Saturday, July 4, 2015

'Merica



I know this will come as a huge shock, but I'm not exactly the kind of person who values patriotism very highly. Which is not to say that I dislike America, I just think America has lots of good qualities and lots of bad ones, like most other developed nations.

But if ever there was a time to be proud of America, it's during the month where we gave marriage equality to gay couples, ripped down flags of slavery and racism en masse, defended the right to access affordable health care, and defended the separation of church and state in one of the nation's most staunchly religious capitals.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

E3 2015

I like to do a recap of the Electronics Entertainment Expo each year [2011, 2013, 2014]. I'd say Microsoft won this year, hands down – between its awesome game lineup, the surprise announcement of backwards compatibility, and a demo of future updates to the Xbox One including Jarvis Cortana, they really knocked it out of the park. And considering how badly Sony beat them two years ago, and how Nintendo dominated last year (Zelda/Smash/Splatoon), I'm kind of glad MS won this year (though, I could see a case being made for Sony, as well).

Speaking of Nintendo, the biggest disappointment of this year was from how badly Nintendo got their asses kicked, and how lame their presentation was. It wasn't even their video presentation itself – which included Muppet versions of Nintendo's leadership team, designed by Jim Henson's studio itself – it was how puny their game lineup was.

They started strong, by announcing Street Fighter's Ryu as DLC for Smash Bros 4, and the first ever North American release of the prequel to Earthbound. They showed off Star Fox, which looks interesting, if not graphically overwhelming. But then came the yawns and cringes: a new Fire Emblem game (meh), new Mario Tennis (meh, though the original was fun), and Hyrule Warriors for 3DS (meh, already played the Wii U version). They announced a new Animal Crossing game – I don't care about that series, but they pissed off a bunch of its faithful by making it a party game instead of Nintendo's version of The Sims. They didn't show off the new Zelda game, although there is another 3DS Zelda game coming (co-op!) that looks interesting.

The biggest disappointment, by far, was the announcement of "Metroid Prime: Federation Force". Unlike the rest of the triple-A Metroid Prime series, this Metroid game (the first in five years) is a multiplayer co-op and 3-vs-3 game that doesn't star Samus, the series protagonist. As if that weren't bad enough, the game itself looks like crap. It's like they took a crappy mobile game and slapped Metroid branding over it to try to placate people. It's a slap in the face to those of us who love the Metroid series, as well. Just look at the dislike count on the games announcement trailer. After it was announced, people actually launched a Change.org petition calling for Nintendo to cancel the game (I won't even pretend that I didn't sign it). Whoever at Nintendo greenlit this steaming, atrocious pile of garbage should be shown the exit. All you had to do was say "Metroid Prime 4" or "Super Metroid 2", and you would have had waves of ecstatic fans throwing money at you.

But anyway. Here are my Top 15 Games from E3 2015:


1) Halo 5: Guardians
I kind of hate to call it so soon, but I'm pretty sure H5 will be my game of the year this year. They showed off a new game mode called Warzone, which is a 12 vs. 12 multiplayer mode that involves fighting against computer enemies and bosses, as well as other players. Looks awesome. They also demoed part of a campaign level, to show off the new squad-based mechanics. I'm just sad that split-screen co-op is gone : /



2) Super Mario Maker
Formerly just "Mario Maker", this is the game that lets players design custom Mario stages and upload them for other people to play. You can't upload impossible stages, and you can only upload so many unless people "upvote" your stages, which earns you the right to upload even more. I can't WAIT for this to come out in September....



3) Star Fox: Zero
This is the first time this game has been shown to the public. I'm a big fan of the Star Fox series, so I've been looking forward to this one for awhile now. Some people are saying that it doesn't look like a modern game per se, but I think it doesn't look too bad in HD. My only concern is with the controls, which have you flying the Arwing on the TV and using its gun turrets from the cockpit on the Gamepad. Seems much more complicated than necessary. But hey, on the other hand, your Arwing can transform into an AT-ST now. So there's that.



4) Earthbound: Beginnings
Nintendo announced, in a you-can-download-it-now style, the first ever North American release of the prequel to Earthbound (a game I love, and replayed just recently [LINKLINKLINK]). Nobody saw this coming, including me, although my timing on replaying EB was perfect. This game came out on the NES originally, and is supposedly a little on the unforgiving side. I would have preferred Mother 3 (otherwise known as Earbound 2, which also has never been released in North America) – but since Earthbound made me a fan of this series, I have no problem throwing my $upport behind this decision. I bought it the minute I heard about it.



