Monthly Archives: December 2013

Fightback Review – fight back to the ’80s

Fightback is a cool game, in an ’80s kind of way.  Could probably be more ‘80s, but it’s got the cheesy logo, the Miami Vice-esqe synth track, and even a villain who resembles the anti-hero of the decade, Rutger Hauer.  Best of all, Ninja Theory’s first mobile is a beat-em-up side scroller.  When you think beat-em-ups, you think ’80s, and you think Double Dragon, and the fun you had co-oping with your best buddy bashing heads with a baseball bat.  Double Dragon was radical, dude!  It was also pay-to-play (rolls and rolls of quarters), and truth, I would rather pump more quarters into DD than play Ninja Theory’s freemium.

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Fightback’s premise is simple.  You got a girl to save.  You got a nasty villain.  You got a city of hoodlums to tame.  There are over a hundred levels.  Not exactly Karateka.  Each level has multiple rounds, with varying number of bad guys to beat.

Fightback’s got some cool stuff (besides the ‘80s glitz).  The dark world is derivative but there’s good art work.  It’s easy to learn.  Tap to punch, swipe to kick, swipe up to jump, and swipe down to crouch.  Some moves, like the cyclone kick, are sweet to execute, but complex combos are too often accidents.  It’s sometimes difficult to disengage from a melee.  Most of my deaths occurred when I couldn’t stop kicking one guy in time to attack his pal behind him.  There’s one guy who throws a flaming bottle or something.  It’s annoyingly difficult to dodge while fighting his buddies.

There are weapons, too.  A baseball bat, a meat cleaver, guns, bazookas, etc.  Like Double Dragon, you can salvage weapons from the dead, but you don’t keep them.  You only have the weapons you buy, and bullets are expensive so you use sparingly.

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Fightback is a typical FTP.  It’s got a stamina meter.  Each battle takes one bar, which refills at 6 minutes per.  To refill immediately, you pay cash.  To upgrade and customize your fighter, you pay cash.  The in-game cash can be earned by side-game street fights.  Each street fight earned me an average of $300.  It takes a while to earn enough money to purchase the upgrades needed to win campaign battles.  So with over 100 levels, it may take some time unless you pay real cash.  How much real cash?  $15K of in-game will be $1.99 real money.  $15K is not a lot considering a simple one-time boost is about $1K.  That’s obviously the business model, but for me to scratch my plastic, the game’s got to be top notch.  Unfortunately, the gameplay is repetitive and often annoying.

It’s not clear how much of the ’80s cheesiness Fightback is playing with.  It might be a more interesting game if it went all out — the bangs, the one-liners, the glam, spandex.  The game’s forgettable, but it brought back some fond memories, and there’s always value in that.

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5 retro video games that should be tabletized

Final Fantasy 6 is coming to Android, which joins Ultima IV, Riven, Wolfenstein, Knights of the Old Republic and many other retro classics to be reborn on your phone and tablets.  Here are a few others I’d like to see make the move (w/o emulators).

1) Super Mario 64

One of the greatest games ever made.  It’s like the guitar.  Anyone can learn to play in an hour, but it takes a lot of time – no less than 60 even for the very best – to master it and obtain all 120 stars.  And each star is unique, some are difficult to find even with a guidebook, and once obtained, it’s like Mount Everest.  Some of the moves like the wall-kick might be difficult on a tablet, but the overall gameplay is second to none.

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2) Soldiers at War

An excellent turn-based squad tactical game.  Each battle requires a challenging combination of proper planning and flawless execution.  You use the same soldiers over several battles and get attached to a few, which sucks when they get hit in battle 10.  The best part is looting dead Wehrmacht for goodies like the Nazi assault rifle.

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3) Phantasie 3 Wrath of Nikademus

Not much of a story but non-linear gameplay that’s quick, easy and challenging.  It takes time to develop your characters enough to take on a gang of High Demons, but can’t take too much time because your characters age and start to decline when they get old.

