Gone Home Review

Gone Home, a computer game from The Fullbright Company, is the latest in a recent trend of first-person walking-simulator story exploration adventure games (wow that’s a mouthful), like Dear Esther or the upcoming Firewatch. In it, you play as a college student who’s just come home from studying abroad, only to find that you’ve come home to an empty house. You explore the vast mansion, reading notes left behind by your family, listening to journal entries by your younger sister, Samantha, and picking up and examining objects for clues. Those are really the only mechanics in the game: walking around and picking things up. If you’ve played Dear Esther, which has even less mechanics (just walking around), you may already be used to this. But I must warn you that this is not really a “fun” game. This isn’t a game I would play if I wanted to let off some steam and relax. This game is more like a short story, the plot points of which you unravel as you make your way through the mansion.

Continue reading Gone Home Review

Pokemon X/Y Review

I finally did it. After receiving Pokemon Y from my host family in Japan, having to buy a Japanese 3DS because the 3DS is region-locked, and a failed attempt at playing the game in Japanese, I beat it. I’ve been playing Pokemon since Gold/Silver when I was in 3rd grade, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Pokemon is still my favorite video game franchise. Needless to say, each new game holds a special place in my heart. So let’s get right into it!

Continue reading Pokemon X/Y Review

Little Inferno Review

Little Inferno may be the strangest game I have ever played. It is many things, and at the same time, nothing. It’s hard to explain. I don’t even think I had fun playing it, and yet I still enjoyed it. Or maybe appreciate is the better word for it. It is definitely an art game, and difficult to recommend. If you’re looking for something distinctly game-y, like Tomorrow Corporation’s previous work (World of Goo), you will be disappointed. If however you are not looking for anything, you need to play this game.  Continue reading Little Inferno Review

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

That’s a mouthful.

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any games. That’s mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve actually finished any games. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is pretty much the only game I’ve been playing, and I probably won’t be done with it for quite some time. But I played this game every now and then until I finally just beat it.

Runner2 is the sequel to Gaijin Games’ BIT.TRIP Runner, part of their successful and critically acclaimed BIT.TRIP franchise. I played the original and loved it for its retro graphics, catchy music, and grueling difficulty. There are a lot of auto-runners out there, especially for mobile, but this one is definitely the best I have ever played.  Continue reading BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

Rayman Origins Review

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Rayman Origins kicked my ass. Again and again. And it was awesome.

This game is incredibly hard. Just beating the game is hard enough, and if you’re a completionist, getting all the Lums, Skull Teeth, Time Trial Trophies, Medals, and costumes is going to take you a long time. There is a ton of content, and you can choose if it’s worth pursuing. Me, I was happy unlocking and beating every level, including the last one, which is HARD.

But let’s start with the presentation. It’s gorgeous. The artwork looks hand-drawn, and apparently, that’s because the game uses Ubisoft’s “Ubi Art” framework, which supposedly allows artists to use concept art as real, in-game assets. Well, it paid off, because Rayman Origins looks unlike any other game out there. The characters, enemies, worlds, all look full of life and vibrant colors, making them pop. I would’ve spent more time looking at the game if it weren’t going by in a blur! The enemies are pretty weird and quirky, but I expect nothing less from a Rayman game.

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And the music. Oh, the music. It’s fantastic. The music has character. Cute voices sing along in weird, made-up languages to the catchy melodies. I even tried looking for a soundtrack online, since it was so good. The music helps alleviate the frustration of dying over and over.

And speaking of dying: you will die. A lot. If you’re the type of person who gets easily frustrated, and plays games mostly for the story, you should probably steer clear of this one. There’s not much of a story here anyway, but that doesn’t matter, because the gameplay is just so much fun. In fact, I completely forgot why Rayman was on this quest in the first place, and when I got to the final boss, I didn’t even know who it was. But it’s okay, because the gameplay more than makes up for it.

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Every time I died, I knew it was my fault, not the game’s. The controls are tight, pretty much as good as a Mario platformer, which is high praise. But it’s the level design where this game truly shines. Each level is designed to be difficult, but achievable, if you memorize the layout and how far you should jump here, whether you should hover there, things like that. The levels that stand out are the “chase” levels, where you chase a treasure chest through a level. You can’t stop at all—you’ve got to keep running the whole way. Every jump, every punch has to be perfect. You’ve got to learn the level by playing it over and over until you can beat it perfectly, and when you do, it’s immensely satisfying.

If you’re a fan of platformers, or Rayman, or are up for a challenge, than I highly recommend this game. I don’t think I’ve played a non-Mario platformer as good as this in a long time.

