Trouble Thinking

January 31, 2011

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Filed under: History — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 7:02 pm

This game, you guys, this game. It’s really great. You may have completely ignored it because “Lara Croft” has become synonymous with “really mediocre didn’t they stop releasing them 90’s platformer polygonal boobs”. That’s not what you want out of a game at all, that’s just stream-of-consciousness. Your brain is so tired of Lara Croft it didn’t even bother to insert articles.

I freely admit that the primary reason I bought it was that it was one of the very few local co-op options available on the X-Box 360. Online co-op is nifty and all, but I do actually know people willing to sit down with me. I went in expecting a half-decent co-op platformer, and I was shocked to receive one of the better games of 2010.

Guardian of Light is actually a top-down shooter with a little bit of light platforming, puzzle-solving, and exploration. It’s a simple formula, but strange to see placed on Lara Croft. First of all, the graphics are surprisingly pretty for a download-only game. The incredibly minor story involves trying to re-trap an evil being, Xolotl, who was trapped by the Incans because they weren’t fans of the world being destroyed. Single-player follows Lara putting the genie back in the bottle.

If you play co-op, an ancient Incan who was placed in stasis via magic named Totec helps you out with his magic infinitely-respawning spear and invincible shield. Spectacularly, puzzles and combat change in both style and difficultly when someone is playing with you. It makes the game a lot more interesting when playing through alone doesn’t give away the co-op experience.

Playing with a friend is definitely where the game shines, giving you the opportunity to work together toward a common goal, and adding some minor cooperative gameplay changes, including the very important ability to shout “THROW ME THE ROOOOOPE”, that create a sense of camaraderie that is stronger than in most co-op games in which you’re able to progress without your partner and might even feel like they’re just holding you back. At no point in the co-op game for Guardian of Light could you possibly make it past the death-traps without your trusty adventuring companion. The importance of keeping each other alive is reinforced over and over, and you’re easily able to resurrect so long as your partner is still alive, making you very dependent on one another.

The game is presented as a series of levels that present obstacles in the form of either waves of evil Incan monster-things that you must dispatch with guns that appear to fire bullets roughly the size of your palm, or solve puzzles that take a bit of thinking. The combat is quick and fun, and enhanced by a system of weapon types and bonuses of surprisingly complexity that you accrue over the course of the game by either being granted them at significant moments or as a reward for straying from the beaten path a bit.  Xolotl shows up to taunt you at regular intervals because like all recently-released evil beings, he’s congenitally incapable of just leaving the area quickly and quietly to plan the end of the planet while the heroes negotiate airfare.

Each level comes with bonus objectives and rewards for their completion, the biggest ones being the equal and opposite ones of “score X points” and “complete the level in Y time”. It allows for a minimum of a couple of playthroughs in different styles if you’re into being a bit of a completionist. I found myself doing a speedy run of 4-5 minutes per level, and a “Kill everything/Find Everything” run where I got all the little bonus objectives during my playing of the single-player mode.

There are a couple of DLC packs out, the first of which was free for people who purchased the game last year, and they all seem pretty solid if unremarkable. They add minor challenges for scoring super-high or completing something very fast.

If you don’t have anyone to play with, try the demo on Steam or X-Box Live, if you do have a friend, split it 50/50 and buy it today. It’s really one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2010, mostly because of the spectacular co-op.

January 28, 2011

Burn, chibi, burn?

Filed under: Game Reviews, Sports, Video Games — Tags: , , , , — Katherine Barclay @ 5:38 pm

So, I’ve avoided the Wii ever since it came out. I’ll admit, this had a lot to do with the fact that I was broke, and anyway, I never play games, so why exactly would I need a new console? Also, it asks you to, like … do things to make things happen on the screen, and ‘point and click’ is simple enough of a computer but gets remarkably confusing when you ask me to do it to my television. It also didn’t really help that the only games being made for the Wii  were tack-ons to franchises that I never really got involved with in the beginning — the ninth Zelda thing is probably a lot of fun for people who know who Link is, but for me he’s just That Guy Who Came Before Legolas, and it’s not really all that thrilling.

