Authors Posts by Ryan

Ryan

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is the de facto editor and mastermind here at 30lives. He is also unbelievably bad at self-introductions. :sadcam

Our search for scraps about the upcoming next-gen consoles takes us to beautiful Cologne, Germany where Gamescom—Europe’s largest videogame trade show—just kicked off, with two huge press briefers from both Microsoft and Sony. Here are some of the highlights in palatable, bullet-pointed chunks:

  • Microsoft had first dibs on the conference floor, so they came out strong out the gates by announcing a few neat-o exclusives: Peggle 2 being the biggest timed exclusive (why, Microsoft — I wanted to have this on my iPad like, yesterday), Fable Legends (fool me once…), a new game by Minecraft’s Mojang called Cobalt, and Ubisoft’s fairly interesting Kinect brawler called Fighter Within.
  • Speaking of which, Microsoft’s Xbox One launch lineup appears to be fairly stacked:
    • Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag (Ubisoft, Ubisoft)
    • Battlefield 4 (DICE, Electronic Arts)
    • Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward, Activision)
    • Crimson Dragon (Grounding/Land Ho!, Microsoft Studios)
    • Dead Rising 3 (Capcom Vancouver, Microsoft)
    • FIFA 14 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
    • Fighter Within (AMA Ltd., Ubisoft)
    • Forza Motorsport 5 (Turn 10 Studios, Microsoft Studios)
    • Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft)
    • Killer Instinct (Double Helix, Microsoft Studios)
    • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games, Warner Bros. Interactive)
    • Lococycle (Twisted Pixel, Microsoft Studios)
    • Madden NFL 25 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
    • NBA 2K14 (Visual Concepts, 2K Sports)
    • NBA LIVE 14 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
    • Need for Speed: Rivals (Ghost Games, Electronic Arts)
    • Peggle 2 (Popcap, Electronic Arts)
    • Powerstar Golf (Zoe Mode, Microsoft Studios)
    • Ryse: Son of Rome (Crytek, Microsoft Studios)
    • Skylanders: Swap Force (Vicarious Visions, Activision)
    • Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft)
    • Zoo Tycoon (Frontier Developments Ltd., Microsoft Studios)
    • Zumba Fitness: World Party (Zoë Mode, Majesco)
  • After completely alienating indie developers during the tail end of the Xbox 360’s lifespan, MS is attempting to woo them back with their new self-publishing program, which nets independent developers two free devkits with full access to the Xbox One’s SDK… The best part? No fees (heads up, IGDA Manila).
  • Europe has been a traditionally pro-Sony battleground, so Microsoft’s interesting decision to pack FIFA ’14 in with every Xbox One should turn more than a few heads in that region.
  • And in Sonytown, as we’ve mentioned earlier on our Facebook page, the magic launch date for the PlayStation 4 will be on the 15th of November in North American shores (or our Frankenstein grey-market not-really region).
  • Sony’s finally doing something with the Vita it seems, as they’ve officially slashed the price of the criminally-underutilized console to $199, with promises of “significant” price drops to its ludicrously-expensive memory cards. Now show us some 64GB cards Sony. Borderlands 2 will make a late debut on the handheld (cool, I guess) and indie darlings Fez, Starbound and Velocity X will be making their PSN debuts as well.
  • “Indie darlings” were definitely a huge part of the PlayStation summit: Minecraft (why is this still a big deal?) will be a PS4 launch title, War Thunder, Murasaki Baby, Housemarque, and Hotline Miami 2 will be making their way to Sony-branded boxes near you.
  • Sony also announced a new 12GB version of the PlayStation 3 priced at $199. If you buy this, we will laugh at you.
  • Still showing some legs on its now-depreciated console, Sony also announced Gran Turismo 6 for the 6th of December.
  • Rime was the big surprise of the show: think Ico meets Wind Waker. “If they won’t release Trico, we’ll do it ourselves, dammit!”

Haven’t caught any news for you Nintendo fans yet, but let’s be real: were you really expecting anything?

If you haven’t been up on your forum history (read: you are lucky enough to have a life outside the Internet), you may not be familiar with NeoGAF user “crazy buttocks on a train” and his bold, accurate predictions on everything next-gen over the past couple of months. Affectionately dubbed “CBOAT” by the forum populace, the rarely-active account has apparently been used in the past to “leak” information in the past, with a very high accuracy rate on his predicitions.

His latest cryptic post confirms what quite a few retail employees have been leaking on various spaces of the internet over the past couple of weeks: that the PlayStation 4’s launch will happen late-October (some have October 25th pegged down as the magic date). And being the generous leaker and so-called Microsoft insider that he is, he’s also spilled some juicy bits about the Xbox One’s own imminent launch, which we’re definitely branding as rumors for now.

Right below is a “translated” version of the original, borderline-unintelligible post.

Greetings from the land of beer and bratwurst and weird porn! Got here a little while ago and tired so I’m dropping this early. Then bed, then visiting some churches and friends, then work meetings stuff and then I’ll see how the game floor is later on this week.

TRUTHFACT 1:

No live stream for real reasons. Xbone architecture is still not full complete. The latest version of the SDK from a couple weeks ago dropped performances by 15-20 percent across the board. Now before you get mad at me this happens ALL THE TIME in console development and it will eventually be fixed but there’s no chance for an early October release or…

TRUTHFACT 2:

… certainly not for all 21 countries. Localization is absolute one hundred percent BS. TRUTHFACT. The excuses are some that nobody with common sense would consider. Look at the countries dropped. Cross references them against the languages being spoken [in them], official or otherwise in said countries. I said it yielded issues 2 months ago and the chicks have come home to roost. [something something Smartglass] Paying the price now.

TRUTHFACT 3:

Late October launch for PS4. Sony SDKs are ready. You could basically master your final version right now. Today, even!

TRUTHFACT 4:

If you thought people were mad about Bayonetta’s sequel going to WiiU you will be someone unhappy about what Microsoft is getting exclusively from Platinum. Other Japanese developers are in play but too, but Kamiya is the only one I can confirm. The game is not for North America or Europe, which makes no sense but whatever.

