gaming

Game Review: Guacamelee Gold Edition

image source: punkandlizard.com

image source: punkandlizard.com

Brent Hopkins

Guacamelee is a game that has gotten plenty of acclaim across every platform it has been released on (so, all of them, since it has been released on all of them). The game is a typical “Metroidvania” style game where you explore different levels that can’t be completely finished until you get all of the different abilities. The initial release was in 2013, but the definitive version titled  Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, came out this past July for the new generation of consoles and Steam. This review covers the stopgap Gold edition of the game, which isn’t missing too much.

First, I will have to admit I have never beaten a Metroid or Castlevania game, so I understand the concept, but I don’t actually have a frame of reference for the Metroidvania style.

Guacamelee looks really nice. The characters are bright and colorful and the environments match perfectly. The feeling I got while playing was a movie or Looney Tunes depiction of a Mexican village, which completely sucks the player in. The game follows a luchador named Juan who has to stop the villain, Calaca, from merging the land of the living and the land of the dead by saving his childhood love. This is not a story that will change the way you see games, but it is sufficient.

The whole game looks like this.

The gameplay is simple, but equally solid. The combat is your basic beat-em-up-and-dodge but when the game begins spawning multiple enemies that have special shields that require you to use certain attacks to break, battles can get extremely hectic. There is also a combo system which requires you to chain attacks without getting hit or taking lengthy breaks between attacks. The higher your chain, the more money you make. The money can be used to upgrade your character in basic ways like health and power but also you can unlock costumes. Each costume has its pros and cons and can be switched out at any save point. This is a cool little addition but some costumes make combat a complete joke on Normal difficulty.

The other gameplay aspect is the platforming. This is where the game gets hard. Juan can switch between the land of the living and the dead at the press of a button and the game often requires you to do this and use abilities to clear rooms. This can be tricky — but never unfair — so I commend Drinkbox Studios for doing platforming right.

The game is a solid 15-hour game if you do everything. Rushing through the game, you can easily complete it in four or five hours, which is a bit disappointing for a $14.99 game, but that would be a disservice to yourself to play it that way.

This game lived up to the hype and I highly recommend picking it up, if this is your type of game.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

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Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

 Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going. 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a cyberpunk action RPG developed by Eidos Montreal in 2011. Stylistically, cyberpunk is a mashup of film noir (alienated loner protagonist, detective structure, grim outlook) and near-future science fiction. Neuromancer is the most famous work in the genre, and Snow Crash, Blade Runner, and to a certain extent The Matrix are other examples. The setting of most cyberpunk is the point at which corporations and technology begin overwhelming the more traditional structures of power with mixed (but mostly negative) results. In Human Revolution, the technology that is approaching a world-altering paradigm shift is cybernetic augmentation – the ability for a person with a lost arm, a scarred retina, or a faulty heart to get a fully-functional robotic replacement. It opens with Adam Jensen, the protagonist, fulfilling his role as head of security for Sarif Industries, the CEO of which is about to hold a press conference about a huge scientific breakthrough. While Jensen is moving through the labs, they are invaded by a souped-up merc team (the dark side of augmentation is that there are endless military applications, and these guys are armed to their cybernetic teeth). The scientists working on the project are all killed (including Jensen’s ex-girlfriend), and Jensen himself is physically destroyed. Sarif saves him by having him undergo extensive cybernetic surgery, replacing most of his body with mechanical parts, turning him into a kind of cyberpunk Darth Vader, more machine than man. With basically his entire body turned into a weapon, he launches on his quest for answers and revenge.

Here’s the E3 trailer for the game.

The gameplay as he moves through this quest is extremely satisfying and versatile. Your arsenal is a combination of military-grade cybernetic augmentations along with more standard pistols, assault rifles, and grenades. There are multiple paths throughout every level, multiple choices for how to deal with enemies, and really cool tech to use to accomplish those things. There seems to be a bias in the game for you to move through it peaceably, as you get more XP for knocking people out instead of shooting them in the head. Other than this slight benefit to being kind, the moral choices in this game are mostly left up to you. There is none of the ridiculous starkness of choice from the early morality-based RPG craze (in which you could choose to give a beggar all of your money or murder him for his shoes, no middle ground). This deepens the main-character-as-cipher effect that helps the player become the protagonist. With no in-game judgment attached to your actions, Jensen’s decisions are your decisions. I chose to go through more peacefully than not, knocking out innocent bystanders but slaughtering anyone I found to be involved with the attack on Sarif Industries (they killed my ex and left me for dead, after all).

