Best of 2010 – Games

I can sum up video gaming in 2010 in one word and that word is disappointment. I was looking forward to so many releases that simply failed to deliver. Some of them by a little, but unfortunately most of them by a lot. So much so in fact that I’ve been rather lax in my game playing over the last few months and I’m behind by about twenty games or so. Which I find annoying in an OCD way. But as all of these lists are always a composite of things I’ve played in the year in question, not just what was released in the year, it probably doesnt matter in the long run. As well as the Top 10 list itself I’ve also included an appendix of sorts where I give a line or two (and maybe a score out of 10) to all the game I’ve completed this year (and perhaps the ones I’ve played enough off to be comfortable making a judgement on).

Hmm after compiling a list of all the games I’ve finished this year I dont think there’s ten I’d actually recommend to other people…Well that was a day ago, today my PS3 failed to boot properly so I rebooted it. Which is when I saw the wonderful warning not to power cycle my PS3 because it was restoring itself. So there’s four plus years of saves gone down the toilet and thanks to Sony’s bizarre protected saves I’ll need to re-unlock most stuff again. But even worse for this article is the fact that I lost my partially completed saves of Casltevania Lord of Shadows,Atelier Rorona and Sengoku Basara : Samurai Heroes. All games which were in the running for inclusion. One word sums it up, BALLS.

Well I’m not going to lie, my PS3 harddrive going tits up more or less killed my interest in finishing this post. So I’ve tidied it up a bit and I’m going to throw it out there “as is”. Yeah I’m aware that my “Top 10” doesnt actually make it to the ten mark. What can I say? 2010 just wasnt a great year for gaming (or at least not a particularly memorable one). Even though I finished it this year God of War III should probably be on this list. Luckily 2011 is already looking up. With half my top ten already provisionally completed.

Recettear – An Item Shop’s Tale

This game was originally an indie Japanese title which was translated and imported by a small company. They only planned to release the one game and then break up the company when they were done, hopefully breaking even in the process. However, with no advertising, industry presence or physical distribution they managed to sell over 26,000 thousand copies of the game. Turning enough of a profit to allow them to work on video games full time. When a game has no big publisher or money behind it the only way to do this well is to be good. Which is exactly what Recettear is.

From the basic premise, to the dialogue to the gameplay Recettear oozes charm. It’s cute, endearing and amusing without that cloying diabetes inducing level of “sweet” that these things are so often drowned in.

This game itself is excellent and fiendishly addictive. More addictive than a fairly basics economics simulator has any right to be. I know that for a fact as Ive completed the basic story mode. The basic premise is that you are the owner of the Item Shop in a typical JRPG world and have to make bigger and bigger profits in order to pay back loans taken out by your delinquent adventurer father. You do this by running the aforementioned item shop, buying stock, haggling with townsfolk, adventurers, weird robot girls, rich heriesses, etc. As well as the aforementioned (freakishly) addictive shop gameplay you can also hireadventurers you meet throughout the story and adventure through various dungeons in order to gather free stock. The gameplay in these sections is pretty reminiscent of early Zelda/dungeon crawl games and serves as a nice break from the economic game.

All of this is wrapped up in cute “anime” style artwork. The game is enjoyably and cleverly written (and translated) and most of the character are quite amusing. Even the random NPC’s can be quite amusing as you wonder why this old man is trying to sell you his grandmothers treasured apple or why this young girl is buying a schoolgirl sailor outfit “for her brother”.

There’s a demo available so give that a go. If you like it pick up the game, its only around a tenner or so and is well worth it,; both in terms of bang for buck and quality.

Minecraft

Let’s be honest, if you haven’t heard of Minecraft then you are unlikely to be reading this entry. It’s both a “touching” rags to riches story for its developer and something of a gaming/internet sensation in its own right.

(At this point I’m going to assume you’ve googled it and know basically what it is, you should google it because people are doing some mental stuff with it). Unfortunately its biggest strength (its sandbox nature) is also its biggest weakness. As there’s no real goal to the game the majority of your play is self directed and motivated. Which initially is awesome (and god did I spend some amount of time building my lava tower). But as soon as the motivation drops the game is dead as there’s nothing else to draw you back.

