The Infamous You Don’t Know Jack Series Is Finally Available For Steam

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If you’ve never played the original “You Don’t Know Jack Games,” I pity you for having missed some of the best written, smartest, most enjoyable games ever made. It’s also difficult to blame you, however, consider the irreverent trivia series has never been available for download, and would be relegated to obscurity were it not for a couple recent console releases and a Facebook game which, while good, just do not compare to the originals.

Don’t fret though, as the series has joined the likes of “Earthbound” and “System Shock 2″ by crossing licensing hell, and becoming available for digital download. Available on Steam, you can finally snag the entire “You Don’t Know Jack” collection for either $2.99 individually, or $19.99 for the whole 10 game collection. Playable on just about any modern system, and having only gotten better with age, there is no real reason to not snag at least one of these, and experience the legendary multiplayer mode.

Oh, and if you’re a film buff, the “You Don’t Know Jack” movies edition, is my personal recommendation, and flat out one of the best movie trivia games of any kind.

If You’re Not Already, Now Would Be a Really Good Time To Get Excited About “The Witcher 3″

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Even though it sat awhile untouched in my Steam queue, “The Witcher 2” ended up being one of my favorite RPG’s of modern gaming. While this is due in large part to some world spanning story telling similar to “FF XII” in scope, but with the intimacy, pacing, and tight structure of a Bioware tale, even the controversially challenging gameplay grew on me, largely due to the fact that mastering it didn’t come easy.

Considering that challenge, it’s surprising that the game had the success it did across the mass market, but ultimately the level of craftsmanship put into the game made it undeniable, even to people that wouldn’t normally receive it so well.

Given that combination of quality and success, a sequel may have been inevitable, but ever since that announcement “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” has been anything but a given, and has been surprising all that lay eyes on it with its ambitious plans to completely re-shape a franchise that already re-invented itself once before with its runaway hit predecessor.

While it’s as true as ever that anything shy of the final product will be loose talk and hype, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to remain level headed when it comes to “Wild Hunt” as every promotional bit and feature plan released so far has shown a game that is going to be very, very special. That’s a trend that continues with the newest teaser called “Killing Monsters.”

Without spoiling anything from that must see video, the way it turns the trailer title on its ear and defies your expectations going into it with something incredible is a microcosm of what this series does so well. “Dead Island” may have proved that great teasers do not equal great games, but I dare you to watch that video and not tell me that despite any inclinations you may have toward pessimism regarding the entire concept of a pre-rendered teaser, that you are not seriously hyped up.

Add to that the recent announcement the great Charles Dance (Lord Tywin Lannister from “Game of Thrones”) will be playing a major role, and it’s becoming more and more clear what the first truly great game of the next generation may be.

Fan Film “Fallout: Nuka Break – Red Star” Is the Most Surprising Thing You’ll See Today

Whoa.

If the phrase “Live Action Fan Film” in the world of gaming makes you cringe, it would be hard to blame you. Often times they are poorly produced (if generally well meaning) works of minimal effort that remind us all that the world of gaming and film do not easily mesh.

Even if you are adamant in that belief though, you do yourself a tremendous disservice if you don’t take about 30 minutes of your time today and check out that fan film presented by the folks at Machinima set in the “Fallout” universe.

Beyond impressive for a fan film, it’s actually a genuinely entertaining, and surprisingly well made, piece that somehow manages to maintain the things that make the “Fallout” series so great, while just transferring them to another medium. While some production hiccups are found (the super mutant fight stands out), even the low points are enjoyable in a campy sort of way, and in no way diminish the incredible writing, pacing, direction, and yes, even acting to be found. It’s perhaps the best example ever made of the magic that can happen when you give a filmmaker with a true passion for gaming even the most modest of budgets to work with.

Made by the same people responsible for the also entertaining, if less dramatic, “Fallout” series “Nuka Break,” “Red Star” is apparently the first in a series of fan made live action adaptations planned by Machinima, with games like “League of Legends,” “Half-Life,” and even “Minecraft” all getting the celluloid treatment.

While the quality of those additional adaptations remains to be seen, this was an excellent way to present the idea, as “Red Star” is the greatest  live action video game film I’ve ever seen. Give it a shot, and start dreaming again of the day when a network like AMC, FX, or even HBO realizes the creative potential inherit in a “Fallout” TV series.

“Beyond Two Souls” May be Video Gaming’s Trojan Horse

“Beyond Two Souls” recently sent a gift to some journalists and industry types, and an unusual one at that.

It was 1,999 blank pages bound by two yellow covers, one of which beared the game’s box art and title. The one page that wasn’t blank was the initial one notifying the recipient that what they held was a replica of the 2,000 page script that “Beyond Two Souls” is built upon, as well as a friendly reminder that the game was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival.

Besides a joyous bearing of free printer paper, the other intent, and message, of the script was a simple one. It was to make everyone take notice that “Beyond Two Souls” will be different.

No…not different.

Unique.

It was the late Roger Ebert who famously raised the question if gaming could ever truly become art. Mind you he didn’t say it wasn’t art, and he didn’t say it couldn’t be art as is popularly cited, but rather it was more of a challenge to the medium to silence the doubters, himself included.

Now any gamer knows that storytelling in games is impressively unique and blazes its own path to create a quality that only the medium is capable of. To summarize the idea, think of “Bioshock.”

What gaming has lacked up until now though is a title that makes people who neither care about or respect video games (but very much do care about and respect films) to pause for a moment and consider the same growth that gamers have been seeing for decades now. Of course for that to truly work, the game must not just impact film lovers in that way, but gamers as well.

