Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hoping Project Café is something good!

What did the Wii even accomplish? All it did was introduce a 7-year fad! Yes it’s the most successful console ever. That goes without saying…even though I just said it, ah—wrote it! Regardless, it wasn’t revolutionary by any means and it certainly didn’t represent the future of gaming. The casual crowd owns a Wii. But that install base isn’t going to buy many other games other than Wii Sports, which is packaged with the Wii.

If the name hadn’t changed—from The Revolution to the Wii, it would seem like an even bigger joke. What’s so revolutionary really, or innovative for that matter?

Nintendo did make Sony and Microsoft put on their thinking caps and completely botch and shit out motion controllers as well. I guess that’s a win! If you make your competition so jealous that they feel they need to copy you—that’s kind of something!

Looking at Wii—I mean actually stare at it! When was the last time you turned it on? Or even considered turning it on? I really just can’t say myself, maybe…not within the last year and a half to be sure.

Project Café needs to have a bigger focus on the 3rd party titles to pull me back to the land of Nintendo. And a game where I just eat fungus and have adverse growth effects doesn’t intrigue me to get their next system either; nor does a grown man wearing a tunic that saves a dim witted Princess.

I'm tired of this...

Think about this, it’s been since the Nintendo 64’s lifespan ended, a full decade ago, that 3rd party support was relevant on a Nintendo console. The GameCube had nothing, and the Wii is seems in it’s own world—a successful world, but the hardcore audience still wants games that don’t require you to flail your arms around like your fanning away a really gnarly fart.

I’ve felt mixed about Nintendo. I don’t hate them. Not at all. Some of my fondest memories are with Nintendo—but expecting this new console to blow us away is too much. I haven’t gotten excited about a Nintendo product in a long time—when did the Ice Age end?

There are really two main concepts Nintendo needs to focus on with Project Café. One, games…simple, we want games! Not just from Nintendo itself but also from other developers and producers: EA, Activision, Bethesda, Valve, Bioware to name a few. Getting a decent Call of Duty on a Nintendo console would be a great first step. Yet we still need something new; a killer app that really drives people back to Nintendo.

Microsoft had Halo with the original Xbox, and then it had Gears of War and many other exclusive titles. PlayStation 3 has even more. No longer is a mentally challenged red Bandicoot the reason to buy Sony’s console (people actually bought a PlayStation for Crash Bandicoot?), but instead Metal Gear, Uncharted, Infamous and a host of great quality games are what makes Sony a heavyweight in the console ring.

Nintendo needs the heavy hitters like Activision and EA; but it also needs new franchises to take shape. Microsoft has thrived without Halo. And Sony it’s own exclusives. Nintendo still shovels out the same compost that we’ve smelled for the past ten years.

The second thing Nintendo needs to focus on is community—something it left behind when it decided to focus on Soccer Moms being its core console audience. Having an online service that has more excitement than a crypt also helps. 

...and I don't want this!

Sometimes I don’t even play online with friends, I just look at what everybody is playing. I’m linked to a gaming world. It’s more than just having a friend to invite to a match in Mortal Kombat.

Turning on the Wii is a lonely experience. It feels lifeless and dull. The moment it powers on I don’t want to play it. I like the little blip that comes up on Xbox Live that shows my friends. With Nintendo it’s only me.

Things need to change, but will Project Café really step to up to the plate? I hope so. I don’t like making fun of Nintendo. Playing with the Wii is like playing with a dog that has three legs: you play because you feel sorry for it. All the while wishing you had a healthy dog to play with—that’s what Sony and Microsoft are to Nintendo: Healthy pups. Nintendo is the lame pet you wish was whole. So you could play with it, like you used to.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Modern Warfare 3 Improvements

Details about Modern Warfare 3—I like to call it MW3, don’t steal that! – Have been leaking to the Interwebs for the past few weeks. So I thought it’s time to write some things I’d like to see in the next installment in the Call of Duty—I like to call it COD, for short, don’t steal that either -- franchise

For multiplayer, have any and all guns from previous COD’s be useable throughout the ranking process. Singelplayer obviously should stay canon to the modern era weapons, but multiplayer should be able to deviate and feature guns from World War I & II and everything in between.

Likelihood: Not a chance

Killstreaks shouldn’t stack upon each other. COD Black Ops was the first to feature non-stacking killstreaks. In Modern Warfare 2 it’s just too common to see someone earning a chopper off an Airstrike or lesser Killstreak; “The rich get richer”, they really did in MW2. Not having Killstreaks pile on top of each other isn’t the end-all-be-all to balancing Killstreaks, but it’s definitely a start.

Likelihood: Highly

You only earn Killstreaks from shooting someone (knifing is fine as well). Nothing else! No grenade, Grenade launcher (noob tubes), Claymore or other ancillary kills count towards your Killstreak. You physically have to shoot someone or knife to have it count towards a streak. Simple.

Likelihood: Plausible

Infinite re-spawns for enemies. Are you kidding me? Why—during a fast-paced singelplayer—why have enemies continuously standing in your way? Modern Warfare 2 did take out infinitely spawning bad guys. It still returned for Black Ops, but a different studio designed Black Ops, and they have different ways of doing things. With Infinity Ward being back at the helm hopefully things will become less about blindingly running forward--hoping you don’t get shot and more about you and your squad cutting down foes together. Oh and the A.I. in Black Ops was shit too.

Likelihood: Very

I’m laughing as I’m thinking about this…I’m just thinking of all the new features that Treyarch put in Black Ops my favorite mode was the Theater Mode. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing? I don’t really need to say much about this. I just love having a really good match, or my friend had a good game—The game automatically saves it and allows me to view it. Even cut clips up and show them to others. It’s all about the community when it comes to Call of Duty so keeping the Theater Mode feature from Black Ops is a must.

