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Yellow Lights and Reviews

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Have you heard of the Yellow Light of Death, the PS3 equivalent of the Red Ring of Death? Neither did I until a little over a week ago. Seems the launch models have been experiencing this issue lately, which naturally occurs out of warranty. Oh the things I do for full backwards compatability... Today is my 9th day without a PS3, which is my primary system, and you know what? I don't get how 360 owners suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they lose their 360 for a couple of weeks. Did these people trade in all their other systems for the 360, and trade their new games in to GameStop for $17 the moment they're done with them? I'm finding plenty to play instead. Granted the fact that the only new game I bought so far this year is for the PS2 probably helps. Who would have expected that, though, buying new PS2 games in 2009 when I have all the current systems?

I'll probably be switching from final game impressions in my blog to actual reviews again, since that's practically what they are. The tone will be a bit different from before, though. Part of the reason I burnt out on reviews before is because I was doing them too often, but the other reason was the way I wrote them. Too professional sounding, I guess you could say, and suddenly everything was just following a template that hid what I wanted to say. We'll see how things go in the end.

I'll probably be posting my mega Best of 2008 pretty soon too. I never do it right at the turn of the year like most people do because so many candidates release in October and November that I just don't have the time to play them all, so I usually do it about two months into the year. I have a few games left, none of them a contender for my GOTY, and they're all for the PS3 which I am currently without.

Impressions: Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts and Prince of Persia

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I was really skeptical going into Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. I wanted a platformer, because I love the genre and good modern platformers can be hard to find. All of my disappointment quickly melted away when I actually got to play the game, however. Once I started to play Nuts & Bolts, I just couldn't put it down and hours just rapidly flowed by without me realizing it.

Creating vehicles is pretty easy, as things will work if you add key parts (wings at the front or back, or even on a really heavy vehicle, doesn't seem to impact things much). You are really limited by just your imagination when building vehicles for some challenges. Hovercrafts, cars, planes, helicopters, boats, and so forth are all possible, and with items like folding wings and inflatable floats, vehicles can be multi-use. You can sometimes get stuck on corners or spin out a little too much for my liking, and aiming the basic weapons are annoying since there's no on-screen indicator to give you an idea of where the projectile will hit (this makes the later-game weapons that automatically lock on a major upgrade). But otherwise, you can create some very wacky vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and capabilities. The hub level opens up bit by bit as your trolly (you can't change your vehicle in the hub world) gets upgraded when you beat Gruntilla in certain challenges, and I found myself poking around for its secrets quite a bit. Otherwise, there's pretty much five worlds you spend all your time in (not counting the final level which you won't be in much), and some of them look wonderful. Seriously, this game would win the artistic graphics award any other year, but strong competition this year might limit it to fourth in my mind.

One thing that's important to stress is the missions themselves. While the jinjo challenges, which serve as side quests, can be narrowed down to five basic types (race, search, wrestle, hurl, taxi), the rest of the missions are nice and varied. This is a very nice breath of fresh air when other modern open games, like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry 2, just have you do the same four missions over and over and over again. Not so with Banjo. There's races, but some can be land, others at sea, some in the air, or even a combination of the above. There's moving challenges where you have to get items somewhere else. Others you're protecting someone or something from attack. There's stunt runs. There's stuff like playing darts with your vehicle itself. There's bulldozing everything outside an area as fast as possible. There's soccer-like games where your vehicle is the player. And that's just a bit of the possibilities. Even the stuff that's technically the same mission type, the level and mission design is so different that it's like a whole new experience. You won't tire of the missions like you do with pretty much every other mission-based game these days.

The humor of the game was very good too. Constant pokes by Rare about their past commercial failures, the pointless collecting of their games, and the like. Kazooie keeps whining about her abilities being stripped, wanting them back in case the game bombs and another one isn't made, thus preventing her from ever getting them back. The Lord of Games, the new character who claims he made every game ever, admits there's a Lady of Games but she focuses on the ones where you ride ponies, pet kittens, and blow up ninjas with rocket launchers. Good stuff.

The game retailed for $40 because MS didn't think it would sell well, and it must not have since it's not hard to find it for $26 or so if you look around. That's too bad; everyone should give the game a shot especially at that price. Add this game to the list including Mirror's Edge, Valkyria Chronicles, and Braid as games that try something new and are worth checking out if you can.

Prince of Persia was a day one buy for me since I love the series, and the wonderful trailers and art direction just cemented that feeling further. The game is great to look at, for sure. Well, maybe not so much in the drab corrupted lands, but once you heal them and colors pop out, things look great. This is particularly true at the Vale, an area of wooden machines and pipes, with floating platforms held up by balloons. One particular view is unbelievable, and running around in this particular area is just stunning. They went for an engine that makes the game look like concept art in motion, and they did a pretty good job realizing that.

