Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Video game number three hundred and forty two: Crazy Taxi

Video game review number three hundred and forty two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Crazy Taxi".

At this year's E3, I was so excited to hear that some of the classics from the Dreamcast were being ported to the modern consoles, and that Crazy Taxi was one of those games. I played the shit out of Crazy Taxi on my Sega Dreamcast, and I loved it so much that I even bought the stupid sequels, in hopes they might be even half as good as the original (they never were).

Playing this on my Xbox sounded awesome, until I actually played it.

First of all, this IS the Dreamcast game as far as I can tell. The graphics look exactly the same, and I was hoping for some sort of modern refresh with the old controls. Instead, the only thing they've added is Xbox Live leaderboards. I'm not sure that's enough to justify buying this all over again, especially when I've got a perfectly good Dreamcast packed away in my closet somewhere.

If you've never played Crazy Taxi before, I'd almost recommend you seek out a Dreamcast of your own, and play it as God intended you to....with that giant, unwieldy controller on a standard definition television. However...because most people probably aren't going to go through the trouble of doing that...I will go ahead and recommend that you try this downloadable version of the game. It's not pretty, but if you can get past the old school graphics, it's still one of the most solid arcade games out there.

The premise is simple. You drive a cab around a city picking up passengers, and the money you earn for doing that depends on how quickly you can zoom them to their destination. There are shortcuts throughout the city, and luckily for you...your cab is indestructible, so you can go nuts with the driving.

There are a couple of modes (arcade and original), but the only difference between them seems to be how much time you have to take fares around down. There's a "stunt" mode called Crazy Box. I never enjoyed this on the Dreamcast and I still don't enjoy it here. You have to do this thing called the Crazy Dash a lot, and frankly, I don't think it works well with a controller (any controller). The move was made for the arcades, where you could slam the shifter back and forth really quickly. I wonder if this game supports those steering wheel peripherals? That might do the trick.

Overall Rating? Ok. This is going to be hard. The game of Crazy Taxi itself is easily a 10 in my book. This is the same game I loved on the Dreamcast and technically, it deserves that score. However....I have to rate it honestly, and honestly....I think this is more of a 7/10. It could have easily been a 10 if they'd simply taken some time and refreshed the graphics and controls a bit. Instead, this is simply shovelware from an old console with some achievements thrown in. If you haven't played it...you definitely should. If you love achievements, you should pick it up just for that. Otherwise...if you've got a Dreamcast, you might just want to stick with the classic version...because they're really not bringing anything new to the table here. Leaderboards and achievements are nice, but after 10 years...I was expecting more of an update.

Achievements: I got a couple. Not sure how much I'll keep playing..but most of them seem reasonable enough.

Video game number three hundred and forty one: Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

Video game review number three hundred and forty one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Need For Speed Hot Pursuit".

Woke up a little early this morning, so I threw on the Tritton headphones and started up a game of Need for Speed in the home office.

I've played more than a couple of Need for Speed games in my day (three so far just in this challenge) and this is by far my favorite of them all. Developed by the folks at Criterion (infamous for their series of Burnout games), this game puts all the best stuff about Need for Speed BACK into the game. It's been missing for too long.

First and foremost, the cops are back...and for the first time ever, you aren't just running from them. You can actually run an entire career as a cop chasing down street racers. You might think that sounds lame, or that it would probably be more fun to be a street racer...but trust me when I say the cops are the best part of the game.

The game features simultaneous careers for both "Cop" and "Racer". You can take missions from either of the two careers at your leisure, and I've been splitting them about 50/50. You start out at level 0, and eventually...work your way up to level 20. When you get finally get to the top of the chart, you'll be "Most Wanted" as a Racer and "Ultimate Enforcer" as a cop. I'm currently sitting at levels 6 and 7 in both careers. I won't stop playing this one until I hit 20 on each.

Both modes have awesome cars. You start out in an economy racer in Racer mode, and work your way up to the super cars. As a cop, you start out with the standard shitbox Caprice and work your way up to Porsches and Dodge Vipers. I've played this on several occasions, and my garage in both careers is fairly ridiculous. I love this....and it's a great upgrade compared to some of the prior Need For Speed games that made you play for several hours before you'd have enough money to pick something decent to drive. This game awards you with new cars every few races, to the point where you have several to choose from in any class. That's exactly how I think racing games like this should be.

The races themselves are pretty straightforward. You have boost...and eventually you unlock weapons like EMP, Spike Strips, Radar Jammers and Turbo. The cops have EMP, Spike Strips, Pursuit copters and Road blocks. It's fun to switch back and forth between the two, but I preferred being a cop for one important reason: The Takedown.

I'm not sure why this game thinks only the cops should have this ability...but for some reason, racers can't really do damage to other racers. Cops on the other hand, can smash, crash and trash the other cars. THIS is awesome. It's so fun to be a cop and be tasked with "Shutting down a race". They give you a supercar, some weapons...and just say "Go". I love it. I think it's the first video game I can remember where I had more fun being the cops than the bad guys (of all the games that give you a choice).

Each track has tons of shortcuts, and you have to watch the map to be able to take them. If you try to eyeball the side of the road looking for one, you'll often crash when you try to swing into it. There are regular races, and then there are these "trials" where you have to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. They're tougher than the regular races, because whenever you hit something, time gets deducted from your score. Since I like to crash, this mode sucked for me.

So what about the multiplayer? Well...I haven't gone online yet, but this is one of those games that brings your friends scores to you. They have this thing called the "autolog" and it's constantly being updated with the scores of your friends. When you beat them, you can challenge your friends to try to beat your score. I'll probably start driving online after I've unlocked a few more cars and levels, but in the meantime, the game is already incredibly competitive with my friends list, and I love that. Every single race I run has the times of some friends, or if they haven't raced it yet it tells them that I'm in first and they need to. It's pretty sweet.

