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Archive for January, 2010

Mass Effect 2: The First Eight Hours

Posted by nfinit on January 31, 2010

So this is later than sorority girl a month after coming home from Cancun, but due to work kicking my ass up and down 5th avenue in midtown Manhattan this week I’ve not had the time to sit down for some quality time with any games, and I knew Mass Effect 2 was going to be one of those games that I wouldn’t fully enjoy if I didn’t have a good long stretch to sit down in front of and veg out before while absently eating Pringles.  So after most of a Saturday devoted to saving the galaxy in as surly an anti-social way as possible.  So while I wait for my eyes to re-assemble themselves into something more closely resembling spheres and for my body to overcome the toxic shock I tried to induce up on it by eating dried potato crisps for three straight meals, here are some quick and dirty thoughts on Mass Effect 2:

*Remember how I was saying in last week’s Wallet Abuse Wednesday that there’s a pattern all post-Knights of the Old Republic Bioware games follow?  Well, ME2 nicely breaks that pattern by removing all the preliminary bullshit and throws you right into the “gather your party” stage that everyone enjoys anyway.  Sure there’s an introductory sequence where you’re re-introduced to the controls and the game world and given some vague idea of what you’re doing, but it lasts maybe an hour at the most before you’re sent out to fend for yourself.

*speaking of stripping away extraneous bullshit, Bioware has managed to create a WRPG with no loot.  Well, I mean, I assume there’s no loot– I’m eight hours in and I’ve not seen a single weapon or armor drop, and all the upgrades come in the form of blueprints that are automatically downloaded to your ship’s database and applied to all your weapons at once.  The nearest thing the game has to loot are caches of credits and rare metals scattered through levels which you use to make new weapons and buy upgrades.  I must say, it all feels rather liberating, as if there’s one thing Bioware has never been good it, its inventory management and easily the worst part of Mass Effect 1 was dealing with the storm of useless junk  that would pour in from hacked wallsafes and dead Krogan warlords.  However, it does feel odd to play a RPG where the only loot drops are ammo clips, which bring us to–

*Basically, this is an 80+ hour game of Gears of War.  You would be hard pressed to find any vestige of turn-based WRPG combat in ME2– You can pause the game to swap weapons an access your special abilities, but you can map most of these to controller buttons and use them on the fly anyway.  Outside of hit points I’m not even sure if this game has any stats.

*In light of all this, I’m not even quite sure if ME2 qualifies as an RPG.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing– the combat parts of ME2 are fun, the galaxy exploration parts are good, and the NPC interaction is as excellent as it ever is in a Bioware game.  But if you define RPGs by combat or stats or loot… well, then ME2 isn’t an RPG.   If you instead define an RPG by all the other stuff WRPGs bring to the table– exploration, NPC interaction, decisions made by your character and a metric fuckton of sidequests, then it’s very much a traditional WRPG.

*This game is seriously pretty.  It’s gorgeous.  There’s still some texture pop in during dialog sequences, but it’s been exorcised from combat and some vistas the game presents are reminiscent of Josh Harris’ sci-fi book covers.  It’s stunning, and very un-Bioware like.

*Mass Effect games could greatly benefit from at least one more party member slot.  I’ve only uncovered 3 extra party members aside from the 2 you start of with and already I’m fairly sure I have the party I want to keep with me through the rest of this playthrough.  For that matter, Mass Effect 2 really needed to keep Dragon Age: Origin’s party member system where you had four party members and could switch between all members at will.  We could have had the first ever example of a Gears of War-style co-op shooter fully accessible by a single player.

*As we saw in Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s new EA-mandated advertisement campaign did nothing for Mass Effect 2.  Is ME2 dudebro?  Mabye a little, but no dudebro is going to sit through 80 hours of a single player, dialog-heavy game.  If MAss Effect 2’s barrage of TV ads during the NFL playoffs turned you off the game, don’t worry.  All the stuff you loved from ME1 is there, with all the crap you hated stripped out.

*Tycho from Penny Arcade tried to compare the change in Mass Effect 2 to the changes in Dues Ex to Dues Ex 2, but its not really comparable– Deus Ex was a classic that just needed a few tweaks, most of them graphical.  The one thing it didn’t need was modernization as it was already the most modern attempt at a WRPG made up to that point.  What Dues Ex 2 did instead was strip the game down to it’s FPS core, simplify what was there until it could fit onto an XBox 1 gamepad, and then shipped it out the door.  ME2 takes all the stuff no one really liked from Mass Effect 1– Inventory management, MAKO driving missions, Ashley/Kaiden, and throws them out the door, leaving behind a streamlined, modern action WRPG that manages to merge the very best parts of its component genres without insulting fans of either– which is the exact opposite of what Deus Ex 2 did.

Closing thought:  Between the two games, w now have something over 100 combined hours of Mass Effect content– that’s a rather conservative estimate that doesn’t take into account multiple good/evil playthroughs and sidequests– point is, Mass Effect is now a bona-fide sci-fi franchise, with more combined content than the entire run of Firefly + Serenity, or all official Star Wars movies, or even the entire run of Battlestar Galatcia.  So my question is, how much further does ME need to go before it can spawn a fandom?  Between the two games it has a fully realized universe– the only problem  I can see that keeps ME from being as legitimate as any given sci-fi franchise short of Trek is that there’s no official narrative.   And Mass Effect has the added benefit of still being current.   There will assuredly be a third Mass Effect game, and likely even a Mass Effect movie at some point.  Mass Effect may well be the most relevant sci-fi currently available.


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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 1-26-10: A suprising lack of Mass Erect jokes

Posted by nfinit on January 26, 2010

This is one of those remarkable weeks that may well go down as one of the secret great weeks in videogame release date history.  Every platform– even the PSP!– gets something unique and interesting and possibly even worth playing.  In the Wii’s case you get two compelling videogames, both of which are third party!

