Sony’s Big Announcement: Will it Bring Innovation, or More of the Same?

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Today’s a big day; Sony is poised to announce the “future of Playstation” in just a few short hours. We can only assume this means the next Playstation console. I’m very excited, not because I’m foaming at the mouth for a new console, and not because I’m a Sony fanboy  (I haven’t owned a Sony device since the PS2/PSP days); it’s because finally, hopefully, I’ll start to see the changes in video games I’ve been hoping for.

For the past few years, I’ve had a pretty interesting relationship with video games. Mass Effect and Metroid Prime got me back into games in a big way. I was given an Xbox 360, and for the first time in my life became a console-centric gamer. I now own my first handheld in close to 6 years with the 3DS. But at the same time, I found it harder and harder to find the types of gameplay experiences I wanted. I don’t care much for shooters. I don’t play much multiplayer. Neck stabbing or violent combos don’t sell games for me; and most importantly, I don’t play games on my phone. At times, these past 4 or 5 years, I’ve felt left behind in terms of the type of gamer I am and types of experiences I want.

It seems like the driving force behind a game today is “how do we make it marketable?” Who the fuck cares!? Games feel more like products these days and creative experiences. I understand this is a business, but for a while there I really thought we were on to something. I used to see games big and small being talked about as artistic creations, lauded for their creativity and innovation. Now I just see pandering and stagnation. I don’t mean to say that all the big game franchises out there are simply “products,” but from the way games are marketed, to the way they’re covered in the gaming press, to the way they feel and look, the entire medium looks dull.

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There are literally thousands of games out, right now, that you can go play and experience. Games from throughout the medium’s history, from a plethora of genres. There are thousands of unique characters to meet, hundreds and hundred of worlds to explore, and a near-infinite number of stories for you to create. But those games are out. We’ve played them. No matter how much I try to convince myself there’s change coming, it won’t: older games are irrelevant compared to the new Playstation; The Ouya won’t outsell the next Xbox; An iPad will be more appealing to the mainstream consumer than a game console. Maybe, these pandering money-grubbing companies will leave consoles behind and flock to tablets and phones. And though the PC and console markets will shrink, they could be home to the game creators who are interested in making interesting and creative adventures and stories for us to explore. Or, maybe, we’ll all just be playing Angry Birds on our TV’s for the rest of our lives.

Gaming has (hopefully) reached its peak. I say that not because I don’t want people to experience the creativity or innovation of videogames, but because I want the medium to stop caring about catering to the mainstream. I’d be more than okay if the next generation of consoles weren’t as ubiquitous as the Wii, Xbox 360, or PS3. Maybe the gaming landscape would become interesting again.

So here were are, mere hours away at our first glimpse of the next generation of consoles. Whether or not you’re a fan of Sony this is a big day. I am filled with hope and excitement, but also anxiety and concern. The seemingly immenent failure of the Wii U disappoints me because I felt the Wii U represented the type of innovation the industry was (maybe) moving towards. Now, I’ unsure.

I don’t know if I’ll be buying into the next gen consoles. I feel like I’ve been playing (or at least seeing) the same games over and over. I’m ready for new ideas. I’m ready to wowed. I don’t care how powerful these new machines are – I’ll always prefer PC to console in terms of processing muscle. I care about games and experiences. I hope Sony delivers.

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Gatecrash Spoilers: Batch Number 1

It’s that time of year again! That’s right, it’s spoiler season! While the first batch of spoilers admittedly came out about a month ago with a curious Craigslist sale I wanted to wait a bit longer so that I had a little more to sink my teeth into and then along came Cipher and all of the sudden I had more than I could chew. Let me start with those first five mythics which were spoiled first and from there move onto the guild mechanics.

So it now is official. It cost 8UUUU to win the game. So for 12 mana you don’t only get to draw your whole library but you get an extra turn to untap and go nuts. If you cast this card and don’t win, you are doing something wrong. This card just wants to be played with Omniscience. Cast Omniscience, play Enter the Infinite for free and play the rest of your library for free. There is potential for this combo to become a threat in Standard and Modern but Enter the Infinite is clearly going to be abused the most in Legacy where cheating Omniscience into play is much easier with cards like Show and Tell and Academy Rector. Either way, Enter the Infinite is a ridiculous card that will definitely see play in constructed somewhere.

This card is interesting. A flying 6/5 trampler is pretty amazing in Limited but I doubt that it will be powerful enough to do anything in Constructed. With that being said, this is going to be an EDH and casual all-star. Like I have mentioned, his stats are nothing to scoff at and that ability could break games when put in the right deck.

We have seen ‘take an extra combat phase” effects in the past but we have never seen it on hasty, flying and vigilant body before. I think everyone knew that Boros was going to be an archetype to watch out for and Aurelia just gave the deck a win condition. Aurelia is going to let you go turn five Thundermaw Hellkite, bash you for 5 followed up by turn 6 Aurelia bash you for 16. By herself she is alright but the kind of decks that do play her are going to be fast and aggressive and when she hits the field games are going to end. Keep an eye out for this one.

