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Even Cute Monsters Have to Go: A Review of The Counting Kingdom (iOS)

It’s no secret that I have a real interest in games for educational purposes. And this interest extends to games that might be both fun and educational to my own 6 year old. So when I got the chance to review The Counting Kingdom by Little Worlds Interactive for iOS I jumped at it. The game has gotten rave reviews on Steam and I’m always looking for something that I can throw on the iPad or iPod to keep Pea entertained in the grocery store or in various waiting rooms.

Let me start by saying the graphics on the introductory screens in this game are beautiful and music is soothing. It looks like a well draw children’s book. It draws you in and while the graphics are not so complex during the actual gameplay, the monsters that you defend your castle from are very cute. Almost too cute to blow up…almost. And if you haven’t guessed it from the previous sentence, The Counting Kingdom is a castle defense game. The game has several parts. First you have the numbered monsters that you have to blow up before they reach your castle. You blow these monsters up by adding or subtracting the numbers to (or from) one another and choosing the proper spell page (printed with the numerical answer) from the spell book to solve the problem and destroy the monster.  Read more »

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Episode 90: Girls and Their Toys: On Toys Done Right

Episode 90: Girls and Their Toys: On Toys Done Right (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

As we get closer to Christmas we hope to turn to happier things…like toys. In this episode we wanted to talk about toys and the ones that we think get it right in terms of the messages that they send to children. We do that, but we also have a digression along the way where we talk about just why this sort of thing is so important. We round it out with a discussion of the hot new Bratz, Ever After High, and Monster High lines of toys, books, and films. More on toys to come!

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Power Hour Review: Never Alone (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

The Alaska carefully crafted in Upper One Games’ first creation Never Alone is as beautiful as it is haunting; as enchanting as it is perilous. In some of the most treacherous lands in the continent a young girl named Nuna, accompanied only by an arctic fox known simply as Fox, must traverse the frozen tundra, brave the arctic wind, and battle evil creatures in order to save the community and family she lost. Imbued with Inupiat culture in every part of the game, the sheer devotion to its culturally accurate storytelling makes some mundane and occasionally difficult mechanics and simplistic puzzle structures forgiveable.

For those who may be unaware, Upper One Games was formed as a collaboration between E-Line Media, an organization dedicated that uses video games to spread awareness of social issues affecting children and teens, and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, an organization representing the needs of Alaska Natives across the state. Discouraged by the inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of indigenous peoples and, more specifically, Alaskan Natives, Upper One Games seeks to empower indigenous people through positive media representation and educate others about native culture. Unsurprisingly, Never Alone accomplishes exactly that. Written and directed by Inupiat natives, every element seems to have been crafted in a way that facilitates a total absorption of the player into the educationally-driven narrative that lies before them.

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Winning (and Losing) through Cooperation

Last weekend, we got together to play table games. I don’t play a lot of table games, and I don’t know why because they are fun, but I think I sometimes get intimidated by all of the rules. Tabletop games seem to require the player to remember a lot while also trying to strategize. We played Last Night on Earth, which allowed us to cooperate and, we had to either stick together to fight the zombies or split up. We stuck together. But, this is not a story about how cooperation or sticking together saved the day. It didn’t. We were literally crushed by the zombies.

However, the cooperation aspects of the game made me think about how I play games and why I tend to stay away from cooperative play. I hardly ever play any type of game that requires cooperation. It’s not because I’m antisocial. (I don’t think.) More, it’s because the type of cooperation I’m used to playing in video games often requires playing online with strangers who sometimes (often) make game play unpleasant for me with their commentary. One time, I remember playing Dead Island with online play inadvertently turned on. This other player was ruining the game for me with his ongoing nasty commentary about how I wasn’t playing it the way he wanted. The game wouldn’t let me shift back to offline play without starting over, so eventually I just gave up and went on to play something else. Now I shy away from the whole thing.  Read more »

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One more time, with feeling…

World of Warcraft‘s new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, is out, an event that always revitalizes the nearly 10 year old game (for at least a few months). If you’re at all familiar with the game, you might be wondering to yourself “why did she put a picture from an old expansion (Wrath of the Lich King, 2008) on her post about the most recent release”? The answer is, quite simply, that World of Warcraft IS the Lich King. Let me explain. Read more »

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What has #GamerGate done to the gaming community?

