Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lighting Top 5: GBA Games

Lightning Top 5: GBA Games

            So I am trying out a new piece that I would be able to get out more continuously; Lightning Top 5. These will be short pieces about various Top 5 categories of mine which I can write much more quickly than my longer bits, so it will be easier to release a higher volume of content to you guys! I am beginning this series with a set of games from the handheld that consumed my mid-childhood, Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. This system brought a true renaissance of handheld gaming between beloved, established franchises, as well as seeing the creation of brand new titles that have come to round out the all-star cast of games that we have come to love. So with that, let’s begin!

Number 5 – WarioWare Twisted!

            WarioWare Twisted! showed exactly what a collection of mini games, a little bit of a gimmick, a little bit of ingenuity and a whole lot of outrageous, silly comedy can do when thrown into a world run by the money hungry Wario and his “friends.” Gyroscope control was not really prevalent yet, so this technology was truly fresh at the time. The games were addictive and absurd. The characters had their own quirks. I replayed this game quite recently and was giggling like a little school girl the entire time. Also, that darn music. MONA’S PIZZAAAA!!

Number 4 – Sonic Advance 2

            This game’s predecessor brought the series back to its roots with fast-paced side scrolling action that I grew up playing on my Sega Genesis. Speed runs, Knuckles gliding and punching things, as well as countless hours in the Tiny Chao Garden made up for years of enjoyment This installment brought in a myriad of new additions that capitalized on the success of the first Sonic Advance game, the most notable is the introduction of Cream the Rabbit, who has in some circles become a widely popular character. Hey, at least she’s not Big the Cat.

Number 3 – Pokemon Emerald

            Choosing between Emerald and FireRed/LeafGreen was a very hard decision. I left out the Kanto remakes because they are just that, remakes. I want this list to be brand new games first seen on the GBA. Emerald Version is one of the first Pokemon games to have the Battle Frontier, allowing for a much bigger postgame. This made enabled Pokemon to be played even after defeating the Elite Four and gave legitimate reasons to play other than meta battling. It is the first “full” Pokemon game. A very worthy game for a very worth series.

Number 2 – Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

            While most people think the better of the first Fire Emblem games to come to North America is Fire Emblem 7, (with Eliwood and Lyn, for those not as well versed in the entire Fire Emblem series) I believe the best is the Fire Emblem 8, or Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Featuring the twins Eirika and Ephriam, this game introduces a traversable world map where you can level grind with non-chapter Monster Skirmishes to fully level up your team, the ability to shop at stores all over the map, as well as add more options for your recruits to level up to, making the game more personable. It retains everything that made Fire Emblem great such as the difficult strategy, engaging and dynamic plot that can change if you lose a unit, and a cast of characters you grow to care for knowing that permanent death is actually a danger. This game also greatly influenced the design on the hugely successful Fire Emblem: Awakening. For that, I give Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones my Number 2 spot in my list.

Number 1 – Golden Sun Series

            I could not pick one single game from the two games on the Gameboy Advance from this absolutely beautiful RPG. It is essential to play both games back to back to truly get the full Golden Sun experience. My first true JRPG became one that I value even more than Final Fantasy VII in terms of brilliance. I got this game Christmas 2001 with my Gameboy Advance. What made my parents decide to pick this game for a 7 year old, I have no idea, but I could care less because this game has truly defined my gaming tastes. The attachment to the characters became somewhat unhealthy, the story and world of Weyard was not only immersive, but massive and a heck of a lot of fun to explore every single corner while the world is slowly rotting away. The turn based RPG gameplay is fun, while still having layers of complexity as any JRPG should have, with Psynergy attacks, grand scale Djinn summons and Zelda-esque puzzle solving. Go out and play as you embark with Issac and Company’s epic quest to save the world for certain, and impending, doom.

Honorable Mention - Megaman Battle Network Series

            There was one series for the Gameboy Advance that I had a hard time discerning where to put it. If I could only pick one game from the series, I would place it probably around Number 4 or 5. So this honorable mention goes to the entire Megaman Battle Network series. This game is especially dear to me because it introduced me to the Blue Bomber, while really pulling at my heart strings so many times whilst telling the story of Lan Hikari and his brother Hub, a.k.a. Megaman.EXE. Wicked gameplay, fantastic story-telling, nostalgia riddled and superior music. Every time Proof of Courage plays, an overwhelming feeling of happiness hits me like a tidal wave.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Top 7 Biggest Disappointments - E3 2013

Top 7 Biggest Disappointments – E3 2013

There is something about E3 that makes most of us gamers feel like a giddy little school girl, this is nothing to hide nor deny. Intertwined with all of this excitement comes several letdowns that sometimes get overlooked because of everything amazing that actually happened. I will be writing about my Top 7 Biggest Disappointments at E3 this year, but keep in mind, I will strictly be about actual game titles or companies’ lack of development, or over development, in attempt to try stray away from the console wars.

