October 9, 2012
As I write this, I’m sitting on a flight back from a friend’s wedding in Vegas trying to figure out if I’ll have enough time to make it to Gamestop on the way home from the airport to get Pokemon Black/White 2 before the store closes.
Ten years have passed since I first encountered and subsequently became hooked on the series, and the only thing that could stop me from cashing in my day-one purchase is an incredibly important event, like a friend’s wedding (which was super fun, fabulous and beautiful, by the way). I think the impulse to buy a Black/White 2 on day one is more out of tradition and not as much because I’m expecting incredibly revolutionary things from it.
This last week was a scramble to keep the normal day-to-day activities going while I did some last-minute prep for this trip. As a result, I haven’t gotten to spend as nearly as much time with Tokyo Jungle as I’d've wanted, although I have played through a good two centuries’ worth of in-game time. So I’ve been revisiting some iOS games on my phone and trawling for Streetpass tags in airports and casinos (three tags total, for the record), playing a couple more chapters of Kid Icarus and falling deep into Pokemon Conquest, which was an unexpected gift. So I’m gonna talk about that because it’s what I’ve played most and since I’ve got 10 years of experience, it’ll be easy to go on about. Really, I’m an adult. I swear.
I think I voice the general gamers’ reaction to Pokemon Conquest here: I really did not expect it to be so entertaining. And, like most games in the Pokemon series, strategies can be surface-level or run very deep as you decide how to manage your army and how to develop what a few hours in becomes roughly 50 warlords and their Pokemon. I’ve never played a Nobunaga game, which is the other half of the cross-over in this title, but not knowing the backstory is ok.
The typical Poke-verse language is tweaked for feudal Japan. Trainers become warlords, your team becomes castles and instead of striving for badges and championship titles, you fight for ownership of castles. Pokemon are still partners in friendship and crime, and somehow The Pokemon Co. gets away in yet another game without directly labeling Pokemon as weapons, even though, well, they basically are. Bravo.
If you stick to the basic rules of knowing your type advantages/disadvantages and developing a team rather than creating just one super-Pokemon, then Pokemon Conquest isn’t that difficult. I’ve had a couple of mis-steps where my army started to falter, but these situations were quickly remedied with items or deploying the right abilities at the right time. That’s not to say it’s easy; the AI is pretty sharp. Like in any well-constructed strategy RPG, it does take skill and a considerable amount of clever planning to really lay the hurt on and defeat the opposing army quickly.
From what I’ve played so far, Pokemon Conquest has some interesting tweaks on the traditional back-and-forth turn-based play. The changes result from a Pokemon’s evolution are much more pronounced—not just in appearances, stats and abilities, but a Pokemon’s movement and the range of their attack and have a real impact on how your team functions together. I had a Charmander that evolved into Charmeleon, and its Ember changed to Fire Fang, the former of which is ranged and the latter is melee. A similar detraction in range occurred with Ralts became Kirlia, which was particularly problematic because that additional square of space had allowed it to stay safely out of striking distance from heavyweight enemies that can defeat it in one or two hits.
Finally, the movement and ranged attacks are more interesting and believable. I’m not saying the main game series should implement a grid into its turn-based system. Personally, I despise RPGs that do that because I usually find it to be an annoyance rather something that actually deepens the gameplay and strategy and subsequently, my experience. Thundershock, Vine Whip and Headbutt all have different areas of effect that more closely mirror where the range of the attack would fall.
I think what intrigues me most about Conquest is how it effectively adapts the series to a very similar yet new style of gameplay. The dialogue and story are as silly and flimsy as always but I’ve never played Pokemon games for that to begin with (and I really fear for the people who do). It’s all about a horrendously deep system that you can either scratch the surface on or really push and exploit to your benefit. Of course, Conquest doesn’t seem to have anything as nitty-gritty, time-consuming or soul-sucking as training for EVs/IVs, etc., but I’m really all right with that. If you like SRPGs and have been a long-time fan of the series, I recommend picking it up.
September 19, 2012
[The Rotation, a recap of the games I've been playing lately, is my weekly exercise to write for fun on a more consistent basis and to avoid making excuses for skipping posts because of "how busy I am." Blergh. Enjoy!]
