April 2010

Plain Sight

April 21, 2010

Exploding robot ninjas, flaming swords, Robozilla…why oh why is this title from Beatnik Games named Plain Sight?  Personally, I would have gone with something like, oh I don’t know, Super Robo Jet Fighter Ninjas, but I guess there is something to be said for simplicity. Plain Sight is a downloadable PC game that re-imagines multiplayer ninja deathmatch gaming. Okay, so maybe it isn’t a very crowded genre, but the point is that Plain Sight looks and feels like nothing you have ever played before.  

The concept behind Plain Sight is pretty unique: you are a little robot ninja armed with a katana that must destroy other mini robot ninjas in order to build up energy. When you’ve built up enough energy, it’s time to explode, hopefully taking out as many of your enemies as possible in the process. The more energy you have stored up, the bigger the explosion.  Self destructing doesn’t just kill your foes, though—it also banks the points you have gained from taking out opponents, which you can then spend on upgrades. On the other hand, if you are killed before you can explode yourself, you gain no experience points. There are several categories that you can spend your upgrade points on, including run speed, jumping, and boost strength, among others. All of the upgrades are useful and they provide a good reason to keep on playing— the more you play, the stronger you get. Boosting is your only non-suicidal method of attack in Plain Sight; after you have locked on to a target, you simply hold down the left mouse button to charge and let go when you are in range to attack, hopefully turning your opponent into a pile of scrap metal. Sounds simple on paper, but there’s a lot that can go wrong in-game.

The first few times you play Plain Sight can be downright disorienting, thanks to the speedy gameplay and crazy variable gravity planetoid-based maps (think Super Mario Galaxy). Attacks can come from any and every direction, and you have full control of the camera at all times. In other words, players must constantly keep on the move, surveying their surroundings, in order to survive. The levels themselves all look really trippy, featuring various types of floating landscapes, with each piece of land on the map having its own gravitational field. Some of the maps are straightforward, while others are littered with planetoids and obstacles that make traversing them something of a puzzle in and of itself. Leaping and dashing through these levels is really fun and feels great once you get the hang of things.

While the main deathmatch and team deathmatch modes will undoubtedly prove to be the most popular ones in the game, there are three other modes that mix things up a bit. Capture the Flag isn’t really anything new, but “Ninja! Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!” is a neat take on cooperative combat that has mini ninjas working together to destroy a giant player-controlled dinosaur robot with a flaming sword. Finally, “Lighten Up” is a mode that pits players in a race to gain energy and detonate themselves on top of a specific structure on the map, with the biggest explosion determining who wins the match.

Plain Sight is a fun ride, even if I do have some small issues with it. The auto-targeting cursor system, while necessary, is limited and often makes it difficult to lock on to specific players that you want to attack. Servers can support over 20 players, but I found that playing with so many other people in standard deathmatch can sometimes be an exercise in frustration, especially on the smaller maps. With so many enemies flying around, it is often impossible to evade attacks for very long, meaning it is a struggle to rack up enough points to upgrade your ninja early on in the matches. Or it could be that my robo-ninjutsu just isn’t strong enough yet. There is also a complete lack of a soundtrack in the game, other than the enjoyable menu music. Either way, Plain Sight is a fun and refreshing multiplayer title that is worth taking a look at, especially if you have grown tired of offing your foes with a gun and want to try something a little different for a change. Did I mention the game also looks damn good for an indie title?

Pros: Unique concept, fast and furious gameplay, nice visuals

Cons: The limited targeting system, no soundtrack

Plays like: Chibi-Robo meets Super Mario Galaxy with katanas…and robot dinosaurs. 


This is not a game. This is a cookbook.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way (and lost most of our readers), let me elaborate. 

For all intents and purposes, this is a sequel to 2008’s Personal Trainer: Cooking, and there’s no actual content that relates to the America’s Test Kitchen license. It does, though, feature more Western cooking than the first title, so it fits in better with most American consumers. For those who never used the first one, it helps you cook by providing step-by-step directions (in text and audio), shopping lists and nutritional information.

New to this installment is the ability to split up the work among multiple amateur cooks. It takes a second to enter names, but for a family looking to cook together regularly, it’s totally worth it. Also, you can pass around the system and have each person pick things they want to cook, which is a nice bonus. If you have a second DS, you can send some recipes over to cook more things at once. 

Honestly, this DS app is fairly simple and straightforward. The important thing: does it help you cook? I picked out a few of the 300 recipes and gave it a test run. Unlike my usual cooking, the result was edible. I call that success.

This is a $20 interactive cookbook. If you don’t want a cookbook, you’re not going to care. If you do, it’s a pretty cool one. Personally, now that my DS needs a place in the kitchen, I have to figure out what to do with my toaster.

