DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

Series I Love – The Legend of Zelda

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When I was younger, picking which games I wanted to play was simple. I was a pretty damn spoiled kid, so I usually saw something in the store and my mother bought it. While she objected to some things, she typically got me anything my heart desired.

Walking into our local Toys’R’Us one evening in 1998, I happened upon a flyer for an upcoming game called Zelda. My reading comprehension wasn’t as astute as now, so I didn’t even catch the subtitle underneath. To me, the golden sheen and shield crest were enough to hook my interest.

Over the next few months, I played my N64 as usual and kept my obsession with Goldeneye 007 going. At such a tender age, nearly any game would get its hooks into me and engulf my imagination. I kept thinking back to that sword and shield and wondering what dangers awaited me.

As the release date drew closer, Nintendo began their marketing campaign on TV and in movie theaters. I distinctly remember sitting in the theaters and seeing the “WHILST THOU SUCK?” advertisement. It put a fire in my eyes and made me determined to prove those ads wrong.

A night or two before the games release, I heard from a GameStop employee that the cartridge for Ocarina of Time was going to be gold. My little mind was blown. I couldn’t let this thing escape me. I needed to have this game in my collection. It felt like a rite of passage.

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After getting home with the game, I couldn’t wait to play it. I nearly ripped the box apart with excitement, but I saved my enthusiasm for the journey. I didn’t want to sully the experience by destroying its case.

As soon as the first chords of the theme played, I was in love. The game felt legendary even without its namesake. For 10 year old me, this was the most important game of my life. It was almost as if I became an adult as I stepped in Link’s boots and set off to save the land of Hyrule.

I had never played anything like it at that point in my life. My childhood was full of video games, but the 90’s were dominated by platformers and beat-em-ups. Fighting games were a big deal after Street Fighter, but not many besides that and Mortal Kombat stuck around.

Something like Zelda encompassed all of the exploration I loved from Mario with puzzle solving and dungeon diving. It was literally being placed into darkness with some tools and being told to figure it out. You had no guide and your worth was measured in accomplishing the mind benders in front of you.

I don’t remember how long it took my younger self to finish the N64 classic; I do know that I nearly missed the bus ride to school one morning since I was nearing the end and refused to skip the cutscene. My mother also nearly fell asleep listening to Zelda’s lullaby after a long night at work.

That same year, Nintendo had a double whammy for young me. A colorized version of the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening, was released for the Gameboy Color. I always brought the device with me to school for recess and the bus rides, so clearly I had to have this other Zelda title.

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When I’d leave home for the bus stop, I’d pack Link’s Awakening with me. From one to the other, my adventures with Link never ended. I’d sketch doodles of Link tackling foes, exploring ruins and finding treasure. I would fantasize about being in those dank caverns and surmounting the colossal beasts.

Since those games, The Legend of Zelda has become my favorite series. I’ve beaten each game in the series more than once (save for a couple of them) and I even get excited hearing about re-releases of past games. It’s strange to be excited for an HD version of a game you’ve finished 3 times and still own.

Even the dreaded Zelda 2 I’ve managed to complete twice. When playing it, I find the game amazing. For that matter, during any of the Zelda games, I’m awestruck. How Nintendo manages to craft such a varied world with intricate puzzles and hidden treasures is just awesome to me.

The mixture of thought provoking puzzle design and grandiose combat scenarios with a classic tale of good versus evil just keeps me coming back. I dig all of the variations the series has seen. Wind Waker is my favorite and I love bringing a friend along in Four Swords Adventures. The more recent Triforce Heroes is a solid co-op puzzle game and Skyward Sword made me a believer of motion controls.

Honestly, there isn’t a title in the series I truly dislike. I may complain about the issues that Twilight Princess has wit pacing or how superfluous most of Skyward Sword is, but I can’t get enough of those worlds. They are filled to the brim with interesting content.

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More importantly, they make me feel like my actions matter. I know that gaming has always placed your character as a hero, but those exploits weren’t as personal until The Legend of Zelda came along. With Zelda 2, Link was now directly helping people with their requests.

