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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Super Agents, Pinatas, and Overlords

What have I been doing since my last post? Lots of gardening, frustratingly difficult database queries at work, and spending some quality time with my Xbox 360.

Rather than fill you in on all the details, I'll go over some of the video-gaming I've done recently and leave the yard work and office work to your imaginations.

Oh Crackdown, you addictive little game! When I first sat down with this game and started carving a swathe through the hordes of Los Muertos gang members, I found myself starting to tire a little of the oft-repetitive gaming. The game seemed pretty easy (I was playing on the easiest difficulty level) and I figured I'd get through the game in no time.

Well, things turned around pretty quickly. Once my agent started obtaining 4-stars in his various skills, everything changed. As I started to actively hunt down the remaining Los Muertos members and moved into Volk territory, Crackdown suddenly became one of the most addictive gaming experiences I've had in the past year.

Crackdown is a true "sandbox" game. Every gang boss targeted can be taking out in any number of ways. Got the strength and firepower to kick in the front door and start shooting? Go ahead - do it! Teach those filthy bangers a lesson in justice!

My personal tastes, however, lie in trying to find back-doors to each gang boss. Why go in the front door when you can jump onto the neighboring rooftops, jump across a 30 meter gap between a couple buildings, climb a tower, then ever-so-gently enter the boss's room and kick him in the back until he explodes into a multi-colored display of skill points?

I've only got two more bosses to kill in Crackdown before I'll have finished the main "storyline". For those who know the game, I'm currently attempting to take out Col. Cowell. Although I've tried to go in the front door on a couple of occasions, I'm now attempting to access the rooftop of his skyscraper via the surrounding buildings. My attempts have thus far been unsuccessful, but I'm hoping I'll be able to do it without being forced to max out my Agility (I'm currently a 4-star agility agent and 60% of the way towards maxing out the skill).

Once I've finished off the Shai-Gen, I'll look into finishing off as many achievement as I can before playing the game in co-op mode with friends. If anyone out there is looking to play some Crackdown in co-op mode, feel free to add me to your friend list and we'll see if we can get something going. I'm a real n00b when it comes to playing online, so you'll have to forgive me if I fail to follow the standard conventions of Xbox Live play.

While it's lots of fun to shoot bad guys and leap over tall buildings in a single bound, sometimes a guy is looking for a more peaceful gaming experience. And that's why I've also been playing a ton of Viva Pinata!

For those who don't know, Viva Pinata is a game that takes place in one of the many gardens littering the landscape of Pinata Island. Pinata Island is home to a multitude of pinatas that seek to have fun, eat lots of candy, and get sent off to parties across the globe. Sounds pretty childish...and I'd have to agree that the game seems geared towards kids. However, Viva Pinata is also a beautiful and incredibly addictive game.

Though the game starts off at a slow and easy pace, things do get a little more hectic as you figure out ways to balance the happenings within your garden on Pinata Island. There is no real goal to the game besides the obvious leveling up, though you can choose to focus on breeding rare forms of pinatas, building lush gardens, or simply padding your bank account with as many chocolate coins as possible.

I've been focusing on clearing as many achievement points as possible. Many of the achievements are based on growing plants to maturity and breeding as many pinatas as possible. So far, so good. At the time of writing this post, I'm currently working on growing the Red Flutterscotch population in my garden. After that, I'll still have another six varieties of Flutterscotches to breed before continuing to work my way towards attracting and breeding the elusive Chewnicorn.

As a quick note for those playing or hoping to play Viva Pinata, here are a few things I've figured out while playing:

  1. Raisants are little bastards and will fight with many of the species in your garden...especially buzzlegums. I had a raisant, Ralph, make my prize buzzlegum, Betty, ill and Dastardos came and put her out of her misery. When I finished mating as many raisants as necessary to become a Master Romancer for that species, I sold off all raisants from my garden.
  2. When you're garden has reached the maximum number of pinatas, you'll notice that Romance Candies have no effect on the pinatas eating them. Until you've reduced your pinata population, don't bother trying to get two pinatas to do their little romance dance.
  3. Don't stress over the little details of your garden. Sure, there's a lot going on and many things that must be done in order to gain levels and advance the story. But I think that taking a Zen approach is a better way of approaching your garden duties. Take everything one step at a time and let your garden develop its own personality. Viva Pinata is pretty forgiving and will give you many opportunities to make up for past mistakes or oversights.
I'm only 10 hours into the game and still have quite a ways to go before I've completed all 50 achievements available. It's going to a while before I'm done but I'll most definitely enjoy a relaxing ride to the finish line.

