Halo 3

I complain about a lot of games on my blog, and there are others I rave about. Whereas Halo and Halo 2 felt like progressions in the series, my opinion of Halo 3 is that the story was a bit harder to follow. Despite the natural upgrades moving to the newer generation Xbox 360, some of the gameplay feels monotonous and otherwise not much of an evolution over Halo 2.

I think I feel this way because in the jump from Halo to Halo 2, we learn there’s multiple halo installations while being able to play as the Arbiter, wield dual weapons, and of course, the energy sword. The plot still revolves around the Covenant and the Flood, and for me, Halo 3 still does a lot of the same things good but I’m not sure the leap was great.

Part of that blame likely goes to Halo 2 for being such a leap from the original in so many ways. The other part of that blame is the Xbox Live mode that originally threw me off of this game years ago. Included as a beta with Crackdown, we all got a taste of how great Halo 3 could be online.

When we finally got Halo 3 in our hands, however, the little preteen voices in my headset still haunt me to this day.

Sure, I can get “gud”, but no, you really can’t when you’re up against players who stayed up for release and played without sleep for 72 hours, while you’re just removing the shrink wrap from your copy days later! In fact, this game pretty much killed my wanting of ever going online to play video games.

There’s a certain appeal to sitting in a room with friends playing split-screen Goldeneye 007 that cannot be replicated over the internet with total strangers.

Sorry not sorry… now back to the singe player campaign.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with Halo 3. I’m even giving it a thumbs up, because compared to everything else, it’s a really solid title still. The plot, as mentioned, seems to jump around a lot. Sometimes you want to just get right to the action only to have interruptions.

For that reason, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gravemind and the final levels where he’s rebuilding himself on a halo installation. It was different, but at the same time felt out of place.

And of course, Halo can’t possibly end without a driving gimmick as the final final part of the game. (At least this time there wasn’t as many mindless timed jumps or maneuvers necessary, and even if you do miss a section, the checkpoints are more plentiful.)

There appeared to be a lot more focus on vehicles too, but the combat was more evenly balanced. Bigger vehicles can take out smaller ones with better balance, and collisions seem to be on point too. Yet, it still seems like an extension of Halo 2 to me in many ways. Even the epic scarab battles feel a little recycled, though the first appearance of one in Halo 3 will still make you pop when it comes onscreen.

While it seems as if I’m dumping on this game, I still enjoyed it. I believe it lives on so highly rated due to other features, mainly multiplayer, which is what I soured on while others liked it.

The campaign and plot portions, however, were a mixed bag according to some reviews sourced on Wikipedia.

Reception of the single-player aspect varied. Yin-Poole wrote that while the cliffhanger ending of Halo 2 was disappointing, the campaign of Halo 3 was much more satisfying. Gerstmann, GameSpy’s Gabe Graziani, and Goldstein maintained that the campaign was too short, especially on easier difficulty levels or with three additional players in co-op. Goldstein was highly critical of the eighth level, stating “the penultimate chapter is so bad, just thinking about it puts a rotten taste in my mouth.” The New York Times’ Charles Herold said the game had a “throwaway” plot and Total Video Games judged the single-player aspect ultimately disappointing. Goldstein and Steve West of Cinema Blend thought a part of the game’s story was lost by not having the Arbiter featuring as prominently as the character was in Halo 2.

This made me feel better about my initial thought of revisiting Halo 3. I really can’t say it’s bad, but it still doesn’t feel groundbreaking – now or then.

While I leave it in the present day with a better appreciation for the total package, I feel it could be the weakest single-player campaign in the entire series.


I’m not Microsoft ever intended for Crackdown to become a franchise.

Basically, the Xbox 360’s answer for a Grand Theft Auto open-world style game, Crackdown was originally pushed with an add-on disc for one of the most anticipated games ever – a beta version of Halo 3, the Master Chief’s first foray on the 360.

It was a clever marketing tactic: buy Crackdown, get a first look at the upcoming Halo 3. Yet, Crackdown stood on its own and over time became one of the best-selling games on the console.

The premise is a bit of the opposite as GTA. Instead of playing as a criminal, Crackdown puts you in the shoes of a genetically enhanced “agent”, sent by an organization called “The Agency”, in order to clean up Pacific City. Like others in the genre, your character grows over time, leveling up in one of five areas: strength, agility, explosives, firearms, and driving ability.

In order to level up in each, you must perform those abilities through your standard gameplay – with the exception of “agility orbs” and “hidden orbs” – the former increases your ability to jump, while the latter increases all of your statistics by some random distribution method. (Maybe?)

