Tag Archives: video games

Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part Two)

This entry will be significantly shorter than my last ramble but I intend to keep this topic alive because I feel it is important.  If we hope to maintain an open and honest media, even if it is a blog that is a barely-trodden corridor of the city-sized labyrinth of Internet rags, we have to get the word out whenever we feel there is some sort of system in place that exists to handicap or even eliminate our ability to share our own thoughts on a product released by a major media corporation.

A long-time studio tactic that has been called into scrutiny more and more of late is the review embargo.  A review embargo is a prohibition on the early release of reviews and detailed commentary before a certain specified date after early screenings or pre-release copies of a product are made available to critics.  These individuals are usually your standard mainstream newspaper critic but their ranks also encompass a rollcall of columnists from other “trusted” sources.  Often coming with a written agreement to the studio’s terms and even the occasional non-disclosure agreement, these embargoes are almost always a red flag for me.

While I often prefer to avoid citing any corporate-fed media source, I think critic Marshall Fine said it best on the Huffington Post; “It’s all about controlling information — and bad word of mouth.  This kind of embargo is almost never associated with a movie which is expected to be a critical hit. (source)”  I think this pretty much hits the proverbial nail on the head.  If a movie or game is expected to rock everyone’s world, why keep them out of the loop as long as possible?  Sometimes these review embargoes can be in place up to as late as the Wednesday before the release of a film, intentionally buried in the middle of the workweek.

I stated in my previous diatribe (for lack of a better word) that as products become more expensive, it becomes more necessary to hide or silence any negative press for as long as possible to get the cash of early adopters and opening weekend addicts who want to beat the barrage of inconsiderate spoilers that will inevitably flood the Web by Saturday evening.  However, I believe this tactic is starting to lose its effectiveness.  Consumers are growing more and more savvy to the biases and manipulations of major media sources and are less tolerant than ever of being conned into buying a product that is knowingly-bad, the flaws of which being intentionally hid from them in the hopes that they will spend first and ask questions later.

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My Top Ten Favorite Video Games of 2017

It’s 2018 and looking back at 2017, I would say despite a few notable controversies, it was a pretty solid year for games.  It was certainly a diverse year!  First-person shooters are back in force, MOBA’s continue to take over and multiply (for better or worse), the war between Western and Japanese RPG’s is back on and it’s like the 90’s all over again (and if you remember, that little war gave us Chrono Trigger and Diablo II so… Yeah, imagine what could be around the corner), and there is a concerted effort to bring back classic genres like run-and-gun shooters and 3D platformers to the mainstream!  Things are looking up!

So, here is my list of the ten video games from 2017 that I played and truly enjoyed the most.  You’ll notice an absence of a few titles from this list almost immediately and I’ll tell you, it’s because I haven’t played Super Mario Odyssey and the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild did not land at the best time for me, so while I played some of it, I haven’t played all of the way through it yet.  I plan to give it another go once I pick up a Switch, which I definitely intend to do in the not-too-distant future.

Until then, let’s begin….


10. Ever Oasis (Nintendo; 3DS)

Going into Ever Oasis completely blind, I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did.  It is a truly rewarding feeling as the game doesn’t just show your progress via level numbers, stat points and story progression, but you get to watch as your Oasis expands and becomes an even more complex and vivid town.  The mix of dungeon crawler action/RPG with some simple crafting and city management is actually pretty interesting, and it is a very solid introduction to these genres for younger gamers who look to get into more challenging titles but seasoned gamers will find little challenge here.  Still, it was a fun game and I would honestly not mind giving it another playthrough.


9. Forza Motorsport 7 (Microsoft; Xbox One)

I’ve been a fan of the Forza Motorsport series since 2005 on the original XBox.  To this day I am partial to the Forza franchise over the other key racing simulation competitors.  It’s an engaging, challenging and rewarding game that offers a lot more than just standard races, and the car selection is just phenomenal.  The only thing that keeps it from reaching a higher ranking on my list is it is yet another entry in the long-running series and outside of new cars and some new features, it is just another Forza title.


