Flashback Thursday: Great Games, Crap Ads

Final Fantasy Tactics
So you’re releasing a spin-off game of an established franchise, What do you do to advertise it? Put out a dull double page ad. It’s not like Squaresoft didn’t have great artists working on the game. They didn’t just have one artist working on it either. They had three great artists: Akihiko Yoshida, Hiroshi Minagawa, and Hideo Minaba. Instead they focused on three topics highlighted in blue. They load up the ad with a bunch of text. It lacks excitement, enthusiasm and quality. The image they do choose to use features 5 generic characters. It doesn’t do justice to some of the more colorful and intricate character designs the game features.

ff7
Budget doesn’t always dictate the quality of ads. For instance, Ico, a game that didn’t have a large budget had a great double page ad. You’d expect Squaresoft to pull off all the stops to get people excited for a brand new game. The ad campaign for Final Fantasy VII was well done and not overly complex either, using an image from one of the in-game cutscenes. You just feel that they could have done something more with marketing Final Fantasy Tactics.

Resident Evil 2
The problem with this Resident Evil 2 advertisement isn’t artwork. The artwork featured in this ad is creepy and well done. The main problem is that there is too much text and too many tiny screenshots. It seems this is a tactic that companies thought was an effective means of advertising a game. I would have rather they have focused on the important text and had three larger screenshots.

They’re also trying to advertise too many things at once. The game, the strategy guide and some movie sweepstakes. This ad suffers from poor layout so everything feels like they’re squeezed in together. Whoever designed this could have use the space they have more wisely.

Klonoa
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was a new platform game featuring a character named Klonoa published and designed by Namco. So how do you advertise this brand new character that’s meant to compete with the likes of Mario and Sonic? Don’t make the ad about him and place him in a tiny circle.
Klonoa
This has got to be one of the most oddest choices in regards to advertising an unestablished brand new game. Who is the target audience? The ad exclaims “Everybody wants Klonoa”, but an ad like this ends up alienating a large fragment of the market. And on that note who is the intended audience? The ad isn’t going to attract young adults because it’s not tastefully done and the screenshots show an unexciting and typical looking platformer. It’s not going to attract teenagers because there’s nothing that grabs their attention. I ended up picking the game by pure chance and ended up enjoying it quite a bit, but it’s no wonder this franchise ended up disappearing after two games.

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Dark Souls 2: What to Expect

dark souls 2
Dark Souls II has been out for a day and there has already been over two million deaths. But don’t let that scare you away. Even though the series is known to be incredibly difficult and frustrating From Software has gone to some lengths to make Dark Souls II more accessible to new comers. So what should you expect when you start a new game? Well, your character moves better than they did in the first Dark Souls thanks to snappier controls. There’s a new attribute you can level up called “Adaptability” that improves the speed your character performs actions. There’s a new common item called Life Gems that you’ll be using to recover your health, it can be dropped by enemies or bought at shops. You can now fast travel between Bonfires, which isn’t as big of a negative as I thought it would be. The world seems larger than the world in the first game. There seems to be more NPC’s around to interact with. Talk to them and they will reveal some lore. Keep interacting with them and they’ll gift you an item.

But the game has also been made tougher in other ways. Every time you die the total amount of health you have decreases. You have to use a Human Effigy (which are quite rare and expensive to buy) to become human again and remove the limitations set on your health. The more often you die, the shorter your health gets the more “zombie-fied” you look. If you succeed in killing an enemy 12 times, they’ll disappear. This makes it harder for you to farm for souls. On the other hand this can also make things easier by clearing out difficult routes. The tutorial can be completely skipped this time around as well. Oh, and there’s a coffin that can change your gender if you sleep in it.

There are quite a few other things that are different, things I’m still discovering. And That’s part of the joy I get out of the game. Dark Souls is not a game made for everyone. It’s just not fun for some people which is understandable. The fans of the game all like it for various reasons. It could be the combat system, the PvP aspects, the co-op mode, the intense and brutal boss fights or just the sense of discovery. Most importantly, We all accept that death is an integral part of the experience.

