Monthly Archives: April 2012

All-Star Optimism

Sony is a notoriously leaky ship before E3, and this year the company opted to jump the gun with a pre-E3 announcement — which also leaked. Still, unsurprising as it was, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale became officially a thing today. The Internet reaction seems a bit cynical, and I think there’s already plenty of that going around. So in an effort to be optimistic on a Friday night, I thought I’d go through some reasons why it might actually be very good.

1. Sony Santa Monica – Sony isn’t the internal powerhouse that Nintendo is, but if one studio has proven its mettle it’s Santa Monica. This studio was behind recent God of War games, but more than that, it has a knack for spotting talent. It’s been the house to nurture talent from the Q Games (Pixeljunk series) and Thatgamecompany (Journey), so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.

2. Third-party characters – Nintendo only recently started using third-party characters in its Smash Bros franchise, but for Sony it’s a no-brainer. The company has its share of mascots, but it made its name on third-party properties too. Sealing deals with partners means this could be a nice diverse sampling of characters to play with.

3. Establishing a PlayStation “family” – Sony hasn’t really tied its properties together under the PlayStation umbrella, but this may be the first tentative step in that direction. (Technically, the “Michael” commercial did that, but I mean in terms of gameplay). These characters might not fit as neatly together as Nintendo’s properties, but creating a kind of internal consistency opens the door to other cross-overs.

4. Room for variety – One thing that Sony has a leg up on is variety. While Nintendo’s characters are generally bubbly and colorful, and Microsoft’s err on the side of space marines, Sony runs the gamut. We could have Chimera appearing right next to Clank, which means diverse characterization and play options.

5. Real online play – I know Brawl had online play, but it never felt quite natural to the system. On a Sony system, we’re much more likely to get online play done right.

6. Sly Cooper – I already know my first go-to character. He can disappear at will and steal other people’s power gauge! Tell me that isn’t awesome.

It may flop spectacularly, but for the time being, I’m going to hope for the best.

  • I don’t see how anyone could have possibly missed this around the Twitters and such today, but if you haven’t yet, Google “zerg rush.”
  • Sometimes I read about EVE Online, and half-suspect it’s a giant economic petri dish. Want to attack a major economic hub to shake up the balance of power? Sure, go nuts.
  • Funny how BigPark got put on Kinect duty, and now are going straight back to its original plan for Joy Ride.
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Avengers versus X-Men > AvX

I’m always happy to be proven wrong when it comes to something being terrible. My thoughts last week on AvX were pretty harsh, and I stand by them. I was ready to write off the whole cross-over event, but it was a light week so I picked up the first issue of Avengers versus X-Men on a whim. Congratulations, Marvel, you have convinced me that this series has some worth to it.

The naming can be a little confusing, especially since “AvX” is just the shorthand for an entirely separate book. Frankly, I think the name is confusing, or at least frustrating for making it impossible to use shorthand. But trust me, this is the far superior cross-over book.

I had my problems with AvX’s central conflict, but it was a mess structurally as well. It flittered from fight to fight with the attention span of a goldfish, so we never got much time for any one conflict. Beyond the more serious underlying problems with the X-Men being totally, completely wrong, the pacing was just all off. If they wanted to make a big crazy fight book, I thought, focus on one fight per issue and make them worthwhile.

Wouldn’t you know it, Avengers versus X-Men is basically that. Technically it’s two fights, but the point remains. It doesn’t really further the overarching plot, but it spends several pages on one brawl, and then several pages on another brawl. And to that end, it’s just on a whole other level. The art looks crisp and dynamic, while AvX looked rushed. The writing is sharp and clever, even downright funny sometimes. It knows what it is and unapologetically goes for it. You want a big crazy fight book? Sure. You want tongue-in-cheek “fun facts” sprinkled throughout? Right here. You want pages upon pages of superhero banter, including pitch-perfect Tony Stark smarm? Yes.

And for a big crazy fight book, it actually ends the Iron Man vs Magneto fight with a more poignant moment than anything in AvX. We get to see Magneto react to realizing the consequences of their incredibly stupid decision. It’s a moment of seriousness amid levity, which gives it more impact than pages upon pages of ham-fisted chest puffing.

(The second fight, Namor vs Thing, was fine. It entertained me despite not caring much about either character, so that’s saying something.)

I’m not sure if I’ll give AvX another chance or not, but if Avengers versus X-Men #2 is half as strong as this issue, I’ll keep following it through the arc.

