25K Quick Update

May 19th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

This weekend I got past the 25,000 Gamerscore mark which is quite cool. My last update was quite lengthy so I’ll just do a quick run-through, this time, of what achievements I’ve earned.

Most of the points came from Virtua Tennis 3. As I mentioned before, I’ve really been enjoying playing this game. Sports titles aren’t a genre I usually stick with but the learning curve in Virtua Tennis is set just right. Getting a win feels challenging but always achievable. At no time do you feel that you’ve been completely trounced by the computer. I was very pleased to reach #1 rank in the world tour mode during the past week.

I’ve finished off as much as I’m going to do of Beautiful Katamari and Iron Man. Neither title turned out to be very good value but they filled a couple of gaming hours.

I quickly revisited Guitar Hero III as well last week. I’d downloaded the Muse track pack, to get some practise in before Rock Band arrives, and was really pleased when I unlocked an achievement especially as my overall score is still very low in this game. In typical Guitar Hero III style the achievement was only worth a miserly 5 points! I hope the GH: Aerosmith ones are a little easier to get. From what I’ve seen on the Internet, they don’t look quite as bad.

The last game on my list was Cars. Yeah, I know it’s a bit kiddy but my one year old likes seeing the characters on the screen and it’s nice to have a game that I can play when she’s around. I’m really finding the game world awkward to navigate, though, and it’s a pretty frustrating experience all round. Although the achievements come pretty easily I don’t know if I’ll continue playing this title. You’d think a game aimed at the younger market would have a more streamlined control scheme and just be a little more fun.

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24K Beautiful Iron Racquets

May 11th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

Oops. As usual, there were a couple of blog entries that I wanted to write before this obligatory Gamerpoints milestone one. The last thousand seems to have gone by quite quickly. So what have I been playing to get to 24,000?

I picked up Iron Man at the start of the week as it was on special offer (already!). Being a movie tie-in I knew that it wasn’t going to be brilliant. I usually like comic book games so I thought I’d probably get a fair amount of enjoyment from it. And, to be honest, I have. I’ll probably write an extended review blog entry about the game in a couple of days. For now I’ll just say that the demo is a pretty accurate representation of the game as a whole so it’s one to rent rather than buy. You are certainly going to feel cheated if you pay full price for it.

The extra content for Beautiful Katamari was finally released in the UK this week so I was able to download it and pick up a few more achievements. Although the bonus levels were fun, some of them more than the main content, it seems a bit rich to charge 1200 MS points for stuff that apparently shipped on the disk.

I also made a start on a new RPG last week. I initially popped Enchanted Arms into my machine but the first twenty minutes or so didn’t really interest me so I switched over to Blue Dragon. As I’ve just come from playing Lost Odyssey, the menu system and presentation style was immediately familiar but there are lots of nice differences in the combat system. So far I’m still on disk 1 and, although it’s a little slow, I’m liking some of the differences from the usual JRPGs like the lack of random monster encounters. It’s a game I’m going to work through in small chunks, I think.

This week’s XBLA release was Wits and Wagers. I don’t think I’ve seen any board game translated to console in quite as boring a fashion as this particular title. Dancing figures aside, this title is complete devoid of any polish or panache. It’s literally just a collection of bog-standard quiz questions and every round is exactly the same as the last. It’s a game that needs to be played with other people to be fun so what’s with the multiplayer mode? It seems that you can only play against people on your friends list as there are no random live match-ups. I suppose that stops random vision cam abuse but how many of your friends will have actually bought this one? There is no way that this particular title is worth 800 MS Points. 400 would have been more appropriate.

I picked up the retro title Scramble for a quick blast around last week. The obligatory “updated” graphics really aren’t necessary as it’s one of those games that has actually aged quite well. There’s nothing quite like a good dose of nostalgia. I’m still as rubbish at playing Scramble now as I was when I popped 10ps in the cabinet at my local swimming baths in the early 80s.

I wrote about my experiences with Top Spin 2 a couple of weeks ago. Despite the fact that it was far too complicated for me I still wanted to give another tennis game a go. I picked up the latest in the rival series, Virtua Tennis 3 as a swap from Game Share. It’s a lot better game for me as it’s arcadey rather than a simulation. I was also familiar with the basics after playing Sega Superstars Tennis. Virtua Tennis 3 is a really enjoyable game and I’ve been making good progress thanks to the great learning curve. It’s a perfect example of how a non-licensed game (well, it has the players rather than the tour license Top Spin has) can be much better than the official title.