  8. Destiny 2 (Bungie; PS4)

The long-awaited Destiny 2 hit shelves in 2017 and, at least for me, it didn’t disappoint.  I was hoping it would at least live up to the first game and it did that and more.  I was impressed by the sheer frequency of public events and while they often did lack in variety, I went into Destiny wanting to shoot aliens, and that’s what I got!  The new weapons are fun to use and quite varied, especially compared to its predecessor, it looks great, and the multiplayer really works as you do feel like you are contributing to a greater fight through much of the game.  Also, the last act of the story campaign is just one of the coolest levels I’ve ever played through in a first-person shooter.


 7. Dragon Quest Heroes 2 (SquareEnix; PS4)

Okay, okay… I’m kind of cheating putting this one on the list.  I imported Dragon Quest Heroes 2 in 2016 shortly after it’s Japanese release date.  However, it did only get released in the US in 2017, so I’m counting it because it’s my damn list!  I loved DQH and the sequel is a worthy successor.  Adding two new heroes to the lineup as playable characters and bringing back the likeable cast of the first with some fresh-yet-familiar faces, DQH2 lands a fun action RPG brawler that mixes free-roaming exploration and tactical, large-scale, Warriors-esque battles.  It plays well with the characters offering a variety of skills, unique perks and a rewarding crafting system.  I own both a Japanese and NA version of this game on the PS4.  It’s a truly solid title and for those of you waiting to play it on PC, here’s hoping the port turns out alright.  I may pick it up on the PC too just to review it with a comparative lens.


6. Metroid: Samus Returns (Nintendo; 3DS)

Super Metroid is my favorite video game of all time.  Period.  That said, I have a somewhat rocky history with the Metroid franchise as a whole.  I actually am not a fan of most of the games, including a few of the 2D titles.  There have been a few I’ve enjoyed through the years though, and after seeing the trailer for Samus Returns during Nintendo Direct, I was thoroughly excited to play this one.  I was not disappointed.  Samus Returns is flashy, it plays well and while it does veer from the Super Metroid controls I’m so very used to quite a bit in terms of the flow and speed, I really give Samus Returns a glowing recommendation.


5. NieR: Automata (SquareEnix; PS4)

Action RPG’s are where it’s at for me.  If the action is varied, fast with a few insane boss battles thrown in for good measure, then all the better (see #1), but NieR: Automata checks all of these boxes and then goes a step further adding a flair and feel that only a Japanese action title can bring.  While every attack is brutal in its strength, every little touch in NieR’s broken world is delicate and well thought out.  There is a degree of freedom in the combat but the game is built for speed, and it is a fast game.  A sudden hard turn in the game shifts the moral compass and mood of the entire experience as well and adds to the complexity of a game that makes you question your role as a hero in past games where you were encouraged to carelessly polish off hoards of nameless enemies.  NieR: Automata is a commentary on gamers, their attitudes towards games, and the way the games themselves may perceive us.


4. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Naughty Dog; PS4)

Of course Naughty Dog would make my list for 2017 and Lost Legacy, while not being nearly as good as the masterpiece that was A Thief’s End, was a fun, well-written and beautiful game with some solid action set pieces.  Chloe Frazer makes a great lead and the game does her justice after her absence from the 4th chapter in the series.  It also ties things together with the inclusion of characters from the predecessor and filling in some history at the same time.  The only thing that keeps it from being higher is it is just another entry in a series that never disappoints, but evolved so much with Uncharted 4 that Lost Legacy really does feel like DLC.  Nevertheless, the reduced price point was an acceptable bargain considering the package you got.  It isn’t a long game, but it is a complete experience and a solid standalone entry with solid female leads and an absolutely excellent villain.


3. A Hat In Time (Gears for Breakfast; PC)

I had just tried this one on for size (for lack of a better phrase), and I must say, ‘I’m impressed’.  This little Kickstarter gem came up to the surface in 2017 on Steam and just surprised the Hell out of everyone.  A Hat In Time is a charming, heartwarming little 3D platforming throwback to the heyday of the genre in the early 2000’s.  The controls are solid, the world is full of things to explore and places to see, the hats add a variety of gameplay ideas and the focus on platforming over combat makes it a welcome return to a classic genre that has been seeing a legitimate comeback in recent years.  I’m glad I played Hat In Time soon enough to add it to this list!  It’s the best 3D platformer I’ve played from 2017 (so far).


