Game reviews and editorials. Simple, and clear.

I know there aren’t many of you. My WordPress stats are indicative of that. I have only two subscribers (and I love you both to death), and more recently, I stopped posting. Not intentionally, mind you. It happened though, and it was a hiatus I wasn’t expecting to take. It is one I felt was necessary. Please continue reading to see more.

I started writing reviews on my own because I enjoyed sharing my opinions with others. I also started writing because I didn’t like most of what the critics were saying. Their teams were made up of atypical gamers who liked mainstream titles and scoffed at entries that didn’t meet mainstream budget quotas. Being the ‘little guy’ all of my life, I understood and sympathized with those games. I wanted to bring them to a new light, and show the world that there were better games than those glorified behind big box names. I started this endeavor in 2007, and even through smaller and infrequent writing periods, I made it work.

I switched mediums, from MyOtaku to WordPress, in order to garner more exposure and publicity. With the two goals up above in mind, I wasn’t looking for much more than a small fanbase in order to spread the word. As I did this, two things were happening. I realized that the industry was changing, and that games were starting to become more and more accepted no matter where they came from. This meant that the goal I stood for was becoming more and more futile, as companies like Atlus, NIS America, and other third party brands were creating titles that were able to contend with big blockbusters like Halo, God of War, and the like. While still not on the same tier, their light bulb isn’t so dim anymore. Gamers are starting to see them get full page and half pages worth of material, instead of a small column or corner in a magazine.

I've had a clear goal in mind all along, but getting to my destination was always the biggest hurdle. How does one even go about doing it alone?

The other thing that was happening is that I found out that if you are willing to start by accepting a writing position that was unpaid, that there are many, many more like minded individuals who are looking to do the same thing you are. At first, this was through Unknown Gamer, then The Gaming Effect. Soon, I found myself applying in several different places and most people being very interested in my work. As I worked in each place, I obtained a lot of experience, a lot of friends, but better yet, I was gaining exposure. When I started this leg of my endeavors, I was cross posting my entries into both the website I was writing for, and this personal website. However, as time became more limited, I stopped posting here, and retained my writing only at the place of employment. That explains my lack of posts here.

Within each place, I looked to find a role that fit what I did. I love to write, I really do, but my passion, my goal ultimately in life is to head up my own video game company. In order to do that, I need experience heading up something else. To show that I have leadership qualities and can both develop and guide a team in a successful direction. Not only is that a quality I would love to demonstrate that I have, but I believe that it is what I am here to do. My success doesn’t come from me, but comes from every single person I am able to influence, even in the most trivial of ways. When I started writing for The Gaming Effect, I though that was going to be my big break. I was starting an online news source for video games with only a few others. I was able to really put my thinking cap on and work with my team in ways that I only dreamed of. Unfortunately, my EIC’s dreams did not remain there. Eventually the website was shut down to the point you see now, and myself as well as the other two members were left with only questions.

I started applying more places, looking for something to fill the void. I joined up with Real Otaku Gamer, wrote one review, and realized that I wasn’t a fit for their style of writing and managing. I didn’t feel as if I had any direction, or room to grow, and it wasn’t for me. The EIC and owner of ROG was extremely understanding of both my lack of writing, and my departure. We remained in good standings now, and we still talk to each other via Twitter. We both understand what the other is looking for, and respect that.

My most recent endeavor involved putting my name out to two companies: GameNTrain and Totally Gaming Network. TGN was a universal website, based in both the US and UK that specializes in all of  the newest consoles. They were really supportive of me, and expressed great interest in my writing. However, I realized that the ‘team’ was only being headed up by one guy, which meant that entry would have needed me to write on a basis that was much more frequent than I could devote time into. I commend the gentleman who spent some time trying to work with me, however, even through his emails it was easy to see that he didn’t have time to work with someone. He was struggling to keep the website alive on his own. While I would have loved to help him out, I had already had experience with a team that wasn’t fundamentally established, and I did not wish to repeat that.

I explored a lot of different options when it came to writing, but none truly felt fitting for me. This changed when I found GameNTrain.

GameNTrain, however, brought a lot to the table, and made me see something that I hadn’t seen before: an opportunity. They were looking for a writer who was able to write at least once a week, and to provide good, solid content. I applied for the position and had a Skype interview a few days later with the EIC and Owner, Eric Hoff. Eric was an awesome, down-to-Earth individual with reasonable expectations and a love for the industry. What drew me to GNT, however, was the unique audience that he was trying to capture. GNT was focused not only on the gamers, but the fitness buffs as well. He wanted to show the community that there is a way to fill the gap between gaming and staying in shape. When I interviewed with him, I saw a well respected, established individual with goals, a dream, and drive. I also saw a very original and potentially successful opportunity that would finally allow me to do what I’ve wanted to do: run a well-oiled machine.

