Monthly Archives: March 2010

Super Effective…is super effective!

That was an easy blog post title if I ever came across one.

As you dear blog readers are aware, I’m just now getting into Pokémon thanks to HeartGold. And you know what that means? Super Effective, the side comic from VG Cats‘ Scott, finally makes much more sense to me. It’s a funny stab at the game’s world and characters. Check out the first comic below, and then head on over to hit up the archives:

Hopefully it’ll be updated again soon (and more regularly).

REVIEW: SimCity DS

Right. I recently gave SimCity DS a second chance and reviewed the first 30 minutes of it for The First Hour. Alas, it’s still not a good game, nor will it ever be. Clunky menus, unforgiving controls, and globby goo graphics hamper the entire experience. I have no plans of ever going back…

You can read my full review of SimCity DS by clicking on this very sentence! Click, click, click!

First stroll with the Pokewalker is a success

I’ve been wanting to try out the Pokewalker since I got HeartGold, but it rained all day yesterday. So I figured I’d bring it to work in my pocket, fully knowing that since I work in an office and sit at a desk for 90% of the day there would be few steps taken. I loaded in my LV. 2 Spinarak nicknamed Aragog since he’s my lowest level critter at the moment and not very strong. See:

Don’t frown, buddy! Anyways, after eight hours I’d taken a total of 2,837 steps, a number that surprised me. Guess it’s all the back-and-forth to the copier. What’s neat is that stuff is happening when you’re not even paying attention, which is nice. While walking, your Pokemon accumulates Watts. You then use these Watts to play two mini-games and open up new paths to stroll down. The one mini-game has you searching bushes for wild Pokemon, and I ended up catching a Duduo. You can also play a dowsing/guessing game for hidden items. When all is said and done, I zipped Aragog back into my DS, and all the items and Pokemon I’d caught came with him. Then he went up a level. Easy peasy.

The device definitely works, and it’s something I look forward to exploring more. If I can get a level a day for my Pokemon while at work, that’s not too shabby. Playing the game without playing it, y’know. I’ll take it.

Also, sidenote, I know nothing about Pokemon and who is good to use and who is a waste to level up. Any tips are greatly welcomed.

Nintendo announces the Nintendo 3DS, and I am mad

No, no, no nonnononono NO!

That is my gut reaction to the news that Nintendo has announced the successor to its Nintendo DS system, and that it will be all about 3D gaming. I’m sure we all remember how well the Virtual Boy fared. Regardless, I’m more put off that there seems to be a…market for 3D gaming. I just can’t get its appeal. The portable platform will somehow offer 3D gaming without the need for 3D glasses, a first I think. However, I am and will always be more interested in games than gimmicks.

P.S. I blame Avatard for all of this.

PURCHASE OF THE MONTH: Pokémon HeartGold Version

Okay, this is going to need some explanation.

Ever since enjoying the badunkadunk out of Monster Rancher, I’ve always had a soft spot for creature-raising gameplay. It’s addictive, and there’s a sense of fatherly pride upon seeing one’s little critter grow stronger and more powerful. That said, Pokémon has never appealed to me. I will freely admit that I watched the cartoon show now and again back in the day, mostly as background noise, and therefor know some of the basics of the world, but otherwise…I stayed away.

But then I started noticing a lot of gamers falling in love with Pokémon. Some were my age, some were older. Was I missing out on something great just because I scoffed at it as nothing more than a child’s plaything? I’m actually a very open-minded man hobbit, but I wanted a better consensus on the state of things. I asked via Twitter if there were any Pokémon-fashioned games out there for the Nintendo DS worth pursuing? I got two answers: Bakugan Battle Brawlers and Dragon Quest Monsters. Of them, DQM seemed to be a better fit for me so I headed to the local GameStop over the weekend…

…to purchase Chrono Trigger!

See, while browsing, my eyes get real big and I suddenly see a bunch of games I want to play and quickly forget why I journeyed outside that day. So, seeing that Chrono Trigger was a cool $20 and knowing the sad fact that I’ve only ever played an emulation of it and even then gave up pretty early because I loathe playing games on the computer, I marched up to the counter, ready to make a deal. And then it happened:

Clerk: Hmm, I’m really sorry, but I can’t find any copies. We don’t have any more in stock right now.
Me:
Clerk: Did you know that Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver just came out?
Me:
Clerk: They’re pretty great.
Me: …tell me…more.

