Archive for April 2013

DOA5 NEW Project: Disc or DLC?

April 30, 2013

It’s no secret that I love DOA5. In retrospect, I’d even consider it Game of the Year for 2012. Yes, I love it that much. Easily my favorite fighter of the generation. It took Dead or Alive, a game I played just for fun in the past, and fixed nearly all my issues with it resulting in the first fighter I am seriously trying to play competitively.

However, things weren’t looking good for the game. After the release of DOA5+ on the Vita, Team Ninja was split in half and renamed. Some thought this was the end of Team Ninja and that DOA5 may not be supported anymore. There seemed to be some credence to this news as DOA5+’s cross-buy DLC feature was not functioning properly (still not sure if it is).

However, news just broke about “DOA5 NEW Project” in the form of a brief clip featuring Ninja Gaiden’s Momiji in a new stage based on the game.

Of course the immediate assumption is that this is going to be “Ultimate DOA5”, sold on a disc containing all the DLC. That is how these things work, right? Considering the high price of DOA5’s DLC, this is causing some significant outrage.

However, “NEW Project” and “New Version” don’t really mean anything. Remember, this already happened once before with DOA5: DOA5+ on Vita, which was an update but did not contain any of the DLC outfits. It instead allowed users to take outfits from the PS3 and put them on their Vita (even if the feature is kinda broken at the moment) and vice versa. What’s more, a massive patch for DOA5 was released to catch it up to the Vita version, adding a new stage, new moves, and boatloads of tweaks. This updated the game to a “new version”: 1.03.

So it is actually plausible that this could be a downloadable update. Whether it is a paid update or a free one, we aren’t sure though Team Ninja said they would never make people pay for a DLC character so a paid update would be somewhat weird. The solution, of course, is selling bikinis for Momiji.

If it is a disc-based release though, then there is still a chance it will be backwards compatible with the existing DLC. Not only did DOA5+ do this, but Koei did this with their Dynasty Warriors games. Dynasty Warriors 7 XL and Empires allow players to use DLC from the previous version.

Of course, people will say that I am being too optimistic. This is true, however, DOA5 has yet to make me feel completely screwed over like other fighters have. Koei seems to have a pretty good grasp on DLC these days too.

All I’m saying is not to jump to conclusions about greedy companies screwing you out of your money just yet. Oh yes, they want to make money, but there’s an art to it.

I mean, let’s be real here: DOA5’s profits come entirely from the rather pricey costume DLC. If they include those costumes in this new version, that would make the existing DOA users feel screwed and make them wary about purchasing any future costume. “I’ll just wait for the next version” they’ll say. It’s only logical. Remembering that DOA5 was not really successful with anyone but its own fans…it is important to keep them happy and buying expensive bikinis to fight in.

However, if this new version still requires players to purchase that existing DLC? Then it will cause some of the people who are “just waiting for the Complete Edition with all the DLC” to realize this isn’t happening, crack, and purchase the swimsuits.

Of course, there is an awful third route of requiring players to re-purchase all existing DLC, but I would like to think only The Idolm@ster is that scammy. Such an action will most likely turn even more people away from the game.

So, which one do you think would make the most money in the long run? Do you have any faith in Koei Tecmo as a company to think this far ahead? Can they truly become the masters of the art of selling overpriced swimsuit DLC?

 

EDIT:

Best solution: Give away Momiji and the stage, but she only gets two outfits (same one pallet swapped). Sell the rest of her costumes as DLC to cover the cost of making the character and stage and then some.

The Evil Within: The Worst Trailer Ever?

April 29, 2013

So chances are you have already seen the trailer for The Evil Within, or at least links to it. The thing is plastered all over YouTube, XBox Live, and gaming websites.

So what is this game? The heck if I know! Because the trailer tells you jack squat!

Now from other sources I hear this is Shinji Mikami’s (creator of Resident Evil) new survival horror game. That’s…wonderful. Sure would like it if the trailer you’re cramming down my throat told me anything about the game! But no, just random “scary” clips thrown around.

Scary clips that, to me, are just silly.

…I mean really? A safe?!

Dragon’s Crown May Contain Multi-Sorceress Action!

April 27, 2013

No doubt we’re all familiar with the Dragon’s Crown fiasco I wrote about earlier. Well George Kamitani wrote a professional response to Kotaku as you can see here (though Jason Schrier still insists on being immature about it).

There is a lot that can be said and discussed about this post, but there is one line that may be slipping under people’s radar amidst this controversy that brings us a delightful bit of news:

“We receive many requests from companies to create publicity illustrations for the game, but we never received any requests for the Dwarf. […]

So, I decided to unofficially draw a sweaty Dwarf in a bathing suit, with a bit of cynicism towards those retailer requests. I drew 3 of them to show that there are character color variations available.

Yes, that’s right: Dragon’s Crown contains color variations! Why is this important? Well aside from the fact that I appreciate any character customization options no matter how miniscule, why else would you have multiple color variations in a multiplayer game?

The answer is, of course, so that you can have multiples of the same character! This is fantastic news! Lets be real here: Everyone is gonna wanna play the Sorceress and if you could only have one Sorceress per game? Well we’d see a lot of people joining and leaving games when they found the Sorceress was already picked.

