Todd Martens

Aug. 30, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

’80 Days': Jules Verne-inspired game brings a more global perspective

Travel by land, by sea and even mechanical horse in mobile adventure "80 Days/" (Inkle)
THE PLAYER Back in grade school, I proposed doing a book report on “Gold Rush!” — a computer game first released in the late ’80s. My teacher thought I was trying to pull a fast one. Yet the truth of the matter is “Gold Rush!” contained more text and actual history than the heavily illustrated dinosaur book I chose instead. But the dinosaur sketches were encased in binding. “Gold Rush!” had disks. There was a day when the most popular games were essentially interactive novels — point, click, read and type. That day was killed by the first-person shooter, which ushered in an era during which the most dominant of games were competitive and reflex-based. But there’s good news for those who believe a written sentence is more powerful than digital bullets or the ability for players to hijack a […]
Aug. 23, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

‘Hohokum': All the braver for ignoring gaming conventions

The emphasis is on exploration in "Hohokum." (Honeyslug / Sony Santa Monica)
THE PLAYER Deep within dating site OkCupid, there’s a question that treats video games as child’s play. “Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours?” Two hours may seem excessive for our time-crunched lives, but there’s an underlying implication that the above activity is perhaps a bit weird — a potential red flag about anyone otherwise considered a full-fledged adult. Although the video game industry doesn’t do itself any favors, what with tolerating the boorish behavior of its online communities and relying on games that emphasize gun play, there’s no denying that this is a mainstream medium that still carries a stigma. But the OkCupid question did hit a chord. There are times when even I feel embarrassed about my accruing games knowledge. It’s the moment, for instance, when […]
Aug. 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

‘Road Not Taken': Ranger’s life is hard, but you’ll connect on journey

Rescue lost children by throwing and combining items in "Road Not Taken." (Spry Fox)
THE PLAYER “You’re not too old for those?” she asked. The question came from a date who arched her head and squinted at an assortment of Batman-branded pillowcases in my bedroom. Those six words hovered on the forefront of my mind, forcing me to suddenly call into question every aspect of my life and how it reflected my level of maturity (or immaturity). Adulthood, and how it weighs on us, has been an obsession of late. It’s at the core of Spry Fox’s “Road Not Taken,” a vexing puzzle game with magical overtones released this month for home computers and the PlayStation 4.The questions it raises linger long after a play session. The game has a message: You’re not getting any younger. Or maybe it’s saying you’re running out of time. This is the emotional head space occupied by “Road […]
Aug. 09, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

‘Revolution 60′: Sci-fi mobile game puts women at the front

"Revolution 60" is a mobile game with cinematic aspirations. (Giant Spacekat)
THE PLAYER Early in the sci-fi mobile game “Revolution 60,” one character is essentially rendered brain-dead. Our heroine, Holiday, frets over what she’ll tell the fiancé of her immobilized pal. Maybe, one of the other space-flying shipmates wisecracks, the boy back home isn’t so hot on personality. Doubtful, as being reduced to mere eye candy would likely be seen as a fate worse than death for the four women at the core of “Revolution 60” — and for the two women who founded the company that created the game. Giant Spacekat’s “Revolution 60,” released in late July for iPhones and iPads, is a pocket-sized game that dreams big, ambitiously attempting to marry a complex narrative and fully drawn characters with pick-up-and-play accessibility. That’s not its only mission. Developed by a Boston-based team of four led by Giant Spacekat’s head of […]
Aug. 02, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

‘Kim Kardashian Hollywood’: Fame is the name of the game

"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is surprisingly progressive for a video game. (Glu Mobile)
THE PLAYER Whether we like it or not, when it comes to Kim Kardashian, we’re all, in a sense, amateur Kardiologists. We know about the reality show, the sex tape, the quickie marriage to an NBA star, Kanye West and the Kimya wedding. We’re told she’s a fashion designer, model, actress, socialite and blogger. We see she’s a wearer of bikinis. Still, why Kim Kardashian is famous is a mystery. “I do not know what she does,” Stephen Colbert joked on his Comedy Central show this week, echoing the thoughts of many of us. When someone’s primary expertise is omnipresence, the more we know, the less we actually learn. But we’re getting more insight from Kim’s latest and more unlikely role as a rather convincing video game character. “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” a free-to-play mobile game by the reality star, is […]
July 26, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

