Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Super Guides and You

This article can also be found at The Yorker.

Nintendo's re-release of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the 3DS is almost upon us. In order to make it worth the buck of those who might have played it before, they've added in a remixed hard mode; but they've also added in something for the newcomers - the Super Guide system.
The Super Guide is a feature that was copyrighted by Nintendo a few years ago - a system where, if a player is struggling or repeatedly failing in a game, it will dispense hint videos showing you how to get past that tricky bit you're struggling with. In some cases, it'll even let you skip the offending stage for you to go back to later. The Super Guide has proven itself to be useful and non-intrusive in Super Mario Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns; but some fans are fretting over its inclusion in Ocarina of Time, and I'm not sure I get why.

The main argument is that since Ocarina of Time is an old title (1998!), the long standing fans were able to beat it as kids, and so new players shouldn't be hand-held through Hyrule. That sentiment is more than a little bitter if you ask me, and reminds me strongly of That One Elderly Relative; the one who just doesn't get why everyone's standard of living is so easy compared to back in the day. They had fewer conveniences and they liked it that way, goshdarnit.

As a feature, the Super Guide does nothing detrimental. Those who fancy themselves skilled at games can breeze through with nary a hint of help; and those who aren't so confident - or new to this genre of game - can get help when they need it; no visits to GameFAQs.com, or purchase of a strategy guide necessary. It's funny that those who are complaining most about the idea of the game directly assisting them are those who are the least likely to see the Guide functions.

What might be an issue in Ocarina of Time's case is the delivery of the Super Guide advice. Protagonist Link is mute and works alone, so most of the advice and warnings dispensed to the player are done through his fairy companion, Navi. Navi is well-known among fans for being a little... overzealous when dispensing advice, and since she's also responsible for telling you about the Super Guide if you get stuck, there is a slight worry that even skilled players may be reminded a little too often. I can see the potential problem here, but it's very much a worst-case scenario, and no direct fault of the Super Gide system itself.

But what does the Super Guide mean for future releases? Honestly, not a whole lot, aside from making games a lot more accessible to new players. And that's definitely a good thing! Although games like New Super Mario Bros. get incredibly tricky in the later stages, anyone can see the game through to the end. I know for sure there have been times where I've stopped playing a game due to getting stuck and frustrated, and having that point mitigated is a wonderful thing. It allows games to be fun for everyone, not just the skilled.

What's more, even though non-Nintendo games can't use the Super Guide exactly, other developers have been taking note. L.A. Noire has both 'Intuition Points' and the ability to skip driving or shooting segments. It means that no matter what your skill sets are, progressing through the story is still a smooth experience - the execution of which I'm still very much impressed with. I'm not ashamed to admit I skipped shoot-out sections that I found hard, and nor should anyone else that wants to play games for fun and enjoyment, rather than bragging rights and latent masochism.

Morcheeba - Blood Like Lemonade

This review can also be found at The Yorker.

Sometimes in my hectic schedule, and especially in busy times like the weeks leading up to exams, good music is essential to relaxation.
And while I'm one of those strange people who'll enjoy ambient music; for everyone else who'd rather want something more involved there are bands like Morcheeba. A halfway point between Zero 7 and Massive Attack, they have a very low key and down- to-earth sound. While I don't think they've been in the public focus much, there's a pretty big chance you've heard one of their older hits, The Sea from their album Big Calm. And now they've released a new album, the slightly dark title of Blood Like Lemonade. And I must say, that spooky tone is definitely present in the album, but instead of going against the chilled out vibe they're known for, it settles in well.

'Crimson' as a leading track gets right down to what Morcheeba's best at, a languid bass and synth piano riff, with lead singer Skye Edwards giving vocals like she's in a smoky underground club. Lyrics like "down the dusty trails of treason" and "sunshine suicide survivor" are, while fitting of the theme, not what I was expecting to hear, doing an audio double-take. Then a creepy breathing sound started. I looked over my shoulder for a crazed axe murderer, but it turned out that it was Track 2, 'Even Though'. The breathing eventually gave way to the main beat of the song, but began to miss it; it would have been an interesting percussion sample.

