Welcome to the Jungle

Review Tokyo Jungle

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A fresh litter of calico kittens play atop the deserted shops of Shibuya, soon abandoning the safety to follow the lead of their most curious sibling into the rainy streets below. The pack quickly tests their claws and teeth against the helpless chickens and pigs that scatter in panic at the sudden emergence of the newly born predators.

Though the kittens will quickly grow larger from the feast, the never-ending red pangs of hunger and scarcity of prey will drive the pack from the shops of their youth toward the broken streets of Shibuya Station. The young cats push forward while claiming the stray rabbits and chicks seeking shelter in the patches of forest slowly reclaiming the land through cracking cement and decaying automobiles.

Marking their territory along the way, the cats could easily choose to settle into their nest atop the train tracks and relinquish the fight for survival to a new generation. But youthful exuberance and curiosity causes them to follow their pack leader further in the search for new prey and territory to conquer. And as the swarm reaches Dogenzaka, the prey becomes dangerously scarce, changing the balance of this struggle as they encounter a cougar seeking to feed the same need.

Despite their numbers, several of the cats immediately fall to the wild swipes of this predator. Though two escape down a narrow alley, the beat of hunger pounds in rhythm with falling health to see them surrender to the scavengers overhead as they lay down in the street and lose their bid for rule over the Tokyo Jungle.

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And Now A Post About Boxart…

The Last of Us
With the recent dismay of many to the boxart for next year’s Bioshock Infinite, and Irrational’s Ken Levine making the case that such visual concerns are a marketing tool for garnering the interest of those unfamiliar with a game versus those already invested, I’m going to go sideways and give a nod to the cover for Naughty Dog’s upcoming post-apocalyptic tale, The Last of Us, which recently cemented its exclusive PlayStation 3 release date as May 7th, 2013.

Levine certainly isn’t wrong that the cover for any product is a critical marketing window to consumers, a key opportunity to make a statement about the product.

While The Last of Us doesn’t feature the rare punch to the face marketing pitch I might normally champion as a gamer, the image has grabbed me instead for its subtle message about the comprehension of the subject matter it aims to create a convincing world from for its characters, so much so that I feel the need to spew a few words exploring just how it does so below.

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Review – Trine 2: Director’s Cut

Review Trine 2 Directors Cut
I recently became the proud owner of a Wii U, and while it is unexpectedly fun to roam the Miiverse and draw semi-relevant doodles in various game communities, it should not be overlooked that the Wii U is also a gaming console.

The Wii U’s eShop had a strong line of downloadable titles at its launch, and Trine 2: Director’s Cut is among the strongest.

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Sweet’N Low – Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes
Have you ever really lamented leaving a coin behind?

I mean, when we need some money to pay the shopkeeper, or find ourselves forced to collect every coin in order to complete a level or win a challenge, we begrudgingly do those things. But if I only grab two coins while fumbling through a Mario stage, it’s hardly something that keeps me from leaping toward the flagpole and moving on to the next stage.

Maybe there was a time when I attempted to collect all the rings with Sonic, but forever abandoned the idea after getting hit by an enemy and watching them all shoot across the screen – that’s trickle-down economics for you!

But Queasy Games’ Sound Shapes, released earlier this year, offers up something rather brilliant in the realm of obsessing over every collectible, despite the very real risk of repeated failure on the part of the player. Each stage starts in relative silence, save for the strange rhythmic chants of critters sparsely spread throughout the environment.

Collecting a coin adds a musical note to the proceedings, the everyday visual subtraction of a collectible object earnestly bringing the stage to life for the trouble, and visually replaced by the beating pulse of the note in time with the evolving score. In this way, the idea of suddenly leaving any coin behind robs the landscape of its full potential, denies the player a complete harmony at the finish line, and necessitates that no note be left unplayed – a grand recalibration of want and need on a subject that has lazily floated its existence between the tediously obligatory and the entirely optional.

With most rhythm games, missing a few notes is no big deal; the song continues and the chance to improve remains intact. But here there’s a demand for completion.

Simplicity is at the core of mechanics continually capable of boundless elasticity, offering stages wrapped in albums that all deliver distinctly unique sensations with the same tool set. You can experience the chill Zen tactile pleasure and you can have the retro flavored platforming challenge within the same framework.

