Extra Life 2015: Top 5 Games to Play

NOTE: I was unable to get this article out earlier, unfortunately. I have decided to post it anyway, since the games it lists are enjoyable any time of year. Original article as follows:

Game day is almost upon us. You’ve got an immense task ahead of you this weekend: game for 24 hours to collect donations for a CMN Hospital of your choosing. You’ve chosen which hospital you want to collect donations for, you’ve mentally prepared yourself for the long gaming session ahead, but you totally forgot to plan which games you actually want to play. You have 24 hours! Playing any old game won’t get you through the whole day—it’ll barely get you to the first coffee run. Here are five 2015 games that are sure to make the hours pass:

Super Mario Maker

A marathon just wouldn’t feel right without a Mario game. What’s great about this particular Mario game is that it never actually ends. You can create your own levels or play levels created by the gaming community. With the endless combinations of enemies and obstacles spanning from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3 to New Super Mario Bros., you and your friends will have plenty to tinker with. If you really want to pass the time, try creating extra challenging levels and watch your frustrated friends take turns to try and beat them.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The latest Metal Gear Solid game lets go of the complex story from the previous entries, in favour of perfected gameplay. You have both Afghanistan and Africa to sneak through, and each location presents several main ops and side ops to take care of in any way of your choosing. Play through one mission stealthily; play through the next as a supersoldier badass—be Big Boss. And don’t forget the small matter of using the Fulton Recovery System to develop a truly secure Mother Base.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection

If you have never played an Uncharted game or are a series veteran, the appropriately titled Nathan Drake Collection contains all three main-series games for you to play. Each has a fun story with engaging characters and Hollywood production values. If you are a solo Extra Life participant looking to pass the time with some third-person shooting combined with climbing mechanics, this is definitely the game to play. What better way to prepare yourself for the upcoming Uncharted: A thief’s End than by playing the previous entries in the series? Saving children and hunting treasure, good for you!

Destiny: The Taken King

Maybe Metal Gear and Uncharted are a little too single-player focussed for you. You have a decent party of friends participating in Extra Life and want to spend time playing cooperatively or competitively. The Taken King offers a story expansion to the base game, Destiny, as well as some new multiplayer maps amongst other features. Both the base game and the expansion offer fun social opportunities for you and your friends to face off against each other or to team up and defeat the alien scum in the main story mode. The real time passer comes when you and your friends dedicate yourselves to grinding—gotta get that level up, Guardian.

Halo 5: Guardians

Yet another shooter that offers both co-op play and player vs. player modes! Not only does Halo provide an excellent campaign with gameplay that is more enjoyable than it has ever been, but you can share the experience with friends over Xbox Live. And if you really want to show off the size of your posse, you can play the new Warzone mode. With huge maps and several in-game objectives, this 22-player competitive mode presents long battles with exciting gameplay that is conducive to a fun collaborative experience with friends. For a solo experience, and for bragging rights, try beating the campaign on Legendary all by yourself to earn the coveted Lone Wolf achievement.


News Discussion for the Week of October 26, 2015

Hello fellow gamers. Sorry for the delay; the past week has been rather hectic. The good news is that while I was busy living my life, the gaming world exploded with exciting news. Here we go!

Heavy Rain Dev Announces Detroit: Become Human for PlayStation 4

This week Sony had quite the presence at Paris Games Week. Amongst all of the prehistoric-themed games they showed off was a gem from the dormant Quantic Dream. There were plenty of announcements that came out of Sony’s showing, but this was probably the most exciting news, as the develop makes really immersive story-driven content.

AI and their place in society has recently become a hotly debated topic in video games. Deus Ex Human Revolution has taken a peak at this subject, only to be followed by what looks to be an even more engrossing experience with Mankind Divided. I look forward to playing Detroit: Become Human because it will offer an opportunity to explore transhumanist subject matter in a more focussed way than a traditional gameplay heavy videogame. Also, the ability to play from the perspective of an artificially intelligent being instead of the perspective of a human character, is a refreshing take on the topical discussions of what makes us human.

