Category: game reviews

Super Hexagon Is Maybe Why Gamers Can Be Scary Folk (Travelogue)

I am sitting on a plane and my kneecap is sticky with Sierra Mist because the affable Iranian-American webdev to my right spilled his soda. The Staten Island lawyer to my left is using her hands — wiry tan hands, with an enormous diamond on the left — to prop up a head that houses the warring factions of Hangover, Airsickness and Xanax. They’re both on their way out of the spiritual and physical wasteland of Las Vegas, and they spend the first half of the flight describing money lost, drugs taken, and how, for a vacation, it wasn’t a particularly relaxing one.

Sadists, I think. What sort of people would put themselves through that sort of self-destructive gauntlet of mental and animal rawness? They seem like Good People. I shrug my headphones on tighter and stuff my nose back into a pocket-sized gauntlet of mental and animal rawness, Super Hexagon.

20120917-133947.jpgSuper Hexagon is a punishing experience. It’s hard. Your first game of Super Hexagon will be like opening Ulysses to a page around the middle and being asked to explain what it’s all about – should you appear unable to grasp Joyce’s intent within the first few seconds, the book slams shut.

You’re just not going to “get it,” not until you strain your perception to the prescribed limits, and the ability to do that – to speak the game’s language – is a function of experience. Not repetition, although that will bring you far, but experience: years of experience decoding videogames and writing your own perceptual shorthand, years stringing direct cables between your problem-solving cortex and the Developer’s clandestine stratagem. You can’t just react; you have to think like Terry Cavanagh. (Not that you’re going to beat his high score, though.)

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“Girlfriend Mode,” Barbaric Barbara And An Ancient “Origins” Review

Rayman Legends Barbara The Barbarian via Eurogamer

Am I the only one who didn’t hear Rayman Legends was coming out this year? And that it was a Wii U launch title? And that they just introduced the world to Barbara the Barbarian? And that bloggers everywhere started making “axe to grind” jokes? I guess that last one’s not surprising.

If you’re just hearing this as well, this not-so-news of Legends’ (token) female character comes on the heels of yet another sexism-in-gaming debacle, in which a developer let fly a lazy and insensitive jab at girlfriends everywhere. “Girlfriend Mode” is what he called a certain skill tree geared towards less experienced players.

Many are saying that it’s a mild symptom of a bigger sickness and maybe not worth fighting over. That’s almost true — certainly Hitman and Tomb Raider are much more deserving of vitriol. But it should go without saying that dismissing “small time” sexism is a cop out. In my mind, it’s exactly John Hemingway’s sort of presumptuous cheap shot that begs a response because it’s made so casually, with the unspoken assumption that “Hey, you know what I’m talkin’ about, huh buddy? Broads!” It’s offhand sexism — offhand racism, offhand homophobia — that is the most insulting because it is perpetrated in broad daylight, with full confidence of one’s safety from criticism. They’re just plain asking for it.

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No New Leaf Left Unturned // Rock of Ages Review

german lung ashtray

I’m going to quit smoking tomorrow. Well, no — tomorrow I’m going to start the painful process of quitting. Past experience predicts a cowardly campaign riddled with retreats and pleading treaties with Future Me. But he’s a traitor, and just as weak. Within one month or two I’m at the 7-11 waving dollar bills like so many white flags.

But now my ultimatum is Online, and I’m hoping that might keep me honest. It’s in that same spirit that I’ll vow, with comparable solemnity, to post here once a week. In the next few days I’ll do a sort of Lightning Round with paragraph reviews of the various little indie gems I’ve been mining. Soon enough I’ll bring you up to speed on my collaborations with the PIGSquad folk — it looks like I might write a feature for Portland’s first (presently nameless) chiptune zine, so look forward to that. I’ll also pump out that KOTOR “After Pressing Start” and post it here if Nightmare doesn’t want it.

I won’t die a slow death if I lose this war, but I’m starting to think creative consistency will be just as important to good health. So here goes.

This post is maybe too short and too personal, so here’s some game stuff — an old review for Rock of Ages, a game I thoroughly enjoyed playing through a second time. The article was originally published by The Trail, our student newspaper at the University of Puget Sound — hence some formatting issues, a semi-academic style and such references as “semester” and “major.” Cheers.

