Maybe it's time I took a look around here again as well. Interesting to see usernames on my Gamespot friends list that I've come to recognize across GB and NeoGAF over the years. This isn't really my gaming home on the internet anymore, but happy to peek in every once in a while. Go team CBSi!
I've been spreading my gaming time pretty evenly over my four consoles lately and I couldn't be happier. These are AAA experiences across the board in what is usually a dull time of the year for new releases. One is a LTTP (Mario Galaxy), the rest are recent. I'll be finishing every one of them, not sure in what order as they're all so addicting and fun. Not to mention perfect showcases for their respective platforms.
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Yup, it's greatness. 5 stars away from a final showdown with Bowser, can't believe how much there is left to see and do. One of the best from last year, and it makes me feel like my impulse Wii purchase has already been worth it even if this is the best game I'll every play for the console.
The World Ends With You (DS)
Just started this one, but I really love it so far. Squaresoft innovating on all levels of game design? What a great idea! TWEWY is a wonderful use of the DS across the board and it's bound to be my go-to subway title for the foreseeable future.
Grand Theft Auto IV (360)
Finishing up things in Algonquin at the moment, so much has already been written about GTAIV but for my tastes it deserves all the praise it's getting. Not a flawless experience but this is undoubtedly Rockstars masterpiece and one of the best games ever made. Dabbling in multiplayer a bit as well, going to add a lot of replayability once the story ends.
Persona 3: FES (PS2)
I was pretty pissed when Persona 3 escaped me upon first printing after all the positive buzz, I thought I'd never play it but thank god for FES. It's packed full of so much goodness from the gameplay elements to the dialogue, the music and the overall feel - hours fly by with this one whether I want them to or not. It's my first SMT game and the best JRPG I've played in years, easily.
My Xbox 360, which I've had for over 2 years with nary a malfunction to speak of, died tonight. No warning signs, just the red ring of death. 2 days before Grand Theft Auto IV. My first reaction? I'm going to be buying a PS3 a lot sooner than I planned on.
I could buy a 360 Arcade for $280, that would allow me to play some GTAIV on my console of choice, but then I'd be stuck with two of the same console after my original gets fixed and returned (who knows when that will be). Or, I trade in a few games, bite the bullet and buy a Playstation 3 which I didn't really want or need for $150 or so more (after taxes and a component cable). Then I'd own all three systems for future gaming purchases and I'll just deal with no extra change in my pocket for a while as bills and rent get paid. But waiting a month plus for my 360 to return just isn't going to cut it.
For some reason I figured it wasn't going to happen to me. Of course it happens at one of the worst times possible (the other would be last fall with the onslaught of GOTY releases). I'm already decided on this for the most part, I'll be going to pick up my new PS3 tomorrow morning and turn a blind eye to my bank account like the good gamer I am. Aren't we supposed to be in a recession? What am I doing making frivilous $400 purchases? Urrrghhhhhh. Goddamn Microsoft and their shoddy hardware. This PS3 business better be worth it in the long run, as my gaming budget is about to tighten up for a while. At least I have plenty of titles to finish for Wii, DS and PS2. Just have to stay far, far away from the Best Buy's and Gamestop's after this week. So pissed.
Feeling pissed at myself for missing out on Persona 3 (thank heavens for FES!), I decided I should stock up on a few quirky Atlus titles while the going was still good out there. So I wound up purchasing both Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire last week, the two ultra gorgeous PS2 exclusives from George Kamitani's VanillaWare studios. Needless to say they feature some of the most lovingly crafted 2D visuals I've seen in games and I've been enjoying them both. Odin Sphere was riding quite the hype train upon release so I sort of knew what to expect from it going in, but so far I've spent way more time addicted to it's pleasantly surprising sister release, the Japanese Harry Potter-meets-RTS in creepy stairwells saga of GrimGrimoire.