Trust me, I played (and loved) Sacred: Citadel. That game had this exact problem.

But with the ability to have multiple of the same character, it will make online matchmaking much more plausible. To say nothing of the eyebrow raising spectacle that will be an all Sorceress playthrough.

Mind you this isn’t 100% confirmed. They could still have color variations for customization but still only allow one of each class per game. But I have a good feeling about this.

Personally, I hope this means I can put the Sorceress in a red dress with purple gloves and shoes and name her Jessica.

JessicaSorceress

I’m not sure why, but that seems like the best idea ever!

Dragon’s Crown Fiasco: Kotaku Really Needs To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Write Their Articles

April 26, 2013

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you have no doubt noticed the sudden escalation in discussion about sexism in videogames, the industry, and the community. In fact, according to Gamasutra, 2012 was “The year the discussion about equality in games began”.

No doubt you are also aware of Dragon’s Crown, the jawdroppingly gorgeous high definition, hand painted 2D brawler from Vanillaware most infamous for its chesty sorceress. Indeed it was only a matter of time before the two collided.

See, back when Dragon’s Crown was first announced, it was considered okay. We saw the over-the-top character designs and said “Wow those sure are over-the-top!” but continued to drool over the amazing game. It was the kind of thing that we always wanted but never thought could exist. Because, back in the 90s the beat ’em up genre vanished right as it was hitting it’s stride, stunting the growth of the genre. Shortly thereafter, 2D visuals in general were considered “outdated” and their growth too was stunted. So seeing such gorgeous 2D visuals coupled with evolved brawler gameplay is like a dream come true to many gamers. Especially the game’s own creator: George Kamitani. Dragon’s Crown was originally planned for the SEGA Dreamcast but the project was put on hold for more than a decade.

But now, “things have changed”. The pressure is on regarding sexualized female character design. It is apparently no longer “okay” to have such characters in your game, like it was back when it first entered development.

This leads to the embarrassing incident involving Kotaku. With the release of the Sorceress gameplay trailer, Kotaku writer Jason Schreier posted it with a short article titled “Game Developers Really Need To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Design Their Characters” The exact text of the article reads “As you can see, the sorceress was designed by a 14-year-old boy. Perhaps game development studios should stop hiring teenagers? At least they’re cheap, I guess.”

Upon hearing this, George Kamitani responded on Facebook with a post reading “It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which he likes was prepared.” alongside a picture of three muscular bearded men giving each other noogies.

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Suddenly the thing exploded. People were shocked and aghast that George Kamitani would kinda sorta make a gay joke and thus engage in “Casual Homophobia”.

Meanwhile, Jason Schrier posted another article titled “The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress” the article takes back the 14-year-old boy crack but then proceeds to try and take a “serious” stance with phrases like “For now, I’d like to elaborate on my criticism, because this subject deserves more thought and consideration than a few snarky lines below a trailer.” and “I’m not saying this particular piece of art should not exist, but I have no qualms about saying I think it can hurt this game and gaming as a whole.” with Jason trying to take the high ground and leave Kamitani with egg on his face, dragging his name through the mud.

First of all, the opening comments were both equally childish. Yes, Kamitani’s had a slight air of casual homophobia to it but I feel it is no worse than what he got from Kotaku. Jason Schrier made a childish inflammatory comment, like Kotaku writers tend to, and he got a childish inflammatory response. This is pretty common as the tone for this “discussion” was set.

This isn’t the first time Kotaku has pulled bullcrap like this. How about that time they wrote the article “The Guy Who Made Bayonetta Is Clueless about Valve and PC Gaming” which they then retitled and altered when Kamiya told them to shove it. What about that time they whipped gamers into a frenzy over a Dad being unsure about purchasing a Wii for his sons and then acted aghast and morally outraged when they lashed out at him. Again, taking the moral highground.

This is what drives me perhaps the most insane about Kotaku. They’re the tabloid rag of game journalism. They post the most useless crap and the most inflammatory article titles to drive up hits. Then they decide to take the moral highground and wag their fingers at everyone and tell us how ashamed we should all be.

Perhaps most egregious is how Jason brings up completely unrelated and far more serious issues like “One Reason Why”, in turn watering them down and using them as a smoke screen to make himself seem like some righteous crusader.

No, fuck you Kotaku.

Luke Plunkett tried to iron over this with the article “Beyond The Bosoms, This Art Is Some Of The Best In The Business” writing “In some ways it’s a little sad that the first time many people are hearing the name ‘George Kamitani’ this week is because of the issues some are having with Dragon’s Crown’s characters, because the man is also responsible for some of the finest artwork the medium of video games has ever seen.” As one commentor wrote “You mean the issue your coworker had with said characters? The same coworker who then proceeded to highlight that solitary aspect of George’s work while at the same time calling him a child? Is that what you’re referring to?”

Indeed, it is going to take more than a post of a bunch of random George Kamitani art to iron this one over.

