Friday, August 31, 2012

Jules Verne

I blame high school for my fear of the word "classic".  Nearly every English class forced me to read really boring classic books and then analyze them to death probably reading in all sorts of meaning the original authors never intended.  Thanks to that practice, I gained the incorrect assumption that all classic books were just as boring and hard to read.  It wasn't until after League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out that I started to break that assumption.  I wanted to know the backstories to all (or at least most of) the characters to see the source material.  This led to some very hilarious discoveries like Mr. Hyde is actually smaller than Dr. Jekyll, not a big hulking brute, Mina was not a vampire, and (unfortunately) that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the most boring book I have ever read.

There is one single action scene in that book that lasts all of a single page.  The rest of the entire book is just long descriptions of various fishes and how horrible civilization is and thus Captain Nemo must destroy it (which makes him better, how?).  But, as with most media, I decided to give Jules Verne three chances to get me interested.  So I read Journey to the Center of the Earth, which was slightly better, but still just a lot of nothing happening with long descriptions of geology this time.  The one action scene in that didn't even really involve the humans, they just watched it happen.

But a few nights ago I finished The Mysterious Island.  I don't know if I just love castaway stories or something, but this book was much more enjoyable.  There are still long descriptions of science-y things, but this time it was on how things like gunpowder, telegraph wire, hydraulic lifts, and other scientific innovations were created.  There also was more than one action scene and the main characters actually were involved in them.  They still magically get saved (twice) in no part thanks to them, which is kind of lame, but at least they did something this time.

So Jules Verne has had his three chances and thanks to The Mysterious Island, he has slightly redeemed himself in my eyes, but I doubt I'll be reading any more books of his in the future.  It's not that he's a bad writer by any means, but his books are not my style.  Just like character movies - Napoleon Dynamite, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, etc - his stories are all about a journey with no real goal in mind.  I have nothing to look forward to, I don't know what anyone's motivation is.  People are just kind of doing a bunch of stuff just because.  I have never liked stories like that.  At the same time, I'm glad I gave Mr. Verne two more chances.  Now I have more ideas for board game premises.  :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

You wake up in a small room with one locked door as the only way out.  Scattered around the room are a few items that when pieced together along with some other clues and puzzles will help you open that door.  If that sounds familiar, then you have played an escape the room game before.  Usually, that's the extent of any plot these games have and they end with a "Congratulations" screen and that's it.

This game, on the other hand adds on a plot that seems like a plot from one of the Saw movies.  9 people have been captured, they have 9 hours to use the 9 doors to escape from a ship before it sinks.  If you've seen a Saw movie, you also know that at some point you will find out there is a link between all of the characters.

On top of these things, there are six different endings and to get the one happy ending, you have to unlock a specific one of the other endings and make certain choices along the way of the playthrough.  The downside of this is that you will have to play the opening section of the game and resolve puzzles 6 times.  But  to slightly compensate for that, they let you hold right on the Control Pad to quickly breeze through dialogue you've read before and it automatically stops when there is new dialog.

So even though it doesn't sound like there was anything really original in this, it was the first professional escape the room game I've played, the story was very interesting with plenty of twists and turns, and the puzzles were the perfect blend between cleverness and clarity.  You do have to really enjoy reading, though, since I'd say 80% of it is dialogue and 20% is actual gameplay...more interactive fiction than game, really.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Superhero TV shows

Since it seems like Hollywood has figured out how to make quality comic book movies, I think it's about time some TV exec gets on the trend and makes some quality television series.  Looking back over the last 50 years at superhero TV series, there is a surprisingly small amount of them.  The 60s gave us campy (but awesome) Batman, 70s gave us Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk, 90s gave us The Flash, Swamp Thing, and Lois & Clark, 2001 brought us The Tick, Mutant X, and Smallville, 2002 gave us Birds of Prey, and 2011 gave us an attempt at a new superhero, The Cape (which I would highly recommend and am sad it only saw one season).

I think part of the problem is that media seems to have decided people don't want over-the-top ridiculous and/or campy anymore.  Everything needs to be super real and gritty and to me, superheroes just don't work in that world.  Being over-the-top and embracing how ridiculous most superheroes are what make movies like The Phantom, Darkman, and dare I say it, Green Lantern incredibly entertaining (to me at least).  Superheroes are all about being more than human, being more fantastic than reality.  Although, I haven't seen Mutant X or Birds of Prey, every other series on that list did a great job of embracing the ridiculous and taking the audience on an adventure.

