Spelunky: No More Mines For Me (Review)

By Alexandra Geraets in Reviews
Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

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Armed with a few bombs and some rope, my adventurer trekked off in search of treasure, mystery, and the odd damsel in distress to save. The bombs and rope make reaching areas possible, the treasure adds up quickly, and the mystery is near nonexistent. While I appreciated the option of choosing my damsel type (the pug dog was a nice touch), I wasn't too keen on the knocking-them-out-to-take-them-out-of-the-dungeon part. Despite this, things were going smoothly enough, and I was almost to the end of the level. Then, just as I was about to depart with my dog in tow, I landed on a spike trap and died in an explosion of fuchsia-colored blood for what was, by my count, the thirtieth time.

This is the experience of playing Spelunky, a game with a nostalgic art style, randomly generated dungeons, and some of the most patience-testing gameplay I've ever encountered. This is a game that seemed to be mocking me from the moment I beat the tutorial.

With an unforgivingly high difficulty curve, Spelunky is all about punishing you as a player from the moment you're set loose into the game, as with each deadly misstep you make, you find yourself returned to the very beginning of a level, to experience it all over again, with the platform areas completely reorganized, and no easily memorized path to the exit, or any hints on how to make this easier. There is no experience gained or lost from the gameplay, but the repeated attempts at completing stages is not very rewarding, and, in fact, had me abandoning the game on two or three occasions out of pure frustrations.

Appreciating the Flaws

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, July 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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Being able to find the flaws in something you appreciate is a difficult task. I've found errors in my favorite short stories and novels, and I am forced to take a drastically different look at the works. By looking critically at something, we can ease it into the acceptable, broad-termed realm of 'art'. Since video games constantly teeter on the line between 'art' and 'not art', they warrant the same amount of scrutiny offered to our other artsy works. Video game narratives deserve further critical viewings, just as film and television stories are critiqued and studied for what they do right, as well as what they do wrong.

 

Some studios have built their reputations on their ability to tell grand stories. However, the ability to tell consistently good stories across multiple games, not necessarily in a series, is not guaranteed. With inconsistency comes awareness of it; when people are aware of plot holes, they want to dig deeper into them. In any form of entertainment, be it television, movie, book, or video game, if there's a plot continuity error, I personally want to figure out how it got there.

 

Back in March, I wrote a reactionary response to a proposed 'new ending' for the controversial Mass Effect 3. With the extended ending's release this past week, I found that whatever initial irritations I had were unfounded, and I think the extended cut offers some closure that is otherwise absent from the original ending. It's also forced me to reassess how I feel about this game series as a whole.


I appreciated the original ending of Mass Effect 3. I thought it encouraged the gamer to use his or her imagination and creativity to fill in the gaps and leave it be. Giving it a tougher look, nearly three months later, it becomes apparent that Mass Effect's overall, consistent story is kind of a mess.

 

Babel Rising Makes Me a God (Again!) [Review]

By Rich Shivener in Reviews
Friday, June 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm


If I were a devoted man of some god, I might say that divine intervention offered me a review of the new Kinect-ready, XBLA game Babel Rising. I might also say how strange such an opportunity is - because this is the second time in a year that I've been offered a game centered on the powers of a god. (I reviewed From Dust. Read it here.)

I might be over-thinking the coincidence now. Babel Rising doesn't want me to do that. It wants me to be OK with going through the motions of God and and its almighty powers. I obliged for the sake of this review, but I found more boredom than humor, although I did find a small thrill in acting like an omnipresent force.

Magic 2013 Scratches That Itch [Review]

By Jeremy M. Zoss in Reviews
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm
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Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Back in the early days of the Magic: The Gathering trading card game, I got sucked in. Big time. I never played in tournaments, but nevertheless Magic had a pretty firm grip on me. I spent hundreds on cards, collected complete expansion sets and, of course, played the game a lot. After a few years, I gradually loosed myself from Magic's grasp and set it aside for years. Recently I played a few hands with my brother, but the game didn't sink its hooks into me like it used to.

And the Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 arrived on Xbox Live Arcade. 

Five Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Fantasies

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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Mass Effect 3's Extended Cut DLC -- will it provide closure?

So today marks the release of the Mass Effect 3 "Extended Cut" DLC. I was going to say "much-anticipated," but to be honest the absolute, undiluted passion that many gamers felt on this issue seems to have cooled to either apathy ("I don't know, I've sort of moved on...") or a vague, almost existential sadness ("I thought Shepard mattered to the universe. Clearly he didn't. I'm playing some Skyrim again, that's helping me... fill the void..."). Once the information on the Extended Cut came out, it became clear that Bioware wasn't fundamentally altering any of the much-complained about ME3 endings, but instead adding additional content that they hoped would provide dissatisfied fans with a greater sense of closure. This placated some people, and just sort of sapped the willpower of those fans who wanted a complete ME3 ending overhaul.

But I, for one, am very excited to get home from work today and grab the DLC. I think there are many different avenues that Bioware could take that would be really interesting while still staying within the bounds of the endings already laid out in the pre-Extended Cut version of ME3. Here are a few (somewhat unorthodox) ideas about how ME3's different finales could be thrilling, touching and resoundingly complete.

