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Learning Street Fighter II, slowly

Street Fighter II HD Remix

I see a lot of things slowly. I sometimes have to consciously work out what things are, and I miss many things in my environment simply because I don't have enough time to notice them: people on bicycles, for instance, or something I'm looking for on a shelf, or vacuum hoses. ("What's that thing—a snake? No, it's too big to be in anything but the rain forest. And it's not moving"). While needing time to process what I'm looking at is more of a problem in real space than when looking at a screen, I've found a tool that helps me learn Street Fighter II skills by slowing the game down to something that's more my speed.

GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 8

We celebrate the new year (four weeks late) by previewing 2009's most (and least) anticipated releases. Plus, we tell you why you need to play the Community Games gem CarneyVale Showtime, and is Midnight Club Los Angeles worth a second look? Don't forget to stay after the show for a little something we call "GameCritics Unleashed."

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Please send mailbag questions to podcast (at) gamecritics (dot) com.

Gaming pet peeves

Metal Gear Solid 4

In an effort to prepare for Metal Gear Solid 4, I've recently been playing some of the earlier Metal Gear Solid games. And while it's been really fun for the most part, it's also brought to mind some of my gaming pet peeves, not just related to MGS but to games in general.

What triggered this for me was being reminded that MGS doesn't allow the player to pause during cut scenes. I was at the end of MGS2 when I suddenly found the need to pause the game. I think I knew at that point that I couldn't actually pause, but I had no choice but to try. So I hit the start button and suddenly the game fast forwarded to another section, apparently bypassing a whole bunch of end-game exposition. As a result, I had to reset the game, load my most recent save, and fight a whole bunch of enemies and go through a long boss fight just to get back to the cut scene that I missed. It was absolutely maddening, and it baffles me that the developers wouldn't include such an obvious feature, or why any developer wouldn't include that feature, especially in a game that is so heavy in cut scenes.

A digital art exhibit about disability

Time lapse sculptural image of Mat Frasier kickboxing (Copyright Simon McKeown).
©Simon McKeown

On January 24, the Wolverhampton Art Gallery will exhibit a "moving digital sculpture" that will examine how disabled people move. The exhibit, created by disabled digital artist Simon McKeown, is called Motion Disabled and uses state-of-the-art digital motion-capture technology to animate five disabled people doing things like walking, using the phone, kickboxing, and chopping vegetables. The actors include web developer Steve Graham, mayor Frank Letch and Mat Fraser, an activist, actor, writer, musician and comedian. (He wrote, composed and starred in Thalidomide!! A Musical and co-hosts the BBC Ouch! Podcast).

While not about gaming per se—I don't know if this project's artist is the same Simon McKeown who worked for Reflections Interactive on Stuntman and the Driver series or not—Motion Disabled uses digital animation to pose some critical questions, as the artist points out: "[D]o we value difference? How do disabled people's bodies fit into current versions of normality? And, is physical disability about to become Virtual?" In an interview with Dr. Paul Darke for the Outside Centre's radio show, he said:

[T]he disabled people I grew up with—the disabled children that I grew up working with—were becoming a rarity, in effect. That the effects of screening at childbirth and the medical intervention if you like...in the future...you won't be able to see how a disabled person walks because they won't be in existence.

Spotting Lara Croft's life pack in the wild

This is sort of a games thing, but it's also a family thing… anyway, the wife is playing Tomb Raider: Underworld right now (not linear enough!) and my son was watching her pilot Lara through some ruins for a bit. He really enjoys watching it, and since the bulk of the action is Lara climbing up walls and jumping chasms, we think it's fine to let him take a short peek once in a while.

So anyway, my son and I were at the airport the other day walking down one of the concourses when he suddenly grabs onto my leg and starts pointing at a wall.

"Dad, look over there!"

I looked in the direction he was gesturing, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I asked him what it was he was talking about.

"Right there on the wall, it's a life pack just like in Tomb Raider!"

Mounted near the bathrooms was a portable defibrillator in a red box, and I have to say, the package inside looked a lot like a life pack. As a dad who plays games as much as I do, that was definitely a pretty cool moment, and I couldn't help but crack a big smile.
We didn't run over and collect it, though.