The one thing that did intrigue me was Wii-fit, mostly because it seemed too cute and soft and fluffy to be any good. I mean, everyone knows how exercise is supposed to work — you run around your dingy block fifteen times, or you go to your dingy gym, and struggle to figure out how the equiment works before the scary muscular guy waiting behind you decides you’re wasting his time and kills you over the leg press thingy. This soft-edged white board with it’s encouraging child-like voice is in complete contrast with that, and the adorable cartoon pictures that guide you through the exercises seemed too … well, silly, to be any good.

Seriously, what's up with these soft happy grey people? That's not exercise, it's interpretive dance!But my friends just got a Wii, and with nothing better to do with my evenings I bribed them into letting me try it, to see what all this fuss was about.  And, much to my surprise, I’ve actually found it to be remarkably … well, exercisey.

Sure, it took a while to get there – the gateway into Wiifit seems to be balance games, mini games that involve you throwing your weight around like a crazy person to walk a tightrope across a gap, or float a bubbleboat down a river without crashing into the rocks, or trying not to get hit in the head with flying soccer cleats. Each game seemed simplistic and a little big juvenile, but I quickly discovered that “doing my best” got me a measley one or two stars, and the unimpressive title of Amateur. In order to do well at even the simplest of these little games actually takes work, and muscles were aching the next day that I didn’t even really know I had.

And that’s the easiest of the options – if you’re feeling a little bit braver, the Aerobics section is full of equally chibi-looking childlike exercises … except that these ones actually make you work. A reasonably simple-looking hula hoop game that makes you swivel your hips like an idiot ended up with me panting after a minute and a half and their step-aerobics game requires a deceptive amount of precise muscle control (combined with a healthy amount of luck) to get the balance board to think you’ve done it perfectly. And if you’re feeling slightly more hardcore, there’s also free running, measured by putting the little remote thing in your pocket, and boxing, which involves flailing at the screen like an idiot while a deep-voiced black chibi man yells at you. Each of these last two start off reasonably short, with a 2-3 minute run and a 4 minute boxing set, but doing each short game a few times unlocks a longer version. And while four minutes of non-stop boxing seems easy enough, I quickly discovered that eleven minutes was hard.

No, it probably doesn’t match up to going to a gym and actually hitting the machines, but mixing and matching a combination of strength exercises (pushups still kill me, but I’m surprised by how well I did at the leg ones) and yoga and the aforementioned aerobics, I actually left the game feeling like I’d accomplished something. Sore muscles  on day two eventually started to fade, and a week later I can do a ten minute run without getting out of breath, where a week ago four minutes killed me.

It’s baby steps, but for someone with no access to a gym and a burning hatred for running around blocks, I’m surprised to say that I’m actually really enjoying this thing. Anyone who already has a Wii who’s looking for an easy-to-commit-to exercise regime that doesn’t feel like a chore might do well to check it out!

January 26, 2011

Magicka Is Interesting! Also: Fun Times!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:18 pm

So Magicka is a game from tiny Arrowhead Game Studios in Sweden, published by Paradox Interactive and it is a thing that proves interesting. It’s a pretty basic top-down dungeon crawler. Which is to say, you (and 3 of your friends) control a little dude (in this case a magician) and make him walk around exploring a big ruin/town/castle/etc and shoot/kill/crush/etc whatever random little monsters appear. Sometimes, you get coins or loot or a better sword or whatever.

So, pretty much the most basic thing besides Pong. What makes Magicka worth your time? Well, that’s… elementary. The Magic(k) system in Magicka is truly, honestly, the best idea for magic in a game I’ve seen in basically forever. It’s incredibly simple, too. There are 8 “elements” that you use to cast spells: Water, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Cold, Shield, Arcane, and Life. In order to cast, you simply hit a button (q, w, e, r, a, s, d, f respectively) that corresponds to an element and then choose a target: yourself, an area in front of you, an area around you, or your sword. So far, reasonably simple. Fire + front = flamethrower that you can sweep around. Life + self = heal yourself a bit. Water + self = put out robes when you inevitably set yourself on fire.

