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Hardcore Gamer Desperately Trying to Love Nintendo

Posted by videogames On May - 8 - 2009

An open letter to Nintendo regarding their mistreatment of hardcore gamers

Dearest Nintendo and Wii,Fatal Frame IV

I was very much looking forward to spending time with you when Fatal Frame IV comes out. I had it all planned: we would spend hours together in the evening and I would quiver with anticipation and horror as together we would fight scary Ju-on style ghosts. We would point the Wiimote at the screen and take pictures of our ghostly conquests and keep them as memories of our epic quest. It was going to be beautiful. I knew the controls would be shaky, as I literally tremble with fear when playing a Fatal Frame game, but I was more than ready to try my favourite series on the Wii.

I was literally crushed, vehemently angry, but sadly, not surprised when you said you would not be releasing Fatal Frame IV in Europe and North America. You made me, a hardcore gamer, feel alienated yet again and I’ve tried so hard to forgive you, but this is unforgivable. You’ve let every other crappy, half-assed game that gets made be published on you, but never ever something for hardcore gamers like me. I am beginning to finally believe that you really do loathe hardcore gamers.

Admittedly, you (the Wii) have not been my favourite console. Yes, I do enjoy playing with you with my non-gamer family and boyfriend, and doing my morning exercises. Other than that, really, I haven’t found a game for the Wii that’s swept me off my feet like Nintendo games did in the good old days. Don’t you remember the long exhilarating moments we spent together during Eternal Darkness, Chrono Trigger, and Resident Evil 4? Why can’t you make or even publish games like that anymore? I’m tired of being part of the Wii fit group. I want to go back to being a Nintendo gamer, when I was proud to say I solely owned and played Nintendo games.  I have not been able to say that for years.

You no longer even try to satisfy me. You are forcing me into the loving embrace of an Xbox 360 and into the bed of  my Blu-Ray-playing PS3. I am afraid I am going to have to break up with you – and after such a long love affair! We had the NES, SNES, and the Gamecube together. (I know – totally missed the N64. It was because I stupidly thought I should grow up and not play games anymore. I never said I was perfect, Nintendo.) Would couples’ counseling work? Are you willing to listen to me? Are you willing to consider my needs as a hardcore gamer? Can you give me that epic game that I desperately want and deserve? Can you give me a game that I’ll lose sleep over and constantly think about while I’m at work?

Or are you leaving me to hang with all the casual gamers? (Casual as in sex, not Fridays.) I understand that it means that you can be with more people, and we’ve always had an open relationship, but I really need you to make me remember why I fell in love with you in the first place. Dearest Nintendo Wii, I am waiting for the perfect E3 make-up game. Prove that you still love me for who I am, a hardcore gamer.

Sincerely,
Diana Poulsen

MONDOvideogames’ Best Articles of 2008

Posted by videogames On January - 9 - 2009

By Diana Poulsen

2008 was another big year for videogames, and like 2007, we had too many great games to even mention (which is why I am glad I had a bunch of new writers to help me play all of these games! Thank you!).

We played the creative, enduring open-ended platformer LittleBigPlanet; a new expansion for World of Warcraft; terrifying tactic dismemberment in Dead Space; witnessed the return of the iconic Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4; Wii Fit got us off our asses and attempted to convince us that exercise could be fun; we finally got to whip a lightsaber around in the Wii version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed; once again we have annoying neighbours and digital friends while trying to having the most eccentric house in Animal Crossing City Folk; encountered Resistance 2 and Gears of War 2, and Bioshock for the PS3, and I could go on forever. Honestly, it was a busy gaming year, with something for everyone.

2009 is shaping up to be an equally exciting year, but sometimes, in order to move forward, it is good to look back. Afterall, some of these great games might be on sale!

And to help you sift through the pixels, I’ve decided to look back at my favourite MONDOvideogame articles in chronological order:

The Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2008 - Alexander B. Huls

Huls made outstanding predictions for 2008. He only mis-stepped on the pushed-back and at-one-point-rumoured-to-be-cancelled Ghostbusters: The Videogame. Developers, please – I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Looking back at Harvest MoonAlice Moran

Moran gave us an in-depth history of the overlooked Harvest Moon series, which — unbelievably – makes farming addictively fun. Nintendo seems to succeed in turning absurd, bizarre, and occasionally mundane ideas into great gaming. On top of that, probably the only time I’ll ever get to take a wife and the second time I’ll get a have a pet chicken is in playing this game. This time, Spotty the Rooster won’t go the slaughterhouse.

Playstation’s Qore Magazine: Future or Failure? - Miles Baker

Baker’s scathing review of Qore magazine not only made me want check it out (in the same way I’ll see a bad movie to see if it’s actually terrible, or taste a friend’s meal to see if it’s turned), but also forced Sony representatives to come out of the woodwork and respond.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Reviewed - James Wisteard

Wisteard reviewed the Wii version of The Force Unleashed and proved that, yes, waving a lightsaber around is a dream come true, but is also very tiring and often ridiculous. Yes, it was something of a disappointment, but still got all of us back in touch with our inner Star Wars nerd.

Things to do when your MMO is downDiana Poulsen

(Perhaps it is bad form to include myself, but it was a joy to write this article.) I wrote about what to do when your MMO is down and how to get yourself back into RL (real life). Afterall, I’m sure I’m not the only person addicted to MMOs, and while writing it, I actually did have an intervention…

Happy New Year!

Great Gaming to All and to All a Late Night!

