Tag Archives: Microsoft

Hungry Shark Evolution wants you to experience life as a shark

hungry shark evolution

I know I’ve covered this before, but if your videogame has a ridiculously weird name, there’s an even greater chance that I’ll check it out. Which leads us to Hungry Shark Evolution, from Future Games of London and, strangely, Ubisoft, the powerhouse behind time-standing franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and Rayman. It’s okay to be curious; I know I was the minute I saw the name scroll by on my Windows 8 phone. However, after playing about fifteen to twenty minutes and not really getting anywhere great in this digital shark life of mine, I think this is one strange title that probably shouldn’t have surfaced. Hey, look at that…a totally unplanned Microsoft-themed pun!

The short of it is that, in Hungry Shark Evolution, which I’m playing on my Windows 8 phone, you are a shark that is very hungry. No, really. Like starving. Your hunger meter–which is basically your health bar–depletes extremely fast, and so the shark is never satisfied despite eating an entire school of fish in one gulp. Your goal is to survive as long as you can, which means constantly swimming around, looking for your next meal. This can be easy targets, like tiny fish that don’t fight back, or other sharks…or even unaware swimmers if you head towards the beachy area. Along the way, you can complete side objectives specific to each shark type, and these generally boil down to things like “eat four turtles” and “survive for at least six minutes.” Nothing terribly difficult, seeing as I have already unlocked one of the six total Achievements for the game:

1451797

Reef Shark (20G): Complete Super Mission 1 using Reef shark.


To complete the Super Mission, you have to first finish all the side missions and do whatever is asked of you next. For this, it was hitting a high score of 25,000 points. Not too hard. The other five Achievements are tied to the other five sharks–Mako, Hammerhead, Tiger, Great White, and Megaladon–which you unlock by first leveling up the prior shark to its fullest. I’ve got the Mako shark next on my evolve list.

The challenge in Hungry Shark Evolution comes from enemies, like sting rays, other sharks, scuba divers, etc, which attack you and significantly lower your food meter. I’ve found some enemy aquatic life harder to kill than others, specifically the sting rays, and if you miss on your first chomp, chances are the shark is taking a hit of health. If you go too long without eating something, that’s it. Your score and gold coins are added up, you watch your shark’s XP grow, and you get returned to the start mission menu, where you can enhance your shark’s swim, bite, and boost abilities, as well as purchase one-use items, accessories, and treasure maps. Some parts of the underwater map are also gated depending on what shark you are using; for example, the reef shark can only swim down so deep.

Much like in Throne Together, I’m finding my finger to be a hindrance to performing a great run. To move the shark, you simply press on the screen and move your finger in the direction you want it to swim. I find it easier to keep my finger in the middle of the screen, because if I move it too far over to the right then I risk the danger of hitting one of the buttons to return me to my phone’s home screen. Keeping it on the left means my wrist is now covering the screen. Again, my finger ends up obstructing a good portion of my view of the shark. Also, while moving with one finger, you can tap the screen with another finger to perform a boost of speed, which is easier said than done, considering I’m using my other hand to cradle the phone in place.

It’s a strange game, for sure. It looks nice, with cartoony, World of Warcraft-like graphics that help flesh out a colorful underwater realm. And it is teeming with puns, like when you eat a scuba diver, the words AQUALUNCH pop up, or VITAMIN SEA after gobbling up a bunch of fish. I think I even saw SUN SCREAM when you leap from the water onto the beach to steal away some clueless sun-tanner. As a cartoonist that lives and dies on pun-related humor, I can’t help but squeal and smile at all this. Goofy name and goofy humor currently outweigh all the free-to-play elements here, which, so far, are easy enough to ignore.

Life as a reef shark was fairly perfunctory, so I’m looking forward to what I can do as a Mako shark. At some point, I also need to Google whether Megaladon is a real shark or one from dinosaur times; it looks ridiculous.