The augmentations you choose have a lot to do with how you play the game, and many interact with each other. For example, if you invest heavily in cloaking, you can just sprint invisibly through a room. If you invest in hacking, you can find a computer and shut down the internal surveillance system. If you invest in hacking and the arm strength upgrades (which by itself allows you to kill people by throwing refrigerators at them), you can hack a turret to make it friendly and then just carry it through the level (this is a game-breaking combo). If you upgrade your sight to be able to see through walls and upgrade your arms to be able to punch through them, it enables you to time your strike so it takes out multiple people. The customization and slow strengthening of Jensen due to unlocking more and more augmentations is extremely pleasurable – is he an invisible ghost, is he an unstoppable, neck-snapping colossus, or is he somewhere in between? The absurd level of strength your character has by the end of the game (playing on normal difficulty) ties into the thematic concerns of the game – augmentation allows one solitary man to become a terror to both powerful governments and nation-spanning multi-billion dollar corporations.

This leads into why this game is here and not elsewhere on the site. It engages deeply with the moral quandaries and personal concerns involved with human advancement. Jensen himself is a little flat, as you are meant to fill him in with your own thoughts and preconceptions, but he moves in a world of people with frighteningly powerful opinions: his boss, Sarif, who thinks augmentation is the next step in human evolution, terrorists, who think augmentation is an abomination, and government officials, who are terrified of this new human potential that can make controlling a population all but impossible. Jensen himself, as one of the most heavily modified humans in existence, stands at the center of all these ambitions and concerns. He single-handedly justifies governmental concerns – if you play the game right, he is unkillable and undetectable. The conversations Jensen has with people, the actions he takes, and the ultimate outcome of the game (much of which is up to player decisions) all heavily involve the age-old SF trope of the benefits and drawbacks of human progress. It is an expertly developed theme planted right in the middle of a satisfying gaming experience, and if you own a console and like cyberpunk, you need to play it.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

Games Worth Going Back For: Asura’s Wrath

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Brent Hopkins

In Games Worth Going Back For we look at recent games that you may have skipped that should be picked up sooner rather than later. Today: Asura’s Wrath for the PlayStation 3.

Overview

Asura’s Wrath for the PS3 is an action game made by Capcom that is a completely unique experience. The game plays more like an extended anime episode, with credits rolling with each new chapter and the characters coming off as caricatures of some of your favorite childhood characters. The game is quite fun and is easy to play bit-by-bit to completion. You play the role of the God Asura and set out to get vengeance for the wrongs committed against you. Think Taken the game.

Story

The story of Asura’s Wrath is pretty simple. On a planet similar to Earth called Gaea, an eternal struggle is being fought between eight Buddhist-inspired Gods against the hellish race called Gohma. The Gods and their soldiers are situated in space and the Gohma (led by Vlitra, a massive Gohma that takes up a huge chunk of the planet’s surface each time it spawns) spawn from Gaea itself. After each major battle Vlitra sleeps and gets stronger and the Gods kill the lesser Gohma between each skirmish.

Deus, the leader of the eight Gods, wants to end the struggle once and for all but requires a power source called Mantra, which comes from people’s souls, to strike a massive blow against Vlitra. Small world that Gaea is, Asura’s daughter is a priestess who can manipulate Mantra and empower those she prays for.

Deus, being the upstanding guy he is, kidnaps Asura’s daughter and personally kills Asura. Asura, being known for his rage, actually doesn’t fade away into Mantra, but instead takes hundreds of years to resurrect to get his vengeance. There is friendship, family, and fights throughout and it is just fun to play through. It is a crazy story but really is very simple to follow.

Gameplay

The gameplay is pretty standard beat-em-up fare with a few combos here and there. You don’t really learn new skills or obtain new abilities throughout the game. The fights are all based on a health/damage bar you must fill by hitting your opponent. Once the bar is filled, you are taken to a quick time sequence, where you either defeat the enemy or are taken to the next stage of the fight. If you hate QTEs (quick time events), this game is not for you, as the set pieces are so insane in this game that they are used extensively to allow the player to watch the action like it was an anime.

Like Dragonball Z, Asura unlocks more powerful forms instead of items and abilities, which make him hit harder and move faster. It truly feels like you start as Goku and end up at Super Saiyan 4 by the end of the game.

Capcom also throws in a nice break where you get to play as another god named Yasha. He doesn’t have as many power changes as Asura as he starts out stronger, but he’s extremely fast and a hard hitter. I really loved playing as Yasha and I am glad he is a major part of the game. Oddly, enough, that isn’t my favorite thing about Yasha though but I’ll explain what is later.

Graphics

This game looks relatively good. I found that some of the backgrounds were quite underwhelming but the detail given to the characters really does make you feel like you’re fighting as a god against other gods. If you have played God of War’s epic battles you will get much the same feel.

Asuras-Wrath-0010

A bit sepia toned for my liking

Sound

The sound and music are really nice in this game, but one track in particular stood out for me and that would be, Yasha’s Theme. It fits so well when it is played throughout the game and honestly reminded me of two of my favorite animes from my youth: Cowboy Bebop and Trigun.

Always a perfect kickoff for blowing up beasts and fighting gods.

