Thursday, March 31, 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) - Session 2

Total Play Time (incl from January): 3hrs 15min

What Happened:
I played this game for an hour or so with Issam back in January. We had fun, but nothing about it really kept me coming back. I recently looked it up again because of a conversation I had about games with good animation. I watched a youtube clip which featured levels I hadn't gotten to yet, it struck me how varied the gameplay seemed to be across different levels. Because of this, I picked it up again - and I've been playing it for the last couple of nights and really having fun!

Over the last couple of nights I played through the Beach levels, and some of the temple ruins levels. It took me longer than it should have... I die a lot in this game.

What I Liked:
Varied gameplay! So this is a sidescrolling platformer, and I made the mistake of assuming that level 60 might not be very different from level 3. Totally incorrect! This game does an amazing job of really mixing it up. In the beach section, for example, there's a level with a giant octopus - which attacks you in the somewhat 'typical' giant octopus manner of smashing the floating platfrom you're on - but then, when you're climbing through the cave systems away from him, he manages to get his tentacles in there and block your path. There's another level where a giant tidal wave comes crashing from the foreground to the background at a set interval, and you have to get cover or you die. There's another level where you pilot a small rocket, where pressing the A button fast makes you rise, and too slow makes you fall - so you have to have the correct timing of pressing it. In another level, you travel almost exclusively by barrels - choosing the correct timing to send you in the right direction. Anyway - I think an amazing amount of thought and effort went into the level to level gameplay of this game. Every level feels different, and imaginative.

What I Didn't Like:
Unexpected things? Well... honestly this is the one drawback you would expect from having a game with such varied gameplay - a lot of stuff catches you off guard. You don't know that the octopus is going to smash the platform you're standing on until he does it (although you can tell he's going to do something from his tell... just not exactly what). There's a lot of stuff like that - things which come as a surprise because you haven't encountered them before (and will not encounter again), where you're probably going to die unless you have super good reflexes (which I apparently do not). For the most part these cases are still handled well! There are usually checkpoints near the sections where this happens, so even if you're caught by surprise, the punishment isn't too severe. There are only a handful of cases where it felt like I had to play large sections over again because of these surprise deaths.

The first world. It clearly didn't impress me when I played back in January. Issam and I had fun, but we didn't see anything that seemed to set this game apart from others besides a really high level of polish. If I hadn't happened to watch that youtube clip, I would have totally let this game pass me by. Maybe they should have put some more variance in the first world, since it really just felt like we were getting the same gameplay as the original DKC. We were so wrong. :)

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Excited! It's weird, right? As much as I've been frustrated while playing, the variety in gameplay is keeping me coming back. It's fun to see what they do to make each level different, and I'm excited to see what else they've got.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii)

Play Time: 1hour

What Happened:

So I randomly spotted this game at Gamestop on Friday night because the cover art looked intriguing. Issam and I had never heard of it before, and the description on the back of the box sounded interesting, so we decided to go for it. In this case, I watched Issam play, as opposed to playing the game myself, but I tried it out for a couple of minutes to get a sense of the handling.

This is an interesting game! In the game, you are a young boy who may or may not be the last person alive after the old man he was living with died. You start off in your shared home and find the man's dying note, in which he expresses deep regret for the things he's done in life and for not opening up to you more. He tells you to head to the "red tower" where you might be able to find answers, so off you go.

Now the intro cinematic starts (which is very pretty!)and you see a girl (who is not wearing very much... since I guess she's not used to having other people around? Still, some of the shots in the opening make me wince). You also scenes of a deserted, destroyed Tokyo.

As you are wandering (the "red tower" is Tokyo Tower) you run into the girl, some stuff happens and she runs away from you. You chase after her because she's the only person you've ever seen, and end up in the terrifying post-apocalyptic Tokyo subway. Here, you meet the "Personal Frame" computer, who will become your traveling companion. Some more stuff happened, but I'll leave it there.

The bulk of gameplay is basically wandering around dark, frightening places with your flashlight (wiimote controlled) and looking for the girl. Along the way, stray, hostile memories attack you (sometimes they look like jellyfish, sometimes they look like arms), you meet ghosts (and someone who may or may not be a ghost), and you collect items which store memories that you can listen to. Saving and resting can be done wherever you can build a fire - which at this point in the game are points which appear frequently. By returning items to ghosts, you can help them achieve peace and move on to the next world. There is a lot of narration, and sections where control is taken away from you and you listen to dialogue.

