Wednesday, April 23, 2008

He gets around... he gets around...

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer just got the coveted "Game of the Quarter" award over at Dubious Quality. Bill Harris, is a keen observer of video games and often comes up with little known gems like Mount and Blade. So it is with that track record in mind I decided to give it a try even though I was skeptical.

As it turns out he was right again. The game is a lot of fun and has tons of strategy and replay value. It is "hard core" and "old school" while remaining fun and engaging. I am puzzled by some of the reviews the game gets from the established game media. It makes me call into question their other reviews. I already read them with a gain of salt. I haven't played a game like this in a long time. The fact that if you die, you get sent back to the beginning, lose all of your items and become 1st level again will be a deterrent to many people. It will be to their detriment though. This game brings back the excitement and nail-biting drama that old arcade games used to do. There is a reason why it is no longer fun to play games like Gauntlet at home. You have an endless supply of "quarters" to pop in and thus unlimited lives. The thrill of making it any distance in the game is taken away. How much fun would it be to play Dragon's Lair and be able to save before each room?

Gamesetwatch has a great article on the game that offers insight into the nature of the game as well as tips for newbies. I suggest people check it out if they are remotely interested in the game. Once again Mr. Harris, well played -- well played indeed.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Potential: Thy name is NHL 08

With the NHL playoffs in full swing, I got the itch to play some hockey on my Xbox 360. I fired up NHL 08 and played a few games. I came away from the experience thinking that there was a lot of wasted potential in that game. EA have made great strides in the NHL series, but that is due mainly to how bad the game has sucked over the last few years. All of this progress can be attributed to 2k Sports pushing them with the excellent NHL 2k series.

This year was a bit unusual with NHL 2K8 taking a few steps backward and NHL 08 making some strides. NHL 08 does some great things. The animations are fantastic, the control scheme is intuitive and fun, the graphics are really good and the play by play although a bit repetitive, is top-notch. There is one huge problem though. In the NHL intensity is in the game. It isn't in EA's game, however. It's ridiculously easy to move the puck around and get out of your zone or keep it in the other team's zone for that matter. In real hockey everything is hotly contested ALL the time. It is a rare occasion where you can just waltz out of your own zone willy-nilly.

For instance, in the last game I played I was killing off penalties and each time I was able to win the face off back to my defense and then bring the puck down to my own zone behind my net. I then just proceeded to pass the puck back and forth behind the net as the computer's "fore-checkers" helplessly went back in forth like cats chasing a light on the floor. I could repeat this for every penalty kill. That is just inexcusable. How could something like this get by the QA department? In other cases, I was able to move the puck into the computer's zone and just stand there with it by the boards. My players didn't move nor did the computer players pressure me in any way.

I should explain that I was playing on the Pro difficulty level. Some people might suggest that I should have been playing on Superstar level, but I don't think it is too much to ask that the AI should play like "pros" on the pro level. The other problem is that there is a bug in the game where if you change sliders (a must in this game for realism) and then you change the difficulty level before an exhibition game all of your sliders will be reset. Again, how this got by QA is beyond me. And worse still, it has not been addressed in a patch. These things make an otherwise enjoyable game almost unplayable to me. I am so sick of having to endlessly tweak sports games just to get them to play decently. I am left with the same old thoughts about what could have been.