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subrosian Blog

Slow Clap for Gamespot

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Congratulations on taking one of the clearer, easier-to-navigate gaming sites on the web and destroying it with a clunky, schizophrenic layout designed for the ADHD generation.

Oh, and in the process destroying tens of thousands of comments on my blog and soapbox entries from over the years. Well done. Apparently you get yet-another marketing "guru" like the one who created Gerstmanngate to come along with their genius idea of copying the Buzzfeed type sites.

I used to come to this site because it WASN'T IGN, it didn't spam a bunch of crap in my face and bury its content behind a dozen clicks through "related articles" and other nonsense. Great job on destroying a once navigable site.

An End to Matchmaking Rage

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So the smoke has cleared. Microsoft has backed down on their DRM. Sony has given some pandering interviews about how they care about hardcore gamers. Nintendo has sat around around and hugged their Zelda liferaft. Hooray? In the over-interviewed, over-covered world, the one point that I haven't seen made - the one that desperately needs to be made - is that most of the games at E3 weren't impressive.

Forza is a game that could have been done on the Xbox 360. Killzone is a game that could have been done on the PS3. Titanfall is a game that could have been done on the Xbox 360. Knack is a game that could have been done on the PS3. There's nothing new or exciting about these games beyond graphics and sound. They're an extension of existing genres, they change nothing and they don't warrant buying a new system.

In fact, many of the games showcased are already on existing systems. Watchdogs. Call of Duty Ghosts. Diablo 3. And while that doesn't inherently make them bad games (Watchdogs is certainly promising...) it does make me fast-forward and look for what's next. I've played Gears 3, no game is going to be a more "gritty" cover-based shooter. I'm not looking for another CoD clone, they won't top what the original Modern Warfare already delivered.

So what's there to like? Well, thankfully, some actual next-gen titles emerged:

Destiny and The Divsion.

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Watch those videos. Watch them ten times. Then realize the deep truth they've hit: RANDOM MATCHMAKING SUCKS. Yup. See, in every game on the market right now - from Call of Duty to DOTA 2 to League of Legends to World of Warcraft to Halo 4 to Forza... the random matchmaking makes it so your fellow man is your own worst enemy. We talk about the toxicity of online play, but the truth is, that comes out because your teammates can only penalize you. Having people on my team means they feed, it means they pick the wrong thing and get us killed, it means they lose me opportunities to advance. My level ups, unlocks, gear, wins, victories... they're all hampered by other people.

And you wonder why you see so much rage? Just need one more win to get my new skin... oh... cool... paired with another drooling idiot who picks a melee hard carry and demands mid. 

Destiny and The Division change that. These are games where more people equals more epic. People help you take out objectives you couldn't. Friends, even your idiot friend who can't figure out something beyond an iPad app, can be made useful to you (Watchdogs touches on this concept). World events are big, bad and challenging and make zerging something of a useful strat... and that's a good thing. By pitting players against a big mean world that doesn't mind getting pummeled over-and-over again, individual skill is an asset rather than a liability.

 

It's a concept that's never explicitly stated (lest we have another "girlfriend mode" fiasco ala Borderlands 2) but it's definitely present in the design.

 

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I'm excited about this direction. If (or rather when) Destiny and The Division are hugely successful - other games will follow. I'd love to see a generation of titles where having more people makes it so the game spews out more cool stuff. This is how early MMOs worked (back in the day before raiding was a thing tuned around skill, rather than farming) and it's a welcome return to the idea that our fellow human beings are, well, y'know other people who want to have fun.


I'm not opposed to playing with beginners, baddies or idiots for that matter, but in our modern paradigm of "esports" and uber-competitive "K : D ratio matters, what's your ELO?" type gaming, they've become something to be buried under the muck, and people who make you rage when you get paired with them. Maybe this future model can return it to the days where, when your drunken friend joins your game, it's fun again.

 In a sea of outdated game concepts being gussied up as "next gen" - it was refreshing to see two titles actually delivering on the idea. All that processing power has to be good for something - build a real, interactive online world where my friends and I can just have fun.

Wii U Wins

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Got your attention?