“L.A. Noire” came close, as did “Beyond Two Souls” predecessor “Heavy Rain.” Before that, “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as host of others.

However, “Beyond Two Souls” may be the first title that truly needs to be that game. It doesn’t want to be that game because it can, and it doesn’t dream about being that game because it may, but rather it needs to be that game to be considered a success by all parties involved.

And what a coup that would be if it was. While gaming doesn’t necessarily need that game to continue to exist, just imagine the world that would be left in its wake. Just imagine what the world of video games would be like if a game was released that would both satisfy the creative desires of the fans, the financial needs of the industry (like “Heavy Rain” did in a big way), and make people who couldn’t give a damn about either suddenly take notice, and be forced to really look at a video game with artistic respect.

It would be gaming’s Trojan horse. A rebel to even games themselves, under the guise of an expected appeal to the so considered higher authorities.

Then again, it may not be. It’s entirely possible that “Beyond Two Souls” will be a flop, or worse nothing at all. Even if it isn’t the game that shifts the perspective of video gaming though, it is a harbinger that a day is coming where even the most resolute of gamers must question their expectations regarding the capabilities of the medium. A day you could argue hasn’t been experienced sine “Grand Theft Auto III.”

Of course, much like that 2,000 page script, that day may come as soon as “Beyond Two Soul’s” October 18th release date when that very game will be delivered, to the amazement of all, right at the doorstep.

Why Are You Here, When You Could be Playing “Guacamelee!” ?

In a perfect world, there would be no need to tout the virtues of a game like “Guacamelee!” because you would already be hopelessly obsessed with it, and relaying your experience to others with conversations no more elaborate than “Dude!” and “I know.”

Instead there’s probably a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of “Guacamelee!,” and don’t know that you should be playing it, and not reading this, right now. Since you’re already here though (thanks by the way), let me skip the traditional review and just give you five quick reasons to experience the brilliance of a game where you play a dead peasant turned Mexican professional wrestler super hero, on a quest for revenge and love (actually…make that six reasons).

Style…Now In Color!

It takes all of a glance at “Guacamelee!” to notice that this game is a looker. Its Mexican culture and folklore motif is rarely used in major games (the great “Grim Fandango” is the only other that jumps to mind), and here is gloriously captured in every single aspect of the title, right down to the font. It makes every frame instantly recognizable, and turns the game into something truly great. If you cut “Gucamelee!,” it would bleed style and charm.

More importantly it would bleed it in vibrant colors. We’re still in the black, brown, and gray age of video game color palates, so when a title like “Guacamelee!” comes along and presents an already creative style in full Technicolor, it’s worth considering a purchase just to experience the brilliance that transpires when 16 bit art philosophy meets the hardware power of the modern age.

It’s Actually Really, Really Funny

It’s not all classic day of the dead style though, as the world of “Guacamelee!” also sports nods to cartoons like “Samurai Jack,” video games like “Mega Man,” internet programs like “Homestar Runner” and much, much, more. Nearly all of these references are well hidden in the game’s art style, and recognizing them is sure to lead to uncontrollable grins for anyone in the know.

Yet the game’s best jokes come from its own devices. Whether it’s your ability to morph into a chicken to get into small spaces, or the lamentations of a gun toting villain who realizes he’s wasted all of his bullets shooting the floor for emphasis, at its best, “Guacamelee!” feels like a lost golden age Disney movie when it comes to accessible, yet genuinely funny, humor.

Challenging, Yet Rewarding

As much as I love a game like “Dark Souls,” it’s hard to ignore that at a certain point the risk/reward factor becomes painfully uneven. However, even though “Guacamelee!” pays tribute to many classically challenging games like “Dark Souls” does, you never feel like you are being cruelly punished.

Even though it’s not exactly the most difficult game ever created, “Guacamelee!” does sport sections that require above average skill and patience. However, as long as you are willing to develop your skills and creatively explore the extent of those abilities, you won’t get hung up on too many sections due to unfair play. Even if you do though, the payoff always equals the effort. It’s difficult to find a game that can hit the mark when it comes to a balanced, yet progressive challenge, but that’s exactly what “Guacamelee!” offers.

 

Fresh Combat, Classic Adventure

“Guacamelee!’s” biggest gameplay feature would have to be its Metroidvania 2D adventure style, where a large map becomes more and more open to you as new abilities are earned. Yet that classic 2D trope isn’t the only familiar concept, as the better part of the gameplay is largely just a creative tribute to a video game age gone by.

The one aspect that feels like much more than an homage though is the combat. It’s a combination of Mexican lucha-libre and old fashioned brawling, all based around a fighting game combo system, and at its best produces moments previously unseen. Most enemies require you to use a variety of maneuvers to best them, and exploring the destructive potential the system is capable of is just as fun as exploring the levels themselves.

It’s Basically this Year’s “Journey”

Alright, so it probably won’t be nominated for a Grammy, and it’s potential to make grow men weep at its beauty is slightly less than “Journey,” but when playing “Guacamelee!” you get the same distinct impression that you’re playing something that exists well outside of the norm, and is artistically significant for the medium.

Though to be honest, “Guacamelee!” also resembles “Journey” in that it is very short. It’s not quite as short as last year’s indie sensation, but even if you are going for 100%, you’ll maybe get 10 hours out of it. While that is a little heartbreaking, considering the game’s bargain $14.99 price, it shouldn’t prevent you from playing “Guacamelee!”, and this year be the one who recommends that great indie game to everybody, and not the one who hears about it from everybody else.

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