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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Video game number sixty five: Darwinia+

Video game review number sixty five in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Darwinia+".

Darwinia is a pretty interesting game that I played on Xbox Live Arcade. You start out in digital world that looks a little like "Tron", where you are given a quest by some strange professor to save the "Darwinians". Everything is very "blocky" in this game, from your little stickman soldiers to the snakes and spiders who will try to kill them. These predators are viruses, infecting the Darwinian computer world, so that all makes sense to me.

There are elements of real-time-strategy to this game (you have to lead your little dudes from point A to point B without them being killed). You have to flip switches to transfer your guys, and clear a path for them using the standard twin stick shooting controls.

I really like the gameplay, but have a major gripe that is making this game frustrating for me. The objective is never clear enough for me. Often, you're supposed to lead the Darwinians somewhere, but there is no clear indicator of where that place is on-screen. The professor narrates your objectives at the beginning of each level, but he never specifically points out your goals. This means that I often ended up with a level completed, all my enemies killed...and I didn't know where to take my Darwinians. Trial and Error doesn't work, because every time you send them in a direction, you lose one. Do that frequently enough and you won't have enough to meet the goal to pass the level.

There are youtube guides I found that walk you through this, but frankly...if you NEED a youtube guide to pass a game, it's probably not the game for you. That's how I feel anyway. I put between 5-10 hours into this one, but progress is very slow because I keep getting stuck. With a few simple UI tweaks (an indicator that shows you your goal, perhaps?)...I think this game could have been great. As it stands, I find it a little bit frustrating...and that's what steered me away from it.

Overall socre? 5/10. Great potential...but in my opinion, the campaign is just a bit too confusing. Difficulty is fine, but I don't like completely beating a level and then wondering "Hey, what next?" every time. One of my coworkers beat this all the way through, and he thought it was a really good game. I think this is one of those cases where you should definitely play the demo and see for yourself whether you like it or not. If you have the time to invest in unraveling the mysteries of Darwinia, this game could be awesome. I don't have the time...I want that instant gratification, damnit. :-)

Video game number sixty four: Greed Corps

Video game review number sixty four in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Greed Corps".

Greed Corps is a turn based strategy game where you control little units, resources and buildings on a map that slowly deteriorates while you try to kill your opponent. I like strategy games from time to time, but this one has no story or anything. They just give you a few units to control, some money...and you're off to the races.

If the units were interesting to look at, or the animations when they killed someone were cool...this might be a cool game. Unfortunately, the graphics in this one look like they were designed for the Gameboy Advanced, and the gameplay moves at a snails pace. The music sounds like a tune you might enjoy if you were in the elevator at a nursing home. I'm not sure why they thought a nice slow jazz song was the perfect background for a combat game, but it plays over and over again. I think that they might possibly be trying to lull you to sleep, so that you'll dream happy thoughts of this game instead of experiencing the sad thoughts you have while actually playing it. This game is totally awesome....in your dreams.

I didn't enjoy this at all. Play the demo before you waste your 10 bucks on it. Overall Rating? 2/10.

Achievement? I got one. They are VERY few and far between in this game...and I have no intention of grinding to get them.

Video game number sixty three: MLB 2K10

Video game review number sixty three in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "MLB 2K10".

This game was released today and I played it within hours of it going on sale. Why? Because the first person to pitch a perfect game in this game gets a million dollars from the developers. This isn't in-game money, this is actual cash to spend in real life. It's an awesome idea for a contest, and I had to partake. I had never played an MLB 2K game before, but how hard could it really be?

This game was exactly like what I imagine playing in the Major Leagues would really be like for me. I couldn't get a hit to save my life, not even in batting practice. When I was pitching, the batters hit on me like I was the only hooker at a bar filled with sailors on shore leave. When I was on defense, fielding even the easiest hits that came towards me usually resulted in the ball going right by. Even base running was a challenge. This game is fucking hard.

I love baseball, but I haven't played many baseball games since the old school days, mostly because somewhere in there...they got too complicated for me. I miss the "Hit "A" to swing, "B" to pitch" two button games of my youth. These days, you have to time your swing, then move the right stick back and forth...then pray you'll make contact. There's a "classic" control scheme, but it's not much better. I sat in the hitting drills, and threw 80 pitches at my hitter, but I think I only made contact with 4 of them. All of those hits were probably luck.