This game is compelling because it is so mysterious - we found that we were willing to bear with many aspects of it which were a bit sub par, simply because we were so intrigued. What happened to the world? There are references to earthquakes, is that what happened? Will we ever even find out? So far, I feel that it is similar in mood and intrigue to the anime Haibane Renmei - overall, it's very quiet and understated, and takes its time. I'm not convinced that they'll ever actually tell me what happened, but I'm dying to know.

What I Liked:
The Intrigue. As I said above - they pretty much don't tell you anything in this game about what's going on! I think this works very well. I can tell that something horrible has happened to the world, and I want to know what it is!

Tokyo. The destruction of Tokyo is handled well. It really feels as though something awful happened in like, the middle of the day. There's stuff everywhere - personal items, abandoned offices full of things, shoes - and it's all dilapidated and over-grown. It's very rich with detail, and very, very creepy.

The Boy. Although I dislike the voice acting (see below) I think the boy is interesting as a character. His character is very subtle. At first it seems like he has no character, but then you see that he arms himself with a stick, or that he's cheerful and optimistic enough to say that a 75% chance of something being successful is a great chance, and he's perhaps just a bit too literal. He feels like someone who has grown up virtually in isolation.

Personal Frame. The computer is also a really great character! In particular, the way that the boy and the computer interact is surprisingly fun and interesting. She exists to take care of the emotional and physical needs of her user - so she seems concerned with the boy's feelings, but she's a computer so she's awkward about it. I find their conversations to be heartwarming.

Tension. Something I love and hate. :) This game is pretty creepy, and you're never really sure what's going to happen. Maybe particularly because the protagonist is a vulnerable young boy (hahaha, reminds me of the Zero Punctuation review of "A Shadow's Tale") you feel that anything could appear at any moment and wipe you out and no one would know. There's a good balance of those sort of 'pop out at you' moments and sections where you're just really sure something bad is going to happen and it doesn't. The way the enemies appear is handled very well - you get audio cues from your Wiimote, and the music changes, and they fade in (but it's a fast enough speed that you can't do anything about it).

Sense of Respect.This game could have easily taken all of the left behind memories that you listen in on and made them disturbing (totally what I thought was going to happen), but they are sweet and innocent - which makes them all the more heartbreaking since you know they were left behind by people that have died. For example, in the train station you encounter a number of memories shared between a mother and daughter who have a wonderful relationship (although the voice acting makes them a liiiitle too saccharine sweet - I'm willing to let it slide.) Anyway, it feels like good people have died, and it's a sad thing. You feel this.

Ghost. Speaking of the little girl whose memories you hear, you get to meet her! I think she was (besides the voice acting) handled pretty well. Her animations in particular made her feel like an actual little girl - and it was sad!

WiiMote Audio. This game uses the wiimote audio in a number of places pretty effectively. First, you use it to find the Personal Frame - depending on which direction you are facing, you can hear the computer in the distance. Likewise, when you are playing hide-and-seek with the little girl later, you can hear her giggling through the wiimote. It also lets you know when enemies are approaching. That being said, it could stand to be a bit more subtle - it sort of felt like the audio cue was on or off - and when you were close to what you were looking for, it was a bit too loud. Also, the speakers on the Wiimote really aren't spectacular sounding. But! I think it was a neat gameplay idea!

What I Didn't Like:

Voice acting? When we pick this up again, I think we'll look to see if there's an option for listening to the voice acting in Japanese. It just doesn't work well in English - and I think most of it is the timing. It's the same as anything where the audio was originally in Japanese - English words take a different, usually shorter amount of time to say, so you're left with really awkward pauses, and a sense of much, much slower editing overall. Any brilliant voice actor would probably struggle with it - but the guy voicing the main kid is just a normal guy, so it's extra bad. I also don't feel that his voice really fits with the visual of the boy (he sounds too much like an adult trying to sound like a kid).

Enemies. It doesn't feel as though a lot of care went into the enemies. The way that they appear is very well done, as I mentioned above, but once they're there, they're kind of lame. You just sort of whack them a few times, and there isn't a real sense of danger. For example, you'd think the creepy hands might grab onto you, and try to suffocate you or something - but they don't animate, and they don't really seem to inflict a lot of damage. The dogs, in particular were pretty lame, since they animated more complexly than the hands or jellyfish - so you could tell that they were not animated very well.

