Tag Archive: adventure


Happiness is… ~ Finding Teddy

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Remember what it was like to be a child: where scary creatures lurked in the darkness waiting to pounce once the lights went out; where the inhabitants of dark half-open closets and underneath beds held danger with pointed claws and gleaming eyes; and where through it all, that furry stuffed animal became the best friend and protector ever to be had. Remember the overwhelming panic that struck each time that fuzzy comfort evaded arms reach? Imagine if a gigantic spider-like tendril reached from the depths of the closet and snagged that which was most precious? Oh, the horror! It is in those very times that fear must be pushed aside to save what is most important to us – to find and save Teddy!

findingteddy-1Finding Teddy is an endearing point and click adventure game by developer LookAtMyGames in which players control a young girl who sets out into a simple yet enchanting world to brave dangerous creatures, aid them in their troubles and find her stolen Teddy Bear.

What appeared to be a simple yet intriguing concept at the start truly became a work of art by its completion. From the pixelated graphics to the midi style music to the puzzles and gameplay – the bright colored world within the wardrobe comes to life before the players eyes as they venture into forests, caverns, cities and graveyards; dying horrifically from tormented creatures and turning their worlds around from dismal gray to colorful happy. Collecting and using items to help these creatures in turn helps the girl move forward; whether it is by adding music notes to her repertoire or granting safe passage to a distant area. By the end, subtle realization hits that the seemingly colorful world that was entered at the start was but a fading glimmer of what it truly becomes by its finale. Speaking only through music and bringing happiness to those that are sad and lonely – it was almost shocking how much insight can be gained from a stolen teddy bear.finding-teddy_graveyard

The game itself may only take an hour the first playthrough but does give enough content to warrant at least a second run once teddy has been saved initially (and perhaps look forward to an upcoming Finding Teddy 2). Although short and sweet, it really speaks volumes in following imagination, finding the best in bad situations and at its core, going out of the way to spread happiness even to those who may not warrant a second glance. It is something the world could certainly use as a reminder at times.

Yes, there may be numerous spiders to be had in this game; but even the most arachnophobic at heart (a.k.a. me) should be able to [almost] find even the biggest and scariest of them to be cute by the final credits. So give this one a try – it may not seem like much, but its magic will strike whether it is expected or not.

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MMO Game over

Come with me to escape your everyday life and take on a role for a world much different than your own. Where evil abides in numbers, will you stand with those against it or aid to empower the imbalance? Will you join others in the greatest fights of all or will you be confident enough in your own skills to survive the terrors unaided? Venture to a world where you can make a difference in the lives of its citizens; where fierce beasts lay havoc on the lands and wait for formidable adventurers, like yourself, to bring their reign to an uncompromising finale. So choose your weapon, don your armor and take your first step into the adventure of a lifetime…

This is but a general set up for a genre of games called MMORPGS, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. It is the epitome of creating your own character, your own legacy and your own story. While this does not discount the establishment that single player RPGs or other genre of games bring to gamers, there is one vital difference that MMOs bring to the table: community. Some of the more notable games of this type that most people will recognize at least on some level would be WoW (World of Warcraft), Final Fantasy XI or XIV, Rift, Tera, Guild Wars and the list continues. They are immensely popular games, some being free to play while other require subscription – yet the adventure, fun and camaraderie has always brought more and more people to their ranks and continued to draw people back in.

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I will admit that I have never played WoW, I know, it seems crazy. However, my first experience with MMOs was years ago not long after Final Fantasy XI launched. I remember the first time I launched the game and saw the warning message telling me to have fun but not to forget about friends, family, work and school. I had always spent a good amount of time gaming on various platforms, but to think something would have to put that message up beforehand just seemed amusing to me. I soon learned why it was there and encountered people within the game that clearly could have taken those words of wisdom a little more to heart.

But here is the thing: MMOs have taken a turn for the worse lately, and it is sad to me. Although I had many large breaks from FFXI due to other things I was doing in life, I probably went back to it on and off for almost 9 years (9 years! That is a good bit of devotion). It clearly had enough content, challenge and fun to keep me going back and accomplishing more and more. Of course, having played since nearly the beginning I was able to see first hand as the genre began to warp into the creature it is today.

