Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Disposable Income: March 2009

March was a pretty great part of the year. While the new video game release drought hasn't quite ended, a whole buttload of games and other neat stuff came out to herald the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. I mean, I didn't buy that many, but hey, the new releases scene gets boring again in April so maybe I'll get to play some catch up!

In the meantime, here's what I picked up in March.

Avalon Code

So here is a game that I was really interested in because it had incredible potential. It's developed my Matrix Software, better known as the people who developed the 3D DS remakes of Final Fantasys III and IV, and published by XSEED Games, the awesome people responsible for bringing Retro Game Challenge to the States last month. That's a pretty promising team in my book, so as long as the story wasn't something like "Captain Poop keeps poopin, clean up his poop to save the planet from poop death" it was pretty much a guaranteed buy. And despite that story being 100% LIKELY, it was actually something pretty different! Basically you're a kid who stumbles across this magical tome called the Book of Prophecy. The world is going to end soon, and it's your job to travel across it and record everything in the Book of Prophecy that you deem worthy of appearing in the new world. Not the most unique story in the world I guess, but still neat enough.

The coolest part was the role the Book of Prophecy played in the gameplay. The main gimmick is that just about anything in the game's world- weapons, enemies, characters, flowers, talkin' cakes, talkin' butts, talkin' buttcakes, whatever- could be scanned and have their properties viewed by smacking them with the book. Then those properties could be mixed and matched by dragging them around on the touchscreen. For example, let's say you come across a rusty sword in the game. After scanning the item, you notice that amongst the different icons on the sword's page within the book, one of them says "SICKNESS". You drag that icon off the page, and ta-da! The sword isn't rusty anymore. Beyond that, you can take the "SICKNESS" icon you just collected and place it on the page of a tough monster, which would cut its HP in half and make it easier to fight. There's basically tons of ways to use this feature and it would be pretty awesome except for one problem: the interface is kind of terrible!

The problem is that by the time you're halfway through the game, you have literally hundreds of pages in your book, with no easy way to navigate through them. You get a Table of Contents that'll take you straight to a certain category, like Characters or Weapons, but it gets to be a problem when even after that you have to flip through 50-plus pages to get to the specific character you're looking for. The game desperately needs a Search option, and it doesn't have one. And as for the little property icons, you can only hold up to four at a time. This means a lot of tedious shuffling around to get a hold of the icons you need and to get rid of the icons you don't. It shouldn't take ten minutes just to add the "FIRE" property to your talkin' buttcakes and make Flamin' Buttcakes. I mean, Flamin' Buttcakes is worth it no matter how much time it takes, but still.

Avalon Code could be a fantastic game, but it's cluttered too much by various design flaws I can only guess were caused by the DS's various technical limitations. Oh well, maybe we'll get a sequel some day. Really, all they need to do is clean up the interface of the current game to upgrade it from "decent but weird" to "freakin awesome and great".

Dungeons and Dragons 4.0: Player's Handbook 2

Right now seems as good a time as any to mention that I'm a fan of tabletop roleplaying games. I don't get to play them as often as I'd like, since playing them regularly tends to require a flexible schedule and a lot of free time, of which I usually have neither. However, recently I have been able to work things out so that, once a week, I can spend my non-worky time with some friends as a player in sessions of Dungeons and Dragons.

The version of DnD we've been playing is the latest one, Edition 4.0, and while it seems to be getting a lot of flak from people that haven't played it yet, I've been enjoying my time with it quite a bit. People that expect a direct upgrade to Edition 3.5 and refuse to play anything else will probably end up being a bit disappointed, because it's very different now. Quite a few things have been streamlined, and there's a much bigger focus on combat than the previous edition had. Most of a given class's special abilities are for use in battle and battle alone, and while you could talk your way through most of a battle in 3.5 while lying down, eating chalupas, and rolling around in a tub of hot sauce (easy dipping for the chalupas, you see), battles in 4.0 pretty much require some sort of graph paper and miniatures to play even sort of coherently. Initially I balked at these changes and thought they'd detract from the roleplaying experience and make things more boring. In reality, it turns out that the role playing elements can still be just as big of a focus if you have the right Dungeon Master (which I'm lucky enough to have), and the other changes makes it feel more like... wait for it... a game. And a very fun and solid one, at that. Compare it to the release of the fourth Harry Potter movie versus the book: if you're looking for a faithful translation of the original, you'll hate it. However, ff you just want a fun, action-packed experience based on the source material, then you'll have a great time with it.

