Wednesday, August 01, 2007

All Things Geek

A new month starts and I’m going to pull this blog into a new direction for a little while – probably just this one post. My comic book reading has been somewhat curtailed since I’ve been reading Harry Potter. My wife got the new book first so I read the previous one as she read the latest, then after a busy schedule I’ve finally picked up the latest offering and have yet to come across any spoilers. If you post a spoiler in the comments section you will be banished as if by internet magic.

So here’s a few points of interest (maybe) and reviews of non-comic book yet still geeky items. I guess I was unknowingly influenced by Siskoid's Geekery.

Peach Pie #1
As a precursor I just want to let everyone know that in order to get the best peach pies outside of Georgia, you’ll have to come to my house. I made one for a bbq on Monday night (made the pie on Sunday) and it was probably the best pie I’ve ever made. I’m already legendary for my apple pies in the neighbourhood.

Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
I picked this up quite a while ago. Since it’s a game for the Gameboy Advance I managed to snag it pretty cheaply and it works in my wife’s pink Nintendo DS. How can I describe this game? It’s basically Mario Bros. done up as Final Fantasy.

It’s got a lot of the standard Mario Bros. baddies and fictional world aspects that are required from anything involving Mario and Luigi. Basically, turtles, mushrooms, Princess Peach, Bowser and coins. There is a few new baddies introduced since this takes place in the Bean Bean Kingdom rather than the Mushroom Kingdom but for the most part the baddies and the heroes are readily identifiable. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy type RPGs before you’ll also understand how combat works. You run into a creature the scene cuts to a battle screen and you take turns either throwing attacks or healing up.

It’s in the battle scenes that things change up from the regular formula though. Rather than just passively acting out your chosen selection, you still need to hit buttons for your characters during the fights. There is no automatic dodge so you need to make your characters jump attacks (or later on, use the hammers to mash attackers). The same goes for attacking. When you select an attack you can let it play out or you can time some extra damage by pressing buttons at the right time. Yes, it’s still repetitive but at least you’re more involved other than just selecting options form a list then waiting to select the next option during the fight scenes.

For the most part it is rather light fare. You won’t end the game by being defeated all that much. It happened maybe two or three times for me anyway and I’m no hardcore gamer. Being lighter doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging or challenging. No, there is a lot to explore and a lot of items to collect and new moves to learn. One of the things I really appreciated was the lack of backtracking missions. It wasn’t until the very end that you really had to go back to old places to discover new locations you couldn’t previously get to.

For such a long game you’re kept involved by the self-referential humor. There’s lots of jokes about jumping, being the somewhat odd staple of Mario and Luigi’s arsenal of weapons. There’s even a Steve Martin allusion that you’ll either get or just be entirely too young or uncultured to realize.

I’ve enjoyed this game a heck of a lot. It was always easy to pick up and jump right back into it even after longer times between plays. That being said I’ve gotten to the final boss battle and after about a thousand, possibly even hundreds of tries I simply can’t beat her. So the game sits in my game cupboard unfinished. I may give it another try but since our friend’s five year old who has a DS told us his mom doesn’t let him play if he gets mad at the game, I figured the same rule should apply to me. I really don’t want to launch the pretty pink DS I bought for my wife’s last birthday into oblivion because I can’t get Mario and Luigi to beat Cackletta’s spirit form. Also, I seem to have missed one of their dual attacks along the way but I wanted to get through without relying on an online walkthrough.

I recommend this game to anyone looking for an engaging RPG game that isn’t reliant on elves and dwarves or Japanese anime type stock characters. It’s fun and bright, which makes it perfect for the summer game and while it’s generally a nice light game experience the end makes you feel like Mario and Luigi are actually beating you with their hammers rather than the boss.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
This game is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever played. Another DS game but this one is just well odd. Fun, but odd. It’s more of a text based game than anything else so if you like that type of thing, or you fondly remember physically plugging a phone headset into a modem to read your way through a blue screen, white text dungeon crawl then this would definitely appeal to you.

The gist of the game is that you’re a rookie defense attorney who pulls double duty as an investigator. So you get to point and click (well, touchscreen) your way through crime scenes as well as interrogate suspects then you get to cross examine them in the court where you can press them for more information as well as present evidence to cut holes in their testimony.

