Monday, February 28, 2011

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS)

Total Play Time: 2 hours

History with the Franchise:
I tried the first Professor Layton, probably about a year ago and I lost interest pretty quickly. I generally found that there wasn't enough of a payoff to justify putting the energy into solving the puzzles - which says to me that I am not the sort of person that likes to solve puzzles just for the sake of solving puzzles. That being said, with my new, less flippant gaming attitude, I thought I should give the newer Layton a serious try.

What Happened:
I started writing this review weeks ago and I've been sitting on it, since there's really not a whole lot to say. In this game you solve puzzles. I don't really care that much about solving puzzles... I played it in 15-20min snippets over the course of about a week. I got pretty far into the narrative, which is sort of interesting, but the game is slow.

What I Liked:
Story? The story is kind of interesting, although the writing is not particularly great. For example, Luke and the Professor get transported into the future.. and it's pretty obvious that they're in the future. I understand that they're being skeptical, especially since they're both supposed to be super logical, but their skepticism drags on in a sort of annoying way... But overall, I'm somewhat curious about what's happening in the overall story.

Art style. I like the art - particularly since I feel like they took a chance and made some really wacky character designs. In a game where the characters are 2D (so you don't have to worry about rigging and animation) I think you should have wacky characters. :) The animated cut scenes are sort of neat also.

What I Didn't Like:

Any excuse for a puzzle. I know it's the whole point of the game, but sometimes the excuses for puzzle time seem like just downright lazy writing. "Luke, please throw out that banana peel that someone left on the sidewalk. Here, to make the task pass faster, solve this riddle about banana peels." Does it take so long to throw out a banana peel that you need something to help you pass the time?? Also it's pretty hilarious how people are constantly asking you to prove your identity to them by solving a riddle. A lot of it just felt like padding - maybe they could have shortened the game by an hour or two and gotten rid of some of these situations which made the world seem a lot less believable.

Slow narrative. It just takes too long to get anywhere in the story since you're solving puzzles to appease everyone's whims... Like I said above, the whole experience could have been made shorter and I think it would have helped.

Characters. With all of the wacky character designs, characters are still pretty dull overall. Particularly Luke and the Professor. I guess they are supposed to feel sort of like 'everymen' so you can put yourself in their place? Maybe? They're just totally lame people. Occasionally the Professor will chastise Luke for 'being rude' when he says something wildly off the cuff... like "goodness, this town doesn't seem to be very well cared for." What an insolent little snot. :) All of the other people that fill the town are also surprisingly devoid of personality, although you can tell they at least tried a little harder. You just feel like they're standing around all day waiting for someone to give a puzzle to and there's nothing else actually going on in this world.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Well, I started writing this review like, weeks ago and I haven't picked the game up since then.. so that sort of says it all. I could see picking it up every once in awhile if I'm like, stuck on an airplane or something. It's just not my cup of tea.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky (DS)

Play time: ~25min

History with the Franchise:
As I mentioned in my Pokemon Pearl review, I have pretty limited experience with Pokemon as a franchise, but I did play Pokemon Blue when I was like 10, and I watched the TV show a lot. :) Also I recently played Pokemon Pearl, although for only about 2.5 hours.

I picked this game up because I thought Pokemon Pearl was sort of vaguely fun, and the idea of actually playing as a Pokemon in the world of Pokemon was really exciting to me. That being said, I did not have particularly high expectations of this game.

What Happened:
I picked this game up before going to sleep one night last week and played it for about 25min. I set up my character, got into a little bit of the story, and as soon as I hit gameplay I started to fall asleep. Maybe I'll try picking it up again someday?

What I Liked:
You are a Pokemon!! Now I don't have to deal with the guilt of sending my adorable traveling companions to battle for no reason other than my own personal gain... Also, since the world has been established for the last 10 years, the game definitely has a feeling of being in on something that's been going on for a long time - like, if you suddenly were able to talk to your cat.

Determine your aura. Maybe it's because I have the typical girly penchant for taking personality quizzes (or rather, I did when I was 15), but I really liked the fact that you answer a quiz at the start of the game which determines the 'color of your aura' as well as what type of Pokemon you are.

Choose your partner. Like in Pokemon Pearl, you get to name your partner in your adventure. In this game, you also get to choose what sort of Pokemon they are - so of course I have a Bulbasaur named Issam. This makes me laugh.

Intro sequence. Usually I hate long intros and I squirm around and whine while I wait for them to end, but for some reason, this intro was just intriguing enough that I was interested in watching it. I think it was because I felt like I was peering into some sort of secret, Pokemon-only world. The concept definitely captured my imagination.