And as much as we bitch at publishers for turning tail at the prospect of facing off against Modern Warfare 2 in NOvember, this is probably a good thing.  Left to their own devices, most of the games on today’s list would have been abandoned.  Perhaps the greatest thing Modern Warfare 2 has done is to break up the industry’s belief that they’re operating a market that only operates 3 months out of the year.

Of course, the industry being what it is, nothing will actually be learned from any of this.  The traditional density of holiday titles has just been pushed back a month and Summer ’10 looks as barren as any other Summer for videogames, a puzzling tactic when you consider that Summer is typically when the vast majority of the gaming audience is on break from school and/or would rather spend all day inside in front of an air conditioner.

Imagine:  Party Planner (DS)

We’ve reached the point in society where we’ve killed our kids dreams enough that they’re willing to spend thier free time playing games about being hostesses.  Good work, America.

(Also, yeah, this has been said a million times before, but Party Planner?  Really?  No Imagine: Scientist or Imagine:  Astronaut or Imagine: NSA Linguistics Specialist?  Shouldn’t NOW be all over this sort of thing?)

Legend of Kay (DS)

This is the hardest game on today’s list to get a grasp on, as the internet seems utterly unaware the DS version exists and all the media, articles and reviews instead focus on 2005’s original PS2 version.  I can’t even tell if they’ve taken the PS2 original and managed to fit it inside a DS case or if this is an Okami-style reworking complete with clumsy touchscreen control.

If JoWooD has managed to do the latter, then you’re looking at a tight, if somewhat dated, cutsey Zelda-like.  It’s being published by shovelware experts Dreamcatcher, so chances are they didn’t actually bother spending a lot of money on this translation– which in this case might actually be a good thing.


When the term “mixed emotions” comes up in the IGN preview for a videogame, you know you have issues. I mean, the open beta has been out for a month now and there’s zero buzz generated for MAG, no reviews, remarkably few videos and we’re talking about what should be a major first-party exclusive.

What’s most troubling is that all discussion about MAG dried up right about when it’s open beta was released a month ago– and it’s not like there’s a whole lot of MAG that’s not within that beta, the entire reason for this game to exist is as a massive squad-based shooter, there’s no hidden gameplay elements or any single player component worth speaking of.  You’d think Sony would want -some- sort of discussion going on to deflect the massive amount of hype Mass Effect 2 has built up for the 360– the fact that Sony refuses to talk about this game while at the same time refusing to move the release date is troubling.  Either Sony doesn’t care about MAG (which is always a possibility) or they know full well the game is a bomb and the best thing to do with it is to push it out when all attention is diverted to the biggest release of the first quarter.

Mass Effect 2 (360)

Mass Effect 2 is one of those weird media experiences where you’re best off ignoring all the advertisement the parent company has produced and just remind yourself that it’s actually going to be enjoyable and not something awful and regrettable.  Also if you’ve managed to avoid doing so already, don’t listen to Giant Bomb for the next month, those assholes seem intent on spoiling every specific plot point and secret the game has to offer.

In short, this is going to be the finest sci-fi RPG experience since… well, since the last Mass Effect.  The only thing that concerns me is Bioware fatigue.  Now, I love Bioware to death, but having plowed through two separate Mass Effect 1 playthroughs and about 120 hours of Dragon Age, I’ve noticed that Bioware does a very few specific things in each of their games, and I can only hope that ME2 manages to break up the formula.

I mean, I’ve not played a moment of ME2 yet, I’ve studiously avoided gameplay footage and save for the aforementioned Giant Bomb podcasts I’ve managed to seclude myself from as much ME2 discussion as possible, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to tell the specific plot points of ME2 before they occur, and I can do this because these same plot points have appeared in every Bioware game since the release of Knights of the Old Republic:

1:  Introductory Chapter (Usually this is the worst part of any Bioware game, although Dragon Age has shown that they’re capable of producing a game where the opening 3 hours aren’t an excercise in tedium).

2:  Introduction to the story

3:  Complete dismissal of the story as you do 60 hours of sidequests

4: Visit four or five specific places to move the plot forward, scattered about in an overworld map that gives the impression of freedom of choice

5: Gather your party

6: Final encounter

7:  Epilogue

Also there will be a party HQ and a dating sim involved.  Possibly also a wholly embarrassing/possibly awesome musical interlude.  Other random bitchings:

* Bioware games don’t really allow for as much party customization as you might be lead to believe, as by the time you have your party together most of the game is already over.  By the time you have everyone together, you probably have a team you’re comfortable with.  So the only real method of party experimentation comes through multiple playthroughs– which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Bioware games are made to be played through at least twice, but it’s kinda misleading.

*A minor gripe, but this bugs me:  rather than featuring full-on gay party members, all the “alternative” party members Bioware includes are bisexual.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s kinda a cop-out on Bioware’s part.  I was almost impressed with the character of Zeveran in Dragon Age: Origins as it would appear at first glance the game had presented you with a non-stereotypical homosexual character, but it just turns out he’ll fuck anything breathing.  It’d just be neat if Bioware tried something forward-thinking this time around.

*Equipment selection in Bioware games is abysmal, particularly in regards to armor drops.  Finding quality cloth armor drops for casters in Dragon Age was nearly impossible, and Tali was using the same armor I found 2 hours into the game through the entire endgame sequence.  Bioware likes to address these issues through DLC packs, but forcing players to pay for content to get decent equipment is just tacky.  We wouldn’t accept this behavior from any Activision publisher, and Bioware shouldn’t receive a pass simply because they do so many other things right.

*It’d be nice if Bioware could hire one guy who knew how to make a working inventory system.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)

Hey you, hardcore Nintendo fan.

Yeah, you.  You know how you keep complaining that no one ever makes original, high-quality hardcore 3rd party titles exclusively for the Wii?

