NostalGeek

Don’t Hate the Game, Hate the Player

Braid Review (XBLA)

braidlogoBraid is a game that was released in August 2008 on Xbox Live Arcade to critical acclaim. It won several awards and one could argue that it helped validate the whole recent flow of successful independent games like Flower, World of Goo, N+
It was developed by genius Jonathan Blow who came up with the idea and game design for the project and by gifted David Hellman who create all the enchanting art for the game. In addition the entrancing ‘soundtrack’ was composed by artists Shira Kammen, Jami Sieber and Cheryl Ann Fulton.
The game is basically a multi-layered mix between a platformer and a puzzle game with a time element added to it. But don’t be fooled, it’s much much more than that

Graphics

Before you realize how well the game is designed your senses are going to be filled with joyful things. You will instantly see through the art and music that you are in something entirely different. David Hellman did an incredible job. Each level is a beautiful painting with various undertones. They start out bright and joyful and seem to get darker and more….weighing as you go.
You can get an idea from the screens of the beauty of it all but it really comes together with the music. And I don’t know much about art techniques so I won’t offend David by pretending I know what he did. I just know it’s gorgeous.
By the way I strongly suggest you check out David’s blog as it has tons of cool info on the creation of the game and more.

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Music

The soundtrack for the game is actually not a soundtrack per say. Jonathan Blow decided he wanted to use real musician tracks because they would convey more feeling to the player. And boy did it convey!
As soon as you start you are greeted with a track from Jami Sieber called Maenam, a beautiful, soothing violin and sitar (I think) piece that wouldn’t feel awkward in a Prince of Persia game. Along the rest of the game you also hear music from Shira Kammen and Cheryl Ann Fulton. all of them tend to focus around beautiful melodies on violins and harps with other instruments added on and off such as percussion and piano.
Also throughout the game the music is intricately tied  to the time manipulation design since music rewinds as time goes backward. It feels amazing to the player experiencing the game but if your wife is on the computer just hearing the sound I doubt she will appreciate the nuances đŸ™‚

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Gameplay

I could say this is were the game shines but I’d be lying because everything shines in this game and it’s how it all fits together that makes it such an amazing title.
The idea in each world is to grab all the pieces of a puzzle. you don’t need to finish the puzzle to get to the next world but you need to go through the doors. You enter a sub-world through a door and the exit is on the other side, so you could potentially go through all the levels without grabbing a puzzle piece. That being said, in order to reach the ‘final’ level you do need to complete every puzzle.
The basic time maneuver that you have is the rewind function. If you hit an enemy or fall to your doom, hit X and rewind a few seconds back to better time your jumps. This may seem too easy but it is not because it’s not just a saving move, you actually need to work with time in order to do things which will allow you to grab a piece of the puzzle. It’s a bit hard to explain on paper but you will get the hang of it in a heartbeat. Braid is the essence of a design that is very simple yet requires a lot of thinking to get what you want.
Also each world will add new features to the use of time but it would be spoiling if I told them to you because half the fun is discovering them for yourself (please don’t watch YouTube videos, I urge you).
You will truly appreciate the genius and thought that came in some of the mechanics in the game.

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Story

Wow…that’s how I felt when I finished the game. You think you know, you try to glimpse. But you have no clue. Do yourself a favor, if you didn’t play the game through to the end. Leave your computer and go do it now. The final stage is a stroke of genius the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while…. in fact I’m not sure I ever saw anything quite so amazing. Your jaw will drop. It will make you think for a while.
The story of the game I will not really go into for two reasons. One i would be quite the asshole if I spoiled it for you. Second, no one knows! there are several stories intermingled, probably more than we even thought about and Jonathan Blow himself has said that he wouldn’t ever tell us because there’s no straight answer. Often times such a statement is a gimmick from a guy with a lack of a clear vision. Not so here, to say that Blow lacks vision is a pure lie and the game truly cannot be explained with one story. And the simple fact that there are so many people discussing what the story really is is a testament to the ingenuity of the plot.
The story is told through books laid out at the beginning of each world and all are written beautifully and are a joy to read and try to decipher. I can say that the ‘main’ (read basic) plot seems to follow you (Tim) as you try to find a Princess and features a few testaments to Super Mario Bros… But as you go…you’ll see, and it will be eye-opening.

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Braid is the kind of game that comes once once every 10 years. A perfect union of the different aspects of a game to form a perfect game. There are so many details that will escape even the most cunning player (check the different flags the end of each world for example). People have been complaining that the game is too expensive… it was 1,200 Microsoft Points when it came out and I think it’s now down to 800. These people have no clue, the game would be worth every penny and more at 1,200. Even budget boxed version of the game for $30 wouldn’t be overpaying for the game. Go buy it now!
Meanwhile I’m off to buy the Braid Premium Theme for my 360. Woohoo!

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March 25, 2009 Posted by | Video Game News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Tuesday October 14, 2008

Game of the Moment (for me)

I don’t know if this will be an ongoing thing but I wanted to speak it this time.
Dead Space!
I wasn’t overly excited at first since I much prefer the FPS kind where you fight humans but now that I’m seeing reviews and such I am getting very excited. This feels like a very claustrophobic game not unlike the great Sci-Fi movies like Alien or Sunshine. The sound design sounds plain superb with the muffled deafness of space. The integrated menu which keeps you immersed is genius.
Bottom line this looks like….the Game of the Moment!
Check out the GameSpot review here.

Former Flagship Members Head to Turbine

Back in July when Flagship Studios shut down and a lot of people had to leave ship and went to create new studio Runic Games.
Today Turbine announced that they will open a new branch called Turbine West and that former Flagship Studios members Dave Brevik and Jeff Lind will be joining the West branch.
Specific details about the projects they will work on have not been announced.

Starcraft II Is a….Trilogy?

When Rob Pardo said that StarCraft II was going to be a big game he wasn’t kidding. It’s so big in fact that the game will be released in three parts, each focusing on one faction of the game and each having close to 30 missions.
The first game will focus on the Humans and be called Wings of Liberty. The second will focus on the Zerg and be called Heart of the Swarm and finally the last one will focus on the Protoss and be named Legacy of the Void.
Now let’s hope they don’t price each at $60 because that would be pushing it… just a bit.

FIFA 09 Is Rocking Europe

We all know soccer is much more appreciated in Europe but can’t deny the quality of this new EA game. FIFA 09 sold more than 1.2 million copies in just a week.
With Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 coming out we can expect some good times for soccer fans this year.

October 14, 2008 Posted by | 360 News, Industry News, PC News, PS3 News, Video Game News, Wii News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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