Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

The Talk – Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare – (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS4 (Review system), PS3; PopCap; EA)

I remember when EA announced this game like a year or two ago that I was in this odd small grouping that thought this was a really cool idea. Here’s Popcap, perennial makers of super addictive puzzle games that steal your life, giving a third person shooter a go, and making it look damn good too in the process, as well as giving gamers a fairly family friendly and brand-recognisable alternative to all those gory grey gun games. I’m fairly sure this was also when the Popcap CEO got super excited and announced Peggle 2 and was jumping about and then a meme was started but that’s all besides the point. I remember there being a fair few detractors that day as well, which is fair enough; it’s not hard to see why the games community would not respond well to a team known for casual puzzle games going into a genre they have no experience with and creating a game that looks more like a joke than a serious game. Oh yeah, and also EA were publishing it and mentioning EA three times in a mirror has a gamer come to kill you so they had that against them too.

So now that the game has (finally) come to Sony consoles, so I get to have a chance to play it. It has spent the past year since release as a Microsoft exclusive (360, One and PC), but thankfully, EA made yet another of their preferred-platform swings and were all happy with Sony this year and here we are.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - Potted Plant

Pow, right in the kisser

When you first load up the game, I can’t say it necessarily does the best impressions for an introduction. At least for me, having gotten a new copy close to release with a code for what was the pre-order bonuses, I loaded up the game and the first thing I was directed to was the ‘Sticker Store’. The Sticker Store is so reminiscent of a free-to-play card game’s way of getting you to spend money that its beyond funny; no, as far as I’m aware, PvZ: Garden Warfare features no microtransactions, but giving me a menu that almost makes me think you’re waiting to nickel and dime me isn’t a good idea. Thankfully, as I discovered, the currency used to get new booster pack things is plentiful by just playing the game, with a good couple of missions getting you to a working amount of coins, but the whole thing is introduced with little explanation and just left me feeling a bit worried that this was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’d finally come to join the EA-hating masses.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - Combat

Only good zombie is a dead zombie

At the same time though, as much as my internal gamer cynicism was like “Urgh, this isn’t that great as the start of the game”, the part of me that loves Popcap and the original Plants Vs Zombies was screaming “Yeah, but look how cool everything looks and the cheeky chirpy music and the colours and the design and it’s all so FUUUUUUUUUUN!”. When in doubt, I normally defer to that voice, it has the most childlike wonder, so I just sat back and began to get ready to enjoy the ride. Even from the main menu, the game very much wants to lull you in and immerse you into this fantastical cartoon world; the whole vibe, as it did with the original strategy games, has that very cartoony, almost family friendly feel to it, and it suits this game quite well as a kind of antithesis to a lot of the most popular guns-go-pew games that have come out in the past few years.

And the gameplay, across the board, is on point. This game nails being a third person arena shooter pretty damn well, despite all the crazy bizarre aesthetics. The character classes all feel really nice to play, and between the Plants and Zombie classes, none of them feel cookie cutter from one another. All of it is really well balanced in that regard. Particularly with the Plants side, as they’re the team you have in both the Garden Ops and Multiplayer modes. On top of the fact that there are the different 4 classes, each class has a variety of sub-classes, if this makes sense, that each vary from one another in one regard or another; currently, I’ve got a Cactus subclass unlocked, called Citrus Cactus, which makes the Cactus look like a peeled orange, and has him shoot oranges in bursts of 3 rather than shooting a single spine, and while I’m still using the basic Cactus skills currently, I’m aware that you can change those if you get the unlocks, the unlocks themselves coming from the Sticker Shop.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Ops

What a prickly reception

In terms of the specifics of the game modes, Garden Ops is your basic horde mode gameplay with some really cool boss stuff thrown in each 5 waves, and the Multiplayer offers your basic Call of Duty package of game modes for your enjoyment, as well as a nice Welcome mode that is basically the normal game but its apparently there so you can just start to get used to things. There aren’t a huge number of maps from what I’m aware, but what maps there are work really well for all the classes, and with non-fixed respawn points in your deathmatch modes and few ‘sniper’ players, you don’t have to worry too much about everyone knowing a particular map too well or anything. The levels themselves also carry quite a lot of the cartoony vibrancy of the game over as well, and none of them feel too similar; even the few suburb levels don’t quite feel the same, meaning there’s a nice variety wherever the game ends up having you play.

Overall, as a game thats not charging full RRP but is mainly only giving you online play, I can’t fault Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. It does what it says on the tin, and does it really well; its not a game that pushes the boat out, but hey, this isn’t a shooting game from Epic or Bungie or Infinity Ward so thats not what its there for. I can see this being a game that I’ll keep dipping my toes back into for as long as the playerbase is here to support it honestly, because its a tight and gorgeous little game and it is the most fun I’ve had with a shooter since probably way back when I was really into Team Fortress 2. As crazy as it may sound for me to give an EA game such a glowing compliment (even though EA published The Orange Box).

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


Lego Marvel - Stan Lee Hulk

Why Haven’t You Played – LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Pretty much all consoles that currently exist and have games being put on them currently, Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros., 2013)

I can probably answer my own question quite briefly here with a few simple reasons; “I didn’t really know it existed”, “I don’t like Marvel/LEGO games/both”, “I think LEGO games got boring really fast” and “I’m not a kid, I’m a MATOOR gamer with my Dootar Deux and my Gerald’s Mod and my Counterstroke and my Collar Doody, I don’t play your kid games”. This article basically exists for me to tell you that you’re wrong/blind if you think either of the first three, and to publicly expose you to laughter if it’s the fourth one. Obviously it won’t exactly be the fourth one, that’s the point of me phrasing it in such a mocking way, but still, that realm of reasoning.

