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TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.2

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five more of the best games you never played during the last generation

Welcome, one and all, to part two of Sleeping Dogs. If you’re tired of the ‘mainstream’ videogames clogging up your time – then do yourself a favour, and give these overlooked classics a spin. Cram ‘em into your disc slot, and enjoy the fact that you’re now on the ‘inside’ of obscure gaming culture. You hipster, you.

Deadly Premonition

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Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Developer: Access Games

Publisher: Rising Star Games

Release: 2010

Deadly Premonition is a bad game.

Looking like a forgotten relic of the PS2-era, it was designed by Hidetaka Suehiro – AKA SWERY – and was released to great derision.

Why? Well, there were the awful visuals, with fuzzy objects and muddy textures that made eyes water in disbelief. There were the unintuitive controls that made traversal a chore. The repetitive, plinky-plonky music that sounded like it was ripped straight from a low-budget RPG. The voice overs which reflected how bored-stiff the actors were. The stiff character movements. The useless map which made navigation next to impossible. The repetitive combat scenarios. The cereal-boxes masquerading as cars.

So, then why in the hell is this game included here?

Because, for all of its (many) faults, Deadly Premonition has gained a cult following. For almost every piece of scorn heaped upon it, the game was also showered with praise. Infamously one of the most divisive games ever made, SWERY’s magnum opus was granted review scores from both ends of the spectrum – with verdicts ranging from two to 10 out of 10. It even holds a Guinness World Record for its divisiveness – so it’s official and everything.

Supporters of Deadly Premonition found merits within its open-world (and open-ended) gameplay, which echoed Sega classic Shenmue. Playing as FBI agent Francis York Morgan (but please, just call him York), players find themselves in the enigmatic, Twin Peaks-esque town of Greenvale as they attempt to solve a gruesome murder of a woman. Partnering with the gruff town sheriff George Woodman and token female deputy Emily Wyatt, York gradually uncovers a bunch of gruesome secrets that is emblematic of the murder mystery genre. The plot is infused with a supernatural flair, as York is regularly accosted by murderous ghosts (that can be conveniently shot), suffocating red vines, and a Nemesis-style recurring enemy that wields an axe and sports a stylin’ red raincoat.

But the main ‘appeal’ of Deadly Premonition is Greenvale itself.

Truly, this is a town where one can get lost in (literally, thanks to the crappy map). From dusk ‘till dawn, Greenvale is crammed full of activities that threaten to make York completely forget why he’s there in the first place. Every major character has their own life they attend to; and when they’re not being accosted by the FBI agent, they’re going about their own business – business that even changes depending on the weather.

Although he can sleep in many different places, York has a room at the local hotel. Upon waking every morning, you have the choice of changing outfits (and cleaning dirty ones), shaving, and having breakfast. A coffee aficionado, York can even get his fortune told by his beverage’s swirling milk.

In the town itself, he can drive around in his squad car and search for numerous asides. Side-quests range from the obligatory citizen favour-granting – to things like fishing, racing, collecting rare cards, playing darts at bars, digging-up human bones (yep), and play peeping tom by peeking in windows (double yep). His vehicle can even run out of fuel and break-down – requiring funds to fix the thing up. York even gets hungry and tired, so players must regularly feed him and make sure he gets a nap once in a while.

Get past the slow opening hours, and Deadly Premonition will – at the very least – offer an experience you won’t forget any time soon.

 

Punch-Out!!

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Format: Wii

Developer: Next Level Games

Publisher: Nintendo

Release: 2009

You can be forgiven for not even being aware of this game’s existence. Just blame Nintendo. Shamefully, the company decided that the first Punch-Out!! sequel in nearly 15 years wasn’t worth an Australian-wide release (along with the similarly shunned Wii game Excitebots), leaving only one retail chain to stock limited copies of the game.

With Little Mac’s long-overdue inclusion onto the playable roster of Super Smash Bros, now is the perfect time to dive into this sleeper hit, which takes the all-time classic Punch-Out!! gameplay, and successfully transplants it into the 21st century.

Next Level Games have done a sterling job with this title, which boasts some of the best character animations seen on the Wii. Again under the tutelage of chocolate-scoffing trainer Doc Luis, Little Mac must (surprise) battle some of the world’s best boxers in order to make his way up the ranks and become the champion of the ‘World Video Boxing Association’.

In gameplay terms, this means battling tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes via the traditional view behind Mac himself – just like it has always been. In truth, almost nothing has changed since Super Punch-Out!!, with Nintendo preferring to stick to the tried-and-true formula of scouting an opponent’s chink in their armour, before capitalising via unrelenting fisticuffs.

As anyone who has played any version of Punch-Out!! will tell you, the game is just as much puzzler as it is a fighting simulation – and the difficulty can be unforgiving as a result.