So that’s what my last thousand came from. I wonder if I can hit 25K before the end of the month as that marks my first year of playing on Live?

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23K Swap Shop

April 29th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog 1 Comment »

I tripped over the 23,000 Gamerscore mark yesterday. At least half of the latest thousand is down to Bully Scholarship Edition but I have been playing some other games as well.

I bought Lost Cities on XBLA last week and have collected a handful achievements from the title so far. It had been hyped by Sierra Online as being a similar sort of title to Carcassonne so I was looking forward to its release. I have to say that I’m really disappointed.

Lost Cities is simply quite dreary and boring.

The problem is that you can win most of the time (against the computer) just by whacking down cards with no real regard to strategy and bonuses. On “normal” level I’ve never found that I need to look at what my opponent is doing. In fact, it comes across as more of a single player solitaire game.

I’ve no doubt that there is some potential for deep strategy but the only reason to use any is either to succeed in online play, beat the computer on hard level or unlock the rather obscure luck-based achievements.

Other arcade points came from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Brain Challenge where I picked up the achievement for tripping over 20% brain usage. This game is hard work as it ranks you on your cumulative performance rather than a single test. There’s nothing to stop you repeating the daily test over and over again but I think that would be incredibly boring. The activities are interesting but just not as fun as Nintendo’s Big Brain Academy.

I’ve been using the swap site Game Share recently. Along with Bully I’ve obtained a few other games that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried. I think I should’ve trusted my natural instincts in these cases, and continued to avoid them.

I really enjoyed Sega Superstars Tennis so I thought I’d see what the more serious tennis-sim Top Spin 2 was like. Unfortunately it’s far too complicated and in depth for me and I’m completely rubbish at the game. I’ve managed to win a handful of matches which was enough to earn me about a quarter of the achievement points and I don’t think I’ll be spending much more time playing it.

Another game that I won’t be revisiting is Project Slypheed.

I used to play an awful lot of space combat games on the PC (such as the Star Wars and Wing Commander titles) so I actually like this genre a lot. However I’m really not enjoying Project Sylpheed. One of the main problems is that most of the time I haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

The screen becomes so cluttered, even in the early missions, that it becomes very difficult to follow the action. With all the lasers, missiles and special effects being churned out it regularly looks like Rainbow Brite and friends have just spewed up on the screen. It’s always tricky to navigate 3D space and track objectives in space shooters but I’ve found it particular difficult in this game.

It may get better if I spend a little more time playing but at the moment nothing about the game is enticing me to do so.

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22K Odyssey

April 18th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

I hadn’t intended to trip over the 22,000 Gamerscore mark last night. In fact I had a completely different blog entry planned for today, but a brief sojourn in the land of Rocky and Bullwinkle saw me gain the final 30 points required to move past my next gaming milestone.

A brief word about Rocky and Bullwinkle. Just like Commanders: Attack of the Genos shamelessly aped Intelligent Systems’ Advance Wars, Rocky and Bullwinkle attempts to emulate Nintendo’s WarioWare game mechanic. And again, just like Commanders, it doesn’t quite succeed.

Yes, it’s a collection of microgames that you interact with by a limited set of button presses. Yes, there’s plenty of them with unlockable rewards as you progress. Yes, the games are all based around a set of (vaguely) familiar characters. No, it’s nowhere near as fun.

In WarioWare the microgames came at you at speed, with simple instructions that instantly summed up what you had to do. In Rocky and Bullwinkle the games are often just a little too long. The instructions are vague and you’re never completely sure whether you need to alternate button presses, hit them in time with some event or just mash them repeatedly. Whereas in WarioWare the control scheme was limited to a couple of buttons, in Rocky and Bullwinkle it changes constantly between different buttons for no apparent reason other than to fake variety. The choice of buttons are interesting. I can’t think of any part of the Xbox’s gamepad that is less fun to button mash on than the two triggers. It’s noisy, it’s awkward and it’s damn right painful after a few games.

I will still go back and play Rocky and Bullwinkle a few more times. I’ve yet to try the Vision Camera support and it’s possible that that control method may make things more enjoyable, or at least a little more unique.

Enough about the XBLA title of the week, where did the other points come from? Well first of all I completed Assassin’s Creed. After all the reviews and comments I’d heard about the game I kept expecting to hit the boredom point but I never did. I can completely understand why people think it’s repetitive because, well, it is repetitive. However, I just played one assassination level each evening. By doing that the game was split up into nice little episodes and every session the experience felt fresh. I’m not at all sure how I feel about the end sections of the game. I had no problem with the fighting mechanics but even that was a little too much combat and felt completely at odds with the rest of the title.