DSi – Nintendo’s Media future

Posted by videogames On October - 21 - 2008

By Santiago Melo

Another year, another DS. Recently Nintendo announced the DSi, and while it looks like a simple update, further investigation reveals the direction Nintendo is going to take in terms of its future as a software and console manufacturer. A first look gives nothing more than increased size for the screens, two cameras, removal of the GBA slot, and a smaller size. Yet there is much more to the DSi than meets the eye (and sadly no, it isn’t a Transformer):

1) Two cameras: The DSi will have two cameras added — one where the microphone used to be and the other one outside in the upper right corner. Nintendo has already confirmed that these are not state-of-the-art cameras, the best one having a 3.0 mp resolution. Additionally, new DS software has been developed to allow users to modify the pictures they’ve taken. The inside camera is capable of recording low resolution video. While no games have been announced yet, the DSi is on the path of becoming a portable webcam.

2) Revised interface: The new DS interface is designed around the Wii’s interface. The menu and navigation system developed to closely resemble its Wii counterpart. While it seems like a purely aesthetic change, looking beyond this shows that games for the DSi will begin to feature increased connectivity with the Wii system, and possibly the development of partner games for each system. Letting you take your Wiis into the new Final Fantasy is a step in this direction. Yet it remains to be seen what Nintendo is planning for their big franchises. I dream about a Zelda adventure that spans worlds on both the DSi and the Wii. Or what about a portable Smash Bros? The options are endless.

3) Larger Screens: Instead of the 3′ screens the DS Lite currently has the DSi will have 3.25′ screens. It doesn’t seem like much, but considering they have an increased brightness setting, Nintendo is probably expecting you to do more than play video games. The best answer is that they are intended for video watching and internet navigation. It now is up to Nintendo to determine what are the formats the DS can play, and if they are planning to create their own video store like Microsoft, Sony, or Apple.

4) Internet Connectivity: Nintendo has confirmed that using your DSi you will be able to login into the Internet from anywhere in the world. Speculation abounds as to whether the DSi will use a different format than the DS Lite uses to connect to the Internet, as this would determine the speed of the connection. Additionally, the quality of online game modes for the DS would be improved with the faster internet. Some of the functionalities that the DSi opens up are interactive maps, instant messaging, flash, streaming videos. It is all up to Nintendo to see what they allow and how (Remember they invented Friend Codes).

5) Internal Memory Increase: With a bigger memory comes increased processing speeds. This means better graphics, improved AI routines, and an overall increase the quality of the games for the DSi. Although it has to be made clear that Nintendo hasn’t taken the time to put in a dedicated 3D graphics chip, more memory means an improvement in all areas. An increase in memory also means that the DSi will be able to play videos in multiple formats, surf the internet faster, emulate other Nintendo systems like SNES or GBA better than the DS does now, and in general offer a better multimedia experience.

6) SD Card slot: It initially came as great news to everyone in the Homebrew community, a supported SD card would allow for better integration with Homebrew software. Yet Nintendo quickly crashed those dreams when they announced that they are developing a new interface for the DSi, which can only mean increased security measures. For the moment, the main function of the SD card will be to hold music and pictures, but can be logically thought to evolve into a small hard-drive for the DSi where users can carry downloadable games whether from the VC library or a DS/Wiiware store.

7) DSi specific games: No word has come out yet as to what we can expect. It has been made clear that games developed for the DSi won’t be playable in the DS, which points to the speculation of these DSi games having better graphics, use more memory, and even make use of the new DSi features. The only hopes gamers have is that the new games don’t turn the camera into a gimmick. (Nintendo’s Wii is the master of gimmicky games)

8) No GBA slot: The decision to remove the GBA Slot shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Nintendo wants to expand the catalogue of games in its Virtual Console, and this is a great way to do it. It won’t be long after the DSi is released when games like Golden Sun or Oracle of Ages begin to appear. Additionally, with users being able to connect to the Internet through a better connection, purchasing games on the go will be a great thing.

9) Region-lock: Soon after the announcement of the DSi everyone in the Internet was already trying to find a way to import one. That is when Nintendo announced the DSi will be region locked, which is a first for the DS and GBA line of Nintendo products. Software developed for one region will not play in another DSi. It is clear there is more to it than making games from one region unplayable in another: locking is probably a result of Nintendo trying to stop piracy. Is this the best way to do it? I don’t think so. We will have to wait and see as to what the Homebrew community creates.

Nintendo has one clear purpose with this new iteration of the DS, which is to put a DSi on the hands of every person in Japan (and later conquer the world). Will the cuts and modifications be appreciated everywhere? Will they even have enough strength to carry users from the DS to the DSi? Will the DSi be the new portable gaming device or will it just become another SKU update (like Sony’s different PSP iterations)? These questions will have to wait until later this year to be answered.

Get your game on, it’s E3 2008

Posted by videogames On July - 22 - 2008

By Diana Poulsen

E3 2008 was exciting for all gamers this year, and once again it was closed to the public and focused on press conferences rather than spectacle. However, I was a little disappointed with E3 this year; it seemed as though many of the games covered were ones I already knew were coming out (e.g Little Big Planet, Final Fantasy XIII, Far Cry II, Rock Band 2, Too Human, Mirror’s Edge, Mercenaries 2, Ghostbusters, Lego Batman, etc.). That was the one problems of having E3 in July instead of May, there were not too many surprises since many of these game will be out in September or December.

The biggest surprise for me was the announcement of Beyond Good and Evil 2. The original was released in 2003 to exceptional reviews, but very few people actually bought it, which was a shame because it was awesome. I am glad to hear that Ubisoft are continuing the game, as it was planned to be a trilogy. I highly recommend playing the original and it’s usually in the bargain bin for $9.99. I was very disappointed to not hear anything about any of the new Kingdom Hearts titles, since one of them should be coming out in late 2008 or early 2009. Despite my complaints, there are many games for all of us to look forward to.

I’ve decided to cover a few of the games and peripherals that were discussed at the Expo; don’t worry, there’s something for everyone. One good thing this year was the focus on demos rather than on trailers. This meant that we got to see actual game play rather than cinematics.