But that’s only the start.

(more…)

January 24, 2011

DC Comics Drops Comics Code Authority! Wait, I Thought That Was Dead Already….

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 2:07 pm

Oh! Oh right, no. Marvel Comics dropped the Comics Code Authority seal of approval in 2001. But I guess it’s news again because DC finally dropped it, presumably mad because they had to keep the dripping flesh-ribbons off of the Corpse Gate to Hawk-World in Brightest Day.

You thought I was joking.

What’s the Comics Code Authority? I’m glad you asked!

In the 50’s, comics were actually popular. Million-sellers were common, and kids who didn’t even wear glasses held together with masking tape were eating them up.

This may be because in the 50’s comics were the most gruesomely terrifying shit you could get your hands on.

This is completely insane, and yet it's one of the less brutal covers.

Seriously, the 50’s horror/crime comics make slasher flicks look like grade-school performances of A Charlie Brown Christmas. To make a long story short: when people finally noticed how hilariously over-the-top disturbing comics could be, they went a bit crazy. Most of the credit for popularizing opposition to comics goes to Dr. Frederic Wertham, who wrote a book called “Seduction of the Innocent” that focused on the corrupting nature of modern culture on youth and how it could lead to violence and disenchantment. Comics -being more popular among children than anything save being beaten in the 50’s- figured heavily in that argument. He somewhat ridiculously blamed them for directly causing youth violence, sex, drug use, and general bad behavior.

Sufficiently stoked, the hysteria came to a head in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquincy in 1954. Seeing how badly the hearing was going, the comic industry decided that rather than be subjected to government regulation, they’d construct a self-regulatory body not unlike the ESRB rating system for games. Only this rating system simply had a single up-or-down vote. And it was insanely strict in the way that only 50’s popular culture could be:

(more…)

January 21, 2011

SpaceChem is the Only Puzzle Game Worth Your Time

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 2:27 pm

SpaceChem!

So you’ve played puzzle games, right? I mean, obviously. If you haven’t, you’re odd and no one cares about you.

Most of them divide into two groups, basically: Games where you match bits to other bits like Tetris and Bejeweled and whatever and games where you use logic to figure out the proper solution like Sudoku or Picross. And I guess adventure games, where you just guess at things and curse. All good games that are fun to play. SpaceChem, by indie producer Zachotronics, makes each of them look like more of an insult to your vast, all-conquering intellect than the last.

Puzzles in SpaceChem are about taking chemical input from point A and turning them into output at point B. You do this by slotting instructions into either of two assembly lines in a Reactor. Here, it’s easier with a picture:

See? Simple!

You can use either Red or Blue to create chemicals, grab them, bond them to other chemicals, drop them, and output them. You’re given a specific set of input chemicals to work with, and a goal for your solution. There’s also a few restrictions in terms of what can be double or triple bonded. The idea is to get things working so that you not only get a single chemical output right, but so that you can leave it to run hundreds without a hiccup or a collision. Obviously, they let you speed it up to Crazy Fast in order to test that bit. Eventually, you begin requiring multiple reactors like this connected together, constructing a complex chemical in a chain of input, assembly, and output.

Even easier!

 

Rather than giving you a puzzle with a solution, SpaceChem gives you some goals and a few tools then demands that you figure it out. You might find one of the hundreds of possible solutions, and find out that yours is a kludgy horrid ugly thing that everyone else is laughing at. You took 40 parts? What are you, a moron? Ugh.

Finally! I've got H-H figured!

SpaceChem encourages you to not just manage to solve the puzzles it presents, but to come up with a clever way of doing it in the most efficient manner possible. As you move through the game and into multiple reactors working at once, it’s fascinating to see the little graphs presented post-leve l-which chart your solution against all other recorded ones based on number of instructions, time taken, and number of reactors used- open up. One level was completed by some clever jerk with a quarter of the instructions my solution took. How? Well… I’m going to have to figure that one out.

