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SlikNik27 Blog

Movies, School, and a Blog-It Too

Good evening, my friends. After a long hiatus, I have decided to return to the world of video blogging. I apologize for the complete lack of energy in this video, but I've been waking up at 4 in the morning to go into work and sleep has been a rare commodity. As always, questions are welcome and I'll try to answer them in my next video.

GameSpot doesn't allow embedding (or can't handle it due to the archaic design of their site), so click here if you want to watch the video. However, you can get a sweet script for Firefox that will auto-embed videos from many sites. Contact me if you want to know how to get it.

On a non-gaming note, I've made a resolution to get through all of the movies on my shelves that I've never seen (And yes, I know it's ridiculous that I own movies I've never seen). As such, I've taken this weekend as a relaxation weekend and decided to stay in, study, and watch movies. Last night I popped in The Bourne Supremacy (HD-DVD) and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it quite a bit more than the first one. Sure it was completely preposterous, but it was a blast to watch Jason Bourne handle his inept opponents. I'm excited for the amazingly well-reviewed The Bourne Ultimatum on Sunday to finish off my lazy weekend.

Tonight I'm actually having some friends over to watch the season 5 finale of Lost in anticipation for next week's big premiere. Despite being a big fan of the show, I made it this far without seeing it or having it (completely) spoiled for me, so I'm definitely stoked. I've heard very good things and might just end up a little giddy by the time it's all said and done. After that, maybe we'll throw in some Rock Band and beer to finish things off. I've still got a few Leinenkugel's sitting in my fridge and that's about all I could hope for on a Saturday night. Peace.

`Nick

The 2009 Endies: Game of the Year


Today is the day that the inaugural Endies come to an end. I thought long and hard about what my game of the year would be and came up with a limited list. I didn't play a lot of games, but those I did were mostly fantastic, making this a very difficult decision. In the end I knuckled up and made my surprising pick. Read on to find out.

Game of the Year



Plants Vs Zombies (PC)


That's right, the smash hit from PopCap is the single game I enjoyed more than any other in 2009. Coming out of nowhere, this game set off quite a rumble in the video game community. The publishers tried to pass it off as a casual tower defense game, but gamers flocked to its hidden depth, addictive gameplay, and charming art **** Even in a time when zombie games were dropping left and right, PvZ found a way to stand out and overshadow it's decaying brethren.

The single biggest reason for Plants vs Zombies shocking success is its excellent pacing. The initial enemies are weak, early levels uncomplicated, and your choices for defense limited; this allows the player to adapt to each gameplay variable independently. Moving through the story mode, new plants are unlocked with nearly every victory. By the time tougher enemies come along, the player has a thorough understanding of the basics. Even better, the rewards are doled out so perfectly, that you'll always want to play one more level. Saving money for new seed packets and add-ons is deceptively fun and exceedingly pleasing. Even better, the changing environments will throw a wrench in your best laid plans and force you to experiment with all of your defensive and offensive options, a rare feat in games today. I haven't played a game that was this well-paced in years. By the time you've finished up the story mode, you'll have plenty of challenge and puzzle levels to play through, including one that has you commanding the insatiable zombies. With so much to do, this game is also probably the single best value of the year.

While I can't overemphasize how well Plants vs Zombies nails its gameplay, it would be a crime to forget the audio and visual components. You've never seen zombies so cute and so deliberate; the variety of enemies is really quite fantastic. Many of them move at a snail's place, but you'll probably be surprised when a pole vaulter jumps over your front lines or a miner digs his way behind you. The plants are equally charming, making you wince every time one of your defenders takes a dirt nap. The backgrounds aren't especially interesting, but they provide the perfect atmosphere for some undead action. And lastly, the sound design is excellent. Catchy tunes will have you humming along or going crazy as the hours fly by. The sound effects are just as good, with Zombies moaning and groaning, calling out for the delicious brains that they yearn, pressing on against the effortless pop of pea plants and bouncing springs of the watermelon launchers.

Maybe I've gone on too long and exposed myself as a casual gamer, or maybe Plants vs Zombies really is the best game of the year. You may not agree with me, but if you play this game, you'll have a great time trying to refute my argument.


