Monday, January 2, 2012

Portal 2 (PS3)

Time Played: 2 hours

What Happened:

Issam and I have been sitting on our borrowed copy of Portal 2 for a couple of months now, so we finally decided to break it out for New Year's Eve. We played splitscreen co-op for about 2 hours. If you haven't played the original Portal, the idea is simple - you have a gun that can create 2 portals that function as a doorway to each other. When you walk in one portal, you walk out the other. In Portal 2 co-op, you each have your own portal gun. There are a number of obstacles in your way and simple tools to work with (levers, switches, buttons) in each level. The fun of the game is in working through a plan of action with your teammate to get both of you to the exit (both players must make it).  

What I Liked:

Puzzles. I think most people love the Portal games for the same reasons - they really show what you can do with a few simple mechanics and really solid level design. Each piece is relatively small - you have to stay standing on this switch to open the door, you need to place a ball in a socket to open a door. Very cool game. :) 

Characters. <3 The two robots are pretty endearing. Most Valve games go with the silent protagonist, which is still technically true in this case - but these robots actually have some character in cut scenes, which is fun. More than anything else, GLaDOS's narration is awesome. She constantly tries to pit you against your partner, by making comments about your respective scores and abilities (I'm assuming this is pre-scripted and not a result of your in game actions?) as well as just making other small hilarious comments as you enter and exit each new level. 

What I Didn't Like:

Loading times. We were a little surprised at the level loading times for such a recent game. I think if I had been playing single player it would have been discouraging, but since we were eating New Year's Eve snacks, the loading times didn't bother us as much. :) 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I want to keep playing!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Temple Run (iPod Touch)

Play Time: 2 hrs

What Happened: 

This is another game that I'd heard about awhile back, and wanted to check out when I got my iPod. I saw some screen shots and thought the visuals were really cool. This is more of a true 'endless runner' in that the level is procedurally generated and simply continues as long as you can stay alive. You are being chased by some monkeys after 'stealing the idol' (pressing play). You encounter a series of obstacles that require you to jump (swipe up), slide (swipe down), and turn left or right (swipe left or right). Every obstacle only has one correct action - and if you time it incorrectly or do the wrong action, you die. There is also gold which you can collect by either running straight ahead, or tilting your iPod to the left or right to move to the left or right of the path. Your goal (like Canabalt) is to go as far as possible before dying. 

There are also items that you can buy (with in game money, or a boost from real-world money) to help you go even farther. You can also get achievements like "go 250 meters without collecting any gold" but I've pretty much been ignoring those.  

What I Liked: 

Art. I really like the level and character art. It's a nice looking game. I particularly like the UI - the HUD elements are integrated very nicely into the art of the level. I also like how the title screen is set up - pressing the play button is the same as stealing the idol. It's clever. 

Premise. I dig the whole Indiana Jones vibe. 

Game Over Screens. I like how when you die, there's an illustration that shows what got you.

Controls. I'll admit that it took me awhile to get the hang of the controls, but now that I'm comfortable with them, I really enjoy them. I love the way that the accelerometer is incorporated into gameplay. Overall, it's a great use of what the iPhone/iPod Touch has to offer. 

Sound. The music is simple, but it's high energy, so I like it. I also think the simple sound effects of the main character and the sound of picking up gold are satisfying.  

What I Didn't Like: 

Shop. This isn't so much something I dislike as something I don't see the point of. There's a shop in the game where you can buy items to better your score... but I don't feel a need to use items in this game. I enjoy this game because it's fun to practice timing and reflexes, so I don't really want items that get me a better score. 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 

I think I will continue to pick this game up and play it every once in awhile. It's a few minutes at a time of easy fun - the same way that Canabalt is. 

Plants vs. Zombies (iPad)

Time Played: 3-4 hours??

What Happened: 
I started this entry months ago and never finished it! Let's see what I remember about this game. :) Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game - each level, you create and collect sunshine which allows you to buy different types of plants. These plants are used to protect your home from hordes of approaching zombies in different ways - for example, some plants shoot pellets which eventually kill the zombies, some plants shoot pellets that slow them down, or kill them instantly, or serve as a block while the zombies eat them. 

Every few levels you unlock a new type of plant, but you have a limited number of slots when you go into each level, so you can't use all of your plants. Eventually you also unlock more slots to bring more plants into battle. There are also different types of zombies, such as ones with more hit points, or zombies that can vault over your first line of defense. As the game goes on, things get increasingly crazy. 

What I Liked: 

Art. It's visually cool and very easy to read what's going on. 

Mechanics. I guess I haven't really played that many tower defense games, so the basic mechanics are probably pretty standard - but I really enjoyed them. I think this game is easy to learn and fun to play. Things felt polished and well balanced. 

