Friday, October 30, 2009

My Current Playlist - 10/30/2009

Lego Indiana Jones is headed back to Gamefly, and I'm not sure what's on the way next.

I started Pure and I'll be working intermittently on that, though it's too repetitive to pound out in a few consecutive sittings like I do with most games. I passed on Lego Batman for now...a little Lego goes a long way form me so I'll put that off for a while.

I also started Borderlands this week. Since it's supposed to be best as a multiplayer game, I'm working through it with a couple friends. Naturally the trade off is that I won't be playing the game very quickly, because they can only really meet up once a week.

Until Gamefly sends my new games, I'll probably stick with some combination of Pure and Family Game Night, although the Grand Theft Auto IV DLC might get a test run at some point.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lego Indiana Jones - Achievements

I've already mentioned that you can finish Lego Indiana Jones in a weekend, Achievement whores are probably already thinking that it might be a good source for easy points. Well, for the most part they're right! It's no Avatar, but LIJ gives up the points pretty easily.

Each of the game's 18 chapters yields an Achievement as you progress. That's over one third of the awards right there. Another group of Achievements are earned by performing task X at total of Y times. Examples include digging up buried Lego parts 50 times or building Lego objects 250 times. If those sound like a lot, don't do most of this stuff a lot during the course of the game.

Then there are the more unique Achievements, which are usually my favorites.

"How dare you kiss me!" - 15 points
You get this one for using your whip to grab Indy's three main love interests from the movies (Marion, Willie, and Elsa) and giving them each a kiss.

"That's for blasphemy!" - 20 points
Recalling the classic scene from Last Crusade, you need to pummel Jones Jr. with Jones Sr.

My favorite aspect of the set were the titles. As you can see in the above examples, each Achievement is denoted with a related quote from the movies. Favorites include "It belongs in a museum!" and "How we say goodbye in Germany".

My least favorite aspect is probably the icons themselves. I like the ones that depict scenes from the movies with Lego characters, but there are far too many like this:

"Start the engines, Jock!" - 20 points
Fix 50 Lego objects with the wrench. So it's a wrench and it has the number 50...I guess that covers the basic gist of the Achievement but it's not exactly inspiring. How about Lego Jock holding the wrench, and get rid of the "x50" bit altogether?

I'd estimate that you can get all 1000 points for LIJ in around 15 hours of play without much trouble.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lego Indiana Jones - Review

I finally put a stake through Resident Evil's heart last Saturday, so that night I started playing Lego Indiana Jones. The next day, around noon or so, I beat Lego Indiana Jones. And no, I wasn't up playing it all night or anything. The game is just really short and really easy.

Backing up a bit, I played both of the Lego Star Wars games and I thought they were pretty fun. They weren't gaming Hall of Fame caliber or anything, but they were amusing diversions. Now I'm a big fan of Indiana Jones (both Raiders and Last Crusade would probably make my top 20 films list), so I thought I'd give this game a shot.

To end any suspense, it's not as good as the Star Wars titles. That may be a little surprising since it came after them and benefits from some additional polish. But I think the failing is more conceptual, an inherent difference between Star Wars and Indiana Jones. In the Star Wars games, some of the levels are played on foot, say blasting Stormtroopers in the halls of the Death Star while saving Leia. Others are played in Lego vehicles, like piloting an X-wing or the Millennium Falcon. There was enough variety that the game didn't get dull...about the time you thought "I'm tired of jumping around this swamp with Yoda" they'd stick you on a speeder bike on Endor to mix things up.

But Indiana Jones doesn't really have that. Oh, there's the minecart section from Temple of Doom, but for the most part it's Indiana Jones running around in tombs, solving puzzles, and avoiding snakes. It's fun for a while but if you get bored of that formula, there's just more and more of the same. On top of that, the game really plays up the 3D-platforming during the puzzle solving sections, and you don't get any control of the camera. That leads to some unnecessary plunges into instant-death pits.

The designers tried to make up for these issues by making the game easy. Really easy. You can die as much as you want with essentially no consequences (just a little lost Lego studs). Now, I don't mind if a game is easy as sometimes it's fun to just experience a game without the frustration of constant failure. But combine the fact that it's easy and the fact that it's short, and you can see why I beat the game in just a few hours. You can go back into each level and comb for secrets, but unless you're trying to get all the Achievements or just desperate to justify purchasing the game, there really isn't much draw to do so.

