Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Boom Blox

Over the last few days, since I first purchased the game last Friday at Knox City SC, I have been playing a simple yet highly addictive and extremely fun game: Boom Blox.

Boom Blox hasn’t been around for too long, having been released a mere seven months ago be Electronic Arts, the same company that produces all those fabulous sports games like Fifa, NHL and NBA games.

I first played Boom Blox when we went to Dean and Emily’s housewarming party earlier in the year and they were playing the portion of this game that required players to remove oblong blocks from a structure carefully so that you don’t topple the entire structure over...basically, a glorified but improved version of the much loved Jenga game.

That was fun enough as it was, but then Dean and Emily tried out the other game modes which included tossing baseballs to knock down point blocks, throwing bowling balls at your opponent’s gem blocks atop a castle (last one standing wins!) and knocking point blocks into various multiplier walls to see who could get the highest score.

As more and more people arrived, we were all still hooked on Boom Blox and must have spent at least three to four hours playing it. It was such a simple game in terms of design, but the fun factor was just enormous...and it was highly addictive since none of us wanted to stop playing it!

I found out much later that the acclaimed Steven Spielberg (director of Schindler’s List, Jaws, E.T. and many many other blockbuster movies) was a director/producer of the Boom Blox game! So it had a big name producer attached to the game, but strangely enough, despite the game’s acclaim, most of friends I knew had never heard of the game prior to trying it at Dean’s place. I know I certainly didn’t know that such a game existed!

Anyway, I remembered how fun the game was so when I saw it on sale, I purchased it. Found out that Target (where I purchased Boom Blox from last Friday) is having a mega sale the three days before Christmas and the same game is only selling for $14.95, a good $25 cheaper than what we paid for it. Grrrr. Even still, it’s such a great game that it’s worth the money.

As I said before, it’s uber addictive and very very difficult to put down once you’ve started. There are over 300+ levels and even though I spent over four hours on the single-player mode alone, I was only 29% through the game!

The single-player mode had an “Explore” feature which allowed players to work their ways through puzzles. There were point blocks on structures that needed to be toppled over in as few throws as possible, the “Jenga” like structures where you had to remove as many point blocks as you could in a set time, and other such puzzles.

There is also an adventure mode in single-player where you have cutesy animal blocks called the Bahhhs (based on sheep) being invaded by the Grrrs (based on bears). The Bahhhs had a castle and you were required to throw bomb balls at the invading Grrrs and prevent them from infiltrating your castle and stealing away the Bahhhs’ precious gems!

In Episode 2 of the adventure mode, the Oooks (based on monkeys) had stolen the Bahhhs’ gems while the Bahhhs were distracted in the fight against the Grrrs, and you were required to invade the Oooks’ castle to retrieve the gems. Cue more throwing of bomb balls at the Oooks’ castle.

It is fantastic storytelling and heaps of fun. What’s really neat is that it’s also a game for kids...apart from needing to use one’s noggin to figure out some of the puzzles, there really isn’t much you need to know...after all, it’s just a matter of tossing baseballs/bowling balls/bomb balls at blocks!

While the single-player mode shines, it’s the multi-player mode that will really get most people going. It’s so much more fun competing against friends and laughing when someone accidentally topples a block structure down. It’s can get competitive, but at the end of the day, Boom Blox is really a superb party game.

The one thing that I must warn those who are interested in the game is that if you do not regularly exercise your throwing arm, it could lead to a great deal of pain and distress after a few hours of playing Boom Blox.

The very next day after playing Boom Blox for a few hours, my right arm was extremely sore and I couldn’t really lift anything heavy at all. I felt as if I were a baseball pitcher who had gone through nine agonising innings of trying to pitch the ball as fast as I could!

I just couldn’t get any strength in my throws, so when playing the multi-player mode against Aeris, I decided to try using my left arm instead. And despite playing for a good one or two hours less, the very next day, my left arm was out of action...and it still hurts like hell!

Boom Blox is a game you cannot afford NOT to get if you own a Nintendo Wii. It is one of the simplest yet most addictive games I have ever played and it utilises the Wiimote so innovatively and efficiently. Even if you are not a hardcore gamer, Boom Blox would most likely appeal to you!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: The Simpsons Hit and Run

A couple of blog entries below, I expressed my love for the Grand Theft Auto series of games by Rockstar Games. It was free-form entertainment and one could choose a non-linear path of the game and do side tasks, explore the city...and basically do whatever the hell you wanted to!

But what if there was a game in the vein of GTA but based on another favourite city of mine, with characters that are already part of pop culture and Americana? What if there was a game that could make you fall in love even MORE with said characters and give you a chance to live and breathe in that city?

Of course I'm going to have to buy it and play it. Cue: The Simpsons Hit and Run!

Now, this game has actually been out for several years now. It was originally released on the Nintendo GameCube in 2003, and then on PC later that year. The PS2 released it in 2004 and even the Xbox (original, not the new Xbox360) had it in 2006, so popular was the game!

I had a choice between the GameCube and PC versions a couple of weeks ago when trawling through the collection of games at the Cash Converters in Forest Hill and I decided to get the GameCube version, since I knew that GameCube games could be played on the Nintendo Wii. On hindsight, I probably should have gotten the PS2 version, but ah well.