The rest of the soundtrack gives off the appropriate epicness of playing as a Buddhist god with lots of Eastern flourishes as opposed to the standard classical scores you get from most, “war of the ages” soundtracks.

Overall

This game would not necessarily be worth the full price on release, but now that it has dropped in price I must say I was thoroughly entertained throughout. The characters are over the top, but they are each unique enough to get you some favorites here or there. The fights are extravagant as well and everything is held together well over the eight or nine hour play time. I think most people had an interest in playing a DBZ fight scene in all its grandeur, and this was the first time in my life that feeling was sated. Capcom seemed to have had a completely self-serving time with this game and even included DLC to further the mystique of the world’s best fighters with fights available against Ryu and Akuma from Street Fighter.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

Games Worth Going Back For: Journey

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Brent Hopkins

In Games Worth Going Back For we look at recent games that you may have skipped that should be picked up sooner rather than later. Today: Journey for the PlayStation 3.

Overview:

Journey is an indie game that was released exclusively for the PlayStation 3 in 2012. It was developed by Thatgamecompany, which also made two other exclusives for Sony: Flow and Flower.

Thatgamecompany is known for making incredibly atmospheric, short, and graphically intense games with a minimal yet heavy feel. Flow and Flower were two of my favorite games on the PS3, and I was ravenous to get my hands on this game. Those games each took a specific concept and made that the entire focal point of the game. This could run foul for some gamers expecting a meaty epic, but I feel like even for a single playthrough these games will always stick with you for years afterwards.

Sadly, I was unable to play Journey when it was first released, but I picked it up and promised myself I’d play through it this year.

Story

Journey doesn’t necessarily have a strong story tied to it, which is common for Thatgamecompany titles. You are a robed figure that is traversing a ruined city in an attempt to reach the summit of a mountain. Throughout the game you delve deeper and deeper into the city through sand, then water, and finally snow. Hence you are taken on a “journey,” physically as well as through history. The most interesting point for the story is that this is relayed entirely without words. The entire game is nothing but ambient sounds, with even the player character being unable to speak in any real language other than squeaks that blend in seamlessly with the music.

Gameplay

You explore the city through common means of modern-day transportation: walking, flying, and surfing. To advance further in the game, the player must “sing” to activate banners that cause various things to happen to the landscape.

These are simple puzzles and really feel more like an avenue to force the player to take in the sights that the game has hidden for you.

The game is also multiplayer, so you can tackle the puzzles and things with another player. The game doesn’t have lobbies or anything, instead at the beginning of each episode, a player will anonymously join your game and you can choose to stay together or take divergent paths towards the goal. If you complete the stage together you will continue along with one another, but if one finishes and the other doesn’t you will find yourself alone or with a new person to play with at the beginning of the next stage.

The multiplayer aspect of this game is critical to its success. I had a chance to play the first level alone and I was bored to tears by the game. It was not fulfilling in any way, shape, or form, as it really felt like a walking simulation as opposed to a game,

Since there is no communication in the game other than the singing you have to communicate nonverbally. I managed to find another person who wanted to play the entire game through and I found that if I didn’t see him or her on screen I would wait or search for them to make sure they were following along. It was a strong bond but one that was completely unspoken, like that of a friend you haven’t seen in years. This was in stark contrast to the misery I felt when I first loaded up the game. The drop-in/drop-out method of multiplayer here is completely necessary to get the true feel of the game.

Graphics

This game is stunning. There isn’t really much else to say about it, but the snow and sand effects are absolutely breathtaking and it feels like you’re playing through a photo journal at times. Hands down the sand surfing segments alone are worth the price of admission and will have you wanting to play them a few more times after the first.

Turn this on HD and just enjoy.

Sound

The music might actually be better than the graphics, and that is saying quite a bit. The music matches each level perfectly and the sound effects of your robed character meld into the music as if it were your own instrument. The songs are never annoying and set the atmosphere really well.

Overall

Aesthetically pure, aurally fascinating, and fantastic.

This is what it feels like to melt into a game.

This game contains probably two of the best hours you could spend on a console in the past two years and honestly, Thatgamecompany has compiled three games that I would recommend anyone play. If you have any friends with PS3s, buy their collection, which includes Flow, Flower, and Journey and sit down with them and enjoy all three together. If you like games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, these games are a nice way to hold yourself over while waiting for The Last Guardian‘s release.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

Image: Thatgamecompany

The Need to Achieve: One Finger Death Punch

ofdp_box

Matt Matuszak and Brent Hopkins

In our new feature The Need to Achieve, two friends who don’t always see eye-to-eye evaluate a game they’ve both played just for the achievements. Beating 100% of a game can be both challenging and frustrating… How does One Finger Death Punch stack up?

First up on the list of games we have the dreams of attaining 100% in is One Finger Death Punch, an indie game that came out on Steam this year. The game was developed by Silver Dollar Games, which has a history of making low-budget games that tend to receive equally low-budget reviews. OFDP is the game that breaks the mold and has received rave reviews from media outlets because the concept is simple and pulled off intuitively.