Ultimately, Lego Indiana Jones is like the little bag of potato chips that comes with your Subway sandwich. It's tasty for a few moments, but ultimately it's disposable.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Resident Evil 5: Final Achievement Wrapup

I've covered every other aspect of RE5 exhaustively, but I finished off the Achievements last night so I'll finish up that series with a few comments about the set.

Overall, it's a pretty solid set of awards. Some are pretty standard, including the obligatory Achievements for finishing each chapter and beating the game on each difficulty setting. There are some collection Achievements for finding all the weapons and treasures...I usually hate collection awards but these make sense because there's obvious value to the items for which you're searching.

There are also some Achievements that are fun to pursue. Examples include shooting a stick of dynamite while an enemy is still holding it, trying to take out three enemies with one explosive barrel, and killing an enemy with a rotten egg to the face. The game also includes two secret weapons, and there are a pair of Achievements for killing a few enemies with each of those (they're both fun).

I only have two complaints about the set. The first is aesthetic: it' just not a very attractive set of icons. Lots of the pictures repeat, and the artwork is pretty mediocre. It's unfortunate because one of RE5's greatest strengths is the quality visuals.

My other beef is with the Achievement for fully upgrading every weapon. It takes A TON of cash to accomplish this task. I played through the game four times (admittedly one was a speed run), including one playthrough on Professional difficulty where you get double cash, and I still needed to grind through Chapter Select mode for around five hours to get the rest. A better idea would have been to make the award for fully upgrading one weapon of each type (handgun, rifle, shotgun, etc.). As it is, this one is a real pain in the butt.

If you do go for the weapon upgrade Achievement, make sure you keep all the weapons in your inventory, because it doesn't count if you upgrade and then sell them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

R.I.P. - Jeff's Xbox

Sad news on the gaming front...after four years of faithful service, my 360 finally gave up the ghost. I had a Pro system and was a fairly early adopter, so I was pleasantly surprised that the hardware gremlins plaguing so many owners (including several of my friends) didn't manifest for me.

But the picture had seemed way off for a couple days, and on Wednesday morning Rachel tried to turn it on, only to discover there was no video or audio output. Through process of elimination I was able to narrow down the issue to either the video cord (not so bad) or the video output chip in the machine (disaster). Trying to be optimistic, I bought a new video cord to replace the old one. No dice...the issue was unfixed.

Ironically the machine itself is running fine. It powers on and processes just like it should. But it won't send any video or audio signal out, which kind of defeats the purpose. So with a heavy heart (and light wallet), I bought a new 360 last night. It works fine (confirming that the old 360 is the problem), but it isn't quite the same.

I'm going to try and have the original one repaired. I could still sell it or keep it as a spare. But for now I'll just have to get used to this new interloper sitting in the spot where my old faithful machine rested only days ago.

This may seem like a lot of words to spill over a busted video game machine that I've already replaced (and I'm at least partly kidding), but you do have to understand that it was my favorite console that I ever owned. That's got to count for something!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Current Playlist

Rachel and I were playing some board games (Yahtzee and Battleship) on the 360 last night, and I scored a few Achievements that pushed me over the 70,000 point mark. That's an impressive monument to wasted time!

Anyway, here's a quick update of the games I'm either working on now or will be working on soon:

1. I'm about halfway through Professional mode on RE5. This will be my last playthrough, so for the most part I'll be done with the game. I've already written EXTENSIVELY about RE5, though I may do one last post to give an Achievement wrap-up (it's kind of my thing).
2. Family Game Night - I have all of the Yahtzee Achievements. I'm still working on Battleship, Boggle, Scrabble, and Connect Four. However, I didn't buy these as much for the Achievements as for having fun little diversions available, so I'm not looking to rush through them.
3. Lego Indiana Jones is here from Gamefly. In fact it's been here since Saturday, but I've been busy with RE5 so I haven't even put it in the machine yet. I'll give this a look soon...
4. I'd like to go back at some point and finish the Achievement set for Infinite Undiscovery and bang out a few more in Grand Theft Auto IV.
5. A while back I bought the two Penny Arcade games from Live and haven't had a chance to try them yet. Gotta' get on that soon too!
6. And I suppose when I send back RE5, Gamefly will send me something else. Do those people have no regard for my free time???

