Category Archives: Features

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Flawed Masterpieces – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.

Arkham Asylum is one of the greatest surprises in video game history. While Batman hadn’t exactly gotten the worst treatment of in super hero in terms of video game adaptations, the market itself had been saturated with so many cash-in attempts that the notion of a truly compelling super hero game was still something of a stretch.

Yet that is exactly what Asylum ended up being. And even though the game has gone on to launch a trilogy that deserves to be thought of as one of the greatest of all-time, many fans still hold Asylum in such high regard that the further each subsequent release gets from its own style the more they protest.

While that opinion is certainly valid, I feel that too a degree the love affair with Asylum goes too far, as the shock of its quality still resonates to such a degree it can blind fans to some of the shortcomings that later games in the series would improve upon.

Awful Boss Fights

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The Arkham series has always been somewhat hit and miss with its boss fights, but Arkham Asylum is the only game in the series without a true hit to its name.

Much has been made about the overuse on the “Big hulking charger who you have to sidestep in order to have them run into objects, while fighting off waves of goons” mechanic, and particularly how it impacts the final boss fight of the game, but the real issue with Arkham’s boss fights is a seeming lack of interest to have them exist in the first place.

The boss fights of Arkham felt like an obligation. Even the two fights in the game that felt somewhat different from the rest (Poison Ivy and Killer Croc) either used a tired formula of tiered attacks (Ivy) or initially seemed interesting, but were ultimately undone by how weak the boss was thus removing any element of real danger (Croc).

I understand why developer Rocksteady would have felt the need to include boss fights in a superhero game, but wish they would have focused on developing those fights in a way that felt true to the Batman universe, especially considering how well of a job they did showcasing their expertise in that world.

Limited Movement and Combat Systems

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As innovative as Arkham Asylum’s combat is, it suffers from a lack of depth. The game tries to add some variety to the affair by allowing you to expand your moves through an upgrade system and throwing in enemies that can’t be defeated by button mashing, but the upgrades are painfully limited and at best throw a few moves your way that allows you to skip the real meat of the combat all-together.

The movement system suffers a similar problem, in that it’s so restricted. All of Batman’s movements feel so stiff and direct, while too much time is spent slowly wandering down another hallway. The later games really did a truly great job of making you feel like Batman outside of the combat segments, while this one struggles to make this aspect feel unique to the character.

Admittedly this one is more of a nitpick in retrospect, but there is no denying that the movement and combat systems in Asylum are merely a taste to what would come.

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E3 2015 Day One Presentation Scores

Another E3 is upon us, and along with a bevy of new games to somehow think of saving money for in the midst of a Steam sale, my favorite part of the super event are the presentations themselves.

Whether they are historically great or impressively bad (I still hate you Jamie Kennedy), the E3 presentations are always worth discussing in the pursuit to discover just who won E3 2015.

This year I’ll be reviewing every major presentation and event with a letter grade, and while things don’t get really interesting until tomorrow, tonight’s opening salvo provided enough goodness to start the festivities.

The Nintendo World Championships       

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Last year the Nintendo World Championships was a cute little concept that gave Nintendo a bit of presence at the physical E3 event, in lieu of the traditional press conference. It was an entertaining enough  distraction, but wasn’t exactly memorable.

This year Nintendo by and large stuck to that format, but top to bottom the event was actually much better managed. The game selection was far better (can competitive Splatoon please become a thing?), and I felt that they did a pretty good job of building a competition system with games not traditionally designed for such a thing.

There were two definitive highlights of the event. The first was Nintendo’s brilliant decision to introduce one entirely new game (the 3DS Blastball) and showcase for the first time the true nature of another game (Mario Maker now known as Super Mario Maker) during the competition. This could have been a horrible move to actually have these incomplete games available to the judging public outside the safety net of a carefully organized traditional E3 presentation, but the surprise of seeing these games in this format truly paid off.

As for the games themselves, Blastball is a cute little mech-infused spin on soccer that much like many multiplayer Nintendo games, looks like a blast among friends. I do still wonder about the depth potential of this title, though, as a couple of wrinkles thrown in aside, the basic gameplay looks incredibly simple. It’s not quite ready for release yet, so I’m interested to see what Nintendo infuses into the experience.

