Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Psychonauts (2005)

Genre: Action Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Double Fine Productions

Aspiring psychic, Raz, runs away from home to sneak into a summer camp for psychic kids. While there he attempts to learn as much as he can until his parents can come retrieve him, but in the process uncovers a plot that will possibly endanger the campers, teachers and even the world.

The game was a critical darling, but, for whatever reason, wasn't a success. Which is a shame because what awaits those who give the game a chance is an adventure that is well written with likeable characters, funny dialogue and wildly imaginative levels. Players control Raz as he explores the camp and the surreal subconscious minds of those around him while gaining various psychic powers along the way. This provides a wide variety of level design as the minds of the afflicted manifest in many ways that usually reflect whatever mental trauma caused their affliction. The hidden secrets are often actually very tragic, but the game as a whole is very comedic. Raz and pretty much all the characters will have ample opportunity to crack jokes and engage in banter with a stylized, semi-abstract artstyle. The myriad psychic powers are also fun and add more to the game by letting Raz fight and explore in new ways.

The cons are crappy pacing and the myriad fetch quests that gain Raz experience. The whole first half of the game is super easy and then ups the difficulty with no general ramping. The main way for Raz to gain ranks are all just different collections. In the minds, he collects figments, emotional baggage and cobwebs and outside he collects cards, scavenger hunt items, and some other things that I won't spoil. What looks like a variety is just the same fetch quests over and over which can be extremely tedious especially in the case of the figments. But overall it is a fun, colorful, hilarious romp that deserves it's cult following.

Buyers Guide:
Available on the original Xbox, PS2, PSN, 360 as an Xbox Original, Mac and PC. Also through both Steam and

Psychic bacon out of 5

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jikandia: The Timeless Land (2011)

Genre: Action RPG | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Idea Factory

A group of classmates are on a train when they are suddenly thrown into a portal that takes them to the land of Jikandia. A little blue cat thingy tells them he brought them there to stop Time from restarting in Jikandia which will apparently start a bunch of bad shit.The story is actually kind of blah, but the game is at least partly aware of it and is sometimes passive aggressive toward itself. Those moments are chuckle-worthy, but are few and far between. Annoyingly the story is delivered through the smallest test box I have ever seen. It comes half a sentence at a time and often during the action which means players will most likely miss it. There is some time distinguishing between the different characters, but it is sparse and not engaging. The only difference that matters is each classmate uses a different attack. Switching between them adds some strategy to the randomly generated levels.

The game seems to advertise those dungeons as a selling point as well as the "feature" that lets you decide how long you want to be in them; ranging from 3 to 30 minutes. This is a catch 22 as spending too little time will not gain players enough strength to defeat the progressively stronger enemies, but the randomly generated levels aren't interesting enough to warrant a longer time. Longer times will net you more loot and cash, but the cash is useless as the store in the one town is woefully inadequate with a seemingly also randomly generated selection that pales with what players gain fighting enemies and opening treasure chests. I finished the game with over 500,000 bucks and having bought nothing. Each floor only takes a few seconds to run through with varying bonus directives that range from killing all enemies to getting to the next floor in a certain time limit. Completing the directive gains players a star that gives bonuses when five are maintained. Failing to complete them takes a star away, but they are not necessary for advancement.

The RPG part of the game is the most interesting with various weapons with widely varying attack styles and stats to try as well as equippable crystals that enhance stats and give new abilities. Even that variety isn't enough to make the longer time an attractive option though. There is an ad hoc option to go dungeon crawling with a friend and the retro pixel art style is kind of cute, but the game is a barely average button masher that only the most OCD of players would want to keep playing for 100% completion.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PSP and downloadable on PSN.

2 Dead Like Me name-drops out of 5

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

.hack//Infection //Mutation //Outbreak //Quarantine (2003)

Genre: RPG  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: CyberConnect2

There is a game, an MMORPG known as 'The World', which has caused a small number of players to fall into a coma. The game’s creators attempt to hush the situation, but the scandal breaks. Despite the danger, a young boy named Kite selflessly enters the game to help his friend Orca, one of the coma victims. Kite believes the answer to the mystery lies within 'The World' itself. He's a hero, but he doesn't know it yet; it’s up to you to guide him to his destiny.

