Sunday, June 22, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On....Wolfenstein: The New Order

Game: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Platform: Xbox One (Also available on PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC)
Price: 59.99
Did I Pay For It: No.

Wolfenstein: The New Order out Duke Nukem Foreveres Duke Nukem Forever. No offense to the developer, but this game had zero buzz before release. Then it came out roughly the same time as Watch_Dogs, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Why?

Because Wolfenstein: The New Order wildly exceeds low expectations. The graphics are pretty, the story is coherent and creative, the controls are tight, and while pretty standard, the first person shooter gameplay has a couple of tricks up it sleeve to keep things fresh. But beyond that, New Order takes what was a typically one-note franchise and expanded it in a way that doesn't betray it roots. While Duke felt stuck in the past, Wolfenstein: The New Order, feels a little ahead of its time.

MeekinOnMovies On....Worms Battlegrounds

Game: Worms Battlegrounds
Developer: Team 17
Platform: PS4, Xbox One (Played on Xbox One)
Price: 24.99
Did I pay for it: No. 

Since 1995 there have been over twenty Worms games across at least half a dozen platforms, ranging from PC to console to mobile to Facebook. This doesn't include the spin-offs and ports, of which there are countless more. The franchise is nothing if not omnipresent. 

Worms adds to that omnipresence, debuting on next gen consoles with Worms Battlegrounds, a noble entry in the series that sets out to deliver tried-and-true turn-based warfare with a side of silly on The PS4 and Xbox One. And at that goal it succeeds - delivering a Worms games with the most weapons in franchise history, Smart Glass stat tracking, and other refinements like worms not all being the same size, without any annoying buzzwords like 'evolved' 'redefined' or 'for a new generation' to falsely gin up interest. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say.

For the uninformed, Worms is a turn-based strategy game that pits your team of heavily customized (and heavily armed) worms against another team in a fight to the death. You attack your enemy by selecting a weapon, an arc for that weapon, and adjusting the amount of power you want to put on it, almost like firing a bow.  The weapons are often times ribald and silly, featuring exploding sheep and holy grenades shaped like the Pope's hat, as well as rocket launchers, grenades, automatic rifles, dynamite, in-map crates with various utilities and way, way, more.

The way, way, more includes a litany of customization options, from changeable dialects and worm names, to hats, to accessories, to what your grave stone will look like when you lose a worm. Oddly, the trickiest thing to figure out was how to rename your entire team. 

The game's single player campaign is serviceable, narrated by a British lass who makes jokes that she thinks are funnier than they really are. These missions introduce a variety of scenarios and objectives that aren't kill all the enemies, and is perfectly fun in a pinch, but in reality Worms has always been a multiplayer focused game. 

With good reason, of course. Engaging in a round of Worms Battlegrounds with a friend who wants to win just as badly as you is chaotic, intense, and occasionally awe inspiring as an errant shot explodes a nearby fire barrel and a cascading series of events occurs, leaving all players dumbfounded, and many worms dead or wounded. Worms Battlegrounds' gameplay is as serious as its presentation is joyful.

Unfortunately controlling that joyfully intense gameplay can be a bit cumbersome at first, especially if you're trying to coerce friends into playing. Selecting weapons and items with the B button without apparent tool tips results in a lot of trial and error as you're not sure if what you selected is the teleporter or something else. Eventually these kinks work themselves out, and then you really only have to worry about confusing the X button and the A button, as A uses your selected item and X jumps, whereas pretty much every video game in the history of the medium has used the A button for jumping. 

This is a confusion that dissipates, but if you go play another game and come back to Worms Battlegrounds, you'll occasionally activate an item you didn't mean to and blow yourself up. These problems multiply ten fold when in the hands of someone who isn't knowledgeable about Worms games. On one hand this makes for another layer of thoroughly enjoyable chaos, but on the other, screwing up what you wanted to do because you forgot what button to hit, feels a bit unfair, if not oddly realistic.

This does little to stymy the joy of the game, though. The franchise is just as charming as ever, even if literally every element feels familiar. The worms talk like high pitched chipmunks, saying all manner of silly things depending on the situation, and the graphics are colorful and bright. Seeing the game on a 'true' HD console is pretty as all heck, and there's no noticeable slowdown or other graphical errors.

Look, if you're one of the many people who caught onto Worms at just the right age, you can't help but have positive feelings toward the franchise. The Worms games have been so good at doing what they do for so long, that gamers with even a tangential relationship with Team 17's omnipresent franchise greet new entries with a smile and wistful sigh. It's like a new Tom Cruise movie, you're probably not going to see it because you've had your fill already, but you're glad he's out there, kicking ass and taking names well into his 60s anyway.

I got my fill of Worms in Summer of 2008, on my back porch, with a new laptop, a few friends, crap beer, and mayhem with a side of adorable. My worms were named after characters in a script I was writing, while my friends chose band members and TV show characters. My worms talked in movie titles, my friends went with Irish and German accents. We even dove into the map editor - something that rarely happens in my particular circle of friends. But like noted philosopher Brad Paisley says, the problem with up is that there's always a down. All good things must come to an end, and this era of my life ended.

See, the reason you won't be seeing Tom Cruise's new flick, and don't find yourself frothing for another Worms game is because the franchise is a lot like cold water. You dive in, you're in, and then once you're out, it's hard to jump back in, which is another way of saying the experience of playing Worms the first time is so great that it's hard to recapture the magic on subsequent attempts. By yourself, the campaign serves only to remind you of the fond memories of matches gone by. Online the experience is castrated by a lack of in-person interaction. You need real human bodies, in your personal space, to truly appreciate the breadth of what Worms Battlegrounds has to offer.

Whether or not you want Worms Battlegrounds depends on your situation. If you're looking for the Worms game that makes playing by yourself an enthralling experience, or changes the game so significantly everything old is new again, this version will not scratch that itch. If you have friends you want to introduce to the franchise - and you'll think they'll actually enjoy it, then by all means have at it, just be aware the worst way to get anyone to like anything is to force them to play it with you. 

And if, by chance, you're someone who has never played a Worms game in their entire life? Prepare to be blown away, literally and figuratively, because there's nothing else like it out there, save for the 20 other games with the same name...that are just like it...that you somehow never heard of. Weirdo.

It is literally impossible to go wrong with a Worms game. They are flat out fun, and always great to have around for a party, social gathering, or any time you simply want to fly a superhuman sheep around a 2D map and make it explode. Because really, where else can you get that? 


MeekinOnMovies On....1001 Spikes

Game: 1001 Spikes
Platform: Xbox One (also available on PS4, Vita, PS3, Wii U, Steam) 
Did I pay for it: No.  
Price: 14.99

Like a stern high school teacher looking over your shoulder during a test and coughing in your ear when your answer to the essay question is only two sentences long, 1001 Spikes guilts you into bettering yourself. You cannot come lightly to it, else perish on a forgotten trap or die jumping directly into an arrow you really should have known was coming.

Taking a retro 2D platforming art style, offering same-screen multiplayer, and hundreds of levels, 1001 Spikes will conjur up ghosts of the first Spelunky, but outside of the visual style and genre and requiring keys to progress to the next level, the games aren't that much alike. Yes, there are traps and spikes and enemies, but Spelunky encouraged speedy and skillful play and 1001 Spikes demands focus and patience. It's the difference between The Fast & The Furious, and Drive - both movies features cars and violence, but they could not be more different. Additionally 1001 Spikes is a bit more streamlined. You have a jump button, and attack button, and that's it - whereas Spelunky involved item shops and all sorts of goodies and nicknacks to aid you on your journey. 

