Shadows of the Damned Mini-Review

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So I went over to Green Bay a few days ago and sold some games so I could buy a new copy of Shadows of the Damned for $40 (hooray tight finances) and finished it yesterday. My impression of this game is...well, it was odd (as expected) but fairly tame as far as Grasshopper Manufacture games go.

What should be said about Shadows of the Damned is that the entire game is one big, long phallic joke as far as story goes. Everything is written in the language of sexual innuendo, and the humor is actually clever most of the time, or at least outrageous enough to make me wonder how they got this game past the ESRB with anything less than an AO rating. Then again, this is a Suda51 story...

An example of said humor is the terminology given to a demon bone-launching handgun called the Boner, which is then upgraded to the Hot Boner that can launch sticky bombs called Sticky Loads onto the faces of demons. This means that you're able to launch Sticky Loads from your Hot Boner onto the faces of demons and have them explode with another shot from your Hot Boner.

Phallic humor aside, the entire game oozes cool. Akira Yamaoka's sound design is top-notch, even utilizing sounds for specific types of enemies, such as using a harmonica for one enemy that then shifts to the sound of a broken harmonica once a specific event happens. The background noise is Silent Hill-ish most of the time, but then delves into hard rock, metal, and even strange choral numbers at certain times. In addition, there's a demonic Red Light District in the game which utilizes Yamaoka's carnal Silent Hill beats perfectly.

Shinji Mikami's contribution to gameplay is undoubtedly amazing, as the core of the game controls like a much smoother, user-friendly version of Resident Evil 4. In fact, it's improved upon significantly by being able to counter enemy attacks from behind with the press of a button, unlike in Resident Evil 4 and 5 in which being blindsided was a seriously annoying issue. The array of weapons, the absolute brutality of the combat and the one-touch healing system make Shadows of the Damned a fast-paced yet accessible venture into the underworld.

One last thing: Booting up the game for the first time is a pleasant treat since you'll be treated to one of the most awesome file select screens I've ever seen.

Buy this game if you haven't already. You won't regret it.

So...

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I guess we can declare Soapbox dead now, right? There hasn't been nearly as many posts there since it was taken off the front page. If things will stay this way for good, then I hardly see the point in having the Soapbox around at all.

Anywho, I tried looking up a few freeware games to play for now and came across a Yume Nikki spinoff of sorts called .flow. Too bad I can't figure out how to play it but whatever. It has a more unsettling soundtrack, that's for sure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1obpjzcYg4

So yeah, not much for me to talk about lately.

HD Remakes

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In my previous entry, I talked a little about how the HD remakes of Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica peeved me a little bit due to the seemingly minimal effort that went into touching up the graphics and how nothing else new would be added to them. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to just go for the original version if the HD remake isn't going to offer anything new...well, for the most part.

You see, there are HD re-releases I'm looking forward to seeing come out. I usually cringe at the thought of any gaming company churning out an HD remake of anything, but there are times in which I can see an HD update in a favorable light, such is the case with the following:

No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise

Personally, I'm a big fan of Grasshopper Manufacture's work. They're one of the most promising, creative developers this side of the nuthouse and No More Heroes was a testament to their balls-to-the-walls oddity, at least in terms of graphic violence. Sure, I still consider Killer7 to be their best work in terms of story depth and overall creativity but the misadventures of Travis Touchdown excels in almost all fields as well: an amazing soundtrack, quirky characters and highly varied gameplay mechanics made Suda51's magnum opus a wonder to behold. Now, with the application of motion controls for the Playstation 3, it has been translated over to Sony's console. I took the liberty of downloading and playing the demo (though I don't have a Move) and I must say that...well...the game somehow got even bloodier. While the rest of the graphics get a little choppy every now and then, the blood sprays and dismemberment result in a sea of blood that would give Peter Jackson's Dead Alive a run for it's money. In addition, there is new content including new boss battles and (somehow) skimpier outfits for the female assassins so there has been a degree of effort put into this. I personally look forward to having this in my collection in the near future.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

