New Super Mario Bros Wii

Mario…how can I paint you in a positive light? You and Nintendo brought gaming back from the brink of death. You are a worldwide celebrity on par with Mickey Mouse. You have saved the same princess from the same angry turtle monster for the past 20 years. That is what New Super Mario Bros is, a fresh coat of paint on a game you’ve played countless times before.

The story is as simple as always. Mario, Luigi, and a couple of Toads are at a party for Princess Peach. An ominously large cake is brought in when suddenly Bowser’s reptile children spring from it and run off with Peach. Cue the long journey to multiple castles where the Princess is not.

The game is set up near identically to Super Mario 3. There are nine worlds with a total of 88 levels. You move from level to level on the map depicting each world. There are two castle segments where you fight the same Koopa kid per world. Along the way, you stop at Toad’s house to gather power ups for later use.

What makes this version of Mario so “new” and “exciting” is that it supports four players. Things can get hectic and a little out of hand when four people are playing at once, but I suppose that is part of the charm. So long is one player remains alive, you can continue playing the level, freeing your fallen comrades from bubbles as they float by.

Powerups are of the standard fare from mushrooms to Yoshi. New to this outing are the ice flower which freezes enemies, the propeller hat which allows players to fly, and the penguin suit that grants better control in water and freezing powers.

Graphically, it is a cute game. Everything is crisp and has a friendly vibe to it. The soundtrack is the standard Mario fare with some remixes thrown in. The replay value is on the higher end as there are multiple coins and trapped Toads to be rescued.

While I personally cannot stand Mario, there are those that love the monotonous play. The children I tested the game on where not among those that enjoyed it. They were my girlfriend’s daughters, aged nine and six. After a half hour of play and fighting with one another, they had enough. The most common complaint was that it was too hard. I tend to agree. Mario has always been a series that initiates those unfamiliar with games. Even with this outing goes back to the directional pad and two buttons, some of the actions required to progress gave even me a challenge. It seems that this Mario was designed for those that enjoy the repetition this series brings and have played the same game over the past 20 years.

City of Heroes AE

I just finished my first story arc using City of Heroes' mission creator.  It's a three part task force with plenty of challenges and even an Arch Villain.  So if you have a CoH/V account, feel free to give it a whirl and rate it when finished.

Title:  A Celestial Dirge
Creator:  @ZeroAnd09
Length: Long

Dead Space 2 Trailer

The trailer for Dead Space 2 dropped yesterday.  It looks amazing.  Story wise it seems that Isaac was rescued at the end of the first game and has been spending time in a mental facility in a large city.  Should make for some creepy settings in what is looking to be another fantastic game.

Assassin's Creed 2

Ever since seeing the original Assassin’s Creed, I knew it was a game I needed. Problem was, by the time I had a current gen system, the sequel was announced. So I did what I normally do in these situations and waited. Before long, I picked up my copy of AC2 and the wait was worth it.

The story picks up immediately after the first game and follows Desmond as he breaks out of the lab he’s been held prisoner in. He is brought into a small fold of assassin’s who put him in the Animus 2.0 to train him as an assassin and find the other pieces of eden. The majority of the game revolves around the new assassin, Ezio Auditore de Firenze, an Italian who lived during the Renaissance in the late 15th century. Ezio’s family is framed and when his father and two brothers are hung, he must take his mother and sister into hiding. Along the way, he is trained as an assassin and receives help from notable historic figures, such as Leonardo da Vinci. Ezio’s entire driving force is unraveling the conspiracy that lead to his family’s murder and exacting revenge on those responsible.

Game play flows smooth and easily. Controlling Ezio as he runs up walls and across rooftops is a simple matter. The only issue I faced as I tried to line up particularly difficult jumps was Ezio leaping into nothingness if my button presses weren’t precise. Beyond that, an hour into the game and the controls will feel completely natural and you’ll be performing incredible acrobatic feats with ease.

Combat tends to come to a grinding halt when compared to free running. More often than not, skirmishes end up being a circle of enemies surrounding you while you wait to perform a counter attack that kills them in one fluid motion. Wash, rinse, and repeat for the remaining enemies. Ezio comes equipped with a sword, throwing daggers, wrist mounted blades, poison for wrist blades, and a pistol built into his left gauntlet. Ezio can also disarm opponents and use their own weapon against them. If timed properly, this can also be chained into a quick kill.

In addition to the weapons, Ezio may upgrade his armor as you progress through the game. Armor adds more life and makes encounters at the end of the game much easier. A special set of armor and weapon are provided to Ezio if he can solve the puzzles of six hidden tombs spread throughout the game.

One aspect of the game was unexpected and provided some of the most enjoyment for me as I played. Relatively early on, Ezio gains access to a villa and a small town. By purchasing paintings, weapons, and armor, Ezio can upgrade the town. He can further upgrade it by remodeling buildings or building entirely new businesses. The more that is invested in the town, the more income can be collected from your personal coffers. It was incredible break from running through the streets and hunting down your targets.

