Listen Up, Fanboys

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E3 was supposed to be Christmas for gamers.  Sure, the conferences exist mostly to appease investors, but this should have been the one time of year internet hate mongers set their differences aside, treat each other like human beings, and rejoice in a weeklong celebration.  Instead, what I’ve seen is a resurgence of the console wars, and it looks even sillier than it did at the beginning of the generation.

Since when did ‘fan’ become synonymous with gnarling your face and spitting the most putrid bile imaginable?  Like, why is this even a thing?  From where I’m sitting, it seems like all it takes is a difference of opinion.  Forget context, forget reason.  Hell, a number of the attacks I’ve seen on the net are completely unsolicited.

Is this really where we’re at?  We’ve struggled for decades to show the world that gamers aren’t childish… and for what?  To ultimately prove that stereotype is true?

Bravo, ladies and gentlemen.  Bravo.

Now, I’m not blanketing my anger over the entirety of the gaming community, but for those of you that have engaged in pointless cock-measurement contests – and you know who you are – I feel a reminder is needed.

In case you’ve forgotten, we’re on the same team… all of us.  So much time is wasted in Sony vs. Microsoft debates, and there’s so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin.

How about the fact that this isn’t a two horse race?  Why do people tend to forget about Nintendo?  I know they haven’t done very well with the Wii-U, but it’s still a great platform to play great games on.  Some people even prefer it.  And let’s not forget about the PC, which plays pretty much all third party games and even has some exclusives that can’t be found on consoles.

I don’t think I’m being too idealistic here, either.  If you want to know how dumb it is to compare consoles, just remember that most of what we play are the third party games.  And you know what the conversation centers around when we talk about them?  The games themselves, right?  When you meet up with friends, you might say, “Have you played the new Doom?  It’s freaking awesome!”  They’ll probably nod their heads and say, “Yeah man.  SO much fun!”  Know what they’re NOT going to say?  “Yeah man, totally!  I’ve been playing it on my PS4, and guess what?!  MY DYNAMIC RESOLUTION BUFFER IS BETTER THAN IT IS ON THAT CRAPPY XBOX!”  These conversations don’t happen.  They just don’t.  And when performance IS discussed, it’s because there’s glaring issues that go wayyyyy beyond hardware capability.

See what I’m saying here?  It’s all about the GAMES.  But, since you console warring trolls – again, you know who you are – can’t help but feed your superiority complex, I have a message I want each ‘side’ to consider:

Xbots – You fools.  You damn fools.  Sony fans have been giving you the business for years.  I imagine you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to show the world you’re classier, more mature… and yet, the moment you felt victory within reach, you lost your minds.  No, really.  You did.  I don’t think you understand just how stupid you’ve looked since the Scorprio was revealed at E3.  It’s been like watching William Wallace’s army in Braveheart when they mooned their enemies… except instead of the ‘freedom’ battle cry, you’ve been banging on about teraflops.  Who cares about freakin’ teraflops?  I don’t.  And you know what’s funny?  Most of you don’t even know what a teraflop is.  All you’ve been doing is parroting the latest buzzword.  And besides, your victory is imagined anyway.  You’re comparing two consoles that have yet to see the light of day.  If that doesn’t make you feel sheepish, then you have a severe lack of self-awareness, my friends.

Sony Ponies – Yeah, the Xbots are coming off like a bunch of delusional lunatics right now, but to be fair, this is how your fan base has looked throughout the entirety of this generation.  900p or 1080p, 30fps or 60fps… who gives a shit?  You act like hardware performance is the most important thing in the world, but if you really felt that way, you’d buy a PC.  It’s really that simple.  Why compare nickels to quarters when you can get those dolla dolla bills, y’all?  And, I know what you’re going to say, too.  “Not everyone can afford a PC!”  True.  Consoles are less expensive than a PC.  There’s no denying that.  But I see a ton of you excited to drop at least another $400 on the Neo… after having already spent $400 on the OG PS4.  That’s $800 in a single generation… just for hardware.  You could have spent that money up front to get a machine that was capable of Neo-like graphics a while ago.  “But Sony are for the players!”  Nope.  They’re not.  They’re the same as any other major corporation out there.  They’ll smile in your face while they reach for the wallet resting in your back pocket.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my PS4, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with bowing at Yoshida’s feet.

