As my move to Kiruna meant that I am now working from home, my 1½ hour daily commute is no more and with it disappeared a large part of handheld gaming time, leaving summer as my main period for using my DS (my PSP hasn't been played all year). Professor Layton & The Curious Village is one of this years better titles although I had the opportunity to try out quite a few other ones. Some of my favourites include Tetris DS, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, Duck Amuck, Mario Hoops 3-on-3, Star Fox Command, Planet Puzzle League, Soul Bubbles and Picross DS, but they all had to take a backseat to Civilization: Revolution which got the lion share of my gaming time this summer.
This is my first Civilization game so I can't really speak to the concessions and streamlining made for the console release. But simply comparing the 360 version with the DS was enough to show what a complete game the DS version is, I'm amazed that they really did put the effort into making a well adapted version for the handheld. This is definitely my DS game of 2008, now if only I can put it aside long enough for the others to get a chance.
One DS game did however manage to get some game-time in between the rise and fall of handheld civilizations, namely the excellent Space Invaders Extreme. I was never a fan of the original way back when, I much preferred centipede, space wars, and even pong to space invaders so I was really surprised that this game was so much fun, especially after so many failed attempts at re-inventing classic games. The music and constant jumps between different play styles serve to keep things fresh and engaging beyond the normal high-score hunt that I personally seldom am interested in joining (as my rather lack-luster scores in Geometry Wars will attest).
On returning home after the summer I was meet by thick fog that lay for several days around our house. This along with a weekend hiking excursion to a nearby valley filled with gigantic rocks jutting out of the grass and covered with moss and lichen inspired me to finally play through Shadow of the Colossus. As luck would have it 1Up FM was just starting and their first Backlog was on this particular game, giving me even more motivation. Now, It might sound like I wasn't interested in the game, however I assure you the case was quite the opposite. I was very much looking forward to playing it, but I wanted to feel that I did it when I was really in the mood and could fully take the game in.
Like Ico before it, SotC became one of my all-time favourite games, definitely in the top five. This game is Atmosphere (<- with a capital 'A'). The story and undertones are though-provoking and it lifts itself above most games and is irrefutably art in all senses of the word. Ico and what I had seen of SotC where instrumental in my late purchase of a PS2 and as it stands the next game from Team Ico (often referred to as "Trico") may well be the game that gets me to fork out for a PS3 one day. So if you haven't yet played SotC I suggest you do so, and I highly recommend checking out the Backlog section of these episodes of 1Up FM for some excellent discussions 062308, 063008, 070708 and 071408.
I gave Call of Duty 2 a go. As the only game that seemed remotely interesting on the 360 when it launched, this game has been in the back of my mind ever since and I've been meaning to try it at some point, after a few sessions though I lost interest. There's just something about the World War II setting that I find uninspiring, perhaps it's that we have been so over saturated with it during the decades after the war. I've never played any other WW2 shooter (besides demos or a couple of goes at Battlefield 1942) so it isn't due to playing too many. Maybe it's just that I have too many preconceptions of what it was like through books and movies that a game just feels too contrived and shallow. It's still on my shelf though, so you never know...
Soul Calibur IV arrived with both mixed feelings and mixed reviews. The adolescent focus on the constantly more and more exposed skin and over-sized boobs of the female characters has now gone beyond any kind of beauty or fantasy aspirations and tethers between the vulgar and the bizarre. Despite this and any critique about this being an unbalanced fighter that doesn't reinvent itself, I found it to be solid and back to the glory days of SCII which was my favourite fighter of last-gen. Personally my friends and I are far from good enough to where any possible balance issues are noticeable for us. For me SCIV strikes the perfect balance between accessible and challenging and it follows the tradition of a strong single-player component and adds an excellent character creation tool that I have probably spent as much time with as actually fighting. Anyone want to challenge my Guybrush Threepwood? Oh, and then there was the guest characters, Yoda, Darth Vader and his apprentice "Starkiller" from The Force Unleashed. What a strange and unexpected crossover that was. Did anyone buy this game because of those?
Speak of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, after an extra years delay it was finally let loose on the collective gaming and Star Wars communities. Standing firmly in the rather large overlapping section of these two demographics I'm a loyal listener to gaming podcasts like 1Up Yours, 1Up FM, the Giant Bombcast and the Wiire as well as Star Wars podcast, The ForceCast. It's always funny (although sometimes quite irritating) to hear the gaming community talk about Star Wars and get several things wrong and viceversa as the fairly casual gamers of The ForceCast discuss gaming. While the gaming sites fault the game for it's rough gaming mechanics and repetitiveness, the Star Wars community is more focused on the games story and slightly ignorant of the standards we hold a modern game to. As someone who considers himself a fairly well-versed gamer and Star Wars fan I'm able to forgive the game for it's short comings considering the high level of the Star Wars experience that it delivers. Read my review for all the details.