Gameplay

Brent: C-
Matt: D (at best)

Brent: OFDP has you use the left and right mouse buttons to attack stick-men that converge on your character from the left or right side of the screen. One button press yields one punch, and through patterns you complete a variety of levels. This is akin to many rhythm games where memorization and rote muscle movement yield success.

The actual game itself is a bit of a mess. There are three difficulties, around six stage types, and over 100 stages to complete. You unlock special abilities (most of which are horribad) by beating stages. That means you will have to play this game a lot to get everything. This game gets old instantly and the stage variety is misleading, as half of them are filters added to obscure information and the other half are standard levels with either boss enemies or fast-moving weak enemies. This game is a grind and it loses its luster by the time you finish the tutorials.

Matt: OFDP starts off with five tutorial levels to explain that left click hits left and right click hits right. This should take 15 seconds to explain, but the developers must have thought they truly needed to teach everyone the difference between left and right. Once you get through the five tutorial levels, you get to just do the same thing 100+ more times because you’ve already done everything the game has to offer in those first five levels. You spend more time looking at where the enemy is coming from than watching the kung-fu moves your character is performing on the enemies.

Controls 

Brent: A
Matt: A

Brent: Since everything is one-to-one, the controls are as good as the user. You can’t really ask for tighter controls than this.

Matt: I’m going to agree with Brent because left is left and right is right; it doesn’t get any more complex.

Sound/Music

Brent: F
Matt: F

Brent: The commentator in this game is horrible. He uses a fake Asian sensei accent and constantly babbles during the game. Worse yet, even if you turn off the sounds they immediately turn back on when the game starts up. The music was equally grating to me and I found that I instantly turned both off. The in-game sound effects (which you can’t turn off) are OK and help you keep up with the fighting on screen. The whole game is a bit too loud though, and I think Silver Dollar Games tried a bit too hard to make the game feel and sound like a old kung-fu movie and instead just made it sound grating.

Matt: This is the worst part of the game for me; there is no actual sound volume control. You have mute or not mute in the startup, but this data doesn’t save to your local machine so it always turns on when you start the game. The in-game sound effects are OK but the basic breaking or punching sound effects just play over and over again.

Story

Brent: F-
Matt: F

Brent: If there is a story I completely missed it for the last few hours I played this game. You are a stick man and you traverse levels, beat bosses, and learn kung-fu techniques. There is no development beyond that, though I suppose the game doesn’t require it.

Matt: There is no story in this game. You are a stick man that just has to fight the same things over and over again for no apparent reason.

Graphics

Brent: B+
Matt: C-

Brent: The game is very similar in style to the stick man fighting Flash videos made popular by Xiao Xiao in the early 2000s.

We know you all remember this.

This simplicity in design makes the game run smoothly and makes you feel like you’re playing as a stick man bad-ass. There are a variety of animations used, so it isn’t just jab left and jab right. The animations are smooth, though the way the game play works you don’t truly get to take in the action.

Matt: This is a very simple 2D game. There won’t ever be knockout graphics in a 2D game. However, they did a good job with the background imaging — which you will only notice if you can look up for longer than a second before another enemy comes from the left or right. The models for your character and enemies are both differently shaded stick figures.

Achievements

Brent: F
Matt: F

Brent: This is where the money is at. I chose this game without looking at the achievement list and that was a bit of a (huge) mistake. This game has 152 achievements and around half of them are easy to get on the lowest difficulty level. The other achievements are the ridiculous, as they ask you to kill THOUSANDS of enemies in a row on an endless mode with ever-increasing speed. Doing the normal levels with 200 enemies is crap, but trying to do 7000 is tiring to say the least.

Matt: I love out-of-reach achievements, so a game that has one extremely hard-to-get achievement I can appreciate. This game has 25 extremely hard-to-obtain achievements out of 152. 17% of the game’s achievements are near unobtainable unless you play a few hundred hours, and the gameplay isn’t worth a few hundred hours.

Overall

Brent: D
Matt: F

Brent: Too many achievements, repetitive gameplay, and sound that will make you pause and step outside are too much for me to recommend this game for hardcore gamers or achievement hunters. It’s a great casual game for some time-wasting, though.

Matt: Don’t buy this game! There are better games that meet the casual indie genre that have more story in the first five minutes of game than this entire game does. I dreaded having to play this game to write about it and am upset it lowered my average game completion percentage on my Steam profile.

They Made a Video Game Out of The Office: Five Terrible Games Based on TV Shows

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Mike Hannemann

South Park: The Stick of Truth was released recently for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The long-awaited game had finally managed to overcome development hell and several delays. The final product is exactly what you would and wouldn’t expect for a game based on South Park. All the crude elements one associates with the show are there: racist, sexist, fart jokes… all of it. Here’s the part no one really expected: It’s… actually… good. The development team worked closely with the creators of the show and delivered a definitive South Park experience. The writing is genuinely funny and when you play it actually feels like you’re controlling an episode of the show. But you’ll find that on any review site. Instead, let’s consider how unlikely this was.

