Well, my Gaming Mojo still appears to be missing a little bit, with distractions like my upcoming move into a new Moobaarn and a certain girl commandeering huge chunks of my time. But I’m forcing myself to push on with my gaming; luckily, my current selections lend themselves to that particular absent-minded approach.

Zelda: Twilight Princess is the main focus at the moment, and it’s proving to be perfect brain-off, plodding-progress gaming. I’m about 34 hours in on my second playthrough, halfway through the second “quest” of the game, and it’s proving to be enjoyable enough – though, almost necessarily, not nearly as emotionally engaging as my first encounter. Though, surprisingly, it’s proving to be much easier than I remember; I wonder how much of this is due to my familiarity with the Wii controls now, as opposed to launch-day nervous excitement?

My good mate Spencer finally got a free night for some Achievement whoring, so we organised an interstate Xbox Live play-date and managed to rack up a plethora of ranked online wins to clean up my online Achievements for Brütal Legend. A spot of single-player AI battling, a perusal of all the Tour Diary and Concept Art entries, and boom – that’s another one off The List. Sixty-nine to go.

A bit of sporting – and hilarious – card divulging saw my penultimate Texas Hold’em Achievement fall, thanks to Spencer’s help. And there was a little single-player thrashing of Shadow Complex, too, leaving me just one-and-a-half XP levels shy of my final Achievement there; unfortunately, that one has a series of “internal” Achievements which I feel I must satisfy before crossing it off The List, and those tasks are… daunting.

So – an uninspired entry, this one. I may well ease up over the next few weeks; the Big Move is about a month away, there’s much fussing to be done before then, and every entry is likely to read “Mopey. Did a bit of grinding. Got some stuff done. Hurrah.” Christ, even I don’t like reading that sort of stuff over and over, and it’s my bloody blog! ;)

Tapering Off…

I should be winding down at the moment; tapering off my gaming a little, in preparation for my regular assault on the Adelaide Fringe (and, since this is an even year, the Adelaide Festival of the Arts). I set myself the task of writing a little something about every show I see and, since I tend to be a little… ummm… greedy with what I choose to see, that equates to a lot of blogging. Which means I often get bogged down and tend to put things off a little. For example, I only finished writing about the last show of 2009 – from 22 March – last weekend.

But that’s something for my other blog – this one’s reserved for gaming. And, as I opened, I should be winding down.

Should be.

Instead, this week a little Achievement-hunting gremlin crawled inside my skull and started wreaking havoc. Not content with wrapping up the remaining goals from Portal, I started hunting for other easy points; Shadow Complex obliged with a couple of easy Achievements, leaving a little bit of grinding for the one remaining cheevo (and an awful lot of practise for the Master Challenges). One of my old gaming chums helped out with a bit of Texas Hold’em whoring (and he still owes me a million dollars or so – right, Spencer? ;)

Another friend was keen to wrap up a few games, so I returned to Burnout Paradise for a quick run around Big Surf Island, and a little bit of cops & robbers. We followed that with a blast through Jetpac Refuelled, followed by some Brütal Legend multiplayer hijinks. All up, he snaffled 270 points – not bad for a couple of hours’ work.

A return to ODST‘s Firefight mode with the old crew yielded a ton of fun… well, fun and panic and swearing, anyway. And no Achievements. But it was a timely reminder that there is much fun left in that title, which seems to have fallen off the radar markedly, what with all the Mass Effects and Modern Warfare 2s and Bayonettas of the world. A bit of a shame, that.

So, as demonstrated above, my “winding down” has proved to be one of the most varied and frenetic weeks in a year or two… and I’ve just got an e-mail from Play-Asia to say that my copy of No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle is on its way. Oh, and I managed to find a copy of the out-of-print Bayonetta Witch of Vigrid coffee-table book (lovely, but overpriced) and the Climax Bible (which, despite the fact that I can’t read a single glyph of anything Japanese, is wonderful – lovely glossy presentation & chock-full of information). And I also pre-ordered Bayonetta and Jeanne figures. Because hey, my mortgage payments are going to be dented by the Fringe anyway, right?

And so I bid you (all four regular readers, anyway) adieu for a month or so. The Festivals wrap on March 14, so expect some sleep-deprived ramblings about the joys of Shinobu and Travis’ return sometime thereafter. Game on!

2009: The Year in Review

2009 was quite a weird one for me; even as I acknowledge my dearth of console gaming knowledge, I’ve never felt more distant from the gaming mainstream. I managed to ignore the miniscule lure of the PS3 for another twelve months, I still don’t do Rock Band, I’ve avoided Borderlands and the Fallout series like they were OCD quicksand, and semi-realist games like Forza 3 and Modern Warfare 2 tick none of my boxes. In fact, the only mainstream toe-dipping I reckon I’ve done this year are with Halo 3: ODST, New Super Mario Brothers Wii and, maybe, Brütal Legend.

