Archive for the ‘ Micro Review ’ Category

Micro Review: Aliens: Infestation [1/3]


  A shallow and underwhelming excursion into the world of Alien

I can’t help but get excited about a game that blends Contra, Castlevania, and Aliens (which is undoubtedly one of my favorite movie experiences of all time.) Unfortunately though, while Infestation does an excellent job of bringing the atmosphere of the Alien series to the DS, the gameplay is very underwhelming. The game can offer tense exploration of several different locations utilizing weapons pulled straight from Aliens. Your “lives” are essentially individual marines which are given short back stories and unique dialogue. One appears on the screen at a time, and several others wait in reserve in the event that the player is killed. Losing a marine can be disappointing, but it’s unfortunately the only way that the player can acquire new characters if their team is already full. And oddly, many characters are given personalities that feel entirely out of place for the game (for instance, a Korean girl that sits around texting — in space (where no one can hear you scream.)) Combat is initially an engaging part of the game but becomes either routine after upgrading your weapons, or entirely irrelevant during boss battles that have no discernible strategies for winning. These battles are reduced to simply unloading magazines of bullets and sacrificing marines until the boss is dispatched. If you are a fan of the Alien series, Infestation is fun but shallow. Otherwise you’ll be better served by watching the movies or playing a Castlevania game instead.

Rating: 1/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at AmazonRent it at Gamefly

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Micro Review: Gears of War 3 [1/3]


   A fun game that’s hobbled by it’s investment in it’s own story

Tis’ the season for sequels. The nice thing about them is that they continue to keep a series out in public view long enough for people like me to finally take notice and play them. Such was the case with Gears 3. On an impulse, I decided to rent it and play through the campaign cooperatively. Gears of War 3 (and I safely assume the previous games) have some great verbs that players can execute. Using the chainsaw bayonet doesn’t get old, and it’s easy to just run around like you’re leatherface tearing into meaty bad dudes. Everything on the surface of the game is a lot of fun.

Here comes the but: Gears 3 sacrifices fun for drama and makes for a bummer of an experience. Where I felt like I was having a fun blasting through everything that was unfortunate enough to be in my path the game was telling me “everything sucks and Marcus is sad/mad.” Every so often there is a funny line of dialogue but the entire atmosphere is saturated with a manufactured sense of dread and contrived drama. Using “Mad World” worked as an idea for a trailer but it isn’t representative of the experience of playing the game and, furthermore, works against the game’s strengths. How much Marcus hurts inside has no bearing on the fun I’m having stomping monsters and it is really irritating to follow along in a story I’m not interested in. By the end of the game, I was made to feel like I really was leatherface, and for no good reason. My avatar was an asshole, and it deflated my enjoyment of the underlying game play.

I suppose that all of this indicates that the multiplayer game modes would be more satisfying, but the single-player campaign sends mixed signals and delivers a story that tries too hard to be dramatic.

Rating: 1/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at AmazonRent it at Gamefly

Micro Review: Trials HD [3/3]


   A compelling game about jumping dirt bikes

Trials HD is a toy; a digital toy for the player to master.  It’s a virtual RC dirt bike toy that comes with a series of obstacle courses and assorted game modes to challenge the player to explore different aspects of the simulation.  And even if it is just a game about jumping dirt bikes, there is enough depth to negotiating the courses to occupy you for a good deal of time.  Trials HD caters to all skill levels and makes it addictively easy to push yourself to try a course just one more time in the hopes of finishing it just a little more quickly.  And if that’s not enough then maybe seeing how your times stack up against your friends will motivate you.  Unless the basic idea of Trials doesn’t do anything for you, this is a game that you can’t go wrong in playing.

Rating: 3/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at AmazonBuy it at XBLARent it at Gamefly

Micro Review: Angry Birds [3/3]

There’s probably not a lot more to be said at this point about Angry Birds. There’s nothing to stop you from playing it at this point as the game is available on multiple platforms, and for free no less. I have played the game myself on PSP and via the Chrome browser. What Angry Birds offers is all the key components of a good game. Nothing more and nothing less. There’s a compelling and well realized game mechanic (knocking crap over), a varied set of skills to master, and a wide array of levels to master them in.

