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Monday, November 23, 2015

Ben's Gaming Memories - The Xbox 360

You know, it's sometimes hard to believe just how fast time flies. When you're a kid time seems to crawl along, and you are constantly waiting for that next big moment in your life. In school you would wait for the weekend, holidays like Christmas could never get here fast enough, and summer vacation took what seemed like years to get here, but was over oh so fast. This is the way life was back then, but as we get older things changed -- or rather, the way we perceive time changed.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with anything, but let me just ask this... Did you know that the Xbox 360 turned 10 yesterday? Yes, that's right. The console many of us are still hanging onto, and the games we may still be playing are now a decade old. Where did time go? It seems like just yesterday the console was coming out and competing with the (then) upcoming Wii and PS3, but now here we are in 2015 and the 8th generation consoles have replaced it. For a 10 year old, these past years have been their entire life, and everything that happened in that short span of time was everything they know, but for us, it's only a small part of ours. Most Xbox fans can still recall the day they picked up their Xbox 360 (which was possibly the first of many), and that's exactly what I'm going to be doing. In honor of the Xbox 360's 10th Birthday, here's my story of how I became an Xbox gamer.

When the Xbox 360 was first coming out, I honestly didn't care about it at all. There were only a handful of games I liked on the original Xbox, and I knew that my parents wouldn't buy it for me. I wasn't quite old enough to get a job yet, and even if I had one there were GCN, and PS2 games out there I wanted more -- plus the Wii was going to be out within a year so I would have rather saved for that. In short, the 360 really didn't have anything to offer me, but I did think the demos in Walmart looked cool graphic wise. Even so, graphics weren't enough for me to actually want one, and I decided it would be best to just ignore it -- a decision I'm actually happy I made.

A little while later, SEGA announced the brand new "Sonic the Hedgehog" game, and it made me sad (but not for the reason you may be thinking of). I was a huge fan of the Sonic series, and Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 were two of my favorite games at the time. I had played both of them nearly every day, and I would go to school and talk about them with my friends. They were two games that became a big part of my life, and when I heard they were finally making a game that was similar to them I couldn't wait to play it -- the problem was, it was going to be on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 only. So, what did I do? I gave up hope. There was no way that I was going to get either console, and I knew there was always a small chance that plans could change -- that the game could come out for the Wii, and even PC (which originally they planned both, but canceled both), so I waited.

When Sonic "06" came out, I once again took a look at the game. I watched the story on the semi-new YouTube, and I started looking around forums at what people had to say about the game. Although I heard nothing but bad news, the game still looked great to me, and I was more than willing to look past it's issues just as I did with Adventure 1 and 2. I knew the game was "bad," but I didn't care; I really, REALLY, wanted it. So, what did I do? I asked for the Wii for Christmas of course.

Even though I wanted Sonic 06, the Wii still had more to offer me. I saw no reason to ask for an Xbox instead, and I knew that I would regret getting one. I figured, if I got the Wii first, I would then be able to go back and get the Xbox 360 later. I wasn't sure how I would get one, but I knew if I didn't give up hope that one day it would be mine... That didn't happen until 2008.

While I had played Games like Guitar Hero 3, Halo 3, Rockband, and Skate at my friend's house, during special days at school, and when my cousin came home to visit, it wasn't until I got my first job that I was able to get an Xbox 360 for myself. I used to talk to kids at school about what games I should get for it, and when my uncle opened his Bakery and I started working there, I already had an idea of what to buy once I got one. I had decided that the console finally had a large enough library worth owning it for, and as soon as I saved enough paychecks it was the first thing I bought -- along with Sonic 06.

My memories of Sonic 06 are both good and bad. I went to Walmart with my dad and picked both the console and game, and when we got back I took it over to my mom's work (yes, the house that burned down awhile back). This was actually the first and last time my Xbox 360 was ever used in that house as only a few months later it was closed. That night I spent the night there, and stayed up well into early morning playing. Yes, it had issues, but I still didn't care -- I was finally playing a game I had waited years for and I was happy. The next morning I woke up and continued where I left off, and when I took the console home one of my friends came over and played. It was a fun day, and one that will always be burned into my memory.