Overall Score? 9/10. I would have rated this perfect, save the one fatal flaw this game has: Racers can't take down other racers. It's annoying, but aside from that, I think this is the best Need for Speed game ever, and I'd love to see a sequel. I've got many, many hours into this one so far, and I don't plan to let up until I've mastered it. I may even go for the full 1000 points here...that's just how much I like it.

Achievements? Hells yeah I got some achievements. So many in fact, I couldn't fit them all here:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Video game number three hundred and forty: ilomilo

Video game review number three hundred and forty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "ilomilo".

This game is more than a little bit cute.

Basically, there are two characters called ilo and milo. Ilo is red (You remember this because his name has only three letters like the word "red") and milo is blue (four letters). They start out on opposite sides of a puzzle, and you have to help them meet up. That...is the game.

Ilomilo isn't technically released yet, but I have special, inside access and I was able to get it early. I suppose that if you're reading this blog, you deserve to have the super secret special access too...so here you go. Please don't tell anyone. ;-)

Anyway, the levels are made up of cubes, with little bouncers and bridges to get you from point A to point B. Along the way, you collect these little dudes called "Safkas". There are three per level and you have to collect them all to get the star. When you have found a Safka, he sort of runs along behind you, and it's a cute little animation.

The puzzles get progressively harder, and because they're 3D...they can have several different layers of complexity. Many times in chapter two, I had to sit there and spin the puzzle board in the wide angle camera view just to figure out where to move next. Swapping camera views gave me a little bit of dizziness, which was weird for a video game.

There's no time limit and you can't really "fail" a level as far as I know, but they keep it challenging by showing you the community average and the leaderboards every time you finish a level. Once you've found the solution, you are encouraged to go back and try to complete the puzzle more quickly to improve your leaderboard ranking.

Overall Score? 8.5/10. I've made it to chapter three so far, and I fully intend to keep playing this one whenever I have some free time. A similar version of this game is also available on the new Windows mobile phone, which I hope to get one of these days.

Achievements? Yeah...I've played a lot:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Video game number three hundred and thirty nine: Rock Band 3

Video game review number three hundred and thirty nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Rock Band 3".

Rock Band 3 is finally here. I've been looking forward to playing this sucker since I first heard about it, and I actually had my first chance at Comic Con in July of this year. After that, I got to see it once more at PAX in Seattle...but for the most part, I had to settle in for the long wait until the release in October. This game was shaping up to be a really big deal and I was planning to have a launch party for this game at my house.

The recent passing of my best friend put that whole idea on hold and turned the release of this game into a bittersweet event. On the one hand, I was really looking forward to playing the newest Rock Band title..and on the other hand, so was my friend John. In fact, he was looking forward to it more than anyone I know. The best thing about Rock Band has always been playing it with my friends, and especially playing it with my best friend. Frankly, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to play it at all, and my copy has been shelved since release day. This evening...after playing a little SingStar, I finally felt the urge to boot the mother of all music games up and give it a try.

I dove into the solo career a bit this evening, focusing on vocals and playing mostly DLC songs that I've either had and never played or that I just downloaded tonight. My first impression was "Wow...the career mode has completely changed".

First of all: No more money. This was a huge divergence from the prior career modes. No money and no map to conquer. You still need to earn fans, but now, you unlock everything by completing "goals". The goals are all unique and range from "Play this set" to "complete 200 different downloaded tracks", which is something I imagine I'll only do after many Rock Band parties.

Speaking of parties...the goals carry over into the quick play mode, which is awesome now. One thing that really used to piss me off was when my friends and I had to make the choice between "Playing for fun" and "earning achievements" whenever we had a get together. My friend John and I always wanted to go for gamerscore, but when we had more casual players around...we'd always be worried that someone might fail out of a song and ruin our band's fan count or something. The band could lose money if we played "for real"...so it always seemed "safer" to play in Quick Play mode, where unfortunately, there were no achievements.

Rock Band 3 throws that all out the window with the "goals" system, which can now be achieved in quick play as well. That means next time I have a bunch of friends over, we can earn things together...while just having a good time. That sounds really fun, and while it sounds cliche', dammit...I wish my friend had lived to see it.

Review originally started on 11/2/10. Update----------------------------------

There's a lot more to cover in this game, so let's start with (you guessed it) the keyboards! First thing I did when I got my hands on the keyboard was dive into the tutorial). It's a 14 parter...and there's a lot to learn. The keyboard only has about 25 keys, but it's still a tough "instrument" to learn as far as video game controllers go. I have never played a real keyboard before, but I've always wanted to...and if this is what it's like, I think it will be pretty damn hard.

There are a couple of ways to play the keyboards. One (basic) way is to limit yourself to 5 white keys and their corresponding black keys, but I thought that was kind of lame, so I started to learn the pro difficulty. Holy shiznit this is hard.

Pro keys requires you to position your fingers properly...use all 5 fingers (sometimes on both hands) and eventually, starting hitting cords, and moving your finger position up and down the keyboard. If you play piano, maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you've only played Guitar Hero before (like me)...well...it is.

I played 3 or 4 songs on Easy Pro Keys before switching over to the other new mode in Rock Band 3: Pro Guitar. Pro Guitar requires a special new instrument that has well over 100 buttons and strings. It's supposed to simulate a real guitar, although, I think it might be even more confusing than one. I've never learned to play guitar, but I found that learning to play this thing was ten times as hard as the keyboards.

