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Guacamelee! Review

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Sony has made many mistakes in this current generation, but its greatest strength has been its substantial support of independent game development, especially for their digital platform. Drinkbox Studios has been one of the dark horses of the PlayStation Network, getting better with each release, but the hype being contained only to the inner sanctum of PlayStation gamers. Guacamelee! is not simply just the studio’s next best game, but it is one of the best action platformers in any generation, on any platform.timthumb (3)

Guacamelee!, under its pastel-colored shell, is a 4 to 8 hour experiment in synergy and ubiquity. The game’s many pillars (art, gameplay, music, level design, etc.) all intertwine with one another often, and this sort of solidarity in vision wraps itself around every inch of your adventure. Games in every genre, on any platform, be they AAA or art house, struggle in varying degrees to create such a solid and focused experience that Guacamelee! embodies.

The gameplay is the best example of the beautiful gestalt of it all. Shortly after introducing you to Juan, the game’s leading man, you lace up your boots as a super heroic luchador and get to put the large, open platforming world to task. With its roots firmly planted in Metroid/Castlevania ideals, the world provides plenty of routes of exploration and discovery. Like its mentors, the backtracking can become somewhat tedious, but you are usually well rewarded for your efforts.

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Combat is fast and furious, allowing for an inconspicuously deep pool to experiment with. Creatures can be bashed with your standard strikes, or thrown into each other with the grapple button, allowing for more crowd control, and combo opportunities. You will come across additional special moves that allow for more explosive combat routines, and the monster mixes do a great job at demanding you use a healthy mix of all of them.

Where the real brilliance of the whole package rises is the duality of purpose in these special maneuvers. You will find that moves like the Rooster Uppercut (think Dragon Punch) are as useful at breaking enemies, as they are solving jump puzzles. Besides they’re more obvious uses – certain moves break certain color coded obstacles – it’s the ones not so evident that really make most of the puzzle navigation as engrossing at it is. The game’s subtle ability to make you employ all of your options, which in turn encourages you to explore its mechanics deeper, makes this game truly special. When combat and platforming mix, the picture is truly whole.

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The sound and art design are simple, yet robust and colorful. True to its source, it makes great use of basic palettes and musical arrangements to really help establish a fun aesthetic identity that is really one-of-a-kind. Mexican culture and dia de los muertos is the basis for the many towns and dungeons that are to be explored. Like Grim Fandango, this proves that mall goths’ favorite non-American holiday can be interesting without being gaudy. Another big inspiration: pop culture. From old video game shout outs, to Grumpy Cat animations, every couple of minutes meme savvy players get something to grin at. The writing is equally as funny and quippy, and loaded with its own set of modern humor.

If I had a gripe with the game, it would be that the Vita version makes for a poor substitute mechanically. The buttons are the same, of course, but they’re smaller, and the sticks aren’t as well placed. Performing some of the game’s more demanding feats of skill and precision can be tricky on that controller. The cross save features are pretty convenient, and the whole package is definitely fit for portability, but be prepared to use the Rooster Uppercut when you meant to use the Dashing Derp Derp (yes, that’s the name of a move) multiple times.

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All in all, this game is a work of entertaining art. Like a masterful chef, valuing fresh and simple ingredients as the bricks to build a masterful recipe. Yes, it takes many cues from almost every platformer ever made, but it soars masked head and tattooed shoulders over the genre’s competition. Ignore this beautiful adventure game at your misguided loss.

What We’re Doing Wrong With Women

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First things first: I actually haven’t played BioShock Infinite yet. I live at school, and my PS3 copy of BioShock Infinite lives at home, so I can’t exactly write about it yet. From what I’ve heard, though, I’ll have no shortage of things to say when I DO, so ya’ll can just wait on that.

ANYWAY!

Naughty Dog spoke at length a while back about how much they had to fight, tooth and nail, the right to have Ellie, the little girl in the story, at the front of the box-art of The Last Of Us. They also mentioned how the firm they used for finding play testers for the game didn’t even consider the possibility of seeing how girls might like it — they were only going to test with males, and Naughty Dog had to ask specifically for female play testers. Remember Me’s creative director also spoke, separately, how he had to fight for the right to have a female protagonist, and how his publishers told him that male gamers wouldn’t play a game with a female lead.