People have said the game is easy, and maybe it is. It's not entirely because of your new sidekick, Elika, saving you though. Really, that's just a rather streamlined checkpoint system that gets you back into the action faster than the normal way, and nothing more. Nah, it's always pretty clear where to go, due to the scratch marks on the wall where you're supposed to wall run. Elika's compass ability not only points you in the direction where you want to go, but the orb pretty much follows the precise route you travel so you'll know what ledge to grab on and so forth. The controls are pretty forgiving, so if you jump towards a pillar and are off to the side a bit, you'll drift back towards it automatically. The co-op jump, which is the double jump in this game, is also forgiving in that if you hit it too late while you're in a freefall, Elika will toss you right from where the height of your jump arc was, so timing is pretty much a non-issue unless you hit the button over a second too late. Plus, there's no difficulty curve at all. Combat is a small part of the series, as the environment is the real challenge. However, instead of a linear adventure, they decided that open worlds are all the rage with the kiddies these days (and they wisely notice that linear games tend to get a sizable penalty by reviewers these days, even if linear works better for that particular game than an open world). Thus, they couldn't make the later levels harder because what's the later level for you might be the early levels for someone else. As a result, the difficulty curve is level throughout the game, as they're totally prevented from going higher than the relatively elementary difficulty due to their desire to go with the open world.

They cut down on cutscenes a lot, partially because it's hard to do them coherently with an open world (the beginning and the end are two of the few areas they can "control" how you progress through them), partially because of a similar review penalty, plus some of the players just want to play. What they do is let you talk to Elika with the press of a button, there's usually a few short dialogues in each of the game's 25 or so sections, usually when you enter it and after you heal the land. Naturally, I viewed them all since I love such things, and I did like the way the two interacted. However, it was a little disjointed, once again due to the open world. In one instance they seem to be getting along better, then in another one later they seem to not be getting along as well as I would have thought. It probably would have flowed a lot better if I saw the later one first, but that's simply how I tackled the areas. It's weird to see them at odds, get a lot closer, take a step back, another step forward, a big step back, a bit more forward, then back a bit without anything happening in between that would justify this variance. It's not as extreme as I mentioned but I really picked up on it. Either way, I really like Elika's character. The Prince reminded me a lot of Nathan Drake, which isn't surprising given the voice actor.

I hope you like backtracking, because you'll be doing it a lot. There's four boss enemies in the game, and you fight each about six times. Surprisingly it doesn't get repeitive that much, at least not in my eyes. Kill boss, heal land, repeat until you kill them for good in their lair. You average one generic enemy per corrupted area, but if you get to their spawn point fast enough you'll be able to kill them before they spawn. I found this to be pretty easy actually. Even if you miss it, the platforms you fight on are always pretty small, and generic enemies are essentially killed if you knock them to the edge so that's all it takes (naturally this doesn't work on the bosses). You can only survive two hits, but you don't die, you're given a second to hit one of the four buttons to evade their finishing blow, which I found to be rather simple. And even if you do miss, Elika saves you and the boss just regens a little bit, no biggie. Once you heal the land, light spheres appear, there's pretty much 45 in each level. There's four Elika abilities that you need to earn to progress (most of the areas require one of the four to move on), and you collect light spheres to unlock these. So after you go through an area and heal it, you basically run through it again to pick up the spheres. Most are pretty easy to collect, but some are hidden away or require a different ability to collect. About two thirds of the way through, once you unlock the last ability, light spheres are there for trophies/achievements only and things get a lot faster if you're just into finishing the game.

I got the combo trophy on the final boss, where I needed to do all of the 63 distinct combos that can be chained in different ways for a lot of different possibilities overall... and I found out that the fighting system is better than I first thought it was when I really got a grasp of them. Naturally, finishing the game in nine hours on my first playthrough and with only a few instances of combat (and with the generic enemies usually being killed before they spawn), if you don't actively try to experiment with the system you'll beat the game before you really see how deep and good it is, like I did. The relatively small platforms can be a detriment as you'll often break off in the middle of a combo when the enemy hits an edge. There's good stuff here, I just wish they let us use it better.

Overall, despite some issues, I felt it was better than the sum of its parts, but I was kicking back and enjoying the experience and not fretting over the lack of challenge. If you didn't like BioShock, which had atmosphere and some neat combat ideas that were arguably worthless since you had no incentive to use them since the game was so easy and there was little penalty for death, then you probably won't like Prince of Persia. If you liked it, you'll probably like this as well. The ending came out of nowhere for me. I mean, I'm not surprised it practically says "to be continued...", but the way they went about it I just didn't see coming. Some loved it, some hated it. I think I'm on the like side because you can see most cookie-cutter endings coming from a mile away, so its nice to get something different for a change.

Impressions: Valkyria Chronicles and MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

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Go and buy Valkyria Chronicles now. I don't care if you don't have a PS3. Get it anyway, as it needs a sequel, and if it doesn't get one I'm holding each of you responsible.

Valkyria Chronicles is like a breath of fresh air for strategy games. You know how turn-based strategy games always use this grid system, you just highlight what enemy you want to attack, and repeat? I mean, stuff like Disgaea is fun, don't get me wrong, but everyone follows the same general formula. Until now. Valkyria Chronicles has no grid, it's a full map with hills, sandbags, trenches, all that good stuff. You have an overhead view, but it turns into a full real-time third person system when you move, with enemies firing at you when you get in their range. You can manually aim, and it'll show you where your bullet spread is, which is determined by the aim rating with your gun. You can actually use the same character as many times as you want (as long as you have the command points), but their movement range drops each time and the more powerful weapons have limited ammo, though they can be refilled with Engineers. The balance of the five c|asses is rather nice, and it eliminates a lot of micromanagement issues present in the genre since all your experience goes into a pool, and you apply it to a whole c|ass of soldiers, not just each individual one. Toss in some really neat situations like sandstorms, ambushes, and the like, and the whole package is just phenomenal.

