October 31, 2005

Powerpuff, where art thee?

In case any of you are wondering whatever happened to powerpuff - the originator of this very blog - I just wanted to let you all know that he is alive and well. Of course, I’m just humoring myself. There isn’t anybody out there wondering about powerpuff. There isn’t anybody out there period. It is a lonely world out here in Blogville. I keep on writing because I enjoy it, but really, who reads this stuff besides my friends? And I force them to read it.

But anyway, back to powerpuff. He lives a busy life. He has a family, kids, a job, you know, responsibility, and he still manages to sneak in some gaming when he has the chance. He’s a real hardcore gamer, because he has to work at finding time for it, not like the younger blokes that can devote all their time to it and have their parents pony up the cash for their expensive hobby. Yeah, when you don’t have to pay a mortgage, electricity, water, phone, cable, car, insurance and credit card debt, gaming is what you do to pass the time, not what you try to make time to enjoy, like us gamers with jobs (great site by the way, check it out). I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I have my full-time job, my lovely girlfriend and we have our mortgage and bills to pay as well. No kids yet, so that leaves lots of extra leeway when trying to squeeze in the gaming. Not to mention that my girl is super cool about letting me play.

But I’m veering off topic again. Good old powerpuff. Powerpuff and I were going to take the ultimate gaming pilgrimage next summer. We had our sights set on the mother of all gaming shows, E3. Our imaginations ran wild with all the possibilities. But, our “great journey” (a lil’ something for the Halo fans) will be put on hold. Powerpuff is going back to school next year to get his masters, meaning, he’ll have even less time to devote to gaming. Poor bastard. I see him living vicariously through me for the next couple of years, as I’m filling him in on my gaming experiences, X-Box 360, PS3, etc. But, I just want to say, good for him. He’s going to be pursuing what we all want: working in a field you have a genuine interests in. In his case, Medicine. I wish him the very best. I’m sure he’ll chime in now and again to discuss some gaming, because it’s in his blood. This is not something you can get rid of or “out grow”. Gaming is a part of us and we’re stuck with it for the long haul.

And our E3 trip hasn’t been cancelled. Just postponed. We’ll get there. Whether it’s the following year, or for the unveiling of PS4, we’ll be there. You can bet on it!

Let there be light!

On Saturday I finally got power. I went a total of 5 ½ days living like the Amish (how they do it I’ll never know). Again, not bad considering that some people still don’t have power (or worse, a home) but by my calculations it still felt like three months.

So, the joys of electricity meant we had the ability to stay up past sundown, find out what was happening it the outside world and close our windows and live the way God meant us to live - with air conditioning (I live in Miami here folks!).

Now that I had power I could also get back to that little game I’ve been obsessing over for the past 2 weeks, so Sunday morning I get up early and attempt to beat Ninja Gaiden. I succeeded after trying many, many times to beat the final boss. The ending wasn’t anything special, but the real reward is knowing that I just beat a damn hard game. I immediately started a new game - on hard this time - thinking I’ve got the skills necessary to tackle this new difficulty level. I immediately get my ass handed to me. Damn. I somehow make it to the first boss, stumbling in with a black eye, bruised ribs, messed up knee and very few health potions, and he proceeds to give me the beating of my life. Not only that, but he wasn’t alone this time. As if he wasn’t hard enough, they now have a few extra enemies in there with him to up the ante. Now, these enemies were the same ones that gave me the black eye, bruised ribs and gimpy knee while trying to make it to the boss, so the fact that there are more of them here AND I have this big-ass nunchaku swinging mo’ fo’ just makes it all the harder. After trying several times to beat the level, I decided to turn it off and play some Shadow of the Colossus. Man, I thought I would have been able to at least pass the 1st level on hard my first time through. This game is brutal!!!

I highly recommend anybody who is playing Ninja Gaiden Black to also play Shadow of the Colossus at the same time. After the constant dying and swearing you’ll go through in Black, SotC’s empty, beautiful, relaxing and serene environments is just what the doctor ordered to calm you down.

