Friday, December 31, 2010

Screenshot Friday - 2011 Edition

Let's all raise our glasses to a fine 2010, and cross our fingers that the games I am looking forward to in 2011 actually 2011.

And, just maybe...3?

...and to many, many more. Happy New Year, Everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Was it Love at First Sight?

When I thought about how I would present my list of favorite games played in the last year, I considered doing the reveal followed by the list of appealing characteristics that are usually employed in this kind of endeavour. But to be honest, I already did that with my previous post, Fallen Soldiers-explaining the reasoning behind why I left them behind using language that described the mechanics or narrative disappointments. For the best ones, however, the ones I treasured dearly, I will instead describe to you the moment during play where I knew I was enraptured.

A few of these were released prior to 2010, and they are in order of when I played them.

  • Bayonetta - After a striptease introduction in a graveyard that at best can be called coy, and at worst, overtly hyper-sexual, I was hesitant to join Bayonetta on her journey. But it was in a garden courtyard with a bubbling fountain centerpiece, when our heroine jumped into the air and her shadow glided carefully back to the ground using a set of sweeping butterfly wings, gracefully reconnecting with her ass-kicking, gun enhanced stiletto boots that I knew I was in for the entire ride. And when the moon lent a hand to assist Bayonetta’s graceful movements, I reached the point of no return.

  • Bioshock 2 - Although I adored being back in Rapture, now fighting for something more tangible than just my own life and the urgent need to escape, it wasn’t until a point near the end of the game that I experienced something more profound-seeing the world of Rapture through the eyes of a Little Sister. Instead of broken pieces of water-soaked furniture and mutated corpses, our ADAM addicted innocents see the rooms draped in white satin, with red plush floors and ornate urns with live plants spilling over the sides curved against each sloping staircase. The rooms are covered in rose petals and the bodies on the floor merely sleeping angels. This is a Rapture where the windows never crack, the people still laugh, and the propaganda posters are still fresh from the press. Nothing about the series felt more poignantly horrifying than toddling through the rooms and seeing the facade crack in flashes of despair, the real world infesting Ryan’s Utopian vision.
  • Heavy Rain - Despite the gaping plotholes and some terrible dialogue, no one will deny that the Oragami Killer changed the world of video games. But the moment I was most impacted by the narrative wasn’t when Jason died or when I had to contemplate cutting off Ethan’s finger. Absolutely, those scenes were emotionally wretched and shocking in terms how we normally interact with games, but it wasn’t until Ethan was attempting to escape the police on top of the hotel roof where I really felt the weight of the game fall on top of me. You see, Ethan was incredibly hurt, covered in bandages and limping. There was no way he could escape because of me. My choices were displayed right in front of me in the form of a beaten and bruised protagonist, who held his hand against his side in a gesture of unspeakable pain during each step he took. These were my consequences, and I was deeply moved.
  • Dragon Age - I was overwhelmed by Dragon Age. Playing it taught me a lot about how I have changed as a player since my formative years, when JRPGs were the will and the way. I knew I was in for a long ride, however, when the loading screen informed me that I had been playing for a total of 25 hours. Normally I am fairly aware of how much time I am investing into a particular game, but DA sucked me into a time vortex as only great games can. And it was during a lengthy series of Q & A with Alistair, when he shyly declared his love for me and nervously asked if I loved him in return that my heart was sold. And, oh wow, did I ever.

  • Alan Wake - Playing Alan Wake taught me that sometimes the magic is in the details. Although I thoroughly-nay, ridiculously-enjoyed playing Alan’s waking nightmare (despite the questionable abstract narrative), I was won over completely by Night Springs. The first time I came across a television set sitting innocuously on a desk in a disturbing lumberyard within a shadowy forest, I shrugged. And then I walked over and turned it on and found Night Springs, a sort of meta-show about the goings on inside Bright Falls INSIDE Alan’s head. Combined with the collection of foreshadowing manuscript pages & the addition of contemporary music between episodes and trickling out of radios, I couldn’t get enough. My iPod is full of music I found specifically while playing Alan Wake. More, please.