After Sonic 06, I began using my paycheck each week for new games. Since I was late getting it many of the good ones out at the time were cheap (again, glad I waited), but I still had just enough to get the new ones a well. I remember going to the mall and picking up Orange Box so that I could finally play Portal, Ace Combat 6 was one I picked up at Walmart because a friend recommended it, I was finally able to play Skate, Armored Core 4 was the first AC game I was able to play since 2, and for the first time in my life I was able to own a Halo game as well. On top of that, there were also games I took a chance on and ended up loving (such as Lost Planet), and after getting Xbox Live I was able to play with friends online. The whole Xbox 360 experience was probably the most fun I had with a gaming console in quite a long time, and I loved every single minute of it. Sure there was a constant fear of it breaking and getting the Red Ring of Death, but when I was playing games like Need for Speed Pro Street I completely forgot about it. These games became a big part of my life during my last year of high school, and they are memories I will treasure forever. Playing Halo 3 with friends, talking about Need for Speed with a friend during physics class, playing Call of Duty with my cousin, and so on. The Xbox 360 was easily one of my favorite consoles, and I'll always remember it for that.

Sadly, even though the Xbox 360 was a great console, it wasn't something I stuck with the entire time. The PlayStation 3 also had exclusives I wanted (so I bought one), and over time more and more games shifted towards it instead. Valkyria Chronicles was exclusive, Star Ocean 4 got an improved PS3 version, and exclusive content became a thing. Later it came to the point where there wasn't much of a reason to own the 360 version of a game over the PS3 version, and I too slowly started to switch over to the PS3. I rebought and rented some of my old 360 games for it (such as Final Fantasy XIII), I bought every exclusive released, and when my 360's disc drive went out I started buying every multiplatform release for it as well. Near the end, after dominating for nearly it's entire life, the Xbox 360 slowed down, and the PlayStation 3 finally pulled ahead. It was a shocking twist not many saw coming, but that's the way things are still to this day. With the PlayStation 4 in the lead, the Xbox One is still living in the shadow of it's predecessor... Of course things are getting better for it over time, but it'll be quite some time before it reaches the level of the 360 -- assuming it ever does that is.

Even so, looking back to 10 years ago (well, 7 for me) will always remind me of happy times, and it gives me hope that one day things will return to how they once were. Even though I'm primarily a PlayStation console gamer now, the Xbox will always be special to me, and I will continue to play it's games.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Four long years later, it is finally here. Rodea the Sky Soldier!

Back in 2011 a very interesting game appeared, one that was called "Rodea the Sky Soldier." It was an action platforming game from Yuji Naka (the head of Sonic Team) where rather than running and jumping, you flew instead. While the game was somewhat reminiscent of the NiGHTS series, it was also something completely new with unique gameplay all its own. Rather than flying on a set path like in NiGHTs, the short trailer we originally saw featured a young robot as he dashed through the sky by locking onto things, and shot at different targets. There were moments where he shot through the air at high speeds, and there also seemed to be boss fights on a massive scale. In short, the game looked fun, and it seemed to really capture the spirit of SEGA's classic 3D games -- something we haven't seen from them in quite some time. Well, shortly after that trailer first appeared, the game vanished. Yuji stated the Wii version was finished with a 3DS version in the works, but for whatever reason it wasn't being published. While we never really got a full answer on why the game wasn't coming out, two years later Kadokawa announced that the 3DS version was almost finished, and confirmed that the game was not canceled.

Well, here we are four years since the original trailer was released, and five years after Yuji first thought of the concept, and the game is finally being released here in the US. Of course, this version of Rodea isn't quite the same one we saw all them years ago. In reality, the original game was canceled, and the development of the 3DS (and later Wii U) version of the game was actually for a new game. While the game's storyline and concept did stay the same, much of it changed, and new features were introduced. For example, rather than being nearly fully flight based, ground combat and standard platforming was introduced, and some minor limits were placed on the ability to fly. Also rather than pointing at the screen with a wii remote, both versions included your typical analog stick/circle pad controls. Basically the game was fully reworked to make use of both systems and their controllers, and it's original features were expanded upon. Although, that original version of the game isn't actually gone.

