Friday, January 31, 2014

Saving a hundred dollars would be nice...

This ad, emailed to Xbox 360 owners, which encourages PS3 owners to "ditch" their PS3s in order to save $100 on Xbox One (at official Microsoft brick-and-mortar stores), made the rounds a day or two ago.  The ad doesn't note that the Microsoft Store will also give you $100 store credit if you bring in a Xbox 360 S or Xbox 360 E - but it also lacks awareness of the deal's central conceit - which is, if you're hyped for a next-gen console, there's a simpler way to save $100.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

PS+ in February is awesome. Again.

The PS4 gets Outlast, one of the most interesting games headed for the system - a first-person survival horror title.  It's like every game that ends up on PS+ for PS4 is a game I would have happily bought anyway.

Honestly.  I feel a bit douchey about getting Don't Starve for free.

Moving along, the PS3 gets some awesome stuff from last year - Metro: Last Light is wonderful right up until the Big Momma fight stops the game dead - and I'm pretty sure I already own it digitally, so that's no big whoop.  Payday 2 got nothing but positive press, and while I'll be the first to tell you that Remember Me's gameplay is sorely lacking, it's still absolutely worth experiencing - and the price is right!

A few meh titles round out the Vita's lineup - I don't think I've ever heard anyone say something good about Modnation Racers - its Metascore is like 62.  Street Fighter X Tekken looks a lot better, with a Metascore of 79 - but I ain't much in to fighters.

Fortunately, my Vita already way too full of awesome stuff - I am still playing Dragon's Crown, for the record - so that doesn't sting all that much.  Plus, Dustforce is comin'!

Seriously.  If you have a Sony console and you don't have PlayStation Plus, you're doing it wrong.

I'm pro-choice, by the way.

I know you don't come here for politicking, but hopefully you do come for the occasional bit of hilariousness - and I can't help it if Sarah Silverman does both at once.  But c'mon.  Would you want a giant needle shoved up your dick hole before you jerk off?

If the answer is yes, don't answer the question.

The Sly Cooper movie trailer... a real thing.

I like Sly's design, but Murray looks... dumber.  And I don't like that you can see Bentley's eyes.  All the changes are wrong.  Change frightens and confuses me.

Also, you'll likely notice that - while they have the original voice actors for Murray and Bentley, Sly's voice has changed.  The folks behind the movie said this over at their Facebook page:
"Please know, the cast of the Sly Cooper movie has not been finalized. Though we are fans of Kevin Miller’s work, as well as all those who were part of the great Sly Cooper games, we cannot comment on who will be in the film at this time. We greatly appreciate everyone’s comments and support for Sly Cooper, and will make sure to keep this all in mind as we enter production."

I'm usually prepared to give video game movies an extra chance.  I actually own that abhorrent Mark Wahlberg Max Payne, DOOM, Hitman, both Silent Hills and all the Resident Evil movies - so given my love for Sly, this is probably gonna' happen.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The beautiful design of Tomb Raider.

There was a horrible fright last night when my EB Games called me and explained that they wouldn't be getting Tomb Raider Definitive Edition in until - perhaps - the end of the week.

This came as a crushing blow, as the past few days have been particularly crappy and the stars were aligning to make tonight the perfect evening to stretch out with a new game.  I've been working the day shift Monday and today, but tomorrow I'm on evenings - making tonight a long evening, if I so choose - and Kayla's taken the night off to go see a Jets game.  I would have precious hours to myself to wallow in sweet, sweet tomb raiding - a much-needed respite after the emotional turmoil I've suffered lately.

Was it not to be?

It was to be.  I called EB before I left work today, and lo, they had the LEs of the Definitive Edition in - which is basically a small hardcover art book with the game mounted inside, a'la The Hitman Collection. AKA "kind of the best packaging ever."

The art within isn't as strikingly lovely as the original, fan-artist made works that came with Hitman, but it's still a lovely alternative to your usual clamshell.  Square Enix?  I am loving your noble treatment of your newly-acquired western properties.  Thank you, Square Enix.

Much has been made of how much prettier the game looks on the new-gen hardware - and it's true, it does look much better - but playing Tomb Raider on the PS4 also provides the opportunity for me to showcase a moment I've always wanted to point out to you, but have been unable to as words would be fumbly things to explain what you can quickly understand with a screenshot.

About halfway through the game, Lara has emerged from a shanty town and is on her way to reunite with a crotchety old sea cap'n named Grim.  She must scale a makeshift gondola to ride over to him - but if you choose (as always) you can just wander around collecting crap and exploring.  If you do, you'll come to a room with some furnaces in it, and a strange cage suspended from the ceiling.

I love this cage.  It is the perfect example of what I love - not about Tomb Raider's mechanics, but its design.  I love the mechanics, sure - I love the platforming in this game, and thoroughly enjoy the action - but this cage showcases part of why the game is so endlessly fun to just putter about in and play.