I also picked up The Flash #8, which I still don’t understand but it’s so damn pretty, and Daredevil #11, which finished out the Avenging Spider-Man arc with some fantastic Matt Murdock grandstanding. All highly recommended this week, oddly enough.

The companion piece to my Best Glitches article went up today on 1UP. Behold, the worst glitches! Commenters have chimed in with some great ones as well.

  • The Stalker 2/Survarium announcement was certainly a surprise. I didn’t follow the game closely but less than a month ago everything seemed on-track.
  • I could be wrong, but it sounds like he gives a pregnant pause on the “F” sound when he says “not a fat chance” about Crysis 3 on Wii U. And who says “not a fat chance”? The expression is “fat chance.” Point is, I think he might’ve been considering a different F-word and thought better of it.
  • Considering I just got a Vita, a price drop would be poorly timed right now. But the arguments in favor of one are solid, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d just want in on the Vita Ambassador program.

The slow burn to E3

The industry’s biggest event is still over a month away, but it’s pretty clear that game publishers are laying their groundwork. Sony and Activision have both been teasing some big announcements this week. Nintendo has already let a few announcements slip with teasing that we’ll see more at E3.

The pre-E3 burn tends to sneak up on us a bit. It always seems too early, probably because it starts earlier every year. But these warning shots mean the next month is basically going to be chock full of news — which is certainly good for me, as a writer. I just hope we still have a few surprises left by the time June rolls around.

May is going to be full of some games, too, because I’m very strongly leaning towards re-subscribing to PlayStation Plus. I let my subscription lapse when my PS3 broke, mainly because after spending $300 I wasn’t terribly eager to spend an extra $50. But it really is a good value.

I wrote some impressions of The Witcher 2 console version, the idea being that since I didn’t play the PC version I’d give a fresh-eyed take on it.

  • I saw a lot of speculation about a Call of Duty game set in the far future, like 2027. I’m more inclined to think it’s set in the near future so that you have special access to future tech prototypes. Hence, Black Ops.
  • Still looking for new games to play on Vita, and Gravity Rush is getting great buzz. I might have to consider pre-ordering.

Statute of spoiler limitations, and Batman

It’s probably no surprise that I was pretty happy with today’s announcement of more Arkham City DLC. As predicted, it looks to be post-game content that expands on the story and possibly sets up a sequel. Given the timing, just before E3, I wouldn’t be surprised.

It is too bad this is being called the “final chapter.” I had hoped we’d see more story content, but then they probably would’ve had to release it earlier to publish several episodes.

One thing that surprised me, though, was how the trailer itself drops spoilers. This is the one that is ostensibly trying to promote the Game of the Year edition, to people who haven’t yet bought the game. Between the name of the DLC and the very brief bit of Harley that we see, people could probably figure it out.

Now, I tend to think the statute of limitations on spoilers is pretty narrow — maybe six months for games. More for movies, since some people wait for DVD and then you need a buffer period after that point. Arkham City is definitely past that point, and chances are any big fan of the franchise would already know of the titanic twist. It just seems so bizarre to hint at those details so strongly in marketing materials built for newcomers. I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t put two and two together.

So I’d caution anyone who hasn’t played the game to avoid that particular trailer, and news of the DLC, if you can. Also, turn in your Batman Fan card, because you do not deserve it if you haven’t played the game yet.

On a completely different topic, I didn’t write this story about the 3DS firmware update, but it can’t come fast enough. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at my cluttered icons (mostly due to the Ambassador program) and wished I could organize them into folders. Also, how is it that we can’t do this on the 360 and PS3 yet?

  • Every time I see a story on Telltale’s games — Jurassic Park or, more recently, The Walking Dead — I feel guilty that I never got around to finishing Back to the Future.
  • I still think people who rate Rayman Origins above Super Mario 3D Land are loopy, but I still want a sequel like everybody else.
  • The PlayStation brawler is inevitable, and has been for some time. Now is about the right time to announce it as we start the pre-E3 media storm. Personally, I still think “Title Fight” is a better title. More clever, more catchy, less verbose.
  • I’m going to accept that this is as close as we’re ever getting to Pokemon Snap! 2.