Sigh, the life of an Achievement whore is never restful...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Capcom - Racists or just Idiots?

A hypothetical conversation between two Capcom executives prior to the release of Resident Evil 5:

Jim: Hey, listen...I'm hearing rumors that game sites are previewing our upcoming release and calling it "racist". I haven't really been following the project that carefully, so is this something we should be worried about?
Slappy: Not at all. I put together some screenshots for you to look at. As you can see, there's nothing racist going on here.

Jim: Uh, this looks like a white hero locked in mortal combat with waves and waves of black people. That doesn't seem strange to you?
Slappy: Well, the game is set in Africa.
Jim: Oh I get it, so a viral outbreak - because ALL of our games are about a viral outbreak - happens in Africa and it affects the local populace. Okay, that makes perfect sense. We'll just get some PR guys talking to the media, they'll explain the setting and how it works within the Resident Evil conventions, and most people should understand that we aren't intending racism but merely verisimilitude.
Slappy: I don't know what "verisimilitude" means, but don't worry about the PR guys. We've already got it covered.
Jim: I'm not sure I like the sound of that...what do you mean covered?
Slappy: We made alterations to the game in response to the criticism. That should appease our critics.
Jim: I definitely don't like the sound of that. What kind of alterations?!
Slappy: Well, we made some of the mutated zombie villagers light skinned. See?

Jim: Wow, that's profoundly retarded. You do realize that it doesn't look like you mixed in some white zombies (which wouldn't make sense anyway), but that some Albino subgroup of the African populace was also infected? Because they have African features and are wearing local clothing...heck, it sort of looks like you spray-painted some of them white.
Slappy: Yeah, we pretty much just used the computers to recolor them and called it a day.
Jim: I don't think that fixes anything. Also, now that I read the design documents I'm seeing some other problems. It says here that the hero goes to a native village full of mud-and-stick huts? And the locals, dressed in rags and decorated with bones, feathers, and war paint, attack him with spears??? Is that right?
Slappy: Yeah, it's great. They make these yelping, growling sounds too. Spooky stuff. Well, not spooky like scary, but it disturbs the senses.
Jim: I'm definitely disturbed. You don't think that sounds a little over the top? I mean, spear chucking black natives...we're getting into some pretty blatant stereotyping here. And is this even necessary? How would natives living in isolation from the urban areas come in contact with the virus?
Slappy: Oh, they're being exploited by a pharmaceutical company run by white Europeans.
Jim: this some kind of commentary on the economic and industrial relationships between the Western world and underdeveloped nations? Sort of a "Constant Gardener" thing?
Slappy: Nah, they're just dicks. It establishes who the bad guys are. We couldn't think of a more subtle way to do it.
Jim: I'm getting a headache here...
Slappy: But don't worry, because I haven't shown you our trump card yet. The addition that makes it so nobody can accuse the game of being racist.
Jim: I'm afraid to ask.
Slappy: Meet the hero's partner, Sheva:

Jim: Yeah?
Slappy: Don't you see? SHE'S BLACK. So it's not a white person killing a bunch of black people. It's a white person AND a black person killing a bunch of black people. Bam - not racist.
Jim: Uh've got this all figured out. Why was I worried? I'm just going to check for openings in the video game field.
Slappy: Before you go, check out the best part. Once you beat the game and find all the collectibles, you can unlock her super-sexy "alternate" costume.
Jim: Oh Lord, this is going to be bad.
Slappy: It's great! Check it out:

Jim: Ah, so you've decided to kill the twin birds of racism AND sexism with one stone. Nice. I think I'll just put our lawyers on retainer now and avoid the rush.

Thus concludes our scene. For the record, I don't think setting a game in Africa and then having some of the baddies be Africans is racist. But Capcom handled this entire situation with the deft grace of a battering ram to the skull. It's unfortunate, because gaming companies will likely take the wrong lesson from this: namely that they should go back to putting only white people in games. Showing a little cultural variety is fine, heck it's encouraged, but applying a healthy dose of common sense at the same time would really help!

