Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We want cake! Where's our cake?

By this time, I would presume that everybody that had preordered “Portal 2” has had a chance to start digging into it. I really liked the original “Portal”, but I'm not sure what to do about the sequel.

“Portal” places you in a testing facility under the supervision of the Aperture Science Corporation. They are trying out a new handheld device that allows instant teleportation between two surfaces. The device shoots two different colored portals, and only one portal of each color can exist at a time. Your entrance velocity into one portal is your exit velocity out of the other portal, although the relative direction of gravity will sometimes change on the transition between portals. For example, you see a deep chasm below you that you can't jump across. Shoot one portal on the floor of the chasm, and another on the wall above you, and jump down into the chasm. The acceleration due to gravity increases your velocity, and your exit out of the other portal flings you across the chasm that you wouldn't be able to jump across. Granted, this may not be the only way to proceed, but it's nice to have those kinds of options.

As it stands, I could just get the PC version of “Portal 2” at some point over the summer if I think that I will have time to really dig into it, and it wouldn't matter so much when I play it. I'm not that worried about spoilers. I can hold my ears, or not – it won't matter so much since I heard the internet meme of “The cake is a lie” for so long before I actually played “Portal” that I wasn't even sure what it really meant by the time I played the game. It's like when you look at a familiar word too long and start to break it down into letters, or like when Vizzini starts second-guessing himself endlessly (to his peril, I might add) in “The Princess Bride”. Was there really a cake, or did they want me to think that there was a cake? But if that's what they thought I was going to think, then was there any need for an actual cake? Or perhaps there was a cake but also a specific reason for making me think that there wasn't a cake, making me want the cake more knowing I couldn't have it?

Needless to say, I played “Portal” unencumbered by the thought of cake – trying to think in portals was challenging enough. I had even played the predecessor to “Portal” - “Narbacular Drop”, but that game while sharing the basic mechanic of a portal gun, doesn't play that much like “Portal” due to a less interesting set of physical rules. I am looking forward to returning to the world of “Portal”, even though GlaDOS, the computer that runs the testing facility in the game scares the crap out of me.

(Side note: I answered the phone at work one afternoon about a month ago, only to find that I was being robocalled. Not just a crappy recorded message to tell me to refinance my mortgage – but high quality voice synthesis, and an adult female voice just a little too close to Ellen McLain's, the voice actress who played GlaDOS in “Portal”. I hung up the phone and had to get up and walk around to shake off the feeling of dread.)

The real problem for me is that of the expanded game this time. No, I'm not talking about all the new game elements, because any series of games will always add or subtract elements as it progresses. I expect that. I'm talking about the cooperative mode. It would be one thing to just wait for the right moment to play the single player game and immerse myself in the experience, but now I fear that if I wait too long to play it, I may rob myself of the opportunity to play the co-op part of the game. I hear that the console versions have split screen local co-op. Maybe I'll have to teach my older son to think in portals.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Follow your instincts.

There was a day, years and years ago, that I thought that I saw an upright bass in a pawn shop quickly through the open front door as I drove by.  As it was around the corner from the house, it was easy enough to go and check on what I thought I saw.  Oddly enough, what I thought I saw turned out to be a large camera tripod that had been fully extended - but they did have an upright bass in the store.

For me, this was an important lesson in following my instincts.

So, today when the little voice in my head said to stop by the Play N Trade store because I'm never usually near it, I listened.  I scored the DS version of Desktop Tower Defense, which my son was pretty jazzed about, but what I was really excited about was scoring a copy of Metroid Prime Pinball, also for the Nintendo DS handheld. I had given up on this game since it was released pretty close to the original release of the DS.  One of the nice things about Play N Trade are that they still have games and accessories for older systems there - there were a few dozen N64 games, quite a number of PS1 and XBox games, and I even saw a few Dreamcast controllers thrown in there along with the pink Xbox360 controllers that some retailers are having a hard time moving.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This is not about Sengoku Basara.

I have been trying to work on a big writeup of Sengoku Basara, with a whole compare and contrast to Devil Kings section in it, only to realize that it's getting in the way of me actually playing the games. I think I need to go back to shorter blog posts for a while.

