Zack and Wiki impressions

Posted in games at 10:24 pm by wingerz


I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon playing through the first world of Zack and Wiki. It’s definitely got a kiddy-feel to it, with colorful cartoony graphics and cutesy bunny pirates (the Sea Rabbits), but the point-and-click-style puzzles are solid and immensely satisfying. Everything you need to make progress is there, usually staring you straight in the face. Using items in the game usually involves motioning with the controller, and it really draws you into the game. You can die in a variety of gruesome ways, and it’s definitely something to be avoided because you’ll need to restart from the beginning of a stage or be charged a ticket to continue from the point at which you died. Definitely makes you think twice about trying stuff carelessly.

If you are a fan of old Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, Zack and Wiki is well worth checking out.


Back to gaming

Posted in games at 9:19 am by wingerz

from ign

Over the past year, our Wii didn’t see nearly enough action to justify the 430am Black Friday trek that I made to acquire it. After beating Zelda there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Fortunately, that’s changed over the past few months (Metroid, Guitar Hero) and there’s a lot to look forward to (Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart, Smash Bros.).

One game that’s pretty much guaranteed to be a huge sales failure is Zack and Wiki. Cursed with unrecognizable characters and cheesy cover art, the game has been well-received by reviewers, who are excited about its challenging puzzle-oriented gameplay and great use of the controller. I’ve decided to pick up a copy of the game in support of Capcom because it’s a shame that creativity is not generally rewarded by the gaming public. I’m looking forward to playing it over the next few months.


Super Paper Mario

Posted in games at 8:39 am by wingerz


Way back in April, I received Super Paper Mario as a gift. A part of the Paper Mario series, it depicts the world and characters inside it using 2D paper cut-outs. Paper Mario and Paper Mario 2 were RPGs with some platforming elements; Super Paper Mario is a platformer with some RPG elements. Over the past few months I’ve been playing through it, one or two hours at a time, and I finally finished it last night. It has a lot of charm and some cute ideas, but the lack of challenge made it a lot less enjoyable and satisfying to me.

+ Good gameplay ideas. You can rotate the normal side-scrolling view to get a side view of certain objects, reveal new paths to explore, and dodge enemy attacks.
+ Play as Bowser. He’s the funniest character to join your party, and he also breathes fire.
– Weak use of the controls While I did like the fact that the Wii remote is held like an old-school NES controller, it’s obvious that this was a GameCube title ported over to the Wii.
– Too easy. I can’t recommend this game to anyone who is reasonably good at video games because it just wasn’t hard enough. For much of the game I felt like I was just going through the motions to finish it rather than taking satisfaction in playing it. There are also some parts of the game that just are really boring and pointless (World 6 in particular). I will say that World 8 is quite good in terms of challenge and using the 3rd dimension, but it doesn’t make the game worth playing through.

Overall, quite disappointing. I’d recommend Paper Mario 2 over it, and won’t be coming back to play through this one again. I’m a bit surprised by the high review scores that the game got.


Go buy Planet Puzzle League

Posted in games at 2:54 am by wingerz


After a long wait, Planet Puzzle League (Panel de Pon, Tetris Attack, Pokemon Puzzle) is finally out. I picked it up (two copies) about a week ago, and I love it so far. Feels a bit strange to be getting so much enjoyment out of a game I’ve played so many times before.

+ Touch screen control is awesome. No more frantically moving the cursor up and down with the D-pad. Just for kicks I tried playing it with the D-pad this evening and it felt really sluggish.

+ Online play. Would have liked Tetris DS-style rankings, but this is good enough. Will probably be playing with people I know for the most part. When playing against friends you have the option of turning voice chat on.

+ It’s the same core gameplay.There’s a great mixture of well-planned attacks, on-demand chaining, and frantically searching for a single match. I think that the best play mechanic is being able to continue to manipulate the game board as a chain propagates (unlike in Puzzle Fighter, Puyo Pop, Bust a Move, etc.). Powerful special items have been added to make the game a lot more interesting and unpredictable, giving you new ways to screw with your opponents.

Meteos-style skins and music. Very reminiscent of this other DS puzzler. Not sure if I like it since I always use red hearts, green squares, yellow stars, blue triangles, and purple diamonds.

– No avatars. I truly miss the Tetris Attack animals and the Pokemon from previous incarnations of this game, especially the sounds that thye made. I also kind of liked the 1P mode of battling different opponents.

– No easy way to refer to the game.“Tetris Attack” and “Pokemon Puzzle” were good names. “Planet Puzzle League” is not, and “PPL” is confusing to people.


Excite Truck

Posted in games at 10:31 pm by wingerz

from IGN

When I saw Grant over the holidays, he lent me Excite Truck. This weekend I finally had a chance to sit down and play it. I fired it up while I was waiting for dinner to cook and ended up spending about 3 1/2 hours beating all of the challenges of the main game. My thumbs and fingers were sore from holding down the buttons; when turned on its side, the controller is not that ergonomic, especially on the left side.

+ There’s a good sense of speed. As you race through different areas, the scenery flies by. There’s a nice motion blur when you pick up a turbo boost. Ramming into other cars is satisfying. Getting enough air to jump over stuff is awesome.

+ It’s fun to move your arms wildly. Even though it wasn’t necessary, I found myself making exaggerated motions, especially when trying to turbo-jump off of hills. Tilting the controller back keeps in you the air for longer, so I found myself jerking the controller back upon leaping. I found this to be the most fun way to play.

The graphics aren’t great, and the music is annoying.. I didn’t go through the trouble of putting music on my SD card, so I was stuck listening to the blaring background music.

