Author Archives: lopezgreen

The Nintendo 3DS

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I have now owned a 3DS for about 3 months now and have had the chance to formulate an opinion on it, I didn’t buy one earlier as there is always the suspicion with Nintendo that there will be an updated version of the hardware at some point and there was barely any games available initially. The first point proved true as Nintendo released an XL version of the machine which is physically larger and has larger screens, this is the version I got. And in terms of the software, there have now been a number of titles released and there is a significant number on the horizon too. I have one or two minor grumbles about the machine, the first being that for me the 3D is an irritation, but that’s really a meaningless complaint as it’s entirely optional and it operates via a slider meaning that you can find a setting that works best for you and I suspect my issues with the 3D are predominantly down to the way I sit when I’m playing.

My other complaint is the selection of titles on the Virtual Console, the majority of games available so far are Game Gear and Gameboy games, there seems to be a segregation where 3DS gets handheld titles and the Wii U gets home console games, again though this is a minor complaint, mostly born from the fact that an English language translation of Earthbound has been announced for the Wii U’s virtual console. I will say that the cost of digital versions of the game are about the same as you would pay in a high street shop and only marginally more than most online retailers, which is actually something of a first when you consider that this has always been a problem with digital releases. Memory wise my machine came with a 4gb SD card which the system uses to save any downloaded games and DLC, this is fine as a starting point as DLC and DSiware games don’t take up too much space however a digital version of a full game can take near to 2gb up, with that said the cost of an SD card is pretty negligible so shouldn’t represent a problem in the grand scheme of things.

imageThe system also has a feature called Spotpass which from what I have experienced allows you to share your Mii with people who you are close to if you have the feature activated and the system in standby mode. This also seems to allow certain functionality within games too though I haven’t witnessed this much, and another one feature where walking while carrying the machine in standby mode will generate play coins which can be used in certain games for different things. In Animal Crossing, for instance, you can purchase fortune cookies which produce fortunes that can be exchanged for rare items.

Battery wise I seem to get around 4 to 5 hours out of the machine, which isn’t the worst I’ve ever experienced especially, but the machine doesn’t come with a power adaptor bundled with it for some strange reason. This means that you have to purchase, or if you have a DS lite or any models afterwards you can use the same power adaptor. With all that said it’s the games that really make a machine so with that in mind I’m going to write a bit about the games I’m looking forward to and the ones I currently own.

Games I’m looking forward to:

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – While it’s not the HD remake of Majora’s Mask that I desperately want, it is the sequel to Link to the Past which is my second favourite Zelda game. I’ve only seen one screenshot so far but I will be looking out for this one to see if it can offer the same kind of epicness as it’s predecessor.

Yoshi’s Island – For some reason I’ve always preferred the Yoshi platforming games to the equivalent Mario ones as I find them to be more fun and better looking, so I’m looking forward to this one to see if will be as good as the ones before it.

Fantasy Life – This has been billed as a cross between Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing which are both series that I adore, and it’s made by Level 5 who make the Professor Layton, Inazuma and Ni No Kuni games so it should look absolutely stunning and have some interesting gameplay features.

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team – Assuming it’s like the previous entries in the series then it will be a combination of RPG and platformer and will be great fun to play. I’ve really enjoyed other entries in the series so this one is definitely on my radar.

Hometown Story – From the creator of Harvest Moon and set in the same game universe, this is definitely one that I’m curious about as I don’t really know much about it at all. I will be keeping an eye on it though to see if it’s a game that will generate the same level of interest as the Harvest Moon games always have for me.

Mario Party – This one will be interesting to see if there is a good and varied selection of mini games, and if so then hopefully friends who also own a 3DS will in turn purchase so that multiplayer can be enjoyed.

Pokemon X and Y – When the new Pokemon was announced that was the point where I decided to get a 3DS, I’me really looking forward to it and seeing what tweaks they’ve made to the system and also seeing what new Pokemon there are.

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Games I’ve played:

Animal Crossing: New Leaf The Animal Crossing series has always been pretty chilled out and just allowed you to fish, upgrade your house and collect furniture at your own pace and while this one also allows you to do that it also changes things up a little by making you mayor of the town. This allows you to customise the town to suit you, be it building things requested to you by residents or changing the opening times of shops. It works really well and is one of those games thats good for a quick go here and there or a prolonged fishing or bug catching session, and the multiplayer works quite well too.

