Monday, July 27, 2009

What I Played This Weekend: "Oh right, I own a Wii" edition

I've said this before, but in the context of this particular post it bears repeating - there once was a time when my hunger for a Wii was all-consuming. My heart and wallet may have belonged to Microsoft, but I yearned for something more; I ached to waggle. And, most importantly, I wanted to get my wife interested in gaming - or, at least, gaming with me. She was never going to get into Halo or Portal, but at least we could play tennis or bowling for a little while.

The irony, of course, is that once the novelty of the Wii's control scheme wore off, the crushing disappointment started to sink in. There were no games to look forward to, at least to someone in my demographic; Nintendo saw their revenue streams coming in from non-gamers and you can hardly fault them for trying to make money, especially in this shitty economy. That said, my enthusiasm for the Wii didn't drop off as much as it entirely evaporated, and I know I'm not the only one - when people came over to my apartment for birthday parties and other such gatherings, we would always pull out Rock Band instead of Wii Sports. It is true that my wife and I had started to use the Wii again in recent months, but only as a goddamned exercise machine. This was not my beautiful game console.

So why the hell did I buy Wii Sports Resort yesterday? Why did I succumb to Nintendo's charms, again? Why did I enable Nintendo to continue to ignore me?

I can't really answer that without offering at least one rationalization: I didn't actually spend any cash in order to get it. I traded in my PSP and all 7 PSP games I owned specifically so that it could be a cashless transaction. Because as disappointed as I'd been in the Wii, I was even more disappointed in the PSP, and there was even less to look forward to on that platform.

Anyway. Wii Sports Resort is what Wii Sports should've been. It's yet another collection of mini-games, in both single- and multi-player configurations, and the big difference in this collection is that the Wii Remote's new add-on makes the Remote... more sensitive? It's hard to explain what's different about the Motion Plus controller add-on thing until you try the frisbee mini-game. Suffice it to say, it is as close to throwing an actual frisbee as one can get. Similarly, the ping-pong mini-game is remarkable, especially in terms of how you can throw different kinds of spin on your returns. I was as big a fan of Rockstar's Table Tennis as anyone, but I must admit that the ping-pong game in WSR is arguably more engaging.

The rest of the mini-games are pretty hit or miss. Archery is certainly interesting; the sword-fighting game is fun but not particularly deep; bowling feels pretty much identical to the previous iteration, and golf is actually much harder now that the remote is more sensitive to wrist positioning. I suspect that I'll play this just as long as my wife remains interested, and then that'll probably be it.


As long as the Wii was powered up, though, I figured it would maybe be a good time to get back into Super Mario Galaxy. I had been enjoying it thoroughly at first, but got hung up after getting my 15th star or so; then I tried to go back to the earlier levels to stock up on some easy 1-ups, and found that the game (smartly?) makes that prospect a bit trickier than I'd anticipated. In any event, I got past whatever it was that had gotten me stuck before, and now I guess I'm back in it. I'm up to 21 stars now, and I'm continually impressed with each new world's mechanics. I suppose it could be argued that if the Wii produced nothing of value except SMG, it would still be worth a purchase. It could also be argued that the first half of the previous sentence is actually, literally true.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band - set list guess, reconsidered

Here's my original guess at the Beatles: Rock Band set list, from February.
  1. She Loves You
  2. I Wanna Hold Your Hand
  3. Love Me Do
  4. Help!
  5. I Saw Her Standing There
  6. Please Please Me
  7. A Hard Day's Night
  8. Can't Buy Me Love
  9. Eight Days a Week
  10. Ticket To Ride
  11. Yesterday
  12. I Feel Fine
  13. Paperback Writer
  14. Rain
  15. We Can Work It Out
  16. Revolution
  17. Get Back
  18. Drive My Car
  19. The Word
  20. In My Life
  21. Taxman
  22. She Said, She Said
  23. And Your Bird Can Sing
  24. Doctor Robert
  25. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  26. Getting Better
  27. Good Morning Good Morning
  28. A Day In the Life
  29. Hello Goodbye
  30. Strawberry Fields Forever
  31. All You Need Is Love
  32. Back in the U.S.S.R.
  33. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  34. Birthday
  35. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey
  36. Helter Skelter
  37. Come Together
  38. Something
  39. Octopus's Garden
  40. Here Comes The Sun
  41. Mean Mr. Mustard -> Polythene Pam -> She Came In Through The Bathroom Window -> Golden Slumbers -> Carry That Weight -> The End
  42. Get Back
  43. Dig a Pony
  44. I've Got A Feeling
  45. The Ballad of John and Yoko
It was noted in the comments to that post that I'd included "Get Back" twice, so that was dumb. And I knew, at the time, that "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey" was never going to get in - I don't even necessarily like that song. But I had my iPod with me when I was making this list, and I was scrolling through my Beatles albums, and it occurred to me that the instrumental tracks for that song would be pretty fun to play - each instrument is doing something interesting.

