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Stephen Duetzmann

I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the Playstation 3 beta for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the holiday weekend. I have been a lifetime Final Fantasy fan, so it was like Christmas in July. I spent about a dozen hours playing through the beta on various characters over the weekend and I wanted to share some important information.

#1: Playing an MMO with a controller is hard

There are a lot of people who will say that playing MMOs in general is hard. But, it took a lot of adjustment to be able to make basic combat commands work. The keyboard and mouse functions are far more intuitive because they involve clicking on a guy and pushing a number key. The bottom line is that unless your child can easily handle using the trigger buttons on the PS3 controller then it might be best to stick with the PC release.

#2: The game is stunning

I know we come to expect that games produced for current generation consoles are beautiful, but MMOs are a unique case. They often have to give up a lot when it comes to visuals in order to make the game run smoothly. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn bucks that trend. The animations are smooth. The textures are incredible. Even the spell animations were neat to look at.

#3: The Lalafell race may just be the cutest thing in the history of video games

Look. Some people like to pretend to be big strong superheroes when they play video games. I was one of them. But, then I realized that I could create a digital person that both looks like my four year old son AND can manipulate the elements. I was instantly converted.

I see this as something that might have a lot of appeal for younger kids. I know my youngest got a lot of enjoyment from watching himself run around on the screen.

 

#4: The introduction and tutorial is LONG

I’ll admit that I might be looking back on my previous MMO experiences with rose colored glasses, but the introduction was very long and pretty dry. I am afraid that some kids will have difficulty sticking with it. The good news it that they don’t have to share every single experience that the game has to offer so many of us can just slog through the opening on our own after they head to bed.

 

#5: For all its beauty, it is still an online game

There is no way around it. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is still on online role playing game. As a result, there was still no shortage of borderline inappropriate names and obnoxious chatter over the chat channels. These are the kinds of problems are baked into online play. You just can’t separate yourself from them. They are less of an issue for kids who can’t read, but you are in a different world once those symbols on the screen start to hold meaning.

There is another round of beta testing beginning this weekend. I’ll post again if anything significant changes.

Have you or someone you know been in the beta? What were your thoughts? Post them in the comments! I’d love to hear them!

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PopCap Games announced on its blog that they are releasing the highly anticipated follow-up to Plants Vs. Zombies in Australia and New Zealand first. They explained that they are doing this “soft launch” to help perform a stress test on their servers and to help put some of the final touches on the game before release.

This is a reasonable step for them to take. The original Plants vs Zombies has grown in popularity significantly over the years. It has slowly evolved into one of the most popular mobile titles available. The demand for a sequel is massive. They would just be asking for trouble if they didn’t add to that the fact that the sequel will be free to play. The last thing they want is to miscalculate things and fail to deliver their product to their fans.

This process can only mean one thing: The release day is imminent. We’ll post an update as soon as the game goes live and will follow-up with our full review shortly thereafter!

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LEGO Marvel Super Heroes cover art

This is the cover art for the upcoming LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. I can’t wait to play it with my boys!

When LEGO expanded their product line beyond building toys and into games, we were thrilled. Everyone loves a good LEGO game. The LEGO series of video games has been a delight to family gamers for years now. We’ve played as Indiana Jones, Batman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and more. This Fall we will get a chance to step into the LEGO version of the Marvel universe. Are you as excited as I am? Our boys cheered when they saw the E3 trailer.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes will launch this Fall on pretty much every device capable of playing games. LEGO has built the game to work on next generation consoles like the PS4, Xbox One, and WiiU. It will also be available for current generation consoles like the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. They also did not leave out handheld devices like the 3DS and PSVita. The game will feature over 100 Marvel characters. We can make some assumptions regarding a lot of them, but LEGO is being mysterious about exactly who will be featured.

Marvel has released the cover art (posted above) for the game featuring a number of characters. They are:

  • Captain America
  • Wolverine
  • Iron Man
  • Black Widow
  • The Thing
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Mr. Fantastic
  • Thor
  • Spider Man
  • The Human Torch
  • The Silver Surfer

Those are some big names. Who do you think is missing? Sound off in the comments!

 

 

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The following are 5 things that I learned from a parents perspective about Grand Theft Auto 5 just by watching the game play trailer.

#1: It is still GTA

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has moved beyond its role as a simple crime simulator. Instead, we are treated with an expansive world to explore and play in. Rockstar Games takes the time to craft a massive world and crams as many details into the game as possible. They even fit a complete golf simulator into it!