Chicken Man. To be fair, I both like and hate the chicken man. First off, he scares the crap out of me, mostly because someone had a stroke of brilliance and decided to put just the tiniest little dots of perceived reflected light into the head. This gives the terrifying impression that something not entirely human (and you're assuming he's not human) is staring out at you. They're almost imperceptible, so when you notice them it's all the more scary.
But that's what I like about him. :) I think the eye glint was incredibly smart. What I don't like is the fact that he's a mascot. He's a collector of found objects, so I guess this is something he's found and decided to carry around... but I think it sort of breaks the otherwise fairly original portrayal of a deserted city - when he comes in, it feels familiar, and perhaps overdone. Now I might as well be in a creepy carnival or something.

Cheesecake. Like I said before, the girl's lack of clothing bothers me. I get that you might dress like that in a world with no need for modesty, but this game is made for the real world, and in the real world it just feels like fan service (particularly when she's on her hands and knees in the intro). It feels out of place in this game.

Budget? This one isn't really fair, hence the question mark - but it seems that they were working with either a really limited time frame or a small budget in relation to animation. Before you get the flashlight in the start of the game, the boy is playing the same animation as when he's holding the flashlight - so yes, his hand is simply held out in a fist in front of him. Also when the boy does things which are not in his usual animation set - like pulling a lever, or pulling open a door - the screen simply fades to black until the action is done. But really, what else can you do if you simply couldn't create all of the animations?

Start. It felt like this game took awhile before you really got to play. You'd get an EDC, then a cutscene, then control for like, 2min, then another EDC.. 

Pacing. On the same note, this is already a slow, sort of understated story - which is good, I think - but they seem to have made a number of choices (I'm assuming many were out of necessity) which make it feel even slower. One is that whenever an EDC starts, the screen first fades to black. You learn in editing classes that a fade to black is generally used to imply a sense of passing time -- so when you do this all of the time, the game starts to feel extra long. Also, whenever the boy and computer are speaking, EDCs take over and you do not have control of the character. It's a shame that this was the case. Finally, whenever you sit at a fire, the same camera move plays on the same visual of the boy sitting in front of the fire - and they felt compelled to make him say something each time, in his already-too-slow manner of speech. All small things that I think were done because of technical limitations, but something to note nonetheless. Be careful before you use 'fade to black'!

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Like I mentioned above, at this point I'm intrigued to the point that I can look past whatever isn't working about this game because I want to know what the heck is happening. I think Issam and I will definitely be picking this one up again. That being said it's definitely slow, so I think if in the next session or two we don't feel like any questions are being answered, we'll probably drop it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

PAX East: Bulletstorm (360)

Play Time: ~30min

What Happened:
This was the last game I played at PAX East Console Freeplay. I thought I'd go even more outside of my comfort zone (which really I should be doing more if I want to take this seriously) and try Bulletstorm. To start, I don't play first person shooters, so I was really, really bad at this game. The barrier to entry the FPS genre when you're not an FPS player is really high. This game does at least give you difficulties from 'very easy' 'easy' 'normal' (and then one or two more difficult option). I had intended to play on normal to get the full experience, but accidentally clicked 'easy'. :) After playing, I wonder if I should have gone for "very easy" to see if it compensated for that barrier to entry.

I forget exactly what happened plot wise. I started off with my gun pointed at some guy that me and my crew were threatening. I was really worried that the game was going to ask me to shoot him at point blank range (super uncomfortable) but I think I ended up just shooting a bottle off of his head. We jettisoned him out of the airway of our spaceship after that though... there was some walking around our damaged ship (aforementioned guy had a bomb in his hand), a part where I manned the ships guns and shot at another ship, a part where we walked on the side of a skyscraper and swung in the window to kill someone (after which we went rogue, since we discovered we killed an innocent man!) then a part where I got off of my ship and walked around. It's all told in that sort of 'flashing forward and backward in the narrative timeline' style, so that's why I'm feeling fuzzy about the details now.

What I Liked:
Objective reached. I don't really remember what it looked like, but I had a note in my notebook that said "objective reached = cool" - I think the UI just made some sort of satisfying animation when I did what I was supposed to do, which made an impression on me.

Kicking. Kicking guys is surprisingly fun! I still don't really understand the slow motion aspect of it though... am I breaking gravity for them? Is it slow motion because it's a cool 300-eque moment? I never really got it.. but it still felt satisfying to kick someone.

