Is it over yet?

What does it mean when you beat a game? When is a gamer fully satisfied with a game and ready to put it away on a shelf? Sometimes it's when the final boss is beaten and the credits are scrolling up the screen. The story is over and "The End" is there to conclude your gaming experience. But wait, there's more! We've all experienced the "New Game +", where we can replay a game with new sideplots and harder gameplay. Does that mean that what we just accomplished was a prologue and THIS is the real game? Or is it simply just an enticement to keep you playing, a test to see if a player can really beat this challenge?
Or is it when all achievements for the game are obtained? Every single task has been explored to its fullest potential, hours or maybe even days spent trying to accomplish that seemingly impossible undertaking, another medal to add to one's belt to show off to your friends.
Either way, beating a game means different things to different gamers, whether it is just finishing a game's main plot or hours spent being a completionist.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.

Other takes:
Yuki-Pedia: The Curious Case of the Never-Ending Backlog
Zath: When Do You Know That You've Completed A Game?
Gunthera1-gamer: I have never completed a current generation game
Silvercublogger: What Do You Mean By Gamer Banter
The Game Fanatics: Gamer Banter: To Beat a Game
SnipingMizzy: Is it over yet?
Game Couch: The End?


Man, you got reaaaaaal ugly

Let me start off by saying yes, I am biased against this game for many reasons that, if I listed here, would detract from the purpose of this ranting.
This month's banter is aimed at character redesigns. I've seen plenty, none of which I've loved or hated (except for L4D Francis; he's so much more of a lovable jerk instead of looking like a drunk homeless guy) until I saw the designs for the characters in Gears of War 3. The manliest, most testosterone-filled game series I've ever played. Never mind how illegal Cole's arms should be, but what the heck is going on in this picture? Your town gets destroyed, your armies have been decimated and you...strip your underclothing and remove all the vital bits that protect the limbs you shoot with. How was this a smart idea? Certainly, you could have stripped armour from your fallen buddies as precautionary measures? Sure, honour the fallen and all that, but when you're fighting to save your life, do you really want to just expose yourself even more?
Anya, who is a tiny shrew of a woman in the previous 2 games in comparison to Marcus and Dom has now become a hulking muscular woman who knows how to kick ass and look ugly. Yes, I said it. She. Got. Ugly. Granted, her face was generated really weirdly before, but now she simply looks like someone punched in the sides of her face and shattered her cheek bones. Before anyone starts ranting that this is more hatred to female characters in a male-focused game, I say to you, no it is not. Because there's a way to have female characters in a male-focused game and do it RIGHT. This is not an example of that. She was simply thrown in to appeal to the estrogen-based percentage of gamers.
Dom. You look like a hobo. You lost your wife and all, I see that. But now you just look like a younger version of Dizzy and I HATE Dizzy. At least you don't look like Col. Hoffman-Squarehead. Then I'd just have to set you on fire on principle.
I was supposed to be focusing on if a redesign has ruined how I feel about a character, but instead, all the GoW3 redesigns have strengthened my dislike for this game. Baird's smart-ass attitude and brains is the only thing that saves the day.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.

Other takes on character redesign:

Silvercube: Perfect Dark Missing Perfection
Sniping Mizzy: Man, You Got Reaaaaaal Ugly
Pioneer Project: A Change in Development
Oxcgn: New Look Character Redesigns A Good Idea – Or Bad?
The Average Gamer: Hampered by Hollywood
'Zath: Has A Redesign Changed Your Attitude To A Beloved Video Game Character?


Shank demo

I'm going to ignore the fact that there was a lot of slow-down just from loading the demo and waiting for the game to start.
You play Shank, a guy eager to get back his girlfriend from a masked wrestler named "The Butcher". Go at it with knives, guns, chainsaw and grenades!
A "beautifully" bloody game, but not beautiful to say the least. It's pretty reminiscent of any Saturday morning Flash-based cartoon you can find on CN (honestly, even Samurai Jack was a lot better than this). The character designs themselves are pretty minimal, and felt like just a flashier, more bloody version of a Streets of Rage game. You know, without the eating food out of garbage cans to regain health. Except in Shank, it's just booze you find lying around or that pop out of the enemies. Ok, so maybe it's not that different.
The music itself has a nice, vaguely Western theme to it, perfect for any "revenge plot" setting. Dialogue, however, was on the cliche side and could have been delivered a lot better. Shank simply sounded...bored with everything he was doing.
The game mentions developing a strategy to defeat each different type of enemy, but you're really just better off button-smashing your way through each fight, as you're likely to get the right weapon to dispatch of any foe.
It's a neat little game for venting, as there will be plenty of blood-spillage to get you through the day. Nothing really too in-depth, if that's what you're looking for.
Shank is available for download at 1200 MSP.