Track 3 is the title track, 'Blood Like Lemonade'. I was bracing for more creepy beats, but instead, I got a brighter, poppy bass and a light sprinkling of turntablism. And lyrics about a holy man who becomes a renegade vampire. It had my head bopping, but I began to chuckle at how incredibly insistent the theme was; though thankful for the subtle light-heartedness.

'Mandala' is an interlude with a dusty, western feel. I have a soft spot for instrumental tracks, and I let this one loop a few times, while I daydreamed about being a cowboy - but then I remembered I was in the middle of essay writing. 'I Am The Spring' is an acoustic guitar and vocals number, which - although pleasant - was a little boring. 'Recipe for Disaster' is the fusion of the Wild West guitars of 'Mandala', and the unusually dark lyrics of 'Crimson'. Then again, it's also filled with cookery puns. You're not taking your morbid tone very seriously, are you Morcheeba?

I really like 'Easier Said Than Done'. They take a break from the mockingly grim tone, and go for a more minimal, electronic approach. The lyrics are more motivational and calming; with an intro and bridge that wouldn't be out of place in Tron. The 80's one. 'Cut To The Bass' starts with with some really heavy drum beats and scratching, and just when I thought it was going to ease up, the bass starts up a growling riff with synth organ and guitar in the background. It's a simple arrangement, but funky; and as the track goes, the parts just click in to place and snowball. A big, grooving snowball.

'Self Made Man' stands well, but it struggles to compete with the previous two tracks. The echoes on percussion give the track a spacey feel, coupled with the swaying backing chords. The lyrics feel a little weak on this one, and part of me feels this one would have been better off as another instrumental. And finally there's 'Beat Of The Drum'. The sound definitely reflects the title, the percussion is very much like marching. It's really not very interesting. The melody strikes that mood of closing and finality, but doesn't go out on a creepy note like the start of the album, nor with the powerful arrangements of 'Cut To The Bass'. What a shame.

Blood Like Lemonade is definitely what I expect and love about Morcheeba, even if the ending is a little damp. I definitely recommend a purchase to add more chill vibes to your music collection, and to get you through the exam period. Trust me.

Like this? Try: Zero 7, Massive Attack, Portishead

Indie Demos To Enjoy!

This article can also be found at The Yorker.
It's rare that movies and books get preview releases, and services like Spotify are making album previews more common; but in the present age of gaming, the demo is king in promoting a product. As all current-generation gaming devices have the ability to download software from the internet, putting an early build up for a free download will attract a lot of people, to the point where developers who don't are starting to receive flak from fans who insist on trying before they buy. Since hey, if their game is as good as they promise it to be, they have nothing to hide, right?
This new trend of demo downloads is giving independent developers the chance to spread word about their work, but not all of them end up with sudden cult status like Minecraft. That doesn't mean that they're undeserving of interest and support, however. Here are a handful of games in their Beta stages that you can try out now!

Navigator - Have you ever played a puzzle game where you accidentally misplaced a block just slightly out of place, and wish you had the ability to nudge it back into place? Navigator takes that idea and runs with it. The main aim is to keep Nav, a cute little guy trapped in your playing field, alive as blocks slowly push their way up from the bottom. You have a block cannon that can create clusters of similarly-coloured blocks, causing them to vanish, giving Nav a little more breathing room. But at the same time he's not entirely helpless; he can push blocks around too, assisting in setting up combos. Controlling both Nav and the Block Cannon at once takes some getting used to, but it's a wonderful dynamic once it clicks. The controls are designed so a second player can handle Nav duties while you operate the cannon. After that, it comes down to how much you like taking risks - do you make small, conservative drops that keeps Nav as safe as possible, or do you pile on the blocks to set up some huge score-filling combos?

Navigator (At time of writing V1.0 Beta) is available for download here.

Level 2 - The premise of this one is a little strange. A metal band, Last Chance To Reason produced an album entirely about Computers and A.I., named Level 2. An incredibly nerdy premise, and the decision to turn the album into a scrolling shooter is a master-stroke. The way that the music is used is the impressive factor - all of the obstacles and enemy movements are synced perfectly with the music. This is helped by the high quality (and somewhat creepy) art direction. Gigantic cybernetic heads that spit skulls as they scream "ERASE" is either awesome or terrifying. Definitely worth a play through, even if metal isn't your genre of choice.

A demo of the first stage, 'Upload Complete' is available for download here.