Still its only a tenner, and its worth it just to know what the fuck all those people are talking about.

Super Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV made it effortlessly into last years list. So its not really much of a surprise that an improved and expanded update on the basic game would make into this years.

Unfortunately I get basically no play on fighting games anymore. Quite possibly my own fault, but then again perhaps not as I was specifically told that if I bothered practicing people wouldnt play with me.

I think I love the genre out of habit more than anything else these days. Anyway maudlin self-reflection aside. This is an expanded version of an awesome game for a cheaper price, how could I not love it? Ten more characters including two awesome new additions to the franchise (Juri and Hakkan), new moves for existing characters, much better balance (very little space between “Tiers), more stages, more costumes, more awesome. Just read what I wrote last year and tag this paragraph on to it.

Darksiders

Because I am a) lazy and b) not blessed with decent enough recall to accurately remember how I felt about this game when it was still fresh, I am going to cheat a little and copy and paste in my earlier thoughts on the game. Obviously I’ll update it a little, and because I so love my reader I will sacrifice my precious time thinking up a little codicil.

Due to my foolish belief that SEGA would in fact properly patch Bayonetta for the PS3 Darksiders ended up being the first game I played this year. Darksiders was a game I had very little initial interest in. Well actually that’s a lie. In early 2009 promo shots came out for it and I thought it looked cool in a cheesy over the top way. But over a year later my interest had severely waned and the third person action genre is not one that’s crying out for lack of new releases.

But I picked it up anyway and I’m very glad I did. The first thing that strikes you about Darksiders is the design work. It’s impressively cohesive and, more importantly, impressively cool. From the intro to the main character to the world to even minor enemy animations the entire game oozes style. Now I have to say that I am slightly biased as the creative director for the game is Joe Madureira, whose work I have been a fan of since Battle Chasers (and Darksiders goes a long way to making me feel better about the former being cancelled)

However I think even on a more objective level it’s fair to say that Darksiders looks great. From design to animation the entire game is simply “cool”. I suppose if the term hadn’t become kitschy enough to make my skin crawl you could call it “metal”. But you shouldn’t , because I’ll slap you if you do. Darksiders is cool in the way that sunglasses, leather jackets and big guns are cool. It’s cool in an unpretentious way that resonates very strongly with your inner twelve years old. This isn’t some kind of wanky, fourth wall breaking post-modern kind of cool. It’s a horseman of the apocalypse riding his flaming steed through a post apocalyptic desert beheading minions of hell with a six foot sword while shooting sand worms in the mouth with his giant pistol kind of cool. It’s slicing the wings of divinepunk angels and using their giant angelic lightning guns to blow their companions into bloody chunks cool. It’s feeding this guy the hearts of Satans minions cool. It’s…well Im sure you get it.

The excellent visuals are backed up by a pretty enjoyable setting and storyline. The world, the story and the characters that inhabit both are all larger than life. But its all presented in a manner which avoids derision or self parody. The game looks and feels very reminiscent of the kind of comics that were coming out in the mid to late nineties (well the good ones anyway). Lots of action, melodrama and christian imagery. The visuals are accompanied by some excellent soundwork, the background music and special effects are all well done but its the voice acting where the audio really shines. In particular Liam O’Brien (as War), Mark Hamill (as the Watcher) and Vernon Wells (as Samael) all put in excellent performances.

Still, all these points in it’s favour would be wasted if Darksiders failed to deliver where it really matters, the gameplay. Luckily it doesn’t let us down. The gameplay is a nice blend of third person mash em ups like God of War and more puzzle oriented action games like Soulreaver. Actually the game is very reminiscent of Soulreaver, which is no bad thing as I’m sure we can all agree that Soulreaver was fucking awesome. It is also apparently quite similar to some Legend of Zelda games. But I’m afraid I’ve never been a big fan of the Zelda franchise and so couldn’t really say.