After making the list, it did seem strange to me that these shows seem to come in waves.  1966, 1975, 1977,  1990, 1990, 1993, 2001, 2001, 2001, 2002, and 2011.  This means if the trend continues, we will get another superhero show next year and then we won't get any until the early 2020's.  I'm not sure why there seems to be a roughly 10 year gap between these waves.  Maybe a new decade gives executives hopes in a clean slate on previous attempts at things?

Thanks to IHC's Ultimate Live-Action Comic Book Movie and TV Database for helping me verify my list.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Burrito Bison Revenge

Here to help burn away your weekend, Burrito Bison Revenge is a sequel to a previous game, Burrito Bison.  If you have not played that, there isn't much need, this is essentially the exact same game, but expanded and improved upon.  Burrito Bison's wallet was stolen and locked away in a vault by a bunch of gummi bears.  So naturally, to get it back, Burrito Bison must launch from a wrestling ring off of a boss enemy and proceed to get more speed by running into various gummi bears.  Running into any gummi bear will give you money that you can use between launches to upgrade various stats/chances of meeting various gummi bears to improve your chances to break into the vault at the end of four different areas.

This version of the game has added missions for you to try to accomplish on each launch that will give you more money when you complete them.  Aside from the army of regular bears running from you, there are various other gummi bears riding rockets, planes, propeller hats, or cars.  When you run into one of these, a small mini-game of sorts is available to gain even more speed.  You also can perform a rocket slam to try to keep your speed up or control your flight.  You have a limited number of these that regenerate by hitting gummi bears.

The production values on this game are very well done, there is a lot of content, and it has that "just one more" addiction that is the sign of a quality flash game.  Each launch is relatively short and there's always just one more upgrade to buy or one mission to complete.  Just be careful that it doesn't suck away too much of your time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: The OneUps

Not to be confused with the life giving mushrooms of a certain kingdom, The OneUps is a jazz-fusion music band that doesn't just play video game music, but takes video game songs and revamps them into different styles.  Earthworm Jim's Asteroids songs becomes a bluegrass romp, Bowser gets a heavy metal theme song, Super Mario World's Chocolate Mountain gets combined with a christmas song, etc.

The beauty of The OneUps is that you don't have to be the fan of any particular style to be a fan of theirs, as long as you like video game music.  They are high quality musicians skilled in many different instruments.  If you don't believe me, just go to their site and take a listen.  They have a selection of Free MP3s under the store section.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Corgi-Assisted Workouts

Corgi trainer and headband sold separately
In an effort to maximize time efficiency and minimize boredom while working out, I offer you the following Corgi-Assisted Workout program.  With the aid of your Corgi trainer, follow these three simple steps for a healthier you!

Step 1: Welsh Whirl

Find a relatively large running area (around 30 ft or so).  Grab one of your Corgi trainer's favorite pieces of equipment, run forward with the equipment held high in your hand for of your running area.  Throw the equipment as far forward as you can.  As your Corgi trainer goes to retrieve his equipment, run back as fast as you can to the starting area.  Make sure your Corgi trainer sees you running so that he realizes you're still interested in exercising.  Repeat this until your trainer stops for a drink of water or their tongue is roughly the size of their head when panting, then proceed to step 2.

The Welsh Whirl is not only good for the cardiovascular health of you and your Corgi Trainer, but it can be good practice for you dexterity and eye sight if you aim the equipment to hit a specific location each time.  Some additions you can add to this step to burn more calories:


To get even more leg muscles working during the return sprint, lift your legs super high on each step.  If this starts to tire out your legs, you're doing it right!

Arm Flailing

To get your arms involved on the sprint back, try flailing your arms around wildly like a Muppet or an orangutan.  This will make you look utterly ridiculous, so you may want to reserve this part of the workout to when you are alone and can shut the drapes/blinds...

Step 2: Corgi Crunches

While your Corgi trainer is resting from the Welsh Whirl, get on your back and start doing some crunches.  You can either do as many as you're able or pick a set number to shoot for for multiple sets.  While you are performing these crunches, your Corgi trainer may push you harder by either stepping on your stomach to force you to tense your muscles even more or he may stand under your back when you are sitting up, forcing you to hold the position until he deems you ready to lie back down.  Once you are done with these, proceed to step 3 of the exercise program.

