Category Archives: Video Games

A Third Handheld Competitor, You Say? Madness!

<Note: If you enjoy this blog and wish to read more of my writing, please visit my new web site: www.zestfulcontemplation.com, for my most recent work and other fun stuff, including the first of my iPhone game reviews hinted at in this very article. Thank you.>

I am fully aware that in most hardcore gaming circles, announcing that you believe a phone can be a truly capable gaming device will get you roughly the same type of odd stare as if you announced that you thought the box containing the pizza was just as tasty as the round pepperoni-covered treat within.

Here I stand before you, however, ready to face your odd stares (yes, I can feel them through the Internet – I’m special that way) and announce that I think a phone can be a capable gaming device.

In fact, I’m going to do one better.

I think that the iPhone can provide a satisfying gaming experience on par with or better than the PSP or the DS.

There, I said it. Now let me explain.

The key to this madness lies in understanding that all of these various devices have their strengths and weaknesses.

The PSP is a powerful little bugger. It’s essentially a PS2 in a much smaller container that you can hold in your hands. Its software catalog is a bit lacking and it doesn’t provide you with many experiences you can’t get elsewhere, but it does have some nifty titles and a lot of power in a portable form.

The DS has a much larger selection of titles and an interface that provides for experiences that can’t be had elsewhere, giving you a reason to play even if you don’t travel often. On the downside, it’s lacking in power and most games available for it don’t do much to show off the true potential of its innovative interface.

I fully believe that the iPhone carves out its own little niche in the gaming world that makes it just as viable a competitor as either of these two other systems. It may not provide the depth of gameplay or keep you hooked for as long as its rivals, but that’s why it works – it does something different and it does it well.

Perhaps its greatest asset is simply the fact that, unlike the other portable consoles, you’ll likely have your iPhone with you wherever you go. This makes it maybe even the ultimate portable gaming platform, as it provides a fully capable gaming experience wherever you happen to be without you even having to remember to lug around a separate gadget.

It should be noted that this is less true of the iPod Touch, of course, which is just as capable of a gaming machine, but lacks some of the natural convenience of its phone counterpart.

Why the iPhone works so well as a gaming device is simply that the whole experience revolves around its portability and its constant connection to the Internet.

Most of the games might be more simple than what you’d find elsewhere, but they work fantastically for small, pick-up-and-play chunks, which is exactly what you want on a phone. They’re also much cheaper on the whole (you’ll almost never pay more than $10 for a game, and most are $5 or less) so the simplicity is far more acceptable. If you dig around, it’s more than possible to find a game for under $10 that gives more gameplay value than something you would have bought for $30 on the DS or $40 on the PSP.

Additionally, since the iPhone is connected to the Internet at all times, whether that be through a Wi-Fi connection or the cell phone data network, it facilitates the ultimate in impulse buying (especially when you combine its ever-present net connection with cheap game prices). Simply browse the App Store and download a new game – from just about anywhere – right onto your phone and immediately begin playing it. It’s incredible how addicting this becomes, especially when there’s so much good stuff to play.

Interestingly, both the PSP and DS are putting forth efforts in the area of instant purchase, downloadable impulse buys, but neither comes anywhere close to what’s already available on the iPhone. The PSP Go will bring the ability to download full games to the platform, but their larger file sizes, the higher price of the device, and the lack of much interesting to play all hold it back. The DSi now has a download service of its own, but let’s not mince words here – it sucks. Nintendo has a lot of work to do here.

I’m not arguing that the iPhone is a perfect platform. No gaming device is. Like any successful platform such as the DS, Wii, or PS2, the iPhone has its fair share of crap cluttering the App Store. The fact that there’s no easy way to find the best stuff in the store right now is a shortcoming indeed, as most of my gaming finds are discovered with the help of external sites. Also, like its innovative gaming peers the DS and Wii, many titles try to cram experiences or control types that just aren’t suited for its lack of buttons and the titles that truly take advantage of the platform are somewhat rare.