It's no secret that I'm a massive fan of the Metal Gear Solid series. I've played every game in the franchise (with the exception of Ac!d 2) and have played every single game on this collection to death...but it has been quite some time since I've played the second and third games due to some technical difficulties with my PS2. Thing is, I've played Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater more times than I can count, but I like to play those every now and then to remind myself that the video game industry can produce amazing titles every now and then despite the stagnation that has been going on for quite some time now. Everything about the PS2 releases were astounding: Henry Gregson-Williams's musical score, the tight controls and supremely engaging story all came together to make a couple of the most notable games of the previous generation. I couldn't find any major flaws with them and whatever gripes I had were instantly silence by how sublime the rest of the game was.

In addition, the collection will feature an HD edition of Peace Walker. I've played Kojima's newest addition to the PSP library so much that I'm honestly surprised that I haven't worn out the UMD...but I did find a big flaw in it: multiplayer. While I'm not all that swayed by multiplayer, it was disheartening to have multiplayer be local-only for both cooperative and competitive play. Now, with the PS3 edition, I'm confident that the ability to play alongside your friends on the same system or online will be added since, after all, making a splitscreen feature on a game isn't rocket science. There's also the fact that players will be able to transfer their data from PSP to PS3, meaning that people who have both editions won't be forced to start all over again just to play on another system...and thank goodness for that because I can't imagine going through the tougher optional missions a second time.

Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection

There have been quite a few games that have taken the adventure route in the history of the industry but few innovate the genre to the degree that Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have. I'm a major proponent of video games being art, and Team Ico is certainly a good example to cite. What separates Team Ico from the rest of the gaming industry is how psychotically invested they are in providing a gripping tale, to the degree that it makes me wonder why they haven't made films yet. While there are companies out there who like to deliver a good story every now and then, Team Ico head Fumito Ueda looks at video games as a form of expression with the amount of effort he puts into writing and directing his games. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have a degree of minimalism to them while still maintaining a grand atmosphere, with the former sporting a story told through body language yet providing immense emotional investment and the latter having an expansive (yet comfortingly desolate) world marked by intense encounters with towering ancient beings.

But why make and HD re-release? Well, the two games are simply drop-dead gorgeous without the HD update but I'd buy it on the higher principle of rewarding the creative efforts of Team Ico and their enchanting titles...well, that and I seemed to have permanently misplaced my copies of the games but that's beside the point. The bottom line is that, while an HD update would not be necessary for such beautiful games, the potential that either one has to become graphically stunning is very high.
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However, there's an HD collection I'm not so pumped about:


Silent Hill HD Collection

You heard me right: I'm not excited for Silent Hill HD Collection. I know that both games are a bit old at this point, but I honestly can't find any justification for it. I guess what irks me the most about this is that it only has two games to it: 2 and 3. While I wasn't a major fan of the fourth game and remastering the original, a PS1 title, would require a complete do-over, I still think that having only two games in the collection is a little half-assed. In fact, why not just throw in Shattered Memories (which did have a PS2 release) to at least include one version of the first game? I personally didn't hate the re-imagining of the first game and wouldn't mind playing it alongside two of the stronger entries in the series.

On top of that, the graphic touch-ups (pictured above) seem a little cheap. Sure, the grainy filter is still present but the graphics for Silent Hill 2 were...well, a bit hard to describe. There were certain areas of the game that looked amazing (the rust-covered Otherworld sections in particular) but the way the game hid its fluctuating quality through a noise filter was a brilliant idea. Now, since the character models have been updated, I'm getting that old PS1-era Resident Evil feeling in which the character models look out-of-place with their environment. I don't know if it's just me, but James looks like he's walking about an inch off the ground from the screenshot I have. I know that the third game already had better graphics but...well, 2 is my favorite of the series and seeing it so strangely remastered is off putting for me.

In the end, though, it's hard to sell an HD collection of the series when you had the ability to include four but didn't want to go through the trouble for whatever reason.