Despite that, The List has largely been treading water; throughout the year, I bought sixteen new games, and I completed a total of sixteen games. It didn’t help that a cleanup led me to discover previous purchases, conveniently forgotten, plumpifying The List somewhat; just a lazy 71 games outstanding now, helped along by cheap end-of-year deals on Xbox Live.

But hey! This is supposed to be a flippant, if not light-hearted, awards ceremony blog entry written by an uneducated guy you don’t know, recycling ideas that were never that flash in the first place. On with the show!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Wrapping up Burnout Paradise. Every collectible, every Achievement, and – most chuffingly – every Challenge :)

Disappointment of the Year: Wii Fit still hasn’t had any impact on my weight (though that could possibly be due to the fact that it hasn’t been played… nor has it’s younger brother, Wii Fit Plus), and the much-anticipated GridRunner Revolution sadly failed to light my fire. But the biggest disappointment of the year was provided by MadWorld – so much potential pissed away in immature monotones.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: We Ski, bought nervously at the same time as MadWorld (with the nervousness instantly replaced by regret as soon as the “Checkout” button was clicked) proved to be stupidly good fun. Sure, it didn’t last long, but that flame burned unexpectedly bright enough to be memorable.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: A game that had a release window of about a fortnight over here, that local distributors didn’t want to know about, and wound up being sourced for less than five quid (new!) from Amazon in the UK… Soul Bubbles is a gorgeous little game, completely at home on the DS. Please try to buy a copy! :}

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Halo 3: ODST takes this one easily. Firefight, all my team-mates dead, being chased around by half-a-dozen Brutes… and I had no ammo. Black Eye skull was on, meaning no health regeneration. And I managed to get the Team through. Fucking magic feeling :)

The “I Love You… Honest” Missive of the Year: A toss-up between all the games I’ve bought, but not played, this year. Shadow Complex, Space Giraffe on the PC, The Maw… but Chrono Trigger takes the gong here.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: Finally – finally – conquering Level 64 of Tempest 2000. It’s just a pity I’m now stuck on another level only a little farther along.

What Was All The Fuss About? Award: This is going to look like link-bait, but… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I’ve been chewing through a bunch of Zelda games this year (hey, I 100%-ed Ocarina thrice in 2009!), but I’m utterly perplexed by the adulation this game receives. Takes all types, I guess – and I definitely seem to be in the minority. “It was good, but not great…”

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: The Grand Theft Auto series, on the basis of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. I swore I’d never speak of it again.

The Everything Old Is New Again Award: Sure, PAC-MAN Championship Edition is a wonderful extension of the original game, but Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the cake for a superb re-imagining of the original, with just a tiny taste of the original Commando rolled in as well. Gorgeous.

Blast From The Past Award: After a straight month and two 100% playthroughs, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker provided some of the year’s gaming highlights, with gloriously solid gameplay.

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Easy one, really – New Super Mario Brothers Wii eschews modern gameplay “essentials” and delivers a stunningly fun, taut, and challenging single-player experience.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: An award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, Brütal Legend snaffles this with ease. The first playthrough had it odds-on for the Almost-But-Not-Quite Award, but repeat visits opened up the glory that Schafer built.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: Well… I had to give something to the most recent Prince of Persia game, because it was a real revelation early in the year. Fast, fluid, and rewarding gameplay, backed up with charm and gorgeous stylised graphics.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: Again, pretty much all of them… though it was pleasing to see that the gaming public may be becoming a little sceptical of the hype machine (after the rapid deflation of Modern Warfare 2‘s bubble, and a retrospective post-coital “meh” being applied to memories of GTA4).

And BOOM! There goes 2009. Big props to Prince of Persia, most of the Zelda series, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Soul Bubbles, and We Ski… oddly enough, only one of that lot was released in 2009. But let’s start looking forward to 2010, and Bayonetta, lots more No More Heroes, and a return-to-form for Llamasoft on the iPhone.

But now, I’m leaving 2009 pretty much as I started it: banging my head against a brick-wall of an OCD Zelda requirement. Phantom Hourglass is demanding that I find four more ship parts, and I dare not keep her waiting.

Happy New Year!


This week began with me hoofing into Brütal Legend‘s Normal mode, which proved to be… well, incredibly easy. Aided by previously mentioned maps at AchievementHunter, a 100% Normal mode game was wrapped up in a handful of days. Chuffed with the ease of that task, I ventured online to see whether I could eke out any wins in Brütal Legend‘s online multiplayer mode (a slight variation of the single-player’s stage battles, the RTS-heavy fragment of the game); alas, there was no-one online to be found… or so I thought.