  • Limbo - At first glance, I found the grey scale art style of Limbo understated and beautiful, but it wasn’t until our little glow-eyed boy stops just short of a kneeling girl fussing in the grass, a stark white light illuminating her from above, that my eyes were filled with real emotion. This picture of innocence became worth saving, no matter the cost.

  • Portal - After two years of wondering, I finally saw the clean white lines of the laboratory fall away to reveal the shabbiness of the prison wardened by a maniacal representation of digital loneliness.

  • Costume Quest - From previous posts I have written, it is clear that almost everything about Double Fine’s little holiday adventure charmed its way into my Halloween enamoured heart. But it was the trick-or-treating that first made my hands clap in childlike glee. The heart stopping anticipation of knocking and wondering what would be waiting on the other side struck me as so reminiscent of what it is like to still believe in the magic of the unknown. And to recreate that feeling in one small moment was remarkable.

  • Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood - Call me overly sentimental, but if I ponder on all of the ways the third installment grabbed me and held on tight, I keep coming back to one moment, which I believe encapsulates all of the romance of the lead characters and the time periods in which the game are set. In the third of the “Cristina Missions” Ezio returns to find his youthful love promised to another man. But this man is a bit of a scoundrel, and Cristina asks Ezio to find him and save him from a consequence of one of his mistakes. Which he does. But he also insists that this man swear an oath that he will be the best husband to Cristina, using Ezio's usual showy and aggressive persuasion tactics. In the next moment we see Cristina, distraught over the events, running towards the bridge in which the altercation took place. In one swift motion Ezio grabs Cristina mid step and pushes her up against a wall hidden to the bridge, kissing her passionately, knowing this is goodbye. So many things about ACB met me squarely in the place where all of my favorite emotions, perspectives and romantic ideals reside, so it was fairly obvious from the beginning that I was going to continue loving the overall world in which the game was set. This flashback mission merely fanned the flames of my overall commitment to the series. And I am fairly unapologetic about how clearly my femaleness is showing right now.

In the past year I have played so many great games that it was hard not to mention more. My hope for the future is that we receive more games like Alan Wake, Bayonetta or Costume Quest. These games were innovative and had something new to offer, whereas so much of the hype and money spending goes towards sure bets in the form of sequels made quickly in order to feed the masses. Even though I am eager for some of these more well-established titles to continue, looking forward to titles such as Arkham City, Bioshock: Infinite and Portal 2, I find it’s incredibly important to recognize the rewards that creativity and new environments can bring, despite the risks involved financially. And I am excited to hear more about what 2011 will bring...

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Fallen Soldiers of 2010

Let me first say that I am not a gaming for gaming’s sake kind of player. I am a fairly busy person and therefore have to pick and choose what I play carefully in order to maximize the enjoyment while engaging in my chosen hobby. I don’t really play iPhone games (even though I have one and love it unconditionally), I am hard-pressed to find a game on the Wii that I am just dying to try and I absolutely prefer to interact with my Xbox far and above any other console. So, while collecting the data necessary for writing a summary of 2010, I can see clearly all of the games that, if I were a real game journalist or reviewer, I would regret not trying out strictly for evaluation. But I am neither of those things; I am merely a player who happens to enjoy writing about my experiences, and I don’t quite have the largest pool to choose from in regards to cross-platform familiarity. This doesn’t mean anything, really, other than when I write about 2010 I am coming from a very specific place-a place that doesn’t include some of the games you or your friend or that guy at Kotaku would consider highlights, such as Call of Duty, Fallout New Vegas, Gran Turismo 5 and/or anything having to do with Microsoft’s newest peripheral, Kinect. I never tried Sony’s Move and I don’t have an account on Steam. I am what I am, and since you are reading this, you must think that what I have to say is meaningful enough. This week I am going to summarize my first year as a video game blogger in three separate posts: one about the games that I started but didn’t finish, one devoted to my favorite player experiences this year and one about what I am looking forward to in 2011.

