Kamxor 2, and Supporting the Ones You Love

The précis for the past week reads somewhat similarly to last week’s effort: nothing but Kameo and Luxor 2.

I’ll start with the latter: I think I’ve managed to burn myself out on Luxor yet again, pushing through to Stage 12-4 on Normal (and up to the Supervisor of Fledglings rank); whilst I’m getting some jollies from my conservative approach to grinding through the levels, the rewards have started to be outweighed by the relentless pressure of the game. It’s stopped being fun and, though I’m a mere eleven stages away from another rare achievement (and the chance to get my gamerscore modulo five again), I might have to step away… again.

Kameo, though, is finally – after having picked it up on the 360’s launch – off The List. Monday night saw me knock off the two remaining solo Thorn’s Pass Achievements, and a greedy late night attempt at my final Score Attack A-Rank ended in failure when I neglected obscure game traits – like Kameo’s health. But Tuesday morning I woke up nursing a dribbly, muddle-headed cold, and subsequently had two days away from the office… I still had sufficient hand-eye co-ordination to play, however, and a repeat attempt at the final Score Attack was a half-billion-point success. Enabling Kameo‘s inbuilt cheat modes (through Score Attack unlockables) yielded a simple Expert-mode walkthrough, and with that… Kameo was done.

But I still want to write a longer piece on Kameo, so I plunged straight back in and started a whole new game, just to check whether my memories of the game were correct. And it was a blast – my A-Rank skills allowed me to blitz my way through the game, and I almost 100%-ed the game inside a dozen hours, and my level scores nearly all exceeded the A-Rank requirements (except that bloody Forgotten Forest level – grumble). So – the information gathered will now likely gestate for a couple of months before popping out into an experience-piece (as opposed to opinion-piece, or review).

There’s one more thing I’d like to write about this week (having just pissed away a large amount of time watching stuff on YouTube), and that is the battle that I’m facing on an almost daily basis about whether or not I go on a big game-buying frenzy. Now, let’s be quite clear, here: I’m well aware of the need for retail therapy, but what I’m currently feeling isn’t an instance of that; rather, I’m currently being jostled by the desire to Support the Ones I Love conflicting with the need to reduce The List.

One of my many Other Lists is a collection of names that I feel have earned my immediate support – creators that will get my money almost immediately upon release, no questions asked. But that List has been causing me a lot of double-takes lately; whilst Llamasoft seem to have targeted the non-List-impacting iOS, Double Fine have seen fit to release Trenched which, by all accounts (and I admit to not having even tried the demo), is a tower defence game that requires friends for Good Times (a problem for me, since its release in Europe – where most of my XBL friends are – has been caught up in a legal quagmire). And I’m not a fan of tower defence stuff… at all. Platinum Games have delighted with Bayonetta, and then disgusted with a not-returned-to-in-ages MadWorld; the demo for Vanquish didn’t impress me (on either the 360 or the PS3). And after the stunning Killer7 and No More Heroes, I was shattered by the crapulence of Suda 51’s No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, and am thus wary of grabbing Shadows of the Damned (especially when Suda 51’s next game is slated to be the zombie-filled Lollipop Chainsaw – because I hate the use of zombies in games). If Shadows is shit, that may put Suda 51 in the three-strikes territory for me (as it has for other people).

In short: I want to buy Vanquish to support Platinum. I want to buy Trenched to support Double Fine. I want to buy Shadows of the Damned to support Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. But I’m scared by the resultant pressure on The List; whilst Shadows looks easy enough, Vanquish most certainly does not, and I’m already struggling with Luxor, another game-style I don’t get on well with, and I doubt Trenched will offer the same opportunities to brute-force progress.

My arm gets twisted when I hear that sales for recent games have been “disappointing”; whilst I have no real idea how accurate the numbers at VGChartz are, Child of Eden is pegged at less than six-figure-sales, and Shadows of the Damned has struggled to sixty thousand sales (split evenly between the 360 and PS3).

And that, frankly, is bullshit.

I went straight out and bought a brand-spankin’-new copy of Shadows. I’ve not played it yet, but at least I’ve put a penny in Grasshopper’s pocket. Vanquish will have to wait – part of the lust behind that was driven by the discovery of a local store selling lenticular copies (on both platforms) for a mere AU$30. But then that’s almost too cheap; I’d actually rather pay AU$50 to buy it on XBLM (or, I assume, PSN) because I believe in digital delivery, and because I figure Platinum would actually get more out of that.

…oh god, what have I done?

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!


Last week’s glut of new games provided a focus for this week’s play, with all my other running projects (Katamari Damacy, Tempest 2000) falling by the wayside.

