NostalGeek

Don’t Hate the Game, Hate the Player

Grand Theft Auto IV Thoughts and Destructoid Appreciation

gta-iv_animationOK this is not going to be a full review because I fell I would focus too much on what irked me and induce a subsequent flame war which I have no interest in.
The fact is that I just finished the game and that while I thought some aspects of the game were amazing, some were simply awful and one could argue, close to broken.

I loved the reproduction of NYC, the size and feel of the city. I love the voice work which is simply top notch especially when compared to the talentless zombies who dub Japanese RPGs. I thought the firefight gameplay was more than adequate and so on.
On the other hand I thought the sometime ridiculous dialogues went in the way of the realism of the city and story. I was amazed by the awful texture pop-ups as soon as you go above 50Mph in your car and I didn’t appreciate that they forced me to date Kate (Patrick’s sister) whom I had hung up on each time and never called when what I wanted was to have Kiki, whom I saw often and sent me lovely tests, as my official girlfriend.
And last but not least I HATE the stupid checkpoint system which makes you go back to the very beginning of some mission without your original car because you had the bad idea to get out of it before dying….

Told you I shouldn’t review this.

So anyway the point of this post is because I’m just amazed at all the biased hype around this game. I expect it from fanboys but not from the professional press and while the game is certainly not a bad game by any means, some aspects are deficient and it does not by any means warrant a score 10/10 or 100%. At most it should be around 85-90%.
And so I got curious and checked out Meta Critic to see the various review scores. First of all I had to scroll down for a while to go beyond the perfect score (sigh) but also the lowest score was 80 (which seems a fair score) and almost none of the people who gave it 80 seem to be from recognized publications.

that is until I noticed that Desctructoid did give it a score of 80. So I got curious and decided to read there reviews and found out that is was probably the most accurate score tied to a review (for this game at least).
So from now on I will always check out their reviews when I’m interested in a game to see what they think.
Thanks Jim Sterling! (and Nick, Ashley, Anthony and Dale (thanks for the music too!))

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March 24, 2009 Posted by | Random Musings, Video Game Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Professor Layton and the Curious Village Review (Nintendo DS)

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Level-5 is mostly known for their highly successful RPGs (Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest VIII) but with the Professor Layton series they stray into the IQ puzzle genre with great efficiency.
The project was born through President and CEO Akihiro Hino who always loved Tago’s Head Gymnastics series of puzzle books, which have sold more than 12 million copies to date in Japan. As a result Akira Tago developed the game while Hino san served as producer.
If you like puzzle game you are going to be enjoying one of the most charming games on the DS with great graphics and soundtrack and a deceivingly nice storyline.

Graphics

The game starts right off with a lovely CG sequence that is both beautiful and original in design, you feel like you are watching a mix between a Studio Ghibli movie and a classic European cartoon albeit of great quality. There aren’t that many sequences in the game but they are all a joy to watch.
the in-game graphics are divided into two categories, the overall look and the puzzles themselves. Let’s get this out of the way the puzzles look nice and simple, nothing fancy but that is not the point of puzzles. On the other hand the backgrounds are simply gorgeous made of beautifully drawn illustrations that pack a lot of charm. The characters are equally well drawn and each look very different with a lot of visual personality. Layton himself is a hero with an old fashioned style that will no doubt be portrayed in several conventions by fans of cosplay.

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Sound

The soundtrack, composed by Level-5 composer Tomohito Nishiura, is filled with accordions that would be found in a cheesy American movie set in Paris BUT Nishiura never falls into that trap and keeps the score enjoyable and very original for a video game soundtrack. It must be said that the tunes tend to repeat a lot so your enjoyment will vary depending on your tolerance for the style. Personally i loved it.
The voice work on the other hand is top notch and can’t be denied. It consist of great British actors (Layton is voiced by Christopher Miller and Luke by Lani Minella) which you mostly only hear during the CG sequences but these voices will stay with you for a long while, especially the announcements before the success or failure of a puzzle, “I think I’ve got it!” (thick British accent), “Luke, here’s my answer…”, “Well..Here’s my guess…” and so on.
The great voices and atypical soundtrack really help give the game even more personality and charm.

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Gameplay

Very straightforward in this case. You click on people like in any RPGs and they talk to you usually giving you a puzzle to solve, then you just rack your brain until you find an answer.
the puzzles run the gamut of everything from “John is 3 times the age of Astrid but next year Astrid will be half as old as John. How are they?” to liquid games and cube sliding… It’s a bit hard to explain but if you check the images you’ll get the drift.
Each puzzle is worth a certain number of Picarats (basically points) which when accumulated give you bonuses and extras. If you answer a puzzle incorrectly the number of picarats you receive decreases but it only does so twice. As a result once you fail a puzzle twice you can fail it as many times as you want without any consequence. While this helps on some puzzle where the answer is fairly simple on others it doesn’t help at all because you have no clue what to input. But either way puzzles are usually just a matter of thinking, there was only one or two puzzles I had to go look up online because they where too far fetched.
In addition to this you can collect hint coins throughout the village by clicking…well…basically everywhere. You will get the itch to find them and end up putting your stylus anywhere just to see if you can find some. These coins allow you to buy hints for puzzles (3 for each) which give you the opportunity to answer puzzles without losing any picarats potential.
Here’s a hint: use your coins! You will get more picarats in the end. I saved mine for fear of tougher puzzles towards the end and even if they were tougher i ended up with 60 hint coins. So use them and rack up the points.