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle  Screenshot

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle  Picture

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle  Screenshot

Buy this fucking game.

And don’t be scared off by stories about the first No More Heroes game that you didn’t buy, either.  All the clunky open world stuff is gone, all the jobs people hated from the first game replaced with Retro Gaming Challenge-inspired NES minigames, and you can skip money collecting entirely and just challenge bosses directly.  Also this:

dz801s.gif picture by bigredcoat

I’m not a fan of buying into mass media in the belief that media deserves to be supported, but I think there’s a legit reason to buy NMH2 outside of the fact that it should prove to be an excellent action game:  You’re not likely to find a more stylish, original, inventive game this year, and certainly not on the Wii.  Suda 51 gets us.

Shadow of Destiny (PSP)

Much like Legend of Kay, this game is a hard one to gauge as all the relevant media has focused on the console original, and much like Legend of Kay, if it turns out to be a good port it may well be a worthy portable experience.  That said, the PS2 original was released way back in early 2001, and what made a good adventure game in the age of Shenmue may not hold up well today.

Still, the concept is fantastic– It’s a murder mystery where you’re trying to solve (and ultimately avoid) your own eminent slaying.  Also no combat, just straight console-style adventure with no minigame foolishness.  It’s about as much of a throwback you can get without resorting to paddle controls and  an A/V switch.

Tatsunoko vs Capcom (Wii)

This is a hard game for hardocre Wii afficiandos to get a grasp on, as on one hand it’s a semi-serious 2d Capcom fighter on the Wii, on the other hand they don’t quite understand why they havent’ been given Street Fighter 4 in some form.  That said, you have to respect Capcom’s boldness here– Tatsunoko is hardly a household name outside of Japan and the entire old-school 2d fighter genre is an unknown quantity on the Wii.  When you account for the licensing wrangling that had to occur for the Tatsu characters to appear in North America at all you begin to wonder if Capcom is seriously expecting a return on investment at all.

That said, should you care about this game?  Well, outside of Marvel vs Capcom on XBLA a while back, there have not been a lot of these types of masher-friendly mindless fun 2d fighters released this gen, and outside of Super Smash Brothers Brawl there’s just really nothing else like it for the Wii at all.  But you also run the danger that this will be seen by the Wii audience as a lesser port of a full PS360 experience, the Dead Space Extraction of the Street Fighter universe.  Wii owners may have preferred to have been given some form of Street Fighter IV instead, even if they’d have to settle for Soul Calibur II-level graphics to get to that point.

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Authenticating the Xbox Game Room Experience

Posted by nfinit on January 24, 2010

Save for a brief dalliance with online Street Fighter IV, I’ve managed to avoid the siren’s call of Xbox Live Arcade Gold membership.

Paying for online service seems a punitive and regressive tact for Microsoft to take as compared to the fully functional free services offered by Sony (and to a lesser extent, Nintendo) and the fluff services that Microsoft has tried to attach to Live Gold (Twitter, Facebook, Last FM) have yet to entice me as these services work perfectly well for free on the regular ol’ Internet.

So I’m a fairly satisfied second-class Xbox 360 owner, and I’d be hard pressed to think of a service which would sway my opinion and warrant another $50/year bill to my credit card– Well, I mean, unless Microsoft had a plan to create your own arcade space within Live using retro arcade games where your friends could come and visit then yeah, I’d probably have to break down and buy Live Gold for that.

(via Kotaku)

(via Destructoid)

(via Giant Bomb)


However, Microsoft being Microsoft, I’m concerned that they may push the ideal of the arcade over the reality of the arcade– namely,a bright, safe, clean, a place you don’t dread walking into, nothing of which represented the actual authentic arcade experience.  And I think a lot of reason for that is that most gamers haven’t actually been inside an arcade.  They went out of business!  Arcades were dank, dismal places that probably did more harm than good to the gaming industry and it’s no mistake that as soon as home consoles could convincingly replicate Tekken without need for specialized hardware that the arcade industry in America died virtually overnight.

So if we’re going to do this right, I want my arcade experience to authentically replicate the arcade as I knew it personally, if perhaps for no other reason than for my arcade to serve as a lesson for generations to come:


Possessing no discernable form of income, no car of his own, nor any detectable identity away from the immediate confines of the mall arcade, and likely operating under a variety of illegal narcotics, Clifford exists for one reason and one reason alone– to defeat you at Street Fighter.  Clifford is an implacable arcade game playing machine, laying waste to all in his path, issuing mocking dismissals to his opponents even as his quarters fall into the catch box.

If Clifford were to direct his natural game-playing skills toward something useful instead of mastering Guile’s seven hit corner handcuff combo he could have become one of the great chess grand champions, or world-famous poker player. As it stands he uses a mixture of phenomenal natural talents and a drug-induced haze to make sure you won’t spend more than two minutes at any given Street Fighter cabinet before slinking off to a nice safe game of Fatal Fury Special.


The straight-laced, methodical Ryu to Clifford’s cocky and overbearing Ken; Phillip may seem a nice fellow with a good-paying job (despite also seemingly never leaving the arcade) and a bright future ahead of him– but make no mistake about it, Phillip also exists entirely to take your hard-earned tokens away from your pockets, denying you even the visceral thrill of Clifford’s elaborate, flashy 27-second long air juggles as he executes an endless, demoralizing, boring secession of three-hit Jumping Fierce-> Crouching Jab-> Fierce Fireball combos.

Possessing no discernable personality of his own, Phillip eschews Clifford’s opiate-induced zen state for a mixture of his own superb skills and an obsessive amount of research to stifle his foes.  Phillip will peruse messageboards, usenet, YouTube, ancient Assyrian texts, anything at his disposal in order to gain an advantage, all to perfect the exact frame of animation where Ryu’s first pixel of fist interacts with Chun Li’s hitbox.