The other game finished this week was the epic Lost Odyssey. I really enjoyed that game despite the JRPG quirks that I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries. It’s a great, emotional story with not too much of the cutesy, sugary, annoying juvenile elements that often creep into Japanese games (the ones that are worsened by bad translation). Although I never grew to love the characters, in the way for example that I liked the ones in Knights of the Old Republic, I at least grew very fond of them. Take out the random monster encounters, the long combat intro sequence and add more save points (key Japanese RPG elements, I know!) and it would have been a perfect title. I look forward to a sequel and also I’m hoping for a swift translation and release of the recent DLC that went online for our Japanese cousins.

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21K How?

April 1st, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

I was a little shocked to have hit 21,000 Gamerscore this morning, seeing as I only reached 20K a week or so ago. I guess I’ve been gaming more than I thought. Lost Odyssey and Assassin’s Creed certainly contributed a fair number of points to the total. Last week’s XBLA title TiQal also awarded me 125 points. It says something about the difficulty level of that particular puzzle game (at the start at least) that every single one of those points came from my first play through.

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Bank Holiday Gaming

March 25th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

The recent Easter weekend gave me the chance to revisit some of my older 360 titles.

I finally managed to stay long enough in an online co-op level of Lego Star Wars (TCS) to get the related achievement. To completely finish off that game I need to collect all the blue canisters. That’s a pretty big task so I’m going to put it off until I really don’t have anything else to play. If the release schedule, for the next few months, is anything to go by then I can see several windows of opportunity appearing.

I loaded up Scene It? LCA to see how many achievements I could pick up in a single player runthrough (5 in total). My wife and I played Scene It every evening for over a fortnight when it came out. It’s a great casual game (if you have even a passing interest in films), the controller works well, but we found that we exhausted the questions after about seventeen playthroughs. Now there are too many repeats for us to get any multiplayer enjoyment out of the title. I hope a sequel (or even downloadable content) will come out soon.

I finished the last level of the Raising Hell expansion to Overlord and finally got past Neptune in Beautiful Katamari (been stuck there for ages). Every level after that was easy to complete and I quickly made it to the “end” of the game. Despite my new found prowess (ha!) there’s still no way that I’m ever going to score enough points on a level to unlock it in free play mode. It’s also about time that Namco enabled the downloadble content for all us Europeans, as well.

I’ve been making progress with Sega Superstars Tennis. I’m still liking it a lot but I’ve decided that I’m going to kill Alex Kidd. I have no idea who the stumpy. bobble-headed inane-grinning chimp-freak is (I’m not a Sega fanboy) but he’s stopping me from progressing further in Superstars mode.

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20K Superstars

March 22nd, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

I hit my first year target of 20,000 Gamerscore yesterday with a whole pile of points coming from Sega Superstars Tennis.

It’s a game that came onto my radar when I heard it mentioned by Toz on his Cranky Rankings podcast. I’ve been meaning to try out Sega’s Virtua Tennis series for ages and this more casual title sounded like a lot of fun.

Not that I really appreciate the inclusion of many of the characters and locations from Sega’s long and illustrious history. My background is in PC (and 8-bit!) gaming so Sonic the Hedgehog, House of the Dead and Nights mean nothing to me (I’ve never played a game in those series).

I do love Space Channel 5 and Jet Set Radio, though, so it was great to play as characters from those games. It’s also nice to revisit old school coin-op classics like OutRun. Hearing “Magical Sound Shower” brought back memories of listening to the game soundtrack tape that came free with the ZX Spectrum version!

I’ve been spending most of my time playing the “Superstars” mode. It’s a great mix of standard tennis matches and mini-games. A lot of thought has gone into the challenges, they fit the theme of each game really well. The game also trickles out achievements at a fairly constant rate which is always a bonus and an encouragement to keep popping the disc in the tray.

Sega Superstars Tennis is definitely worth checking out if you’re after a quick “pick up and play” sports title that entertains, rather than simulates, and also dredges up memories of some gems from gaming history.

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Viva Forever

March 21st, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

I have been neglecting this blog for the past couple of weeks. It’s not because I haven’t been playing games, but because I’ve just been playing the same couple of titles and haven’t really had anything new to write about.

