Valiant Hearts: a hit with kids & dogs

Gamer Dude’s playing Valiant Hearts — released today on XboxLive and there’s a valiant dog protagonist that’s caught our dog Astrid’s attention. She’s watching the screen wagging her tail and offering her computer game dog friend the lacrosse ball she pinched from the ball bag! LOL

Valiant Hearts was released today for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Steam.  Powered by the same engine as Rayman Origins the game was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. I’m already a fan. The game art, storyline and musical score is compelling and has a arty feel to it. It’s not an epic war game, but this game has plenty of heart. From the looks of things, the puzzles are satisfying too.

According to Hayden Dingman from PCWorld.com,

Far from a detriment, the silent-film nature of Valiant Hearts is one of its greatest strengths. The game is able to support a multicultural cast—French, German, American, Canadian—without any one culture dominating. And still, these are some of the best characters I’ve played in recent memory, thanks to some strong archetyping and brilliant animated cutscenes.

You also fall in with a trained war dog early in the game, and it’s this dog that most of the game revolves around. The story is the primary draw here, but play revolves around solving a cadre of puzzles more than actual combat.

I’m literally watching Dude play as I write. I’ll update later after the game’s done!

 

Shank: Gorgeous animation, questionable narrative

Gamer Dude: Can I play Shank?
Me: No
Gamer Dude: Awww, why not?
Me: Because it’s a game called “shank,” I don’t think I need to elaborate.

As you can see from the clip above, it’s a beautifully animated game done in a dramatic comic book style. The story of Shank can be told from two different perspectives: single-player campaign and cooperative campaign. The protagonist, Shank, is a mobster hitman whose MO is avenging the death of his girlfriend, Eva.

Players control Shank and can choose from three different kinds of weapons: melee weapons (including a chainsaw — sigh), firearms (of course), and a pair of knives (to shank with, I imagine). The cooperative mode activates Shank’s able sidekick, Falcone. As in many multiplayer campaigns, this game requires players as the characters to collaborate and combine moves to complete “hits” and advance the story.

EA Games, who released Shank in 2010 calls the game “a side-scrolling beat ’em up” game and I say this is an accurate description. Designed by Klei Entertainment, the game is available for play on Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Some may call me hypocritical because, as you’ve seen in other reviews, I’ve allowed Gamer Dude to play similar storylines (eg. Assassin’s Creed). Maybe I am, but for me, it’s all about context for the violence. Also, Shank is no Assassin’s Creed. Case in point, the action of Shank seems to center exclusively on executing violent deaths as part of Shank’s revenge plot.

CONCLUSION:

Shank is a straightforward, one-dimensional game with graphic violence at the forefront. While I love the art and animation in Shank, I can see little benefit to having this game in my home, and no value in allowing my kid to play it.

VERDICT: NO DICE 

PewDiePie review of Thomas Was Alone: two thumbs up

Just watched PewDiePie’s recent gameplay of the indie puzzle platformer by Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone. Two words spring to mind: happy-making and visually-pleasing (OK, I cheated with the word count). It was first released as a browser game in 2010 but has recently been made to accommodate Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X in July last year. Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita versions were released in April this year.

If you’ve got a gamer of your own, you’ve likely discovered the playful, f-bomb-dropping Swedish YouTube gamer, Felix Kjelberg, better known as PewDiePie. He’s massively popular with GamerDude, and as of this week, with 12 million others who’ve subscribed to the 23-year-old’s unique brand of entertainment/game review. I could do without all the salty language, which honestly, doesn’t add anything to his videos. PewDiePie is very watchable — even for people over (ahem) 30. And often, as with Thomas Was Alone, he takes time to spotlight offbeat, visually unique indie games.

Here’s PewDiePie’s YouTube review. Check it out here:

Ibb and Obb: on for the whole family

Looking for a game that will delight everyone in the house? I think you’ll find it in Ibb and Obb — the winner of Best Title at Develop’s Indie Showcase at the beginning of July. The game developers plan to release this game on PC through Steam, but at present are focusing on their PS3 version, which has been available since August 6 in North and South America. They have plans to release it in Europe too.

Ibb and Obb’s play is a cooperative two-player game requiring both players to work together to advance. Its graphics and the lines are simple and beautiful, though there’s nothing simple about the game’s design. One of the most interesting and elegant aspects of the game is its interplay with a world consisting of two sides — both from which gravity operates in differing directions. The parallel perspectives of the players is a point of interest, a game challenge and one of the most aesthetically pleasing features of the game.

