Thursday, May 25, 2006

The drought may be over

In the near future, I should be posting links to my reviews of New Super Mario Bros. and Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis.

A point of clarification regarding the nature and purpose of this blog: I won't review games here if there's a conflict with a print publication I write for. Insult Swordfighting is a place for me to muse on the practice of game criticism, general video game theory, and great games from the past. It's intended to supplement, not supplant, my professional writing. It may be easy for the line to get blurred.

I felt like I should put that out there, for some reason.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

FIFA World Cup 2006

My somewhat muddle take is online now.

The abbreviated version: Are you looking for a World Cup game? Well, this one exists.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Gears of War: The Race to E3

MTV2 showed a great half-hour documentary this weekend called Gears of War: The Race to E3. Their cameras were given what seemed like extraordinary access both to Microsoft's Redmond offices, and Epic Games' headquarters in Raleigh. The result was the funniest, most uncomfortable workplace comedy since the original The Office. It helps that the featured player was Cliff "Cliffy B" Bleszinski. (And who ever thought, back in the days when Jeff K. was still funny, that the nickname would have stuck like it has?)

Bleszinski is the revenge of the nerds personified. Not only does he wear tight pants and borrow his boss's Lamborghini to go out partying, but he also breaks up with his 19-year-old girlfriend and gets back together with her in the course of about five minutes. (Not kidding -- the show covered the span of maybe two months maximum, and it went from "We're perfect for each other" to "We broke up" to "We got back together.")

But much funnier was the barely-veiled hostility between the developers at Epic and the money men at Microsoft. The developers' liasion at Microsoft is a 40-ish woman who spends the entire show with an "I got my MBA for this?" look on her face. To watch her sweetly smiling at Epic's president as she explains that Microsoft feels the chainsaw-bayonet is a little excessive is to see the pinnacle of pointless inter-office power plays. The guys at Epic absolutely would not compromise on the chainsaw, either. I think they turned out to be right.

Best moment, hands-down, happened after Gears of War was introduced to a rapturous reception at E3. Bleszinski runs into none other than Bill Gates outside the convention hall. It seems impromptu. Gates comes over to say hi. Cliffy B starts babbling about the chainsaw. Gates glances off camera repeatedly, but Bleszinski adds clause after clause to the longest run-on sentence ever captured on film. Gates asks if they're on track for a fall ship date, and Blezsinski stammers like his teacher has nailed him for not doing his homework. Finally, Bill Gates simply says, "We're counting on you," and then Cliffy B asks for a picture. You need to see this show.

Fortunately, since this is an MTV2 production, it will probably be on several times a day for the next month. It's probably on right now.

Catching up

As I mentioned earlier, I'm making an attempt to catch up on some of the great games I missed during the current generation. My list is below, but it feels incomplete. If anyone has any more suggestions, leave them in the comments. (Even if I've played your choice, we can still talk about how awesome it was. Unless you choose something terrible, in which I case I will berate you without mercy.)

PlayStation 2
Metal Gear Solid 3
Katamari Damacy

Ninja Gaiden


Actually, although I never played Super Mario Sunshine or Wind Waker, I'm pretty sure there's nothing else I need to play on the 'Cube. Resident Evil 4 was the alpha and the omega. Prove me wrong, kids -- prove me wrong!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I am so tired of EA Sports

Be sure to check in next week for my review of FIFA World Cup 2006!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

OutRun 2006

My review of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is online now. I have this habit of looking at a game's Metacritic score immediately after I assign my own score. Often the scores are similar -- within ten points or so by their standards. But with this game, I nearly did a spit-take. I gave it a 4 (represented as 1.5 stars on, and its Metacritic score at the time was 83. Even considering the notorious score inflation in the game press, that's still a huge difference. I must be wrong.

Contra update

After browing the comments at Kotaku and some Wikipedia entries, I've concluded that A) the Konami code will be included in the XLA Contra, and B) the emulation will definitely be of the arcade version. All of my earlier comments stand. Plus it seems that the port keeps the original's vertical screen orientation. I'll wait for the Wii's Virtual Console edition, thank you very much.