There is a lot of reading involved, and while there is characters onscreen, for the most part they don’t do anything but react to statements. All the characterization is accomplished through the dialogue, which as a comic fan is quite appealing. Especially seeing it done well. The only thing that doesn’t work is when there is simply too much characterization. Yes it is true to the character but at the same time I don’t want to keep clicking the A button to read “…” as someone stands there either pausing, shocked or awestruck. So, yeah, sometimes there is just too much to read and you can skip it.

But the court battles are fun as you try to puzzle out how their testimony contradicts itself, their previous statements or some other testimony. The only thing that really irked me a few times was that the evidence you present sometimes just feels way too far out to lunch. I couldn’t see the connection so luckily I had saved just before the moment and would simply reload and try the next bit of evidence until something worked, which is sort of the opposite of fun – but this doesn’t happen often.

What does happen a bit more often is that women are basically window dressing. And by window dressing I mean there is some weird ass and, to me, uncomfortable sexual issues going on in this game. All the women are bursting out of their clothes with heaving chests, except your young teenage assistant who is dressed in traditional peasant garb. I’m not sure what the message is here but what I’m taking out of it doesn’t sit right with me.

So I’m not quite through this game but from what I’ve read the last trial has a lot of DS specific content – more use of the touch screen and microphone. But for the most part it is quite enjoyable, I just can’t help but think it would be much more enjoyable if the game didn’t make me feel like a pervert every time a woman was onscreen.

Resident Evil 4 – Wii Edition
Wow. This game is entirely too much fun. I probably shouldn’t say that killing Spanish villagers is my idea of fun but there is just something satisfying about using a shotgun to blow away the wooden shield of an Cthulu-type cultist holding a ball and chain. Plus, that chainsaw wielding lunatic with a sack on his head really scared the bejeezus out of me. I’ve played it a bit less now that it is exceptionally sunny outside.

Gears of War
Finally finished this on the weekend at my friend’s place. We stayed up entirely too late but at least I don’t have kids. This game is a masterpiece but it has a totally unsatisfying ending.

It’s not just the unbelievable animation and world created that makes this game so good. It’s the complete package. The story is okay, the design is as good as it gets, the AI and physics engines are all top notch, the voice acting and dialogue is great as well. Nope, what makes this game so good in my opinion is that you can play it cooperatively. And it doesn’t feel tacked on. Nope you get to play the whole freaking campaign side by side with a friend and it works from start to end.

Plus, chainsaw bayonet. You haven’t lived until you’ve chainsawed a grub. Believe me, it’s worth it. On top of that, if you play as the second player, you hear your man screaming “What’s up bitches!” at the aliens as he shoots them. Good times, good times. I’m just happy to have an exceptional co-op game that is geared towards the adult gamer. Totally worth the hype in my opinion and I’m waiting for more.

Wits and Wagers
I picked up this boardgame for my dad when I was on vacation. It was basically a belated birthday present and since it was pouring rain for the majority of time we spent in Dieppe I was really really happy I picked this up. We always have the biannual Risk game when my wife and dad meet up – they both have some weird desire to dominate the world – but without new boardgames being introduced we’re usually relegated to playing Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit and maybe some card games or Cranium. Now while I have nothing against any of these games, in fact I like all of them from time to time, it’s good to shake things up every now and again.

Well, Wits and Wagers was a raging success. Even after my dad called it Wits and Waggers. What happens is that 7 trivia questions are read, and each has a numerical answer. Each player writes down their answer and you place the answers from lowest to highest on a betting mat. The more extreme the answer (lowest or highest) the higher the odds are for that answer. Then everyone bets on which answer they think is closest without going over.

It’s very simple but a whole heck of a lot of fun. Everyone was skeptical at first but after two questions we were all hooked, staying up way too late as a family and drinking entirely too much booze. Twice.

If you’re spending time with family and can’t bear the thought of being trapped in the old family home or a cottage while it pours rain – seek this game out. I suggest Fun Games Café if you’re in Canada, I’ve used them in past and they’re fantastic (although on vacation from August 3 to 13th) or your local game shop.

1 comment:

Siskoid said...

Spread the Geek, my friend, spread the Geek :)