Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zelda Reorchestrated and their Twilight Symphony Need Your Help!

Do you know what Zelda Reorchestrated is? If not, I can't recommend enough that you check out their work posthaste. They've been making excellent arrangements based on all the Zelda games for years now, and they're currently working on a massive project known as Twilight Symphony. Basically, they're hoping to include a full-sized orchestra with their two-and-a-half-hour-long reorchestration of Twilight Princess' score. However! This sort of thing costs a good deal of money, and they could sure use any loose cash you have sitting around. Just donating one dollar would help, and you'll win bunches of free stuff depending on your generosity. You can read my full article about this on Critical Gamer, and I encourage you to visit ZREO's Kickstarter page to spare what you can. This is a really awesome project that I, personally, am extremely excited about, so take a look if you've a mind to do so. Don't forget that the rest of their comprehensive collection costs zero dollars and can be downloaded from their website, so go there too and enjoy!

That is the public service announcement of the day. Carry on, and give ZREO money.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


8.5 - [Excellent]

Gameplay: 8
Visuals: 8
Music: 9
Sound: 7
Value: 8

Publisher: Sidhe Interactive
Developer: Sidhe Interactive
Multiplayer: Local co-op
Console(s): PC, PS3
Reviewed on: PC
ESRB rating: E (Mild Fantasy Violence)
BMR rating: E (No Descriptors)

Good points:

Fresh, exciting gameplay - Simple but full of depth - Uber-awesome soundtrack - Shiny visuals are appealing but not distracting - Great bang for your buck

Not so good points:

It... could have used an online mode? I don't know, I'm stretching here.

Sometimes a simple concept is the best kind, and it doesn't get much simpler than tried-and-true Breakout-style gameplay. Everyone has played it in some form or another, be it an old Atari 2600 title, a cheap Freeware knockoff, or a recent Nintendo DS remake. It is amazing to consider, then, that Sidhe Interactive was able to so profoundly transform an idea as stale as a month-old box of Tostitos into a full-fledged product of real substance. Yet that is exactly what they've done with Shatter, a downloadable game that boasts style, sheen, and class. There's nothing old-hat about this thoroughly entertaining experience.

The core concept remains the same: maneuver a paddle back and forth in an effort to bounce a ball off walls and into blocks. If you slip up and let the ball get by you, a life is lost. Once all the obstacles have been destroyed, the level is complete. Fun, but almost boringly straightforward. Shatter, however, manages to make this both exciting and deep, improving upon classics like Arkanoid in all the ways that matter. The game takes place in a cyberspace land full of neon lights and abstract backgrounds, and not only looks fantastic but does an excellent job of keeping the hectic action manageable during the craziest of scenarios. The fitting electro rock soundtrack is phenomenal, flowing with pulsing beats and fast-paced vigor. This world is inhabited with a whole mess of blocks that take on a variety of shapes and properties, and Shatter teaches you a few nifty (and surprisingly versatile) tricks to bash them into oblivion.    

You can practically feel those scores rising, multipliers combo-ing, and meters filling.

First and foremost is the multipurpose ability to suck in air and, conversely, shoot it back out. Everything is affected by this subtle push and pull, and if you're not careful you'll find piles of blocks hurtling your way to knock you out of commission for a critical moment. A shield helps to avoid this fate, but eats up the energy bar as a ravenous sea lion would several delicious fish. Use it sparingly, for a full meter unleashes a Shard Storm that slows down time, allowing you to barrage offending blocks with devastating bullets and spectacularly rad explosions. Blue shards pour forth from destroyed blocks to either fill up the meter or ricochet off your shield, becoming weapons of their own. It's supremely satisfying to pull in heaps upon heaps of the shiny prizes after an especially successful frenzy of destruction. To keep things even more interesting, a range of power-ups appear from time to time, awarding you with some game-changing abilities. All of these elements combine admirably to create an elegant stream of action that never lets up.

Level design in Story Mode is clever and fresh, making it a necessity to think fast and devise strategies on the fly. It's not terribly challenging, but it'll take a good two hours or so to complete. Each of the ten levels is comprised of several waves, a boss fight, and a bonus round, all of which entertain. The Endless and Time Attack modes task you with surviving for as long as possible and racking up points in the allotted time limit, respectively, both of which can be played via local co-op. Bonus Mode lets you practice your skill in the Pong-esque bonus stages, and Boss Rush pits you against each boss in succession. All told, there's a ton of stuff packed into this deceptively deep game, and it's consistently fun to come back for more. Easily surpassing the worth of the asking price, Shatter is a smashing success that deserves to be played again and again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Critical Gamer

I have a question for you, reader:

Have you ever been to Critical Gamer? Well? Have you?

