Portal 2 Review

For anyone who plays games, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a highly anticipated game with pure satisfaction. Portal 2 is that kind of game. I’m lucky enough to have it be my first Gamer Theory review.

Portal 2 is the sequel to Valve’s critically acclaimed Portal, which was included in 2007’s The Orange Box. For the unfamiliar, Portal was a bold experiment which called for players to create “portals” on the sides of walls and objects. Taking control of the silent protagonist, Chell, these portals allow the player to go through one portal entrance and reappear through the exit in a series of mind-boggling puzzles that rely on things such as moving boxes, pressing buttons, and using momentum to fly through portals to get to out of reach places. It was a game like no other. It was a short game, but oh-so-sweet. It was bold in concept, simple in gameplay, and very innovative and ambitious. In 2011, Valve’s little gaming experiment grows up as a fully loaded game, and one of the best experiences of the year.

The game is divided into two campaigns: a traditional single player experience and a cooperative campaign. The single player game is set decades after the events of the first game. It starts off strong with an interesting, mysterious setting and a witty new character named Wheatley to complement the return of everyone’s favorite villainess, GLaDOS, the computerized mainframe that controls Aperture Science. The character development is simply superb, and the writing exquisite. You’re not going to want to part with these characters after the game is over. The single player levels will start off familiar to veterans of the first game, but as you progress, the masterminds at Valve continually throw curve balls as you’re introduced to new game-changing elements. From light-beam bridges you must send through portals to mysterious gels that make you bounce or glide very fast, they really pushed their creativity. This package is beautifully presented through superb art, charming characters, and an engaging story. The puzzles can be extremely difficult, but never overly frustrating (although I would be lying if I said I never once shut the game off for a breather from this mentally taxing title).

What I call "light-beam bridges"

The co-op mode puts you and one other friend in control of Atlas and P-body, two silly robots you’re probably going to take quite the liking-to. The co-op game is arguably more creative than the single player game. The developers continued to flex their cerebral cortexes with their seemingly bottomless pool of ideas to make one of the most unique cooperative experiences to be found anywhere. The devious puzzles will definitely have you and your partner scratching your heads, but that’s okay, because while you’re trying to wrap your head around a new test chamber, you can occupy yourselves with the gestures you gain as you progress through the co-op mode that help express yourself to your partner. This is helpful for those lacking a microphone. Additionally, you can buy more gestures and hats via DLC (a hit or miss with fans).

Atlas (right) and P-body (left)

One final thing I want to mention is Valve’s platform agnostic approach they created for this game. PlayStation 3 owners can link their Steam account to their PlayStation Network account and have full access to their Steam friends list right from the PS3. Additionally, this means PS3 owners can play co-op with PC and Mac gamers. Now here’s the best part: included with every PS3 copy of the game is free access to the PC/Mac version of the game and cross-platform synchronization. Good deal, no? Xbox 360 players, unfortunately, are segregated in this arrangement, and can only play online with other Xbox Live users, so it wasn’t the perfect blessing.

And there you have it. Portal 2. I’m a fan, and hope you will be, too. Make sure you put this at the top of your lists, newcomers and veterans alike (although newcomers really, really should go play the first one beforehand).

5 out of 5 stars

Best Game Ever: Chrono Trigger

Note: Best Game Ever is a series of posts I’ll be doing dedicated to the best games ever made. Each game I profile will be a game I’d accept as someone’s answer to the question, “what do you think the best game ever is?” So please, do not email me and tell me I’m stupid for posting about game X when game Y is clearly superior. And you never know, game Y might be the next game profiled. For more in the series, check out the “best game ever” category in the side bar.

Chrono Trigger. Back in the heyday of the 16-bit era, RPGs were one of the most popular genres and Japan was producing nearly all of the top titles. Square was one of the top companies during the era, producing the illustrious Final Fantasy series and other popular RPGs. Among those big hits was the fan favorite, Chrono Trigger, originally released for the Super Nintendo.

Chrono Trigger stood out for several reasons. First, the story was very engaging and the storyline could be altered depending on how you played the game. There were several possible endings to see, and some items could only be collected at the sacrifice of missing out on others. It was a fantastic game to discuss with friends to find out how your ending or order of events played out.

Another big reason that Chrono Trigger was so popular was due to its fantastic battle system. The game didn’t have random encounters, so you could skip fights if you wanted, but once you got into fights, they were tons of fun. Chrono Trigger allowed you to combine character attacks, and those attacks varied based on what characters you were combining. Most of the rest of the battle system was pretty standard, but each character was quite unique and it allowed for lots of experimentation and fun. As far as the standard JRPGs go, Chrono Trigger is still a game that provides an enjoyable battle system under the modern lens.

Finally, the other big memorable aspect of Chrono Trigger is its music. From its joyous victory fanfare to its moody and slower tracks, just about any old-school RPG fan can recall multiple musical selections from the game easily.

