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Blog Review - Gex: Enter the Gecko (1998, PSX)

When a game warrants a sequel, there seems to be a strange notion that producing a game that's "more of the same" is a bad thing. This is a concept that has befuddled me, as it often feels as though sequels attempt to detach themselves from what made their predecessor successful. Obviously, this is a generalization, and a frequent debate amongst critics, but I typically take the position that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The original Gex is a sidescrolling platformer that I thoroughly enjoyed, and offered a solid experience regardless minor issues. After completing it, I was craving for more levels to explore, more puzzles to solve, and more secrets to discover; therefore, I was quite excited to play it's sequel, Gex: Enter the Gecko (also known as Gex 64: Enter the Gecko on Nintendo 64). My hope was that it would offer an experience that fixed the minor flaws, and replicated the core experience of the original, but my hopes were not fulfilled. Rather, Enter the Gecko took a rather dramatic departure from the quirky 2D experience of Gex, and to its disadvantage, dissociated itself from what made the original game so enjoyable.

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The most prominent thing a Gex fan will notice upon starting to play Enter the Gecko is how the game is no longer a sidescroller, but rather, is a fully 3D platformer. Having been released in 1998, EtG was produced during the period when developers began realizing the potential of the generation's upgraded hardware, and 3D platformers were becoming the latest fad in gaming. Having jumped on the bandwagon, this was the first attempt at a 3D platformer by Crystal Dynamics, who had built up a reputation for creating sidescrollers such as the original Gex, as well as the Pandemonium series. In the game, the primary goal of levels is to complete specific tasks in order to acquire red remotes, which unlock new levels once you've accumulated enough. Each level also has two silver remotes (one hidden in the level, and another requiring you to obtain collectibles throughout the level) which unlock Bonus Bonanzas, which reward you with gold remotes that unlock Secret Stations (extra levels). Each level, including bonus levels and boss fights, carry themes relating to commonly recurring television/movie genres, and feature witty names like Frankensteinfeld, www.dotcom.com, and Fine Tooning (though some of these themes are genres are rehashed in multiple levels). Although this all sounds fine and dandy in writing, the lack of experience from the Crystal Dynamics shows in the full product, making it difficult to credit them for taking Gex in a new direction due to the multitudes of faults that detract from the entire experience, and suck the fun out of the game.

It should be noted that the game does have some strong attributes that shouldn't be ignored, and it's evident that this was not a mere attempt to cash in on an established license. The levels in the game are quite large, and there is plenty to be obtained in every level, making it a good value. It took me a couple dozen hours to beat the game in its entirety, completing fifteen basic levels with 1-3 red remotes to acquire in each, and ten unique bonuses, along with a number of bosses and secret levels as well. The game also does a better job at carrying the TV theme of the series than the original did; between the detailing of the environments and the costumes the Gex wears that match the themes of levels, it makes the game quite visually appealing. The graphics feel polished with a steady framerate and lack of pop-up, and it definitely set the bar back in the day in terms of what a 3D platformer should look like. Although the levels are ultimately linear, they have a free-roaming feel with plenty of forks in the road and secret areas to discover, which make them generally well designed. Like the original, the controls are also considerably responsive, and Gex has an expanded moveset to deal with enemies as he navigates through the zany environments of the media dimension.

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Toon TV feels like you've been injected into an episode of Loony Toons.

Although the game has a solid core, there is an absurdly large number of hinderances that prevent Enter the Gecko from being an immersive experience. The most obvious thing that kills the game is the inexcusably bad camera, which may be one of the worst I've ever experienced in a 3D platformer. There are three different camera options, being automatic, semi-automatic, and manual, but regardless of which option you choose, the camera will constantly have a mind of its own, and will attempt to adjust itself in finicky pre-programmed ways. This would be less of an issue if the game's levels were linear, but because they are free-roaming, the automatic camera does a poor job predicting where you want to go. It is common for the camera to radically swing in platforming sequences while attempting to adjust you to face the next platform, but can often cause you to jump in a totally wrong direction than you intend, making it more hexing than helpful. Manually manhandling the camera is hardly an option either, because if Gex is remotely close to a wall, it will lock movement of the camera, and will not only be unresponsive, but also make an irritating clown noise signaling you can't control it (I heard this sound a few hundred times in my playthrough). In addition, it also has a tendency of getting glitched behind the environment, or centered too close to Gex such that you can only see a few feet in front of him, and typically can't be resolved unless you enter a new area, or kill yourself.

Another major issue with EtG is that it ditches many of the most memorable gameplay elements that made the original Gex such a successful game. One of the most notable letdowns was the lack of surfaces for Gex to climb on. Only specific surfaces can be climbed, and these surfaces are not only rare (there are entire levels that do not have a single climbable wall), but difficult to distinguish from regular walls due to inconsistent textures. Besides that, many of these climbing sections are simply a linear path, and hold no element of exploration like in the original. This is a major contrast to its sidescrolling counterpart, which allowed you to climb essentially any surface. In addition, the original featured edible fly power-ups that gave you special abilities like elemental attacks, speed boosts, invincibility, etc.. These still exist in EtG, now in the form of small TVs that release a fly when attacked. However, there are only four of these types of TVs; green and purple ones serve as your compulsory hit point and free-life suppliers, while red and blue ones give Gex fire and ice powers (though there is hardly any notable difference between the two powers). The thing is, these powers are underwelming, doing little more than give Gex a minor speed boost and limited invincibility, and are often not even worth going out of your way to acquire.

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It's often hard to distinguish which walls can, and cannot be climbed on.

Considering how EtG's gameplay is such a divergence of its predecessor's, one of the few aspects that warrant the game holding the Gex license is Crystal Dynamics solid effort in maintaining the charming nature of the game's quick-witted mascot. Most notably, the game reinstates the comical one-liners which the series is heavily branded off of, and Dana Gould returns once again as the voice of Gex. Throughout the game you can expect to hear Gex constantly making references towards 80's and 90's popular culture, typically relating to the theme of whatever level you may be playing through. In general, these references are no more or less entertaining than they were in the original, and the value that Gex's banter adds to the experience depends on the players' tastes. However, it is pretty evident that the references are directed towards an older demographic (even older in current day, considering a decade and a half has passed since the game was released), and as someone from Generation Y, I found it difficult to fully appreciate the game's niche wit. As well, I can't help but feel a tad offput by the backstory due to the fact that Gex's motivation to reenter the media dimension, and take his arch-enemy Rez yet again, stems merely from being bribed with money. It feels like a bit of a slap in the face, having saved his life in the original, for him to be so willing to put himself in danger once again.

Aside from Gex being such an opportunely dynamic mascot, there is very little that sets the EtG apart from it's competition in the genre. As a matter of fact, Enter the Gecko feels like it intentionally strives to be a strange hybrid of the popular platformers at the time. For example, the game alludes to Super Mario 64 with pre-level hints towards a remote in the level, and to Banjo-Kazooie with a similar level exiting sequence, to name a couple of examples. The ironic thing is, these inclusions actually feel out of place in Gex, and don't add any depth. Things like forcing you to exit levels after acquiring red remotes feel completely unnecessary, forcing you to start from the beginning of the level multiple times, and resets your count towards the silver remote for acquiring collectibles. Seemingly simple things like supplying an adequate number of checkpoints in the later levels, and ensuring proper hit detection when attacking enemies seemed to have been considered negligible, which makes an already challenging platformer into a frustrating experience. At times it hardly feels like the game was playtested, especially in levels from the Rocket Channel genre, which situates you in space with a limited air supply, requiring you to navigate through speedily while still dealing with the unpredictable camera and indistinguishable climbing sections, yet a single slip-up can easily result in instant death. I appreciate difficult games, but EtG tends to be more cheap than challenging, which will make it hard for even the most patient of gamers to not feel defeated at times.

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Can someone please explain why there's gravity in space?

Gex: Enter the Gecko had a solid enough foundation to produce a great 3D platformer. It is technologically sound, features a distinctly memorable character, and had great momentum by being the successor of a well-received title. Regardless, I found it to be a real disappointment, and most critics hold the same view as I do, though the game does hold an surprisingly large number of supporters. Since the game has aged, and I lie outside the targeted demographic, the game's faults are much more prominent to me than they might have been otherwise, so I can appreciate why my view on this game may contrast with others'. I doubt I'll revisit the game, and I would have a difficult time recommending it, but it was definitely a fulfilling accomplishment to fully complete the game. Sadly, I can't help but wonder what could have been, had the second (and third) entry in the series stuck to its 2D roots. It felt like Enter the Gecko was destined to fail as a result of Crystal Dynamic's approach towards reinventing Gex, taking an innovative 2D sidescroller, and attempting to replicate the success of other 3D platformers while forgetting what had made Gex such a nifty game.

