Sunday, January 31, 2010

Video game review thirty one: Tony Hawk Ride

Game review number thirty one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Tony Hawk: Ride".

Tony Tony Tony has done it again.

I didn't think any skateboarding game could piss me off more than Proving Ground did over the last couple of days, but I was wrong. That game made me think that I might be getting a little too old. This game proved it.

Tony Hawk Ride is a one hundred and twenty dollar package consisting of a skateboarding game and a plastic skateboard shaped controller. The controller is a giant deck, which feels a little beefier than any actual skateboard I've ever been on. It feels hefty and when you put it on the floor, you have high hopes for this game. There are four sensors on it (two on the sides, two on the nose and the tail). I believe there's also a gyroscope or something inside, but I might be wrong about that.

I immediately launched into the tutorial. I figured Tony would teach me how not to fall on my ass. Pushing the board along came naturally (I scuffed my foot along the carpet as if it might actually take me somewhere). I could move forward well enough, but when it came to the Ollie (the most basic skateboarding trick, and one I used to be able to do for real)...I had some troubles. It's tough at first to get your balance on a board with no wheels, but you get a feel for it. I completed the Ollie tutorial and moved to grinding. I was ok at that too. When it came to kick flips, that's where it started to get frustrating.

Maybe my board was broken (I borrowed a very used one)...but I couldn't get the damn kick flips to work for the life of me. I went to youtube, and they showed you pretty much the same video tutorial that the game shows you, so I know I was doing the right motion with my feet.

In any event, I spent the next 30 minutes flailing around, trying to beat that tutorial before I called it a day and jumped into the game instead. The game is a lot more fun. I was able to completely beat the first level of the game, with perfect scores. Granted, I was on easy difficulty, but I felt good about my progress after failing the tutorial. I only have 37/500 stars you can get in the "casual" difficulty, then there's experienced and hardcore after that.

This game isn't what I'd call a workout (I reserve that exclusively for games like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Fit), but it got me sweating. I'd say an hour of this is akin to an hour of vigorous drumming in Rock Band, and about halfway through, I changed from pants to shorts and went shirtless because my clothes were getting pretty sweaty. No, there are no pictures. :-)

I like this game. I think it's a interesting concept. I think all the bad reviews it gets are probably from people who played it for a few minutes at Best Buy, their friends house...or maybe failed the tutorial like I did. It's got a steep learning curve, and I'm pretty sure if I had progressed past casual, I would have become frustrated with it. When you get into the actual game though, it's pretty entertaining. I only have this skateboard for the weekend, and I'm pretty tired of jumping around right now, so I think that's it for me on this....but if it ever comes way down in price (which I think it may eventually do), I'll pick one up. At 120 bucks though, it's not worth the price of admission to me. Even though Tony has said in interviews that he sees this as the future, I am not sure there will be a sequel to this game after the poor sales of the first one. Project Natal will also be coming out this holiday and making the board controller virtually obsolete.

Overall Rating: 6 out of 10. Pretty solid experience, and it's always nice to play a game that forces you to move around a little. It's not a game changer though. I can't see most people getting into this...especially couch potatoes.

Achievements? They suck as much as the other Hawk game I played today. You have to beat all sorts of stuff before you start unlocking gamerscore. The one achievement I was able to get was for a 10,000 point combo I got one of the levels, and that was a combination of luck and luck. There was another achievement for finishing a speed run in 1:30, and I finished it in 1:35 a couple of times. I'm pretty sure I could have shaved the extra 5 seconds off if I wanted to grind, but....that's not the aim of the mission here. :-)

Video game number thirty: Sonic the Hedgehog

Game review number thirty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Sonic the Hedgehog".

I should have known better than to play another re-imagined game from my younger days after the terrible Tony Hawk Proving Grounds, but I decided to check this one out anyway.

Grr. This is a TOUGH game.

I remember when I first played the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis (with the "Blast processing"and everything). Sometimes, the springs would launch Sonic into a series of loops and you'd be going so fast, you'd be unable to avoid the spikes you didn't know were coming at the end of the loop.

That was the good kind of frustrating.

This Sonic game is just all wrong. First of all, it starts out like Final Fantasy or something, there's a CG cut scene with a really nicely rendered town and a princess who looks like she's from an RPG somewhere. Professor Eggman comes down, only he's not a cartoon character he's rendered like an RPG character. He steals the princess and in runs Sonic....who is still the same. It's sort of like Roger Rabbit I suppose....Sonic is a toon in an RPG world. It's strange at first, but you get sort of used to it. It reminds me a lot of the first time I played Paper Mario (a game that everyone seemed to love except for me). I didn't think Mario belonged in that universe and Sonic doesn't belong in this one.

You start out in a town walking around with people you can talk to by pressing X. The conversations are really lame and the developers at Sega Japan didn't bother to hire actors do the voices, instead option to have them say simply "Umm" or "Oooh" when you walk up. I wonder if the original Japanese version has speech or not. Anyway, you finally find your first mission (after getting a few clues from the silent crowd as to where it is) and this is where the frustration (or fun) begins.

The first level is divided into two completely separate parts. If you die on the second part, too have to do the entire first part over again as well. I hate when games pull this sort of bullshit. Usually, it's Capcom, Team Ninja or even Konami games that do this...and I suspect it's because these veteran game developers have a fundamentally different philosophy on gaming from their counterparts in the United States. I know they are aware that consoles have memory cards and hard drives now, so I don't understand why they won't give us a lousy check point in the middle of a difficult level. It would be nice if I could make some progress instead of replaying the same stupid area over again 15 times just because the final jump is something I have trouble with.

Mastering the first part of level one became very important, because the second half is this super speedy level where you have a split second to dodge all these oncoming obstacles....and until you've played it a few times, you don't know what's coming next. That's clearly what this game is going to be all about: Memorization and repetition.

Well guess what: I've had enough of that.

Unfortunately for me, it looks like the first achievement apparently won't pop until I've gone through over 20 similar missions and beaten 5 bosses. This is the third game in two days that has become more of a chore than something fun, and it's because of my achievement rule I set when I started this challenge.

If I want to stick to my plan, that means I HAVE to come back to this game and get that achievement later, but I don't want to waste anymore time on it right now. It's a decent amount of fun, but the lack of save points and the fact that you have to start over so many times if you die is pissing me off to the point that I don't want to play anymore. You can only do the same level so many damn times in a row.

Overall score so far? 2 out of 10. Save points would have made it fun, but as it's far too grindy.

Update number one: 8:15pm the same day. I came back, finally made my way through that second level, and then I was able to beat the next boss stage after that. It was no picnic...but at least I made a little more progress. Game is still incredibly hard. Rating has still not changed. :-)

Update number two: February 8th, 2010. I've given this game several more tries...played it on 4 different days, but I'm still not making any progress towards an achievement. I've tried browsing the forums for walkthroughs and tips, but nothing I've found makes this game any more fun to play. At this point, I'm calling it a day. The game is incredibly tough, I'm not having fun replaying levels over and over again in the hopes that I'll get a little closer to an achievement. I played it more than enough to know I hate it....and in order to stay true to this challenge, I'll go ahead and play an extra game, rather than keep playing this one to get an achievement just so it counts.

Rating stays the same. It's a 2/10...I hate it.

Video game number twenty nine: Mad Karts of Madagascar

Game review number twenty nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Mad Karts of Madagascar".

After "grinding" for several hours on a game I wasn't enjoying (Tony Hawk's Proving Ground), I thought it might be nice to play a casual game that wasn't going to make me want to smash my controller. Something fun, easy and mindless. I chose Madagascar Karts.

It's a shame that all go-kart racing games must be compared to Mario Kart, but it's just the best of the breed. Ever since the Super Nintendo, Mario Kart has defined what kart racing (and for me, multiplayer racing games) should be. There have been dozens of imitations, and I've tried many of them, but none of them have ever really been able to meet the bar set by Mario Kart.

Madagascar Karts is no different.

The game borrows heavily from the great Mario Kart series (there are 4 cups, starting at 50cc and progressing in difficulty from there). You race in cartoonish locations including a beach that closely resembles Koopa Troopa Beach from Mario Kart 64, a ship that resembles the Princesses's cruise ship from the Gamecube version, and so-on. There are item boxes with question marks, speed arrows that send you flying and instead of coins, they have "mangoes" to pick up. The mangoes don't speed you up, but they are added to your points total at the end of the race and can help you win that way.

I knew it didn't stack up in the middle of the first race, but I still wanted to give the game a fair try. First, I raced through one race in the championship with each character, looking for my favorite. I started with the Penguins (because the Penguins are awesome) and beat the first 3 levels of the 50cc championship with them. I switched to Alex the lion, then chose the Zebra, the Giraffe and so on. I'm not sure if the actual actors from the movie do their voices. Some of them sound close....others, I'm not so sure. There were also characters from Monsters vs. Aliens and Shrek, but I think they're unlockable, and I wasn't interested in grinding to get them.

