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Posts Tagged ‘game’


Thursday, March 6th, 2008

I’ve always thought that rhythm games were meant to teach you something about whatever subject the game is based in. In DDR, you learn foot placement memorization and rhythm which is key to dance. In Guitar Hero, you learn how a string on a guitar works. In Rock Band, you actually learn how to play a basic drum set.

Audiosurf takes an entirely different route. Instead of being an instrument or rock star simulator this game let’s you simulate what it’s like to be a true music listener. You aren’t part of the band. This game is more like sitting at home with headphones on, reading liner notes and letting the music take you somewhere you’ve never been. Sure, there’s a game involved, but the game itself is barely the point.

I guess I should explain the game before I tell you why I don’t care about it. The game takes any song that you give it and creates a track for your spaceship to fly on. On each track, there are squares that show up based on whatever is the loudest part of the song and those are the game pieces. Depending on which mode you play, the pieces will have different colors and below your spaceship, there is a Klax-like area that fills up with the pieces that you fly into. You have to match the colors to make them disappear and I’ll let you guess what the magic number of pieces needed to complete a set is.

In addition to the placement of the pieces, the actual track itself is created to fit the rhythm and that’s where this game really shines. As you are playing a song, the BPM of the song can make the track go up or down and, thanks to the awesome game engine, it actually corresponds with how the song wants you to feel. For instance, when a song is building up to a climax – maybe the drums are slowly getting louder, or they keep adding instruments until the singer explodes on the track and you can’t control your body – the game’s track is structured like a roller coaster. You keep going up and up the track and when that singer explodes, it’s all downhill from there.

That’s what makes the game so great. Audiosurf allows you to listen to your favorite song like it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it, but with that intense feeling of knowing exactly when it’s going to move your soul. You’ve heard the song a million times so you know everything about it, but it all feels new again. If this game teaches you anything, it teaches you how to listen to your music. The fact that a song doesn’t end when you make a mistake proves that the game knows it’s purpose.

That’s why I don’t really care about the game aspect. I had some fun playing with it but I was more interested in the "Freeride" mode which just lets you ride on the track without worrying about points. I usually have the hardest time explaining to people what makes a song move me so much. Now, whenever I’m having a hard time again, I’ll just forward them a video of me playing the song in Audiosurf.

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.


Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

When I was a kid I was obsessed with the uncontrolled falling of ball-like things. Plinko? Check. Pinball? Check. Pachinko? Check. Okay, maybe I didn’t need to say ‘ball-like’ but the chips in Plinko weren’t balls. And don’t get me started on how I knew about Pachinko living in America as a child. Okay, get me started. My mom owned a Pachinko machine and I have no idea where she got it. Was she part of some sort of underground Japanese Yakuza based in Parma, OH? I’ll have to ask her. It’s not important enough to ask now so you’ll probably never know if she was in a Japanese gang.*

Somewhere along the line, I stopped caring about such things. I don’t know if it was the Atari we had or the He-Man figures I was temporarily allowed to own and play with. Maybe you can blame it on the hardening of my heart and the decimation of my emotions and sensitivity (tell that to my iTunes playing Nick Drake right now). Who cares? That’s all changed! The PC game Peggle, developed by PopCap Games, has renewed my love of falling balls.**

In Peggle, you are tasked with the elimination of orange pegs from a playing field mostly covered with blue pegs. There are a number of characters (all animals) who, for some reason or another, HATE orange pegs. To accomplish this, you are given a cannon that can shoot shiny balls that will eliminate the pegs (both blue and orange) upon touching them. When one of the balls hits a peg, the physics of the game will bounce the ball around the field much like a pachinko ball. The catch is, you are only given a certain amount of balls with which to accomplish your task. You can get extra balls by getting a certain amount of points with one ball or by catching your ball in a bucket that swings back and forth at the bottom of the playing field. Each character that you play with gives you a special power that can be activated by eliminating the scarce green pegs that are scattered around each level. The powers include a bigger bucket, an arrow that shows you where your ball will bounce to when you shoot it, multi-balls, and so on. It’s a much more advanced version of pachinko that you just couldn’t possibly have without a talking animal at your side.

There’s something about this game that satisfies my heart’s hunger. When the ball shoots out of the cannon and it bounce around the field like some bouncy ball in a closet it entertains me to no end. When the points build up with every bounce and that extra ball sound rings I feel like I’ve just conquered Europe and put my hand in my military vest. When the ball accidentally falls into the bucket and I get it back I thrust my arm into the air, usually pulling the mouse from the USB port. It satisfies on every level and not many casual games do that for me. Its hypnotic gameplay is only further expanded with a soundtrack that includes a reworking of the sample used for A Tribe Called Quest’s "Electric Relaxation."

