Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Romantic Night In With Resident Evil

As you can probably tell by the fact I’m writing a blog about video games, I’m rather partial to them. It’s a love affair that goes right back to the days of the Sinclair Spectrum (if you’re wondering kids, it’s like an Xbox 360 that refuses to load any games), and if anything I’ve got more fascinated with the world of gaming as I’ve got older. Far from growing out of my hobby, gaming has grown up with me, and now it’s extended its reach to a far wider demographic than I would have ever thought possible – even my girlfriend’s mother has a Nintendo DS.

The reason I love games is that they can offer an experience that’s utterly unlike anything else – the very best games can transport you into another world where you can lose yourself for hours, or even days. Games like Fallout 3 can tell a story equally as well as any film, but with the added bonus that you can decide exactly how deep you want to delve into the plot. Even better, your actions will determine the story’s ending, for better or for worse.

But not every game has to be a complicated epic to be worthy of playing – my favourite games are the ones that demand attention through their sheer imagination (Katamari Damacy, BioShock) or their stunning depictions of another world (Okami, Enslaved). With every new generation of game consoles, the games on offer have got bigger and better, and I’m excited to see where games will go in the future – if games have evolved this much in 30 years, what will they be like when I’m 60?

The world of gaming really is a wonderful, surprising place to lose yourself in, so it’s only natural that I’d want to share my experiences with other people, and especially the person closest to me – my girlfriend.

But alas, it’s not always that easy…

It’s not that she’s averse to playing games per se – she grew up playing Sonic The Hedgehog, and throughout university she was addicted to Mario Tennis. But when it comes to finding games that we can play and enjoy together, it’s been a long, hard struggle. Along the way I’ve brought home many a game that I thought might fit the bill, but only a few have stuck. Wii Fit raised some initial interest but was soon relegated to the cupboard, and Wii Sports‘ charms have long since faded. Lego Star Wars was a surprise success but was over too quickly, and Punch-Out!! was initially a huge hit, but eventually proved too frustrating (we’ve still to finish it). I even thought Sega Superstars Tennis might rekindle her love for the Mario Tennis of old, but it’s barely been played since it went back on the shelf.

Turns out though that I’ve been wasting my time with all these family-friendly games – what my girlfriend really likes to do is shoot stuff.

Enter Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. As I encouraged her to give it a go, I wasn’t quite sure what she’d make of it, but it was an instant hit – there really is nothing like blowing the heads off zombies to bring two people together. The Darkside Chronicles may not be a complicated epic or a tour de force for the imagination, but it IS goddamned fun.

The beauty of it is that there’s none of the complicated controls that act as a barrier for entry to most modern games – just point, shoot, and you’re done. It’s the recipe for blissful hours together spent mowing down the armies of the undead, joyfully shouting “Use the grenade!”, “Aim for the weak spot!” and “No YOU’RE blue, I’M red!”

Yep, just pure, unadulterated enjoyment in a little white case.

But despite its simple gameplay, The Darkside Chronicles is actually somewhat of a complicated beast under the hood – the labyrinthine plot of the Resident Evil games is legendary, and this game is packed to the rafters with information about the backstory behind the main games… Although to be honest, I think it was only me who was interested in learning what Leon Kennedy got up to between Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 – she was (rightly) more interested in blowing up the various mutant beasties lurching out of every corner.

Sadly, it’s all over now. The 7 or 8 hours of gameplay went by in a flash, and we were both sad when we reached the end of one of the few games we’ve both loved equally – thank God we still have The Umbrella Chronicles to play through. There’ll be more romantic nights in with Resident Evil to come…

[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather – see The Mantelpiece]

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The modern video game shopping experience is like eating the leftovers from a necromancer’s lair

[written in complaint by Sir Gaulian]

From what I understand, necromancers are vile, vile creatures.  If you thought that those kids you see in malls all across Australia (and no doubt other parts of the world) wearing black from head to toe were bad, wait ’til you meet a necromancer.  They are so obsessed with death that they want to see it reanimated – not rejuvenated, reanimated.  That means that a guy with sixteen lashes across his chest exposing his innards is now walking around like nothing happened?  “What, it’s just a scratch” he says as he sits at the foodcourt table next to yours scoffing down a Big Mac.  It also means that a guy with no arms could be sitting next to you at the cricket over the summer, asking you if you can raise his plastic cup full of diluted beer up to his mouth so he can drink.  The worst part is that these necromancers, they don’t keep a clean house.  The caves these guys operate in are nothing short of dirty, and unhygenically so.  Leaving a pile of dirty underwear in the corner of the room I guess I can tolerate (at a stretch), but leaving a head, a couple of arms and a mashed up bloody corpse on the dining room table in the middle of the house isn’t just dirty, it’s a breeding ground for all sorts of microscopic nasties that will pillage your organs at the drop of a hat – and that won’t just be fixed by a spray of Glen20 into those odour filled placed.  Its for that reason that I don’t often find myself visiting the local necromancer cave.

