Saturday, December 31, 2011

Five additional games I'm looking forward to playing in 2012

If you failed to see yesterday's post--which covered the first five (of 10) games that I'm looking forward to playing in 2012--check it out here.

For those of you who read (if not thoroughly enjoyed) that post, here are the final five games I'm hoping to get my grubby little hands on at some point in the next 12 months:

Mario Tennis (3DS)--I've mentioned before that I'm a tennis nut, right? If not, now you know. I'm also a huge fan of Nintendo's Mario Tennis games--especially its portable ones. The 3DS iteration looks to be the best of both worlds: It's got the great graphics of the console versions and the take-it-anywhere fun of the handheld versions. Will it have an RPG mode, too? My fingers and toes are crossed in the hopes that it will.

Ni no Kuni (PS3)--The Japanese version of this Level-5 RPG--made in partnership with the folks at Studio Ghibli--bombed and reviews of it weren't much better, but you know what? I'll probably buy the North American version regardless shortly after I finally obtain a PS3 (hopefully sometime in 2012). It simply looks too good to pass up, even if it ends up being a bit of a bore.

Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii)--In all honesty, this may be the game I'm most looking forward to playing in 2012. Why? I enjoyed the hell out of its predecessors--the import-only original, made for the GameBoy Advance, and its DS-based sequel, released in 2009--and I'm fully expecting to love the hell out of this one, too, especially since it takes the series back to its roots and uses buttons only (as opposed to waggle).

Sugar Shooter 2 (Mac/PC)--I've never had as much fun shooting the clothes off of a muscle-bound baddies as I did while playing the original Sugar Shooter last year. As such, I'm chomping at the bit to do more of the same as soon as this sequel--which will be made available to Mac as well as PC owners this time around--hits the streets (or at least the Internet) sometime next year.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)--Can you believe this open-world RPG will be coming to North America in 2012? I can't. I'm glad it is, though, as I desperately want to play it. Don't tell anyone, but this will be my first Monolith Soft-developed game. Yep, that means I've never played any of the Baten Kaitos (GameCube) or Xenosaga (PS2) titles. Just proves there's a first time for everything, eh?

Now that I've rambled on (and on and on) about the games I'm itching to play in 2012, which ones are all of you looking forward to experiencing in the coming year?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Five games I'm looking forward to playing in 2012

If you run a gaming blog, every year has to end with a post about your favorite games of the past year and another post about the games you're most looking forward to playing in the coming one, right? Well, I checked that first box yesterday with this post, so today I might as well check the second box with the post you're currently reading.

This post originally contained 10 games, by the way, but it seemed a bit long so I broke it in two. As such, expect to see a similarly titled post published tomorrow that will include five more games that I'm looking forward to playing in 2012.

Bravely Default (3DS)--This Square Enix RPG looks like it's going to be a spiritual successor to 2010's Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. I consider that Final Fantasy side story to be one of my favorite DS games, so you can bet I'll be all over this one like white on rice--assuming it makes its way to North America.

Dragon Quest X (Wii)--I know a lot of long-time Dragon Quest fans were disappointed to hear that the series' latest installment would focus on an online-multiplayer experience, but I'm not one of them. In fact, I'm downright excited for this entry thanks in part because of its online focus and in part because it will feature more of the crazy customization that was present in its DS-based predecessor.

Final Fantasy Type-0 (PSP)--The word on the street is that this game--and, yes, it's another Final Fantasy offshoot--will be released in North America sometime this year. Here's hoping that's true and that the game will be released on PSP UMD (as opposed to PlayStation Vita card) and will feature the same fabulous cover art that appeared on Japanese copies of the title.

Inazuma Eleven (DS)--I have next to no interest in the game of soccer (or football, for those of you who live outside of North America), yet I want this game. Why? Because I've heard great things about it on the Internet--things like, "It's like a soccer-themed Pokemon game." I like the sound of that, so I'm planning to buy the first game in this series from the UK sometime next year. Who knows, I may buy the second one, too, which is scheduled to hit the streets throughout Europe in early 2012.