So Seismic Assault grew some legs and is now throwing bigger rocks. This card makes me feel like RG Wolf Run ramp is still a very viable option in the format. Even though Borborygmos doesn’t do anything upon hitting the field, even if he gets hit immediately by some instant speed removal you can still respond by dropping your extra lands and blasting a couple of threats or even just your opponents face. This card is just perfect for ramp decks. Decks like that can now justify running 27-30 lands no problem because in the late game they aren’t going to be flooded with mana but with extra cards to bolt your opponent with. The Seismic Assault ability is sweet but the fact that this Cyclops gets you more land every time he attacks is awesome. I realize the ability only triggers when he deals damage but he is a 7/6 trampler and as of right now towers over most other threats in the game. This card will unlikely see play in eternal formats but is definitely a viable win condition in Standard and is going to an absolute blast in EDH and casual.

Domri Rade is so awesome. Three drop planeswalkers traditionally have a plus one which yields no card advantage. For example Liliana had each player discard a card, Jace Beleren each player draws a card.  Domri breaks this format. In the right kind of deck his plus one might as well read ‘draw a card most of the time’. Not only does his plus one rock, but he also passes the planeswalker test because he is able to defend himself. Admittedly, he does need a creature in play to be able to do so but again in the right deck he will be amazing. Now for a planeswalker to be awesome enough to catch my attention it needs to have an ultimate that ends games. For example, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad has always felt a bit underwhelming simply because his ultimate could potentially do nothing. That is not the case for Mr. Rade here. As we have made clear at this point, Domri Rade wants to be played in a creature based deck and because of that his ultimate is definitely going to win games. Hell, even if the emblem only gave your creature’s double strike and hexproof it would be ridiculous, but the fact that it gives your guys trample and haste as well is just almost too good to be true. If you ultimate this guy and don’t win, then you are doing something wrong. This card is amazing and definitely will see play across the board. Definitely in Standard and Modern and I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up in Legacy somewhere too. Three drop planeswalkers are good and Domri Rade continues to prove this paradigm.

So now for some new mechanics.

So Boros has a very powerful history in Constructed so it is interesting to see Battalion, which at least in a constructed environment sucks balls. The fact that you have to have two other attacking creatures is pretty steep for an ability trigger so for this mechanic to see play it better do more than just a Lightning Helix. Maybe it will end up doing something big, but as of right now I am fairly underwhelmed.

Now Extort is a fun one. While one life and one damage doesn’t seem like a lot let’s not forget that we still have Flashback in Standard making cards like Lingering Souls and Think Twice that much more powerful when they can chip away at your opponent’s health while simultaneously increasing your own. Admittedly this Thrull feels like a completely inferior Sun Titan in almost every regard but still the Extort mechanic isn’t something to brush off just yet.

Bloodrush is cute. It kind of feels a bit unnecessary with Wolf Run still around but that doesn’t mean it won’t see play. Rubblehulk especially seems viable, by being either a really Giant Growth or being just a big body in the late game. In the end it really does just make your cards a bit more versatile which is always awesome despite the abilities slightly redundant effect. It really wants to grant Trample too though again demonstrating Wolf Run’s superiority here

Fathom Mage debuts the Simic ability, Evolve. I love how they have kept the same +1/+1 counter theme from the first Raniva block except Evolve is significantly better than Graft. Especially in creature based decks, your creatures getting bigger is going to incredibly powerful especially when they have ridiculous additional abilities like the Fathom Mage here. Oh my god this card is going to be fun. This card with Scavenge and Corpsejack Menace are going to be gross. Creatures that trigger the Mage’s ability as well as have an ability which can put even more counters on the Mage subsequently meaning you will draw even more cards. I have mentioned before that I am very much a Johnny, and this card appeals to my inner Johnny very much so. Not only do Scavenge creatures work well with the Mage but the Innistrad block gave us quite a few spells that placed a handful of counters on your dudes as well such as Blessings of Nature, Hunger of the Howlpack, and Increasing Savagery which all work incredibly well.

Now for the single most exciting part: Cipher.

This mechanic is scary. There is the single most potential here with the presence of Invisible Stalker also available in Standard for Type 2 to become broken. I mean this mechanic could just break the game. There were so many rumors about Dimir getting a mill based mechanic that I am incredibly excited for something a bit more diverse. With that being said, Invisible Stalker and Whispering Madness together make for a quite efficient milling strategy. So turn four you cast your Whispering Madness and each player discards their hand and draws five and at this point you encode the spell onto your Invisible Stalker. Your Stalker then attacks and triggers another Whispering Madness and each library gets another five cards smaller. Now that you have another copy of Whispering Madness going on, you then encode that copy onto the same Stalker. That’s right; you get to encode the encoded copy. That means that each turn you will be getting exponentially more triggers. Now admittedly while quickly milling your opponents face off you will be doing the same to yourself, but as long as you draw one or two of your Thought Scours while drawing your entire deck you should be good to go.

That is just the shenanigans you can get into with one card. Imagine what other Cipher spells we are going to get though! Cipher is a blue and black mechanic meaning perhaps we will be getting some sort of Cipher draw or discard spell subsequently turning our Stalkers and other fine gentlemen into super specters and super Ophidians. If Cipher only got a draw and discard spell it would be the single best mechanic in Standard but we are sure to get even more crazy spells in the other 210 unspoiled cards yet. Cipher being released when we have Invisible Stalker is absolutely terrifying and we are sure to only get more crazy unblockable and evasive creatures from Dimir. Just look at their Keyrune!