Now I usually hate real time strategy, I much prefer the slower, more methodical pace of games like Advance Wars or Civilization. But the manageable scope of the battles, a control scheme that makes sense and the four balanced and interesting schools of magic found in Grim equals fun gameplay that I've really taken a liking to. The fact that you are encouraged to stop the action often to modify or make decisions gives the whole thing more of a turn based feel anyway. And even if you're meeting the enemy in the same damn hallways every time it's still a very engaging, intense and unique experience.
The story is also entertaining - wizard school, demons, Philosopher stones and all that. A bit of Groundhog Day in there as well as you keep reliving your first 5 days at wizard school tower, which was going swimmingly until Mr. dark lord shows up and everyone dies. Only you have the power to stop him! But the characters are cool and the story bits are impressively presented in a next-gen Fire Emblem manner with full voice acting and stunning floaty artwork that is never static. The look and feel of these scenes really keeps you involved in the plot and I find myself doing the "one more battle" thing just to see what's next.
Odin Sphere is a much stuffier affair by comparison, not a lot of smiling going on with these high fantasy folks. It's clear that years were spent on perfecting the visual look of the game as it's not only vibrantly beautiful and hand drawn but there is an impressive attention to details, both in the lush backgrounds and with the action on screen. Every icon is pretty, every animation is stylish. The level of polish is frankly the best I've ever seen for a 2D game. Gameplay wise it's a hybrid of beat-em-up and RPG, but it's certainly not a button masher - there's a fatigue bar you must keep an eye on, not my favorite gameplay mechanic and even if it is a hindrance at times it forces you really think about balancing your attacks with defense.
Each side scrolling level is broken up into circular and self-contained chunks which provides a few interesting gameplay moments and branching pathways but I really don't see the huge benefit of this design choice. It's like Viewtiful Joe with more loading times in that each chunk gives you a grade, with different goodies dropping out of the sky depending on how well you did. The bosses are huge and overall the game gets quite frustrating, some of the enemies are flat out cheap and grinding is a viable but unwelcome option for evening the tables a bit. There's also a deep instant alchemy system to experiment with and a clunky inventory to navigate for creating said alchemy, but it's worth it. Cooking is in the game as well, and that's always a plus.
Either of these games would make a great addition to any PS2 collection, personally I never owned a Saturn or Princess Crown and I've been very impressed with what VanillaWare has to offer from what I've played of these two titles so far. Excited to see where they're headed next. Both games have flaws, some more serious than others (what game doesn't?) but there's plenty of substance to go along with the captivating visuals. These are fun and quirky titles full of attractive cartoon females and Eastern developer charm and they'll surely remain on store shelves long enough for all interested parties to find themselves a copy at a reasonable price. Right, Atlus?
You may have heard The Wire described as such before, I know I did. I had seen bits and pieces but recognized quickly I should start with the first episode of season 1 and go from there if I wanted to really see what the fuss was all about. And wouldn't you know it, the critics are right. The Wire is the best show on TV, I'm in the middle of the third season right now and it just keeps getting better and better.
The first few episodes keep things focused - it plays out like a well written police drama set in Baltimore where you get both sides of the story, entertaining but a little on the slow side. Soon enough the slow moments pay off and as the layers reveal themselves and the tapestry becomes more apparent, you're not just invested in the journeys of interesting characters or the biting dialogue - you're in the middle of a bonifide Greek tragedy set in urban America. The detective work is engrossing, the scenes become electric and you never know what's coming next. This show feels real, maybe the realest drama I've ever had the pleasure to watch. And not all of it is pleasurable - part of the joy of The Wire is it pulls no punches at its targets, which happen to be the dysfunctional controlling institutions of its chosen city and the various people they affect.
What begins as cops and robbers eventually evolves into one giant portrait of Baltimore that follows and examines the drug trade, the law, the working klass, the school system, the press and the politicians. The acting is wonderful and the characters are three dimensional and always evolving. There is humor, wit, culture and intelligence on display but what makes the show great is the anger. This is an angry show at heart, it's based on real life people and real life events and situations and it even provides some answers to go along with its critique. It's great TV and almost every episode starts and ends with a bang so you always want more. Even the theme music shines - the apropo gospel standard 'Way Down In The Hole' is different for each season to reflect the shifting nature of the program.
