Thursday, March 26, 2009

What I got this week and what is to come

This will be my report of the things I got this week and what you can expect in the week to come. I'm not sure if I'll do this too often, though I would like to.

This week I picked up Alien Homind for the GCN. I found it for $5 used and had to get it since I loved Castle Crashers so much. I was planning on grabbing it when it was discounted on the XBL marketplace but I'm not sure anymore as I have played this one about 2/3 the way through. We shall see.

I also got some comics which I talked about in a previous post. I enjoyed all three and will now begin to follow Superman. I will probably get more into comics in future posts.

I also received Pokemon Platinum today along with the pre-order bonus figure. This should be cool as I loved Diamond. It also came in good time as I am leaving for my vacation tomorrow so I will have the plane ride time for this. Though it is a Nintendo game so I will have to send it back in a couple weeks. However, I do plan to get all the special new forms and legendaries and transfer them to my Diamond version before it leaves.

In the next week, if I can get a hold of a computer long enough, these are some things to expect to see here:

I will write up a First Impressions on both Henry Hatsworth and Pokemon Platinum. Also, if I play enough of these two I will try and write a review next weekend for them.

I would also like to share some photos I take of anything weird I find down in New York. I plan to go to the Nintendo Store of America so I'll probably post a picture of that.

If I can't get a computer, obviously there won't be any posts till I return. Hopefully I can though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

First Impressions: Gears of War 2 Title Update 3

  • Everyone has a number beside their name now when looking at stats or in a lobby as opposed to those silver and gold arrows.
  • Everyone is now starting at one so you may find yourself playing some really strong players even though they're level 1.
  • The experience updates when the match ends which is good because people who quit will not receive any EXP.
  • I lost and yet got around 800 EXP, though I'm not sure if that counts as a lot.
  • Your score in each match doesn't transfer as the EXP you get which I find weird.
  • If you are kicked out of a game due to your connection, you don't get EXP, even if everyone was booted.
  • The game seems to pair people up due to their rank but they don't pair teams up due to rank. This means I am constantly with level 1's while all my opponents are 4 or 5.
  • When people quit now they are replaced with a computer player which is a good idea but they suck in comparison to a person.
  • Everyone still sucks and quits at the first sign of losing.
  • If you have any computer players on your team and someone on the opposite team quits meaning you now have more people, one of your computers will leave. This means the teams will always be even in terms of number of team mates.
  • Demoting levels is possible as well.
  • Some of the multiplayer types are grouped a bit differently. For example, Territories isn't there anymore, but "Annex + KotH" is and Submission is with Guardian. This is good because I never really liked Submission and didn't think it fit with Annex or King of the Hill.

First Impressions forthcoming

I will be doing a First Impressions of the title update #3 for Gears of War 2. I hope to get it up by tomorrow afternoon/evening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The midst of Spring Break

So as my Spring Break has now begun and going by faster than I thought, I plan to get quite a bit done in it. This will be various comics I still need to read/finish, some books I need to start and finish and some games I wish to start and wrap up.

The games I wish to get done are Tales of Vesperia. This won't be happening though as I predict another 75 hours is required and I just don't have that time. Though I have gotten around 10 in since the beginning of the week and a whopping 25 points because of it.

I will also be playing a bunch of Gears of War 2 in the next couple days as the third title update is now out. I plan to get the three new achievements that I don't have to pay for. Hopefully I can rank up quickly.

I want to finish up Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon before I head to New York so that I don't have to be memorizing a ton of chapter info. I don't want to miss out on anything after all.

I also picked up Henry Hatsworth last week and still haven't started it. This will be used for the plane trip and any long car rides I encounter out east. I hear it's pretty great and am quite excited to start it.

Last in the games is Uno Rush which will be out tomorrow night. As I stated in my previous blog post, I will be staying up for it. With this, I really need some more microsoft points now.