The problem with the GameCube version, which I learned firsthand only a few days ago when I tried playing the game on my Wii, is not only did you need an original GameCube controller (the Wiimote and even the Wii classic controller doesn't work with the game), but you needed a GameCube memory card to save the game. What a bummer...additional costs I never factored in!

So I had to get a GameCube controller off eBay because it seemed impossible to find in a Cash Converters! EB Games and Game and other gaming stores did have non-official controllers, but I was a bit wary of those, not knowing whether they could actually be used or recognised by the Wii as a GameCube controller.

It was even harder finding a GameCube memory card! But as luck would have it, the Cash Converters at Knox City had the single memory card and I quickly purchased it...none of the game shops I went to had any at all!

So I could now play The Simpsons Hit and Run and boy, it was well worth the wait! It's not as free-roaming as GTA...you could decide to just drive around Springfield knocking things down and crashing into people and getting the cops to chase you if you had too high a "wanted" rating. And there are side missions where you could do favours and tasks for other Springfield-ians to get rewards and even participate in a race to unlock bonus cars. But those numbers pale in comparison to the non-linear side missions that is available in the GTA universe.

Nevertheless, you get to explore Springfield! Be it the Kwik-E-Mart or the Nuclear Power Plant, Springfield is brought to life in vivid detail. While you can't interact with every single person or every single location in the game, just seeing Springfield in 3D is a Simpsons fanatic's dream.

What's really awesome about the game is that when you CAN interact with other Springfield-ians, you get witty quips and memorable one-liners from the show. Once again, a Simpsons fanatics' wet dream. I spent much time just driving around familiarising myself with Springfield...and running down as many pedestrians as I could. Absolutely loved it when you knock someone down and Homer starts singing: "I am evil Homer! I am evil Homer!"

The Simpsons Hit and Run is simply awesome. If you're a fan of The Simpsons, there really shouldn't be any reason why this game isn't part of your collection.

The holiday season and new books to buy and expect!

There are going to be quite a lot of new comics coming up over the next few weeks...which coincides with the Christmas shopping season, meaning that I've got to learn how to save and budget and prioritise like never before!

Brian Michael Bendis' Secret Invasion just finished...and what a series it was! The anticipation of what would happen in the next issue was just like Mark Millar's Civil War a couple of years ago and boy, was that a fantastic series and Secret Invasion certainly ended with more questions than resolutions.

Yes, the Skrull invasion was halted...was there really any doubt? But the fallout is just about to happen, and it leads nicely into Marvel's event of 2009: Dark Reign. I won't list any spoilers for those who haven't yet read Secret Invasion (and if you haven't, hurry up and go read it already!), but the gist of it is, the Marvel Universe has just become a much darker place with even MORE conspiracies than ever before at the conclusion of the failed Skrull invasion.

While Tony Stark was heralded as the Marvel Universe's saviour only a mere two years ago, with the Superhero Registration Act implemented as a result of the Civil War, he now finds himself discarded by his own government. All his plans post-Civil War failed to yield any fruition and he's failed to deliver on his promise of protecting America with the 50-State Initiative program.

So the government has sacked Tony from being the big kahuna of S.H.I.E.L.D. Wait until you see who they've chosen to be the new big boss...it's the shock ending of Secret Invasion that will resonate and create a ripple effect in all of Marvel Comics' books for years to come!

Anyway, I'll give Secret Invasion a proper review sometime down the line. Back on topic, another new title I'll be adding to my standing list is Dark Avengers, which spins off from the ending of Secret Invasion. There have been quite a number of huge releases in the TPB and HC format such as The Boys: Definitive Edition HC which collects the first 13 issues of Dynamite Entertainment's superb series.

The Boys is a guilty pleasure and the world it's set in is as realistic as it comes in posing the question: What would it be like if there really were superheroes in the real world? Garth Ennis (of Preacher and Punisher: Max infamy, and one of my favourite writers) crafts such a splendid tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely. He certainly doesn't hold back and while there are some moments in the series which are just flat out gross, it IS classic Ennis, which means fans will be treated with over-the-top humour in the vein of Preacher.

Hmm...methinks I should review The Boys sometime down the line too! It's just too good not to have a review!

The Rising Stars Compendium HC also gets released after the new year, which collects the entire series of Rising Stars, from the original 24 issue mini-series by J. Michael Stracyznski, to the three related mini-series. Rising Stars was absolutely brilliant, especially in the first third of the series where it established the world in which 113 special humans with powers lived and how they interacted with society at large.

It's a great time to be a comic book fan...not good for our wallets though!

Francis is also helping me to get the entire series of the Slam Dunk manga in English, published by Chuang Yi Comics in Singapore. 31 volumes means that it'll be a while before I can actually pay him for the order...yipes. Good reading times ahead!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

GTAIV didn't work. :(

Tried installing Grand Theft Auto IV on my computer late last week...there were so many things to install and so many accounts I needed to create just to play the game!

