This Game You Should Play: Spelunky

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Spelunky is spunky. Get ready for some rambling…Collect gold. Throw objects. Rescue women. Steal idols. Jump. Run. Fall. Throw women. Blow up caves. Buy items. Sacrifice women. Steal items. Die. Die. Die…and die again.

This is only the tip of what can be done with Derek Yu’s wonderful Windows masterpiece. If you think it, you can probably do it. Of course all of this is wrapped up in 8-bit graphics, sound, and music. Nostalgia wins big time here.

Death is something that happens frequently in this game. In many cases, it’s one hit one kill. Taking its cue form rogue-like games every gameplay session is random–and difficult. The fact that it’s different every time possibly is what makes this game so much fun. Frustrating at times, but fun.

The catch? Letting yourself go. Enjoy the experience. This is not a game you play to beat. It’s a game you play to play. Although it doesn’t have much of a narrative, there are little bits of humor in the various enemies, worlds, weapons, and items our hero can carry. Need some awesome swag and the store owner is selling to high. Kill him and take it all. Good luck though. It’s one of the more difficult things to do in the game.

Rescuing damsels in distress can net you one coveted health point via a simple kiss. However, sacrificing her to a god can get you a valuable item that makes gameplay easier. Of course, you can use her to spring traps as well. Let her absorb the arrow.

The point of the game is to descend deeper and deeper into a cave netting gold, gems, and idols along the way. Stealing an idol sets off an Indiana Jones boulder run. Getting to the next level with it nets major money.

There’s gold in them thar hills!

This game is difficult and brutal but it can be beaten. There are even a few challenges and secrets along the way. Just keep playing. The desire to won’t be hard after you’ve given it a spin.

It’s available right now on Windows for FREE and has become somewhat of an internet sensation. Derek is hoping to ride that success over to the consoles as he plans to release an XBLA version sometime this year.

He already has my gold.

This Game You Should Play: Star Guard

Star Guard is one of those rare games that come along and wow you on simplicity alone.  The premise: guide the spaceman through the castle and defeat the wizard. You are green. The bad guys are red.  Along the way, you get little bits (ha!) of narrative in the form of text overlays.

The controls are simple: shoot with X and jump with Z. The left and right arrows are for movement. The author of the game suggests using a gamepad, and I would concur with the later stages of the game. There will be the need for some fast shootin’!

The game’s charm comes in its accessible gameplay and little nods to humor via the enemies and their placement in the levels. However, this platformer probably has the simplest aesthetic I’ve ever played in a game since Combat on the 2600. At most, six colors are used.

There are a few perks for the diehards such as a hard mode and a trial mode (the levels are timed) that can be played on the game’s nine levels. In hard mode you get one life whereas in normal they are infinite. There are checkpoints in the levels, and when you die you continue from them. There’s an interesting twist that the enemies and traps you’ve set are still gone from your first failed run through a level (if you got, say, half-way). In essence, you could go through a section and not have to do anything but reach the exit if you had earlier died at the end.

It’s available for Windows and Mac as a FREE download from developer Vacuum Flower’s website. See the key word? FREE. It was made in Flash but has it’s own executable. Perfect for a USB stick game on the go.

Lastly, it’s a 2010 Independent Games Festival Finalist in the Excellence in Design category. Based on the fun I’ve had with this title the last three days, it should be a contender.

2 Minute Review – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

mw2_01

More Modern Warfare!

Do: Continue the story of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Type: First Person Shooter

Platforms: XBox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Windows

Price: $59.99 all platforms

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Meat: Until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out I was not a big fan of the COD series. I won’t go into specifics, I just didn’t particularly care for it. However, Infinity Ward won me over at last with COD4 and I played through many of the single-player missions multiple times and found the multi-player to be a welcome respite from Halo 3’s infuriating design decisions. However, one observation I had about COD4 was that it was essentially two games. An excellent single-player story that had all of its art assets and underlying engine reused for the multi-player portion. This is not a complaint, as I found myself perfectly happy with each “game”, though I would like the two to have crossed a little more.

Unfortunately, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 does little to alleviate this. If you’ve played COD4, you’ve played MW2. As a bonus commentary, if you’ve played COD4 you’ve also played Call of Duty: World At War, just with a different time period and weapons. Essentially you’ve got the single-player game with a strong story focus and almost frustratingly linear level design and a strong multi-player component that practically exists as its own game. As a bonus, there are the new “Special Operations” missions that use many of the single-player and multi-player maps for specific game types, all of which can be played co-op and some can not be played single-player at all.

From a technical standpoint the game is near perfect, which is not much of a compliment since COD4 was already polished to a mirror shine. There are some graphical improvements, especially in the weapon models, but the game will feel very familiar if you’ve played its predecessor.

test

Also, you can just hang out

Perks: Without a doubt this game is about as close to technical perfection as you can get in a contemporary first person shooter. I’m sure you could harp about even more photo-realistic graphics or greater audio fidelity, but in terms of how the game works it’s as good as it needs to be and that’s all I ask.

The single-player story is well designed, at least from a level perspective. They have greatly improved enemy encounters by removing the ridiculous infinite “spawn closets” that enemies used to appear from until you passed a checkpoint. Combat is frantic and remains an adrenaline fueled affair. I want desperately to enjoy the fight itself in a first person shooter, and the Modern Warfare series has yet to disappoint.