Blog Review - Gex (1995, PSX)

In the history of the platforming games, there have been thousands of different titles that have made their influence on what the genre has evolved to become today. Even though modern platformers have advanced both conceptually and technologically since the days of Pitfall, there is one fundamental element that all games from this genre still share. This element is a memorable mascot. Many of the games which I most vividly recall from my childhood featured characters that intrigued me with a culmination of their backstory, charm, and abilities. Gex, a feisty and loud-mouthed gecko who starred in a total of five games (three on consoles and two on Game Boy handhelds), is a textbook example of a gaming mascot who makes a lasting impression. I recently had the opportunity to make a playthrough of the trilogy of console releases, and am planning to post blog reviews of all three games in sequential order. This blog will be starting things off with the original Gex, which was released on 3DO, PC, PS (the version which I played), and Saturn. This is actually the only game from the series which I owned and played during my youth, though I found the game too difficult to make it far as a child. I did, however, have vivid memories of the earlier stages, and had still invested a lot of time into the game.

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Most people probably recognize the Gex being a series 3D platformers due to the fact that two out of the three console releases were, indeed, based in 3D environments. However, the original Gex is actually a sidescrolling 2D platformer, and stands apart considerably from the departure its sequels took. The game begins with a FMV of our star, Gex, watching television while lounging, and happens eats a fly that is buzzing about (after all, a gecko's diet consists primarily of insects). Little did he know, the fly was a decoy that was sent by Rez, lord of the media dimension, who intends to turn Gex into the new network mascot. Having fallen for Rez's trap, Gex is pulled into his own TV set, and is sent into a world where cheesy 70's TV shows come to retire. From there you are sent on to traverse a total of six different worlds, where you must enter individual levels, find the hidden remote, and successfully reach the end of the level in order to kill TVs and move closer to helping Gex escape. The game only has one other FMV scene (awarded for completing the game), and considering the strong television theme that the game carries, the actual plot of the game leaves a lot to be desired, and although it doesn't take much away from the game, it just seems like a bit of underutilized potential.

On the surface, Gex doesn't seem much different than your average 2D platformer. Throughout the game there are enemies you need to deal with, power-ups that can grant you abilities like invincibility or fire/ice/electric breath, as well as tricky hazards and environmental dangers you must avoid. However, what makes the gameplay really memorable is Gex's ability to climb nearly any wall or surface in the game, whether it be a wall from Gex's sidescrolling viewpoint, or the background of the on the surface of the screen. This adds a whole new dimension into the layout of the levels, where climbing is not only mandatory to get past some obstacles, but encouraged throughout the game, as there are multitudes of secrets to be found in every level. Many levels are just as vertical as they are horizontal, and the game contains several fairly inventive puzzles. The controls while climbing are just as sharp as when Gex is on flat ground, and although climbing may take a few levels to get used to, you will often find yourself climbing through levels more often than just walking. Still, the advantage of climbing walls doesn't make things too easy, since there are equal hazards on the walls that prevent you from riding the ceiling to the end of the level, and levels are smartly designed so that most challenges can't just simply be bypassed by changing your route.

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Gex's wall climbing ability adds depth to the layout of levels.

While Gex's canny ability to climb his way out of trouble is a definite staple of his character, his talkative mouth is also another of one of his most prominent attributes, for better or for worse. The game brands itself with over 300 one-liners and sound effects by HBO comedian Dana Gould, with the majority of them being in reference to television pop culture. Some of the references are easy to pick up on, while others are a lot more niche, and may potentially leave you scratching your head and feeling rather lost if you're of young age, or not a seasoned television connoisseur. Considering how most of the references are from 80's and early 90's television, a lot of the references are also rather outdated, and are potentially harder to really pick up on in modern times. As well, Gex spouts out a line probably every 15-20 seconds, so unless you manage to play through the game knowing exactly where you're going and don't encounter any setbacks, you're bound to hear Gex repeat lines he has already said at least a few times. This is especially the case if you're having trouble with a segment of a level, as he'll likely repeat the same lines over and over again, and can quickly grow more annoying than comical. Ultimately, it's a matter of taste. I found that while these lines did not add much to the core experience, but rarely took away from it either, though I do applaud Crystal Dynamics for taking the risk implementing Gex's voice samples seeing that this type of comedy in games generally wasn't well received in games prior to Gex.

Although most of Gex's lines fit the television theme of the game, it sometimes feels the theme isn't maintained in a lot of the game's environments. There are six worlds in the game, each associated with specific genres such as New Toonland and Kung-Fu Theatre. However, there's not much that defines these environments as part of a TV show, and most levels feel rather bland in terms of textures. These textures don't vary much in levels with the same genre, and the same can be said of the music, though most of the tunes are catchy enough to forgive being used in multiple levels. Thankfully, the mediocre ascetics of Gex's world still don't prevent the game from being an immersing experience. Even though Gex's moveset remains the same during the course of the game, there are new challenges throughout that make use of his abilities in new and imaginative ways. The game has a good learning curve that won't overwhelm you with wall climbing sections to start, but give you the ability to learn as you work your way through. The later stages of the game provide a healthy challenge, and Planet X, a secret world unlocked obtaining special remotes by perfectly completing a bonus round found in a level in each world, is a pleasant extension that provides an alternate ending to the game. However, reaching this final world is a hassle due to the password system, which doesn't keep track of lives or bonus round remotes. The game also has a score counter, which seems to serve absolutely no purpose with the lack of a high score board.

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A number of the game's levels are generic, and don't sustain the television theme.

While Gex has its flaws, at its core is a charming and under-appreciated 2D platformer. It holds up well in comparison to its competition on the PlayStation at the time, regardless that it was released a year after the 3DO version. Besides some of the outdated one-liners, the game has conceptually stood the test of time very well, and is still a very entertaining game for anyone looking to play a classic title. Gex's unique abilities make it a refreshing departure from a typical platformer, and provides a nostalgic experience with a bit of a twist. With that said, I definitely recommend the game to fans of the platforming genre (it is available on PSN as a PSone Classic), and is personally my favourite entry in the Gex series.

Returning from Hiatus

Phew, it has been a while since I've posted a blog here on GameSpot. Heck, typing in this text box and inputting HTML coding manually almost feels nostalgic, which isn't a very good sign. With that said, I want to apologize for not at least announcing my hiatus, and essentially disappearing while I still had responsibilities on site. I do view this site as more than just a recreational place to write and chat, so to the boards that I have evaded up-keeping, I'm sorry. I can't fully guarantee that I'm going to become as active on the forum as I have been in prior years, but I will be making an effort to try to reestablish some activity. More than anything, I'd like the get active on my blog once again. Both writing and gaming are a couple of my favourite pastimes, so obviously, writing about gaming is right in my wheelhouse, and I have still been writing on a lot of on sites outside of GameSpot during my time away. I have countless documents on my computer with unfinished blogs that I'd love to complete and submit here, and a lot of recent experiences I'd like to share. Plus, the Awesome User Blogs feature on the homepage is quite enticing, and something to certainly set my sights on.

Before proceeding any further with that, though, I'll take a quick moment to catch up on what has been occurring with my real life. My main focus has been university, which I have finished my first year in. I am studying at Grant MacEwan University, and am in the Bachelor of Communication Studies program. The program is a total of four years, and mostly focuses on developing writing skills due to the fact that I'm aiming to major in journalism. Throughout my life I've really taken an interest in writing, and English has always been one of my favourite subjects, though I can also credit recreational writing (such as here on GameSpot) as part of my inspiration to pursue improving my writing in post-secondary education. In the meantime I'm about halfway through my four month summer break from school, and I've spent a good portion of it working. However, it appears that I'll likely have more free time in the remaining months, so it has afforded me a good opportunity to invest some time around these parts again. That more or less sums up my status in the real world.

How about we move on to gaming? I've become a bit of a different gamer than I have been in previous years, such that I haven't been keeping up with recent and upcoming releases, but instead have been playing a smaller selection of games (mostly on legacy platforms) on a more regular basis. One could also say I'm shifting towards being more of a socially connected gamer, in the sense that in my time away during my time away from GS I acquired a quality capture device that captures 720p HD quality video, and have been posting videos on my YouTube channel. I also have am now capable of streaming, and do stream games occasionally on my Twitch channel. I haven't been streaming much lately since my old headset died on me, but I picked up a new headset a couple weeks ago, so I'll be planning to get around to streaming more often. This hasn't detoured me from continuing to acquire games on my wish list, but I am guilty of growing my backlog of games to play faster than I have been completing them. I am hoping to break that bad habit, seeing that I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to play a wider variety of games in an attempt to attend to the multitudes of games that I own which are incomplete, or have yet to be started. So, I'm going to be attempting to expand my horizons and get caught up in terms of recent happenings in the industry, as well dusting off those unstarted and unfinished titles.