I don't post anymore on gaming forums. It's not because I hate my fellow gamers, it's because forums attract the people who are the least in-touch with the gaming world. The fact of the matter is, consoles don't matter anymore. Harsh? It's the truth. PC Gaming has rocketed ahead in terms of innovation. The latest trend-setting games: Farmville, Minecraft, DOTA 2, CS:GO, Guild Wars 2... they're all on PC. Equally important are tablets, where a host of multi-million dollar games, from Angry Birds to Scrabble, define what's hot.

Consoles just don't shake a stick at it, and the NPD numbers show.

So why the, would Wii U matter? Well, because Wii U is a console. Strange? Not really. In patent filings Microsoft has already made clear the next Xbox will be an upgradeable device, one where users dump in more money for fancier graphics, more storage space and other ammenities. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's a PC. There's nothing special that distinguishes a PC from such a device... except a PC isn't tied to a single OS, vendor or hardware configuration. I can choose to buy a Mac, Windows PC, build my own or tinker about with various free operating systems. I'm not tied down, so like the guy with the cool car and the glow kit, I'm free to define the hardware for myself.

Sony is in the same boat, selling us an outdated PC with much the same games, and software features, bundled in... and it's showing in the sales. Why should consumers pay $60+ a year for Xbox LIVE to get features like "Facebook, Netflix, and more!" when, the same features are available on cell phones, tablets and PCs without a fee? Why will consumers buy expensive hardware ($300+ for the next gen consoles) when their existing devices off them the games they want already? Much like 3D movies, the fad of graphics won't hold up, especially when more functional android and apple devices offer impressive quality in a mobile package that also provides more day-to-day functionality.

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So why then, does the Wii U win?

Frankly, three reasons:

1. It's cheap

2. It's aimed at families and children

3. It does something different, and does it well.

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Theses are killer points, and ones that Sony and Microsoft will need to address with their own consoles. The original Wii didn't compete in the marketplace against the Sony / Microsoft crowd because it couldn't appeal to the same audience. The lack of full HD support, the lack of commentary games, and a controller that didn't want to support traditional play worked against it for major titles. However, the Wii U rectifies these problems, and goes a step further, it adds something that allows play that won't happen on rival systems.

Imagine the Wii U decides to launch at $250 - it's an easy holiday pickup for parents looking for a fun system to play with their kids. The games are oriented to parties, and it does something that existing systems don't do... and more importantly, PC and tablet don't do, with its group multiplayer and arcade-style entertainment.

While I'm always skeptical of consoles in general, I put my money down to pre-order a Wii U. Come November, it's the only next gen console I see doing something different that makes me actually want to drop some money. While my 360 and PS3 gather dust, I know that I'll at least get my money's worth of entertaintment from the Wii U, while continuing to see tablets and PC as the "real" gaming platforms... and that's something Sony and Microsoft should truly fear.

See Ya

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Many years ago I believed that forums presented an opportunity for gamers to communicate with each other, share ideas, and improve the gaming world by presenting a collectivist consumer that demanded quality. Sadly, that dream has died, a collection of marketing firms using careful brand, loyalty and viral marketing have effectively denied the idea of uninfluenced exchange. Intellectualism has been replaced by argument, thoughtful dialogue has been replaced by feverish loyalties, and the spirit of friendly competition has died to outright trolling.

The games themselves have come a long way. Gaming has reached a point where the quality of our games is outright fantastic. If our "sellout games" like Battlefield, Modern Warfare, and Gears of War are this good, if our "games of the year" like Skyrim and Old Republic are of such uncompromising quality, then the "discussion" is moot. We've come a long way from the days of E.T 2600 or trying to get Quake to run on your Pentium.

People ask why I don't bother to post anymore, or why when I do, all of my effort is spent attacking people who, by all accounts, are the scum that lead to the decline of the forum culture. There's simply no need. Do I miss that gaming culture once demanded forums as a means of exchange? Sure. Do I miss being able to find great people online through the forums? Absolutely. I miss when my grandparents weren't on Facebook and all of the photos were of great parties and sexy girls too... but employers and the march of normality drag on.