The Wii sequel is no different – which gives a black-eye to anyone who criticises Nintendo’s waggle box as the haven for ‘casual’ gamers only. Indeed, this is one of the hardest games I’ve personally played – but it can be beaten. Truly, for all of the spiffing visuals and cartoony imagery, Next Level has nailed the old school sense of success by perseverance; of learning every intricate offensive and defensive manoeuvre of rival boxers. Words truly can’t express the feeling of satisfaction when Mac just floors his adversary with one well-timed, accurate punch.

And they are truly some colourful adversaries.

Old favourites such as the weedy Glass Joe, the bulbous King Hippo, and the terrifying Mr. Sandman return, as well as newbies like Disco Kid and Donkey Kong (yes). As I mentioned, each (mildly offensive) character is like a living cartoon, with evocative facial expressions and exaggerated movements that really make them pop from the screen. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Super Macho Man flex his buttocks like a madman.

Er. Yeah.

As expected for a Wii game, there are multiple control options available, including the surprisingly playable combo of Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as compatibility with the Wii Balance Board. However, purists would ultimately benefit from the traditional ‘NES’ style input (solo Wii Remote held on its side).

If you can find a cheap deal online, I’d say go for it. You’ll be knocked-out by its quality.

Sorry.

 

 

ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD

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Format: PS3

Developer: Team Ico/Bluepoint Games

Publisher: Sony

Release: 2011

In the first edition of Sleeping Dogs, I talked about Ōkami, and its seemingly eternal struggle to find the audience it deserved. A continuous cycle of rebirth and negligence, Capcom’s cel-shaded masterpiece was re-released multiple times in an attempt to gain some much-needed attention.

In a way, the same thing has happened to Fumito Ueda.

With not just one – but two – virtually ignored PS2 classics acting as very fluffy feathers in his cap, the Japanese design luminary got a second chance with the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD – a PS3 port of, well, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

Despite being two different titles, Team Ico’s dual masterworks both share thematically similar aspects. Both are set in a mysterious, unnamed fantasy world. Both are achingly beautiful. And both communicate with the player in a minimalist fashion, where the mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ reigns supreme.

And what a show.

First; Ico. Released in 2001, this was seen as (arguably) the PlayStation 2’s first killer-app. Set within a dank, gloomy castle, you play as…well, Ico – a young boy with horns, who awakens from a coffin-like prison. As he tries to find his way out, he eventually comes across a ghostly girl named Yorda – who speaks are cryptic language that serves as a communicative barrier between the two. However, this is where the beauty if the game shines through, as Ico and Yorda regardless develops a deep relationship as they manoeuvre their way through the labyrinthine environment. Holding hands in a touching fashion, they scramble, climb and solve puzzles whilst desperately trying to fend-off evil shadows that try to take the girl away. This is done by whacking them with a stick. It’s all so elegantly simple – that even the mere event of escaping in the courtyard and seeing the sunshine is an event in itself.

Now onto Shadow of the Colossus. Unleashed toward the end of the PS2’s life in 2005, this served as a prequel to Ico – but the gameplay itself was really rather different; not just from its forebear, but from anything else at the time. Taking control of a young swordsman named Wander, you find yourself tasked with slaying 16 monolithic colossi in an effort to revive a slain girl named Mono. There are no other enemies in the game besides these roaming giants; and they’re found by – ahem – ‘wandering’ a massive open land on your trusty steed named Agro. Once spotted, each monster must literally be climbed as they try to swat you like a fly, and this is where the main thrill of the game lies. The differing designs of each colossus ensure that every clash is just as much a puzzle as it is a sheer battle of wills, and the feeling of finally slaying each beast is one of euphoria and utter triumph. Shadow of the Colossus is bigger and bolder than Ico – but that feeling of ephemeral ‘otherness’ is still present; and it’s a feeling that is utterly unique to this HD collection.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are undisputed works of genius that deserve to be remembered for years to come.

And the story is set to continue with The Last Guardian. Eventually. One day. Maybe before the sun explodes and kills us all.

2017 Edit: Oh my.

 

 

Opoona

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Format: Wii

Developer: ArtePiazza

Publisher: Koei

Release: 2008

Opoona.

That’s a name that just conveys images of an epic adventure. An epic adventure that provides hours upon hours of in-depth gameplay, an involving plot, lush visuals and an intricate battle system.

Right?

Right. At first glance, Opoona is a deceptively simple-looking game. One could be forgiven for thinking its bright, bold colours and unassuming character designs are emblematic of a children’s game; one that belongs in the bottom of the Wii bargain bin.

Unfortunately, this untrue perception ultimately became the reality for this charming title by ArtePiazza, as sluggish sales ensured a swift demise for any potential sequel.