If there is one game that marks what I've been engaged in during my hiatus, it would certainly be Twisted Metal, which I would estimate consumed at least three quarters of my time spent gaming. I made a blog here on GameSpot prior to the game's release early in the previous year (the game released on February 14th, Valentine's Day) giving my analysis of the demo, but as a quick synopsis, Twisted Metal is a reboot of Sony's longest-running franchise, and is a vehicular combat game which pits competitors to battle each other using a wide range of vehicles each with their own attributes. I've been a fan of the Twisted Metal franchise (and car combat games in general) for decades, and to this day I'm still hooked to the latest entry in the series, having put well over three hundred hours into online ranked matches alone. In all, I would estimate I have invested at least a thousand hours into the game when you combine the single player, unranked matches, and lobby time, and am currently fifty-fourth on the worldwide XP leaderboard (and would be much higher if unranked matches/alternate account were included in that total). It is undoubtedly the best car combat game of the current generation.

Regardless of how much time I've put into Twisted Metal, the funny thing is that I retain a bit of a love-hate relationship with the game. The game certainly has it's fair share of issues, most of them being under the hood regarding matchmaking, server lag, and the occasional mid-game system freeze. There are also a few issues with some of the in-game balancing due to the fact that Sony quickly dropped support of the game, and moved development of patches and tweaks to be handled by another studio besides Eat Sleep Play (who were the original developers). The new studio took the conservative approach, not knowing the game well (which I can't blame them for, but rather blame Sony for putting them in that situation), and did not make many major tweaks to the balance of the game. As a result, there are definitely some vehicles and weapon tactics that still remain overpowered. Such an example is Talon, a helicopter which is a selectable vehicle in most of the online game modes, which honestly has no place in a car combat game due to the fact that its evasive abilities, weapons tracking, and energy regeneration make it nearly impossible to kill when under the command of a competent player. There are also a few weapons and perks that don't have proper balancing, such as the fact that the remote bomb pickup has 100% accuracy as long as you have a target locked, and can travel across the map, through buildings and walls, and still stick to an opponent.

Thankfully, it is the community of regular players, and the competitive scene revolving around the game that makes Twisted Metal the awesome experience it is. Most competitive activity in the game takes place in unranked lobbies hosted by veteran players where more game customization options exist, making it possible (for the most part) to limit the abuse of illegitimate tactics. Once those faults are taken out of the equation, and the game runs smoothly, TM is one of the deepest multiplayer experiences in modern gaming, meshing both the intensity of a FPS with the intricacy of a fighting game. Twisted Metal also has a thriving clan scene, ranging from the large clans filled with regular players, to the smaller elite groups. I've had the pleasure of playing both as a free agent, and with a small handful of clans, one of which went on to become the #1 ranked clan on Twisted Metal before disbanding. Today, I'm in a smaller group of eleven elite players under the clan name eXodus, and have been undefeated in official battles since forming in February as we rise to the top. Also, since the Twisted Metal franchise has existed for seventeen years, the vast majority of regulars were fans since the original games, making for a community filled with mature, passionate gamers who are seriously an awesome group. I'll cap things off with that, though still plan to create a dedicated Twisted Metal blog reviewing and analyzing the game here on GS, since it definitely deserves it for all of the time I've invested in it.

Prior to leaving GameSpot I had been talking a lot about speedrunning, and in particular, speedrunning the game Spyro the Dragon. I've actually broadened my horizons a fair bit since then, having entered a couple more tournaments featuring some other games, and have been immersing myself in the speedrunning community. As a quick synopsis of what I've been up to, I currently hold the world record for an any percent run completion of Toy Story 2 Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! with a time of 53:56, and have a few other project speedruns. My current goal is to improve upon my personal best in Toy Story 2, mainly since the video quality of the recording was poor since I hadn't yet acquired my capture device. In terms of Spyro, I've been speedrunning the game more on a casual basis since in the last year there have been a few hardcore runners who have taken up the game and have really raised the bar to be competitive with the world records. To give you a general idea, when I last blogged about it the best players were just beginning to finish the game 120% in barely under two hours, while now the world record chops over twenty minutes off with the current best time being 1:38:25. I'm still very far from being at their level, nor have really had the time to practice, but perhaps the summer will afford me the opportunity to practice more since Spyro the Dragon is a game very well worth the time investment! I also plan to stream my speedrun attempts too, so I'm looking forward to it.

I can tell that I'm beginning to ramble a bit, so let's conclude this with my plans now that I'm back on GameSpot. Prior to my leave of absence, I held a role on the site of being a Ranger. For those who may not know, GameSpot Rangers are volunteer support staff who help to alleviate some of the duties of mods so they can maintain their focus on dealing with moderations, but also help to organize community events, report and help to resolve bugs, aid in the support forums, and lend a hand in greeting new users and making them feel welcome, among other miscellaneous duties. Coming back I was expecting to no longer hold this position considering it was rather irresponsible of me to simply disappear into thin air, but it appears I still hold nearly all of my previous Ranger privileges, and my Ranger tag still appears on the regular forums, but no longer within unions. I might just be an honourary Ranger at this point, but I'm really not sure. I have some catching up to do before I would be fit to return to being an adviser on the support forums, though the site doesn't look to have progressed much. I guess we'll just see how things shake down in that regard. I've mainly been a union lurker, and that's where I'll probably reestablish activity first before branching out to the main forums, and the wild jungles of boards like System Wars. I'm looking forward to catching up with all of you, so don't be shy to hit me up! With that said, I'm going give my profile a few updates and get back to the boards. Thanks for reading, and I'll catch you around.

Addicted to a Mobile Game... Quite Distressed About It

I've never been much of one for mobile games. Since I was young, I've rarely had the urge to play games that weren't on committed gaming platforms, in other words, things like cell phone games hardly interested me. My only real memories of playing cell phone games was a preinstalled game of Snake on my Mom's old Nokia phone, back when I was young. I've owned a cell phone myself for many years, and have never had even the urge to even check out the gaming catalog (part of it because it an old Samsung E790). Last year, I purchased a new 64GB iPod Touch to replace my old 8GB iPod Nano which did not have enough space to hold my entire music collection. Although the iOS is an acclaimed gaming platform, I have yet to really embrace it. I have a small handful of games downloaded, which can be viewed here, and although some of them made for a short, fun distraction, none of them have come close to what console or dedicated portable gaming (DS, PSP) had to offer. Plus, I found in most games, like Tetris, the lack of buttons just made the controls too sloppy to bear with. Although I'm sure there are games which utilize the full touch screen and accelerometer well, I simply hadn't taken the interest in hunting them out.

Then, a few weeks ago an ad intrigued me which was appearing in a free texting app that I used. I'm not sure exactly what caused me to check it out, whether I hit it by accident, or actually meant to visit its page in the app store (it was a late night, so it was all a blur xD). The name of the game was Race Or Die 2, released on May 3rd, and since it was a free download, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it. If I didn't like it, I could always delete it. As anyone would be from the somewhat misleading title, I immediately assumed it was a racing game. However, it turned out to be more of a strategy/role playing game. To summarize the game in the briefest terms, your ultimate goal is to gain experience and rise up the ranks as a racer. There are many ways to gain experience, but what the game mainly focuses on the online component of racing other players from around the world. Essentially, the winner of a race is determined by the base stats, vehicles, tune ups, and performance parts each player possess. Each part contains an attack and defense stat, so the person who initiated the race has their number of attack points added up, while the other player has their defense points added up, and the winner is determined. The amount of of items a person can use depends on their level, and the size of their "crew" which they can increase by breaking into newbies, or sending/receiving invites to people's crews. Also, there is a component of making money in order to purchase items from the tuning shops, which can be gained from races, but also through jobs, from things like hot wiring cars, outrunning cops, stunts like driving through a mall, etc..

Because the whole game is essentially just menu navigation, and things like jobs and races are instantly performed without so much as a cutscene, this may seem pretty lackluster and boring on the surface. But the real appeal to the game is the complexity of it, since it takes a lot of strategy to get on top, since if you constantly lose races then you are going to have a very difficult time leveling up. Races can be more complex than just finding a random player from a list and racing them. There's a variety of other ways to attack players without even racing them, through burning them, blacklisting them, or sending them to your crew to be attacked by others. But you can gain the biggest reward though killing them, by damaging them enough so you can either perform an execution move, or repeatedly burn them. There is a lot to do besides just racing and jobs, but it all contributes towards making you money to buy parts from the tuning shop, or earning you special loot items which are much more powerful then the regular tuning shop items, but can't be purchased with money. In the game you can purchase and manage estates, which is one of the most efficient ways of making money. The more money you put into leveling up your estates, the more income you'll make on an hourly basis which you can collect whenever you see fit. There's also a casino, which you can earn chips to play in a variety of ways, but none of which through purchasing with money. Within the casino you can play a variety of games to earn tickets, which you can then exchange in the ticket store for loot items, or a number of exclusive burns and executions. And by doing certain tasks, like racing players who set their hometown as LA, visiting the mechanic, or other miscellaneous things you find collection items, and if you find all five items in a collection then you earn a mod, which will usually give you some kind of stat boost. You can also try to steal loot items, participate in trials, race bosses, create a team or alliance, and the list goes on.

