big red rambling: 016: 2 reviews and links to get you through the week of 11/01/2010

Well, Halloween is officially over, and while I will miss its spooky yet cheesy charm, I would be lying if I did not admit that at least part of me is glad it is gone. Namely the part that writes this column, because it is really hard to find four weeks worth of compelling Halloween related links. Though wouldn’t you know it, a hole bunch of really awesome ones got posted on the 30th and 31st. Typical. Oh well, there is always next year. Before we get to this weeks linkage, I have a couple of reviews for you to enjoy.
Video Game Review: Costume Quest
Last year was less than great for Double Fine Studios, with the release of the disappointing, both critically and financially, Brutal Legend. While the game was not a total failure, it did not receive nearly the same universal love that earlier Double Fine title Psychonauts did from critics and the too few gamers who played it alike. So it is nice to see DF recover with Costume Quest, a downloadable slice of heaven that captures the fun and joy of Halloween for the young of all ages better than any other game I have played. Set in an American neighborhood the night of old hallows eve, Costume Quest tells the story of two siblings out for a night of trick or treating. They soon discover a bunch of nasty goblins and monsters stealing all the candy they can get their hands on and are thrust into an humorously epic adventure. You play as one of the two twins, who must leap into action after the remaining sibling is mistaken for an overlarge piece of candy by the goblins and stolen away. You will soon gather a small but loyal band of followers in your quest to avoid getting grounded… I mean rescuing your beloved sibling.
What follows is a rousing, if basic, RPG experience across suburbia, the mall, and a rural based Fall fair. Each of these locations is recreated with cartoony perfection, really bringing to life the Halloween spirit. Everything just feels right, and do not be surprised at the games ability to reignite the old childhood delight of Halloween in older gamers. For example, while in the Fall fair section of the game, you will be required to climb a large mountain. While doing so, the entire remainder of the level you have just traversed stretches out beneath you. It is a wonderful yet subtle moment, really helping to bring the game world to life. The graphics shift to a deliberately far more over the top, comic book style in battle, featuring the various costumes and enemies transformed into literally larger than life (as in Godzilla sized) figures. The attack animations are particularly amusing, managing to remain reasonably fresh even upon the hundredth viewing.
At six to ten hours in length, the game does not overstay its welcome, feeling very much like the video game equivalent of the old half hour animated Halloween specials that were especially prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s. The battle system is as simple as it comes, but the Mario RPG like action commands for attacking and blocking, combined with the full heal that accompanies the end of every battle, keeps things from getting too monotonous. Also keeping things fresh, are the many unlockable costumes, including a Giant Robot, the Statue of Liberty, and a Unicorn among others, which feature a variety of abilities both in and out of combat. A few mini-games and side quests round out the affair, leaving a game with plenty for gamers enjoy. The writing is also of the extremely clever and amusing variety, featuring everything from a delightful Arrested Development reference to a group of highly patriotic, and slightly deranged, costumed kids. The lack of the ability to save on command (you are forced to rely on the game’s autosave that at times can be a pain to trigger) and lack of any voice acting are the only real toothbrushes in this otherwise overflowing candy bag of a good time. While annoying, they are hardly deal breakers, and at a paltry fifteen dollars, there is no real reason for Playstation 3 and X-Box 360 owners not to give this game a try. Now if only we could convince Double Fine to make Costume Quest into an annual franchise…
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Video Game Review: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
In the past, when I have considered games which might have a strong potential for co-op multiplayer, I cannot say that the Tomb Raider series ever crossed my mind as a serious contender. Yet after playing through Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, I doubt I will ever be able to disassociate the series from co-op again.
Guardian of Light is a revelation for the venerable yet somewhat worn series. Tombs may be raided, and Lara may remain as unrealistically proportioned as ever, but gone are the days of 3D action platforming, with its at times awkward controls and camera. Light instead makes use of an isometric perspective, ala Gensis classic Landstalker, which feels so right for Ms Croft and her antics, that you will wonder why it took this long for the approach to be used. Controls are near perfect, so that when you end up plummeting down a bottomless pit or impaled on a floor filled with spikes, it never feels cheap. The action elements are simple yet enjoyable, operating more as breaks between platforming, and do make some clever use of Lara’s platforming skills to keeps things interesting. Graphically, the game is nothing special, but there are some lovely flourishes, such as being able to look down from the top of a temple to see the level you have just traveled accurately reflecting the destruction you have wrought in your wake. While an enjoyable enough single player experience, the real joy of Light lays with its co-op multiplayer. The second players assumes the role of Totec, who must team up with Lara in classic buddy cop style (One is the spirit of an ancient Aztec warrior inhabiting a statue made flesh and blood and the other is a hot British woman. Together they fight crime) to defeat generic evil badguy/wannabe world ruler #798. Yes, the plot is nothing to write home about (thought there are some nice, surprisingly funny exchanges between Totec and Lara) but with gameplay this good, I suspect you will not be complaining. Both Lara and Totec have separate yet complementary skills, and figuring out how to best balance their respective abilities within platforming, puzzling, and combating enemies was easily the most fun I have had playing video games with another person this year. The game design in these sequences really shines in its cleverness, making it all the more frustrating that online co-op remains a distant promise at this point. Supposedly, this will be patched into all versions of the game by year’s end, along with 5 initially planned expansion packs that will feature both new levels and new playable characters. I hope so, since the lack of online co-op is the only aspect holding this game back. The promise of new content leaves me drooling with anticipation, as I cannot wait to have more fun with this game. At fifteen dollars, this game is a real steal, packing more content (including a large amount of fun and cleaver challenges to encourage players to go back and replay levels) than some sixty dollar ‘full’ games. Highly recommended
4 stars out 5 (with a . 5 knocked off for lack of online multiplayer.)