I worry about what #GamerGate has done to the games community. Don’t get me wrong, it needed to happen, it was going to happen sooner or later, and a lot of shit got said that needed to get said. However, I worry about what the long-term repercussions will be because of this, for lack of a better word, explosion in the community. I worry about who came down on what side in the aftermath of all of this hate.

I worry that gamers who are otherwise good people and who found their identity in games, likely at a time they weren’t accepted elsewhere, have become hardened to the claims of harassment by women in the gaming community. Because #GamerGate shone an unpleasant light into something so many hold near and dear, the reactions I’ve seen published—mostly in online gaming blogs—troubles me deeply. I’ve seen everything from accusations that women (Sarkeesian in particular) don’t care about games and just want their 5 minutes of fame (or victimhood) to claims that the harassment never really existed at all for any women in gaming. Because the debate has gotten so hostile so quickly, many have shut their eyes and ears to the legitimate concerns happening under all our noses.

Did it have to happen so quickly? So violently? I don’t have an answer to that. All I can say is for those who felt hurt that their community was attacked and that their games were being criticized unfairly, take one moment to think about what it would be like to game as a woman. Every time I am identified as a woman in an online game, I am harassed, accused, attacked. And that’s me as a person, not just a community I care about. For those focused on whether or not Sarkeesian cherry picked games or unfairly lobbied criticism, at least she brought these issues to light for people who didn’t have the means or ability to do so.

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Ethics in Games: Can You Ever Trust an Assassin?

I chuckle as I write this because I almost think that it will be more troll bait that will bring us more comments about feminazis and all of the awful things that should happen to them (yes, we don’t share those with you folks), but I have to write it. I’m a rhetor at heart. I feel that ethics is important. And a big ethical question directly affect gamers like us has come to the fore.

What about post-release review embargoes? At NYMG we rarely get pre-release copies of AAA titles. Sometimes, but rarely so I was as shocked by this new phenomenon as most other folks. But it kind of makes sense. In the last couple of years we have seen more and more of our favorite titles being released in what would have previously been considered a beta stage and then patched post-release to bring it up to snuff (or nearly there). This is something that honestly pisses me off to no end. If I pay 60 or 70 dollars for a game at launch I really do expect to have a fully playable experience. I want to be able to seen things without jagged edges and screen tearing, voices shouldn’t cut out, my avatar shouldn’t fall through the floor and only be releasable if I kill myself, my game shouldn’t freeze at the same point every time…none of the things that have actually happened to me in the last year or so. Which is why I have gone more with digital downloads and grabbing things at the local game store on launch day rather than my old route of Amazon pre-orders. That way I have the chance to read reviews and make my decisions and in the end save myself some cash and some heartache.  Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley (3DS)

One of the earliest farming simulation games, the Harvest Moon series tasks you with running and growing a farm and all the various tasks that entails. In addition to growing crops and raising animals, you also can collect wild plants, fish, dig for valuable items and minerals, and the like. The gameplay of most of these titles share a simplistic and straightforward core, with variation from game to game largely being dependent on the literal environment, the characters you’re able to interact with, the bachelors/bachelorettes you’re able to woo and fall in love with, and a few additional gameplay elements here and there. More often than not the games are all very much alike, with very little change from one title to the next. While this might be seen as a negative strike against the series, I never really found myself knocking them for their similarity. Much like with Animal Crossing, I knew what I was getting myself into when I played each new iteration: a cute, quaint, simple but supremely addictive experience and another return to the ordinary but slightly magical world of Harvest Moon. So when I booted up Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley for the first time and saw the game I’d become so accustomed to completely renovated and fundamentally different, I was more than a little shocked and disappointed.

