Speculative Ops

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I decided I’m going to give Spec Ops: The Line a try on my PS3 this week. Sort of left field, I guess, but during IGN’s spate of personal “top ten” lists a couple weeks ago, one of the editors listed Spec Ops and it got me intrigued. It was an interesting look into the game, bereft of the usual grandstanding found in a review. Just a person talking about a video game that had a personal impact on them.

I remember when Spec Ops came out, a big controversy that sprang from it was how online multiplayer was shoehorned in against the developers’ wishes. Lead designer Cory Davis went so far as to decry the addition as a “cancerous growth”. Ouch. Honest, though, which is something that just about any medium of entertainment could stand to see a little bit more of, these days.

In this maddening “me too” era of desperate Call of Duty wannabes, Spec Ops was a victim of not being ambitious enough in terms of head shots and leaderboards. Where Spec Ops did push the envelope was its brutal narrative. It’s disappointing that any developer should try to say something more in a shooter and be ignored, and worse still that the message be buried by its own publisher. Of course, if the game isn’t fun, I guess there’s no point in defending Spec Ops as much as I am, but I think the principle here is more important than the gameplay.

Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s important (paramount, even) that a game is as playable as it is inventive or trend setting. Going in a different direction for a moment, given Spec Ops storyline, and its overall message about the permanence and consequences of a soldier’s actions in battle, it’s tough to determine how much fun a player was even supposed to be having. The mechanics of a video game are supposed to impart some sort of satisfaction, after all, so if Spec Ops wants the player to feel every shot, it seems contradictory to make shooting fun.

Games like Modern Warfare 2 found a decent balance between engaging gameplay and communicating a deeper message. The “No Russian” mission was very hot-button when the game launched, but having played it myself, I thought it was a potent and surreal moment of gameplay. Suddenly, all the fun I’d been having taking out enemy troops was replaced with feelings of guilt as the crowd of innocent people and cops crumpled before my eyes. It was a small part of MW2, as opposed to an entire campaign like Spec Ops, but it demonstrates how the message can be communicated if done right.

So, Spec Ops, here I come, and whether you rock or suck, I hope that more devs can take a page from your playbook and try something different. Shooters should be able to do something more than amass a digital body count, after all. Video games in general should be able to play against stereotype more often than they do, too.

The Money Barrier

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Joystiq has been doing regular updates on a PBS program called Game/Show, and today touched on the most recent episode, where the definition of the word “gamer” was debated. The Joystiq writer’s thoughts on the meaning of gamer were interesting, but what caught my attention more was his take on inclusion within the gaming community. I’m not going to debate how welcoming gamers are when new people enter into the fold, but video games themselves remain more exclusive than people seem to realize. It’s the initial buy-in that remains the single, greatest obstacle for most folks, and makes the video game club tougher to get into than it should be.

People complain about video game prices now, but they’ve never been cheap. That’s not even taking into consideration the hundreds of dollars for a system and controllers. Growing up, I knew plenty of kids who’s families weren’t able to get a game system in the house because there were bills to pay. My family was by no means wealthy, but we were always lucky enough to be in a position to have systems and games. I’d feel guilty talking with friends who could only dream of owning even a Game Boy. It’s the same story today for many people everywhere.

Stores like GameStop (loathed though they might be) stepped up and became equalizers in the marketplace, allowing for poorer families and individuals to get in on the action with a tighter budget. Sadly, as digital sales become the standard and physical media slowly slips away, the viability of the secondhand market dwindles. Whereas for years now it’s been easy to slip into a GameStop and snag a game for a few bucks, when digital takes over, those players will be left out in the cold.

There’re a lot of folks here in the US alone who still don’t have easy access to the internet. The more technologically advanced our consoles become, the more the little guy is going to be left in the dust. That’s not to say that buying an XBox One should be the life goal of anyone, but where books and movies are very accessible, games continue to not be, and move further away year by year. The lack of diversity in this industry is created in no small part by the more limited demographics who form its customer base. There might be people of different genders and ethnicities playing, but money has drawn a big, fat line in the sand that’s not easy to step over.