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What Final Fantasy XI used to be was what I loved. It was difficult and unforgiving but it gave you a true sense of accomplishment. Level 75 was the max level that could be reached for the first half of the game and it wasn’t something that could be done in a month…it took me years to get there. Quests were mostly to give you gear or items needed to unlock certain level caps or abilities; missions were used for story progression and to increase renown and gain other benefits and rare items; and leveling to 75, well that was something completely different. The fastest method of leveling was made by putting in time, hard work and team effort. Parties of 6 people of different jobs would gather together at a specific place and simply kill enemies until they reached a higher level and needed to move on. At best the enemies may have given 200xp each; however when it takes 18k, 30k or 50k to get one level it can be quite a time-involved endeavor. Other aspects of the game involved hunting extremely difficult bosses for rare items which would only spawn once every few hours or days and could only be claimed by the first person or party to attack them; a death and exp loss penalty for dying; huge maps of which to traverse usually by foot or with some teleportation help from certain job classes of higher levels. Then of course there was the end-game which had numerous events made up of large alliances of people of varying jobs that met multiple times a week and would give great reward for those who were able to put in the necessary time. All of this made for a challenging and beautiful adventure. Unfortunately, it is something very rare to find now.

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Some of the more recent MMOs that have come out the past few years still offer much of the same format, however it is hard to ignore how easy the games have become. The greatest part of the genre was the community aspect: teaming up with random people who may end up as close friends to fight through difficult battles, level, or down huge mega bosses for merit and reward. This is hard to find now. Leveling up can be done completely solo via quests and missions and done within a matter of weeks usually; and most people tend to just do their own thing as opposed to joining forces and getting to enjoy the game with others. Sure the larger bosses and end game events still require groups to survive, but these are likely random people placed together through a group finder who are spread throughout many servers and will likely never see or hear of each other again. It just feels so soulless and empty. Why play an online game geared towards cooperation between people to simply play it alone or only expect the best people to join you so that you can win the first time, every time?

People said the games were too hard, so they changed the format to be more friendly to casual players. Sure, not everyone has countless hours every week to put into a game, that is understandable; but they made the games so that everyone can easily be swept to max level and then carry on with the same mundane and simple tasks, guided by their happy lighted arrows on the map. The adventure and exploration is gone for most people and the magic went with it. People wanted to see results and they wanted them now. They didn’t want to work on something and earn their reward after putting in the time and effort. There are still many who would like the challenge of years ago to remain, but the majority simply want everything handed to them – which makes for quite a boring game in the long run.

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Sure, I enjoyed my time playing Guild Wars 2 or FFXIV and the others, but they maybe lasted me 8 months tops before I felt like anything else I did was repetition and mostly I stayed that long for the friends I had in game. Sure there is new content being put out, but really, it is the same format as everything else but with a different background. The community is still unimaginative and self involved and the challenge is minimal – sometimes only being difficult at the very start until the method is found that will kill the boss easily. They have made the games so that almost anyone can have the best of the best – and when everyone has it, it loses that special something that made it what it is. Sure having the strongest weapon and the best gear stats is great and will help you, but it has lost that accomplishment of “I worked hard to get this and now I have the right to wear it”.

When I played FFXI, I certainly did not ever have the time to get the best gear. It took years for me to get my first job to 75 and I struggled and fought and suffered to get there. I never had time to join groups that did end game events, so I did the best I could and I had fun doing it. I learned to be good at my job and my abilities on there instead of simply relying on getting the best gear to carry me through. Skill is what sets people apart in those games, and sadly they have made it so that even those without skill can look just as good with little effort.

Some people may disagree with this view, but I personally dislike that I can max out level and gear on a job within a month or two of the game being released. What will make me stay? The friends I have with me certainly will for a while, and sure, I will want to work to get the gear to match my skill and usefulness; but after that? The adventure fades, the sparkly new-ness of everything becomes dull and I move on to something else. I understand why companies have shifted to create a larger, more diverse, player base; but at the same time the longevity that would keep people going back seems to be dwindling.

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Times change and people change, it is just how things are. For myself, I will always be on the lookout for something that may be more akin to the type of MMO world I loved; but in the mean time, at least the variety and adventure of gaming can be found through numerous other genres and platforms – and that is something that I know will never fade away.

E3 2014 ~ So Far…

E3-2014

It looks awesome!

It is an event that gamers throughout the world as well as those within the industry look forward to each year.  It is an event where thousands view the conference from their homes via live streaming while others traverse the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center brushing shoulders with big name developers and playing demos of games that seem barely more than a wandering thought for most; it is a time in which all eyes focus towards one finite point. And as always, oh what a show it has been so far.

Monday marked day zero of the 4 day conference showcasing Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony and all they have in store within the coming future.

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Microsoft presented a succinct showing of numerous exclusive and large titles that would exhibit all that the XBox One is truly capable of. Glimpsing the first images of huge names such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Witcher 3 gameplay footage, Tom Clancy Thehalo_5_guardians-672x372 Division, Forza, and Sunset Overdrive; that alone would have been enough to keep gamers glued onto the coming horizon. Add in a few unexpected twists such as Phantom Dust, an original Xbox remake; much loved Crackdown; new title Scalebound; and of course numerous smaller titles such as Project Spark, Ori and the Dark Forest and handfuls of other Indie games that hold just as much impact and there is little more that could be asked for. Lastly, who could forget to mention the news surrounding the Halo series – Masterchief collection coming out end of year containing all the previous Halo games leading up to the much anticipated Halo 5: Guardians. Microsoft ended their conference stating that they make the Xbox for the gamers and that every gamer helps “shape the future” of the beloved brand and system.

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EA took the stage next bringing with them an entourage of sporting titles and other big names. Opening with Star Wars Battlefront and the greatly anticipated Dragon Age Inquisition (accompanied by a live musical performance) set the stage for what was to DAInquisitionGoGamercome. The new Sims 4 captured much attention with their “smarter Sims, weirder stories” demo which outlined the limitless possibilities players will have. Additionally, EA brought forth gameplay and footage of the new UFC game, NHL 15, PGA Tour (“Golf without limit”), Madden 15 and Fifa 15 to round out their sports venues. Criterion Games went behind the scenes of their newest work which, while unnamed, promises to showcase every mode of transportation and extreme adventure known to man. MOBA Dawngate and Mirror’s Edge also gained some press time. The finale of EA’s conference came with not only long minutes of gameplay for Battlefield Hardline (set on the streets, cops and criminals) but also announced the start of the live beta opening with 64 PS4s in room and directions on how to register both PS4 and PC to those at the conference and at home.

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Next on the lineup came Ubisoft, which in my opinion gave one of the most entertaining shows thus far (pre-show rules given by none other than a group of Rabbids, of course). Opening the stage with the first 5 minutes of footage from Far Cry 4, it started the show on a grand scale and kept on climbing. Just Dance 2015 followed introducing not only new gameplay footage and music but also a new way of playing the game altogether – with a smart phone. Using technology most everyone has paired with the Just Dance App allows anywhere from one to thousands of people to play together – anyone, anytime, anywhere – and of course this was demonstrated with about 30 people on stage, in the balcony and in the aisles of the conference room. Tom Clancy The Divisionac unity graced the screen next with more visual footage to aid the gameplay viewed earlier by Microsoft. As a zombie apocalypse survival shooter without the zombies, its line of “tragedy is invisible” really struck home after viewing this side of the presentation. Racing across the world and a tournament of teams accompanied more information on The Crew with an announced beta of July 23 and a November 11 release date. Next up on their list of heavy hitters came Assassin’s Creed Unity, not only giving an intense preview of the game and just what exactly it means when it says ‘unity’ but also showing an entire missions worth of live gameplay. AC Unity is set to release October 28. On another level entirely, to help gamers enjoy a bit of fitness a new game called Shape Up was introduced as well making fitness activities into a competition (and what gamer can turn down a competition, anyway?). From the talented creators of Child of Light, Valiant Hearts The Great War tore at the crowd and viewer’s heartstrings as it showed a glimpse into the story of 4 separate military personnel all accompanied by their faithful canine. For their grand finale, Ubisoft unveiled something that nobody saw coming. Showing unnamed gameplay as a co-op team of 4 attempts to infiltrate a house and recapture a hostage with tactical prowess, good aim and perma-death, audiences watched in awe as Rainbow Six: Siege was unveiled and truly almost stole the entire show.

