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Crashing Castles and Men who Bomb

During my week off of work over the holidays I was able to take my children for a little longer than normal. We didn’t get to have our Christmas together until the 28th of December, but it wasn’t any less special. I even marked all the presents as being from ‘Santa’ so my six year old would start believing again. And I think the mission there was accomplished. Hooray!

Anyway, I got my kids a lot of video games this year. Mainly because they asked for them, but also because I know how much I enjoy them and I wanted to spread that joy a little bit. They got some pretty generic titles (mainly my six year old cause she’s still learning), but all in all they made out pretty good. My son was the clear winner because he got not only Lego Batman and Lego Star Wars for his DS, but also Skyward Sword for the Wii. My eldest came in second claiming herself a copy of the new Disney game for the Wii. I thought they would be more than occupied for the duration of their stay with video games. I was right, but not in the way I thought.

They spent the majority of their time here playing Castle Crashers and Bomberman on my 360. Great games, mind you, but they had Skyward Sword and Disney Universe! Two brand new games that are also great. When I was a kid I LOVED getting new games. Even if they were just from Blockbuster and I only had them for three days. I would spend hours with them and I would completely ignore any other games I had (not to mention all friends and family). Well, after much observation I figured out what was going on with my kids.

First, they loved those two games because of the simplicity. Both CC and BM are two of the simplest games to figure out. You either mash buttons to slice up bad guys, or mash buttons to blow up bad guys (less mashing in BM, but you can if you’d like). There isn’t much else too it. I mean, you can add a little strategy, but its really not necessary. Even my youngest could figure it out. Second, accessories/power-ups. My kids love customizing their characters in each game. After every map in CC they wanted to go back and switch pets and/or weapons. It was a given. Before the stage was even over they were talking about what they would use next. And whenever a power-up showed up in BM it was a mad dash to claim it. Not to mention picking up costume gems and making their characters look like pirate ballerina cowboys (poor Bomberman). They simply loved the ability to change things up. But those can’t be the only reasons, right Brad? Both Skyward Sword and Disney Universe have those things. Yes, yes they do, but what SS and DU were missing was the most important thing… multiplayer.

My kids never played either CC or BM without one of their siblings or me. They loved teaming up to beat the bad guys. Or trying to outsmart each other with bomb placement. They laughed like crazy as they fought over each princess. And beamed with pride as Dad brought his uber-level characters in to beat a boss that was just a little too tough. It was all about the camaraderie or the competition. They just didn’t have fun playing by themselves. This came as a bit of a shock to me because it is a stark contrast to how I was as a kid. All I ever wanted were single player games and I was fine playing by myself all the time. Granted, I didn’t have Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, but I think that even if I did I would have preferred solo play. Hell, I still do. And while that might say some disturbing things about me, it says great things about my kids. They get along much better than my siblings and I did when we were younger and that makes me so proud. I’m glad games like Castle Crashers and Bomberman exist because it gives me a great opportunity to see my kids interact in a way that was foreign to my brother and sisters. I never really cared much about the addition of multiplayer to a game before, but knowing how much joy my kids get out of sharing games that way… I look much more forward to it.

My kids are the best!



P.S. I know Disney Universe has multiplayer, but we only have one wiimote so…


A Return to Gotham… Sort of…

Last weeks attempt to write in my blog was unfortunately stymied by a multitude of things. Eleven hour work days and spending the weekend with my children were the main causes, but video games (duh) and the failed launch of a podcast also contributed. I was really dissappointed with the podcast thing not working, but it is not surprising that it didn’t given the state of my laptop and the fact I don’t have an acutal microphone. We’ll try again soon. I’m almost positive of that. The delay, however, gave me a chance to check out the beta for Gotham City Impostors, which I kind of enjoyed.

Impostors actually fell off my radar about a month before the release of Arkham City. I originally believed that the two games were linked in some way and stopped paying attention to both because I didn’t want to ruin any plot points or anything like that. I do this for a lot of games because it seems more and more that devs want to hype their games so much they end up talking about them too much and spoil/ruin parts of it. I like to know just enough to get me interested, thats it. So I stopped paying attention to Impostors and forgot all about it. Luckily, my brother-in-law was paying attention and he let me know when beta keys were being distributed. So, thanks to Eurogamer I started playing last weekend.

The game immediately reminded me of Battlefield Heroes. A cartoony shooter that doesn’t take itself very seriously, but isn’t at all annoying. It has a Call of Duty-esqe level progression system with a slightly different unlock mechanic. And a costume customization feature based on tokens you receive after each match. It is pretty straightforward, but a ton of fun.

Team deathmatch wasn’t available when I played, but the ‘capture’ type game mode seemed just as hectic as any TDM I have ever experienced. Bullets were flying, explosions were going off everywhere and people were dying… a lot. Sometimes a match would last ten minutes and sometimes it would last two. Everything seemed just as chaotic as you would imagine a battle between normal people wearing Batman and Joker costumes would be. I planned on playing for an hour and ended up playing for four. The controls were tight, the graphics were good and everything just… worked.

Thats not to say there weren’t some flaws. Matchmaking was sometimes suspect and it would take a little while to get into matches. The party system seemed weird (for the love of god… LOBBIES people). The rocket launchers are WAY to powerful. Some of the perks didn’t seem to work right (I’m looking at you invisibility). And this isn’t the games fault, but “kill farmers” were annoyingly present (more on that in another blog). It is beta though and those reasons are why they do this.

