International Snooker – Review

At the risk of being completely random, let me talk about International Snooker. Like many people, you may have purchased the 8 ball bundle hoping for a decent sports game or two… or to get Pool Nation which looks fancy (but I didn’t enjoy, see below). You may then be disappointed to see that all the other games are pretty much glorified spreadsheets. They are also not even that glorified.

International Snooker is different and I think well worth a look. Unlike the other games, you actually get to play the sport in question, which is snooker. From there, things are pretty standard except for one key difference. Each shot is more like a simulator than an arcade title. Whereas in Pool Nation you are lining up a shot and then wiggling the mouse to guess how strong to hit the ball, International Snooker takes an unusual approach.

You still line up your shot, with a variety of helpful indicators to let you know what will happen. But here you actually select your shot strength from a slider, with graphical cues to help you out here too. When you are happy with your shot? You basically hit the go button and it all plays out in front of you.

What this does is changes the game from an arcade experience, to almost a turn based strategy affair, which I find completely appropriate for the sport. While it may not hold your attention for long, it at least gives a subtle, but different spin on the genre and hence becomes my bundle “top pick”.

Also Top Golf Pro 3 is worth a look. Because fuck me somebody put some effort into something that I can’t see anybody, ever, wanting to play.

10 Second Ninja – Mini Review

I’ve had my eye on this game for a while, so I picked it up as part of the current steam weekly deals. After the disappointment of Growing Pains, I was a bit wary of “indie platformer with a twist #342″ but I still had high hopes.

Luckily 10 Second Ninja is actually quite good. The hook here is you only have ten seconds to complete each level (kill all the enemies). This is generally pretty easy and you will have little trouble getting it done in that time. However to earn stars (and ultimately to complete each themed world) you will need to beat the strict time limits imposed on you.

And when I say strict, I mean strict. A perfect run might still leave you 0.2 seconds away from that next star you need. So you are left thinking, do I need to execute better or do I need a different approach completely? It is here that the game shows its class, because levels can be approached in different ways and it is often quite rewarding to try something else that shaves another second off your time.

All of this would be meaningless if the controls were not perfect, but they are very solid and feel responsive enough for the game type. Graphics? Sound? Presentation? The game loads and everything is clear. It gets the job done and that is about it.

It isn’t a game you’ll play for huge stretches, like say, a Super House of Dead Ninjas because there isn’t a huge amount of content here (and you pretty much have to do well at it to progress). But you will still get more than 10 seconds worth out of the low asking price.

I’d say it is well… I’d say it is wel… I’d say it is well worth a lo… Check it out.

On Sony’s Rejection of EA Early Access

There are a few things I would like to say about this now that I’ve had time to think about it.

Firstly, fuck EA. I haven’t played one of their games since… Dead Space 3? And I only played that because it was in that humble bundle and it completely sucked. So lets just get my personal stance on the quality of their products out of the way.

So where was I? Right, fuck EA.

Now that is probably more than enough to say on the subject, but I’ll elaborate on why Sony stopping this new subscription service happening is a good thing. Is it really just to help Sony’s bottom line? Of course, they want to protect PS+. Are they doing it to protect gamers? Probably not…but that is exactly what they are doing. Here is why:

  1. Fuck EA
  2. More to the point, fuck subscription services. Companies like EA can barely make a functioning product that you directly pay for. How are they going to operate once they already have your money? Well we don’t have to guess, we can look at preorder bonuses and how that has resulted in a world of embargoed reviews, day one patches and completely broken releases. Under a subscription model, it will only get worse.
  3. It all sounds innocent enough, but you know the service will change once people are invested in it (more on that later). Other companies will get involved, content will be hidden behind subscriptions and sooner or later you will be forced to pay to get the full “Value” out of games you play.
  4. People in Australia and other non US regions will of course get screwed over in terms of pricing and content. But of course there will be little you can do, because content will only be available under the one paywall.

Now there are three obvious replies to all that, so let me address them all in turn:

First, EA’s games are shit, so who cares? Well, they might make a good game again, one day, somehow. So just because all their upcoming games look like boring action filled snooze fests (Yes that includes Dragon Age whatever it is)…stranger things have happened. Besides, companies I care about might do the same thing after and that is where it could be painful.

“The market will decide! If people do not want it, it will fail!” This is an interesting argument, but an incredibly shortsighted and stupid one. The market? What market? Gamers? You and me? Yeah good luck with that. The actual market that will be deciding the success of EA’s subscription service…are people that love EA’s games, DLC and F2P IAP extravaganzas so much that they are happy to hand over their cash. Yes that is right, the future business models, quality and content subscription services of the gaming world will be decided by yearly Fifa buyers.