Cipher is one of the best and the scariest mechanics to hit the game for a while and I cannot wait to see what else comes out of this set. For all of your Gatecrash news stay tuned into… Uhh, the site?

Also Watery Grave looks amazing. I love you and your glorious sharp art Mr. Swanland.

Am I the only one who is reading all of these quotes from Zarek as a confirmation that he is showing up in Dragon’s Maze?

Marshal’s Top 7 Films of 2012

2012 has been a phenomenal year for movies. Despite not being able to watch every worthy film I still had an excessively long list from the movies I was fortunate to watch. With that being said, I would like to reiterate that the movies on this list are the movies that I personally enjoyed the most out of the ones that I saw this year.

Before jumping into the list I would recommend checking out the video below. Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. makes these amazing compilations each year of all of the films that have come out and it makes for a perfect reminder of all of the gems that we got in 2012.

 

 

And with that let’s move onto the list!

7. The Cabin in the Woods

At the bottom of my list sits Cabin in the Woods. Cabin in the Woods while at a quick glance looks like any other teen horror flick is actually more of a self aware mockery of the genre. You come into this movie easily foreseeing what is going to happen next and then it breaks the format and your mind starts to get blown. The movie has a really fun cast and is written by Joss Whedon and while arguably not a horror film it is easily one of new favorites of the genre.

 

6. Skyfall

Prior to this year I had not been sold on Daniel Craig as Bond. Casino Royale was fun but not spectacular and I honestly can’t even remember anything from Quantum of Solace. Let’s just say that after Skyfall I am now all on board. Skyfall was hands down one of my favorite Bond films ever. It found that perfect mix of old Bond style and that new dark and grittier tone. On top of that we get Javier Bardem playing an absolutely amazing Bond villain and the entire film just looks stunning. I can now safely say that I cannot wait for Craig’s next venture with the character.

 

5. Life of Pi

While I loved the book, movie adaptations more often than not miss the mark. That definitely was not the case here. Life of Pi was one of those books no one thought could be made into a movie due to major lack of dialogue and the fact that the majority of the film takes place with Pi by himself in the middle of the ocean with a tiger. Despite these challenges Ang Lee was able to perfectly retell this fantastic story while still maintaining all of the magic that the book had.

 

4. Moonrise Kingdom

 

This year Wes Andersen presented us with another one of his loveable and quirky films and like the rest of them it was glorious. Moonrise Kingdom has one my favorite casts in a movie ever and each actor plays his or her respective character stunningly. While the film did have a lot of big names in regards to older actors the story was in fact one of two kids in love creating a nostalgic tale of that awkward and passionate young love. The more I find myself thinking back on this film the more I feel wrong putting it only at number four but there really are just a ton of amazing movies this year. You can read my full review of Moonrise Kingdom here!

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

I know I am not alone in the belief that Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are the best superhero films to date and this year we got to see the final installment of the trilogy. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is forced to once again take up the cowl as Gotham is threatened by Bane. While the Dark Knight and Ledger’s Joker were tough act to follow, we are given a movie which does so swimmingly and a villain who is absolutely terrifying. The term epic is thrown around way too loosely these days but this trilogy and especially its conclusion I feel are more than worthy of the term. You can read my full review of the film here!

 

2. The Grey

Anyone who is curious why the movie about Liam Neeson punching wolves made it this high on the list clearly has not seen this movie. This isn’t just an action movie about men fighting wolves but it was the single most though provoking film I saw this year. The film takes a look at the nature of life and death while simultaneously providing an adrenaline rush of a thriller. Liam Neeson stars and delivers an absolutely stunning performance due to similarities between his character and himself. Hands down my new favorite Liam Neeson film and for the vast majority of the year the Grey sat in my number one spot.

 

1. Django Unchained

The reason this list took so long to come out was because I just had to wait for Django Unchained to be released. I am so glad I waited. Django Unchained follows in the same revisionist footsteps that Inglorious Basterds took and provides a bit of an alternative take on history. Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx play one of the best duos I have seen in years and their performances are only rivaled by the villains of the films who are played by Samuel Jackson and Leonardo Dicaprio. The movie is just so emotive, exciting, fun, funny and an absolute thrill to watch. I just got to watch Django within these past few days and have yet to write a review for it and I am not sure if I will because despite all of my best efforts I have yet to find or think of a bad thing to say about it. If I were to write a review it would be less of a review and more of a rant about why it is so awesome. Django Unchained is hands down my number one movie of the year and one of my new favorites of all time.

 

Honorable Mentiones

The Avengers

Looper

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Safety not Guaranteed

 

So these have been my seven favorites of the year. What were some of your guy’s favorites? What were some of the movies that you feel deserve a spot on here? Leave your thoughts and your own personal lists in the comments below!

 

 

Shootin’ the Shit: 2013 is going to be nuts.

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2012 is just about over. The holidays are wrapping up, the new year draws nearer by the minute, and we can start getting excited about the coming year. I’ve got plenty to say about everything from games to music to movies, so let’s take this one at a time. First off, games!