Basically I can't recommend it highly enough, so much that I'm writing about it on my games blog. Check it out (from the beginning) if you haven't already. Time for another episode or two before bed.
Here's a little gem from the past - the dearly beloved, not-so good, mid 80's beat em' up known as My Hero. It was released on the Sega Master System in 1986 and I purchased it in the electronics section of Macy's in Smith Haven Mall sometime thereafter. Originally a Japanese arcade game by Coreland, this port holds a special place in my heart and for a number of reasons.
First off, the cover. It's a Sega Card game, which is fun, but that means we have the signature live hand holding the game card as box art, always a hit. The artwork itself is a minimalist work that tells the tale of a muscle bound, mohawk sporting dock worker of sorts grimacing (grinning?) from being punched in the chin and said fist poking out from the edge.
The game starts like a simple Double Dragon clone only with an ugly, irritating color palate and repeating backgrounds. Unfortunately this never really changes throughout the game. So the bad guy takes your girl, some bouncy Barmitzvah music starts playing on an endless loop and you start jumpkicking everything in your path into the sky with a delightfully awkward pose. And so on and so forth.
It gets fairly tough and very boring after a point and I usually die all the time but it's quite the unforgettable little bad game. Just watch this video and delight as thugs, bombs, pans, pigs, boulders and some other stuff prove to be no match for some kid with a nice haircut and a red bowtie.
Damn that's one freaky looking jumpkick
I played quite a lot of good games in '07 but if I had to pick one to win some kind of all-encompassing award for my most satisfying, rewarding and memorable experience of the year I'd probably have to go with Bioware's Mass Effect. (Disclaimer: have not played Super Mario Galaxy). Right off the bat I'll admit this game has some problems. Technical issues do crop up, there's some strange design choices afoot and you can nitpick the flaws to death if you choose to - I know I did during my first few hours playing through. But once I accepted Mass Effect for what it is, warts and all, I was sucked in completely and haven't looked back.
First off the universe created by Bioware is the deepest and, frankly, the best ever seen in video games as far as I'm concerned. Even minor species like the gelatinous Hanar and the giant, monotone Elcor are utterly fascinating with a rich galactic history and culture. There are many plots and themes at play here such as the relationship between organic and inorganic life, choosing between slavery and genocide, the different faces of humanity and questioning religion and our notion of God. Fortunately the game is not nearly as heavy handed as all of that, and you can just as easily describe the title as being Jack Bauer in space with plenty of action and some pretty high stakes. It's a space opera of the highest caliber with humor, drama, interesting characters, and a whopper of an endgame that kept me on the edge of my seat and left me feeling spent and satisfied when I was through. And even after that I had to make some pretty major decisions that stand to affect my character's story in the sequel in significant ways. There is plenty going on here that sets the stage for a second and third game but not in the Halo 2 sense, more like "I can't wait to see what X's homeworld is like" or an important antagonistic species that's yet to be seen up close.
Another short disclaimer, I love a good dialogue tree (big fan of PC adventures and all that) and if you aren't so keen on listening, watching and reading for extended spells maybe ME isn't for you. Sure the game is a highly capable third person squad shooter with fun powers and customization, but at it's heart is KOTOR-inspired RPG goodness. The outstanding dialogue and voice acting, beautiful character models that convey actual emotion,the choices you make, side quests, environments, everything a great open ended WRPG needs is here in spades but in a much more focused package than, say, Oblivion.
Best of all is the overall feel and look of the game. The whole late 70's, early 80's Sci-Fi thing going on here is just brilliant - think 2001 or Blade Runner. The music is perfect, Brian Eno-esqe synths and orchestral flourishes never get in the way but always set the mood just right. And the film grain effect (which can be turned off) really works, it's a nice little touch that may get overused by developers in the future but for this game I loved it.