2. Cuphead (Studio MDHR; Multi [PC])

Cuphead!  It’s already legendary.  It has already become the latest speed-running staple.  This instant classic has been brewing around the Internet since its announcement years ago at E3.  A game that was announced at a conference out of nowhere and it was instantly unlike anything I had ever seen in a game, hearkening back to classic 1930’s animation and looking just damn-stunning the whole time.  Finally, in 2017 I got my chance to pick this one up and oh boy did it feel good to get the unpalatably-bitter taste of the betrayal that was Mighty No. 9 out of my mouth.  Cuphead is a polished, deliberate, precise platformer/shooter in the vein of Contra with a dash of Mega Man-X.  Insane boss battles and a twisted-yet-brilliant sense of humor come together to form a game that is full of memorable moments and a few of my new favorite boss fights of all time.  I still occasionally pick Cuphead up and fight a few escaped souls here and there, hoping to beat my best time.


 1. Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games; PS4)

I had high hopes for Horizon since its PS4 premiere a few years ago at E3.  It looked like a fun game from a pre-rendered trailer and when I finally got a chance to play it, I could not describe just how good everything was.  Horizon turned out great and while Guerrilla Games could have just made a competent open-world, action RPG and got by with a few handshakes and high sales, they instead made a game so good that it raises the bar for the entire genre.  Throughout 2017 I was reflecting on what made Horizon work so well and it’s really hard to narrow everything down to just one aspect, but I would say it is the inclusion of a powerful and truly likable new heroine in Aloy and a vivid, stunning open world that rivals any other I’ve seen in lush beauty and creativity blended it with pinpoint gameplay and rewarding and fairly attainable character progression.  Then there’s the combat.  Oh!  That combat!  Fighting in Horizon is some of the most fun action I’ve ever experienced in a game.  I would count Horizon among the ranks of my favorite video games of all time now, knocking back a few gems that I still hold in high regard, but Horizon is destined to become a modern icon of the medium.


 

Well, that about does it for 2017!  I thought about doing a movie wrap up but 2017 was such a dead zone for movies I decided not to even bother really.  I did see a lot of movies in 2017, but very few of them (besides Coco and The Disaster Artist) really blew me away.  Please tell me what you think of my game picks in the comments section.  Did you like my list?  Did you hate everything about it?  Do you want me to set my PS4 on fire?  Please share and try to get the word out and I hope to start picking up the pace with writing again.  Things had just been hectic like you wouldn’t believe for me.

Happy 2018!

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Cuphead (2017) Review

For a few years now we have been in a sort of Renaissance for classic-style video games.  New games are being released mixing new technology and trends with old-school gameplay and design.  In many cases, this has been great.  Hands-down the most well-known occurrence of this trend is Shovel Knight, an excellent, stylish platformer that feels timeless.  Cuphead is the next major entry in this time of rebirth and rediscovery, blending traditional platforming elements with sleek HD graphics.

Immediately upon picking Cuphead up the amazing visuals stand out.  Resembling a 1930’s cartoon with fluid animations and beautiful watercolor backgrounds, It creates an atmosphere that is unlike anything I have ever seen in a video game.  Visually, everything is just perfect.  It revives a style and theme that we just haven’t really seen in video games and it is a welcome change from rough-edge soldiers and anime chicks.  Every one of the unique bosses are interesting and well-thought-out, having their own design and individual twists.  Nowhere in the game are there reused enemies from level-to-level.  Everything is original and even the many references to famous enemies from classic games put a unique spin on their design.

The gameplay is tight, responsive and as close to perfect as you can get with a platformer of this type.  The closest game I can compare the feel to is Mega Man X.  Cuphead has all of the elements that worked for that masterpiece so well but tailored to fit its own hyperkinetic world that rivals that of the famous Maverick Hunter in design and variety.  It’s a refreshingly-skillful work of game design from a crew of relative newcomers to the titanic industry.