Professional Difficulty = NO FUN MODE

I finished Resident Evil 5 on "Veteran" difficulty last night. After knocking out a few side Achievements, I started my final run on "Professional" difficulty. Pro is so tough that it isn't even available at the have to beat the game on Veteran just to prove you're worthy or something.

If you've ever been a PC gamer, then you might know that on some games you can toggle settings to turn off advanced graphical features. This is in case your machine isn't quite up to snuff and you need to improve how the game runs. So you can turn off things like reflections, shadows, and other enhancements.

Well, RE5 on Professional is like going into the menu and toggling the "Fun" setting to off. Granted, RE5 is pretty obnoxious to begin with, but once you get the infinite ammo magnum and rocket launcher, there's definitely some enjoyment to be had. Not so with Professional difficulty. The enemies are insanely aggressive and every time you get hit, it's essentially an instant kill. Thank God I've already run through the game three times so I know where most of the enemies are. Otherwise I could hardly stand to play this thing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Family Game Night - Yahtzee

Hasbro and Microsoft have teamed up to translate some classic board games to the Xbox Live Arcade. They've done seven games so far, and right now they're all on sale for half price. I decided to grab a few of them while the price was so low.

I played some Yahtzee while watching football this weekend, and I have to say that it's a pretty faithful translation of the game. These board games are pretty basic compared to normal releases, so it really falls to presentation and extra options to make or break the game.

You can play with up to four people, in either Local play or over Live. It's got everything you'd normally see in Yahtzee, right down to the little cup for shaking your dice. I like the convenience of the scoring, because you can see at a glance what your various options are and how they'll change your score.

There are also new modes available. I haven't tried them all, but one of them causes certain numbers to be wild while you're rolling, and another has you playing just the lower half of the sheet and trying to fill it without ever missing an entry. I'm not sure any of the variants would be as fun as the actual game, but at least they'll change up your usual strategies.

Plus I don't know how I'd ever have scored this Achievement without wild dice:

High Roller - 15 points
Roll three Yahtzees in on game. What's crazy is that this Achievement is worth less points than most of the others, including easy ones like having a chance total over 24.

I can't really say whether Family Game Night is a good substitute for actual board games. It's cheaper (if you already own a 360 obviously) and takes up less space. But you don't get the tactile sense of throwing the dice or sitting around a table together. You'll have to decide for yourself if the experience is sufficiently similar.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Resident Evil 5: Achievement Path

An "Achievement Path" is simply a series of directions indicating how to get the Achievements with great efficiency. They're particularly useful for games that involve multiple playthroughs, because you can get an idea of which Achievements to pursue on which trip through the game.

RE5 requires a minimum of two playthroughs for 100% completion. If you want to emphasize getting the Achievements as quickly as possible, then do your first trip on Veteran difficulty and your second on Professional.

I don't suggest that path though, because the game is annoyingly frustrating trying to work through Veteran (and especially Professional) without amassing some upgraded equipment.

Here's my suggestion for a path that will take a little longer but save you some annoyance. Minor spoilers are scattered throughout, but nothing plot-based.

Game 1: Play through on either Amateur or (preferably) Normal. This is your "enjoy the game" run. Just play normally, watching the cutscenes and seeing what RE5 has to offer. I didn't enjoy it much but maybe you will. Two key points on this playthrough though. First, don't spend any of your cash yet. Second, in Chapter 5-3 when you get to the big double boss fight (you'll know) look for a locked door on one side and keep running around near it until you get kicked through it. Then run down the newly opened passage and find the metal case containing the super-kickass Lightning Hawk Magnum. After the chapter, use you stockpile of cash to FULLY upgrade the Hawk, selling treasure if you need more money. Every upgrade should be purchased. Then finish the game.

Game 2: You've now seen everything the game has to offer, so it's time to do a speed run. Use the bonus features menu to unlock infinite ammo for the L. Hawk. It takes 15,000 points so if you're a little short, use the chapter select and play through a couple short missions until you have the necessary points. Make sure you enable infinite ammo in the extras menu. Now start up a new game at Chapter 1-1 (using New Game+ or Chapter select) on Amateur difficulty. You need to finish the whole game in 5 hours or less, so don't waste time hunting for treasure. Just run and gun with the L. Hawk.

