Monday, May 19, 2014

Google Bends Time, or Extra Special Cube Edition!

I was pretty sure that I got a 25th Anniversary Rubik's Cube, with one reflective silver side instead of the white side sometime after my older child was born. He's only 13 now, and 25+13=38. So, how did we get to Google's posting of the 40th Anniversary of the Rubik's Cube as a Google Doodle?

Well, you have to change the goalposts a little. The 25th Anniversary cube came out in 2005, which is 25 years after the 1980 Ideal Toy Company product release, and the 30th Anniversary wooden cube came out in 2010. Those two things are still on the same timeline. However, if you look at when Ernő Rubik actually built a working prototype of the cube, that was in 1974, which is 40 years ago.

Like most Google Doodles, it's well-constructed, but I tried not to take too much magic out of it to see if there were keyboard shortcuts.  You do get a nifty screen for solving, which honestly I wasn't sure was going to happen or not.

I can't say that I was trying that hard, and I certainly didn't know I was being timed, but it's not too bad for what it is. I'm sure I had to turn the cube around more than usual, and I had a couple of moves I had to do twice, or differently, or whatever else was required, so 20 extra moves didn't seem like a lot.

I had thought about shooting some cube video for this evening, but I think the surprise of the finish screen is fun enough.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I guess this can't count as an overlooked PS3 game...

...unless you count the idea that Americans overlooked the Sengoku Basara series and made it so they wouldn't make an American version.

We finally picked up our first import game, Sengoku Basara Utage. It's a companion game to the Capcom hack and slash set in the Sengoku period,  Sengoku Basara 3. While it's not the only game of this style using historical characters with fantastic abilities (Sengoku Basara is basically a clone of Konami's Dynasty Warriors series), it's not really a common or popular game style in the west. You can read some of my rambling about it here.

It's been out for a while but it had been $80 or so on amazon every time we thought to look for it. We were looking for some other things and saw that there was a copy that went down under $40, so we picked it up. The game controls the same as the American version of Sengoku Basara 3, but the menus are a little bit different because Utage3 has some additional game modes, and we don't read any Japanese yet so we're winging it a little bit. This isn't like trying to play a game in Spanish or Italian where we understand the alphabet and some of the Latin root words. This is only working because the language of the gameplay itself is familiar to us. I think my older son has unlocked all of the new characters, but he has a long way to go to get all the weapons and allies unlocked.

The most amusing thing about the game so far is which words do end up in English. The combo counter is in Arabic numerals, and the combo descriptors that show above the combo count are in English. I'm sure that there are other funny parts of the game, but we're losing all of the story and character comments.

The biggest difference in this game is that most of the new playable characters in the game were all the non-playable major opponents from the last game, and all of the other playable characters return. It uses your game data from Sengoku Basara 3 and uses it to establish what level and what skills your old playable characters have available to them. It was nice that even though the primary bad guy (Nobunaga Oda) is rather time-consuming to unlock and difficult to defeat in Sengoku Basara 3, he unlocks fairly soon in Utage even if you hadn't unlocked him in the other version. There are some new areas, but I haven't seen anything spectacular yet. There is one additional character that didn't show up in the original version of 3, and it's the character most prominently featured on the cover of the game, but I'm not 100% sure about his name. I think it's Hisahide Matsunaga. (Yay! I got it right - thank goodness for the Wiki.)

Sengoku Basara 4 came out in Japan in January, so I presume that's why the price dropped on Utage. I also presume that Sengoku Basara 4 will not be localized for any other countries, so I can only guess that we'll be trying to muddle our way through in Japanese again if everybody decides that we want to play it.

Part of me hopes that my younger son gets into the game enough to start learning some Japanese.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Is this thing still on?

I used to do blog posts at 1up before I ever started here on blogspot, but it would appear that 1up is brokenish lately.  My blog posts that I link elsewhere go to this so-far reliable blogspot page, but there are probably some amusing anecdotes from 2007 that didn't make it. Crap, have I been blogging that long? It seems like I was super-late to the party. Anyway, if you want to find the old stuff, it's here. New stuff will only be posted here until further notice.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

PS3 games people overlooked, part 2

Another one of the PS3 games that I wanted to get to before it was no longer readily available was Shadows of the Damned. It has a few fun things going for it.
  1. Shinji Mikami is one of the Creative Producers. He's been involved with Devil May Cry, Killer 7, Resident Evil 1, Resident Evil 4, some of the Phoenix Wright games, an obscure but critically acclaimed brawler called God Hand, and that game Vanquish that I just finished not that long ago.
  2. Goichi Suda, more often known to Americans as Suda 51 is the Executive Producer. He previously worked with Shinji Mikami on Killer 7, but has also worked on one of my favorite Wii titles No More Heroes and its sequel No More Heroes 2, the zombie brawler Lollipop Chainsaw, and the arty-looking assassin hack-and slash title Killer is Dead.
  3. Steven Blum voices the main character, Garcia Hotspur. While Mr. Blum is a seasoned professional, and few doubt the quality of his voice, I was a little surprised that it was him. I was partly surprised because I didn't identify it right away, and partly because I thought they would have tried to get a Mexican-American voice actor. Since Steven Blum lives in southern California, it's not like he's unfamiliar with the accent.
  4. Garcia's sideckick/comic relief/tour guide/club/gun/motorcycle Johnson is voiced by English actor Greg Ellis. 
The premise of the story is that you're some sort of fancy pants demon hunter, and the demons decide to take your girlfriend from you as revenge. (A tale as old as King Kong.) This is complicated by the fact that you decide to travel directly to Hell to get her back, and she might not even be who you think she is.

It's a third person shooter with a extra non-standard game mechanic. (You could say the same thing about Vanquish and its speed boost mechanic.) The non-standard mechanic is a light/dark mechanism. Light is good, darkness is bad. Dark enemies need to be shot with a light bullet before you can destroy them. Dark areas need to be lit up before they can be traversed or you lose health. Some objects have different properties in the dark and in the light. Also, demon baby door guards like strawberries, but sometimes they'd rather have brains or eyeballs to eat. I am worried this is going to turn the entire game into a series of lame fetchquests, but it hasn't happened yet. (Maybe someone should make a parody of an action/RPG called "A Series of Lame Fetchquests".)

The graphics are really interesting looking, and there are lots of eye-catching posters and handbills on the walls that add amusing subtext to the story. The voice work is great, and the music is eerie and atmospheric punctuated with little Spanish guitar accents. The story is just twisted enough that I'm hooked in, but the game has been slow-going for me so far.

Other than some explicit puzzle solving hints, the game doesn't always teach you what it wants you to do, and it's hard to tell when the things you're doing in combat are effective or not. Certainly I don't want a game to feel like it has to hold my hand and tell me everything, but if an enemy doesn't have a health bar or any visual indicator that you're doing damage to it it's hard to decide what the best course of action is.

The other problem I'm having with it probably is due to the fact that I'm not playing regular shooters - my aim is terrible, and I can't seem to stay focused on enemies. It may be a sign that I need a different control scheme, since I didn't remember having this much of problem with Resident Evil 5 and 6 or Vanquish.

I think I'm going to have to revisit this game later, but my first impression is that there are a few things wrong with the game and a few things wrong with me.