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Thursday, Sep 2, 2010
Starcraft 2 doesn't ever feel like war to me. It's hard for me to feel that anything going on is even representative of something important.

When I was young, I was obsessed with what my parents called, “those chit games,” strategy games with hundreds, sometimes thousands of little quarter-inch cardboard squares that represented military units. Some of the more user-friendly games might have a picture of a knight or a tank in silhouette on them, but most of the ones that I was most intrigued by just had simple symbols used by real military types: an oval for armor units, an “x” for infantry. OR was that cavalry? The most complicated ones, like the massive World War 2 wargames from the Europa line had thousands of pieces with scores of arcane symbols on them.


The simplicity of these symbols conjured up immense battles in my imagination, with a single piece of cardboard signifying an entire armored division of Panzers ready to roll into Russia. And when you got two thousand of them all together on one eight foot long map, that looked like one helluva war. I should note here that it took my friends and I a whole day to set up Scorched Earth, a half day to play the first turn, and ten minutes to decide that we’d never finish. Oh, and another ten minutes to scoop all the pieces into the box. I did however successfully play some of the smaller Europa games (with only several hundred pieces per side) on multiple occasions and enjoyed them a great deal. The point was, whether recreating the invasion of Russia or Greece, those little chits really created the illusion that they had something to do with war.


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Thursday, Sep 2, 2010
Starring none other than the Android logo, this intriguing game points to good things for the future of gaming on that platform.

“Do you have Angry Birds?” Within days of getting my new HTC Desire smartphone, this question had become a frequent irritation. My phone’s superficial resemblance to an iPhone gave that phone’s users a feeling of kinship with me, leading them to assume that the ornithological puzzler was available on my handset, too. Apparently Angry Birds is being ported to Google’s Android operating system as I type, but in the meantime, I’ve felt that I needed to investigate Android’s own gaming possibilities as they stand. Surely the platform has its own killer app?


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Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010
Despite featuring a side quest that consists of completing a pornography collection, Mafia II is surprisingly prudish when it comes to featuring nudity in its more serious scenes.

Mafia II features a lot of nudes.  51 of them to be exact.  I know this because the game features 50 collectible Playboy centerfolds that can be viewed (after collection in game) in the main menu.  There is also one nude in the in game sequences themselves.


The inclusion of 1950s Playmates apparently is intended to add an air of authenticity to the period in which the game takes place and to the seaminess of the mob lifestyle of the game’s protagonist.  While the Playmates presence in the game are actually anachronistic if the game were set in a historical United States (since the game’s main action takes place in 1943 and 1951, years prior to the release of Hefner’s magazine in actual history), assumedly the fictional city of Empire Bay resides in an equally fictional alternate timeline of United States history, in which Playboy emerged on the American scene about a decade early.  The authenticity of these nudes is probably derived more from their more demure quality (something that most players would associate with pornography of a period perceived to be more prudish than the current one) than an adherence to real historicity.


In that regard, the nudes featured here are certainly more buttoned up than what one might expect to encounter when performing a Google image search with SafeSearch disabled in 2010.  None of these images feature full frontal nudity (as no Playboy pictorial did prior to the 1970s).  Many of them feature women merely in sheer clothing or often feature a bare bottom rather than bare breasts and are generally less raunchy than contemporary pornography.  Nevertheless, the game makes it abundantly clear that these nudes are here to be viewed.


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Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010
For as often as I died while playing N+, maybe the best compliment that I can pay it is that I didn’t mind a single time.

N+, like its free to play flash predecessor N, is a simple but elegant platformer. The purpose of the game is to get to the exit while collecting as much gold in the room as you like. Obstacles include mines, laser turrets, and heat seeking missiles which make escape more complicated. The ninja is a good abstract avatar that anyone can project on to, and all of your abilities will be familiar to anyone who has played a 2-D platformer. What’s impressive about the game is how much playtime it extracts, given that it is a game in which all you can really do is jump. It instead relies on only a handful of obstacles and shifting goals to make a game that you always want to play just one more time. For the purposes of this post, I played N+ on the DS, which unfortunately means I’m just discussing the levels included with the game in single player mode. They took the servers down a while back for DS owners.


The game is fast paced and you can easily die a dozen times per level. Difficulty is a uniquely layered system because the game challenges you in three ways. The first is the challenge that evry player must complete: get to the exit. The second is for OCD players who want to collect every gold piece on the level. The third is the clock, which keeps tabs on how quickly you can beat the level and will kill you if it runs out. Off the top of my head, I’d say the first 30 levels (there are 156 by my count) were easy in terms of completing all three goals. The next 30 made collecting all of the gold pieces a bit trickier. After 30 or so levels like that, getting to the exit is tougher. The final levels eventually introduce the clock itself as a barrier.  These are levels in which you are hauling ass just to open a gate and get out. After extended play, you can usually spot which of the three challenges that a level is focusing on trying to engage you with. For example, maybe the exit will only require a little careful footwork and hiding behind cover, but the gold is right next to the laser turrets. Or the gold is generally all along your path to the exit, but there are dozens of robots blocking the exit. Or you just have one minute to win. The more challenging levels can take a lot of practice to beat because often you have to figure out the precise sequence of jumps and wall slides needed to win. It’s not unheard of to practice the tougher levels for an hour or two individually before beating them.


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Monday, Aug 30, 2010
Inasmuch as Pilgrim explores the "save the princess" archetype and questions romance as an abstracted end point arrived at through violence, the story then summarily rejects deeper characterization by asking us to forget all that and cheer for the death of the final boss anyway -- simply because he's a bigger jerk than Scott is.

“You just headbutted my boyfriend so hard he burst.


“Yeah, well… you broke my heart. So I guess that makes us even.”


Somewhere embedded in this summer’s film adaptation of the game-inspired comic Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley is a critique of moral oversimplification, although you have to sift around a bit in order to find it. I will be honest. As someone who has explored the story in three distinct formats by now (comic, movie, and Ubisoft Montreal’s downloadable sidescroller), I do feel that O’Malley’s comic tackles the moral issues of its narrative with slightly more finesse than the others, although all three of them remain rather problematic.


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