You’ll be accompanied in the early stages by a female player called BlackRose; she plays a crucial part in the drama that unfolds. Together they hunt for a solution to the problem and make a few friends along the way. By the end of the adventure you’ll have many people to call upon to form your party of three. You can swap them in and out between missions… if they're available.

The .hack games present one lengthy story split over four titles. They're a traditional JRPG but resemble an MMORPG that remains one-hundred percent offline. You've a desktop with changeable wallpaper, simulated news updates, a message board that directs you to new areas and even an email client to receive mail from the players you meet in-game. The illusion is maintained by having each character display a message box above their head and attend to personal errands when not in your party. The illusion is only broken when you activate FMV sequences that advance the story, but it’s a welcome intrusion.

Character classes are typical of the RPG genre: swords, axes, magic users etc, so choosing a party is a simple and logical process.

You’re able to transfer game data to each new title so you won’t lose your EXP or inventory, which will be extensive. Weapons aren't customisable, but there are many different kinds, each adding to or reducing your default stats and/or granting new abilities, all of which you'll need.

Happily, levelling-up isn't the endless grind it can be in similar titles. It’s possible to gain levels very quickly if you dare to enter the more dangerous areas.

There's a LOT of gameplay for the JRPG fan. I logged over 130 hours, but I went to many places that aren't necessary while hunting for trade items.

Before you begin, I recommend printing 3 copies of THIS PDF (hosted on MF) to log the level of each item in each character's inventory; it'll make your life simpler.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PS2 only. Each of the four games include a dvd that contains one unique episode of the .hack//Liminality series (see Nut Box for a review). Each episode takes place concurrently with each game, meaning events in the anime collide with story of the game at crucial moments.

4 trips to Δ Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground out of 5

Friday, January 11, 2013

Slender: The Eight Pages (2012)

Genre: Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: Parsec Productions

The objective is deceptively simple: Collect the 8 pages.
Players are equipped with only a flashlight in the nighttime forest and must search the scattered landmarks for the pages while avoiding a faceless and mysterious entity called Slender Man as he hunts you during your exploration. Players can run when he is spotted, but stamina is limited as is the battery for the flashlight. As more pages are collected, things become more difficult. The field of view becomes smaller, the music changes and Slender Man becomes more relentless.

The atmosphere is excellent. Many modern horror games forget that it is not scary when you can blow everything away and can see clearly. Being startled is only part of being scared along with a sense of dread and tension which Slender delivers without all the polish of a triple-A title. The fear is reinforced by everything in the game from the lack of a Heads Up Display, gameplay limitations, creepy fog and an understated soundtrack. This indie developed game is definitely worth a look and won't even take up a lot of your time. It does more for horror in its short length (about an hour) than any published game pretending it's a horror game. Granted I played it in the dark, so it may not hold up in the daytime. But why would you play a horror game that way?

It's not the prettiest of games, but still looks better than one expects from an independent game and it really only enhances the experience. The mythos of the character itself is kind of retarded, so no prior knowledge about the game also helps.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a free download for PC and Mac from the developer's website. HERE. Give it a shot.

Don't get lost in the bathrooms out of 5

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD

Until recently, I held quite the grudge against the Nintendo 64 and all of the proponents of Ocarina of Time. Due to my (shitty) memories, I felt it was inferior in uncountable ways to A Link to the Past and especially Twilight Princess. While I’m still not a champion of the console, I have to admit I have been wholly swayed into a bias for the 3D Zelda games. The atmosphere capable of being manifested in the 3D space completely eclipses that of the earlier titles and while the characters are not deep or fleshed out by any means, they are quirky, endearing, and sometimes surprisingly creepy despite their mostly momentary screen times.