If you're someone who has been following this game since it was first announced, then you may be happy to hear that the Wii U version of Rodea the Sky Soldier actually includes a bonus -- a Wii disc of the original title! Shockingly enough, the Wii U copy of this game actually comes with two full games for the price of one, and because of that people who don't own a Wii U or 3DS can still experience this title in its original form. (Of course the Wii U can also play Wii games, so if you do own a Wii U it's a win win situation.) Really this sort of thing rarely happens in the world of video games. When a game is canceled, or the original version is altered, typically they never sees the light of day. Early builds of the game are locked away forever, and all we are left with is the final product, but in this case we actually get both! It's really a nice bonus, and something everyone who was interested in this game is sure to enjoy.

For more information, feel free to check out the official trailer(s) below.

Wii U/3DS Trailer

Wii Trailer

Original Trailer

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Life is Strange: Episode 5 Polarized - Review

Eight months, two weeks, and six days. That's how long it has been since we first met Max and Chloe, and began following their story through time. It's really hard to believe that it's been that long since we started this adventure, but now it is all finally coming to an end. Life is Strange Episode 5 is now officially out, and we are finally going to get the answers we have been waiting for. It's been a long hard journey for our young friends -- mainly Max, but what awaits them this time is nothing like they seen before. It's a grand conclusion to a great story, and one that will surely be remembered by all. This is Episode 5: Polarized.

The Story:

Life is Strange is the story of a young girl named Max, and her best friend Chloe. After returning home to her childhood town, Max enrolls in a famous art school, and begins pursuing her dreams of becoming a professional photographer; however, what begins as your typical high school story soon evolves into something unexpected. One day after class Max witnesses her childhood friend being shot to death in the girl's bathroom, and as she reaches out for her time resets. Confused about what is going on, Max slowly begins to realize that she has somehow gained the power to rewind time, and she decides to put this ability to good use. By rushing to the bathroom and pulling the fire alarm, Max is able to prevent Chloe's murder, and life goes on for the both of them -- or does it?

Something isn't right in this town of Arcadia Bay. Chloe's friend Rachel has gone missing, a powerful family is slowly consuming all businesses in the area, Chloe's step dad appears to be up to something, and at times it seems like even the school principal is up to something shady. The town is in a dark depressing state, and it feels like no one can be truly trusted. What happened to Rachel? What is going on with Max's friend Kate? Chloe lost her real father shortly after Max originally moved away, but what's going on with her step dad? Who is this family, and who is this Nathan kid who Max saw shoot Chloe? And what about this vision of a tornado destroying the town Max keeps seeing? The game brings forward a lot of questions, and with the final episode we finally do get our answers... Mostly.

Episode 5: Polarized picks up shortly after the shocking end of Episode 4, and once again puts us in Max's shoes as she tries to make things right. Using her powers to rewind and change time, Max goes over everything that has happened up to this point, and she fights for her life in an attempt to fix what she has done wrong. This really makes this particular episode a lot different form the others. Rather than exploring new areas and gathering clues to the mystery, this time around Max is relying on what she already knows, and on what you have seen for yourself. For example, there are moments where you'll be seeing something you remember (from possibly months ago), but knowing what you do now puts it in different light. Sometimes simply looking at a poster on a wall will make you realize the truth, but other times it'll be full memories that you'll relive. Of course, Episode 5 isn't all old locations. There is quite a bit of new here to see as well, but these areas are not the main focus of this last episode. This one is all about getting to the bottom of things, and hopefully finding a way to set it all right.

The main change from Episode 5's story is that it's tone is also much darker. While past episodes had moments of happiness, this one takes on an almost horror like tone. Again, Max is fighting for her life here, and things do take some truly messed up twists. There are moments where you'll be shocked the story is willing to go that far, and there's also times where you'll be seeing something that you can't quite comprehend. Overall though, Episode 5 really sets the perfect mood for the end of this series, and it continues to be exciting from beginning to end. It's easily one of the best moments in this game's story, and it's ending will be burned into your mind for years to come. Anyone wanting an epic conclusion to this story will be happy to know that it does deliver.

