Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fan-boys prepare your mudslinging...

As anyone even remotely interested in games would tell you, the passion, zeal, and vigor of any serious gamer is powered by a little thing called lists. Making lists gives us purpose. They allow us to differentiate the true believers from the heretics, they give order to a world of chaos, and of course, they are the gasoline that fuels the ever-important fan-boy flame wars.

I have decided that every Thursday I will partake in this sacred ritual by laying down into writing lists of varying profundity. These lists may include, but are not limited to, ‘the ten most annoying characters ever created,’ ‘Five reasons why Grand Theft Auto is the most over-rated thing in all of history,’ and ‘Ten game franchises that must be put to rest for their-and our-own good.’

I will begin this rite in the most familiar way, i.e. a ten best list.

2008 is almost over and soon ‘best of 2008’ lists will flood the interwebs. Yet as we are all aware, fall is the time of year when all of the biggest blockbusters are released. In fact, there are no fewer than eight potential ‘Game of the Year’ winners being released between October, and November alone. So before we experience the deluge of amazing upcoming titles 2008 has to offer, let us take a moment to reflect on the year that was: 2007.

In my humble opinion, 2007 was possibly the best year for gaming ever-certainly the best since 1998. And although there are some great games that have and will come out this year (Fallout 3, Little Big Planet, etc.) quite frankly, 2008 has got nothing on 2007.

So, without further ado, I present my list for the ten best games that came out of the best year in a decade:

(In no particular order)

1. The Orange Box (PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3)
The Orange Box is not only the best deal in video gaming history but also packs the best shooter of the year in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and the best puzzler in Portal. This was my pick for game of the year.
2. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)
It’s incredible that after more than twenty years Mario games are still just as innovative, exciting, and fun as they ever have been. Truly this is a masterpiece of gameplay.
3. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune (Playstation 3)
Sure, it’s waaay to gun heavy, but Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is an absolute blast to play. (oh yeah, it looks pretty amazing too.)
4. Mass Effect (Xbox 360, PC)
Glaring technical shortcomings are forgiven when taken in conjunction with the scope and grandeur offered in Mass Effect. A wonderful adventure that is worth several play throughs.
5. Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Nintendo Wii)
It was good to see a third party finally utilize the Wiimote to its full potential. Zack & Wiki is a wickedly clever game and a joy to play. If you own a Wii, get it.
6. Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (Playstation 3)
With R & C we finally got those ‘Toy Story’ visuals we were promised way back when. Fortunately, while the story does fall flat about halfway through the game, gameplay is as fun and exciting as they come. (now if we could just get games to look as good as Ratatouille).
7.) The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)
I don’t know how Nintendo does it, but two franchises twenty years old are still good enough to make a ten best list. Sure the music in this iteration is less than inspired and you can get through the game without dying, but that does little to detract from the shear joy derived from exploring this wonderfully realized and stylized world. Oh yeah, new control scheme? Dig it.
8.) Bioshock (PC, Xbox 360)
Bioshock is one of the most atmospheric games I’ve ever played. Not only does it look and sound fantastic but it also is a deep and engaging fps.
9.) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360, Playstation 3)
As a gamer who has never fully commited to the multiplayer revolution,
It’s great to see a company make a game with a single player campaign as fun as this. That being said, I still think that the multiplayer aspect of the game is phenomenal, easily the best on 360 this year (it’s true Halo fans)
10.) Metroid 3/Odin Sphere/Halo 3 (Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2, Xbox 360)
I know, I know its cheating, but I couldn’t decide! Three games all great in their own right-Metroid: graphics, Odin Sphere: art design, Halo: gameplay.

Well there you have it. If you haven’t played any of these games then I can’t recommend them enough.

…Oh and to keep the spirit of lists alive: If you disagree, then you have no idea what you are talking about.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The eagerly anticipated Mega Man 9 is reviewed:

Mega Man 9

In an era of HD graphics, 7.1 digital surround sound, and international connectivity, Capcom (in a move that could only be described as the ultimate in fan-service) has opted to instead release the first numbered Mega Man game to appear in over twelve years in true ‘High Fidelity 8-Bit graphics.’

Old-school fans rejoice.

Capcom went all out recreating the look and feel of classic Mega Man while still adding a few new features (leaderboards, time trials, etc.) to keep it fresh. But rest assured that everything that made the classic games great is back: the music, the ‘choose your own path’ style, and of course, the maddening difficulty-but I’ll get to that later.

