Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – Game Review

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Here’s an analogy for you: If Skyrim is your favorite Pixar film, then Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons ($15, Xbox Live Arcade) is the animated short before that film. It’s the experience that, while short-lived, sticks with you long after credits of the main feature have rolled. I don’t think I’m too far off the mark by calling Brothers one of the most emotionally rich and meaningful games of 2013. The story is simple: you and your brother must find a live-saving cure for your father, who has fallen ill. Because he is your only living parent, saving his life is all the more important. This leads the two sons on an adventure through a danger-ridden fantasy world.

This review will be short. Not because I don’t have a lot to say about Brothers, but because the simple act of writing about the story would ruin it for you. Think of it like this: how angry would you be if I went to see a movie you’d been eagerly anticipating for the past year, and then rattled off some of the major plot points? You’d be kinda pissed, right? Every scenario in Brothers is something you must experience for yourself to truly appreciate. There are few games I can think of in which the minute-to-minute events are so special.

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Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine – Game Review

Monaco: Whats Yours is Mine

It’s a well-timed coincidence that a group of thieves made off with tens of thousands of dollars from a Justin Bieber concert in Johannesburg just days after the release of Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine on Xbox Live Arcade. Apparently, they rappelled and chiseled their way into a vault room at the stadium while the concert was happening. I’m not usually one to root for the bad guy, but these heist-type crimes are undeniably cool (especially when they happen in real-life), and Monaco lets you step into the shoes of shady players who pull off big scores.

Unlike the Johannesburg criminals, though, there’s nothing realistic about Monaco’s band of crooks. They play to the classic heist movie archetypes–such as the Locksmith, the Hacker, the beautifully distracting Redhead, and the wily Cleaner, who uses chloroform to knock out guards. Though the characters may be slightly cliched, the game design itself is anything but. Monaco is a top-down action game that mixes elements of stealth, twin-stick shooting, and well-timed strategy. Your goal on each level is simple: get to your goal (typically money, or a person or object of value), and then escape. Sounds easy, right? Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.

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Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – Game Review

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Once in a while, a video game will toss a pop culture reference or two into its script for an easy joke. But what if the game itself is one big joke? What if it’s one giant reference to a very specific time period filled with so-bad-they’re-good one-liners and cheeseball visions of the future? That, my friends, is when you get games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

In case the title wasn’t clear enough, this is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously. It has an aesthetic obsession with every great/awful 80s sci-fi and fantasy flick you’ve ever seen. Imagine a smart-assed version of The Terminator trapped in a neon nightmare (see: Tron and Hobo With a Shotgun) with a soundtrack that has bits of The Running Man, Predator, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York blended together…and you’ll have a great idea of what you’re getting into. If none of that sounds appealing, or you’re too young to understand the references, then you may not “get” what Blood Dragon is trying to do. However, for anyone who grew up watching those films (or if you just love a good synth-groove), it’s a gut-bustingly hilarious little trip down Nostalgia Lane.

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Tomb Raider (2013) – Game Review

Tomb Raider (2013) for Xbox

Since I was old enough to watch them, the Indiana Jones films have been some of my all-time favorites. I even love Temple of Doom, with all of its goofy B-movie charm. And yes, I was in that small minority that even found most of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to be pretty enjoyable, even if they did jump the shark with the absurd “nuke-proof fridge.” And the monkeys. And flesh-eating ants. … Okay, so it was pretty ridiculous, but I have no shame in admitting that I am a Crystal Skull apologist.

Maybe that’s why I love the Tomb Raider reboot so much. It could be that, no matter how cheesy or unlikely, the sense of discovering a lost artifact deep within a booby-trapped dungeon speaks to my inner child-adventurer. The younger version of me who thought that maybe, just maybe, there was buried treasure somewhere in my backyard. Or, it could be that the game is just rock solid in nearly every aspect, from the gorgeous graphics to the gameplay mechanics. It doesn’t matter if you’re stealthily choking out cultists, scaling rock walls, or waging all-out war against the crazies living on the mysterious island of Yamatai where you’ve been stranded. Without giving away too many plot details, something nasty has been going down on this island, where the weather can change on a dime and the people there have taken an unusual interest in you and your party. Pretty much everything in this game just works. It’s well-acted, packed with harrowing action setpieces, and features one of the most darkly compelling settings this side of Bioshock‘s Rapture. Having hit in March, Tomb Raider is already one of 2013’s best games.

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Sine Mora – Game Review

Sine Mora

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
Score:

Disclaimer: I suck at shoot ’em ups (also called “shmups”). I still struggle to reach the end of the second stage in Ikaruga, and even then, I usually die. Bangai-O was a fruit-filled nightmare for me. Heck, even the original R-Type is still hellaciously challenging. But I love the genre for its sometimes unabashed weirdness, cluttered design tendencies, and straight-up hardcore difficulty.

So, I was hesitant to pick up Sine Mora. It does, after all, fit squarely into the shmup mold, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. There are a couple things that the game does to distance itself from its brethren, the first of which is to present an honest-to-goodness story. The plot is filled with heavy themes not typically found in arcade-style games, including (but not limited to) genocide, free will, betrayal, time travel, and even sexual assault…all involving characters that look like humanoid animals. There’s even a legless buffalo-man in a wheelchair. It’s pretty strange stuff, but if you can follow along with the on-screen text preceding each stage in Sine Mora‘s story mode, you’ll may be quite surprised to find yourself actually caring about what’s going on beyond simply blasting everything in sight. And hoo boy, is there a lot of stuff to shoot.

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