After our interview, I was established credentials, and was free to write. And write I did. Since March, I have written several articles, mostly reviews, but a few editorials, that have a home on GameNTrain’s website. Due to my emphasis on trying to keep high quality articles there, I have had little motivation in cross posting over to my personal blog. I feel as though doing so would be doing my co-workers, and more importantly, my EIC an injustice. That’s where I think things are so different there. At the other websites, I didn’t mind doing that as much. At GNT, I care a lot more and am more cautions about my actions that would pull away any site visits.

I’ve only been writing for a month and some weeks now, so I am still the low man on the totem pole. I am trying my hardest to be patient, but I want more than anything for this site to skyrocket. Even moreso, I want to hopefully be a reason that it does so. I don’t want to do it for me, though. I want to do it for Eric, for taking the time out to let me write under his label. I want to do it for the team members who write along side of me and have similar dreams. I want to do it for the industry, because I believe a website like GameNTrain is a real eye opener. I am not like most reviewers. I don’t beg for review copies of games, and I am not in this industry for the swag or insider tips. I do this to build myself professionally. I hope to one day give back to gamers what video games have given to me all of my life: joy and entertainment.

I recently made a discovery. I never had anyone to look up to. I loved video games, but I never idolized any particular company or person. I just never paid much attention to it. I knew some names, I favored companies, but I never looked up to any particular individual until recently. I have enjoyed each and every game that they released. I love what they stand for, I watch interviews with their President to see if I can somehow grasp her concepts, share her mind and see what it is that makes her, her team, and games all tick. Her name is Kellee Santiago, and she is the president of thatgamecompany. Everything that they stand for, I treasure. I love their approach to the industry, I was completely taken away by their games, and I feel that everything about what they do is a step in the right direction for gaming as a whole. I believe that with the right team, I can do the same thing and more. When I hear her talk, it sounds like me. Her innovation, her thought process, and even the way she speaks.

Kellee Santiago has indirectly shown me that I can still do what I've always dreamed of doing. I just have to keep my 'flow.'

I’ve struggled a lot with where I wanted to be in the video game industry. I bounced from idea to idea, even thinking that the only way I could ever get into a company was if I forced myself to learn programming. She and Jenova’s relationship made me reconsider that. Confirmation from one of the team members I had the honor of getting a response back from confirmed it. I can find and secure my dream just yet, I just have to find the right team that’s willing to believe in my idea, and follow through with me. Before I can do that, however, I need to prove myself as a leader. Not just any leader though. I want to prove myself as a successful leader. One that can lead his team into battle and come out on top with minimal casualties. I want to prove myself as a driven leader. One that can find an idea, stick to it through the very end, and come out with an idea that is both beautiful and original. I want to prove myself as a cooperative leader. One that can identify his weakest links and walk with them to encourage then and hopefully share his passion to help them work through those weaknesses, and become better individuals. I want to prove myself as a strong leader. One that people can look to for dependence and strength, even in the low times. I want to be able to demonstrate all of these qualities and more, as I look to constantly improve my own talents, skills, abilities, and professionalism with each new experience I have.

Thank you for listening to my rant. I hope anyone who reads this will continue to follow my readings over at GameNTrain. If anyone is reading this now, and you think that your goals are even remotely in line with my own. Please feel free to reach out to me. I will be more than happy to talk about your dreams and goals too. Take care for now.

It will be a long and perilous journey, but one I believe will be filled with extremely rewarding outcomes. This is especially true if I continue to find good people, like those that I've found at GNT.

Kickstarter

Internet phenomena tend to happen at the quickest moments and without much warning. One minute, you are sure you have caught up on the latest and greatest, and seemingly (sometimes literally) overnight, a new trend develops and becomes viral. I am not sure if I missed the train when it comes to Kickstarter, or if this is something brand new, but it looks as if this is the outlet any creative mind can use to, well, ‘kickstart’ their project. Straight from their website, Kickstarter explains:

We help people (like you!)fund creative projects.

Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art,technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

I first heart about a Kickstarter funded project when Stacking and Costume Quest creators Double Fine decided to back their latest project through this site. Creatively named Double Fine Adventure, the project was a challenge that was accepted by Double Fine, who heard mixed ideas on whether or not adventure games in the industry were dead. This project started with a humble goal of $400,000, and skyrocketed to a whopping $2.3 million. The fan support (as noted by the website and comments on Kickstarter) has been absolutely tremendous, and I feel this game is both well deserved to the fans as well as the developers.

