Monday, March 27, 2017

Did Ben Rivers Listen?

Wow, it's for the Vita, too? That's dedication.

In my last update of Carbon-izer, I added three new "reviews" to my increasingly growing list of game pages, all ones I had played in the last 12 months. One was good, one was average, and one bad. The first was Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I loved, Retro City Rampage which was average due to the fact that there were a lot of good ideas mixed in with a lot of bad ones, and one I hated Home, which I mercilessly ripped into while describing its flaws. But a funny thing happened, as I had posted the Home review to Steam about the same time as I published the website, and guess what happened? Home got its first update in a year with a minor patch coming very soon afterward. There were some things that I mentioned that got covered, including the following: "screenshots now work consistently", "fixed a couple of instances where the story got confused about something you'd seen", and the most intriguing entry that I have yet to see for myself, "changed one of the opening titles to mention speakers as well as headphones". That was one of the things I specifically lambasted.

So what does this mean? Well, it means my "hack" to get the "walk away" achievement no longer works. But the more important thing is that even though the "story" is still a mess, I actually feel like Benjamin Rivers read my review and took it to heart, though he'd probably never admit it. Very few active game developers have done that, especially one as old as Home is (it was made five years ago). Does this mean that Home is a better game than I gave it credit for? No. It's still got major flaws, and my review still largely stands as-is. But now, I feel like despite all that, I feel like I may have been overly hard on Benjamin Rivers and my opinion has been raised slightly. I believe that if he did fix all the things I pointed out, then he probably read the rest too and can use that to improve other games. I will link to this blog post when Carbon-izer 22 is posted.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Back to the Future: The Game: The Review: Part III

"Wait, in 2017, Donald Trump is President of the United States? You sure we didn't mess up the timeline, Doc?"

The final page of our trilogy, last picked up nearly six months ago, when we covered the remaining part of the Back to the Future: The Game review that wasn't covered in the original review. the the end of the game has Marty back home in 1986 and several alternate older Marty McFlys (voiced by Michael J. Fox, who makes a cameo in one of the later episodes, and it's apparent he can't quite pull off his own voice), including one dressed like Griff from 2015 come out of different DeLoreans and all start arguing. Then the credits roll, and there's a "To Be Continued" in case they decide to make another set of 5 episodes (unlikely). But in this "New and Improved" timeline, Kid and Edna have hooked up (in prison, apparently...I guess through letters), and Edna serves as a "good" stepmother for Biff instead of Gertrude, who was unseen screechy voice in the second movie. But that would also undermine the plot of the original movie, which largely hinged on Biff being an asshole. It would also make Principal Strickland his uncle. Basically, the damage it would do to the original timeline is incalculable.

If they were going to write themselves into a corner, they should take a ridiculous way out and have the further meddling of the timeline destroy the time-space continuum.

To be fair, the movies played pretty fast and loose with the way time travel worked, one of the most glaring ones being from the first movie where Marty returns home yet is bewildered by the changes at the McFly household, whereas his the rest of his family thinks he's nuts. When Marty goes to 2015, even if it's assumed that Marty will return home and become Old Marty in 2015, but there's never been a case where multiple characters of the same age come up to one timeline, nor where things radically change but old remnants show up, or how they got so many copies of the DeLorean. It just doesn't make sense, at all. At least the movies had their own sort of convoluted logic where the inconsistencies were few and others could be hand-waved away, but not this.

You might argue at this point I've been too hard on Back to the Future: The Game because the point wasn't to write Back to the Future Part IV, it was to make a licensed game of Back to the Future that wasn't completely awful, which is better than what a lot of licensed games can claim. And that should be enough. Or should it?

Even Back to the Future for the NES was better than this.

The desire to actually make an extended fan fiction of Back to the Future forced gameplay to take a back seat, and combined with Telltale's dumbing down of adventure game elements (part of the fun of LucasArts games was the madcap scenarios and the great writing) it made for a slogging experience. Most of the story was propelled through dialogue trees, not snappy cutscenes, and there are far too many things I can't work out yet (like resolving the issue how the 1885 saloon was owned, or at least built by, a Tannen).

It turns out that the game has been adapted (rather faithfully from the preview images I've seen) into a comic book series called Back to the Future: Citizen Brown. I'm not going to buy it, but in retrospect, reading it probably is a good alternative to playing the game.

Like I said, through all of its problems the story is engaging enough to keep through to the end (looking at when I wrote the review, it's possible I played the other episodes only because of a rather debilitating injury to one of my fingers, making it difficult to play more intense games), but the numerous problems make it hard to recommend, even if you really liked the movie. Part of the problem was the fifth episode, which was scored the lowest by critics and rushed the conclusion. Part of the problem I guess was trying to mirror III's trip back to the Old West, but it would've almost been more interesting to see the "real" Hill Valley 2015. It was already hinted that our reality is the BTTF reality (Doc uses a modern video game controller at some point, which he admits to borrowing from his son's "early 21st century video game systems" or something along those lines), so maybe seeing the "real" 2015 would be nice. But to make that work, you'd have to see the prominent Burger King at 545 Victory Boulevard, Burbank, California (and in 2015 it looked very similar to its 1985 counterpart)...but given how they treat every brand name as toxic waste, even ones that would be relatively easy to procure, it just wouldn't work, and even if they did make the effort (and become a rare positive example of product placement, that there would be Western Auto (not "Eastern Auto"), JCPenney, Robinson's, and others...then it would make the blatant disregard of the universe's rules that more obvious (and in case it wasn't already obvious, the story was written by three people, none of whom worked on the original films).