Games in 2013

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2012 had some awesome games, but 2013 is going to be a big year. We’re all anticipating announcements from both Sony and Microsoft regarding new consoles; Valve is hard at work on a mysterious “Steam box”; The Ouya promises to give independent creators a new open source platform; and Nintendo begins their first year of the Wii U’s life cycle. But none of that matters if the games aren’t good. We’ve got a year left with our 360s and PS3s, and my oh my, what a year it will be.

Obviously, the first quarter of 2012 is going to be insane and I could list a ton of great looking games here that will be dropping between now and March (Bioshock Infinite, Deadspace 3, Tomb Raider, Crysis 3) The rest of the year is shaping up quite nicely as well. However, I’d be lying if I said those were the games I’m most looking forward to. My interests lie in the slightly-less-than-mainstream sector of the videogame market, and these five in particular have me literally jumping for 2013.

Castlevania: Mirror of Fate – My love of Castlevania has been well documented on Power Cords. I love Symphony of the Night and its sequels, and the entire series is filled with great, memorable games. Even though I have some reservations about Castlevania: Mirror of Fate, I’m optimistic. A new 2D Castlevania is almost as exciting as a new 2D Metroid, and beggars can’t be choosers.  Definitely on my radar.

Sir, You are Being Hunted – It’s really hard to describe this Kickstarter-funded indie game. So instead, I’ll show you the video that got me excited for the game in the first place. Keep in mind this is an extremely early build, but it still shows what the game is going for.

Double Fine’s Projects – I’m gonna cheat — instead of talking about just one game, I’m going to talk about THREE! Ever since Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, Double Fine Productions have remained a favorite studio of mine. Thanks to an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, the studio is now hard at work on a brand-new adventure game. But that’s not all! In just a few days, they will be releasing their 2D adventure The Cave on Steam. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! The company recently lifted the veil on their internal design contest, Amnesia Fortnight. Aside from being an amazing community- and charity-building event, Amnesia Fornight gave birth to new projects. One in particular from a previous internal event, Brazen, is a Monster Hunter-esque action game where Greek-inspired heroes battle mythic beasts. All these games look great, and further cement Double Fine as an important and special studio. Actually, speaking of Monster Hunter…

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – While a lot of people (many Power Cords contributors especially) get into capturing and training pocket-sized monsters, I spend my time hunting and trapping giant ones. Monster Hunter is my Pokemon — or at least it used to be. I haven’t played Monster Hunter since the gen 1 games (Monster Hunter Freedom, specifically) but I cannot wait to get back into the series with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. And with Monster Hunter 4 hitting in Japan this year and hopefully North America soon after, there are plenty of epic hunts in my future.

Dark Souls II – The announcement of Dark Souls II took me by surprise; I wasn’t expecting a sequel to one of my all-time favorite games so soon. In fact, I wasn’t really expecting one at all. While some fans reacted harshly to early details about the game, this article put many of the concerns I had about Dark Souls II to rest. I don’t want an easy mode as much as the next guy (I sincerely doubt there will be one, just for the record) and I wish Miyazaki had a stronger presence in the design, but I haven’t been this stoked for a game in years. By far my most anticipated game of 2013.

One man's despair is another man's joy.
One man’s despair is another man’s excitement.

While those five may be the big ones for me, there’s more out there to be excited about. Phantasy Star returns with Phantasy Star Online 2. Retro Studios is working on a still-unknown project, and there are rumors of new Zelda, Donkey Kong Land, and Yoshi’s Island all on 3DS. And, if the promise Everquest Next pans out, it could be a truly revolutionary MMORPG. 2013 is going to be absolutely nuts. Oh, and there’s going to be another Castlevania game next year, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2So, yeah. Nuts.

Movies and Television in 2013

Movies and television are kinda Marshal’s bag, but I dabble. A while ago, I made the conscious decisions that film would take a back seat to my preferred entertainment medium, videogames. However, there are still some big movies and tv series I look forward to seeing. First off, Game of Thrones returns in April, and season 3 officially marks me not knowing what happens next in the series. Then, of course, the final season of Breaking Bad. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best crime drama series I’ve ever seen, and I’m eager to see the end. For films, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is my big one. It’s a year away, sure, but An Unexpected Journey was really good, and I’m excited for part 2. Finally, Guillermo del Toro’s next big-screen hit, Pacific Rim hits next summer. It may look like just another summer tent-pole blockbuster, but the Kaiju Monster fan in me sees something more…

Oh, and maybe show off more of the new Godzilla? Please?

Music in 2013

2012 was a pretty good year for music, but not amazeballs like 2011. In fact, it was kind of a lukewarm year, and I spent a lot of time with bands that weren’t the uber-extreme-disgustingly-filthy metal I’ve been blasting into my skull the past few years (check out my top 21 albums of 2012 here). I rediscovered my love for prog rock, stoner metal, and electronic music. In the past couple years, I’ve become a much more casual listener of music overall. Still, a bunch of great bands will be releasing new music next year, and I plan on reviewing and talking about these releases more actively.

New Year’s Resolutions

I want to read more. I was given a large stack of new books for Christmas, including a few new graphic novels. I enjoy reading quite a bit, and could really stand to spend a few more hours each weekend with a book. So that’s my new year’s resolution. I’m also making an effort to write consistently, but with so much excitement and what is sure to be a news-packed year, I doubt that’ll be much of an issue.