I’m currently on the 4th disc of Lost Odyssey and I’m still really enjoying it. I made the decision, early on, to spend quite a bit of time levelling up my characters. For me, there’s nothing worse in an RPG than getting stuck at a certain battle in the game because your party is underpowered.

I am actually surprised at how much I am enjoying this very Japanese game. My recent RPG diet has consisted of Western titles like Oblivion and Mass Effect. Lost Odyssey’s very linear route, the constant interuptions of random encounters and the restrictive saving have taken a little while to get used to. As I”ve mentioned before, I am completely OCD about saving my progress every few steps! Only saving every hour or so is hell for me! There have been times where play sessions have stretched out into the early hours of the morning as I desperately tried to get myself through a dungeon to reach the next save point!

I can see the game lasting for another couple of weeks for me. I’m in no rush at all to finish it. Although I know it’s not as good, I’m quite tempted to have a go at Blue Dragon once I’m done with Lost Odyssey. I should really get Eternal Sonata finished first though! 

I finally obtained the last Viva Piñata (Xbox 360) achievement, for 50 hours of playtime, yesterday. I’ve also been playing the PC version of the game and have almost finished all the achievements there.

In fact, it was the Windows version of the game that actually encouraged me to revisit the 360 original. Viva Piñata was the game that I was most looking forward to playing when I bought my Xbox last year. It ended up being a bit of a disappointment, however. At the time I was put off by the constant interuptions by cut scenes during the early part of the game.

When the Windows version came out, I bought it. I figured that there was enough about the 360 version that I liked to see if I’d enjoy playing it more on the PC. And I did. I really got into the game. Being forced to start a new garden from scratch was very liberating. It allowed me to be free of the mistakes I made in my original garden and use what I had learned there to instantly make more progress in the game. I collected loads of different achievements, many more than I’d got on the Xbox version, and this encouraged me to go back and try the game again on the console.

I ended up being a really big fan of the title and I’m close to completing both versions of the game. It’s very rare (no pun intended) that I give a game a second chance like this. Maybe it’s something that I should consider doing more in the future?

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My Top 10 Most Played

March 9th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

…Well almost. Lost Odyssey is still taking up most of my gaming time so I thought I’d briefly blog about my top ten most played Xbox Live games. The rankings are determined by the number of days played (as reported by 360voice). I did have a slightly more accurate indicator of which game I’d played the most but unfortuntely the LiveEye service, which logged the number of hours, is no longer available.

1. Carcassonne

Having visited the real-life city of Carcassonne I was really keen to check out this electronic version of the German tile-based board game. It’s a fast paced stategy title that’s fairly easy for beginners to understand but allows for more complicated tactical play. My wife and I play it regularly and we absolutely love it. I really hope that they’ll release some new “expanison sets” for it soon. It has the distinction, for me, of being the game that was playing when my original Xbox 360 died.

2. Shadowrun

Ah, yes. I really should explain this. It’s in my top ten and yet… I’ve never played it on the Xbox 360. It was one of the games I bought when my Xbox 360 went into repair, I just wanted something to play over live! Despite the poor reviews I thought Shadowrun had some things going for it. The races and powers were interesting and did allow players to adopt different styles of play. It’s just a shame that there wasn’t a single player campaign, the character models couldn’t be customised and that there wasn’t more than a handful of maps available. It felt like a title that was rushed out of the door before the studio was closed.

3. Hardwood Backgammon

I enjoyed playing backgammon with my Dad as a kid so I thought it was worth picking up this XBLA version. It’s one of those titles that I played a quick game of most mornings which is why it has ranked so high in my top 10.

4. Oblivion

A superb game that I’ve already mentioned in my blog entry on RPGs. I really enjoyed playing though each of the main questlines, encouraged by the well-designed achievements. I found the Shivering Isles expansion disappointing but only because I wasn’t keen on the world in which it was set.

5. Viva Piñata

I did have a whole blog entry dedicated to Viva Piñata but I accidently deleted it recently. It’s a shame as I wrote about how it was one of the reasons I was looking forward to getting a 360. Initially a disappointment in some ways, I found it hard to get into. For me, the early stages of the game were spoilt by the constant barrage of cut scenes. I only really got back into the 360 version after playing Viva Piñata for the PC. At the moment just one achievement to get, the 50 hours of play time one, so the disc will be going into the tray a few more times before I trade it in.

6. Puzzle Quest

The idea of combining RPG elements with a puzzle game was inspired and really raises Puzzle Quest head and shoulders above all the other “match three” games on the Xbox Live Arcade. The puzzles are split into missions so you can put this game on for a quick play and always receive some reward. I personally need to do some more work on levelling up my character as I’m having problems taking down the end of game boss.