Nintendo announced that they would have two new peripherals coming out, Wiispeak and Wii MotionPlus. WiiSpeak is a small microphone to sit on top of your TV so everyone in the room can converse with other players in their home. Wii MotionPlus is an addition to the Wiimote to make it more motion-sensitive. What got me the most excited about Nintendo’s press conference was the announcement of Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii. It’s a return to Animal Crossing on a console and it excited me because holidays like Hallowe’en are making a comeback. I was disheartened when Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS sterilized all the holidays from the game. This time around, you can visit the city and even fashionista Gracie’s store.

Rock Band 2 was further elaborated on, including the release of new instruments like drums that have more bounce but less noise, and guitars that hide the coloured buttons — so they look more like guitars than toys. Your old instruments will still work, as will all of your downloaded songs.

Resident Evil 5 had its own presentation and yes, it still looks very good, but they of course avoided talking about its surrounding controversy. For those who don’t know, RE5 is set in Africa and involves two white protagonists killing primarily black zombies. Arguments for both sides have been made, but I will not make a judgment call until I’ve played it. Often controversy strikes out of ignorance, and maybe (I hope) RE5 has resolved its controversy. We really won’t know until we’ve played it, but I do think its fair for people to protest when they believe an injustice is occurring, and I am disappointed with Capcom for not taking the time to address this issue.

LucasArts announced that the next Knights of the Old Republic game would be an MMO. This makes a lot of sense since there seemed to be a lot of fans of KOTOR, and not as many of Lucasarts’ current MMO, Star Wars Galaxies.

As Miles mentioned earlier this week, Final Fantasy XIII would not be a PS3 exclusive but for both the Xbox 360 and PS3. That is a shot to Sony, as I am sure they would have sold a few consoles with that title.

Sony announced the downloadable Flower for their PSN. I’ve seen video and read descriptions, but I am still not entirely sure what you do. It’s apparently very relaxing and similar to Flow. This is one I think I will have to play in order to understand, but I like the idea of a videogame that relaxes me. It looks and sounds relaxing.

EA is working on their first Horror game, Dead Space. It looks like a combination of Sunshine (or Event Horizon) and disgusting, deformed, mutant flesh bags. The game practices strategic dismemberment, meaning that a shot to the head isn’t going to kill these creatures — you will having remove each limb to destroy them. The premise of the game follows a crew member trying to survive after all of the other crew have been turned into horrible, deformed monsters.

Although Bungie’s statement was at the last minute dropped from the Microsoft press conference, it was confirmed later in the week that they are working on a Halo title, despite their current difficulties with Microsoft.

Ubisoft will be releasing a voice recognition real-time strategy war game called Tom Clancy’s EndWar for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It apparently has a 95% chance of understanding what you say, but voice recognition always makes me worry.

That’s just a few of the titles that were talked about at E3, and I hope all of us have something to look forward to in the coming months.

This Month in Pixels: I’m actually happy to own a PSP

Posted by television On March - 4 - 2008

By Miles Baker

Don’t get me wrong: I have strong, warm feelings for that little black box with its LCD screen and funny little disks. I love its mini-multimedia-ness with that DVD-quality video, MP3s, and pictures. The problem is that I’m not often called to play it. I’ve owned one for as long as we’ve been running this site and I think I’ve only reviewed two games for it, because I don’t buy for or play with it a lot. But when I do, I remember just how good Sony can be to me.

Sony is going to be so nice in March. I haven’t bought three games for the PSP all year, but I’ll buy three in March alone – that’s a huge move for me and the PSP.

At first I will ignore friend and family obligations by playing Patapon.

I feel if I need to explain how awesome Patapon is, you should leave this website and never return. I downloaded the demo the other day and it’s actually cuter than you could possibly imagine, and the gameplay is both absurd and addictive. Essentially, it’s a rhythm/RTS (real-time strategy) game. You command your troops with your rhythmic button tapping (drumming) to attack, dodge or defend.

It’s charming, cute, innovative and only 20 bucks! I can’t afford not to buy this game.

And while my wallet still feels fat I’ll pick up God of War: Chain of Olympus.

Believe it or not, tiny Kratos is just as murderous as his bigger screen counterpart and therefore just as fun. Again, I recently downloaded a demo of this game and was suitably impressed how they were able to capture the carnage, the pretty, and the boobies of the PS2 games in this smaller format. I’ve read that Chain of Olympus is a prequel, which I’m not too crazy about. I haven’t played a prequel that has ever lived up to the first one. But then again, I don’t play God of War for a gripping story – I play it to fuck mythological Greek figures up. From what I’ve played, I suspect I’ll be satiated.

Finally, when I’m pale and fat from lack of sun or sitting up fully, I’ll hobble and huff to my videogame store to collect Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7.

At this point I’d like to remind everyone that this game is played on a PSP. Feel free to let your bowls go limp – I know mine did when I saw footage of this game.

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest FF7 fan, so I’m sorry everyone. I played it when it came out. I loved it for the first disc and a half, pretty much up until that sequence in Cloud’s whiney-ass head, but I don’t have the love for it that other nerds like myself do. The story makes little to no sense: basically, Cloud has usurped the identity of a guy named Zack when actually he is the top-secret clone of a human-alien hybrid bred to be the perfect soldier. Or something like that.

Crisis Core follows the previously-mentioned Zack and this is where the prequel-ness becomes a bit of a problem for, because I play Final Fantasy for the story and I wasn’t keen on FF7’s story. I imagine this game will actually complicate the world of Final Fantasy 7 even more than Advent Children did-if that’s even possible-but I don’t care: look at those pretty graphics!

I’ll let you know how they all turn out.

This Week in Pixels: PC Gaming and Copy Protection

Posted by videogames On November - 27 - 2007

By Diana Poulsen

This week I am celebrating my triumphant return to PC gaming. After about an eight year absence I have decided to return to my computer and catch up with some old PC friends. I can’t remember why I left the PC gaming scene. The last two games I played were Septerra Core and American McGee’s Alice, both bloody awesome games. I am still not sure why I decided to return now when I only have a 1.6 gzh Pentium 4 laptop with little to no graphics card. But on the bright side, I can play all sorts of old games and World of Warcraft.