Needless to say, the first option shouldn’t really be a thing after I’ve written this. This is a very clear note to you that this fantastic game does very much exist. Oh man, it exists so hard, it’s not even funny, even though the game is really funny. But I guess just telling you it exists isn’t really good enough; I should give you actual reasons why you’d want to buy it if you didn’t know about it before now. Well, to put it basically, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (I’m just going to call it LEGO Marvel from here on out to save time) is a third person action/adventure/platformer game where you play as LEGO figurine versions of Marvel characters, obviously. It’s not that much of a stone’s throw from LEGO Star Wars on most levels of its basic moment-to-moment gameplay, really. It’s still a collect-‘em-all style game, and now you can collect Stan Lee’s Gratitude™ by rescuing him from various odd situations. Thing is though, the game makes wonderful use of the fact that Traveller’s Tales started using actual voice work in cutscenes by having the voice actors from the animated shows (and other places obviously) do the voices of the characters, and it has a wonderful recreation of a slightly-Marvel-infused Manhattan. By slightly-Marvel-infused, I mean, Stark Tower is there in its full height, and there’s the Oscorp building (in the style of the new Spidey movies) and the Daily Bugle and the Roxxon headquarters and some others; it’s got those little bits that make it Marvel, not just New York.

Lego Marvel - Spider-Man

Does whatever a LEGO Spider can.

So yeah, it’s using those little innovations that the LEGO games have gotten recently, like better story-telling and far more open and expansive gameplay. But it’s not just that it has those innovations in it, but that it uses them so well; the story in LEGO Marvel is actually rather good (though that could be my inner fanboy influencing me there) and the world is one of my favourite sandboxes to play around in[linked to article about my favourite sandboxes]. There’s a reason why my first playthrough of the game, on PC, had me racing through the story because I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next (certainly an advantage of when the games aren’t just regurgitating film/book stories (which is a definite issue with the Star Wars, Harry Potter and LOTR LEGO games)) and then spending a long time just playing around and enjoying Manhattan and trying to unlock everything I could and get even more with the game.

That should all mean that I’ve covered two of those reason categories I put at the top then; I’ve told you what LEGO Marvel is and what it’s about and such if you didn’t know about it, and I’ve told you why its fantastically different to pretty much all the other LEGO games. I suppose that leaves me with you not liking LEGO/Marvel or you being a ‘HORDKAR GAMYR’ and not enjoying ‘kid games’ (or ‘console games’ if you’re bigger into your PC than is probably healthy). If you don’t really like LEGO games or Marvel or both of them, then I guess that’s your bag and there’s probably not much I can tell you to make you change your mind on that. I will say though that is one of the most fun and satisfying games I’ve played in quite some time, and I did generally consider it my Game of the Year for 2013 for good reason. If you want a real damn good game and it goes up on sale or its cheap pre-owned or something like that, you’d be doing yourself a real disservice to ignore it. And if you’re a PC gamer, and have thrown aside the LEGO games for being half-assed ports, this one (barring some graphical options if I remember correctly) is fantastically well-done and probably feels more on par with the PS4 and Xbox One versions, than it does the current generation versions (note: I have only played the game on PC and PS3, so I can only definitely compare those two).

Lego Marvel

Squirrel Girl is the best. End of story.

So now I suppose the only group I haven’t really addressed are the people that see the LEGO games as games for kids, and feel above them. Well, let me say to you naysayers, don’t let the gritty Unreal and Frostbite engines cloud your ability to have some goddamn fun. The LEGO games are well made for anyone who wants to play them, and the fact that they have universal appeal and are able to be universally entertaining is a testament to the fact that the games are basically made of unbridled fun. You are genuinely restricting yourself from a hell of a good time if your basic response is to go “Yeah but it’s a game for kids, and I don’t play those, now let me get back to my shooting game that has brown and grey and nothing else”, and I do wish you’d see sense, pick up this fantastically colourful game and just kick back and have some colossal amounts of fun.

Alright then, I think this is tied up now. I expect to hear you all gushing the praises of LEGO Marvel by a month after the Steam Christmas Sale, because you should own it by then. ALL OF YOU. No excuses. Get playing it. I just told you why.

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


Aiden Pearce - Watch_Dogs

Cult of No-Personality – Gruff White Guys & The Idea of the Default Hero in Games

Did you know that Die Hard, every reasonable person’s favourite Christmas movie, is actually based on a book? And in that book, John McClain, Mr Gruff Rogue Policeman Protagonist himself, was actually a fairly old, grizzled and grumpy man, a la Donald Glover in Lethal Weapon? And that in the movie, they decided that wouldn’t quite fit, so they changed his character to be more suited to someone like Bruce Willis to play? I tell you this fact, just as an interesting introduction to the world of the media wanting young or middle-aged, gruff, white, male protagonists, though obviously, I’m going to talk about games here because this is a games website and I try to remain a focussed writer to some level. To get back to games on some level, why don’t you take a look around at the protagonists of many of this year’s biggest games, and how many of them are gruff white guys, which I’m now shortening to GWGs to save my word count some abuse (extra bonus points go to where they’re a vigilante of some description, or their family was hurt prior to or at the beginning of the game, or where they’re out for redemption of some sort for past sins, because those are all crucial GWG qualities).