In order to make it so that a person couldn't just run jobs and races over and over again and level up extremely quickly, performing a task will use up either fuel (for running jobs), nitrous (for racing/executions), or loyalty (for executions/break ins). These all take a set time to regenerate, depending on things like your driver class. However, you can bypass the wait and restore these stats through exchanging respect points. Respect is something very rarely found in the game, but there is a way to get respect points quickly, and is the point where the game is no longer free to play. You can purchase respect to exchange for privileges beyond just restoring stats quickly, like reducing the fee off of ATM deposits, purchasing casino chips, or getting VIP status which allows you to grow your crew extremely quickly. The minimum amount of money you can pay for purchasing respect is $4,99 which will give you 340 respect (it costs 10 respect to fully restore any stat). And I'll admit that I have caved and invested money into the game. I made two purchases, the first to unlock the hyper class which gave me the benefits of all the classes in the game, which cost me $1,99. The second was the $4,99 respect pack I mentioned earlier, which I have used about half left of (none on stat restorations, but some perks that could only be gained through using respect). These kinds of in-game purchases are extremely rare for me. Heck, even DLC is something I hardly ever purchase, the last in-game purchase I made was likely for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in early 2011. For that I had no regrets purchasing, since I have invested hundreds of hours into the game, and used the vehicles/played the modes that I purchased far past the monetary value I invested in them. But this, I feel strangely dirty about. I'm a really thrifty person by nature, and even though it was only seven dollar, I still feel really guilty that I caved.

The purchases made the game a bit more enjoyable, but really, it means that I've now not only invested my money in the game, but now I've invested my time in order to justify having put money towards it. And the thing is, the game has such a strangely addictive quality to it, that I constantly want to be checking it. Even when I know that my stats aren't fully recharged yet, I often can't help myself and end up booting up the app and investing more time into it. It's actually a bit concerning how often I check it. It reminds me back a few years ago when I was really into purchasing designs from the auction house in Forza Motorsport 2, and quite often arranging my schedule to accommodate for when designs I really wanted were going to be sold. Although this hasn't constituted any scheduling, or anything quite along those lines, I'm constantly thinking about what I plan to do next in the game, and what my main prerogatives are. On a daily basis I'm using my Ti-84 graphing calculator to determine exactly what my stats are (yeah, seriously) and plan what to do to further boost my stats. I've been playing for close to three weeks now, and am currently at level 17, but I know for a fact is that the leveling system goes up to at least level 200. The question is, when am I going to stop? When is this going to get old, die off, and when will I lose interest? I have nothing against the game, but I kinda wish I could just delete the app from my iPod and forget about the game. There's so many more games I should be investing my time in, but yet I can't put this one down. It's honestly a bit worrying.

I'm not saying that this is a "bad" game that you should stay away from, nor am I going to be an extremest and say these kinds of games are killing the gaming industry. It's a game that has got me hooked, and squeezed some microtransactions out of me, so props to the developers for it. But I really do wish I could just put this game down and stop playing it. I probably checked out my status in the game three or four times writing this blog, not counting when I just checked it for reference. Is this the future of gaming? Are we soon going to be zombies, addicted to games like this? I personally hope not, but this whole experience has awakened me to the reality of how people can become so hooked to mobile games, or even Facebook games (I can see how this kind of game would be very comparable to something like Farmville). So, what are your thoughts on these types of games? Are they becoming a relevant form of gaming, or should we as gamers avoid them? Thanks for reading, and hopefully my curse will be broken soon. D:

Username Change!

Today, I have a grim announcement for you all. MudkipMaster30 is no more. I, MuddyMaestro, have devoured his soul and have now reclaimed his profile as my own. You'd better watch yourself, you could be next! >:3

Joking aside, this isn't a random user who stole MudkipMaster30's profile designs, nor is this GameSpot glitching. This is indeed MudkipMaster30, and believe it or not, I have gotten my account moved to a new username. This new username, as you can see, is MuddyMaestro, which is my common internet handle these days. Username changes on GameSpot are extremely rare, and typically only carried out it personal information is present within a username. However, there were a few unique circumstances which were in effect that allowed me to me to get this done (and I managed to pull some strings, sure), though I'm not going to go in depth about them. I consider myself extremely lucky, as very few users in GameFAQs' and GameSpot's history have been allowed a username change, so to be able to get one is still kinda surreal. Before going any further, I want to extend a personal thanks to both of GameSpot's community managers for the time they put into making this happen. Although the warrant of this change wasn't just for personal reasons to ditch the lousy Pokemon username, it still happened, and will allow me to fair much better if I choose to post on such boards as System Wars in the future. This really opens up GameSpot a lot more, besides the group of friends that have known me for years to not just be a Pokemon fanboy, and that thought is really exciting.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to stick to the same profile designs to make sure everyone acknowledges this is still MudkipMaster30. However, I'm eager to create a new profile and blog header. I think I've had that blog header for nearly three years now. O.o So change is good, in due time. It's also great that part of my username isn't cut off on the forums anymore from being so long. I actually see this whole thing almost like a new start to my account, especially since I had just come off of a lengthy hiatus from the site at the beginning of the month, and still have yet to reappear on a number of boards I'm a regular on. But yes, the next while might be a bit awkward as people recognize my designs by don't recognize my username, but hopefully it won't take too long for you all to get used to it. Also, if you want to continue calling me Mudkip, that's fine by me. I expect in time that nickname will likely phase out anyways, so it's not a big deal. I'm still waiting on some of the changes to follow through over on the GameFAQs side of my account. Interestingly, my Universal ID (login name) has changed, but my Message Board ID hasn't. It's actually mimicking the original consolidation of account names back in 2003, when GameFAQs switched its account system that required users to register again, causing possible discrepancy between the two IDs. However, I filed for a username reconciliation, which should move my account to just one username, under MuddyMaestro. So whenever that goes through, everything should be set. I've also noticed certain sections of the site are being a little slow to update with my new username, but hopefully within the next few hours everything will have updated, and so far things have gone much smoother than I initially expected, so I am very grateful for that.

This username change isn't the only major thing to happen regarding this account. You may have noticed on the forums I now have a special green icon below my username, which you may or may not recognize. This icon signifies that I am now a GameSpot Ranger! If you haven't heard of GameSpor Rangers before, feel free to read this. By my own description, GameSpot Rangers originally began as a small group of users who were moderators on the How to GameSpot board who managed user inquiries, but have now branched out to include about fifty members of the community who aid across all user support boards, and now hold a presence in social and gaming forums across the site, along with performing other various tasks across the site like aiding in community activities. Rangers are not moderators, as Rangers have few extra privileges on the site, but are here to aid anyone having difficulty using the site, and have input towards the community and how to best keep us all engaged. That said, I'm your ticket if you have any ideas to improve the community, and lend input towards what will stop the declining activity across the site, and get it back to the state it was at years ago. That said, it really fires my passion for GameSpot once again, and commits me to be around here on a more consistent basis, at least lurking if not posting. Expect more activity from me in the near future!

Going to cut things off here. I have loads in the way of gaming, real life, and GameSpot to discuss, but it has been such a long time since my last blog that I'm just going to push this out for now. Expect me the reemerge in a lot of my regular forums in the coming days, and I'm looking forward to getting back in touch with everyone with this new username here on GameSpot.

Twisted Metal Demo Impressions

One day from now, Twisted Metal will be releasing. I have been waiting for this game for over a decade, and I must say this is a rare case where my anticipation for a game has risen to a level of hype (which is saying something since I essentially never "hype" over a game). As a huge fan of the series, which one of my all-time favourite games (Twisted Metal 2) comes from, I naturally have had very high hopes for what the latest installment in the series would bring, and have been following it closely. And at the beginning of February, an online demo was put up on PSN that lasted a week before it expired. It was a late announcement, and I really wasn't expecting a demo to come out before the February 14th release since it had been previously stated that there wouldn't be one. So this was beyond a pleasant surprise, considering not only was there the ability to play a match against AI, but it even included two online multiplayer modes, being Deathmatch and Nuke, to give a sampling of what the full version will be like.

To quickly summarize Twisted Metal for a possible ignorant few (to whom I bow my head in shame), it's a series of car combat games which is Sony's longest running exclusive series. Essentially, you're placed in a car loaded with machine guns, missiles, napalms, and all of that, and sent to kill others who in turn are trying to do the same. Throughout the environments there are weapon pick-ups, health, and lots of things with which you can interact with (typically interacting means destroying) to alter the battlefield, reveal new pick-ups, etc.. There is a wide cast of characters who enter the Twisted Metal contest in hopes to come out the victor, and win a single wish for anything they could possibly desire from Calypso, who runs the tournament. Each character has their own backstory and reason for entering the contest, varying from the heartfelt, to the insane, and totally wacky. The characters also come with their own unique vehicles, which have various attributes and capabilities, from semi trucks that have loads of armour, but are essentially sitting ducks, to motorcycles and sports cars that have agility and speed, but leave little margin for error because of their vulnerability. Each vehicle is further balanced by a regenerating special, for example, the ability for a front loader to pick up opponents directly in front and slam them about.