Nintendo and Dena’s First Mobile Game is Miitomo, Lanuch Delayed To 2016

Nintendo has made a lot of headway with their recent investors meeting news. Finally, it looks like the Japanese company will begin improving their online infrastructure: a new system for transferring game data from consoles and mobile devices and a revived membership program is being worked on. What’s even more exciting for Nintendo fans is the confirmation of Nintendo’s first mobile game.

I’m curious about how others have responded to the details of Miitomo. Even though I don’t play mobile games or have much faith in the industry, I respect Nintendo for trying to increase awareness of their brand. But I was expecting a different kind of game to kick off their mobile efforts; Miitomo is being marketed as more of a social media experience than it is a game. With Miiverse in place on both the Wii U and the 3DS, I don’t see how this game–application really–could be all that interesting. Especially when Nintendo explains that Miitomo is meant to garner attention from a wide variety of audiences, it is unlikely that many non-Nintendo fans would take to such an unfocussed offering.

I won’t ignore or discount the potential success of Miitomo just yet. I am not particularly interested in the game itself, but I am interested in Nintendo’s ability to prosper in the mobile space. And this loss of mobile virginity for Nintendo is not something I am willing to let slip by. Going forward all eyes are on the big N, and mine are especially curious.

My Halo 5 Apology

I enjoyed the Halo 5 campaign. Though I’m afraid to admit it, this assertion also includes the storyline, not just the gameplay. I’m sure my views will upset many Halo purists, but I would like to hazard a try at explaining why I enjoyed 343’s divisive campaign. This is not an objective or definitive viewpoint of the game–I know that my opinion is most certainly going to be refuted from the start–but let’s see where this goes anyway.

Before I begin, I think it is important to preface with the fact that I am not a die-hard Halo fan. Although I’ve played all of the main series titles, the Halo universe has never really jibed with me. Apart from some general research over the  years–Wikis and fan-created articles–I have never delved deep into the lore of the Halo series. It just doesn’t interest me all that much, and I feel that if I were to read all of the books and pay close attention to the entirety of the backstory, I’d be more confused than a Grunt on the battlefield.

My videogame story tastes reside in the arena of enjoying a game for its isolated plot; I don’t want to have to take a history class to understand what the heck is going on. In Halo 5 Guardian’s I felt like my surface knowledge of the universe was enough to enjoy the plot. There were absolutely times when I wanted to know more, and in that respect I agree with the general consensus that the game throws certain  things at players without context. But I’m not talking about the components that make a story fully fleshed: likeable characters, consistent motives, and coherence to backstory. What I am talking about is the core story–the events that take place in Halo 5 separate from previous entries in the series. This must sound like madness to passionate fans, especially considering that the game is a sequel belonging to such a grand and beloved franchise.

The reason I can make these claims without faltering, is because I am not one of those players who actually cares all that much about the series’ backstory. For me, I was just looking for an enjoyable experience with an enjoyable standalone plot. And Halo 5 did just that.

The pacing of Halo 5 was so well handled, something that I must commend the gameplay for, that I was eager to find out what Cortana was planning throughout the duration of the adventure. Though it is disappointing that we don’t really find out what she is up to until the end of the game, this mystery kept me moving forward. I wanted to see the campaign through in only a few sitting, because I was intrigued by the Cortana’s plans for the galaxy. Every time her plans were spoken of, either by Doctor Halsey or the Warden, I was curious as to what had become of rampant AI, why she seemed to side with the forerunners, and what implications accessing the Domain had and will have.

I don’t want to have to take a history class to understand what the heck is going on.

When it comes to providing context, Halo 5 doesn’t effectively deliver–Blue Team and team Osiris are never formally introduced, and unless you know the backstory, they can be pretty generic characters. I guess this never really bothered me as I played the campaign, simply because I was so engrossed in my end goal: track down Master Chief and uncover Cortana’s undisclosed plans. Like Locke, I had a narrow vision of what I wanted to accomplish. My mission to track down Chief was set up at the beginning of the game, and all I wanted to do was catch up to him and discover whatever it was that was going on with Cortana and her Guardian chums.