Luckily, Chrono Trigger is available widely these days. There are re-releases for the DS, the Virtual Console, PSN, and some older consoles. The game holds up very well, and it’s a game I seem to go back to at least once a year for a revisit. There was a sequel released for the PSOne, called Chrono Cross, but it didn’t quite have the same magic as its predecessor despite being a very good game in its own regard.

For these reasons and more not stated, Chrono Trigger is the best game ever.

The Stupid Gamer Podcast #57

After a week in Hawaii, it’s time to get back on the mic and kick out another show. We discuss the latest round of Project Cafe rumors, the PSN hacking, Mass Effect 3’s delay, and more. As a heads up, Brad and I are on different channels again, so if you’re not hearing one of us, put your other earphone in. Next week I’ll go back to downmixing to one track.

We also talk about the current contest on our Gamer Theory Facebook page where we’re giving away another free game. Check out the page at http://www.facebook.com/gamertheory for details.

Nintendo Wii price drop on May 15th, new bundle

On May 15th Nintendo will drop the official price of the Nintendo Wii to $150 and will be changing up the bundle a bit. Rather than receiving Wii Sports, new Wii owners will get a copy of Mario Kart and a Wii Wheel. To me that’s a better value as Wii Sports can be had for cheap and if anybody had any passing interest in it at this point, they probably already have tried it out.

For many consoles, the $150 and $99 price points are the magic triggers that cause a flurry of sales to pick up. We’ll have to see if this stirs up a new buying audience for the Wii or if saturation will continue to be an issue. The biggest problem right now is that there’s no big game out to coincide with the new price, but $150 is still a great deal for a console and a game.

If you haven’t picked up a Wii yet, it’s definitely time. Get one and get playing some of the gems in the library. Heck, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are worth the $150 console price tag by themselves…

New Project Cafe rumors make me nervous

Recently Nintendo gave official confirmation regarding the development of their next console, which is to be unveiled at E3 2011 next month. The code name for the console at this point is Project Cafe, which will almost certainly not be the final name for the console. Ever since the first rumors hit the Internet, speculation has been running wild over what the console would bring to the table. Some sources say that it’s significantly more powerful than the 360 and PS3, others say it’s about on par. Some say it has a 6″ touch screen on the controller, others say that’s crazy talk. Either way, some rumors seem to be gaining momentum, and the newest round points to some quirky decisions being made.

According to Stephen Totilo, here are the newest batch of rumors that he’s pulled together; and he seems confident that they are indeed legitimate.

  • No internal hard drive
  • 8GB flash-based memory, possibly for game storage
  • Disc format that holds 25GB storage (possibly single-layer blu-ray)
  • Support for SD cards
  • Possibly 1080i maximum resolution
  • The console can stream to the controller screen for portable play
  • Wii Remotes definitely work with new console

I like the streaming to the screen for portable play, that sounds nice. It’s also really cool that the Wii Remotes will still work with the console, but the first few items worry me. Without a larger storage solution, downloadable content will be somewhat limited or else gamers will always be having to swap in SD cards. The disc storage might point to blu-ray, which would be nice, but it would be a real shame if they don’t support multi-layered discs. Finally, the possibility that the console won’t do 1080p would be near inexcusable. While 1080i still looks nice, there’s no reason not to support full 1080p with a console that’s aimed for a 2012 release.

It’s starting to feel like some of the earlier rumors about Nintendo putting out a powerhouse console are starting to be replaced by Nintendo putting out a console that’s going to be more in line with the 360 and PS3. While that’s a huge leap up from the Wii, it would be the same story again once the PS3 and 360 successors release and Nintendo’s console is once again a generation behind.

Graphics aren’t the issue here, either. The issue is that if Nintendo’s console can’t keep up from a hardware standpoint, the library will suffer. The fact that 3rd parties have been speaking highly of Project Cafe makes me think that Nintendo has a good idea on their hands, but I’m really hoping that it’s not going to be a generation behind again.

Starhawk for PS3 rumors circulate

Warhawk was one of the first big multiplayer games for the PS3 that had sustained success. I got into it a bit, but ultimately I was left feeling that not enough attention was given to the flight combat and I didn’t stick around for too long. With rumors swirling that Starhawk is still  in the works, I just might get that flight-heavy combat sim experience that I’ve been hoping for.

About two years ago Sony registered a trademark for a game to be named “Starhawk”, but not much came of it. Many figured that the project was either canned or it was just Sony securing the name just in case they ever chose to act upon it. Well, Joystiq is now reporting that Lightbox Interactive is working on Starhawk and that we could get an official announcement as early as mid-May with obviously a follow up announcement coming at E3.

While I’d still love to see a full on addition to the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series from LucasArts, I do have faith that the ex-Incog guys over at Lightbox Interactive can put out a great sci-fi flight combat game. Going into the next few weeks, this is one rumor I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

The Stupid Gamer on Vacation

I’m out of town for the next week, so updates aren’t going to be likely. I should have an Internet connection, however, so I may squeak out a post or two. There won’t be a podcast this week, however. It should be a nice few days to get some relaxation time in and get caught up on my handheld gaming backlog while in the air and in the evenings.