Battles between Phillip and Clifford often take hours to complete and are fully capable of depleting the gold reserves of developing nations.  These conflicts will usually end with Phillip issuing grudging respect toward Clifford’s abilities while Clifford will ask for a ride to a friend he knows who “owes him some money”.

That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken

Maybe it’s a deluxe Galaxy Force machine with full rotating cockpit, a Capcom Dungeons and Dragons arcade machine, or  a two person Tokyo Wars booth, but whatever it is it’s by far the coolest machine in the entire arcade and it’s always broken.  Maybe you’ve heard about another machine like it in a Chuck E Cheese three towns away, but the one time you drove out there to lay witness to a fully functional version of That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken you found a barren lot overrun by wild marsupials and vagrants.  You’ve never actually managed to play That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken yourself, but you’re sure that if you were to experience but a credit’s play on the machine that you could die a happy man.

On the rare occasions where you’ve actually seen it operational That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken is almost always being surrounded by….


You don’t know how they got there and no one will take responsibility for the little bastards, but they’re invariably all over the place, under foot, slamming violently on buttons to machines they don’t have quarters to play, waving their hands between you and the screen, begging for quarters, screaming with the staff over the crane machine, asking if anyone has seen their dad, running cover for their friend who’s being chased by a liquid metal assassin robot from the future, breaking the Galaxy Force cabinet again… And the worst bit is how you’re utterly powerless against these little brats as you just know if you ask the kid if he’d mind moving out-of-the-way so you can play some Captain Commando that his meth-riddled mom who’s been using the mall as her own personal daycare will materialize to knee you mercilessly in the crotch.

Dropping off the kids at the arcade was a classic late 80’s/early 90’s white trash child rearing technique and one wonders where these mothers abandoned  their children once the arcades began closing their doors.  It’s interesting to note that this dovetails nicely with the rise of the homeschooling phenomenon in the United States– Could it be that the collapse of the American arcade industry left millions of mothers with little option but to force their kids to stay at home?  Would America be facing its current public education crisis if Daytona USA had never been developed?  Most importantly, are we raising an entire generation of children lacking an instinctual smooth crouching roundhouse into a double fireball?

A Row of Daytona USA Machines

As much as I love Sega of yore, I have to wonder exactly how much the success of Daytona USA played into the eventual downfall of the arcade.  Sure, most people like to point fingers to the proliferation of fighting games, but it always seemed to me that the Daytona USA machine– while undoubtably popular– took up most of the oxygen for the casual arcade fan.  How many times would someone pop into the arcade, see the Dayona USA machine in use, only to walk back out again without dropping a single token in an NBA Jam machine?

I contend that the success of Daytona USA forced arcade operators to stuff their arcades with ever more elaborate Daytona USA setups, eventually forcing operators to spend tens of thousands of dollars on multiple four-player cabinet setups– which in itself set up an arms race between arcade developers to release the most eye-cacthing, stupidly expensive, space-hogging arcade cabinets imaginable, culminating in Dance Dance Revolution and the spectacle of thousands of obese pasty geeks sweating profusely as they attempt a sadistic form of digital Riverdance.

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DO NOT WANT: Digital Swag

Posted by nfinit on January 22, 2010

Remember when you used to actually get stuff for your pre-order?

Okay, sure, it was terrible stuff, like a sub-Fruit of the Loom-quality T that turned everything in your wash the same color as the shirt itself, or a 20-page soft-cover “art book” with paper stock on par with Game Informer magazine, or a messenger bag of such appalling quality that you could leave it behind on the N-W from Queens to Brooklyn and find it waiting for you the next day, but at least you got some tangible, physical object in return for lending GameStop fifty US dollars interest-free.  Nowadays we get digital pre-order swag– Weapons or armor or levels often unique to the location at which you registered your pre-order.

Not only are these awful in that we’re basically receiving nothing at all in return for our pre-order dollars– thus exchanging physical t-shirts for virtual t-shirts– they’re also awful in that it’s since become impossible to buy the full version of many games without registering a pre-order at a specific retailer.  Batman: Arkham Asylum was probably the worst offender in recent memory, having featured exclusive challenge maps for pre-orders placed at GameStop, shutting you out of content if you chose to wait until release to buy Arkham Asylum– Basically placing an entire swath of game hostage, forcing gamers to choose between waiting for a review score or playing the entire game.  Luckily Arkham Asylum is a fine gaming experience, but it’s not exactly the sort of thing that engenders good will.

Of course, publishers being the utter bastards that they are have started offering dueling exclusive pre-order content for specific retailers.  Activision’s upcoming Blur, for instance, offers a multiplayer mode exclusive for pre-orders placed at GameStop; whereas Best Buy gets an exclusive car.  Meaning it’s not only impossible to own the full version of a game if you don’t pre-order, you’re screwed over unless you’re willing to pay for multiple versions of the same game.

(While we’re on this subject, you notice how nicely GameStop comes out in all these pre-order bonuses?  Exclusive maps for Arkham, exclusive player modes in Blur, quest lines in Red Dead Redemption and early access to the Squad Rush mode on Bad Company 2?  Publishers push developers to make exclusive content for GameStop despite these same developers bellyaching that GameStop’s used game sales are cutting the collective purse strings of the gaming industry.  IT’s hard to take this complaint seriously when these publishers are all too willing to create incentives to get people into GameStop– and why aren’t the publishers asking for a cut of this pre-order money to begin with?)

