Archive for December, 2009

O Christmas glee

December 23rd, 2009
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Because I can’t bear to limit the Christmas joy to myself and the coworkers who happen to stop by, here’s a look at the current state of part of my work desk:

xmas desk

Yes, the mismatched Haruhi cast is taking a holiday-season vacation, likely to return sometime after the new year. In its place are a Playmobil nativity set (complete with an add-on of the three kings!) and some Christmas cards I’ve received at the office. At left is the card from Midweek cartoonist and Kawaii Kon art tutor Roy Chang (with his gorgeous, cute on it, of course). The Kikaida cast card is from longtime local translation house JN Productions. And the koi card? That’s from wire editor Stephanie Kendrick. They add a bit of seasonal festiveness to the place, don’t you think?

Here’s hoping you and yours have a merry Christmas on Friday. Oh, and don’t forget … check back here on that same day for the first 2010 Kawaii Kon guest announcements.

Gaming gifts, level 2.0

December 21st, 2009
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Welcome to the second part of my video game gift guide, otherwise known as “all the blurbs that I ended up taking out of the guide that ran in the print edition of the paper because I couldn’t stop writing and they simply wouldn’t fit into the space allotted.” Part 1 can be found elsewhere on the Web site and on Oahu newsstands everywhere today; so without further ado …

More for the family

guitarhero5>> Guitar DJ Lego Beatles Rock Band Hero everything (for every possible current-generation console imaginable, ratings range from E-10 to T): This is the Golden Age of Plastic Instruments in the video game industry, indulging everyone who’s ever dreamt of picking up a plastic guitar, banging on plastic drums or picking up a microphone and singing along to everything from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Just follow the color-coded prompts, hit the corresponding buttons at the right time, and rock the world with this year’s crop of games: Guitar Hero 5 (featuring predominantly rock tunes); The Beatles: Rock Band (featuring the Fab Four); Band Hero and Lego Rock Band (with pop hits) and DJ Hero (mashed-up hip hop, complete with turntable controller).

lbplanet>> Little Big Planet (PSP, rated E): The easiest way to describe this game is as the 2-D platforming game that the world builds. Guide Sackboy from the beginning to the end of levels included with the game, then build your own levels and share them with the world via an Internet connection. (The PS3 version, out for over a year now, also comes highly recommended for owners of that system; look for the “Game of the Year” edition to grab some additional Sackboy costumes, level decorations and fan-created levels.)

lkstory>> Little King’s Story (Wii, rated T): It’s one of those sleeper games that looks like your typical fair-to-middling Wii shovelware, but it’s more than that. So much more, in fact, that critics who have reviewed this game can’t stop gushing about it. A young boy named Corobo finds a crown in the forest and, upon donning it, instantly becomes king to his village. If you’ve ever longed to be the master of your own domain, order others around to do your bidding and dig up treasure, and become the all-powerful ruler of the world, this is your game … simple, yet effective and oh so satisfying.

rabbids>> Rabbids Go Home (Wii, rated E-10+): With Rayman becoming increasingly dead weight to those lovably moronic “BWAAAAAAAAH”-ing Rabbids, Ubisoft finally saw fit to ditch the limbless wonder in favor of letting the Rabbids run rampant in a game all to themselves. (Dear Ubisoft: We can haz Rayman 3 nao plz? Kthxbai.) In the Rabbids’ first adventure not to be filled with minigames, the little critters run around collecting items and scaring the clothes off people as they try to collect enough stuff to build a pile that reaches to the moon. Think of it like Katamari Forever, except you’re rolling a shopping cart around the various stages. Bonus points for the “Rabbid inside your Wii Remote” minigame.

>> Wii Sports Resort (Wii, rated E): Wii Sports is usually the first game people drag out when they want to show off the Wii’s motion controls. Welcome to the next generation: This game features 12 new sports, including fencing, archery and basketball, and the MotionPlus accessory to refine motions further.

More for the hard-core

batman>> Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360, PC; rated T): It’s arguably the best “Batman” game ever made … well, okay, maybe until the recently announced sequel is released. For now, though, take charge of the Caped Crusader as he plunges deep into the asylum and battles an all-star lineup of villains including Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Harley Quinn and the mastermind of the whole enterprise, the Joker. Getting you even more in the mood: Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the voices of Batman and the Joker in the beloved animated series of the 1990s, who reprise their roles.

dissidia>> Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PSP): “Final Fantasy” players are an opinionated lot. Some fans absolutely adore pretty long-haired bad-boy Sephiroth of “Final Fantasy VII” fame; others prefer the brooding Squall Leonheart of “Final Fantasy VIII”; and still others like their games decidedly old-school and prefer the generic Warrior of Light hero from the original game. “Dissidia” pretty much captures every series fan’s dream: Pick a favorite character, then proceed to beat the living pixels out of all the other, lesser-liked characters in one-on-one fighting action.

daorigins>> Dragon Age: Origins (PS3, Xbox 360, PC; rated M): Arguably the best role-playing game right now that’s not a PS3 exclusive. Create a character from three different races and classes — all of which have their own stories — and forge a medieval-era legend of heroism or villainy. The game’s already taken over two of my friends’ lives, and I fully intend to join them as soon as I can find some free time (which may not be for a while, sigh).

retrogc>> Retro Game Challenge (DS, rated E): Those of us around for the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System era of gaming in the mid-to-late ’80s will appreciate this homage to that era. A boy trapped by the evil Game Master must beat the challenges set before him in retro-style minigames, including driving games, shooters, 2-D platformers and a role-playing game.

uncharted2>> Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, rated T): One of my coworkers, upon learning that I was writing a video game gift guide, lamented the fact that Uncharted 2 wasn’t on the list of games I was including in print. Fair enough. The game puts players back in the well-worn shoes of fortune hunter Nathan Drake as he searches for the truth behind the lost fleet of Marco Polo and the Himalayan valley of Shambhala. It’s like all those Tomb Raider games you played and Indiana Jones movies that you watched as a kid … except, of course, a kazillion times more awesome.