It’s a sort of puzzle game I haven’t seen much of at all, and I feel pretty comfortable saying it’s the greatest single idea conceived in human history. The ability to actually innovate in order to solve a problem is incredibly engaging, and makes you feel clever as hell when you finally get something right. Particularly if you see you did it with above-average efficiency.

You might not think you need to buy it but that’s just a last-ditch effort by your brain to keep you doing anything other than figuring out puzzles. You definitely need to buy it right now.

January 19, 2011

Star Trek Online: Engaging!

Filed under: Computers, Game Reviews, Video Games — Tags: , , , — Katherine Barclay @ 3:04 pm

I know, I know, terrible pun. Let’s just move on from that, shall we, because I’m about to make a point that I never thought I’d make.

Star Trek Online

I have long hated MMOs. No, I’ve never had a subscription to that WoW thing that so successfully ensnared so many people, and maybe that makes me unable to truly judge, but the point of the matter for me is that I’ve never wanted one. I’ve watched people play, and I’ve watched people play other MMOs, and at the end of the day, they have always seemed massively unappealing to me. The dual points of the game seem to be a) get as high level as possible as quickly as possible, because that’s where all of the fun things are, and b) to get yourself as deeply burried in a guild as possible, because those fun things often end up being really hard to do alone.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with either of those notions, especially if you’re the sort of person who’s looking to put hours upon hours into his or her game of choice.

The problem, for me, is always what each part implies: levelling, to the best of my observation, tends to involve a lot of monotonous repetition of mundane if not utterly tiresome game elements, all leading up to the chance to actually access the interesting parts. Do people really enjoy killing porings that much? Did porings traumatise you as children, that they must now be hunted down and slaughtered to a head? It reminds me of Pokemon, and how you’d have to spend hours walking around this one little square of grass to get your entire party from level 2 to level  49 — only at least with Pokemon, there were no other trainers walking around, laughing about how long it was taking you to do it, and whether your pokemon were 5th level or 55th, in the end you were still just a kid.

And as far as guilds go, it has always seemed to me that they make gameplay much more restricting than they do freeing, from a (vaguely) objective point of view. Those guild-attached players who I have had the pleasure of witnessing (anecdotal evidence is 90% of the law?) always seemed concerned, if not downright obsessed, with how their guild would perceive their actions. Gameplay now had to happen Just So, and at such specific times because of in-guild actions of various sorts that even the least obsessive people I know tended to start treating it like a job. A job they really enjoyed, but a job nonetheless, with the fear of being fired if you don’t perform to the boss’s standard.

Which is why I resisted as hard as I could, when I was offered a month’s subscription to play Star Trek Online … and why I’m surprised as all hell to have ended up enjoying it thoroughly. (more…)

January 17, 2011

I’ve A Horse Outside

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 5:27 pm

So I was made aware of this by an article posted to the internet remnants of the failed humor magazine “Cracked”, and I really really enjoyed the hell out of it.

It is a music video by Irish comedians “The Rubberbandits” about having a completely bitching horse.

It has, apparently, been seen by about 5 million people already, because it came out a while ago and is actually at the top of the Irish charts. But I figure the odds that anyone who regularly checks Trouble Thinking is able to find a thing that is good before I do are incredibly low. That is why I am here for you.

Connected to the video is this radio show excerpt where one of the Rubberbandits discusses the concept of “satire” with some enormous horse’s ass who cannot understand that when one of the creepy-looking thuggish antagonists in the video expresses the sentiment that you should drink and do drugs in front of your children, he is not meant to be emulated. Some people need their hands held.

As Gladstone mentions, it’s a pretty impressive display of satire that manages to be equal parts insulting, funny, and uplifting. Plus, the song is actually a surprisingly singable bit of pop.

January 12, 2011

Comics Are Boss: Avengers Prime

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:23 am

Yes

This really doesn’t need a lot of elaboration. Nowhere but in comics will you see something like this presented with a straight face so regularly.