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Sony ended day zero of E3 with a somewhat overly long but well done conference. As anyone who watched the conference can say, there is no doubt that Sony ever tires of stating how they bring things to gamers first and they bring it better. Destiny opened their show as well as announcing a glacier white PS4 bundle that will be available at game launch. Following this came numerous game previews and announcements to include The Order 1886 footage, Entwined, Infamous DLC, Little Big Planet 3, Bloodborne, Far Cry Destiny4 (with the ability to play co-op even if friends do not own the game), Dead Island 2, Diablo III (with last of us zombies included – hello clickers! :eek:), Battlefield Hardline, Disney Infinity 2, Majicka 2, Remastered classic Grim Fandango, Let it die, Abzu (from some of the same creators as Journey), and No Man’s Sky. A huge list of games all with great potential as well as great exclusives for playing them on PS4. Additional hardware was also shown such as Project Morpheus, the supposed future of gaming incorporating the Playstation camera. Also discussed was PSN as a whole as well as free to play games. Information was also given on Playstation Now and its hundreds of titles available on any device and even a Sony TV with a dualshock 3 controller (July 31 open beta PS4). Playstation TV will also be available later this year for a $99 price tag or a $130 bundle. Following this technology interlude it returned to what players really wanted to see: Mortal Kombat X gameplay, PS+ promotions, A new show based on a graphic novel called Powers, Ratchet & Clank movie and remastered game, Last of Us remastered, Metal Gear Solid 5 Phantom Pain footage, Grand Theft Auto V for PS4 announcement, Batman Arkham Knight gameplay and a glimpse at Uncharted 4. Phew. It was a long two hour conference for Sony, but they certainly delivered.

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Finally, the start of Day One began with Nintendo’s pre-recorded conference and they brought exactly what people were looking for. Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U showed more depth into Mii fighting styles and techniques (to include brawler, fighter andYoshisWoolyWorld gunner as well as over 36 mixed abilities) and also gave the first view of something called Amiibo – a way of bringing toys to life (much like Disney Infinity or Skylanders). These small figures of Mario, Link, Pikachu and many more can be used to bring powerful, yet unique, characters into certain games such as Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart (among many more to come) simply by hovering the figurine over a corner of the Wii U Gamepad. The adorable Yoshi’s Woolly World was looked into as well showing the initial idea process of it to actual game play as well as a look into a new game featuring Toad called Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. A game that most everyone held their breath in anticipation for was word of  a new Zelda game for Wii U and although only a small amount of footage was seen, the promise of a truly open world and the beauty and mystery that has always surrounded the Zelda universe surely made every fan smile. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as well as Bayonetta 2 were given some previews as well as Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Small interviews and footage were also shown for the upcoming Hyrule Warriors (confirming Link, Zelda, Impa and Midna as playable characters), Mario Maker (an amusing new twist on creating and playing Mario levels either in classic or more updated form) and a new ink shooter battle game called Splatoon.

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All in all, E3 2014 has been huge and there is no way to crown just one conference as the best. With major cross platform titles to exclusive franchises to unique and quirky adventures, there is something for every type of gamer no matter what system they may own or prefer (if not all of them). As E3 continues for the next two days there are still bounds of news, trailers, booths and demos to see whether it is on site at the convention center or from the comfort of home. So enjoy one of the biggest events in the gaming industry, let anticipation reach an entirely new level and know that at the end of the day, everyone is leaving as a winner!

brothers tale

Life is one of the most precious gifts a person holds; yet every so often we are reminded just how fragile and fleeting this vibrant and cherished thing is. To take risks and make sacrifices for all that we love, is it truly worth it in the end? Most would like to think so…

Developer Starbreeze Studios and publisher 505 Games have created a beautiful and emotional journey in their newest title Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons. From the game’s first moments, players are met with tragedy as the youngest of the brothers mourns the memory of their mother’s passing to the great depths of the sea some time previous.  Interrupted by a shout from his elder sibling, he rushes to where his brother is holding up their ailing father and the two quickly rush him to the town’s doctor. Finding no immediate cure, the only way to save their father’s life comes with making a long, arduous journey across the land to a tree which harbors healing waters that may be their only hope in keeping what’s left of their family together.

brothers 12With only a map in hand and the company of each other, the two brothers set out on their fantastical tale, encountering many obstacles and people in need along their way. Whether it be assisting an outcast rabbit to join its brethren or comforting a man close to suicide after the loss of his family; the two brothers remain close by each other’s sides, ensuring their combined success and ever pressing onward to their ultimate goal.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this game lies within its simple yet engrossing gameplay element that allows the player to control both brothers separately and at the same time. In essence it is a co-op game played with but one controller; where the left joystick and triggers control the movement and action of the older brother and the right joystick and triggers control the younger sibling. Although many times the brothers are moving in tandem, there are numerous occurrences where each must set to their own paths and actions in order to allow the other to progress along certain paths and through obstacles. Timed levers, movement, and joint actions are the only things that allow the two to continue their journey as they do; a feat that would be nigh impossible as a solo traveler.brothers scene

While there is not an extreme amount of difficulty to the gameplay and it is easily accustomed to, what truly makes this play style special is that it creates a bond with both characters. The player does not simply control one and have the other follow or switch as they are needed, but is in complete control of both throughout the entirety of the game. The story is certainly the highlighted aspect of this title, yet somehow the gameplay mechanics draw you into it that much more and truly instills an emotional connection with everything the brothers are going through.

The lands traveled across during this fairy tale like adventure are beautiful and vast, and players will often find themselves sitting the brothers on benches strewn throughout the land simply to marvel at the gorgeous backdrops they are about to traverse. From sun touched mountainsides to underground mechanical troll lairs to snowy tundra and bloodied battlegrounds of giants, players will hardly feel limited despite a linear path being laid out for them. Oftentimes much of the environment can be manipulated as well to clear the way for the brothers to travel, adding a bit more than simply following along a designated line to get from point A to point B.

brothers-tale-sons-sad-tale-night-raqwe.com-06The story is beautiful, joyous and tragic and every feeling strikes deep within and remains. It is a feeling almost akin to playing Ico or Journey, where it does not take a known language to understand what is going on or feel the deep connection to everything that is happening to and around the brothers. They speak in their own tongue to each other and those around them and the devastation, fear, and laughter is almost tangible. It is an experience that will stay with you long after the credits finish, where the haunting soundtrack lurks within your mind and their tale stays buried deep within your heart.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons is a simple game on the outside with an underlying beauty and depth to be discovered. It is not action intense or even drawn out, but rather a beautiful story driven experience. Its 8 chapters can be completed within about 4 hours and is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 via download. This type of game is certainly not for everyone but I would encourage many to at least give it a try if not incorporate it into their library permanently. It is an excellent example of how games can create the same impact as books, movies or television shows – if not even taking it to another level entirely.

The most amazing part of a journey is not knowing how it will end, or how it will ultimately change who you are.

So take that first step; and let nothing be taken for granted.

 

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Many people dream of living a fairy tale; whimsically dreaming of a fantastical place, magical powers and an idealistic love story. What if those fairy tales already exist around us, without anyone even knowing or suspecting? In Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, the characters from many beloved fairy tales and stories are living in a 1980s set of New York City – or at least trying their best to. However, it is an entirely new story for these fabled characters this time around; it is a story of social class struggle, corruption, crime, and much like everyone else in the world, a will to survive.

In the newly released episode 3 of the 5 chapter series, Telltale brings back the urgency and story progression that captivated players throughout its first installment. While the previous episode still provided difficult decision making and character development, many were left disappointed at its short length and lack of truly moving the story forward as much as desired. Well, episode 3 fixes that bringing forth an array of even more difficult decisions, a host of new characters joining the cast, and a strong sense of having too much to do and not enough time to do it in. They will remember that.

wolf choicesAs players remain in the shoes of Sheriff Bigby Wolf, they deal with the repercussions the previous episode left off with. With one of their old world relics still broken and un-repairable, it leaves Bigby and Snow White with no choice but to investigate what leads they have the old fashioned way: on foot. With naught but a time and a description, they narrow the leads down to three separate locations; however, the player will only have enough time for one,  maybe two, as the clock continues to tick surreptitiously down to the hour at hand.

The decisions the player faces this round have leveled up in their own regard and the consequences weigh even heavier beyond simply seeing that “X will remember you said that.” People will be hurt and evidence destroyed while you stay true to your choices, yet the reward is well worth the struggle. By the end of the episode the player will not only experience one of the most action intense and formidable encounters, but will also see the curtain drawn back slightly on who is truly behind everything; all the while creating yet more confusing questions and leaving even more anticipation for the upcoming episode 4.

What Telltale seemed to have shined with in episode 1 and lost luster with during episode 2, seems to be back in full force and episodewolf snow shocked 3 is truly both a painful and enjoyable experience filled with intrigue, urgency and even surprise. The developers excel in their story telling devices and prowess and not only live up to their high expectations but even find time to include some minor, yet outstanding fun to their own method that players will notably remember and smile at.