Watch_Dogs is a pretty prime example of everything that is the issue with GWGs in games. Ignoring the fact that Aiden Pearce, aka Hack’n’Shoot Hatmaskman, is essentially a walking digital pile of crime fiction tropes, he is essentially given very little real development throughout the game. The game introduces him as a gruff white guy who hacks stuff for his own personal profit, then some bad stuff happens, he feels guilty for the bad stuff that happens, and becomes a vigilante to redeem himself and get some fairly petty vengeance against people. Following all that hassle, he gets embroiled in a revenge plot against him by an old partner which puts his family in danger, all of which is again insanely stereotypical crime vigilante fiction and in no way gives you a good reason to play the game. And if your lengthy singleplayer-focussed story-oriented game has a protagonist that has no relatability or interesting features, and a story that has no real originality to it, then things are going to drag real quickly. The only reason I personally found to want to follow the adventures of Mr Hatmaskman was that this was about as close as I could get to a good Punisher game at the minute, and went about trying to focus on enjoying the gameplay and being a vigilante in a fairly solid city simulation with working public transport and nice gunplay.

And that’s a game that people have largely derided for its story, so its not exactly hard to pick at its already criticised-to-death corpse with all the other amateur journalist vultures (note: I actually quite like Watch_Dogs as a game, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have issues). Both of the big hitting AAA games that competed for Game of the Year on most sites, and are getting or have had re-releases this year, also have this major issue with using GWGs as their protagonists. The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V both feature morally ambiguous white men who end up seeking redemption or something similar on their respective journeys; yes, you could say that the storylines to those games are more complicated than that, and there is more to the characters than that, and even that I’m attacking games that don’t need to be attacked because they still tell fine stories with the characters they use and they have other playable or leading characters that aren’t gruff white guys. And you’re not wrong to say that; hell, if all gruff white guys were as well written as Joel in the Last of Us, we’d be just fine. But what if we could be better than just fine, and what if we could have made some of those characters not just fit the default?

To a rather basic observation, the characters of Joel and Lee, from the Walking Dead games by Telltale, are actually rather similar. Both of them are these grizzled cynical middle-aged guys who’ve seen their fair share of shit and done their fair share of bad things, and end up pairing up with a young girl to try and seek redemption and survival in the crazy post-apocalyptic worlds they live in. And without this necessarily becoming a reflection on which developers have better writers, Lee is the more interesting of the two characters in my opinion, and this is largely helped by the fact that he’s not just another gruff white guy; there is dialogue that allows for a reasonable, non-exploitative use of the fact that he’s not a GWG, emphasis more on the W than anything else, throughout the Walking Dead. That then allows for a more interesting dynamic between him and some of the other characters as well as allowing those of us who don’t experience life like that a small emulation of the experience and allowing those of us who can more directly relate to Lee to have someone to look up to in games, which is far too rare. On the other hand, Joel’s character is more just defined by his gender, age and gruffness, which is just a bit better than par for the course with game protagonist character development; again though, this isn’t me saying ‘Oh, The Last of Us is terrible because Joel is white and gruff’, this is me saying ‘Joel’s character is great within the story generally, but it is also very default-hero and I see no real reason why that has to be the case, when we see more interesting non-default heroes of a similar vein elsewhere’.

And then onto the other big game, Grand Theft Auto V. The one where Rockstar decided to be a bit ballsy and have 3 protagonists instead of just 1. And to their credit, it was an interesting design choice, for sure; now if only the protagonists were as interesting in design choices. Of the three, two are gruff middle-aged career criminal white guys, looking to make some money to pay off some bad choices and help mentor the third character, who is a young inexperienced black guy (who is fairly underplayed and is generally regarded as the worst of the three characters by most players, which tells you something about Rockstar’s focus in character design and plotting). I get that Michael is the retired family man, and that Trevor is the psychopathic criminal, neither of which are totally obvious crime fiction tropes at all obviously, but what specifically requires both of them to be gruff middle-aged white guys. In conversations I’ve had with people, they’ve said “Because the plot requires them to be so”, but I refuse to believe that Rockstar write a plot first and then go “Right, well, nothing about this can be changed, this is literally the Bible to our new game and this is the purest and holiest form of game canon” and fit all their characters into it. Just think about how cool it could have been if Michael was a female character, who’d settled down into a mother role and was lured back into her criminal ways or had her criminal ways catch up to her, in a kind of Orange Is The New Black style perhaps, or if Trevor had been some kind of Machete-like psychopath, as opposed to just a disgusting balding white guy.

Which leads me to what I think is a game that I think will make a fairly solid comparison to Grand Theft Auto V; Sleeping Dogs. Sleeping Dogs is yet another open world crime game, but it has plenty of distinctions that make it rather unlike the rest; as opposed to being set in an American city or a pastiche of an American city, it’s set in Hong Kong, and instead of having another white guy criminal or grizzled middle-aged cop out for redemption or revenge or whatever, you play as a young Interpol agent who originally came from Hong Kong but mostly grew up in the States and is back to infiltrate the Triad. Now, to me at least, that brief summary of only the start of Sleeping Dogs sounds more interesting than most open world crime games set in America with a GWG as a lead, but hey, what do I know. And this is not to say that Sleeping Dogs does not descend into crime fiction tropes either; it is absolutely full of them, and often feels like a grand tribute to John Woo, but hey, how many games do you get that feel like they’re homages to John Woo as opposed to people like Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino. It is very much a game that tries to represent a culture that other games don’t, and that gives it this wonderful sense of novelty, for lack of a better word, that feeds back into the world so much more; in place of the typical open world mini games, there’s bizarre little things like a Karaoke mini game, which I find unceasingly hilarious but not because of how odd it is to have it in there, which make sense within the context, as do other changes to the game. The whole game world and the plot and everything are all the more interesting for the fact that the protagonist and the game’s setting were picked to be outside of the default gruff white male crime game lead and the default American urban environment.

