Video Games

Beauty and the Best

Sep 2012

AGT Mini Review - The Orange Box

Orange Box Cover
To this day, one of the absolute best values in gaming is Valve’s offering of The Orange Box on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac. This is a video game compilation including Half-Life 2 (the full game), Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Team Fortress 2 and the first introduction of Portal. Any one of these games by themselves is probably worth more in pure entertainment value than most first person shooters on the market, even at of the time of this mini review’s posting.

Since the introduction of the Half-Life series in November of 1998, Valve took skeletal animation and enemy A.I. to a completely new level and drew gamers into the engrossing underground Black Mesa facility. Players took control of Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist and MIT graduate, armed with a Hev suit and an array of incredibly cool weapons. What’s probably most endearing are the companion characters Gordon is always happy to either battle along side or convene with after a series of intense firefights. From the mysterious Vortigants to the enchanting and tough Alyx Vance, Valve has gone above and beyond to create one of the most memorable experiences in video game history.

Then there’s Portal. I had no idea what to expect when I started playing Portal because I’d been deep in production and hadn’t done my research to even know what it was. Hadn’t even seen a preview video. I was immediately addicted to the first person puzzle gameplay based on the use of the portal gun. By the way, Portal 2 (not part of The Orange Box) takes it to an entirely new level if you like this type of gameplay. One warning though – it’s not a shooter. It’s about using your brain - in the same way some of the original Tomb Raider games were about entering a room and figuring out what was needed to escape and avoid certain death. And if nothing else, Jonathan Coulton catchy song, Still Alive, will be nearly impossible to get out of your head. By the way, he’s not a one hit wonder. Coulton’s got lots of other great songs written in his signature sardonic tenor that are not related to Portal but equally is witty.

And last but not least – Team Fortress 2. For those of you who can’t get enough multiplayer action, this cartoon-styled shooter dishes out a healthy dose of capture the flag and base defense modes to appease even the most jaded gamers. As sequel to the original Quake mod, they just amp it up another level.

Unlike movies, games have the daunting task of trying to predict various potential interactions of their audience, which often leads to scripts splinter out into 500 plus pages. With Half-Life 2 especially, Valve manages to guide the player through a world that feels open while simultaneously building a narrative that’s more engaging than most feature films. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, horror, dimensional riffs and rebel skirmishes against fantastic alien and cybernetic organisms, the Half-Life series is for you. And Portal and Team Fortress stand well on their own as more than the icing on the cake.

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La Mulana Review

blogEntryTopperI'm about to do something very unprofessional and that is review a game which I haven't even finished. La Mulana is challenging, really challenging but also really good so I wanted to talk about it anyway because otherwise it might fall into an obscurity which it doesn't deserve.

After years in development hell where it waited for approval from the same crack team of quality assurance professionals who green lit Imagine Party Babyz and Major League Eating, I'm glad to say that it is finally here and it is an excellent throwback to the 8 and 16 bit eras. 

La Mulana is a 2D action platformer released by Nigoro for Nintendo's WiiWare in September of 2012 as part of a sub-genre known as castletroids or metrodivanias. They're called this because like Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the gameplay involves exploring a sprawling world to collect upgrades and new abilities which opens up even further areas as well as secrets in areas you've already visited.

In this castleroid, you control an archaeologist named Indiana Jones, I mean Dr. Lamenza. Oh who am I kidding? I mean Indiana Jones. You start of in a camp near some jungle ruins, armed only with your whip and the rest you pretty much have to figure out for yourself. If you talk to the proper character then you will get e-mails giving minor hints but there's not much hand holding in La Mulana.

Did I mention that this game is challenging? Because it is. For example, you know how in most games when you solve a puzzle, it plays a 
jingle to let you know? Not in La Mulana, you have to find an item just to have that convenience. That may be too much for some people but thankfully, the difficulty has been toned down from its original version.

Yes this is a remake of a 2005 Windows game by designer Takumi Naramura as an homage to a Japanese gaming computer known as the MSX. This version, being an official release, unfortunately scrubs a lot of the references to that system but in exchange it has beautifully updated hand-drawn artwork and synthesized music. If you want to play the original, then it can be downloaded for free but I would really recommend paying the ten dollars to try this version on your Wii or PC after all the work and trouble gone through to make it possible.

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Tiny Wings – IOS Game

Since the time of its inception in July of 2008, there have been hundreds of thousands of apps released through the iTunes App store, but I have to imagine that when the reviewers first laid eyes on Tiny Wings they had to be as overjoyed as I was.

I was working on a Kinect title when I first heard about this game from a friend of mine on the God of War III team. They raved about playing this everyday so I had to check it out if for nothing else but a break from bug triage sessions in prep for our pre cert submissions to Microsoft. (Game devs – you know what I mean.) Anyway, there’s an immediate analogue-ness to its colorful presentation that’s a breath of fresh air compared to all of the flat shaded, 2D games that have the appearance of being created entirely with Photoshop. For all I know, maybe Tiny Wings was created in Photoshop as well but the art has a great hand-drawn, organic feel to it. You play as a cute little bird whose wings are too small to allow you to take full flight so instead you have to glide down hillsides building up enough momentum to launch yourself up into the air until gravity brings you back down again. An intuitive tutorial shows you that all you have to do is tap the screen at the precise moment in order to land at the right angle to give you the greatest lift on the upswing. As you get into the groove you can really pick up speed racing against the setting sun to gain distance before the moon rises and you return to the world of slumber. Then you start the whole process again just to see how many islands you can get past before sundown.