TRUTHFACT 5:

Big Park(?) killed their game. It was a MOBA. It’s dead. The whole studio is now focused on TV stuff. All the bes talent went to Big Tusk(?) or left MS entirely. Rare is still Kinect focused.

TRUTHFACT 6: New indie publishing policy is not set yet and probably won’t be until after launch.

TRUTHFACT 7:

September surprise early. I apologize in advance. Everything I saw over last 24 months said there was no chance of a kinectless SKU [to start]. Concrete decision up till now. However,

There are whispers that there will be a kinect optional SKU early next year, probably around March or April. There’s enough smoke around this that I didn’t want to wait until September to say it! We’ll have to wait for launch sales to see for sure.

ASS STORM INCOMING.

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During relaxing vacations (those exist?) far and away from the country’s iron-handed communist grip, enterprising North Korean visitors to the isle of Rungnado can now experience what it feels to be an arcade rat. New photos released by the secretive state reveal that they’ve opened a new arcade for visitors of the vacation “paradise” to enjoy, which seems to be stocked with modern Japanese machines; a far cry from the Iron Curtain hand-me-downs we’ve seen a few years ago.

Scoff if you might, but at least they’re playing real games, and not the flavor-of-the-month chatroom MMORPGs their brothers in the South are wasting their lives with. Best Korea, confirmed.

Additional material worth reading is Hardcore Gaming 101’s short look at North Korean gaming.

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So let’s get this straight: the first two Ys games have been chopped up, ported, remade (or re-remade, in this case) more times than I’d care to count over its twenty-four years of existence. What has Chronicles going for it, then? Absolutely nothing, to be blunt. Chronicles won’t impress the uninitiated, quell the fears of people who’ve dabbled with and hated the series, nor give hardened vets anything substantial to chew on. Taken at face value, however, it is a wonderful package: a well-done re-issue of one of the first and greatest action-RPGs.

Ys Chronicles

The plot remains the same: strapping young lad Adol Christin ventures forth in the land of Esteria to discover the books of Ys, containing the history of a vanished kingdom called Ys, which (spoilers!) he actually gets to explore in the second game. What makes Ys special is its brisk, simplistic, yet elegant combat model. Run into enemies, rinse and repeat: the “bump system” doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Ys Chronicles (1)Another thing that defines Ys is its wonderful soundtrack, composed by industry legend Yuzo Koshiro. As expected, Chronicles’ OST is nothing short of incredible. Falcom has thoughtfully included the option to play through the game with either the original PC-88 chiptunes, fully-redone tracks from the (original) 2001 Windows version this game is based off, or wonderfully-arranged tracks first found on Chronicles’ PSP release (which, um, was a remake of an older PC version of the same remake. Confused yet?).

The spritework in Ys is crisp, colorful, and—most importantly—faithful to the source material. I’m really impressed by the spritework—everyone from tiny NPCs down to the humungous bosses is detailed intricately, and everything scales up pretty well even blown up full-screen on my 24″ monitor. The hand-painted backdrops look marvelous as well, and for once the faint polygonal and particle effects enhance rather than detract from the experience (see: Ducktales Remastered, which I’ll have a review on later this week).

Again, I realize this series isn’t for everyone, and anyone who remotely enjoys Ys has already played one of the billion I&II ports out there. But hell, anything Ys-related is worth a look (or two) in my book, and this new Steam version seems to be the easiest entry point for anyone interested in looking into the long-running series.

Ys Chronicles (1)

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Perhaps I’m being incredibly obtuse, or expecting too much from a project that has nothing yet to show for itself but a fancy Kickstarter page, but absolutely nothing about “Japan’s Indie RPG”, Project Phoenix excites me. I see it as yet another platform for sly industry vets to namedrop and ride on their past achievements to fund an otherwise-unremarkable project on very suspect terms. Indeed, it follows very closely the standard M.O. of successful Kickstarter ventures: putting forth very successful faces behind proposals that consist of  nothing but promises and very vague handwaving. Quite frankly, I’ve been burnt far too many times on Kickstarter projects, and this particular one just raises the “bullshit” flag.

Let’s start with the game’s premise and promise, as presented through the Kickstarter page’s introductory video. Most KS users fail to understand their role in backing a project: most expect their contribution to be a “pre-order” or a guarantee for a finished product, when in reality they are looking at their financial contribution the wrong way. When I back a Kickstarter project, I consider myself an investor, rather than a consumer. I back projects because I believe in the project’s message and its people. Yet nothing in their presentation nor their “project plan” (aka the squiggles that go below the video) convinces me that Project Phoenix has anything of merit that I would personally feel comfortable backing, whether it’s for the cause of their lofty promise of “reviving” the JRPG genre, or the actual, finished product.

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Can’t take away the fact that this is some badass art, however.

Project Phoenix is a sprawling adventure in which you explore a vast, rich land and do battle against formidable enemies. The gameplay eschews micromanagement in favour of a focused Real Time Strategy system enhanced by JRPG elements. You can level your characters and teach them new abilities but at the same time they behave intelligently when you are not controlling them directly.

I’m sorry, but even the game’s main sell sheet sounds incredibly condescending to me, and essentially masks the fact that they are creating what appears to be a MOBA. This is all speculation and conjecture, of course; but let’s call a spade a spade. At this point I’m guessing that this is a DotA clone with excellent concept art and potentially okay music (more on that later). Personal tastes are subjective, so it’s difficult to get excited over a game produced in a genre that I have zero interest in.

Alas, that’s one of the inherent problems in gaming fandom: the influence of name-dropping goes a long way, and nostalgia trumps reality. On paper, I suppose the “cast,” as it were, sounds solid: the project’s game designer worked on LA Noire (I’m one of those nutlords that actually enjoyed that game), its art director tangentially worked on Final Fantasy, and they hired a 3D modeler that worked on Halo and Crysis. In execution, I wholeheartedly wish this team luck: that’s quite an eclectic mix of tastes, and just seems to be a project manager’s worst nightmare. And for anyone expecting Nobuo Uematsu to churn out another classic OST  — have you listened to anything the man has produced in the past few years? Dude’s there to collect a paycheck, and be a bulletpoint on the game’s sell page.