The graphics are just great, with a canvas system done so the game looks like a watercolor painting in motion. Sakimoto brings his characteristic ochestral music, the voice acting is rather good and so are the characters themselves.

Sadly, the game may get overlooked, due to all the other games coming out, the lack of marketing, the fact that it's a PS3 exclusive, and it's not that easy to even find due to the print run. And that's too bad. In an era of me-too sequels driving the industry, it's nice to have a game that doesn't feel like it's being dumbed down to appeal to a certain demographic, and the feeling that it's being made because the developers just think the idea is great as opposed to it being designed around some random surveys and reports. Really, when a neat new idea comes around, it's worth it to at least give it a try even if it has its flaws. So at the very least, give this, Mirror's Edge, or Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts a try. But in Valkyria's case, the flaws are more limited than you'd expect for a game with such a different gameplay system.

MotorStorm had some great core gameplay, but Sony understandably rushed the game out, resulting in a few flaws. Fortunately, pretty much every flaw has been addressed, and the great core gameplay just shines. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift's island environment gives some great change of scenery, from beaches and calderas to jungles and streams. In other words, there's more than just brown. The new monster truck fits in fine with the other seven vehicles, and their balance was tuned a bit better. The AI is much better this time around, as opponents actually try to win instead of just suiciding to take you out. Load times are better, and the online is smooth and with a much more logical ranking system. There's sixteen courses now, much better than the eight in the original.

The big highlight of Pacific Rift, much like the original game, is the course design. There's usually multiple paths to choose from, be it a shorter path through mud (which slows down lighter vehicles), or a longer one with pretty flat terrain, or a medium one with jumps, whatever. Some are definitely better suited for a different vehicle type, but sometimes the flow of the race (or the momentum of a larger opponent) may force you to change your plans. Really, it's hard to go back to standard racing games with their single routes after you play MotorStorm. Plus the tracks don't feel like regular tracks with a tropical skin on top, but it actually feels like some of the courses were carved into the side of a caldera or along the edge of a rocky shoreline. Definitely the highlight of the package. If you have a PS3 and are even remotely interested in arcade racing games, then you should definitely give Pacific Rift a spin.

Speaking of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, I'm in the middle of that game now and it's yet another great game from this holiday season that may get overlooked due to bigger names being released. It's certainly one of a kind and will suck away hours without you knowing it, but more on that later.

Impressions: Fable 2, LittleBigPlanet, Resistance 2

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I was a little worried going into Fable II because WRPGs usually aren't my thing, and Molyneux has this tendency to overpromise and underdeliver. But thanks to the LBP delay, it was decided by outside forces that this would be my first game of the holiday rush. It was good, real good. It seems Molyneux stopped worrying about regrowing trees that were cut down and worried more about making the game fun. It was simple to control, and it was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Sure there were some odd things - I didn't feel like I was interacting with villagers as much as I was pressing the button to do an expression that would get the desired response, after a short bit of property investing money rolls in so fast that it's a non-issue, and the co-op was rather disappointing - but it was very good all meshed together.

Sure, the main quest is short. But who cares? There's side quests. And not crap side quests that are a pain to do that reuse the same maps over and over like Mass Effect. No, they're good. Perhaps even better than most of the main quests! Many of them were often in their own small special maps that are used only for the quest. Finding a pirate's secret island is fun, among many other things, and all of these will be missed by the people who just stick to the path. Those reviews that point out that the main quest is 4 to 6 hours, yeah, I guess they're right. But there's no way you'd want to just stick to the main quest, and if you do you're seriously missing the point. In other words, don't worry about it, you'll probably get so sucked in that you'll snicker at the 4 hour tag just as much as I did.

LittleBigPlanet is just awesome. The story missions didn't create that much of an impression with me in the beta, but it was really the simple tutorial world, for a lack of a better term. The later ones are a bit challenging (when going for the no-death runs), and very creative. And you can tell that they created the levels in the same editing tools that everyone gets, given they don't hide many of the switches and audio boxes and so forth. They're simply great, and very creative. The small co-op sections that you need more than one person to get a few prize bubbles each level were also rather done rather well.

The big story is the user levels, and some of them are simply great as well. The cool levels feature does a relatively good job of getting you most of the better ones. Even better is that you can view the favorite levels of everyone else, so you can look at their favorites to see if they found something neat that you didn't. Really, there's a lot of possibilities here. The only bad news is that Sony has to screw it up somehow, and recently they've been modding levels without any word why. Some are pretty obvious, like say all the Mario ripoffs directly using the game levels as the original, but others are leaving people scratching their heads. It does steal some of the thunder, but it definitely seems like the game you can pop in every week or two and just lose yourself in neat new levels.

Resistance 2 was different, and as a result there's mixed feelings by many. Seems a lot that liked the original didn't care much for some of the changes, while those that didnt' like it are into it. They seemed to have ditched a lot of the unique aspects of the series and just copied CoD/Halo - full regenning health, can only hold two weapons at a time (and you have a weapon loadout for competitive mutliplayer), a lot of the more unique weapons were ditched, stuff like that. The story and characterizations were a bit lacking, the bosses were great when you first saw them but proved to be a little disappointing to fight, and there's just a lot of inconsistencies. That said, I still enjoyed it. But I can see why it's somewhat polarizing, ranking from mediocre to great depending on who you talk to.