I remember the good old days of little to no software security and no serial numbers. Where you had to uninstall and reinstall a game multiple times just to get it to function right. I had to install more RAM to get Alice to work, but once you got through the painful setup it was always a delightful experience. There was a certain level of satisfaction in getting the setup right. Of course, it’s not like that anymore.

I bought Black Mirror and spent almost two hours installing, and not the fun kind of installing. It involved typing in the five different serial numbers they gave me. And of course, it had to be the last one that worked. Just the processing of the different serial numbers took forever. Why did I need five? Couldn’t they just have given me one that worked? This was my frustrating introduction to StarForce, a copy-protection software that demands to check your game every single flippin’ time you play it, to determine if you have purchased it. It was very annoying to wait a minute or two to play the damn game just to wait for it to tell me that, yes, I had bought it. I couldn’t even get it to run on my DVD drive and I had to run it on my sub-par CD drive. It got to the point where I debated downloading an illegal copy so I could just play the stupid game I had paid for. It’s just like that time I bought Hawksley Workman’s Lover/Fighter CD and with all the copy protection it wouldn’t even play on my CD player or my Walkman. The CD worked perfectly on my PS2 — but that is not for playing music! I didn’t buy the (at the time) $400 machine to play bloody music. I had to try to download the songs after I bought the CD and I couldn’t even find the songs so I had to buy them off of Puretracks (the old Canadian version of iTunes). And after three years the Puretracks songs wouldn’t even play on my computer because they were copy protected! And StarForce is just as bad. On top of this, the strict copy protection on Black Mirror was there to protect the measley $9.99 I paid for the game.

Which brings me to BioShock. The PC version uses SecuROM, a copy-protection software requiring an internet connection to complete installation. The first issue might not be obvious here online, but not everyone has the internet. I used to live in a rural area where they only had dial-up, so I could understand if my neighbours chose not to have the internet. Beyond this initial leap of faith, BioShock has had numerous problems with its copy-protection software, to the point where some people have told me not to even bother with the PC version (not that I could run it anyway). It seems to be a bit weird to buy a game and only be able to install it five (originally it was two) times. If you needed it reinstalled six times you would have had to call SecuROM to re-activate your game. It also didn’t help that in certain manuals the phone number was misprinted. It’s such a shame to have to criticize a beautiful Art Deco First Person Shooter for their copy protection and bad planning.

When the copy protection interferes with the quality of the software or product then the company needs think of a better option. All of these copy-protection-related difficulties are driving me, someone who obtains all her digital media perfectly legally, to pirating. This is not what you want, software and music companies! I understand the need for copy protection. You simply might want to investigate how user-friendly it is – you know, so it doesn’t piss me off and drive me away from your product.

On the bright side, The Longest Journey (which I have a review for) did not require a serial number or have crazy copy protection. It worked perfectly on my computer and required only one attempt to successfully install it. Even for World of Warcraft, I just needed my single, working serial number and I was all set to go. See software companies? You can copy protect something, just make it so it works and doesn’t annoy the shit out of your customers.

By Miles Baker and Alexander B. Huls

Uncharted Difficulty

The demo for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune mapped itself onto the Playstation network last week to my immediate glee, and to that of seven other people I know who own a PS3. I’m looking forward to the next generation of jungle videogames, the next jungleration if you will. We’ve come a long way since Pitfall. I thought Metal Gear Solid 3 did a pretty good jungle, but it’s been put to shame by this one. You can almost feel the humidity and hear the malaria-ridden mosquitoes landing on your neck. The only problem I’m having is that I can’t beat this demo. I’ve only tried a half-dozen times or so, but it’s whooping me on Easy. Perhaps I just need more experience with this Gears of War–style gameplay. Maybe I’m just used to the easiness of most games these days, but for the love of Drake, this is hard. That said, it’s been added to the Christmas list — it’s a lot cheaper than actually traveling to a tropical island and there’s no malaria.
— Miles Baker

Don’t forget to buy your MONDObooks out now in stores everywhere (not really)

The newest firmware for the Playstation came out along with that Uncharted demo last week. There are some slick new additions that don’t interest me — like newly customable themes and playlists for my empty music section — and a new couple new additions to the Playstation Network, like the Information Board. Yes, a new scrolling bar at the top, right-hand corner of my screen is telling me the information I need to know: that I can buy a new Star Wars game with a special edition Darth Vader-themed PSP. Great.

Why does Sony feel that they have to punish me for my loyalty? They already have all my money, they have an online store where I choose to download ads for their upcoming products on a regular basis, and yet they feel that I need to have a scrolling ad over everything I do in the menu screen. Thankfully, you can turn it off, but why would you spend any development time on a scrolling ad bar? Who did they think this would appeal to? If there ever was a man loyal to your brand it was me, but come on.
— Miles Baker

Rock Band gives Canada the finger

For months I have been hotly anticipating the release of Rock Band on the planned North American release date of November 20th. I grew out my hair, I got “Freebird” tattooed on my forearm, and bought an endless supply of tight jeans and bandanas. If Rock Band was an atom bomb, my apartment was a well-supplied fallout shelter ready to take whatever megatons Rock Band wanted to drop on me.

But a few weeks ago I began to get worried. Strange, even unsettling things began to occur. First, even though the price for the game bundle had been announced a month or two ago for the US, no word had been given as to Canadian prices. No big deal I suppose, given the travails of the dollar of late. But then time passed, and the beginning of November the game went gold, the Nov. 20ths release date was confirmed, and still no word. Then things began to happen with the release date. Blockbuster’s systems had it delayed until December 10th, and then the 20th. EB Games (where I pre-ordered it) told me December 18th. If you bothered to check Best Buy or Future Shop’s website you wouldn’t have found any information regarding the price or the release date, and you wouldn’t even have found the game listed at all. This is all very odd for a game that was supposed to come out in a few weeks and had been announced to have gone gold.