Luigi's Mansion 2 (3DS)--Is it weird that the game that spurred me to ask for a 3DS for Christmas was this one? Well, it's true regardless. Oh, sure, I was keen on Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land, too, but not as keen as I am on Luigi's Mansion 2, which looks to take the basics presented in the GameCube-based original and run with them. The only downer at the moment? The folks at Nintendo of America have yet to give it a release date. (Please be sooner rather than later, please be sooner rather than later, please be sooner rather than later...)

What other games am I looking forward to playing in 2012? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My five favorite games of 2011

While reading through the following list, please keep in mind that I've yet to play a number of games that are sure to take up space on similar lists that appear on other blogs and sites--games like Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Mario Kart 7 and Uncharted 3.

Really, though, my lack of experience with the aforementioned games shouldn't matter much to those looking to add a few interesting, exciting or fun titles to their collections, since I'm not presenting the games below as "the best of 2011." Rather, I'm presenting them as the ones that provided me with the most enjoyment this past year.

1. Cladun x2 (PSP)--I know I have yet to write about this game as much as I wrote about its predecessor, but don't take that to mean I liked it less. On the contrary, I prefer Cladun x2 to the original Cladun in pretty much every way--and that's saying something, because I really enjoyed the first one. My favorite aspects of this sequel, though, are its insane customization options and its wider variety of, well, everything--characters, enemies, locales and weapons. If you own a PSP and you're at all into dungeon crawlers or roguelikes, this game is for you.

2. Kirby's Return to Dream Land (Wii)--A blogger pal of mine recently said via Twitter that this game "is everything that is right about video games." I was skeptical of that comment until I actually obtained and played the game myself. Now I see why he said that, as Kirby's Return to Dream Land is pure joy from start to finish. Yes, it's fairly easy--just like nearly every other Kirby game that came before it--but that's not really the point. What is the point is that everything about it is fun--from the music to the graphics to the gameplay. I especially love obtaining and using Kirby's super abilities, which, in general, allow the little pink puff to wreak havoc on an entire screen's worth of enemies at once.

3. LaserCat (Xbox 360)--I've been sitting on a half-finished "somewhat gay review" of this XBLIG title ever since I beat it earlier in the year. That's a crying shame because I absolutely adored every minute I spent playing it. As for why that is: Well, it kind of reminds me of Metroid without any enemies and with a collect-a-bunch-of-keys-to-save-your-friend element thrown in for good measure. That's a rather simplistic description of this deliciously Day-Glo game, of course, but what else can you expect from a write-up that's just 100 words in length?

4. Sugar Shooter (PC)-- Admittedly, this came out in 2010, but it was at the very end of 2010 (Dec. 20, to be exact). Also, I only got my hands on it a few months ago. So, I'm including it here. What else can I say about this download-only, Windows-based game (unless you decide to spring for the boxed Japanese version) that I haven't said in previous posts? Not much, other than if you like shoot 'em ups and you aren't squeamish about seeing a bunch of manga-styled bears stripping and, er, sexin' it up, you're sure to get your money's worth out of Sugar Shooter.

5. Wizorb (Mac, PC, Xbox 360)--I spent a long time looking forward to playing this Tribute Games release and you know what? It was well worth the wait--especially given its $3 price tag. So much goodness is packed into this Breakout-meets-Zelda game that I feel bad that the guys at Tribute earned so little for all their effort. Really, I would have paid $40 for this had it been released for the Genesis back in the day. (Actually, I'd pay that now if it were released on cartridge and came with a full-color manual and box.) You don't have to love brick-breakers to find this appealing, by the way--all you have to do is love having fun.

Honorable mention: Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (PS3, Xbox 360). Why didn't this downloadable game make the cut? As much as I love all of the options that were added to the original Pac-Man CE, I much prefer the first release's gameplay to that found in this buffed-up sequel.