Mega Man 9 begins exactly as you would expect it to if it were released in 1987. Upon starting the game, you are first introduced to the story as presented through 8-bit animation and intentionally corny dialogue, followed by the familiar stage select screen where you get to choose which of the eight stages to challenge first. As in the classic games, each stage carries it’s own theme (water, outer space, etc.) and boss who, upon defeat, relinquishes his/her specific power to Mega Man for him to use in subsequent stages.

All of the stages are unique, each offering its own respective enemies and gimmicks to keep the game from becoming too repetitive. Each stage’s boss is also very cool, and fans will be happy to hear that this time around they share more in common with the bosses of Mega Man 1, 2, and 3, than they do of some of the more ridiculous bosses of the later games (Pharaoh Man, anyone?). Unfortunately, the power-ups that you receive from each defeated boss share a lot in common with some of those received in previous games, but that is to be expected when the franchise can boast upwards of 72 separate bosses.

In addition to the main game, Capcom has added a few welcome modern touches to keep the game fresh. A time trial mode complete with leader boards where the player can compare his skills with others across the world has been added. There is also a Challenges list added to the main game to up the ante and encourage bragging rights. These reward you for doing things like beating the game without taking any damage or beating the game five times in one day (ouch). Capcom has also promised forthcoming downloadable content such as a ‘survival mode’ and a Proto-Man mode where the player can play as the enigmatic Proto-Man.

All of these are nice additions, but what makes Mega Man such a fun title has always been the brutal difficulty and addictive gameplay. Two buttons: shoot and jump. If this sounds straightforward, it is. But Mega Man hasn’t become one of gamings most venerable franchises by taking it easy on you. This game will drive you nuts. Period. And it is in this regard that Capcom nails what they set out to do.

Mega Man 9’s difficulty will bring out the eight year old in you. You will find yourself wanting to toss your controller in frustration and cursing the heartless men who developed this game. Yet, believe it or not, you will come back for more. While it isn’t breaking any ground or changing the way we approach games, the fact is that this game is just plain old-school fun. Whether an old fan, or new to the franchise, this game will not disappoint.

9.0 out of 10

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This image called to me. I am certain that somewhere hidden within its stark lines lays a story waiting to be told. Is the man being blown backwards after being zapped by the powerful bolt, or is he dodging out of its way just in the nick of time? Perhaps tripping, he has lost control of the lightning and sent it flying uncontrollably into the air. If this is the case, is he then some sort of demigod, able to wield and manipulate the forces of electricity as easily as we might a pencil? Regardless of the nature of the mysterious silhouette, I am certain about one thing: I love it.

And does this image not represent the very core of modern gaming? It could be a metaphor of the possible damage these electronic toys can inflict upon us-he is a slave, unable to escape from the powerful lines of electronic code that consume his mind. He flails his arms in surrender.

On the other hand, this could be an image of the face of modern gaming itself. It is, after all, action typified. Here is an electronic avatar dodging and running through a series of preposterous obstacles in an attempt to reach his ultimate goal, whatever that may be.

Indeed, place this image on the cover of any game’s box, and the eyes of many a potential player will look upon it and become immediately transfixed by the saga of a man and his epic struggle with the nefarious lightning bolt.

Is it profound finality, or comical slapstick? The possible feelings and emotions that this picture inspires are limitless.

…or it may just be a ‘Warning: Electricity’ sign.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Video Games. I play them.

I remember it like it was yesterday, February 1987. I was staring at the clock, waiting moment after agonizing moment for the sound of the garage door opening. Finally, I heard the muffled rumble through the walls and in walked my parents who quickly handed me the item that would become the instrument of my demise, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Twenty one years and about fifteen consoles later, here I am.

To say that video games are a hobby of mine is like saying Pavarotti likes to sing. I game. It is what I do.

In this blog I hope to discuss all of the many facets that make up this ever-burgeoning industry; everything from the developers who make the games, to the games themselves. I plan on putting in my two cents, as well as maybe dropping in a theory or idea of my own.

As anyone who is really into the culture of gaming can tell you, there is never a lack of news, drama, or hype to talk about. I hope to just make the conversation a little more interesting.

If you are new to gaming, here are a few great sites to check out:
Joystiq - A hilarious news mashup-very funny, very informative
GoNintendo - As the name implies, a site devoted to all things Nintendo
Kotaku - The self proclaimed "gamer's guide"
ign - Easily the largest site. Very corporate, very sleek, but still very good.