#2: That might not be a bad thing

Games that are this large in scope provide ample opportunities for varied gaming experiences without even taking the disc out. There is very little to stop you from firing up a round of golf or tennis with your kids and then going off to complete a story mission once they go to bed.

Call me crazy, but kids only experience the content that you let them consume. My sons still think Assassin’s Creed is about climbing historical buildings. My youngest son thinks Skyrim is a hunting and leatherworking simulator with dragons in it. The Extra Credits crew spends some time in one of their recent videos detailing how a teacher plays Grand Theft Auto 4 with his child by driving around, obeying traffic laws, and asking their child to say what color the different cars are. That little kid has no idea what the code of the game could let his father do. I’ll bet that there will be opportunities for similar experiences in GTA V.

#3: This game looks like it will definitely give you something to talk about

I’m not endorsing this game as something that you should play in its entirety with young kids. The violence is obviously way off the charts. The game is named after a felony after all! But, those parents who have teenaged children might be able to use this game and the narrative within it as a springboard into some serious discussion about society, crime, poverty vs affluence, etc. The sharp contrast between the three protagonists alone should generate some excellent discussions.

#4: The “three protagonist” game play is going to make my head spin

One of the biggest features in this game is that the player can switch seamlessly between any one of three protagonists at any point in the game leaving the other two to be controlled by the computer. This leads to some pretty complex game play situations. I can just picture popping into the wrong guy’s head at the exact wrong time and ruining a few missions.

#5: Online Multiplayer for GTA? Wow. Bust out the parental controls!

Online multiplayer is already questionable for kids. You never know what kind of players you will be stuck with and the language/attitude of a lot of the online players is downright caustic. I am also going to assume that the multiplayer game isn’t going to be all about playing golf either.

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NCAA Football 14 will be released for the PS3 and Xbox360 on July 9th. I spent some time with the demo and wanted to take a moment to share my immediate impressions.  (A full review will follow after the game releases.)

The first thing that needs to be said when we talk about any of the EA Sports games is that they are simulators. They are not designed to be easy to pick up and play. Instead, they focus on creating an experience that is authentic. These games assume that the person on the other end of the controller knows a lot about the sport they will be playing. NCAA Football 14 is no exception.

 In years past the NCAA games have felt like they were playing the role of the forgotten older sibling in compared to the effort placed on the Madden football franchise. EA just didn’t put the effort into crafting the unique experience that is college football in America . It honestly looked like they re-skinned Madden with college helmets and jerseys and called it a day. Those days appear to be over. I’ll be blunt and save us some time: the game looks and sounds amazing. The animations are smooth. The colors are bright. A casual observer would need to look closely to make sure it wasn’t a live television broadcast. The crowd even sounds believable. Of course,nothing is perfect. Some of the sideline animations can be a little stiff. But, this is still better than in previous years. 

There is nothing here from a content standpoint that concerns me in regards to children. This game is designed to be played by football enthusiasts so they will likely have football on in the background most Saturday’s anyway. With that said, if you aren’t a football fan and are just “looking for something for your child to play” this doesn’t look like a great option.

The demo itself provides a preview of the head to head game play by featuring 3 major college match-ups  Alabama vs VPI, Oregon vs Texas A&M, and Ohio State vs Michigan. It also includes the Nike Skills Trainer minigame, a heavily stylized tutorial mode that will help newer players get used to the (rather advanced) controls. This is a well executed feature because it manages to turn a boring tutorial into a mini-game with achievements. The minigame will also help unlock players for the “Ultimate Team” mode in the retail game. 

The meat-and-potatoes of the game come in the form of Dynasty and Season mode which let you choose your favorite team and try your luck at running them for a season or longer. These modes were, understandably, left out of the demo so we’ll need to wait for the full release to see how they play.

Our copy of NCAA Football 14 is on the way. We’ll have a full review up as soon as possible!

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July 10th will mark the 5th birthday of the iTunes App Store. Yep. That’s right. The App Store will be old enough to go to Kindergarten on Wednesday. It’s crazy. It’s even crazier than in the last 5 years 50 BILLION apps have been downloaded.

Apple has a lot to celebrate. They have made a ton of money (and helped a lot of people make money) and they are celebrating by giving away some of their best apps and games.