But how does one reach such a lofty goal, let alone exceed it by over five times the original intended amount? Part of that could probably be blamed on the incredibly creative and interestingly crafty rewards for the different tiers. $10,000 will land you various content from the game; hard back art book, the original sound track, autographed posters, even a mini portrait of you! But wait, there’s more! A backing of this amount also gets you dinner with Tim Schafer (founder of Double Fine), members of the development team, and a tour of the office. Talk about an impressive deal. The rewards do not stop there as each tier progressively gets sweeter and sweeter the more you are able to back.

Seeing projects like this aid in the hope for those who are looking for creative ways to bring their own ideas out onto the table, but may not have the appropriate funding for their team. The industry as it stands right now is difficult to get into, with big name companies out-funding most of the little guys. However, there has been a shift with the introduction of WiiWare, the PSN, and the X-Box Live Arcade, as well as other digital distribution methods, where we are seeing more indie game developers gaining exposure through these outlets. Originally, to have any media sold, you had to sell your idea to the publisher. Now, these walls are being lowered thanks to digital content, which eliminates the publishing aspect and solely relies on your creativity as a developer. This is also lowering costs, since developers now do not have to concern themselves about the cost of printing and manufacturing.

Needless to say, there has been an overwhelming number of fans who are excited for the game. As of today, there are over 67,000 backers who have helped fund this project, and I am certain that the folks over at Double Fine couldn’t be happier. If you wish to follow more, or back their project yourself, please head on over to Double Fine’s Official Website or to their Kickstarter. You can also browse Kickstarter by the ‘Games’ category to find plenty of other innovative projects waiting to be backed by enthusiastic individuals such as yourselves.

Logo - Jurassic Park: The Game

Developer(s): Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games, Kalypso Media
Genre: Adventure
Release Date:
PS3, 360, PC, Mac
November 15, 2011
Rating: T
MSRP: $29.99 (all four episodes)

‘Welcome to Jurassic Park.’ Whenever I see a game company try and take hold of a franchise name (namely, one of a movie) and turn it into a game, I cringe. I can’t help it. I stare at them in game stores and shake my head, simply because I cannot bear to witness the atrocious idea that someone tried to turn into a playable media format. Jurassic Park: The Game, is not that bad, rest assured. While it was not the game experience I thought it was going to be, Telltale Games did a fantastic job in cleaning it up and allowed us to revisit our childhood in a new way.

The entire story coincides with the first movie (hence the name), on Isla Nublar. When you see the story of Jurassic Park: The Game, you will be given an all new perspective of the beloved story. This approach to storytelling was both ingenious, and detrimental to the game. What you have is almost a behind the scenes look at what the movie didn’t show, or what you may (or may not) have been curious about. This creates an almost alternative movie experience that works really well hand-in-hand with the movie. Think of it as an extra features section of a Blu-ray; you do not need it to enjoy the movie, but it is still a very cool concept and add-on. Where this falters, however, is that all of the characters that you have come to know and love in the movies are all but present. Instead, most of the game is told and experienced through new characters to try and push the story forward. While this makes sense from a timing aspect, the characters are not that interesting, and overall don’t have the same edge and feeling to them that the original cast did. The game does have a sense of freedom, in that it was able to create anything it wanted in between key points in the original story, and I do not believe it took full advantage of that as it should have.

The gameplay is more like an interactive movie experience rather than a game. Between storytelling, there are two kinds of game modes: exploration and interaction. During exploration modes, characters are in static scenes where moving the joystick and pressing appropriate buttons allows for investigation of the area and progressing forward with the story. This is restrictive, and makes the game feel less expansive and exploratory, and more linear and ‘on rails.’ During the interactive scenes, there are a series of button presses, joystick rotations, and so forth to successfully clear a scene. Certain actions can cause the character to die, and will require the player to start over from the beginning of that specific part of the scene. If a character dies, or the player misses an action, a bar at the top of the screen will slowly go down. As it falls, the rank for that particular scene will fall as well, going from Gold down to Bronze. This adds a small objective to work for while playing. There is no deep puzzle solving or platform hopping to struggle through any part of this game, meaning that with a little bit of time and patience, anyone can complete this game with minimal effort. Because of this style, the game is not as enjoyable to play as it is to watch. There is a heavy focus on story, which it executes well, however because of that, it detracts from the gameplay aspect tremendously.

The environments are all very beautiful, and the character models are detailed and smooth. This is what we have come to expect from Telltale, and they excel as they have in the past. The scenery is flush with the exotic plantlife of the island, and the world has been fleshed out in great detail. Everything from mud prints, flora and even dinosaur droppings have been included to make the island look and feel exactly as it should be. Being able to explore the park on foot in further detail is a unique experience that, however due to the confines of the exploration factor, it is hard to appreciate it the way one could if they had full control over their character. Coupled with the amazing view is a soundtrack that is both nostalgic and well placed. When you are working with a score originally composed and arranged by John Williams, it is truly difficult to achieve anything short of greatness. Similar to the movie, the music is subtle during times of peace, and riveting during times of great tension. It adds to the experience and makes for an overall satisfying aesthetic appeal, reminding us why Jurassic Park was great to begin with.

