Gaming Zen 1/2/06

Hey hey party people. I’m Tom Pandich, and I wish you and yours a Happy New Year. Now I know my readers are some of nature’s noblemen. The salt of the Earth if you will. In fact, I think I’ll share some of the feedback this column. Besides that, I’ll do another Top Ten, a bit of news, an expanded piece on what I’ve been playing detailing my Toys R Us clearance grabbings, and few other lovely things.

Before that though, the Games staff has suffered another lost. Last week it was Alex Williams. He left on rather amicable terms and will pop in and out most likely when his life settles down. Lee Baxley, on the other hand, left on… less then amicable terms. It’s not my place to go into details, but it strikes me as pretty unlikely that he’ll be back. Baxley is a good friend and a tremendous writer. I think once he finds his spot in life, he’ll make an incredible life for himself. I just wish he was still on the staff so I could make jokes about him. I’ll certainly miss him and his writing on the site.

So no more Williams or Baxley, and I can only make so many jokes about Lucard being a vampire, super uber goth, and Pokemon freak. Misha needs to start writing something again so I can make some Brit jokes. Oh, A.J. Angeloni is back and writing a crapload of previews. I need to give him a couple of weeks before I get a feel for him.

All the News That’s Fit to Print

Well let’s see what’s going on in the gaming world. Wal-Mart had a midnight Xbox 360 sale on New Year’s Eve. Honestly, who was this for? Christmas is over, E-Bay sales are down, the people who would have camped out already have their’s and even though the last day of Hanukah was yesterday, there’s no real high demand for them. Not to mention that most of the systems are Cores and it’s still a pain in the ass to find a hard drive. Wal-Mart probably held some of these systems through Christmas. Dumb dumb dumb. The 360 launch has been bungled all along and this is yet another example of what was wrong with it all along. Please learn your lesson well Sony.

Speaking of Sony, the Blu-Ray format has some interesting Region coding. Here’s the breakdown:
*Region 1: North, South America, and East Asia (excluding China)
*Region 2: Europe (including Turkey), and Africa
*Region 3: China, Russia, and everyone else
*Region 4: No regions

So if the rumors are true, Japan and the United States will be the same region meaning that, potentially, PS3 games will be the same region. This does two things as far as I’m concerned. It’ll potentially benefit importers as there’ll be potentially no need to buy a second PS3 to play DDR Extreme Party Blast Mix 4 or Bleach: Bleach Battle 2. The other potentially wonderful thing that the PS3 will do with the same region is to completely erase the grey area of mod chips. There were a few people that actually used the PS1 and PS2 mod chips to play strictly import games, but there were a shitload of people who used that as an excuse for having the chip in the first place. This would be a great move by Sony if it plays out the way I hope it does.

Top Ten

If not today, then by the end of this week, our list of the best games of the year will come out. What will have won Game of the Year, and so forth? Well I know that, and I know what’s off the list and what’s not off the list. The problem with all lists is that inevitably some games will be left off. As always, my list is my opinion and I’ve forgotten quite a few games. While it was a weak year in some genres of games, there still were a good bunch of games that were overlooked. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Metroid Prime Pinball
It figures that the most annoying Nintendo game of the year, Metroid Prime: Hunters, would spawn one of the most overlooked good titles for a system that could have used a few more big hits. Metroid Prime Pinball is a niche game that manages to perfectly blend the story of Metroid Prime with several different and challenging pinball tables. It’s an odd blend, but it’s a beautiful looking game with a great soundtrack and fun multiplayer mode. For all of the incredibly unconventional games on the Nintendo DS, this strikingly mundane game offers one of the most satisfying game experiences of the entire year.

Digital Devil Saga 2
The first Digital Devil Saga is a wonderful game that is one of the best, if not the absolute best of this generation (I still liked Mario & Luigi: SS probably a bit more).The second DDS though is getting ignored. Could it be because the first game is so difficult to find or could it be because the first one was so thick in story that the second one scared some RPG gamers off? While DDS 2 isn’t as good as the first game, DDS 2 is still a great game that clicks on all of the right levels despite being not as accessible being so dependent on the sequel. Still, Digital Devil Saga 2 really has gotten the shaft after being one of the truly elite games of the year.