Now, one point of controversy surrounding Cuphead is its divisive difficulty.  This game is not easy; It’s not casual; It’s not for the faint of heart.  Cuphead will test your skills to an extreme degree.  There are three major components to this level of challenge from my observation: First is the progressively-chaotic boss fights that add more and more challenging components as the battles go on, leading up to an enrage phase that acts as a final gauntlet for each fight.  Then there is the rule that you have to beat each boss on the Regular difficulty to progress the game, with the optional Simple mode being nothing more than basic practice.  Then there’s the RNG, which deserves a little paragraph of its own…

The one and only complaint I have with Cuphead is the RNG.  For those who do not already know, RNG is a common speedrunning term meaning “Random Number Generator”, and references randomized events in games.  For instance, the variable damage your attacks can do in an RPG, or the chance of getting a solid gun drop in Destiny 2.  In Cuphead’s case, RNG comes in the form of enemy positioning and movement.  This manifests more commonly in the non-boss gauntlet levels, but it’s there across the board nonetheless.  It is a common problem in many games and can make parts of Cuphead frustrating.  However, it is in many areas manipulatable with a little skill and so far I have only found a few places where the RNG is particularly egregious (“Perilous Piers” being a gruesome example).  Randomized enemy placement and attack timing seems to be overwhelming at times and appears more manageable if you simply rush through the gauntlet stages, never really stopping to fight.

The bosses are where Cuphead shine and they are the focus for the game.  Most of the stages involve interacting with an animated feature on the explorable world map, the initiation of which takes you straight into a battle with one of the games many creative big-bads.  Most bosses follow a traditional video game 3-phase battle with a few exceptions.  The first few phases are a warmup to the enrage, where the boss changes form and the fight gets more frenetic.  In a few cases, the enrage phase changes the dynamics of the fight entirely from the previous phases.

There is a little bit of progression in the form of purchasable upgrades in the form of weapons, abilities and charms.  These determine which of the two weapons from your loadout that you can carry as well as the effects of your dash, your ultimate attack and one other optional boost that you can equip.  These upgrades are purchased with coins obtained in the non-boss levels.  It is possible to play through Cuphead never getting a single coin or a single upgrade.

In closing, Cuphead is a masterpiece of modern gaming.  Critical reviews claiming it’s “too hard to be fun” are missing a key factor: This game is not for everyone.  This is really an appeal to  nostalgia for the much-harder 16-bit era of gaming with its pace and design and older players are more likely to get the majority of enjoyment from this title.  Do not be fooled by its cartoonish aesthetic, Cuphead is brutal and will require every bit of gaming skill and acumen gamers such as myself have accumulated over the past few decades.  Cuphead is fun, challenging and worth the miniscule $20 price tag.  This is a game that I predict will be ageless and just may become the next big speedrunning game, so members and fans of the running community can look forward to thousands of cumulative hours across many Twitch channels of frustrated gaming veterans cheering upon finally beating their PB!

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Game Deals – Picks for The Week of 09/06/2017

So, I hope to be able to do this pretty regularly.  I will be updating a (mostly) weekly list of game picks that are on sale for numerous platforms.  I will probably feature maybe five or six choices per week.  I will try to diversify my sources as well, so not all of these deals will be from Steam.  Let us begin…

NOTE: All prices are in USD and are subject to change.

Valkyria Revolution (PS4)

  $19.90 $39.99

Amazon
While Valkyria Revolution isn’t the best strategy RPG out there, it is a solid action RPG with strategy elements and a pretty solid evolution of the excellent Valkyria Chronicles.  The only downside I can find is the flux of difficulty between the weak cannon-fodder enemies and the excessively-tough bosses is quite jarring.  However, a quality upgrade system, deep character customization with unique skills and pretty fun gameplay makes this one worth a $20 price.

 


NieR:Automata (PC)

$38.99 $59.99
PC/Steam
A must-have for September is NieR:Automata, a smart and exciting anime action/adventure game from SquareEnix.  If you have not played this combination shooter/hack n’ slasher, you owe it to yourself to give it a play, especially with it being more than $20 off retail!