I am a completionist in every sense of the word. Unlike a few people I follow who wrote about all of the reasons they are averse to concluding some of their favorite video game experiences, I find a lot of pride and accomplishment in finding every collectible, exploring all corners of the map and seeing the credits roll after finishing the last task, whether it be a boss fight or that one quest that you failed to finish and went back to long after seeing the end. But that doesn’t mean I complete every game I begin. Sure, I start every game with the intention of finishing, but sometimes circumstances just don’t warrant continuation. Here are my fallen soldiers of 2010, and why I failed to fully actualize their potential:

  • Splinter Cell: Conviction – I rented this game last spring and intended it to be my first full Tom Clancy experience. After playing so much Assassin’s Creed, I assumed that another Ubisoft stealth game would be easy peasy. I was wrong. I made it about an hour in before it became obvious that my hanging-out-the window/shooting skills were rudimentary at best, and that I wasn’t having any fun. I am not the biggest fan of the big crime/vengeance environment unless it’s set in the Renaissance or has dragons in it. Approximately 1.5 hours were spent with Sam before I gave up the ghost.
  • Final Fantasy XIII – I tried so hard to love this game. I played the linear story until I reached the Steppe, forcing myself to adore the paradigm system and trying to piece together the narrative by listening carefully and re-reading the explanations in the menu, but in truth my motivations for playing were less for the actual events in FFXIII but for the feeling of nostalgia I hoped would swirl around me, reminding me of the countless hours I spent playing FFVI & FFVII while I was a teenager. I failed. I got to a pipeline just off the Steppe, was properly defeated by a monster several levels ahead of me and gave up. The idea of grinding held no appeal. My Xbox was dying at the time and would freeze during graphically noisy fight sequences. My teenage love affair with JRPGs is over. Approximately 25-30 hours were spent with Snow & the gang before I threw in the towel. 
  • Red Dead Redemption – Okay, so let me first talk about my relationship with Rock Star sandbox games in general. I like them fine, but only if the environment is appealing. Bully remains one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time, and I enjoyed cruising around GTA: Vice City because it was so deliciously 80s and had a killer soundtrack. I would never play GTA IV because the world doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I didn’t feel this way about RDR, necessarily, because I am mildly interested in the Wild Wild West, but after about 5-6 hours riding my horse, chatting with people, riding my horse, chasing bandits, picking flowers, riding my horse & finally, riding my horse, I failed to engage. And I know this is my own and not the game’s fault, because it truly is a beautiful rendition of the Old West. If I could name any reason for my disinterest in continuing not long after starting it would be the g-d wolves. I got mauled by at least a dozen wild packs of them. Approximately 5-6 hours were spent riding alongside John before I wandered off into the sunset without him.
  • Left 4 Dead – One word: anxiety. I get enough of that in real life, thanks. 
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – This was another one I desperately wanted to like and complete, but unfortunately, it got too difficult for me to continue. I made it through the first of the Titan battles after a LOT of swearing and couch beating, but the second one did me in. And although the overall narrative and setting were okay, I also failed to fully invest enough to want to keep going. Sadly, my Castlevania count remains at zero, but I understand that the franchise is amazing and hope one day to find one that hooks me.
  • Rock of the Dead – This game was bad. Really bad. Matt and I tried to find the fun in its zombie killing musicstravaganza, but it was so bad.
  • Nier – Nier was a quiet little RPG slash Action Adventure game that had some serious potential. The narrative was interesting in the big picture sense, and the spell casting was imaginative. But sadly, it was also really, really boring. The RPG elements involved a lot of running back and forth between two areas or two buildings and the load times were fairly epic-even when merely entering and leaving the town library. I liked the collecting/gathering/errand running aspects combined with the real time fighting, but overall it was just too understated and monotonous to keep my attention. I got the feeling that a playthrough in Nier would take up a huge chunk of time and I wasn’t interested enough to make that kind of commitment. I imagine if I would have had lots of idle time it would have been easier to continue playing, but after approximately 6-7 hours I left Nier and his sick daughter behind to battle the shadows without me.
  • The Sims 3 – I tried really hard to like being back in the nonsensical life simulator that is The Sims, acquiring the console version from Gamefly sometime before Thanksgiving and giving up right before Christmas, but ultimately let it go for the same reason I have abandoned Sims games in the past-they are so ridiculously uninteresting. I began the game as a single lady, hell bent on writing a novel and succeeding in her journalism career, and left as an old lady saddled with three children and no money to pay for their care. I know I could’ve taken a different route, but ultimately it was the silly challenge list and sense of urgency the game employs to keep you going that frustrated me to the point of forsaking it completely. I mean, how the heck am I supposed to write a novel, throw a party, buy books on sale, paint a masterpiece, raise a child, earn skills points and maintain a career in the time allotted me before I am considered ‘elderly’ and sent out to pasture? I am letting this one go for good this time. Approximately 15-20 compulsive, unhappy hours were spent trying to seduce a guy name Louis before a fire broke out in my house and I stopped caring forever.

