Monday, January 16, 2012

Humble Bundle Acquisition: Trine

If you were ever a fan of platform games (i.e. Mario, Sonic, and/or Donkey Kong Country), you absolutely want to give Trine (and, I assume, its new sequel) a shot. I'll skip over the story and just say that in Trine, you control either a Thief, a Knight, or a Mage that all have different abilities/specialties. Using these three (and switching them out as often as you like), you make your way through very detailed and gorgeous levels filled with platforms, monsters, pits, and all the good stuff. It's very puzzle-oriented as well, so there's a lot more to it than just getting from the left side of the screen to the right as fast as you can.

The soundtrack has a great fantasy vibe that is simply enchanting (I'll post a track/game play video at the at the bottom). There's really not that much more to say, if you want a great game with lots of interesting game play and virtually no learning curve, this is your game! Pick it up on Steam or try the demo (download required for the demo!).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Humble Bundle Acquisition: Binding of Issac

I'm currently out of town, so this and Monday's post were written well in advance and may be kind of short.

I'd be crying too.
Today I'm showing The Binding of Isaac, a simple yet engaging adaptation of the story of Isaac and Abraham from the book of Genesis. I said the game was engaging. Two other pretty effective terms would be gruesome and sacrilegious, however, despite that (or if you prefer, because of that) it makes for a fun premise for a game. In this version, Isaac's fanatical mother hears the voice of God telling her that she must kill Isaac as a test of faith. Isaac, in turn, runs and jumps into the basement to hide. Unfortunately for Isaac, the basement is full of legitimately terrifying monsters. You aid Issac in going deeper and deeper into the basement to escape.

You see, there's this dungeon, with monsters in it...

Gameplay wise, the easiest way to describe it is a mix between the dungeons from the original The Legend of Zelda for the NES and with dual sticks for controls (one for movement, one for the direction that you're firing). Dungeons with about 10 rooms and 2 bosses are randomly generated and include a huge assortment of possible upgrades and power-ups that help to keep the game fresh. Binding of Isaac was made by Team Meat, the same guys behind Super Meat Boy, and they decided to keep the art direction the same: simple, cartoony, and effective...with a bit more cartoon blood than is necessary. 

Soundtrack cover art.

And I know I've said it about every Humble Bundle game I've written about, but there's a musical consideration here as well. The soundtrack is very effective overall (i.e. it's really creepy), but one song, called Sacrificial, stands out as one catchy tune.

You can pick up Binding of Issac on Steam for only $5 (the soundtrack is only $1 more: worth it). You can also check out a demo here. It just occurred to me that I should be rating these games that I talk about/review. As I've yet to decide on a static rubric, I'm going to give The Binding of Isaac 3.5 teardrops out of five. To end, here's the aforementioned creepy but catchy song from the soundtrack.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Humble Bundle Acquisitions: Machinarium

Last time in Humble Bundle Acquisitions, We talked about VVVVVV. Today we'll be discussing Machinarium.

Machinarium is a sweet, point and click, puzzle game about a little robot who apparently gets bullied a lot. Your job is to help him put himself back together, cross bridges, break out of the jails, and save his friend. It's a lot like the Monkey Island series but with a lot less pirates and much better art.

Speaking of the art, this game is gorgeous. The entire game is hand-drawn in pen and ink. And the soundtrack is spectacular. One of the songs is on my top 25 most played on my iPod. There's so many charming and well-done things about this game, you should stop reading and just play the demo here. Then you should pick it up for PC, Mac, or even on your iPad! The computer version is $10 and comes with the soundtrack, which is worth it for the soundtrack alone. It's $4.99 on iTunes.

Here are two of my favorites from the soundtrack. Enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Anticipation: 2012

Okay, it looks like every website on the internet, including CNN, has a list of most-anticipated games for the coming year. Granted, CNN's kind of sucks, but I've decided to make one myself.

So, I present to you, in no particular order, Games Mike Wants to Play Next Year:
  • Diablo III. This is the first game I've actually preordered. I'm super excited for this one.
  • Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm. I love me some SC2. Granted, I'm skeptical that it'll come out in 2012, but I'm betting it'll be out by Christmas.
  • World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. Yes, I'm excited for the Pandas. And the Pokemon thing. Cata has been kind of a flop, but that hasn't stopped me from having a good time. I'm hoping that the renewed focus on endgame content will perk things back up.