The controls leave a lot to be desired. They've tried to copy the "blue sparks" from Mario, by forcing you to power slide to build your turbo up. Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well as the Mario Kart version does...and it sometimes makes you crash. There is definitely a lot of rubber-banding, the computer will slow down for you if you're behind and gets 1000 items to throw at you when you're ahead.

I had no trouble beating the entire 50CC cup before I moved on to another game. This might be a good bargain bin game for kids, but only if they don't own a Nintendo console and don't already have every Mario Kart game ever made. It's fun...but it just doesn't compare.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 10. Simply average.

The achievements in this game are cake...and I was able to unlock nearly 25% of them in less than an hour or so with this game. So many in fact, that I had to shrink my browser window in order to copy the list. Gamerscore whores, Enjoy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Video game number twenty eight: Tony Hawk Proving Ground

Game review number twenty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Tony Hawk Proving Grounds".

I figured after the craptacular Blood Bowl, it was time for a little fun. I've always enjoyed a good Tony Hawk game. Proving Ground is something that's been out for quite awhile now, but I wanted to play this to remind me what a Tony Hawk game is like before I try Ride.

I played this one from about 11pm on Saturday night until after 2am on Sunday morning, without unlocking one achievement. Gone are the days of Tony Hawk 2X where you can skate around town pulling off amazing combos with a few moves you know and button mashing for the ones you don't. Now it's all about accuracy and being precise with your moves. Grind, Manual, do a flip, land on the rail, all without losing your combo....just to pass the first level or two. I was totally stuck on just about every part of the career, even after reading the instructions and checking out the web for guides.

I found a list of cheat codes that make your skater better at manuals and grinds. I thought entering those might help me with a couple of the challenges I was stuck on, but they did not. Apparently, my problem is landing tricks from jumping. It's nearly impossible for me now, probably because I am used to Tony Hawk 2X, the SSX games, SKATE, Amped and other skate/snowboarding titles that aren't this brutally difficult.When I woke up Sunday morning around 9am, I started playing again...and it took me four more hours before I finally got a sponsor and unlocked an achievement. It was beyond frustrating, and several times I wanted to throw my controller at the television. I actually fantasized about how good it would feel to shatter the mirror in the office with my 60 dollar Todd Macfarlane Halo themed controller, but that would be a waste of a collectible (not to mention 7 years of bad luck).

I can't really say this isn't a good game, because there is a lot to do in it. It has everything the old Hawk games had and then some. Unfortunately it's evolved into something so complex that I never want to play it again. Perhaps folks who have been playing since the old school days and have experienced this evolution gradually are enjoying the step up in difficulty, but it's too much for me. It reminds me of how I felt when I played Street Fighter 3 after all those Street Fighter 2 sequels in the arcade. That game turned into something which had lost all of the things I loved about the original. That's exactly what happened here.

I'll still try Ride, but I'll never play this game again.

Overall Rating 1 out of 10. It's just too damned hard for me to get the hang of. It took me over six hours of frustration to unlock the first achievement in the game, and I honestly didn't feel like I could have made it further without tearing body parts off in frustration. It's still more fun than Blood Bowl though. :-)

Here's the one measely achievement I was able to unlock. The only reason I did it was because of this 365 game project. If it hadn't been for this mission, the difficulty would have forced me to quit long ago. I suppose that's a benefit of this project. If I wasn't trying for an achievement, I would have quit. If you ask me in ten days how I feel about this game, my opinion will probably improve...but right now...I'm still mad at it, and hence, the crappy review score.

Video game number twenty seven: Blood Bowl

Game review number twenty seven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Blood Bowl".

This review could end after the following three words: This game blows.

For those of you that would like a little more....we're talking about a turn based D&D style football game with Orcs and Elves here. Why the hell did I play this? Oh yeah... I played it because I looked at the box and it seemed kind of cool. The back of the box described it as a football/strategy game, and could actually kill the other players on the field. I assumed it was some sort of fantasy football game....little did I know it was essentially D&D. I suppose that will teach me not to read reviews online first.

I have been playing for the last two hours and I can't even beat the computer on easy. You roll dice to move, your player will miss the pass if you roll the wrong number on the's ridiculous. You can miss a pass to someone wide open a couple of feet in front of you. Aargh.

Overall Score: 0.0. I can't remember if I've ever hated a video game as much as I hate this one. I feel stupid for even booting it....because according to my rules, I'm supposed to get at least one achievement before I choose to never play it again. I slogged through two hours of this piece of dog shit trying to get even the most basic achievement so I could quit, but I struck out big time. I finally had to put it down.

Worst. Game. Ever.

Edit: 1:49am on Saturday night/Sunday morning. So, I gave this another try this evening...after I realized that there was one achievement I could grab in the campaign mode. All you have to do is get a superstar player on your team. I did that by spending all of the money in my bank (I figure I'll never need it for anything else anyway) now I'm really done with this horse shit game, forever.

Video game number twenty six: Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

Game review number twenty six in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?".

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?
Not if you like this game. :-)

First of all, I'm not a fan of this show. I've watched it once. Jeff Foxworthy going on TV making fun of people's intelligence would be like Paris Hilton hosting a charm school show on how to act like a prim and proper young lady. The guy might be smarter than a 5th grader, but that's not the image he's cultivated over the years....and it doesn't make for great TV. The show seems designed for fans of his, or people who want to answer questions aimed at grade school children after an episode of Jeopardy made their brain hurt.

I chose this game because the concept itself is interesting to me. Answer questions you think you're "better" than and see if you can win a million bucks. My very first game, I won the million dollars...but that's because I cheated twice. The 5th grade geometry question (Which of the following places are the Shetland Islands next to?) is something I had to look up on Bing to figure out. The 500,000 dollar question was about the Alice in Wonderland book "Through the looking glass". Heather happened to walk into the room right before they asked that one, and she gave me the answer to that one. The million dollar question was actually easy...and I got my 25 gamerscore for completing the game show.

The rest of the achievements in this game involve a whole lot of time spent playing, which is not something I'm going to do. Answer 6000 questions correctly. Play 25 matches on Xbox Live. Earn 50,000,000 bucks. NO way.

While Heather was watching me win the money, she remarked that the graphics are absolutely terrible. She's right. I realize this one is a port and it's available on the Nintendo DS, the Wii and PS2, but it looks like they developed for the lowest common denominator and called it a day. Actually, this looks like a PC game that you might get free in a cereal box or sitting in the checkout aisle of target. It's that bad.

Overall rating: 1 out of a possible 10. My new worst game so far.

I actually had more fun with Thrillville Off the Rails than this piece of garbage and that's saying a lot.

Here's the achievement I got for winning the million dollars. This was my first and last achievement for this game.

Video game number twenty five: Fairytale Fights

Game review number twenty five in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Fairytale Fights".

It's 2:56pm on Saturday. I'm about to start Fairytale Fights and I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this one. I know two things:

Number one: There's a guy at work who wears a Fairytale Fights shirt all the time. He freakin' loves this game.

Number two: There is an achievement for killing a bunny with a carrot. I am absolutely going to get this achievement, no matter what.

Stay tuned... :-)

Ok. It's now 3:25pm. Wow. That was a pretty stupid game.

The opening scenes show promise. Several well known fairty tale characters (Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Emperor with no clothes, etc) are getting into fights and comic mischief ensues. There's lots of blood and gore. The graphics remain cutesy, like a Saturday morning cartoon.

You start this game up and you're in a little town. You select your character and enter either the quest mode or the arena. First, I chose the quest mode and did the first chapter. I unlocked the bunny killing achievement right after starting the level. That was rather satisfying. You find weapons, you fight lumberjacks, rinse and repeat. The combat isn't particularly fun, and the view is overhead (a la' Lego Star Wars), so it's got that detached feeling to it. I beat the first level with no effort at all.

The arena mode seems designed for multiplayer, so playing that alone was rather pointless. I tried out and they gave me a bunch of random things to kill. It was pretty lame. I suppose playing it with someone else would have been rather pointless too, unless it was that guy at work who really loves this game.

Overall rating: 3 out of 10. I don't want to play this game anymore.

The overall rating would have been a 2, had it not been for those funny cut scenes. They bump the game up to a 3. They were not enough to get me to want to play it anymore....but enough to save it from a two rating.

Best feature in my short amount of time with this one: When you kill people, there's blood everywhere and your character slides around in it. I couldn't help of think of Cowboy Gil from Parenthood....slippin' around in their guts. Too bad no one made any balloon animals afterwards. I would have given the game a 4 for balloon animals.