There’s not an easy way of fixing this problem, either. Game consoles can’t stop evolving simply to placate consumers who aren’t able to keep up. This digital-only future that I alluded to is still only the future, after all, so it’s not like GameStop and stores like it will be shuttering anytime soon, either. Still, it’s a problem. Not enough people get to join in the fun with all of us who are lucky enough to play. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Android and iOS platforms have certainly expanded things with an abundance of cheap titles, letting more people experience games who never have. So who knows, maybe we’re headed for some kind of new form of console that exists at a lower price point with cheaper games than we’re used to. Until then, be grateful that you get to play video games, because there are a lot of folks who aren’t able to.

The PlayStation Platforming Treasure Trove

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I’ve said it before, but I can be late to the party. Like, really, really late. Like, the janitor is gone late. Case in point; Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank are some amazing platformers that I never had bothered to get into before. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway (more on that in the future) on my Vita these past couple weeks, but I wanted something a bit different. I’ve been staring at the Sly Collection sit on the shelves in my local GameStop for eons now, and I figured, what the heck, time to give it a try.

Wow. Not perfect, mind you, but the Sly games are just so dang pleasant. The controls are solid, the graphics are pleasing, and the characters are fun. It feels very much like the antithesis of what Nintendo does so well with its Mario platformers, but it still works. Playing Sly made me realize I had to be misjudging Ratchet and Jak, so I quickly snatched up the respective HD collections of those, too, and was even further surprised by their quality.

I know a lot of people enjoy the three of these series, but it feels like they’re deserving of more praise than they’ve received. I’m loving the look and feel of all three franchises, and I’m only getting into their PS2 origins. Outside of Ratchet, it’s a shame that Sly and Jak didn’t get more exposure in the PS3 era. I know that demographics and players’ tastes have changed over the years, but, well, these games are fun! Fun should be embraced, fun should get sequels. If you have yet to try any of these games, please go pick them up; you won’t be disappointed.

Nintendo Direct 02/13/14

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With a gloomy little cloud of doubt and anxiety hovering over Nintendo as of late, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Iwata as he hosted this latest Nintendo Direct. Didn’t he seem just a bit down, as opposed to his usual self? Iwata should feel good about today’s broadcast, though, as more than a few of the games on display have me excited for the next couple of months!

NES Remix 2

More of the excellent mashups of the first game, this time featuring Super Mario Bros. 3, Punch Out!!, and more. The first game was great, but with the pedigree of this one, I have high hopes. Launches April 25th.

Yoshi’s New Island

The curtain was peeled back a bit more, as Iwata showcased the two new types of giant eggs Yoshi can throw. IGN is claiming this game is too easy, but it looks like it’s shaping up to be another admirable sequel. Not totally sold on the graphics, but it looks fun.

Mario Kart 8

All of the Koopa KIds are playable racers in this game. Nothing else needs to be said here, lol. Yours on May 30th.

Weapon Shop de Omasse

On February 20th, we’ll all be able to rhythm tap a whole slew of weapons into being for would-be RPG heroes. The premise is unique and the gameplay looks solid. This is why the eShop on 3DS is second only to iOS, though these days it’s getting dang close to being on equal footing.

Pokemon: Battle Trozei

Pokemon puzzle strategy game coming to 3DS eShop. A spin on the fun puzzle game Pokemon Trozei that was on DS. Get battling March 20th.

Bayonetta 2

Not much to say, other than some cool new footage shown (in-game and cinema scenes) and reaffirmation that the game will launch 2014. Better hurry up with that Bayonetta port before then!

Wii U Game Boy Advance Virtual Console Titles

Starting in April, Wii U players will be able to download Metroid Fusion, Yoshi’s Island, and Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. Now, if only they’d hurry up and launch the GBA Virtual Console on 3DS…

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Inazuma Eleven

Tactical RPG meets soccer. Yes, you read that right, and yes, it looks dang fun. Out now.

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Details on the Xenoblade sequel remain vague, though today’s battle demo confirmed that the title will be using a modified version of the beloved Wii game’s combat system.