We Ski was the big winner – it was an absolute delight to play, and I’m almost a little sad to have Completed it (160 stars, all animals found, all questions from The Question Guy answered). I even rode the chair lifts without skipping, panning around and checking out the surroundings in moments of enforced relaxation. It’s a beautiful looking game, the feeling of skiing has been absolutely nailed (though I suspect that a 1080-degree Rodeo is a little trickier to perform in real life), and none of the “missions” outstay their welcome. I cannot express how much this game surprised me; I was genuinely feeling a bit iffy about buying this, but it’s turned out to be a Wii highlight. Sure, there’s not a whole lot of content in there – after all, I knocked it all off within a distracted week – but it comes highly recommended. I’d even pick up the sequel if it didn’t include those bloody snowboarders. Snaffle it from Play-Asia (I used the US version on my homebrewed Wii).

A couple of minutes each night were taken up by further progression through GridRunner Revolution, which finally threw up a sizable challenge on Level 48 of the Phaal difficulty level (I’m still stuck on the final level, which goes on for bloody aeons and just grinds me down). Once that nut is cracked, though, there’s another ten levels of Vindaloo and twenty levels of Madras to return to (which should be a doddle, once Vindaloo is conquered), then the fifty levels of the wacky Thrusty Mode and another fifty Vindaloo-ish Endurance levels.

Yak wrote an interesting blog entry during the week addressing the naysayers of GRR – that is, people like me – who claimed it was too easy; and I can kinda understand his points. After all, it is fun to experiment within the spaces that GRR provides, creating beautiful patterns of bullets that swirl around the screen and (maybe, hopefully) wrap your ship in a protective cocoon of weaponry; but my OCD nature wants to push onwards, to achieve something, and that drags me out of the Pretty Zone.

Recognising that I don’t naturally want to dwell anymore has been a bit of a revelation, and provides a pretty decent explanation of my gaming inclinations of the last couple of years. As previously mentioned, I don’t consider myself to be highly skilled – competent, sure, but completely lacking in finesse. Ikaruga is a fine example; yes, it’s easy enough to bludgeon one’s way through the game (just grind twenty hours of playtime, unlock unlimited continues, Bob’s-your-Auntie’s-live-in-lover), but getting A-Rankings? That just reeks of skill and memorisation and hard work. Relentless grinding to level-up to a near-unbeatable position? That’s easy-peasy for me, and it seems to fire off all the right synapses to make it feel enjoyable.

So I reckon that’s why I’ve been leaning towards the soft-RPGs and easy-OCD games lately; they give me all the satisfaction of completing the game, whilst still providing something that feels like accomplishment. Sure, there’ll always be moments where I’ll want to switch off and just be a little less “active” in my pursuits – those times when I’d normally play a couple of levels of New Super Mario Brothers, or try a speed-run through JSRF or Halo‘s Library – and the next time I get in one of those headspaces, I’ll fire up GRR instead… maybe that’ll change my opinion completely.

But the thing is, I also fired up the PC version of Space Giraffe this week (just to… y’know… check that it worked). And bugger me if it’s not beautifully balanced and utterly entrancing – my quick “check” turned into thirty levels. As I’ve said before, I instantly fell in love with the Giraffe, but GRR wants me to work for it’s affection.

My final excursion this week was a brief sojourn into MadWorld. My opinion of it picked up a notch, despite the odd game-hanging bug, and I was actually enjoying myself in its blood-splattered monochrome world… until I hit a level with a one-hit-kill character in it. He hit me from out of nowhere, I died, I muttered “fuck this” and shut the Wii down.

And then I thought again about buying We Ski & Snowboard.

Bloody snowboarders.

Five New Games

The List took a real battering this week: five new games. Five. Well, six really, if you take into account the PC version of Space Giraffe that I snaffled… and, since Rez appears on The List three times for three different platforms, it seems only fair that the Giraffe gets another airing.


That unplanned acquisition was, of course, due to the superlative double-bundle currently offered by Llamasoft to celebrate the release of GridRunner Revolution. I excitedly downloaded GRR on Friday night, a painful eight hours after its release (after an unexpected day at work), and… well, to say I was underwhelmed is a bit of an understatement. Is it pretty? Oh yes. Does it sound good? Hell yes – no-one does deep chest-thunking sound effects quite like Minter. But the problem was that there was no excitement in the gameplay; I was rarely troubled at all in the first fifty(!) levels I played. No pressure to perform, no seat-of-your-pants thrills. And that made me well and truly glum. After all, it was love-at-first-sight with Space Giraffe: I could tell straight away that she and I had a connection. GRR, on the other hand, was like the doting girlfriend with puppy-dog eyes, willing to conform to your every whim without offering anything in return. No challenge. No personality. No spark. And, dare I say it, a little boring.