Ultimately, before making a decision on whether you want to spend money on this game, be sure to read more about it and watch some game play videos. Check out the community on Reddit, they’re (mostly) helpful when it comes to answering questions from newcomers. Even though Dark Souls II is more accessible it hasn’t sacrificed what made it so great to begin with. It’s still a well-made, well-rounded game, it’s still brutal and rewarding and hasn’t been dumbed down. If you’re a Dark Souls veteran you’ll still find a challenge, if you’re new to the game, welcome to the community!

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Flashback Thursday: Delayed.

Its been a pretty busy week so I haven’t had enough time to prepare something good for today, hopefully I’ll have one up in the next two days. Until then, here’s a look back at some of the previous posts.

Women in Ads & Fear Effect 2

Jet Grind Radio & Fun Ads

Two Words – Shenmue, Dreamcast.

Ico & The Perfect Ad

1999, Year of the Cyber Athlete

Magazine Covers – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Dilemma of the 90′s, 2D or not 2D?

Update: No Flashback Thursday this week. Freelance work keeping me occupied.

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Arkham Knight Announce Trailer – “Father to Son”

So Scarecrow is the main villain, looks like Two-Face will play a part AND you get to drive the Batmobile in the game. This already sounds better than Origins.

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Strider Review: Welcome to Metroidvania

Strider
I’ve never played any of the Strider games growing up for one reason or another, but when I heard that the new Strider game was inspired by Metroidvania it piqued my interest. Super Metroid and Castlevania Symphony of the Night are two of my favorite games while the 2D Castlevania games on the GBA and Nintendo DS were great in their own right. So how does Strider hold up?

The controls in the game are solid and really responsive which is necessary when you’re meant to be controlling a ninja. The world is supposed to be non-linear like Super Metroid and you’re rewarded for exploring with items that increase your health, concept art or new game modes. Killing enemies is satisfying and the boss fights are intense and require you to memorize a certain pattern. I’m playing the PS3 version and it looks good in certain parts but the art direction in specific locations are a let down at times. Some areas just look very generic and sometimes it’s hard to tell where your character is. The camera can be annoying at times especially when it moves in close. I wish there was a way to control the distance of the camera and to keep it static. There doesn’t seem to be a great variety of enemies, most of them are generic soldiers that are very predictable and easy to kill. Another annoying aspect of the game is the way enemies spawn. In Symphony of the Night for instance enemies will respawn once you leave the room you’re in. In Strider enemies will at times continuously respawn while you’re still in the same area. This is annoying and an out-dated feature I’d only expect see in Mega Man games. The music is largely disappointing too and I wish it featured more dominantly as it’s not incredibly memorable and at times unnoticeable.

Even with those complaints the game is still fun. Running around, exploring and killing enemies can be an addictive process. It could have been a greater game if they had gone with different design choices. I’d still recommend it especially if you enjoy playing side-scrolling adventure games.

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Flashback Thursdays: The Dilemma of the 90′s, 2D or not 2D?

Earthworm 3D
Back when Sony and Nintendo released the Playstation and Nintendo 64 one aspect that they pushed was 3D graphics. Established franchises like Super Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy were going three-dimensional. The new hits like Tomb Raider, Tekken and Resident Evil were also 3D. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon because gamers were pushed to view 2D games as “simple” while 3D games were complex and had depth. You had other franchises like Earthworm Jim who were attempting to make the transition and ended up with horrid games.

There were two Castlevania games in development in the mid-90′s, the 2D Symphony of the Night and the 3D Castlevania 64. One would end up a timeless hit while the other, even though met with positive reviews was gradually forgotten over time.

SoTN
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night went against the grain. It was a 2D side-scrolling non-linear RPG. Instead of stage progression like previous Castlevania games you had one large castle to explore. The developers added role-playing elements such as leveling-up to make the game easier for average gamers. It was a deep game featuring a long main quest and extra game modes post-completion to add to its replay value. You could also unlock a new character which required you to play the game in a different manner. It was brilliant and critics loved it. The problem that this game faced was that people weren’t looking for this type of game. Who wanted to play a simple 2D side-scroller when there were more fancy 3D looking games? It didn’t help that the marketing for the game was poor and relied on word-of-mouth.

