04 January 2014

Taking stock of our gaming for the new year

Like a lot of people, the new year is a time to take stock of things and to get rid of anything that's not needed. This year in particular that inventory included our gaming situation. I took a little time last week to look at all the ways we play and how that may change in the coming months.

For Christmas, we bought a Nintendo DSi to replace the old-style DS that we used to have. I finally get to play Elite Beat Agents again! We only have five other DS games and I'm not very interested in playing any of them. I read that Nintendo will be stopping production on their other DS models and sticking with the 3DS and the 2DS. The old games aren't compatible with the new models, so I'm hoping I can pick up some games on the cheap soon. The ones on my shortlist are Animal Crossing: Wild World, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, and the Professor Layton games.

We bought the family a couple games for the XBox 360 -- Fable II and Assasin's Creed II. Our favorite pawn shop seems to get more XBox games than anything else and I've already prepared my husband for the plan to pick up whatever games I run across at a good price instead of waiting for Christmas and birthdays. ABM has made comments about the consoles being unused, but I've reminded him that our kids have played through the few games we've already purchased. We've purchased maybe 10 games total for the XBox over the two years that we've had it. My kids are pretty good about replaying games, but that is asking too much. Now is a prime time to buy, too; with the new XBox One on the shelves, I suspect that people will be off-loading their old XBox 360 games (which are not compatible with XBox One) into my local pawn shop and Gamestop stores.

If I was going to make anything that resembled a New Year's resolution in regards to gaming, it would be to play more games with the kids. I haven't played many card or board games since a brief infatuation with hobby games a few years ago, but I discovered over the winter break that my kids have not forgotten that time. The prospect of playing Dungeon on Christmas day had them all racing to the table. Three of the kids got tablets, so we played Uno & Friends, as well. I also spent some time watching my eldest daughter play Red Dead Redemption. We even fired up the old consoles and played Parappa the Rapper 2, Frequency, and Donkey Konga. My son DJ said to me on New Year's Eve that playing games together was his favorite part of of the holiday and that we should do it more often. Awww!

21 December 2013

What crossword puzzles brought me today

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first crossword puzzle. I came pretty close to finishing the puzzle that was part of today's Google Doodle, and while I filled in clues I thought of my late mother-in-law (MIL).

My MIL passed away in 2011 and although we weren't close, we were getting there. I had been married to my husband for almost 20 years before my MIL and I managed to develop a friendly relationship. She was an uncomplicated woman with simple tastes, and one of the activities she enjoyed was solving word search puzzles. In her house and in her car, there would always be one of more of those monthly puzzle books from Kappa or PennyDell. She would pick them up from the dollar store and work on them while she was babysitting the kids or waiting to pick them up from school. Every once in a while, I could get her to try different puzzles like sudoku or fill-in puzzles but she preferred the word search. As my kids got older, they would sometimes work the puzzles with her, so one year we got her a giant fold-out word search puzzle book. She seemed to get a kick out of that gift, even as she protested that we shouldn't have spent so much on a puzzle book.

It has been years since I worked a puzzle on paper, but when I saw the puzzle books in the dollar store today I had to pick one up. It felt like the right way to honor my MIL's memory today.

27 July 2013

Longing for Nintendo

For the past several months, I have been in the mood to play Elite Beat Agents. For those not familiar with the game, it was a rhythm title released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. It was one of the first games I bought for the kids when I got them DS units for Christmas. Although there are a lot of rhythm games on the market, none of them approach the infectious style of this game. What set EBA apart was the silly stories. Most rhythm games just have you play song after song. In EBA, there were three "Men In Black"-style agents with whose job it was to swoop in and solve random problems with music and rhythm. There would be a story that played across the top screen while you swiped and tapped on the bottom screen with the agents dancing in the background. The controls were more fun than the ones on other games; it was almost like my fingers were dancing. I still have the Elite Beat Agents game cartridge, but we haven't had a working DS in this house for ages. Now that we all have devices with touch screens that play games, I can't justify buying even a used DS. I sure miss that game, though.

Recently the gaming podcasts I've been listening to have stirred up my Nintendo lust again, but this time for another game. Everyone seems to be talking about Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Ever since I discovered Harvest Moon back in the day, I've had a thing for life simulation games. I especially like the ones that are tied to the real-life clock so that you have to check back in for new events and such. I thought that I was satisfied with the farm simulation games that I was playing on Facebook and iOS, but they don't have quite the same charm as the Nintendo games. The randomness of a game like Animal Crossing can't be achieved in a game like Castleville, which starts with a bit of a story but quickly slows the player down with obstacles that can only be removed with real-world cash. Although I tend to lean toward the free games, I would be more than willing to pay up front for a port or clone of Animal Crossing on the iPad if it meant that I never had to deal with in-game purchases mucking up my gameplay. In the meantime, I guess I will have to pull the Game Cube out of the garage to get my life simulation fix.