The Gameplay:

The gameplay in Episode 5 of Life is Strange hasn't changed. This is a graphical adventure game where you control Max and interact with the world around you. You can walk to just about anything you see, you can use the "look" command to have Max make a comment about something, you can use an "action" command to interact with some objects, and you can also choose to talk to most of the people you see -- with branching dialogue options as well. This part of the gameplay is standard for this genre, but what makes Life is Strange unique is the ability to rewind time.

At any point (with a limit to how far you can go back) Max can rewind time. This means you can not only take back the things you've said to people, but you can also use it to learn information, and then rewind to change the outcome of a conversation with said info. It's a unique system that worked well throughout the game, but with Episode 5 it isn't quite as useful -- at least, when it comes to conversations. While there are moments you'll want to rewind just to see if other choices will have better outcomes, most of the time you'll be using the rewind ability to solve puzzles instead. There are moments where you'll want to get past an obstacle (great song), or you'll need to keep something from happening, and the only way to do so will be by rewinding time. In this sense the rewind ability is used really well in this episode, but those who enjoyed changing the conversations may be a bit let down. Although, considering where we currently are in the story, it wouldn't make sense to expand on the conversation system -- especially with what is going on.

As many would expect, Life is Strange's final episode is still Life is Strange, and it's gameplay hasn't changed. Fans will already know what to expect from it, but at the same time they will also be greeted with a new experience. Some really interesting things happen with this game and it's exploration based gameplay, but that's something I won't be spoiling for you. You'll just have to see it for yourself.

The Good and the Bad:

Where to even begin? Life is Strange was a very unique experience, and it was a story that many of us could relate to. It had great character development, love able characters, a great setting, and a story full of twists and turns. While some moments were better than others, overall it was a game very worth playing. With the final episode, you are left with a wide verity of emotions swerling inside you. Sure, some of the animation can look a bit odd, lips aren't always in sync, and you may notice some minor pop in, but that's just it -- it's all minor. The good greatly outweighs the bad in this one, and after awhile you completely stop noticing such problems. What you're left with though, is an unforgettable game. This episode itself though, it's really something special.

While past episodes of this game never pushed things too far, Episode 5 goes places we wouldn't have expected it to, and it also shows off some amazing character development. There are times where past events will pull at your heart strings as they are brought into the open, there are characters whom will reveal their true selves to you, and there are others who you may have initially disliked but now find yourself concerned for. Max, her friends, and all of their relationships have greatly changed over the course of this game, and Episode 5 does such a great job bringing all of that together. On top of that, this episode also wasn't afraid of doing or saying some controversial things. Leading up to the finale you really don't know what to expect, and some of the things you see will completely shock you. (There are even moments where you may just sit there looking at your screen in horror!) What this episode did is something no one could have possibly seen coming, and it's the perfect ending for the series.

Overall, Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized is easily one of the best send offs to a series, and it is something everyone who enjoys this type of game should play. What happens in this episode will stay with you for quite some time, and it may even keep you up at night and continue to pull you back in as you drive to work in the morning (at least, that's what happened to me). Needless to say, every moment of this final episode was enjoyable, and it is very well deserving of being a perfect 10/10. Really it's sad to see this one go, but it was well worth the almost year long wait. Good job guys, can't wait to see what game you tackle next.

Friday, October 16, 2015

17 Years Later - Yoshi's Wooly World

As a kid the Mario series was one of my favorite. I first played Super Mario Bros before I even turned 2, and when I got older I would play the games nearly every day. Mario Bros 3 was something I constantly wanted to played with my mom, and Super Mario World was the main reason I even wanted a SNES -- as I loved Yoshi. Mario 64 was the game that blew me away, and Sunshine was easily one of my favorite GCN game of all time (along with Paper Mario). Even so, among all of these games that I loved, there was one game that really stood out to me. It was a game I got for my 7th Birthday, and one I would play for a long time coming; it was a game known as Yoshi's Story.