Runners-Up:
Street Fighter IV (360)
Halo Wars (360)
Chrono Trigger (DS)


Closing Ceremonies


I hope you enjoyed reading my end of the year awards and I'd love to hear what you think. Drop me a comment letting me know about any of your awards, and especially your GOTY. See you in 2011.

`Nick

The 2009 Endies: Day 3

As we approach the halfway point of Januaryand the video game barrage of 2010 begins, the inaugural Endies are winding down. We've had some great times, a couple people got punched in the face, and you've seen that I play almost exclusively old games. But fear not, my GOTY will come to light in the next and final entry. Until then, enjoy one finalancillary award that no one really cares about.

The Phantom Menace Award


This award goes to the game that made me giddy with anticipation, only to dash my hopes like so many Jar-Jar Binks. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have had a substantial amount of prerelease hype; 2. Utterly fail in reaching my expectations; and 3. Have some sort of positive quality.


And the Endy goes to...

ScribblenautsScribblenauts (DS)


Ah, Scribblenauts. You had such potential. In fact, you still have so much potential. But you squander it. Over the past couple of years, it seemed that this game got better with every showing and the press went along for the ride. I waited patiently and as the game neared release, I imagined all of the ways I'd outsmart the level designers. But then something strange happened: the reviews started coming out. Some were bad, some were very good, but there were too many mediocre scores to simply ignore. them all I thought to myself, "Surely they are being too harsh. They've forgotten the joy of creativity,berating the originality they so often call for." But they were right.

It's hard to say what Scribblenauts' biggest problem is simply because the controls and physics are so equally terrible. The inability to move Maxwell with the D-pad is both frustrating and mind boggling. Why not allow the player the option? Why force such an unwieldy control scheme? Why does he run with such gusto into assorted pits, sharp objects, and menacing creatures? Did any of the developers even play the game?

And who decided a single rope should be able to pull a boulder off of a ledge with just its own weight? Why are the air vents so strong that they are able to lift steel girders and entire buildings? Again, did anyone actually play this game? I don't completely blame the developers for the fact that I mostly used a select few objects to make my way through 200+ levels. Some of that falls on me and my lack of imagination, but when so many items behave wildly different from what is expected, it makes sense to stick with athe dozen that are (relatively) predictable.It really seems that the developers spent too much of their time building a rich dictionary. If they had worked more on the gameplay, one can't help but think of what could've been accomplished. Here's hoping Scribblenauts 2 learns frome its forebear's mistakes.


Runner-Up: Scribblenauts (DS)

So disappointing that it also takes the runner-up spot. Seriously, this game is disappointing.



Closing Ceremony - Day 3

And so we come to the end of a very short day 3. All that remains is the ultimate prize, the grandaddy of them all, the big kahuna, the lobster stuffed with steak sandwich, my GOTY. See you then.



`Nick

The 2009 Endies: Day 2

Good evening boy and girls and welcome back to my personal End o' the Year Awards, or as I call 'em, The Endies! I apologize for going AWOL yesterday, but I was stuck at the hospital for 13+ hours and didn't have the time or energy to write after getting home. So without further ado, here are the winners for day 2.

Music to My Ears Award



This award goes to the game that kept me on the edge of my seat, hands clenched in excitement to hear the next aural masterpiece. Whether it soothed my soul or lit a fire under my ass, this game had some fantastic tunes. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have left me humming or whistling its music long after storing the controller safely in the overhead compartment, and 2. Make me seriously consider getting a hold of the soundtrack


And the Endy goes to...


Halo 3: ODST (360)


When you strip it down to the core, ODST is just more of the same. For some people that's a good thing, while to others it's simply maddening. However, even those who've had enough Halo to last a lifetime cannot deny the beauty of the ODST score, written by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori. It sets the mood so beautifully and reinforces the loneliness, and even despair, that you experience as the wandering Rookie. The Halo series has always had music that resonates with the player, but this is taken to a new level in ODST. The music comes and goes naturally, dragging you into darkness and forcing you into the light as the rain pours down on you. The humanity of being trapped in a world both human and alien, machine and organic, is made beautiful. To be truly immersed in a game, there must be a palpable atmosphere of tension, some chord that connects the real and the unreal, and this is where ODST and its impressive soundtrack succeed.