9.5 

Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review

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Wow, I’m glad I got a 3DS. Animal Crossing, Pokemon X&Y, Luigi’s Mansion…there are just too many great games. Having played all the other Paper Mario games, I figured this one would be good too. And it’s…well…it is good, just not that good. After the amazing The Thousand-Year Door, Super Paper Mario let me down, and I have to say, Sticker Star let me down again.

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It looks like Paper Mario, it sounds like Paper Mario, but…it just doesn’t feel like Paper Mario. It doesn’t have the charm and humor of its predecessors. What I loved about Thousand-Year Door was its relatively complex story (for a Mario game) and how different it was from any other Mario game. That, combined with colorful characters and epic battles, made it one of my favorite GameCube games. Sticker Star doesn’t really have any of that. The only other characters besides you, Princess Peach, and Bowser are Kersti (your talking sticker companion) and a bunch of Toads. That’s it.

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As a result, I didn’t really get invested in the game. Sure, most Mario games don’t have a compelling story or characters, and you could make the argument that that’s not what they’re about—it’s gameplay that really matters. And in the Super Mario Bros. series, you’d be right. But Paper Mario is a platformer/RPG hybrid, and in an RPG, I expect a good story/characters. I’ve come to expect that from past Paper Mario games, and sadly I just didn’t get it here.

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So when it came time to fight a boss or collect a Royal Sticker (this game’s important collectables) I found myself asking, Why? Why am I even doing this? I wanted epic boss battles, and instead, got bosses with little or no introduction. You just sort of start fighting. There’s no fanfare, nothing to excite you. 

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And again, normally that’d be okay, but not in Paper Mario. I will say, though, that the gameplay is solid. I disliked the direction Super Paper Mario took in getting rid of nearly every RPG aspect, and I’m glad they brought back turn-based battles. Battling in Sticker Star goes like this: you select one of your stickers, like a Jump or Hammer sticker, and use it against your enemy. I liked the variety of different moves I could use, and timing button presses perfectly and learning enemy attack patterns was a lot of fun. However, I don’t like having a finite amount of stickers that you have to use sparingly. I learned later on in my playthrough that it is actually better to avoid enemies when you can, because you often end up using more stickers than you get out of battling them. And because there’s no XP or level-up, there’s really no reason to battle enemies, except to get coins or a sticker. This is unfortunate, because I have always enjoyed Paper Mario’s battle system. If they’d let me have a default Jump or Hammer without having to use a sticker, that would’ve been nice.

Another thing worth mentioning: the boss battles. They all have an insanely high amount of health, and each one basically requires a certain sticker to defeat. You don’t learn what it is until the second time you fight it, so basically you have to fight it three times to beat it, which is terrible design. Not to mention, many of these “Thing” stickers (stickers of everyday objects that do something special in combat or the overworld) are difficult to find, and you really aren’t given any hints about where they are, so you will likely get stuck in a level and have to comb the levels you’ve already beaten to find it. (Use a guide. It’s not worth it.)

Another change made to the Paper Mario formula is the world layout. It now looks more like Super Mario World, where you can select your level via an overworld map, without having to actually travel there. I actually like this, as it better suits play on-the-go, and lets me just sit down and beat one level in a relatively short time, if I don’t have much time.

Despite all my complaints, I did enjoy playing the game. It’s a good game—I never wanted to just stop playing altogether—but it falls short of the other Paper Mario games, making it (I think) the worst in the series. It just lacks the personality and charm of the other games, and by getting rid of leveling up and making you have a finite amount of attacks, it sort of discourages battling, which is one of its stronger aspects. It’s really too bad; I was looking forward to this game. Here’s hoping what they do on Wii U is better.

6.5

Pixel People Review

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Ever since the advent of social and casual games, I’ve been staunchly against them. I consider myself a hardcore gamer through and through, and told myself I would never play an iPhone game. Well, slowly I’ve warmed up to the idea of gaming in short bursts—in the bathroom, in the car, or if you just don’t have time to sit down for a long gaming sesh. It started with Temple Run, then Draw Something, then Flow, and now, Pixel People. I saw that it got a 9 on IGN, so basically I was obligated to check it out. Not to mention it’s free.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that this game ate (eats) up a lot of my time. A lot.

Here’s the premise: you are the mayor of the city of Utopia. Utopia exists in a vacuum—literally in space—and as mayor you are able to design it how you see fit. It shows you the city in an isometric grid, and you are given a certain amount of land to use for building whatever you want: roads, waterways, banks, universities, stadiums, whatever. Once you run out of land, you must pay a certain amount of coins (the in-game currency) to “level up” and get more land.

