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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Review – Little Inferno

Review Little Inferno
Tomorrow Corporation aims to stuff your stocking with the must have toy for the Holidays, transforming the Wii U gamepad into the Little Inferno fireplace. All the good girls and boys looking to stay warm against the onslaught of never-ending winter can flip through catalog pages and order the latest must-have flammable products from the comfort of their home.

Yes, all the left-over splendors of the universe can be yours to burn while delighting at the spectacle and inhaling the sweet plumes of consumerism’s inevitable conclusion, via a proper pretzel twist on the ye olde notion of work-buy-consume-die that was quite a bit more popular to discuss before we all started knocking one another over for new iOS devices.

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Failed Review – Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
Given how much work goes into creating the elements that bring a videogame into existence, even releases that fall short of their goals tend to offer minor points of interest. I’ve often maintained that even the worst releases have good ideas seeded somewhere within their core – why else would people work so hard in the attempt to flesh them out?

But Disney is determined to prove me wrong, offering a disheartening view into the business side of game creation with the multiplatform release of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, a game that feels as if it were assembled by machines in a subterranean dome. And while that may sound like an extreme appraisal of a project that clearly had human hands involved in its creation, anyone involved that ever had a love for playing videogames was clearly discouraged from expressing said love here, I assure you.

Any logical sense that guides the creation process has been abandoned in the bizarre effort to race the original Wii release to the bottom while selling you on the idea that the exact opposite is the case.

There are a lot of more fanciful and poetic paths toward opening a discussion about the game, but the simple fact is that I can’t be bothered.

Life is too short to expend the effort on Epic Mickey 2.

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Review – PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

Review PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale
When PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was announced it immediately drew comparisons to another popular game series, and it’s not hard to see why. All-Stars practically begs to be measured against Nintendo’s Smash Bros. franchise.

Normally I would try to avoid a point-for-point comparison of two titles, but All-Stars pulls so much from the Smash Bros. games—without even a hint of subtlety—that I think it’s only fair to compare the two, mercilessly. You can expect to find many such comparisons ahead.

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