The online, though, is fun. I'm playing an online game. That's crazy! I don't know what it is about R2 that caused me to play it when so many other games didn't catch on with me, but I did. The co-op in particular is neat - up to 8 players with 3 somewhat dependent c|asses to play and just swarms of enemies. Good stuff.

While I'll say more about them later, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is excellent, and you should go and get it immediately. Valkyria Chronicles is incredible, and if you don't buy a copy and cause the sequel to not get made, I'll blame you. Even if you don't own a PS3. I don't care. Get it anyway.

The third episode of Strong Bad was probably just as good as the second. The fact that the season finale will feature Trogdor is awesome. I'll worry more about downloadable games once I get done with all the great new holiday titles though. Except the original Banjo, I'll have to get to that soon, along with Nuts & Bolts of course.

Impressions: Disgaea 3, Super Mario RPG, Tomb Raider Anniversary, etc.

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I have not one one of these in over a month. I should start doing them more often, or giving more thoughts on each game I finish. Oh well.

Disgaea 3 was great. Each game in the series just gets that much better in terms of gameplay, be it balancing in the main missions to lower the amount of grinding needed (I did it four times total in Disgaea 3, and even then I probably didn't need to), or linking new special abilities to purchasing with mana instead of using that weapon a lot. Really, the game system is all a Disgaea fan could hope for. I still consider the first game to be the best in terms of characters and story, but the third was surprisingly not far behind. I didn't think I'd enjoy them as much as I did, but going back to the whole spoiled child of an overlord is a great move since having a standard hero in Adell for the second game really lost some of what makes Disgaea, well, Disgaea.

I never got around to Super Mario RPG back in the day, so when Nintendo finally released it I just had to try it. It was good. I think all the hype kind of dampened the experience for me since it just didn't meet it. I think playing it so late after it was released hurt a bit, but then again I'm very good at judging RPG's in terms of their contemporaries when I play something old from my backlog. Of course, its competition late in the SNES days was Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, which may have had an impact. The Thousand-Year Door remains the best Mario RPG game, at least on a console, though. Super Mario RPG definitely opened the door for all the other Mario RPG games afterward, showing that it could be done well, however.

I never played a Tomb Raider game before, and had the PS2 version of Anniversary in my backlog so I gave that a go. I loved it, mostly due to its heavy use of platforming puzzles. Great stuff, and great design. Combat was a little lame in that half of the encounters (which are pretty much all animals) you can hop up on a ledge and just shoot them dead with them just standing there eating bullets. It would be OK if it was once or twice, but it was WAY more than that. The adrenaline dodge was neat, but it resulted in me just shooting to build up rage, then dodging for a one-shot kill. I think it says something that I didn't fire a single shot of any weapon other than my default pair of pistols and their infinite ammo, since they did just as good of a job of building rage, and all adrenaline dodges are one-shot kills no matter what you use. However, combat is such a small part of the game, as it's all about the platforming puzzles which were great. I picked up Legend on the 360 and hope to try that soon, though I'll definitely keep Shifty's little experience with the levers in mind.

Even on easy, Ikaruga is hard, especially the fourth boss. I did build up enough skill (and especially continues) to beat it on easy, though. It's well-designed, but very chaotic and you definitely need to memorize some patterns.

I enjoyed Secret Agent Clank more than I should, given my thoughts on Size Matters and much of the actual mechanics remain unchanged. Maybe it's because I adapted to the controls better, maybe because I just liked the inspiration better than Size Matters (which didn't "feel" like it belonged in the Ratchet series), but whatever. It's a great spin off idea, having Clank tossing around bow tie blades and cuff link bombs. Also for those that dislike how the Insomniac games are a cakewalk these days, High Impact certainly puts up some resistance in spots. The big complaint is that a portable device isn't the best place for this, as if you save after a checkpoint deep in one planet, if you quit you'll have to do the entire planet over again. I'd love to see this spin off continue in some fashion in the future.

Hrm, what else? The second Strong Bad is better than the first, if you ignore the lack of the awesome intro song. I'd love to play Castle Crashers with people, but you know, I still can't, two months after release. Behemoth makes good games, but what's the point of their QA is among the absolute worst in the industry, shovelware publishers included? Linger in Shadows isn't really a game, but it's... I don't know, weird, in a neat way I guess.

Wipeout HD is great - pretty much the first game that truly delivers on 1080p. As I understand it pretty much everything in it is from the two PSP games, just prettier and on a bigger screen. Probably a good thing I didn't play the PSP games yet. Getting many of the gold medals will take a ton of skill and practice, probably more than I'm willing to put into it, especially with Pacific Rift coming out in just days.

The new PS3 Buzz was something I got in September to give a try before the holiday rush, and it was pretty good. After a while questions got repetitive, but for a while there I was surprisingly addicted to it. Questions did eventually get repetitive. I like the new MyBuzz, where you can submit quizzes online for people to play, even if you don't own the game. That certainly adds a lot of life to the title.

And with that, the holiday rush begins for me, starting with Fable II and LittleBigPlanet. Given these two games, and all the great games coming out in the next three weeks, I expect to often neglect my friends, family, work, and my Wii.