I took the first 3 (of 18) tutorials and then thought to myself:

"Ah hell, let's just dive in to the game and see how I do on Easy Pro Guitar".

Stupid mistake.

I failed within seconds of starting the first song up, unable to get my fingers to the right fret buttons anywhere near quick enough to strum them with the real strings. You might blame this on the fact that I didn't finish the tutorials (or that I just suck in general)...I'm going to blame it on the fact that I didn't have a guitar pick to use on the strings at the time. :-)

I have a long ways to go before I can finish this review, but so far...so great. This is as much a music game as it is an instrument trainer, and that's pretty fucking awesome. I need to further update this review once I've had my first Rock Band party, so stay tuned for that.

--

2nd Update 11/21/10.

I wouldn't call it a "party", but this evening I had a few friends over and we played some Rock Band 3 together. It was sad because our buddy was noticeably absent, but we all decided he'd want us to keep playing. I am going to dwell on fun parts of the evening instead of focusing on how it came together.

We enjoyed the new features in multiplayer. You can drop in and out of the match, the game supports up to 7 players...and the vocalist no longer needs a controller in order to join in the fun. We only played 7 or 8 songs tonight (it was really late and most of us were tired before we even started), but it was still a good series of games. This game is definitely something special.

----

3rd Update 11/28/10

Tonight, I played Rock Band 3 online for the first time. My friend Rachel came over, and she, my wife and I joined our friend Jason over Xbox Live for some co-op band play. I found that it worked really well, and we were able to pick songs collaboratively and even see what songs were in the other's collection without any hiccups. It's such a step up from the way it used to work in Rock Band 2

It occurred to me while playing tonight that I've been "reviewing" this game for the better part of a month now, and no matter how much I play...it's not going to be as complete as I'd like it to be. I've played several nights and quite a few songs, and I think that should suffice.

Overall Score? 10/10. This is the best music video game I have ever played.


Achievements: Oh yeah, I have quite a few.

Video game three hundred and thirty eight: Kinect Sports

Video game review number three hundred and thirty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Kinect Sports"

Kinect Sports is the basically the same compilation of sports games/tech demos that you got with Wii sports, except...well, the tech is a lot better. The graphics aren't revolutionary and the games are just bite sized Chicken McNuggets that are meant to show you how awesome the sensor is. They do their job and most importantly...they're easy and fun to play.

I began with bowling, which is one of my favorite mini-games on Wii Sports. Right away, it felt like real bowling (minus the ball), and I sucked just about as badly as do on the actual lanes. At first, I had trouble putting spin on the ball, sort of like I do in real life. I started to figure out the sweet spots, and it started to become more fun. After playing a practice game by myself, I was easily able to beat the computer. My final score was a 106, which is probably very close to what I bowled the last time I played for real. Obviously, I have a long way to go before the pros call to draft me.

Next, I tried boxing. THIS is awesome. I learned high punches and low punches and blocking. That's basically it. The computer and I went three rounds, and I won. I really liked throwing hooks at the computer, and started to learn combos that worked well. It was easy enough to be fun, and hard enough that I'll want to play some more to get better. I want to knock that computer out in one round next time.

Finally, I tried Soccer. It's very important to note that after playing Yourself Fitness for an hour, and then this game for roughly 30 minutes so far...I was getting a bit sweaty and tired. Still, I tried soccer and it was great. There's nothing quite like it that I've played before. When you kick the ball, it really feels like you've kicked a ball. It's sort of amazing. The closest comparison I have is playing this soccer game at Gameworks in Seattle where you kick an actual ball (tied to string) and then you see a virtual ball on screen go into the net.

Kicking and blocking the soccer ball felt more "real" than any Kinect game I've played so far. There's a real tactile feeling when you kick your leg out and the game immediately recognizes that motion and kicks the ball. It recognizes how fast you kicked, and the ball goes that far. It's really something.

Overall Score? 8/10. This is a really good suite of games and it's going to be something I'll show off when people come over and say "What's this Kinect thing all about?".

Achievements? Only a couple so far....that's because I tried to play four Kinect games in one afternoon, and unlike other games, you get tired after playing too many of them. Not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Updated 12/5/10---

This afternoon, I played some more sports. When I booted it, I jumped right back into boxing, which is still my favorite. Got a knockout and a TKO. I really love the boxing, but I decided to jump into the rest of the games on the disk that I had yet to try: Ping pong, track & field and volleyball.

Ping Pong was pretty darn cool, and I was surprised that my arm was actually sore from slamming the ball across the net so many times. It's not a huge evolution from the Wii or the Move (two similar games I consider to be virtually equal)...but you have the same experience with no controller at all, and that's fun. Volleyball was even more fun, and I swear...it felt like real volleyball. I just got done playing Vollebyall on the Move (which was horrible) and this was awesome by comparison. I served, I bumped, I set and I spiked. Much like soccer, you don't have to run in place a lot, it's more about contact with the ball..and that experience is awesome. It feels pretty darn "real".

Finally, I played track and field. As stupid as the commercials made it look, I wasn't looking forward to it, but MAN this is fun. It reminds me of playing with the power pad on the NES when I was a kid...except...evolved. You run and jump. You throw a discus. You throw a javelin. There's a long jump. It's just awesome.

Here are the achievements I have so far:

Video game three hundred and thirty seven: Your Shape Fitness

Video game review number three hundred and thirty seven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Your Shape Fitness"

I figured it was about time that I try a fitness game for the Kinect, so I got my gym clothes on and booted this one up.