Ok, I’m gonna make this brief(-ish). I haven’t been able to make time for a lot of other things I would’ve enjoyed this week (i.e., seeing the final presentation as part as The Art of Video Games exhibit with Chris Solarski live and reading more of novelized version of Ico, “Castle in the Mist”), but I’m determined to keep blogging weekly and get in a post before the avalanche of Tokyo Game Show hits and gives me even more to think about, so here I go. :<
My Playstation Plus subscription recently lapsed. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I’m not usually a fan of paying more money to “save” money, but the small discounts on the indie titles that I came to love (looking at you, Papa and Yo, and Sound Shapes) were nice, and the freebies were fun for expanding my gaming horizons (I still shudder at the first few chapters of Walking Dead). For me, Playstation Plus served as a glorified version of a Sony-driven, long-term game rental service. I don’t plan on renewing until the Vita’s Playstation Plus features go online.
So, with the exception of some disc-based backlog to wade through, my PS3 returns to being a Netflix background-noise generator/perpetual 30 Rock machine. I’ve got a lot of traveling lined up between now and the end of the year, but I guess the good news is that Borderlands 2 might be on sale by the time I’ll have time to sit down and actively engage with a TV screen again (?).
This is kind of old news (a week?), but one of my favorite Japanese-language blogs, Andriasang, recently closed. Luckily, my business-level Japanese is still in some working subscription, especially with the help of my friend Rikaikun/-chan). I’ve toyed with the idea of translating Japanese-language news on my blog but don’t know if I’ll have the time or energy, especially because I have yet another semi-secret project on the backburner. Anyway, Andriasang, you will be missed. <3 I always enjoyed your posts and wish you the best of luck on your next adventure.
I’m still chipping away at my gamification course on Coursera. Aside from what I’ve learned from the course, it’s helped me realize something unrelated to games: that I can carve out a couple hours a week for studying (like a nerd). I just need to be more disciplined about it. *looks over at stack of 2-kyuu-level kanji cards* Scheduling and balance is everything, and I’m still trying to strike the perfect balance.
Speaking of balance and 30 Rock gifs from here on out… let’s talk about my literal sense of balance in Just Dance 3.
Just Dance 3
Years and years ago, I was a Dance Dance Revolution fan who triple-A many of the songs from the series’ Xbox games. I’ve always watched people at PAX East and other exhibitions play the Kinect-based versions of Dance Central, but have yet to participate because, like singing, dancing is something I do in my apartment with the blinds drawn and windows closed and the music turned up so loud that I sound in key.
When I do dance in public, it tragically looks like this:
How I feel about my dancing?:
But Just Dance makes me feel like I look like this:
Even when I’m waving a Wiimote in my hand, and I look like this:
Kid Icarus: Uprising
I’d heard many good things about Kid Icarus: Uprising. So when I scooped it up for $15, I was pretty pleased. I’m at the end of the first story arc and can already see it’s a Masahiro Sakurai game through and through. Kid Icarus: Uprising has that cushy, casual-level entry with plenty of opportunity to up the challenges and take a more strategized approach to gameplay. There are obviously loads more items, upgrades and locked-away levels to uncover, and I’ve just started to scratch the surface.
A very polished game graphics-wise, Kid Icarus seems to be a study in using on-rails cameras to emulate that feeling of flying. It works very well, too. You get the feeling you’re freely soaring the skies, although you’re confined to a predetermined path. The on-ground levels are a nice change of pace and satisfy my compulsiveness to explore every corner of a game world. I’m still adjusting to the touch-screen controls for the ground levels—something about the melee attacks makes me think I should be attacking with slashes of my stylus, rather than using it to aim and beating on enemies with the L button.
The dialogue… isn’t as cheesy as I expected, as saturated as it is with cutesy puns and good-hearted glib dialogue. The voiceovers are surprisingly tolerable (especially when I wasn’t a fan of Pit’s sound bites/barks in Super Smash Bros. Melee).
