Bend the Round

…where the madness is recorded.

Video Game Review: Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS) February 28, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 2:03 am
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There is a particular class of video game called the “god game.” These are games open-ended, and let you control the characters and/or the environment for your own purposes, be they good or evil. (Both options are fun, as far as I’m concerned.) The quintessential god game, I believe, is The Sims. I love the Sims series, and have since the first time I tried it.
Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS has gotten great reviews. It’s cute, it’s pretty open-ended, and generally sounded like like the type of god game that would be right up my alley.

I traded in a couple games I had finished (they had very little replay value, so I saw little point in storing them when someone else could be having fun with them) and picked up a used copy of the game. This might have been where I went wrong. You see, the used copy didn’t have the instructions. I never read video game instructions, and the store has an excellent return policy, so I didn’t give it a second thought. Maybe if I had the instructions handy, the game would have been more fun.

The AC: Wild World doesn’t allow you the flexibility to create your character that I expected, and while the game is open-ended, there doesn’t seem to be anything to do that I’m particularly interested in. Paying down my lazy-ass roommates’ mortgage isn’t fun. (Seriously, do those two *ever* wake up?) I have no desire to design fabrics. I’m a rotten interior designer, and lack the interest in developing that skill using the tools provided by the game. (I assume they provide some tools, but I haven’t found them yet.) The gardening could be fun if there a variety of plants and if you didn’t have to plant in squares. The neighbors are boring. Despite my characters attempt to gossip, I’ve found little of interest about anyone or anything. Apparently, I can dig random holes hoping to find fossils or something, but I missed Tom Nook’s directions on how to do this. I was frustrated by yet another long monologue on nothing in particular and was tapping away hoping he’d get to the point…he did, and I tapped right by it before I could soak in all the directions. I couldn’t figure out how to get him to explain it again, and I haven’t figured out how to do it on my own. This means that I can’t even attempt some mischief in the form of digging for treasure in my neighbors’ gardens.

I strongly suspect that I should have done more homework on the game before I bought it. Apparently, I lack the patience to get much enjoyment out of AC: Wild World. Bummer. I’ll be taking it back to the store to trade in for something else as soon as it’s convenient. This time, I’ll do my research first!!

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I Shall Have New Godlike Powers! February 18, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 4:16 pm
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…on Sept 7, 2008…

When Spore is released!

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Spore is a game by Will Wright, the guy that gave us Sim City and The Sims. Seems to me that he practically invented one of my favorite game genres – the God game genre. God games are simulation games in which you control characters and/or the environment. Often, you don’t “win” God games, you just work to achieve, which gives them a near infinite replay value and allows a level of creativity that it’s available in other types of games.

Anyway… Spore… The idea behind Spore is to give the player control over evolution. Supposedly, you start with a single-cell organism evolve the creatures from there all the way to complex, space-faring civilizations. You’re supposed to have control over how the creatures look, so they can be as cute, as ugly, or as bizarre as you want. Awesome. The game has been in development for years. I heard a rumor that they had the evolution part down, but that the actual game wasn’t all that fun. If that’s true, I’m glad they held off to make the game work well. The concept is really pretty amazing – and ambitious.

So mark your calendars! September 7th, 2008! And cross your fingers for no more delays.

 

Kingdom of Loathing January 22, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 8:13 pm
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I love KOL. That’s Kingdom of Loathing to the uninitiated.

Kingdom of Loathing is a brilliant online game you can play for free. It’s turn-based, and your turns-per-day are limited, so it’s pretty hard to lose your *entire* day to KOL (though, I suppose it can be done if you’re a pretty hardcore player). What makes it brilliant? Two things: the writing and the graphics. It’s loaded with pop culture references and the entire KOL world is rendered in static stick-figure form. Everything looks like something I might have drawn on the back of a test paper in the 6th grade – only way, way more awesome. 🙂

You start the game by creating character for yourself. You can be a male or female character in one of six classes: Seal Clubber, Turtle Tamer, Pastamancer, Sauceror, Disco Bandit, or Accordian Thief. Once you’ve got a character all set up, you can get started “Adventuring” in the Kingdom. You very quickly garner the attention of the Council of Loathing (the ruling body of the Kingdom, and they start giving you jobs to do – they start small, but build up in scale and importance.

Unlike a lot of online games, you don’t have any kind of direct interaction with other players. You can choose to join (or start)  a “clan” which can have a number of benefits. You can also interact with other players by engaging in PvP (Player vs. Player) action – including toilet papering each others’ camp sites – but only after smashing the “Hippy Stone” to indicate that you’re NOT peaceful and you DO want to fight.

The real appeal of KOL for me is the obsessive-compulsive, collect-the-whole-set mentality that it inspires. If you’re the type of person that finds a sense of satisfaction in putting the last Indiana Jones movie (now you’ve got them ALL!) on the DVD shelf, then this game might well be for you. There are hordes of things to collect – outfits, tattoos, trophies… I’m currently working on collecting all of the second series of tiny plastic figurines.

There’s even a whole economy built up within the game. Only, you don’t use money. There’s no money in KOL. The currency of the land is… meat. Yup, you buy all your stuff in meat. (Meat is valueless outside the game, so you can’t fork out $20 and get a couple million meat or exchange your multi-million meat stash for a couple of real-world bucks. I *have* seen eBay auctions for KOL items, but that’s definitely the exception, I think.)

