I have some good news and some bad news on the Pinball FX3 front. The bad news is the Nintendo Switch version. The frame rate hitches are a real poke in the eyeball, especially given the loading times. There’s no comfortable way to control the flippers while using the screen vertically, which is one of the selling points for playing on the Switch. And most importantly, more than half of the tables are missing. None of the Marvel or Star Wars tables are available. Ouch. You’d think Disney has it out for Nintendo. Even the Bethesda tables are missing. How odd that I can play Skyrim and Doom on the Switch, but I can’t play the Skyrim and Doom pinball tables on the Switch.
But the good news is that Carnivals and Legends, the latest pair of tables for Pinball FX3, adds something good and something great to the roster of 70 tables. Or 30, if you’re playing on the Switch.
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I was in a Lancaster over Bremen. I had to knock out some submarine pens with a mega-bomb from high altitude. My crew were getting cold in the atmosphere, even though they had thermal mittens and electrically heated boots, and if I didn’t get to a lower level soon they would start to get hypoxic, even though I had equipped them with “advanced oxygen bottles” which were probably made in the USA. The target came into view through wisps of cloud, slowly moving across my bombsight. At this height it was a small-but-discernable structure, much different from the seemingly huge targets that filled my bombsight when I attacked from low altitude. As it entered my crosshairs, I hit the “release” button and switched to my pilot to tell him to dive to low altitude. As I dropped lower, I entered a hornet’s nest of fighters. I swiveled my view around and around, trying to pick up the ones I hadn’t yet “tagged” so my gunners could focus on them. I told my radio operator to “auto tag” and start calling out targets. There were too many. So my radio operator got on the horn and requested assistance. An agonizing thirty seconds or so later, a flight of Spitfires flew into view and took down two Messerschmidts right off the bat. Given a bit of breathing room, I sent my engineer to fix the port fuel tank, which was leaking, and sent the bombardier to grab a med kit and give first aid to the top turret gunner, who was down and bleeding. The tail gunner grabbed more ammo. My navigator plotted a course across the North Sea. With some luck, we’d make it home. If we didn’t, my crew had sea survival vests, a dinghy, and a homing pigeon. They had a good chance of getting picked up by the Royal Navy.
Exciting, no? Much different than what I expected from a game that gave me seven bobbleheaded nine-year-olds to fly a cartoony bomber on solo missions over cartoon France and Germany.
Turns out that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t expect. Continue reading →
Darth Vader is awesome. We all know this. Even if you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, you know that Darth Vader is someone you don’t want to mess with. He’s gigantic. He wears space samurai armor. He has a red laser sword. He’s voiced by James Earl Jones. You don’t want to be on the bad side of that. All that imposing badassery is exactly why kids love to roleplay as Darth Vader. No one scares Darth Vader. Nothing hurts Darth Vader. That bully that torments you at recess? Darth Vader would destroy him. Early bed time? Not for Darth Vader. Time-out in the corner for breaking Mommy’s favorite cookie jar? No chance of Darth Vader agreeing to that! Pretending to be Darth Vader is the ultimate power fantasy. Getting to be Darth Vader in Star Wars: Battlefront II and mowing down hapless rebel soldiers gives you exactly the adrenaline rush and satisfaction you’d think it should. You are a whirling red and black sawblade buzzing through balsa wood. You are become death, the destroyer of worlds.
But what if you don’t get to be Darth Vader? Continue reading →
Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter, a game about getting a princess to like you, has come a long way in five years. Back in the day, it was a shrewd little exercise in simplicity, featuring only eight different cards in a deck of sixteen cards. Your hand size was one. On your turn, you drew a card and then discarded down to the hand size, playing the ability of the card you discarded. In other words, all you ever did was decide which of two cards you’re going to play. It was over in minutes. After a few rounds, you moved on to play a Real Game.
But then came the rewrites. The latest rewrite of Love Letter has failed its sanity check.
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(This review was written for one of my Patreon review requests. Since Prey has been out for a while, I wrote specifically for people who have finished the game. It contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.)
When F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, he wasn’t talking about second chances. A guy who writes Great Gatsby obviously believes in second chances. He was instead talking about the traditional structure of a three-act story. The first act sets up the conflict, the second act develops how the characters will deal with the conflict, and the third act is the climax in which everything is resolved. Fitzgerald was deriding Americans for skipping past the important second act in which the characters develop. Americans, he implied, go straight for the payoff.
Prey, a solid entry in the tradition of Bioshock, is the opposite of American lives. It is almost all second act. Continue reading →
“They’re just scavenger hunts,” my friend says. He’s dismissing big-budget open-world AAA games like Assassin’s Creed: Origins. He’s explaining why he doesn’t play them. I’m explaining why he’s totally missing out.
“Well, sure,” I agree. “But the idea is they’re scavenger hunts in really cool places. Imaginative places where you want to spend time. The scavenger hunt is disguised as gameplay, and it’s your reason for being there. The real point of the game is the place, the worldbuilding.”