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In all, I'm not absolutely crazy about HD remakes but I'm not entirely opposed to them. As said before, I'm looking forward to a few of them but I just end to either get skeptical or ignore most of them.

I've had it with Capcom

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First off: It feels like it's been a while since I've posted anything new here. I guess you could blame my absence on a mixture of boredom with this site and focusing on straightening out my priorities before the next semester of college starts; but enough about that, here's something that's been bugging me quite a bit lately: Capcom.

Capcom is one of my favorite gaming companies, providing Mega Man, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, and many other titles that I've thoroughly enjoyed over the years...which makes it all the more saddening to see them fall so far over the past year or so. As a fan of most of their notable franchises, I do tend to get a bit critical of drastic changes in how they go about developing and publishing games. Unfortunately, there have been too many unfavorable actions made by Capcom for me to simply write off.

My declining favor of Capcom started with the new Devil May Cry reboot. If you care to look in the archives of my blog, you'll see that I wasn't all that happy about the change...in fact, I was enraged. This is due to the fact that they changed Dante from the red coat-wearing, wisecracking badass that I always liked into a skinny, gravelly-voiced twerp. Changing something in a character like their outfit, adding in character development that compounds over the course of more than one game, and revealing new character traits are all good for keeping an idea from getting stale but...well...this was a little much. Simply put, I'm not buying this unnecessary reboot. I would've remained slightly peeved at Capcom for a short while (in fact, I forgot almost entirely about it by just pretending it didn't exist), but there were other things Capcom did to provoke my disdain, specifically with a title I was waiting what seemed like ages for: Mega Man Legends 3.

No really, I've been waiting quite some time for this game to see the light of day. I know it wasn't absolutely stellar, but the two games for Playstation had a kind of charm to them by playing as Mega Man in a 3D setting with a storyline that went beyond "Here be robot, blow the crap out of it." When I heard the news that it was going to be made for the 3DS, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't going to be on any other system, but I soon became content with the fact that the cliffhanger ending of the second game would finally be resolved. For the uninitiated, the cliffhanger of the second game:

[spoiler] was when Mega Man became trapped on a platform in the heavens with the rest of the major cast attempting to reach him via space travel...and not doing a very good job of it. [/spoiler]

Sadly, Capcom has decided to scrap Legends 3 (as well as the other Mega Man titles they've had lined up for future release) in favor of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition The Final Battle Turbo HD Ultimate Tournament Alpha Electric Boogaloo and other games that should only be sold as DLC being sold for $60. I know that Keiji Inafune left before any major work could be done on Legends 3 and, because of this, I believe that this was done to spite Inafune (the cancellation of other Mega Man titles being another piece of evidence). Now, my rage at Capcom reached a boiling point. Only one thing, however minor, would send me off the edge...and it happened: Resident Evil HD remakes.

Let me set things straight before I continue: I loved the Resident Evil remake, but that was a different kind of remake than the HD remakes being planned. The remake of the original Resident Evil features tons of new content, locations, updated voice acting (thank ******* God), and much smoother controls on top of being a complete aesthetic update. While both versions were entertaining in their own respects, I believe the remake is the superior horror title, and that's due to the massive amount of effort that went into recreating it from the ground up...which is not the case with Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica HD, as you see with this trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_5TBx5RfqI

There's nothing new in the trailer, just cleaner graphics. Resident Evil 4 already looked good, so it doesn't need an HD update and Code Veronica...really? You need me to tell you how a Dreamcast game getting an HD remake can be a bad idea? Making everything clearer just points out the flaws in the graphics and thus makes it inferior to the original version since it at least had the excuse of technological limitations. On top of that, I wouldn't pay anything beyond $10 for either game if hard copies weren't so ridiculously easy to come across. No really, I've seen a crapload of copies of these games for $1-5 depending on the used media store, and that's not counting Online retailers. Sure, the original Dreamcast version of Code Veronica is a little harder to find but the updated X version for PS2 is ludicrously easy to find, which can also be said for the Gamecube, PS2, and Wii editions for Resident Evil 4. So really, these HD remakes should be sold for $5 a piece and anything beyond that is asking too much.