Gaming on multiple levels

December 18th, 2009
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It’s the holiday season, and most of us are thinking about gifts. And many of us will be thinking about video games as gifts, whether it’s for ourselves or someone else.

And since we’re thinking about games as gifts, the first order of business is the annual Child’s Play Charity, already in full swing. As in years past, the Kapiolani Center for Women and Children is taking part. How it works is you visit Kapiolani’s wishlist at Amazon.com and you buy from their selection of requested video games, DVDs, books, and other products. The items are sent directly to Kapiolani by Amazon — and if you purchase $25 or more worth of items, shipping is even free.

This year, there’s a new option: You can purchase an item on the wishlist from someplace other than Amazon and have it sent to Kapiolani. If you go that route, be sure to click on the link next to the item that says “Buying this gift elsewhere?” and then click on the “Reserve this item” button. How exactly it works is a little uncertain — I’m assuming this now allows you to buy from third-party sellers on Amazon, when in previous years this was not allowed. If so, it’s a good way to purchase gifts that aren’t in stock at Amazon.com itself.

Aside from that, here’s a roundup of various video-game news that’s come in over the past few weeks, in no particular order.

  • The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain gave its writing award in the video game category to Andrew S. Walsh for “Prince of Persia.” Also in the running had been “Fable II” and “Routes.” I have to admit I’ve never heard of that last one.
  • LittleBigPlanet” won the video game category of the Children’s Awards for the Electronic Arts British Academy of Film and Television Arts. I wonder if we could make a case for including video games in the Oscars.
  • Atari has revamped its Web site at Atari.com. Among other things, you can play some classic Atari 2600 and arcade games on there. News of this set off a whole nostalgia trip on my part — yes, we had a 2600. I was really hoping for “Air Sea Battle” (two-player online mayhem! Come on!), but I guess I’ll take “Adventure” and “Asteroids” instead. And I think I’ll leave “Crystal Castles” and “Yar’s Revenge” alone.
  • Sony Pictures is going to try to make a film based on the board game “Risk.”  …Wait, what? How will billing a movie with the “Risk” name be much better than any other action/war movie? You might as well make a movie based on “Chutes and Ladders.” The first thing I thought of was that horrendous “Dungeons and Dragons” film back in 2000. Yes, I actually watched that in the theater of my own free will. And even THAT had actual characters to pull from — well, sort of.
  • For those of you not following me on Twitter (I’m @wjandoc, by the way), here’s a blog retweet: Activision Blizzard has set up a new endowment, the Call of Duty Endowment, to help veterans who are having difficulty finding employment. Whether or not you actually play COD — the latest installment of which, “Modern Warfare 2,” broke one-day sales records, beating out “Halo 3″ — please consider making a donation to this worthy foundation. Get more information at the CODE Web site, callofdutyendowment.org.
  • Majesco Entertainment, makers of the famed “Cooking Mama” series and publisher of the “Cake Mania” games, is coming out with yet another foodie-type title: “Pizza Delivery Boy,” to be released late next year. As its title says, you play a delivery boy trying to get pizza to customers on time, racing against time to overcome various obstacles and other similarly fun stuff. It seems to be just another frantic-pace food serve-up in the style of “Diner Dash” or “Cake Mania,” neither of which I particularly cared for .
  • Speaking about Majesco, they’ve just released “Hello Kitty Party” for the Nintendo DS, part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the famed Sanrio character. Says the press release: “The all-new Hello Kitty game lets players enjoy 25 themed games as they shop, cook, dress up and more — all in preparation for a super fun party!” ….. Yeah. I’ll leave that one alone.
  • So Final Fantasy XIII has been scheduled for a March 2010 release in North America, and Square Enix has just released box cover art for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions:

    FF13 box art - PS3

    FF13 box art - Xbox 360

    I’ll probably pick up the game. But considering I still have FF10, FFX-2 (I can’t believe I’m still planning to play that one) and FF12 to get through, not to mention a host of other non-FF games, who knows when it will be when I finally take the shrinkwrap off.

  • On a completely different tangent, an interesting press release rattled into my inbox a few days ago, about a paper published in the fall 2009 issue of the American Journal of Play (there are journals for everything!) pointing out electronic games as an important component of culture and warning of the loss of such games unless steps are taken to preserve them. It’s an interesting aspect to video games that I never thought about. Physical toys could probably be replicated as long as you have a good specimen, but game software is another matter — once a console is no longer produced and all existing units wear out beyond repair, the games that were played on that system become useless bricks (or discs, or whatever media they’re stored on), with the data no longer readable.

    Although, preserving past games sometimes seems senseless — honestly, if you were a gamer in today’s generation of voice acting, realism and fully orchestrated soundtracks who never lived through the then-greatness of, say, the Atari 2600, would you be raring to try out those retro games, with their vague character forms, totally mechanical music and — gasp! — complete lack of save points?

    That said, it indeed would be interesting to preserve such games not for playing purposes, but for historical purposes and, well, perhaps humbling today’s gamers a notch. This is where we are now, this is where we came from, and where we came from was still a really awesome place compared to the new awesomeness of today’s games. And future generations of gamers should have the chance to appreciate the simplicity of games then — especially since “simplicity,” both in graphics and in gameplay, does not equate “ease of play,” but it did often lead to addictive hours of gaming and some hilariously funny moments, both in the game and among us players.

    And that addiction, that fun, that challenge — all those are things that still hold true with games today, and always will.