See also: Past 'favorite games of the year' posts

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Great Gaymathon Review #49: Super Mario Bros. (Famicom)

Game: Super Mario Bros.
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
System: Famicom
Release date: 1985

My question to anyone who owns a Famicom (or an NES) but doesn't own a copy of this game: What on earth is wrong with you? I know a large number of "must own" titles were released for Nintendo's first world-conquering console, but this one is the granddaddy of them all, and no Famicom/NES collection is complete without it. There are countless good reasons for that, of course, with the main one being that the game is supremely playable (and enjoyable) thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto and company's masterful programming--which makes all of the running and jumping and everything else in Super Mario Bros. feel so sublime--and level design. (Anna Anthropy, aka auntie pixelante, expertly expounds on the latter abilities in this blog post, by the way.) There's more behind the game's must-own status than that, though, or at least there is for me. I believe that another reason so many people have been enamored by Mario's first console outing over the years is how surreal it is. I mean, it's a bit like playing a dream, isn't it? A bizarre dream, admittedly, but a dream nonetheless. How else would you describe a game in which a mustachioed plumber battles walking mushrooms and flying turtles and once in a while plucks a flower from the ground that allows him to shoot bouncing balls of fire on his way to rescuing a princess named Peach?

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A few thoughts on the 3DS

Now that I've spent a bit of quality time with my 3DS, I thought I'd share a few early impressions of the system and its built-in software:

1. I love how shiny and vibrant system is--Honestly, my "flame red" 3DS looks like a jewel ... or (as I've said before) like a giant cherry Jolly Rancher that plays games. Unfortunately, the system's propensity for being smudged probably is going to drive me nuts.

2. I'm not crazy about the system's design--I've never much cared for the 3DS' ice-cream-sandwich-with-an-overbite construction, especially when compared to the original DS and the oh-so-slick DS Lite, DSi and DSi XL. That said, I don't plan on sitting and staring at my 3DS all that often, so who really cares if its design is kind of wonky?

3. The 3D effect is surprisingly cool--As well as a bit disorienting, at least at first. After spending a few days with it, though, it's much easier to take. Now, I can't seem to get enough of it. I especially like how it's put to use in Super Mario 3D Land.

4. The included software is awesome--I'm especially fond of Find Mii at the moment, although the AR games, Face Raiders, Swapnote and Pokedex 3D are cool, too. I can already tell, though, that I'll be obsessed with Find Mii (and Find Mii II) for a while.

5. The slide pad is better than I expected it to be--I've read lots of complaints about it on line, so I expected to dislike it, too. Thus far, though, it has yet to disappoint me. In fact, I don't even think about it while I'm using it--which signifies to me that it's pretty well made.

So, those are my initial thoughts on Nintendo's latest handheld system. What do all of you think of it so far?

1,500 (or so) posts!

Here's a bit of random news for all of you: This blog crossed the 1,500-post threshold back on Dec. 13. Woo hoo!

I intended to mention this achievement shortly after it happened, but I lost track of it due to the impending holidays and our similarly impending trip back to my hometown of McFarland, Wisconsin.

I think I'll celebrate tonight by having an extra glass (or maybe two) of wine for dinner. Or maybe I'll celebrate by buying a game I've been lusting after for a while. Or maybe I'll do both of those things.

Anyway, thank you all for visiting and commenting on this blog. Without you, I likely would have given up on it long ago!

Monday, December 26, 2011

What gaming-related gifts did you get?

With Christmas and the rest of the season's gift-giving holidays now behind us (or nearly behind us, since Kwanzaa just started) what gaming-related presents did all of you get?

I received just two gaming-related gifts this year, but one of them was a doozy: A "flame red" 3DS. (The other was a copy of Super Mario 3D Land. Read about it and the 3DS in yesterday's final "12 Games of Christmas" post.) You can bet I'll be spending some quality time with both of them today as the hubs and I fly back to Seattle.

