Month: January 2014

Unbroken So Far: Broken Age Act I (PC) Review 3

Unbroken So Far: Broken Age Act I (PC) Review

This is a game a lot of people have been waiting for. One of the first ridiculously-successful Kickstarter games, this is certainly the most well-known, putting the model on the map. It’s goal was to prove that the adventure game was in demand, and that the nostalgia for Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle could be recaptured. Tim Schafer’s history was a huge selling point, and it represented a bold idea for game development where games were funded directly by gamers – consumers, even, to drive the point home. After two years and concerns with the delays, it’s finally out, and it presents a beautiful product.

Broken Age’s first act is a traditional point and click adventure, but without the tedium of those games, featuring a much better interface and less obtuse puzzles. Whether it’s worth the $3.3 million dollars it was given is a matter of debate, but it’s certainly a well-designed, nearly-flawless game for the time you get from it – and the rest will be delivered to us, for free, within the year.

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It should be noted that I am more lenient about the game’s short length due to the coming second act, though much like with Bioshock Infinite’s Burial at Sea, it does affect perception. However, this act stands on its own, giving just enough information to introduce the setting and plot, and hinting at future events.

The plot is divided into two parts – one followed baker Vella as she tries to find a way to stop the looming monster threatening to devour her, and the young spacefarer Shay who seeks to escape his coddling ship AI and experience real adventure. The two seem very different, though they do eventually integrate, albeit in a way never fully explained. However, they manage to both exude a similar aesthetic and tone, as well as shared themes of defiance of social norms and desire for adventure and excitement.

For Alex’s full review of Broken Age, check out issue #32 – coming February 18th.

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The game itself is great, and is a largely fun adventure experience, but it only amounts to a couple of hours. The second half (which, again, will be given for free for whomever purchases the first Act, reportedly later in the year), presumably, will be about as long, which still leaves the game at less than ten hours. That seems quite short, though given the content it might be fine – the original goal was only $400,000 dollars, less than a sixth of the final tally. That extra money essentially covered the cost of the games for the truly staggering number of backers (whose credits truly dominate the entire scroll by many times), and can be seen, not just in a few Hollywood actors, but in the art quality and amazing polish the game sports. The game is $25 for both acts, which isn’t terrible for 8-10 hours (action games have been shorter). Backers essentially got the game for $15.

Broken Age has delivered what it promised, quite wonderfully. This initial offering of the first half, and the promise of a conclusion to come at no extra cost, is enough to earn it attention for its beauty. The second half, and its subsequent review, will bear the weight of the example its opening gave, and will decide whether this game is worth the score I give it.

Nintendo's plans on mobile expansion unclear

Nintendo’s plans on mobile expansion unclear

Aiming to increase customer awareness of its hardware and software, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the company will try to achieve “greater ties” with consumers on their smart devices to accomplish this.

Rather than extending their product entirely to smartphones, Iwata said an expansion of their platform business is key. What does this exactly mean however? If you think this potentially marks the beginning of Mario and Zelda games hitting smart phones, Iwata’s following comment will indicate quite the opposite.

“If you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement,” he said during the announcement.

So then what exactly is Nintendo planning? Establishing “greater ties” with consumers through smart devices without actually releasing Nintendo games on them is a confusing statement to make. He added Nintendo will use a “small, select team of developers,” to accomplish these goals. “We recognize that attracting consumers’ attention among the myriads of mobile applications is not easy, and as I said before, we feel that simply releasing our games just as they are on smart devices would not provide the best entertainment for smart devices, so we are not going to take any approach of this nature.” He also said no restrictions will be placed on this small development team when it comes to expanding their product to other platforms, except of course when it comes to bringing Mario to smart devices, which apparently is not in the books.

Are we going to be hit with Nintendo-related ads and apps that try to shove information about the Wii U –  the console’s large gamepad is apparently here to stay as well according to the rest of Nintendo’s outline – down our throats? It’s highly unlikely that the Wii U’s poor sales performance has anything to do with consumers lack of awareness surrounding the product. It has been out since 2012, with several popular Mario games like Super Mario 3D World, releasing on the system.