A couple games I'm not sure if I'll grab are LIT and Bit.Trip:Beat off of WiiWare. If I can justify spending $20 on the points card, I'll get these two. However, I am not sure yet.

Comics-wise will be the latest Umbrella Academy and possibly the new Superman and Battle for the Cowl. The only definite is Umbrella Academy.

Last of all are the novels that I have been neglecting. I want to finish up the recent Artemis Fowl and I'd like to start and finish the last .Hack novel to come out since I've had that for a few weeks now.

Hopefully I'll have enough free time over the next two weeks and my vacation to get this all done. Probably not.

Update: Pokemon Platinum should be sent to me soon, hopefully I will get it before I leave and can then play it on my trip. Knowing my luck, it will arrive just in time for no one to be able to receive it.

The only rush!

With my trusty twitter application I have for firefox, Major Nelson has just informed me that Uno Rush will be coming out this Wednesday. As I did for Geometry Wars 2, I will be staying up all night waiting for it. Anyone else planning to do so?

If anyone gets it around that time, hit me up and we'll play some multiplayer.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More 8-Bit Techno

Surfing around 8-Bit Peoples I came across what is now my favorite album on the site to date. The album is called Unconditional Acceleration and is by Nullsleep. I plan to go through the rest of his discography when I find the time. In the mean time, I highly recommend you download the album and check it out. It's great stuff.

Favorite Track: Supernova Kiss

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sad? Probably

Here is your latest update on video game related music! Now with not 8-Bit Techno!

I don't like rap music. I find it very overrated. But someone took Ocarina of Time music, added a base beat and rapped over it. Titled The Ocarina of Fhyme, you can check out a the whole album at one here or download the full album here.

I don't hate it, that might mean that I like anything video game related no matter how bad or bizarre the concept is. Let's hope not.

Favorite tracks on it: Jay-Z - No Hook (Meeting the Owl) and Slim Thug & Mike Jones - Still Tippin' (Great Fairy's Fountain)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Top Gun

I just wanted to send a heads up out there about some of the work I've done over on The Comic Book Bin that hasn't been posted here.

A segment on CBC's Fifth Estate program was aired about two weeks ago called Top Gun. It was about video game addiction and how it affects people. Me and Eli Green (lead video game head at the Bin) wrote up our thoughts on it. It can be found here. It's definitely worth a read as you are getting two different view points from it. If you are into the culture of video games, as I am, then this becomes all the more interesting.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Halo Wars - 7

Halo Wars is the latest game in the Halo series and the first to stray from the usual third-person shooter genre. It takes place in and early period in the Halo universe, many years before the events of the original trilogy. You will control your army through 15 levels as you encounter new foes and great new areas. It does a great job of making you feel like you are the most powerful military force alive, but sets itself back by really showing how basic of a game it is.

You command Sergeant Forge of Spirit of Fire warship as you build armies and take on the invading enemy. The game starts with you simply battling against the incoming Covenant but quickly switches to a race to save one of your own. This brings you to new worlds where you will encounter the Flood species as they try and remove you from their home planet.

Instead of the standard game play we have come to expect from the original Halo trilogy, Halo Wars is a game in the Real Time Strategy, or RTS, genre. An RTS game requires several sorts of management type aspects in order to proceed through. This can mean that you will have to set units to fight, while commanding units to search for resources or supplies. What causes an RTS to become so engaging is the constant and quick multitasking you will have to perform in order to complete your mission. This aspect creates a world where you truly feel like you are the master of everything.

Halo Wars does a great job of introducing new gamers to the genre who may not have much experience with an RTS. The tutorial is set up in a way that you are learning the most basic forms of game play. This will include things about commanding units, building objects and even how to move the camera appropriately. The inclusion of such a basic tutorial was a great idea considering this is the first time the Halo series has ventured to this genre and how it’s a big name release on a non-RTS heavy platform. Most people picking up this game due to their love of the past Halo games will be able to find their way around quite easily, whether they’ve touched an RTS or not.