Angry Birds has been known to upset some core gamers. A great deal of time and energy has been spent trying to demonstrate how games can be a superior medium for creative expression and storytelling, and this game inadvertently sticks its thumb in the eyes of those aspirations. Having a game as “simple” as this performing far better than many games perceived by the core community to be creative heavy weights (e.g. Heavy Rain.) As much hand-wringing as there is, Angry Birds is never the less a solid game that others would do well to evaluate carefully. The fundamentals still go a long way.

Much of the experience of playing the game can be determined by which platform you’re playing the game on. Since I did not have an iOS device, I originally played it on the PSP. This was a frustrating experience as the PSP joystick “nub” is poorly suited for consistent aiming. I enjoyed the game far more using Google’s Chrome browser which uses the mouse instead. But even with better controls it can still become frustrating to aim precisely. Understanding the solution to a level is simple enough. But managing to execute the shots to perform the solution would have led me to throw my computer out the window if not for the fact that it’s so easy to start over again. And the sheer number of levels make poor one’s easy to forget and move on from while still allowing the player to come back and master levels later.

If you’ve already played it then there’s nothing else to be said. If you haven’t then you don’t have an excuse not to. You’re just missing out on free entertainment. And for those upset by Angry Birds’ success, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate video games more realistically. They’ve come a long way, but there’s plenty more that can be done.

Rating: 3/3

See Also: TrailerMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Micro Reviews: 2010 Wrap Up

There have been many games I’ve been meaning to review around the end of 2010, and just haven’t been able to sink the time into doing more complete write-ups for them. So I just need to clear the plate and get these out of the way before too much time passes after I had completed them.

Left 4 Dead 2

As was the case with Resident Evil 5, Left 4 Dead 2 is begging for you to play it with friends. Though Left 4 Dead 2 is far more playable by one’s self than RE5 was. In either case, the game excels at keeping  players on their toes. Moving quickly from set piece to set piece, the action is intense to play through, and dramatic to witness. Between the enemy AI and ally AI, the player is given the sense that they are engaged in a chaotic, expansive scenario, rather than just a level in a game. In some levels, the difficulty can tend to spike in a way that really frustrates the pacing. Dialing back the difficulty settings is usually enough to keep the player moving on their way though. Left 4 Dead 2 offers a brand of survival horror that has progressed light years from the tank-like controls and sleep walking zombies of the original Resident Evil.

Rating: 3/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Vanquish

Vanquish aims to leave its own unique mark on this generation’s action shooters, which have quickly become some of the most popular console games. Vanquish takes established genre devices (dramatic cut sequences) and game play mechanics (cover based gun play) and injects elements of arcade style twitch action. The player is given a super-suit that enables them to zip around large maps to engage enemies, large and small. However, this twist on the genre feels half-hearted. The super suit relies on an energy meter that steadily depletes whenever you use its rockets, melee attacks, or when bullet-time is enabled. The meter makes it very difficult to use these different abilities in combination, and in fact, the entire meter is depleted after a melee attack is executed. Thus, levels rarely force you to take advantage of these abilities and the game ends up being a sub-par third person action shooter. It has its moments, but neither the game play or presentation are particularly memorable.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Donkey Kong Country Returns

I did not play a whole lot of SNES games back in the 90s. But one that I did play was Donkey Kong Country. Donkey Kong Country Returns brings the series to the Wii, and sets its sights directly on audiences that played the original games. It attempts to simultaneously evoke a sense of nostalgia while offering a greater challenge to gamers that have been playing platformers for years. DKCR fails on both counts. Part of its original charm lay in just how cool it looked at the time, with pre-rendered 3D graphics. That wow-factor is something that just can’t be recreated at this point. However, the graphical presentation was wrapped around a playground of levels for the audience to explore and enjoy. While the level themes are mostly faithful to their predecessors, the playfulness is frustrated by the game’s elevated challenge. They require a significant amount of memorization and leave little room for error. Small slip-ups early on can dramatically reduce your chances of completing a level, and can take too much time to replay to be truly enjoyable. This would make the game unplayable if it were not for the “Super-Kong” feature which puts the game in auto-pilot. It’s an excuse to make levels mindlessly challenging instead of utilizing thoughtful level design. All DKCR has to offer is a weak sense of nostalgia, which would be served better by just playing the original game instead.

