LittleBigPlanet 3

915sTmK8U1L._SL1500_Date Completed: February 21, 2016

The original LittleBigPlanet game wouldn’t have normally been something on my radar but a colleague of mine (Lets call him MDL for short) became a very big fan and even earned one of the Rare Prize Crown accessories as a level design contest reward.  I had a handful of ideas for levels but children started flying out of my wife at an alarming rate and I suddenly didn’t have the time to put into level design that I needed to accomplish anything of note.  Even so the game had a lot of charm and I discovered that I had become a LittleBigPlanet fan.  Unfortunately none of the games have been able to recapture the magic of that original title.  LittleBigPlanet 3 feels like they’ve given up trying.

The single player experience is OK but extremely short.  Rather than the linear progression of previous games the game is broken up into hub worlds, each of which involves you collecting one of the new characters in the game – Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop.  Each of the new characters can only be used in designated areas which I found disappointing.

In general the world ‘disappointing’ would sum up my entire experience with this game.  I didn’t care for the story.  I didn’t  care for the new NPC characters introduced.  I didn’t like the new ‘hub world’ concept, or the addition of quests.  I could continue listing things I didn’t like about the game but I’ll just say there was a lot to not like.

Not that the game is all bad.  I liked the new playable characters and I wished that I could have used them more.  The level design is very good and they are very fun to play.  My kids got to know SackBoy very well playing Run Sackboy Run and they loved seeing more of him in this game.

It many ways it feels as if the developers packed as many features into the game as they could, but decided not to make levels for it.  Instead they decided to rely on the community to create, share and play user generated content.  This may work for some of the audience of this game, however that’s not how I play.  I want to play a game with a beginning, a middle and an end.  I’m not really into playing games just for the sake of playing, I want a storyline and a goal.

After beating it I decided to sell the game.  They’re trying to push the DLC pretty hard for this game so I assume sooner or later LBP3 will be free for Playstation Plus subscribers.  I might play it again someday, but then again I might not.  I liked the game enough to play it but in the end it failed to capture the magic I was looking for.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length:  ~5 hours
System: Playstation 4
Genre: Platformer

Gunman Clive 2

Date Completed : September 1, 2015

I heard that Gunman Clive 2 was out and having enjoyed the original, and being of a mind to support an independent developer I went ahead and bought it.

The game is basically exactly like the first but with new levels, a handful of new colors, and some really creative levels.  Some of the scenes (especially in the land of the dinosaurs) had me all smiles.  The stages are short, but fun and challenging.  It reminds me a lot of a NES era game  (but with better play control).

The game costs only 3 dollars on the Nintendo eShop, so if you’re a 3DS owner you really have no excuse.

.Pros

  • More Gunman Clive

Cons

  • Not very long.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length:  2 hours
System: 3DS (eShop)
Genre: Platform / Shooter

Tearaway

Tearaway_boxartDate Completed : November 22nd, 2014

When I was eight years old a kid in my third grade class gained some notoriety for his ability to fold Origami balloons.  He refused to teach me how on the grounds that “Origami is a secret”.  It must be one of the worst kept secrets of all time – a quick trip to the Library at recess was enough to get the instructions for balloons as well as myriads of other interesting things.  I came back to class triumphantly and demonstrated that I too now knew the secret.  His thunder was stolen and I reigned as the new coolest 8 year old.  At least that’s how I like to remember it.

Tearaway isn’t a game about Origami but it does involve a lot of folding paper.  Everything in the game from blades of grass to enemies to waves in the ocean has been modeled with virtual paper.  Various objects in the game can be further enhanced by using an in-game editor to create new paper craft objects of your own.  For example, when you enter the snowy area you create the snowflakes which are seen blowing in the wind.  You can also use the Camera at various points to take pictures of real-world objects that will be used in the game world.

Elk

An Elk that has been textured with a photograph of my wife’s beads.

The game itself follows the adventures of ‘Iota’, a messenger who happens to be made of paper.  Iota is on a quest to deliver the message to mythical creature called a ‘You’ (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil what a ‘You’ is.  You‘ll have to play the game to find out!).  Primarily your goal is to navigate your way through the paper craft world and help Iota deliver the message.

