Saturday, February 6, 2021

Review: Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise (Nintendo Switch) (Updated)

By it's own merits Fitness Boxing 2 can't hold out against the fitness giant that is Ring Fit Adventures, but it doesn't have to. It's not out there to be a major weight loss tool and the overall game doesn't present itself as a tryhard. What it does is in the very title: it's a score-based game that grades on how accurate each punch and motion is performed to the beat of music. It's simplistic in it's nature but can be a beast that will bite if pushed too hard. Out of curiosity, I played the easiest exercise on No Mercy difficulty with the song in fast mode. Needless to say it kicked me as I went down. Each jab, straight, uppercut, hook, and every other motion is scored on how accurately timed each punch is thrown, it all comes together in a fun way that will leave you wanting to play more to get a better score.

Before and after each daily exercise, the game has the player warm up by doing various stretches. Halfway through each exercise the game switches from Orthodox footing (left foot forward) to Southpaw (right foot forward) and repeats the punches and motions, so rather than just working one side of the body the game evens out the actions on both and pushes the player to stay on guard with how certain punches are thrown. There is an option for free exercising which lets the player pick which routines they want to perform, several can be added to a list for a complete workout, this doesn't include the stretching which is an integral part of a workout. Instrumental versions of songs such as It's My Life by Bon Jovi, Hot N Cold by Katy Perry, and Venus by Bananarama are played during exercises and can be sped up to twice the speed for an added challenge. 
In-game achievements are awarded for various things such as working out 10 times with a certain instructor, unlocking all the music tracks, throwing 5,000 perfect punches, and even stretching a certain number of times. These achievements grant you tickets that are used to unlock new clothes for the instructors, adding a bit more depth of customization. From a small, thin-framed girl to a hulking weightlifter, there's a choice of nine instructors to serve as a guide and can be switched from the main menu. The instructors themselves are nicely modeled in variety and aren't overbearing, they never get caustic over a missed punch and offer encouragement at all times. With the customization options of clothes, skin tones, hair, and even eye colors, they can be personalized to suit anyone's tastes. 

The game uses a Fitness Age calculator which tallies up the perfect and OK hits, and takes into account the misses to determine just how well you moved during the workout session. It mentions a few times that it's not a way to gauge how fit you are in real life. The fitness age also doesn't determine which exercises you do and the game will have you on a steady course to unlock the harder routines. The biggest sin that the game performs is that it doesn't take your height and weight into account when doing certain exercises. If you're overweight and can't move well, it will have you doing ducks and dodges on day 6 of the dailies, leaving it feeling a bit impersonal with how it handles each player.

As with every game, there are downsides and they are scattered throughout, not just in the gameplay itself. For starters, there will be a lot of times when punches don't connect with the timing. This is due in part to the Switch controller itself: it has trouble recognizing motions coming so soon one after another, it's most noticeable on the harder difficulties where the action can be almost nonstop. The game doesn't berate you for missing these but it does affect the overall score and Fitness Age.
There is a certain lag in performance when the game starts issuing combos to be thrown at the halfway and end points of each exercise. Originally the game lagged overall and timing was slowed down but after the last patch the timing was increased, so now punches need to be thrown faster. As of writing this review, a perfect balance will have to come at a later date. Another problem comes with just how repetitive it can get after just one month. There are only 20 licensed instrumental songs, 3 originals, and 5 backgrounds to choose from This can easily be fixed by adding DLC but that possibility remains to be seen.

Another problem with the Switch controllers and recognizing motions is that it doesn't understand full body movements, so things such as ducking, dodging, and foot movements aren't translated unless you move the controllers to match these motions. In an effort to counter this, Imagineer added in the options a selection screen where automatic scoring can be turned on for these full body movements and even for the punches if those are too hard for some players. It feels like a cheap way to get past but at the same time it's almost necessary after you realize that, like I said, the Switch controllers don't recognize full body movements.

The biggest overall problem is "the entire game" itself. From many other reviews you'll find that this is almost the exact same game as the first with a few added bits. What could have been DLC to make the first game a richer experience is instead packaged as a new $50 (USD) entry to the series (something I've spoken about my disdain for in the past). It's a steep asking price but if you want to wait for it to go on sale, then don't bother. If you're not serious enough about exercising that you want to wait just to save a few dollars then that money would be better spent on a gym membership. It's not so much a game as it is a tool that can be used if you're looking to get more movement in your daily life or to finally start a fitness routine. It's not a bad game, but looking at the overall package it becomes apparent that it's not really needed when there are other tools out there that do things better. Ambition alone is not enough.
Keep Playing.
UPDATE (v1.1.0):
Imagineer has addressed some of the previously mention concerns and have two graphical options: light stage animations which means no visual overload from the background, as well as simpl, which uses the background from the main menu. Bigger icon sizes as well as the combo lane are now a pinkish color instead of yellow (which blended in with several stages). "Punches Thrown" has been changed to "Number of Actions." These are welcome changes and improve the accessibility even further for those who struggled before. A new trainer, Guy, has been added for free as well as the original Japanese VOs for each trainer. The paid DLC music pack 1 sounds akin to music heard in a DDR game while the second music pack features themes based on the trainers and is a welcome variety.
While the game could still use a few more personalization aspects, these updates prove that the devs have listened to feedback. It can only get better from here.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

V-Rally 4 Review

It's unfortunate that I should have to tell people to people to avoid this game even though it can be enjoyed somehow. What's presented is a very fun and challenging rally racing game with changing physics for separate event types that keeps the players on their toes, but it's severely ham-stringed by a difficulty setting that is almost impossible to win against when set to the default. It's great for anyone who's a fan of rally racing games but not so much for anyone else. 