Running menial tasks shouldn’t be that gratifying, but I’ve always been drawn to the side quests in Zelda. Fishing for hours to get a stupid scale or holding onto a chicken and floating down to Earth is utterly captivating to me. That each activity rewards the player with something useful also makes those tasks feel less tedious.

I also just plain love exploring. Hyrule has had such a rich landscape, but even the extra worlds of Termina and Koholint are filled with nooks and crannies to delve into. As much as I may associate puzzles with Zelda, spelunking is a big part of the formula.

I’m not opposed to change and I do wish that some of the tropes would be put to rest, but I’m always eager and ready for a new Zelda title. Each one is like stepping into an actual legend. That I get to be the hero who overcomes adverse odds is just icing on the cake.

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Here’s to the future of Zelda.

Paystation 4

Going into the 8th generation of console gaming, it seemed like Sony finally understood their fans. All their mistakes with pricing and vague marketing with the PS3 were a thing of the past. Microsoft became money grubbing and lost their focus on gaming. Nintendo was being Nintendo, but promising a stronger drive to make new games.

A few years into this generation, Nintendo is the only one that remained consistent. Microsoft made a dramatic reveal of backwards compatibility on the Xbox One at E3 this year and Sony is now following suit.

Wait, let me rephrase that; Sony is now charging us a 3rd (4th or possibly 5th) time to play our old games on new hardware. I think I’ve had enough of this lunacy. Despite me strongly preferring the PS4 interface over Xbox One, I can’t believe that my older games are being resold to me.

It’s not the largest deal to me as my PS3 is still functional and plays PS2 games. Many people are not in that same boat. Backwards compatibility should be a required on all consoles, regardless of architectural differences. All those legacy consoles are not going to last forever and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep feeding money to a company bent on making me bankrupt.

Sony has gleefully taken to the trend of re-releasing “HD Remaster” ports of PS3 games on PS4 and now the PS2 is falling in line. Instead of selling a more expensive version of the current console with backwards compatibility support (which would make sense!!!), we’re being asked to fork over $10-15 for our favorite older games.

That doesn’t seem too dramatic, but the implication is that this will be a trend. Down the line on the PS6, we’re going to be rebuying our PS4 games. Hell, it may not even take that long as we’re currently rebuying PS3 games!

Because we all asked for this shit…

What makes this so shocking is that Sony was such a stalwart for PS1 support on the PS2. It was one of the defining features of the console when Nintendo switched formats and Sega basically forgot about the Saturn. With a PS2, you didn’t need to kiss your old library goodbye.

When the PS3 launched, Sony figured that not giving gamers an option was best and decided on jam packing the system with a bunch of extraneous features. Most people didn’t need media streaming, SACD support, wireless networking and video playback; for some, just playing a video game was all they wanted.

If you wanted the prestige of owning a Sony product, you had to deal with the price and extra nonsense. You were getting a Blu-Ray player, whether you liked it or not. You were dealing with internal storage and install times despite older consoles not having that. You were making due with WiFi even if your network didn’t support it.

Granted, the PS2 forced DVD support, but Sony managed to keep the price down by including expansion ports on the system. This let Sony develop a hard drive and network port for later use and for people to decide if they wanted.  Now that philosophy is lost.

With Microsoft granting you access to your games simply by owning the 360 disc, Sony has no reason to expect gamers to jump on these PS2 remasters. What is more baffling is that Sony launched a “PS2 Classics” line on PS3 that let gamers purchase things digitally.

They also started an initiative called “Cross-buy” that allowed you to make one purchase of software and get it on every Sony console. Like that cute little game on your Vita? That’s cool; you can have it on PS3 and PS4 for no extra cost! Why is this not a feature with PS2 on PS4?

It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion of, “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!!!” It’s doubly hard when Eurogamer took an in-depth look at the first PS2 remasters (Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Racer Revenge and Jedi Starfighter) and found that they truly are emulation. This isn’t even some new code being written for different hardware; it’s the same damn thing!

