CouchCast: 042712

Here it is: Episode 2!  Jervo and Gred engage in a free-wheeling conversation regarding Mass Effect 3 (still!), Fez, Trials Evolution, hitting the difficulty wall, the current state of the Vita, the future of iOS, games we’re looking forward to, and games we’re kinda not playing anymore!


CouchCast Episode 2

the first few hours – Tiger 13

Have I written here about my history with the Tiger Woods series?  I know I’ve written about each game I’ve played (see: the Tiger tag), but that’s not quite the same thing.

I’m not a golfer, and it wasn’t really something I watched on TV.  I suppose I only started paying attention to golf when Tiger Woods started kicking ass and becoming some sort of force of nature, and, well, it’s exciting to watch legends at their peak, doing things that no mortal man can do.  I wasn’t alive for Babe Ruth, and I didn’t pay attention to Wayne Gretzky’s career, but Tiger Woods was here and now and only a little older than me, and he was fundamentally changing the sport, and it was legitimately exciting to see.

But I never got into videogame golf until 2002 or so, and that was probably because there was a demo for a Tiger game on the OXM disc for that particular month, and I was bored and figured I’d give it a try.  And 2 things occurred to me almost instantly after I fired up the demo – (1) the game was really fun, and (2) I was really good at it.  And it was nice to be really good at a game, as opposed to just good enough to get to the end.  I bought Tiger Woods ’02 shortly thereafter, and found it a marvelous experience in a multitude of ways – it filled long, boring afternoons; the fantasy courses were a pleasant change from the real-world courses; the Tiger Challenge was a novel take on the career mode; I could listen to my own music instead of the game without missing anything important; and, most importantly, the career lasted long enough to get me through those endless summer months where nothing was coming out.  And, as I said before, I was really good at it.  And so the Tiger games became the annual franchise that I cared about and looked forward to.  Some people have Madden; some people have Call of Duty; I have Tiger.

Well, I had Tiger.  Ever since the console switch in ’06, the new Tiger games have struggled mightily to reach their potential.*  Each year has been one disappointment on top of another, and I’ve started to lose hope.

So when I say that I don’t think I hate Tiger Woods 13 yet, it’s probably a good sign.  Well, let me put it another way – I don’t want to strangle it to death, the way I did with 12.

My biggest grievance against Tiger 12 was how completely out of my hands the game felt at times, especially with regards to the putting game.  I was missing putts left and right, with no discernable reason why.  If the game at least explained what I’d done wrong, I suppose I could understand – but there was no such feedback.  It felt arbitrary and unfair, and while golf (the sport) is frequently unfair, at least that’s just physics and your own skill letting you down.  In 12, the putting game boiled down to getting lucky on an invisible coin toss, which is unfair in the sort of way that makes my eyes bleed.  (The game’s big innovation last year was the inclusion of the Masters, which didn’t really matter to me one way or the other.  It’s nice that it was there, I suppose, but the game went out of its way to kiss the Masters’ ass, which was also probably a good way for EA to distract its customers from the sad trajectory of Tiger Woods’ actual professional career.

The big innovation in Tiger 13 (as there must always be one new thing) is the new True Swing mechanism, or whatever it’s called.  (I ought to know, at this point – you have to press the A button no less than 4 or 5 times before you’re actually playing golf, and I suppose they advertise the name of the swing on one of those splash screens, but my ADD is such that I’d rather look at my iPad in the interim.)  The success of your swing depends on the accuracy and the tempo of your left thumb ‘s movement.  This isn’t totally new –  the last few games showed you how close your thumb moved in a straight line, too – but this tempo mechanic is very interesting and feels a lot more responsive.    It applies to the putting game as well, and while it does take a little bit of getting used to, it does make some intuitive sense at the very least, and so when I whiff a putt I know understand why – it’s usually because I get impatient and push too hard on the upswing, thereby sending the ball off the green entirely.

My big grievance of the moment, then, is the chipping game.  This never used to be a problem.  And I don’t really often end up in the sand off the greens all that much, so it’s not really that big a problem in the grand scheme of things.  Still, though, there’s a major discrepancy between where the game tells you the ball’s going to land, and where the ball actually ends up (which is usually well past the hole, and then ultimately off the other side of the green, so you have to do the whole damned thing again).