To those of us who do enjoy the off-road sport, V-Rally 4 is a decent game with solid racing but not much else to speak of. The metagame of managing a team and budget adds a realistic but somewhat unwelcome touch by charging thousands of dollars to maintain operations. It feels very hands off but is unavoidably necessary to upgrade vehicles in order to even stand a chance at a podium finish. Higher level mechanics, researchers, and a PR agents must be added to get better parts and access to higher paying events. Car upgrades come sparsely and are unlocked per days raced as opposed to an XP system, it also forces the player to manage the budget: will a car upgrade help now or would it be better save up for a new car for higher level races? It hardly matters because the AI is constantly overwhelming if not adjusted and even at the default difficulty setting it seems to be hard to keep up even when pushing the cars to their limits. Lowering the difficulty feels no better when things seem to be going well in a race only to somehow find yourself in 9th place at the very end. Lowering the difficulty lowers your overall prize money so the unhealthy balance of risk vs reward has no appeal.
The changing physics happen with each and every race and event type. The rally racing is the most diverse between dry asphalt, snowy roads, sand, and more. Buggy racing hardly feels any different when powering through water or sand but recovering from a large jump can be unpredictable. Gymkhana is on dry asphalt but you're expected to drift through hairpin turns, often times with a FWD car. Hill climb is the fastest on dry asphalt and can be tricky with unexpected turns and no pace notes to guide the player.

The game has a distinct lack of personality and design-wise is very boring. The in-game UI is dull and there is no flare or excitement when pulling off a perfectly executed handbrake turn around a hairpin or landing on all four tires from a jump is met with no excitement or reaction. It features a very basic photo mode that only angles and zooms the camera, nothing more. (The screenshots in this review were taken by me.)
The locales are gorgeous and light rays, grass, water reflections, and dirt clouds make everything look amazing and is the best part of the game. However there's a big lack of variety in regards to the amount of cars and tracks available and racing the same places over and over will become tiresome after just a few hours.

Sound design has taken a hit with each engine sounding different from one another but not very powerful. There is no bass to the backfires, no feeling from the tires squealing, and no reaction from the crowds. Pace notes are accurate but not very detailed for the rapidly-changing rally events, even the co-driver sounds bored and not concerned with the racing. The only music is in the menus is same song repeated each time a race is finished.

If you've beaten the WRC games as well as the DiRT series then you'll find plenty of faults with V-Rally 4 but you may also find enjoyment in the challenge. When compared to the other series it feels like a budget title which is a shame since the V-Rally series, which started as an offshoot from the NFS franchise, has a pedigree as far back as the first Colin McRae Rally on the PS1. It has changed developers and some ideas were gleaned from the others but nothing about this title pushes the limits of rally racing games or makes the player want to play more.
If an XP system that rewarded the player for drifts, speeds, jumps, etc had been added in exchange of team management, it would have given the game it's own personality. It would have added an arcade flair to a sim racing game. Instead it's hindered by copied ideas and a difficulty system that doesn't actually adjust. V-Rally could be better in the future but only time will tell.

Keep Playing

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Anthem Review

Anthem started out as a great game with plenty of things to do, places to explore, enemies to take down, weapons to discover, a story of decent length, and an endless possibility for the future. A brand new IP that could rival Destiny or The Division that immediately fell apart after the first patch wherein weapon and loot levels were adjusted. Suddenly it was difficult to find new weapons, and the ones in a player's possession were no longer as powerful as they once were.
Then another patch, and low-level weapons were too powerful, and the better loot moved to the after-campaign missions.
Then another patch and the weapons evened out and the loot was given freely to everyone.
Then another patch and suddenly part of the loot disappeared.
Then another and another and another and now no one has any idea just how powerful their weapons actually are.

Despite the overwhelming near-constant release of patches, Anthem is a good game. Plain and simple.
The currently unnamed planet that the game takes place on features amazing scenery divided into locales that unfortunately get tiresome after the 10th hour or so when every nook and cranny has been explored. Caves that lead to dungeons which house hidden missions are sparse and are merely tantamount to hidden side quests. An invisible roof barrier and walls that time the player out keep anyone from truly exploring what at first looks like an open jungle. Fort Tarsis is vibrant and feels alive but barren with a lack of NPCs that were abundant in the first trailer shown at E3 2017. It may be improved upon if there are future expansions but only time will tell. Each dungeon and Cataclysm are unique and never copy-paste jobs of pre-made layouts. Strongholds, Cataclysm events, agent quests and contracts, and legendary contracts at first seem like they would offer a wide variety of mission types but most are seek-and-destroy, item collection, or task the player with fending off an attacking group of enemies.
It's not all hindered by BioWare's indecision though. The main saving grace is the action itself: there are plenty of fights to get into in the overworld during Freeplay and each one can last several minutes, some may lead into a side quest wherein enemies must be defeated or an object must be located. Freeplay offers up the entire map for the player to explore with four others. You can group with random people and head out to cause trouble or simply hunt things down on your own. There are hundreds of lore items to find throughout the game that build on the depth of the world that detail the various factions, creatures, and history. These appear in random places but are so rare and insignificant to the overall game that only someone looking to complete things 100% might care to find. 