Anyway, I bring this up because 25 of the game's 45 songs have been confirmed by EA. As Kotaku reported this morning, those songs (with appropriate "nailed it" / "missed it" commentary) are:
  1. "Back in the U.S.S.R." [yes]
  2. "Can't Buy Me Love" [yes]
  3. "Day Tripper" [how did I miss this?]
  4. "Eight Days a Week" [yes]
  5. "Get Back" [yes, twice]
  6. "Here Comes the Sun" yes
  7. "I Am the Walrus" [I left this out on purpose, b/c I had no idea how they'd do it. this is one of my favorite Beatles songs!]
  8. "I Feel Fine" [yes]
  9. "I Saw Her Standing There" [yes]
  10. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" [yes]
  11. "Octopus's Garden" [yes]
  12. "Paperback Writer" [yes]
  13. "Revolution" [yes]
  14. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" [yes]
  15. "Taxman" [yes]
  16. "Twist and Shout" [didn't guess this, for some reason - but I'm not crazy about their early, pre-Rubber Soul stuff]
  17. "Within You Without You" [didn't think this would make it since it's so unconventional, but they are using the drumbeat from Tomorrow Never Knows, which is awesome
  18. "Yellow Submarine" i'd guessed there'd only be one Ringo song]
  19. "With A Little Help From My Friends" [so i definitely didn't think there'd be 3 Ringo songs]
  20. "Birthday" [yes]
  21. "I Got a Feeling" [yes]
  22. "Dig a Pony" [yes]
  23. "Do You Want To Know A Secret" [not even sure I've heard this song before]
  24. "I Wanna Be Your Man" [see #23]
  25. "And Your Bird Can Sing" [yes]
I'm already off by 6, but I'll take it. If they can include "I Am The Walrus", they can do anything. In any event, this is moot - at E3, Harmonix revealed that the entire catalog would eventually be available to download, starting with all of "Abbey Road."

Can't. Fucking. Wait.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Everything Old is New Again: Uncharted

I'm resurrecting the "Everything Old is New Again" feature, and we're changing the ground rules a little bit. As you no doubt surely recall, EOiNA was originally intended to be an ongoing series wherein we'd play classic games for the first time, and I started it off with a few entries regarding my very first playthrough of Final Fantasy 7. As it happens, I got stuck about 10 hours into the game (couldn't seem to get a chocobo, iirc), and then my 360 got back from the repair shop, and I returned my borrowed copy of FF7 to its rightful owner. (As FF7 is now available on the PSN, and my save files still work, I do expect to return to it at some point.)

That said, I'm resurrecting EOiNA because I've been (re)playing Uncharted for the last few days, and as it happens, I've got quite a few things I've gotta say about it. But let me set the scene first:

1. The wife and I have recently gotten sucked into Firefly, which we recently Netflix'd. We'd caught Serenity on some movie channel a little while ago and liked it very much and figured we ought to give the series a shot. And so while it's true that Captain Malcolm Reynolds has quite a bit in common with, say, Han Solo, he also bears more than a passing resemblance to good old Nathan Drake. So much so, in fact, that I double-checked Nathan Fillion's IMDB page to make sure he wasn't Drake's voice-actor. (I do not remember him being in Jade Empire, and I played that game twice.)

2. I haven't really done that much gaming on the ol' PS3 these days. Yes, I recently finished (and enjoyed) InFamous, but aside from the very occasional Trash Panic session, there really just hasn't been all that much to do. So I've been feeling neglectful.

3. Going into E3 this year, I had most of my attention squarely focused on a few selected titles, specifically Mass Effect 2, Brutal Legend, and The Beatles: Rock Band. (My affection for the original notwithstanding, my hopes were not very high for Bioshock 2, and that hasn't changed much.) And sure, the new Splinter Cell footage was pretty encouraging, and Assassin's Creed 2 turned a lot of heads. But when all was said and done, I came away from E3 2009 with Uncharted 2 at the very top of my wishlist. Even without the multiplayer, which I probably won't play very much of anyway, the single-player footage looked absolutely amazing, and reminded me of how much I enjoyed the first one.

And so here we are, in the doldrums of the summer release calendar. A perfect opportunity to revisit the original Uncharted, one of the brightest spots in the PS3's launch.

For the most part, the game is still excellent. The graphics are still lush and colorful, the environments are nicely varied, the platforming controls are still tight and intuitive, the pacing is just right, the story is engaging and remarkably well-written, with one of the better all-around voice cast ensemble performances of this (or any) generation...

...And, of course, the enemies are still relentless and bulletproof. For what at first glance appeared to be a prettied-up Tomb Raider clone, the game's ratio of combat-to-platforming is about 80:20, and it can get wearying at times, even on the Easy difficulty setting. You can pepper an enemy in the upper torso 3 or 4 times and they'll simply stagger about - headshots are the only way to really keep a guy down, and even then they don't always work. This was my single biggest complaint the first time around, and it hasn't changed this time, either - it's not uncommon to feel like you must be doing something wrong, that the rest of the game is so incredibly polished and so it must be that you're not shooting the bad guys in the head hard enough. It's great that the enemies are smart - they flank you and throw grenades and considering that you're heavily outnumbered, it's not a surprise that you die so often. I just wish the weapons felt a bit more powerful.

I wish I could say that it's worth a 2nd playthrough for the Trophies, but I don't really give a shit about the PS3's Trophy system. It's nice that I'm getting them, I guess, but the PS3's Trophy system is arcane and impossible to quantify. It's an added bonus if you care about it; I do not. It's to the game's immense credit, though, that it does not matter one bit.