And while we’re talking about console fanboys being a little too mouthy for their own good, there’s a couple other camps that also need to be addressed:

Nintendo Fans – You are, undoubtedly, the nicest fan base of the bunch… but some of you take your affection for this brand wayyyyy too seriously.  Yes, Nintendo is a great place to play great games that can’t be found elsewhere.  But some of you straight-up pretend that games on other platforms aren’t any fun.  I totally get that we’re inundated with annual franchises and iterative formulas, but I still – and this is coming from someone who loves Nintendo – find plenty of great games to play.  Unfortunately, some of you believe it’s your job to hype the company up, and feed their bottom line by supporting every shitty business decision they’ll ever make.  Folks, on occasion, it’s OK to hold Nintendo’s feet to the fire.  You won’t lose your fan badge.  I promise.  Complaining is the only way to keep major corporations reasonably ‘honest’.  Do you really think having DLC in physical form is a good idea, especially in such short supply?  How about the short charge life on the Wii-U gamepad’s battery?  Have gimmicky controllers ever made any of their games better?  You don’t have to shy away from these issues.  I’ve made my feelings quite clear on Nintendo’s business practices (read here and here), and yet, I still enjoy their games.  I still consider myself a fan.  Crazy, right?

PC Master Race – With a name like ‘master race,’ you’d think some level of ACTUAL superiority would come into play… but oh, the hypocrisy.  You act like gaming on a PC puts you above the squabbles of console fans, yet you actively seek opportunities to fight with them, to let them know how much better your rig is, and likely has been for years.  But at the end of the day, you’re no better than those people, especially since you fight amongst yourselves over which brand of GPU is best.  I see hateful AMD vs. Nvidia arguments far too often, and I’ve only been actively looking in on those conversations since the beginning of 2016.  This year, PC has been my platform of choice, but your community is by far the most negative.  Outside of those pitiful GPU battles, you also come off as spoiled brats who won’t spend more than $5 per game.  Oh, and you try way too hard to justify piracy.  As gamers, we should all want to ensure devs get paid for the games we’re about to enjoy.  I get you want a better deal and all, but even without taking advantage of Ebay-like sites, pricing on PC games have been WAY better than anything I’ve seen in the console market.  There’s zero need to steal stuff.  So, when you cry a game isn’t within your insulting price range, I’ve got zero tears to shed.

Look, at the end of the day, we’re all gamers.  Is it really worth arguing over minor fluctuations in performance?  No.  Of course it isn’t.  For the most part, we’re still playing the same exact games.  There’s only two times off the top of my head where I felt a noticeable difference because of a change in platform:

Dragon Age Origins – Its battle system was designed around a keyboard and mouse, and unfortunately, that means the console iterations had to suffer.  Having played both PC and console versions of Origins, I can tell you that playing on a PC is almost like playing an entirely different game.  I’ll never play this on consoles again.

Diablo III – Oddly enough, Diablo III’s situation is precisely the opposite.  While the mouse and keyboard configuration worked well enough, hacking-and-slashing at a thousand clicks a minute wasn’t very comfortable.  In Blizzard’s quest for more money, however, Diablo III was eventually ported to consoles.  Not content with following in the steps of Dragon Age, Blizzard worked hard on ensuring the game felt nice to play on a controller.  Well, not only does it feel nice, it is, in my opinion, the definitive way to play the game.  Not sure they’ll ever convince me to play the PC version again… unless they patch in controller support at a later date.  Seriously Blizzard, why haven’t you done this yet?!

I’m sure you guys have some other examples where gameplay itself can change from one platform to the next, but point is, these are exceptions to the rule.  So, stop your squabbling.  You’re wasting your time on that ‘mine is better than yours’ crusade.  The cold, hard truth is that each platform comes with its own unique set of flaws.  So, when you make it a point to attack another ‘side’ of the equation… well, you know what they say: “Don’t throw stones in a house of glass.”

My goal today wasn’t to just sit here and sling a bunch of shit talk your way, so please, don’t take it like that.  Instead, I’ve merely attempted to show you all how foolish you look when you behave like children, a look which gamers simply do not need perpetuated by people who aren’t secure in the financial decisions they’ve made.  Game on, everyone… but please, let’s do it quietly, or at the very least, positively.

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GREATNESS DELAYED Podcast: Post E3 2015 Impressions Panels

That’s right, we finally have an official name for the podcast:  GREATNESS DELAYED.  And it stems from this very podcast, which was recorded late in the evening of June 20th, 2015.  Joined by Gabe, Garrett, Gus and Josh (the latter of which was front row for Microsoft’s conference)… it was something a small miracle, and everyone was well spoken, and we all had a blast talking about what matters most:  GAMES!  ENJOY!

Audio Download

Opinion-Bytes: …When It’s DONE

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What’s your idea of an optimal gaming experience?

Granted, this is a dangerous question. It often propels what’s meant to be a thoughtful discussion into heated debates about graphics and gameplay mechanics. One thing that people tend to overlook in these ‘debates’ however, is a far more basic necessity. First and foremost, a game has to work. Having grown up in the glam-tastic 80’s, I remember what it was like to grab a cartridge, jam it in a console, push the power button and play for hours on end. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I never encountered an issue – after all, blowing in NES cartridges was practically a staple of my childhood – but my paranoia fueled brain had never been sick with concerns over game breaking bugs. When I bought a game, it worked. No fuss, no muss.

But today? We have to endure the rigmarole of firmware updates. As most of you are well aware, most games require a day one update to – and these are just a few examples – correct issues we never would have noticed in the first place, enable multiplayer support, or hammer out game breaking bugs. Furthermore, if consumers manage to stumble upon something in the post-launch window, developers are conveniently able to address those concerns through another patch. It’s nice to know that if a bug manages to squeak through quality control, I can (supposedly) rest assured that developers will be working ‘round the clock until I’m able to experience their game the way they intended. Of course, because nothing is sacred when money is involved, this once consumer friendly feature is now little more than a shadow of its former self.

What does this mean for us as consumers, exactly? It means that publishers are taking advantage of what they’ve perceived as consumer complacency. Now, once a game is deemed ‘good enough’ by the powers that be, it’s whisked away in its unfinished state to a pressing plant. The discs are then packaged, shipped, and held in stock rooms until release. All the while, developers continue to work on ensuring their product is 100% in time for launch.

I think most of us would agree that actions speak louder than words, so what’s the logical conclusion here? Simple – Publishers couldn’t care less if you’re spending your hard earned money on an incomplete product. They believe that as long as they have everything fixed in time for launch, most of the gaming community won’t even care… and to be fair, it’s not like we’ve proven them wrong. Despite the outcry from message board crusaders, there aren’t many people actually speaking with their wallet. How can we expect publishers to listen to our concerns while we’re still throwing money at them?

I know what some of you might be saying. “It’s a digital future anyway, so who cares if there’s a day one update? All that matters is that the game works.” Of course, the caveat is that not every game actually works at the time of launch. There shouldn’t be any precedent that allows publishers to kick a game out the door for competitive reasons rather than logical ones, because when they do, they’re basically gambling with our money.

And trust me, you’ve probably been affected by the stuff I’m talking about already, and multiple times at that.

We don’t have to look too far back to see what can happen when a game’s release is the product of a deadline. Yeah, you know where this is going – Battlefield 4. Single player campaign saves were corrupting, network issues were rampant, and while the experience has drastically improved ever since, people are STILL reporting problems to this day. Is there any question that this game wasn’t ready, and that the parties involved weren’t aware of that? It’s unacceptable by every stretch of the imagination, but what’s worse is how they’ve been tripping over themselves in the media as a result of their irresponsibility.

Some months ago, DICE had stated on the official ‘Battlelog’ that, “Resolving the launch issues is our #1 priority. In fact, we are so serious that we have the entire team working to stabilize the game and we will not move on to other projects until we are sure that Battlefield 4 meets – and exceeds – your expectations. It is the right thing to do.” Technically, the ‘right thing’ would have been to stop selling DLC and pull the game from shelves until it was fixed, but I digress.

Fast forward to February, and EA’s chief creative officer Rich Hilleman – in an interview with Nathan Grayson of Rock, Paper, Scissors – sang an entirely different tune. “Battlefield 4 has been an exceedingly successful product on both consoles and PC. From a sales perspective, from a gameplay perspective.” He went on with, “I don’t think most of my customers are willing to say – ‘it’s a bad product, I wish I didn’t buy it.’ That’s not the conversation we’re having now.” I don’t know about the vast majority, but I’ve had that conversation… with LOTS of people. “We did things wrong. We know that. We’re gonna fix those things. We’re gonna try to be smart about what customers want in the future.”

There’s so much wrong with his response, my head’s still spinning. I mean, money aside, how can BF4 be spun as an ‘exceedingly successful product’? Regardless of where you stand today, I think it’s fair to say it had one of the worst launches in recent memory. And as far as ‘trying’ to appease the community… well, allow me to counter that quote with another – “There is no try. Only do.” People just want their games to work. It doesn’t get any less complicated than that.

Broken Game

Another way this ‘patch it later’ attitude has affected the community, was with the entire next-gen console lineup. The Wii-U required a firmware update to activate most of its key features, while the PS4 and Xbox One were loaded to the brim with promise – Promise you’ll have this feature, promise you’ll have that feature… that is, as long as you’re willing to spend $400 to $500 up front. The PS4 and Xbox One – despite the fantastic gaming experience they provide – clearly weren’t ready to be released. So, why were they? Well, if you recall what happened last time, Microsoft had a yearlong advantage over Sony, and I don’t think either party was willing to risk a similar disparity this time around. So, once the consoles were in a playable state, they were kicked out the door. The end result? Well, PS4 owners are dealing with broken Share functionality to this day, and despite how far the Xbox One has come, it’s still paying the price for its lackluster reveal in 2013. I don’t want to spin near hyperbole here, but the early adopters have essentially paid for the privilege of beta testing next-gen consoles.

But that’s peanuts compared to what this means for us over the long term. To put it bluntly, I think we’re witnessing the death of video game preservation as we know it, and that scares me. I know, I know – Some of you have a tendency to play a game and trade it in just as fast. I’ve been there, done that… and have almost always regretted it. I wish I still had my NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, and the list goes on. But you know what? I could go to my local retro gaming shop today and buy these consoles with their respective games. Once I get it all home and set it up, all I’d have to do is grab a cartridge, jam it in a console, push the power button and play for hours on end. Unfortunately, that convenience simply won’t be possible with the games of today.