Outside of perfecting scores in each stage, there is no real reason to pick this game up and play it again once it has been completed. As I mentioned above, the gameplay isn’t difficult if random selections are made, and where the game truly shines is in the experience between the movie’s storyline and where this game fits in between it. As a stand alone product, gamers may find Jurassic Park: The Game to feel a little lackluster, especially with the kind of involvement games similar to this one have set such a strong precedence. Long time fans of the series and those who may have just experienced the first movie for the first time will find a neat experience that couples well with the movie to provide a more interactive experience in the Jurassic Park universe. This game could also be aimed at those who are casual gamers, not looking for a difficult challenge, but are more interested in storytelling. In total, one playthrough of this game will set you back about five to six hours.

While Jurassic Park: The Game may not be a Game of the Year anytime soon, there’s no denying that there are some memorable qualities that will invoke strong senses of nostalgia while taking the more scenic route down memory lane. With old and new locales and dinosaurs to experience, there is still a lot to enjoy about this experience.

Likes:
+Great extension to the original story
+Beautiful scenery and music
+Plays like an interactive novel

Dislikes:
-Entirely too linear; no real exploration
-No game play or deep puzzle solving
-Characters don’t mean anything to the player

Innovative:
~Dinosaurs not in the movie were introduced
~A bold step in making a game based on a movie
~New locations are a great touch to the already historic past locations

2011 in review

Editor’s Note: WordPress sent me this report to sum up my 2011. I must say I am quite happy with the results. I hope that these numbers continue to grow as I continue to write. Thank you to everyone who have found interest and information in my writing.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sandbox
Release Date:
PS3, 360
November 15, 2011 (INT’L)
PC
December 2,  2011 (INT’L)
Rating: M
MSRP: $59.99

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations continues the story of Ezio, our insanely lovable Italian assassin whose travels in discovering what the Creed was written for has brought him to Constantinople. The city is in the midst of an uprising: the Ottoman Empire is making its stand against the Templars. Nearby, in Masyaf, Ezio discovers that Altair has hidden an weapon that could end the war between the Templars and the Assassins for good. The weapon is locked in a fortress underneath the old Assassin’s hideout by six Masyaf keys, which each hold a memory of Altair.

Desmond, on the other hand,  is now trapped within the Animus since his last encounter, and is fighting to retain a separation from his ancestors’ memories, and his own personality. Desmond’s subconscious currently resides in ‘The Black Room’ a sort of safe room that allows Desmond to find the missing memory that links all three of his, Ezio and Altair’s memories together. Should he fail, his subconscious will not be able to tell the difference between himself and his ancestors, and he will become trapped within the Animus forever, facing the same fate that Subject 16 had.

The Assassin’s Creed series has been one of a kind since the original, and one has a hard time thinking how each and every game can bring something new to the table when the formula remains mostly unchanged. This has been both the skill, and the talent that the Ubisoft team has been able to bring. In our newest adventure, very little has changed gameplay wise. Ezio has traveled to Constantine, a beautiful, thriving city located in the Middle East. In a huge, open world environment, Ezio has the privilege to travel to almost the entire city from the very beginning. He is able to take on missions and sub-quests by speaking to key people within the city, and of course, there are many other people who walk and exist within the world. The city is simply beautiful, and can be noted on top of one of the various viewpoints, a feature that has made a return once more.

Some of the new features that add yet another element of strategy within the game are the hookblade and the ability to craft various types of bombs. The hookblade now replaces the right handed hidden blade, yet still functions as a second hidden blade. The hook on the end of it now allows Ezio to slide across zip lines, climb buildings at a much more rapid rate, and even grab onto objects that were slightly out of his reach. The hookblade also serves as a new way to escape, divert and otherwise outmaneuver his opponents, and makes the game feel much faster than it’s predecessors.

The bomb crafting is another feature that brought some interesting mechanics into play. Bombs come in three categories: Lethal, Tactical and Diversion. Lethal bombs are just as they sound, and will typically incapacitate a guard. These range from having shrapnel inside of them, to poison cloud bombs. Tactical bombs are generally used for a quick escape route, or something to slow down your pursuers. These range from typical smoke bombs to caltrops. Lastly, the Diversion bombs are used to draw the guards’ attention away from where you wish to be. Within these three categories, there are different shell types (how the bomb explodes on impact), gunpowder (the radius of the explosion) and the filling (what type of effect the bomb will have). This was easily one of the most fun ways to experiment with completing the missions within the game.