I recently played the demo for Tenchu Z, downloaded from Xbox Live. Although I know nothing of the Tenchu series of games, I'd have to say that this demo did nothing for me.

First off, the game allows you to create your own "ninja". The character models look very average and would be more at home on the PS2 than on the Xbox 360. The touted character customization process is a joke too. Rather than modify various parts of the face and body, as in NHL 07 or Saint's Row, you are forced to select from one of 7 or so preset face-types with each face coming in two flavours: light and tan. Due to the subpar graphics and washed out colours of the game, the faces all look very similar and unspectacular.

But wait! Maybe Tenchu Z is all about the game-play? If that were the case, the game wouldn't suck as hard as it did in the demo. Your ninja (or, in my case, a guy wearing a gown of some sort) seems awkward. Although I managed to work my way up to the rooftops, my ninja couldn't jump far enough at times to make it across the city as stealthily as possible.

This inevitably led to a lot of sword fighting, which was both easy and brutal at the same time. I found myself simply hitting the attack button until my enemy went down for the count. Unfortunately, the process of laying a beat down on the hapless guards (who all looked the same) and sailors (who all looked like weird Japanese Popeye rejects) took way too long. Seriously, how many hits of a katana does it take to bring down a fat, sailing man-child?

I finally managed to make my way through the city streets, killing anyone who moved in the process, and arrived at my objective: a boat in the harbour. As soon as I climbed aboard the vessel, I was treated to a PSOne quality cutscene of a metro-sexual, sword-wielding maniac cutting the head off my target. Sweet! Mission over, right? Wrong! Instead, I was forced to fight this Liberace-wannabe and the countless hordes of Popeyes. I'm still a little unclear as to why the sailors wanted to kill me when Mr. Metro had just finished killing their boss.

Needless to say, I died when I was unable to properly make use of the crappy camera and fighting controls. Rather than try again, I simply quit the demo and removed the content from Xbox 360's hard drive.

I think it's fair to say that I will NOT be buying or renting Tenchu Z.

I find that when game makers attempt to create games for both next-gen and old-gen consoles, the result is a crappy looking game: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is no exception to this rule.

Although I'll admit that Jack Sparrow looked half-decent in the game's demo, At World's End environments and enemies were nothing to write home about. Granted, the demo takes place entirely in and around a prison. Still, everything in the game looked muted and boring. Rooms and corridors looked pretty similar, with very few defining characteristics present to identify newer locations from older ones.

Apart from the graphics, everything else in the demo screamed "average". Fight mechanics were somewhat interesting, though a little too easy at times. Need to defeat one of the countless, generic prison guards coming at you? Press the attack button repeatedly and you'll make quick work of all your enemies. There are a few tricks thrown in from time to time to make things interesting, though I'm sure the fighting would grow quite stale after a few hours of playing.

On a positive note, I will give the game's voice acting and its soundtrack a thumbs up. Although Johnny Depp did not do the voice over for Jack Sparrow in-game, you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference.

Did the demo make me want to buy Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End? Good Lord, no! Still, it might be worth picking up after a price reduction or good for a week-long rental from my local Blockbuster. Of course, there are many better games out there that I'd much rather play.


What's that sound? Could it be Pac-Man? You betcha!

I logged into Xbox Live yesterday, downloaded the demo for Pac-Man Championship Edition, and played the game for five minutes.

The game is basically Pac-Man, albeit with slightly better graphics and somewhat-modified game-play. How much fun was it? Less fun than it was when I was eight years old and more fun than it was when I was fifteen years old. However, given the number of great games available on the 360, there are better ways to spend my money.

Do I think Pac-Man CE will sell well for 800 points on Xbox Live? Probably, which is unfortunate. I think the whole concept of bringing back old arcade games from the dead and re-releasing them as downloadable titles on Xbox Live is pretty lame. Not only have you played these games before, but you have no resale value of the game when you're done with it. I say let dead games rest in peace and start focusing on bringing innovative new titles to Xbox Live Arcade.