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That’s not a bow on my head, it’s a butterfly!

Playing Tearaway gives one the impression that it was a requirement that every piece of the Vita’s hardware was used in some way.  The most innovative use of the Vita’s hardware is how the rear-touch panel is used.  In set locations in the game world you can use the back of the Vita to shove your finger into the game world and interact with the environment (If you look closely at the box art you’ll see a finger holding up Iota).  It was quite a surprise for me the first time that happened.

It is impossible to lose the game.  If you fall off the level or are defeated by an enemy Iota quickly re-spawns at the previous checkpoint.  The game is already very easy, and without the threat of death it’s just a matter of taking the time to walk through the levels. It has been pointed out to me that Journey was similar in that respect, and now that I think of it Tearaway has a lot of similarities to Journey without having quite the emotional impact that Journey has.

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One of the many friends you make on your adventure.

My kids enjoyed watching me play Tearaway for short periods but the game wasn’t enough to hold their interest for long. They were mostly interested in ‘helping’ me create paper craft objects with the touch screen, or photo bombing pictures when the cameras were active.

If you look closely you might see my face and the top of my son’s head in the background.

One cool feature is that after taking a photo of certain objects in the game printable plans become available on https://tearaway.me. After finishing the game I printed off two black and white copies of the Iota plan for my boys to color in. I assisted in the Final assembly as it is a bit too complicated for a 5-year-old.

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Papercraft Iota

My final thoughts – I thought the game was too easy. The story was good, but I feel it could have been told in a more emotionally impactful way. The game relies too much on gimmicky interactions (such as a finger through the back panel) and not enough on core game mechanics. The paper craft visual ascetic is unique and interesting. The ability to create custom objects and insert pictures into the game makes each play through the game unique to an individual. There is a lot to like, and a lot that falls a bit shy of greatness. I would play a sequel (which I understand has been announced for the PS4) but I doubt I will play through this title again.

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I am the sunshine, the only sunshine…

PS – Somewhat unexpectedly, it turns out the day that I beat Tearaway was it’s Birthday!

Pros

  • Unique visual ascetics.
  • Makes full use of all the features of the Vita.
  • Bonus ‘Real World’ content unlocks as you play at https://tearaway.me

Cons

  • Not very challenging
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length:  ~3 hours
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: Platform / Exploration

LittleBigPlanet PS VITA

LittleBigPlanet_Vita_BoxartDate Completed : October 11th, 2014

I have been a fan of LittleBigPlanet since the original arrived in 2008. I didn’t have kids at the time so I was able to play the game enough to achieve one of my few Platinum trophies. LittleBigPlanet 2 was a similarly excellent game which my boys enjoyed watching but the LittleBigPlanet PSP game was severely lacking.  I was also concerned for the title because LittleBigPlanet Karting was clearly designed to push the DLC on customers, which was most unwelcome.  I didn’t have high hopes for LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, but the Playstation Vita doesn’t have a lot of choice when it comes to games so I popped it on my Amazon Wish List anyway.

My first impression of the game was that I believed it had crashed.  After launching the title I was in the familiar ‘Pod’ area that lets you select the world and map you want to plan on and none of the buttons worked.  It turns out that you have to TOUCH the world you want to play using the touch screen and traditional controls are completely useless.  I can think of no reason for this design decision except that they wanted the game to function as a tech demo of the Vita’s new capabilities.

Once you get into the game it plays almost exactly like LittleBigPlanet 2, with some Vita specific goodness thrown in.  Objects can now be touchable using either the touch screen, or the touchpad on the back of the Vita.  There are also levels that use the gyroscopes and you must tilt the Vita to move.  None of these additions feel particularly necessary but they did give my kids a chance to interact with the game while I played it.  If my kids were watching me play I’d put them in charge of the touch screen and they would move the objects around for me.