There are a few more that I could add to this list, but they were let go due to apathy and I am also uninterested in discussing them further. But now let me mention a few that I let go of for one reason or another, but wish to continue. I call these games my ‘in need of resuscitation’ and hope I can pick them up again sometime in the future:

  • Mass Effect – Despite the dozen or so hours I have spent playing Mass Effect, the story has yet to grab me. I loved Dragon Age a lot, so I know that investing in a Bioware environment has it’s payoffs, but I am starting to understand myself a little more here: I love Tolkien fantasy more than space fantasy. Nevertheless, I hope that after spending just a litte more time with Commander Shepard that I will find the love that everyone else professes to feel.
  • Brutal Legend – This one became a victim of neglect when I put it down to play something else and never picked it up again. In other words, it’s not you, Brutal Legend, it’s me.
  • Singularity – I got caught in my own little lock up in this one. I really liked it, despite the obvious similarities to Bioshock, and intended to keep going until I ran into a room without enough bullets to take out everyone inside. Once again, the game was forsaken in order to play something else, but I would really love to dive back in at some point and try again.

A toast to all those that went unplayed, and to those I left behind. I will definitely be playing some of the 2010 releases in 2011, but I will write more as I play them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Among the Assassins

After months and months of writing concerning my apprehension about Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer and the effects it would have on the story mode, I am here to confess that I have converted-but with some reservations. Besides the few games of Scene It? I played online with poor sports who would drop out after it became clear I was about to cream them into bits, I have generally avoided the entire online scene. And not for the normal ‘girl gamer’ reasons such as poor male behavior or aggression-I rarely put a headset on, so I leave that whole experience out of my online interactions. I usually don’t even stick around for long, finding that by the time I enter the arena everyone around me has already been playing a particular game for ages and the environment is no longer very conducive for new players without feeling either a sense of urgent competitiveness (I need to be better than all of them!) or a serious soul crushing (why bother continuing?). But I am finding the world of Brotherhood multiplayer to be generally accepting and the playing grounds fairly even-handed and inviting for people who are usually not community gamers. I know that after a handful of rounds in Wanted Mode and a couple of matches in Manhunt Mode playing alongside some fellow PAXers I have found joy in the multiplayer realm for the first time. And it’s quite fitting and probably not a coincidence that I am finding it within my favorite franchise.

One of the biggest reasons I have stayed away from playing online is that in general, I am not very good at quick maneuvering in video games. I tend to be a little slow and deliberate and this characteristic doesn’t usually lead to great competitive game playing. But that’s kind of the best thing about Assassin’s Creed-all of the skills you learned while playing Altair’s and Ezio’s stories become an incredible asset in multiplayer (I imagine this is true about most games). And since I have been a staunch devotee of the series for so long, I have learned some mad stealth skills along the way, such as the ability to be slow and deliberate on purpose. Instead of making quick decisions and reacting accordingly, a huge piece of being successful in Wanted mode is to completely blend in with the surroundings. Part of being totally in love with a game means learning how to use the controls gracefully and effectively in order to achieve your objectives. And although this didn’t help me much in the Bioshock multi, I am being rewarded generously in Brotherhood. There certainly have been matches where I haven’t scored very well, but I also didn’t get assassinated by other players more than a couple of times, either. So whereas I am doing it half right, it’s also interesting that the half right part is learning to be completely invisible to my opponents because I am normally the clumsiest one in the field. And you know what? I’m pretty darn good at the other half as well-you know, the stabbing part.