SpyParty - Any game that involves more than one player has a deep-seated element of mind games. The world champions of Street Fighter and Starcraft know their game well, but to win they have to know the mentality on their opponent. It's this aspect that's the source of thrill and excitement for some; for those people, SpyParty exists. It's the competitive mind game in the purest sense.

There's a thriving party in an apartment building, watched in the distance by a sniper. Why the sniper? Because one of the guests at the party is a spy, and he or she must be taken out before they manage to complete their mission. Only the sniper and the spy are controlled by humans - the spy must blend in with the computer-controlled crowd, assisted by being able to 'see' the paths the other guests can take. The sniper's job isn't so easy when the A.I. occasionally acts suspicious too...

SpyParty's Early-Access Beta is a paid program (But if you paid for Minecraft, this isn't so shocking). You can sign up for it here.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Favourite Classic Game

This was done as the Day 24 Entry the VG Resource's 30 Days of Gaming

When I was in primary school, everyone was playing Pokémon Red and Blue. It was almost the law. The games were popular, and for good reason – the combination of accessibility, an appeal to the compulsive collector nature of kids, and game mechanics that didn’t play down to an age group are great game design factors. Of course, that’s not why we played; the abysmal television show and never ending torrents of Pokémon toys were what guaranteed our interest, but there was another game of a similar nature that was forced out of the limelight due to its lack of brand power. But on the other hand, I still play that game now, whereas Pokémon Red has gathered dust.

Dragon Warrior Monsters was the first Dragon Quest game I’d ever heard of, and I wouldn’t actually play another Dragon Quest game until Dragon Quest VIII. When I bought the game, I was drawn to the strange, more dynamic and aggressive beasts on the cover. Fully aware of the famous 151 to the point of boredom, the prospect of new fauna to tame was an exciting one.

The differences took some getting used to. There were no cities, just the Kingdom of GreatTree, an oak the size of a skyscraper; a series of increasingly tough dungeons filled with those elusive monsters; and an arena where my monster-training prowess was put to the test. Having not experienced enough RPGs back then to be aware of the typical clichés, the high fantasy bent was an appealing change to the urban sprawl of Pokémon.

The way the monsters themselves worked was different, too. I couldn’t force them to be my friends, I had to slowly make them like me by giving them meat. Not knowing the maths behind it, I tried many ways to make new monsters my friends – making sure they were the last foe standing; deciding that even though Ribs were more effective than PorkChops, that Grizzly was a PorkChop kinda guy; keeping a monster with a dance or song move, just in case a monster liked dancing. And when a monster did decide to devote its services to you, you didn’t automatically have complete control. They had a personality, and preferred to use some moves over others.

But what impressed me the most was monster breeding. Bear in mind that Pokémon Gold and Silver were still vague rumours in the magazines, so the idea that I could make crazy new monsters by breeding my old ones was an incredible concept. At first, the process was random, putting any two monsters I had together and taking the result – but as the game progressed and gave me hints about breeding, and working through trial and error I learned to be clever about marrying off my monsters; each generation growing stronger and knowing a wider set of skills.

The way you can build your team of 3 monsters impresses me, even in hindsight. While all the monsters in the game are different in where their strengths lie and what moves they can learn, any other monster can have those strengths and skills through some patient breeding. Back then my favourite monster was the ZapBird and the Shadow, two monsters of very different strength levels, but by the end of the game, they were both fearsome in combat, Zap! knowing all the strongest elemental spells, and Myst spreading curses and capable of transforming.

The later games in the Dragon Quest Monster series have held some of these excellent sensibilities that sets the games apart from Pokémon, but I was sad to find out that it was no longer possible to turn your early-game monsters into late-game competitors through love and care.

My Favourite Setting

This was done as the Day 19 Entry to the VG Resource's 30 Days of Gaming.

I spend way too much time on the computer. It’s an undeniable fact, and a little sad. Yes, the advent of social networking, and the ability to deal with work via my computer makes my addiction look a little less suspect, but I can’t avoid just how anti-social it makes me look. So when there’s a game series that’s entirely based around absolutely everyone using computers and the internet as if their life depended on it, it’ll strike a chord with me. And that would be the MegaMan Battle Network series.