Penny Arcade’s The PA Report also weighed in with another article. Titled “You don’t like breasts? You must like men: The disappointing conversation and art of Dragon’s Crown” the second half of the article reitterates this statement with the line “You don’t like my art? What are you, gay?” in large bold text as though to claim these were George Kamitani’s exact words and continues to flog the point about the harm of “Casual Homophobia” casting the blame on him for a few misused (and awkwardly written) words. “If he had simply engaged with the discussion and talked about his work, it would have been great. The whole thing would have ended as soon as it began. Instead, he decided to double-down on homophobia, and only apologized when the story blew up.” Because, you see, calm rational discussion is the first thing people do when called a 14-year-old boy who works on the cheap while working on your decades long dream game. Honestly, I’m surprised Kamitani was as civil as he was!

But it is here that we get to the more important crux of the issue. We have all these people taking the moral highground and saying “This is a discussion we need to be having” without really discussing anything. They are essentially sitting around and yelling “Someone should do something!” at each other.

But at least Penny Arcade gets to the point and answers the big question: What is wrong with the hyper sexualized Sorceress character? “What’s worth criticizing is how few people are doing anything else.” Ah yes, the real issue isn’t the Sorceress herself but that  she is just one of many hyper sexualized videogame women that dominate the gaming landscape! It’s a darn shame no one is doing anything else!

…except this line of thinking does not apply to George Kamitani at all.

Why? Well because literally every single game his company has ever made stars a not-particularly-sexualized female character. I would like to emphasize that again: stars. They are the lead. In Princess Crown, Gradriel was the main character and the two guys were merely unlockable extras with short side stories. There was also another girl with a sidestory as well. In Odin’s Sphere, you start as Gwendolyn and there are only two male playable to the three female playables. In Grim Grimoire you could only play as Lillet Blan. Muramasa featured a choice of male or female lead.

VanillawareGals

This right here is the problem if you ask me. We sit here demanding less sexualized female leads and that games be more welcoming to female players, and yet every time they are we completely ignore it.

It is particularly egregious in this case as here we are wagging our fingers at a man whose entire gameography up to this point has been exactly what is being demanded! In an industry where “2D doesn’t sell” and “female leads don’t sell”, George Kamitani flew in the face of tradition and delivered on both. Wether you like his games or not, he deserves a damn medal! But no, we instead shout “shame on you” and drag his name through the mud. Now the name George Kamitani is synonymous with vile sexism and homophobia.

I’m sure everyone will act shocked when they release the Elf trailer (i.e. the female character with normal body proportions and sensible clothes) and act like this is some kind of victory even though the character has been in the game for more than 3 years.

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That isn’t to say that these games don’t have sexualized elements. From Gradriel’s transformation to the kitsune ladies of Muramasa, there have always been a decent number of busty ladies in these games. However they have never been playable leads until now.

VanillawareBoobsHappen

See, that’s the other thing. One of the reasons I am so excited about Dragon’s Crown is that the art is so different! People act like these are the norm, that they’re so cliche. Characters like these are a dime a dozen, right? Maybe back in the 80s and 90s but these days you absolutely do not see characters like these and never to such an exaggerated degree!

More than that, it is a huge departure from what George Kamitani normally does. All his other games tend to feature shorter characters with small bodies and large heads. A cuter design style meant to evoke the feel of a fairytale. Fitting as the framing device for two of his games was a little girl and her storybook. Here, however, we see tall characters with large bodies and tiny heads! I’ve never seen Kamitani’s art style applied to proportions like these! Presumably this is to evoke the feeling of old school fantasy art in all its ridiculousness. It’s somewhat subtle because it’s the same artist but when you really look there is a distinct difference in design between Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown.

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Speaking of unusual designs, I think I am most excited about the Amazon. You don’t see muscular women that often and never to that degree. When you do see them that beefy though, they usually aren’t meant to also be pretty. The juxtaposition of her curly blonde hair with her massive body is unique and fascinating to me. Especially that hair! You just don’t see a lot of curly haired women in games these days!

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In being cliche, the game’s design style manages to be unlike anything I have ever seen. While there are certainly offputting elements here and there, I am overall excited beyond words.

In being so unique, it is hard to criticize it as being “indicative of a bigger problem” because that argument only really works if the designs were more cliche. Yes, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur exists, but who else? Lulu from Final Fantasy X? Keep going and you see that characters this overtly sexualized aren’t that common. Usually one per franchise if said franchise has enough characters.

More importantly though is that singleing out George Kamitani is ridiculous as he has personally contributed more to great female leads in videogames than nearly anyone else in the industry. If you don’t believe me, go watch some cutscenes on YouTube of Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire (especially the later).

If you wanna take the moral highground and fight for better representation of women in videogames, I would like to point something out to you: Remember what I said about how Jason Schrier set the tone for their discussion when he called Kamitani a 14-year-old boy? This applies to many situations. If you act aggressively, you’ll get aggression in return. If you act negatively you’ll get negativity in return.

It occurs to me that this is the big problem with this discussion. We spend all of our time emphasizing the bad and wagging our fingers at it. We say we don’t want censorship but then go out of our way specifically to point out sexualization and shame anyone that might like it. In a way, demanding self-censorship. This approach tends to rub people the wrong way.

What we aren’t doing is recognizing the positive. We don’t look at the good. We aren’t saying “less of this, more of this” or even “at least X is better than Y”. Nope, just a lot of finger wagging and shame.

