paramount importance is whether or not it actually delivers. What you don't care about is whether or not the reviewer wanted what the game was supposed to deliver. That information, despite being a pivotally important part of the review score - the question of "did I enjoy it?" is obviously crucial to one's video gaming experience* - is utterly useless information, and a review that dwells on that topic for long (and many often do so in a very subtle fashion) is a bad review, plain and simple. A good review, and one to which you should pay attention, is one that effectively and clearly provides both of these pieces of information, regardless of anything else it might contain.

Doing it wrong: a case study.

Why am I saying all of this? The reason is mostly that I see far too many people out there who take reviews far too seriously. Some take reviews as absolute gospel truth and refuse categorically to play any game that scores lower than an arbitrary level either on GameSpot or in the aggregate. Others take negative reviews of a game they liked, or positive reviews of a game they didn't, as an egregious offense taken personally to which I half expect a response akin to Inigo Montoya's in The Princess Bride. Both of these responses are completely self-detrimental. The fact of the matter, and the dirty secret of the world of game reviews, is that the opinions of reviewers really don't matter. The only thing that matters is what the game wanted to provide and how well it did so. A game that provides something well will appeal to anyone who wants what it provides, and all the 6s in the world should not dissuade someone from picking it up who is confident that that is the case.

So the next time you read a review, keep in mind the above two points. If the review provides both pieces of information, then you're set, and you have everything you need, regardless of the review score. If the review doesn't, then it sucks, and you should find a better review.

Above all, don't worry about it so much. As The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy put it:

*Of course, one could argue - as I'm sure some will - that a review can be "objective" in its scoring, and can consider such things as technical accomplishments in a fashion external to the way in which they subjectively contributed to the extent to which the game could be enjoyed. However, I would argue not only that this is basically impossible, as was demonstrated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by Jim Sterling of Destructoid, but also that to attempt to do so is being fundamentally dishonest to your readers who expect such an impetus for the score. At the end of the day, the score in a review is and will always be either a completely subjective reflection of the extent to which the game was enjoyed by the reviewer or an attempted "objective" measurement that ignores the fact that a game's purpose is to be enjoyed, and which is thus probably basically meaningless on all counts.

Review: Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360)

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Dead Space 2

(original review here)

8.0

A good game, but it takes no risks and isn't that interesting after a while.

DISCLAIMER: This review is solely concerned with the single player mode in Dead Space 2. As I was completely uninterested in the multiplayer in Dead Space 2, I did not play it prior to writing this review, and it was not taken into account in this review. If you're primarily or substantially interested in the multiplayer, this review will not help with that. Also, contains spoilers for Dead Space 1.

It's just not Isaac Clarke's day, it seems. In Dead Space 1, he was sent to check up on the USG Ishimura to check up on it, and very quickly found himself in the midst of a horrific scene: dead bodies have been reanimated into Necromorphs, twisted, lethal versions of human corpses that viciously attack living humans. They're the product of an infection whose sole purpose for its existence is self-perpetuation: most Necromorphs kill humans to produce more dead bodies for infection, while Infectors spread the infection to any corpses it finds. Oh, and along the way, he finds out that the girlfriend he thought he was coming to see is dead. Yeah, his life pretty much sucks.

Space facepalms: when Earthly facepalms just won't cut it.

Dead Space 2 fast-forwards three years into the future. Isaac Clarke is now being held in The Sprawl, a large space station near one of Saturn's moons, where Isaac is now considered delirious and delusional and has been committed. He escapes, however, when the asylum quickly becomes completely overrun with Necromorphs, thrusting Isaac back into the fray doing what he does best: chopping limbs off of reanimated, twisted corpses. Throughout the course of the game, he also must deal with various other obstacles, including other humans with a tenuous grip on sanity, his hallucinations of his dead girlfriend, and the Marker, a gargantuan relic that is at the heart of the entire Necromorph terror.

Hang in there, Isaac!! Ha! Get it!?

The gameplay in Dead Space 2 is almost identical to Dead Space 1, so if you've played that game, then you'll already know almost entirely what to expect. You play as Isaac Clarke in a third-person perspective, who can hold up to four weapons at any given time. You have control of kinesis and stasis modules, which allow you, respectively, to telekinetically move and throw objects, and to slow objects down to a crawl. You can purchase items and sell unwanted items at automated shops located throughout the world, and can upgrade your weapons, RIG (armor), and stasis module at "benches". Finally, you can also find schematics throughout the game that, when brought to the store, unlock new weapons, armor, or items for purchase.

