Playing With My Weiner

Gaming at the mercy of miniature daschunds.

Weiner Review: Geneforge 5 January 16, 2009

Filed under: 3 weiners,Games,Mac,PC,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 11:28 am
Tags: , , ,

 

Shape On!

Shape On!

If you are not familiar with the Avernum and Geneforge series of games, you are missing out. Developed for both Mac and PC by Spiderweb Software, these RPGs eschew flashy visuals for deep story and hours and hours of solid gameplay.

 

Theme:

The latest from Spiderweb is Geneforge 5. The core concept of the Geneforge series is based on the existence of people known as Shapers. Shapers can mold matter and magic into semi-intelligent or even intelligent creatures that are subservient to the Shaper. The classic Shaper hierarchy is fine with this, believing that Shapers’ creations are lesser beings and should be treated as such. A growing group of Creations, backed a group of Rebels, disagree, and have been fighting the Shapers for five games now.

Geneforge 5 finds this world on the verge of total disruption. The Rebels are succeeding, and regime change seems imminent. The Shaper Council has begun infighting and choosing sides at will. You are thrown into this as a character with a mysterious past, who might even be a Creation, but who has rare Shaper skills.

The game centers as much around you finding out who and what you are as it does on your role in the greater world. That’s a welcome change, as the last four game in the series have been strong but slight variations on the theme of Empire vs. Rebels. That classic trope is present here, too, but there seem to be many more factions and options for the player to choose from than in previous iterations.

 

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

Art:

Art is not Spiderweb’s bailiwick. Spiderweb is largely the work of one man, Jeff Vogel, and he has made a conscious choice to put his efforts into writing over visuals. As a result these games have passable characters, decent textures, and utterly forgettable items. The advantage is that you can play these on an aged system or the newly-popular Netbooks. The disadvantage is that they look like they were made in 1996 with minor visual tweaks along the way.

 

 

Gameplay:

The heart of any RPG is its battle system.  Fights in Geneforge are classic turn-based fare with a bit of strategy thrown in.  Characters have action points which they can spend to move, fight, or both.  You have to be in range of an attack for it to hit, so figuring out how few points you can spend on movement of each character or Creation and still attack is key.  After that, though, it is very much an RPG-type magic and mundane attack system with the expected status change spells and elemental weaknesses.  

 

The World Map.

The World Map.

When you’re not in battle, movement is accomplished through an overland map system. New areas open up as you move through the map.  Once you’ve cleared an area, you can always move to it from any other cleared area.  This is a real time-saver, and takes away the question of annoying random battles.  You can always see what’s coming in Geneforge 5.

 

 

 

 

Overall:

For people who have played through the Geneforge series, Geneforge 5 is more of the same.  Solid but somewhat tired story, good battle system, excellent writing.  If you are following the Geneforge storyline and want to know more, have at it.  For newcomers to Spiderweb’s particular brand of game, Geneforge 5 is as good an entry point as any.  It assumes no prior knowledge, though prior knowledge will add depth to the proceedings.  In the end, this game sells for $28 and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more RPG entertainment for less money these days.

 

For being a solid RPG, if repetitive for fans of the series, Geneforge 5 gets Three Weiners out of Five.


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Weinercast Wednesday! December 10, 2008

Filed under: 4 weiners,5 weiners,Games,Reviews,WeinerCast,World of Warcraft — Gwyddia @ 3:20 pm

The Weinercast is go! This week: Reviews of Persona 4, Prince of Persia, and Penny Arcade Episode 2, and a discussion of WoW fatigue.

As always, the Weinercast is available on Gwyddia - Weinercast

Please leave us a review or a comment/question, and we’ll address it on air next week!

A non-iTunes link if you need it.

 

Review: Snoopy v. The Red Baron December 1, 2008

Filed under: 4 weiners,Games,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 7:14 pm
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snoopy-vs-the-red-baron-ss1If you’ve been waiting for the sequel to Crimson Skies, your wait may be over.  Don’t be discouraged by the adorability of the title character – this is timeless dogfighting from an era long before Michael Vick.

 

Theme:

You are World War I flying ace Snoopy, and you are flying approximately 20 missions to defeat the evil Red Baron and defend freedom.  Look for mostly well-done cameos from Snoopy’s owner Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally and more.  Along the way you get to collect upgrades to your flyer, like the potato gun and the Woodstock missile.  The game is mostly aerial combat with a just a little Sim Flyer in the mix.