Anyways, Player's Handbook 2. As with earlier editions of DnD, 4.0 has been releasing a bunch of supplemental books that add various elements to the game. This particular book primarily adds a bunch of new Classes and Races to the mix, as well as a handful of new weapons and feats and stuff. It makes me particularly happy because when 4.0 came out, two of my favorite classes from 3.5 were missing: Druid and Bard. Barbarian, Sorcerer and Monk were gone as well. Player's Handbook 2 fixes things by adapting the first four classes I mentioned to the new ruleset (Monk has been promised to make a return, though I'm not sure when), and although I haven't been able to try them out yet in actual gameplay, they're pretty neat! The other new races and classes are interesting as well, although a couple of them made me roll my eyes and go "GEE I WONDER WHAT POPULAR FANTASY-BASED FRANCHISE INSPIRED THIS", like the new Shaman class.

Overall, not a disappointing purchase, and it's been handy to have in recent sessions (one of our party members is a Sorcerer), though I suppose my Warlock'll have to die before I can use the book much for myself. And I don't want my Warlock to die! He's a half-elf who got raised by a dwarf and he is awesome.


So I've heard a whole lot about how Grant Morrison is a great comic book writer and Frank Quietly's a great comic book artist. This talk has become frequent lately because the two are collaborating to make a Batman & Robin series for DC, which people are making a big deal out of because Bruce Wayne died recently in DC's canon, and he's being replaced by a new Batman (DC is trying to be all mysterious about who it is, but it is probably Dick Grayson, the first Robin). Anyway I'm not going to justify that retardedness by continuing to talk about it. So these two guys are apparently pretty talented, and I want to check out their earlier works. Turns out they've collaborated several other times, and the most interesting of these was a little title called We3.

We3 is basically about a dog, a cat, and a rabbit who are turned into cyborg weapons by the government. Right before they get decommissioned, the hot doctor lady who made them that way has a change of heart and sets them free. Now the main reason I bought this paperback is because I had an equation going on in my head:

Homeward Bound + Robots = BEST THING EVER?

So then I actually received the graphic novel and read it and everything, and it was slightly deeper than that. Well actually, the equation ended up being this:


The art is very well done, and it's also very well written, but this particular story just didn't really click with me. I mean, one of the main points made is that animals with deadly weapons lack human restraint, and are therefore capable of pretty fucked up shit. As a result, there is some pretty fucked up shit throughout the comic, all shown in more detail than you'll ever need. I never really went through life hoping that I could see an extreme closeup of a tiny spear going through someone's eyeball, and uh I guess now I never have to, thanks guys!

It's very clear from this outing that Mister Morrison is a good writer and Quaint Quietly is a good artist, but We3 just wasn't for Me3.


I bought this movie pretty much on an impulse while I was at Wal-Mart, and seeing as it was a non-Pixar CG-animated flick, my expectations were pretty low. Especially considering that star billing went to Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus, and I tend to avoid things she's involved with on principle. But hey, I dug the superhero angle, and I liked the trailers with the screaming hamster in it, so I plunked down the 14 bucks.

And it was mostly a fairly typical kids' movie, with not much that I haven't already seen before (Bolt's story was pretty much exactly like Buzz Lightyear's story arc in Toy Story), but it was pretty cute. There was a lot of clever writing and likeable characters, and Miley Cyrus wasn't even in it that much.