What I Didn't Like:

Short! When I first got control of my guy, I saw a monitor over on the side of the room which looked like it would be, say, slightly above your eyeline, so I walked over to it --- and apparently the main character in this game is like 3ft tall! There are definitely some weird scale issues going on in this game. Issam and I tried to deduce my height through normal objects around me, and it seemed as though the main character comes up to about mid-thigh height on a real life person. :) I think the scale of objects was just really off.

Visual polish. There were definitely a lot of small visual details which were off. For example, the neck line of the main character was dotted by black pixels (which almost made it look like the model's head wasn't welded to his body), the edges of ship machinery had some pretty obvious crawling pixels where the light was hitting them, and when I was in the city pretty much all of the buildings had some significant Z-fighting going on. In a way, as with my comments in Marvel vs. Capcom - this sort of makes me feel a little better because I think that most people don't notice these details. This game is doing well, and I haven't heard anyone say "it looks like crap" so maybe we over-value details like this when we're considering the success of our own games. :) More visual details I wrote down: no blinking on your team mates, the hologram of the chief looks really bad, and in general the FX were pretty lame (very flat).

Space Shooting. The whole section where I was operating the space ship's guns was confusing. I didn't have a good sense of whether or not I was succeeding or failing, movement felt clumsy, and there was a gross filter over the whole screen which seemed unnecessary and distracting. (My notes on this section? "Ship shooting? Am I failing?")

False choices. There a number of moments where you're instructed to press a single button to make the action progress. Really, if I only have one possible choice, why are you asking me to participate. Maybe if my timing mattered, I'd at least feel more involved - but generally I just felt annoyed. Also, if you wait awhile to do what they're asking, the action just freezes up (I believe I've seen criticisms that CoD has a tendency to do the same thing - there are super intense situations where you're asked to act, but if you don't act the game totally breaks all of its illusions and holds still.)

Slow running. My guy is super slow. This annoyed me. It's not like I was a giant..

Staring. My companions seemed to be set up to constantly be looking in my direction - so whenever I look at them, there they are, just staring at me, unblinking. More than once it felt distinctly unnerving. Maybe this mostly just comes down to the lack of blinking mentioned above - but also, these are some pretty independent guys. They don't need to be looking at me all the time. It felt like it didn't fit in with the narrative to have these gruff men constantly looking at me to see what I was doing.

Kicking. As I said above, kicking is really, really fun. The problem is that, because it's so much more than shooting, I just wanted to do it all of the time - and unfortunately, my first real encounter did not allow for this. It seems like you're being put in situations where in order to survive you need to take cover and shoot - but that seems counter to the overall mood of the game, particularly when kicking is fun. I sort of felt like I'd been set up for failure.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Eh. As I said, I'm really bad at the whole FPS genre, and there really wasn't anything in particular about this game that drew me in, or felt different than other FPSs I've seen (except maybe the kicking, which I'm pretty sure you're really not supposed to use all that much.) I think I'm set for this one - but at least I went out of my comfort zone.

PAX East: God of War III (PS3)

Play Time ~45min

History with the Franchise:
When I graduated college and had free time again and was trying to get into the industry, I bought and played the first God of War. I'm not really sure how much time I actually spent playing it - I petered out somewhere around Hades. I think I got stuck somewhere in a level, and since my interest was waning anyway, I stopped playing. (Reminds me of one of the slides from the Designing Games for the 43 Year-Old Woman GDC talk about "stuck points" which can easily lose people who aren't hardcore gamers. This happened to me in Portal also - even though I was having fun, I got stuck and then I didn't pick it up anymore. Not that that's an error on the side of design, just that I'm not that type of gamer.)

What Happened:
I played for a good 30-40min at PAX East Console Freeplay. At the start of the game you are climbing up Mount Olympus with a group of titans, and helping the nearest titan who is being attacked by Poseidon's horse. Along the way you are also fighting.. I dunno, the undead army or something, so there are lots of small, violent, head-stomping (ew) skirmishes along the way. You travel along a completely linear path. There are some indoor sections in structures and caves on the titan where there is some bit of figuring out how to get from point A to point B. I got to the Poseidon fight and then stopped.

What I Liked:
Opening sequence. The game has a pretty cool opening title sequence which is stylized to look like Grecian pottery paintings. I always think it's pretty cool when games show credits at the start, like movies or TV shows. :) That being said, I do think it was a little bit lacking in execution - the transitions were a little bit awkward and there were a lot of things that struck me as unpolished. Also it was really long - not because of the quantity of names, but because of transitions, animations, etc. It felt drawn out.