Runner-Up: Scribblenauts (DS)

Scribblenauts has the kind of music that will have you tapping your feet in rhythm without even knowing it. The soundtrack is retro, it's upbeat, and it's about as cheery as you'd expect from a game that looks like a cartoon come to life. And while it's unlikely that you'd let this music loop in the background as you do your homework or browse the internet, one can't help but smile as the bleeps and bloops make their way through those tinny little speakers. It also gets points as the sheer positivity of joyful tunes provide a stark contrast to broken gameplay that could make Mother Theresa chuck a DS.

Game the Year of a Previous Year Award



This award goes to the best game that I just now played through, despite it being available for quite some time. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have been available for more than one year; 2. Make me say "Wow, they should make a sequel!" 3. Aged better than a fine wine.

And the Endy goes to...

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune


Ever since it was first released, I desperately wanted to delve into Nathan Drake's Tomb Raider-inspired acrobatic adventures. But I didn't. Time went by and I occasionally considered picking it up, but I was never truly motivated. Then something amazing happened: Uncharted 2 was released to unbelievably positive reviews. The OCD in me said I needed to pick up Drake's Fortune and give it a whirl so I could get to the second game. So I took the opportunity presented to me on Christmas break and discovered the truth surrounding Francis Drake's last days.

The game makes a fantastic first impression and four things jumped out at me in the opening moments: beautiful graphics, cinematic **** epic score, and fluid animation. The game is a technical masterpiece, even two years after its initial release. Sure there are a few games on the market now that look better (Uncharted 2 and Gears of War 2 for example), but the lush jungles and intricately detailed temples are still a sight to behold. The whole package can't quite live up to the promise of those first 15 minutes and the game drags in the industrial pits of the final few areas, but there is an overwhelmingly positive feel to it all. The climbing action and puzzle solving are fun little diversions, even if they don't add any real depth to the game. Hands-down, the worst parts of the game are the shooting/cover mechanics and the nearly endless stream of cannon fodder enemies that Drake must dispose of. Whenever I was gunning down the baddies, I always felt like I was just pushing through the boring gunplay to get to the next story event. Still, even with its problems, the Uncharted experience is top notch. The game will surely go down as a ****c of this generation and should be experienced by all gamers looking to be reminded why they fell in love with video games.

Runner-Up: Braid (XBLA)

The runner-up is the amazing, time-bending puzzle game, Braid. Everything about Braid just works. It's all logical, it all makes sense, it can be reasoned out... but it can't. The controls are simple and exactly what they should be, but the ways in which the player can manipulate the environment are often mind boggling. There are no real hints, instead each world's unique take on time is briefly presented at the outset and the player is left to his/her own device. Add in the amazing art ****and the winding music that betrays the depth hidden beneath the surface of this gem and it's nearly irresistible.

While solving all the puzzles and taking on the challenge mode are immensely satisfying (maybe more so than any game I've ever played), it is uncovering the true story of Tim that is at the heart of this masterpiece. He is searching for a love that is constantly eluding him despite being within an arm's length. This love will destroy Tim if he cannot reach it, but it could devastate his entire world if he does. The seemingly cliched story of human desire that is initially presented is a front. It goes so much deeper than the simple text and run-of-the-mill paintings suggest. Do yourself a favor and play the game, think about the story, and read up on what is really going on. You may find yourself surprised.


Closing Ceremony - Day 2

And so we come to the end of day 2. We laughed, we learned, and we encountered a much more serious tone than day 1, but we're stronger for it. The Endies will be wrapping up soon with an honest-to-goodness game of the year, so be sure to check back at least 12 times an hour. Until then.

`Nick

The 2009 Endies: Day 1


As 2009 fades from our memories like a high school crush and we return to the rigors of daily life, I'd like to take a few days to reflect on my personal gaming experiences, or lack thereof. I didn't do nearly as much gaming as I'd hoped, but probably did about as much as I realistically expected. School has become a new kind of suffocating; some might even view it as a peaceful smothering of my life outside of the hospital... but not me. So let's get to my personal End o' the Year Awards, or as I call 'em, The Endies!


Good Start Award


This award goes to the game that I most enjoyed starting, but never finished. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Make a fantastic first impression, and 2. Make me regret that I have not, and may never, finish it. Please note that me being regretful is an objective state determined by the number of times that I say "rad" and/or "'splosion" when talking about the game in question.


And the Endy goes to...