Still, the iPhone’s focus on control via only touch screen and motion sensors is far from a detriment. Even I was skeptical at first, but the lack of options forces developers to be creative and, when approached correctly, can make for some innovative and fun experiences literally not possible on any other platform. Sure, there’s plenty of titles that resort to a virtual D-Pad (not all of which are bad, mind you), but there are others which use multi-touch, creative touch screen controls, tilt controls, or some of these combined, to make titles that wouldn’t work anywhere else.

Of course, the most important part of any gaming platform is its library of games. No matter how much I try to convince you that the iPhone should be taken seriously, none of it is going to mean anything until I can prove that its great features and convenience are also backed up by things you’d actually want to play.

With that in mind, keep an eye out for many more iPhone game reviews here in the future. I already have a number of them written and ready to go, and many more I want to write after that. I am anxious to prove to non-believers that we have a true contender on (or rather, in) our hands.

It may be different, it may be easy to dismiss as too “casual” or too simple, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but I’ve had more fun and spent more time gaming on my iPhone recently than my PSP and DS combined. Hopefully more people will see the light as I do someday.


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Fallout 3 – Totally Stuck in a Rock

This is my character in Fallout 3 being totally stuck in a rock.

This is also me being really sarcastic about my character being stuck in a rock.

Better still, I demonstrate how to get stuck in a rock all by yourself in your own game of Fallout 3! Yay! Fun for everyone, truly.

The video quality kinda sucks (I was testing out recording, editing, and uploading all from my 3GS and the lighting left something to be desired), but really, this is me stuck in a rock. How much quality do you really need?


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Review: F.E.A.R. 2 – Sweet, Sweet Parthenophobia

Let’s not delude ourselves any more than necessary. F.E.A.R. 2 is little more than a long string of horror movie and shooter cliches strung together into one tidy package.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar: creepy little girl, long black hair, scientific experiments gone awry, traveling through subways, hospitals, and elementary schools…

You get the picture.

But as such, it becomes a prime example of how a game can be perfectly enjoyable despite not bringing much new to the table.

In F.E.A.R. 2, you play as a different character than the undoubtedly poorly-fated soul you inhabited in the first game. This fresh perspective on the world allows the game to retell and clarify much of the backstory. F.E.A.R. 2 even begins before the ending of the first game. Far from seeming redundant, this recapping actually managed to tell many of the hazy details of the first outing better than the original, so it is much appreciated.

Our dear little psychotic Alma is now all grown up, on the loose, and seriously pissed off. You will spend most of the game chasing after her and trying to put an end to her shenanigans. That’s pretty much what you need to know. It’s a simple setup, but since the game carries the added burden of making sense of the original’s heap of poorly-told nonsense anything more would have bogged it down too much.

Not to worry though, as there are plenty of twists and turns in store and the yarn is much more satisfying and clearly delivered than in the first game.

The gameplay will also seem familiar, but in a pleasant, comfort food sort of way. Not much has changed, but it’s so well crafted that it didn’t really need to. A few new guns are added to the mix, the AI has received a notable boost in intelligence, and you can now make cover for yourself in case you ever felt jealous of the enemy’s ability to do so in the original F.E.A.R.

The combat isn’t terribly original, like the rest of the game, but it’s immensely satisfying and provides that perfect roller coaster of fear, tension, and release as the game moves from scary bit to action bit. Adding to this are a couple of sections where the player is given the opportunity to control a mech and mow down legions of enemies. Monolith has totally nailed the sensation of piloting one of these things like no other game I can remember, and if these mechanics aren’t fleshed out into a full game it will be a true shame.

Even the slow-mo, which could feel seriously dated, unnecessary, and overused, remains great fun. It’s hard to define exactly why slowing time and blasting foes into tiny bloody bits never gets old in this game when it wears thin so quickly in so many others.

The gorgeous graphics and terrifically disturbing blood effects certainly don’t hurt. This is one extremely gory, visceral game. In fact, the presentation here is easily one of its biggest strengths, from sound design to graphics to special effects. The whole shebang is quite an impressive package.

Occasionally, however, the lights do shine a little too brightly in this haunted house and expose a few of the more shoddily built props for the cheap skeletons they really are.

