Tuesday, May 29, 2007

XBLA review: XEVIOUS (9/10)

Yeah, I never thought of the title in all caps either ... anyway, for once, a classic arcade game has a quality port on the 360. No stupid online battle achievements, no graphic "upgrades", just original gameplay. Sadly, it's one-player only, thus the 9 instead of a 10. (Dear Microsoft, many people have multiple gamers in their house and do not wish to buy two consoles. Please explain this to publishers. Sincerely, us.)

What it's got:
  • Secrets, just like the arcade (citadels and flags in the same places)
  • Adaptive difficulty, just like the arcade (die twice in a row and you see weaker enemies)
  • A high-score board that's saved with your settings. (ABOUT TIME! Why on earth would you bother to save settings and not save high scores?)
  • Configurable controls. No more A and B if you'd rather not use them. (I prefer LT and RT myself. YMMV.)

What it don't:
  • Two-player play. (Hotseat, like in the arcade. Co-op mode wouldn't be desirable.)

If you liked XEVIOUS in the arcade, by all means, pick this up. It's definitely worth it. If you missed out on '80s arcade games, you might give this one a try just to see what the better games were like.

zlionsfan's rating: 9 citadels out of 10.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Nothin' but a sandwich

Got my first 300K score on Guitar Hero II. Free Bird, naturally. Only missed 40 notes in the whole song (1201/1241), and 90% in Gtr Solo I (which is the crazy one). Someday, maybe, I can get the Yngwie award. Someday.

I'm on the seventh set on Hard, which also gives me hope. Actually, I've completed one of those songs. (The Trooper, naturally.) 14 five-star performances, 11 four-star, and 12 three-star (plus assorted extras), so I am gradually learning. I did have to practice Kansas and Heart a bit, and will have to practice some more, plus those three-star performances are costing me a lot of money. Can't unlock those characters without extra money.

I can't imagine how people get a billion points on this.

Where are the other songs? Seriously. It shouldn't take that long to come out with track packs. Then again, maybe they felt guilty for the exorbitant cost of the initial packs. Well, okay, probably not.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

XBLA review: Soltrio Solitaire (4/10)

Well, Silver Creek is back with another card game (or to be more precise, collection of card games). Based on the quality of their other offerings, you'd probably guess that this is another mediocre game, and you'd be right.

Solitaire's a no-brainer, right? Throw together some common variants, maybe add some special tricks, keep a bunch of stats, and you've got yourself a quality offering. So, let's see how they did. To be fair, Quantum Quality Productions released the quintessential solitaire game, Solitaire's Journey, 15 years ago, so the best Silver Creek could hope to do is approach it in quality. (A wide variety of game, different modes of play, rich statistics ... it's one of the few DOS games I still play, and I fear the day when it no longer runs in Windows, a la Eight Ball Deluxe.)

Common variants? Well, they have 16 games (two variants of Freecell and two variants of Klondike, what most novices refer to as "solitaire"), and I do recognize some of them. However, Spider is one suit only (stupid), and some of the other games, like Aces Up, depend heavily on the order in which cards are dealt. Grade: D.

Special tricks? In Voyage mode, by playing cards to foundations, you can earn points to pull cards from the tableau to the stock, shuffle tableau columns, and other helpful tricks. Of course, it lowers your overall score, so there are compromises to be had. Grade: A.


Hello? Stats?

Well, per their usual, there's ... um ... leaderboards that show your high score by game, the number of chests you've unlocked in Voyage Mode, and, if you look carefully, the number of games you win. Mind you, none of this is available directly. Why? Because Silver Creek sucks when it comes to stats.

What's your average score per game? Number of games played? Number of wins per game? Winning percentage? At which games have you won? No idea. Why? You got me. Grade: F.

Instead, they have ... online play. For solitaire.

No, really.

