The guts of a Lizard King and other stories

Originally posted at GameSpot on October 22, 2010

I don’t remember where she got the idea, but after breezing through the latest Professor Layton and Puzzle Quest my wife mentioned she might like Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.

Come to think of it, maybe she got the idea from me – I had heard good things, great reviews, and I’m sure I would have mentioned it at least once. What ever the case, I bought it for her (and me, in the future) on March 26, 2010.

Since that time, she’s played the game it a bit – but it hasn’t grabbed her like the others I mentioned above. This is the next step – as I see it – for her in the world of RPGs, so we’ll see what happens. And hey, I’m planning on playing it as well!

This ended up being a bigger day for games then I would have thought – that night was at a friend’s house and several things of comment happened:

  • Finally saw Burnout Paradise in action. I’ve wanted this one for a while; Burnout 3 may have been my favorite racing/destruction/I-can’t-believe-the-sense-of-speed-I’m-feeling games of all time
  • Final Fantasy XIII – graphics were nice, but I’ve just never gotten into the series. That’s my excuse for not really being impressed. Still, I’m sure if I had played through the series – even a few of them – I would be more qualified to actually say how the game looked I think
  • My wife and I remembered the good times of Capture the Flag on Halo: Combat Evolved – she the sniper, I the rocket
  • My friend’s wife watched him play through Lost Odyssey – I thought this one looked good, and that’s solid proof in my book

Post tenebras lux

E3 2008

Originally posted at GameSpot on July 21, 2008

In honor of my first new emblem in nearly three years (watching some of the E3 coverage live for one day), I thought I’d do something I’ve never done before – weigh in on the games at E3 that I’m excited about.

While this is something that everyone else is doing as well, it’s still fresh for me – so here we go in alphabetical order:

Crysis Warhead

Since I have chosen to by food instead of a new computer, I haven’t been able to play the first Crysis game; and I probably won’t get to this one anytime soon. Still, based on reviews and just how the game looks it’s one I definitely want to get to someday.

Empire: Total War

This is a no-brainer for me. The Total War series is an all-time favorite, and I’ve been hooked sinceShogun: Total War. Naval battles and guns – the series time-line keeps moving forward. Will it ever come to present-day I wonder? Whatever the answer, I’m happy in the past.

Fable 2

I enjoyed Fable: The Lost Chapters quite a bit – so a bigger, better version is always a good thing. There’s been a lot of talk about having your pet dog run around with you. I have nothing against owning a dog, but will it really be this amazing game play experience to have an animal with you all the time? Dog or not, I’m looking forward to fun game play and a good story from Fable 2.

Far Cry 2

Much like Half-Life, this is a highly rated FPS series that I just haven’t been able to play yet. Will I get around to Far Cry 2 before the inevitable third installment rolls around? Time will tell.

Flower

With all the explosions and gun shots going off around me in these other games, it will be nice to stroll around the grassy fields for a while. I see this game in the same vein as Flow; who knows when I’ll be able to play Playstation games, but I’ll look for this title when I can.

Halo Wars

It’s Halo. It’s war. It’s Halo Wars. I think that pretty much sums it up.

James Bond: Quantum of Solace

Just because I haven’t finished James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing doesn’t mean I can’t want another Bond game! While most of the games involving 007 have been misses, the hits (such as GoldenEye) have been big ones. Let’s hope Quantum is one of them.

Lord of the Rings: Conquest

What’s that? You’re taking the Star Wars Battlefront formula and putting it in the Lord of the Rings universe? I think I’m in some sort of dork heaven right now…seriously, this is easily one of the best games I’ve played – and it isn’t out yet! Yep, it’s that good – I can already tell.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Two words: tactical nukes. I may still get around to the first Merc game, but if I land on this game before so much the better.

Mirror’s Edge

Seems to be some buzz around this one; I do think it looks like an interesting concept but I wonder how truly “free” it is. Can you go anywhere, or is that just an illusion as you move along a linear path? And is that even a bad thing? With anything new, there’s always plenty of room to screw it up – but I’m going to look on the bright side and say this game will turn out just fine.

Prince of Persia

Played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; still need to go through the last two-thirds of the modern trilogy. This game is supposed to be completely separate from these three games, so I’m interested to see what will be different. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s an acrobatic Prince looking to save his kingdom (and himself) from certain destruction…which doesn’t sound very different at all. It’s a good formula, however, so we’ll see what happens.

