Monday, November 24, 2008

What I've been Playing

by Ping33

[Ping 33 will be joining us every few weeks to review video games, which is something I have wanted here for a while. Ping33 is a smart guy -- he knew Studio 60 was bad and All Star Batman was good long before I did, and he recommended Casanova to me.]

I've been thinking about doing this for a while now. I've been a gamer my whole life... I remember back in Kindergarten trading my Red Sox jacket (which no longer fit) to my friend Jessica for her copy of Dig Dug and Joust for the Atari 2600. I've owned a system in every generation. Being a confirmed Sega fundamentalist from 1986-1996 (with a brief co-habitation within the temple of Atari Jaguar, what can I say? I like losers) and have owned every console in the last 2 generations.

As I've gotten older, I've had less and less time for the hobby (Why am I taking time out to write this again?) but had more and more disposable income. As such I find myself here. Far too many games, far too little time. Because of this, my attention span has grown shorter. Back when I was 12, I could play a bad game to completion, I could learn the mind-numbing trial-and-error procedure needed to conquer Night-Trap for Sega CD. I could beat Alex Kidd 10 times, me and my College friends invented elaborate Goldeneye etiquette. Hell, two friends of mine even picked their first flat out of College on the basis that it had 2 floors so that we could run a 75' Cross-over Cat-5 cable for 4on4 Halo matches without the ability to look at the other guy's screen.

These days, if a game doesn't engross me in the first hour, it's out... possibly never to return. I don't like to lose, and so don't play online competitive shooters with 12-year-olds or my deadbeat college friends with little to do other than move up the ranks of Halo3 or CoD4. What I've been playing, and what I keep playing is dear to me. I envision this column as a bi-weekly check-in, a Top-of-the-Pops of my own personal gaming habits. I will always have material because, if nothing else, my 45minute train-ride gives me ample DS/PSP time. So now, with no further adieu, What I've been Playing:

PS3: Little Big Planet - For those unaware, LBP is perhaps the biggest paradigm shift to come along in gaming in quite some time. At its face, it's a derivative Mario-style platform game. It has you doing the normal stuff... running left to right, Jumping over stuff and dodging other stuff. With its mascot (the adorable Sackboy/Sackgirl) and old-skool mechanics it would hardly seem revolutionary if not for it's Internet2.0 ethos. In addition to the 50-odd levels 'shipping' with the game, it also contains the ability to create your own levels and upload them to the Youtube style Cool-Worlds planet. There you can jump around by creator or theme or randomly and just look for cool-ass-shit. Some creators attempt to recreate classic platforming levels (I highly recommend the Green Hill Zone 3 level from Sonic the Hedgehog) Some use the tools to make music (There is a KILLER version of Guns 'n Roses' Sweet Child of Mine, which plays automatically as you drive a car through the timed sensors) Some are... art? (There's a cool one in which you drive a Delorean from left to right as the wall shows your speed. When you hit 88mph lightning strikes and your tires seem to leave flames in their wake) and some are just mind-bogglingly amazing/creative/strange (a giant pinball game with Sackboy as the pinball, a totally faithful re-creation of the side-scrolling shooter Gradius, a giant clockwork calculator which can add and subtract 2-digit numbers through the use of around 16,000 moving parts.) All the user-created levels (there are about 100k of them at the moment) are nearly instantly accessible and can be played alone or over the internet with a friend (or random player.) LBP is the perfect game for my lifestyle. Rich enough to play for hours, but still accessible in short 10-20 minute bursts. It's really rare that a game is so innovative, fun and charming. If there were more hours in a day I might even try my hand at creating something... as is, I'm content to leech of the work of others.

Xbox360: Fallout 3 is in the system but, sadly I've not been playing it much. It's a massive spiralling post-apocalyptic RPG which I am about 6-8 hours into, but has scores of hours of content remaining and demands to be played in sessions extending at least an hour or two... something I haven't had time for in a few weeks. What I have played, I have loved... but when I sit down at home, and have the time to play a game I look at the PS3 controller with LBP at the end of it, and the 360 one with Fallout at the end of it... and invariably pick up the PS3. Fallout and LBP were my two most anticipated games of the year and while it's somewhat depressing that they came out within a week of one-another... I'm happy that the depth of both should keep me happy into the new year.