#7 – Rare and Killer Instinct
            I have never been an XBOX gamer, but when Microsoft announced that they will be working with storied developers at Rare to revive a franchise once lost in history to be an integral part of the next-gen XBOX gaming line up, I was very much interested in what they had to say. Now I knew going into E3 that the nostalgic bear and bird duo Banjo Kazooie was most likely not going to be making an appearance. That left Microsoft and Rare with two titles that could be big successes with an older group of gamers, either Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct, the latter of which has been yearned for by gamers for years. I was quite pleased that Killer Instinct had been picked and shown off for the XBOX One, but I couldn’t help feeling just a bit empty. There was something different about this game that I used to love when I was younger. The design of certain characters and the uniqueness of the characters’ move set were all but gone. There was nothing truly special about this fighter anymore, from what I had seen. It felt more like a mod of Street Fighter. It had lost its distinctiveness. Now to be fair, this could be that this is still in development, coupled with the wall that nostalgia has put up making my expectations just that much higher. Regardless of this, I have found that this announcement was not what it was hyped to be, at least for me anyway.

#6 – Disney Infinity
            This game is childish, right? NO. This game actually looks amazing. I have the opportunity to play as Perry the Platypus wielding a frying pan as a weapon while roaming Andy’s Room from the Toy Story series. Not to mention the opportunity that Star Wars characters and worlds can almost definitely be featured. While none of this may actually be news from E3, and it may sound that I love this game, which I will, the thing that bothers me most, and is a huge disappointment, is that it is set up like Skylanders where you have to actually collect the toys and figurines, along with buying expansion packs, to actually experience all of this awesome Disney world. While this is much better than the game that killed my buddy Spyro the Dragon, mainly due to the sole fact of it being Disney, I still have to say I am quite disappointed that I would have to use toys to fully experience this game.

#5 – Racing Games
            I would like to preface by saying that some of these games did actually look pretty cool with their full and seamless multiplayer integration into a single player experience, The Crew being the most interesting. The problem I had this year with this is that there was an oversaturation of racing games being announced, with something like 5 major games being showcased that more or less do the same thing, simulate a more realistic driving experience. It is not that these are bad games, some actually look great, it is just the same problem I have with hyper-realistic FPS titles, that there are too many games that are more or less the same as each other having a large amount of time for them to be showcased, while leaving less time for newer games that we have not seen before. I understand that racing games are many times great examples for showing off new technology and a good introduction into a next generation of gaming, it still does not cover the fact that too much time was focused on this one genre of gaming leaving less time for new games of likes we haven’t seen before.

#4 – Retro Studios
            Nintendo has always been famous for their IP and brand exclusives, with one of their most successful and well-known studios being Retro Studios, responsible for games such as Metroid Prime and Mario Kart 7, both of which are fantastic games. This year at Nintendo’s E3 Nintendo Direct, many people wanted the return of a proper Metroid game that would wash out the horrible taste the Metroid: Other M left in everybody’s mouth. I personally wanted a revival of the Star Fox or F-Zero series for Wii U. What we got was completely out of left field. Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze. For one, DK Country Returns was just released not too long ago on Wii, and ported over to the 3DS only last month. These games are incredibly fun, yes, but they do not need to make a sequel of this series when they just released a game not too long ago, compared to the wait of three big series that fans wanted most. While I will still probably enjoy the new Donkey Kong Country game, especially with the return of Dixie Kong, I will still be missing three stellar series that Nintendo has almost forgotten except for their inclusion in the Super Smash Bros series.

#3 – Titanfall
            This disappointment is very simple; I cannot play in on Playstation 4, only on my PC. L Microsoft, you certainly have a winner here.

#2 – Star Wars: Battlefront
            I know many of you are wondering why I call this a disappointment; this is a game we have all wanted for a while. I am overjoyed that this game actually exists, well at least is being worked on. The problem I have is that is all we know. We didn’t even see anything from the trailer except the title and some clouds. What is the game supposed to look like, to feel like? There was absolutely no atmosphere set so that we know what this game will be like. It has been stated the Battlefront III was in development before, but we didn’t see anything from it and it got canned. I fear the same thing will happen again. The likelihood of this happening a second time is probably very low, but it still puts doubt in my head only because we did not see anything to indicate that even the developers know what it looks like. So until I see more, I will still be somewhat skeptical, while still being so excited that I will probably soil myself. Let’s all hope that this isn’t a trap!

#1 – Naughty Dog
            They made The Last of Us, probably one of the greatest games ever made. I know that they wanted all of their attention drawn to last week’s release of this game during the craziness that was E3 and the next generation of console gaming; but I am still upset. No trailer, no teaser, no announcement and not even just holding up four fingers. That is all I wanted. Where is the announcement of the game that they are working on for PS4. We all know that there is a team working on something. This is Sony’s flagship team of developers, yet we did not get an announcement for Uncharted 4, or even this miracle of a game, the next Crash Bandicoot. All I wanted was to hear something from this K9 on what they are working on next. I love them to death, and I understand their situation with The Last of Us and its release date, but why do you have to keep me waiting longer for the game that will most likely define the PS4 in the next-generation? Alas, we should just enjoy its newest masterpiece for the time being.

