February 2, 2010
January 31, 2010
The 1998 game list is dominated with classic titles like Banjo-Kazooie, Tekken 2, Rainbow Six, Fallout 2, Xenogears, Starsiege Tribes Unreal, Metal Gear Solid and Grim Fandango.
With so many great titles, it’s tough to list the winners and losers. The PC world alone had at least eight games that were major releases. The console market swelled with greatness in all genres, including action, adventure and RPGs.
Being a PC gamer back then I truly remember Starcraft and Half-life. Those two games are considered the most influential for the period. Starcraft is still played today, whether it’s in Korea or in college dorm rooms around the country. Half-life 1 was the first FPS to have a solid story. This game spawned tons of mods. But will Half-Life be remembered for the creation of Gordon Freeman and a story-driven FPS, which pushed an aging Quake 2 industry to its fullest, or the creation of Counterstrike?
There was one other PC game that kept me locked in my room even more than World of Warcraft, it was the PC game known as Baldur’s Gate. It was such a marvel of Western RPG elements. I hated AD&D at the time; I’m still not a big fan. But Baldur’s Gate was a 5-disc masterpiece, hours of hours of exploring and character customization. The original is by far the best when compared to the sequels and spin offs.
Console gamers were also treated right in 1998. How about Legend of Zelda OoT? This was the first 3D Zelda game. Some say it’s one of the greatest games ever made and it’s held up pretty well. I remember the game was a lot of fun, but I was captivated by the musical score.
I was a huge fan of Resident Evil 2 for the Playstation, so a sequel only meant good things: better and bigger monsters getting blasted by bigger guns. The plot twisted and turned more than the first one and introduced characters whose legacy would shine as the series evolved to the next level. Although Resident Evil 2 has held up poorly, despite numerous ports, the original is still the most fun to play.
January 30, 2010
For me, the most glaring issue with Madd Moxxi's Underdome Riot is the fact that you do not gain experience from combat. You know those sweet sweet numbers that pop up when you defeat an enemy? They're gone. Sure, you still get experience points for turning in quests, but part of the stick on a carrot that drives me in this game involves constant progression, and that's missing here. Call me needy, but this omission is really enough to make me weary of investing a lot of time into this content. It wouldn't be quite as painful if there were interesting quests to complete, but as it stands, the quests are as vanilla as they get. They're as simple as completing each tournament, although that's a feat easier said than done. Speaking of that...
Tournaments within the Underdome Riot don't seem to scale for solo players. I realize most are going to play this with friends, but sometimes I want to play the lone wolf. Sometimes I don't want to be social. Shouldn't we be at a point in gaming where the difficulty dynamically adjusts to the number of players? Sadly, if you want to make a whole lot of progress, you're going to need real-life Internet people. The difficulty, even with four people, is certainly up there with the best (or the worst depending on how you look at it). Compound that into something for one person to deal with, and I wouldn't be surprised if you never saw the other side of the first boss round.
Ok, so it's tough. I'm an experienced gamer, and I can take it. After all, the developers obviously created this DLC with teamplay in mind, so I might as well enjoy the content as intended. If only there was some way to get into a quick game with complete strangers. Sorry. You're out of luck. No separate lobby for Madd Moxxi. You're definitely welcome to use the matchmaking already built into the game, hope you wind up with three other players that have also purchased this content (likely a mistake), then fast travel to the Underdome, but that really seems convoluted. Why wouldn't there be a way to facilitate group play a bit better? This should be a pick up and play game mode, and it doesn't seem like a whole lot of attention was given to that idea.
The fact is: I just don't have the time to try to play something I don't like. What should have been a no-brainer on the design end of things was not. I loved Borderlands and its first DLC: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, but Madd Moxxi is another monster altogether. It has charm, but not much more. Madd Moxxi could have been an excellent character to add to the Borderlands universe, but she, along with her arenas, fell flat. It feels like a waste of time and money. I'll cut my losses here and now. I'm shelving this game until something better comes along.
January 29, 2010
As I was playing through the first couple of hours, the similarities between this game and Crank 2 seemed to run almost in tandem, to the point that the creators behind both products HAD to have appreciated and drawn influences from the others work.
Anybody who has played the original No More Heroes has a pretty good idea what to expect with the sequel. Travis Touchdown, a geeky, fowl-mouth, murderous, "normal guy," returns for more bloodshed, wielding his beam katana--a weapon taken directly from a popular George Lucas project and renamed to something less copyright-infringing.
There is no doubt that No More Heroes 2 is a mature-rated game. The game's opening sequence features a fair share of four-letter swearing, over-the-top fountains of blood, and characters with revealing clothing and long, close-up shots of their “supple” cleavage. There is also a lot of scatological, penile, and sexual references. When you save your game, you go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet, and "drop a save," to quote Travis Touchdown. My point is, this is not a game for kids and it’s not ONLY because of the the blood and gore.
The M-rating seems to be something of a Scarlett Letter with Wii games, and as much as I've enjoyed playing No More Heroes 2, I don't expect it to sell well. That is, if the history of mature games on the Wii has anything to say about it. While most M-rated Wii games have received surprisingly average to decent reviews, they can't seem to actually sell any copies.