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Super Mario Maker on the other hand? I can only say wow. I understood the concept of the game and thought it might be a cute little Mario Paint style diversion, but after seeing the creations of Nintendo’s team using the engine applied to the championship round of the completion, I’m in awe of the creative potential this game is capable of. I constantly found myself screaming “What!” at what was happening on-screen, and I can only imagine what the community will come up with when this one becomes available.

The other big hit of the show was actually a nice little throwback to last year’s championship as Reggie Fils-Aime made good on a vague challenge to compete with the Smash Bros. champion despite his lack of Smash Bros. skills. It was a cute little moment worthy of a burst of applause that showcased the kind of playfulness that makes Nintendo so unique.

The biggest problem with this event, besides a couple of annoying technical snafus, was the commentary. For the most part it came across as awkward and unnecessary with some of the invited guests being particularly painful to sit through. Oh, and whoever decided to let that kid on the mic during the Splatoon round should be punished with listening to an audio loop of it during the entirety of the next work week. Cute can turn to grating real fast, and it sure did there.

Overall I thought Nintendo held a fun event, that was seriously dragged down by a rotating commentary team that made muting a peaceful alternative far too often. I will throw in a bonus point for the announcement of the original Mother game being available on the Wii U which accompanied this event, if for no other reason than it gets us this much closer to a true domestic version of Mother 3.

Grade: B

Bethesda’s 2015 E3 Showcase

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With the possible exceptions of Nintendo, Valve and Rockstar, no developer could have come out tonight and did what Bethesda did.

Let’s get right into it. The only thing on most people’s minds coming into E3 was a game with a level of mystique that was approaching Half-Life 3 territory; Fallout 4. Bethesda delivered on the impossible amount of hype this game is riding in on, by giving us a presentation of Fallout 4 that was more thorough than I ever would have imagined.

Maybe even a little too thorough. I was pretty shocked at how much of the beginning of the game we go to see, especially considering what an incredible surprise it would have been to experience it cold in-game. They cut it out apparently before the story really kicked in, but then dropped a couple of plotline tidbits that again felt like they may have been better off being left for the game.

That being said, what an incredible job Bethesda did getting everyone somehow more excited for Fallout 4. From the reveal of an elaborate base building mechanic that looks worthy of a game in and of itself, to the inclusion of the exact kind of dynamic crafting mechanic fans have been clamoring for, everything shown about Fallout 4 thus far looks like a Fallout game I always wanted, but was afraid to dare hope for.
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My only knock against the footage was that some aspects of the design (particularly the enemies’ health bars and the use of what appeared to be an on the rails shooter segment) didn’t look quite right. Hopefully the rough edges will be smoothed out in time for the game’s surprisingly close holiday release date.

Also during that presentation, we got a glimpse of a free mobile game set in the Fallout universe available on iOS right now (Note: It’s a base management game that’s fairly light on the in-app purchase mechanics, and is pretty entertaining) and a real life pip-boy device that will work with your mobile device and be available when Fallout 4 is. As Todd Howard put it, it’s a gimmick to be sure but is “The coolest fucking gimmick ever.”

Outside of that obvious highlight, we were given a pretty hefty sneak peek of Doom and it’s looking exactly like you’d want a next gen version of Doom to really look like. It’s fast paced, filled with classic weapons, relies on health and ammo pick-ups and is bloody as hell. Seemingly designed to show us that Bethesda knows exactly what Doom 3 did wrong, and isn’t prepared to make the same mistake again, this was everything it need to be and, thanks to the announcement of a custom game builder mode, just a little more.

I do have some reservations on whether the new Doom can be quite as compelling as the recent Wolfenstein reboot due to the simpler nature they are going with for the game, but I’ll be damned if the entire Doom segment wasn’t just what it needed to be.

