Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Random GamePlay Theater

I'm still waking up from a Turkey induced coma, so today I figured I'd show you guys some gameplay footage from a few really random games.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saints Row: The Third Proves Why Reckless Activity Is Fun

When THQ released Saints Row in 2006, many gamers regarded it to be nothing more than a poor man’s Grand Theft Auto despite it receiving a great deal of commercial and critical acclaim. Its sequel garnered a similar level of success, and it was inevitable that a third game would be released. What nobody expected was how ridiculous this game would be style wise. The third installment of the Saints Row franchise takes everything you knew about sandbox games with a crime-laden storyline and gives it a swift kick in the grapes, but it unfortunately does little or nothing to correct some of the problems with this genre.

Saints Row: The Third begins with a brief synopsis of the events between the end of Saints Row 2 and this current chapter. Essentially, The 3rd Street Saints have risen to worldwide popularity, and as such have become far too occupied with their media empire to keep control of the streets they conquered. The game opens with gang members robbing a bank with an actor in tow. Unbeknownst to the Saints, the bank is owned by a rival organization called “The Syndicate”, and through a series of ridiculous events, that partly involve falling from an airplane, engaging in a gunfight, reentering the airplane, shooting folks, leaving the plane again, and shooting more enemies before grabbing a fellow gang member and parachuting safely to the ground, the Saints land in a new city which is controlled by The Syndicate. This leaves you having to rebuild your gang in a new city and topple anyone in your way.

Saints Row: The Third doesn’t do anything new, but what it does is incredibly fun. You’ll have a ridiculous level of customization of your character and any vehicles you acquire. You can add any and all manner of upgrades to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even golf carBack to character customization for a brief second, at any point in the game, you can guide your character to the plastic surgeon office and change your facial features, build, skin tone, and gender. Clothing customization is almost bottomless, and you can pretty much wear (or not wear) whatever you want to during gameplay. From regular outfits, to animal costumes, to other, more creative, states of dress. For instance: you can go into your safe house, remove your pants, go outside pantless and start a gun fight with police, a rival gang, or both. Tell me that can’t make for amazing moments.

Speaking of amazing, the variety of weapons available is utterly unheard of in this genre of game. There are guns that fire regular bullets, but then there are guns that fire little octopi that will cause victims to flail around like jackasses, a gun that shoots chum at an enemy triggering a shark attack, a wrist mounted laser much like the Mega Buster, and a bunch of other craziness. Once you unlock a weapon, you just have to keep it stocked with ammo and store it at a safe house for future use. Oh and I almost forgot that early in the game, you get your hands on the controls to a military drone. The bombing runs are magic.

I’ve gone on at length about what I like about Saints Row The Third, but I have yet to play a “perfect game” and as good as this one is, it has it’s flaws. There is a rather large amount of popup throughout the game, most notably when driving. There are random glitches that take place throughout the game as well. There are instances where your character would fall through the game. It can be infuriating, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for sandbox games. I expect this to be something that Volition and THQ will release a patch for, but it shouldn’t have to come to this. A game should be finished when it is released, but this has become the norm and it won’t keep gamers from playing and loving this game.

If it weren’t for a few flaws, Saints Row: The Third would be a shoe in for game of the year. As it stands, it’s a pretty good game with flaws that would deem a lesser game unplayable, but Volition developed a hell of a game that at it’s core is all about the fun of playing video games. Saints Row: The Third is built for gamers that want the gritty adult theme of Grand Theft Auto, but with the limitless potential of imagination that something like Little Big Planet. Saints Row: The Third has effectively set the bar for the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V to match, and it’s a hell of a bar to reach.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

EA Active 2 Initial Thoughts: Workout Option Or Flailing Jackass Simulator

by: Chris Louis
Guest Blogger

Is the Kinect and it's "controller free" a viable option for gamers trying to blend their hobby with a healthy lifestyle change? Guest Blogger Chris Louis chimes in with his initial thoughts on EA Active 2 for Kinect.

