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I really wanted to subtitle this review -- When Xbox Live Indie Games Don't Suck. Jam Souls' gameplay is simple in its delivery, but I was really amazed by the level of polish and quality that Chromatic Dream was able to pack into the experience.

So just what is Jam Souls? In short, it's the story of Pandora--Greek mythology's first human woman who receives a jar as a gift from the Greek God Zeus. Many writings call this gift Pandora's Box. Pandora opens the gift and unleashes all the evils known to humanity. These 'evils' are the playable characters in a single and multiplayer platformer, sports and arena combat mashup.

The core of Jam Souls! play is a reimagining of the old Joust and original Mario Brothers games. You choose your character and then set the parameters for Deathmatch, Capture and Sport contests. These contests can be played locally with friends or using CPU controlled bots.

Jam Souls! is fun, fast and ultimately well designed. If you are familiar with the gamer categories I often use to review games, I'd say Jam Souls! is best suited for our Tourist category. Tourists are gamers who love quick and fun games that don't wear out their welcome. Jam Souls! is perfect for having a quick good time in a gorgeous world.

I enjoyed playing Jam Souls! in all its modes. The controls are sharp, the visuals are beautiful and the soundtrack suits the game perfectly. Each of the three game modes offer their own unique sense of fun and allow you to play for a few hours without the game getting boring or overly repetitive.

Deathmatch was my favorite game mode. The differences between the playable combatants are mostly cosmetic, so there's no need to worry about a particular character being over or underpowered. In deathmatch - much like in joust - you win by jumping on the heads of your enemies and absorbing their essence. Absorb enough essence and you'll be treated to your character's unique super attack that makes you unbeatable for a short period of time. There are also powerups laced throughout each level allowing you to out-maneuver your enemies.

Capture and Foot keep the same combat theme as deathmatch, but focus on collecting orbs from your opponents' camp and returning it to yours and either kicking a ball into a goal or shooting a basketball into a hoop respectively. You can still take out your opponents by jumping on their heads to get them out of the way or to stop them from reaching their camp with your orbs.

Overall, Jam Souls! is a ton of fun to play, if for a short time. This is not the type of game I'll log 40 hours playing in a month. But, it is a game that I could go back to time and again to enjoy on weekends with my son when we just want to kill some time. In short, Jam Souls! is one of the best titles on Xbox Live's Indie Marketplace. If you like quick fun and cheap games, I have no problem recommending that you pick up Jam Souls! for one dollar on XBLIG.


Defiance Review - 360

Wed, 05/01/2013 - 18:06 — TheSecondLetter


You guys know I like to start with the bottom line up front to set the tone for the rest of my reviews. I want you to know that I had a hard time bottom-lining Defiance mostly because I enjoyed and hated the experience almost equally. For every concept I felt Trion Worlds got right, they missed somewhere else. Suffice it to say that Defiance is an average MMO with the potential to be slightly above average if the developers commit to fixing bugs and annoyances and adding better content in the future.

With that said, let's jump into the category breakdowns.

Action Junkies - Defiance's best quality is its gunplay. It's fast paced, chaotic and mostly accurate. You'll spend most of your in-game time killing bad  guys when you are not fetching items or unlocking terminals, so it's nice that Trion Worlds got this part right.

However the gunplay is encumbered by grossly repetitive mission structures, the same horrible enemy spawning found in games like Borderlands and Call of Duty and a burdensome interface that makes switching between more than 2 weapons mid-combat a serious pain.

On top of this, you have to keep in mind that this game is an MMO. MMOs thrive on keeping the game challenging for 100s of hours. So don't plan on finding or being rewarded with any shields, weapons or grenades the are ultimately devistating. This was my biggest point of contention with the action. The weapons I used during the final hours of the game were a rare sniper rifle I got from a friend early in the game and the Rifle that Nolan gave me in the TV Mission. You will not feel like a badass by the end of the main campaign unless you are lucky enough to win the lotto via the rare item drop boxes throughout the game or know some friends that can hook you up with some sweet gear.