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Rounding out the event was a sneak peek at Dishonored 2 (which unlike the other major games shown didn’t leave us with much to go off of) and a brief nod to The Elder Scrolls online which (in what was potentially something of an insider joke for the struggling game) got little screen time as the developers claimed they were too hard at work on the experience to make a full appearance. Also announced in that segment was an Elder Scrolls card game, which one could view as a cheap chance at getting in on that sweet Hearthstone money, but I choose to be optimistic for.

As I said at the start, there are very few companies that could have had the presentation Bethesda just had, because no one has quite that much ammunition in their development arsenal. It was an exciting glimpse into the near future of gaming that included much more footage than we could have hoped to see.

I do have some minor concerns about a few things we saw during that feast of footage, and can’t help but be a little concerned for Bethesda’s ventures into the dangerous free to play world, but as a whole this is everything you want a truly great E3 conference to be.

Grade: A 

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Naxxramas Revisited: Ranking The Impact of Every Curse of Naxxramas Card on Hearthstone

While it has become somewhat foolish to expect anything less than total success from Blizzard Entertainment, I must say that the growth of Hearthstone in just over a years time has simply astounded me.

It’s easy to point to the game’s sizeable player base and revenue numbers to really drive this point home, but as a somewhat religious player of Hearthsone, when I talk about growth in Hearthstone, what I’m talking about is content.

Looking back at the average Hearthstone game when I began playing in its beta stages compared to the game now reveals two entirely different animals. Hearthstone‘s meta game (a term used to describe the ever shifting value of certain cards, decks and strategies) has kept chugging along due in some part to the creative strategies of that aforementioned astounding player base, but largely because of the contributions of Blizzard, who have been routinely updating the game with card tweaks, updates and of course, expansions.

The latest expansion (the PvE style adventure mode Blackrock Mountain) released this past Thursday, and even though we’ve only been able to experience one of it’s five weekly released wings, already it has left a footprint on the game’s meta, that has Hearthstone players everywhere going headstrong into the breach once more battling against the winds of change.

It’s also left me thinking about the last Hearthstone expansion we got, Curse of Naxxramas. Released in July of 2014, Naxxramas was the first substantial injection of new content into Hearthstone, and its overwhelming success forever set the benchmark for expansions.

But as I said, Hearthstone is a game that changes quickly. So, in honor of the release of the newest adventure, I thought it might be fun to look back on  Naxxramas to determine just what cards have left the biggest impact on the game’s meta.

Largely, then, these rankings are based on the overall effect they had on the game, but in cases of cards that are about equal, the tiebreaker went to overall quality.

Let’s get started.

29. Stoneskin Gargoyle

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Not much to say on this one. Bad stats, heavily dependent on elaborate scenarios for even theoretical uses and possess an ability that’s more unique than it is genuinely useful.

Pretty much everybody thought it was going to be bad at the start of Naxxramas, and they were right.

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Why It’s Time We Finally Pay Friday the 13th for the NES A Little Respect

*It’s been a long  break since my last post. Maybe I’ll break that down later, but for now let’s talk about Friday the 13th

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Wait.

Before you start, I just want to let you know that I’m not trying to say Friday the 13th is a good game. It’s quite far from it. In fact, I can’t imagine the scenario wherein I would say to a gamer, regardless of their age or gaming experience; “Hey, you know what you should play? Friday the motherfucking 13th for the NES.”  In fact, I’m not even trying to argue that the game is some kind of underrated experience, or hidden gem that’s value has only revealed itself after the years have weathered away the earth and dirt that once covered it, leaving us with only a glint of something beautiful that we can truly admire.

Friday the 13th for the NES is not that gem. But it is what I used to refer to in my youth as a “shiny stone.” A shiny stone is ultimately just a worthless rock. However, it may have glints of minerals or some other crystalized formation that give it just a little more merit than the average stone. Not enough to make it an irreplaceable piece of history mind you, but just compelling enough to keep with you longer than you otherwise would.

But let’s back up a bit for the unfamiliar. Why is Friday the 13th for the NES so hated?

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10 Years Later: Half-Life 2

This is the 30th, and final, part of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

At no point was Half-Life 2 just a game.

Following the cliffhanger ending of the legendary Half-Life, the idea of its sequel was a pipe dream. One that’s grandeur and impossibility seemed to grow with each year, as the hype train rolled along with a fury never before seen by the industry.