Releasing on the same day as Super Mario Galaxy tends to do that to a game. Sigh.

So, what is Opoona?

Described as a “lifestyle RPG” by the developers, the game follows the main protagonist Opoona (surprise!); an alien who possesses a mystical ‘bonbon’ that serves as his weapon.- a characteristic shared by his ‘Tizian’ race that act as guardian warriors throughout the cosmos. The story begins with Opoona on a vacation with his family, as they travel in a spaceship on their way to Landroll – a planet that has stopped rotating after a dark comet struck it centuries earlier. Humans now live on the world under domed cities, which serve as protection from the ‘rogues’ – monsters that have emerged from the gloomy crater.

After an unknown force strikes their ship, Opoona – along with his siblings, Copoona and Poleena – are placed into escape pods by their parents, and are jettisoned to Landroll. It’s a surprisingly sad scene – and one that makes you feel sorry for the kids, especially after what comes next.

Waking in ‘Tokione’ – the biggest city in Landroll, Opoona leans that his parents have been critically injured, and are hospitalised at the ‘healing’ city of Sanctuary. Whilst they recover, Opoona is forced to undertake a profession and contribute to Landrollian society.

With the core vocation of ‘Ranger’ (basically, a soldier), the young lad is tasked with entering the wilderness and offing monsters with his bonbon, as he makes his way up through the ranks.

The battle system is turn-based, with the player required to toss Opoona’s bonbon at a wide variety of colourful enemies. Speed and trajectory can be manipulated via the analogue stick, with curved throws and spirals essential to defeating enemies whilst bypassing dangerous obstacles (such as bombs).

As he makes his way through the game, Opoona eventually teams with his brother Copoona and sister Poleena, whilst undertaking a wide variety of side-jobs. Illustrating the ‘lifestyle’ moniker of the game’s tagline, Opoona can take advantage of many employment opportunities – such as farmer, miner, seamaster, cleaner, attendant, ukulele player and even TV star. Additionally, he can form relationships with many different NPC’s, watch TV shows, buy a pet, and even get an apartment.

With art design by Shintaro Majima of Dragon Quest fame, and a lovely soundtrack by Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, Opoona is well worth tracking down.

 

3D Dot Game Heroes

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Format: PS3

Developer: Silicon Studio

Publisher: SouthPeak Games

Release: 2010

Ever wanted to play a Zelda game in 3D?

Well, now you can – with 3D Dot Game Heroes! Toss aside that lousy copy of Ocarina of Time, and play Zelda the way it was meant to be played – as if the last 30 years never happened.

Developed by Silicon Studio (the fab folks behind the 3DS game Bravely Default) 3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to the action-adventure games of the 8-bit era. Evoking the gameplay and imagery of classic games such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy Adventure, and Dragon Quest – 3DDGH takes these digital pioneers, and transplants them on PS3.

Set in the kingdom of Dotnia, you play as a custom created hero, as s/he bravely battles the evil forces of Dark Bishop Fuelle in a quest to rid the land of darkness and to prevent the resurrection of Gan… Er, I mean Dark King Onyx. Obviously, it’s all simple stuff – and that’s exactly the point.

The main appeal is in the 8-bit gameplay that is presented in glorious HD-o-vision. In a nice bit of lore, the King of Dotnia decreed that the land simply looked too tired in 2D – hence its transformation into (you guessed it) 3D. The blocky characters look gorgeous, and the gameplay itself is a smooth as butter.

There are no revelations here. You slay enemies, explore dungeons, gain items, and uncover secrets. But that’s all that’s needed. It’s an awesome nod to times past, and there are a couple of cool new ideas – such as an enormous sword that grows all the way across the screen, and an enemy encyclopaedia that is expanded by literally beating the book on their heads.

Now if that is no reason to buy this game, then I don’t know what is.

TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.1

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five of the best games you never played during the last generation

Welcome one and all, to the first of a series of features that will cast the limelight on videogames of the last generation – that is, videogames that were shunted to the side and didn’t attain the success that they so richly deserved. As we enter a new generation of gaming consoles and handhelds, it’s important to remember that there will be great titles; titles that exude imagination and quality in equal measures. Unfortunately, it is a given that many of these will be kicked to the curb. Heck, we’re already seeing it now (Wonderful 101, please stand forward). However, you can rectify those past sins, by following this essential guide.

Xenoblade Chronicles

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Format: Wii

Developer: Monolith Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

Release: 2011

If you were asked the question “what was the best JRPG of the last generation?” what would your answer be? Lost Odyssey? Final Fantasy XIII? Wrong on both counts, boyo. The correct response is “Xenoblade Chronicles, oh benevolent master.”