Though by the end of 1001 Spikes fifth level you may be secretly rooting around the level for some cyanide to end your suffering. When people say Golf is a bad way to ruin a good walk, they're essentially saying the intense challenge and frustration of Golf results in a stressful, but ideally rewarding experience. 1001 Spikes is the same way. 

Namely because 1001 Spikes does a wonderful job of setting the rules. You know what a given level is going to entail, you just need to be prepared and maintain focus long enough to succeed - It's like taking that aforementioned test, if you're prepared, it's not nearly as scary as it seems. There are few 'gotchyha!' moments, and despite using 200 of the 1001 lives you're given at the start of the game, I never felt cheated or unfairly punished. Instead I turned the rage inward, blaming myself because I either took a shortcut I shouldn't have, or miss-timed a jump I made a dozen times before out of frustration with my own skill.

1001 Spikes is from Nicalis, the creators of the excellent Cave Story, and they share similarities in their zen like nature. They require peace of mind. With distractions, slamming doors, people talking in your ear, or worries about what tomorrow will bring, 1001 Spikes will eat your lunch all day long. But in a meditative state of concentration, the progress you make is as rewarding as it is enthralling - it's acing a test you studied for. It's getting a birdie on a par 4 hole. It's asking the cute girl from the movie theater out on a date while maintaining eye contact and not stumbling over your words. You find yourself surprised by what you're capable of. 

Which is to say that in its best moments, 1001 Spikes helps you transcend your own perceived limitations. There will be frustration and seemingly impossible challenges, and you will fail way more often than you succeed. But because the failure is your own fault, victory is your own doing too, and all the more sweet because of it. To paraphrase Taylor Mali, 1001 Spikes makes you work harder than you ever could, coughing in your ear that you better not dare waste its time with anything less than your very best.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Freebie Alert: Dark Souls costs 0 dollars with Xbox Live Gold

Good News! Dark Souls - the super hard, insanely obtuse, wonderfully in-depth, totally beloved action-RPG fondly referred to as "Grown up Zelda" Is available for free if you have an Xbox 360 and live Xbox Live Gold account.

Dark Souls is probably the most popular game that's come to the service that's trying to rival PSN+'s instant game collection, and is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Also available this month will be Charlie Murder on the 360, and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and Halo: Spartan Assault on the Xbox One. Additionally a version of Street Fighter IV is being offered as a one-year anniversary of the service.

Check out my review of Dark Souls II here

And my thoughts on the Dark Souls as a whole here

Sunday, June 1, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On A Million Ways To Die In The West

When Kevin Smith got all butthurt about the reception for Cop Out and started bitching to movie critics about how  his little action-comedy wasn't trying to hurt no-one and he didn't understand the criticism, it felt like a filmmaker lashing out because folks didn't like his movie (and he probably didn't either). After seeing Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in The West" and the general reception to the guy from critics, gossip sites, and various internet comment boards, I get where Silent Bob was coming from.

I don't get why Seth MacFarlane is so polarizing and why his movies are either met with enthusiasm or rabid vitriol, especially since his directorial efforts 'Ted" and "A Million Ways to Die in The West" are in reality pretty sweet movies with a surprising amount of heart.


Ted follows the exploits of John (Mark Whaaahllberg) and his talking Teddy Bear, Ted (Seth MacFarlane). Things become complicated when John’s girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) starts to think that Ted is a negative influence on John’s life, as surely smoking that much pot, and watching that many cartoons, can’t be good for a fully (some would say over) grown 35 year old man. I know that premise sounds a bit “Script writing 101” but that’s actually pretty okay.

Why? Because Ted's ultimate take away is this: Seth MacFarlane is fluent in cliche. it’s pretty clear that there really isn’t an original thought or idea in his head when it comes to the actual direction of this movie. Every shot, every scene, seemingly every musical sting harkens back to another movie, tv show, song, or fondly remembered gag from decades ago. There are about a half dozen scenes within Ted that show MacFarlane communicates almost exclusively in references to other media.