On the topic of games that benefit from having a protagonist/s that isn’t all that default in a game world that isn’t too default either, its about time I brought up Mercenaries as a counter to boring old gruff white guy marine stereotypes. Yes, one of the three characters you can choose to play as IS a gruff white marine, but he’s more of a violent Swede than an American, and of the three, his background is the least interesting; the other two characters are an African American soldier whose father was a diplomat, and a Chinese-British female soldier. The main reason that I mention the African American soldier’s father is that each of these characters got a neat little un-mentioned bonus in the course of the game, as depending on the character you chose, you’d be able to understand what one of the three non-UN factions working with Korea were saying; the Swede could understand what the Russian mafia said, the American understood the South Korean forces and the Chinese-British woman understood the Chinese leadership. It meant that you got this slight insight into what each group was up to, and it was all the more reason not to trust anyone within the warzone. Also, the warzone itself, rather than being [insert Middle Eastern country where instability might happen] or America’s own backyard, was North and South Korea, which you freely roamed, trying to hold back North Korean troops from conquering the peninsula. It’s not really an environment you see much in games, and it has a wonderful alienness to it as you see all this Communist architecture and all these statues dedicated to their glorious leader. The environment could be done with a gruff white protagonist, sure, but I like to discuss it as being outside the default, plus half the fun of exploring that environment comes from the fact that you’re a private contractor who is not your average US soldier in the warzone and you can go and do your own thing instead of sticking with your particular regiment or whatever.

In the wake of Alien: Isolation coming out, it seems relevant to think about the space equivalent to our dear gruff white guy marine as well. Considering we live in a world where women are getting ever closer to being frontline soldiers just like men, and its not like women aren’t in the armed forces anyway, it seems odd that the vast VAST majority of combat-participating characters in shooty games set in the future are men. To the point where a female character in Gears of War is apparently an applaudable thing. A single female character. Sure, we get the occasional badass female in space, following in the footsteps of Ridley and her alien-ass-kicking ways, but most of the time it’s another Master Chief or whatever-the-boring-lead-from-Gears-of-War’s-name-is or whatever-the-boring-leads-from-the-Killzone-games’-names-are to add to the pile of soon-to-be-nameless and forgotten protagonists who shoot stuff in space. And its a terrible case when these people who have some degree of imagination because they can come up with these fantastical worlds in the galaxy and these cool weapons and setpieces and things can’t be bothered to do anything with the protagonist because its easier to just lean on the default and work from there. Why not let the player be in some kind of Sisters of Mercy-esque (The Sisters of Mercy are a group in Warhammer 40K, who are essentially violent fiery nuns to the Emperor) unit that goes around kicking ass, instead of just being another grunt, huh?

So what I’m saying is, how about we stop falling back on the default heroes and environments and plots and all the rest in games? How about we push some boundaries, get some more interesting things going, create a more diverse industry and fanbase for gaming, and all have that bit more fun? How about we put our imaginations and creativity towards creating something other than short-haired-deep-voiced-grunt-no.326 and his journey into a desert to shoot folk for the US government? As much as people worry about the idea of having this more diverse cast of protagonists across the games industry, it only helps to push developers and writers to create more interesting stories and characters if they don’t just rely on the default gruff white guy archetype that games seem to love and use oh so very much all the time. And if nothing else, I’m much happier having interesting games with new narratives than another gruff white guy who lost his family and is looking for redemption or who lost his squadmates and is looking for revenge. Much happier.

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.



In Case You Missed It – 17th to 23rd November

Big News:

No real groundbreaking news this week, but…

Far Cry 4 has some graphical problems on PC that, as of this being written, are still going on.

GTA V’s re-release had an issue with transferring your old character to your XBOne or PS4 but that has been patched. Seems like Rockstar is the only one who can get shit right when it comes to games releases.

Warloards of Draenor still has the same looooooong waiting lines. Apparently its really good but whats the point if you cant play it?

Big Releases This Week:

GTA V(XBOne/PS4): Pretty much the exact same thing as what we saw last year but with amazingly redone graphics and a new and very interesting first person mode. If there was a game that had a justified re-release, this is it. Absolutely stunning visuals compared to last year and honestly, its better enough to justify buying it even if you bought it last year.

Super Smash Bros(Wii U): I mean, we knew what to expect. Its amazing, if you have a Wii U I’m stunned if you don’t already have it but yeah more of the same. Side note, I really don’t get the whole Amiibo thing but whatever. Capitalize on the fad while its hot I suppose.

Far Cry 4(PS4, XBOne, PC): No real bugs on consoles and some people seem to be experiencing performance issues on PC but Ubisoft did a whole lot better on it than Unity. If you liked the last one you’re gonna probably like this.

LittleBigPlanet 3(PS4): Great game for the PS4, not really sure about what’s different (I only played the first one) but I mean its apparently pretty good so go for it.