I discovered this delightful gaming site a while back and highly appreciated their unique articles, regularly updated content, and spiffy style. So luckily for me, I've had the good fortune of writing for them, and my first article is over there now! My topic of choice was something that I find very important in the land of video games; namely, role-playing and its role (pun!) in RPGs. So head over there, drop a comment, take a look around, and keep checking back for more good stuff by the fine staff of Critical Gamer.

Of course, I'll still be plugging away at Blue Mage Reviews as well, so expect more posts in the near future! If GameFly would hurry up and send me some games, I might have a review coming. Possibly. We'll see. Stay tuned. Goodbye.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

QuickBlog: Lugaru HD

The following QuickBlog is a review request from a reader who shall remain nameless because he didn't mention his name. I hope a brief look at Lugaru HD is enough for you, nameless reader. I've had a lot on my plate recently (writing-wise and life-wise), and I don't really think this particular title needs extended exploration. All the same, let me know if you have any questions or whatnot, and enjoy! As for the rest of you, feel free to make a request of your own. I'm up for it!

6.0 - [Good]

Gameplay: 8
Visuals: 4
Music: 4
Sound: 4
Value: 6

Publisher: N/A
Developer: Wolfire Games
Multiplayer: N/A
Console(s): PC
Reviewed on: PC
ESRB rating: N/A
BMR rating: T (Blood, Violence)

Good Points:

Advanced, innovative combat system - Strategic depth prolongs replay value - Rad martial arts

Not So Good Points:

Nothing to do but the core fighting - Frustration can seep into the unforgiving fights - Muddy, unattractive graphics - Glitches break up the action - Almost nonexistent music - Disturbing, violent rabbits

Lugaru HD is without a doubt one of the strangest games I've ever played. Developed by the tiny independent studio Wolfire Games, it has little in the ways of production values and, at first glance, seems kind of worthless. But past the unattractive exterior is a deep game that will most likely surprise you in both good and bad ways. The simple plot revolves around a villager named Turner who loses his family and friends to a band of murderous raiders, and thus goes on a revenge-bent killing spree that ventures into some dark territory. What makes the whole experience disconcertingly surreal is the fact that nearly the entire cast is built up of anthropomorphic bunnies with disturbingly human-like proportions. And let me tell you, these bunnies can fight. It's tough to get a handle on the unorthodox combat system, and your first attempts might yield frustration. After learning the ebbs and flows of timing counters and strikes, however, the action can become fast and intense. There are three types of weapons in the game (knives, swords, and bo staffs), but almost all of your time will be spent wielding the knife or duking it out bare-pawed. Obtained items deal serious damage, but can be disarmed with a clever counter or solid blow, which sends everyone scrambling to recover the lost weapon and gain the edge in a fight. Taking on too many enemies at once can be your downfall, but a sharp mind and responsive controls guarantee that skill overcomes almost any odds. At its best, Lugaru HD becomes a whirlwind of awesome karate techniques as Turner throws opponents over his back, blocks their incoming fists, and wall-jump-kicks them in the head, all without taking damage. It's an unconventional combat system like no other, but it can be repetitive and exasperating at times, especially when stealth is involved. The satisfaction lies in that every minute spent practicing is a step closer to bunny fung fu perfection, and results can be dramatic in just a few hours of play.

Welcome to the world of Lugaru. You have been warned.