Then I start on the third set of levels (the levels are arranged, in order of difficulty, into collections of Korma, Madras, Vindaloo, and Phaal)… and initially, apart from a bit of a speed bump, it seemed like more of the same. But after another twenty levels, the difficulty actually started going up a notch, and there was a bit of a fight going on. Unlocking the final difficulty level has further piqued interest, but my first (and only) bash on Phaal saw me pummel my way through just over half of the fifty levels.

GRR is most similar to GR++, returning to the fluid mouse control. But the SuperZapper smart-bomb – previously triggered by the mouse button – has disappeared, replaced instead by a rotate mechanic that allows you to send a stream of bullets in any direction you choose. The XY Zapper also seems to have been left out, but the new inclusions – a plethora of subtly different gridrunners, barriers that hem your bullets in and, most importantly, black holes and suns that can be used to bend your streams of bullets – are really neat gameplay mechanics.

But here’s the thing: when GR++ introduced the Sheepie Save (a technique where the player could resurrect their life if they could guide their falling carcass onto the sheepie bonus token), it felt astoundingly fresh. That simple mechanic, and the strategies that bloomed around it (do you take the sheepie for the power-up, or leave it as a safety net?), made GR++ a truly unique experience. GRR maintains the Sheepie Save and tries to improve upon it, allowing the player to continue killing adversaries in the hope of triggering a sheepie to Save them; but all this encouraged me to do was scrub the screen as fast as I could after hearing my death; if I managed to trigger another sheepie, then I was fine. If not… well, the levels don’t reset with death, so it’s a war of attrition.

This is awfully hard for me to write, really; I’m a big fan of Minter’s work, and there’s no denying his unique (and ungulated) take on videogaming. But after the well-weighted and sensual success of Space Giraffe I was expecting massive things from GridRunner Revolution, and… well, I don’t think it’s delivered. It’s not that it’s bad, just… it’s not great. Perfectly competent entertainment if you like bright flashy things and not much challenge.

Let’s put it this way: you really should go buy GR++ now. And as for GRR… well, it’s only US$20 (or US$25 with the superlative Space Giraffe), so you’d be mad not to pick up that double bundle – if only to experience the technicolour mind of Minter. After all, I rate Space Giraffe as one of the best shooters this decade, and GRR is awfully pretty.

Blimey! What a lot of words.

“But wait, Pete!” I hear no-one exclaim; “what about all those other games you picked up this week? Surely you can squeeze out a few words on them as well?”

Well, yes I can.

Monday saw the deliver of one of the Wii’s few M-rated games to my door: MadWorld. Previews videos of this game had me salivating in anticipation, with gloriously rendered black-and-white graphics violently splashed with blood in a Smash TV-esque gameshow of brutality. And it certainly delivers in that regard; despite the monochromatic colouring, the graphics are clean and crisp, and the audio is great. But even after just one level, it’s all feeling mighty samey and not all that inspiring, with woolly controls and a nagging feeling that it’s not quite baked. Luckily, it seems to be a short game, so hopefully I’ll be able to churn through it in quick order.

Tuesday, of course, saw the release of Halo 3: ODST. And let me be quite blunt here: I fucking love ODST. I love the storytelling, I love the snippets of action, I love the voice acting, and I love being back in the Halo universe. It really feels like a paean to all that makes Halo memorable; there’s Warthog runs, Scorpion assaults, Banshee raids, and wars of attrition, each a tiny little vignette in the ODST storyline, each an utterly fulfilling experience. And that’s just on Normal!

And then there’s Firefight. Now, I’ve not played Gears of War 2 or its Horde mode, so it may well be the case that Bungie have ripped Epic off mightily in terms of game style. But you know what? I don’t care, because Firefight is bloody amazing. Playing with three Melbourne mates one weeknight, we managed to hold out for five sets of pain, including one where I had to finish the set off solo, with no ammo of any kind, being chased by half-a-dozen Brutes wielding gravity hammers and fuel-rod guns, with the Black Eye skull enabled, dead team-mates watching remote to tell me when a hammer lunge was coming. Such tension I’ve not experienced since trying to no-collision Island Circle R :)

But the week’s not over yet! Also delivered was We Ski… and it’s bloody fantastic. Somehow this cutesy graphics engine, combined with some intuitive motion controls with the Wiimote & nunchuck, manages to create an absolutely convincing sensation of skiing. The first time I found an ice patch on the shady side of a mountain I panicked, flattening my skis in terror; the first time I hit the powder trail I yelped in delight, then started carving trails. It’s simple, it’s bound to be short, and I’m sure there’s some frustration in store – but I’m utterly chuffed that I took a chance and picked this up.

And that’s it! Hopefully this week will yield lots more Firefighting, and maybe a Legendary run… so much to do, so little time.