I hope our readers out there understand my apprehensions about Project Phoenix. I’m sure it has something of interest going for it, but upon further inspection, I could not find a single thing about the game that’s sold me on it… yet. Please sell me on this game! I really want to understand why people are hyped for an (iPhone-targeted) RTS that’s supposed to “revive” Japanese RPGs.

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rubs Rubs, Editor-in-Chief —Still trying to put some serious time into Shin Megami Tensei IV, which I think will be the only current-gen RPG I’ll be playing for the next couple weeks. The new Mario & Luigi game was released today, but given that I’ve hardly scratched the surface of SMTIV and I’ve got Tales of Xillia to worry about, it’s safe to say that I won’t be touching that game in the near-future.

Weekend tech project: My niece’s birthday is coming up next month, and since she fell in love with my SNES, instead of having to loan her my carts all the time, I decided to build her a Raspberry Pi setup with RetroPIE and pair it up with one of those USB SNES pads. I wasn’t going to half-ass it either, so I spent the better part of the weekend drawing up a model of what I’d like the box to look like, which I’m going to have 3D printed pretty soon.

 

cheenaCheena, Managing Editor— I was finally able to finish a bunch of play throughs for Shin Megami Tensei IV so that is a good thing, I guess. I can finally shelve the game for the meantime and give some loving to my current backlogs. I will come back to it in a few month’s time when they release DLCs or whatever new content though, for sure.

What’s eating my time now is Dragon’s Crown. I’ve played it on local multiplayer with the husband as a sorceress (and him as a fighter). Nothing beats good ‘ol arcade side scrolling action games for co-op! I’ve had lots of fun with it and hopefully I can finish the Sorc campaign by the end of the week and start with a higher difficulty soon.

I’m also looking forward to the PS Vita sales this month and will be adding a few more games to my backlog roster, namely Muramasa Rebirth and New King’s Story.

 

shinShin, News Editor— I don’t think I’d be able to play anything else until I get the platinum trophy on Dragon’s Crown. Seriously , this game is wreaking havoc on my playing schedule. I played nothing else this weekend — I have even neglected my Animal Crossing: New Leaf town. Yikes!

I was playing the PS3 version before release and last week I bought the PS Vita version so I can transfer my save and play it on the go. And because of that functionality at my fingertips, I have clocked in 64 hours on my main so far (I use the Elf) and now trying to beat the ancient dragon on Infernal Difficulty as I write this. I have noticed that It’s easier to play online on the PS3 than on the Vita version. I have to go through a stupid string of errors before I will be able to connect to a random play session on the handheld but on the PS3 it’s pretty much one click. So I use the Vita for single-player on-the-go grinding then transfer to the PS3 when I’m home.

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alexAlex, Reviews Editor and of Things— I’ve been a busy gaming bee for the last two weeks. From reviewing Killer is Dead to unlocking the insane difficulty in Dragon’s Crown and then an unprecedented move coming from someone who never finished a single Tales (Tales of Destiny and Tales of the Abyss were the only ones I’ve played) game in my life, I’ve decided to play and finish Tales of Xillia as my next review because I’ve been hearing some good things about it. So far, all I can say is its shaping up on the gameplay side while the female protagonist, Milla Maxwell could have been taken more seriously from the get go by non-Tales fan if they didn’t go down the usual moe-moe anime character bullshit. It also doesn’t help the actual voice of the character (both in English and Japanese) to become believable dressed up like… I don’t know, an anime fantasy stripper I guess. 

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As if Ouya wasn’t in enough trouble. According to a rumor blip we found via GameInformer, it appears that the online retail giant has ambitions of invading the home console/set-top space by the end of this year by releasing their own, Amazon-branded Android console which we’re guessing will be in the same family as its wildly successful Kindle Fire line of Android-based tablets. GameInformer claims that they have sources close to the project, spilling some details about the console leveraging its current “App Store” offerings.

Though the Ouya has been our perpetual whipping-boy ever since its release a few months ago (and for good reason), I still feel that the set-top box space is both oversaturated and untapped. In between the myriad of offerings from different manufacturers out there, there hasn’t been a solid box that “does it all.” Google TV—with its cable box integration/overlays and HDMI passthrough design—comes the closest, but fails by not allowing publishers on the platform to use the NDK on Google TV apps (which I believe they are rectifying), which kills the potential for more complex apps and games. Roku and Apple TV’s closed implementations are dead-ends, with neither manufacturer willing to open up their boxes for third-party apps.

I would buy a decently-equipped, quad-core Amazon box in a heartbeat. I’m already well-invested in the Amazon ecosystem, and unlike Ouya’s shaky, rocky, half-arsed marketplace, I at least know that Amazon will do a good job curating and giving incentives to developers to target their future platform.

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Are you an Android device owner, wistfully staring in disbelief over the amount of good games your iPhone-playing superiors have been enjoying all this time? Then fear not, dirtperson—it is your time to shine, as you can now stick it to the dirty Apple-owning hipsters that at least you can play Mario Kart DS on your phone. Stalwart emulator dev Exophase has released DraStic, an incredibly-optimized emulator that appears to run full-speed on fairly modern hardware.

For science, I purchased the app and tried it out on my previous-gen Nexus 7. I must say, whatever voodoo Exophase has done to optimize this app must work wonders, as I’ve never expected to see full-speed DS emulation (or a close approximation thereof) on Android devices. I threw in Mario Kart, Pokemon Soul Silver and Ouendan on the thing and apart from the fact that the screen scaling works a little funky, the app actually does a really good job. Understandably, the performance is a little sub-par on my Xperia Play, but that is understandable.

DraStic can be downloaded for $7.99 on the Play Store.

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Pretty soon, the Vita won’t be the only handheld where you play as women with grotesque body proportions. Equal-opportunity achievers XSEED will soon grace Nintendo 3DS owners everywhere with the presence of a popular Japanese title known as Senran Kagura Burst. Based on an anime/manga of which I have no knowledge about (one which I’m assuming admittance to possession/viewing would probably land me on an FBI/NSA joint watchlist), all I know is the game and its separate Vita companion title burned up the charts in Japan when they were released.