I'll share all of my 3DS details--mainly my friend code, or whatever Nintendo's calling it this time around--shortly after we get home.

In the meantime, tell me in the comments section below what gaming-related gifts, if any, you received from your loved ones!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For the twelfth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... the brand-spanking-new copy of Nintendo's Super Mario 3D Land seen in the photo below.

Oh, and a "flame red" 3DS system to play it on.

I know I went on and on in previous posts about wanting a coral/misty/pearl pink 3DS, but I have to say I'm more than happy with the shiny red 3DS I got instead. It looks like a giant cherry Jolly Rancher that plays games! How could I not be pleased with such a device?

Anyway, I've yet to pop Super Mario 3D Land into my system, so I can't say anything about it at the moment. I plan on playing it tomorrow, though, so look for a post about it on Tuesday (or sometime later in the week).

I'll also share some thoughts on the 3DS itself later this week, in case anyone cares.

In the meantime, I hope all of you have enjoyed this seasonal series of posts. If not, at least it's over today, right?

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Saturday, December 24, 2011

For the eleventh game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... Taito's PC Engine port of Don Doko Don.

To those of you who've never played this game, it's a single-screen platformer in the same mold as Bubble Bobble and Parasol Stars. Don Doko Don sets itself apart from those all-time classics, though, by featuring what appear to be hammer-wielding garden gnomes.

Sorry for the sort of awkward shot above, by the way. I didn't want this photo to look like nearly every other one I've taken of a PC Engine game, but the angle I ended up using makes it kind of hard to appreciate Don Doko Don's rather festive cover art, doesn't it?

If you'd like to take a better look at the game's case and HuCard, head on over to my Flickr photostream.

Friday, December 23, 2011

For the tenth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a beautifully boxed copy of the Famicom version of Kirby's Adventure (known as Hoshi no Kirby: Yume no Izumi no Monogatari in Japan, which translates to something like Kirby of the Stars: Story of the Fountain of Dreams in English).

Honestly, I've never been all that interested in this game, although I couldn't tell you why. I'm guessing it's because it came out after the SNES was released; by then, my mind had moved on to 16-bit games like F-Zero, Final Fantasy II and Super Mario World.

That all changed, though, after playing Kirby's Return to Dream Land, which I enjoyed so much that I decided I just had to own the series' first console outing, too. So, I bought the copy seen in the photos below through eBay.

Anyway, I'm having such a blast with Hoshi no Kirby: Yume no Izumi no Monogatari--expect to hear more about that in an upcoming post--that I've already hit myself over the head a number of times (with one of those giant squeaky hammers) for passing on this magnificent platformer back when it was first released.

Oh, well, all that really matters is that I'm playing and enjoying it now, right?

By the way, if you'd like to see a few more photos of this game's beautiful box and cart, please check out my Flickr photostream at your earliest convenience. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So, did you pre-order a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles?

I don't know if you realize, but Monday was Dec. 19--the date Nintendo of America started taking Xenoblade Chronicles pre-orders through its online store.

Did you nab yourself a copy? I did, and I'm very much looking forward to arriving on my doorstep sometime next April.

In the meantime, I think I'll watch and then re-watch this Wii game's official trailer (which can be viewed here) and/or waste my time daydreaming about running through the location shown in the screenshot above.

See also: 'Coming to America after all: Xenoblade Chronicles'

For the ninth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a complete-in-box copy of the GameBoy Advance puzzler called Zooo.

Most of you likely know this game by another name: Zoo Keeper. For some weird reason, its name was changed to Zooo when it was released for GameBoy Advance and PlayStation 2 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Also weird: Said ports were released only in Europe and Japan.

As for why I imported the GameBoy Advance version of the game and ignored the more-easily-accessible DS version of it: I've found (through playing both versions via emulation) that I prefer the increased difficulty present in the former iteration.