Just stop to think about that for a moment.

Sure Sony are taking away the choice of gamers, which isn’t a good thing. But more importantly, they are taking away the choice from people who spend thousands on virtual gold for some piece of shit mobile game that EA shat out one weekend. Lets face it, these people are the majority and why the TV TV TV Xbox one original existed. In gaming terms, to be polite and perhaps a little uppity, they are complete fucking idiots. For Sony to deprive them the choice to make this service succeed? Well they should be applauded, self-serving in its intention or not.

And while we are on the subject of choice, I’ll counter the final argument. More choice is always better right? Did you learn nothing from horse armour? Let me try to explain:

The tale begins with a man called George. He is just an ordinary man in a sleepy village somewhere in the Northern region of France. There isn’t much to say about George, he is a good man, who loves eating all kinds of fruit and leads a peaceful existence.
The town too is unremarkable except for one astonishing detail. Every week members of the village (and only members of the village mind you!), go into the town square to get their share of the profits from the local fruit growers.
George enjoys this system. Each week he goes up to his friend Sonya and gets $100 in his hand. With this money he can buy all the fruit he wants, as well as other goods and services. Basically anything he needs and some things that he doesn’t, should he choose to do so. George is particularly fond of apples, but sometimes buys pears, oranges and even the occasional strawberry.
“Life,” thought George, “is good.”

But one day, without warning or consultation everything changed. George appeared at the same place and at the same time to get his $100. But now? There was another man there called Ed.
“Hold on there!” Ed cried as George prepared to take his usual $100. “I’m from the apple farm and the Mayor has authorised me to offer a choice. You can take the $100 from Sonya, or you can take $80 from me and this shiny new apple!”
George was shocked by this. Apples cost much less than $20, so why on earth would he take this deal? There was no value in it and he certainly didn’t want other fruit sellers getting similar ideas. So he simply shook his head politely (laughing at such a bad deal was not something George would do), took his $100 as usual and turned to go home.
But there was a problem. Just as he was leaving he saw his friend Mike walk up to Ed, the seemingly dodgy apple representative. Then, inexplicably he reached out his hand and took the $80 and asked for his apple too.
George had to confront him about this. “Why did you take that deal?” He asked in a confused manner.
“I don’t know, I just like the choice and I spend my money on apples anyway…so what is the big deal?”
George didn’t know what to say. He also didn’t know what to say the next few weeks as more and more people appeared to be taking up the other deal. It wasn’t a big problem for him, because he still got his $100 and could buy several apples with the extra profits, but it somehow gave him chills. George was a wise man and he could see that it was not going to end well.

When he appeared one morning to see another provider offering $75 and two pears, he knew things were about to get very bad indeed. Sure pear lovers were ecstatic, for some reason that George still failed to understand, but collecting the weekly share of the profits was now a confusing ordeal.
“Oh well,” sighed George, a little too loudly. “People can be stupid if they want. Morning Sonya, $100 please!”
“Here you go George! I’m glad you still come to me. I don’t understand why anybody would take those other deals, they are terrible!”
George nodded. “I’m with you. Oh well, I’m off to buy about 10 apples with my extra $20!” He ended with a conspiratorial wink.
“Oh I’m sorry!” Ed cut in, offensively listening in on the conversation. “Apples can now only be received through my deal. But don’t worry, with the $65 I give you, I also now include two Apples!”
“Wasn’t it $80?” George asked in shock.
“Yes it was!” Grinned Ed, holding a number of apples close to his chest.

The weeks passed and George lived without apples, stubbornly refusing to take the now terrible deal. Unfortunately the other fruit vendors soon followed Ed’s lead, holding their own tasty delights to ransom as they held on to more and more of the profits.
Then it finally happened. George, now an alcoholic, appeared one final time to receive his usual $100. But Sonya wasn’t there, she was now selling insurance in another town. Through no fault of his own, the usual and best option had been removed.
Almost crying, George walked up to Ed and asked for his usual deal. Ed smiled knowingly and handed George $65.
George was in tears now. “But, but…where are the apples?”
“Oh you’ll get some apples,” Ed laughed, “but only after 10 weeks in a row of taking my deal. But don’t worry, you then get three of them, which is amazing value!”

The following week, George left town, swore to never eat fruit again and started a semi-successful shop selling odd socks. Sometimes he would wonder “where did it all go wrong? What could I have done?” There was no good answer, there was nothing he could have done. All he had now was socks.