Senran Kagura Burst is set in an academy which serves as a front for an underground school where female students are secretly trained in the art of ninjutsu. Consisting of two separate storylines, Skirting Shadows introduces players to the “good shinobi” of Hanzō Academy while its counterpart, Crimson Girls, turns the tables to tell the same tale from the rival Hebijo Academy’s point of view.

Players assume control of the five primary female characters in each academy who aspire to become full-fledged shinobi. Within the “Ninja Room” hub located in each academy, character interactions reveal the thoughts and feelings of the students before and after each game mission. Novel-style story scenes then precede other missions, offering a deeper look into the world of Senran Kagura. The drama of the battle adventure unfolds as players complete combat assignments for each of the main characters, including retrieval missions, multi-character battles and epic boss fights. During combat, damage to the girls is revealed through the gradual destruction and removal of their shinobi outfits.  The original Japanese voice-overs have been left intact and will be accompanied by English subtitles.

Literally the game’s only hook is that the chesty protagonists’ clothes get continuously-damaged (which I’m going to coin an industry term for: RapeRipped(TM)) as battles get more and more intense. You do get two games in one—an up-port of the original Senran Kagura and a direct sequel built from the ground up, SK Burst—so it’s a pretty good deal, potential embarrassment notwithstanding.

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Let’s just get this out of the way: six years later, I’m still reeling at all the undeserved hype Killzone 2 received before its release. It was, after all, a tremendously overhyped piece of software that failed to meet the meteoric expectations of the Internet audience that proclaimed it as the PlayStation 3’s “savior,” in their minds the first of what would be a flood of excellent, AAA-level titles that would finally redeem their collective purchases.

At the end of the day, it was one of those titles that I would classify as “hindsight games;” an exclusive club that includes Metal Gear Solid 4, GTA IV, and every game Peter Molyneaux ever made. Years ago, while writing for a(n un)popular local gaming magazine, I received some very seething hate letters for giving that game a less-than-perfect score. I still think a 4/5 was way too high of a score for this over-engineered, garden-variety shooter; and that reality sank in once the hype waned and the wow-factor of the visuals settled down.

Killzone Mercenary (2)

Petty histrionics aside, I am actually moderately hyped for Killzone Mercenary. Why not? I love the Vita and would like to see it thrive; and starved as I am for games we’re finally seeing some real effort coming from Sony’s first-party studios.

If you haven’t followed the Killzone saga yet—how dare you, by the way—you’ll need to know is that it’s a series of sci-fi shooters set in a desolate, war-torn future contended between the I.S.A. (the good guys at the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance) and the antagonistic Helghast, an evil mutated race drawing parallels in imagery, clothing and symbolism to the Nazis. It’s pretty much Space Marines vs. Space Nazis, but with a lot more bromance—at least in the first two games—courtesy of main dude Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko and his plucky group of rogue squadmates.

Killzone Mercenary eschews the bro-tastic storyline and takes place right after the events of the first game. The storyline is a lot straightforward: you are Arran Danner, a mercenary hired to take part in various tasks which tie in to mission-specific elements. It appears Guerilla Games are placing a much more stiffer emphasis on the games’ multiplayer mode this time around, as the campaign sequences seem to serve as a shuttling point for the players to gain equipment and weapon upgrades for multiplayer games.

Killzone Mercenary (1)

One thing I’ll give Killzone Mercenary: it’s setting a high watermark for handheld graphics. Granted, most of these were achieved through the magic of copious post-processing effects but I’ll be darned if my inner cynic didn’t clam up during most of the demo’s scripted moments. Obviously the Vita’s graphics are a little more scaled-down compared to its console siblings, but this edition of the game still marches on the same path of technical majesty that the series set.

The recently-released beta gave players access to the Deathmatch and Warzone (cooperative multiplayer with goals) modes. Unlike the PlayStation 3 experience of hearing nothing during multiplayer games, Vita players are pretty chatty thanks to the handheld actually having a microphone; and if you happen to have some players on your friends list on the same team, you can launch a party chat straight from the menu, which was a pretty nice UI hook.

Killzone Mercenary (3)

In its move to the handheld format, I was a little worried that KZM would lose some control points in the translation. My fears were immediately alleviated as soon as I loaded up the first match I was able to play. Not even considering the fact that its on a handheld, the controls feel tight and precise. I accidentally left gyroscopic aim-assist on, and instead of being a hindrance like in most Vita games, it actually subtly helps you.

Make no mistake: unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, this game is no quick-and-dirty cash in or a third-world handheld port. It’s a legitimate addition to a very successful series, and the work and artistry Guerilla Games has put in building this game shows. If you’re a Vita owner, Killzone Mercenary is looking more and more like a no-brainer the more we play it.

Killzone Mercenary (5)

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So, were any of you legitimately looking forward to Final Fantasy VII: The Web Series? Yes? Good, because Square Enix C&D’ed it and we don’t have to hear any more about this awful project anymore. For the uninitiated, the Kickstarter was aiming to raise a lofty $400,000 essentially to take a giant dump on Square Enix’ intellectual property, and the company rightfully and understandably asked Kickstarter to shut it down. Signing their final update as ‘President Shinra,’ the series creators noted “[they’re] in the process of opening up discussions with the team regarding the ongoing status of our project and hopefully the continuation of our Kickstarter campaign.”

I hold no sense of nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII, so I’m neither happy nor enraged at this piece of news. What does tickle my skittle however is Schadenfreude, which can be found on the campaign creators’ Facebook page. Because, um… yes, it makes total sense: Square Enix taking down your project from Kickstarter means that they will fund your vanity project.

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Well this is kind of a nice surprise. Although perfectly playable in its original Japanese format, it appears that a fan translation group has released a patch translating all of the text and lyrics to the Rhythm Tengoku, Nintendo’s late GBA entry that served as the precursor to the Rhythm Heaven games that actually made it across the pond. Best experienced with the Game Boy Micro hardware it almost launched with, the series has been fairly consistent across the years but I consider this first game as the best.

Romhacking.net has the patch hosted, if you know what you’re getting into, although I’m still debating whether or not to replay the game in English myself. There’s something inherently… wrong in seeing “Don-don-pan-pan” translated in a more-discernible language. Half of the game’s charm for me came from not being able to understand Japanese at all; and as I learned a little bit of the language later on in life, appreciating the subtle puns and onomatopoeia of the game’s lyrics. Even Treehouse’s best efforts to carry those over in the later English releases have fallen flat for me, personally.