Rating: 0/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Micro Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [2/4]

As I’ve made clear before, beat’em ups are some of my favorite games.  Irrationally so at times.  Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: The Game was on my radar, though I had not seen the movie and only barely knew about the graphic novels.  I ultimately waited for the game to go on sale before actually playing it.  Right off the bat, I was sold.  It nails presentation with convincingly retro graphics and music, without actually feeling like a 15-year-old game.  It really does create a false sense of nostalgia by capturing some of best aspects of the non-interactive elements from older games.

The game play itself is competent for a side-scrolling beat’em up.  Roaming around and exchanging blows with hipster kids can be surprisingly fun.  The player can level up one of four characters at a time as they progress through seven levels.  This is accomplished both by defeating enemies and by shopping for items that will raise your stats and/or experience.  The steady drip feed of new abilities is just enough to consistently renew player engagement.

The flaws of the game are found in its execution.  This is a game that is most fun when played with others, but it lacks an online multi-player mode, as well as drop in/out for local multi-player.  Thus, the game has to be restarted for others to start or stop playing.  This is made even worse by the fact that the game occasionally fails to save your progress (or at least this was my experience), and forces you to replay the last level that was completed before continuing.  And then, sometimes the game will freeze as well.  Your best bet is to sit down just try to beat the game in a single sitting.  It can be a very bipolar experience.  It has the ability to be very entertaining, but it can be totally marred by bugs and balance issues.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Xbox Live

Micro Review: Kirby’s Epic Yarn [3/4]

I’ve struggled to come up with what I want to say about this game. At first glance, Epic Yarn appears to be a simple game styled for children. They will certainly enjoy it, but that shouldn’t stop adults from enjoying it as well. Kirby’s Adventure is one of the earliest games I’ve playing (almost 18 years ago now.)  I still remember it fondly, and picked up the Game Boy Advance re-release a few years ago.  I had never really played any other Kirby games aside from that (and Kirby’s Pinball), but with all the good reviews for Epic Yarn, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the Wii to use. My first impression of the game was that I was far too old for it. Epic Yarn makes Kirby’s Adventure look relatively mature in comparison. But the game’s charm is difficult to resist.

The presentation of the game, and the feedback it provides, is pitch perfect. It’s just a lot of fun to bounce around the levels as Kirby. There is no risk of getting a game over, but the tension in trying to avoid game play failure is replaced with the tension over the possibility of failing to meet your own expectations. Every level offers a large number of beads you can collect which collect in a meter in the corner of the screen. If you are hurt by an enemy then all of the beads explode away from Kirby and will disappear after a few seconds if you fail to collect them again. So, the objective of the game isn’t merely to complete it, but to excel with the game mechanics the player is given.  It does an amazingly effective job at just letting you have fun.

The chief complaint that I have with the game is that the challenge can feel shallow after you’ve begun to master the controls. There are definitely sections of the game that make it very hard to hold onto the beads you have accumulated, but it’s difficult not to start imagining how the game would be even more satisfying with levels that offer complex puzzles or challenging acrobatics. As opposed to weak game play being stretched too thin, Epic Yarn offers strong game play that you will wish you had more opportunities to further master.  It’s otherwise well paced between platforming, boss battles, and “vehicle” modes that give Kirby special powers in a way that’s more like earlier Kirby games.

Epic Yarn offers a uniquely cohesive and imaginative experience.  The game’s yarn physics and logic make an absurd sort of sense, and provides instantly satisfying feedback.  It’s sickeningly adorable, and it will make you feel like you should be seven years old while playing. But it’s hard not to get into it.  While it is presented as one of the most laid back games ever made, you will still be nervously clutching the controller as you make your way through levels.  It’s definitely one of the best titles for the Wii this year, and a very memorable game overall.

Rating: 3/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon

Rent it at Gamefly

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