In the end, A Crooked Mile brings out that illustrious shine that makes this series so enthralling. Sparking a desire for multiple playthroughs whether to unlock additional fables missed or to simply see the other side of your not-so-timely made decisions gives even additional length to the 90 minute episode. So, will you delve back into the grisly backdrop of Fabletown and step closer to everything that is tearing the world apart by its seams?

The decision is yours.

“If you can see art in everything, than you are an artist”

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“Please wake up!”

Once upon a time there lived a king who built a kingdom of white. He worked long and hard to perfect his kingdom as he saw fit, but soon found his interest drawn to creating a family of his own. Leaving much unfinished, he devoted himself to his wife and unborn son; however, his days of bliss were short lived and he swiftly became consumed by his work once again, fated to be alone.  It is in this realm of white that a young boy chases after the figure of a white swan – one of his mother’s treasured unfinished paintings, and the one he chose to carry with him to the orphanage. It is here that the boy will see things in an entirely new light; here where his adventure begins.

The Unfinished Swan, by indie game developer Giant Sparrow, is all about exploring the unknown. Viewed through a first person perspective, the game presents the player with a vision of white in its first active moments. Using either the Dualshock 3 controller or the Playstation move, players aim and send splotches of ink or black paint towards the endless sea of white, slowly revealing the hidden scenery and paths to travel. Small golden hints can often be found to help guide the player along the proper path; these hints may come in the form of golden swan footprints, golden sections of statues via a ring on a hand or a horn of a unicorn, or even golden letters signifying the page of a storybook.

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What is truly incredible about this title is the sense of awe and accomplishment that quickly encompasses the player. Throwing bits of black ink over a white canvas, creating as full a picture or as necessary a path as possible; the progress seen is incomparable. Whether it has been 10 minutes or an hour, turning around to look behind reveals a landscape you never realized existed. A bit of paint here, a means to get to golden footprints there and a touch of curiosity over on the other side leads to an artistic masterpiece all stemming from simple exploration.

The accompanying soundtrack adds to the perfect storybook tale as well as the player travels deeper into this color deprived land and story. From dark hallowing tones to medieval sounding harpsichord melodies, the game personifies the feelings of wonder, curiosity, amazement and even fear. Music so appropriate it is hard to discern where it begins and ends as the player is drawn even more into the experience.

As the game continues, black ink no longer becomes the only tool at hand. As shadows, light and darkness all take turns throughout the landscape, the player will be able to cast water droplets and create vines to traverse, throw light to remain safe and create 3D objects in which to stand upon.

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Although the game play is simple enough at the start, the later elements introduced transform this title from mere art and exploration to a piece of the puzzle genre; often giving the player much freedom in solving the challenges ahead. In addition to discovery, there are also various items to collect which can be used to purchase upgrades and enhancements.

The PS3 exclusive, The Unfinished Swan is a title that I have not yet completed entirely, yet the demo alone was enough to captivate and enthrall me. Although in a possibly simpler and unique way, the game already seems to liken itself to others of its caliber such as Journey or Ico. A fantastical journey of discovery and beauty, it is an experience that people should allow themselves.

So will you?

“Don’t be afraid.”

My Beauty, My Love…Anna [PC]

“I hoped I had forgotten you forever…”

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The human psyche can be a delicate creature; a creature that should be kept safe from the world’s horrors and told that monsters simply do not live in dark places nor come out into the light. But there always comes a time when the pieces seem to fit together just right and we go against all common sense and knowledge to follow a faint, yet sorrowful, curiosity. A lost love, a forgotten memory; will these lead you to the answers you seek…or to regret?

The psychological horror adventure game Anna, by Italian game developer Dreampainters, takes you to the remote location of an old sawmill. Lead by photographs you have no memory of taking and distant thoughts of a woman held dear; you must make your way through the abandoned building to recover the lost fragments of memories.

As many adventure titles go, Anna maintains the core concept of collecting any and all applicable items for use in furthering your journey and uncovering dark secrets. However, while this may be a staple to the genre, Anna‘s use of these items leaves much to be desired. A journal, a lighter and a few other random items adorn your person from the beginning…yet their use and significance is left rather unexplained and some even untested. The plethora of other items you encounter and pick up all have a purpose either of their own accord or when combined together…but that, in itself, often leads to another bout of frustration as you traverse the decrepit mill house.