And looking at the advertisement above, do you blame people? We’re given four tiny screenshots that reveal nothing significant. There’s too much text that’s laid out in an annoying fashion. Everything is forced to the side to accommodate that photo with the cheesy tagline. With the limited funds they had to market the game, they wasted it on crappy made double page ads like the one above. Over time Symphony of the Night became a big hit and would join the Playstation 1 Greatest Hits collection. Konami would go on to make more great 2D Castlevania games for the Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS. They would also would go on to make more mediocre 3D Castlevania games.

Symphony of the Night has made a lasting impression on the game industry that can be felt to this day with games like Cave Story, Shadow Complex, Strider and Guacamelee! all being released in the past 5 years.  So if you haven’t played Symphony of the Night it’s currently available to download in the Xbox Marketplace and Playstation Network store and holds up pretty well.

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Nintendo 3DS: Happy 3 Years!

3ds-2The Nintendo 3DS turns 3 today and as of the end of December its shipped 42.7 million units. Pokemon X & Y is the top selling game with 11.6 million units sold. I bought a 3DS at launch because I loved the Nintendo DS before it and played thousands of hours on it. I bought a 3DS at launch and even though the first year was rough things turned around. Nintendo gave back to the customers who bought the 3DS at launch by creating the Ambassador Program. Thanks to the Ambassador Program the customers who bought the 3DS early in its first year were given a bunch of GBA and NES games for free and many of the games are still unreleased in the eStore.

Here are some of my 3DS stats:

735 hours played – My most played game was Animal Crossing New Leaf: 83 hours.
129 games – This includes DS, 3DS, Virtual Console and eStore games I’ve downloaded.
294,862 steps taken – I barely get to walk around with my 3DS because everyone drives in Kuwait and public transportation sucks.

My top ten most played 3DS games:

  1. Animal Crossing New Leaf
  2. Pokemon Y
  3. Virtues Last Reward
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  5. Fire Emblem Awakening
  6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
  7. Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor
  8. Mario Kart 7
  9. Shin Megami Tensei IV
  10. Radiant Historia
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Games I’ve Been Playing: Gone Home, DKC: Tropical Freeze, Threes & Oquonie

Gone Home
Gone_Home

Gone Home is not your traditional game. It is an interactive adventure that focuses on narrative and exploration in the same vain as the Stanley Parable. You control a young lady named Kaitlin who has just come back from a long trip abroad to discover her family’s house is empty. The purpose of the game is to figure out what has happened. You explore the house to find notes or items that help you piece together the story. The developers did a fantastic job creating an ambience with the use of sounds and lighting. The voice acting in particular is well done and helps you feel more involved with the narrative.

At no point during the two hours it took to beat did I feel frustrated for needing to trackback and the length of the story was perfect. The developers did a great job designing a house that was interesting to explore and that held interesting secrets. I went into the game not knowing anything about the story-line and as I was exploring the house I wasn’t sure what to expect. Why was the house empty? Was everyone kidnapped? Was it aliens? Zombies? A serial killer? What unraveled though was even more unexpected, so much so I sat there in silence as the credits rolled. It was a game that evoked emotions that the majority of AAA games fail at delivering.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
DK

Tropical Freeze is slow to start with the first world being straight forward and easy. Once you get to the second world things start to become trickier, more exciting and more intense. There’s variety in the way that Retro Studios designed the levels. They aren’t just straight dull levels but they also include a lot of vertical movement. Each world features its own vivid color scheme and each level has its share of secrets. The game features collectibles and hidden paths that lead to secret levels. The game pushes you to react as quick as possible and expects you to react on a seconds notice. This makes some deaths feel cheap due to the game moving a tad too fast but this does not take away from the enjoyment that is on offer. All in all, another quality game for the Wii U.

Threes

THREES_trailer

Even though there are thousands of games available on smartphone devices, many of them just aren’t that good. Every once in a while we’ll get something fantastic. This past week I downloaded Threes and Oquonie. Threes is a straight forward puzzle game that does an amazing job hooking you in, it’s charming and is a joy to play. The aim is simple; match up the numbers on the board to accumulate higher numbers until the board is full. Threes is addictive. You might be at work or in school and it’ll creep into your consciousness and you’ll start thinking of ways to improve your strategy. The game is pleasing to the eye with great use of colors, art and it runs at 60 fps. Threes might be the greatest game to come out on the iPhone.