– Mid-air controls are inconsistent. If you manage to land your truck with all four of its wheels on the ground, you get a speed boost. In theory the orientation of the truck is determined by the orientation of the controller, but at times the truck didn’t seem to respond to my mid-air commands. This could have been better integrated into the “trick system,” which weighs in at a whopping 1 trick – you can spin your truck around while it’s in the air, but it’s done by a specific gesture, not by actually rotating the controller. Would have liked to see more freedom and better sensitivity here.

– No multiplayer. 2P Multiplayer is amusing, but not really compelling.

The game is an interesting and fun diversion. Definitely kept me amused for an evening, still deciding whether I want to go back to try to finish the rest of the game.


Tetris Attack at last!

Posted in games at 11:26 pm by wingerz


Oh man. It is real. And I’ve been waiting for it. If it has more than two-way multiplayer, it may replace Mario Kart. I can’t wait for this.

For those of you who won’t know, Tetris Attack/Panel de Pon/Pokemon Puzzle * is my favorite multiplayer puzzle game, despite the fact that my sister can usually beat me at it.


Looking at game data through Many Eyes

Posted in development, games, semantic web, technology, web at 1:53 pm by wingerz


Yesterday I blogged about creating an Exhibit for a list of the 100 best-selling games of 2006. Exhibit is great for looking at how data items fall into categories, but it’s not as good for visualizing quantities. IBM’s own Many Eyes provides several very nice visualization tools (Swivel allows data upload and visualization as well, but I am not that familiar with it, and it looks like someone beat me to it).

I uploaded my text data and created a few quick visualizations.
Review score vs. sales. As people have already remarked, a well-reviewed game won’t necessarily sell that well. Alas.
Release month. This is a recreation of one of the charts that appeared in the original Next Generation article. Summer is always kind of quiet and things get more exciting towards the holidays.
Categorization treemap. This is one of my favorite data viewers. Each game is a rectangle. The area is the number of sales. You can drag the labels (next to “Treemap organization”) in order to redraw the treemap. Drag “publisher” all the way to the left to see why EA cranks out annual releases of their sports titles. Drag “genre” over to see the portion of sales that are sports titles or games based on licenses. Dragging “systems” over doesn’t give you a great view of the data because the original data wasn’t all that clean and Many Eyes doesn’t seem to handle multi-value properties. I’m not sure why it’s showing a quote about the game by default instead of the title.

My other favorite data viewer (that I was not able to use) is the Stacked Graph viewer, made popular by the Baby Name Voyager.

One last note: I wasn’t allowed to edit the visualizations after I created them, so keep that in mind as you think of titles and tags for them.

Popular video games of 2006 Exhibit

Posted in development, games, semantic web, technology, web at 12:29 am by wingerz


A few weeks ago I came across an article about the top-selling games of 2006. There’s some analysis, then a list of the top 100 games spread across 10 web pages (starting, of course, with games ranked 100 to 91). Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to really take a close look at the data. For example, I really wanted to see some Nintendo-specific analysis.

The data was screaming to be let out, so I scraped it and put it into an Exhibit. It was not a quick and easy process. I am quite certain that the HTML was hand-coded – the quotes start with “, ", |, or nothing at all, and some of the other elements are mixed up.The game platforms are not very well specified so I may need to go through and clean it up later; for this reason the portable/homeconsole sections are not 100% accurate.

Anyhow, now I have a perl Data::Dumper file, tab-delimited text file, and a JSON representation. Will probably upload the text file to Many Eyes for kicks.


Things are looking up for Sony

Posted in games at 11:46 pm by wingerz


There are a lot of PS3 naysayers who revel in the fact that there are lots of unsold consoles sitting on store shelves, but I am not one of them. So far in our group (at work), there have been three PS3 purchases, with a fourth coming some time in the next few months. After seeing Matt‘s hooked up to his 1080p television, I’ve decided that $600 is a pretty fair price for what you’re getting: a reasonably high-performance computer, a bargain Blu-Ray player, and a game console – as long as you have the home entertainment setup to take advantage of it. Movies look and sound quite amazing on it. At times I do find myself a bit jealous of the pretty pictures. While graphics aren’t everything, the beauty of RE4, Metroid Prime, and Zelda were greatly appreciated.

So far there haven’t been all that many good games for the PS3, which seems to be the main reason for the slow sales. I was flipping through the latest issue of EGM and saw that both Virtua Fighter 5 (9.2) and NBA Street Homecourt were rated very highly. It’s good to see some quality titles being released; all those pixels would be a terrible thing to waste.


The Wii honeymoon is over

Posted in games at 11:51 pm by wingerz


Of course I love the Wii. Nearly everyone who has come to visit over the past two months has been treated to the joys of Mii creation and Wii Sports. The recently deployed News Channel is pretty cool – it collects AP stories to be viewed either by category or location. I think it’s a great tool for learning geography, especially for children: it’s just cool to spin the globe around to see what’s happening in Australia. But two things have been bugging me recently.

Lack of simultaneous multiplayer in Ware Ware. I’ve been tempted to pick this game up, but the lack of multiplayer just kills it for me. It’s got turn-based multiplayer but that doesn’t have quite the same intensity. I understand that previous incarnations of Wario Ware haven’t had strong multiplayer support, but they should have made an exception for the Wii, which is meant to be a more social machine. That, along with the fact that most people can unlock most of the content in two hours means that I’m not spending $50 on it.

Lack of network support. Apparently Nintendo has been pretty tight-lipped about the networking APIs with third parties, AND none of their games currently support network play. And I might actually decide to buy a Virtual Console game if they supported network multiplayer (All I’d need is Tetris Attack, SFII, and MK64). It took Nintendo about a year to get their act together with the DS; hopefully it’ll be faster this time around since they’ve got Nintendo Wi-Fi up and running.

Until something else comes along, I’ll be catching up on some old GameCube and PS2 games. Have been playing a bit of Katamari, which is delightful.

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