Plus, I'm on a bit of a GameBoy Advance kick at the moment, and I liked the thought of being able to play this game on that great little handheld.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For the eighth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... the PC Engine version of Jigoku Meguri (aka Hell Explorer or Bonze Adventure, depending on where you live).

Astute readers will recall that I discussed the change of heart I had in regards to this Taito platformer in this recent "Second Chances" post.

One thing I think I failed to mention in that post is that the PC Engine port of Jigoku Meguri admirably follows in the footsteps of a number of other Taito-published HuCards--including Don Doko Don, KiKi KaiKaiMizubaku Daibouken and The New Zealand Story--as spot-on arcade conversions.

Another thing Jigoku Meguri shares with those games: It has a pretty slick instruction manual. (Expect to see it appear in an upcoming "Manual Stimulation" post.)

As is the case with most of these "12 Games of Christmas" posts, a few additional photos of this game can be found in my Flickr photostream.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For the seventh game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... the PlayStation version of Mr. Driller.

I've been curious about this kinda-sorta follow-up to Dig Dug, released throughout the world in 2000, for some time now, but I didn't bite the bullet on it until I found a complete (case, disk and manual) copy of it on eBay for just a few bucks.

I know I could have bought any of this series' more modern and recent sequels, but I wanted to start with the first one. Also, it's been a while since I've bought a game for my PlayStation, so this was a good way for me to kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes.

Should I enjoy my first Mr. Driller experience, though, I definitely could see myself buying, say, Mr. Driller A for the GameBoy Advance or Mr. Driller Drill Spirits for the DS down the road.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Monday, December 19, 2011

Samba de Amigo + Space Channel 5 = another game added to my too-long 3DS wish list

I'm pretty fond of rhythm games, so you'd think I would have added Sega's upcoming 3DS release, Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure, to my wish list long ago.

Not so. I couldn't tell you why that is, to be honest, although I think it has something to do with not being all that interested in the game's rather colorless protagonist.

Anyway, my interest has soared thanks to the just-released videos below, which suggest Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5 segments will be included in Rhythm Thief.

Here's some footage of the Samba de Amigo segment:

And here's some footage of the Space Channel 5 segment:

When will you be able to get your grubby little hands on Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure? Well, if you're American or Japanese (or you own an American or Japanese 3DS), you'll be able to pick up a copy of the game on Feb. 25. (Pre-order the North American version here.)

I'd guess Europeans will gain access to it on that date, too, but I can't say that with any certainty.

For the sixth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... the Famicom Disk System version of Ice Climber.

Why did I buy yet another version of this classic, confounding game? Because this version differs from the Famicom/NES version in a number of ways. (The main ones: It includes all-new stages that don't appear in its cartridge-based counterpart, some of which feature weather effects that make the game even more challenging than it was originally.)

Another reason I bought this version: The banana-yellow disk seen in the photo above. (One or two more photos of the game can be seen in my Flickr photostream.) Oh, and it was less than $10.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Sunday, December 18, 2011

For the fifth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... the PC Engine port of one of Taito's best (or at least cutest) platformers, The New Zealand Story.

I bought this copy of the game through, by the way. I mention that because, as you can see in the photos below (and on my Flickr photostream), it is in absolutely impeccable condition--something that can't always be said for the games I pick up off of eBay. As such, I'd highly recommend checking out the company's online store if you're ever looking to buy complete-in-box copies of old Japanese games.

Anyway, enough about the condition of this game's case and cartridge. How's the game itself? Although it's far from my favorite platformer, I greatly appreciate its quirkiness, its challenging nature and, of course, its cuter-than-a-box-of-kittens protagonist.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For the fourth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a complete-in-box copy of Nintendo's Balloon Kid.

Educational aside: This GameBoy-based sequel-of-sorts to the Famicom/NES classic, Balloon Fight, was released throughout North America in 1990 and throughout Europe in 1991. For some unknown reason, it never received a proper, packaged release in Japan, although a colorized version of the game--called Balloon Fight GB--was released via the company's Nintendo Power service in 2000. 