Most people are tired of monthly expenditures (cell phone, internet/cable, apartment/house bills, etc.) and would prefer to have a gym membership without adding to that list. With EA Active 2, the gamer can enjoy the benefits of a trainer- implemented workout without the monthly monetary membership or social pitfalls of a public gym. EA Active 2 is packaged with a large green elastic band & 2 straps that when combined, give the gamer dozens of different exercise abilities. Also included is the heart monitor unit, which is a velcro-strapped sensor that rests on your lower forearm (batteries are included). Lastly is the actual game disc. The title launches and the game is walked step-by-step through setup (including gamer’s name, age, sex, weight, & workout intensity), introduction (allowing the gamer to choose a male or female trainer), and program details (which exercises you want to perform, lifestyle surveys, & EA Active 2 communities of fellow exercising gamers).

Upon initial equipment setup & information input into the game (which took about 10 minutes), the gamer is given the choice to create their own workout blueprint or follow a pre-programmed 9 week curriculum. I recommend to fellow first-timers to follow the 9 week program. Be sure to have a towel & water/sports drink alongside as you work out. Multiplayer mode is available with two gamers working out at the same time. After the first time you have performed an exercise/drill during any previous session, the program skips the tutorial. This allows the gamer to maintain their heartrate & workout pace promoting a more aerobic workout, adding to the massive on-screen calorie burn tabulation.

There are occasional issues with the Kinect not picking up exact motions made during exercises. You will either see your avatar motionless or a “Player not recognized” prompt appears and pauses the workout abruptly. This is remedied by repositioning yourself or in-game Kinect Tuner calibration. Voice commands to the Kinect to “Pause Workout” or “Skip Exercise” are not always recognized & the user needs Kinect–manipulated hand menu navigation or the use of a controller to perform these functions. In regards to the heart monitor unit, the only annoyance lies in sweat accumulating on the forearm with the unit sometimes causes the unit to move & the on-screen BPM of the heartrate is temporarily ceased. A retightening of the strap usually fixes this issue. Additionally, I’ve already encountered exercises that, due to the lack of precision of the Kinect’s motion reading, I always skip to due to frustration.

With my first week completed, I have burned over 1000 calories and gained 100 GamerScore to my profile. Win! It coincides with this review because this is only a game, not a long-term fitness device. Supplementing the EA Active 2 workout plan with a sensible free weightlifting, jogging, and/or other sporting activity is highly recommended. $60 retail is the cost of the package, but a savvy shopper can find this cheaper & find themselves with a very good fitness title. After my 9 week session, I’ll tell you whether you need to pony-up or cancel your gym membership for EA Active 2.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Metal Slug: SNK's Last Great War

A while ago, I wrote a post on SNK's pedigree as a developer and publisher of some of the best games many of us ever put a quarter into. They have been responsible for some of the best action games in video game history, and one such series has to be Metal Slug. Since it's debut in 1996, the series hasn't changed anything, but for the genre of game it is, it didn't need to. Metal Slug may prove to have been the last really good thing SNK pumped into an arcade scene in the US that has been teetering on the edge of oblivion for a while. It was for a long time considered by a lot of gamers the high water mark of what an action game is supposed to be.

SNK borrowed from other classic action games like Konami's Contra and their own Guerrilla War when they came up with the inspiration for Metal Slug. Anyone who plays any game in the Metal Slug series can feels the influence from both games previously mentioned as well as Irem's Gunforce series. The Irem influence is primarily because of the development team being partially composed of former Irem employees. Irem's Gunforce games are such an influence to Metal Slug's look and feel that many gamers refer to Gunforce 2 as Metal Slug Zero.

Metal Slug takes the tried and true "one or two men against an army" storyline that has been a part of video games since the 80s and adds in rescuing POWs. In later games in the series, the enemy soldiers are replaced with aliens towards the end of the game and all hell breaks loose. Back to those POWs for a second: they may be some of the most entertaining NPCs seen in a video game in the 90s, as well as some of the most useful. They give you weapons, point bonuses, and on rare occasions, they will fight alongside you. I remember the first time I rescued a POW and he not only gave me a homing missile power up then followed me for a little while throwing fireballs at enemies like he was Ryu from Street Fighter.