 7. Worms

Despite my age, and the fact that I’ve been gaming for years, I’ve never played Worms before. This was obvious by exactly how rubbish I was at this game at first. Eventually I managed to get the hang of working out the trajectories my little worm’s weapons and really started to enjoy the game. I just need to finish final challenge level to unlock finish the achievements.

8. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Lego and Star Wars. Together they formed a major part of my childhood. Who would have thought that they would’ve been brought together in a computer game? And who would’ve thought that it would have actually been good? It was, of course, thanks to the sterling work of developer Traveller’s Tales.

I played both the original Lego Star Wars titles on the first Xbox. And, as I picked it up cheap second hand, the original saga again on the 360. Even so, I couldn’t resist the chance to purchase the complete story in a single game especially as the achievements were so great.

9. Overlord

I’ve mentioned Overlord in a previous blog entry so I won’t waffle on about it any more here. Suffice it to say that it’s a great game. 🙂

10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance

I bought this for the Wii first although I soon traded it in. I just couldn’t get my head around the control system. I’m afraid I just don’t want to have to shake and tilt like mad to complete the sort of moves that would usually be activated by a single button press. I’m glad I gave it a second chance on the Xbox 360 as it’s a great game, especially enjoyable for a Marvel fan.

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19K Achievements

March 6th, 2008 Strident Posted in Gaming Blog No Comments »

When I bought my Xbox 360 last July I thought that it would be quite nice if I reached 20,000 Gamerscore during my first year playing on Live. I’m therefore happy to have recently hit the 19,000 mark, which leaves me with under a thousand points to obtain during the next few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an achievement junkie but I do really like the Gamerscore system.

What does that 19,000 score mean to me? Has it been an excuse for me to play? Is it a reward for all the time I’ve spent on games? Does it really stand for anything in the real world other than some indication of nerdiness?

I think that it is nice to have a record of the games that you’ve played and the progress you’ve made on each one. When I look at my list of achievements it brings back memories of all the Xbox 360 games that I’ve enjoyed.

There are so many great games that I’ve played on the PC and other consoles that I’ve completely forgotten. I have no record of all the time I spent playing old-school text adventures. I’ve got nothing that shows which how well I did in Jedi Knight. I can’t even remember how much of Dungeon Keeper 2 I actually completed.

It is nice to have something that documents your gaming “life”. That’s what Microsoft’s Gamerscore system does for me.

Achievements also provide me with an added incentive to keep working through a title to the end. When they are well implemented I’m encouraged to try new play-styles or explore new areas of the game.

Microsoft certainly hit on a winning idea when they came up with Gamerscore but it’s not the first time that I’ve bought into such a system.

One of my main time sinks of the past few years has been the MMO game City of Heroes. Early into the life of the game they introduced the concept of badges that rewarded players for reaching milestones, completing certain tasks & missions and taking part in special events.

Like Microsoft’s Gamerscore, the idea of badges was widely ridiculed by many players before they had the chance to test it out. Virtually everyone wrote them off as pointless visually fluff. Why would people spend time working on something that had no in-game effect? Why were the developers spending time adding a system that could, at best, only be used as a way of bragging about what you’ve done. Surely adding more content to the proper game was more important?

It’s a system that’s been very important to COH though. A lot of people centre their gaming around obtaining badges. It has encouraged many players to stay loyal to City of Heroes during the times when interest in the game was lower because of the lack of new updates. The act of obtaining badges became a game in it’s own right and new badges were the content that many people were most interested in. In my mind the badge system is the addition that has had the most long term impact to the game.

Gamerscore has, I think, been equally important for Microsoft. Gamers have really bought into the system. They have invested their time into it. For many it tips the balance as to which console they play the latest releases on. For some, if the game isn’t contributing to their Gamerscore then it’s not worth playing.

Achievements started out as a throwaway last minute addition. Now most developers seem to spend time and effort working on their achievements. There is apparently evidence to suggest that games with open achievements sell better than those with lots of secret ones. A sure sign that achievements have become important for many players.

If Sony are really serious about their Home platform I think that they really should force developers to include rewards and other Home content in their titles. They need to make their achievement system accessible from the web and allow gamers to share their accomplishments with others outside the Home environment. Only then will they have something that rivals Microsoft’s Gamerscore and will entice achievement junkies to spend their time elsewhere.

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