So here I am once again eating my previous words about the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed. Whereas before I was name calling and throwing rotten fruit at Ubisoft in the months leading up to its release, now not only am I drooling over the Story Mode in Brotherhood but also grinning stupidly at how much fun I am having tucked into Ranked Matches, repeatedly stabbing people in Wanted Mode. But I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start whining about something when it comes to Assassin’s Creed, right? You wouldn’t think I liked the series at all, let alone loved it more than peppermint ice cream and fireworks, but truly, I do. This game series has moved me more than most of my favorite book or movie choices-which is pretty huge in my world o’ media. Okay, so now my reservations…The newest DLC chapter, the Animus Project 1.0, released last week with some new multiplayer maps, and Animus 2.0 is set to release in January with more. Umm…what about the Story Mode DLC? Lots and lots of chatter about a new Assassin’s Creed project releasing in 2011, but that’s pretty soon for a fully fleshed out new environment and a new Assassino…is the Story Mode going to be stuck with Ezio forever? Well, the enigmatic ending of Brotherhood’s Story Mode pretty much leaves that out of the equation, considering a few of the past factors were relevant in the future resolutions. So can the team develop a new DNA sequence starring a new incarnation of Desmond in such a short time period and make it viable? Or will they pour the heftiest amount of love, time and attention into an extension of multiplayer because it has been so successful?

Oh, and the above, poorly lit screenshot is documented proof that I am awesome...Level 7 playing with a bunch of level 14-16 players and I still managed to be ranked 1st. And yes, I am bragging, but humbly, considering this has never happened to me before and is unlikely to happen again.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DLC Mania-My Grumpy Fable 3 Chapter

I feel sad admitting this, but after a couple months of reflecting on the experience, I have to say that Fable 3 isn’t a great game. Nestled in the moment I felt as though it was a passable and amusing experience, with a lot of meaningful choices and relationship elements to hold it up over the brilliance that was the second, but in reality those aspects couldn’t hide the blandness of the narrative and its unoriginal mechanics and repetitive ambiance recycled from its predecessor. And nothing made this more apparent than playing the first chapter of the DLC, the Understone Quest Pack. If I could take my 1.5 hours back and choose not to play it, I would. The Quest Pack gives you three new interactive elements: a Quest, the Shooting Range, and the ability to play Reaver’s Wheel of Misfortune again (aka, the Arena/Colosseum). After experiencing an amazing five-six hours or so playing through the DLC for Fable 2, Knothole Island and See the Future, I was expecting so much more than the 1.5 hours I got in Understone playing the Quest portion. And the game locked up at a point near the end and I had to start all over from the beginning about 30 minutes in. But it was while I was running through the cave system below Bowerstone Industrial, following the glittering line before me into the depths where skeletal wolves and Hobbes lurked around every corner that I began to realize the extent of my boredom. And while visiting the shooting range to see how it worked, I literally fell asleep with my controller in my hand (needless to say, my score was terrible). Granted, I had just consumed a delicious mixture of hot cocoa and Irish Cream (definitely a sleeping draught), but I am pretty sure I’ve never fallen asleep in the middle of a game before now. Understone = Underwhelming.

The main quest of Understone takes you first to the factory in Bowerstone Industrial where the foreman is annoyed by a ‘Voice’ coming from somewhere below the building. They play it off like a haunting, but it’s pretty obvious it’s coming from a mechanical speaker (much less interesting). He requests you discover the source of the “Voice”, which takes you into the caves below the city via a door conveniently located right there. Yep, right over there-no plundering into the sewers to find the entrance to this lost place, it’s right there in the main room. After descending a few miles or so into the catacombs (so to speak) you find an entire city full of people living uncomfortably under the rule of a man named Montague Hummes. He has saved them from the Spire-related chaos in Fable 2 by bringing them down to live below the surface like moles and spouts out motivational “you’re safe here, don’t ever leave” jargon from loudspeakers located all around town. There is a pervasive sense of evil overlord here (think the Preacher in Poltergeist 2), but it doesn’t really pan out that way. I thought the mini-narrative would branch out more than it did and was highly disappointed by the ho-hum conclusion. Some of the side quests in the main game were longer and more emotionally viable. I guess I should not have been expecting Knothole Island when I initially downloaded the Understone chapter (mostly because it’s only $5), but once inside it’s hard not to compare it to the depth and breadth of that particular DLC. But beyond all of the length disappointments, is it fun? Not really. Unless you are the person who thinks that the highlights of the Fable franchise are running and fighting skeletal Hobbes for about 45 minutes-if so, then this is Lionhead’s Christmas present just for you.

