Saturday, January 25, 2014

Journey: Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) - Review

Journey is a somewhat difficult game to classify, or even to describe. At the time of its release, I remember reading a handful of reviews all struggling to put into words what makes it such a good game, with their final recommendation only offering the promise that it is, in fact, a good game and that you should absolutely play it. "It's one of those games you just have to experience for yourself." Having now played the game myself, I can't elaborate on it much more than that, other than to say it's indeed a really good game.

Journey is what I guess you would classify an "art game" -- a short two or three hour game with simplistic gameplay meant to tell a metaphoric story through its use of visuals and music. Perhaps what's most impressive about Journey is that it's an art game where interactivity is crucial to the experience; it's an art game that gives the player goals and obstacles that require problem-solving and careful platforming and navigation to surmount. And the experience of making the journey from the outskirts of the desert all the way to the summit of the mountain truly is a beautiful one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Link to the Past Between Worlds - Review

A Link to the Past is one of my favorite Zelda games (second only to Majora's Mask), so it should seem only natural that I'd be excited to return to the Hyrule I spent so much time in as a kid. But when Nintendo first announced The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, their quasi-sequel to ALTTP set in the same world and featuring the same top-down gameplay, I was a little skeptical. It seemed to me like it had the potential to be just a cheap, gimmicky, nostalgia-based cash grab that might even put the legacy of the original game to shame.

Imagine my surprise when A Link Between Worlds turned out to be one of the best Zelda games I've played in the past decade.

With the exception of Link's Awakening, I've had a difficult time getting into any of the handheld Zelda games. I've played each and every one of them, but always got bored, lost interest, and stalled out before ever completing them. I basically stopped considering them part of the main series and stopped caring. A Link Between Worlds is the first handheld Zelda game I've actually finished since Link's Awakening, which says a lot in and of itself, but even compared to the console games, it's the most fun I've had playing a Zelda game since Majora's Mask.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Last of Us: It's Pretty Good, But ...

Whenever a critically-hyped mainstream game receives nothing but unanimous praise from professional critics and ordinary gamers alike, I tend to become somewhat skeptical. It seems like more often than not, I tend to disagree with the masses; I've been burned too many times by games that just don't live up to their hype and end up disappointing me. On occasion, however, the masses are actually right and I'm left with no choice but to agree with them. Such is the case with The Last of Us, Naughty Dog's latest foray on the PS3 -- a post-apocalyptic survival game starring two characters, Joel and Ellie, trying to make it across the country with a cure to the fungal virus afflicting mankind.

I enjoyed The Last of Us. It's a pretty good game that understands how tension and survival mechanics are supposed to work in these types of games, and its story is genuinely interesting to see through to its conclusion. More appropriately, its characters are worth seeing through to the end. Joel and Ellie's journey is a very riveting one that kept me playing for long stretches at a time, not wanting to put it down. But for as good as The Last of Us is, it's also an imperfect game -- one that really irritated me at times, and which still isn't as good as it could have been.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nintendo 3DS impressions

When the 3DS was first announced in 2010, I was kind of indifferent. I owned the original Nintendo DS and enjoyed it at the time, but steadily lost interest in its games and all of its size/hardware variants (DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, etc). Mobile gaming stopped appealing to me in general, and it's been about seven years since I've given it a fair chance. It started in September when I bought a PlayStation Vita, and now after Christmas I also own a blue 3DS XL. I've been playing it for a little while, so here are my initial thoughts and impressions on it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Super Mario 3D Land, aka "Super Easy 3D Land"

It's been a while since I've played a true Mario game in its entirety. I've dabbled briefly with New Super Mario Bros on the Wii, as well as Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U, but for whatever reason Super Mario 64 is the last Mario game I've actually played from beginning to end. And what a great game that was. Other than that, the only Mario games I've played since the days of the Nintendo 64 are the spinoffs -- Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario Golf, and so on.

I'm a bit rusty and out of the loop in terms of the mustachioed plumber, but when I received a Nintendo 3DS XL (with zero games) for Christmas Super Mario 3D Land seemed like the natural place for me to start. After all, you'd think Nintendo's flagship series would best encapsulate their vision for the 3DS, and 3D Land is exactly what I would expect from Nintendo -- a solid platformer that ultimately feels a little uninspired and which relies a little too heavily on pure nostalgia for its selling value.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Undead Nightmare is .... Interesting?

I wasn't very impressed with Red Dead Redemption, but since I bought the Game of the Year edition which comes with the DLC expansion Undead Nightmare, I figured I may as well give it a shot. Besides, the concept of taking a familiar game and turning it into a zombie survival scenario was just too interesting to pass up. "Interesting" is the key word with this DLC, because I'm not sure whether to call Undead Nightmare good or bad. On the one hand, it's really cool to see how different everything is, but on the other hand, Undead Nightmare proves almost as tedious and repetitive as the base game. 

Undead Nightmare picks up between the ending moments of the base game, after John Marston is reunited with his family, but before he's murdered by the government agents. After a serious storm hits, John's wife and son are bitten by the undead, zombified "Uncle," leaving John to tie them up in the house while he sets out to find out what's going on as well as a way to cure them. Along the way he reunites with familiar characters in familiar locations, while rescuing survivors and cleansing graveyards of the undead. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dragon's Crown: Good, But Not Great

Side-scrolling beat-em-ups are not usually my cup of tea, but Dragon's Crown looked interesting nonetheless. With its classic western-fantasy theme, evocative hand-drawn visuals, and randomized loot and skill trees, it seemed like it had the potential to transcend the typical shallowness I often experience when playing side-scrolling beat-em-ups. As it turns out, there's quite a lot of unique charm and variety in Dragon's Crown's presentation and gameplay, making it a generally satisfying experience, but it still seems lacking in overall cohesion. 

After spending 20 hours in the first playthrough, the game tried encouraging me to do it all over again in a sort of "hard mode new game plus." I said "no thank you" and was content to be finished with it. As much promise and potential as there is within Dragon's Crown's formula, it just didn't compel me to keep playing.