Such was the game’s quality that a massive fan campaign dubbed ‘Operation Rainfall’ was enacted in a desperate bid to get the game (along with The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower) released on western shores. And luckily it worked, because Xenoblade is the best JRPG of the last decade.

Following a young lad named Shulk – who finds himself wielding the mythical blade known as the Monado in a desperate bid to battle the fearsome Mechon – Xenoblade Chronicles is an epic adventure that is set on the battle-locked corpses of two gods. It’s not as gruesome as it sounds, as one god – the Bionis (where the good guys live) – is actually more like a rocky statue that is covered in mountains, forests, oceans and canyons. Its foe – the Mechonis – is basically a giant robot that is home to millions of smaller robots. Robots that love nothing more than invading the Bionis and slaughtering its denizens, that is.

At its most basic form, the storyline of the game follows Shulk and a bunch of friends who find themselves embroiled within the war of the Mechon, as they journey across (well, up) the Bionis in an attempt to kick ass and take names. Obviously, the plot gets much more complicated than that (what with this being a JRPG and all), but I’d be cruel to spoil it – as it does become genuinely mind-blowing before the end.

Also mind-blowing is the game itself; an epic adventure that pushes the Wii’s humble innards to breaking point as Monolith Soft treats gamers with some of the biggest and most gorgeous worlds ever seen in a videogame. Large cities, grassy plains, glittering oceans, steamy forests, snowy mountains, labyrinthine caverns, futuristic dungeons… This game has it all; and the fact that there are barely any load times is just the icing on this already-heaving cake. What’s even more amazing is that there is a very real sense of ascension as Shulk and his crew make their way ever upwards along the Bionis. The starting town? It’s on the knee. Those grassy plains? On the leg. Snowy mountains? The arm. That ocean? Plonked on the head. It all makes the linear corridors of Final Fantasy XIII look positively embarrassing by comparison.

The battle system, too, is wonderful. A mixture of turn-based and real-time thumping that is so popular these days, what’s really great is that punishment isn’t as arbitrary and frustrating as its genre forebears. Death isn’t met with a trip back to the last save point, but rather the nearest ‘landmark’ – points of interest that also serve as warp-points. You get to keep your experience points and items, which means there is virtually no risk in venturing off the beaten track and coming across a high-level foe – before it proceeds to wipe the floor with your corpse. Still, yay exploration!

EXP is also given out for completing side-quests – of which there are literally hundreds. EXP is also given out for… finding rare items and filling out an addictive stamp book, re-building an entire colony, crafting materia-style gems, finding secret areas, battling legendary creatures, etc, etc. It really is a generous game – one that gave me 112 hours of entertainment – and I still didn’t do everything there was to do!

Lucky there’s also a New Game + eh?

 

Shadows of the Damned

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Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

Publisher: EA

Release: 2011

Ah, Suda 51. Who on this earth can resist the madcap antics of one of Japan’s most eccentric game developers?

A lot of people apparently, judging by the miserly sales of most of his games. To be fair though, Suda-san’s titles aren’t exactly what I’d call ‘accessible’. Killer 7, No More Heroes, Flower Sun and Rain… Honestly, this feature could just as easily be filled with Grasshopper’s output, and there’d still be games to spare.

Still, there’s one in particular that I found to be a righteous good time, and that was the EA-published Shadows of the Damned, an action-horror game developed in conjunction with legendary Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.

Following the exploits of Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur (yes), you find yourself descending into the very depths of hell itself, in the pursuit of your girlfriend Paula, who has been kidnapped by the king of hell, Fleming. Along for the ride is Johnson, a regal ex-demon who takes the shape of a skull that can morph into guns for Garcia to use. Guns that shoot bones and teeth.

Did I mention this is a Suda 51 game?

This all basically boils down to an eight hour long, fairly generic third-person shooter. However, the magic isn’t in the gameplay, but the insane, hilarious, and creepy settings. Suda’s version of hell is a unique blend of S&M, meathooks, and pitch black streets that look like they come from Ripper-era London. It’s a place where demons literally live and die under the suffocating shadow of Fleming’s tower. A place where bleating goat heads radiate safe, holy light. A place where wailing baby faces are fed strawberries in order to access secret areas. A place where a demon merchant named Cristopher sounds like a hillbilly. A place where a floating, defecating eyeball with wings acts as a save point. A place where Garcia sporadically screams “taste my big boner!”

Did I mention this was a Suda 51 game?

Fair warning to those who decide to track this cult classic down; it is not for the easily offended or faint of heart. But as a result, it is utterly crass and hilarious. Just the way I like ‘em.

 

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

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Format: Wii, PS2, PSP

Developer: Climax Studios

Publisher: Konami

Release: 2009

Over the last five years or so, it became a seemingly accepted fact that survival horror games were dead. Unlike the lurching monstrosities that so defined titles like Resident Evil, Clock Tower and Alone in the Dark, creepy games would remain six-feet under; without the opportunity to spring back to life like, well, like the living dead.

