Category:  Postcard Review

By Karen Rivera, July 7, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Without Tony Hawk, where would the lost children of the late 90s/early 2000s be? Where else would they learn to handplant while listening to the raw sounds of Bad Religion and Millencolin? Or learn about the skaters that would grind and sail over gritty urban landscapes, etching fear into the hearts of worrywart parents all over America?

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 holds a special place in my heart, but not just because of the insanely catchy soundtrack. I blame the obscene amount of time spent on competitive levels that I played for hours on end. “HORSE” was an instant source of tween immature hilarity, which makes my formerly brace-face smile. My brother and I stopped at no lengths in calling the loser a “toebitr” or “furbybut” (thanks to the seven character limit, if I remember correctly). Handplanting was my specialty on the half pipe, while my brother excelled in executing those rough ollie norths and Tony Hawk’s “The 900.”

The mechanics were easy enough to understand, the music instantly likable and a formative part of my descent into hell—I mean, growth into a young lady. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 encapsulated the fun of flippin’ boards with one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve had the pleasure of waxing nostalgia over.

Heck, it made me taste blood, thanks to my eventual interest in trying to emulate skaters with grinds and hand plants.

To my 13-year-old self I say, I’m glad you left skateboarding to the professionals.

By Stephen Hilger, June 30, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

It’s nearly impossible to properly introduce one to the Katamari series.

I first played We Love Katamari on a demo compilation of Namco games. With no proper warning, the sight of people with pill-shaped heads and dancing red pandas deeply scared me for reasons I don’t wish to explore.

But regardless of my fear, I was intrigued. I opted to play the game again, and once I started rolling a katamari big enough to eclipse a school full of sumo wrestlers, I too loved Katamari.

The game quickly transitioned from nightmare fuel into a relished pastime. Essentially, you roll a ball (or katamari) around that picks up small objects. As you get bigger, you can pick up people, animals, buildings, and eventually the whole planet. It’s a little disturbing to hear people yelling and seeing the chaos that your giant katamari causes all while happy music is pumping. Alas, that’s the game’s sense of humor.

And speaking of sense of humor, the King of the Cosmos is the one of the series’ best features. He is one of the funniest and most imaginative videogame characters out there. I could describe his nonsensical tangents or regal diatribes (and strategic uses of hearts) but it’d all be doing him a disservice. He’s an experience that must be witnessed firsthand.

Underneath all the absurdity, the game is simple fun with a great soundtrack and off-the-wall comedy. I highly recommend it, but don’t say I didn’t want you about the intro.

By Stephen Hilger, June 16, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Choosing a favorite Zelda game is a nearly impossible task. I’ve found that one’s answer is usually determined by the Zelda game they played first growing up, though the most common favorite seems to be a toss up between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.

If you want hip points, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is your game. Nothing makes you more of a pretentious Zelda fan than the phrase, “I actually prefer Majora’s Mask.”

While Ocarina of Time is a quintessential fantasy epic, Majora’s Mask is a psychedelic deconstruction of its predecessor.  There’s an unsettling detachment to the narrative. Link, stuck in his childhood body, is tasked with saving a world he doesn’t know. The residents are all strange doubles of characters from Ocarina and thanks to the time-travel mechanic, only a handful of characters even remember Link. Can you still feel like a hero when no one recognizes you for your actions?

Majora’s Mask makes for a very special kind of sequel. It’s emblematic of Nintendo’s dilemma of having to follow Ocarina of Time, a game immediately hailed as “the best game of all time.”

Microcosmic in its irony, both the game developers and Link himself find themselves lost, wondering how to follow their previous adventure. What’s left to save when you’ve already saved the world?

Anyone who enjoys seeing games as art is required to pick up a copy of this N64 classic.

Though I will refrain calling it my favorite Zelda because frankly, it is way too hard.

By Stephen Hilger, June 9, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Resident Evil has had a long, storied run. Among the annals of survival horror, the series has evolved, changed and mutated heavily over the years.