The first thing the game does is take your profile. It measures your arms, legs, torso, etc, etc. It asks you for your weight and then it determines what kind of exercise will be right for you. I picked a cardio program, and it had me doing all sorts of punching and lunging. I hit virtual blocks, I danced along with my instructor..and I stepped on colored circles on the ground around me.

It's kind of amazing how fast I worked up a sweat. I'm sure I could get a much more brutal workout by throwing in a P90X DVD or something, but this is a video game that actually doles out achievements for your gameplay time. Aside from getting into better shape (always a good goal), the progress in game is very tempting.

I did a yoga/tai-chi sort of thing. It was actually pretty cool, and you had to hold poses and breathe and stuff. The camera tracked my line, and the on screen instructor told me to raise or lower my arms, my stance, etc. Because there's instant onscreen feedback when you adjust your position, it feels like the game is REALLY watching you, and that's pretty cool in an exercise game. When I messed up, the game told me so. Same when I did well.

Overall Score? 7.5/10. I've barely scratched the surface of this one, and already I can see myself wanting to go back. I don't think this is one I can beat in a weekend or anything, you need to play it for weeks before you can get all 1000 gamerscore. As a thank you for putting that much time into it, you might even lose a few pounds. Not a bad tradeoff if you ask me.

Achievements? I only got a couple so far, but that's because I only played for around an hour. I'll put more time in and get many more of these.


Video game number three hundred and thirty six: Kinectimals

Video game review number three hundred and thirty six in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Kinectimals"

Digital kitties.

That's what this game is all about. You are on an island, and there's this bee-dude (he reminds me of the Honey Nut Cheerios bee, except he's kind of scary looking), and he offers you your choice of a bunch of cubs. There are lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and more. You pick one, you name it...and then it's time to play.

That, essentially..is the plot of the game.

Sure, you have an entire island to explore, and sure there are a bunch of things to see, but at it's heart, this game is all about playing mini-games with whatever animal you have picked. You teach it tricks (you jump, it jumps), you throw toys for it, and sometimes...you buy new things for it (like food and furniture for the house the two of you share). It's a cross between the Sims and Pokemon, in a virtual space that you control with your hands.

I am not the target audience for this game. I want to play Call of Duty. I want to shoot things, fly things, race things, or maybe solve a puzzle. Throwing a ball for a kitty is not really something I aspire to do in a video game. I'm sure there are plenty of people who do aspire to do that, and more power to them.

I'd really love to see my 12 year old nieces get a chance to play this one. I'm really curious what they would think about it. I'm pretty sure they are exactly who this game is aimed at. I asked my wife if she wanted to play, but she wasn't interested. She waited until I turned it off and then she played Dance Central for 2 or 3 hours instead.

Seeing as how my nieces live in California and I live in Seattle, I'm probably not going to get to play this game with them. I do have a niece who lives up here, but she is probably too young to enjoy Kinectimals....which means I'm fresh out of people to show this game to. My wife doesn't care for it...I certainly don't want to play it. I can't think of any reason to own a copy of this game, except to try and get the gamerscore. Frankly...I don't think this is gamerscore I'd be very proud of. As far as the cutesy-poo factor goes, it makes that Kirby game I played seem like Halo.

Overall Score? 3/10. Simply not for me. It's pretty to look at, and the mini-games are actually fun...but with all the stacks of games I want to play some more, I can't imagine that petting a virtual kitty is going to rise to the top of my hit list. It's just highly improbable.

Achievements? Yes...I got quite a few:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Video game number three hundred and thirty five: Taiko no Tatsujin DS Touch de Dokodon

Video game review number three hundred and thirty five in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Taiko no Tatsujin DS Touch de Dokodon."

Last week, before my trip to California...my friend Rachel was kind enough to lend me an entire carrying case full of Nintendo DS games that she owns that I've never played. I'm picturing it below to convey the awesomeness here.




By itself, this little case is enough to take me within 15 or 20 games of the end of this challenge, and while I'm not sure I'll play each of these, it's great to have them on reserve to ensure that I get through the home stretch. If Gamefly is late with a shipment, or I can't find a good game I want to borrow from a friend (or at work), then I've got this little black box of awesomeness to rely on for games.

This morning, I was on a plane to Seattle from California, and I decided to dip into the game case for the first time to try something Rachel had let me borrow. I saw this little game.

As the cover picture is 100% Japanese, I had no idea what it was called, but I was pretty sure the little cartoon thing on the front was the "Taiko Drummer" guy. I've never had a chance to play a Taiko game, but I was very aware of them, and always curious. Sure enough, after booting this...I realized it was indeed Taiko Drummer (and searching Wikipedia after I landed later confirmed the exact title for me).

Taiko drummer is basically a rhythm game, which you can play using the buttons or the stylus.
I'd love to describe the "plot" or the menus, but they are totally in Japanese (a first for the challenge). Luckily for me, the interface was simple enough that I could fumble my way through it and get right into gameplay.

Bang along to the beat with the buttons, the stylus, or the shoulder buttons which are the snares. I am pretty sure the goal is to rack up combos to score more points….although I have no idea what the grades I scored actually were.

The setlist was very Japanese, though some of the songs had a little bit of English mixed in to their titles. One song was Yankee Doodle Dandy, I thought that was pretty funny (and I certainly knew the beat to it). The rest of the songs I tried were all very alien to me, and frankly...too easy to beat. I am sure there are multiple difficulty menus here, but I didn't know how to select them in Japanese.

Overall Score? 5/10. As a concept goes, it's a fun game. The gameplay was fun too. The only reason I'm not rating it higher is...well...I don't speak the language. There's only so much you can do in a game like this without being able to read the text. According to everything I can find online, there is not an an English version of this game just yet, so I'll have to be happy with my experience playing this one. On the other hand, there is a version of this game that features actual drums. I'd love to give it a try sometime.