Bookworms - If you are primarily a bookworm, don't bother with this game. The story, characters and dialog are supremely corny and uninteresting. To make matters worse, the clumsy narrative also hinders you from feeling any sense of purpose for your actions. This is yet another shooter you can throw on the pile that boils down to mindless killing with no real sense of weight tied to your actions

Explorers will be treated to a vast open world--one that gives you no incentives to explore it unless you're an action junkie looking for gun fights. How can you have wide-open terrain with nooks, crannies and buildings just begging to be searched and not reward the player for venturing out by allowing us to find rare loot? 

Strategists may love and hate Defiance. I found so many combat situations that were just begging for me to sneak in from the high ground as a sniper and rain down destruction before eventually assaulting across the objective to clean up stragglers. But for as many of these situations as I found, I found at least two other missions that made me deactivate generators while trying to dodge enemy fire from spawning enemies. Not to mention the plethora of missions that make you defend a uplink station while 200 bad guys spawn out of nowhere and descend upon your location. Defiance is truly a mixed bag when it comes to strategy. Sometimes you'll love it, other times you'll hate it. Unfortunately for me, the love sequences were few and far between.

Builders - This was the second area where I felt like Defiance let me down. I bought Defiance hoping that it would scratch the itch I felt like Borderlands 2 couldn't. I'm specifically talking about giving me a more fleshed-out character development and customization system. Defiance did deliver this, but then squelched it with leveling that takes too long and limiting the amount of passive and active skills I could use at any given time.

But again, this is an MMO. If you enjoy MMOs, you probably won't gripe about this as much as I did because you'll be willing - and really used to - investing 100s of hours to get your character up-to-par. I'm a bit more impatient than the average MMO player, so take my criticism here with a grain of salt.

Collaborators - As an MMO, expect Defiance to be more fun with friends. But honestly, unless you have a group of friends who are planning to play this game with you, don't expect to link up with too many people while playing online. From my experience, most of the people in-game are focused on the ark fall events that get old after you've done five or so. For an MMO, it feels more like a single-player adventure.

In the game's defense, I will say that I believe many gamers are waiting to see how it develops over time before they jump in. So this will most likely get better with time.

Competitors - There is PVP. It is functional and can be fun. Just don't expect it to be mind-blowing and don't let it be the main reason you decide to play the game. Oh, and plan to use stealth and shotguns because you'll probably get lit up by all the other people who are if you don't

Audiophiles and Visualists - like the Bookworms, you audiophiles and visualists need not apply. The visuals border on whack and the soundtrack is all but non-existent. The sound-effects are passable and the voice-acting is less than memorable.

Achievers - Completionists should have a good time with Defiance. None of the achievements are frustratingly difficult from what I've seen and there are a ton of missions and side missions to occupy your time.

Overall - If you have not already decided to buy this game and are wondering if you should, my advice to you is to wait. Wait until better content comes out. Wait until they fix some of the bugs that have been lingering since launch and wait to see if they address any of the issues I've outlined in the review if they are pet peeves that you and I share.


Terraria Review - Xbox 360

Sat, 04/06/2013 - 02:09 — TheSecondLetter

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If you enjoy exploration and customizaiton in your games, Terraria is one you can't miss. 

Hey folks,

I'll make this short and sweet. Me and a handful of gamers from reddit have been collaborating to create a list of gaming developers and publishers that allow us to monetize the videos we put on YouTube using their copyrighted game footage. 

Here's the Full List

Here's the YouTube vid:

See video


If you've not played Two Worlds on Xbox 360, you've probably at least heard about its atrocious frame-rate and its none-too-awesome graphics. I don't think any gamer or critic in his or her right mind would attempt to argue those points. However, if you did decide to pass up Two Worlds, I believe you missed out on one of the best Role Playing Games from this generation. 

Two Worlds gets an unjustified bad rap. I've played no other console RPGs this generation that've given me this much freedom to explore and customize my character while managing to keep my attention through the waves of quests and sidequests. As much as I've loved the Elder Scrolls over the years, I actually believe Two Worlds is more fun to play. 

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Maybe that's because the combat system feels more natural and actually works from the 3rd person perspective. No, the combat system in Two Worlds is not perfect and if you play it now, it will feel dated. But it is functional and I had a lot of fun experimenting with diverse skills, abilities and spells made availalbe by the rich leveling and customization systems. 