Yeah! I’ll rebuy that!!!!

I could maybe understand not allowing discs to be used as there were a tremendous amount of PS2 games, but previous digital purchases not being supported is just unacceptable. It’s downright criminal, if you ask me. For a company so prided on their dedication to their fans, this just reeks of greed.

I will not stand for it. I may not be able to speak with Sony directly, but I’m not going to buy a single one of these “PS2 remasters”. There is no point. If I give in, what’s to say that I won’t be buying a PS2 Re-Remaster on the PS5? In some cases (San Andreas), you may already be doing so.

Unless you really cannot find a functional PS2, don’t give in to Sony. Let them know that you demand to have your games back. Owning a disc should mean that I can use it; the PC format has been like that forever. Enough is enough with this remaster trend.

Indifference Be Thy Name!

Something seems off with me lately. Whether it’s because of age or general apathy towards the vacant release schedule near the end of the year, I’ve been pretty indifferent to a lot of new things happening.

Fallout 4 launched last week and I don’t care. Spectre just came out in theaters and I thought it was pretty mediocre. Guitar Hero Live has been getting good press, but I found the game is simply the same old thing. Indifference Be Thy Name!

At least with James Bond, you can tell it’s a bit of brand fatigue for Daniel Craig. Some recent interviews have shown that he has grown tired of the character, but I’m still unsure why he would put out another movie with that attitude (I’m guessing the extra 0’s at the end of his paycheck helped).

It can’t just be my cynical attitude towards Hollywood, because I also saw The Peanutsand thought it was pretty good. I believe MGM is constantly battling with whether to reinvent Bond or stick to the same old formula. Sadly, Spectre just feels like a continuation of Roger Moore’s films.

I was never big on Fallout 3. I loved the introductory sequence and was blown away by the scale of things, but none of the missions really added up. The ending felt rushed and even your choices were stuck in a binary process. You couldn’t do a moral grey, just black and white.

My favorite memory from the game was running with your dad and getting hit by a god damned fatboy. That was intense. Otherwise, I just remember the game looking average and being a stripped down shooter and RPG. It was a cool combo, but the game was basically Oblivion with guns.

I also used to be a gigantic rhythm gaming nut. I played all the Guitar Hero games up to 5 (as well as Aerosmith and Metallica) and played each Rock Band game (including the preposterously stupid Lego one). I even still own DJ Hero. I just feel nothing with GHLive.

Yeah, I want to play this instead of some classic rock…

The addition of the lower fret is kind of neat, but I can’t wrap my head around the icons for Black and White buttons. For some reason, I keep reading White as if it’s on top. I know that is more of my problem then the game, but what isn’t my issue is the lackluster presentation.

The FMV sequences are pretty stupid. It’s funny to watch someone else play, but they are completely pointless in the midst of you grabbing the controller. Not only that, but those transitions are not seamless; the damn screen flashes blue between “Awesome” and “Poor” performances. It’s really distracting.

Rating a setlist is always going to be subjective, but I’m just tired of these games front loading all the horrible songs to make you work for your favorite tunes. I like the idea of GHTV, but the menu system loves explaining every detail with excruciating clarity. I just want to play the damn game.

In all fairness, it isn’t a bad game. In the intervening years, I’ve managed to pick up an actual instrument and learn to play. I’m a decent bassist and going back to Guitar Hero, I just want to play my bass. The controller is so light weight and flimsy that I don’t feel like a musician; I just feel like some tool with a toy.

Even with this blog, I haven’t had much to really say. I’ve been playing some neat games (and fucking WWE 2k15 for asinine reasons) and everything is cool. I have a Mega Yarn Yoshi and La-Mulana is kicking my ass. There really isn’t much I can write about.

Yeah?! Well, fuck you!

As fun as a game like La-Mulana is, there really isn’t any deeper meaning to it. I like the design and the philosophy behind it’s difficulty, but it’s just a really well made retro throwback with some punishing moments. It’s great for people like me, but not the general public.

