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Monday, Jul 28, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-07-28...

SOOO, I couldn’t decide what to deign “game of the week” this week, so we’re going with co-winners.


First up is the obvious one, the one and only seriously high profile release of the week.  Out in advance of the uber-anticipated updates to the Street Fighter franchise is the first of a few steps toward reinvigorating the recently dormant (aside from TV tie-ins like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto) fighting game genre:  Soulcalibur IV.  The reason I’ve been a bit hesitant toward this is that much of the most noticeable pre-release publicity for the game has centered upon the gravity defying, spitting-in-the-face-of-physics size of the female fighters’ breasts (particularly those of Ivy, whose battle gear cannot possibly be comfortable).  I’m not sure this is a good thing, unless you’re a Rumble Roses fan.


Still, it’s tough to deny the draw of a sequel to a game that can still boast one of the very few 10.0 scores on IGN.  The original Soulcalibur honestly ranks right up there with Street Fighter II in terms of playability and fun, and even if the sequels haven’t been of the same, um, caliber (ha), they’ve at least been worth a play or three.  Perhaps the publicity boost behind number 4 means that there will be a quality boost to match.


Also, Darth Vader and Yoda are involved.  So there’s that.


The other game, and the one I’m more likely to buy, quite frankly, is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.  I wish I could count the number of hours I’ve lost to the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, despite the fact that I’ve never spent more than five minutes on the game at a time, and also despite the fact that all of my practice has not changed the fact that I really kind of suck at the game.  There’s an utterly addictive quality to the whole thing, perhaps due to the fact that “just one more game” is only a couple of minutes worth of a commitment, perhaps due to the simplicity of the whole thing offering the sort of play that always feels like you could (and probably should) have avoided the one enemy that killed you.  Geometry Wars 2 is adding a bunch of cooperative modes and new boards to play, and early screenshots have indicated that the level of chaos is at least that of the first, so…that’s 10 more dollars down the intertube.


Fans looking for the next RBI Baseball might want to give MLB Power Pros a look for the Wii…so far, it’s been well-received, and the style and simplicity of it might invite back some old school baseballers that can’t deal with the simulation-like nature of most modern baseball games.  I’m also positive that someone out there is doing backflips over the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI for the PC, but I still haven’t managed to make myself excited about the well-established, long-running strategy series.  Maybe when XII comes out, I’ll be swayed.


The rest of the releases (and two trailers!) are after the jump.


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Thursday, Jul 24, 2008
Was E3 really as bad as everyone says it was? Well, maybe, but it did have some redeeming factors as well...

If I were a gaming publisher, I would absolutely hate (hate!) E3.  Sure, it’s a high-profile chance to tout the latest breakthroughs in technology and the biggest splashes in software, but how in the world do you deal with the expectations?


Who wants to play pre-recorded songs via air guitar pantomime? Anyone?

Who wants to play pre-recorded songs via air guitar pantomime?
Anyone?


On one hand, if you simply go about your business as usual and simply treat E3 as a place to announce things that you’ve been working on with the general public, chances are all of your news is going to be old news by the time E3 comes around.  Netflix integration in the Xbox 360, Wii Music, God of War III...these are all things that were all but common knowledge before E3 happened, so the “announcements” that happened at E3 were anticlimactic at best, and painfully awkward at worst (Wii Music, particularly, has yet to offer anything resembling an absorbing play experience, particularly in an age run rampant with music and rhythm games).


On the other hand, if you play your cards close to the vest in order to make a big splash at E3, as Nintendo tried to do with their Wii Motion Plus add-on, you risk alienating a large segment of rather important people as well; third-party developers are now upset at Nintendo for not offering their technology sooner, though doing so would very likely have resulted in a leak to an all-too-anxious gaming press.


Of course, the result of all of this negativity are countless articles yelling about how “dead” E3 is, how awful Nintendo and Sony did in their presentations (making a so-so presentation from Microsoft look like a standout), and how boring it is in its new, journos-only, two-years-and-running private party form.


What gets lost in all of this crying and gnashing of teeth is the fact that E3 2008 actually had a few moments that made us sit up and say “Wow!”, or “whoa, cool!”, or “WTF?!”.  As one to try to focus on the positive, I’d like to offer five moments that made E3 not quite as bad as everyone says it was.  Of course, what better announcement to start with than…


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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

Hopefully, fans of the Guitar Hero franchise who are also inclined to visit this here site have already seen Ryan Smith’s review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which as far as my experience with the game goes is right on the money.  Still, as an admitted Guitar Hero junkie myself (which sounds extreme, but there’s really no other way to put it), I’m compelled to offer two more observations about the game.


Did I mention that the battle with Joe Perry is easierthan any battle in Guitar Hero III?