Then there’s the particular institution of in-game pre-order swag, whether it be in the form of weapons or armor or power-ups.  These items are often in no way balanced for the game they’re introduced into, as a result you wind up receiving bonus items that actively make the game less enjoyable.  Take for instance the game-breaking Blood Armor pre-order bonus for Dragon Age– a particularly insidious form of unbalanced armor that actually acts as a virus that further infects your Mass Effect 2 save:

So publishers, developers, retailers– heed our plea.  Give us back our artbooks.  Yeah, they’re less lucrative than lines of code, but no one likes the practice of pre-ordering anyway, and holding content hostage isn’t an acceptable answer.  If you insist on doing this, at least make the content available for download after the game’s release.  After all, right now you’re writing code that’s not making money for anyone the very moment the ship date breaks.

(as an aside, when culling pictures for this update I realized that the art of the physical pre-order bonus is alive and well for Japanese games and the entire digital pre-order bonus tred may be localized to Western-developed games.  Take for instance the fantastic art cards collection available for pre-orders of Muramasa for the Wii:

Or this fantastic array of useless crap Atlus put together for Gamespot’s Game of the Year 2009, Demon’s Souls:

Or this artbook/slipcover set for the European version of Bayonetta, those fucking amazing bastards:

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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 1-20-10: Whatever you do don’t buy Dark Void!

Posted by nfinit on January 19, 2010

Ordinarily I’d say this was a disastrous week for gaming– three boxed games ship this week, one of which is a glorified Popcap Facebook app, one a bog-standard DS JRPG and the final a hilarious look into Capcom’s continuing inability to come to grips with the HD market.  However, let’s be fair– Mass Effect 2 comes out next week and there’s no reason to buy another game after that, ever.  So this works out well.

So play some more Bayonetta, or spend the week burning through Mass Effect 1 playing an ultra-nationalist right-wing bitch to load up in Mass Effect 2.  Either way, don’t spend money on games released this week!  They’re terrible!
Bejeweled Twist (DS)
I dunno.  I have no doubt Bejeweled Twist is a perfectly respectable puzzle game that might even be worth nineteen bucks, but I look at footage for the thing and think two things:
1:  Bejeweled Twist would be a safecracking minigame in a console game
2:  It’s a fucking Bejeweled game!  Why would you ever play money to play Bejeweled?
But I’m probably bitter because Bejeweled completely overshadowed Popcap’s true early brush at genius– Alchemy.  I spent two years unemployed in the late 90’s mainly because I would spend eight hours a day playing Alchemy instead of looking for work.  I’d probably pay good money for an updated Alchemy game.  Also also it’s unclear what the boxed version of Bejeweled Twist is missing from the five dollar DSiWare version aside from a few missing gameplay modes.
Dark Void (PS360)

One of the great overlooked subtexts of this console generation has been Japan’s near-total inability to get a grasp upon the American HD console market.  Despite early success with games like Dead Rising and Lost Planet and — well, not terribly much else– Japanese developers have struggled to understand why American gamers are no longer terribly interested in Metal Gear or Katamari. Gears of War and Modern Warfare  have hijacked the American core gamer market just as thoroughly as Mario stole the game market from Williams/Midway and the arcades.

Often, the answer has been to just ape Gears of War as much as you can without Epic issuing a cease and desist order against your developers. Resident Evil 5, for instance, was basically Gears of Africa. Some companies, such as Namco, have elected to hire western developers to play around with classic franchises in hopes of sparking some amount of nostalgic interest in American audiences. Namco, for instance, lent out Splatterhouse to San Diego-based Bottlerocket Entertainment long enough to produce  a recognizable game  before yanking back the franchise for in-house polishing, driving Bottlerocket bankrupt in the process. In some cases Japanese developers have just hired American developers to basically make Gears of War for them– a situation where you invariably wind up with a bundle of regret and wasted opportunity like Dark Void.

Oh Yeah.  That bad.
Which is frustrating, as the basic hook– Gears with jetpacks!— ought to work!  But just like 2009’s Bionic Commando revival, Capcom farmed out what was a braindead-easy idea to a western developer only to see the entire effort crash and burn.
How badly is Capcom expecting Dark Void to bomb?  In a recent investor document leaked from Japan, Capcom revised original sales estimates for Dark Void– some 1.3 million units– to six hundred thousand.  Admittedly, over half a million videogames sold sounds like a lot, and in any sane console generation that would be enough to turn a profit and almost assure a sequel– but it’s 2010, Dark Void is supposedly the centerpiece of a mass media franchise, and bracing your investors for the news that the sales goals won’t meet half the original estimate means that this game will be swept under the carpet sooner than you can say “thirty dollar MSRP by May”.
Also Capcom pushed back virtually every othr big-name HD title announced for Q1 2010– Super Street Fighter, Monster Hunter Wii, Dead Rising 2, Lost Planet 2– to avoid the swell of games Modern Combat 2 forced into the early months of 2010.  Dark Void stands alone to withstand the brunt of Christmas v2.0.  This game is fucked.
Glory of Heracles (DS)
It’d be easy to write this off as another generic late-era DS JRPG, but this is a generic late-era DS JRPG published by Nintendo.  Sadly it’s not developed by Nintendo, but rather the guys responsible for Donkey Kong, Barrel Blast, Donkey Kong, King of Swing and Door to Phanomile.  So the pedigree is.. well, sorta terrible on that end, but the Hercales games are well-regarded inside Japan and this is the first Hercales game to come out to America, so maybe it’s not too godawful bad, after all Nintendo would rather not kill the franchise dead out of the gate.
That said, hated GoH, giving it a 6.8 out of 10.  One would think that given nearly 2 years since its original Japanese release someone could have given it a decently plot.  Or maybe the plot was fine and they accidentally wound up ruining it. Whichever.

Posted in Uncategorized, Wallet Abuse | 1 Comment »

Bigredcoat lives, just not here! Go to wordpress!

Posted by nfinit on January 16, 2010

Hey! Blogger is an awful, buggy mess of unfinished code and horrible GUI decisions so I’m using WordPress! Go there instead! There’s a ton of great new stuff, including a whole slew of Wallet Abuse updates.

