Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

Archive for September 2011

The One-Stop-Shop: Mobile Gaming

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With the 3DS suffering some embarrassing sales (compared to Nintendo’s usual launch success), the possibility that the Playstation Vita will be over-priced and over-hyped, and the general decline of handheld gaming since the Nintendo DS, I fear I will be even more tied to my iPhone as I begin to game more and more on it.

In the beginning!

Feeling nostalgic for a simpler time...

Let’s be clear: I don’t think the advent of iOS or Android gaming is going to become the end-all-be-all of portable gaming; however, as the technologies become ever more sophisticated, I am not surprised how many “big name” developers I see releasing games in the App Store and Android Market. It’s a logical progression for sales – go where the people are. And the people are using their smartphones for everything from grocery lists to fitness plans to finding their keys in the dark (I hear some people even make calls!). Is it any wonder developers are releasing pared-down versions of their traditional console games like EA’s FIFA franchise?

There are several games on my iPhone that are addictive and cost much less than the games I could buy for a DS or PSP and that’s with good reason. Graphically, the iPhone and Android games can not compete because of the beefier processors in modern handhelds. There is also an issue with controls – a touch screen does not perform as well as a D-Pad or thumbstick does for tactile reasons. There are products that attempt to address that problem, but they look too awkward to actually be useful and if you think you need suction cup thumbsticks to slap on your device, you may just want to suck it up and buy a handheld if that’s the experience you’re looking for.

The Fling mini Joystick

The appeal of phone gaming is due to the simplicity and casual nature of the games offered. If I have a few minutes to kill or I’m positive no one is looking at work, I love playing a quarter or two of NBA Jam or trying to rack up a higher score on Words with Friends because I can easily put the phone aside and not feel an obligation to save or reach a certain point in the game before I quit.

A few games on the market seem to be targeting gamers who may want to become more invested in their smartphone as a handheld. The folks at SQUARE-ENIX have reaped the benefits of iOS gaming with classic installments of the Final Fantasy franchise. The best rated of which happens to be $15.99 in the App Store, a much more in-depth game as far as storyline when compared to the 99-cent  Angry Birds that everyone’s crazy about. Not to mention the deeply immersive Minecraft ported to the Android platform.

Minecraft on the Xperia Play

Once dubbed "The Playstation Phone", the Xperia Play lends itself to more graphically taxing games.

As far as the future of traditional handhelds, some people seem to think the handheld is a dying platform. But, in a recent interview with GameSpot, Sony’s Director of Hardware Marketing John Koller did not seem distressed about smartphone gaming and said the smartphone gamer “enjoys smaller ‘kill time’ gaming and has not gravitated to the larger, richer, deeper experiences that true handheld gaming provides.” I am still very excited to see the Vita and will decide if it’s worth the money when it’s released, but I’m confident that given the proper consideration smartphone games could be just as engrossing as their traditional counterparts.

What are your thoughts on smartphone gaming?

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September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm

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Catherine Review – Why Must I Be A Dead Dreamer in Love?

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Dreaming men are haunted men – Stephen Vincent Benet

Atlus‘ Romance Horror Puzzle Platformer mixes a lot of elements surprisingly well. A dash of “real world” fears and obligations here stirred vigorously with Jungian theory and punishing puzzle sequences made me read into this game a lot more than I probably should have. “Is that a womb image?” or “What archetype is a sheep?!”

These are not breasts

Ce ne sont pas des seins

Catherine is a unique experience I would recommend to gamers and psych students – if you’re right in the middle of that Venn diagram, I’d image this game would be like psychoanalyzing a wet dream… interesting, frustrating, but overall, mostly about sex.

Or at least the dynamics of our interpersonal relationships. What’s great about Catherine is it takes the subconscious fears of waking life and makes them tangible in a life-or-death surrealist nightmare-scape. While the story is obviously a work of fiction, the inner struggles our hero Vincent has throughout the game are relatable and the situations are at least somewhat familiar.

The basic premise of the story follows a young man who has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Katherine for a long time. It’s clear that she wants to take their relationship more seriously and hints at marriage, while Vincent seems to choke every time the subject is mentioned. And then…he wakes up one morning next to Catherine, a younger, hyper sexual woman he meets at a bar. Coincidentally, we are told there has been a rash of young men dying in their sleep…

We first meet Vincent in a dream. A skinny, dark-haired man in his boxers with what look like ram’s horns on his head, clutching a pillow is supposed to be our hero…

Our leading man

Not the most confidence inspiring...

