Title: Shin Megami Tensei 4
A pretty veneer for nonexistent changes
When I began “4”, it was my intention to see the latest Shin Megami Tensei through to the end. And as I’ve come close to completing the game, again I find that my desire to see it through isn’t strong enough. There are definite reasons for this: the characters exist only to serve as mirrors, and the difficulty curve that was captivating at the beginning, starts to fall apart mid-way through (especially if you put in extra time outside the main quest). And yet, those problems exist in many great games. So where does it really stumble? And here again, it goes back to that simple A,B,C choice. Technically, there are more than three endings, but in reality they all fall in the same Law, Neutral, and Chaos silos that have framed many (but not all) of the SMT games before it. So as soon as you realize what path you’re on, the illusion disappears, and it becomes the same old grind.
So where does that leave the game? Well, it’s gorgeous (especially the dungeon perspective), it’s creative, it has a decent degree of freedom, and like most SMT games, it allows you the option to do as much or as little as you want. It’s not a bad game by any means, and considering I spent over 30+ hours in the world, there must be something captivating. However, this is not a side project, not a Persona game, but one of the “4” core games, and it deserves better. The previous game in the main series was Nocturne, which came out nearly a decade ago, and from a technical level “4” is a strong improvement, but from a story and emotional level, it’s a rather large retrograde.
Review: 3 Stars (out of 5)
Memory: The Hunter’s Bar background music
Title: Thomas Was Alone
Maker: Mike Bithell
Cost: Humble Indie Bundle 8
Feeling it for quadrilaterals
I’ve been sitting on the Thomas Was Alone Review for awhile, because I’m not quite sure how I felt about the game. Full disclosure: I read several reviews for TWA, and I remember everyone praising the music, the narrator, and the fact it brings personality to little colored rectangles. And while that’s all true for awhile, pretty soon the narrator starts to grate ( I don’t know if you can call it self-importance, but he sure seems pretty proud of the job he’s doing), the music veers so hard into Explosions in the Sky that it’s shameless, and all you’re really left with from those first positive impressions, is the fact that you’re having feelings for these little rectangles. But really, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Graphically it’s more than serviceable, because while it’s simple, it’s exactly what it needs to be, clean. The platforming controls feel good, but the action itself isn’t all that satisfying. Often the action breaks down into trial and error puzzle solving, instead of actual platforming. However, this isn’t to take away what from what’s been created, as the platforming gracefully ties in the personalities and abilities of each specific block. This gives more life to small quadrilaterals, than the characters that exist in games with budgets a hundred times larger.
Conclusion: You have to pay tribute for what’s been created. Even if it’s not bringing gaming bliss, it’s laid out a pretty good road map for bringing any character to life.
Review: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: The square that tries to drown herself
Title: Joe Danger Touch
Maker: Hello Games
Cost: Free for iTunes 5th Anniversary (Normally $2.99)
…Wait, what am I supposed to do again?
The first thing I notice about Joe Danger is that the levels are perfectly short. They tapped into the right attention spans for a mobile game. The second thing I notice is that it’s boring. Not as bad as some other iOS games I’ve been playing lately, but boring enough I wonder why this ever became a successful series. Maybe it’s big brother counterparts do a better job of keeping you vested.
It’s not for lack of content. For a mobile game this thing is pretty huge, and trying to get perfect scores will require multiple replays. But that’s the problem, monotonous memorization doesn’t make a game fun. It rarely feels about execution. Instead, you memorize the levels enough to mechanically swipe your way through. There’s a point system here as well, but it’s buried deep. I do hold out the faint hope that digging deep enough into the point system might make a rewarding experience in and of itself (like good ol’ Tony Hawk 2).
The best part of playing Joe Danger is that its micro levels make you wonder why no major publisher has done a Wario Ware ripoff for the iOS. SquareEnix, you need some cash right?
Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: “Jooooe Danger!”