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Story

For a puzzle game Professor Layton and the Curious Village has a surprisingly good story. You are called to the village after receiving a strange will which picks your curiosity, the will mentions something about a “Golden Apple” treasure. As an infamous puzzle solver you cannot resist and head there with your trusty assistant Luke.
Of course upon arrival several things happen and the plot thickens! Murder, kidnapping… it all makes for a very exciting story that you’ll want to keep discovering. You may figure out the main mystery about halfway through the game, especially after a specific cutscene but the plot still holds a few surprises and I found the ending to be very charming and emotional. Quite a reward for a simple puzzle game.

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Overall Level-5 delivers yet another quality porduct and this new franchise is really a breath of fresh air. The game is part of a trilogy that is almost complete in Japan (the second game was released November 29, 2007 and the third one is coming out November 27 of this year) and Level-5 is hard at work on translating the second opus. I can’t wait for the next games and if you aren’t a complete puzzle-phobic I strongly suggest you pick this game up and thank me later.

November 6, 2008 Posted by | DS News, Video Game Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

American McGee’s Grimm – Episode 1 Review (PC)

American McGee first worked as a designer for id Software on games like Doom II and Quake but his big breakthrough was when he released Alice in 2000. The is one of my favorite games of all times mixing a gritty ambiance, enthralling soundtrack and characters out of this world. The take on Alice in Wonderland was genius and the voice acting is one of the best ever put in a game.
But I digress, since then there were plans to give similar treatment to Oz, which sadly still hasn’t been done, and I discovered recently that he produced two other games with various results, Scrapland and Bad Day L.A.. The first one was pretty well received but the latter was destroyed by critics as one of the worst games ever. I haven’t played either but they weren’t created by him (only produces) so I don’t take it into too much account.
Now along comes Grimm, an episodic game that retraces the famous tales from the two brothers, reminds you of the Alice premise? Let’s hope so.

Is the first episode: A Boy Learns What Fear Is the long awaited new masterpiece of American or will we have to wait for a hypothetical Oz?

Graphics

Grimm uses the Unreal 3 engine but it’s really not the type of game that is going to make you realize this. The graphics are overall pretty basic but very enjoyable. The original world is pretty colorful pastel and patchy while Grimm’s version is still patchy but darker and grittier.
In the gallery mode, which you need to unlock, you can see every item from the game and switch them from regular to dark mode, back and forth, which is a pretty nice feature since sometimes in the game you don’t see all the transformations.
The style somewhat reminded me of a pop-up book for children, which seems appropriate for this game.


Sound

As with Alice the sound is a big part of the ambiance of the game. The theme of episode 1 is really nice and “catchy” in a dark way, after i finished the episode I found myself humming the tune for a while. As far as I can remember it’s the same tune throughout the whole game which isn’t really a problem since it’s only about 30-45 minutes long.
The voices are also good although not as perfect as Alice was. Grimm’s voice is mostly the only one we here throughout the game and it’s pretty solid work. Some classic lines like “buttstomp away” and “Make it stinky” are, if not a bit repetitive, somewhat catchy.

Gameplay

The gameplay is ever so basic, you move around and sometimes have to jump to darken some bigger objects such as buildings or gates. You are in a colorful town and your goal is to tun everything to darkness. As you transform the village you fill a Dark-O-Meter which, when full enough, allows you to move to the next area. You do not have to darken everything to progress but I find I like the dark version of the worlds much nicer so I always turn everything to gloom 🙂
The ‘goal’ is do this in as little time as possible (think Time Attack Mode) in order to be on the leaderboard at Gametap but you have to play online through Gametap in order for your records to be kept, if you play the offline stand alone version it’s just a personal affair.
Throughout out the game there are also a few hidden coins which, if all collected, unlock the gallery mode.
There isn’t much more to it than this really, simple yet effective gameplay. The only thing I would have liked is the ability to take the camera back for a wider view of the world and the transformations since sometimes you’re a bit too close to really see them.

Story

As the premise states each episode is based on one of the Brothers Grimm’s tale so I will venture a will guess that you can greatly increase your enjoyment by spending 5 minutes reading the original tale before playing.
For this episode we are following a boy who has never known fear and it is Grimm goal to change this and ruins everything around him. A feature I really enjoyed is the retelling of the story. When you start the game there is an introduction sequence which tells the setting of the tale in a somewhat regular tone, but when you finish the game you gain access to the dark version of the tale which is pretty fun. Of course if you’re like me and love American McGee’s style you’ll enjoy the darker version of things much more.