Wii: Nothing. I haven't turned it on in so long, it's gone from sleep to off.

PSP: Playing 2 things actually. Star Ocean: First Departure - a Remake of a SNES RPG which was never released in the west. I like the combat system. But hate some of the old-skool conventions, primarily not having a screen which reminds me what I'm doing, or having a map with place names (not to mention the ability to instantly travel to previously visited locations.) When I play on the train I really like games like this though, somewhat mindless grind-fests which allow me to listen to podcasts and not have to think that much. This is good for that, as the story is thinner than paper (Star-Trek rip-off involving time travel and basically moving from one location to the next.) The battles take place on a isometric 2d plane (think Final Fight or Double Dragon) and are action oriented with RPG stats below. You directly control one of your party of 4-players, the other three are have tactical options (heal, fight, protect etc) but run automatically. You can swap which character you control on the fly, but I have found little reason to do so.

The Second game I'm playing is Loco Roco 2 (check out the Flash mini-game HERE (click on minigame:) The sequel to the innovative 2d platformer which sees you as a Loco Roco, a cartoon blob who moves by rolling around as the world tilts to the left or right. Like the first one, it has a great visual style and a soundtrack which you will either love or hate. The game is relentlessly cheerful and saccharine sweet. It has come under fire for its possibly racist designed enemies. But in the end, these criticisms seem to have fizzled in the face of the game's overall charm and good nature.

DS: My wife abducted my DS, first to play the logical puzzler: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a game which features classic brain-twisters like getting a Bird, Cat and dog over to an island picnic in a small 3-creature row-boat. Then to play Hotel Dusk, a new take on the old Point-and-Click gamestyle made famous in the early days of Lucasarts. I haven't played this one at all... she completed it the other night saying that I wouldn't like it. Too much random trial and error. She enjoyed playing it before bed as it put her to sleep... a ringing endorsement indeed.

That's all for now, I should be back in 2-3 weeks with a pre-Christmas update.


Christian said...

I know you said, no competitive squad games, but... LEFT 4 DEAD.

Um, let me ireterate that: It's a fou-LEFT 4 DEAD.

Seriously, it's a four player, online preferably, squad game for the PC and Xbox360.

"It's the Zombie Apocalypse. Bring Your Friends." is the tagline and it's magnificent. It's you and three others trying desperately to survive in various locations ranging from airports to rural areas. The greatest thing about it is the batshit insane stories, you experience in the game. There are almost no cutscenes, but the character bicker and talk amongst themselves, and the players alike.

Each play-through of the four different levels (which are also divided into five sub-levels) is different thanks to the Director. The Director controls lighting, sound, enemy spawn places and just overall difficult.

If you want to you can play VERSUS, which is a four on four match. Survivors Vs. Zombies. As Zombies you constantly respawn, but survivors can only be rescued from specific locations. It's your goal as a zombie to completely fuck the survivors over.

Small anecdote:

I finally managed to spawn as a Tank (one of the four playable zombie types; a big burly guy, who is nigh-invulnerable and punches people through the air), just as the survivors have outlasted the last big onslaught of zombies on the hospital roof. I'm too slow, so they all manage to get into the helipcopter and are about to fly off. Except I, as a tank, manage to jump aboard and knock every single one of them out. Some fly over the railing to met their inevitable doom, others are downed and can do nothing but lie there and shot at my fellow zombies, as they overwhelm them. The final one, manages to get back up on his feet, only to be taken down by another player-zombie, a Smoker, who has an extended tongue.

It was fucking epic. And I don't use that word often.

Seriously, try it. You can play hour-long campaigns, or you can play little intervals, as you can jump in, anytime a game is running.

Oh yeah... Don't startle the Witch. And don't run in front of your team mates. Friendly fire isn't.

Kenney said...

Not only do I not have the time to invest in a game that doesn't capture me pretty early on, but I also have absolutely no desire to play long ass games any more. Back in the day, the prospect of a game having 70 hour play time was a selling point, but now? I cannot be bothered.