The combat mechanics are almost entirely unchanged from Dead Space 1, too - Necromorphs' big weakness is still severed limbs, so Isaac needs to use his weapons (which, conveniently, all excel at slicing) to literally rip them limb from limb in order to conserve ammunition. One notable upgrade from Dead Space 1, however, is that the interface used to locate Isaac's next objective can now also tell you where the nearest shop, bench, and save station is, which is always helpful to know. There are also four difficulty levels, ranging from easy to certifiably insane (seriously - I won't spoil the particulars of the hardest difficulty level, but I don't think it's a stretch to call it suicide-inducing).

For severed limbs, 9 out of 10 CEC engineers recommend the plasma cutter.

If it's starting to get a bit repetitive to hear me say how much this game is like Dead Space 1, that's not really an accident. Because it's really, really like Dead Space 1. It has some new weapons, some new faces, and some new places to go, but for the most part it plays just like Dead Space 1.

In fact, that's probably by far Dead Space 2's biggest flaw. Throughout most of the game, I couldn't help but feel as though this was a sequel that was made because people wanted to make it, not because people needed to make it. Dead Space 2 takes effectively no risks, does not depart from what was established in Dead Space 1 in any meaningful manner, and unfortunately becomes increasingly uncreative and predictable as time goes on.

For starters, the game is really not scary at all. It has its share of things that jump out at you and give you a start, certainly, but it has few things in it that are truly scary, and even those that are genuinely scary tend to overstay their welcome by the end. The game has effectively two ways in which it tries to scare you: enemies jump out at you out of nowhere, or Isaac's scary girlfriend with no eyes shows up again. These methods of creating tension and causing fear are effective at the start, but by the end of the game I was honestly correctly calling every single place where an enemy was going to jump out at me before it happened, and, as B.B. King might say, the thrill was gone.

BEWARE!!! Be- oh, come on, you're not even paying attention anymore...

The encounters with Nicole, Isaac's girlfriend, also couldn't help but get tedious by the end, too. The hallucination is at first genuinely unnerving and scary - Nicole is bloody, and light pours out of her mouth and empty eye sockets - but by the umpteenth time it shows up, it too has more or less completely lost any power to frighten that it might have had. Really, as a whole, the way in which the designers of the game seemed entirely uninterested in coming up with new ways to scare the player makes the game seem less of a bona fide survival horror, and more just an action game with horror elements.

That's not to say that the game is bad, though, mind you. Its gameplay is definitely as solid as the first one; it never gets outright boring or anything like that; and it certainly has its moments that keep it from falling below the threshold of "great" in my mind. If someone's looking for a great action game that will hold their interest, then this game certainly isn't one that will disappoint in that respect. The game is just uninventive to a fault - it relies on the tried and true almost the whole way through, without any moments that I would single out as unbridled brilliance. It is what it is, and nothing more.

OHHHH DIS IS BAD

The graphical and sound design in the game was definitely another highlight, too - although the tension in the game was quite significantly hampered by the utter predictability of sudden enemy attacks, the atmosphere the game created in Dead Space 1 is still very much alive, kicking, and effective in Dead Space 2, right down to subtle, effective touches such as making the sound very muffled when in a vacuum. The musical soundtrack in the game, however, was not as noteworthy; in trying to recall the game's soundtrack, I cannot in fact pick out one single memorable moment.

All in all, Dead Space 2 is a pretty darn good game, one that certainly is likely to satisfy those who enjoyed Dead Space 1. It does little to advance the IP and starts to outstay its welcome by the end, but it's nonetheless a solid action game that certainly delivers plenty of atmosphere and carnage. If you liked Dead Space 1, check it out. If you didn't, then there is likely not a whole lot Dead Space 2 is going to do to win you over. And if you didn't play Dead Space 2, then, well, you should probably start with Dead Space 1, considering how this game is a direct sequel to the plot in Dead Space 1.

"It's gonna be another one of those days..."

Unsung greats of gaming, part 15: Blazing Dragons

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Author's note: This is part of a series in which Wootex and I highlight games that are fairly unknown but nonetheless awesome. They are both informative and entertaining, or at least Wootex's are.

Previous edition: 14 - Mega Man Legends

Past editions: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0

[video=ISQ2nzT_5bMPvTXf]

Blazing Dragons

Blazing Dragons box art

System: Playstation, Saturn
Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Developers: The Illusions Gaming Company
Release Date: October 31, 1996

What is it?

I'll come right out and say it: Blazing Dragons is definitely not a perfect game. It wasn't received that well either commercially or critically, and I'm sure that some who've played it might disagree with its placement among the lists of "unsung greats of gaming". For one thing, this game is way too short, although that's mitigated by the fact that one can find it today on Amazon for like five bucks. Still, the good part of what it offers is sufficiently brilliant that I see no reason to let its negatives disqualify it from this list. The fact that it holds a special place in my heart, being that I love dragons, doesn't hurt either.