When I finally did near the end of the game, I began to contemplate the power possessed by Cortana and what she could do for the galaxy. The Halo universe is so rife with competing ideologies and political struggles, that her plans could offer peace to all, as well as an opportunity for humans and other species to alter form–presumably as non-biological materials. Her access to the Domain has definitely shifted her thoughts about the future well-being of the galaxy; she has become a self-identified saviour. This mighty shift of focus from the driving force exerted by Chief in previous games to the infinite wisdom possessed by Cortana, fascinates me, and also does a commendable job of teasing the beginning of the final game in the reclaimer saga.

Perhaps the crux of my argument is that Halo 5 Guardians presents a compelling campaign to those who are mildly enthusiastic about the Halo universe. I have enough knowledge of the series to understand the varying races and their contempt for each other; I know a little bit about the idea of handing down the immense responsibility of mothering the galaxy, a responsibility referred to as the Mantle; I understand the affection Master Chief and Cortana have for each other, as they shared an engrossing bond across the past four titles; and I am aware of the psychological struggle of becoming a Spartan soldier.

Any less knowledge and I would agree that the high barrier of entry into the series is quite the setback for Halo 5, especially because it didn’t do much to add context to the characters and their motivations. Thus, a delicate balance between being completely clueless towards the fundamentals of the Halo franchise and being wholly engrossed in Halo’s extended universe, must be sought. Even if you are a Halo purist, I hope you can appreciate that Halo 5 did create a certain sense of urgency and introduced some fascinating future directions for the series, even if it never really explored its themes or backstory as  much as it could have.

News Discussion For the Week of October 19, 2015

Rumor: Kojima Left Konami In October

This is a confusing one. So much nonsensical information has been coming out of Konami over the past few months, and I’m sure that Kojima fans are eagerly awaiting the end of his non-compete clause, which is set for December. Once that date arrives, we will finally be treated with a sense of what the heck was going on at Konami during the development of Metal Gear Solid V. Moreover, we can finally uncover the truth behind the state of Konami and the alleged tension between the famed visionary and the Japanese publisher.

If this latest story is anything to go by, things are as confusing as ever. The original story, which can be read by clicking on the above headline, explained that Kojima had officially left Konami. But, in typical Konami fashion, it was later revealed that the story was incorrect and that Kojima and his development team had simply taken time off work. That doesn’t sound right to me, and I won’t even bother trying to figure out what the Konami spokesperson was getting at. I’ll simply reiterate that I can’t wait for Kojima’s non-compete clause to end, so that all this nonsense can be put to rest.

Square Enix to Continue Remaking Existing IPs

I like this story; it comes after news from EA COO Peter Moore that the videogame development/publishing company would not consider remaking legacy titles. The difference between the companies is that Moore was speaking about more traditional methods of remaking a game, while Konami introduced something I hadn’t thought of: remaking old titles to operate with virtual reality technology.

Instead of recreating old games for the sake of having them be compatible on current-gen consoles, Square Enix puts a spin on the usual methods of remaking, by introducing this idea to revitalize their older IPs so that they will meet modern gaming expectations. If you’ve been following my previous news discussions, you would know that I am excited for the advent of Playstation’s virtual reality headset, so this opportunity to visit the worlds of vintage titles in virtual reality has my imagination erupting with ideas.

How Halo 4 Might Have Used Kinect

Whoa, back off! I know I’m not in the minority when I say that Kinect features should be used sparingly. In fact, using the Kinect to command my Xbox One to turn on and off is about as far as I’m willing to go.

Sure Cortana could have made for an attractive virtual mate, but talking to the AI throughout Halo 4 could have been disastrous. I don’t know about you, but when my robots are going rampant, the last thing I’d want to do is begin communicating with them. I commend the team for coming up with such a creative idea, but I’m glad they resisted the urge to trust the inconsistent voice recognition technology used in the original Kinect.

Anouma Teases Surprise Twist for Zelda Wii U’s Open World

Nintendo almost always injects something very unique into their games; new concept that completely tear genre expectations apart. I hope what Anouma does with the open-world genre proves once again that Nintendo isn’t afraid to go it alone. As for what this supposed surprise is, I wonder if it has something to do with giving horses the brains to avoid hitting trees.