This main concept of an RTS is where Halo Wars has its biggest drawback. Since most RTS’s are designed for a PC, there are a lot more commands you can input using the keyboard. Having the game made for the Xbox 360 causes it to feel like all these commands had to be either removed or squished so they would accommodate for the new controller.

The biggest example of this is the way the game has you move your units around. Normally you would want to be able to break up your army so that you can perform several actions at once. You can do this in Halo Wars, but it becomes incredibly tedious and time consuming. In order to move your units you must hit the LB button so it selects every one of them. You can change this up by hitting the RB button or the A button. The A button allows you to select one specific unit at a time while the RB lets you select only units you can see on screen. So in order to separate your group into smaller groups, you will have to grab every unit individually and move them far enough away from each other in order to use your local units command (RB button).

For the majority of the game, you won’t feel the need to ever break your units up for two reasons. The first is that it is quite an annoying process to have to go through and the second is that you never really need to. The game is a bit shallow in how it has been set up. Since you will be commanding one giant group, it’s easy enough to just move them from one area to the next, killing everything they come across. This causes the game to become quite easy in some respects since you can kill pretty much anything and survive indefinitely as long as you can keep building new units faster than your opponent. All in all, you may find it annoying since you don’t have much management options when it comes to navigating your team, but at the same time, you never really need them.

Apart from controlling your units, the majority of each mission will be about constructing a base. You can find base areas around the map, or you will start off with one. From there, the main part of the game comes in. You need to build different buildings in order to create the army that you will later use. Some buildings will be for creating resources or supplying energy (used to build things) while others can give you new weapons, ships or just upgrade past expansions.

This brings up some of the pacing issues in Halo Wars. From the beginning of the mission, your task will be stated clear for you. However, you can’t just rush another base from the get go hoping to finish this objective quickly. This is because you will only be geared with around one unit and enough resources to start a base and get a couple structures up. So instead of heading straight into battle, you need to start building an army. Getting from the beginning of the level to the top grade units can take around twenty minutes at most. This may not sound like such a long time, but for these twenty minutes you will only be sitting there watching the game create more ships for you. This can be extremely boring. You can however try and move ahead in the mission before getting a full army and it may work a few times. Though, when it comes to the online or harder levels, you will be better off stocking up before even thinking of moving. What this does is almost force you to have to wait and sit around while your station finishes upgrading everything completely. Afterwards, when your units are ready, you can rush into battle. From here, everything becomes fast passed and will only take a few minutes to wrap up. Each mission will go from about a fifteen minute wait, to a five to ten minute battle scene. In the end, you are looking at a long waiting period to a brief high-passed action phase.

When you do get your units rolling and everything has been upgraded, the game starts getting really fun. Controlling an enormous army and just obliterating the enemy is one of the best parts of the game. It is short however, but it’s great while it goes on. When in combat you get to use either a standard attack or a special ability. Special abilities can range from an RPG gun to bigger lasers or even specific melee attacks. For example, Spartans can jump on an enemy ship and take control of it. Watching these fights are quite great and it shows off how wonderful the game looks. The multitasking also comes into play a bit more than the rest of the game as you need to watch for your units to recharge their specials or create new ones all together. Destroying another base means you can now take it over and command two stations. This will help with the wait times as you can now upgrade things faster and get more units to command.

The campaign isn’t too much of a highlight to this game, but the multiplayer is. Since the majority of the single player mode will have you slowly moving a huge group of units from one area to another, it can sometimes seem too easy or just boring. When playing against a human though, you will find some great uses for such huge armies. Since you both know that bigger means better, you will get great battles pitting huge infantry against the others’. You can also play co-op head to head and have two buddies team up with you. This really shows the power of the system as 100+ units run simultaneously at another team until only one is left standing.