Video game number twenty four: Guitar Hero Van Halen

Game review number twenty four in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Guitar Hero: Van Halen".

I never thought that Van Halen deserved their own version of Guitar Hero. They were a good band, but they only had a few good albums back in the 1980's before they broke up the first time. After that, they turned into Van Hagar, then went back and forth a few times before realizing they could make a lot of money touring with good old Diamond Dave again. The idea of their own standalone game seems sort of silly and that's probably why they gave it away for free with Guitar Hero 5. That's also probably why I haven't played it until now.

I've mentioned before that I'm a Rock Band fan first and foremost and so I've strayed from the Guitar Hero sequels lately. There are a couple I've never even booted and this is one of them. I had planned to play until I reached the songs "Panama" and "Jump" (my two favorites off 1984), but they stymied me by making Panama the intro song. I haven't made it to "Jump" yet, but I'll give it a few more songs.

This game is Guitar Hero. There's really nothing new, except for the characters who dance on stage while you play, and the songs you're allowed to choose from. By the way, one thing that really bugs me about the characters on stage is they're all "new" Van Halen. I want to see classic Van Halen, in the crazy leather outfits and long hair. This is plastic surgery, short hair Dave, and Wolfgang on the bass. It would be like having a Michael Jackson game...and having Thriller and Beat It be performed by 2008 plastic surgery Michael. It's just kinda lame.

Like Guitar Hero Metallica, there are "guest artists" on the disk including Fountains of Wayne, Blink 182 and Billy Idol. I assume maybe Van Halen toured with these bands at some point or another, or maybe they just like them. Who knows?

Either way, this is your basic Guitar Hero. I'm not going to finish it. I might play it when I'm bored, but it's been on my shelf for months now and the only thing that caused me to crack open the plastic was this 365 challenge. I'm going to give it an hour and see if I can get to "Jump". If not, it's on to other games.

Overall Rating: 6 out of 10. Not terrible, but nothing special either.

Edit: It took me about 7 songs....but I finally unlocked "Jump". You play the keyboard parts on lead guitar. I got 100% of the notes. I have to admit, that was awesome. :-)

Here are the handful of achievements I unlocked, on purpose. Unlocking more would have required a lot more time, and once you've played one Guitar Hero game, you've pretty much played them all.

Video Game number twenty three: SpongeBob: Truth or Square

Game review number twenty three in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "SpongeBob: Truth or Square".

With my Saturday "chimp" marathon out of the way, I decided to stick with the kid's games and play something I've secretly wanted to try for a long time. The SpongeBob game.

Yeah, I said it.

Keep in mind, I just got done playing Space Chimps, so I was already on a platformer kick. Perhaps that experience helped contrast this one, but either way....this game is SO much better. I enjoy the SpongeBob cartoons. When my nieces and nephews were younger, they would always ask me to turn the channel from whatever I was watching to Nickelodeon or the cartoon network. When SpongeBob was on, they'd be happy...and I didn't mind watching the cartoons. It's a good, funny show.

The game is voiced by all the same actors. The controls are great. The camera is easy to control. The difficulty is dumbed down quite a bit from the game I just played, but that doesn't make it lame. In fact, when I was thinking about which game I wanted to play next....I was wondering if I shouldn't just keep playing SpongeBob for awhile.

The story isn't what I'd call "deep", but it's funny. SpongeBob needs to find the secret Krabby Patty recipe that he's been entrusted with, only he can't remember where he left it because he's sad. The only way to jog his memory is to make him happy. He starts out at a party, and the levels you take him through are his "happy memories".

SpongeBob chatters throughout the game, with lots of silly one-liners and throwaway jokes. "I'm going to knock you into next week!" he shouts at an enemy. "Or at least a half an hour from now".

You collect coins and power-ups to enhance the adventure. There are tons of secret items to find if you're into the whole completionist thing. There's an achievement for making SpongeBob grow old, which you do by putting down your controller and watching the character animation while he waits for you to pick it back up. This reminded me of the first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog and he would tap his foot when you stopped in one place too long. In Mario 64, Mario would eventually fall asleep and start snoring. SpongeBob has some great idle animations, and they're worth watching even without the achievement.

Overall rating so far: 7.9 out of 10. Great little game.

Kid factor: This one is easier than Space Chimps was, and I can see kids being able to figure it out and make progress. There are plenty of things for the older generation of gamers to do, including collecting all the "Happiness items" and what-not.

I dig it.

I need to play about 7 more this weekend in order to be on track for January, so I'm going to have to keep moving...but I think I'll be back to this one sooner, rather than later.

Here are the first few achievements I unlocked.

Video game number twenty two: Space Chimps

Game review number twenty two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Space Chimps".

Part two in my Saturday Chimp Saga is Space Chimps. I played them in this order on purpose, because I figure you should get to be president and THEN go to space (I chose to rank the jobs in order of excitement).

This game is apparently based on a movie, only I've never heard of it. I'm sure I saw the preview for it at some point, but it has been completely erased from my mind. I'm sure the space in my head that once stored information on the Space Chimps movie has been replaced with some more important fact....such as "Did you know Shia Labeouf flipped his car while driving drunk during the filming the Transformers sequel? Yeah, that's why he had to wear that silly hand bandage during the part of the movie where he goes to robot heaven".

Anyway, this game is a pretty decent platformer. You are a chimp named "Ham", (presumably an astronaut if your uniform is any indicator) and apparently, you're trapped on some crazy planet for some reason. There are other characters in the game, and they have silly conversations that I didn't much care for in the cut scenes.

The game itself was entertaining enough to continue for at least a little while. You run, you jump, you pick up bananas for power and little gumdrop things called "Globhoppers" can be found hidden all over the place (I think all these things give you is achievements). There are Dole brand bananas that you can collect to unlock costumes (I unlocked a mime outfit, which was pretty funny). If I had to compare this game to a platformer I had played...I'd have to go back to Munch's Odyssey. Not great, not bad....just..good.

I will say one thing for Space Chimps. It has succeeded in making me feel more retarded than any other video game has in recent history. On the second level, you switch from the "Ham" character to some female chimp named "Luna". Right off the bat, you notice she doesn't seem to have a weapon. I assumed that maybe that's a part of the level and carried on. A very short time into your journey, you are asked by one of the in game characters to find "Squirt". I look across this chasm, and I saw an icon I haven't seen before. I assume this icon is "Squirt". I jump to it, and now I'm getting in game instructions to press the "X" button to attack. The "X" button isn't doing anything. The enemies kill me, over and over again.

I restart this level, my "X" button still isn't working, and eventually...I think maybe there's something wrong with my controller. I pop the battery out and in. No dice. I reboot the game. Still no dice. I search the internet. There is no walkthrough for this game anywhere online that I can find. I search forums. No one mentions anything about not being able to attack in the second level. I've literally spent 20 minutes trying to figure out why the fuck I can't hit anything with this stupid girl monkey.

Finally, I find a post on the Xbox forums from someone having the exact same problem. Turns out that "Squirt" is a little lizard I didn't see....and he's standing right next to the dude who told me to find him. When you pick him up, he turns into a "Squirt Gun". OMG LOLZ. Getting through the rest of the level was cake after that, but man did I feel stupid.

This game is filled with difficult jumping puzzles, and although you can get a ton of gamerscore just going through the campaign...the bulk of it seems to come through beating levels in under a certain target time. The story wasn't compelling to me (I have no idea if it's based on the movie or an entirely new adventure) but after 3 levels...I'm calling it a game.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 10. Simply average.

Kid factor: I can't see this being a fun game for small kids, as it's kind of difficult. Even if you find that lizard that I missed, there are still a bunch of really tough jumping puzzles....that take excellent timing. I died a LOT while learning them.

Retro-factor: This is more the kind of game that someone my age might want to play to remember the golden days when there was an endless selection of platformer games for the Nintendo, Sega and Turbographx-16. Or hell, even the days of the N64 when they all turned into 3D platformers. It's simple, it's fun...and it's a nice change of pace from all the shooters out there right now. It's deeper than an Xbox Live Arcade game, and after a quick search around the looks like it's priced around 20 bucks these days. Not bad I suppose.

Aside from the 20 minutes or more I spent stuck on that one level, I only played this game for about an hour or so. In that time, I was able to unlock these achievements:

I think I might go back and finish this one. Maybe. Someday.

Video game number twenty one: Hail to the Chimp.

Game review number twenty one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Hail to the Chimp".

This is the first game in my two part Saturday chimp saga.

