Category Archives: review

2012 Game Review Haiku, #4 – Blackwell Unbound

Poor Auntie Lauren
Stressed over sad saxophones
A medium smokes

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #3 – The Blackwell Legacy

Rosa gets a guide
Too bad it’s a pushy ghost
The start of it all

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #2 – Chrono Trigger

Fine traveling time
With friends, foes, and turn-based fights
Lavos is no more

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Games Completed in 2011, #35 – Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

Initially, my mother bought Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars for her Nintendo DS. I thought it might be something she’d like, a mix of puzzles and story, with a laid-back pace and friendly presentation to it, and so I suggested it. Alas, my suggestion was wrong, as I discovered during one trip home that she never got further than the first few screens before giving up. I asked to borrow it, always curious about the point-and-clicker. After playing some, I could see why she struggled–the puzzles were a little tricky, and a lot of figuring out where to go next was based, at least for me, on stumbling rather than solving. But I continued on, in sparse chunks, because I’d get stuck a lot and move on to something shinier. Eventually I wrapped up the plot, earning George a silly smooch and me another game for my Games Completed in 2011 list.

The plot can be summed up like this: American tourist George Stobbart is chasing down a clown after he sets off an explosion outside a Paris café. As simple as that sounds, things eventually get out of control, and George finds himself, along with journalist Nico Collard, deep in a conspiracy involving the Knights Templar.

Gameplay involves using the stylus to tap around the bottom DS touchscreen for things/people to investigate, pick up, or  tinker with. When it comes to chatting, there’s chatting. Plenty of it. George is a confident and socializing sorta chap, and has something to say for everything. The same can be said about the NPCs in Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, as every single character George spoke to reacted differently to the used tissue he was carrying, and at that point, the item was mostly meaningless, just a thing in his pocket. In that way, the writing is fantastic, with an attention to detail and actual facts of history and making characters really feel unique, even if George himself got creepy now and then.

This version is actually the Director’s Cut, which features new puzzles and then some new animations by artist Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen legend). Considering I’ve never played any previous version of Broken Sword, I couldn’t tell new from old, but it all looked great. The character portraits when speaking with someone offer up a wide amount of expression and detail, and pixel-hunting isn’t made all the much harder by low-res and dark screens; locations, which range from France to Ireland to Syria to Scotland, are colorful and designed to be navigated through with the touch of a style. You can press down on a selectable item or place to get more options, such as observe, talk, pick up, and so forth.

At one point in Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, George comes to own a hand buzzer. It’s a prank item, intended to give someone a little shock after shaking his hand. You can select it as a topic of discussion with everyone, but nobody ever falls for it–that is until a certain someone does. Saying any more would be spoilery, but man, it was pretty great to finally see the buzzer in action. The game is peppered with these wonderful moments, where an item you’ve been carrying around for days finally shows its quality.

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is intelligent and brimming with charm, telling a story that is, many years later, fresh and gripping. Take that, The Da Vinci Code! There are moments of frustration in terms of cryptic puzzles or lack of a clear destination, but those are easily rewarded with new, fantastic characters to converse and unexplored content. I think it works well on the Nintendo DS as a portable game, thanks to a “save any time” feature, and George’s notepad is great for catching up on all things plot after disappearing for too long of a time. I definitely recommend it for fans of Monkey Island or Sam & Max, or if you’re a history buff; I now know more about the Knights Templar than ever before.

FIRST HOUR REVIEW – Suikoden III

Hey, remember when I drank a bunch of Felix Felicis and found a copy of Suikoden III recently? And then remember when I told the world how scared I was to even play it? Well, I finally did it. Play, that is. For sixty minutes and then some. Even took notes. You can read all about discolored used game discs, getting lost in the smallest village ever, and duck soldiers over at The First Hour.

I’ve played past Suikoden III‘s first hour, too. Thanks to Sergeant Joe, Hugo was able to schedule a meeting with the people doing business in Vinay del Zexay’s council building, but we have to wait at least a day; until then, the capital is ours for the exploring, and it’s a pretty big place, with lots of shops and citizens to speak with. Alas, Hugo’s not rich, so there’s not much to do. I’m guessing at some point I’ll sleep at an inn and go back for that meeting. At some point…

But yeah. Again, please check out my coverage of Suikoden III‘s first hour from Hugo’s chapters.

Games Completed in 2011, #34 – The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures Anniversary Edition

This year marked the momentous 25th anniversary for The Legend of Zelda franchise. Nintendo celebrated with elaborate symphonies, commercials purporting that Robin Williams and his pixie-haired daughter Zelda Williams gamed together, and a free copy of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures for those rocking a Nintendo 3DS. Hey, I’m one of those! A 3DS owner, that is. Not Robin or Zelda Williams. Snartleblast, I know.

Some history first. Four Swords Adventures was originally for the Nintendo GameCube and, while containing a lot of familiar faces and gameplay aspects, was a little different than Link’s previously traditional treks to save the princess. This time, it was all about multiplayer chaos, with multiple Links having to work together to solve puzzles and at the same time trying to one-up each other in terms of collecting the most rupees. If you had friends and a lot of systems/cables, you had a solid Friday night. I never got to play it way back when, but it sounds like a fantastic party game, with plenty of room for hijinks and backstabbing.