Fire Emblem: Awakening A phenomenal tactical RPG, this requires a lot of thought and strategy in order to progress and while it can be a little difficult at times it also feels really rewarding when you make it past a particularly tricky battle. It also has different difficulties depending on the challenge you want with the easier mode meaning that units stay dead on the harder mode or are resurrected upon successful completion of a battle on the easier mode. There is also a wealth of depth to the game by allowing units to build up support with each other and in some instances certain units can have kids together which offers up even more tactical options.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 – This is a really fun game that should actually be a bit more frustrating than it is as there’s a lot of backtracking in the locations that each level is set in, however it makes it work by offering up collectibles and different ghosts as well as clever use of upgrades that makes sure that the backtracking feels worthwhile.

Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns – As a Harvest Moon fan I had gotten a bit bored with previous entries as there was never a lot different, this one makes one very key change in that you have to pick a town to live in and in doing so this directly impacts your farm as one town specialises on livestock and the other in crops. You can move as the game goes on though so you can get the full experience but overall it’s a fun little game that requires planning to get the most from each in game day.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – An odd hydrid of RPG and rhythm action game that uses songs from each of the first thirteen core entries in the Final Fantasy series, gameplay is relatively straight forward though pretty tough on harder difficulties, but as a fan of the series for the most part it’s fun and provides an awesome amount of nostalgia as well as having a huge amount of unlockable content and the levelling up system is fun too. There is also a large amount of songs to download, each costing 90p, my only complaint would be that from a personal standpoint some amazing songs aren’t in the game.

Virtue’s Last Reward – I bought this after reading good things and from playing it the game feels like an interactive novel of sorts, the puzzles feel a bit like a point and click adventure in that they don’t always feel very obvious but then that encourages you to think, there is definitely an intrigue to the game that makes it more engaging to play.

Crush 3D – A combination of platform game and puzzle game, the concept of the game is collect all the items in a level and each the exit but this is only possible by moving the camera into one of 5 positions and engaging the crush feature which turns the angle chosen into a 2 dimensional viewpoint. It’s a surprisingly clever game and really makes you think creatively to progress through each level.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – This plays pretty much the same as previous entries in the series which isn’t a bad thing at all, the puzzles are interesting and the mini games are fun and provide a nice contrast. The main difference for me is that the plot feels a bit more personal as it links to the eponymous Professor’s past and this makes for a very interesting game.

Cooking Mama 4 – This game is more or less the same as previous entries, the main difference as far as I can see is that there are a number of unlockable items and mini games as a result of achieving certain goals during the main game. I’ve always found it fun and a game that is good when you just want to have a quick 5 or 10 minute go on something.

Shinobi – I picked this up for a fiver and as such went in with pretty low expectations and while it’s not the best game I’ve played, and it’s certainly nowhere near as good as Shinobi 3 on the Mega Drive it’s a decent game though a bit unforgiving at times.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D – I picked this up for free as part of a promotion where I bought 3 games (Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem and Luigi’s Mansion) and while the game mechanics need some getting used to, it’s a fun and properly old school platformer and it looks good too, there’s a lot of detail on the screen.

Tetris – This is pretty much the same as every Tetris game ever produced, which isn’t a bad thing as traditional Tetris is a classic, there’s other modes to play too though they’re not a patch on the original mode but as with all versions the difficulty increases as you progress while playing.

Pokemon Dream Radar – This is essentially a mini game that allows you to catch certain pokemon and items and then download them to a copy of Pokemon Black or White 2, the main draw is that it allows the user to catch the three legendaries Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus and import them into your save game but once these have been caught you gain the ability to put one of the DS Pokemon games into your 3DS and use the game to catch that games respective legendary.

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move – A puzzle game where you have four different modes, each with numerous levels, where you have to fill in the missing pieces for a maze in order to guide the minis on that level to the exit while collecting the three tokens present. It starts of easy enough but does make you think as often the solution requires a degree of trial and error to find.

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Don’t fear the Reapers – A blog about the Mass Effect trilogy

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With the recent release of the Citadel downloadable content we have reached the end of the Mass Effect trilogy, it’s been a hugely ambitious undertaking by Bioware and one which will held up as an example of what is possible with gaming as a story telling vehicle for future generations.

I have to admit that when it was first announced for the Xbox 360 and Pc I was thinking that I wouldn’t pick it up, it was a space RPG that wasn’t Knight of the Old Republic 3 and as such it really didn’t appeal to me but I remember seeing the first trailer and from that point I was hooked and read everything I could about it and I found myself being fascinated with the prospect of being able to make choices that would effect the way people would react to you and I was also intrigued to find out how the game would work as a hybrid of third person shooter and RPG.