Batman: Arkham Origins was released with a bug that would cause save file corruption. Skyrim – much like any other title from Bethesda – suffered from broken quests, texture down-scaling, and massive load times after extended play. The Fable franchise also had its share of frustrating glitches and broken quests. Hell, even The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had a bug that made game progression impossible. These are just a few notable titles off the top of my head, but a Google search of ‘game breaking bugs’ will reveal much, much more.

Of course, most of these issues were later resolved with updates, but here’s the rub – What happens when we decide to revisit these games in 20-30 years? I mean, the content on the discs themselves is incomplete, so when we inevitably come across a game or immersion breaking bug, we’re going to be screwed. After all, the servers for our console(s) of choice won’t be around forever, and when they disappear, so will the opportunity to acquire a much needed patch. Worse yet, if you have a console that needs to be reformatted, you can kiss all the functionality that came after day one goodbye.

This is why we need to fight to ensure that developers and publishers refuse to release a game until it’s ready, because otherwise, we’re just spending full price today for a wasted investment tomorrow. Technology may have brought us to a point where games can be more fulfilling than feature length films, but when we can’t even trust that a product is ready at the time of release, it’s clear the industry has lost sight of pretty much everything. Strip all the variables away, and gaming is just as valid a form of entertainment as music or film. Could you imagine if a couple of songs on an album had been cut off, only to later find an apology in the booklet that says, “Sorry, we couldn’t finish the songs as we intended because we couldn’t meet the deadline. Here’s a digital code to redeem the completed tracks in two weeks.” What if you went to the movies and saw a similar message from the director on a title card in place of what should have been the final moments of the film? Would you stand for it? Of course not.

Because of the ever changing nature of technology in general, it’s easy to rationalize anti-consumer policies by saying: “That’s just the way things are.” But the gaming community proved a year ago that nothing is ever ‘just the way it is’, because we pretty much forced Microsoft – and Sony, even if you’re not aware of that – to change their stance on DRM. The more you complain and the more you refuse to spend money on products that don’t deserve it, the more we can make things happen.

PSA: DS and Wii Wi-Fi Goes Bye-Bye

As of May 20th, the Nintendo DS/DSi and the Nintendo Wii will no longer have the wi-fi connection service. That means games such as Mario Kart Wii will have no online multiplayer functionality. The 3DS and Wii-U are unaffected, and you’ll still be able to access the Shop on your DS and Wii.

Most games on the above mentioned consoles were single player or had poor multiplayer functionality, but Mario Kart fans seem to hang in there for a long, long time. It will be sad to lose access to such a great game… But Mario Kart 8 is just around the corner, so there’s that to consider.

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Cluster-Bits: PS4 Launch Title Impressions, Why the Wii-U Completes Our Next-Gen Console Selection

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I seem to have a habit of making a lot of posts and then dropping off the face of the Earth for a few weeks, and for that I apologize.  It’s obviously been a little difficult with the holidays, not to mention a three year old that catches colds like it’s his job… and then, of course, mommy and daddy get the distinct privilege of catching said colds.  I also write Blu-ray reviews for a fairly well known DVD/Blu-ray review site, so that occasionally takes precedence over my blog… because, you know… free stuff.  So with that said, let’s get to it, shall we?

Despite how much I loathe Nintendo for the company they’ve become, our household has finally decided that the Wii-U shall be our second and final console in the next-gen war.  Xbox One has really failed to grab my attention, but the Wii-U?  They may not end up with as many great games, but Nintendo’s first party titles are generally amazing – That said, don’t confuse great first party devs with Nintendo being a great company, because those are two entirely different ideas.

I really didn’t have much reason to own a Wii, because most of the games were created for a single reason – to exploit motion controls.  A good amount of Wii titles were mini-games with a party vibe and lost their playability in a matter of weeks, if not days.  WarioWare, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center… all good fun for a little while, but certainly weren’t games that were designed to appeal for years to come.  I enjoyed the Mario and Zelda offerings, but outside of that, the Wii didn’t have much I appreciated.  The Wii-U had a slow start during its initial year, but more titles are coming… and with the catalog of BOTH consoles now at my disposal, I’ve finally found enough reason to bring Nintendo back into the house.  Besides, my wife and son actually enjoy Nintendo games and we can all play together as a family.  That’s a primary reason to buy-in right there.

