Posts Tagged ‘ Genre: Puzzle ’

Review: Portal 2 [3/4]

I’ve delayed writing this for a while now. Portal 2 is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and will certainly have a lot written about it. So it’s hard to see my own review as anything but redundant by this point. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Portal 2 is what Portal would have been like if Valve knew it would be the runaway success of 2007’s Orange Box collection. This is both a good and a bad thing. Portal 2 is polished to a sheen and fleshes out the world of Aperture Labs enormously. But you can also sense a sort of anxiety about transforming Portal into a triple-A game. Part of the original game’s success was facilitated by riding the wake of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Getting those two games for $60 alone was worth the price of admission, and having Portal on top of that was icing on the cake (or a second cake, but the internet tells me that’s not true.) Would people pay $60 only for Portal on its own? This is the hurdle that Portal 2 had to overcome. It’s difficult to overstate how high expectations were for this sequel.

I try not to go into the the cost and value of games when writing reviews, but I want to provide some context so I don’t sound like a nitpicking jerk with my criticism of the game. Primarily, my problem was that the scope was too broad. The single-player campaign fills the triple-A shoes very well, but much of it feels superfluous. By the end of the campaign, I was experiencing Portal fatigue: it was becoming too much work for too little payoff.  It felt like I was retreading puzzles and concepts and waiting for something to happen. The game play was stretched too thin, and the story disposes of the subtlety of its predecessor. What is offered is still quite entertaining, and there were some fantastically memorable moments scattered throughout the game, but I could never shake off the feeling that it would have been better game overall if it had been more constrained. The original was able to work a lot of magic by keeping you on your toes and not giving you much of a chance to reflect on what was going on. In the sequel you will have plenty of time to rest of your laurels, and it has difficulty building the same dramatic momentum.

From the standpoint of game play it’s the cooperative campaign that really shines and is more akin to the original than the single player campaign. Being forced to think about how you would use four portals among two players genuinely adds new dimensions to the game play formula which challenges newcomers and veterans alike. The plot of the cooperative campaign doesn’t have as much of a punch as the single player campaign, but it worked well in keeping us engaged and wondering what was to come, which I would argue is the most important function of a game’s story anyway. Completing cooperative trials feel like great achievements, and having the option to high-five your partner both in and out of game is great. Valve’s creativity is a force to be reckoned with, the cooperative campaign exemplifies that.

Portal 2 is very entertaining game for which fans of the original will not be disappointed. It makes the transition to being a triple-A game quite well and I’m hopeful for more Portal games in the future. Never the less, it doesn’t re-capture the same magic of its predecessor and would have been better served as a smaller package. Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison to make, or an unreasonable expectation. Maybe I’ve already fallen into the line of thinking that “the older games are always better” but playing Portal 2 and constantly thinking back to my original experience Portal leads me to believe the sequel is supplement to the original. It’s good, though not great.

Rating: 3 /4


Review: Plants vs. Zombies [4/4]

Once again, I’m well behind in playing Pop Cap’s games.  In this instance, Plants vs. Zombies was release earlier last year, but has been recently ported to the Xbox 360.  I figured this was as good a time as any to try it out; and I haven’t been disappointed.

As with so many video games in this day and age, there are many, many zombies that you need to deal with.  They are coming for you, but you really can’t bother with the whole evacuation thing.  And the board-up-your-house idea is just too much work.  No, instead you will manage a small army of plant friends who will risk their lives to defend you and your property.

The player must arrange plants on a 6×9 grid, but they are limited by two factors.  1) Plants have a cost in sun, which the player must accumulate as it falls from the sky, and by collecting it from sunflowers that can be planted. 2) Plants of any one specific type can only be planted at a certain rate.  Once the player places a sunflower, for instance, they must wait a few seconds before planting another, even if they have enough sunlight to plant it immediately.

There are also level based constraints that must be taken into account as well.  Night levels require the player to plant things that depend less of sunlight.  Pool levels require the player to place water based plants or lily pads which allow for normal plants to be placed on top of them.  And there are levels where there is no soil at all, and a pot of it must be placed on a grid before a plant can be placed there.

Then there are the zombies.  There are probably as many zombies as there are plants (a couple of dozen.)  And whenever a new one is introduced, it usually throws a wrench in your strategy.  However, there is always a way to deal with them, so it always feels like a challenge rather than an obstacle.  Some zombies rely on brute force, others will be able to circumvent your defenses, and many more are just tough to kill.  Between these and the other factors listed above, you have elements that make for very engaging level design.

Game play itself is about balancing all of these factors and juggling between what you’re paying attention to on the screen.  Many times the player will have to ask him or herself: should I use more sun in favor of placing as many of one type of plant as possible; or do I hold back and reserve my sun and the ability to place a plant exactly when and where I need it.  The choice is between planning and responding.  Do you feel comfortable enough anticipating what’s to come, or do you want to deal with it as it happens.  Of course, you always must be paying attention to where sun is, what the status of other plants are, and what other plants you can place.  And the zombies of course.  There are more things going on than the player can keep track of simultaneously, but never so much as to be completely overwhelming.

Every few levels, the pace is broken up with mini games which allow the player to narrow their focus.  So instead of having to keep track of everything noted above, the player will be given plants at a regular interval that they only need to place well.  More mini-games are unlocked as the player progresses, allowing for a wide array of game play options that are built on top of a strong foundation.  The Xbox edition of the game also includes competitive and cooperative modes that manage to extend game play even further to encompass playing as the zombies.

Like Peggle before it, Plants vs. Zombies takes a cool game play idea and fully realizes it in the game’s execution.  It is encompassed with an entertaining presentation and catchy music.  And even when you are finished with the main campaign, there are plenty of extra mini-games and challenges that will push you to continue exploring the game, and to refine strategies that you think are already solid.  If you have any inclination to play this game, you won’t regret picking it up.  It offers a game play experience that is more thorough than many of the $60 titles that are out there.

Rating: 4/4

See Also: TrailerMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon, or at XBLA

Rent it at Gamefly


Micro Review: Peggle [4/4]

I don’t really have anything new to add about Peggle that hasn’t already been said else where.  It’s just a great example of a well executed game mechanic with great levels and challenges to entice you to hone your skill with the game.  It’s one of the things I admire in a game the most: game mechanics with enough depth that you really do get better at it over time.  Not in the Contra sort of way where you just memorize the levels and scripted events.  There are always multiple approaches to a level, and you feel rewarded for discovering the right strategy or improving your in game dexterity and precision to maximize your score with a limited number of balls and pegs.  And it’s great to play with friends as well.  It’s probably one of the best polished gaming interactions out there.  Or at least it is very effective into fooling me into believing that.  In either case I’ve got no complaints.

Rating: 4/4

See also: Trailer, Website

Micro Review: Braid [2/4]

If I had written a review for my first playthrough of Braid I would have given it a 4/4. The puzzles are meticulously crafted and a lot of fun to solve. The game mechanics worked into them brilliantly. There’s good art style and music, and an interesting plot which is hard to make sense out of. The second time through though the puzzles were fun, but I mowed through them at a much faster pace. The story might have made a little more sense, but I’ve run out of patience with it. It’s too obscure for it’s own good and is a major sore point for me. If you haven’t played it though, definitely try it out, but I don’t know if it’s the gift to gaming that so many have claimed it to be.

See also: Trailer

Rating: 2/4