This game is the brainchild of German born Andres Illiger, who coded, designed and created the art for the game in the truest spirit of indie game development. He’s admittedly an introvert but professes that in the midst of such negative and destructive games, he wanted to create something that makes gamers feel truly happy. I must say that I’ve spent more time playing Tiny Wings than any other game on my iPhone despite it’s simplicity and he definitely achieved that goal. It’s the perfect way to kill time before hopping on a plane, riding on a bus or train or waiting for an appointment. And I’ve always got a reason to come back because the achievements award you bird nests of varying designs that each act as score multipliers. Finally, there’s the music that blends seamlessly from the main character’s idle state at rest and then dynamically changes as soon as the player touches the screen to start the level. This music is super catchy and Illiger offers it for free download on his website which is pretty cool. The All Good Things Bottom Line: Tiny Wings is an incredible value that more than achieves its goal of bringing you a combination of fun, tranquility and challenge..

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Heart of Darkness PSX

blogEntryTopperDo you have fun while seeing a little boy being stabbed, crushed, drowned, poisoned or chewed up by wild animals? You sick bastard! I have a game for you. A game called Heart of Darkness.

Heart of Darkness is about an African river boat captain named Charles Marlow at the turn of the twentieth century who, wait that's not right. Different Heart of Darkness, sorry let me start again. Ahem, Heart of Darkness is a 1998 video game released by Infogrames for the original Sony Playstation/Windows based PCs and created by French designer Eric Chahi of Out of this World as well as 2011's indie darling god simulator, From Dust.

This Heart of Darkness is about a scientific prodigy named Andy, who while at the park with his dog Whiskey, witnesses a solar eclipse. During this solar eclipse however, Whiskey is stolen away by unknown aliens so it is up to Andy to go get his home made spaceship from his tree house and fly off in the direction of the creatures on a quest to save his dog.

I know what you're thinking, dog questing, pretty epic stuff huh? BUT it's also filled with fantastic creatures and the struggle for control of an alien planet. This all unfolds by guiding Andy through, what we in the biz like to call, a "cinematic platformer". In a style similar to the original Prince of Persia, Heart of Darkness plays from a 2D perspective and involves careful thought, precise control and a lot of trial & error to pass enemies or solve environmental puzzles.

Even with those however, you'll see poor Andy meet his end again and again and once you've bought a new controller to replace the one you smashed, a couple dozen times after that. They can be pretty gruesome too so is it wrong that I get as much of a cheap thrill from watching those as I do from actually progressing into a new area? Yes, absolutely, I need help but the the visuals and sounds are so stunning that I just can't help myself.

Like all cinematic platformers, the animation in this game is superb, as is music & ambient sounds. So much care went into the presentation that it took six years to finish. But they kind of have to have that in order to keep people entertained and coming back for more despite the slow pacing and constant failures.

It worked on me but because of this, along with its niche style, Heart of Darkness isn't going to be for everyone and even for those of you for whom it is, there is no digital release for it as of yet. However, if you can track down a copy of the Playstation version, it can be played through the backwards compatibility of PS3s. So if you find one, pick it up. You won't regret it most of the time.

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Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in the Pursuit of the Protruding Pectorals

Leisure Suit Larry
I don't know about you but when I get tired of hooking up with so many beautiful women night after night, I like to just sit back and kick some games. Pwn some noobs, glean some cubes and not think about getting laid for a couple of hours. So why would I want to play a game where I do exactly that? Because it is one of the funniest & ahem "rewarding" games I've ever played and that game is of course Leisure Suit Larry.

Did I say one of? I meant six of, yes there are six of these games. No, no, please don't tell me about Magna Cum Laude or Box Office Bust, they don't exist. In fact, I just made up those words and am now putting my fingers in my ears. With a pencil in my teeth, I'm writing about the games created by Sierra On-Line legend, Al Lowe,

Al Lowe, whom you of course recognize as the musical composer for the Space Quest series also created & wrote Leisure Suit Larry 1-7. Four really doesn't exist for reasons it's better not to get into but they all follow (except when they don't) the lovable loser Larry Laffer. I could talk about each of these and I hope to eventually but for now I'm going to start with my favorite, Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in the Pursuit of the Protruding Pectorals. Try saying that five times fast.

While you do, I'll explain a bit more. These games are point and click adventures like Maniac Mansion or most recently the Walking Dead games by Telltale. That means that you will be wandering around, talking to people, collecting items and solving puzzles with them. In this installment, Larry is left by his wife so is back on the dating scene in Nontoonyt Island and that's it. Go get 'em you big stud.

Okay, there's more than that. As you read, it's really funny. Crude but funny and that's the first thing to look out for. If you're easily offended then maybe you should stick to Maniac Mansion. No wait, that's also offensive. Anyway, it can be crude but also satirical which is important because the writing is really what carries these games. The other thing you should look out for is how dated these can be. I said "point and click" but this one specifically predates that innovation so it is a lot of writing along with the reading.

And then there's the graphics. I hope you like fluorescent colors because it has some of the brightest 1989 had to offer and knowing the 80s, that's saying something. Personally, I think they have a nostalgic charm but that's just opinion. The last issue you might have is how do I play it? It can be bought alone or as part of a collection, downloaded digitally or are being released in updated formats through Replay Games starting October 2012.

Overall, I would highly recommend this game and this series to anyone who likes good humor, likes good puzzles or likes seeing the underdog get what he or she deserves in the end. I wouldn't know anything about that last part though, I'm already late for a drink.

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