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Articles by NaviFairy

September 7, 2011

3DS Grows An Unsightly Tumor For A Right Stick Attachment

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It seems that the rumors were true, Nintendo is developing an add-on for the 3DS that gives the system a much-needed right analog stick. And...oh dear lord.

That unsightly plastic cradle, with the look of a cheap knock-off peripheral, isn't just for show: it adds three important features to the system. First and foremost is the right circle pad, but that huge cradle wrapping around the 3DS also adds a second set of shoulder buttons for all of your R2 and L2 pressing needs. As for that third important feature? That would be the extra bulk, essentially doubling the system's thickness making it too large to fit in any pocket. I suppose that puts the 3DS more in line with the size and girth of a PlayStation Vita at least.

All of this info comes from a leaked scan of Famitsu Magazine in an article that links the 3DS attachment to the newly announced Monster Hunter 3G. This is all rather ironic seeing as Monster Hunter 3G is said to be an expanded port of the Wii's Monster Hunter Tri, a game that didn't have a second analog stick to begin with.

There are still several questions left unanswered about the peripheral. Release date and price are still up in the air, and it's unclear what kind of developer support the add-on will receive beyond Monster Hunter. It is also a rather transparent admission by Nintendo that a system redesign is in the works that will include a right circle pad, hopefully placed in a more reasonable location under the four face buttons, with this add-on releasing as a concession to early adopters so their system will still be compatible with future games.

Nintendo is holding a pre-Tokyo Game Show event on September 13 to discuss the future of the 3DS, at which point we'll likely learn a lot more about this add-on with an official unveiling. In the meantime, I'm left wondering where this circle pad extension will fall on the Nintendo peripheral continuum. Will it be utterly forgettable like the DS rumble pack? Fantastic, but poorly supported by developers like the Wii Motion+? Or will it become an essential part of the hardware like the Wii Nunchuck?

August 22, 2011

Indie Games Summer Uprising Begins Today On Xbox Live

The Indie Games Summer Uprising is upon us. In true indie fashion, this was a developer-organized promotion that will see the release of 10 games hand-picked by developers and gamers alike.

It begins today with the release of Raventhrone, a gorgeous side-scrolling brawler from Milkstone Studios. The promotion will continue through both this week and next week, with a new game released every day. This week we'll also see the release of Battle High: San Bruno, Cute Things Dying Violently, T.E.C. 3001, and Doom & Destiny. After a weekend off, the promotion will return next week with Take Arms, SpeedRunner, Train Frontier Express, Chester, and Redd: The Lost Temple. Those last two games were the top voted entry from gamers, winning a recent vote on the Indie Summer Uprising Facebook page.

Watch the trailer above to catch a glimpse of all of the Uprising games. I know I'm personally very anxious to finally play T.E.C. 3001, Doom & Destiny, Chester, and Redd: The Lost Temple. Do any of the Indie Game Summer Uprising offerings tickle your fancy?

Indie Games Summer Uprising

August 18, 2011

Video: Take A Gander At Black Knight Sword From Grasshopper

While Suda 51 is taking a major creativity sabbatical by working on Lollipop Chainsaw (cheerleaders and zombies, really?), his studio Grasshopper Manufacture is charging ahead with some more interesting game ideas. Specifically I'm referring to Black Knight Sword, a recently revealed side-scrolling action game born from the partnership between Grasshopper and Digital Reality.

The above video takes a while to get going (gameplay doesn't start until 2:26) but it's worth the wait. Black Knight Sword's side-scrolling levels take place on a puppet stage with a distinct paper cutout style. Think pre-Symphony of the Night Castlevania done in an art style that's one part Paper Mario and one part Okami, and you're most of the way there.

Oh yeah, and that's Akira Yamaoka, of Silent Hill composing fame, who is introducing the game. So if he's on board, you know there's reason to get excited.

Black Knight Sword will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PSN as Grasshopper Manufacture's first attempt at digital distribution, though no release date has been set yet.

August 17, 2011

Review: Toy Soldiers: Cold War

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To be perfectly honest, Toy Soldiers: Cold War wasn't a game that was even really on my radar going into the Summer of Arcade promotion. With the wealth of tower defense games on the market, I never really gave the first Toy Soldiers a chance, so the prospect of a sequel to a game I never played didn't excite me. I was also far more distracted with games like Bastion and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet that I had literally been waiting years to play. But when an unsolicited review copy appeared in my inbox, I thought "what the heck, I'll give it a try." And you know what, it's actually pretty darn good.