And no, I won't buy those HD remakes. I already have the original games.

In light of all these negative actions, I've decided to boycott any future Capcom products until Capcom gets it's act together. As a fan of so many of their franchises, it pains me to do so...but I have no other choice when they pull all this crap.

What can 90 cents get me?

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A copy of Fallout 2 for the PC, apparently.

Yes, I went down to my local thrift store on this beautiful apocalyptic day and found a copy of the game lying amongst the other old PC games for sale. It wasn't in its original case of course, but the disc itself was not scratched in the slightest. So, I thought I'd take another step to try to get into PC gaming by plaing a game that many people in the PC gaming community regard as a cIassic and...well, it certainly makes me aware of how new I am to this kind of thing.

For the uninitiated: Fallout 2 was a late 90s Diablo-styIe game made by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay. The game, from what I've gathered by playing it for a couple hours, is a dungeon crawler, much like the aforementioned Blizzard flagship title that it gives the same atmosphere as. As someone who has played the third installment of the series before any other, it felt odd trying to adjust to this styIe of play. I wasn't used to so much rampant clicking and possible commands to execute, so it became a bit overwhelming. For example, I literally spent the first 30 minutes of my play time trying to open a door, which I couldn't figure out for the life of me until I found out via pressing F1 that I had to press M in order to activate a menu that enabled me to interact with the door, rather than simply just clicking past it and having my character automatically open it along the way. It was incredibly frustrating trying to figure stuff like that out, and even more so due to the lack of any tutorials (the game didn't come with a manual, either).

In all, my first impression of this game is simply one thing: boredom. It doesn't feel like any fun and more like just a series of clicks and combat menus to get to the next area. Then again, the styIe of play is probably something that weighs heavily on my disdain, mainly because it has that RTS feel to it (not my bag, sorry). Still, I'll try to give it more of a fair chance and see what happens...though the initial stages aren't giving me high hopes.

Meh, it was only 90 cents, so my only real expense was my time if it fails to bring any entertainment value to the table.

Oh wow, Gamespot...

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As everyone's aware, Gamespot has redesigned their site quite a bit over the past month with a new front page and further design changes that are planned to take place. However, there are two changes that get to me: soapbox articles and user reviews.

Since about a month ago, the Soapbox section has been hidden inside the Culture tab with no front page feature, making it much harder to find that it should be. Because of this, articles in that section have suffered a severe drop in readership, thus decreasing the effectiveness of user-generated content. Essentially, the deletion of the front page feature makes writing a Soapbox article about as fun and effective in increasing a user's readership as simply writing an uncategorized blog. So, from now on, I will put Soapbox articles on hold until I get a definite answer as to whether or not the Soapbox will ever be featured on the front page again.

Second, user reviews have been taken away from the main page of games. Before, user reviews were listed under the Gamespot score with a list of the three newest. Now, that section is taken out and instead put in the "user reviews" section of the reviews tab on the left, making Gamespot's score more absolute while taking the voice of the users away. It gets ridiculous with older games since, after all, user reviews on games before about 2006 have nostalgia factor to them, which means that the Gamespot review would only judge it by the standards at the time. In those cases, I turned to user reviews, and they helped me out quite a bit by helping me gauge how well a game has aged before trying to go out and look for it. Because of the deletion of the user review section, the users are essentially swept under the rug and, in response to that, I refuse to write another review here until the user review box is placed back where it was.

It's such a shame that Gamespot is pushing its users away like this.