Lunar; Silver Star Harmony is an updated version of the original Sega CD RPG developed by Game Arts. The first version of the game originally on the Sega CD, but it was later released for the Saturn, PlayStation, and even had a version for the Game Boy Advance.  However, I can confidently say that this is the best version of this classic RPG. 

For one, the game has improved dramatically in terms of its look. The art style has been completely redone, and it fits the PSP perfectly while making the game look a lot more fresh and original among the various other PSP RPGs out on the market. Everything looks clean, and the character art is just as good as it ever was. 

The music is excellent as well, with some very memorable tunes that rival some of the best RPG soundtracks out there. The downside to the presentation is the voice acting, which has also been redone, but still is not very good. Actually, it’s pretty terrible, but it’s still an improvement over the voice acting found in the PS1 release. 

In terms of gameplay, Silver Star Harmony is as traditional as you can get. The thing that makes this a worthwhile adventure and how it stands out among the rest of the portable RPGs is both the world itself and the cast of characters. While the voice acting may get on your nerves quickly, the characters themselves all stand on their own, and it does not take long before you find yourself invested in their story and in this world. 

While the gameplay is very traditional in nature, it does not stop it from being a blast to play. Monsters appear on screen, and you can choose to run past them or fight them. You have your basic attack, special attacks and magic attack, and as you fight them, you gain experience, so on and so forth. Nothing new or groundbreaking, but it is still a very engaging game to play despite how dated it may seem in this day and age.  

What doesn’t work about the gameplay? Nothing in particular, but certain dungeons are incredibly lengthy and very tedious to navigate through. It’s also standard to have a handful of these tedious dungeons in JRPGs, but they feel a bit out of place with most of the dungeons and the world itself, which is generally a blast to go through and explore. Also hindering the experience are very long loading times, something that never became too apparent to me until these specific dungeons.

Aside from those little problems, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a great RPG that fits the PSP perfectly, so much so that it may be hard to return to any console version of the game. It is still a very memorable RPG, and even those who have never played it will get a kick out of the story, characters, and the world, and may just find an RPG that puts itself above and beyond most found in a handheld.  

Pros: Turn based gameplay holds up well and is a blast to play; memorable cast of characters and world to explore; incredible music; updated art style fits the PSP perfectly

Cons: Some dungeons are unnecessarily long and tedious; incredibly long loading times; awful voice acting


Very rarely is this discussed, but sometimes when playing a game, the length of the game will be completely unnoticed by some players right up until the end. If you find yourself playing through a game, looking at your final time and realizing it only took you six hours to finish something that felt like a longer venture, then you may have just played a game with poor pacing.

Certainly, pacing in video games is something that has come up more and more recently with the release of much larger games. And I’m not saying they are large in terms of their length, I’m merely referring to their size and scope, and just how technologically advanced these games are. Many recent titles fit this description, and many of them have excellent pacing. 

Surely, this does not (and some will argue should not) be a factor in terms of games like RPGs. I disagree, and find that a lengthy RPG that feels a lot shorter than it may actually be is one that fits particularly well in this category. I believe Mass Effect 2 is a perfect example of how to pace an RPG right. You could be off doing random side missions, exploring planets, or trying to win the loyalty of one of your newly recruited squad mates, and just when you think it may get old, you are thrown back into the main story by a mandatory mission. This brings the player back into focus of the main mission at hand, and these constant reminders give us a good example of how to keep the player attentive during long stretches of mining or galaxy exploring. 

On the other hand, most games that have had excellent pacing have fallen into the action or shooter category. The two best examples of games that had perfect pacing are two big PS3 exclusives, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and God of War III. Both are games you find yourself constantly coming back to and most gamers can attest to finishing these games in one or two sittings. Sure, they are short adventures, but what makes them so memorable are just how properly paced they are. 

Using God of War III as a primary example, the opening moments of the game are epic and massive in scale. So many things are happening on screen at once, and you find yourself fighting a boss within the first fifteen minutes of gameplay. This moment, however, is not even an hour long, and the action is dialed down completely once you get through it. Some players find this to be a problem, that the entire game should be that way, but stuffing the entire game with just set piece moments like those is exactly what not to do. It would get old, and you would find yourself stopping the game more often than you would otherwise.

Developers have to find a perfect balance between huge action sequences and slower, more toned down moments to keep the played from getting too bored. If they fail to do this, they end up with an experience that lasts eight hours, but feels like eighteen. If paced correctly, you’ll have a game that feels like four hours but is actually eight or ten hours. This is not a bad thing, as it also lends to making a game that is highly replayable. Like watching your favorite action film again, playing through a game like Uncharted 2 is an experience that should never get old. 

Although not all genres lend to this style of pacing (generally it only works well in linearly structured games), it still can be applied to other games. If a game takes ten hours just for things to really get enjoyable, RPG or otherwise, then you are playing a game that feels much longer than it actually is. Final Fantasy XIII is the perfect example of a game that, to me, feels much longer than it should, and drags on way too long in the beginning.

