Happy Easter and Passover! Aside from heartwarming, faith-building religious celebrations (and pretty unrelated but associated secular traditions), my kids and I took advantage of some PlayStation Network sales going on this weekend. A simple tweet would have sufficed for passing these along, but I decided to share my impression of one in particular:
$0.99 (This weekend only!)
One of the things I've come to love about downloadable games is how much more affordable they are than disks. We've been known to pay the dreaded new release price on games like Lego Marvel Super Heroes, usually as gifts, even though the price always drops over time. We make sure we'll like these games before buying, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer to pay less (legally, of course). With Jurassic Park: The Game, we got all four chapters of Telltale's episodic story for only a dollar, which means I'd be happy even if it was only okay. That's what I was expecting based on reviews, but after completing Chapter 1 today, I'm even happier with this deal. It's more than okay.
I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan (I've read the book more than any other, and consider the movie a classic), so maybe I'm easy to please. Then again, knowing the material as well as I do, it was also possible I'd be extra critical. The game is based on the first film, taking place during and after its events, so I do wonder why Chapter 1 hints at a larger, free-roaming group of velociraptors when the movie Park only had three that didn't escape until the last act. Maybe Telltale pulled some material from the book, which ends with the discovery that the raptors had built an underground nest and were breeding all along (a concept explored in the movie relative to other species). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers did pull from the book, given the subtle scientific details woven into the game's story and extras. I don't recall Harding having a daughter in the book, so they're clearing picking and choosing; still, that strikes me as both appropriate and agreeable, and in many ways results in a story that feels more Jurassic Park than the sequel films. Michael Crichton, the book's author, was reluctant to write the sequel (The Lost World), but I wonder if he ever considered a story that runs concurrent to the original, as these writers did.
The main complaint I noticed in reviews is that there's more story than game. You know those cinematic moments in other games where you lose full control of your character and have to press the right sequence of buttons to survive something dramatic? That accounts for most of the gameplay here. There's no free roaming, no traditional fighting, no leveling up, etc. It's like a "choose your own adventure" novel on screen. However, if I'm being honest, the story and characters are what draw me to video games in the first place; once those run their course, I quickly lose interest in repeat play-throughs, competition modes, and elusive trophies. (The Batman: Arkham series is sort of an exception to this...but that's because it's Batman.)
In other words, Jurassic Park: The Game has surprised me with its authenticity, tension, and depth, and I'm very interested to see how Chapter 2 will pick up on the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 1. The deserved Teen rating and single player restriction means it's not a game I can share with my kids yet (much to their disappointment), but once they're ready for the movie itself, they'll be ready for this.
And while I'm on the topic of downloadable games, here are the others we've collected. Prices are subject to change and not all are exclusive to the PSN.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
As the release date indicates, this is another recent purchase. This game actually came out a while ago on other platforms but, owing to bad reviews and lots of bugs, was delayed on PS3 for tweaking. If you ask me, it paid off. The 3D cityscape, the streamlined combat, and the environment interaction all feel like the developers took a page or two from the Batman: Arkham series. Though filled with mutant ninja violence, this is one I let my kids play. The backgrounds and character designs are more realistic, but it's still the same cartoon fun to be expected from the post-comic Turtles (no blood, no killing). In fact, it draws a lot from the current Nickelodeon cartoon, despite the lack of resemblance and different voice actors. It does still seem a bit buggy (sometimes we can't get it to recognize more than two players), and it's not quite "drop in/out co-op" (you have to choose player settings from the menu), but it's the best Turtles game I've seen in a long time. Bonus: There's a side-scrolling Arcade Mode that brings back memories of the classic Manhattan Project for NES.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
$14.99 (Free for PS+ members)
A while back I wrote an article about video games as an art medium, which is a topic that still really interests me. If the popularity of games like Okami and Journey are any indication, I'm not the only one who feels this way. I consider this Swedish game a member of that class because of the creative way it uses gameplay to reinforce its message. As the title suggests, the story is about two brothers. Their mother is dead and father is sick, and they must work together to locate a cure. As opposed to most games with a party of characters, this one requires you to control both at once by use of the dual analog sticks. Not only is this harder than it sounds, it also reinforces the theme of cooperation and brotherly love. The entire game is relatively short and eventually earns the Teen rating as the brothers explore war-torn territories, but I still let my own two boys take control of its entirety while I sat back and watched, feeling all fuzzy and validated when one of them commented, "Look at how they help each other. We should be more like that."
My son and I love this game. It's a side-scrolling platformer through beautiful fantasy environments by a knight, a wizard, and a thief who have been stuck together by a curse. In single-player, you can switch between them and their respective crucial skills with the push of a button, with only one of them present on screen at once. Multiplayer actually increases the challenge because it means more characters on screen at the same time, which requires more careful coordination when navigating dangerous terrain and enemy encounters. Only the knight can guard, only the thief can use grappling hooks and attack at long range, and only the wizard can bridge certain obstacles. I had a hard time relocating it on the PlayStation web site, and I haven't tried the sequel yet, but I'm excited to -- especially at the current price.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
This one is more of a guilty pleasure. The PSN has a lot of video games classics to download, but I had to jump at this one because it includes not one, but two D&D arcade games, namely Tower of Doom -- which I was addicted to for about a week over one summer in my youth -- and its sequel, Shadow of Mystara. Both have multiplayer drop in/out co-op, with four basic character options in the first and a few more than that in the second. It's pure side-scrolling action in slightly updated graphics, with the role-playing aspect that usually accompanies D&D only present in its most basic form: Will you go here or there? How will you spend your swag? Can you make these decisions under a time limit, because monsters need slaying!
If you're reading this post I'll assume you are acquainted with video games, so you also probably know about Minecraft. Heck, if you know any boys, teenagers, or single adults you've probably at least heard it mentioned. My boys were introduced to it by their cousins, convinced us to let them play on mobile devices, and, once that drove us nuts, received the PS3 downloadable edition for Christmas as ransom for permanently recovering said mobile devices. Until pretty recently I could only scratch my head in confusion, wondering how such a poor-looking, simplistic game could be so wildly popular. However, after my kids (two boys and a girl, ages 9-4) finally convinced me to play with them, I quickly discovered how fun it could be to build blocky, three-dimensional worlds alongside them (sometimes in spite of them). My interest was somewhat short-lived, but they still love it and all its accompanying merchandise. (This is the game that necessitated time restrictions and a better balance of activities in our house.)
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate - Deluxe Edition
I'm cheating a bit with this one because I don't actually own it yet; I've only played the demo. This sequel to the game Batman: Arkham Origins (itself a prequel to the popular Arkham franchise I've mentioned several times in this post) was made for handheld gaming consoles like the PS Vita, and not having those consoles, I never expected to play it. So when they announced its release on PSN I was pretty excited. Again, it's mostly the story that interests me; the gameplay is a 2.5D shadow of the original games and, from what I've seen, pretty simplistic -- though I hear the boss fights are interesting. At twenty bucks I'm not rushing to buy it, especially because I still have plenty to do in Arkham Origins. (Contrary to the impression given by this post, my solo game time is pretty limited.) Still, the completist in me is itching to check it out in full.
Other downloadable games I and/or my kids are looking forward to playing include Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Child of Light, The Cave, and The Unfinished Swan. If you have recommendations, feel free to share in the comments!