Category: Retro Reviews

The time has come

A fact’s a fact

It belongs to them

Lets give it back.

mario-bros

Yes, crappy 80s lyrics for a less then crappy video game, to say the least. Super Mario Bros is the game you had to play if you grew up in the late 80s or the early 90s, you had to play Super Mario Bros. It was essentially the COD 4: Modern Warfare of days gone by. It’s influence never went away, and can best be seen with the indie hits Super Meat Boy and Braid in 2010. If you ask any gamer older then the age of 25 what game helped them become infatuated with all things fun and electronic, they will more then likely cite the little red plumber that could.

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So what was it about the first Super Mario Bros. game for the NES that not only made the console a success, but the resurrection of console gaming successful as well? Many things. For one, it pioneered just about every kind of commonplace trick in the game development handbook; teaching the player though design, multiple paths to the same goal, secret levels, warp zones, power-ups, coin collecting, and even the common boss battle all started with Super Mario Bros. It didn’t just save the game industry; it made it what it is today, and will continue to spread its influence on games, gamers, and game makers as a whole. If you want to design video games, I would say it’s just about paramount to get some hands on time with this game. If you have a Wii, try to find it on the virtual console in the Wii Store. If you don’t have any of the nintendo systems, get on Ebay. Or better yet, look up the Nintendo website or watch videos like this one.¬†Good sources on the material at hand.

super-mario-bros-nes

 

I will be reviewing this game like any other; complete with the Good, the Bad, and the Summary. Like all my retro reviews, this will be more about what the game did then wheather or not you should buy it. If you are reading this article wondering if you should buy Super Mario Bros, I will save you time and effort by saying this; go buy the game, and don’t tell any of your gamer friends you were unsure. They will smack you upside the head for your perceived ignorance.¬†Just buy it. It’s worth it. Here are a few reasons why, in the form of a review.

To be clear; Super Mario Bros for the NES is a…

Very Fun

 

Somewhat Punishing

 

Genre Defining Platformer

Again, click on any line for more details. In case you were wondering, this format did work well for me and I might just climb out of obscurity yet.

Next week, we delve into another classic, but Unlike Super Mario Bros, you might not be immediately familar with it unless your a die hard Zelda fan. That’s right; next review is…

Zelda_II_The_Adventure_of_Link_box

 

 

 

It’s July, and for a gamer that means three¬†things.

  1. Less and less excuses to stay inside and play games.
  2. Less and less holidays for gamers to give or receive new games.
  3. Less and less and even less reasons for publishers to release brand spanking new games to retailers.

These are the ingredients to the ever dreaded summer draught that plagues the industry annually like¬†a migrating flock of money eating locus. True, the vast majority of gamers are no longer teenagers and children, but until the big players in the current industry mold adjust their business models to compensate for that, most of the big budget games aren’t going to be released until at least October. That includes the vast majority of the titles I showed you on my E3 bulliten¬†are in that pile, and on top of that, the last PS4 contest I ran left my wallet bone dry. So here I am – no games to buy and no money to buy them with. At least not from the triple A world. That’s why I’m going to do something different this summer; Today, on the first day of July, I will begin what I like to call¬†Retro Month. From now on, every July, I will be unearthing games that have been out for a while and reviewing them based on both their historical merits, and how they stack up to today’s standards. August, meanwhile, will from now on be¬†Indie Month. The theme there will be nothing but reviews of Indie titles; games that have a low budget, come from a small, obscure team, and/or can be found on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstaion Store, Steam, or App store exclusively. I might even be able to get an interview with an Indie dev with insights on how to break into the industry. This way, I can save my earnings by playing games I already own and¬†then¬†buying games for cheap quickly and swiftly.

Let Retro Month…Begin!

 

2011-11-12 16.50.28

If the title of this article and the big picture wasn’t enough of a hint, we are going to review a certain kind of system for you today. It’s the system that resurrected the game industry from what was then certain extinction. The crash of the 80s was a kiss of death for companies like Atari, Colecovision, and the likes of which you will never hear of because they died before they went public. To this day, they are unearthing the remains of¬†E.T. for Atari, a game so bad that they literally took all the unsold copies and buried them in the desert. Such stories are not only common then but are common in the now, and history would repeat itself had the people who changed it for the better not become the kings of the new world.