Check out the trailer below:

Machinarium: Soother of the Migraine

Machinarium

Machinarium (Photo credit: sakurapenguin)

Had a low-grade migraine that kept me and my son close to home the other day. The meds I take for relief are great, but I’m still left with sensitivity to light, sounds, and movement, and while they don’t sedate me, I don’t feel comfortable driving anywhere while they’re doing their thing. So we were both stuck at home.

After finishing his homework and home reading, my son wanted to play a video game. I was skeptical, but when he told me it was Machinarium he was looking to play, I was in full support — it’s got a gorgeous (gentle-sounding) soundtrack!

Tomáš Dvořák’s score for the game suits it perfectly; it’s a little melancholy, reflecting protagonist robot Josef’s grief at the kidnapping of his girlfriend robot. It’s also whimsical  and intricate which underscores the animation and the puzzles found in each level of the game. The first time I heard the soundtrack I was reminded of Hans Zimmer and Philip Glass’s work, so it wasn’t surprising to read that  Dvořák considers these composers to be influential in his music. I’ve thrown in a sample of the Machinarium sound if you’re interested:

According to the ESRB, Machinarium rates E10+:

Machinarium
Platform: Macintosh, Windows PC, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Rating Category:

     Everyone 10+ Rating Symbol
Content Descriptors: Comic Mischief, Use of Tobacco
Rating Summary:This is an adventure-puzzle game in which players assume the role of a discarded robot (Josef) that must defuse a bomb and rescue its girlfriend. Players sometimes advance the storyline by playing tricks on other robots (e.g., scattering marbles to make one character slip and fall, electrocuting a robot cat); one cutscene depicts a character getting hit with a slingshot, resulting in a ‘dizzy-stars’ effect. During one extended sequence, players must construct a makeshift cigarette for another robot to smoke; another sequence depicts a character smoking a pussy-willow plant like a cigar or cigarette.
http://www.esrb.org/ratings/synopsis.jsp?Certificate=32356&Title=Machinarium

While the ESRB rates the game 10+ for the reasons stated above, I’d encourage this rating based on the complexity of the game. The puzzles are logic-based (so cool, learning and gaming), and even if your child is a logic wiz, the narrative of the game is more fully accessible to kids in this age-range.

Czech game designer Jakub Dvorský’s (Amanita Design) Machinarium is a beautiful game to play and to watch in play. As I recovered from my headache, I watched my son play the game from start to finish  — I felt transported into a Steampunk fairy tale. While I was happy about the conclusion of the game, it was a bittersweet happiness my son and I shared. Machinarium is a witty, cheeky, and beautiful game that neither of us wanted to end.

Closing

If you haven’t downloaded and played this award-winning indie game, DO! It’s a treat for the ears, eyes, brain, and heart and I’m 100% sure this is one game there won’t be any disagreements over…plus, it’s easy on headaches.

How many of your kids’ video games can you say that about?

VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR KIDS 10 YEARS PLUS

Praise for Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ESRB Rating

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rating:

     Mature Rating Symbol
Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol

Skyrim is the game Commonsense Media calls a: “vast and violent RPG filled with moral choice and ambiguity” and they rate it “Not For Kids”, in support of ESRB. Interestingly, both parents and kids rated this game as “on” for 13 year-olds, which I believe is more appropriate.  I will say the game’s not for all kids. Like with so many games (even supposed E for Everyone games), it’s important to know your child and to consider the following:

1. context and purpose of violence,

2. context and appearance of blood,

3. what constitutes sexual themes,

4. which objectionable word is used and in which context is it employed, and

5. what context do alcohol/drugs appear?

When Skyrim was placed on the table for my consideration and approval a few months ago the feature of the game that I found to be the most striking was its gorgeous graphics — the game animation, especially of the landscape and the world of Skyrim, is outstanding.

The most risqué content found in the game is found in mods, which are created by developers and the public.  That said, not all mods push the envelope in controversial areas like the ones listed above. About a year ago, Bethesda released its Creation Kit for this purpose.  Some reliable spots to find game mods are Steam WorkshopNexus and  ENB.

Another area of interest for parents should be whether the game is an online multiplayer. Skyrim isn’t, but with the help of Skyrim Online a player can interact with other players in a game. It’s in online multiplayers  where your child may come across some of the most adult content, and it’s not an easy thing to regulate. At my house, there are very few of these gaming opportunities and another feature of Skyrim that I liked was its closed-play environment.