5) South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Oh my god, the name. I had a ton of fun playing The Stick of Truth last year [LINKLINKLINK], so I have zero hesitation about buying this sequel the minute it comes out (presumably next year). Stick of Truth, which was partially inspired by Earthbound, was one long, horribly hilarious love letter to South Park fans, and was nominated for IGN's Game of the Year last year.



6) Cuphead
I really love this game's hand-drawn, 1930's-cartoon aesthetics, even if it occasionally comes off as legitimately creepy. Supposedly this game plays as well as it looks, and includes couch co-op (yay!). I'm grabbing it as soon as it's out later this year.



7) Unravel
This was a big surprise at the Xbox conference. It almost seems to pull inspiration from Yoshi's Wooly World, but this game's art style kind of blows that one completely out of the water. It probably won't be out until next year, but it already looks incredible....



8) Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
A reboot of the Mirror's Edge franchise, which is a first-person game that's much more about running than shooting. In fact, this reboot doesn't allow the player to use guns at all [ITALITALITAL], which is a really great decision as far as I'm concerned. I actually found the original Mirror's Edge to be clunky and somewhat frustrating, but also really loved the aesthetic look and the main character, Faith. If they iron out some of that clunkiness, I'm on-board with this one.



9) Uncharted 4
I don't even own a Playsation 4, but damn [ITALITALITAL] that trailer looks good. It has some of the most advanced video game visuals and technology to date, and it looks like it was ripped right out of an Indiana Jones movie. If I ever wind up with a PS4, this will be one of the first games I buy.



10) Sea of Thieves
This is a new franchise from Rare (the company that makes Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker, and is also now owned by Microsoft). It's a pirate-themed MMO (online multiplayer adventure game). Given its pedigree, I'm more than willing to give this one a chance.



11) The Last Guardian
This game was first announced seven years [ITALITALITAL] ago. It's turned into a running joke about games that are perpetually "in development" but never actually come out. Except that, er, now it's coming out. It's about a relationship between a boy and his dog....bird....giant griffiny thing. It looks like it could have a lot of charm on it. So there's hope for the Half-Life 3 crowd yet.



12) Rare Replay
This was the other announcement from Rare: a collection of most of their games from the past 30 years (excluding the ones that include Nintendo IP, of course). It also includes the (god-awful) Battletoads games for the NES, which have been the subject of a lot of rumors lately. It looks great....but the only games I'm really interested in are Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark, all of which I've already downloaded and will be available soon via backwards compatibility. But hey, if this game gets more people interested in the Banjo franchise, I'm all for it.



13) Final Fantasy 7 HD
This was the other "WTF?!" announcement from Sony this year – nobody saw this much-wanted HD remake coming, either. I've never played the original, but it's extremely highly regarded as one of the best RPGs ever made. And with rumors that it may eventually come to Xbox as well, I might actually give it a try this time.



14) Star Wars: Battlefront
This Star Wars shooter won IGN's Game of the Show award this year. It lets you take part in epic online multiplayer battles in the Star Wars universe, places like Endor and Hoth. The graphics are stellar, and considering how many friends I have who are Star Wars junkies and FPS junkies, the chances that I'll grab this one too are pretty high. Plz don't make my aim artificially suck when I have to play as a Stormtrooper :(



15) Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
MGS is a stealth/action series know for being really damn bizarre. I really love the first one, and I'll be playing the second and third installments sometime next year. And considering how jaw-droppingly gorgeous this game looks, I really want to take a crack at it, as well. Unfortunately, it's also supposedly a massively huge game, which might relegate it to the "GTA5/Sunset Overdrive/Skyrim/Just Cause/I-wish-there-were-twice-as-many-hours-in-a-day" bin, for me : / But damn [ITALITALITAL] does it look fun.





Honorable Mention:

• The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes – [Trailer] – A new co-op Zelda game for the 3DS. Looks neat, but doesn't quite take the sting out of the next Wii U Zelda's absence from E3 this year.

• Yoshi's Wooly World – [Trailer] – This game was announced quite some time ago, and is coming out in September. The Yoshi series has AAA-caliber gameplay, but the aesthetic charm might be somewhat less impressive when compared against Unravel.