Another example of that would be the female marines in Aliens: Colonial Marines. People continually bring up the fact that female marines were supposedly a last minute feature request, citing that “female characters should not be a ‘feature’, they should be standard”. There are many lengthy articles ranting about this fact and wagging their finger at Gearbox because real Aliens fans would know the importance of female marines. What is ignored, however, is that the game shipped with female marines, there are female marines in co-op, there are female marines in story mode. The online play in and of itself was a late feature addition and perhaps the female marines barely made the cut, but they were there.

There is never any mention of the sheer amount of FPS games that do not feature female characters. Never any discussion of the other Aliens games that lacked female marines. Colonial Marines is awarded no consolation prize. No, it just gets fingers wagged at it. Not because of the lack of female marines, but because someone (who may not even be a Gearbox employee) called them a “feature”.

What we need here is less finger wagging and more promotion. Less “this is bad and you’re bad for liking it” and more “this is good and more people should buy it”. Then perhaps this discussion wouldn’t be so vicious. Then perhaps we could make progress and agree on something and have a meaningful conversation.

I mean, the problem isn’t that games with sexualized women sell better but that games with any women, sexualized or not, “don’t sell” (a complete myth but we’ll discuss that later) right? So why cast so much shame on the people who buy these games just because it happens to be what they like? We should support positive games, not declare certain things “negative” and shame them into oblivion!

But that isn’t what happens is it? Why not? Because negativity generates money. Look at what articles get the most hits, look at what YouTube celebrities are popular, look at what you enjoy reading. There is indeed something cathartic about watching a reviewer really tear into a game. As such we don’t see a lot of positivity. A list of great female leads generates far less hits than “Top 10 Most Offensive Women in Videogames”. As such, we never make any progress and the whole “conversation” that we “need to have” is stalled. Good job, team! If you need me I’ll be over here playing Rumble Roses XX and wallowing in self loathing.

Gaming with GEL – Steel Harbinger

April 26, 2013

A spontaneous first run of an obscure crap game I always wanted to play. BEHOLD the Felt Harbinger!

 

Gaming with GEL – PreCure All-Stars Zenin Shugo Let’s Dance!

April 19, 2013

QuickView: Sacred Citadel

April 18, 2013

How does this happen? One minute we are starving for a brawler with decent netcode and the next we’re flooded with them! Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds had pretty good netcode, then Scott Pilgrim’s online patch finally hit and delivered decent netcode. Though not online, we just got our hands on Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons and its rough but challenging nature and now, Sacred: Citadel or as I like to call it: Dungeons & Dubstep (Shadow Over Mix-tara).

If you’re unfamiliar, Sacred: Citadel is a 3-player side scrolling beat ’em up spin-off of the Sacred series of Diablo clones. Not that you would be able to tell though as Citadel is brightly colored and cartoonish not just in visuals but in personality as well.

Initially I had thought the game was PSN exclusive but it is actually available on XBLA and Steam as well so it’s easy to get.

Initially the game seems to be very similar to Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara but with some Castle Crashers elements and not as good. The movelists, while bigger than most brawlers, are still sparse, the characters aren’t varied enough, and there isn’t much in the way of combo options. It isn’t until you play the Ranger that things click:

This is Castle Crashers meets King of Dragons!

It’s a very slight distinction but an important one and once you make the connection the game really clicks. The excessively fast attacks, the sparse moveset, the ranged attacks, even the odd choice of making the game 3-player instead of the more traditional four.

You get a choice of one of four characters: Warrior, Ranger, Shaman, and Mage. All characters are built off a similar base template: they all dual-wield the same weapons (swords, axes, and mace) and have a similar array of normal attacks. Mash X to combo, press Y and a direction mid-combo to knock the enemy in that direction, do a chain in mid-air and press Y to dive-kick, dash and press X to shoulder charge. The animations are different and the way the moves work may change slightly, but it is the same core set of attacks.

The reasoning behind this is that the different weapons have different effects. Axes can’t be blocked while maces have a chance to stun on top of whatever elemental attributes they have. In mixing and matching your two dual-wielded weapons you can personalize the effects of your basic attack string.

What separates each character is their Y button attack. This character-specific secondary weapon usually embodies their ranged capabilities. The Shaman shoots a quick magic burst, the Mage shoots a ball of magic, the Ranger unleashes a barrage of up to 5 arrows (and can move while shooting), and the Warrior just slams enemies with a giant hammer. As you progress you unlock more moves as well which further differentiate the characters. The Shaman can do a quick burst of magic that buffs nearby, the Mage can shoot an area of effect magic burst around her, the Warrior can throw his hammer, and the Ranger can juggle enemies in mid-air with his arrows. Characters also have 3 different super moves unique to them as well.

What I’m getting at here is that the characters seem really similar at first, but differentiate themselves greatly as the game progresses.

The items and inventory work identical to Castle Crashers: You only carry what you’re actually using, but there is a town where you can switch back to your collection of old weapons.

It is also worth mentioning that the game offers plenty in the way of defensive options. Blocking, double jumps, and even dodge rolls with the right analog stick are all here.

Though it does have some day 1 DLC in the form of extra levels, the packed in 20 stages are more than enough to justify the $15 pricetag.