Likelihood: Plausible

I was opposed to co-op in previous COD’s, as I really just wanted to have the story unhindered by someone else. Whether or not my co-op buddy was helping or hurting me didn’t matter, I just wanted to play through the story and experience it in the most cinematic way. And having co-op can hinder that cinematic appeal.

I don’t care anymore. Give me co-op. 4 player co-op if possible. I’ve become numb to most of the storylines featured in each COD, now I just want to have fun. And I think co-op would add to that. It was definitely boring as hell in Call of Duty World at War, but that game was pretty boring overall, so co-op wasn’t going to save it. Games like Halo have always found ways to keep co-op throughout, and it never hurt the story experience. Yet Infinity Ward has stuck by their claim that cooperative story mode isn’t what they’re into. Fair enough.

Likelihood: Don’t count on it.

There’s some more, how should I put it—more nerdy things? --I’d like to see in Modern Warfare 3. Most of which are favorite weapons and such—Vector FTW! For now this is what I’d like to see in MW3. I may expand on this list as the months go on; I’m planning to play through both COD4: Modern Warfare & Modern Warfare 2 again and dissect the good and bad of both games: Singelplayer and Multiplayer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Game of Thrones: “Golden Crown”

Ned’s bedridden. Jaime has fled for Casterly Rock. Robert is still kind of a jerk. Sansa is a naive bitch. Arya hates King’s Landing. Tyrion escapes an early grave. And Daenerys shows that she is the true ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

While last episode focused on a few characters, and lengthy dialogue scenes, “Golden Crown” gives us a quick look at how everyone (besides Jon Snow) is doing in their lives.

Viserys get’s his wish in this episode. And gets the golden crown he was so longing for. But threatening Daenerys--who is beloved by the people in the very city your standing in--isn’t the best way to handle things. Daenerys actually feels pity—in the novel at least—when Khal Drogo gives Viserys this golden crown: melting down gold in a pot and pouring it over Viserys head.

In the show Daenerys seems to relish the moment more so than in the book. This was one of the first examples of George R.R. Martin killing off a character early. Not the last, and certainly the most obvious of all people that were going to eat it would be Viserys—guy was a dick!

We see Tyrion wiggle his way from Catelyn’s sister Lysa. Tyrion realizing he can’t win this battle with words instead demands a trial by combat—a right to demand trial by combat is upheld no matter what, for some reason. I didn’t have too much of an issue when this moment popped up in the book, but now I have questions.

"Only the strong survive...wait, lets play this by ear!"

Why uphold the right to demand a trial by combat if you’ve already broken the King’s law already? Tryion was captured and taken to the Eyrie, against his will; King Robert would have definitely opposed this act, Tyrion being the Queen’s sister. Yet despite the fact that you’ve already broken the law you then try and uphold the rights of a person you just captured. How can a captive have rights if the very reason he was captured is against the King’s word in the first place?

Tyrion shouldn’t have been able to demand anything! Regardless the scene plays out with Tyrion getting Bronn the sellsword to fight in his place. Bronn may sell his soul to the highest bidder but he’s not stupid. Taking on no heavy dressing or shield, he easily dances around his foe that is armored from head-to-toe. Using your wits is the best way to stay alive in George R.R. Martin’s world, and Bronn just exploits the lack of speed in his combatant—slicing at his opponent after they’re exhausted.

I love the line that Bronn delivers at the end of the fight. Lysa says that he fights without honor. Bronn simple states, “No…but he did” gesturing to man he killed then let fall through the hole in the floor. In George R.R. Martins books if you have honor, chances are you’re the first to die…sad but true!

Ned finally realizes what Jon Arryn died for. Which has been obvious to the audience from day one. The next episode will have some great revelations, and a war will soon erupt from the aftermath. 

Every Stark needs to have a greasy Steve Nash hairstyle--King's Law

I actually liked the layout of this episode. Each main character had a little screen time explaining certain things that will be become major plot devises later. Like the quick scene with Bran that leads to Robb Stark sparring the life of a wildling. The wildling captured, named Osha plays a bigger role in later novels.

Honestly though, I was kind of bored. Throughout most of the episode I was just lazily watching. I actually had to get a refresher on what the episode was about. Most of the iconic moments come flying back to you after you think of them--Daenerys saying the final line “Fire can’t kill a Dragon”, while looking at the corpse of her dead brother comes to mind.

While I certainly liked the first novel “Game of Thrones” better than the next one “A Clash of Kings”, the latter may make a better show than the former. The pacing of Game of Thrones is wearing on me, “A Clash of Kings” has much more action…and the third novel “A Storm of Swords” is my favorite and should make an amazing viewing experience. Until that time comes we still have about 3 episodes left in this season but the future certainly looks brighter.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Games: #1—Zelda: Ocarina of Time

A perfect game. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was perfection in a cartridge. Surpassing hype and transcending to something more is a rare occurrence in the gaming world. Few games can live up to the expectations; even fewer surpass them.

What’s funny is I only had a passing interest in Zelda when I was younger. I had only played a little of the original on the Nintendo. And I’d spent less time with A Link to the Past. Granted I didn’t own a SNES and I didn’t get a Nintendo until way past it’s lifespan—as a kid having the newest most badass thing was what being in elementary school was all about—so I never went back to play the original Zelda.

Since I didn’t play A Link to the Past years later (after I played Ocarina of Time in fact), my outlook on the Zelda series is centered on Ocarina of Time. It was my first in the franchise; so when someone says “Zelda”, Ocarina of Time is what I think of first.

When the Nintendo 64 was first released I had read articles and magazines about how it would revolutionize gaming. And how the next Zelda was going to be a sight to behold, a once in a generation moment. Now we’re talking 1996 here so even the Internet wasn’t up to speed when it came to delivering up to date info.

It would take weeks, or months even, to here what Miyamoto was cooking up with the next installment in his beloved Adventure series.

Yeah, Epona did control like a Tank. At the time it was awesome though.