For you see, after the games market collapsed, mainstream america and it’s media declared video games a dead fad. A reasonable estimate at the time, since fads that come and go have pretty much illustrated both the latter half of the 70s and the early 80s (Pet Rock, anyone?). It was the general consensus of just about every pundit on 1984 prime time that the video game fad had come and gone and the world was ready to move on to more important things, like computers. The fact that computers usually had interactive games on them was rarely discussed. What was normally discussed was the booming economy of Japan and the corporate powerhouses whose imported goods were quickly flooding the US markets. Products that came from the land of the rising sun were quickly starting to outnumber American made products, and no more was this apparent then the arcade. Among them, a great and ambitious game called Donkey Kong was king of the pizzeria, and was making a killing for the toy company that made it. You may have heard of that company; they call themselves Nintendo these days.

To make a long history lesson short, the designer of the game Shigeru Myamoto wanted to try something ambitious, CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi (died fairly recently) went along with it, and one extremely clever Market campaign and 60 million sales later, the game business was back and made Nintendo it’s king.

2011-11-12 16.50.28

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This little system that could is what started it all; the Nintendo Entertainment System. NES for short. For many of you, it was probably your first real taste of what video gaming is all about. Join the club, ladies and gentlemen, and don’t¬†mind the crowd. My professor for video game design Ryan Morrison said it best when he described us as the Nintendo generation. Like generation X, we proud ourselves on being different and often define ourselves by our entertainment choices. We also tend to have our views shaped by the technologies that made our generation possible, and which continue to affect our world. The ballads of Super Mario, Metroid, and Zelda have repeated themselves throughout the ages, and they all had their first adventures on our TV with this little cartridge machine.

I won’t lie to you; unearthing this thing from my mother’s basement was a blast from the past. Games I fondly remember playing over and over again in the days of yore resonated within my mind as I search through each cartridge. I had it hooked up to my room fairly easily, and it took a lot of patience just to get the thing working. Not surprising, since the game is almost as old as I am. For the record, I turned 27 this year, and I started playing this thing when I was two years old. As Gabe from Penny-Arcade once said, this system is old enough to drink.

God, that was a long introduction. Is everyone still with us? Good. Lets begin the review then.

Real quick though; this isn’t about the quality of the system. Period. For it’s generation, this machine was a revolution in gaming. The review is more for what that revolution was, and how it might affect you if you get the same nostalgia bug that bit me and decide to unearth your own. Enjoy.

 

Beautifully Simple

 

Often Unreliable

 

Gaming History Piece

 

That’s it. If your wondering where the rest of the review is, know that this time I’m trying something different. I have a seperate article linked to each line of words on the Seven Word Synopsis, and all you need to do is click on one to see a better description of what I mean. If the hits come off this thing pretty well, I will model all my reviews after it.

Next review will be about the game that made this system a legend. That’s right; a retro review of

 mario-bros

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Every once in a while, a man who plays video games like Splinter Cell, Halo or Gears of War asks himself a very important question; if I really am a grown man, why am I still playing games where you just bad guys?! If you think about it, most M rated video games amount to little more then bloody, sex crazed interactive GI Joe cartoons. Splinter Cell is about a commando that fights enemies of the state (Michael Bay, anyone?), Halo is about a commando cyborg that fights aliens (similar to the movie, uh… Aliens) and Gears of War you pretty much face off against both at the same time. They rarely let the gameplay or the story of the game itself go any deeper then that, and even though the rating is technically for “ages 17 and up” the content seems to target a teenage middle school demographic. Fortunately, for every ten Halo and COD games, we get something like Papers, Please. The game takes place¬†in the fictional communist country of Arstotzka. You just won the lottery for a job as a customs agent, and your basically the one who has to stamp the passports for people crossing the border into your country. You have to double check their passports, make sure all the rules are followed (they change daily) and support your family’s overall well being with whatever money you can scrape up on the job.

Screenshot 2014-03-25 16.37.31

It’s the kind of game that reminds us that “Mature” isn’t just a warning to protect little Johnny from shooting zombies and hookers. With less technology then a game from two decades ago, Papers Please delves into issues ranging from security vs. privacy to terrorism, socialism, and foreign policy. Words rarely used in the modern FPS.¬†That’s not to say that this indie classic is not without its fair share of flaws. Papers Please is like any other piece of work; it has its ups and downs. While I would gladly recommend anyone buy it for the price tag alone ($9.99), I suggest you read the Seven Word Synopsis for not only an understanding of why you should buy this game, but why games like this earn an M rating far more then other so-called “Mature” titles like GTA and the like. Not that GTA was a bad game, of course; it just takes more then F-bombs and crude sex humor to be adult in the true sense.

As always, lets start with the good.

