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REVIEW: Enslaved Odyssey to the West

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a game developed by Ninja Theory, and published by Namco Bandai. It is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It is a less than mediocre game and clearly intended for a ‘casual’ audience. The Xbox 360 game was played for the purposes of this review.

I’ll admit I’m hesitant to give a bad review to a post-apocalyptic kind of game, as I generally like this kind of stuff. What drew me to this game was the art work, the cover art, and the screenshots. It’s very different than most post-apocalyptic kind of scenarios, in that the world isn’t so desolate and barren. So think Wall-E, but instead of dust and nothing growing, there is plant life growing all over the place. The New York skyline is full of greenery, the buildings are
literally taken over by plants, slowly being broken down to the effects of Mother Nature. The idea of exploring New York like this is was really appealing to me.

Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends. Heard of two people abandoned on an island that don’t really like each other at first, are forced to work together to avoid immediate death, and totally end up falling for each other? If you haven’t, that’s alright, because Enslaved has you covered. You play as your classic tough guy raised in the jungle. The “I have no family and I have no name” kind of hero. You and your companion are prisoners of some sort, and she controls you by means of a headband device which doesn’t allow you to leave her side without killing you. Which is why the game is called “Enslaved.” You, “Monkey,” are enslaved to Trip, your companion.
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Why Fight When You Can Run?

It is an idea that most games discourage, to say the least. Combat, hitting things, shooting things, cutting things, breaking things, slaying monsters, just fighting seems to be the big focus of most of the more well known, popular games on the market. I am not going to say “it is a bad message” or “it gives games a bad name” or any of that nonsense, because frankly doing something like cutting down massive monsters with even bigger weapons is nothing short of satisfying. The point is that fighting is the focus of too many games, so much so that even most commercially available game engines are pre-built to handle some kind of combat, and the mass media has developed the stereotype that games are inherently violent. It is a pity, really since there are so many great games I would rather play about making things or blooming flowers or running and jumping.

mirror's edge town

Best start running

I recently got my hands on a copy of Mirror’s Edge, and while not a perfect game to be sure, I found I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its name is pretty well known nowadays, but for those unacquainted with it, Mirror’s Edge is a game about running, or rather moving without stopping. While there is combat, within which you are able to take guns out of enemy hands and go FPS, the game itself discourages it. For one, it is not easy for an unarmed person to approach a group of armed gunmen and take a weapon without taking a few bullets, but more than that stopping to fight breaks your momentum. Perhaps it is because the combat is imperfect, to put it lightly, but regardless of the reason, in a game about momentum slowing down is the last thing you want to do.

It is for just this reason that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Combat exists, but in most of the game, all modes included, it is almost entirely avoidable and unnecessary. In fact, the enemies are more obstacles to your momentum than targets to eliminate. There was something refreshing about playing a game that just wants players to run. Outside of the combat bits in story mode, there is no tension from fear of death, just the desire to go keep moving and never slow down, looking for anything in the surroundings that can be used to move the next rooftop. While players do not one-man-army a swarm of baddies or topple a foe twenty times their own size, doing something like, say, running up a wall to jump across a chasm between two buildings and sprinting through, above, and below a maze of obstacles all ending with a wall-run to a zipline is just as satisfying–some of the more absurd times can be easily found on youtube and are beyond believable.  It is reminiscent of older times before plots gained complexity and graphics started mattering as much as they do now, when all you had was a goal as simple and pure as “get here and do it really fast.” No, it is not the first game with such a premise, but despite its shortcomings Mirror’s Edge is a great momentum game.

sonic screenshot

The original fast runner

In more recent times, less combat-oriented games are not as infrequent or doomed to obscurity as they used to be. If anything I can think of more games that I have played in the last week without combat than with, but when it came out Mirror’s Edge got a lot of attention because it is the first first-person parkour game, and a genuine first is a beautiful sight. I could have used Minecraft or Don’t Take it Personally or something even more detached from combat, but the inclusion and discouragement from combat in the game is one of the main things that inspired this little string of thought.

Tempura of the Dead: Review

President Tompson is a bad enough dude to save the country. And if he dies, there’s always loyal Gates to back him up, without regard for the intricacies of presidential sucession.

Tempura of the Dead is a three dollar Xbox Live Indie game. It is also a great game, a game design master class in a year where all the big names are flubbing and floundering. It’s a game that is flabbergasting in how well done it is, despite its premise being that a Barack Obama look alike jumps out of a helicopter and fights hordes of zombies, vampires, and GERMs (weird alien things) with the help of a loyal samurai…chef? He sure likes tempura, at least.

There’s more details under the cut, but it is at this point where we will implore you to download this game. It is three dollars that will go to some likely cool people who really know what they’re doing, and it is five times better (at least) than Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which is five times as expensive.

Additionally, the above video of the opening cinematic will do all the convincing you need.
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Fallen Angel: Escape from the Underworld

Your indie game of the week comes courtesy of the Indie Games weblog, which you should really read if you don’t already. The game is Escape from the Underworld, made for Indie Kombat, and it is a fantastic little exploration based platformer where you play a fallen angel attempting to reclaim his powers.