Hmm...those are definitely the big ones. What else is coming out in 2012? Again, I don't have any consoles, so my list will be somewhat restricted.
  • Mass Effect 3. I do need a FPS fix every now and then. I admit I still need to finish ME2, but . Mass Effect 3 comes out in March, right in the middle of the semester, so I'll have time for ME2 before the Steam sale in July.
  • DOTA 2/Blizzard Dota. I never really got into the first Dota because of the rumors about the community (i.e. everyone was rude and terrible). But I'm excited to give it another try. My take on the relationship between the two will have to wait for another post. 

  • Whatever awesome indie games are coming out in the next year! Which of course leads me to...

Games that came out this year that I want to get/finish.

All in all, it looks like it'll be a great year gaming-wise. Here's hoping it's a great year all around!

I'll end this post with the opening cinematic for Diablo III. I dare you to watch it and not get excited.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Heroes 6: Part 2

My last post focused on my history with the Heroes of Might and Magic series and a short review of the newest iteration: "Might and Magic ® Heroes ® VI". That's right, two trademark icons.

Anyway, after playing for a couple hours, I went to the internet to get some info about Ubisoft's UPoint system and found that when playing online, most games have a time limit of two-minutes per turn. This seemed like an awfully short amount a time, given the length of fights and city management and such. I then learned that most people use the "Quick Combat" feature (hereafter known as "QC"). This means that when you have to fight someone, instead of going into a battle scene the game just thinks for a second and gives you the results (i.e. who won, and how many guys were lost on each side) and the option to replay the encounter manually.
Less exciting

I was intrigued to learn this because I have conflicting feelings on the matter. This has always been a feature in this series, but this is the first time that I've ever been tempted to use it myself. I find myself tempted because it saves a ton of time and, in most cases, the computer gets better results than I would. However,I've thought about it and I think that using QC/not using QC effectively splits HoMM 6 into different two games. One of them is an exploring/strategy game with pictures of creatures that "fight" for you so you can accomplish a given task. The other is an exploring/strategy game wherein you gather armies with unique strengths and weaknesses and lead them into battle, making sure to use each in the most efficient way possible in order to accomplish a given task. Which one sounds more exciting to you?

That said, ever since I figured out QC was viable I've only fought two battles manually, and I lost one of them. Using QC is great in part because it really does save a ton of time so you can win the war instead of pouring yourself into each and every battle and taking hours to complete one map. On the other hand, the less time you spend on the ground in combat, the less you feel for your troops, which lowers your enjoyment of the game overall. I found this particularly true when using a faction I was unfamiliar with. If I don't see each unit in combat, not only do I not really know whether they are melee/ranged/casters, but I never actually see them in action. That makes me unable to appreciate their power or feel as proud of my own accomplishment in earning them. They really do just become little pictures with a number on them.

One could argue that, even when taking part in combat, the units are just little models that wave their arms around. They are no more alive than a static picture. Despite that, the models certainly feel more real. Watching them go forth and beat the crap out of bad guys is much more engaging and emotional than just watching the numbers go up and down. Beyond that, there is an incredible amount of suspense and thrill that comes of out of a close match that simply doesn't occur on the QC aftermath panel.

In the end, it's a trade-off. Both are good choices in my opinion. My plan from here is to only use QC when I'm already familiar with the units/fights and do it manually when I've got new guys to try out or it's a special fight. And, as mentioned, there's always the choice to go back and do each fight yourself should you choose. Game on!

P.S. I bet Ubisoft's online forums have a huge discussion on this issue, but their forums are down for "maintenance" and have been for the past week.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Back to My Roots

Once upon a magical time, in the fourth
Incredible bad guy-killing text!
grade, my friend Josh told me about this new game he'd got. It was called "Heroes." It had heroes in it! And...creatures...and you killed bad guys and took their castles and were able to make MORE creatures! He was really excited about it but I wasn't sold. He went on to say it was like Civilization 2 except with monsters and stuff. "Civ 2 with monsters" didn't sound very cool to me. However, it turns out the game, Heroes of Might and Magic 2, was freaking AWESOME. We played that game a lot. A whole lot. My favorite sides were the Warlocks (dragons = the best), but I liked most of them equally (except the humans, they were kind of meh). We even tried to play it online (back when you only needed one copy of the game in order to play each other of the modem), but it turns out two fourth graders 20 miles apart with only one phone line each were not very good can getting connection to work. (At one point, I called him to ask what was going on. It never rang, but just sounded blank like someone had picked up. I started talking, but he never responded. Turns out he could hear me over the computer speakers and kept trying to yell back to me through them.)

