Backlog: Columbia On Our Minds Edition
When I started putting this Backlog entry together, I noticed Spencer and I both (if you'll pardon the awful pun) had our heads in the clouds. BioShock Infinite, the successor to 2007's breakout BioShock, is just a few weeks away from release.
BioShock made waves not just for its arresting art style and immersive, claustrophobic setting, but for its narrative sophistication and uncanny turn that exposed the illusion of playing games for what it is. I'm not sure how Irrational is planning to deliver an even more resonant experience with Infinite, but I'm fully on board to see it through to the end.
This week's Backlog is a pretty light one as we gear up for even more big games this month (what's up, Tomb Raider) but we've got a little bit of this and that for you to learn about. Enjoy, and let us know what you're playing too! — Nick Cummings
This is one of the busiest times in Japan. The end of the school year is mid-March, and since the weather is (little by little) getting better, that means more events with my friends, too. Which is all well and good except when you’re trying to think of what games you played for a Backlog.
Sorry about that.
However, imagine my surprise when a friend brought a clear plastic box filled with Cards Against Humanity to the party I went to last weekend. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the game, but if you haven’t, let me tell you, it is one of the finest party games out there. Ever play Apples to Apples? A judge for the turn plays a subject card, and everyone else in the game plays a description card out of their hands -- the judge chooses their favorite, and the role of judge rotates.
Sounds simple, right? Add in a devilish sense of humor (and cards that will leave you and your friends in stitches) that ranges from “I shouldn’t laugh at this” to “I’m definitely going to hell for laughing at this” and it becomes addictive. Even playing in what I thought were less-than-perfect conditions -- a loud party, a group of 15 people trying to play the game -- it was still a kick in the ass. A few of my friends had heard of the game, but even those who hadn’t enjoyed it.
So that’s the plug for Cards. Check out their web site and wait for it to get in stock at Amazon, or just print and make your own set. It’s well worth it.
I'm a creature of both entrenched habit and inescapable impulse, and the latter has been at the helm all this week. News of the impending expansion for Mass Effect 3 multiplayer drove me back into the arms of the franchise, flaws and all. Multiplayer may be my favorite part of the series; it's free of controversy from questionable end writing, unencumbered by storyline. The game continues to suffer from Origin (as do so many others) and my seeming inability to unlock the Quarian male infiltrator class (thanks to the clever but frustrating booster pack model for unlockables), but it's plenty of fun despite the blemishes. Solid, third-person cover-shooter — all the Mass Effect flavor with none of the calories. The newest expansion, Reckoning, adds some five more classes — so much for my unlock aspirations.
Another such impulse made me locate and install a copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. Yeah. I know. Fond memories of playing the demo over and over during my high school career prompted the inclination, though it had only a single level (Foundry) and audio track (Motorhead's "The Ace of Spades"). While the visuals haven't aged terribly well, the gameplay is just as I remember; grinding about like a maniac, jamming to a remarkably diverse and suitable soundtrack, trying to figure out the assorted puzzles and scavenger hunts. It bums me out a little that skating games, like rhythm games, have fallen out of vogue - the decline of the Tony Hawk franchise was probably no help, nor the very hit-or-miss Skate series. Still, the trick-oriented roaming style is mostly without equal, even if it’s been conquered by speed-runners. The HD release of THPS1 might be worth looking at, but I'm not yet convinced that it's isn't a hurried rush for nostalgia cash.
An earlier impulse buy of sale-priced tickets on the lovely Amtrak Cascades line came to fruition, and I took a quick jaunt to Portland during my mid-week "weekend." This involved, among other activities, a long-overdue trip to Ground Kontrol, and I have to say; Seattle, get your shit together. The place screams modempunk like a set that didn't quite make it into Hackers, Tron, or Blade Runner, with a black and blue motif, lit tables, and a solid playlist of industrial tracks. Proper classic arcade games mingle with pinball and some modern favorites - or, at least, favorites I consider a little more modern. Most importantly, it's a bar; it has alcohol, and kids aren't allowed in (unlike Seattle's lackluster Gameworks). The “barcade” motif isn’t new, but Ground Kontrol’s execution is really pretty great, and while I'm nowhere near leaving Seattle for Portland (though my girlfriend is considering leaving me for the TARDIS Room), our nerd scene could really use an equivalent joint. Or our very own Ground Kontrol from the original proprietors. Maybe they could open it next to Raygun Lounge, so I can drunkenly wander back and forth between tabletop and video gaming. Seriously, guys, help me out here.
Almost thirteen years ago, Pokémon Red and Blue versions were released in the United States. The games were hyped up to no end in the now-defunct Nintendo Power, and with good reason: 12-year-old Nick and all of his friends were hopelessly hooked on catching 'em all. Hundreds of hours passed — countless battles won and lost — and I'd finally done it.
I caught every single Pokémon. All 151 of them.
Since then, I've tried to recapture that joy with every successive generation of the series, but none of them managed to pull me in. Until now.
I've spent a good chunk of the last week knee-deep in Pokémon Black 2, and somehow, it all feels fresh and exciting again. Sure, I don't recognize half of the creatures I'm catching and it's filled to the brim with byzantine multiplayer features, but this is the same formula that won me over as a kid — and it's as potent as ever.
What else is new? Well...I finished Singularity. Yep — out of all the top-tier games I've left sitting barely unplayed like XCOM and Forza Horizon, I decided to spend my precious few free hours at home on a several-year-old BioShock clone. But you know what? There's something to be said for a game that's cautious and restrained in its execution.
Singularity doesn't tread any new ground, but it's a well-paced and enjoyable experience from start to finish. Like any other game of its kind, it falls flat on its face at its conclusion, but the light puzzle-solving and varied combat make for a pretty satisfying ride. And if nothing else, it's got me all the more excited for BioShock Infinite later this month.