Now that Halloween is over, I can begin my month long Thanksgiving themed… No, wait! Come back. I was only kidding. Even I am not that crazy.
Links to Get You Through the Week of 11/01/2010

Could Cloverfield turn out to be the presaging of a true story? Probably not, but this story does lead to some fascinating speculation.

Funny old world, is it not?

An official and authorized graphic novel adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank was released recently. It is from the same creators who did the devastating Illustrated 9/11 Commission Report, who I pleased to see do an amazing job adapting this. I truly believe that in this day of increasingly vocal deniers and less and less living Holocaust survivors, that works like Frank remain vitally important to society of large. We must never forget, not simply out of tribute to those whose lives were lost, but for those still losing their lives every day to the same hate and those who are yet to come. This interview with the creative team also features samples from the book.

Over atop the fourth wall, specifically the program Atop the Fourth Wall, Linkara is beginning a month looking at the 1st issues of some comicdoms greatest names, starting with Superman. Personally, I have always found the way some characters have mover so far from their routes down the years to be fascinating.

As overplayed as I feel Zombies are, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the idea of Nixon, Kennedy, Castro, and McNamara taking on Zombies in the Pentagon is kinda of awesome.

Webcomic Spotlight: Schlock Mercenary
This is one of the big ones as webcomics, with an archive dating back to March 2000. Which since the strip updates 7 days a week and has almost never missed an update, means there is a whole lot of comic for you to read. Do not feel too intimidated however, as the write made sure to include several jumping on points, due to both fears of accessibility and growth as an artist, meaning you can go back only few years to get caught up on the basics. Schlock is essentially hard military science fiction that does not take itself too seriously, with some serious gun play and explosions thrown in to keep things. The writing is unbelievably sharp, often skewering while introducing mad genius concepts left and right. The art is rather unique, fitting its subject matter to a T. There is a reason this comic has been around ten years, so make sure you give it a look see when you have some free time.

Just because Halloween is over does not mean all the monsters have gone away. Get ready to travel down the Organ Trail in this clever little game parody.

Here is a fun little game based on the upcoming movie Unstoppable/

Action Escape Kitty. What else do you need to know?

Love World of Goo? Looking for more? Enjoy.

And now for this week’s Deliciously Deviant(art).

There have been many Godzilla vs. Mothra fights. This is by far the most adorable.

An assortment of simply gorgeous works.


It is something we all must say from time to time, so till next week:


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