What is there to love?

I had a rough time trying to pick out one video game that I could single out as the worst game I've ever played in my entire life. Sadly, I couldn't come up with a single one, not even the dreaded Xenosaga Trilogy that I feel a little ashamed of having. So instead, I've chosen a tabletop game instead, because there seems to be a lot more to pick from in that category.
Several contenders come to mind, the first of which is the dreaded Werewolf system (I can't remember what edition, and haven't played since then, sorry). I'm probably being a little biased, as I had a terrible gaming experience because of one player, but making a character seemed completely unbalanced: it was way too easy to twink things and create and uber-powerful damage monkey. Unless you were like me, didn't know what you were doing with a new system and was trying to balance things out to be fair and not create a starting level-douche that the other players would hate.
The 2nd contender goes to DnD 4.0. Never has a game ever been so confusingly made because common sense would dictate that you don't put a friggin' MMO on paper. Healing surges? Really? You lost me on having fun and being different and made all the classes the same and boring, WotC. End of story.
Last, but certainly not least, is "We Didn't Play-test This At All". Sure, a simple, lovely card game with cards that are always changing the rules on all the players. The game could end in 11 rounds, or a single card play. Absolutely no challenge, strategy or fun at all. Instead of playing along, just to see how interesting the game can get, someone decides to end all the fun in the first 5 minutes and declare themselves the winner.
Usually, I can find some jewel in any game I try that will make me want to try again. Sadly, there are too many glaring flaws for me to show any compassion or love for those I mentioned here. There are probably plenty of flaws in games that I do love to play, but they cannot trounce the one that keeps me playing: fun.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.

Other takes:
Game Couch: The Worst Game Ever
Silvercublogger: It's all about integrity
Yuki-Pedia: Love, thy name is rage quit
Master Kitty’s World: What were they thinking???
Zath: What's the worst game you've ever played?
SnipingMizzy: What is there to love?
The Game Fanatics: What is the worst game you've ever played?
Pioneer Project: Making the best of a bad situation
gunthera1_gamer: The game I could have loved!
The Average Gamer: Gamer Banter: Worst Game EVAR!
Extra Guy: Battle Blaze — 700 pounds of ‘don’t do it’


Lost Odyssey: replay

You start off as Kaim Argonar, an Immortal with 1000 years of memories he'd prefer to forget. A "Magic-Industrial Revolution" is in the midst of occurring, making the lives easier for the people of the world. This magic has always existed in people, but why is it suddenly so prevalent?
Lost Odyssey is in my top five RPGs and will probably remain there for a very long time. Lost Odyssey is an amazing game that was a little bit over-looked when it came out around the same time as Blue Dragon.
Visually, the environments are absolutely stunning to look at, and the characters are well-designed and don't have the "perfect face" look of FF characters (I mean, look at Gongora's eyebrows). Even the outfit designs for NPCs milling around, although repetitive, are so beautifully done. Combat is a little less spectacular with the same backgrounds depending on the dungeon area, but still fun to go through will all the customization of skills you can play around with. Immortals can learn skills from the mortals that are part of the party, making game play quite versatile and easy to switch around if you find things aren't really going you're way.
Audio-wise, the soundtrack is beautiful and filled with such emotion that fits every scene perfectly, especially the theme song for the dream sequences (I don't think I've gone through a dream with a dry eye). The voice work for each character is absolutely amazing, especially Jansen and Tolten: Jansen comes off as a totally cocky quasi-twat, Tolten is believable as an unexperienced ex-prince whose father just died and has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. Kaim is a main hero I can actually enjoy without being a Marty-Stu.
Combat game play was just a little difficult to get right the first time when I equipped a ring, and was unsure as how the right trigger should work. However, once you get it timed right, you'll be getting Perfects over and over. Assembling rings to get to the weak point of each enemy is a little tedious, but it's certainly very helpful in dealing lots of damage if you DO get a Perfect. You're also able to switch out equipment in the middle of combat to deal with each kind of enemy; also a little tedious scrolling through a huge list of stuff, but great for dealing with any unexpected curses or becoming petrified. It is turn-based combat, which people have called outdated, but what exactly is wrong with that? Real-time strategy seems to be the way to go nowadays, but I've never enjoyed it: it leaves little in planning and makes me feel more rushed to get things done than actually enjoying the game.
The story is quite solid and emotionally-involved; it has been criticized for being overused and uninspiring, but I don't hear of any other games with immortals from a parallel universe, whose mere presence upended everything normal and are basically making things easier for the bad guy and worse for everyone else. Sure, it's another "save the world" sort of business, but what RPG doesn't? The twist here is the characters themselves are the cause of what's going on.
Replaying this game a year later still leaves me with goosebumps and tears in my eyes, even though I know what's going to happen. It should certainly be given a chance.