All of Fable 3’s disappointing qualities shine brightly in Understone. The Wheel of Misfortune and shooting gallery additions pale in comparison to the ones in Fable 2. The mindless running and fighting mechanics that accompanied an interesting mission in the main game become obviously unappealing when the quest can’t hold up the motivation for doing so. When the anticipation of the end result falls flat and into tatters on the cavern floor, it becomes clear that the entire game was filled with these nonsensical and monotonous elements, with bright patterns and sequins sewn over the top to hide the shabbiness. And this is really, really depressing. Fable 2 was one of the best games I played in 2008, but while I am contemplating my list for 2010, Fable 3 isn’t even a contender. I actually surprised myself when I forgot to add it to my list of potential games of the year. Yes, I said forgot. It’s really difficult to reconcile the idea that I could talk so much about Fable 3 and then overlook it completely less than two months later. Like I said before, if I could take it back and not play the DLC, I would, because although I did have some fun playing the main game, moving through Understone was a depressing reminder of why Fable 3 can’t hold up to the fabulousness that was Fable 2. It's possible that the next round of DLC will be longer and contain more depth, but my advice? Recall your Fable 3 playthrough fondly and put it to bed for good.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DLC Mania-Costume Quest Edition

In my everyday life I do the normal work-home-work-home-weekend thing. I spend a lot of time during the ‘home’ periods playing various video and board games in true lazy nerd fashion. Lately, however, we have been doing the whole Christmas thing-attending holiday parties, visiting family, baking cookies, crafting, etc. during our free time. Last year we decided to make gifts instead of purchase them, and although our masterpieces slightly resembled sixth grade art projects (only without the glitter and macaroni), we were quite satisfied with the results and our friends & families were happy, so this year we are crafting again. So in between all of the festivities I have only been able to play a few games here and there and I won’t lie, it’s mostly Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood multiplayer. But before you groan and turn back to your game of Bejeweled 3, let me assure you that unlike the last few weeks, this post has nothing to do with ACB. It’s about Costume Quest! The greatest holiday game ever! Okay, so maybe that holiday is Halloween, but don’t fret, the newest DLC, Grubbins on Ice, is sort of Christmas themed. Well…there’s snow and um, festive string lights…

Choosing my favorite downloadable for 2010 has been tough. On one hand, Limbo was the most beautiful and eerie platformer I have ever played-and incredibly poignant to boot, even though the narrative was painted in suggestion alone. And Deathspank made me laugh and fight for underpants, creating a great experience even if there were no real investment factors beyond the usual RPG XP and weaponry climb. But after a lot of contemplation, I would have to say that Costume Quest comes out high and above all of the other small titles I played in 2010. I wrote all about it last October, so I won’t reiterate all of the reasons I loved it so much, but let me just say that if Double Fine wants to release a chapter for all of the upcoming holidays and still have the main characters carry little pumpkin pails to collect the relevant candy I would be perfectly satisfied.

The newest DLC, Grubbins on Ice, takes our little heroes to Repugnia, the land where the monstrous villains escaped from in the original game, via an ominous portal that has popped up on a snowy playground in Auburn Heights. Instead of fighting the monsters from the first game, however, the kids are fighting a new breed of bad that has kidnapped their friend, Lucy. A revolution is brewing amongst the Grubbins, and Wren, Reynold & Everett use their trick-or-treating skills to help recruit new members to the cause. Although I am currently having some difficulties finding the right combination of costumes and battle stamps to beat the Big Boss, I am no less enamored of the DLC than I was with the original. And even though the intensity of the Halloween theme has been appropriately dimmed, the collecting and exploring fun remains the same. Three new costumes are acquired, the pirate, the Yeti and the eyeball-I am QUITE fond of the pirate and his special move, “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, where the cut scene animation shows pieces of gold, parrots, crowns and cannons all within a five second time period. What’s not to like? The Yeti builds a mighty shield and the eyeball…well, it was gross so I never wore it during battle. Um…I will try it tonight, I swear.

