The 2012 Gaming Project

200 games, 366 days. This year I will play every game in my backlog.

Castle Shikigami 2 (PS2)

Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Alfa System
Publisher: XS Games
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Released: November 17, 2004
Metacritic: 67

What is it: Blind idiot translation: the video game.

0:00 – The story of Castle Shikigami 2, from the back of the box. “The time: 2006, the distant future. The Demon Gods have reappeared above the skies of Tokyo City with the goal of continuing the domination and conquest of humanity.” This game is going to be cheesy as hell, isn’t it? Ah well, time to defend the distant future six years in the past!

0:01 – Engrish alert! These three just from the difficulty select screen: “Player can play all stage”, “This mode is for a beginner”, and “Player can play fist 3 stage”. 

0:03 – So the game is a top-down shoot-em-up with two attack modes that vary between the different characters and a universal bomb. Point multipliers are awarded for letting enemies or enemy shots get near you. As the game says, “That’ all. Good luck.”

0:07 – I know point systems are entirely subjective to the game, but this game has some silly point inflation going on. It’s only level 1-2 and I already have almost 150,000,000 points. This game is the Zimbabwe of scores.

0:08 – And the game has broken itself. The first boss showed up, some green haired anime-looking woman named “Arala Cran”, and it started some dialogue. Because that’s what people play shoot-em-ups for, the story. Anyways, there’s no way to clear the dialogue and the game won’t advance unless I do. I know the game isn’t frozen since I can move my character in the background, but there’s no way to keep playing. Restart!

0:15 – And back to Arala Cran. Apparently there was supposed to be voice acting that just didn’t trigger. The voices and dialogue are just as hilariously bad as you would expect, though nothing to the extent of “fist 3 stage”.

0:16 – Boss defeated! Cue more hilarious dialogue.
“Tough!”
“Forgive me. Prayer for your soul.”
“Okay, maybe not so bad.” *explodes*

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Cave Story+

Platform: PC (reviewed), WiiWare, DSiWare, 3DS
Developer: Studio Pixel
Genre: Metroidvania
Released: November 22, 2011
Metacritic: 83

What is it: Talk to bunnies, jump around, shoot stuff, something, something, dragons.

0:00 – A dude with green hair sits at a computer and types some exposition in the form of an IM chat. Apparently he’s escaped and needs help. Eh, not the worst way to launch a story I’ve seen. And we’re off!

0:01 – First thing I notice is the controls are rather weird. You move with the arrow keys, up is jump, down is interact, and the z button is jump. Really? Z? Not the big ol’ spacebar right next to it?

0:03 – This is another game that goes for the whole “retro” aesthetic. The music is quite nice, but the visuals? Just not feeling it. Also, I just got a gun. Yay?

0:08 – Another random green hair dude scene after I deal with a door that tries to kill me. Now I’m talking to rabbits. Video games!

0:10 – One cute touch is if you press the down button when there’s nothing to interact with a little “?” appears above our as-of-yet-unnamed protagonist’s head. Then again, I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of Metal Gear Solid.

0:18 – Lots of looking around the village to figure out what to do next. Found a silver locket, no idea what to do with it. 

0:20 – Correction: found what I need to do with it, now I’m in a boss battle with a large TV-looking enemy who burst through the door Kool-Aid Man style. Also had a visit from a character that fits perfectly into the “odd hair colored, magic using evil woman” archetype. Still not sure what to make of this game. It’s alternately charming, unique, and derivative.

0:22 – Or I can just skip the boss fight by saying I don’t want to fight him. …forget that, that evil TV is going down.

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Gradius III & IV (PS2)

Platform: PS2
Developer: KCET
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Released: November 13, 200
Metacritic: 64

What is it: Two old school shoot-em-ups in one masochistic package.

0:00 – I love the Gradius series to almost no end. Gradius V is one of my favorite games on the PS2, Gradius Collection on the PSP, but yet I’ve never played IV and only the poor SNES port of III. Let’s see if this lives up to the series’ golden standard.

0:02 – The Vic Viper flies around in space, does awesome stuff, and then (as the series dictates) shoots the core. It works well as an intro but only makes me wonder why they haven’t tried making a Gradius game in the style of a combat flight simulator. Like what Project Sylpheed did with the Silpheed franchise, but better.

0:05 – Starting with Gradius III. Start the first level, die within a minute. Yep, it’s Gradius alright.

0:08 – Game over already. No progress at all beyond my first death. Not too surprising in Gradius, since you lose all your power ups upon death. Very much grounded in old school arcade game design, which hates you for having the nerve to try and beat it. Once more into the breach!

0:14 – A bit more progress followed by a game over. Gradius III has a reputation for being particularly difficult, even for a Gradius game. That reputation is well deserved. I usually have no trouble with shoot-em-ups, and I haven’t even reached the first boss yet.