Occasionally though, the loot makes it worthwhile, and trudging through darkness in the hopes of finding some enchanted glass sword or an ancient dwarven cuirass can be rewarding.  But more often than not its not worth the trouble.   I feel much the same way about visiting modern video game stores, the only difference being that instead of being dimly lit (if at all) by the occassional wall-mounted torch or luminescent fungus, they are brightly lit with far too many unbearable fluroscent lights.   The only difference being that the overpriced copy of Assassin’s Creed II or Call of Duty: Black Ops just isn’t worth the pain.

Necromancer's lair, complete with hanging bodies and a panoramic view of death (Oblivion)

You see you walk into an EBgames, JB HiFi or GAME in any capital city here in Australia and you’ll automatically wonder why video gaming is your favourite hobby.  The sights, sounds and smells are something that you really don’t ever want to be confronted with, particularly voluntarily.  And if you think the customers are bad – a mixture of that ‘just been at school smell’ that is instantly recognisable and exponentially repulsive, and that ‘I ate McDonalds for both breakfast and lunch for the past six years’ smell – the sales people are even worse.   The modern gaming store chain clerk is the equivalent of an amalgamation of someone that was told by their parents that they are incredibly special in every way (when they’re not), and that guy at the record store that has been a fan of Henry Rollins since Black Flag even though he’s 16 years old and the last Black Flag album was released before his mother even hit puberty.  Add to this the fact that they call Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas retro, and they think that Contra is the ‘street name’ for the Xbox Controller S, and you’ve got a person that I not only want to avoid like the plague, but actively display general disdain toward.  Hearing a shop assistant talking in JB HiFi about how the multiplayer for Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 is far better than the single player and that he’s spent hours on it already with a kill:death ratio of 6:1 a month before the game’s release is something I just can’t handle.  It actually makes me want to go home and shoot myself  for being in any way associated with these people, even tangentially, through a similar interest or hobby.

Strangely enough, the game shopping experience I DO like is much like a necromancer’s lair in its physical attributes.  Dark, dank and chock-full of treasures and curios that are often shoved in a corner in no particular order.  Dungeon Crawl (www.dungeoncrawl.com.au), a video game store that sells mostly new games almost right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, is probably my favourite place to go to buy the latest and greatest video games,  usually stocking not only the latest blockbusters but a wide range of imports from Asia and Europe – particularly for the portable systems.  The range is one reason to shop there, but it is a place where the staff not only know their stuff, and you can honestly accidentally spend a lunch break talking to them about why it was absolutely worth importing Jeanne D’arc for the PSP and know that when they put forward a different opinion about how Yggdra Union is better (they’re wrong), they aren’t just basing it on a press release or the latest news on their favourite website.  It is a new-school independent video game store with a bunch of awesome dudes working there that somehow manages to enable that sense of discovery that I look for in a retail experience, even though 95 per cent of the stock is for current generation systems.

The only thing better than Dungeon Crawl is a shop that stocks games that were developed before Monica Lewinski’s dress needed dry-cleaning to remove the stains.  My personal favourite is a place just in St Peters outside of the Adelaide CBD that looks like the kind of place you’d come across in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but instead of finding bottle caps or hair clips on shelves, you find that copy of Little Big Adventure for the PS1 or an import copy of Parodius for the Sega Saturn you’ve been looking for for ten years.  And when you’ve parted ways with that hard earned cash that probably would’ve just been spent on the latest novelty flavour of Pringles at the supermarket if you hadn’t bought the games,  you can browse through the piles of old copies of Electronic Gaming Monthly emblazened with all the video game mascots of yesteryear that didn’t have the appeal to last beyond a couple of games (and usually for good reasons, Gex).  It’s at this point you realise that games were way better in the old days, that Mortal Kombat II for the Game boy looks like ass but plays like a dream, and that you’d forgotten about how much you wished Primal Rage II was released even though in hindsight the first game wasn’t that great.  These are the experieces that you come out of loving video games more than ever before, and what part of being a video game enthusiast is all about.