To showcase all this off, Halo Wars has some of the best graphics I have seen on the console. One might say it would even rival some of the PC’s RTS games it is so well known for. Everything looks great as it plays out during the missions. Units will all be diverse and unique while they will show the damage taken from combat. The smoke and fire look great when added to damaged structures. Some of the best looking graphics are when a huge structure explodes or during the cut scenes. The explosions are just great on when blowing up something huge and how much fire is spurted about. It really makes you feel like you demolished something very significant. The cut scenes are quite brilliant themselves making everything looks very life like. Halo Wars definitely has some of the best graphics on the Xbox 360 to date.

The sound in Halo Wars isn’t anything special. Since most of the time you will need to be listening to how your base is running, the background music isn’t a big feature. The game does a good job of updating you on how your team and structures are holding up. You will be reminded every few seconds of the status of the enemy or your own team. One of the weirdest features in Halo Wars though is the LB button. As stated, this causes you to select every unit you have in order to move them as one. Each time you hit this button, you will be notified with a voice stating “All Units.” What makes this so weird is that this never changes whether you are humans or playing as the covenant. To add to that, there is no variety in the way this is stated. Since you will need to use this command every few minutes, you will be hearing the same phrase uttered more times than one would like.

Halo Wars is a fun and easily accessible real-time strategy game for new or veteran fans. It does a good job of bringing you into the universe and have you feeling as powerful as you would playing any other Halo or RTS game, but sets itself back by some obvious and annoying flaws. The game requires not much thinking in terms of strategy which causes it to become a bit easy and sometimes boring. It even drags the multi-management aspect that RTS’s are known for away and simplifies it too much. With that said though, it doesn’t take away from the fun to be had here. Playing online with or against friends is some of the best times to be had. And commanding massive armies while creating numerous and important structures is great. If you can get past the ease of play along with some very awkward pacing issues, you will find Halo Wars a great addition to the long running franchise.

Overall: 7/10

Saturday, March 7, 2009

First Impressions: Halo Wars

  • The limited edition box is very nice and it comes with a coaster!
  • The tutorial is good for people who have never played an RTS before.
  • Learning curve is quite high.
  • The story is pretty boring.
  • I wish I could break up my units. Though I haven't come across a point in the game where I needed to. I seem to be doing fine with just creating this huge army and walking around the place breaking stuff. This makes me think other RTSs actually require you to do real multitasking. It's like a management game that doesn't require management.
  • "All Units" is now cemented in my brain forever.
  • The pacing in this game is very weird. One moment I'll be sitting there waiting for a station to form up. The next I'll be constantly creating people and destroying stuff. It get's from boring to actually being interested. I could read a book in all the time I sat there wainting for units to spawn.
  • Each level seems to require some new style of game play element which is very nice.
  • All Units.
  • Who needs local units when you have All Units?!
  • All Units. All Units. All Units.

First Impressions: Prince of Persia Epilogue

To start things off, I want to do more of these "First Impressions" pieces, so look forward to more of those. I should be doing a Halo Wars one later today or tomorrow.

Okay so onto what I think about it:
  • Quite annoyed that all of us who enjoyed the game so much and got it on the first day were screwed over.
  • I'm quite glad the achievements issue has now been fixed. For those of you who don't know, there was some problems with the achievements system on the first day this was released. The issue was that it hadn't been updated on whatever servers Microsoft uses. This means you unlocked the achievement, but it didn't show up on or when you went to check it through the system. To make matters worse, you had to get the achievement again and recover your gamertag to reset the DLC's achievements if you wanted them.
  • Some of the voice audio seems to be off. Seems like the mouth movements are starting up a bit late.
  • The new power is alright but nothing quite new enough to add new game play elements or different thinking in anyway. It's essentially the Red power again but with a different cause to it.
  • It is definitely harder.
  • The achievements are much harder now as well. This rounds "don't be saved by Elika ___ number of times" is down to 20 which is crazy. So much quitting and reloading.
  • 800 points for a game lasting under 2 hours? Maybe 4 at the most if you're slow or want to go from some achievements. And I can't see you needed more than 6 for the full 250 points and at that point, you're having no fun while grinding. Seems a little steep in price.
  • The new enemy is definitely just a copy of the others. Even though they came up with a good reason in game for it, I still think they should have done a bit more work.
  • Overall -- so far --I think there wasn't much effort put into this, which is sad.
I haven't decided if I will be reviewing this as I don't normally review DLC (mainly because this is the first hefty game add-on I've purchased). I want to, but I still need to truck through Halo Wars. We shall see.