Also, in Europe the game was called Probotector, which has got to rank in the top five made-up words I've ever heard.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A horrifying revelation

My own personal favorite bit of news from E3 was the announcement of a Contra port to Xbox Live Arcade. Contra was my favorite game as a kid. It was the first game I ever beat, and I played it so much that eventually I could beat it without dying. Its levels are ingrained in my muscle memory. I think it also informed my taste in games -- to this day I prefer linear action titles to the free-form, exploratory gameplay that's in vogue today (witness my gleeful reaction to Black, which was pretty poorly received by most of the game press).

There's only one problem: XLA Contra will certainly be an emulation of the original arcade version, and not the Nintendo translation!

This is a problem. Not only will the graphics be different than I remember (and I don't care that they'll be better), but the play control is bound to be just a bit off. Timing will be different. I can see myself plummeting into the icy waters of the Snowfield level, getting torched by the flames of the Energy Zone, and setting off one intrusion alarm after another in Bases 1 and 2.

The same thing happened with NBA Jam. I was a Ben Wallace-style menace on defense after months of gameplay on the Genesis version, only to hit the arcades and get called for goaltending every time my opponent took a shot. So much for beating Contra without dying. I can't even get anybody to believe me anymore, and I certainly won't be able to demonstrate.

This sucks.

Update: Ye gods, what if it means no thirty lives code?

Wii considering

It's been a couple of weeks since the name was unveiled, and Nintendo, by all accounts, had a boffo E3. So does the word "Wii" actually bother anyone at this point? I'm already used to it. I even think it's endearing.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Devil May Cry 3

In the post below, I credited Capcom with historically providing "hyper-responsive gameplay." I was thinking specifically of the Street Fighter series, but the same description could be fairly applied to Mega Man, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry. I'm currently playing my way through Devil May Cry 3, as part of my attempt to catch up on the notable games I've missed during the current generation (this will probably also merit its own post at some point).

Imagine having to learn Street Fighter again from scratch. I'm talking tabula rasa. Imagine not knowing how to do a quarter-circle motion on the d-pad, or how to charge backwards for two seconds. Imagine not knowing instinctually how to buffer attack commands. Not only would you suck at the game, but you'd probably give up trying pretty quickly. This is how I felt about DMC3. It took me about two hours of gameplay before I stopped tumbling down the sheer face of the learning curve.

The comparison isn't perfect, because DMC3 shares a lot of the action/adventure prerequisites like double-jumping and item-based puzzles. But the combat system is conceptually more similar to Street Fighter than to Prince of Persia. I'll try to explain it as quckly as possible before your eyes glaze over.

Dante, the main character, can attack with a sword and with a gun interchangeably. One button is mapped for each type of weapon. Additionally, he can carry two of each type, and switch between them on the fly. So, without any interruption in gameplay, you can attack with four different weapons about as fast as you can press four different buttons. You can do several different attacks with each sword, based on different directional inputs. You can do aerial attacks and interact with environmental objects like poles and walls. Although you can lock on to a given enemy, unlike in most games that doesn't preclude the horde of other fiends from also attacking you. Finally, you are rewarded for accruing "style" points, which basically means that failing to make your attacks as diverse and creative as possible results in a penalty. On top of all that, the enemies and boss fights are difficult to the point of cruelty.

It's an amazing game.

It's amazing because there's no point at which you're not in complete control of what's happening onscreen. Hence the difficulty, but hence the reward. There are games in which a small input on your part results in a disproportionately large action onscreen. There are also games in which you feel like you're really outworking what you're seeing on your monitor. Devil May Cry 3 requires serious manual dexterity -- you have to have a finger on all four shoulder buttons at all times -- but it all pays off in the feedback you get. Because Dante's foes can absorb so much punishment, there's no shortage of extended, eye-popping combos you can pull off. And just like in Street Fighter, the combos work because at any point you can change what you're doing. You don't have to wait for your sword-swinging animation to finish and reset before you can start blasting away with your pistols.