Also the comic this comes from, Avengers Prime, has been a surprisingly fun miniseries. It’s a bit transparently “Getting the band back together” in the sense that it’s part of a larger effort to make Iron Man, Captain America and Thor the pillars of the Marvel universe, which might have something to do with them all having movies out soon individually and starring in the Avengers movie. Still, it’s a well-told story of coming together under adverse circumstances. Like a company-mandated camping trip that goes wrong, only because it’s comics the Norse goddess of the dishonored dead is trying to murder everyone.

Plus, writer Brian Michael Bendis manages to keep conversations at a reasonable minimum, something he tends to run away with in other books. Look for it at your Local Comic Book Retailer!

January 9, 2011

Super Felt Boy!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 3:56 pm

Okay, this is just the most awesome thing. I recently received this as a belated Christmas gift, and well here you go:

Super Felt Boy!

Not only is that kind of fucking excellent, it makes the other Super Meat Boy plush toy attempts I’ve seen look like super crap boys. Seriously, this thing is excellent. It’s even sturdy enough to withstand constant hugging, not that I have tested that but I am saying if you were to hug it just over and over again because you can’t help it with that adorable face it probably will be fine.

And the little Steam-logo meat sticker totally fooled me. I was all “aw you didn’t need to spend $10.31 on me!”

Trickery!

So yes, this is my favorite gift of basically ever.

January 5, 2011

Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood, Multiplayer

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 3:44 pm

So, Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood. I’ve played about 3 hours of the single-player, just enough to get through the introductory sequences.

It’s not bad. Lots of stuff to do. I don’t really care at the moment, though. Nothing in the game proper is enough to drag me away from the multiplayer. I think, like everyone else, I expected Brotherhood to be a throwaway cash-in. Even when the game proper proved surprisingly excellent, I figured that the multiplayer component was most likely a horrid little tie-in mostly designed to add a bullet point to the list of Amazing Features the game had.

It is not. In fact, it’s one of the best co-op games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. No, not the team play, which dissapointingly (though understandably) is limited to voice-chat with a friend who also has a console. The simplest game mode, in which 8 players pick a body type, and then are transported to a city bustling with exact dopplegangers of themselves and the other players. Upon warping in, they’re given a contract to kill one of the other players. As the only identification you have is what body they’ve chosen, you need to pick the right creepy Renessaince Bird Doctor from the crowd he’s hiding in, then stab him like crazy. It’s a great time!

But what makes it spectacular is the interaction it provides for your friends. See, only one person can control your assassin at any given time. But anyone in the room can shout “IT’S THE ONE ON THE RIGHT I SAW HIM TWICTCH QUICK STAB STAB STAB”. And urge you to just be cool be cool that guy is totally going to try to kill you just walk in to that crown now STUN HIM hell yes! I had the fortune to see a ridiculously Hollywood moment when a friend of mine ran from his pursuer, hid behind a market stall, disguised, walked calmly out and began browsing the market. While his pursuer spun in place trying to figure out where his quarray had gone, my friend tapped him on the shoulder and smacked him in the face.

The underlying set of mechanics is solid, forcing you to balance between the free-ranging parkour of the single-player experience and the necessity to remain hidden in crowds in order to not tip off either your quarry or your pursuer. The progression system, a reasonably standard but nicely distributed set of rewards for getting XP from kills, is quite well thought out if a bit standard. A good icing on a game I’d play habitually anyway, not unlike the first Modern Warfare.

This is a multiplayer experience I haven’t had in years. The co-operative spectator game. It’s fun to play, and engages the audience simply by providing them an opportunity to help you out. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind some actual built-in spectator assist features, maybe some kind of extra camera angle view in splitscreen, or a target painter or something. As it is, I forsee hours more of controller-trading fun with this game long before I ever bother checking out single-player again. I haven’t even attempted the co-operative online experience, having been too engaged with having my friends over and competing for the most awesome kill. Be sure to check it out if you’re one of the millions who bought the game! And try Advanced Wanted when it unlocks, I’m tired of crazy lobby wait times.

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