So I returned to the story mode of the game itself, and started a playthrough on the game’s hardest difficulty: Brütal. Once again, I leant heavily on the aforementioned maps to glean my collectibles, only attacking the linear sections of the game when my scouring was complete; but I was genuinely surprised at the increased difficulty of Brütal over Normal.

Because, as difficulty curves go, this was as close to a horizontal line as you could get.

Yes, you’d suffer a bit of extra damage in close-quarters combat. Yes, the AI was a bit smarter in the stage battles. But the techniques I’d tinkered with in Normal – build up for some battles, rush for others – worked a treat in Brütal, and there were only a handful of repeat attempts required. And that final boss fight… was it even possible to fail that fight at all? In none of my three playthroughs did I even enter red-screen throb-o-vision during that “battle”.

The great thing about those back-to-back playthroughs of Brütal Legend is that my thinking has swung into line with Tim Schafer’s. Where I once failed to find pleasure in the RTS sections of the game, I recently approached them with glee; the most tedious part of my Gentle playthrough (the stage battle in the Dry Ice mine) was explored in Normal, and absolutely whipped in Brütal. Four minutes (that’s probably over-estimating slightly) versus the hour-or-so I flailed away as a n00b. Sure, I was helped by having already beefed up my stats via collectibles, but there was a rhythm that became evident the more I played – play a solo. Spawn some troops. Play a solo. Beat the shit out of the enemy. Play a solo. Send a giant, flaming zeppelin crashing upon your foe. Repeat. Win.

That rhythm continued as I started playing online. A little research discovered that Brütal Legend‘s online matchmaking isn’t exactly the quickest – I was expecting something on par with Halo 3. I suppose, at the end of the day, it is comparable, but Halo 3 keeps the player in the loop as it seeks out a match; Brütal Legend just keeps showing you a spinning axe. Thankfully, the wait for my first match (fifteen minutes!) has never been repeated, but it still appears to regularly take around five minutes for a match.

Anyway, on with the story: my first match was a cracker. I’d done a bunch of research about different play styles before venturing online, discovering that there was one particularly cheap and loathsome technique known as Fire Baron Rushing (FBR). The opposition would just tech up until they were able to build Fire Barons, create a sizeable army, then launch them at the player’s stage; if the player doesn’t know how to counter such an attack, they’re pretty much stuffed at that point. So when I checked my opponent for my first match out and noted he had an exemplary record of 7 wins, no losses, all using the Fire Baron’s Ironheade team, I figured I knew what I was in for.

Sure enough, as I raced for a Fan Geyser, he used the expected no-troops-just-wildlife delay tactics; I captured the Geyser regardless, upping my unit producing ability. I saw his Fire Barons assembling in front of his stage; I was building a larger collection of lower-grade headbangers in front of mine. My attack left first, buffed up with a choice solo; the armies passed each other half-way, and then the Barons arrived, with my opponent’s avatar providing cover. I spent all my resources on a force intent on slowing the Baron’s attack down, and made myself as much a nuisance as possible. Both stages got hammered, and then…

…I won. My first match. He must have been surprised, if not devastated; my troops had decimated his stage whilst he was watching mine burn. Bloody hell that felt good :)

Subsequent matches, though, have been a mish-mash. I’ve met more FBR proponents who manage to beat me into the ground. If I wind up more than a Geyser or two down, and can see the army amassing, I’ll often message the opposition to let them rush my base, offering to swap rushes if they want to chew through wins a bit quicker. And, yes, I’ve even employed the FBR myself a few times; but, at the moment, I’ve got a mere four wins.

I need fifty for all the online Achievements.

Brütal Legend is not going to get finished this year :}

The only other game tackled this week is New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Consider my mojo re-ignited; Worlds 4 and 6 fell in one session yesterday, with Worlds 7 and 8 falling today. The final battle against (or rather, in front of) Bowser would have to rate as one of the greatest gaming moments of the year; utterly thrilling, lip-bitingly serious and yet brilliantly fun. But, now that I’ve got to the “The End” credit-rolling screen, I’ve just got the simple(!) task of collecting all the Big Coins and completing World 9.

Of course, Level 9-1 has cost me 40-odd lives so far.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii is not going to get finished this year ;)


After a healthy dose of New Super Mario Brothers Wii earlier in the week, I admit to burning out on it a little; World 5 just ground me down, with the final Castle nabbing about 35 banked-up lives. I eventually pushed through, doubled back and went through half of World 4, but I’m a little weary of it at the moment. Still fun, but not compelling.