- Jordan B.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Best Games of 2012

The Best Games of 2012

I know it’s March. But games take a long time to play, guys. Especially when there is so much great stuff to play, as there was in 2012. We’ve only now managed to make our way through the veritable sea of awesome games that 2012 dumped into our hard drives and disc trays, and we’re here to present you with our humble list of our considerations of the ten best games of 2012.

10. Super Hexagon | Steam (PC/Mac/Linux), Android, iOS | $2.99

I’m a bit of a retro gamer in that I long for brutal difficulty every now and then. Super Hexagon is a return to the days when “Nintendo hard” was a compliment rather than a disparagement: the days when games would punish you for the smallest mistake, but then encourage you to try again immediately. It pushes you and pushes you until you finally manage to beat it, overcoming its seemingly impossible challenge: only to be beset by yet another, even harder challenge.

Games like Super Hexagon – the BIT.TRIP series comes to mind, particularly RUNNER – live or die on how strong the compulsion for the player to keep going is. That “one more try” drive that quickly turns into “ten more tries” can turn an alright game into an outstanding one. And indeed, Super Hexagon is an alright game when taken on its gameplay alone. You control a small triangle cursor that revolves around a central hexagon, and you avoid lines and shapes that travel from the edge of the screen to the center hexagon. Very simple. What makes Super Hexagon one of the best games of the year is how well it keeps you playing and how well it encourages without feeling overly punishing.

When you fail, it feels like YOU failed, not the game being cheap. Additionally, failure isn’t punishing, because a “success” – the best possible outcome – takes only 60 seconds. Failure means that you’ve only expended less than 60 seconds of your time, so losing doesn’t feel like in BIT.TRIP RUNNER where you’ve just spend five minutes running through all the obstacles on 1-11: Odyssey and died right before the end. Even further, trying again is as simple as touching the screen: once you do, everything starts right back over. BUT THERE’S MORE. Rather than starting the music at the same place every time, the music is randomized and starts at a different point on the track every time you restart. This prevents you from feeling as if you’re not progressing since you don’t keep returning to the same point.

The randomized nature of the game works wonderfully to keep you sucked in, and what only takes 60 seconds to complete in a successful run can quickly turn into hours of playtime, trying to not only break that 60 second barrier but also continue past it, ranking up higher and higher scores. It’s a wonderful bit of classic arcade gaming come again, and it’s a spectacular mobile game. - bc

“Game over.”

9. Borderlands 2 | Steam (PC/Mac), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 ($59.99)

When this game first released in September, I, much to my dismay, was unable to play it. Now that I’ve finally got my hands on this game, I’ve had one of the most fun experiences with a videogame ever.

Borderlands 2 brings you back to the land of Pandora, a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by the insane, blood-hungry villain Handsome Jack. You play as one of four characters, a bulky guy who wields double guns and goes ball-deep into a gun fight called the Gunzerker, the Commando character who uses his turret and a mix of offensive and defensive play, the Siren who is the only female character and uses elemental magic is bring down enemies, and, finally, the Assassin who uses specializes in stealth, swords and long range weapons to take down some baddies.

The charm of this game is derived from the insanity that ensues on Pandora while you fight to defeat Handsome Jack in this comic book-styled world. With the ability to use a combination of over 17.75 million types of crazy imaginative guns (which is a Guinness world record for guns in a video game) and a leveling up system that takes some of the best aspects from the RPG genre, this game truly is the most creative first-person shooter of all time. While there is no PvP online multiplayer, there is an addictive co-op mode where you can play online with your friends the same as you would in story mode by yourself, causing havoc in Pandora, except with more people. What truly makes this title stand out is the hilarious crude dialogue and incredibly loveable, crazy characters, such as everybody’s favorite robot, Claptrap!  As a result of this insane world, amazingly solid gameplay and the funniest characters ever, Borderlands 2 has rightfully earned its spot in the top videogames of 2012. – jb

"Sorry about the mess. Everything Jack kills, he dumps here -- bandits, Vault Hunters, Claptrap units... If I sound pleased about this, it's only because my programmers made this my default tone of voice! I'm actually quite depressed!"

8. Pokemon Black and White Version 2 | Nintendo DS | $29.99

Since its debut in Japan in 1996, Pokemon has turned into a firestorm of popularity with its videogames, anime, trading card game, and more. With the release of Pokemon Black and White Version in late 2010/early 2011, it is generally agreed upon that the series had a huge revitalization despite being previously thought an old and tried series that was reaching the end of its life as a premier videogame title. The 5th generation brought players to the brand new Unova region, based on New York City, and because of this, isolation from the previous regions (which were all based upon regions in Japan) occurred. An entirely new set of Pokemon were introduced to catch and train in your quest to become the very best. With this came the sense that Gamefreak was starting all over again, bringing new life into the series. Because of this, the players were able to follow a much deeper story and greater character development than had previously been seen in the series. You fought Team Plasma and their leader, N, to stop them from freeing Pokemon from their trainers due to some false ideal that Pokemon and trainers should not be together.