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I bought the first game for the Xbox 360 on day of release back in 2007 and immediately fell in love with it, the story was fairly standard in the sense that you’re trying to prevent galactic annihilation but it’s focus on characters immediately made it stand out, and the sheer number of side quests meant that a first play through could take upwards of 40 hours if you did everything. Playing through it the first time I found myself wanting to find all the resources available and complete every side quest as each quest seemed to provide more characters moments and characters like Garrus, Wrex and Tali are fantastically realised and even non party characters like Anderson are done justice. The music has something of a retro vibe to it as there’s a definite hint of synth work to it but this somehow works to for the tone that the game is aiming for and make it even more atmospheric and there are some superb pieces such as the main theme when you’re initially introduced to Commander Shepard. That’s not to say there aren’t problems mind you, the fact that you need to level up your gun skills when you’re meant to be a veteran soldier is fairly silly, the inventory system is a bit arbitrary and the long elevator rides to mask loading aren’t great (though they do provide some cracking dialogue) and the Mako also isn’t a whole heap of fun to drive but these flaws somehow just make the whole package that little bit more endearing. The fact that they could marry the two different game styles together and come away with a game which is better than most third person shooters and also better than a lot of RPGs is testament to the skill of the team at Bioware and the level of detail on the universe (available through the in game codex) tells you just how much of a labour of love it was.

Downloadable content wise there were two packs released, the first pack was Bring Down the Sky in which Shepard is tasked with stopping an asteroid which has been set on a collision course with a human colony and the second pack was Pinnacle Station in which Shepard visits an Alliance training facility which is essentially a combat simulator and you try to achieve the best scores. Overall these packs were solid but felt like more of an experiment and the potential of the downloadable content would be better realised in later instalments of the series.

It was also released on the PS3, much later on, but this can only be a good thing as it gives Sony fans the opportunity to play through the whole trilogy from the very beginning and experience it the way it was originally envisaged by the developers and from a personal stand point I’m not really into the whole console rivalry thing, I think that if a game is good it should be experienced by as many people as possible and this is a fantastic game.

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Moving onto January 2010 I picked up Mass Effect 2, which I had been eagerly waiting for. And what a sequel it turned out to be, it looked fantastic, introduced more fascinating characters while also featuring favourites from the first game and allowed you to port your save file over from the first game which allowed for call backs to the decisions made which was a nice touch. Bioware also came up with an ingenious way of taking you back to level one and also allowing Shepard to be altered from the look chosen by the player in the first game – Shepard is killed off in the first ten minutes during an attack on the Normandy which also destroys the ship in the process. This plot device also serves to radically shift the focus of the game as Shepard’s body is recovered by Cerberus, whose role in the first game had been an adversarial one, and resurrected as part of the Lazarus project which was created to bring Shepard back due to his talents as a leader and his experience dealing with Reapers. The story basically starts with an attack on the Cerberus facility used for the project and flows through to the fact that human colonies are being abducted and no one will help so the Illusive Man, the leader of Cerberus, entrusts Shepard with the Normandy SR-2 which is a new and improved version of the ship destroyed at the start of the game and tasks him with recruiting a squad to end the threat. You then travel around the galaxy and completing missions to the recruit these squad members, including old friends like Garrus and Tali while also introducing new faces such as Thane, Mordin and Legion. Once the squad is assembled you get the opportunity to undertake missions to gain their loyalty and upgrade the Normandy before leading a suicide mission to take on the faction responsible for the abductions.

There also some very large changes to the structure of the game, a lot of the RPG elements have been stripped away, there’s no inventory to speak of and rather than exploring planets in the Mako there is a mining mini game which can be a bit tedious at times. These resources are then used to upgrade the Normandy, upgrade weapons and build heavy weapons which provide considerably more stopping power in a firefight. There is also no levelling of weapon skills this time around, instead the class you choose dictates which weapons are available for use. Also the unlimited ammunition/gun overheating mechanic is done away with and replaced with a more standard limited ammunition system. There was some controversy at the time due to a perceived dumbing down but when the game is vastly superior to most third person shooters and RPGs this type of criticism seems excessively harsh and in my opinion the changes just tightened the game up and it was comfortably the best game released in 2010.