Game 3: Congrats, you just unlocked the infinite ammo Rocket Launcher! With that and the L. Hawk, you're now well equipped to conquer Veteran. I suggest using a guide on this playthrough so you can get the BSAA emblems and the treasures. Save up cash to upgrade weapons as well. Veteran is definitely a step up in difficulty but you can one-shot most regular guys with the Magnum and most bosses with the rocket launcher.

Game 4: Same deal, but now on Professional. Most hits will just about kill you in this mode, so go slowly and make good use of your souped up weapons. An upgraded rifle can really help on this difficulty so you can pick off enemies before they see you. Have patience and good luck!

Clean up: If you're missing any Achievements for barrel kills or whatnot, use the chapter select to choose a good spot to grab them. Hint - they can all be done on Amateur.

Enjoy your 1000 new points!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Resident Evil 5: Plot Spoilers

There isn't much plot to RE5, but what's there is pretty dumb. Here are some of my beefs with the story, which obviously contain spoilers:

- Okay, you're an evil corporation that's conducting secret research in Africa. There are some flowers that you need for their DNA mutating purposes (odd, but I'll go with it). They grow in a specific series of caves. Now if you're not an idiot, you put your base somewhere near the site and go to collect flower virus samples to study. Or if you absolutely insist on putting the base in the cave near the flowers (Why? The virus seems perfectly stable in an ordinary syringe), then you'd dig or construct a convenient entrance to the surface, right? Well not this evil corporation. For access to their secret base, the bad guys decided it would be more convenient to use an ancient underground temple complete with monsters, death traps, and doors that can only be opened by two people working in concert. There's all kinds of stone pillars and staircases that move around (how exactly?), and even a series of mirror puzzles used to power some kind of prehistoric African elevator (???). How the Hell did they set up their super-futuristic base in such a remote spot? How did they even get the materials through all these traps? The whole thing doesn't make any sense. One minute I'm walking around what looks like an Aztec ruin (in Africa?), and the next I'm standing in a room full of computers and cryopods.

- I would love to take a look at the Umbrella Corporation books. These guys must be worse with money than the entire US banking system put together. What exactly is their business plan here?

Step One: Build a REALLY fancy, hi-tech facility in a REALLY remote location.
Step Two: Mutate a bunch of people and creatures into various kinds of monsters (on purpose).
Step Three: Cackle with glee as the whole thing turns into a giant clusterfuck.
Step Four: ???
Step Five: Profit

You can find documents that mention nebulous "military contracts" while playing through the game, as if the military has a lot of use for a virus that turns people into mindless, unstoppable monsters. Let's just say that if I was on the Umbrella Corp. Board of Directors, I'd be selling my stock as fast as I could.

- Excella...this character makes no sense to me. I'm rich, I'm beautiful, I'm powerful, and I can pretty much have anything in the world. So what do I do? Give all my money to a mutated lunatic, purposely infect myself with a highly unpredictable mutation virus, and then follow him through a series of dank African caves to do his bidding until he betrays me. Hey Excella, you do realize you could retire to a tropical island and pay a dozen guys better looking than our villain to worship you like a goddess for a fraction of the cost of this idiotic plan, right?

- As for the main bad guy's scheme, this whole "I'm going to destroy the world and rule over what's left of it" plan has been done a million times, and it's ALWAYS stupid. Never once does he give a reasonable justification for his actions. At one point he claims that people constantly battle against each other, so their time is done (I'm paraphrasing here). So turning them all into hyper-violent zombies is exactly? Gosh, I'm sure he can hardly wait to be the unquestioned lord and master of the decaying ruins of human civilization. Again, he's already got money and power, plus mutant abilities that put him pretty far beyond prosecution for most any crime. Why wreck the place up? How does he know some of the new mutants won't be even stronger than he is, and not particularly amenable to his rule?

- One final note to Capcom: LAVA IS HOT. Crash-landing in a volcano means instant death, not sweet boss fight. And anything I can hurt with bullets will be right-fucked if it's submerged in molten rock (actually biological material would float on lava since it's less dense...if it didn't incinerate instantly, that is).