At the time of its release, Half-Life 2 stopped the world (not to mention, the still young Steam service). November 16, 2004 was a day that seemed surreal to many. The sight of Half-Life 2 on your computer was a real “pinch-me” moment. Even before you booted it up, that sensation it provided damn near justified the 6 year long wait.

After its release? Well, we’re living in that world now. One where Half-Life 2 has achieved god-like status, and the mere idea of a follow-up has become a cultural phenomenon on-par with any actual release in the series so far.

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10 Years Later – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

This is part 29 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

To me, there’s a strong difference between “loved,” and “beloved.”

Beloved is a word that implies more of a deep, unquestionable fondness for something. Even when you love something, you can readily admit to its faults. When something is beloved, though, it’s reached this point where your affection for it is well-beyond reason, yet at the same time, seems to be a perfectly logical emotion, based on the thing itself.

A big part of the reason that Nintendo has one of the more…shall we say ‘enthusiastic’ fanbases out there, is that they tend to deal heavily in the production of games aimed at achieving the beloved status. That’s certainly the case with Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.

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10 Years Later – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

This is part 28 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

In 2004, I can safely say I knew nothing about the Warhammer 40k universe, aside from the fact that it existed. This may not sound like a big deal, but among my friends, it was a mortal sin.

From what I was able to gleam of that whole universe, it seemed interesting enough. The trouble was that every time someone would try to fill me in on the particulars regarding it, they would launch into this half-hour diatribe that you tend to encounter when you mix super-fandom and a fictional universe with years and years of history to cover.

The result of these sit-down conversations was the distinct feeling that I was on the brink of something fairly intriguing, but could never really get the proper introduction required to really bridge the gap, and get me to the land of fandom properly.

But then came a real-time-strategy game set within the Warhammer universe called Dawn of War. With it arrived an introduction trailer of particular merit. This one, in fact:

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10 Years Later – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

This is part 27 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

The argument of which Grand Theft Auto game is the best, is one that I’m constantly thrilled to find myself engaged in, simply because there is a strong argument to be made that any of them deserve the title.

Maybe you prefer the overhead, arcade style simplicity of the original installments. Perhaps the revolutionary third title holds an inescapable nostalgic appeal for you. If Vice City‘s 80′s throwback era charmed the pants off of you, who could blame you? Then again, GTA: IV‘s dark tones or GTA: V‘s air tight mechanics and technical majesty, may just be your cup of tea.

There’s a case to be made for any in the GTA series to be the greatest, as each possess their own unique quality which separates them from the pack, and ultimately boils that discussion down to the tried and true qualifier of personal preference.

Now, that being said, if you ever try to argue with me that there is any GTA game bigger than San Andreas, then prepare for a verbal thrashing my good fellow.

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10 Years Later: The Sims 2

This is part 26 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

You know, I really wish this was a retrospective on The Sims rather than The Sims 2.

Why? Because I’m feeling lazy today and, if you’re feeling lazy yet are slightly obligated to continue a retrospective column, there are few games easier to dwell on than the original Sims.

It’s a treasure trove of easy nostalgia and mind-blowing figures. Not only do many gamers have fond memories of the title, but as it was quite a few people’s first taste of emergent gameplay (i.e. Make your own fun gameplay in a world without many borders), those same memories have that unique quality of being both personal to each user, and culturally shared by everyone else who experienced The Sims.

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10 Years Later – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap/Four Swords Adventures

This is part 25 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

As a general rule, any year you get a Zelda game is a pretty damn good year.

Why? Well, unlike say, oh I don’t know…Star Wars, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Alien, Austin Powers, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Transformers, Silent Hill, Madden, Bomberman, Resident Evil, Sonic and quite a few other franchises from the various corners of the entertainment world, Nintendo is careful to make each entrant into the Zelda series not only worthwhile and true to form, but usually a reasonable contender for the best of its kind yet.

And during 2004, we were gifted with not one, but two brand spanking new Legend of Zelda games to drool over.

Well…sort of.

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