Winner: Beyond Good & Evil (PS2)

  • Runner-Up: Halo 3: ODST (360)



This was actually a pretty tight race. I started off the year with grand ambitions, hoping to record an entire play-through of BG&E and share it with all of you. That fell through when I was gently reminded by my curriculum that I'm in medical school, not grade school. BG&E was the victim of my disillusion and I weep for it. I loved every minute that I spent with the game, yet I inexplicably have not picked it up since recording the first 60 minutes of gameplay, which included numerous rad 'splosions. The graphics are fantastic for their time, the story is interesting, and the gameplay mechanics work together like an assembly line. Yet the question remains: Will I come back to it this year? No one really knows, not even me. Maybe God, but he's omnipotent, so that makes sense. But honestly, I really hope I do. I don't want it to win another Endy in this category next year.

ODST makes a strong case for this Endy, but I know that I'll finish it in the new year. I loved my time with the game, and it's still new enough to be relevant. The way the story unfolds is a lot of fun and the music is simply beautiful. We shall surely meet again. Hence, the runner-up position.

Glass Half-Empty Award


This award goes to the game that lives on on the razor's edge, teetering between objectively good and painfully average. To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Be a quality product with no glaring technical deficiencies, and 2. Make me struggle to come up with positive adjectives to describe it. Positive adjectives include, but are not limited to, "rad" and "'splosioney."

And the Endy goes to...



Winner: Turok (360)

  • Runner-Up: Bejeweled (XBLA)


Oh Turok, you bleed gray. You're not good, you're not bad, you're just really, really mediocre. Not even the soothing sounds of Ron Perlman's angelic voice could save you from the extinction of my interest. Sure, killing dinos in close combat was fun for the first hour, but after that I wanted more; I wanted something with some meat in it; I wanted a Brontosaurus burger with all the toppings, not just some seared Tyranno flesh. But instead of satiating my hunger with a main course, you served me appetizers of repetitive levels with a side salad of tired gunplay. We could have been great together, Turok. We could have been great... ;-(

The runner-up is a borderline acceptable XBLA game known as Bejeweled. Sure the game was an internet sensation, but it offers very little to console veterans. It's perfectly competent and does exactly what it advertises; the problem is that it's just not fun. The free XBLA launch title, Hexic HD, is a sparkling diamond when compared to this moissanite pretender. Sure that game was better on the PC as well, but at least it retained some semblance of joy in it's transition. In fact, Bejeweled only avoids winning this award because I realized its dullness so immediately in my play time.


Closing Ceremony



That's all for today folks. I'll be back tomorrow with more outlandish awards (which will become steadily more boring as I realize how much time I've spent writing these blogs, but just ignore that fact and pretend they're marvelous... and also ignore this last sentence... sure I could just delete it, but... um... bye!)

`Nick

'Tis Better...

I needn't finish that quote because what we had is not lost. I'm back and, thanks to some recent spectacular gaming experiences, am newly committed to my estranged hobby. Now, "newly committed" should not be misconstrued to mean I will become some sort of professional gamer who surgeries people on the side, as I remain a busy human being and will require a steady source of dollars and quids and pesos and whatnot. Instead, it means I will make an effort to delve into the many fantastic adventures that have jauntily sauntered into my collection over the past several months and years.

In other good news, this witty blog is just the tip of the iceberg that is my glorious return to the internet, a wonderful land where anonymity allows even the scrawniest of nerds to topple the mightiest Yeti with poor spelling, circular logic, and a complete unwillingness to do supportive research. Tomorrow, I plan on beginning a series of end-of-the-year awards which, barring any sort of horrendously hassle-filled hardware hazards, should run for a couple of days. I will also try to update with some sort of real blog or video in the near future to fill you in on what I've been up to in the 3D world, despite the fact that it's been lacking in helicopter fights. Don't stay thirsty, my friends. Drink something.

`Nick

Quick Update

  • Third year of med school is amazing. Extremely busy, but amazing.
  • Rock Band 2 (360) is still awesome and my friends are still obsessed with playing it every time they come over.
  • Braid (XBLA) is a beautifully challenging game that has given me two moments of intense satisfaction: 1) Solving all 60 puzzle pieces on my own; 2) Beating the challenge time for the speed run.
  • Ikaruga (XBLA) is tough.

