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I'm Sorry, Other Games.

I'm sorry, Dragon Age.  I'm sorry, Left 4 Dead 2.  I'm sorry, New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  I'm sorry, Majesty 2.  I'm sorry, Borderlands.  I'm sorry, every other great game that I should be giving my attention to right now.

But the simple fact is that on Saturday morning, my resolve broke down and I picked up a copy of Assassin's Creed II.  And as much as I may love you guys, none of you scratch quite the same itch as it does, and all of you will still be there in a week or two.  In the last 2 days I've finished about 25% of the game, and - much like the first Assassin's Creed, which I loved - it looks like I'm probably just going to power through all the way to the end.  (That's right, I loved the first game, the one everybody said was crap.  So imagine how much I'm liking this one.)

And I guess I'm also sorry for anybody reading this, since the whole internet has already told you how good AC2 is and why, which means you certainly don't need me to.  Go read what they said, it's all true.  You should play this game.

What's also true, and what you might not have read too many other places, is that New Super Mario Bros. Wii may be the best same-screen multiplayer game since the 16-bit era.  I plan to write about that soon, because I've also been playing that a lot - with my wife and her siblings over the Thanksgiving holiday and then more with my wife since then - and it deserves examining.

But right now, Ezio's almost ready to buy another upgrade for his villa, and those rooftops aren't going to run across themselves.  Arrivederci.


Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 22

It's Black Friday, and man do I have a deal for you.  Just for reading this - just for being here - you get a game for FREE!  For nothing.  Nada.  Zero dollars.  Gratis.  On the house.  It's comped.  And you didn't even have to get up at 4AM and wait in a big line!  Do I know how to treat you guys or what?

It appears that I've been on a speed kick with my free games, of late.  You may remember that in Issue 20, I brought you RunMan, the heartwarming story of a little star-shaped dude who wanted nothing more in the world than to run like the wind; to get the high score; to win the race.

Igneous, on the other hand, is a slightly less heartwarming but considerably more pulse-pounding story about a tiki totem who wakes up one day to find that his entire world is collapsing in fire and brimstone, and if he doesn't seriously book it, he is toast so move your ass.  It's like RunMan, as directed by Michael Bay.

Whipped up by a group of seniors of the Digipen Institute of Technology (for more products of Digipen students, check here), Igneous is about tension, and panic, and looking really good, and sort of about physics, but primarily it's about speed.  Out of control, oh-God-where-do-I-go-now, just-barely-surviving-each-jump speed.  Did you play Mirror's Edge?  (If not... play Mirror's Edge.)  Remember the parts where Faith would be running from 20 soldiers, and a helicopter, and you knew that stopping meant instant death so you just threw caution to the wind and ran, taking each jump as it came and praying that you landed somewhere safe?  Igneous is a whole game of just that.  Those prone to anxiety need not apply.

If there's a distinct problem with this sort of level design, it's that it can become overwhelming.  When everything is a huge overblown spectacle, overblown spectacle quickly loses its impact.  Luckily, Igneous is polite enough not to overstay its welcome - it's a tasty dessert of a game, over after just three insane levels, leaving you perhaps not feeling exactly sated but definitely glad you indulged.  The last level does lend itself a bit to requiring memorization, but with a game this short I can't really complain.  "Normal" and "Impossible" difficulties are offered - on Normal, the game is lenient with letting your tiki make some missteps and still survive, but on Impossible, you'll need to be pretty much flawless, especially on the last stage.

A final note: this game is beautiful.  Not "for a free game", just beautiful, period.  Colored lighting and heat distortion are used to great effect to represent the crumbling volcano you're rushing through, and the physics system allows everything to fall apart around you, creating new paths and destroying old ones in an instant.  Screenshots really can't do it justice; you should see this game in motion.  The developers recommend an XBox 360 gamepad, as do I (sadly, other gamepads won't work unless you have key-mapping software), but mouse and keyboard can be used if that's what you have.

Igneous is:

  • blazingly fast.
  • incredibly pretty.
  • quite the challenge, on "Impossible".
  • a bit of a tech demo, but well worth your time.

Igneous is for Windows PC's - go check it out here.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece also appears there.


Oh, I Really Want to Play Assassin's Creed II.

I was one of the people who loved the first Assassin's Creed.  That game took a lot of crap for being too repetitive (which was a fair complaint) and for having a somewhat obtuse storyline and a not-super-likable main character (which didn't bother me as much), but I really enjoyed the repetitive things I was doing, so I didn't mind being asked to do them over and over.

