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Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010
The fun of 'Super Mario World' is just figuring out ways to break the level.

My favorite Mario Bros. is the SNES version. It’s not a fun issue. Super Mario Galaxy, Mario 64, and the other games in the series all have their moments. They just don’t inspire the same degree of fascination that Super Mario World has drawn out of me. I can usually plow through the game in a handful of sessions, unlocking every secret through muscle memory. I know the levels to milk for lives when you’re running low. The route to the Blue Yoshi is permanently burned into my mind. I’ve beaten the game’s 2-D predecessors without ever having much interest in going back. I play the 3-D ones, but by about the 50th star, I just want to get it over with. What is this game doing that keeps me coming back?


From a design perspective, Super Mario World is unique in the amount of options that you have when deciding how you want to begin a level. Unlike Super Mario Bros. 3, I can go back to beaten levels and snag power-ups before hitting start then select to immediately exit. There was a bit of dabbling with this in the third game with the inclusion of an inventory system, but it was always a finite resource. There are only so many treasure houses, and the results were usually random. In Super Mario World if I want a cape, I just go get one then try the level again. The DS version (calling it New Super Mario Brothers seems to just confuse people) also plays with this idea, but there were really only two power-ups to collect: big and fire flower. In the 3-D versions, you always start as Mario, and you can’t even carry powers into a level. The only time that you get the bee suit is if it’s an option that the designer includes. Likewise, the only time you get to fly is if the level is built for it in Mario 64. By contrast, the only constraint that Super Mario World imposes is in the ghost houses or castles, and even then, it just means dismounting Yoshi. You are free to bring whatever you like to most levels and engage with them on your own terms.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Feb 12, 2010
Borderlands and Dragon Age portray the player as a traveler, but the permanent storage we get in downloadable content betrays that portrayal.

Gamers are hoarders, collectors. Games have always encouraged this behavior, both inside and outside the virtual world, tempting us with “the next big gun” and “the next big game”. But sometimes this tradition is eschewed to great effect. When Resident Evil 4 got rid of the magic storage chests that had been a staple of the series, players were forced to think about their inventory in a new way. We had to strategize, we had to choose between ammo, health, grenades, or guns, we had to predict what was coming and therefore what we would need, but we never really knew what was coming. As we left the mysterious Merchant, there was always an uneasy feeling that we were unprepared. Our limited inventory made the unknown more frightening.


More recently, Dragon Age: Origins and Borderlands forced the player to accept a limited inventory, and since their release, developers of both games have caved to public pressure and given players a storage chest through downloadable content. By adding such a chest, these two games lost one of their more unique traits: their portrayal of the player as a traveler.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Clash of Heroes mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements.

I love strategy games on my Nintendo DS. They’re pretty much all I play on the thing, except maybe a little Tetris or Meteos from time to time. But for me, turn-based strategy games like Age of Empires, Advanced Wars: Dual Strike, and yes, oh yes, oh yes, Civilization: Revolutions are why I bought a new DS the day my old one broke. The purer the strategy, the better as far as I’m concerned, and random elements in these games just drive me nuts. Any time the digital dice contravene the odds, I’m a little peeved. I love to plan many moves ahead, make the right moves, and see my strategies give birth to victories. I guess I’m mostly just looking for really complicated versions of chess. With tanks.


So I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game that mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements. Battles are very abstract, sort of like playing versus Bejeweled, but with dragons and vampires and demons. The two armies line up and each round you have three moves to maneuver troops so that three units of the same color line up to form either a wall or an attack formation. Bigger units like knights or those dragons requite multiple units of the same color stacked up behind them to activate. It’s a simple game with layers of interesting strategy and complications that make it a lot of fun. I recommend it, despite the trite, overwrought (but thankfully irrelevant) story.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010
“I wouldn't say that games are the ideal way to experience literature. I think literature has done that quite well. That being said, games offer the opportunity to ask interesting questions and allow the player to answer them in a way that transcends previous mediums.” -- Jordan Thomas, Creative Director, Bioshock 2

On February 5th, 2010, some of the development team responsible for Bioshock 2 took part in a conference call with the gaming press.  Questions were asked in a moderated forum to a group that included creative director Jordan Thomas, lead designer Zak McClendon, and lead environment artist Hogarth de la Plante.


Most of my own interests in taking part in the forum regarded how the philosophical concerns and ethical choices that made the first Bioshock so compelling might or might not be continued to be explored in the sequel.  Interestingly, while the first game grappled with the notion of how creating a society on the libertarian and individualistic principles of Ayn Rand’s objectivism might look in the aftermath of its dissolution, the second game seems to change direction with an eye to considering utopianism of another sort, that of the utilitarianism of collectivist thinkers like John Stuart Mill.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010
A game where conformity should probably not be considered a positive for once. Mild Spoilers in the next to last paragraph.

Any review of No More Heroes 2 is probably best started with the caveat that if you didn’t play the first one, the sequel is a solid investment. To a person unfamiliar with Grasshopper Manufacture or Suda 51 games, the game will be an explosion of new ideas in an accessible design that’s engaging all the way to the end. The problem with No More Heroes 2 is that for all the fans who plowed through Killer 7 and No More Heroes for the sake of insane cutscenes, bizarre game design, and dark humor you’re going to find a lot of those things missing. If No More Heroes was the equivalent of a live punk concert, No More Heroes 2 is the I-pod friendly studio album.


Everything that was supposedly broken about the old game has been removed and everything that was praised has been enhanced. The wonky physics and tedious driving in the first game have been replaced with a handy menu system that lets you travel to all relevant destinations instantly. Travis now has access to four different beam weapons that offer different fighting styles along with sections where you play as two other characters with their own unique moves. No more just bashing A and wildly swinging the remote while heads explode. The generic repetitive bad guys of the first game have been replaced with a diversity of fighters who make the much shorter levels quick and always a reasonable length. The awkward side jobs have been replaced with well designed 8-bit mini-games. The assassination missions that would challenge you to kill a hundred people in a minute are gone. No more chopping off 8 people’s heads at once, no more running over every single street light in Santa Destroy, or trying to to do donuts on your enormous motorcycle.


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