What’s more, in this imagining, the complete and entire devotion to the Computer doesn’t result in a dystopian, Neuromancer-esque vibe. This is MegaMan we’re talking about here; a series typically dealing with grisly robot destruction with smiley faces and bright colours. According to Capcom, the future is a bright one, where hooking everything up to the internet seems like a perfectly sensible idea; from your washing machine to trees. It sounds foolish, but having your fridge notify you when it needs cleaning, or your garden twittering about the health of your flowers has useful applications.

And then there’s how they deal with A.I. In a concept shift that’s been somewhat divisive for Mega fans, MegaMan isn’t a Super Fighting Robot, but instead a computer program. For some, it feels like a bit of a jump to go from the concept of death-dealing android to a desktop buddy, but even the classic Mega Man started out as a cleaning assistant for Dr. Light. MegaMan.exe and his operator, Lan are tasked with deleting viruses and other malicious Network Navigators (Netnavis), which becomes a gargantuan task when you realise that with almost everything Online, a virus or hacker could cause major problems. In-game this is taken to some rather silly extremes, like the occurrence of rainstorms and earthquakes being computer-generated, but in a more realistic context, a hacker having a degree of social control is very real. The public response to Sony’s Playstation Network servers being hacked was impressive, and has made people think hard about the consequences of having so much of themselves accessible over the Internet.

But just think for a moment – what if Netnavis were thrown into the equation? We would all have a more overt level of protection; smarter and more adaptive than your regular anti-virus. By being a personality more than a tool, we would pay more attention to the safety and maintenance of our data. Tech-savvy members of the family would breathe a sigh of the relief when they’re no longer called on for trivial computer issues. With a few minutes of setup and explanation, grandma could be deleting viruses and surfing the Internet with the best of them, maybe even better than you.

Though, what I like most of all about this setting (and it embarrasses me a little to say this), having a digital friend to call your own is incredibly charming. While obviously not a substitute for a flesh-and-blood human, no one need ever feel alone as long as they had their Personal Terminal to hand. Think of the practical applications for therapy and social conditioning. Give up smoking! Have a (non-corporeal) shoulder to cry on! Never forget another deadline or birthday again!

While the Battle Network series does have its ridiculous moments, treating science as a magical phenomenon has its charm. I’m slack-jawed at how a virus can make an oven start spitting fire, or why a meteorology team would build a facility 30,000 feet in the air, powered by rockets (with no hand rails!), and then I also see how everyone’s quality of life has been improved by better and smarter computers; how their internet community is more polite and unified; how the digital age has been whole-heartedly accepted as a progression for society, and my heart is warmed.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Games Previews at London MCM Expo

This article has also been hosted at The Yorker. And is a little old, I should have uploaded this earlier.

While they're a big part of nerd culture, I'm really not a fan of conventions. For the most part they're less about die-hard media fans sharing an interest, and more about overpriced tat, grown men dressing up as under-age anime girls, and an overpowering stench of nerd-sweat that I have to bleach my clothes to get rid of. However, despite the numerous shortcomings, conventions like the MCM Expo are prime advertisement material for games publishers; and they often have pre-release versions of soon-to-be-released games to drum up interest.
The 'Summer Drought' - the period of time around the yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in July - is something of a dead-zone for new games releases, so the games on offer at MCM were slightly lean, but there are still a big few names to tide us over.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) - June 17th is fast approaching, and that means the Ocarina of Time remake for 3DS will be upon us; and Nintendo is trying their damnedest to make sure it'll still be a considered purchase for people who've played the original already. While there are full copies floating around already, the version available at the Expo was a demo showing off the starting area, Kokiri Forest, and the first dungeon inside the Great Deku Tree. Anyone familiar with the original game will be entirely at home in terms of layout, but the graphical overhaul makes things much easier on the eyes.

Despite this, I couldn't help but notice that distant objects popped in when they got close enough, the animations erred on the side of clunky, and there was an instance of noticeable - but not detrimental - slowdown. However, the revised controls and touch-screen functionality make playing the game a much more intuitive experience. A revised 'Master Quest' mode is also available, with mirrored maps and different enemies and puzzles. We'll see how different it is from the Gamecube's release of LoZ:OoT Master Quest when the game is released.