For those of you unfamiliar with the tower defense genre, Toy Soldiers: Cold War gives you the task of placing defensive weapons around the map to stop waves of enemies from invading your precious toy box. There are six turrets at your disposal, ranging from machine guns and anti-tank rockets to mortars and anti-air. My personal favorite is the makeshift, which features tiny plastic army men in hazmat suits spraying incoming infantry with pesticides.

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August 5, 2011

Bastion Coming To PC August 16, Heavenly Soundtrack Out Now

Some of you may have heard that a little game called Bastion came out recently on Xbox Live Arcade. And sweet Tim Gunn on a bun is it good. Like, game of the year contender good, at least in my humble opinion. The only real negative aspect of the game is that it was only limited to Xbox Live Arcade. Well that's changing on August 16, when the game arrives on PC. In fact, you can go ahead and pre-purchase the game from Steam right now for $14.99. Sorry PS3 fans, no word on a version for Sony's console.

For even more Bastion goodness, Supergiant Games has also released the official soundtrack for the game on Bandcamp. It's an amazing soundtrack, which you can listen to on the Bandcamp page or download for your own listening pleasures for a mere $10. There's also a $15 option that gets you a good ol' fashioned physical CD, signed by the game's composer Darren Korb, as well as access to the downloadable tracks. Korb calls the music genre "acoustic fronteir trip-hop" and I really couldn't think of a more accurate way of describing the haunting and beautiful soundtrack.

Note: as amazing as the soundtrack is, it's advisable to play the game first, as some of the songs make a much bigger emotional impact if you hear them for the first time with the gameplay.

August 1, 2011

Review: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

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Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet has been a long time coming for a downloadable title. While I can trace my own first excited post about the game back two years, the game's development actually goes back further than that. What began as a simple game to capitalize on the art Michel Gagne created for his Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets shorts has turned into a much larger adventure, and easily one of the best games on Xbox Live Arcade yet. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was certainly worth the wait.

Right from the start, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet sets itself apart from contemporaries in the Metroidvania genre. While similar games in recent years put an emphasis on combat, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet begins as a purely explorative affair. You begin with only a scanner and a claw. The scanner allows you to see which items are useable on enemies and sections of the environment, while the claw is used for picking up objects or grabbing enemies and rendering them harmless while held at arm's length. While the arsenal does quickly expand to include a ray gun, missiles, and a buzzsaw, it's these initial items that set the tone for the rest of the game. Your goal isn't just to attack and destroy the shadow planet and its denizens, but to explore, prod, and discover the planet's mysteries.

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July 26, 2011

Review: From Dust

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The Xbox Summer of Arcade is in full swing, with From Dust taking up the second spot in the promotion following last week's strong release of Bastion. A "god-game" from designer Eric Chahi, best known for the absolutely stellar Out of This World, From Dust has some high pedigree to live up to. And though you play From Dust as an omniscient deity, the game's real focus is on the raw power of nature. Tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes are your unslayable foes as you protect your tribe, often in vain, in their search for their ancestral homeland.

From Dust takes place over a dozen different environments as you guide a masked tribe to settle the land. You play as The Breath, the tribe's favored deity, making you're their guardian and giving you basic mastery over the elements. As their guardian, you can instruct the tribe to build new settlements at designated totems, as well as tell tribesmen to find artifacts scattered across the land. This isn't a game of micromanagement though, once you give the tribe an instruction they will carry it out on their own. Your real job as The Breath of the tribe is to use the elements to help the tribe accomplish those goals.

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July 19, 2011

Review: Bastion

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In 1982, a little company called Electronic Arts asked a big question: Can a computer make you cry? The question doesn't merely ask about tears of frustration when a hard drive fails; it is asking about the narrative potential that videogames hold. I'm proud to say that I have witnessed that potential, though rarely. It began with Shining Force 2, when at the age of eight a dear friend's betrayal hit me particularly hard. It didn't happen again until Lost Odyssey, where a child's final farewell brought tears to my eyes. Earlier this year the indie game Solace, based on the five stages of grief, moved me to tears right on the GDC show floor. And now, thanks to SuperGiant Games, Bastion is the fourth game to help me answer EA's question with a resounding yes.