I’m mainly worried that my lack of motivation is a sign of something deeper. I’ve been out of the loop with major game releases for awhile now. Metal Gear Solid V was a fluke for me, in that regard. It was a series I had fallen in love with, where Fallout and Call of Duty are just games that are in my past.

Even Xenoblade Chronicles X doesn’t appeal to me. That is insane, as the firstXenoblade Chronicles is one of my favorite RPGs and Wii games. I should be excited, but I just don’t care. If I get it, it won’t be for some time and I think I’ll manage without.

Oh well; I suppose one cannot always have some topic to bring up. I didn’t feel like leaving this blog empty in November, so this is what I came up with. I promise my next blog will have more of a focus to it.

In the meantime, have a picture of Yoshi with Hogan.

Meaningful Content

In the last generation, we saw games getting bigger and bigger and budgets ballooning out of control. As publishers were looking to get as much return as possible, games became bloated with side-quests that had little to no relevance to the main story mode.

Just this year, we have been given three games that do away with such fluff. Bloodborne, The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. In each game, every bit of content feels just. You never waste your time in areas that plaster up invisible walls or grant absolutely no benefit; if you undertake a side-quest, the reward is readily apparent.

Take MGS V for example. At the very beginning of the game, you are unable to understand the soldiers in Afghanistan. This pretty much makes getting information a pointless endeavor. After finishing the first mission, you are informed of translators in the area that can be rescued. Doing so grants you the ability to understand the language in that area.

It’s an immediate payoff that gives the player a sense of accomplishment. Instead of including an activity because it’s cool, the developers thought to award some palpable sense of achievement within the game itself.

The Witcher basically has stronger plot points in the side missions then the main quest itself. One very early side quest has you tackling the mystery of a man’s wife who has gone disappearing. You get to be a detective and figure out what occurred and the impact this has had on the man’s life.

Did you take her?

It is supremely rewarding to dig into such a rich story. Most side quests can be boiled down to a few simple points; the game needs to be longer and the player can skip these. Since developers don’t want the player to “miss” any important content, one can reasonably skip the side stuff and still get the entire story.

Even before Wild Hunt, The Witcher 2 had an entirely different second act based on some decisions you made at the end of the first. It was a radical departure from what mainstream, triple A gaming was doing. That is getting a bit side tracked from my point, though.

With Bloodborne, while the world may not be entirely open as in Witcher and MGS, you can tackle most of the boss creatures in an order of your choosing. There are even a great few that you can entirely skip. A lot of the work in getting to them is shrouded in obscurity and requires one to think outside the box.

This leads to optional areas that are just as thrilling, frightening and meticulously detailed as the main game. More so, with the narrative being ambiguous and vague, the game encourages you to seek out as much information as possible. Without being told to, you are actively pushed to see the full picture.

This subtlety to approaching story in a game makes Bloodborne utterly captivating. Coupled with the brutal combat mechanics and steep difficulty and Bloodborne becomes a game that can consume your life for a good month or two.

Ah, yes, a good month or two….where is my cranberry juice?

I do remember games being like this in my heyday. Games on the NES, SNES and even PS1 were more about creating experiences that rewarded player skill and investment. Not every game was supremely long, but every bit of content was worthwhile.

I can’t think of a Mario game where I would want to skip levels (other then 8-3 in the original being a bitch). Shooters like Quake were so morbid, dark and terrifying that I was compelled to press on to see the corridors that lie ahead.

Then you look back at the last few years of gaming and you see pointless padding. Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider; newer entries in these series had so much pointless content that gamers gave up caring. Why do I want to climb towers in every city just to spot “important” locations? What benefit does collecting feathers or journals or hidden packages have for me?

I was amazed when playing Sleeping Dogs and found out that a lot of the side quests have a tangible benefit to the player. Finding the hidden shrines would increase your maximum health. Getting all of the statues in the story missions unlocked extra finishing moves for your combos. It was wild to think that side content could actually mean something in the modern era.