A recurring criticism of the series is its perceived abandonment of horror in place of action. Though I haven’t personally played Resident Evil 5 or 6, Resident Evil 4 seemed to be the major turning point in terms of tone, gameplay and almost everything else.

While I think RE4 is the perfect middle ground between horror and action, RE2 will always be my favorite. While the first game hasn’t aged well, the second retains its power. There’s something eternally haunting about how the game opens up; Claire or Leon are thrust into a ruined Raccoon City, surrounded by zombies and other abominations.

It’s not hard to die within the first couple minutes of gameplay.

While a lot of other titles would show what happened to Raccoon City in a cutscene. RE2 throws you right in and has you run through it, not sure where safety is or if it even exists.

Pair that with a great soundtrack, slightly more polished gameplay than the first game and carefully placed – if sometimes tedious – puzzles and you have one of the best RE games out there.

By Stephen Hilger, June 2, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Rare had an impressive habit of consistently one-upping Nintendo in the 90s.

While you wouldn’t have one without the other, to me, the Donkey Kong Country series trumps Super Mario World with its ageless graphics, sardonic sense of humor and unforgettably unique soundtrack.

I believe Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is the pinnacle of the SNES trilogy, though the first game does get major credit for being the only one where you can play as Donkey Kong. But it is held back by its flawed save system and slightly inferior level design when compared to the two sequels. The third one’s a blast but it’s starring Kiddy, who is among the worst sidekicks in the series–if not overall, as I mentioned in a post before.

Save for the flaws of the other two, DKC2 is an amazing game all around. Enemies range from pirate crocodiles to possessed, flaming swords and each world has immersive art design that includes scenery such as a gloomy forest and a deranged carnival.

My only grievance is that the save system still isn’t perfect and all the Kong family’s services have been tragically replaced by the internet.

But years later, I’m still playing Donkey Kong Country 2 with friends. And I only recently got the pun in the title.

By Stephen Hilger, May 19, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

One could argue that in recent years, indie games have enjoyed a massive spike in general interest. While that may be the case thanks to more readily accessible and intuitive development software, there’s something to be said of the gems that boosted the genre into an area of critical and commercial success.

One such gem is Supergiant Games’ debut title, Bastion.

Right out of the gate, Bastion is fun and addictive. Its gratifying action, large range of weapons and high replay value crafted a phenomenal game that proved to be one of the best games in 2011.

That being said, while Bastion is fun, the technical gameplay isn’t the main appeal for me. On top of its light-hearted action lies a dark and touching story that’s masterfully delivered in small spoonfuls, despite its constant narration. Oh and the narration. I think we can all safely say that Logan Cunningham’s voice as Rucks does weird things to us all.

Bastion is a game that just feels good. The action-determined narration, mixed with the inspiring art design and one of the best soundtracks ever make playing Bastion refreshing and humbling.

Few games draw you in as naturally. It’s like jumping into a cold pool on a hot summer’s day. In the frontier west. Post-Calamity.

By Stephen Hilger, May 12, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Final Fantasy fans may be known to bicker over which game in the series is the best, but only one entry was so universally divisive as Final Fantasy VIII.

Cloud and friends may have tossed established Final Fantasy tropes, but Squall and Rinoa stomped all over them. Other than some recurring summons and enemies, there’s almost nothing Final Fantasy about this game other than its title.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I respect the game for departing from past entries. It’s just a shame the territory it plunged itself into wasn’t all that compelling.

The characters are weak, the story is a mess, and the combat system (while unique) is a bad mix of overly complicated and easy to abuse. Turning enemies into magical cards shouldn’t be the most effective way to level up.

For me, it’s really the cast that prevents me from loving this game. Even as a kid, I remember being disappointed that all the characters were humans from the same background. Almost every other Final Fantasy game has a rich and diverse cast of characters that make the fictional world seem bigger and more interesting. FF8 is stuck in its own bubble of teen angst and amnesia.