Pitching is just as hard. It's like pulling off moves in street fighter. It's a button/joystick combo, and you have to get the timing perfect. Again, I went to the drills (which is the closest thing this game has to a training mode)...and I couldn't nail even one pitch. They give you three tries on each of the types, but I never successful threw any of them.

I played a couple of full games, hoping that I might get the hang of it, but the computer scored 6 runs in the first inning in the first game (which I restarted), and then promptly beat me 10-0 in the second game. I suppose that's actually improvement.

My overall rating might surprise a bit. I'm giving it a 6/10. My first instinct was to give it a 2 or something, because I couldn't pick it up and play it. Even a few hours later, I wasn't getting any better. There's no tutorial, the instruction book is worthless....so if you've never played one of these games before, you can expect to suck the big one.

Still, even though I couldn't figure out how to play it...I have to admit that it's a pretty good game. The graphics are amazing (it's like watching a baseball game on TV), and the player rosters are updated in real time. There are modes to create your own player, and an online multiplayer mode to compete against other people online. The controls are impossible for a noob to learn, but I recognize that if I am ever able to get good at this game, I'd probably really enjoy it. I'm too frustrated to keep playing right now, but maybe I'll find someone I know who is good at it, and they can give me some pointers.

I posted a little video of my adventure trying to get a million dollars: It's pretty funny.

Achievements? Somehow...I managed to get a few.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Video game number sixty two: Dynasty Warriors Strike Force

Video game review number sixty two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Dynasty Warriors Strike Force".

There have been about 497 different versions of Dynasty Warriors over the years, but somehow...this one is the first one I've ever played. Oddly enough, I played the copycats of this game before I ever played the original, and while I'm not a huge fan of the genre, I have to admit, the first hour or two of these games is always a lot of fun.

Dynasty Warriors games all involve one player against hundreds of enemies on each level. There are usually a ton of levels, and the overall experience ends up being incredibly grindy. You have to defeat tons of enemies, with the hope you might find some steel or a rock or something that you can make a better weapon with. You can power your weapons up with orbs and crap that you find in boxes around the levels. I've never particularly liked this part of the game. It's like they took the best elements of Double Dragon and tried to add some Final Fantasy to it. I'm not a fan of RPGs, so the intricate weapon upgrades and grinding are not usually something I enjoy.

Still, there's something satisfying about that first hour of gameplay. You mow down enemies like a guy with a scythe in a field of grass. Except for the bosses, there isn't one warrior in the level that can withstand you, so most of the time....you're just spinning around killing people. I can't imagine anyone being able to do this in real life, but wouldn't it be awesome if you could be one of these guys at the next big concert you went to? I'd totally grind my way up through General Admission to the front row of the pit....picking up all the awesome items that my 400 hit combo dropped. When a swarm of cops tried to arrest me for mass murder, I'd just use a magic potion on them or something. Then I'd have the band play "Freebird", just because I could.

Overall, I'm giving this a 5/10. Like supermarket brand vanilla ice cream, this game is exactly what you're expecting: average. Fans of the series will certainly feel differently one way or the other...but for casual folks like myself, this isn't a big winner. I'm not sure whether or not I'll keep playing this one, but I can't say that I feel compelled to. The story doesn't particularly interest me, either because there aren't any cinematics in between levels or because something exciting might have been lost in the translation to english. The plot consists mostly of generic "go fight this guy next" text in between waves and waves the same fight. It's a fun action game to button mash your way through, but it also gets very grindy and repetitive. I actually found myself longing for the campaign mode in Tekken, which frankly...I liked a lot better than this game.

Here's what I unlocked after a few hours with this one.

Video game number sixty one: Domino Master

Video game review number sixty one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Domino Master".

When it comes to dominoes, the only game I'm familiar with is the one where you line them up in long, intricate rows and hope that your little sister doesn't knock them over before you finish making the line.

We had some dominoes when I was a kid and this was all I ever did with them. I knew there was an actual game you could play, but I didn't really know how to play it. I'm sure I played at one point or another, but mostly....my dominoes were used for chain reactions that would sometimes end in knocking a Star Wars figure over or something.

Domino Master is all about the actual game of dominoes, not lining them up to knock them over. When I played this game, I had to learn the basics from scratch. The first thing I learned is that the computer employs some cheap bullshit. The next thing I learned is that Domino Master has the exact same user interface as Uno, only instead of a deck of Uno cards, you have dominoes in the middle. The final thing I learned is that I don't really like dominos very much.