Dungeon Crawl - Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (VIC)

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It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World

“People, if you want to play this game and really enjoy it, expect your eyes to burn a little on Sundays, or when you’re driving by places of worship.”

That’s the warning given by John DiMaggio, the voice behind Bender from Futurama and co-commentator on MadWorld (along with Greg Proops from Whose Line is it Anyway?). All good Christians, look away now…

For lo, MadWorld is violent. VERY violent. HILARIOUSLY violent. FANTASTICALLY, BEAUTIFULLY violent. It takes violence, puts it on a stick, parades it through the town square and invites you to laugh at it, then chainsaws its legs off and feeds them to the pigs. And it’s brilliant.

The game is set in Varrigan City, which has been taken over by a gameshow called ‘DeathWatch Challenge’. Like The Running Man, the only rules of the game show are ‘kill or be killed’; your character, Jack, pitches up to the games as a contestant, but also has another agenda as an undercover agent. Thankfully though, the game doesn’t let itself get bogged down in concepts like plot or realism, and instead concentrates on constructing more and more ludicrous situations in which to mete out punishment.

The utterly absurd extremes to which the game goes in the name of cruelty to other human beings are its crowning achievements, and are probably best illustrated by the  ‘Bloodbath Challenges’ that pepper the levels, the first of which sees you punting hapless assailants into the blades of a jet engine (with predictably visceral results). The challenges only get better as you go along, arguably reaching their pinnacle with the self-explanatory ‘Man Golf’, which I predict may actually replace real golf by 2025.

A typical fight might see you rip up a signpost and ram it through an opponent’s skull, followed by a few swift punches to the kidney and a barrel over the head, topped off by lobbing them under a train or into a meat grinder. Even that might only give you a score of ‘Routine Violence’ – an award of ‘Extreme Violence’ requires a seriously meticulous and prolonged assault on an unlucky bad guy.

The hilariously over-the-top fights are accompanied by some genuinely funny commentary from Greg Proops and John DiMaggio, in the guise of Howard ‘Buckshot’ Holmes and Kreese Kreeley – their ludicrous and often downright filthy comments suit the atmosphere perfectly. In the words of Anthony Burch on Destructoid:

Crass, unsophisticated, and frequently appealing to the lowest common denominator, their color commentary is rife with penis references, ex-wife jokes, and other forms of humor too risque for anyone above the age of seven and too unsophisticated for anyone over the age of sixteen.

And it’s goddamned brilliant.

I couldn’t agree more – Kreese and Howard’s pearls of wisdom are likely to stay with me for a long time. Example:

Howard: Pay attention, kids! Jack’s enjoying the benefits of eating his vegetables!

Kreese: Dude, you are so full of shit!

Howard: Guilty as charged! Everybody knows that vegetables are poison, and the only food real men eat are bull testicles and moonshine!

Yes, it’s stupid, yes it’s puerile, but it’s also (mostly) very funny, and the end credits are a tour de force for the talents of Proops and DiMaggio (see video below).

It’s not all good news though – despite there being a huge variety of insane ways to gleefully murder your opponents, eventually you’ll find yourself repeating the same actions again and again, and the novelty does tend to wane in the second half. At its heart, MadWorld is a simple-as-they-come beat ’em up, and Final Fight and its ilk aren’t exactly known for their diversity. Still, in the current trend for increasingly complex ‘hardcore’ games, it’s a refreshing change to play something so simple in concept, and the ultra-slick presentation doesn’t waver throughout. The super-stylised, Sin City-style black and white graphics are a real treat, and the bizarre character design really makes this game stand out as a stone-cold classic.

It’s a shame that MadWorld didn’t sell as well as it should have on its release, but I’m certain that it will go on to be regarded as a must-have for collectors – there really is nothing quite like it out there. If you have a Wii, show it some love by feeding it a copy of this brilliant game (it’s super-cheap on eBay right now).

Finally, here’s a video of the very funny, very puerile end-credits sequence, in which the commentators lay into the myriad people who worked on the game. In their words: “So many nerds, so little time…”

WARNING: there’s gratuitous swearing from the start, so probably best not to watch this one at work… Oh, and obviously don’t watch it if you don’t want to spoil the ending for yourself.

“They only had one guy as the blood effects designer? He must have been working 24/7!”