Fast forward two years and we have the opening of Pokemon Black and White Version 2. You play as a new character from a town in Southwest Unova, an area of Unova that was previously unexplored in Black and White, as you meet old characters from the past and fight a new Team Plasma that wishes to take over the world under the command of N’s adoptive and abusive father, Ghetsis. In this title, Gamefreak did not create new Pokemon, but allowed you to catch native Unova pokemon and Pokemon from years past throughout the main story. The ability to have an Arcanine and multiple Eevelutions while challenging gyms was a huge blast of nostalgia. With new gyms and trainers, a massive amount of post-game content, the ability to fight every gym leader and champion from every region in the Pokemon World Tournament and a deepened story allowed Pokemon Black and White Version 2 to become the most fully realized Pokemon game yet and made me even more excited to see what the first fully 3D main Pokemon games, X and Y, can do. – jb

“I see! If Trainers believe in their Pokémon to the fullest extreme, as you do, their Pokémon partners will also give everything they have! So that must be the answer I've been looking for.”

7. Papo & Yo | PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network) | $14.99

Oh man, this game. This is one of the most tonally dissonant games I’ve ever played. Rife with a magical realist aesthetic, the game uses the whimsical atmosphere and fantastic gameplay mechanics to tell a grim, disturbing tale of child abuse and alcoholism that wrecks a family. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.

The gameplay is rather simple: the player controls Quico, a young boy with the power to affect his surroundings in unique ways. There are white lines scattered around the often urban environments that, when interacted with, cause homes to move out of place and create new paths, cause the ground to stretch upward and form a staircase, and even cause things to float in the air and make a path across a gap. It’s a bizarre game mechanic that makes what appears to be a realistic world into a magical one (there’s that magical realism that’s all the rage these days).

The game is a fun platformer, but it really comes into its own with the appearance of Monster. Monster is an ostensibly helpful large creature that allows Quico to clear obstacles he couldn’t otherwise clear on his own, and it adds a new dimension to the platforming that works very nicely. But Monster also likes to eat frogs – he really, really likes frogs – and that causes a problem. When Monster eats a frog, he flies into a berserker rage and will start harming everything around him: including the player. The player then has to do his best to calm Monster down. It’s a dark gameplay mechanic, and it’s a touchingly sad one that turns the whimsical aesthetic of the game on its head.

The game is a joy to play, and while it’s a dark and poignant rumination on familial distress, it’s an exciting and inventive game nonetheless. This is a game with an agenda, a game that wants to explore these dark depths of the human heart and mind, and it does that with tremendous style and an uncomfortable tonal dissonance that elevates it above most games of its kind. - bc

“To my mother, brothers and sisters with whom I survived the monster in my father.”

6. The Unfinished Swan | PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network) | $14.99

This is a game that came right out of left field, a complete and total surprise. Newcomer Giant Sparrow, picked up by Sony for an exclusive PSN deal, delivers one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. It’s a visually beautiful game that adopts a storybook aesthetic, has a child’s heart at its center, and tells an interesting and touching story. It’s also a veritable sandbox of clever and inventive game design.

The story is a simple one that plays out like a fairy tale, involving kings and a mysteriously elusive swan. The story is told primarily through storybook pages that player must uncover throughout the landscape, but in a brilliant bit of synergy, the story is very much intertwined with the gameplay. The king in the story would use a magical paintbrush to create cities and kingdoms for himself, but would always abandon them before completion as he grew discontented. Similarly, the game shifts between gameplay styles with reckless abandon, moving from one to the other just as the previous one appears to be almost fully explored.

It’s a cursory bit of gameplay evolution, but it strangely works. Controls are constant: the player moves and uses the triggers to throw balls of a liquid onto the landscape. In the first, most well-known level, those balls are of black paint, and they create large paint splotches on the barren white landscape, revealing the hidden features. It’s a beautiful bit of art to pull it off, and the gameplay is lots of fun as you toss paint everywhere to uncover the furniture and walls. In the second level, the black paint is replaced with a ball of water, which grows vines that stand out a lovely green against the white and grey shadowed environment, allowing the player to traverse the city with a bit of clever progression. The ball of paint changes each “chapter” (because it’s a storybook!), and each new gameplay element feels natural and inventive.

The game ends a tad abruptly, but I still felt very satisfied come the conclusion. It’s a beautiful game, both in the visuals and in the story, and one that comes very highly recommended. - bc

“The labyrinth was meant to beautiful, and it was. It was not meant to be practical, and it was not.”