The cage contains five sacks, which you must burn with your fire arrows to release the precious salvage within.  The only way to put an arrow into the cage is via four holes in it, placed at odd positions throughout. Running around the edges of the room are two catwalks, one with an incline, and in order to free the salvage,

you must wander around the room,

examining it from all angles in order to line up the salvage sacks with the holes.


and there

and all around.  For no real reason, other than you see it and understand it can be done.  That salvage has been placed in there for the sole purpose of you getting it out, if you're prepared to spend a minute or two exploring it.

Salvage is not scarce in Tomb Raider.  You find it everywhere you go.  Every enemy you kill has a bit of salvage on them, and you can purchase skills for Lara that increase the salvage you get from every source.
This room has no bearing on the story.  It has no meaning beyond the tiny exploratory challenge it offers the player - and I adore that Crystal Dynamics took the time to make a game that's not just beautiful in the vistas and tombs,

but in the understanding that they've created mechanics that the player wants to enjoy.  I always clear out that cage because I love just scrambling around a big room, working things out via Tomb Raider's silky-smooth platforming and easygoing shooting.

I love that room.  It's that sort of gameplay frosting-by-design - the game-as-playground, and not merely the narrative-driven action game Tomb Raider sells itself as - that made it one of the best games of 2013, and a day-one purchase on the new gen.

Watch this Castlevania : Lords of Shadow 2 dev diary.

Seriously.  Watch it.

Interesting, right?  The game takes place in present day, throughout an open city that has grown up around Dracula's ancient castle.  The city is "open" in the classic Metroidvania sense that it becomes more open and you gain ever-greater access to it as you unlock new powers and abilities - and your ultimate foe is, surprisingly, the same as in the last game - the literal Satan.

Dracula Vs. Satan?  Yes please.

Monday, January 27, 2014

inFamous Second Son - creating Seattle dev diary.

I want a new proper trailer, damnit.

[update]  But, in a drought, some new off-screen gameplay from the Taipei Game Show will do to sate my appetite.

Turns out you switch between smoke and neon powers by draining the resource.  If you're using smoke and you drain some neon, now you're a human light show.  If you get tired of that, go drain a chimney and you're back to smoke powers. [/update]

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Let us discuss television.

Alex found a trailer for season 2 of Hannibal, so I figured - why not?  Television

Hannibal - on NBC, of all places - is an incredibly gory psychological thriller about an FBI special-agent profiler who empathizes with psychopaths to catch them, the boss who will push him right to the edge and the brilliant monster in a human suit who will ensure he goes over.  Just for the fun of it. 

I don't want to come across as arrogant, or boastful - I don't mean to - but between you and I, Kayla and I have gotten pretty fucking good at snuggling and watching TV shows.

As we suffer through the doldrums of video game releases - an indie here, a up-port there - let us give thanks that some of the awesomest TV shows are on their way back.  First of all - and I'm probably going to sound super-creepy as I discuss this - Hannibal season 2 starts February 28th.

I love Hannibal. And not just the TV show.  All things Hannibal Lecter, I adore.  I don't know why, I just love him - perhaps because I'm jealous of his classical education and skills as a gourmand, not to mention his ability to silence anyone who disrespects him, regardless of the potential consequence.  Silence of the Lambs aside, I felt pretty disappointed with most of the movies, but I voraciously devoured the books by Thomas Harris, and probably read Hannibal two or three times.

It's that level of familiarity with the character that occasionally makes me cringe as I watch the TV show.  Basically, whenever Hannibal gets in a physical confrontation and he doesn't instantly overcome them with a single, anatomically-informed and perfect strike, I'm like "well that's not what Hannibal would have done."

Dem cheekbones.
Also, does anyone else find it weird that everyone but Will kinda' dresses in 1970s fabrics with like super-wide ties?

Similarly, I didn't like Mads Mikkelsen's casting as the titular cannibal, at first.  There's something occasionally-nervous about Mikkelsen.  Something sweaty and suspect (observe how he kinda' gleams, above), and Hannibal Lecter is never, ever nervous or out of control.

But Mikkelsen's won me over.  His Hannibal is too entertaining not to enjoy in the way Thomas Harris's Hannibal is enjoyable - he's brilliant, irredeemable, slightly demonic and prepares the most fabulous dinners while deadpanning the most pitch-black dark humor.

The show's writers have invested Hannibal with just as much mystery, menace and intelligence as Harris, but given their large canvas have also investigated a bit into what he enjoys, what he wants, what his motivations are.  (Hint : to fuck with you.)  Slowly, Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal Lecter has become my Hannibal - rather similar to how, after a few episodes of Orange is the New Black, you stop thinking of Laura Prepon as Donna as she becomes only Alex.

Between House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, I'd have to go with Orange as the cooler of Netflix's productions.  I love Kevin Spacey, don't get me wrong, and Cards is good - but they're really working the long-game thing with that series, and occasionally an episode or two will feel more like a build to something that comes later than an actual, engaging part of the story.