Disneyland’s Legends of Frontierland a fun dose of wacky live action

A Disneyland guest holds a map while participating in a live action role playing game in Frontierland. (Christina House / For The Times)
THE PLAYER “Hey,” the kid said. “I can get you out of jail.” I politely said no. Standing in lockup, after all, was a rare photo opportunity. The kid shrugged and walked off, and there I stood alone in my cell, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in front of me, the Mark Twain Riverboat docked to my left. Welcome to the Legends of Frontierland, Disneyland’s wacky new live-action role-playing game running daily inside the theme park. Legends of Frontierland pits guest against guest in a battle for control of a fictional town — in this instance one that’s set inside Disneyland’s vision of the Old West. Or something sort of like that. Even for a resort with wench-auctioning pirates and hitchhiking ghosts, the recently launched Legends of Frontierland is often absurdly nonsensical. To play Legends of Frontierland is to partake in […]
July 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

Mobile games keep it simple and smart

The princess in 'Monument Valley' never says a word. (Ustwo)
THE PLAYER About a year ago, hip-hop’s enduring crank Eminem rapped what many interpreted as a jab at the increasing complexity of video games. “All these buttons,” Eminem scolded modern tech kingpins. “You expect me to sit here and learn that?” The man had a point. For those not yet converted to video games, the controller remains a potential barrier to entry, this even as the medium more regularly explores relatable topics. One may have been intrigued by the paternal existentialism at the core of last year’s survival horror game “The Last of Us” or curious about this year’s Chicago-set techno-thriller “Watch Dogs,” which explored the concept of hacking as a weapon, but the idea of learning a rules system before exploring a virtual world can be something of a language barrier. What a godsend then has been mobile and […]
July 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

The balletic ‘Bounden’ is a pas de deux with Player 2

Players will dance while connected via a mobile phone in "Bounden." (Game Oven)
THE PLAYER I had only known Eline Muijres for a few minutes before our first dance, and it wasn’t long before I became scared our movements were going to lead to more physical contact than is likely appropriate for near-strangers. So I let go of her iPhone. Muijres is a producer on “Bounden,” a mobile game that aims to teach players ballet — or maybe just inspire them to get closer, awkwardly. Either result is a win. Most dance games, such as the popular “Dance Central” or “Just Dance” franchises, have players moving in front of the TV, working off a sweat solo or goofing off at a party. “Bounden” is far more intimate. And potentially more revealing. Developed by Netherlands-based three-person studio Game Oven in conjunction with the Dutch National Ballet, “Bounden’s” challenge — the difficulty of being in […]
July 05, 2014 | 6:30 a.m.

‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’ upends the combat video game

"Valiant Hearts: The Great War" highlights the horrors faced by normal people in extraordinary circumstances. (Ubisoft)
THE PLAYER A tale of World War I, inspired partly by letters exchanged by soldiers and loved ones, “Valiant Hearts” is the rare video game in which military action evokes sympathy rather than aggression. Combat and the regrettable ways it touches the lives of a middle-aged farmer, a teenage student, a new father and an American widower make for the game’s backdrop. The emotional torture of warfare is the game’s center. Helping a bruised and battered soldier simply find a clean sock is treated as an act of heroism, and puzzles are fashioned out of the daily drudgery of a soldier’s life on the supply-barren Western Front. “Valiant Hearts” can wring great drama from the task of helping a lonely heart snare a feather from a bird so he can write a letter to his daughter. No, you cannot shoot […]
June 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

Nintendo keeps the video game industry weird

The courses are as crazy as ever in "Mario Kart 8," including one in an airport. (Nintendo)
THE PLAYER In late May, Mario and Luigi were sitting on a couch on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Not the real Mario and Luigi — they aren’t real, of course — but caricatures of the Nintendo brand icons. The joke that afternoon was that the famous video game duo were not brothers but were, in reality, gay. Their true relationship had remained a secret, revealed only after an online campaign forced Nintendo to apologize for not including same-sex marriage in its just released game “Tomodachi Life.” You can, however, create a character in your likeness — a Mii, in Nintendo parlance — or the likeness of your boss or your ex or Daenerys Targaryen, and you can write them an opera song that is an ode to gay marriage. They will also fall in and out of love, sometimes with […]
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