The free-running and environment climbing was superbly done, and the combat was the most cinematic I'd seen in a game, bar none.  I would get into fights just to watch the fantastic counter animations play out - and to feel like a badass, a feeling the game provided readily.

Assassin's Creed II appears to trump the first game in pretty much every possible way.  The video below is lengthy, but if you have a half hour and any interest in the game, I recommend watching it.  The guys over at Co-Op always put together a good show (you should go visit them over at, and subscribe in iTunes if you do that sort of thing), and this one is entirely focused on Ubisoft's newest entry in what will now, I'm sure, become a headline franchise for them.

So why am I not playing it?  Largely because I'm stubborn.  I have an XBox 360, but no HDTV yet.  I played Assassin's Creed I on the PC, and it looked fantastic at 1280x1024.  I want to play ACII the same way, but the PC version doesn't hit until March of 2010.  March!  So I'll probably bite the bullet and pick up the 360 version, but I haven't yet.  In the meantime, I'll watch this video again.  You should, too.


Get On The Bus

Already know what Desert Bus For Hope is?  Awesome, you can skip this post.  It's going on right now, go give those guys a few bucks.

For the rest of you, if you've been reading about video games online for any significant length of time, you may well have heard of Desert Bus, the most (in)famous part of Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors minigame collection on Sega CD.  If you haven't (and didn't immediately go read the Wikipedia page I just linked), here's the important bit:

The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused.  The bus contains no passengers, and there is no scenery or other traffic on the road. The bus veers to the right slightly; as a result, it is impossible to tape down a button to go do something else and have the game end properly. If the bus veers off the road it will stall and be towed back to Tucson, also in real time. If the player makes it to Las Vegas, they will score exactly one point. The player then gets the option to make the return trip to Tucson—for another point (a decision they must make in a few seconds or the game ends). Players may continue to make trips and score points as long as their endurance holds out. Some players who have completed the trip have also noted that, although the scenery never changes, a bug splats on the windscreen about five hours through the first trip, and on the return trip the light does fade, with differences at dusk, and later a pitch black road where the player is guided only with headlights.

It looks like this:

Obviously, it's a joke - a prank played on the player by a notorious set of tricksters.  Nobody in their right mind who wasn't being paid to do it would sit for hours at a stretch, staring at an endless desert scrolling by their screen as they kept a virtual bus on an empty virtual road, right?

Well, as it turns out, torturing yourself is a pretty swell way to raise a bunch of money for charity.

The fine folks over at LoadingReadyRun (Canadian comedy troupe putting nerdy hilarity online since 2003) got the idea a couple of years ago to see if they could convince people to sponsor them to play Desert Bus, the way "normal" folks might get sponsored to run a marathon or dance all night in a gym somewhere for charity.  All donations would go to Child's Play, which I won't describe in great detail right now but probably will eventually because it's amazing and inspiring.  The more people donated, the longer they would play, 4 of them switching off, 24 hours a day until the money stopped.  Thus began "Desert Bus For Hope."

The punchline: Year 1, they played for 4 days, 12 hours, and raised over $22,000.  Year 2, they played for 5 days, 5 hours, and raised over $70,000.  That's nearly $100,000 of charity for children's hospitals raised by a few arguably crazy Canadians with a website sitting around playing a game that barely even qualifies as a game.  It's ridiculous, and sort of stupid, and awesome.

As I said at the top, Year 3 is currently in progress.  They've been playing for about 1.5 days right now, and have raised about $28,500.  Go check this thing out, and if you have the available income, make a donation of whatever size you're comfortable with.  These guys may be nuts, but I can tell you firsthand that Child's Play is a worthy cause, and what they're doing is obviously just crazy enough to work.


A Musical Interlude

Sometimes the internet brings very incongruous things together.  For example, there is a gentleman on YouTube who posts under the username "PoopPoopFart."  It's a little hard to envision the circumstances under which one chooses that for a handle (perhaps we should pretend that he must have lost a bet, or something), but harder still to predict that among his videos would be lovingly crafted classical guitar renditions of Nintendo themes.

For your listening pleasure, Super Mario Brothers 2:

And the Overworld Theme from The Legend of Zelda:

Both lovely surprises to wake up to this morning, which I am doing quite late so I'd best go figure out how to get a jump on the day.  Thanks to Violão de 8 Bits for pointing me to both of these videos - I highly recommend subscribing to their Twitter feed if you're on that service and this sort of thing is up your alley.  I don't speak Portugese, but I do love classic game music, and they keep it coming.