Mario Golf World Tour

May 2nd we can finally hit the greens, after like a year’s wait. Considering how incredible last year’s 3DS lineup was, it’s saying something that Nintendo could just decide to hold off on this game. Sweet looking swing, so far.

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball and Steel Diver Sub Wars

Nintendo’s first free-to-play games are heading to 3DS, with Steel Diver out now and Real Deal coming soon. Both allow for paid content purchases, but Real Deal takes an approach I’ve never heard of; you can haggle over the price of add-on games with an in-game character! Trippy, and cool.

Kirby Triple Deluxe

People are spoiled; never begrudge HAL for making a “traditional” Kirby game, because they’re always freaking fun. This one looks to be no exception, and the new Street Pass feature of unlocking 8-bit digital keychains looks way too cool. Out May 2nd.

Little Mac Coming to Brawl Wii U/3DS

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Get Lolo and Lala in there and I will be a happy man. Cloud wouldn’t hurt either!

Donkey Kong Country Topical Freeze

Another trailer, though if you need more incentive to buy this game, there’s something wrong with you.

In case I missed anything, and because you should be checking out the awesome trailers anyway, be sure to watch the actual broadcast as soon as you can! Until next time, thanks for reading!

Finding Solace

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Sometimes life sucks. You’re going along, doing your thing, when suddenly, a kick to the groin from lady fate hits you square and sends you to the ground. Things have been tough lately, but one thing that always helps me through is playing video games. I was tempted to say that’s cliched, but really, what’s cliched about the soul-saving sanctity of immersing yourself in a game? To me, it’s no different than a book or TV show, in that you get to escape from the gnawing white noise at the back of your head.

So, no, not cliched; healing. Last night was especially awful, but I made it through with a little Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Everything I was struggling with was momentarily compartmentalized and I could finally have a little peace. That is magic. That is why I love video games, and sitting here, writing about them for all ten of you out there to read. No matter who you are, video games aren’t judgmental. Take New Leaf, for example; as down as I might ever feel, my good buddy Tex is there with a smile. Is he real? No, and I know that. But it makes me feel a little better, and I think that’s a good thing.

So when you’re getting kneed in the face by the world around you, find comfort in your favorite game. Don’t lose yourself to that festering darkness that tries to get the best of all of us. Go for a race, or a game of hoops, or bounce your head into some coin blocks, instead. Just don’t ever let it become game over for yourself.

Toy Box 15-Nintendo DSi Promo Keychain and Magnet

Released: 2009 | Manufacturer: Nintendo

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My favorite video game memorabilia is always the promotional stuff. Places like GameStop and Toys R Us, just to name a couple, are always bombarded with oddball little items to push new hardware and software, things that you can’t get outside of being an employee, or knowing someone who is!

When Nintendo released DSi back in 2009, this keychain and magnet were its way of drumming up excitement. I love the way Nintendo used the DSi’s interface icons on both. I still think that the DS Lite is my favorite of the console’s four iterations, but the DSi was definitely notable for pushing Nintendo’s hardware in a new direction. Till next time, dear readers!

Bravely Embarking

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It’s been a long wait, but Bravely Default is finally in my home. I paid the extra amount to get the Collectors Edition, and it was worth every penny. The box itself is a handsome, matte black, while the interior is packed with a wealth of goodies. I loved Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light on DS, so when I heard that Bravely was going to be its spiritual successor, my hopes soared. It’s not every day that a Final Fantasy spinoff gets a spinoff, after all!

All joking aside, I’m going to do this right and crack into the demo before getting into the main game. It’s not often that I find myself anticipating a game that isn’t part of a series or franchise that I already love a great deal, which I think speaks strongly to Bravely‘s concept. 4 Heroes was an unabashed love letter to fans of the old school FF games, and to see that it was enough of a success to warrant another iteration is heartening. Variety is the spice of life and something the video game industry always needs more of. Expect a review in the next week or so, but in the meantime, I’ll be digging into what I hope is a great RPG experience.