Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mini-reviews: Arcade edition

Mini-reviews represent the perfect format for Arcade titles, which don't stand up well to the nit-picking I do for retail games. Since Arcade games are only priced between five and fifteen dollars, it's more about value than depth. So here are three Arcade titles that I've finished recently:

A Kingdom For Keflings
In A Kingdom for Keflings, you play as your Xbox Live avatar (or a generic one if you don't have an Avatar) who has been tasked with assisting a group of tiny people (Keflings) in constructing a kingdom. You start the game with just a couple small structures and four Kefling helpers, but over time you can build castles, cathedrals, and armies of Kefling minions.

The mechanics of KfK couldn't be simpler. Need some wood to build a house? Grab a Kefling and set him or her down next to a forest. He'll make like a lumberjack and you'll have the lumber you need. Once you assign a Kefling to a job they'll keep doing it until you tell them to stop, so there's no need to micromange each of your followers at all times.

What makes KfK so enjoyable is that, unlike a lot of video games, it's a relaxing game that you can play at your own pace. It's a bit like SimCity, except without all the spoiled citizens bitching about their petty problems the whole time. There's no real conflict in KfK, so it's just a matter of building your kingdom as you see fit. Some people would be bored with the experience, but I found it refreshing.

Other positives include:
- A real artistic element...you can arrange your buildings and color them as you choose.
- Multiplayer options to co-build a city with up to four people at once.
- A really nice (if slightly repetitive) acoustic folk guitar soundtrack

Duke Nukem 3D
This is a remake of the classic PC title. It's essentially a spot on port, which like most classic games is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, there's a reason this game is remembered fondly in the annals of FPS titles. The action is fast and furious. Duke has access to a nice arsenal of weapons that each serve a distinct purpose. And of course, they couldn't rely on fancy graphics back then, so the designers went with a sardonic sense of humor instead. If you're a fan of South Park and aren't easily offended, you'll likely get a kick out of Duke Nukem.

(As an aside, kudos to the designers for leaving everything intact in the 360 version. I would imagine that they may have been under a bit of pressure to tone things down for a console release, but the game was ported unscathed.)

As for the negative, it's the same as all classic games - this title looks and sounds really dated. Now I'm a gameplay over graphics type myself, but do realize going in that the Duke's game doesn't hold up well compared to modern standards. The aliens make these grating metallic shrieks that probably seemed a lot cooler on a sound card from the '90s.

However, if you can get past the graphics and sound, there's a lot of solid gameplay to be found in Duke Nukem 3D at a fraction the cost of a retail game. And as a huge bonus, the 360 version features a rewind feature so if you die, you can try again from any point within the level (see screenshot).

Penny Arcade: Episode 2

I've already reviewed the first episode of Penny Arcade. I finally got around to playing the second one, and all my comments from the first are appropriate again. The game features an interesting RPG battle system with real-time elements, a varied cast of entertaining characters, and an art style that mimics the comic beautifully. I was excited to continue the story and definitely wasn't disappointed...there's equal measure of humor and plot to keep the player engaged throughout the relatively short adventure.

That's why I was quite disappointed to learn that this will likely be the last Penny Arcade game (at least in this series). Apparently the second episode didn't sell well, and the design team that had been making them picked up a new property on which they wanted to focus. Mike and Jerry (the creators of Penny Arcade) decided to pull the plug rather than becoming the redheaded stepchildren of that team. I understand their decision, but it's disappointing to discover that I won't be able to find out how the story finishes (there are several cliffhangers that will now be unresolved). Supposedly they might finish it in comic form, though I'm not sure that will be quite the same. Perhaps later this week I'll do a post about episodic gaming while this is fresh in my mind.

Despite the fact that the story will never be complete, I still recommend Penny Arcade: Episode 2 to fans of the series (but play Episode 1 first!). The game is sufficiently self-contained that it's still an enjoyable experience.

It occurs to me that these reviews are a lot more positive than my last set of mini-reviews. Maybe I should stick to arcade titles rather than renting low budget retail games that seem to disappoint me so often...

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