`Nick

Chicago

I didn't do any gaming this weekend, but that's okay because I was enjoying myself on a visit to Chicago. I basically avoided all of the tourist trap activities, only walking through Millennium Park to get somewhere else. Instead of the standard fare, I spent most of my time catching up with two of my good college buddies, watching/playing sports, and throwing back a few beers. The highlight of the trip has to be the Second City performance that we attended. The skits were hilarious and the improv was almost impeccable. If you ever go to Chicago, I highly suggest you check it out.

As for the sports, I ended up playing a bit of soccer, volleyball, and softball. It's quite a sight to see hundreds of people playing volleyball on a huge beach and I had an absolute blast. It was also quite eye-opening to see how many parks and green fields can be found in such a large city. Overall I had a great time and am now exhausted. I firmly believe that vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but when you've been sitting on your butt for 18 hours a day, a little activity is a good thing. My only complaint about the weekend is the 3 or so hours that I spent sitting in stand-still traffic.... and the other 11 hours of driving I did over the weekend. Still, it was worth it.

`Nick

P.S. Here's some awesome music:

Chrono Trigger Orchestral Medley

Easing into Gaming: 80s Style

Sometimes I think we forget just how large of a commitment many modern-day games really are. Having not gamed seriously in the past couple years, I'm actually too intimidated to fire up Fable II or Halo Wars right now, instead opting to start with something simpler. As such, I'm beginning my return to gaming with a few 80s classics courtesy of Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade and the ridiculous advergame known as Doritos Dash of Destruction.

Galaga (XBLA)


Give me back my son! I mean, ship!

The vast majority of gamers have heard of Galaga and probably played it at some point in their lives, whether it be in its original arcade format or later on t he NES and every other console that followed, so I don't need to elaborate on the gameplay mechanics. Instead, I'll just say that this sucker is hard. So hard that you'll probably be inclined to check out a few YouTube videos to find out how the experts do it. Now I'm not trying to say it's unfair or impossible, but simply acknowledging that this game was made to be a quarter-eater when it was released.

On the flip side, the achievements in this game are a breeze thanks to the unlimited continues supplied by Namco. Work your way to level 31 and you'll have gained 11/12 achievements and be ready to call it a day. The last one requires a bit more work, requiring you to perfectly clear a challenge stage, but you should be able to get it with a little practice, persistence, and the double ship upgrade. All in all, I had a good time with this senior citizen of the gaming world and netted 200/200 achievement points in about an hour and a half.

New Rally X (XBLA)


Blue Car > Red Cars

Judging by the reviews I've read, not a lot of people enjoy this game. I'm on the other end of the spectrum: I love it. You basically spend your time navigating a maze in search of flags, while fending off enemy cars with your wits and some timely smoke screens. It's relatively simple in premise, but the real complexity shines through when you attempt to attain a high score. There are two special flags labeled "S" for special and "L" for lucky. The Special flag doubles the value of every subsequent flag on that level, as long as you manage to stay alive. This means you need to avoid the enemy vehicles, boulders, and other flags as you navigate to the Special flag first. This is possible thanks to a very cool radar feature on the right side of the screen. The Lucky flag doesn't appear on the radar, but it rewards you based on the amount of fuel you have remaining in your tank, so it behooves you to find it first.

If you like games that mix brains with reflexes, I suggest you give this one a try. Also, the music rocks. I spent about an hour and a half and was able to nab all 200/200 achievement points. A couple of them are tough (100,000 points and clearing levels 1 through 7 without dying), but I had so much fun playing that I wanted to nab them all.

Doritos Dash of Destruction


If this game allowed the 360 to shoot Doritos out its disc hole, I'd forgive its flaws.

The developers of this advertisement masquerading as a game actually did a pretty noble job with what they had. Playing as the dinosaur is a drag because the controls are terrible, but driving a delivery truck away from a stampeding T-Rex has a certain charm. Overall, the game is fun for a few minutes and the achievements are so easy that you'll have no problem getting them all. By the time you're ready to move on, you'll have grabbed 200/200 points and only wasted about 30 minutes of your life.

So that was my morning. 600 points later, I'm contemplating playing a little bit more tonight and then I'm heading to Chicago for the weekend to see some friends from college. Being on vacation for the first time in 6 years is awesome. Really awesome.

`Nick