I have gone this entire post and haven't even touched on the vehicle that the series is named for. The Metal Slug Tank is a throwback to S.O.P.H.I.A. from the Blaster Master game, a monster that will maul anything in it's path. Maybe I should say it will as long as it doesn't take too much damage. So maybe it's less like S.O.P.H.I.A. and more like that thing at the beginning of Contra III. While Metal Gears and Rush have changed, the Metal Slug has remained the same over the course of the series, much like a classic Pickup Truck. If it ain't broke, no need to fix it though, is there?

The Metal Slug series is 15 years old this year, but it's heritage runs deeper. It's gameplay is steeped in 8 Bit and Arcade tradition, and development team at Nazca, and publishers at SNK poured every bit of their history into what became the last great 2D action game series. If you still own a console that will play it, I advise you to track down a game in the Metal Slug series. With the exception of the first game on the Neo Geo AES(the MVS version is much cheaper), you can find may games in the series for decent prices. I am always willing to recommend something good to fellow gamers and I fully recommend the Metal Slug series to anyone looking for hardcore side scrolling action.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stuff I Just Won On Ebay

Getting Up: Marc Ecko's Only Foray Into Video Games

I can't really recall why, but today I woke up with a particular game on my mind. I don't own this game, but I should have bought it a while ago. It wasn't an exceptionally good game by any stretch, but it also wasn't a bad game. In all honesty, it's one of the best executions of one of the elements of Hip Hop ever infused into a game. It was the brainchild of Marc Ecko and featured the voice acting of Talib Kweli(for better or for worse). The game I'm referring to is Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.

Getting Up follows the exploits of Trane as he rises from amateur tagger to graffiti legend in an oppressive city that places their heel on the throat of anyone who tries to express themselves. Not only does he have to contend with the corrupt mayor's personal police force, but he also has to deal with a rival crew and in the process starts his own crew. The story was actually deeper than expected from a game about the art of graffiti, but as someone who never had to run from cops for my art, I really didn't know what to expect.

The core gameplay mechanics in Getting Up involve writing graffiti burners to spread your message of freedom against the corrupt government, and random tags on random smaller structures. This may reminds players of Sega's classic Jet Grind Radio, but in practice, Getting Up is very different. It plays like a hybrid of Jet Grind Radio and Prince of Persia with the use of platforming to get to various locations around the cityscape. Once a spot for a tag or burner is reached, you can scroll through which tag you want to put on a location, and how big you want it to be, then you get to painting the burner. As expected, you don't get unlimited paint in this game, so in similar fashion to the aforementioned Jet Grind Radio, players will have to scour the game looking for more paint while avoiding or fighting off police and rival crews. It really does feel like Jet Grind Radio without the cel shaded sheen.

For all the mediocre reviews Getting Up received, it was one of the better attempts at 3-D platforming on the PS2. It was also a very mature and gritty take on a gameplay concept made popular by Sega's classic. If it weren't for a few technical hiccups(the camera getting stuck in strange spots was my main issue), Getting Up could have been one of those games that's looked at with reverence. Sadly, it's a good game that a few gamers really like that is lost among the ghosts of the PS2s massive library.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Everybody Has A List: Some Of My Favorite Beat Em Ups

I was recently reading a piece in an issue of Game Informer magazine that listed the ten best Beat Em Ups of all time. I had a few issues with this list mainly because of one glaring omission, nothing from the Streets of Rage series was included. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was included, but nothing from Sega's legendary Beat Em Up trilogy. I was a bit confused, but then I started looking at other lists based in the Beat Em Up genre. I saw one that included Michael Jackson's Moonwalker and knew that I had to make my own in order for me to be satisfied. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite Beat Em Ups of all time.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man - Arcade - Irem: I discovered this one recently, as it wasn't in any arcade I ever entered during my younger years. I must say that Ninja Baseball Bat Man is the most ridiculous thing I ever played and it is still all kinds of fun.

Knights of the Round - Arcade/SNES - Capcom: Capcom had a way with this genre in the early 90s, and Knights of the Round was one of their high water marks. Everything about this one screamed quality, and it never got old.