Orange is the New Black - on Netflix - is an ensemble comedy-drama based on Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison - the gist of which I'm sure you understand from the book's title. 

Orange is consistently entertaining. It has a fabulous ensemble and every episode (after the first - which gets things get off to a kind-of slow start) keeps the show's promise.  A friend and I at work were discussing it (as every conversation of its type goes, we began by gushing over how awesome the ending is) and we agreed that it seriously almost makes you want to go to prison.

Not because we want to be away from our loved ones or have our freedoms taken away and abused at the hands of rapists, but because the show represents that confined human ecosystem in such vivid emotions. Tiny epics of love and loyalty take flight in that little cage - it's a world of small operas, where everything seems so meaningful - as opposed to the humdrum lives we live.

But its second season doesn't even have a release date yet, so I don't know why I'm even talking about it.  What is out and playing and on TV right now is season 5 of Archer.

Archer - on FX - is an animated, M-for-mature, hilarious comedy about a pathologically immature and self-absorbed secret agent with severely dysfunctional co-workers, and the insanity the two produce. 

If you don't already know Archer, rest assured that you should.

I was a bit concerned when the series creator said he wanted to take Archer in a decidedly "different direction" this season, but it's all turning out very, very well so far.  Pam's already addicted to cocaine and Lana's baby bump is beginning to show - this is gonna' be awesome.

Justified - on FX - is a dual-edged crime thriller/drama about Raylan Givens, a dead-eye, morally-gray U.S. Marshall, the charmingly well-spoken, criminally-enterprising Boyd Crowder, and the underworld happenings of eastern Kentucky.

As a general rule, I'm not a big TV guy.  People are always trying to sell me on shows - the worst offenders are Dr. Who and Breaking Bad - but honestly, I don't need another TV show to watch.  This is rather how I felt when Kayla told me she wanted to watch Justified - I figured it was because she's got a thing for any man wearing a cowboy hat - but I do love Timothy Olyphant (Raylan), so I gave it a shot.

Justified is awesome.  It's essentially a southern-set noire, based on the equally morally-ambiguous writings of prolific crime novelist Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Out of Sight - the only good Jennifer Lopez movie ever - and Rum Punch, which was adapted into Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown).

Raylan is a good 'ol boy with his shitkicker white hat, worn boots, casual drawl and easy smile, who - like Hannibal, actually - seems incapable of getting nervous, perhaps largely due to the fact that this modern law man is the fastest draw in these here parts.

He's an archetype, and that's his superpower - heavily-established in the show's (excellent) pilot, and only ever trotted out as a reminder that the only reason Raylan doesn't kill someone is because he's decided not to.  As self-destructive as he is, it's impossible not to love him - or his old friend and sometimes-enemy Boyd (Walton Goggins).

Both leads are excellent in their roles, but I'm a bit disappointed in whoever hands out TV awards for never giving one to Goggins.  His Boyd is an ice-cold wild man, a preacher, a born orator and a stone killer - who, like Givens, we can't help but love.

As the fifth season begins, we've gotten news that Justified's sixth season will be its last.  I'm glad, at least, that they know this far ahead, and will be able to give a proper sendoff to both characters.

Lastly, Kayla and I finally started watching BBC's Sherlock a few weeks ago.

Sherlock - BBC, PBS - is a modern re-imagining of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic sleuth, produced by the BBC. 

Sherlock isn't excellent, but it's really, really good - a largely-clever modern adaptation of the old books. The Robert Downey Jr. movies actually pay very close attention to the character as defined in the books - those slow-motion superfights he has in the movies?  Very accurate to the books - while BBC's Sherlock goes off the beaten path a great deal more, renders him much more human and defines him as a "high-functioning sociopath."

Benedict Cumberbach's Holmes explores more of the emotional repercussions such a character would have on the people that surround him, and you feel downright hurt for his friends and helpers when his acid-laced, hyper-intelligent tongue tears a strip out of them without even being aware that he's shattered someone's feelings.

My only real complaint against Sherlock is that plot holes abound, and at least once per episode you'll notice some silly contrivance, engineered to keep the narrative on track, that shatters one's involvement.

Oh, and that time Sherlock went to his "memory palace" and moved things around in mid-air with his hands as if he were using the computer in Minority Report?  That was fucking stupid.

Otherwise, great fun.  And Moriarty is fabulous.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

24 minutes of Thief running on PS4.

First up, seventeen minutes of straight gameplay with a cut towards the end because spoilers.

A lot of this looks okay.  Good, even - but I find it abhorrent that a Thief infiltration will end with an Assassin's Creed-style escape sequence.  I should be able to walk in and out of that place without anyone even knowing I was there 'till morning.

Speaking of which, here're two alternate paths for the game's opening - a very stealthy one, and an aggressive one.

