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Monday, May 18, 2009
New releases for the week of 2009-05-18!!

Are you the type of gamer who needs to have things that other people don’t have?  Are you the type for whom “console exclusive” is the magic pair of words which inspires either immense pride or extreme jealousy?  Well then, for this generation, the Wii is your console.  This week demonstrates as much as well as any—look at the release lists, and you’ll see the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 each with the four same releases, while the Wii?  Seven console-exclusive releases, with the only cross-platform release being the Rock Band Classic Rock Track Pack.  Given the similarity of the Xbox 360 and PS3 processors, it simply doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint for a third party to release exclusives on one or the other.  The Wii, as a machine with a completely different reason for being (not to mention a far weaker set of specs), almost demands exclusives, given its emphasis on control and limited graphical capabilities; even when games aren’t exclusives, parts of them are far different than versions put out for the other systems.


Of course, a look at this week’s releases also demonstrates the drawback of such a philosophy—wow, does the Wii ever attract some shovelware.


In this space, we’d rather focus on the games that aren’t shovelware, and thankfully, there are plenty of those this week as well.  At the top of the list is the Wiimake—oh…oh my…did I just write “Wiimake”?  I’m kind of ashamed, actually.  It’s the Wii remake of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (or the exponentially less cool Punch Out!! featuring Mr. Dream, if you got to it late), whose most promising announced feature so far is the return of the classic controls with the updated graphics.  Sure, those controls won’t beat the visceral thrill of flailing about with the Wii remote and nunchuck while you try in vain to knock down the likes of Glass Joe, but we have Wii Sports’ boxing for that anyway, right?  In any case, the art style of the new Punch-Out!! is pretty appealing, and old-school nintendo fans are almost guaranteed to have a good time with it!!


If you could care less about old-time gaming, Boom Blox Bash Party is a good way to support one of the new Wii franchises.  The first Boom Blox, highly touted as Steven Spielberg’s entry into the gaming arena, was at first a victim of widespread disinterest, and it sold terribly out of the box.  That said, it’s apparently been a consistent seller for the Wii, given that it’s almost hit seven-figure sales since that slow start.  Bash Party tweaks the formula a bit with underwater and outer space levels (and all the gravity changes such environments would imply), and adds the ability to download new levels at no extra cost, which could potentially push the replay value of the game into the stratosphere.  Here’s hoping the second entry in the series doesn’t take quite so long to catch on.


As for all of those non-exclusives on the other big consoles, I would be remiss to not mention Bionic Commando.  As the modern-day update to what remains my favorite Nintendo game of all time, I’m excited and utterly skeptical at the same time.  My skepticism is mostly borne from descriptions that compare the Bionic Commando swing mechanic to the modern Spider-Man games, but I’m hoping against hope that there’s more to it than that.  If nothing else, it looks to be a fun hi-def adventure game, which is fine and all, but the Bionic Commando name deserves more.


...and how could I forget Imagine: Makeup Artist?  Oh, right.


What are you playing this week?  Is anyone else dreading the release of Bionic Commando just a little bit?  Do you know anyone who you can hold at gunpoint and force to buy Boom Blox Bash Party?  Let us know in the comments, and enjoy the atypically busy release week!!


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Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Six Days in Fallujah was announced a few weeks ago, it received considerable backlash for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons were valid (“It’s too soon for a war game in Iraq,” “It could be disrespectful to soldiers”), others were not (“Games are only for escapism”), but what surprised me the most was the amount of backlash from gamers for the regenerating health system.


I admit that regenerating health is out of place in a game that’s supposed to be realistic, but also I think the word “realistic” has been unfairly applied to Six Days in Fallujah. The word “realistic” creates (ironically) unrealistic expectations for a mass-market war game. Gamers now expect their avatar to die easily; after all, it often doesn’t take more than one bullet to kill someone in real life so it shouldn’t take more than one bullet to kill our avatar. However, this kind of one-hit kill system would make the game dangerously difficult, and because of its broad intended audience, Six Days in Fallujah has to be accessible to all gamers. The subject matter itself is guaranteed to limit sales, so why further that with punishing gameplay? Concessions to reality must be made for playability. At least that’s the argument the developer made, but I believe the case for regenerating health goes beyond mere accessibility.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A closer look at the appeal of one of the most popular video games of all time.