The story mode's length completely depends on your competence level, but certainly is short once you get the hang of things. Throughout the course of the adventure, you will stab rabbits with your knife (and pull out the blade dripping with blood), slit the throats of sleeping bandits in the night, and wipe out a village of wolves that may or may not contain women and children. The humorless tone, animal characters, and creepily hollow music make it even more disturbing, but it's true that Lugaru HD once again stands out from the crowd. Still, none of these acts of violence are very graphic due to the blocky visuals and highly un-cinematic presentation. The game is certainly not a looker, and there are some very shaky physics and camera jerks that regularly break up the flow. There's an overall feeling of low quality that can be mostly forgiven considering that the entire project was essentially constructed by a single person (an incredible feat, I might add), but it's present nonetheless. But the underlying mechanics are sound, and it's a good thing they're so finely honed, as that's quite simply all there is to the game. A bunch of challenge maps that are just as fun as the campaign missions will keep you going for a while, and you can raise or lower the difficulty depending on your preference, but that's pretty much all you'll get. It's a testament to the core gameplay that it continues to entertain well after the story mode is completed, and its blend of unusual ideas should be remembered and learned from in the future. The price runs at a mere $10, but even though it goes without saying, I'll say it anyway: Lugaru HD is not for everyone. It's weird, unsettling, complex, and ugly along with being brilliant and fun, and should be approached with the same amount of caution a knife-wielding bunny deserves.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blue Mage and Twitter

Well, that last post was somewhat of a fiasco. Apparently Blue Mage has been getting restless and felt the need to hijack the blog in order to express his worthy opinions and obtain a piece of the virtual creativity pie. That's how he put it, at any rate. Conduct of that sort-- the kind where my life is threatened and nearly ended-- is, however, unacceptable, so we came to a compromise:

Blue Mage will now handle this blog's Twitter account. In return, he will not kill me.

Is this idea dangerous? Foolish? Kind of stupid? Yes, yes, and absolutely. I can only hope that this distraction will not only benefit myself and users of Blue Mage Reviews, but also keep the Blue Mage too busy to post horrible cosplay photos of himself. If you'd like to do so, feel free to follow him here. Ideally his tweets will be pre-approved before going live, but honestly, that's probably not going to happen.

Still, there's a bright side to all this. New reviews and articles will be updated regularly, so you can stay super informed and up-to-date and all that. You can also ask questions, give feedback, and have input regarding the content of Blue Mage Reviews. Who knows what sort of fascinating details Blue Mage will leak early? I'm hoping he'll at least keep passwords and other personal data a secret, but again, that's probably not going to happen.

So yeah, I'd love for you to follow the exploits of Blue Mage Reviews! You can still follow my personal Twitter account, of course, but I won't be speaking exclusively about the blog over there. Just let me know if you hear another murderous plot concerning my well-being, and don't get into a fight over Final Fantasy XIV with Blue Mage. If that happens, your only defense will be the restrictive 140 character count, thereby crippling his scathing yet elaborate insults. Remember that, and all will be well.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Blue Mage's Resolutions and Their Results

Greetings to you, voyagers of the cyberlands! It is I again, Blue Mage, mascot and secret master mind of this very weblog. Emblem 180 has once again bowed to my wishes and is allowing me to create another intelligent article for your viewing pleasure. If one harks back to the beginning of the year 2010, one will recall a list of resolutions that I (the Blue Mage) vowed to complete before the year's end. If you wish to refresh your memory on this event, I encourage you to click this link to see the impressive spectacle for yourself. Now I am here at the beginnings of 2011 give my report on how, precisely, I achieved my inordinately overwhelming objectives. Please do enjoy, and attempt to keep your levels of raging jealousy towards me to a minimum. Emblem 180 must work hard at this task each and every day, and so can you.

#10: Learn to use two control sticks at once

This resolution, I decided halfway through a particularly grueling round of Halo: Reach's unrelentingly unfair Firefight Mode, was not stretching my potential to its fullest. I asked this question to myself: why should I merely "learn" how to use both control sticks when I can be alone on a hill of my own skillful making by mastering only one? While my foolish foes are fiddling about in a frenzy of twofold frustration, I can confidently move a single control stick to and fro in complete domination. Perhaps they can aim and turn and whatnot, but I-- ah, the Blue Mage alone-- can strafe very effectively.

#9: Buy an Xbox Live headset

I borrowed Emblem 180's but refused to give it back, and thus it counts.

#8: Travel through time/space in order to visit Dimentio

As it turns out, Dimentio is an extremely busy angular antagonist. And really now, I am not one to complain, but his secretary is in dire need of training. The impudent girl had the gargantuan gall to tell me repeatedly that I could not drop by without, as she so callously put it, "scheduling an appointment." Do I force viewers of this weblog to "schedule appointments" with me in order to correspond? No, I do not! A mere comment is all I take to respond with joy and pleasantries. Still, I do not hold Dimentio personally responsible for his incompetent underling, and I did manage to leave a flattering message on his voice-mail.

