Monday, August 31, 2009

Time To Play God of War Again... And Again

Sony just announced that they're bringing both God of War and God of War II to one Blu-ray disc called God of War Collection with full trophy support and upgraded 1080p HD graphics for $39.99 sometime this holiday season.

Some of these trophies are going to be tough. Bet on trophies for beating the game on the hardest difficulty, all the side challenges, and probably something sadistic like playing through the whole game without opening any health chests.

I typically play through both of these games annually anyway, but now that they've been upgraded with HD graphics and trophies, well... I'll be playing God of War Collection if you need me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fat Princess Review

From its distinctive, storybook art style to its cheeky English narrator, Fat Princess has a lot going for it, but ultimately has enough significant problems in its gameplay that it's difficult to recommend.

Fat Princess tries to encourage teamwork by making individual efforts almost completely useless. One player gallivanting off on his own is most often going to make it as far as the enemy team's castle doors before getting cut down. A more crafty player might be able to get inside the castle and grab his princess, but unless he's got teammates to back him up, he probably isn't making it very far either.

Encouraging teamwork is not inherently a bad thing, but it can be difficult coordinating with other teammates, leading to games that can easily get locked in a stalemate and take upwards of an hour before someone finally just gets lucky. Combine this with other problems like dropped connections, lag, bugs, and a plethora of other issues, and Fat Princess can be a frustrating game.

Fat Princess has a lot of charm and even more potential, but as of right now, that potential isn't being realized. Maybe with enough patches, Fat Princess will become the must-buy it should've been, but until then, it just feels rushed.

Fat Princesss / $14.99 / Reviewed on PS3

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Part 2 Review

For whatever reason, the first installment of Watchmen: The End is Nigh clicked with me. I'd just seen the movie, the story was decent enough, and the combat felt pretty good. Part 2, on the other hand, feels rushed, uninspired, and just plain boring.

Absolutely nothing new is done to make Part 2 feel fresh. The story is uninteresting and only serves to give loose justification for the action without a single mention of the events from the first game. The fighting, the music, and even some of the enemies are recycled, and despite being two chapters shorter than Part 1, it feels exponentially longer.

The biggest problem with Part 2 is the level design. Fighting wave after wave of clones through rooms that you could've sworn you were just in gets old fast; it becomes apparent that the game runs out of tricks within minutes. It certainly doesn't help that the only thing breaking up the pace of mindless brawling is pulling an occasional lever or busting open a door.

It's boring, it's buggy, and it seems to go on forever despite only being a few hours long. Unless you're blindly obsessed with all things Watchmen, you shouldn't waste your money on this game.

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Part 2 / $14.99 / Reviewed on PS3

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Preview: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Based on the demo, Batman: Arkham Asylum is looking like a mixed bag where some elements have been executed perfectly, going leaps and bounds above expected quality, while other parts are shocking failures that boggle the mind. But unless something goes horribly wrong in the final product, Arkham Asylum seems like it could finally topple Batman Returns for the SNES for the title of "best Batman game ever."

For one thing, the game is strikingly gorgeous. Every character looks really great and Arkham Asylum isn't afraid to prove that to you through boring close-up after boring close-up whenever you talk with another character. The only problem with the presentation is that enemies don't pop out against the environment enough unless you keep Batman's crazy x-ray vision goggles on all the time.

"Detective mode" allows you to switch into a visual style ripped straight from the sonar sequences from The Dark Knight, letting you see enemy locations through walls and assess the environment. The game is practically broken without it since enemies blend in so well otherwise, and puzzles have the potential to boil down to being as simple throwing on your goggles to see what glows orange. Hopefully the developers didn't go the lazy route.

Getting accurate updates on where your enemies are and what they're doing is really important since combat consistently leaves you feeling either overpowered or severely underpowered. Against unarmed enemies, it feels like the game could throw dozens of enemies at me and I wouldn't need to bat an eye. The mix between last generation Prince of Persia's handling of multiple enemies and Assassin's Creed's countering system works too well. That is, unless you're dealing with armed enemies, in which case you need to use stealth.

