Thursday, April 28, 2011

Michael Jackson: The Experience is $60 Fail

I love dancing. I love video games. So when they started making video games based on dancing, it was a pretty big day for me. I have spent many an afternoon inside the Southern Hills Mall arcade playing Dance Dance Revolution like a YouTube cliche. And when Dance Central came out, I went a little crazy. But Michael Jackson: The Experience was, for me, the day the music died.

It should be noted first that this game is a different experience on the Kinect than it is on the Wii or the PS3. So this review/public shaming is directed solely at the edition made for the Xbox360. I am targeting this console because of the application of the Kinect specifically for this game. The developers had some good ideas, but horrible execution.

This is the first game I have played that requires you to dance and sing at the same time. There are several problems with this. First, if I had the physical stamina and lung capacity to dance full out to a heavily choreographed Michael Jackson video while singing the damn thing, I'd be too busy training for the Olympics because I would obviously be a an athlete far superior to most gamers. This skill set is well beyond that of the average consumer.

While I am borderline desperate for games to play with my Kinect, the Jackson game took advantage of almost every capability the equipment has to offer without testing it in multiple environments first. I live in a typical Chicago apartment complete with ancient, squeaky hardwood floors. Between the floors and my breathy jumping, the singing rarely registered correctly on the Kinect's built in mic. And God forbid there should be a siren outside or my phone should start ringing.

So maybe this game is amazing with the Wii or the Playstation move. Perhaps playing with a large group or party would be way more fun and tolerable. But even the classic songs of Michael Jackson couldn't save this game's solo campaign.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Portal 2 .... I Owe You an Apology

I'm not going to review Portal 2. Everyone has already played it or read a hundred reviews about it. But I did need to write an admission that before I bought this game, I was a hater. I'm not proud, but I have seen the light.

I loved the original Portal. That game was and is still pretty amazing. So when I heard there was a sequel, my knee jerk reaction was to panic. Lots of other games have sequels that I look forward to. Assassin's Creed 2 blew my mind as did Bioware's sophomore addition to the Mass Effect franchise. But those games were dripping with intensely rich story and characters I was anxious to follow.

Portal, however, is not a game that is driven by story. At its core, there is a puzzle game. The simple concept of using only two different portals to get from one side of the room to the other was interesting and surprisingly difficult. The added bonus for all the players was the appearance of a soon-to-be classic villain GLaDOS. Her occasional comments and veiled insults were hilarious and helped to make this game an instant classic.

So when Portal 2 was announced, I was nerd scared. "What if they bring back GLaDOS ? They are going to way overuse her. Her quirky lines will become cheap and cliche. And how can this really be a sequel ? There isn't that much of a story to follow. How many times will I have references to the super annoying 'lying cake' meme shoved my throat ?" I didn't want to see my game go the way of Meet the Parents.

Luckily, all that worry was for nothing. The puzzles are interesting and challenging. The comments and one-liners are laugh out loud hilarious. And while I haven't finished the game yet, I am pleased that they haven't taken on the cake thing like a Bart Simpson catch phrase. This game is hella fun for almost any player no matter what their style of gaming is. I definitely recommend this as a Buy. As in, Buy it right now.

Valve, I am sorry I doubted you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

I don't understand the story, and I definitely didn't play it on the hardest difficulty setting. But after years of missing out on everyone's fun, I have finally found a side-scrolling brawler that I love.

It should be noted that I don't understand what this video game is about. One character is trapped inside her own nightmares while being locked up in a drifting space prison, I think. And her brother is looking for some kind
of freedom himself, although I'm not sure what from. This game is a sequel but I never played the first one. Maybe that makes a difference. Either way, I'm diggin' this game.

The fighting system is really easy to understand if for no other reason than its mostly just jumping and hitting. The game play is very fluid and fun to watch, even for a basic beat 'em up. There are some hidden mini games and collectible items in the single player campaign. There is also an arcade mode that is fun but short, only five quick levels with pretty easy bosses. And finally, a two person game mode adds to the fun.

I completed the single player and arcade modes in under 6 hours. This was pretty good for playing on the easiest setting. There are unlockable difficulties, Pretty Princess for those who are ultra bad at the game and Samurai for those who dominate. Looking for a challenge ? The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile keeps up with the newer trend of truly hard arcade games. The toughest setting can create hours and hours of cursing and control shaking.

Its a very stylized game. The setting is almost all tones of black and white with lots of spla
shes of blood red. The cut scenes look and read like they were pulled directly from a comic book which adds to its visual appeal. There are several quirky additions to the game like an Indie Art Vending Machine. Or the Cloud Sword that looks remarkably like the sword belonging to a certain other game character named Cloud.

The only downside is again the story. It's convoluted and at times seems like they slapped some cut scenes and overly dramatic lines in there for padding. And it all comes off very emo. There is a lot of head-hanging and woe-is-me by the main character. And a cute little companion cat that really serves no purpose other than to look cute and fly, yes fly, beside you. But for only 800 MS points, I'm not going to get everything I want.

Ultimately, this game is totally worth your money. Its not long, its only as difficult as you want it to be. And its visually captivating. It won my heart and finally brought me to love the genre. Do yourself a solid and get this game.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If I Can't Have a Burger, I Don't Care About Your Cows

The subject of uber reality has been approached a couple different times. I talked about how realistic looking games tend to blow my mind more than those that look like another planet. Lindsey wrote here about how Sims makes her everyday life so much more fun. I would love to see how long I could keep a child alive or a business running without taking the risk. But what happens when the quest for realism reminds you of how much reality sucks ?