All jokes aside, Anouma did mention that he listened to player feedback from Skyward Sword, but doesn’t want to include all of our desired features in the game. And I really like that position taken by the producer–the element of surprise in Zelda games is what makes them the most fun.

Sony Confirms it’s Stopped First-Party Vita Development

This news was to be expected. Though a fantastic handheld, the PlayStation Vita is simply not selling well enough to warrant the creation of first-party titles, especially when the PS4 is selling so well and is in need of such games.

As a Vita owner myself, this news doesn’t bother me. For years I have seen the Vita as more of a handheld for experimental and indie games. After the release of Killzone Mercenary, I began to realize that Sony’s handheld would likely not receive many more large-budget games, and it really isn’t a bother. The Vita is a very capable handheld with several fun games; I don’t need or expect all of my consoles to have grand first-party triple-A titles.

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash: Making the Case for Mediocre Games

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash received poor reviews when it released a few weeks ago, and rightfully so. When I first began playing the game, I thought it was actually quite good; not great, but good. As I continued to play–though, I haven’t beaten the game yet–I began to come to the realization that the latest adventure with the quirky robot was deserving of the scores it received. But what if I told you that I have been having some fun with the game, even though I know it’s clearly mediocre?

My credibility has been all but lost. Why would I, knowing that the game is no good, actually choose to dedicate my time to it? When there are so many fantastic games that have released this year, it is certainly unacceptable to play anything that is subpar. Or is it? I’d like to make the case that playing a less-than-good game can be a sound practice for gamers, and prove that my unordinary decision has not revoked me of my seasoned taste for videogames; in fact, my resolve has only elevated it.

Now, don’t be mistaken. I’m not going to argue that playing every poor game is a good opportunity to take; I will argue that certain bad games should not be overlooked, and I will use Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash as a base for my argument.

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is a puzzle platformer that tasks the eco-friendly robot with the challenge of collecting yummy treats from around the globe and traversing his way through several obstacle courses. He must reach his goal with nothing other than his jumping capabilities and his extendable plug cord (ahem…he’s a robot, not a human). The issue is that all of the puzzles begin to become bland, as the environments are usually nothing more than blocky, unvaried environments and bland structures that Chibi-Robo must swing from, climb to, or jump over.

The puzzle elements usually don’t do much beyond having Chibi-Robo whip his plug cord in such a manner that it will ricochet off structures and eventually catch a desired ledge in which he must pull himself towards. Things get interesting when, in some levels, the whole puzzle mechanic is tossed aside in favour of various vehicles to be taken control of: skateboards, hot-air balloons, submarines and wakeboards. Although it’s true that the variations in level-design hold the game’s puzzle elements back, the sudden change also means that players get to see the developers toy with gameplay mechanics that don’t exactly mesh well with the rest of the game.

I would have loved to play more challenging and varied puzzles, but this is not a great game, remember? There is something to be said about this regression from the norm; a risk that goes against balanced,  cohesive level design. Though the many transformations of Chibi-Robo don’t always work–the hot-air balloon and submarine are controlled awkwardly–some do, and those occasions provide great fun. The game has to be inconsistent in order to provide these moments that shine through. The game is experimental, such that there are some trials that are a success and several that are not. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash does too much and tries too many concepts to ever actually be fun in a thorough manner, but those low points help give way to the better parts of the game.

Even as I write this, it sounds quite ridiculous for me to advocate for playing through a game that is an utter mess just to find its highlights. Surely you don’t want to be spending money on a game that won’t satisfy you at least 75% of time, but I don’t think you will often find the experimental level of fun in a triple-A game that can be found in a subpar game. And I’m not saying that you should consider purchasing these under-received games, but you should consider playing a borrowed or discounted copy. Take it from me, a dedicated reader of game reviews, if you always play excellent games, you will miss the divergent fun that can be found in games that are not so well crafted.