Oquonieoquonie

Oquonie is another puzzle game I’m playing. You start off controlling some kind of dinosaur-like creature. As you play through the game you collect objects that open doorways to other dimensions (I’m guessing?). As you continue on you experience some form of reincarnation, I changed into a bunny, bird, pig and some sort of humanoid creature. Changing into certain creatures grants you access to more rooms to progress through the game. In all honesty I have no idea what’s going on in the game, but it’s still a lot of fun to play. The game features brilliant artwork by Rekka Bellam and accompanied by beautiful music. There is no text, no voice overs, no explanations whatsoever, you tap on the screen to move, you tap on characters to interact.

It’s risky to make a game like Oquonie but I think it worked out well in this case. The world is mysterious enough that you want to explore it and by not giving you a story to work with it lets you use your imagination to build a one. The world of Oquonie is bizarre, intricate and beautiful. If you’re looking for something a little different, this is your best bet.

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SOCHI 2014 – Speed Skating Double Dash Final

A fun video to start off the day!

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Flashback Thursdays: Magazine Covers – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

covers
Covers, it’s the first thing we see as we glance over magazine racks at the bookstore or supermarket, they communicate a message and inform us of what we’ll find on the inside. The magazine cover plays a part in creating an identity through use of  typography, color, the layout and logo. If you were to remove the EGM/GamePro/Edge logo from a cover chances are you’ll still be able to tell which is which because they each possess their own identity.

I was a fan of two gaming magazines, Electronic Gaming Monthly and Edge, while I sporadically bought issues of GamePro, PSM and Nintendo Power. My least favorite kind of covers were the ones that used in-game graphics (they were never going to age well), 3D rendered characters or ones that reused box art (Fabio anyone?). My favorite kind of covers either featured interesting artwork (1, 2) or used commissioned artwork (more info about those covers here). But even commissioned artwork didn’t always come out great; for instance EGM’s 100th issue had an uninspiring cover illustrated by Allan Ditzig who is actually a good artist and is a veteran of the game industry. The early 90′s was not a good time for magazine covers, some early issues of EGM (1, 2, 3) and GamePro (1, 2) were horrendous but they improved as time went on and computer hardware and design software got better.

200edgeEdge seemed to consistently have the best covers. They chose to go the minimalist route and not cram the front with text while choosing interesting and unique visuals for each cover, for instance their 100th issue featured artwork by Shiguro Miyamoto. Besides featuring distinct covers Edge was also different than the majority of gaming magazines on the inside as well. You could only find the names of the contributors at the beginning of the magazine and not under each article, preview or review. They used to also feature various in-depth articles like a Making Of and a Videogame Diary which would by written by different professionals in the game industry discussing their jobs. Edge were pretty hard to please when it came to reviewing a game as well and since its conception in 1993 they’ve only given out sixteen perfect scores.

covers2
Looking back at all the issues of EGM and Edge it’s difficult to pick just one favorite cover. One of the most memorable and nicest looking covers I remember was a limited edition Final Fantasy X cover made for EGM illustrated by the legendary Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. Another favorite of mine was the one that featured Donkey Kong 64 on the cover as it was visually iconic with DK holding out a banana. I think it’s even harder to pick a favorite cover of Edge since they had a lot of special ones. The issue that featured the 100 most significant reviews was pretty cool, the cover was a collage of screenshots from 100 games that formed an E. Another cover that I have a soft spot for featured Link and was printed on a gold foil so it was nice and shiny looking, making it an even more unique cover to own. Print media has been on a decline and has become less popular as years go by while digital media has become dominant so it’s nice to see magazines embrace the Internet. Edge has since moved online with a nice looking website while the magazine is still being printed and is also available for subscription on tablet devices like the iPad.

Even though it’s difficult to get your hands on old video game magazines nowadays some can be found digitally, Edge for instance has made all their covers from 1993 till 2012 available online and there’s also a huge archive of magazine covers at VGMuseum.

Next week, I’m back to writing about ads!

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