0:19 – Yet another game over, again very little progress, but yet I’m loving it. It’s difficult to explain exactly why I enjoy this. A lack of progress and quick succession of deaths would irritate me to no end with other game, but here I accept it. Part of it has to do with expectations: if I expect to die a lot it doesn’t annoy me so much. But more than that is the level of precision, of perfection needed to advance. You don’t have an all-powerful ship, enemies are all around you, and you need to be lightning quick to avoid death. Add in the clearness of how to improve (oh, I just need to go down instead of up, or target that enemy first) and it makes progress seem very achievable but just hard enough to be elusive. The result is a feeling of great satisfaction for the slightest bit of progress. To me that’s a welcome change from a world of games where progress is taken for granted instead of earned.

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Osmos (PC)

Platform: PC (reviewed), iPhone/iPad
Developer: Hemisphere Games
Genre: Other
Released: August 18, 2009
Metacritic: 80

What is it: Na naaaa nanana na na NA na primordial soup damacy!

0:00 – Odd music plays while cell-esque objects float by on the screen. The only option is the two intro levels. “Go for it!” the game cheers.

0:01 – I am a cell… type thingy. Movement is controlled by pointing the mouse opposite where I want to go and propelling myself by ejecting mass. I swear it’s not as disgusting as it sounds.

0:02 – You can absorb smaller objects by touching them, making you grow larger. So, it’s an almost-as-trippy 2D version of Katamari.

0:06 – So the goal of the game (so far) is to advance through levels absorbing other objects to achieve a certain objective (be the biggest, absorb a certain target, etc). Basic, but the movement system makes it more interesting. Not sure how long it will keep me entertained, but it’s working for now.

0:07 – Objective: Absorb the Ovarium. Uh…

0:12 – Not much change in the game structure, but the targets are getting more intelligent about avoiding me. Combined with the imprecise nature of movement and that movement costs you mass, it adds an extra level of strategy to the game. Be careful with your movements, or the hunter will become the hunted.

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Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon (PC)

Platform: PC
Developer: Longbow Digital Arts
Genre: Real-time strategy
Released: November 5, 2010
Metacritic: 66

What is it: The blandest RTS ever.

0:00 – The campaign begins with a historical background. I am Phillip of Macedon. The king has been killed in battle, the heir an infant, and I’ve just been elected regent to serve in the king’s stead. The kingdom’s survival is in my hands. No pressure or anything.

0:10 – Huh. Really nothing to say about this one. It’s a rather simple, straight-forward real time strategy game with elements of city building and maintaining supply routes. There’s nothing particularly good or bad about it. Guess the camera is a bit slow repositioning when you move it use the mini-map, and the zoomed out map using models to represent units is a cute touch. That’s it so far.

0:20 – Just killed off a competitor, starting a small cut scene talking about the would-be king I just killed. It’s remarkable just how little impact everything has. The game just seems to happen, no force or definition to the events of it. It’s all just a very ordinary affair, bordering on blandness.

0:35 – Just checking in to let you know that, no, the game has not gotten more impactful, just more of the same blandness.

1:00 – Well, that’s one hour I’m not getting back. If it was at least bad I’d have something to take away from it, but this game was just bland averageness.

Conclusion: Make me happy, make me sad, make me laugh, make me angry, just evoke some kind of reaction in me. I play games to be engaged, to be entertained in one way or another, be it the triumph of victory, the compulsion to play just one more turn, reveling in a brilliantly told story, or even just the simple joy of ripping apart a terrible game. This game did none of that. I’m saying about this game the worst thing I can say about any game: it bored me.

Will I keep playing it: No.

Limbo (PC)

Platform: PC (played), XBLA, PSN
Developer: PLAYDEAD
Genre: Platformer/puzzle
Released: July 21, 2010
Metacritic: 88 

Summary: Face of a super model, heart of a serial killer.

0:00 - Start in a forest lying on the ground. Slowly I wake up, get up, and I’m in control. No ceremony, just gloomy, foreboding atmosphere and an ominous monochromatic color scheme.

0:01 - Odd control scheme for the PC. Movement is fixed to the arrow keys, rather than allowing the typical WASD movement. Only other button is a nebulous “action” button, which is fixed to Ctrl of all keys. Not too happy with that. Making a computer game without the ability to rebind the controls just seems lazy to me.

0:02 - Limbo is an atmospheric game, using ambient noise to add to the feel of it. So, of course, my roommate just now decided to start vacuuming. Thank god for headphones.

0:04 - So far the game is just basic platforming and puzzle solving. It’s hauntingly beautiful, though.

0:05 - Walked into a bear trap and died. Surprisingly graphic death animation. Really adds to the looming threat that the atmosphere provides.

0:09 - Okay, in just the past 5 minutes the game has gone from “hauntingly beautiful” to “I’m not really noticing the environment anymore because everything in the forest wants me dead.”