I bid my time with other games on the Nintendo 64, but in the back of my head all I could think about is what the next Zelda had in store. Why, really? I wasn’t a fan of the Zelda series at that time. So why did this game peak my interest so much? Even today I can’t truly answer that question. Sometimes people buy a sequel to a game or watch the third movie in a franchise without seeing their predecessors…it’s just what people do.

Maybe Ocarina was put on a pedestal as the greatest gaming experience even before it had released. It was said to feature the best graphics, the best sound, and a classic re-telling of the Zelda story—during a time when the Zelda story was still relatively fresh.

Finally, it released in 1998…and I didn’t get the game for about a year after that. It was literal hell for a 12 year-old kid. Hearing all your friends talk about how great it was, and you had to wait. That was the way of things though. Did it lessen my longing to play this game? In a way…. Hell no! Waiting and hearing everybody talk about how utterly awesome it was made me only want it more…you know how kids are!

I actually feel bad looking back on it. When I finally got Ocarina of Time for my birthday; I ignored all the people I had invited to my party, and just stayed in my room for the rest of the day playing Zelda. What an asshole, right? Ah, screw it I still remember that day fondly, even if I was a jerk to my friends!

For 4 days solid I skipped school and only ate enough food to keep from dying. It wasn’t dramatic or anything, but I didn’t each or sleep…or use the bathroom until I absolutely had to. Ah, those were good times! 

The visuals are dated, of course, still I find them so inviting. It takes me back!

Zelda Ocarina of Time had the classic hero’s adventure down to an exact representation. Every kid at some point dreams about saving a damsel in distress, or saving the world from some monster. OOT was this classic story told in a masterful way.  

Maybe it was the scope; maybe the graphics, or sound design. No, it was the story. Or it had to be the gameplay! No, it wasn’t one of those things, it was all of them together that made this the total gaming experience.

I remember when you first step out into Hyrule field for the first time. I was thinking, “Damn! This bitch is huge”. Haha, that really was my reaction. I mean all this is my playground? This is the game? It’s massive!

Going from mountains, to lakes, wide open fields, vast barren deserts, and even the inside of a volcano. The scenery of each locale was breathtaking. I felt a certain obligation to help the people in each area you visited; sure it was actually what you had to do. But I really did feel something every time I completed a dungeon or temple and purged the area of evil. OOT made me feel like a savior, and that I was a true hero to the people.

There was so many innovative game mechanics. Nowadays you can find many third-person action games that zoom into first-person when using a gun or just aiming. OOT was the first game that did that. Whenever you needed to aim your slingshot or bow the game would cut to a first person view, I’d never seen anything like it. The blending of first and third-person elements is something that many games now feature thanks to OOT.

The lock-on system during combat was also a fantastic idea. Sure other games up to that point had done something similar—like Tomb Raider, if you want the worst example of targeting in a third-person game—OOT’s targeting system for combat is such a simple elegant concept, that made swordplay easy.

Having each item Link wielded assignable to a button on the controller was another great idea. Yeah, it’s a little clumsy by today’s standards. Yet it’s commonplace to find this feature in most third-person action games; another thing OOT can be credited for.

Gotta go back in time!
Traveling back in time isn’t a new idea, even in video games. There was a weight to it in OOT. You felt like all the evil that had befallen the world was your fault, and you had to set things right. Being trapped in time for seven years to find that your world has been turned to utter chaos has to be a jarring experience. I was taken aback by the tone shift in the second half of the game.

Ocarina really was like two separate games in that regard. You’re a child at first, in this whimsical land trying to be helpful and make a name for yourself—only to be swept up into something bigger, and before you know it the world is thrown into a tidal wave of destruction. All the things you had accomplished while you were younger were dashed. Now an adult, the real game begins!

As you progressed the game steadily became harder, but larger as well, as more of the world opened up. I loved the pacing: OOT wasn’t too easy, or too hard that it made you throw your controller across the room. It was challenging, and it made your brain work.

Each dungeon and temple you ventured into had a unique—for the time at least—theme and set of puzzles that wouldn’t be physically taxing, but still made your think on your feet.

I really think that’s why I enjoyed Zelda Ocarina of Time so much. There was something new around ever corner. With each area I gained access to and new lands I uncovered, there was also a task to be done. And more often then not it was something I’d never done in a video game ever before.

I’ve said in previous posts that I’m not really a Zelda fan. I only like two games in the series, but those two games are special in ways that words can’t even describe. 

Not if I...oh, wait. That actually happens!

Zelda Ocarina of Time was just a perfect, perfect video game. One where my expectations were sky-high, and those expectations were fulfilled mightily. Only Mass Effect 2 has come close to the hype-fulfillment that OOT accomplished. Yet still as games become more complex and have more features they become more scrutinized. Ocarina is in it’s own time frame. It’s untouchable as my favorite game ever. And no matter how pretty games become or how massive their worlds, nothing will match what Ocarina of Time meant, and still means to me.

A truly great game stands the test of time. Even now if it’s supposedly so good, Zelda Ocarina of Time should be just a fun as the day I slotted its cartridge into my Nintendo 64. And it has been for me. Each system that Nintendo has released has featured some re-make of Zelda Ocarina of Time. And each time I purchased it and enjoyed it like I was twelve again.

It’s that undying love I have for this game that makes it my favorite of all time. Strand me on a deserted island, and give me the choice of only one game to play. Of course it’s Superman 64…nah, you already know the real answer. And I could play Ocarina until my dying day and still be in love. That’s perfection to me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dead Space 2 Retrospective

I don’t know how I feel about Dead Space 2. Overall, I don’t think I enjoyed it as a total package. There are definitely moments of greatness, but those are few and far in between.

Maybe I bought into the hype-machine too much. Even my friends told me Dead Space 2 was a must play…not true, I would’ve been fine had I never had played this game this year. Or at anytime during my life.

I don’t hate it. There are some awesome set-piece moments. Notably anytime Issac gets thrown into space, or has to free-fall to reach an area—moments like that are great. And the end of Chapter 2 where you have to fight off necromorphs while hanging upside down is a neat trick. Chapters 6 & 7 also have amazing end sequences.