Then the rumors began to emerge on the internet forums. Some suspected that if there was a delay it was due to some mishandling of French-ifying the bundle box, the game, instructions, etc. Others theorized it might have to do with the recent announcement by EA that supply would not meet demand, and therefore the American market would get favored over the Canadian. Others didn’t even bother to theorize, and just cried. And not a peep was heard from anyone involved with the game; not from EA, not from MTV Games, not from Harmonix.

Until Monday. Yes, only a week before the game was originally supposed to be coming out, someone (MTV Games) finally got around to telling us what we all feared but sort of knew already: Rock Band is delayed in Canada till December 17th.

Now, I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, I’m kind of pissed that this was so grossly mishandled by whoever is responsible for the distribution of the game. The thing is, I can’t even tell what they did wrong, because in the announcement about the delay nobody even bothered to give a reason for it. Thanks, guys. Canadians wanting to rock are left looking dumbfounded, wondering “Yeahbutwha?” I mean where’s the North American unity here? Usually I avoid the knee-jerk vitriolic, uneducated anti-Americanism that seems to somehow have become an ingrained part of being Canadian these days, but in this case I feel some of it bubbling to the surface. Over a video game, yes, I know that’s sad. But I shall spare you my bitter words because on the other hand, as a gamer, this delay isn’t a horrible thing. With games like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, and Uncharted coming out in the next few weeks, I’m actually somewhat relived that I now I have one less game to divide my attention.

Besides, if I wear a bandana while playing all of those games it’ll kind of be the same. Right?
— Alexander B. Huls

By Alexander B. Huls

Oh yes, there will be blood

Unless you’ve been living on the moon — and if you are you can tell me if that face thing is really there — then you’ve probably heard the atomic bomb that was Ninja Gaiden II exploded on top of the video gaming community. The announcement itself was of course impressive, but somewhat redundant given the “leaking” of a massive number of screenshots a few days before. I put that “leaking” in quotation marks because I’d bet my Sega Genesis that it was the game’s own developers who let them out to create buzz. Boy, did it ever. The teaser trailer shown at Tokyo Game Show, while pretty and oozing Ryu coolness, was somewhat anti-climatic compared to the gruesome mayhem on display in those screenshots. Ninja Gaiden (whether the original, Black or Sigma) was violent enough as it is, so consider me surprised that they found a way to make it even more gory. I haven’t seen that much red since I watched that famous little French movie, The Red Balloon. (It’s adorable. The balloon follows the boy all over Paris. It’s great. You should go rent it. It’s basically a spiritual predecessor to Ninja Gaiden). Anyway, the screenshots more or less speak for themselves, as does the reputation of the game. Ninja Gaiden II will be the Halo 3 of 2008. You heard it here first. Dismembered limbs will be flying everywhere and not in the game, but in the frantic rush to grab copies off shelves.

Some things should be left at the bottom of the sea

I knew BioShock was riding a tsunami of buzz as it hit store shelves, but having played it (a review is forthcoming), as amazing as it was, I wasn’t sure it would be a hit. It’s such a significant step forward in the First Person Shooter/RPG hybrid genre, and heck, even for the artistic potential of games in general, that I had a feeling it just wouldn’t appeal to the masses. This is a game that’s truly all about atmosphere and not mindless action, and doesn’t have much variety in bosses (there are effectively two types of enemies in the game, one with multiple variations). Point is, I’ve been proven wrong, and glad to be. But. (Yes, there is a but.) While I’m happy that BioShock has shipped 1.5 million copies, that success comes with the inevitable jackals nipping at the heels of the money pile accumulating around the game. In other words: sequels. Apparently Take-Two Interactive’s chairman is so pleased with the game’s performance that he thinks and hopes he has another franchise on the level of Grand Theft Auto on his hands, and says a development cycle of three years would be ideal. I think he’s dumb, but you can’t really blame a suit for being…well, a suit. Admittedly, there is wiggle room enough to find potential for a sequel, but why? In these days of sequels upon sequels, I enjoyed going into BioShock thinking that here was a solidly crafted stand-alone game. Like the central character you inhabit, you get in, you do what you gotta do, you get out, and you’re the better for it. The story ends, you get some closure, even if both endings are somewhat anti-climatic narratively. Can art not triumph over money here? We’ll see. Nothing has been confirmed, and even the chairman seemed to be speaking in hypothetical terms instead of absolutes. So time will tell. In theory, the original team could refuse on principle, but all that would mean is that someone else will be brought in, thereby compromising the quality of this hypothetical BioShock II. That, perhaps, would be a worst fate than a sequel: a sucky one.

This is me feigning shock and then being actually somewhat surprised

The Electronic Entertainment Design and Research group recently did some research into the effects of game reviews and ratings (as in Mature, Teen, etc.) on sales. The results are somewhat surprising and somewhat not. The revelation that Mature-rated games sell more than any other rating classification is not too surprising, given that by all accounts gamers between the ages of 18 and 30 (very roughly) are the ones with the required leisure time and disposable income to buy and play games. Also, like booze, for kids under 18 there is the alluring appeal of the forbidden, so they gravitate towards it almost irrationally. Even though Mature games account for only 10 percent of released titles, they sell the most. What is surprising is that they are also the highest rated by videogame reviewing sites. In other words, Mature games are just better games. Now, games of good quality require significant work. They’re not easy to make. They require time, investment, money. The fact that game developers are investing those resources into a rating that limits their audience means they have known the financial fruitfulness of the rating for a long time. They also clearly know their target demographic — if they get the odd child with negligent parents they don’t mind that either — and seem to be making these games specifically for them. Or rather their wallets.

