Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What I'm Playing

Coming out of the first Christmas in as much as ten years where I did not receive an unbelievable stack of games, I found myself to be surprisingly content. After all, I still had games like LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2, which offer an almost infinite amount of entertainment coming from their online options. However, a couple rashes of sales and new PSN releases have given me a pile of great titles to play. Here’s what I’m playing now, along with some brief thoughts about each:

Magic Ball (PSN)

Back in the days of the Playstation2 and Xbox, puzzle games, and especially multiplayer puzzle games, were few and far between. For Sarah and me, those consoles are to a certain extent defined by Bust-a-Move, Katamari Damacy, and Lumines. We played these games and only these games together, so I eventually began to feel burnt out on each.

Magic Ball is the first new 2-player puzzle game I’ve seen in a while. It’s essentially an update of the classic brick-breaking games of old, Breakout and Arkanoid, where you use your pong-style paddle to bounce a ball into blocks, which disappear upon being struck. Magic Ball’s innovation lies in replacing the old abstract blocks with cartoonish objects and physics-based reactions; instead of breaking various colored bricks, you’re confronted with three dimensional scenes, like pirates stranded on a desert island, surrounded by circling sharks. There are some flaws – the angled perspective of the game can cause your ball to disappear from view and the physics can lead to less predictable bounces compared to the strict geometry of the classic versions. However, the game’s unpredictable nature is often a great asset, and the scenes are always interesting and colorful.

Sarah and I have been playing the cooperative version (there is a competitive mode as well), in which we share the space at the bottom. This leads us to coordinate; as levels have grown more difficult, we often fire only one ball and focus all our efforts on keeping it in play. At the same time, we try to grab the best power-ups while avoiding the worst. We’ve often shouted “Watch out for ‘small balls!’” which is just plain hilarious.

We’re close to finishing the whole set of 50 levels, but the promise of more downloadable levels has me hoping this will become an enduring game for us.


Honestly, I might not have ordered BioShock if I hadn’t found it on sale. It was almost unanimously considered 2007’s game of the year, but it arrived on the PS3 so late that my enthusiasm had waned. The game has been much discussed and analyzed, so I’ll just briefly say that I love it. The art design is utterly fantastic. My only complaint is that textures load noticeably if you re-load from a save point; this may be a flaw in porting the game to the PS3, but it may also be exacerbated by my compulsion to load my last save rather than respawn after dying.

Dead Space

When I was a kid I used to watch and re-watch the Alien movies with the same dedication and fascination most kids reserved for Star Wars. Dead Space has offered the same style of haunting space adventure, complete with psychologically disturbing creatures. As a result, I’ve been aching to play this game despite the fact that it hasn’t received top review scores. I’ve only played a little bit, but so far it has a great sense of atmosphere, interesting puzzles, and solid gunplay.

Burnout: Paradise

I spent a brief amount of time playing this game last night as well. It’s gorgeous, which is almost imperative for racing games these days. I also really like the open-world design. My concern had been that I’d wander around aimlessly, but there are new races at every corner. This provides a great innovation over the ‘repeat and memorize’ formula of pretty much every other racing game in history. I lost one race, and then simply started a different one.

No comments: