‘gaming’ Category


Game review: The Orange Box – Portal

The Orange Box is a fairly new release for the Xbox 360, and is actually five games in one box, for the price of a regular game ($60 MSRP, $50 if you shop around). One of the games is Portal, and I just finished the main story (and the 6 “advanced maps”) last week.

This game is the most creative and new game I’ve played in ages, and, like most other reviewers, I’m saddened that it was such a short game (a few days of play). It’s a puzzle game, and one reviewer called it the most original puzzle game since Tetris. The premise is simple: you’re a lab rat “volunteer” who has to make it through 19 challenges using your portal gun. The gun lets you fire a blue or orange portal into certain wall/ceiling/floor surfaces. The two portals connect through some unexplained inter-dimentional rift. Need to get across a big pit of acid? Shoot a blue portal on the wall across the room, and an orange one on the wall next to you, and walk through. But what if the wall across the room can’t support a portal (since this is a lab, only white-tiled surfaces can have portals on them)? Put one portal on the floor, one high up on the wall behind you, and walk into the floor portal. You’ll appear high in the air above you, and fall — once again — into the portal on the floor, but this time at a high speed. When you materialize out of the portal high on the wall this time, you maintain your momentum (all rules of physics are obeyed) and go flying across the room, and across the pit! Here’s a photo showing two portals and how they connect:

portal wide pic

There’s a turret protecting the hallway. However, shoot an orange portal behind / next to it, and a blue one near you, and you can get behind the turret and disable it. Now, the puzzles in this game were pretty good, especially when you add in the 6 advanced maps. But what really makes this game shine is its humor. I don’t want to spoil it, but the game has a fantastically dark humor element, mostly in the form of the computer voice that is conducting the lab experiments, and also in the aforementioned gun turrets that speak dozens of funny snippets at you the whole time (“I see you!” they sometimes exclaim as they open fire, and “I don’t hate you.” when you destroy them).

All I can say is I’m very sad this game is over, and I really hope there’s a (longer) sequel some day.


  • on December 6, 2007 -
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  • Comments Off on Game Review: Viva Piñata

Game Review: Viva Piñata

3 pinatas While I’m on the topic of games, there are a few others worth mentioning. Most are XBox 360 games. We joined the XBox 360 club in September, mostly at Kathie’s insistence. Well, when she’s right, she’s very right. Despite a few annoyances (it crashes once every week or two, but it’s a Microsoft product, so that’s fine, and the optical drive and fans are really loud), it’s got some pretty incredible features and games. We rarely touch the Wii or PS3 any more.

One of the first games I played was Viva Piñata, a pretty old game. The overly cutesy box cover make me skeptical, but I tried it anyway. The beginning tutorial was even more cutesy, and seemed geared towards third graders. Sticking with it for a little while though, I got completely sucked into the game! The artistic creativity is just fantastic, and the game was executed very well. The premise is unique — build a garden, attract wild piñata to it, and breed them — er, sorry, “romance” them — to create more piñata, which are desperately needed by Piñata Central for the ever increasing number of parties going on. Don’t worry, when you send your piñata to a party, it gets fixed back up, and sent back happier than ever!

I stuck with the game most of the way to the end, missing out on attracting just a few of the higher-level piñata. I think what appealed to me was the sense of logic and order to the game. Want to attract a Mousemallow? Look it up in the encyclopedia to learn that they are attracted to turnips, and plant a turnip seed in the garden. Want a Horstachio to reside? Then you’ll need 500 pinometers of grass in the garden, and 8 apples for it to eat (from an apple tree of course!). The requirements can get rather tricky as the game progresses, and of course there are the bad guys (sour piñata that poison your residents), and a band of evil-doers that break your piñata open, killing them (but revealing lots of candy which your other — apparently cannibal — residents come rushing over to eat. The game has a good pace, adding new complexities as you become a more accomplished gardener.

If you need to have lots of action and shoot-outs, this isn’t the game for you. If you are OK with a slow-paced, semi-puzzle game controlling a mini-universe full of bizarre creatures, give it a try! There’s even a huge fan web site called Piñata Island, with all the information about each piñata, plant, item, seed, etc. Good for all ages.