The battle with Joe Perry is easier than any battle
in Guitar Hero III!


The first of these observations is exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of the game: the achievements.  Just in case anyone was concerned that Neversoft wasn’t keeping up with the forum buzz, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith directly addresses one of the chief complaints of critics of Guitar Hero III: namely, that the game as a whole (and the set of goals laid out by the achievements in particular) is just too damn hard.  I’m pretty good at Guitar Hero games, but I’m not so good that I expect to blow through the expert career in the second night that I own the game.  As if to say “sorry for expecting you to score 750,000 on anything, and oh, also sorry for thinking you could snag a perfect score on 20 different expert-level tracks”, the achievements are quite obviously designed for the novice.  The most difficult of the achievements are only so for their unpredictability (like the one that forces you to win in sudden death in a battle mode match), and the skill-based achievements don’t even require a score of 500,000 (325,000 on “Train Kept a Rollin’” never really feels out of reach).  Experienced players with a little bit of time on their hands will have a cool 1,000/1,000 points in under a week.  This could be a boon for some players, but in a $60 game, exhausting the achievement list that quick feels a bit like a gyp.


All I’m saying is that it seems a bit strange that Guitar Hero II still seems to have the best idea of a balance of easy, tough-but-doable, and nigh-impossible achievements when two iterations of the franchise have been released since.


Seriously -- this is as hard as \

Seriously—this is as hard as “Dream On” gets.


The other thing that strikes one as odd about Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is the difficulty spread of the songs.  Of particular note is “Dream On”, which actually occupies a spot in the second-to-last tier of songs, which should suggest that it’s a difficult but far from impossible song.  Still, it’s a placement that caused some concern in the community given that “Dream On” was released as downloadable content for Guitar Hero III to promote the upcoming Aerosmith version, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the easiest songs Guitar Hero has ever offered.  It hasn’t changed a bit from that downloadable version in Guitar Hero III, and it feels even easier as part of the penultimate grouping of songs.  Again, some players might be pleased that they get a bit of a break in the form of one of Aerosmith’s most famous and celebrated songs, but those looking for any semblance of a challenge are, again, bound to be disappointed.


Totaled up, the challenge of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith simply isn’t enough in a number of ways, particularly for the person most likely to pick this up; that is, the Guitar Hero veteran who’s looking for 40 or so new songs to play.  For someone who’s never played Guitar Hero, however, someone who happens to be drawn to the franchise for the first time by the featured band, it will be perfect.


Unfortunately, that preferred target of the Guitar Hero: Aerosmith buying constituency will very likely be a rather pronounced minority.


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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008
L.B. grumbles about hype for a while and then...wait for it...picks out some games to hype.


When the New York Times takes the time to comment on E3 being dull, you know it’s going to be a slow year. A bunch of games we already knew were coming, a couple of games anyone could’ve predicted were coming, and Microsoft having a very bizarre ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ interface for Xbox. So…what upcoming games should we get hyped about? Hype is an integral part of the video game world, even if it has proven to be a bit problematic. Beyond the odd effect it can have on fans, hype can even be blinding to the actual critics involved. Mitch Krpata points out that critics can be so dead set on a game being good that they’ll list off dozens of flaws yet give a high score anyways. To give you an example of how ridiculous this can get, whether you loved or hated GTA IV, I can’t think of many players who would seriously consider comparing it to ’The Wire’. But it can’t be denied that hype can do a lot of good by getting the word out. So how do we pick we pick what games to hype?


 


William Gibson coined the term ‘cool-hunter’ in his book


Pattern Recognition

and it’s a very apt description of what a game critic needs to do when selecting which game to hype. You need a developed sixth sense that allows you to stare at a sea of clothes, movies, music, and advertising and detect the one that’s working. Gibson compares it to watching the snow on a television and being able to see an image in it. It’s a good term because it recognizes that there is a certain mystical element to spotting a cool game before it exists, something that is never going to be possible to put into words. Acknowledging then that some games are definitely going to be awesomely kickass and it can be predicted, it stands to reason that we should get out there and support it. The developer and producer need to sell as many copies as possible as quickly as possible, before shelf-space demands pushes the game into the bargain bin. We want to reward creativity and boldness in games, right? Even looking past the desire to economically help your favorite game, there is still something to be said for hype being fun. Over at Brainy Gamer, there’s an interesting post about enjoying hype as a kind of celebration. Soon enough video games will be the mega industry the analysts are predicting and everything will be a sea of jaded “It’s good but not great” reviews. We’ll all just be comparing them to old classics and not even caring about new releases anymore.