Years ago, I played a game called Dungeon Keeper. Basically, you played as an evil dungeon keeper attempting to kill off groups of heroes who would venture into your labyrinth of terror.

The game played like your standard RTS. Build up your dungeon, create objects that would, in turn, bring forth minions to inhabit your dungeons corridors, and purchase traps and other goodies that would keep those pesky heroes at bay or six-feet under.

Although this game was interesting, I found it to be a little too challenging and a little too dull at times. Granted, I never even finished the first level of the game: I found that Dungeon Keeper required too much effort/thinking to properly learn and apply the mechanics into a successful go at the game. I also hate RTS games...

Soon, another game is being released that places you squarely on the "fun" side of the good-evil axis: Overlord.

When I heard that the Overlord game demo was available for download, I grabbed it and started playing immediately. Although I'd been following the game's progress on GameSpot, the time of truth was at hand: would Overlord be as good a game as I'd hoped? Yes! Graphics, sound and game-play are all top-notch. You could tell that CodeMasters really put their all into getting Overlord ready.

The demo begins with you, the Overlord, being brought back from the land of the dead to take the place recently vacated by your predecessor. It seems that a group of Heroes had somehow managed to infiltrate your tower and kill off the previous Overlord. As your goblin guide puts your through your paces in tutorial-mode presented in the demo, you learn that you will have to rebuild your dark empire and face whatever else might come your way.

What made the demo great is the great control scheme. The developers seem to have thought long and hard about the best way to control both your character and his minions at the same time. The solution: the right analog stick. You move the Overlord around the beautifully detailed world using the left analog stick and move your horde of minions with the right stick. By default, your minions will stick close to your side, meaning that you don't need to be using both analog sticks at the same time unless a specific situation calls for it. In fact, even when it comes time to fight, your minions will attack any obvious threats, or handle any necessary on-screen tasks, through a simple pull on the right trigger button.

Honestly, I'm a little amazed at how well the game looked and felt while playing. I haven't even gone into the game's sound, which is excellent as well. One of my favourite in-game moments had to be when pressing the "Call Minions" button: as the Overlord reaches his arm into the air, a deep and thoroughly evil sounding note cuts through the air, causing your minions to quickly regroup at your feet.

If you have an Xbox 360, I urge you to give Overlord's demo a try today! It is really that good a game!

Overlord is set for release on June 26th. Although I may not pick up a copy right then (I have a lot of games to work through right now), I can guarantee that I'll be buying this game before the year's up.

What's better than a Japanese-based vampire game that takes place in the rainy streets of some fictional city? I'd say "anything" after having played the demo for Vampire Rain, currently available for download off Xbox Live.

Vampire Rain is another example of a next-gen title coming out with sub-par graphics and fairly standard game-play. After having played Gears of War on the Xbox 360, very few third-person shooters can live up to my expectations. And if you're going to go with the whole undead thing as an Xbox 360 game developer, you should first check to see if your name is Capcom. If not, just give up.

I won't dwell on my review of Vampire Rain. Graphics were quite similar to those found on many Xbox titles. The control scheme was standard. The game-play was stale and boring. The four missions available for play in the demo were pretty weak-sauce. The sound was extremely average, though much of the game's sound was drowned out by the white noise created by the incessant rainfall.

Other than the Kain and Raziel games (Soul Reaver 2, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, etc.), I can't think of any other vampire games that have even come close to being good. Vampire Rain does nothing to break that trend which is a shame: I was really looking forward to a great vampire game and this game's trailer seemed quite promising.

That's it for today. As a final note, I almost bought a Nintendo DS Lite last night but quickly changed my mind when I realized that new DS games cost as much as new Xbox 360 games. Are you serious?! I'd rather pay $50 for Vampire Rain than fork out $50 for Elite Beat Agents [note: DS game prices seem lower in the U.S.]. I don't care how good a DS game plays: without graphics and surround sound, $50 is way too much! Am I wrong here? Any DS owners out there should feel free to leave a comment: I'm quite susceptible to suggestion...


Mike said...

Hi Klopzi. I'm a DS owner and I'm telling you, that thing is fantastic!

