Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In which my forbearance is put to the test: New Releases for the Week of July 24th, 2011

The Smurfs Dance Party (Nintendo Wii)
I usually try not to be the guy who goes around grousing about the fact that things that were plainly never meant to appeal to him do not, in fact, appeal to him.

There are few things that seem more pointless to me then hearing someone who's appointed himself arbiter  of gaming purity bitch about how Wii Fit and Nintendogs aren't hardcore enough, or how Facebook games aren't very skill-based, or how the narrative of the Barbie Horse Adventures franchise isn't as thoughtful or gripping or complex as Bioshock's. I'm not terribly interested in listening to people carry on about how RPG's should ditch the menus and stats so that they're not so boring, or how Greg Egan should drop the unwriterly science and speculation from his books so that he can focus on the existential despair and/or psychosexual minutia of contemporary white-collar Americans, so I try to do as I would be done unto.

(With the obvious exception of the critically acclaimed 2004 PlayStation 2 cult classic Barbie Horse Adventures: The Battle of Verdun, of course, though I'm pretty sure the events of that game aren't considered canonical in the Barbie Horse Adventures universe as a whole.)

I don't want to be that guy. But you make it damned hard sometimes, Nintendo.
By a remarkable coincidence, this is almost identical to what I saw on my kitchen counter the night I downed an entire bottle of Wild Turkey 101 after an IMAX showing of Avatar.

Instead of being that guy, I'll raise a question: what is the target market for this? The game seems pretty clearly made for kids, which makes sense for a game based on a move based on a kid's show. But it's a kids show from the 1980s; when the Smurfs went off the air, anyone young enough to be in what I presume is this games target market now was at least a decade away from being born. I suppose I could ask the same question about the fact that they're actually theatrically releasing a new CGI Smurfs movie in 2011, but I can at least imagine a nostalgic adult who grew up with the show deciding to see the movie for old times' sake, or perhaps while really, really high; buying a video game seems a lot less likely.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Other things I've been up to

Here's some of the stuff I've written at other sites over the past few weeks that may be of interest.

Over at Robot Geek:

Where's Your God Now, Mario?: Religious Censorship in Games- A look back at the golden age of Nintendo of America's Standards and Practices, when naming a spell “Holy” or showing a cross on a coffin was forbidden due to fears that any religious imagery or references could cause offense or controversy. Did I mention that this was happening at the same time that one of the more prominent games on the Nintendo Gameboy was a a rather grim saga in which  the ultimate villain and true power behind all the evil, demonic beings the heroes fight during the story turns out to be God Himself? And that the game climaxes with the heroes kicking His top-hatted ass after discovering His heartless indifference to the suffering of His creations? Because it was.

Feeling like a hero, then and now- How games based on the premise that the protagonist is an elite badass among badasses fulfill that premise in their gameplay, or fail to. I express approval of Crysis and Vanquish but am somewhat less enthusiastic about Silver Surfer on the NES. Also includes a handy visual aid to help you, the player, distinguish between games that actually turn you into a nigh-unstoppable killing machine and those that merely claim to.

Meanwhile, over at Kuribo's Shoes, where I'm not hemmed in by Robot Geek's rigid “don't make up blatant lies” policy:

2K Games apologizes for statements by Duke Nukem Forever PR team, says reviewers will NOT be hunted for sport- Nor will 2K be unleashing the terrifying arsenal of orbital kinetic weaponry,
darksome sorceries, or international organ thieves at their command. Because they don't exist. Really. Just let it drop.

L.A. Noire’s development even more troubled than anyone realized- Long-time readers of this site know I enjoy welding as many utterly inappropriate and unrelated things into a single gruesome mass as possible, so I consider successfully working Motley Crue, the Holy Roman Empire, the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Blade Runner, Chris Tucker, and the phrases “orbital bombardment” and “consuming the souls of his enemies” into the space of a 600-word article about L.A. Noire a success.

Nintendo announces new voice actor for Mario: Michael Ironside- “The classic Mario gameplay that has delighted gamers for three decades isn’t going anywhere, It’s just that now, instead of a jolly Italian plumber, Mario will sound like a grizzled stone-cold killer.”

Xenoblade: The horrifying truth- This is a long one, since it was one of our special Friday articles, and due to a last-minute technical hiccup the pictures that would have been there to break up the text weren't included. Nevertheless,  I think this article's rigorous accuracy and grounded common sense make it well-worth your time, as well as a decisive refutation of  those naysayers who claim that writing your article about Nintendo of America's treatment of RPGs when you haven't slept in the past 192 hours and have been munching down hallucinogenic mushrooms like trail mix so that the unearthly things in your sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations can be fought off by their slightly less horrifying psilocybin-induced counterparts is somehow incompatible with responsible gaming journalism.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

A rueful look back at E3, Part 4: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Initial reaction – Holy crap but that landscape is gorgeous. I'm accustomed to the graphics in Elder Scrolls games being sort of like having corn flakes for breakfast. It's there, it's adequate for its purpose, and it provides a substrate for more interesting breakfast foods things that can be placed on top of it, like sugar or strawberries or cheap bourbon so vile that even I won't drink it unmixed but am still too cheap to just get rid of, but it's not of much interest in itself. This is quite impressive.