I was actually surprised to know that a sequel to No More Heroes 2 was being released amongst a sea of poor-selling M-rated games like House of the Dead: Overkill, MadWorld, and Dead Space: Extraction. Perhaps, because the original game was well-received and sold a decent amount of copies, No More Heroes 2 will sell better than other mature-rated Wii titles. NMH2 is also a niche title, appealing to a more hardcore gaming enthusiast audience. I feel that the game’s “Desperate Struggle” tagline may apply to the game’s commercial success in an industry where M-rated games only seem to sell well on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
The story behind the game is both ridiculous and highly-entertaining. It's definitely a guilty pleasure kind of game, and right now I'm thinking about how much I'd like to go home and see what kind of oddball direction the game goes next. I actually appreciate how No More Heroes 2 is self-referencing, in that it recognizes that it's a video game, and it's literally pointed out in a discussion between two characters after the first opening battle.
For a "lightsaber" style game, I was actually surprised that with NMH2 there was not a lot of required shaking or swinging of the Wii-remote. The only time I had to waggle or shake one or both of the controllers was when executing a finishing move, or charging up the beam katana. Most of the controls require you to hit the A button and the B button for katana and melee attacks, respectively. The Z button on the nunchuck attachment locks on to your target, and the C button switches locked-on targets. It is also possible to play the game using the Wii's classic controller.
The game looks pretty good... for a Wii title. My wife at one point walked into the room and asked me why the game looked the way it did. She wasn't saying that in a positive way, either. She was saying it in the obvious Wii to 360/PS3 visual comparison. I had no defense, and my answer was simple: "It's a game for the Wii." She accepted that and went on with what she was doing. The almost cell-shaded style of the game helps give NMH2 a look that works well for the Wii, but I could only imagine how much more effective this game's visual flair would be if it was running in high definition.
One aspect of No More Heroes 2 that I really liked was the game's homage to the 8-bit days of video games. You see, there is more to Travis than just killing. He can also work and earn money. Money is earned through several different mini games, called Side Jobs. These side jobs are represented in throwback 8-bit style arcade games. Two of my favorites are the tile laying game that gives a nod to Tetris without infringing on its copyright, and a pipe laying game similar to Pipe Dreams. Money from these side jobs can be used to buy Travis new clothes, train at the gym to get more strength and stamina, buy upgraded weapons, and purchase cat food. [Insert record scratch sound effect here.]
"Cat food??" you might be asking. Yes, cat food. In perhaps one of the starkest contrasts to the game's dark sense of humor, the pee and poop jokes, the sexual innuendo, the bad language, and the gore galore, is Travis' overweight cat Jeane.
Jeane is a fat cat. Your goal when interacting with her is to help her lose weight in a series of mini games: play, jump, stretch, massage, and feed. The animation of the cat and the mini games that you participate in to help her lose weight are actually quite cute and add a little bit of endearment and heart to an otherwise savage and hyperactive game.
While the controls for No More Heroes 2 took me a little bit of time to adjust to, I have been enjoying this game tremendously. As I mentioned earlier on in this preview, I have been constantly thinking about ridiculousness of the game since I last played it, and can't wait to sit down with it this evening and see how the story progresses.
In other words, this game has made an impression on me, and it seems to be a lasting one. I am a bit worried about how repetitious the game might become, but perhaps the game's screwball storyline and cast of eclectic characters will keep me satisfied.
Now, if you are like me, you might feel a bit intimidated by the idea of handling complicated tax code on your own. As a small business owner, I paid the fine people at H&R Block Premium to do my taxes for years. But three years ago my epiphany came when I realized my "tax professional" was simply following the instructions on the screen. Ask her a question, and she would literally say, "we'll wait for the program to get there." Upwards of $200 to watch someone plug numbers into a program when prompted? I don't think so!
Daunting as it may seem, tax software literally walks you right through the process. Some, like the H&R BLock Online that I use, even imports your previous year's information for you--even if you used their offices previously.
There are numerous programs out there for filing online, such as TaxAct, TurboTax and H&R Block Online. The best part is that most allow you to try it for free. You can go through the entire process of preparing your taxes, and then pay when you file--so if you end up uncomfortable with the results, you are only out your time. Just go to the web site (make sure it is a reputable one) and start your journey to tax enlightenment.
There are options to buy tax filing programs on disc, but I really don't see any advantage to this for the average Joe. It costs more, and then you've got one more software box laying around your house. There are, however, distinct advantages to filing online rather than doing the old pen and paper routine. Tax code is always changing--it is nearly impossible for actual humans to keep up with it. And if you miss some new deduction, you could be left paying more than you have to. Or worse yet--miss out on a refund. (Horrors!)
Filing online is not just for your average single, works one job , no deductions guy either. Self-employed, unemployed, raising your lazy bum brother's kids? The online programs can handle it, and quite well. It really is just as simple as grabbing your forms and plugging in a few numbers when it tells you to.