All prepped for witching

I received The Witcher 2 from GameFly today (full disclosure: this company owns Shacknews, who pays me), so I’m going to keep this entry fairly short. Partly because I’m eager to dive in, and partly because I’ll be writing about it next week and I want to rack up as many hours as I can before that happens. I’ve installed the game, it’s sitting in my disc drive, and the only thing standing in my way is this nightly blog post. So let’s just skip straight to the stories, shall we?

  • One of two original articles today on Shack that we’ve started to see picked up by other outlets. Sony didn’t give a timeframe for getting the ME3 multiplayer bonus weekends on PS3, but at least it sounded promising on making it happen.
  • I actually haven’t played Gotham City Impostors for a while, but it’s sitting there in my quickplay menu. I’ll have to dive back in to try out the new map once this launches.
  • Every time I typed Botanicula today I thought of that old book Bunnicula. Vampire rabbits, everybody. Reco’nize.
  • I didn’t have enough of a hands-on to make a full preview out of it, but I tried Theatrhythm at PAX East and rather liked it. It’s got sort of an Elite Beat Agents vibe, without the wacky humor. Granted, the wacky humor is a bit part of why I like EBA, but the mechanics were still solid. Pre-order stickers, on the other hand, I can do without.

Avengers vs X-Men vs Terrible Writing

The first issue of Avengers vs X-Men (or “AvX” as the hip kids say) launched two weeks ago, and my reaction was tepid. The art was fine, and it seemed like it was setting up a conflict with nice potential implications for the universe.

The problem, as Professor Bryan Carr pointed out, is that the central conflict had no room for nuance. The best of the big event books are clever ways of using the superhero framework to comment on something going on in our society. This book didn’t have that gray morality, at least at first blush. Cyclops and his oddly cult-like X-Men followers were content to let the all-powerful destructive Phoenix force come on the off-chance that they can figure out how to use it to their advantage, with absolutely no research or understanding of the force and no reason to believe they could get it under control. The Avengers wanted to prevent the force from ever coming in the first place. The Avengers were very clearly right, and the X-Men were very clearly wrong. Also, kind of uncharacteristically dumb.

But I hoped we’d see some nuance soon. Maybe the X-Men would actually succeed in controlling Phoenix, and then it could become an allegory about whether it’s right for one group to even have that much power at its disposal. It still had potential, so I went into the second issue with reservations, but still some shreds of hope.

Holy gamma rays. I was not mentally prepared for the full-on unrelenting onslaught of stupid in this issue.

AvX #2 is, at its core, several pages of superheroes punching each other. It quickly flips from one superhero scuffle to another, pairing them up the way you might have when you were on the playground. Hulk vs Colossus! Iron Man vs Magneto! Namor vs somebody! This would be fine if the dramatic underpinning worked, but since it doesn’t, it has the stakes of a WWE match. Actually, strike that. Some people enjoy the plots in WWE matches. This is punctuated by gouda-stuffed one-liners and a clunky unseen narrator who seems to be trying desperately to convince us that these fights are important. The issue has one good moment with Spider-Man, but to be fair that’s mostly because Spider-Man.

The issue ends when the exact thing the Avengers warned about happens. That’s it. No surprise, no suspense. Just several pages of superheroes smacking each other around, and then the most predictable scenario occurs. It gave absolutely no indication that the conflict would get more interesting, or that the X-Men would have a valid point on their side, or that it would serve as an allegory for anything more insightful than Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots. But considering this slog is going to limp along for another ten issues, I have to imagine Cyclops will continue to not see how extremely, undeniably wrong he is for at least another eight.

Other quick comic observations. Batman #8 actually got me more interested in the full Night of the Owls plot and had a really fun coda at the end, Wonder Woman #8 continued its spectacularly clever exploration of Greek mythology, and Justice League #8 read like one of the great single-issue team-up stories that Avenging Spider-Man has been doing lately. So overall, a very strong week for DC. Marvel, not so much.

Sometimes lack of change doesn’t matter

I bought Mutant Blobs Attack and Escape Plan for Vita, but I felt like I wanted something a little more substantial. I’ve been playing around with different demos, but I never got into Lumines, and I don’t feel up for another Uncharted right now. Hot Shots Golf, on the other hand, really hit the spot, so I sprung for it.

It’s funny, reading reviews for a game in a series you haven’t really played. I see a lot of “not much has changed” for reviews of this game, and having been on the reviews side I understand where that comes from. At the same time, as someone who didn’t play previous games in the series, I don’t mind if little has changed. If it’s solid, it will be new to me. I’ve been thinking about renting a Harvest Moon game for a while and seen reviews to the same effect. I haven’t really played one since college, so it doesn’t matter much to me.

