Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Holiday Wrap-Up

I consider myself very lucky. I'm openly geeky and I have wonderful friends and family that embrace this fact about me. Thus, once a year on Christmas, I wake up to a bonaza of video games. Going through them and testing each one is always a blast. This year I decided to keep notes on every one as I played them so that I could share this experience with you. So, let's launch right in and see what I unwrapped this year!

JUST DANCE 2 (Wii) - 4.5/5 STARS.
    "Just Dance 2" caught me by surprise. After playing its predecessor to glitchy, broken results; I had a predictably poor outlook on the series. In fact, I recall myself laughing at their attempt to promote themselves at E3, expecting just another flop.

    This. Game. Is. Amazing.

    Out of all the games I got for Christmas, this is the one I keep coming back to. The music is wonderfully varied - even dipping into different time periods - and the routines are well-choreographed. The game is also incredibly intuitive - I had a handle on it halfway through my first song and others who've tried it have had similar success.

That's not to say it doesn't have its flaws. It doesn't have a create-a-character, a career mode, or a very large DLC category yet. Hopefully they'll add more songs soon because I can't wait to keep dancing!

    If you have thirty hours to kill and aren't a Fallout person, this game is for you. "Harvest Moon: Animal Parade" is a title that will satisfy those familiar with the series and thrill newcomers. With more things to do than I can even begin to list - including farming, cooking, and mining - that game specializes in giving the player an open-world experience where it feels like they can do almost anything.

    The game feels surprisingly fast-paced, considering its content. When you begin, you actually feel as if you have the faculties to do some things instead of feeling crippled like in other games. The major flaws of "Harvest Moon: Animal Parade" are merely its lack of innovation and clunky control scheme.

    This isn't my type of game, usually. However, if there are no other games out to catch my fancy, I have been known to tear up "Viva Pinata" or "Animal Crossing", so I do see myself playing this one - just not for a while. It comes down to what type of gamer you are.

    I have a confession to make. You may not like me after it; but it's been a long time coming ...

    I hated "Red Dead Redemption."

    Yes, the very same game the topped many 'Game of the Year' lists is one that I can barely stand to have in my console. Why? Because everytime I play it, I hunt a bunch of animals, gather my booty from skinning them, and then get killed by a puma out of nowhere and lose it all. When I'm not doing that, I'm engaging in some boring story mission I could care less about. And, no, this doesn't stem from a hatred of westerns - I love westerns and Clint Eastwood and the lore of the old West - but the story was just about as generic as you could get for me.

    What I did like about "RDR" was John Marston. Even during those parts where I wanted to crack the game over my knee, he'd make some wise remark and it'd be all better. "Undead Nightmare" uses Marston's personality to its full advantage, never passing up a moment to have him comment on the insane situation going on around him. This alone should sell this game -- or, rather, 'expansion pack.' But I found so much more to enjoy about "Undead Nightmare" than Marston's take on the zombie apocalypse -- which surprised me!

The sparse ammo given to the player and the headshots ( or more creative means ) needed to take down zombies amp up the difficulty of the combat. I like feeling like I'm in peril of more than just a random cougar attack. Not to mention, seeing a street full of wriggling, hogtied zombies was one of the highpoints of my life.

    If you like "RDR", getting "Undead Nightmare" should be a no-brainer. However, even if you're a fan of zombies, I'd suggest just investing in the singular game-pack they're now selling at retail stores. The dark humor, great voice acting, cinematic music, and Marston's one-liners will keep you coming back.

007: GOLDENEYE (Wii) - 2.5/5 STARS.
    "Goldeneye" was the creme'de'le'creme of multiplayer games back in the day. You'll be hardpressed to find a gamer over twenty who hasn't, at one point, capped someone in the knees as Oddjob. Thus, when a remake was announced, the gaming community collectively cheered.

Then collectively groaned when finding out it was exclusively for the Wii.

Now, I'm open-minded. I'm the first to admit that I'd take my 360 over the Wii any day, but I was just happy to hear of a "Goldeneye" remake and to see if it'd turn out to be even a slither as addicting as the first.

    Well ... it's not.

    Don't get me wrong, the game it beautiful and hardwork has clearly gone into it. However, the first thing I noticed when I turned it on were the controls. Using the Wiimote as your sightline in a FPS feels unnatural and clunky. Not only that, but it has a tendency to automatically make your person look at the ceiling so you can't even see the person coming at you - making it even easier for Oddjob to wail on your knees.