This is something I wish more game developers would try to focus on from the outset. I'm certainly not against fancy animations or the context-sensitive action commands that have been popping up everywhere lately (such as in Tomb Raider: Legend and Capcom's own Resident Evil 4). But it's important to remember that any kind of barrier between the control pad and the onscreen action had better be there for a damn good reason.

(Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition is available for $20 as part of the PlayStation 2 Greatest Hits collection.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lost Planet demo impressions

Kudos to Microsoft for making so many E3 trailers and demos available through Xbox Live. It's a great use of the medium.

The big news so far this week (well, besides the Halo 3 trailer) is the early demo of Capcom's Lost Planet. Talking about previews is dicey -- it's not fair to criticize the flaws in an unfinished product, so all you can do is praise what works. This results in the often orgasmic previews you see from some of the larger outlets. Even so, there's a lot to like about Lost Planet.

The demo contains two modes: one in which you face off against Starship Troopers-like alien bugs, and one in which you take on humanoid space pirates. Whether the latter is supposed to represent an online multiplayer experience, I can't say.

I spent more time fighting the bugs. The game's third-person shooting mechanics are more traditional than those found in Capcom's own Resident Evil 4. You can run and gun. One great new innovation is that hitting a shoulder button will swing your view 90 degrees. It's one of those slap-your-forehead touches that makes you wonder why no one thought of this before. We'll be seeing that in many more games to come.

The graphics are great, probably on par with Ghost Recon. The transitions between environments are so seamless that only after playing did I realize I'd gone from a sub-arctic landscape through an industrial installation into a cavernous underground hive, without any interruption in gameplay. People say graphics aren't as important as gameplay; although that's true, there's no questioning that strong visuals like these heighten the feeling of immersion.

There's one complaint I have, which I hope will be fixed by the final version. There are no animation interrupts. That is, if you're firing a gun and decide you want to throw a grenade, your character won't simply stop shooting and fling a grenade without delay. Instead, the animation needs to finish and your input won't register. It doesn't even buffer. This is odd coming from Capcom, who have made their bones off of that kind of hyper-responsive gameplay. I don't like having to clear away from battle and stand still for a moment in order to switch weapons. I hope this is something that Capcom will tune up before release.

Ace Combat Zero

My take.

Ranking the big three

E3 isn't over yet, but the keynote presentations are done. Here are some quick impressions.

Microsoft: Given the current paucity of AAA titles for the 360, I wonder how well served Microsoft was by launching it last November. They could have waited, made improvements, launched with a few killer apps, and still beaten Sony by months (and by $200). Still, I love the Live architecture. I'm excited to see Live Arcade titles like Contra. Capcom's Lost Planet demo strikes me as the first truly next-gen experience I've had with my 360 (I may cover this in more detail in another post). Microsoft has had a surprisingly good E3. I would not have expected that.

Nintendo: The only reason I'm not blown away is because they didn't offer significantly more information about the Wii than was already available. Not revealing a launch date or price point hurts. Then again, with the $250 rumor floating around, it gives them latitude to make a big splash later -- say, by announcing that the Wii will actually launch at $199. Frankly, the biggest news from Nintendo was all the great new stuff for the DS and even the GameCube. Yoshi's Island 2? Paper Super Mario Bros.? Yes, please.

Sony: Six hundred dollars. That's all anyone took away from Sony's presentation. Recently, I was researching a piece on personal tech, and I noticed that $399 seems to be the starting point for nearly all consumer electronics (the Scooba, the SkyScout, and most point-and-shoot digital cameras all seemed to retail for that). But $599? Even the people behind the counter at Gamestop couldn't believe it. Sony is nuts. I think Bill Harris sums it up better than I can.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

PlayStation 3 to launch at $599

World to Sony: "Are you out of your fucking mind? You really are out of your fucking mind!"