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July 11, 2011

Review: Nyko Power Pak+ For 3DS

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The Nintendo 3DS marks many firsts for a Nintendo handheld. It's the first handheld to provide glasses-free 3D gaming. The first to function as a 3D camera. The first Nintendo handheld to feature analog control. And, unfortunately, the first Nintendo handheld to feature fairly lackluster battery life. The stock 3DS battery lasts around 3-5 hours, depending on settings like screen brightness and whether the 3D effect is on.

That's where Nyko comes in with the Power Pak+ which it claims will double the battery life of the 3DS. And while in my own experience "double" is a very generous estimate on Nyko's part, it certainly does make the 3DS battery life more tolerable.

Installing the Power Pak+ is about as simple as you could hope. The Power Pak+ comes with a tiny screwdriver, which is used to remove four small screws from the back of the 3DS system. Once the screws are loose, the back panel comes off rather easily, revealing the battery. None of the system's other innards are exposed, so there is very little risk of harming your 3DS in the process. Actually removing the 3DS battery is probably the most difficult part of the process, since it's fit in rather snugly, but once it's out the PowerPak+ fits easily into the battery slot and covers the entire back of the system. From there it's just a matter of tightening the four screws again, and voila. The whole process took about five minutes.

To be clear, I didn't perform a stress test on the Power Pak+. Instead, I went the more practical route, testing how long Nyko's battery lasted under my regular play conditions. "Regular play conditions" for me mean that the system brightness is set to 3, 3D effect is off, volume is low, wireless is on, and power-saving mode is on. I can usually get about 4-5 hours of play on a single charge, with the system put into sleep mode in-between play sessions. On average, I have to put my 3DS in its charging cradle every 2 days.

Using the Power Pak+ I got a little more ambitious and turned off power-saving mode, while keeping the other settings the same. After all, I was using a higher capacity battery so I should be able to get the most out of my system. I found that I was able to go a full four days without needing to recharge. While that sounds like the Nyko battery did as promised and doubled the system's battery life, upon inspection of my 3DS activity log I had played a little over six hours during that time. Perhaps if I had kept power-saving mode on the Power Pak+ would have lasted another hour, which would still be a significantly more than a 3DS normally can, though still not quite double the regular 3DS battery life.

I can't talk about the Power Pak+ without also mentioning the bulk it adds to the 3DS. The Power Pak+ is about 1/3 of the thickness of the 3DS, so attaching it significantly increases the size of the system. It makes the system less pocket-friendly, and the added weight was especially noticeable when playing games where the system is held in one hand and the stylus in the other, like Picross 3D. The added size also means that the 3DS will no longer fit into Nintendo's charging cradle, though you can still plug the power cord directly into the 3DS or buy the PowerPak+ with a Nyko charging cradle for $29.99.

The most critical issue, however, is that the 3DS battery indicator seems incapable of accurately displaying the charge level of the Power Pak+. I said that the Power Pak+ lasted for four days without needing a charge, but for the first three of those days the battery indicator told me the 3DS battery was full. Suddenly, on the fourth day, the battery was half depleted; and in the time that it took me to complete Ocarina of Time's fire temple I was already getting a notification that the battery was almost empty. I assume that this is because the 3DS battery indicator is only supposed to sense a charge level up to the stock battery's capacity, so any charge above that simply registers as a full battery. The result, however, is that the Power Pak+ does not give you an accurate reading of how much charge you have left until it is too late, causing me to be more paranoid about the system's battery when using the Power Pak+ than without.

The final odd quirk of the Power Pak+ is that removing the system battery seems to mess with the 3DS system settings, namely by resetting the time and date. There is a chance that this could alter or erase your Activity Log data, though in my experience setting the proper date after changing the battery restored everything. This isn't an issue specific to the Power Pak+, as it just seems to be something the 3DS does no matter when the battery is removed.

Ultimately, the Power Pak+ does what it sets out to do by extending the meager battery life of the 3DS. If you're someone who travels a lot, I can definitely see the appeal of the Power Pak+. However, due to the added size, weight, and lack of an accurate battery indicator, I can't say that I would recommend the PowerPak+ for everyday use. Installing the extra battery isn't difficult, so I'll likely bring it out for my next flight, but after only one week of the Power Pak+ I've already removed it and gone back to the stock 3DS battery.

The Nyko PowerPak+ is available for $19.99 on its own or $29.99 with a charging cradle. A PowerPak+ was provided by Nyko for purposes of this review. I used it for one week playing predominantly Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Picross 3D, Picdun, and Starship Defense. I played under my regular system settings - which are the system brightness set to 3, 3D effect off, volume low, and wireless on - with the exception of turning power-saver mode off whereas I normally have it on. The battery needed to be recharged twice total during that week.