5. Xenoblade Chronicles | Nintendo Wii | $49.99 (GameStop exclusive in North America)

My favorite genre of games is the role-playing game, and especially the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game). Games such as Final Fantasy fall into this category, having 40+ hour campaigns full of rich story and lore, generally strong gameplay, and a lot of level grinding. For the past couple of years, there hasn’t been a truly magnificent JRPG, with Final Fantasy XIII being the only one to come close, and it left a bad taste in the mouths of many Final Fantasy fans despite its gorgeous visuals and amazing sound track. 2012 was also the last year for the Nintendo Wii, so nobody expected anything truly great to come out for it after Skyward Sword. Then came Xenoblade Chronicles. This is the game that all RPG players were yearning for. A visually impressive game despite the Wii’s graphic capabilities, Xenoblade tells the story of an orphan boy named Shulk and his quest to save his world. This world takes place on two titan robots Bionis and Mechonis that were frozen after a legendary battle over the endless ocean. Colonies were spring up on these now life infested titans. These tribes then turn to war on the neighboring titans and chaos ensues.

As you journey along, you make new friends and partners to join your party, as in any good JRPG. The difference is that you really feel something for these characters: everybody is fighting for something that they believe in, all of which are being affected by the war in one way or another. All of the voice actors are British, so hearing the accents that I grew up hearing in my family was actually quite fun! The gameplay, however, is what truly earned this game a spot on this list. It employs a Real Time Action based combat system where your party can auto-attack with their weapons or can be manually controlled when using your special powers called Arts and Talent Arts, allowing for more variation and strategy in battles while moving around to dodge attacks. The difference between this and most other JRPG’s is the fact that there aren’t any healing items and you can only use healing Arts to heal your characters within battle, adding yet another layer of strategy to this already perfectly crafted battle system.  With a mix of a classic engaging storyline, lovable characters with neat voice acting and a near flawless battle system, any fan of the JRPG genre will have to play Xenoblade Chronicles as soon as possible, otherwise they are missing out on what will be considered a classic for years to come. 

As a side note, without the support from online gaming mobilizations such as Operation Rainfall, this game would not have even come to North America. Operations such as these are incredibly important and a powerful means of letting the gamer’s voice be heard. So please support these groups, such as Operation Moonfall! – jb

“Born into a world of strife, against the odds, we choose, to fight!”

4. Far Cry 3 | Steam (PC), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 | $49.99 (Steam), $59.99 (360/PS3)

Far Cry 3 came out very late in the year during December, missing all of the videogame awards and being snubbed by many awards that I believe this title deserves. The Far Cry series was never one of Ubisoft’s most popular, along with Far Cry 2 being incredibly lackluster, so the hype for this particular game wasn’t too high. After playing this, I can confidently say it is the best first person shooter or open world game to ever be released. You play as Jason Brody, just a rich college kid who is going on vacation with his brothers, girlfriend, and best friends at a tropical island to party, get wasted, and play some extreme sports. Little did they know that this seemingly deserted island is full of pirates who make their money off of drug and sex trafficking and that they would be captured by the pirate’s leader, Vaas Montenegro, who also has one of the best and widest vocabularies for a psychopathic madman you could ever imagine. *chuckles* As Jason and his older brother attempt to escape from Vaas at the beginning, his brother is shot, and Jason runs into the jungle to flee. After killing for the first time, he is saved by the native tribe on the island and becomes the warrior of Rakyat legend.

As you explore the massive and beautiful open world of Rook Island, saving your friends from the pirates and helping the Rakyat take back their island, you complete side quests, hunt rare animals in order to craft their hides into new weapon holsters and equipment, and gain experience to unlock new killing skills as Jason becomes the destined Rakyat warrior. This is the most seamless open world experience I have ever played: I never felt overwhelmed by the massive amount of content and things to do, all of it complementing the main story to get well over 30 hours of gameplay, not to mention a decent co-op and a respectable PvP online multiplayer. The story follows Jason’s path to insanity as he becomes a part of this island, from being an innocent college kid who has never even hurt anything to a blood loving death machine. This theme of insanity resonates throughout the game until the very end where you are given the option to stay on the island or go home with your saved friends. This is achieved through Jason’s journey to become the Rakyat warrior of legend, an ensemble cast that is truly memorable, a villain that serves as a foil and contrast for you to the point that you are questioning who is actually more insane, and a massive amount of content that never becomes overwhelming and feels like it is actually a part of the main story of Jason Brody. All of this makes Far Cry 3 my personal favorite game of the year. – jb

“Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is? Insanity is doing the exact same fucking thing, over and over again, expecting shit to change. That. Is. Crazy.”

3. Kid Icarus: Uprising | Nintendo 3DS | $34.99

This is one of my favorite handheld games of all time primarily because of how unbelievably fun it is. I can’t really put my finger on what about it speaks to me, but playing the game fills me with this childlike sense of absolute excitement and enthusiasm.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is the first installment in the series in 19 years, but rather than being the Metroid clone that it once was, it’s a game all its own. It’s dominated by two gameplay styles, with each mission comprising a segment of each: flight and land. The flight segments are an on-rails shooter. Pit is free to move around in a two-dimensional plane, but the path of his flight and the camera are fixed. Pit fires his weapon of choice at enemies, and after five minutes (it’s always exactly five minutes), he lands and begins the ground segment, which is a standard third person run and gun. It’s not cover based, Pit uses the same weapon, and the enemies are usually the same.