I’m really enjoying this generation’s coin-op remake revival craze. Thanks to the myriad of digital download services out there, I’m able to eat up both retro and newly-made games with the same sensibilities that may not necessarily survive a full, $60 retail release. And for the most part, these revamped coin-op games typically have an extra layer of polish such as improved assets, polished interfaces, or robust online modes.

Dragon’s Crown is possibly the first Vanillaware game I’ve ever played that didn’t manage to wear out its welcome.

Dragon’s Crown (ironically, a full retail release) to me, feels like a culmination of sorts for these bite-sized neue arcade experiences, one that successfully blends the pick-up-and-play mechanics of the beat ’em up genre with modern game design sensibilities. Oh, and sweet, sweet loot. Yes companies, you don’t need boobs to market to me: as long as the game has numbers coming out of critters when I whack them with stuff, and better whacking-stuff appears when I whack enough critters, you already have me by the love spuds.

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The Art: Of Bosoms and Blades

I really feel that Dragon’s Crown enjoyed an unfairly tumultuous development cycle in the years leading to its release. I really felt that people jumped at the game’s decidedly-tacky character design and that seasoned artist George Kamitani got a bad rap from the public’s outcry when far more detestable games manage to slide by with little public ridicule. I’m not defending the man’s severe obsession with drawing females possessing 50DD chests, but then again there is some merit to the argument: the game’s supposedly a spiritual sequel to Capcom’s pair of Dungeons and Dragons arcade games, which featured more balanced depictions of its female characters.

Maybe it’s because I have the innate ability to not get hung up on details like that (which from recent experience appears to be some sort of superpower), but playing through the game as the Amazon and Sorceress, even as silent avatars I never felt that the game treated them as mere eye-candy: they were equals of their male counterparts. Sure, the Sorceress’ breasts flopped with every step, but her support magic (cue brassiere joke) was invaluable for online matches; and I noticed the far-seasoned Japanese players enjoyed playing as her not because they wanted to furiously masturbate to her gigantic ta-tas, but because she was actually useful. The Amazon was my character of choice, not because the game’s perverse artists drew her jumping animation by having her face the screen and expose her thong-covered posterior, but because she had a lot of overpowered melee attacks that I could spam, which reduced frustration on boss battles.

I understand that some people have a hard time mouthing off “oh Japan” and letting things be, but on the flip side it’s a lot of fuss for what’s essentially a niche game that will sell to a very select, hardcore audience that understands the cultural context that formed the game’s art style. If that wasn’t clear enough, let me repeat: who gives a shit? Certainly not the mortifying crowds of “englightened” gamers out there that feel their passive-aggressive swipes at the industry somehow helps anyone in the grand scheme of things. Then again, as I played through the game I found it increasingly difficult to defend its art style (see below for an example).

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Yeah, kind of hard to defend a game that contains a NUN LYING SPREAD EAGLE WITH A FACE FILLED WITH RAPTURE.

You Got Vanillaware’d!

On first playthrough, Dragon’s Crown seemed to be rife with content, which was very uncharacteristic of the genre, to say the least. Five hours in, and I was in awe of the variety and complexity the game’s very detailed levels presented. Every single stage seemed more impressive than the last, and each section’s tableau bloomed with wonderful, hand-drawn art that matched the intricacy of the game’s character design (almost too much at times, as it got progressively difficult to watch what my character was doing). I think you all know where I’m going with this, but the game presents a huge gotcha right around this point where you have to replay each stage again. But unlike, say Wind Waker’s pointless fetching of Triforce pieces (which is my all-time least favorite artificial extension of a game, ever) Vanillaware gives the player even more content to explore, as there are alternative paths the game takes you, featuring bosses far more imaginative and engaging than the ones you have encountered prior. What a twist!

And only at this point is the game’s online functionality unlocked. It may seem cumbersome at first to have to unlock online co-op play, but it makes sense: at this point, your character has sufficiently leveled-up and has enough decent equipment to actually hold his or her own while battling with more seasoned warriors. No pa-tank puh ate beggars. The co-op experience was fantastic: even on the Vita version via Wi-Fi, I had very little latency problems playing with three other Japanese-based players. It is worth noting that I had a more difficult time playing with fellow 30lives editor Shin on the PS3 version on a wired connection; but I’m placing the blame solely on our country’s dire broadband infrastructure. This fantastic online component is only hindered by the esoterically Japanese way its online features function. I swear, Japanese developers are almost unilaterally 10 years behind their Western counterparts in terms of defining UI and abstraction layers on top of their netcode. It’s not that the actual network modes are bad, but the severely clunky and unclear way that you connect to peoples’ games is almost laughable compared to the seamless co-op experiences I’ve been spoiled in with games past.

[Shin butts in: Although you will need to unlock online and even adhoc play on the PS Vita version, on the PS3 the local multi-controller co-op mode is available out of the box. That’s a big thing to consider for buyers, I think.]

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The game also features some hot dudes. Get it?

Exploring Bolder Lands

The game’s weakest points are ironically the game’s most initially-laudable ones. Both the loot and mini-RPG systems seem way half-baked once you get down to it. It’s an odd comparison, but I hope Dragon’s Crown drums up enough sales to receive a sequel, because I can see the developers exploring a similar jump in the quality of both aspects as we did in Borderlands. The similarities between the first Borderlands and Dragon’s Crown as far as gameplay-related pitfalls are actually quite striking, as both games attempt to kind of blend two genres that don’t necessarily belong together. Take the skill system, for instance: you complete sidequests to gain skill points among other rewards, but there is hardly any motivation to do so as the game does not reward you sufficiently for progressing and gaining more skills. There are combo/attack modifiers, and some sweet perks like being able to auto-block, but those are handled individually instead of with a skill tree, which means there is no risk/reward system of min/maxing sets of skills. Ultimately, there is no motivation to pick up skills, and I found myself going back to the guild surprised that I still had leftover skill points that I was almost forced to spend.