There are six(!) different currencies within the game (unless you count two of them separately). Gold, weapon/javelin parts, compounds/alloys, embers, crystals, and shards that must be bought with real money. Gold and shards are used to buy emotes, armor packs, textures, and decals but gold must be grinded for which can potentially take hours and sometimes days to attain. Weapon and Javelin parts are used for crafting blueprints which are obtained by finding new weapons. Compounds and alloys are used with shards to craft mods for weapons and Javelin parts. Crystals were introduced in the cataclysm update and may disappear, much like another past currency did.
There are four Javelin types to choose from: Ranger offers the most balance, Colossus brings heavy armor and shields, Storm can attack enemies with elemental powers, and Interceptor being the fastest but most frail. Each part of these can be visually customized to the players choosing, from armor sets to paint and decals. One of the main attractions to Anthem is the ability to fly; each Javelin can go a considerable distance on it's own and when cooled by flying through a waterfall, making an immediate descent, or flying low to a water source can prolong the overheating.
Customization options for the Javelins are lackluster and, as I said, gold must be grinded for days to have enough for a decal, a pack of armor, or even an emote. Weapons must also be grinded for in all areas with the best appearing at complete random (I received a Legendary pistol from Free Play) and are not guaranteed after completing a high-level mission. After the main campaign, the contracts become repetitive and, aside from strongholds and Cataclysm, are one of the few things to do to keep players interested for just a little bit longer.

Audio quality is top notch with the main star being the guns and explosions. From the lowly pistols to the heavy machine guns, each one packs a punch and feels powerful. The sounds of the Javelin are clear as day when running through the jungle or flying. The jungle creatures, waterfalls, the ambience of Anthem tech, and even the enemies have all been given special attention. NPC interactions in Fort Tarsis sound like natural conversations and the voice actors perform excellently (Sentinel Bren is adorable, fight me). There are many characters to meet and all of them offer different context choices when speaking with them, there is no right or wrong way and they all lead to a mission.

I was an Anthem apologist for a long time, I only looked at the good parts of this game and tried to tell people to only focus on those, but those good parts only go so far and after each patch has further twisted the overall gameplay, I can no longer tell people to focus on just that. It clocks in around 50 hours of play time and easily recommendable to anyone who loves the the shoot-and-loot trend.
Anthem isn't a bad game by any stretch, it's just hindered by some initial poor design choices that have since been repaired while others have been made more complicated. Until BioWare releases an expansion the audience for this title shrinks daily and that is unfortunate since there is a massive amount of potential that would keep people coming back for years.

Keep Playing

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO Review

If the WRC and DiRT series could be compared to Gran Turismo and Forza, then Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO could be compared to Driving Emotion Type-S: a one-off game from SquareEnix (back then just SquareSoft) that may have looked decent given the initial reviews, but once played the disaster that it truly is becomes apparent. It can't hold it's own against the bigger titles and is left on the shelves or in the cloud as a forgotten regrettable purchase. Developer Milestone has been around since the 90s and have worked on the WRC series in the past and is currently the developer of the MotoGP series which proves they have some knowledge when it comes to sim racing, it's just surprising to see how mediocre Rally EVO truly is. It seems to have hit a bump and crashed headfirst into some trees.

The first and immediate problem are the physics that seem to toe the line between reality and arcade: it's hard to understand just how they work and even when you think you understand them, the game seems to change with each and every car and surface. RWD cars slide violently from the back when braking while 4WD cars seem to lose the ability to steer altogether when the brakes are pressed. Thankfully options such as traction and stability controls can be adjusted from the menus even during a race. Wonky physics aside, the game has a rewind function that allows to undo some mistakes. These are limited in the number of uses for each race and have a time limit before being able to be used again so crashing so soon after using one can be frustrating.
The variety of race types is commendable but some of them are absolutely useless in the overall package of this being a rally game. Modes such as Sector racing, which has you racing to be the fastest driver in a sector on a single race track, can last less than three minutes. Elimination races are something you'd expect to find in an arcade racing game. The rally stages are the best and there's a huge variety to the courses, with changing surface types. Speaking of, the career mode feels more like an arcade mode by jumping from event to event being broken up by classes for each car type. The Loeb Experience portion of the game does the same thing but is unlocked by climbing higher on the reputation ladder. All the while there are no end-race consequences for damage so you don't have to worry about paying for repairs, you can use those credits to buy new cars and keep going. It all adds up to a game with $30 worth of quality and content that retailed for $60 at launch.
There is nothing steady about the overall game when you have to remember how to drive a RWD car on the snow in one race to a 4WD car on dry pavement in another. 

Each stage and locale are detailed to be as realistic as possible and feature some of the courses from the official WRC calendar, but there's no pizzazz behind it, all the colors feel muted and the scenery feels lifeless. In spite of that, the light rays, reflections, and shadows are excellently placed and reflect nicely off of the car and bodies of water or ice. I use the first screenshot as a Facebook banner and one of my relatives thought it was a real picture.
Each car sounds unique and the backfire from the more powerful vehicles have a nice bass to them. Pacenotes seem to go an extra mile in the wrong direction compared to other games and the co-driver sounds like a robot. Even counting down at the start of a race you can hear him say "Go?" There are audio hiccups and more than once while playing, the co-driver switched to a completely different language. Several times there are audio clips of Sebastien Loeb speaking to the player in the career mode only it's not really him. Loeb is French and has an accent, the man in the recording is purely American

Every once in a while a game comes along that has some competence: it "works well" but for some unexplained reason all of it comes together in a big mess of slush that gets pushed to the side in favor of a more well-established series of games. For those who don't know, Sebastien Loeb currently has the most victories in the WRC: 77 wins according to the website (for comparison, McRae only has 25), so a man of such importance should have had a better game than this. I didn't expect Colin Mcrae Rally series level of quality but if I'm being honest I'd like to see another developer take over this title and try something new.

Keep Playing

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unpublished blog: Collect or Evolve: A Gamer's Dilemma

This is an unpublished blog from 20XX. To be honest I forget when exactly I had started writing it but figured I would finish it eventually and, occasionally touching it up, wanted it to be my debut blog on Unfortunately I never did get around to finishing it but continued to try. I have resisted the urge to touch things up so this is the unedited and very unpolished version of something that might have been. And for the record: my current collection sits at over 600 games right now.