Step 3: Pembroke Push-Ups

Flip over on to your stomach and proceed to do push ups.  Just like with the Corgi Crunches, do as many of these as you feel like.  Your Corgi trainer will let you know when you're not working hard enough by stepping on your back or standing under you when you're in the up position.  Don't challenge your trainer if he decides to do this, just push through the pain and remind yourself that your Corgi trainer believes in you, so you should too!  After you are done with this step, your Corgi will let you know if you need to repeat all three steps or not by bringing his equipment back to you to start Step 1 again.

Corgi Trainer Care

In order to keep your Corgi trainer at peak condition so that he can help you be at your best, he will require room and board as well as an occasional ride to his specialists that keep his health, teeth, and toenails in the proper condition.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Are You the Traitor?

Are you the Traitor?  That is the question posed by Looney Labs, creators of Fluxx and Back to the Future: the Card Game.  If you have ever played the social game, Mafia (also known as Werewolf, which apparently Looney Labs also sells as a card game), then you will have a good basic understanding of this game.

Everyone has a role that is kept secret.  Depending on the number of players, some roles are revealed.  Everyone has a particular role they are looking for.  Players have "unstructured conversation" to try to figure out who is what to help their side win.

In Mafia, the roles you have are for the entirety of the game, so as the game progresses, you can start to track the actions and accusations of players and use that against them.  So, the first round is always somewhat random since no one has any real solid information (except for maybe the Sheriff).  In Are You the Traitor, these roles are redistributed every round, so there is no real continuity unless certain players can't hide being the Traitor as well.  This causes most rounds to start off the same way, "We know these two players are Wizards, we know one of us unknowns is the Keyholder, one is the Traitor, and the rest are Guards.  So are you a Guard?  Are you a Guard?  Are you a Guard?"  Since the conversation is unstructured and both the Keyholder and Traitor don't want to be found out by particular people, everyone of course says they are Guards.  So figuring out who is what seemed very arbitrary (or maybe that was just me).  Once someone feels they know who their intended target is, they point at them and say, "Stop!"  If they are right, everyone on their team draws a treasure card.  Otherwise, everyone on the other team draws a treasure card.  For example, the Guards are trying to find the Traitor in their midst, so if one of them points at someone and says stop than that second player reveals their card.  If they are a Traitor, the Guards, Good Wizard, and Keyholder players draw treasure cards.  If they aren't a Traitor, the Traitor and Evil Wizard draw treasure cards.

I will admit that there was a lot of laughing by my group and it was amusing, so in that respect, this game achieves the goal of a game.  But as far as any strategy, tactics, or gameplay, I could not find any.  I know I'm not fantastic at reading people, so that certainly didn't help, but the actual gameplay aspect of it felt severely lacking to me.  I much prefer Mafia where you have some chain of thought/strategy to try to follow, "This person accused you last round and now they're dead, so you're probably Mafia, but someone may be trying to put the blame on you, so who would do that..."  I might try this game again in the future, but I won't be buying it anytime soon and so could not recommend it to others.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Game Over

Game Over.  Originally, I'm sure this was an innocuous message just meant to inform gamers at the arcade that the game they were playing had ended and they needed to spend more money to play some more.  Even in the 90's, the Game Over screen might have been displayed even if you beat the game.  However, I think to most players, the Game Over screen is so much worse.  Not only does it mean you lose (so having it at the end of the game is confusing), but it's usually extra reinforcement that you failed, which at that moment is not something players want to see.  They know they failed, they just want to get back and try again.  So the absolute worst thing you can do when a gamer is upset is mock them further with a cutscene or make them start over prior to an unskippable cutscene they saw before dying.  Although these cutscenes are more interesting than just text that says "You Lose" and they further enforce why the player wants to succeed, that is not the time and place.  Your goal as a game designer should be to reduce the amount of time it takes to go  back to playing a challenging location so the player can get the second chance they need or, in the case of a really hard section, can start to treat each run through as a practice run where they learn some strategy or pattern they can use to succeed.

That does not mean I think that gamers should never be able to lose.  There should be challenges they can fail, but even more than that, I'm a big fan of players being able to choose a losing condition.  At that point, a grand cutscene showing how the world has decayed and fallen into darkness because their hero chose to join the dark side would be perfect.  As long as you make it easy to go back and make the other choice without having to repeat too much of what they went through to get to that choice.  This does not apply to most games with choice since that would eliminate any concept of having to live with the choices you made, but any choice that will end the game should let the player experience the results of all the options without fear of repeating hours of work.  This lets players experience a "What If?" situation that may make their main story even more important to them.