Many many hours later, I will come to rue these words. Or will I?
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The greatest arms race of all time has nothing to do with superpowers and nuclear weapons, or even anything man-made. It is instead a natural process that has played out around the world over literally millions of years. Sometimes with actual arms. Literal arms. You know, the things that stick out of your shoulders that were once flippers. Continue reading →
When do you give yourself permission to look up a hint while playing an adventure game? You can’t do it each time a difficult puzzle gets in your way, because you’ll deprive yourself of the endorphin rush when you come back the next morning and solve that doozy on your own. Puzzles are weird that way. Even when you put them down, something in your brain keeps doing the work.
But you also can’t never look up a hint, unless the game just “clicks” with you, like Myst did for me in college, when I finished it over the course of a single day, hint-free. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that, and yes, I am bragging about it.
Here’s my personal hints policy: Continue reading →
Since the dawn of time, pinball machines have been all about the high scores. When you play, you’re trying to get a higher score than you’ve ever gotten. Otherwise, your time is wasted. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed the laid back zen of that ball doing its thing. Because now you have nothing to show for your efforts but a pocket a few quarters lighter. Or, in the case of virtual pinball, less time to spend leveling up a Diablo III character.
The Pinball FX developers at Zen Studios are about to ruin all that. Continue reading →
There is a place in my neighborhood that serves a killer salad: bleu cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, and red wine vinaigrette. That’s it. Each flavor complements the other, in just the right proportion. The greens are excellent. It is primarily a cocktail bar, but the staff clearly understands taste. There is nothing in any of their dishes or drinks that isn’t there for a very good reason: because it makes it better.
There is another place around here that serves salads they call “famous.” They’re basically a huge stack of those everything nachos you can get at upscale sports bars but without the nacho chips. They have a million ingredients, which might lead to clashing flavors except the ingredients are all so bland you don’t notice. They are basically a way for you to stuff your face with a salad because that’s what you like to do.
Point salad games can be one of these two things. Guess which one Great Western Trail is. Continue reading →
Given that there are so many good boardgame ports available, it’s a pretty lousy time to sell a lousy boardgame port. It doesn’t help when the boardgame being ported is nothing to write home about. It certainly doesn’t help when it wants you to buy pointlessly expensive maps, not to mention actual gameplay mechanics. This sure is demanding for such an inconsequential game. It barely even qualifies as beer n’ pretzels. How about suds n’ crumbs?
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Well designed games shine whether you are playing them or just watching. The consistency of theme, presentation, and mechanics that make playing a good game such a joy translates — in the best games — into an eloquent dance that you can appreciate as an observer. If you’re really familiar with the game, you can pick up patterns, see the swings, watch the crescendos and decrescendos, almost like listening to a symphony. A good design realizes that every piece of the game needs to fit together, like strings and brass and woodwinds, but each piece needs to bring something different, like strings and brass and woodwinds. It’s hard to design something that fits its pieces together so distinctly and neatly, which is why so many games just add as many pieces as they can, hoping some of them work together. Dice and cards and plastic pieces and a tableau and victory points here and there and oh look! — a mancala. Good luck getting the conductor to harmonize that.
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Consider a wilderness, lightly populated by natives. They have pagan sites dedicated to local nature gods. They worship a river or mountain or clouds or nighttime or something. Some sort of quaint animism. Now here come European explorers from across the sea. They set up small towns. The towns coalesce into entrenched cities. Culture spreads. The holy sites are abandoned and the natives are assimilated. The wilderness is now tamed. Settled. European. Probably Christian.
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When writing about Agents of Mayhem, it’s tempting to call out the obvious similarities and influences. The amped up cartoon charm of Overwatch. The infinitely customizable character classes of Diablo III. The gratifying doo-dad hunting of Crackdown. The intricate combat and character interaction of League of Legends nee Defense of the Ancients. The cheery superhero team spirit of The Avengers. The breezy vulgarity of Archer. The purple hues of Saints Row.
But none of that tells the whole story. None of that gets at why Agents of Mayhem stands mightily on its own. This is not just an open-world Overwatch. This is not just Saints Row with superheroes. This is a masterpiece that’s been waiting for 30 years to bust out from the collection of talent at Volition. For a number of reasons, it demands a place among the best of the best. Twelve reasons, to be precise. Continue reading →
If Rapture: World Conquest feels like a port of a mobile game, that’s because it is a port of a mobile game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But this facile little iteration on the usual “grow your armies and throw them up against the other growing armies” genre is about what you’d expect. It’s got swipe-n’-drag written all over the interface and the big fat buttons around the margins are built for tapping. You can see the micropayment hooks dangling from the edges of the design. You can’t turn off the cheap classical music soundtrack, probably because there’s no meaningful sound underneath it. But you want to know the game’s biggest crime? Continue reading →