Creature design. The titans were really neat - they all looked like individuals (even if I'm wrong and they weren't, the camera work certainly tricked me into thinking that they were) and the way that they embodied different elements made them interesting. More than the titans, Poseidon's water-spider/crab-horses were incredibly awesome. I felt that they were truly unique - unlike most game creatures, I didn't look at them and think "this has been done before."

Scale. I'm pretty sure this is a "thing" for the God of War series - I haven't seen very many games that convey a sense of scale quite as effectively as this one. You're always coming up to sprawling vistas, or in this case, seeing something happen to the giant titan far in the distance - and feeling that sense of "I have to hurry to get all of the way over there to help her."

Cinematic nature of events. This is another GoW "thing" but there are a lot of 'events' which happen during a level. In this level, for example, you get on and off of the titan and interactions between the nearest titan and the horse-spiders cause your ground plane to shift. For example, when you are climbing on the titan herself, she reacts to the horse and now your whole ground plane is oriented sideways, or upside-down. You feel as though you are traversing on a living, giant thing, and it feels as though things are constantly happening - and that if you stopped responding, things would still be happening. Like it's a living world.  

Cameras. Overall, the cameras were very well done. First, they were great in communicating all of the cinematic events and sense of scale. They were also just very well composed throughout the game. When you go into "Heart of Gaia" cave section, there are some really nicely composed camera angles which show a great sense of depth and framing. The only time I ever had a problem was when I was first learning to glide - I kept getting it wrong (which, I don't think you'd assume that many players would have a hard time gliding, honestly - I think this one was just me) and it caused me to fall into a pit. Getting out of the pit was somewhat awkward because the platforms I need to jump on were located behind the camera, so they were hard to see. Other than that, beautiful. 

What I Didn't Like:
Opening cinematic. Not the title sequence, but when you start the game you get a narrated sequence where the camera flies all over this city and shows that the world is a terrible place - it swings all around and eventually gets to the reveal of the titans climbing Mount Olympus and Kratos with them. Now, the reveal of the titans is really well done - but I felt that the first half of the cinematic was just really cliche. People being indiscriminately killed by monsters as they walk around, sort of boring. But the thing that really pulled me out of it was that the camera starts off following a bird around (which makes me sigh) and then, at some point, the bird gets killed by a falling rock. It just felt... lame. Like someone thought of that and went "No! Here's how we'll make it different, and tongue-in-cheek!"

Missing takehit. When I was fighting the individual horse-spiders, there was a section where I was supposed to be hitting it in the legs, but there was zero reaction when I did hit it in the legs - so I thought I wasn't supposed to. I got stuck for awhile, and at Issam's insistence went back to hit the legs, and then beat the thing. Confusing. During the actual Poseidon fight, the horse legs hit react though.

Impractical temple! I know it's a game, but sometimes I get pulled out when I notice completely impractical things. For example, there's a part where you're inside of a temple. You beat up a bunch  of bad guys, and then you can pull a lever (I tried to pull the lever before I beat up the guys, and it didn't respond.. which is also fictionally weird). The lever causes this big hanging platform to move like, 8ft - and then you can progress from the floor to a first platform, to the hanging platform, to the other side of the room with the door. In what realistic circumstance would something like this ever exist? Is this how Zeus travels up Mount Olympus when he's by himself? It's just sort of goofy.  

Tedious enemies. This is the other thing I've never liked about the GoW series, or really, any beat 'em up. I don't really get a lot of joy from having what feels like the same fight so many times over. This series handles it better than most, in that the combat tree is complex, and interesting - different button combinations get me different animations, different enemies can be killed in different ways - but I still feel like I'm just hitting the same 2 buttons over and over. I don't really need to kill thousands of guys.

Only the girl titan needs your help?! Haha, this is just because I've been thinking about gender too much lately, but I thought it was funny that the titan you were helping was a woman. It might have made me feel better if I also saw her do something really badass at some point, but she didn't, really.

Not always obvious traversal. It's a linear game, which I actually really like, but every once in awhile I felt that it was hard to identify what you could climb on, or jump to. It felt like some jump distances seemed bigger than others - so I'd see something and go "well, I know I can't get to it by jumping" and look for another way. Then I'd realize I could jump to it.