Our lives aren't made worse by the death of forum culture, they've just moved on - my group of friends expands, life gets better and the quality of our games is at an all time high. So GameSpot has gone the way of IGN... do professional reviews even matter anymore? So forums have gone the way of 3chen do forums even matter anymore? Play on friends.

subscriber @ bondar crystal ....seriously why aren't you playing SWTOR yet?

-sub

Old Republic

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sub @ bondar crystal

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I'm playing with SO MANY BANELINGS (we also play WoW on Stormreaver). If you play either game, roll a toon and join up, as we're leveling right now for Operations in SWTOR, and of course we're almost done with DS in WoW (5/8 Heroic on 8 hours a week... yeah we're damn good).

Okay Gaming - Merry Christmas

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EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY...MAYBE

to a human

-sub

magazine cartridge like a typewriter wheel
turns out nothing but what we can feel
words so empty and thoughts half for show
conversation drowning and at long last we go

another turn and we're back as it began
i started out a boy i wish i were a man

and death claiming as often he does
our guides and what's left of those that we love
and backwards and upwards, if only we knew

...but always too shallow
never can do

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I'd forgotten how much I missed the last two years of the SEGA Genesis... an odd time of Vectorman, Comix Zone, Earthworm Jim, and Sonic & Knuckles. It's no surprise that the last two years of any console are its most exciting - the treadmill of graphical warfare is over, the genres have been laid out, what will be covnentional has already been refined, and with the core gameplay being coded quickly, developers are free to experiment and execute.

We live in an exciting time. Our arcade games have been freed from the studio systems, top entertainment has become emergent, yesterday's Portal replaced with today's Angry Birds and Minecraft. And while it's tempting for the cynic in me to point out how heavily these titles crib from past experiences, I can truly appreciate the positive impact the grassroots and indie developer movement has on the industry.

Perhaps it's too much to hope, but I'd love to see a return to the glamorous industry - geeks in small groups coming up with creative games, over the modern "500 programmers in a crumbling industrial building, no new carpet because it isn't in the budget".

I can dream.

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SKYLANDERS DOESN'T SUCK

The games emerging this holiday season make me smile. The inevitable cash grab (in this case, Skylanders) is well executed, with quality toy figurines and a genuinely playable experience. Sure, it's shallow and expensive, but it's a vast improvement over the games of my childhood. Twenty years ago a publisher would have just shipped broken code and laughed all the way to the bank that whatever license they slapped on the cartridge got them a sale. Today, we have a clever hack-n-slash that's surprising in the quality of its execution.

I'm not sure how I feel about spending the cash to collect another entourage of figurines (been there, done that, thanks Warhammer 40K) but I can comfortably say I'd have fun playing this game on Christmas morning... more than I can say of Garfield, Back to the Future, Ren & Stimpy or any of the other horrible games from my childhood. It's refreshing to see something that could have been slapdash actually done right, and if the sold-out display at my local Best Buy is any indication, it has paid off.

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ELITE, CASH GRAB OR BRILLIANT IDEA?

Call of Duty returns with a Modern Warfare that, at worst, can be called a MW1 clone. Shucking the awful mistakes of MW2 (oh boy, nuked again!) a new killstreak system and more balanced weapon perks breath surprising life into the game. I'm the first one to accuse Activision of being formulaic, and make no mistake, this is Modern Warfare 2012 (yes, it's a Madden reference), but it's well executed. Unlike series like Battlefield, which continues to make mistakes with its awful leveling system, I have to give credit to MW3 in delivering something I found, despite all of my hatred of the mainstream, enjoyable.

Yes, I'm gagging too.

ELITE is an interesting idea, and I'm curious where Activision will go with it. We all know map-packs suck. They're a necessary evil to combat the loss of profit from used games, and the cost of running multiplayer services, but at the same time they divide the community. As more map packs are released, you wind up with a fragmented player base, each map pack creating more groups, and eventually players at the "back of the pack" looking at the staggering cost of "catching up" and opting instead to buy a different game.