As always, there are exceptions to these rules.  The Space Quest and King's Quest games made deaths both so varied and so hilarious, that it not only became more enjoyable to fail a challenge just to see what the game would say about your death, but it made me at times choose to fail just to see if I got a different message.  This didn't really mitigate the frustration when one part was challenging and I kept dying the same way repeatedly, but it made the initial deaths a little more entertaining than most other games.

So ultimately, the goal of the Game Over screen should be to be non-existent in difficult areas, descriptive in failures the player chose to do, and a little bit of a mix of both in the areas where players aren't expected to lose more than once.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Democrazy

Democrazy is a social card game all about changing the rules as you go.  Players start with 6 randomly selected colored tokens and two sets of cards, voting cards (Yes, No, and a one use trump card) and law cards.  On their turn, a player draws another law card from the deck and chooses either that law or another from their hand that all the players will vote to either pass or fail.  If it passes, then starting on the next turn, players must follow whatever it says on it.

Some of the laws that may be put in effect, change the point values of the tokens (e.g. all blue tokens are worth 3 points).  Some rules will give players bonus points based on something about them (e.g. all players with blue eyes get 5 points).  Some rules complicate the game (e.g. everyone who voted for a law that passed or against a law that was rejected draws a token).  Once the End Game law card is drawn from the deck or all the tokens from the bag are gone, the game ends and the player with the most points following the current rules wins.

This is a very interesting game of reading other players (which I'm bad at) and trying to either convince or predict how everyone else will vote.  This is especially true when there is a law in effect that rewards or punishes you based on how your suggested law fared.  The game gets even crazier to follow than Fluxx does, but you always have some say in how crazy the game can get.  If you feel you can't win the vote, you may play your trump card to force it a specific way (Yes, No, or opposite of how the vote goes depending on what trump card you were dealt).  Usually you only get one of those cards per game, but there are laws to change that.  Also, if two players play trump cards on the same turn, they cancel each other out, so those players not only wasted their vote, but also lost their trump cards.

This game is a lot of fun if you've got a bigger group (6-8 people) who can all either track complicated rule sets or help each other do so.  If any player gets easily lost or confused, this game would not be very much fun.  If you fulfill those requirements, then this game is worth the $20 purchase price.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Board Games: Story or Contest?

During a recent game night with the board game Descent: Journeys in the Dark, I realized an interesting dichotomy between why my friends play board games.  Some friends want to play the games to have an adventure/live the story, while others want to just beat their friends in a competition.  (Well actually, it's more of a trichotomy because one of my friends comes mostly to socialize and plays the games because that's what we're all doing).  After realizing this, I thought about how I play and I think that I switch between the two depending on the game.  To me, Descent is D&D Lite, so I like to play that more as an adventure.  Other games, I kind of just want to win despite the interesting story of the game.

Before I go on, I have to define a few things.  Theme is not the same as the story.  A game's theme is the setting and style.  The who are you and what are you doing of the game.  Every single game has this.  The story is the why of the game.  Why are you trying to achieve your objective?  Not every game has this.  Apples to Apples theme is comparison and modern day pop culture.  Settlers of Catan's setting is the island of Catan.  If it has any story it's that you are competing to settle the island better than everyone else because I guess something magical happens once you settle it enough?  Typically, the games with stories are the ones where you have characters and are playing a role.  The Mansion of Madness, the Betrayal at House on the Hill, the aforementioned Descent and Adventurers games, Tales of the Arabian Nights, etc.

So, obviously if a game has no story or a weak story, people are playing to win (unless they have a fantasy world in their head even more elaborate than my own...).  But what I've discovered personally is that when I play for a story, the game is more fulfilling than just playing to win (unless I've been on a really long losing streak...).  Some of my favorite game nights are ones where a story came out of it.  Like the time my friends were playing Tales of the Arabian Nights and my friends spent the entire game in prison, ensorcelled, insane, and enchanted, finally escapes by grabbing on to a rope of an evil visier's magic carpet, and then falls to his death because he can't hang on.  (That was not such a great night for him and he won't play the game anymore, but I still find it funny.)  I think part of the reason why playing for story is more fulfilling is that I tend to play nicer.  I'll hint about strategies other players could employ against me because it will make things more interesting.  I might try riskier strategies because if it succeeds, it's going to be an awesome story and if it fails I can go down in a blaze of glory.  Also, when I play for story and don't play to win, there's less chance of me pouting if I reach the point in a game where it's impossible to win and I have to keep playing (being trapped and unable to build in Settlers is so depressing).

