Defense Grid: Containment

I’ve made no secret to my friends that Defense Grid is my favorite tower defense game at this point.  The story and the game play both are pretty solid, amazing, and even fun. Sadly I hadn’t gotten around to playing all the expansion story lines, but at this point I have and am very grateful. The twists over the eight maps of this one were pretty good, I actually kept playing more for the story this time around than the game play. Though, as mentioned, the new maps and stuff are really cool and I quite enjoyed them (apparently it’s feast or famine for me on these: bronze or blow gold out of the water).

All in all it’s an awesome part of the franchise and I can’t wait for a Defense Grid 2; but heck I’d even throw funds into a Kickstarter to get another map pack like this one!

Defense Grid – You Monster

Expansion usually lack a bit in story, at least compared to their base version. Cross over games usually fair even worse. Thankfully, “Defense Grid – You Monster” doesn’t fall to either of these. I won’t say it’s better than the base story, but I will say it’s a great addition to not only the story but to game play as well.

GLaDOS is as hilarious as ever, and hearing her “conversations” with the Grid AI make for some great tension. This doesn’t work without amazing voice acting, so my hats off to those involved there. The tone of the story is a bit different in that it’s not just about betting aliens to save humanity, it’s about stopping a crazy program who wants to invite the aliens you already stopped back, going as far as to re-open the portal that you closed last time! The tension is kept high until the very last map, creating a very nice resolve and sense of completion to the whole thing.

There’s no new towers, but there are levels where the towers available change throughout; placement of things is pretty standard, until you realize you have to let them steal the “power” first only to get it back to the other receptacle. The minion combinations are something very different while retaining some of the same characteristics; though I did find there to be less aerial assaults than previous map sets. While challenging nothing ever seemed impossible, which is a very difficult balancing act for a game like this.

All in all this is a great addition to the tower defense genre than many other developers should take notice of.

Final Ranks of Fantasy

Started writing this a  month ago (after seeing this) and was trying to figure out how to go more in depth; but alas there’s so many it was more just talking points. This is just the “main” series as Tactics would be number one otherwise.

  • FF X
    • Nostalgia! When I wasn’t playing Bass Trombone or hanging out at the beach this is what I did the summer I graduated from high school; there were even a couple of times I went to sleep playing the game only to wake up to the Sphere Grid and its calming music. The music was pretty darn cool; haunting piano transitioning to Japanese metal…I still listen to it all to this day.
  • FF V
    • Awesome job system made for some awesome gameplay as well. The story may have been “lacking” for some people but it gold a hold of me and didn’t let go. Add in some solid music and endearing graphics you’d have my favorite game if it wasn’t for the soundtrack and nostalgia factor of X for me.
  • FF VII
    • Valid arguments for best overall game to be sure, it pushed the genre in a lot of way, and materia was so good they haven’t tried to go back to it exactly. One of the most emotional moments of any game comes when the poor flower girl has the life stolen from her; I still get a little choked up and go “WHY?!” whenever I play through that section.
  • FF VI
    • This was FF3 here in the states, I bought the game without owning an SNES at the time (cousin and friends had one) to go with my copy of Zelda: A Link To the Past. That’s how good this game really is.
  • FF XIII
    • Great music, and sometimes playing a movie can be fun.
  • FF IV
    • After playing it through on the PS1 I started to see where other things came from; it was the setup for so many things to come down the line.
  • FF I
    • So much for being the last game, eh? There is something awesome about seeing “where it all began” and how far we’ve come. There’s been a lot of re-releases and re-mixes of the game, but the NES copy I have will always be the “real” version for me.
  • FF IX
    • I understand the story was decent, but there’s just something about this game that has never been able to grab me like the games above did. The clone story was awesome, but the game play got in my way of enjoying any of it; that and the first disc being a bunch of movies to watch.
  • FF VIII
    • …I like the theory that he dies at the end of the first disc, it made the game better for me. I like most of the characters whilst in Kingdom Hearts as opposed to in this one.
  • FF III
    • It’s interesting playing this AFTER playing through IV; the later games avoid the mistakes this one made.
  • FF XII
    • Good news: I’m a great AI programmer! Bad news: that makes for a bad game.
  • FF II
    • Somewhat like IX this game just never really got me all that excited to play it; not even the music.