At first, I thought this was a result of my Wii's system settings. However, I've conferred with other people who have received the game and they've had similar issues when playing with the Wiimote and nunchuck. So, unable to assess the game properly that way, I went out and bought a Gamecube controller.

    This made a HUGE difference - in that I could now play it.

    Yet, even as I played, I couldn't help but feel that this was simply a title that was wasted on the Wii. I don't see myself playing it very much because playing without being able to connect with my friends like I could in an XBOX Party feels a bit hollow. It takes away from a lot of the experience of a FPS -- the camaraderie and competitiveness. My advice? If you only have a Wii and need a FPS, then get it. If not, you can find better ones on other consoles.

    "Epic Mickey" is one of those games that I have a love-hate relationship with. I love to look at it; but I hate to play it.

    Why would I make such a statement? Well, it's simple. The camera in this game is ridiculously broken. It's so bad that they included a button that supposed to allow you to snap the camera behind Mickey again; but even that doesn't work half the time. Because of this, I mess up jumps and miss seeing items and doors that would otherwise be obvious if the camera weren't in East Bumblefrick.

    Still, this game has a lot of love behind it and it shows. Every level is well-designed and the artwork is interesting. Not only that; but the morality choices presented are extremely interesting and keep you engaged. The cutscenes are also a pleasure to watch -- I love the animation style they chose for them.

    My favorite part, however, has to be the little platformer parts when transferring between levels. The first one I encountered,"Mickey and the Beanstalk," was an immediate dose of nostalgia, reminding me of "World of Illusion Starring Mickey and Donald" for Sega -- a fond childhood memory! If the entire game were like these little inbetween snippets, I would have been engaged for hours. But, c'est la vie!

DJ HERO 2 (XBOX 360) - 4/5 STARS.
    Anyone who knows me knows that I love dance music. There isn't a time of day where I'm not pumping some remix or dancing around my room to some corny hit of the week. Thus, the original DJ Hero game catered to my tastes perfectly.

    "DJ Hero 2" is a worthy sequel, though it does little in innovation. It feels more like a port of the first with more songs and just a few new DJ tricks added in. Still, for what it is, I'm happy. I really can't complain too much when a game has deadmau5 in it!

    Still, there is one thing I can nitpick on -- the singing. It's horrendous. The point of DJ'ing is to mix two tracks together. This creates a nice sound; but not neccessarily the smoothest of vocal flows, nor one you can predict. Having your friend try to sing along borders on cruel and the game mode becomes more of a practical joke or torture device than a new way of playing.

    There's also still a lack of a create-a-character and a career mode in this game. What's up with music games leaving out this basic essentials this year? Get on it, guys!

    I'm a "Fallout" fangirl through and through; but that definitely wasn't going to make me judge this lightly. In fact, if anything, it caused me to look at it with a more critical eye. As the first expansion pack for "New Vegas," "Dead Money" had something to prove ... and it delivered.

    The presentation and mechanics on "Dead Money" are unlike anything we've seen in "Fallout 3." This departure from the predecessor is precisely the shot in the arm that the series needs. It's no secret that "New Vegas" came to feel a bit too much like "Fallout 3," but through my adventures at the Sierra Madre, that trend was broken.

    However, there are a few flaws. There are some long-standing glitches that are yet to be addressed - such a quest items remaining in the cluttered inventory even after a quest has been completed and the Pip Boy being brought up too high so that half the screen is cut off.

There was also one other glaring issue I had with this expansion and that was with the character Christine. I won't spoil anything about her; but I would have liked to see more animation behind her. The lack thereof reeks of laziness and took away from some of the experience. But, really, it's a small complaint.

    Overall, I'd highly reccommend picking up a copy of "Fallout: Dead Money." I certainly left my heart at the Sierra Madre.

Vault Boy ornament by Natasha Stuhl ---
Happy New Years! Happy Gaming in 2011! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Top 5 Things About 'Monday Night Combat'

There are few games to hit the scene quite like Uber Entertainment's Monday Night Combat. The class-based shooter is affordable, has spawned an amazing fanbase, and is highly addictive. It's been during many nights of playing long into the wee hours that I've grown to love a few little quirks of the game. There were many to choose from, but I've managed to narrow them down into my top 5 things about Monday Night Combat!