Maker: Pop Cap
Cost: Free from App Store birthday
A name that’s the equivalent of not brushing your teeth
I knew nothing when i downloaded Peggle, but the first moments when you load the game, and that reassuring popcap logo comes up… ah yes, that’s a good sign. But all the good will from Plants vs Zombies can’t make me care about Peggle. A horribly drawn unicorn greets you, and as you advance through the levels more horribly drawn characters serve as your guide. Where’s the endearing art style? At least you could rest on that. But I can forgive generic graphics if the gameplay is captivating. The Xcom remake was pretty damn good despite it’s forgettable graphics. But this is where peggle stumbles. It’s not just generic, at best you can call it breakout mixed with patchinko, its just plain boring. I would stare at the icon on my phone, alone at an empty bus stop, but even then I could barely make myself open it. For a mobile app this is the kiss of death.
Rating: 1 Star (Out of 5)
Memory: That fucking unicorn
Title: Robot Unicorn Attack 2
Maker: Spiritonin Media Games
Publisher: Adult Swim
Cost: Free to Play
I still don’t fully understand why Adult Swim is publishing video games. It’s cool, and I get that their target audience crosses over, but whenever I see it I’m always surprised that resources go to game publishing. I remember the previews for the first RUA: neon colors, intentionally ridiculous music, and still I never picked it up. But on a whim I decided to download the sequel. It’s a simple game but they make the smart decision to expand it by allowing you to unlock different play-styles as the game progresses. Graphically, it’s a combination of the minutely beautiful and broad ugliness, which really is very “Adult Swim”. For a free to play its genuinely fun, even if another endless runner is redundant by this point in time.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: The theme song, of course
Title: Ridiculous Fishing – A Tale of Redemption
Duck, Weave, and Reverse
I’ve written a little about the clever reversal of objectives that Ridiculous Fishing employs. This alone makes it a solid title. Throw in some charming graphics, a progression system that works (i.e. doesn’t require you to grind – the blight of iOS), and what’s left is a genuine classic. For Vlambeer, it’s a bit like striking gold. It succeeds despite everything against it, and has propelled the company to the mainstream success it deserves (see the term “Vlambeered” to learn a bit more about their difficulties).
It’s a thin game that’s only going to buy you a few hours. But all of it is enjoyable, and non of it is padding, so what else could you want from your phone?
Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Memory: The ending (there is one)
Title: The Last of Us
Maker: Naughty Dog
Better than Cormac McCarthy
It’s tough to begin talking about The Last of Us because you have to compare it to something, and the wasteland of humanity has been covered so many times in games. So I’m not going to compare it against other games (that’s a post for another time), because The Last of Us draws it’s inspiration from other media, specifically, The Road for ambiance, and Children of Men for plot. Both excellent in their own right, The Last of Us exceeds them. It’s the best story I’ve ever read, watched, or experienced about the end of civilization.
So let’s jump into it. The graphics are phenomenal and the combat tight. In the ravaged world you run into two distinct enemies, the infected, and other survivors. Both are challenging, and they require completely separate strategies, which helps to vary the combat. But all of these positives pail in comparison to the writing. It’s by miles the best dialogue I’ve ever encountered in a game. You keep expecting some cliche movie (or worse, game) dialogue to slip out, but it never does. It’s so far ahead of anything else, I can’t even think of what would be second. On top of this the voice acting is superb, especially protagonists Joel and Ellie.
About the protagonists, have you ever played a game where you didn’t hate the character that you needed to protect? Of course not, they’re a pain in the ass. Except in this Ellie is phenomenal, and her personal growth drives you forward. Joel is complicated yet simple (in his drive), and both come off as humans, neither good nor bad, in a way that games can almost never provide. My biggest fear is that they churn out a sequel and destroy everything they’ve created here.
Minor things like a few annoying puzzles, and your companions near invisibility to enemies are not enough to break or ruin the experience. This is a game that will be dissected and compared for years, a template for story-driven creations.