ELITE offers a possible solution, instead of having several "subscriber levels" as map-packs generate, they could choose to have only two subscriber levels. The normal subscribers would get the "new maps" several months down the road (ala Halo 3), while the ELITE subscribers would get the new map packs immediately, as well as some additional services. In essence, the diehard players would fund their new content, and the masses, myself included, would get it handed to us a few months later.

I don't know if Activision will take that route. The idea of time-sensitive pricing is nothing new, but in the digital age it's reaching an extreme. Free-to-play games essentially work entirely on this model: paying for perks, a piece of upgraded loot or faster EXP, and for ELITE it could be no different. I'll ultimately be watchful, as this is the emergence of something akin to GOSU TV meets WoW, for the FPS audience. Hate as you will, this sort of service is likely the future of most multiplayer games, and, for all its faults, the subscriber model tends to work better than the map-pack model, as micro-transactions on a platform where minimum price content is still fairly expensive (such as consoles) don't work.

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KILLING SO MANY DRAGONS IN SPACE

There are four holiday presents under the tree for RPG fans this year: Skyrim, Dark Souls, World of Warcraft: Dragonsoul and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The first, Skyrim, is the most obviously well executed, as it's the only one currently released as of this posting. I've been critical of Bethesda since their decision to neuter Fallout for the mainstream audience, and I'm not certain I'll ever forgive them for Oblivion's absolutely idiotic leveling system... but if Skyrim is their apology for their past mistakes, it's a damn good one. The leveling system makes sense, areas lock to the level you entered them (so you actually feel more powerful as you level up) and the epic dragon battles are, well, it's dragons. The number of hours that Skyrim will claim is uncanny.

Dark Souls is, once again, amazing, beautiful, well-executed and wonderfully challenging. It's everything Demon's Souls was, refined into a package that makes you feel even more lonely (no more hub world abuse ala 4-1 / 4-2 farming in Demon's Souls). Difficulty wise, the intro area makes things slightly more accessible to a broader audience, but overall the gameplay remains appropriately punishing. If you're an awful cynic like myself, or someone who remembers when games like Rogue, ANGBAND and the original Ultima series actually demanded thought and patience, you'll appreciate this game over the "sword happier" Skyrim. I'd actually have to recommend both, so consider telling your family you have hyper flu and can't visit.

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In the MMO realm, the battle for subscribers is about to begin, with the hotly anticipated Old Republic entering its final betas, and fast approaching the pre-order open beta... going up against World of Warcraft's upcoming Cross-Realm Raid Finder and epic Dragon Soul raid encounter. In much the same way that the introduction of the dungeon finder and PUG-friendly raiding caused an explosion of subscribers (not to mention a surge of popularity for WoW) in Lich King, the upcoming cross-realm raid finder for WoW is an essentially game-changing move for the genre. Raiding, previously only accessible to players in guild, or people willing to subject themselves to the trolls of trade chat on their server, is now open to qualified toons.Players queue up alone, or with friends, and the system does the rest, combining an appropriate 25-man group to take on the upcoming Dragon Soul encounter

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It's an interesting gamble, and one that's likely to have a major impact on the future of the MMO industry. With an aging gaming population and fewer players looking to dedicate huge chunks of time to one specific game, tools that allow players to find good groups at any time, anywhere are at a premium. If Blizzard's tool is successful, I expect it to become the norm for all MMOs.

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As for success, Old Republic is shaping up to have an interseting launch. While it's impossible to say if an MMO will survive past its launch (promising titles like Conan, Tabula Rasa, Lord of the Rings, and Rift have all suffered from being unable to sustain large populations long term), if any title is going to give WoW a run for its money, Old Republic is that title. Featuring heavily voiced and animated leveling, a Mass Effect-like storytelling, heavy player involvement in the game and one of the most popular franchises of all time at its core, it's a strong contender for offering the gameplay that the casual MMO audience (the majority of subscribers) can enjoy.I'll personally be waiting to see what end-game experience emerges before I can pronounce SWTOR a success, but the fact that it's a game I know I'll have to play just for the story alone is enough to convince me it has a real chance.

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I'M NOT A GRINCH, SO WHAT?

I know.

I know.

