Sunday, January 24, 2010

You're such a girl

Over Christmas one of my co-workers got a PS3 from his wife along with a few games.   One night while comparing his trophies I noticed that he had Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  I'll admit that I'm a sucker for trophies.  I prefer the term Trophy Hunter while others I know enjoy likening me to a "trophy whore".  In the end it doesn't matter because the trinkets are basically meaningless but to my mind add a bit of extra game play value.  Hannah Montana The Movie the video game (sounds so silly to say that five times fast) is a trophy hunter's dream.  The game is an easy Platinum-- Platinum being the highest trophy earned on a PS3 game after earning all others offered in a game.  Some games are brutally hard to earn a Platinum trophy. In the end when you look at the collection of trophies it is pretty cool to have some a few of the higher value.

I asked if I could borrow Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  The initial reaction was, "Are you serious?  That's a kids game."  Hey I've got 3 kids.  I'm borrowing it so they can play it.  Again the response, "Are you serious?"  So I had to reveal the truth and say that I really only wanted to play it for the trophies.  My gamer cred (if I even really had any) was slowly dropping with my co-worker.  But after a few days of pleasantly asking if I could borrow the game he relented.

Thursday night I came home with Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  I had dinner and then went downstairs to play the game.  My son (who is 9) came downstairs a few minutes after I had started to play, looked at the TV and realized that I wasn't playing Assassin's Creed II or Dragon Age: Origins and with a very incredulous tone asked, "What are YOU playing dad?"

"Hannah Montana The Movie the video game"

Blank stare back from my son.  He looked at the TV again and then looked at me and said, "You're such a girl sometimes dad" and promptly ran upstairs to tell the rest of the family.  "Dad's playing Hannah Montana!"  Several muted laughs could be heard through the basement ceiling.

Shortly after that however my son came back downstairs and asked if he could play now.

My son, being 9, has watched many episodes of Hannah Montana.  As a father I'd like to think that he is watching the show for the wholesome family friendly messages that are a part of each episode.  In reality I think it is a combination of him enjoying the slapstick nature of the kid centric hilarity on the show but also a bit of a young boy crush on Miley Cyrus.

Regardless of this I relented and let my son play because I had to go pick up my 11 year old daughter from dance practice.  Upon returning from picking up my daughter from dance I went back downstairs to find my son was completely sucked into the game and he would let me have the controller back.  My younger daughter came down to join us and after my son admitted that he couldn't figure out how to do the dance moves that are required during the musical numbers I took control and showed them both how to play.

Soon after that, we began to pass the controller round robin between the three of us and continued our time with Hannah Montana The Movie the video game. 

While some might poo-poo the game because it is a kid game, I have to suggest that those nay-sayers give the game a chance.  It isn't a complete wasted effort of a licensed property and tells a decent Hannah Montana story (I've been forced to watch enough of the show over the years to see the predictable formulaic outcome).  It apparently is good enough that my son even commented that he wants to watch the movie now.

The game revolves around the Miley being able to collect items to decorate her touring bus, fetch items to help out friends and relatives, and perform songs at various venues as the title character Hannah Montana.  (For those who don't know, in the fictional world people believe that Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are two separate people.  "Comedy gold" ensues in pretty much every episode as Miley struggles to keep the facade up).  In this day and age of musical rhythm games it feels a bit odd to play one without any actual instruments, but as Hannah Montana sings throughout the game you are prompted with various movements that correspond to different stick movements with the controller.  The game also utilizes the SIXAXIS motion controller capabilities as you can shake the controller to activate some of the on screen prompts.  Overall the controls work fairly well as the challenge is not aimed at a parent of my age, but rather the 7-11 year old demographic that has made the show as popular as it is.

As songs are completed and items are found, credits are put into a little piggie bank.  This allows for the other game play aspect to kick in.  Shopping and playing dress-up.  The on screen likeness of Miley Cyrus is basically a walking talking paper doll that once clothes have been purchased (don't for get the jewelry too!) you can spend hours upon hours trying on various wardrobe styles.

Overall I have to say that I'm impressed with this game.  Two out of three kids in the house have really enjoyed it.  While it isn't a blockbuster AAA title like Uncharted 2, it is a game that is appropriate for kids that isn't too simple, has an engaging story (to a kid), and looks and sounds good.  Voice acting is done by the actual actors from the show and you can clearly tell who each character on screen represents as well.  Toss in a few carnival mini games, mix with the musical numbers and paper doll dress up and you've got a solid kid game.

If you have kids that enjoy the show, Hannah Montana The Movie the video game is worth picking up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Borderlands online fun!

I've mentioned before that I really have enjoyed Borderlands but until this weekend I had never played the game online (sad to say since I bought the game day one but have typically had poor experiences with online play and just never felt the desire to try online with this game)

I can honestly say that as much fun as Borderlands is to play solo, online is so much more fun.

The amount of mobs that spawn feels like the same but their level of toughness definitely seems to increase.  However with the right mix of classes and talent points throughout the classes, the game balances itself perfectly.

Chaos ensues as more and more mobs flock to the group, but seeing how each class can compliment when the going gets tough, the game truly shines.

My only complaint is playing online with random PUGs there is no rolling on the drops.  My time on line was basically everyone for themselves when good items did drop.  The other complaint was seeing items listed on screen that were being picked up but there was no really good way of seeing what the item was.  Not that it really matters because items drop so frequently but it would be nice to be able to see that in retrospect. 