Review: 5 stars (out of 5)
Memory: Too many to list
Title: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Cost: $15 DLC
First, I never played Far Cry 3. Not on principle or anything, just never got around to it. So while I can’t be sure, Blood Dragon is what I imagine play-wise a mini-version would be like. And as you probably already know the premise is to ooze 80’s ridiculousness, which works more often then not. The cut-scenes nail it, while the in-game jokes are more hit or miss. The “sound” is great, period (or colon): voice acting works all around, and the soundtrack is pretty killer. As testament, I let the intro screen run for about 20 minutes while I banged out some emails, and even though it loops about every 60 seconds I never had the urge to change it.
Gameplay is for the most part enjoyable, but also switches to autopilot after a certain point. And while the premise of clearing out bases is genius, after 2 or 3 you can pretty much steam-roll the rest. There are also minor things that grate, for example, “pilfering” has a ridiculously long animation. Realistically, in terms of actual enjoyment you’ve got the story to go through, and an additional 3 hours of wandering the island before it runs out of steam. It’s not a ton, but for a stand-alone DLC it’s more then enough. It has rough edges, and the fact that it’s a DLC, and not a full game, becomes apparent. Several times I had a problem with a loaded save sending me back about 15 minutes from when the game had “autosaved” last.
In the end though, Blood Dragon succeeds at pretty much everything it sets out to do.
Review: 3 stars (out of 5)
Memory: The Dino-Riders influenced ending
Maker: Arkane Studios
Cost: $23 Used
Probably not the most over-rated game ever
The game tries to pitch that creativity can help you overcome any obstacle, but in reality everything derives from two choices: You can be an overpowered monster or a tip-toeing nobody. In one you steamroll every obstacle, in the other you save-game your way through each tiny part because strangling someone is touchy as hell. This leaves you with a black and white morality system where half of your possible experience becomes unbearable.
You could also make a case for character design being intentionally ugly as an art style (they do ugly things after all). But the distortion is so far removed from anything human that you feel nothing as you slide your knife from one person to the next. Even what could be considered “bosses” hardly cause pause before you choose to murder them. It’s a shame because the world aesthetic is beautiful decay, filthy and colorful. You can sense the prosperity lost.
There are also a few missions that periodically redeem the experience. The twins and the dinner party stand out. But then you’re back to swinging your sword around like a drunk mad-man, or dumping piles of unconscious guards into the same out of the way room.
When it works, it works beautifully. It just doesn’t work often enough. If you’re going to play it, then don’t hold back. But even then, so what if you can use super powers to murder everyone? There’s dozens of games that let you do that.
Review: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: Branding a face
Title: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Maker: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Cost: $23 Used
Visceral Yellow Polygons
Perhaps the only thing that really needs to be said is that it feels good.
It’s your play, more than your augmentations, that turn you into a killing machine by the end. Movement is fluid, and sneaking, takedowns, and firing an extension of your hand. The act of killing is visceral to the point that it remains uncomfortable. Murdering someone, even at the end (especially at the end), has a moment of tension before the brutality.
And it does this all without a black and white morality system. So it never feels like your being funneled down one play style or another (i.e. psychopath vs pacifist). You might violently clear out one area and then sneak through the next, all determined by what seems appropriate at that moment. Graphically it’s beautiful. It looks better than every new release I’ve played recently. The world is well fleshed out: augmentations, a detroit renaissance, dysutopic and enviable.
Not everything is perfect however. The voice acting is on the wrong side of distracting. The difficulty can be uneven, which leads to either frustration or disappointment. And while the story is serviceable, it’s mostly because of the journals you find laying around which expand on the original Deus Ex. And yet all that would be fine if the endings were better…
So in the end I’m not sure if having the name Deus Ex in the title makes this game better or worse than it would be otherwise. It’s hard to compare anything to original, but Human Revolution also benefits from the world it exists in. Regardless, it’s up there with the best of this generation.
Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Memory: The yellow haze in the elevator