The game has some very strong sound design: the impact noises of the weapon and the death sound of the enemies is tremendously satisfying, making the wholesale slaughter of enemies an incredibly entertaining task. It lends a fast pace to the proceedings, as rather than sluggishly and methodically killing one’s way through the game, the game tends to encourage fast and rapid death of enemies with its rewarding sound design. There’s a lot of stuff to collect as well, in particular various weapons. There’s a wide arsenal of weapon types, from the iconic bows to things like guns and portable cannons, and each weapon has its own feel. It’s fun to experiment, particularly since the sound design is so universally great.

Perhaps the game’s best idea is the sliding scale of difficulty. Each mission, before you begin, offers a recommended difficulty based on your performance in prior missions. Difficulty is based on a scale of 0.1 to 9.9, the lowest being laughably easy and the highest being brutally punishing. The game scales difficulty remarkably well, and rewards players to playing at higher difficulty than recommended. It really fosters skill growth remarkably well.

There’s a lot of factors that make this game so fun – but overall it’s this persistent, playful tone of both the writing, which is self-aware and rather humorously spirited, and the actual gameplay itself, which seems engineered at all ends to be satisfying for all players, casual or hardcore. It’s a wonderful game for those looking for a good 3DS game, and is one of the best games on the system to date. - bc

“Old Pit's going to teach you even MORE new tricks!”

2. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance | Nintendo 3DS | $39.99

If you know either me or Brandon, you know that Kingdom Hearts is one of our all-time favorite series. It’s an action RPG that takes Final Fantasy and gives it a big twist: Walt-freaking-Disney. All of the worlds and characters you visit are from Disney movies and tales. It takes the darker, more serious story elements of Final Fantasy and mixes together the humor and charm of Disney for one of the most memorable experiences you will ever have. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance is the first game in the series on the Nintendo 3DS, and finally sets up the story for what will happen in the conclusion to the epic tale in Kingdom Hearts III. This game finds our hero, Sora, and his best friend, Riku, taking the Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters in the inevitable battle with the evil that is Master Xehanort. You play as both Sora and Riku alternatively in the Dream Worlds, worlds that are in a deep slumber after succumbing to the Heartless, in a quest to awaken these worlds from this deep sleep. We return to the starry residence of Traverse Town where we meet characters from the game The World Ends With You as both Sora and Riku learn how to interact within the dream worlds using a new mechanic called “flow motion.” The addition of flow motion makes the already beloved Kingdom Hearts battle system even faster and more fun, creating more depth than previous titles. The overall platforming that has always been a bit of a challenge for the series was also drastically improved, in part to the 3D capabilities of the 3DS and also in part to the wonderful flow motion system.

While gameplay for the game isn’t much different than its predecessors (it’s similar to Birth By Sleep), what really makes this title stands out as one of the best games of 2012 is its story. Fair warning, this section will contain many spoilers. As Sora and Riku journey throughout these Disney inspired worlds of movies such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Fantasia, they both encounter dark figures from their pasts. Sora learns of the hearts trapped inside of his own, one of the heroes from Birth By Sleep, Ventus who is the reason Sora is even a keyblade wielder, Roxas, Sora’s nobody who was once a part of the original Organization XIII, and Xion, a girl constructed from Sora’s memories. This was all a part of Master Xehanort’s plan to create a new Organization XIII filled with 13 vessels of darkness, all extensions of Xehanort himself. He planned on capturing Sora and using him as his last vessel, but was soon saved in a rescue mission into the dream world by Riku, King Mickey, Lea, and Sora’s partners Donald and Goofy. This is where we learned of Xehanort’s true plan to gather 13 vessels of darkness to combat the eventual 7 guardians of light in an epic and destined battle to forge the legendary χ-Blade to unlock Kingdom Hearts. Once Sora is saved, we learn that only Riku passes the Mark of Mastery exam and is the new Keyblade Master, while unexpectedly, Sora did not pass, having to take the exam again, which he is more than okay with. Meanwhile, Mickey and Yen Sid are discussing what course of action to take again Xehanort in what inevitably will be Kingdom Hearts III, and that is to gather 7 keyblade masters as the guardians of light. This implies bringing back Ventus, Aqua and (maybe) Terra from Birth By Sleep, obviously Sora, Riku and Mickey, but in a surprise twist, we learn Sora’s childhood friend Kairi is also a keyblade wielder, but also a Princess of Heart. Where this goes is unexpected. In a final twist, we learn that Lea (or Axle’s “somebody” for lack of a better term) can actually wield a Keyblade himself. What happens to Lea is currently unknown. This is the biggest leap in the story towards Kingdom Hearts III, and along with its already stellar gameplay, charming world, script and lovable characters from Disney, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance is one of the best games of 2012. – jb

“There are so many hearts that are connected to yours.”