Two other things that I noticed are with the lack of anyone using voice chat in game.  If that was working no one was using it but it would be nice to be able to chat to make sure the everyone was on the same page as far where to go and which quest was being done.  Now granted the on screen display shows what quest is being pursued but with the frentic pace of the game when you join a game already in progress you better hope that the leader of the game knows what they heck they are doing.  The other thing that I find odd is the fact that with any other multiplayer game, once you leave and go the XMB you can find a list of Players Met from your various online matches, but no one met within Borderlands shows up.

With Mad Moxxi coming out soon and having arena play as the focus it would be nice to be able to add met players without having to hop to the XMB while still in game to add a player as a friend.

While most of this post seems negative I can't say enough on how much fun playing online with co-op is.  Maybe it's the fact that I get to play a shooter and not feel like I'm completely frag bait the moment the game loads.  Or maybe it's the fact that the overwhelming odds of the AI are against every player and working as a team to survive just makes it more enjoyable.  Regardless of the kinks I've mentioned, Borderlands is a great game to play online and can't wait to see what future DLC Gearbox has in store to continue the Pandora experience.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Years

Christmas came and went and I didn't get a chance to post anything here.  I hope you all had a Merry Christmas.  We did at our house.  Lots of good food and family came to share in the festivities.  The week between Christmas and New Years has flown by.  During that time, I've done little but become completely sucked into Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2.

The game starts out exactly from the moment of the end of Assissin's Creed 1 and after a short re-introduction into the story and the concept of the Animus you find yourself playing in the 1400s as Ezio Auditore.  Playing as Ezio, you don't start off immediately as a full on Assassin which is a nice touch for new players to the series, you slowly become introduced into game play mechanics and the Auditore family story.  The story is what really drew me into the game, tying my actions in with historical events.  In the beginning Ezio is a young playboy chasing women and running errands for his father, but events that he unintentionally perpetuates, tragedy forces Ezio to become an assassin.

Once Ezio takes on the role of the assassin, game play really kicks.  Jumping across rooftops allows you to navigate throughout the city without having to worry about bumping into everyone as you race from one area to the next.  A pretty cool concept to the game is the encouragement of climbing up and running across the rooftops by lifting the "fog of war" on the in-game map when you climb particularly tall viewpoints.  The vistas are dizzying and gratifying as you climb to explore and unlock new areas of the map.  Each city has a wealth of vendors to buy items from including tailors, art dealers, blacksmiths and doctors. 

As the story unfolds you become the head of a family villa that can increase its status and wealth by purchasing upgrades to same types of vendors mentioned above.  The advantage to upgrading the vendors in your own villa give you a discount when buying wares from them.  The disadvantage to upgrading said vendors is that you have to travel back to your villa to make the purchases.  Fortunately there are fast travel locations in each of the major cities but the load times to go from one city to the other almost makes it not worthwhile.  In the end, if you do invest in your villa you can reap the benefits by collecting funds from the improvements, which toward the end of the game have earned so much that it doesn't matter what vendor you spend money at because there is always a steady income at your disposal.

At the art vendor you have the option to buy treasure maps which then display all of the little hidden chests of money scattered throughout all of the cities.  I spent a fair amount of time collecting all of the treasures from the city of Florence  initially to earn more money for upgrades on medicine pouches but as the story progressed and I had the Villa's income at my disposal I have not been nearly as OCD about picking up every treasure (yet).

The game offers more than just treasures littered through each city for collection hounds such as myself.  There are also several key historical buildings that have hidden glyphs on them.  Switching to the assassin's "Eagle Vision" (which allows you to see all enemies in red, assisting factions--courtesans, thieves, and mercenaries--in blue) you can detect the glyphs.  The glyphs were hidden through the game by another subject of the Animus and help to flesh out the larger story beyond the direct Italian renaissance tale in AC2.  Once the glyphs are found they need to be unlocked.  The puzzles associated with each glyph varies from spotting hidden objects in photos or artwork, to unscrambling art to deciphering codes.  These glyph puzzles were some of my favorite moments within the game and the final payout was definitely worth the trouble to locate them all.

Another "collectible" within the world are 6 seals that unlock Altair's armor from the first game.  These seals are hidden within tombs from other Assassins.  Getting through these tombs however proved to be more than my meager game skills could handle.  I'm not sure if I'm just not cut out to race through certain obstacles under a time limit or if the game engine is out to frustrate me, but I could not complete 2 of the 6 tombs.  Camera controls within these tombs are intentionally locked and caused me to jump at the wrong angle more times that I want to share.  It's a shame too because the unlocking of the armor feels like it would be almost a necessity to really make Ezio a whole assassin, but for now I leave him gimped.

A final "collectible" within the game are Eagle feathers that are strewn across the rooftops and walkways in each city.  Not essential to the completion of the story, the reason for collecting them certainly will have a pay off in the end (and I don't just mean 2 additional trophies) but I don't want to spoil the story.

Overall I really have enjoyed what the game has to offer.  Combat at times is a bit wonky when there are more than 4 guards attacking and utilizing some of the special moves can be frustrating as well.  Jumping through some of the racing obstacles is also a bone of contention for me.  There are so many things to do within the game however that if you get stuck or frustrated with one thing there are "mail carrier" side quests and "beat up the dead beat husband" side quests that you can go off and do something else for a while before attempting to continue with any one particular area.

After playing through part of Assassin's Creed 1 and not finishing it, I would say that Ubisoft has definitely gotten things either fixed or finished as intended this time around.  Assassin's Creed 2 has a satisfying ending that still leaves it wide open for future stories.  This is definitely a mature game worth playing that fortunately doesn't make it so impossible that even a mature non-gamer couldn't get into and enjoy.  I may continue to collect items for the near future or I may finally start Dragon Age: Origins.

More later folks and good gaming!