Plants. The selection of plants is awesome! Unlocking each new type of plant was rewarding - and it always made me angry because I wanted to use all of them every time. ;) There's a great deal of personality in each plant. 

Zombies. The differences between zombie types were easy to understand and clever. 

What I Didn't Like:

Easy. Maybe I totally misread the situation, but at some point I started to realize that I never seemed to be in any real danger of actually losing. Sometimes I felt tension when a new wave of zombies was approaching, and I felt like my defenses weren't quite there, but when it came down to it, I never lost. I started to feel invincible... and then I stopped playing. Maybe it gets harder? But I got bored before that happened. 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Well, I started this post back in Oct or so, and I haven't picked the game up since. Once I started to feel like I could never lose, I stopped playing. Now that I have my own iPod Touch I might try and pick it up again though. 

Wind-Up Knight (iPod Touch)

Time Played: ~1 hr
What Happened:
I saw some trailers for this game awhile back, so as soon as I got my iPod Touch I wanted to check it out. It's similar to a Canabalt or Bit.Trip Runner style gameplay - your character automatically runs from the left to the right and you react to things in the level - jumping over them, attacking them, rolling under them and shielding yourself from them. Like Bit.Trip Runner, there is only one correct action for each obstacle (so for example, you have to kill a Cockatrice as opposed to jumping over it). Also like Bit.Trip Runner, the levels are pre-created (so it's not an 'endless runner'). If you make a mistake in timing, or use the wrong action, you instantly die and start the level over. 

What I Liked: 

Introduction of Elements. I think it was helpful to not start out with all 4 buttons at once. Building up to 4 made the game a lot easier to learn. That being said, they probably could have introduced them a little quicker (a concept like "jump" doesn't need a whole lot of time). I also didn't immediately understand that shield and roll worked as long as you held the buttons down. I never actually figured out shielding on my own - I complained to Issam about how it was hard and he told me you could hold it. I also felt roll was difficult to time properly, and I discovered that it was the same as shield by accident. :) 

Animation. Simple, cute animation. The squash and stretch helped the actions feel satisfying. There are also small camera animations (I think there's a camera shake when you shield) which really helps the overall feel of the game. 

Background Art. Beautiful levels. Very cool art! :) 

Control Scheme. I think it was a pretty good solution to use 4 buttons to control your character. It's not 100% perfect, in that it's easy to hit the wrong button (buttons could benefit from being a little bit bigger), but it allows this game to have slightly different gameplay than other endless runners.

What I Didn't Like: 

Music. Now that I'm in the second grouping of levels, the music is a lot better, but for the whole first 'book' the music is a total snooze fest. Considering the actions that you are taking while playing, I think more upbeat music would have fit the mood a lot better, and made the overall experience feel a lot more fun. 

Enemies. For all of the polish of the environments and main character, the enemies are a little lackluster. :) There's only one enemy for the whole first book, and he's pretty much completely static. The knight has a lot of personality in his movements, so it would be cool to see that in the enemies. Now that I'm in book two I've finally come across a new enemy - and I actually feel a little bad when I kill him. 

Level Readability. This game occasionally suffers from the same issue we had when we made Sushi Runner where you have difficulty distinguishing background objects from things that are going to kill you. The issue is mostly that the lighting is pretty uniform, so things don't always pop out immediately. I found that the more I played, the less of an issue this was.   

Pretty Princess Primer. I know they were just trying to be funny... but I didn't care for these at all. The Pretty Princess Primer is a series of tips that appear during the loading screen. They are generally tongue-in-cheek one liners like "Many men can be acquired by simply pretending to admire to their pontifications" or "A princess with a high tolerance for liquor has many opportunities for mischief." I guess I sort of found them borderline offensive. Also, what's up with the level named "Wet Dream"? I know I'm being picky... but this is my blog. 

Item System? I see where they were going with the item system, but I didn't find it very engaging (although I generally don't care for item systems in general). As you progress and earn money, you can buy specialty items, like a helm that makes you resistant to fire, or a magnet shield that causes money to come towards you. I think that in the start of the game, too much time was passing before I could afford new items, so more than anything I was just forgetting about them (although you do get notifications when new items are unlocked). I didn't feel like I needed these things to get through the levels, so I wasn't really interested. 

Wind-Up. It's really cute that he's a wind up toy, but I can see absolutely no reason why he should be a wind-up toy as opposed to a real knight. There's a mechanic where you can 'run out' of juice, but it happens so rarely that you don't even think about it - it also could have been handled differently (like, you're hungry or something). I guess I was a little disappointed because when I first heard the title of the game, I thought he might live in a toy world, or the real world as a toy, or that there would be some sort of fantasy magic around this point.... but really it just appears to be completely random. 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 
I think I'm nearing the end of my time with Wind-Up Knight. It's a cute, polished game, but I feel as though I've seen all that it has to offer me.