The one fun thing about this game is that when you play it, you can shout "Domino, Mother Fucker!" every round you win, like you're Doughboy from "Boyz in the Hood". Heather was in the bedroom and came out to see what I was doing. She didn't know I was playing actual dominos, and just thought I was shouting at the TV for no reason. She started saying "Domino, Mother fucka!" too....and that upped this game a point in my book.

Overall score: 3/10. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's certainly nothing special either. It's just dominos. If you like dominos, play this game. Or better yet, buy some real dominos instead. If you don't like dominos (or maybe you just want to line them up and knock them down like I did)...skip this game altogether.

Video game number sixty: Yo Ho Kablamo

Video game review number sixty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Yo Ho Kablamo".

This game is one of the first efforts to cross-over to the Xbox Live Marketplace from the indie-developer program for Xbox. It was submitted as part of a contest a few years back, and won top honors along with "The Dishwasher" (which I should also try one of these days). I really admire the fact that someone without a publishing contract created this one by themselves.

The concept is classic enough. You have a pirate ship, as do three other players on the screen...and your job is to destroy them. It's an overhead combat game, the likes of which you'll remember from the last 30 years of console gaming. I played this one late on a Friday night with my buddy John, who I have invited to be a guest reviewer for this one. Here was his sound bite:

Not easy to just pick up and play, but it's got potential. I'd like to put a little more time into it, but if that were just a demo for me, as it pretty much was, I probably wouldn't buy it.

When I asked him for his opinion on the game yesterday, at first, we got into an interesting discussion about gaming in general. John mentioned that he spends a lot of time playing his games, and thought he would have to spend a lot more time playing this one before he could review it. I pointed out that we played for awhile the other night, and neither one of us liked it. We were both saying "What the fuck?" a lot, as we were conquered by even the easiest computer opponents. The controls left a lot to be desired. For me, that was enough to write it off and move on. John wanted more time with this game to form a full opinion on it.

I don't find either viewpoint flawed, I just have a shorter attention span for games I don't like. Not just because of this challenge, but because I believe that if you don't like a game when you first play it, there's no need to force yourself to keep playing. There are exceptions to this, of course. Mass Effect comes to mind. It's a game I tried, didn't like at first and embraced two years later after being urged by friends to give it a second chance. Some games have reviews that are so good that even if you don't want to play them, you might want to try to make sure you aren't missing out. The first time I played Guitar Hero, it was really hard...but I got the hang of it, and now Rock Band is among my favorite games of all time.

On the other hand, bad video games are like cigarettes for me. The first one I smoked, I knew almost instantly that I hated it. It made me cough, it stunk, and I couldn't see any reason to continue to try to learn to smoke them after that. Especially given all the reviews from doctors, who said that it would kill you. Luckily, no one in my life was pressuring me to smoke (like they urged me to play Mass Effect), because I never really gave it a second try. These days, I might light up at a party once a year for fun (mostly to get a double take from all my friends who know I don't smoke), but it'll never be a regular thing for me. I'm not saying Yo-Ho Kablamo is bad for your health, but I didn't like it enough to keep playing until I learned what the hell was fun about it.

John on the other hand, did want to keep playing. He said: Well, we're two very different types of gamers, too. You like immediate, instantaneous pick-up-and-playability. I like to take my time and get invested in a game, digging into it a bit before really playing.We didn't take the time to do that. Initial impressions. 5 or 6/10 I guess. But I didn't spend enough time with it to score it fairly. Didn't play any single player, didn't play any other multiplayer variations besides Deathmatch.

I have to say, he does have a point. On the one hand, this challenge has been great, because I've discovered a lot of new games. On the other hand, if I was trying to give the game a "real" review, instead of my snap judgment before moving on, I probably should have played more than 40 minutes or so. I have to say, if I'm going to regret one thing when this challenge is over....it's probably not going to be missing out on games I didn't initially like (like Yo-Ho Kablamo). Instead, I'm probably going to regret all that extra time I've had to keep playing to get one achievement in the games I didn't like, just to meet my own rules. If there wasn't a tutorial for Yo-Ho Kablamo, I would have been disappointed that I had to keep playing it. There are so many great games out there, there's no sense in wasting exra time on one like this.

Overall impression for me? 3/10. I feel that if you can't have fun with a combat video game on a Friday night with your buddy, it's time to switch to another game. That's exactly what we did.