5. ProTags - As if obsessing over achievements weren't enough, Uber Entertainment has now added a new host of badges for every OCD gamer to collect. As with other players of the game, after every match I find myself going to see if I've earned a new tag. When I have, the feeling can only be described as utter elation as I display it. Not only that, but there's nothing that can really compare to the fear a certain tag can inspire in your opponents prior to a match. Thus, ProTags are on the list for being both a trophy and a battle cry.

4. The Ring Out - Whether it's by a grapple, a charge, or an ejector, there's few things quite as satisfying as watching your rival pro fly off the map. The money you earn from it is also incredibly rewarding and a key to upgrades -- thus allowing you to beat them down further while ON the map. 

3. Taunting - If I had one criticism about Monday Night Combat, it'd be the lack of teabagging. However, there's something almost as good in the game: the taunt. For every pro, there's at least two taunts depending on which weapon you have equipped at the time. The taunts take several seconds to perform and reward you extra coins if performed directly after killing another pro. It's risky to do this in the middle of the battleground, but ... it sends a message. The message being that you're the bomb.

2. The Assassin's Slap Grapple - You bend over your opponent and slap them to death. Has there ever been a better, more humiliating way to kill someone in a game? I've been on the receiving end of this many a time and have raged heartily, but I've also screamed in unbridled ecstacy as I've dealt it out. There's something wholy satisfying and insulting about these devious slaps.

1. Bacon - Yummy, delicious, and mouthwatering. Do I really need to explain this one?


Art provided by Natasha Stuhl -
Check her out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Queen of XBOX: Girl-On-Girl Relations in Multiplayer

    I’ve been gaming since I was three. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve raccoon Mario, ripping out someone’s heart as Kano, exploring tombs with Lara Croft, and shooting people in the knees as Oddjob in “Goldeneye.” I’m also a female. While my experiences are typical, they’re labeled by most as atypical simply by association of my gender - something I’ve always found odd. With the modern age of gaming and the introduction of multiplayer gaming, the fact I was a minority was pointed out to me further by the several aghast males I run into daily who either try to cut me down with sexist remarks or try to jump onto my friends list simply because I have a vagina.
    But, I won’t say all men act like this towards me. That’d be completely unfair and just as sexist as some have acted towards me. I’ve made incredible friends in gaming and hope to continue to do so. Nightly, I get together with groups of friends to play rousing games of whichever title has captured my interest at the moment. It’s fun, lighthearted, and an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. -- Then, another female enters the game. By the reaction, you’d think it was like Clint Eastwood walking into a town in the Old West at high noon with pistols drawn! Something about two females in one game can turn very ugly very quickly with seemingly no provocation. The tension can be so thick that you can cut it with the Master Sword.
    Take this example: I was playing a game of Monday Night Combat with three male friends of mine. We were having a blast! I was playing as Support and I was on fire. Then, another female entered the game and things took a turn for the passively-aggressive awkward. Despite the fact we were winning and that I was second on my team, the woman insisted on sniping at me through her mic, choosing to give me the pet name “Hon’” when she did. It was only when I called her out on it that she stopped and retreated into silence -- promptly leaving at the end of the match. 
    Why is this incident important? Because it’s just an example of a common occurrence. This is not isolated. It seems that, all too often, female gamers are attacking one another simply for the sake of doing it. But why? In a community that’s already a minority in the gaming world, why would we want to make playing unpleasant for others like us?
    After this latest incident, I went to other female gamers that I’ve known for a while. I should stress that not all women in multiplayer lash out at one another. In fact, I have quite a few fellow female gamers whom I play with. However, they also reported to me that they’ve had incidents similar to mine where women were aggressive and rude for seemingly no reason.
    We joked that there was a competition for ‘The Queen of XBOX’ going on that we hadn’t been informed of - that we were all in the running and the only way to win was to be mean to each other. Biggest bitch takes it all. Thus, the ‘Queen of XBOX Theorem’ emerged to explain the odd behavior we’d been encountering.
    Joking aside, the issue bothered me. I thought and thought about it. Finally, I believe I reached some understanding behind the whole matter - why these women were acting the way they were.
    Gaming wasn’t just an escape for these girls. Being a ‘gaming girl’ was the escape itself. It was something that made them feel unique and special. Being the flirty or badass chick on the other end of the mic gave them a boost to their ego. However, entering another game and finding another girl already there suddenly made them feel devalued. Thus, the answer to the problem was simply to drive off the ‘rival’ female.
    This insight made me feel saddened. As female gamers, we should be proud; but not simply because we ARE female gamers. We should be flaunting our kill counts, our levels, and our achievements. Not our tits and ass. When we stop focusing so much on our sex and seeking validation through it, only then will men stop doing the same.
    More importantly, female gamers should treat each other with respect. We’re a minority in online gaming and for us to be at each other’s throats over pettiness and jealousy is the true tragedy out of all this. It’s time for us all to put on our big girl panties and show the boys how true women conduct themselves -- with classiness and dignity. We’re better than this, girls.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Cost of Gaming