Video games based on franchises are usually doomed from the start. Occasionally, movies will be spared from this but then something like the Rambo game will come out (in 2014, and if I could type a year in all caps I would to drive the point home) and set the bar back to square one. This has always been the nature of video games and pop culture. Something is introduced, blows up in popularity, and a video game is released to capitalize on that. Hell, South Park did that several times before this entry. It’s easy to make a quick buck because (insert flavor of the week here) can have a quick tie-in. This was especially true of the 1990s. It didn’t take much to make an NES or even an SNES or Sega Genesis game, so we saw hundreds of terrible franchise nonsense. The Super Star Wars games, while remembered fondly by some, barely even followed the plots of the movies. Hell, even commercials were franchised. I wake up with nightmares of playing games based on Domino’s Pizza’s The Noid or Chester Cheetah.

Let’s give the 1990s a pass here. Let’s turn and look at the past 12 years. Next generation consoles. These games cost money to make. Even when creators were involved, they still missed the mark. I submit the following five entries into the catalog of video games based on TV shows that left a sour taste in the mouth of any fan.

5. Lost

The Lost video game was basically just a middle finger to the fanbase. Lost was a show that was built on mysteries, fans were rabid to find clues hidden in each scene that may or may not mean anything. The creators encouraged it, it let to fan mania. Then, during the middle of season four, a game was released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The game had the player assume the role of a new survivor, waking up among the wreckage of Oceanic flight 815. The game took place during the events of the show, taking place on various days during the shows run. Plotted by the creative forces behind the show, the game promised “revelations” on the main plot. Not only was the gameplay terrible, you couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly this was shoehorned in as a cash grab. If any of this mattered, why did characters on the show never mention it? Fans of the show don’t even talk about it. For a show where fans obsessed over what number was on a calendar in a background shot of a dream, I think that’s the most damning thing I could say.

4. Futurama

This one is hard to talk about. Admittedly, I wanted this game to work. Based on one of the better animated sitcoms, the sci-fi nature of the show lends itself perfectly to a video game. Honestly, the story was pretty great. It was funny, deftly acted by the original voice cast, and made fun of a ton of video game tropes (in-game parody was still uncommon at this point). Hell, the show was canceled that year (2003) and again fans were willing to do anything for more content. Unfortunately, no script would be tight enough to make up for poor gameplay mechanics. Transferring a 2-D cartoon into a 3-D world just doesn’t work. The character models were blocky, the platforming was sub-par, and the camera was essentially non-functional. The Futurama game is something fans admit exist, but would never consider bringing up at a party. You know, all those Futurama parties people go to.

3. 24

In a list of sad examples, this one is particularly tragic. 24 is another show that a video game just makes sense to make. It’s a turn-your-brain-off action show. Basically just take a Modern Warfare game and replace the main character with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer and there you go. As is the common trend here, the creators and actors were all involved. Released in 2006 and taking place between seasons two and three, this game for the Playstation 2 and Xbox pledged to tell a canonical story explaining the time that took place between the two. For once, this actually MADE SENSE for a game based on a serialized TV show. 24 jumps ahead years at a time between seasons. Logically, something could have happened in that time. The problem isn’t the story. The problem isn’t the acting. Hell, the problem isn’t even the gameplay. The problem is that the game wanders around, not knowing what it wants to be. There are heavy action levels, sniping levels, car-only levels, and puzzle missions. You play as Jack Bauer’s daughter, Kim, in one where you just crawl around in air vents. The game never commits to what kind of game it wants to be, and by making it a “controllable season of the show” it suffers. I remember playing this and thinking it was sad how close to a genuinely good game this was.

2. The Office

Didn’t know there was a game based on the US version of The Office? I apologize for being the one to break the news. Seriously. Next time we see each other, you can punch me in the face, I won’t block. Following the smash success of the early season(s) of The Office, a licensed game was greenlit. It was released only for PC. It was a collection of mini games. Which I guess is the harshest thing I could say about the definition of the word “games.” There was no complexity to it. There was also, coincidentally, no point to it. The saving grace is that it didn’t claim to be anything more than it was. It wasn’t The Office experience. It was a $4.99 mini game pack. I probably shouldn’t complain too much about a game I didn’t actually buy. What needs to be remembered, though, is there is never ever an excuse to release a video game based on a sitcom. Unless it’s a trivia game. And it’s free online. And I guess you’re really, really bored.

