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Monday, January 26, 2015

My top 10 video games from 2014


10. The Last of Us Remastered
While the wait began for original games on the new consoles, there was no shortage of remakes and remasterings to tide gamers over in 2014. Among the best was this critically acclaimed title from 2013 following Joel and Ellie in a post-apocalyptic world filled with fungi-infested monstrosities. The PS4 version runs in native 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, has amazing lighting and shadows, and includes previous downloadable content. I was late to the party on this one, but I have no regrets. It is definitely worth the pick-up on the PS4 if you haven't played it yet.

 9. Infamous: Second Son
Typical with console launches are software droughts, and this exclusive PS4 title came out to help end that. The third main entry in the Infamous series follows Delsin Rowe, an Akomish Native American who has the ability to possess superhuman powers. As you progress through the story taking place in Seattle, you gain different powers that make combat exciting. The vibrant world is filled with things to do to help upgrade and expand Delsin's skill tree. The Paper Trail storyline adds even more content to a game worth the price of admission.

8. Clicker Heroes
On the surface, it doesn't seem like this web browser-based game amounts to much. You just click on enemies to defeat them and get gold. But then you keep clicking. And click some more. And more. Then you're buying heroes to help you out. And you keep going. And going. You come back the next day with mountains of gold to spend. Eventually you hit a wall. That's where you ascend and start from the beginning. But that's when the real fun begins. I've never clicked a mouse so much in my life. Play the game here, if you dare.

7. Bravely Default
Miss the glory days of "Final Fantasy"? Well, this Square Enix RPG is a welcoming blast from the past. Sure, the story isn't that original, but at least it's understandable. The battle mechanics shine the brightest, allowing you to end battles quickly by taking more actions per turn, or strategically stockpile them to perform wicked combos. The job system is very expansive, giving players many different ways to play the game. All in all, it's a classic RPG packed with content.

6. Transistor
Supergiant Games' second title is another visually appealing experience like their debut game "Bastion." Red, a famous singer whose voice has been stolen, and Transistor, the sword-like titular object who serves as the game's narrator, make for interesting protagonists in the beautiful, futuristic world of Cloudbank. The tactical time-pausing combat mode is great for chaining movement and attacks all at once, and there's a hefty amount of abilities for all types of players. A new game plus mode adds to the replayability.

5. Mario Kart 8
While the familiar elements are here like 50cc, 100cc and 150cc difficulty options, as well as 16 new and 16 retro tracks, Nintendo's popular racer is still a blast to play. It features some of the best track designs to date, and even the retro courses were redone in a way that they felt brand new. The anti-gravity feature really freshens up races, and newer items like the Piranha Plant and Boomerang Flower add to the intensity. Online mode is quick to get into, and with already one excellent downloadable package out and another on the way, the fun continues into 2015.

4. Shovel Knight
Like "Bravely Default," this 2D side-scroller from Yacht Club Games is another blast from the past, resembling NES classics like "DuckTales," "Super Mario Bros. 3" and the "Castlevania" games. But mostly it's "Mega Man," as you control this titular character through cleverly designed stages ending in exciting boss fights. The controls are tight and responsive, and the 8-bit style visuals look very clean on the HD television. Oh yes, and the music. Those sweet, sweet catchy tunes.

3. Bayonetta 2
Platinum Games knows how to make a character action game, and the sequel to "Bayonetta" is one of the best ones out there. Sure, there's an absurd, over-the-top story that does require knowing some lore from the first game, but you really don't need it. It's all about the ridiculous combat sequences with very fluid movement and controls. Button mashers need not apply. To get those precious Pure Platinum rankings, you'll need to pull off nail-biting dodges and epic combos. With all the flashiness going on, the frame rate does not miss a beat. It also comes packaged with the first game, a two-for-one deal you can't say no to.

2. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Finally, after all these years we have the perfect "South Park" video game. Playing off the very funny Black Friday console war trilogy of episodes, you are the new kid in town on a journey to protect the Stick of Truth. Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't hold back and push the bar further and further. The visuals look just like the TV show, adding to the charm. It's packed with references from the show and there are surprise guests fans will enjoy. Combat features multiple partners like Princess Kenny and Professor Chaos. Future "South Park" games will be impossible to live up to.

1. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
For Nintendo in 2014 it was the year of Smash. After a steady of stream of preview footage and character reveals, the 3DS version was released first. While a great game, it's held back by the smaller screen and missing the joys of TV play. The Wii U version puts those issues to bed, featuring a ton of playable characters and variety of stages. Nintendo did their best making this the best Smash experience possible, offering multiple controller options, lots of modes, and successful online implementation. It's also the first game to really utilize amiibos in a unique way -- leveling up and training characters to specific play styles. The long wait for Smash was most definitely worth it.

2014 games I still need to tackle:
Far Cry 4
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Child of Light
Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Get even tinier thoughts at www.twitter.com/JeffHoard921

Friday, January 16, 2015

2015 shaping up to be a big year in gaming

2014 saw many big-name titles get delayed into 2015, disappointing many but probably a great thing to avoid any buggy launches that we saw aplenty last year. Now that we're midway through January, here's a look at some of the scheduled releases so far this year.

Dying Light (Jan. 27, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
This survival horror title from Dead Island developer Techland features a day-night cycle where simply the daytime is good for scavenging items and completing tasks while the nighttime is when zombies go nuts and offer no mercy.

Evolve (Feb. 10, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Turtle Rock Studios, the creators of Left 4 Dead, offers up more multiplayer mayhem in Evolve, where squads of four players battle one player controlling a various monster with the ability to, of course, evolve.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (Feb. 13, 3DS)
After years of hoping and praying, Nintendo is finally giving Zelda fans a remake of this classic Nintendo 64 game where Link becomes trapped in the parallel world of Termina, where the moon is to crash in 3 days' time. Also on Feb. 13 is the release of the New 3DS XL, which features higher CPU performance, microSD support, and 3D viewing improvements.

The Order: 1886 (Feb. 20, PS4)
This Sony exclusive takes place in an alternate history London where knights do battle with half-breed monsters. It's expected to heavily take advantage of the PS4's graphical capabilities.

Battlefield Hardline (March 17, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)
Instead of the military setting from past games, Hardline focuses on police and crime. Modes include rescuing hostages, heists, and chasing down criminals.

Bloodborne (March 24, PS4)
Another Sony exclusive, this game its directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, well-known for the punishing Demon's Souls and Dark Souls games. Bloodborne is faster paced than its predecessors but promises to keep the intensity.

Splatoon (May, Wii U)
Nintendo's quirky team-based, third-person shooter has players controlling characters called Inklings, who can switch between human and squid forms. The idea is to splatter the most colored ink in the game's environment to win the match.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (May 19, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The third game in the series, Wild Hunt features many side quests and promises dozens of hours to complete the main storyline. Protagonist Geralt of Rivia will be able to use a crossbow, and jump and vault over obstacles.

Batman: Arkham Knight (June 2, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Taking place one year after the events of Arkham City, Arkham Knight finally lets you grab the keys to the Batmobile to drive around and blast away enemies. Classic villains include Scarecrow, Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and Riddler.

Other scheduled releases but no specific date in 2015 include:
The Legend of Zelda on the Wii U
Halo 5: Guardians on the Xbox One in the fall
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for last-gen and current-gen consoles and PC
No Man's Sky for PS4 and PC
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End for PS4

Monday, August 18, 2014

Destiny, Super Smash Bros., Halo: The Master Chief Collection highlight remaining 2014 releases

While lots of hyped-up games are being delayed into 2015, there's still plenty of big titles coming out the rest of this year to ease the pain. Here's a look at some of the bigger releases for the rest of 2014.