Sophistically Designed

Screenshot 2014-03-25 16.36.01

If you read a review on this game already, you already know that this is a different experience. Whereas most games commit to simply looking pretty while you kill things that are dubbed arbitrarily as evil henchmen to the boss you fight at the end, Papers Please takes a different approach to not only gameplay and story but morality in general. Not once, not twice, but almost every time I played this game, I come away with a sense of fear, guilt, uncertainty and wonder.

This game is not “fun” in the traditional sense. Much the same way the movie Schindler’s list wasn’t, or the novel Grapes of Wrath. Both of which are revered classics, despite their disturbing and provocative subject matter. Subjects like targeting ethnic groups for “random searches” and the weight of helping someone in desperate need versus loyalty to your job and country come into play very early. It only becomes darker, deeper, and more intricate as the game goes on. And every time the rabbit hole gets deeper, the game sends an important and powerful message that reflects not only the moral ambiguities of life an liberty, but the reality of how they affect you and what you can do about it. The fact is the game is made to intricately point out these themes not only with dialogue or backstory, but through the core mechanics. You collect wages for every passport you check, you need to use the wages to pay rent, heat, and food, and if you don’t pay heat or food your family will suffer until you catch up. Neglect it long enough, and your family will die one by one. Balancing that is the fact that every time you deny or approve a passport that you shouldn’t, you get a fine, and that doing the right thing often means denying or approving someone wrongfully. Plus the number of citations you get in general affect your advancement in the game differently, with ending for every outcome. Part of you will want to play this game again and again, and the other would rather think of something more pleasant. The game’s message hits home in the age of NSA domestic spying, terrorist threats, and heightened concerns for national security. Penny Arcade said it best – safety is an illusion, and we are all F’ed.

Meticulously Difficult

Screenshot 2014-03-25 16.35.11

I was thinking about knock on the games less then sophisticated graphics, but given the price and probable budget the team had to work with making it, it’s more fitting to leave that for the summary and point out a more serious price to pay while playing this game – attention to detail. Unlike many games where you can practically play on autopilot if the difficulty isn’t cranked too high, Papers Please demands that you pay attention, work quickly and efficiently, and be aware of what your doing constantly. I actually like this, only because it forces you to feel the tension of working as a public servant, but I wouldn’t list it as bad if it didn’t have serious drawbacks. For one thing, you need to read each document carefully and notice what every face looks like. Plus the rules for what passes and what doesn’t changes with every day that passes in the game, forcing you to waste precious time making money just figuring out what the new rules are. It’s easy to waste time just trying to understand how to play, making this game hard to pick up and play. If you want to devote some time and effort to experiencing Papers Please, do it during the evening you are alone and/or free, and learn the controls before you even select start. Make sure you know how to pause it, cuz time is money in this game. I think the difficulty is well placed and confirms my point of this being a game that actually is mature even more. After all, learning about new countries’ regulations on the fly while stamping passports and checking for terrorist contraband to select nationalities will keep out little Timmy better then stamping a white “M” on the bottom left hand corner. Hell, most punk teenaged boys look for that M rating. Just ask your clerk at GameStop. He’ll tell you how many kids buy GTA V on a daily basis. I bet none of them have even heard of Papers Please, for better or for worse. Design marks a games audience better then censorship any day of the week. This game only proves it.

Affordable Zeitgeist Critique

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Fancy words up there, huh Billy Bob? For those of you reading this and scratching their heads, let me save you guys the trouble of fetching a dictionary; zeitgeist is a word of german origin that means “spirit of the times”. Basically conveys what life and culture is like during a certain era (usually the current one) and what it says about humanity as a whole. My Grandkids will one day be playing this game, and I will be able to use it as an example of how terrorism shocked the nation and how drastic security measures were at the time. They will probably criticize my era for doing things like invading privacy and singling out minorities to prevent terrorism. Such things will reflect how we were and how they are now. That is zeitgeist; knowing who you are and what you are when. Papers Please paints a dark picture to that affect, but only because its true.

Critique is easier to define, and most of you probably know what it means. To be perfectly clear, a critique is different from a criticism in the fact that it doesn’t just review, commentate, or nitpick a work, a critique is more of a careful analysis. This analysis often borders on satire, and is meant to put the themes presented in a clearer light. I call this game a “zeitgeist critique” because it’s basically just that; a careful and educated analysis of our current state of affairs. Although it may not stay current for very long. It was release a few years ago, and while we haven’t completely ended our occupation of the middle east, regulations for terrorism are starting to relax, and the days when we regard the zeitgiest Papers Please is critiquing as past may come sooner then we think. That being said, you still can’t bring liquids on board an airliner, and I can easily remember a time this piece of pixelated art represents, and I’m not even 30 years old yet. So yeah; this game’s underlying themes are still relevant.