This is a great value for families and it shouldn’t be missed. Here are some of the highlights:

Badlands:

Rated 9+

If you have a child who loves a challenge in their touch based games, then this is the app for them. You control a shadowy floating monster and navigate through a world that is falling apart. The levels start off easy enough, but they get VERY hard VERY fast. The developers also update the game constantly by adding levels and achievements.

Tiny Wings:

Rated 4+

This is a deceptively difficult game that kids will love. This is another touch based game that involves controlling a bird and helping it take off from ramps and fly across islands while racing computer controlled opponents. My 4 year old figured it out quickly and was showing us all how to make it work by the end of the day. Being told how to play a game by your preschooler is a humbling, yet awesome, experience. I recommend it to everyone.

Where’s My Water: 

Rated 4+

Disney hasn’t been known for releasing amazing games since the 8 and 16 bit era (we’ll talk about those games soon). But, they have a hit on their hands here. Where’s My Water is a puzzle game where players need to wipe away dirt in order to guide water to help a friendly Gator take a shower. The puzzles start out easy, but eventually get maddeningly difficult. The good news is that starting over is easy, and sometimes failing has hilarious results. You’ll have a blast sitting around the iPad testing out potential solutions. Trust me on this one. It’s worth the full price, so getting the game for free is just a miracle.

Infinity Blade II: 

Rated 9+

Infinity Blade II is a timing based sci-fi/fantasy combat game. The story can be difficult to follow, but older kids and teenagers will love exploring this insane world and gearing up their guy with all manner of armor and weapons. There is some violence, so I wouldn’t play this with young kids. For a comparison, a night watching Monday Night Raw will be more intense.

If you are an old school gamer and have been dreaming of letting your kid play an updated version of Punch Out then this is your chance.

 

Barefoot World Atlas:

Rated 4+

This isn’t a game per se, but it is a very neat app. It is a touch controlled globe that lets kids explore the world and discover interesting facts from all around the world. I recommend it for any family with lots of curious kids.

The only real challenge is that the narrator is VERY British so you might have to help explain some words to kids that aren’t familiar with the Queen’s English.

 

There are a few other apps on the list that might be of value to you so make sure to check out the full list. Whatever you do, make sure to do it fast because these apps won’t be free forever.

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Those of us who were waiting patiently for the long-awaited follow up to Plants Vs Zombies will have to wait just a little bit longer. PopCap Games confirmed via the franchise’s official Twitter account that the game is being delayed until later on this summer. The title was originally slated for release on iOS on July 16th.

This is definitely a disappointment as it was one of my family’s most anticipated games, but a few more weeks are a small price to pay if this means the game will end up being more polished by the time they release it.

We don’t know a whole heck of a lot else about the game so far. But we have been able to find a few interesting bits of information.  

First, and most important, is that the game will follow a free-to-play formula. They have indicated that you will be able to play every level and earn every plant without spending a dime. Now, before any of you cheer too wildly, you have to remember that free-to-play games often have features hidden behind a paywall. In this case, I’ll bet that unlocking different plants will require spending coins that you find on the field with the option to just spend cash to unlock them faster. This is actually a great system. Those people who don’t want to pay anything will be able to play through the game that way. Everyone else will be able to pick and choose their purchases.

Second, we’ve been able to confirm that the game will involve time travel this time around. We don’t really know what that means yet since they have been very cagey with the details. But, we can assume that this will result in a wider variety of zombie opponents to deal with like knights, cowboys, etc.

This game looks like it could be one of the highlights of the summer. How excited are you for this one? Sound off in the comments section!

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By Banzi – Sports/Racing Editor [Editor’s note: Banzi is our newest contributor and he’ll be lending his expertise on sports titles and racing games! We’ll be doing a little catch up over the next few weeks and then we’ll spend some time talking about what the next generation has in store for our little sports fans!]

Produced by EA Sports

PS3/Xbox

Rated E
From the avid hockey fan to the novice just being introduced to the sport, NHL 13 by EA Sports has something for everyone. It sports amazing graphics, solid gameplay, and a multitude of game modes that provide hours of hockey for everyone in the family.

I’ve played most of the hockey games on the market and I have to say NHL 13 tops them all. NHL 13 provides the most realistic gameplay and is, above all else, the most fun. The controls are quite easy to learn; you will be scoring and dangling by the defense in no time. NHL 13 is simple to learn. There are tutorials on all aspects of the game from the rules of the game all the way to the controller functions.