Pure

While I’ve had the privilege to play several fantastic racing games (Burnout 3Project Gotham Racing 2Rallisport Challenge, etc.), off-road games seem to have a less stellar track record. Pure looks to change all that, and the videos look amazing.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

The first Puzzle Questis great, and this is the next one. The first one is good, so this will be good. I think with iron-clad logic like that, it’s hard to argue.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

There is no denying that Bioware puts out quality RPGs (A little game called Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for example). I’m assuming the same type of quality will shine through in this game, and the unique idea of Sonic in a RPG on the DS looks very interesting. For those reasons, this one should be good.

Sonic Unleashed

And the Sonic love continues. Truth be told, I haven’t really played the big blue hedgehog since mySonic & Knucklesdays – but those were good days. I’m hoping this game will bring Sonic to prominence in 3-D, because I have yet to see a reason to make the transition.

Star Wars Clone Wars: Lightsaber Battles

At last, all the lightsaber battles I had using my old plastic bat during my childhood will finally pay off! Hopefully the moves you make will transfer to the screen smoothly; to have such a sweet concept fall short would be nothing less then the dark side at work.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

An original storyline coupled with amazing game play and graphics? (WARNING: Tired catch-phrase from the Star Wars Universe about to be used!) The force is strong with this one…

Street Fighter IV

I can remember wishing for a Sega Genesis, and the only game I wanted was Street Fighter II: Championship Edition. That wish was granted, and Street Fighter remains my favorite fighting franchise. I want this one to be good – I won’t get to it for a while, but for the good Street Fighter name I want it to do well.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.K.

I’ve always been a little wary of flight sims on consoles; but they keep getting closer to the mark and this game could be the best yet. I wonder how this game will stack up against the Ace Combat series?

There it is, my take on what I’m looking forward to from E3 2008. This doesn’t cover everything, and who knows when I’ll actually be playing these games, but they all have great potential.

Potential for what? What else – potential to rock!

Post tenebras lux

Ice crystals cause a gasp!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 – We were sent home from work early because the weather was so bad, and I took advantage of the opportunity to get some gaming in. It was almost a year to the day (Valentine’s Day of last year) that work was cancelled because of the snow, and it still felt just as good as it did then.

Quick hits:

Got some good time in with Super Mario World and Star Fox Command. I feel like I should give the latter its own entry, but that might come later.

Super Mario World is getting better, and that’s due directly to the fact that I’m actually progressing in the game now. Figuring out the puzzles or hitting a jump right goes a long way in keeping me playing. Just got out of the Forrest of Illusion and it’s on to the Chocolate Island. I get a little tired of the constant Ghost Houses, but I think that’s just because they’re tougher.

Star Fox Command has really impressed me. Any flight sim I’ve played has been on the PC, and while the game isn’t a simulation per say, I’ve never seen flight combat represented so well on any other platform. The DS control handles very well once you get used to it, and pulling out of a drive or making a sharp turn feel like you’re actually doing something.

The difficulty is just right, bordering on easy sometimes – but then a tough boss or missile shows up to even things out. I do enjoy the missile mechanic of the game more than I thought – it ratchets up the tension, knowing that you could have beat the rest of the level but missing one beacon means it was all for nothing.

The story is nothing too special, although the dialogue gets pretty good when the characters have extended interaction. Lines like, “Outta bed and full of beans,” tend to make you smile every time. I do enjoy the story surprises, though – you finish an area and all of the sudden BAM! Team Wolf pops out of nowhere!

– In both games, I’m found something I didn’t know I missed – the gasp! By the “gasp!“, I mean literally sucking in a lot of air – loudly – whenever something happens. In Super Mario World, this is usually when I die on the same jump for the tenth time in a row, or when I actually squeak by a difficult level. On Star Fox Command, it’s when I’m hitting that last beacon to destroy a mother ship or frantically trying to finish a level before time runs out. During these moments, it’s not unusual to hear a gasp! – or several of them.

I think the gasp! has been missing (or at least in the consistency of when I’m now experiencing them) due to the fact that I haven’t really progressed through a game in a long time. I’ve been racing with the new wheel, or just playing through games I’ve already beat when I have time like Star Wars: Battlefront II. But now I’m playing through levels, advancing unknown stories, and playing the DS in short bursts instead of sitting in front of my Xbox for an extended amount of time.

One isn’t better than the other, but I do enjoy this change of pace – and I’m excited about the potential gasps! to follow.

– Three great lines have come from my wife during this week, all related to Puzzle Quest:

“I’ve done this more today than I’ve knitted.”