What Nintendo needs to do with their next console

Speculation is wild regarding the next Nintendo console, which as confirmed to be an HD console. For some fans, simply having a Wii that’s capable of 1080 resolutions. For most, however, Nintendo is in need of some reparations in order to get the hardcore to embrace their next offering. I’ve done some digging around into the rumors, have touched base with some developers I know and some PR people and they seem to think Nintendo is sincere in their desire to regain popularity with hardcore gamers and it’s not just lip service to ensure a strong launch support. So what does Nintendo do to get back in the good graces of the hardcore audience?

Better Online Support

One of the most important areas in which Nintendo needs to improve is in their online offerings. The Wii is online-enabled, but it’s pretty horrible overall in regards to the experience you get with online play. Nintendo needs to make friends list management easier, communication a focal point in gameplay, and a better solution for downloading games, content, and updates/fixes. To accomplish this, Nintendo is going to have to back off of their nanny tendencies and trust in parental supervision a bit more. It’s unlike Nintendo to open up the gates to wider communication via their platforms, but the time is now if they want to seriously contend in the online realm.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, Nintendo, make the Virtual Console service better!

A Standard Control Scheme out of the Box

Using a Classic Controller or a GameCube controller is a decent way to play games in a more standard manner on the Wii, but since neither controller came with the console, the inclusion of standard control schemes in games was an option that was typically an afterthought for many developers. With rumors swirling of a screen embedded into the controller, it’s nice to hear just as many rumors saying that the controller has a dual analog setup. How’s this for crazy? Nintendo has NEVER had a console with a dual analog controller unless it was an optional accessory. It’s time to get on the dual analog train, Nintendo.

Standard Media

While just about everybody has more DVD players than TV sets these days, it can’t hurt for Nintendo to finally support a common disc format that allows the system to play media other than video games. A blu-ray player would be nice, but if they don’t opt for blu-ray, DVD has to be the choice, despite its limited storage capacity. Swapping discs from time to time is preferable to an oddball format that doesn’t allow for any other uses.

Actual 3rd Party Support!

Nintendo has always raked in huge profits thanks to their high selling 1st party games, but no console in history has ever won the console war on the strength of their 1st party library alone. It’s time that Nintendo opens its doors more widely to 3rd parties and provides them with better tools, licensing agreements, and does a better job promoting 3rd party offerings. Many times Microsoft or Sony will help 3rd parties advertise their games and it always helps push more units through the sales channel. Nintendo needs to do the same.

Bring Back Core Titles Development

Miis are everywhere these days, and when used properly they’re great. However, aside from a handful of Zelda and Metroid titles, Nintendo has been far too casual with their offerings to appease the hardcore crowd. Not since Perfect Dark has Nintendo had a strong FPS offering (no, Geist doesn’t count) come from one of their own studios. That’s far too long. Keep up with the Marios and Zeldas, but explore some deeper content as well. While 3rd parties could carry the majority of this burden, it’s the 1st parties that generally need to provide the exclusives.

Make the Gimmicks Count and Support Them

Nintendo loves to engage in quirky behavior with their hardware. Sometimes the quirks turn into significant contributions to the industry (trigger buttons, rumble, d-pad, etc.), and other times those quirks fizzle and are left in the past (bongos, GBA link, Wii Speak, etc.) to fill closet space. While I don’t want Nintendo to stop pushing out their quirky accessories, they need to do a better job at supporting them once they’re out. The Wii Balance Board had some potential that was definitely left untapped. It’s fine to experiment, but don’t leave the buyers out in the cold once they gamble on new concepts.

It’s a long list of things that Nintendo needs to do, but I think that’s pretty indicative of where they stand with the hardcore crowd. Nostalgia always propels Nintendo’s efforts with the older crowd, but that effect seems to be losing its potency as each year goes by. If Nintendo is truly serious about becoming a mainstay in the hardcore gaming circles again, they better come to the next generation with a new attitude and a broader vision. We’ll find out more at E3 2011 this June.

Report: Nintendo to unveil a new HD console at E3

Game Informer is reporting that several sources have confirmed that Nintendo will be announcing and unveiling a new HD console at E3 this year. In an article posted on their website, Game Informer pieces together some quotes from people who have seen the console and they also report that developers are already being brought into the loop. It sounds of Nintendo is going to make this one very developer friendly and is going to be finally joining the ranks of the HD gaming movement.

Nothing has been said in regards to whether or not the console will have motion controls, but one anonymous source did say, “Nintendo is doing this one right. [It’s] not a gimmick like the Wii.” While I hope that doesn’t spell doom for motion controls, I do hope that it means that a more standard control scheme will be optional for developers and gamers to use if they wish to do so.

Check out the full story at Game Informer: http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2011/04/14/new-nintendo-console-at-e3.aspx

Update: More sources are reporting, and now it looks as if there will be an announcement this month. Also, IGN is saying that the new console will indeed be backwards compatible with Wii software. Some sources are saying it surpasses the 360 and Ps3 in power, others are saying it’s just shy of the Xbox 360. We’ll wait for official specs to call that one.