EA Sports has done an outstanding job paying attention to all the small details. Player movement is fluid and realistic feeling. With improved A.I. defense and goalies gone are the days of running up the score. This year there has been a huge emphasis on team play and puck movement. EA has designed the game to force players to use the whole team and employ a more team oriented game strategy.

The controls may seem overwhelming, even confusing at first, however I assure you that with enough practice they will become second nature to you and your kids. Here are some highlights to get the little guys going:

  • In the most simplistic form, the left stick controls your player’s movement and the right stick controls you actual stick. For example, if you want to shoot, all you have to do is push up on the right stick. If you want to wind up for a huge slap shot, all you have to do is pull back on the right stick and then push up.
  • If you keep in mind that the right stick controls your stick on the ice most of the movement is intuitive. Even hitting is based on the right stick. All you have to do is push the right stick in the general direction you want to send you player and he will charge forward for a hit.
  • Just like in real life, practice makes perfect. If all these controls seem to be overwhelming you have the option to use the classic controls. Which are more a little easier for younger kids to grasp since it relies on button presses as opposed to joystick movement.
  • The more you play and experiment with you player the faster you will be dangling around the defense like Pavel Datsyuk.

There are a ton of game modes to choose from in NHL 13. Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is the General Manager mode which allows you to control every aspect of a NHL team. Manage your team through draft day all the way to raising Lord Stanley’s cup. This involves thing like contract negotiations, and long term team development. This is where some of the “meat and potatoes” of the simulation come in.
  • Be a Pro mode allows you to create a player and follow him all the way to the big leagues. Through your play you will earn points to upgrade you player’s skills.
  • Finally, there is the more classic “Versus” mode. Pick your favorite team and challenge the computer or a second player. Here you will control all the players on the ice and lead your team to victory or back to the drawing board.

These are some of the more popular game modes, but there are plenty more to choose from. They mix up the action a bit and keep the game from getting stale.

Most games include the option to play online these days; NHL 13 is no exception. You are able to bring your favorite team online and connect with thousands of players across the country and even the world. I would think long and hard about allowing your child to play online thanks to the varied personality types they might encounter. They could manage to end up in a game with someone else that is pleasant and interested in honest fun. But they could also end up with a profanity spewing monster. There is no real way to filter that out (currently)

I believe there is more than enough gameplay off line to keep your child occupied. So that doesn’t really take away from the value of the game.

Overall NHL 13 brings all the aspects of a great game together. With the ease of play and realistic gameplay this game is a great way to learn the game of hockey. There are countless hours of gameplay ahead for your budding hockey star!
For more information about this game and other games by EA Sports visit

www.easports.com

 

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Every once in a while a game comes around that takes an ages-old formula and turns it on its head. Drinkbox studio’s most recent downloadable game, Guacamelee, does just that.

Game historians will argue about the specific origin of the genre, but the idea of a game where players explore a 2-dimensional maze that forces them to backtrack constantly once new abilities are learned has been around for a while. The two franchises that contributed the most to the genre’s development are Nintendo’s Metroid series and several of Konami’s gothic Castlevania games. As a result, games in this new sub genre are often referred to as “Metroidvania” games.

Put simply, Guacamelee is brilliant. It takes everything that you can love from the genre and infuses it with charming humor, feverish melee combat, and a beautiful art style.

The story is straight forward. You play as an agave farmer named Juan who dons a powerful luchador mask that grants him magical powers. The masked hero goes on a quest to save el Presidente’s daughter (the woman he dreams of being with despite his low class) from the evil Carlos Calaca.

The story involves the exploration of a small farming town in Mexico. The game also includes an interesting dimensional shift mechanic that lets players travel though the same area in both the land of the living and the land of the dead. This presents numerous interesting game play scenarios.

The combat is where this game sets itself apart from its predecessors. The vast majority of games in this genre involve ranged weapons. Samus has a blaster built into her suit and the members of the Belmont clan each fight with a long chain whip and a variety of ranged weapons. Juan doesn’t have the luxury of attacking from range. He has to close in on his opponents and fight at melee range. The game even includes a grappling system that allows you to perform wrestling maneuvers that either deal significant damage or send your opponents flying across the room (possibly even damaging other targets). This adds a level of excitement to the combat that is absent in games where players can hang back at range and shoot.