And so, yes, the salesman did his sale thing and got me. In actuality, as silly as it sounds, the Pokéwalker, the pedometer that comes with Pokémon HeartGold, was what intrigued me most. I already enjoy going for walks after work, and now these walks can count double for me: 1) being healthy and 2) leveling up my monsters. Can’t knock a game for trying to get its players to be active.

I’m definitely interested to see if this will get me addicted hard and good, or if I will play for a bit and just find it so-so. I already named one of my fire Pokémon…Balrog, and care for him deeply. So, y’know, that’s good.

SEGA Superstars Tennis is a great videogame to play when you don’t want to play a videogame

Hmm…longest blog post title yet for Grinding Down?

Well, let me explain a bit.

Lately, I’ve been playing a good number of what I refer to as “heavy” games. These are the often emotionally draining experiences that take hours upon hours to complete, let alone get into. Examples include BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, and Fallout 3. In fact, I actually stopped playing BioShock for about a month because I couldn’t handle the pressure of not knowing where every enemy was and when it would attack me and omg what made that sound. Eventually I got over this, but still, it was a game I had to really be in the mood for, except at the end when I just rushed through to kill that horribly done final boss. However, sometimes I just want to mindlessly play a videogame; y’know, tap buttons until it is time to go to bed.

So I have a few of these cuts that I keep on the side to play when I need a mental breather. I’ll talk about the others later on, but for now enter…SEGA Superstars Tennis. I bought this game used for $4.99, and it’s everything I thought it would be. You play as Sonic (or select from a range of other SEGA-owned characters) and you play tennis. You can also select to not play tennis and enter a world of odd yet highly varied mini-games that will unlock music tracks and bonus levels. This is where I’ve been spending most of my time.

The mini-games all use the tennis court layout, but their objectives are all different. On the House of the Dead court, you’ll play a Space Invaders-like game, hitting zombie targets as they draw closer to you; the Jet Set Radio court puts you to the task of “tagging” graffiti; Super Monkey Ball is all about hitting balls into hoops for points, and the Puyo Puyo court involves you saving tiny critters by getting them into rockets via moving arrows. Just to name a few.

The nature of these mini-games are why SEGA Superstars Tennis is a solid videogame to play when you don’t want to play a videogame. For most of them, you barely have to do much other than hit A and steer the ball in the right direction. Get a grade of an “A” or higher and you unlock the next mission, stage, music track, and so on. It is constantly rewarding you for playing, which is effective. And some (not all) of the music tracks are really great. I’d constantly find myself trying to keep a volley session going between myself and Ulala (from Space Channel 5) just to hear the whole tune.

But yeah, for around five bucks, it’s an excellent filler between those heavy gaming sessions, one that I welcome every time. Alas, I’m almost done with every mission. Gotta look for another cheapy title to fill the void eventually.

This is difficult to write about, or Dragon Age: Origins is hard

Recently, with Dragon Age: Origins, I found myself doing something I can’t recall ever doing with another videogame. I changed the difficulty…from Normal to Casual.

This decision stemmed from playing the same scenario over and over again to no success; it was not the first Ogre fight as depicted above, but rather a small fight while on the quest for the urn of Andraste’s ashes, where two mages and a group of soldiers slaughtered my team each and every time. I even tried switching up combat tactics, but to no avail. I found myself unable to move forward in the game, and I couldn’t pinpoint why. Did I lack the skills? Is Dragon Age: Origins grossly unbalanced? Is it a mix of both questions?

It was not something I wanted to do, trust me. I want to play games as they are intended to be played. In my mind, this is how it works: Casual is a setting for those that can’t cut it, Normal is how the developers expect you to experience their creation, and Hard is for masochists. Rarely do I go up or down, always comfortable in the middle. I even maintained the same difficulty setting through Mass Effect and BioShock, eventually learning to save often and get better.

But the combat tactics are hard to manage and mostly unreliable, with Alistair constantly charging straight to his death no matter what I try, and the difficulty spikes in Dragon Age: Origins are about as predictable as picking the next set of winning lottery numbers (4 8 15 16 23 42). I’d end up using every last healing potion on one fight, and then have to desperately crawl my way on a wing and a prayer through the remainder. It made for tough, frustrating times, and was all around just not a lot of fun.