I remember hearing about Hail to the Chimp a few years ago. I saw the cover, it had a monkey on it. It's apparently full of political satire. I assumed this was a game making fun of George Bush or something. I didn't read anything more about it at the time, it's sort of like a TV Show with a funny name (like "That's my Bush"). You hear about it, you smile, you always forget to watch it the night it comes on and eventually it goes off the air.

This game hasn't been on the radar of anyone I've ever met. Other than my initial encounter with the box art, I hadn't seen or heard about this game since. When I noticed it on a shelf, I thought...."Oh yeah, this should be one of my 365 games. It's gotta be worth at least an hour".

It's not.

The political satire is great. You live in an animal kingdom, where're running against other animals to win the presidency. The news station "GRR" runs as you open the game, and in between matches. There are funny little political ads with your "candidate" (the first is a hippo named Ptolemy). I really like the humor here, but unfortunately, the game itself is fairly stupid.

This is one of those "Mario Party" style games, but it doesn't have anywhere near the fun factor of the aforementioned title. It's not as good as Fusion Frenzy. It's not as good as Viva Pinata Party Animals. In a word: Crap.

You run around various stages collecting "Clams", which you either deposit into a ballot box, hold on to for a certain amount of time (think Oddball in Halo), or simply try to accumulate before time runs out. I tried the first 6 or 7 different levels...and it was already becoming repetitive. I logged onto Xbox 360 Achievements to see what the gamerscore was like for this one....and the entire forum for this game suggests that you plug in 3 controllers and scream through them alone.


Good concept, poor execution. The cut scenes are funny, but it's not worth playing this to see them.

Overall rating: 3 out of 10. I had to rate it better than Thrillville, because even this didn't suck that much.

Here are the first and most likely only achievements I will ever earn in this stupid game:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Video game number twenty: Thrillville: Off the Rails

Game review number twenty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Thrilleville: Off the Rails".

Thrillville Off the Rails is an amusement park simulator. If you've played Roller Coaster Tycoon, you probably understand the basic concept. If you're like me, you probably didn't play Roller Coaster Tycoon, because you're not really into simulators. If you're like might have borrowed this game because you thought it might be fun to try building some crazy roller coasters.

You start the game by creating a character. I chose a little kid, because like me...he was named Joshua by his creators. Some people might think it strange to have a small child own an amusement park, but Cartman had one in South Park and that's precedent enough for me.

I took the tutorials and began building my park. I started with some video games, because...well...I like video games. I played one called "Stunt Rider" which reminded me a lot of a scaled down version of Trials HD. I wasn't able to get the high score on my first try, but I did pop an achievement for doing some flips (much like Trials, it's pretty easy to do).

After screwing around with my arcade games, I built a giant rollercoaster. I made it super tall and super fast (turned the nausea factor up to 100%). I did this to get a couple of achievements, and also because I thought it would look really awesome. Unfortunately, riding it wasn't nearly as fun as building it. The "on ride" graphics in this game are pretty lame. I'm not sure why I thought it would be awesome....

As the manager, one of your duties is to walk around the park interacting with your guests. You can select from several different pre-scripted chats....until your guests like you. Three days ago, I was playing Mass Effect 2, having conversations about my character's demise and resurrection. Tonight, I'm asking people if they like basketball, and telling them that my amusement park has the best coasters around.

I'm sure this game is a good introduction to simulators for kids. It's probably an easy 1000 points too. Unfortunately, I'm not interested in either of those things right now....and playing this game was tedious.

Overall Score: 2 out of 10. Worst game I've played so far this year.

Below are the achievements I was able to unlock with minimal effort after less than an hour. If you tried...I'm sure you could do better.

Video game number nineteen: Monster Jam

Game review number nineteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Monster Jam".

There's one great thing about this game: When you boot it up, you are inspired to talk like one of those Monster Truck announcer guys. I lowered my voice a few octaves and yelled out "MONSTER JAM!" and "GRAVE DIGGER!" until Heather came into the office to ask me what the hell I was doing. I told her I was playing a monster truck game...and that was pretty much all she needed to hear.

I grabbed this game because...well, why not. It was in the software library at work and I was picking out random titles to try. It's a racing game, featuring world famous monster trucks like "Grave Digger" and...well...."Grave Digger". Seriously, that's the only famous truck in this game that I recognize so far. I didn't see "Bigfoot" or "Truckzilla", or any of the other names I might have remembered from those commercials when I was a kid. "Grave Digger" is there though, so I picked that one and started up a race.

The controls feel natural. You start off in an off-road race against five other trucks, and it was just like playing every other racing game I've ever played. Right trigger is gas. Left is brake. The "A" button boosts the car. The "Y" button changes your view. I won my first race, my second...and when I won my third in a row, an achievement popped up. Nice.

It was pretty easy to win the races, smashing my way through obstacles, other cars and terrain. It seems that your truck can take endless damage (on one track, I drove it with only three wheels left). There are tons of things to smash, and you get "combos" for smashing lots of them in a row. There are several different roads you can take in each race, and shortcuts you can find by boosting into a jump. For people who want to get serious about their Monster Truck racing....there's lots of depth here.

There are off-road races, elimination rounds where the last place car is dropped from the race....and then there are these Stadium matches, where you do "real" monster truck crush cars and take your truck off sweet jumps. These are a little more difficult than the races...and I actually had to restart one of them a few times before I won it.

I finished the first championship, popped several achievements...and called it good. This game is fun, but I've literally got a dozen racing games sitting on my game shelf at home that I like better. The Forza games, the Burnout games, the Project Gotham Racing games, the Dirt games, Need for Speed...and even Full Auto are all probably better games than this. It's not a bad's just "average".

Overall rating: 6 out of 10. The extra point taking it above "average" is because it made me yell "GRAVE DIGGER!"

Here are all the achievements I got in an hour or two of playtime:

Video game number eighteen: Hasbro Family Game Night

Game review number eighteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Hasbro Family Game Night".

I decided to bring home a bunch of games to power through this weekend and one of them was Hasbro Family Game Night. This is a compilation disk filled with a bunch of adaptations of board games (all of which were previously released on Xbox Live Arcade). I had never played this before and I thought it might be something worth giving a quick try.

I started out with Connect Four. Either I've completely forgotten how to play this game since I was a kid or the AI opponents are too hard, because I lost every single match I played. Every single match. I must have played 10, because there was an achievement for winning just one and I was trying to get it. No dice there. :-)

Frustrated, I moved on to Boggle. This is a single player word search game, made famous by Peggy Hill from King of the Hill. "Hooyah!" It's exactly what you'd expect. I finished a game or two and moved on to Yahtzee....which is surprisingly less exciting than playing the actual game (with a cup of dice and a pad of paper).

Growing bored of playing these board games, I tried one I hadn't tried in real life before, Sorry Sliders. This one is actually kind of fun. You slide your little Sorry gamepiece towards a bullseye at the center of the game board. You try to get as close as you can to the rings (a la' darts) as other people slide their pieces towards you to bump you out. That part reminds me a bit of the Canadian sport "curling". First person to get all their pieces "home" wins, just like regular Sorry. This was the best of the bunch for me so far.

To wrap this sucker up, I tried a game of Scrabble. It's just like any other online version of the game....except those are all free and this one costs around 6 dollars by itself. I knocked out a few achievements overall, but this game was sort of a disappointment. It's actually more fun to play the board game versions of all of these games. I didn't even try playing against the computer seemed pointless. Mental note: Pick up a copy of the real Sorry Sliders.

By the way, if you're an achievement whore, I've read online that you can simply plug in a second controller and get almost all of the gamerscore in this game by playing against nobody. I'm not gunning for maximum gamerscore here, just trying to play as many games as I I decided not to chase the achievements this time around.

Overall rating: 4 out of 10. It's sad when a video game makes you miss the cardboard version.

Achievement Ease? 10 out of 10...if you want to cheat. I played fair and square, so here's all I unlocked:

Video game number seventeen: Diner Dash

Game review number seventeen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Diner dash".

I've wanted to play this Xbox Live Arcade game since I first heard about it. I had a feeling it would be similar to Root Beer tapper, which is one of my favorite old-school arcade games. Root Beer tapper is actually the "watered down" version of what was originally a bar game called "Beer tapper". You serve a bunch of cowboys, foot ball players, wenches and other rowdy bar people before they decide to walk up the bar and beat you up. Somewhere in there, there is can-can dancing.

Diner Dash is a similar concept, with a little more difficulty thrown in. First of all, I love the concept of the game. You're working at a white collar job (perhaps a software company), and the work you're being asked to do is making you crazy. Finally, you get frustrated and yell "there's got to be a better way!" as you run from the office. You find the answer to all your prayers is opening your own restaurant.