Why is that? Because they didn't know how to make a good solitaire game. Solitaire's Journey had two additional modes besides single-game: Tournament, where you played a set of games for a cumulative score (you could play a predefined tournament or create your own), and Journey, where you traveled from one city to another, playing one of three games in each city where you stopped, winning money to offset your travel costs or even travel for free. For each game, it kept number of games played for each player, number of wins, average score, and number of games over their "average", as well as high and average scores for tournaments and journeys.

Soltrio has Voyage Mode, where for every three games you win, you get a random card background, foreground, or border, which you use to build your own card backs. (Voyage is the mode with the tricks: in Classic mode, you must play by the book.) That's it.

Some of the achievements are pretty neat, but there are two online achievements. (One, The Mingler, is similar to other games: basically, you'll get it by playing someone who's got it already.)

Another major flaw in the game is autoplay. It's more like Otto-play, where Otto is a guy behind the scenes who plays cards for you. He's pretty dumb. He'll make illegal moves (I lost a game of Matrimony when he played a card onto a foundation that was already complete - the game let him do it and I had no idea until all 104 cards were on foundations and I didn't win). He won't finish the game automatically if there are cards in the tableau not in order (in Freecell, if there's a red six on a red seven, even though the cards are in descending order, he can't figure out that you can play both of them to foundations in turn). He'll always move a card to the foundation if possible, even if it's a better move to put it on the tableau. The last one I can live with; the first one is incomprehensibly stupid.

Also, just for the record, colossus has one l and a double s. Hear me, Silver Creek?

This isn't a bad game, but the problem is that once you get past the outer layer, there's really no depth to it. If you like mindless hours of Freecell, this is maybe a step better. If you want a quality solitaire game, go back in time.

zlionsfan's rating: four clubs out of 10.

Updated 24 June 2007: I tried out Game Pack 1, which has some decent games like Clock and Miss Milligan. Unfortunately, the new games continue to highlight Silver Creek's mistakes. The autoplay features is hopelessly lost on some of the games: in Miss Milligan, it will put a card onto the reserve instead of onto another tableau pile, and in Whitehead, given a choice of two piles, matching-suit and matching-color, it sometimes picks the matching-color pile, even though the obvious play is matching-suit. Also, while it says "accurately" that you may select any card in the reserve pile playing Miss Milligan, it doesn't give you a way to select any card, just cards in sequence.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Say what?

I'm looking at my quarantine report from my ISP today. I notice that there's something on it from the NFL (yawn), but it's a survey. Interesting. I release it, it arrives in my inbox. It's a survey about the Super Bowl. (Excellent - maybe I can tell them that the off week is ridiculous, the game shouldn't take 4.5 hours, and Janet Jackson is still a lying ... )

So I click on the link.

"Sorry, this survey is closed."

What? It's not quite 1 PM. The message was quarantined at 1:19 PM yesterday. There's no mention of any date or anything in the e-mail, just "Click this link to take the survey."

So they close it less than 24 hours after sending out invites. Nice. I unsubscribed from the NFL's mailing list after that. Well, to be fair, I would have done it anyway, because I'm using gmail for that kind of e-mail now, but still, why would you do something that dumb, suggesting to your fans that you care about their opinion and slamming the virtual door in their faces when they show up to give it to you?

Fine, I'll tell you my opinion right now. The Super Bowl is the most overblown sporting event in the world, and nothing else is even close, not even a game that Gus Johnson announces. It's incredibly boring, it takes way too long, most of the commercials are terrible, the announcers suck half the time, the halftime show usually sucks too, and if it weren't for gambling, most people wouldn't care either.

Not that we actually gamble, because, you know, outside of Vegas, it's illegal.

You couldn't pay me enough to see a Super Bowl in person. I hope Indy never gets one. I don't want to go through two weeks of paying twice as much for everything and having our roads clogged with people driving bigwigs around.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

XBLA review: Centipede/Millipede (5/10)

Well, here's yet another "remake" of a classic arcade game. Thankfully, someone realized that Centipede by itself is pretty lame, so the games come bundled as one.