Displayed in my room on three bookshelves is the bulk of my gaming collection. Over 300 games ranging from PC to Neo Geo Pocket Color, from Xbox One to Sega Saturn. PS1, 3DS, and even N-Gage. Due to a lack of space my Genesis, N64, and Atari games are boxed away along with their consoles. Every so often I drag them out when I get a new game and play them for a little while, only to stick them with the rest and probably never played again.

I'm a collector.

I wouldn't consider myself a rare type of gamer since the popularity of collecting has increased in the last few years. I can't begin to think of how much money I've spent or the exact number of games present as I always seem to miss a few when attempting to catalog them, but I do know the number is over 500 according to some websites I use, which also includes digital titles. I have all these games, genres, and consoles to choose from but I never know what to play. The depth of my backlog is truly in the hundreds.
I've been collecting for at least 9 years but the fascination with it grew when Retro Hunters premiered. It was a YouTube show about two guys going to flea markets looking for old games and good deals. It seemed like a fun hobby to be a part of and I was fortunate enough to have a few friends who liked the idea of "the hunt" as well. We've never found anything truly rare aside from the occasional JRPG or uncommon NES game. The only problem we've come across is that most sellers just don't understand the value of some games. More than half the prices are so outrageous that it may not be worth it to have the game immediately. Old does not mean rare. Rare does not mean expensive.

These friends have also been ahead of me in terms of consoles. I was always one of the last to have something new until recently when I took the plunge and bought an Xbox One. I'm glad to see that the general length of games has increased and most of them allow for weeks if not months of interesting play. The constant online connection now allows for true MMO-style games and better background downloads. The depth and ability of things to do has greatly increased since the last generation and the possibilities to create and publish your own games are easier than ever before.

But for a while I've felt that I've been at a crossroads as a gamer which I could best simplify into one question: Do I continue to buy old games, building up a collection with stuff most others have ignored, or do I evolve and focus more on the now?
Many people I know would say I could do both but I would prefer to think of the situation from a financial standpoint. I could spend $60 on one new title or I could spend that on several classics. In my mind there is no need for me to have more games. Its not a collector's addiction. Most of my games, both old and new, are gathering dust, going untouched for months. Even now there are several on these shelves that I could do without. Games I don't think I'm going to play years down the road. Some I've bought on a whim, thinking they'd be great, only to turn out to be major letdowns. Others I've collected just to have, never really bothering to play them or try them out. My top favorites reside among the rest of them, alphabetically and separated by console but not in any order. My DVDs and CDs are also on these bookshelves and deep down it irritates me that they're taking up space that could be used for the ones boxed away.

The last time I purged my collection was years ago when it reached 200 games total. I sold to EB Games what I didn't want, didn't like, or never played anymore. I then used that money to buy (then) newer games on Xbox and Gamecube. I regret getting rid of a lot of them but now with access to Amazon and eBay, the memories can be simply bought and sold. Which brings up another question: if I so readily sold those games long ago, why would I want to own them again?
There are several I'll never get rid of and a few that I've kept for the longest time. Metroid II, for example, being one of them. The internal battery still works and I have one save file on the cartridge just before facing the Queen Metroid. The affection I have for this game isn't just for nostalgic reasons; Metroid II helped shape me as a gamer and I feel like I owe it to keep it around, even though I have it on my 3DS as well.
Its the few classic games that I still own that keep me coming back to them years later that I feel like I could never get rid of. Those that I did sell I still have fond memories of, but I've already experienced what they've had to offer. Others, like Jersey Devil, I remember for its difficult camera, awkward platforming, good animations, and spooky soundtrack, but it was one of the first that I traded in. I beat it after a couple weeks of play and just didn't find it compelling enough to keep around, but at the same time I wish I had it now so I could play it one more time.

Meanwhile the current console generation is having its gaps filled in by HD remasters and Definitive Editions. Platinum-selling games that were released near the opening of the new console cycle are up for upscaling. Developers seem to be repeating games rather than putting more effort towards new series entries or new IPs. It makes me wonder how this generation will affect us as gamers. Will we look on the memories and experiences with fondness like we do our old treasures or will it be seen as just another obstacle towards more realistic graphics and new ways to not press a button?
Its hard to get excited for new games when repackaging old product seems to be acceptable to some publishers. Don't get me wrong: I think the current selection and variety of original games is going strong but its hard to ignore when walking into a game store yields more used games of those who received the “HD Remastering” treatment.
I expect it will be a "throw away" generation: one that we play and get rid of, moving on to the next first person shooter or recycled sports title. It will take the minds of a few new companies to push the limits of capabilities. No Man's Sky is one that will prove the technology is at height of expansiveness for this generation. It'll be up to another company to come up with something that can top it as we move forward. Mind you I'm not saying the Big Three companies aren't trying but there are suddenly a lot of upstarts with Android-powered systems, pre-built PC gaming machines, and even the impending threat of Steam becoming the fourth superpower in the industry.

The rarest and most valuable game in my collection is Einhander for the PS1. It goes for about $70 on eBay and over $400 if still in shrinkwrap. Meanwhile I have Vectorman for the Genesis, which I've had since its release in 1995. It was one of the best games for the system and is fondly remembered by all who played it, but averages an asking price of $10 (unboxed) on eBay. So a fourth question: just how valuable are all of my games?
I suppose it depends on how the word "value" is seen: it could be defined as rarity due to a limited release or a wide publishing range but still in high demand years later. Value has little to do with a player's memories and more to do with a number on a website. I would take Vectorman over Einhander any day. I can still lose myself among the variety of levels but I know how to beat every boss because I've learned their patterns. I thought playing through Einhander would be awesome but its plagued by design issues like a small moving area, major screen clutter, and more attention to atmosphere than to gameplay. Remind me again why this goes for $400?
My all-time favorite games aren't rare but I would rather keep them around and keep enjoying them than spend $70 on a game that I'm not going to bother trying to complete.