Still, if it has as many routs as the developer suggests, I suspect I'll get a lot of enjoyment out of Thief.  I do love me some stealth.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hm. Middle-Earth : Shadow of Mordor looks like a good LOTR game.

The other day, a trailer went up for Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor.  I ignored it, 'cause it's a Lord of the Rings game, and when have those ever been really good?

Never, that's when.

Today, I stumbled across this article over at Eurogamer in which an Assassin's Creed dev is quoted as saying "seriously, can someone tell me how Assassin's Creed 2 code and assets are in this Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game? This is *my* code in that game!"

And I thought, well, let's take a look.

Yup.  That totally, one-hundred-percent looks like Assassin's Creed wall-climbing and line-running.  It also looks like a Lord of the Rings game that's pretty awesome!

Tomb Raider : Definitive Edition launch trailer.

Eee!  Word is the street date's been lifted (confirmed in at least two places I've read so far), but the manager of my local EB says he hasn't gone through his emails in a week and can't confirm it yet.  Gah - the anticipation!

South Park : The Stick of Truth behind the scenes video.

I'm so happy this is finally coming out.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

REVIEW - Olli Olli.

Olli Olli is a 2D skateboarding game.  It is entirely a score pursuit, where victory is earned at the tail end of a single, massive, level-spanning, unbroken combo of grinds, tricks and spins, and it is hard as hell.

They could have named it Dark Souls Skate, as players would then be more adequately prepared for its brutal difficulty and the cheerful earnestness with which the game punishes failure.

An indie title that earns its thirteen dollar price tag by way of the need for constant and repeated retries, it's got that Hotline Miami method of addiction. When a game is this rock-hard, it's easy to get frustrated.  When restarting is instantaneous, it's harder to walk away without trying to see if you can overcome its latest challenge.

Though, after two days with Olli Olli, I feel like I'm done with it.  I can't admit it's not nearly-perfect in its own highly-concentrated way, but it's also not a game for everyone.  I'll probably return to its cruel hills when I find myself with an appetite for its unique offering, but after two days I find I'd rather not play it, right now.

What Olli Olli attempts to do, it does really well - which is why it's received such critical acclaim from the enthusiast press.  As a game about skateboarding, it does a masterful job of encapsulating the feel of chaining together tricks, grinds and perfect landings not through thought, but earned muscle memory and instinct.  It's a game its developers want you to go a little zen with while playing, and - maddening difficulty aside - it achieves it.

It sets the player on an entirely reasonable difficulty curve, in which even the first level will see you tripping up and faceplanting a half-dozen times before you successfully make it to the cheering crowd at the bottom of the hill.  That first hill was candy land compared to what comes after.

Simply landing your board on concrete is something the game permits you to screw up - if you don't tap X as you hit the ground, you'll get a sloppy landing and take a half-second to regain your balance.  If that half-second was a half-second you needed to wind and release the jump that would see you safely over an obstacle or flight of stairs, well, you're eating pavement.

The big retry button in the top-left corner of the screen is wisely-placed and repeatedly used. 

That sounds simple enough, but Olli Olli mixes things up by ensuring - in the later levels - that you're almost never skating on a flat surface.  The late levels are almost-exclusively made up of grindable rails - and successfully landing on a rail is done with a snap of the analog stick.  These late levels quickly teach you to hit your grinds perfectly, as an early flick of the stick will see you losing momentum, but a perfectly-timed grind offers a speed boost - without which you won't make it over the next jump.

In the late levels, you almost never touch the ground - and what ground is offered are fleeting, tiny patches of terror on which you must properly land, wind a jump (again, with the analog stick) and release to soar over the next gap in safety.

These can be overcome - it can all be overcome - as in real skateboarding, cleverly enough, with practice.  Do it and do it and do it again until you can do it without thinking.  Until you simply do.

Olli Olli is its own zen koan.

When that thoughtless state comes over you, it's something absolutely remarkable as you Impossible onto a ledge, nose grind your way down a hill, chaining tricks off a dozen different surfaces and come out of that in a 520 olli spin to nail the landing with perfect timing, the tiny board doing its tiny animated flips beneath your tiny pixel feet.

It's lovely, and as a game that does what it sets out to do, Olli Olli is excellent.  When you're really gleaming the cube, it's divine.

Perhaps I'll come back to it, and invest the time it requires to harvest the fun of the game's promise - but, as in real skateboarding, sadly enough, I'm not sure I'm willing to put in the work.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Lightning Returns : Final Fantasy XIII demo.

God help me, I liked it.

One thing that was a bit surprising - I recall Final Fantasy XIII being insanely good-looking.  Lightning Returns is not.  Not outside of battle, anyway (during battles, it's gorgeous again).  The pre-rendered cutscenes are gorgeous, but the environments I was piloting Lightning through were weirdly low on detail for a Final Fantasy game.