The game itself was very short (only about 6 story mode levels I think) but there were a lot more challenge levels than I expected.  Some of the challenge levels were individual, but quite a few allowed for multiple players (either with hot seat or networked) and some allowed for multiple players at the same time on the same Vita, such as an air hockey mini-game.  My boys and I enjoyed playing that one against each other a lot.

LittleBigPlanet is only partly about the packaged game play though, if you aren’t creating levels you aren’t really playing the game.  Sadly I really don’t have the time to engage in the level design.  I spent many hours creating levels in the first LBP but since my kids were born I really don’t have the time, or the mental energy to spend too much time creating or playing community levels.  That said, the interface looks much improved for level creators.  If I ever get the itch to create a level again I’ll probably try and implement it in this version of the game.

I started playing the game a long, long, long but I kept putting it down and forgetting about it.  The 3DS has had several fantastic titles such as Bravely Default and A Link Between Worlds that took precedence and combined with tendonitis, a new born and moving to a new home LittleBigPlanet was never a priority.  Why not?  While technically the game is as good if not better than previous LittleBigPlanet games it somehow lacks the charm of the original game.  The music wasn’t as memorable, the characters weren’t as lovable, and the story mode is short.  It seems that they are hoping for fans to get more involved in the community levels, and creation aspect of the game which I simply do not have the desire for at this time.

I don’t want to sound too complain-ey though.  It’s a great little game, and it was fun to play, even if it didn’t quite manage to re-kindle my feelings of love for the original title.  If you’re the type who is likely to get involved in creating and playing community levels, or if you’re just another sad Vita owner looking for something to play, this game is for you.

Pros

  • New Touch Controls
  • Touch Screen based Level Designer

Cons

  • Short Story Mode
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  ~6 hours
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: Puzzle / Platformer

 

Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World Box ArtDate Completed: August 15, 2014

This review has been a long time coming.  I received the game for Christmas last year and I opened it and played it almost immediately but due to our previously mentioned homelessness situation, my tendonitis issue and the newborn I didn’t get around to completing the game until last month.

My first impression of the game was that it felt like I was running in Molasses.  I think they must have cut back the movement speed of your characters so that in four player mode you couldn’t run too far away from your buddies.  The game appears to use the same engine as Super Mario 3D Land, but without depth cues I found several of the environment much harder to jump through.  I estimate a full 25% of my deaths were due to being unable to properly estimate how far to jump, or where I was in relation to the platform I was jumping to.

The other 75% of my deaths were due to my 5 year old son, who insisted on playing with me, but didn’t care much for moving his character.  He’s getting old enough to be able to control a game in a 3D environment, but after few levels he loses focus and wanted me to carry him through all the levels.  He eventually discovered he could put himself in a bubble and float along side me as I played which worked well enough, but sort of defeated the purpose of playing the game at all.  After running my extra life total down from the 90s to about 3 I told him I needed to build up extra lives so he’d have to sit out awhile.  He wasn’t happy about that, but that didn’t keep him from wanting to watch me play.

The big ‘innovation’ of this Mario title is you now have a cat suit power up, and you can play with 4 players simultaneously.  I liked the cat suit a lot and I hope it makes its way into future Mario games.  Flying through the air to deliver the scratch of death to foes, and running a long walls could be a lot of fun in a Super Mario Galaxy like game.

My boys both really enjoyed the game and it is now on the rotation of games they periodically beg me to play (along with Pikmin 3, Skylanders and Ni No Kuni, in that order).  The level design was top notch, and the presentation was fantastic.  Nintendo really has a knack for creating unique environments families can enjoy playing through together.  The formula hasn’t changed in awhile – if you’ve ever played a Mario game before you’ll know what to expect.  Roughly 8 worlds of levels and after you beat the game you unlock a series of more challenging optional levels you can play.

I enjoyed Mario 3D Land, but it didn’t feel like a ‘real’ Mario game.  This is the first 3D Super Mario game to hit a non-portable console since Super Mario Galaxy 2 (One of the greatest Nintendo games ever, in my opinion), but it feels very much like a scaled up version of Super Mario 3D Land. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t put it on the same level as the Mario Galaxy games either.  Even so, this game is a lot of fun and and is definitely worth a look if you happen to be a Wii U owner.