Point is--it's a great budget-oriented licensed title. As a full stand-alone game that happens to use the Back to the Future license, it sucks. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

Pictures from this post are from GameInformer and Wikimedia Commons, respectively

Monday, January 16, 2017

Details on the Nintendo Switch: A Real Turn-Off

Despite some strong games, I don't think these two will be able to save the Switch. [source: DarkChapolin, DeviantArt]

Obviously I must admit that my fantasy of Nintendo Switch being secretly Steam compatible was just that--a fantasy (though one that I still hold was plausible), but I didn't expect the Nintendo Switch "Treehouse" event to be as awful as it was. Any attempts to "win back the crowd" have gone out the window and instead Nintendo tries to further alienate fans (and ex-fans).

It's like they took every bad idea from the last two generations and then combined into one console.

There's an online feature, which is like Xbox Live, but worst--at this rate, your console will stay offline unless you want to buy presumably the same Virtual Console games for the second, third, fourth time, and even the "free" Xbox Live allows things like voice chat and basic online play.

The Miis are back per a screengrab from Mario Kart 8 DX, though likely in a lessened capacity.

No Nintendo mainstream console has disallowed backwards compatibility since the release of the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, and we see how that performed, despite a fairly strong line-up of titles and many of the same third party titles the PS2 and Xbox received, and no handheld has disallowed backwards compatibility ever. But since this does seem to be a hybrid device, maybe we could count the Virtual Boy, and we all know what happened to that.

Rather than an exclusive launch title game that showcases what the console is capable of, we get 1-2 Switch, basically a collection of mini-games to see who can time the button the best. I guess it's fitting that the launch title didn't really focus on the actual graphics. And what could easily pass for a tech demo or at least part of a pack-in game will be $50 at launch.

ARMS looks to be the next-gen "Wii Sports" of the Switch (at least boxing), with its more accurate motion controls than anything the Wii had to offer, but to be honest, although it is somewhat of a creative idea, it still feels like Nintendo is nostalgic for the Wii rather than its older, more successful consoles. It was mentioned that the game will have traditional controls rather than forcing motion controls, so we don't need to be up in ARMS over that, but it looks far too bland to be anything close to resembling Punch-Out!!, with the actual character names being case in point: "Spring Man and Ribbon Girl".

What about some pun-based name based on the fact that his hair looks like cupcake frosting, or perhaps toothpaste?

Besides, what the fans want to see (the ones that keep buying Nintendo products despite the fact that since the N64, every console gets worse and worse) is the fifth iteration of Super Smash Bros..

I never played Splatoon but I heard it was fun. Hell, even Yahtzee liked it well enough despite some rather obvious shortcomings. Splatoon 2 on the Switch sounds looks like it might be a fun party game but again, it's not a launch title. Furthermore, I expect that if you have to pay for online (and Splatoon was mostly online multiplayer), there can at least be more than two teams, which is all I saw in the trailer. A third & fourth team could be good, so if you had three friends over, all of you can be on one team or all playing separately.

Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together! actually looks pretty fun and would probably be one of those intriguing little indie games that come out on Steam from time to time had it not been on the Switch. We'll see how that goes.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again looks fine and will take the same way that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess went for the GameCube and the Wii. That went well for both consoles, but the Wii also seemed to be exploding with new game concepts and ideas that could take it even farther. Not so much with the Switch.

Super Mario Odyssey looks great, and I have to say it looks to be as good as a Mario game as the first Super Mario Galaxy. Probably this is because it's the first 3D Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy 2, which I never played due to the fact that I hadn't finished the first one (yet) and without an overarching story like SMG one was just felt like an overpriced expansion pack (which it was originally supposed to be). But I couldn't help but get these Sonic Adventure vibes out of it (someone else noticed). It's like we're going full circle back to '99, Nintendo becomes Sega and Sears becomes Montgomery Ward. But unlike SA, SMO won't come out until the holidays, and even then I don't think it could carry the console.

You can't just say, "Well, the games look great," because consoles have shown a collection of great games in and of themselves do not make a console successful. The Dreamcast definitely had a line-up of exclusive and decent games, as well as actually (for 1999 at least) being better than anything else on the market, yet it was discontinued just after less than three years on the market.

It's still underpowered per other consoles (especially at the storage size, just 32GB) and far overpriced for a handheld (especially one that can't play any other games). Basically, they either need a dramatic price drop or some other huge feature that hasn't yet been revealed to really sell it properly.

The good news if the Switch fails (let's hope so), it might mean Nintendo finally going to computers, as for years, they've refused (admittedly, 1980s and 1990s PCs were not on par with console games and far less friendly, but that's different) and only allowed licensed tripe like Mario Teaches Typing or whatever. And no, Silhouette doesn't count, I think there's ample evidence that Silhouette is a hoax perpetuated by early Snes9x developers.

Like the Dreamcast, the Switch will probably be technically impressive, get a lot of mileage out of hacking, and will probably have some really neat exclusives, but ultimately it won't last. Call me back in four years and tell me I'm right.