Points updates?

I've been thinking about doing my points updates like I did a few times a while back. I can either do the written version or the video one. If I were to start these up again, my preference would be the written one. What do you guys think? Should I do them again?

PS. This is pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review: Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon - 9

Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is the first of the Fire Emblem series to make it to the Nintendo DS. Although it reached state side as the fifth in the series, it is actually a remade version of the very first game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Along with new levels, game play modes and updated graphics, Shadow Dragon does a great job of living true to what we have come to expect from series’ past.

You will begin Shadow Dragon by choosing one of two difficulties. Hard mode will set you against enemies that are as much as five times stronger than the lesser of the modes. The Normal difficulty setting will force you to have to play through the tutorial mode and is for new comers to the series. The good thing about the tutorial is how it is set up as a prologue to the game’s story. This does a good job of not making the game’s learning process too boring for veterans of the Fire Emblem series.

The prologue sets you in Marth’s, young and innocent prince, castle as it is being overrun by enemies. Marth is forced to leave while his sister stays to try and slow the enemy. Through his escape he is aided by the help of your first few allies. From here, the tutorial appears each time a new obstacle or skill appears. For example, it will teach you how to attack your enemies, use different weapons and items and how to interact with your surrounding area. As Marth makes his way to allied kingdoms for help, he encounters both new allies and new and more deadly enemies.

Shadow Dragon is set up as a tactical strategy game in which the game play only takes place while you are on the battlefield. During each of your conflicts, you will need to station your team around the area while you make your way toward the level’s boss. The levels are set up in a grid and each of your units can move a certain number of spaces in a horizontal and vertical fashion. Horse, Pegasus and Dragon mounted units can move much more father than free walking ones. On the other hand, characters wearing heavy armor will have reduced mobility compared to a light weight character. Each character can only move once a turn; then the enemy makes their progression towards you.

You begin combat when you move close enough to an enemy so they are within attacking range. Most weapons/characters need to be directly beside the enemy while archers and mages can attack from afar. This, along with your limited movements, causes you to have to think just where you should be placing your enemies so that they won’t be in the attack range of some approaching foes. A new improvement to Shadow Dragon is the ability to see the accumulated walking and attacking distance of all the enemies at once. Hitting the X button will cause a red section of the map to appear, any of your units in this area are open to an attack from the opponent. You need to find out when it’s okay to go in, and when you should be playing it safe.

Fire Emblem also does a good job of making sure the combat phases are both an important and enjoyable part of the game. The majority of the weapons are swords, axes and lances. Shadow Dragon teaches you that in a fight, an ax barer will have the advantage over a lance wielder, a lance wielder beats a sword barer and swords are good against axes. This, once again, causes you to make sure you are sending the right units to fight the right enemies. The last thing to make sure you keep in mind is the number of uses left for each of your weapons. For example, when you use your sword on too many enemies, it will break and you will have to find your way to an armory to buy a new one.

The combat in Shadow Dragon is probably the most important part as it can long lasting effect. Any time one of your team mates dies, you will lose them for the rest of the game. This is probably the feature that is most known about the Fire Emblem series. Unlike most Role Playing Games, when you lose a character you can always bring them back to life by the use of an item or certain points on the map. For example, in Final Fantasy you can bring dead allies back to life by using a Phoenix Down. In Shadow Dragon, a lost ally means it’s game over for them. This can cause quite an issue as you will miss out on story related scenes since they can no longer take place without the correct units. What makes this worse is because every unit is different and special in their own way; you could have grown attached to them. You may have spent the first three quarters of the game leveling up one specific guy to make him amazing and then lose that all in one minute. This also adds to the games replay value as perfectionists will want to restart the specific chapter so they can finish the game with everyone. It may add to this game’s difficulty but it makes you have to think two or three turns ahead. You have to be very strategic.