It seems like the game will really shine when it locks you in a room with a bunch of enemies and gives you complete freedom over how you want to dispatch them. I've replayed that section of the demo countless times now, imposing different rules on myself to shake things up, and that's where the beauty of this game is so apparent.

I'll tell myself to get only silent takedowns, to forgo using detective mode, to avoid using the grappling hook, to go as quickly as possible, to strike as much fear as possible, to do glide kicks on everyone, to take down each enemy in a different way from the others, to get all inverted takedowns, to stay on one floor the entire time, and the list goes on. And on. It's so fun to keep thinking up new ways to challenge myself that the replay value seems near infinite, and this is just the demo.

I've got to say, the demo really sold me on this game. It looks like it's definitely going to have flaws when it releases on August 25, but the groundwork is there for an absolutely amazing Batman game.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why The Mass Delays Will Solve Nothing

It's getting ridiculous how many games have been delayed from holiday 2009 into early 2010, either out of sheer necessity for game quality or to move out of the crowded holiday season. But at a certain point, with so many games flocking to 2010, we have to recognize that we're solving problems by creating problems.

Holiday 2009: Part Two
With every developer pushing and shoving past each other to get out of the way for heavy hitters like Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3: ODST, and The Beatles: Rock Band that are definitely coming out this holiday season, it seems like no one stopped to think about how crowded 2010 has become. While there are many shifty "Early," "Q1," and "Spring" dates associated with many of the delays, there are also a lot of more specific "January" and "March" dates.

Those two months are quickly becoming problem areas where a lot of good games could get overlooked. With games like BioShock 2, Dark Void, and Bayonetta that all qualify as "triple-A" games vying for the spotlight in January, many gamers might just pass them up and go back to playing Modern Warfare 2 online.

March, lest we not forget, is already home to God of War III, which should absolutely dominate that month. Can Dead 2 Rights Retribution and Singularity really stand toe-to-toe with Kratos himself? Those games need to bank on the multiplatform sales that elude even the PS3-exclusive God of War III if they want a chance of success.

These are months that typically don't see the same kind of success as the Christmas season months when people are in the gift-giving mood, and with the recession still in full swing, it's not really realistic to expect people to shell out the cash on expensive videogames so soon after Christmas.

Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen
While it probably would've been beneficial for a few games to move out of the holiday 2009 lineup and into the early months of 2010, too many publishers all thinking the same thing quickly degenerated this strategy into merely creating the same problem for a less lucrative time of year.

It's a tough situation for everybody, but the reason why simply moving all these games two months down the line doesn't work is that there still isn't enough space between them. There are still too many awesome games coming out at once, and there just isn't enough time to digest them with the current release schedule.

Games like Burnout Paradise, Resident Evil 4, and God of War all enjoyed success releasing early in their respective years because those months were otherwise pretty desolate. They stood out. Too many games all trying to replicate these success stories practically guarantees failure for some of them.

Furthermore, what happens to the games holding firm in 2009? Sure, the juggernauts like Uncharted 2, Assassin's Creed II, and Guitar Hero 5 will still clean house, but even with far less competition, lesser known games like Borderlands, BrĂ¼tal Legend, and Alpha Protocol aren't out of danger of being lost in the shuffle just yet. Let's face it: holiday 2009 is still overcrowded.

What Needs To Happen
These delayed games need to spread out further if they want to survive. The publisher of, say, Darksiders needs to realize that by sandwiching themselves between Bayonetta and God of War III, they've done themselves no favors. They and others need to bite the bullet and push back further. Maybe even to summer, which so far is still looking as barren as usual despite all the delays.