The DS may not be comparable to a console, but it's the best choice for handhelds. The games are very innovative, the Wi-Fi is addicting, the homebrew comes out with the darnedest things, and Zelda's not even out yet.

I'm surprised at the price of DS games at your place though. Where are you from? I'm from the Philippines, and the price disparity between the two systems' games are huge here.

Klopzi said...

Hey Mike -

I've been checking out eBay to see if I can get a good deal on a DS Lite packaged with a couple games. I'm still a little hesitant right now, but it has nothing to do with Nintendo. I guess I've got to come to terms with the whole "portable gaming" concept.

I had a PSP but ended up getting rid of it when I found it to be too bulky and awkward to carry around with me. However, the DS Lite looks to be just about the right size for easy and convenient gaming on the go.

We'll see what happens in the next month or so. If I can get a good price on some Final Fantasy games for the DS, I may take the plunge.

Rage said...

G'day. Heres a fellow gamers opinions on a couple of the games you reviewed.

~Viva Pinata~
I like your review on Viva Pinata. I am currently playing it myself, and have reached level 31, and just recieved the garden value award of 100,000 Chocolate coins (CC). Let me just tell the readers. Never try to breed BarkBark's while you have KittyFlosses' in your garden. I spent a few thousand building a nice sturdy stone wall to keep my breeding dogs away from the cat's, yet somehow they always managed to get out. Since my cat, Bob (who has big bushy eyebrows and massive teeth) is one of my prize pets I bred the BarkBarks as quick as possibly and sold then even faster.

If anyone wants to get the best pinata in the game, All I can say is get a Mine (after you reach level 26. It costs 16500 CC + Digger expences).

My most interesting creature would have to be the Fourheads. The Fourheads must have gotten a little too close to a nuclear power plant. Extreme freaks of nature, they’re quite valuable due to the pain-in-the-butt way they need to be acquired.

~Tenchu Z~
My step brother recently bought Tenchu Z and I have nearly finished it. Or I think so anyway. I am up to mission 41 (there are supposedly just over 50 in total) and it says I am only 29% finished.
Sure it has basic graphics and seems like a really cheap Asian import, I find the actual gameplay very entertaining. I have absolutely no freakin idea whats going on in the storyline, and since all the enemies in the game speak Chinese or Japanese, I thank god that the gameplay is great fun. by the sounds of your review you only very briefly played it. Once you get the hang of the controls you will find it is pretty simple to be stealthy. As for your problem climbing roofs, thats what the grappling hook is for, And with unlimited use of it it has gotten me out of many sticky situations.
I agree with you about the fighting, a sword duel can be rather lame. BUT! That is why it is a ninja game. The stealth kills in Tenchu are brutal and just plain fun, although the anime blood spurts are rather shite. What can be more fun than jumping on someones back, jamming your sword down through their neck nice and deeply, twisting it a few times, then jumping off too watch a bloodshower.
the other fun thing about Tenchu is the vast amount of items. I have had great fun watching enemies step into my bear traps, or running up to them and throwing sand in their eyes. Just ten minutes ago I find a nice little peice of equiptment that makes it look like your character is bearthing fire. Watch them run and scream.

And finally. The metro guy with his bondage fishnet stocking suit only makes me want to kill him even more. I was happy when he killed my partner though, because at the beginning of the game i decided to choose the ugliest face for her you could possibly ever see.

~Dungeon Keeper~
I once owned Dungeon Keeper and let me say it was one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. I haven't yet played overlord but I don't think it could ever quite be as good as DK. who doesn't wan't to see their minions eating baby chickens then going to the casino you build to give you back the money you gave them. Or if your feeling nice you can change the option at the casino so that they can win, and watch vampires, skeletons and all manner of other beast disco dance to "Disco Inferno". It is a true classic. Althoguh I must add that I spent most of my time playing skirmishes, as the campaign was rather tricky. Hmm, I must dig that game out again.

Well thats all i can be bothered typing. Chow.

Klopzi said...

Rage -

Thanks for the comment: that's got to be the longest comment I've ever read in my life!

I agree with most everything you say. And in regards to Tenchu Z, it's true that I only played the first level of the demo. Mind you, I've heard many of my complaints echoed by game reviewers the world over. But keep in mind that video game reviews are subjective and I could see how someone might like the games that I dislike.

Thanks for stopping by!