The geometric world of Hexic definitely needed my help

hexic w8 phone screenshot

Are you a cats or dogs kind of person? If you must know, I’m a big fan of cats. For proof, here’s my two furry critters: Pixie and Timmy. And I’m not just throwing this question out here for any ol’ reason, but I think you could potentially use that common question and apply it to videogames as well, such as so: are you a Call of Duty or Battlefield kind of fan? Crash Team Racing or LittleBigPlanet Karting? Or, to get right down to it, are you a Bejeweled or Hexic kind of puzzler?

For me, I never really played much Bejeweled save for a round or two on Facebook when I had a few minutes to kill and wanted to see who else on my friends list was doing the same. I’m a Hexic man through and through, and I’m fine with that. Heck, the game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov of, y’know, Tetris fame, so it’s got some serious cred behind its creation. Anyways, Hexic HD came pre-installed on my original Xbox 360–which is still operating since mid-2009–and I played it a lot. Almost like a friendless fiend. No, really. I would come home from work on my lunch-break to eat and instead shove food into my mouth as fast as possible while I dangled a controller on my lap and stared at a screen of tiles, analyzing the scenario and seeing which ones to turn next. Eventually, I moved away from Hexic HD as the remaining Achievements seemed nigh impossible to unlock, and they still do some five years later, but it remains a fun memory.

But Microsoft knows I’m still their unconditional, unwavering Hexic man, releasing a version for both Windows 8 and the Windows 8 phone for me to eat up. Naturally, I played the latter, and while it is far from perfect, it’s been a great little game to eat up ten to fifteen minutes every day as I progressed through all of its 100 levels. For those that don’t know how it plays, you are trying to rotate hexagonal tiles to create certain patterns and clear spaces on the board or create special tiles that have various effects. This time around, the mobile version sets different goals for each level, like hit X amount of points or destroy all of the dark tiles in X number of moves. It’s more goal-driven, which works in its favor for gaming on the go.

There’s also a bit of story, with a blue-faced tile encouraging you forward. It’s light and thin stuff, but it is nice to read some cutesy–if throwaway–dialogue between rounds and learn about how certain power-ups work.

Now for the negatives. Hoo boy.

Hexic is a free-to-play game that asks you, pretty frequently, to spend real money. Either on special boosters or extra lives. See, you get five lives–also know as five chances not to fail a level–and they refresh themselves over time. I think it’s maybe around 20 to 25 minutes for one new life to be gained. If you run out of lives, but want to keep playing and can’t wait around, well…the game has a store button for you. I’m not one to ever get involved in microtransactions, and let it be known that you can complete every level in the game without spending a real U.S. dollar; granted, I probably would’ve been finished with the game a month or so ago if I had, but there is nothing wrong with making something last. Patience is a plus.

The game also ends up crashing a lot, seemingly for no real reason. The first few times I chalked it up to how I was holding the phone and maybe I accidentally bumped the back arrow or something. Nope, not it. You’ll be doing well, making combos and gaining a high score, and suddenly you are kicked from the game back to your phone’s main screen. A straight dump. What’s even more frustrating is that when you log back in to play, the life you were just on is gone, and so not only did you mess up a good run, but you’re down one life. Knowing this also helped fuel my desire to never spend a single dime on extra BS because I had to now live and play in constant fear of crashes.

I haven’t uninstalled Hexic from my phone just yet, but I really think I might be done with my tile-turning time. For now. There’s maybe one or two more Achievements I could possibly go after, but the remainder seem to require some hard-earn money to get close to, and while I love Hexic, I don’t love it that much.

Crackdown was goofy fun, but instilled fear to protect the populace

crackdown_review

Crackdown has an uninspired story, dated graphics, wonky controls, and yet remains a decent blast to play some seven years thanks to its open-endedness and the freedom it gives the player to do whatever they want, in whatever order is desired. It’s been a great game for picking up and playing a little bit, and then putting down for a few months while other more narrative-driven videogames demand my time. Recently, I put my nose to the grindstone and took out gang leader after gang leader, eventually wiping Pacific City clean of baddies. No, really–the entire post-game map seems to be void of anyone to punch, shoot, or blow up, which kind of throws a wrench into my progress for a few desirable Achievements.