Sega Classics Collection Volume 1
The Sega Classics Collection is easily the most overlooked collection of the year. Sure some games were shitacular such as Golden Axe, but for the most part the “remakes” were very well put together. Games like Columns, Outrun, and Space Harrier all looked pretty good with the new coat of paint that was tossed on them. Still, most people dismissed this collection for either not having the original graphics or for having a few shitty games. Overall the Sega Classics Collection is an excellent and cheap addition to anyone’s library.

The Punisher
Another forgotten gem of a game. The Punisher isn’t exactly a deep game and the controls were pretty spotty, but man oh man is it fun. With a wide variety of weapons, interrogations, and pieces of meat called enemies to mow through, The Punisher was one of the more satisfying game experiences of the year. This is another title that can be found pretty cheaply these days and it’s worth every penny.

Obscure
In a year where Resident Evil ruled and the Suffering: The Ties that Bind and a host of other survival horror games clogged the game world, it’s nice to know that a terrifying and brilliantly original game like Obscure with a low low price of $19.99 will be completely ignored. Obscure offers a fun filled plot true to the slasher genre of films with lots of twists and turns in a game without sucky controls. It’s a game you really should check out.

We Love Katamari
Gamers are a fickle bunch. Give us more of the same even when the same was the best game of last year and we’ll turn on you. We Love Katamari is very much like Katamari Damacy only with a bit more variety in the environments and a tad harder missions. Still, We Love Katamari has all but been ignored this year by gamers looking to play the next big odd game like Trauma Center, Pheonix Wright, or Barbie’s Deadly Roller Derby. We Love Katamari is still an incredibly great game despite offering very little that’s new gameplay-wise and costing ten bucks more.

Puyo Pop Fever DS
I’m a whore for puzzle games. There is nothing I like to do more then play every and any puzzle game that gets released. I’m a whore for Sega puzzle games. Unlike Meteos, Puyo Pop Fever offered a full multiplayer mode on one cart for eight people. Combine that with a time tested and proven puzzle system and we have the best “play forever” puzzler on the DS (a round of Meteos can only really last for around 15 minutes and that’s if you have unholy skills at it).

Stubbs the Zombie
I’m also a whore for zombie games and this game offers the perfect blend of pure comedy with a solid third person shooter based on, everyone’s favorite, the Halo engine. Sure, Stubbs gets a bit repetitive after a while, but as a character, he is unmatched. There were few more fun experiences this year then running around creating your very own zombie horde. Stubbs gave this gift to me, and I’m a better man for it. Thank you Stubbs.

Pump It Up: Exceed
It figures that when my favorite dance game of all time gets a console release in the United States, it ships with crappy pads and is overshadowed by a guitar game. Honestly people… Pump It Up has a great soundtrack and, in my opinion, is much more challenging then Dance Dance Revolution. Additionally, the home version of PIU has a metric shitload of songs and some incredibly entertaining background videos to go with them. It’s a great game that really needs a decent pad to make its way to the market.

Age of Empires III
While everyone was busy slurping down Civilization IV this year, Age of Empires III, Microsoft’s incredibly good and highly underrated strategy epic made its transition into 3D. Age III builds upon what was right with its predecessors. The gameplay is fast and furious and the variety of civilizations, units, and things you have to deal with are massive, yet they never feel overwhelming. This is one of the true dark horse releases of 2005 that really just came out at the wrong time of the year.

Letters

Ok I’ve gotten a few letters. I’m sure you’re dying to see them so no more intro for them.

First Jason B writes me about Yugioh games and what ones are good and what ones suck:

Go with World Championship 2005 or wait until next month for the new Yugioh GX Duel Academy game. Both are based on the actual rules of the card game, unlike Sacred Cards, and I saw in Shonen Jump GX will have a tutorial in it, something that’s been needed for over a year.

Also, if you think Sacred Cards is bad don’t even dare try Destiny Board Traveler. It’s up there as one of the worst games of all time with Superman 64 and ET. The ONLY reason to buy the game is the DD Assailant promo card, the best in a game since Sinister Serpant and Harpie’s Feather Duster from the 2003 game.