Dragon Age Inquisition(XBOne, PS4, PC): Amazing. Unsurprisingly, graphical errors and bugs here and there, as seem to have become the norm these days but otherwise just a great game all around.

Our Stuff:

Bad Games Do It Well– Why some legitimately bad games can still bring fun into your day.

Harder Better Faster Stronger– Looking back at four Xbox/PS2/Gamecube games that are in dire need of a remake.

The Talk- CounterSpy– Joe discusses CounterSpy, a tactical shooter for PS3, PS4 and Vita

Alex Walsh is the News Editor of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he is the second employee. Most most importantly, he is the website manager. He is also an avid writer and maintainer of the site. #2 on the site, #1 in your hearts folks.


The Talk – CounterSpy

CounterSpy (PS3, PS4, Vita (CrossBuy + CrossSave); Dynamighty)

I finished my first playthrough of CounterSpy early after its release, on Vita, after playing the game pretty much all the time I could within the day since I got my hands on it. I finished with the 542nd best score on the leaderboards, which I don’t think was too shabby, as impressive as the top scores are. What I’m trying to express here is how much this game has swallowed me up into its wonderful little world; I only really heard about it the day before I bought it, then quickly became obsessed with it. And if you’ve ever seen the game in action, or even in screenshots, you might understand why.

Of course, if you haven’t, I’m here to explain why I’ve suddenly fallen in love with this game so much. CounterSpy is a 2.5D stealth game, which means you’ll get obvious comparisons to Mark of the Ninja; those comparisons though don’t really suit here. Whereas, in my opinion, the true strength of Mark of the Ninja was not in its somewhat distinct styling but in its gameplay, the real strength of CounterSpy lies in its aesthetics and sound and setting. The actual gameplay of CounterSpy is largely quite shallow in honesty; while the difficulty curve is present and rewardingly steep, the core gameplay is primarily sneak through the military base taking out dudes with your guns or with your little CQC moves and getting the intel and bonuses before you turn off their launch computer and exit the level, while getting points for your overall campaign score along the way. It’s not overly complicated, and it never gets more complicated, as you unlock more weapons that primarily just allow you to fiddle with your playstyle rather than radically change the game.

CounterSpy - Cover

[Mission Impossible theme]

But don’t let that disparage you from playing the game. The gameplay is still generally tight and fun to play, considering how satisfying it is to just pop all the little officers with a headshot with your rinky dink silenced pistol. And ultimately, the gameplay is held up by everything else in the game. The whole aesthetic and sound and setting of the game come together to form this amazing experience that feels almost like if Pixar decided to try and make a James Bond film; it’s this Cold War spy dramatics, but with this incredibly stylised 3D animated style and with this quintessentially 60s-spy-movie soundtrack that comes and goes as it pleases in this sweet espionage way.

In fact, everything about the game is designed to serve this amazing Cold War espionage atmosphere. Your character is almost completely glossy black, with light reflecting off him and tiny details such as a red watch and his gun, and it gives you this wonderful notion of a faceless agent working in the shadows; you don’t need to know his name or anything about him, just that he’s being a cool spy guy and he’s saving the world. All the bases have this huge military bunker feel that just kind of reminds me of the Bond film where the bad guy has a base inside a volcano and it has the shuttles and everything. Basically, just this beautiful feeling of retro espionage media.

CounterSpy - Shooting

[James Bond theme]

The fact that you play against both sides of the field as well only serves to make it all the more interesting, and the use of colour as part of that is also great; the ‘Socialists’ have lots of red walls and Cyrillic writing on the walls and these huge Communist-styled propaganda posters, while the ‘Imperialists’ have lots of blue walls and all these posters telling you about FREEDOM and AMERICA BEING THE BEST. The guards all shout different things, though their style of uniform remains the same because good colourful game design, as a reflection of the fact that they represent their special nations. But in the grandest piece of satire, a lot of the stuff barring aesthetics remains the same across the two nations, including their part in the big plan that you have to stop as a CounterSpy.

The ‘story’ of the game is something I should probably discuss as well; its this fun little mix of the nuclear arms race and the space race, in a wonderful 60s mixture, as the ‘Imperialists’ and ‘Socialists’ want to see who can blow up the Moon with nuclear missiles first, and it is up to you to try and find out their plans and sabotage their plans, so, y’know, the Earth doesn’t suffer horrible cataclysms from the Moon being destroyed. It has this grounding in reality, but also a satirical vibe that something like the Onion uses now, which only helps to support the Pixar-Cold-War feel of the game as a whole.

CounterSpy - Plans

[Austin Powers theme]

I suppose I should talk on a bit more of a technical level now as well. The game has some pretty lengthy load times, which is not something that hugely phases me, but I know it can be an issue to others, and its certainly something worth mentioning. The game also has level design and controls that are made to fit the Vita and then the PS3 and 4, in my opinion; again, its not something that phases me as I enjoy the snappy gameplay and feel the controls work perfectly fine without using R2 and L2, but its another thing worth mentioning. Also, on the Vita version, I had a few brief moments of stutter when everything was going to hell in a hand basket, but its normally quickly resolved, so again no biggie to me. All in all, on a technical level, it has its small issues, but the game itself is so fun and well-designed that I can quite happily just get into the game and ignore the problems.