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DO NOT WANT: Bioshock 2

Posted by nfinit on January 16, 2010

Take 2 Interactive is has been holding the threat of a new Bioshock game over the gaming community for the past year and a half, and despite please for reason and requests for a list of demands, the company seems intent on foisting Bioshock 2 upon us three weeks from now.

The parts everyone loved about the original Bioshock were the parts that had absolutely nothing to do with being a videogame.  We fell in love with the sharp writing, were enamored by the original concept, engrossed in the singular, unique world that Bioshock inhabited.  In fact, when Bioshock tried to be a game instead of a stark object lesson in Objectivity and Libertarianism run amok, it was distressingly bad.  The combat was awkward.  The upgrade system unbalanced.  The fights with Big Daddies ranging from nerve-wracking engagements in sheer frustration to loot hunts in the blink of an eye.  The simply unforgivably awful final boss battle.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Bioshock.  It was my game of the year for ’07 and I’d gladly stand by that even given the benifit of hindsight.  But it straddled that Metal Gear Solid-esque line between enduring a potienitally awful videogame in return for experiencing a fantastic gaming environment better than anything even Kojima himself has ever produced.

Furthermore, Bioshock was allowed to finish it’s story.  There were no loose ends, no obvious hooks for a sequel, no halfway finished storylines that were left there purely to build a franchise around.  Instead, Ken Levine was allowed to tell his story.  Done.  No need to go back to Rapture…. provided, y’know, the game wasn’t enormously successful and a sequel was all but ordained by the market forces that drive the games industry.

So those of us enthralled with Bioshock 1 greeted the news of Bioshock 2 with more than a bit of trepadation, especially following so quickly on the heels of it’s prececessor.  And indeed, our worries quickly snowballed into what we’ve all pretty much agreed has become the Worst Possible Scenario.  Gone is the superb writing.  Ken Levine is nowhere to be found near Bioshock 2.  Gone is the unique and interesting world– It’s a decade later, and you’re back in Rapture.  The concept?  More Ayn Rand.

Bioshock 2’s focus?  The game.  That awful, awful videogame that wrapped up Bioshock’s world and made it presentable.  Worse yet, 2k Marin– a studio created expressly to exploit the Bioshock franchise (which is apparently a franchise now, -and- exploitable) is focusing on multiplayer.  Deathmatch Libertarianism.  This is not what any of us wanted.  Bioshock 2 isn’t just going to be awful, it’s going to be so awful that the original game’s repuation will suffer irreperable damage.

Posted in Oh God No, Our Industry Is Awful | 3 Comments »

Wallet Abuse Wednesday 1-13-10: Army of Dude the Brotieth Day

Posted by nfinit on January 12, 2010

For the record, you people should all buy Bayonetta this week, too.

Army of 2: The 40th Day (PS360, PSP)

I keep intending to to an article on the essential qualities of a brodude game, and the Army of 2 games are remarkable in that the hit like five different qualifiers– Skull masks, co-op gameplay, fists bumps, bald marines, thinly-veiled homosexuality– the only thing the Ao2 series lacks is sponsorship by Mountain Dew and a box quote from
As far as this actual game?  Well, it might not suck, or at least it doesn’t suck nearly as bad as the first Army of 2.  It’s got a Metacritic average of 83, which is on the high side of average, and it actually does some interesting things in that it incorporates a morality system in a Gears-style co-op shooter.  It looks like dumb fun, but I’m not sure if it’s sixty dollars worth of dumb fun, and like most games of it’s ilk you won’t extract full value if you don’t have anyone to play with.

(tangental:  A google search for “ballistic face mask” reveals an absolutely frighting subculture of Airsoft fanatics who want to look exactly like Army of 2 protagonists Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem.  These are grown men who openly elect to destroy their peripheral vision while wandering around remote forests dressed as hired mercenaries!  Western gaming-inspired cosplay is a weird, weird thing)
Daniel X (DS)
So we have a DS game clearly marketed at the Ben-10 market who’s biggest selling point is that it’s written by James Patterson.  I have no idea how we got here nor am I brave enough to venture forth into this facet of popular culture.  But as with most things prevalent in young adult literary culture right now, I’m going to assume vampires and/or Harry Potter is somehow involved.
Marines:  Modern Urban Combat (Wii)

Anyone else think it’s kinda unseemly for the USMC to endorse a Wii game?  I mean, it’s one thing for the Army to use taxpayer dollars to fund an FPS that’s obviously trying to improve the Army’s image among potiential recruits, but shouldn’t the Marines be above this kinda thing?  And then there’s the title, which is obviously meant to confuse people into thinking it’s on par with Modern Warfare–
–but then I realize it’s a Wii-exclusive that’s going up the same week as Arm of 2 the same week, so maybe the developer is trying something interesting and is willing to give Wii owners something along the same level of experience.  And maybe despite it’s thirty dollar pricepoint it’s not completely embarassing to the natio–
hahaha holy shit.
Sands of Destruction (DS)