 

Art:

 

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz would be pleased with the way his most popular character has been rendered on the PC, PS2 and PSP.  The game looks a lot like the holiday specials we remember from childhood, only now in 3-D!  It is bold, colorful and will make you smile.  

 

Gameplay:

 

The game play is simple, but solid.  Fly, barrel roll, strafe, and bomb to your heart’s content.  Of the three systems, the PSP version seems to be the players’ choice for the most solid controls, and that’s saying something for Sony’s red-headed stepchild of a handheld.  

 

The difficulty is mixed, though.  Some missions are so simple that you’ll feel like this is a kiddie game, while others will have you tearing your hair out in frustration.  It would be nice if the difficulty scaled over time, but after the first couple of missions if seems that annoyance can strike at any time.

 

Overall:

 

Snoopy v. The Red Baron is is a solid air combat game and the rare licensed game that doesn’t make me want to try and revoke the developers’ license.  It’s a nice addition to a genre that has been pretty quiet of late, and it would be neat to see a longer, slightly smoother sequel, perhaps for PSN.

 

For being fun and nostalgic, if somewhat uneven, Snoopy v. The Red Baron gets 4 Weiners out of 5.

 

Review: Chrono Trigger DS November 29, 2008

 

Can we come in?

Can we come in?

In the Year of Our Ceiling Cat Nineteen and Ninety-Five, Square released a little game called Chrono Trigger.  The story is simple – young adventurers save the world – but with a twist – by porting through time.  Due to its epic nature, branching storyline, and multiple endings, Chrono Trigger is widely considered to be one of the best RPGs of all time.

 

 

Wikipedia rightly describes the Chrono Trigger developers as the “dream team” – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Kazuhiko Aoki, Kazuhiko Aoki, and composer Nobuo Uematsu. Yuuji Horii and artist Akira Toriyama.  Masato Kato wrote most of the plot and composer Yasunori Mitsuda scored the game with Uematsu finishing it when Mitsuda became ill.

 

Art:

The art is classic Horii and Toryiama – anime figures, large foreheads, and bright colors.  The DS version includes the well-received anime cutscenes from the 2001 North American PlayStation release, now without load times!  Unlike the recent Final Fantasy remakes, however, the art hasn’t been given a total 3-D makeover. Instead, the sprites have been polished up a bit and given more fluid animation, but the original distinctive art style is there.

 

Gameplay:

Lots of screen real estate across two screens.

Lots of screen real estate across two screens.

Like the original, Chrono Trigger DS uses an Active Time battle system, meaning that each character may only act when their timer is up.  Different characters have different physical and magical attacks, including advanced physical attacks called “techs”.  What Chrono Trigger added to the RPG genre was the concept of cooperative techs – combining up to three characters’ techs to create double or triple attacks. Notably, there is no apparent slowdown when using even the flashiest of techs. 

 

The DS version has two play modes – “DS Mode” and “Classic Mode”.  DS mode allows you to use both the touchscreen buttons for controls, and Classic mode is a play setup identical to the original SNES version. There are other features exclusive to each mode, such as a DS Mode option to toggle between ‘Walk’ and ‘Run’.

 

The DS version adds some new dungeons, including the Dimensional Vortex and Lost Sanctum.  The first of these is only available when player’s complete the game, and leads to a new, fourteenth different ending.  The second is another endgame dungeon for folks who love to grind their way up as high as they can.

 

Finally, the DS version offers an unneccessary arena system.  Apparently believing that all JRPGs must have a Monster Hunter element to them, Squeenix makes this feature available the first time you save the game.  When you enter the arena, you get the option of controlling a small malleable creature known as a Smidge.  You can send your Smidge to any of the seven periods of time to train them, and then you can battle other trainers, er, players, via DS wireless.

 

Overall:

Useless arena aside, this is a very faithful translation of a beloved original.  Like Dragon Quest IV, the source material still holds up over a decade later, and the DS developers respected that fact.  As a result, like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger on DS is an excellent game with everything you remember and nothing substantially screwed up by modernization.  

 

For being an amazing RPG now available in pocket-size, Chrono Trigger DS gets 5 Weiners out of 5.

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Review: Mirror’s Edge November 17, 2008

Filed under: 3 weiners,Games,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 10:31 pm
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This one is a little late, partly because of Amazon and partly because of Blizzard.  I take no responsibility for my own actions here…

 

Art:

A friend of mine suggested that Mirror’s Edge was inspired by Hong Kong, but I think its Singapore  The smooth, clean lines, spotless buildings, and dirt-free streets all call to mind the land in the Far East where chewing gum is a crime.  I think my friend was thinking of Hong Kong action movies, where high-flying martial artists take to the roofs to avoid the mob or a totalitarian police regime.  Hmm, maybe we’re both on to something there.