As for the rest of the package; well, there’s the Tiger Woods Legacy mode, where you play as Tiger as a 2 year old in his backyard, launching chip shots into a swimming pool, and other assorted important touchstones of the Tiger Woods mythos.  It’s not particularly engaging, and it’s also a little weird, and the more I think about it the more it comes off as some sort of PR strategy towards repairing the Tiger brand – making him human again, making him a little kid again, before the utter collapse and everything that ensued afterwards.

You may be surprised – if you’ve made it this far – that I haven’t talked about the insane in-game purchase stuff.  A lot of reviews went out of their way to really nail EA to the wall over this – how over half of the courses are hidden behind a pay wall, and how you can pay real money to power-level your character and all the rest of it.  Yeah, it does disgust me, sure.  But to be honest, I haven’t really hit any of those obstacles just yet.  (To be even more honest, I’ve really only played the first 2 full 18-hole rounds in the career mode, which (I felt) was enough to let me know how the game felt in my hands.  I might also add that I went -8 in my first round, and -6 in my 2nd, which included some horrendous 3-putts but also a fantastic eagle from 150 yards out.)  I haven’t yet entered my Online Pass code yet, and I don’t yet know if that will make a difference as I get farther into the career.  As it happens, you can still buy courses (or, rather, playtime on courses which are still locked for general use) with in-game currency that you earn through play, so I’m hopeful that as long as I pay attention to my stash, I won’t run into any problems.  (Rest assured, though, that I’ll scream VERY LOUDLY if I do.)


* Ranking the Tiger games would be its own column, one which I’m not prepared to get into at this very moment.  But I’d break the rankings in half, anyway, between the Xbox 1 and the Xbox 360.  As I said above, the games on the original Xbox were incredibly fun, approachable, and intuitive, and they featured tons of fantasy courses (some of which were fucking insane), and it was not uncommon to bomb 400 yard drives and get holes in one on Par 4s, and while they weren’t super-gorgeous, they certainly got the job done.  The move to the current console generation was, shall we say, a bit rough; ’06 was a fucking joke.  Off the top of my head, I’d put ’03 at the top of my overall list, and I’d probably put ’09 at the top of this generation’s run; ’09 looked great (not just in terms of graphics – the fonts looked really good, too), and they hadn’t fucked with the controls too much.

The Anticlimactic Return of the Subway Gamer

The thing about the new iPad is that, for all its awesome qualities, it’s not something I feel 100% OK about using on the subway.  First and foremost, there’s been lots of reports lately about iPad thefts in the subway system, and while I’m generally a very careful subway passenger, you can never be too careful.  Furthermore, my iPad is wi-fi only, which makes playing stuff like Draw Something or Words With Friends impossible.  Lastly, the new iPad is, well, not as portable as an iPhone; and so the act of making swiping gestures occupies more physical real estate and makes you look a little sillier, and tilting the thing is not a particularly subtle act, and so the basic thing to come away from this is that if you’re trying to not draw attention to yourself on the subway, don’t use your iPad to play games on it.

So, then, the gaming that I do with it is mostly spent either at home or during idle hours at work.  (Hours = 5 minute bursts.)  This change in venue is worthwhile, though – it means that I’m 100% focused on the game, rather than trying to also maintain my balance on a crowded train or what have you.  And any excuse I can get to gaze upon that retina display without being interrupted is something I’ll gladly accept.

Here, then, are some quick impressions of everything I’ve bought since I picked up the new iPad a few weeks ago, in chronological order of purchase.

Zuma’s Revenge HD – I’ve played this on the iPad and the iPhone, and it’s more or less ruined the iPhone version for me as a result.  Not that the iPhone version is bad, but the screen is so goddamned small in comparison, and I find it much harder to be accurate with my fat fingers flying all around the screen.  The game itself is still the same ol’ Zuma, so it’s familiar and colorful and fun, although I’m not that big a fan of the soundtrack or voices.  (iTunes)

Waking Mars – This had been getting some rave reviews, and so I felt compelled to pick it up, sight unseen.  I’ve not yet spent enough time with this one to have something noteworthy to say about it, but I’m flying to Chicago in a few weeks and this will be at the top of my to-do list.  (iTunes)