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4) M1 Tank Platoon (1989)

This was the best tank simulator back in the day.  This game was developed in a completely different world.  The Cold War was still hot and there was still a West Germany, which is where part of the game takes place.  The Soviets invade and your job as a commander of a platoon of M1 Abrams is to defend the free world from socialist aggression.  No higher stakes since Red Dawn (the first one).  Obviously, the graphics can’t compare anymore (infantry were little triangles), but it was still better than the sequel, which came out in 1998 with nine years of advanced graphics.  I got bored of the second one within an hour, but the first one is still on top of my list of tank simulators.

5) Goldeneye 007

Classic ground-breaker already remade on several platforms.  Bring back the original to our mobiles and we’ll get that traitor Sean Bean again!

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Tank Domination Review – sweat is your greatest enemy

Tank Domination is an iOS/Android MMO tank battle game.  While playing, I couldn’t help comparing it to World of Tanks, an MMO for PC.  In both games, you are placed into one of two teams, and the objective is to either completely annihilate your foe, or capture his “flag”, which in TD is squatting and surviving in an enemy zone for a few minutes.

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Also, similar to WOT, there’s a short training mission with an obnoxious drill sergeant.  There’s also the hangar where you choose the killing machine, upgrade it, and buy equipment and ammo before launching into battle.

Unlike the WW2 theme of WOT, the vehicles in Tank Domination are modern Russian, American or Chinese.  As a free to play, you start with the cheapies and then unlock other vehicles by buying them either with real money or your time.  If you play long enough and advance your level (capped at level 30), you’ll eventually unlock all vehicles.

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I’m not high on the virtual joystick, but it seems to work okay in TD.  The action is slow enough and the targeting doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy.  It isn’t always easy to maneuver, however, and I often found myself “coupling” with an enemy tank.  That is, while dueling with an enemy tank at close range, I’d get stuck with him and we’d do-se-do until one of us managed to swing our gun on the other.  It’s something that wouldn’t happen with easier controls.  And if your hands get sweaty, that’s asking for an AP round where the sun don’t shine.

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It’s also more difficult to hide than in WOT, which makes for a better gameplay as more teamwork and maneuver is required than just hiding and sniping.  The problem is that it’s difficult to communicate with your team on a tablet so it needs to be worked out with visual cues like swinging the turret or just proactively watching your mates’ flanks.  But in almost all the games I played, every tank did his own thing.

This is a fun game.  It’s easy and quick and it’s on your tablet.  Just have to make sure your hands stay dry.

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Titanfall: Official Atlas Titan trailer – nothing tongue in cheek about it

The Titanfall: Official Atlas Titan trailer feels like a clip from a Paul Verhoeven sci-fi flick.  It’s a fictional promo of a fictional company’s fictional product much like those from Robocop, Starship Troopers and Total Recall.  Without the tongue in cheek, of course.

Here’s the transcription:

Through the years, Hammond Robotics has always built the weapons you use to keep enemies at bay.  And Hammond Robotics will always develop the machines that are the cornerstones of any endeavor to keep our military safe.  As the leader in the industry, we only build the best.  That has been our legacy in every design.  We present the Atlas.  On the frontier, the Atlas has always performed when needed.  From the first conflict to the latest deployments, the Atlas stands the test of time.  As the workhorse of the IMC Titan fleet, it has survived every encounter and mission scenario, and continues to out-perform competing technologies on every battlefield.  At Hammond Robotics, we’re bringing the future home.

Respawn/EA’s Titanfall, available March 11 in North America on Windows, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, is an online multiplayer-only game featuring mechs similar to Battletech.  In fact, Titanfall’s Atlas shares the name of a very popular Mech.

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The Battletech Atlas was a heavy assault mech.  Tons of firepower and armor.  Titanfall’s Atlas seems more versatile.  The trailer shows one covering and firing from a building corner.  The Battletech Atlas wouldn’t do much covering.  Simply blast away, advance and hope it doesn’t overheat.

Battletech Atlas

Battletech Atlas

The trailer also shows a quick mounting method where the Titan grabs a sliding pilot and shoves him into the cockpit.  That’s not something I’d do if I was a pilot in real life.  Lots of bruises and broken bones.  It reminded me of Robotech where one of the Veritechs picks up a woman ever-so-gently.  It may show the robot’s dexterity, but I’m not a fan of that kind of high-tech.  I want these war machines to be high-tech, but still be war machines.  They’re not made to be gentle.  They’re made to kill and take names later.  They shouldn’t be able to knit a sweater.

