Backlog: Let's Play Two edition

Usually the turn of phrase "let's play two" comes about for baseball — specifically for a double header. Kind of fitting, then, for the Portland Timbers, who opened the newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field in front of an international TV audience for the first ever home MLS game. After all, JWF (née Civic Stadium) was primarily thought of as a baseball field for a long time. Also kind of fitting because the Timbers get two home games in four days, since we're hosting Dallas on Sunday.

Of course I won't get the chance to actually see the new park for a while since I'm, you know, busy. Busy preparing Backlogs! Tyler joins the fray again this week, Aaron has been digging into Pokémon and back into New Vegas, Nick is contemplating some new computer parts, and Doug is burning iPhone battery on another Kairosoft game.

Onward to the (sizable) Backlog!

Aaron

In the time since my last Backlog was written, things have managed to settle down. I've even aged by a year, thanks to a certain birthdate — 25 is the new 24, according to my sources (read: myself). The best news this week is that I don't feel so guilty or, to a greater extent, flat-out sad for registering myself on the official Pokémon website. I can attribute some of this newfound confidence to the launch of the Pokémon Global Link on Wednesday of this week —mayhaps a justification for my downward spiral. The dreamworld portion of the website is essentially a glorified Flash game, but many rewards may be reaped in the form of rare Pokémon not obtainable in Black and White (I befriended a Ponyta and imported it back into my cartridge to capture it, and what's more is it had special abilities!).

The content is robust, for what it is. Players are limited to an hour of play each day on the website, which I assume is to discourage a cheating or exploitation of the system by amassing too many free Pokémon and items. In my first hour of using the Global Link I uploaded my sleeping Clefairy, checked out my dream-house, planted some berries, explored the forest and browsed a catalogue of furniture and decor for said house. It's all very novel, if not extremely childish and aimed squarely at the most devoted (and obsessive compulsive) fans, and for a free addition to an already packed-to-the-rafters game I can't complain. And Nintendo was very smart to promise that special Pokémon may be obtained through its Web service; that way we players can keep grabbing at the carrot it has tied to its very lucrative stick.

Aside from my adventures in Unova, I took it upon myself to complete Fallout: New Vegas' first expansion, Dead Money. Clocking in at around five hours' worth of gameplay, it ranks up there with the longest of Fallout 3's expansion packs (i.e., Broken Steel). Thankfully, Dead Money was a suspenseful and creative romp from Obsidian, and it didn't have to rely on tossing purchasers some powerful weaponry to justify its cost (hello, Operation: Anchorage). What transpires is unfortunately not the videogame adaptation of film classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but is instead a tomb raiding of apocalyptic proportions. The ever-unlucky Courier, lured into a trap by a siren's voice floating upon the airwaves of the Mojave, has been enslaved by an old man frothing with insanity and determined to loot the contents of a hermetically sealed pre-war casino of legend, the Sierra Madre. Perhaps the marketing for the expansion was skewed, because I didn't expect the first New Vegas DLC to be so good. I bought it primarily because of a Live Marketplace sale the other week, and once I finally tried it out I wasn't disappointed. Even the normal $10 price would have been worth the experience — an experience that educates you on how royally fucked-up, demented and inspired the writers of New Vegas are. If you liked the core game, get Dead Money. It's damn clever. And don't we all play these Fallout games expressly for the compelling stories they tell long after the gratification of scavenging for caps and bullets has soured?

So I'm playing Crysis 2 right now, as I type. I'm probably two-and-a-half hours in, and what's there is exciting enough. I haven't touched the multiplayer yet, but the campaign is keeping my interest. From what I've seen it's exactly what I wanted: sci-fi action mixed with customizable tactical options and a fun hook (i.e., the nanosuit powers). I'm withholding judgment for now, but so far I'm feeling positive about Crytek's latest FPS.

Lastly, I spent some quality time playing Forza Motorsport 3 last night with a friend. We set up custom races, played various modes like cat and mouse and tag infection, and had a great time overall. Which is why I felt awful that I hadn't touched this polished racer (and faithful mainstay in Doug's Xbox disc tray) since December. Maybe it's all the Pokémon messing with my melon, but after leveling my car level alongside my driver level and then collecting more cars to achieve a balanced lineup for each respective class of car, I'm convinced Forza is the adult, manly version of Pokémon. Do with that statement what you will, because I'm very cool with the comparison -- and the similarities.