From a downloadable content point of view Mass Effect 2 had a lot released for it, ranging from new costumes for squad members, new weapons and armour and finally additional assignments and squad members. The additional characters, Zaeed and Kasumi, both have their own individual loyalty missions and are just as unique and individual as the other squad mates. The Normandy Crash Site offers a change of tone and pace by allowing you to visit the site where the the original Normandy crashed and collect the dog tags of the crew members lost in the crash, it’s a somber and reflective piece which does a good job of making you feel a genuine sense of loss which shows that the Normandy is very much a character in itself. The Firewalker Pack introduces the Hammerhead hover tank and a number of missions built around the vehicle, which are interesting to play and improve on the Mako segments in the first game. Overlord provides a more straightforward piece of content, a Cerberus facility has been taken over by an experimental virtual intelligence and it’s up to Shepard to sort it out, it’s not the best content available but does provide a nice moment in Mass Effect 3. Lair of the Shadow Broker is a huge piece of content that reintroduces Liara and follows Shepard as he tries to take down the Shadow Broker, there’s a lot to do on the course of this and ends with Liara taking on the role once you take him down, you then get access to the Shadow Broker’s intel centre. The final piece of content for Mass Effect 2 is called Arrival in which it becomes apparent that the Reapers have found a back door into the galaxy and it’s up to Shepard to close it off, it also ties into the start of Mass Effect 3 so is well worth playing. All in all there was a lot more content available and the mission packs were of a good standard and added to the lore of the series, the weapons, armour and costume packs were there if you happened to want them but they didn’t provide anything to the story or character development.

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Which brings us to Mass Effect 3, the final chapter of the saga of Commander Shepard. It also introduces multiplayer to the Mass Effect universe for the first time, this multiplayer has teams of 4 player characters taking on computer controlled enemies in waves and trying to make it through to the end with experience being awarded to players and also galactic readiness being bestowed on on the the galaxy map on the main screen. This galactic readiness has a knock on effect with the single player campaign in that it means the war assets you acquire are more effective in the context of your effective military strength which goes towards the final battle. Multiplayer has also received a lot of support from Bioware in the shape of downloadable content packs, these packs have contained new maps new species for players to play as and new weapons with Bioware offering these packs free of charge. Moving back to game itself it uses a new engine and looks even more stunning than the second game and plays in the same way as the previous game with the exception of the heavy weapon mechanic, rather than having these as part of your arsenal these weapons are found over the course of missions and have a limited amount of uses and also the side missions are predominantly finding war assets which get added to your EMS. Mass Effect 3 is also bigger in scope than previous games as rather than trying to assemble a squad you’re trying to bring together an army of the various species you have encountered over the games and this is where a lot of the emotion comes from and make no mistake there are a lot of emotional moments in the game, leaving Earth after the initial Reaper attack is effective in that you don’t want to leave but it makes you determined to come back with a force that will save the planet. Other standout moments include (and these are my choices, there are other connotations based on your choices in this game and from previous games) the curing of the Genophage, which was a disease introduced to the Krogans to stop them reproducing, the ending of the Morning War between the Quarians and Geth, I chose to make peace between the sides and it definitely felt like an organic and well realised outcome. Thane’s appearances really hammer home just how much these characters have to mean to the player over the course of the series, as does the final conversation between Shepard and Anderson.

That’s not to say there weren’t problems in the original release of the game, the From the Ashes dlc contains a new squad mate in the form of the last Prothean, a race heavily tied up in the Mass Effect lore who were wiped out by the Reapers the last time they wiping out organic life 50000 years before the setting of the games, and as a resullt there is fair amount of additional lore and backstory thats come with him but the decision to make this paid dlc (unless you bought the special edition of the game) rather than being part of the game to start with was met with some controversy however the main and lasting outcry from fans was to do with the ending. The original ending contains 3 choices but the end cinematic is more or less the same except for a different colour being used as part of an explosion, there are also elements which aren’t clear such as why Joker, the Normandy pilot who has been with Shepard all the way through the series is escaping the system and also becomes a victim of it’s on lore in that the mass relays explode which has been established to essentially wipe out a solar systems essentially you stop the Reapers but destroy all galactic life, there is also a general lack of closure as you don’t get any idea of the impact of your actions. The outcry was so great that Bioware actually produced a free dlc called the Extended Cut which while keeping the essence of the original ending filled in these plot holes with additional scenes, changed the destruction of the relays to them just being damaged and added a kind of slideshow complete with a voice over to add some closure to the whole thing. While it personally still wasn’t the ending that I wanted it was still a marked improvement over the original ending and it’s an amazing gesture for Bioware to genuinely listen to their community and act upon it. Dlc wise beyond the multiplayer packs, the Beyond the Ashes pack and the Extended Cut pack there are the usual weapons packs and appearance packs but there are further 3 single player packs. The first of these is Leviathan in which Shepard is tasked with tracking down what appears to be a weapon capable of killing a Reaper and as the the story progresses it actually provides some back story on the origins of the Reapers which is in interesting. The second is Omega which follows on from a conversation you have with Aria in the main part of the game, who was the ruler of a space station called Omega which has been taken over by Cerberus and she wants your help to take it back, which you do. The final pack is Citadel which is the final piece of content of the Mass Effect trilogy, and it feels like a real labour of love by the developers, it has fun with the characters, with some nice in jokes such as a moment where Shepard realises he says “I should go” a lot when ending a conversation. The story is a little hammy but has so much fun with it that you forgive it but the real standout of the dlc is the interplay between the characters and pretty much every squad member from each of the games is present and makes for a very enjoyable send off.