I’m wondering if there will ever be a Robotech game that makes it to distribution.

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Suikoden 2 – fried fish balls on Steam?

Now that Final Fantasy 8 is on Steam, I went hunting for another favorite Playstation RPG, Suikoden 2.  No luck on Steam, but it was on Amazon, and I had to pop my eyes back in their sockets.  A new one on Amazon is yours for just…$699.99!  Yes, no misplaced decimal there.  A penny shy of $700 for a game released in 1999.  A used one is about a hundred bucks.

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I bought a used copy and a guidebook on Ebay in 2000 for less than $10.  I played it a couple times through, and in 2002, sold both on Ebay for almost $30.

The gameplay is typical RPG and its graphics are anime.  Suikoden 2 proves the point that a game can be great without great graphics and this game is freaking great.  It’s an epic journey of two friends who come of age in a violent and dark world.  Their friendship is tested, and they go from innocent kids playing together to warlords who topple an empire.  There are also vampires, a ton of characters, several twists and turns, and an Iron Chef mini-game.

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The cooking mini-game is what I remember most about Suikoden 2.  It alone would be a fun iOS app.  There are different levels of competition you must beat in order to become the master chef.  Three courses have to be prepared, and you’re not given the ingredients, you have to procure them – finding the ingredients is a challenge in itself as many are hidden or given only when a certain task is completed.  The food is based on Japanese cuisine – ramen, tempura, fried fish balls, etc.  I had no idea what Tetsu was until I played this game.

Suikoden 2 is one of the best, and when it appears on Steam, I will fry up some fish balls to celebrate.

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Ryse: Son of Rome Colosseum Pack – play as Joaquin Phoenix?

Ryse: Some of Rome Colosseum DLC features two new gladiator skins and arenas.  The Centurion skin is a tough SOB veteran legionary.  With the Commodus skin, you fight as the son of Emperor Nero.  Unfortunately, it’s not Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus from Gladiator, which is unfortunate because it’d be cool to play as Joaquin Phoenix.

The new arenas are Henge and Ascension.  Henge is a forest temple and you have to kill barbarian heathens to maintain its sanctity.  Ascension is hell and you fight with mountains of fresh corpses and fire-bombs all around you.

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The pack is $3.99 for the extra pretty, and as a bonus, you still get the same repetitive gameplay.

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Dying Light Walkthrough – night falls, time to parkour!

Day good, night bad.  Or so according to the newly released Dying Light gameplay walkthrough.  Under daylight, the zombies are like my coworkers at the office – slow and boring.  But when the sun goes down, the party starts and they become active little suckers.  Reminds me of my bachelor days.

In the walkthrough, the dude’s gotta fix some electrical circuit to keep the supply lines flowing.  He starts by drop-kicking a zombie, electrocuting him and then some parkour action to avoid a mass of zombies in the street.  He throws some firecrackers around, rigs a car with explosives, blows it up, and then more parkour.  After some more parkour and running back and forth around town, night falls and he’s gotta start bashing heads to get to where he wants to be.  Some intense moments at night when the zombies get active and hyper aggressive.

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The parkour reminds me of Mirror’s Edge.  The open zombie world reminds me of another Techland game, Dead Island.  But this game is about avoiding zombies and not all about melee.  Gotta use some street smarts.

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Some of the action, like rigging booby traps, feels repetitive and could become a chore after a few.  The open world seems cool, but this particular mission appears to have a set parkour course you have to follow to complete it.  Beams that lead to the target point, adjacent rooftops, and so on.  Doesn’t seem random enough.

But overall, it’s fast-paced, and you have to do more than just bash undead head to get the job done.  And when the light dies, the dying really does rise.

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Best Zombie Video Game Ever

Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season Two is out and it should be a good one.  But fact is, it’s essentially the same story-line of an over-baked genre.  Survival, don’t be a zombie, get to point A, don’t be a zombie.

I would like to see a zombie game where you are the zombie.  The game begins inside the head of a zombie.  You smell live flesh.  You approach it.  You kill.  You eat brain.  A simple but satisfying existence because you are undead and you don’t know anything else.