What I can say is that Darksiders does an admirable job of providing a nice mix between the puzzle and action elements. The only area where the puzzle elements become annoying is in the games penultimate level, the Black Tower, where they overdo it a bit. Combat in the game is enjoyable, with a wide variety of weapons and moves for dispatching the enemy. The only downside is that you don’t get enough of the games currency to upgrade all your spells and moves (nor enough experience to upgrade all your weapons). This is something of a problem as the game favours specialisation over a broad mixture of weaker moves and weapons. As such you’re unlikely to see everything on your first playthrough and the lack of unlockables doesn’t make a second runthrough particularly appealing. I suppose it’s a good thing then that the game’s one unlockable is both aweosme and available on your first playthrough. Ultimately though these are fairly minor nitpicks. The game oozes cool, looks awesome, is a good length (~15 hours) and when you complete it you will have a physical need for the sequel.

Well a year later my opinion is more or less the same. I’m still really looking forward to a sequel and Darksiders was easily the best third person action game I played in 2010. Castlevania Lord of Shadows would have come close to toppling it if not for that the fact that while the story and presentation were excellent the gameplay was very deeply flawed. Enslaved, while initially enthralling, quickly became repetitive and the story and characters were rather lacklustre. So yeah, if you havent played Darksiders you should go out and buy it, it should be pretty easy to get cheap second hand.

God Hand

God Hand is the only game on this list that wasn’t released in 2010 (well the original Japanese version of Recettear was also released prior to 2010 but Im not counting it). It was in fact released for the venerable PS2 in 2007 (though as it’s the American copy I was using it was actually released in 2006). Upon release God Hand received less than favourable reviews. Which was a bit unfortunate as it was the last game released by Clover Studio’s, the studio behind Okami and Viewtiful Joe. I did play it a bit at the time, and while I thought it was better than the reviews it still didn’t really blow me away.

Cut to three or four years later and I’ve moved into town. But in an ultimately useless attempt at productivity I’d left my gaming equipment (current gen consoles and HDTV) in my mothers house. I’d only brought along the humble old PS2, why exactly I’d done so I cant now recall. The reason is not important though. So there was my PS2 with hardrive stuffed full of nearly a decade of quality gaming. But for some reason Adam decided to play God Hand. Which started a week or two where myself, Adam and Sarah would take it in turns to challenge the (often rather difficult) world of God Hand. Which was enjoyable enough.

But as is the way of such things competition raised its ugly head and I started my own save slot, determined to complete it before Adam (which I did, mwahahaha). But as I played I discovered a game that was so much more enjoyable than I’d expected. It really is the ultimate evolution of side scrolling brawl em ups like Final Fight, Knights of the Round, Streets of Rage, etc. (the only thing that its missing is a multiplayer mode so you can steal one anothers fruit and “accidentally” kick one another). The combat system is quite simple on the surface but the ability to customise all of your moves adds both depth and an element of strategy. On top of your basic moves the game gives you the ability to dodge in all directions, use special moves from your “God Reel” (roulette wheel style special move selector), unleash the God Hand when your Tension Gauge reaches maximum and use a variety of objects found in each stage. The difficulty of combat also automatically adjusts based on how well you are doing, the better you do the harder it is. The combat system is also, and most importantly, fun. The moves look cool and painful in equal measure and when they connect they feel like they have “weight”. The special moves are over the top and look awesome. While this enjoyable combat system is appealing and forms the core of the game the real appeal might be in the games trappings.

From the music (which is really excellent), to the dialogue to the character design the game has its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek. Humour in videogames can often fall rather flat, I never felt this to be the case in God Hand. While the majority of the humour isnt particularly high brow this works for it rather than against it; providing a universality that means it can generally elicit a laugh. While the game is generally quite funny the story and some of the characters and monsters are also cool, in a rather juvenile and unpretentious way. The story would have been decent enough even if played straight. While they were good at the time at this point the graphics are showing their age a bit. The character and enemey sprites (yes, yes I know) are all large and well detailed. The backgrounds though look rather basic and very bare. It doesn’t detract that much from the game, as you are usually too busy kicking arse to notice. Speaking of kicking arse, the game, as envisioned by its director is a paean to hardcore,a homage to old school i.e. its fucking tough. While the game is unashamedly difficult it manages this difficulty better than a lot of other games. It is always difficult but its impossible, you seldom run into a brick wall. Which keeps things bearable as each attempt gets you a little further, which cuts down on the frustration purposefully difficult games can generate.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes

I’m never sure what specific genre games in the Dynasty Warriors (If those two words have put you off skip to paragraph three before moving on entirely) mold fit into, action-adventure is too broad and they lack their own unique term. I suppose “Hack & Slash” is fairly accurate (if a bit non-standard). Why am I wondering about the genre classification for Dynasty Warrior style games you say? Well because I wanted a nice concise way to introduce SB:SH (Sengoku Basara:Samurai Heroes). The Dynasty Warriors (or Musou) franchise and its offshoots (Samurai Warriors, Gundam Musous, Fist of the North Star Musou, etc.) seems to generate polarised opinions like few others. In general people either seem to love it or loathe it, this extends from the fanbase to professional reviews. Where one site slams Dynasty Warrior’s most recent iteration for only having minimal innovation and delivering more of the same another lauds it for delivering another enjoyable slice of a winning formula. However, no matter how people complain and no matter what scores it gets the franchise is clearly very successful with the punter as it generally see’s two or three releases a year. Which you simply cant do unless youre raking in the cash.

While I am a fan of the franchise I always found the “spin-offs” to be more appealing, in particular the Samurai Warriors and Gundam ones. But thats neither here nor there, what were talking about here is SB:SH. The Sengoku Basara franchise is Capcom’s rival to Dynasty Warriors, set in the Sengoku (how surprising) period of Japanese history the franchise features over the top interpretations of historical and mythical figures engaging in the kind of one vs one thousand antics that the Dynasty Warriors games are famous for. Also when I say over the top, I mean *very* over the top, after all if Dynasty Warriors is your baseline youre going to have to kick it up a notch to seem over the top. Sengoku Basara manages to do it though.

Unfortunately (I’m not counting Devil Kings for obvious reasons) up until now the franchise has been confined to Japan. But starting with the anime and now this video game Sengoku Basara is open to an english speaking audience; I for one couldnt be happier about that. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is quite simply the best iteration of the Dynasty Warriors formula I have ever played. Even if you arent generally a fan of that type of game I would recommend at least downloading the demo and giving it a go.

What makes this the best Hack & Slash game yet? It’s sort of hard to pin down. A key appeal is the system. The problem with a lot of hack and slash games, particularly the later Dynasty Warriors games is that you have a gigantic cast most of whom are distinguished on looks alone, i.e. spear guy 1 might have a beard and spear guy 2 may be a metrosexual pretty boy, but they play almost identically. This is in part due to the nature of the game systems, a basic attack, a strong attack and a charged super attack doesnt leave much room for mechanical variation other than slightly longer combos or different special attack effects. In SB:SH all of the characters “feel” very different. They all have a distinct mechanical feel. Even if some of them have similar weapons they all feel very different. This is in part due to a more distinct design difference between the characters and secondly SB:SH is more mechanically complex. Each character has their basic normal attack (which combo’s a number of time), their strong attack, three different specail attacks and then one super attack (selectable from three different options). Most of these attacks can be chained or comboed together in a variety of ways and it really feels like you have a lot more options than in the Musou series. This serves to keep you more involved in the action i.e. it isnt just pressing X for the entire level and makes the action more exciting. Several characters also have various “stances” or modes which change their attacks or the properties of their attacks. Adding to the mechanical complexity is a more punishing combo system where even one hit resets your combo meter. So dodging and blocking play an important role if you want to do well.

Another massive plus in SB:SH favour are its visuals. At this point I’m frankly tired of how Dynasty Warriors and its spin-off look, even re-designs like Dynasty Warriors 6 failed to excite. The overly rendered faux-realistic style just bores me now. SB:SH on the other hand is bright, colourful and fresh looking. I love the vaguely “anime” aesthetic, I love how detailed and bright the stages are (Dynasty Warriors often feels like its joined the “real is brown” crowd). From the rendered scenes (which are great) to the in game graphics everything looks awesome. It also avoids the more egregious “pop-in” issues that Dynasty Warrior games seem to suffer from. Apart from the quality of the graphics I also love the design of the characters. As I mentioned above its even more over the top than the stuff you see in the “X” Warriors series. Guy’s fighting with anchors, six swords at a time, giant full plate robot armour, etc. It just feels cool and new. It also (clearly) takes itself much less seriously and is rather tongue in cheek. While this game isnt as blatantly humerous as other entries its still good for a chuckle (PUT YA GUNS ON!).