What was also surprising to me is that games with ratings above 90 percent end up selling better than the industry’s average, seeming to suggest what is unfortunately not true in Hollywood: quality equals success. This probably has to do with the fact that if you pay $12 for a movie that sucks you can probably survive. If you pay $69.99 plus tax for a game you end up hating, there goes your rent. I know I certainly do this. Before reviews came pouring in, I was hoping to buy Lair, Heavenly Sword, Stranglehold, and Stuntman, but as I always do I waited for the reviews to come out, and sure enough my desire to purchase them sunk because why would I spend money on a game that professionals who review games for a living deem crap? I might as well throw my money into my fireplace and burn it. So maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised that others do what I do. In fact, I feel a little vindicated. I think I might even write about it.

You can't tell beacuse of the visor, but Master Chief is really starting to get annoyed with the aliens copying all his bad-ass poses

By Alexander B. Huls

Have gun, will travel…

… so says our beloved Master Chief (who I have lately come to know intimately if you’ve been keeping up to date with my quasi-reviews in this section), whose game has officially gone gold, and is now beginning his long journey into our living rooms. Anticipation is, naturally, huge, especially if the over one million pre-orders are any indication. However, as excited as I am to play the game, I confess myself to be mostly curious to see what impact Halo 3 will have on the console war. More or less since the release of the Wii, the 360 has been lagging behind significantly, and with the July sales numbers in Canada showing that the PS3 beat out the 360 for the first time (admittedly, this is in part due to PS3’s price change pushing fence sitters off the fence), Microsoft’s white box position seems slightly more precarious. Halo 3, in addition to the 360’s own price drop, could significantly change that. Will it though? That’s what I can’t wait to find out. Also, playing Halo 3 won’t be so bad either.

You got a little something on your... oh, that's your skin.

Coming to a space ship near you

Mass Effect finally has a release date. Admittedly, there is little journalistic value in simply pointing out the finally-confirmed release date of an anticipated game. Okay, maybe there is a little value in it, but frankly, I’m just so damn excited I had to write something about it. You see, I’ve been a huge BioWare fan since the day I was conceived. That might be a lie. Point is, Knights of the Old Republic remains one of my favourite games of all time, and I loved Jade Empire. Heck, I’ve been playing BioWare since back in my PC days with the Baldur’s Gate games. So with Mass Effect not only being a return to a space environment (which they already proved they can do well), and offering further improvements on their already solid development foundation, I am stoked that the game has been officially confirmed to be released on November 20th of this year. With Rock Band also currently said to be coming out that day I might spontaneously combust. Or my credit card account will. Or both. It’s kind of a horse race. Either way, there will be Alexander B. Huls particles everywhere. It’ll be a mess. Bring a mop.

It’s not what your country can do for you…

Maybe I’ve just watched too much 24 in my life and have developed an unconscious desire to deal with national crises, but as ridiculous as the notion is that Homeland Security is making a game, I’m actually really enticed by this.

This Week in Pixels: E3 Edition

Posted by videogames On July - 31 - 2007

Enjoy Alex’s unabashed Geeky Gushing!

By Alexander B. Huls

In honor of the recently finished E3, the long-awaited return of This Week in Pixels will deal solely with news gushing forth from one of the most sacred of all video gaming events. Now, for those of you who have been following E3, you may be wondering at this point: “News? What news?” Granted, you’re not far off. In the past the expo was the place for gaming developers and distributors to make shocking and major announcements. This year, the newly re-tinkered event was much more about telling us more about games we already knew about. In other words, E3 was really about making anticipated games even more anticipated. In that vein, what follows below is an amalgam of commenting on what was revealed at E3, and a representative list of what games I am excited for this year. I graciously ask for your indulgence.

Rock Band

As has become the case with the upcoming Guitar Hero III and Rock Band, what qualifies as exciting news is not information about the gameplay, but about the songs. That being said, it was nice to finally see what the drum set looks like, and consider me impressed. It looks simple, sure, but that’s a good thing in this case, and I can’t wait to get my drum-stick twirling hands on them. As for the songs, a few big announcements were made. We finally got to hear about some more of the songs being included in the game. Personally, I’m pretty excited about Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”, Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So” and Foo Fighters “Learn to Fly”. What’s really exciting though, are the announcements made regarding downloadable tracks. Not only is it being promised that 100 songs will become available online in the first year alone, the track selection is being supervised by a recently formed Music Advisory Board that is chaired by Steven Van Zandt, a.k.a. Little Steven. For those of you not familiar with this guy, he not only starred prominently on The Sopranos, he is also famous music historian/nut who runs a radio show every weekend (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), and most importantly, is a member of my favorite band, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Throw in the news that for the first time full albums will become available for download (the first being The Who’s “Who’s Next”), and Rock Band is starting to look even more exciting. Sure, there is concern about how much downloadable tracks will cost (Guitar Hero II for the X360 really burned us there), but for now, I can’t wait to get my hands on this game.

Fallout 3

Faithful readers of this column will know that I’ve been excited for this game ever since the vague rumors started emerging when Bethesda purchased the rights to the Fallout series. At E3, we finally got to see some of the work the developers have been putting into this game. To no one’s surprise, the game is being modeled on an Elder Scrolls type approach, i.e. first person, as opposed to the bird-eye view of the first two games. In this case it’s not bad a thing, because it really allows for some amazing graphics, and Bethesda has certainly proven itself and the first person perspective through its Elder Scrolls games, most notably Oblivion. Some people seem annoyed with the perspective change, but as a hard-core Fallout fan, what matters more to me is that they honor the spirit of the game. Frankly, one of the reasons I’m exited about Fallout 3 is to see the Fallout world transported to next-gen, and this is clearly the way to do it.