The vast majority of the game, however, does not involve combat as much as it involves traversal across the game’s map. This is done by jumping across platforms and bouncing back and forth between walls. This becomes more and more complex as the game goes on as the various challenges force you to move in between dimensions in order to traverse the levels. For example, you will need to jump back and forth from wall to wall to climb up the inside of a cavern, but the two sides of the wall will only exist in one dimension or the other. This constant shifting is very challenging. With that said, the challenges were very rewarding. Some of the greatest joys this game brought me were the fleeting moments of triumph after failing to do a section for a while.

One of the game’s greatest triumphs for family gamers is the drop-in/drop-out co-op game play. Your kids can pick up a second controller at any time and hop into the action. Being defeated is hardly of consequence as they are able to join back in after a brief timeout. There are even power ups that can be acquired in the game to reduce the time between lives. (Hint: Get these ASAP.) They can skip the complex platforming segments by pressing a button and hopping into a bubble that they can fly around the screen or by simple dropping out of the game for a moment. I played through several segments like this with my 7 year old and we had a blast. He was able to participate in the fun cartoon combat without having to put up with the hard stuff.

Guacamelee is rated E10+ by the ESRB. This is due in large part to the animated combat. There is no blood or gore. Instead, the colorful enemies simply pop backwards upon defeat and blink out of existence. Even further, none of the enemies are real people. They are all monsters or skeletons in ponchos. There just isn’t a lot to worry about with the combat here.

There is no foul language to speak of, but some of the dialogue includes some sexual innuendo. But, it is limited to one scene, and I would expect it to go over the heads of most kids.

The game in animated in a whimsical art style that is very reminiscent of Mexican folk art. I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon for most of my time with the game.

This game is a prime example where the rating does not give a real picture of the difficulty of the game. The bottom line here is that Guacamelee is hard. The platforming challenges are very difficult. The combat can be hard to manage. The bosses are incredibly hard. I cannot recommend this game for solo play to young kids who are new to video games. This one is definitely more advanced than a lot of other platform games out there and, as a result, can be very frustrating to children (and adults).

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

I enjoyed every minute that I played Guacamelee, and my kids were along for the ride during most of it. As long as they don’t mind watching during the difficult traversal segments this will be an excellent game to share with them.

It is currently Available for download on the Playstation Network and on Xbox Live Arcade.

 

 

 

 

 

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The internet exploded this afternoon as Microsoft announced that they were reversing their DRM decisions for the Xbox One.

Experienced gamers bombarded social media as they shared their numerous opinions on Facebook and Twitter.

This was followed by intense discussions between teen gamers, leaving their parents confused and in the dark.   If you’re like a lot of parents, you have no real idea of what this whole mess is about yet. I’m going to take this opportunity to fill everyone in that might be wondering.

Let’s get started; shall we?

First, I want to explain what DRM means. It stands for Digital Rights Management. These are the systems that hardware companies put in place to prevent people from misusing or inappropriately distributing software. (The keys that you enter whenever you install a version of MS Office are a form of DRM.)

Rumors had been flying for more than a year that the next generation of game consoles was going to be very restrictive when it came to used games and offline play. We heard reports from “reliable sources” throughout the process that confirmed all of this, but we didn’t know the details until Microsoft came out two weeks ago and announced their stance.

They put up a post on their blog that indicated that the Xbox One would require that the console be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours and that the transfer of games from one account to another would require an undisclosed process and a potential fee. The announcement of this process limited the viability of sharing games with friends and family and could have crippled the used market.

Sony responded by announcing that they were making no such changes to the DRM for their games during their 2013 E3 press event. This prompted a massive spike in pre-orders of their Playstation 4 compared to the Xbox One.

Fans, media outlets, and bloggers shouted from their proverbial rooftops about how tone deaf Microsoft was with regards to the needs and desires of their potential customers. The feedback was so loud and so persistent that Microsoft was backed into a corner.

Today, they responded to the public outcry by walking back all of their DRM statements and confirming in a blog post that the game licensing will work for the Xbox One the same way that it does on their current product, the best-selling Xbox 360. People can purchase games, sell them to stores, share them with friends, etc.

This change in plans means a change in the overall market for the consoles.

Both systems being on similar footing in regards to DRM is a good thing right now. The two of them may not be separated by much from a competition standpoint, but this will help consumers (and especially non-gaming parents) make decisions based on what matters: the games.

This has been a very basic breakdown of the timeline for the DRM debacle that has impacted the beginning of this console generation. Check back later this week for further comparisons regarding these two systems and my initial recommendations.

In the meantime, sound off in the comments. I would love to hear what your thoughts are on the topic.

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