To help with this, Shadow Dragon adds the use of mid-chapter save points. Instead of always having to start at the beginning of the level, you can make a hard save somewhere within the chapter and begin again each time from that point. Though in order to activate these mid-level saves, you need a character to stand on a specific spot which can cause you to waste a turn with them.

When comparing the graphics of Shadow Dragon to the GBA versions of Fire Emblem, you won’t see too much of a difference. The maps and the characters look almost exactly the same. The only new addition is how the combat is now small cell shaded characters instead of flat two dimensional sprites. Though it still looks great and with the inclusion of nice hand drawn images to be shown during the between chapter cut scenes, it’s a great looking game for the DS. Shadow Dragon has also been cleaned up a bit when looking at how the game displays information. With the DS’s second screen, all the character information and stats are displayed on the top screen while the battlefield remains on the bottom. This is good because in order to play the game well, you will need to be checking enemy and ally stats quite often to know how to proceed.

The sound in Shadow Dragon is also a great asset to the game. When acquiring a new team mate, you will hear fast heroic music playing in the background. While the loss of an ally plays soft, slow paced music to drive home the depressing nature of the current event. The overall music adds to the game quite nicely as it matches the situation at hand. Hearing lively up beat music as you make your way through the battle fields and mow down the enemies makes you feel like quite a powerful army.

The downfall with Shadow Dragon is that it doesn’t bring many new or innovated features to the series. It has brought in the choice for some online modes and the idea of mid-chapter save points, but apart from this you are getting the exact same game play you’ve come to expect. In each game you need to keep the same things in mind and you need to know who is good against what. If you have played any of the other Fire Emblem games, you probably already have a good idea of all these and even which type of units you should put your time into when choosing who to level up. The levels and characters are of course different but with only a couple new classes to play around with, you’ll be playing the same game you played a few years back. This can be a downside to anyone getting tired of the game’s hardcore and tense nature, but if you haven’t put some time into this series in a while, Shadow Dragon is satisfy you quite nicely.

What hurts it even more is the online modes aren’t the best. Your main options are an online store and the multiplayer mode. The online store is a fine addition to the game since finding some powerful weapons mid game can be quite hard. The store updates itself everyday with new items, but at the same time, it loses items available to purchase. You need to check it quite often in hopes that the one item you are looking for is being offered. To make sure you aren’t taking advantage of the items for sale, you can only buy a select number of the more rare and powerful items.

The multiplayer mode is the most disappointing of all. Playing against your friends and seeing how well you can out smart other people online sounds like a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t pan out well in use. When playing against random people, you will almost always get matched up with someone either incredibly powerful or very weak. There is no system in place to match you up with people who are around the same level as your in game team. Finding an opponent with a powerhouse team or someone just starting out is no fun for either party. Though if you find someone of equal skill level, it then becomes quite fun.

Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon does what every game in the series has done: made you strategize more than almost any other game. If you are a gamer that plays games on a more casual level, this game isn’t for you. It’s designed to make you think and even second guess every move you make. You have to really know the game in order to be able to play it perfectly on it’s harder levels/difficulties. That begin said though, it does a great job of introducing you to the series. With the addition of the online store and mid-chapter save points, it’s one of the most accessible games in the series. With its visuals and fitting sound to accompany its wonderful story telling, it makes for great experience. And if you are a perfectionist when playing video games, this will lead to countless hours of replay value. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is a wonderful addition to the series and is welcomed nicely on the Nintendo DS.

Overall: 9/10