Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thoughts on Flower

With all the talk of Flower going on lately, I figured it was my turn to chime in...

Flower has been getting a lot of buzz as being sort of the "next big thing." It's simple, nearly goalless structure has been described as perhaps starting a whole new genre of gaming. As Matt Chandronat said on his preview on the late 1up Show, "it emphasizes positive reinforcement rather than negative." (Not an exact quote). I, however, would argue that Flower is far from the breakthrough work of art as others have described it.

Yes, the game is pretty. Very pretty in fact. Especially the later levels. And the soundtrack/sound effects work well in tandem with the visual input to create a pleasing, relaxing atmosphere. Though, at its core, Flower is still very much a game, and not a particularly good one, I'd argue.

I've heard it argued that flower is as much an experience as it is a game, but I just don't see it. Maybe I'm just acclimated to playing very goal-oriented games, and while it's possible to play Flower straight through, blooming only the minimum amount of flowers required to move on, the game is still very much a collect-athon. There really isn't much to do other than bloom flowers, and there are no scores to speak of (such as for time, or flowers bloomed). So either you go through the levels briskly (which may be fun, but you'll breeze through the game in a scant couple hours at that rate) or, if you want any sort of replay value at all, you'll go for the little bonuses you get for collecting the three hidden green flowers that only show up if you bloom all the flowers in a specific area. Maybe it's just my OCD talking, but I didn't find that to be very engaging. I can't just breeze through a game collecting the minimum, and blooming all the flowers in any given region can be an arduous task.

Not only is Flower a collect-athon, but one with questionable controls, in my opinion. Maybe I'm just used to playing with analogue sticks, but having to control the game with the six-axis just felt odd to me. I'm not used to having to pay attention to how I'm holding the controller, and would frequently inadvertently start pointing up, because that's just the position I usually hold a controller in. I can appreciate what they were going for by trying to scale it down to the simplest control scheme possible, but I feel like including the option for analogue sticks couldn't hurt anything.

Furthermore, the few more "gamey" parts of Flower they've included, i.e. the "switches" that trigger the next event, are all executed in unskippable cutscenes where camera control is ripped away from the player. Every time you bloom an area, you have to sit back and watch it get restored to its former glory. It can't just happen whilst playing. For a game that's supposed to be about freedom, there sure is a lot of hand holding.

There is still a lot to like about Flower. The audiovisual component is fantastic and I can appreciate its simplicity, but I didn't feel like it told as great a story as it seems to try to. Many have compared Flower to Rez, and it's an apt comparison. I only mildly enjoyed that game as well, where I felt like it had a phenomenal audio/visual presentation, but was locked into otherwise rote shooter mechanics. Amazing to see all the sights on sounds of that first time through, but lacking in the gameplay to make the replay all that much fun. Still, both these games are a steal at $10 just for their aesthetics alone and I can appreciate that they're trying something new. But just because it's new doesn't make it any better.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Afro Samurai Review

My Review of Afro Samurai is up at Honestgamers. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

You Know I've Got a Great Face for Radio...

My special guest appearance on Big Red Potion Episode# 2 is up. The topic: Love in Videogames.

"[Big Red Potion] May be the nerdiest thing I have ever listened to." -A hot girl I know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top Five Most Romantic Moments in Videogames

My Valentine's Day Top Five went up at TGR today. Sinan wrote #5, I did the rest. Have at you!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Top Ten Bosses (Original)

While we already posted our Top Ten Bosses list at TGR, I figured I'd use this venus to show what my own, personal list was. It was rejected due to lack of diversity (which is fair enough, hence the new, group effort we put up on TGR that I am rather pleased with), but I figured I'd share it here, with you all.

10. Cerberus: Devil May Cry 3
Often games let you live out your best movie fantasies, like destroying the Death Star, for example. DMC3 does you one better and lets you do what Harry Potter never got the chance to; fighting the dreaded three-headed hell-hound, Cerberus. And dreaded he is. Facing him as early as the third level, Cerberus represents a huge difficulty spike, with a huge variety of attacks. Do you want to play things safe (er, safer), staying away and chipping at his ice armor with your guns, or get in there with your sword for MASSIVE DAMAGE!? Either way will present a huge challenge, but beating him is entirely satisfying. Plus he just looks damn cool taking up half the room, covered in ice, shackled to the rear end of the room.

9. Phalanx (i.e. Colossus #13): Shadow of the Colossus
Hardly even a "boss fight" per se, as this "boss" never even attacks you (I don't believe it's even possible to die in this sequence), Phalanx is amalgam of all that is cool about videogames. You get to ride around on a horse through a gigantic desert region, shoot your bow & arrow (while riding said horse), and jump from your galloping stead onto the wounded, fleeing creature. Even the games' usually wonky camera manages to behave here, adding for amongst the most cinematic boss battles ever conceived. The creature design is amazing as well, creating a creature that is both majestic and powerful without succumbing to the usual ploys of say, googley eyes, for example.