So at the end of this lengthy ramble of a review, I would hope you can tell that I’m kind of gushing over this game. CounterSpy is absolutely the kind of handheld game I love, and I also love that I can play it on my home console as well because it still remains as fun and entertaining and gorgeous. If you’re up for something with a snappy aesthetic and some interesting gameplay and a neat little way to challenge yourself to play more stealthily and like more of a badass, then go ahead and get this game, or go and get a Vita and get this game even though you should have a Vita already you dingbat.

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.



Harder Better Faster Stronger – Top PS2 / Xbox / Gamecube Games In Need Of A Remake

We all spend so much time wrapped up in all these games getting remastered that only came out two years ago, that it can be easy to forget about all these wonderful games that existed before 2012. But thankfully, we’ve got Halo 2 being remastered within the Halo Collection soon and also got Wind Waker HD and the remaster of Halo 1 not that far back, which showed everyone that actually, yeah, we could probably take some games from two console generations back and jazz them up and have them be wonderfully playable all over again. So from that basis, I’ve decided to tell you what are objectively* the games most in need of a remake for the new generation. (*these are totally the subjective opinions of me as the writer and if you don’t agree then that’s fine and you’re totally allowed to be wrong on the matter).

Dragon Quest 8

Dragon Quest VIII – PS2, Level 5, Square Enix, 2004 (JP) 2005(US) 2006(EU)

I absolutely adore Dragon Quest. Absolutely 100% am head over heels in love with it. Where the Final Fantasy series has generally failed to captivate me or keep me in, Dragon Quest filled the gap. And Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was the first step in all that. Mostly because its an insanely fantastic and underappreciated gem. And that’s not just because it has this amazing old-school turn based JRPG gameplay style, which can be plenty punishing if you haven’t gotten the hang of the system and prepared properly for what you are about to face; the amount of deaths I had facing dungeon bosses because I hadn’t gotten strong enough yet was crazy. Yes, that is me saying this is a JRPG in which you grind, but the thing about having to grind was that it was never this thing that made the game any less fun, it was just yet more time to experience the game and between dungeons and towns.

The reason it never made the game any less fun, and a large reason I’d love to see the game redone in HD or higher, is that the overall design in the game is fantastic. The character and enemy designs, done by Akira Toriyama aka the Dragon Ball Z guy, are absolutely beautiful to look at and packed with character, which means that grinding and seeing the same enemies over and over or running to a new area and meeting whatever new people and enemies the game has to throw at you never stops being fun. The music in the game is just astounding; the battle theme still sticks with me to this day from when I first played the game, which must have been years back. The whole graphic design of the game generally in its celshaded style is almost like a peak for that look, for me personally; it sits so well with the character designs and gives the world such a great look, while also meaning that the game retains its charm even as its aged quite harshly as an SD game. The voice acting is quirky as all hell; Yangus and King Trode’s voices are particular highlights, but there’s also the fun of the villagers who have voices and various assorted characters throughout the story, who all generally have voices that you can’t describe as typical JRPG fare (Yangus’ wonderful cockney accent will probably stay with me forever as a highlight of voice acting).

Yet, despite all this, the game never got a huge amount of appreciation. It has a cult following, sure, and there are ninth and tenth entries into the Dragon Quest series and Toriyama’s designs have become pretty major within the series now, but its never had the widespread appreciation that say Final Fantasy 10 or 12 have, as the big JRPGs of the PS2. And while plenty of other PS2 games have had these big HD remasters, like Final Fantasy X, or definitive ports, like Persona 4, the best that Dragon Quest VIII ever got was a reductive iOS and Android port. Which is far less than it deserves. So get real Square Enix and get me a full-blown HD remake of Dragon Quest VIII already, you damn fools!

Chibi Robo

Chibi Robo – Gamecube, Skip Ltd., Nintendo, 2005 (JP) 2006 (NA/EU)

Chibi Robo is not a game I have played. The chances of me having played it were quite low anyway, between not owning a Gamecube and it being a fairly rare game.  Even with it having had a remake on Wii in 2009 (Japan-only, mind you), its not a game many people know about or really register on the radar of Gamecube classics. People will happily swing around their Wind Wakers, and their Metroid Primes, and their Super Smash Bros. Melee, and even their Super Mario Sunshines, but often enough, a lot of the particularly odd or bizarre Nintendo games and franchises that started on the Gamecube get ignored. Except for Pikmin. People love Pikmin. Understandably, its insanely adorable. But back to the point at hand; here is this cutesy kawaii-as-f*** game about a small robot cleaning up a household, in some kind of super Japanese version of The Borrowers, and yet, here we are, barely registering its existence and how cool it is.

And this is a game that’s had 2 DS sequels as well. Its not like Nintendo have just given up on trying to push it, like its F-Zero or something. Yet, we can’t seem to get Nintendo to want to make a remake for Wii U, when that could be the perfect platform. Imagine the household duties and problems you could solve with your Gamepad; get involved with scrubbing the paw-prints off the floor by using the touchscreen, see how situations are unfolding between various toys on the screen, use AR elements potentially. Imagine what you could get up to if you got to play online; loads of little house-friend robot people, all trying to do their best to keep a house clean whether its competitive or cooperative. You’ve got to admit that kind of has a ring to it. It’s a game that has plenty of potential to make normally boring tasks even more fun, like games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, and that would likely only get even better if you used the advances we’ve had since then. Heck, if that wasn’t true, I doubt the Big N would have bothered even making DS sequels or a Wii port after all that. So where’s the Wii U port, huh Ninty, get on that case!

