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Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Azmol Meah takes on the UK-exclusive Hurry Up Hedgehog! for the Nintendo DS. He doesn't hold back.

There have been many video game iterations of popular board games in recent years. Everything from Monopoly to Risk to Jenga has made the jump from cardboard boards to, erm, digital boards!


All are household names and all have sucked as video games harder than a super turbo charged vacuum cleaner.


Next in this inauspicious line is Hurry Up Hedgehog!, based on a popular German board game known as Egelrace, which roughly translates to ‘Hedgehogs in a Hurry’. And just as the aforementioned titles should have remained board games, so should have Hurry Up Hedgehog. After playing the game equivalent, you’ll genuinely question how this could even pass as a decent board game.


There are two things that will catch your attention when playing Hurry Up Hedgehog!. First, there’s an option to dope the hedgehogs. Second, the little critters themselves come across as a sort of super freaky hybrid of Tina Turner’s ‘Aunty’ character from Mad Max 3 and some reject Twisted Sister outcast. Of course, those hedgehogs are maxed out with anthropomorphic traits, which means lots of animals behaving like humans! Why can’t hedgehogs act like, you know hedgehogs—granted, they don’t do much aside from getting splattered on roadsides by soccer mums in their 4x4’s—but surely a hedgehog murdering simulator would have been a better idea than what Oxygen have given us (ideally, the hedgehogs in this alternative game would be on drugs as well).


But alas, the developers only managed to get the dope part right. The rest of the game simply involves guiding those whiny, grotesque beasts we get from A to B on a 6x9 garden-themed grid, where your greatest foe isn’t an overindulged Knightsbridge housewife, but instead, a mud pit. Yes, that’s right, a mud pit. You move your team of Frankenstein’s droppings from left to right, forwards, backwards or on top of other Hedgehogs for some hot, saucy, hedgehog on hedgehog action, guide your team to the finish line and that’s it.


Yes, that’s it; stroke the stylus in four different directions. If you can master the ancient art of being able to tell the difference between, left, right, up and down then you’ll be a Jedi at Hurry Up Hedgehog! in the blink of an eye. Though with gameplay this banal, don’t be surprised if you find yourself edging closer and closer to the dark side. Even its single cart, six-player multiplayer can’t rescue it from total disaster.


Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the game essentially has one mode, no in-game music, a middle school educational CD-ROM look, menus that are only ever half explained, characters that could rival Sonic’s merry band of losers in terms of utter lameness and gameplay that requires no skill, thought, strategy, arcade nor mental ability. Add it all up, and you have one awful game.


Wisely, the game is being released at a paltry £14.99, which is, in all honesty, £14.99 too much. Sadly, a lot of the DS-loving teeny–boppers will probably pick this up, thinking it’s some sort of new super cutesy pet sim, but it’s not.  It may simply be the MOST…POINTLESS…GAME…EVER.


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Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The dependence of the Nintendo DS on stylus-based games has inspired an influx of pen-and-paper game translations. How do they hold up to the real thing?

I didn’t mention it on Monday, but there was one other thing that came out this week that my eyes just couldn’t help but return to: a little thing called Crosswords DS, the not-all-that-imaginatively-titled Nintendo Touch Generations entry into the crossword arena.  Here’s a trailer:


Now, unlike Boom Blox which just looks seriously fun, and R-Type Command, which may be niche but could well be incredible, Crosswords DS is the type of title that inspires an internal struggle.  On one hand, it sounds like an incredible idea for a puzzle buff like me.  Over 1,000 crosswords?  Word searches?  A few other bonus word puzzles?  Sign me up!


On the other hand, I’ve done pen ‘n paper puzzles on the DS, in the form of the Brain Age series’ Sudoku madness.  And I’ll admit, I lost a whole pile of hours to all of that Sudoku.  Still, as someone who grew up searching for the crossword in every Sunday’s paper (after tearing through the comics of course), there’s something a little bit surreal about having a friggin’ thousand of the things in one of those tiny little DS cartridges.  And, you know, I think you lose a little something in knowing that, if you get stumped on something, even for a second, you can just move on to the next one.  A thousand times.  None of this is even to mention the sterility of the stylus-touchscreen interface for putting the letters in, and how it doesn’t compare to the scratch of pencil on paper (or the added challenge and pressure of trying to use pen).


That said, I’d be surprised if I didn’t lose days of my life to Crosswords DS (and its less-publicized, out-for-a-while-already counterpart from the New York Times) eventually, just like I did with the Brain Age Sudoku.  What do you think?  Can the DS compete with the Sunday paper?


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Monday, May 5, 2008
L.B. Jeffries continues the Zarathustran Analytics series, putting together his pillars of game design and calling for sense in classification.