• Recore – [Trailer] – A new game for Xbox about a girl and her robot dog, from the makers of Metroid Prime and Mega Man.

• Adr1ft – [Trailer] – A game about suriving as an astronaut adrift in space around Earth's orbit after an accident destroys the space station you've been working in. It's already been nicknamed "Gravity: The Game"

• Just Cause 3 – [Trailer] An insane open-world action-movie-style game. It's like Grand Theft Auto meets The Expendables, minus the cast. I'd be more interested in it if I had five times as much free time as I do.

• Beyond Eyes – [Trailer] – A new Xbox game about a 10-year-old blind girl trying to find her cat. It looks incredibly unique.

• No Man's Sky – [Trailer] – The platforms this will be on are up on the air, but the universe you explore in this game was entirely procedureally generated – meaning, generated by a program, instead of designed by individual designers. Literally every person's experience with this game will be unique to them. High-tech stuff.

• Gears of War 4 – [Trailer] – I'm a huge fan of the Gears franchise, and although this trailer implies that the main characters will be different from the first few games, I'm still interested to see how it comes out.

• Rainbow Six: Siege – [Trailer] – This is a team-based multiplayer shooter, where one team tries to assault a target while the other tries to defend it. Each team has special operaters with custom weapons and loadouts for the player to choose. I'm already signed up for the Beta in September.

• Forza Motorsport 6 – [Trailer] – Forza games are basically car porn, and this one looks great. But if I'm being honest, the main reason I'm waiting for this to come out is so that I can get the previous version of the game dirt-cheap. Any game where I can drive my own Mustang is a win in my book.

• Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 – [Trailer] – I loved the Tony Hawk series up until Tony Hawk's Underground 2. So I was excited for this one, until I saw how crappy the graphics are and how the controls are somewhat different. Now I'm kind of lukewarm.

• Mass Effect: Andromeda – [Trailer] – I never played the first three M.E. games, but they're also on the list of things I'd play if I had tons of free time. Also, Johnny Cash ftw.

• Transformers: Devastation – [Trailer] – Peter Motherfuckin' Cullen.

• Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – A remastered update to the first Gears of War game. I know I said I'm a big fan of the Gears series, but since this is only the first game (which was my least favorite of the first three)....ehh.

• For Honor – [Trailer] – A medieval combat simulator (using the term loosely) of sorts.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Game Reviews: Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Child of Light

I've been playing a lot of RPGs lately!

 
  


Chrono Trigger DS

1995's Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo is a classic, and widely considered one of the best RPGs of all time. It was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi (who created Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (who created Dragon Quest), and Akira Toriyama (who created Dragonball Z). You can easily tell the latter's influence on the game, by the anime cutscenes and how much Crono, the sword-wielding protagonist, looks like a Saiyan from DBZ. It was re-released for the Nintendo DS in 2008, with numerous updates to make it play more smoothly.

One of the main reasons Chrono Trigger is so beloved is its story. And I would have to agree: the story is the game's strongest suit. It's extremely well-written, and has many emotional moments and legitimately surprising twists. The characters are genuinely unique and lovable. But another reason this game is so legendary is that its storyline branches dramatically based on choices that the players make during various points in the game. In fact, the game has over ten different endings (and well over that, if you include minor permutations). Many players love this feature, and how their choices make a big impact, and how the game must be played multiple times to see everything it has to offer; I actually really, really dislike it, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. But there's a reason that classic works of literature are not written in the style of "choose your own adventure" stories.

One of the main reasons I dislike the branching story is also my biggest complaint with the game overall: it's too bloody long. Chrono Trigger clocks in at around 25 hours for the first playthrough. Some people really like longer games like this; I found it draining. It's like inviting a fun and interesting person over for dinner, but then they want to eat everything in your fridge and stay until 3am. And that 25 hours is just for a single playthrough! God forbid you should try to find each of the endings, even with a "New Game +" feature. But again, that criticism is based on personal preference: some people prefer really long games, and I'm just not crazy about them. But that said, the story and characters are so great that they almost make up for it.

Overall: 8/10


Earthbound

This game shares a lot in common with Chrono Trigger: it's an old-school RPG released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo, and now considered a must-play cult classic. Unlike Chrono Trigger, I had actually played and beaten this game once before, when I was in junior high. And unlike Chrono Trigger, which takes place in various time periods, from the prehistoric era to the Middle Ages to the near future, Chrono Trigger takes place solely in the mid-90's.