A city needs people, so to add people, you create clones. In an odd but straightforward method, you splice together different jobs to get new jobs. Each clone makes a certain amount of coins per second, and works in a certain type of building. The main “goal” is to get all the (currently 155) jobs. Pixel People doesn’t let you just sit on your ass and let the money roll in, however. A building will only make money for a certain amount of time before it needs to “recharge,” which you do by tapping it. However, the game accommodates your play style. Want to just sit down for a while and play? There’s plenty to do. Or, do something else for a while and the game continues on without you.

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Everything takes a certain amount of time, which you can speed up by spending “Utopium.” Utopium is rare, and you get it either from trees you’ve planted, or from gathering love from your people. Alternatively, you could pay real money to get more in-game coins or utopium, but if you don’t want to spend any, you can play just fine. I never spent any money and I’ve kept myself entertained the entire time I’ve played.

Pixel People may seem simple and straightforward, and for the most part, it is. However, it does have depth, more so than most other casual games (at least, the ones I’ve played). It will keep you busy, so if you’re already busy then maybe playing it isn’t the best idea (I probably should have been studying instead…probably should be studying right now actually). But if you’re looking to kill some time, Pixel People is an addicting and worthwhile way to do it.

8/10

Lone Survivor Review

I forgot I wrote this review a while ago when I played the game Lone Survivor. So, here’s what I had to say about it.

Lone Survivor is one of the only games that I thought I understood, but was frequently proven wrong. On the surface, it is simply another zombie game. But there is so much more underneath that I don’t quite understand yet. Often I found myself saying “What’s going on?” out loud. The confusion I had mirrored the confusion of You, the main character. You hallucinate. You meet other characters who don’t seem quite right. I’ll need to play it again in order to understand it further, but here’s what I took from my first playthrough:

Your choices end up mattering, and affect how the game goes. I unfortunately didn’t realize this until late in my playthrough. Your choices boil down to two things: avoid violence and hide, or confront the enemies by shooting them. I chose the latter option—the “Blue” ending. You can take pills to help you, which are mysteriously restocked every day. Blue pills give you more ammo. Green pills give you batteries for your flashlight. Red pills wake you up. When you take a blue pill, it makes you drowsy, and when you go to sleep, you dream you are on stage, sitting in a chair next to a man. You never learn his name, but I believe that he is a part of you, and his name is Draco, which I inferred from diary entries scattered about. He is the violent side of you. When you take the green pill, you dream of The Man with a Box on his Head, who is shown in a better light and presumably wears the box to hide from the world, as you do when you hide from enemies. The game seems to favor the Green path as more morally acceptable. However, both ways require you to rely on drugs to advance. They are easy to obtain and easy to fall back on, since they help so much. Take enough of them and you begin to develop a need for them, and the hallucinations start. I didn’t realize there would be any consequences, so I took as many as I wanted, since they were so helpful.

 

 

There are several side quests and supporting characters whom you meet, who either help you with items or advice—or nothing at all. Most of them are just weird and out of place. It makes me wonder how alone You actually are, and whether the zombie apocalypse is real. There are several scenes where You remember Her, or at least, feel like someone is missing. Her is presumably your girlfriend…I’m not sure. But it seems like she died, and You don’t remember Her. There are scenes in the game where you come across what appear to be relics of the past and signs of some sort of tragic event. However, your observations of them make them seem unrelated to the apocalypse, and out of place.

That’s how I would describe most scenes in this game: out of place. This is not just another zombie game. There are things at work here, layers and layers of meaning. You come across a crashed bus, which I believe might have been what killed Her. You survived, and were sent to the hospital, which explains why You were on the clipboard. And the monster you fight, with the sword things for arms? Apparently that’s your mother, according to the end stats screen. It tells you how many times you shot your mother in the legs. What the fuck.

In my ending, I finally got to control myself on the stage in my dreams. I walked over to Draco, and he was being a dick as usual, and dared me to shoot him, so You did. But it didn’t kill him—“You’ll have to do better than that!” It was incredibly weird. But everything went blank, and it cut to scenes of destruction and a desert and the tree and cliff overlooking it all, with You sitting next to Her, talking and holding hands. I think when I shot Draco, I shot myself, and then I died so I could be with Her. What happens when you get the Green ending? Do you just pretend everything is okay by hiding from your problems? And what happens if I don’t take any drugs at all and have a playthrough with both hiding and shooting? Will I not hallucinate, and see things more clearly? Would the story make more sense? There is a lot of room for interpretation here, and it probably requires multiple playthroughs. I enjoyed my one playthrough, but I don’t think I’ll be playing it again. It would be interesting to see how things could pan out differently, however.

8.0

Botanicula Review

Botanicula is one of the most beautiful, quirky games I have ever played. A point-and-click adventure game by Amanita Design, Botanicula doesn’t last long, but it holds your attention the whole time.