Overall it's a really pretty game, but it definitely struck me that everything you see looks like the same material. I think it's because so many things were supposed to look wet because of the spider-horses? I dunno, too much specular on everything.

Weird puzzle. When you're in the Heart of Gaia, there's a room where you need to find  way to climb upwards. There's a vertical slice missing from the wall on one side of the cave, and a glowing light point (symbol for pressing shoulder button) on the other side. Oh, I see - I grab this vertical slice of cave wall and drag it to the gap on the other side of the cave wall. Now there's a continuous ridge I can climb on. What the hell?! How does that make any sense? What happened in this cave to create this puzzle? This is basically the same complaint as the impractical temple.

Gliding visual. When you want to glide, you hold the jump button after double jumping and Kratos grows crow wings and you glide. Maybe it's because I don't know the fiction here, but it definitely seems like this visual doesn't quite fit in. Kratos isn't doing anything else that's magical... The first time I did it by mistake and didn't hold it - so I saw a flash of wing and had no idea what was happening.

Swinging. When you swing on stuff, it's happening just a little too quickly, and as such usually leaves me feeling like I don't know what just happened. Like, I press the shoulder button, and blink, and then I'm standing on top of a ledge. :) I'm sure it's probably cool looking too, so it's a shame that it's just a bit too fast.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 
Honestly, while I was playing I didn't feel like I was having a lot of fun, but now that I've done this write-up, I realize that there was a lot of cool stuff happening in this game. GoW is generally championed as a game that's not unique, but is a sort of compilation of awesome, existing mechanics with a lot of polish. Even if that's the case, I would definitely turn to this game if I wanted to study well done in-game cinematics, scale, and combat trees. Maybe I will pick it up again, for the sake of learning - not because I want to do more head-stomping.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PAX East: Dragon Age II (360)

Play time: ~15-20min

What Happened:
Ouch! I just realized that all of the notes I wrote down for this game fall under the "what I didn't like" category...

This was game 4 for PAX East weekend. To be completely honest, I didn't play this one, I just watched Issam play it. He wanted to check it out since he liked the first Dragon Age on PC, and wanted to see how the 360 version played.

Most of my comments are about the art in the game, since I didn't play.

What I Liked:

Umm... I didn't really see very much of the game... but the base girl character model was pretty cool looking I thought.

What I Didn't Like:

Slow loading! A lot of it.

Frame rate. The frame rate has a tendency to drop in almost all of the EDCs, which I don't think I've really seen happen in a game before... So that was pretty bad.

Small polish in EDCs. Because of the camera angles, you got to see a lot of small details up close that I don't think were created to be seen so close. For example, the dwarf in the intro EDC has strange dark blotches on his eyelids. Also, there's a knife stabbed into a book which looks pretty bad up close. There are also a lot of small, awkward pops into and out of EDCs.

Action freezing. There's a particular character move which pauses the action so that you can target an attack - but for something so disruptive, the payoff is really lacking. It almost makes it seem more like an error than a special move.

No ribcage. When you chose the female character, your companion character's model appears to be missing her ribcage. Also, I'll go ahead and say it - her outfit is ridiculous!

Blood splatter. I think it's supposed to be stylized? There's a part in the beginning where you and your companion both have big blood splatters across their faces - but there is a really high contrast in color, and it looks really odd.

Feedback. When you fight the ogre, it there is no takehit or effects feedback, so it's hard to tell that you've made contact.

Losing control. Your character does a super cool finishing move when you finish fighting, but it starts an EDC. Because of this, it feels as though you (the player) are not actually getting to finish the monster off. It makes it anti-climactic.

Character editor. It's confusing, there's an intro EDC and gameplay, and then you are given the option to change your character's appearance. Maybe I'm a different person now, after the EDC? I don't actually know.

Presets. The default character looks great, but the other character presets were obviously made in the character editor as opposed to modeled, and there's a huge dip in quality. I don't know why you would ever want to choose any other character preset.

FX. Overall, the effects are pretty lame looking. They just all seem to be flat textures on planes.

Crawling. During the EDCs you can see that the shadows are chunky and the edges are crawling.

Texture bleeding. Also in the EDCs, you can see that the texture on the main characters lips appears to bleed across the top of her mouth. It sort of gives the same effect as an old lady wearing lipstick.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I dunno, I didn't technically try this game and everyone I know who's played the PC version has really liked this game. Almost all of my comments revolve around visuals, but if this is a fun game (which I'm assuming it is since it's so popular), then my comments about the visuals really don't matter. Gameplay is most important!