Unsurprisingly, it also shares many of the same high points and faults as Chrono Trigger. Earthbound is an even longer game, clocking in at about 28 hours. Like CT, far too much of that time is dull, meaningless filler combat against minor enemies that respawn far too quickly. But Earthbound commits the additional sin of having random chance play too great a role during many battles: there are times when living or dying in a particular area depends on whether or not the enemy catches too many lucky breaks and your party catches too many unlucky ones. It does get very irritating, especially in the beginning of the game. Gameplay is not the highlight, here.

BUT - and this is a really big but - Earthbound takes all the charm and quirky uniqueness that Chrono Trigger has and dials it up to 11. Here's a great example: you play as Ness, a 10-year-old boy with powerful psychic abilities that he's just learning to harness. Ness lives with his mom, sister, and dog (his dad spends the entire game away on some sort of business trip). Like most RPGs, Ness and his friends can be afflicted by various attacks that have different status affects on them, such as being paralyzed or poisoned or put to sleep. Earthbound, however, has a different status affect that happens outside of battle: Ness gets homesick. Homesickness affects how Ness performs in battle, and the only way to cure it is to call home and talk to his mom for a bit. After encountering this a few times, you really do get the urge to call home in real life.

Earthbound also takes the opposite approach from Chrono Trigger's branching: there are no sidequests, at all. You get one amazing story: it's linear, but dark, and hilarious, and bizzare, and engrossing, and fantastically surreal. It's like dropping a massive hit of acid and watching The Andy Griffith Show. Except that Opie has psychic powers and fights an alien hell-bent on universal domination.

Here is a link to IGN's "Nintendo Voice Chat" podcast episode where they talk about what made Earthbound so timeless, for those interested. (They did one for Chrono Trigger, as well.)

Overall: 9/10


South Park: The Stick of Truth

I played this game last year, and only recently realized that I hadn't reviewed it. This is an RPG, like both Chrono Trigger and Earthbound, but a much more modern take on it. Thus, the experience is far smoother and more enjoyable, particularly if you're a fan of South Park. Trey Parker even cited Earthbound as a heavy influence on this game's development.

For starters, the game is only about 10-11 hours long (YAY!!!), because it cuts out a lot of the cruft that CT and EB suffer from, although it does sacrifice some of their charm in the process. It does have a branching storyline, but it's much more simplified and less radical than CT, and every branch comes back to a common endpoint. The games visuals are a perfect match for the show, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone provide the voices for their respective characters, as well. This game is also extremely surreal, but....it's South Park. So we all have a pretty good idea of what that surrealism is like. You play as a new kid to the neighborhood, and interact with all of the show's main and supporting characters to fight Nazi zombies and mutated aborted fetuses and whatnot. The game is a love letter to South Park fans, and the gameplay is much smoother, smarter, and more fun than its Super Nintendo-era progenitors. It's also brutally, disgustingly, offensively hysterical :)

Overall: 10/10


Child of Light

This is yet another RPG, but on another level entirely from the previous three I've mentioned. Not only is this game good enough to merit a perfect score, it's now one of my favorite games of all time.

Steph and I played this game together in co-op, where I controlled Aurora (the protagonist), and she controlled Igniculus, her 'firefly' helper. Aurora is a very young girl, the daughter of a Duke in the 19th century, who gets pulled into a fantasy-based alternate reality world called Lemuria, a land under assault by the Dark Queen Umbra. Child of Light is about Aurora's journey from frightened little girl into BAD-ASS WARRIOR - and the (apologies for overuse of this word) charming cast of friends and allies she meets along the way.

The list of things this game gets absolutely right is long. As far as gameplay goes, it's just as flawlessly smooth and fun as South Park, but less surreal and hilarious than the previously mentioned games, and more straight-up fantasy based. It would be perfect for a parent and child to play together, especially on the easier of the two difficulties. Like South Park, it clocks in at around 9-11 hours, so it doesn't overstay its welcome. The art style makes almost everything in the game look like a hand-drawn watercolor painting, with the overall effect of making the entire game come across as a beloved children's book. But the visual art is only half the story: literally every piece of music in the game is epic, beautiful, and effective. Some examples:




It's not even remotely difficult to see why this game garnered so many "Game of the Year" nominations. I have zero doubt that I will be replaying this game many, many more times in the future.

Aurora should be in Smash Bros.

Overall: 10/10