When I first saw Yoshi's Story advertised, I was sitting at the dining room table watching some show on Nick. It was something I did every single day (so I didn't really pay attention to what was on as I ate), but this time around I found myself glued to the set as a Nintendo commercial came on featuring Yoshi. What I saw actually wasn't much, it was just Yoshi running and jumping around and some clouds in the sky, but that's all it took for me to know that I HAD to have this game. So, I asked for it, and when my birthday came that year it was finally mine.

Yoshi's Story was special to me. I played it every chance I got in Walmart, and when I finally owned it for myself I would spend hours upon hours on it. Sometimes friends or my cousins would come over to play through it with me, but most of the time it was something I just kept all to myself. Heck, I loved the game so much that I actually studied non stop in school because my mom promised to buy me the guide book if I got a good report card! (Which I did, and yes I still own the book!) I just really loved this game, and I had always hoped that it would get a sequel -- little did I know it would be almost 17 years later.

Although near the end of the GBA's life a title called "Yoshi's Topsy Turvy" came out which featured a similar style, it wasn't quite a true sequel to the original Yoshi's Story. While Yoshi's Story was a platforming game where you explored the world with multiple colored yoshis (and ate fruit to beat the stage), Topsy Turvy was a puzzle platformer where you would tilt the GBA (or DS) left and right to make the world move with Yoshi. It was a fun concept, but it never really evolved past that. You'd enter a stage, tilt the GBA, run up a wall, move some platforms, and within a few minutes you were done. It wasn't until today, that a game truly similar to the one I loved so much back then, would finally come out. That game is Yoshi's Wooly World.

Although it's not actually Yoshi's Story 2, Wooly World features a soft fluffy world made out of wool, and once again it takes our young yoshis on an adventure across the world. The game mixes old familiar elements, such as throwing eggs and the Yoshi air flutter, with new ones thanks to the new wool/yarn like style. It also makes use of Nintendo's brand new Amiibo figures (one edition of the game even comes with one). It's finally the game I have waited oh so long for, and now I'm only left wondering "why." Why did it take Nintendo so long to bring us this moment? I'm sure I'll never know the answer to that, but I can say that for the first time in a long time, I excited to play a Yoshi game.

Thanks Nintendo.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Out this Month! - October 2015

It's been quite some time since my last post here, but with life and everything getting in the way it can be hard to find the time. Working full time, getting home late, and only having a few hours of free time really makes updating the blog a challenge at times -- and this month isn't going to help things one bit.

If you've been keeping up with games, then you would know that October is going to be quite a busy month for many of us. There are a handful of games releasing all throughout this month, and today is where it all really gets started.

Metal Gear Online (Today) -

Starting today, owners of Metal Gear Solid V on consoles (sorry PC owners) will be receiving the Metal Gear Online (MGO) update. This update will give you access to the 3rd entry in the MGO series, and for the first time in history an MGO game will become playable on Microsoft consoles. Although some of you may have played the game in the past, MGO3 builds upon what was previously set during MGS3 and MGS4's version, and updates it for what we have come to know and love from MGSV. The game features the new gameplay changes, new stages, and new gear and equipment to use. As always MGO is still a player vs player type game, but it's one that is quite unique. If you've never played MGO before or you are a returning fan, then maybe you should check this one out. (Not much of a reason not to if you already own MGSV after all.)

Uncharted Collection (10/9/2015) -

While it isn't Uncharted 4, the original three Uncharted games are now heading to the PlayStation 4 console. This collection of games takes players through Nathan Drake's main adventures (sorry, no Golden Abyss) which set up the story for Drake's final adventure. Returning fans will find themselves enjoying updated versions of their favorite series, while newcomers will finally get a chance to see for themselves what all the hype is about. Of course the series isn't for everyone, but new players should expect to find themselves in a world of action, adventure, and comedy. With a mix of platforming, stealth, and shooting, the Uncharted series is a unique blend of genres unlike anything else. (At least until the Tomb Raider reboot came along.)