Breeze is a peaceful little puzzle game where you guide a daisy to a checkpoint, using only a fan. Avoid the wooden barriers around your goal, as well as your own tool, as it can destroy your precious little flower if it gets too close.
Despite the soothing background music that accompanies this neat little game, I found myself swearing at my own fan every time my poor daisy got shredded into petals. That didn't stop me from trying again, though, and my frustration was quite short-lived. Each level makes it just a little bit more challenging.
The controls are quite easy: hold the right trigger to blow your flower around, and the left analog stick to move the fan around, directing the flower towards any suns you need to collect as well as to get to the goal.
A neat game that is definitely worth the 240 MSP.


Army of Two: The 40th Day

Army of Two: The 40th Day is a sequel to the original. Rios and Salem are now independent mercenaries for hire along with Alice, their handler, who are trying to fight their way out of a continuously war-ravaged Shanghai.
The graphics have certainly been upgraded in this sequel, especially with environmental factors such as shadows, raining debris and constant smoke on the horizon. It works well in having to spot the enemies in grey armour standing in front of grey background. Searching around for cover is a lot more of a challenge: it's integrated into the environment a lot better than just a chest high wall in the middle of a forest base. Cover can also be destroyed from on-coming enemy fire, which gives you even a smaller window to eliminate them. Even less if there's an RPG around. Still, I couldn't help wondering when was the last time Rios and Salem had a shower; their constantly oily and grimy faces, even before the real combat started, had me wondering if they simply forgot their antiperspirant that morning.
Aurally, this game had me guessing as to where the enemies were going to be. It did a wonderful job on giving them different bits of dialogue to spout off: were the enemies circling around behind me? Were they climbing to higher ground to pick me off easier? It kept me on my toes a little bit more as to what kind of strategy should be taken.
Rios and Salem, on the other hand, were a bit more annoying. "Careful, a sniper!" Ok, great. I know to look out for one. But if I AM playing the character, shouldn't I actually see the sniper when said so, and not have to search around for it? Sure, it's a neat little heads-up piece of dialogue, but then I have to spend the rest of the time looking for one person with an RPG rather than taking out all the other lackies that are currently swarming to my position.
Gameplay seemed to be a hit-and-miss. Some things were greatly improved upon, while others were a hinderance. Ducking behind cover is made easier, without the need to hold the A button to get behind it. Step-jumps are also a lot easier without the need for both players to futz around getting into the right position to pull the other player up. The A button, however, is now in control of running and helping your partner when he's down. The problem here is that if he dies right next to me, I have a 2-second wait before the "Press A to help your friend" option shows up; in the meantime, I'm still getting shot in the head, waiting those 2 seconds. Dragging and providing aid should be available a lot quicker than the game gives you time for.
The difficulty is certainly a challenge, usually with trial-and-error being the most prevalent means of getting through a Chapter. An RPG shows up, learn to try and take him out next time before he can get around to blowing you up. Surrounded by enemies in a street, pick a new path to go with the next time around. The game certainly leaves it a bit more open and less linear in how to take out your enemies with multiple pathways, ladders for easier snipe points, etc. They also did a good job of allowing mock surrendering at certain points, allowing your partner to take them out while they're distracted. Or, you can both mock surrender and pull of quick-draws. Or, if you've tagged the enemies and discovered who the officer is, you can hold him hostage and force the others to surrender while your partner ties them up or shoots them.
Aggro has also been improved upon greatly; the AI act better in regards to who has all the Aggro, focusing on that person completely; in the first game, Aggro didn't really work so well, and the enemies would shoot at you if you even so much as peeked out of your cover with no Aggro.
Storywise, it's a lot more light than the previous game: Shanghai is being destroyed, you need to get out, shoot whoever gets in your way. However, you are given choices as to who to let live and who to kill, which supposedly up your morality and how of "best friends" you are at the end. It certainly gives a little bit of replay value, just to see how different choices would changed that person's life.