So there it is. Game is buggy, autosave is broken, camera is lazy, planet exploration gets repetitive, levels are broken up by elevators everywhere, it takes a few hours and levels to get the hang of combat, there's only one real city in the game, menus are poorly designed. Plenty of room for improvement. But I got so swept up in the world and had so much fun on the journey that after a point none of that mattered. I'm playing through a second time as a different build and it's just as enjoyable as the first. It's a really wonderful game and the one that stuck with the most from a truly memorable year for gaming.
Wow, things just got a lot colder here on Gamespot. The way in which Jeff (allegedly) lost his job is sickening and forces a shadow of skepticism over all the editorial content from this site moving forward. How much pressure do reviewers take from above to keep in mind their advertising partners when it comes to high profile reviews? How many times are they reminded of their own job security during this process? How often do they cave in and recieve a little something extra for their cooperation? Why is a refusal to comply with such practices considered proper grounds to fire a loyal 10 year employee, Editor-In-Chief and overall trusted face of their website? What company could possibly fathom this a sound business move?
The review wasn't even overly harsh, Kane & Lynch is getting universally mediocre scores across the board. I get the pressure from publisher's PR firms, I get the advertising pushes, what bothers me is the "we pay your salary with our giant flashy ads so we own your review" attitude that seems to have gotten Jeff into troube when it should never have been a legitamite position in the first place. Shame on CNET for doing this. Shame on Eidos if they had anything to do with this, ie. threatening to pull advertising, generally acting like a baby, etc. Shame on that idiot from Maxim who runs things now who probably made this decision in the first place, if just to shake things up and leave his mark. Who knows, I don't have any real info on the issue. But if things are what they appear to be it's a sad day indeed for the gaming media at large and the people that rely on them for objective content.Say hello to the 8.0-10.0 review scale! It's been a long time coming, apparently there's just too much money riding on this industry for critical flops anymore. Especially when said flop is plastered left, right and top center of said criticism. Makes a man want to start a 1up account and never look back.
What a time it is for us, eh? I'm inundated with quality, overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I want to own on store shelves right now after so many months of slim pickin's. I'm still getting my money's worth out of Halo 3 multiplayer but have moved on to two absolutely fantastic single player experiences in Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed, both living up to their hype IMO. Sure they've got some issues but I seriously have to put the controller down sometimes and think to myself how lucky I am to be enjoying such high quality entertainment, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Call of Duty 4 beckons me to become the go-to multiplayer game of choice on my console. TF2 as well, among everything else the rediculously packed Orange Box has to offer. NHL 08 was a hell of a rental and I'm considering picking that one up soon. Still need to get my hands on Virtua Fighter 5 and Eternal Sonata, as both are must play titles for me. And oh yeah, Rock Band if I can find it. I mean, that's crazy right? I've been buying lots of games yet close to 500 dollars worth of must own titles remain, and that's just for 360. If I had a PS3 I could easily be deep into Uncharted, Ratchet and wasting time with Everyday Shooter. If I had a Wii I would be playing Zak & Wiki, Nights and the supremely sublime Mario Galaxy, the leading GOTY candidate in this highly competitive year. Even PSP, DS and PC saw a few must have gems thrown their way, though not as much as their console bretheren.
Basically, publishers are stupid. I'll probably buy one more myself and call it a season, and maybe if I'm lucky I'll be on the receiving end of a couple more after the holidays. Spread the love, people! The industry does not revolve around Mom's Christmas shopping anymore. There's too much quality on shelves and not enough cash to go around. Sure as rain we'll be in the doldrums again 6 months from now, money burning holes in our pockets that just isn't there today. As it stands subpar offerings like Kane & Lynch and Beautiful Katamari aren't going to sell at all, and neither will niche titles that fall through the cracks like Sam and Max Season 2 and Chibi Robo DS.
Seriously, stagger release dates already you stupid publishers, stop targeting late Fall with every damn high profile project. There's no need for AAA releases to be a seasonal thing. We promise to still buy and play them, even if it is warm and sunny outside. Who cares about the sun anyway? I've got Mass Effect and there's way cooler suns in there, plus a hell of a lot more of them.