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Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
Many games are improved with a second player by your side, but Donkey Kong Country Returns is not one of them. When difficulty is a factor, cooperative gaming fundamentally alters a gaming experience and not always for the better.

Seventeen years after Donkey Kong swung through the trees and into our hearts in Donkey Kong Country, the lovable ape and Diddy, his similarly simian sidekick, have indeed returned. Donkey Kong Country Returns brings back the Nintendo icons replete with the colorful textures and joyful score, recreating the charm DK’s and Diddy’s first jovial romp. PopMatters own Arun Subramanian reviewed DKCR, giving it a well deserved eight out of ten. Notably absent from Subramanian’s review, however, is mention of DKCR’s two-player mode, in which one player controls DK while the other flits about as Diddy.


I absolutely adore most attempts at couch co-op. Many games are improved with a second player by your side, but Donkey Kong Country Returns is not one of them. When difficulty is a factor, cooperative gaming fundamentally alters a gaming experience and not always for the better.


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Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011
I imagine that even Adolf Hitler would have chosen to save (not harvest) the Little Sisters within the context of a video game like Bioshock.

I frequently complain about the “moral” choices that modern video games ask of players.  I know that Mass Effect, Fable, and Bioshock are supposedly attempting to force us into interesting moral quandaries by offering binary choices to moral dilemmas.  As I often say, this frequently comes down to what I view as bogus choices because of the extreme quality of the binaries laid before us.  Save the baby or eat the baby?  Boy, that’s a head scratcher.


No matter the actual state of our souls, most of us tend to view ourselves as basically decent human beings, and when faced with such extreme black and white choices (with little actual consequence built into the choice), most of tend to make “the right decision.”  I imagine that even Adolf Hitler would have chosen to save (not harvest) the Little Sisters within the context of a video game like Bioshock.


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Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011
This week we put on our film studies hats again to talk about the representation of social media and network gaming in Mamoru Hosoda's most recent animated feature film, Summer Wars.

Being the nose-to-the-grindstone academic that I am, I admittedly had no idea what I was seeing when a colleague invited me out to see Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars this past Friday. I really should have known: it’s only the latest award-winning release from Madhouse, the Japanese animation studio responsible for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (also by Hosoda) and all of Satoshi Kon’s work up until his death. But I digress. The movie is offbeat and quite enjoyable, and I would highly recommend it to any gamers with a thing for anime. Or Facebook, for that matter.


The film is a bit of a tossed salad where plot is concerned, but the central storyline is one in which a young math geek and part-time code monkey, Keiji, seeks to prove himself to classmate Natsuki’s extended family, with whom he is staying over the summer. Events naturally coalesce to give him the opportunity, when a viral super-AI called Love Machine is unleashed onto the web, vandalizing sites and shutting down network hubs to affect everyone from the teenage txter to the communications of entire governments.


What especially impressed me about the film’s depiction of a global network is the enhanced state of media convergence implied to have occurred by the story’s start. There’s a dramatic, almost corny sequence where we get a montage of global network users connecting wirelessly by their phones or DSis, which makes me seriously question the heretofore under-advertised wi-fi strength of the average Nintendo portable. Beyond that, we also have the climactic scene i which Natsuki stands challenging the Love Machine AI with her entire extended family linked in behind her. We get a glimpse of a four-generation household all clutching their various electronic devices, from game handhelds to GPSes, all logged in with their various network avatars as they prepare to sacrifice them for Natsuki and the greater good.


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Monday, Jan 17, 2011
The Moving Pixels Podcast crew considers the best selling video game of 2010.

While Infinity Ward has take the franchise to more a contemporary setting, Black Ops developer Treyarch had yet to stray outside the boundaries of World War II with its Call of Duty installments until late last year.  With a Cold War setting and a title suggestive more of espionage than traditional battle, the best selling game of last year attempted to tell a slightly different style of war story.


However, is there any real substance to Treyarch’s style this time out? 


The Moving Pixels podcast crew considers this and other questions by evaluating the phenomenon of Call of Duty: Black Ops.


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Friday, Jan 14, 2011
Racing games still force players to start with the slowest cars and work their way up. Despite my frustrations, this system works for Hot Pursuit.

I hated Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit at first. I hated the handling, the fact that the cars had a sense of weight and seemed slow to respond. It seemed like bad design, why make it possible to crash into traffic then give me an unresponsive car? I hated how the specs for some cars were “classified.” I was afraid to use them, worried that I’d be tricked into using a slower car. I hated the shortcuts that weren’t actually shortcuts, and the lack of damage compared to Burnout. In short, I hated it because it wasn’t Burnout. But I kept playing.


Eventually it won me over. Once I reset my expectations and took the game on its own merits, as a Need for Speed game and not a Burnout game. Also, I unlocked faster and more responsive cars, so now the game actually does feel comparable to Burnout. It struck me as odd that Criterion would hide the best cars behind a dozen hours of lesser gameplay, hadn’t developers learned not to do this? Super Street Fighter IV had no hidden characters, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a “short cut” pack that you can buy to instantly unlock all weapons and gadgets. Yet racing games still force players to start with the slowest cars and work their way up. However, despite my frustrations, the more that I think about it, the more that I agree that this system works for racing games or at the very least for Hot Pursuit.


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