Video game number three hundred and thirty four: God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Video game review number three hundred and thirty four in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "God of War: Ghost of Sparta"

This game is a sequel to the other PSP God of War game, Chains of Olympus, which I played last month. I thought that one was great, and somehow...this game manages to improve upon it. I'm not sure how...but they've packed an even better game onto the small screen.

First of all, it features the same great graphics, with cut scenes that look like they're cut straight from the PS3 version. The in game graphics seem to have been stepped up a bit, with more of the zooming camera angles from the PS3, and some HUGE bosses. I faced three different giant enemies in the first few levels, plus lots of big mini-bosses as well.

One in particular was pretty disgusting. It involves a Spoiler...so read the paragraph below at your own risk:


----Spoiler---

A level or two in, you meet your mom, and she's dying. On her death bed, she whispers to you who your dad is, tells you that your brother is still alive, then turns into some kind of beast thing. She's like a werewolf, only she has a giant jaw…and you have to kill her. Aside from the moral implications of killing your own mother in a video game, this whole sequence is just pretty gross. It was also awesome.

---End spoilers----

Kratos has some new attacks this time around. I enjoyed grabbing people with the circle button to slam them to the ground and then doing either heavy or light attacks while they are on the ground. It's brutal and really awesome. Eventually, you also get some spinning upgrades to the blades of Athena, and suddenly, you can fight tons of enemies at a time. I thought this was a lot fun as well.

Overall Score? 9/10. Another awesome God of War game, and another one I must own. It's been added to my Amazon wish list, and if I don't get it for Christmas, it's on the top of the list of games from this challenge that I need to buy myself and add to my collection. For the longest time, my PSP was not my system of choice while on the road, but between this game, Loco Roco and Chains of Olympus, I'm going to have my hands full next time I'm traveling.



Friday, November 26, 2010

Video game three hundred and thirty three: Call of Duty Black Ops

Video game review number three hundred and thirty three in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Call of Duty: Black Ops"

Over the last year, I've become completely addicted to Call of Duty. Somehow, I completely ignored all the previous versions of it, but when Modern Warfare 2 was released, I played it nearly every day for a couple of months straight.

Some people I know have accused me of exaggerating from time to time when it comes to statements like "I played it nearly every day for a couple of months straight". To amplify the accuracy of this statement, I submit as evidence a screenshot from my 360 blog of my top 4 games over the last couple of years:




While these stats are by no means complete (The service has forgotten a lot of my play days over the last 2 years), it does prove that in less than a year, I played Modern Warfare almost as much as I played Halo 3 over the last two. That's saying a lot considering that Halo was my favorite game of all time back when it was released.

Modern Warfare 2 is one of the primary reasons this challenge has been so incredibly difficult for me, because a lot of the time, it's the only game I wanted to play. You might say "That's just selective hindsight", but I will submit exhibit B: as evidence. I mentioned it in at least a dozen reviews earlier this year. There are many more mentions, but you get the idea. That game was constantly on my brain. Whenever I was playing a sub-par game, I was wishing that I was playing Call of Duty. Very often, even when I was playing a good game....I was still wishing that I was playing COD. That's just how good it is.

Because of this challenge, I had to put MW2 on the shelf and instead, play dozens upon dozens of lesser games. Imitations. Mere shadows next to a pillar of awesome. While impressive in its own way, this challenge has also been murder as far as personal choice goes. Sure, I've been exposed to countless games I never would have touched without the project, but I've also missed out on being the prestige level 10 I probably would have been by now if left up to my own gaming preferences.

I spent this Thanksgiving at my sister's house, home of my nephew...the king of Call of Duty. He's got a ginormous 15 year old ego, and I'm sure reading this post wouldn't help, so the only reason I'll even admit it is because I know he's not reading my blog. Here goes: The kid is the best Call of Duty player I know. He gets beat by plenty of randoms online, but he's better than anyone I actually know online or off...and I know a LOT of people. He is consistently ranked atop my friends leaderboard (none of my friends come close). In every match we play, he's almost always first, and if not, it's either because he was screwing around...or because he actually met someone better online and ended up placing a close 2nd.

Anyway...Ryan already had his copy of Black Ops, and he'd already prestiged once in the couple of weeks it's been out. He was halfway through his next prestige. For those of you that don't know what that means...it means he'd ranked up as far as the game will let you, before deciding to surrender his top rank (along with all the weapons and perks that come along with it) to receive a tiny icon next to his player name and start all over again at the bottom of the pile. The sheer number of hours it takes to do that is astronomical. I've only prestiged once in Modern Warfare 2, and it took me months. Giving up all those weapons was HARD. This guy did it in weeks, and he's already on his way to the next one. I know that there are many kids like that online, but I'm related to this one...and I'm pretty impressed by his mad skillz.

He asked if I wanted to play some Black Ops. I had been saving it for when I had a week to completely dive in and immerse myself, but I was on vacation and this was a very tempting offer. I asked him how it was compared to MW2.

"Way better" he said.

High praise from a big fan of the game we both consider to be one of the best of all time.

I decided to settle in for an afternoon of gaming with Ryan and find out myself. I began Black Ops by starting my multiplayer journey. We played split screen (something that usually annoys the hell out of me), and I still had a blast. Within a few hours, I was already rank 5 or 6. This game just feels like "home" and although I'm not good at it by any definition, it wasn't long before I started to place in the middle of the pack in multiplayer matches.

So how does one accurately review Call of Duty Black Ops? You probably need to beat the entire campaign and then play every multiplayer variant until you have an excellent understanding of everything that the game has to offer.