All in all I’m very glad I took a chance on the series as I would go so far as to say that it’s now my favourite series of games and one that I’ve played through numerous times. I’ve loved being able to steer the story by making choices in a way that I thought that my Shepard would, I think it was a real achievement to create a player character that feels so personal to each player. With all that said the things that will stay with me most is the sheer depth of lore and detail which was created for a fictional universe, though it will hopefully serve them if they choose to make further games in that same universe, and also the characters which I met over the course of those three games, from Garrus who was this tremendously realised, morally conflicted character but a steadfast and loyal ally at the same time, to Tali who started as a shy awkward outcast who matured and grew with each game, to every single other character. It’s rare to find such a group of characters who feel so vivid and real and that for me is the true magic of the Mass Effect series. And with all that said it feels like this should be wrapped up with a quote from Commander Shepard – I should go.

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Bioshock Infinite: Xbox 360 review

imageLet me start this review by saying that I loved Bioshock, I thought it was graphically stunning, had a good story, played very well and had one of the best twists I witnessed in a game. With Bioshock 2 I started off not being a huge fan as it felt like more of an unneeded expansion but as it went on I got into it and by the end had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

With that in mind I did not have high hopes for Bioshock Infinite. It had been delayed at least three times and history is littered with games that have had huge delays and turned out to be complete wastes of time, with Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines being two recent examples of this. I was therefore delighted to find within the first ten minutes of playing that my fears were wholly misplaced.

The game starts with a clever nod to the original Bioshock and continues from the with a story that was intriguing enough to keep me playing just to see how it progressed next, I won’t go into the story but will say that it’s very good and the last twenty or so minutes have stayed with me like few games have managed.

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Gameplay wise it’s similar to previous entries in the series, you have Vigours rather than Plasmids and can only carry two weapons at a time but weapons and powers can be updated over time, and you will also find Gear which can be equipped which will bestow certain bonuses on you.. The biggest change to the formula is that the game becomes a giant escort quest at a certain point, and it’s the way this handled that makes the game such a joy, usually escort quests are painful and frustrating but with Bioshock Infinite you get banter between the two main characters, Booker and Elizabeth, which helps flesh them out as characters and Elizabeth will help in battle by providing ammo or salts (used to power the Vigours) while also managing to be completely unobtrusive.

All in all Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game and if games like this are to be the swan song of the current generation then we could be in for a treat for the rest of 2013.

9/10 Lopez Green

Halo 4: Xbox 360 review

imageSo the end of 2012 brought us Halo 4 which represented a new beginning for the franchise on two fronts, the first being the start of a new trilogy (the Reclaimer trilogy) and the second more crucial one is that it is the first entry in the franchise created by 343 Industries, the team created solely to continue the Halo series.

Lets start by saying that visually the game is absolutely stunning, quite possibly one of the best looking games released this generation. Everything has been given a complete re-tooling, weapons from the older games are given an overhaul but when all said and done it’s still recognisable as a Halo game. Sound too is very good, Neil Davidge had an impossible task in following Marty O’Donnell‘s iconic score but he does an impressive job of making his own mark (listen out for a familiar tune in the end credits though).

The campaign picks up a few years after the end of Halo 3 and is exactly what you would expect from a Halo game, it’s great to be back with the Master Chief and Cortana again. The only negative side to it is that a lot of the nuance to the story is lost if you haven’t read some of the expanded universe novels or watch the Forward Unto Dawn web series but it’s still a fantastic ride from start to finish.

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Multiplayer is also very good, I don’t usually bother as a rule but found myself playing a lot more than I expected. Firefight mode has been replaced with the Spartan Ops mode which actually has a story and cutscenes to further flesh the mode out and the suspicion is that this will in some ways lead into the inevitable Halo 5.

All in all 343 have crafted a hell of a debut effort, one of the games of 2012 for me, and I look forward to seeing what they can do going forwards as it’s likely to be a hell of a ride.

9/10 Lopez Green
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