(Question for other players of the previous Elder Scrolls games: Did anyone else, back when they had only seen the name “Skyrim” appear in written form, assume it was pronounced “Skeer-em”? It can't just be me.)

The footage I've seen seems promising. One of the disappointments of Oblivion was that it went from the fascinatingly weird setting of Vvardenfell in Morrowind- with its strange creatures, its native culture and that culture's tension with the encroaching influence of the Empire, its complex and mysterious past, its religion based on ancestor worship and living immortal god-kings and bizarre scriptures that were apparently written by someone on LSD- to the disappointingly generic quasi-medieval standard-issue fantasy setting of Cyrodil. Skyrim looks like it could be a bit more interesting- the woolly mammoths, snowy mountains, and rather brutish-looking warriors make things seem a lot less genteel than Oblivion. It has sort of a Robert E. Howard/Hyborian Age feel that I really like.

Hopefully Bethesda has learned from some of their mistakes in Oblivion, like burning through 90% of their voice acting budget in the first 10 minutes of the game and having all of the hundreds of talking characters you meet in the other 99.99%  of it voiced by approximately three people, or using a character face editor that was seemingly programmed by a deformed  Phantom of the Opera-esque recluse who hasn't actually seen another human being in decades and doesn't realize that non-hideous human faces are actually possible. I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

A rueful look back at E3, Part 3: Tomb Raider: My heart and various other organs in and on my thoracic region will go on

Crystal Dynamics gave us their first trailer for their upcoming reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, which sets up the story by showing us how a young Lara Croft leaves her home to travel the world in search of adventure. Sort of like college-age kids who go backpacking across Europe, I guess, but with a greater focus on killing people and plundering antiquities. That's the British aristocracy for you. 

But Croft's trip soon goes awry when her ship is caught in a storm that leaves her shipwrecked on an island. Stranded and alone, she must struggle to survive, find a way to escape the island, and return to civilization so that she can wreak bloody vengeance upon her travel agent.

It's got a fairly dark, bleak tone, which fits with previous comments by developers that- like every other rebooted franchise in the history of mankind- the new Tomb Raider will be a somewhat grittier, harder-edged ake on Lara Croft than the original series. They've also definitely toned down Lara's over-the-top spinal-kyphosis-inducing sexualization from the earlier games in the series. Unless you've got some sort of emergency orthopedics-based fetish involving filthy, stranded women in exotic locales painfully resetting their own fractured bones- and, the internet being the internet, the odds are probably pretty good that at least one person reading this does.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A rueful look back at E3, Part 2: Halo 4

The Halo 4 trailer is quite brief, showing a frantic-sounding Cortana awakening Master Chief from the hibernation  he went into at the end of Halo three while their ship appears to be blowing apart around them from causes unknown. The Chief makes his escape from the dying ship's interior, and finally we see some sort of ominous-looking structure out in space that they're heading straight for.

It's not often a video game trailer strikes so close to home for me, with its grim depiction of an emotionally unexpressive guy who rarely speaks just trying to get some rest while a nagging female voice says “Wake up, John!” It's my 13 years in the public school system all over again.

Unrelated side note: I assume that the mist that drifted out when Master Chief emerged from his hibernation pod was  water vapor condensing because of the cold from the cryonic whatzit used to put the pod's occupant in suspended animation, but the first few times I watched it really looked like steam to me. Which in turn made the whole scene look like Master Chief had been taking a hot shower, or perhaps sitting in the sauna having a schvitz, while still fully armored. That's a man who takes the need to be ready for action at a moment's notice seriously.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

A rueful look back at E3, Part 1: Fable: The Journey

Pointless Side Quest is back in action, and to commemorate this momentous occasion in the world of obscure video game humor blogs we'll be taking a look back at the second most momentous yearly occasion in the world of video games, the E3 show. So sit back, turn the date on your computer and any other nearby electronic devices back a month, and start gulping down the dissociative substance of your choice until you're confused enough to forget the actual date so that you can enjoy the excitement of hearing the hottest news from E3 for the first time. Today we kick things off with:

Fable: The Journey

Lionhead Studios revealed the next game in the Fable franchise, Fable: The Journey, and showed a short game play demo. The game is built around and will require the Xbox360 Kinnect. The demo was distinctly unimpressive, revealing game play that apparently revolves around moving along a predetermined path, being narrated at by an old woman,  and occasionally thrusting your arm outward to magically blast enemies like some cross between Gandalf and Phoenix Wright.

But, for once, this isn't just about my dislike of motion controls, or my lingering resentment at the disappointing bill of goods we were sold with the original Fable, or my numerous unpleasant memories that involve being stuck on a long vehicle trip sitting next to someone who keeps talking and talking and talking until I'm ready to stab him in the throat with a shiv carved from a tire pressure gauge and take my chances with whatever happens next as our now-driverless car continues to careen down the highway at 65 miles per hour. It was poorly received by many, and Lionhead's Peter Molyneux has since said that the demo did not include the game's navigation controls and that the actual game allows much more freedom than the demo suggests.  Which is a vague statement, since in a qualitative sense any increase from “none whatsoever” to “more than none whatsoever” can be a profound change, but one can hope.

And one should hope, because as it is now it looks like it's basically an HD version of Operation Wolf, if the 1987 arcade classic were transplanted to a generic fantasy setting and had its cool mounted force-feedback lightgun removed and replaced with a somewhat more dignified U-Force.

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