Monday, December 31, 2012

Huge 2012 Year-End Blowout Inventory Clearance Blog Post!

Well crap. It's been three months since my last blog post, which finally breaks my streak of having at least some sort of new content every calendar month since this blog started. The last few months have been busy with work and family obligations, and... Oh fine, I've just been too lazy to write. Too much gaming yielded too much to write about, too much to write about yielded too much procrastination, too much procrastination yielded too much gaming. It's a horrible loop.

At the very least, I wanted to share a little end-of-the-year blog post with you, reviewing some games that recently debuted that were featured in my PAX East post. I have bought my pass and booked my hotel for next year, and I'm counting down the days until I get to do it all again (after I somewhat slagged it off as not something I should be doing last time). I started writing this blog post in October (honest), and I wanted to start the ball rolling on what should hopefully be a new year of anti-crastination.

Rock Band Blitz
Xbox and PS3, reviewing Xbox
Probably the most mainstream of the games I've checked out, Rock Band Blitz is a casual take on the rhythm game franchise. You play all of the instruments, although only one at a time, and with only two buttons to hit in a usually-alternating fashion. The challenge of the game is leveling up all of the instruments together to increase your scoring potential. You have to be familiar with how each song plays out, so you can anticipate what instrument to level up more quickly before it drops out of the song. Failure doesn't mean you lose, it just means you score less.

That said, the game seems to run on a very convoluted economic system. For each star you earn while playing (read: "For each scoring milestone you pass"), you earn 100 coins (plus "cred," which seem to have no value whatsoever). These coins can be spent on purchasing three types of power-ups, which cost 250, 200, and 100 coins each. Generally, you'll need three power-ups in some combination to get a high score, but if you do the math, you're spending 550 coins to do so, which means you need to hit the highest score bracket (five gold stars, worth 600 coins) to make any sort of profit. Mind you, you get double coins on your first playthrough of any song, and the payout system has been tweaked since the game was released to favor the player a bit more, but it still feels backward that anytime you play, you almost always have to take a loss.

The game comes with 25 songs, most of which I'd never heard of before. You can purchase additional songs from the in-game store for $2 a pop, which feels like a fair price, but I can't see myself splurging on many songs to flesh out this game more. Maybe if there were a way to use those hard-earned coins to purchase songs, I'd be more comfortable with the game on the whole, but without that option, Rock Band Blitz just feels like a social game where the more you play, the more the developer wins. Mind you, it's still a good game overall, but it's wrapped in an overall unappealing way.

Across the indie divide, we find Retro/Grade, a rhythm-based avoidance game, where you must undo entire space battles by un-firing your lasers and re-dodging backward-moving missiles from your enemies. If you make a mistake, you can un-rewind time to fix it (yeah, wrap your head around that), but you have a limited amount of un-rewind time per level. Ideally, if you rewind each level perfectly, you'll lower your score back to zero, though part of this relies on some luck with power-ups, so just know that a lower score is better.

In the main campaign, there are ten songs, which unfortunately get old somewhat quickly. It doesn't help that there are six difficulty levels with which to play the game, so you've got a lot of replaying the same songs for completion. A lot of the game's eye candy appeal (some really nice scenery and excellently-animated boss enemies) are lost to the fact that you have to keep focusing on the bullets in the foreground, which is sad.) However, there's also a separate choose-your-own-path adventure mode where you play the same songs with little challenging tweaks (faster speed, no color assistance, playing facing the opposite direction, etc.) bring the game back to life in an oddly intriguing way. In the end, the interesting gameplay tweaks compensate for its repetitiveness, and I'd say Retro/Grade is definitely worth a go.

Other reviewers that have tackled Dyad claim it's impossible to describe it in one sentence, so here's my go: It's a racing game with color-matching elements. See? It's not hard, guys. Just stay away from the "magic shroom" metaphors and it's quite easy. In each level you travel through a tube, hooking on to enemies ahead of you to get a small speed boost. Hook two similarly-colored enemies for a larger speed boost. Some enemies may also leave short trails you can hop on for an extra speed boost (after you've dodged their attack). A good portion of the levels are straight race-against-the-clock rounds, while many others require you to grab a certain number of enemies or power-ups, and other interesting challenges where you're trying to hit the fastest speed possible or maintain power-up-edness for as long as possible.

This is probably a cliche thing to say about a racing game, but sometimes I felt like it was all moving too fast. Between the frantic music and the seizure-inducing colors, it was often hard to play the game well, or well enough to reach upper-echelon achievements. The game seems to be aware that some may use random button-mashing and penalizes players appropriately. Still, if you can focus hard enough, each level can be conquered, and it feels rather satisfying when you do. This one is also worth picking up, even if you don't do drugs. In fact, don't do drugs. The More You Know!, etc.

Runner 2
Runner 2 hasn't released yet, but I feel like I have to give it a mention here. In the past, I slagged off the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER as unenjoyable since the controls didn't seem to correspond with the on-screen actions in a weird lag-plus-rhythmic-dissonance sort of way, but for reasons I can't put my finger on, I'm somehow excited for its sequel to eventually come out. I've been checking up on Gaijin Games' blog, and something, maybe the new music (which I love), maybe the less pixeled, more cartoonish style, something jumps out at me. I hope good things come of it.

Happy New Year!