Each one has a classic version and an "evolved" mode (yawn), which is pretty much a waste of time. Hey, guys, these games don't need fancy graphics. They don't add anything. If anything, it makes the game worse, because the graphics make it harder to figure out where you need to move and shoot. Each mode has standard difficulty and "throttle monkey" difficulty, which is basically top speed and top difficulty (the actual games have "pin" settings so that you can change these incrementally, but those aren't available in most ports.

The achievements are decent - one of them is the remove-all-mushrooms-from-the-screen in Centipede. I was never able to do that. None of them are stupid online achievements, either.

The biggest drawback to the game is that there is no trackball available for the 360. (I suppose you could use a USB trackball if you had one. My SlikStik console's trackball only works left-to-right, needing repair, so I couldn't test it, but I'd think Microsoft could come out with a mini-trackball.) The analog joystick is woefully inadequate, especially in throttle-monkey mode.

Other than that, the games are what you expect. If you liked them, you'll like them here, with the caveat that they look funny on a widescreen TV. (Someday they'll make a TV that rotates and lets you flip the output, so that classic arcade games and others can be viewed in the right aspect.)

If you want the achievements, then it's probably worth it, but otherwise I'd suggest getting an emulator and playing them with the right controls.

zlionsfan's rating: 5 fleas out of 10.

XBLA review: Catan (10/10)

Go buy Catan. Now.

No, really. Stop reading the blog, start the download of the full version, and come back. I promise, your ISP won't go anywhere while it waits.

I realize that the video-game community and board-game community don't overlap very much (and when they do ... eh ... how many people besides me bought Hoyle's Board Games?), so I'll have to explain. I will assume that most of you have never played Settlers of Catan. It's an outstanding strategy board game. (I played the original, and I believe the Seafarers of Catan expansion, shortly after they came out - my girlfriend's brother was a massive board-game fan, owning nearly as many board games as I do video games. A year in either direction and I might not ever have played it.) I can't do it justice, so I'll leave it to you to read the Wikipedia article, if you're interested in the background.

Anyway, I never played the PC adaptation, so I don't know how good it was, but when I saw Catan on xbox360achievements.org, the first thing that came to mind was the board game. I was busy looking up something on The Godfather, though, so I forgot about it until tonight, when I saw the games I hadn't yet downloaded.

So I got it, and played it. I'm sure it's cool for multiplayer games, but for single-player, it's great too. There's a "learn while you play" mode, which was more than detailed enough for me to remember how to play. (There are customizable options in the game; the "tutorial" sets some of these to make it easier to learn, such as placing your settlements for you. It was confusing until the tutorial explained why it was happening.) Play it all the way through, and you'll have a decent idea of what's going on. (The AI plays on Easy, I believe.)

There are three skill levels, Easy, Moderate, and Hard. On Moderate, the AI is much more perceptive: for example, when you establish a decent lead or are close to winning, it flat-out refuses to trade with you. It's a good match for a moderately-skilled player like me. I haven't tried Hard yet.

After playing it a couple of times, you'll begin to see some strategies develop. The randomness of the board layout means that there's no silver bullet: a particular strategy might be good in one game and terrible in another, and the heavy luck factor can render even the best strategy meaningless.

The game moves along rather well, although you may not want to skip through the AI's turns, and if you don't, it'll still take about an hour or so to play. You won't notice, though.

Keep in mind that this is turn-based, not real-time. (For me, that's a big plus.) If you only like real-time strategy games, this will be an adjustment for you, but try anyway. If you dislike both strategy games and board games, then you're a fool. Come back and read this again when you change your point of view.

zlionsfan's rating: 10 hexes out of 10. Yes, I said 10. Now BUY IT!

Friday, May 04, 2007


As in "Settlers of Catan"?

No way!

As Wayne might say, way.

You mean this has been available for days and I haven't downloaded it yet? (I've played the board game, with expansions, with friends before, and it is awesome.)

I better make sure I get my homework done in advance now. Either that or I should start buying lottery tickets.
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