Saturday, May 28, 2016

Games of 2016: Avril et Mai

The spring here in Seattle was off to a warm start in early April; lots of those distracting sunny days and wonderful-smelling flowers got me to abandon games for a full 2 days. Luckily, May brought a few gifts; a very anticipated game launch, and some chilling indoor weather.

April: Rollers of the Realm (PS4), DeadStar (PS4), StarFox Zero (Wii U), more Zelda: Wind Waker HD.

DeadStar: Your actual view is much more zoomed into one sector.
The blue carrier is in over its head with the base and alien ship on the left.
One of the free April PSN titles is DeadStar, a twin-stick space shooter that goes a little deeper than its contemporaries Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD. Each map has two teams and a number of zones, with a base in the middle. Blue team and Red team both have their own bases, and there is a neutral AI that needs to be defeated to capture the other sector. Between fighting the AI or player-controlled enemy team, you can collect resources to upgrade your outposts in each 8-20 minute battle. The short soundtrack is great, and the game has been another hit in latest free PS+ titles!

Rollers of the Realm is a bizarre blend of pinball in a medieval setting, where the balls are characters with dialogue in pretty generic fantasy story. After bouncing around the board and collecting enough mana, each character gets a special attack, like the hunter summoning his eagles, which are smaller pinballs that do a little damage. The Knight's ability blocks the fall pits, and the healer allows you to resurrect lost balls (fallen allies.)

The Arwing transforms into this walker, which isn't bad...
Controlling the hover and attached robot is stupid, though.
StarFox Zero looks like an updated StarFox 64 if you're just looking at the main tv screen. There, you'll see that typical 3rd-person, behind-the-aircraft view as cool stuff flies by you. Then, your controller starts talking to you because your aiming sucks, and you look down...holy shit, what? This game has a very unique layout: you have a cockpit view through the Wii U gamepad, and the dynamic view shifting from tv to pad is disorienting at first, with a very high learning curve. Lots of people complain about this control scheme, and it seems that the currently-unintuitive cursor re-centering is the only tweak that the game needs. I say: Nintendo, keep your control scheme and don't give in!

May: Uncharted 4 (PS4)

Last shot. The plot of the Uncharted games usually only have a childish counterpart, like The Mummy movies or National Treasure. In UC4, Nathan Drake goes on a search for pirate treasure, finding clues and solving puzzles, dodging traps and climbing along the way. Nate's best friend, Sully, and his wife Elena have sizable roles in this game, but the newest character is Nate's brother Sam. Basically, Sam got in with the wrong people and you have to find $400m of buried treasure to bail him out. Until the latest 2 Tomb Raider games, Uncharted is always set apart by its technical features.

At first glance, the graphics aren't the absolute highest resolution available on the console, but after playing, you'll start to notice the motion capture, environment physics, and backgrounds are the best in the business. Each realtime cutscene is performed in earnest, without having to suffer Nicholas Cage, but you get the benefits of animated mayhem with the important parts of realism. That means the character gets thrown through walls and things blow up, but the stunts still look authentic. The gameplay : cutscene ratio feels like 50:50 in the first half of the game, but there are so many ohh shit! moments that action junkies will get their fill. I completed the story on medium in under 20 hours, and am now combing through a second time for collectibles. Since I plan on going for the platinum trophy, I have a 6-hour speedrun and a hardest-difficulty play-through waiting for me. Uncharted games are always worth the wait and price, though Amazon helped me out at $47.99 preorder.

Safari, mother@#$^, SA-FARRR-RI!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cool it on the smoothies...



While rocking my codgery self back and forth in my arm chair, I noticed that Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all announced their next game systems. Has it been that long already? Am I the only one who thinks the 3 companies should deliver with their current generation first?

Nintendo has been a-maz-ing about releasing updates in their franchise titles - HD Zelda games, an incredible Smash Brothers game, and my favorite Mario Kart by far. The Virtual Console is still going strong and because of that, we get a chance to gobble up the Metroid Prime Trilogy at a reasonable price. I feel like there were about 20 games on the Wii U that I cared about, and that seems really low for console content. To be honest, I think buying 20 games (via Craigslist, Amazon, and trading, of course) for a given game system justifies the cost of it. But, half of these magical titles are simply updates. Nintendo is really good at adding content and using their consoles' latest gimmick in these. For example, Wind Waker uses the Wii U pad screen for inventory and maps so you don't need to pause the game, and Mario Brothers Wii U uses the pad for players to insert helpful blocks, platforms and stun enemies while the other 4 players traverse the levels. These titles are really familiar, but have a fresh spin that only Nintendo can confidently deliver, but boy did I get burned in April. The new Legend of Zelda game is even being pushed back for the next Nintendo system. It feels like the company isn't putting up any resistance in defining the Wii U as a stepping stone, rather than its own distinct product. At least the titles all adequately use the hardware.

Boooooooooo!

XBox One has my favorite piece of technology that's under-utilized: the Kinect. The first half of the Wii's lifespan had pretty bad motion controls until they developed the Motion Plus, which added extra sensors and sensitivity. Kinect on the XBox one is impressive in its motion-sensing, works in low-light, and has great voice recognition. Configuring it to control your TV and sound system makes Amazon Prime Video and Netflix quite amazing. "Xbox Pause," happens to be a favorite. The facial recognition is badass in that you can sit in a decently dark room and it'll log you in, but the most impressive display of this is in the Just Dance games. The game supports up to 6 simultaneous dancers, and even has an achievement for smiling, which certainly puts the Kinect to work. My gripe is that such a small percentage of Xbox titles use the Kinect for more than the voice option, and some games that do have piss-poor implementation.

If I'm gonna rant about the current generation, I gotta shout out to Sony. The Dualshock 4 has abysmal battery life, which is a surprise when it's the 4th generation and have had such great predecessors. One great feature is piping the game's audio through your controllers' headphone ports. However, between this feature, the under-utilized touchpad and motion controls, the battery life is totally compromised. Also, the tops of the analog sticks rub off quite easily. Sony could use a page from Nintendo's book of having more developers make use of the hardware features. Even if it's a cheap gimmick, stick to your guns and legitimize, guys!


Either way, with the new generation having such few original titles and so far from reaching potential, I think Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft ought to cool it on the smoothies and give us more killer titles for existing systems.

Edit: Even if Nintendo is releasing Zelda on both the Wii U and the new system, I will be very unfrugal in getting the techier version and the system with it. Hypocritical? Yes. But it's Zelda, and by getting the console, my friends won't have to spend their money on one! Yeah...*cough*


Grey Friday: Know your brands