Again, there’s very little story here, except to say that you’re a supercop working for the Agency who can grow in strength over time by punching, shooting, exploding, and driving just right. Meaning, no going all Grand Theft Auto III and killing an entire street’s worth of civilians, as that’ll actually take away from your level up progression. You are tasked with taking out racist-themed gang leaders and their subsequent goons, and that’s all the story you get for 95% of the game–until right after you finish the final fight. Sorry, but I’m going to have to spoil the twist here to prove a point: your commander, y’know, that directions-giving voice in your head, reveals that he was the one to give so much power to these gangs, to make the populace fear them and be grateful for when the Agency came sweeping through to save the day. It’s not far off from Syndrome’s plan in The Incredibles, and the twist comes out of nowhere and immediately fails because there’s no substantial story actually backing it up. You spend the whole game killing gang leaders, and the ending still would have fallen flat if your commander simply congratulated you and shot fireworks into the night sky.

Crackdown is basically a mix of shooting and platforming, and neither of the two felt stupendous throughout my entire playthrough. Certainly, the jumping is more fun and tighter than the shooting, which gave me a lot of trouble, especially when I was trying to target a different armed enemy, but it kept locking on the one closest to me. That said, jumping from building roof to building roof, even with upgrades to increase the height and length of a leap, still proved a gamble, and I found myself falling to the boring streets below quite often. When you can nail a string of rooftop jumps, it does feel pretty awesome and superhero-like. Overall, the shooting never felt effective, as if you were blasting walking bags of sand until, eventually, they fell down.

There are a few side activities to occupy your time while you move between gang leaders, and they are as so: Agility Orbs, Hidden Orbs, Street Races, Rooftop Races, and Stunt Jumps. Let’s get this out of the way first; I did maybe one or two Street Races/Stunt Jumps and immediately decided to never do them again. Since the driving in the game is so arcade-y and unpredictable, these two activities proved more trouble than fun. As for Rooftop Races, they can be a good time so long as you are upgraded enough to leap here and there. I ended up doing one that brought the Agent all the way back to HQ, but couldn’t finish the race because it was asking me to climb to the tippy-top. Boo and grrr.

Now, for a lot of players, Crackdown is Agility Orbs. These are green glowing balls of light, often on roofs, which you can collect. There are…500 in total. When you get a certain amount, your jumping skills increase, so they are a collectible worth going after, but be prepared, as there are 500 in total, and they do not appear on your map. You gotta keep your eyes and ears open for ‘em. By the end of the game, I had found 400+. Oh, and there are something like 300 Hidden Orbs–blue balls of light that provide a boost of experience to all of the Agent’s abilities–and I had only grabbed around 75 or so by Crackdown‘s conclusion. I don’t think I’ll be going back to track down anymore despite the collector in me screaming otherwise.

Alas, I can only imagine how much more fun and amazing this was in 2007, but Microsoft gave out a free copy of Crackdown for Gold users only recently, and so I’m playing it in a completely different industry era. Times have changed, controls have changed, and standards are a bit higher. It’s fine, truly, but games like inFamous 2 improved on the formula greatly. Well, I’m glad I got to at least experience it, knowing that a new one is forthcoming. Speaking of that…

Recently, thanks to the E3 news that a new Crackdown is on its way, Jeremy Parish from USGamer put together a retrospective on the original game that is very much worth your time.

You can play Happy Wars for free, but it might not make you happy

In a dramatic twist, Happy Wars came out over the weekend with little promotion from Microsoft. Considering it’s a free-to-play tower defense game, where the real income stems from players buying new weapons, armor, and accessories with actual money–well, real money converted into Microsoft Points ridiculously converted a second time into Happy Tickets–you’d think they’d want to let people know the thing exists. Instead, I learned about it from a forum post on Giant Bomb, and then had to sift through menus (and submenus!) to figure out where to download it from. Not ideal, I assure you, and considering I just watched Indie Game: The Movie the other night, placement on the e-marketplace is vital. Especially around launch time.

