The Collectionary: A new haven for game collectors

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If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been AWOL for a good chunk of the past month. Well, like it or not, I’m back. And you can thank one of the moderators from The Collectionary for giving me a reason to reboot Title Screen.

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Want a dead sexy Majora’s Mask-skinned N64? They got it.

The Collectionary is a nifty little site that enables gamers to buy or sell games and keep track of their collections. The site’s video game section is still young, and they’re currently looking for moderators who are willing to help build “the dictionary of every Video Games collectible ever made.” If you’re feeling ambitious, look into joining forces with them.

And Merry Christmas from Title Screen!

Latest Call of Duty commercial reinforces negative gamer stereotypes

If you watched any football this past weekend, chances are you saw the latest Call of Duty: Ghosts commercial, featuring a bunch of guys dodging bullets, blowing stuff up, and spitting game at Megan Fox. If you missed it, have a look below. Then we’ll talk.

From a creativity standpoint, the commercial is phenomenal. This live-action re-imagining of Call of Duty announces that next-gen has arrived; realism, here we come. Beyond the concept, the commercial is well-shot, the acting holds up, and there’s an amusing juxtaposition between the wild action and the big-band sounds of Sinatra. There’s plenty to praise.

So why am I down on the ad?

Stereotypes. And particularly those aimed at the stereotypical gamer (the portrayal of the black guy is another topic for another day). There are three parts that kill it for me:

1) The fat dude

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Not every gamer looks like this, though it’s a prevailing stereotype.

I understand the need for diversity, but do we really need a chunky guy in this commercial? I get it: “There’s a soldier in all of us,” even Captain Blubs with his rifle and khaki shorts. Fine, point taken. But do you see any thick-bodied soldiers running around in the actual games? In the end all we’re left with is reinforcement of the stereotype of the overweight gamer who sits around eating chips and climbing leaderboards.

2) Megan Fox

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Chicks might save your ass online. Just don’t expect them to look like this.

Infinity Ward recently added female character avatars to the game, so I understand the inclusion of a woman soldier in the trailer. That’s cool. But why is Megan Fox representing the female gaming population? I could stare at Megan Fox all day, but I doubt she’s ever held down an R2 button in her life. And then we have one of our fine soldiers in the commercial hitting on her. Real classy, Activision. Try taking female gamers more seriously in your next ad.

This just reinforces the stereotype that chicks aren’t gamers. Every person watching this ad thinks, “Whoa, she’s hot,” before they consider that women can compete on the virtual battleground.

3) The jolly attitude toward war

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Every American politician would love to blame this on video games.

Okay, they’re trying to portray Call of Duty as a blast, but do we need all four guys acting like they’re in the throes of meth rush? The expression on the humvee driver’s face during the tundra scene is comedic gold, but at the same time it’s ludicrous. Nobody’s that happy to drive a vehicle in a video game. And what are we ultimately left with? Four guys lollygagging as they shoot down choppers and dodge bullets. Four guys treating lethal combat as a joke, something to pump your fist and chuckle over.

Not only does this suggest that gamers are immature, but it insinuates the most negative of all gamer stereotypes: that we’re desensitized to violence. Call of Duty will sell millions of copies, but the millions upon millions who play the game won’t go out and murder someone. Gamers can distinguish between life and death, pixels and reality. Yet this Call of Duty trailer helps depict gamers as bloodthirsty mongrels who pick up an assault rifle right after they’ve put down a controller.

I’m not saying this commercial should be pulled. I’m not saying Activision and Infinity Ward shouldn’t have the right to air it. I simply want to see more class next time, a little more respect for the audience that funds all this advertising.

And what do you guys think? Am I being too analytical? Too harsh? Should I cut them a break since the ad’s concept is slick? Comment and let me know.

Upcoming Ninja Gaiden spinoff looks slick, sounds ultra-cheesy

If you haven’t had your fill of ninjas, cyborgs, or zombies, then Keiji Inafune’s upcoming action title Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z should be written on your wishlist in blood. Gameplay videos depict over-the-top Ninja Gaiden action set in a comic-book world. Team Ninja is even involved with the project and Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame will be the game’s primary villain.

The catch? You’ll have to stomach some dreadfully immature humor along the way. Watch the trailer on mute if you want to be impressed.

From what I’ve seen the gameplay looks like Ninja Gaiden on uppers: anti-hero Yaiba slashes hoards of zombies in half with one whirlwind slice, then streaks ahead to slice off legs and impale survivors from the scalp on down. Blood splatters, gushes, and erupts everywhere as Yaiba grabs, slashes, and dismembers everything in his path.