I'll just have to pick and choose my games more carefully in the future. I don't expect to ever beat Shadowgate on the NES, or the recent PC remastering anytime soon. Maybe I'm just hoping to collect a lot of them then one day sell them all for some big bucks. Maybe one day after I've retired and I've made some money after selling them I may have time to sit and play. In the distant future I can retire from working, sit at home, and finally try to beat the original Shadowgate. Maybe I can evolve while being a retro collector.

 Keep Playing. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

SGC 2015

But here's one more thing.

Here's a video from SGC 2015. In all honesty I was hoping to end the blog after SGC but the Picasa error forced my hand.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Game Over. Thank You For Playing.

As you may or may not have noticed that I haven't written anything within the past couple of months. Its with a heavy heart and clear mind that I write this, a final entry, into my much-ignored blog. After 5 long years, countless missed release dates, over 60 unpublished blogs, almost 10,000 views, and only 4 comments, I've decided to end things. I started writing in hopes to increase my proficiency, hoping one day to get on with a major gaming site to write reviews for them. Now that dream is non-existent. The word "journalist" has been tarnished.

Gaming is no longer fun in many areas. The communities that sprung up in the early 00's are now defunct and have been shut down for several years. People have moved towards streaming and YouTubers only seem to be in it to get picked up by larger companies. The deep-rooted movement of gaming culture going into streaming has left people a bit wary of buying games. Now instead of seeing gameplay videos they wait for their favorite streamer to play the game to see if its any good. Reviews and scores can no longer be trusted, and with the recent debacle of #Gamergate a lot of people have turned to hating reviewers because its the "in" thing to do. Journalists and reviewers who had nothing to do with the underlying problem of #Gamergate are being hated for their review scores of popular games, many games are released outright broken and deserving of low scores. But let's face it: unless you have a journalism degree, you can't get your foot in with major review sites, and unless you have thousands of dedicated readers, no independent site will proudly display your writing. No one has time to read detailed reviews, they'd rather watch them.

Hype trains have derailed as $60 games only have $30 worth of on-disc content while DLC that costs $40 or more completes the experience. I'm not sorry to say: Destiny is only half of a game. Day one patches are commonplace and special editions charge more for season passes. Others have packed in much more content and didn't promise to "finish the fight" with 10 years worth of DLC on dying last gen systems. Size doesn't matter when more than half of the map area is unpopulated or has nothing to offer in terms of loot, things to see, or enemies to fight. Speaking with our wallets doesn't matter when there are 10 million other gamers who dive blindly into recycled IPs.

There is no need for written reviews anymore. No one reads. No one shares. That's the sad truth. Feedback as to how to improve my writing style would have been greatly appreciated, but almost everything I wrote went unnoticed.

People want to see and hear about a game.
"Well why don't you buy the video capture equipment and quit complaining?"
If it were that easy I would have done so long ago. There's this little thing called "LIFE" that gets in the way of that plan. Gaming is such a deep-rooted part of who I am that its become mostly what I know. I realized something a while back and to put it simply: I'm not interesting. I can't talk about politics, world news, or recent discoveries but I can talk about my opinions on games. I find that unacceptable in the grand scheme of things.

After 15 years of calling myself a gamer, what do I have to show for it?

I'm not going to stop playing games, but I have greatly slowed on my collecting. I've already sold off a small chunk of my collection, bringing it back below 600. I've wasted a ton of money on games that I don't even play. Games that I bought just to have, ones that would look good in a collection. Some I have no idea why the hell I spent so much money on.

I have no plans for other projects or to keep writing reviews when they go unread. So with that, this blog has come to an end.

Keep Playing.
- Garrett

Friday, January 9, 2015

Preview: Hover: Revolt of Gamers

While running and jumping around the vast city of Hover, you come across a locked box. After a few seconds of hacking it opens to reveal a gameball. Video games are highly illegal on this world thanks to the imposing security force. You are part of a resistance movement to bring games back to the masses and with your parkour skills the multiple levels of the city are simply your playground. You grab it and run, leaping over walls, bewildered citizens jumping out of your way, through tunnels, across rooftops, through a crowded plaza. Suddenly a security camera spots you and from seemingly nowhere a hovering SecuBox is right on top of you, threatening to take away the console or imprison you. You run and the adrenaline starts pumping. 

Hover: Revolt of Gamers is developed by three French amateur game designers with the studio name Fusty Game. This is the second game they've developed, with the first having unfortunately been canceled on Kickstarter. The style is similar to the ones found in the movies The Fifth Element and Star Wars: a variety of alien species living together in a multi-tiered society with the threat of a police force controlling everything. Alien languages on billboards, anti-video game propaganda, and the jumbled crowd of alien species walking about lend greatly to the atmosphere. The gameplay is a mix between Jet Grind Radio and Mirror's Edge: a fast-paced first- and third-person camera view allows you to feel in control as the action takes place. Delivering gameballs and completing missions will help you raise your stats to better your speed, jumping, and grinding, just to name a few.
This is a parkour game; it unleashes the fast-paced art of free running into an open neon-colored metropolis that's rife with sharp angles, large drops, bright lights, and a security force that wants you out of the equation. The futuristic world is a maze of pathways and, barring the obvious invisible walls, if you can see it then you can get there.
Following a MASSIVELY successful Kickstarter that ended with over triple the amount of the original goal, they were able to not only double the initial size of the city but they brought on board Jet Grind Radio/Jet Set Radio Future composer Hideki Nakamura. If you were a fan of his work for those games then you'll feel right at home here. Also for those of you lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift handy, the game is compatible with the headset but may give you motion sickness if you're unprepared for the insane movement. Biggest of all is a planned Wii U release, however no information on this has been posted. Those who were lucky (and rich enough) to contribute majorly to the Kickstarter will get rewards along the lines of a special DJ pet, an exclusive character skin, a physical copy, and, to someone who contributed $1,500 to the campaign, will have their likeness turned into a giant statue somewhere in the game.