Thanks for the advice Jason. Next up is Jeremy B who wrote me about a film review I did on “Wolf Creek”:

Having not seen the film myself, I can agree and disagree with you on your ascertainment of the film Wolf Creek. First, I haven’t seen the film and this fact renders me useless to comment on the style of the film. You seem to make a lot of valid points based on the cinema photography of the film. A lot of critics are likewise put off by the very nature of the camera work in The Blair Witch Project. The idea of creating gritty realism by employing handheld camera work often becomes off putting and removes the audience from the proceedings. It’s as if the director gave a four year old a camera. In the want to create hysteria and confusion, the effect may come off as “dizzying” and distracting. I can’t personally lay claim to know if the shots are effective in the film. Your descriptions of the camera work lead me to believe that I would agree with your opinion.

I disagree with your opinion regarding characters. Characters need to be the focal point of the story. While this statement seemingly makes an all too obvious claim, it is a fact that most horror films seem to ignore. The audience must latch on to the characters; if the film fails, we are simply watching one killing after another. Most of the positive reviews mention feeling attached to the characters in Wolf Creek, and it is the attachment that makes it a good horror movie. The idea, obviously, is to build a relationship with these three characters and then demolish it. You seem to display a sense of apathy about the characters. Is it because you were bored by the characters? Do you feel the need for a horror movie to be for gore hounds?

The problem with your conclusion is that you’ve displayed a little short-sightedness. In your final analysis, you mention two groups of people who would not enjoy the film. Too gory for indy fans and too boring for gore hounds, I find it hard to believe that you are able to lump everyone into those two categories. I happen to enjoy Nightmare on Elm Street, Romero’s Zombie films, and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Each film showcased a large amount of gore, but it just isn’t the gore that was on display. The most well respected horror film, Dawn of the Dead, isn’t about the zombies or the gore. We’re examining human relationships and feel loss whenever a character dies in Dawn of the Dead. I can’t compare Wolf Creek to Dawn of the Dead, nor will I. I do know that Dawn of the Dead could be considered slow in the middle. You seem to discount the attention span of the hardcore horror fans. The review mentioned Wolf Creek having three very likable characters. I assume you feel that gore hounds aren’t interested in good or likable characters.

If this is the case, the argument is being made that characters in a horror film don’t need to be the focal point. If a film builds three likable characters, it’s probably boring to the gore hound. You point out the appeal of the film is to see carnage and not a slow build to likable characters. The film seems to want to build a relationship with the audience to allow the killings to resonate with you. To say that gore fans will be put off by such a method is an injustice, it’s an injustice to discount the audience.

You tag the review as saying, “Finally, a film that captures the coveted indy gore hound audience.” Yet you also said, “Having said all of this, “Wolf Creek” is still a good film, it just ends up appealing to no core audience. The indy film goer will be put off by the violence of “Wolf Creek”. The gorehound will be put off by the slow pace of it.” You dismantle your very own claim.

I apologize if my response seems a little disjointed. My opinion won’t be as significant because I haven’t seen the film. I guess I’m asking for you to elaborate a little more on your review. I think you’re sending a mixed message about the film. You seem to have enjoyed the film. I’ll probably agree with you about the way the film was shot, and probably even agree with you on the film having likable characters. But you give the film an F. I imagine you’re giving the film such a low score because you feel that it failed to reach it’s target demographic. My disagreement is that you’re discounting the target demographic. I don’t know. I do know I should get back to work.

If I can keep people from working, I know I’ve done my job. In any event, here’s my response (still relatively spoiler free!):

Thanks for the feedback Jeremy. The first point I want to address is the actual score I gave it. At Inside Pulse, we do a 1-10 point scoring system with a 5 being average. Despite some inflation on the part of some reviewers who will remain nameless, a 5 is a grade for an average movie. By no means do I consider Wolf Creek a failure, I just consider when the failures of the film are coupled with the strengths of the film, it leaves the viewer with a very average experience.