[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather]

PS. You can read the full script for MadWorld‘s commentators here.

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The Mercenaries do it for the money

[by Sir Gaulian]

The 3DS is one of the dustiest consoles I own.  It sits, usually idle, on my bed side table collecting a whole lot of dust, and really only being opened to check what small additions have been made to the e-Store in the latest update. 

Enough with the negativity.  I am going to try and be positive.

Honestly I am sick of the negativity surrounding the Nintendo 3DS.  Negativity that I am just as guilty of.  When asked by friends whether they should buy one, without hesitation I answer in the negative.  When asked what the best game on the system is, I add a negative slant to my answer by including the caveat “…but you could play that on the N64 or Virtual Console”.  With negativity like this, even the iPhone couldn’t catch a break in the market.

What is even worse is there’s not a whole lot of positivity surrounding the admittedly sparse to this point software line-up.  With the exception of the 3D remake of Ocarina of Time, the reaction from critics to 3DS games have been almost universally mixed, or worse absolutely slammed.  At the front of that line is Capcom’s Resident Evil: Mercenaries.

Things didn’t start off too well for the arcade shooter, with the hullabaloo surrounding the save data on the cartridge.  People were up in arms about the fact that progress could never be deleted from the cartridge – rendering the game pretty much unsellable on the second hand market.  While it is a pretty stealthy and underhanded tactic by Capcom, it certainly doesn’t warrant the ridiculous outcry across the internet that followed – perhaps even having an impact on the overall scores given to the game by critics.  Needless to say the reaction to the game from critics has been on average, luke-warm.

Let me just say, before I go on, I actually think that RE: Mercenaries is one of the better games currently available for the 3DS system. 

I am what you could characterise as a bit of a Resident Evil fan.  Not a fanboy – I sure can recognise the crap from the cream – but I have played a hell of a lot Resident Evil since 1996.  Recently though I had all but given up on the franchise after quite frankly thinking that Resident Evil 5 was boring and retarded and failed to complete it after pushing my way through level after level of boring encounters until around the fourth chapter (although it did redeem itself somewhat with the Lost in Nightmare DLC).  Let’s just say my expectations going into RE: The Mercenaries were far from euphoric.  And that’s coming from someone who secretly enjoyed Resident Evil: Gaiden on the Game Boy Color.

Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised and found in the game something that, while may be short on content with regards to a single play through of its main campaign, is certainly not short on fun.  My personal exposure to Mercenaries  is limited to the mode contained in the brilliant Resident Evil 3 for the Playstation, but the Mercenaries arcade time attack  mode has been an incredibly popular aspect of both Resident Evil 4 and 5, pitting the player against the clock to shoot as many dudes as quickly as possible, earning combos for quick chain kills, and earning time extensions by destroying icons located across the maps, or by melee killing enemies.  And Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is just that mode bundled into a full retail release.  I loved the Mercenaries mode in RE3, and I can see exactly why people loved it in RE4 and RE5.  It is just plain fun. 

While the game itself is fantastic fun, and lives in my 3DS when I’m travelling or during commutes, there is nothing I can say to defend Capcom over the lack of long term content in the game for those people who will play through the ‘campaign’ and be done with it.  For those people – I can see exactly why there may be a bit of disappointment about, because even a slow one-time play through may last only a matter of three or so hours.  Needless to say if you’re one of those people, certainly don’t pay full price.  But for the rest of us, there is a game that encourages replay, and provides enough incentive to do so.  The perk system certainly kept me coming back just to see what skills I could open up in order to improve my scores. 

Even though there may be long term staying power for the more dedicated, it is still questionable as to whether the game is worth paying full retail for. (For the record I only paid $29 AUD).  So despite my continuing enjoyment with the game, it just feels like a game that at its core is just a bit bare bones.  With only eight playable characters and two costumes each (and no Leon), it certainly doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it is, in essence, a  non-canonical entry into the long and storied gaming franchise with a whole stack of cool characters and locations.  When playing the game as Hunk I couldn’t help but think of what could’ve been if Capcom had’ve taken the vs Capcom  approach to the game – what if they included Tofu, Brad Vickers or even Regina from Dino Crisis?  It really could’ve been a really great Capcom fan service in the same way that Smash Brothers  is for Nintendo.  And it certainly would’ve added a whole lot of variety to a tried and tested game design.  Needless to say I have been having dreams of running through RE:Mercenaries’ levels as Mega Man.