LittleBigAFWPlanet

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There's far more content in this beta than there are in pretty much every release. You won't be playing the same areas or maps over and over again. No, with how easy it is to make levels with the powerful editor, you'll be playing new content for who knows how long. Makes the Orange Box look like a ripoff in comparison.

The big story obviously is the level editor. Never before has such an easy to use editor been so very powerful. Usually with mods on the PC, you had to be pretty skilled to make them, and then people had to be able to find them. Here, everyone can make something, and the whole sharing system is integrated right into the game.

Quite simply, it's unique, and immediately gives the PS3 an identity. There's really no comparison to this game on any other system, which is what Sony really needs right now. Now, hopefully the game will catch on - it's very possible it won't even make the top 10 of the October sales charts. :(

Impressions: Bladestorm, Revenant Wings, and more

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Impressions time again!

Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is so far the only game this generation I had no intention of buying until I got my hands on the demo. The demo was fun. Instead of being one dude just mowing down enemies like in the other Koei games, you can control squads of troops, with a rock-scissor-paper relationship with the couple dozen types of squads. Swords tear apart knives, spears eat up swords, all stuff like that. The game is taking place, shockingly, during the Hundred Years' War, where you're a mercenary fighting for both England and France from battle to battle. A few squads will run into each other, and you can switch squads at any time by walking up to the leader and hitting a button. Use one squad to kill the squads that are weak to them, then switch to another one to take care of the ones your initial squad was weak to. Go into a base, kill the commander, take it over, so on and so forth. It's actually not bad!

What's the problem? Well, if you've played the demo, you've played the game. You're just doing that for the next 50 hours. Sure, they add some new squads here and there, but the new specialized ones tend to be rather uncommon at the very least on the field, so you'll be facing the same staples most of the time. They also padded the game length by adding filler. At least 75% of the battles you fight in, which can take half an hour or more, are just random battles have have no real effect on the game. You're just farming money/experience (you gain levels with each squad you use, so you can be level 27 with swords but only level 18 with bows for example), and fame (which is pretty much worthless because you're essentially always maxxed out before you hit the point where the game lets you advance to the next rank). That's just too much in my opinion - too much of it felt like busy work. But the story battles can tend to be rather entertaining, especially with the number of "hero" squads (squads commanded by a story battle character), not to mention most of the characters in the cutscenes were surprisingly likable.

Also, I found cavalry to simply be overpowered. Not only are they strong against most infantry, which make up the majority of the troops you'll encounter, but their charge will knock them over. This image sums up fighting against cavalry:



Many enemies (like sword squads, which are the most common) are weak and tend to get trampled. Even the ones that are strong against them, like bowmen, are still knocked down though take little damage, and arrows tend not to hit if you run across the archers. Really the only things to really worry about are camels (which are rather uncommon) and especially longspears (run around them or rush from the back). I usually didn't even need a squad, just a horse to ride on, and I was able to take down bases all by myself. Just felt too overpowered when I can just hop on a horse, trample a couple of fort guards, then trample the commander (commanders are always swordsmen and weak to cavalry). Played smartly, cavalry can take a lot of challenge out of the game, and make difficult missions a lot easier.

Still, I had fun, but by the time I got to the 50-hour mark, I was ready for the game to end. Honestly, I was ready a bit before that mark. Fans of Koei games will probably love this game, as it seems to be an improved formula for their Dynasty Warriors and such, but fo the rest of us it's probably not quite a full-price purchase.

I finally finished Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings after some serious grinding at the end of the game. Most story missions were fine, but the bosses at the end of each chapter were rather tough at my level. The one at the end of chapter nine forced me to work on my levels a bit. Not only did I do almost every optional side mission, but I also had to grind a generic battle for a number of hours. Silly game. I swear it's a 15ish hour game that took me 24 or so when you factor in grinding and side missions that I did just for the experience.

Also, while the RTS factor kinda worked, I found myself just hitting X (which selects everyone) and sending them at a specific enemy, then letting them go on auto-pilot once it dies. I'd use skills from the characters at times, but the espers were really just along for the line to throw punches at targets of their choosing. It's just to hectic and cluttered to micromanage. Still, the game was pretty decent I think, just the two new characters, Filo and Kytes, got annoying after a bit.

Burnout Paradise is a game I figure I'm finished with, only to come back to. After getting my Burnout license, I figured I was done, with like 90 events to get to Elite. Popped it in two days ago and just blew through all of them. For all its flaws, it's still solid, and has this capability to just grip you with its claws and before long you've played eight hours without realizing it. The races at the end were surprisingly easy; I won most on the first attempt which certainly helped the "drive all the way back to the start to try again" issue greatly. All I have left now are some road rules to get 100%; hopefully the 60 in-game awards are going to be the actual trophies in the upcoming patch. Just a few days from bikes too - even if you don't like the game, you have to at least appreciate all the major free updates to the game. Most companies would keep stuff like bikes, day/night cycles, weather, etc. as major features to the next game in the series, but EA of all companies is allowing Criterion to patch in all of this for free. I hope this trend continues.

Started playing Crash Bandicoot 2 on the PSP while on vacation, finishing 60% of the levels. The save system alone makes this a huge upgrade over the original, which was pretty enjoyable on its own.