So far, I’ve only been able to play through the first six worlds in the New Super Mario Bros. U, as I’m taking my time and attempting to grab every star coin along the way, but it won’t be long before I’ll be able to talk about Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.  I’m also working on getting a Wii backlog going, and have already picked up Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy, and a copy of A Boy and His Blob that I HOPE will work (can’t complain if it doesn’t though, as it was only $5).  Anyway, here are the titles I hope to pick up in the upcoming year:

Wii:

-Resident Evil 4

-Sonic Colors

-Zelda – Twilight Princess

-Zelda – Skyward Sword

-Super Mario Galaxy 2

-New Super Mario Bros Wii

-Super Paper Mario

-Muramasa

-Mario Kart Wii

-Okami

Wii-U:

-Pikmin 3

-ZombiU

-The Wonderful 101

I’m sure there’s more for both consoles I’d be happy to own, but that’s pretty much my tops.

Shifting gears, I promised reviews on some PS4 launch titles a while back… but since it’s been a while and I’ve played and completed much of what I picked up on day 1, I figured I’d provide my thoughts in a single blog post.  So, here goes:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: 

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that managed to escape me.  I don’t know how, and I don’t know why – Perhaps it had been the mixed reactions to the initial title?  Whatever the reason, I didn’t start collecting the AC games for my PS3 until mid-2013.  Up until the release of the Playstation 4, the only game I had a chance to play was the original with Altair and Desmond, and I loved it.  It was a little tedious as I got in the latter hours of the game, but it was still good fun.  Because I was interested in proceeding with the franchise, I decided to hold off on AC IV: Black Flag until I had a chance to catch up.  Once the reviews were released and began to call it a good starting point for new players however, I decided it would be worth picking up… and holy hell, I’m glad I did.  Black Flag is easily up there as one of the best games of 2013.  That’s my humble opinion, but many would tell you the same, with their only caveat possibly being The Last of Us.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and give you an entire recap on what the gameplay entails.  There’s been 5 Assassin’s Creed titles before this… or 6, if you want to include the Vita’s installment.  What I will say is that as far as this game being n00b friendly is concerned, the reviews were spot on – A story arc has apparently closed in the previous game, and Black Flag does a pretty good job of filling you in on the events.  It doesn’t give everything away, mind you, but definitely gives you a vague gist of what happened.  The overall story used to be told strictly through modern day events, and while that still holds true in AC IV, you spend very little time in the present (near future?).  95% of the game takes place within the Animus, meaning you’re left to pillage and plunder as a pirate without much interruption.

And that’s the beauty of Black Flag – You really get to feel like a pirate.  The open world was actually pretty massive, and there was no shortage of things to do.  I could stop playing the main campaign whenever I wanted, and simply explore the seas and the land that I stumbled upon as an adventurer looking to line his pockets.  Throughout the entirety of the game, I was able to engage in TONS of naval combat and use my spoils to upgrade my ship and weaponry (not to mention my own like pirate town), and they got the naval combat right.  I was even able to attack seaside forts with the cannons on my ship, all while avoiding/attacking enemy ships and avoiding mortar fire from land.  Things got pretty intense, let me tell you.  Oh, and you can go out on a rowboat with harpoons and a hunt massive sea creatures.

Once I pulled up to land – be a it a small, uninhabited island or a town on the verge of becoming something more – I was able to look for animus fragments, treasure chests left in the open or even those of the buried variety, treasure maps, more sea shanties for my crew to sing aboard the ship, and hunt so you could craft better items.  The fact that you could do any of this at will without being forced to tackle the main story missions really helped to make my time in the Animus as immersive as possible, and I’d liken it being Batman in the Arkham-verse games – No matter what you do, you just FEEL the part the devs wanted you to be a part of.  A lot of people are claiming this to be the best title of 2013, and some even call it the best Creed game of all time (or, at the very least outside of AC II)… and although I haven’t had a chance to play the other games just yet, I can see why.  It’s not often I stumble upon a game where I could play the 15-20 hour campaign and then want to continue for another 20+, but that’s precisely what happened with AC IV.  So yes, it’s worth the money and then some – It’s worth it if you like a lengthy campaign, it’s worthy if you like a gameplay experience that can last for tens and tens of hours (the devs said there’s about 80 hours of content total), and it’s worthy if you’re a fan of the series, regardless of how you felt about the prior installment.  Pull the trigger on this one… or, at the very least, unsheathe your sword and ask for this game nicely.

Knack:

This game was met with polarizing reviews, and for the record, I can understand why.  Knack is not a title that everyone will enjoy, although it’s a title that everyone SHOULD enjoy.

Why all the hate, though?  Well, the gameplay mechanics aren’t exactly complicated.  You most run through each stage and collect block so Knack can get bigger and bigger, and at any given time you’re not given many enemies to deal with.  That said, there’s still a bit of difficulty because Knack dies quicker than you’d expect for a game that looks to be geared towards children.  So people complained that there wasn’t enough to do, the range of attacks wasn’t enough to contend with, and the growth and inevitable shrinking of Knack during each stage feels forced and takes away from the excitement of becoming a big, hulking beast of a fighter made out of relics.  I guess all I can say to those complaints would be, “Fair enough.”