12 July 2013

Clearing out my iPad clutter

Over the past few years, I've been getting better at keeping the clutter in many areas of my life to a minimum, but I can't seem to resist downloading free games. I currently have 110 apps on my iPad. My iPad only has 16 GB of memory, so I frequently get a message saying that I don't have enough memory to update or download something. 

The obvious solution for dealing with low memory would be to delete something, right? The problem is deciding what to delete. There are several games that I haven't even played yet because I tend to go back to the same few again and again. There are multi-player games that I only keep so that my kids can play them with their friends, like King of Opera.  Then there are apps that normally cost money, but I caught them while they were free, like all the art apps for my daughter that she can't get for her Android tablet.

I've been saying for weeks that I am going to pare down my collection of apps, and I think today is the day. I've given myself permission to play in the name of organization!

24 June 2013

Papa Pear Saga: Cutest ball shooter I've played

As I said in the title to this post, Papa Pear Saga (free, Facebook) is the cutest ball shooter I've played. I'm not really sure if "ball shooter" is the proper term, but it is descriptive. It is one of those games where you aim your balls at a certain area of the screen to clear out other balls or obstacles. Some shoot from the bottom up or, like Papa Pear Saga, from the top down. There are plenty games in this genre, but this one stands out as one I would rather play over the others.

Of course, the fun graphics were the first element of the game that grabbed me. When it comes to casual games you have a lot of games that are almost identical in gameplay, so it really is a matter of picking the game that is the prettiest. Papa Pear Saga has a bright and colorful look that reminds me of children's television. I especially like the way the pots that you are aiming for hold their hands up as if they are saying, "Me! Me!"

The gameplay is what I'm starting to think of as a signature of King.com's "Saga" games. They seem to be generic games at first glance but after a couple levels you are introduced to goals. I haven't gotten too far in Papa Pear Saga, but so far I've had to clear carrots and release fruit to fall into pots. I know from playing Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga that King throws in something new right about the time that you think you've seen all there is in the game.

Right now this game is only available to play online, but I've read that King might release it for iOS and Android. I didn't really get into Candy Crush Saga until they released it for the mobile platforms, and I expect it will be the same with Papa Pear Saga.

21 June 2013

Hay Day: All Farming, All the Time

There are a few games that I continue to play out of habit. I'm not having much fun with them, but I can't bear to delete them because I've already spent time building the farm or the hotel or the neighborhood. Hay Day is one of those games. It is a rather popular farming sim  (free, iOS only) that has all the usual elements. You can grow crops, raise animals, and make items from their byproducts. That's it. There aren't any special events for the holidays or a change of scenery for the seasons. It is just all farming, all the time.

Hay Day reminds me of the wordless picture books I used to check out for my eldest daughter when she was a toddler. Most farming games have at least a flimsy story to give you a reason for why you are trying to expand your farm. Not only does Hay Day dispense with the plot, but it uses as few words as possible to get its point across. There is a bulletin board with orders for you to fill, and each order just has pictures of the food and a number for how many to grow. That is as close as the game gets to having quests. Because of this, the game quickly became repetitive to me.

Like most casual games these days, there is supposed to be a social aspect to Hay Day but to me it is limited. You can add your Facebook friends who are playing the game and visit their farms, but I couldn't find anything to do other than buy the produce my friend had on sale. There is supposed to be a way to help my friends on their farms, but the one time I found something to click on (a boat) I couldn't figure out what to do because there wasn't an explanation.

I suppose there is a meditative quality to Hay Day that keeps me coming back. The graphics are cutesy yet soothing when I am playing right before bed. The animations for the animals make me smile, as well. So far the pigs are my favorite, especially with their sauna that squeezes the bacon out of them. However, after a month of playing, I think I've gotten all I am going to get out of this game.

18 June 2013

GOG.com's Summer Sale

It hit me a couple months ago that I finally own a PC that is fast enough to play some of the video games that were hot a few years ago. I also discovered that many of these games are fairly inexpensive now, especially from the direct-download sites. So while I was listening to a podcast where the presenters were reminiscing about older games, I took my browser for a little cruise over to GOG.com. What on earth did I do that for? They are running a summer sale, and my budget is tighter than an 1890s corset right now :-(.

GOG has 500 games for sale between now and 05 Jul, but they aren't all on sale at once. For instance, the Alan Wake bundle was on sale for $4.48 when I went, but there were only nine hours left to get that price. That is 90% off of the original price. There were several other games that were 50% off.

If you like older games, I'm sure you will find something cool. This is not a paid endorsement; I'm just really happy that I found this site. We've never bought games as soon as they were released, so my kids don't pay much attention to whether a game is new or old. I may have to check the couch pillows to see if I can get them a game or two to keep them occupied while school is out.