What I Didn't Like:
Context? Mainly because they did what I felt was a pretty decent job getting me involved in the narrative, I felt pretty lost when all of the sudden I was wandering around a cave system, speaking to no one and fighting everyone that came into contact with me. Why were all of the Pokemon in the cave out to get me?? I thought things might be a little more.. complex than that?

Tedious! At least it wasn't turn based fighting, but it's definitely still the same sort of fighting as all other Pokemon games, which I'm just not into. I never get far enough into the games to get into more complex, strategy based fighting, so I only ever play the parts where you just keep hitting "fight" over and over (although I'm not particularly interested in strategy-based fighting anyway...) So yeah, it was simply a matter of pressing A a bunch of times, and slllllowly progressing forward as hordes of bad guys attacked me. (What were they all doing in there anyway?)

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Hmmm... the odds are pretty against me picking this one up again. Although I guess I saw some sort of intriguing images when I was looking for pictures to put on this blog post. I'll be on a plane to GDC tomorrow anyway, so maybe that's a good time to try again.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS): Continued Play

I can't really say "Session 2" since I've been playing this game on and off in spurts (although I've been picking it up with less frequency). I just wanted to make a quick post to mention that I've been continuing to play this game. The story is really good, and just continues to get more intriguing as I go. It's a really cool game!

Sonic Colors (Wii)

Gameplay time: ~40min

History with the Franchise:
I loved this franchise when I was a kid!!! I played Sonic 1 & 2 with my brother a ton (I was always Tails), I loved the cartoons, I had a Tails stuffed animal which I took everywhere (he now sits on my desk at work), we played pretend games set in the Sonic universe, and Tails was one of the first characters that I drew ALL THE TIME when I was in elementary school (the other being Yoshi). Like most people my age, I have a lot of nostalgic love for this franchise. Also, like most people my age, I haven't followed Sonic at all since 1 & 2. I picked up Sonic Colors because there seemed to be some gaming press excitement about it, and I wanted to check it out.

What Happened:
I played for about 20min, and then got really motion sick. Then the next day I played for about 20min and got really motion sick. I haven't picked it up at all in the 2 weeks since.

What I Liked:

Graphics/art style. This is a BEAUTIFUL game. Everything about it is totally stunning.

Cutscenes. Likewise, all of the cutscenes are totally stunning. Here's the intro video:

What I Didn't Like:

What's happening? So really, I'm not sure what my issue was since this game follows the exact same format as the original Sonic games: you progress through a level, collecting everything that's good and killing everything that's bad.. but for some reason, as I played this game I was plagued by an overall sense of uncertainty. I think some of this uncertainty is legacy - and it's funny to say but, I had questions like: if I miss a guy do I go back and kill him? What about all of those rings I just dropped? Do I need to go back and get them all? The levels were also all presented with score and speed record slots - so am I supposed to get the best score or the best speed? Does it actually matter? These things were never an issue when I played Sonic when I was 7, but for some reason I felt confused this time around (which, thinking about it, a lot of those Sonic 2 levels were super confusing - like the ones that filled up with water...). I think the other big factor in my uncertainty was simply the speed of gameplay. Am I old?? I felt like because things were so fast, I having to make split second decisions.. and since I felt fuzzy on my goals, it made me confused.

What is that? There were a couple of cases where I thought something was good, so I'd go touch it, and then I'd lose rings. That's annoying... Another confusing 'item' was the question mark box which actually triggered tutorial sections. I think I missed the first couple since they're super easy to miss when you're just getting used to running as full speed Sonic in the 1st level. At some point I went "oh, I should go back and touch that thing I just ran past, maybe it's important" - and then it turned out to be my tutorial text.

Maps. The map structure is fine (although I don't really get the how the 'virtual world' area of levels ties into the rest of the game), but the presentation was super confusing. After I played a couple of levels without seeing any map, I got a cutscene, and then ended up on a map screen. Basically, it's a world selection map, which then leads to individual level selection maps - but the first time I saw it I got really confused. Particularly since I had a hard time understanding what was selectable on the world map, and ended up in the virtual levels, which had nothing to do with the cutscene I'd just seen, or the levels I'd just played. It was confusing!

Motion sickness. :( I know, I know, I feel super lame -- but this game, with all of it's fast-paced camera angle switching makes me completely sick to my stomach after about 15min. I personally think that the changes in camera angle are pretty cool - they show off the environment well, and they seem to be in fitting with the general feel of my understanding of "Sonic" - a feeling of speed. I'm really pretty disappointed that it turns out to be too much for my sense of equilibrium (note, the hand full of FPSs I've played also make me motion sick... even though in real life (cars, etc) I don't generally have this issue. Bummer.)