I have now taken down 10 of the giant beasts and each encounter has been memorable. The game is one of a kind. Like I mentioned in my first post about this game, it is definitely not for everyone. Aside from taking down the Colossi there is very little to do. There are no other enemies or objectives. The most you can do is just explore the vast terrain, taking in the vistas and tracking down the various fruit trees and white-tailed lizards to increase your like bar and grip meter. Maybe that is why it is such a great game to play in conjunction with NGB. The games could not be more polar opposites of each other. On one hand you have NGB, the very definition of action, a game that constantly has you fighting four or five enemies at once and moves at a blistering speed. On the other you have SotC, a game that features only 16 enemy encounters in the entire game and those could be far, far apart. Two games that are completely different and both completely engaging and satisfying at different levels.

I’ll continue to take down these Colossi and I’ll attempt to get through NGB on hard. I also have Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, but I am having serious technical difficulties with that game. The game freezes constantly, the sound comes and goes and is delayed on occasion. It is very annoying and completely ruining the experience for me. I’ve heard others are having this problem and it stems from X-Boxes that use the Thompson drive, which I unfortunately have. This is the only game I own that gives me these problems (the first BiA worked fine) and I’m pretty pissed off. I was looking forward to EiB, but every time I play it I can’t go more than an hour or so before turning it off in frustration because of these problems. I hope Gearbox releases a patch to address this. It kills the game for those unfortunate souls that have the dreaded Thompson drive. Please Gearbox, help us!!!

October 26, 2005

Hurricane Wilma

Well, Wilma has come and gone and left us in the stone age down here in Miami. Thankfully we’re not even close to the levels of devastation left behind by Katrina in states like Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi (those poor people). We still have a functioning society, but, without power you really tend to notice how much we take for granted in this age of technology. Everyday things like flipping the light switch when you’re going to the bathroom at 2 a.m. or taking a nice hot shower, really seem like bigger deals when you can no longer do them. Luckily, I have a gas stove so I can still cook hot meals, but I know many others aren’t so fortunate.

Estimates for when the power will be restored are anywhere from a day to four weeks. Not every unlucky soul will have to wait the full four weeks to receive power, but you never know. It’s now been 2½ days and it feels like an eternity. It really sucks when come 7pm and everything gets dark, there really is little to do. Especially when you have Ninja Gaiden Black and Shadow of the Colossus just begging to be played.

Now, I don’t want to sound shallow or heartless considering there are far more pressing issues after a hurricane than whether or not you can play a bloody video game, but you know, this blog is about gaming, so dammit, I’m going to write about gaming!

The night before the storm hit I made it to the end of Ninja Gaiden Black (at least I think it was the end). I didn’t actually beat it, but I know I am close. I fought the boss a few times and died and decided to give the game a rest since I had already been playing for about four hours (like I said before, the game is like crack!) I popped in Shadow of the Colossus which I had just purchased and immersed myself in its goodness. I took down the first four colossi before I had to stop playing (I had to get to my dad’s house to start putting up hurricane shutters). The game is dreamy. Each colossal encounter has been a memorable one. The graphics are beautiful. Yes, it has some technical hiccups. The frame-rate and camera can act up a bit and the resolution isn’t the sharpest around (of course, after playing nothing but Ninja Gaiden Black for a week, any game’s resolution will look under par). But the total package of the visuals and art style delivers a truly magical experience.

I’ll write more on this game as I sink my teeth into it further. I’ll also write my thoughts on NGB’s finale. Hopefully, this will happen sooner rather than . . . in four weeks. =(

October 19, 2005

Ninja Gaiden Black

On Saturday I finally purchased Ninja Gaiden Black. After logging in what must have been 12 hours of playtime in just two days, I can't believe that it took me so long to get this game. It is one of the finest games to come out this generation, right along side Resident Evil 4, God of War, Halo, Metroid Prime, Ico, etc. It might be the best action/adventure game ever made. It is incredibly deep, yet instantly accessible. It is absolutely gorgeous. Oh man, is it gorgeous. Its gameplay is like crack. Whenever I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about playing it. The game is also hard. Über hard. Like one of the hardest games I have ever played kinda hard. And I'm playing on normal. There are still three harder difficulties waiting for me.