ATCQ and falling balls? Can it get any better? Yes. I forgot to mention a swedish unicorn named Bjorn. It just got better.

*unless a Yakuza video game based on my mother’s life comes out and I care enough to review it

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.

Super Mario Galaxy Reviewed

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

There’s a new guy on the scene in the world of video games. His name is Mario and he’s a plumber, if you can believe it. He’s starring in a new game for Nintendo Wii called Super Mario Galaxy. This mustachioed, short, pudgy fellow is jumping from planet to planet and galaxy to galaxy in order to save the princess of Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way he’s got plenty of friends to help him including hungry stars, adventurous mushroom people and a brother who’s always getting trapped – emotionally – by his own fears and – literally – by glass domes. It’s a very big world and gamers will have plenty of hours spent exploring every nook and cranny.

Before I get into what makes this game so great, I should probably explain a little bit about the story of Mario. While doing some extraordinary plumbing, Mario gets sucked down a pipe into a magical kingdom ruled by Princess Peach and continuously terrorized by an evil, fire-breathing turtle named Bowser. The princess is kidnapped by the evil terrorist and Mario is off to save her. Walking mushrooms, hammer-throwing turtles and fireball-spitting plants are just some of the enemies he encounters on his quest. His brother, Luigi, is also part of the family-trade and plays a role in Mario’s adventure. He can jump a little bit higher than Mario but he has a hard time controlling his jumps. It’s a fun little universe and Nintendo has put in a lot of work to make sure it’s memorable.

Super Mario Galaxy is a platformer in the truest sense. What that means is the main action in the game is devoted to trying to get to the next part of a level by dodging enemies and taking death-defying leaps to a series of higher or lower pieces of land, or "platforms." Mario has plenty of moves to help him like wall-jumps, backflips and specialty items that turn him into things like bees (so he can fly) and human springs (so he can jump higher). These jumps are accomplished by pressing the "A" button on the Wii Remote (It’s the big button in the middle of the remote that says "A"). The player can also make him do a spin move that will hurt enemies and help him jump higher by shaking the remote.

All movement is done with the Nunchuck accessory. By hooking up the Nunchuck to the Wii Remote, players will be able to move Mario in any direction they choose by moving the joystick accordingly. For instance, if they want Mario to run forward, they can press "up" on the joystick. If they don’t want him to move anywhere, they can just let go of the joystick and Mario will stay put. It’s a very intuitive system and kudos to Nintendo for creating such an interactive experience.

Okay, now let’s get back to what makes this game so great. When I first got home from purchasing the game at Circuit City (for more on how to do that, see my "Video Games Purchasing Tutorial" posted on GameFAQs.com), I opened up the video game case, stuck in the DVD and I was ready to play. Nintendo allows you to do this by including a special DVD player in every Wii system. The DVD player spins the DVD and a laser reads the data from the disc, sort of like a futuristic record player (remember those???). The data is then interpreted by the Wii and the game is transmitted to your TV through the RCA cables also included (pro tip: HDTV owners can purchase a separate cable that allows them to view the game content in High-Definition, or Hi-Def as Dante Terrell Smith calls it).

In addition to being able to play the game, Nintendo has also implemented a feature that allows the disc to be ejected so that other games can be played. It’s just one of the many genius ideas in Super Mario Galaxy that really sets Nintendo apart from other software developers. I’m so impressed by the Wii and Super Mario Galaxy that it would be hard for me to recommend any other video game system or game. I give this game a 7 out of 7 on the amazing scale and you have my word that I am giving you my word.

Okay, seriously, do I really need to give you another glowing review of Super Mario Galaxy? It’s the game of the year and I’m talking about 2008. Just buy it already.

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.

Guitar Hero III

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Photo by ericskiff

You’ve played Guitar Hero I & II. You are a big fan. You love that they haven’t really changed the formula. You are hoping they have done the same with the third installment. You are disappointed. You are me talking to yourself in a mirror.

Don’t get yourself wrong. You think Guitar Hero III is great and kudos to Neversoft for not messing with the fundamental gameplay. The notes still fall down. You still play with a plastic guitar. You still get to play classic rock songs that you know and love. You can still play against your friends in head-to-head matches. It’s all there, except, that it isn’t. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know something has changed. You think it may be the fact that they’ve amped up the difficulty. You’re not sure if it’s in the songs that they’ve chosen this time around or if they’ve made the notes fall faster. You’re just not sure.