However, this isn’t entirely true. PC classics like Amnesia: Dark Descent, Slender Man and (to a lesser extent) Dear Esther proved that eerie experiences were still in abundant supply. Still, there was one home console that gave the PC a run for its money in providing frightful content… And that was the (yep, you guessed it) Wii (oh, PS2 and PSP too).

What? Balls and Poppycock!” I hear you bellow, as you shove a copy of Carnival Games in my face, “The Wii wasn’t even a real, hardcore games console! Everyone knows that!”

First, shhh. Be quiet. You’re embarrassing yourself.

Second. No, I’m quite serious. The Wii had some great horror games. Cursed Mountain, Fatal Frame IV, Project Zero 2, House of the Dead: Overkill, Dead Space: Extraction, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles… Heck, if you want to really stretch the genre’s definition, you could probably add the similarly unnerving Fragile Dreams: Farwell Ruins of the Moon and Deadly Creatures to the list too.

But one game trumps them all – and that is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories; a game that rivals Silent Hill 2 as the best of Konami’s psychological terrors. Yes.

I don’t take that statement lightly, but SH:SM is that good. It is an absolute travesty that it flopped the way it did, because I found the game to be a genuinely unforgettable experience.

A quasi-remake of the first Silent Hill, Shattered Memories casts you in the role of Harry Mason; a bespectacled author who literally loses his seven-year old daughter, Cheryl, after veering his car off the icy road. Harry awakens to find her missing, so he whips his torch out before venturing into the chilly (both literally and figuratively) town of Silent Hill.

But, before you do any of this, the game performs a psychological test on you. It needs to find out if you’re suitable, see. Under the icy gaze of Dr. Kaufmann, you are asked a series of uncomfortable questions that can directly influence aspects of the game. What kind of questions? Well, how about ‘Have you ever cheated on your partner?’ Or how about ‘Did you lose your virginity in high school?’ Or ‘Do you drink more than you should?’

As you give your responses (by literally filling in the papers), aspects of Harry’s journey will alter to reflect your personality. For example, if you like to partake in a little drinky-drinky, then cola bottles at an abandoned playground will turn into beer. Or, if the game thinks you’re a bit of a sex-pest, then female characters will be dressed a little more provocatively.

This is how Shattered Memories works. It’s always judging you. It even notes when your gaze lingers a little too long on a filthy poster, or if you care enough to glance at a missing child sign.

The gameplay itself is similarly hair-raising – and all the more brilliant for it. With his smartphone, Harry can take pictures of ghosts, call various numbers strewn about the place, and receive messages from dead people (that is relayed through the Wiimote’s actual speaker). Speaking of the Wiimote, so many incremental objects can be poked, prodded and fiddled with – giving the world a real sense of tactility. And eventually, when the monsters eventually come out to play, all he can do is run – there is no combat in this game.

An absolute must-play. But nothing beats Ninjabread Man on the scar-o-meter.

 

Vanquish

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Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Sega

Release: 2010

Ahhh, 3rd person shooters. Where would we be without ‘em? Since Shinji Mikami (yep, him again) reinvented the action-horror genre with the horrifyingly brilliant Resident Evil 4 in 2004, it seems that the genre hasn’t progressed a lot since Leon Kennedy’s foray into Europe. With the now-familiar ‘over the shoulder’ view that crams the protagonist into the foreground, TPS games have doggedly stuck to a tried-and-true formula – with perhaps the most famous recent games being Microsoft’s Gears of War series. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Suda 51 certainly didn’t with Shadows of the Damned.

But for one man, this wasn’t good enough. In 2010, shooting-action received a major kick up the ass with Vanquish – an unreal, lightning fast, bullet-ridden venture that was like the mental lovechild of Dragon Ball Z and Halo. And we have Shinji Mikami to thank for this sublime piece of software – a piece of software that was made by Platinum Games.

And if Platinum Games made it, then you know it’s good.

Set in the near future where the Americans have ventured into the ‘O’ Neil Cylinder’ – a solar-powered space station that acts as a reprieve from the over-populated and polluted planet known as ‘Earth’ – Vanquish begins when an evil terrorist group known as the ‘Order of the Russian Star’ hijacks the tube-shaped wonder city, before blasting San Francisco off the map with a super sun laser. Playing as nicotine-loving DARPA researcher Sam Gideon, your main ace in the hole is the ‘Augmented Reaction Suit’ (ARS), an awesome piece of armour that allows the magic to happen. Basically, This all boils down to Sam and a bunch of other soldiers being sent to the O’ Neil Cylinder to shoot a whole bunch of Ruskie robots (no human enemies here), whilst shouting obscenities and flipping all over the place. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

To put it bluntly, Vanquish makes every other 3rd person shooter look positively archaic in comparison. The fact that it hasn’t been copied since either speaks a lot about the timidity of other developers – or the sheer brilliance of Platinum’s coders. Probably a bit of both. I know I would be terrified if I ever tried to emulate the sheer intensity on offer here.