Here's the one lame achievement I earned. Not sure if I'll ever play this again, but I suppose after getting John's impressions on the game, I might feel guilty if I don't. :-)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Video game number fifty nine: Fret Nice

Video game review number fifty nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Fret Nice".

This game had all the makings of a wonderful idea. Most gamers I know have at least 3 or 4 musical instrument peripherals just sitting around in their living room, waiting for someone to play with them. When you're not playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero, they basically become giant plastic living room ornaments that your wife (or whoever else lives with you) hopes that you will put away someday....but you leave them there, because you never know when it might be time to rock.

The folks who made Fret Nice ask the eternal question: "What if you could use that guitar controller to play a game that has nothing to do with rocking?". They didn't ask me, but if they had...I would have said "Yeah man, that sounds cool...go do it". I also would have followed up with "But please don't make it suck". Clearly, they really should have asked me first.

Fret Nice has all the right ingredients, but somehow...they mixed them together in the improper way and created a crap casserole. This game is your standard platformer (cool), where you have to kill cute little enemies (cool again)...which you can do with either the guitar hero controller or the regular gamepad (very cool). Unfortunately, it's no fun no matter how you choose to play it.

I tried the first level with the guitar hero controller. Learning to strum to kill the enemies took me a minute or two, but once I got the hang of it, I liked it. Learning to jump on the other hand, had nothing to do with skill...and instead, relies completely on the quality of your guitar. All guitar controllers have the gyroscope inside, which enables the feature where you use the "tilt" to get your star power. My stupid gyroscope is broken from rocking a little too hard. Since this game requires you to use the tilt just to jump, I'm screwed most of the time. Some guitar hero controllers have a star power button, which makes jumping easier...but even after to switching to one of those, I can't say it was more fun. It's still a really annoying way to jump. Jumping is supposed to be a twitch reaction, and "star power" isn't really easy to pull off. They should have mapped it to the "A" button or something. You run by strumming, which is also silly.

I struggled through beating the first level using the guitar and then decided to go back and do it with the controller to see if I liked it better. It's hard to believe, but it was actually worse. "Strumming" on a controller is never fun (try playing Guitar Hero with your 360 controller sometime). There's a reason the folks at Harmonix were smart enough not to let you do this in Rock Band. Unfortunately, Fret Nice actually relies so heavily on the guitar hero controller being there that it's not really any fun without it.

This game itself is very simple, so it seems like the main challenge in this game is learning how to control it. That's all right if you're playing a game with DDR or even Tony Hawk Ride, but when you're just trying to play a normal platformer....it doesn't work. I applaud them for trying to think outside the box, but the game simply wasn't any fun no matter which controller you used to play it.

Overall score: 2/10 and the two is mostly for the great concept here. Unfortunately, it's a horrible execution. I'm really surprised IGN and Gamespot gave this sucker sixes.

I will never play this again.

Video game number fifty eight: Wits and Wagers

Video game review number fifty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Wits and Wagers".

Wits and Wagers is another video game based on a popular board game that I'd rather play instead. If three of my buddies wanted to sit around and play this board game on our dining room table, it would be a lot of fun...but frankly, if I have three friends over for gaming, this is one of the last kinds of games we'd play. We'd go for Rock Band, Halo, even something silly like Scene It before playing an incredibly basic trivia game like this.

Playing this game alone against the computer? It's pretty lame. They ask you really difficult questions that have a specific numerical answer, and then you try to get as close to the answer as you can by guessing. You wager on your guess, as does the AI. The closest person to the actual answer without going over wins the money, just like the Price is Right.

At first, I played honestly. I actually won a few rounds, not for having the right answer...but for being the closest. It was then that I realized if I really wanted some achievements, all I'd have to do is bing the answer and bet everything. I did that, and got a huge bonus.

This was fun but completely negated the purpose of playing any further. You wouldn't sit with your friends and play the board game with Google or Bing sitting open on your laptop, but unless you do that against the computer...the game drags on and on.

Overall score? 3/10. This would be a fun party game, if anyone ever actually wanted to play it at a party. As a solo game, either you play it and bore yourself to death....or you cheat for the quick achievements. Either way, it's just a waste of your time, so I decided to pick option three, which was moving to the next game.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Video game number fifty seven: Lazy Raiders

Video game review number fifty seven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Lazy Raiders".