But lets get to what you’re really wondering: How is the netcode? The answer: incredible. The game does not focus on sync too much and will instead teleport players to where they need to be should they lag. The result is that your control is never interrupted and the worst you’ll have to deal with is occasional camera hiccups from the sudden teleported player. I just played a 3-player game with someone in Japan and had no real issues.

So what are the game’s issues? Well once you get past the awkwardly fast attack speed and accept that this isn’t a super deep combo brawler, not too much. The biggest problem is that you can only have one player per class. If there is already a Shaman in your game and that is who you main? Well then you’ll either have to use a different character or find a different game. I find this to be the game’s biggest flaw.

The game also isn’t very clear on what your different supers do and once you have two meters it seems you can only do a level 2 super. This is an issue for the Shaman (guess who I main) as she uses buffs. Her level 1 heals the entire group while her level 2 is a big buff to the entire group. So sometimes you kinda want to heal everyone but you can’t because you can only buff them because you have too much meter.

Or at least I personally haven’t found a way to do a level 1 super with two bars.

Beyond that I haven’t found much to complain about. Again it’s not super deep so it can get boring if you play for too long, but I can safely say it is far from mindless.

Visually the game is interesting. It uses brightly colored cel-shaded 3D models to produce a very unique visual style.

The music is also pretty neat with some very odd style choices, such as the main menu music that can only be described as “Fantasy Dubstep”. Yes, mixing woodwinds and violins with dubstep “wubs”. It’s quite surreal.

The only thing more surreal was realizing that the entire first chapter consists of different remixes of Golden Axe’s first stage theme. Seriously, it sounds impossibly similar.

So yeah, in short a good time to be had! Not super deep and definitely more fun in multiplayer than in single, but good netcode and an awesome audio visual style make it well worth a look. It’s no Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, Dungeon Fighter Online, or Dragon’s Crown but it will at the very least tide us over until they hit and is good fun in its own right.

Ballparked Score:

3.7~4 out of 5

Oh right! Current progress? End of chapter 2. Level 18 Shaman, level 5 Ranger, level 3 Mage, and level 1 Warrior. Played some online in random public matches. No luck roping my friends into this one yet.

The AAA Game Uncanny Valley?

April 17, 2013

I think it is safe to say that Bioshock Infinite is “a thing”. With glowing reviews and copious amounts of praise, even outlets that don’t normally review games are weighing in.

However, many gamers seem…disappointed. For every major outlet raving about the game’s brilliance, there are 5 gamers complaining about one thing or another and their complaints are…fascinating.

Because, you see, it isn’t because the gameplay is awful but rather story nitpicks, universe questions, and minor presentational deficiencies. Things like poor foot models, recycled animation, or a bout of silly clipping. This should obviously be taken as a sign of a good game if these minor nitpicks are the worst complaints we can get, but it is the sheer amount of disappointment that has me raising my eyebrow.

My personal favorite example would be a set of wooden steps. When I looked at them I noticed the steps had blemishes on them and each step looked unique…until further inspection revealed two steps with identical blemishes next to one another. A closer look revealed a step near the top and a step near the bottom also having identical blemishes.

There are two ways to look at this. I personally am amazed they actually made 6 different wooden step textures that they switch between to make the stairs look unique. However more frequently I would hear people complain that they were lazy because they didn’t make a unique texture for each step.

Yet these same people would praise a faux retro indie platformer with blatantly tile-based construction. Why is that? Perhaps it is an odd case of The Uncanny Valley.

For those unfamiliar, The Uncanny Valley is used to refer to human-like things such as robots. The more a robot looks human the creepier it gets and the more its faults stand out.

In this case we have videogames coming closer and closer to movies and real worlds and thus the more the artificiality stands out. We don’t have any problem with the retro indie game because it walks right up to you and tells you to your face “Hey! I’m a videogame!”. However, AAA Games promise more than that. They promise a cinematic interactive experience in another world. We get so wrapped up in the BS “immersion” aspect of the game that anything that could break the immersion stands out to us. The things that remind us that this is a videogame.

For the most part this is just a weird quirk of AAA gaming. Most would agree that it doesn’t completely ruin the experience but it does stand out the more you play. It’s like seeing the strings during an incredible action scene in a movie, or being able to see the zipper on the back of a costume, or knowing what’s CG or animatronic or claymation. Those stark reminders that this isn’t real.

No, if AAA gaming had a major flaw it would be that said games are becoming increasingly similar. In my own opinion, Bioshock Infinite isn’t all that different from Aliens: Colonial Marines underneath the pretty facade. That probably sounds a lot worse than I mean it but it’s true: both are competent but generic first person shooters whose environments and stories are what makes the game more than the gameplay. Thus, perhaps, greater emphasis is put on the environments and stories and I’m not sure that is the best way to go.

This might sound weird, but games are not a good storytelling medium. Not in a traditional way anyway. Because if you want to tell a story there is usually a way you want it to play out, a message you want to send. As such players become limited in what they can and can’t do. Bioshock Infinite has this issue as well. You have no real freedom, you’re just watching a movie through the eyes of one of the actors while occasionally taking a break to play a shooting gallery. If you want your story to play out in a specific way, games may not be the best medium.