The 3DS version–well, it’s actually available as a piece of DSiWare, meaning gamers with either/or system can play–was redesigned slightly to include a single-player mode, as well as new enemies, maps, and puzzles. Thank goodness for this. I’m sure many of us went into the freebie with high hopes of playing with friends over WiFi, but the 3DS is still not a great system for online play. I have one person on my 3DS friends list that I know also downloaded the game, but for us to communicate and set up a gaming time session would probably be more hassle than fun. So yeah, more like The Legend of Zelda: One Sword Adventures. Eh…Two Swords, really.

If you don’t have anyone to play with and you’re going the single-player route, the game tosses in a second controllable Link. If you’re familiar with using the Phantom Knight from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for solving puzzles then you’ll pick up the pace pretty fast here. A lot of switching and throwing each other at levers. Strangely, at the end of each level, the game still tallies how much your Link earned rupees-wise versus how much the second Link did. Either way…um, you’re a winner. Unless you picked up too many rupoors.

So, there’s three main worlds to traverse across, split up into different levels. I’d say that each averages around 15 minutes to complete. End bosses have a pattern to discover, and there’s also a main end boss who is not named Ganon. Sure, it’s weird, but it is what it is. After completing the game, a new world opens up, the Realm of Memories, letting Link hop into theme-based worlds of Zelda yore. The one based around A Link to the Past is simply fantastic, mainly from a visual standpoint. I am now just daydreaming about getting a 3D version of it down the line. It’s okay, Nintendo. You can charge e-money for it; I’ll pay. Oh, I’ll pay.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was a free download, and I had a good time playing it. Alas, I’m not getting the mileage from it that Nintendo probably hoped for, but it’s a great experience nonetheless. Get it before it stops being free.

FIRST HOUR REVIEW – LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7

Too depressed to do anything other than link you to my coverage of the first hour from LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7. Tara joins in on the fun and makes some classy comments. Hope you enjoy!

Games Completed in 2011, #33 – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

This took some time, but I finally got around to writing down all my multifarious thoughts about Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game that did not turn out like I’d hoped. Head over to The First Hour to read, read, read.

It was hard to assign the game a numerical score, something I don’t like doing in general, but I think 7 gets the point across–by no means is this a horrible, excruciating experience. Adam Jensen’s journey through a bleak and fascinating future to find answers is quite good, but marred by many elements and too much frustration for players that enjoy going the ninja route. Re-reading, I see that I actually forgot to talk about some other things in the review, such as the hacking mini-game and the augmentation that lets Jensen read personalities and whether or not someone is lying (this was not used enough, honestly). Oh well. No re-loading now.

Actually, I’m hoping to not have to write about Deus Ex: Human Revolution for awhile. Kind of burnt out on it. As promised at the bottom of the review, I do plan to go through it one more time, guns locked and loaded, but with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 dropping in just four days, that might not happen any time soon. Fine by me, really.

Right, another game done for 2011. Oh, and thanks, Greg!

Games Completed in 2011, #31 – Fallout: New Vegas, Lonesome Road DLC

Fallout: New Vegas‘s side-stories had to end somewhere, and I guess the Divide, a landscape ripped apart by frequent earthquakes, violent storms, and heavy amounts of radiation, is rather fitting, especially since it plays home to the original courier tasked to deliver the Platinum Chip, the one that put a hole in your head. All throughout the vanilla game’s adventure and earlier DLC packs, hints have been dropped about this mysterious Ulysses, forcing curiosity upon the cat, making us wonder just why he refused that infamous job. When Ulysses actually reaches out to the Courier via a Pip-Boy message, one certainly feels compelled to head after him and get some freakin’ answers. So long as you can survive the journey there, that is…

It’s easy to call Lonesome Road linear, as that’s exactly what roads are–lines from one point to another, with guardrails and medians to prevent you from getting off track. Unfortunately, the Fallout franchise is at its worst when its restrictive; compare Operation: Anchorage to Point Lookout, Dead Money to Old World Blues. Walking forward is never thrilling, but unfortunately that’s the only way to get to Ulysses. So off you go, but you better have plenty of medicine for radiation and a healthy stock of weapons as the denizens of the Divide are truly nasty. Deathclaws, marked men, and tunnelers will keep you on your toes, and there’s a lot of rads to deal with. The DLC is recommended for higher level players, and that’s definitely some astute advice to follow. Luckily, you don’t have to go alone; while you can’t actually bring your New Vegas companions with you, shortly into the Divide you do pick up a modifiable ED-E, and while he’s not stellar during combat sessions, his upbeat/downtrodden beeping at least keeps you grounded. Also, you learn that you’ve probably been pronouncing his name wrong this whole time.

