Winter video game wrap-up
‘Assassin’s Creed I & II’
Both games were made by Ubisoft (of “Prince of Persia” and “Splinter Cell” fame). The series’ overall setup is that you, a modern-day man, live the memories of your ancestor during a turbulent period in history. The first game had as many positives as negatives. The free running was a nice addition to the action, but the side missions were repetitive, and you couldn’t do anything when you were in the present day. To top it all off, you could not swim, so landing in water killed you. Apparently, swimming was never part of master assassin training.
On the other hand, “Assassin’s Creed II” is a game that shows that the original was just a proof-of-concept. The second game takes place during the Italian Renaissance over a period of 30 years. After my first play through, I went to Wikipedia and looked up all of the names, and I was amazed by how much effort the development team put into the game. Not only is this game extremely detailed (in terms of graphics and history), but its mechanics are also well done. Everything you would want is there, from upgradeable weapons and armor to more assassination techniques to an entire economic system. Sure, occasionally you’ll find something that might annoy you, but rarely does it prevent you from enjoying the game. The only disappointing things are the final boss fight at the end and some repetitive side missions. At the end of the day, this game is an improvement on the original in every way. Even if you haven’t played the first one, this is definitely worth trying.
‘American McGee’s Alice’
I’d be surprised if anyone has heard of this game, as it came out in 2000. The entire game is made by American McGee and features music by Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails). This particular game is an action-platformer that takes place in a dark and twisted version of Wonderland. You take the role of Alice, who is in a mental asylum because she blames herself for her parents’ deaths via house fire. Answering the distress calls of her friends, she goes back to Wonderland to find it in chaos.
The game has excellent writing, with just the right amount of kooky lines for the Cheshire Cat. But the jumping action is floaty and doesn’t have tight control. But when you remember that the game was made by only one person, it is amazing that it turned out as well as it did. If you are a fan of the novels and can get past the outdated graphics, this is definitely worth checking out (at least for the Cheshire Cat). The game was such a success at the time of its release that a sequel has been announced and is currently set to be released in 2011.
‘No One Lives Forever’
Hark back to simpler times, before Monolith Productions started making Japanese horror-inspired shooters with contrived acronyms for titles—“F.E.A.R.” and its similarly punctuated sequel “F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.” Back to the year 2000, which saw the release of “No One Lives Forever,” a shooter starring Cate Archer, cat burglar turned super-spy working for U.N.I.T.Y. to prevent the dastardly plans of an evil organization named H.A.R.M. Naturally, it took place during the 1960s, giving Monolith an excuse to put Cate in an obscenely loud green and orange dress every mission.
Besides explaining where Monolith’s penchant for acronyms came from, “No One Lives Forever” made a name for itself with its unique setting and fantastic sense of humor. The Austin Powers vibe was well integrated into the game, with Cate receiving new items from the game’s equivalent of the Q Branch between missions. Gadgets included lipstick grenades and sleeping gas disguised as a perfume bottle.
Monolith clearly took the concept of playing as a woman seriously, and luckily Cate Archer comes off as a genuine quality female protagonist, and most of the game’s laughs come from a surprisingly feminist script that sees Cate putting bumbling men to shame. “No One Lives Forever” spawned a sequel, which proudly continued the series’s tradition of silly super-spy antics.
‘Metroid Prime Trilogy’
The first “Metroid Prime” came out in 2002 for the Gamecube, and I remember buying it on day one. Let me tell you, I was pumped for that game. I had bought every magazine that had covered it up to the release, including an “Electronic Gaming Monthly” that came with three demo videos on a CD. I was obsessed. I even bought a new controller for the game, because I didn’t think my 1-year-old controller was worthy of Samus’ arm cannon. I unwrapped the game on my way home and played it for three hours straight, until I got stuck. And then I never touched it again. There was too much reading for me. It’s not that I couldn’t read, it was just that I didn’t want to read while I was playing a video game set in space. So that fizzled out.
Fast forward to the end of 2009, when I picked up “Metroid Prime Trilogy.” I did not get hyped for the game. I didn’t buy any magazines or a new Nunchuk. I just played it, and it was awesome. The atmosphere was excellent, and the pacing was steady and slow, too slow for my 13-year-old self to appreciate. The pointer controls add a new layer of immersion and strip away the clumsy Gamecube controls that forced you to run and then look, but never at the same time. All three games have excellent reward systems. The game designers dangle the carrot perfectly: Investigate a crack, get a missile upgrade; defeat a boss, earn a new visor. The system was put in place a long, long time ago, and it still works wonders today.
‘Wii Fit Plus’
I read that Shigeru Miyamoto, or Father Nintendo, as I like to call him, was inspired to make “Wii Fit” after he realized how much fun he had weighing himself every day. That’s right: The same guy who crafted a game around the joy of stomping the shells off turtles also imagined a world where fitness was fun. There was a time when people thought there was something was wrong with his idea of “fun,” but Miyamoto was validated when “Wii Fit” tore up the sales charts. And two years after its release, the sequel, “Wii Fit Plus,” picked up right where the original left off, sales-wise.
In terms of game design, the sequel is leaps and bounds beyond the original. Unlike the first game, “Wii Fit Plus” allows you to personalize your own playlist of exercises and balance games. The days of backing out to the menu after every activity are over. Other additions include new activities, like a snowball fight in which you must duck, dodge and throw your way to flurry victory, and an obstacle course that would make Mario proud. There is even a pet-weighing mode, although that’s mostly a novelty—you hold your pooch while standing on the scale, and the game subtracts your weight from the total.
The series’ emphasis on activities, not mini-games, shows that “Wii Fit Plus” is not really a game. There is no “winner,” no “loser,” nor much competition to speak of. But there is an underlying goal to every activity—to lose 5 pounds in four weeks—and unlike so many Jenny Craig commercials, this game will have you internalizing your goals and pumping your fists when you cross the finish line.