Happy Wars is a free-to-play tower defense game, with a single player story and online multiplayer matches. War has broken out between…uh, people that dress in white, and people that dress in black. Or something like that. That’s the overall gist, but some story-based missions focus on other topics, like a stolen princess or a mad scientist and his army of crazy red robots. Cute, cartoony graphics help emphasize the happy part of these wars, as does most of the loot, such as a sword made from a dead fish, a flower petal shield, and a stat-boosting pencil you can stick in your avatar’s hair. The look of the game is not going to astound you, but it won’t also annoy you, being just right for this sort of experience of capturing spawn points, building deadly turrets, and using class-based action skills. Reminds me a bit of Quarrel and Costume Quest and something else.

If you don’t remember, tower defense is not one of my favorite gaming genres. It’s a lot of building and waiting until one side tips the scale just enough to wash over their forces. So that part is kind of boring to me, but there are some aspects here that I do like. Such as leveling up items, earning loot, and completing mini challenges during a match. Of the three classes–warrior, cleric, mage–I prefer being a warrior, rushing into the thick of things and using thrown stones to stun opponents before I cut them to pieces. The other classes all have their uses, but I’m not terribly comfortable with them just yet. Give me time. Plus, of those three, I have the better equipment so far for the warrior. Also, the roulette wheel called the Spinner is a wonderful way to spend all your hard-earned Happy Stars; just like in Borderlands 2 with their slot machines, I can’t resist testing my luck. It is a nice feature for those that don’t want to spend really money on item packs to try and get something better for their characters.

There are some problems though. The single player experience is severely hampered by a strange level rank restriction. You beat the first story mission, and you are immediately slapped in the face with a note that says you can only play the next story mission once you’ve achieved a rank of 6 or higher. You can only increase your rank, from what I can tell, in multiplayer matches. Seems simple enough; however, the problem continues from there. Not sure if it just had to do with server issues or initial launch problems, but connecting to an online match or getting one started from the ground up was extremely hit or miss for me. My system kept trying to “connect with Xbox Live…” over and over again before ultimately booting me out of matches that looked promising. I did eventually get a few games in after many attempts, but once you beat the second story mission–made up of two smaller missions really–you are again told you can’t continue playing solo stuff until your rank is 11 or higher. Eep. Back to multiplayer, I guess. Either way, this experience is fairly frustrating, only softened by the fact that I did not pay any more for this game or give it any money so far. Maybe the online matchmaking will shake itself out over the next week or so.

Oh, and free game means free Achievements, none of which have been too tricky to unlock:


First Victory (10G): Get 1 victory in any game session


The Legend Begins (10G): Receive mention in Hero Pop-up in a Quick Match or Co-op mode


Mod 0 (10G): Level-up an item


Rich Man (10G): Get 30 items

I’m not having a great time or a terrible time, but I’d also like to see more of the game before calling it quits. Especially the single player missions, as I don’t have to rely on anyone but myself to get the job done. If you’re on Xbox 360, definitely give this a try, as it won’t cost you anything but a download. Just be aware that after the tutorial and training missions, you’ll be locked out of most content until you can up your rank, and getting online matches to connect is consistently wishy-washy at the moment.

As Happy Wars is the first dip into free-to-play games for Microsoft’s platform, it’ll be interesting to see just how long this war really lasts. I think there’s promise here, some good and bad, but maybe not enough hooks to really keep a crowd coming back. Or I could be completely wrong. Again, these sorts of gaming experiences are generally not for me. Time will surely tell.

Nice to meet you, 20,000 Gamerscore

So, I used to have this little widget thing over in my sidebar that kept track of my Achievements and recently played games. It was a nice thing to have, a quick reminder of where I sat Gamerscore-wise. However, I guess Microsoft recently updated its system, changing the way players’ gamercards looked, and all the code in my widget got thrown for a wild ride. In short, it ended up looking like this hot mess:

Don’t y’all just love my new hair color? Matches my eyes, I’m told.