Has LittleBigPlanet lived up to its promises?


Having received LittleBigPlanet as a Christmas gift from my dad, I've finally been able to experience the game that many have been touting as the first must-own PS3 title. Now that I've sunk a significant amount of time into Media Molecule's little opus, I thought I'd share some of my impressions.

First and foremost, LittleBigPlanet is a thoroughly charming, feel-good game. It's almost impossible not feel at least somewhat upbeat while jumping around with the cute sack people. The snappy soundtrack, the funny expressions of the sack folk, the playful toy box-style aesthetic, the humorous tutorials, everything comes together to form a remarkably charming package.

Game critics: Are you experienced?

Street Fighter II - Stephen Totilo's nemesis

Two articles touch on the subject of experience behind a game critic. The most recent example is MTV's Stephen Totilo not being adept at basic moves for Street Fighter II, a heralded and historically important game series.

As video games mature, so does its criticism. Totilo and N'Gai Croal bring a certain air of legitimacy in the mainstream media that many other writers in the industry lack.

However to maintain a level of balance and fairness, a critic needs to be very well rounded.

Doing a hurricane kick in Street Fighter is as basic for a gamer as what a film lover would do in citing a movie like Annie Hall or Citizen Kane.

Sure a gamer need not necessarily need to grow up in that era, or be heavily involved in the culture.

But imagine if a movie critic knew nothing of Annie Hall? Or Raging Bull? Imagine a videogame critic not even knowing how to do the most basic move in fighting games?
As long as the critic is forthcoming about it, I don't think any credibility would be lost.

However, and more importantly, I would know who to trust less.

Game accessibility news roundup: 1/13/09

Yet another trilogy of news related to game accessibility:

Google engineer T.V. Raman

For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can't A profile in the New York Times of Google engineer T.V. Raman, who is blind and specializes in making technology accessible for people with disabilities. However, as Miguel Helft writes in the article: "Instead of asking how something should work if a person cannot see, he says he prefers to ask, "How should something work when the user is not looking at the screen?"

In Truly Innovative Controllers For Disabled Gamers, Stew Shearer of The Game Reviews interviews engineers like Mark Felling and writes about some interesting accessible controllers in history, including Nintendo's sip-and-puff Hands Free Controller from 1989.

Not a news story, but still neat: 7128 Software, which makes games for people with disabilities, hosts a color chart that can aid in developing software that's accessible to people who are color blind.

My World, My Way Preview

Atlus was kind enough to share some info with me about their upcoming DS RPG My World, My Way, and I'm passing it along to you.

Launching February 3rd, My World, My Way is the story of Elise, a spoiled-rotten princess who finds that the one thing she can’t have is a boyfriend. Why not? Because the boy who has captured her fancy is an adventurer, and he’ll never settle down with a bratty girl who has everything handed to her. Naturally, the first thing Elise does is set out to have adventures of her own in order to land that boyfriend, once and for all.

The story is absolutely on the comic side and far from the usual RPG fare, and the mechanics follow suit. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the "Pout" option and PP points in these screenshots. In a strange twist, Elise is such an effective pouter and tantrum-thrower that she has the power to affect change over tons of things in the game—everything from skipping random battles, to completing quests just by saying that they’re too annoying to finish legitimately.

For readers who crave their RPG a little off the beaten path, My World, My Way is definitely one to keep an eye on.

And as I'm sure most of you know, Atlus RPGs can be notoriously hard to find after their initial release. Don't say I didn't warn you, K?

2008: The Year in Review

2008: The Year in Review - Too Human

It's that time of year again (i.e. the beginning of a new one) so in keeping with the tradition held by gamers all across the globe, GameCritics.com locked four of its staffers in a very small, uncomfortable room and forced them to come up with a list of 2008's top releases. Unlike years past, there was quite a diversity of high-quality software available with no one title that seemed to build up the kind of critical mass necessary to sweep the industry. Instead, there was a little bit of everything for everyone, and quite a lot of it was excellent. Not a bad situation, any way you slice it.

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