PAX East: Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (360)

Play time: 30-40min

History with the Franchise:
I'm pretty sure I've played other MvC games before, but I don't really have any specific memories of the franchise. I generally always like playing fighting games. :)

What Happened:

We finally caved to the peer pressure of seeing everyone else play this game at the PAX East Console Freeplay and checked this one out as our 3rd game. We played for a good 30-40min. Generally I always only play as girls (I know, big surprise), but this time I purposefully tried to play as many characters as possible.

What I Liked:

Roster. I guess we didn't have all of the characters unlocked (I think?), but even in the amount of characters we could choose from there was an awesome variety. Not so much in terms of numbers, but more in terms of types of characters. Amaretsu plays very differently from say, She-Hulk.

Scale. I was really surprised at how they made it fun to play really big characters against really small ones. It was incredibly impressive. I may return to play this game to try to get a better sense of how they accomplished this.

Art Style. For the most part, graphically this game was really attractive! The effects were cool, the models looked nice. It's well done. I also generally liked the backgrounds - they were fun and interesting (although there is more on this below).

What I Didn't Like:

Intro animations. This is sort of a good thing and a bad thing! There are lots of small issues with the intro animations - character animations cause them to clip through each other, the variance in character sizes makes it so different characters heads are out of frame in the opening camera shot. I think it's a good thing because I don't think it's particularly noticeable! This seems like the sort of thing we would spend time and effort to address in any of our games, but in this top quality, hit game, it doesn't matter. :)

As mentioned above, the backgrounds were quite cool. They had character, were vibrant and alive - but also sometimes this was really distracting. In particular, when you're on the SHIELD Hellicarrier there are crazy anti-aircraft gun effects which make the overall visuals even more manic and confusing.

Confusing. I tried to make a point with the images I selected for this post - the effects in this game are out of control. Sometimes it's easy to feel lost in the action. I think if it was just visually confusing it might not be so bad, but I felt that the controls were also confusing. I've never been very good at fighting games personally, so it may just have been me - but it felt like half of the time, Issam or I were saying "I have no idea what just happened."

Character swapping. Switching characters took while for us to figure out - if you tap the shoulder buttons one of your 2 helper characters would come to your aid briefly - but if you held it, you would switch with them. That's sort of a confusing mechanic to figure out on your own. :)

Aliasing?! Again, what's with Japanese games and aliasing? Everything's all jaggy all the time. This was particularly noticeable during the loading screen when you had a moment to stare at black silhouettes of your characters against a colorful background.

Holes in models. Also during the loading screen, on certain characters you could flat out see holes in the models. Again, this was something that would generate loads of bugs, but I think it's something that doesn't matter. It kind of shows that it's not very important in the grand scheme of things.

Phoenix. I'm pretty sure Phoenix's balance was off. Every time either of us played her we took damage way faster than any other character. It was weird.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Fighting games are definitely a fun way to pass the time, and I'm sure I will play this game again.

PAX East: Punch-Out!! (Wii)

Play time: 30-40min

What Happened:
For our second PAX Console Freeplay game, we tried out Punch-Out!! Issam and I played single player together, switching off whenever one of us got knocked out. We got knocked out a few times (well, really just me), beat the first four contenders and lost once against the fifth.

Basic gameplay is that you face one contender at a time. You use the joystick on the Nunchuk to dodge, and you shake the Wiimote and Nunchuk up and down to punch. You can also aim your punches up or down to punch the contender in the face or mid-section. Overall, like most fighting games, it's a timing game. You have to dodge at the right time and land a punch at the right time.

What I Liked:

Fun! This was a really fun game!! It felt like it was simple enough to learn and get into quickly, but complex enough that it was challenging. Making contact with your opponent was satisfying - particularly when you catch him in the face when he's mocking you.

Shake to get up! When you get knocked down, you have to shake the Nunchuk and Wiimote to get back up. This was an incredibly fun mechanic because of the sense of desperation you felt to get up! Funnily enough, although it was generally the same thing you're doing the whole game (shaking), it felt like a totally different mechanic.

Intro drawings. Instead of having anything complicated to introduce the other boxers, they showed a series of 3 still images for each character. I thought this was really smart! The drawings were a super low budget way to show a great sense of character.

Tag Team. Not part of the game, but Issam and I had a lot of fun working together trying to figure out the timing to beat guys. I think it was playing it together that made it the most fun.