#7: Sue Nintendo

Nintendo had it coming with their flagrant blue mage stereotyping, and although my plot to malign Reggie Fils-Aime fell through, I did successfully hijack their pompous demonstration of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. By sending high-frequency signals through the air using my magical powers, I essentially rendered their precious Motion-Plus remotes useless! The look of  inescapable embarrassment on Miyamoto-san's face was a delicious and revengeful desert served, at the very least, below room temperature.

#6: Publish "The Big Book of Blue Mage Quotes"

Good publishers are nigh impossible to come by these days, but I am looking deeply into self-publishing. The project is nearly complete, and thus counts. To prove that this book does indeed exist in some form or another, I shall present to you an excerpt of "The Big Book of Blue Mage Quotes."

The look of  inescapable embarrassment on Mr. Miyamoto's face was a delicious and revengeful desert served, at the very least, below room temperature.

#5: Reach the level cap in Final Fantasy XI

This goal was, naturally, superseded by the 2010 release of Final Fantasy XIV. I switched all my efforts and energy to the brand new massively multiplayer online role-playing game instead, and it is... it is everything I could have hoped for. It is perfect and is in no way flawed, broken, boring, or terrible. Just... just leave me be!

#4: Travel to Japan

I have discovered that airplane rates are not as inexpensive as I was led to believe. Also, taking my cape off to pass through security is a demeaning act I would never participate in, regardless of reasonable safety regulations. However, I did finish my splendid Sazh Katzroy costume, pictured below:

#3: Buy a Chu Chu

They do not, as it were, sell chu chus on eBay. This is an automatic disqualification and thus does not count against my record.

#2: Train my Chu Chu

How can one train a chu chu named Chuey that does not exist? Aha, I have you in a clever logic trap. You lose, and again this does not at all count against me.

#1: Discover a way to get the inane failure known as "Emblem 180" fired

To my endless chagrin, it has been revealed that Emblem 180 has no higher-ups to fire him or ex-business-partners/wives that care to see him dead. As disappointing as this turn of events is, I was able to (through stealthy tactics and incessant stalking) poison his lunch this very afternoon. Therefore, it will not be long before Emblem 180 is no more and my first and foremost resolution is complete. So it counts.

As you can see with perfect clarity, I (the Blue Mage) have defeated each and every goal on my previously concocted list. I briefly considered making another such compilation for this new year, but having finished this one, I can see no room for improvement. I would consider brilliant suggestions from viewers, if merely to appease the masses, but I sincerely doubt there is any meaningful ambition to aim for in the new decade. That is not to say my life is devoid of meaning; far from it. There are countless things for a blue mage such as myself to busy himself with, and I feel more alive than ever before! That is more than could be said, I think, for Emblem 180. And to this I chortle.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years - The End

Hello, and welcome to the finale of A Look to the Past: Games of the Years. The greatest entries from the past twenty years of video games have been successfully chronicled, and we finally make it to the end: all the way back to 2010! We've visited the NES, witnessed the brief reign of the Dreamcast, dropped by to see online gaming take off, and finally come to rest at the current generation of hardware. In case you haven't been calculating information in your head this whole time, here's a recap of the feature for your reading pleasure:

1990 - Super Mario Bros. 3
1991 - Super Mario World
1992 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1993 - Myst
1994 - Donkey Kong Country
1995 - Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
1996 - Super Mario 64
1997 - Star Fox 64
1998 - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
1999 - Soul Calibur
2000 - Rayman 2: The Great Escape
2001 - Super Smash Bros. Melee
2002 - Animal Crossing
2003 - The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
2004 - World of Warcraft
2005 - Shadow of the Colossus
2006 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
2007 - Halo 3
2008 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl
2009 - Batman: Arkham Asylum

Game of the Ever: 2004 - World of Warcraft

And here are some fun statistics on the winners in case you're curious:


Nintendo - 12
Broderbund - 1
Namco - 1
Ubisoft - 1
Blizzard Entertainment - 1
Sony Computer Entertainment - 1
Bethesda Softworks - 1
Microsoft - 1
Eidos Interactive - 1

Original IPs: 

3 (Myst, Animal Crossing, Arkham Asylum)


17 (All the others)

Games with multiplayer:

11 (Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox 64, Soul Calibur, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Animal Crossing, Wind Waker, World of Warcraft, Halo 3, Super Smash Bros. Brawl)

Games that contain the word "Super" in their title:

6 (Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl)

As this year comes to a close and people begin to furiously compile their Top 10 lists and select their Game of the Year nominees, it's good to reflect on how far games have come. Compare the first item on the list, Super Mario Bros. 3, with 2009's winner. Has any medium improved so drastically in such a short amount of time? We could debate which of the two games is better until 2012 comes around to unleash the T-virus, activate the seven Halo rings, and wipe us off the face of the earth, but nobody can argue that time hasn't been very generous to games both technically and sophisticatedly. But if nothing else, this has proven how amazing video games are. Looking back on all those years brings nostalgia to my heart and reminds me why I play games in the first place. I sincerely hope that you've enjoyed this Look to the Past, and I'd love to hear your Games of the Years (and Game of the Ever, too). 

And with that, I'm off! See you next time!

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2009 - Batman Arkham Asylum


Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360)

The Joker's arrest has gone terribly awry. Mad, depraved inmates are roaming the grimy halls of Arkham Asylum. The security officers are all but nonexistent; most of them are dead. There's a sinister, evil plot behind these dark events, and the Joker himself is orchestrating it all, viewing the wanton murders and ghastly sights as a twisted joke for his own perverse pleasure. There's only one silver lining in this horrible mess: Batman is here.

Take that concept and mold it into the most awesome video game you possibly can; that's Batman: Arkham Asylum. The tone was dark and grim, dripping with minute details and creepy atmosphere, and you were placed directly into the role of the Dark Knight. Arkham Asylum's crowning achievement was its ability to make you feel just like Batman. The outstanding animation for the fight sequences had him delivering hard-hitting punches and vaulting around the enemies like a pro, always in command and always looking ridiculously cool. The free-flowing hand-to-hand combat was unbelievably fluid, and a daunting pack of criminals could be brought to their knees without Batman ever missing a beat or breaking a combo. The stealth mechanics allowed you to execute sneak attacks and mess with the enemy thugs' minds, slowly panicking them to the state of terror. Moving beyond the frustrations of most stealth games, Arkham Asylum made escape fully possible once spotted, and duking it out was usually an option as well, but creeping through the shadows and taking out minions one by one was supremely satisfying. These two elements blended together perfectly, all wrapped around an enthralling and immersive plot that felt like a blockbuster action film in which you got to be the hero. My jaw dropped during the opening interactive cutscene, and I didn't pick it up again until the credits rolled.

"Come on, boys. He's just one man! One man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth! Hehehehehehe! Go get him!"
-The Joker speaking to his men via the PA system.

The setting went a long way to securing Arkham Asylum a place in the history books. The Joker's hilarious and sadistic remarks spoken over the PA system never became stale, and each inmate was well-acted and convincingly insane. Alone and against impossible odds, Batman had to maneuver every inch of the island and use every trick in his book to survive, which made everything all the more amusing for the maniacal Joker. The brave superhero was set up for failure every step of the way, but always he forged ahead without complaint, saving victims and beating down foes. This dynamic between the two central characters made everyone else seem like pawns in a horrible game of chess, except that Batman's side consisted of only one knight, and it had achieved both mental and physical perfection. Such tense struggle between good and evil, the sane and the insane, was the perfect story to be told in the madhouse known as Arkham Asylum, and it won't be forgotten any time soon. Of course, I missed out on some of the more popular games from 2009 such as Assassin's Creed II, Resident Evil 5, blah blah blah and etcetera. I think I've made it clear that I can't always play all of the newer games due to time and price restraints. However, I did get a chance to spend some quality time with games like Mario & Luigi 3: Bowser's Inside Story, Dragon Age: Origins, Demon's Souls, Halo: ODST, and (of special note) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. And let me tell you, I spent very long and tortured amount of time deciding between this final option and Arkham Asylum. Every time I came to a decision, I would change my mind and start over again, continuing the endless cycle in my indecisive mind. But in the end, it was Arkham Asylum's sheer originality that takes away the final prize of this Look to the Past, for it sprang seemingly from nowhere and forged an eye-opening new path of its own. Never before had I felt more like I truly was the main character of the game; Arkham Asylum nailed Batman, and that is a feat to be proud of.