As I hinted at above I’m also more interested in the critical battles of the Sengoku period than I am in the pivotal battles featured in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I just find historical Japan (even if its a less than faithful representation) to be more engaging (actually possibly the more fictional the more engaging I find it) than legendary China (with a few exceptions). So its fair to say that I’m biased about the subject material. But even here SB:SH offers something new and different. Once you have completed a characters main storyline (which generally takes four to five hours), which more or less follows what happened historically, you unlock an “Alternate History” mode where you can play through the story again but make different decisions at pivotal points. Quickly eliminating enemies, attack friends, generally giving the finger to history. This both expands the playtime while adding something new and allows you to take out your frustrations on those fuckers who were taunting you from the far side of the map.

As well as all this new stuff we also see the return of genre favourites, a range of different looking (and upgradeable) weapons for each character, alterante costumes, “henchman” characters (which luckily arent kill stealing fucks, oh and yor foot troops are actually relatively useful for a change), skirmish mode, etc. The games cast isnt as big as some of these games, clocking in at sixteen characters. But as each characters basic story mode takes around four hours to complete thats around sixty hours gameplay right of the bat. Thats before you factor in the alternate history paths available as well as skirmish or multiplayer (two player local splitscreen co-op, plays quite well in it). So its excellent value for money.

So there you have it, I’ll re-iterate my opinion that Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is quite simply the best hack and slash game out there at the moment. Even if you arent a fan of the genre I’d suggest a rental (or download the free demo). If you are a fan of the genre then you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

Heavy Rain

There seem’s little point in re-inventing the wheel. So much like the Darksider’s entry above Heavy Rain’s entry is going to be composed primarily of some cut and paste magic from when I originally completed the game. Followed by some (very) post completion musings.

Basically no-one in Heavy Rain uses an umbrella, even though, as its title suggests, its raining all the fucking time. Though thats not really particularly important, on the other hand Heavy Rain may be. It’s a flagship title that doesnt fall into an easily labelled box. Depending on how it does it could even be taken as an example of how computer games are growing as an entertainment medium.

Heavy Rain is primarily interesting in the way it stretches what we consider a game to be. While the term game is extremely broad when it comes to computer games there is a basic framework that we expect games to adhere to. Heavy Rain largely ignores this framework, instead following a framework closer to that of a movie or novel. Yet, it almost certainly cant be categorised as an interactive movie/novel as these things already exist and are nowhere near as interactive as Heavy Rain. The game labels itself as interactive drama, which sounds similar the things listed in the previous sentence, but in play turns out to be very different.

To quickly get it out of the way I’ll breifly address two of the least important, but most talked about, elements of the game. Yes, the graphic’s are very nice, particularly the facial textures. There are some areas, clothes spring to mind, where the graphics are still good but nowhere near as awesome as the faces. However other games have awesome graphics and while theyre nice I wonder how necessary they really are. The second thing is the voice acting, which has been somewhat lambasted across the vast, pointless plains of the internet. I think people are exaggerating. Most of the main characters voice actors are competent to good, most major “NPC’s” are equally well voiced (with some grating exceptions such as Lauren who sounds mildly retarded). However the voice acting for all children in the game is fucking shocking, so much so that it fostered in me a longing to see said children die. Luckily quite a few of them do.