Destiny: Sept. 9 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
This online multiplayer first-person shooter developed by Bungie had a very successful beta campaign that got gamers even more hyped for it. Players will be able to choose a race and class and travel around a post-apocalyptic universe set hundreds of years into the future. Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage lends his voice as a robot companion.

Hyrule Warriors: Sept. 26 on Wii U
This different take on the Zelda franchise is based on the popular Dynasty Warriors series overseas where you smash through hundreds of enemies. It will boast a big cast of playable characters, from Link and Zelda to Darunia and Ganondorf.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U and 3DS
Not one but two new games in this very popular fighting franchise are scheduled this year, the first coming to the Nintendo 3DS on Oct. 3 with the Wii U version slated for a holiday release. Over the past months, Nintendo as been slowly revealing more and more characters to choose for battle. This will no doubt be the biggest games in the franchise.

Driveclub: Oct. 7 on PS4
After multiple delays this exclusive racing title will (hopefully) be in our hands later this year. We've seen lots of screenshots of stunningly beautiful cars driving in all kinds of weather elements. Players will be able to connect with their friends, receive and send challenges and be part of a team.

Alien: Isolation: Oct. 7 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC
This upcoming first-person survival horror with a heavy emphasis on stealth is part of the Alien franchise that takes place 15 years after the events of "Alien," where you play as Ellen Ripley's daughter. One Alien stalks the player throughout this terrifying and punishing game. 

Assassin's Creed Unity: Oct. 28 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One
This installment takes place in Paris during the French Revolution and introduces cooperative multiplayer for up to four players who can take part in missions and explore together. Parkouring up and down buildings is supposedly easier now, which have always been a pain for me in the past.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Nov. 4 on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Here's your annual Call of Duty game, this time taking place in 2054 and starring actor Kevin Spacey. Futuristic technology includes cloaking aircraft, hover bikes, and the ability to climb up walls. It'll sell millions for sure.

The Crew: Nov. 11 on PC, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Ubisoft's open-world racing game features missions that can be played alone or with others. Players can form crews and race together. The campaign is expected to be around 20 hours.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection: Nov. 11 on Xbox One
This will be one of the biggest remasterings of the year. The franchise that helped cement Microsoft's place in the console industry will come to their newest console. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 will receive graphical updates and feature all their multiplayer modes and add-on content. This should be the perfect start for the Halo newbie.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Nov. 18 on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
BioWare's action RPG published by EA will feature multiple races to choose from and an overhaul in the combat mechanics, requiring a bit more thinking. Just like the first two games in the series, it takes place on the continent of Thedas.

Far Cry 4: Nov. 18 on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Ubisoft will release another of this first-person shooter, this time taking place in the lush land of Kyrat, which is ruled by a ruthless king who shows no mercy to anyone. Players will be able to play cooperatively, even if one doesn't own the game. I suspect we'll see this feature more in the future.

LittleBigPlanet3: Nov. 18 on PS3 and PS4
This cute franchise will introduce new characters like Oddsock, a four-legged creature who can wall jump; Swoop, a bird who can pick up others; and Big Toggle, who uses its heavy weight on pressure plates and platforms. Levels from the first two games can be transferred to this one.

Get even tinier thoughts at www.twitter.com/JeffHoard921

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on The Art of Video Games exhibit in Toledo


I recently stopped by The Art of Video Games exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, which is currently on display until Sept. 28. The Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition heavily explores how far video games have come as an artistic medium, from 1980's Space Invaders to 2009's Flower.

It's a small exhibit, taking patrons on a brief history through the different eras of video games. Each era is separated into four different genres for each console - Target, Adventure, Action, and Tactics - with one game representing each genre. Prior to its creation, the public was invited to vote on their favorite games to be featured, and I think they mostly got it right. There's a wonderful variety of game's showcased, like Pac-Man (Era 1), The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 (Era 2), Earthworm Jim and SimCity (Era 3), Shenmue and Fallout (Era 4), and Okami and Pikmin 2 (Era 5). At each console stop, patrons can select a genre to watch a short video about the game.