Child of Eden (360) - Mentioned in May 15th's news, the Kinect controls were straightforward, but took a lot of getting used to. Your hands are both used to fire at targets on-screen; the left hand is a purple rapid-fire shot that'll fire as long as you're pointing on screen. The right hand is a lock-on gun that will highlight targets as you gesture over them, and then fire if you flick your wrist. You can lock-on to 8 targets at a time, and you score bonus points for firing all 8 shots every volley, and for firing shots in time to the beat. However, sometimes my gesture to fire would go ignored, ruining my timing.

Community Manager Pete Closs gave us information about the developmental process - over 1000 different concept art designs went into creating the wide variety of art directions that make up the stages. The music to the game was done by the in-studio band Genki Rockets, who have previously released an album; some of the songs featuring in previous Q? Entertainment titles. The songs appearing in Child of Eden are either remixes or all new tracks, but a commercially available soundtrack has not presently been planned.

Gears of War 3 (360) - You know where you are with Gears of War. Even with Gears of War 2, the experience - while nothing particularly unexpected - was very well-refined cover-based shooter. Unsurprisingly, Gears of War 3 is more of the same. The booth for the game was set up in multiplayer mode, so I wasn't able to try out the story mode. The arena for the match was very pretty in the way that post-apocalyptic cityscapes tend to be; but a mixture of my inability to play Shooters with any kind of competence and the slow, lumbering character I was playing as meant I didn't get much time to explore. Sigh.

Xenoblade (WII) - After a noticeable lack in RPGs for the Wii, there are suddenly a surprising number that promise to make the jump from Japan to the UK. One of the first being Xenoblade, a game developed by Monolith Soft, and published by Nintendo (with Arc Rise Fantasia and The Last Story hopefully following soon). Screenshots for this game have been around since last year, the style of which (Youths in impossible armour fighting giant wild beasts) made me think of Monster Hunter, but in playing it I found the reality was much different. Attacks are not at-will, you have a handful of skills that slowly recharge once used. This made battles feel slow and tactical, as you made sure every hit counted. In a very poor decision, they seem to have given all the characters unlikely British accents, for reasons I'm not sure of. Verily, this is a game of an acquired taste, what!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

E3 Roundup & Comment

This article has also been hosted on the VG Resource. Abridged Versions of this article have also been hosted at The Yorker.

While the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2011 is still in progress, the conferences for the 3 big names, Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo are done and dusted. The in-depth details of what’s on offer has already been plastered all over other gamine news sites (and no doubt your Facebook and Twitter accounts); but this is just a little summary of what stood out to me.

I’ve always taken E3 with a pinch of salt. While it’s the major US event for games publishers to share new projects and releases with the masses, it all boils down to the hard sell. The presentation of the publisher conferences matters just as much as the products they’re trying to market, and they don’t always do the job well.


The Xbox 360 played very close to its strengths this year; a user base with a high percentage of shooter enthusiasts (of which I am definitely not), and a still-developing market in the Kinect. Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft Entertainment, informed us early on that the exclusives this year would show heavy support for the Kinect, and they definitely kept to that through the conference.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the perfect blend of Shooter and Kinect-bait. The gesture controls and voice recognition were used to create a very intuitive-looking customisation menu system; but part of me feels that such a cool concept is a little wasted on gun fetishism. On the other hand, the gesture controls for the actual combat look so entirely ridiculous that any sense of coolness flew right out of the window.

Part of the demographic for the Kinect is of course young children; so to demonstrate Kinect Disneyland Adventures (Essentially Kinect Adventures! with a Disney theme) and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, stage-ready, rosy-cheeked children were wheeled onto the stage. These kids are always annoyingly saccharine and are good for a chuckle. But on the other hand, can you imagine these child-demographic games being demonstrated only by adults? Creepy.

Kinect Funlabs is a new e-store where you can download experimental Kinect software other developers have made. There’s a huge ‘homebrew’ community for the Kinect, and Microsoft did a good job of harnessing it. I hope we don’t have to pay for the demos though; they look very bare-bones. The conference was wrapped up with a short trailer for Halo 4; which caught me by surprise – Bungie said that after Halo Reach, they weren’t intending to produce another main-series Halo game. So either Bungie loves consumer money too much to keep their word, or Microsoft is using another developer to keep the cash cow running. Not cool.