Power Cords in 2013

We’ve mentioned it before, but we’ve got big changes coming up soon. In fact, we’re just a few days away from finally making our announcement. What will it be? You’ll have to wait and find out, but I can assure you we’ll have plenty of new things to talk about next year. There will be more features, more reviews, more videos, more podcasts, new topics, new voices, but the same passion and identity we do our best to create. I’m really excited.

And with that, thus concludes regular posting on Power Cords for this year. Marshal’s got a list or two saved up for you guys, so stick around for those. But don’t take our silence for laziness — we’re hard at work on our next venture, and can’t wait to finally unveil it!

Happy New Year, and best wishes,

-Brendan, and the Power Cords crew.

The Best and Worst Games of 2012

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2012 is winding to a close, and while there may be a few weeks left in the year, for all intents and purposes the gaming industry has slowed to a crawl until the first week of the New Year. Because of this, it’s time for year-end lists!

Last year had some truly great, landmark games. Dark Souls, Rayman: Origins, The Witcher 2, Bastion, and Skyrim were all experiences I enjoyed, most of which I still play over a year after they were released. 2011 was slightly less spectacular, but still a pretty big year for the games industry as a whole. Beyond just the games released, we saw a new Nintendo console; we saw Kickstarter become both a viable option for funding, and a major risk to take; we saw indie and free-2-play games blur the line between “retail” and “downloadable” quality; and we saw major discussions open up about how games are made, and more importantly, how women and violence are portrayed and treated in the medium. These are all watershed moments that will be remembered and discussed for years to come, and that really excites me and makes me proud to be at least a small cog in this machine.

But what about the games!? Well, as I mentioned, a lot of what I played in 2012 were games from last year. This is mostly because I’m kind of a weirdo and like to obsess over a game for long periods of time. But also, when it comes to “big” games, I sort of ignored the vast majority of them, and instead focused on the rather amazing year it was for the indie game scene. There was some immensely high-quality stuff this year, and indie games absolutely dominated both my time and my Best of 2012 list. So, without further ado, here are my… Continue reading “The Best and Worst Games of 2012”

Console Anxiety: Mending my relationship with Nintendo

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A couple weeks ago, the hard drive on my gaming laptop (also my work and school laptop) went bully-up.

Last week, my Xbox 360 began to randomly freeze after an hour or two of play. It’s still running fine, and certain game seem to do worse than others, but it’s made me apprehensive about even turning it on for fear that it, too, my be wearing out. Luckily, I’m home for the winter break so I can use the ol’ family PC to write and get in a little Street Fighter x Mega Man here and there. But it’s not a long-term solution. I still have a few weeks before I’ll be able to nab a new hard drive, and even if my Xbox wasn’t acting up, beating Dark Souls *again* or wandering ’round Skyrim a bit more isn’t really doing it for me. So instead, I turned to the tiny white rectangle inconspicuously plugged into the TV here at my family’s home.

I’ve been going back to the classics to bide my time when I need my gaming fix — Super Metroid, and Metroid Prime specifically. I’ve also popped in a Zelda game here and there when I have time. As much as it’s strange to say this, I’m reminded the Wii had some pretty cool games, some of which I’ve completely missed out on (Xenoblade: Chronicles, Monster Hunter Tri, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Skyward Sword) as I haven’t personally owned a Nintendo console since the GameCube/GBA.

Anyway, this got me thinking a lot about what I wanted from my games. I’ve said it time and time again on this blog, but I’m a fan of the kinds of experiences that are fun, imaginative, and gameplay driven; games that favor immersion and design over cinematic story; and games that allow me to explore, be it the the world or levels, or the very game mechanics themselves. Nintendo does that pretty damn well.

Similarly, I’ve been putting together my Best of 2012 list, and realizing my pickst are probably going to be a bit different than what other people will be picking. I like new and different; I like creativity; I like it when a game feel like a game, and not a movie, but not just a “toy” either. I feel like we’re finally at a place where there’s a split in the industry between these sorts of feelings and ideas, and the now-common tropes of AAA development, with it’s frankly insulting pandering to the lowest common denominator. I don’t dig that shit, yo. That’s become rather glaring in the types of game I gravitate towards.

But I digress. I had a much longer, much more in-depth post planned. One where I would plumb the depths of my own interests and passions, my own personal reasons for enjoying games. I was going to explore my feelings about Nintendo; my strange, almost apathy towards the deterioration of my current console. I was going to question this strange, nagging feeling in my stomach that the Wii U and 3DS might just be exactly what I want out of a console. That maybe, just maybe, despite all the waggling and partying, Nintendo may still yet be the very reason I play games at all — PC or console, indie or retail. But most importantly, I wanted to talk about how games are changing and I’m not really sure where they’re going, and why that’s okay — except someone beat me to it and did a far better job of it than I ever could. Instead, I’ll leave you with this excellent comic by Zac Gorman, perfectly capturing my own thoughts:

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I’m ready to bet on Nintendo again.

Street Fighter x Mega Man!