The establishment of a critical language eventually calls for laying out a couple of basic terms for describing experiences in games. At the moment, people mostly define a game by what kind of game design it is. ‘real-time strategy’, ‘first-person shooter’, or ‘role playing game’ dominate the lexicon of video games. The first problem is that these game designs have all borrowed from each other so much that now all games contain elements of them. Mass Effect has strategy and first-person shooting elements, the FPS gimmick of silent protagonists who never talk clearly flirts with role-play, etc. Second, they’re discussed as if they were exclusive activities. All aspects of a game involve strategy, a player operating in the first person (in varying ways), and the game’s camera changing location all the time. Finally, it tends to be reductive of the games themselves to group them by one feature alone should they excel in other ways. As video games start moving away from these initial identities the question arises…how do we start identifying the experience of a game?

Eric Wolpaw (the writer of Portal) has described a game as consisting of a delta of player input, plot, and game design that comes together to form the game experience. It’s a good analogy because just as when a triangle that has one large side forces the other two to conform, so too do games twist their attributes in response to one another. So in order to divide these different definitions, it’s best to just identify which part of the delta of narrative, player, or game is the foundation while the other two rest upon it. As far as the terminology goes, rather than re-invent the wheel it’s best to just rip it off something else: books. Out of all cultural forms of art, the act of imagining what people look, sound, and act like while reading somewhat resembles player input in video games. Besides, the narrative terms for how a book engages you (first-person, third, etc.) are already used in video games to describe their own methods of engagement anyways. FPS, remember?


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Monday, May 5, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-05...

As much as we enjoy going off the beaten path here at Moving Pixels, it’s difficult to go off the beaten path when the beaten path is just about the only path available to travel.  Case in point: After a couple of weeks with surprising depth in the release list, we’re back to the vast desert wasteland of game releases.  As is the case in most vast desert wastelands, however, there are a few oases to be found.


Of note this week:  Boom Blox is upon us!  Steven Spielberg’s first foray into the gaming arena is so Spielbergian that it’s got his name splashed across the top!  Actually, the only thing identifiably Spielbergian about Boom Blox is the explosions.  There are lots of explosions, though.  I have to admit, I know very little about what this game is going to be like and how it is going to be played save the Wikipedia article on it and the various major game site previews that are out there, but I do know that you can’t really go wrong when you have lots of explosions, blocks, and rectangularly-shaped animals populating your game. 


Did anyone else know that Speed Racer was a Nintendo exclusive?  When did that happen?


Regardless, the only other game on this particular list that might have had a shot of challenging Boom Blox as the week’s most highly-anticipated game has to be R-Type Command, another North American release of a somewhat obscure Japanese game (R-Type Tactics) by the mighty and venerable Atlus.  Granted, it’s a game with long-running and storied franchise behind it, but the boost provided by history is almost entirely negated by the fact that the entire history of R-Type is as a space shooter, while R-Type Command is a turn-based strategy game.  Still, the chance to fight Giger-isms in turn-based combat is just too much win to pass up.


The rest of this week’s releases (you know, the three or four I didn’t mention) are after the break…


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Thursday, May 1, 2008
The parallels between those taking sides in the battle over the merit of Grand Theft Auto and the battle over the merit of blogs as journalistic devices are striking.

It’s no secret that Grand Theft Auto IV is, at this point, an utter phenomenon, not just a gaming entity but a media entity that is currently, in the few days following its release, destroying every other form of entertainment in terms of popularity, interest, and commentary.  On one hand, we have the side of 99% of the gamers who have bought it: basically, that it’s the best damn thing since San Andreas came out.  Then, there are those who are utterly and unequivocally against its release, suggesting that it should be locked behind counters or banned outright.  There is very little in-between to be found, which makes for a dearth of common ground from which intelligent discussion of the merits and flaws in the game can appear.


Buzz vs. Will, Round 1…FIGHT(Image courtesy of AOL Fanhouse)

Buzz vs. Will, Round 1…FIGHT
(Image courtesy of AOL Fanhouse)


Interestingly, this particular split is happening just as another such split is popping up and threatening to consume the media: blogs vs. the mainstream (read: print) media.  It’s a split that had been brewing for some time, but it all seems to have come to a head now that Buzz Bissinger, the author of Friday Night Lights himself, relentlessly browbeat Deadspin.com progenitor Will Leitch all over Bob Costas’ HBO show the other night.  The divide is framed as such: those who have spent their life cutting their teeth on print media can’t stand the brash, brazenly amateur tone favored by the majority of blogs (and have no trouble saying so via endlessly trotting out the tired “living in their moms’ basements” line), and blogs are dismissing those criticisms as baseless and completely without merit (often by indulging in exactly the sort of bottom-feeding that the “old guard” is criticizing).  Much like the split inspired by Grand Theft Auto, sanity can only be found somewhere in between those two arguments, but let’s face it: arguments that try to reconcile two sides of a very tall fence are a) difficult to present, and b) bound to be slammed to death by both sides of that fence.


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