July 8, 2011

Indie Game Summer Uprising Approaching - 25 Finalists Revealed

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While Microsoft has its official Summer of Arcade promotion on the Xbox Marketplace in just a few weeks, indie games will get their own chance to shine during the Indie Game Summer Uprising. Some readers may remember back in December when there was the Indie Winter Uprising, which was hit by some annoying hiccups when not all of the games made it out on time, but ultimately showed some excellent games to represent the indie marketplace.

The Summer Uprising looks to be even bigger and better than the previous one, with nearly 70 games submitted by developers to be one of the 10 games featured during the event. During the past week, a small panel* narrowed that list down to 25 finalists, where developers will vote on which will actually be a part of the Indie Game Summer Uprising event. Actually, developers will only be voting on eight of those 25 finalists, because then the vote turns over to you, the gamers, to pick the final two Summer Uprising games.

Here are the important dates:
August 1-15: Fan voting on the final two Uprising games (can vote from all entries, not limited to 25 finalists).
August 16: Full Indie Game Summer Uprising roster will be revealed.
August 22-September 2: Summer Uprising games released.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of the panel that narrowed down the 25 finalists. I receive no compensation for it, and in the end it's the developers and fans who pick the final roster, so I don't see this as a conflict of interest.

Follow after the jump for the list of 25 finalists for the Indie Game Summer Uprising.

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June 16, 2011

E3 '11: Sega Roundup

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Though I didn't get to spend much time at Sega's booth on the show floor at E3, I did have the chance to see some behind-closed-doors footage their upcoming games. And while I was disappointed to find out that Aliens: Colonial Marines wasn't on the menu, I still came away with new impressions on Sonic Generations, Anarchy Reigns, and Binary Domain.

Sonic Generations was first on my plate, and was definitely the game I was most interested in. While on the show floor there was a playable demo of the re-imagined Green Hill stage, behind closed doors we got to see the new City Escape level inspired by Sonic Adventure 2. We started with the classic Sonic version of the level, which meant it was strictly 2D platforming. And it actually looked pretty good. The level had multiple layers, both in terms of height and paths twisting through the background. Supposedly the background paths are accessible, adding new routes through the classic Sonic levels, but none were actually shown during my demonstration. The level also did an excellent job of incorporating elements from Sonic Adventure 2 into the 2D framework. There was even a skateboard power-up to collect (by breaking a TV, as is classic Sonic tradition) to pay homage to the original City Escape's skateboard sequence, and the truck chasing Sonic through the original level returns to crash through the level and close off certain paths if you don't reach them fast enough.

Next was modern Sonic's stage, and it looked pretty much the same as the original Dreamcast level. There were some aesthetic changes, like spinning blades added to the front of the truck to make it appear more menacing, but even the level layout seemed essentially identical. Whether that's a good or bad thing will depend on how much you enjoyed Sonic Adventure 2. The developers did say that it's possible to play the game 80% in one style or the other, so classic fans don't have to play every modern stage to complete the game and vice versa. Sega also talked briefly about the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, which will feature entirely different levels than the console versions. For the 3DS version, modern Sonic will use the gameplay of the Sonic Rush series, since that is the modern connotation on handhelds.

After Sonic, I got to take a look at Anarchy Reigns by Platinum Games. Though Anarchy Reigns is being billed as a multiplayer online brawler, for the behind closed doors presentation Sega was showing off the single player campaign. And while the multiplayer is packed with characters to choose from, most of whom haven't even been announced yet, the single player only lets you play through the story of Jack (of Mad World fame) and Leo. Since this was a strictly hands-off demonstration, there really isn't much to comment on about the game. Combat seems fairly standard for a button-mashing brawler, with none of the interactive environments of Mad World or the flashy combos of Bayonetta. This is likely necessary to scale the game for online play, but it doesn't make for a particularly convincing single player demo. What little information the developers did divulge was that the campaign is expected to run close to ten hours, and the story has no connection to Mad World despite sharing its lead character. If you're a hardcore brawler fan who wants to play online Anarchy Reigns may still be a solid bet, but it's clear from seeing the single player campaign in action (which isn't co-op by the way) that multiplayer is the game's real focus.