You love that the hammer-ons and pull-offs seem easier to, well, pull off. You love that they’ve highlighted the notes that can be connected in a hammer-on or pull-off by a brightened icon. You feel like a guitar god when you pull one of them off and you hit a string of 15 notes without actually flipping the paddle. Still, you feel as if in going for realism, and by not making all of the close notes connectible (and more like how a real guitarist would pluck the strings), that they’ve lost the "game" part of the game. You know, like when you play NBA Jams and you fly through the air to pull off that slam dunk from half court? Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you haven’t played NBA Jams since the Sega Genesis was in full force. You haven’t.

You love the new battle mode, but you hate, hate, HATE that you have to play in the solo career. You like that it adds to that "game" element that you were just talking about but you hate that it’s a requirement to finishing the game, rather than just a fun new way to play with your friends when you get bored of just playing the songs. And while you’re on the subject, you also hate that you have to play through Co-Op Career in order to unlock certain songs. You had to use a cheat code to unlock those songs because you don’t have any friends that also own Guitar Hero to play with.

You love the new online mode and you have nothing bad to say about it except that you can’t seem to connect with people and play unless you create your own game.

You like the song selection, but you also feel as if they missed the mark a little bit. You love playing Cult of Personality and Reptilia but you hate playing Slipknot. You understand that everyone has different tastes but you also remember that there are so many classic rock songs where guitarists wanked off on their axes enough to make challenging-enough songs for Guitar Hero. You hate using the word "axe." You really wish they put another Thin Lizzy song on the playlist. You also thought playing Sabotage would be more fun than it actually is.

In looking back at the entire package, you start to think about why you liked Guitar Hero in the first place. You remembered that you really loved the thrill of "becoming" each individual artist as you tore through a new song. You really felt like Brian May and Phil Lynott (when you played the bass part). Part of that came from the realism of the game. Each fake note or chord that you tapped on your fake guitar actually felt like the real notes and chords on a real guitar. The best part about it was that even though the songs were hard, you still felt as if you could get better and that over time you would be able to master each song and be able to last until the end and get that satisfying "You Rock" from the programmers of the game. But, this time around, you actually start to question your skills as a player. You wonder if in hoping for more of a challenge you actually lost sight of why you liked the original games.

Then, you forget all of that, leave the bathroom and get back to playing because you’re addicted and you don’t care if it’s not as good as the first two. It’s good enough.

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.

Bible Fight

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Bible Fight simulates hand-to-hand combat between some of the Bible’s most popular characters. Play as Jesus, Mother Mary, Noah, Eve, Moses or Satan in landscapes straight from the flannel-graph board. For blood and glory. or for fun. I think the game is more fun to tell people about than to actually play (and this may be true of most of the content on adultswim – cartoons more interesting in summary than in repletion) but still I’ve gone back to Bible Fight to cool off every now and then. So, it’s got some replay value.

I could imagine me and my friends in Sunday school sneaking into Mrs. Turtledove’s bag of story-telling props and applying our balmy young imaginations toward such an end as this game. We would’ve probably added our own beloved characters: maybe Mickey Mouse, Jackie Chan, Mark Twain, Tiny Tim, Barbie, Buddha, Pocahontas, Hitler, Betty Boop or the Morton Salt girl. Or maybe we’d have attempted to keep chaste our imaginations while in church and held the “seculars” out of it… or maybe the bible characters would’ve just always won. In any case, this concept would’ve enticed our fertile minds relentlessly until some moral chord snapped and the dogs of our imaginations got loose.

I remember I loved games like Street Fighter, TMNT Tournament Fighter, and Tekken when I was in middle school. We got to fight – for all the pent up aggression of the trumpet-playing band nerd, we got to fight. While the muscles in our legs and shoulders atrophied, we were Spartan, training to dominate: kool-aid fed princes of dexterity. I remember, at one point, I had played my gameboy so much I started having sharp pain in my wrists and palms – my first Carpal tunnel. I bore the pain with honor. The swan song in the litany of my youth. I digress…

While the game is attractive on a lot of levels (see the Disney style landscapes complete with quirky details like the fish flopping on the dry ground in front of Moses’ Red Sea, or the unicorn in Eden’s bushes) and has a lush soundtrack (did they commission John Williams?), the characters and their unbelievably silly special moves steal the show. Eve throws apples and can summon Adam to execute an uppercut (notice the fig leaves, how they flop around and quiver – and doesn’t Adam look like a bug-eyed Tarzan?), Moses can summon a rain of frogs or whip a couple stone tablets at his opponents, swarthy Noah can direct a charge of animals, summon a pillar of water or unleash a dove from his chest, and Jesus calls fish and bread out of the sky or brandishes his cross like a folding chair in a WCW match. The characters are endearing in their absurdity.