It’s one of gaming culture’s odd habits that developers will typically discover a successful game design without really understanding what they’ve got their hands on. You can test something out with audiences and see if people like it, but there is often little time left for the why of the whole process. One of the most prevalent places this exists is in matching games like Bejeweled and the casual knock-offs that expand on the concept. Jason Kapalka comments on an interview at Casualgames.biz that these games are almost primal in their simplicity: connect 3 blocks of a matching color in a randomly generated screen. Most Bejeweled 2 knock-offs just provide the player additional combos for the player so that it is just expanding on the original theme without changing the basic process. You are channeling the innate desire to find order in chaotic systems while balancing the need for finding that order to be easy to manage.


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Monday, May 11, 2009
New releases for the week of 2009-05-10...

It is a slow, slow week on the gaming front, but as is ever the case, a little digging reveals a few gems among the coal. Did you like that metaphor? No? I’ll try harder next week, bound to be another slow week in this, the doldrums of the gaming year.


This week, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel hits the consoles, having been out on the PC for the last six months or so.  The PC version was somewhat derided for its bugs, but hopefully the many delays that have hit the console versions of the game indicate a commitment to ironing out whatever bugs were there.  It’s been nine years now since Diablo II, and even the most devoted Diablophiles will be hungry for something just a little bit different.  Sacred 2 borrows Diablo‘s isometric viewpoint and punishing difficulty, and adds a world that’s a little bit brighter and, perhaps most importantly, a little bit funnier. Don’t be mistaken—if you’re new to this sort of game, you’ll find the difficulty of it awfully oppressive; stick with it, however, and you find a game that actually doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an awfully pleasant diversion that may just last you until Diablo 3 shows up, unicorns, rainbows and all.


The PlayStation 2, perhaps surprisingly, has another potential cult classic on its hands thanks to Atlus, who will be releasing the oppressively titled Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon on the still-slowly-fading system tomorrow.  The game’s got style—you can see that much simply from the few trailers that are out.  If it can have half the narrative strength and beautifully balanced gameplay of Atlus’ Persona series of games, PS2 hangers-on are in for another treat.


Desktop Tower Defense is arriving on the DS this week, which seems like a perfect fit for the little system, even if the low resolution of the tiny screen might have made for a difficult implementation…it’ll be interesting to see how it translates from PC to portable.  If Left 4 Dead fatigue has set in, Killing Floor is another zombie shooter that’ll be seeing the light of day on Steam this week.  And, of course, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball finally arrives on the Wii this week, a game whose name, well, it speaks for itself.


Me? Aw, hell, I’m playing Halo 3 this week.  The full release list, and a trailer for Sacred 2, is after…the jump.


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 8, 2009

There’s been news of a survey going around asking if a karma system in the next Grand Theft Auto would make the game more enjoyable. I’ve recently become a bit cynical towards karma systems. It seems that giving the player a moral choice is an ever increasing trend in gaming, but does it really make the game more interesting? It certainly did a few years ago, but since then I fear they’ve become so common that simply giving players a choice between good or evil has lost its emotional punch. Richard Clark on Christ and Pop Culture suggests the next logical step, “What I would like to see instead is for games to present us with these moral choices that have real consequences on the game world and the gameplay, but that don’t have an opinion on whether we did the right thing or not.” I like where he’s going, but I don’t think it’s necessary to abandon the karma system completely. Players still need a set of guiding morals in order to give their choices a weight within the game world. One possible solution is adding more ambiguous choices; this will naturally lead to a karma system that’s less overt, if even there at all. Another possibility is to use story to express the guiding morals, keeping the “karma” but ditching the “system.” (Spoilers abound for both Fallout 3 and GTA IV)


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