Now you can paint by numbers on DS!This review has already been delayed twice in the past month; first by Royal Mail taking two weeks to deliver the game, then again by my inability to put the game down long enough to review it.
Date archives for January, 2009
2008 came and went in a blur, but now 2009′s here there’s no better way to welcome it in from the winter cold than to get into the warmth of the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers cabin!
Clutching a Nintendogs by Nintendo DS hot water bottle in the corner is Robin from Kids Toy Reviews, who told me "I have reviewed this product with young kids in mind. I think that video games can be for many different age ranges!"
With Why the Wii has Won and Wii Success Marks the Downfall of the Hardcore Gamer over at Console Me.., karmstrong is conjuring up images of families waggling in front of their goggle boxes. Nothing makes me sweat more than the idea of exercise.
Tony Huynh is huddled in a corner somewhere, surrounding himself with plush throws and luxurious cushions. He’s keeping his mind off the cold by embroidering each with a message, then passing it around to his fellow bloggers. Let’s have a look at some.
One a huge throw, that’s almost entirely brown and grey, he’s sewn Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer at LimitlessUnits.com, with the message "Gears of War 2 continues the story of Gears of War. The Locust horde has been sinking entire cities and steadily pushing humanity back. The game begins with humanity clinging to their last stronghold of Jacinto and the Gears setting out on a counter-offensive to prevent their last bastion from being undermined. In the following sections I will outline the aspects, levels and events in the game that left a more lasting impression on me."
He’s just given karmstrong a soft pillow, embroidered with 2 Months: Star Wars Vs. Star Trek, Super Mario Level Mod and Flash Game Sonny and "Videos of Star Wars Versus Star Trek Video and Most Difficult Super Mario Level Mod Ever Part 1. Flash games Sonny and The Worst Flash Game Ever."
Tony has just finished a huge quilt, on which he’s hand-stitched What Video Games Taught Me About Life at LimitlessUnits.com, with "I do not go a week without the media putting out a report or hearing somebody say that video games are a waste of time and that there is very little value in spending time playing them. I can personally say that video games have been hugely beneficial to both my social and professional life. I have learned first-hand many of life’s lessons from video games and I constantly draw upon my experience as a gamer to be successful in any goal or challenge that I face. Here are some of the life lessons that I have learned from playing video games" underneath.
On the quilt’s underside he’s embroidered Crayon Physics Indie Game Released Today and 9 Theatrical Movie and Short Film and "I wanted to let you guys know that a great indie game came out today called Crayon Physics. Crayon Physics was created by one-man developer Petri Purho of Kloonigames. On another note I was talking with a co-worker and we started to discuss what books or movies would make a great game. He told me about Shane Acker’s 9."
Tony is just about to put the finishing touches to a chunky scarf, with a long message winding along its woolly fronds. In thick letters it reads Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports), followed by "Here are the top 5 greatest moments in tournament video gaming. To qualify these moments had to occur in a tournament witnessed by others and of course it had to be recorded." It is a very long scarf.
Tending lovingly to a big dixie of soup is old-wizard, throwing all kinds of ingredients liberally into the mix. With a handful of Top 10 Games on the Wii, a pinch of Top 10 Most Underrated Video Games and a teaspoon of his secret ingredient, Ten Steps to Making a Successful FPS, all from the world’s best Soup Ingredient Megastore, Old-Wizard.com.
Trench is staring longingly out of the window into the wintry abyss, no doubt wondering if he’ll ever be able to get back to 7milesdown. He’s not bored, though – with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Prince of Persia, Call of Duty: World at War and Gears of War 2 for Xbox 360, he’s got plenty to keep him busy for a good few days. Or at least until the fresh water runs out.
One person I certainly don’t want to intrude on our little Carnival bunker is a zombie wolf, but thankfully should the worst happen we’ve got Reviews: Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ for the Nintendo DS. If there’s one person I trust to defeat zombies, it’s Little Red Riding Hood. And Scott Davis of ZombieChatter.com, of course.
Actually, maybe one thing worse would be vampires, but we’ve got that covered as well, as Pwn Greenland (not his real name, I suspect) has brought along the vampire-slaying guidebook NES Hell: Castlevania. "A brief rant on Konami’s "Castlevania" for the NES. Contains strong language and humour. Discretion advised."
Looks like a few more winter hikers are trying to seek refuge in this tiny cabin. Yoshi’s here with Megaman the toughest enemy, wearing his favourite G’s game vids woolly hat. I feel sorry for Yoshi – with his cold blood there’s no way he can survive outside. Better let him in.