So overall it’s a very enjoyable game, especially since the first episode is free. I am not sure is it is really worth $4 which is the price for the following episodes. With 24 episodes that is a potential price tag of $92 ( the first one being free) which is a bit of a hefty sum. Now keep in mind that each episode will be free on the day of release (which is weekly) so potentially you could also get the whole game for free if you pay attention. But overall I’d be more than willing (pending quality of future episodes of course) to pay about $30 box for a retail box of the game because I think it’s worth it.
The bottom line is if you liked Alice, if you like gritty retelling of fairy tales and want to have a short and sweet time then you should try it out. Plus the first episode is free so no excuse.

August 4, 2008 Posted by | Video Game Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So Blonde Review (PC)

These days it seems that adventure games pop up all over the place, the same way that FPSs did a few years ago. With Sam & Max, Dracula 3, Dracula: Origin, Perry Rhodan, Experience 112 and the upcoming Simon the Sorcerer 4 and A Vampire Story among others, it is quite the understatement to say that such games abound. So how is one lone damsel suppose to stand out?
So Blonde is the first game developed by the French studio Wizarbox and the script is written by Steve Ince of Les Chevaliers de Baphomet fame (known in the U.S. as Broken Sword). It is a very nice adventure game reminiscent of the golden days of Lucas Arts games. In fact So Blonde makes many mentions of Monkey Island which it emulates and parodies to quasi perfection.

Graphics

All the backgrounds are beautifully drawn and it’s a pleasure to walk through these settings ranging from the paradise beach and town to the gorgeous jungle and eerie swamps. The characters themselves are a bit different, when coming up close they can look a bit rough but at a slight distance they look perfectly fine and they all have very distinct personalities and looks so that you always know who is who.
The cutscenes are also drawn and show up in a sort of comic book fashion so they look very nice as well.

Sound

Throughout the game there are a few musics playing but mostly you will here the main theme which is playing 90% of the game. Thankfully this tune is very enjoyable and even though you will be hearing it a lot it never gets annoying.
The voices on the other hand are all top-notch work. Everyone delivers great work and all the characters have depth and their voices fit them to perfection. The fact that the dialogues are also very good doesn’t hurt either. There is a plethora of pop-culture references running the gamut Lost, X-Men and Monkey Island (several times) to older cartoons and mythology. Either way you are certain to laugh often.
It is worth mentioning that I played the French version of the game (no U.S. release announced yet but the game is out in Australia and is coming to the U.K in September) so I cannot vouch for the quality of any English dialogue, or for that matter some jokes that may be familiar to the French but not to other cultures.

Gameplay

The Gameplay is very basic in the game. It is pure point & click, when you mouse over an item you can either view it or interact with it. You move the character by clicking on the screen as well so it should all feel very familiar to anyone who’s played a classic adventure game.
On each screen you can press the space bar which will show you everything you can observe. While this can make the game a tad easy, it is a nice feature to have when you have played for a while and your brain is starting to slow down a bit. Most riddles aren’t hard to figure out, there are just a few times when you’re not given a hint as to where to go (usually the inn is a good place to start) and there is just two puzzles that i recall where I was thinking “ummmm….OK…….” so overall it’s a well balanced game.
One very nice feature is the ability to skip dialogues by clicking and to double click on an exit to go instantly to the next screen (via a short loading screen which all look lovely). This is really a Godsend because once I was very much into the game and played for a while when the game crashed after an Alt-Tab. I hadn’t saved in 3 hours!! but thanks to this i was able to redo everything in less than an hour which was great.
The game also features several minigames at various times which range from moving the mouse very fast or using the arrow keys to a bunch of old school games which are VERY much like Game & Watch games, which is a blast…from the past.

Story (No Spoilers)

The story starts as Sunny (the heroin) is enjoying a nice cruise on the ocean but falls overboard and ends up on a paradise island. As soon as she wakes up she only has one thing in mind: finding a hotel and getting reception for her cellphone (OK that’s two). From then on she meets the local mayor, pirates, innkeeper which lead her on many adventures and so on and so forth.
The plot, while not amazing in its depth is still very enjoyable, mostly thanks to the great voice work but also due to the fact that their are several subplots that occur as well and everything feels very tied together because the island and its people feel real. The game is about 15 hours long (I clocked in 13+ hours but i used a FAQ a few times). There are multiple endings with, I believe, three different choices.

Overall So Blonde is a very good and enjoyable game that will remind old timers of the great Lucas Art games of the 90s like Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island and Full Throttle. For the young’uns it is a great opportunity to get a feel of what great adventure games are.
The only ‘?’ that remains is to see how the English voices were handled. If right, then I say go for it and have good time. This is one blonde who’s “not so blonde after all”.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Video Game Reviews | , , , , | 9 Comments