As previously noted, my previous best percentage-complete on the 360 (in terms of attained Achievement points) was just prior to the addition of all the extra Halo 3 Achievements, when I had a GamerScore of 15520 out of a possible 16900… 91.83%. That’s a nice goal to return to, but I’ve had those “discovered” games (from the recently re-discovered XBLA pack-in disc from my 360 Arcade purchase) just waiting to damage my lovely percentage. So this week I bit the bullet and fired up the last of them.

Boom Boom Rocket reminds me of Fantavision (which I’ve only played once, so please forgive any misconceptions there). It also reminds me of rhythm action games and, as such, I am completely at odds with it. Yes, I managed to claw half-a-dozen achievements out of it, but I doubt I’ll get many more, simply because I am utterly crap at it. Sigh; that’s a percentage-denter.

Feeding Frenzy, on the other hand, was a four-day doddle. Brute-forceable Achievments mixed with a curiously apologetic demeanour; the game actually says “sorry” to you every time you fail. Odd. Still, it was a straightforward – if unengaging – load of Achievements… a percentage booster.

So – with all games at least played (including PAC-MAN Championship Edition, Luxor 2, and Uno), that’s a total of 747 points out of 1000 from that re-discovered XBLA disc. Well below average, but with only Luxor 2 and Boom Boom Rocket to work with, unlikely to improve much.

After popping into Halo 3 for a quick bash on this weekend’s DEXP playlist (Living Dead – two of my remaining Halo 3 Achievements are zombie-related), I returned to Brütal Legend, engaging the Normal difficulty for the first time. It’s handy to have half-a-clue what’s going on, and the maps that I’m affording myself on subsequent playthroughs are divine. But, despite the fantastic storyline and voice-work (and incredibly detailed character models that I seem to have missed on my first playthrough), it’s feeling a bit like a slog… here’s hoping the following days make it feel a little easier, and a little more fun. And then I’ll be venturing online with it… oh dear :}


I started this gaming week by forcing myself through some of GTA: Chinatown Wars – there’s plenty of side-missions yet to be done (I’m currently only 82% complete), and tons of Gold Medals to be acquired. Despite the fact that I can avoid the stupefying storyline, I still feel as though IQ points are shed for every moment that I play this game.

Which could explain why I’m so amazingly crap at PAC-MAN Championship Edition. It’s the only game that I’ve played where my accumulated gamerscore is less than the average of all registered players; I view this as an abject failure, but nothing I attempt helps me play any better. Disappointing!

But the big news of the week was, of course, the release of Brütal Legend. As a fan of eighties metal and Tim Schafer, I was looking forward to this with great interest; and, thanks to a handy tip from Aussie site The Economical Gamer, I was holding my copy in my hot expectant hands within hours of the release date being broken. And so, on Tuesday night, I settled down for a good, solid dose of metal and gaming.

And it was goooood.

I’d avoided playing the demo released on Xbox Live, wanting to come into the game fresh; and the opening titles & menu screen were every bit as awesome as others had raved. The first level was great, a decent bit of hack-and-slash, with some wonderfully expressive character models on display. A few hand-holding tutorials, a bit of decent driving, a few enjoyable boss battles, and evidence of some massive OCD collection side-quests, and I’m hooked, lauding Brütal Legend‘s praises to all who’ll listen.

It wasn’t until the following evening that I happened upon the first RTS section of the game. And, ummmmm, I wasn’t really sure that I liked it. The second one was a little better, but something didn’t feel quite right. Now, I’m no fan of RTS games in general – only having tinkered with a couple vicariously – but I wasn’t sure whether I was enjoying myself during those sections… at all.

Now, I know that Schafer himself has said that it’s not an RTS game, and I suspect that the problem here is all mine; after all, I’m the type of guy who’ll tip-toe through an FPS with health constantly at maximum and all guns fully loaded. I hate the death of any of my avatars, which is why I’m probably having a tough time enjoying myself with those aspects of Brütal Legend. And that’s a massive shame, because there’s so much there to love: the music selection (all 107 songs) is phenomenal (except, maybe, for Def Leppard’s poppy Rock of Ages, which feels woefully out of place), the storytelling is Schafer-sublime, and the voice-cast is superb – OK, so maybe Lemmy is a little too laid-back, but Ozzy is perfect. Lovely little touches – the cymbal bushes, the post-game interactions, the multiple Double Fine intros – are there in abundance… but I can’t shake the memory that Psychonauts managed to deliver phenomenal production, a fabulous story, and a great game.

Still, I’ll soldier on with Brütal Legend – I’ve only 100%-ed Gentle at this stage – and, hopefully, I’ll discover some love for the RTS-ish bits.