In your free time between missions, you can explore the city to look for the best lines to get the best speed and ways to get around. It will most certainly put your pathfinding skills to the test. Currently the alpha version only allows players to traverse a small section of the city, both online and off. You can gather gameballs, GameGirls, avoid police, and take part in a few races against NPCs, or race other plays online if you prefer. The full version will have missions that include police evasion, stealth infiltration, and a few more variations that the creators have yet to reveal. A deeper character customization will be available in the full version as well as spraypaint tagging, more playable character skins, a deeper history of the world, and an expanded soundtrack.

A modern mid-level system will have no problem playing Hover on medium graphical settings. It will take a lot of horsepower to make it run at max with 60 fps. Fusty Game took no prisoners with the depth of the game's graphics. Even my laptop that's only a few years old manages to crank out a meager 15 fps on the lowest settings. There's a lot going on that's not on-screen that the game is having to keep track of: mindless NPC pedestrians, traffic, and the security system are all present and don't fade at a distance. Expect the fps results to pan out better as they make the game more compatible with different setups.

The game is compatible with an Xbox 360 control pad and is easy to use with it's minimal button usage. While it feels more organic than the keyboard and mouse layout it loses the ability to make sharp turns and that is something that's required for traversing this city cleanly. A rewind feature is extremely useful and helps you correct mistakes if you miss a jump or find yourself stuck in some way. Currently in the alpha there is no limit to how far back you can go. The ability to scan things can bring up a text menu with some interesting tidbits on the city and its inhabitants. This can also show you the locations of important NPCs, gameballs, race starting points, holographic signs, security cameras and E-cops. It can leave the screen cluttered and is disorienting at first. Time will tell if this is corrected.

 The Fusty Game team: Charles Vesic, Marine Baron, and Pierre Raffali

If you missed out on the Kickstarter, Hover will be coming to Steam via Greenlight and will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux OS's in a multitude of languages. No pricing or release date has been posted yet but its not too late to get in on the hype.  If the alpha proves anything, its that even dedicated fans can make the game of their dreams. There is something awesome about just hanging out in another world, running and exploring. Hover has something that a lot of the AAA titles these days are lacking: fun.

Keep Playing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review: Colin McRae Rally (Steam/Mobile, 2014)

You know your favorite band's greatest hits album? Sure, you've heard all the songs before and are probably tired of them but you know they needed to make a little more money before the next full release so a greatest hits collection is their next step, and maybe you still buy it anyway. Colin McRae Rally is that in a nutshell. I understand that its actually a port of the iOS game which is a remake of Colin McRae Rally 2.0, but you would think Codemasters would add a little extra to sweeten the deal for both new and returning fans of the original franchise. Instead it feels like less-than-half of what the latter games in the series became and a barbones recreation of the PS1 classic. Last year Codemasters teased that the next CMR game will be focused on rally racing, rather than hopping from one sport to the next as done in the DiRT Series. There's been no word on whether it will be the next DiRT entry or a return to the classic CMR staging but us fans can only hope that this isn't what they were talking about.

There are only 4 cars and 30 stages. The stages feel planned out rather than organic. The physics dulled down. The power sucked out. The driving stiff. The awesome feeling of awesomeness as you drift through a hairpin is completely absent. A lot of the magic has been lost in its conversion to mobile, and even more so with its port over to Steam. I'm sure the original was never this dull and there was more than likely an exciting feeling of powering through turns and speeding through forests but this time it suffers by removing a lot of the technical aspects that introduced a lot of people to not only sim racing games but the sport of rally racing as well. Players can no longer tune their cars before each race (which is fine because all four cars play exactly the same) and for that it grudgingly inserts itself into the casual racing category, but even then it fails because the driving is simply boring.
The physics problems are just the beginning. In one of the first races in Australia, a large jump is the main event that completely breaks the game (see below). As your car almost does a barrel roll in mid-air it immediately proves the point that the game engine itself is broken. Speaking of breaking, the cars actually break down as they drive through the stages, and not just falling apart from hitting things; by the end of the second stage there is a clanking sound that wasn't there before that lets you know something is seriously wrong. Repairs are still allowed after every other stage but players may find the 30 minute time limit a bit too short for all the damage that was mysteriously caused while driving.
Australia, Greece, and Corsica are the only three locales to drive through and there just isn't anything within them to make things interesting. There are no sights to see, no majestic backgrounds, nothing within the roads to make it fun and yet it stretches out to 10 stages a piece. Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Lancia Stratos are the four cars but, like I said, since they all play the same it only comes down to which one you prefer. 
On mobile devices you can choose between tilt controls with auto-acceleration or full on-screen controls. On the PC/Mac version, you can choose to use either the keyboard, a gamepad, or wheel support. Mapping the controls are difficult as it seems to fight against what the player has chosen as presets. There is no pressure sensitivity for accelerating and braking so even the keyboard feels fine when being played with.

(via Steam community member CueZero)

The graphical update is just about the only thing done well enough. The graphics engine gets the job done until you notice the faults such as front-facing sprites for the trees, flat crowds, and the plastic-like textures on the cars. The stages fair no better with a static image for the background and distance pop-in. Understandably this is all limited due to being built for mobile but nothing was changed for the Steam release. If you own a computer from 2006 then you should still be able to play on lowest settings with few hiccups.
The co-driver directions by Nicky Grist are just pre-recorded and chopped together but are accurate enough to not leave you heading toward a tree at high speeds. One of the biggest concerns that you'll face immediately in the area of sound is the airhorn which blares EVERY TIME you pass a crowd and is so distracting that you may want to consider turning the SFX down, which in turn reduces the engine and gravel sounds so its a lose/lose situation unless you can do without either. Sliding on gravel or the pavement produces an accurate enough sound and crowds cheer as you pass but your attention should be focused mainly on the directions rather than immersion.
Engines don't sound powerful at all and gradually decline in strength the more you drive. At least they put in enough thought to make the engines separate from one another.
There is no in-game music, only the menu, which is a simple tune that is easily forgotten. 