Furthermore, Bethesda clearly has the series’ best interests at heart. So far, it seems they’re sticking to the humorous 50’s Cold-War style, honoring the excellent detail rendering of characters, and beginning the game in a Vault. They are also accommodating those RPG fans who may miss the turned-based gameplay of the originals with a system similar to Knights of the Old Republic (i.e. being able to pause the game, and pick a string of attacks to be executed). Setting the game initially in Washington D.C. is also a cool touch, and the early development shots revealed at E3 of the decimated city are appropriately eerie and cool. Being able to hand-craft weapons, or improvise ammunition should also be a neat touch, so it definitely sounds like Bethesda is on the right track here, and given their past record, I don’t foresee that changing. The only thing I see changing is my patience to wait for this game. Supposedly the game should hit early 2008 but we’ll just have to wait and see. Till then, I should figure out if my job will allow me a leave of absence for video gaming. I am hopeful.

Resident Evil 5

Probably one of the most talked-about games at the E3, despite the fact that nothing was revealed or announced. The entire buzz stemmed from a brief, barely one-minute clip that really didn’t show anything at all, or at least not anything that provides us with any concrete answers. The thing is though, after the brilliance of Resident Evil 4 (which, in this author’s opinion, is one of the best games he has ever played), most of us are salivating so much for anything about the next installment that we’ll dive heard first into a dirty pavement like a zombie searching for scraps. Some things can be deduced from the brief trailer. It seems to be following RE4s lead, in that we are not dealing with traditional zombies here. We’ve also got another run-down lower class location, this time it appears to be somewhere in a desert-y plain, which could mean it takes place anywhere from Africa to the Middle East or South America. The graphics are nothing short of stunning. The idea, as the producer recently revealed that the game will take place in open daylight makes the game even scarier. Throw in the new element that emerging from the darkness into the direct light will temporarily blind you, thereby exposing you to whatever evil lurks nearby, is another cool addition. It may be a long wait till this game ever sees daylight (get it?!), but even though the trailer ultimately didn’t give us much, maybe we should just be grateful for what scraps we can get, and pretend their a thanksgiving feast. Based on the press’ reporting of the trailer, I think that’s happening already anyway.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

My growing distaste for George Lucas and his repeated whoring of his creative child over the years has admittedly, and unfortunately, begun to inhibit my ability to be excited about anything Star Wars related anymore. Probably the only reason I loved the Knights of the Old Republic series so much was because of the influence of its developers, not so much the license. Sure, I also dug the Jedi Knight series, but that was how many years ago now? Every Star Wars game since has failed to entice me in any way. Until now. I have to concede, Force Unleashed looks pretty damn wicked. Being Darth Vader’s apprentice is helpful. Seeing the main character force throw a lightsaber into a storm trooper dangling in the air and then force push him away with the saber still in him? Pretty cool. Seeing the main character hit the ground and send something like ten storm troopers flying in all directions, crashing into objects as glass explodes into little pieces everywhere? Even cooler. With the multitude of cool force powers being displayed in this game, and the character seemingly using different powers from second to second, if not simultaneously, the only thing I am curious about is how seamlessly the controls will be in order to accomplish it all. For now, I am content to just be amazed at how cool it all looks.

MGS 4

Though in many ways the trailer shown at E3 didn’t show us anything new game-wise except to reveal some minor hints regarding the plot, this trailer blew my mind for one and only one reason: the fight between Raiden and Vamp. There’s no point in my even describing it, because it wouldn’t do it justice. Just track it down on the net and have a gander. All I will say is that I think it may be the most wicked and best choreographed fight I have ever seen in anything, which includes the home-made martial arts movies I made on my six millimeter back in my youth. Few could face the physical might of Alex “The Honeydew” Blossom.

This Week in Pixels: E motherfuckin’ 3

Posted by art On July - 16 - 2007

NiGHTS

By Curtis Westman

Every year, tens of thousands of video gaming press and fans convene in one single, sweaty venue to ogle scantily-clad models and discuss videogames. Well, until last year. This was, of course, the Electronic Entertainment Expo — E3 for short. E3 had gained a reputation in recent years (likely due to the rise in blue-collar reporting in the form of blogs. Oops) for becoming a forum for fanboys and fangirls instead of the mainstream press and industry event it was meant to attract. So they scaled back the event to be more of an industry event and less of a ‘medium’ event. Fewer fans, more private meetings, fewer games, more savings for developers, and less booth babes. No more week-long waits for a megaton announcement from the Big Three of console gaming, no more staying up nights to watch streaming video of business executives trying to appeal to the masses. Well, kind of.

The biggest difference this year was that there was less video gaming news. What was announced was mediocre, paling in comparison to the excitement of recent years and mostly focusing on software we already knew was coming out. Part of the reason for that is we are now thick into the next generation console war, whereas in the past two years new consoles were announced. That said, it’s worth mentioning some of the highlights from each of the Big Three’s conferences.

Nintendo

Nintendo had the most prolific showing, though the festivities were lackluster compared with last year’s on-stage Wii Tennis party. Arguably not the most exciting announcements of the festival, Nintendo’s are the easiest to mention without a video-feed.

NiGHTS

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

Just over a decade ago, the Sega Saturn was released to lukewarm reviews. There were few games that took advantage of the new 3D capabilities, and none that really took advantage of its hardware. Few that is, except for one game, released by Sonic Team in an attempt to jumpstart a new franchise. This game was NiGHTS into Dreams… , an innovative adventure through a lush, colourful 3D world. The game was like nothing anyone had seen before — to some, a bad thing, but to others, a fantastic new direction. It sold poorly. Despite what many look back upon as ingenious gameplay, the game borrowed too much from the arcade to convince gamers that it was a new experience, and looking for the same kind of stuff as they had been playing in the arcade, NiGHTS left a poor taste in their mouths. We believed it would never get a sequel. Until now.