Vincent’s nightmares are a world in which he and other dreamers that look like sheep to him are forced to climb blocks suspended in air by pushing them to form stairs to reach the end of the dream. The nightmare levels are usually in stages with landings in between each one. The landings are limbo for Vincent and the other sheep, where they can trade techniques for climbing and you can save your progress. After saving and getting tips for survival, there is a “confessional” in which Vincent is asked strange questions before proceeding to the next portion of the dream. As nights go on, the puzzles are more challenging and each nightmare ends with a race to the top against “creatures from below.” One wrong step can cause Vincent to plummet to his death and the gamer can choose to restart the puzzle while the words “Love is Over” are splattered across her screen like Vincent’s blood.

We are rewarded for completing Vincent’s nightmare puzzles with beautifully animated anime sequences as Vincent’s day. In his waking life, he is a normal, hornless man who seems to spend his time waking up next to Catherine (sadly, with little to no memory of what happened the night before), having lunch with Katherine, or having drinks with his boys at their favorite bar, “The Stray Sheep.” The conversations Vincent has and the interesting choices he can make during this time may not be as “active” as the nightmares, but are just as important for their subtext. There are characters Vincent encounters at The Stray Sheep including a group of three friends that appear to represent a wide range of morality and try to advise him in his dilemmas.

What I enjoyed the most in the game’s progression was the innocuous “meter” that appears when Vincent makes a decision or answers a question in the nightmare world’s confessional. Sometimes the decisions may seem inconsequential, but the meter ticks either towards the blue cherub or the pink cherub which are enigmas themselves. The meter also influences how Vincent reacts in certain situations in his waking life – a blue cherub will manipulate a cutscene with a different reaction.

Which choices are “good” or “bad”? If it wasn’t already titled Catherine, Moral Ambiguity would be the name of the game.

As far as gameplay goes – this game can be frustratingly hard. While I normally play games the first time through on “Normal” difficulty, I had to switch to “Easy” when the puzzles got more challenging. The lighter difficulty was still fun and I still managed to see the “Love is Over” screen more times than I would have liked especially as the game came closer to ending.

Love is Over

"Wait... NO NO! Awww Dammit!"

While I would recommend this game, I could see the puzzles becoming monotonous and the “day” scenes perceived as boring – this is unlike many games on the best-sellers list. It could be said that there is not a lot of “action” like that in Gears of War 3 compared to this game and I may not want to replay it as I will Gears; however, like a piece of literature with a compelling storyline, Catherine is a unique experience that makes one reflect on his or her own relationships and how we truly view the people in our lives.

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September 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm

The State of Gaming

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I realized I started out some of my previous posts with big concepts – things that couldn’t possibly be condensed into a 500 word blurb. This one is more of a manifesto detailing where I see video games as a form of entertainment and part of my life – basically, another big concept that’s probably not going to go over the 500 word mark because I’m going to rant in bullet points.

Just some thoughts on what I read and see advertised, for better or for worse:

  • I really hope the console wars will end soon. Fanboys of all stripes: you’re annoying.
  • Smartphone gaming is addictive and accessible.
  • Nintendo needs to give up the ghost and stop trying to sell us gimmicks.
  • I’m tired of modern First Person Shooters…
  • Indie games like Super Meat Boy, Cthulhu Saves the World and Limbo make me feel as giddy as a little girl about video games again.
  • I’ve bought Resident Evil 4 on AT LEAST 3 consoles. And it’s been released again?! Capcom: Make another damn game. Seriously.
  • Motion controlled games stopped being fun around Wii Sports. I want to sit on the couch like an honest-to-god lazy gamer.
  • The Playstation Vita is so pretty…
  • … but, I have an iPhone that plays NBA JAM, so I’m probably set on handhelds.
This is the first of many rants that will inspire more lengthy posts – long intellectual discourses! Or, more likely, just me talking about Catherine – Atlus’ horror/relationship game which I hope to finish this weekend!

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September 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm

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Shock Therapy

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After letting myself get too discouraged to write for too long, it’s time to really start again. This blog is officially over a year old and represents something I had big dreams of posting on every day with mind-blowing content and opinions. The reality, as it usually is, is less than stellar.

I’ve no time to play video games recently and that’s made trying to write about them impossible.  Not because I’ve lost interest – no; I look longingly at my consoles and Steam account every time I get a chance, but the most time I have to devote is a passing glance. That has been changing recently and I hope to make it a bigger part of my life again.

So, this blog has been dying a slow death and was never really thriving to begin with. Maybe that’s the way it’s gonna be… but I don’t want to go down without a fight.

Thus – a call to arms. Anyone who may (or may not) be interested, please tell me what you would like to have a discussion about – what has interested you, what games you’re excited for, etc. I’m curious what other gamers, writers and readers are thinking about…

I’m asking for a jump start and I need your help.

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September 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm

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