What I’ve Been Playing

October has been a hell of a month. First of all, on October 20th I completed the Extra Life 24-hour gaming marathon, and (with the help of some very generous friends) raised $1,462 for Boston Children’s Hospital. Other exciting events included catching a debilitating stomach virus during which I literally lost a week down the toilet, my son turning four, and a hurricane. And now I realize there’s more excitement yet to come, as I look upon this freshly delivered copy of Assassin’s Creed III. Here’s a rundown of everything (at least, everything video-game-related) that happened this month.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Xbox 360)

It’s hard for a pessimist like me to remember this, but sometimes dreams do come true. XCOM: Enemy Unknown—the recent remake/reboot of the 1994 game XCOM: UFO Defense—turned out to be every bit of the experience I hoped it would be, and then some.

Most of what I needed to say I put in my review, but to summarize: Firaxis did a superb job of translating an 18-year-old PC cult classic to a modern console setting, by staying true to the spirit of the original while making some bold changes to the core gameplay. Perhaps the best assessment of this balance came from Chris Schilling in his review at VideoGamer.com: “Enemy Unknown is respectful of Julian Gollop’s 1994 turn-based strategy classic, but it’s not reverential.” Whether you’re a fan of the original, or simply a fan of turn-based strategy, aliens, challenging gameplay, and/or being eviscerated by mutant cyborg space bugs, you should check out XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Bomberman LIVE (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my friends and I have a standing Thursday night Xbox LIVE play-date, brilliantly dubbed “TNGN” (Thursday Night Game Night). Though traditionally staunch Gears of War supporters, we recently began to tire of blowing each other away with sawed-off shotguns, something I genuinely thought we would never tire of.

To break the monotony, last month we dug out our old Halo 3 discs, and soon we were joyriding in Banshees across the Valhalla map like we’d never left. (For a five-year-old game, it holds up incredibly well.) Of course, we quickly realized that with Halo 4 coming out November 6, perhaps we should find another way to spend Thursday nights in October. (Besides, of course, with our families.)

I don’t know who mentioned it, but someone pointed out that there was a Bomberman game on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and we were sold. After all, we all remembered that Super Bomberman for the SNES was the ultimate party video game when we were kids. It was easy to learn, difficult to master, fun as all hell, and once the bad blood started to build up after a few rounds of cheap shots and broken alliances, no other game was better at causing a bench-clearing brawl. Good times.

However, before you go out and drop 800 credits ($10) on the XBLA version, a quick word of caution. There have literally been dozens of Bomberman games, and although I’m nowhere near well-versed enough to claim that Bomberman LIVE is the worst among these, I have to believe it’s somewhere near the bottom. There’s little in the way of single-player options (e.g. no campaign), its menu system is so poorly designed that it almost appears to be intentionally obtuse, and the online support is cumbersome, requiring you to re-invite your party to the game whenever you change the slightest details of the match setup. Having voiced those complaints, I can now say that once you do finally manage to get an eight-player match of Bomberman LIVE working, you realize that playing even a half-assed version of this classic game online with seven of your best friends from around the country is a hell of a good time.

Dishonored (Xbox 360)

I played Dishonored for almost the full 24 hours of my Extra Life marathon, and before I took ill last week, I fully intended to write a review of it. Unfortunately, with Assassin’s Creed III now in my hands, a review is seeming somewhat less likely. Nevertheless, I thought it was a high-quality game deserving of some careful discussion, so I’m going to hold off on my comments for the time being, with the hope of publishing a review by the end of the week.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Xbox 360)

Like music, televison, or film, finding quality video games that are appropriate for young children can be difficult. However, as is true for the Beatles, Sesame Street, or Pixar movies, some of the best video games transcend generations, appealing to kids and adults alike.

When I first played LEGO Star Wars on the PlayStation 2, it was a magical experience. Legos, Star Wars, and video games: three pillars of nerd culture, impossibly combined into a thoroughly enjoyable experience that didn’t feel anywhere near as exploitative as it should have.

Unfortunately, like so many wonderful things in this life, I totally forgot about LEGO Star Wars until a friend recently reminded me about it. After spending 60 seconds and $20 on Amazon, two days later my son and I were chasing down our lost droids on Tatooine. Now I get to spend quality time with my son while playing a game that’s actually fun for an adult.

The only problem is that now my son believes the canonical version of Star Wars is the one where Jedi use the Force build their own spaceships out of Lego bricks.

So that pretty much wraps up October. Now, I’m off to re-fight the American revolution in Assassin’s Creed III. If I’m lucky, I’ll be so busy patriotically murdering redcoats for the next week that I won’t have to see another political ad between now and the election.

What Do You Think?