I won’t insult your intelligence by defining affordable, so I will only say this; even though this game is dirt cheap on the steam store, I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone who is inexperienced and/or unfamiliar with electronic games in general. While it technically is a “point and click” game, what it is your pointing and click involves a great deal of multi-tasking and attention. You have been warned.

If that doesn’t scare you off, and the price is right for you, by all means go to your local Steam Store and buy Papers Please, please. It’s not as pretty as Halo, but the game behind the graphics is a breath of fresh air. The cloud it comes from sure is ominous, though…

Next game up for review is RUST. But before that, I got a surprise for you guys.

and gals.

Not sexist.

_PapersPleaseLogo

Hello again everyone.

I got some nice feedback for my site now. I need to make a few “Feedback” posts every so often, just to keep up with the¬†Jones.¬†
First thing I learned wasn’t exactly a huge shock: My Sleeping Dogs video sucked balls. I had formatting issues with the video files, I forgot to make the gameplay capture videos fit the screen, and the back ground music clashes with the gameplay sounds and my voiceover. Plus I used the camera and mic for my computer, which was bound to be crappy. Need to find my HD flip video recorder and a better microphone. Thinking about using my Rock Band Mic, but might opt for something more professional.¬†
I will keep this all in mind during this week’s video review of Farcry 3; with any luck, it will rock the house and give it the right kind of exposure.
Anywhoha, let’s start with a bit of news and a follow up review
First the news: Remember that game I reviewed yesterday called The War Z?
Sergey Titov, the man of this unfortunate hour

You read that right. That controversy I wrote about earlier was a lot more intense then I thought. Apparently they had to make a formal apology and everything. You see, the people who made War Z, aka Hammepoint Interactive, tend to have a bad history of making promises they did not keep. They posted on the Steam store about having more levels then they had, more features then the game actually had, and when they promised to put more in with patches the fans were dismissive. Why?

Because the executive for Hammer Studios, Sergey Titov, did a similarly bad move in some of his previous games. Among the more infamous titles around the net is a PC game called ¬†“Big Rigs:Over the Road Racing”. And like the now-up-and-coming War Z, it did not deliver what it promised on the packaging. This is the subject of today’s review

Simply by seeing the box that the game was made in illustrates the point. You clearly see a cop car trying desperately to cut off a huge flaming Semi. It was supposed to be a game where you had to avoid dealing with cops while smuggling illegal contraband across the border before your competitor does. 
Problem is, you never actually see any cop cars. And your opponent doesn’t move. And if you turn too fast the game becomes more glitchy¬†then an Atari 2600 in a magnet factory. The videos I posted should illustrate how bad the game was, and the fact of the matter is up until War Z, this was Titov’s most famous title. Only due to the negative press.¬†
I did not play the game, of course; they stopped even trying to sell it before I even heard of it. But I think I saw the entire game experience, if you can even call it that, with just these two videos. I think I was lucky not to waste my money on this.
The pattern might be what is called a Texas Sharp Shooter Fallacy, (Click this link to find out more) but it does justify the intense backlash up to a point, and makes it clear why such a mistake might have been made.
Especially when you compare it to a game made by Howard Scott Warshaw that you might have heard of follows the same pattern that both Big Rigs and War Z follows. Can you guess what that pattern is? 
Howard Scott Warshaw’s catastropic failure

No? Big Rigs, War Z, and Warshaw’s ET game each and all had HORRIBLE production schedules. War Z tried to make an entire virtual world within a year, as promised. Big Rigs was originally supposed to be a small part of a bigger game that got split in two midway in development; only the pre-alpha title was released. And ET? only a few weeks before the holidays was what¬†Warsaw¬†started with. Not ideal.¬†

Video games are a work of art; comparable to the Eiffel tower and The Last Supper. both were made with care,¬†precision, time, and effort. You can’t build Rome in a day, and you sure as hell can’t make 10,000+ km of lush, detailed¬†environments¬†within a year, even if you are using parts from other games.¬†
This and the fact that he seems to admit no true responsibility for the blatant mislabeling inspires a very special Seven Word Synopsis for him and him alone.
Seven Word Synopsis:

Get your 

head out 

of your ass!