How will I review it? Simple. I already love it.

You don't need to drive 1000 miles in a luxury car to know that it's the car for you. You get in and within moments, you know it's one of the best driving experiences you've ever had. That's what this game already is for me. I'm only a level 10 (and climbing), but I've already spent several hours playing...and each one has just gotten me deeper into what I know will be a new addiction.

Yes, there's a campaign. Yes, I will definitely play all the way through it once and then chances are, unless it's amazing...I will probably never go back. If by some chance the campaign turns out to be incredible, that's just icing on a cake MADE of icing. It's that sandwich at KFC where even the buns are made of fried chicken. It'll just be an overload of awesome.

To me, the meat of the game is in the multiplayer, and that experience is already as close to perfection as it gets, as far as I'm concerned. I played in split screen (a new feature for COD) and I also had the screen to myself for awhile with my nephew watching over my shoulder giving me "win" advice. It was a ton of fun. When I got home, we played over live (me on my home screen and him on his) and it just got all the more impressive. I started unlocking killstreak rewards, new guns and all sorts of other junk. This is the kind of experience I envision taking up any free moments I have for gaming....indefinitely.

Overall Score? 9/10. I could easily give this game a ten. I almost did. That would probably be unfair though, seeing as how I've never actually touched the single player. Even though it's just "Gravy" (as I mentioned above), it's still a big part of the game, and I should probably play the game before I finish my review. I fully expect to revisit this post a little while from now, after I've played the campaign....to update the score. In the meantime, the multiplayer is just about perfect, and that's all you really need to know. If you like shooters and you don't already own this game, you're doing yourself a giant disservice.

Achievements? All I have so far are these, from the main menu. There really need to be more achievements in multiplayer!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Video game number three hundred and thirty two: Word Feud

Video game review number three hundred and thirty two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Word Feud"

This is the second cell phone title I've reviewed so far this project. The first was Angry Birds, and that remains my favorite cell phone game of all time. I've put countless more hours into that one since writing the review, and I'm STILL not done with it yet. It's a full game experience, and something I really really love.

By contrast, there's nothing particularly special about this game. Word Feud is just Scrabble. If you've played Scrabble, you've played this, but if not...let me summarize it in a nut shell. Scrabble involves each player starting with 7 letters, and trying to spell words using only those letters, and those of the other player. You place your letters on a board, and each one has a score value. Some of the spaces can earn you double and triple points.

Even though I've played Scrabble a dozen different times from the board game to Facebook, I thought this one warranted a review for one simple reason: The multiplayer. It's great, and a ton of people I know are playing it.

You carry this game around on your cell phone (in my case, the Droid)...and you can play with your friends or random strangers. At any random time over the last week, I've had at least three different games going on with different people, and it's been rather addictive. My wife started playing it while we were on Thanksgiving break, and when my little sister saw us playing she said "That's one of my favorite games!" so we started playing too. My nephews wanted to try it...and before I knew it, I had 3 separate games going on, just with the people in the room. After playing a few matches, my sister and I gave our phones to the kids so they could practice against randoms on the internet.

We sat around on the couch (and the floor) after turkey dinner, playing words back and forth at each other. The next morning, I ventured out to shop at some of the Black Friday sales, and played while I was in line for those. When we went out to dinner later that night, I caught my sister playing a word , so I started to play as well. So much for no cell phones at dinner. The only game I've played more on my phone is Angry Birds, but even that doesn't have the multiplayer that this one does.

Overall Score? 8/10. Scrabble is a great game, and this game is Scrabble. With multiplayer. This is the first game in history that I've played online vs. my friends, my wife and my sister....meaning it has crossed every gaming demographic that I can think of. There's something awesome about that. I'm sure at some point, the fad will lose its luster and everyone will stop playing it every day...but right now, it's something I'm checking into every few hours. That's awesome. Just see below (names edited to protect the other addicted folks).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video game number three hundred and thirty one: Mario Land Mini Mayhem

Video game review number three hundred and thirty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Mario Land Mini Mayhem"

I started playing Mario Land Mini Mayhem on a plane, which is one of my favorite places to play portable games. There's something about putting on the headphones, shutting out that airplane noise, and just enjoying escaping from what would otherwise be a rather boring journey. If the flight isn't long enough for movies, that's my favorite way to kill time. Well, short of joining the mile high club with my wife and a couple of stewardesses in a first class bedroom on an international flight to somewhere awesome, but hey...I like to set my expectations realistically.

Anyway, after playing for most of the flight, I was definitely hooked on this one.

This is another in the "Minis" series of games, which somehow...I still don't own any of. This seems like a crime against gaming, so if I don't get any for Christmas this year, I'm totally buying them all myself. I played number 2 earlier this year on a road trip with my friend John, and I loved it.

The gameplay in this one is the same as the last "Minis" game. It reminds me a lot of Lemmings. As the name "Minis" might imply, you don't actually control Mario here. Instead...you control a bunch of Minis. These little guys look just like Mario, but they only walk in a straight line, and you need to use the environment and special objects to help them change direction. Eventually, you are trying to lead them to a door at the end of the stage, all while collecting special items along the way. A lot like Lemmings, but with many twists that make it awesome.

The gameplay is fantastic and there are a ton of fun puzzles. You try to collect all the items in enough time while you’re trying to get to the door of each level. Do all this fast enough and you'll win a trophy. Get all the trophies and you get a mini-game unlocked for each level. There are also boss fights. In each of those, you'll have 8 lives and need to climb up ladders to meet Donkey Kong and knock him off his platform. Just like the old days, he's got your girlfriend Pauline (the one before Peach). I don't know if it's the actress they used or the way they draw her, but she's the hottest "Mario girlfriend" of all of them...and you definitely want to save her from the giant monkey.