Oh yeah, apparently it’s also a kids TV show, though I’ve never seen it…


Game Review: Metroid Prime: Corruption

metroid cover When Metroid Prime came out for the GameCube at the end of 2002, it quickly became my favorite game. In fact, the only time I stopped playing it was when Jen stole the disc and hid it from me! It technically was her game, but still, how could she??

Two years later, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released. It was an excellent sequel, and in some ways was even better than the first. It was a longer game, with more puzzles and a clever “alternate universe” to switch back and forth from to finish the game.

Then there was a long, three-year wait for the final game in the series, Metroid Prime: Corruption, to be released, this time for the Wii. I finished the game last week, and have to say I’m a bit disappointed. The game was much simpler than either of its predecessors, with no puzzles worth mentioning, almost no hidden items to seek out, and much easier battles. In fact, one of my only complaints about the previous games — the occasional few-second delay before a door opens, as the game loads more of the story from disc — was magnified many-fold in Corruption, with many doors taking upwards of 10 seconds to open. I also found the game’s adaptation to the Wii’s unique remote controllers to be awkward at best. The standard controller on the Gamecube worked far better for this type of game, and the few motion-sensitive additions in Corruption were unnecessary and didn’t add to the experience.

Summary: If you are a fan of the first two, you may be disappointed. If you haven’t played the first two, you may enjoy it… but you’d be better off buying MP:1 and MP:2 for a few dollars at a used store, since the Wii will play all Gamecube games.

metroid pic


Catching up

It’s been a little while since my last update. I’ve been a little hesitant to post because I’m working on redesigning my web site and blog, and was planning to finish that first… but as with most things, it’s taking longer than expected. Right now my blog is hosted by Google, and I’ve got some static web pages on my Wiki running in my basement (which is a pain because with Verizon’s FiOS, my IP address changes from time to time, and they block the standard web server port, so I need to run my server on port 8080), and some older pages just lying around in various places. I’m working on consolidating everything into one application: WordPress. I’m hoping to be done in a week or two. In theory, RSS feeds and e-mail subscriptions should keep working, but if you stop getting automatic blog updates after mid-September, check back in at www.mfischer.com to re-subscribe.

If you’ve been reading Kathie’s Blog you’ll know most of what’s been going on recently. To sum up, we went to a Nationals baseball game last weekend, we’ve got a new foster dog named Harper, and we’ve been playing a lot of video games. Our XBox 360 blogs for us automatically every day about what we’ve played… here’s my 360 blog and here’s Kathie’s. The 360’s online / Internet functionality is light-years ahead of the Playstation 3 and Wii — even though those consoles came out a full year after the 360. Since the long (long, long) awaited Metroid Prime: Corruption came out last week for the Wii, that’s pretty much all I’ve played. We’ve also been working on the garden outside again now that the weather isn’t as oppressive, and working on our resumés since we’re thinking it’s time for our vacation to wrap up soon.


Cable mark-up

We recently purchased a Sony Playstation 3 at Best Buy, after last month’s $100 price drop was announced. The PS3 uses HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) to connect to HDTVs, and the salesman at Best Buy was quick to point this out. He pointed to the HDMI cables next to the PS3 and said we should get one. The six-foot-long cable was $99.95. After telling him “no thanks”, we were pointed to a different shelf with some $59.95 HDMI cables. After searching the store and finding that these were the cheapest HDMI cables that Best Buy sells, we declined again. $60 for a short cable to hook up a component to a TV still seems pretty absurd. Once home, a quick log-on to Amazon.com revealed a plethora of HDMI cables for sale from different online stores for… substantially better pricing. Three days after ordering, I had three very sturdy, perfectly functional six-foot HDMI cables for the whopping price of $0.75 each. Yes, seventy-five cents. It feels like what Best Buy is doing should be a crime, but as long as people are willing to pay a 10,000% mark-up on items, I’m sure nothing will change.

If you’re looking for HDMI cables, the place I ordered from was www.abacus24-7.com. They shipped the order the next day, and it arrived three days after that. The cables are much higher quality than I expected.