What the..?! Mike Kurz just burst out from under a pile of coats! He’s shouting something about the Community Game Of The Week: Blow posted at Check Your HUD. I hope he’s not coming down with cabin fever…
Trudging through the snow towards the warm refuge of my cabin is Gene Simmons. He looks weighed down by a huge briefcase – probably the result of his recent $100,000 Flash Game Experiment – part 2. As he gets closer, I can read "Accumulate Profit Margin Invest Destroy" on the case, so I decide to let him in. He greets me with "this is part 2 of one man’s journey into the sinister world of the online flash game business. In this episode, he goes through the creation of his first game and eventually ends up losing his sponsorship-virginity." Nobody just says "hello" any more.
My good friend DaggleC has recently started his blog Dag’s Paradigm, and his first proper post is a real cracker – end of an era tells his view of the good old days of the Spectrum and Commodore machines, and mourns the loss of the good old times of cassettes and lines of codes. Nostalgia is always a good way to get a warm glow going!
Of course, I’ve been in here all along, putting together the most heartwarming post ever imaginable – The Top Sega 50 Games of All Time. It’s finally finished after a long time’s toiling, so let’s all bask in the warm sunshine of my love affair with Sega.
Hopefully this cold weather is going to pass us by in a few hours and we can all get back to our families, but until then let’s join together in saying a big thanks to everyone who reads and submits to the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers, and a very Happy New Year to you all.
If you’d like to submit to next month’s – much warmer! – Carnival, head on over to the Blog Carnival Submissions form and let gamers and bloggers all over the world read what you have to say!
NiGHTS into Dreams on Sega Saturn was what stopped Sonic Team from developing a proper Sonic the Hedgehog game for Sega’s black beauty, but I couldn’t be happier we got the purple jester instead of the blue blur. It was a huge risk that, sales-wise, did Sega much more harm than good, but it resulted in the creation of what I believe to be the greatest video game of all time.
A recent games article stated that NiGHTS plays like a further simplification of Sonic the Hedgehog, with its reliance on speed, collecting and a recurring challenge to beat rather than it being a necessarily difficult game. In Sonic you have times to beat: in NiGHTS, the score is all-important. Even after ten years of beating my own scores, I’m still amazed to read some of the scores on Score Attack.net, some of which are ten times better than my top efforts! That’s the beauty of NiGHTS – whereas most ten year old games rely on players revisiting the familiar to make them worth playing, NiGHTS offers a continual challenge and the promise of greater reward with each play.
It’s interesting to see how complicated Sonic’s move set has become in recent years compared to how simplistically he started, but NiGHTS is even more straightforward – you can fly, dash and Paraloop, but they’re the only important moves. Every level, boss and top score can be conquered by skilfully combining these controls, and for a game so simple to challenge after twelve years proves depths I don’t think even Sonic Team could have predicted.
I’ve written about NiGHTS into Dreams in such length over the past three or four years of this blog that you must be wondering if there’s anything else I can say you won’t have heard before. If you haven’t read or listened to any of my previous posts on NiGHTS, they’re listed here:
This time last year I was worried whether NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams would spoil my memories of the original one if it turned out to be rubbish. Well, even though it wasn’t rubbish it hasn’t changed my opinion of the original at all; if anything, it’s made me realise what an amazing achievement it was. It clearly wasn’t an easy game to get right, with so many daring ideas that they all had to work for the game to succeed. Artificial Life, remixing music and a reliance on score over completion were all daring choices that extended the game’s lifespan far beyond the few hours needed to defeat Wizeman.
A thought just occurred to me – what would I have missed out on if I’d just defeated Wizeman and decided not to play the game any more? How many people thought that was the game’s end and traded it in? That thought actually gave me quite a chill.
The most beautiful, innovative, unbelievable game I have ever played, NiGHTS into Dreams is the greatest game Sega ever created, and in my eyes the best game ever.
To many Sega fans, Shenmue is a sacred text, representing everything about Sega that delights and frustrates; hugely ambitious, completely original and, sadly, a flop. With a budget reportedly around the $100m mark – the most expensive game ever, until Grand Theft Auto IV – it was always going to struggle to make its money back, even at £40 a time. Those that did buy into Yu Suzuki’s paean to 1980s small-town Japan found a game as beautiful as any ever constructed.