That said, I can already skry where they're headed with the "Schema" system - a bit of an evolution of a similar idea in FFXIII - that permits the player to customize a crap-ton of different "job" types for Lightning, equipping up to three at a time.  The combat system necessitates swapping between your three jobs constantly in order to maximize damage output.

Start off in the Red Mage Schema to debuff your opponent and ready them for a stagger with a well-chosen spell.  Switch to Savior garb to call down some lightning strikes and weaken them, and finally swap into Dragoon to lay some stun-heavy smackdown to really rock their world.  As you use abilities in each form, its Action Points gauge drains - but each Schema has its own gauge, which recharges when you're not using it.

As you swap back to Savior, your Dragoon Schema's AP gauge is ticking back up, and will be ready when you need to swap back to it if you see a big attack coming and want to counter it instead of merely blocking.

I can dig it.

[update] ...and just now they've thrown up a combat system trailer.  Timely!


Also, Olli Olli is pretty damned good.  I'm not certain that it's thirteen bucks good, but it's pretty damned good.

They got some cool stuff on that PSN store.

I was very skeptical of Olli Olli.  Shahid Ahmad's tastes don't often steer me wrong, but it didn't look like something I'd enjoy - and twelve bucks for a little retro-styled game didn't exactly blow my skirt up.  But no - it's good.  It's Hotline Miami on a skateboard, in that it's really hard but instantaneous retries lessen the sting and ensure you keep chasing that perfect run over and over.

Elsewhere, Toukiden got - what I'm told is - a sizable demo (in which your progress can be carried over to the main game).  I may need to put more time into that, 'cause I'm not really feelin' it yet.  I went through what can generously be described as the tutorial battle and felt very nonplussed.  Fighting giant things is fine, but fighting giant things with no health bar and no indication if you're actually hurting it is something else entirely.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is up free for PS+ on PS3, which will absolutely demand attention as it ended up on a lot of GotY lists last year - even Chamberlain was raving about it, which is terribly rare event.

There's a PSP Worms game up free for Vita - which I'd be more interested in if it were a Vita Worms game - but I loved those titles as a kid, so it might be worth a peek.

Finally, Final Fantasy XIII : Lightning Returns has a demo available on the PSN (which unlocks gear sets for the main game in February).  I am definitely playing that, as soon as I find the time.

A lot of little things, but a lot of little things that demand attention on PSN this week!

The Last of Us : Left Behind full opening cutscene and interview.

Hm.  Writing's not quite as lean as in the game proper.  There's a lot of extraneous exposition, here - but still, it's cool to hear Johnson doin' Ellie again!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

About Don't Starve...

I love Klei.  I love, love, love Klei Entertainment - a love purchased through their earlier action titles, Shank, moreso Shank 2 and the sublime Mark of the Ninja.

Last year, when the inestimably kind Alex gifted me a steam copy of Don't Starve, I was over the moon.  I never thought my crappy PC could run a game - it buckled under the weight of Rochard - but I fired up Steam and gave it a whirl.  It didn't run perfectly on my tired old desktop, but I was elated simply to be playing the next thing from my beloved Klei.  I swore I would conquer the game and, one day, ride the Beefalo.

I never did.  I ended up with a laughable, modest camp.  A crock pot, a few farms, a science machine and so on.  Then some wolves ate me.  I think I tried again, but by then news had appeared of the game's impending launch on PS4 and I decided to save my time with it for a system with a better framerate.

Now it's out on PS4. It's available.  It's free with PS+, so I went back to it, armed with what I'd learned last July and spent five or ten hours with it... but it doesn't move me.  When I get home, I have the option of playing Don't Starve on my PS4 or hunting boss monsters to earn Miike's true ending in Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, and I invariably end up on the Vita.

I really love my Vita.

I told Blue yesterday that I'm not sure Dragon's Crown would have been my Game of the Year if it had only been available on PS3.  The Vita's ability to play the game anywhere, any time, just by slipping it from my pocket made it far too easy and comfortable to enjoy - and that is likely how I racked up 180+ hours on Dragon's Crown.

It's occurred to me that I may enjoy Don't Starve more if it, too, was as easily-accessible as Dragon's Crown or Nekomata on Vita, and I may get the chance.  Today an interview appeared at Edge Online in which Klei's Cory Rollins said
"We’re investigating a proper Vita version [of Don't Starve] at the moment, but we’re not quite sure yet.  Currently, a lot of people play Don’t Starve: Console Edition using the PS4′s remote play, and really enjoy it. So we’re looking into a proper Vita release."
...if that happens, I may find the platform and version of Klei's latest opus that I can fall in love with... but I'm not sure.

The camp of someone who knows what they're doing.

Don't Starve is a pure Roguelike - a genre I don't particularly favor.  The other day, Chamberlain asked me what I thought of Don't Starve, and I couldn't drum up much enthusiasm in response.