As it stands though, RE: The Mercenaries 3D isn’t a terrible game.    In fact its incredibly competent at what it does.  But I can’t help but be disappointed – not for what it is, but rather for what its not and particularly at full retail price.  It just seems to be a product of a bygone era where players made their own replayability. There is no doubt that it is a ‘cash-in’ for Capcom – in this case however they’re lucky that they have kind of pulled it off and in turn released a game that is likely to stay in the 3DS of the more committed for a long time to come.  Just don’t go in expecting too much and you’ll come out satisfied.

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Fun With Phoenix Wright

Hurrah! Another game has been knocked from The Mantelpiece! They’re falling thick and fast… I’ve worked out that if I can manage to finish one game a week, I might be able to get to the end of my LIST OF SHAME in about six months. Not bad. Although seeing as there are some pretty lengthy games on the list (Mass Effect, Fable II, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), that might be a bit of a tall order… Ah well, no rush I suppose.

I’ve been interested in playing Phoenix Wright ever since the first game came out on the DS several years ago, but somehow I’ve never quite got round to buying Nintendo’s much-loved handheld console. It’s a shameful confession I know, particularly as my co-author Sir Gaulian is so into his handheld gaming, but the most up-to-date handheld console I own is a Game Boy Micro (so I’m only about 5 years out of date). I do love my little green Micro though, it really is a cracking little machine.

A green Game Boy Micro, yesterday.

I was reading an article about ‘handfeel’ the other day (on how game controllers should be measured on their ‘handfeel’ in a similar way to how drinks are measured by their ‘mouthfeel’), and it immediately put me in mind of the Gamy Boy Micro – it’s small enough and light enough to really fit snugly into the palm of your hand, and even though the screen is small, it’s so bright and sharp that you barely even notice its diminutive size. The author of the article claims the the Game Boy Advance SP is the console with “the best handfeel in history”, but he’s wrong – it’s the Micro, hands down. I also have an SP, but it never gets a look-in when the Micro’s to hand.

Speaking of handfeel, the iPhone 4 has by far the best handfeel of any phone I’ve ever owned. I only bought my first iPhone this year, so I’m still very much in the honeymoon phase – you can take my gibbering ravings with a pinch of world-weary salt – but I’m adamant that the iPhone 4 just feels right sitting in the palm of your hand. I’ve tried various other smartphones, and none of them come close in terms of handfeel – the screen is always too spongy, or the plastic feels cheap and sticky, or they’re too big, or there’s just something that doesn’t feel quite right… My girlfriend still thinks the iPhone 4 is too heavy, but when it comes to handfeel, heavy is actually an advantage – it feels right. And of course, as we all know, heavy equals expensive (as I’ve previously noted in my review of Star Fox).

Anyway, after getting my shiny new iPhone, I was delighted to discover that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney had been converted to iOS, so of course it became one of my first purchases. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the game, put I was pleased to discover it has a real Japanese RPG feel to it, even though it plays very differently. The actual gameplay itself is paper thin – it’s merely a case of combing each scene for clues, making sure you go through every dialogue option with all of the potential witnesses and then choosing the right time to show evidence in court. Often, the court scenes are just a case of trial and error – going through all of the available evidence until you find the piece that’s needed. Likewise, the investigation levels are actually quite linear – often, characters won’t appear until you’ve found the correct piece of evidence, and there’s no chance of going to court unprepared because every piece of evidence you find is used in some way.

However, the game really triumphs in its characterisation – each character is wonderfully designed and completely barmy, and the localisation team have gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to the dialogue. All too often in JRPGs, you find yourself trawling through reams of dull, repetitive dialogue options, but in Phoenix Wright, every single dialogue line is a treat, and often genuinely funny. The actual game has very little to it away from moving to different locations and tapping your way through conversations, but if you view it as more of an interactive storybook, it’s a real triumph. I found myself on hanging on every twist and turn as I waited to see how each case would resolve, and the various courtroom dramas have a way of really ramping up the tension and putting real importance on your choice of evidence, even if it can sometimes come down to a simple guessing game.

Sadly, only the first Phoenix Wright game is currently available on iPhone, so it looks like I’ll have to finally get a DS (or more probably a 3DS) to get my next fix of Japanese legal strangeness. It’s just a shame the DS versions don’t cost £2.99 like the iPhone game…

[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather.]

iObject pic from That VideoGame Blog.

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