Only time will tell us what exactly Nintendo’s expansion plans really mean. It certainly doesn’t hurt to expand to other platforms, but Iwata’s confirmation about games like Mario not releasing on smart devices is terribly confusing. Will there be other games Nintendo plans on releasing on phones? What is this newly formed development team going to accomplish? If we are to take anything away from this, it’s that Nintendo is realizing that leaning solely on their mascot isn’t going to help sell their products on a consistent basis, and new strategies – like this confusing one about mobile expansion – need to be explored.

Slim Vita Makes Its Way To Europe 1

Slim Vita Makes Its Way To Europe

Sony announced this morning that the Slim Vita model will be making its way to the United Kingdom on February 7th. The version, originally released in Japan last year, has 1GB of internal memory and a LCD screen. The model also boasts longer battery life and lighter hardware.

The PlayStation Vita has had its struggles in the past, being outsold by the powerhouse that is the Nintendo 3DS. Still, the Vita has found a home in niche JRPG titles (Persona 4: Golden and Ys: Memories of Celceta), making it a must for anime fans.

The slim PlayStation Vita model will run Europeans £180. Here’s hoping they will answer the impulse to purchase it. There is still no confirmation of a North American release.

Tropico 5 Coming to PlayStation 4 2

Tropico 5 Coming to PlayStation 4

The fine people at Haemimont Games announced today that their upcoming city builder, Tropico 5, will make its way to PlayStation 4. This marks the first appearance of a Tropico game on a Sony console.

Surprisingly, there was no mention in the press release of an Xbox One version (so sorry Microsoft fans). Luckily, the game has already been confirmed for Xbox 360, PC and MAC.

The Tropico series is a city building simulator in the same vein as Age of Empires and SimCity. Players, who are called El Presidente, build cities and advance their civilizations on tropical islands, while running into parodies of famous revolutionary figures like Che Guevara and Margeret Thatcher. Tropico 5 adds both competitive and co-operative multiplayer, a first for the series. Also added is a Dynasty mode, where El Presidente’s children can rule after you’re gone.

Tropico 5 is set to release later this year. Keep it tuned to CGM as more details arise.

 

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Head of Nintendo Cuts His Salary

Head of Nintendo Cuts His Salary

Nintendo’s poor Wii U sales have caused president Satoru Iwata to cut his salary in half. Only 2.4 million Wii U’s have sold, accumulating into a 30% loss in profits over the last 9 months.

Iwata made this announcement to the press Wednesday morning. He also mentioned that other CEO’s would cut 20 to 30 percent of their salary. How’s that for fair treatment?

While the Wii U has failed to sell (despite the overwhelming response for Super Mario 3D World), The Nintendo 3DS has flourished, selling over 42 million worldwide.

With Nintendo’s domination of the handheld market, it may be time to make a decision on whether or not the Wii U is worth supporting over the next few years. Should Nintendo pull the plug, or continue hoping to find that system seller?

While you’re thinking about it, make sure to check out our review of Super Mario 3D World.

Octodad Will Feature Multiplayer 2

Octodad Will Feature Multiplayer

The upcoming PlayStation 4 title, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, is now confirmed to have 4-player local co-op.

The news came way of Young Horses producer Kevin Geisler, who confirmed the news on Twitter. In an interview with Polygon, president Phil Tibitoski said ” the game features a four-player Roulette mode. In this mode, every time an objective is completed, the limbs each player controls will be randomly switched without indicating who is controlling what. For example, a player using the right leg could suddenly be controlling the left arm, and players will need to figure out for themselves who is controlling what. This mode can be toggled on and off.”

Tibitoski also mentioned another mode in which characters each control one set of limbs.

Confirmed for both PC and PS4, Dadliest Catch follows the story of an octopus disguised as a human, who has evaded the secret service for quite awhile now. He also has a wife and kid to boot (don’t know exactly how that worked).

As Octodad, players must complete mundane tasks (like mowing the lawn), all the while avoiding any suspicion. While this may sound easy, the game comes fit with “octopus physics”, causing Octodad to move around in a crazy manner.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch will be out tomorrow on PC, Mac, Linux. While no set date has been made for the PS4 release, Young Horses are hoping for a March release. As for Xbox One, you can check out our interview with Geisler.

 

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16 Bit Story Recap Harkens Back to Square's Glory Days 2

16 Bit Story Recap Harkens Back to Square’s Glory Days

In an effort to promote Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix has released a video recapping the story of Final Fantasy XIII…with 16-bit graphics.