I stumbled upon this game late one night after an evening of furious job hunting. It came to me as an epiphany in blood and pixels. A tiny metal cross and brass knuckles. brilliant. After a few hours of work, Bible Fight serves as an ideal mind erasing tool – 10 minutes whipping Moses with a snake or calling a rain of frogs from the sky has amazing refocusing effects – and then I’m back at the task again, scratching plates, scoring lines, punching keys, ripping apart and rebuilding sentences: I fight with a resurgent energy transposed from muscle to mind. But only 10 minutes is allowed at the game lest my brain become purple and soupy from battle. But it’s enough. 10 minutes is enough. Where this game doesn’t come close to the complexity of those special-move-and-combo-packed monster games with entire perfect-bound strategy guides devoted to their possibility, it’s fun. And it’s full of the syrupy cynicism adultswim has been mustering since Space Ghost and Brak first appeared on late night TV.

I’ll spare you the other characters I’ve come up with since discovering this game, and I’ll spare you their hilarious special moves. And I’ll spare you my petty frustrations with the game – the imbalances, the quirks and glitches. It’s full of problems, but I play Bible Fight to forget about problems. Or at least to forget about the problems that can’t be solved with two buttons and a direction pad.

Genius Music Games (Yes, GENIUS)

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

I have a weird obsession with rhythm games. I’ve even betrayed my next-gen video game consoles by threatening to become completely guitar-rock game-centric. They’ve since convinced me that I would feel very lonely without them but my passion remains (as does my weird talking relationship with my consoles).

I’ve decided to talk about a few of the more experimental music games because everyone knows about Guitar Hero (and it’s soul-saving capabilities) and if you’ve never heard about Dance Dance Revolution then you probably just figured out how the wheel works. The games in this review are all available for the Nintendo DS, the most innovative handheld video game system since Simon. If you’ve never heard of Simon, then you probably don’t even know what a wheel is.

Electroplankton is a random yet, perfectly controlled, video game music maker and that’s the easiest way to describe it. Its creator, Toshio Iwai, is some crazy genius. He’s created musical art installations (one called Piano – As Image Media in which audience members control a grand piano by using a trackball to "write" lighted dots projected onto a sheet of fabric that lead to the keys of the piano), TV shows (UgoUgoLhuga is a show from the 90s that had kids sending in drawings of sumo wrestlers that Iwai scanned in – audiences would then call in for their pick and the louder they screamed, the stronger their sumo drawing became), music machines (Tenori-On is a sixteen-by-sixteen grid of illuminated LED switches which can be activated in a variety of ways to create a changing musical soundscape) and various other video games. If that doesn’t give you an idea of the creativity involved in Electroplankton, then you need to get into the accounting field.

In Electroplankton, players interact with different types of "plankton" and create music through one of ten different playing methods. For instance, the Tracy plankton makes music moving along lines that you’ve drawn with the stylus. If you draw a line from left to right, the sound will start in the left speaker and end in the right. If you draw from top to bottom, the pitch will go down as the Tracy follows it. The plankton will move at the speed that your line is drawn. When the plankton gets to the end of the line, it will start over and continue looping until you stop the process. There are 6 different Tracies that work at the same time so this leads to a lot of musical possibilities.

The other plankton all use different methods to create music or sounds. Rec-Rec is basically a 4-track looper that records through the microphone. Volvoice records your voice and then plays back the sound in different ways based on its shape. Beatnes let’s you reconfigure original Nintendo theme music. There’s plenty here to keep you digital music freaks busy. It’s also a great way to get your hipster friends to play with your DS.

Daigasso! Band Brothers is the next game in my list of three experimental music games. I’m kind of cheating on this one because there’s nothing experimental about the music you play or the way you play it. It’s basically your average notes-come-down-the-line rhythm game (although the notes stay in place as a line moves over them in this one). What makes this one so special is the difficulty it throws at you about halfway through the songs. It’s not that you have to have musical experience to be able to master this game. No, you have to have octopus fingers.