Finally, I got to see Binary Domain, a squad-based third-person shooter in which the entire planet seems to have declared war on Japan for building an evil army of life-like robots. Coming from a Japanese developer, the psychology that motivated the game fascinated me, but the developers didn't want to comment on that. Instead they wanted to show gameplay. From what I saw, trust is the most important gameplay element for your squad. Every squad member has their own level of trust in the player, and this can be changed depending on your actions. For example, if you give a squad member a command and they take significant damage or have to be revived because of it, their trust will deplete and they may not follow all of your instructions in future missions. The AI will also call out and suggest strategies to you, such as flanking routes, which you can accept and build trust depending on your performance. Binary Domain's new wrinkle to all of this is that it can be performed entirely through voice commands with a standard headset. Or at least, in theory it can. The voice commands didn't always register properly in the demo, with the developer finally admitting "sorry, we're still in the alpha stage." When it did work though, the AI response performed well above what is expected of friendly AI, so with some more polish Binary Domain could be a solid shooter when it releases in February next year.

I did manage to get a little time in at the Sega booth, where I felt a need to satisfy my curiosity with Sonic Generations. Unfortunately, I have some bad news for Sonic fans. Either the controller being used at the E3 kiosk was broken, or there is currently a full half-second lag between pressing jump and any action appearing on the screen. This was true of both the 2D classic Sonic levels and the 3D modern Sonic stages. The speed and physics seemed to be much improved from Sonic 4, but I found the game frustrating to play because of that button lag. I want to believe that this is just one faulty demo, so hopefully the final game will get it sorted out.

June 14, 2011

E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality

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Yesterday I wrote about XCOM's gameplay, but that wasn't the only thing that intrigued me about the 60's alien invasion game. During the game's E3 demonstration Jordan Thomas, XCOM's narrative director and the creative director of BioShock 2, made reference to a character "discriminated for his sexuality," and my ears perked up like corgi that just heard someone say "bacon."

One of the most often repeated, if utterly foolhardy, arguments against gay characters in games is that their sexuality is never a relevant detail to the plot. So I was more than a little curious and delighted to hear a developer put such a strong emphasis on a character's homosexuality in the game's second public showing. Thankfully, Thomas was gracious enough to sit and chat with me about the character of Dr. Weir, and how social commentary is a natural partner for the videogame medium.

"Weir is an Australian," Thomas began. "He's not a citizen of the States, although he came there to study particle accelerators, and already found himself an outsider on that grounds alone simply because of the paranoia of foreigners that was prevalent in the mid-century."

"But on top of that, he is also a closeted homosexual. He has both a sexual and a political opposition to the elite of the country, which are still very conservative - very focused on America as the best and the brightest - and he doesn't fit their paradigm. It is hard for them to acknowledge that one of the best scientists in the world is, in their minds, deviant. So he's struggled with that for a long time."

"But all of sudden this alien invasion hits and they need him and they have to put it aside. But then you see those tensions come to bear in the base. There are characters who don't like working with him. They are people of their time. And so you'll see different positions represented amongst the core cast. But he is - he is a man with true grit. He's able to weather it pretty well, and the player kind of gets to decide where they fall on that continuum. You can basically decide how to treat him."

Of course, homosexuality wasn't the only civil rights movement making headway in the 60's, and XCOM will explore other socio-cultural tensions of the time.

"As a narrative guy, it's the reason I'm excited to work on the game. The setting was chosen very specifically because I feel that the socio-cultural tension was about to come to a head. It was an old America and a new America kind of locked in a mortal combat, and it was very interesting for me to start exploring what was going on at the time."

"Agent Barns, for example, the African American guy who runs the agent operation and recruits for you, he was working COINTELPRO in the FBI - and that was a bureau program to run surveillance on the American people, not known by anybody - and Dr. Martin Luther King was his assignment. He was supposed to infiltrate that movement and discredit King by finding evidence that he was Red. He didn't find anything, and he was asked to fabricate it. He refused, and was almost going to be kicked out by J. Edgar Hoover and his cronies, but at that time the alien invasion happens and XCOM snaps him up."

I commented that it sounded like XCOM was really more of a 60's period piece that happened to use aliens as a catalyst to bring out the social climate.

"As a narrative guy, absolutely. To both mutate and express the inner conflicts of the period."

After the complex portrayal of BioShock 2's brute splicer, I am eager to see if Thomas and the team at 2K Marin can have lightning strike twice with a depiction of homosexuality that may hit closer to home for many gamers. But if they can pull it off with even half of the enthusiasm and passion Thomas had while describing it to me, then XCOM could be one of the most earnest examples of a gay character in a game yet.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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