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Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)

Atom Zombie Smasher

Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)

Platform: PC
Developer: Blendo Games
Publisher: Blendo Games
Genre: Strategy
Released: March 14, 2011
Metacritic: 75 

What is it: Command mercenaries and fight zombies a minute at a time.

0:00 – The game begins by awarding you a diploma in the “Master Study of the Recently-Possible,” dated May 5th, 1960 as music straight out of Pulp Fiction plays. Well, that gets my attention.

0:03 – This game subscribes to the “Just throw ‘em right in” school of thought. One quick rescue mission, one city zone overrun by zombies (I’m sorry, “Zed”), and I’m on my way.

0:09 – So the essence of the game is you have a chunk of city that’s about to be overrun by Zed that has a bunch of civilians in it. You need to position your units (soldiers, landmines, etc), as well as the landing zone of the rescue chopper, to rescue the maximum amount of civilians. Either you rescue them, or they get infected and become Zed. It’s simple in a small scale, but I can see this becoming very complicated, possibly even overwhelming, later on. Also, concerning if the dual “victory tracks,” one for humans, one for zombies. Apparently there’s a metagame going on here where if you win each level, but don’t do well enough, you could still lose in the end. Interesting.

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Steel Storm: Burning Retribution (PC)

Platform: PC
Developer: Creative Artel
Publisher: Creative Artel
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Released: May 11, 2011
Metacritic: 55 

What is it: Blow up everything in front of you, move to objective, lather, rinse, repeat.

0:00 - No fancy intro stuff, just a menu (with tons of options) and some dramatic wartime music. A bit of customization and I’m off!

0:01 - Okay, so this isn’t a shoot-em-up in the style of Gradius or Ikaruga, but instead in the style of Assault Force or the top-down levels of Contra 3. Either way, time to destroy everything.

0:04 - Well that was a fast first mission. Two things I immediately like about this game are the graphics, which are simple but have a nice cell shaded design to them, and that the game rewards you for destroying everything. The point of a shoot-em-up like this is carnage. Glad to see the developers promoting that.

0:06 - A suggestion to game developers: if you’re going to give out bonuses such as double kill, triple kill, etc, have a voice that announces it, Unreal Tournament style. Really would help add to the feeling of power that goes along with games that encourage total destruction.

0:13 - I know AI isn’t a major point in shoot-em-ups, but so far all enemies can be defeated by simply circle-strafing. Either the game is holding back early on, or all deaths are going to be due to overwhelming enemy firepower.

0:15 - Mission objective: destroy all heavy tanks. This is the kind of game design I can get behind!

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Solar 2 (PC)

Platform: PC
Developer: Murudai
Publisher: Murudai
Genre: Other?
Release date: June 17, 2011
Metacritic: 72

What is it: Explore the galaxy, absorb asteroids and planets, grow into a solar system, and… well, that’s about it.

0:00 - I’m liking this already. How many games start with the big bang, followed by saying “Welcome to the universe”? Not enough.

0:02 - You begin as a small asteroid. You fly around the universe and grow by slamming into other asteroids. It’s an open world Katamari Damacy on a cosmic scale. Awesome.

0:05 - I try my first mission and almost immediately crash into a star, killing me. Gravity is a bitch.

0:08 - Keep growing and you level up to different types of planet. Just became large enough to support life. Now I have little ships that surround me, blowing up anything that might threaten me. Again, awesome.

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Chrome (PC)

Platform: PC
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Strategyfirst
Genre: FPS
Release date: October 28, 2003
Metacritic: 69

What is it?: A generic sci-fi FPS loaded with cliches and bad ideas.

0:00 - Two people sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship while ominous music plays. The game was released in 2003, and it certainly shows.

0:01 - Two people (not the same two) sit in a cockpit of a spaceship (different cockpit) and talk in cliche action movie dialogue about a mission. Apparently their names are Bolt Logan and Ron “Pointer” Hertz, headed to the planet Zorg. This already seems like a bad action movie that takes itself too seriously. Also, one of them sounds like he’s voiced by Duke Nukem. It doesn’t help.
0:04 - I’m already getting a bad feeling about this. The default bindings have you using WASD, the mouse, and reaching over to hit keys like I or M. Did anyone bother to play test this control scheme before it was released? Thank god for the ability to rebind controls.
0:06 - I complete the tutorials and my partner and I run forward through a nearby forest. Epic music plays as nothing happens. Whee.
0:08 - I’m liking how they handle the inventory system. It’s reminicient of the atache case from Resident Evil 4 (except this came first). I’m less fond of how you get items from fallen enemies. If I can take their ammo and it won’t take any more room in my inventory, why do I have to click, drag, and drop it? Definitely could’ve used some streamlining.
0:14 - The artificial intelligence… well, it isn’t. Normally I’d expect someone to react if the guard next to them gets shot in the head by a loud sniper rifle, but not these guys.

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