The loot system seems fairly intriguing on the surface, as you can choose after the end of round to either sell or appraise the mystery loot you and your thief underling picked apart from the various treasure chests littering the stages. You can either sell the loot outright without taking any risks, or appraise it for a higher price and see if you end up with an item you can either use for yourself or (rarely) something that’s worth more than the price of appraisal. The game ranks loot via a letter-grade system, but doesn’t provide enough quirks or modifiers in the lower-level tiers to make them worthwhile, so you end up just selling everything with a Treasure Rank of B or below, and keeping the rest.

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Subversion in Version Control

I was fortunate enough to be granted access to both the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions of Dragons’ Crown, and they are fairly identical apart from interface differences (using the touch screen instead of the analog stick to boss Rannie the erstwhile thief companion around), the higher-resolution assets in the former and pinches of slowdown on the latter edition. Content-wise, they are the exact same game. Cue my puzzlement at the game not featuring any cross-play features. I believe Atlus’ official review guidelines for the game addressed this omission with something to the effect of “becaz aliens,” so I’m thinking this is a Sony-side issue. At any rate, this would have been a perfect showcase of synchronicity between the PlayStation Vita and PS3 systems, but alas, it’s a missed opportunity. For people who want to buy into both versions of the game, the developers thoughtfully included a cloud-saving feature that allows you to upload/download your saves from either system and pick up your progress from there. The only other game I own that does this is Retro City Rampage, and it’s actually pretty slick… when it works.

Though no fault of the game (I blame my own idiocy for relying on the feature in the first place), I lost two hours of progress thanks to the game’s cloud save feature erasing my progress as I moved my save back from the PS3 version to the Vita. Thankfully, completion time per character is a scant ten hours, which honestly is a little longer than I’d care for a game of this genre. But that’s an achievement! Dragon’s Crown is possibly the first Vanillaware game I’ve ever played that didn’t manage to wear out its welcome.

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Because we like rustling peoples’ jimmies.

Snide remarks aside, I’d really be sad if that and “boobgate” are the only things Dragon’s Crown will be remembered for. Quite frankly, it would probably be the perfect game for my twelve year-old self: taking me back to the days as an arcade rat, playing games like Knights of the Round with my equally-broke friends on germ-infested arcade machines in Cubao. Even my tastes in women were much different then: I could recall myself fantasizing about tall, large-chested women, where the fashion of engorged mammaries toppled the function of saving the owner from immense back spasms. But hey, awkward nostalgia about puberty aside: Dragon’s Crown is a game that deserves your attention and financial support. They don’t make games like this anymore—not only in the technical sense of it being the first game of its kind to come out in quite a while, but in a more lachrymose sense of its artists and developers putting so much care, love and soul in the game’s construction. Polarizing art aside, if you can’t get over that and play the game for what it is, then I’m just going to straight-up assume that you are a terrible human being with bad taste.

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yikesIn the eternal war between console and PC gamers, I simply love the fact that Japan always ends up being the albatross around every PC gamers’ neck (or lack thereof). 2013’s “Oh Japan” Hall of Shame candidate may be its best yet: we just caught wind of a game called Custom Maid 3D, a visual novel/sex simulator with a few… interesting twists.

First off, the game comes bundled with a wireless peripheral (aptly?) called “Ju-C Air,” which (from what I understand) you use by sticking your wang into it (fellow BBCs need not apply; this game is proudly Made in Japan), and um, I guess playing along as the game accurately responds to your stroke game. I still don’t fully understand the controller’s mechanics so I included the JESUS CHRIST, NSFW trailer right above this post for your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome.

The game’s other hook is full Oculus Rift support. That’s right — Hentai games will never be the same again. You too, can pound away at your pure moe princess’ untouched peach fuzz without an inkling of shame as your eyeballs will be fully glued to your Meido-chan’s still-developing privates. Scratch that, it’s from Japan — land of the pixelated punani. Well that’s an immersion killer: you’d think a company making games about porking sexualized depictions of toddlers would go full-rogue and include a code to remove all the mosaic.

Sadly, despite our best attempts we have yet to procure a copy of Custom Maid 3D, so we’re going to have to do the next best thing and direct you to a NeoGAF user’s impressions of the game. Yikes. No further comments.

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rubs Rubs, Editor-in-Chief —Dragon’s Crown had me by the balls all weekend. I haven’t quite explored every nook and cranny of the game’s single-player component, but I’ve been playing round upon round with confused Japanese players. I can’t speak for the PS3 version, but the Vita version runs the online bits at a very acceptable rate; considering that my co-op buddies are 10,000 miles away. And can I just have a quick sidebar for a second and give a hearty fuck you to all the idiots deriding this game’s awesomely-tacky art style? Seriously, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Inspired by my Intel NUC review, I decided to relegate my Ouya to the bedroom and use it as a spare console/Hulu box. I haven’t upgraded (or even turned on) the thing in quite a while, but I have to say, the console’s firmware is actually starting to take shape. Menus are snappier, performance and controller lag has been addressed somewhat, and from what I’m gathering, OS-level functions can now be controlled via a PS3 controller (which is fantastic as the bundled controller is hot garbage). Good news for all you semi-late adopters, I guess: I just found out that Datablitz branches will start stocking the thing.

 

cheenaCheena, Managing Editor— I got back on my groove and am now almost at the home stretch for Shin Megami Tensei IV. It’s becoming hard to quit the game again, taking most of my playtime for the past few days.

Another game I am also deeply enjoying is Magic The Gathering 2014 in XBOX Live. I am currently playing the Sealed Play campaign which is mad, mad fun. I was given 6 booster packs to open and I created my deck based on the stronger cards in the packs (I made a white and black deck, with zombies and angels fighting together woooo), and more packs will open once I defeat the rest of the planeswalkers in the campaign. I will probably write a full-length review once I’ve clocked in more playtime, so stay tuned!

 

shinShin, News Editor— The whole weekend was mostly Dragon’s Crown. I’m playing the PS3 version and it’s absolutely gorgeous! I have decided to try and platinum this game or at least finish all the sidequests so I can have all the Treasure Arts. My main character is the Elf (the one with small boobs) and I enjoy jumping all over the screen and pulling off combos with her. The game has a ridiculous amount of content for a game of its kind and I can’t wait to buy the PS Vita version and play it on the go when it officially releases.