Pros

  • Four Player Mario Action
  • Cat Suit!

Cons

  • Slow Gameplay

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length: ~10 hours
System: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Platform

Skylanders Swap Force

Date Completed: January 24th, 2014

Swap Force Starter PackI’ve been on a bit of hiatus from my blog due to a temporary case of homelessness.  My wife became pregnant with our third child so we had to upgrade our home.  Since she couldn’t take care of two boys and keep our previous home ready to show we decided to move in with my in-laws while our house was listed.  Unfortunately my in-laws live in the country and horror of horrors they have no broadband internet!  My cell phone was my only window to the world for four months.  Long story short, I’m back now and ready to write again.

I knew I wanted to get a game for my kids for Christmas but I couldn’t decide between Disney Infinity or Skylanders SwapForce.  I spent a lot of time researching the two games and while I was more interested in the Disney Infinity characters Skylanders appeared to have the better ratings on GameRankings.  Finally the decision was made for me when Amazon offered Skylanders as one of their lightning deals.

Skylanders is an action game with a twist.  You get a USB ‘Portal of Power’ that you set actions figures on.  Action figures appear on-screen in the game and can then be controlled by the player.  Once my kids saw that portal light up and the figures appear on-screen they were hooked.

My youngest boy loves dragons.

My youngest boy loves dragons.

 

I gave the game to my oldest son and I picked up a few extra characters so my younger son could have a few as well.  I didn’t know anything about the game so I picked characters I thought they’d like.  I didn’t realize that you have to  purchase specific characters to get past certain areas in the game.  The game has 8 different elements and certain gates can only be opened by a  Skylander of the matching element.  If you do the match that means you need to buy an additional five toys just to have access to all the game content.  We ended up hitting Toys R Us several times to pick up additional characters, and I even bought a number of characters for myself because my boys didn’t always pick Skylanders of the elements we needed.  Toys R Us has an irritating habit of constantly having Skylanders on sale, so we’ve picked up far more figures than we really needed now.

Skylanders are constantly on sale.

Skylanders are constantly on sale.

As I’ve already mentioned each Skylander has a different element and some of the optional areas requires a specific element is used to unlock a gate.  Swap-Force Skylanders can exchange the top and bottom halves of their bodies (Which is new to this game) and become dual-element, so to reflect this there are also dual-element gates.  Swap-Force Skylanders also have special abilities (e.g. climb, dig, teleport and rocket) that let them participate in challenge zones found throughout the levels.  If you do the math this means to access 100% of the content in the game you’ll need to buy at least 6 Skylander action figures (the game comes with two), being careful that you get complete coverage of the elements and special abilities.

Activision helpfully shipped the game with a poster of all of the other Skylanders that you can purchase for your kids.  My boys kept the poster up in their room and my oldest son spent most of his time in January copying the names of Skylanders down onto shopping lists for me, or anyone else he thinks might have enough money to buy him a Skylander.  It’s been a great learning tool for him.  Thanks to the copious amounts of Skylander lists he’s made he (in my humble opinion) has the best handwriting in his preschool class and he can now recognize words like ‘Legendary Free-Ranger’ and ‘Lava Barf Eruptor’ which is a bit beyond the normal ‘See Spot Run’ reading he’d been doing.

We managed our way through the game by having play while the boy managed the portal of power.  Eventually I realized the game is actually TWO player and my older son was able to participate.  He had some trouble with the jumping and platforming sections but otherwise he turned out to be surprisingly capable.  He’s currently working his way through the game on his own, on an easier difficulty.

Long story short, buying Skylanders was opening a bag of worms I didn’t understand.  Both boys wanted Skylanders for their birthdays.  We have Skylander companion apps on our iOS devices now.  We have Skylanders clothing, stuffed animals and we found cheap copies of the original two Skylanders games on eBay.  My older son has a Skylanders chart and is currently doing chores to save up enough money to buy Skylanders Trap Team when it releases in October.  It looks like we’ll be living with Skylanders for quite awhile.