No, games are best for telling an experience. Setting up a world or a scenario and letting the gamer themselves live it out. It is in this strange way that cult classic budget game Earth Defence Force 2017 is a better example of games as a medium than anything else. EDF2017 isn’t about the story. We’ve heard it before: Aliens have invaded the Earth and they’re trying to kill us. What makes that game special is how it puts you in the shoes of one of the nameless cannon fodder soldiers trying to fend off the invasion. Not a legendary badass, not a mercenary with a troubled past, not even a rookie. You’re just a generic soldier guy. It is the sense of scale and the free-form way each scenario plays out that makes the game special. We’ve seen EDF 2017 as a movie a million times, but actually living the experience is a different story.

Bioshock Infinite, however, probably would have made a better movie. This goes doubly so for Tomb Raider.

If I ever had a concern about our complaints of immersion breaking hiccups, Tomb Raider would be it. The game was so concerned about preventing players from making Lara look like an idiot that the control was severely hampered. A bit of delay was put in the controls so that way Lara could move more naturally, so she could put her hand against the walls and look around, and clutch her wounded stomach. Her speed and pacing would change as she walked, the exact speed and distance of her dodges varied as no one really clambers the exact same way twice and the result was a game I found difficult and frustrating to play. It lacked the precision of other games.

Yet despite their best attempts, gameplay necessity still clashed with the “game”. From Lara’s arms going crazy as she quickly switches weapons, to the game’s awkward tonal shift between the cutscene where Lara obtains a gun and when she gets to use the gun. It was utterly absurd and never before was it made more clear that a game did not want to be a game.

So do we have no right to complain about immersion breaking hiccups and story faults? Of course we do! We are all free to have our opinions afterall. The real question is what developers do with this information. Do they try to make their games even more “immersive” at the expense of gameplay, or do they reconsider what they should do when making the games themselves. Perhaps it is important to ask oneself “Why is this a game? What does interactivity bring to the experience? Would this work better as a movie?”. Or, perhaps, this is a sign that gamers are getting bored with the first/third person shooter genre.

Just some food for thought.

PreCure All-Stars: Zenin Shuugou * Let’s Dance! – 2.5/5

April 8, 2013

Sometimes I get a bit…enthusiastic when it comes to games. In some instances, like Double Dragon II: Wander of The Dragons, this gives me the will to power through the rough parts and really appreciate the game’s good points. In others, it sets me up for massive disappointment.

Precure All-Stars is the latter.

At first glance it appears to be a new rendition Should-Be Cult Classic: We Cheer but with a Pretty Cure skin. In fact, that is exactly what it is! The devil, however, is in the details…or lack thereof.

We Cheer 2 utterly blew me away with its boatloads of content. Tons of stages with day and night variations, complete character customization for the whole squad with hundreds of unlockable clothing parts, 3 difficulty levels, dual Wiimote support for 2 handed play, 4-player multiplayer, an Exercise Mode, over 100 achievements, the works! We Cheer 2 was unquestionably my most played game on Nintendo Wii.

To say PreCure All-Stars does not have this would be an understatement. To call it We Cheer Lite would, in fact, be an insult to the word “Lite”.

In Pre-Cure All-Stars all you do is pick one of 12 songs, 1 or 2 players, and if you want arrows displayed on-screen.

That is it.

That is all there is.

There is no stage selection. There is no team customization. You can’t have the Fresh Pretty Cure girls dance to a Pretty Cure Splash Star song. You can’t make your own Dream Team of Cure Peach, Cure Melody, Cure Sunshine, Cure Black, and Cure Happy. There is no dual Wiimote mode, no option for 4-player play, not even a Hard Mode!

…or Normal Mode really.

PreCure All-Stars Zenin Shuugo * Let’s Dance! is Easy Mode Only, 1-Wiimote Only, Super Basic Just-Pick-A-Song We Cheer.

Now, I’m sure someone is going to say “Well of course it’s simple and easy! It’s aimed at little girls!” which raises one very important question: Who the heck was We Cheer aimed at then?! In case you hadn’t picked up on it yet, it’s kind of a Cheerleading Game! More than that, it’s truly underestimating said little girls to think they needed We Cheer to be watered down even more. Most reports from friends (and YouTube comments) indicate that little girls will utterly destroy most seasoned gamers, even hardcore music game fans, at We Cheer.

To it’s credit, you do unlock a handful of cross-over stages including two that feature every Pretty Cure ever dancing in unison, which is actually impressive. However these stages just recycle the existing 12 songs and even with their blatant padding it only adds up to 20 stages. Significantly less than We Cheer 1 and 2’s 30 songs or even the lackluster Happy Dance Collection’s 25 song!

Sillier still is one stage has you dancing to a Suite Pretty Cure theme with a team that does not contain a single Suite Pretty Cure character.

There is not much else to say about the game. It’s We Cheer, meaning arrows appear on-screen which coincide with the dance routine. Move the Wiimote in the right way at the right time and you get points.

On the down side, there is no letter grading system to encourage you to do better and try to S-Rank every song. Then again, these songs are so easy that your goal should be 100%-ing them though again, there is no indicator to say “Congratulations you did Perfect on this song!”

On the up side though, a quick waggle stress test delivered the same results as We Cheer. Merely letting the Wiimote sit there and do nothing will not cause you to occasionally get points and rapid waggling produces no good results. Spinning the Wiimote in a gentle big circle will nab you a few points here and there, even some combos, but will not be as effective as trying to dance.