And then there’s the entirely fresh thesis of Corporeal, a contribution from Superbrothers that cements the achievement of Toronto’s collaborative development space – tracks that place players within soulless corporate spaces to discover beats and rhythm while traveling to the hellish heart of some lost idea of conformist machinery. The trip is something of a beautiful nightmare, grasping at some idea of what the structure of society looked like to a six-year-old version of myself.

A lot of people will tell you that Sound Shapes turns music games on their ears, but it’s difficult to know what that means without stealing some quiet space and time with the game. Its full intent hasn’t been easy for me to divine since its release, but I’m scratching at some idea of exploring the relationship between sounds and the sources that create them, an earnest attempt to enable players to feel what they hear and vice-versa.

Persona 4’s candy pop aesthetics may well be the Vita’s saving grace this year, but Sound Shapes represents something more enduring for the soul ,with a thesis on sound and play that offers a fresh path toward undiscovered territory in lands generally considered barren.

Demo Report – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Demo Report Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
Namco-Bandai’s bite-sized taste of the overdue RPG joint between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli comes up rather short given the size of the PS3 download. The demo offers two small assignments, racing to the top of a volcano to tackle a lava beast, and fighting a forest guardian in order to help a wise old tree and gain access to the Kingdom of the Cat King.

It’s a little depressing that the demo ends before giving us a glimpse of the fat old Cat King, but you can’t win them all I suppose. It’s a shame the demo doesn’t share some more of the animation I spied via the E3 demo earlier this year as well, because it was rather fantastic.

Despite the lack of a hand holding tutorial, combat comes across rather easy, with players able to swap between using Oliver to cast magic or controlling his tiny critter familiars to issue more standard attacks against enemies.

The demo’s emphasis is on teaching players to switch between offense and defense when larger enemies are powering up for more devastating attacks, and moving around said foes to discover critical weak points – for the lava beast this is the tail, while the forest guardian seems to have weak knees.

The rather simple combat could leave this feeling a bit like baby’s first JRPG, but it’s several shades refreshing to my fingers – I’ve been long for an RPG that was this easy to fall into in an age where one of my favorite childhood genres has a habit of putting me to sleep with increasingly complex designs and endless explanations.

Since the PS3 owners in the room can check the demo out for themselves, I’d encourage you to do that rather than listen to me ramble on, assuming you haven’t already.

Two things in particular worth basking in while visiting the other world are the world map itself, which reminds me a bit of the romantic aerial views of the landscape offered in Ghibli’s film Porco Rosso, and the character designs of smaller enemies encountered – these designs are rather simple, and capture something Pokémon-like while still resembling the primary bestiary known to Ghibli fans. My instant favorite is the colorful Ouroboros, which you can find on the road to Ding Dong Dell.

The other point of interest is for your ears. Joe Hisaishi’s fingerprints instantly bring back memories of the feature films, and discovering how the theme for the game expands is as high on my list as unraveling the story of Oliver’s quest to bring his mother back from the dead.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch hits the PlayStation 3 exclusively on January 22nd, 2013 in North America and Europe on January 25th.

If you need more of a Level-5 fix, Namco-Bandai has also served up a behind the scenes tour of the developer, which you can catch below.

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It’s My Aeroplane

Review Aero Porter
My continuing failure at surviving the high stress world of luggage sorting makes it difficult to peel back as much of Level-5’s latest addition to the eShop as I’d like to in order to lay down some review words. But my poor performance hasn’t been from a lack of effort, with Aero Porter stealing plenty of attention over the last week, and the game is certainly worth some words all the same.

Aside from manipulating my OCD, Aero Porter is a terrifically strange and curious offering, and that’s certainly impressive, considering it comes from the mind of Yoot Saito, best known for giving us Seaman – that game where you raise and communicate with a human-faced fish on your Dreamcast.

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Review – Far Cry 3

Review Far Cry 3
In Far Cry 3, players will assume the role of Jason Brody, a kidnapped American who, after a narrow escape from his captors, must find and reclaim his captive friends from the pirates of Rook Island. 

The first thing the game does is to abruptly kill off the character that, in any other game, would have been the protagonist. Instead of the Elite Assault Bro, I would instead be playing an average young man—and not “average” the way Nathan Drake is “average.”

In those early missions, Jason Brody is upset when he has to kill a man, frightened when he’s about to be killed himself—he does what most videogame protagonists never consider, which is react to the unbelievable shit he’s forced to do.

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