Afterword: Lords of Shadow

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THIS CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

A couple days back, I wrote a review on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, giving it a 5.5/10. To be honest, I never thought I'd dislike this game so much, given my love for the series...but I did. In fact, it's even more strange that I gave it such a low score given that Kojima Productions was involved, one of my favorite studios (I think my avatar hints to that). But what made me give it such a low rating? Well, here's a little more detail:

First, let me say that the reason was NOT the production values. As I've stated in my review, I thought they were amazing. So much effort went into the overall atmosphere that there's nothing to dislike about it in the visual and sound departments. Every single little thing was done so professionally that I had to at least grant it some credit. The booming orchestral scores, detailed landscapes, and recreation of Dracula's Castle were drool-worthy. Voice acting was also very well-done and had some excellent casting (particularly Patrick Stewart) to ensure that everything was delivered with feeling. If Konami put as much work into the gameplay as they did the production values, the overall experience would have rivaled some of the greatest games ever made.

Even the main character gawks at the scenery

The tragic thing about Lords of Shadow is that the entire game is God of War with Shadow of the Colossus every now and then. Every single little thing that's not about scaling a giant golem to hit specific weak spots is ripped straight from God of War: the combat mechanics, the quick-time events, every. single. little. thing. Hell, even Gabriel's weapon comes off as God of War-ish...and yes, I'm fully aware that whips are a mainstay in the Castlevania universe but Gabriel's Kratos-like deep grunting while attacking (a little off from his normal speaking voice, now that I think about it) and stock brawler combat system steered me into that line of thought. If anything, I would call Lords of Shadow "God of War: 700 Club Edition," which brings me to my next point: the content of the story, though well-written, feels like a bit much of a departure from cIassic Castlevania lore.


Christianity has been present in the Castlevania series, but mostly in the form of weaponry and some enemy types, never becoming too overbearing and letting the story continue on without going into religious rambling. In Lords of Shadow, religion is as subtle of a presence as a dump truck going through a nitroglycerin factory. Whenever the character's aren't trying to praise the almighty for strength, they're praising the almighty for strength. Of course, this doesn't become too much of an issue in gameplay but it tends to get annoyingly overbearing in the latter half of the game, if only because of the length of the game and density of the religious references. This may be a pet peeve, but it became seriously annoying since the previous titles weren't nearly as focused on religion. Aside from that, another departure comes in the form of memorable villains being absent.

In the memorable entries of the series, Castlevania was about fighting your way through a host of cIassic horror icons such as (but certainly not limited to) the Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein's Creation, and, ultimately, Dracula. Unfortunately, none of these characters show up to face Gabriel. I guess I would say that the Wolfman still shows up due to the fact that fighting lycans is a good first chunk of the game, but the real Wolfman fight in the Castlevania series has been singular, and thus more memorable. Aside from the Wolfman's wishy-washy exception (maybe), the other characters listed alongside him don't show up. In fact, the game goes so far as to tease the player by having a section taking place in Frankenstein's lab and NEVER FIGHTING THE CREATION! Instead, we get to fight some weird scorpion thing with a fetus in its head. It feels like a cop-out, never providing the opportunity to fight old horror baddies in favor of drumming up new, but sadly stockish-feeling, enemies...although I welcome the nixing of the Medusa Heads.

But one thing, one incredibly annoying issue, kept me from truly liking this game: the camera. In 3-D brawlers, a common problem is getting hit from an offscreen enemy. God of War has had these problems at times along with Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, and others. However, in all of the aforementioned titles, the player was granted at least some degree of control over the camera. In Lords of Shadow, the player is forced to cope with every camera angle the game provides, not being able to nudge it over even slightly to target an enemy. This results in, as expected, a wealth of cheap shots. The fixed camera even serves to undermine the platforming, making me lose sight of Gabriel every now and then because the camera decided to zoom out so far that I had to put my face up to the screen in order to find out where Gabriel was.

I honestly don't know how they messed up so bad in the gameplay department, but Lords of Shadow cripples itself with its horribly derivative mechanics. Just rent it if you really want to. Don't buy it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to detox with Symphony of the Night.

Metal Gear Online

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Hey, looks like I can finally play MGO now that I have a good wireless connection.

If you want to play with me, my name there is bottlenose.