I’m disappeointed that I haven’t picked up any Kid Icarus-related StreetPass tags since I began playing. I’m hoping my upcoming travels will help round that out.
September is the beginning of the end of all my free time. I’m fine with this for the most part—I like being busy and because I’m lucky, a lot of the things that are keeping me busy are fun and social. I’ll probably keep playing some of the games I mentioned in the past couple posts until I get my long-awaited portable releases: Pokemon Black/White 2and Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, the latter of which I’ll probably go on a three-day binge to complete.
The Rotation: GameFest 2.0, Super Hexagon, Rhythm Hunter: HarmoKnight, Dragon Quest IX, Analogue: A Hate Story
September 11, 2012
[The Rotation, a recap of the games I've been playing lately, is my weekly exercise to write for fun on a more consistent basis. Enjoy!]
The games I’ve played past week have been a whirl of quick blips in between after-work events and crunching for the September 9 deadline for the first round of assignments in the gamification course I’m taking on Coursera. (I hit the deadline but had four sections of lectures to get through in a week before I did—whew.)
The lectures are a bit of an entry-level introduction to games and mechanics (the main example that sticks out was the professor clarifying what a boss battle is), as many of my classmates have never played video games, but the syllabus and professor point you toward quality resources for learning more about the topic. I’d recommend it if this is your first foray into game design. If you have a game design background,it might not be for you, but signing up just to take a look at the resources links might be worthwhile.
Last Saturday, I went to GameFest 2.0, an event organized by the Art of Video Games exhibit at the American Art Museum. While it was more relaxed than the inaugural GameFest that featured Robin Hunicke from thatgamecompany and Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, that’s not to say there wasn’t a surprisingly inspirational game-related talk. Disguised as a historical overview of video games, the “Electronic Gaming before Pong” presentation by Don Daglow, president and creative director of Daglow Entertainment LLC, was a heartfelt retelling of the game industry’s growth, peppered with interesting personal anecdotes and capped off with an encouraging message of following your dreams and doing what you love. I highly recommend catching up with the webcast here. Stick through the Q&A. Don’s answers are great.
Anyway, enough talking about talking about games. (Yes, I meant to write it like that; no, you’re not having a stroke.) Time for games.
September 4, 2012
[The Rotation, a recap of the games I've been playing lately, is my weekly exercise to write for fun on a more consistent basis. Since DCGames Fest 2012 was this weekend, the first installation of The Rotation will be a bit of an anomaly. Hope you enjoy it!]
I had not realized I played so many different games—indoor and outdoor!—since I last wrote about Vampire Boyfriends.
DCGames Fest: Urban Games Galore
Admittedly, I do not go outside as much as I’d like to. I spend most of my workday indoors and often transit to an indoor happy hour or meeting, or head to my building’s gym before heading back to my apartment. The urban games I’ve played in the past year—and especially last Saturday—have been a great way to shake up this perpetually climate-controlled cycle and play some nontraditional sports.
DCGames Fest 2012 hosted local and nonlocal developers. To say we were incredibly blessed to have the support of such a diverse and talented group doesn’t even begin to cover how much fun I had playing their games. It’s difficult to pick favorites, but I really enjoyed what we played from Obscure Games’ porfolio: Barrage Revisited, Game of Posts (which I can’t quite claim to fully understand still) and a top-secret, to-be-announced one that will be played at Obscure Games’ Steel City Games Festival in October.
August 26, 2012
Since the dawn of “Twilight,” I have not been a fan of the vampire fad.
So I had my doubts when I downloaded Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends (thanks to Miellyn for my iOS copy!), especially because “romance” only appeals to me as a tangential part of stories, rather than a genre. But, I’d already had a good experience with another Tin Man Games’ Gamebook, “The Siege of the Necromancer,” and as someone who’s always enjoyed interactive fiction and choose-your-own-adventure books, I decided I could put aside my distaste for other modern vampire stories.
August 1, 2012
The Wii U feels like it has potential. That’s an extremely easy fallback for the uncertainty I feel after testing out Nintendo’s next-gen system, which has undergone much criticism for not technically being next-gen.