Blazing Dragons is the brainchild of Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones, and is a pretty standard point-and-click adventure game in the general styIe of the path first trodden by games like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. Its premise is more or less a parody of the cIassic King Arthur mythos: the main setting is the kingdom of Camelhot, led by old King All-Fire and protected by the (Dragon) Knights of the Square Table. In this game, the dragons are the good guys, while the villains, Sir George and Mervin the Magician, are scheming, diabolical humans in the nearby Castle Grim.

THAT'S RACIST

As for the player, you play the part of Flicker (seen above at right), a young dragon inventor who lives in Castle Camelhot, who longs for the day he can marry Princess Flame, King All-Fire's daughter. Only problem is, he's not a knight - he's not even a squire, for that matter - and only a dragon knight can win Flame's hand in marriage in an upcoming tournament being held to determine King All-Fire's successor. So your quest is more or less in two parts: thwart the plans of the evil Sir George and Mervin the Magician, and become a dragon knight in order to marry your beloved before another knight gets his hands on her. And, of course, have hearty laughs along the way - Blazing Dragons is a very, very funny game.

Within the game, there are four primary actions a player can take: movement, looking at objects, talking to other characters, and picking up or interacting with objects. Over the course of the game, Flicker will also come into possession of a large number of items, from a candelabra to cubic zirconium to Flicker's tail-warmer. Flicker must combine those actions and the myriad items in the game with his wits - well, your wits - to solve the puzzles in the game, win the day for all dragondom in Camelhot, and get the girl, all in the course of a couple days. Not bad for a little dragon.

What's great about it?

That this game is the brainchild of Terry Jones and stars voice work from people including the likes of Jones himself and Cheech Marin should really give you a sense of what you're going to get from Blazing Dragons. If you aren't familiar with Monty Python - the act with which Jones is most associated - it's widely considered one of the pinnacles of British humor in existence today. And, true to form, the surrealist humor that is the hallmark of Monty Python is very much alive and well within Blazing Dragons, making this game one of the funniest I've ever played. Jokes run the gamut from the clever to the abjectly absurd, but one thing they never are is dull.

The puzzles in the game are also often quite clever and well done. There's a certain running joke in games like this that refers to "adventure game logic", wherein the solution to puzzles makes no logical sense whatsoever and where the player couldn't possibly have figured it out except by just selecting every item in order and rubbing each item on everything in the world until something happens. Fortunately, the puzzles in Blazing Dragons don't usually take on this form - although the answer is not always obvious, it generally makes sense once you figure it out, and makes you feel all smart inside for having figured it out.

Breaking the fourth wall: check.

The characters in the game are also great. You've got all kinds in both the dragon and the human world, from depressed Italian chefs to lazy Scottish union workers, to an Indian guy trying to invent baseball but having trouble with the way the bat should look. The characters'... well, character, is also significantly buoyed by some excellent voice acting in the game - which is a rather good thing, considering that you'll be listening to one character or another talk for pretty much most of the game. Although most characters are only in a couple scenes, and as such are not really developed very much, they nonetheless are excellent facilitators of facetiousness.

And with that, there isn't really much else to say about the game, to be honest. Point-and-click adventure games are basically by nature simple unless there's some gimmick involved. They either work, or they don't; they're funny, or they're not. Blazing Dragons works and is funny - so what else can one ask for? (Well, perhaps one can ask for more...)

The manliest dragon to have ever lived.

The bottom line

Blazing Dragons' biggest flaw is definitely its length, or lack thereof. If you're clever, you could probably finish it in a day or two. Still, though, look at how damn cheap it is on Amazon - you almost can't afford not to play it! And despite its lack of length, the content that does exist is comedic brilliance; in my twenty years of playing games, I'm not hesitant to restate that this is one of the funniest games I've ever played. So try it out - what've you got to lose?

And while I'm at it...

This is unorthodox for this particular feature, but I should also note that Blazing Dragons wasn't just a video game - it was also a cartoon that ran for two seasons (twenty-six episodes total), one which was also under the direct supervision of the genius of Terry Jones. And, much like the video game, the cartoon was woefully unknown and underappreciated, too. Don't let its Saturday-morning-esque visuals fool you - this isn't one that's just for the kids; it is, much like its video game counterpart, one of the most brilliant and charming shows I've ever seen. It only bears a loose resemblance to the game in appearance - some of the characters are different, and all of the characters' designs are radically different - but its heart and soul remains the same as ever. Check it out as well!