Right, so think of a TPS game. Okay? Got it. Now, imagine if your character has had a jetpack strapped to his back and his feet, which allows him to perform backflips, cartwheels, and floor-slides. Because that’s what Sam Gideon does. Not only that, but you can still fire your weapon while doing all of this, which gives a whole new layer to the gameplay. In order to stop players spamming Sam’s acrobatics, his suit’s power can easily overheat, adding a risk/reward dynamic that adds a tinge of strategy to the proceedings. At first, this system is quite complicated, and you’ll probably find yourself dying more often than you’d like. However, if you stick with it, a rewarding piece of software will eventually rear its head – one that really flaunts its intricate system. The fact that Sam doesn’t accrue items or skills at all during the (fairly short) campaign really speaks volumes of the talent of Mikami’s motley crew. The only way he gets better is if you get better.

When everything eventually clicks, there’s a sense of nirvana that very few games can achieve. Find Vanquish. Buy Vanquish. And master Vanquish. And cross your fingers that a sequel may rear its beautiful head one day…

 

Ōkami

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Format: PS2, Wii, PS3

Developer: Clover Studios/Ready at Dawn/HexaDrive

Publisher: Capcom/Activision

Release: 2006 (PS2), 2008 (Wii), 2012 (PS3)

In case you hadn’t realised, the common theme of this feature is about ‘failure’.

Not in terms of quality, but in terms of sales. I mean sure, underperforming games can still make a profit if they’re lucky – but to see such wonderful, original pieces of (dare I say it) art fall by the wayside can be an upsetting experience. Do you, dear reader, must have a beloved game that was misunderstood?

Well, imagine if you love Ōkami – like many people do – only to see it fail over and over again.

Whether it’s the original PS2 release, the 2008 Wii-make, or even the DS sequel Ōkamiden, it seems that those of us who covet the sun goddess Amaterasu are doomed to watch in agony as the masses relentlessly throw money at Call of Dutys and Assassin’s Creeds of this world. Heck, Capcom seems to think this way too. Why else would they continuously re-release it? Why else would they put the game’s eponymous white wolf in bloody Marvel vs. Capcom 3?

For those of you reading this who still haven’t played this gorgeous, ephemeral game, I’m gonna paraphrase Total Recall (the good one), and demand that you get your ass to PSN, and immediately download Ōkami. You’ll even get to dust-off that neglected PS Move.

Why? Because Ōkami is a living watercolour painting – and your controller is the paintbrush.

Almost out-Zeldaing Zelda, Ōkami is an epic (and I mean epic) adventure set within the world of Nippon – a fantastical Japan, basically. After a creeping darkness threatens to envelope the verdant country in a vile blackness, a tree spirit named Sakuya calls forth Amaterasu (the titular sun goddess) in a last-hope bid in ridding Nippon of the evil menace. This is where you come in. Wielding the ‘Celestial Paintbrush’, Ammy (as she’s fondly dubbed by her feisty, flea-sized friend named Issun) can literally paint onto reality itself.

A horizontal dash of ink will ‘cut’ enemies and obstacles in half. Drawing a circle in the sky will create a sun that will give warming light. A circle on dead plants will bring them (and the surrounding areas) back to life. Dotting the screen will send seeds forth, before sprouting and damaging demons. A circle with a small line through it will materialise a bomb. There are so many of these powers to be gained throughout the story, and it’s brilliant how the developers make the world your playground.

And what a world it is. Much like Xenoblade, you’ll find yourself incredulous in thinking that this game ever ran on such ‘weak’ hardware. Grassy fields, towns, cities, beaches, temples, mountains, oceans, swamps, ghost ships… And all of it coated in the splendid ‘sumi-e’ Japanese style that makes this title look utterly unlike any other.

There’s so much more I want to say about Ōkami, but to do so would spoil the surprises. The story is warm, emotional and sometimes very funny, with fabulous characters that – again – wouldn’t be out of place in a Zelda game. And when it finally ends, you’ll thank Capcom for never letting it die.

When God Closes A Door…

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Hey folks!

It’s been a bittersweet last couple of weeks. The Australia Times – a network of e-magazines that covered a whole range of topics – has closed its doors for good. As a contributor and editor of the TAT Games publication for nearly four years, it was certainly an eye-opening series of events. This was the first major outlet I worked for that suffered a closure, and a wide range of feelings washed over me.