As you progress through the missions, you’ll travel from notable locations such as Florence and Venice to Rome and San Gimignano. Missions range from escorting someone to chasing down pick pockets and outright assassination. As Ezio’s notoriety rises, he can lose guards by disappearing into crowds or paying prostitutes to distract them. He must remove notoriety by tearing down wanted posters or bribing town criers. Each location is unique and gorgeous in its own right.

One issue I ran into involved the puzzles left by Subject 16. Some of the clues are so small and obscure that it was virtually impossible for me to identify on a standard definition TV. Thankfully, finding and solving all of the puzzles is not essential to completing the game.

AC2 is a fantastic game worth its weight in gold. The replay value is incredibly high as there are numerous collectibles to be had. There’s also the pure enjoyment that comes from free running across the cities. As an added bonus, you are able to link the game up with an Ubisoft account and purchase extra goodies and you unlock achievements. These range from extra daggers to Altair’s outfit. This is a must have for any gamer.

Dead Space 2 package

I received a package in the mail yesterday.  It contained an ink blot and a note from a Dr. Samara Yasmin.  Apparently, it's some kind of consolation prize for my entry in the Dead Space 2 contest.  I was bummed about not winning, but this made it all better.

The ink blot appears to have multiple images in it.  In the center is Isaac's helmet.  The fence looking object is the obelisk from the dig site.  The two figures at the top look to be necromorphs.  There is also faint Unitologist writing in the background.

The notes are taken by Dr. Samara Yasmin on patient 1544C, specifically session #18.  1544C is clearly leet speak for Isaac.  It looks as though Isaac survived the ending of the first game only to wind up in a mental institution.  The note is transcribed as follows:

Notes on Patient 1544C, Session #18

1544C condition shows scant improvement from previous assessment.


DELUSIONS: Subject vacillates between mourning the deceased, believing she is in need of assistance +/or has been assimilated + is one with the universe, calling for his head.

PARANOIA: Subject experiences frequent outbursts.  Has attacked staff + other patients.

PHYSICAL MANIFESTATIONS: Insomnia, Dyskinesia, Frantic sketching and etching of symbols identified as related to Unitology.

FOR REFERENCE: (see picture above for Unitology script)

Additional obsesseive compulsive behavior documented by staff includes the repetition of the following phrases:
  • Fractal heuristic replicating crystal
  • The nightmare is over but it will not end
  • Bismuth zirconate titanate
  • Twinkle twinkle little star
  • Sympathetic alpha wave attenuation

Prospects for Recovery Still Unknown

All in all, a fantastic little promotion for Dead Space 2.  If anyone can crack the Unitology code, I'm sure there's something hidden in there.

Final Fantasy XIII

The latest entry in the popular Square-Enix series, Final Fantasy XIII marks a milestone for the series. This is the point where I stop buying Final Fantasy games. The series has been on a steep decline since X and I fear there is no coming back.

Square-Enix has instituted a trend with their newer games. They are convinced that an eight to 10 hour tutorial is necessary for each of their games. XIII is no exception, only this tutorial is dragged out. In fact, many things are dragged out. It isn’t until hour 22-25 or the third disc if played on the 360 version that the player is given full control over the party, their abilities, and other essential functions. I can understand limiting the player for the first few hours as they get used to the learning curve, but this is ridiculous. Until you hit that 25th hour sweet spot, the game is linear, boring, and repetitive. It consists of the player moving the characters down a linear path with occasional encounters along the way. When you reach the end of the path, cue the lengthy cut scene. Wash, rinse and repeat.

There are no towns or NPCs to interact with beyond a single line of text. Stores have been integrated with the save points but are ultimately useless. As of this writing, I have yet to buy an item from the store. Potions are not needed and weapons can be upgraded with items dropped by monsters. The upgrades seem to provide little benefit and take a large amount of grinding to level up fully. Around that magical 25th hour, you can move around freely and take up side quests and roam as you please. Until then, you are locked in for the ride. It’s a sleepy one at that. A number of times, I literally fell asleep while playing. Of course this was during the first 11 chapters. After gaining control of my party and being allowed to roam a marginal distance, I found myself staying awake.

The story is your typical Final Fantasy fodder. A group of rag tag youths and one older character must unite to expose and depose the corrupt theocracy. For the most part, the characters are bland and uninspired. Some, like Hope, made me question his gender and right to live numerous times. Over time, some of the characters grew on me, but not enough to compare with classics like Squall or Zidane.

Graphically, XIII is gorgeous. The visuals, both cgi and in game blow me away time and again. The game is rich with vibrant color and beauty. The game’s score is a somber and quiet. It felt as though I was playing in a dream. The game would have truly benefitted from the ability to do more roaming. It is much too confined to do the visuals the justice they deserve.

Beyond the graphics, the battle system is where XIII really shines. It is called the paradigm system and it focuses on fast and exciting play. Each character is assigned a class or role. You program each paradigm around the roles each character plays. It makes for quick and effective strategies to swap out in each fight. Say you’re stuck on a tough boss fight, have one character heal while another buffs the party and the third debuffs the boss. Then you could switch to all high damage roles or if there are multiple enemies, set up one character as the tank while one heals and the other does damage. In the first 20 or so hours, you characters are restricted to three roles each. After the magic point in the game, every character can learn every role and ability, allowing you total customization. It is a fantastic system and a close second to my favorite (the junction system from VIII).