Over this last weekend, #1 son and I went to get Okamiden and No More Heroes 2:Desperate Struggle at our local Gamestop. Since I waited so long to pick up NMH2, which came out at the same time as Tatsunoko vs Capcom, it was only $13. I was completely losing my mind when the clerk asked me if I wanted a used copy for a dollar less, and I know they make more money from used copies, but I did not want to be their test pilot for a used copy only to save a dollar.

Since the weekend, #1 son has spent a lot of time playing Okamiden, predicated on finishing his math homework first. I even got him to finish his weekend math homework Saturday morning before he ate his breakfast because I told him that I wanted him to get that out of the way before we purchased Okamiden.

Okamiden is a DS game that is a sequel to Capcom's Okami. You play as Chiberatsu, a pup of the wolf goddess Ameratsu featured in the original game. Evil once again rises up in the land, and Chiberatsu solves puzzles and meets friends to help combat the menace. Since a main feature of the game is using written symbols to interact with your environment in a variety of ways, it is quite suited to the Nintendo DS and its touchscreen. Instead of drawing symbols with an analog thumbstick or drawing in the air with the Wiimote, the stylus and the touchscreen allow you to draw more naturally. In battle mode, just drawing a slash across the screen is an additional attack. If you need the sun when it is dark, draw a circle in the sky. If there is a crack in a wall, draw a circle with a diagonal line through it (like a Q, but upside down) and a small cherry bomb appears to open the wall for you. As you go through the game, you find more friends and brush techniques that allow you to make further progress. I can wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone that liked Okami, and to anyone who likes action/adventure games, unless you're stylus-averse.

Once we got back to the house Saturday with both games, #1 son quickly absorbed into his DS, and I didn't really talk to him that much the rest of the day unless he was laying in the way. I didn't start No More Heroes 2 until both kids were otherwise occupied, and I had dishes to wash anyway.

No More Heroes 2:Desperate Struggle is the sequel to Ubisoft's critically acclaimed Wii game by Suda51 and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture, No More Heroes. Our protagonist, Travis Touchdown, gets back in the assassin business about the same time he discovers that his one real friend in the city of Santa Destroy has been brutally murdered by a group of thugs. Armed with a beam katana (that's what you call a l*ghts*b*r if you don't want to have to pay George Lucas a nickel every time you say it or swing it around) and an array of wrestling moves learned from countless hours of TV wrestling, Travis once again works his way back up the assassin ranking ladder to fight the #1 assassin and avenge his friend.

It's very easy to pick back up, even though it feels like a long time since I've played the original No More Heroes. The biggest difference I noticed was how much harder it was to recharge the sword. In the first game, you aim the Wiimote skyward, hold the 1 button, and shake the Wiimote back and forth. (You can keep the jokes about what that looks like to yourself.) In this game, all of that is the same but it seemed like it took a lot more effort. Of course, it could be that me shaking a virtual beam katana handle to recharge my virtual batteries were beating the heck out of my actual Wiimote and the actual batteries. I had to swap batteries at least once, although the state of all the rechargeable AA batteries in my house probably has more to do with a few marathon sessions of New Super Mario Bros. Wii than anything else. The one thing that I don't like about the game is that you can't just walk around the city any more, but the giant empty city was the biggest complaint that most reviewers made about the first game. I really like the empty city and driving the motorcycle around, or even walking. It made the city seem more real and gave it a sense of place. Now, that is replaced with a menu system overlaid on a map of the city. I might have preferred the option of going places instantly via the map when I wanted to, but also being allowed to venture out into the city when I wanted to. Some of the things that you found by wandering around the city in the first game are in treasure boxes in the boss levels in this game. I haven't figured out how to view the collected items yet.

I can only recommend this game to adults that have a firm sense of reality, since this game is fairly detached from reality in quite a number of ways. There is an excessive amount of violence, a fair amount of profanity, and a couple of unrealistic characterizations of female characters. While it is not required, the game will make a little bit more sense if you have played and finished the first one already.

In other news, I finally got a new set of wheels. What am I excited about? I am excited that all the doors open, the A/C works, I can fit stuff in the back, and there's a 1/8” Stereo jack marked “AUX” that I can hook the audio from the Nintendo DS into. I sense a mobile session of Korg DS-10+ in my future.