Of course, a video game exhibit needs to have playable games, and five are available to play: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. Both kids and adults were having fun here.

However, I wasn't inside it for very long. As a lifelong gamer, I didn't really learn or see anything new, and you'll likely find most of what's on display on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet. Still, it's a fun and colorful exhibit that's set up wonderfully for those who don't follow the video game scene. It was crowded, and the kids were enjoying themselves. I constantly heard the older crowd comment how how "cool" Pitfall graphics were back in the day. For that, the exhibit did its job.

Now that we're in a new generation with Wii U, Xbox One and PS4, the exhibit could be updated in the future to show the likes of these newer games. If this is done, Transistor definitely has to be in it.

For those not wanting to travel to Toledo to see The Art of Video Games, the Flint Institute of Arts will showcase it Oct. 26, 2014 through Jan. 18, 2015. It is located at 1120 E. Kearsley St. in Flint.


Get even tinier thoughts at www.twitter.com/JeffHoard921

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Super Smash Bros., Amiibo, Zelda highlight Nintendo Digital Event

Once again, Nintendo opted to do a digital event like at last year's E3. It was much better this time around with some funny Robot Chicken sketches featuring Nintendo characters.

* Miis will be featured prominently in the new Super Smash Bros., with three different attack types: swordsman, brawler and gunner. A wide variety of moves were displayed. Gameplay for the 3DS version was also shown off. A new character, Palutena from the Kid Icarus series, looks very powerful.
* Amiibo is the official name of Nintendo's character figurines. Mario was featured, and other characters like Link and Kirby will be available as well. It's been a long time coming, but I don't think it's too late to join the Skylanders and Disney Infinity party. For Super Smash Bros on the Wii U, the characters can join battles. Other games like Mario Party 10 and the recently released Mario Kart 8 will support them as well. This could be another cash cow for Nintendo.
* Yoshi is getting the Kirby's Epic Yarn treatment in the very charming Yoshi's Woolly World, set for release in 2015. It looks to be a little more challenging and plays like the Yoshi's Island games, minus Baby Mario.
* Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a full-blown Wii U game based on the mini-game from Super Mario 3D World. There were some interesting level designs shown. It should be a fun one to play.
* Bayonetta 2 featured Zelda and Samus costumes. The game will also come with the original Bayonetta, which is awesome. Even more awesome, it will release in October.
* Two Zelda games were shown off. The already-known Hyrule Warriors will have large maps with lots of enemies to dispatch. Zelda, Link, Midna and other characters will be playable. It releases Sept. 26. A brief look at the beautiful open world of a new Zelda was also shown. It promises to be a change from the familiar formula other games in the franchise follow.
* Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, a sequel to Kirby: Canvas Curse, will release in 2015.
* Xenoblade Chronicles will also release in 2015. This sci-fi thriller features exciting mech action.
* Splatoon is a 4v4 online action game where you shoot ink everywhere to claim territory. The team with the most covered wins the match. Turning into squids lets player swim in their ink and move around the map quicker. It was refreshing to see something original.
* Mario Maker is officially real. Levels can be made the NES way or the modern NSMB. It looks like there's plenty of options to choose from, and it should be great for creative minds. It's expected to release in 2015.

Overall, it was a fun digital event, and it looks like Nintendo still has it despite recent struggles selling hardware. We'll be waiting a while for most of these games, but hopefully it'll be worth it.

Get even tinier thoughts at www.twitter.com/JeffHoard921

Monday, June 9, 2014

Long Sony E3 2014 press conference packed with a little bit of everything

Sony covered a lot of bases in their E3 2014 press conference, from games to hardware and services.