One last new feature that was added was the ‘tower defense’ style mini-game. Similar to Brotherhood, each district is initially owned by the Templars, which must be assassinated to take over. Once killed, Ezio may climb to the top, light the signal fire, which allows the Assassin’s to make it a den, and allow Ezio to recruit two more assassin recruits. The Templar Awareness meter has made a return, however this time there are more consequences. If you are in a fully aware state and you do something wrong, one of your Assassin’s Dens fall into a ‘contested’ state. When that happens, Ezio is placed into a tower defense style game, where the object is to stop the Templars from overrunning the den. Succeed, and the den is safe. Fail, and the den returns to the templars, you lose all income from any buildings within that district, and Ezio must assassinate the new Templar captain in order to take it back.

The overall gameplay of AC:R stayed the same; the player can either blitz through the main story, or take their time doing all of the side missions and such. The removal of multiple faction missions has now been replaced by two separate side missions: Sofia’s missions, which allow you to experience more of Altair’s story, and the Desmond missions which can only be accessed by collecting the Animus Fragments. These missions tell the story of Desmond before he was first picked up by Abstergo in the first game, and really capture his emotions well. As mentioned above, the den capturing has made a return with a small twist, as well as faction objectives. There are plenty more apprentice missions (now called Mediterranean Defense) within the story, but those have also been changed around to allow the assassin’s to have ‘control’ over the various cities, and give you benefits to restoring them to their former glory.

Lastly, the multiplayer has been revamped allowing for a more seamless play. There have been a few new game modes added in, as well as a few features here and there to make things feel fresh, but I personally was impressed with the first multiplayer game in Brotherhood, and couldn’t even fathom how they could make a single player game like that into a multiplayer expedition. Having this mode in Revelations only made common sense. Most may remember the awful load times and ‘Searching for other Abstergo players’ message that repeated over and over. I am happy to announce that is no longer the case.

If you sit down and blitz through the storyline, there will be a lot of things that are missing for your experience, and I feel that you will ultimately be unsatisfied by the game. Part of what makes this storyline so brilliant is the addition of the backstory behind Desmond as well as some missing parts to Altair and his connection with Ezio (aside from DNA, of course). The small additions and refinements to the system were enough for me to truly look at the game and see yet another solid title in an already wonderful series. There are a few things I can do without, such as collecting yet another 100 objects from an open world (the Animus fragments I mentioned above), as well as the den defense, which becomes incredibly difficult after the first mission.

I did raise an eyebrow though, when I found out that if you train your apprentices to the level of Master Assassin (which is now level 15, raised from level 10), the dens can no longer be attacked. This is a bit odd, considering if all of your dens can no longer be attacked, why even bother with adding the mini game in the first place? Still, the small quirks like this do nothing to the actual game itself, as I still would back this game as a solid addition to the story. I am still having a hard time justifying purchasing all of the buildings within each district (referring mostly to the landmarks) as once you get so far, the additional income really doesn’t mean much at all.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does not feel like it’s milking the franchise. When I pick up each title, I feel rewarded with new content, updated features, and some new treats to keep me drooling for the next title. I would warn, however, if the overall game play features and slightly repetitive nature bore you, you may be cautious around this one. There is only so much that a company can do with this IP, and while I give them credit for what they’ve done, it’s certainly not perfect. If you are a fan of the series, or have been drawn into the story much like I have, then you’ll find that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a beautiful addition in this already beautiful series.

Likes:
+Hookblade speeds up climb process
+Multiplayer has been revamped
+Bombs add to the stragegy

Dislikes:
-Hookblade loses its appeal quickly
-Small features don’t remedy the repetition
-Some of the new features are rendered useless from other new features

Innovative:
~Desmond missions add a new storytelling element
~The hookblade is fun and creative
~Tower Defense type mini-game

Developer(s):
XPEC Entertainment
Vicarious Visions
Toys for Bob
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action/Adventure/RPG
Release Date:
PC
October 12, 2011 (AU)
Consoles
October 13, 2011 (AU)
October 14, 2011 (EU)
October 16, 2011 (NA)
Rating: E10+
MSRP: $69.99 (or better)

Do not let the cute nature and the toys fool you! Skylanders is an innovative title boasting some strong RPG qualities that can only be truly appreciated by a seasoned gamer. While the cost may be enough to keep away some, there is no doubt in my mind that Skylanders has the potential to be something great, or at the very least, inspire more games to move in this direction of creativity and innovation.