Leveling and customizing your character goes much deeper than simply putting points into the standard Strength, Vitality, Magic and Dexterity categories. There are 38 skills that you can develop. And with no known level cap, you could literally spend hours mastering almost all of them. It's rare when a western style RPG actually gives you this much freedom to develop your character. Most RPGs I've played from this style enforce a strict level cap that deterred me from building a truly unique character that fit my particular play-style. This was quite possibly what made me love Two Worlds the most. I also loved how Two Worlds allowed you to stack weapons and armor to make them stronger. You will find 100s if not 1000s of weapons and armor sets as you play thru the game. Being able to stack duplicate weapons and armor pieces made loot mongering that much more enjoyable. 

Exploration in Two Worlds is outstanding. The world has very diverse terrain ranging from lush bamboo forests to barren deserts and wastelands. One of the gripes many gamers have with the Elder Scrolls series was the lack of action or combat while traversing the world map. This is not so with Two Worlds. It felt like there was a wolf, orc or bandit camp around every corner just waiting for you to ambush. Factor in the excellent weapon and armor stacking I mentioned above and you finally have a huge open world that actually encourages you to explore beyond just completing quests. I often found myself not wanting to shut the game down late into the night, hoping to explore just one more cave or to loot just one more house to find another sword or breastplate to stack onto my existing setup.

So about those horrible visuals? On 360, Two Worlds decided to focus less on graphical fidelity and more on the little details that make an RPG so immersive:  The outstanding soundtrack; the ambient noise of birds and other animals in the wilds; the muffled and metallic voices of the mages from the Silver Circle wearing iron masks; that tangible sense of danger as you step into the Dead Forest for the first time underleveled and vulnerable to one-hit kills because the developers did such a wonderful job balancing the combat regionally; and the lore delivered by NPCs that gives Two Worlds its soul (yes, even with the sometimes terrible writing). 

For all Two Worlds does right, there are some other misteps besides the bad visuals. The morality system comes to mind immediately. I appreciated the ability to sneak into someone's house and loot their stuff. What I didn't like was how inconsistently I was caught doing so. Even completely out of sight, I'd still have home-owners chasing me down with swords because I ganked something on the 2nd floor of their house when I had no indication they could see or hear me. Couple that with the fact that the city guards seemed to always want a ridiculous sum of money to let me off the hook and you have a system that needed some more balancing.

Given my high praise for the leveling and customization systems, I'd be out of line not to mention that the re-spec system is broken. Attempting to make sense of how it works left me confused, disappointed and missing several $1000s of dollars.

The story is also a bit disjointed when delivered through NPC dialog. Quest givers would sometimes give me a quest to assassinate someone and then close the convo by saying things like, "Tell me what you find out." And if you miss some of the key NPC convos - which is entirely possible because they are not mandatory to push the story forward - you'll not really know why the major events in the plot are even happening. And as is common with many other western RPGs, the ending flat out sucks. 

DrewB-UglyDressOverall, Two Worlds was an outstanding game wrapped in a horrible 1980s prom dress. I felt that the nay-sayers could not get past their lust for beautiful graphics long enough to notice its gorgeous features beneath the surface (in their defense, the frame rate did nearly make my eyes bleed). But, If you can get past its awkward façade, there is a wonderful game to be found lending you more freedom to play your way than most console RPGs on the market.


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Solar 2 Review

Thu, 01/31/2013 - 20:49 — TheSecondLetter

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gameviolenceVideo games wield significant influence. Therefore, I contend that video game developers and publishers have great responsibility in how they deliver their content--especially violent content.

Since childhood they've encouraged me to read more. Games have often asked me to consider a perspective or a philosophy different from my own. Games have also portrayed real-life events, placing me at their center, such that I could understand these situations and empathize with the participants virtually as one of them. Many games have also helped me temporarily escape my reality when its burdens overwhelmed me. In some small way, video games have had a hand in shaping the man I am today. I'm no psychologist. I'm not an analyst or a researcher. I'm writing to you today as an observer; a participant; a fan. In other words, I'm not trying to pass off the following observation as empirical evidence for some asinine case for or against game violence. These are merely my beliefs based on what I've observed in my life and the lives of those around me.