So yeah, as you’ve probably been told in many articles and opinion pieces since, it’s not a great time to be a lady gamer. But I’m not here to tell you how that’s wrong and how the industry needs to evolve its stance on girl gamers — you know all that already, and at this point that’s just a waste of breath. I’m here, rather, to talk about why they may be right, and what we need to do about it.

 

Publishers have good reason to think we feel that way about female leads: focus testing told the people at Irrational that their game would sell better with Booker on the front cover, rather than Elizabeth. Games with female leads are often either hypersexualized (BayonettaDead or Alive, most Tomb Raiders, and countless other games), or the leads could effectively be dudes (MetroidPortal, etc.) — games with engaging female leads like, say, Beyond Good and Evil, don’t sell as well, is my point. Despite being a darling of the critics, we still have yet to see Jade come back to the gaming world, so we have two strikes against us in that regard, but there’s so much more we’re doing wrong!

 

We’ve all heard that joke, “there are no girls on the internet,” and we’ve all poked gentle (or not so gentle, as the case may be) at our gamer status and how that’s isolated us from the fairer sex. Well, not for nothing, fellas, but we’ve turned that into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are girls on the internet, and there’s certainly no shortage of girl gamers (in fact, I have something of a Ménage à Trois every night with two ladies on League of Legend’s Twisted Treeline), but by acting like those girls don’t exist, we reduce their visibility, so they might as well not. Developers don’t see them, so they’reeffectively not there. Not helping this is the occasional ass-prick who will mock female gamers the moment they dare announce their gender — those two girls I told you about often just pretend to be dudes to avoid getting hit on, or attacked.

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Speaking of, when a vocal minority thrashes, trashes, and threatens outspoken female gamers: publishers notice that. And what people don’t seem to understand is that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Game publishers have no problem with exploiting and encouraging our worst qualities if it means getting more money out of us.

Alright, so what else are we doing wrong? Well, besides not buying games with sensible girls in the lead and talking about girls as if they’re not there, or a biblical plague, all you ladies out there could also start being more vocal yourselves. There’s a line between what’s considered feminazi whining and what’s just common sense, and line is vocalization. History has shown that the moment the majority of women are outspoken on an issue, people generally stop treating it as feminist (Which is a dirty word now?) nitpicking. Not saying it’s going to be easy, I’m just saying it’s something that’s wrong — the quieter you are, the less will be done. Despite EA and some other vocal women’s efforts, nothing is going to happen without you.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it. The info I threw out above is no doubt stuff you’ve heard before, but it’s important to remember that there are consequences for how our culture acts regarding women — as the details at the start of the article prove, we are not as enlightened as we might like to think we are, and the industry knows it. It all amounts to visibility and vocalization, as I’ve said: if we sensible people are louder than minority, like I know we can be, we could fix all this. See, the problem is that because we’re sensible, we don’t want to be as loud as the crazy sexist people, and we assume that our common sensibility is shared, but we have to get over that. I understand it can be scary or just trying, because while we might have only a casual interest in seeing games become fairer, the people who oppose it are passionate and their energy is boundless, so they’re willing to try harder to see their ends achieved. And that’s why they’re winning.

But anything worth doing is worth giving our all. So consider that in the future, ladies and gents; maybe speak up next time this problem arises.

..I really, really want to play BioShock Infinite already.

 

Kartuga Impressions: InnoGames’ Free-To-Play Pirate Action MMO (We have beta codes to give away!)

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InnoGames showed up at the Game Developers Conference with a purpose, to discuss their future plans for the free-to-play gaming model, and the importance of maintaining a quality in their games that most free-to-play games tend to lack. They were also there to show off the closed-beta of Ticking Bomb Games’ Kartuga, an action MMO browser game that allows players to battle with pirate ships over some dangerous waters.