But for me, I felt Knack was a hell of a lot of fun.  The story and graphical presentation were Pixar-esque, and exuded a certain amount of charm through and through.  That said, I feel one of the main characters were kind of irritating if not downright stupid at times, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me.  Anyway, Knack is, simply put, a beat ‘em up platformer that requires you to study enemy patterns in order to succeed.  Yeah, you might only face three enemies at any given moment (sometimes more, this is just an example), but it isn’t always easy to determine the most effective way to take them out.  Do you move in and attempt to get the ranged weapon user out of the way first, or should you clobber the guys up front because they’re quick and will destroy you before you even make it that far?  Or, do you play it safe and use the crystal energy you’ve accumulated and user a special power to obliterate them all?  As Knack, you have options, and it’s up to you to determine the best strategy.  This keeps the game challenging, especially in the latter parts of the game… but if you want some REAL fun, then you have to play on one of the harder difficulties.  ‘Normal’ may be too easy for seasoned gamers, so choose your difficulty wisely.

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics, and I enjoyed their utilization well enough, although there was a bit of hand-holding that will turn some people off.  Knack can turn into a pure crystal form for a short amount of time, and he can also accumulate ice and wood to bulk up, although they will break upon impact and melt or burn accordingly.  The problem with this idea is that you weren’t exactly free to gather materials at will… they were there, or they weren’t, and you sort of force fed everything you were supposed to do.  Same thing goes for Knack’s growth – Every level starts you out as tiny Knack, and you collect pieces throughout the level only to lose them once again by the end.  Rinse and repeat.  Would have been amazing if the ability to grow or shrink was dynamic and you could figure it out on your own, but once again, it’s all sort of built into the design of any given stage.

All this said, flaws and all, Knack is still a lot of fun.  It’s not ‘amazing’ or anything, but it definitely takes me back to the days where platforming was fun despite its simplicity.  I think if Knack ended up on a Nintendo console, people would have been raving about it and perhaps even calling Knack the next great mascot.

Battlefield 4:

I’ll have to update you all later on this one.  As you’re all aware, there’s been a slew of issues with this game on the PS4… well, and on every other platform for that matter.  I had started the single player campaign and experienced some crashes, and thankfully because I stayed away from the multiplayer mode, I hadn’t run into file save corruptions.  Not wanting to test fate any further, I decided to set the game aside play whatever else was at my disposal until Dice resolved a majority of their issues.  Needless to say, I was kind of upset that a game got released in this state, because it’s a hell of a promising title.  I’ll say that the controls look great, the campaign is average, and the graphics are incredible.

Need for Speed Rivals:

This franchise has been largely hit or miss for me.  There’s simply no consistency as far as the controls are concerned, and that’s troublesome.  Sometimes they’re very ‘arcade-racer’ like, and other times they’re a bit too realistic to have the amount of fun you SHOULD be having.  Fortunately, Need for Speed: Rivals seems to nudge itself between both styles of gameplay quite comfortably.  The car you start with is an impressive little machine, for sure, but you’ll have to be careful going around turns or when making last second decisions to go this way instead of that way.  As you race however, you accumulate points which allow you to purchase upgrades and make your vehicle stronger, faster and more responsive.  Although you’re faster and can handle turns with a bit of drifting (by tapping the brakes), you never feel unstoppable.  The ‘heat level’ from the cops keeps ramping up and soon there are choppers keeping tabs on you, and the police with even use electromagnetic gadgets to slow you down so they can hit you and damage your vehicle to the point of no return.  It’s a lot of fun trying to escape from the cops, and there are occasional checkpoints – posing as gas station/garages on the side of the road – that you’ll drive through to make your vehicle as good as new and keep the chase on.

But before I get ahead of myself, there’s something worth noting – The single player and multiplayer is rolled into a single package.  You’ll join a server with multiple other racers – although I typically get the feeling that they should allow more people per server – and you can challenge anyone you pass just by tapping a button.  You can even do certain objectives together as long as you’re both close enough to start around the same time.  Because you can begin any given challenge – be it from another racer or from an actual objective listed on the map – at any time, that means you can ramp up the fun by racing others while the heat is already on at the start… and this is where things really get interesting.

You have your own set of gadgets at your disposal.  You can use a small shockwave to make someone nudging your door to lose control of their car, blast the back of a car with an electromagnetic pulse (much like the cops), drop land mines that also deliver a temporary debilitating blast, and more.  Do I even need to explain how much fun this amounts to?  These tactics will slow your opponents down, thus making the cops thirstier for their capture.  Hell, performing a move at the right time could actually crash your opponents car, getting them busted since their car won’t be able to move.

Anyway, there are essentially two ‘campaigns’ you can play through – One as a racer, and the other as a cop.  You’re able to choose between which shortlist of objectives you’d like to complete next, and once you do, you’ll earn the right to buy a new car as well as additional upgrades.  This adds longevity to the gameplay while also providing you with two very different experiences.