I'm already intrigued. :-)

Customers line up to eat at your place (presumably because the entire experience takes less than 30 seconds a table). You seat them, take their order, serve them coffee, bring their food, then put away the dishes. This is basically the game....but you have to handle about 4 tables worth of customers. Some of them are impatient. Some are college students who like to sit around and drink their coffee and talk about indie rock. Some are restaurant critics that need constant ass-kissing if you want to get a 5 star review. Basically, it's just like being in a real restaurant, but you won't come home smelling like onions after playing this one.

I have a LOT of games to play this weekend, so I am not going to spend a lot of time on this (you get the basic idea after a few levels anyway) but I see this one as a great time waster. Especially at work. Until I open my own restaurant for real. :-)

Overall Score 7.5 out of 10
Fun factor: Great. Reminds me of Root Beer Tapper and other fun web games I've enjoyed in the past.

Replay: I can see playing the single player whenever I want to play a quick arcade game. When I looked for people to challenge online, there was unfortunately no one playing this.

Achievements? I got a couple...but it sounds like most of them are going to involve getting perfect scores on all 40 levels, which I don't plan on doing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Video game number sixteen: Scene It: Box Office Smash!

Game review number sixteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Scene It: Box Office Smash".

I always enjoy a little movie trivia. Box Office Smash is a pretty good trivia game, with a variety of different questions. There are scrambled movie titles, movie clips (where you answer questions about the movie you just saw), lists of movies that you have to rank in order of release, etc, etc. This is the sequel to another 360 game I actually own, and I've only played that one a handful of times. If you're not playing with a group of friends, there's something hollow about the experience.

This game is just like every Scene It DVD game you've seen in the aisles at Target, except this one has achievements. I played for about 2 hours and got over 300 gamerscore. If I'd had four people playing, that would have bumped it up even more.

I'm sure I'll play this again sometime, perhaps when we're having company over. It's always a fun one (even if you don't use the big button controllers they pack in with it).

Overall Score: 5 out of 10 (eventually, it does get old).

Achievements unlocked? A metric ton, all in a couple of hours. I think this is the highest number of achievements yet for me on this challenge (on a single game in one day):

Video game number fifteen: Ikaruga

Game review number fifteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Ikaruga".

I need to catch up, it being January 28th and me only having 14 games completed. That's 14 games shy of being on target for the year, which isn't good at all. If I'm going to do this, I have to stop playing games I'm really interested in trying (and playing for hours and hours at a time) and instead start casually trying more games.

I decided to pop in Ikaruga. This is one of those crazy, Japanese space ship shoot-em-up games. It reminded me a lot of playing Silpheed on my Sega back in the day, and after a quick search of Wikipedia, it turns out this was done by the same developers.

I probably plunked a lot of quarters down on games like this in the arcades back in the 80's and 90's, and I never got any better at them. I swear, they're designed to kill you quicker than almost any type of game out there. You pilot a ship, then 10 or 20 enemies shows up on the stage and each of them fires about 100 bullets at you. I'm sure you could get really good at these games if you wanted to play them over and over again until you memorized the fire patterns, but I never did.

This game features something a little can "reverse the polarity" of your ship. Basically, your ship starts out blue, and fires blue bullets. You can absorb any blue enemy bullets that head your way, which is a neat trick. Of course, there are also red ships, that fire red bullets. In order to absorb their shots, you must quickly press the "B" button to reverse your polarity. At first, the ships come in straight lines of blue, then teach you how to do this. Very quickly, they start ganking you in giant intermixed squadrons.

There's a big boss at the end of each level. The first one took me 3 or 4 tries. On Easy.

That's how hard this fucking game is.

Overall Score: 2 out of 10. For the genre, it's decent...but I've never had much of a stomach for the genre. Give me the good old days of Galaxian and I'll be happy.
Overall Gank factor: 11 out of 10. There are more bullets on the screen than you can count...and they're all coming at you. I prefer my video game odds to be the other way around. :-)

Achievement Unlocked: Just one, for the very first level. I was lucky to get that far.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Video game number fourteen: Dark Void

Game review number fourteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Dark Void".

I've been looking forward to playing this one for quite awhile. I saw some people playing this quite awhile ago at work and they were all flying around with a jet pack, shooting things. It looked like a lot of fun. Later, when I asked someone how it was...the basic review was that it's great when you're in the jet pack, but the rest of the time it's a crappy shooter. I can't really say he was wrong.

I can't decide whether I like or hate this game. I've enjoyed it enough (or I'm addicted to it enough) to keep playing several chapters in....but I have SO many gripes.

First of all, I hopped from the beautifully rendered, well acted cinematics from Mass Effect 2 immediately over to this. No one should ever do that. This game might have been awesome looking if I'd played it first, but after ME2, It's a big let down. It almost seemed like I was jumping back a console generation, even though I'm sure this wouldn't look nearly as cool on a PS2 or one of the other old systems.

I've heard that the actor who plays Nathan Drake in Uncharted (last year's "Game of the Year" for many outfits) plays the lead character William in this one. I got Uncharted 2 for Christmas, I haven't played it yet (look for it as one of the 365 soon), but so far...I think he's a decent lead character.

The first level of this game starts you out with the Jet Pack. This is the box art experience, flying around like the Rocketeer and getting into dogfights with weird UFO/Robot things. It reminded me of playing Crimson Skies on the PC about a decade ago, except the targeting system is shit by comparison. You find your enemies in the open sky by hitting the left button, but this takes you into a weird camera mode where you're centered on them (and watching yourself with a third person camera as you're flying in some completely opposite direction). It's very difficult to explain, but the closest example I can give is trying to control your car while you drive in cinema mode (by pressing B) in Grand Theft Auto. It really sucks and it makes targeting incredibly difficult.

Despite the fact that I thought finding an enemy to shoot was pretty tough (and dog-fighting was even tougher), I finished the level. Now, you're in the prologue. You have no jet pack, you're just some dude, running around the forest. You don't even have a weapon, so for the first few minutes...all you do is run. Eventually, you encounter a killer robot, and he drops a gun for you. The gun might as well be a Twizzler for the amount of damage it does. You can shoot an entire clip into the enemy robots before they die, or you can walk up and punch them once. Punching kills most of them almost immediately. Either the guns are incredibly lame...or this dude hits harder than anyone 0n earth. Either way, it's stupid.

For the next two or three levels, all you have is the Twizzler guns. You can power them up with the "tech points" you get whenever you kill something, and only takes half a clip to kill a robot instead of a full reload. Whatever, I still liked punching them better. I kicked one robot in his mechanical nuts and got a "Rochambeau" achievement I wasn't expecting. That was pretty entertaining.

On chapter 2 or 3, you finally get your jet pack again. Nicolas Tesla gives it to you, which was pretty weird, because this marks the second time in a couple of years that I've been led to believe that the dude created all sorts of magic shit we never knew about. In the movie the Prestige, he creates a magical teleporter (spoiler). In this game, apparently...he lives in the robot infested Mayan ruins building jet packs. The guy really gets around.

The first jet pack he gives you sucks ass. You can jump about 2 feet off the ground with it. Even though you spend the entire level wearing this thing, you end up leaving it turned off most of the time and performing cliff hanging acrobatics instead. If you ever wanted to play a game where you swing from ledges like you were Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2, this is your game. It's entertaining, if not frustrating. You're wearing a jet pack, you should be able to fly up the cliff...but instead, you have to do some form of jet pack assisted parkour to get up there.

This point in the game is also when you're introduced to the "Vertical cover" system. Lots of games have a button you can press to hide behind a rock, but Dark Void is notably the first game ever to let you hang off a cliff and use it for cover, while shooting at enemies hanging out on ledges above you. It's hard to explain, and even harder to control. You have to wait for the game to tell you to hit the "X" button before you can jump from cliff to cliff, and before you have to aim the camera just-so. It's a huge pain in the ass, and I would have stopped playing the game by now...if I didn't so badly want to get the "real" jet pack.

4 or 5 chapters in (after the most annoying stage I've played in a video game in recent history), you finally get your flying machine. That's where I am right now. I have been dog-fighting with UFOs, flying around and trying to master the controls. I still haven't gotten the hang of it yet...but as much as it pisses me off, I can't stop playing for some reason.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10. I'm having a lot of fun, but the game has a ton of problems that make it really frustrating to get the hang of. It requires a lot of "work" to play this game.

Replay factor: I read a review saying "this is the kind of game you'll beat and never play again". I have a feeling that's going to be true....if I even stick it out to the end.

As you can see...I played quite a bit:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Video game number thirteen: Mass Effect 2

Game review number thirteen in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Mass Effect 2".

This is the biggest game of the week, possibly of the year for some people. The long awaited sequel from Bioware (published this time by EA) is probably the most hyped game of this month. Unfortunately for me, it's a sequel to a game I never gave a fair shot in the first place.