Revenge of the Titans

Revenge of the Titans is great gem of a tower defense game. The upgrade path means you get some flexibility with the possibility that you’ll tech yourself into a corner and not be able to get out. That makes it all the more exciting once you finally figure out how to beat that next level with the handicap you gave yourself. For example, I had a hell of a time beating the last level on Saturn with that flying behemoth that came out! After experimenting and reading through things I realized I did indeed have something in my arsenal that was worth adding in to the mix: the Scanner. It increased the range of my turrets and made that level, and all levels past it, a breeze. To get to that point took me a while though, but I’m glad I went through it as it made the entire game more fulfilling and meaningful for me.

Zelda: A Link to Vague Order

After tryign to think about what order to put Final Fantasy games in I started to make a list for Pokemon and Zelda; this one got done first.
Possibly my favorite game of all time: Zelda: A Link to the Past. Nothing captivated my attention like this game did; it took until Vanilla WoW for a game to have taken so much of my time and attention from other games for so long. The game juts feels like the right amount of time to do most things, and you have choices in how to do them. You can speed run the game (usually took me close to three hours to just sit and play all the way through), or you can take your time and get every item, heart, and side quest complete. The art still holds up, for the most part, from the cathedral to the flute boy in the woods. Dungeon design is pretty awesome and varied even if you’re looking for the same three things in each place. Musically things go together and the themes are distinct and engaging all at the same time. All in all, my favorite and the best game in the series.
Next up we’ve got Ocarina of Time. There is still a part of me that doesn’t know this hasn’t eclipsed Z:ALttP for me, but I’m going to guess that the water temple and skulls have something to do with it. The game is solid, from the look and feel to all the amazing music; variations on old themes, new songs, the fact that you “played” a lot of the music to get it to happen, all lend well to remixes and repayable enjoyment.
The Legend of Zelda. The original game in the series. Still fun, but only in a nostalgia way for me. I can still play it for hours on auto-pilot and not really get all that bored; there’s a lot to be said for that.
Link’s Awakening is a silly game. No really, it is. Over the top story telling, weird and completely out there ways of giving you “quests” and “missions” to save someone or get a thing. As long as one takes it as a fun side diversion it’s quite enjoyable. I kind of wish they’d do an HD remake of this one.
Four Swords Adventure. This GameCube game had some great connectivity with the GameBoy Advanced, making for some interesting game play. This is also the closest thing to a multi-player Zelda that we’ve had; and I like that fact. Seems to me like the Wii-U would be a great place to advance the gameplay and possibly even the story of this one.

Note: the next few games are all tied and one is not necessarily “above” the other.

Twilight Princess: the mood felt closer to Ocarina of Time than any other game since, and I actually rather liked the art style overall.
Skyward Sword: good game play, solid story, glad I played it.
Minish Cap: good game play, decent graphics, but something just never quite settled in to place with this one; was always waiting for it to be great.
Adventure of Link: the departure from the original gameplay formula leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s still fun and the story is still a great extension to the first game in the series.
Spirit Tracks: my wife got this for me as a birthday gift and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I spent that night playing it until the wee hours of the morning, beating not many days later.
Phantom Hourglass: Boomerang. That is all.
Oracle of Seasons and Ages had a cool premise: play in any order and effect the other one. These are possibly the games I remember the least, but remember them being at least ok. They also came out right in the middle of when I was playing Pokemon a lot with friends.

Sometimes it’s not what people put at the top, but what they put at the bottom of those lists…

Majora’s Mask: never got my attention the way Ocarina did, and just felt like a weird and incomplete game. Or maybe playing what we now call “DLC” and still paying full price for it got to me as a kid.
Wind Waker: apparently I found every game ending bug, from room capture to not being able to get my sword back. Additionally, the art style I could never get over on my television, I don’t know why, but I’ve just never really liked it. Apparently there’s a remake coming, maybe that will help me to understand.

So there you have it; my list of Zelda games in a weird sense of order of amazing, good, and meh.

Civilization V – or How I Spent My Day Being Sick And Still Getting Things Done

Civilization games are great, especially if you like thinking far in to the future and planning the logistics of world domination. Most of the articles I’ve written on this have dealt with games that were “completed” in some fashion; this is very much a game  that can’t really be completed. Why note it as complete? In this case it’s more about: winning, using all available mechanics, and generally enjoying things.