There aren’t a lot of these situations though. And admittedly having big set-piece moments sprinkled throughout a game is better than having them be re-used over and over again. Which is the trap that God of War 3 fell into.

I’d say my biggest disappointment with Dead Space 2 is it’s just not scary. Tense, yes. Apprehensive, yes. Cringe inducing, at times. Yet, by no means was I ever frightened at any moment during this game.

This may have been my own fault in a way. My first playthrough was on Zealot difficulty: the highest difficulty available from the start. Because ammo and health packs are so sparse, it brings the game to a crawl, pace wise. And since I was moving throughout each area so gingerly I found that I could anticipate almost all the “jump scares”--“Jump scares” are a shallow way of trying to scare someone anyways, and frankly I’m not 8, I’m a grown man, so you’ve got to do better. 

Don't miss. Issac's not so nimble.

Anxiety was my feeling most of time. I had no health, and no ammo. That and boredom because I was moving so damn slow! That’s the truth of it anyway. I just don’t like “tank controls” in a video game. I should’ve known that I wouldn’t enjoy the core gameplay of Dead Space since I didn’t enjoy Resident Evil 4 and 5 very much—RE5 and Dead Space share the same flaws. In that the difficulty comes from your character moving like they’re wearing a loaded diaper.

Towards the end I was waiting for it to be over. Can’t say I enjoyed the ride. It didn’t help matters that the final boss fight is lackluster, and just plain boring.

Now, I started another playthrough of Dead Space 2 just so I could get my money’s worth. I feel I’ve got to beat a game multiple times to really get it. Just like listening to music, it has to grow on you with time. Maybe Dead Space 2 will! But I doubt it--Just really a disappointing game all around.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Green Lantern Emerald Warriors Issue #3

“Last Will/ Lie of the Mind”

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils: Fernando Pasarin
Inking: Cam Smith

Guy Gardner is infected from the Red Lantern ring he once possessed during the Blackest Night; Sodam Yat is back! Much to no ones surprise.

Atrocitus fearing that Guy would get the Red Lantern taint out of his system sends Bleez—what a name—to make sure Gardner does no such thing. The thinking being that Guy may need to double-whammy that comes from having two powers flowing through his body, just in case the defecation hits the oscillation…you know what I mean!

I truly enjoy a comic more when it opens with a nice fight. Emerald Warriors #3 has a nice ring-sling on the Blue Lantern Planet. Pasarin has a knack for drawing Power Ring constructs in interesting ways. And each panel shows the action at a unique angle.

Sodam Yat crashed onto his home planet, Daxam—seemingly being spit out by the sun he once powered; now his people worship him as a god…while others hunt him for the power that was zapped from them upon Sodam un-melding with their nearby star.

Unknown to anybody yet—in the Unknown Sectors of space, as it were—Lanterns are being drawn to a guy named Zardor; draining the life from them gives him telepathy.

Guy Gardner suspects that some source is draining the Green Lantern Corps rings from some unknown location. He just doesn’t know where. Deciding against getting the Red Lantern infection dissolved from his body he instead risks his life—but that’s what Guy does anyway—and takes Red Lantern, Bleez with him to scope out this galactic disturbance.

Within the span of just three issues I’ve enjoyed Emerald Warriors far more than either Green Lantern Corps or Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern. And Emerald Warriors seems like it’s headed in a cool direction.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Game of Thrones: The Wolf and the Lion

Structurally the Game of Thrones series has deviated from the book; each chapter follows one characters’ perspective, and we never see certain interactions that are merely implied to have happened.

“The Wolf and the Lion” is full of such scenes of conversations that don’t necessarily happen in the novel; that said, they fit right in, and don’t feel out of place despite not actually happening in the book.

Seeing King Robert say “No!” when asked by his Queen whether or not they ever loved each other at all. It’s a melancholy conversation between two people that know they were married for political gain. Cersei’s face is so utterly emotionless it’s actually frightening at times. And Robert, well, Robert was once a great man, but it’s very apparent that he never wished to become King; he would have liked nothing better then to have married Lyanna Stark, Ned’s late sister, and never have sit the iron throne—in this case sword-spiked throne. Robert would have rather died gloriously in battle than become Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

Many aren’t able to choose their own paths in George R.R. Martin’s novels. Arranged marriages being a constant theme. You have an obligation to your house to sow the roots of the future and establish an alliance with another house to maintain prosperity—whether you want to or not isn’t up to you. Its just politics.

This episode was particularly bold. Not in its revel of man-wang, with the audience getting an eye-full of Theon Greyjoy’s package. Or even showing the oft implied, but never explicitly shown, homosexual relationship between Renly Baratheon, King Robert’s little brother, and Ser Loras—who is only a footnote of a character in the first book, but plays a bigger role in later novels.

No, where I was shocked was seeing an eight year-old child breastfeeding. Wow, sure that’s exact imagery from the novel, but I never thought they’d show such a taboo thing as a grown child sucking on a titty. It makes me go “ewww!”, and makes me laugh all at the same time. 

Regardless it shows how poo-flinging insane Lady Lysa, Catelyn’s sister, has become. Her husband Jon Arryn, the former hand of the King was murdered, and because of that she’s secluded herself in a place called the Eyrie. Tyrion doesn’t know the crap he’s gotten into with this one, yet this is where the imp will show his cunning.

King Robert truly wants the world to be rid of the former “Mad King” Aery’s Targaryen’s children. Calling a council to decide whether or not to send an assassin to murder Daenerys now that she is said to be knocked-up with Khal Drogo’s child. Having a Targaryen at the head of massive Dorthaki army, one big enough to overthrow the Seven Kingdoms is something Robert will not allow.

Ned, with is unwavering honor—well there was that one time—refuses to be take any part in the murdering of someone half-way across the world and her unborn child. Even accusing Robert of being afraid of something he only thinks may happen.