 

 


SNK Publisher Sale (PC)

Various prices
PC/Steam

For arcade gaming fans like myself, this sale is awesome. Featuring a bevy of excellent King of Fighters and Metal Slug games, it really is a who’s-who of NeoGeo arcade brilliance! I would also check out the fun SHOCK TROOPERS series as well as the competitive, split-screen shooter Twinkle Star Sprites (Yes! That name is for-real) that has rarely seen a US release so far.

 


Dark Souls Series (PS4)

Various prices
Playstation Store
If you like a little punishment, you can always bet on the quality Dark Souls games and Dark Souls II and III as well as DLC and special editions are all on sale this week on the Playstation Store. Get your download on and good luck on the Nameless King!

 

 


God Eater 2 (PS4)

$14.99 $59.99
Playstation Store
For fans of the popular Monster Hunter franchise, God Eater 2 is a welcome change of scenery maintaining many of the core elements of the classic kill-and-craft action.  Effectively, God Eater 2 is a Monster Hunter clone but post-apocalyptic and in a sci-fi setting.  It is quite good though, with interesting classes and skills and some pretty challenging fights right at the start of the game.

 

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Game Review: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017; Naughty Dog)

A major problem with video games is sequelitis; the unfortunate trend of a long-running series seeing a steady decline in quality with each entry. Since its introduction on the PS3, the Uncharted series has shown a surprising resistance to this curse by focusing heavily on exciting and inventive level design integrated with captivating (albeit formulaic) stories. Likeable characters deliver well-written dialogue and everything just feels natural. You cannot have a story about people and not make those people relatable. Combine this with solid, consistent and responsive gameplay and bombastic, adrenaline-rush levels and you have a formula for an exciting spectacle!

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy turns the narrative away from Nathan Drake and his band of thieves and puts the focus on the popular anti-hero Chole Frazer, a thief and inspired treasure hunter who isn’t afraid to get her hands a little dirty. She was shockingly-absent in the excellent Uncharted 4 and here makes a welcome return. This time she joins up with Nadine Ross, a villain from Uncharted 4 who runs a powerful and ruthless mercenary company. This new dynamic duo finds themselves trekking across the lush landscapes of India in search of Ganesha’s Tusk, a task inherited by Chloe from her father.

Along the way they cross paths with a warlord named Asav who is attempting to overthrow the legitimate government in India for his own gains and his coup seems dependent on his attainment of the Tusk. If this sounds familiar, then congratulations! You played Uncharted 2! Yep, the plot is pretty much recycled from that game, only with a slightly less cartoonish villain. I actually like Asav, though. He’s a well-written and intimidating character and proves to be one of the most worthy foes in the franchise.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017; Naughty Dog)

The gameplay is lifted right out of Uncharted 4, polishing some of the rough edges with grabbing some ledges and interacting with objects in the world. Traversing the landscape is still smooth and satisfying and each successful swing from the grappling hook feels like an exhilarating achievement. The shooting mechanics, however, seem a little different. Enemies can absorb an insane amount of bullets before dropping and the one-woman-army idea is thrown out entirely. I would say this is an adjustment to some complaints that Uncharted 4 was a little too easy, but it can be frustrating when you land an obvious headshot with a sniper rifle only to just mildly stagger and annoy the target. I can presume this is an issue of polish on Naughty Dog’s part and hopefully we will see some patching to resolve some of this issue.

The levels are standard fare for the franchise and, while they are gorgeous, can feel quite linear for most of the game. The gunplay areas are more stricter and more confined than many of those in other entries in the series. Still, the open world segment of the game is quite good, although it is only available in one chapter. The various events are scattered throughout the game and while they never reach the level of spectacle seen in its parent series, they are well-made and exciting. They only real complaint I have is that many of the levels and associated events feel like rehashes of things we saw in previous games in the series like climbing and fighting your way along a speeding train and driving a jeep through muddy roads while taking out attacking motorcycles. There is definitely a sign here that they were running out of ideas, a fear that never crossed my mind while playing Uncharted 4.

Overall, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a solid entry in the series and a great placeholder until the inevitable release of a game starring Nathan and Elena’s daughter, Cassie. It is much shorter than the other games but at a retail price of just $40, it is worth checking out, especially for fans of the series. There is a lot to enjoy here!

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