August, of course, was downloadable game month. The Strong Bad game was pretty enjoyable, and I haven't even followed the series in years. With Telltale at this point I think you know what you're going to get, and there one of the few developers still supporting the old adventure genre. The theme song, "You Can't Handle My Sty|e" is just awesome.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty was good, but at the same time lacking something. Sure it's a short Ratchet game with full production values and some new ideas, but it was also rather scripted and strictly linear, with very basic weapon upgrades, very little hidden stuff to find, and so forth. Basically once you play through it, you're done; at least the other games gave you other stuff to go for and on your own terms.

Pub Games was a neat little free preorder bonus for Fable II. Too bad they didn't test it well enough, as some people will be rich beyond belief when they start Fable.

Braid was awesome. Little replay value, despite the time challenge mode, since most of the fun is actually figuring out all the puzzles. It's still one of the most creative games in years and worth the price.

Castle Crashers is actually very good as a single player game, but it obviously was designed with multiple people in mind. Now if only they'd, you know, let me play with my friends...

It's been a busy summer (I didn't even have time to start Bionic Commando Rearmed yet), between all the short downloadable games and me just starting to hop between games, which is odd as I'd usually devote 95% of my time to my main focus. Right now it's technically Disgaea 3, which I'm early in the second chapter, but I'm always getting side tracked by something else. Either Warhawk (jet packs are awesome), other games I listed above, or I even have Ikaruga in my Wii (which is otherwise being very neglected, though Super Mario RPG will temporarily fix that soon). And we're only weeks away from like a dozen good games being released within two weeks...

Somebody hates me

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On Friday, I'm heading out on vacation. I'm flying to Seattle, and taking a train hitting up Mt. Rainer National Park, the Cascades, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and various little towns for a little over a week.

At least, that WAS the plan. Today, the company operating the train announced that effective immediately, they're bankrupt and are stopping all services.

Yes, less than three days before I leave.

So now I have a plane ticket to Seattle and one from Wyoming that aren't refundable, with nothing planned in between and just two days to figure something out. Oh, and a couple thousand dollars that a company cannot pay me back (and that's why, kids, I pay for pretty much everything on my credit card). Yeah, I think I'll be busy these next two days.

Impressions: Halo 3, Uncharted, and more

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Impressions time again!

First, I got around to Halo 3. Yes, I know, late to the party. I was late with the whole series, actually, just recently playing the first two as well. Note that the impressions for these, thus far, are entirely single player. Anyway, to sum things up, Halo 1 was very good mechanically, and the outdoor areas in particular was great. However, a few things that especially bugged me popped up and really hampered a number of areas for me. First was the cookie cutter rooms - at some points you go through the same rooms multiple times in a row, so you already know how to handle each room when you first enter it. Next is the large amount of backtracking - if you like a level, don't worry, you'll be coming back! Toss in the Library, and many parts just didn't appeal to me, while the other parts were great. In fact, Halo 2 fixed many of the issues I had with Halo 1, and I enjoyed it a lot more. Using two plasma rifles, and they were relatively plenty in this game, did mow down some enemies very quickly though.

Anyway, Halo 3. Ironically the first thing that jumped out at me was the jaggies. I never notice jaggies in games, but I did here. I think it was the surprisingly blocky heads that really stood out. The 540p was very easy to tell, and in many ways was barely a jump up from Halo 2 in some regards, but some of the large outdoor areas were great with a lot of great hectic action. Hated the late-game Flood level though. I think I just hate fighting the Flood in general, so I guess I just have to accept that and move on. I did like the ending sequence, though. Also, the one taste I had of co-op with Halo 3 several months ago was a lot of fun, so that should boost the campaign considerably. As it stands though, from the solely single player aspect, I found that I enjoyed Halo 2 the most. Odd, I know, but it contained the least number of aspects that I didn't like about the Halo series in general.

I then went back and played Uncharted: Drake's Fortune again. I played through this game once on Normal back in November when it released, and enjoyed it well enough to place it in the top five 2007 games that I played (with God of War II, Persona 3, the TF2/Portal portions of The Orange Box, and Galaxy being the overall best). I did catch up on 2007 titles and would add Call of Duty 4 and BioShock up there as the most enjoyable titles from 2007. The trophy patch landed this past week and, well, why not?

I fired up a playthrough on Hard, and I enjoyed it a good deal better than my first time around. The game is as beautiful as ever, and is probably still the best-looking console game out there. MGS4 is a little slicker in the cutscenes, but Uncharted probably narrowly beats it elsewhere. Toss in the fact that there's no install, and it takes 5 seconds to load up from the main menu then never has load times after that, and the game is a technical milestone. People have compared the main gunplay to Gears of War and, well, fair enough, but I think Uncharted does a better job in that department. I just feels more refined, more tactical, not to mention a hell of a lot more colorful. Very good enemy AI too, and it just gets more impressive the harder the difficulty.

I started a playthrough on Crushing, its most difficult setting, and am currently about two thirds of the way through. It's brutally unforgiving, but it's also pretty fair. You always get the sense that if you execute correctly, you'll prevail, no luck necessary. And oddly, I'm enjoying it. I hate hard games, where you die multiple times each encounter. Yet, I'm liking this. It's weird. Also, the higher the difficulty setting, the more the actual game design shines, and how the AI acts that much more intelligently. Each encounter is tuned and scripted well, and enemies can get much more aggressive with flanking and flushing you out with grenades. Just an enjoyable game, and certainly one of the top games of this generation so far in my eyes.