The main mode in the games is tournament mode, battling progressively harder and more numerous enemies through the game's battlefields, in order to learn each character's unique story. The series has also been well known or its split screen multiplayer, allowing multiple players play Co-Op in a tournament, or duke it out in a deathmatch. Many famous characters have come from the Twisted Metal series, most notably Sweet Tooth, who made it to the third round of GameSpot's All Time Game Greatest Villain contest a couple of years back. The first four games in the series were on the original PlayStation, though development shifted to a different team for the third and fourth installments, where the series took a nosedive in the opinion of most avid Twisted Metal fans, to the point they refuse to recognize any game not made by the original development team as a Twisted Metal game. Thankfully, for the game's first appearance on the PS2, development once again shifted back to the original team, and Twisted Metal: Black is still one of the highest rated games on Metacritic to this date at a 91, and was given a score of 9.5 by GameSpot. The next title was to be Twisted Metal: Harbour City, but the game was cancelled after many crucial members of the development team tragically died in a plane crash during development. The series went on hiatus for about ten years, and after all of this time, the series is finally returning to be played on modern consoles.

Now for the topic of this blog, which is the demo itself. It was mainly focused around the online components, though as previously stated, you were also given an option to play against bots, and also had a short tutorial to learn the basic controls. Now, I am someone who rarely buys new games at full price, so most games I do buy these days has a strong online component to it for added value. But I do not enjoy sampling a variety of online games; I enjoy much more having a small handful of games which I have completely mastered than playing a wider variety and having mediocre skills in all of them. For example, the previous year essentially the only two games I played publicly are Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and Driver: San Francisco, both of which I've sunk hundreds of hours into, and rarely ever lose in. Twisted Metal is the next game I plan to make a long term commitment to, and when you are looking to possibly sink hundreds of hours into a game's online components, you bet you'll be anxious to try them out as soon as possible. Overall, the demo gave a strong impression of what the full version, despite the fact the demo itself was fairly limited, with only one map to play on and eight car cIasses to choose from, the overall essence of the gameplay was totally intact. I have always thought Twisted Metal was one of the top series that could benefit most from today's hardware capabilities, with larger map sizes, more detailed and interactive environments, smarter AI opponents, and enhanced multiplayer capabilities. The new Twisted Metal is, indeed, putting the advancements to good use.

First of all, the "feel" of the vehicles is spot on for a car combat game. The vehicles are well balanced as far as speed and handling are concerned, and motorcycles like Reaper have the control and agility a motorcycle should have, while Darkside the semi drives like... a semi, quite bluntly. Across all vehicles, the controls are very responsive, and work very well. Since there was only one battlefield, it's hard to determine how much each map will vary, and if their size will be consistent. But there's no doubt that the map in the demo was the largest battlefield I've ever played in a Twisted Metal game, which only makes sense since online modes will support up to sixteen players on a single map. The most vehicles on a single map before was ten, including yourself, in Twisted Metal 2 in the tiny stage of Holland, which was undoubtedly the hardest battle in the game. The large battlefield has a lot of room to navigate to get weapons, but I will say that even with a full lobby, the map does feel a little too large. If you spawn near the edge of the map, it can take thirty second or more to find any action, not including time you may spend finding pick-ups along the way. This issue isn't present in smaller lobbies, since you'll always spawn right by the action, but when the lobby is full you will be spawned randomly, and often in inconvenient spots. Also, there are lots of things throughout the battlefield you can destroy, and lots you can interact with, but one of the series staples is not that there's lots to destroy, but it changes the environment and causes sequences that open up totally new areas. Besides slamming through the doors to explore into some larger buildings, there is essentially nothing that opens up, or changes the environment. Hopefully some of the other levels will be more interactive in that regard, but I suppose we'll just have to see.

One of the things that really made the Twisted Metal games unique was the balancing of the vehicles. David Jaffe (you had to expect I'd bring him up at some point), who is essentially "the man behind Twisted Metal", considers the series to be a combination of a fighting game crossed with a first person shooter. It's a really accurate description, since the cars are so dynamically balanced like a fighting game, but has the overall essence of a first person shooter... just in cars. There really are no weak characters to play as (in the best games of the series). And the same goes for when you face those characters as AI opponents, as each character has their own strategies and tendencies based on their attributes, which you'll undoubtedly have to be knowledgeable of in order to stand any chance against the AI on the harder difficulties. Because only eight of the seventeen vehicle cIasses were available, I can't say much about the balancing at this point, but browsing the forums, I can say that almost every vehicle has its advocates, and there is no clear powerhouse vehicle. It does seem that Talon, the helicopter, is the weakest vehicle, but that's mostly because three of the other vehicles in the demo carry variations of a chain gun as a special, which they are very vulnerable to, and will likely be stronger against the wider variety of vehicles once the full version is out. I have always been someone who likes taking lightly armoured vehicles, or at least medium range, possessing more agility and stronger specials. So far my favourite vehicle is Death Warrant, which could be considered an all-around type of vehicle with fair performance, and fair armour, and a fair special; not necessarily powerful in any regard, but not weak in any regard either, and compliments my run n' gun styIe of play. It very much resembles Outlaw II from Twisted Metal 2, which is my favourite vehicle from that game.

There are many returning weapons, that have also been staples to the series. There are the three levels of missiles, being homing, fire, and power, which have different homing capabilities, but are more or less powerful accordingly. We also see napalms, remote bombs, ricochets, and swarmer missiles returning. A cast of new weapons make their first appearances, such as the shotgun that does more damage the closer you are to your opponent (and devastating damage if shot at an opponent's windshield), sniper rifles that can earn you an instant kill if you manage to shoot the driver, as well as stalker missiles and mega guns. Plus, for the first time you will be able to customize your machine gun sidearm, substituting your regular mounted guns for such weapons as sawn-off shotguns and laser pistols. But I'm sure you ask "What about freeze missiles, and the other advanced attacks?" No longer are they button combos, but now that analog is forced to steer your vehicle, on the D-Pad the up button is now used for freeze missiles, right will give you a temporary shield, left will drop a mine, and down will fire your selected primary weapon backwards. But like in previous games, they regenerate over time, so you need to make good use of them while you have them. There are also other actions you can perform through a variety of button combinations, such as L1 and R1 to jump, but the primary advanced attacks can now be used much easier.

The online portion of the demo featured two of the total seven modes that will be in the full version, namely Deathmatch and Nuke. Deathmatch is essentially mirrors the same mode in most first person shooters, requiring you to go after opponents and attempt to kill them to earn points, and the player with the most points at the end of the match is crowned the winner. It's a simple concept, but the scoring system works very well. Because vehicles have much more health than your average soldier in an FPS, to prevent kill steals as being the one and only tactic, the amount of points you are awarded for a kill is based on how much damage you did to victim. If you just had the final missile that sealed their fate, you'll likely only get a poach kill, and earn 25 points, as opposed to if you landed every single blow on an opponent, which would earn you a super kill and 125 points. You'll also be able to receive up to 75 points for assisting a kill, so scavenging off the players with low health, while still occasionally a smart tactic, is not necessarily the best strategy. As for Nuke, it's essentially a more complicated (and long) game of Capture the Flag, where you need to capture an enemy team's faction leader, and sacrifice them at a launcher to send out a nuclear missile which you then attempt to fly into the opposing faction's statue in order to score. I can honestly say that I spend little time with this mode, and spent the vast majority of my time playing Deathmatch. The online modes are an interesting spin on the Twisted Metal formula. Since it removes a lot of  the conservative approach to battles, and forces you to get into the action in order to score. It undoubtedly gives the game a very different feel. But is it for the better?  I can't say yet, but as long as the online experience isn't emulated in the single player, and the story mode holds true to the series' roots, it seems to be working fine.

There is little else to be drawn from the demo besides some miscellaneous observations. The matchmaking seemed rather shaky for most of the time the demo was up. I was returned with constant errors while searching for matches, occasionally up to twenty times before I managed to find a match. I also got punted from matches on occasion, and I understand that I was not the only one experiencing these issues. Hopefully such issues will not exist on the full version of the game. Also, when I initially started playing the demo, I tried sticking with the cIassic TM controls, which I had always been familiar with. But with the added and rearranged features, after trying out the Racing control styIe I found it to be much easier to use, and  planning to stick with it.

The wait is not much longer. The full version release very soon, and I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on it. Just going to throw in a quick GS update to cap things off. Although it'll be nearly a month late, I have a half-written three year anniversary blog I'll hopefully push out at some point when I'm not playing Twisted Metal. My apologies for my lack of activity across the site the last couple of months; a lot of major things have recently occurred in my life, and I can't guarantee my activity will increase from where it is now. However, I'll hopefully compensate for my lack of activity on the forums by keeping this blog better maintained. I've got a lot I am hoping to write about, and will likely be channelling most of my time on GS into that. We'll just see how things play out. Thanks for reading. And make sure to comment with your thoughts of the Twisted Metal series.