1. Journey | PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network) | $14.99

Most gamers today need no convincing that games are an art form. It’s something that has finally become widely accepted in our community. To the outside world, however, games have a negative stigma that keeps them from being widely acknowledged as an art form, and that’s a damn shame: prominent critics of other art forms scoff at them, notably preeminent film critic Roger Ebert. But games are undoubtedly an art form. We simply need the right game to demonstrate this to the world.

Journey is that game, and it’s the best game of 2012 and one of the best games ever made, period.

Journey is a game primarily about movement – the player moves forward through a vast landscape in a world gone by. They pass ruined cities buried under endless sands. They venture through a dark tunnel that feels as if it’s underwater. They climb a snowy mountain peak and face the frigid winds. All as they move inevitably toward the mountain in the distance, marked by a tall beacon of light emitting from its peak. For a game to have gameplay limited primarily to movement and minor platforming elements seems like a very basic and uninteresting game – but the way in which Journey presents itself is what makes it a transcendent experience.

The game is a multiplayer one, but not in the traditional sense. The player will randomly encounter other players as they travel through the game world. The players will not know the usernames of the other, nor will they be able to communicate beyond a simple chime sound that they can emit at will. And yet, despite the entirely impersonal framing of the game’s multiplayer, it feels more human than any other multiplayer game I’ve ever played. Adventuring with another person, I developed a tremendous affection for their avatar: I would stay close by them at all times and do my best to direct them out of harm’s way, and then go back and retrieve them should they fall behind or get caught by one of the machines. I’ve never known this person and never will, but the game creates fascinating bonds between two completely unknown parties. When I would lose a companion should they fall too far behind or advance too far ahead of me, and I would then scale the mountain on my own, I felt this tremendous sadness overcome me. When I would meet a companion early on and then travel with them the rest of the game, scaling the mountain together, there was elation and excitement.

By stripping away communication and personality, the game creates an incredibly human multiplayer experience in a community known for being rather rude on the whole. That’s a miracle, and that the game can do this at all is impressive. But that it does so with such radiant beauty in the visuals, music, and storytelling?

That’s art. - bc

“C’est pour cela que je suis nee.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Top 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2013 (In No Particular Order)

So 2013 is looking to be a fantastic year for gaming, especially all of the releases in March of next year. Accordingly, many people have been naming their most anticipated game of the next year, and generally, they are big name titles such as Grand Theft Auto V. While I am looking forward to playing these games,  I can't say that they are the games I am most excited about. These games are slightly against the mainstream in terms of anticipation, but regardless, these are my most anticipated games of 2013, in no particular order.

Tomb Raider

This upcoming title is an entire reboot of the original Tomb Raider series. Without those horribly aged polygons, Tomb Raider can, and hopefully, meet its full potential as the ultimate action adventure game that may even give the Uncharted series a run for its money. Considering that the majority of this genre's audience is male, there is one thing that Tomb Raider has that Uncharted can't do, a sexy, butt kicking heroine no guy will not enjoy looking at, Lara Croft. (Although admittedly, I do have a man crush on Nathan Drake......) This game delves into the origin story of how Lara Croft became a complete BAMF that makes even Indiana Jones look like a muppet. The guys over at Square Enix are running this show, and I have three words for that: THANK THE LORD. Square Enix is one my favorite company, so I am very bias towards this, but I have not seen many games to come out of them that are less than fantastic, even though they sometimes like to drag their players for the longest time to get a game that they have been dying for......Kingdom Hearts III....sigh. Back on topic, this game looks amazing. Visually, it is breath taking. You are on a tropical island venturing through the jungle, while it is entirely an open world game, yet is still cinematic in the way Uncharted is known for. From first gameplay videos, the combat system seems to run very smoothly, making killing enemies that much more enjoyable, because who doesn't love awesome and new ways to kill people?! So there you have, Tomb Raider. Did I mention the voice actress is British?

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Yes, this game did come out in 2012 in Japan, but the localization is slated for release in North America on February 4, 2013. Let me start by saying, I LOVE FIRE EMBLEM. It is my favorite series in one of my favorite genres, Tactical RPG, even more than Final Fantasy Tactics. The last game to come out in North America for the series was Shadow Dragon on the DS, a remake of the very first game in series featuring Marth, who many know from Super Smash Brothers. This was sort of a let down, compared to the games I have come to love with Sacred Stones for their story and character, to Radiant Dawn for its impressive visuals and overall difficulty. Shadow Dragon lacked this, yet is reasonable since it is the first game in the pretty old series. That being said, it has been a whole since I have gotten a truly amazing Fire Emblem entry, from what I have seen of this game, it will not disappoint. With a much longer campaign, higher difficulty on the general setting, expanded game and battle mechanics, DLC, revisitation of beloved characters through the DLC, amazing visuals due to the realization of the 3DS's amazing capabilities and the possibility of having the most engaging story of any game to come from this series, I will definitely be spending hours upon hours on this game, just to fully enjoy everything this has to offer. Oh, and you can now do double team attacks. WHAT?