The skateboarding and wakeboarding levels do not have to be in the game; in fact the game would have been more enjoyable if the puzzles were made more challenging, at the cost of removing the vehicular stages. But it is that risk taken, that deviation from the norm that leads us to some unique concepts. While certainly not worth its hefty price tag of $40, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash has some moments of fun that can’t be found in other titles–other titles that play it safe and adhere to a more universal expectation when it comes to making games enjoyable.

I like to think of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash as a palate cleanser, in a manner of speaking. While playing the game, I picked out the distinct features I enjoyed and the features that I found to be misplaced. For example, the boss battles have all been rather creative and varied, but the implementation of a spin-wheel that decides what level Chibi-Robo will travel to next, is rather purposeless. When playing the game, I can easily point out what works and what doesn’t, because the features are so distinct from one another. When I put the game aside for a few days, I am reminded why I love the triple-A games that I do and why I criticize the others. In a way, playing a bad game every so often is like eating lemon sorbet between a full course dinner; it rids you of the delicious tastes of the previous course and primes your taste buds for the next.

Only once we have been away from home for so long do we realize how much more comfortable and content we are in our own dwelling. It’s not that we don’t enjoy our time away, but it somehow feels better to come home after a longer period of time than to just come home after having left a few hours earlier. By playing a mediocre game, I have seen the other side of gaming. I appreciate the risks taken but recognize the good from the bad. I appreciate the grapple mechanic of the plug cord but realize that its poor implementation, due to a lack of precise control, makes it quite frustrating to use. I take this poor execution into account and enjoy the tighter controls of high-ranking games even more because of it.

You must agree that, after having made my claim, playing decidedly poor games doesn’t sound so bad after all. I am excited to finish playing Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, and can only expect it to throw some more wacky bosses and design choices my way. Although I realize it is unquestionably a lacklustre title, I will continue to embrace its scattered design choices, frustrating controls and laughable puzzles, so that I can find the gold amongst the trash and appreciate the vast amount of artistic variation found in my beloved hobby. I hope that you, too, will find a title that presents some risky deviations from the mainstream games; one that is obviously mediocre in totality, but enjoyable in specific instances.

News Discussion For the Week of October 12, 2015

Nolan North: ‘Fans Don’t Want an Uncharted Movie’

I haven’t thought this far ahead, but famous voice actor Nolan North is absolutely correct. The beloved Uncharted series is so well realized and so rich with its cast of realistic characters and lush environments, that creating a live action movie would actually break that delicate realism. The characters are meant for a game world, and the games are already so Hollywood in their own way, that bridging the gap from videogame to movie would be difficult; difficult and unnecessary.

I say good call on North’s part. Let our adventurous hero complete his journey in Uncharted 4; there is no need to have a movie adaptation for any entry in the series. Besides, I think the Uncharted narratives do well to be presented with gameplay; the dedicated story and lore probably wouldn’t be deep enough to explore when confined to a two hour film.

Treyarch ‘Shocked’ By Reaction To Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Twitter Marketing Stunt

I don’t care that a closer look at the tweet would have revealed that the message was being sent by @callofduty. The fact remains that at first blush, this marketing stunt scared plenty of people. I’m all for creative methods to advertise an upcoming game, but make it look like you have even a little bit of sense. Take, for example, the latest Halo 5 marketing project I’ve seen in my neighbourhood, which includes two campaign signs stuck into the ground, one for Chief and one for Locke. The ads play on the fact that Canadians are preparing to vote for a new Prime Minister, and the competing parties’ colours include–you guessed it–red versus blue. It’s a nice play on the goings-on of my country and an excellent way to build hype for the upcoming shooter. And best of all, some thought was given to create the campaign.

As a side note, I have no choice but to point out the cowardly statement given by Tryarch’s Jason Blundell: “Here’s my view-and again, I’m a simple director and not involved in the marketing at all.” A simple director? Come on…talk about dodging the bullet. Sure the scheme wasn’t his, but he should have at least tried to sound like he cared. Everything about his view was basically rendered invalid because he prefaced his statements with this cowardly attempt at distancing himself from the issue.