Unable to changed his former friends mind on the issue. Ned gives up his position of Hand of the King, and chooses to instead return to Winterfell.

But, curiosity runs deep in Ned Stark’s mind, and Littlefinger still has more to show him in regards to his former mentor, Jon Arryn’s death.

This is the point of no return for Ned. And the choice he makes to stay in Kings Landing, this one moment, changes everything! Jaime Lannister found out that his brother had been captured by Catelyn Stark—enraged, Jaime, fearing no repercussions from the King, lashes out at Ned; Jaime kills Ned’s guards as the two duel in front of a brothel. The icing on the cake is Ned getting a spear through his leg. Everything, and I mean everything; will change from this point on!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Games: #2—Chrono Trigger

Japanese RPG’s have taken a dump on my childhood. Only in the past few years have they fallen utterly apart. Every protagonist has to be some emo fop of a half-man; and the curdled milk of a story leads to complete boredom.

It sucks that I even have to use the term “Japanese RPG”. It’s a backhanded genre classification that gives leeway to mock once great games. Oh, how I wish the next Final Fantasy actually stayed true to it’s name and was the final one.

You’d have to trek back fifteen years to find the last innovative RPG Square actually made? Chrono Trigger.

It’s actually quite weird. I didn’t play Chrono Trigger until 2004. Some of the most iconic games ever don’t hold up—GoldenEye, I’m looking at you---but many games in the SNES library, like Chrono Trigger, are surprisingly refreshing to play despite their age.

Chrono Trigger finds a way to be of its time, and an example of what RPG’s can and have been recently…just not Japanese RPG’s. It’s ironic that a series like Mass Effect shares more in common with Chrono Trigger than its development studio brother Final Fantasy. 

Choice is what separated Chrono Trigger from the rest of the riffraff RPG’s of its age. Sure the story has a cliché ultimate evil being that needs to be destroyed to save the world; but how you go about accomplishing that is at your own leisure.

SPOILER: Few games have the balls to kill the protagonist half way through the game; and even fewer give you the choice to save him or just say “Fuck ‘em” let him stay dead let’s finish this beast now!

It’s a beautiful mix of bold ideas with traditional RPG gameplay that makes Chrono Trigger so memorable. And why fans have been cosplaying for a new sequel for the past ten years.

Based on your actions throughout the world, or lack of action, the ending to Chrono Trigger varied wildly. Some 12 endings are possible to obtain. Some were slight variations; others were completely different depending on your decisions during the story.

Even little things like displaying enemies on screen—as opposed to random battles—was something that most JRPG’s didn’t feature until years later. 

I never played it on the SNES, and still, years later Chrono Trigger still holds up!

I even loved the absurdity of each party member you obtained. Frog was my favorite…you need only look at the right side of this page to see that. There’s something to be said about that art style too—not Akira Toriyama’s, although I’ve mentioned I’m a fan of his work—I mean how Chrono Trigger has the “SNES” look about it: characters are squat and have enlarged heads; huge expressive eyes, and the pixilated look is actually very charming even today.   

Without a doubt the first--and maybe last, based on how stale they’ve become—Japanese RPG a person should play is Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy VII isn’t the best Square-Enix game; neither is Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III for Westerners). That title goes to Chrono Trigger…maybe the last truly great Japanese RPG.

Do your thing Frog!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green Lantern Issue #58

Hope for Adara”

Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inking: Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne & Mahnke

Issue #58 of Green Lantern has some interesting moments. It’s actually a well-rounded issue; which is good, since Green Lantern has wavered in between mediocre trades since the Brightest Day started.

While the beginning of this issue doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the comic—I found it to be quite entertaining. Sinestro and Atrocitus are just palling around. Atrocitus has this malicious outlook on life, clearly shown by him burning a bus of prison inmates alive for their crimes. Sinestro and Atrocitus have a pact—as do all the Lanterns at this time—as they are both looking for the Entity of Rage.

Carl Ferris certainly has taken the mantel of Star Sapphire leader—something that Hal Jordan thinks is dangerous.  Hal seems lost since the Blackest Night ended. Forgetting about his duties as a member of the Green Lantern Corps and babysitting Larfleeze.

Each subsequent issue of Brightest Day has shown an entity taking a human host. The Blue Lantern Entity of Hope, Adara, takes the host of teenage girl who was the victim of a kidnapping. 

School's out!

What’s really the kicker at the end of this issue is that the Flash shows up, saying that Black Hand is back! Finally, something actually happens in the Brightest Day storyline!

Still, all three Green Lantern trades that are experiencing the aftermath of the Blackest Night: Green Lantern, Emerald Warriors, and Green Lantern Corps haven’t formed a connection between each other; whether or not that’s Geoff Johns’ goal is difficult to deduce.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Games: #3—Mass Effect 2

Eat, sleep, play Mass Effect 2. That was my daily routine for a month upon the release of Mass Effect 2…. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I’m writing this. And I would go to sleep and dream of playing Mass Effect. I’d wake up and play just a few hours, for a taste; go back to sleep, the abruptly wake again to play some more. It didn’t matter how late at night it was, or early in the morning.

I was addicted to this game. But not like a WOW addiction where it tempered and last’s for a long time. This was a situation where for an entire month all I’d do was play this game. And I loved it. It was a weird time in my life. Few games have dominated my very existence like this one…in fact no game has, Mass Effect 2 was my life!

By comparison—there really is none, but for the sake of this retrospective I’ll say it—by comparison the original Mass Effect was a shitty science fare project. Mass Effect 2 reached a level of polish that the original could only dream of.

I actually just wanted more of the same from Mass Effect 2. “Just give me an upgraded version on Mass Effect and I’ll be just fine”, was my thought process. Balls! I truly wasn’t expecting to get such a better game. The original is for babies!

ME 2 feels like a shooter, that's a good thing if I need to remind you!