Then you look at inFamous: Second Son and all of the side stuff does basically nothing. Sure, you can level up your skills, but the game is so easy that nothing else over your starting arsenal is really required.

It seems that for as big as we can make game worlds, there is some nagging need to include as much stuff as possible. It’s as if the game isn’t engaging enough, so developers have a desire to distract you from how mediocre it is.

“You’re right! I don’t even care!”

There are some complaints that MGS V is devoid of life (something lobbied at Ocarina of Time as well), but that doesn’t even hold water. When I actively want to explore the game world, I don’t care if hundreds of things are crawling around. I like exploring landscapes and seeing nature in a natural state.

Taking a hike through a forest doesn’t bring you to a lost tribe or hidden tomb (unless you happen to be lucky); one takes a walk through nature to escape the fast paced nature of their lives. It’s a form of escapism that brings you back to reality and the purity of nature.

It’s also not a waste of time. Even though you aren’t technically accomplishing anything, you are freeing your mind of the bullshit from your daily life. Your problems disappear for a few hours in a safe, fun and refreshing manner.

Where are all the damn side quests?

When a video game so perfectly encapsulates that (such as MGS V), why am I going to complain about a lack of visible life? I don’t want more stuff in my games, I want my games to feel more complete.

I just wonder why it took so long for developers to finally get around to making completely worthwhile experiences. I think that, in the years coming up, we’ll see more and more games that cut out all of the trappings and stick to gameplay and extra missions that actually matter.

That, or we can just look at Super Mario Maker and make our own stuff. I wish Project Spark were as open-ended as Mario Maker, because I would love to get in on manipulating my childhood memories.

Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.

Briskly Walking “The Line”

So, that Spec Ops: The Line was quite the game, right?……..Right?…….Ugh, sometimes I hate being me.

Just the other day, I finished my journey through Dubai in what seems to be record time; 5 hours. I played on the hardest default setting, otherwise known as Suicide Mission. This game was far from that.

While I found the narrative very ambitious and intriguing, Spec Ops: The Line seems to run at breakneck speed through all of its high points. I mean, in the first hour alone, I conquered 5 of the games 15 chapters. They get considerably longer after that point, but I hadn’t even realized how little time I had spent.

I have no problem with games being short, but I just feel a little short changed here. This game was touted as having a very deep and complex narrative and most of the anecdotes I’ve heard from gamers are how affecting they felt the games “decision” scenes were. I saw them so close together; I don’t even know how the hell I’m supposed to think.

This contrasts with Hotline Miami, another game that brings up questions of violence and does so in an even shorter time span than Spec Ops. I managed to plunk through that little gem in about 3 and a half hours, but the pacing worked much better.

Some missions gave some breathing room in terms of combat and there was even a break from the constant murder for a stealth mission (even if that level was a little crappy). Hotline wasn’t a constant bloodbath and it worked to make me more interested in the combat and plotline.

Spec Ops, though, doesn’t give you a single minute to reflect on anything. Even the cutscenes aren’t that long, with the longest probably being around 6 minutes. You simply deal with a firefight, walk to the next room and repeat. When a decision comes up, you make it in a snap fashion and then proceed to shoot some more.

I can’t say I was disappointed with the game (and I got it for dirt cheap, so how could I truly be?), but I feel like it would have been a greater story if I was just given more time to explore it. Let me sink in the details of the game’s world, let me reflect on my awful actions and give me periods that help build character instead of pushing me directly into the action.

One of the best moments in Uncharted 2 comes during chapter 16. After practically non-stop action, Drake finds himself stranded in Nepal. The only task for the chapter is to walk around and soak in the sights. This gives you ample time to think about how you arrived at this location and reflect on what Drake has gone through.

NaughtyDog understood that packing a game with minute to minute firefights would sully the experience and leave the gamer wishing for a break. While you don’t want to have too much time dedicated to simply doing nothing, even just the smallest amount of leisure or padding can create a sense of relieve and a desire to continue.