What I'm kind of curious about, is when designing a game do the designers have a story in mind?  I know for  every game I've come up with there is always a definite story in mind for the players to experience.  The game always takes precedent over the story when it comes time to design it or make choices, but it's always there in the back of my mind.  I guess that's what the rule book is for...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Are Video Games Based on Movies SO BAD?

It's a fairly well-known fact that movies that are based on video games are terrible.  I was going to write on how the conversion going the other way is equally terrible, but after doing some research, I'm not quite sure that's true.  I already knew a bunch of examples of games based on licenses (but no particular movie) that were successes (Transformers: War for Cybertron, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, Ghostbusters, and countless Star Wars and Indiana Jones based games).  So I figured I'd narrow it down to tie-in movies - video games that are required to come out at the same time as a movie that are known for being rushed and given too many publisher requirements to be a fun and creative experience.  But after looking into that, I found out there are more decent to good movie tie-ins than I thought.

I knew from personal experience that I enjoyed a few myself.  But since the critics didn't always agree with me (I liked the Iron Man game personally), I did a search that was less biased (or rather the bias is based on multiple peoples' opinions and not just my own).  The following games received 75+ Metacritic scores: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Toy Story 3, Kung Fu Panda, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  So what this tells me is that it is possible to have a video game based on a movie and release at the same time with the chance that it's not terrible, but I think that unless the IP is something for typically nerdy people (comic book fans and high fantasy fans) or for their children, you're going to have a rough time of it.  And even that isn't a guarantee of quality.  I think just like the movies themselves, the creativity required to make a truly amazing gaming experience cannot be stifled by the movie's deadlines or limiting the game to the movie's content.

I was glad to find in my search that movie tie-ins seem to be few and far between recently (the only ones released I could find this summer have been Battleship, Brave, and The Amazing Spider-Man), so maybe someone is getting the message that rushed games just aren't worth it?  I am all for bringing movies into the video game realm, but the source needs to be treated with respect just like any other translation.  Also, unless the movie feels like a video game (e.g. you can distinguish levels, bosses, action sequences that would be fun to play, etc), the video game adaptation should expand on the movie, not just rehash it.

Also, during my research, I was very intrigued to discover that one of my favorite movies growing up, Darkman, had an apparently successful tie-in game associated with it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lives In Video Games

While playing through various first party games for the Wii, I've discovered a strange trend that I thought we were over.  Nintendo still seems to be stuck on giving the players a set of lives which cause a game over when they are all lost.  This game design stopped making sense as soon as players gained the ability to save games.  Before that point, beating games was an all or nothing thing.  It made sense because there was no way to keep your progress partway through the game.  However, once players gained the ability to save a game, the game over screen has little to no meaning.  It's just a nuisance they have to sit through until they can load their saved game - which is also why the time between death and playing again should be as short as possible, but that's another topic.

It's even more ridiculous in modern day games like Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy, and Donkey Kong Country Returns because games are saved after every level or whenever the player chooses, so the game over screen has no power over them.  They lose absolutely nothing from the game over.  They already have to start a level over either completely or part way because they lost a life.  I think they even realize this since in a lot of cases you can either buy extra lives (DKCR) or there are some easily obtainable ones scattered around the world (every Mario game).  So what's the point of even having the life system other than nostalgia purposes?

What's even more ridiculous is that with the more recent Mario games, every time you start up the disc, you start with 4-5 lives, no matter what you had when you quit the last session, which means that if you quit before the final world, then you get to start the (generally) hardest part of the game without the stockpile of lives you had worked hard to earn.  But Eric, if lives don't matter than why does it matter that they aren't saved along with your progress?  Well, most of the time, 1-Ups in the levels of these games are either well hidden or hard to get.  So getting them takes skill and the 1-Up is your reward.  So every time you quit the game, you lose all the rewards and proof of your hard work.  Also, even though the game over screen doesn't affect your progress, it's still a big "YOU SUCK" to the player when it happens, which is why players don't need to see that on the harder levels - they're already going to be frustrated enough without the game reasserting how awful they are.