BlazBlue: Continuum Shift

A sequel to BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, Continuum Shift continues with the aftermath of the events from the first game (after the True Ending, of course). The characters are faced with a new enemy that they never expected would be the mastermind behind everything.
All of your favourite characters return, with 3 new ones: Tsubaki Yayoi, a friend from school, Yuuki Hazuma (aka Terumi), the antagonist, and Mu-12 (who I shall say nothing about).
Story: I'm glad to see that the story is a little less cryptic this time around, as each character's story mode is filled with tons of dialogue. Again, players are left with choices to push the story in different directions like the previous game, but this time in very contrasting stories. One choice will continue the serious drama of "destiny" and whatnot, while another choice is filled with hilarity. Also, you don't have to purposefully fail each fight in order to get 100% completion for each character, which was an annoyance in the first game.
Graphics: Nothing really new is added to the visuals, as the characters still look the same. There are a few added backgrounds, which are always gorgeous.
Audio: As always, Daisuke Ishiwatari does a splendid job composing the music for this game. A few tracks are added for special versus fights, which always capture the emotions the characters are going through.
The voicework is typically still the same, except for Noel Vermillion, I think; her tone has obviously changed from a girl not knowing what she's doing, to a young woman in desperate need to discover what's going on.
It's best you get the first game (or at least read the story on a wiki) if you're going to understand anything. Otherwise, if you don't care about the story, then it's a pretty decent and interesting fighting game.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is available for $39.95.


DeathSpank and Limbo demos

I was contemplating whether I should wait to post until this evening when I got my hands on BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, or if I should make a double-post today to make up for last week. Seems the latter has won out!
DeathSpank is a supposed hero (although everyone else will deny it) seeking The Artifact. What this Artifact does as of yet, no one knows, but looking for it is just what heroes do.
The world itself is cylindrical in shape, giving the world a lovely whimsical feeling of simply running on a sphere as you travel to each quest: trees and landscape simply disappear over the horizon. The landscapes themselves are quite aesthetically pleasing, each having their own feel for the different areas. The humour itself is a little silly, but managed to sneak a laugh out of me every now and again. Voicework left a little to be desired, as dialogue seemed a bit slow and forced, but was still pretty okay.
The challenge is typical of any "quest" type game: talk to a character, kill things/retrieve items/deliver items for them, and return once the quest is finished. The difficulty of combat is about average, if you're levelling up properly. If you're finding it difficult with no healing items, killing some chickens will bag you some meat for easy healing, as long as you don't get attacked while you're in the middle of eating.
The controls are easy to figure out, with a different weapon equipped to the each of the XBAY buttons. The item menu took a little getting used to, as a flurry of items would drop into my inventory from a fight before I had time to check what they were and I had to sort through what was new and what I could get rid of.
This neat little game is available for 1200 points from the XBLA.