I usually win Civ V games through culture, diplomacy or science; very rarely through domination. This time I played random, got English, and was very happy to be on a map with a ton of water and where long range snipping was a valid tactic to take my own continent. In the end, I won through domination, got Augustus Caesar rank, and felt pretty good about the whole thing. Got one round away from using a Giant Death Robot in a legitimate combat situation.

Two of the mechanics that were “missing” from the original release of Civ V were religion and espionage. In many ways I think it helped with the new feeling and tactics of this game to not have those mechanics present at first. The game to make a name for itself with the city state premise, let along the death of the stack of death. With all these changes for long time players not having the complexities of these systems I think it was a good call. This may have led to a slight over tilt towards combat mechanics, however the new faith mechanic and espionage bring things back in to balance. It took a few games for me to figure out that religion was more of a side game, something to actually be used much later in the game rather than early game. Espionage I’ve enjoyed in pretty much every iteration, this was no exception: helped keep me in line with lanes of research I had no desire to spend time on, and furthered my city state goals nicely.

Even with my rig late game turns can take a few minutes. In some games, or in times where all I wanted to do was play games, this was seen as a bad things. Anymore, I see it as a perk! The long wait times actually made it easy to get work done, made for a great timer of focus: five minutes of nothing while the game thought about what should happen. Knowing that I had a short time span to get things before my next move actually helped with some things; it forced me to create more code comments to make sure I knew what I was doing when I’d get back. When not working, knowing that I had some time coming up made it easier to get up and walk around, use the restroom, take care of cats, and all while not feeling like I wasn’t managing time well. I may have been sick, but Civ V helped me relax and still get things done!

Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD – Nostalgia on Wheels

There are a few games that I’ve been willing to play and/or buy on multiple platforms, much less try to be good at it on all of those platforms. Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are on that very short list. The games after THPS2 aren’t quite as good in my opinion, but still quite good.

The music in both games is almost the soundtrack to young life. From Superman, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver to Guerrilla Radio, When Worlds Collide. Come to think of it the cliché of soundtrack to my youth very much fits. Playing through the HD version and having all that music playing over the Warehouse and The Hangar brought back great memories of sitting on friend’s floor and trying to get that hundred move long combo worked out. A lot of the songs I already greatly enjoyed it, but these games just reinforced it.

THPS2 was the first real port I got my Mac way back when, got a nice controller from MacAlly that went with my largish hands better than most other controllers (aside from the N64 at the time), and my siblings played the crud out of that game. My sister realized she was the grind queen and my brother actually got in to skateboarding from it.

Enough about then, what about now? How does this new version stack up? The music is still there and compiled. The graphics are improved. The items and goals are pretty much in the same spot, too. Wait, how did I get back on nostalgia moments, weren’t we moving forward? Well, that’s the joy of an HD remix of a classic game. Thankfully, the equation of the game is just plain awesome and well worth playing though again.

There’s No More Zombies On My Lawn! Er, wait…

Plants vs Zombies (PvZ) is a very entertaining and relaxing game; sadly I took forever to finish this one thanks to shifting priorities. From a design perspective there is a great mix and variety of game play and decisions. Day to night, lawn to pool, roof to bowling. The pacing, music, and overall fun factor of the game is pretty awesome.

On pacing, the non-traditional levels of random “cards” coming down and limit any sort of fatigue factor to both play styles. The mix of normal levels mixed with special levels, mini games, and side quests keeps the function going and reinforcing that there’s an end in sight. A weird thing to think about but it’s a place where the original Mario Bros. really shines: the world changes at an escalating pace reinforcing the build up to the end.

The one nitpick-y “bad” thing that I felt they did was introduce a completely new mechanic at the end: the roof and “launched” items. Why do I consider this bad? I feel like the end of a game should be the culmination of everything before it; it’s why I think Blizzard games have been so successful, they build to the end. Thankfully they didn’t do it to the same extent that inFamous (the first one) did with it’s level design and quests. That’s not to say that new things shouldn’t be introduced, but they should build and culminate. For the most part PvZ also does this, and if anything it’s like the flip side to the night time. I think it could have been “fixed” a bit by putting the roof in chapter three instead of five and just going back and forth.

Musically the great cohesion puts the game on par with even the most “blockbuster” of title; plus that credits song is just so catchy and intoxicating. Being a musician there are times that I may put too much emphasis on music at times, but this time I think it pays off.