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is a direct sequel for the Nintendo Wii, making full use of the motion-sensitive controls. The trailer is, for the lack of a better word, flamboyant, but such is NiGHTS. Whether or not it succeeds financially is one thing, but it’s guaranteed to at least strike awe into the hearts of some.

Nintendo Wii Balance Board

Mario and everything-else-important creator Shigueru Miyamoto was again at the event, this time demonstrating his new creation, WiiFit — similar to WiiSports and Brain Training, WiiFit is supposedly a way for people to train their bodies with their videogame console. The new hardware is just wacky; the Wii Balance Board is what amounts to an electronic bathmat. How it controls is somewhat mysterious, but we know that through pressure-sensitivity, standing on the board will affect the on-screen action. Miyamoto mentioned that its obvious use after WiiFit was played out was a snowboarding game.

Releases

After almost a year of waiting, finally at least two of the games we were told were launch-window have been given definite release dates:
Smash Brothers Brawl – December 3rd, 2007
Super Mario Galaxy – November 3rd, 2007

Sony Playstation

Sony’s conference was much more software-driven, and executives tried as hard as possible to keep from mentioning dwindling sales numbers and instead spin positive on the future releases for the most powerful console of the next generation. Though software was their main goal, nothing was more interesting than their announcement of a new SKU for the PS3 lineup. The 60GB model out now has dropped in price only nine months into its life cycle, to a point of $499 USD. To some, a $100 drop isn’t enough to warrant a purchase — to others, it’s an invitation to buy Sony’s new 80GB model, priced at $599 with Motorstorm bundled.

Frankly, it’s a little strange that Sony isn’t really dropping the price as giving more for what they’re charging. 20GB more. Hurray?

Take it with a grain of salt, but Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe president David Reeves says that it’s just the next step in phasing out the 60GB model completely. He also said the PS3 would release in Europe before it did in North America though, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Killzone 2

Killzone 2

In 2005, before the PS3 had even been released, Sony showed footage of what they said was real-time PS3 gameplay from an upcoming game sequel, Killzone 2. It was stunning and fake. Fans were quick to call out Sony on using pre-rendered graphics in place of gameplay footage, a fact that was later confirmed by several media blogging outlets. Killzone’s first sequel was released not on PS3, but on PSP, and to mediocre reviews. Now though, Sony has released footage of actual gameplay footage from the new PS3 installment of Killzone… strangely enough, titled Killzone 2.

I’m not a fan of FPS games, generally, but I have to give credit where it’s due, and this game looks beautifully rendered. Gameplay seems boring and generic, but goddamn is it ever pretty.

Assasin's Creed

Microsoft Xbox 360

The Microsoft conference was slow. There was a lot of hype about games we were already expecting and not much else. The major announcement was that the 360 consoles would be coming in new colours. Army green, as well as pink and light blue have been announced as upcoming swathes. Among upcoming games for the console gaming market leader are Assassin’s Creed, Rock Band, the forthcoming Halo 3, the beautiful Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, and a curious trailer for a new The Simpsons game, of which not much is known.

Here is hoping that next year’s expo is more like the circus of yesteryear, when Hideo Kojima oil wrestled Hironobu Sakaguchi for killer app supremacy. Oh, wait. That was just my dream. My sweet, precious dream.

By By Curtis Westman

Korean business market grinds to a halt

Blizzard announced last weekend that the wet dream of over a million zealous RTS gamers is about to be vindicated with the advent of the sequel to one of the most popular franchises in the history of PC gaming — Starcraft 2. Rumours over the past months that the sequel would either never arrive or would be another World of Warcraft MMO clone in the Starcraft universe have accordingly been forgotten, as gameplay footage from Blizzard’s Worldwide International gaming convention show what is essentially Starcraft on steroids.

For three days after the announcement, Korean business suffered huge losses as workers failed to show up for work, catatonic in front of their computers, awestruck at the news.

And why wouldn’t they be? This is huge news for gaming. This is like the release of Duke Nukem Forever. On schedule AND living up to its hype. This is like the second coming of Christ — nobody ever thought it would happen and here it is after only God knows how many years. Centuries from now, archaeologists are going to dig up big stone tablets detailing the coming of Starcraft the 2nd, and are going to think it refers to some magnanimous king that liberated slaves and miraculously brought Protoss together with Terrans — Zerg and cats living together; mass hysteria!

They’re going to think we were such nerds.

Virtual Console Picks

The Wii’s Virtual Console feature lets us play older games from a multitude of systems on a single machine — similar to X-Box Live or, well, I would say the PS Network, but I feel dirty making that comparison — and every week there are more additions. I figured that I might as well explain the games this week so maybe people know what to avoid. After all, we don’t all have subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Oh, god, please kill me. I’m such a geek

This week’s offerings:

Donkey Kong Country 2: Okay, so this one time Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of the Mario and Zelda franchises) said that the Donkey Kong Country series was proof that American gamers would buy any piece of trash as long as it looked half decent. Apparently he was right. American audiences really lapped up the trilogy. To its credit, it has a lot of fun bits, and isn’t a bad side-scroller all told. It’s a bit slow, I admit, but the atmosphere is pure bananas (get it!?) which more than makes up for that.

Blazing Lazers: I’m a little biased with this game because I was one of the few North Americans who owned a Turbo Grafx 16, and loved the hell out of it. Blazing Lazers is a great shooter with a lot of charm. The music is fun and exciting and the power-ups are all pretty decent in their own right. Just because they misspelled lasers doesn’t mean it’s a poor game. It just means they’re poor spellers.

Streets of Rage 2: This series is beat-’em-up gold. With a friend playing co-op, Streets of Rage 2 is some of the most fun gaming I’ve had in a long time, simply because of its hectic nature and the fact that you’re beating the hell out of everyone. Nothing is more satisfying than picking up a discarded iron pipe and knocking the sense out of some fat guy with it. And sometimes, Owen, since friendly fire is forced, and you can accidentally beat the hell out of your partner as well. Oops.

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