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Amanita Design is known for its old-school, point-and-click adventure games—you may have heard of its other game, Machinarium. In a time filled with first-person-shooters, Botanicula is a breath of fresh air. The last point-and-click game I played was probably Pajama Sam or Putt-Putt. Botanicula brought me back to those much simpler games. The gameplay is slow and calculated, letting you take in the artwork and puzzles at your own pace. I spent several minutes just staring at the beautiful art design. That is Botanicula’s main thrust: its unique, quirky art design sets it apart from other games. It almost kind of reminded me of a stop-motion Tim Burton or Henry Selick film.

Not to mention the fantastic sound design. The art and sound design work together to give the game a wholesome, organic feel. It sounded like most of the sounds were made with human mouths and voices, which was really cool. The music is relaxing and ambient.

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The gameplay is pretty straight-forward: solve puzzles with your mouse, have the characters move from screen to screen. The puzzles are pretty easy, which I didn’t mind at all, aside from one tricky puzzle near the end that I had to look up. Each group of levels has you collect a certain number of somethings to proceed. There are also cards to unlock by interacting with certain characters or objects. The game doesn’t give much incentive to actually collect the cards, since all they are are cards featuring a character, but the reward is in the discovery itself. Setting off a cool animation, discovering secrets—this is all the incentive the player needs.

Needless to say, I loved this game, and at $5 on GOG.com, plus all the extra stuff they threw in (artwork, wallpaper, soundtrack, avatars—check out my Tumblr avatar) it was totally worth it. I definitely recommend this game to the gamer who likes to stop and smell the flowers.

9.0

Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2 Double Review

A couple nights ago I finally finished Mass Effect 2, right after I had beaten Mass Effect 1. (Yes I know I’m late to the party.) After hearing such great things about the franchise, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. Since I played both games consecutively, I’m just going to review both of them here.

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Mass Effect is an RPG/third-person-shooter hybrid. Mass Effect 1 leans more towards RPG, while 2 leans closer to third-person-shooter. It might sound a bit awkward but it actually works quite well. The gameplay in 2 is better, however, because it is much more seamless and the action never gets interrupted like it does in 1. In 1, I was constantly comparing new weapons I obtained to see which one had higher stats, and I kept having to get rid of extra weapons when my inventory became full. This happened more often than it should have and interrupted the flow of gameplay. However, this problem is solved in 2, because your inventory is limitless, and all weapons and equipment are pretty balanced, and there are much fewer of them, making the decision process much simpler.

The main RPG aspect of the games is the level-up system: each time you level up, you gain points to spend on stats. I enjoyed this part of the game—being able to fully customize your character’s skills is very nice. It is even more streamlined in 2, which has fewer skills but bigger upgrades to them. 

The last aspect of the gameplay I would like to mention is more story-based: in Mass Effect, story is what really shines. Player choice is at the forefront—you are able to choose paragon (good), neutral, or renegade (bad) during any dialogue tree, and you can make lasting decisions that actually affect future events, EVEN IN FUTURE GAMES. This is freaking awesome and blew my mind. I’ve never played a game where I had to think carefully about how my decisions would affect my playthrough of the next game in the series. Huge respect for Bioware.

And this isn’t one of those games where they say that your decisions matter but in the end they really don’t. (Although I’ve heard some things about Mass Effect 3…) Your decisions can mean life or death for your crewmates, or even entire species. 

Mass Effect has one of the best narratives I have ever encountered in video games. The universe is just so detailed, it feels alive, breathing. Characters remember you and your actions, and they respond accordingly. The lore and background of each alien species is fascinating—you can read about the Mass Effect universe in your Codex if you’re intrigued. To me, it’s really the Star Wars of video games. This is the most realized sci-fi world I’ve experienced in a video game.

The fact that you control the story’s outcome every step of the way means that every player is going to have a different experience. One of my favorite things to do while playing was to talk to my friend about the choices he made, and how our stories diverged. It is incredible that Bioware was able to make the story come together so well. It also means that it has great replay value. If you start a new game, you can play a different class, a different gender, make different decisions, and you will have a completely new experience. 

Graphics-wise, Mass Effect 2 is a huge step-up from 1, and it looked and ran beautifully on my PC. 2 did have a few annoying glitches that forced me to quit, and 1’s gameplay mechanics were pretty inferior compared to 2 (I hated the freaking Mako’s controls). But these complaints are minor compared to the incredible experience these games provided. They are seriously like nothing else I have ever played. If you haven’t played them yet, there’s no time like the present. Now I wait patiently for Mass Effect 3 to drop in price…

Mass Effect: 9.0

Mass Effect 2: 9.5