In closing, Final Fantasy XIII isn’t great. Much like other SE games, it is crippled by the developers. They restrict the player from fully interacting with the game for too long and even when they take the leash off, you can’t wander that much farther. I enjoyed some of the characters and loved the battle system and the visuals are astounding. But no game should take 25 hours to become enjoyable. The first 11 chapters are an endurance test. Survive and you’ll see what this game really could have been. Once SE learns to loosen up on the hand holding and let players enjoy the game we’ll see the Final Fantasy franchise return to glory.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

I’ve never been one for war based shooters or even first person shooters in general. There are only a few shooters that demand my attention (Borderlands, Halo, Gears of War). So it was easy for me to evade the hype that Call of Duty generates. It went on to be the biggest selling game of all time and I still had no interest. It took my sister and her husband buying me a copy before I would play it, I simply had no desire. After playing it, I know now that I wasn’t missing much.

MW2’s story picks up five years after CoD4. It involves multiple factions vying for power and plenty of obvious double crosses. You spend most of your time playing as two characters and switching between their respective stories. There are grand moments of suspense as you’re locked in an overwhelming firefight or racing down a mountain on a snowmobile. There are times where you’re meant to feel quiet terror. A prime example being the bombed out DC level where rain pours down onto your unit and lightning illuminates the remains of the ghost capital. The problem is that it all rings hollow. I didn’t feel any connection with any of the characters or the events happening around them. There was no point in the game where I felt emotionally attached. Even during the highly controversial airport sequence, it all fell flat in my eyes. But let’s be honest, very few play this series for its story.

Multiplayer is what sucks people in. Activision’s advertising campaign boasts a player base of 20 million. While I don’t doubt that, it puzzles me. I play the game on the Xbox 360 and MW2 has the absolute worst online play I’ve ever experienced on the console. Multiple times in every play session I’ve had, the match completely stops as the game tries to find a more reliable host. 30% of the time, I find myself removed from the match once said host is found. Another issue is that only a few match types support party chat. I know the population of this game. It consists of screechy pre teens swearing at me or the folks that do nothing but play this game non-stop and call me all kinds of wonderful variations of noob as they gun me down time and time again. So when playing with my friends, we’re restricted to only a few types of play so we can stay in party chat and keep the unwashed masses out. Regardless of my complaints, multiplayer does have interesting and enjoyable aspects to it. You gain experience by playing and level up your weapons depending on how they’re used. Game modes include free-for-all, search and destroy, demolition, sabotage, domination, team deathmatch, and capture the flag.

Another mode is introduced with this entry, Special Ops. You and a friend (offline or on) complete specific challenges on maps taken from the campaign but not related. They run the gambit of challenges from racing snowmobiles to one player providing air support to the other player on the ground. You are rated after completing each challenge and earn stars based on performance. It’s something enjoyable to do with a buddy when you want to play without going into multiplayer.

Overall, MW2 is great if you’re into war based shooters and don’t mind spotty online play. For those like me with little interest in the genre, you’re not missing anything spectacular. It’s best when played with friends. Graphics and sound are both among the best I’ve seen this generation. As a whole, not a bad game, but not anything super terrific.

Pokeme & Pokeyou

If I were a Pokemon trainer, this is what I would look like:

Hit the link below to create your Pokeself.

Gears of War 3

So Gears of War 3 was officially announced last night.  Here's your trailer:

Dom has a beard.  Marcus is going sleeveless.  Oh hey, there's a girl now.  Baird is still alive and the Cole train has a bitchin' bandana.  It's a very moving and emotional trailer.  A shame we have to wait a year to get our hands on it.  April 5, 2011.

Gaming made me a killer

Found this while browsing the bowels of the internet.  Credit to the creator, whomever they may be.

How to change split screen in Borderlands

A little tip for those playing Borderlands.  If you want to change the way the split screen is oriented, you'll need to change your Xbox's display settings.  For horizontal, put it on a 480 SD setting.  For vertical, change it to 720 or 1080 HD.  The vertical makes it a lot easier when played on a widescreen TV.

Busy busy

Yesterday, I spent a few hours cutting back and shaping a ten foot tall monster of a bush.  I then repaired the hood latch on my car with some help from a friend.  After that was finished, I topped off all of my fluids and put in a new air filter.

Today, I spent a few hours replacing all the guts and plumbing to our toilet.  It would have been quicker if someone had decided to put in a rubber washer with the kit and I not raged at why the toilet was leaking.  I also took in Kim's car to get the oil and battery changed.  I then struggled with changing the oil in my own car.  Mind you, the process itself isn't hard.  But whoever made the decision to put the oil filter where it is in a 2000 Ford Taurus needs to be shot.

Tomorrow, I get to change out the faucet in our bathroom sink.

Why did everything decide to need replacements all of a sudden?