Oh city screen, I'll always miss you.
Once Heroes 3 came out and was even better, I was hooked. It's too bad they didn't really put counters on time played on games back then, I would love to know just how long I spent in sixth grade and beyond play it. I already know it's an unhealthy amount, but we'll never know just how unhealthy. Except then Heroes 4 was lame. And 5 had such annoying battle cameras and cut-scenes that I only put about an hour into it before calling it quits.

A few months ago, I starting seeing advertisements on Steam for "Might and Magic ® Heroes ® VI". That's right--two registered trademark symbols. (Sidenote: of the 65 games I have on Steam, this is the only game with those in the title. And there's two of them. In other news: Holy crap I have 65 games on Steam.) And why did they change the title? That made me a little nervous. However, I know better than to judge a book by its cover. Once it released, it got good but definitely not great reviews. I'd been burned in the past, so I decided I'd wait for it to go on sale and try it later.

Much less cartoony, that's for sure. 
That day came on December 31st. It was a perfect storm of contributing factors. It was 50% off on Steam for one day only. I had just won Chore Wars (more on that in another post) for the month of December. And then Aubrey's computer died, meaning in part that if we were going to play a game together, it would have to be on the same computer at the same time. (Hint: As the Heroes games are turn-based, you can play them in "Hotseat" mode, meaning more than one person can play in the same game on the same computer, you just switch out.) So I went ahead and pulled the trigger.

The Good so far:
Good graphics on the adventure map.
The creatures all appear to be very unique.
Solid Heroes of Might and Magic gameplay.
New mechanics on how to guard mines/other buildings on the adventure map.
The introduction of Dynasty Heroes and Weapons.
Using achievement points to buy items (I was worried about this at first, but they give you a ton of points).
The soundtrack.

The Less Good:
Runs pretty clunky. If I can run Skyrim on my laptop, Heroes 6 has no excuse.
Removal of the City Screen. What? Where did it go?
Objects are somewhat harder to identify on the adventure map. It all kind of runs together at first.
Other small interface changes.
The terrible-sauce DRM.

More on the Dynasty stuff and the DRM. Dynasty Heroes and Dynasty Weapons persist from map to map. So if you level up a hero in one custom game, they stay leveled for your next match. Dynasty Weapons are weapons you equip to your heroes that can also level up and persist beyond a single match. There's about 25 of them that you can find through the campaign and other sources. I'm totally digging both of these additions.

Ok, now, which things can I pick up and where can/can't I walk?
The DRM, on the other hand, is terrible. As I bought the game through Steam, I'm already about as DRM'd as I can be. However, Ubisoft decided that each player also needed to have a personal login for the game itself. All of your game progress is stored on Ubisoft servers. This is kind of cool, but if you don't have an internet connection or (much more likely) the service just goes down, you have no access to your saved games or Dynasty heroes/weapons and cannot unlock achievements. Sigh.

Either way, I'd definitely recommend picking it up. It's not Heroes 3, but it is very good. I think the only real reason not to get it would be if you're a stickler about DRM, as most of my other complaints were either personal preference or things that I just need to get used to. I've even got Aubrey hooked on it after only one game. Thank goodness for Hotseat mode.

Pick up Heroes 2 or Heroes 3 on Good Old Games! (Link to GoG front page here)
Heroes 6 on Steam or Amazon or, you know, whatever.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back into Skyrim

Remember when Skyrim was released and everyone that bought it for PC went "Huh...well this interface is terrible."? Then people realized if they plugged in an XBox controller it would work like a dream. But then the "purists" said that they shouldn't have to use a controller. I recall reading one forum poster say "If you're not using a mouse and keyboard for a first-person game on a PC, you're doing it wrong." Well ladies and gentleman, I'm proud to announce that as of Christmas, I'm now doing it wrong. It was simple, seamless, and awesome.

My ladyfriend bought me a wired XBox Controller for Christmas and suddenly Skyrim (and a lot of other Steam games) are much easier to play. All the little icons changed automatically from keyboard keys to game pad buttons. As wonderful as Skyrim is, you really had to be committed to play it with the mouse and keyboard.  I'm right with you in saying that Bethesda should have made a more PC-appropriate interface, but they didn't. So now I will just do it wrong until the modders take care of it. It just feels right.

There's been a lot of awesome Skyrim music covers. I'll wrap up this post with my current favorite.

Yup, I lied. I couldn't help but include this video too. I want to shake the hand of the guy who did this. Make sure to stay at least for the second scene.

LMFAO Skyrim Dance Party - Watch more Game Trailers