Runner 2: Legend of Rhythm Alien

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Platform games will probably always be my favorite genre of gaming.  This is certainly due to cutting my proverbial teeth during the heyday of the NES, the era where every other title had some sort of influence from the brothers Mario and their army of copycats.  Before I picked up Runner 2: Legend of Rhythm Alien I had never played a Bit.Trip title before, and I was only familiar with the main character Commander Video from his cameo appearance in Super Meat Boy, arguably one of the greatest games of the past decade.  Now I’m certainly going back to explore the titles I missed, because Runner 2 is unfiltered platforming bliss.

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Runner 2 might as well be a checklist of how to do everything correctly in a video game.  The gameplay is extremely accessible and enjoyable, coupled with eye pleasing, unique graphics and an amazing soundtrack.  Difficulty in the game gradually scales but is unbelievably fair; you start off with a simple selection of moves and then slowly learn all of the combinations required to be successful.  There’s also some great humor (the hardest thing to pull off in gaming) and some phenomenal references mixed in to the package that I wouldn’t dare spoil here.  Gaijin Games even added hidden retro levels (unlocked by finding golden cartridges) that are extremely challenging and pay homage to those glorious days of the NES and Sega Master System.

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Originality comes with how your character interacts with the soundtrack.  Every jump, slide, dodge, block, and kick corresponds with an intended beat or noise that complements the music.  You can miss these beats with little consequence besides failing a scoring opportunity (thankfully you don’t get a grinding Guitar Hero-esque interruption noise) but the soundtrack simply swells with a crescendo of awesomeness when you hit them on time.  In most modern games (especially first person shooters) I almost never experience what Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean remarkably refer to as “the zone,” where the entirety of the room ceases to matter and you aren’t even thinking about what buttons you are pushing while conquering every single obstacle on pure muscle memory.  Playing flawlessly causes everything to click into place and you achieve an almost Zen like experience.  Runner 2 just has a magically fluid feel I’ve rarely seen replicated anywhere else, especially in other titles that also employ auto running and rhythm based play.

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I did get frustrated often while playing, but it was the type of frustration that made me want to persevere to perfect the level, not the type that makes you want to place your controller under a rusty jackhammer.  When you make a mistake it’s never the game, it’s simply your lack of skill.  It’s certainly not as difficult as the aforementioned Super Meat Boy, but it still takes impeccable timing and precision to get through some of the harder sections, exactly what you should want in a quality platformer.

If you like platformers, pick this up immediately.  For fifteen bucks on the marketplace it’s an absolute steal, especially when there are sixty-dollar titles (Aliens: Colonial Marines for example) that won’t give you a fraction of the enjoyment contained here.  I realize that it’s barely March, but this is unquestionably the best title I’ve played this year.

Skylanders: Giants

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Whoever came up with the concept for Skylanders is a marketing genius.  The recipe is so pitch perfect it’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to execute:  Take the elemental centered and “gotta buy them all” appeal of Pokemon, mix it with the addictive RPG leveling and character progression that almost every game utilizes today, and then pair it up with a plethora of collectable figures that you can transport both between and across consoles.  The results are a franchise that has already grossed upwards of 500 million dollars between two releases with zero signs of slowing down.  But is the game any good or just a flagrant cash grab aimed specifically at children?

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Actually it isn’t half bad.  I spent the majority of this past Saturday playing this with my nephew Jacob (he’s 8) and really enjoyed myself.  The game is akin to many dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate except it takes place in the uber-colorful and child friendly world of Skylands.   The interface is very simple and easy to understand; almost anybody could pick it up and play with little instruction.  Character leveling is extremely balanced and it has the familiar “just one more level” appeal as you constantly unlock better powers and upgrades for each of your individual Skylanders.   Jacob spent the better part of our lengthy session saving up hard fought treasure for a battle-axe made entirely out of bees for his favorite giant Swarm, and his joy upon finally earning the weapon was completely palpable.

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Each Skylander represents one of eight different “elements” like fire, wind, technology, or undead.  The levels are divided with multiple gates and hidden areas that can only be accessed by certain elements, meaning in order to fully unlock everything the game has to offer you must own at least one character from every element.  If you are defeated, the only way to continue the level is by swapping out figures on the fly, making the game near impossible with only the starter set, but very manageable with a stable of Skylanders figures at your disposal.  (Defeated characters can be used again on the next level but not before)  The aforementioned starter set only comes with three characters, the game disc, and the necessary Portal of Power; so more characters must be purchased (Hey Mom!) in order to fully experience and enjoy what the game has to offer.  Some Skylanders are also much rarer than others (especially some of the newer Giants) making collecting these things highly addictive.  Again, sheer marketing brilliance.

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Skylanders: Giants is also compatible with all of the toys released for the original game, and the level cap is increased from 10 to 15 for all of your previously purchased characters.  There are also new Series 2 versions of the original Skylanders that have more effective powers and different poses than their original counterparts, a very wise move by the developers to keep fans of the original excited about the sequel.   I’d be absolutely shocked if a third game wasn’t released this holiday season, right now the game has legs, something that Activision is notorious for exploiting on a yearly basis with all of their other major franchises.

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It is also interesting to mention that the first game was titled Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, featuring popular gaming icon Spyro the Dragon who has appeared in almost twenty other titles.  Spyro never speaks in either game however, and doesn’t give you any sort of advantage over any of the other characters.  It almost seems like the developers were hedging their bets to get the game off the ground with a mascot familiar to the intended demographic.

If you are looking to enjoy some gaming with one of the younger people in your life you could a lot worse than Skylanders: Giants.   The title is certainly geared towards children but contains many of the familiar trappings of an addictive video adventure; I certainly didn’t grow bored playing it as I have with many other games.  Just plan to shell out a lot more than the initial seventy-dollar investment if you want to see everything in the game or actually get through it successfully at all.