Mass Effect was a very popular shooter/RPG that I never really got into. I played through the first level back in 2008, and I wasn't having fun. I liked the conversation wheel where you could select what your character would say (and it had an effect on the story), but I hated the shooter elements of it. I shelved it, eventually lent it to my friend Jason and never played it again.

I had to give Mass Effect 2 a try, just on principle. It's like when Avatar came out. Even if you didn't like the previews, you probably eventually went and saw it anyway because of everything you heard about it. A game this big is the same concept, and simply shouldn't be skipped. I popped it in and was immediately offered the chance to import my character from Mass Effect 1. This made me wish I had finished that game. I tried to import my save and it turns out I didn't even have one anymore. I suppose I deleted it to clean off my memory card to save space or something. Back in the day, I honestly don't think I ever planned to play that game again. I should have saved it anyway, but hindsight is 20/20. I shrugged off my misfortune, created a new main character (Shepard) and this time I made her a female.

The opening cinematics are great, you can tell that they've spent a ton of money developing this one. You recognize some of the actors right off the bat (Martin Sheen, Seth Green, etc). There is so much story to this one (you can use the text wheel to explore all of the different conversation options). It took me nearly an hour just to get through the first mission, because I wanted to hear everything.

I got a message from Jason in the dashboard when he saw me online playing ME2. It said "LOL, play 1 first!!!". I had to rush off to pub trivia shortly after I started playing this game and I haven't picked it back up yet. I think I may just give Mass Effect another shot sometime before I pick this one again.

Overall rating? I'm barely into it, but so far...I'd give it a 7. It's pretty fun and the shooting system seems to be greatly improved over the last one. The other elements are the same...and that stuff was all enjoyable back then.

The sole achievement I got before deciding to go back to Mass Effect 1 before playing this? Right here:

Look for an updated review on this sometime in the next few weeks, after I beat the first one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Video game number twelve: Borderlands

Game review number twelve in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Borderlands".

This game has been endlessly hyped by just about everyone I know.

"It's a shooter combined with an RPG!"
"It has awesome multiplayer!"
"Wait until you get to the car!"

I started playing this and have to say, it's not grabbing me. The people who say it's a shooter combined with an RPG are correct. Unfortunately, it's a crappy shooter combined with a shallow RPG. The quests consist of "Go get me the cog for this vending machine and bring it back here" or "Go kill 6 evil puppies and come back when you're done".

There are definitely cool elements of it. You can choose different classes of character and each one has many abilities, attacks and unique weapons that you can level up. I started with the "Beserker" class, and before long...I had an attack where you could run around pounding things with your fists. It was stronger than any gun in my arsenal.

Unfortunately, I think the graphics kind of suck, the animation style is rather crude and the controls leave a lot to be desired. After playing a ton of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, this game just doesn't compare favorably as a shooter. I'm not really into RPGs in generally, and so that's probably why I'm not a fan of this game. If I had to compare it to something I've played before....I'd have to pick Shadowrun.

I'm going to spend some time diving into the multiplayer at some point, see how that makes it better...but for now, I'll rate it as it currently stands.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10.
Graphics? Meh.
Fun shooter? Not really.
Games I like much better: Fable 2, Call of Duty, Halo, etc, etc.
Games it's better than: Shadowrun. :-)

Achievements Unlocked:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Video game number eleven: Band Hero

Game review number eleven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Band Hero".

What do I really need to say about this one? It's another in the Guitar Hero series, and as such...has all the benefits and drawbacks of a Guitar Hero game. What makes this one special is probably a more diverse music selection. Everything from 3 Doors Down to Duran Duran is present here. The focus seems to be more on singers than "rock", so there are songs by Taylor Swift, Joan Jett, No Doubt, Janet Jackson...etc.

I have heard this one called: "Guitar Hero for Girls", but I don't think that's accurate. Most of the tracks in this game appeal to a broad audience (rather than exclusively to an audience of broads.) :-)

There is something for everyone here, and I think it'd make a great party game. Unfortunately, I'm more of a Rock Band fan (as is my circle of friends), so when we get together, we tend to play those games. I think this one may suffer the same fate as Guitar Hero World Tour did for me. A good game that doesn't get a lot of playtime, because all my buddies like the competition better.

I'm sure I'll come back to it from time to time though.

Overall score: 7 out of 10
Upgrades from Guitar Hero? Aside from the music selection, it feels like the same stuff as always.
Multiplayer experience? Couldn't tell no one was online when I looked for a match.

Achievements? Yeah, I got a few:

Video game number ten: The Saboteur

Game review number ten in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "The Saboteur".

A foul mouthed Irishman running around Nazi-occupied Paris, racing cars, killing bad guys and visiting burlesque clubs. This game is tailor-made to appeal to most guys. It's an open-world sandbox third person action game, and it's a lot of fun.

First of all, this game deserves the "M" rating for more than just the language. The opening cinema features lots of topless ladies, and it's followed by cursing, shooting and fighting right out of the gate. I actually found this level of maturity interesting, as I haven't seen anything quite like it in a game before. There are games with gratuitous language, or games that threw in some digitized nudity to appeal to horny teenagers....this one seems like a game made for grown-ups with some grown-up themes.

Set in World War 2, you're a race car mechanic/driver who finds himself playing revolutionary, running around killing as many Nazis as possible. As you progress through the game, you find out why your character is where he is, and the back story is actually pretty interesting. The voice acting is OK, but not at the level of Grand Theft Auto. The same can be said for the graphics and the gameplay. This game feels like if it had been just a little better, it would have been amazing.

As it's a fun adventure, and I played through the first several chapters before trying some more titles. I'll definitely be coming back to this one though, as I want to find out what happens in the story.

Overall rating so far: 7 out of 10

Achievements unlocked so far? Quite a few:

Video game number nine: Undertow

Game review number nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Undertow".

Today, I decided to try yet another twin-stick shooter on Xbox Live Arcade in the hopes that I might catch up a bit (I'm currently over a dozen games behind on my 365 game goal). This one is an underwater adventure game, starring little army men. Basically, it's a twin stick shooter, and not the greatest one I've ever encountered. The game is a 2D side scroller...and you can control one of four different classes of soldier. Your mission is to capture all of the bases in a level, similar to a game of territories in Halo 3.

The controls aren't particularly great. You don't really get the sense that you're underwater...and it's very easy to get killed by the enemy. You can power up your weapons, and try out different classes of soldier...but after trying each one (and unlocking the 100 kills achievement), I wasn't having any more fun than I did after kill number one.

This is one of those games I could see you getting into if it was year one of Xbox Live Arcade and there weren't 50 better games out there, but today? There are so many better ways to spend your gaming dollar. It's a pass.

Overall: 3 out of 10. Ultra-Meh.
Graphics? Poor.
Cut Scenes? Poorly acted.
Controls? Pretty loose.

Achievements? Here's the one I got before I quit playing. I assure you, sticking around for 100 kills felt like forever.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Video game number eight: Death by Cube

Game review number eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Death By Cube".

I was sitting here realizing how far behind I am in this project and how I really need to get moving. I thought downloading an Xbox Live Arcade game I had little to no interest in playing might be a great way to blaze through a game on the way to the weekend (where I'm hoping to try at least 5 new games). That game: Death by Cube.

This game is another in a sea of twin stick shooting games. There's no story to speak of, you control your choice of robots....shoot at various enemies, earn power ups and coins to unlock new levels. This game spits out achievements technically, I could have quit right after that. I still wanted to give the game a fair evaluation, so I played through 5 or 6 levels.

The enemies spam you with so much fire, it's difficult to stay alive. I was reminded of some of the latter levels of the old arcade game Smash TV, without any of the personality, charm, gore, "BIG MONEY" or "BIG PRIZES!"

If you love twin stick shooters, play the demo of this one and see if you like it. Me? It's not my bag, baby.

Overall Score: 5 of 10

Rating: Purely Average

Coolest feature: The shields that allow you to collect 10 or 20 enemy bullets in a bubble and fire them back at the enemy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Video game number seven: Osmos

Game review number seven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Osmos".

I decided today was the day to try out another arcade game...and that game was Osmos. I had never even heard of this game, I just noticed it in the list of Games for Windows downloadable games with achievements and after reading a few good reviews, decided to give it a spin.

This game is great.

Another physics-based game, this one reminds me of a cross between Geometry Wars and Asteroids, with the best elements of both included.

You are a little ball of energy...and you have to travel around space absorbing smaller balls of energy simply by touching them. Every other "life form" you absorb makes you that much bigger. Unfortunately, to must expel a little bit of yourself as propulsion. You can travel slowly with a quick click of the mouse and lose only a little bit of your size, or travel quickly by clicking furiously (or holding the mouse button down). Getting across the screen in a hurry can cause you to lose a lot of your volume...and you may find that the big target you were rushing over to absorb is now bigger than you are (and hence, can kill you).