It will take you about 5 hours to complete and there is very little after-game. Playing a few stages here and there is all it will amount to but there are other racing games on the app stores and Steam that are worthy of attention. This game should have stayed on the mobile platforms and even then the small amount of content should be asking for no more than $5. To even call itself a remake is a disappointment since it doesn't really feel like a Colin McRae Rally game, more like a fan project. The original CMR games were about the driver's skill and knowledge of the car and physics, that's all been thrown away in favor of tilt controls and making it more mobile friendly. The thrills of driving and overcoming opponents have been cut out in favor of ease-of-access just to make a quick buck.  Its an insult to the series and the fans, and that's what hurts the most.

Keep Playing

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Remember remember the 9th of September
Dreamcast release and next-gen splendor
1999 and a new year comes soon
The PS2 means for Sega's doom
Awkward controller and internet activity
Fell short into the massive tragedy
But with homebrews still made
And games still played
The last great console is still not downtrodden
I can think of no reason the Dreamcast should ever be forgotten

I've unfortunately almost missed this year's DC anniversary but its been on m mind today more than the release of Destiny. I wasn't able to come up with something big, just this that I wrote while on break. If you've fallen into the hype of the year's biggest release (like I have), at least take a minute to hook up your DC and play one of your favorite titles.
Keep Playing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Shadowgate (2014, PC/Mac)

As I said before in my preview of Shadowgate: point-and-click games, more commonly known as the Adventure genre, are becoming few and far between these days. Some of the more recent notable games of the last few years would be The Walking Dead series or The Raven, but if you want to travel back in time you may recognize the Monkey Island series or Maniac Mansion, which was also ported over to the NES during its lifetime. Given that every title in the genre does something different, measuring this adventure to the old school Shadowgate rather than comparing it to other adventure titles only seems fair since even the devs call it a re-imagining. The changes, similarities, what it does well now and what it lacks are up for inspection. Its mostly the same Shadowgate, but this time you get a lot more reasoning behind the journey.

As Jair Cathegar, you are instructed by the wizard Lakmir to take on a perilous task by traveling far and finding your way to the living castle of Shadowgate, then navigating its many perilous halls to stop the evil Warlock Lord, Talimar the Black, from unleashing the Behemoth to destroy the world. A little ways in to the game the bulk of the plot is explained to you through a couple of cutscenes. Lakmir, who is a surviving member of the Circle of Twelve, the only other being Talimar, has grown too weak to fight him face-to-face. Which is where Jair Cathegar comes in. He's descended from a long line of kings and prophecy states that he will be the one to defeat Talimar, but standing in his way is the castle and it's many, many, MANY traps and treasures. Almost everything you pick up can be used for something down the line but there is also a hefty amount of trash. Discerning which is which is up to the player. On the hard difficulty, you're limited to how much you can carry and since the puzzles adjust with each level something that can be used at one point may instead work somewhere else on another difficulty. Its these three levels that give the game am immense replayability factor.

Fools Rush In
The first thing you should know about playing Shadowgate is that its not for those who lack patience: you will die a lot and if you're not adept at using your noggin to solve some complex puzzles then I'm afraid Shadowgate isn't for you. Additionally an attention to detail and a keen eye for things that stand out is also definitely required. If you enjoy games with a steep level of challenge then you'll love it. If you're looking for a nostalgic trip you may or may not be disappointed: while a lot has changed, conjuring up memories of past solutions might help you in some ways but not in every case. In the first screen you find a talking skull named Yorick that offers vague hints and the occasional commentary, he's a decent traveling partner and provides a few passing chuckles, you're notfied by what he says when you hear bones clatter ominously. If you don't like his chatter you can simply choose to hit him to make him speak less. There is no direct combat, just a command that will let you HIT something, including yourself. You will encounter a few beasts that will attack and sometimes finding a way to avoid combat is your best bet.
From the dragon immolating you with fire breath to falling down a pit, almost everything can kill you, the game is still fraught with the familiar death traps that made the original so tricky to navigate. Shadowgate can be smooth as silk when you remember all of the possible combinations of things and think cleverly on when and how to use items. Sometimes being stuck in an area will require backtracking by several rooms. Keeping your torches lit is also a priority. Yorick will notify you when the light is getting too low, and letting it burn out is a bad idea. Once the fire is gone, you can't start another one, and it'll be awfully hard navigating the darkness by feeling your way around.

Shadowgate now has a spacious interface with the inventory and other options no longer taking up most of the screen. Part of the action unfolds through a text box at the bottom while an animation shows. Yes, a basic reading skill is required to play. The most dialogue you'll come across will be written on notes, the voiceovers are sparsely placed throughout the game.
The way of playing takes some getting used as it seems you need to be sure which command you're clicking at the top of the screen or which item you're selecting. Sometimes trying to click on an action requires a second click (or my 2-month old mouse is already breaking). The menus and inventory seem to get in the way of the game itself so if you prefer keyboard bindings over mouse movement you can set those up in the options, or in case you want the very old-school MacVenture feeling.

