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XBLA Xbox 360

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

The “epic retro-futuristic hit”, as they put it, is really all that. The unlocking mechanism keeps unveiling more of the game as you play, and it only ever gets more awesome-er. Freezing cool and easily worth your 800 space bucks. It’s testament to the power of the original design that Taito can mutate and nurture it in these outrageous ways and yet keep the core true to the origins.

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blog culture DS miniatures PC PS3 PSP tabletop games XBLA Xbox 360

The best of 2009

My 10 best games of 2009
My 10 best games of 2009

For the most of 2009 I spent my gaming time playing games from 2008 – Far Cry 2, Fable II, Rock Band 2, lots of cheap PSP & DS titles, Company Of Heroes, Dawn Of War (the first one) – but I thought it could be fun to put together a list of what was the best 2009 had to offer. For future reference, see.

I have not played many of the big hitters of 2009 so there’s bound to be holes, but these days, gaming is too big a pastime for one man to wholly take in with his free time (and income). Major omissions include Halo: ODST, Modern Warfare 2, Resident Evil 5 and Dragon Age: Origins, to name a few.

My ten best games of 2009:

  1. Space Hulk (board game)
  2. Batman: Arkham Asylum. I haven’t written about Rocksteady’s phenomenal take on Batman (because I’ve been too busy playing it), but it ranks as one of my all-time favorite games. Play it.
  3. Demon’s Souls
  4. GTA Chinatown Wars (DS)
  5. Shadow Complex
  6. Torchlight. I’ve been playing this for most of the holidays, it’s crazy good. Too bad about the lack of variety and the still missing multiplayer.
  7. Killzone 2
  8. Plants Vs Zombies. This Popcap title stole a ridiculous amount of time this year. Probably the best value for money all year. [Update April 2018: looks like the original isn’t available anymore. This Flash version looks like it might work: http://www.crazygames.com/game/plants-vs-zombies]
  9. Street Fighter IV
  10. Rock Band Unplugged

I’m surprised by how many “small” games there are – mobile games and cheap PC games. Remarkably, the only one I was looking forward to before it hit was Killzone 2, the rest of these have been more or less very happy surprises.

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XBLA Xbox 360

Toy Soldiers

World War I has not been used too much in videogames and tower defence games have been seen too much of lately. Combining the two with a cool concept of it all being just toys in a vintage mechanical arcade cabinet type of thing seems like a great fit. Another downloadable title with seemingly more creativity behind it than most retail titles these days.

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blog culture XBLA Xbox 360

It’s complex

Shadow Complex
Shadow Complex

I liked Orson Scott Card’s original short story of “Ender’s Game”. I was looking forward to checking out some of the author’s other work at some point. When Epic’s 2D Super Metroid homage Shadow Complex was announced, I was mildly interested due to it being based on Card’s novels. The game came out, reviewed very well and I decided to buy it. Then I learned of the many people boycotting the game. I considered this for a day and bought the game for 15 USD.

I am strongly against Card’s world view. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue for me unless he was also an outspoken advocate of these beliefs. It looks like the developer of the game, Chair, and the game’s writer, Peter David, have made an effort to steer clear of Card’s controversial themes while making a kick-ass game. I’ve played the game for most of tonight and it is really, really good. Nothing in the content has jarred with me in any way.

So what we have here is an author I want nothing to do with, lending his name to an entertainment product I enjoy a lot. It helps that as far as I can tell, the author has not collaborated in a very meaningful way with Chair, but rather Chair has taken the fictional world and name from the author to get some PR.

This last bit is what really bothers me, beyond giving some small amount of money to Card through buying the game. According to an article in Gamasutra, Chair’s people are not homophobes to any degree. Maybe they didn’t know about the whole issue when they were working on the game – I know I didn’t. If they did, it bothers me a lot that they would give this publicity to Card, arguably more valuable than anything Card has published, as it’s reaching a new audience for him.

What I decided to do is enjoy the game for what it is (an excellent action adventure I would’ve loved to work on) and talk about my misgivings here. And no, I won’t be buying any books by Card.

Gaygamer’s take on the topic here.

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XBLA Xbox 360

Trials HD

Trials HD
Trials HD

RedLynx is a fellow Finnish developer, based close to our offices in Helsinki. I would support them by buying their products in most cases. With Trials HD, released on Xbox Live Arcade this month, I didn’t need the support your local developer incentive: Trials is a great game.

I’ve been trying to explain why I never got on with the equally well received PC version, out last year, titled Trials 2: Second Edition. It’s probably just my general aversion to PC gaming. Trials is the kind of game I want to play on my sofa, preferably passing the controller around while laughing with friends. (Come to think of it, I only play strategy titles on the PC. And the odd FPS.)

The controls fit the Xbox controller very well and it looks great on the TV. Scratch that – it looks great period, a very cool balance between worn-down garage grit and feel-good late afternoon summer bloom.

The gameplay is built around trying to get to the end of a tricky track without falling over. You are on a motocross bike and in addition to throttle and brakes, you only control the rider’s position on the bike. It’s a balancing act of traction, mass and control, often requiring you to bounce the bike by rocking it quickly back and forth to get over an obstacle.

I’ve only made it to the first “extreme” difficulty tracks and cannot figure out how to get over the first obstacle. It’s not too frustrating, although I guess it might be a bit much for obsessive-compulsive types. There’s always your friends’ times to beat and very often you know you could do a track without failing once, if you would only put some more thought into it. Played with friends, it can get hilarious. The physics are very entertaining.

RedLynx has gone overboard with the minigames for a downloadable title. There are many and delightfully many of them require a good degree of skill to dominate. The more simple ones are a little throwaway, but the best ones are just genius, like the one where you’re dragging a cart with two airbombs in it, trying to get them as far as you can within a minute… only the bombs are physical objects and don’t take kindly to being thrown around in the cart.

Great game, great fun, absolutely at home on the XBLA.

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XBLA Xbox 360

Virtual On

Oh, it’s on. Another oldie but goodie coming to a Live Arcade near you now that all the real arcades are dead, Virtual On is something I didn’t know I was thirsting for, but felt like suddenly running into a dear old friend when I heard about it coming.

Great article on the series over at GameSetWatch.

The Xbox 360 Live Arcade version… ON

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PC PS2 PS3 tabletop games XBLA Xbox 360

Gaming for fun, not deadline

Helghast heavy trooper from Killzone 2
Helghast heavy trooper from Killzone 2

I’ve been trying to concentrate on just a few games at a time, now that I don’t have to push reviews out the door any more. It’s been great. In a year and a half, I had almost forgotten what it feels like to really get into a game. My gaming goals had shrunk down to counting my Achievements, with no real perspective on what I was experiencing. I often went through two to four games per week. The worst feeling was when I got to play something very cool and interesting, and just could not throttle back and take it in properly.

It’s great to be able to game without analyzing. Sure I’m always taking a step back, simply because I chat about games all day at work and need to be able to discern what we should learn from, but since I don’t have to write about them and grade them anymore, it does allow me to just enjoy myself, with no thought on whether this is two-star or three-star enjoyment. I still blog about games that make me think of something I think is worthwhile. Of course, that also makes writing about the games that much more enjoyable.

So what have I been playing for the past month?

Xbox 360

Over the Christmas holidays I completed Gears Of War. It was disappointing, really. The graphics are indeed hot even to this day, but man, the level design and combat got really old by the end. It’s telling that I can’t recall how it all ended as by the time the game was done, I was too worn out to care, I just wanted it to be over with. Against this background, the fact that it failed to award me the Achievements for completing Act three and the whole game is a bit much. I’m planning to play through the sequel in co-op at the office, everyone’s saying it’s actually much better and not just because it’s very pretty. (I have played Horde already, it’s ace.)

More recently I finished up Penny Arcade Adventures Episode One. Good game, I will check out the sequel. Next I’m probably off to finishing Rez or checking out the new Tomb Raider.

I haven’t got much time on the Xbox as my wife’s been heavily into the Xbox Live Arcade board games, most recently Ticket To Ride. It’s a good version of the original.