That said, as fun as Need For Speed: Rivals is, I’m not sure how long it’s worth playing.  After a while, you get the sense that all you’re doing is the same old thing time and time again, and there just aren’t enough racers from the ‘real world’ at any given moment to add a sense of meaningful population.  I guess that’s just the nature of any open-world racing game, but regardless, I’m pretty sure this won’t be able to withstand the test of time.  If you’re an arcade racer fan however, by all means, this is a solid title.

Honorable Mentions:

Resogun:  Mix the gameplay of Gradius with the insane graphical style of Geometry Wars, and that’s Resogun in a nutshell… and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.  I put a lot of time into this game near launch – mainly when I didn’t have enough time to sit down and actually invest in another game’s single player campaign – and it was some of the most fun I’ve had with a free indie title in quite some time.  That said, I haven’t touched it in a while, because the experience is largely the same from one level to the next… just with a semi-modified layout as well as an increase in difficulty.  Each level doesn’t make itself feel diverse enough from the last, which is a shame.  I guess the ‘turntable’ game design makes this an inherent flaw as opposed to one made by laziness, but it’s still worth noting.  Also, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on at first, as the game doesn’t explain some of its subtle, yet oh so important gameplay elements.  Make sure you grab this for free before it goes away for good, because it’s still one of the best ways to kill time there is.

Escape Plan:  This was an unexpected surprise.  It wasn’t free, but if you’re into puzzle solving, it’s worth the coin.  You take control over two nearly-faceless ‘things’ in a world of black and white, and essentially have to get them from point A, to point B without succumbing to the dangers that await them.  I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up, but man, it’s addicting.

One is a skinny little dude while the other is something of a blob, and you have to use their strengths and weaknesses when planning a strategy.  The big guy is often used for turning big wheels or standing on pressure plate switches, while the little guy can fill himself up with air and then be controlled by tilting the DS4 in any given direction… although my favorite is when he drinks a gallon of coffee and tweaks across the screen at high speed.

The controls are hard to get used to at first, but it all seems to make perfect sense after a while.  Draw circles with your finger on the DS4’s touchpad, and fans will rotate to clear the room of a deadly gas or even to lift/lower platforms.  You can tap on a wall to lure enemies into a trap, or scare sheep into running where you need them to be.  You’re also able to push things in and out of the environment, and many of these objects will only stay that way for a certain amount of time… so whatever you plan on doing after you’ve moved them, you better do it quick.

I haven’t completed the game just yet, but every stage adds new complexities and subtly bumps the difficulty.  If you’re looking for something that’s challenging in a puzzle-solving sort of way, give this a go.

Trine 2:  Another one I didn’t have the chance to finish just yet… or, actually play that much, but that’s because I’ve spent most of my time dealing with all the other games that came out since launch.  It’s a stunner in almost every way from what I can tell though… the gameplay mechanics are intelligent and require platform puzzle-solving, and wow, everything is beautifully rendered.  This game made its debut on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, but Trine 2 looks better than ever on the PS4.

I’d like to give mention to some other titles, like Warframe or Contrast, but I just haven’t gotten around to playing them yet.  As you can see, I’ve been busy in the last month, month-and-a-half.  J

But then there’s the Wii-U… and once I’m able to delve into some games other than the New Super Mario Bros. U / Super Luigi U, I’ll discuss them.

Oh, and since I started writing this blog post… we’ve acquired a Nintendo 3DS XL… so expect some updates in regards to my experience with that (which thus far, is generally positive).

Opinion-Bytes: Backlog Collecting – Why It Makes Sense

Backlog Pain

You know what I’ve been hearing a lot as of late? “Why do you need so many games?” How do you respond to that, especially when the question comes from your wife/significant other? Sorry, that’s a trick question – There’s NOTHING you can say to justify adding more titles to an already ginormous backlog. If that question is being asked, the game’s already over. That person simply can’t fathom a reality where someone ‘needs’ more games, despite having several months of backlog awaiting their time to shine. You can explain the situation to your heart’s content, but don’t fool yourself – The party already scratching their head will never ‘get it’, and nothing you ever say or do will change that. All you can do is share your point of view, and move on. Anything beyond is little more than a fool’s errand.

Now, I’m not trying to paint those who don’t understand this means of collecting in a negative light. Everyone has different tastes, and I both understand and respect that. From a certain viewpoint, I know that stockpiling games can sound a little silly, if not the sign of an unhealthy mind. The first thing that comes to their minds, surely, is that we MUST have an addiction. Yes, there are plenty of people who are genuinely plagued with game addiction, but snatching up games faster than you can play them isn’t a telltale sign that you’re going mad. That’s really the only point I wish to make in general, and I’ll do so by explaining the very rational thought process that goes into my video game buying ‘habit’.