I really don't have much to write about this. The movie was okay and I liked the jokes. As far as non-Pixar CG Disney movies go, it was significantly better than expected but not as good as Meet the Robinsons. And by the way if you're someone who enjoys reading this blog but hasn't watched Meet the Robinsons you need to stop everything and watch it right now. That movie is amazing!

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure

First of all, let me say that the purchase of this game was worth it for the box art alone.

Henry Hatsworth is this quirky little Nintendo DS adventure that's a pretty interesting melding of the platformer and puzzle genres. The general gist of things is that on the top screen you have your basic side-scrolling platformer, and on the bottom screen you have a Pokemon Puzzle League style puzzle game. When you defeat enemies or grab items on the top screen, they become puzzle blocks on the bottom screen. Clearing those blocks gives you bonuses and special abilities in the platformer part of the game, while ignoring them for too long will make the blocks float back up to the top screen and try to smash you and stuff. It's a very simple concept that the game gets a whole lot of mileage out of, and it's surprisingly fun. When the basic gameplay gets old, you can count on boss battles to mix things up again, which by the way are AMAZING. The second boss of the game might actually be on my Top 5 of Best Video Game Boss Battles Ever, Seriously.

Plus, if you couldn't tell by the boxart, the game is friggin hilarious. The story is basically about an ancient legend about a treasure hunter known only as THE GENTLEMAN (yes they actually spell his name in all caps every time they refer to him I love this game so much) who finds a suit so classy that it gives the power to access another dimension, the world behind the Puzzle parts of the game. Deeming it just too dangerous for humanity, he seals the Puzzle Realm, then breaks the suit into pieces and hides it in various places around the world. The game involves Henry Hatsworth, #1 member of the Pompous Adventurers Club, trying to the suit's various pieces before his rival Leopold Weasleby (the guy screaming in the background of that boxart) does. The genius is mostly behind the dialogue and the goofy-ass characters. I have genuinely laughed out loud at certain points in the game, it's actually that good!

The only drawback is that the game is freaking HARD. It gets ridiculous around the fourth continent you explore, and currently I'm stuck at the fifth continent and keep dying. Oh man, when Henry Hatsworth dies he says "Poppycock" as he falls off the screen. Game of the year!

Anyway if you like quirky video games you should probably get this.

A 4GB SD Card

So remember when I talked about GDC and made some predictions a little while ago? Well consider this my coverage of the aftermath: I said in my original post that people thought Nintendo would release their storage solution and announce a new Zelda game that day, and that they were retarded. Well, uh, exactly that happened. The Wii now has a firmware upgrade that allows you to run VC and WiiWare games directly from an SD card, and added HCSD support on top of that, which means you can use SD cards up to 32 gigs in size. Also they announced a DS game called Legend of Zelda: Link Train Ride Adventure or some shit, but it's not really worth mentioning.

The firmware upgrade was great news, though, and I went out and got a 4 gig card on the same day to celebrate. And well, not much to say besides that the new interface works, it works pretty well, and I'm probably going to buy a bunch of VC/WiiWare games soon to start filling up all my brand new space. Maybe you'll see which ones in the next My Disposable Income installment.

So there you go. My Nintendo systems got a whole lot of love this month. About friggin time, Nintendo! Read more!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Game Developers Conference 2009: Pre-Event Excitement

Hey folks, guess what? GDC '09 is here, hooray!

For those not in the know, the Game Developers Conference is the first major gaming event of the year. I should probably use the word "major" loosely, because it's generally the one that garners the smallest amount of big announcements. Actually, the amount of game reveals is downright pitiful when put next to megatons that typically happen at events like E3 or the Tokyo Game Show, which happen in the Summer and Fall respectively. Despite that though, it could very well be the most interesting.