So, I Was Part of a Spyro Speedruns Tournament

Anybody who knows me will know very well that I am a diehard fan of Insomniac's Spyro the Dragon trilogy on the original PlayStation. Most years I will make multiple playthroughs of each of the three games, and have unending praise for them as not only the games which really got me into gaming when I was young, but also beign exquisite Platformers. In 2011 I may have made played more Spyro than any year previous, partially because I traded in taking my time and going at my own pace on my playthroughs for something a little more exciting. Near the beginning of the year I began speedrunning the original Spyro the Dragon, to fully complete the game as fast as possible in a single sitting. I made a few runs before the Summer, where I really started getting into it, doing a speedrun around twice a week. In a blog I made near the beginning of Summer (in the second and third paragraph) I wrote a fair bit about my newfound addiction. At the time, I honestly wasn't very good. My fastest run was just under three hours, which may sound fast, but held a lot of room for improvement.

Over the Summer I drastically improved, cutting forty minutes off my run. At the time, I thought there wasn't much of a community around speedrunning, let alone speedrunning Spyro games. The fastest time I could find was 2:19:43, on Speed Demo Archives. I didn't know at the time that site wasn't a very good resource. A couple of weeks into the Summer break I uploaded a speedrun to YouTube, with a time of 2:24:37. I also wrote a short blog about it here, but have since removed it since it was it a pretty mediocre run I no longer want to stick my name to. I also removed the fifteen part upload from YouTube, but did reupload it in a single segment video since my account now enables me to upload videos of any length. By the end of the Summer I had no problem beating the SDA standard time, and being within ten minutes of a two hour run. I did a bit more searching around for a faster run on YouTube, and it came to my attention that there were many fast speedrunners on YouTube, and besides that, there is a channel dedicated to hosting speedruns from the Spyro Speedruns community. It also came to my attention that beginning in the month of Decemeber there was a yearly Spyro speedruns tournament, which looked like it would be something neat to take part in.

As the Summer ended and I had less time to put to speedruns, my interest faded and went for a few months without having done any speedruns at all. Then one day in late November I was browsing my subscriptions and noticed that seeding runs were being accepted for the upcoming tournament. Coming off not having doine any speedruns for a good while, I still put together a pretty respectable run in the original Spyro the Dragon. The task was to make it to Beast Makers in the fastest time possible, requiring you to free ten dragons for the balloonist in Artisans, gather 1,200 treasure for the balloonist in Peace Keepers, and recover five stolen dragon eggs for the balloonist in Magic Crafters. I made two runs, the first being a time of 12:29 with the NTSC version, and because the majority of the runs had been done with the PAL version, I also did a run with the PAL version. Since there wasn't any rule stating which version had to be used, my faster NTSC run was taken, and was actually the fastest time submitted as a seed for the original Spyro the Dragon. This gave me a seed spot entering the first round which began a few weeks later.

This contest is actually the sixth of its kind, and the third focusing on the Spyro titles. Known as "I'm a Speedrunner", or IASR, the tournament is about two years old, there is certainly no deficiency of community involvement, from podcasts to parody songs. :P All runs are also done over live calls with commentary from both competitors, and guest commentators from time to time. It also has its fair share of people who are either haters or act immature like they just entered puberty (likely because they just have :|). It's never a dull moment, we'll just say. xD The tournament allows for the players to play each other in an Spyro game released; even a non Insomniac game if they both agree. This was a ticking time bomb or me, since I had no experience speedrunning anything besides the original Spyro the Dragon, and at some point I knew very well I'd have to speedrun another Spyro game. There are forty-eight competitors, with most of the rounds being elimination rounds except the first. Each of the competitors are randomly drawn into twelve groups of four, in which the four can race each other, and the two who pull out the most points move on. Since I was a seed, it worked to my advantage since I got put against three competitors who were also unranked players who were making their first appearance is an IASR tournament.

If you are planning to watch the videos, beware spoilers of the outcomes immediately following the given video links.

I managed to get my first two opponents to agree on the original Spyro the Dragon, and my first match was just a day after the first round draw. It was a race to free all of the dragons in both the Artisans and Peace Keepers homeworlds. This is a good time to tell you my YouTube username is MuddyMaestro. :P Here is the video of the this first speedrun. There was a great commentary with YouTuber TealGameMaster as guest commentator, which made this a fun run, but unfortunately Lewis (TheLMan101) made a major mistake mistake very early on. It's a shame, because it probably would have have a close run if that hadn't have happened. It was a pretty straightforward speedrun, since only dragons were required to complete the speedrun, but it was the most enjoyable match I did in the first round.

My second speedrun was against eternalknuckles1993, and was a race to recover all 12 dragon eggs in the game (all of which are in the first three homeworlds). Here is the video. I hope no one ever lets me start off one of these speedruns again, since it sounded like I almost forgot what my name was. :roll: Anyways, that race wasn't as close as the previous one, but I certainly put up a strong run. It's probably not worth your time to watch, but heck, a win is a win. ^.^

My final match in the first round was extremely last minute, as one of the players who in our group who hadn't done any runs was replaced, so I ended up doing a speedrun essentially on the spot with no practice on Christmas Eve. It was a speedrun in Spyro 2 to beat Crush, against meap212 (AKA impy70ify). Click this link to view the video. Since I was already guaranteed a spot in the second round, it made no real difference to me which game we played. His choice was Spyro 2, so that's what we played. I had only played about an hour of Spyro 2 in months before doing that run, and combined with the fact that I had no gameplan since we essentially did it on the spot, I did pretty bad in all honesty. I was extremely lucky it was a total blowout since my competitor was using a keyboard. :lol: Only my footage is in the video, since I never was able to get meap's video. I would still create a an updated video with his footage, if he'd send it to me. >_> Anyways, this run was pretty lame.

So, I was on to the second round, and having three wins and no loses I was once again placed as a seed. However, in the most ironic and unlucky way possible, I got put against one of the best players in the tournament, and was the same person in the previous video that commented saying if they played me, they didn't want to play the original Spyro, to which I had replied that I didn't blame him. Destiny seemed to have paired us together, perhaps to bring me out of my box of just playing the original Spyro the Dragon, so I paid respect to it and we decided to do a run in Spyro 2 to clear Canyon Speedway (in Winter Tundra) using glitches, though no button cheats (like unlocking all Spyro's abilities for free). Now, I knew very well that I needed to practice like heck for this speedrun, and learn all of the glitches in the game. Thankfully, I had a lot of time to practice, but initially it seemed like it would be a lost cause. But in just a few days of practice I drastically improved, and made a really close match that is totally worth watching. If you get lost in the commentary, I don't blame you, since we had five guest commentators, and I hardly contributed since I was just just trying to focus. :P Here is the video (note that it's a fair bit longer than the previous three). I put up a good fight, but my lack of experience speedrunning Spyro 2 just was too much to overcome. It was close during the early portions, but then some setbacks on Sunny Beach put me in a game of catch up. What really sealed my fate was not doing the glitch in Zephyr, which cost me a lot of time. Besides that, my opponent Al had an incredible run, even faster than the favourite to win the whole tournament who was playing along with us in the commentary. So, that means I'm out of the tournament since the this was an elimination round. But heck, it was an awesome time, no doubt about it. I was hoping to go further than the second round, but it is what it is. Having a 3-1 record after my first appearance is still quite respectable.

The third round is just starting, and there's still lots of speedrunning left, with some matches that will likely be very entertaining to watch. If you want to check it out, this is the channel that all of the matches are hosted on. Perhaps through the year I may play some miscellaneous speedruns for the all year SpyroSpeedruns channel, and if may even play another IASR tournament before next year's Spyro tournament if I'm comfortable with the series being played. I'l keep you posted on it. ;) Thanks for reading, all comments are much appreciated, and happy new year to all!

Threads of Fate Blog Review

This is a blog which I began nearly a month ago, and have finally gotten around to finishing. Kinda pathetic, yes, but this is a very unique and intriguing game that I really want to talk about. Even after having played through it, it's hard to come to an opinion on this game. From a conceptual level, I absolutely love this game, and it's a one of a kind gem, but is undeniably flawed in many regards. In so many ways, it was forward thinking to what many of the best action RPGs are today, and perhaps this was part of its own undoing. Regardless, it's one of the most celebrated sleeper-hits on the original PlayStation today, and is undoubtedly wroth a playthrough for fans of the genre. This game is Threads of Fate, (known as Dewprism outside of North America).

Threads of Fate is game I've wanted to get my hands on for a decade, but have never been able to until about a month ago. I took interest in the game from a demo way back in the day from Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, and saw a lot of potential for it to be a really neat game regardless of that the demo was quite short. However, physical copies of the game seldom reveal themselves, and in good condition can easily make it into triple-digit dollar values. Having not been willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it, I've always held off on it until I could find one for a steal. Clearly, I had no luck until finally, the game was made available on PSN for only $5,99. I always prefer to have a physical copy of a game if possible, but similar to Grandia, this was much too good of an opportunity to pass up. I already had high hopes for the game, and was prepared to take on yet another RPG, so I went ahead and purchased it.