For more information on Balloon Kid--which was produced, in part, by Gunpei Yokoi and Yoshio Sakamoto (Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka composed the game's perky soundtrack)--read these blog posts

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let's Play: 'Which Box Art is Better?' (Rhythm Heaven Fever edition)

I've been looking for a reason to publish a post about Rhythm Heaven Fever ever since I read (a few days ago) that the game was going to be released in North America on February 13 with a so-low-everyone-who-owns-a-Wii-had-better-buy-it-or-I'll-scream price tag of $29.99. (Pre-order it here. Don't worry, I did so on Tuesday.)

Well, Nintendo of America gave me that reason on Wednesday night, when it unveiled this wacky Wii game's official North American box art.

Is it possible for a piece of box art to induce a seizure? I wouldn't have thought so before I saw Rhythm Heaven Fever's cover (above), but now I'm not so sure. Regardless, it's certainly busy, isn't it? And colorful. Both of which make sense, I guess, based on what I've seen of and read about this crazy music game.

Anyway, moving along. We can't play "Which Box Art is Better?" without comparing the cover above to its European or Japanese counterparts, can we? Unfortunately, the game isn't due to be released in Europe until the second quarter of next year, so no box art is available for that region yet. Thankfully, it was released in Japan--as Minna no Rhythm Tengoku, or Everybody's Rhythm Heaven--long ago (on July 21, to be exact). Here is that version's less-cluttered cover:

I'll be honest: I initially hated the North American art. Like I said earlier, it's really busy--almost too busy, in my opinion. Also, I'm not a fan of mixing fonts, and seeing that bubbly "Fever" butting up against the angular "Rhythm Heaven" sort of makes me want to slam my head into the nearest wall. Oh, and that band of screenshots and text along the bottom? I tend to despise that tactic, too.

All that said, I actually think I prefer the North American cover to the Japanese one. Don't get me wrong, I love the latter art's simplicity, as well as that lovely rainbow banding, but it's a bit barren, isn't it? Also, those three little ... things beneath the logo seem out of place to me. I'd rather see more of them or none of them, you know what I mean?

Do you guys and gals have a preference for one version's box art over the other? Also, will you be buying a copy of this game when it's released in your neck of the woods?

See also: Previous 'Which Box Art is Better?' posts

For the third game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a boxed copy of Nintendo's Clu Clu Land.

Note that I didn't describe this as a "complete in box" copy of this Famicom/NES classic. That's because the plastic tray that's supposed to cradle the cartridge (and protect the box) wasn't included. Oh, well.

Regardless, I quite like Clu Clu Land's box art. To tell you the truth, that's the main reason I picked up the copy seen in the photos above and below, as I'm not much of a fan of the game at this point.

I'm also a bit of a sucker for banana-yellow Famicom carts, it seems, as not only do I salivate over the one that contains Clu Clu Land's code, but I also salivate over the ones produced for the Famicom version of Super Mario Bros. and the GameBoy Advance version of Kid Icarus.

Fore more photos of yellow (as well as red, orange, blue and white) Famicom carts, check out this Flickr set.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For the second game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... NEC Avenue's PC Engine port of Fantasy Zone.

This version of Sega's surreal, pastel-filled shmup was released in 1988, by the way. It isn't an arcade-perfect port, but it's close enough that only the most anal Fantasy Zone fans would turn up their noses at it.

You may remember me saying recently (in this 'Second Chances' post) that I haven't always been a fan of this game. Well, my opinion of it has changed enough over the last few months that the complete-in-box copy of it seen above was one of the first things I purchased after my birthday.

Now if I could just get past the third or fourth stage.

Anyway, for anyone interested: Another photo or two of my copy of Fantasy Zone can be seen in my Flickr photostream. (Also, click on the ones above to take a closer look at them.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

For the first game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... Kirby's Return to Dream Land!