…which is amazing for the singular fact that Sega managed to bring in developers responsible for Xenogears, Grandia and Etrain Odyssey and managed to produce a throughly generic DS JRPG.
Which is all a shame, as the art is outstanding and there appear to be interesting combat elements that incorporate fighting game mechanics.  But everythign else?  It reads like a Make-A-DS-JRPG flowchart.  Mysterious hero?  check.  Mysterious hero with the power to destroy the world?  Check.  Mysterious hero with the power to destroy the world and he has no idea how or why?  Check.  Mysterious hero who has the ability to destroy the world  and he has no idea why and multiple factions are fighting over him?  Check.  Studio IG OVA series about a Mysterious hero with the power to destroy the world and he has no idea why and multiple factions are fighting over him?  Check.
Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis (wii)
Remember back when the DS was released and we were all “Hey now maybe people will start making adventure games again!”?
Sky Crawlers:  Innocent Aces (Wii)
Not a shock:  Wii arcadey flight sim using the motion controls
Indications of trouble:  Based on an anime; published by X-Seed
Totally a shock:  It’s actually a pretty darned good videogame.
But hey, it’s the Ace Combat guys.  If anyone’s going to do an arcade flight sim right on any console, it’s going to be the guys working within the genre since 1995.  Also, this is everything Wii fans should like about Wii games– a serious Wii game utilizing the Wii’s specific skillset to provide a hardcore gaming experience that can only be performed on the Wii itself– the only problem is, as I mentioned above, it’s an X-Seed game, so it’s going to receive no advertising at all.  Also it’s budget priced, which given the situation might actually hurt the games sales as it’ll be seen as junk by the vast majority of the Wii’s audience.
If your’e looking for one game to cheer for in this entire update, this is it.  It’s just a same the only people who will ever hear of Sky Crawlers will be people reading this blog and subscribers to Play magazine.
Vancouver 2010 (PS360)
Eugh.  I mean, I should care about this game because it’s Sega but there’s only been one good Olympics-inspired game ever and that was Decathelete/Athelete Kings for the Saturn back in 1996.  Also the less attention we pay to stuff like this the less chance there will be of further Mario/Sonic Olympic Games titles.
Walk it out (Wii)

Nope, not talking about this.
Windy X Windham (DS)
Hey hey hey hey– is that an original fighting game for the DS based off the Legend of the Unemployed Ninja franchise?
For twenty bucks?
Hells yes it is!  This is probably a terrible, terrible game– I mean, gamestop won’t even list the stupid thing– but it’s only twenty bucks and we need something to offset the staggering dudebro influence at the top of the page.

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The Greatest Games Ever– Bayonetta

Posted by nfinit on January 10, 2010

I wanted to finish my first playthrough of Bayonetta before I put together my thoughts on it.  It’s definitely my first playthrough, Bayonetta is one of those games where you know full well you’ll be back time and again even after you’ve seen the end credits.  I don’t know what makes a game do that for me aside from the sheer joy of the play mechanics.  For instance, I didn’t feel that way with Arkham Asylum, despite it being hands down the best action game of last year.

But I think the main reason that I know I’ll be with Bayonetta a long while is that it’s the most Sega-like game I’ve played since the days of Model 2 and the brief, shining heyday of the Dreamcast.  Which is strange, as Platinum games isn’t a Sega-bred developer, they’re Capcom guys.  Yet Bayonetta (and Mad World before it) have shown that Platinum Games gets Sega better than Sega’s own in-house developers.  This goes beyond the obvious Sega homages– there’s two separate Harley Davidson and the LA Riders segments and an entire level devoted to After Burner– it’s also evident in the arcade-inspired gameplay that’s become a hallmark of Platinum Games.  It’s this very sort of intuitive, instinctive, instantly fun gameplay that Sega created its brief empire upon, and Platinum has taken up that mantle.
I wrote a couple months ago about Forza Motorsport 3 and how its single inclusion of the rewind feature justified the game’s existence and made all other games that didn’t utilize that feature obsolete.  Bayonetta is much the same way.  It is in itself a fine 3d action game, but it has a singular feature that makes all other games in its genre obsolete.   Bayonetta calls that feature Witch Time.  Most games of Bayonetta’s ilk allow some form of defensive posture– God of War allows the main character, Kratos, to block most normal attacks, whereas Ninja Gaiden 1 allowed for Ryu Hyabusa to roll through unhindered through sword swipes and anti-tank shells.  Bayonetta has a dodge button, which does exactly what the name suggests– however, the dodge feature has another layer added atop it, and that’s where Witch Time comes into play– when you perfectly time the dodge just as it’s about to land you automatically enter a brief period of bullet time where the power of your blows are significantly increased, you’re immune to attack, and everything around you slows down, allowing Bayonetta to attack with impunity.
This feature fundamentally changes the way combat works in 3d action games– now defense becomes a fundamental tool of your offensive playbook, and you begin looking for places to leave yourself open for attack.  It ads a whole new layer of timing and bravado to the game’s already solid combat mechanics and makes all previous 3d action game combat mechanics obsolete.  I cannot understate how fundamental this single feature is to Bayonetta and how transformative it is to the genre itself– without Witch Time Bayonetta becomes a solid, if weird and slightly derivative gaming experience.  With it, every battle is bent to your will.
The other thing about Bayonetta’s mechanics is how remarkably non-Japanese and forward-thinking the game is overall.  There is no real punishment for death, for instance– instead of a limited number of lives and continues, you are scored at the end of each level.  If you care to improve your score, then you’ll use fewer items and die less often.  However, if you’d rather just make progress and not bang your head against a brick wall against a segment you simply do not have the skills to overcome, you can accept the fact that you’ll receive a bad score for that area and brute force your way through the level.  You can die, but every time you die you can restart at the nearest checkpoint.    It’s all rather amazingly progressive for  Japanese-developed game, and overcomes one of the biggest impediments to acceptance these sorts of games always present– the knowledge that you may well be paying sixty bucks for a videogame that you can’t play more than 2 hours of because you lack the superhuman reflexes necessary to get past a particular boss battle.
Boss battles are another thing that Bayonetta just gets right. In most games boss battles are little more than regressive holdovers from the arcade era, but Bayonetta is fundamentally an arcade game, so the idea works well here, and Bayonetta’s boss battles are amazingly well done.  Sure, they don’t do anything you’ve not seen in previous boss battles, and there’s not a lot of them,  perhaps half-dozen scattered among the 16 levels.  But you’re never at a loss about what the boss fight expects you to carry out, and most importantly each encounter uses the skills you’ve developed while playing the game.  There’s never a situation where the game presents you with a brand new game mechanic unique to that battle to master in two minutes only to never be picked up again.  Instead the bosses either run as extended set pieces within the levels themselves or they’re presented as super-charged regular enemies who are equal  in skill and ability as Bayonetta herself.
I don’t like reviews.  I think they’re generally useless, as videogame enjoyment is more subjective than any other form of media.  So it’s impossible for me to tell if you’d enjoy Bayonetta–  let’s be perfectly honest, unless you find yourself enjoying a very specific range of hardcore videogames, it’s hard for me to recommend it, despite being perhaps the finest 3d action game ever crafted.  It’s not like  Shadow of the Colossus where being exposed to the game is much more important than actually playing it.  If you never played God of War or Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, you’re simply not going to enjoy this game.  But if you do enjoy those types of games, then this is the best game of its genre’ now on the market, and the elements found within will find their way into action games for years hence.