From top-to-bottom, to the end of the far reaches of the galaxy, Mass Effect 2 fixed almost every gripe and issue I had with the first game, and then some. It also went on to surprise me in ways I didn’t know a video game could.

Mass Effect 2 is a shooter. The original really wasn’t. At first I thought taking away some of the more Sci-Fi aspects like overheating weapons and replacing them with guns that use ammo was a step back. I was wrong. It’s such a more satisfying feeling shooting a enemy in the head—something you just couldn’t do accurately in the first game because you’re accuracy was based on stats, not physical aptitude—and reloading you’re weapon with a smack to the side of it feels right.

Slamming shoulder first into cover, popping up then throwing out a few shots, ejecting an ammo clip for a new one is just a visceral “shooter” experience and it just made the combat so much more enjoyable.

Your squad having more intelligence than a cinder block also helps. I love that you can launch a power (from cover) then without order or directions your squad member uses their own abilities in combination with yours to create a seamless display of teamwork. I never felt handicapped by having one character that was good for a very specific situation, which is the trap the original Mass Effect fell into. Each squad member was useful and I mixed and matched each member of my team on every mission for a different flavor.

I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of squad members, it was a perfect balance.

This game was all about assembling the best team for an impossible mission. It’s considered suicide to follow Commander Shepard this time around, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable. You’re this “dirty-dozen”, this badass squad of assassins, psychos, killers and thieves and you’re the only hope for humanity. It reminds me of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai: you’re this group of people (or in this case aliens) with different backgrounds and past’s joining together for a common goal that may lead to certain death. And the ending to this game is suspenseful and heartbreaking--probably the best ending to a game I’ve ever played. 

All the things I loved about the first game are still here. That hasn’t changed, the universe in which Mass Effect takes place is still just as interesting as ever before. But it’s more grounded in personal issues with Mass Effect 2. Talking to each person on the Normandy yields so many differences between one crewmember and the next. It’s not that this guy has gills shooting out the side of his head, or this alien has a bone in the middle of their face; each crewmember actually has a personality. And whether or not you want to help them isn’t based on how they look; it’s how you truly feel about them as individuals. It’s such a unique trait for a game to have, to actually make you care about something that isn’t even real. I don’t know how Bioware does it, good writing is a start, but it’s something more…

Us vs. the Galaxy, let's do this!

Mass Effect 2 isn’t a perfect game. I loathe the planet scanning. And taking away aspects like planet exploration via a vehicle; looting and other RPG standards are tough to get by. But those who shortchange the game for the things that are taken out miss the refinements in other areas.

The story and dialogue in Mass Effect 2 are much deeper. And the streamlining of the RPG elements leads to a faster playing game. You don’t have to pause in the middle of combat, powers and abilities just flow together. And just being able to place shots where I want to in order to dismember an enemy is fantastic.

Few games turn themselves around to make a sequel that’s so far superior to its predecessor that one thinks lesser of the original. Mass Effect 2 achieved that. Bioware set out to make a game that was better in almost every area, and they largely succeeded. Small issues aside Mass Effect 2 is a masterpiece and the standard by which all games should be measured this console generation.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Green Lantern Corps Issue #54


“Sinestro vs Rayner/ The Weaponer, Part 2” 

Writer: Tom Bedard
Pencils: Tyler Kirkham
Inking: Batt

Sinestro’s an ass. It’s folly to think he’ll help anybody but himself. Even faced with his daughter being in mortal peril, he seemingly could care less; Kyle Rayner confronting Sinestro says as much…with his fist. That’s how Green Lantern Corps #53 ended: with Rayner delivering a hook to Sinestro’s jaw. But did it wake Sinestro up? To the point where he’d actually help is daughter/ Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Sorinik Natu?

I you say “yes”, you obviously don’t know the enslaver of Qward very well. Sinestro steadfastly refuses to help Rayner. They actually have a bout of old-school fisticuffs.

Battling without his Power Ring quickly nets a yield from Rayner, and he again begs Sinestro to help. Obviously Sinestro’s answer hasn’t changed from when Rayner asked it the first time and trading blows certainly didn’t help Rayner’s cause much, I’m sure.

Soranik Natu awakes to find herself in the keep of The Weaponer. The Weaponer recalls a story of how he forged the Yellow Power Ring for Sinestro, feeling that Sinestro was a just person to help. Even admiring Sinestro somewhat.

Obviously things don’t turn out so peachy as Sinestro would enslave the people of Qward years later and command them to fuel the Yellow Lantern Corps with weapons to fight the greenies.

For his hand in creating Sinestro’s ring, The Weaponer was banished, and has lived in exile ever since. Plotting his revenge on Sinestro and trying to reclaim the dignity he once held in society being his only solace.

Revenge can only go so far. But the Weaponer’s name is just, as he’s found something to counteract the effects of a Power Ring. 

Guess you haven't heard? I'm kinda a big deal!

I was wondering how the Green Lantern Corps storyline was going to circle back to the Brightest Day story arc that is clearly written on the cover. Yet up until the last issue we’ve seen nothing that connects what’s transpiring on Earth—especially when it comes to the White Lantern and the various entities that are running loose.

What the Weaponer briefly mentions is what brings everything together, in a way that even he doesn’t know. It seems that The Weaponer stumbled upon a fragment of the White Lantern. Going as far to graft it to a shield and wield in to service his plans.

Having such power in his hands could make the Weaponer a powerful villain, if he is a villain at all! Regardless, Rayner calls upon his fellow corpsman to help him fight for his girlfriend—a heroic premise, but The Weaponer seems like a worthy match for a host of Lanterns. Luckily that’s what he’ll get.

Learning about the fate of Qward is a slightly intriguing story. But I would’ve loved to see a good fight scene between Sinestro and Rayner across a few pages. Alas we get a boring fistfight that leaves a reader very disappointed. The next issue will certainly boast more action, there’s little doubt to that, but it would have been nice to see Rayner and Sinestro tangle a little. Like the good ol’ days.