Seriously, it’s one thing to make a bad game. Even the best developers go though it; Warshaw is still hailed as a great designer, and continued making good press well into the 2000s.
It’s another thing to¬†mistakenly¬†label your game. The only thing you really did wrong is fail to correct the description of your title prior to launch, and failed to mention that it was an Alpha. Not exactly something that gets you sent to hell.
But what will convince Saint Pete to pull the level and dip you into the Devil’s flaming lava¬†Jacuzzi¬†tub is the fact that you turned right around and blamed the same fans who supported you every step of the way until you dropped the ball and blamed them for “Misreading” the information. Why don’t you just post a picture on your twitter post of your middle finger? Save the 140 letters for something constructive.
Anyway, that’s my Retro Review of Big Rigs:Over the Road Racing. The public spanking of Titov was free.¬†
Your welcome ūüôā



It is time to turn over a new leaf.
No Longer will I keep my fans waiting. I will give you the schedule as promised, and will do my best to stick to it. If I cannot, I must instead give you a post explaining why.
In this case, it is because I was learning to use new Video capture software and making thatn video took a lot longer then I anticipated. I will need to start on my Video Reviews a lot sooner. 
Anyway, I am going to take a crack at making a Retro Review this time around. For those of you in the dark  about that concept, it basically means I will review a game that has been out for years (as opposed to my usual months) and reflect on both its historic significance and what it brought to its current generation and/or genre. In this case, I will be reviewing

It might be hard to remember, but there was once a time where people dreaded¬†the oncoming release of a new Batman game. The Batman franchise had a rough time entering the game industry, to say the least, as it’s earlier titles were most often either bad cop-in of movie titles or sloppy, glitch riddled games made more to cash in on the Batman trademark rather then do it justice. Games like “Dark Tomorrow” and “Return of the Joker” seemed to almost prove that Batman wasn’t destined for video game¬†stardom. At least not until a little¬†development¬†team called Rocksteady came along…

I remember the first time I saw this game on shelves. I was getting Dead Space 2 for my Xbox 360 over at the local GameStop when I spotted a rather professional looking Joker illustration on Gameinformer Magazine. I decided to skim through it a bit, and noticed two things: one, that they were obviously making a new Batman game, and two; judging by the screenshots, it looked pretty good. I felt a rather amusing mix of¬†excitement¬†and disappointment at the prospect (I had plans to make a Batman game of my own) and looked forward to seeing what this new team had to offer. I preordered a copy of my own, bought it when it was released, and played it on my PS3. That was about six years ago; my jaw hasn’t left the ground since.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the most important games to be released in our generation; not just because of what it did for the Batman franchise, but the impact it and it’s better known predecessor “Arkham City” did for the way games are made today. Without it, the intuitive counter button systems and the AWESOME cinematic in game moments of today would probably have been overlooked in favor of some flashier gimmick. Plus it demonstrates how strong of a story you can tell with the interactive medium. The opening scene by itself give the player an unrivaled¬†experience¬†that even modern day movies have a hard time¬†achieving. While it can be argued (and rightfully so) that it borrowed a lot of elements from a previous game called “Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” (a great title for a movie tie in, recommend buying it.), it does offer a lot of psychological and dramatic elements that were unusual for a game at the time, in particular a Batman game. It proves to this day that our medium, the video game, is just as good a storytelling medium as any blockbuster movie or best selling novel; if not more so.

The thing is, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the brick and mortar that made games like Arhkam City, Sleeping Dogs, and any other video game with grapple guns, unlockable secrets, and simplistic attack combinations. Generations are paved with these kinds of games, and Arkham Asylum proves how taking a big risk (and making a Batman game at the time was a big risk!) can not only make you stand out, but rocket you into first place and make your game and its predecessors revered for ages to pass. Not bad, Rocksteady; not bad.

Anyway, now is the time for my traditional Seven Word Synopsis. It will do the same as it ever did; two word for the good, two words for the bad, two words for the recommendation. This time, however, I will assume you are buying it used, only because most copies of the game are either used, dirt cheap, or some sort of “Greatest hits” brand nowadays. So here is my Seven words if you want to brush up on your video game history over the last decade.

Seven word Synopsis

Made Franchises

Batman Oriented

Great Superhero Game.
For those of you wondering why I changed the last three words for this game, I am following the request of a commentator. You see, kids? Ask and ye shall receive!

Thanks +Michael Tunnell. Your feedback is appreciated.

That’s it for the retro review. If you have any interesting tidbits about this game’s history that I overlooked, leave a comment and share it with the world.¬†

For Tomorrow:


See you then…