The reason for this is that the purpose of the conference isn't for game developers and publishers to showcase upcoming games, or to wow the gaming press. This does happen of course, but the real intended audience is fellow game developers. The presentations generally show things like a behind the scenes perspective on a recently completed game, or tips for a fledgling game designer looking to direct his own tiny team of tenacious taters. E3 and TGS say "This is what you'll be playing at the end of this year and beyond," but GDC says "This is the work we had to do so you could play what you did last year". So while there's rarely a reveal that would make one wetten his pants, it does give us a deeper look into the world of game development and the industry in general than we usually get, and it can be really awesome sometimes.

That said, there are neat little announcements to be had, and they tend to appeal to the most specific type of gamer nerd. The "yours truly" kind! There's a few events this year in particular that I'm very interested in, and I'm going to list them right now.

Level-5's Keynote

Level-5 is probably one of my favorite development teams right now. Their stories and concepts tend to be a 50/50 split between "intriguing" and "horrible cliche mess", but they always, always deliver unique and engaging gameplay. Their RPG titles are amongst the most fun I've played, although some (such as Rogue Galaxy) are also amongst the most annoying. This is usually the US localization team's fault though, and I'm sure that the more popular this developer gets, the more attention and respect will get paid to the source material upon future translations.

Anyways, they're speaking at this year's GDC, and they're going to be discussing three of their games. The first is the Professor Layton series, a trilogy of puzzle-adventure games about some british guy in a top hat and his little boy sidekick running around and solving mysteries. It's kind of like Batman and Robin, except instead of saving the day by punching people in the face, they do it by figuring out how exactly they can line up three cows to spell the word "PARTY". The second is Inazuma Eleven, a Soccer RPG that basically turns the sport into an episode of Dragon Ball Z, in the best way possible. The third title, and the one I'm most interested in, is Ninokuni: The Another World, a game about a little boy with a book that gives him a portal to a mystical world or something? The neat thing is that the game comes with an actual physical book that you read to find things out about the world in the game. Also, the cutscenes are animated by Studio Ghibli, who've made amazing anime movies like Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky.

The interesting thing here is that GDC takes place in California, and two out of three of these games are Japan-only so far. If we get an announcement regarding a US localization of even Inazuma Eleven, I may have to cream not only my pants, but everyone's pants in a 20-yard radius.

Satoru Iwata's Keynote

Now Satoru Iwata being at GDC is kind of a big deal, seeing as he's the president of Nintendo. He's due to talk about "Creating New Development Opportunities", and of course this would probably be a good excuse for him to talk about the DSi, the new redesign of the Nintendo DS that has fancy cameras and games you can download from their online shop called "DSiWare". There are already rumors exploding all over the place about how he's going to announce a brand new Zelda, or that the Wii storage solution will be uploaded to the Wii Shop Channel during his keynote. And the people spreading these rumors a dumber than a sack full of retarded people (it's really kind of a tragedy, the opening's right there but they can't figure out how to escape), because once again, the point of GDC isn't to make big announcements like that. I'm pretty sure the majority of his speech will just involve the development process of the DSi, and maybe a few neat tidbits about upcoming DSiWare titles.

At the same time though, there's been a rumor floating around about old Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games coming to the DSi Store as downloadable games. If it turns out to be true it could turn my DSi purchase priority from "eventually" to "preorder".

Impressions of Games

While it's not a huge focus, there will be some upcoming games shown off. There's a couple in particular I'm excited to hear about. The first is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, a co-op brawler-RPG starring Spider-Man and a bunch of other unimportant jerks, and also Deadpool. The first title wasn't exactly the most polished gameplay experience, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a whole lot of fun. If the sequel even kind of brings back the multiplayer goodness, it might be an instant purchase for me. The second game that gaming press will likely get hands-on time with is Brutal Legend, the latest game from the genius behind Monkey Island, Tim Schafer. It has Jack Black in it as a roadie, so even if the game isn't that great it's sure to be hella entertaining.

Anyways that's just a taste of GDC this year. I'm sure we'll get all sorts of pleasant little surprises as well. Depending on how awesome they are, I might end up writing up an aftermath post when the Conference is over. Read more!