It remains to be seen just how challenging the game will be, and I feel the difficulty level will make or break this one. Yaiba looks like an unstoppable force in the videos, and his zombie foes hobble-wobble around like you’d expect. Whether Yaiba: NGZ proves worthy of bearing the Ninja Gaiden name depends entirely on how these enemies can adapt to Yaiba’s carnage. Since Team Ninja and Mega Man’s producer are involved with this one, there’s hope that this doesn’t turn into a button-masher or mindless hack-n-slash.

Naughty Dog dishes out free DLC for Uncharted 3’s two-year anniversary. Can we make it a trend, please?

Here’s a fan-friendly move that needs to become the new industry standard: Naughty Dog celebrated the two-year anniversary of Uncharted 3 by removing the price tag from its DLC multiplayer maps. Not enough anniversary love for you? They also added a brand new map called Dry Docks and slashed prices on other DLC (costumes, etc.).

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Here’s your excuse to get Sully, Elena, Chloe, and the gang together.

For those of us who groan about DLC, this is slick news, not to mention a classy move on Naughty Dog’s part. It got my overworked mind thinking: Why don’t more companies do something similar on the two-year anniversary of a game?

Imagine this life cycle for a game:

a) Release date: A game releases in bare bones form.

b) One-year anniversary: Ultimate edition or Game of the Year edition hits shelves, coaxing those who passed on the game earlier.

c) Two-year anniversary:  DLC sheds its price tag, gives early adopters a reason to boot-up the game and spread the word to potential newcomers.

In other words, free things come to those who wait. The only problem with this system is that it could deter early adopters from buying DLC. However, if companies stay tight-lipped until the two-year anniversary, the system could work to benefit both gamers and game companies.

As a bonus, this strategy could benefit games that don’t receive a GOTY Edition. Imagine if Konami announced free DLC for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (I know there’s a LoS multi-pack, but work with me here). Gaming sites and blogs would buzz with the news and make the game relevant again. Fans of the original would pop-in to play the DLC while curious newcomers would pull the trigger. Meanwhile the release of Lords of Shadow 2 is looming, and suddenly there’s rejuvenated interest from old and new fans alike.

Free DLC for the sake of advertising. We can do this.

Ubisoft axed Far Cry 3 voice actor for prior success with Deus Ex game

Next time two years of your professional life goes to waste, think about voice actor Elias Toufexis, who recently revealed that Ubisoft pulled him from Far Cry 3 after recording the voice of protagonist Jason Brody for two years. Toufexis (good luck pronouncing that one) voiced Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s protagonist Adam Jensen, and had enough success to make Ubisoft uneasy:

“I played [Jason Brody] for two years, did the voice and when Deus Ex came out [Ubisoft] replaced me because they were nervous that … ‘We don’t want people playing this game and thinking of another game.'”

As with live-action performers, it’s common for voice actors to dabble in different game franchises. What hurt Toufexis in this case was the fact that he bestowed his “normal voice” on both protagonists, thus creating a potential situation where Far Cry 3 players could potentially find Toufexis’ voice jarring, had they played Deus Ex.

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Every time Adam Jensen opened his mouth, his VA came one step closer to losing his job.

I understand Ubisoft’s logic here, but this makes for an odd double-standard in the world of entertainment. I’ve never known anyone who walked into a Batman movie and found Christian Bale’s presence unsettling due to his prior role as the murder-obsessed protagonist of America Psycho. Granted, live-acting and voice acting are two different beasts, but how many times have you watched a Harrison Ford thriller and instantly thought of Han Solo or Indiana Jones? And yet the directors of Air Force One, The Fugitive, etc. didn’t pull the plug on Ford.

Video game voice acting becomes more controversial by the week it seems. Hollywood voices continue to trickle into our digital worlds, and Beyond: Two Souls may end up as a watershed game in terms of determining the fate of “game actors.” This recent news of Toufexis’ firing only throws more on the pile. Can top voice actors survive without modifying their voice for different roles? And what about familiar voices of Hollywood actors–aren’t they every bit as unsettling as the sounds coming from mouths of big-game VAs?

Top 5 Tuesday: Castlevania games not named “Symphony of the Night”

I’m in a whip-cracking mood today with Halloween on the horizon, so let’s run through my favorite horror-themed franchise: Castlevania. For those of you who’ve never played a Castlevania game (It never ceases to amaze me how many people have overlooked this classic series), know that the games range in play-style from linear action-platforming to Metroid-esque exploration to Ninja Gaiden-style 3D action. Though I prefer the “Metroid-vanias,” I’ll take Castlevania in any form I can get it.

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Symphony of the Night is an masterpiece, and not just because it let you slash at a giant sphere of dead bodies.

To spice up the list, I’m withholding the excellent Symphony of the Night, which is the pinnacle of the series in most fans’ eyes (mine included). If your haven’t played a Vania, start with that one. If you have, look into these five games while the night is still young.