However, I did get a laugh watching Chris Redfield punch a giant boulder into position. I guess that's why he needed those giant muscles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This isn't your parents' Resident Evil

I'm still plowing through Resident Evil 5. Note that I'm not using the term "plowing" to indicate playing through rapidly because I can't put it down, but more in the sense of "manual labor of a tedious nature". Resident Evil 4 was an all time classic. This game is well below average. How does that happen?

Rachel may be one of the world's premier RE4 fans, and she has some thoughts that really echo my own. Check those out here!

I'll just add a few of my own opinions. The biggest issue in my mind is that the makers of RE games completely misunderstood what was good about RE4, and thus played up the wrong aspects of the game for RE5. For example:

- RE4 had an amazing fight in which you had to hold off a horde of villagers with only limited supplies. RE5 has SEVERAL of these...the first time it's tense and scary but quickly it becomes boring and repetitive.
- RE4 had a smattering of quick time events. They were annoying but tolerable. RE5 has tons of quick time events, almost all of which result in instant death if you miss them. Thus the game effectively punishes me for watching the cutscenes instead of staring at the bottom of the screen waiting for a button prompt, while simultaneously rewarding me for memorizing Simon-says style button sequences. This is fun how exactly?
- RE4 had a feature where you could find loot and exchange it to do simple upgrades on your weapons. RE5 has the same thing only far more complicated, and now there are multiple versions of each weapon type (shotgun, rifle, handgun, etc.) to be found. So do I upgrade my current shotgun or wait to see if I find a new one? This kind of metathinking takes you out of the game's story because you're too busy fussing over resource management.
- RE4 had a spooky setting and a solid plot with overarching intrigue. There were legitimate scares to be had. RE5 opens with a cutscene explaining "There are terrorists...they have a virus that makes people mutate. Go get 'em." This game isn't trying to be scary or atmospheric, it's just putting a throng of zombies and monsters between you and the bad guys on a linear path.
- RE4 starred Leon Kennedy. He was a fairly normal guy, albeit with combat training. He wasn't superhuman or anything, but he was a decent person who made the best possible decisions available during the game. RE5 stars Chris Redfield, who looks a bit like a shaved gorilla after a severe steroid bender. He's practically invulnerable to damage, has a sniper's aim (with a pistol), and possesses similar decision-making skills to a teenager in a slasher flick.

I could say more but I'm not sure why I'd bother. The bottom line is that everything RE4 did right RE5 tosses out the window, and everything that was a minor annoyance in RE4 gets pushed to the absolute limit in RE5. It's not a good recipe.

As I get closer to finishing the Achievement set, I'll post something about that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Soul Caliber 4 Wrapup

This weekend was pretty much devoted to two games: Soul Caliber 4 and Resident Evil 5. I'll have more to say about RE5 later, but thus far Rachel and I are not terribly impressed.

I played the original Soul Caliber on the Sega Dreamcast. At that time SC was a technical marvel, with fighter models and fluid animations the likes of which most of us had never seen. Of course, gaming has advanced pretty far since then.

Playing SC4, the thought that really struck me was how this franchise really hasn't progressed much since that original title. The cast of characters is mostly the same. The moves are the same. The animations, once so groundbreaking, now feel stale.

What's new in this iteration? Well, you can create a custom character (or just monkey around with existing ones) by shifting around weapons and equipment. You can assign special abilities as well, things like regenerating health or resisting ring-outs. It's an interesting feature, but the fighting styles stay the same so it really feels mostly like fighting with a (badly dressed) version of the same characters that are already present.

Beyond that, not much has changed. There are a couple new characters added to the SC canon. And they decided to put some Star Wars characters in there for no discernible reason. I guess the big new feature is that you can play against other people over Live.

Let me tell you how that experience will go. If you're a hyper-obsessive SC fanatic with lightening reflexes and a photographic memory for your favorite character's moveset, then you'll really enjoy playing online. If you're just an ordinary gamer giving it a try (or trying to get the Achievements), then you'll enter a world in which your clumsy flailings are summarily dismissed as your character is tossed about the environment like a rag-doll by those hyper-obsessive types I mentioned earlier. I admit that I totally suck at fighting games, but they could have found a way to make this a bit more accessible, no?