Yes, sadly, this counts as “impressive” when it comes to Wii games.

Visually the game is a mixed bag but mostly disappointing. The cel-shaded characters in some cases look nearly identical to their End Theme counterparts despite a drastically lower polycount. In other cases, however, little inaccuracies like their eyes being too close together or hair not curving enough ruins the effect. Meanwhile the backgrounds are just a random smattering of pinkness. Dancing on a pink cake, a random pink stage with pink jewels against a pink background, or some generic fountain area that is shockingly not that pink. Not a single background impresses and none of them have any sort of visual effects when you start doing well. The only effect you get for having a good chain is an overlay of sparkles on screen.

…and that’s about all you can say other than pointing out that there is only one Fresh Pretty Cure song in the entire game despite Fresh being the dancing themed series and the Fresh Pretty Cure emblem appearing as the “Now Loading” icon.

So that’s it. The last Wii game out of Japan is a sparse, stripped down, and incredibly barebones reskin of We Cheer. On one hand, it’s not bad. The controls work, it has all the characters, and the cel-shading is often okay.

On the other hand, I 100%ed the game in 36 minutes.

2.5 out of 5

I’d give it a higher score for being a perfectly functional dancing game, but it is just that sparse on content.

QuickView: Tomb Raider (2013)

April 6, 2013

You know, I was never really a big fan of Tomb Raider. I didn’t really enjoy the games and always found the character of Lara Croft to be overrated. Yes, seriously. There were dozens of awesome female leads in videogames that predate her: Baraduke, Valis, El Viento, Metroid, Ninja Princess, Legendary Wings, Trouble Shooters, Arrow Flash, Burning Force, Rolling Thunder II, Athena, and Psycho Soldier just off the top of my head.

However with all the talk about this new Tomb Raider I had to take a look. The moment I saw it I knew exactly what they were trying to do: make Lara Croft into a “true female character” (don’t get me started) and make her “more believable” (something that backfired for Other M, Ninja Gaiden III, and DmC already). Then that whole “rape” debacle happened with a QTE sequence getting misconstrued and a PR guy utterly screwing the pooch on his explanation of it. Suddenly this new Lara was even worse than the old one. Then it was revealed that Rhianna Pratchett was writing this mess and suddenly everyone shuts up and then opinions do a complete 180 with the game being celebrated for its “phenomenal writing” and “strong female character”.

So I gave it a rent. I had to know what the deal was. Besides, trailers made it seem interesting if not exactly Tomb Raider. A survival horror game where the horror is actually in the survival aspect? I’m not a fan of the genre but the concept is interesting!

So, having forced myself 2/3rds of the way through the game (I stopped half-way through the escape from the Solari base) what do I think?

Well the game was nothing like what I thought it was going to be, not being even remotely survival horror-esque for better or for worse. I’m starting to think the people who cut videogame trailers have only ever seen horror movie trailers. The writing was nothing special, the story and gameplay clashed drastically until the game devolved into screaming stupidity, and this new Lara is neither super progressive nor offensive.

I’m cool with that last part. There is such a thing as trying too hard and my early impression was afraid of that.

No, the game just got stupid.

First of all, as an origin story this game sucks. If you wanted to tell the origin of Lara Croft you’d start with her surviving the plane crash that killed her parents. That was where she decided to become an explorer archeologist thing. Here she has already decided that and is in college and on an expedition. It doesn’t really tell you why Lara is doing this.

Shortly after this, the ship crashes, Lara washes up on shore. Contrary to what you might have seen, she isn’t alone. She waves to her friends and then gets bonked on the head and dragged off without anyone knowing…somehow.

From there the game becomes Heavy Rain. You basically just follow button prompts and walk forward with little actual control. Credit has to be given as they managed to make Lara’s movements incredibly natural. Her pacing changes, she puts her hand against the wall, she looks around, she rubs her arms, she holds her side. It’s very natural and very impressive. Unfortunately, it does make the controls a little sluggish and worse, detatches you from the character. I feel less like I am Lara Croft and more like I’m some invisible guy behind her, pushing her into death traps.

The blending of cutscenes and gameplay is also impressive as it cuts away and back to gameplay so smoothly and seamlessly it…well it really is like watching a movie. Eventually though you begin to realize when you are and aren’t in control of the action. Often the game would expect me to hold forward and I wouldn’t be. So Lara would just walk forward for a while then stop as if confused that I’m not blindly holding forward.

The first chunk of the game is somewhat aggravating. It tries so hard to be realistic and succeeds so well it starts to feel like a cheap movie based on a videogame more than an actual videogame. The characters look more like poorly dressed actors playing the characters than the actual characters.

Not to mention the game takes great pleasure in showing all the pain Lara goes through. It lavishes in her specialized death cutscenes that start reminding me of Dragon’s Lair…minus the humor. Worse still is how the game seems to skip this when it involves enemies. Lara gets crushed by rocks? You will watch. Enemy gets crushed by rocks? Let’s just look the other way real quick now.

This happens so often and Lara gets so beat up it starts to get uncomfortable…then she steps in a bear trap and the game crosses the absurdity event horizon.