Anyways, this wasn’t very upsetting, and I figured it would either fix itself in due time or I’d go looking for a new widget. No rush, no rush at all. Except, suddenly, without warning, there was a great need to make sure the world could see my Gamerscore! Great need indeed.

Last night, while playing some Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I noticed that I was sitting comfy at 19,990 Gamerscore, ten points off from a perfectly pretty whole number. Well, looks like I had a new mission to accomplish then, one not involving finding treasure or assassinating bad dudes or even burning Borgia towers.

Scanning the list of still-locked Achievements in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I found only two worth 10 Gamerscore points exactly. One involved using a parachute, which I did not have yet, and the other required me to win some hand-to-hand fights. I knew exactly where that took place, headed over via the lovely fast-traveling tunnel entrances, fought my way through five easy rounds, and unlocked the following with little challenge:


The Gloves Come Off (10G): Win the highest bet at the Fights.

Mmm. So, math time! 19,990 plus 10 equals…uh…hmm. Hold on. Let me get some scratch paper. Let’s see. Carry the…one, and times everything by the denominator. Factor in the ratio of pi versus the radius. Wait, wait. No, I got it! It’s 20,000 Gamerscore! Look, look, thanks to the widget brainiacs over at mygamercard.net:

Sure, pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but I have fun paying attention to it all. In fact, if any of my dear readers will recall, I was also able to perfectly achieve 10,000 Gamerscore when the time came near. Can’t wait for 30,000 Gamerscore to show up next!

Gift cards, and Microsoft Points, and bears! Oh, my!

I have a love/hate relationship with gift cards. Many people probably find them to be the greatest gift ever in that they can now go out and buy anything. I have the exact opposite problem; with a gift card, I can now go out and buy anything. That anything, in my mind, is really anything, an extremely broad selection that comprises books, movies, games, art supplies, clothes, food, and so on.

That said, I’ve had an Amazon gift card sitting in my desk drawer since last Christmas. You know, that holiday from six months yonder. Yeah, I’m just not good at spending those things, and I guess I was waiting for something to really grab my attention, but it hasn’t yet. So I instead used it to–and here comes the irony–to buy 1600 Microsoft Points (MSP) for Xbox Live. Yes, I used a gift card to essentially buy another gift card. Do you dare ask why?

Well, there’s a special deal going on this week to get Peggle at 50% off, meaning 400 Microsoft Points. This deal is only good for Gold members, which I just currently happen to be. I’ve always been interested in the colorful, bubbly addictive puzzle since I played the trial version, and the deal was too good to pass up.

But now I have a problem. I have 1200 MSP remaining, and just like I had trouble spending my Amazon gift card, I’m struggling to decide what to do with them. I could get three more 400 MSP games, or an 800 MSP and a 400 MSP combo, or I could buy some add-ons to games already in my collection (i.e., Borderlands, GTA IV, Mass Effect). I’m not really interested in wasting the points on TV shows, Avatar items, or silly things like themes and gamerpics. So, any ideas? I heard Braid is pretty good, currently priced at 800 MSP. I guess I could ultimately hold on to them and wait for something else to come out (will LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 have DLC? I doubt it), but then I’m just doing what I’ve always done with these things: procrastinating.

One thing I know is that I most certainly will not be buying the Midnight Show DLC for The Saboteur despite how much fun I’m having with the game. The comment at the end of The First Hour‘s review of the game seals the deal; I’m not playing The Saboteur for the nudity, I’m playing it to blow up Nazis and sabotage the bleep out of enemy headquarters.

But yeah. I need ideas for Xbox Live games. Remember, I have 1200 to spend. Please don’t suggest anything that is solely multiplayer as who knows how long I will keep my Gold account locked in. Thanks in advance! Phooey on you in advance too if you suggest nothing.

Fable III has been announced

fableIII

See the announcement and its details here.

No, you did not leave the kettle on the stove by accident. That sound is my girlish cry of joy at its highest screech–can’t wait to rule Albion! Anyone that does not bow to my dog will be tossed off the nearest parapet!