PixelJunk Eden is a game that I simply haven't gotten into yet. Not sure why, since it's so interesting, but it could also have to do with Uncharted almost consuming me right now. I'm sure I'll be playing more downloadable games for the rest of the month.

Braid is probably the best downloadable game on consoles today (that isn't a dump of a ROM of a 20-year-old game). I'm still pretty early on. However, that concern about how it's $5 more than you think downloadable games should cost? Yeah, it's pretty much worth it in my eyes, without question. Looking forward to finishing the later levels. Basically, it's the Portal/Crush of 2008. The question is whether people will buy it like Portal, or not buy it like Crush. I also think that if it was sold on a DS cartridge for $30, people would think it's a bargain. Ah well.

Geometry Wars 2 is pretty good. I kinda like how short each game is, as you can get a full run in just a couple of minutes.

I'm still playing Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings off and on, with a bit of the "on" being recently. I'm on the last fight of Chapter 8, and I think there's 10 in the game. Some of the end of chapter fights can be rather tough. Then again, I'm about a dozen levels under the enemies, despite completing every side mission. Sigh, maybe I need to just grind a few map areas over and over, but I'm still somehow prevailing at my current level.

Impressions: Nintendo and Sony 2008 E3 Conferences

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The first 10 minutes of the GameSpot feed of the Nintendo conference was unavailable. Glad to see my $40 going to good use. You guys are so lucky the automatic yearly resubscription happened less than two weeks before the Gertsmann thing happened, seriously.

Shaun White has one really ugly Mii. And this woman doing the conference is trying way too hard to sound like she's happy and having fun. As for the game itself, it's an Ubisoft game, for the Wii, using a peripheral. Yeah, going to give them the benefit of the doubt for whatever reason and withhold my judgement until I hear more.

Stats, sales numbers, blah blah. They bring up Brain Age and Nintendogs YET AGAIN. Is this E3 2004? Did I miss something? They pat themselves on the back for Brain Age and Nintendogs every freaking year. We get it. They sell. Show us something new!

Animal Crossing for the Wii. Yawn. But hell has frozen over - a Wii game supporting voice chat? Now, the big question is if they'll allow third parties to include voice chat in their own games... By the way, they could have shown the GC Animal Crossing and I wouldn't be able to tell.

Now they're comparing DS lifetime sales to the PS3 and 360, among others. Real fair comparison there. I know companies like to show off numbers benefitial to them, but this is like apples and oranges and hits the "well, duh" category.

Hey, they mentioned Brain Age and Nintendogs again!

The third party stats they were showing off as being great... really weren't when you stop and consider things and where they should be at now. Also, I love how their chart showed that the 360 is selling on the same exact pace after 12 and 19 months as the original Xbox. I'm sure MS isn't happy about that being revealed.

Man, Yoda in that Star Wars game looks TERRIBLE. Yet another Rabbids game, which was great at first but they seem to be rushing them out of the door and driving them into the ground. And one of the best examples of developers using their creativity for the Wii's features is a freaking port of CoD5? Seriously? That's the best you can freaking do? And they only "want to show us just three games"? And why is that specifically?

Oh man, more sales stats about female gamers. I sense more mentions of Brain Age and Nintendogs coming very soon.

The GTA DS is... well, I don't think that it will be made by RockStar North, and how did GTA games not made by them turn out? Hint: they didn't make the PSP games. We'll see. But I almost sense GTA N64 with stylus controls. Not making me too excited, honestly.

I am so buying the DS cookbook and will use it religiously until I accidentally drop the DS into a pot of boiling water.

Wii Sports 2. You know, the license to print money, which they assured us they weren't working on a sequel for. But it's not a sequel, it's a spinoff, with the new doohickey device!

Like, Oh. My. God. It's, like, the CUTEST game... you have EVA seen! Uh, not liking this new PR woman. Also, Wii Lumberjack Games. Guaranteed best seller in upstate Maine and throughout all of Alberta.

Won't be out until Spring 09. Guess they need the extra time to polish off the graphics.

Big announcement... Wii Music. Uh.... yay? A professional drummer named Robbie Drums? Shiggy getting so into the playing it looks like he's going to pull something... So... you can play the instruments without having to push the correct buttons, what? And oh my god. Yesterday I was sure nothing could beat You're In The Movies in terms of sheer embarassment, but the Wii Music segment may have just passed it. I'm hiding my face in my hands, it's that embarassing to watch.

And... that's it?

G4 interviews Reggie afterwards, noting that he kept saying they're bringing new stuff for both the new audience and their traditional fans, but the only games they showed were for the new audience. Reggie said, with a perfectly straight face, "Well there was Animal Crossing." And that, kids, is why Reggie makes the big bucks. And pretty much sums up my stance of why I'm so disappointed in where the Wii is heading. The biggest announcement for traditional gamers is that they're actually supporting voice chat in one first party game, and they're getting a port of CoD5? Really? Great! Sign me up!

All I want is ONE. FREAKING. GAME. over the next 12 months. Is that too much to ask? Even a little franchise like Kid Icarus, F-Zero, Pikmin, whatever, who cares? Seriously, just make another Star Fox/Star Fox 64, toss in motion controls, release. Just that absolutely minor bit of effort will satisfy me at this point, and they can't even pull that off. Word to everyone - Nintendo hates you all, but love your grandmother.

Now for Sony!

Blah blah blah, Blu-Ray, Cell, etc.