The moral of this little tale? Game publishers are evil and greedy. Then you have to factor in that other people, by and large, are stupid. The game publishers know this and will target their service appropriately, not at you, but at the people who will give them the money they need to continue on not actually making good games, but just making more money.

And then your choice to buy a good complete game is taken away. Don’t believe it? Go out and buy Plants vs Zombies 2 without the F2P aspects and related balancing. You can’t do it, it is not an option. Sorry, you have lots of options but that one you actually want? Bad luck buddy.

So thanks Sony. I’m sure Microsoft and EA will continue to cook up crazy schemes (Remember all that Xbox One #1 stuff? Not too long ago was it…), but the world of gaming is at least safe for a few more months.

Growing Pains – Steam Review

Show me that concept again. (Show me that concept)
Don’t waste another minute on your playin’.
You’ll stop nowhere near the end (nowhere near)
A good game is not ready to begin.

Oooohhh. As long as we got super meat boy
We got a decent platformer right in our hands.
Steam bros you and me, we gotta be
The luckiest players who quickly quit playin’.

As long as we get tight controls’
we can play anything else that comes our way
Baby, spikes or shovels, all the time
We got plenty of other games, deserving of laughter and love.

So yeah, Growing Pains is not good.

Dark Souls 2 DLC Crown of the Sunken King – Review

Ah Dark Souls 2. Brilliant, forgettable, game of the year and a quick and soulless money grab that took a lot of people a long time to make. It was all of these things and more. Which raises the question, do you actually want more of it?

Of course you do.

Do you want more of it, which is just as brilliant but ultimately flawed as the base game was? Maybe not, but this is exactly what you get.

Crown of the Sunken King is the first of a series of short DLC packs that will be coming for Dark Souls 2. While more “Souls” is always good, this pack feels more like a quick taste rather than a full blow expansion like the first game received. For your money you are getting:

  • Three bosses, one of which is half good.
  • A small series of new items, none of which seem particularly useful (one pretty cool sword aside)
  • Three-ish new areas, none of which are particularly memorable, but do have some interesting points if you dig around.
  • One cool section with some large, interestingly designed monsters, reminiscent of a certain lave filled section in Dark Souls, but much better done.

Is that enough for $25? The whole thing only lasts a couple of hours (4-5 if you take your time) but I would have to say no at this stage. By the time the other packs arrive? Sure… but you would hope at least one of them brings something special to the table.

The problem here is nothing really stands out and any interesting ideas, such as the level altering pillars or new ghost enemies are gone before they really start to become interesting. The DLC itself is like that at a large scale. Just as you start to enjoy yourself and wonder what is next? The boss door appears, the DLC ends and you are left just chasing up the “optional” section, which is actually really poor.

The areas and monsters? You have seen it all before, even if nothing is all that bad. There is no Ash Lake here, it is just drab and boring environments, generic zombie/monster dude #36 and a couple of larger beasts that will never get close to you. I’m not asking for a rainbow themed world exactly, but if the series persists on the lifeless ruins and caves? It really needs to bring back the general atmosphere from Demon Souls. By this stage you are already a legendary badass, not much can touch you and you just have to wonder why you would bother going through these places (which is never really clearly explained by the way) when there is probably a nice beach somewhere to settle down.

For example, hitting switches in the first area will cause large sections to rise and fall. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for secret passages, hidden loots and some devious traps. The issue? There is nothing worth finding in the whole area. Worse, besides killing one enemy and providing the final path, there really is no reason to hit them at all. Of course you don’t know this when you are first playing it, but it leads to disappointment and sums up the whole theme of the outing. Fine, but nothing special.

On the plus side, people who called for a more “connected environment” will be please with the design here. The three sections twist around themselves so you will organically return to different locations several times until the end (the first few moments tease where you will end up). On the negative side, this means you spend the whole DLC basically running around the same spot, which is just about as unexciting as it sounds.

Note that like any Souls game, the experience you get will depend a lot on what level you are and what build you take into it. I had a level 230 Hex class, which wasn’t really suited to the adventure (certain enemies are very resistant to these spells). But by and large I got through it without too many problems. I feel reports of the difficulty have been a little exaggerated, with only the main boss putting up any real fight (more a case of extended fight length rather than real danger) and the rest of the enemies falling easily to the same old tactics or better yet, a trusty bow (which the game helpfully gives you early on).

So ultimately I’m left feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole experience. Some enjoyable game play? Yes. A welcome diversion? Yes. A special experience that I’ll return to again and again (or at least a few times), no, not at all.

Let’s hope the next pack really brings something special.