She has really been getting into the game, and rightly so – it’s a great game! I showed it to her the night I got it, she said it looked cool, and then I left for work the next morning.

Since then she’s picked it up, and can’t put it down! I’m excited that she enjoys it, and so far she’s played it more than me – for the record, she’s on level 17 and I’m at 5.

“This is my kind of Fable

My wife “played” Fable with me on Xbox, and now she has a version of her own. With the knights, orcs, swords, and other Fable-ish items found in the game, it reminds her a lot of the world of Albion. Seeing her enjoying the puzzle aspect of the game and having her first taste of some RPG elements feels really satisfying – she told me she understands now why I get excited when I level up a character (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), or want to expand my kingdom as much as possible (Shogun: Total War). Ah, music to my ears! Now she knows why I get excited over the things that I do

“I used yours since my battery died.”

Just as she was about to topple her foe, the DS’s battery died – but instead of quitting and waiting for her battery to re-charge, she finished the game on mine. I think that speaks for itself.

Post tenebras lux

Of Gladius and guilt

Originally posted at GameSpot on October 29, 2007

Guilty? Me? Does this even make sense? I find it amazing that even after nearly three years, I still have something that can best be described as guilt over returning Gladius to the store.

Where does this come from? Why would I even have these feelings after a decent amount of time has passed? I have a few theories:

-I want to know how it ends! I enjoy a good story – and games are no exception. This explains how I can have as much fun watching a game as well as playing (Metal Gear Solid), or how I can keep playing a game devoid of fun but from good source material (Star Trek: Klingon Academy).Gladius had a great story; slow-building but definitely there.

– I feel like I wimped out on the game. I started Gladius, and I should finish it. It’s that simple. I can’t stand starting a book or movie and not finishing it, and the same thing applies here.

– When a game garners high critical praise, it seems like I should have enjoyed the experience more. I use GameSpot a lot to help decide what purchases I should make. Gladius received a very respectable score (8.4), and that was important in my decision to pick the game up. I’m not blaming the high score at all, I just feel like I missed out on something.

So there you have it – the reasons for my “guilt.” Are they good enough reasons? I mean, do I deserve to feel like I messed up somehow by not sticking with the game? In the end, I think the answer is no. And here’s why:

First, you have to establish context. The main reason I didn’t stick with the game is being recently married, spending hours a day on a RPG that your wife finds incredibly boring tends to lead to some disagreement. If I want video games to be a part of my life now that I actually do have more important things going on, I need her on board if I’m going to play something for any length of time. Gladius didn’t make her cut, so that’s one huge strike against it.

Second, in keeping with context, I had only just begun to enter the world of RPGs. Some might not consider Knights of the Old Republic a true RPG, but it was the closest thing I had come to the genre so far. Going from the quick pace of that game to the slow walk of Gladius made it easier to let it go.

Third, the game’s high score does not have to reflect my own personal taste. This may seem an obvious fact – but I do put stock in what people in the industry say about a game, and I concede that their experienced opinion holds more weight than mine. That being said, I still don’t have to agree with it. With any game, it comes down to what I like – not what someone else tells me I should like. (I give you Panzar Dragoon Orta – I hated that game!)

To sum it all up, Gladius was a great game. It had a great world map and soundtrack. It had great cut scenes with dramatic flair. It had good combat system, interesting storyline, and fun characters. But, it wasn’t a great game for me. I think it is possible to label a game as great without personally liking it as the same time.

Post tenebras lux

You balvarine turd!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 9, 2007

Thoughts on Fable: The Lost Chapters – First off, the atmosphere of the game was amazing. The most recent action RPG I’ve played was Knights of the Old Republic II, and that already had a pre-packaged world to build around. Fable had to start from the ground up, which is no small task.

But every area in the world, from the Guild to Hook Coast, was masterfully rendered and presented. Towns, taverns, shops and fauna were beautifully done to make an amazing world for the Hero to quest in.

The story was good, but it could have been better. How? How about this: if you want to build up tension for a climatic final battle with your arch-nemesis that will decide the fate of all of Albion – don’t do it by having the main character read about it in a book!

The only way to get a back story (other than cryptic remarks from your long lost sister) was to read about Jack of Blades, your bloodline, and the Sword of Aeons from some random text you hopefully picked up along your wanderings.