1. The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts

I saved the most recent for last because while all of the aforementioned games are insulting in some aspect (even The Office) this one misfired on all cylinders. Think about how hard this is to screw up. The Walking Dead is, and remains, the most popular show on cable television. Ok, it’s also set in the zombie apocalypse which is a video game setting — that is a no-brainer. The more popular characters are back to do voices and provide some background on their past. Makes sense right? The end result of this Xbox 360/Playstation 3 title was a mixed bag of terrible plot points and gameplay mechanics that wouldn’t work with another two years of work. It deliver, though, one true element of The Walking Dead, the show: It left you wondering what more talented people could have done with the property.

(Disclaimer: The Walking Dead is also a game released by Telltale Games that is a huge success, but this is more based on the comic than the show. The game makes no attempt to tie the two together, so I have excluded it.)

So there it is. The worst games based on some of the best shows. These will always be the reasons I worry when I hear about “TV Show! The Game!” being developed, but at least South Park: The Stick of Truth proves the law of averages.

Image source: The Daily Beast

Casual Commitments: 10,000,000, a Game for Casual and Hardcore Gamers Alike

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Brent Hopkins

The past few weeks I have been putting some time into a game called 10,000,000 (which will be shortened to 10M for the remainder of this article) developed by EightyEight Games. This game is available on the iOS, and Android app stores, as well as Mac, Linux, and Windows via Steam.

The game is a puzzle-roleplaying mish-mash that really comes together into a fun little package. The game stars your hero (who is nameless) who is locked in a decrepit keep where he must score the titular 10M points to escape. To score points he must make his way through a dungeon killing monsters and collecting gold, wood, stone, and experience points to get stronger. The stronger he gets the longer he can survive in the dungeon and the higher his score can climb.

The story is not something that will keep you engrossed in the game and as it is a casual game that can be expected. The gameplay is where the strength really lies and it will keep you coming back for one round after another. The game uses the infinite run formula made popular by games like Temple Run to display the dungeon battles. Your adventurer moves from the left side of the screen to the right and if you get pushed too far left you lose and return to your bed to spend your spoils.

To fight the monsters you play a match-three style puzzle game with different matches doing different things. The sword and the staff do damage, the chests give you items, the keys unlock chests and doors, the shields give defense to attacks, and the stone and wood give you resources to fix your prison keep.

The game also throws in up to three quests per run for the so you have something to try and accomplish instead of just blindly trying to get the highest score each time. They are all explained succinctly and rarely take any special play to achieve.

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Your typical 10M game board.

The difficulty in 10M comes from the general passing of time and enemies whose attacks slowly push your hero further and further left until he dies. Since there are so many different tiles and you are constantly on a time limit, you may find yourself needing to open a chest but instead you have a board full of stones to deal with. This pressure is what keeps the game flowing, but if that were all there was the game would be tragically boring. The RPG elements are the second side of this glorious puzzle game and really make it a complete package.

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This is what your adventurer’s base tends to look like when you start.

The hub for 10M is where most the RPG elements are found and they come in a few different flavors. They will either make your attacks stronger or make your defense higher so you can take more hits from monsters. These are permanent, and this is where all the gold, materials, and experience will get used. Wood and stone are used for repairing your keep, which unlocks higher upgrades. Experience is used to give you passive benefits every run, which make the game easier. Gold is used for all of the armor and weapon upgrades. These are all pretty standard fare and won’t take anything but time to unlock. The game throws the player for a loop with the last upgrade area’s potions. Each potion you unlock has a plus and a minus so the player must choose what they want each run.

The game is addictive and fun as you see your little adventurer getting stronger each time you lose and have to upgrade back at the hub. As you repair your place you get this sense of fighting from the absolute bottom –where even the rooms don’t want you– to fighting with Excalibur and slaying dragons. The potions are also a great addition to this type of game. Instead of feeling like you are wasting time matching objects if you have fully upgraded your hub area with wood and stone, you can activate a potion to turn those into gold or experience instead.

The game just flows along and because the rounds are really quick you never feel this burden of loading it up and suddenly having to invest 40 minutes like you would with a game like Triple Town or Candy Crush Saga, where you only get so many chances then you must pay or wait to play again. The achievements are also well made for the Steam platform, since they follow the natural progression of the game and test your skill and determination. One achievement requires the player to use every potion in the game and get 10M points. This is interesting because there are many overlapping potions and the player should have upgraded everything to tackle this as well.

I have dumped about nine hours into this game and I am sure to play quite a few more (still need that potion achievement). I highly recommend picking this up on a mobile device or Steam for $4.99 as it fits great for hardcore gamers and casuals alike.

I give 10000000 4/5 stars, because it is the perfect idle game to play.

Casual Commitments: To The Moon

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Brent Hopkins

This week’s review is on a game more akin to the first gaming article written here on Gone Home than the others I have written. This is a review about a game that isn’t quite “a game” but more of an interactive story. This is To The Moon, developed and published by Freebird Games, a $9.99 indie game available on Steam.