Due to my large list of things to slug out I’m not able to enjoy the replay ability of this one as much as I’d like, but there’s a ton of it! The different puzzle, endless, and zen garden modes give a whole lot to do once the main story is done. If anything I may end up playing it more on my iPad as a mental checkout when I’ve played too much Strategery.

All in all, a great game that I really should have finished sooner than I did.

Pokemon X/Y – Why?!

I saw this announcement the other day and promptly showed everyone in my office. I’ve been playing Pokemon games since the Red Blue days, and the halcyon days of Silver and Crystal. After that I got a little less interested for a while, but still picked things up and have “beat” every game since. Pokemon Black got me really in to it all again, even borrowed my wife’s copy of white to work on filling out the Pokedex; thankfully I had transferred a ton of Pokemon from my original Silver all the way up to Pearl and HeartGold, so there were a lot of old world Pokemon I didn’t need again. What does this have to do with a 3D Pokemon game? Well, everything really.

  1. I’ve been playing games in the series since it was created
  2. We’ve all been waiting for a true 3rd person perspective and “3D” world, and now we get it!
  3. I’ll be able to see all the Pokemon I’ve been dragging around since Blue in eye popping 3D
  4. The games are fun if you take them for what they are

The interesting things for me is that I don’t even own a 3DS, but this one game will get me to buy the system and a handful of other games that I’ve been wanting to play on the hand held. As a short anecdote, I got to play on one of the original dev models while at E3 a few years ago, I’ve been wanting something to justify the purchase ever sense. The 3DS XL was the first half of justification I needed, this new Pokemon game will tip the game library to populating the other half.

Bastion: Play through In Review

I completed my play through of Bastion in about 6 hours of playtime that included leaving some idols on, doing a couple proving grounds, and experiencing the awesomeness of “Who Knows Where” a couple times. I will note that this article contains spoilers; you’ve been warned. The soundtrack was amazing, the voice overs hauntingly intriguing, and the emotional impact high.

There’s a good possibly that I place a bit too much importance on music in games; being a musician will do that I guess. The soundtrack to Bastion was so good I was humming it in the shower after my workout this morning. It’s quite sparse in a lot of ways, but that just adds to the feeling of a desolated world trying to put itself back together. The slow building of the orchestration and instrumentation mimic that which is being played, which just adds to the feeling of progression that the games provides. At one point they made some of the sheet music available and given how amazing the songs on the soundtrack are I’ll be using that as the basis for my next round of trombone arrangements. That’s how good the music is in this game.

One of the features that caught me as truly innovative was the narrator; he even mentioned that I was just idling killing terrain, “raging a bit” over what had happened! The realization at the end of who is talking to and in what context is also quite awesome, it even influenced my decisions at the end of the game. The narration the first time I went in to “Who Knows Where” changed a lot of my feeling and attitudes toward Zia as well; it’s the main reason I evacuated at the end instead of just leaving it all to possibly happen again.

Speaking of “Who Knows Where” it was the turning point in the game for me. Going from action adventure game to an immersive game that happened to be an action adventure RPG. From there on out I was fighting for someone, for people, to find out what the truth was. A little while later I encountered Zulf who had sent some people to attack The Bastion; because I was quite tired at that point my poor Squirt died…I didn’t realize how attached I was to the little bugger until the awesome narrator told me he didn’t make it. I was heart broken and pissed that my little friend had died; and felt it was all my fault! From there I woke up a bit more and decided to push through and punish the bastard who had sent people to not only kidnap the girl, but to kill my friend. My rage was only enforced by the music, getting more and more epic with every level and layer added on. Then something happened; Zulf was on the floor, and I didn’t do it.

Seeing the man who was fueling all my rage impacted me in a very odd way; knowing that the people around him were technically Zia’s and had no desire for peace made me feel sorry for Zulf in a way. So I picked him up and slowly trudged to the exit, awash in so many emotions that it was odd to feel a sense of pride, of being the hero not leaving anyone behind. When I got back, and Zia went through all her comments about being together if we just evacuated, and knowing that Squirt wouldn’t be coming back no matter what I did, the choice was obvious: don’t let Squirt die in vain, don’t ditch the girl. And so we evacuated, ending an amazing journey that was more touching than any other game or movie in recent memory.