South Park: The Stick of Truth

If any of you know me, you know that South Park is one of my favorite shows on television. The fact it can run this long, and get away with having the most foul mouthed 4th graders ever do the things they do, the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created something truly remarkable. The crude humor is absolutely essential to everything they do. It is why this show is so successful. Yet, every game that South Park has been featured in, has been anything but successful. This will change everything, Remember those classic episodes where the boys go on a Lord of The Rings-esque quest to return an adult video to the videostore, the episode where the boys play World of Warcraft, or the episode where the boys buy ninja weapons and go on their own ninja adventures? We all wish we could do those things that our favorite 4th graders get to do, and with this game, we do! It is an RPG like none other. Similar to WoW and The Elder Scrolls, with magic and summons like the Final Fantasy series. The difference is, it is South Park. It is as if you are playing an actual episode of the show, with all of its charm. You can summon Jesus armed with heavy machine guns and firepower, to Mr Slave who will eat the enemy with his expansive.....butt hole..... and even Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo'stidal wave of poo! With classes such as Kyle's High Jew Elf and Cartman's Grand Wizard (surprised he wasn't an Imperial Wizard.....), this brings the RPG genre back to its roots, with that irresistible South Park charm. This game is voiced by all of the television voice actors and the visuals is taken directly from the animators of the show! It also takes a time restricted turn based party fighting system, much like some great Final Fantasy titles. So when Kenny (who is a Princess) dies while fighting with him, you can also say "OH MY GOD, THEY KILLED KENNY!" Please, just watch any trailer. Please.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD

I know, I know. It has a March 2013 release for Japan. But considering that this game is a remastering of 2 games, and HD cutscenes of another, it can realistically be released in North America within a month or two after the Japanese release. While these aren't new games by any means, 1.5 HD fully remasters Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, the "perfect" version of the original game Americans never got, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and all of the cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts 385/2 Days into glorious high definition for the Playstation 3. I won't go into much detail about the games themselves only because they have been out for a very long time, after all, it is Kingdom Hearts' 10th Anniversary. Anyway, Kingdom Hearts may be my favorite game series ever. Take Final Fantasy, throw in a whole lot of Disney, and you have one of the funniest, moving, cutest, emotional journeys you will ever experience with Sora and his best friends Riku, Donald, Goofy and Kairi. After recently playing through most of the games in the series before I get Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for Christmas (expect a review for that!), I have fallen in love with everything this series is. When this game does drop in America, and it will, do not hesitate to buy it, whether you are a series veteran, or someone new to the series that hasn't had the chance to play it until now.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

I can relate to Mario, he has an annoying, wimpy little brother. Although his brother actually has some awesome Ghostbuster skills. The Gamecube title Luigi's Mansion was one of my all time favorite games to come on the mainly overlooked Gamecube console that is tossed aside by the like of its predecessor the Nintendo 64. However, this game was so charming, funny and great, Luigi triumphed over his older brother as the King of the Gamecube. (I did not like Super Mario Sunshine) Now that this game is coming to the 3DS, owners of the relatively new handheld gem will have something to overjoy about. Instead of just one mansion that you are trying to de-boo-ify, you have multiple mansions to send Luigi running into as scared as always. The battle system has been changed a bit, this time stunning the boos then being able to whittle away at their health with your stroboscope. I think this is a welcome addition, making the battles a bit more exciting and possibly even more difficult, but not too hard! The circle pad pro is also an option for gameplay, which is exciting news considering the success it has had with previous titles. It is slated to release in the spring of 2013 for North America!

So there you guys have it, my most anticipated games of 2013. This was quite a hard list to create considering the vast array of games coming out in the next year, but I will list some honorable mentions!
BioShock: Infinite
The Last of Us
Rayman Legends
Dead Space 3
God of War: Ascension
Remember Me
Pikmin 3
Mega Man I-VI 3DS e-Shop (just because I can)

Thanks for reading! Comment with your thoughts and share!

~Jordan Bolduc

So This Is Real, Huh?

If you are reading this, then thank you! I have been saying that I would make and maintain some type of blog for quite awhile now, the difference is, I am actually doing it. Video games as a whole is one of those things that everybody can find enjoyment out of, whether you are a hardcore gamer that plays religiously, or even somebody that just kills time by playing an app they downloaded on their smartphone because they were bored sitting in class. What I want to do here is to write about whatever I want and enjoy, because quite frankly, big industry "professionals" such as the guys over at IGN or G4 (R.I.P.) aren't always completely agreeable, and tend to overlook some titles that are truly great. Whether it be a Top list, analysis article, review or even humor/parody articles, I promise to bring you material that you will enjoy reading/watching/listening etc. Also, I would love to get pieces from everybody else and post them, possibly even making weekly segments! (*coughBrandoncough*) Just let me know on facebook and we can work something out, because I can't play every game out there, nor would I enjoy every game out there that many of you may love! So with that, welcome! I hope you continue reading!

~Jordan Bolduc