In Skylanders, the mighty Portal Master, Eon, has been reduced to nothing more than a spiritual voice to guide the player through the world of Skyland. Given the Portal of Power and a few of the heroes (referred to as Skylanders), it is up to the player to restore the land to it’s former beauty by squandering the bite sized menace, Kaos. As the Portal Master, the player is given the right to command over thirty tiny heroes in a grand adventure fit for any style of gamer. There are many worlds filled with exotic enemies and friends alike that will surely bring great enjoyment to anyone willing to make the investment.

I say an investment because the biggest issue that restricts a player from having the full experience is the cost. The game’s starter pack starts at $69.99, which comes with the game, a portal, and three beginning characters. Be mindful that each portal only works for their respective system, however the characters can be brought along to play from any portal. Each expansion pack (new character, new world, and extra items) or character pack (three additional Skylanders) are $19.99, and any additional single character packs are $7.99. Factor in that there are currently 15 available characters at the time of writing, three legendaries, and two exclusives, and it is easy to see how this hobby can turn into an investment rather quickly. I have, however, devised a guide below that should help you in determining whether or not this game is for you. But before I get to that, allow me to explain further the game as it stands.

The game itself is both deep and lighthearted. It is pretty easy to get lost in simple button mashing to get through most of the stages, and if the player chooses a character with long range attacks, it is even easier to do so without dying. If we look beyond that however, we see an RPG based system that is actually pretty solid for what the game looks like on the surface. Characters earn experience to level up their Skylanders up to a maximum level of ten. During that time, they earn coins to develop their skills, which eventually branch off into two separate paths. If a character decides to go down one path, then the other becomes locked out. There are also ‘heroic challenges’ that can be used to further develop each character, however the challenges are just that: extremely challenging at times.

Changing characters within the game is extremely simple: just pull the character from the portal of power and place another one on. By some higher force (or maybe magic), the game recognizes each character and within a few seconds the game resumes with the new character replacing the old one. To add a second player, simply turn on the second controller, press a button, and add their Skylander. It truly is that simple. If there are any more than two Skylanders, however, the game will stop and inform you of such, and ask you to remove any excess. This can also happen if your Skylanders are laying on their side and are too close to the portal. I didn’t notice any kind of problems with this system, but the faster the characters are changed, the more laggy each load will be. I can see this being a problem for kids anxious to try all of the characters they have every two minutes.

A lot of the game’s content can be enjoyed with the original three characters, but there is no doubt that without more characters, about half of the game will be missing. New characters unlock more heroic challenges, as well as elemental pathways within each stage, allowing players to acquire stat boosting hats and treasure chests. Each character also is attached to one of eight elements that are strong in certain aries of the game.  All of the trophies and achievements can  be  earned (that I have seen) without any more characters, however the in-game achievement system (accolades) will be locked without every character. So in essence, it is a simple platformer game that has tied in a small scale action-RPG system within it.

Skylanders’ sound effects and music are perfect for the ambiance within the worlds. Dark, eerie levels are accented with deep undertones, while beach stages are light and poppy. I personally haven’t found any tunes that truly stand out, and yet I am also not turning down my volume in place of something more worthy. At times, the characters can be a little annoying as they typically talk/make noise when they attack, and that becomes amplified when they attack extremely fast (i.e. Trigger Happy has two guns that he giggles maniacally, and they can be shot as fast as the button can be pressed). The voice acting wasn’t bad either, but I did notice the game had issues ‘catching up’ if the player speeds through the dialog. Outside of that, I truly had no complaints with what I was listening to.

Another place that Skylanders doesn’t truly stand out, but doesn’t falter in either is the graphics. During the cutscenes, the graphics are late PS2 worthy, being smooth and refined, but not something that should be expected of a seventh generation game. During gameplay, the graphics change only slightly, but not by much. Where I would say this game shines graphically is actually in the figurines. When I first pulled them out, I didn’t pay much attention, but upon closer inspection one can notice a great amount of detail put into each figure to ensure that they are all painted well. Each character sits on a platform made up of it’s element, which is convenient for a quick glance survey of who may be needed next in a level.

One of the things that pains me about this game, and maybe I am a victim of my generation, is the lack of any real multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, this game supports 1-2 players, but it is local only. I am not greedy, but I feel that having only two players local is a little dated for my tastes. At the very least, I would ask for either four player local, or making the two player available online as well. I understand that in this day and age to get four people into a room to play a game is tough, but when I pick up and play Skylanders I immediately see the potential of having four players, and this game simply lacks that feature. If you consider the audience this game was geared towards, it becomes a little more understandable, but if you are going to go through the effort to make a separate web based experience, at least add the ability to play with two more friends. Again, that could simply be me being a victim of my age, growing up around the N64, Dreamcast and Gamecube.