One game we played together is Interpol. It’s a pixelhunt which tests your memory by asking you to point out given items from detail-ridden still images. It is strangely compulsive – we played it for a whole Saturday. My wife is currentlyin the top ten in the worldwide all-time leaderboard. I am so proud! The one negative I can think of is that the stupid story is worthless and manages to be on the way a bit, even though it’s mercifully skippable.

I have agreed to play through Kane & Lynch in co-op with a friend, as well. It’s something I’m looking forward to quite a bit, actually.

PS2

This weekend I’ve been sweating my way through Resident Evil 4 on the PS2, which I never completed. Naturally the arrival of the Resident Evil 5 demo prompted this comeback. After the initial shock of looking at a standard definition, last-gen 3D world (what bothers me the most? The blurry HUD), it’s still a great game. Surely no one does bosses better than Capcom – usually I’ve been within an inch of death and on my last clip of ammunition on my weakest gun when I prevail. I’m escorting the girl currently, and even that is fun gameplay, not an annoyance.

As an isolated moment of brilliance, the collectible bottle caps with the game’s character figurines on them, complete with their thin plastic toy voices (“Leon! Help me!”), were entirely unexpected. I hope to complete it shortly, then it’s on to maybe Okami. Or Final Fantasy XII. Or Transformers. Or…

PS3

On the PS3, I’ve been playing Fallout 3. I had to start over due to switching to a new PS3 and the game’s saves being corrupted in the process. Unexpectedly, it’s been better on the second way through. I haven’t had to repeat anything and even the actual scenes I’ve revisited, I have solved differently.

I hit level 13 last week and began to feel a bit bored, what with my character easily able to take down anything up to super mutant behemoths without fear of much anything. Then I upped the difficulty level and it’s like I was in my first steps again. Wholly welcome, now it’s thrilling and dangerous again and I’m getting more experience points for my trouble! Of course it would be preferable if I didn’t have to play with the difficulty settings to make it enjoyable, but I’m not really complaining. I am pretty sure I’ll complete the game.

Then it’s on to maybe Dead Space or Far Cry 2. Of course Killzone 2 is right on the horizon, as well, and Play has it on for an agreeable pre-order price. I’m looking forward to it mostly due to the fantastic art direction and the fact that apparently Guerrilla has shattered everyone’s expectations.

PC

Dawn Of War’s single player campaign on the PC as the Space Marines was a great ride, upping the intensity and options just right, all the way to the final encounter with a Chaos Daemon. I went straight into the Winter Assault expansion, eager for some grunt management with the more numerous, but weak Imperial Guard troopers. It started off strong, but I’m now halfway through and beginning to have doubts. Swapping with the Eldar back and forth and all the ferrying of troops via tunnels and warpgates (in the Eldar’s case, ferrying their buildings, as well), and throwing these huges armies of the Guard and the Orks at each other… it just gets to be a bit much, with the fighting taking a backseat to playing a glorified taxi driver. I guess I’m looking for more structure and planning, whereas it’s starting to feel like grunt rushes. At least the scenarios are interesting and hey, who doesn’t love a Baneblade? Also, I’m currently defending a fallen Titan and trying to wake it up! The stuff of legends, surely. My next PC project is perhaps Dawn Of War II, even though the multiplayer beta didn’t excite me all that much.

Customer experience, done right

How come I’ve been spending this much time on the PC, you ask? I got Dawn Of War off of Steam, and Steam on the whole has been very, very good to me. It is precisely the experience I want as a customer. Along with Steam and the excellent Good Old Games, I can’t see myself picking up boxed PC games anymore. Both stores feature ridiculous weekend deals which you basically need to check out.

If you haven’t been to Good Old Games, do yourself a favor and go see them. They have an expanding library of the better PC games of yesteryear, updated to run on modern computers, with no DRM, for a low, low price.

Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do. I did like being able to log onto Games For Windows Live with my (Xbox) Live Gold account, but I did not particularly like the way it automatically logged out my Xbox 360 account at the same time. If you want me to play on your terms and your playground, you’ve got to stop shutting the door in my face.

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culture XBLA Xbox 360

Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix tunes

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix screenshot (IGN.com)

OverClocked was contracted to arrange the music to Capcom’s long-awaited HD remix of Street Fighter II. The results are really very good. I haven’t listened to videogame music for a while, save for the stuff we’re doing at work, and this is really bringing back memories. Let’s just say that I changed my cellphone’s ringtone for the first time in years and years (the previous one being o2’s remix of Nemesis The Warlock’s theme tune by Rob Hubbard).