Peppered in-between my DC sessions are pick-ups of Shin Megami Tensei IV for the 3DS. I love the game but it makes me sleepy if I play it for more than an hour at a time. I don’t know why! lol

My second attempt to play The Last Story on my Wii for an LTTP Review was more successful than my last one. I say this because I finished the tutorial.

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I really want to finish this game someday. (sadface)

 

alex66466_10151573879278932_1480279263_nAlex, Reviews Editor and of Things— I told myself I wouldn’t buy Civilization 5: Brave New World, the latest and apparently best expansion yet for the turn-based strategy time-sink. I also ignore a lot of things I tell myself so most of my free time during the week and weekend was devoted to finishing one play-through in the largest sized map with the most number of city states and in marathon game speed. I believe the game took around 40 hours or so to complete. Naturally I had a secondary game to play while waiting for the computer to process the turns of other civilizations and city-states which at the time was Tekken Card Tournament which I reviewed earlier today. I’m liking the how they implemented spies, the world congress, and ideologies (social policies such as order, liberty, and autocracy have evolved into a different branch altogether). All these mechanics really make the game harder when you enter the modern era. I was forced to annihilate Greece (Alexander) with sheer military force because his influence on city states would ensure him a cultural victory in the long run (diplomacy is obviously not my strong point). Now that I’ve gotten the hang of the new and old systems from the last expansion (Gods and Kings with that blasted religion tree) I’m set to take on King difficulty and aim at harder settings. The Prince difficulty is pretty forgiving as I was able to defeat a civilization which had better tech and more soldiers because for some strange reason, they didn’t know how to siege cities properly.

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I knew there was something wrong with me. Researchers at the University of Missouri’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders published a study today where they concluded that boys with autism spectrum disorders spent up to twice as much time playing video games than other boys of similar age. The researcher’s noted that boys with ADHD played 1.7 hours on average, compared to an hour per two hours screentime as set by the study.

There have been earlier studies on the matter, but this is the first study directly comparing developmentally-challenged children in the context of videogame screen time. Yet in what I consider backpedaling, the University also says it’s impossible to say from that study that video games are directly causing developmental disabilities or if children with problems are more likely to play video games obsessively. If you want to be a jerk about it, you can call the study a waste of time.

And—jock strap on—this is something we already knew, but typically-developing boys migrated to FPS and sports games, while kids suffering with autism or ADHD gravitated towards RPGs and action games.  The study noted, “first-person shooter games are fast-paced, audiovisually intense, and violent, and game play often results in increased physiologic arousal.”

If you want to learn more about the effects of videogames on developmentally-challenged people, the blog of famous, gentle-voiced Youtuber Ulillillia is a good stop.

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A few days ago, I received a request from a non-techie friend that I review a few good laptop sleeve options for her. I found it an odd request; and being the usual grumpy and lazy butthole that I am, I had the following review drafted for the past few days:

sleeve

Realizing that the above was not acceptable for print on this very blog, I decided to march forward and write a more appropriate review of the only laptop sleeve I own, the Gentlemen’s Hardware Laptop Sleeve for 13″ Laptops by Wild & Wolf.

This is a premium laptop sleeve; certainly for more refined tastes (aka hipster ballmonglers like myself) and it shows even in the packaging. A little over-the-top as it comes in a thick box made of recycled cardboard (natch), the packaging contains the sleeve and nothing else. It’s a sleeve. I’m fairly confident that 94% of its intented buying audience knows how to work magnetic clasps.

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Being that I have borderline-member-of-the-homosexual-community skills in color-coordinating, yes—the sleeve matches my room’s carpet and floor. At any rate, the quality of the stitching and materials is top-notch. The lower containing area is built of very convincing, durable-looking faux leather, interstitched with a grey felt top area. A brushed aluminum magnetic clasp is confined inside the apex of the “envelope,” hidden by the subtly-embossed branding.

Gentlemens Hardware Laptop Sleeve (1)

One caveat—the case is made for Macbook Pros. I own a Macbook Air; so my laptop actually doesn’t fit snug and flush inside. I’m fine with this as I usually chuck in my laptop’s charger and my laptop peripheral of choice, Microsoft’s excellent Arc Touch mouse.

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Overall, this sleeve (or any similarly-styled sleeves like it such as Incase’s Pathway) comes highly-recommended. I tend to stay away from brightly-colored neoprene sleeves as they tend to leave their nasty textile dyes on metal or plastic. One of my friends’ laptops now has a permanent shade of red thanks to this poor purchasing decision. Two thumbs up, because leaving a score for a freakin’ laptop sleeve is gauche.

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It goes without saying that the Ouya was a terrible disappointment to all of us; most particularly myself who was looking for a silent, tiny box to simply play my stash of retro games, emulated and upscaled on my big screen television. Having the ability to run my media files via XBMC was also a nice, expected bonus — I truly had no desire to mess around with unoptimized Android ports. Three months out, and the thing still doesn’t have a stable branch of XBMC out for it, third-party support is dead, and what emulators exist on it seem unoptimized and rushed.

Finally decided that I had enough and picked up an Intel NUC barebones kit, particularly the unfortunately-named BOXDC3217IYE. From what I understand, NUC is a formfactor standard, so third-party OEMs may also have their own takes on the hardware; I know Gigabyte sells the Brix kit as well, which is pretty similar.

intel nuc 3Though the great unwashed masses of the PC gaming milieu have long harped at HTPCs being the “fourth console,” their relatively prohibitive pricing and difficulty to set up (seriously—even as someone who used to work in IT, I can say with full confidence that those mini-ITX cases will murder your hands) have proven to be quite the proverbial barriers to entry for mass-market adoption. Consoles, for the most part are cheap, plug-and-play set-top boxes that eschew needless functionality for a more streamlined experience. Bridging the gap between HTPCs and consoles (or perhaps even supplanting the former), Intel’s NUC looks to be quite the value proposition for people wanting that extra bit of multimedia flexibility in their living rooms.