But then, you come across a lab, and as you attack and feast upon the flesh of the scientists inside, you are injected with a serum, which makes you feel…strange.  It changes you, but not completely.  You start to think thoughts you hadn’t thought before.  You can plan.  You can make a few words.  You are still a zombie, but your brain has regained some of its life, and some of its memories.  You remember a beautiful woman.  Holding her.  Kissing her.  And a child.  Her smile.  You remember wrapped gifts under a tree and the child opening them.

Then you have a choice.  Seek the humans who developed the serum so that they can finish the job, and change you completely back to who you were before you got turned.  Or accept your zombiehood and become the zombie of zombies to conquer and eradicate the living from the planet.

That would be a killer zombie game.

The Walking Dead: Season Two – Basic Instinct

In The Walking Dead: Season Two, you are Clementine, an orphaned girl who must learn to survive in order to…well, survive.  What else is there to do when there’s an apocalypse?  When a world’s gone crazy mad, is it really worth living?  As we saw in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, another story about an apocalypse (though not undead), when hell has arrived on Earth, we feel no pity for those who decide to seek a better world.

A child’s instincts and motives are pure.  She feels fear and so she hides or runs.  She wants help.  She wants to trust.  She wants to be cared for and loved.  But more than anything, there’s only a desire to live.  And it’s a desire not driven by a higher purpose or love.  It’s an instinct, one as basic as a Zombie’s instinct to eat brain.  There is no reflection on the meaning of life when the undead are grabbing at her.  It’s put a bullet between the eyes and get the hell out.  A child is also unformed in her morals though Clementine is old enough to know right and wrong.  Of course, you can’t assume a child is all innocent.  We’ve all heard tragic stories of young children in places like North Korea who, driven by starvation, do horrific things.  But a child acts instinctively.  It’s simple and that’s the draw of taking the POV of a child in a zombie game.

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Having said that, undead games are all the same.  Our protagonist(s) trying to survive and not become a zombie.  But again, what is so terrible about becoming a zombie?  Is it worse than death?  If you were a Marine on Iwo Jima or Okinawa during World War 2, you lived in constant fear.  There was no respite, but you fought on and survived because you had a family to go home to, because you didn’t want to let your friends down.  There was hope for a life after.  But if you are in a zombie world, you are in constant fear, not only of the undead, but also of other people, of starvation, of sickness, of wild animals, everything.  And is there truly a hope for a life after that is great enough to endure the agony of fear?

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Most apocalypse or zombie games, books, movies and shows ask this question, but I haven’t come across one that has presented it in any interesting or original way.  If it isn’t a deus ex machina, it’s some light at the end of the tunnel.  Even a great writer like McCarthy didn’t give us an interesting ending, although his book was more about the journey, the “road”, than the destination.  There was one Romero movie (can’t remember which one) where the guys get to an island, which they think is their haven, but turns out it’s infested.  That was somewhat interesting because it’s like, “No, there really is no hope”.  But I would like to see a game have a different take, something that disrupts the zombie genre.

Voyager – still ticking and learning all that is learnable

As I was thinking about how awesome No Man’s Sky can be, I got to thinking about Star Trek.  And then I got to thinking about V’Ger, which is the star of the first Star Trek.  That led me to wonder about Voyager.  Not the Star Trek starship Voyager, but the probes launched by NASA in 1977.  I went to the JPL site and it blew my mind.  Voyager 1 is still working and had just reached the edge of Interstellar Space, which is the beginning of the end of our solar system.

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Launched in 1977, the probes had reached Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune by 1989.  Since then Voyager 1 had been travelling toward Interstellar Space sending back data about its surroundings.  It’s got a limited power supply, which keeps its instruments working.  It’ll keep sending back data until it runs out of juice around 2025 and will drift in silence thereafter.

Neptune

Neptune

It’ll be another 300 years until it reaches what’s called the Oort Cloud, and then another 40,000 years before it reaches a place where it will be closer to a star other than our sun.  That is, if it doesn’t get picked up by some super-intelligent race of machine entities that facilitate its evolution and teaches it to find its way back home.

I wonder about all the things Voyager will see.  What will it find in 40,000 years?  Voyager will still be on its path, on its mission long after the human race is gone….