Since this is a short story arc not all individual issues will be “hold your breath,” reads. Most comic readers temper their expectations anyways so getting little bits and pieces per comic isn’t a new thing. Brightest Day seems like a marathon, not a race.

Game of Thrones: “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things”

“Fear cuts deeper than swords” is a good way to describe this episode of Game of Thrones. We see the onset of fear, and the overcoming of fear.

Ned Stark still looks for Jon Arryn’s killer and his children still struggle with their new lives in King’s Landing. 

We’re introduced to Samwell Tarly, oh so lovely called fat Sam; a high-born son of House Tarly shipped to Castle Black so as to not bring further shame to his father’s lineage. Sam is a cowardly figure, and wants nothing more then to not fight. Jon Snow--maybe feeling pity for Sam, or just being righteous, tries to help Sam. Even going as far as to threaten other recruits into not hitting Sam during sparring lessons.  

Samwell is an odd character to empathize with. Yet maybe we’re not supposed to? It’s hard to imagine such a cowardly person…but when faced with the threat of death or living up to someone’s expectations many can crumble under the pressure. Sam is the non-confrontational type thrust into a situation in which he had no choice…well he actually had a choice: Join the Black of the Night’s Watch, or be killed and have it covered up—life sure is hard in the Seven Kingdoms.

Kt Harington is growing into the character of Jon Snow. Jon is a selfless person, and like his father he finds no honor in kicking a man while he’s down. I wasn’t a fan of Harington’s performance up until this episode; he seemed emotionless. Yet his interactions with Sam are very natural and believable—it’s these scenes of humanity and youthfulness that endear Jon Snow to many fans. Jon is the most relatable character in the series I find, making him a person many feel attached to. It’s good to see Harington evolving into Jon Snow.

Fear is something Daenerys seems to lack when faced with her rampaging brother Viserys. Each episode you get a little taste of the person Daenerys will eventually grow into. She’s strong willed, yet still unsure of herself. One thing she is sure of is her brother will never regain his Kingdom, and for that matter she really doesn’t want him to. She’s a khaleesi—the wife of Khal Drogo and no longer takes orders from her older brother.

Daenerys threatens to have her brothers’ hands chopped off the next time he grabs her by the throat. Fear cuts deep, but Daenerys isn’t the one that’s fearful anymore, Viserys is.

The animosity between the Lannisters and Starks is blindingly apparent. Ned Stark still finds little answers to support his claim that Jon Arryn was murdered. And even if Jon Arryn was murdered, why? What had Jon Arryn learned that was worth taking his life over? Ned’s no closer to finding these answers…in his mind. But things are slowly getting pieced together if viewers watch closely they can begin to see some clues pop up. Ned doesn’t quite realize what he’s gotten into, as there’s more to this mystery then even he comprehends.

The scope, or lack there of, is beginning to get bothersome. We see these opening shots of large castles; great plains, huge villages and then we’re thrown into a cramped room or a small walkway. Many of the scenes start with a large establishing shot, and then we are seemingly transported to a different area that feels like a renaissance festival. Everything just feels small. Even the jousting tournament looks unappealingly small and low budget.

Having gripes with the size of the set for a television show seems petty. It’s just hard to get over. Luckily the performances make up for many of the claustrophobic settings.

I particularly love/ hate Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. She has the look of someone who walks into a room and thinks she’s better than everybody in it. She’s a deliciously evil and spiteful Queen. Ever word she says his like a thrown dagger, and it’s meant to cut deep.

The final scene of this episode has Catelyn taking law into her own hands as she captures Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion just so happens to wonder into the pub that Catelyn is taking refuge in, lucky him. Catelyn won’t have Tyrion squeeze through her grasp, as she steadfastly believes that Tyrion tried to murder her son Bran. The game is a foot! And who is being played? There’s more and more questions being raised in Game of Thrones. Luckily it’s not overwhelming, as many of the actors have found their voice.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Red Faction Armageddon Preview

Some games are just mind numbing fun; Red Faction Armageddon is just that. It’s not the tightest shooter, the controls are loose and the main character is the bald space marine cliché we’ve seen all to often this generation.

That said, it may only be a demo, but it was damn fun, damn good fun. Red Faction has always been about destructibility. Armageddon takes that to a new level with the Nano-Forge. The Nano-Forge allows you to repair and rebuild anything you’ve previously destroyed. Speaking of, the level of deformation is astounding. Almost anything you see can be ripped apart, and not in a canned animation. Everything crumbles and breaks dynamically; no building or structure will collapse the same way.

Well you can destroy most things you see by melee; the Magnet Gun is where the game gets its fun-factor from. Just shoot the Magnet Gun to one object, then another, and watch point A suck to point B. The magnet gun pulls almost any two structures towards each other, sandwiching them in a beautifully destructive display.

I spent 10 minutes just destroying a room with the Magnet Gun. Attaching stairs and walls to each other and watching them slam together didn’t get old. It may in the final game, but it was definitely fun at the time. After making a complete mess of the room I rebuild it good-as-new with the Nano-Forge, putting everything back into its proper place.

Ripping things apart with the Magnet Gun then reforming them with the Nano-Forge is joyful, sure it’s a gimmick, but many great games start with simple concepts…mind you the level of destructibility in this game isn’t simple, it needs to be seen, it’s really a sight when an entire room is destroyed then put back together like nothing happened.

I briefly mentioned how loose the shooting mechanics feel. That may just be personal preference, as I like my 3rd Person Shooters to have more weight behind the character I’m controlling like Gears of War. I didn’t even want to use the standard assault rife and other mundane weapons that we’ve seen it so many shooters. I found just using the Magnet Gun was the way to go. Attaching enemies to walls, or attaching them to each other and watching them squish together is just satisfying. 

The Nano-Forge lets you rebuild almost any structure you've destroyed

My favorite thing to do was shoot the Magnet Gun at an enemy then at the ground to bring then crashing down from the ceiling, then melee their helpless ass. Stupid bug things!

