Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Some E3 Thoughts

I don’t know how to process Sony’s and Microsoft’s respective motion control announcements. In general, I’ve come to embrace the better utilizations of Wii’s motion control capabilities, so it’s not that I’m against the notion altogether. In fact, I’ve believed (as many others have) that motion control of some variety will be a default means of input on all 3 next generation consoles.

And yet, I can’t shake the notion that these E3 reveals were ultimately disingenuous. Sony’s wand-like solution won’t release until Spring 2010, and Microsoft’s 3D camera might take until the end of next year to hit the market. Even now, the general course of this generation is already clear. By next year, though? There’s just no chance that these peripherals will change how things will turn out in the end. It’s too late.

Beyond the issue of release date, there’s the matter of price. How much will these things cost? Rumors are swirling that the current price of Microsoft’s camera is about $200 – hard to verify, but Microsoft will need to be at the $50 dollar range to move a lot of units. Sony’s wand needs an Eye (camera), which retails for ~$30 right now, though that will surely drop in the next year. The price of the actual controller is unknown at this point.

Both technologies seem cool, don’t get me wrong, if a little unrealized. Microsoft’s camera is undoubtedly intriguing, but I’m not totally sold on its utility as a standalone entity – my biggest gripe with the Wiimote is its lack of physical feedback, and completely taking physical objects out of the equation definitely won’t help in that regard. Still, facial and vocal recognition are very interesting features, and especially as an augment to other control methods, the camera has a lot of potential. Sony’s tech is more along the lines of Nintendo’s MotionPlus solution (in practice), and that makes its prospects more readily imaginable.

It’s just hard to imagine a situation that either of these new technology would gain any type of traction this generation. MotionPlus comes out next week, and it has a full suite of software to welcome it to the market, not to mention the motion-ready mindset of Wii owners.

So what’s the point?

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Microsoft Pre-Show Thoughts

Rumors are popping up regarding a new Halo game (different than the previously announced Halo: ODST) to be unveiled tomorrow morning at Microsoft’s press conference. I don’t nerd out over Halo games (though I enjoy them well enough), but this will definitely be another tent pole in 360’s lineup going forward. I’m actually more interested in the people behind this new game – it seems it’s being developed by Microsoft’s internal Halo team (put together after the Bungie split). Will they use the Halo 3 engine? Will this be an indication of Microsoft’s 1st party development story going forward?

Even more exciting, it seems like Alan Wake will finally be unveiled in full. We’ve seen glimpses over the years (a new trailer alongside the theatrical release of Max Payne last year and a tech demonstration for Intel in 2006), but there’ve been few details released regarding the type of gameplay to expect. I’m hoping that will change tomorrow.

Excite and E3

I want to reiterate how awesome ExciteBots is – it is really flipping awesome. Excellent course design, great controls, ridiculous stunts… such a fun game. First month sales were (sadly) anemic, but that’s hardly unexpected after its stealth release. At 40 dollars ($50 with a wheel), I highly recommend.

So E3 starts Monday, and I’m pretty psyched about what we might see. Games like Mass Effect 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 will no doubt impress (I enjoyed the first iterations of each franchise, and I think some polish will go a long way for both titles). I’m also pretty excited about Big 3’s press conferences. I don’t know if it’s the extra dose of pizzazz that’s been injected into this year’s show or what, but I’m expecting big things.

Nintendo in particular is a wildcard this year, and not just because it’s a known fact that they’re going to have awesome content. It could be a letdown (Wii Fit Plus looks like a lock for the show), or it could be ridiculously awesome (I’m hoping for a new Zelda with MotionPlus support).

Should be a fun ride.

Mirror’s Edge

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mirror’s Edge. There was hardly a consensus among reviewers, and the game didn’t resonate with consumers from a sales perspective. That said, anecdotal evidence from various forums around the web was encouraging, as a number of users …

Mirrors Edge
This game is really, really good looking.

Mirror’s Edge is a fantastic game, and I honestly have trouble understanding why it wasn’t better received. Gameplay is unique and, shockingly, quite polished. First person platforming has rarely been implemented successfully – the Metroid Prime games are notable exceptions, but the acrobatics expected of the player in Mirror’s Edge are a step above even those RETRO’s classics.

I also enjoyed combat, which is one aspect of the game that drew the ire of the majority of critics. It isn’t perfect – some of the disarms are a little finicky, and I would’ve enjoyed using downed enemies as shields (it would have sped up the combat). Still, like the platforming, it’s very fresh and wholly satisfying.

The game was a little short, I guess, but I have trouble faulting it for that. Mirror’s Edge kept me on my toes throughout, and I’ll take a game that goes out on top over one that overstays its welcome.

Excitebots: Trick Racing

So… I haven’t updated in while. Why? Excitebots: Trick Racing, that’s why. The game has owned me for the past couple of weeks, and with some S rankings still to go in Super Excite mode, I’ve got a lot left on my plate.

I commented in December that Excite Truck was an overlooked gem that companies should be looking at for inspiration. Little did I know that Monster Games, creators of the first game, had a new, tasty dose of excite cooking in the kitchen.

There are few games that I’d offer my full recommendation, but Excitebots is honestly too awesome for anyone to ignore. It looks good, controls really well, packs a lot of content, and sports a solid online mode. And more than anything, it’s just ridiculously fun. Give it a go.

Sad World?

With my Peggle problem mostly behind me, I can finally turn my attention to more pressing matters.

MadWorld has been a disappointment thus far. Its style is consistent and arresting, but the game’s general gameplay mechanics immediately show their lack of depth. All of the Wiimote motions translate well to onscreen actions, but there just aren’t enough of them. All of the QTEs are interesting and good-looking, but there just aren’t enough of them. The environmental structures enable some great kills, but there just aren’t… well, you get the idea.

What is there is pretty cool (and generally well designed), but there just isn’t enough meat to cover MadWorld’s bones. This is reinforced by the game’s forced and utterly repetitive commentary. Greg Proops and John DiMaggio have a few funny lines, but they are recycled so frequently that what is originally shocking and fresh eventually becomes really annoying. I ended up turning them down completely so that I could hear the music, which, like the rest of the game, is fundamentally good but ultimately repetitive.

Amazon had a deal on Wii Music the other day, and I just couldn’t help myself. I like what I’ve seen so far, though I’m sad that I won’t be able to take advantage of the game’s song sharing mechanics (since none of my friends have the game). I don’t think this is a game that I’ll put big chunks of time into, but I hope it proves to be an interesting thing to come back to every now and then.

My Peggle Problem

As much as I love me some video games, I rarely feel “addicted” to them. In general, they are a means of entertainment, and while I might sometimes get frustrated by a lack of adequate play time, that’s only because I genuinely enjoy the hobby.

Enter Peggle.

The XBLA version has been my first foray into the Peggle universe, though I’ve heard about it in the past (most notably from 1up Yours’ (ListenUp’s) John Davison). I’m rarely sucked into these simple games, but something about Peggle has really grabbed me by the junk. I don’t know if it’s the tasty mix of skill and luck, the generous helping of off-the-wall humor, or the physics (I love physics), but I’m officially hooked.

Put more simply: I’ve beaten the game, and I’m still playing for high scores and extra challenges. That just doesn’t normally happen.

I started a regimen of allergy shots today, and since they need to “observe” me for half an hour after every dose (you know, so I don’t “die”), I figured it would be a good time to dig into some long-neglected DS games. I fired up Professor Layton and was shocked by its high production values. The game is really quite polished, and I’m looking forward to digging into it.