The Backlog: The case of the kidnapped burrito unicorn edition
In this week's Backlog: Aaron laments his decidedly first-world problem of having too many games to play, Doug reminisces on the Dreamcast's glory days, and Nick tries his hardest to remember everything he played at PAX last week.
My situation -- the one I described last week, where I was inundated with numerous games to play -- remains unchanged. I'm in a holding position. Would someone relieve me of this burden and flag me in for a landing?
What I'm trying to say is I'm finally getting around to finishing the large number of titles I've purchased or borrowed over the past two weeks. I'd rather not discuss each of them in detail, but here are a few that have made a positive impression on me: Limbo and Dead Rising 2: Case Zero.
Nick's review of Limbo says more about the overall package better than I'm able to here, but I'd like to say that I've never been so impressed by a debut title as I was with Limbo. Its comparisons to Braid are fair, in my opinion. The enjoyment of navigating a highly stylized world with little reason other than searching for someone special is as fulfilling now as it was two years ago. Yet Limbo is its own experience, and I think it surpasses Braid in its pacing, emotional impact and atmosphere.
Perhaps a bit less cerebral than Limbo in all but the most violent (and zombified) manner is Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, the experimental part DLC, part extended demo from Capcom. It's a subject worth delving into in full, which is why you can check out my extended impressions of the content here. But, in brief, it is absolutely worth the 400 Microsoft Point price tag. If you like Dead Rising at all, don't neglect Case Zero because the comment sections on blogs are so negative.
In preparation for the Retrospective article on the Sega Dreamcast (which you can find here), I've been playing a couple of my old Dreamcast favorites. Soul Calibur definitely stands the test of time — the graphics may not be as earth-shattering as they were 11 years ago, but the fighting game balance is still amazing. I might be rusty, but the skills are still there.
What doesn't hold up as well, though, is Sonic Adventure. While the levels featuring Sonic are still fast and fun, everything else is...ugh. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, I'm relying on memory to make sure I can get through the game because there is very little explanation about what to do next, and the controls are loose and slightly horrible. It's amazing that camera control and tightness of 3D control has improved so markedly in 11 years' time.
I have been playing modern games, though! Although how "modern" Dragon Quest IX actually is could be debated. I tried to tackle the first boss in the game and resoundingly failed, so my task for now is to start grinding levels. Time for that most Japanese of RPG traditions!
There's absolutely no way I could ever discuss all the games I played at PAX, and it's unconscionable that anybody would want to read through an article as bloated as that. It would also be unfair to talk at length about all the games I wish I'd had a chance to sit down and play, like SpyParty and Monaco, but never got a chance to. So here's a compromise: I'm just going to talk about a handful of games that I thought were especially noteworthy for one reason or another, and if anyone wants to hear my thoughts on anything in particular they can feel free to sound off in the comments section.
If there's one game from PAX that's always on my mind, it's Shibuya, a musical puzzle game from Nevercenter made for iOS devices. Then again, that's probably because it had the benefit of being available the same day I got to try it out at PAX, which meant I felt good about purchasing it on the spot. It's a deceptively complex puzzle game with some great music, and at $1.99 I'd recommend it to just about anybody.
After an interminable two-hour wait next to the smelliest group of misogynists I'd ever had the misfortune of coming across, I finally got to spend a little time checking out Dragon Age 2's combat system. Dragon Age: Origins was probably my biggest surprise of last year, converting me from a traditional-RPG naysayer to a die-hard fanatic, sinking more than 100 hours into the game. In a surprising break from precedent, Dragon Age 2 is opting for a more hands-on combat system that resembles Dynasty Warriors as much as Mass Effect. Pausing to issue orders is still critical, but everything that happens in real time demands a bit more direct involvement from the player. Ten minutes was hardly enough time to judge the shift in combat design, but I'm inclined to root for the developer who's willing to take risks with an already successful formula.
I didn't have a chance to try out the PlayStation Move controllers, but I did play with a couple of Kinect games: Your Shape: Fitness Evolved and Dance Central. Your Shape did a surprisingly accurate job in analyzing my height, body shape, and physical movements, even with a bustling crowd all around me. It stands to reason that it'll be even more precise in someone's living room than at an event like PAX, but what I saw was proof-of-concept for the Kinect hardware. With that said, Your Shape's value is going to depend on the variety, consistency, and usefulness of its fitness activities, many of which remain to be seen. And as for Dance Central: It got me moving to Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison," and it told me exactly how I was butchering it. I walked away impressed.
And of course, I checked out the successor to the perennial favorite around the metaphorical Silicon Sasquatch offices: NBA Jam. I played a full game on both Xbox 360 and Wii and I walked away very satisfied with how painstakingly both the core Jam gameplay and sense of humor have been preserved. I'm concerned about the Wii controls, where both jump and shoot are mapped to the same up-down gesture, but maybe in a less frenzied environment it would have felt more intuitive. Fortunately, the traditional button-and-trigger controls of the Xbox 360 version were snappy and precise. Curiously, I couldn't find NBA Elite on display anywhere, which is a little troubling; buying Elite is the only way Xbox 360 and PS3 owners are going to be able to get their hands on a copy of Jam.