I needed an account with the Rockstar Social Club, so had to register online. I then needed a Windows Live ID but thankfully, that was linked with my hotmail account, so there was no issue there. Was reading the manual and found out that because the Xbox360 was a Microsoft console, quite a lot of PC games (GTAIV at the very least) could actually be played with an Xbox360 controller!

Hmm...I've always been against the Xbox360, but that makes it a VERY attractive console to get now, not that I really play that many PC games nowadays. But there ARE some games that are only available on Xbox360 like Fable II, plus the Xbox360 games are cheaper than PS3 games! PS3 does have blu-ray but it is so expensive still and the new PS3 consoles do not support old Playstation and PS2 games, something I absolutely hate.

The one thing that is really in the Xbox360's favour is how cheap it is nowadays. Provided one isn't going for the expensive pack with the higher storage space, the Xbox360 is even CHEAPER than a Nintendo Wii nowadays! Dang it...I want one now, but I won't/can't get one!

Anyway, after the installation of GTAIV was complete, I tried the game out. First off, there are so many controls and I had to remap everything because whenever I play PC games, I use the mouse in my left hand...this is especially for first person shooters (Unreal, Quake II etc) and real time strategy games (Starcraft, etc). It took me a really long time to remap the controls. Once I was done with that, I started the game.

Or at least, I tried to. The graphics just were not coming up well at all and the game was extremely laggy...just what one wants, very laggy graphics that were glorified pixels! I went back to the main menu to change the graphic settings, but nothing was working...the graphics were just getting worse, or the game was getting laggier.

I checked the specs on the back of the GTAIV box and to my horror, the minimum required graphics card was so much more advanced than the one we had! Now, I'm sure I checked the video requirements before pre-ordering the game and our graphics card were adequate! So now I was stuck with a game that I couldn't play, and EB Games' refund policy (and probably those of most other places) did not allow refunds for PC games, presumably because there were so many types of software out there that allowed people to copy PC games!

Nevertheless, I didn't want to be stuck with a game I couldn't play, so I brought back the game to EB Games at Forest Hill on Monday evening. I explained the situation to Elizabeth, since she was the salesperson who called me when the game arrived in store and she was also the same person who put through the transaction when I went to pick it up.

I was happy for a trade-in or even an exchange for a lesser game, but to my delight and surprise, Liz said that while it wasn't customary policy, she knew me from having served me on previous occasions and gave me the full refund, logging in the GTAIV game as defective merchandise! Wow, what great customer service, I was certain I was going to be stuck with a game it couldn't use! She didn't have to do that at all since the onus was on me to make sure that my PC system requirements matched that of the game!

I'm sure I'll be going back to the Forest Hill EB games in the future to purchase my games!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The release of GTA IV on PC!

Got myself a special treat today: my pre-order for Grand Theft Auto IV finally came in so I went to pick it up at the EB Games at Forest Hill!

Now anyone who knows me knows I'm a HUGE Grand Theft Auto (or GTA for short) fan. I played the top-down original Grand Theft Auto years ago on the PC. And then I got the expansion where the setting was in the UK. I missed out on GTA 2 and that was the last of my GTA experience for a while since I came to Australia.

While I was over here, I discovered GTA III, albeit a year or more after its initial release. GTA III is the game that changed free-roaming games forever and spawned so many clones since its inception. Some of its clones were good, some were god-awful but not many reached the same heights as the GTA series. I spent so many long long hours playing GTA III...and I didn't even try to achieve 100% completion in the game!

And then my favourite GTA game of all time was released in 2003: GTA Vice City. It was set in the 80s in Vice City, which was a lampoon of Miami. It had a killer soundtrack of some of my favourite 80s tunes and even the more obscure ones that I had heard little of but grew to love. It had the bright lights, snazzy "disco" colours and stereotypes of American characters that one saw in movies and tv dramas. And it had the classic GTA gameplay...what was there not to love?

After that came GTA San Andreas, which I own a copy of but have never EVER played, believe it or not. Just never had my PS2 with me when I purchased San Andreas and even now, don't really have the time to play it. Then I deliberately purchased a PSP so that I could play GTA Liberty City Stories, which was pretty awesome as well. And then my second favourite GTA game, GTA Vice City Stories was released on PSP and it had an even MORE killer soundtrack than Vice City!

GTA Chinatown Wars will be released on the Nintendo DS sometime in 2009, but that's a whole other story.

In May this year, Rockstar Games released the sequel to GTA III (well, not quite, but at least in sequential order of numbering, I guess it IS a sequel) on both the Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox360: GTA IV. I was shattered...only because I didn't own either console and short of actually going out there to buy one of those next gen consoles, there'd be absolutely no chance I'd get to play this game!

So when I found out a couple of months ago that GTA IV was coming to PC, I knew I had to pre-order it. There was no way I'd be getting a PS3 or Xbox360 anytime soon (if ever!) so here was my chance to get in on the GTA IV experience, the game that so many people were talking about, just as if it were the days after the release of GTA III all over again!

So now that I have it, I can't wait to try it...I'm sure I'll have ample time over the Christmas period to immerse myself in the world of Liberty City once again. Reviews once I've played the game or have completed it!