How Do I Feel About Continuing:
Despite my issues with the game, I'm intrigued enough to want to play it more to understand it better. Unfortunately, it definitely makes me motion sick to play.. so I'm probably going to end up staying away from it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)

Play Time: 3-4 hours

What Happened:
Ghost Trick is really cool! I found out about this game maybe... 8 months ago when a link was passed around at work so we could discuss the animation. I also played the demo at NY Comic Con in October and was really impressed. The game starts with you discovering that you have recently been killed, and you have no memory of your death. A woman has also been killed, and a 'guide' explains to you that you have the ability to go back to 4 minutes before this woman has died to prevent her death (although unfortunately you cannot prevent your own death). You do this by manipulating different physical objects which you can possess and performing the various functions that the objects are capable of to solve the puzzle.

For example, in one of the first puzzles, you have to make your way across several objects to possess a wrecking ball, which you can then drop on the man who is going to kill the woman.

I've been playing it off and on since last Friday.

What I Liked:

Animation. The animation I saw in the trailer was what first got me interested in this game. It's amazing and there's really a surprising amount of different animations. Every single animation in game conveys a strong sense of character, which is something I have not seen often in games. That being said, this is helped by the over-the-top style - the animators could show a ton of character without having to worry about subtlety.

3d visuals. I really love the style of everything in this game that's in 3D. I think they made some really smart choices which work with the DS beautifully.

Concept. The overall concept is really cool - you are dead and you are trying to save other people from dying by manipulating objects like a ghost. Done. Perfect.

Gameplay. So far, every puzzle has been a unique challenge, which honestly surprised me. There is a huge variety of situations which all call for completely different types of solutions - do I need to drop something on this guy? Do I need to move this guy out of the way? Do I need to stop these objects from moving? You have what, at least for me, is just the right amount of options in terms of different things to try, and you always feel as though you are progressing towards a solution. I love that there is no limit to the number of tries you get to solve a puzzle, because this allows them to be more open-ended. (I would think that with this level of variety, if you had a limited number of tries it would be entirely too difficult to progress in this game.)

Story. So far, the story is intriguing. I am just interested enough that I want to keep playing to find out how everyone is interconnected. Characters are just intriguing enough (and in some cases bizarre enough) that my curiosity has been caught. That being said, I've been playing for about 4 hours and I'm starting to need some more reinforcement... throw me a bone, game!

Characters. I've sort of mentioned all of the bits and pieces already... the character designs are really appealing, character animations are highly focused on conveying specific personality, and the characters are relatively well written. All of this comes together to make for interesting, unique characters - which is perfect since they are the primary focus of the story. Also since you're generally playing to save their lives, it's nice to be interested in them. :)


Time rewind & phone line transitions. Whenever you rewind time, or travel through a phone line, there are really cool motion graphics animations. It's a neat touch of polish that makes both of these actions feel more significant.

Tastefully handled violence. It's a game about murder, but I like it! A bloody mess would be pretty contrary to the overall aesthetic of this game, and I feel that they have handled the violence very well by choosing not to be explicit.

Digestible chunks. It seems like common sense, but I'll keep pointing it out when I notice it - I love that you can play this game for 10-20min intervals and put it back down again. It's a handheld, so it's definitely a necessity. This is how I like to play games.

What I Didn't Like:
Long-winded. I feel that there is a tendency to overstate things in the dialogue. Part of me wonders if some subtlety was lost in this game's translation to English? Whichever way, I was told about 4 times that I really ought to hurry up to save Lynn's life, and there was already a "4 min remaining!" on the top screen, and I knew that she was on her way to being dead... and it just bothered me a bit. There have been several other cases of similar over-emphasis on things. I also don't care for the 'dramatic' (unskippable) narration which served as a recap every time a segment started or ended. The game is in small chunks, so it bugged me - but then it does make sense if I had put them game down for awhile and then picked it back up. I just want it to be skippable. And less melodramatic. :)

Repetition of dialogue. I love that you can rewind time as many times as you need to, but some sections of dialogue repeat every time, which gets annoying when you are retrying a lot.

Inconsistency in puzzles. Not a huge deal, but sometimes I would expect things to be different based on prior puzzles. In one puzzle, the policemen both have nightsticks which you can possess, so you can move with the policemen - so then the next time I saw a policeman in a puzzle, I really expected him to have one too, and he didn't. Overall not a big deal, but it pulled me out for a second.

"Trick Time" and "Fate Averted". This is super picky, but with all of the care that went into most of the visuals, these two bits of text were really poorly done (and they pop up a lot).

2D drawings. Perhaps picky again, but considering how awesome the 3D look of this game is, the 2D drawings did no hold up.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I'm still pretty interested in this game after playing it off and on for the last week. That being said, the frequency that I've been picking it up has decreased somewhat. I think the story is not moving fast enough for me.. and I'm getting closer to losing interest unless they throw me a bone soon.