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I know I don’t really talk about it much, but I’m actually a pretty big Capcom fan. Not the biggest, to be fair, but more so than others. Monster Hunter, Street Fighter, Mega Man X, as well as a handful of other great games like the Gamboy/GBA Legend of Zelda titles, all are series I follow or have followed in the past and played important rolls in my game-playing youth.

As such, today’s a pretty exciting day.

As I pointed out in my post earlier about my wonderful discovery of Minitroid, today is the release of the next Mega Man game, Street Fighter x Mega Man. Like Minitroid, SFxMM is a work of love by dedicated Capcom fan Christian Svensson. Unlike Minitroid, Svensson’s work of love has been picked up and released by Capcom, taking on the project, helping with testing and offering widespread distribution on their website. That’s a pretty cool move on Cap’s part.

Mashing together two iconic game franchise, SFxMM is pretty much a perfectly crafted Mega Man game: it’s 8-bit, it’s platform-y, it’s hard as balls. There’s a boss order, and each comes with its own weakness, just like you’d expect from any other classic Mega Man game. But SFxMM comes with its own unique gameplay elements.

Specifically, each boss is an iconic Street Fighter character. These bosses move much faster, and attack with classic moves and combos right out of the Street Fighter series. The new weapons you gain from these bosses are also pretty neat, so I won’t spoil them. The levels are designed around these characters as well, and I found most of them to be slightly more dynamic than what you’d find in the earlier Mega Man games. Aesthetically, SFxMM sports an 8-bit style with all the same sprites and many well-known enemies. The soundtrack features remixed tunes from the series sure to make you warm and fuzzy inside.

To be fair, when it comes to Mega Man I’m a lot more familiar with the Mega Man X series. As such, I can’t really judge how Street Fighter x Mega Man stacks up against the main series. For what it’s worth, I feel the game is excellent, and it seems like a lot of early impressions are positive. I have yet to beat the game (there’s no save function, as you might expect), but I have immensely enjoyed my time so far with this 2D platformer.

And you want to know the best part? It’s totally free. 

 

Minitroid is the best Metroid game in years.

ZTwOY

Last night, I played perhaps the best Metroid game since Zero Mission — and it wasn’t even made by Nintendo.

Created by a small group of indie developers, “construct programmer Tokinsom, artist Betatronic, and music composer Jamie Billings,” Minitroid is exactly what it sounds: a mini Metroid. While only a free to download “tech demo,” I found Minitroid to be rather brilliant. Comprised of three decently sized interconnected areas filled with enemies, secrets, and upgrades, just as you would find in any entry in the series. On top of that, Minitroid controls like a dream, and the animations of the super-deformed versions of Super Metroid-era Samus and monsters are smooth. Samus’ run is especially charming. I also have to point out, while not necessarily a major part of the game, the room panning is goddamn buttery. 

As far as major Metroid gameplay themes — areas with secret items, upgrades for Samus to find, challenging level design, and non-linear maps to explore — they’re all here. Adhering more towards the original Metroid‘s sense of isolation and obtuseness. Upgrades aren’t explained, and these is no map nor pause screen. However, Minitroid has a surprising level of depth for just a little game (MAYBE a couple hours, tops, to find and see everything). I didn’t even realize Samus started the game with the charge beam ability until I randomly tried about 15 minutes into the first area. I love mechanic exploration like that. I mean sure, it’s a Metroid game and I should expect it, but I was happily surprised and rewarded for my curiosity. And in a free game that only a few dudes made and takes about a lunch break to beat, no less. Pretty cool.

Minitroid also features a fun, catchy (albeit repetitive) chiptune soundtrack that add to the retro feeling, while giving the bite-sized ‘troid its own aural identity. It also has a pitch-perfect title screen, replete with an original take on the classic Metroid music.

No word yet on sequence breaks, however.

Sure, Minitroid may be mostly a nostalgia-driven love letter to the Metroid series, but there’s something more than that here, too. Minitroid proves that not only can a small team really come up with something awesome, but that the Metroid formula is something special. I’ve been pining for a new Metroid game for years (I am quietly and stubbornly still ignoring Other M). While not a full-on entry to one of the best videogame series of all time, for a tiny project like this it comes damn close. Seriously, I have half a mind to put this on my best games of 2012 list, despite it being released last year and only being a “tech demo” (psh, formalities). Go play it!

Dang, and Street Fighter x Mega Man hits today… guess Christmas has come a week early!

DOWNLOAD MINITROID HERE! IT’S FREE!

Also, if you enjoy Minitroid and/or Street Fighter x Mega Man, be sure to check out the free, fan-made Smash Bros game, Super Smash Land!

The Hobbit Review

The Hobbit is finally here! We are finally returning to Middle-Earth after we fell in love with the world over a decade ago with the Fellowship of the Ring. Things are a bit different this time around though. Also, SPOILER ALERT. Much of this is written with the assumption that you are at least familiar with both the plot of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

 

 

What it is: The Hobbit is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings written once again by Tolkien and directed once again by Peter Jackson. The Hobbit book was actually written before the Lord of the Rings and was a children’s book that publishers loved and pushed for more, so this time around we are going to be having a much lighter tone compared to the first trilogy. Many familiar faces returned for the project including Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and Ian Holm shows up as Bilbo Baggins once again before we flash back to his younger self played by Martin Freeman.