I actually like this year's holiday lineup. Sue me! They're good games! Whether you like Halo, Battlefield, Modern Warfare, Gears, Dark Souls, Skyrim, Spyro, WoW, Star Wars or gad help you Zelda... (okay, maybe not Zelda, that one is pretty awful, what did you expect? Do people still own the Wii?) I have to say, despite looking a little dated, despite being polished re-takes of what we've been doing this generation, these games are good.

Yes, it's another Saint's Row, yes it's another Assassin's Creed. Yes, gad help us, it's another Call of Duty. But it's a decent Call of Duty. It's a fun Call of Duty, and as I slip away into an eggnog induced coma, it's a Call of Duty I don't mind too much finding under my Christmas Tree. Gad help you Bobby Kotick, you get to live another year.

E3 The New Funeral for Consoles

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E3 has gone through some awkward palpitations over the past few years. From a PAX-like sprawl of every possible gamer in the 2005 to 2008 era, to cut-down shell of itself over the past two years, returning to some strange hybrid sales festival in the current, cash-strapped, times, its convulsions this year took a strange turn in showing exactly how desperate the console market has become in its attempt to stay relevant in the new era of mobile gaming.

I have to ask an honest question, outside of Nintendo's "check out this cool thing" designs, why do we still have consoles? Normally I'm quick to criticize Nintendo's shennanigans, but to be honest, they may be going in the right direction to stay relevant. Both Intel's Sandy Bridge series and AMD's new CPU-GPU hybrids offer solid gaming performance, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets the bright idea to integrate set-top box design with some kind of hyper-modern take on an Android-like gaming platform.

If you don't see the Google-Activision partnership as an eventuality, or some similar mash-up of publishers cutting out the current console juggernauts, you're not looking at the writing on the wall. The high cost of developing modern 3D games has lead to serialization. Mass Effect 3, Gears of War 3, Drake 3, Call of Duty 2012, Eldar Scrolls 5, Old Republic MMO, et cetera. And the big money is ultimately in monetizing those franchises on a monthly basis - the map pack is to an FPS what a monthly fee is to an MMO. In the case of Call of Duty, they will even be switching to a monthly fee.

In terms of networks, both Google and Activision already run successful cloud and server applications. Activision has expressed interest in cutting Microsoft and Sony out of the Call of Duty picture. Microsoft and Sony don't actually develop the chips the games play on, much of the middleware and development tools are contracted out to third parties, so what function are they actually serving in the console marketplace?

Software companies are paying licensing fees to Sony and Microsoft just to get their games on the shelves, they pay licensing fees on add-on content, and none of the monthly fees of services like Xbox LIVE go back to them. Meanwhile the hardware continues to become increasingly outdated, and the security breaches on both Sony and Microsoft networks, alongside an increasing public confusion on what the next Xbox / Playstation will actually offer, and I have to ask: will there be another?

It's an odd line of thought to pursue. In an era where people declared PC gaming dead, the PC devs switched over to Androids, cell phones, STEAM and free to play games that, to be frank, represent the largest are of success in the gaming market. The single biggest threat to console gaming right now is the new PC market, the one that's held within Android devices and tablets, the one that has exploded in casual games and people who literally own their Xbox for the yearly Madden / Call of Duty influx. There are Facebook games that could IPO for the entire worth of the gaming divisions at Sony and Microsoft... so it's a strange world we live in.

What is the future of the console?

What, and when, do Sony and Microsoft offer their next platform?

How would Sony and Microsoft deal with Activision deciding to cut them out of the picture?

I'll be frank, while I'm excited by new games always, the announcements at E3 this year were predictable and showcased what we already know. Software is king. Console hardware has become irrelevant. Gadgets are Nintendo's market (increasingly the Apple of the console world), and Sony and Microsoft continue to be clueless as to their place in the market. Kinect and Move obviously didn't do what they intended, and essentially we now have a Sony "we're sorry we can't get our infrastructure together" excuse chain only to be topped by a Microsoft "what the hell is our market again?" confus-a-rama.