Limbo is about a little boy trying to find his sister. He comes across danger, as well as having to solve puzzles to continue his journey.
It's beautiful and rich in depth, despite the minimal graphics. The lack of music leaves a little to be desired, but the added detail of a little gore to an otherwise "sweet" atmosphere is a bonus.
For a puzzle game, I found it a little more difficult than usual with everything being the same. It's not entirely clear what you CAN interact with, and had to fiddle with almost everything to figure out what I should do next.
The controls only consist of 3 things: moving, jumping and interacting with objects. Combining these will get you through the puzzles and out of danger.
I don't really have much to say about this game, as I felt it was another rip on a Flash game I had played before called "Coma". Same graphics style and even a similar story, so this is really nothing new to me.
Limbo is available for download from XBLA for 1200 points.


In the eye of the beholder

It's always said that we "should never judge a book by its cover", but that only applies to people and...books. True, the contents are sometimes never reflective of what the outside looks like. But what's on the outside damn well helps to catch the eye.
This month's topic of Gaming Banter is "How important is cover art to you?" To be honest, I've never really focused or been drawn to what's on the cover of the videogames I buy, as it's the content I've read about that completely wins me over. Does the cover help? Sure it does. It gives me a small glimpse as to what to expect in the game.

The "Tales of" games developed by Namco have always been my favourite in videogame cover arts because they are beautiful yet simple: it's a logo with either the main character or an amalgamation of the different characters from the game. That's it. They're beautifully hand-drawn (digitally or traditional), and always have an air of adventure while still having fun, despite whatever bad thing may happen.

The third and final game in the series is probably my favourite out of all 3. Halo 1 and 2 depict scenes of war, fighting, and Master Chief with guns held up (CE: assault rifle at the viewer; 2: duel-wielding SMGs), ready for whatever may come. Here, the assault rifle is aimed down, as in rest, a sunrise/sunrest in the background depicting either the beginning of something new or the end of a long hard day. It's the peaceful end to a trilogy, where everyone can finally just take a break.

Mass Effect was probably the best game to catch my intrigue about the story, simply from the cover art alone. I took a quick guess that the overseeing eyes in the background were probably those of the main enemy I had to face...but why does his facial structure look similiar to the alien standing on the left? Are they related? IS he the bad guy, defying the main character behind his back?

Not my most favourite of covers of games I own, simply because it's obvious in what it's about: hyper-testosterone males in war with chainsaw guns. "....chainsaw guns?" was my reaction when I took a double-take at the above image, and I could only imagine the kind of gore that could take place once one ran out of bullets. Besides that, my hyper-testosterone guess was pretty accurate.

Ah, Bayonetta. A game I'm ashamed to say I actually sort of enjoy, despite the over-sexualization of absolutely everything. Button-smashing aside, the cover also basically covered what I was expecting: tits and ass with a little bit of convoluted story and humour. Sure, she's showing you her ass. But there's also a gun on her foot that she'll shoot you in the face with.

A game I knew nothing about before I saw this cover...and it still doesn't grab me. It simply looks uninteresting and boring. White and white with red in a somewhat jungle scene? Kind of lost me somewhere. This certainly wouldn't catch my eye amongst the other brilliant covers unless I was specifically looking for it.

Instead of uninteresting, how about a little confusion? The above boxart for the XBox version is when I first heard of Darksiders and I was thoroughly confused. Is it a strategy war game, with fire-footed horses? And why is everything glowing an awful puke yellow-green colour? Is that guy with the big sword some kind of general?
It was after I tried the demo that I understood what the story was: playing War, one of the Horsemen of Apocalypse. Which is what the PS3 cover actually looks like below:

What a difference a bit of actual colour can make. This is certainly more interesting and eye-catching for someone that wants to add another button-smasher to his/her collection. I can see the character, his big-ass gauntlet and that he's a lot flashier than just some general on a battlefield. Kick-ass horse too, by the way.
To sum it up, cover art has never really played an important part in what I do and do not buy, but what marketing and graphics designers do is vital to attracting audiences to their games in the first place. An important aspect of video game production that most people forget about and don't give these hardworking people enough credit for.
(I also apologize for subjecting everyone to that Cho Aniki cover art)

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.
Other takes:

The Average Gamer: Cover Art

Aim for the Head: Browsing the Aisles

SnipingMizzy: In the eye of the beholder

Extra Guy: On Books and Covers

Zath: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

carocat.co.uk: Cover Art? No Thanks!

Pioneer Project: The game box's big moment

Man Fat: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?