All in all, I found SC4 to be a polished experience, but only because it feels like the same game they've made three times before. If you've never tried a SC game and enjoy the fighting genre, I recommend it. Otherwise, a rental is the most this game warrants.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Banjo-Kazooie: Achievements

B-K is your standard Live Arcade game, meaning it features 12 Achievements for 200 points. Before playing the game I read a few guides that boasted this game is easy points and can be finished without issue in around 10 hours.

Here's an issue: that's bullshit.

If you're already an expert on B-K and played through it a couple times on the N64, then maybe you can cruise through quickly. But if you're coming into the game new, that "10 hours" is blatantly false. Consider this one:

"Music Maestro" - 25 points
Collect all the musical notes in the game. There are 900. No, I'm serious. 900. And they're hidden throughout 9 worlds in the game. That means you'll need to thoroughly explore every single one, including finding any secret areas that might be housing notes. And if you're missing a few, it takes forever to figure out which ones you already have versus which ones you still need.

Unless you have the game memorized, this Achievement alone takes more than 10 hours. Now it's certainly the case that you can work on this while you're completing all the other Achievements. There are definitely some easy ones. But it took me at least 20 hours to finish the game with all the Achievements, and it certainly wasn't because I was taking my sweet time.

It's also worth noting that while the game is far from difficult, I wouldn't exactly call it easy either. I mentioned in an earlier post that there are some elaborate jumping puzzles later in the game, and the camera does you no favors. The game also uses the utterly outdated "lives" system, and if you run out you need to start back at the beginning and jog to wherever you were. The bottom line is that there's a lot of frustrating "fail until you succeed" challenges in B-K so don't expect those 200 points to come in a lazy evening.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Soul Caliber 4: Making Friends Online

I know I promised a post about Banjo-Kazooie Achievements, and I'll definitely get around to it.

Last night I worked on the online Achievements in Soul Caliber 4. I should say right from the get-go that I absolutely SUCK at fighting games, so playing online generally involves me getting my ass handed to me over and over until I find someone even more n00bish than me. It can be a long process. I got really lucky last night though, because I ran into one of my Live buddies (or as Rachel calls them, "fake friends") and he offered to help me with the Achievements and show me some tricks to fighting online. All told I was able to pick up seven Achievements for 150 points...not a bad haul for an online game at which I'm pretty terrible.

"Hero King" - 30 points
You get this one for rising to level 20 online. After each fight, you get points depending on how well you did. Get enough points and you gain a level. This one is tricky because once you get to level 5 or so, you actually lose points if you lose the fight (and you can even lose a level). I was glad I had help for this one!

I also worked on single player for a while and picked up this one:

"Hero on the Battlefield" - 20 points
You have to beat Arcade mode with a total score of 450,000 points, which is A LOT. I pulled it off using Astaroth by staying far away from my opponents while pummeling them with the down-back-X followed by Y combo. Astaroth will swing his axe along the ground to trip them and then do a big overhead strike for massive damage. You'll need several perfect rounds to pull it off this way.

My new online buddy mentioned that another way to do it is to use Taki's unblockable attack over and over, because you get 1000 points each time. I thought it was a good tip, so now I'm passing it along!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Banjo-Kazooie - Gameplay

I just finished Banjo-Kazooie from the Xbox Live Arcade. I downloaded it after I finished Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. It was originally a Nintendo 64 release from Rare, who also made Viva Pinata and Conker: Bad Fur Day. I had an "uneven" relationship with B-K...through the first half of the game I was really enjoying it, and during the second half I thoroughly hated it.

B-K is a 3d platformer. I've reviewed a few of those over on and the same axiom applies here as it did in those games: it all comes down to the camera. The more precise and intuitive the camera, the more enjoyable the experience. The camera in B-K is's responsive and fairly easy to control, but it hangs on environmental objects too easily and is imprecise.