Now to get back to discussing the interesting stuff. As I alluded to in the second paragraph Heavy Rain doesnt feel like a normal game. From the control system to the presentation it tries to immerse you fully in the character you are playing. To a large extent it succeeds in doing this. However, perhaps ironically, the major impediment to this is the fact that you’re expecting Heavy Rain to be a videogame. So while the game expects you to (and I think, in terms of narrative, rewards you for) make(ing) decisions based on what your interpretation of the character will or should do; the fact that you are consciously playing “a computer game” sometimes compromises the “narrative integrity” of these choices. There were certainly moments in the game where I made decisions because I Mick wanted to see or do something as opposed to whether the decisions made sense for the character. Looking back I sort of regret doing so.

While the control system works subtley to immerse you in the character it is at times not particularly smooth and at other times overly demanding. Particulalry in the later stages of the game you’ll need to be on the ball (or perhaps just properly awake) in order to insure the story goes in the direction you want. However these minor irritations are more than compensated by the sense of immsersion the controls generate. The micromanagement nature of the control system really brings you into the action and makes actions I’d simply shrug at in other games actively disturbing in this one.

Which is where I think the real entertainment lies in Heavy Rain. It adroitly combines film based storytelling with computer game based interaction and leverages the resulting product to ellicit powerful responses in the player. While some of the pathos in the game struck me as off-key (possibly because I dislike children and have exactly zero paternal instincts) there were some moments that generated genuine emotional responses, across a nice spectrum of emotion at that.

Aside from the unique way it engages with the player Heavy Rain is also a decent, if perhaps not great, murder mystery. The mystery itself is interesting and has some nice twists. The characters are all pretty interesting, even the minor ones. The only thing I found annoying was that three quarters of the characters you play start in media res and the game doesnt do a great job of filling you in on who exactly they are. Perhaps thats something that will be addressed in the DLC.

The game is a decent length, clocking in at around ten to twelve hours. It also, in theory, has a decent amount of replay value. But playing through it again feels sort of like “cheating”. I remember reading a bit of an interview where the games creator said he simply wanted people to play through it once and take that play experience as their version of Heavy Rain. Which I found laughable at the time, but after playing the game I can certainly see where he’s coming from. The second impediment to multiple playthroughs is that I feel the second time through a lot of the novel but unimportant elements would grate and I wonder just how different you can make the story.

If you are interested in the game then I strongly suggest you download the demo and give it a go. If the demo doesnt sell you on it then I’d suggest renting or borrowing it as opposed to buying it. If you do play it I’d suggest trying to set aside a few large chunks of playtime for it as it isnt a game suitable for “episodic” play. Playing it in small chunks feels a lot like continuously pausing a movie and ruins the momentum and flow of the game.

Well its been almost a year since I finished Heavy Rain and I havent gone back to it since. As I said above, the creator of the game was correct in suggesting that people should only play through it once. Going forward I think thats a good way to deal with interactive media, limiting replay or rewatchability so each persons experience with the text in question is in some way unique. While at the time of release it was heralded as the forerunner of some new wave in game design we’ve seen basically nothing, either released or announced, that seems inspired by Heavy Rain. It’s all gimmicky motion control and 3D at the moment. Which is disappointing. While these technologies could certainly be utilised to create novel, yet challenging, gaming experiences they are much more likely to used just to shift more units.

BlazBlue Continuum Shift

This recommendation is a little questionable. Not due to quality, it’s a great game. Rather its that, unlike the other games listed here, this recommendation is backed by a rather insignificant amount of play time. I’ve only played the game a handful of times due to a) lacking competition and b) having an OCD like compulsion to finish all the story modes in BlazBlue Calamity Trigger.

BlazBlue is something of a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear and the fighting game sub-genre it helped create. BlazBlue, like Guilty Gear, looks awesome, sounds great and has fabulous character designs all rendered in high definition anime stylee.