To The Moon falls into the recent genre of pseudo-games that was kicked off by much touted and much maligned 2010 AAA title Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream, wherein the player isn’t so much as playing a game but interacting in a kind of “visual novel.” Heavy Rain was an absolutely stunning game that was thrown under the bus because of the linearity and seeming lack of choice in the outcome of events. Gamers felt like they had paid to read a book or watch a TV show and not to actually “play” a game. Thanks to Heavy Rain falling on the sword of being the first one in its class released, indie companies like Freebird Games are now able to produce like-minded games and find commercial success with their niche audiences.

To The Moon is the story of two scientists and an old dying man who has a final wish to go to the moon. The scientists live in a time that could be the future but really feels like a mixture of future tech and modern history. The player takes the role of one of the two scientists named Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts. Rosalene is the straight shooter of the group and she is all business when it comes to their very special job. Watts, on the other hand, is a bit of a goofball and makes a lot of jokes which are humorously incorporated pop references that should put a smile on the face of any gamer.

The graphics are very simple and clean — they almost look like they were made in RPG Maker. They will remind you of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and even with the simplicity you get drawn into the story and the characters completely.

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The graphics are helped along by the musical score, which is impressive, and the main theme still gets stuck in my head from weeks ago. The tunes are simple, yet endearing and I never found myself wanting to mute the background music at all.

The special job I referenced is the hinge point of the game. The doctors are employed by a company called Sigmund Corporation and they meet with dying patients and implant permanent memories into the patient so they can feel as if they have fulfilled this goal in their actual lives. They use a machine to go into the memories of the patient and figure out at what point in life they would be able to best influence this person to fulfill their dream and then they augment the events until it becomes a reality… in the dying patients’ mind, at least. The reasoning for it only being done to dying folks is because if the person were to  wake up and suddenly be back in their real life the conflicting memories would be extremely stressful and damaging, thus the last thing this patient will know is a dream come true.

This aspect of the game is really fascinating and I found myself thinking about what I would fulfill if I had the ability to change my life, even if only in my mind. This is something I think many people have pondered, but adding in the immediate mortality of the situation and a complete reset of everything that you have truly known in exchange for a lie that will be your last memory is weighty to think about.

The story is one of the best that I have ever played through and really going into too much detail would be like explaining Bioshock Infinite‘s story to someone who hasn’t played it but wants to. Therefore I won’t be spoiling the plot at all.

The patient in question, named Johnny, seems like a simple man but the doctors soon find that his memories are far more complex to traverse than the average patient. The player explores the memories by solving exceedingly simple puzzles and clicking on objects like in an adventure game.

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These puzzles are a bit too easy.

They ask his caretakers for more information about him, but they find that they will have to really dig through his memories to find out why they need to get this man to the Moon. You play through his life moment by moment. There are twists and turns throughout the game and it takes surprisingly in-depth looks at how disorders, tragedy, love, and loss can all compound into a bittersweet tale.

The game lasts a brief four hours and I actually sat and played them all in one sitting because I got really sucked into it. The small puzzles and adventure-like exploring are more used as page turners than actually inserted to challenge the player. There is only one achievement, which is to “beat” the game or, in essence, read the whole story.

There is no replay value and that makes it hard to swallow the $10 price point that is set on Steam. I snagged this game on sale and since it came out a few years ago I worry that it won’t get the play it deserves. There is a sequel planned for this year, so I highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of quality stories.

I give to To The Moon 4.5 rockets out of 5 because while the story is amazing, I found the game sections more annoying than entertaining.

Image source: PC Games N, Entertainment Depot

Casual Commitments: Type:Rider

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Brent A. Hopkins

In Casual Commitments, we explore the ups and downs of casual gaming.

You will not be confused by what you are playing.

I would like to start off by dedicating this article to a bunch of my friends from Bradley University as I thought about you all quite a bit when playing this game. I was a business major, yet most of my close friends were art or language art majors. I was brought into the art fold gently and one of the things I recall is the seriousness of choosing the correct font for a project. This game put me right back in that mindset, which is a good thing.

Type:Rider is, at its core, a very simple game that takes the player through the history of typeface through physics-based platforming. There is no character development, really as the player takes control of two dots — a colon — and ventures into different levels based on famous typefaces. The controls are simple, with the left and right arrows guiding your dots around and the space bar for jumping. That is it, and everything else is left to you to figure out.

The levels are split up into four sections: two general platforming sections and two gate sections. The gate sections are always brief and require you to solve a simple puzzle to get a third white dot into an unlocking mechanism to open a door. This repeats for all the stages but the last which is something I will talk about later.

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Ebony and ivory will lead you to success.

I played this game on Steam as I don’t really enjoy playing cell phone games and one thing that instantly caught my attention was just how atmospheric the game is. This game is easily the most graphically-pleasing game I have reviewed here. The backgrounds are clean and crisp and really fit with the typeface they are supposed to represent.