Most notably for fans of the original F.E.A.R., Monolith doesn’t seem to have learned too many new scare tactics for this newest outing. Alma still pops up randomly, lights flicker on and off, and hallucinations haunt you from time to time. The entertaining “dream” sequences from the prior outing are also more infrequent than I would have liked.

This, by far and away, is my biggest complaint. The atmosphere is stellar, the shooting is just as fun, and the environments more varied, yet this one fault comes dangerously close to making the game feel uninspired.

All is not lost, however. The game certainly does have enough cool, creepy, and even genuinely scary moments to keep you on the edge of your seat. I’m not about to spoil them here, but there are definitely some treats in store.

Monolith has thankfully addressed one of the biggest complaints about the original F.E.A.R., and to great effect. The environments are both impressively detailed and varied. Gone are the days of the endless series of cloned office corridors. Sure we may have seen the themes before, but never once did they feel sterile or uninspired, as if they simply chose these overdone location themes because they couldn’t think of anything better. All of them served their intended purpose and were suitably creepy, unnerving, and memorable.

Also, other games should pay attention to F.E.A.R. 2 when it comes to endings. It’s no secret that few horror stories, no matter the medium, actually end properly. The first F.E.A.R. was certainly an example of this and the sequel is no different.

What separates Monolith’s two games from the rest of the crappy horror endings (and indeed the innumerable games of late that seem to relish in not having an ending, instead choosing to set things up for the inevitable sequel) is how well they are constructed. In the first F.E.A.R., you knew Alma was far from gone and the story far from over, but the arc of your particular character, and that of the game’s slice of the overall story, had been told and concluded, in suitably epic fashion.

F.E.A.R. 2 is even more of a cliffhanger than the first game, but the ending is so spectacular that it doesn’t matter. The entire sequence, from the last level to the final confrontation to the story twist saved for the very last moments, is one of the outright coolest endings I can remember playing in a long time.

I can only hope that the, yes, inevitable sequel will make good on it, because they’ve already sold me.

So while it may not be astoundingly original, while it may have lost a little bit of its fright factor compared to the first game, and while it could still be accurately described as a “ride” just as much as a “game” at times, it is still an experience most certainly worth undertaking for those that fit its target audience. There’s nothing wrong with creating something that’s simply fun, and that’s what F.E.A.R. 2 is: a fun experience that, for the right audience, will provide thrills, chills, and plenty of memorable moments.

For those that don’t fit its target audience, well, I feel sorry for you, because if this game is a ride, it’s a hell of a trip that will leave you wanting more at the end. And that’s what any good story should do.


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A Fistful of Revelation

For a person such as myself, the following statement borders on life-altering revelation:

I think I can feel myself beginning to like Street Fighter more than Soulcalibur.

Trust me when I say that typing those words is almost scary for me.

To really understand why, you must know my background when it comes to fighting games. I been a Soulcalibur addict from day one on the Dreamcast, having bought the first title on a whim when I really didn’t like fighting games much at the time. Since then I’ve been addicted to the series, breathlessly anticipating every new installment and spending countless hours playing it by myself and with friends (and there are a lot of Soulcalibur players of similar skill as myself in my circle of friends).

I’ve never been much of a fighting game fan, either. Sure, I like to dabble in them quite a bit. I’ve picked up a number of Dead or Alive games, tried a Virtua Fighter or two, and maintained a steady yet completely unexplainable fascination with Mortal Kombat even though I can’t stand its fighting mechanics, but nothing ever hooked me. Soulcalibur was the only one that kept me coming back.

On top of all this, my attitude toward Street Fighter in particular has traditionally been one of condescension. I thought its success was due to the many gamers who were on a nostalgia high, so lost in their memories of their childhood days spent playing Street Fighter that they didn’t realize it had become dated, intimidating to newcomers, and irrelevant in the modern fighting game scene.

But somewhere, deep within me, a strange desire to learn how to play Street Fighter, to be able to enjoy it like so many other gamers around me, wouldn’t go away. It had stuck with me for years. Maybe, just maybe, my hatred of the series was due to the tiniest bit of envy of those players who seemed to be having so much fun with something that I apparently couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around.