From the very first scene, Shenmue drips the production standards and level of detail you would expect from a big budget AM2 project; a broken dojo sign has visible splinters, each character has eyelashes and the detail of Lan-Di’s dragon design is absolutely breathtaking. Through judicious use of cinematic conventions – lightning, the mysterious intruder, Ryo’s harrowing cry of “no!” – the scene makes a strong impression extremely efficiently, ditching lengthy exposition for a quick hit of action to act as a catalyst for the whole saga. It’s quite a brave decision, but the whole scene has a visual impact countless video games would kill for even now, and is such a strong start that no matter how many times I see it I never fail to get drawn in.
The detail level rarely drops from here on. Famous for its “go anywhere, do anything” doctrine at the time, Shenmue offers a hugely interactive world unlike anything before it, with working drawers, light switches, arcade machines and hundreds of other objects. After finishing the game you can even play through again with the weather as it was in real life on those days, which is so exciting I find it quite frightening. Such detail goes a long way to creating a realistic picture of 1986 Japan, and perhaps explains why it wasn’t quite so well received in the West. It may seem at odds for a game dealing with patricide, but it’s precisely this depth that forms a huge part of Shenmue’s appeal, crafting a believable world for the player to explore. With a slow pace and relatively small game area it’s crucial that you can’t see the cracks, and it’s here that Shenmue excels.
In order to stay strong you have to train your skills every day, a sometimes tedious exercise that sees you repeating moves for fifteen minutes a time. The rewards are real though, as moves increase in potency and even take on different forms, with follow-up attacks or greater speed other benefits. For a game that doesn’t use experience points or equipment there has to be some way to develop your fighting skills, particularly with the game’s later emphasis on combat, and as you play through you begin to pick up a training routine. You can learn new moves by translating move scrolls, or even by befriending certain characters and being in the right place at the right time. Even Tom, the world’s worst Jamaican, has a new move to teach you. Like a lot of Shenmue, many of these elements are completely optional, but go far in maximising your experience.
Friendships are more than just a means for learning new moves, though. Regularly buying coffee for a friendly (if twitchy) Chinese chef befriends him, meaning later in the game you can bring him Chinese scrolls to translate, but by far the most important friends to have are Fukuhara and Nozomi. Far from presenting friendship as straightforward, Ryo’s relationships with these two are more complex than your average game. Fuku-san is a student at Ryo’s late father’s dojo, a well-meaning if somewhat clumsy teenager who has always felt his skills are second best compared to Ryo’s. Fuku-san pleads with Ryo not to pursue Lan-Di, but when he realises he can’t stop him he breaks open his piggy bank to help pay for a ticket to Hong Kong. It’s a wonderful gesture of childlike warmth that even gets through to the oft-stony Ryo, and a genuinely touching moment in their friendship; Fuku-san is so often the doting little brother it’s only fitting he raids his loose change to help in any way he can.
The real crux of the relationships, and the game’s heart in many ways, is the interaction between Ryo and flower shop girl Nozomi Harasaki, probably the most problematic friendship in all of games history. The two are (quite literally) made for each other, yet Ryo maintains his distance for the same reason as any comic book hero would: protection. It’s clear that Nozomi resents this, but no matter how many cut-short telephone conversations and words of advice they share, she finds it almost impossible to break through his guard. Towards the game’s end there is a (completely optional) scene on a park bench that stands out as one of the most heartbreakingly romantic moments in any game or film I can remember, filled with the sort of restrained desperation you’d expect from a literary classic, not a Dreamcast game. Theirs is a kind of doomed relationship – she knows he has to leave and he knows he can’t risk taking her with him – and so they suppress every emotion imaginable to keep each other at arm’s length. You can imagine the therapy their children would need.
There are so many memorable moments in Shenmue I could spend another 1,000 words and still only get halfway through them. The often-maligned Quick Time Events give rise to some of the most cinematic and incredible fight scenes ever witnessed, my particular favourite being the bar room fight that’s as exciting as any traditional fighting game with twice the impact. The real-time fighting is essentially Virtua Fighter with more moves (and movement), and knowing you’re strong enough to conquer the game’s huge final brawl because you trained every day is an extremely satisfying pay-off.
Shenmue deserves enormous praise for setting its sights so high, and even higher praise for getting so damned close. It’s not a perfect game by any means – some of the voice acting is a particular bone of contention of mine – but it is still a unique and endlessly fascinating adventure that stays with you long after the boat to Hong Kong has set sail.