Much like Guilty Gear one of the key appeals of Blazblue is the visual design and the world the game is set in. The world presented isn’t quite as gonzo as the rock and roll post apocalypse of Guilty Gear. It is however pretty engaging in a dystopian anime mish-mash way. The visual design of the characters is excellent, each of them is clearly distinct and oozes with personality. Its always a good sign when you start up a game and you cant decide who to pick because all the characters look so cool. Blazblue leverages this design and setting excellently. While most fighting games have cool enough settings they are commonly conveyed patchily via the intro, a few staged set pieces as you play though the game and then (sometimes) the characters ending. Blazblue on the other hand has a very robust story mode which exposes you to your hearts content to the characters and the worlds story. Continuum Shift add’s even more characters to the mix – the sinister Hazma, oddly familiar μ-12 and the frankly rather weird (and busty) Tsubaki. The roster is further expanded via DLC characters, the bushy Makoto and the awesone Valkenhayn (and the rather odd upcoming Platinum the Trinity)

As well as the key design areas mentioend above Blazblue also shares Guilty Gears slick visual presentation, engaging musical score and, best of all, quirky sense of humour. From the story mode skits to unlockable art to sometimes the characters themselves the game is packed full of humour. Though perhaps both the most amusing and most awesome thing in the game is (still) the fact that Bang Shisigami’s Fuu Rin Ka Zan move has its own theme tune which starts playing when you use it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdZP4PjAT1Q).

In terms of game mechanics Blazblue falls into the same kind of combo heavy, stringent execution style of fighting games that are so popular in Japan and best exemplified by games such as Guilty Gear, Melty Blood or Houto no Ken. However Blazblue has made a conscious effort to lower the barrier of entry that these games commonly have. As everyone knows a high barrier to entry is nearly always a poor decision when it comes to marketing a videogame. While it does serve to extend the virtual erections and unearned elitism of the games hardcore fans it drives away casual players as well as potential new customers. So its nice to see Blazblue making an effort to remove or reduce this barrier.

Personally I would say that it succeeds admirably. Even for the casual player its possible with minimal investment to master combos for the majority of characters that a) look flashy (one of the big appeals of combo fighters) and b) serve as adequate tools to secure victory. At the same time the game does contain more complex combos with more stringent execution requirements to satisfy the hardcore fans. One of the issues I had with the original game was that there were some fairly unfair matchups. Continuum Shift solves this issue by rebalancing the characters and expanding the roster. The tiers are now much closer and every character has a chance to win. Some of the characters are still a little less open to casual play than I’d like but I suppose some level of compelxity is inevitable. Though one of the new modes does take care of this.

Continuum Shift expands the original’s game mode’s with the addition of Beginner Mode, Tutorial Mode and Challenge Mode. Beginner Mode introduces a simplified control scheme which allows anyone to jump in an play without having to learn the “real” command inputs. Tutorial Mode is an expanded version of Practice Mode and Challenge Mode offers a chance to complete character-specific combo goals and missions (much like its similarly named mode in Street Fighter IV). All of these modes are welcome additions. Though I’ve yet to try out the Beginner Mode, hopefully you can mix and match it with the normal mode. There’s one more new mode added, and again its one I havent played, Legion Mode. According to the advertising blurb Legion Mode allows you to “Take over Kagutsuchi by creating your own army in Legion Mode! Defeat the enemy armies positioned at various locations on the map. The ultimate goal is to fill the entire map with your color by defeating all the enemy hubs. Recruit enemy soldiers by defeating them! ” I’m afraid that the similar sounding mode from Soul Calibur III has put me off that kind of thing in fighting games.

Hmm, writing this up has reminded me of how much I like BlazBlue, gonna boot that bad boy up when I get home.

The Rest:

Dead Rising 2

An improved game engine attached to a story so dull that even zombies would find it boring. Considering how enjoyable the story in the first game was it made the terrible story in this even worse. To add insult to injury Capcom also removed Survival mode from the game. The mind literally boggles.

Enslaved

While this looked very nice the game went rapidly downhill after you get out of the city at the beginning. The level design just becomes lazy and boring, with increased combat taking the place of clever design. The upgrade system is anemic at best. Even worse upgrading your health is so clearly superior to the other options that its purposefully hamstringing yourself to do otherwise. The rather obvious twist at the end was also a disappointment.

Mass Effect 2

A decent but flawed sequel to a great game. Expanded thoughts here

Red Dead Redemption

While initially enjoyable, and probably the best Western game out there, it quickly spirals into pointless boredom.