Some nice additions to the game are the new weapon attachments, like the heartbeat sensor and thermal site. Both add new tactics to the game and yet are not without their own limitations. The breaching mechanic, while simplistic, never seems to get old. When you breach a wall or door the game goes into a slow motion “bullet time” which allows you to act quickly to prevent the execution of hostages or counter-ambush enemies that were lying in wait. I think they did this just enough to keep it from getting old.

The Special Operations missions are a nice touch and add some replayability if you’re one of those people who don’t enjoy replaying their favorite single-player missions. The Special Operations range from holding off waves of enemies, vehicle chases, single-handedly wiping out enemy forces, and stealth missions. A nice co-op mission allows one player to be the AC-130 gunner while the other player coordinates on the ground.

Multi-player remains the same but with more options. At last you can use more than one weapon attachment and they’ve added additional perks and challenges to keep the on-line portion attractive to the compulsive obsessive. The underlying system remains the same so the learning curve is not steep even with new perks, attachments, and killstreaks. They have done a much better job of balancing the different options available to the players, removing the controversial juggernaut ability and limiting the use of matyrdom. In my own opinion I found the whining about these perks more annoying than their usage in COD4, but the changes have not adversely affected on-line play in the least.

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Screams: Here’s where you need to hold onto your hats, kids, because I’m going to say some very bad things.

Despite my earlier comments about the “No Russian” mission, the rest of the story is a bust after that point. There is no emotional payoff and the rest of the story is more like an alternate history novel than a Tom Clancy knock-off. Despite the criticism of COD4 as a poor Clancy-esque novel, I liked it. The whole concept was plausible and barely utilized my suspension of disbelief. The new story makes some ridiculous leaps, is overly reliant on plot contriavances and macguffins, and some plot elements are relayed in the middle of firefights so you might miss them completely.

While I appreciated COD4’s careful balance between realism and playability, I always felt they kept it just realistic enough that I didn’t feel like I was in an 80’s action movie. Firing from the hip was inaccurate, I didn’t have a health bar, and everyone seemed to be using regionally appropriate weapons. All of that is out the window in MW2. Russians are using weapons that make little sense for them to have, Brazilian gang members are using primitive and oddly high tech weapons at the same time, and US forces come the closest to reality in a “future force warrior” sort of way but still possess an odd amalgation of weaponry. You now have weapons that can be dual-wielded, which might look cool throws any sense of “reality” right out the window.

Also, the game is ridiculously hard. As a compensation for the removal of infinite spawn closets, enemies just start out ridiculously numerous and volleys of bullets will shred you to pieces even on the easiest of difficulty levels. Some of the Special Operation missions seem to be intently focused on being played co-op despite the ability to play them single-player. None of this is insurmountable, but the game can be needlessly frustrating at times. Especially in light of how well balanced COD4 was regardless of skill-level.

A further problem is that none of this ties into the experience you earn in multi-player. Experience points used to unlock new perks, weapons, and equipment is all kept seperate. Want to play local split-screen? Fine, but those experience points only count towards split screen play. Special Operations also does not help you advance. Wait? What? One of the driving forces behind Call of Duty multi-player is the ability to rank up and earn new stuff. Why bother playing on-line if it doesn’t help me advance? You give players the option of doing special operation missions but their is no real payoff for doing them. All you get is…more special operations missions?

I could forgive this system in COD4, but after Rainbow Six Vegas 2 allowed you to earn experience both on and offline I don’t see the point of it. The problem is I want to unlock the different weapons and I want to use them all the time. Single-player or multi-player. I don’t want to be forced to interact with foul mouthed cretins to fully play your game, Infinity Ward. The way the game is designed they have nullified the whole point of doing special operations except for a tiny subset of people who don’t want to play with aforementioned foul mouthed cretins but will still venture to do on-line multi-player with friends who don’t mind getting nothing for their efforts other than bonding time with good buds.

As for the main multi-player portion itself, while the different weapons and abilities are more finely balanced I was worried that the additional killstreak options would further tilt the game towards the more experienced players. The biggest weakness of COD4’s multiplayer was its lack of good matchmaking by skill. This becomes an even bigger problem in MW2 since additional killstreak rewards just tip the scales further towards players who are doing well. This makes MW2 the least newbie friendly game released yet.

Furthermore, Infinity Ward has disabled party chat in some game modes in order to “encourage players on the same team to work together”. This was a huge mistake, as many players relied on party chat to avoid the large number of players who tended to use racial slurs or the idiots who would sing incessantly during a match. Instead I find myself unable to play those modes with friends and when I do play I have the microphone muted and the volume turned down. Well done, Infinity Ward, instead of encouraging teamwork you’ve turned a good portion of your player base into virtual hermits. I have noticed far fewer headsets plugged in during games then before. Previously, people without headsets were the minority, now they are the norm. Clearly something is going wrong.

Verdict: RENT – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a well polished shooter and worth renting, if just to see the fate of the various characters from the previous game and to enjoy the combat and various “toys” available. If you’re not an existing Call of Duty fan then you will likely not feel any need to play the game beyond the single-player game and maybe a handful of Special Operation missions.