Goin’ Out West: Running the gauntlet at E3 2012

Goin’ Out West: Running the gauntlet at E3 2012

E3 2012 has come and gone, bringing forth tons of people, announcements, events and bleary-eyed game journalists who haven’t had a real meal in a week.

I was not among them.  While I attended the full event this year I did not go to cover it.  There are easily tens of thousands of others who went to do just that, so I chose not to.  I went with my other professional priorities in mind instead, leaving the thousands of blogs about the new Call of Dutygame or Nintendo‘s press conference to others.  I do not classify myself as a gaming journalist nor is reporting and writing all that I do in gaming.

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That being said there seems to be expectations from followers of my columns here and social media.  Several e-mails have been asking me where my coverage is, despite numerous public statements that I was not going to E3 to report on it.  Only now am I writing this in an attempt to satiate those who seem to expect it while also showing what I was really out there to do.

Therefore this E3 column will be different as I provide short stories and thoughts on my adventures in Los Angeles this year.

Tuesday, June 5 –

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I always skip the Monday press conferences, knowing whatever I missed can quickly be watched from a comfortable chair later and knowing whatever is shown is going to be seen when I walk the floor anyway.  I rolled into the event on Tuesday morning instead.

Got to walk the floor very little on Tuesday as I caught up with business contacts and potential business contacts along with some friends.  Notable moment came from the VIP area atop the Microsoft booth when I met Philadelphia Eagles wide reciever DeSean Jackson.  He is as tiny in person as he is fast on the field, but quite friendly.  No, I did not let him know I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Wednesday, June 6 –

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Hit E3 early this day to meet-up with veteran video game journalist Rusel DeMaria, a man who has been writing about video games longer than a lot of the gaming media in attendence have been playing.  Also got to catch up with Spy Hunter world champion Paul Dean, who is always an interesting guy to talk to.

The most interesting portion of the day for me started late afternoon as the Los Angeles Kings fans began to arrive to the area.  A lot of tension existed in the area that day, as if the Kings won the Stanley Cup that night there may have been quite a moment in an area surrounded by other video game events.

Met up with Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day at the Nokiato help him out with some stuff he needed to do for the Video Games Live event taking place there that night.  This became a point for multi-tasking, as the VIP party for VGL was going on at the same time as the red carpet premiere of the film noobz at the theatre down the street.  After becoming one of the few people on earth to see exactly how Billy Mitchell primps his hair a group of us walked from the Nokia and past a sea of hockey fans and alert LAPD to the red carpet premiere.

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It was a while before our turn to walk to red carpet, where actor/producer Blake Freeman was presented with a historic award and trading card for the film.  I have to look for footage of a media interview with actor Ron Livingston to see if my accidental blurting out of “Holy ****, the guy from Office Space!” can be heard.  Exactly 45 minutes late for the Video Games Live party we had to skip the screening of the film and head for the door.

As soon as he hit the front door of the theatre, Walter Daysuddenly ran off at a full sprint.  I turned around to see the rest of our group had not yet caught up with us, then back to see Walter still running at a surprisingly high speed.  Not knowing what else to do I took off after him, as a 63-year-old man in a referee uniform shouldn’t run through a pack of hockey fans alone.

We plowed through the barricades in front of the Nokia as I tried to keep up with Walter.  He ran right into the main theatre with me after him as people we starting to take their seats.  I truly hope someone out there got cellphone video of me and Walter Day’s run through the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.  If you do, please post it or send it to me.  It has to be quite a sight.

Plopping down in the Video Games Live VIP party I noticed two things.  I was sweating half to death and the godfather of video games himself, Nolan Bushnell, was sitting 5 feet from me.  Was an honor to finally meet him, even if I was short of breath at the time.

Also glad that the LA Kings lost that night.  Not only was I not prepared to spend the night in a riot scene but a popular story subject in this space, Rachel Lara, might have been a red skidmark on the pavement outside if they had.  Luckily she arrived through the exiting hockey fans in tact that night.

Thursday, June 8 –

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This day marked the first day of the event that I actually got to play anything.  To sum that up, those who complain that football games are the same thing every year will find the new physics in Madden NFL 13 really do change the feel of the game in a big way and that I think Nintendo’s Wii U will catch on well with those that made the original Wii a big success.

A great surprise came to me this morning as me and Walter Day met up at the Nintendo booth along with Guinness World Records’ Gaz Deaves to present Isaiah Triforce Johnson with awards for his successful attempts at being the first-in-line to purchase numerous Nintendo consoles at launch.  The surprise came in the form of Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime along with a photo op alongside him.  Quite a hard fellow to get to, it was a fun thing to happen to me, even if the photos I saw later claimed I was Gaz Deaves.  I can’t quite imagine him with my haircut.

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Later hit the G4tv set for Walter to present Nikole Zivalichwith an award as well only to have the fun surprise of getting one myself while there.

For the rest of the event I got to walk the floor with Walter Day, meet up with some more folks and end up in more cellphone photos than I can count.  Ironically, despite not going to E3 to report on it I ended up meeting more people and becoming more exhausted than I have at any previous E3 event.  I am also still catching up on the trailers I actually failed to find the time to see while out there.

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Quite a fun time overall, and the slideshow to the left will show some of these very adventures.  If anyone reading this also has photos or videos of the happenings mentioned here please Tweet them to me @OriginalPSP or send them to my website at PatrickScottPatterson.com.

In the meantime I rest in this window between E3 and ComicCon as I hope and pray for no more downtown street runs.