My thoughts on it: Right off of the bat I need to stress that this movie is going to be different than the first trilogy. Because we are back in Middle-Earth with familiar faces means that this is obviously going to be compared to Lord of the Rings but that is a little unfair. The tone of the Hobbit and the tone of LotR is so drastically different that these movies are going to be drastically different. On top of that, LotR was a trilogy where each movie was based off the corresponding book. This means that each movie while building off the others also works well individually because each is given proper pacing and has solid concluding moments and natural climaxes. The Hobbit is very different once again in this aspect because it is only one book that is being expanded into three movies. Because it is being expanded as it is that means that some of the movies are going to end unexpectedly and that the pacing might be a bit off so it is hard to view those aspects as negative. Certain events need to be rearranged or exaggerated to give the movie the structure and flow it needs.

It is really hard because the Hobbit is not perfect and Lord of the Rings was and if it wasn’t it was pretty damn close to perfection. The Hobbit might not have been perfect but it was good, it was really good. But because it is so closely tied to LotR which was perfect, the Hobbit’s lack of perfection which would otherwise be completely acceptable now is construed as a negative simply because it is compared and held up to LotR.

 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. Parts of the movie were amazing and nostalgic and perfect and awesome and then there were other moments that totally flopped and literally made me cringe.

Martin Freeman was meant to play Bilbo. I loved Ian Holm’s take on Bilbo but Freeman just blew it out of the water. He does a great job capturing all of those little Bilboisms and alone provides enough comic relief for the movie with the clever and witty chatter that arises when he is outside of his elements and amongst the dwarves.

Ahh, the dwarves. The dwarves for the most part are pretty awesome. We get to know a few better than the others and the ones we do get to know are awesome. Dwalin, Balin, and Bofur were perfect and were exactly what I had been hoping for from the dwarves. While some of them were amazing some were not so much. I couldn’t stand Ori, Nori, or Dori. Perhaps it is the over the top hair or the high pitch squeaky voices but they just bugged me. Nori’s hair in particular was so oddly shaped that in any of the shots where short doubles were used the odd shape exaggerated the fact that doubles were being used and it takes you out of the experience for a moments. Despite my complaints about cosmetic details of three dwarves they were all pretty damn awesome. They were rambunctious and loud and rude and gross and perfect.

 

 

This was a complete relief because our first glimpse of the dwarves was once again, a little off-putting. The film starts similarly to LotR with a recollection of history. Instead of the battles against Mordor and Sauron narrated by Galadriel we had Bilbo going over the history of the Dwarves and explains their struggles. During this scene we get to see a lot of dwarves and again they look awesome but their home of Erabor bugged me so much. The fortress that is Erabor is a magnificent palace with deep sprawling halls full of gold and gems and smooth stone bridges web through the depths of the mountain and it is a glorious place. Unfortunately though, the magnificence of Erabor is too great to recreate practically so instead they turn to CGI to create it. The way they ended up animating it does it justice but the entire place looks animated. It looks fake! I mean I understand why they had to animate it instead of recreating it but it is just really distracting. But then again this doesn’t last for too long before we see Smaug show up and destroy the place. Erabor was the worst but there are couple instances where the environment seems completely blue screened.

Before I completely move away from the dwarves I want to talk about Thorin Oakenshield for a minute. First off, the dude is a badass. I remember from the book that he was pretty rough and tumble but in the movie this really gets emphasized. This is great and he provides us with a real emotional tie to their quest. With this being said he did feel a bit off. I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what it was but I haven’t found that exact thing yet. Maybe it is his eerie resemblance to Aragorn because you realize pretty quickly that Thorin really was designed here as a Dwarf version of Strider. Maybe it is because he is a bit one dimensional in his angry warrior attitude and he is a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong, Thorin like the rest of the dwarves was awesome and builds on the dwarves right to the mountain and the justness of their task. I just wished he had had a bigger beard to distinguish himself from Aragorn a bit more on top of looking a bit more dwarvish and there was just something else there that felt off.

 

 

One of the biggest complaints I heard about prior to this movie was that the CGI was excessive and that it made a lot of the goblins and orcs look a bit cartoony. I was incredibly thankful to find that this didn’t feel the case to me at all. In fact the CGI was really the most distracting and I guess for the lack of a better term, bad when it was used for some of the locations shots such as with Erabor. The goblins were very CGI but they still looked terribly hideous and nasty even though they lacked the scary, menacing element that the practical costumes provided. The orcs for the most part looked pretty good with the exception of a few, the Pale Orc in particular. The Pale Orc was a character which was only briefly mentioned in the book that was embellished here due to his relationship with Thorin. I know a lot of people hated this addition but by emphasizing this admittedly cool and menacing foe gave us a solid antagonist for this first film due to the lack of Smaug. He might have been added in but he was solid addition that ultimately added to the story. Except of course for the terrible animation. As cool as this orc was he just looked terribly fake and totally animated. A lot of the orcs use practical costumes which were touched up with CGI to move eyes further apart and break apart the traces of humanity in their faces a bit more and these orcs were done very well, but the Pale Orc at least looked entirely CGI. Nothing about him looked real. It was well done animation but not well done enough for us to realize that it wasn’t animated. Again not detrimental to the film but again incredibly distracting and kind of takes you out of the experience.