This made it all the more frustrating that every time I would try to let it into my heart it would turn me away. The early Street Fighter games always seemed to meet my disdainful expectations: they didn’t so much as try to teach me their secret ways, I got killed repeatedly by the weakest of enemies, and I could never quite grasp where that magical fascination everyone else seemed to feel came from. All I saw was an overly difficult, overly simple game where each character only had a few moves, most of the fighting came down to repetition and cheesiness, and both depth and longevity seemed to be severely lacking.

Well, it was a rocky start, and I’m not entirely sure what did it this time, but Street Fighter IV managed to change something. Slowly but surely it did what no other Street Fighter game had yet managed to do: show me what all the damn fuss was about and let me have a good time with the revered series.

I’m sure that I was overly harsh on the old games just as I’m sure that some of my complaints stand true. Ultimately such discussion really isn’t the point, especially of this particular tale.

What I have now discovered about Street Fighter seems remarkably obvious in a way, yet I can also see why I failed to pick up on it with no one to tell me any better. The simplicity of the move set and the control scheme should not lead to repetitive play or a lack of strategic depth as I had once thought, at least not in the hands of the right player.

What it should lead to is a system where what is important is not showing off a broad range of flashy moves, but rather knowing your character’s entire arsenal by heart and being able to call up any attack in a split second without thinking to properly react to the lightning-fast battle conditions.

It’s easy to get drawn into the trap of thinking that Street Fighter’s simple controls and move set lead to a low barrier of entry. This is not the case. There is quite a steep learning curve. This caught me by surprise and drove me away from the series many times. Once you get past it, however, the surface simplicity works in the game’s favor. Street Fighter avoids the problem of some fighting games that drown in their own complexity, making hard to pull off that one, particular, elusive move or encouraging button-mashing because there are so many obscure inputs that it nearly ceases to matter what you’re actually pressing.

Street Fighter’s strengths have been made especially clear to me recently after returning to my beloved Soulcalibur IV for the first time since putting a good number of hours into Street Fighter IV.

The characters in Soulcalibur moved like they were mired in molasses. Combatants I had once thought of as peppy dragged their feet, in no particular hurry to lead my puny self to a victory anytime soon. I struggled to remember the move inputs for characters that I had once believed I was well-acquainted with, as there were just so many moves that I kept pulling off the wrong ones.

I say this not to knock Soulcalibur. Once I spent a little more time with it I began to regain my footing with it and everything seemed a little more right with the world. I say this only to point out how big of a difference I truly noticed between the two. Playing Soulcalibur again after spending time with and actually learning a new fighting game for the first time in my fighting game career made me see my precious weapons-based fighter in a slightly different light.

It made me question which game I was really having more fun with. No other fighting game has ever come close to raising that question in my mind before.

I am far from having made a decision one way or the other on this issue. I’m not about to write off a series I have spent so many wonderful moments with in the past in favor of a shiny newcomer without giving each one of them their fair shot.

The important point here is that I have finally gotten my wish. I have seen the Street Fighter light. The draw of this classic series is no longer a mystery to me. Whichever game I ultimately decide is on top in my mind, if indeed I do decide that either even needs to be considered “better”, I am happy to have finally solved the Street Fighter puzzle.

I’m glad Street Fighter kept calling to me for all these years, continually tempting and teasing me, making me want to like a game that I couldn’t figure out, because now I feel a new addiction to a fighting game like I haven’t felt since my early days with the Soulcalibur series, and it really is a great feeling.

It’s nice to finally meet you, Street Fighter. You might just have been worth the wait.

Oh, and, incidentally, I also played some of Dead or Alive 4 again for comparison’s sake. That game is just truly terrible. In so, so many ways. How a game with such floaty controls, such a reliance on tedious combo memorization, a roster of characters that all look exactly the same except for the hairstyle, and fighting styles that are distressingly hard to tell part from each other became so popular is one puzzle I am more than happy not knowing the answer to.

Oh yeah, the breasts. I almost forgot. Puzzle solved.