* The Destiny beta will release July 17 on the PlayStation first. When the game actually releases on Sept. 9, there will be a white PS4 bundle with the game.
* The Order: 1886 featured a man being chased down by a zombie/werewolf creature and what looked like gameplay. Shots were fired at the creature by the player, but it looked like it didn't really matter in this segment of the game.
* DLC is coming to Infamous: Second Son in August. It's called First Light and no gameplay was shown.
* Entwined is an artsy rhythm game that is now out for the PS4. Could be fun.
* A nice surprise was Little Big Planet 3 featuring new characters like one who can shrink and grow in size while a bird can lift other players up. Multiplayer looks fun here, and the visuals are charming.
* There was more Far Cry 4 -- this time gameplay where we saw the crossbow in action. A vehicle got hijacked and we saw some familiar driving action before going over a cliff and flying with a wingsuit. Another player joined a mission to wreak havoc on everyone, and it was funny to see an elephant take down enemies. Apparently PS4 gamers will be able to invite others to join in on the fun online even if they don't own the game. There's got to be a catch to that since sales numbers are so important these days. Maybe they'll be able to play certain sections.
* Project Beast turned out to be Bloodborne from developer From Software, a gothic title.
* Dead Island 2 got a funny trailer of a runner turning into a zombie, and someone else taking his shoes.
* Magicka 2 is coming, as well as a remastered Grim Fandango for the PS4 and PS Vita.
* Indie titles like Hotline Miami 2 and Titan Souls are coming. They look fun. Abzu is a beautiful looking underwater game from the makers of Journey.
* Let It Die will be a PS4 exclusive Suda 51 game. It will release in 2015.
* The Last of Us Remastered releases July 29 for the PS4.
* No Man's Sky got some major play. The procedurally generated game lets players explore planets seamlessly and features some combat elements. This could be the next big game, or it could turn into another Spore. Hopefully the former happens.
* Mortal Kombat X looks pleasing. Some fight footage was shown with gruesome fatalities.
* The Metal Gear Solid V trailer people already saw yesterday was shown. Could have been huge, but we were already spoiled.
* Batman: Arkham Knight showed off a stunning overworld and driving around with the Batmobile, which can turn into tank mode that allows for strafing. The Scarecrow is a spooky villain.
* The big finale featured a short trailer for Uncharted 4, which looked amazing. A Thief's End will come out next year, and I would suspect the holidays. This could be another gem from Naughty Dog.

Free-to-play games are coming, too, and July 31 marks the start of the PlayStation Now beta for the PS4. Vita titles are in development, which I guess is good if you own the struggling handheld. PlayStation TV is finally coming to America for $99. The VR-related Project Morpheus also got a mention.

Familiar games showcased in Ubisoft E3 2014 press conference

After Microsoft and EA, Ubisoft took the stage to show off some familiar games in their press conference.

* Far Cry 4 kicked things off and gave us a look at the likely villain who loves to kill people who don't take orders correctly. The opening cinematic looked great.
* Just Dance 2015 brought to the stage many dancers who danced a little too good. Using smartphones as the controller is an interesting idea. This should be another hot seller.
* We got another look at Tom Clancy's The Division in a CGI trailer. Yep, still looks amazing.
* Locations from New York, Las Vegas and the Rockies were shown in The Crew, the multiplayer-focused racing game. Teamwork is key here.
* Assassin's Creed Unity again showcased the overworld populated with many, many people. You'll be able to see which online friends are doing a mission as you pass by one.
* The most awkward moment of E3 so far belongs to the Shape Up presentation, a fitness game exclusively for the Xbox One. Piano dancing looks awfully like Dance Dance Revolution, and doing push-ups in rhythm with the game looks very, very tiring. I can't expect it to work perfectly on the Kinect at home like it did during the presentation.
* The most interesting game of the conference was the World War I themed Valiant Hearts: The Great War, even though we had no gameplay to judge it by. Looks like a 2D side-scroller.
* Rainbow Six: Siege showed players breaching through walls and floors in a house to rescue a hostage. This featured more fake online banter you'll never hear in real life.

Get even tinier thoughts at www.twitter.com/JeffHoard921