Get the album from here – it’s available for download free of charge.

Oh, the game? I haven’t really played it yet. I’m waiting for the PS3 release, because pulling those quarter-circles on the ridiculously clunky Xbox 360 D-pad is just not within my abilities. Well, yes, one of those would be nice. Even though it requires a hack to be used on the 360 and even then isn’t two-player… at least I could use it on the PC and the PS3. Or I could just get one of Hori’s single-player models, albeit they’re for single console use only.

Addendum: Well, yeah, of course I had to buy it immediately after checking out the demo for a minute. My wife promptly kicked my ass for the following six matches. I did get the 360 version and with my age-deprived skills, I don’t immediately find the controller a limitation. The game is jaw-dropping gorgeus, though.

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culture XBLA Xbox 360

Rez HD (Xbox 360 Live Arcade)

Rez HD screenshot

I first met Rez in the Game On exhibition in 2003 in Helsinki. I had read a lot about the Dreamcast game and was intrigued. Actually playing it, I was just blown away. I replayed it with my brother for several times and just couldn’t take my mind off it. I’ve been listening to the excellent soundtrack quite a bit ever since and kept my eyes out for the PlayStation 2 version. I haven’t been able to locate the game short of buying it secondhand from an online auction house, which is just too much trouble for me. It’s now available on the Xbox Live Arcade for 10€.

So what makes Rez HD or its previous incarnations on the Dreamcast and the PS2 so special?

[flv:/media/RezHD.flv 400 225]

Taken at face value, it’s a simple game. Your avatar flies forward on a predetermined route, you paint enemies with your cursor and let go of the fire button to destroy them with your homing attacks. That’s all there is to it. But that’s not the game.

You’re supposed to immerse yourself in it. The flawless visuals and amazingly enduring trance soundtrack are not icing on the gameplay, they are the point of the game. You’re supposed to enjoy the journey, the concept of “beating the game” just doesn’t apply here. The whole progression mechanic in the game, the evolving avatar and the slowly building music, it’s all tuned to pull you in and lift you up, way beyond the superficial gameplay.

The dance vibrator, a vibrating accessory available for the PS2 version, could not be coupled with any other game. The new version allows you to configure any extra Xbox control pads you have to function as vibrators. It sounds like a silly idea, but really adds to the experience – I’m not suggesting you do anything private with them, just place them against your back or rest your hands on an extra controller.

So turn it up and take the trip. It’s totally worth it, even after seven years. Nothing retro about it.

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XBLA Xbox 360

First impressions: Omega Five

Omega Five (Image courtesy of Eurogamer)

Hudsonsoft’s new side-scrolling shooter Omega Five hit the Xbox Live Arcade yesterday. It’s an XBLA original, although it very much feels like an authentic arcade title ported for the platform. I played the first couple of levels last night.

It’s a pretty title, in a charming low-budget way. You have pink lasers all over the place. They get away with relatively little animation and effects, going with bright colors and bold shapes. There are some issues with the background being tonally too close to some of the worthwhile stuff, like the first level’s giant robot’s ice attack.

I like the two-stick gameplay, where you fire continuously in the direction of the other stick, rotating through full 360 degrees. The special weapon of the default character, a robot chick called R.A.D. (yes, really), is a cool anchor attack, but I’m not too sold on the other character that’s initially available. It’s like they came up with RAD, made her cool, and then put the mediocre ideas onto the other character. There are three more to unlock, maybe they’re more fun. Certainly the character selections are not up to Psikyo standards. Bear in mind it’s possible that I just don’t know how to play properly – I find the other character terribly underpowered.

I’m a little worried that it may lack a challenge once you know your way around. The scoring system feels very straightforward and probably could’ve done with more refinement. I haven’t checked out the top players’ replays yet, though – the game uploads your replay along with your high score, which is great. Last night I ranked 175 on the level one score attack mode (“challenge”).

Ikaruga this is not, but a quality arcade title regardless. More of the same, please.