Sony offered a much wider range of genres than Microsoft this time around, but they really pushed the PS3′s 3D functions, just like how almost all of the 360 exclusives sported Kinect. Of course, the 3D effect was entirely wasted on us paupers watching the conference through the internet.

There were a lot of solid titles that definitely garnered my interest. Uncharted 3, which was a bit moodier and grittier than I’d like still impressed me with its brighter action scenes in Arabia. inFamous 2 still has me incredibly hyped, but there was nothing that we didn’t already know. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will hopefully be a great sequel to the PS2 games I remember fondly, but I’m sad they got rid of the cartoonish cel-shading.

They also announced some new IPs in Starhawk, a game with an aesthetic cross between Borderlands and Halo, but looking to promise standard-fare shooter action; and Medieval Moves: Deadman’s Quest, which looked like a reasonable first-person action adventure game, but it reminded me heavily of a tech demo demonstrated for the PS Move last year – featuring a similar setting, but a magic-using protagonist. It looked much less polished than this effort, but a lot more enticing in terms of mechanics.

Some of the games mentioned were not specifically Sony exclusives, but instead would have bonus content or Playstation Move functionality; which smacked of them being unconfident in the lineup of exclusives they had. Don’t sweat it Sony, you’re doing just fine. But next time you get 2K Games to demonstrate their next NBA 2K game, don’t have them go by halves. Kobe Bryant can’t hold a candle to the glorious Shaq.

The official announcement of the Sony Vita is a surprise to few (even the name of the then-titled NGP was released a few days back, along with some of its planned titles), but the lineup for release games is looking a lot stronger than the 3DS’ effort. Diablo-clone Ruin and fighter’s dream Street Fighter X Tekken are the titles that have me salivating, but then there’s no guarantee they’ll actually be available any time soon.

The incredibly competitive price of $249 to directly compete with the 3DS is definitely throwing down the gauntlet. The Vita pulls ahead in terms of sheer graphical brunt, but otherwise they’re both host to some very similar features. It’ll come down to the games support in the end.


While Nintendo wasn’t the only company to be releasing new hardware this year, they had been keeping the cards much closer to their chest than Sony has been with the PS Vita. That alone accounted for much of the anticipation for Nintendo’s conference, and they rode that out for as long as they could.

The first section of the conference showed no hint of new hardware info; instead detailing the variety of Legend of Zelda game releases for the 25th Anniversary for the series. A free DSi download of 4 Swords Adventures was what piqued my interest the most, along with the announcement of a soundtrack CD for Skyward Sword… though we probably won’t see that released over in the UK.

Now that’s over, is it time for the hardware announcement? Psyche! It’s 3DS release time. This is still fairly a big deal, but I watched with a hint of scepticism. Last year the support for the 3DS was huge, with many big names like Metal Gear Solid and Kingdom Hearts poised to be released. But the games available on release have been pretty weak, and that wasn’t looking to change. So Nintendo looked to fix that failing with some solid first-party support. And they definitely brought forward some big names.

Mario Kart and Kid Icarus Uprising are my picks of choice, with Mario Kart showing off customisable cars and tracks where your craft can transform into a hang glider or submarine; and Kid Icarus demonstrating some charmingly bad voice acting, and gameplay that heavily reminds me of Sin and Punishment.
Then the Nintendo eShop was brought up. It’s the marketplace system for the Nintendo 3DS, and the update to install it on your system is already live. It functions just the same as the Wii and DSi shops, but in addition to special 3DS software, the range of released DSiWare games (Go and play Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. You won’t regret it.), and a small (and rather terrible) pool of GameBoy games are also available to download. The UK prices seem to be slightly higher than the US ones, though.

Ok, that’s finally out of the way. Do we get the console announcement? Fortunately, yes! The name is announces as the Wii U. Which, while fairly silly, is easy enough to put up with. The revival of Wii/Wee jokes won’t be. They lead the showcase with the Wii U’s controller, a 6.2 inch tablet surrounded by the the kind of buttons you’d expect to see on a modern controller. Only odd thing is the placement of the two analogue sticks – right at the top, even above the D-Pad and face buttons. Why on earth are they placed up there? It might work out to be comfortable in practice, but for now, I don’t think my big, meaty hands can accommodate that positioning.