"I like it, but it seems to require an investment it doesn't... earn?  I guess is the word?  I don't really feel rewarded when I survive a few more days or get some cool stuff coming out of my science machine - and so, don't feel compelled to keep playing it.

The game and its world are ludicrously deep, with so much to learn and so many interlocking mechanics, it's very successfully-roguelike in its barrier to entry.  It doesn't hand hold - it doesn't actually seem to want you to enjoy yourself.  It's a game one could play for many, many hours if one became involved in it and dedicated themselves to understanding its wild world, but - perhaps simply given the slow-burn of its discoveries and little victories - it doesn't grab me and compel me the way Klei's earlier action titles did.

I want to like it.  I even do like it - but I don't love it.  Not near the way I love Shank and Mark of the Ninja.  But, granted, it's a very apples-and-oranges scenario."
-from the confidential correspondence of David Ferber-

That is, perhaps, looking at Don't Starve the wrong way.  A Roguelike, by its very nature, tends to skirt the "rewards" we associate with other genres.  "Pacing" - what drives us onward - is something that's hard to craft in a game that's randomly-generated (though, one should note, Don't Starve has events that only occur after you've survived a set number of days).

In Roguelikes in general and Don't Starve in particular, the player's reward is not necessarily a cool new power, but understanding.  Don't Starve is built on the conceit that players will be ever-entranced by its remarkably deep systems of interlocking items and cause-and-effect, and the thrill it offers - beyond that of simple survival to see another day - are repeated moments of realization.

Oh, carrots heal more when I cook them, first.

Oh, I can plant pinecones, and they'll grow in to trees.

Oh, I can create charcoal by burning the forest.

Oh, pigmen will fight my enemies if they're in the vicinity.

It goes on and on - and perhaps the game does not seize upon my imagination simply because I'm not wired correctly, and don't feel compelled by the promise of the next little realization.

Many people do - over a million - and its depth and success is a testament to the same intelligence of design that made Mark of the Ninja the best game of 2012.  It's why Klei continues to support the game with regular updates, constantly deepening the game's systems and environments, to ensure there's always something new to discover, always more understanding for its players to earn.

Don't Starve is a game that only rewards in proportion to the amount of time you invest in it, and - by offerings nothing in the way of help - ensures that every victory earned is yours alone, never the result of hand-holding.

I still want to love it, but I can't say that I do.  My gaming sensibilities may be shallower than I'd like to admit.  But I do like it - and perhaps that friendly feeling will draw me back to the wilderness to learn, explore and discover more of it - though I can't say when that'll be.

Maybe when it's on Vita.

Tomb Raider Definitive Edition - the definitive Lara trailer.

We already knew all this - the higher-density face model, the TressFX, the subsurface scattering on Lara's skin, the physics applied to her equipment - but it's nice to see a video that highlights each to show it off.

It's just one week away!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dustforce on Vita finally has a release date, and it's soon!

We learned last August that the lovely indie pure platformer Dustforce would be making its way to PS3, Vita and Xbox 360 - and that's about all we heard until this post over at the PS Blog went up today.  Publisher Capcom had previously said the game would drop in January - that's no longer true.

Coming to Vita on February 4th for $10 (or $8 if you've got PS+)... Dustforce!

Day one.  Easily.  Also in the PS Vita Play 2014 promotion are Olli Olli, an indie skateboarding endless runner that's been getting a ton of positive hype around the enthusiast press lately for $12.99 or $10.39 with PS+.  It drops... tomorrow, in fact.

On the 28th we'll get Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, which... is forty bucks and has trailers like this:

And on February 11th we'll get TxK for $10 or $8 with PS+.  What is TxK?  It is trippy as hell.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Titanfall alpha multiplayer footage.

The only news of the day - thanks, All Games Beta!

If you're feelin' a bit burnt that the Titanfall Alpha is a closed test, take heart - Respawn Community Manager Abbie Heppe says an open beta is "possible."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

REVIEW - Genroku Legends : Fishy Tales of the Nekomata.

Genroku Legends : Fishy Tales of the Nekomata is the first of four pieces of downloadable content for 2013's Muramasa Rebirth [review] - one of the best games of the year, and a sprawling narrative-driven Metroidvania-lite brawler for the PlayStation Vita.

Muramasa spun two original tales that spanned 20+ hours for each hero as they explored a gorgeous recreation of Genroku-era Japan (hence the DLC's name), regularly stumbling across scenes from real history and classic legend. Genroku Legends, on the other hand, concerns itself entirely with permitting the player to indulge in the folk tales.

The nekomata is one of hundreds of demons in Japanese folklore.  It's said that if your cat manages to make it to old age or is mistreated, its tail will almost certainly fork at the end and it will become a demon, changing its shape to that of a man, woman or any number of terrifying vestiges to curse and haunt humanity.

Genroku Legends : Fishy Tales of the Nekomata is the story of Miike, a cat, loyal to a girl named Okoi, who witnesses her murder at the hands of ambitious men, and hears her last words - a plea for revenge. Overcome by hatred for those who betrayed her beloved Okoi, Miike's tail splits in two and she becomes a Nekomata, taking her mistress's form to see vengeance done.