Here’s something most of us can probably relate to – You’ve been following the development of a game for at least a year… perhaps longer. The release date is upon you, aaaaand… you just can’t afford the damn thing. You might have a vacation you’re saving up for, bills to pay, or whatever. So the game comes and goes, and because there’s always another great AAA title being released, that other title just slips into obscurity… but only temporarily. One day that very game will drop in price, and when it does, it will go back on your radar faster than you can say BLIP. You might not have time to play it right away, but a $20 price tag is low enough for you to bite. You’ll get to it eventually, right? CHA-CHING! Out comes the wallet and down goes the cash. Transaction complete.

Price is an important factor in collecting games. Obviously, it’s difficult to run out and buy every title you want the moment they’re released, so price drops are always attractive. This is especially true for someone like me, because I buy new games (almost) exclusively. When a game hits the bargain bin at Wal-Mart or gets a reduction via the ‘Greatest Hits’ treatment, I’m hard pressed to think of a better time to buy. Also, there’s something to be said about picking up three games for $60 total, as opposed to buying a new one for the same price.

Only willing to buy new copies of games becomes a problem in and of itself, though. Once those bargain prices start to appear, it’s the equivalent of being flagged with “Buy it now, or forever hold your peace.” There are a TON of games that get released, and most of those copies get sold around the time of launch. Retailers have limited space, so they couldn’t care less about stocking a decent collection of old and now obscure titles. They want their fancy glass showcases or shelf space reserved for the games that will sell, and I certainly don’t blame them. However, this means that the more time you let slip by, the less chance you’ll have to find and buy the game. Instead of just walking into a store, pointing at the game and telling the clerk “That one”, you’re going to have to hunt. You’ll have to spend time looking at the in-store inventory via retail websites, calling the stores just to make sure they have it in stock, or you may even find yourself running around town while wasting precious time and gas. Eventually, you may have to resort to buying the game from a third party seller on Amazon, and although I’ve tried to avoid such a thing, I’ve resorted to doing so on a few occasions. Again, I may not have time to play the games I’m buying, but I will eventually, and if I don’t pick ‘em up while they’re right in front of me, I may later come to regret my indecisiveness. That may be one of the most important lessons I’ve learned – Great pricing often goes hand in hand with limited availability.

Also, there are times we all go out and do a little window shopping. We just want to splurge a little bit without spending a fortune, and for a gamer, coming across a great game at an unexpected price makes for an ideal impulse buy.

These are all the practical reasons to keep buying games even if you have a backlog awaiting you at home, but there’s also some personal ones that are merely a matter of preference. For me, there’s nothing better than finishing a game, looking at my library and having to ponder what I’m going to play next. Depending on what I’ve snagged in my travels, I can pick and choose merely based on how I feel that particular day. I’m not always in the mood to play certain genres, so it’s nice to be able to have options between FPS games, RPG’s, HD remakes of classic games, survival-horror or third person action platformers. Playing the kind of game I want WHEN I want means I’m going to milk the most enjoyment out of every title.

Having multiple games on hand even allows me a bit of flexibility in the respect of keeping things fresh. For example, I just recently dumped about 20 hours into my first playthrough of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and I’ve enjoyed my time with the game immensely… but from what I understand, I’m also only about 25% through the main quest. I don’t mind a lengthy game in the least, but all the leveling and grinding has taken a temporary toll on me… but no matter. Having multiple unopened games at my disposal is the perfect way to break the monotony. At first, I took a break with the first Metal Gear Solid game. I played Ni No Kuni a bit more, and now I’ve started Far Cry 3. Once I beat it, I’ll go back to Ni No Kuni a bit. This offers a far more enjoyable gaming experience in the long run, as opposed to the ‘buy one title until I beat it, and then buy another’ method. If you’re only stuck with a single game to play, you might end up getting bored or frustrated when all you really needed was a break. I’m more than willing to invest 50+ hours in a game (Dark Souls, Final Fantasy and Skyrim, I’m looking at you), but that’s a sizeable investment. I probably did over 70 hours in Skyrim, but that was over the course of a year.

If you buy games on a regular basis, you’re probably aware of the dreaded dry spell that plagues us every summer, as well as part of the winter. The most significant release windows range from September to December, and then again from Feb/March until late Spring. The summer and just after the holidays are veritable dead zones, and gamers are often awaiting the rush of AAA titles that are sure to come in the final quarter of the year. Know when these dead zones become a non-issue? That’s right – When you have a backlog to whittle down.

Also, some people collect just to collect. That’s not how I roll, as I only buy the games I’m absolutely sure I want to play, but to each their own.

Anyway, I think that’s pretty much all the reasons I can come up with to explain the rationale behind actively collecting a backlog…

…but what about you?

Do you buy a new game only when you’ve finished the last one? Do you collect games whenever it’s convenient, backlog or no backlog? Or, do you go out of your way, buying a bunch of games you’ll probably never get around to playing anyway (those special Steam sales make it easy to end up in the latter categorization)? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and opinions on the matter, regardless of where you stand on the issue.