I didn’t really get into the costume system, but it is apparently pretty extensive. From what I understand there are a TON of options to choose from and you will be hard pressed to find someone who looks like you late in the game. They also have a system involving gangs (or sub-groups, I guess), but I didn’t mess with that either. I only had a chance to play it for two days and eventhough people abusing the rocket launcher made me want to throw my controller, I had a lot of fun. The game is pretty solid in its beta state and will only get better with polish. This seems like a game you can enjoy for hours or five minutes, which is what I think the point of arcade games should be. Its gonna be a definite purchase for me.

Hmmmm… this post kind of turned into a preview of the game. That wasn’t my original intention for this blog, but I think it works. Hope you enjoyed.

Why I Voted Skyrim as GOTY and Why That Sucks

This is the first of what I hope will be many blog posts. I’m going to shoot for posting once a week, but what I think I have to say and what I actually have to say, might differ. So we’ll start with this and run with it. What will be in these blog posts? I would really like to focus on video games, but I’m going to talk about whatever is on my mind. We’ll see how that goes.

So, being a blog about video games, it seemed fitting to start on the Eve of the VGA’s or Video Game Awards for those not in the know. I’m only going to focus on the Game of the Year category because trying to write about all of them would be way to much. Actually, I’m just lazy and I’ve been wanting to talk about Skyrim for a while so we’ll do that.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been out for almost a month now and I’ve played it more than any other game on my shelf. I have purchased Dark Souls, Arkham City, COD: MW3, BF3, AC: Revelations and Saints Row: The Third in the past three months and have still managed to put about 200 hours into Skyrim. That number probably pales in comparison to some other people, but I have both a wife and employer to keep happy (not necessarily in the same way) so I don’t get to play as much as I would like.

Every time I sit down to play a game, Skyrim is the one I start up. Almost everything about the game is perfect (to me at least). Its the game I have been waiting for all my life.

First off, its massive. There is so much to do, it is almost overwhelming. I probably spent about 20 hours or more in the first freaking town! While all my friends are out exploring, asking if I’ve done this or seen that, I’m plodding around Whiterun trying to figure out who I can help/screw over next. Until I found out where the Thieves Guild was located. When I did I high tailed it over there and proceeded to spend another 10 hours messing around with that town. I’ve barely scratched the surface or the game and already I’m impressed.

Second, the leveling/skill system is something I’ve been wanting out of a game forever. Reward the player for playing the game how they would like too. It seems like such a simple concept, but I’ve only seen a handful of games that have done it (Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online). You want to carry a sword and shield, run in and beat the crap out of everybody? Go ahead, we’ll level you down that path. Want to sneak around slitting people’s throat with a fireball at the ready in case you’re spotted? Go ahead, we can accommodate that. Want to do one for half the game and then switch to the other? Go ahead, it’ll be tough at first, but it is completely possible. This system is a vast improvement over the one Oblivion had and could be my favorite aspect of the game. That and the inclusion of perks puts this right at the top of my list.

Third, atmosphere, environment and graphics. I’m going to lump all these into one because they are pretty related. The game looks gorgeous. Whether it is in the middle of a grassy field or on a snow-capped mountain, the game looks great. Flowers and grass sway in the breeze and butterflies flutter around going about their business. Dungeons look gloomy and ominous with mushrooms growing here and there and ambient sounds causing you to pause when going around a corner. I am never disappointed when just wandering around taking in the sights. Perhaps the greatest example of an active, vibrant environment to me is an incident that happened while hunting bandits. I killed two bandits on a bridge and they fell into the water below. I couldn’t find their bodies immediately following the battle and quickly gave up looking. Fifteen minutes later I found both bodies at the bottom of a waterfall a good distance away from the fighting. The current had carried them there. The situation was always something you hear about, but experiencing it brought a big smile to my face. 

I could probably go on and on about how great the game is, but that wouldn’t really explain the title of this post. To put it bluntly, I haven’t played Skyrim in about a week. I want to, but “can’t”. You see, they patched the game last week and it essentially broke as much stuff as it fixed. That was the claim at least and a claim I didn’t pay much attention too. I’m usually pretty lucky when it comes to patches breaking games, but I didn’t dodge the bullet this time. I have a bug that won’t let me complete a quest and the quest involves escorting a person. So, I’m essentially stuck with this person until they fix it. It is rather annoying to have this person following me around and I don’t want to play while they are.

As perfect as this game is though, it isn’t perfect. I know the game is massive and bugs happen, but Bethesda has a history of this stuff happening and you think they would have learned by now. They talked about their extensive QA process before the release of the game and assured its fans that Skyrim would not have the same issues as past games, but it does. I didn’t want to vote this for Game of the Year because any game that is essentially “broken” shouldn’t receive that honor. I did vote for it however because of all the entries it still seemed the best. Why? Well, I’ll explain. (Let the hating begin)

Two of the nominees are console specific; Uncharted 3 and Skyward Sword. While these are both probably great games, they shouldn’t be considered game of the year because not everyone can play them. Sorry. I haven’t played Portal 2 yet so this might be incredibly ignorant, but isn’t it just a giant puzzle game? That leaves Arkham City and Skyrim. I loved Arkham City, but after beating it, I was done. It was a great game and it has A LOT of replayability, but not for me. Some people may enjoy going through each of the challenges and getting a perfect score, but not me. It was fun, but will probably sit on my shelf unplayed for a long, long time. Skyrim will be fixed eventually and I will enjoy it for years, I’m sure. But right now, it only gets my nod by default. Had Saint’s Row: The Third been a nominee, that would get my vote. It looks good, its big, it has plenty of replayability and most of all, its just plain old fun.

I think I may have gotten a little long-winded, but there it is. My first blog post. Hope you enjoyed.

And don’t forget to head over to Spike TVs website and vote for your favorite games for this years VGAs.