Bruises. There's a dynamic bruising system! If you hit a guy in the face a lot, he gets black eyes or loses teeth - if you hit him in the stomach a lot he gets bruises on the stomach and chest. It's a neat detail, and I think it really pays off in a simple game like this, where pretty much all you're looking at is the other guy.

Lovably hate-able. For the most part, the bad guys were really funny! I know that much of the credit for the original ideas go to the original Punch Out devs (I'm pretty sure most of the characters are in other games?), but I can still point it out. Having them all based on countries was really funny. Also, credit going to the current devs, the character animations were great - the sense of character is really exaggerated and over the top, which is something I will always be a fan of. :) They were pretty much all jerks, in a lovably hate-able way - you definitely wanted to punch them.

What I Didn't Like:

Lack of tutorial? For the most part, it was easy to figure the game out by experimenting, but we never figured out how to block. Maybe there was a tutorial we could have played before starting gameplay.. but there wasn't a tutorial built in.

Little Mac is boring. For all of the character that everyone else has, Little Mac is super boring!! I get the idea of the 'every-man,' but it might have been cool to try to give him a little something to make him interesting. Particularly since everyone else is very over the top, it might have been cool to make him really understated - so that way when personality shone through it would be more satisfying.

German guy. The German stereotype made me a little uncomfortable, honestly. Also, according to Issam, the French guy was voiced by a Quebecois. :)

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I really enjoyed playing and wasn't tired of it yet - but I can't really see playing this game for a long period of time. I think for children in particular this would be a really great game for a longer period of time.

PAX East: NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (Wii)

Play time: 15-20min

What Happened:
One of my favorite things about PAX East is the Console Freeplay section! You get to play any game that they have in their library for 30-40min you just have to leave your driver's license as collateral. :)

For the first game of the weekend, Issam suggested I try NiGHTS, since it seemed like something I might enjoy. I decided pretty fast that it wasn't for me :). I started the game, watched the intro cinematic, did the tutorial (clumsily), and then got maybe halfway through the first level. Then we decided it was time to move on.

Basically, you're a kid who's entered into the dream world - you meet NiGHTS who asks you to 'dualize' with her (him?) and then you control NiGHTS during actual gameplay. During gameplay you basically just fly around (on rails, we finally figured out) and go through hoops to get points. Also there are some vague bad guys that you fly around in a circle to kill. That's pretty much it.

What I Liked:

Gender choice. At the start of the game, I got to choose if I wanted to play as a boy or a girl! I'm always happy when games give me this choice, even though for the most part you're controlling NiGHTS anyway. I did get to see a super cute (very Japanese) cinematic for the girl though.

Cinematic. Since I just mentioned it anyway, the cinematic was cute! It was pretty well done.

Neat world. When it came to flying around levels, I only saw the first one, but I thought it was pretty interesting. There are a lot of fun things you can do when your game is set in a dream, and I thought their choices was very cheerful.

What I Didn't Like:

Clumsy. When I first started playing, I was completely confused and felt that the controls weren't responding as expected - finally we figured out that the lateral motion was on rails. ;) Even after figuring that out, it felt that the controls were super touchy, and overall motion was clumsy.

Lacking polish. There were just a lot of small details that stuck out as a lack of polish. For example, during EDCs, your character doesn't blink. Also during a cinematic you might be standing right next to NiGHTS, but when it ends, you've popped across the level. There are also some very visible UV seams. Also what's up with Japanese games all having aliasing?

There's a map? Haha, this one's weird, but after flying around and sort of feeling lost in the level (even though it's on rails), we noticed that there was a map. It was just sort of weird.. we'd been playing for like 15 minutes.

Character design. NiGHTS definitely had a bit of a weird character design. In particular her (his?) backside was a little odd.

Water treatment. In game, you are instructed that you cannot fly into the water as NiGHTS - so of course the next move after hearing this was to try flying into it! The result was a headfirst collision into the solid surface of the water. This is really just another polish thing, but it definitely came off as pretty cheap - there's no reaction from the surface of the water, and NiGHTS just sticks to it. :)

Barriers. Similar to the water thing, there are sections where you can see rings above you, but not fly to them because of invisible barriers. I think that they could have changed the level layout to avoid running into this issue. It definitely breaks the illusion of flight.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
No thanks. :) I think it's a pretty game, but it was definitely clumsy and got boring pretty fast.