Capcom’s Resident Evil Studio Focused on Virtual Reality

At this year’s Fan Expo, Sony’s newly named virtual reality headsets–PlayStation VR–were present. And guess who waited in line for over an hour to try the tech out? I’ve been intrigued by virtual reality since Sony announced their project a few years back. I got to try out this little horror game called “The Kitchen.” The little demo-like game made by Capcom left me really impressed, with both the technology and what developers could do with it to create immersive horror games. The long and short of it: please use this tech as a springboard for taking the Resident Evil series back to its roots!

Star Wars Battlefront Won’t Have Dedicated Voice Chat

I’ve heard plenty of good things about the Battlefront beta that happened this week. But, of course there has to be one bad apple that spoils them all. Although I’m really not the type to strategize with my teammates when playing online, I can see this omission becoming a problem. When playing with friends, you can easily work around the lack of a dedicated voice-chat service by using the console’s built-in chat feature, but when it comes to playing with strangers,  you are out of luck. It really is a fantastic feature when trying to get rid of the pre-pubescent voices of children, but a real oversight when it comes to people who actually want to have a serious game with players from around the world–if a degree of “seriousness” could even be used to describe a grown person playing a Star Wars game. The whole ordeal leads me to wonder why it was omitted in the first place; it might be that these online console games are beginning to take a page from PC videogames.

Nintendo NX Reportedly Has ‘Industry-Leading’ Tech and 2016 Release Date

Wow, if this is true, it certainly seems like Nintendo is ready to make a comeback. And I would welcome it with open arms, especially after the Wii U has been somewhat dissatisfying. I have been ready for a long time, for a Nintendo console to receive proper 3rd-party support. For years Nintendo hardware has been ignored by outside developers, and for good reason: Nintendo consoles have been lacking in processing power and online features when compared to their competition. If The Wall Street Journal and its sources are correct in saying that the console will be equipped with “industry-leading chips,” then we may have cause for celebration. I would really like to see Nintendo competing in the console race again, and a 2016 release of a powerful console that apparently includes some kind of controller that can be taken on the go, could do just that for the trailing company.

The Legend of Zelda Tri Force Heroes: A Case for New Friends

Nintendo sent me a code to download the digital demo of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. I went to the Nintendo eshop and inputted the code. My 3DS told me that I had run out of space. I deleted a few games and returned to the eshop. I confirmed the download and waited to begin the latest Zelda adventure. I unwrapped the game and selected to begin playing. I walked through an atrium and towards a generic wise man. I rubbed the itch on my hands away, in anticipation to play. The wise man told me I would not be prepared to go on a hero’s journey without two other partners. Thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew from the beginning that the Zelda game was meant for people who actually have friends who play videogames. What I didn’t expect was for the demo to disclude the option to play with AI heroes. The full game does have this ability, so why is it not included in the demo?

Perhaps Nintendo wants us to truly experience the excitement of the game, by forcing us to play it in person with friends. Well, this actually leads to a deeper issue of mine with this game. Though I have the option to simply wait until the demo is playable online–or once the full game has released–I just don’t have many friends who would be willing to play a 3DS game with me.

While my friends are busy with other releases this year, like Metal Gear Solid V and Halo 5, I just don’t see anyone wanting to play a Zelda co-op game.  Screw them, I want to play! I am a Nintendo fan; most of friends don’t even own a 3DS. But there lurks an even greater problem with this whole ordeal: a genuine difference in enjoyment exists when playing the title online versus playing it in person.

Nintendo knows that Link’s latest is best played with friends face-to-face. Even I know that this game won’t be much fun without a close group of friends getting together to haphazardly overcome the puzzles and temples. So, whether I shut up now and wait for the online demo/full retail release, or I just keep complaining, the fact won’t change that I won’t be able to enjoy the game the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Sure I could round up one of my close buddies, but Tri Force Heroes won’t let you play with only two characters! Three are required.

I am left with two choices here. I could either play the game entirely by using AI heroes, which will most certainly suck much of the fun out of the game, or I could try and make some new friends. Here’s me doing my part:

Tri Force Heroes Demo Code1:B0HWL84J5935G6NB
Tri Force Heroes Demo Code2:B0HHP2QB2GQPXXR1