Beyond the unique controller design, the ‘big deal’ about the Wii U is its processing power and graphics capability. It can now directly compete with the HD-capable PS3 and 360, allowing developers who dismissed the Wii as a non-progressive platform to give Nintendo users the same gaming experience everyone else gets. Which is both a good and annoying thing.

On one hand, I’ll be hearing less chatter about ‘Console Wars’. The scope of games released for each platform are now just that little bit more level. Barriers to entry in terms of developing games for multiple platforms will drop, and I definitely see that as a good thing.

On the other hand, I felt that the limitations of the Wii forced developers to do something different with their games to make them marketable. The Wii U isn’t going to make those developers magically vanish, but the line-up for the Wii U shown could largely be described as “Games the other platforms are already getting”, and that made me a little sad.

In Closing…
All in all, the corporates are starting to get the hang of these Conferences. In previous years, many of these presentations would get bogged down in sales figures, and rambles about company history. But the general populace doesn’t want to hear that, and the journalists in the auditorium sure enough aren’t going to report about it. All 3 conferences were almost all about the new games from start to finish, and I definitely appreciate that. Microsoft didn’t have some new hardware to wow the crowd with, bless ‘em, but that Kinect Funlabs will definitely be something to follow. Never underestimate the genius of homebrewers!

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Great Genre Expredition: Dungeon Crawlers

Blizzard Entertainment is a company that sticks to its guns. It's well known for ''World of Warcraft'' and ''Starcraft'' series, partially due to the crushingly huge popularity and exposure those titles have, partially since they're the only games they've released since 2006. But they'll be breaking the trend with a long-awaited (by a very specific demographic) third addition one of their other popular franchises - ''Diablo''.
Diablo started out as a more action-oriented spin on the RTS Genre; focusing on adventures and combat for an adventurer and his companions, rather than a full-scale army. But this direction proved to be so incredibly popular that the style caught on, taking the basic idea of top-down hack & slash, and running away with it. Although since Diablo III is dragging its heels in being released, give these three gems a try in the meantime.

For the Online Gamer: Spiral Knights
The internet is filled with free Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), and many of them are very similar, often taking notes from World of Warcraft. Spiral Knights stands out by cribbing from Diablo instead, but does it in the cutest way possible. From the get go, the art direction and chiptune-nuanced music is immediately charming, and the game play is faithful but much more streamlined than its source material. You control a robotic knight charged with exploring the Clockwork, a forever-shifting maze of dungeons filled with treasure, spike traps, and demon businessmen. The MMO element means you're never short on people to play with, and working as a team definitely improves the experience.
Spiral Knights is a free download for PC. Get it here.

For the Free-Time Gamer: Torchlight 
Torchlight was an Indie release in 2008, and is in almost every respect a big soppy love-letter to Diablo. From the excuse plot of a mining town with a monster infestation, an incredibly similar interface, and a familiar cast of close combat, ranged, and magical characters. What does set the game apart is its cartoonish charm, coupled with the ability to add modifications. In a way the game has been left slightly bare-bones, so you can customise the game to just the way you like it.

That's not to say the game lacks things to do, the compelling and what I can only describe as 'chunky' combat will last you hours, days of your free time. And when you've beaten the game, you can retire your hero, bequeathing your equipment to the next in line. The only real draw back is that Torchlight is a strictly single player experience - an unusual exception for the genre. But don't fear, Torchlight 2 is already in the works, and co-op is a promised feature.
 Torchlight is available on Steam.

For the Comic Book Gamer: X-Men Legends
This one's a little more retro. In an interesting decision from Raven Software and Activision, This retelling of the X-Men universe (of which there are many) is done as a top-down, co-op experience, a surprisingly long string of isolated missions connected by the story of a new X-Men Recruit, Magma. But don't worry, there are plenty of opportunities to play as Wolverine and Cyclops.

Missions let you build a dream team of 4 X-Men, and to make up for the inability to create your own heroes, you can customise everyone's skills. It's a great way to give depth to a game simplified by being a console game. For fans of the series, or those who want to know more beyond what the X-Men movies tell you, there's a whole host of back story, character art and comic book covers tucked away. Although an old game, it's a common find in places that sell second-hand titles.
 X-Men Legends is available on the Gamecube, X-Box, and PS2.