It’s a funny thing being in a situation where a lot of complaints about a movie adaptation are not about the material which was excluded but rather about what was added. For example, my single biggest complaint about the film was Radagast the Brown, or should I say the Jar-Jar of the film. Radagast was absolutely terrible. The wizards or istari are a powerful people and Radagast in no way reflects that and is just a complete joke. When I referred earlier to moments that made me cringe I was referring to every time Radagast was on screen. It was clear they wanted him to be the comic relief of the movie and perhaps the preteens out there who watch it will enjoy him but I have nothing good to say about the movies portrayal of him. I understand his role in the movie, he is completely necessary to facilitate the necromancer plot and he is admittedly the perfect character to do this AND incorporate more about the istari into the movie! In the Lord of the Rings book I found myself so interested in this character who has less than two pages of action; there seemed to be so much potential there and in the book he didn’t seem bat-shit crazy. Yes Radagast is cooky but not to that extent. He wouldn’t have bird shit on the side of his face and wouldn’t cross his eyes all the time and make weed jokes. Give him an ounce of dignity and self respect; Bilbo and the other characters already provide enough comic relief that they didn’t need to make him so silly. Perhaps this character was spot on according to the appendices and I am just disagreeing with how Radagast really is but I feel like it is more likely I am just unhappy with Jackson’s interpretation.

 

 

The last real complaint is maybe a bit nitpicky but it seemed like towards the beginning, more so than the end, the film was just a bit more sloppy. It seemed like some of the cuts were choppy, some the acting forced and unnatural. It seemed like the film was made in a rush and that because it was done in a hastened manner it suffered in attention to detail. Maybe Jackson was just a bit more thorough the first time around. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed like it could have been better if reworked a little more. Admittedly after leaving the Shire a lot of this decreased and the film just got progressively better.

 

 

The Shire. Just the sight of it back again was sweet enough to bring a smile to my face. The biggest complaint about the pacing of the movie has been that the beginning scene where the dwarves gather in the Shire takes too long but I loved it. Jackson has done an amazing job of making the Shire feel like home. Every time Bilbo walked through that circular door a wave of nostalgia hit me. It wasn’t just the Shire that looked as beautiful as ever but entirety of Middle-Earth. The world felt new and magical but familiar and comforting at the same time which made the movie feel the same way. Seeing Gandalf smile and having those sweeping helicopter shots with the amazing landscapes in the background just made me smile. It did an amazing job of creating throwbacks to the Lord of the Rings trilogy without bashing you over the head.The connections to the other movies weren’t the only nostalgic aspect of it. The Hobbit is presented as Bilbo’s telling and narrating of his adventure to Frodo and as he says the first words of his story I got absolutely giddy.

My absolute favorite part of the movie was the riddles in the dark scene. Other parts of the movie felt far from perfect but the entire scene with Gollum was absolutely perfect. While the CGI was lacking in other areas the animation teams clearly spent a lot of time on him. He looked better than ever and Andy Serkis once again blows the role out of the water. He really does an amazing job of showing the same depraved and sinister little devil but still with the innocence one was prior to being tortured by Sauron. And the emotion you get from him as Bilbo escapes is amazing. The despair in Gollum’s eyes at the loss followed by the absolute hatred he shows when Bilbo escapes make his motives in LotR blatantly obvious.

 

 

Compared to non-Lord of the Ring movies, the Hobbit is very good. Compared to Lord of the Rings it is not as good but still very good. I feel like the Hobbit could have been as good but it just wasn’t nearly as polished as it could have been. Most of my complaints could be very easily remedied by a bigger beard or a removal of a mannerism and the rest are just nitpicky quality details. While those little mistakes are indeed little they do remove from the magic of the world and experience and ultimately take away from how immersed you become.

Despite its faults it really is still a good movie that is just held up to a very high bar and the way it ended got me completely excited for the next two. I give the Hobbit 4/5.

Pacific Rim Trailer

My god this movie looks awesome. I understand that this is a term that is perhaps too broadly used but from this trailer alone it looks like it deserves the claim.

Anyway, Pacific Rim is the new monster movie being directed by Guillermo Del Toro and as we have seen from his past work, if anyone can do a monster movie, its Guillermo. Edris Elba stars in the this monster flick as mankind fights against an invasion of monsters from the sea with giant mechs. I realize this sounds a bit silly, but just watch the trailer and I will let you be the judge.

Admittedly, the first thing that came to mind was that it looked and felt a lot like Cloverfield meets Real Steel but quickly realized there was a lot more going on. First off, GLaDOS plays the AI in the movie which is amazing. I mean listen to that computer’s voice and tell me that wasn’t the same voice that lied to you about the cake. Secondly, these monsters appear from a crack or portal to a different dimension at the bottom of the sea which feels incredibly Cthulu, so my fingers are definitely crossed for more connections there. And lastly, I couldn’t help but pick up Shadow of the Colossus tones with the shots of some of those beasts.

All in all the movie looks absolutely fantastic. The premise seems a bit out there but if there is anyone out there who could pull it off it would be Guillermo Del Toro. I mean just look at the monsters. You have to yield that if anything those monsters look pretty epic. Totally stoked for this one.