The notes in this game aren’t signified by arrows or gems but by icons that correspond with the DS buttons. In the Beginner Mode there are only 3 icons. A D-pad icon, a face button icon and a touch screen icon. The D-pad icon allows you to hit any direction to make the note. The face button icon allows you to hit any face button (A,B,X, or Y) to hit the note and the touch screen icon requires you to touch the screen to make the music happen. In Amateur Mode, things kick up a notch. You no longer get generic icons. You’re now forced to hit Up, A, Down, X, etc. in order to make the music happen. Pro Mode is where your butt gets musically kicked. Not only do you have to hit all of the buttons to make music but sometimes you have to hold L or R in order to turn your notes sharp or raise the note one octave. You also have combinations of notes. For instance, you might have to hit Up for one note, A to complete the chord, L to make it sharp and R to raise it an octave. All of this happens regardless of the speed of the song and your fingers have to twist around each other, all while being able to hold the system in your hands.

What makes this game innovative is that it basically turns your DS into an instrument. If you get a note wrong, it doesn’t just miss it, you actually play the wrong note, something Guitar Hero lacks. Also, each song can have up to 8 instruments that you have to play so there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

The best part of Daigasso! is its multiplayer mode. You can have up to 8 people playing at once, everyone using a different instrument. It’s an amazing little piece of software and unfortunately it looks like it’s staying in Japan so you’ll have to import it.

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan also falls under that non-experimental music banner but the way this game is played (and its story) is an interesting take on the music genre. Instead of icons falling from the screen, or a line moving across notes, you have numbered circles that must be hit in time to the beat and in sequential order. You also have circles with tracks extending from them. A rolling ball moves from one side of the track to the other and you have to follow it with your stylus. Lastly, you have a spinner that you have to rotate in time to the song to fill a gauge to a certain level. It sounds complicated and when you first start playing it’s hard to tell how the movements correlate with the rhythm of the song. After you get the hang of it though, you really start to enjoy its process and are impressed by its originality.

The fun part of the game is its storyline. You are part of a team of male cheerleaders who are posed with the challenge of cheering up people with music so that they can accomplish their goals. One person is having trouble studying for a big exam. One person has lost the inspiration to make pottery. There’s even a love story you have to work through. These people cry out for help and Ouendan shows up to scream out crazy words (Japanese) to lift these spirits. It’s very funny, mostly in that, "Hey, aren’t other cultures weird?" way but also because its fits the tone of the music perfectly. There are some other music games with stories, but some are so ridiculous it hurts to even wonder why they tried to add one (I’m looking at you Donkey Konga).

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.

Cooking Mama (Nintendo DS)

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Video games are great because they take you to another world. In video games you get to fight demons, pull off bank heists, run for 300 yards, build towering cities and pretty much anything you’ve ever wanted to do but weren’t strong or powerful enough to do. Cooking Mama for the Nintendo DS goes in the other direction and lets you do all of the things you can do yourself but actually makes them fun instead of tedious and necessary for survival.

Have you ever wanted to make fried chicken? Beef curry and rice? Spaghetti Neapolitan with Salisbury steak on top? If you have, then you’ve probably already made them. BUT! Have you ever made them while a cute, Japanese, 9-year-old mother with a temper watches over you? HAVE YOU?

In Cooking Mama you get to make a variety of dishes (mostly Japanese) using your stylus and some quick reflexes. In order to cook each meal, you have to cut cabbage, chop garlic, cover meat with flour and sauté onions all while being mindful of the time and being careful not to burn your items. Using real recipes, with real ingredients and cooking tools, you’ll be rolling up spring rolls in no time.

Every part of the process from cutting meat to frying is accomplished with very short minigames – think WarioWare meets Iron Chef, minus the competition and bad hairdos. You use your stylus to cut the meat, flip the frying pan, slice the eggplant and so on. You can even cool down your soup by blowing into the mic (spitting on the screen doesn’t help). Even though each minigame involves the same moves, it doesn’t feel like it because each meal is different and seeing the final product is what motivates you.

As far as graphics go, they aren’t even an issue when playing a game like this. It’s all Japanese anime style and so of course everything is exaggerated and colorful. I will say this though, I’ve ALWAYS been a fan of the way cartoon food looks – I really wish our food looked as appetizing and filling as colored in drawings do. I would never eat pasta with oyster sauce in real life, but in anime world I would lick my plate clean.

I’ve spent a good deal of my life wishing I could cook and now with this new game, I’m still wishing. But at least now I know that cooking is a real thing and not just a magical ritual performed by girlfriends and mothers. The only thing missing from this game is a microwave popcorn dish and an easy-bake oven attachment for my DS (get to work Nintendo!).

Nathan Smart lives here. That's all you need to know.