 

Gameplay:

That movement, or parkour, is what Mirror’s Edge is really all about.  The story, about couriers sticking it to the Man, is flat an generic.  The combat, when you can’t avoid it, it tricky and annoying.  It is as if you’re being stopped from doing the thing you really want to do – run.  A a result, the star of Mirror’s Edge is movement itself.  When you can perfectly execute a stage through running, jumping, diving, and sliding, you have it made, and you understand why this game feels so good.  

 

You’d think a game that is all about real motion would cause motion sickness while watching it.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It is as if the absence of a bouncing gun focus allows you to see through your character’s eyes, not her weapon, and rally creates the illusion of speed and force.  That being said, it gets awfully annoying to watch your hands flail around like a bad Looney Tunes knockoff after the sixth of seventh time you miss a jump.  Don’t miss time trial mode, though.  There is something infinitely satisfying about shaving seconds off your best run-through a tough level, or finding a new route through you missed the first few times around. 

 

Overall:

It is a rare game in which the time trials are the best part and you still enjoy and recommend it to others.  And yet that’s just the case here.  Mirror’s Edge’s story is short, maybe 7-8 hours, and it has limited replayability.  It is a thing best rented, rather than bought.  That all being said, Mirror’s Edge really is something new and something fun, and isn’t that what games are about?

 

For being an fun and original game worth playing, while also being too short and sometimes deeply frustrating, Mirror’s Edge gets 3 Weiners out of 5.

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Review: Fallout 3 November 11, 2008

fallout3

There is a Fallout fever in my house.  The Weiner Daddy is playing on 360, I’m playing on the PC using both keyboard and mouse and the Microsoft game controller.  We’ve been playing since the game was released on October 28th, and neither of us is anywhere near completing it.  I will also note that neither of us have encountered any of the nasty bugs reported by Kotaku, but these are known issues, so your mileage could vary.

 

Theme:

Welcome to post-apocalyptia, children!  The theme and setting are the same no matter which version you choose. Fallout is set in an alternate history universe full of retro-futuristic kitsch and post-bombing hell. Imagine the American 1950s, only with 22nd century laser and gene-mapping technology.  By the time you are on the scene, the bomb has long since dropped.  It’s 200 years later, you are ready to crawl out of your sealed Vault and see what’s what in the ruins of Washington, DC.  The Capitol Wasteland comprises a HUGE area, and the sidequests alone can take you hours upon hours.  Unlike Bethesda’s Oblivion, however, you can and will want to get back on track with the main quest eventually.

Welcome to the world of yesterday's tomorrow!

Welcome to the world of yesterday

 

Art:

Think bleak.  As befits the setting, the Fallout 3 world is full of brown, grey, and yellow.  Unlike the repetitive trash-strewn levels of Hellgate: London, the environment of Fallout 3 is huge and fairly varied. When does Bethesda reuse something in the game, they are doing it on purpose.  Think all those tract-home shells look alike? That’s the point.  All of that suburban sameness makes it much more powerful the first time you see the ruins of the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.

 

The character models are straight out of Oblivion, albeit with different clothes. The facial mapping and details are improved from Bethesda’s RPG, but the idea is the same, with the PC having the edge over the 360 in detail.  Enemies vary, from mutated critters to raider gangs to super mutants.  The critters are pretty much all the same, but the raiders and mutants are varied.  If you look closely you can see the attention to detail, as most of the humanoids’ armor is actually pieced together bits of the trash strewn across the Capitol Wasteland.

 

Gameplay:

It is here that the PC and 360 versions diverge.  Fallout 3 is not a shooter and it is not a full-on action RPG, but is something of a chimera of the two.  After fighting with the mouse and keyboard for over 20 hours, it is clear to me that Fallout 3 was designed for a controller.  Even the lowest mouse sensitivity option will swing your view way wide of the enemy in front of you.  Lockpicking is nearly impossible to do without failing a few times, due to the twitchy nature of the PC controls.  My experience was vastly improved when I used a gamepad on my PC.