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I was lucky enough to attend a private hands-on session with Kartuga just outside of GDC in San Francisco where I was introduced to the game’s two PvP modes, Domination (straight up team deathmatch) and Destruction (two teams, one bomb). Aside from versus play, I also joined the closed beta on my own time and tried out the quest mode that is designed to help you learn the ropes of the game, follow the storyline, and gain levels to build upon your ship, weapons, and crew.

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Kartuga is a massive multiplayer online game that takes you to the sea for some player versus player pirate ship action. Playing from an overhead view, players set sail in one of over 20 different ships (with plans to have 40 in the future), battling other ships to gain experience, level up, collect treasures and upgrade weapons, skills, and more.

Powered by Unity 3D, the game is ready to go in seconds right from your web browser, offering high quality 3D graphics that you would normally expect from a downloadable or retail game. Seriously, the visuals are beautiful and very scenic. Control is simple and the menu navigation is right at home for MMO players, notably World of Warcraft veterans.

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You get to choose from one of three classes: destroyer, protector, and engineer. Each has its own skills that set it apart from the others. The destroyer is the strong attacker, the protector is the defender ship, and the engineer can buff and heal teammates. Each class type has its own skill tree to assign skill points, allowing players to have unique fighter in their own right, in a game the heavily emphasizes the use of strategy, and it does it well.

The quest mode is quite engaging, believe it or not, allowing you to take in the scenery as you sail out to collect treasure, fight enemies, and join up with other real-life players roaming the world. With over 9 large maps available to sail in, separated into three different ares: Mayan, Mediterranean, and Orient themes; Kartuga promises a unique and lasting experience like no other.

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What makes Kartuga so exciting is that anybody can hop on and play right now for free and have one heck of a time, provided they have a code allowing access into the beta. Stay tuned, we have codes to give out, so read on. There are, of course, micro-transactions, as pretty much all free-to-play games have, but they don’t limit what you can do in the game, rather they enhance your experience or allow you to accept some perks, such as being able to instantly transport yourself from one side of the world to the other without having to spend minutes of your life sailing the sea and risking death.

I had a blast in my first play-through, and I am still having fun at home with the beta. The PvP modes are great, and at this time there are only two, but I hope we can see more added into the game later. It’s fun working together with a team in a 4-vs-4 match, just killing people in straight-up Domination, but I had a lot more fun in Destruction, where both teams fight to plant a bomb in their enemy’s base. The control is very simple, using the “WASD” keys to sail and the mouse to aim at ships that are in your range from the sides. You can also shoot from the bow of the ship with a harpoon gun, allowing you to temporarily slow down your enemy. The amount of ammo types and special skills you can use against enemies is very deep. This is definitely an MMO. The menu systems are detailed and there is plenty you can do to customize your ship and crew.

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Kartuga is showing a lot of promise, and rather than go on about how great it is now and what I hope the future will bring for it, I’m going to go play and I hope you all will be interested in joining me. InnoGames is going at it with a steady focus on bringing gamers the best game of its kind with Kartuga, so they’re taking an “it’ll be ready when it’s ready” approach, and I fully support that attitude. In speaking with InnoGames, I could tell that they are very proud of this game, and they should be. It may be a simple idea and it may be something you might have seen before, but they are doing a wonderful job with the concept. If it wasn’t free-to-play, I would most likely buy it.

I’m excited to see the product when it’s finished and we will have a full review ready when that time comes. Summer 2013 is a good estimated guess on its release date, however, nothing has been set in stone yet. Check out Kartuga.com for more details, and be sure to check out the Addict of Fiction Facebook page for codes to the closed-beta.

Ecol-Tactics-Online-Preview

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Ecol Tactics Online is an upcoming tactical browser MMORPG with gameplay that borrows from Final Fantasy Tactics while aesthetically remnant of Gaia Online. I was recently given a pre-beta key to preview it for you all, and while I’m entirely unable to report on any of the social parts of the game (since I was the only one on the server), I can give you my impression of the game itself, divorced from its social features.