It’s hard to strike that perfect balance of action packed sequences and slower, possibly story driven moments, but developers have managed to do it. Mass Effect 2 is an example of how developers can take from other genres to make an RPG that is perfectly paced, but also full of content and many, many hours of gameplay. I’m not saying the next Final Fantasy game should play like Mass Effect, but there is a lot to be learned from how certain developers pace their games so gamers will never grow tired of playing them. 

Although paying $60 for a game that is apparently only eight hours in length seems like a bad decision, if it is a game like God of War III, it will be well worth the money. Pacing not only adds to just how enjoyable a game is the first time around, but also makes it that much more fun for future replays; it is one of the most important parts of what makes a video game great.

We’ve finally got some results on some of the rumors we’ve posted in previous editions, so before getting to this week’s rumors we’ll give you a rundown of the results along with our hits or misses.

Current score

Andrew Passafiume: +85

Graham Russell: +5

Shawn Vermette: +100


Gears of War 3 to be released in April 2011

It didn’t take long for this rumor to be confirmed. Microsoft announced on Jimmy Fallon Monday night that Gears of War 3 would come out on April 5, 2011.

Andrew 95% = +45

Graham 50% = +0

Shawn 95% = +45


Saint’s Row 3 to be released in 2010

True, Saint’s Row 3 hasn’t even been officially announced, but the head of Volition Studios stated soon after the release of Saint’s Row 2 that they were already at work on the third installment in the series. Additionally, Saint’s Row was released in 2006 and Saint’s Row 2 was released in 2008. The timing is right, the commercial and critical success is there, and the desire appears to be there…but will it happen?

Andrew: I can see this happening, and THQ will probably make a big splash with this at E3 if it is true. Although I do find it strange that it was never really announced, and yet sequels to Darksiders and Red Faction Guerrilla were. And considering Volition, the guys behind Saint’s Row, also made Red Faction, I’m unsure which one we’ll actually see first (seeing as only one of them has already been announced). 65%

Graham: Saint’s Row 3 is scheduled to be revealed at E3 2010 and released in fiscal 2012 (the year starting April 2011). There have been official statements to this effect. Games typically don’t get released earlier…usually it goes the other way.  1%

Shawn: Honestly, I’d be surprised if the next Saint’s Row came out in 2010. It seems like fall 2010 is starting to fill up with other big titles already. Early 2011 seems more realistic to me. 40%

MVP Baseball series to return for 2011

With the release of this year’s baseball games, the exclusivity agreement between Major League Baseball and 2K Sports expires after a 5 year drought of decent baseball games on any non-Sony system. Considering the resounding disappointment of the 2K baseball games in recent years, one would think that EA would get back into the mix by re-launching its MVP Baseball series next year. However, is it even possible to bring back what was once considered the best baseball series after such a long layoff?

Andrew: EA loves to make money and they probably see the potential in bringing back their beloved baseball franchise. I really see no reason for them to start working on a new title, but I doubt that it will happen right away. 2011 seems like a nice estimate for the rebirth of the franchise. 80%

Graham: Shawn, you need to hone your ear. 2K’s agreement was seven years long, and goes through 2012. So no, MVP can’t come back in 2011. I have nothing else to say. 0%

Shawn: I really hope that EA does bring back the MVP series next year, but I half suspect EA may just stay out of the baseball genre. They’ve lost most of their MVP team, and 2K recently said they were losing $30 million a year on it. I hope it comes back though, and will support it with my vote. 65%

Portal 2 to open on PS3 after all

When Portal 2 was announced last month, it was only announced for the Xbox 360, PC, and Mac. No surprise given Valve’s outspoken dislike of the PS3. However, rumors are now swirling that Portal 2 will indeed be released on the PS3, and that it will be outsourced to the same studio that handled the Orange Box port for the PS3.

Andrew: I was willing to buy this rumor up until the point where it was said that the same team that ported The Orange Box to the PS3 would be handling this port. Valve was unhappy with EA’s port of The Orange Box onto Sony’s console, and I doubt they would rely on the same team again. And considering rumors are swirling they are releasing the original Left 4 Dead on the PS3 themselves, I cannot see them turning to another company to do the same for Portal 2. So yes to Portal 2 coming out to the PS3, but it’s probably going to be Valve who ports it. 10%

Graham: The only thing stronger than Valve’s dislike of the PS3 is our dislike of their PS3 Orange Box port. This is completely possible, but I don’t think too many people with PS3s don’t have at least one of the other systems, and Portal: Still Alive never made it over there either. I can totally see them passing. 5% 

Shawn: While I’m normally all for games coming out on as many systems as possible, the PS3 port of Orange Box was abysmal. On the other hand, more systems at release means more sales, so I think that Valve will overcome their dislike of the PS3 in time to release Portal 2 on it as well. 75%