It's a great story, and that's just Act I.

Vanillaware have always excelled at offering the player stories that are weirdly involving, despite (or, perhaps due to) their operatic, melodramatically-sweeping emotion.  After playing through the intro once, I described it to my girlfriend and actually found myself choking up a bit - simply retelling the story.

Miike's tale is a beautiful one, full of darkness and betrayal, comedy, love and ultimately redemption - disappointing only in its brevity, as there are only three acts to speak of.  I got to the final boss after about two and a half hours of play, but he kicked the crap out of me and sent me packing back across Japan to level myself up in the hopes of having an easier time with him.

But I don't mind.

Nekomata's boss fights are some of the most challenging, epic boss fights in Vanillaware's history, eclipsing even the screen-filling giants of Muramasa's core game in its centerpiece brawl against a haunted house that takes a half-dozen different forms.  Floating, upside-down severed girl's heads, shirime, a giant cyclops in a cloud,


a huge, flattened demon head, a bell with a creepy little ringer sitting atop it, who rings the bell to hurt you with sound waves, a grotesque lord and lady with twenty-foot, serpentine necks and a raccoon in a straw hat who smacks you with his obscenely large scrotum.

Which, let's be fair, is accurate to the folklore of Genroku-era Japan. Tanuki can do phenomenal things with their nut sacks, according to legend.

Kazusa-ya Iwaz├┤, 1842

That's just history.

The fight can take twenty minutes alone, and its ending - which I'm dying to spoil but won't because let's try to be professional - is absolutely hilarious, and another testament to the exceptional localization work by Aksys.

Aksys retains the script's pathos and humor, and don't shy away from just how ridiculous and flavorfully-Japanese Genroku Legends is.  Instead, they enthusiastically celebrate part of what makes it so damned special, and ensure Fishy Tales of the Nekomata is as touching, funny, creepy and wild as it needs to be.

Fantastic job, Aksys.  Meanwhile Vanillaware, to their credit, have jazzed up the game's mechanics a bit.  While Muramasa Rebirth has the player equipping and swapping out three different swords for use in combat, Nekomata permits you three different forms the shape-shifting Miike can pop back and forth from at will.

In Okoi (human) form, Miike is a traditional Muramasa brawler with zippy combo-based and air-juggle attacks as she tears through ranks of ninja and demons with her mighty claws.  In Miike (cat) form, she's a finesse fighter, faster than Okoi form with less damage in melee, but with an emphasis on powerful ranged attacks, gathering will-o'-wisps to her with a tap of circle to charge once, twice or thrice - depending on how long you can go without being struck - to unleash them with devastating effects.

After dealing enough damage in Okoi or Miike form, the third option - Avatar form - becomes available, and you can transform into a gigantic, invincible cat (or a bundle of cats forming a hideous, huge cat head) capable of laying effortless waste to nearly any enemy with devastating attacks for a limited time.

She is, essentially, a playable boss monster.

It's the inclusion of Miike's cat form that really makes Nekomata's combat feel fresh, and beating the crap out of samurai as an adorable kung-fu kitty doesn't get old.  She'll execute different ranged attacks depending on how many will-o'-wisps you let her gather, and when executed, each will have vastly different effects if you're on the ground or airborne.  Gathering will-o'-wisps with little playful swipes of your paws, letting it build to tier 2 and hucking the ball of energy into a bad guy to watch it explode and hit every other enemy onscreen is terribly satisfying.

Protip : always end each fight by switching to Miike and gathering three wisps while the score screen plays.
Then you can always open the next fight with a rain of cats as she dances and sings nyaa-nya-nyaa!

As in the core game, Nekomata's presentation is impeccable.  New music(!) and enemies add a bit more freshness, and it's always delightful to find yourself in a place you visited in the main game which looks completely different thanks to a change in the time of day.

The DLC's length is disappointing if you permit it to be - most of Muramasa's gigantic rendition of Genroku-era Japan is walled off with glowing spiritual barriers - but Vanillaware have always given players incentive to keep playing their games beyond the basics, and Nekomata is no different.

Unlike the core game, there are no swords to forge and collect in Nekomata.  The expanding sword tree is replaced here by a gigantic skill tree which allows you to purchase unique skills and greater attack power for all three forms (pour everything into Okoi form for massive, reliable damage) - and its sprawling hugeness hints at what the player may choose to face after Miike's tale comes to its (initial) close.

I got myself to around level 30, and about a third of the way down her skill tree, before beating the last boss - and once you've experienced the dark thrills and comforting warm-and-fuzzies of the ending, the game tells you that all the barriers across Japan have been lifted, and you can now challenge every boss and zone from the main game with Miike.  If you do, and obtain the required items from said bosses, you can re-play Miike's final confrontation and earn her true ending.