But at the end of the day, it’s still fun to play. The soundtrack is great, some plot points are interesting and the card game Triple Triad is disturbingly fun.

Also, I may be alone on this, but I love Zell. He’s the one character I rooted for. He’s cocky for no reason, which makes him all the more lovable.

Thanks for doing your job, Zell. You’re not a chicken-wuss.

By Terry Torres, May 5, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Wild Arms 4 is the quintessential coming-of-age road trip JRPG.

Every Wild Arms takes place in a world called Filgaia. It was beautiful once, but it’s since become an awful wasteland, marred by war and calamity. It’s a setting fit for an ideological battle between the adults who seek to restore the earth they’ve ruined and the children who would inherit it.

On one hand are the playable characters, the teenagers on the run, each at a different stage of adolescence, stricken with naivety, insecurity, apathy, and fear. On the other hand are their antagonists, the government’s FOXHOUND-esque special forces, each defined by the pride and neuroses they’d earned in the great war.

In their encounters, questions about war necessarily become questions about age. What does one generation owe to another? Does the wisdom of age clarify or obfuscate? Is it for the young to carry on, or start anew?

WA4‘s linear model results in a constant and driving progression, every dungeon excellently paced. Skillsets and plot revelations come so quickly and coalesce so harmoniously that every character grows as naturally as the player’s understanding of the game’s systems.

Despite its melodrama, WA4′s conclusion makes it one of the most achingly realistic and sobering allegories of what it is to grow up.

In the end, growing old doesn’t automatically make you an adult. It just makes you old.

By Stephen Hilger, April 28, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

While every Final Fantasy game largely exists in its own fictional universe, many of the earlier titles followed similar structures.

Plots often revolved around a ragtag group of outcasts fighting to prevent a big bad from gathering crystals that give godlike powers. Settings were European-ish, and Steam-punk was the expected aesthetic.

With non-class specific characters, a dystopian setting, and an anime art-style, Final Fantasy VII  heavily deviated from the expected formula and FFVIII departed even further from Final Fantasy‘s origins. While many certainly appreciated the series trying new things, many missed what is now considered the “old school” style.

Final Fantasy IX was not only a return to form; it was a celebration of all the tropes and features abandoned by VII and VIII.

On paper, FFIX was a dream come true for all Final Fantasy fans. It had  the old-school mechanics with a “new school” touch. The story, while following old tropes, was more cinematic and and interactive than the older games. And the characters, while rooted in their individual class, were deep, complex, and troubled.

In many ways, FFIX is the first post-modern game in the series.

Unfortunately, IV was totally eclipsed by X‘s release only a couple years later. But the game is an overlooked masterpiece. Its a fun, classic RPG that deeply explores existential themes such as identity and pre-destined fate.

It may not be the best game to introduce one to the series, but for those who share a love for both the new and old FF games, IX might have everything you’re looking for.

By Stephen Hilger, April 21, 2014 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

When a game is considered one of the greatest of all time, it’s important to look back on it and see what exactly made it so universally hailed.

For many people, Chrono Trigger is a staple of childhood. This is a game that pits time-traveling robots and talking frogs against aliens and dinosaurs. And all of the character designs are by the same artist from Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. I can’t think of a bigger 90s childhood fantasy unless the Street Sharks were to make a cameo.

The plot (time travel aside) is a brilliantly simple adventure story that is strengthened by clear stakes, a great sense of humor, and lovable characters. I stress this a lot: a game can have as messy of a plot as it wants, but as long as we care about the characters, we will want to keep playing to see them through. Between the heroic-yet-silent Crono, the paternal Robo and chivalrous Frog, this game has one of the most iconic and empathetic casts of all time. Just look at them.

One of my favorite features is the pairing system. Many characters can do special moves together, such as Frog and Crono’s X-Slash. Allowing the gameplay to change depending on one’s personal preference of character is something more games (especially RPGs) should have.

Honestly, this game is flawless. I myself played Chrono Cross first, and while I love that game too, Chrono Trigger is a true masterpiece.