So what are some games that should be hyped? We’re entering the realm of subjectivity here but I’ll explain what makes these such stand-out games. I found The Nameless Game at Steve Gaynor’s blog and must admit the pitch is fascinating. They basically took the idea of ‘The Ring’ and applied it to a video game. What if there was a haunted cartridge game and whoever played it would find themselves horribly cursed? I’m basing this purely off the two trailers and Gaynor’s observations, but little touches like the 8-bit game within a game being buggy and glitchy are just the tip of the iceberg. One of the themes in both trailers is the cross-over of games into reality. In the first trailer, you pick-up a DS. The trailer comes to an abrupt end there, the fourth wall being shattered as the person playing a game is now confronting that very fact. In the second, there is a transition from incessant 8-bit music to the humming of a real person in the same tune. It’s this transition of the virtual into the real that both horrifies and fascinates us that the game is capitalizing on. What if our entertainment, our escape, became real? Sure, the graphics look fine, there may be some pacing issues and the puzzles may be dull. But this is a game that no matter what flaws there may be, it is still a very interesting concept.


 


Another game that has several interesting things going to for it is Red Fly Studio’s Mushroom Men. A studio comprised almost entirely of artists, one look at the game will convince you that it’s totally unlike anything else aesthetically. It also explores the mostly uncharted landscape of being a tiny person in a 3-D human landscape. Levels include a trailer, shed, and the underground world of the mushroom people as they face off against everyday creatures like rabbits, spiders, and moles. Sounds good, right? Here’s the kicker: Les Claypool of Primus is making the soundtrack. It’s extremely unusual for the selling point of a video game to be its soundtrack and yet the time seems ripe for it to happen. An interview with game composer Richard Jacques outlines the culture of game soundtracks today. The once level-based themes that composers knew would be heard countless times have been replaced by long epic scores that support narrative and tension. Games are just now entering a phase where they are moving past that orchestral phase and are looking for new ways to incorporate music into games. It’s safe to say Les Claypool is your man for that kind of job. Again, no matter what problems this game may have, it’s trying to do something new and it’s doing it with a whole lot of style.


 


The first piece of hype I ever read was for the game Monkey Island. It was a sprawling six page spread, with screenshots that showed snippets from every part of the game. Fighting the swordmaster, digging for treasure, and Monkey Island itself were all featured and captioned. It completely fascinated me, this world they were describing and the experiences I would have there. My obsession with the game was rewarded heartily when I finally managed to play it some months later, but looking back I can still remember that hype article very clearly. I’d played a lot of interactive fiction games before and I’ve played a lot since, but I think what made it so special was that I’d never played anything that was about pirates in the Caribbean. With so much unexplored territory still left for video games, it seems like the best thing we can do now is support the people who are doing the real exploring.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Jul 21, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-07-21...

It’s not particularly surprising, nor should it be surprising, that the week after E3 is just as sparse as the week of E3 (which we will briefly wrap up later this week) when it comes to the depth of the game release schedule.  It’s tough to concentrate on the releases of yet another entry in the Kidz Sports series when you’re concentrating on, say, new screens for MadWorld.


STILL—some of us are simply not inclined to want to enjoy the fresh air that comes with this time of summer, and so, to the release list we must LOOK:


Fans of idea recycling will no doubt be rather thrilled at a couple of the bigger releases for the week, including the one that I’m most likely to end up with at some point: namely, the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy IV.  Back when Final Fantasy IV was known to us Americans as Final Fantasy II (you know, before Final Fantasy VII went and confused everybody for a while), it was winning hearts and minds as one of the most influential RPGs of its time.  The fully-developed story, an active turn-based combat system that probably seemed as close to perfect as you could imagine at that point, and some of the baddest baddies in role playing at the time made for a play experience that somehow managed to make 30 hours seem short.


For the sake of the DS, the entire world of Final Fantasy IV has been given a complete and utter overhaul, with character models that move far beyond the sprites of the SNES version (or even the Game Boy Advance remakes), complete with three-dimensional modeling and completely redone towns.  While it’s still the same game, it looks completely different, which may well be all we need to give this classic another playthrough.


Also on the recycled material front is 1942: Joint Strike for the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, which scores bonus points not just because it’s a shmup but because 1942 is a classic (total classic!).  Hopefully the updated version can live up to its name, and hopefully those big planes still take an obscene number of shots to down.


MLB Power Pros 2008 could be a nice alternative to the baseball sims that pervade the sports market, because really, all we want is R.B.I. Baseball for a new generation, right?  Dungeon crawler fans may well flock to Atlus’ latest as well, as Izuna, the unemployed ninja herself, gets an improbable second go on a new portable.  That’d probably be a nice second step in the genre for those attracted to the genre by those Pokémon dungeon crawlers a couple months ago.  Otherwise…well, there’s just not much to speak of.


Looking forward to anything this week?  Let us know!  The full release list and a trailer for the new Final Fantasy IV are after the JUMP:


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