At the Wii U Experience event held last weekend in Washington, D.C., the Wii U demos offered a couple new IP that incorporate the GamePad in interesting ways. Platinum Games’ Project P-100 and Ubisoft’s ZombiU were the clear standouts among a selection of augmented ports of recent releases and rehashed Nintendo franchises. For example, Batman Arkham Asylum’s inventory gets moved to the GamePad in the Wii U Armored Edition version, and New Super Mario Bros. U has a few, well, new touchscreen bells and whistles.
Much of the gameplay at the event gave the GamePad-holding player additional information that gives them an edge over or different strategies from the other Wiimote-wielding participants or audience members. The term “asymmetrical gameplay,” which involves two or more players participating in the same game but under different rule sets and experiences, gets thrown around often.
The GamePad itself feels wonderful. For a device that bears a touch screen, accelerometer, camera and full array of buttons customarily on console controllers, it’s surprisingly light and fits neatly into hands of all sizes, from my embarrassingly dainty lady-fingers to hands that prefer the size of (what I think is a hugely monstrous) DSi XL. The Wii U will be able to support up to two GamePads simultaneously, but this feature won’t come into play until well after the system launches.
The implementation of the GamePad obviously varies by game. Here’s how it was used in the games presented at the Wii U Experience. The games listed below are slated for lease on or around the Wii U’s launch toward the end of 2012.
The similarities between Gravity Rush and Super Mario 3D Land are surprising. Playing them alongside each other a.) was the best month of portable gaming I’ve had in a while, b.) revealed interesting parallels between the two and c.) was so fantastically fun (see a.)). I got a 3DS at the end of May, which is why I was so late to the party with Mario 3D.
They’re both published by one of the big three—Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment—for the companies’ respective current-gen handhelds. The 3D concepts play out beautifully in both games, although I often passed on cranking up the 3DS’s 3D slider (an effort to salvage the remaining vision left in my eyes). Mario levels feel wide and sweeping, with plenty of secrets tucked away in cleverly concealed nooks for you to discover. Your next step on the path is clearly insinuated by camera angles, landmarks and your own curiosity rather than blunt instructions. That familiar Miyamoto-inspired sense of discovery is alive and well.
Gravity Rush’s French-styled steampunk cities seem sprawling at first, but navigability was always a breeze. The Vita’s SixAxis-like motion sensor allows a quick fine-tuning of your course. Sure it’s simple enough with the analog sticks but being able to adjust a your current flight path a smudge with a tiny tilt of your Vita was incredibly convenient. (If you’ve played Uncharted: Golden Abyss, this handles very similarly to the tilt-sensitive sniper controls.) I never got lost or was wondering where to go next. Open-world RPGs take note—this is how you craft a large-scale yet traversable sandbox.
They differ greatly, however, on falling.
Falling is everything in Gravity Rush; it’s just what you do. The deeper you dig into the game and the more you put into improving Kat’s powers, the more refined it feels. Rarely is falling such a rewarding feeling. As repetitive as the combat gets (activate gravity powers, line up a gravity kick, attack, repeat), falling always feels exhilarating, uncomplicated and worry-free. And, hey, even if you do lose track of your gravity gauge usage and plummet to the ground, Kat’s seemingly iron body will glance off the ground and create a small crater, which she’ll recover from unnervingly quick.
Super Mario 3D Land is, of course, consistent with it’s predecessors: Falling constitutes outright failure or in some of the more grandiosely scaled levels, a large leap that’s 5 percent faith and 95 percent precision. If you die multiple times within a level, you can opt for the glittering Tanooki suit, a fail-safe that grants the Star power-up’s invincibility on top of the plain Tanooki suit’s standard flying ability. The only thing that can stop you then is, well, falling.
Each form of falling has its challenges: maintaining the right momentum in Gravity Rush and sticking the landing for your survival in Super Mario 3D Land. I can’t quite quantify which is more “fun”—choosing between a polished flashy new IP that plays to my tastes versus an old favorite that’s more of the same but better. I *do* recommend picking up both of them if you have either system. (Also, if you can help me find the last few Travelers in Gravity Rush, I’d appreciate it!)