Thursday, May 15, 2008

Another Thing Crossed Off

Well, I'm done college. Did the whole graduation thing and all that. So! Anyone need someone with a BA in Literature? Anyone? Hello?

FINE! I'll go to graduate school...

Anyway, now that it's summer and I have virtually nothing to do except make money and drink beer (awesome!), I have free time up the wahzoo. I'm currently blasting my way through House, the TV show. Good, good shit. Procured all of the seasons in a magical, complicated process involving stuff that rhymes with "florrents." I don't really know how it all works. Something about tubes.

I also grew a beard because of my inability-to-shave inspired hospitalization. Looks kinda cool. I figured it's playoff season, so, why not roll with it for a while.

In other "interesting to mainly me" news, Nine Inch Nails did something wonderful and released their newest album for free via their website. My overwhelming support for such a valiant presentation of artful work drove me to buy tickets to their August 29th concert at the Wachovia Center in Philly. I'll be going with my dad (jealous? should be.). I can't wait.

In the world of videogames it seems there's been a nice trend going on in the musical world of stuff: Rock Band Fever, it should be called. Guitar Hero IV is supposed to have a drum kit, and Konami has announced its own Rock Band knock-off entitled Rock Revolution, thus titling their game something the entire country of Japan will be unable to pronounce. Will it succeed? Time will tell, but I doubt it.

Rock Band has managed to net a huuuuuge fan base already, and its weekly release of usually decent content is more than enough to keep people loyal. Yeah, Guitar Hero was first, but they've been trumped. They have. Face it. As of now I can play Rock Band for over six hours and not repeat a single song. Can Guitar Hero claim that? Well, with combined games, sure...but who counts that?

Rock Band 2 will be nifty. I know details because I work with some little company called "MTV," but I sure as shit can't spill any of my beans. Which is fine because I get to know stuff you don't (this is where I stick my tounge out).

The point is, Rock Band did something cool, and so now everyone wants to be cool. So, copycat games are going to start flooding the gamespace. Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn't. The problem here, though, is that these companies aren't copying some simple game mechanic (like, say, timed button-pressing boss fights a la God of War), but an entire game experience. If you have Rock Band, 60 downloaded tracks, and the whole instrument setup, are you going to re-buy that for a Guitar Hero game? For a Konami game (which has a chunk of the same songs, by the way)? Unless you're rich as hell, I'd imagine not. These new iterations can try to appeal to gamers by offering additional "cymbals" or "drum pads," but beyond super-duper hardcore music fans, this stuff will easily fly over everyone's heads. Shame, too, because if all this had come out at the same time, it would have been quite a showdown. Oh well.

I applaud the attempt at competition, though. Maybe, maybe if these new games are amazing in their own new and exciting ways, I'll grab them, but the addition of two more drum pads (Konami) isn't going to be enough to force over my cash.

In the meantime, I'll just keep enjoying what I already have...even if I know I'll have to exchange my drum kit for a forth time. Damnit.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Alright. Okay.

..okay. So... Alright.

Echochrome is incredible. I must say it has definitely set itself apart of the rest of the puzzle games out there, and proves that just because a game lacks glamor doesn't mean it can't still woo you in the best of ways.

If you've never seen any Escher drawing or concept, then, well, you have some catching up to do. Go look him up. But if you have, then you know where the foundations of this game lay. Echochrome is a game that relies heavily on perspective in order to solve is mind-numbing puzzles. Each level is...well, they're kinda like that picture at the top there -- minimalist wire-frame-ish black and white in an open, free floating 3d world.

The game is part Lemmings, part Super Paper Mario, and part Snake (the once popular Nokia cell phone game). So how does it work? Well I'm glad you asked. You play the role of a little mannequin-looking guy who has to walk around aimlessly in these strange, blocky levels. His goal is to collect all of the "echoes" in each level--those are the fuzzy, black shadowy-looking things standing around the level up above. Think of them as the pixels/mushrooms/apples in Snake (depending on the version you're playing), each one collected bringing you closer to the end of the level.

Your little guy moves around on his own -- the only control you posses over him is the ability to make him stop and "think," allowing you to examine you next possible approach in the puzzle. In this respect, the game is like Lemmings...he just keeps walking around until he either bumps into a wall and turns around, or falls to his death. Thankfully, you don't have a set number of lives, so every time he "dies," he gets warped back up to where he was (complete with the female computer's voice saying, "oops!") for you to give whatever you were doing another shot. So, on top of the puzzle aspect of the game, there's a small level of strategy needed, as timing when your little guy stops and starts is key to completing certain puzzles. Very cool.

The perspective stuff is the where this game really shines (a la Super Paper Mario...sort of). I have the game for the PSP (there's also a PS3 version with the same number of puzzles, though all of the puzzles are different), so for this system you either use the joystick or the D pad to rotate your perspective of the level. Depending on how you look at everything depends on where your mannequin can walk. For example, if there is a path that is broken up by a space, but there is a vertical pillar also in the level, turning the camera view to make the pillar block that space in the path from a certain perspective (making it appear as if there is no space) will magically connect the path -- essentially, if it something appears to be something...then it is. Confusing, isn't it? Here's a video:

Much like the Escher drawing of the never-ending stairs, this game begs you to bend your mind and accept/solve puzzles based solely on appearance rather than real-world physics. This, in a world where we always crave realism, makes this game all the more superb. If there is a path that ends, shifting the perspective to a different angle might bridge it with another path, moving the puzzle forward. If there is a hole, your mannequin will fall through and land on whatever is directly underneath, even if physics tell you otherwise. Suspension of reality is, again, key.

The few problems I encountered were almost not worth mentioning. But I'll mention them anyway. Sometimes -- especially when you first set out to play -- its hard to tell where your little guy will go if there's a fork in his path choice. After playing about the first dozen levels or so, you'll figure it out, though (he prefers left). Or, if you're very thorough (I wasn't), this factoid is embedded in the second page of the "tips" that are accessed from the main menu when you start the game. Perhaps they should explain that outright, but...whatever.

Sometimes the perspective-matching can be a little wonky, too. There was one level in particular I was certain I matched up a path, but no matter what I did, the guy wouldn't take it. Granted, with a game like this it's almost impossible to make every puzzle perfect and every perspective-created path work. Also, by pushing the square button, the perspective will "snap" to what seems the most appropriate place -- though I avoided using it as it sometimes put the perspective somewhere I didn't want it to -- it's still helpful sometimes. So this issue is minimal at best and only happened maybe three times the whole time I played (of over two hours). I'm just saying don't expect every single path you see to work...there has to be some boundaries in a puzzle game for it to really function as a puzzle game.

The music is wonderful, with a classical, violin soundtrack lulling your brain a la Mozart so that even in your most frustrated of moments, you really aren't that pissed off (well, maybe you are...not everyone likes classical music). The presentation is simply wonderful. The included tutorial gets you up to speed quickly, proving that what might appear very simple at first can get difficult very quickly. But the pacing is fine, so by the time you start to hit the painful puzzles (there are 56 total on either system, with the PS3 getting downloadable content later), you've probably been expecting them, instead of them suddenly blowing up in your face.

Simply put, this game is original, awesome, and extremely fun. Tack on the fact that it's only a 10 dollar download, there's an included level creator (allowing you to come up with puzzles to hurt other people's brains or show off your creative muscle), and it only takes up 44 megs on the PSP's memory stick, and you have no reason not to get this game if you have a PS3 or PSP. This here is a perfect example of how Sony can outshine Nintendo or Microsoft. If only they could do this all the time, they'd have it made.

I definitely give this game a 9.5/10, and suggest you get it. Right now.