So, what exactly is Threads of Fate? Well, as one could likely predict from the title, and the fact it was developed and published by SquareSoft, it's a role playing game, but was anything but conventional for the time. Environments were fully 3D, and combat was real time action, really pushing the power of the original PlayStation. I'll likely make multiple mentions that Threads of Fate feels like a spiritual precursor of the Kingdom Hearts series, and is similar in a remarkable amount of ways. The biggest bullet on the back of the box is that you have the ability to play through the game with two different characters (once again, something we've seen Kingdom Hearts do), both searching for an ancient relic, rumored to provide the one who finds it with a wish for anything they desire. The first of these characters is Rue, a young man who is after the relic to revive a woman named Claire, who took him under her wing after he spawned into the world not knowing who he was or where to go, before she was brutally murdered one night. The other character is Mint, a gluttonous, sassy, ex-princess who had her right to the throne stripped away from her, and now seeks revenge and world domination (it's so over the top that it's comical, and not necessarily evil). Throughout the story you find out more about their past, and in their search for the relic, known as the Dewprism, their paths become intertwined with other treasure hunters searching for the relic as well. There isn't necessarily a large cast of characters, but none of them are one time appearances. All of them are involved with the story the whole way through, and have their own backstories too. I did myself a bit of a disservice and played as Rue first, and after I believe playing as Mint is the best way to go since the story is much deeper in Rue's playthrough, and it also allows you to better connect with Mint if you know her story first.

Both Mint and Rue go basically along the same storyline, but there are a few variations as the character you choose often takes the star role. Since this alters the story just slightly depending on which character you play as, it does present issues. You'll go through a lot of the same conversations with the same characters, and you can predict what will happen before a lot of encounters. The dialogue itself has times when it's really strong, especially with Mint who is constantly making wise cracks (I laughed out loud a lot of times), but it also has some awkward moments, especially in some of the most emotionally intense moments in the game. However, this is remedied by the soundtrack, which is very moving. The whole soundtrack has a consistent tone that binds the whole game together; from the first dungeon's sountrack, to both Mint and Rue's credit themes, it's a real pleasure to listen to. For completing both stories, you're treated to a fairly long ending which wraps the story up quite well. Overall, the story matches well in comparison to most games in the genre, and its undeniable charm will keep you pushing through it. The graphics themselves actually have held up fairly well, especially in comparison to most 3D games of the generation. Besides a bit of bland texturing in some areas (especially on the water), it's not something to complain about. The framerate is very smooth, the camera is always well positioned, and although the lack of any CG cutscenes for a SquareSoft game is a bit disappointing, but the overall quality of the graphics certainly makes up for it.

What really makes this game unique is the combat. As I've already stated, it's fully 3D and real time, which was rare for RPGs of the time. On the surface, both characters have only two attacks with their primary weapons, but it's their magical abilities that make things interesting. Rue has the ability to transform into any monster he has previously defeated, with all of their attributes and attacks. Mint is your by-the-book spellcaster, and learns a total of thirty-five spells before the end of the game. These abilities are very easy to use in the heat of combat, and are a neat addition to the game, but the sad fact that they are hardly integrated into the game. When playing a Rue, at essentially no point in the game is there a benefit to gain from transforming into another form, as your attacks are generally weaker, and are more prone to take damage than when in human form. Also, Rue can only select from the four most recent monsters he slayed, so if you have the desire to transform into a monster that isn't native to an area, it becomes a real annoyance. For a good portion of the game most of Mint's spells are hardly worth using in comparison to her jump kick attack, which is still weak in comparison to Rue, and makes early bosses in the game very difficult. You will be able to obtain stronger magic later in the game, but most of this magic is either hidden in an early dungeon you must return to with no prompt or clue to do so, or is only available for the very final portions of the game. This is very frustrating, because the game's combat shines in battles against Rod, a travelling weapon smith you can approach at any time for a battle. Rod will grow stronger each time you face him, and with his final weapon, you can face him essentially an infinite amount of times. However, in Mint's story you will no longer be able to battle Rod by the time you acquire your most powerful magic, which is a real bummer. Once you have completed both stories, you do have the option to start a new game with the stats of your previous game, but you'll have to go through the whole game from the start to reach that point to battle Rod with what weapon again.

There are further elements in Threads of Fate that further emphasis its attempt to revolutionize the traditional role playing game. One of the most notable is that it makes a conscious attempt to eliminate a common issue of level grinding by removing experience and levels altogether. The only way to alter your core stats is through purchasing stronger weapons and armor (all of which are accessible in the shop), and taking stat enhancing items. These stat boosts can be obtained by carrying out a couple of rare sidequests through the game, and can also be purchased in a shop. However, even after going on a fetch quest and acquiring an item that allows you to purchase stat boosting items for a sixth of the original price, since the price is so high you'll likely only be able to afford to boost your attack and defense by just a couple of points if you're keeping up with the weapon and armor upgrades. Unfortunately, this does not prevent grinding, since there are two stats that you can effect just by battling, being your maximum HP and maximum MP. You can increase your HP simply by being hit by enemies, and your MP by casting magic. It is very easy to increase your maximum HP by battling Rod by letting him pound on you, and just through that you can easily increase your health by 80HP in just an hour of grinding, which give quite a benefit in battle since you can be a lot less cautious since you become a tank.

Granted, grinding in the game probably won't be necessary in the first place, since the game is certainly on the easy side, and is short in comparison to most RPGs. It took me around ten hours to complete each story, but that is after talking to nearly everyone in the town after nearly every event, obtaining every single collectible, and spending multiple hours just battling Rod for fun. A normal playthrough would likely take around six or seven hours, done twice for both Mint and Rue. On top of that the main story often makes you revisit areas you have already been to. There is only one town with seven different buildings, and only eight areas to explore outside of town, six of them you will visit as both Mint and Rue, and one which isn't even a dungeon, but a 2D platforming game. This is the most annoying part of the game, and anybody who plays Kingdom Hearts can probably relate to this, since the controls are tuned for battling swarms of enemies, not for landing on tiny platforms. There are three of these platforming levels, followed by short minigames, which you'll end up having to complete multiple times with each playthrough, and having to play through them that many times feels like an unnecessary prolonging of the game, and is just aggravating.

There are also a few puzzles in the game, and while a couple are actually rather smart and integrated as part of an entire dungeon, others are nothing more than a process of trial and error, or are just uninspired; for example, jumping on coloured platforms randomly until you do it in the right order. If you have the latest weapons and armor, you will have little challenge plowing through all of the monsters thrown at you, especially considering they'll drop HP or MP restores for every monster you kill, so even if you get hit by an enemy it's usually of no consequence. Even if you do die, you're never in any danger of being sent back to town because you can use coins (essentially credits) to keep playing. There are four types of coins, all of which will restore a certain amount of your MP upon being revived (although regaining MP should be no issue if you slay a couple of monsters for recovery items). Throughout the game you accumulate far more coins than you will actually need, so they become more of an opportunity to make some money, since the rarer coins sell for quite a large sum. What the game undoubtedly get right is the boss fights, which are typically more than just hacking and slashing, and require some planning.

To sum it all up, Threads of Fate is a RPG which takes you on a unique journey, and does many things unconventional to most comparable games of the time. In some regards, it greatly benefited, but it also is lacking in some key departments. I can't recommend coughing up the money it would require to buy a physical copy of the game out on a whim, but I certainly recommend it for the price of a PSone CIassic on PSN. Although the experience is short, and has its few frustrating instances when it falls short of it's potential to be a true cIassic, I can understand why this game has such a strong fanbase, and I'd now consider myself a fan of it as well. A big thanks for taking interest in this blog, and make sure to post your thoughts on the game.

10k Forum Posts

It has been 1013 days since I originally created this account on GameFAQs, and never would have guessed that I would contribute ten thousand posts on its sister site, GameSpot, using the same account. This blog counts as post number 10,000 and I have now joined the ranks the 10k posters across the site. This is an achievement I have been looking forward to for quite some time. Back in 2009 when I made nearly half of my total posts in a period of six months, I expected myself to reach this milestone much quicker, but when it took me nearly the same amount of time to make a fifth of that amount at one point in time, the chances were looking slim that I would make it before the end of the year. Regardless, here I am now, on this date of October 31st, 2011 having finally lost my quintuple digit virginity.

In many ways, it's hard to believe I've contributed so many messages across the community, but at the same time, it feels like the number should be much higher. Granted, my post count isn't really an accurate reflection of my total posts because of the glitches across the site, which has caused at least a couple hundred posts to not have been registered. As well, I opt to use the GameFAQs side of my account for all of my shared boards posts, which has undoubtedly taken away at least 5,000 posts which would otherwise have been contributed to my total if I had used GameSpot for them. I've voiced on many occasions that I would actually prefer when to be removed from being viewed directly on the forums, but at the same time, I love stat tracking. It just doesn't need to be displayed as a status symbol. Still, as long as they exist, there's no reason not to celebrate the good things it brings about, such as the milestones one can track with them.