My biggest complaint about the DLC is with the big man himself, Ulysses. At several checkpoints, he will use ED-E to talk to you, and these chats can seemingly go on for hours. His cryptic dialogue and odd, slow drawl are to blame; some of what he has to say is important, but only if you can read between the lines. It’s like pulling teeth, and towards the end of Lonesome Road I was so fed up with these parts that I began rushing through dialogue trees so that I could shoot him in the face. Whereas the Burned Man in Honest Hearts was a disappointment for not talking enough and living up to the legend, Ulysses digs his own grave–slowly, methodically, fatefully.

The package felt a lot like this: walk forward, shoot some dudes, listen to Ulysses, repeat. There are not many nooks to explore, and there is only one way to go. The final battle was a little unfair too, but that might be because I picked to hurt Ulysses instead of team up with him. Might try that on my next stroll through, whenever that happens.

Lonesome Road‘s best perks are the updates to ED-E, the +5 to your level cap, and that your gear is not stripped at the beginning of the add-on. Other than that, it’s certainly missable DLC, much like Dead Money, and considering most of it is story-vital and not gameplay-vital, just read what happens on a wiki and be glad you didn’t have to deal with all that laborious listening.

At some point, I’ll talk a bit about Gun Runners’ Arsenal, too, as I’m now on my fourth playthrough (go, Rhaegar!) and am trying to go after some of that DLC’s challenges. Which are freaking insane. Kill adult Mojave Wasteland Deathclaws with .22 Pistols, Switchblades, Boxing Tape, Recharger Rifles, or Dynamite? Me thinks not!

Games Completed in 2011, #30 – Portal

Always late to the party, I finally emerged from my rocky home this summer and played Portal–this time, all the way to completion. I guess I can now join society and nod appreciatively at jokes about cake and cubes. See, I did give Portal a try back in May 2010, as it was released free for those on Macs via Steam. Unfortunately, my relic of a machine was unable to run the game well, even after tinkering with a lot of settings, so I never went back. However, over the summer, needing a little something-something to play, I picked up The Orange Box, a collection of Valve games, namely: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, and Portal.

And this time, it was playable. I did not spend 45 minutes trying to get Aperture Science Enrichment Center test subject Chell out of that tiny room with the toilet. That alone was impressive. And a controller in hand felt better than clicking a mouse, but that’s just me.

Portal is a story of isolation and determination. Puzzles, too. Chell awakes in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center with no idea how she got there and/or why. Actually, she might know–but she’s a silent protagonist, so mum’s the word. GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) informs Chell that she is to take part in a series of tests, and off we go to create portals and travel across large, open spaces and free-fall for minutes on end while potty breaks happen. There are 19 puzzle chambers and a much different final level, which I’ll get to in a bit. Funny and sometimes untrustworthy commentary from GLaDOS at the beginning and end of each chamber help expand Aperture Science’s lore and background without stopping gameplay.

Using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device–Portal Gun, really–and Companion Cube, players will have to navigate through chambers and reach the exit. Earlier chambers are very straightforward and tutorial-like, but as they progress, fresh tactics and tricks must be put to use, such as using momentum to reach new heights and manipulating energy balls to go where one wants. The puzzles really do test the player’s skill and patience, as rushing ahead is generally never the way to go. I have no room to brag, but I did pretty well, completing chambers 1 through, oh, 15 without having to use any kind of online guide or walkthrough. After that…phhhbbbt. Math has never been my strong point, and while you might think a game like Portal requires no math…well, it does. There’s timing to consider and mapping grid points and figuring out how to get from A to B in the quickest way possible, like reducing fractions.

I grew frustrated with the last four test chambers, but all grumbling and hate subsided the moment the final level began. As the tests progressed, GLaDOS’ commentary became harsher and colder, her motives beginning to shine through. Also, Chell discovered some previous test subjects–awkward would sum that up. And suddenly, live fire turrets are all around, brimming with glee to murder yet again. By the time GLaDOS began funneling us directly down into a furnace, Chell (and I) had had enough. Time to escape, but escape is no easy thing, even with portal tech. Everything we had learned from the beginning of the game is needed to make it out alive as there are no clear exits and entrances, just a lot of trial and error. Eventually, Chell finds GLaDOS, and we have a boss fight that is made all the more tense by the addition of a countdown clock. Hate those things. With victory, we get sunshine and song. Ahhh…

I wish all of Portal was like the final level. It required thinking, just like all the test chambers, but this was free thinking, with no hints or pictures to help Chell along. All the more rewarding. Making one’s way up through vents and across piping truly felt like escaping, and finding creative ways to knock out dangerous turrets is a joy, even if they sound so sad.

And yeah, the end credits song is pretty great. I’ve replayed it countless times since first hearing it around two in the morning, mostly in a daze. I am glad I got to first experience in a traditional sense, but my lack of sleep, sweaty fingers, and exhilaration at completing the game overwhelmed everything at that point, including robotic tunes. That said, I liked Portal for it compact size, its clear push forward, its just enoughness–I don’t think I would enjoy Portal 2 as much, and definitely have nobody to play co-op with, so I’ll just leave Aperture Science behind, free to continue on being cool and crazy. They’ll be fine; they have plenty of cake to go around.