That's the game in a nut shell. The goal of most levels is to become the biggest ball on the screen. There are variations to keep it interesting, including levels with other "enemies" who also travel around the screen aggressively absorbing all the smaller characters like you. My biggest gripe with this game is around the save system. You can get through an incredibly challenging stage, but if you don't beat the two stages following won't reach a save point. This forced me to replay a few levels that I only beat by the skin of my teeth the first time. It was kind of fun the first time, but the second time through, it was grindy.

I played through about 10 levels of this game, grabbed a few achievements...and called it a day. It's fun, it's challenging and I imagine I'll be coming back to this game in the future, perhaps while I'm on a conference call at work.

Overall rating: 7.5 out of 10 (it would have been an eight if it wasn't for the lack of save points).

Achievements I scored:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Video game number six: Bayonetta

Game review number six in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Bayonetta".

If you enjoy action, fighting or adventure games...this game is worth picking up.

If you don't enjoy Japanese anime, you might not have any idea what the hell is going on.

I have seen endless praised heaped upon this game from every review outlet out there, so this was naturally going to be one of the games I tried out this year. I've enjoyed similar games in the past (Ninety Nine Nights jumps to mind), but I'm not a big fan of the genre itself. It's not that I don't enjoy getting 89 hit combos and destroying endless waves of enemies followed by a big boss. In fact, this is probably gaming in one of it's purest forms....and it's usually a lot of fun. I just usually end up playing these for a few levels and getting bored of the repetition unless the story is compelling enough to keep me playing. To me (and possibly only to me) this game doesn't meet that bar.

So far in Bayonetta, I have absolutely no idea what the shit is going on. The cut scenes are beautiful, the main character is a gorgeous witch with giant boobs, but for the life of me...I have no idea what my objective is. You start out in a grave yard, you're fighting bad guys for some reason....I think because you're an angel and they're devils (or maybe the other way around). Eventually you run out of enemies and you have to jump over the fence to find more (this took me a minute or two to figure out).

Later, there's a mob boss and somehow you're affiliated with him. There's a bartender that reminds me of Zack from the Dead or Alive series (he's the guy in the game who apparently befriends hot chicks and sells all the potions and character upgrades at his bar). After visiting him, you start the next level, where you're a ghost in a train station for some reason. Later still, you fight a giant fat guy and a two headed dragon. I assure you, I was not stoned or drunk while playing this game....but looking back on it, it sure sounds like I was. The game developers must have been. :-)

I completely understand why people who write real game reviews are required to play through the entire game before they can review it. I enjoyed Bayonetta quite a bit and I know I'm just getting started in the game. There are at least 15 chapters in the game, and I only made it to the third one on normal difficulty. I don't feel like I've given this game the full attention it deserves, but at the same time...I'm not compelled to keep playing. It's not because I don't like it, it's because I'm on a mission...and I have to be very selective about the games I'm going to play outside of that mission.

If I wasn't addicted to Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, I'd probably keep on playing Bayonetta when I wasn't trying to play other new games this year. The game may be a bit confusing, but it's definitely fun. The attacks are awesome and you can kill people in dozens of ways. Bayonetta has a gun in each hand and somehow also has a pair of guns attached to her shoes. There are weapon attacks, martial arts, magic and if you get bored with those....Bayonetta has these great special attacks where she forms tornadoes of fury with her hair (and gets naked in the process). I don't think I've ogled a video game character this much since the last Soul Calibur sequel. Bayonetta wears a tight black catsuit and sucks on a cherry lollipop in most of the cut-scenes. If ever you were looking for a video game heroine that makes Lara Croft look conservative by comparison, Bayonetta is your girl.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Overall jiggle factor: 11

Overall confusion factor: 74

Here are the achievements that popped while I was playing through:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Video game number five: Encleverment Experiment

Game review number five in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "The Encleverment Experiment".

This game is a strange little collection of quizzes and puzzles set in a game show enviornment. Like Brain Age, they encourage you to play every day and rate your scores on a progressive graph. Unlike Brain Age, the games themselves seem to drag on and they aren't nearly as fun.

The game has all the right ingredients to be a fun daily puzzle challenge, except the magic ingredients called "replayability" and "fun". I started up the game, completed a test (something similar to Brain Age for the DS), then proceeded to the Game Show mode. I found myself playing the exact same mini games, only now there was a computer opponent who sometimes answered faster than I did.

The sliding scale of difficulty on the games is ridiculous. One of the mini games involves watching a UFO drive around the screen, eventually stopping on a color coded section where you are encouraged to press the corresponding colored button on your controller. This game is impossible to lose unless you play with your eyes closed. In contrast to that, there is this timed math game that asks you to solve problems ranging from the expected 5 * 4 to the ridiculous 26 * 13 . Unless you're the Rain Man, double digit multiplication is probably not something you can do instantly in your head. When presented with a problem like that, I found myself spending 10 seconds coming up with the solution in my head and having my score penalized as a result. The only way to "win" this game is either to become a Savant, or cheat by using the calculator application on my PC. I chose the latter to improve my times. I can't imagine playing this particular mini-game would be infuriating.

I made my way through a game show against the computer opponent...and overall, I suppose I had a reasonable amount of fun. The last round of the game show is actually pretty cool, the first person to answer steals currency from their opponent. I could imagine this being a lot of fun online. The currency you win in the game show is called "Noodles" and can be used to unlock little mascots like a koala bear or a panda. These little guys are supposed to be there to cheer you on during the game, although I wasn't particularly fond of the panda I unlocked. Most times, I forgot he was there. Perhaps I would have enjoyed a more interesting mascot, only I didn't have the Noodles to unlock one. The only way you can do that is to play this game over and over again...which is not something I wanted to do.

There are several achievements and unlockables in this game that can only be completed in online multiplayer. I tried to join a multiplayer match and after finding none being hosted, I chose to host one myself. I left my lobby open for several minutes...but never encountered anyone else playing this game on Live. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. There's an achievement you can get for simply taking a test 5 days in a row, but after two days, I found that I couldn't be bothered to boot this one up again, even for the free gamerscore.

Overall score: 3 out of 10

Overall rating: Meh.

Overall fun factor: Equivalent to playing the word search in the back of a magazine while you wait for your dental cleaning appointment. It's better than sitting there doing nothing, but that's about it.

Here are the achievements I was able to earn:

Video game number four: Grand Theft Auto IV, Episodes from Liberty City

Game review number four in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Grand Theft Auto, Episodes from Liberty City".

I hesitated for only a moment on whether or not to call this "a new game". Although the version I played comes on a standalone disk that I bought at Best Buy and doesn't require your Grand Theft Auto disk or saves to play, it contains two episodes of the game that were originally released as downloadable content over Xbox Live. According to the achievements, that means this game is actually a part of Grand Theft Auto IV, which was released almost two years ago. I'm using the traditional definition of "new game" on this one. I went to the store, I purchased a game disk, it's got two new adventures on it that I've never played before. To me, that counts as a new game.

I actually bought this game back in November when Best Buy had a "buy two games, get one free" sale. I bought two copies of Episodes from Liberty Cities and a copy of the Boom Blox sequel for the Wii. A friend and I split the discount and that made each game about 10 dollars cheaper than it would have been by itself after taxes. I had already beaten Grand Theft Auto last year, so before I played the new episodes...I wanted to go through the old game one more time, but on the PC. I worked on GTAIV for the PC for several months, playing for an hour here or there....but I only made it about halfway through the game. This meant that I never got around to downloading "The Lost and the Damned" or "The Ballad of Gay Tony", because I was still waiting to beat GTA one more time. It's not like the game takes months to beat, there were just so many other good games released last year that I found myself not wanting to spend the majority of my free gaming time replaying something I had already beaten (even if it was a great game and there were separate achievements on top of that). I had always planned to start Episodes from Liberty City over my holiday vacation but somehow I ended up not playing until today.

I started with the Lost and the Damned missions. The Lost is a biker gang (you encounter them a few times in the original Grand Theft Auto IV missions), and you're the leader. Right off the bat, the bikes are more fun to drive than they were in GTAIV. I hated riding motorcyles in that game, so I was glad to see that they'd improved them in this game. The objectives are the same: Drive around, kill people, steal things, etc...but now you do it on MOTORCYLES. It's great fun, and I definitely plan to beat the game.

I haven't made it very far yet, so I'll have to return to this post at a later time to give it a final review after I've beaten both episodes....but so far, it's just as entertaining as Grand Theft Auto IV was, and I'm really enjoying it.