Guilt. Should I have done more to market and improve the magazine? Over my tenure, I put forward quite a few ideas to help spice things up – but nothing came of it. I don’t blame anyone in particular – indeed, everyone I worked for were supremely excellent and hard-working folks…

Frustration. Oftentimes I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. I don’t know what the grand plans for the brand were, but it always felt like TAT was stuck somewhere in time, without a finger on the industry pulse. As sucks as it is to admit, the vast majority of the audience don’t want to ‘read’. They want to absorb info as quick and as easy as possible – and the magazine-based approach is very much a niche market in today’s world. It certainly didn’t help matters that TAT’s website needed readers to register in order to even see the content… in terms of user-friendliness, The Australia Times was – quite frankly – woeful in execution.

Relief. Finally, I felt like I could let go of the concerns after the closure was announced. I now have extra time for creative writing, as well as focusing my gaming-related energies to GSR. Don’t get me wrong – I’m eternally thankful for the opportunities TAT Games has given me; not only to flex my writing muscles, but to also gain valuable skills like team management, idea-generation, editing and communicating with companies. Skills that have transferred supremely to GSR. I’ll always be appreciative of that.

It’s stuff I’ve been thinking about more and more, especially now that my 29th birthday has just come and gone. Instead of being stressful about things I haven’t done with my life, I’m actually finding myself getting more mellow – especially now that I’ve made some lifestyle choices that have evoked more positivity (more on that in a later blog). That’s not to say I’m becoming complacent or unambitious; but rather, I think I’m learning to de-emphasise trivial concerns that have caused so much unwarranted anxiety regarding my professional and personal life – as well as coming to the slow realisation that life is far simpler than we make it out to be.

But more on that some other time! Now that The Australia Times will soon be going offline, I decided that my hard work can’t disappear – so with that said, I hope you enjoy my gaming archives that will soon be added to the site!

Have a good one,

 

– Kris

The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass – Prologue!

Hey all! If you’re still on the fence about purchasing my book – then let me gift you with a free look at the prologue of The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass!

Enjoy!

PROLOGUE

book-cover

 

Step by confused step, he slowly made his way through the dense underbrush of the forest. He didn’t know where he was, or even who he was. It seemed like years ago when he woke, but in truth, it had only been a few hours. The man had arisen from what seemed like an eternity of nightmares and untold horror – none of which he could remember. Much like his own identity.

As he slowly entered the world of reality, he felt an immense pain on his right cheek, as if someone had sliced him open with cold steel. This was odd, considering the fact that there was a mysterious sword lying right next to him, gleaming brilliantly in the morning sun. It had a dark lime handle with auburn ends, and a solid gold finger guard that was encrusted with a magnificent blue stone.

This weapon left the perplexed man awestruck, and when he absent-mindedly reached for the handle – and clasped it – he felt a surge of power that replaced his cheek pain with an even greater hurt. He tried desperately to let go, but the sword would not allow it. It wanted the grief-stricken person a taste of true power, and true consequence.

Suddenly the pain stopped, just as quickly as it began. Gasping, he released the sword gradually as pain seared its way through the rest of his body. Foe some inexplicable reason, however, he felt refreshed – like shedding an old skin.

He felt incredible. Reborn.

Clasping his chest to feel his madly beating heart, the breathless man noticed that he had another mysterious item – a necklace – a square shaped, emerald coloured necklace. It had a simple, peculiar design, and one finely engraved word; ‘Kwennsefulass’.

Kwennsefulass!

It was a word strangely familiar to him. Pondering all of this, the man continued to trudge through the forest, not knowing why. Maybe he was looking for help? Maybe some place to die? Either way, he was determined to go on.

About an hour later, the fatigued man heard the song of water – a bubbling stream. Rushing to it, he proceeded to take mad slurps, and wash away the grime. It was then he finally caught a glimpse of himself.

He stared into the pool and saw two brown eyes look intently back at him. He had a thick, black head of hair – almost to the point of shagginess. His body was well built and he possessed a pale complexion. Nothing, however, could have prepared him for what he saw on his bothersome right cheek; an immense scar that began at the corner of his eye near his nose, and extended slantwise right down to his jaw. Terrified, the man felt his cheek to make saw it wasn’t a dream.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

He considered the possibility that the pain he had felt previously was inflicted by a real dagger, and not an ephemeral one. Now he was even more baffled. Standing up, he continued on. Hours later, he trudged miserably. His stomach was growling in protest, adding hunger to the pile of negative feelings he continually suffered. His gut felt like an empty cave, just waiting to be filled up with valuable food. He tried to distract himself from his appetite by examining his necklace. That didn’t last long, for suddenly, the trees that had surrounded him vanished. He was finally out of the blackness of the forest, and overlooking an incredible piece of scenery.