Target Renegade - NES - Taito: The direct sequel to the game that spawned Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and and other classic games, Target Renegade is everything you should want in a Beat Em Up. It's tough, fun, and last just long enough for you to feel good about popping it into your NES.

Final Fight(series) - Arcade/SNES/Sega CD/NES/Saturn/PS2 - Capcom: The game that started life as Street Fighter '89 had enough legs to stand on it's own. Final Fight gave birth to a big chunk of the cast of the Street Fighter Alpha series, an excellent 8 Bit retelling of the original game in Mighty Final Fight, and sadly spawned two minor turds in Final Fight Revenge and Final Fight Streetwise. All in all, the Final Fight franchise is the stuff gaming dreams are made of.

Double Dragon(series) - pretty much everything - Technos Japan(developers): Quite honestly, the most important game in the genre. It was well done, and hasn't been properly copied since. Nothing else you can really say about the first game starring the Lee brothers. The sequels were as good as can be expected, with the best game in the series popping up on the SNES in the form of Super Double Dragon.The series went in the direction of one on one fighters, but it's roots made it worth playing.

Streets of Rage(series) - Genesis/Mega Drive - Sega: Sega was at one point known for bring their cutting edge arcade titles home, but this series was rooted in the rise of Sega's 16 Bit consoles, the Genesis and it's European/Asian counterpart, the Mega Drive. The series was known for it's crisp gameplay and thumping soundtrack. The high water mark for the series had to be second game, which was so widely praised that it shipped with the system for a while. Fans have been clamoring for a new game in the series for a while, so maybe Sega can partner with Platinum games and deliver.

TMNT: Turtles In Time - Arcade/SNES - Konami: The first arcade game featuring the Ninja Turtles was good, but Turtles in Time may possibly be the measuring stick by which all Beat Em Ups are compared. Everything about Turtles In Time was magic attached to a controller, and not even that horrible remake from Ubisoft could change that fact.

Battletoads(series) - Same As Double Dragon - Tradewest: The original game in the series is in all honesty one level (Turbo Tunnel) away from being quite honestly the best game in the genre, period. The only reason the game hasn't seen a sequel is that bloggers keep complaining about the difficulty so much that Rare(who developed the original game) thinks it would be a disaster to put it out. I honestly don't blame them either. Gamers are crybabies now.

Guardian Heroes - Sega Saturn/XBLA/Game Boy Advance - Treasure: For a developer like Treasure, a lot of your catalog can be considered high water marks in a genre, but Guardian Heroes was a GENRE DEFINING release at a time when good Beat Em Ups were becoming hard to find. Guardian Legends not only featured great gameplay, but also inserted branching paths, multiple endings and a karma meter for high replayability.

Castle Crashers - XBLA/PSN - The Behemoth: Part Gauntlet, part Crime Fighters, and part Alien Hominid is the best way I can describe Castle Crashers. It may have been the first thing that really made me want to pay money for Xbox Live. It's that great.

Metamorphic Force - Arcade - Konami: The best Konami Beat Em Up not attached to a license, and there are little gnomes in it like the ones in the Golden Axe series that can be beaten up for powerups.

Golden Axe(series) -Pretty Much Everywhere - Sega: Before Sega Developed the Streets of Rage games, their big entry into the Beat Em Up category was a homage to the days of swords and sorcery called Golden Axe. Sega's ubiquitous barbarian tale has spawned several sequels, including a Master system RPG, a Saturn fighting game, and a horrid 3D action game on the PS3 and Xbox 360.

River City Ransom - NES - Technos Japan: A Beat Em Up with RPG elements? Those two things shouldn't mesh well, but in River City Ransom they did in masterful fashion. It still holds up as one of the best games on the NES and one of the best games in the genre, period.

I didn't mention a few games in the list (The Simpsons, The Punisher, X-Men) Mainly because those are always mentioned. I love those, but I wanted to mention lesser known games like Ninja Baseball Bat Man and Target Renegade because they deserve it, and let's be honest, it's my list, so I can name what I want. These were a few of my favorites of the Beat Em Up genre, but if you want to add to the conversation, feel free to do so.