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

Mercenaries: Playground Of Destruction – PS2/Xbox, Pandemic, LucasArts, 2005

With a name like that, why would you ever need to explain the game? But seriously, no, this game is probably one of my favourite sandbox games from that generation, and its a shame that EA never picked it up and made a sequel, because I’m sure a PS3/360 sequel would have been really good if it existed. The gist of this game is; you’re a gun for hire, in the middle of a big war in Korea, between North Korea, and the ‘united’ forces of China, the UN, South Korea and the Russian Mafia (known for their fantastical love of military campaigns against dictators, obviously). And you get to make a real killing, excuse the pun, playing the field and taking down the North Korean regime. Now, when I say taking down the North Korean regime, I don’t just mean shooting millions of conscripted soldiers; I mean literally taking down every building in site with every air strike, artillery barrage and weapon you can get your hands on. This was, probably alongside the classic Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the game that started the world’s love of shooty games where you blow your way through buildings just like you do with people.

Another important part of why the game was so great was the fact that it struck that amazing Saints Row 2 equilibrium of ‘bizarre partly-emergent hilarity’ and ‘totally self-serious tone and story’. When a game takes itself seriously, as the world goes to pot in the most bizarrely funny ways, it only helps me have more fun, because it gives it this great accidental-cult-B-movie tone which I can never get enough of. I mean, here’s this story that talks a bit game about you going and beating the North Koreans and saving the peninsula and maybe the world, and then you just run it and kick some guys and blow up a giant arch and a few buildings and run a tank through a military base, and your cash goes in, and you’re like HAHA SUCK IT KIM! It’s a game that is wonderfully at odds with itself, without being so at odds with itself that it suffers. The game never deviates from being a serious shooty game, despite the havoc, despite the huge bunker busting air strikes and mini nuclear attacks, despite your erratic behaviour as a mercenary. The vehicles were also pretty great in that game. It had your typical military open world set; cars, tanks, helicopters, all that lot, and they all worked as expected. The fun of all that came in with the open world destruction, as it did with most things in that game. Just running into one of oh so many North Korean bases and getting hands to an attack chopper then launching a bizarre one man assault on Pyongyang wasn’t really something you got elsewhere.

Looking back now, with Shadow of Mordor a popular thing because of its Nemesis mechanic, it also seems handy to note that this game had a similar static system to keep you exploring endlessly for the people you need to take down, in its ‘deck of cards’ system. Essentially, the 52 most senior and dangerous folk in this fictional North Korean government and military were assigned a card each, and all these people were scattered away in the world, for you to stumble upon and then hunt down to capture or kill for rewards. While this isn’t the same dynamic, experience-driven AI that Shadow of Mordor has, it was nonetheless a huge part of what kept pushing you through the game’s environments, and the particular missions in which you took down the Ace officials are, to me, an example of structuring around a system like that which game developers could learn from. The one that sticks with me is the first Ace mission, for the Ace of Clubs, where you sneak onto an island, cripple its surveillance, break into the city on the island fighting a big military force as you go, then destroy his giant reinforced tower with the newly unlocked and totally-free-at-the-time bunker buster air drop. It is your first sight of total insane-level destruction with an air strike that should cost you something like $750,000. And it is glorious. And then you go chase down the Ace and grab him and leg it before you end up getting killed. Now if that description didn’t get your blood boiling, you’re free to go run off and kill some randomised orc, but if it did, then you can help me try and figure out where the hell we need to go to get Mercenaries remade!

Ribbit King

Ribbit King – PS2/Gamecube, Jamsworks, Bandai (Now Bandai Namco), 2003/4 (Its complicated)

This is a game, that if Youtube weren’t a thing where bizarre games are documented, I probably could have sworn I hallucinated playing and owning. The central conceit of this game is a sport called frolf. By frolf, I’m not referring to Frisbee golf, the classic college sport alongside beloved games such as hacky sack. No, by frolf, I’m referring to a portmanteau of frog and golf; yes, this is a sport where you use frogs as golf balls, and hammers as golf clubs. You hit frogs with hammers to play golf. And the golf courses are all bizarre and bounce you around from place to place and have lots of things that you’re supposed to hit to get your score up because this is actually a score system rather than a straight golf system. And all the characters are insanely bizarre and their frogs are styled to be like them. And the story was some bizarre thing about travelling across the universe challenging people to games of frolf for some reasons that I can’t remember any more in your big rocket.

Looking at my description, this game does sound like a fever dream. But I do remember owning it, at one time, and I definitely remember playing a demo on one of my PS2 demo discs. And there are definitely videos on it, because Game Grumps covered it. But even if it had just been a fever dream, it was a damn fun fever dream. Ribbit King is just that kind of bizarre game that you have trouble even finding in the indie community now; its just absolutely insane bonkers mechanics with little framing or anything that makes sense, but it all holds together perfectly and its fun and it works quite neatly. A bit like Super Monkey Ball in that subversively-weird fun that isn’t like much else thing (side note: where’s my new Super Monkey Ball, or even a remake of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, EH, SEGA?). The kind of thing that only really came from those weird middle of the row publishers like Bandai who didn’t seem to have much clue what was going on but didn’t care and churned out bizarre games.

I don’t know if I can really tell you huge amounts about the game any more besides all that weirdness, because what little I remember from playing it probably 8 years ago at least straddles the line of “Yeah, I remember that” and “Am I making this up in a weird dream about this game that I just remember being super crazy”. So yeah, even if just for my memory, get on the case and remake it Bandai Namco. Its not like you’re up to much else besides Tekken nowadays anyway.