You can also contact me on my PSN account called A_MIGHTY_CORK.

That is all.

Indie Gems: Yume Nikki

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Indie games have been getting quite the great deal of attention lately, particularly due to the recent rise of DLC. With that, small publishers have been able to make a name for themselves by distributing their titles via online services such as Steam, Xbox Live, and like services. However, there are still folks out there who make games for the sole purpose of expressing their creativity. Yume Nikki (aka Dream Diary in English) is an example of a developer making a game for the sake of conveying a message over monetary gain, and does so wonderfully.

Yume Nikki is a free psychological adventure game created by Japanese developer Kikiyama in 2005. Through the course of Yume Nikki, the player will assume the role of Madotsuki, a severe shut-in who spends her time sleeping, staring at the test pattern on her TV, or playing the same depressingly monotonous game over and over. The player will not be able to have Madotsuki leave her self-imposed prison, shaking her head in disapproval at every attempt to make her go outside. Since playing the soul-crushingly boring minigame and staring at a test pattern will most likely bore (and maybe even depress) anyone with a pulse, escaping to a dream-like state via sleeping is the best option.

Existential dread is what tethers the events of Yume Nikki to one another, giving off a constant feeling of sorrow and doom. In fact, the intensity these themes is outright upsetting at times due to the inconsistent and obtuse imagery. In the dream world, Madotsuki can "leave" her room, but what is on the other side is not the real world. Instead, a series of loosely-themed worlds can be accessed via a hub with various doors. In each world, the level design and looping level layout will be more than enough to dizzy even the most clever of players. However, when this effect would be a negative for almost any game, this aspect works very well in its favor, enhancing the Wonderland-like nausea the game consistently imposes on the player.

If there was ever a game that would be an accurate representation of a dream, it would be Yume Nikki. Everything is so random (yet strangely coherent) that playing through in one sitting is not recommended. Fatigue is something that will come quick to those expecting a linear playthrough due to the hands-off approach in the game's instruction. The player will be entrusted to figure out everything beyond the controls on their own, leading to bizarre scenarios that flow between one another at a confusing pace.

In all honesty, the most difficult thing to describe about Yume Nikki is how the gameplay works in the dream worlds. Every area seems to have its own small set of unwritten rules and obtuse features, save for the simplistic movement controls (arrow keys) and using menus. Yume Nikki is something that needs to be experienced to gain full appreciation of, and a written description of what happens can be more confusing than the actual game.

Then again...maybe not.

Description of gameplay aside, what makes Yume Nikki such a great game is how indescribably compelling the entire experience is. The flow of the story is akin to experimental films like Eraserhead in that there is plenty of interpretation to be had when trying to get a grasp on what exactly is going on. Nothing is ever laid out for the player clear as day, and more often than not the plot will (seemingly) advance by accident. No dialogue is present throughout, making Madotsuki a silent protagonist. Although the silent protagonist tool is a pet peeve of mine, it actually works well for Yume Nikki since it draws more attention to the surreal imagery and leaves more up to the imagination of the player.

Something that should be siad about Yume Nikki is that the level layout is either frustratingly inconsistent or brilliantly varied...I honestly have trouble telling with this one. The maze (pictured above) is only one section of the game that is usually visited in parts rather than a whole due to every level connecting to it in one way or another (kind of like an extra area hub). Most other sections are sparse in architecture, leaving the player to go on walks through vast expanses of emptiness (with appropriate music for added effect) with the occasional peppering of strange, skewed structures and life. The variation is mind-numbing at times, bouncing the player back and forth between mazes and empty areas at an uneven pace. Still, this serves to contribute positively to the overall experience.

In the end, Yume Nikki is one of the most unique games I have ever played in my life. Everything from the character design to the sound and everything in-between is pulled off wonderfully. What makes it all even better is that this game is available from the developer, free of charge. If you think you can stomach some upsetting, unsettling, and downright confusing imagery, give this game a go. This game is a work of art.