Again, I pull this week's blog from the enormous world of Red Dead Redemption. Giant RPGs like Red Dead are not going to be solid fun all the time. There are so many different kinds of missions and goals, it makes sense that there will be at least one that a given person might not like. That being said, what is the deal with those f**king cows ?!?! Notice the italic? That means I'm frustrated.

Why am I forced to herd cattle for hours in this game ? You have to do it in the very beginning and again towards the end. Plus that bitch Bonnie McFarland claims to be one the hardest working ranch owners, but she seems to need my help every five seconds. I constantly have to move her herd or catch some horses and break them. I understand that I need to repay her for saving my life, but I am running these lame, old west errands all the time. Chores suck in real life, they suck in the game.

It was neat to see the cattle move. There was probably some really amazing design elements or use of physics or engines or blah blah blah. Its all a waste if it isn't fun. And after about the first full hour of moving cows, I'm over it. Use your super tech and geek skills to make something interesting. And once I've done a boring real world task, lets move on.

I do appreciate that its simply a part of RPGs. I am suppose to be the character of John Martson and live his life. We need to know that John is a good guy and executing these tasks makes us understand that he is generally good those people that are deserving of his kindness. But aren't there other options ? Is there something else we could do ? Or maybe make some of the excess herding and breaking part of voluntary side missions instead of vital to the main quest ?

I know I'm dishing up a lot of hate for Red Dead right now. It's just in this area. I actually really liked the game; probably one of my favorites for the year. The characters were completely engrossing and the game play was smooth. There were no crazy load times and graphics were way impressive. I just feel like the game would have been a touch better without so much of the super real, mundane activities. And if I was allowed to shoot his annoying son, Jack. Ok, I've climbed down off my soapbox now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Misheard Game Titles, Vol. 1

So we have friends in the industry.  That's right, we're practically famous.  (Note: industry = GameStop.)  And when you have highfalutin friends like this, you're privileged to some pretty awesome knowledge: like how stupid the general public can really be.  In this instance, it's the names people will come up with as misheard or misunderstood actual game titles.  And we got such a kick out of this that I created graphics, and will now review these fictional (for now) games for you.  For free.

Marvel vs. Comcast

Comcast, as a rule, has too much power.  So the Marvel cast has decided to knock them down a peg or two.  Sit for a moment and let all the awesome images come to mind: Spiderman pummeling HD cable boxes that won't come in better than 1080i.  The X-Men delivering a whooping when you had to pay extra for that DVR (ironically so you wouldn't miss any X-men cartoons.)  The Thing from The Fantastic Four totally dominating those horrible Comcast vans that not only drive horribly, but always park in the most annoying places in your neighborhood.  All this, and more, is now possible in Marvel vs. Comcast.

Luigi's Revenge

Poor Luigi...He's been living his entire life in the (quite ample) shadow of his rotund brother, Mario.  And he's had enough of it.  In Luigi's Revenge you take the reins as the greener brother, and dominate all those that have stood in his way in the last 27 years.  He'll start small - koopas, goombas, all your typical baddies.. Move up to your basic mid-level boss: Bowser.  Luigi will remove that overgrown turtle's shell for all those kidnappings over the years.  Luigi isn't some second rate princess you know, and he didn't appreciate being taken all those times when Peach was unavailable.  And why hasn't he gotten any of that cake!?  Which leads us to the end battle: Mario.  The ultimate sibling rivalry meted out by pipe wrench.  You won't want to miss this one.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gratuitous Violence: I Heart You

Click to watch Debbie's walk-through on Youtube
A significant number of video games are violent. There is nothing wrong with it and no one should really be surprised anymore. But even by today's low standards, there are some pretty shocking/awesome things out there to see.

Classic examples of video game bad behavior are found in Grand Theft Auto and Duke Nukem. You can steal a car and kill police officers. Maybe you want to shoot a stripper and take her hard earned cash. There are also first person shooters where you have to kill people with head shots, hunting knives, and grenades as part of normal game play. But we have all come to expect gore and violence in these games. It is not only expected, but its probably the reason some people bought these games in the first place.

I'm talking about games where you might not expect to see something so wild. A game may be a standard RPG or action game and adds a random element of extreme violence. This whole idea came to mind because my g
ame of the moment is Red Dead Redemption. Sure there is shooting and killing, and it is really fun. But if you get tired of your beloved horse, feel free to kill and skin it, complete with blood spatters on your screen. Or maybe you should check out the Dastardly achievement. Just kidnap a female, hogtie her, and dump her body on a set of train tracks. All that is left is to stand back and enjoy the massive blood spray as the train runs her over.

Maybe something a little more sneaky is your style. Try out the Psychotic Prankster achievement on Fallout 3 (the title s
ays it all). This is where you sneak up on an innocent bystander and plant a live grenade in their pocket. You get to relax and enjoy as they explode with post-apocalyptic glory right in front of your eyes.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood shouldn't shock anyone with its violence. The main character is an assassin, so blood and guts are normal. You can also expect a little boost in your gamerscore if you take the time to use a broom. That's right, you can beat someone to death with an ultra-stealthy broom.

In Dante's Inferno, you can look for the ultimate bleep-bloop when you kill twenty babies. Sure they are demonic babies, and its all in self-defense. But I think we all know the developers were giggling at least little when they transformed the average consumer into a baby-killer.

It makes me wonder what comes next. While playing Dragon Age II, am I going to have to randomly shoot puppies ? Perhaps Red Faction will want me to bomb enemy camps and abortion clinics. Games may have ratings for violence, but I don't think any sticker on a game can prepare people for some of the gratuitous and amazing things out there to do !