That’s more a judgment for me to make as a review consumer than for reviewers to note explicitly, but still, something to keep in mind.

  • I don’t get to dive into comic geekery often, but Rockstar using Greg Horn for the Max Payne mini-series was just too funny not to mention.
  • Good on Harada for taking a stand on DLC characters. It was a bit awkward to read, though, with him so carefully stepping around saying anything negative about Capcom (while pretty blatantly criticizing one of their most oft-used business practices).
  • I downloaded the Witcher comic app partly because I’m renting the game soon, and partly because I didn’t want to report on it blind. You take off a woman’s top within the first minute. So, from what I’ve heard, that’s pretty much true to the series.

First Impressions: PlayStation Vita, Xenoblade Chronicles

So my birthday has come and gone and I turned thirty in style. I was on stage in front of a few hundred people, for one thing, and that night I had an expensive steak and received a really thoughtful gift from my wife.

I didn’t tweet or blog about it earlier since I wanted to tell my parents personally, since my mother is a perpetual worry-wart. Basically, I’ve had a quiet desire to fly a plane for years, and Nina got me a flight lesson. I won’t come away an ace, but I’m looking forward to scratching the surface of learning.

Now that I saw my family, they sprung for a PlayStation Vita. It was on my Amazon wish list, more as a note to myself than anything, but I suppose figuring it was the big three-oh, they went all out.

The first thing that struck me is that it is big. It’s one thing to see it in comparison shots or in kiosks, but another to actually have one home and in your hands. Some of the icons that appear by default seem a little excessive, and I’m sure some could be consolidated. But overall it’s a pretty impressive little piece of kit. I haven’t gotten any games to push the hardware power too much, but I’ve enjoyed my time with the little downloadable titles (Blob and Escape Plan). If I had to pick up anything right now, it would probably be Hot Shots Golf. I don’t much care if it’s like the others since I didn’t play the others.

I also picked up Xenoblade Chronicles with some birthday money from relatives

So overall, it’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches. But it has given me plenty to do.

Last two PAX East previews today. The brain-bending puzzler Miegakure and absurdly violent Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit!

  • I like the idea of a cops and robbers epic, but I do wonder how much Kickstarter the community can support before it just bottoms out.
  • As a brand new Vita owner, sure. Let me use it as a controller for your F2P shooter. I’m always up for getting more use out of the device.
Tagged

Mexican wrestling and orcs

It’s a late night thanks to visiting family and ongoing birthday celebrations, so I’ll just make this quick. Today a few more previews went up: Orcs Must Die! 2, Quantum Conundrum, and Guacamelee.

tl;dr versions: Orcs Must Die! 2 looks like smart improvements on the original, Quantum Conundrum might not be the noodle-scratcher people are expecting, and Guacamelee shows great promise but isn’t fully fleshed out yet.

  • I try not to dole out legal opinions on articles, but I’ll just say this patent case seems like a stretch.
  • Most of us newsies saw this news about The Old Republic and thought “moving towards free-to-play.” Could be wrong, of course, but a few signs seem to be pointing in that direction.
  • I don’t want to jump to the Reddit conclusions, but man, these do look awfully similar.

Previews previews previews

Output has been a little crazy this week. I played a ton of games at PAX, but since getting back I haven’t had much time to actually play almost anything. Instead I’ve been doing the normal things one does when returning from a trip, performing other regular grown-up duties, and writing a lot about the games I saw at the event.

I write the previews during the day and they’ve been typically going up the next day, simply because that’s a good spot to fill when the east coast news cycle slows down and the west coast hasn’t gotten started yet. So the three that went up today were written yesterday. I wrote three more today that will go up tomorrow.

So, today I have a look at Max Payne 3, Super T.I.M.E. Force, and Penny Arcade Adventures Ep3. What will tomorrow bring? Only I know! And my editors and other writers.

  • I actually enjoy the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, and it’s too bad the PlayStation 3 isn’t getting the special weekends. That said, we did follow up with Sony, because that’s good journalistic practices. If they respond we’ll make sure to note it.
  • BioWare just can’t win for losing these days.
  • Despite Miyamoto’s apparent love for the game, I still simply can’t see the “Angry Birds is this generation’s Mario” thing. If 30 years pass and they’re still just as relevant and popular as ever, I’ll change my tune.