Now comes the innovations, which I believe was the saving grace for this game, and why it shines in my opinion. The reason each character sits on a base is not purely for aesthetics, or because it’s easy to see their element, but in fact all of the character data is stored within that base. Remember above where I said each figure is compatible with any portal, no matter what console? That is the reason why. The player is now allowed to take their customized Spyro, for example, and bring it to a friend’s house and play along with their Spyro. Add in the fact that each character can wear a hat and have a nickname, and it is easy to see why this could be a great time for kids. “Rusty” (my Drobot) is easily one of my favorite characters, and I can now share him with anyone who has a Portal of Power. It gives a sense of ownership and some form of randomization that it would be highly unlikely (but certainly not impossible) that two Skylanders would be identical.

There is also a web application that is available that a lot of people seem to overlook. While it is only in it’s Beta stages, I feel it is a very integral part of the game as well. If you register on the website http://www.skylandersgame.com, you can download the drivers to allow the Portal of Power to connect to your PC, and it allows players to register their Skylanders to their username and play within the browser. Inside this ‘Web Skyland’ players are able to connect with each other in a virtual world via chatting using their Skylander of choice as an avatar. Within the world, players are also able to level up (I haven’t reached the max yet, so I am unsure of what that may be), and play various mini-games both shown in the console game, and original ones designed just for the web. The coins earned within those games are used to customize the players’ “lair” with various caves, trees, and bridge. They may also travel to other player’s worlds to eat flowers, destroy barrels and haystacks, and so forth. The web side of the game is far from perfect, but it sets up a strong foundation of what’s to come.

Overall, this game is really a wonderful, innovative piece of technology that shows that toys and games do not have to be separate, and that owning a physical product doesn’t hurt us either instead of making everything DLC. That last bit could be because I’m still old school, however. As I mentioned above, I wanted to provide scenarios to those who are unsure about the costs and features available to them, and if you are teetering on either side of the fence, let this be the information you need to help you make the decision. I’ve come up with ultimately three scenarios that you may find yourself in, should you choose to play the game, and average costs:

  • Scenario 1) This is going to be for those players who simply want to purchase the game to have it. Maybe at one time you were a fan of Spyro, or are intrigued by the toys mixed with electronics. Either way, you now have a copy of the game, and you’re worried about what to expect. Worry not! You will be able to enjoy the full story of the game, as no additional characters are required to complete the game from start to finish. You will know how the ending wraps up, and will be happy to know that you’ve supported a game style that is very new to the industry. You can also achieve every single trophy and achievement that the game offers. You cannot, however, get all of the in-game accolades as well as explore all of the alternative paths that may net you more hats, gold and experience. Your average cost will be $69.99 plus applicable tax.
  • Scenario 2) This is for the players who want to experience a little more than just the story straightforward. With this method, I recommend owning at least one character of each element to allow access through all of the elemental doors and areas through the game. With this method, the player will be able to get all of the trophies/achievements, in-game accolades, as well as experience the world via many different options. There will also be more heroic challenges available to further develop the player’s characters as they begin to max out each one’s levels. Your average cost will be around $110 plus applicable tax, depending on if you purchase individual characters only, or if you buy character packs.
  • Scenario 3) This is for the hardcore players who are completionists and want everything. You will be able to do everything mentioned above, plus have bragging rights and a diverse selection of characters (and two new worlds to play in, to boot). Outside of those expansion pack characters that offer new worlds, and getting the last of the accolades (one of which is to own all 32 characters), there hasn’t been any benefit that I could see to owning all of the characters. Fans of Pokemon and the like will be more inclined to attempt this feat. As of now, all of the characters are not available, however if my math and memory still serve me well, I would estimate your average cost to be around $175, give or take $15, plus applicable tax.
For reference, I fall somewhere between Scenario 2 and 3. I really wanted to have all of the elements, but the more characters I get, the more fun I am having developing them and leveling them up. For me, at the very least, I will probably own the first batch, but I’m not sure at the cost I would invest in more than 32 as it stands right now. I would have to see some significant improvements in some of the things that matter to me (such as the multiplayer aspect). Needless to say, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed owning the game, and if you work together with some friends, you can collectively all own the entire set without causing your bank account to be too depressed. Skylanders definitely redefines a new way to play games, and even despite the cost, is a refreshing take on the monotony.

NOTE: This review, unfortunately, only covers the console versions. I have read around that the 3DS version differs slightly, but I don’t have the resources required to try it for that console as well. If anyone has input or experience, I would ask that you send me an email to peter.thomas(at)thegamingeffect dot com and I will use your mini-review as a guest supplement to mine. Many thanks in advance!