Painting Life 
The land of Tyragon is a dark and dreary one where magic is abundant and there remain spells crafted from people whose names have been long-forgotten, and Castle Shadowgate is almost the epicenter of it. The room and inventory art was done by Chris Cold, who has been able to create not only a variety of dungeons but ones that flow well together from one room to the next, they're greatly designed and all fit within the theme of what you would find given the atmosphere of the world. The cutscenes were animated by Wang Ling, also a digital painter, and are somewhat reminiscent of what you would see during the cutscenes of Guild Wars 2. You won't have to worry about too much brown or gray with splashes of colors in certain areas (as seen above) that almost command attention, each space is different and the map in the bottom left of the screen is a handy tool to help you remember where things are.

The voice acting, though few, is top notch with voices neatly matching the characters but the main thing you'll hear will be the soundtrack which is impeccably orchestrated: immersive, haunting, mysterious, calm at times and adrenalized at others, fitting the moods of the rooms perfectly. But don't you wish there was a bit more nostalgia to be had? Have no fear. In the options menu you'll find an NES music mode that inserts the original tunes from the 1989 NES release as well as the transitions and text-scrolling animation. Basically you can turn it into a big nostalgia trip with updated visuals. Its a nice addition that has no bearing on the gameplay itself but is a very welcome one.

Invokan, Agaap, Entraiz...
As of writing this I haven't been able to complete the game. I had a lot of trouble with it until Dave Marsh, one of the creators, helped me out. That being said I can't tell you how long it will take to complete but with the puzzles and items changing with each difficulty level you'll sink in at least a dozen hours. While Shadowgate holds itself together like a AAA game you can't help but feel overwhelmed as your torch light slowly dies and you've exhausted all options to figure out what to do next, you will feel stupid that the answer may be something you simply overlooked. A lot of thought and effort have gone into remaking everything and making it all work together and it shows... almost a little too well. When you hit a stride it feels good but when the game comes to a halt then you need to think your way through. You might find yourself trying items and actions repeatedly on random objects in the hopes that something will happen, but it never does.

Upon entering the pitch black dungeon, a shaft of light pierces the darkness, illuminating a book upon a pedestal. Opening the pages you find only two words written in the entire book: "PRICE DROP!" Then a trap door opens below your feet and you plummet to your death.
If you've been curious about it, its best to wait for a Steam Sale. Nostalgia or not, Shadowgate is a pure challenge to play and many people will be turned off by that, which is a shame since this time around it has a lot more to work with. Amazing visuals, captivating music, and a bit more depth to the story give a more complete sense of the world than what we had on the NES. Games are meant to be fun but Shadowgate proves to be a lesson in patience and observation. The immersion in the world matters little if you're not allowed to guess. I'm not saying "don't buy this game," I'm saying you should wait for some brave adventurers to go first. But if you're craving a challenge, you may have found one worthy to test your mettle.

Keep Playing

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preview: Shadowgate (2014, PC)

Shadowgate, originally made by ICOM Simulations, started life in 1987 on the Apple Macintosh and found its way to the NES in 1989 where it gained a cult following. It was innovative for the time with its first-person view point-and-click gameplay on a home console but never garnered a widely celebrated status, though it did have sequels on the TurboGrafx 16 and N64 as well as a newer port to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. The story was you against the Warlock Lord as you sought to disrupt his plan to summon a demon that will destroy the world. As you made your way through Castle Shadowgate, filled with dungeons, traps, an occasional dragon, puzzles, and hidden areas, you wouldn’t find much of a sense of lore within the dark walls. The backstory was a generic medieval tale of ancient magic versus evil, but at the time that’s all you needed as a reason to make a game and go on an adventure. Jump to 2012 where original game creators Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs have made their own studio, Zojoi, LLC, and have “re-imagined” Shadowgate for a new generation. Following a successful Kickstarter of over $137,000, they were able to reach at least one of their stretch goals which will let players adventure through a re-made Castle Shadowgate as well as a third tower that builds on the world’s previously barren lore.

While it didn’t create much lore in itself it still held a very mysterious atmosphere that was compelling and the new game will follow along the same lines with both old and new pathways; the same formula of puzzle-solving and dungeon-traversing as the original will remain with a few puzzles remade and many new ones added as well as some content that was cut from the original game. It will have 24 in-game achievements that also tie in to your Steam achievements, an original NES music mode, voice acting (so its not just music and sound effects all the time), three difficulty levels that change the game’s puzzles, and will most prominently feature amazing moving artwork by Chris Cold and Damian Audino.
If you’re a fan of old-school point-and-click games then this new Shadowgate is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to; games of the point-and-click variety have been fading in the last few decades and most of them have moved to mobile devices at the cost of graphics and length. But even if you’re not a fan, you may enjoy the challenge that this game will offer and you might find it will be a nice change of pace from the repetitive titles of the current generations. Immersing yourself in the world of Tyragon, a place of magic and danger; conquering the puzzles of Castle Shadowgate and discovering the truth behind the Warlock Lord; and becoming the hero of a time-forgotten prophecy. That sounds a lot better than another military shooter.

You can pre-order Shadowgate from Zojoi’s website and there are three different tiers that offer an abundance of extras (and right now, each pre-order has a 25% discount, prices described are without the discount). The Wayfarer Tier, priced at a simple $19.99, gives you just a Steam key for either a Windows or Mac digital download. The Adventurer Tier, which is $24.99 includes the game and over two dozen wallpapers based on concept art, the Grim Reaper, and a collection of desktop wallpaper calendars. At $29.99, the Hero Tier includes the former as well as a 25-song orchestral soundtrack based on the NES score, a 60-page digital art book, digital map of the land of Kal Zathynn, a beta test release with an in-game tester credit, and a one-week early release of the full game.

Shadowgate will launch in late August. I have pre-ordered the Hero Tier and have already downloaded the wallpapers and soundtrack, the beta or full game isn’t available just yet but when I get my hands on it, expect a review.

 If you remember this screen, congratulations: you’re old. :-P