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Power Hour Review: LEGO Batman 3

I was pretty excited when I heard LEGO Batman 3 was coming out. I loved LEGO Batman 2, which I played on the PS Vita. I debated quite a bit over whether I should get the new game on the Vita again or go for the Xbox One version. Unfortunately, as much as I loved LEGO Batman 2 on the Vita, other recent LEGO games for the Vita (LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and LEGO Movie) have been a huge let down. I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t justify getting LEGO Batman 3 for the Vita, at least until I see some reviews, but boy am I happy I ended up getting it on the Xbox One. It looks great on the Xbox One. So far my favorite thing about the game is the really stunning graphics. I mean this game looks really, really good.

I’ve read reports that this game was supposed to be more difficult than previous ones, but I’m not really finding that to be the case. The game feels very familiar to me, and probably will for anyone who has played any or all of the LEGO video games. So far it has been pretty easy to figure out what I need to do and where I need to go. I even pretty much sailed through the first boss fight (unusual for me). So, if anything, some might feel it’s not challenging enough. Although perhaps it will get harder as the game moves along. The game also gives a lot of hints along the ways, so I suppose you could ignore them if you feel like the game is too easy. It is, though, harder to ignore some of the more obvious hints, like when the camera shows you exactly where to go. I don’t always feel like I need that. Sometimes I would rather just figure it out, but I didn’t find it too distracting.

I also read that LEGO Batman 3 would be different from previous LEGO games. I’m not really seeing that. It is different from the previous LEGO Batman games, but it’s not that different than LEGO Movie, which is not a bad thing; I loved LEGO Movie. The mechanics of the two games just feel very similar to me: the switching of characters and costumes, etc. Batman quickly gains the ability to see through objects, which is something I feel like I have seen before. Along the same lines, he can also change the landscape totally in order to see things. I realize I’m not explaining that very well, but that’s because I haven’t really figured out the point of it. I guess I’m doing whatever I’m supposed to be doing because I’m progressing in the game, but I don’t exactly know exactly what to look for when the landscape changes. I know I’m supposed to look for hidden objects, but they seem just as hidden to me either way. I’ve also heard of differences in the handheld versions, such as the ability to use zero gravity. I’d like to check that out later after the handheld reviews are in, and/or after the Vita version goes on sale.

So far, in the first hour, the narrative and cut scenes seem really well done. Again, it feels a lot like the LEGO Movie, except of course this time, I haven’t actually watched the movie yet, so the cut scenes are new. I guess there are some “spoilers” because this game picks up where LEGO Batman 2 leaves off, but they aren’t anything that should lessen your enjoyment of the game. Nor do I think it’s necessary to play the previous games before playing this one.

I love everything about LEGO Batman 3 so far. If you like LEGO’s or Batman or video games or just happiness in general, this game may be for you. If you don’t know if you would like a LEGO video game because you haven’t yet played one, I would still highly recommend LEGO Batman 2. You can probably pick it up for fairly cheap, and it really holds up. Otherwise, get it now!

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Kicking It Old School: Board Games and Nostalgia

Sometimes you just have to go old school with your gaming and I’m not talking Pac Man, I’m talking analog. Lately as I have been teaching more games courses I find myself drawn to playing more analog games. Not that I didn’t already, but the pull is strong of these cardboard behemoths. I love good board games with deep narratives (go figure) and good gameplay. I really don’t mind spending 5 hours playing Firefly and spending an hour or so punching out new game pieces and giving them the once over is kind of a joy.

What I do find is that I am becoming more and more of a board game snob. Monopoly holds little interest for me, but I can still deal with Clue as long as I am playing with folks who are willing to amp up the narrative a bit. Nothing like a good mystery to get the blood pumping. Unfortunately for me (in the gaming sense), I have a wonderful, persuasive 6 year old who loves games like Catan Junior, Mice and Mystics, and The Labyrinth, but still regularly want to play games like Candy Land and Life which both make me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry.   Read more »