As for the tagline, “Finally, a film that captures the coveted indy gore hound audience,” that was meant as sarcasm. Indy filmgoers who enjoy super violent films make up a pretty small segment of the population. The reason why I’m so apt to lump these two groups of people without any crossover is pretty simple. Wolf Creek crosses what I like to call the rape barrier. Rape in film can be well used as a means of adding realism and depth to a character and story or it can be used as a pointless exercise in extreme violence. While I think that the average independent film goer can appreciate the former, I don’t see them enjoying the latter nearly as much. Wolf Creek’s violence is on a level far above Nightmare on Elm Street, Dead Alive or even Dawn of the Dead. It involves violence for the sake of violence.

As far as my discussion on characters goes, I think the film did a fantastic job of developing the three lead characters. Again though, the film ends up treating them as meat in the latter half. They are dealt with in a vicious way and they have no redemption at the end of the film. While I actually enjoyed the fact that the movie went through such great lengths to develop the characters, the audience I was with did not. The audience I saw the film with are what I would coin as gorehounds, and they spent the first twenty minutes of the torture scenes laughing because of the very abrupt transition from no violence to extreme violence. This bothered me as there was no way the violence of Wolf Creek could be taken as funny. I liked the characters very much, but the way they are treated makes me believe that too much time is spent developing them when they are so completely outmatched and defeated so utterly.

I guess my real problem with the film isn’t so much any of the elements of Wolf Creek. It is the pacing and structure of the film. I still strongly feel that the film is just too violent to be accessible to most of mainstream America and that the target group for the film is further undermined by how long it takes for Wolf Creek to reach the horror part of the film. The pacing of the film worked for me, but I’m the 1 person out of 100 that it would for. I sincerely liked Wolf Creek and if you can deal with a hour of dialogue between three people and then watch them be tortured and maimed for the second hour, then by all means, see this film. I was just trying to speak to the other 99 people out there that may want to go see it thinking it is the Australian Saw or something else much less innocuous.”

See, I’m nice through e-mail. Finally we’ve got a response to my manifesto in last week’s column from Richard M:

Hallelujah!

If you’d like to write me for any reason, just click on the link at the bottom of the page. Either that or write to gamingzen@gmail.com. I’d love hearing from you.

What I’m Playing: The TRU Edition

So Toys R Us has a massive clearance. I’ve picked up quite a few games from them. Here’s a review of what I’ve got rapid fire. If it’s stared, that means I haven’t opened it yet:

-Resident Evil 4 (GC): My personal game of the year.
-Pokemon Channel: The most awful game I’ve bought since picking up Slave Zero for the Dreamcast.
-Neo-Contra: A Contra game that’s hard as balls. Whoda thunk it?
-Psychonauts: A fun platformer that I think can best be described as “clever”.
-Transformers*
-The Bard’s Tale*
-F-Zero GP Legend: My first F-Zero game in the original F-Zero format (I never played the SNES version or the other GBA game). It too is hard as balls.
-Golden Sun: The Lost Age*
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms X: Quite possibly the most complicated game ever made until Turbo Tax gets ported to the 360
-Fight Night: Round 2 (GC): An incredibly solid title. I bought it for Super Punch Out but have stayed for more punching. I need to make a decent looking John Madden to take into the ring though.
-Legend of Zelda: Four Swords*
-Mr. Driller DS: I love Mr. Driller despite sucking at it soooo much.
-World Championship Poker DS: How to take all the fun out of Poker in ten annoying CPU controlled characters.
-Wario Ware: Mega Party Games (GC)*
-Pikmin 2*
-Metal Slug 4/5 (PS2)*
-Mortal Kombat Deception KE (Xbox): A fun fighting game that tries to do too much. The complete rip-off of Super Puzzle Fighter 2 really makes this game for me though.
-Samurai Western: The very definition of underachievement.
-Bomberman DS: Fun, but not great. I haven’t gotten the chance to play the multiplayer yet though.
-Doom 3: Bought it as a present for a friend. I didn’t care much for it when I rented it though.
-Baiten Kaitos*

And that’s it. So that’s the column for this week. See all of you next week. Not really “see”. More like, I’ll write a column and hopefully you’ll read it. You get the picture, right?