Posted in The Greatest Games Ever | 5 Comments »

Wallet Abuse Wednesday 1-6-10: Bayonetta-a-ga-ga!

Posted by nfinit on January 5, 2010

Bayonetta (360, PS3)

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past month– and as I have access to the stats for this blog, I know full well if you’re reading this you’re probably also the same people who would have been reading it since I started updating again– you don’t really need me to tell you why you should buy Bayonetta again.  Simply put, it’s the perfect action game.  And that’s not coming from a game snob angle where I sit here and deride quality stuff like Modern Warfare 2 week after week– Bayonetta is getting 100% review scores from srz gamar publications like Edge, for chrissake.

Bayonetta is so good that it threatens to ruin the enjoyment of not just other games, but of all all existing forms of media.  It’s like going back to Hershey bars after being exposed to Godiva.  Maybe my life would be better without Bayonetta in it–
But no.  I will be brave.  For America.
(tangental:  Highlight of the weekend was seeing that Sega had paid what had to be a considerable sum of money to sponsor UFC108 only to show no gameplay footage, no actual advertising for the game outside of the logo, and to have the announcer confuse millions of gamers worldwide as they try to pre-order something called “Bayanatta”.)

Darksiders  (360, PS3)

The next couple months are kinda weird in that after a year where we recieved hardly any 3d action brawlers outside of the criminally underrrated Ninja Blade, we’re receving Bayonetta (best game ever), Dante’s Inferno (hiliaribad) God of War 3 (the only one that will actually sell) and this, maybe the most original of the group, but also the one that’s destined to be utterly ignored as it’s recieving no advertising support and fills no niche outside of combining a Zelda overworld with it’s 3d brawling gameplay.
Which is too bad, as Darksiders might not suck– Or at the very least, it’ll suck quantfiiably less than Dante’s Inferno, yet at the same time it’s destined to drop to $20 inside of two months and shoved into that  bottom Gamestop shelf where the clerks just stack games with the spines facing out alongside between Brutal Legend and X-Blades.   Not that I’m saying you should buy this game– I mean god no, Bayonetta comes out this week– But it’s a solid “hey I got twenty bucks left on this gift card” choice.
Fast Food Panic (Wii, DS)
This one is hard to pin down.  I mean yeah, it’s called Fast Food Panic and it’s on a Nintendo platform, so at first blush it looks like an obvious Diner Dash ripoff, but on the other hand it has Japanese artwork and previews are comparing it to Cooking Mama, so maybe there’s a fundamentally good game lurking somewhere underneath.  But on the other other hand, it’s published by South Peak Interactive, and when they release Nintendo games it’s stuff like My Baby First Step.  There’s also no useful information at all about the supposed developer, Nobilis, and that never bodes well.
So instead of talking about this game, I want to take a minute to talk about The Future now that it’s 2010 and we’re officially in the middle of it.  And what I want to talk to you people about is why you don’t have your hoverboards and space stations and robot girlfriends, and it’s this:  You people are idiots.  We can’t trust you people to connect your laptop to the internet without accidentally downloading a virus that downloads cat porn to your hard drive, what in the world makes you think you can be trusted with a car that’s also a jet?
If there’s anything the decade of the Aughts has taught us it’s that America is pretty dumb, and it’s happy to be dumb.  Improving yourself is Hard, and we’d rather guys like China and India take care of being smart.  Well congrats, now India and China are firing rockets at the Moon while we have to beg the Russians for rides to our own space station.
The rest of the civilized world doesn’t have this issue.   I mean, ten years ago Russia was basically a third world nation operated by an independent network of crime bosses, and now they’re making plans to knock asteroids out of their orbits just because.  Japan wanted their 2010 to look like this:
And they’re already halfway there!
America?  We wanted our 2010 to look like this:
and we wound up with this:
(come to think of it, 2010 was also about an American space crew having to hitch a ride aboard a Russian rocket in order to save a derelict American space craft.  Maybe that’s not the best example)

Matt Hazard:  Blood Bath and Beyond (360 via XBLA, PS3 via PSN)
I’m still astounded that Matt Hazard:  Eat Lead came out last year.  The only thing I can remember about it is that it everyone hated the stupid thing and that they completely bungled the concept:  A self-aware parody of Duke Nukem.  Which sounds fantastic, but if these guys couldn’t even produce an average FPS game to go with the script, I’m not sure if they can be trusted to make Commander Keen, either.
Which is too bad.  There should be room for a game series that openly parodies the game industry and it’s various absurdities, but it turns out Vicious Cycle Software was guilty of something far worse than what they were ultimately parodying:  They made a lousy game.  Which means the subject is so radioactive now it’ll be years before we see another self-aware videogame.
My Fitness Coach 2:  Workout and Nutrition (Wii)
Look, it’s one thing to get me to talk about obvious shovelware like Fast Food Panic, but you seriously expect me to expend valuable allotments of attention span on nutrition programs that are accessed via Wiimote instead of something useable and accessable, like a laptop?Fast Draw Showdown (Wii via Wiiware)

And then this goddamned thing

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