When you're not off saving the world, you can also construct your own levels. I tried doing this, but honestly...I didn't spend much time with it. I just wanted to play the campaign and keep on trying the puzzles and boss battles that were waiting for me there. I could have returned it in a mailbox at the airport after my plane ride, but I ended up playing the game some more in the cell phone lot and again the next morning before everyone at my sister's house woke up. I am totally hooked on this game, and almost bought it from Gamefly.

Overall Score? 9/10. Fantastic. The only reason I didn't buy it is I still have more than 30 titles to go before the end of the year and just as many days to do it in. I'm not going to have time to play many repeat games, and so there's no sense in buying something right now to have it sit. Besides, games go down in price, not up...so it'll be cheaper by the time I have the free time to play it. Needless to say...it's awesome, and I want it in my library.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Video game number three hundred and thirty: Deal or No Deal

Video game review number three hundred and thirty in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Deal or No Deal"

Somehow I accidentally put both the DS and Wii versions of this in my Game Queue on Gamefly, and then I forgot to cancel one or the other of them in time to prevent them both from being shipped to me. I didn’t think it would make sense to play and review both, so I chose the DS version (since I was about to take a plane trip anyway), and I sealed the Wii version back up without touching it. There goes one wasted game in my “4 out at a time” Gamefly rental plan.

This game is simple, just like the TV show. Pick one brief case to be yours, then open 25 others…hoping that the one you picked is the one with 1 million dollars in it. The others have anything from a penny to 750,000 in it. The “low” (sub 1000 dollar) amounts are arranged on the left side of the screen and the high (1000 dollars or more) are on the right. The more cases you are lucky enough to pick from the left, the better your chances at the million dollar case are.

The game has a “banker”, and he makes you offers based on your chances of having the million dollars in your case. The offer gets higher as your chances get better (and worse when you have fewer cases left unopened on the right side of the screen).

That’s basically the game as far as the tv show is concerned. The only things the Gameboy version adds are “mini-games”, which are little games you play every few rounds. These are opportunities to win more money, most of them involve tapping your pen on the screen. Unlike many of the other game show games I played this year, Deal or No Deal has the actual host of the show (Howie Mandell), only he doesn’t actually talk. It’s his likeness, but he doesn’t actually SAY anything, which is almost as lame as having a generic random host.

The only thing that makes the game sort of worth playing more than once is the prize screen. The more money you win, the more prizes you can buy. You can buy homes, cars, boats, planes…etc. The prices of the prizes are pretty much real life prizes…so you’ll have to play this game a LOT to get yourself a sweet mansion, a nice car and of course…a plane.

Overall Score? 4/10. I'm not sure how many rounds you would be able stand. I made it through about 5 rounds. I never won the million, although once I took an offer of 170k, and it turned out I had the million in my case. That time sucked. The rest of the time, I actually took offers that were better than what I had in my case….so that was nice. Still, by the time I'd finished 5 straight games, I was sick of the computer's corny jokes, and the game itself was just dumb. There's a reason the contestants on the show only open 25 cases in one sitting. If they opened over 125 (like I did), they'd probably walk out of the studio.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Video game number three hundred and twenty nine: Pac Man Championship DX

Video game review number three hundred and twenty nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Pac Man Championship DX."

How many different ways can they remix Pac Man? There have been more than two dozen different sequels over the years (spread across just about every gaming platform ever created), completely saturating the market to the point where you feel like if you've played one, you've played them all.

Over all those years, there really haven't been many innovations in the game. Ms. Pac Man added a bow to the character (and tightened up the gameplay a bit). There have been other versions that had nothing to do with eating dots and ghosts in mazes (Pac Man has been a race car driver, taught typing and done all sorts of other stuff). Still, the core gameplay has stayed mostly the same...as it is with this sequel.

So what's different this time around? First of all, you can switch map backgrounds. That's kind of cool (I chose the neon maps from the original Championship edition released in 2007 on Xbox Live Arcade). Just like Championship edition, you still try to clear the dots out of one side of the maze at a time (to make an item appear on the other side). This time around though, there is a new twist: More ghosts.

It's not just Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde (or Sue) anymore. This time...it's their whole freakin' family. There can be well over 2o ghosts on the screen at the same time, and you'll often be chased by a They Might Be Giants sized conga line of them. Luckily for you, they aren't as fast (or as smart) in these quantities, so you can usually stay one or two dots ahead of them.

This time around, you also have these little "smart bombs" you can use to blow the ghosts away from you and send them to the other sides of the screen. This is useful when you're almost about to die. Time also slows down when you're trapped, giving you time to escape the situation.

If these additions make the game sound a bit easier, trust me when I say, it's not. It's actually a lot more complex than the original, and because there are no more static power pellets on each maze (you have to earn them)...you can't really follow patterns anymore. Each game is different, and they're tough. It's definitely Pac-Man for the next generation.

Overall Score? 6.5/10. Better than average, but nothing I would call a "classic". I enjoyed playing it, but it's not going to become a regular thing for me or anything. It's sort of like a mash-up song of a song you already liked. It's very cool the first time you hear it, but with very few exceptions...it usually doesn't eclipse the original game for you. If you're looking for a great Pac Man game on XBLA, get the original Championship Edition before this one, and maybe Ms. Pac Man as well. THEN, if you're still hooked, go ahead and buy this one.

Achievements? If you're a Pac Man pro, you'll be able to grab a few like I did. I did all of this in an hour or two. :-)

Video game number three hundred and twenty eight: Mario Super Sluggers

Video game review number three hundred and twenty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Mario Super Sluggers".

