The Backlog: Totally off-topic tribute edition
No smart-ass commentary, no tongue-in-cheek humor, just a nice thought for the weekend. Tomorrow would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. Even if you're not a fan of the man or the music, it's hard to deny that the message was a good one.
In case you're wondering if there's a video game connection, Lennon's iconic song "Imagine" is included in Rock Band 3, which is out October 26th. So there you go.
Doug and Aaron are both out of the state this weekend, so the honor of posting this backlog falls upon me. They're off doing some pretty awesome things; meanwhile, I'm nursing my aching shins and bemoaning the imminent fall rains.
At the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was raining heavily during qualifying. I went out early in the 20-minute session, tried to get my bearings, but having little experience in the wet I was slow — dead-last slow. This is even with a setup dialed in from the awesome setup repository I linked in the review. A second three-lap blast midway through the session got me up to about 17th, and adapting to how the car felt in a downpour versus in the dry, but that's still off from where my team wanted me. With three minutes left, I hit the track and got two laps in — the first put me up to 6th and the second, after time expired in the session, put me on pole position. What a rush. When this game is on, it is all that my inner F1 geek could hope and dream.
The other game I've been getting to grips with this week is NBA 2K11. With the delay of NBA Elite 11 until next year, and the astonishing reviews 2K11 has been garnering, my choice of basketball game was simple. I'm still struggling to get used to the pacing of basketball and how to best attack the game, but all the quick games and career games I've played so far have looked, sounded and played amazingly well. As an avid Portland Trail Blazers fan, playing as my hometown team has never felt this good; Brandon Roy is an inside scoring machine, Greg Oden throws down from the low post with power, LaMarcus Aldridge hits elbow jumpers with regularity...it's all there. And the AI plays basketball pretty well, too — trying to guard quick Sacramento Kings point guard Tyreke Evans with Andre Miller, I made one bad move and Evans shot through the lane for a dunk. It made me sit back and go, "damn." Not many sports games can do that.
What's this? A Square-Enix handheld RPG I'm playing for more than 5 hours? Doug was right about Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies: It's a very good Dragon Quest-ass Dragon Quest game.
I've played my share of the DQ series over the years. I had the remake of one and two on my Game Boy Color, and Dragon Quest VIII is sitting on my shelf at this moment. However, I've never finished a single entry in the beloved (and multi million-selling) franchise. Try as I might, the games become too boring, too fast. And while "old school" -- a term that's thrown around with ridiculous frequency as time removes us farther from gaming's roots -- sensibilities offer a unique charm and dash of intrigue, a modern-minded RPG fan like myself can't stomach the archaic style of past DQ offerings. Taking 60 hours of grinding to beat the third-to-last boss doesn't prove that a game is "classic" or "amazing," let alone fun.
But Dragon Quest IX isn't archaic, as similar to its predecessors it may be. No, this game plays more like the Blizzard version of Dragon Quest coupled with the subtle humor of a BioWare RPG. The fact that your characters can be equipped with hundreds of wildly different armors and weapons adds an addictive element to the gameplay -- and the bonus is that each item actually appears on your character's model.
For me, it's the sort of gimmick that encourages involvement and dedication; as of this writing I've already put 16 hours into the game over the course of two and a half days (!). As vapid as World of Warcraft-style item hunting is, I can't help but get a lot out of it. Why else would I have purchased Titan Quest, Borderlands, Torchlight and, eventually, DeathSpank over the past year after countless hours of playing both World of Warcraft and Diablo? Because it's what I like; loot acquisition is a simple, perhaps even primal, gameplay concept that fulfills the habits of completionists and collectors like myself.
So kudos to Square-Enix for taking an unexpected, yet completely welcomed, turn with their series. You've certainly gained a fan in me.
So it's not a game in the traditional sense (although some would disagree), but this week I've been pretty focused on the Couch to 5k program. Basically, it's a series of runs over the course of nine weeks that gradually escalate from just a few minutes of running punctuated by walking — something a couch potato could theoretically do — to being able to whip out a 30-minute, five-kilometer run at the drop of a hat.
I was never any good at sports and loathed exercise well into my early 20s, so you can imagine how shocked I was that Couch to 5k actually managed to hook me. But thanks to an extremely useful app and a paralyzing fear of never doing anything useful with my time (I hear that's sometimes referred to as "being a twentysomething") I decided to give it a whirl.
I had some good days and bad days, and I had to make up for lost time when I was out of town for things like PAX or just generally feeling undermotivated, but it was generally not too difficult to get the hang of running. I learned a lot of things the hard way, such as how important stretching is and how ungodly painful shin splints can be, but I'm really glad I've stuck it out this far.
I just completed the first run of the final week tonight, clocking in 3.18 miles (or 5.12 kilometers) in 30 minutes. So at this point it's the home stretch -- I guess I did it! And honestly, it feels pretty damn good to know that I could take on something so unfamiliar like this and succeed at it.
As far as video games go, I've desperately needed to get away from them over the last few days. But I'm hoping to have Comic Jumper reviewed for next week, so watch out for that!