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Video games wield significant influence. Therefore, I contend that video game developers and publishers have great responsibility in how they deliver their content--especially violent content. We're no longer playing pong (well some people probably are). Games now allow us to experience virtual representations of things we experience in real life. While we know that these experiences are rooted in fiction, games, like no other medium, allow us to see, hear and feel the action along with the emotions that follow decisions we've made. I also believe that games, along with movies and other entertainment, can introduce us to situations that will shape how we deal with them in real life. For example, when I saw Robocop, the scene where villains murdered Alex Murphy troubled me quite a bit. I was a kid and It was the first movie I'd seen with such detailed violence. I look back on it now, and it's almost laughable. It would seem that as we are exposed to a particular situation - violence in this case - over time, we become more familiar or comfortable with it. By the time I saw real combat, I had already seen so many virtual representations of its violence. So much so, that many of the horrible things I saw didn't phase me as much as I felt they could have. 

Let me pause to say that I'm not attemping to make a case against violence in video games. I know that's a popular, if tired argument right now. From my perspective, violence and struggle have driven our world for centuries. It makes sense that our entertainment mirrors what we experience over time. However, I'm very directly saying that the creators of our beloved games must consider how they deliver their content to us, and the narrative - whether implicit or explicit - that surrounds it. This responsibility should not be exclusive to violent video games, but should be more heavily considered when a given game does center on violence or other tragedy.  

The first time I held a .45 caliber pistol, I was 11yrs old. My father used to keep one in a case on the desk in his bedroom. One day, I asked him if I could hold it. Surprisingly, he said yes. As he pulled the weapon out of its case, he paused before handing it to me and said, "This weapon is made for killing." Dad when on to say, "You are never to point it at yourself, your friends or any member of this family. If you ever do raise this weapon, or any other weapon to point it at somebody, you do so with the intent to kill." I didn't fully understand it at the time, but what my dad was instilling in me was a sense of purpose. Pops helped me understand that this handgun was not a toy. It was not something to be handled lightly. He taught me how to hold it, how to clean it and how to take care of it so that it would never fail if I ever did need to use it to protect myself or those I care about. He taught me that carrying a weapon carried with it tremendous responsibility.

I carried that mentality with me into adulthood both as a soldier and now as a civilian. As soldiers we were called upon to harm and even kill others, but I never escaped that sense of responsibility for our actions. To this day I pray for the families of the fallen onboth sides of the battlefield. Unfortunately, many of the video games I've played that center on violence don't do enough to convey a significant purpose for said violence. I've played and even reviewed games I felt did a poor job of giving me a reason to kill or injure the bad guys. That's not to say that games have not attempted to take responsibility. I honestly believe that many developers just don't know how to address it. How many developers have actually killed people or had to order other men to kill people? How many of them have had to live with the scars that come from ending someone's life? I think they don't know how to properly address it because they don't have the perspective.



With that said, developers can't just stop making violent games because there is too much money to be lost. I would caution developers as we push forward to the next generation of gaming. Violent games - and games that deal with other serious issues - are only going to become more immersive and engaging thanks to the constant evolution of our gaming tech. I contend that developers must take responsibility and help the gamer perceive the weight and responsibility that comes with dealing with these issues. Take Far Cry 3 for example. Many of you know I didn't care for this game much, but let me applaud the developers for at least trying to develop Jason's (the main protagonist) character around the violence he commits throughout the game. I argued that they didn't do a great job of it, but again, at least they tried to address it the best way they knew how. More developers need to take this bold step and by nature of experience, get better at it by practice.

To wrap up, let me also say that I'm in no way advocating a future blanket ban of games who's developers don't consider and embrace the responsibility I've laid out here. In the end, it's truly up to us (the consumers) to ensure that we and our children consume entertainment that meets our standards. I'm not looking to the government or any other established organization to keep suggestive material out of the hands of my kids. It's my job to ensure they are playing games, watching shows and listening to music that does not breach the morals I'm working to instill in them. Much like may father did for me, I'll make sure my kids grow up understanding the weight violence and other serious matters carry with them.  However, I think the games industry could make some serious progress in getting the government and others off their back if they could show evidence of a more deliberate approach to add more weight and purpose to game violence that goes beyond this tired 'good guys versus bad guys' standard we've grossly overused. Video game developers wield far too much influence to ignore this responsibility. I can only hope Far Cry 3 and games like it influence even more developers to look at how they handle violence in our games.  

Borderlands 2 Review

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 14:04 — TheSecondLetter

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Doom & Destiny Review

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 13:53 — TheSecondLetter

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