That then goes a long way to explaining my shifting feelings about the game. Through the first half the game is pretty easy, with basic combat and rare, straightforward jumping puzzles. The camera is good enough in those situations to not hinder the player, so the game is fun. But in the second half (around the time you hit the snow world), combat becomes more common and dangerous, and your chances of success will often hinge on your ability to make precisely timed and aimed jumps around the environment. Suddenly the camera, which you probably weren't giving a lot of thought to that point, becomes your biggest enemy. It is massively frustrating to perform a series of jumps (say, to get to a high point) only to miss the last one because the camera spins off to the side while you're in midair and you suddenly can't see where you're about to land. I remember investing a lot of time mastering these types of jumping challenges playing Super Mario World as a kid, but I've really lost my patience for it over the years. Redoing jumping puzzles over and over is not my idea of fun, and being foiled by the camera is the proverbial salt in my wounds.

I wouldn't make such a big deal out of this except that gameplay is pretty much everything in B-K. The entire game is running (and jumping) around environments looking for widgets to collect. There's not much story here, so if the gameplay isn't fun then it's kind of a dealbreaker.

Other notes:
- I liked the graphical design of the game, as it features some nicely constructed worlds. However, if you're a graphics snob then B-K is not for you. They cleaned up the graphics a bit for the Arcade release, but this is an N-64 port and it shows.
- The save system in this game is just plain broken. Essentially it autosaves whenever you collect a key item like a musical note or jigsaw piece. But it doesn't save your progress with other aspects of individual worlds. Let's say you need to feed 10 worms to a hungry bird to advance. If you find nine worms, give them to the bird, and then die while looking for the tenth (say by falling a long distance thanks to a camera issue), you have to start over from worm #1. It's exactly those kind of design decisions that made me bitter and resentful towards the game once it got more difficult.
- One thing I did really love about the game is it's sense of humor. You can really tell that these are the same people that made Conker, because you can already see their subversive sense of humor developing in this game. Gruntilda make for a great nemesis, and I found the game's ending to be really satisfying.

I'll have another post later about the Achievements...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

College Hoops 2K7

I sent College Hoops 2K7 back to Gamefly on Saturday. It's not really worth a full review but here are a few notes:

- While playing NBA Live 07 recently, I came to the conclusion that I don't care for a vertical camera angle for the game (i.e. looking from basket to basket). That point was driven home with this game, which uses a standard sideline camera. It's just a lot easier to see how the players space out on the court.
- The players aren't as aggressive to the basket as they should be. If they have a wide open lane to the basket and you hit the shoot button, they'll pull up for a jumper rather than go for a lay-up or a dunk most of the time.
- I wasn't really impressed with differences between teams. NBA teams play pretty much the same, but college teams should seem pretty different. Some press more often and shoot a few more threes, but for the most part they all seemed to play the same (crappy) strategy, especially on offense.
- This game has some of the most ridiculous Achievements I've ever seen. Some are glitched, like the individual and season records (they can't all be broken, rendering the Achievements impossible). And an Achievement for beating every team in the game? There's over 350 teams, and the fastest you could play games is about 5 minutes each (1 minute halves, plus loading times, clock stoppages, etc.). So if you just started playing teams one after another, it would take over 21 hours just to finish that one 25 point Achievement. Gross.
- Oh, and Sega took down the online servers, so the online Achievements can't be earned either. And that's about half of the Achievements in the game. Needless to say, this one isn't for Gamerscore whores...

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I've been a Gamefly member for about two months now and so far I'm a big fan. For those who don't know, Gamefly is a game-by-mail subscription service. It's Netflix, but for video games instead. For about 20 bucks a month you get two games at a time, and you can exchange them by mail as often as you want. There's a Gamefly distribution center pretty near us, so games come pretty quickly.

I like these types of services because it allows me to try out games I'd never buy. Certain genres, like shooters and fighting games, don't hold my interest long enough to warrant a purchase. But if I can rent those games for a week or two, I can definitely get my money's worth.

The only drawback is that it can be a little dicey trying to figure out which game in your queue will actually get sent to you. You'd think it would usually be the top game, or close to it, but often I end up receiving a game pretty far down my list. That's not a big problem if you're flexible, but if you want to be playing a specific game, then you might get frustrated.

That aside, I definitely recommend Gamefly. It's especially great for people trying to pump up their Gamerscore!

First Post

Just a quick post to kick off my new blog. What's it about? Xbox 360 games, with a specific focus on Achievements. I'll also be reviewing games as I play through them.

So if you're one of my two or three readers, enjoy!