Sadly, one of the most cumbersome aspects of this game lies within its controls. While certain options can be toggled to your fancy, the majority of this title relies on basic movement (which is at an alarmingly slow pace, making backtracking and exploration a time consuming ordeal) as well as mouse clicking and grabbing. Doors provide an exceptional focus in that you do not merely click on them to open and shut, but must push and pull them at just the right angle in order for them to open enough to glance inside or move through. Additionally, when combining items together, many of the combinations must be done in an exact order at the right time; or you are merely given the inner thoughts of yourself calling you quite crazy for even thinking the two would ever work out.

On a positive note, Anna did accomplish a dark and haunting atmosphere that leaves you questioning just what really occurred within those decaying walls; and oftentimes make you regret staying put for any longer than you have to. Without notice, unannounced specters, sudden shadows, inanimate objects hurled around the room, and alarming screams and crying pierce the darkness and leave your mental state a tad worse off than it already was. Even without the supernatural occurrences, the dim candlelit rooms and disturbing images that occur due to your involvement add to the overall suspense and you scour every inch of the mill house for items, clues and puzzles.

Additionally, the music and sound effects do add a considerable depth to the title. From soft ambiance to climactic swells to the muffled words and arguments of those who resided in a time long gone; the dark mood and atmosphere of the game remain in tact, if not enhanced, by not only what is seen, but also heard.

Anna is a game based off quite an intriguing premise and even despite its numerous flaws, does incur some shining moments. One such moment for me, without giving away too much, involves a somewhat disturbing ritual mask and a black mourning dress and veil. The feeling of being thoroughly and demonically watched has never been so strong and it is a feeling and image that has stayed with me long after playing it.

In the end, the game wants to accomplish its goal of fear, suspense and intuitiveness – but just misses. Three distinct endings give players a chance to see as much of the story as they wish to reveal and may even offer multiple play-throughs should they so wish. Only taking about three hours to complete the first time (and getting the final and longest ending), Anna is certainly worth playing at least once…for the right price that is; though I would truly only recommend it to those who are avid fans of the adventure or psychological horror genre. Otherwise, you may be better off letting this one slip back into the dark and haunted crevice from whence it emerged and carrying on with your life as if nothing ever happened.

Limbo

How far would you go to save someone you love?

The side scrolling monochromatic game Limbo, by game developer Playdead, begins as a young nameless boy searches for his lost sister – awakening to a darkened, decaying forest strewn with horrific deaths, traps and puzzles which never appear to be quite as they seem.

As the boy travels deeper into Limbo, the scenery shifts elegantly from secluded forest to a passing tribal village to an underground city of rampant mechanisms. The traps and puzzles divert as well to match their surroundings – trees, water, bear traps and arachnids give way to electromagnetic switches and gravity defying feats. Every puzzle within this journey comes with a painstakingly acute lesson…and a heavy price.

Unlike most games in the puzzle and problem solving genre, this one stands out from the rest. Eerily beautiful and horrifying both in visuals and sound, Limbo keep players on edge as they ever so warily (…or not so much, if you’re the more brazen, ‘I’m ready to die!’ type) make their way through the haunting atmosphere; eying each new challenge with enthusiasm and disdain. Additionally, players are not met with a secluded “get out of this room” kind of puzzle, but rather, each challenge fits into the journey’s succession – never once breaking the overall atmosphere.

Towards the beginning, the puzzles themselves range from simple timing exercises (jumping, dodging, activating sensors and switches) to basic box maneuvers; all of which represent fundamental concepts that will not only allow passage through the conflicts themselves but will also be instrumental in surpassing the challenges ahead if applied correctly.

If there is one thing to prepare yourself for on the first play through it is that death is inevitable; and you will be reminded of this lesson repeatedly. In fact, the developers actually classify this style of game play as “trial and death” as most traps are not entirely apparent until it is far too late. Luckily, you can die an indefinite amount of times to overcome the obstacle as there are no game overs and you simply reset to your most recent checkpoint.

From start to finish, the game can be played through in about 3 hours; however, just because a game is shorter in length does not mean it has less to offer. Aside from simply beating the game, if you are up for an additional challenge, try getting all trophies/achievements. One trophy in particular, called “No Point in Dying”, stands as a worthy challenge in itself as it involves completing the game in one sitting with five or less deaths. Let’s just say that I wish I had kept track of how many times I died my first play through; Unfortunately, all I can attest to is that it was more than five….way more.

With plenty of ways to play this title (PC/Xbox/PSN), there is hardly a reason not to give this one a try. It may not be your generic puzzle, horror or adventure title, but it is an intriguing experience that stands out none the less.