Doug

Oh god, it's happening again. I'm addicted to another Kairosoft iOS game. After I was forced to lock Game Dev Story behind lock and key because of its addictive nature (just take a gander at the review here), I can fully blame Tyler for getting me hooked to the developer's follow-up, Hot Springs Story. Thanks for telling me it was on sale, asshole! It is exactly what it sounds like: You're in charge of taking a Japanese hot springs inn from the small time to being the best in all of Japan, while also improving the status of your inn's hometown all throughout. It's a game about making the right investments and planning, and while obviously similar to its predecessor, it's also more nuanced, which is a refreshing break. It also drove me down past 25 percent of battery life yesterday, which is unreal.

I might also pop back in with Game Dev Story because it's added Game Center and achievements. For what it's worth, I'm currently sitting 40th in the world in capital through year 20 in the game. Yeah, I think I broke the game, but I started fresh because precious few of the achievements unlocked retroactively.

Also spent some time racing online in Forza 3, though not to great success. It was a series put on by one of the guys on the forum I've been on forever, all in the same sorts of car (the Australian V8 Supercar racers that are in the game), and I resoundingly stunk it up and lost focus. I couldn't get higher than 6th place in any of the races, thanks to a combo of not having great setups on the car and driving poorly.

Aaron's right, though — games like Forza and GT are totally Pokémon for adults. Collecting cars, styling and upgrading them the way you want, trading with friends, then unleashing them for battle...yep, sounds just like it.

Playing a little bit of the games mentioned in my Street Fighter retrospective has been fun, too. Need to keep practicing and improving!

Nick

It's been another gameless week, thanks to the (mostly) welcome intervention of the real world. But just because I haven't been playing much doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about games. On the contrary! With Portal 2 out on Tuesday, I've just ordered Steam to reinstall the original Portal for one last run-through. But as it turns out, my PC just isn't much for gaming anymore.

The last time I upgraded a few components was in early 2008, and the other half of this machine was assembled in 2005. At both junctures I was pretty low on money, which means this machine has only been a mid-level performer at its absolute best moments. And with games like Battlefield 3 on the horizon, I've started to get the itch to throw together a bundle of new components on Newegg. I miss the thrill of gutting my trusty Antec Sonata case like a tauntaun and filling it up with shiny new components.

I've got a pretty solid build ready to go. I just need to pull the trigger. So much pressure.

Tyler

This was the first full week of my new job as a private high school teacher in the Kanto region of Japan. Prestigious as it may sound, the position comes with its own set of drawbacks, the most glaring being that I work at nine campuses and each day requires long, grueling commutes. I am far from alone in this, however; if you heard that portable systems are the most popular platform for new games in Japan, this is why. Every day I see dozens of children, teenagers and adults alike with DSes and PSPs. It took a little while to overcome my uniquely American sense of shame for playing video games in public, but I’ve started bringing my PSP to work, and the title I’ve been playing lately is Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy.

Yes, that is the full title, and yes, it is only the first sequel.

Blame it on our culture, our parents or whatever else, but for young boys the most existential debate you can have is, “Who would win in a fight?” My dad or your dad? Superman or Thor? Ninja Turtles or Thundercats? These are endless debates. There is no universal truth to be had, so it’s not a debate we ever truly grew out of once we became adults. If you’re looking for proof you only need look as far as the popular franchise move in pop-fiction, the crossover. Characters from different worlds meet and more likely than not fight. In the medium of video games this handily translates into, well, fighting games. Capcom has been doing this for well over a decade now, partnering Marvel and Capcom many times. Super Smash Bros. from Nintendo is a similar concept, and it leads to gamers to wonder when we might see similar titles from other major developers.

Square-Enix is, of course, best known for the Final Fantasy series. This entire franchise was ripe for “Who would win?” disputes, as each installment is a self-contained story featuring only the most tenuous of franchise ties. This finally happened with the first Dissida title two years ago on the PSP. Two gods, Cosmos & Chaos (guess which one is evil!) are competing for control of the universe, and they have each summoned champions from several worlds to compete on their behalf. Each side features the recognizable protagonists and antagonists of the primary Final Fantasy games. There is some grey area when it comes to some characters like Jecht from FFX or Kain from FFIV, but for the most part the lines are clearly drawn.

The game plays like a hybrid of Smash Bros., Power Stone and a standard fighting game with RPG-esque elements, like equipment. You likely won’t see it being played at EVO anytime soon but it can be enjoyable when you’re not being dragged through the token long and melodramatic cutscenes. I’m not very far in at this point, but the most frustrating aspect for me is that while I transferred my progress from it’s predecessor, Duodecim forces me to start the game as one of the new heroes, Lightning of Final Fantasy XIII. Needless to say, she’s not exactly my favorite new addition. I’m hoping like the last Dissida title (and perhaps every Final Fantasy), it becomes significantly more enjoyable once it opens up.