I played this one briefly at PAX a couple of years ago, and I'm only just now getting around to actually renting a copy to try at home. Baseball on Wii Sports delivers a pure experience, and because it was developed by the same folks...I was expecting Sluggers to deliver something similar, with a bunch of arcadey goodness thrown in on top of that.

That's exactly what they've delivered here.

First of all, swinging the bat is awesome. It "feels" right, whether you stand up and take actual swings clutching your Wiimote, or just lay on the couch and flick your wrist at the screen. The Wii understands both gestures, and that's why batting is the best part of this game.

I walked through the entire tutorial (it took me over half an hour) just to learn all the other moves, and I'm glad I did. This is not what I'd call a "pick up and play" game like NBA Jam, it's more of an invested experience. If you don't take the time to learn the moves, you're not going to understand all the power ups, boosts and other things they've thrown in to make it more fun.

Pitching pretty fun. You have control of the speed, type of pitch and even the angle. Strike out enough batters, and you start getting fire pitches, which are even faster. This might be the first baseball game I've played in recent history where I actually enjoyed my time on the mound. I learned to mix up my pitches and saved those power pitches for the opponents that were the best hitters.

Fielding is a little difficult (especially with special items). Defense is actually what I hated most about the game. You have a couple of options for controlling your outfielders, but neither one works well enough to make it fun. First, there's manual...which has you running your individual guys towards the ball. This works, but not always as you expect it to. For folks who don't want to bother with that, there is an automatic (one handed) control scheme. The closest fielder will chase the ball and throw it to the correct base. All you do to trigger these events is shake to run and press the throw button. This feels too nerfed...and I wish there was a happy balance between the two.

The final ingredient of this game is quite possibly the most annoying. There are about a zillion special moves and special items you have to learn and use. To earn them, you have to charge your team up by doing well, and then you'll have a special item or a boost ready to go. They might be things like faster pitches (mentioned above), or a spiky shell to hurl out into the outfield to mess up the defense. Of course, that means there are also counters to learn. It's confusing, and frankly...I think the game was shaping up to be more fun without this stuff.

I played a few games using these basic ingredients and started to learn the ropes. First of all, your team actually matters. You don't just pick your favorite dudes from all the different Nintendo games, you need to pick characters that have "chemistry" with one another. If you have Mario and Bowser back to back in the lineup, they're not going to play well off of each other, but if you have him back to back with Peach or Yoshi, you might get a hitting bonus or something. This is a cool concept, but it also means that you often end up playing "Good guys against bad guys".

As you win games, you'll unlock more mario characters to add to the roster. I'm not sure how many there are, but it was already a fairly impressive roster to begin with, so I liked this feature. You start out on an island, and you can win your way to different fields. Many of the fields add different variables (like snow) that make the game completely different. There are also mini games you can play when you don't feel like playing full matches. There are three basic games (hitting, pitching, catching). Hitting is fun, pitching sucks, catching is too easy.

Overall Score? 5/10. I think this game could have been awesome, were it not for the complexity of the special moves and items. The sheer number of things you have to learn just to play this one ensures that you'll almost never have a pickup game with your buddies (unless they also own this title and have mastered it). That's a shame for a Mario game, they're usually the most accessible of all Nintendo titles. It's good....but I know damn well the only opponent I'd ever have would be the computer. Trying to share this one with my friends (or my nieces and nephews) would result in lopsided matches, or a lot of confusion on their part...as they tried to learn how to throw and defend against all the specials. In a sports game, that doesn't sound like fun to me, so this one is going back to Gamefly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Video game number three hundred and twenty seven: NBA Jam

Video game review number three hundred and twenty seven in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "NBA Jam"

No, this is not a review of the hit SNES game from 1994, there's a brand new game in town for the Xbox 360 (as well as the PS3 and Wii) and I had to try it out on launch night. This one does NOT disappoint.

One of the best things about the old NBA Jam games was that they were simple. Two on two basketball meant you didn't have to worry about passing to the right guy or setting up the proper defense. You simply picked a couple of the stars from your favorite team and had fun playing some extraordinary back and forth basketball.

The new game doesn't mess with the old formula. It's still two on two, it's still big stars (plus unlockable characters), and the goal is still to get as many baskets in a row as possible, trying to become "On fire". Once you reach that status, you can jump higher, shoot from further away...and of course, burn the basket with your fire ball. A smoke trail follows every shot. It's actually kind of awesome.

My first few games took place in the offline campaign. First, I took the tutorial and learned the new ropes. You can control the game with the sticks, or you can use the buttons. I went for the old school control, although I did give both methods a very fair try. I picked the Lakers (because they're the best team on my coast these days) and took them through the first series of 5 games. It was pretty easy to beat my opponents, although I did face a few tough moments where the computer had a lead and I had to recover. Eventually, I beat the entire Atlantic Division. There are 4 or 5 more divisions to tackle before you've unlocked everything.

I decided to try my hand at online play, but my opponent had clearly been playing the game for longer than the few hours I had spent with it, and he thoroughly kicked my ass. I was given a few "points" anyway, and my online profile was ranked up. I'll play some more offline before trying that again, but I like that there's a persistent profile to keep you playing.

Overall Score? 8/10. Easily my favorite basketball game in recent memory. It's fun to pick up and play, and to me...that's the kind of sports game I like. A lot of other games try to go the realism and simulation route, and that's all good...but sometimes, you just want to play a quick match on the couch with your buddies. That's the kind of game this will be.

Achievements? Only a few so far...but I'll keep playing.