Recomomdations & praises

There are a lot of aspects of Skyrim that I like — a lot — which is why my son plays it in our house (a lot), and why we’ve bought the game as a gift for his friends. The epic story and mythology woven through the game is beautiful, as is the musical score. A bit about my game rating process: I always check out the graphics, plot, premise, and music first. And I’m a sucker for beauty (which my son knows, and he’s learned to promote these aspects of games with me first!).

As I said in an earlier post, Skyrim’s an action, role-playing open world video game. It provides upward of 100 hours of new play experiences as players explore its vast terrain. Players personalize their experience through every action and decision they make, which is both exciting and educational.

Kids practice anticipatory judgement as they learn about consequences playing Skyrim; choices they make affect the development of their character as well as the opportunities that come their way. During the game, players choose whether they will fight for an empire or for a resistance group. They can also play as members of many other groups, called factions, found in the open world such as the Dark Brotherhood or the Blades.

There’s so much to do in this game; players can choose to accept or decline quests as they explore bustling cities, small towns, lush forests, richly illustrated tundra, towering mountains, crystalline waters, and dark caves. Similarly, players can choose the virtual people with whom they’ll interact, which brings me to a possible point of contention: romantic encounters.

Possible Point of Contention: Romantic Encounters, Sexual Themes, & Adult Language

I’ll admit I was skeptical about the ability to meet mates in the game until I learned more about the reasons behind the activity and the player benefits involved in selecting a mate for marriage. (context is everything) As with non-romantic relationships and liaisons in Skyrim, if you take time to be nice and do well by the people you meet, they will be good to you — this usually translates into opportunity in one way or another. The benefits of marriage include: daily meals and gold (100!) as well as a 15% increase in skill experience. When I asked my son why he wanted to find a wife he told me without hesitation, “If you’re good to your wife she gives you riches and helps to make you a better player.” Sounds like a healthy, nurturing, and rudimentary love bond to me.

Some parents may be uncomfortable with the requirement that players sleep with their wives to gain skill benefits. To them I’d say, if you’ve been OK with your kids playing house with dolls etc. this element of the game isn’t likely to pose a problem for you because — unless your child is playing Skyrim with a mod — s/he’ll be literally sleeping platonically with their spouse (no hanky-panky).

NB: there’s some sexual reference in some of the dialogue between characters in the game and some of the outfits may strike you as too revealing. It’s not out-of-place for the genre, so if you’re comfortable with costumes in TV series like Robin Hood and Merlin you’ll be fine with what you find in Skyrim. The language is, for the most part PG-13, with the occasional reference to “whores” and sex (which may be lost on a 12 or 13 year-old). In any case, none of these occurrences represent a main focus of the game.

Is Skyrim inappropriate for kids?

It’s a complex game which may be beyond children younger than 12 years-old, to some degree due to content, but to a larger degree due to its level of difficulty. (How big a drag is it when your kid is frustrated by a game they just bought?)

Violence, Blood & Gore

While it’s possible to enact random violence, players discover that choosing to do so is of no benefit to them (and may detrimentally affect their game).  This is a negotiable category because players choose their violence by the way they play. At my house, we’ve talked about and arrived at an agreement about acceptable fighting/defense plays as well as the unacceptable ones. I believe this kind of dialogue is always fruitful, and sticking to the rules helps to ingrain in my son the concept of chivalrous play (which is just good sportsmanship). Our practice may work for you, but if you’re uncomfortable with the freedom of expression in this area, you might want to steer clear of this game.

Use of Alcohol

Alcohol features prominently in Skyrim as a social and nutritional benefit. As with other aspects of the game, players can choose to drink in moderation — for benefit — or excessively — to their detriment. Maybe this is a point of objection for you, but I think in the context of the game, this aspect reinforces positive social choices.

Closing

In closing, I’m a fan of the game and I completely understand why it won Spike’s Game of the Year award and IGN’s Xbox 360 and PC Game of the Year Awards (2011). It’s a game that I never say “no” to at home for two reasons:

1. I really enjoy listening to it playing in the background (gorgeous musical score), and

2. Whatever parts of the brain it requires to play, it puts my son in a good mental place (as opposed to other games that seem to light his frontal lobe ablaze!).

VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR SOME KIDS 12 YEARS PLUS