Full disclosure: I actually received this game as a birthday gift. Of course, I mentioned in yesterday's post that all of the games included in this series were acquired between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I guess there's no reason for me to apologize.

Anyway, its packaging is pretty spiffy, don't you think?

I've already beaten the game's main campaign, by the way, although that isn't really much of an accomplishment given its overall lack of difficulty. Of course, Kirby games generally aren't about presenting players with overtly challenging enemies and levels, are they?

No, Kirby games are all about having fun--or at least they are in my experience--and I certainly had a blast playing through this one. (My favorite part: Obtaining and using Kirby's screen-filling super abilities.)

Have any of you played Kirby's Return to Dream Land yet? If so, what did you think of it?

See also: 'The 12 Games of Christmas'

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 12 Games of Christmas

What do you do after you buy and/or receive as gifts a crapload of games between your birthday (which comes just after Thanksgiving) and Christmas? If you're me, you take photos of said games and then share them in a series of posts called "The 12 Games of Christmas."

The first of these posts will be published tomorrow morning. Another such post will be published on Thursday morning and then another will be published on Friday morning and so on and so forth until Christmas day.

Although I'm calling this series "The 12 Games of Christmas," don't look for that title when searching for the above-mentioned posts. Instead, look for headlines like, "For the first game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me..."

The games that will be highlighted in this series cover the gamut, by the way. Some of them are Japanese and some are North American, for instance. Also, some of them are older (yes, a few of them are Famicom and PC Engine games) and some are newer.

Anyway, tune in tomorrow to see the first one! And then, if you're at all interested, keep tuning in every day (yes, even over the weekend) until Christmas.

Let's Play: 'Which Box Art is Better?' (Xenoblade Chronicles edition)

The folks at Nintendo of America revealed Xenoblade Chronicles' box art yesterday afternoon (via the company's Facebook page). Unsurprisingly, said box art doesn't differ much from the box art created for this Wii game's Australian, European and Japanese counterparts.

Don't believe me? Well, here's the art that graced the cover of the Japanese version of the game, released as Xenoblade in June 2010:

Nintendo's crack team of designers zoomed in--just a bit--on the illustration and added the word "Chronicles" to the cover before releasing the game in Australia and throughout Europe a few months ago, as the image below makes abundantly clear:

So, how have they changed up Xenoblade Chronicles' box art in anticipation of this open-world RPG's North American release next April? (Read about it here.) They went back to the original, zoomed-out version of the illustration that appeared on the Japanese version's cover, for starters. After that, they added in a subtitle that's so subtle it's almost nonexistent.

Personally, I like the European and Japanese covers more than the North American one. Honestly, I'm surprised Nintendo of America's designers didn't just go with the more-than-fine Euro art, since all they had to do to it was replace the PEGI rating with an ESRB one. I guess they wanted to earn their paycheck.

Anyway, that's my opinion this time around. Which one do all of you prefer?

See also: Previous 'Which Box Art is Better?' posts

Monday, December 12, 2011

A few belated thoughts on A Closed World

Although A Closed World, the free online game made by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab that aims to explore queer issues within the confines of an RPG-like environment, has been out for a few months now, I avoided playing it until earlier this week.

Mind you, I didn't intentionally ignore it. I remember reading about its release with more than a little interest, but for some reason I can't recall at the moment it fell off my radar before I got around to playing it.

How'd it get back onto my radar? While chatting with the Gayme Bar guys last week, one of them brought up the game as a good example of how the medium can address and otherwise tackle LGBT issues.

Feeling like an idiot for not having played it, I vowed to do so the very next day. That I did--and then some, as I played through the game three or four times over the course of about an hour (mainly so I could see how things differ when you choose to play as a male or female).