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First Impressions of a Street Fighter IV Newbie

So many different reviews of Street Fighter described how accessible it was, how good it was for players both new and old alike, how friendly it was to people who had either lapsed from Street Fighter or perhaps never even played it in the first place.

In a word: lies.

It was partially based on these statements that I decided to buy the game. Being almost completely new to the series, I lack even the most basic of basic knowledge when it comes to how to succeed in the game. I’ve written previously how I tried to get into Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and had my ass handed to me because it is most certainly not geared toward new players, which is fair enough. It wasn’t meant to draw in new blood.

According to many different sources, Street Fighter IV was. This excited me. As someone who had always wanted to like the series but never could quite get the grasp of it, the prospect of a somewhat more beginner friendly Street Fighter was highly compelling.

Such statements have greatly exaggerated the size of the welcome mat Street Fighter IV lays out to new players. For someone skilled at games, and even at fighting games, I still had a lot of trouble with my first session of SFIV. Even the easiest of easiest difficulties was somewhat frustrating. It was something I could get through, to be sure, but something that I nevertheless thought was too hard for being the easiest of the easy.

The training mode is certainly a better introduction than any other Street Fighter game has had (to my limited knowledge anyway) and I appreciate its inclusion. But it is highly imperfect in many ways. Among them, it fails to demonstrate any of the techniques it tells you to perform (making complicated learning more difficult than it should be) and, more importantly it doesn’t teach you technique. Having an easy way to learn combos and moves is great, but not especially useful if it doesn’t give me any idea how to use them. Something more along the lines of what has been offered in recent Virtua Fighters would have been wonderful (not that even a good training mode could get me to invest the time necessary to master Virtua Fighter, but that’s another story).

Admittedly, since I’m totally and completely stuck on cancels, maybe it gets there in the later lessons, but that would require me to be able to pass the cancel lessons. I’m not sure what is to blame for my complete failure at canceling, the training mode’s lack of instruction or my own lack of ability, but the end result is just as annoying either way.

I don’t doubt that I’m being a little hard on the game, as I am well aware that how much I suck at it is clouding my judgment, but that’s pretty much my point here. Getting into it is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be based on what I had heard. Honestly, I’m beginning to feel like some sort of inept freak for even speaking out against this game, as everything I’ve heard about it from all corners of the gaming world has been positively glowing. Maybe an inept freak is exactly what I am, but I still feel it’s important to voice my dissenting opinion, however small, if only in the hope that some day, fighting games in general, not just Street Fighter by a long shot, will take beginners more seriously and make more of an effort to teach them the fundamentals. I think that’s a major part of why fighting games have become less prominent in today’s gaming landscape than they used to be. If you’re not already indoctrinated it’s becoming harder and harder to find a game that will take you in and show you the ropes without prejudice.

All of that said, if it weren’t for those many, apparently inaccurate, statements claiming the game was good for newbies, I probably wouldn’t have purchased the game, so however misguided those statements are, coming from people who have undoubtedly loved the series for many years and already know how to play, I’m still glad they convinced me to buy the game.

However frustrating it may be at times, however many ways I think it falls shorter than it could for introducing new players, it is still, at its core, a fun game. I enjoy playing it and learning, however slowly, like no Street Fighter game I’ve ever picked up. I accept the fact that I am worthless at the game and am more than willing to keep at it and try and improve my skills to the point where someday, in the distant magical future, I’ll be good enough at the game that none of this beginner crap will matter to me anymore.

Until that day comes, I’ll be trying and failing to figure out what I’m doing wrong with cancels and crying a little inside every time I lose on the easiest difficulty setting.

Oh Street Fighter, how you torment me.


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This Week in Gaming – 2-16-09

This Week in Gaming returns! Find out what to buy and (more importantly) what to avoid amongst next week’s releases. Entertaining and informative, both at the same time! Revolutionary!


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This Week in Gaming – Week of February 9, 2009

Here’s a little experiment I did for a new weekly feature that I think it would be fun to start doing. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually stick with it. I do already have a lot of ideas for how to make the second one better. If you have any feedback, send it my way. Tell me what you think.


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