Likes:
+Simplified RPG system
+Several characters to choose from
+Vibrant world with lovable personalities

Dislikes:
-No online/4-player local (2-player only)
-Sound effects can be overbearing at times
-Can’t find reason to own more than eight Skylanders

Innovative:
~Portal of Power brings figures ‘to life’
~Figures retain all of the character data inside of them
~Adventure can be played either on the console or on the web

Developer: EAD Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date:
GB
June 6, 1993 (JP)
August 1993 (NA)
December 1993 (EU)
GBC
December 1, 1998 (NA)
December 12, 1998 (JP)
January 1, 1999 (EU)
3DS
June 7, 2011
Rating: E
MSRP: $5.99

Link’s Awakening brings all of the action and excitement, and of course, storyline into a portable adventure much bigger than the two inch gray cartridges they were packed into. Typically, when gamers see a franchise come to a handheld, we brace for a watered down, wannabe version of the original. With Link’s Awakening, that is far from the case. In fact, this adventure is very close to the title prior to it in scale. Being re-released for the 3DS has given me yet another opportunity to enjoy this timeless classic once more. My review will be covering both the original and the DX version, and I most recently completed it on the 3DS.

The story begins with a red-headed girl named Marin, who finds Link unconscious on the beach. Worried, she brings him back to her hut where she lives with Tarin. When Link awakens, he notices that he is no longer in Hyrule and does not recognize his surroundings. Marin explains that he is on an island by the name of Koholint, and that his boat must have capsized in the water at some point. With his mind a little foggy, he takes his shield from Tarin, and sets off to find a way off the seemingly isolated island. He comes across his sword and is encountered by an owl, who states that the only way off the island is by awakening the Wind Fish. This can only be done by collecting the eight Instruments of the Sirens from the temples on the land. Throughout the course of the game, the story is told and secrets are revealed further by the owl.

Sticking to what the fans love, Nintendo has retained the top-down method of exploration in this game. The old motto ‘don’t fix what’s not broken’ applies here, and works well, especially for this game in particular. The old formula of going from one dungeon to another, fighting a boss, and moving on until the very end has been retained and should not feel unfamiliar to anyone. I did notice, however that the dungeons felt very short (I was beating them very quickly), generally completing the first five to six dungeons in about 15 minutes a piece. This was also not my first time ever playing this game, so I for the most part knew exactly where I had to go.

Fighting enemies and progressing through the game itself is both simple and difficult. I lump these two in the same category, simply for the fact that to get through certain areas of the game, the player is required to use items at given points. Items and basic equipment (sword and shield) are all kept in the inventory screen and assigned to either the A or B buttons. With that being said, there are points in the game where there is a LOT of pressing start just to change equipment to match a given situation. While it isn’t as bad in the beginning of the game, it starts becoming very irritating towards the end. This is especially true when an item is needed to lift an object, an item is needed to jump, and an item is needed to jump further. It can definitely be time consuming (think Iron Boots from Ocarina of Time).

There are also portions of the game that are played in a sort of side scrolling style, similar to Zelda II. These parts are few and far between, but add a very unique way of looking at the game when they are required. Needless to say, it is much more appropriately executed than it was in Zelda II. There are also plenty of items to garner throughout the game, and surprisingly enough, are actually used frequently beyond the dungeon they are obtained in.

Even though the original Game Boy (and later the Game Boy Color) didn’t have much to speak of in terms of sound output, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening had some very beautiful soundtracks to match the game. There were a few tunes that were very catchy, and overall provided a joyous experience while playing. For its time, the graphics weren’t all that bad, but improved tenfold at the release of the DX version. The colors enabled players to see a much more vibrant world, and enemies who would once be lost amongst the olive green screen are now completely identifiable.

This game in particular plays host to a variety of other Nintendo character that can be found throughout the adventure, and is a nice surprise if they are able to be found and recognized. There are also a few side quests that can be done during the progression of the game, and in the DX version, there was an entirely new dungeon offered to players that made the game a little more ‘colorful.’ This dungeon was added in as a way of showing of the capabilities of the then revolutionary Game Boy Color.

Seeing this game re-released for me was very nostalgic, but I am extremely happy to see it available to another generation of gamers. If you own a 3DS and have access/permission to purchase this game, I highly recommend it. It is a very good deal for being such a solid game. The only thing I did not approve of in this newest remake for the 3DS is that pressing start is actually quite awkward.  However, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a timeless adventure that will ring the hearts of both old fans and new alike.

Overall: 8.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+ Original story
+ Big adventure
+ Hold in select when booting the game for the 3DS. ;)

Dislikes:
- Item switching is cumbersome
- On the 3DS, pressing start is somewhat of a challenge.

Innovative:
~ Link can jump!
~ Handhelds can have full fledged titles
~ Hyrule isn’t the only place for adventure

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