Much like the classic entry, Final Fantasy VI, Lightning and her friends are depicted as 2-D sprites in a 2-D world. The video itself serves as a summarized version of the events from the first two Final Fantasy XIII games, complete with certain memorable battles and sprite-based summons.

Amidst the nostalgia, one has to wonder: why won’t Square make some more 16-bit games. Granted, there is a huge fan base for the new, fancy engine that is Final Fantasy XV, but I’m sure many would be just as excited for a new 2-D entry to the series.

Let’s hope Square Enix takes a hint from this release. Either way, you can pick up Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII on February 11. It is available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

 

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Hand-Drawn Visuals are a Breath of Fresh Air 1

Hand-Drawn Visuals are a Breath of Fresh Air

When the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were announced last year, a large part of their respective reveals focused on the new consoles’ technological prowess. Microsoft and Sony were quick to identify just how advanced their hardware was, showcasing the two machines’ ability to render realistic guns, cars, and faces through clips of games like Forza Motorsport 5 and Battlefield 4. Watching the light reflect off the hood of a nearly lifelike Lamborghini and seeing a perfectly rendered version of Michael K. William escape a sinking car is impressive, but it was hardly the most exciting thing in the world. Videogame technology improves all the time, after all, and the kind of visual improvements that our current crop of new consoles afford are far less drastic than they have been in the past.

Last week, on the other hand, saw the release of two long-awaited games that are bound to be remembered in large part for their exceptional looks, even if they aren’t technologically astounding. Both Double Fine Production’s Broken Age and Stoic’s The Banner Saga were funded through Kickstarter campaigns, their releases eagerly awaited by project backers and interested players. The two games don’t have a tremendous amount in common — The Banner Saga is a Viking inspired strategy/role-playing game while Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure — yet they share a love for organic, hand-drawn animation that isn’t seen all too often.

The Banner Saga

Broken Age‘s aesthetic is largely the result of Nathan “Bagel” Stapley, an artist who has contributed to the look of most Double Fine games to date. The mainly static environments of the game are based on original paintings, giving the cloud cities and spaceship interiors explored by the two hand-drawn protagonists a warm, lived-in feeling that would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish through computer-generated polygons. Stoic’s Arnie Jorgensen pulled off something similar with his role as the artist behind The Banner Saga. Heavily inspired by Eyvind Earle’s work on 1950’s Disney films like Sleeping Beauty, the Nordic world imagined by Jorgensen is captivating for the strength of its environmental design — snowy plains and icy mountains dotted with enormous pagan “god stones” — and memorable character design.

Both of the games are very well written, but it’s their visual style that makes the most immediate impression. Videogame graphics are often judged purely by their technical fidelity with little consideration paid to the art direction that gives their characters and settings life. Broken Age and The Banner Saga are incredibly endearing because it’s impossible to ignore the hand of the artists who created them. The presence of visible line work and brush strokes makes each of the games feel essentially human. Just as a fantastic 2D animated short can still inspire awe, we connect more readily to the visuals in a hand-drawn videogame when we can identify a person’s touch.

Broken Age

The cel-shaded effect employed in the similarly beautiful Okami and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch have proved the validity of a more organic aesthetic approach in the past, but games like these are still few and far between. Ultimately, it’s probably safer, when millions of development and marketing dollars are on the line, to seek the largest audience possible by sticking to art styles without so distinct a personality. After all, Insomniac Games famously overhauled 2013’s Fuse visuals before release, replacing its unique cartoon style with a more generic, realistic look, in order to hedge its financial bets. Even Nintendo, a developer/publisher with immensely devoted fans, seemed wary of repeating The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s gorgeous cel-shaded aesthetic when it came time to create the next installment of the series. The resulting sequel, Twilight Princess, featured a less colourful world and a Link with more natural proportions.

Of course, none of this is to say that realistic, high-fidelity graphics are somehow undesirable, only that hand drawn visuals are a welcome change of pace that it would be nice to see more of. It’s understandable, given how expensive games are to create, that not every title can feature art styles as distinct as those employed in Broken Age and The Banner Saga. My only hope is that these games will demonstrate just how successful a hand-drawn approach can be to developers considering that path in future.



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