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Microreview: Sine Mora

Sorry for any formatting issues that might crop up below — this piece was originally published for The Trail, the University of Puget Sound’s student newspaper, from which I copy-pasted some articles for archiving purposes. Hence the newpaper-y tone and simplified view of the industry. My work for the paper might still be gathered here.

With Mass Effect fever running high and Skyrim still managing to wedge itself into conversation almost five months after its release, spring alights on a landscape all but dominated by gaming’s mainstream titans.

But skittering around the ankles of giants are a handful of plucky challengers to AAA control, games that might lack the broad scope of mainstream narrative but still manage to cut deep with stylistic daring and technological grace—games like the relentlessly satisfying Sine Mora.

Sine Mora LizardReleased March 21 for Xbox Live Arcade, Sine Mora is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up in the tradition of classics like Space Invaders and Galaga and modern titles like Ikaruga and Jamestown. The pilot of one agile, airborne hell-raiser or another (new planes become available throughout), the player blasts through swarms of baddies, torrential barrages of screeching missiles and neon hailstorms of deadly plasma.

The shoot-em-up goes by another name—“bullet hell”—and Sine Mora has no qualms earning that ominous title. At the same time, while the steep learning curve of the “bullet hell” has earned it a strictly niche position,Sine Mora stands out in its willingness to widen its appeal with charming visual innovations, surprisingly engaging narratives, and (thank the Maker) adjustable difficulty levels.

The unique look and story are the fruits of inter-developmental collaboration. Sine Mora is the lovechild of Tokyo’s Grasshopper Manufacture (of Killer7 fame) and Budapest’s Digital Reality: Grasshopper handled art direction and sound design, while Digital Reality worked on the game’s programming and story.

Between the two of them, the developers lend Sine Mora some serious star power. Grasshopper is home to composer Akira Yamaoka, revered for his work on the Silent Hill series, and his score for Sine Mora is another feather in his already crowded cap.

Grasshopper also brought on anime artist Mahiro Maeda (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Kill Bill, The Animatrix) to design the game’s boss battles—these encounters are as imaginative as they are soul-crushingly difficult, and give the game a palpable character.

Pair this powerful aesthetic with unrelentingly challenging mechanics and you’ve got a seriously potent title on your hands. Sine Mora is delightful proof that straying from the beaten path can be more than an entertaining diversion—now more than ever, there’s ripe, fully-formed experiences to be found and savored outside the high walls of blockbuster dominion.

Panning for indie gold, but more of a PS3 person? Download thatgamecompany’s pensive and critically acclaimed Journey, or the charming puzzle-platformer from Denmark’s Die Gute Fabrik, Where Is My Heart—both Playstation exclusives, for now. These games will not only deepen your understanding of the human condition; they’ll also give you the upper hand in drunken debates on the true nature of art!

If all you’ve got is an iPhone and a burning desire for cartoony carnage, check out Action Button’s Ziggurat. It’s got all the arcade intensity, visual charm and alien life that make Sine Mora so great, but you can carry it everywhere you go! Play it while waiting for your John Carter tickets—or during John Carter, even. You know what, why don’t you just stay in tonight?

Review: Gears of War 3

Sorry for any formatting issues that might crop up below — this piece was originally published for The Trail, the University of Puget Sound’s student newspaper, from which I copy-pasted some articles for archiving purposes. Hence the newpaper-y tone and simplified view of the industry. My work for the paper might still be gathered here.

Gears of War 3

Make no mistake, EPIC Games’ conclusion to the hugely popular Gears of War trilogy plays magnificently well, in the same way that Cheetos taste great and Facebook birthday wishes make one feel loved—good, but in a hollow sort of way.

And Gears of War 3 really is good: EPIC games has preserved the golden formula of cover-based combat that (according to USA Today) sold 13 million copies of the first two installments combined and inspired over 1.3 million pre-order sales of Gears 3 before it was released on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

In fact, I might as well call it “high octane,” “action-packed” and a “rip-rollicking rollercoaster,” because Gears seems as obsessed with cliché as it is with gore—more on that later.

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