5. Castlevania (NES)

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I pity the fool who doesn’t bring Holy Water to the Grim Reaper fight.

I didn’t play the original Castlevania until it’s Game Boy Advance re-release in 2004, so its #5 ranking has nothing to do with nostalgia. It’s simply a fun, challenging game that has aged better than most games from the late-80s. With just six levels, the original is super-short in terms of actual game length, but its brutal difficulty (and admittedly archaic jumping controls) makes it feel four-times its size.

How hard is it? Well, if you want to have any chance at defeating the later bosses in this game, show up to the fights with a full health bar. Having the right sub-weapon helps, too–just be prepared to lose your ax or holy water whenever you die… which is quite often.

4. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)

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So what if his sword is thrice the size of you? You’ve got a halberd, man.

Dawn of Sorrow is the sequel to the final GBA Castlevania, Aria of Sorrow. Though I loved Aria’s gameplay concept (kill enemies to acquire “souls” that bestow abilities), all the soul-farming lead to unintentional level-grinding and thus a soft challenge. Dawn of Sorrow fixed the problem with a stiff difficulty that complemented the soul system, all while continuing the futuristic Vania tale of its predecessor.

3. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)

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A giant succubus riding atop a worm-headed skull: the ultimate male fantasy. Sort of.

Circle of the Moon was the first portable Metroid-vania, and thanks to an intense difficulty level, it nearly lived up to it’s PS1 predecessor. The game boasted a card-based power-up system for your whip, but what ultimately defined the game was how it managed to feel like a classic Vania in a Metroid setting. While Symphony introduced swords and button-combo attacks, CotM reached toward its roots and put the whip back in the protagonist’s hands. It also jacked up the challenge with tougher enemies and devastating bosses.

2. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS)

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Lighthouse crab Brachyura is my favorite boss in the series. After he chases you to the top, the only option left is to drop a spiked elevator on him. Epic.

In 2006 Konami changed the Metroid-vania formula by taking us outside the castle in the DS installment Portrait of Ruin (which barely missed cracking this list). Two years later, Order of Ecclesia followed suit by sending us to secluded lighthouses, mist-blanketed forests, and mountain passes.

And that was only the first half of the game.

Dracula’s castle returns in the second half, making the game’s world a blend of new-age locations and the classic labyrinthine castle. Throw in a mysterious new heroine and a modified version of Aria and Dawn’s soul-collection system, and you have the best portable Vania in the palms of your hands.

1. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3)

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Lords of Shadow is home to one of the most brutally gothic intros you’ll ever witness.

Many fans and critics dragged Lords of Shadow through the catacombs, claiming that it lacked a true Castlevania feel. While LoS certainly draws heavy gameplay influences from God of War, Ninja Gaiden, and Shadow of the Colossus, the total package is cloaked in a decidedly Vania atmosphere. Occult powers, vampires, and whippings are abound, and the storytelling has the looming, historical tone that the series has always thrived off.

Bells and whistles aside, Lords of Shadow took #1 thanks to its ridiculously fun and challenging combat. Put the game on Hard Mode, then take the time to experiment with all the whip combos (which include turning your whip into a buzzsaw), sub-weapons, and dodge techniques. You won’t be disappointed. Then brace yourself for Indiana Jones-style whip swinging, snappy quicktime events, and bosses that’ll have you trash talking your TV screen.

And hurry up. The sequel is just a few months away.

Phoenix Wright forces fans to go digital, raises objections.

Though I snag a physical copy whenever I can, the list of positives is ever-growing when it comes to digital game sales. In addition to a) preserving classic games, b) making rare games obtainable, and c) directing consumers’ money to the right places (the game companies), digital sales eliminate a tired excuse used by hesitant publishers: “All that packaging costs us money.”

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies hit American 3DSes last week without ever hitting US shores, and I’m okay with it. If I have to sacrifice a little white box and instruction booklet to play the newest entry in the Phoenix Wright series, then let’s sacrifice. Seriously, start a fire, get your animal skulls out, and rip my heart out Indiana Jones-style for all I care. I just want to play the damn game.

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Are you man enough to support digital-only game sales?

What has blown me away since the announcement of Dual Destines’ digital release has been the negative fan feedback. Whether you’re browsing a GameFAQs message board or checking a YouTube comment section under the game’s trailer, you’re bound to come across folks saying they won’t touch the game because they can’t physically touch it.

Here’s a thought: Instead of worrying about the touchy, feely, tangible, dust-collecting aspects of hard copies, be grateful you can experience the game in its fully-localized glory. It’s your call: digital-only Phoenix Wright for $29.99 or a slew of Japanese language and culture classes.

And, oh by the way, if you ever want to see Phoenix Wright games hit store shelves again, boycotting the newest game in the series won’t bolster the cause.