For all the flack the Zelda series may get for sidequests and lack of innovation, the padding in that series really drives home the desire to press on. The early games in the series (namely Zelda 1 and 2) suffer because there is nothing else to do. You simply proceed with quest or you don’t play the game. Without any break of alternate activity, the quest feels long winded (even being only an hour!).


This is completely related to saving the Princess…trust me!

So honestly, while I won’t deem a game of lower quality because it’s short, some titles need extra game time to justify their existence. I can’t sit here and whole-heartedly recommend Spec Ops: The Line because I feel like it’s incomplete. It’s too damn short and leaves too much unexplained.

If I only simply had more time to feel the anguish that Captain Martin Walker was going through, maybe I’d be in love with the game. As it stands, it’s a very ambitious experiment, but one that ultimately doesn’t feel as impactful due to a sense of being rushed.

The End of an Era

As the curtains closed on “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” for me, one thing struck me; I really love Ezio. The stories of his games have gotten progressively more convoluted and incomprehensible, but he is such a shining example of a great character.

The man is flawed, but intelligent. He is willing to admit mistakes and learn from them. He was brash in his youth, but we’ve seen him grow to being wise and powerful. He is a masterful leader and excellent assassin. It’s touching to see his life close out.

The same goes for Altair, despite how annoying and underdeveloped he was in the first “Assassin’s Creed” game. Seeing the later parts of his life and coming to terms with knowing that he is gone was actually kind of difficult for me.

It’s shocking to deal with death. I’ve had to do it in the past for two family members and they’ve stirred me to my very core. Seeing them one day and then knowing they have faded forever is terrible. Not knowing the reason why or contemplating how just makes it worse.

I obviously knew Altair died, otherwise Ezio couldn’t exist. Ezio had to have passed at one point, too, as Desmond is the modern day equivalent of him. Still, just witnessing their final moments and knowing their ambitions make those scenes very poignant.

When Altair speaks with his family before finally saying goodbye, I just think of how my grandmother or aunt might have taken my final words to them. While Altair knew he was heading for death and his son probably could have guessed it, I never knew when my family was going to pass.

Soon at work, one of my co-workers will be leaving. I’ve only known her for the better part of a year, but just as I was getting friendlier, she is leaving. I’m not blaming her (as the matter is far more complex than just quitting), but I do wish I could hold onto the atmosphere we’ve cultivated.

Still, I’m hopeful for her future. My current job isn’t what you’d call a beacon of dreams. The company is mainly where people go to die, or distract themselves over the summer between classes. That I am there and toiling away just makes me remorseful of my past.

The two might not even be closely related in terms of severity or gravity, but losing anyone is just hard. As sad as it might seem, I really didn’t want to lose Ezio. Seeing a new Assassin’s Creed title with him might have been groan inducing, but it always left me hopeful for his charming demeanor.

The end of Altair and Ezio, though, gives me reason to believe in the future of Assassin’s Creed. I’m truly hoping Ubisoft is listening to the fans, because I do not want to see Desmond in any first-person style crap again.

What I feel is that we are moving on to something new and fresh. The few previews for “Assassin’s Creed III” show that combat is getting revamped and exploration seems to be in a massive open world. That’s about all I’ve read.

Still, life moves on. We can’t always hold onto the past, other than our memories. While I try to avoid being nostalgic and always attempt to look at things for what they are, maybe it’s time for me to employ some sympathy to my memories.

I’ve dwelled long enough on the passing of my grandmother and aunt. Reliving those moments I learned of their deaths hasn’t done me favors for the past two years. I know all the lessons associated with those events and it’s high time I applied them to my life.

Ezio’s final words echo within me. “When I was a young man, I had liberty, but I did not see it. I had time, but I did not know it. And I had love, but I did not feel it.” My life is essentially this.

So instead of repeating the mistakes of Ezio, I believe I shall change, It may not be soon or very noticeable, but it will occur. This is the end of era, both for me and for Assassin’s Creed. Here’s to the future!