< . >

In the distance was a small town, barely alive with human activity. Further away was the most amazing thing the man had ever seen; a colossal stretch of water as far as the eye can see. Dotted along its edge were small boats and ships docking into the settlement after a hard day’s work, for two suns – one white and the other red – slowly sunk into the horizon with a mute blazing glory. There was something undeniably spiritual about it, and this made the man very relaxed. He’d heard the name of this water before…

The sea!

Yes! Yes, that was it! Hoping for some answers and a place to rest his weary feet, the man headed for the town.

As he got tantalisingly closer, the townsfolk gradually noticed his arrival and wondered where on earth he had come from. This was most certainly a change in the daily routine of fishing and shipping cargo! A strange man in ragged cloths seemingly appearing out of nowhere was coming towards them and, not knowing what to do; some of the people simply went indoors to avoid him. Parents called their kids in, and shopkeepers packed up and left their stalls, leaving the main road deserted.

As the stranger wandered dazedly through the town with a pleading look in his eyes, he was stopped in his tracks by a gruff looking fisherman with a large grey moustache and a bandanna.

“’Ello, and what can we do fer ya?” he grunted in greeting.

Finally speaking to another person, the man cleared his dry throat, “I… I don’t know…”

Eyeing this new arrival suspiciously, the burly man tried again. “Err, okay. Do ya need any help? What ‘bout some information? Ya lost? Huh? Huh?”

Groaning in pain and confusion, the outsider tried asking a question. “Where am I? How did I get her?”

Clearly unprepared for such a response, and realising that this ragged man needed some serious help, the fisher gave up. “Look buddy; try the inn at the end of the town. That’s info central down there, that is.” He pointed toward the ocean. “Ya can’t miss it.”

Nodding in understanding, the new arrival shuffled off.

“Hey buddy!” The fisherman called quickly, “What’s ya name?”

Turning, the man replied, “I wish I knew.” With that, he walked off again.

Watching him slowly recede in the distance, the fisherman gave a sigh and went home. “This is gonna get interestin’” he muttered.

The inn was called the Queezy Fennick.

Odd, the man thought.

Out the front of the building was a quaint little fountain surrounded by an earth covered in small pebbles that led straight to the front doors. In the sunset they were illuminated into a fiery orange. Inside, the man heard music, conversations, laughter, and the occasional glass breaking. He breathed deeply and went in. Inside, he almost gagged on the smoke. Surely they can open a window? He thought to himself. Wiping his face, he proceeded to the counter for questions. He waited until he was served by a middle-aged man, probably the owner.

“Welcome to the Queezy Fen—”

The server stopped mid-sentence when he saw the man’s scar and torn cloths.

“Good God!” His eyes bulged in shock, “What the hellaroony happened to you?” He then snapped his large fingers, “Jeleenn! I need you for a moment!” He shouted.

At that moment a girl, who was probably seventeen or eighteen, with a slightly tanned complexion, long brunette hair, and striking sea green eyes, came bustling out the door. She carried a tray of mugs.

“Yes Dad? What is it?” she answered.

“Help me with this bloke. He looks half dead!” the owner observed none-too subtly.

The other customers, becoming aware of the commotion, began staring at the new arrival.

“Are you hurt? Have you been in a fight?” asked the girl known as Jeleenn. She nodded to the man’s sword.

“Um, well…” stammered the man.

“What’s your name?” interrupted her father.

All these questions! The man was tired of questions? He finally exploded.

“I’m fine dammit!” he cursed. Silence filled the inn.

Taking charge, he finally decided to answer a question, rather than ask one.

“I… I think my name is Kwennsefulass.”

New Website, New Challenges

Well, hi there! Didn’t expect to see you ’round here!

For those of you who’ve wandered in from the cold, and are wondering just where the heck you are – allow me to introduce myself!

My name is Kris Godwin, and this is my quaint little website. I’m a novelist, with one book already out there in the wild, and a second one on the way.

That book is The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass, a fantasy tale that you can buy on Kindle and Kobo – so, please go and buy it! Now!

I’m also a videogame writer, and a Content Director for Game Shark Reviews, an awesome gaming site that is getting bigger and better every day!

Things are a little bare at the moment, as you can see. This is mostly due to a combination of technical incompetence (I ain’t a computer guy – as you can tell from my usage of the word computer), and personal issues that have placed numerous roadblocks in my journey to authordom.

Still, I’m excited for this new beginning. I have a few creative projects planned, and I’ll be using this blog to post everything – from current happenings, to in-progress/concept art, and even the occasional crazy, insomnia-fueled ramble.

Thanks for reading this brief introduction, and check out my links for more information!

Have a swell day.

– Kris.