I can't really think of any other modern games that have this same concept of lives other than Nintendo games.  Most games give you a health bar and a single life before the Game Over screen (which makes sense).  So other than the fact that it would make coins/bananas and 1-Ups completely pointless, I can't think of a single reason why Nintendo keeps them around.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Grudges and Archenemies

If you have never seen the cartoon Gargoyles, I would highly recommend you watch it (even if you're an adult).  Not only is it made by some pretty amazing people, but it has incredibly well done continuity and character building.  One of the aspects I loved the most is that each one of the main gargoyles had a grudge against a different one of their villains that persisted throughout the show and heavily influenced their interactions with those characters.  Goliath and Xanatos, Brooklyn and Demona, Lexington and The Pack, Broadway and criminals with guns, and Hudson and the Archmage.  Any time one of these villains showed up, the appropriate gargoyle would start acting very different.  Goliath was always quick to mistrust David Xanatos.  Lexington was always eager to go out and fight if The Pack was involved.  Broadway would go in a rage to destroy the firearms because of a bad experience he had with one in the past.  These recurring attitudes really helped to give a strong depth to the gargoyle's characters because you would slowly see them overcome the grudge to win the day.  Goliath kept being forced to team up with Xanatos.  Lexington kept getting caught when he stupidly rushed out to fight The Pack, so he eventually learned to fight smarter (which made sense since he was the smartest of the gargoyles).

Star Trek: The Next Generation had a similar thing going on, but not so tangible.  Almost every time a character had an episode revolve around them, they would have to struggle with the same issue.  Geordi would time and again have episodes about bad relationships.  Riker kept dealing with problems caused by his career (either focusing too much on it in his past or refusing to advance to Captain).  Crusher dealt with being alone.  Picard kept dealing with opening up and not being such a stoic Captain.

I want to say I'm just illustrating some examples of a foil, but with Star Trek, they were situations and not characters and with Gargoyles, they weren't the opposite of the character, they were just an archenemy developed from the gargoyle's first experience with them.  I guess this is much harder to do if your story just has a single protagonist since he'll just seem really bitter if he has a strong grudge against all of his villains.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: Darksiders

"Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword." - Revelation 6:4
Taking the setting of the seven seals and the four horsemen of the apocalypse found in Revelation, this game pits you as the horseman, War.  In this universe, when the seventh seal is broken, the four horsemen are summoned to determine the ultimate fates between the Kingdoms of Heaven, Hell, and Man.  Or at least that was the plan.  War's story starts out being summoned amidst a raging battle between the forces of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Hell on Earth with the Kingdom of Man (who were created to be a balance between the other two kingdoms) getting decimated in between.  After the leader of the Kingdom of Heaven gets killed and War nearly gets killed, the Council in charge of the balance and the horsemen blame War for the Kingdom of Hell taking over the earth.  They proceed to strip him of his powers and send him back to seek vengeance on whoever mistakenly summoned him.

To be honest, that set up for the game felt kind of weak to me and more of a "We need to give a reason for War to want to kill how about this?" feeling.  I never understood why War being summoned when he wasn't supposed to be and just doing his job would get him in trouble or be his fault...but that's okay.  I was fine with just accepting that I needed to run around slaying demons (and occasionally angels).

Gameplay itself is a mix between God of War and Zelda.  It's a third person action RPG with combos, a tiny bit of fighting strategy, and chests with green, red, or blue souls that each serve a different purpose.  It also has dungeons with maps and compasses showing the locations of all items in the dungeon with a boss defeated using the item you get in the dungeon.  So gameplay-wise there is nothing really new here.  They pretty much just grabbed from multiple sources and put it all together.  The great part is that they did that very well.  All the systems fit together and they followed some very tried and true game design methods.  Unfortunately, they had the same problem as God of War where you only need to use a few combos over and over and over again to win.  It was very very very rare that I had to change my fighting style to cope with anything.  So the only strategy was to run away when I was overwhelmed and then dive in with the same combos again and repeat.

The game definitely has its own visual style, though.  It's beautiful and feels like a very well developed world in its own right.  The characters are mostly enjoyable as well (except the one you're meant to hate...), especially the giant....giant? with the Scottish accent and giant hammer.  He is freaking awesome.  War himself is a mix between extreme rage and extreme sense of duty, both of which tend to require him to kill almost everyone he sees and never back down from a challenge, but I still like him better than Kratos who is just all rage all the time.

The developers also took a huge risk with a new IP and gave it a cliffhanger ending, but it worked for me and got me very excited for more games in this universe.  It also clearly worked financially since Darksiders 2 is coming out August 14th.

Ultimately, I was glad to have bought and played this game and do recommend it, but I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it.  I'd say it's worth $40, a steal for the $20 you can find it for now.