This is why I find myself playing stuff like Geometry Wars 2, Pacman: CE, and racing games more and more. Basically because these types of pick-up-and-play games require you to invest very little into any kind of narrative, or learning complex controls, and are instantly fun when you start to play them. Not to mention you can have a satisfying gaming session that lasts only 10 minutes.

When I do play a game with a bit more depth to it's game mechanics, I really try to look for stuff that's short. Gears of War was fun and only took 8 hours to beat. Like Ping, I don't really care too much about online play, so a nice tight single player campaign is the way to go for me. That's why Portal was such a massive success in my eyes. I want more games like that, priced accordingly, and less bloated shit. I will make a few exceptions for games like Resident Evil 4, which was amazing, but too long by one area (it should have ended at the castle).

I really should get around to buying a DS since that seems to be the system of choice for instantly fun pick-up-and-play games. There are a ton of games I would like to play for that system.

Fnord Serious said...

Count me in as well as one with little time to spare for epic, sprawling games. That's why I'm fine with the Wii as there are only 2 or 3 such releases like that a year that interest me. My wife wants to get an Xbox 360, though, and I can imagine I will be wasting countless hours playing Fallout 3.

Looking forward to DS reviews. I'm a big fan of puzzle games, retro platformers, and the odd one-off games that developers have come up with using the touch screen. Kirby's Canvas Curse was addictively fun.

Kenney said...

Yeah, I dig puzzle games too, but surprisingly I've been able to scratch that itch with some really neat flash-based games.

scott91777 said...

On the subject of video games, does anyone else find the new Guitar Hero filled with too many bells and whistles?

vcaramela said...

I've heard about the Guitar Hero WT excess but I was wondering what version is better for the PS3: Guitar Hero WT or Rockband 2? Thanks

Ping33 said...

Christian: I am way down with the concept of Left 4 Dead. There are a few things which give me pause: as I said, I am already backlogged... The only thing worse than an online shooter you don't have enough time for is an online shooter you don't have enough time for and are 3 months late to the party on. The nerve racking disquiet of knowing that the 13-year-old homophobes with the shotgun are stalking you is nothing to the flat-out annoyance of being in the same situation where you're the only dude who doesn't know the map.

Kenny: I'm with you on the XBLA arcade of goodness. Pac-Man-Championship was amazing. If you liked that you should check-out the equally rad Space Invaders Extreme for PSP or DS. I loved Portal, what's more, I got my wife to love Portal and she's always hated FPS style games.

My wife and I have implemented a strict 'no crap in the apartment' rule and plastic guitars clearly count within the 'crap' category so I will not be talking about Guitar Hero or Rockband though don't have a problem with anyone else doing so.

hcduvall said...

Ping, I guess you're not a PC gamer? There's not much that consoles don't do just as well now, and somethings better, but I crank up Civilization and an RTS often enough to justify it. And a spreadsheet called Worldwide Soccer Manager.

I bought pc version of the orange box a month ago before a trip, and the only game I haven't played is Team Fortress 2. I don't play fps games too often, and wading in the Steam forums didn't see a particularily friendly environment to join...that said, I picked up Left 4 Dead and it is awesome, though I have not tried the online yet. I suppose I'm an old fogey who just likes playing with friends in the same room. (Yes, I realize that may miss the point). On a sidenote Valve seems to be a studio a balanced view of games as art and serious gameplay design. Prententious really, in a complimentary way.

I haven't owned a console system since the NES, really and hand-me-down N64. But now I own a wii for gamecube games and some ports, and for social occasion, and a DS tactics games (and go import). Which given time constraints, is just about right. And I'd feel silly owning a 360 to play Settlers of Catan.

I still play rpgs even if I will never finish them and while I love the fallout series, I did not like Oblivion at all. But with the rpgs I do own, I seem to have a version of your response. Even though half the time I may play something that is done in increments instead of committing to an rpg. I actually do the same thing with dvds, where I'll pick to watch a tv show episode because it'll take less time than a movie I might have on hand, and proceed to watch more than enough episodes to make the time sink just as big.

sexy said...
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