Anyhow, it’s a load of fun. If you’re interested, check it out at http://www.kingdomofloathing.com, or the link on my sidebar. Happy Adventuring!

 

Video Game Review: Cooking Mama (DS) January 15, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 10:17 pm
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The basis of Cooking Mama is that you’re a cooking noob and Mama’s there to teach you how to cook. You start off with several recipes available – boiled rice, miso soup, ect. Mama walks you through the process of making each dish by putting you through a series of mini-games. Boiled rice, for example, starts off with a “fill the container with rice” mini-game. Doing it quickly and accurately pleases Mama – her eyes glitter with pride. Spillage and failure piss Mama the hell off – her eyes blaze and she appears to give you both barrels, if you catch my meaning.

Sometimes, between mini-games, you have the option of altering the recipes, which appears to be one method of unlocking new recipes. Otherwise, new recipes appear to be unlocked by completing available recipes to the satisfaction of Mama. She’ll grade your dish on a point system. 100 points is perfect and 50 seems to be failure (I haven’t gotten anything lower than 50, anyway). You’ll also receive a medal for completing a dish particularly well – gold, silver, or bronze, just like the Olympics.

Once you’ve unlocked recipes, you can combine them to make all sorts of things. I haven’t played this section too much yet since I haven’t finished unlocking all 76 possible recipes.

You can also practice your cooking skills – and be judged for them. I’m particularly good with a kitchen knife. I have several gold medals in cutting and slicing things.

That’s about the extent of the game. Cooking Mama manages to be addictive to those with a collect-the-whole-set mentality, it’s hard to stop when you haven’t unlocked all the recipes or gotten medals for everything. Despite this, it isn’t really *fun.* It’s lacking a purpose for making all those dishes. Who’s eating them?? Are we wasting anime-esque food here?? The game really needs another level of play… something for the gamer to “beat” instead of just collect. I understand that there’s a Cooking Mama 2 for the DS that looks like it might address this issue… perhaps I will have to try it.

 

Cake Mania Inspired Nintendo Nostalgia January 10, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 9:13 pm
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I am a child of the 80s. I grew up with the video game industry. I have tossed barrels at Donkey Kong, saved the princess, shot at that damn dog when it laughed at me for missing those 150 mph ducks. I’ve collected rings while rolling at unspeakable speeds and logged untold hours unraveling the Final Fantasy. I blew away the denizens of Hell while in God Mode in Doom. I memorized the guidebook for Super Mario 3 before the game even came out, found and beat all the levels on Super Mario World, and sat in awe at the 3D splendor of Super Mario 64. I’ve even contemplated taking some motion-sickness medication before working on the latest level of Mario Galaxy.

What does all this have to do with Cake Mania? Not a whole hell of a lot. It’s just that obsessively playing the game on my Nintendo DS made me think about my gaming roots. I was there almost from the beginning. It was perfect timing. I was a kid with a dad fascinated by video games and gadgets and able to provide said technology for his family. (Still is, actually, Dad’s retired now, and spends his free time kicking some serious ass on Halo 3, and rockin’ out on Guitar Hero III and Rock Band. He was even one of the beta testers for Halo 3.) I had my own old school NES controller that I decorated with stickers declaring its owner the Nintendo Master. I shared a subscription to Nintendo Power with my siblings (and Dad). I remember exactly how to cheat on the Nintendo Power Pad Track and Field game. I can still recite the Konami code. Ah, the halcyon days of spending uncounted hours – days even – playing sweet, sweet video games. And then it all came to a crashing halt.

So, what happened? A couple of things.

First, I hit college. This doesn’t dent some people’s gaming time, but it did for me. Right about the same time, Nintendo started losing the console war (GameCube, anybody?). The games weren’t as good, their mobile gaming line (Gameboy) was stale, and their latest home console just didn’t take off. I honestly thought that my beloved Nintendo was history. The other thing that happened right about the same time was the explosion of the first-person shooter. They’d always been around, but man, did they take off right about then. It seemed like the best games were first-person shooters. I. Hate. First-Person. Shooters. If you want me to shoot something, give me a gun. This “shoot it with the joystick thing” worked for Doom, Duke Nuke’Em, and Wolfenstein, but just didn’t work (for me) with a controller. It sucked. I hated it. End of story. So, between the lack of time, the decline of Nintendo, and the rise of the first-person shooter, I gradually fell out of the gaming world.

Then, Nintendo got its act together. The Nintendo DS and the Wii revitalized gaming (for me). I’ve been edging back into gaming for a months now and it feels good. Damn good. The trick now is going to be figuring out how to jam more gaming time into a schedule already packed with work, domestic maintenance (read, cooking/cleaning), half-marathon training, hopefully a career change in the near future, and maintaining a healthy level of social activity (yes, that requires some thought and effort on my part).

Back to Cake Mania. The game is straight from PopCap, one of the kings of casual gaming. The idea of the game is basically this: you own a bakery that just does cakes. To win, you must make cakes for your customers and meet profit goals. (Making cakes for customers is simplified by nifty and totally unrealistic machines and meeting profit goals is simplified by the fact that you apparently have no costs, no employees, and pay no taxes, so every penny you make is gravy. Nice.) It’s a simple game that I thoroughly enjoyed. The only problem is that the replay value is essentially zero.

The next DS game I’m playing is Cooking Mama, which I will review in a later post. For now, enjoy the generally amusing mental image of me cramming in a few minutes of Cooking Mama while cooking dinner. Because I do that. Yeah. 🙂