The unease stemming from some characters (as well as certain locations and events) comes in small bursts, but still manages to outshine Twlight Princess in this regard, entirely. Nothing in that game comes close to touching my spine the way Ocarina now has. These moments (and all the rest) can be experienced in a way that feels surprisingly free-form in spite of the obvious, staggered exploration tropes of the series. I deliberately wandered without a guide as it had been so long since I had last experienced Ocarina. The vast majority of secrets are intuitable, the mini-games skew to the easy end of the spectrum, and the collection system can be milked of all its significant rewards in the course of normal play, if you have attentive ears.

The only negatives I can bring to bear are an aspect of the z-targeting system and the Water Temple. The targeting works fine for keeping the camera on enemies and allowing one to strafe, but Link’s movements feel a bit haphazard and I found myself striking air or facing backwards while attacking, early on. Mayhaps there’s a bit more homing to Link’s actions in the subsequent games? Still, it was the first use of the system and does far more good than harm. Regarding the temple, I personally had no problems whatsoever with changing the water levels, but was left stuck by the trollish placement of a time block.

As hackneyed a sentiment as it is, I now truly understand why this game is so highly regarded. It is the definitive, classic Zelda experience and it’s no surprise that it is still played, speedrun, glitched, and revered to this day.

Buyer’s Guide: Originally available on the Nintendo 64. Rereleased as part of the The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition (with its Master Quest iteration, the original Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, and Majora’s Mask,) on the GameCube. It was recently remade for the 3DS, as well. The cheapest and easiest route for most will be the Virtual Console, however.

 Inexplicably Ginger Villains out of 5

BioShock (2007)

Genre: FPS/RPG/Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: Irrational Games

Jack is enjoying a nice plane ride when it suddenly crashes into the ocean. As the only survivor, Jack swims to a mysterious tower and the elevator inside takes him to the undersea city of Rapture. What was supposed to be an objectivist paradise has become a crumbling ruin of violence as the citizens fought each other over the substance ADAM which is capable of giving superpowers when administered. The few remaining sane individuals will guide you through radio transmissions. There is Atlas; a revolutionary fighting against the tyrannical leader of Rapture; Andrew Ryan; said tyrannical leader who will send enemies to kill you to maintain his vision of and control over the city; and lastly Dr. Tenenbaum; a scientist who makes the welfare of the Little Sisters her top priority.

The Little Sisters are little girls who were infected with the slug that is responsible for making ADAM and who now roam the city to extract leftover ADAM from the scattered corpses. They are protected by large armored bodyguards called Big Daddies which must be killed before Jack can choose to either save the girls from their infection or kill them and harvest the ADAM for himself. This is the crux of the moral choice system. Killing the Little Sisters will net Jack more ADAM which can be used to purchase Plasmids that provide a variety of attacks like Pyrokinesis and passive abilities like stat bonuses and more effective healing. Saving the Little Sisters will earn Jack less ADAM, but also gain the gratitude of the girls and Tenenbaum. There are also a variety of firearms that can be upgraded and ammo that can be rotated for maximum efficiency against different enemy types. Jack can switch on the fly between firearms and plasmids as well as between weapons and ammo types which takes a little practice, but players will eventually be switching from plasmid to armor piercing rounds with ease.

The game's dystopic, steampunk aesthetic is both pretty and unsettling. The atmosphere and enemies are often genuinely scary, but are undermined somewhat by the game's easy difficulty. The horror is dampened when ammo, money and medkits are all readily available and even new plasmid abilities are just lying around out in the open for free. This makes the whole moral choice aspect somewhat irrelevant as players realistically don't even have to bother with the Little Sisters if they don't want to get stomped by Big Daddies. Hacking the various cameras and turrets is also extremely easy and the vita chambers that revive Jack when he dies are plentiful and there is no penalty for using them. This makes dying a momentary annoyance and so any challenge can be overcome by sheer perseverance rather than dynamic choices and tactics. The game is still genuinely fun and the myriad of choices offers much for different playstyles as well as philosophical musings for any literary fans and some scares for horror buffs.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Also available for both retail and digital download on PC, Mac and cloud service OnLive.

4 Those big fuckers can move like ninjas when they want to out of 5