8. Vaati: The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
People like to take a shit over Minish Cap for some reason, probably because it's too easy. And for the most part that's true, but the final boss is a tricky bugger. You'll have to use just about every tool you've acquired through the game to beat him and it'll take a bit of brain work to figure out what you need to do for each of his several forms. He also represent the only times I've died in that game.

7. Krauser: Resident Evil 4
In an already fantastic game, fighting this mutant sonuvabitch in a ruined pueblo had to be the highlight. The way he'd disappear, then reappear right next to you for some close quarters combat made for many a tense moment as you'd run about collecting stone tablets. There's a slight intermission between his phases where you go about destroying defense sentinels, only to face him again, in a stronger, mutant form with a ticking time bomb in the background. The way it mixed traditional gunplay with quick-time button presses was first introduced in RE4 and Krauser, with his quick agility, left you no place to hide. Word of advice: there is a cheap tactic to killing him that the designers left in as something of an easter egg, but I'd recommend not using it if you want a challenge.

6. GLaDOS: Portal
The fact that Valve managed to come up with any kind of boss fight in a simple puzzle solving game with no weapons is already impressive, but the fact that they made one so multi-tiered and a worthy puzzle unto itself is an even greater achievement. This sequence also contains some of the funniest dialogue in the game as GLaDOS attempts to convince you that you are a bad person and that no one likes you. Even after defeating her you'll likely want to reload just to hear all the bits of dialogue you may have missed regarding her talking loose bits. There's even a full fledged recipe for cake in there. What other bosses can you say that about?

5. Quadraxis: Metroid Prime 2
Here's a boss that really takes advantage of everything you've learned in the game. With three different phases of battle, you'll have to use: ball form, boosting, bombs, x-ray vision, spiderball tracks, and your choice of ammo, in this epic, multi-tiered battle. Perhaps a tad on the easy side, Quadraxis still manages to take great advantage of everything the Metroid Prime series does well. Why these games don't include a boss rush mode is beyond me.

4. The Boss: Metal Gear Solid 3
The Boss is a truly epic final boss encounter utilizing one of the greatest setpieces seen in gaming. Taking place is a field of white flowers blowing in the wind at sunset, The Boss finally has a chance to utilize her space age sneaking suit. There are different ways to fight her including secret hidden CQC techniques and stealth. There's also the added threat of a time limit, something I usually hate, but only adds to the tension here. The way the theme song slowly starts playing midway through the battle is a real treat as well, making it among the greatest final boss battles I've ever seen. And the interactive cutscene following the fight where you have to pull the trigger yourself- genius!

3. Echidna: Devil May Cry 4
The She-Viper is not only an amazingly cool boss design, but she plays extraordinarily well too. With a wide variety of attacks at her disposal, it'll take a long time to figure out how to successfully avoid her on the harder difficulties. Better yet, playing as Dante nets an all new challenge as your old tricks won't work anymore and you'll have to go about discovering a whole new strategy. Playing her on Dante Muste Die initially took me close to two hours to conquer with each protagonist, and it was never, ever, dull.

2. The Fury: Metal Gear Solid 3
Rarely have I ever played a boss that allows for so much variation on how to go about killing them. The Fury, an insane otherworldy cosmonaut who went into space and came back something else, flies around an underground concrete maintenance tunnel with a jetpack and flamethrower. Things get especially intense when half the room is ablaze and you're desperately trying to shake him. Fighting him in a series of dark corridors allows for an unspeakable amount of variation as you go about sneaking up on him, hoping he doesn't get the drop on you. I must've spent over two hours fighting him initially, experimenting with a tranquilizer gun, a sniper rifle, an AK47, claymores, exploding barrels, thermal goggles, night vision goggles, and a host of camping spots as I'd try to work out a strategy for hunting him down.

1. Crying Wolf: Metal Gear Solid 4
In essence, Crying Wolf is a brilliant reimagining of two of the Metal Gear series' best boss battle: The End and Sniper Wolf. It combines the free roaming environment employed in MGS3 with The End with the setting (quite literally the EXACT same courtyard) and character used for Sniper Wolf in the first Metal Gear Solid. Both those battles were really good, but too simple. With THE END you could easily cheat the game by tracking his footprints with thermal goggles. The same is true of Crying Wolf, but now you have the added element of guards to deal with. I'd recommend not spoiling it for yourself and killing the guards (or opting for the hiding under the truck cheat that I'm sure was included on purpose for those who just wanted to see the story and don't like fun), and if you're truly hardcore, go for no alerts as well. And if an intense sniper duel with an squad of elite acrobatic soldiers set in a blizzard wasn't enough, Crying Wolf's also able to stampede about and pounce on you if she catches wind of your scent. When this happens, the camera switches to her point of view and you're given a split second to react and stop her in her tracks. It's wonderfully tense, epic stuff. In a series known for wonderful boss battles Crying Wolf really takes the cake.