Jack of Blades could have been a great villain, but you don’t even hear of him until you’re captured by him a little over half way through the game. Then – before your know it – you have the showdown of the world with him! It just seemed to happen so fast, since there was no build up to it in the actual game world. A cut scene, or better yet some actual events in the game itself that revealed to you who (or what) Jack of Blades was, what your relationship was with him, how your family’s bloodline figured into all this, etc. would have really beefed up the tension for the final confrontation.

Instead, after Jack is defeated, the world seems pretty much the same. Because he didn’t affect it too much when he was around, his death doesn’t seem to rock anyone’s boat in the end. You’re told it does, but you can’t really see it. All in all, still a really good story – but it could have been great.

While the main story could have used a little more, the “game story” – the atmosphere in general (as I mentioned before) was fantastic. Being able to own homes and rent them out for money was especially satisfying, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I felt I was actually earning something on my own merit – I don’t know. If only I could have bought a shop or two…

Having the Guild be a place I could revisit anytime I wanted also brought a wholeness to the adventure. I love the exploring and constant travelling – but it was nice to have a place you “grew up in” that you could always return to.

I enjoy games that give me a sense of “hominess” – a sense that I belong to that world. Fable: The Lost Chapters certainly did that.

This game also has me wanting to play through on the evil side of things. Usually when I finish an RPG, there’s really no motivation to play through it again – even if there are slight changes with how the game ends. You can usually predict the outcome – and the same could be said of Fable’s ending. But since your character (and NPC’s reactions to him) really can change throughout the game, I really would like to see the other side of things.

A few bullet points to wrap this up:

Never had time to get married – kept putting it off, and now I’ve finished the game. Thank goodness life hasn’t imitated art!

– The singing guy in some of the towns was a nice touch – actually putting a few of my adventures into verse. Cool.

– The Chamber of Fate was sweet – I loved the tapestry and the bridge, just the sense of reverence the place gives.

– After reading a book in Maze’s quarters, I was able to find Avo’s tear (incredibly powerful sword – the ying to the Sword of Aeons yang). Since the main game was already over, I now had this sweet sword with nothing to swing it at. Would getting it sooner had made it sweeter? Oh yes.

– The final final boss battle with Jack in dragon form was very cinematic, very well done. A little lame how after defeating Jack the first time he now simply reappears a year later, is twice as powerful, and taunts you like you’re nothing.

– Glad I have the Lost Chapter’s version. Based on what I’ve read, I would have definitely missed the new content.

– I love the detail in the game. Small, off-beaten paths / names and clever sayings on every gravestone, etc. Nice.

– I can’t get the oracle to work! YMCA? Huh? Not working!

Soundtrack was fantastic – still in my head.

Best use of magic I’ve ever seen in a game so far. Quite a number of spells, and many of them sweet. I loved using them and it made the combat fun.

– Very clean level-up system. Menus and items also done very well. This wouldn’t matter, except there are so many items (including tofu) that it all could have been very messy.

– Bowerstone South…Tavern…memory card game…BEST MINIGAME EVER! Actually fun! What a concept!

As always, if I can find a game that my wife enjoys watching me play (and actually looks forward to doing it), then I know it’s priceless. Fable: The Lost Chapters is a great game that gives your imagination a lot to work with.

Post tenebras lux

The Last of the Sith Lords

Originally posted at GameSpot on June 12, 2005

I’m nearing the end of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – just landed on the last planet of Onderon. (Probably not the last last planet – I’m sure there’s some twist still yet to come. Regardless, I think I’ve got about ten hours left. Is Kriea really evil? Will I have to fight her for sure, or choose to let her live? We shall see…)

I’m enjoying this one as well as the original Knights, although that game was really my first true experience playing a RPG so it will always hold a special place. I’ll have to write about that event later – definitely a great moment in gaming…

I love the sense of accomplishment in the game. I’m sure it’s true of most RPGs, but to go back and visit a planet I had been to before was a great experience. Walking down the corridors of Telos nearly thirty-five hours later in the game was like old home week. “Oh, there’s the plastic cylinder I opened last time,” or “here’s the shuttle bay where I fought what’s-his-name.”

Except this time I, along with my character, felt much more powerful and very much in control of the situation. Now with a light saber, and thirty-five more hours in the game, it was as if I was feeling the game world in a more complete way.

Does that even make sense? That’s the only way I can think of to describe it. Maybe the best way to put it is that spending a long time with something makes you feel more a part of it, and that goes for games as well.

That being said, I hate that the game is coming to a close! Much like a good movie, I want to watch the first part over and over again – because then the story never ends.

These are my random thoughts on KotOR II. And while I don’t want the game to be over, I still can’t wait to see the ending!

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