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In a few words, Ecol Tactics Online is polished, but unrefined. If you walk away with anything, walk away with that. Starting up the game, you immediately create a character, choosing from a small selection of hairstyles and skin colors, and upon finishing, you’re thrust into a several-minutes long cutscene where your avatar, powerless as it is, watches helplessly as a bunch of ‘mercenaries,’ the heroes of the game, beat up a monster and banter in front of you. It is a long cutscene, used to display flashy but still not terribly impressive attack animations and inadvertently warning you that this is a game in desperate need of a proper writer, (to call much of the dialogue flat, if not sometimes downright awkward, would be doing it a service), and while I could see that the developers were trying to get us new players pumped for the road ahead, it just bored me after a while. You can imagine my excitement when my character begged to join them.

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After the lengthy introduction, you’re taken to the tutorial, where you wail on a single slime for a bit, and for what it’s worth, the tutorial is informative — I never felt in the dark as to how the mechanics work. After the tutorial, you do a ‘practice’ battle with the four mercenaries as they slay a small army of monsters, and as a first real impression of gameplay, I was troubled. The map was absolutely cluttered with numbers, health bars, ‘corpses’ and attack animations; there were times I didn’t know who I was aiming for, or where I couldn’t see a target because it was behind a corpse, or I couldn’t tell how weak an enemy was because his health bar was overlapping with my own. It was a visual nightmare. Furthermore, the controls were spotty — sometimes I had to click an attack several times before it actually happened, which was very bad for a first level because it made me think I was doing something the game didn’t want me to do; some limitation not mentioned in the tutorial. Fortunately, I eventually got it.

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After this battle the game starts proper, and it improves immediately. At level one with your novice sword and basic armor, you find yourself fighting in small battles, fighting weaker enemies, and it’s a lot clearer. You fight two bandits and it’s a pretty straightforward fight; and subsequent fights with slimes and onion-like monsters are equally straightforward. It’s here that the game really hits its stride, but for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have still been playing if I hadn’t been obligated too.

Still, I’m glad to have lasted that long. The quest system is fairly candid, and I appreciate its simplicity — you take a quest (like killing monsters or picking up items) then you go to the map and click on the associated ‘battlefield’ — click on the quest again, and bam, you do it. You don’t have to look for it, deal with mobs in between, or any other common filler gameplay.

I did a side quest alone before continuing with the story, where a recently pacified slime offered to teach me a “great secret,” which is just an environmental tutorial that was also unnecessarily long. I think this game just doesn’t know how to do tutorials properly. While just saying, “You move at half speed in water and marshes and you take fire damage if you stay on lava” would be sufficient, the game makes you trek through each type to illustrate, because it apparently thinks we’re goldfish. Now the ice tutorial was useful, but I wasn’t ever able to use the push back combo; in my short time with the game I never got new party members.

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I stopped playing after about an hour and a half, after a quest where I met the local blacksmith. Walking away was a labor for me, because I had eventually became hooked to the game. Despite everything I said, it has an irresistible charm, at least for me, and if it had been a little more refined and a bit smoother, I don’t think I would have walked away at all. The aesthetics are charming, the mechanics are deeper than I was able to take advantage of with my play through, and every battle is varied enough to keep me interested in seeing what enemy or local I’d see next.

Also, understand I was playing a pre-release alpha. The game should undergo radical changes and improvement as we get closer to a final build, and when that happens it’ll definitely get high marks.

Still, for now, it’s merely golden ore polished to a shine rather than a fully-fledged nugget. And if you get the opportunity, you should try to get into the alpha and help chip away the extraneous stone clinging to the precious metal. It has the potential to be something great, hopefully it won’t screw up its solid foundation.

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Excalibur’s first in house developed game is coming on the 21st of September, “Circus World” sees the player build up a circus that starts in the UK and grows around the world. You’ll have new performers and bigger acts as you play.

You can do a lot of things with each performer, even make them try harder, which is pretty in depth, and impressive. The thing about this is that the clown isn’t the only scary thing, but the whole circus has a very “Psycho Circus” feel to it, KISS fans will understand.