Chibi Robo Zip Lash (10/9/2015) -

For you Nintendo 3DS owners, a new platforming game is on it's way! Chibi Robo Zip Lash is the newest entry in the Chibi Robo series, but like the other entries it isn't really a true sequel to the original on the GameCube. Instead of exploring a house, cleaning up after humans, and interacting with the toys that have magically coming to life -- this one is a platforming game. On one hand it isn't the game fans have been waiting for, but on the other it is a new original platformer which may be worth checking out. If anything though, the main draw of this game may actually be what comes in it's bundle -- an Amiibo Chibi Robo! If you're a fan of the series and have always wanted to own your own Robo, then that dream is finally about to become a reality (at least in some form).

Yoshi's Wooly World (10/16/2015) -

To go along with the new 3DS platformer, Yoshi also returns to the Wii U (at least in the US). Seen as a spritual successor to Yoshi's Story on the Nintendo 64 and Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Wii, Yoshi's Wooly World blends the unique yarn mechanics from Kirby with the classic Yoshi gameplay from Island and Story. Players will be running through 2D stages, turning enemies into yarn balls, and throwing them at others to both solve minor puzzles, defeat foes, and uncover secrets. It's a game some of you fans may have been waiting well over 15 years for, but it's a game that everyone can play and enjoy.

Life is Strange: Episode 5 (10/20/2015) - 

If you've been following us here at NGR then you would know that we're pretty big fans of the interactive adventure drama Life is Strange, and this month is finally the conclusion! It's been a long year waiting for this moment, but later this month the game will finally come to an end. So, if you've been following this game since day one, or if you're the type of person who would rather wait until it is all released -- the 20th is when you'll finally get your chance to play it.

Tales of Zestiria (10/22/2015) -

Fans of the Tales of series will be happy to know that the latest entry is finally here! Tales of Zestiria is a fully 3D Tales of game, with a larger more open world, seamless field to battle transitions (rather than loading a battle arena, you stay on the map), and a play style that resembles what we've come to expect from Team Destiny (Tales of Graces f like battle system). The game is being released on the PS3, and PS4, but also for the first time in the series' history, it will be coming to the PC. If you're a fan of JRPGs, or someone who has wanted to try a Tales of game in the past, this one may be something you'll want to pick up. Sure it's a lot different from other Tales of games, but it is a game that is sure to hold it's own. (Of course not every Tales of fan may enjoy it's changes, but it's still worth giving it a chance.)

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (10/22/2015) - 

Also on the 22nd of this month is the long awaited Wii U exclusive Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water. Although this release is eShop exclusive (sorry hard copy fans), this is the first mainline Fatal Frame to come to the US in quite some time, and it will be arriving just shortly before Halloween. If you're a fan of survival horror, or a long time series fan, then I'm sure this game is already on your "to get list."

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (10/23/2015) -

Well, it is October so many of you should have seen this coming -- Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. The newest entry in this long running (yearly released) series takes players to London during the industrial revolution. For the first time players will take on the roles of a brother and sister duo, and be able to freely switch between them. On top of this, the game also features driveable horse and carraiges, and brand new tools and weapons (such as brass knuckles) to get your job done.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (10/23/2015) -

Another game releasing on the 3DS this month is The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. This title is a sort of follow up to the Legend of Zelda Four Swords where four players would link up their GBAs and play through different Zelda styled stages solving puzzles and fighting enemies together. Although Tri Force Heroes only uses three characters instead of four, the spirit of the original is still here. Sure, it's not the next big Zelda, but it's sure to provide series fans with a good time.

Halo 5: Guardians (10/27/2015) -

Perhaps one of the biggest releases this month, and one fans have been waiting for for years. Halo 5: Guardians is the newest entry in the Halo series, and the first to be released specifically for the new Xbox One. Featuring brand new gameplay elements (such as gun sights, and ledge climbing), Halo 5 greatly improves on what has been previously established, and it also features a brand new co-op mode with 4 unique characters in each stage. In short, this is the game Halo fans have been waiting for, and it is sure to be a must have on the Xbox One.

Of course this isn't everything coming out this month, but I'm sure most would agree that this is more than enough! (Get ready to spend hundreds of dollars and hours people.)