Azkend 2 HD – I was somewhat of a fan of the first one, and the promise of HD graphics made this an easy impulse purchase.  But I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed in this one, mostly because it’s really, really difficult – unfairly difficult, right off the bat.  It’s not a hard game to play conceptually, but some of the first few objectives are frustratingly difficult to achieve, mostly due to the unfairness of the random tile selection you’re given.  I’d stay away until a patch addresses this, although who knows if such a thing is even in the works.    (iTunes)

SpaceChem Mobile – See Waking Mars, above.  People had been talking about this game for what felt like eons, so I felt compelled to buy it.  People have also said that it’s the sort of game that can make you feel really stupid, and I’m inclined to agree, which is why I haven’t played more more than the tutorial, which left me just as confused as I was when I loaded it up.  (iTunes)

Draw Something  – Chances are pretty good that if you’re reading this, you probably already own this, so there’s not much for me to explain.  My favorite part of the game is being able to see both how people draw, and how people guess, in quasi-real time.  This has actually come in handy in terms of drawing clues – you can use that quasi-real time nature to “animate” your drawings, which is awesome to see.  (iTunes)

Angry Birds Space – See Draw Something, above.  I think I’d played all of the previous Angry Birds games to death, and didn’t really think there’s be much to offer in a new game, but it can’t be overstated enough how fucking brilliant  the new gravity mechanic is, and how devious  the resulting puzzles have become.  Speaking of overstating, this looks absolutely incredible on the iPad’s retina display.  (iTunes)

rComplex – Another in the “endless runner” genre, a genre that I’m quite fond of, actually, and while it’s got a rather nifty graphical look to it, I’m not really finding it all that interesting to play.  (iTunes)

The Hunger Games – Speaking of endless runners, this movie-tie-in was apparently co-designed by the guy behind Canabalt, so it’s not total crap.  That said, I haven’t found it particularly engaging, either, so, yeah.  It’s free, though!  (iTunes)

MotoHeroz / Bike Baron – Two totally different developers, but they both fill the Trials HD -shaped hole in my heart.  (Being that the sequel to Trials HD is arriving on Xbox Live in a few months, I’ll probably put these down in order to play the real thing.  But it’s nice to see other people making these sorts of motorcycle/platform games.  Motoheroz: (iTunes)   Bike Baron: (iTunes)

Hunters 2 – One for the upcoming plane ride, I think.  It seems to be some sort of turn-based strategy/RPG thing, which has its proper time and place in my life.  Looks pretty enough, though. (iTunes)

Swordigo – Super Mario meets Zelda, with ugly graphics but compelling gameplay.  I’ve had quite a bit of fun with this, although, yeah, it really could use a graphical upgrade.  (iTunes)

Fibble HD – So Crytek decided to make a casual iOS game that’s a weird hybrid between platforming, coin collecting and physics manipulation?  That also looks incredible?  OK!  (iTunes)

Madcoaster – Another endless runner, sort of, except with a roller coaster.  Takes some inspiration from Jetpack Joyride and Tiny Wings, too, in terms of its meta-game objectives (which help you upgrade your coaster, although to what practical effect is as yet a mystery to me).  (iTunes)

Rinth Island – I bought this mostly because it reminded me a little bit of the upcoming XBL platformer, Fez, which I am absolutely foaming at the mouth for.  This game isn’t quite at Fez’s level, but it’s still interesting and different from most other platformers I’ve played.  There are two different control schemes on offer, and both of them are kind of wonky, so your mileage may vary.  (iTunes)

Light the Flower – Chillingo’s latest reminds me a little bit of Helsing’s Fire, in that you’re manipulating beams of light in order to accomplish your goal.  In this case, you’re not vanquishing ghouls, but instead giving flowers much-needed light in order to grow.  Awww. (iTunes)

Chaos Rings 2 – I was kinda hoping that I’d have enough sense to not spend $20 on a turn-based JRPG that I didn’t even know if I’d like.  And yet, here we are.   These are the times we live in.  One for the plane, most likely. (iTunes)

In terms of other, non-gaming iPad apps, I’ve been enjoying the GarageBand app – which can do quite a lot more than I ever expected.  Zite is a really interesting newsreader that adapts its content to fit your preferences – it’s like a Tivo for your Google Reader.

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