This game is seriously for hardcore gamers. Sure, anyone can pick up the controller, start smashing buttons and make Ryu pull off some very impressive combos. But those same players will never pass the first chapter. You heard me. This game requires complete skill to play. Every attack needs to be planned. And as impressive as your character's arsenal of offensive moves is (and believe me, it is pretty spectacular) in order to master this game your character has to be a defensive monster. It is all about blocking, rolling, jumping and counter attacking. This is a game in which your regular standard enemy - the ones you face by the dozens - can kill you in seconds if you're not careful. The boss battles are tests of patience. Not just the patience that is required while fighting them to wait for the opportune moment to attack, but your own inner patience as a person, since you might get killed 30 times trying to beat a single boss before you succeed. On Sunday, I spent three hours trying to beat one boss. THREE HOURS. Now, in the middle of those three hours I took a break to watch the Dolphin's game (big mistake considering how they played), but the total time I spent dying, continuing, dying, trying a new strategy, dying, repeating, was just over three hours. In any other game, I would have already broken my controller in half, thrown my X-Box out the window and taken a baseball bat to my tv in sheer frustration. But for some reason, I didn't. I just keep trying over. This game beckons me to play, more so than any other game I have played in recent memory. What kept me going was that I wanted to pass this boss just so that I could continue with the game. I wanted to keep playing. And believe me, once you do manage to beat a tough boss/section of the game, you feel like you really accomplished something. I actually stood up and cheered after I beat that f'ing boss.

The controls are nearly flawless, with really the only issue being the camera. Even though NGB now features a controllable camera (the original release didn't) it still tends to have trouble keeping up with the action (the game is that fast).

Graphically, this game might not have an equal this generation. This is the sharpest, smoothest, most colorful game I think I have ever played. The graphics really are so crisp and hi-res that even though the game only runs in 480p, if you told me it was actually running in 720p I'd believe you. It looks that incredibly sharp. It runs along at a blistering 60 fps. Character and enemy models are impeccably detailed and animated and I know I sound redundant, but the game is just super sharp, smooth and crisp, with some fantastic textures, gorgeous water effects and some impressive particle/spell effects.

I believe I am about halfway through the game. I actually don't want it to end, but I am already getting ready to play through it again on a harder difficulty. Sure, it might be one hell of a challenge, but I'm up for it. The beauty of a tough game like this is that it forces you to become a better player. You can't get by being lazy and just mashing buttons, or relying on super powerful weapons. As your weapons improve, so do the enemies, so you're never at the point where you just begin to overpower everyone. But after you clear a room full of bad guys, blocking, decapitating, throwing and finishing off the last one in a visceral ballet of blood and acrobatics, you feel proud at what you accomplished and you felt in control the entire time. And man, does it look cool too!

Is it a flawless masterpiece? Of course not. Some save points are very far apart, forcing you replay long sections over again if you die (which you will die, often). In fact, I hear that towards the end you are forced to fight multiple bosses in a row without the ability to save after each one. I REALLY know that is going to bother me. Especially considering how damn hard these bosses are. But in the end, I cannot stop playing and that is what counts. I have not been this addicted to a game since the 16 bit days. Maybe it is fitting that feeling has been rekindled by one of my favorite old school franchises. I cannot wait to see what Team Ninja has in store for us in the next gen systems. Should be fantastic.

October 10, 2005


When Brother’s in Arms: The Road to Hill 30 was released, I snatched it up, played through it, and enjoyed the game. Its strategy and squad aspects were fantastic and really helped separate the game from the countless other WWII shooters out there. Yet, after playing through the campaign in both Normal and Hard mode, I came away with a solid WWII fps, but yet, one I still felt came up a bit short. It was fun and all, but it still felt like something was missing.

In the recent OXM demo disc, I tried the demo for the game’s sequel, Earned in Blood. Playing through the demo rekindled my interest in BiA, and since I now have my new HDTV and I finally hooked up the surround sound, I decided to play Brothers in Arms one more time. Only this time, in Authentic difficulty.

Man, this is what I’m talking about!!!

Authentic difficulty is just what this game needed! Now, my pulse was really racing and I felt like I could be killed at any minute. It was challenging. There are no icons to let you know where enemies are or when they are suppressed, and the real kicker, there are no checkpoints. If you die, you have to play the entire level again. Yes, that can lead to mucho frustration down the line. But for some reason, it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be. It just really made me take my time and plan my attacks.

And just like that, Brothers in Arms became hands down the best WWII shooter I’ve ever played. Now all of a sudden, Earned in Blood can’t come soon enough.

Actually, EiB is out already and has been for a week. I’ve been too busy playing Far Cry Instincts to pick it up though. I’ll write my impressions of Instincts soon.