Pros

  • USB Portal of Power.
  • Action figures can be used in the game.
  • Kids love it!

Cons

  • You’ll have to buy a lot of toys to unlock 100% of the game.
  • Your children may obsess over it.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length: 20 hours
System: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Action / Adventure

Ico

Ico Box ArtDate Completed : December 8th, 2013

Ico is the second full game that I received for ‘free’ from PlayStation Plus that I’ve bothered to play all the way through (The other being Quantum Conundrum back in February).  I’d heard about Ico being one of the ‘Most overlooked PS2 titles’ back when it was originally available but I never got around to playing it (My PS2 primarily functioned as a Final Fantasy adapter for my TV set).  When the Ico / Shadow of the Colossus combo was announced I thought it might finally be my chance to try it out.  I borrowed the game disk from some friends but I never made it a priority and it was unused for months.  When Sony made the game free for PS Plus subscribers I returned the disk and finally decided this is getting ridiculous.  I should either play the game or give up on it.  A quick check at howlongtobeat.com indicated that the game was actually pretty short so there was nothing to lose.

The story is immediately interesting.  A young boy with horns (Ico) is locked away in a castle because that’s what’s done with horned boys, for some reason.  The boy manages to escape confinement and begins exploring the castle in search of a way out.  The castle is huge, but appears to be mostly empty.  After several minutes of exploration you encounter a young woman who is locked away in a cage, so naturally you try and help her escape as well.

Ico and Yorda

OK, I’ll help you escape too.

The young woman doesn’t talk, but the walk-through I used indicated her name is Yorda.  Since the goal is for both of you to escape most of the game play involves making the castle accessible to Yorda.  She doesn’t have the super-human jumping skills or casual disregard for safety that Ico has so you have to find ways to lower bridges, open doors, move blocks and make it possible to freely move about the environment.  Puzzles get very involved and at one point my wife remarked “I can see why you’d need a walk-through”

Periodically shadow monsters appear and attempt to kidnap Yorda.  If they succeed Ico is turned into a statue and you have to start over and the previous checkpoint (Which can be quite a ways in the past).  The only way to prevent the shadows from achieving their goal is by beating them into oblivion with a dull stick.  The shadows can’t do any damage to you but they can knock you down.  They aren’t particularly challenging to defeat and I didn’t have any trouble with them after I figured out which button to use to hit them (Square), and how to pull Yorda out of the shadow holes.  They are irritating, easy to defeat, and don’t seem to serve any useful purpose other than to break the monotony of exploration. (They do look really cool though).

With the exception of the periodic battles against the shadows, the game is a plain and simple exploration and puzzle game.  The castle has lots of interesting areas to explore.  The main problem with the game is the contrast.  Inside the castle is extremely dark, and outside is extremely bright.  I had to crank the brightness setting all the way up to see anything at all when I was inside and I had to crank the brightness way down whenever I went outside.  Several areas of the game were so dark that I missed clues on how to proceed and eventually I resorted to using a walk-through to proceed through the game.  The game supports 3D and I tried out that mode on my 3D monitor but the brightness problem was only exacerbated by the 3D glasses and I found it unplayable.

Inside the Castle

Inside the castle with the brightness set to default.

My kids were surprisingly interested in the game.  I thought it would be too boring for them, or that the shadow creatures would be too scary but they liked the whole concept of helping the girl to escape the castle.  I should note however that my older boy was a little upset I was carrying a stick around instead of a proper sword (Never mind that his toy sword is made of cardboard).  Eventually Ico does find a proper sword and my son was satisfied.

I can see why some people would think of it as a hidden gem but I am not one of those people.  It has a lot to like, but it also has a lot of problems that eliminate most of the joy from the experience.  I enjoyed the story and the exploration aspects but the rest of the game lacked the fine tuning and polish that could have made this game a truly enjoyable experience.

Pros

  • Big castle to explore.
  • Interesting story.

Cons

  • Extraordinarily poor contrast.
Is it fun: No
Score: 5/10
Length: 5 hours
System: PlayStation 3
Genre: Adventure / Puzzle / Platform