Lazy Raiders is one of those games where you can choose your avatar as the main character. I had just purchased a brand new Force Unleashed Sith Lord outfit for my avatar, and was looking forward to seeing this in the game. Unfortunately, it makes you wear a stupid explorer outfit (which it also unlocks an avatar award for use in other games). I was kind of bummed I couldn't be the cool Vader guy, but I got over it and moved on.

This game is pretty interesting. It's a tilt maze game, where you move the screen around and your character falls or slides based on the angles you create. Think of those old wooden games, where you tilt either side of the board to move a marble around. Your avatar is the marble, only now you also collect keys, open doors, and eventually make your way to the center of the maze by tilting it around.

Aside from tilting the screen in one direction or another, you can also flip it completely over. This essentially reverses the playing field. Flipping the screen also has other effects. If there are torches burning, flipping it blows them out. It opens a gate or closes one. This makes for some pretty challenging gameplay. I found myself dying a lot while trying to flip, but I think that's just because I don't have the hang of it yet.

Overall, this is an interesting game. It's not great, but it's not bad. I think I could get the hang of it, but of the strategy arcade games I've played lately, Qix++ is still my favorite. In fact, I went back to playing that after I got done playing this one today. The more I play that one, the more I'm enjoying it.

Overall score is 5/10. Purely average so far. I wish your avatar could wear it's own outfit, and I wish the action was just a tad slower, which might make it more strategy and less twitch.

I got some achievements and here they are:

Video game number fifty six: Vancouver 2010

Game review number fifty six in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Vancouver 2010".

One of my coworkers saw me carrying this game as I was heading down the stairs to the parking garage after work this evening.

He said: "Vancouver, eh? That game sucks ass".

"Uh-oh, really?" I asked.

"Yeah. I thought the achievements would be really easy, so I played it...but then it turned out to be really tough. I'm stuck on a level where I have to be Apolo Ohno".

I made a mental note to avoid that level.

After I got home, I booted this one up and took a look at my options. Lots of skiing, some snowboarding, bobsled, luge and of course, the Apolo Ohno levels. I decided to skip those and go straight to some downhill slalom, which sounded sort of fun.

The controls are a bitch to get used to, but once I eventually got the hang of them in each mode, some events were actually ok. Slalom was one that had a long ramp up time for me (I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get gold even though I was going fast and not missing gates). I got frustrated and moved to the "Challenges", which aren't the Olympics, but rather....gamer challenges for achievements. I was able to do better there.

The downhill skiing is a lot of fun. Once I figured out how to keep my speed up (by not carving), I was able to win races and break records. That was pretty cool. I played both the bobsled and the luge...but I kept crashing, no matter how much I leaned. Those things have no brakes. Morbidly, I thought to myself "Boy, this is actually just like the real Vancouver 2010 Olympics" and then I stopped playing those modes.

I booted the speed skating events once, and my coworker was right, they pretty much blow. Next I went to snowboarding event, and I had my ah-ha moment. I don't know why it didn't occur to me until then, but this video game is pretty accurate as far as the location goes. I had seen this track before, as snowboarding was one of the first events I watched on TV during the actual Olympics. Later, I happened to see a brief glimpse of the slalom on TV (My wife was hoping to see some ice skating and had turned it on to check)....and I realized that it was the level I'd been playing all evening in the video game. That made it a bit cooler for me.

I did a few more challenges, including one I really liked where you had to do ski jumping tricks. Eventually, I made it to a challenge where you were supposed to run the snowboard race again. "Cool", I thought to myself "I was pretty good at this". Then I found out I had to run it with backwards controls. Left meant right, right meant left.

I can't imagine why they thought this would be fun. Challenging? Sure. Go ahead and make it a dumb achievement and make it optional if you want to screw with your player. I didn't feel like screwing around like that, as I had just spent a good 30 minutes or so learning how to get good at snowboarding. Suddenly they want me to do it completely backwards? That was just stupid.

I was actually mad that I couldn't adapt, so I played it about 12 times until I finished the challenge....just because. After that, I was basically done with this game.

Overall score? I have to give it a 5/10. It's pretty simple stuff, I can't see people being wowed by any of it. You've seen better snowboarding games for sure. The graphics are only so-so, with the big exception being how accurate the levels are compared to their real life Olympic counterparts. I suppose that shouldn't really be impressive, but for some reason...it was to me.

Achievements? I got quite a few