This extends the content of Fishy Tales of the Nekomata far beyond its initial four-hour playtime, and - if the player desires - makes it a game one can sinks dozens of hours in to, re-discovering Vanillaware's beautiful vision of old Japan and facing its nasties with style.

Muramasa's combat isn't as shockingly deep as Dragon's Crown, but it's still fast, slick and satisfying - and having spent a few hours with Nekomata, I can't admit to being ready to leave, yet.

I want to stick around, have more adventures with the cat whose loyalty to its mistress and hatred of her enemies threatens to consume its immortal soul, and shepherd her to her true ending.  I'll likely be spending a lot more time with Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, and for five bucks, that's a helluva deal.

Now, we dance!

Toukiden world introduction by Studio 4°C.

I don't think this actually appears in the game - it's just a cool mini-anime to introduce the world of Toukiden, which actually does a lot more to hype me for the game than any of those five-second gameplay clips we've seen have.

Seriously, Temco.  This is cool and all, but get your game a proper gameplay trailer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Muramasa sountrack! Woo!

Three discs worth of Basiscape brilliance. It was due to show up some time between mid-February and the end of March, so this is a very pleasant surprise.  Woo!

Oh man, iTunes even has the option to import the track names in English.  Nice.

Shu Yoshida will suffer a coronary failure if Over My Dead Body 2 isn't localized.


...which is exactly what anyone who's seen Over My Dead Body 2's trailer wants to hear. Now, let us hope it gets a good localization...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Incognita is now Invisible Inc. - new trailer!

Please let this come to a console (that I own) some day.

Hitman is coming to next gen, sounds awesome.

And by that I mean it kinda' feels like they read my review of Hitman Absolution and decided to build their next game around the feedback that I, personally, offered.  This is obviously what has happened - there's no other explanation for it.  Today on the official Hitman site, Io shared this open letter to its fans, detailing where the franchise is going (hint : it's going to next-gen consoles and PC).

  • No longer confined to America, 47 spends the next game "globetrotting" 
  • the largest levels they've ever built (and considering the Japan levels in 2, that's a tall order)
  • "open, non-linear," "checkpoint-free, sandbox levels."
  • we still get contracts mode. 
  • "we have removed 47's magic pockets.  We believe that's all we need to say about that subject."
This is literally everything I wanted.  Yuss!

Yes, Tomb Raider : Definitive Edition looks much better.

Mogs found this.  Sweet.  It's like a week and a half away!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Genroku Legends : Fishy Tales of the Nekomata begins.

Once upon a time, siblings Okoi and Seijirou were on their way to deliver a sacred tea cup to the Shogun. The prize of their family's house, the gift will secure their clan's place.

Seijirou has noticed that the renowned swordsman, Shigematsu  - the chief retainer of Wakamiya, a minor lord under his father's rule - is following them, and advises caution.  Bold Okoi will have none of it, and urges her brother to press on towards Edo.

In Muramasa, such snippets of story will end with a sequence in which the player guides the player-character through the scene, speaking to each character in turn before the plot will advance itself - and Genroku Legends: The Fishy Tale of the Nekomata is no different.

Control doesn't switch to Okoi.  It switches to a little cat, trailing behind the siblings and the men who hunt them.  The cat strolls forward, overhearing the plot of the villainous Shigematsu and the two sellswords he's hired to kill the children for the sacred tea cup, thus shaming their father and enhancing his own lord's stature.

The cat strolls past them, listens to Seijirou's counsel, and then presents itself to Okoi.

The cat is Miike, Okoi's pet - and she's followed them all the way from home.

That night, the sellswords strike.  The children, unwise in the ways of the world, are no match for their experience and savagery.

Seijirou lays dead and Okoi lays dying.

From the shadows, a pair of oval eyes observe her dying oath.  She would beg the aid of demons and devils.  She would give anything to absolve her family of this shame, and to mete out vengeance on those who had betrayed them.

As the cat watches, Okoi's strengths fails her.  She collapses, and dies.

Not long after, the sellswords are shocked to discover Okoi - alive, standing before them.  They don't notice that she looks a little different. She says nothing.

She's come for the tea cup.

And revenge.

And she


the fuck out of them.

It takes time for the player to understand what's happened, but Okoi did not kill those men.

The cat, possessed by love and loyalty for the girl, heard Okoi's dying oath and took the burden and hatred upon herself, her tail splits at the tip, and she allows to become a demon.  She takes her mistress's form to ensure in some way, shape or form, the teacup would be presented by a girl matching Okoi's description to the Shogun.  The cat, now in possession of the sacred cup, vows to see it safely to Edo.

She burns with a seething bloodlust for those who betrayed her mistress, and will see Okoi's vengeance done.

Though it may cost Miike her very soul.

And that is how Genroku Legends : The Fishy Tale of the Nekomata begins.

Wonderful. And beautiful.