 

Combat is its own strange bird.  On the shooter side you have the option to take a first-person view and use your weapons as you see fit. On the ARPG side you have the V.A.T.S. system; action points-based pause-and-play combat.  Contrary to popular belief, you can’t really play Fallout 3 entirely as a shooter or entirely in V.A.T.S.  Most of the time you’ll use V.A.T.S., then try and duck and cover while your AP recharges to use it again.  Why?  Because the FPS perspective doesn’t work that well.  The target reticule is small and inaccurate, and there is no lock-on.  This is true in both the PC and 360 versions.  

 

Use V.A.T.S. to shoot the junk off his trunk.

Use V.A.T.S. to shoot the junk off his trunk.

Searching for and picking up items must almost always be done in first person view.  The “target boxes” for small items, such as stimpaks, is ridiculously tiny, and unless you’re nose-to-nose with them, you may not be able to highlight them to grab them.  This is a little better on the 360 version, but here again the PC version suffers from poor mouse control.

 

Overall:

Don’t let the PC control issues dissuade you.  Fallout 3 is a fantastic game.  It is engaging, fun, and deep.  You will care about your character.  You will care about some NPCs and want to kill others. You will make irrevocable choices early on that will truly affect your game path and the game world. Evil is as viable a choice as good, and your experience will differ greatly depending on which path you take.  You can get through the main quest in about 10 hours, yes, but if you do, you’re missing the point.  I didn’t miss it at all, and I’m wondering how I’m going to balance playing more Fallout 3 with the release of Wrath of the Lich King on Thursday.

 

For being an excellent and engaging game with real consequences and deep story branches, I am giving Fallout 3 five weiners out of five.

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Review: Little Big Planet October 30, 2008

Filed under: 5 weiners,Games,PS3,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 8:09 am
Tags: , ,


This is the most charming game I’ve ever played.

 

I didn’t expect to be sucked in by Little Big Planet. I had pre-ordered it, cancelled the pre-order, and then pre-ordered it again because I figured that any serious game writer needed to try it. I am so very glad that I did.  LBP is more than a platformer, creation sim, kids’ game or adult game.  It is all of that, and so very much more.

A player-made level.

A player-made Donkey Kong level.

 

Theme:

 

The game opens up awesome and doesn’t let go. LBP starts with a series of gorgeous tutorials narrated by Stephen Fry. Fry’s voice and distinctly British sense of humor immediately set LBP up to be a game for all ages. Jokes range from “no, not that kind of a seal – don’t give it a fish!” to jibes about how your stickering style is “very Andy Warhol”.  This quickly blew away any concept I had of LBP being a kiddie game.

 

Art:

The levels are lush and amazing. Zoom and and look at your sack person and marvel at the detail. I chose the blue yarn hair to start, and when I zoomed in I actually gasped to discover finely and perfectly rendered strings of tinsel woven into her yarn hair. That sort of detail is the hallmark of this game. LBP is all about texture. Each surface, character, sticker, and object has incredible weight and depth. You can look at these things and easily imagine how they would feel to touch. More than that, you’ll want to touch them, and find yourself slightly disappointed when you remember that you can’t.

 

Gameplay:

The gameplay is solid.  Developer Media Molecule incorporates the SIXAXIS controls in a way that makes them fun, but not necessary.  You can use the motion controls to make your sack person emote, wave, dance, etc.  Fun, but not make-or-break functions by any means.  

 

The actual play controls consist of a traditional jump and run setup.  LBP is at its core a 2D platformer, and it carries on the 2D platforming tradition of not being frackin’ easy.  Media Molecule programmed a deep physics engine into LBP.  This means that rocks are heavy, see-saws teeter and totter appropriately, and most of all, you are a light little sack of cloth.  This means that your jumps are floaty, and until you get used to that you will have a tough time getting through some of the premade levels.  

 

Scary monster is scary!

Scary monster is scary!

Those of you who could give a tinker’s cuss about the platforming and just want to create will have to hold up a moment.  LBP requires you to play through at least the initial planet before it will let you out into the real world. This is a good thing, though, as the Fry tutorials are both a treat and terribly useful. Additionally, the premade levels are packed with design content from stickers to objects for your personal pod, so it’s worth a playthrough for anyone who wants every possible tool at their disposal.

 

Online play is everything Sony said it would be.  You can dive into other people’s world and marvel at their ingenuity or scoff at their ineptitude.  User-created prizes and goodies make collection quests a gaming delight for the first time in years.

 

I know it’s a big month for games.  LBP, Fallout 3, and Fable 2 all within days of each other.  But please, don’t miss this one.  You will regret it if you do.

 

For being the most charming game ever, and for being so much to so many gamers, I am pleased to give Little Big Planet 5 Weiners out of 5.