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This just oozes Gothic.

The thing with any game is that no matter how good it looks the soundtrack is what really ties it together, and when you get both going you can really suck in your audience. This is another area in which the game excels. This game sounds phenomenal and from the moment I hit play I was surprised at how excited I was to see how the next area would look and sound.

The gameplay itself is nothing to write home about. Each level has the entire alphabet, six asterisks, and an ampersand to collect. The alphabet and asterisks are extremely easy to find and take practically no skill to get. The asterisks are special in that they unlock book pages for that typeface, which share the history of that typeface for the player. Collect all six and get the entire history. You unlock knowledge (which is something I wish you would see more in games) and I found myself reading them out of genuine interest after playing through the unique stages. The ampersand on each stage is harder to find and while it doesn’t unlock anything in game, it gives you a reason to search around the level and really take in everything the designer had in mind. The game tracks the total for all of these and you get achievements for getting them all.

The game overall is solid and gets the point across of learning to love your typefaces, even the much chagrined Comic Sans, which is used in joke form not just on the Internet, but also in this game. The whole experience takes about three to four hours to complete so it never feels too long or boring.

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When your typeface history looks like it comes from Reddit, you’re probably learning about Comic Sans.

There is one major issue I have with the game though, and it is very important to any game… the controls. This game is extremely easy to play but the physics engine leaves a lot to be desired, and a part of you will wish for more direct control of your dots as you die again and again. This may not be an issue for most of you if you play it casually, as you will breeze through this but the allure of achievements sadly drives me. That being said, there is one that requires you to complete a stage without dying, which honestly added an extra 40 minutes to my play time.

Overall, I would highly recommend this to the designer/gaming subset of folks out there and honestly, to anyone who likes a good looking and aurally arousing gaming diversion. This game gets an easy 4/5 tildes from me. There is practically no replay value, but for the cheap price of $3.49 I was more than satisfied.

Type:Rider is published by BulkyPix and is available on the App Store, Steam, or Google Play for Android.

Image sources: Fast Company, Steam, Hyperallergic.com

What is a Japanese Arcade Like?

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Brent Hopkins

Back again with a shorter entry. This one will be gaming related, but not a review. This one is a cultural story. Last weekend I went to Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto in Japan for vacation. They are about two hours away from Seoul by flight and it was my first foray into the land of video game history. I was with a friend who is not a gamer in the least, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a nerdcation. Still, we started out in Kobe and while we were walking around looking for some sweet Kobe beef we happened upon an arcade. Now, one thing about me that my gaming friends know is that I am an avid Sega fan — the Sega Saturn is my favorite system — and I’ve debated with myself over getting a Sega-flavor tattoo on my person.

This was a Sega arcade and when I walked in it was like all the synapses in my brain fired at once. I went from travel-weary to gleeful. The arcades in Japan are different than the ones I’ve been to in America and Korea in that the peripherals are extremely ornate. There are cards to save your profiles, there are fishing controllers, there are built in mouse and keyboards for PC-like gaming, there is just everything. Korea is close to this but as a PC-gaming nation the arcades are small and they focus more on dancing and light-gun games. America doesn’t really have arcades and the peripherals are almost always broken and mangled so it tends to be just light-gun, racing, and a few fighting games.

The thing I noticed most about this Sega arcade is the atmosphere of it. The men there (my travel buddy was the only woman) looked really serious and did not appear to be playing for fun. Some were grinding characters in games others were practicing combos in fighting games but the general air was serious gaming. I only had a short time to play so I say down and played some solo BlazBlue (a fighting game) and I had a blast. The games all appeared to cost about 100 yen (which is about a dollar, which is expensive) but there was no worrying about not having the right change after exchanging bills.

Later on in the trip we headed to Osaka where we spent most of our time and I got to go to a few more arcades. Sega has really cornered the market on the arcade scene in Osaka and Kobe at least with about 80% of the arcades being Sega branded. There was a large Namco (think Pac-Man and Tekken) arcade in Kobe but that was the only one I saw the entire time I was in Japan. The first Sega arcade I went to with the grumpy men was also the smallest I saw. The few Sega arcades I went to in Osaka were MASSIVE with the largest being a six-to-eight floor themeland with claw machines, pachinko, and photo booths. It felt closer to an amusement park than an actual arcade.

I love arcades and miss being able to go to them freely in America due to the console scene but they appear to be doing fine in Japan. There are plenty of really amazing games I wish would be released outside of Japan. The entire country is not as game-crazy as is oft perceived of Japan (especially not in the Kansai region) but you see Pokemon here and there and lots of anime characters (One Piece being the hands down most prevalent). I tried hard to pick up some nerd swag (goods, not swagger) while I was there and did find a few things, but it was hard (the best being Nintendo-brand playing cards, which is what the company originally made before video games). If you want your gaming fix I would recommend going to Tokyo, not elsewhere.