Overall score so far: 9/10. Grand Theft Auto IV is one of my favorite games of all time, and this is just more of the same. Brand new adventures with new characters, it's good stuff so far.

Here is the achievement I've unlocked so far.

New Years Gaming Resolution #2

Last year, I decided I was going to bring my gamer score up to 50,000 before December 31st, 2009. I managed to accomplish that sometime in November, which was awesome. I'm making the same goal for this year. Another December 31st, 2010.

With my 365 Days project, I can't see how I'll fail to hit this mark. Perhaps I'll revisit and revise midyear. :-)

As of today, here's how I'm doing:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Video game number three: World of Goo

Game review number three in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "World of Goo".

The next game I decided to download and play is the PC arcade game, World of Goo. This is a really enjoyable physics-based puzzle game where you control little "goo-balls", which you must use to build towers, bridges and other random shapes that will help get you from point A to point B in the level. Much like Lemmings, your creatures are small, cute and make funny little noises when they die. You have a set number of goo-balls at the start, and you get graded on how many you are able to save by the end.

I played the Games for Windows version of this game, because of has achievements. They aren't easy achievements by any measure and this game is very stingy with them. The first achievement you get is for beating the entire game, which took me nearly a week of occasional playing. After that, there are achievements for getting perfect scores (or "OCDs") on each individual stage in all of the levels. I'm not going for those, unless I want this to be the only game I'll be coming back to this year.

I thought this game was fantastic overall. It's a lot of fun, you can instantly pick it up and play it...but the strategy takes quite awhile to learn. There is a lot of finesse involved in positioning the little goo-balls. In some of the levels, I found myself leaving with just one or two to spare, in others...I'd need several tries and use all of them in order to exit the level.

Overall rating: 8.5/10
The physics engine in this game is fantastic and because of it, you'll never play a level the same way twice. Wind and weight feel "natural", and it's easy to lose track of time playing this one.

Here are the only two achievements I was able to unlock (the rest surround the "OCDs", which I'm not going to chase.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Video game number two: Where's Waldo

Game number two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Where's Waldo?" for Windows.

First of all, if one is going to play 365 different games in a is going to have to expand their horizons a bit. One might even need to venture into gaming categories not necessarily familiar to them. That's the whole point here. I decided to try something completely random and downloaded Where's Waldo on the PC. I will admit that I thought this one might be a quick game to try, master and move on from...but it ended up being a little more than that. As far as arcade games go, it's not half bad.

I don't know why this surprised me, but finding Waldo is not as easy as one might think. It's not like the books my nieces and nephews used to have where you turn the page and search the picture until you find him, they've added some mechanics to make it a bit more difficult. Waldo is still hiding within one giant drawing, but finding him is only your first task on each stage. The pictures are larger than your screen (no matter what resolution you choose to play at), so you must scroll through one section at a time looking for one specific thing before moving your mouse to the next section of the picture.

Aside from Waldo, you're also asked to find specific characters in the picture, small animals, a tiny scroll of paper...things that keep the game challenging and even annoying at times. While this is definitely a game for kids, they have two difficulty modes for children and adults. I never tried the child's mode (though I bet there's some easy gamerscore there) as I found the adult mode entertaining enough to search my way through. Speaking of gamerscore, the achievements you get pop up pretty randomly, so I managed to get quite a few achievements from this one in less than 10 hours of playtime spread over a few days.

Some of my favorite stages in this one were the levels where you were asked to find all the differences between two pictures. This took me back to the Sunday comics I used to read as a kid....and I think the game is worth trying just for these levels. A warning to anyone who decides to conquer this game: The last level is exponentially more difficult than any other level in the game...and if you don't think a game based on "Where's Waldo" can make you curse out loud, this level might just prove you wrong.

Overall, I give this game a 7 out of 10. It was enjoyable enough to play all the way through, and I still find myself thinking about going back and cleaning up the achievements for the full 200. Not out of habit, but because it was actually pretty fun.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Video game number one: Lego Rock Band

Game number one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is Lego Rock Band.

I've owned this game for over a month now and I suppose I was saving it for the holiday break. Even though I did a ton of gaming over this holiday vacation, for some reason I never broke out Lego Rock Band until my New Year's Eve party. We ended up playing after midnight, so this was officially the first game of the new year for me. Unfortunately, I was drinking with friends when we started playing this, so I didn't really get too far into the game. We played mostly quick play and as far as I can tell, the achievements are all centered around the story. I'll have to return after I've played around with that a little bit.

Update: January 24th, 2010

I entered story this evening, played the first couple of songs in the career. The gameplay is all Rock Band, so there's nothing new there...but the cut scenes are really funny. You're a little Lego dude, and instead of outfits, you can unlock interchangeable body pieces, that look just like the Lego mini-fig toys. The songs in this one seem targeted more towards a general audience...and that's cool with me. It's not like I don't have 300 rock songs waiting for me in Rock Band 2, and if you're feeling especially lazy,all of the songs from this game can be exported to that game for a mere 10 bucks. Not bad.

I am probably going to shelve this one until the next time I have a bunch of people over. Rock Band is best when played that way.

Overall rating: It's more Rock Band, it plays exactly the same as the other Rock Band games, so it gets an 8/10 from me.

365 video game reviews in 365 days

This year begins one of my most interesting and difficult New Years Resolutions ever:

I'm going to play and review one new video game for every day this year. That means I will play 365 new games in 365 days. I'll play them across all my gaming systems and I'm going to try games from every category, especially games I would never have played otherwise.

Video games are both my hobby and my source of income, yet I'd say in a given year, I probably only play an average of one new game each week. During the holidays when the best games come out, this number climbs....but during the rest of the year, I can go for weeks at a time playing just one or two of my favorites. For example, throughout most of the month of December, I played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 almost exclusively, with only a handful of exceptions here and there.

This year, I'm going to expand my horizons. Big time. This is no cake-walk. There are going to be RULES. They are as follows:

1. I must play at least one new game for every single day this year: The key here is that the game must be new. The release date isn't important, but it has to be something I've never played before. Without this rule, I could simply pop Super Mario Brothers or Halo into a console and then write a review about it from memory. That's more of an exercise in writing than an exercise in gaming. Every game I play this year will be something that I've never played before...which is going to force me to try a ton of new games I would never have otherwise given any chance to.

I'm going to back up my list with evidence. When I play an Xbox 360 game, that will be easy...because Xbox Live tracks your games and the dates you played them. I will have a link to my gamercard posted on this blog and you can double check my progress there. With the other systems...I'll either have to find some 3rd party websites that track achievements or take pictures of the game itself. One thing's for sure....I'm not going to cheat, because that would only be cheating myself.

2. I have to earn a least one achievement or trophy in each game I play: I'm adding this rule to force myself to give the game enough of a chance that I can form a fairly educated opinion on it. If it wasn't for this rule, I know I'd boot up some games, decide quickly that I don't like them, and move on to something else. This happens all the time when I visit Gamestop and try something on a kiosk, so this will prevent me for playing a game for a few minutes and setting it aside. Some games are very stingy with their achievements, so I have a feeling this will make things pretty difficult in those cases. That's part of the challenge.

Most newer Playstation 3 games offer "trophies" (which I believe are also trackable online somewhere, I've just never checked), so I should be good there. As I mentioned above, in the event that I'm playing a game on one of the other systems (Wii, PSP, DS, etc) that has no achievements, I can always take a good old fashioned picture at the furthest point I reach in the game. If for some reason I am not good enough to earn an achievement, the game won't count towards the 365, no matter how much time I spent on it.

And now, the disclaimer rules:

3. Gamer score will not be the focus of this challenge: Even though I have decided that I have to earn at least one achievement per game, I can't let myself get obsessed with completion. Often, I don't like picking up a game and then seeing that "25/1000" in my profile. It makes me feel like I should keep playing and earn a little more score. This quest is about trying new things and doing a ton of gaming, not grinding for those last 400 points on a game I've already beaten.

4. I don't have to play one new game every day: Even though it's a challenge, I also want this experiment to be fun. If I find a game I love, I want the opportunity to progress further than just a few levels in. That means that some days, I might not play a new game, and other days...I'll play several. I have more time to play on the weekends than I do during the week, and imagine I might like to take a vacation every once in awhile.

5. Reviews may be updated at a later time, including the scores: While I will not edit any review I've posted (except for a typo or something), I reserve the right to add additional thoughts and even change the score if I come back to it later and change my mind about it. Every once in awhile, a game comes along that I don't take to on the first play-through, but I later find myself really enjoying for whatever reason. I want to make sure I capture that.

That's it. Those are the 5 basic rules of my challenge and I'm looking very forward to it. Can I make it? Time will tell.