I purchased the barebones kit (which consists of a nice glossy black enclosure bundling an i3 3217U chip clocked at 1.8GHz and soldered on to a tiny motherboard) alongside an mSATA SSD drive, a mini-PCIe wireless card, and 8GB of DDR3 SO-DIMM RAM. Though I had some apprehensions about the onboard HD4000 graphics, both the CPU and GPU performed quite admirably in the few jobs I’ve thrown at it so far.

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I loaded the NUC up with Windows 8 Professional; which chugs along just fine with basic multimedia tasks. Windows Media Center worked fine and played every video I threw at it (of course, I didn’t have any of those crazy HD x264 videos handy, but WMV HD checked out fine). XBMC ran like a dream on this little treat, and — having used the software on various pieces of hardware ranging from the original Xbox to a Raspberry Pi — is probably the best platform I’ve ever seen it run on. Will it play your Gwiyomi fan videos? Yes it will; unfortunately for the rest of us it won’t purge every single video of it from the Internet and launch its participants on a catapult straight into the sun.

The NUC is small enough to be clipped on to a monitor or TV's VESA mount.
The NUC is small enough to be clipped on to a monitor or TV’s VESA mount.

But I’m getting too ahead of myself. We are a gaming periodical first and foremost, so I of course had to test how this tiny rig flew, gaming-wise. MAME coupled with the Hyperspin frontend was just gorgeous on the NUC; I had quite a blast just lounging on my couch, clutching my Sega Saturn USB pad whilst Bucky o’ Hare blasted on my big-screen TV. With simple, freely-available hacks, I was able to use my Wii remote as a stand-in air mouse, making adventure games like Monkey Island a breeze to play. Less-intense traditional PC games like Diablo 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Half Life 2 ran admirably on mid-range settings. That’s honestly all I have to say about performance — if you want meaningless charts and numbers to dictate your purchasing experience, head on over to Anandtech; this clearly is not the site for you.

But here’s the kicker: when you actually price out all of the components you’ll need to build out a good NUC rig, you’ll probably end up being really close to the price of a Mac Mini. Understandably, you gain more portability and a little bit more flexibility with Intel’s offering; but Apple’s little box has slightly better hardware and build quality than a fully decked-out NUC.

To cap this review off, you can consider me a fan of the Intel NUC initiative. Let this review serve as an introduction to the fun little form-factor PC, as I’m probably going to write more about my adventures with the little x86 box that could in the next few months.

 

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Thank you Based God. Though nothing else can touch Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden’s complete and utter mastery of the RPG Maker format, Kanye Quest 3000 at least exists as an entertaining challenger to the throne that unfortunately falls short. Though we’ve played mere minutes of the game, KQ3K contains enough hilarious pop-culture references to keep you busy for a long, hard while. I’ll let the game’s synopsis explain itself:

In January 2010, as rapper and producer Kanye West is taking the garbage out one day, he suddenly travels through a wormhole. Emerging on the other side, Kanye finds himself in the year 3030. In a dystopian city filled with clones of hip-hop musicians and under the control of a god-like dictator, can Kanye get back home?

Kanye Quest 3000 can be downloaded here. PC only; console, Mac and mobile poors will not be allowed to finish. Go forth, multiply, and spread the gospel of the Yeezus. :babylawd :rejoice :troll

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Review scores have always been a point of contention with videogame fans, and for good reason. After all, how dare these so-called professionals critique and formulate their own unique opinions about things they happen to enjoy? Over the years I’ve had my share of angry emails, comments on messageboards, and (seriously!) threats on my life because I happened to dock a couple points off my review of their favorite game. At the risk of inflating my own importance (well, more than usual anyway), I could not get over the fact that people actually care what I—some over-opinionated tool—think, surprisingly enough.

metaAll of this pre-pubescent angst stems from two things: nerds being obsessed with canon and hierarchy, and the blurring of the fundamental social roles of “experts” in enthusiast circles. Here’s the truth: review scores are largely arbitrary and aren’t based on some magical metric. All you nerds need to get over it. This obsession with numbers is what drives stupid sites like Metacritic, which I’ll contend is probably the worst thing to ever happen to this industry. Now even business decision makers are consumed with watching largely groundless numbers drive their future efforts, thanks to the public outcry from the lowest common denominator of nerds; who, thanks to forums and Facebook fan pages, have an elevated sense of self-importance because the shrill, impotent voices of their vocal minority are perceived as some sort of expertise, no matter how pithy or worthless their observations are in the end.

Also thanks to the internet, the role of the “expert” has very much diminished. Anyone with a WordPress account can call themselves “experts” in a particular niche nowadays. Here’s where that perceived legitimacy can get dangerous: regular dudes like us get accosted for saying the smallest things. I’m not saying that I’m an expert nor a great resource on videogames. I’m not even saying that I do not hold any sort of personal bias against particular genres or companies, because that would be a lie.  That’s why I’ve always found demands that I change my opinion on something based on accusations of bias or incompetence hilarious.

There isn’t a perfect solution to this problem either—you can’t just wean nerds off their numerical fixation overnight. I remember a few magazines back in the day attempted to stray away from the numerical grading system, but Metacritic somehow imposed their own interpretation of their letter grades, nulling their efforts. Again, this goes back to the problem of attempting to canonize and distill opinions based on a few lines or a letter/number score. It’s ridiculous. And you can’t do grade-less reviews as well; that just opens you up to quote-fisking and people actually not reading your review.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of publications don’t do any editorial vetting against scores; hence writers are given free reign to dole out their own grades. This policy seems great on paper, but I’d argue that this means that having scores in the first place is a completely unnecessary and redundant practice. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a total hypocrite and say that although review scores aren’t a universal metric, there still needs to be some sort of standard that reviewers should follow in their scores. Let’s say one publication grades Bioshock: Infinite a 10 and The Last of Us a 10 as well; then that’s just completely ridiculous as both games have latent flaws that—in my opinion—prevent them from achieving a perfect score.

And put into a local context (and this is probably another discussion entirely; re: payola), let’s not forget the complete market dilution that’s been happening across the board with most of our own tech publications: how many perfect scores or golden awards do these folks need to hand out before even the PR guy handing them their review units gets tired? There is such a thing as over-fellatio, you know.