Alan Wake

This was solid but not revolutionary. Pros – Good gameplay, story, soundtrack and athmosphere.Really does feel like a tv mini-series. Decent Graphics. Cons – Pretty short (~12 hours), practically no replay value. Boring and lifeless main character. Some poorly “shot” cinematics. No HD. It’s worth a rent, I’d avoid buying it.

Casltevania Lord of Shadows

Every aspect of this game is well realised and executed. Apart from the game part. Character design, story, graphics, music, level and puzzle design all range from good to excellent. It’s a pity that the core gameplay is boring as fuck and works at every turn to make you feel both frustrated and helpless. I would entirely wash my hands of this if the ending hadnt been so fucking intriguing.

Elemental

I so wanted to love this game. And for a while I did. But the (oh so very) well publicised issues with it eventually killed that love and brough it out behind the shed to violate its corpse. Perhaps when its patched into playable form I’ll return.

FFXIV

I should just copy and paste the text from Elemental. For every thing this game did right it did just as much wrong. This game had so much potential but was unfortunately released in a state that I simply couldn’t justify paying for. Hopefully when its released for the PS3 we’ll see an improvement in the PC version as well.

Bioshock 2

Fucking terrible. This feels like a shit add-on pack rather than a game in its own right. The levels are boring. The story is terribly paced. It gets slightly better towards the end (and the open ended ending was cool). But overall it was terrible. Big Sisters did look cool though.

Assassins Creed II

A better game, with some interesting “mini-games”. Unfortunately its let down by the same critical flaw as the first game (Counter > All) and the story is laughably bad. I was literally laughing out loud during the final story pieces. Assassins are descended from the human slaves of some super advanced proto-race? If you’re going to rip-off bad sci-fi why would you rip off L Ron Hubbard?

Final Fantasy XIII

I actually quite enjoyed this. The combat system, once its fully unlocked, is one of the best I’ve come across in a crpg. Unfortunately I disliked or outright hated the majority of the cast and the story was so relentlessly depressing that I just wanted it to be over. I’m really hoping that XIII-2 improves on the story and cast. I also wish (as I do with every game since FF-X) that theyd bring back the Sphere Grid).

Bayonetta

Lost the disc for the 360 version. Refuse to play the PS3 port because its fucking terrible. Was enjoyable while I was playing it. Its in my “to complete” pile.

Dark Void

The only good thing about this is the melee attacks. Dropped it after a few levels.

Dante’s Inferno

About a third of the way through the game. Decent but not great. Love the aesthetics though.

Resonance of Fate

Played the first quarter of it on the 360. Currently half way through it on the PS3. Really enjoyable so far, best JRPG of the year I’d say.

Nier

Enjoyable, but it just felt so average (and looked like ass). Dropped it about half way through.

Split Second: Velocity

Enjoyable arcade racer. Only played the single player to unlock stuff for the (pretty) enjoyable multiplayer.

ModNation Racers

Rather boring kart racing game. Nice customisation options.

Alpha Protocol

Excellent premise and promised a freedom the gameplay failed to deliver.

Transformers: War for Cybertron

Solid game, but I realised I’m just not that fond of Transformers.

Naughty Bear

Enjoyable for a level or two, it then becomes super repetitive. Sort of like a cuddly version of the old (and superior) How To Be A Complete Bastard.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2

Started playing it, paused to catch up on Shippuden to avoid spoilers. Watched over 100 episodes of Shippuden and stalled out just before it gets awesome. Must get back to it.

Fable III

Shit. Absolutely shit.

Infinity Blade

Best looking game on the iPhone bar none. Well worth the fiver. Gets repetitive in the end.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Played the first few levels. Seemed ok, leant it to Sean, forgot about it. So it cant have been that appealing.

Atelier Rorona

Enjoyable, but it feels very “light”. Just not a lot there to keep you coming back.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

It was fucking awesome at first. Then two weeks later it killed my interest in the game in a way nothing else has managed to so far.

Zettai Hero Project

I was really looking forward to this and when I first got it I played it for six or seven hours solid. I really enjoyed the world and characters. I liked the hybrid roguelike gameplay. I never went back to it. I dont really know why.

Listening to: The Stone Roses - I am the resurrection

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