And I wanted to have fun, see more Ferelden. Thanks to Casual, I have. But I wish it didn’t to have to come to such drastic measures.

IMPRESSIONS: Just Cause 2

The demo for Just Cause 2 is undeniably the most open demo I’ve experienced so far. You are shown a mini cutscene kind of explaining why Rico Rodriguez is heading to the fictional tropical island of Panau in Southeast Asia. And then, well…you have 30 minutes to do whatever you want.

The developers would love (and reward you) if you devoted the next half hour of gaming to causing as much chaos as possible. The demo features an area of 35 square miles located in the desert, with light aircraft and many civilian and military vehicles available. There’s plenty to see and do…and destroy.

Controls take a bit getting used to, especially the grappling hook. I wasn’t comfortable using it until about 20 minutes had passed, and then I was zipping from building to building, car to car, tree to tree. It made getting out of tough situations a breeze, and using it to take down guards is fun and imaginative.

Right, back to causing chaos. Love that this is Just Cause 2‘s currency, and that the player is rewarded for going ape-shit. Since it took me awhile to get the hang of parachuting and moving from zone to zone, I caused very little chaos during my 30 minutes. Some chaos, mind you, but not enough to make newspaper headlines. Will try harder next time to, y’know, maybe hook a guard to a moving car and then crash it into some water tanks while parachuting off it to safety some many yards away. Amazingly, that’s all very possible.

Anyways, it’s a refreshing demo, one that I can see myself heading back into again and again to try out new stuff. Not sure if the full game would be for me as a lot of open-world games lose their appeal early on, but this is perfect for getting a feel for the game’s nuances and desires. Let the chaos continue!

Puzzle Quest 2: Electric Boogaloo

After attempting to win over the galaxies, the fun and addictive Bejeweled-to-the-extreme puzzle game is back…with Puzzle Quest 2! Don’t believe me? Well, check out this debut trailer:

As the vid shows, the basics are all there. You will travel around a map–though this one is much more detailed and Diablo-like, fighting monsters via matching gems. Spells get animations, and there’s loot to be earned. Even if they didn’t add new stuff to Puzzle Quest 2, I’d still want to play it. Because I’m a fiend, people. A gem-flopping fiend.

However, try as I might, I’ve yet to beat Lord Bane from Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Can never get the upper hand on him and his “oh, let me take eight turns in a row and do 79 damage to you, too” tendencies. And now his generic yet profound name finally makes sense.

Watch me flout the Spirit Flute

I’ve progressed further with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, now ready to tackle the Sand Temple, but man oh man…it’s been a struggle. A struggle to not throw my Nintendo DS across the room out of frustration, that is. See, a lot of reviews have complained about how boring riding the train is versus the shippy freedom of The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass and that traveling between towns and temples is such a chore. It is. But here’s the biggest problem with Link’s latest outing:

Yup, music.

Actually, the music in Spirit Tracks is pretty good. It’s bouncy and bubbly when it needs to be, dark and alarming when enemies show up, and soft and ethereal during Zelda’s many musing moments. The trouble is with the Spirit Flute. This device is used in two ways. The first is to play tiny little riffs that will do a variety of things in-game: awaken statues, call birds, heal yourself, shine a beam of light, and find treasure. The other use is to open up hidden tracks by playing a duet with a Lokomo, which are minions of Satan. Er, not really. They are on our side, I think, but sure make Link work hard for their help.

Anyways, each time you meet a Lokomo, the songs get harder and more complex. You can practice all you want, but there’s no thumbs up/thumbs down to let you know you’re even close to playing it correctly. Do I hold this note longer than the previous one? Is it okay to accidentally hit another colored note? When should I start playing, when the notes light up or after the Lokomo stops? It’s a guessing game in the end.

So, after the eighteenth time of unsuccessfully jamming along with Rael, I had to put Spirit Tracks down and look up a video on YouTube, something I hate to do. Evidently, based on this vid, I was playing the song too well. You need to mess up a bit to get it right, not hold every note, just sputter a bit here, miss a beat there. Ugh.

I really pray that this was the last duet song of the game. My mind and lungs just can’t take any more…