    ``Dead Rising: Case Zero.`` It's a little game that's caused a huge buzz in the gaming industry. When released on the XBOX Live Arcade for $5.00, bucking the $15.00 trend, it blew up. It smashed the first-week sales record of any game previously released. Not only that, but the game introduced the world and mechanics of 'Dead Rising' to a new subset, causing more interest in a game that many had previously been unsure of. Something as simple as a $5.00 pricetag has suddenly become one of the most brilliant marketing strategies we've seen in gaming for a long, long time.

   On the outside, it may be easy to see why a $5 pricetag would make such a big impact; but the roots to this phenomenom go deeper. When news of ``Case Zero's`` success hit, I compiled a questionnaire. I sought out gamers of all varieties --- young, old, hardcore, noob, rich, and poor. I asked questions ranging from their interest in the series itself to their opinion on the X-Box Live Arcare to, finally, their opinion on pricing in gaming.
    It was when the little matter of money came up that my interviewees suddenly became passionate. In most of the questionnaires, the answers prior to this would be given in the routine neutral manner; but when asked about how fair they thought current retail prices are, they became aggitated, in most cases.

    Yet, what was surprising was that, when asked about what the capped retail price for new games should be, I got one answer back repeatedly. "Not $60. Fifty dollars."

    Fifty dollars! It's a ten dollar difference! This is what gamer's are angry about. "I used to buy games every week, but now I don't. Sixty dollars is too much," said one gamer. When pointed out that the difference was only ten dollars, they replied, "But it's ten dollars I could be spending on something else."

    Other gamers expressed similar sentiments. Yet, we gamers suddenly start to look like cheap bastards, I need to stress the other collective line of thinking that appeared amongst my interviewees --- we will pay for quality.

    A few subjects said that, while ecstatic that ``Case Zero`` was priced so low, they felt as if they had cheated the developers and would have paid $10 for it, but not $15. It also came to light that, in general, gamers were happy to pay $60 for certain games, such as ``Red Dead Redemption``, ``Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition``, and ``Mass Effect 2.`` They felt as if they got their money worth, as oppposed to other games priced at $60 that are four hours long with a tacked on multiplayer --- we're all looking at you, Kane and Lynch!

    So, considering this, what is it that gamers want to spend their money on? Well-made arcade games such as ``Case Zero`` and games with quality and quantity as mentioned in the prior paragraph. When we're denied these things and still asked to put out the dollars we've struggled all weeks to make - we get pissed. We become less likely to buy from those developers again. Not to mention we take to our twitters, facebooks, and blogs to bash the offending game with a fury that hasn't been witnessed since the Spanish Inquisition.

    So, I'll just say it ouright incase someone didn't get it - gamers don't want to be gouged. GAMERS DON'T WANT TO BE GOUGED. The standard of $60 shouldn't be a standard whatsoever. It should fluctuate with the product. As ``Dead Rising: Case Zero`` demonstrated, when you honestly price what you're offering, you're going to get people actually buying your game rather than having the thing sitting on store shelves untouched and, eventually, ending up in the bin for a quarter of its original price. ``Case Zero`` also showed that, if you love your gamers, your gamers will love you. And there's no better love than the love of a gamer. We're devoted to our cores.

THANK YOU to everyone who helped me with this article!
Thank you to and for helping me find subjects! Couldn't have done it without you two! You're the best.
Thank you to the gamers for allowing me to ask my questions. You are all fantastic!