In case you missed 'em, I just had a couple of fresh reviews go up. The first was for The Wolf Among Us: Episode One—Faith, hot off the press from @TelltaleGames. The other was for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified from 2K Marin. Spoiler: I loved both.
Anyway, 2013 is a strange year. It's now October, and ordinarily I'd be up to my neck in review games at this time, but I'm actually drifting between assignments with nothing really due… I'm never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, though, so I decided to jump into a few things that have been lingering on the backlog.
During the day, I'm playing Pikmin 3.
My four-year-old absolutely loves it, so he made me swear to not play it unless he was around to watch. Given how little free time I have during the day, it'll probably take me six months to finish, but he's absolutely into being my hands-off co-pilot, so how can I say no to that?
As far as the game itself goes, the graphics are absolutely beautiful and the general design makes a return to the template that was established in the first Pikmin. It was a wise move, since I've always felt the first was superior to the second, and that feeling is now validated.
However, it's not all peachy-keen… In a bizarre twist, the developers have ensured that every possible Nintendo peripheral is compatible with the game—maybe even the Wii Fit Balance Board—and by doing so, the result is that none of the potential setups are satisfactory.
Using the Nunchuk and Wiimote is the most accurate and natural, but the map and a few other functions are still tied to the touch pad. This seems to be the "optimal" control scheme, but it means that I've got a piece of equipment in each hand while balancing the touchpad in my lap. Using only the touchpad isn't good either, because it feels clunky and isn't as precise as using a Wiimote. It's possible to use a Classic controller, to bet that still leaves the problem of needing to use the touchpad, and the only option left is to try the off-screen play on the pad itself. I know that Gamecritics host @Shoinan recommends it, but I haven't tried it yet because it makes it too difficult for my son to see what's going on.
Frankly, I wish the developers had put their entire focus on the touchpad and made sure that it worked more efficiently than it does. It's certainly the most streamlined and simple solution, and it's a real pain to have to keep all of the old Wii peripherals around. In every respect except the controls I'm quite satisfied with Pikmin 3, but the clunkiness of these controls is pretty inexcusable.
So, since I'm only playing Pikmin 3 during my son's waking hours, the wife and I decided to finally start Army of Two: The 40th Day on 360 for our "quality time."
Neither of us are huge shooter fans, but we enjoyed the first game as a co-op experience back in the day, and something on the lighter side after we've put the little one to bed is not unwelcome. It's also appealing in that you can play the entire campaign cooperatively, and there is a definitive endpoint.
We're fairly early on right now, only two or three chapters in, but it's been pretty much what we expected so far, and I don't say that as a bad thing. The co-op mechanics are pretty solid (one distracts while the other flanks) there are lots of little interesting diversions sprinkled throughout the levels (can you save all the hostages? Can you kill all the guards without being detected?) and I have to be honest—I love that the developers included the option to give a high five or a hug after an intense firefight, and stopping for a minute to play rock-paper-scissors when the mood strikes is even in there, too.
The audio is crap, it's missing subtitles and some other really obvious options, and it's pretty much nonstop shooting in general, but it delivers on its premise and in this particular situation that's good enough for us.
Portable-wise, I started Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS. Anyone who listens to the Gamecritics podcast will know that I don't give Nintendo very much slack and that I'm really, really sick of how relentlessly they keep coming back to the same franchises over and over again, but I've got to give them credit… Super Mario 3D Land is a pretty great game. To be fair, I was absolutely not interested in the recent New Super Mario Bros. games, so I think I was a little justified in ignoring this one at first, but I'm glad I gave it a chance.
The gist of it is that it's been expressly designed to take advantage of the 3D function of the 3DS, and the level designs are very reminiscent of Super Mario 64, or to some of the simpler areas in Super Mario Galaxy. The developers play with depth and with vertical space quite a bit, and many of the areas feel like they're trying out new ideas. In general, there's a very strong feeling of playfulness, or of renewed energy from the designers; it's as if they remembered what made these games so great in the first place and are getting back to it.
I would definitely recommend it to any 3DS owner, to including people (like me) who were a bit tired of Mario, or people (also like me) who never use the 3D function. The vibe of the game is great, and it's totally enjoyable with the 3D fully turned off.
Indie-wise, I recently played through Castles in the Sky, from brand-new development studio The Tall Trees. I hesitate to call it a game although I'm certainly not about to get into that particular debate… That said, I do think it's more accurate to describe it as something of an interactive poem, or bedtime story.
The whole thing takes about 10 minutes or so to get through, and the player is mostly reading text as they navigate a cute little character up through the sky, bouncing from cloud to cloud. I think it's probably ideal for playing with a young one as they sit on a parent's lap, and I appreciate the inherent charm it has.
Although there are a few things about it that I think need some polish, it's a nice first effort from these guys and they're only asking $1.50, not to mention that comes with a soundtrack and some wallpapers. I don't regret the time I spent with it, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Also, just a quick shout-out to Tin Man Games. I have very few reasons to play games on my iPhone these days, but the titles put out by this studio are some of my favorites, and I pick up every single thing they do.
Essentially, their games are interactive Choose-Your-Own-Adventure titles that take place in different settings… Fantasy, scifi and horror, of course, but they've also teamed up with Ian Livingstone to do a couple of Fighting Fantasy titles, and there's even a Judge Dredd iteration—and that one is fantastic, by the way.
At last count they had something like 17 different titles available on the app store, so there's definitely something for everyone. Their production values are great, too. I've got nothing but good to say about these, and I've got a permanent folder on my phone reserved just for them. The next time you find yourself without a 3DS or Vita and you've got a few minutes to kill, give Plants vs Zombies 2 a rest and try one of these… You won't be disappointed.
Finally, here's a link to a video created by RandomRob, a long-time Gamecritics reader, contributor and generally swell guy. Like me, he's also a Lost Planet 3 fan, and he's done a great job of explaining why it appeals so strongly to a certain type of gamer. If you're still on the fence, check it out!