Resistance 2's gameplay demo was neat, with the huge leviathan monster among the skyscrapers. The only downside is that I didn't notice much detail at all - the walls were just so pristine and the same color, it just didn't give me the feel of a destroyed city. I thought for a while that they totally forgot to render the streets, but I think they were just flooded. The new trailer afterwards, though, looked great - even the area in the gameplay demo. Reminds me a little of the GS Ratchet demo, then two weeks later the same demo came to PSN but looked a lot better, so who knows. Either way, getting!

The LittleBigPlanet level being the boring sales stats themselves was a really neat touch. Seems the presentations have to include them, so why not have fun with them? Worked for me!

A PS2 segment, which some people questioned as to why bother since most are games that appear on other consoles. Well... they keep saying they have a 10-year plan (which most have misinterpreted as focusing on just that console for 10 years - the timelines overlap). They supported the PS1 for a decade, stopping production just a couple of months before the PS3 came out. The PS2 is in its eighth year or so, and I think they're trying to drive home the fact that you won't get screwed for investing in their console only to have it quickly totally dropped like the other guys (Xbox was realistically supported for just three and a half years, and was pretty much gone from the picture after 4 to 4.5 years). Still, they should have included the notable PS2 title - Persona 4.

The PSN quantity comment killed me. Oh, for those who didn't notice, you can link your PSN account to your PlayStation.com account and check friends and account status, sounds like you'll soon be able to add friends and message them too.

So, Sony FINALLY got around to formally announcing the new Ratchet game, Quest for Booty. You know, the game that the ratings boards of 627 countries have already rated. A shorter, full-featured Ratchet game with a few new ideas for $15, coming out very soon? Hell yes.

A montage of new PSN games, I caught Crash Commando, Fat Princess, Eden, Pain, flower, Siren, and Ragdoll Kung Fu. Fat Princess looks just like Castle Crashers, which is awesome. Eden I've always been interested in too. Oddly no Elefunk, especially since it's supposed to be out really soon...

The Gran Turismo TV thing seems... I don't know. I guess some may like it, but isn't it just little more than a pay-per-view on-demand service that you can only launch in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue?

Home - still "coming soon". Joy. You'd figure they'll have some target windows by now. The Uncharted, Resistance, and Warhawk rooms looked neat, but I'll need to see a lot more to pass judgement.

As expected, movies are coming out tonight. Not surprising, once we found out tucked away in the Sony help documents on their website that the PSP firmware update from yesterday supports movies downloaded on the PSN movie service. The PSP being compatable is nice as well, certainly an advantage that XBL doesn't have.

I wish I could comment on Resistance Retribution, but my browser crashed right at the start of the trailer and I only got reconnected right at the end. Boo! Anyway, I'm interested, for sure.

I didn't know Valkyria Chronicles was coming to the PSP, still would rather have the PS3 version. But Super Stardust Portable? How will they get a dual-analog shooter to work well on the PS3? Will you only be able to fire in the 8 directions?

Life With PlayStation is due at the end of month. I assume it'll have the YouTube uploading feature that Japan has. The news and weather sounds neat. Honestly, I used to use the news channel on the Wii, but I had little other reason to turn it on, and it forced me to leave the machine in standby, which caused it to get very hot when I wasn't using it. I suppose I could go into the settings, turn on standby, read it, then turn it off, but it's a pain in the ass and makes absolutely no sense at all why I need to put on a setting that only works when the machine is off when I never turn the machine off after turning it on. Anyway, another soon-to-be-released feature, along with tomorrow's Warhawk patch.

DC Universe Online looked OK, not for me. What's with the guy opening doing pushups?

God of War III trailer. Showed very little. No matter. I want it badly.

inFamous coming in Spring 2009. The newest trailer shows even more gameplay, seems like a Crackdown on steroids. Interesting.

MAG is certainly the biggest new game announcement. Hell, really the only one that wasn't leaked before (the GTA DS comes a rather distant second). 256 players online, divided into 8 player squads with leaders assigned by their ranking, character growth trees, and sounds like there's some faction system as well. If it's anything like the trailer, it'll certainly set itself apart from everything else available. I mean, we were shocked at 60 in Resistance 2, and this is over FOUR times as large. Wow.

And, that's it! Virtually nothing was shown of MotorStorm 2 despite being so close to release, and very little of Killzone 2 also. The little bit of Fallout 3 looks interesting, which I admit I'm on the fence about (MS showed it yesterday, but GS screwed up and their site was down for it and I missed it).

In the end, I can safely say that unless you're a shareholder, the Nintendo conference was the worst. It was aimed entirely at my mom, except my mom doesn't watch streaming E3 conferences over the computer. No, just advertise on the Home & Garden Channel instead.

Sony and MS was pretty even. Yeah MS had the biggest bombshell with FFXIII, but at the same time, it's already a game we knew was coming - it's just coming to another console. MS didn't really give us ANY idea of what they're doing after November, Sony at least teased us a little. Still, little in terms of new info was gained, except maybe the new dashboard which I'm honestly not excited about. So few new games were revealed. Sony at least didn't have a humiliating segment like You're In The Movies, though, so points there. MS definitely let the third parties take center stage more... but none of those were exclusive. Loved that little dig from Sony about how they invest in new games instead of buying out exclusive DLC, which I do have to agree with.

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