So leave reality behind, and take the first step into Limbo…

“I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost…” ~Dante

They say this quote is somewhat akin to describing what someone sees when they are first dead. Strange and horrifying images, doorways to nowhere, places that should not exist and people who should be long since gone all appear along this nonexistent path. What else this journey entails is for you alone to find out, just know that there is no other way to go but forward.

Is this making sense? No? Then all is as it should be. The PS3 exclusive Datura is a game focused on interaction and choices. In it, the player will be able to touch and interact with the environment through special use of the Playstation Move device (though it is also compatible with the dualshock controller) and through this discover the deeper story held within. It is as much a venture of choices and decisions as it is an art form of imagery. Some describe this game as a mystery, others an adventure (somewhat comparative to Myst); and then there are those who  simply call it an experience.  However, if the title is any indication of what this game will entail, we may be in for a deranged ride.

For those who may not know, Datura is a species of large plant with alternating leaves and vertically standing bell shaped flowers (often found in white, yellow, pink and pale purple).  This species, also known as a moonflower, is a member of the “witch’s weeds” in company with deadly nightshade and mandrake and is often used as an ingredient in many love potions and other spells. What truly makes this enticing flower interesting is that it is not only beautiful, it is deadly. Due to the tropane alkaloids that exist within the seeds and flower of Datura, it has been used as a poison and hallucinogen for years and in more severe circumstances has been found to cause delirium (inability to decipher between fantasy and reality) and even death. Additional side effects of ingestion include possible hypothermia, bizarre or violent behavior, photophobia (painful intolerance to light) and even cases of amnesia.

Minor botany lesson aside, Datura looks to be a near hands on gaming experience where every action causes a certain and unavoidable reaction. Will you make the right choice? What consequences await you for choosing unwisely? As the very forest around you shifts with every thought and action, you may or may not be imagining the woods closing in and becoming darker with every step. Questions abound as anxiety rises minute by excruciating minute. They say every individual is left to weave their own path in life – where will this tale take you?

(Look for Datura for download on PSN May 8, 2012 [US], May 9 [Europe])

Baccano!

If you ever had to ask yourself what the most incredible asset to the mafia could be, what would you say?

Guns? Ammunition? Liquor? Fast cars? Finely pressed suits??

How about alchemy and immortality?

Ding ding ding! Now you’re thinking! (Though the other suggestions were good too). But just imagine what can be accomplished when you eliminate the fear of dying…well, dying permanently at least. The possibilities are endless…

This is where a ragtag group of gangsters, thieves, scientists, and even a few bystanders find that they all have at least one common factor between them. Be it by luck, accident, purpose or simply being in the wrong place at the right time, a majority of this large cast of characters has gained immortality – effectively upping the ante on any and all jobs, tasks, or trouble they find themselves getting into.

Baccano! is an anime that accomplishes things that many other animes try to attempt and often fail. First off, it is a very large cast of main characters for the overall length of the series.  The characters all fit into one of five or so different groups that all pass by and coincide with each other throughout the entirety of the series; and yet it feels as though all characters get ample screen time to fulfill their part of the story. As for the story, it is not told in a general ‘first this, then that happened’ type of fashion nor is it told between present time and flashbacks. It is a mixture of everything. Simply stated, you cannot merely watch an episode or two of the series then give up – it will all come together in time. It may sound odd, but its ’round-about almost random selection of event scenes’ way of story telling does not leave out a single detail; and by the time the end comes around, all of the pieces fall perfectly into place.

As for what the story is about, it is hard to go into without giving too much away. It involves an event from two hundred years previous and a slew of exploits occurring within and around the early 1930’s in prohibition era New York. Mafia, thieves, gangsters, violence, alchemy, grand panacea, a mysterious boat expedition and a terrifyingly chaotic and dangerous train ride are all key elements that this series’ plethora of characters find themselves in and around.

It is a show of humor, violence, mystery, blood, action and crime – and definitely worth watching. As with most entertainment associated with the mobster genre, language and brutality should be noted and expected. Maybe it’s not a household name and the characters aren’t well known, but it is an amusing and fun show to watch with nary a dull moment. Especially for its short time investment, even if you aren’t a big fan of the genre you should consider giving this one a shot.

“Cast aside the illusion that there is a beginning and end to the story. The story has no beginning. And it has no end. All there is, is a performance of people connecting, living, influencing each other, and departing. ” ~Gustav Saint Germain