So was it very Christmasy? Nah. And I don't believe it was intended to be. But it does create a winter atmosphere that is just as pervasive as the autumn one in the original, with blankets of snow covering everything and icy caves to explore. Snow…dinosaurs (?) line some of the paths and give up candy after a swift smack from a pumpkin pail. Some of the Grubbin homes have blue and white twinkly lights draped over their doorways and wide Santa belts around their middles. Turning on the incredibly bright blue and white LED string lights in my dining room prior to starting certainly added some solstice/winter ambiance as well. A systematic and repetitive quest pattern is still very evident in Grubbins, with three different tiers of land divided by doorways that only open once a series of tasks has been completed. It warms my completionist heart to fully explore every corner of a landscape and be rewarded for it. For a game that was designed around a specific holiday, it could have faltered under the weight of its niche, but I thought they balanced the innocent, childlike spirit of the game in a new environment quite successfully. Grubbins on Ice is a couple of hours long, which is roughly half of the time I spent playing Costume Quest, so a 50% increase in game via an inexpensive DLC ($5) is definitely worth it in my book.

On a side note, the gentlemen over at Silicon Sasquatch have performed an incredible feat and bound the first year (or so) of their fantastic blog in book form over at with all proceeds going to Child’s Play Charity. While it may be too late to give the book to your favorite gamer as a Christmas gift, it’s never too late to support community blogging and Child’s Play!

Friday, December 10, 2010

In the News...

When I think of all of the game genres I enjoy, sports games are nestled deep down at the bottom of the list, so far down in fact that I can’t think of any that I enjoy or look forward to at all…except for one, SSX. And it isn’t because I love snowboarding-I only tried it once and ended up with a giant bruise on my upper thigh and many mugs of hot chocolate after I retired to the lodge minutes later. It is because of the greatest of all snowboarding games, SSX Tricky. Tricky became the ultimate drunken party game for my brother & me and our combined friends for about six months when I was in college. Some of my greatest video game memories come from this time period, when our social lives were still more important than our professional ones, giving us the freedom to enjoy our youth without much responsibility but also without the shackles of still living at home. And in that place we imbued various spirits and played SSX Tricky. So much Tricky.

For us it was never about maximizing the medals in each level, it was about achieving the highest score. I played with Mac, the DJ, because he was the smallest and most agile of the group without being totally obnoxious (like Kaori). Garibaldi was our chosen playground. We studied it so extensively as we played that each run turned an intricate math equation-if you veered even slightly from a predetermined move a restart was required. House rules said you could only restart at the top of the hill if you missed your first jump, however. Anything beyond that was recovery dependent. My brother was the Tricky master. He could handle the controller with the stillness and control you only see in the most focused and dedicated. His scores became the watershed to beat-which I could never do. I remember clearly the night I finally broke a million points on Garibaldi. I was at my brother’s house with at least three Jager shots swirling my vision, and I unexpectedly experienced a moment of eerie clarity-everything around me became blurry and I was able to pull off my predetermined choreography with exquisite precision, never missing an opportunity to jump ridiculously high above the run or combine several tricks in a row while skidding effortlessly off the sides of the slope.

And of course, no one else was watching. Luckily it held the score in a leaderboard after the run, so I ran screaming and hollering from the living room, calling the group in to see my high score (which I never beat). It looked so beautiful through my licorice tinted eyes to see Mac holding his snowboard victoriously, a gold medal waiting for me on the other side of a button push. We played over and over again for months, creating many great friendship bonding moments and memories in doing so.

Now we are hearing some whispers and confirmations of EA developing a new SSX, which I find I am really excited about. I never played the SSX on the Wii, Blur, leaving my snowboarding days behind me after SSX3, so it will be a delight to head back to the slopes for some nostalgic score battles between friends.