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.



Tommy Wiseau

Bad Games Do It Well – Why Bad Games Can Still Be Good

I’m against this idea of a universal objective rating of a game, and the idea that is forever how we are to judge a game. Not only does this make us hold games up to crazy standards that might not apply to everyone, but it can make us throw away games just because they’re considered bad. It’s almost like we have no notion of how artistry and experiential art forms work. My own personal ideology is that so long as a game has something interesting about it, something to serve as a hook and keep you wanting to play it, it’s worth the time you put into it. Only boring games are the truly regrettable purchases or uses of time.

To take a cue from a completely different media form, look at the Tommy Wiseau-made cult classic movie, The Room. There is no way in hell you could ever argue that film is ‘good’; it’s made badly, the writing is atrocious, the acting is so bad, the music and sound design is beyond cheesy etc. etc. But, by virtue of all those parts and the story around it and the fact that it was made with such serious intention, you end up with this movie that has become one of the best accidental cult comedies. I don’t know if we necessarily have a game that’s reached that point of cult accidental hilarity or anything yet, but the lesson there is clear; so long as you don’t just half-ass what you’re making, it will surely come out interesting to someone in some way.

One of my standout memories of playing a game that was so weirdly bad and oddly designed that I couldn’t help but just laugh my way through was probably 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand. I mean, how could you not laugh at a game to which the basic idea seems to be “Well, that first game where we used 50 Cent’s name and likeness to make a cover-based third person shooter did alright, so why not set it in the Middle East and have ‘Fiddy’ destroy an entire country to chase a diamond-encrusted skull”. I am not joking when I say that the opening of the game basically gives you all you need for story because 50 Cent walks into an office after a show, hasn’t been paid by the organiser, pulls a gun on him while G Unit cheer him on to kill this guy, is given a diamond-encrusted skull by the organiser (which he does not appreciate the historical significance of) and then, when it gets stolen very quickly afterwards, declares his vengeance.

You come into gameplay after that, where 50 Cent proves himself bulletproof by just tanking the small arms fire of many men and shrugging off RPG fire like it’s no biggie, while Fiddy and whichever unknowable G-Unit you have chosen spout off random bits of ‘gangster’ language. Also, there’s a scoring system so you should kill your enemies as fast as you can. Also, if you taunt your enemies you get extra score. Extra also, sometimes you get special bullets to shoot your pistol that will do things like set fire to your enemies. The whole game is literally just beyond reasonable sanity, despite it being this licensed product in the third person shooter genre that was so popular in the late ‘00s and being mostly sandy and trying to follow that Middle East shooter trend that also existed. It makes no sense that this game is this bizarre and over-the-top, but it was made in this way to seem ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ and ‘exciting to dudebros’ evidently. That’s the part that makes it so funny. It’s something that a game like Goat Simulator could never simulate, because accidental comedy just has this wonderful element to it that can make it so much better than designed/created/manufactured humour.

Don’t mistake me though, I don’t just believe that the only value bad games have is for comedy. Sure, there’s little in this gaming world that can be as funny as ‘appreciating’ games like Legendary, Bad Rats, Secret of the Magic Crystal, Ride To Hell and the ilk with friends and acquaintances and the internet, but ‘bad’ games can also have creative value and serve as a flawed showcase for good ideas. Whether people agree with me on that is a matter of their personal choice, but I find that there are plenty of situations in which a game turns out ‘bad’ or maligned and ignored mostly because it has ambitious or interesting ideas for story or gameplay or anything like that and it doesn’t quite meet what it was shooting for. Apparently, in game development, if you aim for the stars and miss, you don’t land on the moon; you just end up in an expensive accident and everyone ignores you.

Afterfall InSanity is my go-to example of this idea. There are plenty of other games that I could use to illustrate my point, but that’s the game I’m choosing, especially because it’s not just middle-of-the-road in quality, its genuinely quite bad and torturous at times. But when that game really works and stretches its chops with its ideas and the intriguing story and the twists and when it starts throwing your head for a bit of a psychological curveball, it works insanely well. Its like the game gives you enough to pull you into wanting to play, then forces you to wade through a horrific assault course to reach this fantastical banquet of good ideas at the end. Now, far from me to say where anyone who is to be developing games should be looking for inspiration, but that game genuinely does have a really intriguing story as horror games, post-apocalyptic games and indie games generally go. And I’d love to see people take some inspiration from that, while also purging all the crap from the gameplay, barring maybe how fun the weight of the melee weapons can be.

There are plenty of other games I’ve played, or I’ve heard about, that have this similar kind of situation where they are pretty bad or middling games but they nonetheless have some great ideas within them that I wish other people would see and capitalise on, or the developers would get a chance to work on them further. Games like Remember Me with its memory sequencing gameplay, Wet with the crazy over-the-top action that actually flowed quite well and how it oozed a sense of Tarantino-esque style, or The Saboteur, with the great use of colour as a dynamic way of measuring your progress in freeing Paris and the huge amount of things you could do in this fantastic period world in order to help free Paris from the Nazi invaders. Games like those where anyone who has played them sees some potential through all the crap they have to wade through in order to really finish and experience it.

So basically, what I’m saying here is to give bad games a try. I’m not saying you have to adopt my philosophy that the only truly bad thing a game, or any other media, can be is boring. I’m just asking for you to give games that have been thrown by the wayside a chance. Who knows, you might have a laugh or you might stumble on the needle idea in the haystack of badness.

Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.