The extra time between releases means more time to polish these games, allowing them to come out stronger and farther from competition once gamers are craving their next fix. This strategy might hurt some of these publishers in the short term, but ultimately they might come away having delivered a better game that got more attention and potentially more sales by dropping in the summer months that are much freer of competition.

As it stands now, big titles are stacked right on top of each other and less popular games are going to fall by the wayside very quickly. It's going to make for a very interesting time to watch the industry and a very hectic, exciting time to be a gamer, but many publishers may not be so amused when their flagship title gets swallowed up and forgotten.

For the record, the game I'm most disappointed that I won't get to play this year is Red Dead Redemption.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preview: Katamari Forever

Taking the odd trip to the Japanese PlayStation Store almost always yields a cool little treasure that you can't find anywhere else. This time I scored the Japanese demo for Katamari Forever, which doesn't come out here until September 22.

Since it's entirely in Japanese, the language barrier only adds another level of insanity to the already crazy Katamari series. I have no idea what was going on in the dialogue and most of the menu options seemed to want to just kick me out to the start screen, but it's still completely playable for a non-Japanese speaker.

There are two levels in the demo, one of which has you rolling around in somebody's super messy house, and the other tasks you with watering sandy ground to grow plants. You can't really go wrong with the first level since it plays it so safe, but the second level just doesn't have the same spark. Growing plants is a cool idea, but ultimately you're just rolling around on flat ground, not collecting anything, so it just isn't as interesting.

It plays as you'd expect a Katamari game to, so it's kind of wacky, kind of clunky, and kind of unwieldy, but they did add a jump button that helps to make navigating the environments a little less awkward. Ultimately though, it feels to me like every other game in the series has: like it still needs some tweaking.

I always expected that when the Katamari games finally hit HD consoles, they'd go completely bananas with the environments and have buildings singing and bouncing with the music, cars getting up and dancing with top hats and canes, etc. Alas, they seem content to design PS2 environments for HD, which do look really good for what they are, but I can't help imagining what could be.

The soundtracks are always totally amazing, and it's sounding like this one will be no different. The music for the watering level isn't particularly memorable, with a mellow drum beat and funky guitar that fades into the background and sounds more like it was designed for a '70s porn flick than for a Katamari game. The messy house level fares much better with a jaunty saxophone and trumpet melody punctuated by catchy vocals that yell things like "MAMBO!" and "MERENGUE!"

My favorite part of the Katamari games has been finding some side area that I hadn't noticed previously and discovering whatever madness was hiding there, like accidentally rolling up God in We Love Katamari. The levels in the Katamari Forever demo seem a little more straightforward, but still have a pinch of magic.

Based on this demo, I have to hope that Katamari Forever doesn't turn out to be full price, and it really should just be a PSN download. It isn't as ambitious as I would've liked, never exceeding my expectations, so hopefully the full game will take more chances.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Trash Panic Review

You'd think that with such a cool concept that turns the stale "Tetris-clone" puzzle genre on its head in a totally modern way, there would be no way this game could turn out to be anything less than awesome. Yet somehow, Trash Panic turns out to be nothing more than an exercise in frustration.

The biggest problem with Trash Panic is its insane difficulty. Every level goes on far too long, throwing more and more trash at you until you finally fail and have to restart. It never gives any indication of how much trash is left either, making the game that much more infuriating. It's like the game is trying to test your patience.

Beyond the ridiculous difficulty lies a myriad of other problems that hold Trash Panic back. The rules seem flimsy at best, with the game only sometimes penalizing fallen trash. Occasionally items as light as a pencil can completely shatter items as heavy as a dumbbell loaded with weights. Giant metal safes will either land with the proper heft or bounce feet into the air. The menus are completely incomprehensible, the load times are long, and the game clocks in at a whopping 1.2GB.

I love the idea of throwing out the precision required in Tetris to neatly stack blocks in favor of smashing everything together, so it's wholly disappointing that the execution of this idea is incredibly flawed. Even at the low price of $4.99, I can't recommend Trash Panic at all.