Like Red Faction Guerrilla there’s a mech section of the game where you can unleash a crazy amount of devastation on the surrounding. It may be shallow but shoulder-checking enemies in a giant mech is as fun as it sounds.

The fact of the matter is when this game comes out on June 7th will it be sixty bucks worth of fun. Who can say right now? Red Faction Guerrilla was surprisingly fun; Red Faction Armageddon seems to be headed in that same direction.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beastie Boys Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 Review

The new Beastie Boys album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, is not what I expected...gritty, kinda grungy and dirty. Like it was done in a garage. It comes as no real surprise. The Beastie Boys have always tried to keep fans guessing on what each album was going to sound like.

A lot of the tracks have a background reverb that is distracting at first; especially on the track “Non Stop Disco Powerpack”, but it’s easy to get used to after some listening.

The whole album has a nice pace to it. Most of the songs are up-tempo and I could imagine a group of robots dancing to this in some kind of space club. It’s that kind of funky.

The album has a nice blend of new and old school Beastie Boys’ styles. There’s a little rock, but most of the album is reminiscent of their recent hip-hop style. There’s also a great cameo from Nas on the track “Too Many Rappers”; collaborations aren’t something common on most Beastie Boys’ albums, but Nas’ flow blends in seamlessly with the rest of the Beastie crew to make a fantastic track.

While there are some great individual tracks the majority of the CD sounds very similar from one song to the next. Through multiple playthroughs each track does eventually have it’s own voice, but just don’t expect to be blown away by any one song on your first listen.

This has been an album a long time in the making. Overall was it worth the wait? Well, that may not be the question. The album isn’t great, but doesn’t really need to be. We don’t get much from the Beastie Boys very often, so even an average album is better then nothing. It doesn’t stack up to some of their best; even their last album To the 5 Boroughs was a better overall album. But I can imagine Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 growing on me over time.

The Beastie Boy fans will still eat Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 up. It’s got that unique Beastie Boys sound. These guys just don’t seem to age!

My favorite tracks for your ears to feast on:
"Ok" - odd sounding and the Beastie Boys are completely on point lyrically on this track
“Too Many Rappers” ft. Nas
“Funky Donkey”just a great funky tempo
“Lee Majors Come Again”Could have been a song from Scott Pilgrim
“Pop Your Balloon” – Kind of a weird Egyptian style sound

Note: I listened to the Deluxe Edition and the Japanese versions of Hot Sauce Committee Pt 2. The Deluxe Edition has two extra tracks (“Pop Your Balloon” and B-Boys in the Cut”) and the Japanese version with one additional track ("Make Some Noise" Cornelius Remix).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Game of Thrones: “Lord Snow”

I’ve been told the first episode of Game of Thrones is the weakest of the bunch. While it wasn’t terrible by my standards, it certainly was slowly paced. Episode 3 is the exact opposite. I’m reminded of the House of Pain song “Jump Around”, this episode leaps from one scene to the next without being chaotic.

“Lord Snow” is the quintessential establishing episode that all television series’ have; we learn substantially more about each main character.

I had noted previously how I was dismayed at the lack of rep. of the Stark Dire Wolves. Episode 3 was filled with so many great scenes, so it’s actually easy to forget these shortcomings…although they’re noticeable nonetheless.

Jon Snow’s journey is what entices my interest in the actual books, and this episode features Jon Snow and his indifference to the rest of the Night’s Watch recruits. He endears himself to his future brethren quite quickly so we aren’t treated to much inner turmoil between Snow and the unskilled trainees. There is a great scene with them threatening to cut his throat for embarrassing them during a sword-fighting exhibition. Tyrion Lannister steps in to cut things short (pun somewhat intended).

Tyrion is such an odd man. You never can tell what side he is on…probably just his own. His time spent at the Night’s Watch doesn’t convince him of the danger on the other side of the Wall, but he instills some surprising words of wisdom to Jon Snow. Making viewers question whether or not Tyrion is the uncaring individual we’ve been led to believe.

Although things transpire at a faced paced and plot details are thrown around like confetti—we still get some great scenes with Jon Snow, Arya Stark, and a spirited albeit very drunk rant from King Robert.

Arya Stark is like the inner child of Ned Stark made flesh and blood before her father’s very eyes; she wants no part of being a lady, not just to spite her father or sister, she actually likes swordsmanship. She gets her wish, receiving training from renowned swordsman Syrio Forel. The actor playing Forel delivers a slightly hammy performance, but it’s passable. 

The actor who plays Jon Snow has the same neutral look on his face all the time. That's nitpicking but its something to note.

Arya is very different from her sister Sansa. She’s hot tempered, and quick t hold grudges against those who wrong her. Arya has an inner-strength that becomes more evident as the series continues and this episode establishes some of the things that motivate her for a long time to come. 

The short exchange we get between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister is scintillating. The show portrays a King Slayer—Jaime Lannisters nickname—as slightly doubtful of his actions when confronted by Ned. It’s in contrast to the steel coated Jamie Lannister we see portrayed throughout most of the book. We do see more of that personality dissolve in later editions but the TV series gives Jaime more humility than was ever depicted in the first novel. At least when contemplating killing the former King Aerys Targaryen…not so much for trying to murder Bran Stark.

The main plot actually slinks behind the scenes in this episode. We do get the introduction of Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger, Catelyn Starks childhood friend and all around slimy individual. We’ll get more from Littlefinger, and the eunuch Varys and how they’ve been running the kingdom while King Robert eats and drinks himself into an early grave.

Ned Stark begins to confide his fears to his wife and daughter. He knows that they’ve come to a dangerous place were people will slit their throats for a bit of coin. Caught in this web of conflict Ned Stark just questions further is role and why his friend, the king, neglects his rule.

“Lord Snow” really shows that this series has meat on its bones. There’s depth that even I didn’t realize, and that comes from stellar writing and acting. Game of Thrones just keeps getting better.