MANY spoilers ahead for the original ending(s) of ME3.  I haven't played the Extended Cut yet, so everything besides the basic facts of the launch-version endings is pure conjecture, as will become apparent.

E-Readers and Games, You Cannot Escape

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, June 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

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In the immortal words of the comedian Eddie Izzard, I have what is known as "technojoy, not technofear." I understand his statement as embracing technology, machinery, and the bizarre with the awesome, all in the name of furthering us humans into the cyber age. I'm all for it. I will embrace the tech. I have no fear of it.

I appreciate technology, I truly do. Working with my chosen medium of entertainment, books, puts me at odds with technology every day, but I still love books, and I adore tech. As a gamer, I admire technology more than some people, and as a reader, I think too much about gaming narratives and mechanics, and how they fit together. I can escape neither the printed word nor technology on a daily basis, and so I have simply chosen to embrace each with equal relish. I like old school books; I like new technology. I am in the prime place to find the happy medium between my "technojoy" and my love of books.

I came to terms with the fact that I can live blissfully in the techy world of games and hardware, bleeps and blips, controllers and cables, while still functioning in the world of ladders, shelving, paper and ink. I can also carry heavy boxes of books from one end of a building to the other without having to stop for a rest. So there's that bonus too. 

Until I was scoping out e-readers the other day, I'd thought that I had found my way to live peacefully in both worlds, the world of tech and the world of the printed word. I sell books by day; I game by night. These are two worlds and I live happily in both. Now, I'm suddenly not so sure I can have one without the other, and it's all the fault of an e-reader.


Video Games' Best Daddies

By Ryan Winslett in Infinite Ammo
Friday, June 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm
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Father's Day was this past weekend, which got me thinking back to all the good times I had playing video games with my dad back in the day. This, in turn, had me pondering the role of father's throughout video game history.


Some were pretty horrible. Zeus spent quite a bit of time making Kratos' life a living hell in the God of War series. And then there's Dracula from Castlevania, whose own son sought to destroy him. And what about Resident Evil's Wesker? That dude was a real monster (literally). Chances are once again pretty good that the chapters devoted to his son in Resident Evil 6 will be devoted to hunting him down and wiping him from the face of the Earth. Unless Wesker is actually dead this time, which I have a hard time believing.


Dads can make decent villains. Then again, the guys can be pretty dang awesome heroes, too. Continue on, dear reader, as we take a look at some of my favorite dads in the world of video games.

Read, then Play, Game of Thrones - I Beg Thee [Review]

By Rich Shivener in Reviews
Friday, June 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm


Just like George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, the eponymous video game presents an epic tale of traitors, familial turmoil and darkness spreading across the Seven Kingdoms. But unlike the book, the game's style is a little disenchanting, whereas its story is enchanting. It's like a book or a narrative with interesting characters and a high-stakes conflict yet one that contains poor grammar. Still, if you like the book and the subsequent TV series, you might enjoy the game, developed by Cyanide and published by Atlus. It's a role-playing game for Game of Thrones fans, which is why I have a stake in it. Those who haven't galloped through Martin's fantasy might feel a weaker connection to it.

Civ II: The Eternal War and Chaos in Gaming

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm
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We all knew Civilization II was fun -- but ten years fun?

I've got a soft spot in my heart for Sid Meier's Civilization II. I discovered Civ II's simple, elegant approach to strategy gameplay in high school, when my social life consisted of hanging out with my cat and playing computer games. I had played strategy games before, but something about Civ II drew me in and kept me in a strange, micro-managing trance like nothing I'd experienced before. I went off to college, and it became a more communal experience -- I'd play with a buddy and a forty of Smirnoff Ice (this was part of the ritual... I don't know why...), and we'd stay up developing technologies and building roads so late that sometimes we would only leave our Civ world when dawn was upon us.

So I was delighted when Civ II burst back into the spotlight during the past week, thanks to a Reddit post gone viral. Turns out that redditor Lycerius started a Civ II game ten years ago that he still plays today.  The resulting post-post-post-Apocalyptic scenario has ignited the imaginations and nostalgia glands (what? I'm not a doctor) of gamers across the web, to the point where the story has been covered by such major news outlets as CNN.

Why is this such a big story? Well, I think people are interested in it for two reasons. For one, it's just a fun news story about the longevity of good video games. But I also believe that the tale of "The Eternal War" has connected with people because it displays one of the most fascinating things about video games: the potential for a video game to create its own self-sustaining environment.

Games You May Have Missed - Binary Domain

By Alexandra Geraets in Reviews
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

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Have you found something missing from your gaming life recently? Have you wanted something to seize your attention for several hours of pure, unadulterated action, with enough story to keep you going, a furiously polished experience that will not lose your focus? If you are seeking something to tide you over during the summer lull, I humbly submit Sega's Binary Domain for your consideration.

 Like a fusion of the film 'I, Robot', Transformers, and Gears of War, with a remarkably intelligent story that muses on survival, trust, and what defines a person as a human being, Binary Domain is all the robot-shredding science fiction goodness you can handle. An extremely well-paced narrative compensates for third-person-cover-shooter mechanics, and archetypical characters are saved from mediocrity by a familiar cast of anime and game veterans. A self-aware sense of humor, consistently visceral action, and intense boss fights keep this game interesting.