The agility orbs are the heart of the game and what makes it feel as if you’re playing as Superman at times. Buildings in different areas range from small one-story shops to apartment complexes and skyscrapers. The creative ways in which the developers bring you along vertically scaling throughout the game gives you a big sense of achievement as your character turns into a bad ass who can blow things up a la a Michael Bay movie or jump from rooftop to rooftop.

With over 500 agility orbs and 250 hidden orbs, collection-crazed gamers who must complete every minute task in a game stay challenged as well. (There are also various races, such as rooftop races on foot or stunt races with the vehicles to complete too.)

This game is also one of the first I can recall having changing real-time ads on the in-game billboards throughout the city. Playing through for my third time on the Xbox One seems to have updated the previous ads from many years ago (which I believe were for a Dodge truck and maybe Mountain Dew.)

I haven’t even discussed the wide array of weapons and vehicles at your disposal – yes, you can toss civilians out of their cars just like GTA and take the “acquired” vehicle for a spin.

Your agent then uses all of the above to remove three areas of Pacific City from three rival gangs – you can go straight to the end from the very start, but you’ll get smoked almost instantly… which is the appeal of leveling up and progressing through the game at a certain pace.

Ignore that advice and you’ll just keep dying trying to defeat some of the bosses: with each gang having a main “godfather” of sorts and a number of underlings that must individually be disposed of to help cripple their various operations.

Graphically the game used a cell-shaded cartoon style which still looked semi-realistic on screen. For the 360, it was one of the more visually impressive games upon its release. The audio is pleasant, the explosions are blockbuster-esque and the controls are mostly on point, which the exception of some tedious jumps that may not go as planned (especially when scaling the larger buildings later on).

There were some gripes about framerate stutter when there’s too many enemies on screen firing at once, but to be honest, its such a minimum and almost expected when so much has been packed into the game.

Crackdown may have been thought of as the ticket to previewing Halo 3 at first, but it has a cult following and a legacy as one of the best 360 games created – and perhaps the best of the three titles in the series.

With its arcade-driven gameplay straying from some of the more story-driven elements of GTA games, those gamers who don’t like GTA will perhaps enjoy Crackdown even more.

In fact, it will remain one of my favorite games ever played.

Contra 4

For not liking or being very good at Contra as a kid, I sure do love revisiting these games as an adult. This one, made for the Nintendo DS, continues the Contra legacy with an excellent two-screen rendition which may be one of the better titles to use the DS format on the platform.

Taking the same weapons, lives, and endless barrage of enemies, plus mixing in some nods to the older games as well, nostalgia buffs will bask in this edition of Contra. The controls are tight, the levels play out as you’d expect them to, the graphics are superb (since it’s really a 2D game on newer hardware) and the soundtrack is spot-on too.

There are unlockable goodies, difficulty settings, and just about everything clicks with this game. The only downfall might be that it’s short: but it will take a you a few playthroughs to fully master this title. The added challenge mode brings replay-ability too.

I wish there was more to say, but the only complain that could be had about this game is the “gap” between the DS screens. Sometimes enemies, items, or your own character can get lost in the “void”, though that’s really more an exception than the rule with how balanced each level is.

If you’re a fan of Contra, this is a must-play game in the series.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan)

If you ever wondered why Super Mario Bros. 2 was so freaking weird compared with the other SMB games, it’s because it wasn’t the true sequel to the original game, rather, a conversion of a non-Mario game due to decision makers rejecting the release of the much more difficult Mario 2 in North America.

The real sequel eventually found it’s way to the U.S. as part of the Super Nintendo collection “Super Mario All-Stars”. Branded as “The Lost Levels”, this version included revamped graphics and music, much like the other re-released games on the same cartridge.

I wanted to play this original version and not the “Lost Levels” remake. Fortunately, it was recently translated into English language markets via the Wii’s Virtual Console.

The Mario 2 as we know it may be an imposter, but it likely salvaged the franchise (and possibly the video game industry stateside) as this true successor to SMB was graphically and mechanically similar to the original game, but increasingly cheap and difficult in practice.

And I do mean difficult!

I highlighted many of these frustrating changes in the screen captures. Among them are wind (blows Mario off of platforms or makes it harder to jump), enemies in areas you wouldn’t expect (fire, Bloopers, Hammer Bros, Bullet Bills, you name it), gaps which required precise button taps and timing, and possibly the most famous addition, poisonous mushrooms which shrink/kill you!

It’s a great play to see what may have been, but I’m glad I didn’t own this as a child. Save states were necessary to get past many areas (some took me as many as 30 tries for a series of precise jumps). You could also get lost in areas where you’re looking for hidden blocks, warped to the start of the level, or worse, warped back SEVERAL worlds!

The payoff though is a special “fantasy” World 9, where Mario swims through the board as if it were a water level.

There are other secret levels, but I will address those in my review of the Lost Levels remake… as well as some other rare/little known Mario secrets in the near future!