Yes, it has that whole indie platformer art style. Don’t be fooled, though, it’s a fantastic little slice of game, with some pretty good atmosphere. I feel like I have nothing to add to Indie Games’ post on it, because really most of the fun is in rediscovering your powers in the labyrinths of hell, but it’s a good challenge, a good adventure, and it’s pretty damn engaging. Definitely worth your time, especially for free.

So go check it out! Check it out now!

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Oh Sonic. Oh Sonic. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

If this were an episode of Tennant era Doctor Who, this is where the Doctor would proceed to blow Sonic into thousands of tiny little pieces.

It’s taken Sonic 4, a “return to form”, to get me to, finally, realize a certain, indelible truth about the world: Sonic the Hedgehog is not a good character, and he cannot be in a good game. It is impossible.

As for Sonic 4, it is alright but about to ruin your nostalgia dreams.
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Fez before Fez: Babel

You know your game has *probably* been in development too long when people have already been inspired by your game. It’s like the Stephen Colbert joke about Rush: by the end of one of their epics, they’ve influenced themselves.

Anyway, Babel is Fez. It doesn’t have the charming art style, and is definitely a freeware platformer, but it has the same core mechanic as long delayed, hotly awaited Fez. It *is* Fez, for all intents and purposes.

Is it worth playing? I don’t know. I haven’t played it, because I’m too busy playing a certain big budget game for review (oooh mystery!) and going to the DMV to renew my license for twice what a normal game costs. Massachusetts. What a state. You, on the other hand, can play a dose of Fez right here, just with a different name. Isn’t it swell how the internet works?

Explodemon: Not a new Pokemon

There are games I wouldn’t know about except for the lovely folks at the IndieGames blog. Explodemon is one of them. An 2.5D platformer coming to PSN this year (hopefully), it’s endured something of a complicated development history. Not least because the very day it was officially announced, ‘Splosion Man was announced.

You know, that kind of horrible, soul crunching coincidental stuff. Which is disappointing, because really, once you strip away the fact that they both explode to jump, there’s really little similarity. ‘Splosion Man was all science and western games. Explodemon is very much a parody of 1990’s Japanese platformers like Mega Man, Pulseman, and other games with man in them. And, from watching the trailer, it looks fantastic. As much as I liked ‘Splosion Man, I wondered what it would look like with that sharp, stylized Japanese edge, and if it were…tighter. Denser. And this looks like it will fulfill that niche.

Playstation Network, in the Winter. I won’t say I recommend it, because I haven’t played it, but I will say that I’m keeping an eye on it, even in a holiday season crammed with platformers.

Making a Mario game is hard!

I’ve posted about some knockoff Mario related things over the months we’ve existed. You know, Super Mario Crossover and Super Mario Bros. X. You might remember the first, and not remember the second.

Well, now here’s Infinite Adaptive Mario, from a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz. Which shows, ultimately, the same thing the other two did: it’s really fucking hard to make a good Mario game.

I mean, yes, the theory is spectacular here. A Mario game that adapts to your level of skill as you play (and die) on the levels? Fantastic idea. I’m a huge fan of games scaling up or down in difficulty by how well you do, and this executes the concept pretty solidly. Die a lot, and you get a flat plain with goombas and coins. Beat a lot of levels in a row, and you’ll get a level straight out of Super Mario Frustration. It’s really good in theory.

I say in theory because this, like every other Mario knockoff, proves how hard it is to make a good Mario game. At it’s core, Mario is jumping. Just jumping. Just jumping is really, really boring if it is not balanced with the proper weight, and the enemies are not meticulously placed. Those two things exist in none of these games (well, Mario Crossover had proper level design, by virtue of being a remake), and as a result they’re all kind of bad.

But it’s a really neat, novel idea that deserves attention, and seems to be getting some from the internet at large. And while these new ideas might not work fantastically in Mario games, they might work in different games.

VVVVVV on Steam for $5

If you asked me what my game of the year 2010 was, there would be no hesitation. VVVVVV is possibly the best 2-D platformer I’ve ever played, and a game that was completely worth every cent of the $15 I paid for it at launch.

But I could understand your hesitation. “There’s no way a 2-D Metroidvania/Impossible Platformer could be worth $15! And isn’t it like 4 hours long? What the fuck? I only pay for graphix!” Well, now you don’t have to pay $15 dollars directly to the game’s creator. Now you can pay $5, on Steam, for the best gaming experience of the year. If you jump right now, in fact, you can pay $4.50 for the best game of the year.

If you aren’t going to Steam right now to pick this up, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. It’s one of the very few games I would say is absolutely perfect, and $5 is not a lot of money for perfection.

Super Meat Boy Content Complete

Which, Edmund McMillan tells us design neophytes, isn’t quite done. It means there’s still testing and weeks of being certified by WiiWare and PC, which means certified for WiiWare so it can be something like a lead platform. Anyway, a long road of testing is no doubt ahead, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone’s favorite referential twitch platformer!

Personally, I’m excited. I don’t know about you, but I am! Super Meat Boy is one of those games I’ve been looking forward to for a year, at least, and should be one of the best indie releases of 2010. Pricing and release date are going to be announced in the next week or so, so we’ll have more secondhand information for you as it develops.

Source: The Team Meat Blog