Saturday, January 1, 2011

Good bye old, hello new

With a new year upon us now I wanted to take a few minutes a reflect on last year's gaming as well as what I am looking forward to this year.

There are several games that I have played in the last part of the year that I haven't had a chance to discuss the are certainly worthy of mentioning.

The first one that comes to mind is Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.  This little downloadable gem takes a classic tweaks everything to make a new classic.  The idea is that while you are gobbling up the little white dots you WANT the ghosts to start chasing you.  The white dots are placed throughout the board in a direct path near sleeping ghosts.  As you move past them they wake up and begin to chase you.  Collecting all of the dots and fruit on one side of the board makes the opposite side of the board change the shape of the maze and puts down a new series of dots and sleeping ghosts.  The payoff comes when you have a nice long chain of ghosts behind you and hit the power pellet. Suddenly that train of ghosts becomes a smorgasbord of edible delights for Pac-Man, chaining bonus points together for a huge scoring run.  There are several different visual styles that are available as well as new maze patterns that unlock.  The one thing I don't care for entirely is the way the leader board is implemented.  Sure it lets you view global stats, your position in the global standings, and the leader board lets you see how well your friends are doing in the game.  The friend leader board doesn't include your own points, so you have to switch back and forth between your global view and the friend view in order to see how you are ranked among friends.  In game music is a collection of trance grooves that help set the tone and adjusts as the timer on each board counts down.  This is definitely a must have game.

Another great downloadable title is Marvel Pinball from Zen Studios.

First off the pinball boards are unique for each character--Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Blade. Each board has themes, villains, etc that stay true to the comic book characters. Effects within each board are unique to either the hero or villain as well. One that really stands out is when Mysterio activates his mind control against Spider-Man and the flippers work in an opposite fashion, pressing the R1 activates the left flippers and pressing L1 activates the right ones. Such a devious twist. Blade's board is pretty cool as it cycles between night and day and the board is lit with an almost black light/neon sheen while in the night mode. I wouldn't have picked Blade as one of the initial Marvel characters, but I suppose that if they had put him in as a second choice to buy later, no one would pay for it. Battles between the heroes and villains unlock as you hit the ball into various ramps, the problem with that though is the random physics based nature of a round heavy ball, rubber bumpers, and varying velocity of said ball. Sometimes getting the ball to go to the same place three or four times in a row can be a challenge. One thing that is typical with Zen Studio boards is the fact that if you build up multipliers with one ball and you lose the ball, the multiplier also goes away. Building up a high score can be a challenge if you don't have patience. One flaw I could put to the game is that there are almost too many things going on with each board. This can make trying to figure out where to try and shoot the ball very difficult. The ball zooms around very quickly and trying to keep an eye on the ball as well as read the various messages on the board at the same time can make it hard to figure out what is being tasked during any given challenge. Zen Studios also allows you the option to view the board 7 different ways, which can be a blessing and a curse. One view may be good for one play style, but with so many options it can be a pain to figure out which view is best for each board.

One of the coolest aspects of the game is the meta game that has been added. As you play the boards and increase your score you increase your Hero score. If you have friends that have the game, their Hero score adds to yours for a Hero Squad score. They have a few trophies tied simply to the Squad score, so for anyone who wants to get all the trophies has to have a few friends that play and are really good. The only gold trophy is tied to having 5000 Hero Squad points.

Another neat feature is the multiplayer option. Basically 4 people are playing at once and the game ends once one player gets to 10 million. Each time you lose a ball you have 5% removed from your score so it pays to not lose the ball. A little meter shows where the other 3 players are in relation to reaching the 10 million so you can gauge how close you are to winning or losing. This MP allows for random players to battle for points against each other or you can invite people on your FL. The game also allows you to chat via the PS Eye, but in the few MP games that I've played so far I've only seen one person actually using their cam.

Zen has hinted that the next few boards will have some pretty cool additions, Hulk, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider. Hopefully those boards aren't too expensive.

Overall the game has a deep challenging level of game play for anyone who wants to get a really high score, but if you just want to play a good pinball game, the boards also allow for a fun quick distraction.

Another fine downloadable game that is worth playing is Joe Danger from Hello Games.

Sure I'm late the table on talking about this game, but this is a title that is worthy of picking up even now.  The idea behind Joe Danger is simple.  Race on a motorcycle performing stunts and jumps on various tracks.  The tracks include several mini-challenges that make re-play on this title a joy.  One run through may be an exercise in finishing under a certain time.  Another run may be to land on all of the large targets, or collect mini blue stars.  Controlling the motorcycle is what makes the game so much fun.  R2 to accelerate, L2 to go in reverse, Square to crouch or bunny hop depending on the obstacle you are racing toward.  While in the air you can spin the bike by moving the left stick left or right and Joe will do crazy flipping loops.  Crash and the game starts you immediately back at the last check point, no long load times--which makes this game so easy to replay just to try and get that one last trick star or get a better time.

Once each race is complete a status screen loads to show what you have completed on that run.  Additionally the stats screen loads up scores for everyone on your friends list.  This game gives you that competitive drive to see just how many of your friends you can top or wonder just how in the hell they got such high scores. 

Another great feature in this game is the ability to record your game progress and then upload it to Youtube for Internet bragging rights.  

I look forward to see another batch of great downloadable games this year.  The problem with downloadable games is typically the developers don't have the same marketing budget to announce their forthcoming games so a hidden gem is hard to find out about until the title has been released.  The same can't be said for disc based games.  2011 is looking to be one of the biggest years for PlayStation 3 gaming.  Here's a list of Sony exclusive stuff that is coming out this year:

Little Big Planet 2
Killzone 3
Motorstorm 3
inFamous 2
Resistance 3
Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD re-make
Uncharted 3
The Last Guardian
DC Universe Online

Add to that list games that will be (or already have been) released for both 360 and PS3 and you may just go broke:

Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 3
Dead Space 2
Batman Arkham City
Dragon Age 2

I'm looking forward to several games on this list and hope to bring you my thoughts in a more timely manner than last year.  2011 is going to be a great year for gaming.

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