My initial impressions based on those playthroughs: It's ... interesting. I of course like that the game tries to depict the struggle of being "different" (whether that means being queer or being a minority or an outcast in other ways), but with just a few exceptions A Closed World's story is a bit too awkward and heavy-handed for me. Also, it can be confusing at times, as you aren't always sure who you're dealing with or where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do. (Thankfully, the game's map is tiny, so you can only wander around like a lost puppy for so long.)

On the plus side: The game's graphics, especially those found in its turn-based, rock-paper-scissors battle scenes, are quite pretty. Its soundtrack is similarly appealing.

I don't want to say much more than that right now, as I'm currently in the middle of writing a "somewhat gay review" for this game (expect it to be published sometime in the next week or two) and I'd rather save most of the pro-versus-con discussion for that post.

In the meantime, I highly recommend giving A Closed World a go--whether you're a member of the LGBT community or not. Yes, it's flawed in many ways, but for the most part I think it's admirably so. Also, it's sure to prompt you to consider how future games should tackle these same issues. For that reason alone, I think playing through A Closed World once or even twice is well worth anyone's time.

Play: A Closed World

Nathan Drake by Sam Bosma

Of all the PS3 games I want to own and play, Naughty Dog's trio of Uncharted titles are near the top of the list--thanks in large part to the fact that I find the game's protagonist to be, well, kind of hot (for a guy made out of polygons, especially).

As such, it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear that I perked up (take that as you will) when I came across the following drawing of said protagonist, Nathan Drake, while perusing Google+ a few days ago. (Thanks, Maré Odomo!)

Baltimore-based artist Sam Bosma is the man who's responsible for whipping up this wonderfully realized illustration, by the way. More of his work can be seen on his blog and on his website.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Great Gaymathon Review #48: Barunba (PC Engine)

Game: Barunba
Genre: Shoot 'em up
Developer: Namco/Zap Corp
Publisher: Namcot
System: PC Engine
Release date: 1990

There are a number of reasons to like this odd, side-scrolling shmup: Its box art is lovely (as is its manual), its bosses are huge and its gameplay offers up a few surprises that help it stand out from the pack. Sadly, there are many more reasons to dislike it--most of which have to do with the aforementioned gameplay. (Two that don't: The great majority of the game's enemies and backdrops are at best boring and at worst ugly, while its sound effects are the definition of "grating.") Specifically, although the globe-shaped ship gamers control while playing Barunba impresses with its rotatable weaponry, the rather cumbersome rotation aspect actually gets in the way more often than not. As such, most folks are likely to keep their guns aimed straight ahead as much as possible. Also, although each of the game's five stages are surprisingly extensive (e.g., long), most of them become a drag well before you reach the end. So, with three bullet points in favor of Barunba and four against it, what's my final verdict on this Namcot-published HuCard? I'd say it's a curiously unique but disappointingly flawed game that's worth playing only if you find it on the cheap or if you're fairly obsessed with the shoot 'em up genre.

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts

Friday, December 09, 2011

So, a blogger walks into the Gayme Bar ...

Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know this, but the rest of you likely are in the dark: The garrulous guys at asked me to be on another of their fabulous podcasts last weekend. The resulting recording can be heard here.

What did we talk about? If memory serves, we chatted about the games we were playing currently, the best games of 2011 and gay characters/content in games. I'm sure we covered at least a few other topics, too, but I can't remember them at the moment.

Just don't expect to hear much of me during the segment that focuses on the best games of 2011--I've honestly played very few of them and, as such, couldn't really add to the conversation in any meaningful way.

That's not to say I'm opinionless when it comes to my favorite games of the year. In fact, I just finished writing a post that covers that territory. Expect to see it published the week after Christmas.

In the meantime, check out Gayme Bar's "Function 44" if you're a podcast fan and if you have a bit of time on your hands. (I believe the final product is about two hours long, but don't quote me on that.)

See also: 'Belly up to the Gayme Bar, boys (and girls)' and 'My mom would be so proud: I'm included in Gayme Bar's Pass-Around Party Podcast'