Even with the fact I have made many more then ten thousand posts that can be read across GameSpot forums than actually registered, just scrolling through some forums I have been active in over the years, it almost feels like I've posted that many messages just on a couple of board combined. I've always been a union poster, and have posted in a very wide variety of boards across the site, even though some may only get a few posts per week. Some of you may call such boards dead, but I see them only as dead when there has been no life in them for months. My union posting goes back to my roots, when I originally checkout out GameSpot while serving a suspension on GameFAQs, and after making a few posts on the main forums, I discovered the unique communities unions had to offer, and I consider May 24th, when I joined the first union which I am still in today, NASCAR nation, to be my true anniversary on GameSpot. Out of all of the boards which I have posted on, I would predict the board I have posted the most messages in to be Organization KH. It's really an awesome group down there, and is certainly one of my favourite boards on GS. There are many other unions I have felt a special connection to over the years, the most notable of them being All-Out Pokemon, Platformer Paradise, and Twisted Metal - The Twisted Union.

In the end, I don't feel like reaching 10k posts is my accomplishment, as much as it is an accomplishment for all of you. Without the incredible community here on GameSpot, there'd be nobody to talk with. I have been blessed to meet thousands of people on this forum, and whether you are my friend, my rival, or if I hardly know you, just for interacting with me I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Throughout my time on the site I have matured so much, not just in terms of my my posting style and my video game knowledge, but also in real life. GameSpot has shaped me, and has had a very positive effect on my life.

How did this blog turn out so serious? I haven't even used one emoticon yet! :P I would have made this a lot longer, but I think it would be better to save most of what I would say for my anniversary blog coming up in a couple of months. Well, now that I've finished with that acceptance speech, here are some stats to finish off. Here's to ten thousand more! :D



Pop Culture Fair - Autumn 2011

Hey everyone. This blog title may seem familiar to some of you, as this is the third time within a year I have blogged about this semi-annual event held in my city, called the Pop Culture Fair, which just occurred last Sunday. Quoting myself from last year, it isn't as much a fair as a buy-sell event, which mostly consists of action figures, records, diecast cars, trading cards, and essentially anything and everything that relates to popular culture. This is a big event in my area, and is like miniature version of Comic-Con in a sense. Heck, it's even got loads of cosplays, and even furries roaming around! :lol: Plus, the venue is a retired air base hangar, so it's pretty massive for our area. For the last three fairs, my Dad and I had a vendor's booth there. My Dad is quite a collector, especially of diecast model cars, so I'm typically occupied in helping maintaining our tables. However, I manage to find time to go out searching for games to purchase, since gaming has a heavy influence in the fair. The Pop Culture Fair has is my largest game purchasing event of the year, and is a great place to go to find games on earlier systems, especially since it brings out new material besides the stock in flea markets and game retailers that rarely changes.

However, before I dive straight into my purchases like in my previous blogs, I am going to spice things up a bit and give you a quick photo gallery of the event. To view a full-res version of the image, just click it.


This is a view from a stage, showing about two thirds of the hangar.

A view from the opposite corner.

This would be a Halo fan's paradise. Even a Master Chief was roaming about!

Believe me, there's a lot more where these came from.

So many plushies to choose from!

This was our table, and that's me attempting to smile there.


Alrighty, now continuing on to my purchases in this event. Although I made just as many purchases as any of my previous blogs, I'm going to comment on only a few of the games since the majority of the games were original Game Boy games which I scooped up for an awesome combined price, which I can't really say much about. I may reference my previous blogs a couple of times, so here's my first blog, and my second blog about the Pop Culture Fair.


BioShock 2 - $15,00

BioShock is one of those series which I have heard great things about, and have wanted to get into, but have always been reluctant to make the time commitment. Knowing that I'd eventually want to play through the series, and seeing the second installment in the series at a great price, I figured I 'ought as well go for it. The box is in rough shape (which sadly ruins the 3D effect it has), and is missing an instruction manual. but I'd still say it was a fair grab. Now I'll just have to keep my eyes open for the original BioShock at a fair price, which may take a while based on the prices I've seen it at; even years later. A lot of people make two playthroughs of these games, saving the little sisters, and harvesting them in another run. If I get engrossed enough, that may be what I will do because I can't stand to be a jerk without going all-out at it. :P

Chrono Cross - $25,00

Just around a week ago I downloaded Chrono Trigger off of PSN as a PSone CIassic (though I have no idea why it was up on PSN since it was an SNES title), and am a few hours into it. Now, how perfect is it that I happened to find Chrono Cross, the sequel, so shortly after? Plus, this was a major steal, since this game is very difficult to find, and is typically very expensive. Granted, the fact that it is a Greatest Hits significantly lowers the value, but the box, instruction manual, and discs are truly in mint condition. It even came with a receipt from an EB Games in Halifax where it was purchased back in 2005. Besides that, this is the first game I've acquired that GameSpot has given a prime 10/10 score, so I have high expectations for it to be a phenomenal game. So far I have been enjoying Chrono Trigger, though it really just can't compare to the near-perfection Grandia was, which fundamentally is a very similar game. Still, I'm looking forward to being able to head right into Chrono Cross once I'm done with it.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - $10,00

I have had multiple chances to get Crisis Core, but passed them up for a later date. Finally, I couldn't put it off any longer. I have never been much of a Final Fantasy enthusiast, not that I don't enjoy them, but they rarely keep my attention for the full length of the game. I've still had a lot of interest in playing Final Fantasy VII, since there are many which claim it to be one of the best games ever made (especially on GameFAQs). I can download Final Fantasy VII off of PSN (which is, once again, a very rare and expensive game to get a hard copy of), and I now have to determine if it would be better to take on the two games in order of release date, or chronologically (as Crisis Core was a prequel to FFVII). Once I finish Chrono Trigger, either game will likely be my next undertaking on my PSP. Really looking forward to it.

God of War III - $20,00

In my previous Pop Culture Fair blog, I had written a quick blurb on my interest in the God of War series after purchasing the original God of War. Although I have yet to start on the series, purchasing the third game in the series fortifies I really need to get started on the series soon. I'd say this was a great purchase considering the game is completely new, and still has the plastic wrapping around the box. I got it much cheaper than I could in a retail store, and means really saves money down the road. The only game I require in the series is the second game, which most say is the best of the three. I plan to play through the series chronologically, so I'll have to make sure to pick it up before finishing the first game.

PlayStation Move Heroes - $15,00

Starting off, I will state that I do not own a PlayStation Move, and don't really have any plans to get it anytime soon. Quite frankly, I still just can't wrap my head around motion controls. I still feel it's a step backwards in the evolution of gaming, and only works for a few specific games better than a cIassic controller. Yes, I'm firing a the whole existence of the Wii, and kill me for doing so, but that's my honest opinion. That said, purchasing PlayStation Move Heroes could be either an investment to resell it, or just to hold onto it until a price drop in the Move that would warrant a purchase. Considering the game got such a lousy score, I'm in no rush to play it, regardless of the fact that three great series star in it.

The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night - $10,00

This is my first purchase of a game from "The Legend of Spyro" series, though I am a big fan of the original series by Insomniac. This is the second game in the series, as a GBA game. I'd expect the console and portable versions to be different enough to warrant playing through both, for the true Spyro fan. Still, I've got to recap on the rest of the series, since the series took a totally different storyline at the beginning of this new series. Besides, I still have Attack of the Rhynocs to finish on my GBA which I purchased from the previous Pop Culture Fair, so the The Eternal Night will likely stay on my backlog for a good while before I get around to playing it. Based on the screens on the back of the box, I'm probably not going to be missing out on much.

Misc. Game Boy Games - $37,50

Now that's what you call a haul! These seven games came from two different vendors, three from one and four from the other. Original Game Boy games are getting to that stage of being vintage games, and are gaining a lot of value from it, and for about five dollars per cartridge, this is a great purchase. Even if they only provide me with a few hours of entertainment combined, they are a great addition to my collection. The games in alphabetical order are Batman, Boxxle, Disney's Aladdin, Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues, Q Billion, Revenge of the 'Gator, and Super Mario Land. I actually already own a copy of Super Mario Land, but I know I could easily resell it for a profit. Anyways, not sure of the significance of many of these games since I'm not too knowledgeable on the original Game Boy, but there are a lot of licensed games here, and licensed cIassic games generally have more value. They also came with three plastic cases. Whether or not I try to resell them will depend on if I enjoy them, since I'm not trying to generate a collection of Game Boy games, but either way, all of the games combined were a great purchase, and I'm looking forward to trying them out.


As well, I was able to sell the Halo 2: Limited Collector's Edition I purchased for $20,00 at the previous Pop Culture Fair for $30,00 which gained a $10,00 profit. :D I also had out some other games from the previous show that I purchased to resell, but they didn't sell. :( Well, there's always next time. So, that caps off yet another Pop Culture Fair blog. Next time around I'll try to bring you a larger gallery, rather than just a few quick pictures off an idea I got on in the last hour of the show. :P As always, thanks for reading and commenting, and I will return with more next Spring!