At that point you realize the game really is out to get Lara. Every platform will crumble, every object will fall, every rope will break. It just gets stupid! Now the game gets fun but only because it’s so dumb! Now I’m laughing at the stupid thing! “Uh oh! Dramatic camera angle! I wonder if this rope is gonna break!”.

Soon you find yourself running down exploding hallways and shouting “Looks like I’m gonna hafta juuump!”…and then you realize this is the fifth exploding hallway you’ve run down, and that your character keeps veering in random directions while you just hold up, and that you have no clue why these hallways keep exploding!

Then you have the enemies. You see, you often catch badguys talking to eachother and…they sound disturbingly normal. In fact you find out they’re just like you and are only in this crazy cult because the cult leader is a psychopath…but you kill them. You murder them in cold blood and…well no game has ever made me feel more like a murderer than Tomb Raider. I legitimately feel bad for killing these guys! Well…kind of. Once you cross the “Absurdity Event Horizon” I just start grinning like a madman and laughing.

Part of the problem may come from the intentional choice to have the enemies avoid “engendered insults” because of the backlash(?) Arkham City recieved. Meanwhile Lara gets to scream “That’s right you bastards! I’m coming for you all!”.

…you know I just realized something: why is it that every time someone deliberately tries to make a “strong female character” they come off like a psychopath? Janeway, Wonder Woman 2011, and now this. Is that just me? Is it some kind of weird gender prejudice I’m not aware of or is it the result of trying too damn hard?

This game is stupid.

For a while I was enjoying it. I considered it a weird mix of “so bad it’s good” mixed with sky high AAA production values. Like Mind Jack with a budget!

Then, I got to the Shanty Town.

This is where the game shits the bed as it’s the first big setpiece action scene with huge numbers of enemies. When fighting 5 guys in a hallway, the game works. But a big open area with 10+ guys and the combat just falls apart.

For the most part it’s Gears of War except Lara automatically takes cover. She also likes to automatically switch weapons. You see what I mean about not feeling like you’re in control? This leads to some irritating inconsistency that makes the game very irritating to play.

See, you don’t have an on-screen health meter and enemies also have machine guns…and there are a lot of them. One shot from a machinegun and you’re dead. They might also throw grenades, which will kill you instantly, or try to rush you down and stab you…killing you instantly. With such a big area and so mkany enemies it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Now you could use Survival Instincts to spot them all…but that usually doesn’t work for some reason. It only highlights enemies when it feels like it. You could shoot then enemies but how many bullets/arrows they take seems completely random. Sometimes you can off a guy in two shots, other times you have to dump a whole round into them.

Then the enemies get in close and you try to dodge, but how far you dodge and in what direction are not completely in your control. You could throw sand in their face, but sometimes Lara just…doesn’t. Sometimes she does and the enemy just doesn’t react. Then you get the ability to use the ice pick as a melee weapon and this can off a guy in two hits! …or three…or five…or never.

After about three sections of this barely controllable bullcrap I had enough. I couldn’t plan, I couldn’t strategize. Everything fell apart because nothing was consistent. After spending a good hour just trying to get through one stupid bullshit room, I quit. Every time I was doing well a stupid piece of instant death would come out of nowhere. At times it felt like I just exploded for no reason.

In closing, Tomb Raider is weird. It is well aware of the commonly mocked separation of story and gameplay and how a character can act completely differently in each, it tries to fix this, but it manages to make it worse than ever before. It tries to make it seem like Lara was pushed to the edge and like killing other humans is difficult, but it just turns it into a joke. It tries to be a big budget well written game, but it winds up being the most laughably badly written mess I have played since Mind Jack! It tries to be hyper polished yet somehow manages to be screamingly inconsistant with it’s gameplay.

It’s here that we learn that Tomb Raider does not want to be a game. At all. All the money, all the budget, all the effort went into the graphics and the attempted writing and smoothly transitioning into cutscenes and making things feel natural. The result is that when the game is actually forced to be a game, it utterly falls apart. It’s not bad perse and I could see how one could enjoy it…but it’s not entirely a game either.

If I had to ballpark a score?

~3/5

Not bad. Not really that good. Not sure if game.

EDIT: Perhaps the reason I got stuck is because they just gave me the grenade launcher and were expecting me to spam it. Problem is the grenade launcher does not show the arc of the grenade and it can only hold so much ammo. As such I did not find it to be consistent or effective. Maybe the game gets less enemy happy later on and thus returns to being playable but again, it’s barely a game. I’m barely in control. No. This game is not my cup of tea.

Also I admit I did not stop and smell the side-ruins as I was too busy rushing through to see as much of the story as I could. Shamed as I am to admit it, I played this like a bad reviewer more than like myself. But again, that’s why this isn’t a review. I had to re-rent this 3 times just to coherce myself to get as far as I did. I found the game utterly unenjoyable most of the time and I did have more fun with Mind Jack. At least it was consistent.

I’m pretty sure this game wanted me to play it in a very specific way and since I did not follow it’s script I got fucked. I’m sorry but no.

 

EXTRA EDIT:

Here, have a video of the exact spot I quit at and a good example of why and what I mean about inconsistancy.

There was about an hour of this at just this spot. I had these same difficulties in two other spots. I’m done.