What I’ve Been Playing

As I’ve mentioned in the past (and as known by anyone who has had the misfortune of meeting me personally), I love criticizing things. Unfortunately, the writing of game reviews brings with it a host of other problems, and since I started blogging I’ve noticed that my gaming habits have changed significantly. These days I almost exclusively play new releases, rushing through each game as quickly as possible in the hopes that I can pen some sort of semi-informed review while anyone still cares. (In fact, in the 10 days it took me to finish Mass Effect 3, everyone had already become sick of debating its “controversial ending“.)

So, for a change of pace I decided for the month of April to play whatever I felt like playing whenever I felt like playing it. (At least, as long as “whenever” happened after the kids went to bed.) Rather than write exhaustive reviews for each game, I figured I would instead attempt to condense my standard several pages of witty commentary and dick jokes into just a paragraph or two about each game.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

After spending an uninspiring winter term studying at the University of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (The “Safety School” of J-RPGs), I was anxious for a role-playing game that would really spike my cocoa. Enter Xenoblade Chronicles, (nominally) spiritual successor to the other “Xeno games” (i.e. Xenogears on the PS1 and Xenosaga on the PS2). Xenoblade Chronicles was originally released in 2010 for the Wii, and like most Wii games, it wasn’t released in North America. However, unlike most Wii games, it was supposedly quite good… in fact, it was apparently so good that a fan campaign led to it being released here nearly two years later.

You’ll enjoy exploring Xenoblade Chronicles’ lush and expansive world, especially since there won’t be any pesky high-definition graphics getting in your way.

Right now I’m about 20 hours in, and so far the game’s primary effect has been to remind me that the Wii’s graphics are on par with a PS2 that’s been left out in the rain, and that its controls handle like an old Atari joystick made out of a live weasel. That said, it’s impressive that such an underpowered system can support a game of this scope. The stereotypically inane J-RPG dialogue–while still present–is softened by the choice to make everyone have a British accent, and the initially simple battle system continues to become increasingly more layered. So, I suppose for now I’ll forge ahead with the hope that all that hype was founded in some sort of reality I have yet to experience.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Xbox 360)

Seeing the extended-gameplay trailer for Assassin’s Creed III at PAX East rekindled my interest in this series, or at least nudged it enough that I was willing to drop $21.99 on Amazon and about 20 hours of my life on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (which I passed on when it came out back in 2010). I have to admit, I’d forgotten how much I love these games. Although largely unchanged from the formula of Assassin’s Creed II, there are a few subtle changes that go a long way towards enhancing the AC gameplay experience.

I had heard that the real contribution of ACB was its innovative multiplayer, but unfortunately I didn’t explore this aspect very much… in part because I didn’t want to tarry before moving on to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but mostly because I didn’t feel like getting the ol’ hidden-blade-to-the-brain-stem treatment by the few die-hard assassinos still lurking on the servers after 18 months.

Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)

For about half a year now, Gears of War 3 has reigned as the official game of TNGN (Thursday Night Game Night), my weekly multiplayer gaming session with my friends from high school (or as my wife calls it, my “standing Thursday play-date”). As much fun as it is to frag complete strangers, there’s a lot to be said for engaging in multiplayer with folks who respect a request of “don’t kill me for a few minutes; I need to go change a diaper”.

“RAAM’s Shadow” introduces the new character Michael Barrick. He can be easily distinguished from other characters in the Gears canon by his gravelly voice, terse demeanor, and impossibly large musculature.

Actually, I think there must have been quite a few diapers that needed changing during the month of April, because more than once our TNGN crew seemed a little thin. In fact, one week I was a party of one, but instead of sobbing into my Manhattan and cursing children everywhere, I instead took the opportunity to wrap up the GoW3 RAAM’s Shadow DLC. It turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable and well-executed addition to the campaign, especially the parts where you get to play as General RAAM (the final boss from the first Gears of War).

Dragon Quest IX (Nintendo DS)

They say the birth of a child is a happy event. I’m inclined to agree, because the birth of my daughter in January resulted in my three-year-old son getting an Xbox Kinect and myself getting a Nintendo 3DS. After playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for about an hour, I opted instead to go back and dive into some of the old Nintendo DS games I missed, such as Dragon Quest IX.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is an RPG in the classic Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Warrior) style, meaning that you can’t blow your nose in the game without it being accompanied by several pages of text narration. While this results in a gameplay experience that is doubtlessly padded, it also has a certain laid-back charm that is well suited to a portable gaming experience. In the past few months, somehow I’ve managed to sink 50 hours into this game (mostly in 15-minute chunks), and I still haven’t beaten it.

Fez (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Last month’s indie darling Fez looks on the surface to be simply a perspective-based puzzle-platformer, reminiscent of Crush or Echochrome. Though its pixel-art graphics and chiptune soundtrack are not without their charm, most folks are unlikely to be blown away during the three hours it takes to collect “32 Cubes” and beat the game.

What does it mean??

However, once you beat the game and unlock New Game +… that’s when things begin to get weird. As you start over on your quest for the “32 Anti-Cubes”, you begin to realize that the pixel-art world of Fez is rife with cube-based iconography, and that the environments you’ve been carelessly hopping through are littered with snippets of language, numbers, history, astrology, and religion, much of which is integral to solving the puzzles in this second half of the game. The culture of this strange little universe is so deep and interwoven that at one point (around 2:00 AM) I started to believe an entire race of 2-D people actually lived inside my Xbox. It’s been a long time since a puzzle game forced me to write actual notes on actual pieces of paper.

Well, that’s about it for the April Game Roundup. In other news, we’re closing on our new house tomorrow. Perhaps in another month I’ll be writing about my new favorite games, which are likely to include such titles as Wallpaper Removal Challenge 2012, DIY Home Wiring: First Aid for Minor Electrical Burns Edition, and Moving All Our Crap to a New House.

What Do You Think?