Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Games

I got a bevy of games for my birthday, including Grand Theft Auto IV, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, Okami on the Wii, and my new personal favorite, Boom Blox. I've been spending most of my time with GTA IV and Boom Blox and I'm here to chat a little about both.

They kind or represent both ends of the gaming spectrum right now, both in terms of the types of experiences that they provide, and the systems that they're on. On the one hand you have which has an absolutely huge, seamless world in it, filled with emotional characters, plenty of chaos causing fun and requires an absolute beast of a machine to run. On the other hand you have Boom Blox, which is a very simple concept, requires no real emotional investment and could only be done on the Wii. Both are incredibly different and speak to different user bases, but both are a lot of fun to play.

I played GTA III and got to a point where I just didn't care about the main character any more. Wreaking mayhem was fun, but eventually got boring and the various control issues meant that I couldn't progress. It didn't help that there was so much to do, that I couldn't figure out what I wanted to spend my time doing. In GTA IV, you care about Niko Bellic from the beginning. He's just a guy who comes to Liberty City based on the boasts of his cousins, only to find out that his cousin is full of shit. Niko just wants to leave his old life behind and make a new one, only to find out that his new life is just as bad as the old one. You feel for the guy, and while his missions usually involve some sort of criminal undertaking, it doesn't feel like the wanton blood letting of previous installments. The game also has a much better learning curve this time, slowly bringing you into the thick of things before stuff gets too hairy.

The dating and various friends you can build relationships have the potential to get annoying, but at the same time, it's nice to take time in between missions and just tool around with a pretty girl on your arm. My time spent getting achievements have reined in my OCD somewhat so that I can focus on the various collection and racing and assassination missions all at one time, rather than get sidetracked by the various activities open to me. The driving is still annoying, however I've already learned how to weave through the streets without causing too much damage which helps when I need to make a fast exit. The GPS is genius, and makes a huge difference, as does the new wanted system. I don't know if the game is worth 10 out of 10, but so far I'm enjoying myself and when my phone rings, I look forward to whatever act of villainy I get to partake in.

Boom Blox is a casual gamer's dream. It's brightly lit, with lots of cute, domino shaped characters and has a very simple mechanic. Each stage starts with a tower or some other structure. There may be point blox or bomb blox, or chemical blox that blow up when they touch another chemical blox. By using the Wiimote to place the targeting reticle on a block and swinging the remote you launch a ball at the blox and try and knock down the tower. Some stages may require simply finding the weakest point and throwing with all of your might, while others may require a softer touch to knock some blox out of the way while not disturbing blox that take points away. Later stages have a Jenga feel to it where you use the Wiimote to pull blox out of the structure, or even more fun, pick a block up and swing it around as if it's connected to a rubber band, wrecking everything in sight.

Each stage has Bronze, Silver and Gold medals and they're usually based on either getting a certain point score with the limited number of balls you have to throw, or knocking down the entire structure with as few throws as possible. Holding down the B button allows you to move the camera around so that you can see the structure from all angles, however the lack of a zoom button can make it harder than it needs to be. For the most part though, it works really well.

Throwing the balls is a blast, and the game is pretty damn responsive when you have to change up your throwing speed to simply nudge a block, rather than knock it out of the park. My only complaint is that the physics can be a bit of a crap shoot some times. When you knock a tower down, you may have point blox or gem blox that fall onto the rubble, rather than the ground and don't get counted towards your score, so even though you may have knocked the whole thing down with one shot, you don't get the gold. Even when this happens, it's still fun to knock it down again, or tweak your initial strategy so that it blasts the whole thing to hell, so it's not that big of a deal.

Boom Blox is a game that you can pick up and play for 15 minutes and have a great time, but at the same time, the puzzles suck you in so that you can easily lose more time than that. GTA IV requires a much more substantial time sink unless you just want to drive around running people over, which gets boring pretty quickly. I don't know if you could play Boom Blox for hours at a time, like you could GTA IV, but who cares if you can't? Pick it up for 30 minutes, drop some towers, throw some bowling balls at rectangular sheep and call it a day. Then switch over to GTA IV, go out on a date, beat up some loansharks, do some stunt jumps and then watch some tv back at your apartment. Between the two of them, you'll have plenty of fun, and lots of different types of fun gaming moments. It's hard to go wrong with either one.

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