Is it really hard to see the Sony / Microsoft console being replaced by a generic box? Is it hard to see a home docking station for a tablet or google software / whoever-wants-to-manufacture-it box? Is it hard to see open source middleware tied to an apps market being slapped onto Intel / AMD standard design chips and saying "See ya existing console market, the software is the only thing that matters and your platforms have become irrelevant"?

I've been an advocate of platform-less gaming for years, and to be frank, this year's E3 showed just how irrelevant devices, outside of gadgets (Nintendo) have become. I love my 3DS, but it's getting destroyed by the tablet market. The Vita won't survive the tablet / mobile market, and everyone but Sony seems aware of that fact.

What do you think? Do you see a future for Sony and Microsoft, or will they continue to become increasingly irrelevant? Did this year's E3 give you hope, or prove just how out of touch they've become with the current market?

Shadow Wars - The Only 3DS Launch Title You Need

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As Kanye put it, "Life can sometimes be ridiculous".

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When I first saw the 3DS at E3, it struck me that the launch titles of the system would inevitably be garbage. Pick a franchise, insert over-wrought 3D effects, crap into box. It's sad but it's true. The original DS was plagued by the same launch problem, developers focused on the gimmick of the touchscreen rather than on simply making solid games. A year later, as the talent started learning how to use the system, launch titles like Spiderman were left in the dust.

So, queue up the DS launch, the 3DS launch won't be any different... or will it? In playing through the 3DS launch lineup (thanks for the carts boys... keep sending 'em, yes?) I stumbled across something surprising: an actually good SRPG. We're talking Valkryie Chronicles good... we're talking something in the line of X-Com thinking, the kind of game that gives you pause.

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Go figure.

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I promptly threw every other game in the garbage and started doing a little more research. How, exactly, had Ubisoft, king of the generic, pumped out something with actual substance for launch? Didn't they get the memo? In looking at the credits I found my answer: Julian Gollop.

Gamers born after the 1980s may not know the name, but think of him as being the Cliffy B of strategy games. Julian G has a resume so solid that many hardcore PC gamers consider him amongst (if not the) best strategy designers of all time. Additional Kanye references aside (imma let you finish...) I might as well show you the game I'm discussing:

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Boom. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars.

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Suffering horribly from Ubisoft's "don't let a franchise go" syndrome, Shadow Wars has nothing to do with Tom Clancy, little to do with previous Ghost Recon games (other than using the word "ghosts" arbitrarily to refer to what is essentially a SWAT team) and unlike every other title in the series is a straight-up turn-based strategy RPG. Utilizing a cover / fire-back system similar to Valkyrie Chronicles, and gameplay so tight you'll need a diet just to try it, it plows through multiple level-encounters (think MGS: Ghost Walker) that perfectly pair hardcore strategy with a scaling difficulty slider.

Turn down the difficulty, and you have approachable gameplay for those new to the genre. Crank up the difficulty and you have bristly challenge, and the ability to collect additional "stars" (does that make this the Mario title of the launch lineup?) which are used to level up your characters and unlock new abilities.

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"But Subrosian, what about the 3D?".

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The visuals in Shadow Wars are essentially an afterthought. For those of you looking to get a "show off" title for your 3DS (and let's be realistic here, who isn't? If you're buying the system at launch you want something to make your friends "jelly") pick up Street Fighter IV 3D or Nintendogs - the visuals on both titles are phenomenial. But, if you're looking for the game that's actually going to keep you hooked to your 3DS, staying up long past when you should, draining the batteries day-after-day when you should be working?

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Shadow Wars.

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I know, I'm surprised too. Somehow a generic gaming company producing a ported DS to 3DS launch title managed to drop not only the most (gameplay-wise) enjoyable title of the 3DS launch, but they've actually put out a game so good that you need to get a 3DS *now* and play it. I'm not one to put my name to a game, but given that it has no advertising budget, is rarely mentioned in launch-lineup discussions, and will undoubtly rely on fan support to continue as a franchise (see Valkyrie Chronicles) it's worth mentioning that this is out there. On launch day when you're facing the option of picking up yet another racing game (hint - Gran Turismo on the 3DS is just as boring as it is on every other system) or something with some genuine substance, give this a try: you won't regret it.

And that, my friends, is ridiculous.